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.

Advertisements

An Open Book – December #openbook

Open Book

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

Donkey BellsDonkey Bells by Catherine Doherty

This is one of my favorite Advent books.  I love to curl up in a comfy chair next to a warm woodstove and read this wonderful book during December.  It’s also a great companion to lighting the Advent wreath each night.

From the publisher: Meaningful and heartwarming stories, customs which you can adopt into your own Christmas celebration, and earthy and inspiring meditations to prepare the entire family for Christ’s coming. Discover how Christians celebrated Christmas before the days of television, shopping malls, and the Internet…

Catherine Doherty is well known for reviving many holy Christian traditions. In Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas, Catherine’s three-in-one book on this most ‘expectant’ of holiday seasons, you’ll receive wonderful gifts.  Purchase it at the publisher’s website here (it’s available in print or ebook).

 

wrath-of-the-angelWrath of the Angel by John R. Monteith

I’m about two-thirds of the way through this book and it’s quite a compelling read.  Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

Warriors who take cybernetic control of predatory animals. A wounded soldier-turned alcoholic exorcist. A child who attacks with his mind. As Nate Clark leads his brothers out of a broken childhood, he discovers his supernatural ability to wield eagles, wolves, and leopards as weapons. His journey to establish his self-worth by protecting good people from evil attracts Father Mark Bannen, who suspects demonic manipulation as the source of Nate’s apparently benevolent powers.

Questioning if his ends justify his means, Nate must decide if he can marry the woman he loves, draw vengeful blood, and protect his life’s work from the exorcist who threatens to expel its source.

The occult clashes with Christianity; a priest battles demons; and an epic journey of dark versus light explores the limits of mankind’s understanding of nature’s conflicting forces.  It’s only .99 on Amazon Kindle.

 

Interview with Carolyn Astfalk, Author of Stay With Me

Stay with Me front coverAs part of the Virtual Book Tour for Stay With Me (by Carolyn Astfalk), I interviewed Carolyn a few weeks ago about her book.

1. Stay With Me is your first published novel. But is this the first novel you have written? If not, tell us about your other works in progress.

I have three other complete novels that are in various states of polish. My first, Rightfully Ours is a coming of age story about the value of friendship, first love, and integrity. All In Good Time is a contemporary romance (with a touch of suspense) about a widow and mother of young children who falls in love with a never-married man. Ornamental Graces is a Christmas contemporary romance about lost innocence, overcoming guilt, healing, and an ex-girlfriend who won’t stay in the past.

2. Rebecca’s sister, Abby, is hilarious, but also a very believable (and blunt) character. Is she based on anyone you know? Or perhaps an amalgamation of people you know?

Writing Abby was sheer delight. Her snarky, brutally-honest remarks are the kinds of things that would never slip past my internal filter. So, while she’s not based on any one person or persons, I suppose she says and does the things I imagine I might if I had a radical personality change.

3. Some authors know at the beginning of the writing process how the story will end. Did you know as you were writing the book that there would be a — for want of a better phrase — fall from grace for some of the characters?

I envisioned a happy ending from the beginning, but the final twists in Chris and Rebecca’s relationship were unplanned, mainly because they defy convention for this genre. They were the result of simply wondering What if? and then realizing how such a fall from grace, as you put it, was exactly what needed to happen not only to test their love but as the final impetus to solidify Rebecca’s internal transformation.

4. You’re the mother of four children. How did you find time to write a full length novel?

It’s tough. I began the first novel when I had only two children and my husband was gone on extended travel for work. I’ve discovered I cannot out-wake my children, so I write when I can in small increments during naps, late at night, and when I can around activities, meals, diaper changes and daily chaos. Some days no writing gets done, and some days too much. It’s difficult to strike the right balance.

5. What are the best three books you’ve read recently?

I loved Tammy L. Gray’s Sell Out, a modern Christian romance with an anti-bullying theme and messages about courage, kindness, hope, and forgiveness. I also enjoyed Susan Peek’s Saint Magnus, The Last Viking, which is about as far as you can get from a dry, stodgy, lives-of-the-saints tale. It’s full of action, strength, and courage. And finally, Corinna Turner’s The Three Most Wanted, the second in her I Am Margaret dystopian series is a great read. It’s fast-paced and action-packed.

6. As I said in a previous question, I found the characters in Stay With Me so believable and endearing. Do you happen to have a sequel planned for Stay With Me? Did you have a sequel planned when you starting writing this novel?

I wrote Stay With Me as a standalone novel. However, between other projects, I began writing about Chris’s brother Alan and sister-in-law Jamie just for the sake of increasing my daily word count. I’m not sure if it’s a novel or a novella, but although those chapters have been lying dormant for months, I think there’s more there. In Stay With Me, you get the sense that while Alan and Jamie love one another, their fledgling marriage has a weak foundation, and I’m interested in exploring why and how they can recommit themselves to a more fruitful marriage.

7. Tell us more about your writing journey. Have you always felt called to write fiction (and more particularly, Theology of the Body fiction?) Or did it gradually develop over time?

I always enjoyed writing, but through high school, college, and in the jobs I held after college, I wrote nonfiction. Until I tried National Novel Writing Month in 2010, I’d never written any fiction longer than a short story. Until that time, I hadn’t grasped that my elaborate day dreams were stories my subconscious wanted to tell, and I didn’t nurture my creativity. When I began writing Rightfully Ours, though I had a vague idea about the plot, the Theology of the Body themes that emerged surprised me. Early in our marriage, my husband and I had a deep interest in the Theology of the Body and participated in many Engaged Encounter weekends. The wisdom and beauty of the Church’s teaching about human sexuality is close to my heart, and I believe it’s critical to our health as individuals, couples, and even as a society. Time and again, it simply resurfaces in my writing.

8. What is your favorite part of the writing process? Least favorite?
My favorite part is when all the puzzle pieces fit together – the plot is resolved, the themes emerge, and all of the threads are neatly tied up. Sometimes I marvel at how it happens almost as if the story has a life of its own. My least favorite part is extensive editing. I like the problem-solving aspect of editing, but by the tenth go-round, it’s lost its appeal.

To buy Carolyn’s book, Stay With Me, on Kindle, click here.

To buy the print book on Create Space, click here. To receive $2 off, use this code: B3E4E622

To buy the print book on Amazon, click here.

To check out the novel’s website, click here.

A List of Inspiring Theology of the Body Fiction: #ShowUsYourList

showusyourlistlogoErin over at “Will Write For Tomato Pie” has a wonderful idea of having bloggers create alternate lists of entertaining books that are true, beautiful and good. Here is her challenge and mine as well!

“I challenge anyone who complained about 50 shades of anything to now spend some time and energy promoting entertainment that is true, beautiful and good.”

I posted about the “Antidote to #50Shades of Degradation: TOB Fiction: over at Amazing Catechists last week. Below is the list of Theology of the Body Fiction that I recommended and continue to recommend as “true, beautiful and good!” (Pardon the self-promotion of my own books and those of my publishing company!)

St. John Paul II said we can “overcome evil with good.” Here is a list of contemporary Catholic novels (in order of publication date) with Theology of the Body themes that can uplift, inspire and serve as an antidote to ALL the secular, trashy novels that promote illicit lifestyles. These novels encourage virtue rather than vice, respect rather than domination, and love rather than lust.

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)

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)

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

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

FREE on Kindle! A World Such as Heaven Intended

Today through Thursday, Full Quiver Publishing’s new book, A World Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Lauer, is FREE today through Thursday on Kindle. AWSAHI Final Cover

The Civil War tore the United States apart and many friendships and families as well. In A World Such as Heaven Intended, Amara McKirnan and Nathan Simmons share a devotion to their Catholic faith but their loyalties lie on opposite sides of the conflict. Dedicated to the Confederate cause, Amara offers to help out at her uncle’s makeshift hospital in Atlanta. Fate brought Nathan to their doorstep and into Amara’s life. Little does Amara know that the wounded soldier she cares for harbors a secret that will not only jeopardize his life but hers as well.

Follow Amara and Nathan’s story from the heart of war-torn Atlanta to the Northern Georgia battlefields to the plains of East Texas as their lives become intertwined in a way that shatters the separate worlds they once knew.

Reviews:
“Amanda Lauer brings history to life in this fast-paced, emotionally charged, splendid tale. Extremely enjoyable.”
May McGoldrick, International Bestselling Author of The Thistle and Rose, Secret Vows and the Highland Treasure Trilogy

“The South of 1864 springs to life in ‘A World Such as Heaven Intended.’ Rich in details of language, setting and social mores, Lauer takes readers on the journey of her protagonist, Amara McKirnan, a strong woman ahead of her time who wrestles with her blended family and the horrors of the Civil War to find the peace and happiness she is convinced awaits her.”
Marni Graff, Author, The Nora Tierney Mysteries

“‘A World Such as Heaven Intended’ is a fast-moving historical romance which will keep you turning pages until the very end! An excellent read.”
Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, Author, The Catholic Baby Name Book

“A charming romance with well-drawn characters and clear imagery, offering the reader a chance to slip away to another era and come home refreshed.”
A.K. Frailey, Author, The Deliverance Trilogy

Download your Kindle copy for FREE at this link.

7 Quick Takes Friday – July 4

7_quick_takes_sm1Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday.

1.Tom Brokaw Explains Canada to Americans
Today is July 4th and earlier this week, we celebrated Canada Day. To celebrate both holidays, I thought I would share this appropriately beautiful video of Tom Brokaw explaining the relationship between Canada and USA (from 2010 Calgary Olympics).

2. Catholic Writers Conference Live
To find out more information about the Catholic Writers Conference Live in Chicago, read this news release!

3. A Subtle Grace #1 and In Name Only #2 in Britain
Yesterday, my books, A Subtle Grace and In Name Only (the two O’Donovan family books) reached #1 and #2 on Britain’s Amazon!A Subtle Grace #1 UK

4. Love, Obsession and Stalking: New Novel Tackles Challenging Issues
Christian Newswire recently posted this news release on A Subtle Grace!A Subtle Grace front cover Nov2013

5. CALA Finalists Announced!
The Catholic Writers Guild recently released the names of the finalists for the Catholic Arts and Letter Award. Check out the announcement here. Congratulations to all the finalists!

6. Goodreads Giveaway
Goodreads is giving away three free copies of Dena Hunt’s book, The Lion’s Heart. Check it out here.Front Cover Final revisedsm

7. Hope For Dad Cartoon

Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach.  Please do not use without permission

Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach. Please do not use without permission

Copyright 2014 Ellen Gable Hrkach