As promised, I will tell you next about Edie St. Claire, the main character in The Sweet Spot, my novel that is set for a release next month. She’s a young widow, a single mom, and a good-hearted woman who knows how to have fun. Edie also has a strong backbone, which comes in handy when she gets caught in the middle of a dirty scandal in this snoopy little town.
Here’s a bit of background: Edie’s father, Alban “Benny” Sweet, has run the town dump for 35 years or so. Her mother died when she was young although her feisty Aunt Leona, who lives next door, took over motherly duties. Her two older sisters, ashamed of their Pop, high-tailed it out of town as soon as they could.
Edie married young to Gil St. Claire, a sweetheart of a guy who got killed in Vietnam. She’s bringing up their daughter, Amber, mostly by herself but with help from her family. She works in her in-laws’ general store. (They weren’t happy their favorite son married her by the way.)
Eight years after his death, Edie still grieves for Gil. She tries to ease that sadness with a bit of fun, whether it’s with her family, drinking it up and dancing at the Do-So-Do Bar in town, or playing on the Conwell Women’s Softball Team. (She’s a great third baseman.)
Then, there’s the affair with her married brother-inlaw, Walker, who’s nothing like Gil although Edie recognizes the man’s caring side. But things turn out badly both for Edie and Walker. Really badly.
I’m awfully fond of Edie, who’s a woman of incredible strength. She’s a mother who wants the best for her young daughter. She’s true to her family. And she’s got this wonderful energy and spark that Harlan Doyle, the man who moves next door into his grandmother’s ramshackle home, admires. So do I.
I begin The Sweet Spot with this scene. Lonny is a guy Edie hooked up with at the Do-Si-Do Bar in Conwell. There’s nothing serious with this man, or as I write later: “One thing led to something else, and then he followed her home in his pickup truck.” It’s 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,” she said.
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 and watched 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 you comin’ back?”
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 a 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 walked back this morning. Leona’s dog, a mix of golden retriever, collie, and some other breed, trotted slowly like the old mutt he was along 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 road’s hard ridges. “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 dense forest toward the town’s center, where she found a parking space behind her in-laws’ Thunderbird.
Amber knelt to reach the car’s back seat.
“See. 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 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 was 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 brought Daddy’s picture. Come on. It hasn’t started yet.”
Edie and Amber slipped through the small crowd clustered on the town commons. People nodded or spoke her name. Edie knew every one of them because people had a way of sticking close to the hilltown of Conwell 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.
NEWS ABOUT THE RELEASE: The release of The Sweet Spot has been moved to Feb. 20 for very good reasons. That is a definite. Until then, I’ll keep feeding you posts about the novel.
ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: This is part of the path I take on my daily walk through our sagebrush-filled neighborhood. Those are prints from my boots and what appears to be a coyote’s paws made the day before.