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Authors: Flora J. Solomon

A Pledge of Silence

BOOK: A Pledge of Silence
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A Pledge of Silence

 

 

Flora J. Solomon

 

 

This is a work of fiction. While the literary perceptions and insights are based on experience, all names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.  Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

 

Cover photo credits:

Blue cloud background ©Depositphotos/mcarrel

Old photo paper ©Depositphotos/Vitaly Korovin

American flag ©Depositphotos/creisinger

National Library of Medicine

U.S. Army Signal Corps

John. T. Pilot

 

Author’s photograph: Jerry Dycus

 

Cover design: Claudia Fulshaw Design, Durham, NC

 

CreateSpace, an Amazon company

Copyright © 2012 Flora J. Solomon

All rights reserved.

 

ISBN-10: 1480269727

ISBN-13: 978-1480269729

 

For those closest to my heart

Art, Beth, Emily, and Andrew

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

 

 

A sincere thank you to those who offered help and encouragement, to Emily who read multiple drafts and whose delusions of grandeur kept me writing, and to my book club friends and other readers who weren’t afraid to tell me what they didn’t like.

 

 

With Gratitude:

Carin Siegfried Editorial, Charlotte, NC

Claudia Fulshaw Design, Durham, NC

Kathy Fitzgerald, copy editor extraordinaire

Linda Hobson Ph.D., Triangle Editing, Durham, NC

North Carolina Writers’ Network

Phyllis Wilson, for lending me her father’s WWII journal

Susan Warren, Books n’ Stuff, Southport, NC

Nancy Einbinder, Ginny Rawley, Cathie Rod, Beth Schodin, John Whiting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Little River, Michigan, November 2000

 

Sleet tapped against Margie’s window, coating the glass with a layer of ice. It obscured her view of the November sky—the start of another cold Michigan winter, her eighty-first.
Eighty-one winters
. If only she could have bequeathed a dozen to her daughter; Barbara’s passing came too soon and out of order.

She patiently waited for her son Gary. Hearing his key in the lock, she leaned heavily on her cane and slowly rose from her chair, her hip increasingly troublesome.
Too many winters
. Catching her reflection, she saw a poof of cotton-white hair, a stark contrast to the black dress that hung nearly to her black shoes.

At 49, Gary still moved with the grace of an athlete. Tall and solidly built like his grandfather, he taught high school math and coached varsity soccer. Ice crystals glittered on the shoulders of his charcoal topcoat. A blue plaid scarf circled his neck, and leather gloves covered his hands. His face was drawn and gray.

She said, “You’re early.”

“I left early. The driving is bad. Are you ready?”

She was, and had been for over an hour, but now, standing in the foyer, she couldn’t make her feet move. “I’ll stay here. You go without me.”

“Mom—”

“Tell them I’m sick.”

“You’re not sick, and you have to come.”

She shuffled back to her chair and sat with her hands in a vise-like grip on her cane. What did Gary know? She had failed Barbara in life. Attending her funeral would not change that. She would say her goodbyes in her own way, quietly and in private with no one staring in sorrow or pity.

“Mama, you have to do this.”

Mama,
a slip back in time to when he was a boy. Her thoughts focused inward, and she said, “Remember that cat fight off the side porch? Two yellow cats puffed up as big as pillows, yowling and hissing. The fur was flying.”

“Yeah, I remember. You came charging out the door with a bucket of water just as I came around the corner of the house. You let it fly, bucket and all.”

“And you got a cold bath. It was January.”

“Mom, we’ve got to go. I’ll get your coat.”

“You were spitting mad. I didn’t think Barbara would ever stop laughing.”

Gary brought her coat from the closet.

Margie gripped her cane tighter. “It should’ve been me.”

“Don’t say that. You’re both dear. I’d grieve either way.” He held out the coat.

“Promise you won’t leave me alone?”

“Not for a second. Please, put this on.”

Margie stood. He helped her shrug into the long, heavy garment. She arranged a silk scarf inside the collar, then grappled with the buttons, her fingers stiff and moving slowly. She wavered on her feet.

Gary gathered her into his arms and held her close. She buried her face in the rough fabric of his coat. They stood a long time, mother and son, wishing away the hours ahead, longing for a rewind of the clock. Had they missed signs?

 

With Gary on one arm and his wife Liz on the other, Margie entered the church’s vestibule crowded with long-faced people brushing sleet from their dark coats and out of their hair, mumbling softly in their disbelief. Too young at age 53. Brilliant. Accomplished.

Margie hugged her granddaughter Jillian, a pediatrician, recently married, and newly pregnant. She was pale and bereft at the loss of her mother. “My dear, just let me hold you. I have no words that will comfort you.”

Jillian lingered in the embrace. “I’m okay, Grandma,” she sniffed away tears and dabbed at her eyes. “It’s just … the last time I saw Mom, I was going to tell her the baby’s a boy. I got a call from the hospital and had to rush out. Now …,” her voice trailed off to a whisper, “she’ll never know.”

Margie soothed, “She knows, my dear. Trust me.”

Joe, stunned without his wife at his side, kissed Margie’s cheek and squeezed her hand. Through tight lips, he said, “Margie, stay close. We’ll all get through this together.”

The smell of flowers was intense and the music a lament. Margie bowed her head, not wanting to talk to these fine people gathered to say a prayer for their friend and neighbor, their superior or underling, their mentor and teacher, their creative partner. Gary and Liz propelled her up the aisle and placed her in the first pew where the family congregated. In front of the altar stood Barbara’s open casket, handsome and substantial.

Margie agonized—if she had been a better mother; if she could have been warmer, more honest and open; if she could have only loved Barbara unreservedly, devoid of memories and free from fear. As the service droned on, her thoughts wandered to the last time she had seen her daughter alive, beautiful, vibrant, and with no hint of the aneurism that would steal her away in the middle of the night.

A hymn interrupted her reverie, and she stood with the congregation. She felt a tug, and Gary pulled her forward. The family gathered around the casket to say their goodbyes. Overwhelming. Aching. The music stopped. Gary slipped his arm around her waist, and she leaned heavily against him. She wanted to go home; she wanted to sleep, but she dutifully and numbly played her part until the long, sad morning blessedly ended.

 

No one talked as the car sloshed through the streets, windshield wipers slapping at the drizzle. Margie rode with her eyes closed, unmindful of her surroundings. Gary unlocked her condo door and helped her over the threshold. “I’d rather you come home with me. Liz fixed up the guest room.”

“No, I need to rest.” She moved to close the door, and he took a step back.

“You shouldn’t be alone,” he argued.

“It’s what I want. Please go so I can lie down.”

His face was puffy, his eyes weary and indecisive. “All right. I’ll stop by later.”

Draping her heavy coat on the back of a chair, she walked to her bedroom, passing a collection of family pictures Liz had hung in an artful arrangement in an attempt to make this new condo feel homey. She stopped and removed Barbara’s graduation picture. Oh, her beautiful daughter! Her eyes were dark and expressive, her hair combed back from a widow’s peak and styled into a pageboy that fell softly to her shoulders. A dimple punctuated her well-formed chin.

Margie lay on the bed and held the picture over her heart. What was Barbara thinking the last time she closed her eyes? About Joe, who had worshiped her for 32 years? Or Jillian, the delight of her life? About her own work as a medical researcher, unraveling the biochemistry of Alzheimer’s disease? Or was it her music and the melancholy strains she relentlessly practiced, her face wet with tears, her mood in harmony with the music.

Neither sleep nor rest came, so Margie got up to search through unpacked boxes for a snapshot, a letter written in Barbara’s hand, a book with her notes in the margins. She dug through her purse for the program of the concert they had recently attended together, then remembered how she had blithely thrown it away. There were no memories of her daughter anywhere in this condo.

Rifling through her bureau drawer, Margie found the key to the house where she was born, where she raised Barbara and Gary, and where she returned after burying her husband Wade. She retrieved a tote bag from the utility closet, then phoned for a taxi. Putting on her coat, she sat down to wait with Barbara’s picture clutched so tightly to her chest that she felt her heartbeat through it.

An old guy wearing a cap and a tatty sweater buttoned askew drove up in the taxi. She said, “3535 North Bensch Road, please.”

He said, “North Bensch? Out by the mall? Is it a business? I know all the businesses.”

“No, it’s a house.”

“A house? There aren’t many left, unless they’ve been converted—for business, you know. There’s good money in it. I wish I’d had the foresight.” He kept up a steady commentary on how the area had gone from rural to congested in his lifetime, and how the fields he had run in as a boy were now acres of concrete. Fifty years had gone by in the blink of an eye. “Would you believe it? I’m a great-grandfather. Three times already.” He held up three fingers as he turned into the driveway and stopped. “Lady, you sure this is the right place? It looks empty.”

She looked at the house through the taxi’s window. Although vacated for only a short while, it looked sadly unkempt, the porch sagging and the curtains hanging crooked. A large sign on the front lawn said,
For Sale, 25 acres. Commercial
. She said, “It’s not empty. I live here with my daughter.” She showed him the picture of Barbara she carried, then fumbled in her purse for money and the house key. “How much do I owe you?”

BOOK: A Pledge of Silence
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