When fear’s as blind as love, how far would you go to find your own happily ever after? One mistake will change Ginny’s life forever. One answer will set her free. Once upon a time Ginny’s road blood ripened, the day she got wise to love. Engaged to the high school quarterback, his quarter-carat ring and enchanting smile should have been enough for her. But, she stands him up and takes a walk where every step questions her happily ever after gone-bad and the fate of the mother she never knew. The mother her father refuses to talk about. Ginny fights to untangle her big, fat, lie-of-a-life on an enchanted road trip to Winnemucca, where she believes all her answers lie. To solve the riddle of her past, she must outrun everyone who wants a piece of her future–including a man determined to see she never has one.
TRAILER | DREAM CAST | EXCERPT
Dream Cast for Winnemucca, a small-town fairy tale:
My road blood ripened the day I got wise to love. No one walks Highway 33 but there I was on that godforsaken two-lane road. There was nothing but quail calls, my wind-whipped hair and my twitchy feet. Wedding jitters, Doctor Hernandez had said. But that walk was different than any other. Every flip-flop step asked a question.
Why tonight? Not our wedding night? What if I’m no good? What if I’m worse than the other girls? Did all that matter anymore?
I didn’t have any answers. And for the first time in my life I thought it might be like Daddy said––some things should be left alone. Wild oats blew in the desert wind, bowing this way and that. The oats and I were alike in a lot of ways. Their whispers brought on a prayer even though I wasn’t churchy anymore. I prayed for courage. Not my kind, the kind that makes me sweat so I know it’s there. No, I prayed for Poppa’s war courage. Momma’s daddy, may he rest in peace.
One foot in front of the other.
An almond orchard’s branches tangled against the tie-dyed sky. Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, I played in the orchard next to our house and turned its creature-like trees into royal knights. Back then, when I dreamed of my Prince Charming, he built owl houses to help control pests, brought me persimmon presents, and knew the best secret hiding places and how to surprise me. I never dreamed of a fairy godmother though. Not one time. Fairy godmothers don’t visit desert princesses, especially ones who fall for uncharming princes. They prefer wiser girls who live in kingdoms with rolling green hillsides, and the opportunity for their ball-gown-wearing-shoe-losing daughters to dance and fall in love.
One foot in front of the other.
How could I escape my happily ever after gone-bad?
“No idea,” I said, fanning the fingers on my engaged hand, flicking them. One. Two. Three weeks until the wedding.
Bobby-approved friends? Bobby-approved food? Bobby-approved clothes?
The dusty truth seeped in with every step and made me shiver. My whole life was managed––first by my parents, then by my fiancé Bobby, even by my idiot ex-boss Charlie. I didn’t need my feet chiming in. I stopped walking. Fear’s as blind as love. But an asphalt heat rose through my rubber soles and seared my skin. The ripening made me move. Again. So I dug in my heels, did a one-eighty and headed for home, double-time, to make my date, the date, with Bobby. But my know-it all feet spun me back around. I covered my ears to drown out their trouble-making questions, but all I heard were my own.
What happened to Bobby and me? Why was I listening to my feet? Had I lost my mind?
A dirt devil twisted over a fallow field in the tired sun and spun my thoughts backwards to the second in Tar Canyon when Bobby’s eyes met mine and I knew only death would separate us. My Big, Fat, Lie-of-a-Life churned in my gut like the dirt devil. I doubled over, more alone than ever before, and I tied myself into a knot so tight I could hardly breathe. I’d been wrong about Bobby. Wrong about a lot of things.
When I caught my breath and lifted my head, the sun ricocheted into my eyes. Devil’s Rope twisted around the top of the chain-link fences that secured Avenal State Prison. I had no idea why my feet marched me there. It didn’t look like the kind of place a practically married, straight-A student would find the answers her feet demanded. But the ripening liked to surprise me.
I gripped the steel bars of the roadside prison sign and dangled underneath, swinging my feet, like I used to do once upon a time on the monkey bars. Somewhere between dangles, I stopped being me. Through silver links, in between long buildings with long windows, my eyes settled on what they’d only seen from afar, through the windows of Daddy’s car. Orange jumpsuits walking the yard. Some nights I’d walk like that–convict-style, in circles in my room before bed.
My stretched-out arms ached under the weight of my heart, hanging heavy in my chest. I swayed my feet from side-to-side, imagining our break-up. Saying the words that made me tremble, I can’t marry you. Saying the words that made me tremble more, I do. I’d walk down the aisle toward Bobby at The First Baptist Church of Avenal, where I’d been baptized as a baby by his father, and make the biggest mistake of my life in front of the entire congregation, everyone I’ve ever known. And my gut tensed like it does in the split-second before a person’s about to do the wrong thing.
A convict paused inside the chain-link with his hands on his hips. I let go of the prison sign, dropped to my feet and stood ramrod straight, as different from the wimpy oats as possible. We stared at each other. Him in his prison. Me in mine. We both knew what kept us walking in circles.
Standing there all eyeball-to-eyeball I felt closer to the convict, heck, the whole Errant Brotherhood than I did to anyone. It wasn’t in our nature to be free. Staring down that wimpy fact for the very first time gave me a clarity. The kind that takes hold when a person peels back their lies.
When the convict slipped back into the circular crowd, I grabbed a handful of San Joaquin soil and swirled the fingers of my free hand in the little mound of dirt in my palm. I touched my soil-stained fingers to my heart and became a Child of The Road. My hair let loose in the same sundowner breeze that caressed every inch of my skin and every people-pleasing part of me blew toward The Sierras and up over The Great Divide. Some take to the road to tame a squirrelly nature, or take to it as a tonic, but for me the ripening was more than a simple call to the road.
Which way? Left? Or, right?
I held tight to my dirt. Sweat beaded up under my bangs. I eyed Highway 33 in both directions. To the left was home––Bobby’s enchanting smile should be enough. But I’d never find my answers as Mrs. Bobby Jennings. To the right, God only knew. There was no guarantee I’d find my answers on the road. The wild oats bowed to the left. I turned right. Into the wind. Tiny rocks worked into burst blisters under the plastic between my toes. Quail flushed out of the pistachio orchard beside me.
A police siren wailed, coming up from behind. Uncle Earl slowed his patrol car to a creep and yelled over the siren before he switched it off. “Virginia Mae? Where in the hell are you going?”
“Didn’t know walking’s a crime Earl,” I said, my eyes fixed on the white line under my feet.
“That’s Uncle Earl, Virginia Mae…and look at me when I’m talking to you…”
But I didn’t hear the rest of what Earl said because the white line brought me back home in my mind to when the horrible-wonderful ripening first buzzed through me after school. I had pulled my bangs back and stroked my next-to-invisible lashes with brown-black mascara when my feet twitched, unsteadying my hand. A prickly heat tickled my toes and crawled up my thighs. It made me move when I most wanted to sit still. So I bunched my white sundress up, unhitched my strapless, boob-crushing, employee-discounted leopard bra and scooted out of its matching thong. I wadded up my sex-wear and buried that perfumed ball of lace and silk in my wastebasket between unwrapped Slimfast pills, crushed wedding-present boxes and crinkled Snickers wrappers.
My heart leapfrogged me back to the road when a gust of wind just about blew the whistle on my commando-self, right in front of Earl. I tripped on some weeds at the side of the highway as I patted down every inch of my churned up skirt, my face hotter than the asphalt under my feet.
“Your momma called two hours ago,” Earl said, leaning out of his patrol car, his face as red as the pomegranates Momma grew in the backyard. “Bobby took you for dead.”
I’d done the worst thing possible by standing Bobby up. Because doing that one true thing meant the rest of the truth wasn’t far behind. I’d have to tell Bobby I didn’t love him and that buzzed the heebie-jeebies through me. The kind I’d get when I’d rush to kill a black widow before it killed me. I had no idea what Bobby would do when I told him. I had no idea what he was capable of. But, in the end, nothing would frighten me more than myself.
My nothing-better-to-do uncle took a drag off his long cigar. “Now don’t you go crossing the Kern County line thinking I don’t have jurisdiction there. Cause let me tell you, ain’t no measily little thing like jurisdictions gonna keep me from hauling your butt back home where you belong. I’ve got lots of friends who owe me favors in Kern County. And I’ll call every one of them in. Don’t make them hog-tie you.” The only thing I hated more than Earl laughing at my life was him managing it.
His lead-foot got in the way of trying to keep my pace. One time he pulled his patrol car up so close I thought he might flatten my feet.
“Could haul your butt back right now, runaway,” Earl said, pointing the slobbery end of his cigar to the backseat. “Come on, hop in back with your wedding dress.” It hung, covered in clear plastic, behind Earl’s secured shotgun. A white-sequined, sweetheart neckline sparkled blue and red, keeping time with Earl’s police lights.
Earl eased his patrol car to a stop.
“Earl, it’s the twenty-first century, the one where women take walks by themselves or fly to the moon if they want to,” I said. “That time of the month, huh?” Earl chuckled under his breath. Most family get-togethers found the men patting each other on the back for being Masters of the Universe, while their wives huddled in the kitchen, some wishing away their vows to obey. Women in the family assumed us kids were hard of hearing once the white zin flowed.
Earl spun his tires on his way to catch up to me. “Get in the car, Ginny,” he said.
If I did, it’d be all over town in the morning––Virginia Mae Nolyn, lunatic walker, driven to insanity by her nosy feet. Apprehended by her Uncle Earl.
One foot in front of the other. Will I huddle? And drink white zin? And wish my life away?
“Did you hear me?” Earl said.
“I’m almost eighteen and I don’t take orders from anybody.” I twisted my too-tight engagement ring. Don’t want you ballooning up after our vows, Skinny Ginny, Bobby had said when I wanted it resized. “I’ll turn around. When I’m ready,” I said.
Earl glanced at my wedding dress, the ghost of myself behind bars in Earl’s backseat. “Wasn’t anywhere near Fresno, but I picked it up. Saved your runaway butt one hundred whole dollars––don’t your Auntie Dee just know everybody. No need to thank us,” he said like I was as deaf as Poppa.
On my wedding day Daddy would take his ranch-worn hand in mine and we’d walk down the red-carpeted aisle of The First Baptist Church of Avenal, toward Rev. Jennings. Daddy would lift my veil off my face and kiss me for the last time as his little girl. I’d walk past the very first pew to the altar and take Bobby’s hand. But my wedding dress turned into a convict’s jumpsuit in my mind.
“We have ways of bringing in hardened criminals such as yourself,” Earl said. His smile faded and he mumbled into his handheld radio before rolling his eyes and driving off. Earl’s siren blared when he took a right on Twisselman Road. I’d never been in more danger in my Big, Fat, Lie-of-a-Life.
I collapsed at a white, wooden cross. It was the only thing left of my good friend Danny. The winter’s fog killed her on her drive home on that very spot. A pockmarked Virgin Mary and Child still sat where the painted stake sunk deep into the soil and a few empty plastic flowerpots pointed toward heaven. Some fresh-cut peach and yellow roses blocked the scratched-in dates marking the too-few years Danny had to fill her sack of dreams. But all Danny’s dreams died with her boyfriend, Christopher, in Afghanistan. My crumpled, handwritten goodbye to her had blown into the tumbleweeds. Love, the only word on my note not bleached-out by the sun.
Love’s a killer.
Three people would always be missing at my wedding––Danny, Christopher and the mother I never knew. The mother who gave me away. The one Daddy refused to talk about.
I rose to my feet and stood in the weeds.
One foot in front of the other. Did I have the guts to find her?
I squinted, raising my hand to shade the floodlights headed my way. An ever after no fairy tale dare tell barreled toward me. My prince swerved down Highway 33 in his royal Dodge truck, Blacky. He’d arrived just in time to save me from myself. Bobby skidded in a wide u-turn, and drove slow beside me. Dust fell over my reflection in Blacky’s tinted window. My long, blonde hair flailed in the wind. When Bobby rolled the window down, I watched myself disappear. I thought I still saw our future in his strangely calm, brown eyes and that his months of darkness was a spell I might still break if only I was prettier, skinnier, perfect. I clenched the dirt in my fist.
“What are you doing Ginny?” Bobby eyed the rearview like someone was after him.
“Walking,” I said.
“A walk is from school to State Market, or to Rice Park. This ain’t no walk, Ginny.” His gaze pierced my heart.
“I don’t see why everybody’s so upset,” I said.
“Tonight was the night, Virginia Mae.”
The oats hissed in the sundowners. I felt like a black sheep at shearing time––penned up, hungry, and alone.
“Hop in. We’ll make it a late night, Skinny Ginny.” He smiled the smile that enchanted me at the beginning, the kind of smile that solidifies a girl’s belief in true love and fairy tales.
“No Bobby. I’m not finished.” His stone-cold sober self made my heart race.
“Finished?” he said, spitting. I couldn’t breathe, because when love and truth tangle, truth wrestles love to the ground. “I’ll just drive right beside you then Skinny,” Bobby said.
“I never liked the name Skinny Ginny,” I whispered.
“How about when you’re through?” he said, hitting the brakes. His door clicked open and slammed shut. Boot-stomped asphalt kept time with my heartbeats. “We’re finally gonna do it,” Bobby said. He pulled on my elbow, spun me around and kissed me quick on my forehead.
I stared into his clueless, brown beautiful eyes and breathed like a mouse, tiny and terrified and tried to break free. But Bobby tightened his grip on my arms, like I might leave him forever. Like he knew. In the entire boom-gone-bust history of Avenal, no woman had ever broken up with her fiancé. I clenched the dirt in my palm and imagined the convict had me in his grip instead. And the convict said––none of that mattered. Orange prison lights marched over Bobby’s shoulder, twinkling against the San Andreas churned hills.
“Let me go,” I said twisting out of Bobby’s grip.
“What ya got there?” he said. I swiped my fist away but he grabbed a hold of it and peeled my fingers back. The dirt that didn’t take to the wind, dusted my feet. Bobby laughed the way people do when things aren’t funny and mumbled something about his momma. But I couldn’t take my mind off my dirt-dusted feet and I focused on my purple little-toe nails of the stupid piggys I was most like. The ones that run all the way home.
One foot in front of the other. Does road blood rot? How long do I have?
I rubbed the grit stuck to my palm like it was fairy dust with the power to save me from my circular nature. But mine was no fairy tale. I turned around and walked back home toward the prison lights. I don’t even know why exactly. It was a kind of terror at what Bobby would say or do when I told him I didn’t love him. The hollowness of a girl who didn’t want to end up all alone holding an empty sack of dreams played a part. Besides, I had a split-second to decide. And in those split-seconds when people go blind to their lies, that’s what screws up lives most times. So Bobby shepherded me home. Him riding in Blacky. Me walking at the side of the road, doing my best to ignore my feet.
One foot in front of the other. When am I going to stop walking in circles?
My feet sounded more and more like Lizzy, my Maid of Honor––demanding, but without the you-should-know-better ring to it. Nothing made any sense. Not my circular nature. Not Bobby’s management. Not Daddy’s refusal to talk about the mother I never knew. Not Daddy’s favorite song.
I trembled in the orange glow of the prison. Avenal lorded over the gray bar hotel even as the steely bars of memory held her citizens captive. Our broken hearts beat between hope and despair for an oil-way-of-life long run dry. The Law the only thing that kept Avenal alive. Daddy and I would stare down at the prison from the ranch. ‘If you squint your eyes just right, those prison lights? They look just like a cruise ship, sailing away,’ he’d say, swiping his arm across a moonlit barley ocean. Singing kept him and his rusted, see-the-world dreams company out on the three hundred plus acres he worked every inch of. I’d lean against the warm, weathered wood of Daddy’s barn, my feet knee-high in the weeds I was supposed to be mowing, and listen to him sing his favorite song.
‘Across the deserts bare, man. I’d breathe the mountain air, man. I’ve been everywhere,’
Bobby kept a wide eye on the road. I shrugged off how hard night was falling.
“Did you pick up your La Neva? I’m in the yearbook like a million times,” Bobby said. “There’s a picture in there of the game where we kicked Firebaugh’s butt.”
“You know how La Neva means The Wild Oats?” I said.
“Um-hmm,” Bobby said, letting up on the gas.
I liked that Avenal meant more when you read her backwards. I hoped there might be more to me too. I took a deep breath. “I got the wild part. It creeps inside. And, Bobby…”
His eyes fixed on a single headlight weaving straight ahead. Going the wrong way. Headed straight for us. A Harley swerved out of Bobby’s lane at the last second. I caught Clyde’s piercing blue eyes despite his helmet and the darkness. My mascara-streaked sundress rippled in my ex-coworker’s asphalt-flavored wake. Blacky’s tires screeched. I felt like I had two hearts in my chest, at war with each other, beating themselves to death. Bobby eyed the rearview. “Fool,” he yelled. “You OK?” he asked in an almost-whisper.
I nodded, wind rushing through my hair. Clyde always turned up when I least expected. But, he and I never did talk, not in the two years I worked my real job at Kmart. The job Bobby made me quit. So I guess you could say I never expected to see Clyde. Not one time. But of all the times I never expected to see Clyde, this was the one time it actually registered as strange. Bizarre, even.
“Moron, ex-con,” Bobby said. With a flick of his bangs, he turned on the Christian rock radio station, thumped the dash and kept a wide eye on the open road. On the lookout for what was headed our way.
I glanced at Bobby and with the courage of the angels I said, “I don’t love you.”
Right as I said the four words that I thought would change my life forever, Bobby sang louder. Almost on purpose. Like he didn’t want to have to deal with me. Hear me. And more than anything I wanted to be heard.
One foot in front of the other. What’s scarier? Marrying Bobby? Or my empty sack of dreams?
I made the turn onto my road, a dirt road between ranches. Bobby and Blacky followed close behind. Our house sat on Huml’s ranch about a mile down on the right on land Daddy leased to raise sheep and grow cotton. I tilted my face to the first star in the night sky knowing the ripening had been wasted on me. I’d always walk in circles.
When I stepped onto our circular driveway, Bobby cut me off and hopped out of his truck. He slammed the door, taller and more muscular than ever. He kicked a rock on his way to tell me what-for, his face close enough to feel every d and t, “Don’t you ever do that again, you hear?”
I shivered as if a 7.0 had hit the San Andreas hard and fast. “Don’t you ever make me look ridiculous again! And, don’t spew female nonsense that don’t matter.” His gaze strayed to my shoulder. Bobby hooked his finger around the white spaghetti strap of my sundress and pulled me in so close I caught sight of the thirty stitches he took over his left eye when he scored the winning touchdown at Firebaugh. The night he proposed. When I ached for him more than the road. He rubbed my thongless butt and smiled.
My road blood roared through the most circular parts of me. The porch light turned on, not quite casting a light on us. Bobby caught his Buccaneer Senior ring on my skirt as he worked to raise it.
My half-naked, lonely self sighed, lost in what felt so good being so bad for me. Bobby kissed my shoulder and when his rough hands found my bare bottom, Daddy opened the screen door and Momma yelled, “Virginia?”
Bobby grabbed my hand and we raced up the creaking steps to the front porch. He walked through the screen door first and I followed, tugging my skirt and pulling up my spaghetti straps.
“Where were you off to?” Daddy asked.
“Nowhere Daddy.” I’d walked convict-style. Again.
He placed a hand on Bobby’s back. A glance between them spoke of my madness.
Bobby’s hold on me turned gentle. Every stroke of Bobby’s thumb brought me back to the first time he’d held me and told me he loved me. Every stroke blurred the razor-thin line he had forced me to walk upon.
Momma felt my head like I was feverish. Sick, even. “What were you thinking? Do you want to put me in an early grave?” She crossed her arms tight over her apron.
“No,” I said. She never got mad. Not at us kids.
“Ginny, your momma is very upset.” Daddy never allowed himself to feel much of anything but liked to report on Momma’s feelings a lot.
“You’re safe and that’s what matters. Earl said you were clear over at the Kern County Line when he found you,” Momma said. “It’s not like when I left I said ‘I’m gonna walk to the county line,’ you know? I just ended up there is all.”
“Come on now, Lucy. You need your rest, ‘hon.” Daddy put his arm around the only mother I ever knew.
Her moist eyes cooled the road blood bubbling inside of me. “How’d we get so lucky as to have a son-in-love like you?” she said, patting Bobby on the back. “Tell Ida I’m looking forward to her strawberry-rhubarb pie at the shower.”
Bobby twisted my diamond ring. His tortured gaze drowned out his reply and devoured my twitching feet. A vein I never noticed pulsed at his left temple.
Daddy shook his head and shot a glance at Momma. They took the stairs slower than usual. I wondered if I’d ever have a relationship like they did, married sixteen years. A lifetime. I paced the foyer. Skeins of pink and blue yarn sat in Momma’s knitting bag. A blue bootie hung from one of her needles. All I ever wanted was a car full of kids someday. To be a good mom. A mom that answered every question. A mom that would never leave. I tossed my gravel-torn flip-flops into the take-upstairs basket. The heat of my busted blisters made me limp. “What did you say about your momma?” I asked.
Bobby took my hand and said, “I didn’t come here to talk about her. Let’s go.”
Shadows danced across the hallway upstairs. “Shh!” I whispered, wiggling out of Bobby’s hug. His make-out aftershave, lingered on my cheek. The few weeks prior, when I smelled Polo, my stomach dropped.
Bobby slipped his arms around my waist, snuggled in close and kissed my neck. I clung to him, wanting to believe in our happily ever after like I did the night I promised myself to him. With every millimeter Bobby’s hands crept south my feet twitched worse. I stomped them, right and left, and managed to slither out of his hug.
Bobby’s eyes lost their sparkle and we stood in the awkward silence of what we would never quite say to each other.
“I’m driving myself to school tomorrow,” I said, trying to sound optimistic. Like a couple aspirins might end my agony. Cure my questions. Calm the ripening.
Bobby took two steps back, flicked his ragged, auburn bangs and fixed his gaze on the mascara stain on my dress. “You tell me, Skinny,” he said with a head-to-toe stare, “Who did you see tonight?” He said Skinny like the word no longer applied.
“No one,” I said. My chest peeked out of my sundress a little more with every breath I took. Bobby cocked his head and I pretended not to care about the horrified look in his eye, the unacceptability of not quite fitting into my sundress.
Bobby pulled me close and whispered, “Tomorrow night.” Like I’d done something wrong. Like I’d pay for it later. He pressed his lips to mine and I kissed him back, aching for what we’d never be. Aching for the fantasy.
Bobby walked down the porch steps and into Blacky. I propped the screen door with my foot and spit my dose of second-hand chew in the bushes. The bone-chilling, steely slam of the screen door met with Daddy standing in the hall, holding a box. Not just any box. My heart jackhammered.
“Daddy, I can explain…”
“No need,” he said, oddly calm adding, “I’ve been in the chute before.”
“What?” I said, imagining Daddy had seen all the rip-off wear I had hidden inside. I was happy to talk about anything else. Even if it didn’t make any sense. I’d talk about anything but what I’d hidden inside that box.
“It’s a place a person finds their soul,” he said. The way he bowed his head I knew he sat in a pew a time or two. In another life. The one he never talked about.
“There are no shortcuts there,” he said.
I clenched my muscles the same way I’d brace for the punch to the gut every one of my unanswered questions landed.
“It doesn’t take me two seconds to spot someone in the chute, Virginia,” he said. It was the first time in my life I knew I hadn’t known my daddy at all.
We stood in the foyer together, worlds apart.
“I’ve been corralling what’s important to me for so long, I forgot there’d come a day…I’d have to let one go.” He held the box out in front of him in his trembling hand. “Weddings stir up all sorts of things,” he said, clearing his throat, “I didn’t have time to wrap it nice,” he said, handing the box over to me.
I swallowed hard, not knowing what Daddy knew about Bobby and I. Or, if he’d seen my rip-off wear. But I did know one thing. I’d kill my sister. She had something to do with him finding that box. It felt like my two hearts were at war with each other again. They beat themselves to death as I pried the top off the box. A small lump of silver metal sat in a corner, links of a life-worn chain. That’s all. Nothing else.
“Your mamá would have wanted you to have it,” he said, eyeing my feet. “Espy said it brought her luck.” He clenched his jaw like his words had sharp edges.
“Espy.” I finally spoke her name. The name I should have known my whole life. And in the saying of her name I could finally breathe in the world. Feel my place in it. My feet firm on the earth beneath them for the first time. More in the world than I was before. “Mamá?”
Daddy unstuck himself from the floor and clasped the necklace around my neck. I cradled the charm. Barbed wire twisted onto itself and formed, a not-so-perfect circle. He swallowed me in a bear hug. A hug he needed more than me. I had no idea why, or what to do about it.
“Espy told me, a very long time ago,” he said with an eyes-on-the-horizon gaze he saved for storms and poachers, “a woman always knows what she wants. You look just like her…” Hearing her name from Daddy’s lips was like the horrible-wonderful heat of the ripening. I loved it but was terrified by it. Maybe that’s the only way I knew how to love. And it struck me that there was so much more I didn’t know. So much more I needed to know. I never saw her picture. I never heard a single story about her. And the unknown took on a life of its own. Espy didn’t come alive in any real way until I heard her name and held her charm. And neither did I.
I peeked into Momma’s spotless kitchen. The mouth-watering scent of her arroz con pollo lingered in the house. A couple of still-lit candles were left on the round oak kitchen table. A dozen white roses sat in a green glass vase between them, their blooms golden in the candlelight. Daddy never brought red ones to the only momma I’d ever known. Every week, always a dozen. Always white. For the first time in my life I had to know why.
Daddy kissed my forehead for the last time as his little girl. And I knew I’d grown up because I didn’t holler and ask him about Espy for the billionth time or ask him about the white roses. It was too late for more heartache. Too late to stop me. I held onto the charm as if it was the hand of the mamá I never knew, the hand that had let me go.