Authors: T. Elliott Brown
Tags: #Fiction & Literature
Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Elliott Brown
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
InkOutLoud Publishing is a division of Develop Things LLC.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, character, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is coincidental. Historical events are depicted as accurately as possible within the framework of this novel.
Edited by Caro Carson
Cover Design by Jonathan Brown and Jason Koi
Cover Photo by Ringo Bartle
Board the time machine and head back to those tension-filled days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962
• Download a playlist of early ‘60’s music to accompany your read. Talk about total immersion, right?
• Listen to President Kennedy tell the nation that Russia is setting up missiles in Cuba and what the US is going to do about it.
• Read accounts of Navy personnel aboard the
USS William R. Rush
as they are recalled from shore liberty during the crisis.
• Wondering what the clothes looked like? The cars? The hairstyles? Take a peek so you can visualize the characters of
as you read.
• What was on television? On the movies? On Broadway?
is the place to go to find all the extras to enhance your reading experience.
This book is dedicated to Margie and Cliff Elliott, who always kept me safe, always gave me love, and always believed in me.
The idea for this book came to me first in the form of a poem during a long ago poetry class. The poem, called “Nuclear Granny”, is about a woman, rocking in her chair, telling her grandchildren wild stories about ducking under her school desk to avoid being killed by a nuclear bomb. The children laugh and Granny tells them how happy she is that they will never have experiences like that.
Of course, this was before the Persian Gulf Wars began in 1990, before the attacks of September 11, 2001, before nuclear weapons spread from two major nations to countries dotting the entire globe. I now realize the poem is a fantasy. Every generation, ancient or modern, lives with the fear, the real possibility, that peoples and powers far removed from them will determine their fate with violence.
Despite our worries about war, personal bombshells really change our lives. Unforeseen events can destroy families as quickly and more accurately than unmanned drone attacks. This book is about a family that is changed by, but survives, the possibility of nuclear bombs and the actuality of private bombshells.
I’ve done my best to recreate the world of 1962, including the political tensions and cultural divisions that defined America during this period. While the story is complete fiction, some events mirror my own experience during this time, such as taking rations to school, wearing dog tags, and housing a Navy family evacuated from Cuba. I’ve taken some license with historic dates and events as I wove this novel.
Here I want to thank the people who patiently stood with me as this book emerged from that long ago poem, starting with Kristen Lewotsky Hardy, who was there from the beginning, always encouraging me and offering sound advice in story-crafting. There are no words to express my gratitude.
Thanks to critique partners through the years: Lori Johnson, Karen Potter, Lynn Meiseles, Kresley Cole, Elizabeth Grainger.
Special gratitude to my current team: Nancy Robards Thompson, Catherine Kean, and Caroline Phipps. I couldn’t write without you. I can barely make it through a couple of weeks without seeing you.
Thanks to my fabulous editor, Caro Carson (aka The Midnight Line Editor), who understood the heart of this story from the beginning.
Last, but certainly not least, my husband and love, David, who stood by me and supported me through this long journey with love and patience. Love to my sons, Matthew, Jonathan and Jeremy, who’ve all contributed to the richness of my life and therefore to the depth of my writing. My special thanks to Jonathan and Jason Koi for their work on the book cover and the formatting of this novel. Love and kisses to my granddaughter, Alexandra. You keep me young!
Friday, August 17, 1962
Yesterday, I turned twelve.
Today, I remembered my birthday.
I woke up this morning and realized that I’m already twelve. I’m not sure how we all managed to forget. Mama had a doctor’s appointment yesterday and her blood pressure was high, so the doctor and nurses were worried about the baby she’s carrying. He made her stay in the office for a long time. That scared us.
When the doctor finally let us go we did some quick grocery shopping. Mama got tired, but she bought us some Oreos and we all felt happier.
So many things are different this year. The baby coming is the biggest difference. We’d gotten my birthday present, a new red bathing suit, a week and a half before, so I wasn’t expecting another gift. And my best friend, Stephanie, is in Philadelphia on vacation with her family. No point in planning a party or spend-the-night.
My birthday ended up as just another day, filled with the usual worries and work. That’s what Daddy says when Mama asks him how his day went.
I feel happy and sad all together. How could I forget my own birthday? But what makes me sad is that Mama and Daddy forgot.
As I walk to the kitchen, the speckled floor tile is cool and slick, and because of the humidity, my warm feet leave foggy footprints that fade away quickly. The pale green curtains at the kitchen window flutter in the breeze. I can smell a little bit of salt the air picks up from blowing across the ocean.
Through the window, I see wet laundry hanging on the clothesline, making it sag so low in the middle that the white bath towels almost touch the ground. Mama always hangs the clothes in order of size and color, starting with my sister Birdie’s little white socks.
Mama’s there, near the end of the clothesline, struggling with a wet bed sheet in the morning breeze. Her white Keds left a flat path in the St. Augustine grass Daddy is so proud of. Sweat darkens the underarms of her pink and blue striped cotton dress. The sheet flaps again before she snags it with first one clothespin, then another.
A Navy jet zooms over, roaring loud and low, and Mama jumps, dropping a clothespin. The end of the sheet floats in the breeze while Mama bends over, her hand pressed to her back as she picks up the pin. Finally, the sheet is anchored to the line.
As I move away from the window, the sunlight glinting on the aluminum cake cover catches my eye. I walk over to the buffet where the cake plate always sits and lift the cover. The rich, dark smell of chocolate blooms all around me, erasing the bacon and coffee scents left over from Daddy’s breakfast. Smooth, shiny frosting is swirling over the top of the cake like waves breaking against the jetty on the St. Johns River.
Mama never really forgot my birthday.
The screened porch door slams and I drop the lid over the cake, snuffing out the sweet smell with a metallic clang.
“Mornin’, Mellie.” Mama sets down the wicker laundry basket and wipes beads of sweat from her upper lip. She arches her back and rubs her hands back and forth across her hips. “You’re up early.”
Mama reaches for her glass, fills it with tap water, and brings it to her lips.
I go stand beside her and rub my hand across her belly, stretched like she has a watermelon under her dress. “Is the baby moving a lot today?”
She shakes her head.
I kiss her tummy.
Please, God, let it be a brother.
I can’t take another sister. And I know Daddy wants a boy.
That’s one of my morning rituals—to kiss Mama’s tummy and pray. Scooting back a little so I can see her face, I say, “Guess what?
Mama puts her glass back on the windowsill. “What, sweetie?”
“No, you have to guess.”
“Um, let me see. Birdie lost another tooth?”
Not wanting to start the day off being sassy, I resist rolling my eyes. “No, Mama.” Sometimes it’s really hard being the oldest.
“Well, you might have to tell me. I can’t think fast enough to imagine what kind of trouble Birdie’s gotten into now.”
Swallowing a sigh, I say, “It’s not about Birdie at all. It’s about me.”
“Oh, sweetie, no! Don’t tell me you…”
Good grief! Was that what she thought? She’d given me the
talk last week because my birthday was coming up. I’m still waiting for the one about the birds and the bees. Stephanie’s already heard that one. Of course, her sister, Cherie, is sixteen, and tells Steph anything she wants to know.
“No, Mama. Thank God, it’s not that.”
“Watch your mouth, young lady.” Mama points her finger at me. “Nice young ladies don’t use the Lord’s name in vain.”
“But, thank God, that’s not what it is. I don’t think I could cope with that just now.”
“Why can you say
but I’m not allowed?”
Mama pulls out a chair and plops into it like she can’t hold herself up anymore. “Like I told you: do as I say, not as I do.”
I frown. “Okay. But guess again.”
Resting her chin in her palm, she stares at the table. Suddenly she jerks upright, looking at me like I’m a ghost.
“Lord have mercy! We forgot your birthday.” She grabs me to her and hugs me up against her chest. “Oh, sweetheart. I’m sorry.”
No matter how old I get, I don’t think anything will feel quite as good as a Mama hug early in the morning. Right now she smells like bath powder and sunshine and just a little bit of sweat. Her body’s warm and soft against mine, and that shaky feeling that’s been in me all morning fades away. If I were my new brother or sister, I would try to stay safe inside Mama’s belly forever.
“How could we forget your birthday, Melanie Adams?”
I grin and snuggle closer to Mama. A thought zips through my brain, quick as a flash of lightning. Maybe I didn’t want to have my twelfth birthday. Somehow, I’m not so sure I’m going to like being twelve. But instead, I say, “I don’t know, Mama. Maybe I’m getting old.”
Mama chuckles, the sound coming from deep in her chest. It rumbles through me too. Deep and soothing. “Hey now, you can’t steal my excuse. How does cake for breakfast sound?”
Mama turns me around and pats my backside. “Well, you go get Birdie up, and I’ll call Daddy to see if he can come home to have some cake with us.” A little frown creases her brow. “Put some clothes on, sweetie. And don’t forget your bra.”
My God, she’s growing up so fast.
No wonder the girl frowns at you, Norah.
I shove up from the table, off balance like a horse on a tight rope. How could I forget my firstborn’s birthday? And if I forgot her birthday, how in the world will I manage three children? What am I going to do?