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Excerpt for The Color of Light

But such a tide as moving seems asleep
Too full for sound and foam.
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

  —"Crossing the Bar" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Chapter One

Jillian Parrish stood barefoot in her back yard, her toes curled into the cool grass, and wrapped her hands around the neck of her telescope.  Peering through the narrow opening, and pushing back her fear of dark spaces, she focused on the pinpoints of light that made up the constellation of Centaurus.  She stepped back slowly, gazing out at the night sky, pretending the grass beneath her feet was gritty sand and that she could actually hear the ancient rhythm of the ocean rocking the stars to sleep.  She thought of the immortal centaur as he begged the gods to end his suffering and how Zeus had mercifully let him die and then given him a place amongst the stars. 

She sat down on the grass, wishing she had such an option.  She spun the rings on her finger and shrugged.  Her ex-husband wouldn't care and her parents would simply not allow it.  It would cause them the inconvenience of having to recall her name for the police report and see her each time she rose high above them in the heavens, her celestial face a constant reminder of their failure to create a child worthy of their notice. 

She looked at the tiny diamond engagement ring nestled next to her grandmother's gold band.  Yes, there were other points of refuge besides being relegated to dangling in the sky for eternity.  But, as she had learned, they each carried a price.  With one swift motion, she wrenched the diamond ring off her finger and threw it high into the night sky, the white stone blinking once in the light from the back porch bulb and then dropping back to earth like a falling star.   

Hoisting herself up, Jillian sighed, silently thanking her grandmother for teaching her about fairy tales and mythology to soften the sharp edges of the life into which she had been born.  Not that they had done anything to prepare her for ambitious young waitresses at Hooters or a husband who had finally given up trying to get as much love as he gave in a marriage.

Closing up the tripod and lifting the telescope, Jillian stumbled over the overgrown grass to the house to finish packing.  She paused on the back steps, staring out into the Georgia night sky one last time.  A shooting star blazed away its brief life across the heavens and just as suddenly Jillian Parrish Ryan saw her life with the clarity of a woman full-grown.  At thirty-two years old she could finally stop believing in fairy tales and happy-ever-afters and begin to recognize what really lived in the dark space under her bed.

c

"Jilly-bean?"

Keeping a hand on the expanding girth of her pregnant belly, Jillian turned to her seven-year-old daughter, the late March sun kissing her light blond hair and spinning it into gold.  She slammed the back door of the Volvo wagon before answering.  "What, Sweetie?"

"Will the Easter Bunny be able to find our new house?"

She had forgotten all about bunnies, chocolate eggs and pastel hats.  In the blur of the three months since the divorce she had found it difficult to remember to wash her hair or get out of bed, much less remember that Santa Claus and Easter Bunnies still roamed the landscape of her life.  She lifted her hands and rubbed at her temples in the feeble hope it might dissipate the headache that seemed to loom just below the surface.  "Damn," she said under her breath.

"You shouldn't swear."  Grace tilted her face expectantly toward her mother.  Jillian looked at her as if really seeing her for the first time in months and noticed that the blond bangs were too long.  Her gaze dipped lower and she saw the red sparkly Dorothy shoes on the little feet, shoes she vaguely remembered throwing in the garbage.  At least they weren't white.  Never white shoes before Easter.  Jillian stopped herself in time.  Her mother's teachings always seemed to pick the worst times to come back and haunt her.

Jillian moved the hair off her daughter's pale forehead.  "Sorry—you're right.  I shouldn't swear.  And the Easter Bunny will find you, Gracie.  Promise."

Grace climbed into the back seat of the car.  "Where's Spot?"

As if on cue, a black and gray striped feline streaked past Jillian and into the car, settling his plump bottom onto Grace's lap.  He gazed at Jillian with cool green eyes, and a look of understanding settled between them.    I'll tolerate you in these close quarters and you'll tolerate me.  It's just the three of us and we've got to learn how to get along.  Jillian watched as Grace hugged the cat that thought it was a dog and sent him a look of acknowledgment before shutting the door.

With one last look at the brick colonial that had been the cornerstone of her life for almost ten years, she spied Rick's rocking chair, the one piece of furniture he wanted and that had not been sold, moved or put into storage.  It shifted in the wind as if waving goodbye, the final assault on Jillian's nerves.  Climbing up the steps she took the piece of gum out of her mouth and stuck it to the wicker seat where it would melt in the unseasonably hot March sun.  Then, without another glance, she climbed behind the steering wheel, the child inside her kicking furiously in protest, and put the car in gear to begin the longest journey of her life. 

 


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