Sneak Peak – Spirit of the Book

Well hello there, fancy bumping into you here in the middle of the week! I’m afraid I have nothing to offer you at the moment. I’ve not even put the kettle on yet!

But if you fancy it I could let you have a little sneak preview of the opening scenes of my upcoming second novel “Spirit of the Book”.

I must confess part of the reason I’m posting this is to try and get myself moving to edit and publish!

Spirit of the Book

Ellie took a deep breath and wiped the palm of her hand over her jeans before taking hold of the key and raising it to the lock.

Slowly, carefully, she fed the key into its home, her knuckles turning white as millimetre by millimetre it slipped silently into the lock until her fingers brushed against the wood of the door. With an equal measure of concentration Ellie turned the key, her brow furrowed and her bottom lip caught unintentionally between her teeth until at last the lock gave way and the door was released.

The key slid free of the lock as Ellie quietly pushed the door open and stepped inside, turning to close the door behind her, manually turning the lock once more rather than letting it noisily close itself to.

Ellie let out the breath she hadn’t realised she was holding and dropped the key into her pocket.

The hallway was almost completely dark, the winter evening affording little light and the street lights not quite reaching the small stained glass window in the door. Ellie, however, needed no illumination to find her way. She knew every inch of the hallway, how many steps it would take until she was at the first doorway to her left and how many more until the second. Just two more careful steps and she would be at the bottom of the staircase and then a quick sprint upwards would take her to her bedroom, her sanctuary. Just one more…

“Is that you girl?”

Ellie’s head fell forward until her chin almost rested on her chest and her shoulders slumped as if a huge weight had just been rested upon her.

Just this once she had hoped to get up the stairs, just once, was it really too much to ask for?

“Girl?”

Apparently it was.

Pushing open the second doorway off the hall Ellie almost gagged as she was assaulted by a wave of cigarette smoke and perhaps something a little less legal mixed in here and there. Stepping into the room Ellie tried her best to breath as shallowly as possible, partly in an attempt to avoid taking in too much of the noxious smoke but mainly to avoid the chance of the smoke making her cough. Ellie had only once given in to the need to cough in the face of such smoke, voicing her distaste just a moment before realising her mistake. Ellie had worn long sleeves a lot that summer, it had been the best way to hide the bruises.

“Well?”

Sat upon, or rather sunken into, an old battered brown leather armchair the woman held out her hand to Ellie. The palm was wrinkled and her fingers nicotine stained, the long nails were painted red but that had clearly been done some time ago as they were now mostly chipped.

The woman’s bleached blonde hair, that some time earlier must have been styled and lacquered into place was now escaping its clips and pins to fall haphazardly around her face. Her make up, originally immaculately applied was smeared and faded, the dark circled beneath her sunken green eyes emphasised by smudges of mascara.

She had once been called beautiful but the woman was now just a shadow of that girl, the spirit of joy had gone from her eyes to be replaced by bitterness and the soft song of her voice had given way to harshness.

With a reluctant internal sigh Ellie handed over a small envelope of money which the woman snatched from her hand before squirrelling it away in the handbag at her side.

“How are you mum?” Ellie asked with a half smile, a question that was met with a sneer before her mother returned her attention to the cigarette in her hand, her daughter dismissed without another word.

Silently Ellie retreated from the room, allowing herself lungs full of clearer air once the door behind her had been closed to.

There was a time when her mother’s blatant disregard for her had been a cause of great sadness for Ellie, but that time had long passed. It didn’t matter any more. She had other things to concern her and her mother’s distaste for her was something she had learned to live with from a very early age. Now, at twenty two years old, it barely even registered.

Stephanie Forrester stared at the closed door for some time after her daughter had gone, her eyes not really seeing the nicotine stained paintwork or the faded wallpaper around the door frame that was beginning to lift and curl at the edges.

The décor Stephanie could see was glistening bright paintwork and fresh colourful wallpaper, just the way it had been, the way he’d done it. Before. Before it all changed. Long before her.

Stubbing out her cigarette in an already overflowing ash tray Stephanie got to her feet, kicking aside an empty wine bottle as she moved towards the mantle. One hand reached out to grasp the only ornamental item that had been placed there. An old photograph in a simple silver frame. Unlike everything else in the room the frame still glistened and the glass shone brightly allowing the smiles from the faces trapped inside to radiate from it.

Stephanie ran a finger slowly over the man’s face. His was the most handsome face she had ever seen. He would have looked at home on the silver screen of the Hollywood classics or on the pages of any fashion magazine promoting the latest styles or fragrance. He was neither of those things however, and if his looks ever caused heads to turn he rarely ever noticed. His heart was already well and truly captured. He was smiling widely in the photograph, his face filled with love and pride as he held out a champagne glass towards the camera, raised in celebration.

The young woman beside him was mirroring his actions, her head tiled slightly, subconsciously, towards him as they shared a toast for the camera.

Her hair seemed to shine in the camera’s flash, a golden blonde that she had spent hours weaving into place, allowing no single hair to go astray. Her eyes were a sparkling shade of green and even on a still photograph you could see how they danced, how they shone.

The photograph had been taken on Stephanie Forrester’s eighteenth birthday and, unlike all other years when she had been thrown an elaborate party, that year she had chosen to celebrate it with the one person who meant more to her than the whole world. Her father.

David Forrester had met his wife when he was just fifteen years old, his teenage heart had been captured completely and he had pursued the object of his affections relentlessly. Reams of bad teenage poetry and wilting supermarket discount flowers had been left on her doorstep until the fourteen year old Joanna Fielding had finally agreed to go on a date with him.

From that evening on the two had become inseparable and no one was surprise, or even objected, when they announced their engagement on Joanna’s seventeenth birthday.

Two years later the couple married in a small, simple but beautiful ceremony which had left barely a dry eye in the house, certainly not David’s who had openly wept at the alter when his bride swore her oath of undying love for him.

David’s job in a bank and Joanna’s work as a medical secretary gave the couple a comfortable life and they were truly the epitome of a happy marriage, nothing and no one could ever come between them, theirs was a love that would stand the test of time.

Joanna had almost burst with joy the morning she took the pregnancy test and David had raced to the spare room, eager to begin changing it into a nursery for their new daughter.

“It will be a girl,” David had said with certainty, “You just wait and see, a beautiful girl just like her mother… we could call her Joanna, a beautiful name.”

“No no,” Joanna had objected, “She should have a name of her own… how about Stephanie? I like Stephanie.”

So, with her pregnancy only a few weeks along Joanna and David’s first child already had a name and neither of them ever considered the idea that their baby could turn out to be a boy. Even when friends and family insisted that the baby’s room should be painted in a neutral colour like yellow the couple had stood firm. They knew, somehow they just knew, and baby Stephanie would be come home to a room designed for a tiny princess.

Joanna’s pregnancy had progressed uneventfully, her belly slowly filling and swelling as the child within began to grow and she would grab David’s hand eagerly each time the baby kicked, both of them revelling in the growing excitement for the new life that was about to join them.

When Joanna finally went into labour they were completely prepared, overnight bag packed by the door and the fastest route to the hospital mapped out, with several variations to take into account the time of day. Nothing could go wrong.

Then everything went wrong.

David stood by his new daughter’s cot in a daze. She was so small, so perfect and so innocent. How could she have caused so much damage?

The baby girl cried out, her hands reaching up, grasping for someone but David turned away, his cheeks soaked with silent tears, he was surprised to find he had any left to cry.

“Your baby needs her daddy,” a nurse had said kindly, her hand gently touching at David’s shoulder but he had shrugged it off aggressively.

“And I need my wife,” he had snapped back before racing from the room, desperate for air, desperate to get away.

David didn’t stop running until he reached the small chapel at the far end of the hospital. He had never believed in god and felt he had even less reason to now, but something still drew him in. The room seemed filled with a peace that he had felt nowhere else in the whole building and he slid silently into a seat, his head falling forward to rest on the seat in front of him.

It had all happened so quickly, or so it had seemed, David had been shocked when he caught a glimpse of a clock that several hours had passed.

One minute everything had been going to plan and then the next the midwife was rushing from the room, doctors swarmed in, words like “complications” filled the air as they ushered him from the room. David could see the fear in his wife’s eyes as the doors closed on him and he called out to her that he loved her. He hoped she had heard him.

Then the doctor was telling David how sorry he was, nothing more they could do, she had lost too much blood. The words swam around David’s head and he followed blindly when the nurse suggested he went to see the baby.

“Can I help you?”

David looked up at the sound of the man’s soft voice, shaking his head, there was no help to be found, not here and not today.

“No, I just…” David looked at the man. He was a small man, probably only a little over five feet and his slender build made him look even more petite, David suspected that the small moustache and goatee beard were an attempt to make him look more his age than the boy he might have appeared if he were clean shaven. The white dog collar marked him as the chapels, what was it? Priest? Vicar? Minister? David realised he didn’t know the different between all those titles, but whatever he was the man was still smiling at him, a look of sympathy in his eyes. “I just needed some space,” David finished, his gaze lowering to his feet. His shoes looked scuffed, when did he last polish them? Joanna would be cross if… no, Joanna wouldn’t be cross ever again.

“Well I’m around if you need to talk,” The man in the dog collar said kindly and turned away.

“Wait,” David said, “You, you believe in God right?”

“Of course,” the man replied, his hand touching at his dog collar, “It rather goes with the job.” His smile was kindly and warm but David did not return it.

“So tell me this, if there is some God out there watching over us then when do so many bad things happen? Why do good people die and the evil go on living? What sort of God would let that happen eh?”

“I can’t answer that,” the man replied, he understood the question and had heard it countless times in one variation or another, grief looked for answers, for blame, but that was not always to be found. “I can only believe that God has plans for us and although we might not understand them that doesn’t mean they aren’t for the greater good.”

“No,” David got to his feet, shaking his head. “No, sorry that just won’t do… no God would just let my wife die like that, there is no God.”

“I am sorry for your loss.”

“Tell that to my daughter,” David said, his lips curled in a snarl as he spat the words out, “To my little baby girl who is never going to know her mother… who doesn’t have her mother…”

“Or her father right now it seems.”

“How dare you…” David’s anger subsided as quickly as it has arisen and a torrent of tears cascaded down his cheeks while his shoulders shook in time to his silent sobs. He accepted the embrace of the man in the dog collar who believed that his God had taken Joanna for a reason and wept in the man’s arms until he was spent. “I have to go,” David said finally, his breath coming in hiccuping gulps, “I have a daughter who needs me.”

“God be with you.”

David did not reply.

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