Today’s excerpt is from the novel To Finish a Quilt by Grant Staley
‘Why did I deserve that abuse? What indecency did I have that made you turn away from me when I called?’
She [Eunice] had asked that very question tens of times almost every day for over two decades. She waited for God to speak to her, but she heard no reply so she searched within her memories for a cause. The same minor trespasses came to mind: a trivial curse when she bumped her knee on a pew, an unkind word to her grandmother, lying to her brother Tommy. Those were not real answers to her question so it was probably as her father had said in his last words to her. Somehow, she had failed God with the deep stains she wore.
That night when she was sixteen, she had been curled up on the bed wearing her long white nightgown with flowers embroidered around the neck, praying with all her might that her father might just go on to bed without another sloppy conversation. The periods of icy silence and cutting jabs between her mother and him had been bad enough, but by that point, talking with a drunk had become intolerable without disgust-soaked words filling her voice. Those prayers had been in vain.
The twenty-one year old echoes of her father bumping his way up the staircase filled her with a medley of hate, shame, and guilt. The sobbing and pain, the stench of alcohol, and the taste of blood inside her lip were still as real as that night when her pale eyes had felt about to burst from their orbits as if the pressure of her imprisoned screams were pushing them out. As always, she decided that desire was not on her bastard father’s mind that night. It was punishment.
More than punishment, her father was a first taste of what men really were. Her brother, who had deserted the family, and her husband, who like all men could not help himself around loose women, confirmed the message of that awful lesson even if they had never assaulted her physically. Her brother’s emotional abandonment had concluded with irreparable and devastating consequences. There was nothing that would rectify what he had done. Her husband’s throwing her over for an infant; however, was a grievance she would not permit. Something must change the course of his infatuation. She needed to prevail this time.
That damn baby was making more noise. Without more of a true-ringing answer to the question of why she had suffered so at the hands of men, she walked away from the bedroom, her head throbbing with every step and every cry of the baby.
Halfway down the hallway, she paused to take in the commanding panorama from high above the San Gabriel Valley. She loved this house, the prestigious address, and the outlook of the city that always gave her a sense of accomplishment. But, the baby’s cry broke the spell an instant later, causing her to sigh before she stole into her daughter’s room.
She walked through the full moon’s blue light that filled the nursery and looked down into the crib. The child kicked her chubby legs in gleeful anticipation, and her mouth arced into a pudgy heart that cooed her welcome. The child had begun to recognize her over a month ago, and she took that as a sign of intelligence. This child would be clever, probably not as smart as the son but crafty and, as a girl, able to manipulate her father.
Watching the child wriggle in its crib, she felt the night’s anger and disgust rise again. She hated this baby. She could right that wrong. It was all in her power. Jules would be sad for a while, but he would get over the loss. She would be there to help him through the pain. Babies die in their sleep all the time; she knew that to be true.
Julie started to fuss again and seemed about to let out a cry. Eunice bent over to caress the tiny, buttery face with the back of her hand. Solemnly she took the pillow from under the child’s head.
“Shhh, there there,” she whispered as she placed the pillow over the baby’s face and pressed it down along her ears.
There were sounds, painful ones that brought back her own vain pleas from long ago, but she could learn to live with those too. The infant’s legs started to dart frantically in every direction. Seconds dragged by as Eunice looked out the window.
How much longer could this take, she asked herself as the convulsions continued. She heard a click and decided it was the crib uttering a final creak.
“Mom?” she heard a second later and flinched.
Glancing out of the corner of her eye, she saw her son Gary slumped on the doorframe behind her. His red plaid pajamas hung from his lean five-year-old body.
Without hesitation, Eunice slid the pillow away, and the baby started to bawl. She spun in Gary’s direction and stomped her way close to him.
“Damn it Gary. See what you’ve done? I almost had her down, but you’ve ruined that.”
The boy, recoiling away from her, said, “I was having a bad dream.”
“And what can I do about that?”
Gary brought a hand to his mouth and started to gnaw on his thumbnail. He turned back to his room.
“Nothing, I guess.”
Grant, originally from California, lives in the Auckland suburb of St. Heliers with his wife and their two dogs. He is an avid sailor, musician, cyclist, and writer.
His first novel To Finish A Quilt is a story of a young woman’s unfathomable hurt, the way it influences others around her, and how two men central to her life reach resolution and peace. A second novel is in progress for release in late 2013. Learn more and how to purchase at www.grantstaley.com