The Death of Me; The Life of Us #catholicfiction

copyright Ellen Hrkach

I wrote “The Death of Me; The Life of Us,” short fiction, for Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body, available on Amazon.  Special thanks to Erin McCole Cupp and Dena Hunt for editing assistance.  Below is an excerpt:

“Sarah, you’re too young to read the death notices,” my mother always said.  But here I sat at the college library, eyes focused on the obituary section of the newspaper — yes, I still preferred to read an actual newspaper rather than digital.

I also attended funerals of people I barely knew. In the years following my sister’s death, I found strange comfort in learning how other people faced the death of a loved one.

What does death look like?  It’s a polished maple casket lowered into the ground, people in black clothes with somber faces, a granite headstone with a name etched on it.

What does death sound like? It’s a priest speaking in monotone. People sobbing. Moaning. Sometimes it sounds like the silence of this quiet library.

What is grief?  It’s a space in your heart reserved for those you love who have died and can no longer return that love.   It’s an emptiness, a hollow at the base of your throat that rises up and catches when you think of the person you love who is now gone.

What is guilt? It’s the realization that it is my fault that the person I love most is now dead. It’s the dark, rigid rock that holds a conscience captive and continues to torture my soul nine years later.

The blur of the van slamming into her unexpecting body is an image that is burned into my memory.  So is the screeching of the brakes and the thud of the van striking her. I was only nine years old that hot and muggy August day. But it was the end of my childhood.

***

“Let’s play tag,” I said to my six-year-old sister, Rosie.

“No!  Wanna go back inside. It’s too hot out.”  Her blond hair hung in wet strips, and her clothes were damp from running back and forth through the sprinkler.

“Come on.  We’ll play tag, then we can run through the sprinkler again.”  I touched her shoulder. “You’re it,” then I ran across our neighbor’s lawn.  I wasn’t paying attention. I just didn’t want her to catch me, so I ran as fast as I could and ran into the street. I had made it to the other side when I heard screeching. I turned just in time to see the van slam into her small body. The man behind the wheel, bigger than Dad, got out and stood over my sister’s body, his mouth open. Then he covered his face with his hands and began to weep.

I couldn’t move, nor could I take my eyes from her.  Rosie lay on the road, her white Danskin shirt now streaked in bright red-orange.  Blood covered her head like a cap, her body twisted like a rag doll. I stared, wide-eyed, unable to move as hope welled up within me when I saw her body twitch.  All of a sudden, she was still.

It was quiet, the humming of the neighborhood air conditioners and the man’s deep crying played like the background noise of a TV show. I heard a scream. I looked up to see my mother racing across the lawn and into the street.  Bellowed sobs consumed her as she scooped up Rosie’s little body.  Drops of liquid trickled from my sister’s bottom, creating a dotted trail on the black road as she carried my sister onto our lawn.

Mom collapsed, Rosie’s blood smearing her shirt, hands and face.  She screamed over and over again, “No!”

I’m not sure how much time passed, but I stayed in the same spot in the street.  I wasn’t able to move, so I stared at the wetness on the black street, one tiny sandal in the midst of it all.

Only moments before, Rosie was a happy girl who loved everything about life.  Now she was gone. And it was my fault.

The squeal of sirens echoed in the distance and became louder until I couldn’t hear anymore — it was too much for me to think, to hear.  My eyes continued to stare, but everything became a cloud of colors moving in front of me.  Flashing lights. Badged, uniformed shirts in shades of blue. A black and yellow stretcher. The shadows inside the back of an ambulance.

I felt someone’s arms around me and the mumble of words. I blinked and glanced upward. It was Mrs. Grayson, our next door neighbor.  “Sarah, did you see what happened?” My mouth was open, but nothing would come out.

Finally I was able to speak, but all that came out was: “It’s my fault.”

***

In the ensuing weeks and months after Rosie’s death, I couldn’t talk about her or her death.  I couldn’t even say the words “Rosie’s death.” At the viewing and funeral, I kept my head down as relatives and friends passed by. I couldn’t talk to anyone about anything. I could hear mournful sounds coming from my parents’ bedroom every night for weeks.

School and life became a fog as one month blended into the next.  I stayed away from Mom as much as I could. She wouldn’t want the person responsible for Rosie’s death to talk to her.

Mom never once blamed me, not with words, anyway. She tried to get me to talk to a grief counselor, but I refused.  All I did was wake up, go through the motions of each day, and sleep. Every night I wished that I would have a dream about Rosie. The only dream I ever had was a nightmare replaying the moment the van hit her. She was on the road, her eyes open, her small voice saying, “I don’t want to play tag.”  I wished I could tell her one more time I loved her. I wished I could tell her that I was sorry.

If I hadn’t asked her to play tag, if we hadn’t been outside, if I hadn’t run across the street…if, if, if.  I should have protected her.  I shouldn’t have led her into the street. It should’ve been me who was struck by that van.

I didn’t — wouldn’t — cry, either.  Every time a sob crept up the back of my throat, I shoved it back down again.  I had no right to cry.  I had no right to talk.  I had no right to live.  It was my fault.

We weren’t much of a praying family, but I did believe in God. I tried to pray many times.  How could God let her die?  Why didn’t He save her?  Why didn’t He stop me from playing tag with her?  Why didn’t He stop me from running across the street? I was angry at the birds for continuing to sing, and mad at the whole world that moved along as if Rosie had never been a part of it.  Eventually, I saw that life was continuing for my parents and brothers. How could the world just continue when my world had ended?

 ***

“Is anybody sitting here?”

I didn’t even look up at the guy asking.

I was having lunch at the library. My preference would’ve been for him to leave me alone, but I shrugged. I soon would learn that Jack was persistent to the point of being annoying.

“I’m Jack.” He held out his hand to me.

“Sarah,” I whispered. “Be quiet. We’re in a library.”  I shook his hand and he sat down beside me. That’s when I finally looked at him.  He was a pleasant enough looking boy: blond, wavy California hair, blue eyes, broad shoulders.

“Whatcha reading?” he asked, keeping his voice soft.

I answered but kept reading. “The Funeral Practices of the Ancient Egyptians.”

I looked up just in time to see his eyebrows lift.

Every Wednesday after that, he was there at that same table at the college library. Sometimes he would offer to share a muffin or other snack. Most of the time I sat there, quiet, reading. He kept the topic of conversation superficial: the weather, current events, sports.

“Our baseball team is going to the semi-finals.”

“Oh?”

He nodded.  “I play second base.”

“That’s nice.”

“There’s a game at the college baseball field next Wednesday, so I won’t be able to meet you here.”

“Okay.”

His eyes widened. “Hey, why don’t you come and watch?”

I was never a big fan of sports, but the way he looked at me, so expectant, I surprised even myself, saying, “Sure, okay.”

I went to the semi-finals and watched the game. Jack actually hit a home run, and I found myself cheering with the rest of the spectators. But his team lost.  I waited for him after the game.

“A home run.  Wow.”

“Well, we lost, but we did our best.”  He hesitated.  “Want to go grab a bite to eat?”

I scowled.  “I thought we were just friends.”

“Can’t two friends grab a pizza?”

“I suppose.”

There was still a part of me that wanted him to leave me alone; I hadn’t really had any friends since Rosie died.  The way I saw it, I didn’t deserve friends.

Jack and I continued seeing each other on Wednesdays. He always did most of the talking, though. I learned that he had three older sisters and that he was attending college (majoring in microbiology) on a baseball scholarship. He liked pizza and hiking. He was an amateur photographer.   We eventually began texting.

My mother pestered me about my “new friend, Jack.”

“He’s just a friend, Mom.”

“Oh,” she responded, her eyes lowering in disappointment.

To read the rest of the story, click here to purchase Image and Likeness on Amazon.

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An Open Book – September 2017 #openbook

Open Book

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

God or Nothing: Robert Cardinal Sarah

Synopsis: In this fascinating autobiographical interview, one of the most prominent and outspoken Catholic Cardinals gives witness to his Christian faith and comments on many current controversial issues. The mission of the Church, the joy of the gospel, the heresy of activism , and the definition of marriage are among the topics he discusses with wisdom and eloquence.

Robert Cardinal Sarah grew up in Guinea, West Africa. Inspired by the missionary priests who made great sacrifices to bring the Faith to their remote village, his parents became Catholics. Robert discerned a call to the priesthood and entered the seminary at a young age, but due to the oppression of the Church by the government of Guinea, he continued his education outside of his homeland. He studied in France and nearby Senegal. Later he obtained a licentiate in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, followed by a licentiate in Sacred Scripture at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Jerusalem.

At the age of thirty-four he became the youngest Bishop in the Catholic Church when John Paul II appointed him the Archbishop of Conakry, Guinea, in 1979. His predecessor had been imprisoned by the Communist government for several years, and when Archbishop Sarah was targeted for assassination John Paul II called him to Rome to be Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI named him Cardinal and appointed him Prefect of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. Pope Francis made him Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2014.

“I have read God or Nothing with great spiritual profit, joy, and gratitude. . . .[Its] courageous answers to the problems of gender theory clear up in a nebulous world a fundamental anthropological question.”  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

My review: I’m enjoying this book tremendously.  Cardinal Sarah expresses the faith with a firm but gentle tone.  Fascinating life story, but also an ideal book that explains our faith.  Highly recommend (and thanks to Ann for the gift copy!!)

 

Accident Prone by Jude Greggs

Synopsis: (Fiction) David Baker’s life is plagued with headaches. Relationship troubles, an aging mother, and chronic migraines are turning his existence into a nightmare. His misery is further compounded by his antagonistic, four-year-old neighbor who constantly demands his attention. When David accidentally stumbles upon a secret operation that promises to rid him of all of his problems, he wonders if he may have found a means of escape, but will the mistakes of his past continue to haunt his future…with terrifying results? This slightly futuristic, dystopian novel uses the far-fetched, surreal possibilities of tomorrow, to expose the hidden horrors of modern-day reality.

My review: Forthcoming

Prayers, Promises and Devotions for the Holy Souls in Purgatory by Susan Tassone

 

Synopsis: The holy souls are eager for the prayers of the faithful, which can gain indulgences for them. Their intercession is powerful. Pray unceasingly. We must empty purgatory!” St. Pio of Pietrelcina    Tireless advocate for the holy souls in purgatory, Susan Tassone, invites you to join her in the call to action from St. Pio to empty purgatory. Become a prayer warrior on behalf of the suffering souls and bring comfort to them and to yourself along the way.

Tassone provides an unprecedented treasure trove of spiritual tools including devotions, meditations, and wisdom from the holy souls and patron saints of souls in purgatory that you can use to take an active role in this vital and rewarding vocation. Sharing her deep understanding and personal connection with the centuries-old tradition of praying with supernatural charity for the holy souls, Tassone will inspire you with her passion and educate you with her meticulous research. In addition, she provides an avenue for the attainment of spiritual gifts for acts done for the souls that cry out for relief.

My review: Forthcoming

Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith by Robert Barron

Synopsis: “What I propose to do in this book is to take you on a guided exploration of the Catholic world, but not in the manner of a docent, for I am not interested in showing you the artifacts of Catholicism as though they were dusty objets d’art in a museum of culture.  I want to function rather as a mystagogue, conducting you ever deeper into the mystery of the incarnation in the hopes that you might be transformed by its power.” –Father Robert Barron
 
What is Catholicism? A 2,000-year-old living tradition? A worldview? A way of life? A relationship? A mystery? In Catholicism Father Robert Barron examines all these questions and more, seeking to capture the body, heart and mind of the Catholic faith.

Starting from the essential foundation of Jesus Christ’s incarnation, life, and teaching, Father Barron moves through the defining elements of Catholicism – from sacraments, worship, and prayer, to Mary, the Apostles, and Saints, to grace, salvation, heaven, and hell – using his distinct and dynamic grasp of art, literature, architecture, personal stories, Scripture, theology, philosophy, and history to present the Church to the world.

Paired with his documentary film series of the same title, Catholicism is an intimate journey, capturing “The Catholic Thing” in all its depth and beauty. Eclectic, unique, and inspiring, Father Barron brings the faith to life for a new generation, in a style that is both faithful to timeless truths, while simultaneously speaking in the language of contemporary life.

My review: I read this while down in New Jersey visiting my family.  I became sick halfway through the visit and couldn’t do much but read.  She had a copy of this on her side table and I became engrossed.  Excellent read and highly recommend!

Vanished Halls and Cathedrals of France by George Warton Edwards (1917)

Synopsis: (From Amazon) Surviving the ancient wars and revolutions in this, “the Cockpit of Europe,” the great examples of architecture of the early days of France remained for our delight. The corroding fingers of time, it is true, were much more merciful to them, but certainly the destroyers of old never ventured to commit the crimes upon them now charged against the legions of the present invader. These fair towns of Picardy and Champagne are sacked, pillaged and burned even as were the beautiful Flemish towns of Ypres, Malines, Termonde, Dixmude, and Dinant on the Meuse….
Never again shall we enjoy them: the chalices are broken and the perfume forever vanished….The catastrophe is so unbelievable that one cannot realize it. The Seven Churches of Soissons, Senlis, Noyon, Laon, Meaux, Rheims, St. Remi; these such as man probably never again can match, are either razed to the foundations, or so shattered that it will be impossible to restore them.
It is said that the Imperial Government has promised to rebuild these Gothic masterpieces….One cannot trust one’s self to comment upon this announcement. Imagine these sacred ruins…. Rheims!… Rheims can never be restored to what it was before the bombardment. Let it rest thus…. A sacred ruin—the scarred, pierced heart of France! Likewise “these fair sweet towns” of the middle ages; these wonderful little streets and byways, filled with the gray old timbered houses, “old in Shakespeare’s day.” Up to the outbreak of the war there were many of these throughout France, in spite of the wave of modernity which resulted in so much so called town improvement.

My review: I downloaded this on Kindle for 1.59 Canadian and what a treasure.  I needed to research cathedrals of France for my series in progress (Great War Great Love).  Excellent information and photos.

 

Julia’s Gifts (Great War Great Love #1)

Coming soon!  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my upcoming novel, Julia’s Gifts. I’ve been spending the last two weeks implementing suggested edits from my developmental editor.  It’s now in the hands of the copy-editor and will be available as an ARC within a few weeks.

Synopsis:  As a young girl, Julia began buying gifts for her future spouse, a man whose likeness and personality she has conjured up in her mind, a man she calls her “beloved.”

Soon after the United States enters the Great War in 1917, Julia impulsively volunteers as a medical aid worker, with no experience or training. Will the realities of war dishearten her from pursuing her beloved? Will Julia’s naïve ‘gift scheme’ distract her from recognizing her true “Great Love?”

From Philadelphia to war-torn France, follow Julia as she transitions from unworldly young woman to compassionate volunteer.

How Do You Pronounce Your Last Name?

Over the past ten years, I’ve attended many Catholic conferences and retreats, selling and signing my books. The question that people most often asked was not “How do you find time to write” or “How do you come up with ideas for your cartoon” or “Are you working on any new novels?”

The one question that people most often ask me is “How do you pronounce your last (married) name?”

This is probably the main reason that James and I decided that I should use my maiden name (Gable) as a pen name. Hrkach is decidedly a name that people have a hard time pronouncing, mainly because there are not enough vowels (Hrkach is Croatian in origin. James’ grandfather was born in Mostar, Yugoslavia).  The original spelling of the name was: Hrkać.

It is actually an easy name to pronounce (once you know how) and when people have asked me, I give the same answer: “It is pronounced Her cash…and then I add, “as in…my money.”

So now you know how to pronounce my married name:  Her cash, as in my money.

And here’s a cool photo (below) with my name on it!  No, I haven’t been writing since 1739. This is from the Ben Franklin Museum, a fun gadget that allows you to put your name on the front page of an old book!

 

Copyright 2017 Ellen Gable Hrkach

 

Julia’s Gifts Cover Reveal

 

My new novel series, Great War – Great Love, begins with Julia’s Gifts, which will be published on November 1, 2017.

Synopsis:

As a young girl, Julia Murphy began buying gifts for her future spouse, a man whose likeness and personality she has conjured up in her mind, a man she calls her “beloved.”

Soon after the United States enters the Great War, Julia impulsively volunteers as a medical aid worker, with no experience or training. Will the realities of war dishearten her from pursuing her beloved? Will Julia’s naïve ‘gift scheme’ distract her from recognizing her true “Great Love?”

From Philadelphia to war-torn France, follow Julia as she transitions from unworldly young woman to compassionate volunteer.

Dying for Revenge FREE on Kindle through Thursday

Dying for Revenge Final FrontDying for Revenge by Dr. Barbara Golder, published by Full Quiver Publishing, is FREE through Thursday on Kindle!

“Barbara Golder joins the ranks of Chesterton’s bloodthirsty heirs as she spins a tale that will delight mystery fans. With Dying for Revenge in hand, your beach experience is now complete!” Mark P. Shea, Author of Mercy Works

Someone is killing the rich and famous residents of Telluride, Colorado, and the medical investigator, Dr. Jane Wallace, is on a collision course with the murderer. Compelled by profound loss and injustice, Jane will risk her own life to protect others from vengeful death, even as she exacts a high price from those who have destroyed her world. DYING FOR REVENGE is a story of love, obsession and forgiveness, seen through the eyes of a passionate, beautiful woman trying to live her life — imperfectly but vibrantly — even if she won’t survive.

To view the book trailer, click below:

Other Social Media Links for author Dr. Barbara Golder:

Author’s website: barbaragolderauthor.com

Book Series Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Lady-Doc-Murders-1171887676163049

Instagram:  @ladydoclawyer

Twitter: @ladydocmurders

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/Barbara-Golder-Author-1764757320425828

Email: ladydocmurders@gmail.com

To read an excerpt, click on the novel page.

Highlights of the Catholic Writers Conference Live and CMN #cmntradeshow #cwcl2017

Setting up the CWG Booth, the FQP section of the Booth, Tuesday luncheon and socializing

 

Clockwise from top left: CMN Author Event, speaking on 21st Century Indie Publishing, CMN breakfast at the Catholic Mom contributors table, CMN breakfast with Barbara Golder and Meggie Daly

 

Thursday: eating at Culvers (great burgers and coleslaw!) and with my dear friend, Lisa Mladinich (top) and FQP Author and dear friend, Amanda Lauer!

 

Last day at the Friday book signing, with my wonderful minion, Maria, and with FQP authors!

 

With my dear friend, Susan Tassone, AKA “The Purgatory Lady” and we’re color coordinated!

Theology of the Body Fiction – #NFPAwarenessWeek

Since this is “NFP Awareness Week,” I’d like to share some of my favorite Theology of the Body fiction!

(Pardon the shameless self-promotion of my own books in this list!)

Emily’s Hope (Ellen Gable, 2005, FQ Publishing)

Passport (Christopher Blunt, 2008, Pelican Crossing Press)

Midnight Dancers (Regina Doman, 2008, Chesterton Press)

In Name Only (Ellen Gable, 2009, FQ Publishing, 2010 IPPY Gold Medal Winner)

Stealing Jenny (Ellen Gable, 2011, FQ Publishing)

Finding Grace (Laura Pearl, 2012, Bezalel Books)

Angela’s Song (AnnMarie Creedon, 2012, FQ Publishing)

Rapunzel Let Down (Regina Doman, 2013, Chesterton Press)

Vingede (Friar Tobe #2) (Krisi Keley, 2013, S & H Publishing)

Don’t You Forget About Me (Erin McCole Cupp, 2013, FQ Publishing)

A Subtle Grace (Ellen Gable, 2014, FQ Publishing)

The Lion’s Heart (Dena Hunt, 2014, FQ Publishing, 2016 CALA Award Winner)

A World Such as Heaven Intended (Amanda Lauer, 2014, FQ Publishing)

Working Mother (Erin McCole Cupp, 2014, FQ Publishing)

Stay With Me (Carolyn Astfalk, 2015, FQ Publishing)

Dying for Revenge (Barbara Golder, 2016, FQ Publishing, Finalist Next Generation Indie Book Awards)

Dying for Compassion (Barbara Golder, 2017, FQ Publishing)

Discovery (Karina Fabian, 2016, FQ Publishing)

Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body (Cupp and Gable, editors, 2016, FQ Publishing)

Rightfully Ours (Carolyn Astfalk, 2017, FQ Publishing)

To check out many of these books, go to the Full Quiver Publishing website!