When he’s sleeping, Daddy looks almost peaceful. That’s why I walk toward him, lean down and inhale the dark, spicy scent of his cologne. I pretend to adjust the quilt Mama spread over him, so it covers his shoulders. Then I get brave and lean in for a hug.
Hugging is not my thing—touching objects is complicated enough. Generally, I touch people the way I would a live grenade: quick and light as I can, and only if I have to. The last few years with Daddy, hugs are more of a barometer for where he is each day. His story feels a bit like a sliding scale. Instead of being all in the present with a clear past, scenes from his whole life seem to bubble up and take turns rising to the top. I hold nothing back when I wrap my arms around his shoulders. He’s having a good day. I’m glad.
When I lean back up, I catch a glimpse of Mama standing in the doorway. She’s looking away, mouth stretched taut.
“He looks so peaceful,” I say. “Has he had a good day?”
“Better than most,” Mama says. The truth hangs between us as heavily as the premonition that’s been threatening to come all afternoon. We don’t come out and say “Alzheimer’s” in our family. That’s not how McCraes handle things. We say he’s “absent-minded” or “feeling his age” or “having a hard time.”
I walk back to where Mama is standing. She holds herself stiff and straight as a board, arms crossed. She doesn’t understand why I can’t hug her as easily as Daddy. I want to reach out to her next, maybe catch her hand or something, but I can’t. Even on a peaceful day, hugging just about drains me to the core. I feel like a dishrag, all wrung out.
Title: Reluctant Cassandra
Author: Ellen Smith
Genre: Southern Women’s Fiction
Nothing much changes in historic Eagle Valley, Virginia. That’s a good thing for Arden McCrae. It’s easier to manage her visions of the future when there isn’t much to see. Arden would rather stay buried in the cool certainty that comes with stories of the past. Fortunately, running the local antique store and keeping up with the Eagle Valley Historical Society gives her plenty of history to hide behind.
When her aging parents are forced to sell their farm to pay for medical care, Arden sees big changes ahead. The sale threatens the historic status of Eagle Valley, and Arden’s own store is in peril. Meanwhile, her father’s rapidly advancing Alzheimer’s keeps him locked in a heartbreaking past. The rest of the McCrae family is left to make difficult decisions for the days to come.
The future that nobody wants is descending fast, and Arden must face the visions she’s always avoided. Soon, her town is divided over their historic status and her family is shattered by her father’s declining health. Arden will have to choose whether to fight to preserve the past or learn to embrace the future.
Ellen Smith is a freelance writer and editor, forging ahead into the world of fiction writing. When she isn’t fiddling with sentence structure or analyzing plot devices, she can be found reading, sewing, or avoiding housework. She lives with her family near Washington, D.C.