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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Unclaimed Virtual Book Tour

Unclaimed CoverI’m happy to be participating in my friend, Erin McCole Cupp’s, virtual book tour for the re-release of her Jane E series.  Unclaimed is Book #1 in the Memoirs of Jane_E Friendless Orphan and it is available through Amazon.com.

FB UNCLAIMED Release Party link: https://www.facebook.com/events/1301691563176042/

Summary: Born not in a past of corsets and bonnets but into a future of cloning and bioterror, could Jane Eyre survive?  This Jane is an “unclaimed embryo,” the living mistake of a reproductive rights center–or so her foster family tells her.  At age ten she is sold into slavery as a data mule, and she must fight for freedom and identity in a world mired between bioscientific progress and the religions that fear it.

A Few Quick Endorsements and more available at this link: http://wp.me/p3dFKH-Z5

“A riveting, heart-wrenching retelling of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel, Unclaimed packs a punch that brings the timeless truth of the original Jane Eyre to Millenials, Generation Z, and beyond. Bravo! Bring on the next installment…” Antony Barone Kolenc, The Chronicles of Xan Trilogy

“In a style that’s engaging and unputdownable, Erin McCole Cupp grabs readers, sucks them into her world, and makes Jane E a part of our hearts. Be warned: you’ll finish this book and demand the next one.” Sarah Reinhard, Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary

Brilliant and inspiring with a unique blend of genres. This book is for classic and sci-fi fans alike. It will leave the reader anxiously waiting for the next installment.” Tanya Weitzel, Catholicsimplicites.com, Catholicmom.com Contributor

“Whether in Georgian England or the global community of a technocratic future, there will always be orphans who can teach the rest of us how to love, if we will only take the time to learn.  This is the reason we need books like Unclaimed.” Karen UlloJennifer the Damned

“What a great read! Jane E has Hollywood written all over it: strong, complex characters; rich settings, adversity, action and intrigue—it’s all here in this modern updating of Jane Eyre. I couldn’t put it down!”  Rhonda OrtizThe Virtuous Jane Austen

A QUICK INTERVIEW with Erin McCole Cupp, author of Unclaimed: The Memoirs of Jane E, Friendless Orphan (Book 1)

Q: So what made you think you could get away with rewriting Jane EyreEMCHeadshot

EMC: I never expected to get away with it! I think of it as more of a translation than a rewrite, anyway, and when you’re reading a translation, you must always keep in mind that it is but a pale image of the original.  At any rate, way back in Y2K, I had spent the first part of the year reading a steady diet of William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and Bruce Sterling–the revered trifecta of the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction.  When our summer vacation came around, I decided I’d take a vacation from reading for professional development as an aspiring SF writer and bought a bunch of books from the literary classics bargain bin at a boardwalk bookshop.  A few chapters into Jane Eyre, my mind kept throwing up these weird parallels between the character of Helen Burns as Jane’s spirit guide and the character of Molly as Case’s spirit guide in Gibson’s Neuromancer. I remember thinking, “Wow, Jane Eyre would’ve made great cyberpunk.” [beat] “Oh, crap, now I have to write it!”

Q:  That was sixteen years ago, and the first edition of Jane_E dropped a decade ago. What made you decide to revisit your first novel and rerelease it electronically? 

EMC: I just think (“hope” might be a better word) that the audience might be ready for it a bit more now compared to ten years ago.  I’d already been thinking of re-releasing it as a single book and getting a fresh cover, having it available in hard copy as well as electronic format.  However… it’s a long book when taken all in one slice! Jane’s story (mine as well as the Bronte version) also divides itself naturally into three parts: her early years, her developing relationship with her employer, and then everything that happens after that relationship catches fire, for lack of a better term (and those of you who’ve read Jane Eyre know of which I speak).  I figured that by breaking it down into smaller portions, a reader could take a chance on Book 1 (Unclaimed) without the commitment to some giant tome.  Of course if you want the giant tome, that’s still available.

Q: So when do the next two books come out?  

EMC:  I’m looking at October 7 for Nameless (Book 2)  and December 6 for Runaway.

Q: Why make us wait so long?!

EMC: Because I’m mean.  Ha!  Actually, there’s the cover art to take care of, thanks to Fiona Jayde Media.  I also wanted to give the text a little extra polish that may have gotten lost in the initial editing, which was done when I had infant twins.  I’m working with Rebecca Willen over at Our Hearts are Restless, and she’s great–reasonable, thorough, no-nonsense–but I’m also letting those aforementioned twins (now 12 and homeschooled) provide an additional level of copyediting.

Q: What’s that like, letting your children correct your work?

EMC:  You mean, besides the weird factor of letting them read something on the edgy side that came out of my brain before they were even born?  Actually, it’s a lot less stressful than I thought it would be.  It’s a good way to model humility, really.  I mean, I’m the one always correcting their work, and now I’m letting them turn the tables.  I think it’s good for all three of us.

Q: Any other projects in the works?  

EMC:  Always!  Besides the Jane E series, I’m a contributor to The Catholic Mom Prayer Companion, which is available on pre-order for an August 29th release.  I’m also working with Ellen Gable of Full Quiver Publishing on an anthology of Theology of the Body fiction and poetry tentatively titled Image and Likeness.  That’s exciting, working with so many talented authors, and that’s scheduled for a October 22 release.  Finally, I’m still pecking away at the first draft of the sequel to my murder mystery Don’t You Forget About Me.

For more information on Unclaimed, go to Erin’s website here at this link.

 

 

 

End of Summer News

Life has been busy, too busy, with my new job at Live the Fast, helping #4 son get ready for college (five hours away), and Catholic Writers Guild responsibilities. I haven’t had much time for writing or blogging, but hopefully, I will be able to write more fiction now that summer is over! So…what’s new?

1. Fast4Francis
Read more about Fast4Francis here at this link.
Fast4FrancisLOGOSm

2. Thank you, Carolyn!
Special thanks to Carolyn Astfalk for including me in her list of favorite contemporary Catholic authors!

3. Stay With Me
FQP’s new novel, Stay With Me, by Carolyn Astfalk, will be available on October 1st. Watch the trailer:

4. World Meeting of Families
I will be attending the World Meeting of Families down in Philadelphia beginning September 22. I will be an exhibitor for the Catholic Writers Guild at Booth 747. If you’re attending, please stop by and say hello!

I will also be attending the Papal Mass on Sunday in Philly, along with my husband and sister!

5. Review Shelf
The Well by Stephanie Landsem

6. Stepping Down as President for CWG
Last week, I announced that I would be stepping down as president of the Catholic Writers Guild (effective November 30th). Three years as president, five years on the board. I will continue to be an active member, though!

6. Fertile Time Cartoon

Image copyright 2013 James and Ellen Hrkach (Please do not use without permission)

Image copyright 2013 James and Ellen Hrkach (Please do not use without permission)