An excerpt from Love, a novel by Ivana Hrubá
- - -
The outer space smells like a burnt cookie.
How do you know?
Okay, you don't.
See that, Phoenix?
Over there - it's the Milky Way. If you squint, it looks like a rainbow.
Billy squints. It looks like a veil. See?
I don't see but I keep looking.
- - -
Billy was wrong. It wasn't a rainbow or a veil. It was grief biding its time, waiting for death to be ushered in to tell us that our childhood was over. But we chose not to see. We lay in the grass blissfully happy, looking at the stars twinkling up there like diamonds.
If you could be anything, what would you be?
I'd be rich.
I meant if you could be something other than human.
I'd be a dolphin.
I'd be a bird.
Okay, me too.
What kind of bird?
Billy says nothing. He lies still, chewing a blade of grass. He might be thinking about kissing me.
I'd be a humming bird, I say.
Billy's eyes are closing. He might be changing his mind. I can't let that happen. I feel so happy I could fly. Seriously fly.
- - -
I got home just before dawn. I crawled through the window and fell straight into my bed. The mattress squeaked. I listened for a moment to see if I'd woken up Old Shawn but all I heard were his snores coming from Mum's room. I could just see him, curled up under the blankets like a big old shaggy bear, with the dog at the foot of the bed, looking like a bear cub. The thought of those two sharing a bed made me smile. Saffron had never shown the least sign of affection to any of Mum's boyfriends until Old Shawn came along.
Old Shawn was different from the beginning. He was clean and well-spoken. He didn't chew a gum. He wore a tie and a suit, and had money. Lots. He also had a useless foot, a funny-looking withered thing hanging off his leg like some kind of a spent cocoon. I remember looking at it, feeling weird about it, the first time we met, at the pub where Mum worked, where we had dinner, just him, Mum and me. Mum was nervous; she had warned me that Old Shawn was quite unlike any man she'd ever known. He was a man intent on doing the right thing, and she was quite anxious that I should like him.
So there he was, Old Shawn, in his Sunday best, sitting at the table, waiting to make my acquaintance. He got up when we entered and pulled Mum's chair out for her. She kissed him on the cheek before she sat down. He blushed. Mum laughed and took his hand, held it in her own at the table. Old Shawn kept blushing. I sat there looking at them, feeling a little weird. Mum and Old Shawn made an odd couple. Mum was young and pretty and he old and ugly and a cripple to boot. Of course, when I got to know the old man, none of it mattered because he was so kind.
The dinner went well. Old Shawn won me over with his quiet ways; he didn't ask stupid questions about me and of me, and I sensed he was a man happy to let our relationship grow in whichever direction I chose. I felt that I could trust him. I enjoyed the evening and when we parted I knew we were onto a good thing.
From day one it was clear that Old Shawn loved Mum to bits, and this never changed even after he moved in. He was nice to me, very polite and a little awkward, always making sure I had nothing to complain about, and never coming between me and Mum when we argued. He bought us whatever we wanted and took us on trips, and generally did everything he could to make Mum fall in love with him. It goes without saying that he paid for everything, bills and the rent and Mum's car registration. Despite this, I don't think Mum was ever in love with him. She liked him a lot, maybe even loved him but she was never wild about him, not like she was about Danny when Danny was her man. She never said anything but I knew.
So, Old Shawn moved in after a little while of family day trips and Sunday night dinners. We got to know each other pretty quickly as we spent quite a bit of time together when Mum was at work. She kept her job even though Old Shawn asked her to give it up. Mum told him she liked the work and her independence. Old Shawn never mentioned it again.
Old Shawn and I got on well. As time went by, I got used his being awkward around me and began to like it, and we had a good time together. We played board games and watched movies, and went out with Saffron to the woods, and sometimes we went out for ice-cream. Sometimes, Old Shawn looked like he wanted to drop in on Mum at work to say hello but I discouraged him; I knew Mum would take it badly. She needed her space, from me, from him, from the routine. Besides, they didn't like family members hanging about at the pub. So I discouraged those visits.
Old Shawn and I talked about a lot of things together. I found out he used to have a job. He worked on a construction site where the building they were working on collapsed one day and everybody except Old Shawn died. Old Shawn crawled out of the rubble, badly injured, with his foot broken. So he got a big payout from the company, but he had to promise them to keep quiet about the incident and sign a confidentiality agreement. Old Shawn talked about it sometimes and drank a bit of brandy to make him forget all his mates who died.
Anyway, our family life was pretty good with Old Shawn in charge of everything and the money on tap. Mum certainly was much calmer and happier in a very unhappy sort of way. I once caught her looking at Danny's picture that she kept in a locked drawer in her bedroom. Mum was crying. I felt sorry for her but wished with all my heart that she would forget Danny because he had been such a disaster. The man was nothing but a loser who took advantage of Mum's trusting nature and repaid her with heartache. He trashed our house and took off with some girl the same day. Because of him Mum got into debt and ended up with Old Shawn. I hated Danny for what he did to us; even when I saw Mum crying over his picture, I still wished him dead.
Soon after Old Shawn moved in, he asked Mum to marry him. She said no and he asked her again, and when again she said no he asked her to at least stop working at the pub. That's when Mum told him she went to work to keep up her skills. Of course, this was a lie and an excuse to keep hanging out at the pub. Mum was simply hoping Danny would one day show up there to play his stupid trumpet. Needless to say she was being foolish; Danny left on bad terms and owed money all over the place, but Mum was a romantic at heart.
After Mum rejected Old Shawn I got a bit worried he might leave, but he didn't. Even moved back into Mum's bedroom after two days of sleeping on the couch. Our life went on as before. Mum worked nights as much as she liked, and Old Shawn said no more about it. He bought her a new car and Mum was very happy and kind to everybody, and this went on for so long that I was lulled into thinking we were destined to live happily forever.
Love © Ivana Hrubá 2013
All rights reserved
To find out what happened next, donwload Love from Amazon, Smashwords and other online stores.
Reviews posted online will be much appreciated. Cheers, Ivana
Young Phoenix lives with her mother in a small rural town, enduring a childhood filled with financial insecurity and emotional instability brought on by her mother's immature outlook and turbulent love life. Forced to frequently fend for herself, Phoenix is relieved when, after a particularly disastrous romance with Danny, a young itinerant musician, her mother takes up with the older and sensible Shawn, who brings order and financial stability into their lives, leaving Phoenix to concentrate on her developing relationship with her best friend Billy. However, the idyll doesn't last long and things spiral out of control when Danny comes back to town, setting in motion a chain of events which will forever change their lives.
Other titles by Ivana Hrubá are available to download from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and other online stores.
Love © Ivana Hrubá, 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, copied or used in any form or manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in reviews and critical articles.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. All events described herein are imaginary, including settings and characters. Any similarity to real persons, entities, or companies is purely coincidental and not intended to represent real living persons. Real brand names, company names, names of public personalities or real people may be employed for credibility because they are part of our culture and everyday lives. Regardless of context, their use is meant neither as endorsement nor criticism: such names are used fictitiously without intent to describe their actual conduct or value. All other names, products or brands are inventions of the author's imagination. The author and the publisher of this work, its distributors, retailers, wholesalers and assigns disclaims any liability or responsibility for how this work is interpreted by its readers. The author and the publisher assume no responsibility for factual errors, inaccuracies, or omissions.