Sunday, 8 June 2014

When The Bough Breaks

     It is not yet dawn but I’ve been awake for hours. I run my fingers through curls the colour of a new penny and lean to kiss his cheek. He stretches and yawns then cuddles in close. I flex and relax my toes, the old rocker groaning a rhythm of comfort as I rock my son.
     Rosy strands of sunlight glide over the lip of the horizon and stream into the living room.
     Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning.
     The pink slowly fades to light, painting his fair skin golden. He murmurs, milky lips drooped with satisfaction, fingers curled by his cheek.
     A sparrow lands on the sill and preens with jerky dips of its beak. Lush notes of lilac waft through the open window, summer fresh on the breeze.
     I slip my shirt back into place then stand. The sparrow, disturbed, flicks its tail in annoyance and flits to the shelter of the silver maple.  Nestling my son to the curve of my neck, I breathe his essence, his baby-sweet smell.
     I tiptoe my fingers up and down his back, swaying from one foot to the other. I look around the room then settle on the yellowed family photo.
     Mom’s smile is tight, blonde waves tucked behind her ears. Dad sits next to her, shoulders stooped; his eyes bleached the blue of an Arizona sky at high noon. I sit on Dad’s lap, legs folded like a colt, mischief leaping from eyes identical to his.  My little sister leans into Mom, her face shyly turned from the camera, her halo of curls a shimmer of pale. My eyes are drawn back to Dad, to the distance in his eyes, to my small hand hidden in his and I feel the sadness, the tightening in my throat, in my chest.  
     The muffled clunk of the washing machine brings me back and I peer out at the clothesline strung across the back yard. With an outstretched toe, I hook a handle of the bassinette and drag it toward me. Squatting low, I lay my sleeping boy on his back and draw the blanket to his chest. He yawns and stretches and I smile as he thrusts the blanket from his body.  Drawing the netting across the wicker, I gather the woven handles and cross to the sliding doors.
     The dewy grass wets my feet as I cross the lawn. My shoulders warm with the heat of the morning sun. I slip into the cool of the old maple and search the latticework of leaves until I find the knobbed branch that sits at just the right angle. I lift the bassinette and loop the handles over the bough, shifting it so that they lodge where limb meets trunk.
     I sneak my fingers under the netting and cover him again, pausing to trace the soft of his cheek. A hint of a smile tips his lips and I smile in response, wondering at this beauty that is mine. I secure the netting and pull down on the bassinette again to be sure it is safe.
     “I’ll be right back, little man,” I whisper.
     I peer around my fenced yard, feeling the quiet. I'm drawn to movement in the dense cedar hedge that blocks the street beyond. I narrow my eyes against the glare of the sun and take a few steps toward the hedge. Uncertainty flutters in my belly and I take another step then leap back as a chipmunk, scolding angrily, darts from its hiding place in the trees.
     Feeling a little foolish, I peek once more at my baby. He is lost in slumber, suspended safely above any curious being. The laundry waits. I turn and sprint across the yard, sidestepping a marauding thistle.

     Cutting through the garage, I yank open the basement door and feel my way down the steps, mildew chasing away the summer green. I search above my head until I find the naked bulb and the chain that hangs beside. With a tug, the dark pulls back to the corners and I pad across the cold concrete to scoop up a laundry basket.
     Moving quickly, I lift the lid of the washing machine and fill my arms with wet rompers and tiny socks. The telephone cuts the still and I bash my head on the corner of the overhanging shelf. The jug of detergent topples. I make a swipe but it hits the floor, the lid skidding to the corner, blue slime puddling at my toes.
     “Damn!” I reach down and slam the bottle upright as the phone blares at me again.
     Rubbing my temple, I run to the family room and snatch the receiver from its cradle, stretching the looped cord so I can see out the window.
     “Hi Honey! How’s my grandson?”
     “Oh, hi Mom...he’s uh...he’s good,” I find the bassinette and the knot in my belly loosens.
     I trace the bump on my head as I pace back and forth in front of the window, my stare fixed on the tree.
     “Listen Mom...yah...but I really can’t talk right now... I’m a...” I try to interrupt but there is no break in the monologue. The cedar hedge twitches. Her voice trills on. A branch dips but no chipmunk.
     “I just need your sister’s phone number at work, Honey.”
     I press my forehead to the cool glass. I look at the bassinette and back to the hedge.
     “I gotta call you back Mom...I have to...”
     “Sorry Honey, I really need to speak to your sister.” The wheedling tone makes my stomach hurt. “You don’t mind do you, Sweetie?”
     I dart a look to the desk across the room, to the drawer that holds my address book. A prickle of heat warms my back. Damn!   
     “Just a sec.” My teeth bang together as I stretch the cord to its limit. I yank open the drawer and fumble through the mess of papers. I jam the phone between my ear and shoulder and rifle through with both hands.
     Damn! Damn! Damn!
     I glance back to the window but I only see the top of the tree and a piece of blue sky. The room dims. Clouds scud across the blue. I close my fingers around the book and feel the paper crumple as Mom’s voice singsongs in my ear. Flipping through the pages, I hurry back to the window.
     “Okay Mom, got a pen?”
     I press my index finger on the number and peer out the window.
     My lungs empty. The phone smacks the floor and bounces up, wildly pirouetting through space like a rogue ballerina.
     “Honey? Are you there? Honey?”

     He rubs his arm across his forehead. Sweat mixes with the stains on the sleeve of his old work shirt. Embroidered letters above the pocket once spelled his name, but the stitching has long since unravelled.
     Peering over his shoulder, he watches the sun’s gradual climb until a red glow creeps over the eastern horizon and bleeds across the sky.
     Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.
     The old litany echoes through his head as he pushes the paper bag from the neck of the bottle and unscrews the cap. Throwing his head back, he takes a long haul, choking a little as the contents burn fire down his throat. It is a fire he knows, a fire he needs. He wipes his mouth on the back of his hand and caps the bottle. He sits awhile then leans forward and parts a window in the cedar hedge with his hand.
     And there she though she knew he was waiting for her.
     The sunlight sets her curls afire as she lopes the length of the yard on legs of dancer. He can just make out the smattering of freckles on her shoulders. Muscles wave through her arms as she lifts the bassinette and settles it on a branch.
     He crouches low, the stink of his body rising from his collar. He watches her reach into the basket and he feels his own lips tip in response to her sweet, sweet smile. His knee gives out and he slips, landing heavily on his chest. He dare not push the hair from his eyes but lies still and peers through the lank strands.
     She stares at the spot where he hides, her brows gathered over pale blue eyes. A chipmunk appears by his head and scolds him with a trilling chip-chip-chip then scurries out the other side and into her yard. She jumps then sees that it is only a chipmunk and her shoulders relax. He admires her long legs again as she sprints back toward the house.
     His hands are as weak as a baby’s but he finds the bottle and takes another long pull, his eyes never leaving her until she disappears into the garage. The bassinette draws his bleary stare. He watches as it sways with the breeze. He pictures the child inside.
     He waits, listens to his own breath, knows he is wasting time.
     He looks over his shoulder but there is little traffic at this time of the morning. A tremor runs through his wasted frame as he caps the bottle and shoves it back into the bag. Setting it aside, he draws a shaky breath then pushes through the cedars.
     He presses close to the ground and peers toward the house. Empty windows watch him with dark, knowing stares. His gaze drifts across the back of the house, across the gray stone facade and across flowerbeds in need of a weeding.
     He’d had a garden like that once.
     He pulls himself to his feet, hunches his shoulders and stumbles forward. Panic takes his breath and he ducks behind a row of lilacs, leans heavily against the tangle of branches. His eyes dart to the house then back to the bassinette.
     His heart hammers at his ears. Is it a boy or a girl... maybe a little girl with hair the colour of burnished copper? A vision of another little girl steals into his head. A hunger, so strong it hurts, sweeps through him, a hunger that has nothing to do with the bottle he’s left beneath the cedars.
     He sucks a long breath across his teeth, crouches low then rushes forward. His step falters as he lurches from the safety of the lilac and into the open. Sunlight blinds him for a moment before he finds the shade of the maple. He leans against the trunk, feels the shaggy bark bite at his shoulder and waits for his breath to slow. His eyes grow used to the dim and the hanging basket swims into focus.
     He glances toward the house.
     Wind ripples through the yard and a rushing fills his head as thousands of silver leaves dance on their stems. The breeze brings to him, the cloying scent of oncoming rain and he peers up at the sky. A dark stand of clouds guards the sun; casts an eerie yellow upon the yard.
     Red sky in the morning...
     His legs, guided by urgency, carry him to the basket. He presses the back of his hand to his mouth then steals a look over the side.
     Burnished copper crowns the small head, just as he imagined. The child sleeps, arms flung innocent. An ache takes hold of his chest and for a moment he cannot draw a breath.
     His hand crawls up the side of the bassinette, propelled by the need. Trembling fingers, tipped by dirty, broken nails, push back the netting.

     The phone hits the floor. Mom`s tinny voice follows me from the room. Fear drags me wildly through the shadows. A mewling starts in my throat.
     Oh God no...Please, please no.
     Cinderblock walls blur. My bare feet slap the concrete.
     The man’s image cuts through me...darting eyes...ragged hair...dirty hands.
     Dirty hands reaching into the bassinette...reaching for my son.
     “Please God...please.”  I stumble up the steps.
     He pauses, notices for the first time how grubby his hands are. He wipes them on his pants then gently draws back the blanket, grasping it between thumb and forefinger.
     Blue...a tiny blue sleeper.
     It’s a boy...a boy!
     He allows the feeling to take him...the exquisite feeling. He gazes down at the face, at the perfectly sculpted lips, the tiny seashell ears...the beginning of a dimple.
     A cold wind hits his back. He hears the first drops of rain, the growl of thunder. He slips the blanket back over the small body. The wind snatches the basket and tosses it back and forth. The child’s lids flip open and he stares up at the man with startled bleached blue eyes.
     Another gust of wind.
     The man stares into the boy’s eyes for what feels an eternity. Then a crack sounds by his ear and he jumps. The bassinette hangs at an angle. He squints at the limb. A split runs the length of the worn bough. The basket rocks to and fro, to and fro. As the man watches the fissure grows, parting the swarthy bark.
    With quavering arms, he reaches up and takes hold of the handles.
     And the wind blows...
     The door crashes against the wall of the garage and the sob breaks from my throat.
    Rain drives into my eyes but I can see what I already know. The bassinette is gone. He is gone.
    A broken bough lies under the tree. I hurtle across the yard. Thorns bite into my heel as I step on the thistle. Rain peppers my skin.
    I pick up the broken branch and spin around.
    Where is he? God please! Where`s my baby?
    I shove wet hair from my eyes and run to the edge of the maple, into the storm.
    And there it is. I can just see it.
    The bassinette.
     My legs turn to water and I lurch to the lilac bush.
     The basket is tucked under the branches.
     Time slows and a silence fills my head. I look over the side.
     My boy looks up, eyes round, drops of rain tipping the fringe of lashes. His eyes find mine and his lips spread in a toothless grin. His arms flail, the blanket crumpled in his dimpled fists.
     I claw at the netting and scoop him into my arms.
     I gather him close, hold him too tight. He squirms and I press my face to his hair, feel the heat of my child, the essence of my being; my heart.
     “Thank you.”
     He watches as she cuddles the boy close and a smile feathers his lips. Bending, he finds the bag and tucks it beneath his arm.
     Emerging from the cedars, he sways slightly and carefully steps up onto the sidewalk.
     Fat drops of rain hit his head, meld into dark patches across his stooped shoulders.
     No one notices the old man as he ambles into the storm. Wind blows gray strands back from the worn face and drives hot tears from his eyes...
     ...eyes bleached the blue of an Arizona sky at high noon.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Chocolate...Mmmm...Chocolate and Books

A few weeks ago, my friend and fellow author, Keri Beevis, asked me to join the Chocolate Bar Challenge Blog Tour. Having never done a blog tour, I didn't know what to expect. But the topic was chocolate. And books. As the former owner of a gourmet gift basket company and a confessed chocoholic, I have plenty of experience with chocolate. As an avid reader and writer I have plenty of experience with books. So it seemed only natural to participate and of course I would do almost anything for Keri Beevis.

Keri is the UK author of the thrilling Rebecca Angel series. I've read book one, Dead Letter Day as well as book two, Dead Write and I have the utmost respect for Keri as an author. Though we've never met in person, she has become a friend - an author who is always the first to support her fellow authors and someone who can make me laugh out loud every day. To learn more about Keri, visit her website at

It was surprisingly difficult to narrow down my favourite books but even more difficult to choose the chocolate bars I like best. But here we go:

1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I read this book a few months ago and 'The Help' has become one of my favourites. Set in the 1960s in Jackson Mississipi, the story is told from the perspective of three women: 
Abilean is an African-American maid who cleans houses and cares for the young children of white families.
Minny is Aibilean's confrontational friend who frequently tells her employers what she thinks of them, resulting in her having been fired nineteen times.
Skeeter has always dreamed of being a writer and is the daughter of a prominent white family who employs African-Americans in their fields as well as their household.
As Skeeter becomes a young woman, she realizes African-American employees are treated very differently from the way white employees are treated. She becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the way the African-American maids are treated by their white employers as these very same employers are Skeeter's 'friends'. Skeeter's write instincts take over and she decides to expose the world to the deplorable way the maids are treated. After much cajoling, she persuades Aibilean, Minny and many other maids to tell their story. The book, entitled 'Help' is a collaboration of the privileged Skeeter and the struggling, exploited 'coloured' help. Once the story is published, Aibilean in particular, blossoms and leaves her job as a maid for a new life, hoping to follow in Skeeter's footsteps and become a writer herself.

I chose Lowney's Cherry Blossom. When you unwrap the cherry blossom, it is an unassuming chocolate mound. But when you bite into it, there is a surprisingly, beautiful maraschino cherry hidden within, just waiting to be exposed.

2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

My son received Harry Potter as a birthday gift about fifteen years ago. I read it to all three of my boys and we all became hooked. Though I'm sure it's not necessary to explain the plot, I will briefly outline what drew us in. Harry, a young orphan, is mistreated and tormented by his aunt, uncle and cousin - the Dursleys. At age eleven, he discovers his magical heritage. He is a wizard! He makes close friends and enemies during his first year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With the help of his friends, Harry faces and conquers the dark wizard Lord Voldemort, who killed Harry's parents, but failed to kill Harry when he was just a baby. Breaking rules, using a wand, playing Quidditch, fighting evil and the camaraderie between friends is what kept my boys and myself spellbound throughout this book and all others in the series. There are no other books that come close to the Harry Potter series.

I chose Reese's Peanut Butter Cups as they are a 'one-of-a-kind taste experience' and have long since been a favourite of our entire family. As with any of the Harry Potter books, once you have tried them, they are with you forever and it's very hard to stop thinking about them.

3. The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I received the boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia when I was about nine years old from my favourite aunt and uncle. It was a heavy read but I persevered and proceeded to eat, sleep and breathe Narnia for months. In 1940 four siblings - Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy - are sent from London to escape The Blitz to live in the countryside. During a game of hide and seek, Lucy climbs into a wardrobe and discovers it is a magical forest in a land called Narnia. The White Witch rules Narnia and has cast a spell that renders the land forever cloaked in winter. With the help of a talking lion named Aslan and many other talking animals, the four children conquer the witch and are crowned Kings and Queens of Narnia. Fifteen years later, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, find their way back through the wardrobe and are suddenly children again as almost no time has passed.

I chose Cadbury Crunchie because this sponge toffee, chocolate-covered bar has been my favourite chocolate bar since I was a child and the magical land of Narnia remains a favourite for me today. Crunchie was initially launched in the UK back in the 1930s and the author, C.S. Lewis, was born and lived his life in the UK.

4. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

This story, narrated in the first person as an autobiographical memoir told by the horse named Black Beauty, had a huge affect on me as a young child. Beginning with Black Beauty's carefree days as a colt on an English farm with his mother, to his difficult life pulling cabs in London, the story finally leads to his happy retirement in the country. Along the way, he meets with many hardships and recounts many tales of cruelty and kindness. The story always related to the kindness, sympathy, and understanding treatment of horses and it is this that stayed with me.

I chose Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate Bar because it is a special blend of rich, velvety dark chocolate and that is how I perceived Black Beauty - dark, velvety and beautiful.

  5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Twenty years ago I read this larger-than-life story and fell in love with the series and the characters. Claire Randall, the strong protagonist, became a hero of sorts to me. In 1945, Claire, a former combat nurse in England, comes back from the war and reunites with her husband on a second honeymoon. When she touches a boulder in an ancient stone circle, she's catapulted back in time to Scotland,1743. It's here that James Fraser, a young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire is torn between her husband in the past and her husband in the present.

I chose Cadbury's Mr. Big because it is the largest sized chocolate bar Cadbury produces. It is made of a long, layered vanilla wafer, coated in caramel, peanuts and rice crisps, which is then covered in the chocolate coating.  It's full of flavour and there's nothing like it. A Mr. Big bar is the length of two "standard"-sized bars and Ms. Gabaldon's books are double the size of standard books as well.

6. Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder 

As a child, I adored this series. The book revolves around a young girl, Laura Ingalls and the Ingalls family and their time spent on the prairies of Kansas during the late nineteenth century. At the beginning of this story, Pa Ingalls decides to sell the house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, and move the family, by covered wagon to Independence, Kansas. The story follows the life of Laura, along with Pa and Ma, Mary, and baby Carrie and the hardships they encounter along the way. Later the book was made into a television series and I never missed an episode.

I chose Nestle Kit Kat, a chocolate-covered wafer biscuit bar, because it was introduced in 1935, the same year Little House on the Prairie was published. The book is a feel-good comforting story that’s been around for years and Kit Kat is a staple chocolate bar that has stood the test of time.

Thank you to the incomparable Keri Beevis for including me in this delectable tour. Now I will hand over the reins to a gentleman who has helped me immensely over the past year and to a lovely lady whom I've just recently met.

Andrew Ives is originally from London but now resides in France. He is the author of several science fiction thrillers, including Sirene, Parallax, Psinapse and Oblique. I know from experience that he gives each of his characters a quirkiness and depth that bring them to life. His writing is technical, educational and flawless and I had the pleasure of reading his creation, Sirene, last year. You can learn more about Andrew from his interview with Keri Beevis at Andrew will be sharing his Chocolate Bar Challenge on his Facebook Page 

AFE Smith is a fantasy author whose first novel, Darkhaven, is due to be released by Harper Voyager Digital this summer. Reflections of Reality is where AFE blogs regularly. I was sold by her fantastic post on strong women. She is also the creator of many short stories and an all round interesting person. You can join AFE on Facebook at  and enjoy her ramblings on her website/blog at

Now I am off to devour a bag of salty chips to counteract the effects of the chocolate I've been consuming for days. Happy reading and writing everyone! 

Monday, 2 September 2013


I awoke with a feeling of anticipation and a sick feeling of guilt - always the guilt. Today we were slipping away to Niagara Falls for some family time and a much needed mental rest for me.
BUT (and this is a big but) my book was not yet finished and my deadline was looming. Like the Angel of Death awaiting my last breath, my self-imposed deadline weighed heavily upon my shoulders.

Then I heard sneezing, followed by tell-tale whining. My 3-year-old son wrapped his arms around my neck when I scooped him out of bed and I felt the unmistakable smear of snot on my cheek as he cuddled close.
He was sick.
Next I heard his twin sister. "Mama, I'm awake," she called out, her sweet voice oddly distorted.
She was sick too.

So, to cancel our trip or not - that was the question. Our hotel was paid for and tickets to Niagara Safari were non-refundable. We decided to take a chance. Amidst sneezing, whining and reams of Kleenex we packed the car.

The 'Street of Fun', Clifton Hill, was a welcome distraction and the fun-house drew nasal shrieks of delight from our heavy-lidded twins. But it was clear they were not feeling well so, after a stroll by the falls, we decided on an early dinner and bed, our fingers crossed that tomorrow would be better. The Rainforest Cafe was on our walk back to the hotel and the kids were instantly mesmerized by the fiber optic star ceiling and the animatronic robots of jungle animals and insects that came to life every few minutes. 

Then our daughter vomited; an endless stream of projectile barf that was truly unbelievable. As restaurant patrons recoiled, our waitress - a bright smile pasted to her face - reassured that this 'happens all the time' and placed giant orange cones around our table to warn of the Danger.

Back at the hotel we gently deposited our sleeping daughter on a bed of towels, an improvised barf bucket close by her head. At 3 am I awoke to the wondrous sound of my son's giggles. He was sound asleep but his infectious laughter rang through the dark room. Weird. Upon investigation, we found he'd wet the bed - flooded it in fact. Not a laughing matter at 3am.

With the bed stripped and fresh sheets tucked in, we settled back in. But for me sleep was done. As I listened to the ancient air conditioner cough and sputter, my mind roiled and I reflected on the last several months.

My book - book two, my sequel, Lost to the Mist - hovered at the forefront. Unfinished pages taunted. The familiar sick feeling started in my stomach and spread through me.

I'd released book one, A Thistle in the Mist, in January. Buoyed by a shimmering cloud of success and without a shred of forethought, I publicly announced the forthcoming release of book two for August - a mere 8 months later.

Had I known how the next eight months would unfold, I would not have made such an hasty vow.

In February my twins came to the conclusion that naps were optional. Gone were my two precious hours of writing per day. I began to sleep, drink and eat in unhealthy doses of panic with furious bursts of forced writing far into the night. My mom came to the rescue and offered to babysit each week for a full day of uninterrupted writing. But a health scare for her and a slew of doctor's appointments quickly nixed that generous offer. March flew past and in April my twenty-one-year-old son moved out and into his own apartment. Before the dust settled, the revolving door opened and my twenty-two-year-old son moved home. With no direction and no job, I worried for his future and helped him put together a resume. The end of April brought my first book signing - a night of success and a renewed focus for book two. A sense of urgency filled me and throughout May book two began to take shape. As before, with book one, thoughts of Meara and the highlands of Scotland were never far from my mind. June brought with it the green of summer and I returned to the lake to pursue my love of dragon boating. I was flattered and excited to receive daily emails from my readers asking for a confirmed release date of book two. I continued to delude myself and strove to complete my book by August. At the end of June a job offer literally fell into my lap - a job that would help my family and lighten our financial worries. This new job included marketing and promotions  and drove a huge dent into the hours I'd set aside to write. I loved the job but agonized over the loss of my writing time. 
Then a few weeks ago the true meaning of my life lurched into perspective. My twenty-one-year-old son showed up at my door. His face was bruised, scraped and swollen. My heart dropped. I went numb as he haltingly confessed to crashing my car. I'd lent him my car while his was in the shop. My car was gone but my son stood before me. Alive. And he felt so good in my arms. I went to the crash site and stared at the telephone pole that stood just a few feet from where my car had come to rest. In that moment I knew an angel had been sitting on my son's shoulder - and on mine.

In the hotel room, as the air conditioner protested loudly and my family slept peacefully, I came to some realizations.
There are things in life you cannot change. I cannot change the number of hours in my day. I cannot change the fact - nor would I - that I have six children who need me each and every day. I cannot change the fact I need a day job to pay the bills. And I cannot change the fact that my deadline has come and gone.

Today I am so thankful to have my family. My car is gone but it can be replaced. My son is still here and he cannot be replaced. The most important things in my life are my family, my friends and my writing. I didn't finish my book on time but I WILL keep writing. Despite my best intentions, I know I have disappointed my readers and I have disappointed myself.

And so I have come to understand I must have been insane - am INDEED insane - to think I could write an entire book in eight months. But as most writers would agree - writing takes a certain degree of insanity. To quote Edgar Allen Poe: 'I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.' 

As I embrace the insanity of my life, I'd like to apologize to my readers who have been patiently waiting.

Christmas is my new goal and though I cannot predict what the future holds, I will endeavor to complete my story by then.

Thank you.