Below is an excerpt from my current novel, a scene which may or may not survive editing cuts. It involves a young widow, the protagonist in the novel.
Relationships forever change when a young widow’s daughter begins interacting with the dead.
Under an old oak tree sat a group of men. They were drinking beer, and their loud laughter drew disproving stares from the adults inside the tent. I walked closer and noticed they were gambling—one man was throwing dice, while a second man entertained another group by switching around small cups, his hands were a blur, until he was done shuffling the cups. It wasn’t until I tripped and bumped up against one of them I realized no one could see me, even though I understood what was going on around. I felt like I was in one of those dreams where you showed up without any clothes on—I could see everything and everyone, no one could see me, but it was still an uncomfortable feeling.
“Which one boys? Under which cup resides the ball? I hope you were paying close attention,” the carnie called. He sat back and waited, while the group tried to determine where he had hidden the ball. Two little girls slipped away from their father’s side, and skipped away from the men, down the hill and toward the river. The father, concentrating on the cups, clutching an almost empty bottle in his hand, didn’t see them go. My gaze traveled between the girls as they wandered closer to the trees lining the riverbank, and the man as he drained his bottle and found another one in the a tattered rucksack at his feet. I wanted to grab him by the arm and point out the direction his daughters went, but she remained rooted to the spot and mute.
“Give us a guess there, Joshua,” the man in charge of the cups said. “Where do you think the ball is?”
Joshua’s finger wavered as he lifted a hand and pointed to the cup on the left. “There,” he said. He took a long swig from the bottle when the cup came up empty, and then placed a wad of money on the table.
“One more round,” he said. “I can get it all back with one more round.”
The carnie looked at his pocket watch. “No time,” he said. “Need to close up shop for awhile.” He patted his rotund stomach. “Need to grab me a bit to eat before I starve.” Laughter as he picked up his cups and ball and packed them into a small case. “I’ll be back later, gentlemen, if you wish to visit me again.”
I watched Joshua drained his bottle. He turned once again to the tub, but stopped.
“Where’s Becky?” he asked, more to himself as the men were moving off.
“Becky?” he called. He stood, wavered.
“Becky!” he called louder. “Liza!”
“They’re around, Joshua. Probably visiting some of the other tents,” one man said. “Not fit for little girls to be back here, anyway.”
“I know what’s fit and what’s not for my daughters,” Joshua said, shuffling forward. “Becky! Liza!”
The voice, anger edged with fear, woke me up . It was still dark, and Chelsea slept, mouth open and damp hair stuck to her face. The room was hot; the windows were open, but the curtains remained slack against the sills. I clicked on the window fan, eased my way out of bed, and out to the front porch, just like I used to do when I was a little girl and couldn’t sleep because of the heat. I carried a light blanket to ward off any mosquitoes.
A breeze moved across the porch and brought with it the smell and cooler air of rain. Lightening flickered again, but still no sound of thunder. I shoved off the floor, putting the swing back in motion. Even this little bit of generated breeze felt good on my face. I retrieved a small pillow from the nearest and lay on the damp cushion. Even though the swing was not nearly as comfortable as the bed, outside it was far cooler and made up for any discomfort. I slipped my leg out from under the blanket and pushed off again. I pulled up my foot, covered it with the blanket, and closed my eyes, hoping the swing would ease me off to sleep, and being outdoors would keep dreams at bay.
My face is wet, but I can’t lift my arms to wipe it dry; they are caught on something and I can’t lift them above my waist. I now realize water keeps washing over my face; and coughing only draws more in. Papa had told me to stay away from the river, but it was so hot, and the water was so cool on my toes. All I wanted was to cool off a bit, like I did when Mama was alive. I tried to be careful and not get my dress wet or dirty, but my feet had slipped out from underneath me on the bank and I feel in. The water is strong and it pulled me down the river, under the bridge we take into town, past the schoolhouse, and almost to town. I can’t keep my head up, but my dress is heavy and my shoes full of water. I tried to grab a log, but the river was greedy and wouldn’t let me go. It kept pulling me along and pushing me under, taking me away from Liza and Papa. I heard him call my name when I first got near the river—“Becky!”—but I wanted to put my toes in before going back. It was so hot. And then I’d fallen into the river.
My shoes are gone. My dress is all tangled up around my neck because I tried to get it off. I’m tired.
The river can have me now, to do with as it wanted. The river always won when it decided to take—Papa’s crops, the barn, my pony and my best friend Emily late last spring. I see Emily now, standing on the opposite bank, holding out her hand and smiling. Someone else was there, someone familiar. Becky shook the water from her eyes and smiled. “Mama.”
I’m cold and wet—as was her blanket and the porch. Thunder shook the house, and the simultaneous lightening blinded me for a moment. I shoved away the sodden blanket, and slapped my arms against my chest as I walked to the door.
“Becky” was whispered on the wind, and then drowned out in the next rumble of thunder. I pushed open the front door and secured it against the storm. I dripped onto the floor and shook, both from cold and from what I’d heard. A plaintive cry on the wind; a man calling for his long-lost daughter.
–excerpt from WIP (work in progress)