Monday, July 5, 2021

Selections from Book Number 20, to be published soon

At 5:45 p.m. on Monday, July 5, I finished my latest book, what will be my 20th in print when it is published in a few months. A thorough edit of this novel awaits, but typing THE END is always rewarding and worth a champagne toast. 

Herewith the beginning of the first chapter, the last sentences of the epilogue, and the cast of characters. Stay tuned for publication details…

Traces of Mary

Copyright 2021 by G. Wayne Miller

Chapter One.
Saturday, May 29, 2021 

Billy McAllister's sister is dead. 

He knows that.

But time cannot steal the young boy’s memories. Time -- four years, one month and 19 days of time -- and still Jess appears in his dreams. 

Sometimes, she is calling to him.

She is someplace dark and cold, someplace distant and unreachable, no place he's ever been or wants to go. He sees nothing but Jess's face, illuminated softly by an unseen light. It's a sad face, not the face he wants to remember -- not the face in that photograph Mommy keeps on her bedroom bureau. Tears cover both cheeks. Her hair is tousled, her lips cracked and dry, her eyes wide and dark and empty, as if not really her eyes, but fake ones constructed of cheap glass.

She is clutching her favorite stuffed animal, Lambie, the Teddy bear that Santa brought. 

Lambie looks sad, too.

``Help us, Billy!'' Jess calls in his dreams. ``Me and Lambie! Let us out of here! We don't want to be dead! We want to be with you and Mommy and Uncle Jack!''

Billy reaches for his sister then -- but always she's too far, and the distance to her is increasing, and Jess is shrinking, is getting smaller and smaller, until finally she is gone.

Other times, much happier times, it is summer -- the summer they took that photograph so dear to Mommy's heart. The summer long before the pandemic, when the world went mad.

He was six that summer, Jess barely five. Her sickness had finally gotten better, and with every day, there was less talk of that ``Pitts-bird'' hospital, where she spent so much time as the doctors tried to fix her. 

Mommy was better, too. Mommy was not so upset all the time, wasn't short-tempered and grouchy and crying and yelling and screaming at him when he hadn't done anything at all. 

Uncle Jack, who usually took Billy's side, said that after all the bad stuff involving Jess’s health, the family deserved a good stretch -- that it was always darkest before dawn, and now the sun was climbing into the sky.

They spent June and July at Grammy's. Her house – larger than any house Jess and Billy had ever been inside -- was in Blue Hill Falls, Maine, that magical seaside place where the mountain really was blue, at least from a distance. It was major fun, those two months, ice cream and corn on the cob and lobster and fried clams and staying up until ten or even eleven o'clock, way past regular bedtime. The ocean, cold as it was, at least until August, when you might be able to handle a few minutes’ swim without shivering, was the best. 

Almost every day, they played on the little beach there at Blue Hills Falls, where Grammy’s house looked out over Mt. Desert Narrows. 

It was go-easy play because they had to be very careful of Jess. They had to keep the saltwater from that great big zig-zaggy scar across her tummy, evidence of where surgeons had transplanted one liver into her, and then a second when the first had failed. They had to keep sunblock all over her, and she had to wear a straw hat and her Elsa sunglasses. 

Jess tired pretty easily, but she had spurts of energy, too, and during them, they climbed rocks and hunted for periwinkles and fiddler crabs and built sandcastles and went sailing with Mom and Uncle Jack on Grammy’s big boat.

“How big is the ocean?” Jess always liked to ask.

“Bigger than the biggest lake in the world,” Grammy would answer.

“Wow, that’s huge!” Billy would say.

“Almost as big as heaven,” said Uncle Jack, a Jesuit priest who liked to shed his Roman collar on his occasional visits to Maine.

“Heaven is where Grampa is,” Grammy would say.

“I want to meet him some day!” Jess would say.

“No you don’t,” her mother said on one occasion.

A dark memory had welled up within her and she said no more. 

Grammy wagged her finger at Mary, and quickly changed the subject, to the fairy-tale story of how her parents had met.

“My mother was a young girl living in Nova Scotia when one summer day, she and a friend drove to Burntcoat Head Park to see the amazing tides at the Bay of Fundy,” Grammy said. “Do you children know about those?”

“No!” Jess and Billy said.

“Highest tides in the world,” Grammy said. “One of the seven or eight or nine or ten Wonders of the World, I’ve lost count. People come from all over to see.”

“Wow,” Jess said. “Can we go there one day, Mom?”

“That would be nice,” Mary said.

“So there was my mother, Miss Alice O’Reilly, when my father, George McKay – your maternal grandmother – of Blue Hill Falls, Maine, happened to be there visiting with friends. They’d taken the old steamer up from Bar Harbor to Halifax for a week-long holiday. And there was Miss Alice, watching the tide roll in with a rumble and a roar. Their eyes met, and both later said it was love at first sight. The rest, as they say, is history. They married, Alice and George moved in here, and along came I, their only child.”

“Cool,” Jess said.

“Neat,” said Billy.

The question of what happened after that did not arise.

Not that summer.

Sunday, October 3
Freeport, Nova Scotia

A half hour later, a Honda Civic with Maine license plates pulled into the driveway. Mary was expecting a new guest, so she went out to greet the driver.

“Hannah Rosenthal?” Mary said.

“No, Erica Han,” the driver said, stepping out. “I’m a reporter with the Bangor, Maine, Daily News. You must be Mary McAllister.”

Mary concealed her surprise.

“No, I’m Mary Waletzky,” she said. “Helper-in-chief of the Prana Center.”

Han showed her a copy of the August 3 Daily News. Mary McAllister’s photograph was on the front page, illustrating Han’s story.

“An unspeakable tragedy,” Mary said. “But you are not the first person to mistake me for her. The resemblance is striking. Spooky, really. I hope is there is closure some day for everyone affected by the deaths or her and her son. I can only imagine the pain.”

“Are you sure you’re not Mary McAllister?” Han said.

“As sure as my Nova Scotia license confirms I’m Mary Waletzky,” Mary said. “Wait a minute and I’ll get it for you. Would you like to see my passport, too?”

“That won’t be necessary,” Han said.

Mary went into her office and returned with her license. 

The reporter scrutinized it.

She was satisfied.

“I have to confess that I’ve been mistaken for someone else, too,” Han said. “The actor Constance Wu.”

“She was in Crazy Rich Asians!” Mary said. “Loved that movie. There’s definitely an uncanny resemblance. In fact, when you pulled up, I thought you were Constance Wu!”

The women laughed.

“I’ll be on my way now,” Han said. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you.” 

“No worries,” Mary said. “Before you go, may I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Han said.

“Why did you drive so far to a place with no connection to May McAllister and her son?”

“You’ll think I’m insane when I tell you,” Han said, “but the address came to me in a dream.”

“I don’t think you’re insane,” Mary said.

“May I ask a favor?” Han said.

“Of course.”

“Please don’t tell anyone I was here.”

“My lips are sealed.”

“Again, I’m sorry for the disturbance. This looks like a lovely and peaceful place.”

“It is.”

“Take good care,” the reporter said.

“You, too,” Mary said as Han drove off.


Cast of characters


In order of appearance


Tanya Audette, a young girl who lives in Boston.

Sophie Audette, her mother.

Zachary Pearlman, Boston shop proprietor and owner of Fluffy, a French poodle.

Billy McAllister, a young boy who lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Jessica McAllister, his older sister.

Mary Lambert McAllister, their mother.

The Rev. John Lambert S.J., “Uncle Jack,” Mary’s brother.

Alice McKay Lambert, “Grammy,” Mary and Fr. Jack’s mother, of Blue Hill, Maine.

George Linwood Lambert, “Grampa,” Alice’s late husband and father of Mary and Jack.

Mr. Hawthorne, a mortician.

Amanda Leroux, a social worker at the homeless center Fr. Jack runs in Boston.

Stephen McAllister, Mary’s estranged husband and the father of her children.

Geoff Washington, Billy’s best friend.

Paul “Angel” Iannotti, 14, a school dropout and bully.

Ordo, leader of the Priscillas, the good species in a distant galaxy.

Alex Borkowski, Billy's and Geoff’s second-best friend.

Crimson Vanner, a drug addict and dealer.

Z-DA, last of the Lepros, an evil species in a distant galaxy.

Juan Sierra, a property owner in Providence, R.I.

Rudolph Howe Sr. and Jr., lawyers in Providence, R.I.

Mrs. Bartholomew, father of a boy burned in an amusement-park fire.

Lt. Perry Callahan, a Providence the police detective.

Amanda Leroux’s mother, an elderly woman who lives on Massachusetts’ North Shore.

Erica Han, a reporter with the Bangor Daily News.

Charlie Moonlight, a Native American spiritual leader.