Kate Sparkes – Bound

I met Kate last year while tweeting about NaNoWriMo. I’ve been following her blog since, and I enjoy her wit and writing. She wrote a blogpost about 2014 being her year for book releases, and it certainly is! A few weeks ago, she offered an opportunity to share some news and the gorgeous cover for her book release, Book 1 in her Bound trilogy, and I am elated to be a small part of her success.

Here is the amazing cover (designed by Ravven. Contact: http://www.ravven.com):

Bound by Kate Sparkes

And here is a brief synopsis of Bound:

Welcome to Darmid, where magic is a sin, fairy tales are contraband, and the people live in fear of the Sorcerers on the other side of the mountains.

Rowan Greenwood has everything she’s supposed to want from life—a good family, a bright future, and a proposal from a handsome and wealthy magic hunter. She knows she should be content with what she has. If only she could banish the idea that there’s more to life than marriage and children, or let go of the fascination with magic she’s been forced to suppress since childhood.

When Rowan unknowingly saves the life of one of her people’s most feared enemies, a simple act of compassion rips her from her sheltered life and throws her into a world of magic that’s more beautiful, more seductive, and more dangerous than she ever could have imagined.

Now Rowan might just get everything she ever dreamed of—that is, if the one thing she’s always wanted doesn’t kill her first.

If you’d like to know more about the amazing Kate, here you go:

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with a Mountie, two kids who take turns playing Jekyll and Hyde, three cats with more personality than most people she meets, and the saddest-looking dog on the planet. Her first novel, Bound, will be released in June 2014, assuming the dragons don’t eat her first.

blog: Disregard the Prologue (http://disregardtheprologue.com)
Twitter: @kate_sparkes
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katesparkesauthor

And here is her fabulous photo:

The Triumphant Kate Sparkes

If this title sounds like something you would like, please support Kate in her writing efforts through purchase and reviewing her book! (You can review Bound on Goodreads!)

Much love and light! –Karin 🙂

A little fiction: “Something Beautiful”

Most days upon waking, my mind drifts in and out of consciousness, wondering whether or not I will ever feel passionate about anything again.  I marvel back to sixth grade, when Mrs. Schneider gave us “passion” as a vocabulary word.  I sat there, next to Bobby Newenschwander, who, as a typical sixth-grade-boy, snickered incessantly at the word as Mrs. Schneider’s chalk scraped white letters across a golf-course-lawn colored chalk board.  I copied the list down into my vocabulary notebook, reached into my desk for my copy of A Student’s Dictionary and found the word right between “passenger” and “passionate.”  I noted a small n. next to the word and copied, “a strong feeling or desire, enthusiasm.”  I couldn’t help but read the next entry—“adjective, ardent in feeling or desire.”  I wondered then, in my eleven-year-old-self, if I had ever felt passionate about anything.

My mother was working on dinner when I tossed my backpack across the table, poured a glass of cherry Kool-Aid and sat at a bar stool across the counter from her bowl of cornbread stuffing and sliced chicken breasts.

“How was school today?”  And then, “did you copy your vocabulary list?”  This question was always part of my Monday interrogation.

“Fine, Mom.  Thanks.  And yes, I have my vocabulary list with definitions.”  Even though I hadn’t missed any words the past few weeks, I had spent the first quarter missing several words…okay, more like half the words…on the list each week.  Doing better lately didn’t erase the concern from her brow, though.  “One of our words this week is ‘passion.’  Do you know what that is?”

My mother’s hands stopped stuffing moistened bread bits and seasonings into the open breast as she looked into my face.  “Yes.  Did you look it up?”

“Sure, but I just wondered what you thought about it, and what I could do with it for my vocab. sentences for homework tonight.”

“Well,” she began, as I could see her mind working between handfuls of stuffing, carefully placing the prepared chicken into the casserole dish and just as carefully placing words, “people can be passionate about lots of things—like politics,…sports,…hobbies.  Sometimes people use the word in reference to feeling strongly about a relationship.”

I remembered looking for that relationship many years later as a college student at Emery.  Back during a time when we had no classes on Wednesday, I would wander through the tree-strewn campus, walking up and down paved hills, reciting formulas for OChem and wishing I could find that feeling of passion for someone.  Sure, I’d dated lots of guys—frat guys, athletes, intellectuals—all without a glimmer of that “strong feeling or desire” I wanted.  I became passionate about searching for passion.

Then, one Wednesday, I saw this guy driving a golf cart with lawn tools in the back as I was out for a morning run.  I waved to him, as I had grown accustomed to waving to everyone I passed, and his eyes looked eager as he returned my wave.  The tips of his hair stuck out in dark tufts under his Red Sox cap as his eyes met mine.  I passed him to feel a drop from somewhere in the vicinity of my chest cavity to my abdomen (I was pre-med at that point), and I decided to circle around and see where the golf cart was travelling.

About a mile of up and down the grey stripe of pavement dividing a sea of green, I noticed the Red Sox cap turned backwards on a body, stooped over some type of planting area.  I saw rhododendrons and azaleas, which I recognized, but he looked to be planting some type of annual as a border plant around the edge of the bed.

“Good work,” I remarked, keeping up a stationary jog.  He startled a bit, turned, and stood to face me.

“Uh, thanks.”  I watched him dust his shirt with his dirt-stained hands, hands which would later arouse feelings within me I didn’t know I could have.

“What are you planting?”

“Madagascar periwinkle.”

“Oh, it’s very nice.  I love the color.”

“Would you like one?  I have more than I need.”  He took a step toward me with flower in hand.

“I have to finish my jog now, but maybe I could catch you later,” I offered as I continued a stationary jog.  “When’s your lunch break?”

“Oh, I just have to finish this bed and two more.  I should be done about 11:30, and then I’ll need to shower.  Want to meet up at the cafeteria?”

“Sure.  I’ll see you there—a little less sweaty—around noon?”

“See you then.”

I jogged back toward my dorm with a smile all the way. We met for lunch (where he gave me a flower), and so began our two-year courtship, eight-month engagement, and twenty-seven-year marriage, filled with moments of passion so indelible…moments of support, love, and companionship mixed with anger, frustration, exhaustion, and the act of passion that would land me here.

I opened my eyes to look up at the tall ceiling.  My lovely orange suit (I look much better in red) hung over my delicate bones, my small hands that once performed surgery to sustain life were calloused and swollen from manual labor, my lovely size 6 feet that used to slide in and out of Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo were now lacing into something more like generic Converse—and I didn’t care.  I had a momentary flush of feeling as I remembered that Clara and Angelique were coming for a visit today, but it did not last long.  A pang of guilt filtered from my bed-headed hair to my bulging cotton socks, but that didn’t last long, either.  “I guess I have finally shut down, after all,” I muttered to an open cell, with no one around to hear.  If I cared anymore, I think I might try to get out, to appeal, to kill myself, but I don’t.

So I sit here, and lie here, and eat here—well, I eat sometimes—and pay my debt to society.  Never mind all the lives I saved once upon a time (which, I recorded once in med school alone to be around 27, 28 if your counted that little girl who I Heimliched in the cafeteria), but I guess that was another life…another feeling of passion.  Passion for life.  My passion for him was different.  He needed me, and I needed him.  Together we fit in ways I could not describe with words in any language I knew (which included six conversational, two dead, and one more just reading since I never learned to pronounce correctly in German).  But then, he needed me to help him leave.  And I didn’t want to; I really didn’t.  I fought against the need for the better part of a year.  But I loved him.  And he was in so much pain.  So much suffering.  “I save lives; I do not take them away,” was my mantra each day.  But he would look at me with his dark, undiscerning eyes, which reminded me of his dark hair sticking out of a Red Sox hat one spring day in Atlanta.  I put Madagascar periwinkle by our bed, but he didn’t notice.  At that moment, I realized that we could leave—like a dream—together.  He would leave his body and I would leave my emotions and we could survive in some other sphere of existence where passion filled our days and nights, where we only existed for each other.  So I did it.  It was an act of mercy as much as it was to save what we had—to save our marriage, our passion, our daughters.  And no good or great attorney could get me out of what I started, and no good or great therapist could help me live again the way I lived with him.

I guess eating really doesn’t matter anymore.  I’ll see the girls today and tell them that everything is fine, remind them to put fresh flowers over his stone.  Spring must be right around the corner.  I don’t feel as cold right now.  Or as warm, either, come to think of it.  Maybe I don’t feel anything.  I wonder what death feels like.  Cold, or warm, or like walking or running or singing or dancing or praying.  Maybe it feels like the moment you release all that energy from a lifetime of learning and going and doing and working and saving.  Some of my patients would talk about a light, bright like the sun.

I loved our honeymoon.  We spent four glorious days on St. Pete Beach at the Don.  We swam out as far as we could to the buoys each morning and ran along the beach in the evening sunset.  He wandered the gardens, with hands and nails cleaned for our wedding, but I knew he longed for the feeling of earth, of planting, of growth.  He went on to teach landscape architecture at Purdue for fifteen years, but still he was happiest with soil under his fingernails and the smell of earth imbedded in his skin.  I could see his shadow, over me, his face filled with love, then excitement, then relief.  I remember each spring, he would bring me a small pot of something new, mixed in with Madagascar periwinkle.  He would often ask me, “What if I had been planting geraniums that day?”

“You weren’t.”  I would smile back at his teasing.  “Geraniums stink.  We were both sweaty and smelly enough that day—so you needed to be planting something simply beautiful.”

And we were.  Together.  Somehow.  Simply beautiful.

Last…

The last website which was open was a shopping cart from Victoria’s Secret filled with items for their anniversary in two weeks.

The last playlist played on iTunes was simply titled, “dance.”

The last note was a grocery list including items for next week’s menu.

The last phone call listed on her cell was to the school, scheduling her days to volunteer for next month’s fundraiser.

The last food she ate was half of a pastrami sandwich on rye, with Dijon mustard, pickles, and provolone.

The last text message she sent was to her husband, a simple, “i ❤ u, always."

He had sent back an "I love you, too" reply, followed by a request for the new password she set for the email that was recently hacked. After his seventh rapid-fire text, he began to wonder. The children would be getting home soon.

He left his work for a "late lunch" and travelled the roads, winding in, and out, and through, like black ribbons weaving their ways through grasses and businesses, restaurants and car lots. He tried to call. Maybe she was taking a long shower.

He arrived home just before 2 p.m. and felt a flood of relief as the water was running in the shower upstairs. Surely she was out of hot water now, though.

He slid off his loafers by the door and mounted the steps, taking them two at a time–and the last one in a leap of three. He rounded the corner into the master bath, filled with steam that was beginning to settle like fog on the slate floor. She was sitting at the base of the water, with a calm expression on her face, her eyes as still as glass. She did not blink.

He pulled her cold body from the hot water, wrapped her gently in a towel, and called 9-1-1.

Breast Cancer Awareness

I posted this piece originally here. It has become one of my favorite short pieces that I have written, and the images I see when I read it still touch me. I hope you enjoy it for this week’s Flashback Friday/Fiction Friday post.

I lean her tiny frame against my chest as I see her thin reflection in the bathroom mirror. I know she will not ask for help. Still, she has become so weak, so frail, that even the buttons on her shirt have become difficult for her. I slide my arms around her and begin at the top, pulling, twisting, and pulling each button through the stitched hole. As I see her profile in the mirror, I recognize the wear on her face, the shine of light from her head. I pull her shirt down off her shoulders as the water in the shower streams across the tile, beats rain-like patterns on the glass door. My hands move across her back to unhook her bra, and I slide the straps off her shoulders, remove the prosthesis. I run my hands down her shoulders, across her chest, her collarbone, her space where her breast used to be.

The scar from where she fought like a dragon feels smooth on my fingertips. The new form is different, yes, but beautiful still. Even more beautiful.

I help her climb the small step into the steam of the shower. I look through the glass, not bathed in water vapor, and I see her again for the first time.

These moments catch me off guard. I feel like I am the one who should fight this monster for her, but she has had to walk a path through darkness and pain I may never know.

My eyes begin to well, but the tears are not full of loss for her breast, her hair; instead a soft smile covers my face as a tiny drop streams down my cheek. I still have the most important thing to me in the entire world.

I still have her.

The DMV

She tapped her fingers nervously on her ripped jeans. She had taken the time to put on makeup–a smattering of eye liner (deep indigo) and smear of lipstick (shimmery bronze) covered her face. Her gold hoops dipped almost to her shoulders.

She had read the book, too. Downloaded it from the internet onto her iPhone.

When she had taken her driving test at age sixteen, her PawPaw told her simply to answer all the study questions, and she would pass. She had done that–meticulously–filled out each of the sixty-five sample questions and studied them. The process worked for her then and for her all her family members, who had just relocated from North Carolina to the panhandle of Florida.

Today she was 32, and the state where she now resided only had eight practice questions to the fifty on the test. At least she didn’t have to get into a car and drive.

“Number 82?” came a call from a tall brunette behind a brightly-colored counter. She glanced at her number and stood, slowly, deliberately. Her stilettos clicked on the linoleum. She smiled tentatively when she reached the counter, her fingernails tapping on the tangerine laminate, clashing in their fiery-red glory.

After the brunette checked (and took) her old license, perused her birth certificate, utility bills, and application, she spoke: “Computer Station #6, please.”

The heels again clicked as she walked across the room and seated herself in the appropriate place.

Her heart sank, even with answering multiple choice questions about her birthdate and age, to verify her identity. She tried to focus on the screen, but the background music drifted into her ears. She would take any form of distraction she could to ease the pressure.

“Wake me up, before you go, go…” sang a much younger George Michael, part of the Wham! duo. The song reminded her of the scene in Zoolander, which her little brother mimicked regularly–minus the explosion–anytime they went to the gas station together.

The screen in front of her glowed with a question regarding the shape of a STOP sign. Really?

She found her head bobbing and shoulders moving to the music, until the song transitioned into the female power ballad, “I Will Survive” by the legendary Gloria Gaynor. She chuckled quietly, and tried not to belt out the lyrics like she had done so many times with her older sister. Still, she let the empowerment of the song calm her into a more secure emotional place.

Another question was asked about the main way carbon monoxide can poison passengers. How did I miss that section? She made her best guess, and listened on as Whitney Houston was singing her peppy “How Will I Know?”

She was dancing now, feeling the relief of having weeded through 44 of the 50 questions on the test. 45. 46. 47. She answered them sometimes with her best guess, other times with surety. Could most of the answers really be C?, she wondered almost aloud, when large letters interrupted her thought process on the way to answer question 48.

YOU PASSED.

Thank heavens. She stood, without bothering to review the test questions, and relief swept through her. She felt all the feelings of a sixteen-year-old again–the relief, the exhaustion, the adrenaline of wanting to celebrate.

A worker took her picture on a strikingly bright green background. Not my best color, but who cares? I passed!

She paid her fee, collected her license, and clicked her way out the door, only she wasn’t sure her heels ever touched the floor.



Mourning

I walked down the stairs to find an empty kitchen sink, quite unusual at our house full of five people on varied schedules. He must’ve rinsed his bowl and loaded it into the dishwasher before his early flight, I thought as I filled the Brita pitcher with water and replaced it in the fridge.  The only negative thing I can say about this place is the water tastes gross.  Thank heavens for Brita.

I mentally checked off my personal list for the day…get kids off to school, drop off stuff at Goodwill, pick up dry cleaning, milk, and fresh veggies…and somehow squeeze in a run before the heat of the day settled onto the sidewalk, sending up its waves of steam from the recently running sprinklers.

A little person’s footsteps interrupted my quiet thoughts.  Dilly tumbled down the stairs, blanket in hand, and nestled her head into my left shoulder.  “Mommy, you are beautiful,” she said as she reached up to pull a loose strand of one of my shorter layers out of my eyes.

“Thank you, Dilly.  Are you ready for breakfast?”

“Mmmhmmm,” she lifted her head and nodded for emphasis.

“Mommy is making oatmeal.  Would you like to help me?”

She slid down my body and out of my arms, reached for the stool, and propped herself up by the island, near but not too close to the cooktop.  I filled a pan with water from the sink, rationalizing that we wouldn’t taste it through the fruit, cream, and sugar we would put in the oatmeal, and turned the flame on high.

Shelly and Jack headed down the stairs with the noises in the kitchen.  Shelly turned on the television to find news, check the weather, and jot down a current event for social studies class.  It was her morning routine.  Jack headed to the study to practice his viola before school.

Over the noise and chatter of Dilly singing her new favorite song from kindergarten, I noticed small bubbles emerging, growing larger from the base of the pan up to the surface, searching for a way to release the heat energy that was bursting inside the molecules.  I could hear faint strokes of the bow against the C string of Jack’s viola, and Dilly started humming the piece Jack had been working on for weeks…his solo in the upcoming fall orchestra concert.  I couldn’t recall the name of the music.  He was getting better, though.

Dilly helped me measure the oatmeal, and she asked to pour it into the boiling water.  Together we stirred it as I lowered the heat and waited for the grains to absorb the hot water and soften in the pan.  We sang together Dilly’s song from last year’s preschool Halloween musical, “Stirring and stirring and stirring my brew…ooooooooo…ooooooooo” in unison as we took turns scraping the bottom of the pan.  None of us cared to eat charred oatmeal.

“Mom!” I heard Shelly call from the family room.

“What, Hon?” I called back from the kitchen, removing the pot from the flame and placing it on a trivet on the table.  “Want to get the bowls, Dil?”

“Yes, Mom.”  She crawled down from the stool and headed to the cabinet as I met Shelly in the family room.  I looked at her, at the rubble on the television screen, and the words that were superimposed over the pictures, trying to make out what the newscaster was saying over the sinking feeling in my heart.

“Flight #1082 from Dallas to Tampa….”

No.  It couldn’t be his flight.  I ran back into the kitchen, pulled my phone off the charger, and went immediately to the notes section where I saved his itinerary.  I took in my breath, looking for the flight number.  1082.  1082.  Nope, no 1082 for him. His flight number was 2044.  I breathed a sigh of relief, but my heart wouldn’t leave my throat.

I couldn’t shake the fear away through oatmeal and raisins, through walking Dilly to her bus stop. I kissed her goodbye and headed back to our front door, wondering in what order to accomplish my to-do list.

I climbed the stairs to dress for my run and decided to check email before I put my playlist on my iPod.  I skimmed through ads for Children’s Place and Gap Kids sales, through notifications that lunch accounts were getting low (already?) and an invitation to attend a PTA breakfast.

Then I saw his name.

I selected the email, and began to read his words:

Hey, Lover.  Didn’t want to wake you with a text.  Took an earlier flight so I could be more prepared for my meeting in Tampa today.  Hitting lunch with Dave, dinner with the team, and I’ll be back on the red-eye early in the a.m. to kiss you good morning.
Love you always,
Shaun

Below his email, he pasted his new itinerary.

No.

I couldn’t bring myself to read any farther.  A flight change?  Why?  I knew he was nervous about his meetings and presentation, but what was another half hour on the ground, really?  Or even not on the ground?

No.

I shook my head as the number appeared below…black and white…I tried to make my eyes focus to see it, read it, make it real…but my vision was clouded and my eyes were filling and moving and beginning to overflow.  Still, I had to see, to confirm, to know.

My eyes jumped around the page looking for the numbers, any numbers but what I feared.

Then, I saw them.

1

0

8

2

No.

Not Shaun.  Not the man I met on a weekend in the Keys a decade and a half ago.  Not the man I corresponded with over email and text and international calling plans while I finished a semester abroad before graduation.  Not the man I had given my heart and soul to, who had just this morning rinsed his bowl and placed it in the dishwasher to make my day easier.

He couldn’t be….

I couldn’t say the word out loud.  I went back downstairs to the television, found breaking news on the same channel Shelly had watched only moments ago when I had assured her that Dad was on another flight.  Of course, he was on another flight.

“…little chance of survivors…143 passengers…12 crew…mechanical failure…”

NO!

I felt my hands around my knees, my arms pulling in tightly, and my body rocking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth as I once rocked our three little ones in turn. The three little ones with his eyes or his nose or his smile.

I closed my eyes over the glare of the television screen.

And I wept.

Flags

I walked into the almost empty room, noting the somber expressions on once-familiar faces, and moved toward Joan, who had already taken her place by our son.

I took my steps carefully through the aisle, shaking a few hands along the way, until I reached for Joan’s freshly-lotioned hand and felt her squeeze mine back gently.  I wondered if she took strength from me or gave it back.

Then I saw him.  I would like to say that our eyes met, but his were, of course, closed.  I placed my hand gently on his chest, ran my fingers down his tie as if to straighten it like I did when he was about twelve years old.

I could see us then, in front of the mirror at the old house by the lake, getting ready for Easter Sunday service.  Joan and I had taken him to purchase his first real suit and tie, and I stood behind him and helped him learn the way to cross one end over the other and secure a Double Windsor knot.  I taught him how to tuck the tail into his shirt as it was a little longer than needed.  “Our secret,” I smiled as I put my finger to my lips and shared a laugh with him.

I wondered who had tied his tie today.

Joan looked over to me and dabbed my eye with a small, white handkerchief.

The caretaker…or whatever he was called…walked over toward us and quietly whispered, “Are you ready?”

Joan nodded for both of us, and I pulled my hand away from his tie, letting my fingers brush his cool hands.  She stood by and held me around my waist, and I again wondered if her actions were for her benefit or my own.  We took a step back together to make space for the man, and he carefully closed the top of the casket.  Joan turned her face into my shoulder to muffle the sobbing sound coming from inside her.

The man placed familiar fabric over the top, a perfect stitching of white, blue, and the color of my son’s blood, spilt in the name of freedom.

Nineteen really is too young to die.