Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Letting Go by Leslie S. Talley

Please help us welcome Leslie S. Talley, author of the mystery Make Old Bones.

Letting Go

by

Leslie S. Talley

"I don't wanna go school. I can't like school." Terri stuck her thumb in her mouth and, with her other hand, held her pad to her cheek. She looked up at me with those wide-open blue eyes as if that settled the matter.

She had discovered that pad when she was only two weeks old. I put the little waterproof square under her tiny bottom to keep the sheet dry when I laid her back in her crib. It wasn't long until she scooted around and snuggled her head on the pad instead of her bottom. The pad was smooth and soft with little ducks printed on the fabric. So it was only natural that the next step was for her to clutch it in her tiny fist.

Bit by bit the pads disintegrated in the wash. Each pad consisted of two pieces of thin fabric with a layer of rubber in between. Gradually, the fabric would peel away from the rubber leaving a thin, limp rag. So I could see the end of the pads in sight when her daddy broke down and bought her a package of three new pads. He wrapped them up and slipped them under the Christmas tree.

"Paddies!" exclaimed Terri, as she tore off the paper.

"You need your head examined," I said to my husband.

"I know," he said, grinning sheepishly.

I watched her now, clutching her pad and sucking her thumb. I took a couple of deep breaths and tried to dip into that vast reservoir of patience mothers are supposed to possess. Suddenly her eyelids drooped; she quickly jerked herself awake.

"Want to take a nap" I asked, perhaps too eagerly.

"No. I can't like naps."

Terri had given up naps when she turned four; she was afraid she might miss something. It was one of the reasons my husband and I decided to send her to pre-school. With Terri up from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., it made for a long day, for me anyway. The only other child in the neighborhood close to her age had started kindergarten.

"Anne Marie likes school," I said.

"No."

"No, what? Anne Marie doesn't like school?"

"No. I don't wanna go school."

With that she wandered off in the direction of the family room leaving me holding a dish towel and biting my lip. I glanced at the clock. Thank God. Time for Captain Kangaroo. I had never dreamed the day would come when I would kneel down and kiss the TV set when Captain Kangaroo came on.

Captain, bless him, followed by Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, gave me an hour and a half to get something done around the house. I loaded the dishwasher, started the laundry, and made the beds. I had just reheated the coffee, sat down with the paper, and propped my feet up when Terri drifted back into the room.

"Read me a story, Mama?"

I suppressed a sigh. "O.K., baby." She took my hand and led me to her room. I stopped on the threshold.

"I was just in here to make your bed, and this mess wasn't here," I said, pointing to all the Legos on the floor.

"I playing with them, Mama."

"You don't need me to read to you then," I said, starting to leave the room.

"I clean it up. I clean it up," Terri said, hurriedly picking up the Legos and pitching them into their box.

I sat down on her bed and watched her. Then I leaned back on my elbow to look at the books in her bookcase/headboard.

"What are we reading today?"

"Ten Little Animals," she replied promptly.

"You know that one by heart."

"No. I don't."

"Well, I do. What about Dr. Seuss?"

"The Boy With A Drum," Terri countered.

"I'm sick of that," I said. "Wait. Grandma sent a box of my old books a while back. I thought you were still too young at the time." I dragged a chair over to her closet so I could reach the box I had placed on the top shelf.

I set the box down on Terri's bed. She climbed up and sat down, impatiently waiting while I undid the twine and opened the box.

I lifted the lid, and my childhood spilled out on the bed. Brownie, The Little Bear Who Liked People; Wu and the Winds; Grabby Pup; and The Seven Sneezes.

I picked up the last one, propped a pillow against the headboard, and settled down to read. Terri sat beside me, her feet straight out in front of her, her head leaning against my arm. I turned the pages, and Terri shared my old delight in the story of the ragman whose sneezes were magical. His sneezes wrought havoc in the neighborhood. He sneezed the bunny's ears onto kitten's head and vice versa. The St.Bernard mewed like the kitten, after the ragman passed by. He sneezed the comb off the rooster and the feathers off the goose. Terri looked up at me and laughed when she saw the picture of the little girl holding her pigtails in her hand; the ragman had sneezed them off. By the time all the animals and children had made their way to the ragman's house and he had sneezed everything back to normal, Terri's eyes were rolling back in her head, a sure sign she was drifting off to sleep. I slipped the covers over her. She didn't protest.

"When you're a big girl, I'll read you Anne of Green Gables," I said softly.

"I am a big girl," she said with difficulty, since her thumb was in her mouth.

"No, you're not," I said, starting to leave the room. "Big girls go to school. Big girls don't suck their thumbs." I paused in the doorway. "Big girls don't have paddies."

A tiny frown appeared on her forehead, but her eyes were closed and she made no reply. I closed the door with a soft click.

"Tee Dee," I called. "Time for lunch."

Terri raced into the room and climbed up on the kitchen chair with the booster seat. "Not Tee Dee," she said.

"Oh?" I said. "You're not Tee Dee anymore?"

"No."

"What about Terri-tot?"

"No."

"Terri-tyke?"

"No. Terri," she said.

"Oh. I see. You're too big to be Tee Dee."

She nodded.

"Well, big girl, you and I have to go shopping before we go to the bowling alley, so hurry up."

"What you buy me, Mama?"

"What makes you think I'm buying you something?" I inquired. "But, as a matter of fact, I am. We're going to buy you some new clothes for school."

Terri frowned at her sandwich half, but she didn't say anything. She ate about half of her lunch and crumbled the rest on her plate.

"Drink your milk," I said.

She drank obediently. Then she slipped off her chair and went to her room to get her coloring book and crayons.

We drove to Sears and went to the Children's Department.

"Look at this, Terri," I said, holding up a pale pink dress with a sash.

"Do I hafta wear a dress?"

"Not all the time. Of course not. You'll want to wear shorts and pants when you play on the playground."

"Playground?"

"Sure. They have swings and a slide and monkey bars - "

"What else they got?"

"Oh, finger paints. And toys. You'll play games and sing songs. The teacher will read you stories - "

"You read me stories, Mama."

"You'll have other little girls and boys to play with."

"Will I be gone alla time, Mama?"

"Oh, no, baby," I said, stooping down so we were eye level. It's just for half a day."

"I won't get to see Captain Kangaroo."

"Yes, you will. School doesn't start until Captain is over.

"Sesame Street."

"Sesame Street comes on again in the afternoon."

We selected some pants and tops and shorts and one dress to please Mama. Then we drove to the bowling alley. Terri grabbed her coloring book and marched off to the nursery. She never balked at having to go in the nursery, and she had made several friends there.

"You know," I said, when I picked her up after my league was done, "school is sort of like the nursery."

"It is?" she said, turning to me.

"Sure. Except it's not all play. You learn things, too."

"Where my school, Mama?"

"You want to drive past?" I asked. "I need to fill out some papers, anyway."

We drove along toward the high school. The pre-school Terri would be attending was part of the Home Economics Department. The school was run by the home-ec teacher and her students. We drove past the elementary school.

"That's where you'll be someday, Terri. That's where Ann Marie goes."

"I wanna go school with Ann Marie."

"You will someday."

We pulled into the parking lot of the high school. I helped Terri out of the car. She stood and gazed at the Spanish style building with the tile roof and bell tower.

"I don't hafta go to that other place?"

"What place?"

"That place. Where they spank me."

I knelt down beside her. "What place, Terri?"

"That place you used to take me."

I thought for a moment. "Miss Nellie's?"

Terri nodded. I remembered then. I had taken her to that nursery a few times when I had first joined the bowling league. Before the bowling alley had opened its nursery.

"They spanked you at Miss Nellie's? What did you do?"

"Woke the babies."

I had visions of an exhausted nursery worker just getting the babies to sleep when Terri woke them up.

I folded her in my arms. "You're not going to Aunt Nellie's, baby. You're going to this school."

"Terri," I said softly. "Time to get up. It's your first day of school."

Terri slid out of bed and stumbled groggily toward the bathroom. Then she came out to the kitchen. Her long gown trailed the floor. She climbed up on her chair, then scrambled down, removed the booster seat, and climbed back onto the chair.

She looked at me challengingly. "Big girl," she said.

I didn't say anything. I just turned back to the kitchen counter and sliced banana over her cereal.

She toyed with her cereal but drank all of her juice. Then I sent her off to her room to get dressed. She was gone a long time. Finally I went to check on her. I found her in her underwear with one sock on; she was sprawled on her bed and turning the pages of her coloring book.

"You'd better be dressed before Captain starts," I said. "We have to leave as soon as it's over."

That did it.

After Captain Kangaroo signed off, we climbed in the car and drove to the high school. Terri was silent. She sat beside me on the front seat. She clutched her pad in her hand and looked out the window.

"Are you going to take your paddie to college?" I asked. She didn't answer.

We pulled up in front of the high school. I went around to the other side of the car to let Terri out. She stood and looked at the high school. The wind whipped her dress around her little legs. Other cars pulled up, and other children spilled into the parking lot.

Terri stuck her thumb in her mouth and held her pad even tighter. A couple of teen-aged girls approached. They knelt in front of her.

"Are you Terri?" one of them asked.

"She's so darling," the other one whispered.

Terri gave a couple of last fierce sucks to her thumb. Then she shoved her hand sideways at me. She released her paddie into my hand without glancing at it. The teen-aged girls each took one of her hands. She marched off with them, head high, my precious, brave little girl. I raised my hand to give her a salute, then let it fall. She didn't look back. Not once.

I turned slowly back to the car and groped for the door handle. I slid in, laid my head down on the steering wheel, and wept bitterly. I grabbed for a tissue in my purse. When I had dried my eyes enough to see, I found that I was weeping into a square thin rag - with little duckies on it.

* * *

Blurb:

Fifteen-year-old Connie Kittredge disappears in 1953, presumed drowned, in Daytona Beach, Florida. Almost forty years later, her skeleton is discovered in the disused dumbwaiter of historic Belgrath House, situated on an island in the tidal Halifax River. The discovery coincides with the thirty-five year reunion of Connie's Class of '57.

Clarice and Otis Campion function as caretakers of Belgrath, newly restored and opened as a B & B. Clarice, along with their permanent guest Miss Letty, ninety-year-old star of the silent screen, decides to investigate the mystery. Could the murderer be one of Connie's classmates, now respectable citizens? A rejected boy friend? A jealous girl? Connie, a sneaky child, loved the power of finding out secrets; perhaps she found one just too dangerous for her to live.

At a wake for Connie held at Belgrath House, someone collapses from iced tea laced with cherry laurel, proving that the murderer is still around - and dangerous. Complications cloud the picture in the form of suspicious bed and breakfasters, restoration society members, University of Florida freshmen...and a certain pelican. Clarice and Miss Letty re-double their efforts at sleuthing. The death of Connie Kittredge is tied directly to the history of the house, they learn. The house will ultimately reveal its secrets, but not before exposing Clarice to danger.

Inadvertently left behind during a forced evacuation due to Category Four Hurricane Aphrodite, Clarice finds herself confronting a killer - and a rising tidal surge.

Title: Make Old Bones
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Book Length: Novel
Word Count: 59,511
Pages: 227
Price: $4.99
Formats: PDF, HTML, ePub, Mobi, PRC, Lit

Buy now.

4 comments:

Anthology Authors said...

This story made me teary-eyed. It's tough being a mom, but you know you've done your job when they are confident enough to go out on their own. And Terri's a pretty special, talented lady. You've done a fantastic job. :)

Jim Greer said...

Wonderful! Brings back memories of taking off-shifts and crappy days off to save on day care costs. Watching our last little baby turn her back and return to her dorm the day we dropped her off in Ft. Collins.... AA's right - that's a job well done. By then, the "blankie" is too threadbare to soak up tears.

Terri Talley Venters said...

Imagine the tears this story brings to me. I've read it many times over the years, and it gets me each time. This brings back memories of my childhood, and now I wish I could have all those naps I refused to take. =) Now my mom has read all those stories to her grandchildren.

Congrats on today's release of Make Old Bones, Mom! I bought it first thing this morning and I've never enjoyed reading a book more!

It's a dream to finally be mother/ daughter publsihed authors!

Terri (not Tee-Dee, Terri-tot, or Terri Tike!)

Leslie S. Talley said...

Marci, Thanks for hosting me today on Four Strong Women. And thanks to all of you parents who commented, especially my baby girl.

Leslie