A New Novel in the Making
I'm working on a new novel. Here's the second chapter of it. Let me know what you think about it. You find a Facebook comment form below the text. I post each new chapter when it is completed. The first chapter is here: Chapter One
Caroline closes the door to her room and walks down the stairs, one step at the time. Although her black dress fits her body, she moves uncomfortably in it, as if the fabric makes her skin itch. The heels of her shiny black shoes are a bit steep for her comfort, making the steps awkward and wavering.
She hears voices from the living room. They are muffled, the words indistinguishable. Each step she takes, the volume of the voices increases, but still no word pops up in the mumbling. Caroline reaches the end of the stairs and stops. She holds on to the handrail. Her ears can separate a number of different voices from around the corner, but nothing of the living room is visible where she stands.
She can also hear discreet clinking from porcelain and shoes scraping the parquet floor. Someone coughs, just once. It makes Caroline flinch. She lifts a foot to take a step, but it lands on the same spot. She glances at her hand clinging to the handrail. It is tense, the fingers squeezing the wood.
One by one, she makes her fingers lift from the handrail, and then holds the hand up in front of her face. She keeps moving the fingers, staring at them, as her eyebrows struggle unsuccessfully to meet above her nose.
She holds her breath, but doesn't notice until she suddenly and audibly inhales. She drops her hand, turns and takes a few quick steps past the corner. In the opening to the living room she pauses again. Although she stands still, she starts breathing faster.
The living room is full of people, at least twenty, all dressed in black and white. Children and adults. In spite of the crowd, there is little noise and everyone moves slowly or not at all. Many are speaking, although almost whispering just to their neighbor. Nor do they look anywhere else. Caroline remains unseen.
Most of the furniture has been moved closer to the walls, to give room for everybody. The dining table is by the window, covered by big plates loaded with food, mostly sandwiches and other snacks. But the only guests who help themselves to it are children. They do so eagerly, though. Some of them are smiling, but none of the adults. Still, no child is speaking and they make even less noise than the adults, although they move much more.
One little boy by the dining table, taking a big bite of a sandwich he holds with both hands, spots Caroline and recognizes her. He waves a hand at her, briefly, before returning his full concentration to the sandwich. Another child, a girl heading for the dining table but probably too small to reach what it has to offer, notices the boy's waving and also discovers Caroline, flashing a quick smile at her.
Caroline's eyes search through the living room until she finds her parents, George and Ruth. They stand shoulder to shoulder, slightly off center in the room, listening to an old woman speaking very softly to them. Her head is leaning to one side and her hands are cusped and held to her chest, as if she were praying. Ruth manages a mild smile towards the old woman. George is looking at the floor. He holds a glass of red wine, but seems to have forgotten about it. It tilts in his hand, near to spill some of its content on the floor.
Caroline starts walking in their direction. Ruth is quick to spot her and greets her with a widening smile. Her lips are still tightly closed, though, baring nothing of her teeth. George doesn't notice Caroline until she has reached them. Then he looks up and his lips start a faint movement, as if to speak, but no words come.
"There you are, Caroline," Ruth says, interrupting the old lady. She places her hand very gently on Caroline's bare upper arm.
It sends a shiver through Caroline's body, but that goes unnoticed. The old woman glances at her, smiles with her head still tilted, and retreats from their little group.
"How are you holding up?" Ruth asks, her hand on Caroline's arm tightening its grip.
Caroline answers with a nod.
"It's alright to feel sad, you know," her mother continues. "That's really what this moment is for. We are gathered to grieve, and doing it together like this makes it easier to bear. Well, that's the idea..."
She leans on her grip at Caroline's arm, making it unclear if it is to comfort her daughter or for her own support. George has his jaws tightly closed, cheeks tense, gnawing his teeth minutely. He still holds the glass, taking no sip of it, but now he is keeping it straight. The other hand fondles the knot of his black tie.
"So, do you recognize everybody?" Ruth inquires and makes a sweep with her hand. "Some of them you haven't seen for years, I believe."
"Most of them," Caroline replies without looking.
"They're all here, you know. Everyone. Some had to travel quite far to get here. Their support is comforting, isn't it?"
Again, Caroline just nods.
She looks out the window, what's not covered by black dressed guests in the way. At the far end of the garden, by the swings mounted between two big apple trees, somebody stands absolutely still, staring at the house. Caroline leans a little to the side, for a spot where she can see more clearly. The daylight is starting to lose some of its brightness, heading for autumn afternoon gloom, so she has to gaze a while before being sure.
She recognizes him. It's Fred, her brother's best friend, dressed in a black suit and white shirt. He even has a tie, quite a colorful one contrary to all the ties she can see in the living room. He leans against a tree and holds the rope to one of the swings.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Caroline's mother asks, unaware of where her daughter is looking.
"Mom, I already told you," she replies, turning her head to meet Ruth's eyes.
Ruth looks at her closely, waiting for other words.
"Really, I'm fine" Caroline assures her. "How about you?"
Ruth takes a breath, her eyes leaving Caroline's when she exhales.
"Well, you know..."
Her hand on Caroline's arm cramps minutely. She hurries to remove it and turns her attention to George, who stops fondling his tie. Instead, he digs his hand deep into the pocket of his jacket. His mouth remains firmly closed. Caroline also looks at him, quickly, but then she takes a step forward, away from her parents.
She sees that others have noticed and prepare to approach her. Caroline hurries her steps, walking up to the dinner table. She grabs a couple of sandwiches, immediately taking a big bite on one of them. At that very second, one of the guests, an aunt of hers, reaches her and asks:
"Caroline, dear, how are you?"
Caroline points to her full mouth, chewing demonstratively, and just grunts.
"Oh, sorry," the aunt says and retreats a step.
Caroline makes an impression of a smile and passes her, walking straight out of the room.
All the chapters posted so far: