I am happy to share with you the first few pages of my new novel, I'LL BE YOUR BLUE SKY. The novel is moves back and forth in time, between the stories of two women. Here's an excerpt from Edith's part of the novel. I hope you enjoy it! (It goes on sale 3/6.)
It was what she would remember always: how the second she stepped inside, before she’d so much as taken her first full breath of new air, she was struck by the feeling—the understanding, the certainty—however improbable, that the house was Joseph. Not merely that it felt like something he would choose or that she saw his handiwork everywhere—fresh paint, thick as cream; refinished pine floors; green apples in a glass bowl—but that it was him, sturdy and open, light swooping in through every window, forthright and decent and kind. She would not have supposed that a house could be kind, but this one was.
It smelled like sawdust and lemon oil and reckless salt wind. The tile countertop was pale green edged in black. In the next room, two chairs—modern ones made of curved rosewood and with square gold cushions—faced the fireplace. Three tall windows ran along the back wall, each a lambent rectangle of outside world: emerald yard, iris sky, and a platinum flash that Joseph said was a canal leading out into the bay.
Edith stood still and straight in her going-away suit (even though they’d gone only a few miles down the road) and let herself be held by the house, like a firefly cupped between two careful hands. She felt Joseph waiting behind her, halfway inside the door, one foot on the smooth floor, one on the gray-painted boards of the front porch. He had not carried her over the threshold, knowing she would prefer to walk in and to see the place, for just this first time, alone.
They’d been married two hours earlier in a centuries-old, tiny country church with a clear Palladian window overlooking a bean field, a view Edith would not have expected to be beautiful but was, the breeze threading like fingers through the low rows of ruffled leaves. Edith would have married Joseph in the middle of that field or barefoot on the sand dunes or on a street corner with taxis honking their horns. She would have married him in her oldest dress. But as she’d stood in that church, she had been grateful to be in white lace, her skirt belled like the Campanula carpatica flowers from her childhood backyard. The dress; the window; the chapel’s vaulted ceiling; the quiet voice of the rector; and Joseph’s mother, radiant in her pew, smiling and weeping at the same time: all of it kindled the moment into something bright and splendid. All Edith needed was him, of course, but Joseph deserved splendor.
His mother, Anne, was the only wedding guest, although Joseph’s friends could have filled the church and spilled out into the churchyard, into the old cemetery with its tilted stones, into the bean field. But he’d known that she would have no one, her father gone, her few close friends scattered far and wide. He hadn’t even wanted his mother there for fear his bride, though long accustomed to motherlessness, would feel her father’s absence—he’d been dead ten months—even more keenly. But Edith had insisted on his mother. Anne had loved Joseph unflaggingly his whole life, had written him a letter every day he’d been in Europe photographing the war and even after, when he’d stayed to, as he put it, tidy up. It seemed only just that she bear witness. More than just; the thing was impossible without her.
Edith explored the house, which was larger than she’d expected, bigger than most of the surrounding bayside cottages in this Delaware seaside town, a place Joseph had visited for a week as a child the summer before his father died and had never forgotten. On the first floor, in addition to the kitchen and living room, there was a small bedroom and bath and a large closet that Joseph, with the help of a plumber, had converted into a darkroom. Upstairs, there were two more bedrooms, one big enough to serve double duty as an office, another bathroom, this one with an enormous claw-foot tub, and a small sitting room with a sofa and a squatty black woodstove polished to a shine.
Up a narrow flight of stairs was Joseph and Edith’s bedroom: sun sifting drowsily through windows hung with rose-bouquet-printed barkcloth, a bed taking up most of the room, an oval braided rag rug on the wide plank floor at its foot. And everywhere hydrangeas, enough to make Edith gasp, great bunches billowing from vases on every surface: deep pink on one dresser, luna moth green on the other; light blue and mauve lacecap on the antique writing desk; a single, heavy purple pom-pom nodding from the sink in the bathroom; and next to the bed, a bouquet of bridal white. Edith smiled at the memory of Joseph early that morning, marching into the hotel restaurant with his shirt sleeves rolled up, gardening gloves stuffed into the pocket of his pants, and a sly smile. He had refused to explain his whereabouts, but now she imagined him at daybreak, clipping blooms, maybe even purloining them from people’s yards, striding around town with armfuls of flowers, loading up his car with every shade of sunrise to decorate this room at the top of their house. summer wedding guest dresses
The house had been part of the proposal.
“I’ve found us a home, Edie, and now you really have to marry me so we can go live in it.”
“We could live in it anyway,” she’d said, tracing the outline of his lips with her forefinger. “We could be a tremendous scandal.”
He had laughed and kissed her and told her all about it. About the house but also the canals—a network of them, like streets made of water—tranquil except for the occasional leaping fish or tiny, pulsing, gossamer sea nettle, barely there, a scrap of living creature like a floating whisper. About the salt marshes and inland bays, and, of course, the ocean.
“You and I have seen too much these past few years, Edie. You with losing your dad; me with the war and the tidying up afterward. We need fresh air, open water, sun rising out of the ocean every evening. We need the ocean, Edie. Can you imagine it?”
She just about could, but she had to ask, “I can see being there most of the year, but what about winter? A beach town might be especially dreary in winter, with freezing wind coming off the water and gray, gray skies. What will we do then?”
Edith shut her eyes, dropped backward onto the bed, and remembered Joseph’s face when she’d asked that question, surprised and bemused, his brow furrowed, as if the answer were obvious.
“Why, I’ll be your blue sky,” he’d said.
What could she do, what could anyone do with a man like that but marry him and live in his house near the ocean?
For a moment, her eyes still shut, Edith lay on her back in the center of her marriage bed inside the house that was Joseph—down to the banisters and the light switches and the fat stove and the writing desk slender legged as a cat—listening to the house, breathing in the clean perfume of it, and then she opened her eyes and, for the first time, saw that the ceiling was painted sky blue with here and there a wisp of white cloud, and she was certain that there had never been so much gratitude in the history of the world.
From down below, she heard a faint whine, which she knew must be the back door opening, so she jumped up off the bed to look out the center window. Joseph stood on the back lawn at the edge of the canal, his hands in his pockets, his wedding jacket slung over one arm. Edith tugged open the window and called out, “Joseph!”
He spun around and stared up at her, his face breaking into a broad smile.
“Hey!” he shouted.
“Oh, my darling Joseph. Thank you.” It came out hoarse, too hushed for him to hear, so she cleared her throat and sang it, “Thank you!”
He opened out his arms and said, “Look at all this. Ours. Can you believe it?”
“Yes,” she said, laughing. “Yes, I can!”
“Come down, Edie. Come down and see the rest!”
“Oh, my darling,” she whispered once more before she wiped her eyes, kicked off her shoes, shimmied out of her stockings, and ran down to where he waited.