I would love to post a sample from my novel-in-submissions, godlight, but I’ve found conflicting information on whether that might impact publishing rights. So I’m offering this instead, a frame-type opening to the trunk novel that later evolved into godlight. I still like this, though, and I hope it makes a nice sample for now.
The grandchildren, the great-grandchildren, and even the great-greats are some comfort. They do their best and try to help by doing mostly what their grandfather called fussing. Sometimes, selfishly, I wish they would leave me in peace, because what use are branches and leaves when the roots have been severed? They are the future but have little concept of the past, except what they’ve heard. They’ve never had microwave popcorn or fresh Alaskan salmon. They don’t know the smell of exhaust or the meaning of lethal injection.
Of we four, Bear went first of a failed heart, no surprise there, not at his weight. Not long afterwards Sunny suffered a massive stroke and keeled over in the garden while I was napping, her hand clutching a buckhorn weed that had dared to grow among her tomatoes. Guilt, my lifelong companion, ate at me for a long while over that; if I hadn’t left her alone I might have saved her. Only knowing she wouldn’t have chosen any different death for herself has made her passing bearable.
In the years after that loss I crowded Garrett a good deal, afraid of what would happen if I let him out of my sight. My clinging chafed him. Never in all our time together did I hear him claim an excess of self-control, but to give him his due he flared up less than if he hadn’t understood he was all the anchor I had left. He grew quite adept at escaping my watchful eye. Even when his legs were bothering him, he could be stealthy, and slip out under the cover of the clattering I made while washing dishes, off to whichever of our neighbors had the strongest batch of applejack. He’d go for the drink, and for the people who never tired of listening to an old man’s stories, only to reappear in an hour or three, walking that not- yet-drunk not-quite-sober seaman’s walk. Then he’d lean in the doorway with his arms folded, peering at me from beneath his eyebrows, waiting for the sermon. I’d deliver, too, at least until that rascally glint in his eyes overcame my common sense. If the ‘jack was good enough we might even indulge in a little prayer meeting just like in the old days.
It’s been eleven months since I last fell asleep to the sound of his snoring and I still wake up each morning thinking he’s there beside me. Realization when it comes is as black as frostbite, and as absolute as the crash of the lid falling shut on his casket the day of his wake. I am just beginning to grasp that I must now refer to him in the past tense. In the end, he said he was tired. He asked to be let go, and I argued at first, until he played that tired old ace: “If you love me.” It worked, just as it always had, just as he knew it would.
While he lived, he told his stories, tailored to make the listeners laugh. Most of the town knows how I once scaled an old television aerial to avoid the wrath of a malevolent mare known as the Living Bitch, and about the time Garrett and I made love in a cemetery and I dangled helplessly from an iron fence-spike after snagging the seat of my pants as we were climbing out. Such tales were good entertainment, but let someone ask about the day I was shot and his familiar temper would ignite and story time was over.
What he wouldn’t is what I intend to tell, the truth so far as I am able. Paper being scarce, I’ll write small, but maybe when I’m finished people will be able to get out their magnifying glasses and see that we were just ordinary folk, no different from anyone else in any of the ways that matter. When other versions mutate through repeated tellings into something unrecognizable, as I have a feeling they will, here will be mine.
I’ll begin where it began for us. It was sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas…