#Valentine’sDay #ShortStory “Shall We Dance.” #RRBC #IARTG #Romance

love is ommortal valentines day image

“Shall We Dance”

By

Suzanne Burke.

 

Valentine’s day was looming again and Candace resisted the temptation to rip the month of February from the calendar hanging on her kitchen wall.

She needed no reminder of the celebration. For so many, it heralded a beginning, a step into the future with a love that they were certain would last a lifetime.

For her, it had been both the beginning and the end. Mitch had proposed on that long ago Valentine’s Day. He’d taken her dancing that night. He’d danced her around a room filled with uniformed Marines and as they watched on he’d dropped to his knees in the middle of the dance floor and proposed. They’d all cheered as Candace had given him her answer.

The sad-faced pastor and Lieutenent Colonel Brian Henderson had arrived at her door on February 14th almost a year ago.  Her Mitch wouldn’t be returning from Afghanistan. What followed was now etched forever in her memory. The hushed voices of their friends as they’d rallied around her to offer their understanding support and comfort. The wives who had hurriedly blessed their own lives, grateful that their own men were safe, for now.

Candace had searched everywhere for comfort. The inside of a bottle gave her only a temporary respite from the agony of his absence.

She and her Mitch had refused to discuss the possibility of him dying in the service of his country. That knowledge hovered unspoken on the peripheral of their lives. Giving it life was unthinkable. The future unimaginable without the enduring love they’d shared for almost fifteen precious years.

They’d already mourned and accepted the fact that they couldn’t have children of their own. Mitch had been eager to explore all the other avenues now available to childless couples. It had been her choice to remain childless. For her, Mitch would be the only love she’d ever need in her life. Her decision came back to haunt her now in the desperate solitude of her days and the eternal emptiness of her nights.

The new future danced in her nightmares. She’d stopped drinking when even the oblivion of alcohol had handed her no solace.

There had been no coffin proudly draped with their countries flag. No headstone to dignify his final resting place. A plaque on a wall was all that signified his passing. He was listed M.I.A and presumed dead along with two others from the Seal team he’d led with such utter devotion.

The bodies of his two team members had finally been located and identified. Candace had attended their funerals and wept along with their wives.

After shutting herself away for many months and drawing the increasing concern of her friends she’d finally begun to see a counselor. Yet as much as she’d understood the words he was saying, as much as her intelligence had accepted the innate wisdom of those words, she’d still steadfastly refused to accept the finality of Mitch’s death. How could he be gone when she could still hear his laughter? And on the long nights, as she lay in the darkness she’d smell the scent of his favorite aftershave waft through the room.

She’d reach for him in the darkness and moan his name, then cry for hours at the empty futility of her longing.

Candace dragged her mind back to the present. The sound of her cell phone had interrupted her thoughts several times in the past two days. She’d ignored the calls. Tomorrow was the anniversary.  She knew it would be folks ringing to check on her and offer up their kindness and willingness to help her in any way they could.  She’d hidden away from the repeated knocks on the front door that had been increasing in frequency. She couldn’t deal with the pats on the shoulder and the looks of sadness. Not now. Maybe not ever.

A car pulled up out front and a young Marine slid an envelope under the front door. Her hands shook as she picked it up, it was from the office of Lietenant Colonel Henderson and marked as extremely urgent.

Candace couldn’t bring herself to open it. She knew what it would be. This explained all the calls and the attempts to make contact. It could only be the acknowledgement that Mitch’s body had finally been recovered. Opening that envelope would leave her no choice at all but to believe he was gone.

It must wait till after Valentine’s Day tomorrow.  She gave herself permission to have this one last chance of disbelieving.

Candace sat on the sofa in the gathering darkness, she leaned her head back, closed her eyes and began humming Shall we Dance from the King and I. That was the marvelous music that Mitch had arranged to be played on the happiness fuelled Valentine’s night when he had proposed.

The memories swept her away for hours and she welcomed all of them. The day was beginning to dawn as she fell into a troubled sleep.  Today would be the final day before she was forced by facts to move on with her life.

Candace jumped with shock at the sound of someone pounding on the front door. She flicked a glimpse at her watch, “Jesus!  Hold on. Do you know it’s four o’clock in the morning!” She threw on her bathrobe and hurried across to the windows and pulled back the curtains. A base staff car with flags flying waited outside the house. “What the hell?”

Candace opened the door. The uniformed man stood alone in the semi-darkness. “Yes, Marine?”

“Candy.”

“That isn’t funny.”

“Candy, honey, it’s me.”

Nobody ever called her Candy … only … “Oh my God! Oh my God! Mitch?”

The man stepped into the light shining on the porch from the sitting room.

Mitch stood there holding himself erect with the aid of two canes.

“Darling, oh my darling, I knew it. I knew it. Hold me close before I believe that I’m dreaming again.”

The man leaned his walking aids against the wall and held out his arms. “It will be a little while before we can go dancing again, honey.”

Candy heard the hesitation. “Mitch, my dearest love. We now have forever to practice.”

All the explanations and questions could wait.

Their arms enfolded each other and they cried together in the joy of reunion.

Valentine’s day had now become their new beginning.

***

Valentine’s night. Five-years later.

Mitch Avery swept a bow to his wife and gave her his perpetually cheeky grin. “Shall we dance, m’lady?”

He held her in his arms and they moved in perfect unison around the dance-floor.

The poker faced Marines watching on cleared their throats as tears threatened, then they began to cheer.

Delighted whoops of joy from their two adopted six-year-old sons rang out as they ran across the dance-floor and threw themselves into the loving arms of their parents.

Candace had finally acknowledged that she and Mitch had more than enough love to share.

The future waited.

They walked forward as a family to greet it.

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I have a further treat for you all. For those that know and Love “The King and I” Here is the original clip of ‘Shall we Dance” For those who may have never seen it I envy you the new experience.

 

 

 

 

“Why?” A #ShortStory #RRBC #IARTG @pursoot

WHY YES.jpg

 

Thank you for joining me as I share a short story from an anthology I’m compiling for release later this year.

WHY?

By

Suzanne Burke

Cassandra pulled the SUV into the parking lot of the old motel. She killed the motor and sat watching the sheets of rain blow and billow in the world outside the safety of the car’s interior. The storm grew louder and added an electric charge to the environment.  Adding its own shades of darkness and volatility to her mood of uncertainty. It had taken the Private Investigator she’d hired months to track down this location, and now she was hesitant, reluctant to discover the truths that may await her. Would the past be best left undisturbed? Perhaps. Yet the questions would remain forever unasked if she didn’t find the strength to ask them now.

Just why she’d made the choice to try and locate her father had made some sort of sense at the outset of this journey.

The answers she’d hungered to hear for twelve long years may now only be one conversation away. Yet she reminded herself one more time that her father had appeared to have no desire to be found. He’d changed his name several times in the years since she’d last seen him. She needed to prepare herself for the fact that he may not be at all pleased that she was here. He may be in no condition to even recall who she was if his drinking had escalated beyond what it had been in the long months after her mother had died.

She’d watched on, too caught up in her own pain of dealing with a world devoid of the loving and reassuring presence of her darling mother to help her father with his own debilitating grief and his agony of loss. She was thirteen years old when her mother had passed and utterly powerless to give him much measure of comfort beyond being there to reach out for if he’d needed it. He never did.

The military had flown him home when his wife’s illness had deteriorated. He’d been with his wife of twenty-years as she passed. Cassandra recalled her desperate need of his reassuring presence in a world suddenly gone mad. She’d sought comfort from him and found him unwilling or unable to offer it.

He’d started drinking heavily soon after the funeral. She began finding him asleep on the couch or the floor, wherever in the house he’d had the final drink that rendered him unconscious.  There was no extended family to reach out to. He and her mother had both been the only child of only children. There were no siblings around her to help absorb the intensity of that sudden stark and empty aloneness.

She’d begun to flounder and withdraw from her old world. Watching her friends interact within their own tight-knit family groups had simply been too painful to witness.

She’d watched her father dive deeper into any alcohol or substance that would give him the numbness he craved.  Money would be tossed carelessly on the coffee table alongside the perpetually full ashtrays and empty bottles. His bong sat alongside the marihuana he smoked with increasing regularity. The glass-topped coffee table was smudged with the residues of the cocaine now added to the mix.

For over a year their only shared conversations were his slurred questions about the availability of food. He seemed content with what she’d managed to purchase and prepare, although he existed on very little apart from the daily replenishment of alcohol he now had delivered. Refusing anything she offered up as a meal if she dared try and recreate a dish that was her mothers. She’d soon discovered that the easiest way to feed them both was a continual stream of cheap food to go or frozen TV dinners. He needed and wanted a relationship with his drug dealer. He craved no such bond with his only child.

He’d always prided himself on his level of fitness and Cassandra recalled all the times her friends had commented on it. Indulging themselves with a comment here and there about their own father’s lack of the determination it took to work out daily as he had done whenever he came home on leave. It now shattered her to see him asleep in his own vomit amidst the stench that went right along with his unwashed body.

Cassandra’s grades had slumped and she began to fail all her classes. Her lack of attendance at school had drawn further attention. Her father’s failure to respond to repeated requests to see her school counselor hadn’t gone unnoticed. The principal had felt he was left with no option but to express his concerns about her continued well being to Child Services.

The welfare folks had come by and her father was too inebriated at 10 o’clock in the morning to even stand up, much less impress them with his willingness to change the situation. His one expressed desire was for them to get the hell off his property and mind their own damned business.

Two days after their visit he was gone. He’d left five hundred dollars on the kitchen bench. There was no note, no explanation, no nothing.

Cassandra sought comfort by telling herself repeatedly that he’d simply gone on another bender. She managed to do that for a few weeks until the phone calls about missed mortgage and credit card payments had begun coming in. The five-hundred dollars kept her fed for quite a while, but she knew it wouldn’t last her much longer.

His buddies had stopped calling by. If no drinks were on offer at the address then they had no desire to be there. The fact that she was a thirteen-year-old girl alone didn’t factor into the equation.

Child services were called in by a concerned neighbor who had noticed her father’s continued absence.  Cassandra had ignored the knocks on the door at first. She’d stayed silent and hidden until the police had arrived and convinced her to open the door.

Cassandra was ultimately placed in a loving and caring foster home. It had taken time and dedication and long months of counseling for her small world to begin again to function. She was lucky and grateful to have them in her life. The abandonment issues she faced as best she could.

It was her upcoming graduation from Harvard that had finally prompted her attempt to locate him.

Knowing that the proud event would be celebrated by her foster family should have been enough. Cassandra acknowledged that and yet knew that somehow she wanted her father to know how well she’d done. It was some half-assed need to prove to the man that she’d managed just fine without him.

She guessed she still wanted and indeed still craved his approval.

Cassandra pulled her thoughts back to the present as she watched a man stagger and lurch his way up the stairs that led to the motel units. He balanced himself up against the rail that bordered the walkway as he fumbled in his pockets. His long grey hair surprised her a little but there was no mistaking her father. She opened the car door and stepped into the rain as the man leaned over the railing and threw up. She shuddered as she watched him open the door to unit 6. Her father’s room.

Even as she walked upstairs she could hear the screams that accompanied her father’s arrival.

She waited till the door had been slammed shut.

She sucked in a deep lungful of air and willed herself to knock on the door.

A woman around her own age answered. She was thin to the point of emaciation and the rolled back sleeves of her dirty blouse showed the dark blue and purple track marks that covered the inside of both arms.

“Who the fuck are you?”

“I’d like to speak to Brad, please.”

“Don’t know no one called Brad. You got the wrong room.”

The man she’d recognized as her father came into view behind the woman and he roughly shoved her out of his way. “Who are you and what do you want?”

Cassandra looked into his face and caught the shock and denial in his expression. “Sweet Lord Jesus you look just like your mother.”

She stood there and waited for more. His eyes filled with an expression she couldn’t quite recognize.

“What are you doing here? What do you want? I’ve got no money to give you.”

“Money?  Dear Lord, is that all you can say? I’m your daughter. I’m not here for any damned money.”

The woman he’d pushed away from the door started screaming. “Did she say she was your daughter? What the fuck? You didn’t say you had a daughter?”

“Shut the fuck up, Kerry. Mind your own business.” He turned and gave her a hard shove and the woman fell backward and landed in a screaming heap on the floor.

He stepped outside and slammed the door behind him.

“If it’s not money you want, why the hell are you here? I got nothin’ to give you.”

Cassandra looked at him without speaking until he could no longer meet her eyes. He moved to turn away.

“You’re quite right. You’ve got nothing to give me. You never did. Thank you for finally helping me understand that. I won’t ever bother you again.”

She had no tears left to shed for the man she’d once believed him to be. He’d died right alongside her mother fifteen years ago. She’s already mourned his loss, now it was time to bury him.

She climbed back in her car and grabbed her cell phone. Craig Bannister answered her call “Hello, sweetheart. Are you okay, did you speak to your father?”

“I’m speaking to the only father I’ll ever need right now.”

She heard the sharp intake of his breath as he responded. “Thank you, sweet girl. I’ve been so proud to be considered your father. Will you be home in time for dinner? I’m cooking your favorite. All the gang will be here.”

“Yes, dad. I’ll be home.”

Cassandra drove out of the parking lot and never looked back.

It was up to her now to lay the past to rest.

She graduated from Harvard with her extended foster family all in proud attendance.

The future waited in all its burgeoning promise. She went forward at last to greet it.

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My #Christmas on The Streets: 1966. A sweet memory.#Memoir #RRBC @pursoot

CHRISTMAS BLOG BANNER

Thanks so much for stopping by. I like to share this post every Christmas. It remains one of my sweetest memories.

CHRISTMAS MORNING 1966: 2:00 AM.

The Christmas season is the harshest of all when you live on the streets.

On ANY streets. In ANY town. In any Climate.

A miracle happened in our small dark world that hot and steamy Christmas morning all those long years ago. I’d not yet turned twelve years old. Yet I felt older than time.

It was not a ‘miracle’ of biblical proportions. Yet for the fifteen of us that lived in the damaged shipping container, it was a miracle that we would hold in our memories forever, to be taken out and looked at whenever life grew harsher.

I am sharing it with you here.

I hope that it makes you nod in understanding. I hope that it reminds you of what joy your smile and a simple hello can mean to the lost and the lonely.

I am smiling through my tears as I remember…..

***

Christmas was barely a week or so away, and the mood in ‘the palace’ wasn’t good. That’s what we’d named our rusty old shipping container. ‘The Palace’ was exactly that to us. We constructed our own safety barriers, dodging between smart-mouthed bravado and silent despair.

Christmas out here meant different things to each of us I guess.

My memories of Christmas’s past were all bad. Even last year when I’d been on the streets alone for barely a month had bad stuff attached to it, yet it hadn’t been nearly as bad as the ones I had lived with back in the home I called ‘hell central’.

I asked ‘Baby Jenny’ our youngest member to come for a walk with me down to see Big Mike. The guy was built like a mountain and I never did learn his last name. He was the go-to man for everything here on the Sydney docks. I wanted to ask him if he could scrounge up some left over decorations to put up in the palace to lighten the mood a little.

He gave me a thoughtful nod, and said he’d “see what he could do.”

He bent down and spoke to Jenny, “I swear you get prettier every day, Jenny. Don’t let Sassy here teach you any bad habits.”

Jenny grinned at him too afraid to respond.

I kept my mouth shut for a change, except for a “Gee thanks, Big Mike.”

He smiled and wandered off, and we headed back up to the palace. We spent a lot of time outdoors during the heat of the summer. The cooler breezes drifting in from the water gave us a little welcome respite. The heat inside our metal home was dreadful. It was difficult to breathe in the late afternoons. We complained to each other long and loud. But I had to shrug and smile at our bitching. Winter was far worse.

We figured Big Mike had forgotten when a week passed with no contact. It was disappointing, but the man didn’t owe us anything. He’d already rushed one of us to the hospital and probably saved her life and the life of the baby that she’d been giving birth to. So we didn’t really expect the decorations, we just hoped for them.

Jenny was extra quiet. I wondered if she would ever be able to talk about why she was here. I didn’t ask her. I hadn’t discussed my background with any of them, even Jamie. So I understood that it was not open for general discussion. These streets were harsh and difficult regardless of why you found yourself here.

Christmas Eve dawned fiery red. It was going to be a very, very, hot day according to the radio forecasts, with a cool southerly change expected later in the evening.

We all headed up to Hyde Park very early and took a Christmas bath in our favorite fountain. At least the palace wouldn’t stink quite so badly for Christmas day.

It was tempting to just jump into the ocean so close to the Palace, but Big Mike had warned us all about the sharks, so we didn’t dare.  We planned on heading down to the Botanical Gardens for a dip in the lake that evening. We figured there wouldn’t be many people around at that time because it was Christmas Eve and they’d be home with their families. It was a sad thought until we reminded each other that we too were a family.

The sky began to darken and the thunder rolled in early in the afternoon. The southerly buster was heading up the coast rapidly. We were all unusually quiet and sitting around outside in the shade of the container when we heard the sound of vehicles heading toward the palace.

We headed around the front to see who had arrived and watched in stunned amazement as Big Mike and two of the other guys whose names I can’t recall, began unloading boxes of stuff from their cars and placing it in the shaded opening of our tin home.

Big Mike looked uncomfortable, if possible, he was even gruffer than usual. “You lot need feeding up, so we brought you some stuff.”

We were all too stunned to say much at all, these hard men were all smiling and a little red-faced. I swear if they could have, that they would have scuffed their shoes in the dirt like little kids with embarrassment.

Big Mike shook Jamie’s hand and accepted the ‘thank you’ from him.

I was speechless which wasn’t a common occurrence. I just grinned at them all. and gave the guys a hurried “Thanks.”

They were the unlikeliest Angels you would ever see, sweaty and dirty after a long hot day’s work, but the sight of them unloading the Christmas goodies and punching one another in the arm in a gesture common amongst males remains etched starkly in my memory.

Big Mike reached into the front seat of his car and pulled out a parcel that was wrapped in Christmas paper, with bright ribbons attached. He walked over and handed it to Baby Jenny.

She looked confused and wasn’t sure what to do with it.

“The women picked this out for ya, little one.” Big Mike said in a voice strictured by emotion.

Jenny still wasn’t sure what to do.

“Go ahead and open it, Jenny,” Jamie said.

“Um, later. Later. Okay?” she replied looking very unsure of herself.

She looked at the men, and gave them one of her sweet smiles, “Don’t matter what it is. I never had a present before, so, um, yeah. Thanks, thanks a lot.”

The men seemed to understand that she needed to be alone when she opened it.

As for the rest of us, we tore into those presents and boxes like there was no tomorrow, squealing in delighted surprise with everything we found.

There was more food than any of us had ever seen.

There were tinned hams, fresh pineapples, cherries, and plums. Cooked Turkey and Cranberry sauce, with all the trimmings. Fifteen red t-shirts all large sizes. Paper plates, and plastic knives and forks, a can-opener. A Cooler packed with ice, and a new radio with spare batteries. A big crate of beer and bottles of cold Coke rounded out the feast.

That night, we all huddled around the new radio. It was much bigger and put out a better sound than the small transistor we had been using. We sat drinking the beer and singing our version of Christmas carols, none of them repeatable. Trust me.

Jenny sat on her sleeping space of folded layers of newspaper. She was a little tipsy having been allowed one-half of a small bottle of beer. We glanced at her as she picked up her present and watched the look on her face as she unwrapped it.

It was a baby doll, all soft and dressed in bonnet and booties with a pretty pink knitted dress. “Just what we needed, another fuckin’ mouth to feed,” she said. But the smile on her face could have lit up the entire city.

We were fed, content, and a little overwhelmed and unsure at the kindness of these people.

We all wanted to believe that maybe, just maybe, they had done it for no motive other than the wish to make this Christmas a better place for us to be. It was an alien experience to all of us,but a welcome one.

We had only sampled a little of the huge amount of food, deciding to save the rest for Christmas Day

That night we were all tipsy, yet strangely quiet as we bedded down for the night. I think we were all a little overwhelmed by the generosity of these men.

It was around 2.00 am Christmas morning I guess when I felt something was wrong. Whatever the something was, it wouldn’t let me sleep. I couldn’t place it immediately. It was a strange sense of something missing, and it troubled me.

Jamie was on watch. I climbed over the others and hunkered down next to him. Jamie smiled at me and said, “You too hey, Sassy?”

“Yeah, I guess. What is it? Something’s different.”

We sat a while just listening. Then Jamie said, “Oh shit! It’s Jenny, she’s not crying!”

My heart was in my mouth. Jamie grabbed the torch and we played it across the others, several of them were already awake, and wondering what the hell was happening. Jenny had cried herself to sleep every night since she’d come to this place. It was a sound we all tried not to hear. She couldn’t be comforted, we weren’t permitted that close. She’d been here for two years now. Jenny was only around eight-years-old and the sounds of her despair echoed through the palace every night.

We stood looking down at her. Jenny lay on her side, sound asleep, with both arms wrapped around that doll so tight there was no space between them.

That was the first time I had cried in a very, very, long time. I glanced at the others, without exception we were all affected the same way. No one wanted to look at anyone else, shit we were supposed to be the toughest kids on the block! Hell, we were the only kids on the block. That Christmas was the first real day of Jenny’s childhood. From then on, Christmas became Jenny’s birthday.

I’d like to tell you that a miraculous change came over her. That she was instantly transformed. In a make-believe world she’d be outside singing all the hits from ‘The Sound of Music’ and wearing a pretty new dress and shoes.  But this is the real world, and the changes took place over time.

Jenny named her doll, Francine.

The greatest change of all, was that, from that night, for all the years that Baby Jenny remained in our world, she never cried herself to sleep again.

 ***

Many years have passed since that long ago Christmas Eve. My darling Jenny has gone.

So many of my Christmas Eves over time have been special ones. But the one I recall with tears of happiness on my face, and a smile in my heart, is this one.

Jenny lost her battle with life in September of 2008.

The doll Francine was buried with her.

#

Thanks so much for stopping by and helping share my memory.

Have a joyous and memorable Christmas Season.

 

A Christmas Story: “Making Sweet Memories” @pursoot #Christmas #RRBC #RWISA

KOALA CHRISTMAS

Making Sweet Memories

A Short story for Christmas

By

Suzanne Burke.

 

It was already late December before Ellie remembered the season. She had been in her comfortable hiding place for so long alone, that dates just didn’t seem to matter much anymore.

The sudden explosion of the sound of cicadas serenading loudly in the trees beyond her windows to the world jolted her.

It was Summer already? When had that happened? She hadn’t paid much attention to the heat that had been building up for months. Now it was launching its presence into her space with all the vengeance at its command.

Maybe it was time to use the air conditioning she’d had installed a year or so earlier.

She shrugged and made a mental note to seek out some cooler clothing from the depths of her wardrobe.

Ellie looked around her, moving as she did and reaching out to touch the nearby objects familiar and comforting to her. The framed photograph of the family, taken so very long ago hadn’t yet begun to fade. Their happy smiles were fixed forever in place and frozen for all time in that moment.

It had been the same time of year, she recalled, as she wiped a smear from the glass.

Ellie smiled as the memory of it surfaced unbidden.

They had all been gathered under the pine tree in the front yard, it was a tradition every year for them to all come together to decorate that big old tree.

Every year since she’d been a small child that magic had happened, with tinsel and shiny baubles, and spheres of multi-colored glass, and at the very top of that great old tree had always been the angel and the star.

Her mother had made the clothing for the angel. Oh, it was glorious, and neighbors would often stop by just to admire that angel and all the hand crafted decorations, and to absorb perhaps just a little of the love that had gone into creating it.

The sound of Carols and much laughter had filled the air every year at the same time. Some years not all of the family could make it, time and other commitments changed all their lives, as it was want to do.

For the most part though they were all together.

The decades flew by on a whisper, and her mother and father had passed within weeks of each other. After fifty years of marriage neither of them had been able to contemplate the thought of the other being gone, leaving them empty and alone. Ellie had lost her sister and her brother in the years that followed. She was the youngest. The old house was now hers. It became her castle, her safe haven, her forever home.

Ellie placed the photo back on the mantle above the stone fireplace. She grinned in the knowledge that it would blaze brightly in the icy cold winters of this small coutry town.

It didn’t do to remember too much. Memory could play tricks with the mind and damage the soul if you let it.

She walked into the master bedroom. The old bed was still her favorite. It was high off the ground and the mattress was lumpy with so many years of use. She recalled without meaning to, the nights she and her siblings had laid there with her mother. Mom would always read them that one story on that same night every year until Ellie declared herself too old to be hearing it read anymore.

She opened the closet, and stood for a long time, before she reached in and pulled out the huge carved wooden box that her father had made.

She carried it across to the bed and sat propped on the multitude of cushions to open it. She lovingly ran her hands across the top of the box. How could she have forgotten the way he carved? She ran her fingers as if reading in braille across the carved name etched into the wood with such love and precision, ‘Alice’. Her mother’s name. She opened the lid and was clothed in the faint smell of Lavender still emanating from its contents. Lavender, mom’s favorite perfume of all. It carried with it the essence and sounds of a century long gone.

Ellie hesitated for a moment, then lured by an irresistible need, she removed the first layer of tissue paper, and caught her breath. The Angel lay there, in a gown that still shone gold. Ellie’s hands shook as she gently lifted it from the folds of protection around it. Snuggly tucked in behind it lay the star. Each layer she lifted revealed more and still more of all those handmade decorations from her memories.

Ellie lay there for a long while, surrounded by yesterday.

When she returned to the sitting room she carried the box with her.

She felt a trembling excitement building in her blood. What was the date? She had to know. Maybe it was already too late.

She hurried across the room and opened the front door, and looked at the old tree still standing tall and proud in the front yard.

The street had altered over the years. But she knew the neighbors on one side, and they had been there for a very long time.

She crossed the yard, and climbed the steps up to their front door. She rang the bell and held her breath as the door opened.

“Michael, it’s just Ellie, from next door.” She was at a loss for what else to say.

“Well now, yes indeed it is. What is it, Ellie, do you need help?” The look of concern on his face caused her to smile.

“Oh, well no … that is, I’m doin’ just fine, Michael. Thank you for asking. I’m just wondering, could you tell me what the date is please?”

“Why, it’s December 24th I believe.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you so much. I still have time! Thank you.”

“Time, Ellie?”

“Oh, I know it’s strange, but I’m going to decorate the pine tree in the front yard.”

“Oh. That’s marvelous. It has been such a long time since I have seen that old tree look happy.” He put his head on one side, “A long time indeed.”

Ellie grinned at him, feeling ridiculously pleased that he remembered.

She took her leave and found herself almost running back to the house; she could have sworn she could hear Michael Thomas laughing behind her. It had always been a good laugh.

It took a while to gather everything she needed together, and then she manipulated the ladder from the garage, and leaned it up against the solid comfort of that tree.

The lower branches were easy, they were done in a flash of time, but even Ellie was a little daunted as her gaze lifted higher.

The voice from behind her startled her a little, and she rocked a little uncertainly on her perch on the ladder.

“Ellie? Oh, I’ve given you a fright. I’m so sorry.” Michael Thomas held the ladder firmly as she wobbled her way back down.

He looked very pleased with himself, however, and the three smiling faces with him had that inescapable look of anticipation that young people wear so well.

Ellie didn’t ask, she just waited.

“We, that is, I, was wonderin’ if maybe we could help, with the tree? These are my grandson’s…The twins are Peter, and David, but don’t ask me which is which, cause after fifteen years I still can’t tell ‘em apart. The taller one of the boys is Mitchell, he’s just got his first car, which no doubt you will hear over the next few days.”

The boys all stepped forward and shook her hand in turn.

Then they waited, trying to gage the look on her face as they did.

It didn’t take long. Ellie clapped her hands in delight, “Oh, I would be so very happy to have the help and the company. Wonderful, just wonderful.”

The heat was building, and Michael headed back to his place, returning with a large stripped beach umbrella, and a cooler filled with bottles of soda and chipped ice. Ellie added a folding table and some chairs to the collection. She and Michael sat in the shade after they had decorated as high as they could manage. They just sat, in companionable silence, slurping down ice-cold Coca Cola and watching the healthy young men clambering like monkeys in the higher reaches of the tree.

The busy scene had created somewhat of a distraction for some of the children on the street, who now stood in every increasing numbers, clutching their bikes and watching on in fascination. Some parents joined in the onlookers, and before too long they were asking if they could help as well.

Each of the family groups hurried home and brought something back with them, and the sound of Christmas Carols was soon added and sung along with, not in tune, but nobody cared.

Ellie looked around her in amazement. It was different, but the same. How could she have thought for so very long that it had ended. When, for so many of them, it was just beginning.

One of the twins, she wasn’t sure which, called down from high in the branches, “Ellie? What goes on the top? The Angel or the star?”

“Both of them, sweetie. They’ll fit together, you’ll see.”

“Ellie?”

“Hmm, yes, Michael.”

“Can we add some lights? I mean I remember all the other Christmases, and I know that lights weren’t part of it, but they would just add to the beauty of it, I’m thinkin’ … maybe?”

Ellie considered for a moment, then gave him her big smile, “Y’know, Michael, I guess it past time for something new to be added, do you have any?”

“Oh, brother, do I have any!”

When he and Mitchell returned it was with a huge box of outdoor fairy lights. “How’s this?”

“You weren’t kidding. Wow. String ‘em up, boys.” Willing hands soon emptied that box.

“Thanks for this, Ellie. You have no idea, just how much I’ve missed this stuff. I mean, the kids come over and the grandkids and all, and we eat ourselves stupid. But I haven’t felt much like Christmas for such a long time. Not since my Maggie passed. This … well,” his voice thickened with tears. “Thanks for giving me back Christmas.”

Darkness takes a while to fall in the Australian summer, but when it does, it is absolute.

Everyone gathered back against the edge of the road in the cool of evening, and Michael was given the honor of flipping the switch.

The place lit up. The adults breathed out an ‘Ah’ of satisfaction. The younger children still watching on, squealed with delight.

It was glorious.

Her folks would have loved this, Ellie knew with a certainty.

The sound of laughter echoed through the street.

Later that night, when everything was done, and Ellie had gratefully accepted the invitation to lunch tomorrow with Michael Thomas and his family, she lay curled up on that big old bed, the pine box was open and ready. She extracted the one remaining item; and began to read aloud, “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…………………….

#

Wishing my friends everywhere a memorable and joyous Holiday Season.

#KOALA CHRISTMAS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: “Slivers of Life” A Collection of Shorts by Beem Weeks @BeemWeeks #RRBC @FreshInkGroup #RWISA

Hello and welcome to my review of “Slivers Of Life” by Beem Weeks.

Slivers

 

Meet Beem Weeks

BEEM WEEKS BIO PIC

Beem Weeks is the author of short stories, poems, essays, and novels. Among his literary influences he counts Daniel Woodrell, Barbara Kingsolver, and Stephen Geez. A pop-culture trivia buff, Beem’s passions include indie films, loud music, and a well-told story. He has also penned a collection of short stories entitled Slivers of Life.

Book Blurb:

These twenty short stories are a peek into individual lives caught up in spectacular moments in time. Children, teens, mothers, and the elderly each have stories to share. Readers witness tragedy and fulfillment, love and hate, loss and renewal. Historical events become backdrops in the lives of ordinary people, those souls forgotten with the passage of time. Beem Weeks tackles diverse issues running the gamut from Alzheimer’s disease to civil rights, abandonment to abuse, from young love to the death of a child. Long-hidden secrets and notions of revenge unfold at the promptings of rich and realistic characters; plot lines often lead readers into strange and dark corners. Within Slivers of Life, Weeks proves that everybody has a story to tell—and no two are ever exactly alike.

My Review: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟Beautifully captured moments in time. A must read.

Moods of darkness and light within these pages take the reader on an emotional roller coaster. Author Beem Weeks first captured my attention with “Jazz Baby” a full-length novel which introduced me to his marvelous and gritty writing style.

“Slivers Of Life” grabbed my attention from paragraph one and held it throughout. This collection is at times devastatingly honest in its portrayal of man’s ability to disown some emotions and replace them with a more acceptable truth.

Author Beem Weeks has crafted tales reflective at times on the outcome of human disinterest and a thirst for vengeance, or the craving for a connection to each other that humankind needs … and he has done it beautifully.

His innate ability to hear every nuance of spoken dialogue and reproduce it so well is his gift to us as readers.

These stories touched me, they evoked thoughts and remembered feelings so strongly that I was saddened when the collection reached its end. That for me is the X Factor! That intangible something that will have me reading and re-reading Slivers of Life for the pleasure it brings and the questions I ask myself when it’s done.

Contact Beem Weeks:

Purchase Slivers of Life on Amazon.

Beem Weeks Amazon Author Page

Contact via:

Email

Twitter: @voiceofindie & @BeemWeeks

Blog/Website:

The Indie Spot!

Book Review: “The Contract” by Gwen Plano & John W. Howell. @HowellWave @gmplano #RRBC #IARTG

Hello and welcome to my REVIEW of “The Contract” By Authors Gwendolyn M Plano and John W. Howell.

BOOK REVIEW THE CONTRACT COVER

Meet the authorsBOOK REVIEW IMAGE GWEN PLANOGwen M. Plano, aka Gwendolyn M. Plano, grew up in Southern California and spent most of her professional life in higher education. She taught and served as an administrator in colleges in Japan, New York, Connecticut, and California. Gwen’s academic background is in theology and counseling. Recently retired, she now lives in the Midwest with her husband and enjoys writing and travel.

Gwen’s first book is an acclaimed memoir, Letting Go into Perfect Love. Her second book, The Contract between heaven and earth, is a thriller fiction novel, co-authored by John W. Howell. It is available now for pre-order. Author Jan Sikes read the manuscript and wrote that “The Contract is the perfect blending between the physical and unseen world with unbreakable bonds between human and spirit.”

And John W. Howell

John Howell Headshot

John began his writing as a full-time occupation after an extensive business career. His specialty is thriller fiction novels, but John also writes poetry and short stories. His first book, My GRL, introduces the exciting adventures of the book’s central character, John J. Cannon. The second Cannon novel, His Revenge, continues the adventure, while the final book in the trilogy, Our Justice, launched in September 2016. John’s fourth book Circumstances of Childhood, launched in October of 2017 tells a thriller story of riches to rags, football, Wall Street, brotherly love, redemption, and inspiration with a touch of paranormal to keep you riveted. All books are available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

John lives in Port Aransas, Texas with his wife and their spoiled rescue pets.

Blurb

The earth is threatened with a catastrophic political event which could result in international warfare and destroy all life on the planet. In heaven, a divine council decides that extraordinary measures are essential. They call for an intervention that involves two souls returning to earth. The chosen two sign a contract that they will work to avert the disaster.

     Brad Channing, a Navy SEAL, and Sarah O’Brien, a teacher, become heaven’s representatives on earth. The story follows them as they individually and then together face overwhelming obstacles and eventually end up on a strategic Air Force base in California. It is there that they discover a conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States. The terrorists have a plan for global dominance and they are determined to complete their mission. Although military leadership appears to have the President’s best interests at heart, it is not clear who can be trusted and who should be feared. The action is rough and tumble as Brad and Sarah try to figure out the culprits for the plot that will turn into a worldwide conflagration unless stopped.

My Review: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟Fast paced and action packed … this book will satisfy even the most devout thriller readers.

I was both excited and curious to read a book co-authored by two authors who have earned my admiration for each of their books. Authors John W. Howell and Gwen Plano both have resoundingly earned five-star reviews from me for their individual works.

Their total diversity of writing styles and genres would have presented them with a challenge when undertaking to co-author this work.

I’m delighted with the outcome. They’ve met and exceeded my expectations.

This book goes beyond man’s earthly desires to dominate and control his environment. It takes you to the dark places fueled by man’s thirst for absolute power.

It shows you the joy of the heavenly plane, and the release from pain that it offers.

Brad Channing, a Navy SEAL, and Sarah O’Brien a nurse are chosen by the divine council of heavenly elders to become their representations on earth.

The reader is taken on a thrill ride as the story develops, each of the characters are beautifully crafted and intensely visual, with wonderful dialogue moving the book along at a great pace. The character development is outstanding.

The relationship between Brad and Sarah develops over a relatively brief span of time, as they are thrown together by circumstance, and make the decision to stay together by choice. Their tender and developing love for one another is deftly handled, adding the depth of warmth that the story demands.

This work has been meticulously researched, and all references within it add to the utterly convincing terrorist threat, and the dark forces at work in the corridors of power, bringing into question the motives of players that may have been seen initially to have no hidden agenda whatsoever.

Fast paced and action packed … this book will satisfy even the most devout thriller readers.

The conclusion was intense and utterly believable. These authors have amalgamated their individual skills into a first-rate work of fiction.

This work stands tall in celebration of good people willing to lay down their lives to protect and defend their country and the principles on which it was founded.

I found this to be a riveting reading experience, and one I can wholeheartedly recommend.

 

#CoverReveal #NewRelease: “The Alternative” by S.Burke @pursoot My new #Thriller #Anthology. #RRBC #premium_indie #IARTG Now Available for PRE-ORDER.

 Hello, and welcome to the Cover Reveal of my New Thriller Anthology

“The Alternative”

The ALTERNATIVE BANNER HEADLINE FOR COVER REVEAL BEST

The Alternative

The Alternative
by S.Burke

Available to Pre-Order NOW.
Release Date:  Monday June 18th 2018
Mystery> Thriller & Suspense > Anthology.

It is such an exciting time for an author when releasing a new book! I would be remiss in not sharing my heartfelt thanks to the marvelous people who gave of their time so readily to beta read my latest book. Their valuable insights helped me enormously when crafting “The Alternative”

At long last, I’m able to share the cover and blurb for “The Alternative” my latest Thriller Anthology.   “The Alternative ” is due for release on June 18th.

It is NOW available for Pre-Order

I have many good friends sharing this cover across the blogosphere today and tomorrow, so you’re likely to see it pop up in various places. Thank you to everyone participating in my cover reveal splash, and to everyone dropping by to share in my excitement.   Here’s my new baby . . .

With much gratitude to Eeva Lancaster at The Book Khaleesi for the cover creation.

Cover Created by Eeva Lancaster at The Book Khalessi

Presenting “The Alternative” A Thriller Anthology.

“The Alternative”

THE ALTERNATIVE COVER IN HIGH RESOLUTION BEST

BLURB:

The Alternative.

There are those that cling unreservedly to the lifeboat that believing in Karma hands them so willingly.

They work, they live, and they function in a world that allows them the option of unreservedly trusting that Karma has no deadline.

Until they are handed the spark that ignites them into becoming the instrument of Karma itself.

There are others who have had all they once held to be truths, everything they once stood for and took pride in, torn apart and ripped from them by the hand of a cruel fate.

Then, of course, there are those who believed in nothing and no one, to begin with …

These are their stories.

The stories of people both good and bad, who made the choice to exact “The Alternative.”

An excerpt from Chapter 1. Picasso.

February 1990.

The tall man stretched his arms and flexed his long artistic fingers. He stood back to gain a different perspective of his latest work of art. He’d spent a great deal of time sketching his outline and was well satisfied with the outcome. Perhaps this one would be the perfection he craved above all else.

His other efforts were upstairs in the gallery, and while they were far from his lofty imaginings, they each represented another step forward toward his ultimate goal. He knew this exhibition would prompt worldwide interest, that was a given. His reputation was on the line. That at least was something he valued.

He grunted and moved the newest piece into the workroom. The more difficult application of his talent needed to begin.

***

 NEW YORK JULY 2015

Meredith keyed in her code, shouldered the door open and dropped her briefcase onto the polished boards of the entry. Working on autopilot, she flicked on the light and bent to collect the mail from the floor; throwing it onto the small bureau without bothering to check the sender. She shrugged off her coat and draped it over the arm of the sofa. Too damned weary to be bothered with any external interruptions tonight, she removed the home phone from its cradle and headed to the kitchen to fix enough coffee to sustain the long evening ahead, deliberately ignoring the well-stocked bar. She was well aware that she’d need every bit of concentration she could muster. She removed the Glock from her handbag, and out of habit, she placed it on the coffee table next to the perpetually full ashtray.

Her head was already pounding and she rubbed at her tense neck muscles until her fingers ached. Relief from the unresolved tension still hovered … just out of reach. She held her breath for a moment, stilling her impatience. If all went to plan, this thing would be finally ended. If justice existed at all, it would go well. All the years she’d worked to bring what was the only course left open to herself and the others to completion was coming. ‘Soon now’, was her daily mantra. But the darker visions still danced vividly in her mind’s eye and tormented her rare sleeping hours … it had been that way for almost twenty-five years.

The memory haunted her, dark and unforgivingly brutal. It replayed in clear and explicit detail every time she was forced to reflect on it … and its aftermath.

***

THE ALTERNATIVE IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER

“The Alternative” on AMAZON.COM

Suzanne Burke Amazon Author Page

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Thank you so much for joining me here today. Your support is very much appreciated.

I would be delighted to hear your thoughts and comments below.