And so begins my embarkation into producing a professional author website/ blog. As I have stated in my last post, all other topics not related to writing, reading, and reviewing will be covered in a future personal blog site.
Several years ago, I went camping with my family and some family friends. Tired after a day of hiking and canoeing, the whole company and I were sitting around a toasty campfire roasting marshmallows. My father mentioned that he had read somewhere of an intriguing historical event, the Halifax Explosion, 1917. My ears were pricked. He recounted the story of two ships colliding in the Narrows: this accident produced one of the greatest man-made explosions to date. The explosion destroyed the city of Halifax, and neighbouring cities felt the effect of its power. I excitedly said, “Wow! They should make a movie out of it. Think of the story one could tell.”
At the time, I had just started my writing career. I wrote poetry and nothing else. My father, who always handed me a challenge, said, “You could write a book about it.” Those were the only words he needed to say to make it happen. After a year and a half of research, first drafts, rewriting, and editing, I completed my first historical fiction novel Redeemed From the Ashes. I decided the best way to combine my love for history and writing was to write a historical fiction novel. I know my idea was what a great movie it would make, and I still would love to see it on the big screen. But now I have dreams of my novel being published; then my adaptation, my story being put to the big screen. We’ll see how far it goes!
I will put up the first three chapters at different times to sample.
Here is the first.
The creaking oak floorboards betrayed the footfalls of an intruder. Evelyn Richardson was viciously aroused from her reverie. As she swiveled her head to peer around the back of her crimson cushioned chair, a gasp escaped her chapped lips. Casby, the dear old butler who had been in her family’s service for the last three and a half years, was standing beneath the dark-veneered door frame. His graying eyebrows were drawn up tightly, his eyes protruded from their wrinkled sockets, and his mouth was slightly parted. Poor man. She had tainted his previously quiescent air with her alarmingly unnatural skittish behavior.
“Madam, are you all right? Please forgive me. I had no intention of frightening you.”
“Uh, yes–– yes, I am quite well, thank you. Is it time?”
“Yes, it is. Shall I accompany you?”
“You’re very kind, Casby, but no thank you. I will return shortly. Would you see to supper being ready for when we return?”
“Very well, Madam.” Casby, with white-gloved hands at his bony sides, strode back into the darkened hallway, which consisted of a maple hall tree situated to the right of the gold-gilded mirror which her mother had given to her as a wedding present and a single entrance table upon which stood a glass vase of fresh-cut lilies.
Casby was one of the sole assets of her household that could impress her mother. The first time she had had her mother over for a visit after moving to Richmond was a serious matter, indeed. She had ordered Casby to clean the house until each surface was brightened by a sunny,
dust-free luster. And he had done just so. Her mother had admired the house, of course, since she had had a hand in choosing it. But Casby– her mother could not bear to look at him at first because of his emaciated features; but his excellent deportment in service and manners redeemed him from further harsh criticism and anchored him within her mother’s good graces.
Although she had been compellingly shaken by the interruption, Evelyn managed to rise from her chair. When she had first entered the spacious living room, her only intention was to sit in her favorite chair which sat in front of the sash window overlooking Grafton Street to bask in what little sunlight tore through the dense blanket of clouds and to watch the young lads play in the street. She had also welcomed the smell of fresh bread drifting from the bakery next door into the house through the crack in the open window. The snowflakes falling from heaven had impelled her to close her eyes and imagine the sensation she would feel were they to land upon her face and open mouth. She had heard the clomping of horses’ hooves and the buzz of conversation in the street. But as she had been admiring the grim beauty of the predictability of her neighborhood and soaking in all the bedlam, the smell of fresh bread had suddenly become the stench of smoke and fire. The snowflakes had become ashes; the clomping of horses’ hooves had turned into shouting and screaming, the buzz of conversation had ceased. And instead of seeing healthy young lads, she had seen them all lying on the ground, filthy and motionless, dead. She exhaled a deep breath. Everything was all right. She plodded toward the hall tree to collect her long fur coat and depart from the house. Eyeing her surroundings, she was relieved to see that life had not stopped, had not died even though it was the tiring, same old play. A tender smile played upon her lips.
“Oh, sorry, miss! Watch out! Oh…!”
“What in…!” As she bent down to grab her throbbing ankle, she saw a young boy attempting to push himself from the ground and right his fallen bike. “Are you all right? Are you hurt anywhere?”
“Only a little scrape, miss. See here.” He exposed his slightly bloody palms. “I will be all right, miss. I am so sorry I caused you hurt. Would you like me to retrieve some ice from my icebox?”
“Do you live nearby?”
“Uh, no, miss, but if you’ll wait a little while, I wouldn’t mind getting some.”
“That is very kind of you, but I think the cold air will do just as well. Try to be more careful next time… I’m sorry. I don’t know your name.”
“Oh, Clyde. My name’s Clyde.”
“Clyde, it was a pleasure to meet you even under these painful circumstances.” She extended her hand.
“Oh no, the pleasure was all mine, miss.” He clasped her hand and shook it with vigor, unaware that his slightly incorrect use of words under the circumstances amused Evelyn greatly.
“Is that your friend waving to you down there?” She pointed above Clyde’s head to a young brown-haired boy who was waving both of his arms in wide arcs above his head.
Clyde swirled around and waved in return, grinning mischievously. “Yes, it is. That’s Tommy. I should go; he’s not a very patient fellow. Thank you, miss. Goodbye!”
Evelyn hailed a horse and buggy and asked to be taken to the harbor. She paid the driver his fee and bid him a good day. Gliding off the buggy, she was met with a familiar sight, a boat such as the one in front of her that had come to collect her husband and his comrades in 1914 to fight the present war in Europe.
What a blessed place the harbor had been, and what a dismal place it had become. The people of Halifax had used to welcome distant friends, or bid a temporary goodbye to a loved one. Now it had become the shrine of despair where wives came to procure their decapitated husbands, where sons and brothers were met with weeping from broken-hearted families, and where marred soldiers came to kiss the beloved ground of their home country. Would things ever be the same again?
At last, the ship’s ramp was set in place. Evelyn was eager to welcome her husband home. It had been so long since she had seen his effulgent visage. Of course, she had her one wedding picture which she had looked at almost every day. But to see him and to touch him would be a whole other realm of reality. A great flux of men began to disembark. She was scanning every woebegone face, trying to find the one dearest to her heart. When she had not seen him after the
last person’s step withdrew from the plank, she became distressed. She pushed her way through the throng. “Excuse me, thank you. Carl! Carl!”
That voice she had been aching to hear rang through the chill air. All she would have to do was follow it to the source.
“Carl?” Where is he? She looked to her right. “Oh, there you are!”
She moved past two men, each having had one arm amputated, and straight into Carl. She buried her face beside his stiff uniform collar and nudged her nose closer to his neck to smell his chaffed skin. “How was your journey?” She fervently kissed his gelid hands.
“It could have been much worse.”
Evelyn gazed into his eyes. How she had missed those luminous blue diamonds! They had always sparkled for her; yet something was not quite right anymore. The spark, the light had vanished; and now those depths were hollow.
“Come. Let us get you home to a warm supper and a hot bath.”
During the ride home, Carl remained silent, looking out into the fleeting streets. Evelyn could not help but take in the sight of his missing leg. His leg had been cut off right below the knee. The left pant leg fully covered his limb while the right one was rolled up to the stump. He had been discharged from the army because of his impairment. She had seen many of the home boys return with a missing leg; but this was different.
“Here we are. It is so good to have you back home again. I have missed you.”
“That’s right. Shall I help you out? Do you need…?”
“No.” He edged over to the black door and leaned over to swing it open. He grabbed his crutches in one hand and held onto the handle with the other. He stepped out with some duress and motioned for Evelyn to take his proffered hand.
“Thank you.” She felt guilty taking advantage of his help even though it was perfectly adequate for him to offer it.
He anchored himself in front of the steps leading to… home. Evelyn stood by his side, listening to the steady rhythm of his breathing. She pivoted her head to regard the mild expressions that were appearing upon his handsome face. His eyes did not stray from the sight of their home. He squeezed her hand gently.
“Carl, tell me, what are you thinking?”
“It is just… I have not been home for a long while, and I was thinking I almost do not know what to do.”
“Shall we go inside?” She held his arm as she helped him hobble up the stairs, his crutches clacking against the slabs of stone.
As they entered their abode, Casby appeared from within the dining room that adjoined the entrance hall to the left. “Welcome home, sir.”
“Good old Casby. It is a pleasure to see you after so many years. Have you been taking care of the Mrs.?”
“Yes, sir, I have. And I do quite agree. It has been too long. Do you have any bags for me to take up to your room, sir?”
“Yes, Casby. Here you go. Thank you.” He handed Casby his “ditty” bag.
Casby took Carl’s bag and began to walk up the stairs. “Madam, did you enjoy your airing?”
“Yes, thank you.”
An acutely furtive glance darted from Casby’s eyes. The muscles in his neck stood out as intensely stressed chords. A little unnerved, she led Carl into the living room, which was situated directly across the dining room separated by the main hall. They both sat upon a light blue sofa, embellished with an oriental floral design. It had been a gift from Evelyn’s mother before the war years. A couple of feet to the left of the crimson chair which was across from them was a small wooden table, graced by a figurine of a man and a woman dancing in evening attire.
“Do you remember the night we met?” Carl muttered.
So he had glanced at the figurine, as well.
“Yes, I was just thinking about it.”
“I saw you not very far from where I was standing. You were the prettiest girl in the room. Your curls bobbed as you danced with the other men; I was quite jealous. Oh, God, you were a sight. And I will never forget.”
“You finally had the courage to ask me to dance when one of the last songs was playing. What you didn’t know was that I was waiting a very long time for you to whisk me away. Was not the band splendid? I can still hear it… in a past where…” She fumbled with his faded collar then slowly inched her fingertips closer to his Adam’s apple. “Where our lives were untouched by what has consumed them now.”
“But that was all I needed to know… it would forever be you.”
“Sir, supper is served,” Casby brusquely announced as he entered the living room.
“We’ll be there in a minute.”
They both looked at each other, thinking of happier days that had once been. But such thoughts could never settle in Carl’s fragile mind; for they were always quickly overtaken by torturous images that played continuously as if a film reel had been implanted inside his brain.
Little did Evelyn know of her husband’s true state of mind; and yet her own thoughts could not dwell in happy places for long periods of time either. Many times, grim embitterment and hopelessness of present circumstances would upstage her parade. Both sincerely hoped that the other was truly content, not wanting the other to know the truth about themselves.
Supper was hearty and filled both their stomachs adequately. Both husband and wife were fatigued and looking forward to sleep. Carl settled into a bathtub filled with soothing hot water. Evelyn perched upon a nearby stool and read Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit to him. Before the war had occurred, she had customarily read to him while he bathed. After reading a chapter, she gently closed the book.
“When you wrote to me you would be coming back because of what had happened to your leg, you never wrote how it had happened.”
“Would you like to know?”
Evelyn nodded her head.
“Ah, where to begin?” He rubbed his calloused fingers over his eyes. “We were fighting at Vimy Ridge. I was in the trenches–– awful places they are–– with my comrades. We were ordered to retreat from the trench; as we were retreating, a shrapnel hit my leg. I was one of the last of the men to abandon our position; as a result, nobody was aware of what had happened to me. It burned badly; I could barely breathe. Pain invaded my leg; I was defenseless. For onenight and one day, I wallowed in the mud while an abundant number of rats scampered around. I tell you, those little devils, we could never keep them away.
“Time had never moved so slowly for me then during that day and a half. I thought I was going to die. I thought… I would never see you again.” He raised his hand from beneath the water and stroked Evelyn’s porcelain cheek.
“Thank God, our troops did not let the enemy snatch the trench; for if my comrades had failed, I would not be alive, or maybe I would. Who knows what the Huns do to their prisoners of war. The Allied armies retrieved the trench early in the morning and found me.
“They sent me to the hospital immediately. The stationed doctor said it would be hopeless to try to save my leg because the gas gangrene infection was too widespread. The only thing they could do to save my life was to amputate my leg.
“I wouldn’t wish any man to experience this plague. War is a terrible thing. The depravity of men… Young and old fantasize about the honor and glory that come from serving their country; yet they hardly give a second thought to the terrors that are sure to invade one’s every thought. Yes, honor and glory come; but so does pain and horrors darker than the blackest night.” He closed his eyes and rested his head against the rim of the tub. “In spite of it all, I am proud to have served my country. I love my country. I love you. Protecting my country means I protect you and our livelihood. If we do not have love for our country, then do we truly love those closest to us?”
“You are… very honorable in the things you say. But you should not have suffered such as you did. You didn’t deserve it.”
“Evelyn, there will be many times when horrible acts will fall upon the most undeserving of people. What can we do? I cannot control the acts of others.”
Suddenly, she detected the sound of the flooring near the door groaning. The door was slightly ajar. A shadow slithered out of sight.
“Carl, did you see that?”
“There was someone at the door listening to our conversation.”
“I didn’t hear anything. Come, you are probably very tired. Why do we not retire to our bed now?”
“Yes, I… I am tired.”
Was her imagination playing tricks? It could not have been Casby; for he had retired an hour ago. Whom could it have been?
Evelyn had a very fitful sleep. The dark reverie she had seen that day returned as a nightmare. The snow turning into ash, the crying, the flames, and the shouting were all the same; however, this time Casby, wearing an ashen mask and having a devilish glint in his eyes, promenaded through the chaos unharmed.
A chill glided over the hairs of her uncovered arms. In the darkness, she grappled for the sheets. Warmth immediately settled over her cold form. Wait, that was too easy. He always… Emptiness and some untold dread covered her in a cocoon. She rolled over to watch Carl sleep; but to her surprise, he was missing.
Where could he be at such an early hour? She quickly threw her cream sheer robe over her clingy nightgown and ran down the stairs. She surveyed every room until she found him dressed in a casual suit in the dining room eating some bread, cheese, and grapes while reading the previous day’s edition of the Halifax Herald.
“What are you doing?” She combed her fingers through her unkempt hair.
“When I woke up, you were not beside me. So I thought perhaps something had happened and…”
While she rambled on, Carl just looked at her, unaffected by the anxiousness she was exhibiting. “Evelyn.”
She took a deep breath. “Yes?”
“Just because I lost my leg does not mean I cannot function on my own. I appreciate your concern, my dear, but it is not necessary. By the way, that is a lovely robe you are wearing.”
Having been disarmed by his suave voice, she was tranquil enough to notice his sensual gaze upon her normally over-clothed body. So ignited was the passion burning within his eyes that she crossed her arms over her chest and stammered…
“Thank you. But have you not seen this robe a hundred times before?”
“I have. What of it?”
“Well, I thought that perhaps the novelty of its… design would have worn off by now.”
“Remember, I have not been here for the last two and a half years… so, no, I still find it extremely attractive draped like so upon your… figure.”
“Evelyn, let’s not play games.” He pushed back his chair, walked toward her, and clutched her to himself, planting tender kisses along her exposed collarbone and feeling his way down her curves, his breath warming her to her toes.
Her body tensed, and her breath was released in irregular spurts. “Carl… I… uh, what were you doing up so early?”
“Why?” He continued his increasingly feverish kissing.
“Carl. I just… want to know.”
He paused, his touch gone cold. “All right, I’ll desist.”
“Carl, please.” She frantically tried to grab his hands, but it was too late. He had already retreated to his former seat.
Instead of blushing from her husband’s physical assertions, she colored in shame. Why did I stop him? Did I not want this to happen? Have I not been pining for his caresses, his touch? I did expect this to happen. Of course, I did. Stupid girl! How am I to mend this?
“Frankly, the reason I am up so early is that when I awoke I felt the best I have ever felt in a long time. The bed was like heaven, and there was no damn noise keeping me awake at all hours of the night. I felt so rejuvenated; I wanted to start my day right away.” He offered her a curt smile and flapped the wings of his newspaper as if he were trying to fool himself into thinking he was all right with his apocryphally flowery speech.
And I have just ruined his perfectly good morning. “Carl, that is… wonderful.” She approached cautiously, knowing he could not have easily forgotten or forgiven her rebuttal, and gave him a kiss upon his broad forehead. “I will return with some food for myself.”
After filling her plate with the same delicacies Carl had taken, she rejoined him at the dining table. “What are you reading in the paper?”
“News about the war.”
After a few moments of stifling silence, Carl devoured his food, gulped down his coffee, and hastily left her presence. Not a word could leave her lips; so stunned was she by his disquieting behavior.
I am definitely in a kettle of hot water now.
As the day dragged on, Carl’s missing presence produced a state of tension within Evelyn’s mind and limbs. At one point she was writing a letter to her mother and was very tempted to disclose the very frustrating feelings she had toward herself and Carl. But no. No good would come out of it. Mrs. Moore didn’t need any more ammunition against Carl.
During lunch and supper, Evelyn was seated alone at the table while Carl had asked his plates of food to be brought to the study. And before she retired to bed, Evelyn knocked upon his study door without receiving a reply. The only sounds she could perceive were the flipping pages of a book. Only at midnight did Carl venture upstairs to his bedroom and slide into his bed, careful not to touch her anticipating form. She was lying next to a stranger.
The next morning she again found him in the dining room, his head hiding behind the newspaper.
At least, he is not ignoring me.
“I am looking at the job advertisement section. Evelyn, I’ve been thinking. I need a job to support the both of us, without your mother’s continual financial contributions.”
“Do you not have a pension? And what is wrong with her… contributions?”
“Yes, I do have a pension. Concerning the contributions, there is nothing inherently wrong with them. What I mean to say is we are our own family, and I would like to be the sole provider for this family.”
“You have never slighted them before.”
“Well, things are different now.”
“You ask too many questions I care not to answer at the moment.”
This is not about a job. This is about me.
After a few moments, Carl slapped his hand upon the table. “I’ve got it! Look here! The Halifax Herald is looking to employ another editor. It is just in my line of work.”
“You already found something?”
“Why? You do not approve?”
“I do–– it is just that–– well, you have recently returned from war. And now you want to leave me again?”
“Come now, Evelyn, I am not fighting in this war anymore. You will have me for probably most evenings, Saturdays, and Sundays. I will not be in some far-off country. The office is down the street, hardly a jog away.”
“It is a few blocks of a jog away.”
He rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. The point is I would like to inquire at the office today.”
Her heart was aching for him to stay put. When she had known he was to return, she had dreamed of having him all to herself, stroking back the hair from his face as he would tell her how much he had missed her. And she would tell him how much she loved him. But present circumstances would not bend to her fanciful wishes. She also wanted to mend the damage she had so gracefully invested into their marriage. “Would it be all right if I came along?”
“You will be bored.”
“Please, I would like to.”
They walked down the crowd-infested blocks and arrived at the office. While Carl was being interviewed for the position of editor, Evelyn sat in the waiting area.
The waiting area was large enough to accommodate two simple wooden chairs that faced the main oak desk. The bottom half of the walls had been painted a hunter green that was now blemished with several scratches and grooves. The upper half was ivory. The walls were adorned
with black and white photographs of the official ceremony commemorating the opening of the office, the editor-in-chief with the office manager, and a few landscapes of the Nova Scotia shore. She peered behind the front desk to see a large room that was separated into even, little cubicles. The air was abuzz with conversations. Tips were being whispered in between writers, orders were shouted, and proud conquests were proclaimed.
As time passed, Evelyn thought more of the grief she had caused during yesterday’s breakfast. What if he is only trying to get the job to stay away from me? Will he hold a grudge against me forever? He needs to rest more.
Carl returned to the waiting room with a smug grin on his face. “I got the job!”
“I am very happy for you. Truly, I am.”
“I congratulate you.” A young man appeared from behind the main desk, holding out his hand. “The name’s Jake. Good luck.”
“Thank you.” Carl shook Jake’s hand. “I believe I will see you tomorrow.”
Carl and Evelyn walked out of the office and were greeted by a cold wind that compelled them to draw their coat collars higher up their necks.
“Please forgive me for not being so enthusiastic at first when you mentioned the possibility of acquiring the job. I was being very selfish. I just wanted to spend more quality time with you. But I now realize you enjoy spending time with other people and want to be employed in some
kind of work. And I need to let you be free to do that, without having to cater to my whims or without having to suffer my frustration against you.”
“I… There is nothing to forgive.”
“Carl… this is ridic…”
“Shall we go have some lunch?”
He was too stubborn. Could he not see she was trying to right her wrong?
Perhaps, I am not saying the right thing.
When they returned to the house, no one was home. Casby was always ready to greet them from any excursion they came from.
“How strange!” Evelyn untied the scarf from around her neck.
“Casby is nowhere to be found.”
“Well, perhaps, the old chap went out for a stroll.”
“But he is always here.”
“Oh, what does it matter? I will prepare a light lunch for the both of us.”
After they ate lunch, Carl rose from his seat. “I am going to rest in the study for an hour or so.”
Evelyn went upstairs into her sewing room to embroider a cushion she had commenced the week before. All was quiet in the house. It reminded her of the days when she had to deal with the frustrating silence that ensued after Carl had left home for the war in Europe, those days
when she had cried till she had no more tears to give because of the loneliness that had sunk within her soul. She thought she could faintly hear her cries in the distance of her memories. But then she realized that it was not her past cries that she was hearing. It was someone else’s moaning. She lay down the cushion immediately and followed the sound into the study downstairs.
“Carl?” Worry overtook her. She had never seen him so distressed. “Are you all right?”
“Go away!” His sobs sounded as violent waves crashing upon the seashore. He moaned, hiding his head beneath his wracking hands.
“I am not going away whatever you say.” Evelyn put her arms around him and laid her cheek upon his bent back.
Soon after Evelyn had arrived to comfort Carl, he fell asleep peacefully. But Evelyn could not. She was disturbed by her husband’s refusal to forgive her. He always had to put a great effort in forgiving the wrongs of others toward him. It was a virtue he did not normally possess. But this was absurd. After the sun had set, Carl started to shift from side to side until he was finally aroused.
She slowly helped him to a sitting position. “Carl, what happened?”
“Uh–– oh, I am sorry. It was nothing.”
“Please, Carl, tell me what happened?”
Carl swallowed slowly, bowed his head, and whispered, “I saw them.”
“My comrades all around me were dying, screaming. Blood was seeping from their open wounds. Their cold dead eyes stared back at me. In the chaos, I could not close their eyelids. Cannons were setting off. But then I saw heaven break open. You were picking flowers from the back garden and smelling them, and you looked at me with longing. I tried to reach out for you with my hand but I could not touch you, feel the warmth of your body. Then you vanished, and I was on the battlefield again.” He touched her face with both of his hands, feeling every plane. “Evelyn, I need you. Don’t let me go.”
“I won’t. Neither you or I are leaving each other, ever.” Evelyn put her arms around him. “We will always be together. I promise.”