Monday, February 1, 2016

An Excerpt from "Ma Liang's Crayons"

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
Today is February 1, 2016, and in just twenty-seven days there will be a new book available from Amazon: Echoes of Darkness, a short story collection from Rob Smales, published through Books & Boos Press.
Yup. It’s mine all mine.
To share my excitement a bit, rather than some spontaneous bitching, like usual, I thought I’d give you all a little sample of the work in the book, and share an excerpt from one of the thirteen stories making up Echoes of Darkness. Below you’ll find the opening scene from the story “Ma Liang’s Crayons.”
I do hope you enjoy it.

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An Excerpt from "Ma Liang's Crayons"

 From the upcoming collection Echoes of Darkness, by Rob Smales

The house was filled with people. Black suits, dark skirts, and solemn voices. People sipping from clear plastic cups, or carefully holding undersized paper plates to their chests, trying not to make a mess with the pasta salad, or let little deli meatballs roll off onto their shirts and ties. She didn’t even know half the people currently occupying her living room, and most of those she did know, she hadn’t seen in years. Especially not the past year, when she could most have used some help, or even just a shoulder to—
“When’s Daddy coming home?”
Julie looked down, surprised. Pearl stood in the kitchen doorway, looking strangely adult in her formal dress, a string of faux pearls around her tiny neck. Pearls for the Pearl, Connor had said, making the little girl laugh when he’d given them to her. He’d always been a hit with Pearl, always been the fun uncle. And that had helped: someone else to distract Pearl when Danny had gotten sick. Someone else to shore her up when Danny had taken a turn for the worse, and Julie had needed to focus on caring for her hus—
“Mommy?” The voice was small, but insistent. “When’s Daddy coming home?” Julie heard things in her daughter’s voice, things that shouldn’t be in the voice of a six-year-old. There was fear in that voice, and sadness, and confusion, and an impending sense of loss, but on top of it all was the tone—the over-careful enunciation—of a young woman trying to ignore all that, and act as if everything was fine, just spiffy, tip-top, business as usual.
As if a little girl burying her father could ever be usual.
Julie heard these things in her daughter’s voice, and knew that her heart should have broken to hear them—shattered like a wine glass assaulted by a high C. And it would have, had it not already been broken. She looked over Pearl’s head once again, to the people out in the living room, the strangers, and friends so recently in absentia, who had come to eat her food and celebrate the life of her husband, though not one of them had been willing to help him though its ending, the cancer consuming friendships as readily as it had consumed Danny himself, only faster.
She glanced back down at the little girl standing in the doorway, the woeful child demanding an answer. Pearl deserved an answer, Julie knew, but what was she to say? This was her daughter—their daughter—and she’d been through a lot, even more than she understood yet. Julie should be helping Pearl to understand what was happening, what had been happening for the past year—and more—and console the little girl in her grief. She knew she should do this. She knew.
But the words wouldn’t come from her dishrag heart, wrung out with saying goodbye to Danny after so long, and her head was filled with confusion about Connor, missing for the past ten months, and not even making it to his own brother’s funeral. And so her answer, poorly chosen for nothing but its honesty, came out flat, and matter-of-fact.
“Never, Pearl. Your daddy’s never coming home again.”
The words took a moment to register on the small face, but when they did, the oddly adult expression, the rigid mask Pearl wore to help hide her fear and uncertainty, crumbled like a house of cards tumbling down. Disbelief flashed across her daughter’s countenance, almost too fast to see, before her soft little features settled into an expression of sorrow so deep it almost frightened Julie. Sorrow, tinged with something Julie couldn’t quite recognize—at least until Pearl spun away, wailing as she pelted across the packed living room.
“I hate you!”
Shrill words degenerated into sobs as she ran, colliding blindly with some people, clumsily avoiding others, until she disappeared into the hallway. The slamming bedroom door cut off the sounds of her sorrow, leaving the crowded room filled with awkward looks and silence.
“You all should go now.” Julie’s voice was quiet, but none of her guests had difficulty hearing her, and her tone brooked no hesitation or rebuttal. A muted murmur rose as plates and cups found perches about the room, and coats were collected, but the voices never rose up into intrusiveness as the people, those she didn’t know and those she did, filed out without offering their goodbyes.
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There you have it: a little taste of Echoes of Darkness. A sad, sad, little taste . . .
Next week I'll be throwing a beautiful cover up here for you to see, but in the meantime I have to look into getting a final proof copy—have I mentioned I'm excited?
Talk to you later!

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