Edie St. Claire, the widow of a soldier killed in Vietnam, tries to ease her grief with his married brother. But when their affair ends tragically, many in this small town, including her in-laws who thought her unworthy of their beloved son, turn against her. Edie tries to survive the scandal through the support of her rough-sawn family and a scarred man who moves here for his fresh start.
Now available on Amazon in kindle and paperback. Here is how it starts.
Memorial Day 1978
The rap on the bedroom door was light and quick. Edie St. Claire sat up in bed.
“Crap, it’s after nine.”
Her daughter’s voice came through the door in a thin, worried wail.
“Ma, you up yet? We gotta go.”
“Yeah, yeah, Amber, I’m getting ready.”
Edie reached over Lonny for the black bra on his side of the bed. He groaned in his sleep when she touched him, and then she was on her feet, running to use the bathroom, grabbing whatever clean clothes she could find. She was a pretty woman, the type who made men smile and want to be with her. Short, she favored her father’s side, the Sweets, with her slight build and light blue eyes. She combed her fingers through her brassy brown hair, cut straight at the jaw.
Lonny opened one eye, watching her hasty dress. He mumbled something low and creaky in the back of his throat.
“I gotta go. I told you last night,” she said.
Lonny propped himself on one elbow.
“When are you coming back?”
“I don’t know.”
Edie slipped out the door with her purse and a bottle of mouthwash. Amber was on the other side, her blue eyes blinking fast, brows arched high. Edie shut the bedroom door behind her.
“Amber, I gotta teach you how to use the coffee machine.”
“But I’m only seven and a half.”
“Seven and a half? You’re old enough.”
They raced out the kitchen door to the car. Pop’s pickup blocked their way. Edie studied her father’s half of the house. Nothing stirred except two gray cats jumping off the couch to the porch’s floorboards.
“How we getting out, Ma?”
“Don’t you worry about that, Amber. Just get in the car.”
The wheels of Edie’s white sedan spun into the high grass when she drove across the front yard, steering hard to the right to avoid the drainage ditch. Her mouth was full of wash, and she worked at the sharp liquid until she spat out the open window.
“See?” she said.
Her daughter’s head moved in several small bounces.
They were nearly at Aunt Leona’s house, one of three on this dead-end dirt road. Amber spent the night there and came back this morning. Leona’s dog, a mix of golden retriever, collie, and some other breed, trotted slowly like the old mutt he was on the road’s shoulder. The dog halted briefly and raised his head when he recognized the sound of her car.
“Uh-oh, old Bob’s following you.” Edie slowed the car when it tires chattered and slid sideways over the ridges of dried mud. “We’ll just have to bring him back later. I don’t have time for it now.”
“Are we gonna be late?”
“No, no, we’re fine. Honey, fish in my purse for my sunglasses. Any aspirin? No? Shit. Oh, yeah? Open the bottle and give me two. Thanks.”
Edie pushed the car forward to the main road, past the edges of the dense forest toward the town’s center, where she found a parking space behind her in-laws’ T-bird.
Amber knelt to reach the car’s back seat.
“Look. I remembered,” she said.
Amber clutched a framed photograph, the one taken of her father weeks before his helicopter was shot down in Vietnam. It happened eight years ago, one month before Amber was born, and the sun glinted off Gil’s long, thin face in a way that broke Edie’s heart all over again. His hand was on his hip. His khaki shirt was unbuttoned as he leaned against the chopper. He and his crew, who died together, called it the Angel of Darkness. Gil’s dark eyes went through Edie as if he were cool and tough, but she knew better. Those were boys who died that day in Vietnam, and sweet boys if they were like her Gil.
“I’m glad you remembered Daddy’s picture,” Edie said. “Come on. It hasn’t started yet.”
Edie and Amber slipped through the small crowd clustered on the town common. People nodded or spoke her name. Edie knew every one of them, because people had a way of sticking close to the town of Penfield in western Massachusetts.
“Marie. Fred,” she greeted her in-laws, but her attention was on her mother-in-law. “How are you?” Edie asked although she didn’t expect an answer.
Instead Marie smiled at Amber. Edie’s father-in-law, Fred, his bald head shining as if it had a pink shell, hugged a wreath of red and white carnations. A blue ribbon said, “OUR BELOVED SON GIL.”
Marie’s head chopped toward her husband.
“Where’s Walker?” She worked the corners of her mouth. “It’d be just like him to forget his brother.”
Fred raised his chin.
“There he is. See him over there?”
Walker, wearing his best black cowboy hat and boots, marched across the mowed grass. His face, thin, with a straight nose, was tanned from working outdoors. One of the builders in town, he greeted people he knew, firm handshakes all around. He leaned in to speak with someone in the crowd.
“It’s about time he showed up.” She sniffed. “I don’t see Sharon or the boys, do you?”
Fred shook his head.
“No, I don’t.”
Marie pursed her lips.
“She never comes. Never. He could’ve at least brought the boys. Gil was their uncle after all.”
Fred clutched his wife’s arm.
“Marie, take it easy.”
Edie closed her eyes behind her sunglasses. Her head throbbed.
“Hi, honey,” Marie told Amber. “What do you have there?”
Amber showed her the photograph.
“See. It’s Daddy.”
Marie held her hand to her chest.
“Oh,” she said in a broken way.
Amber glanced large-eyed from her grandmother to her mother. Only a head shorter than Edie, she was going to be tall and skinny-boned like Gil. Her hair, somewhere between black and brown, just like her Daddy’s, fell over the left side of her face. Edie tucked it behind her daughter’s ear.
“That’s better.” Edie swallowed. “You have Daddy’s picture. Wasn’t he so handsome?”
Amber held the photo face-out so everyone could see her father. Edie used a knuckle to smear the tears that spilled down her cheeks. Maybe thirty, thirty-five people were here today. When Gil died, the church was so full, people had to stand outside in rain mixed with snow, and she let their baby she carried keep her upright throughout the ordeal. Now, Edie rested her hand on her daughter’s shoulder to calm herself again.
Walker pecked his mother’s cheek.
“Shh, Walker. It’s going to start. Take off that damn hat, will you?” Marie hissed.
Walker swiped the hat from his head and smoothed his long, dark hair in place. His eyes shifted toward Edie.
“I came. Didn’t I?”
Edie tried to smile.
“Yes, you did, Walker. Thank you.”
School children and scouts in droopy uniforms clutched flags or lilac sprigs. A color guard of men who fought in World War II and Korea hauled flags from the back of a station wagon. One of Gil’s great-uncles watched from the passenger seat of a car parked on the edge of the common. The ceremony was so brief it wasn’t worth getting his wheelchair from the trunk. He gave Edie a ghostly wave from the open door. She waved back.
The color guard marched toward the town’s memorial stone and the flagpole. The veterans in the crowd saluted. Lots of boys from Penfield fought in Vietnam, but only her Gil died. His full name, Gilbert James St. Claire, was painted in black on a white, wooden cross beside the ones for two boys killed during World War II. Edie knew their last names, because their families still lived in town. But like the children here today who never met Gil, she didn’t know either of them.
People stared sadly at Edie and Amber while one of the color guard read President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Some years a group of children recited a poem or sang a song, but not today. The pastor of the Penfield Congregational Church spoke, his voice a drone when he praised the three brave soldiers who grew up in Penfield and died so far from home.
Edie saw past the row of scouts to a man standing near the edge of the road. His head tilted to the right. He was tall but he held his body in a twist as if a part of him was incomplete. Deep scars cut the flesh of his face below his aviator sunglasses. She hadn’t seen him before. Maybe he was visiting someone in Penfield or driving through and he stopped when he saw what was going on at the memorial. Maybe he fought in Vietnam. Maybe it’s how he got hurt.
The pastor was silent. He gestured.
It was their signal. Fred set the wreath in front of the large stone, and then he and Marie stood at Gil’s cross. Fred put his arm around Marie when she began to weep, and after several minutes they were back.
Marie reached into her purse for a handkerchief. She studied Amber’s upright face.
“Oh, sweetie, did anyone ever say you look just like your Daddy?” Marie asked.
“Yeah, you do, Grandma. All the time.”
Two high school boys played taps, one hidden behind the church so it sounded as if there was an echo, although one boy’s horn was better than the other. Afterward, men in the color guard raised their rifles and fired blanks into the air. The ceremony was over, and the crowd broke apart. Edie searched for the stranger but he was gone.