Northern Comfort

Northern Comfort: How It Starts

Only days ago, I announced my newest book, Northern Comfort will be released July 19 on Kindle. Until then, it is in the preorder phase. I’m chuffed, as my UK friends would say, that readers have enthusiastically preordered the book. Thank you because it helps the book get traction on Amazon. (The link is below.)

Northern Comfort is not part of my Isabel Long Mystery Series, but it has the same setting, the fictional hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. But this book is what I would call a dark drama because of the story I tell — a woman struggling to raise her brain-damaged son, Cody after his father abandoned them. They are way below that so-called poverty line as she supports them working in a hair salon. They live in a cabin left by the grandfather who took them in. Willi tries to do her best for her son. But a tragic accident involving Cody severely tests her resilience.

Over the next few weeks I will write more about the characters and themes in Northern Comfort. For now, here is the first chapter to hopefully pique your interest.

The chapter is called Worst of Winter. That’s the time of year this book takes place. It’s the coldest and dreariest part of the season in the small town where Willi and Cody live. Here I will let the first chapter set the scene for you.

Willi Miller pinned her best blouse to the rope line, shaking her bare hands to keep the blood moving, as she reached into the broken plastic basket for something else. She should have done this miserable chore before she went to work this morning, but she didn’t have the time. 

Short and thin-boned like her mother, but yellow-haired like her father, Willi spun around for her boy, who stood a half-foot away, staring at the dog whimpering and jerking its chain. “There you are, Cody. Stay near me,” she said.

Her boy, dressed in a one-piece red snowsuit, his mittens packed tightly on his hands, didn’t say a word. He only made noises that sounded like words, and he was seven. His ‘Ma,’ Willi had decided, was exactly as an animal would say it.

Earlier this afternoon, she got Cody at the babysitter’s house, where the van took him after school. Willi was a hairdresser at the Lucky Lady Beauty Shop in nearby Tyler although the running joke among the gals who worked there was it should be called the Unlucky Lady because of the stories the customers told about their men. Cheaters, drunks, and bums, the whole lot of them, it seemed, by their complaints.

The ‘Lucky Lady’ was busy today with high school girls who wanted their hair curled and piled high for the semi-formal tonight. They were fun customers, so excited about their dates and the big Friday night ahead, she didn’t mind their lousy tips. Willi remembered not that long ago she did the same.

She fed Cody cereal after they got home just to hold him until she made dinner. He ate a few spoonfuls before he began playing with it, making a mess as usual, so she dressed him in his snowsuit and took him outside after she lowered the damper on the wood stove.

Now, Cody walked beneath the hanging laundry toward the dog, named Foxy by her grandfather, who used to own the brown, short-haired, pointy-eared mutt. Willi called to her boy, who moved step by step across the snow, breaking through its icy crust until he sank to the top of his boots. He turned toward his mother. His green eyes peered from beneath the brim of his cap. Yellow snot bubbled from one nostril.

“Yeah, I’m watchin’ you,” Willi said, bending for a towel.

Snow seeped through a crack in her right boot. Cold numbed her toes. She should put duct tape over the brown rubber, but it was her only pair, and it’d look like hell.

“Hey, Cody. Where’re you goin’?”

Her boy marched with fast little feet past the junked truck to the back of their house, where his sled, a cheap thing she bought, was propped against the wall. “This is a red sled,” she told Cody in the hardware store.

Her boy uttered a sound that might have been “red” but only she would know. She understood his ways most of the time. He wanted things tick-tock regular when he ate, what he wore.

Her eyes followed her boy, dragging his sled, grunting, toward her. He dropped it at her feet and sat inside. The heels of his boots kicked up and down. “Maaaaa,” he called.

Willi sighed. Cody wouldn’t let up until she gave him a ride. Her boy liked it when she towed him in his sled along the driveway to get the mail. He made happy chirps and flapped his mittens. She wiped her hands on her black jacket, a man’s, too big and open in the front because the zipper was broken. Its bottom swayed against her legs as she walked.

“All right, Cody, but just a little ride.”

She reached for the towrope and pulled Cody in a large circle. His mouth formed a wide, sloppy smile, and he let out gleeful sounds as Willi went slowly, then gained speed. She had to work at it because her feet sank through the snow, although the sled glided easily on its surface. She was careful to stay on the flat part of her land, away from the edge of its tabletop, where it plunged onto her neighbor’s property then to one of the town’s main roads below. When she squinted, she could see the Mercy River flowing through its snowy valley like a blue vein on a woman’s wrist.

Round and round Willi towed her son. She slipped on the packed ring of snow, and her straight, yellow hair dropped to her jaw when her knit cap fell. Cody’s head rocked back as he yelped in pleasure. After a while, she stopped, out of breath.

“I gotta finish hanging the clothes before it gets dark. Alright?” she told Cody, although she did not expect his answer.

She picked her hat from the snow. The sun was low in the sky, and the dark smudge spreading from the west likely carried more snow. Willi frowned. It’d be too much trouble to take the clothes down again. She hated this part of winter, mid-January. It snowed every day, not much, but enough to keep the road crews going with their plows and sanders. Winter always has a week like this, unsettled weather, the worst of the season, of the year, as far as she was concerned. Often, it happened after the thaw, so that brief warm spell seemed like one cruel joke.

She bent for one of Cody’s shirts. She had to work faster because the clothes were stiffening inside the basket. After she hung them, they would freeze into thin slabs, like shale, and after a day or two, they’d be dry. If she had any money, she’d buy a dryer. She glanced toward her house and saw missing clapboards. She’d fix those, too.

When she was a girl, she used to keep a mental list of what she’d get if she were rich: stuff like pink high heels and a long white coat. None of them seemed practical for a town like Hayward, where half the roads were dirt and fancy things were in other people’s houses. Now, she’d buy a car that worked without worry and hire a lawyer to make her ex-husband, Junior, pay child support. 

Her boy bucked his body while he lay on his belly inside the sled, wailing as if he were wounded. Willi shook her hands and grabbed a pair of jeans from the basket. 

“Shit, I hate this life,” she said.

LINK: Kindle readers can buy Northern Comfort for $2.99 on Amazon. Of course, if you have Kindle Unlimited, it is free. Here is the link:

Alas, paperback readers will have to wait.