**Tentatively titled Robena Finch, my second novel is about grief, love and the power of telling the truth. Robena has recently lost her mother to cancer, but she holds a secret so dark it threatens to break her down completely. Hiding behind anxiety attacks and caring for a grief-stricken father in Niagara Falls, Robena tries to forget about her mother, her ex-boyfriend and her whole life back in Toronto. She manages to do it (sort of ) until she meets a quiet, handsome man who is grieving for a dead sister. And then the dead sister comes to visit as well…
The following is an exchange between Robena and her father. More excerpts to come
Gregory Finch looks older than his forty-eight years. His hair has been a dark grey since I was eight and he could give two shits about his clothes. His complexion is pale and his energy low. He seems only to want to be forgotten, but I won’t do it. I won’t. Dad is funny and warm and hopeful, deep down. Beneath his grief and string of bad luck, he is the man I remember from early childhood. This is the man I fight for. This is the man I see.
“Bean? Is that you?”
“Yeah, Dad. It’s me. Can you turn the volume down a touch? I could hear your show halfway down the street.”
Sitting in his favourite brown velour wingback, he grumbles under his breath as he reaches between his leg and the arm of the chair to grasp the remote. Surprisingly, he turns the TV off.
“What’s wrong, Bean? You look tired.” His concern is genuine. We all watch out for one another’s shifts in moods and appearances since Mom’s death. “Come sit by me. Tell me about your day.”
I flop down on the chesterfield belly-first and shut my eyes tight. I wish there was a drug to take the pain of grief away. I’ve tried. I’ve used painkillers, wine and weed. But still it persists. It beats on in spite of me, threatening to swallow me up. And then the guilt sets in… As if my attempts to numb are nothing more than attempts to forget her. My eyes fill with tears. I bury my head in cushions.
I feel a hand tentatively rub my back. “Did you have one of your episodes today?”
Remaining where I am, I nod slightly.
And that’s it. Sympathy like that from my father is enough to break a thousand dams within me. I weep for what seems like hours. I just sink into the softness of the sofa while my father helplessly rubs my back.
Later he says: “Maybe we should see someone.”
My head whips up. I know that he means a therapist…a grief counselor. “Are you serious?”
He nods. “I can’t stand to see you like this. Mike has Tanya up there in Ottawa to see him through. But you and me…we just have each other. And I don’t know what to do anymore. Do you?”
I shake my head. “I’ll ask Fil tomorrow to recommend someone. Or maybe Vicky.”
Dad grunts in approval and moves shakily to the kitchen. More coffee. He’s been wearing the same blue sweat pants for four days straight. And for three straight days I’ve pretended not to notice. I make a mental note to pick them up off his floor after he’s gone to sleep and throw them in the wash.
It’s been ten months since Mom died. Her birthday looms over us like a shadow, pervasive and thick. It makes me sick. Do the dead get birthdays?
I text Mike: Do the dead get birthdays?
Thirty seconds later a reply: She does.
Normally I avoid my reflection in the mirror, but for some reason tonight counts. I’ve never hung out with Vicky. She intimidates the hell out of me and not just because she is psychic. She’s confident too…and sultry. I’ve never used that word to describe anyone, but Vicky just is. I feel five feet tall and three hundred pounds standing next to her.
Observing myself, I lift up my sweater to glimpse my stomach. It’s smaller. I’ve never been thin, but the past year has taken a toll. I’ve lost weight without intention, without thought. It’s not a good look. I’m soft and drawn. I need sunlight and bright food. Maybe tomorrow.
I pull off my black sweater and replace it with button-up pale pink shirt. The blue jeans can stay. I’ll clean off the salt stains. My hair hangs in accidental brown waves. I pull on an Alice band and tuck it behind my ears. My eyes are blue and large, my lips full. The only makeup I can handle is mascara. And red lipstick. Crimson red lipstick.
There’s a light knock on the door and I hear my dad clear his throat. I tell him to come in.
“Wow, Bean. You look great. What’s the occasion?” He says without a second thought.
“Nothing, I’m going out. Vicky asked me.”
He knits his brow in what appears to be confusion, trying to remember who Vicky is. And then the light goes on. “Miss Vicky?”
“Right. I only saw her the one time, but holy jumpin’ is she tall! You and your mom were always so petite. I’m not used to the tall ones, Bean.”
“I know, Dad.”
“…Pretty sure that in a fight she’d have me.”
“Yes, Dad. I get it,” I say, half-laughing.
He winks at me and walks away. Off to the kitchen for more coffee before he reads himself to sleep. While mom was sick it was cancer books. After she passed it was the Margaret Atwood novels she used to read. Maybe he felt guilty about never showing an interest? But now he was reading poker how-tos and Vegas memoirs. The Falls is a far-cry from Las Vegas, but Dad needs distraction. He’s immersing himself in something new while he heals.
Perhaps I should take a cue.
© 2014 Danielle Boonstra