Category Archives: excerpt

Can you get “it” out of your system?

A friend asked if I hadn’t “got it out of my system” yet. And yes, there’s an underlying theme of abuse, forgiveness and recovery in my three novels. And yes, I’ve sort of got it out of my system, but, like a tendency toward migraines, “it” comes back whenever circumstances, politics, current events etc trigger it. My fourth novel will be different though; it’s a mystery, for a start. But it’s still about wounded characters, and abuse of any type will cause those wounds. For me, reading and writing are about seeing through different eyes and realizing life’s not as black and white as I’d imagined; about asking how and why others might be different from me; and about recognizing this is a broken world where none of us are perfect; where difference teaches; and otherness helps us better see ourselves. We none of us have the right to claim another’s imperfections more “wrong” than our own in this world. After all, I can’t eat wheat, though the Bible tells me it’s good…

Which leads to my other books. I’m delightedly seeing my Bible stories republished – same covers, same stories, same “inspired by faith and science” theme (the publisher’s imprint is even called “Inspired by Faith & Science,” an imprint of “Ink-Filled Stories” who have published the novels), and lots more illustrations. There are even “Collectors’ Color Editions” coming out. Getting it all linked up on Amazon will take time. I’m guessing getting the books into real bookstores might take even longer. But it’s exciting (to me at least), and it fits my theme of a broken world, where brokenness needs to be forgiven.

So here’s an excerpt from “Bethlehem’s Baby,” coming soon to print:

In the beginning, God created the universe. He made stars and planets. He made the sun, moon and earth. He made mountains and seas, flowers and trees, birds and bees, and animals and people. And everything was good.

God made the world like a painter creating a beautiful picture. He mixed its colors together, designed its patterns, and added light and dark in all the right places. When God finished painting, the earth was good enough to hang on the wall of heaven.

God made the world like an author writing a book. He worked out the details, solved all the mysteries, and linked all the pieces together. When God finished writing, he gave us his words in the Bible so we could read them. Meanwhile angels rejoiced to know what he’d done.

God made the world like a programmer designing a computer game. He set up all the scenes, made voices for the characters, and planned how all the rules would make everything work. But computer games often have bugs in them. Our world was so good when God finished making it, there wasn’t a single mistake in it anywhere.

But God didn’t hang the world on a wall when he’d finished. He didn’t leave the Bible on a bookshelf to look nice. And he didn’t sell his program to people who wanted to play humans on their computer. Instead, God made the world like a gardener who works in a park. When he’d finished planning and planting everything, God stepped right into the park to help the people look after it. God’s park was a beautiful place called the Garden of Eden.

God worked in his Garden of Eden every day, feeding animals, helping bees, watering flowers, cleaning the rivers, and pouring sweetness into beautiful berries hanging from the trees. God walked and talked with the people in Eden, loving them like a father loves his children. He taught them to play and he kept them perfectly safe. No one was ever hungry in the Garden of Eden. No one was tired or sick. Nobody ever had to work too much and no one was ever bored. Even plants and animals were perfectly safe in Eden, everything beautifully in balance, living and dying in due season with no sickness, no loneliness, no sorrow and no pain.

But then the people in God’s garden, the people God had chosen to be his very own children, broke God’s rules. They didn’t care that the rules were there to keep them safe, or else they didn’t remember. They just wanted to do as they pleased and have fun and pretend they were in charge. So they ate the fruit of a special tree that wasn’t theirs to eat…

And so the world was broken.

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https://www.amazon.com/Bethlehems-Five-Minute-Bible-Story-Sheila-Deeth-ebook/dp/B07K1RNRHR/

 

How can we forgive?

From Subtraction:

Noise filled the forest that morning, growing louder as the day went on. It was almost like a party. Crowds, of young and old alike, thronged the paths, marched through trees, and gathered around the duck pond, the bench on the hill, and the parking lot. There was scarcely space for anyone to hide. But he knew his place. He’d watched them setting up sound systems, with amplifiers and speakers, wires like vines tangling with branches and leaves. He’d heard them testing, “One, two three,” and he’d almost smiled as birds and squirrels raucously answered the sound. But he hadn’t known what they were doing it for. He’d pretended not to care. He’d pretended not to hear those fate-filled words, Memorial for Amelia, so long after death and burial had rendered them meaningless.

A paper bag containing two whole burgers waited in the trashcan—food cast away by the murderer’s daughter-in-law who didn’t seem hungry, though she kept on buying more meals. The victim’s mother didn’t eat of course, and was quietly fading away. She stood near her nemesis now, each with that cone of silence hanging over her head, each separately alive though they seemed like they’d rather be dead. Poised by the makeshift stage, they waited ahead of the crowds while priests and pastors, imam and rabbi, passed by in robes of pomp and intensity.

Meanwhile the stranger stayed hidden under trees. The white cat twined around his feet. “Garnet,” he whispered, remembering its name from long ago.

“I lost my daughter,” Evie said into an ice-cream microphone, candy pink and much too cheerful for her frozen face. Her thin voice snatched at the air, while electronics caught the sound, amplifying silence to crackling booms. Confidence faded backward into the trees then reflected again. Is she looking at me? “I lost my daughter right over there.” She pointed. He was glad he’d hidden himself this side of the pond instead. People stared. “A dog found her and dug her up. She was buried like a bone. So then we put her in a coffin. Were you there? Did you see? She was so beautiful.”

He, the Prowler, had seen the coffin, but he hadn’t seen the child, grown old and still. He thought she must have been beautiful; she must have looked like her mother though she’d had her father’s eyes. He shuffled his feet, wondering where the dog had buried that particular, earth-shattering, beautiful feast.

The microphone fell from Evie’s hands. He almost wanted to run and comfort her. But the other woman, the evil Lydia, picked it up and handed it back. She held her arms around the broken mother, for a while, then let her speak again.

“You know what I prayed sometimes?” Evie asked.

What? Evie prayed? The Prowler thought she’d given up prayer long ago, when God stopped answering, and the child’s diagnosis remained unforgivably unchanged.

“For my Amelia? You know what I prayed? You know what she was like.”

He had no right; he couldn’t know, because he’d left her behind.

“I prayed that God would protect my little girl, because I wouldn’t always be here for her, because a mother’s meant to die before her children isn’t she? I never expected I’d have to bury her.”

A father shouldn’t have to bury his children either.

Evie sobbed again. “I thought, you know, the same things you all thought—about how she’d never learn to cope on her own.”

He’d thought it too. He’d known. He had to leave before his daughter’s future ceased to exist, before the blame became too great for any of them to bear. But Evie always insisted on believing there’d be hope; sweet Evie, ever betrayed by his denial and her broken child. So she stood, talking now about prayer.

“I asked God to help. So I guess God must’ve decided she wouldn’t have to cope. I guess God took her away instead of taking me. I don’t like how it happened. I’m sure she didn’t like it. But God took her, and now my Amelia’s okay.”

Evie sobbed, the sound hard and fierce, as loudspeakers turned it to shouting over the crowd. “Now she’s never going to suffer anymore, and I don’t need to be scared for her.” It might have been a cry of triumph, but Evie’s voice faded, strangling the final words. She wrung her hands and held the microphone low against her waist, a leaden weight that needed to fall to the ground.

Meanwhile the Prowler crouched over the cat, burying his face in fur. He tried not to cry, tried to make no sound, and prayed he wouldn’t be heard or seen at all.

“I guess it’s me who has to cope now on my own,” Evie continued, “not Amelia. And I just want to ask you all to help, ’cause it’s so very, very hard.”

He couldn’t help. His heart was stone, and he couldn’t put those shattered pieces together, never again. He really was a shiftless, worthless soul.

When the Prowler looked up, the other woman had taken Evie’s position on the makeshift stage. “I don’t know what I lost,” Lydia said, evil Lydia, unwitting daughter-in-law of a murderer. She faced the crowd’s accusation with a gaze that trembled and wavered even more than her hands. She held the shivering microphone close to her nose, and clutched her stomach as if in pain. “I lost my father-in-law I suppose. And then it was like he’d never really been there for me to lose, like I’d never really known him. I feel like everything’s sliding away, like it’s all an illusion. Nothing’s certain anymore.”

Curled low to the ground, crouched like a dog beside the cat, the stranger knew what Lydia meant. Nothing was certain, and life slips away like water in the stream. He remembered where he’d heard her name, Lydia Markham, from that distant part of his life. The cat wasn’t hers; it was her neighbor’s, and she was married to the son from Markham’s garage, just along the road. He needed to hate her, because the man from that garage was the man in the woods, the Paradise Predator turned Murderer, the man who killed the child.

Fair-haired Lydia looked around the crowd, seeing so many faces, but not the man’s. She confronted their knowledge of her father-in-law and called it their mistake too. “Did you take your cars to him? Some of you did, I know. If you talked to him in the garage, if you met him on the street, aren’t you wondering the same things as I am? How could we not have known? How could we all not have known?”

But no one had known that the man who mended cars would break the child.

—If the stranger had stayed, if he’d still been there in her life, could he have kept her from the predator in the woods? Could he have made her safe? Would he have known?

“I lost my memories of my children’s grandfather, and my husband’s father.”

—He’d lost his child, the life he’d thrown away when he left that day.

“All the things I thought he was, the things he could have been…”

—But Amelia could never be more, would never have been anything at all. She didn’t deserve what had happened to her.

“And then my little boy comes up to me and says, ‘I still love him.’”

—Does Evie love me still? Did Amelia?

People in the crowd turned toward each other, anger perhaps on their faces, disgust or something else. “My son still loves him,” Lydia announced firmly, sudden confidence infusing her voice. “His memories, my son’s memories, he’s holding onto them. They were real, those things he remembers; they’re part of my son, part of who he is. And I’m thinking maybe that’s alright, because I’m not sure how to tell him it’s all wrong.”

The Prowler sobbed out loud, knowing everything was wrong, everything since the day he left, since he’d thrown his own memories away. Afraid of little Amelia at three, he’d never known her at seven, at eleven, thirteen. He’d lost that right.

“Everything that’s happened, all these awful things, they don’t change the past.”

—They don’t change the fact that he wasn’t there when he was needed.

“The only thing that’s changing is the future.”

—He had none.

Hearing nothing now but a roaring pain in his ears, the Prowler crouched to the ground. A child’s high trill broke through, impossibly, but he wouldn’t listen. “Daddy, it’s okay. Daddy? Daddy?” The cat clawed his knees and he was still hiding under trees.

“I wonder,” evil Lydia asked, still standing in front of the crowd, still speaking into the microphone. “Is it possible for someone to be two people at once?”

—Could that be him? Could he be lover and betrayer, father and stranger both? Was that why he felt so torn apart?

He crouched in the shadows, waiting for the crowds to depart from the park again. He was well hidden. But then the stranger, husband, prowler, devourer, or father, felt a hand on his shoulder. He heard a once-loved, once-familiar voice whisper his name.

“Hello Andrew.”

“Evie?”

Sylvia had to forgive herself for not speaking earlier. The community needed to forgive itself (and forgive Lydia) for not knowing. And Andrew has to forgive himself for not being there. In the end, they all have to forgive the world for being a place where bad things happen to good people… forgive God for allowing such a place, though it’s we who broke his perfect creation… In the end Andrew has to learn there’s still good in the world. And for all our shouting, all our demonstrations and complaints, all our desperation, there is still good in the world. For that I thank God.

Subtraction by Sheila Deeth
https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Mathemafiction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/194960005X/

Not Telling?

From Divide by Zero:

“Why did you do that?” Sharon asked. Sylvia just shrugged as they walked the tree-lined path in silence. “You always do it, don’t you?”

“Not always,” Sylvia mumbled.

“Oh come on!” Sharon stopped short. “Come on. Tell me one time you didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?”

They walked on. Dried leaves from long-gone fall crunched underfoot. The air smelled heavy and sickly sweet, pine needles dripping on the outer branches of trees. Light shone brighter as they came to the end of the path. Running water, shouts of children playing and adults calling names drifted nearby. Sunlight slanted through bark dust floating on air.

“Let’s stop here,” said Sharon when they came to a bench, so they sat. Sylvia gazed down at her hands, firmly, primly clasped over her knees, skirt pulled down, legs together. Beside her, Sharon threw herself into a sprawl, arms and legs akimbo on wooden slats. Then she stood again, stepping forward
and back.

“No,” Sharon said as Sylvia started to move. “No. You stay there. Let’s talk.” She faced her friend. “You listen, Sylvia. You just sit there and listen to me for a change.” She turned back to the tree-hidden sky, gathering thoughts from the air. “Okay. So we’re at the party and it’s snowing outside.” Arms thrown out dramatically. “Everyone’s happy. Right? Great music. Great food. Nothing bad going on. Nothing our mothers wouldn’t approve of, right?”

Sylvia nodded and groaned.

“And then my brother, my dear sweet Simon that you’ve been going all gooey-eyed over forever, my brother that’s only there ’cause I told him I wanted him to meet you—’cause you told me you wanted to meet him… Yeah?”

Sylvia nodded again.

“My brother asks you to dance, and you stand there like a brick. Then he tells you you’re pretty—I know, I was listening—he tells you you’re pretty and you run away like he’s threatened to murder you or something.”

Sylvia’s head angled down. Tears splashed on the backs of hands tightly clasped in her lap.

“Why?” Sharon asked, reaching to comfort her friend. “Why, Sylvia?”

But Sylvia didn’t answer. Her sobs were quiet, though they drowned out the birds and the water, children and parents too. The rest of the park belonged to a different world as Sylvia wept in her secret circle of shame.

“Why, Sylvia?”

A mother walked by, holding a small girl by the hand. “Amelia, this way.” The child hummed tunelessly, trailing a red-dressed doll and stuffed rabbit behind her.

“Why?”

A bunch of schoolchildren, youngsters with bright happy shouts and flashing feet, burst from sunlight into the trees. They raced past the bench with parents following. Sounds of tears and laughter stayed behind, waiting for seasons and time.

“Will you tell me sometime, Sylvia?”

“Maybe. But I don’t think we should stay in the woods on our own. We should warn those kids.”

But how do we warn our children, and how can they know when their safe world’s suddenly strange?

Divide by Zero
Divide By Zero

What did he say?

From Infinite Sum:

I went out for coffee with Lydia then thought, how stupid—I couldn’t say anything in a store. We carried our drinks down to the park where I thought, how stupid—how could I talk with the forest still watching. Then we wandered the quiet streets back to Lydia’s house. I imagined I’d wait until we were inside, but instead my words just tumbled out.

“In the park. When I was a kid. This guy kept touching me.”

“Why didn’t you just say no,” said my sister, her voice as brittle as saccharine poured into coffee. “It’s what I did.” And I wondered what she meant…

I told my brother and he hugged me and said, “Poor you. Did you know our Lydia got abused too?” So I wondered if you can measure depth with the number of times it occurs, and define who’s more hurt…

Mom didn’t want to believe me at first. I sat beside her on the sofa and we stared at the TV’s empty eye. She said she would have known. She would have noticed it. She said I couldn’t have got home late from school so many times. She said someone would have told her. My school work would have suffered and the teachers would have said. I was never any good with secrets so it couldn’t be true.

Mom said they talk about recovered memories and so many times they’re false. Auto-suggestion, she said, and it’s all the psychiatrist’s fault. So what had my therapist said to me?

I said I never forgot, so I didn’t need to remember, and it had to be true.

She said I’d forgotten his face.

I said I never knew it…

Daddy cried…

I could tell when Lydia told Troy because of the way he looked at me, as if he was trying to imagine [those] hands on me, or else his own. I was glad I didn’t live in Paradise now. I was glad to get in my car and drive away, back to Donald and the children, back to the safety and secrecy of my home…

The therapist asks me, “What about when you told Donald? What did he say?”

Donald said men have needs and he was glad our children were all boys.

“What did he mean?”

I didn’t ask. I think he meant he loved me and it wasn’t my fault.

If you’ve ever wondered why we don’t tell, ask yourself how you would respond when someone you love tells you.

 

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Infinite Sum by Sheila Deeth: https://www.amazon.com/Infinite-Sum-Mathemafiction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1949600033/ published by Ink-Filled Stories

How Soon Is Soon?

I was going to write a blogpost soon, but that was hours ago. I was going to advertize my new novellas soon, but that was days ago. My husband was going to choose paint colors soon, but that was months ago. And my next novel, Subtraction, was going to come out soon, but how soon is soon?

subtraction copy

Then yesterday I got good news. Subtraction has a tentative release date of August 1st. Hurray! So now I shall have to advertize soon, beg for reviews, try to get the book into stores… and dream. And definitely dream. Because Subtraction completes a trilogy begun with Divide by Zero and continued in Infinite Sum. Sure, I’m working on Imaginary Numbers now, but that will follows lives on different paths. Subtraction completes the arc of lives wounded by Amelia’s death. Subtraction follows the absent father, and places him very present on center stage. And I can’t wait to see how it will be received.

As to those novellas, perhaps they’ll be fodder for another blogpost, coming “soon.” But for now, here’s a taste of Subtraction, following the writing prompt.

Writing Prompt:

Our writer’s group’s experimenting with different points of view – it’s amazing how they can feel like different authors when you let them on the page. So…

  1. Imagine a teacher walking into a classroom. The students stare.
  2. Start the story in first person from the teacher’s point of view. “New class. New students. What do I do? Will they listen?” and write for just 5 minutes.
  3. Continue in 3rd person omniscient – what does the teacher look like? What about the students. What are they thinking? What does the teacher think? How does the lesson begin? 5 minutes again.
  4. Then finish with nothing but dialog between teacher and students, and see where it takes you.

When you’ve finished, meet Andrew from Subtraction, as he meets his new class:

Part 1

1

“Now children, today I will teach you to subtract.” Andrew marched to the front of the classroom, ready to start his second year with these kids. He frowned as he pondered whether addressing a middle-grade, special-needs audience as children might be insulting, but his mind seemed devoid of alternative words as it sank into more familiar mathematical terms. “Subtract,” he repeated.  To take away, abuse, discard, destroy…

Youthful faces, ranging from blandly accusing to sleepily bland, stared back at him, and clearly couldn’t care less if he frowned or cried. Faint groans arose, inspiring that familiar tightness in his chest. But these students, subtracted from their regular classes, weren’t rejects; not really; not yet; Andrew wasn’t going to fail them if he could help it.

“Sub-traction.” He spoke the syllables carefully and wrote the word with a purple flourish on the whiteboard. The pen squeaked louder than the nervous quiver of his throat while he half-turned to check the children were seated, and to see who was laughing.

A class clown bounced on his chair in the middle of the room.  “Is that like action that’s not acting right?” Beetled eyebrows wiggled, mimicking the bouncing of the tall boy’s limbs.

“Nah,” groaned the one known as Jonah the Whale, squashed like a deflated football in his seat near the door. The force of Jonah’s voice blew strands of sandy hair up like a helmet, and he clawed his armpits with stubby fists. “ Sub-track; it’s like acting subhuman, like what you do.” He pointed to the clown.

Andrew rapped a ruler on the desk. “No teasing in class,” he insisted. Then he repeated, slowly, solemnly—fiercely driving down the whimper of his new-year apprehension— “We’re studying subtraction.”

For a moment, the deep, cultured tone of his own voice distracted him. Who am I? he wondered, and who am I to teach them? But he couldn’t pause to evaluate the answer. “Subtraction is sometimes called taking away.” And what has been taken from me?

Andrew’s eyes wandered, taking in shapes, positions, posture, provocation and more. Meanwhile he pondered what these middle-school rejects might make of the phrase, taken away, they who’d never been given enough in the first place? Inhaling an unhealthy burst of dry-erase solvent, he dragged himself back to the present and began a slow walk around the room.

Fair-haired Amy sat near clownish Zeke. She wrapped thin, freckled arms around the treasures on her desk. Her lips were parted as she muttered under her breath, “Not take away. Not take away.” The delicate voice reminded Andrew of the tick from an antique clock, from an antique home, from a life long lost. He leaned forward to offer comfort to the child. Doll-eyes blinked, but she wasn’t looking at him. Her gaze was fixed on some curious infinity. Her face, pink-cheeked and porcelain smooth, bore only the tiniest hint of unlikely concern, as if she were looking through a window at someone else’s lesson.

“Ah, Amy.” Andrew sighed. “Nobody’s going to take your treasures away.”

Three safety pins from a diaper set were arrayed in the middle of her desk. Buttons in multiple colors formed jagged hills beside them. A pencil with rainbow-colored point, and a pad of rainbow notelets were neatly positioned between musically drumming fingers.

“First we add things,” Andrew said, raising his voice as he marched toward the front of the room again. “Then we have a collection”—a collection of buttons perhaps, and did Amy know how many were lying there?—“and then we…”

“Takeaway! Like burgers!” brayed Julie’s rusty voice of triumph behind him.

Andrew turned. “Well, not quite, Julie,” he admitted, feeling the focus splinter.

“I want my takeaway. I want.” Loud thumps of threatening persistence on the desk accompanied Tom’s voice. Angry Tom, he was in his fourth special school for misbehavior and might soon be dropped out entirely unless teachers like Andrew could win him over. But chaos rumbled over other desks as well.

Andrew tensed, needing a clearer answer, before things fell apart. Then he felt a bubble of inspiration turn his frown to a smile. This was why he did this job. This was why he loved it.

“Yes. Yes. And yes,” Andrew announced, facing the class from behind his desk and pumping his arm with the words like a teenager. His tones turned increasingly valiant as his gaze slid across the sea of puzzled faces. “You’re right.” He pointed to Julie. “Tom’s right… And you… and you… Let’s order some takeaway, just as soon as we’ve got this done.” Then he started to count, pointing to the students each in turn. “Let’s order… seven, eight, nine burgers.”

“I want nuggets!”

“Nine orders of food.” Andrew corrected himself. “And I’ll be in charge of passing them around.”

He had their attention now, or food did anyway.

“I’ll set the box down on my desk, right here. And when I’ve handed one meal to Jonah… you tell me… how many more will be in the box?”

“Me first,” shouted Tom, ignoring the question. But others students waved fingers to count and tried to work it out.

Shy Amy’s head hung down as she continued to play with the buttons on her desk. Her fingers wove in hypnotically distracting patterns. Don’t look at her. Don’t watch. You’ll make her mad. But blue eyes focused suddenly on Andrew, cold as winter, distant as spring. Red-button lips pursed into words, spoked out in a quietly determined, uninflected voice. “Eight.”

“Very good, Amy. So then I give one meal to Amy.” Andrew waved a hand with the imaginary parcel. “Just wait a minute, Tom. And how many are left?”

Middle-grade mind needed a pause before answering, “Seven?”

“Then to Tom… “

“Hurray!”

“Six… five… four…”

The students completed the sequence at last, and Andrew announced in triumph, “That’s subtraction, class. When we take something out of the box, we’ve subtracted it.”

Faces shone back at him in that pause within the triangle of trouble, food and learning. Then Jonah the Whale bounced his chair, legs creaking scarily. “So, when can we eat?”

Whispers rustled, then Tom’s throaty voice rang out, combining threat and doubt. “Order it! I’m hungry.”

Andrew took out his phone. “What’s the number? Anyone know?”

Then food’s calm promise brought peace, giving Andrew a chance to spend more time in quiet discussion with Tom. He said all the right words, warning of all the right consequences, taking into account the rightness of Tom’s desire for burgers, and adding a reminder that the whole class needed to learn. Subtract a little bad behavior here and there, don’t shout too loud, look like you’re taking notice, and all will be well.

Meanwhile Shy Amy drew with her rainbow pencil, plus and minus signs entwined with whispering shades and colors on the rainbow page. Take away her autism, and who might Amy be then?

Take away Amelia’s autism…?

Voices from the past ushered a host of memories in Andrew’s mind. Amelia was the girl long gone, long lost under green of trees and waving branches in a place called Paradise—Amelia, her mother, Andrew’s parents, Carl… all subtracted like numbers from his page. He let his gaze drift to the window, hoping the sky’s bright tones would wash his palette clean again. But who-am-I doubts combined with the whispering of leaves and chatter of children. He couldn’t forget. That long slow walk between Tom’s desk and the classroom door could take a lifetime, waiting for delivery’s knock.

 

Maundy

A new command was given on Maundy Thursday – a mandate – mandatum – hence the name. And in honor of “loving one another,” priests wash parishioners’ feet, kings and queens give coins, and altars are stripped ready to remember that giving of it all.

The story below comes from my Bible gift book: Easter, Creation to Salvation in 100 words a day. And if you want to know what happens next (the end of the world perhaps), look for Revelation, from Easter to Pentecost in 100 words a day. Enjoy.

(And if you want a writing prompt, write about the wonder of the season – Easter, spring, whatever season this means to you.)

44. Maundy Thursday

bread and wine

The streets were quiet. Night had fallen, everyone sleeping or praying, except for them.

“Strange about the bread,” said James, still tasting forbidden matzos eaten after lamb.

“And the blessing”—“This is my body,” the master had said, reminding them of something they were too full, or too tired to remember.

They stopped at a garden, sat on rocks, lay on grass, their bodies weary with food. And they barely noticed when Jesus left to pray with Peter, James and John.

Matthew looked up. “Huh? Where’d they go?” then, “Wonder what happened to Judas.”

Voices whispered. Armor jangled. Footsteps approached.

Mark 14:22 “…Take, eat: this is my body.”

 After they’d eaten the Passover meal, Jesus blessed and broke another matzo. He prayed over the third cup of wine—cup of redemption, blood of the lamb—and the feast drew to its end.

Maundy Thursday evening begins a three-day celebration of Easter: Maundy pennies to the poor; priests washing the people’s feet. But it’s communion that matters most—bread and wine shared in remembrance of Him. We file out from church, leaving the light shining in a tiny garden—shrubs and flowers, a place of Easter prayer.

And through the night, people visit, to watch and pray one hour.

45. Good Friday

crucifixion

It didn’t seem so long ago she carried her baby to the Temple, and an old man prophesied, “A sword will piece your heart.”

She hadn’t known what sort of sword. There were all the little swords of childhood, watching and caring for the boy, losing and finding him. There was the sword of his leaving home, and the day he addressed the crowds: “These are my mother and brothers,” as if she hadn’t left everything to follow him too.

This sword was a soldier’s spear, piercing her dead son’s heart.

A mother shouldn’t have to watch her baby die.

John 1:29 “…Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

 Good Friday’s service is the long one. We stand and kneel and sit on cue, and pray for all times and all peoples.

The priest holds up the crucifix—“Behold the wood of the cross.” And all other symbols stay hid under their purple cloths—statues in mourning. The congregation marches forwards to bestow our reverent kisses, quickly wiped.

It must look strange—we fools for Christ; irrational kisses in remembrance of God’s salvation. I touch my lips to plastic, and my heart touches mystery.

Returning home we celebrate with hot cross buns, sweetness and spice, pleasure and pain together.

46. Holy Saturday

death

“They tell me Judas has killed himself. I doubt I could even do that right.

“Remember me, Jesus? I’m the one that betrayed you; told them I never even knew you. I stood there, and I saw you look at me.

“Remember me? I’m the one that couldn’t walk on water after all; can’t even walk right on land. You said you’d build your church on me, called me a rock. Some rock. Some church.

“Remember me, Jesus? And you tell me to remember you.

“I remember seeing you dead and buried, so tell me, now what do I do?”

John 15:5 “I am the vine, ye are the branches…”

 We left the church in silence on Good Friday, the altar bare—no candles, no flowers, no music, joyful or sad. On Saturday evening, we’ll meet together in the parking lot, beside the Paschal fire, the air filled with excitement and smoke, shouting “Alleluia” instead of “Crucify.” On Holy Saturday evening we’ll all stand forgiven, and the grave lie empty.

New light, new life, new hope tonight. My brother, the priest, sings “Lumen Christi” and we answer “Deo Gratias”—light of Christ; thanks be to God. Beautiful music, beautiful prayers, and beautiful hope.

This night, our Savior is risen.

47. Easter Sunday

resurrection

“King of the Jews.”

“So they say.”

“D’you think he’ll stay dead?”

The older man laughed. He’d been a soldier long enough to know, the dead don’t walk. “We killed him son.” And if they could keep the body guarded, maybe peace would return to the violent province.

They sat around the fire, telling war stories to flames, cursing the land, scorning people who might be foolish enough to try to steal a corpse.

Then they saw what they could not see, and heard what they could not hear. In the morning, the grave stood empty; the dead had walked.

John 11:25 “…I am the resurrection, and the life…”

 Jesus walked the earth again for forty days. His disciples saw Him. Huge crowds ate and talked with Him. And those who chronicled events wrote their tales, while eye-witnesses still lived to disagree. Like newspaper reporters today, each stressed his own version. But together they tell one story, one the authorities couldn’t suppress, though it would have been so easy to disprove—if there’d only been a body.

After the forty days, Jesus disappeared. After fifty, at the Jewish Pentecost, the Holy Spirit turned frightened fishermen into Fishers of Men. And two thousand years later Christians still follow the carpenter.

Divide by Zero

I’m reading through the latest version of Divide by Zero, formatted for publication by Second Wind Publishing, and…

drum  roll…

coming very very soon!!!

So here, to celebrate and whet your appetite, is an excerpt from the first chapter. I hope you’ll enjoy it, and, of course, I hope you’ll buy the book too. But enjoy anyway 🙂

*****

Peter gazed down at the golden pond of his drink. I’m not my father he told himself though his reflection wasn’t sure. I’m faithful, good and true. I’m not like him. I don’t hurt people.

He glanced up at the woman dancing on the stage. She was young and beautiful, unblemished and free. He watched her swirl, swinging her red skirt high above her knees. Mary had danced this way in their youth. She’d hung on his arm, long curls of hair brushing his face, filling his nose with the perfume of roses and sun. Her eyes shone like blades of new grass in a painting. Her lips brushed his, soft as petals falling in rain. But this wasn’t Mary, and Peter wasn’t his father. He wondered if his parents had ever known any dance but hurting and tears.

“You could try your chances with her, old man,” said the friend at Peter’s elbow. “See how she’s looking at you?”

Peter shook his head.

“I mean, seriously, she’s got all the moves. And look at those…” The friend fisted hands in front of his chest, but Peter shook his head again, making his ears ring. The conversation clattered too loud and jarring. He shouldn’t have come here, shouldn’t have let them persuade him. He should have stayed working, or gone home alone.

The friend of a friend from a table close by rocked a lazy hand. “Old Pete, you know, I rather think he likes…” Long fingers dangled in the air as words trailed away.

Not that Peter minded, but why should not wearing a ring and not dating mean people assumed he dated men? Crazy world we live in. He sighed, lifting the glass back to his lips. Drink up. Get out of here. I shouldn’t have come.

Subraction

So there I was, editing, adding to, reworking, rewriting Imaginary Numbers, and a dear friend asked “Who is it about?” An innocent question; a sensible one; wasn’t Imaginary Numbers meant to be the third in series, starting with a tapestry of small-town life in Divide by Zero, followed by the canvas and paints of Infinite Sum as Sylvia tries to mend after Zero’s tragedy. So who is Imaginary Numbers about? It’s about two side characters, small threads in that tapestry, and the small dark mystery that defines their lives. But what about…?

Divide by Zero cover, by Peter Joseph Swanson
Divide by Zero

Suddenly I knew, the book I was working on simply isn’t book three; it’s book four. First I have to tell the tale of that other broken thread, or the weave might fail. And I don’t have a contract for him. What shall I do?

I emailed my publisher at Second Wind Publishing. He’s promised to send me a contract for Subtraction, and the tale will be told.

  1. Divide by Zero
  2. Infinite Sum
  3. Subtraction, and
  4. Imaginary Numbers

Thank you Second Wind Publishing!!!

And here, for your comments, suggestions or complaints, is the first short excerpt to prove I’m really writing it:

Continue reading Subraction