I'm always looking for ways to get my work out there to readers while I continue to hack my way through the publishing jungle, so I'm jumping on this bandwagon quick. (It's a good band: they can do both ska and funk, and there's an amazing trumpet player; the wagon isn't bad either).
So without further ado: a scene from one of my current works-in-progress. The book is tentatively titled Cold Spring and I hope to have a complete draft finished by the end of this summer. It's a piece of historical fiction, set in the early nineteenth century in a small town in Kentucky and focusing on the relationship between two sisters who take two very different paths in life.
This scene is roughly one third of the way into the story and focuses on the younger sister, Freda. I hope you enjoy it!
At last the chosen day arrived. Freda rose very early, dressing in the cold of her bedroom one last time. She put on a new white and pale blue dress her sister had worn for her own wedding and re-made for her to wear as she wed Simon. The judge-uncle was on call and the pair was due to meet him in his offices at eight o’clock. Simon’s sister and brother-in-law would serve as witnesses.
There was no mirror in the room for her to check her appearance in, but she knew that the dress fit her well and made her almost pretty. When she had tried it on at Lena’s house, she had turned in front of the long standing mirror in the bedroom, admiring the flow of the material around her slender hips. The style was, perhaps, old-fashioned. Lena, after all, was hardly a woman of fashion, and, truth be told, neither was Freda herself. The design was Lena’s own, not copied from a magazine or made from a store-bought pattern. It was designed to flatter her sister’s body, while still preserving her modesty and freedom of movement. Freda could feel the love and support as well as the expense of the material. It was a rich gift indeed.
The shoes were delicate boots, purchased as a gift for her by Simon’s mother. Lena left them in the suitcase, donning her regular brown working shoes for the walk from the house and down the lane to where Simon was meeting her in his father’s store cart. She didn’t wish to spoil them with the clay from the farmyard. She touched the small cameo broach she had affixed to her camisole. She didn’t wear it in view because it was somewhat shabby and didn’t fit the look of her dress, but she was proud to have this small memento of her mother with her on her special day. It was both her “something old” and “something blue.” Lena had pressed it into her hand on the dress-fitting day.
“I wish I had something finer to give you, but this is all I have. It was Mother’s.” Emotion had filled Lena’s voice and Freda had thrown her arms around her sister in gratitude. Shows of emotion were rare from her sister and she knew better than to comment, but Lena seemed appreciative of the hug. She squeezed her sister’s hands and whispered, “You are lovely. Simon is a very fortunate man.”
So it was with a heart full of hope for the future that Freda crept down the attic stairs and into the living room of the only home she had ever known. She hardly glanced at the room in her hurry to get to the door. She was not a sentimental person and there was little here to inspire nostalgia on her part. She cared only for where her life might go from here and she was giddy with excitement.
She might have walked out the door and never even seen her father sitting in front of the fireplace if his chair hadn’t squeaked. She always wondered afterward if he squeaked his chair on purpose or if he had intended to let her walk out the door and out of his life without comment. The creak of the wood slats of the chair caught her attention and she whirled around and saw him there.
He was not in his usual chair, the soft one stained by years of tobacco use and spilled drinks. He was sitting in the hard-backed chair their mother had favored. Usually that chair sat empty. Freda could remember the ire she had raised in her father by sitting in it one evening. There were few signs of mother around the house. Her few belongings had been packed away in the days after her death, and Gustav Wurth did not display any photographs, finding them off-putting. He said he didn’t like their eyes looking out at him from the walls. It made him feel watched.
So, the chair was the one thing that represented the woman who had married Gustav and birthed and raised his children. Gustav often turned his chair toward the empty chair at night as if there were someone in it to talk to. Those were bad nights, usually. Nights on which he drank too much and began to rant at the wrongs of his household, his children, this country and the world. Often his rantings were in German, which made them easier for his children to ignore. There was no one left living in the house who understood more than a few words of German.
The fact that her father was sitting in her mother’s chair raised the hairs on the back of Freda’s neck. She couldn’t have said what she thought was going to happen, but the scene felt ominous. His face was black with dark emotions swirling. She couldn’t tell if he were angry or hurt or jealous, but she could feel the violent energy emanating from him like heat lightning streaking across the space between them. She sought to calm him. “Good morning, Papa,” she said, smiling as if she were pleased to see him. “Have you come to wish me luck?”
The idea that her father was there to wish her well was beyond the scope of possibility, but Freda was hoping to escape unabused. She’d give him the chance to take the high road and hoped he might comply. He couldn’t stop her now. Simon was just around the bend of the road with the cart that would drive her to her new life as his wife. She was moments from her freedom. She could afford largess. A glimmer of hope sparked in her heart that her father would let go his stubbornness and continue their relationship, that her marriage did not have to mean she’d never see her father again.
Wordless still, Gustav Wurth reached behind him to the fireplace front. Freda was puzzled. What could he be doing? She withdrew in horror when she saw the gun he brought back to his lap. Was he planning to shoot her? “Papa!” she cried. “What are you doing?”
He looked at her, beseechingly. His eyes were full of unshed tears and she pitied him. “Put down the gun, Papa. There’s no need for it now.” Her voice was kind and soft, full of all the love she harbored for him despite the years of indifference and abuse, full of the desire to earn his esteem and love in return.
“He is waiting for you?” he asked. He spoke quietly. Somehow that was more frightening than his yelling would have been. She nodded, clasping her hands at her waist like one hand could lend strength to the other. “And you intend to leave me for him?” She nodded again, tears rising to her eyes. He had left her no other recourse. He was the one who made her choose. Simon would never have asked her to abandon her father if he had left the smallest room for her happiness.
“I hope, daughter, that you can live with your decision,” he said, his voice grave. He picked up the gun from across his knees and turned it on himself. Before Freda could say a word, he had aimed it at his own throat and pulled the trigger.
Freda blinked, disbelieving. Her throat was completely dry and she felt frozen. There was no sound. It was as if she had gone deaf. Then, she heard the dripping as blood dripped from her father’s cheek and ear. She dared to look. The left side of his face was a mass of blood and gore. Heat flowed back into her body and suddenly she could move again. She ran to the kitchen and grabbed clean rags. She pressed them into the wound, crying out and screaming. She had no idea what she was screaming, what words, if any, cleared her throat.
Her father stayed slumped in the chair, shockingly still, the rifle at his feet where it had fallen. His eyes darted around the room and his chest rose and fall in hitching breaths. He was alive! She pressed against the wound with her body, trying desperately to staunch the bleeding. Her mind whirled, trying to figure out what she could do. She had to get help, but if she let go her hold, he would bleed to death.
Suddenly, the front door flung open. Simon was there in the doorway, his face and hair wild with fear. Relief flooded her. “Freda!” he yelled, not seeing her in the still-darkness of the room. “Freda! Are you all right? I heard a gun!”
Finding her voice, she responded. “It’s Father.”
His hand on his chest in what she would later remember as an almost theatrical gesture of concern, Simon rushed to her side. Taking in the scene quickly, he asked, “What’s happened?”
“He shot himself, Simon. We’ve got to save him!” Freda fought a wave of nausea, feeling the pulsing of her father’s wound under her hand. The rags were becoming soaked and wet in her grip.
A resolution grew on Simon’s face. In a flash, Freda saw the strength in him and was shocked to find it reminded her of her father. He turned her face towards him, “I’ll fetch the doctor. You can do this. Keep pressure on the wound.”
As quickly as he had flown into the room, he was gone. Slowly, Freda became aware of her surroundings again. She felt the pain in her hands from applying pressure with all her strength. Looking down, she saw the splatters and smears of fresh red blood on her white gown. She heard the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece. She smelled the acrid smoky smell of the gun still lying at their feet. She tasted blood and had no idea if it was her own or her father’s. She heard the wet, elastic sound of her father’s mouth opening and closing and the quiet moaning sounds he made. “Shhhh! Papa, don’t try to speak. Simon has gone for the doctor.” Her voice shook, but had a steadiness to it all the same. She thought to herself, “You can do this, Freda Elena. You are strong. You are strong. You are strong.”
The minutes stretched out endlessly. Freda shifted her body to the other side of her father’s head, pulling his head against her stomach. The gesture was a tender one, and Freda began to cry in earnest, sobs wracking her body.
Then, Simon was back, the doctor flying through the door behind him, a hand on his hat as if what mattered was keeping the hat upon his head. He pushed a protesting Freda away from the patient, instructing Simon to get the woman out of the way. It took her a few seconds to comprehend that it was okay to let go, that the doctor would treat him now. She collapsed onto the sofa where Simon had led her, exhausted.
Simon was a flurry of movement, running back and forth between holding her on the sofa, trying to offer her reassurance, and fetching whatever the doctor asked for. The stove had not yet been stoked for the day and there was no hot water. He had to get her to explain how the ancient machine worked. She did so, mechanically, her voice seeming to come from some distance away.
Freda felt cold, though she knew it had been a temperate morning. She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. Now that Simon was here, she could let go and her mind felt cloudy and distant. Her eyes didn’t seem to want to focus. A feeling of unreality took her over and she wondered if this were a nightmare. She earnestly hoped she might wake soon and start the day over again.
The sounds of medical activity continued behind her. Her father had been moved to the floor and a lamp brought to light the area. Freda felt as if there had been a jump forward in time. She had no idea when the changes to the scene had taken place. Her mind was a muddle of horror and confusion. Part of her wished the man dead, and part of her was frozen by guilt that she had caused him to take this rash action.
She turned away from her father and the doctor, looking instead at the sunlight on the other side of the door, which had been left hanging open to let in more light. Her suitcase lay next to the door, the cardboard splattered with red dots. The light outside was a rosy pink, a joyful color. It would have been a beautiful day for a wedding.