I’m working my way through my third novel, tentatively titled “The Scent of Forever.” Please enjoy the first chapter:
With birds chattering in the trees above her, Ann stared at the footprint of her ancestors’ cabin. Time had reduced its log walls and roof to ruddy banks around a flagstone floor. Only the hearth and part of the chimney wall remained upright. The rest of it lay in a heap, just like the pieces of her life.
Please enjoy the first chapter:
She would repair the chimney —starting today—but her dismantled world? That would take a different kind of mortar.
With an old ice cream bucket pressed against her belly, she kicked down weeds on her way to the wheelbarrow, scattering grasshoppers and seeds. “Okay, Yve, let’s do this. What’s the ratio again?”
Her best friend sat on the apex of a stepladder, a level in one hand and an open how-to book draped across the other. “Says here three scoops of sand, one scoop of cement, and half a scoop of lime.” She squealed and swatted at a yellow jacket, nearly upsetting the ladder. “Stupid bee.”
“Be careful, you numpty. We don’t have time for broken bones.” Ann turned toward the piles of mortar components, ready to begin the count, but a sculpted penis on top of the sand mound stopped her dead and sent Yve into hysterics.
Ann lifted an eyebrow. “What are we, twelve?”
“I thought you could use one.”
“You’re penis-obsessed, do you know that?”
“It serves me well.”
And so it did. Yve made a tidy living writing erotica.
The mischief faded from Yve’s eyes. “I hear a car.” She climbed off the ladder and looked up the dirt driveway toward the hemlocks that hid Ann’s property from the main road.
A burgundy Escalade barreled out of the woods and hummed across the iron bridge spanning the creek. It slid to a halt, and a woman behind the wheel took off expensive-looking sunglasses and opened the door.
“Shit,” Yve started up the hill. “I’ll be up at the house if you need me.”
Ann tossed the bucket to the ground. “Stay right where you are.”
Gucci pumps hit the dirt below the driver’s door.
“You ever return phone calls?” the woman asked Ann. She slammed the door and picked her way across the driveway, a Louis Vuitton bag slung over her shoulder.
Ann wiped her hands on her jeans. “Marla, you remember Yve Mason, don’t you?”
“Of course.” Marla’s Crimson Rapture lips twisted into a grimace-like smile. “I enjoyed your latest release. And you have another coming out shortly, no?”
“In November,” Yve replied.
“An author with work ethic.” Marla scowled at Ann. “Refreshing.”
“Here we go,” Ann said, turning away to retrieve her bucket. She scooped up the sand penis and poured it into the wheelbarrow.
Marla’s heels sank up to their necks as she stormed across the weedy ground. “Yes, here we go. I call you, I email you, I even send you letters. Who sends letters anymore?” She patted her chest. “This dumb lady right here. And do you respond? No, of course you don’t. You make me get in my car and drive two hundred frickin’ miles into the wilderness to find out what the problem is. And what’s the problem? Apparently, the problem is a crumbling chimney. A crumbling goddamned chimney is more important than your career. Than my career, for that matter.”
“You have other clients.”
“Yes, I do, I surely do, but not one of them is Ann McConnell. Let’s be honest, if you don’t make money, I don’t make money. I have bills, too, babe. When I took you on as a client, nobody knew who Ann McConnell was. You promised me you’d work hard, remember?”
“Look, get off my back. I just need some time.”
“How much time do you need? It’s been a year. He’s not coming back. Let that sink in a minute, sweetheart. Mike. Is. Not. Coming. Back.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Don’t I?” Marla popped open her bag and pulled out her phone. “Here.” She tapped its screen and turned it around. “Maybe this will help.”
A kick in the teeth would have hurt less than the photograph Marla held up to her.
Relax, they said, you’re trying too hard. You should adopt. Women always get pregnant after they adopt.
Ann was determined to appear indifferent. “Cute baby. She has Mike’s eyes.”
“Yes, and his twenty-something girlfriend’s pouty lips. And you know what else she has? Him. And she always will. Pull it together, McConnell, I’m running out of excuses.”
“Worthington will wait.”
“Worthington is getting impatient. So are your readers. Have you looked at any of your social media outlets lately? You might be surprised at the number of cranky people you’ll find there. You promised them another book ten months ago.”
“I’m tossing around a few ideas.”
“You told me that in March. Listen, I didn’t want to have to resort to this, but it’s like this: I have partners. They’re watching the numbers. You’re my numbers. Get your shit together, or you’re on your own.”
# # #
With the sun setting behind Turkey Ridge, Ann dropped into the cabin’s flagstone footprint. An open laptop illuminated Yve’s face. She lifted a bottle of wine from the floor next to her lawn chair. “Want a glass?”
Ann shook her head.
“I’m fine.” Ann lit a citronella torch and sank onto a bench she’d placed at the hearth, a feature she intended to convert into an outdoor oven. Mike had hated the idea. Like her parents, he’d considered the cabin an eyesore, and he’d wanted to level it—even hired a bulldozer on the sly shortly before their breakup—but Ann had threatened to chain herself to the chimney, and by god, she’d have done it.
“You knew about the baby already, didn’t you?” Yve asked.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Yve slid her laptop into its case and set it on the floor. “I’m your best friend. We should have talked about this.”
“What’s to talk about? My husband—”
“—left me for a younger woman and had a baby with her.”
“Don’t call her that. She’s a brainless tramp.”
“A brainless tramp with a functioning reproductive system.”
“And that makes her amazing, right?” Yve rolled her eyes. “Wow, she squirted a baby out of her ass. Nobody’s ever done that before.”
“You don’t get it,” Ann replied.
“Then explain it to me.”
“Look around you. Where are you?”
“Um, in Pennsylvania?”
“In some old cabin ruins.”
“A cabin built by my ancestors, who probably traded abject poverty for unforgiving wilderness.”
“Why would they do that?”
“I would imagine they did it out of desperation.”
“Exactly, because they wanted more for their children, and for their children’s children.”
Yve brushed an auburn strand of hair off her forehead. “Not following.”
“I’m the last of their line, did you know that?”
Yve’s expression softened as understanding hit home. “And you feel like you’re letting them down by not procreating.”
“They must have struggled to get here, and for what? So their line could eventually die out?”
“It’s not your responsibility to ensure their genetic content makes it to the next generation.”
“But if it ends with me, it makes their sacrifices pointless.”
“So don’t let it end with you. You can honor your ancestors without adding to the population, you know.” Yve stood, and her wiry frame cast a long shadow. “For god’s sake, Ann, you have two problems, infertility and a nose-diving career. There’s a single solution to both, and it’s as plain as day. Write about them. Memorialize them in a bestseller. A novel will live long after Mike and Chelsea’s dumb baby has even dumber babies of her own.”
Ann stared, momentarily lost for words. “I can’t believe I never thought of that.”
Yve waved away a mosquito. “Remember me in your acknowledgements.”
“I don’t deserve you.”
“Probably not. Now here,” Yve carried the bottle over, “have a glass of wine, and let’s talk about plots.”
The bottle dropped and shattered as Yve screamed and leapt onto the bench behind Ann.
“What the hell, Yve?” Ann scanned the darkness. Yve’s grip was tight on her arm.
“There,” Yve squealed, pointing over Ann’s shoulder at a flagstone, “something scampered under there. It was a mouse, wasn’t it? I hate mice. Do you think it was a mouse? I think it was a mouse.”
“It was probably just a cricket.”
“I’m serious. Go look, or I’m going back to the house.”
“You’re such a scaredy-cat.” Ann carried the torch closer to the hearth. She kicked away a tangle of honeysuckle, exposing a worn hole at the edge of a central flagstone.
“It was probably just a mole.” Curious, she slipped her fingers under the rock to flip it over.
“Oh my god, Ann, don’t,” Yve shrieked from her perch. “Something might bite you!”
Ann ignored her and hauled harder on the rock. What was an animal bite compared with the pain of losing the man you love?
“Seriously, Ann, what if there’s a whole colony of something down there? I’m going in the house. I mean it, I am.” But Yve’s paralyzing fear of rodents held her fast. “I can’t look.” She spread her hands across her face.
Ann flipped the rock over, exposing an intricate network of tiny tunnels. In one of them, something shimmered. She slid the torch closer and brushed away the dirt.
“What? What is it,” Yve squealed through her hands, “a snake?”
“Holy shit,” Ann repeated. She hooked a finger under one end of a gold necklace and lifted it out of the ground. It was greasy and caked with mud, but completely intact. A green stone gleamed at its lowest point, and as she wiped away more soil, she saw that the jewel was sandwiched between the jaws of two wolfhounds.
Yve peeked through her fingers. “Holy crap.” She forgot her terror and jumped off the bench. “If your ancestors were so poor, where’d they get that?”
“I have no idea,” Ann replied, “but we’re going to find out.”