Children of the Waters: A Novel by Carleen Brice
The author of the #1 Denver Post bestseller and Essence Book Club Pick Orange Mint and Honey explores the connection between love and race, and what it really means to be a family.
She also edited and contributed to the anthology Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife, which was published in the U.S. (Beacon Press) and the U.K. (Souvenir Press). She is author of Lead Me Home: An African American’s Guide Through the Grief Journey (Avon/HarperCollins). Her book Walk Tall: Affirmations for People of Color, an Essence bestseller, was in print with traditional publishers for 10 years and sold 100,000 copies. It is currently available through iUniverse and Louis Gossett Jr.’s Eracism Foundation. Carleen and her husband live in Colorado.
Trish Taylor’s white ancestry never got in the way of her love for her black ex-husband, or their mixed race son, Will. But when Trish’s marriage ends, she returns to her family’s Denver, Colorado home to find a sense of identity and connect to her past. What she finds there shocks her to the very core: her mother and newborn sister were not killed in a car crash as she was told. In fact, her baby sister, Billie Cousins, is now a grown woman; her grandparents had put her up for adoption, unwilling to raise the child of a black man. Billie, who had no idea she was adopted, wants nothing to do with Trish until a tragedy in Billie’s own family forces her to lean on her surprisingly supportive and sympathetic sister. Together they unravel age-old layers of secrets and resentments and navigate a path toward love, healing, and true reconciliation.
Children of the Waters: A Novel by Carleen Brice
One World/Ballantine; Price $14.00
Pub date: June 23, 2009 ISBN: 978-0345499073
Time was short. Maxine Kuepper was starting to say things she didn’t mean. Yesterday, she told her granddaughter to Move my dish, when she wanted to ask her to bend her leg. Trish stared, stumped and afraid, yet all Maxine could do was yell the word “dish” over and over knowing that she wasn’t making any sense. Cell by cell, bone by bone, Maxine was floating away. She didn’t know if it was the cancer or the medication that made her say such things. She was wearing a patch that released heavy doses of relief into her bloodstream, and still the littlest weight on her, like a sheet or the cotton nightgowns they dressed her in, hurt. The nurse promised that when the time came Maxine wouldn’t have any pain. “We’ll snow you out,” the nurse assured her. “Don’t worry.” Maxine would die the way her daughter did: like a mermaid swimming at the bottom of an ocean of drugs. It was small comfort after all these years to believe that Jocelyn hadn’t been in any pain when she died. Jocelyn. Such a cultivated name for a daughter who would not be tamed.
They were coming for her, Jocelyn and John, her husband, both dead. She dreamed of them so much now that sometimes she could swear they were really here in this room, whispering their secrets to her. They were coming for her. If they weren’t already here, she knew they were just over the other side waiting. And even though she was only sixty years old and her granddaughter Trish was only seventeen, she was ready to join them. But she had one last thing she had to do. She had secrets of her own to tell. She looked at the Polaroid picture she’d kept hidden for thirteen years.
Not even John knew she had proof of this moment. There was Jocelyn, blond and movie-star gorgeous even after just giving birth, holding the baby, only hours old with a cap of thick dark hair. And Trish, smiling wide, skin, teeth and hair white as cream, on the hospital bed next to them. Both girls marked with a stain that couldn’t be washed away. Maxine wished she had done things differently. But wishes are for the living. She sighed and pain rippled through her as her lungs pushed up against the battlefield of her ribs and the space where her left breast used to be. She raised the pen with the same amount of exertion that it used to take to lift a gallon of milk and began to write. The nurse said don’t worry. But how could she not?
What would they think of her? Would they hate her or would they be glad to know the truth? Probably both. But she would do this one last thing for them. She would make things right. As soon as Trish came home, Maxine would give her the letter. I should have told you this a long time ago, she wrote to her granddaughter, putting everything that was in her battered heart onto the page so that when the time came cowardice wouldn’t seal her lips. Each word, a lifetime. Just as she finished, she heard the front door open and close. Or she thought she did. Lately it was hard to tell what sounds were real and what sounds were memories sweeping over her like ocean waves.
But if it was Trish coming in, Maxine knew she did not have the strength to see the look on her granddaughter’s face after she read this letter. She didn’t have the strength to answer the question she knew would come no matter how hard she tried to explain: How could you? She opened the box, put the letter and photo inside, and replaced the lid. After she was gone, Trish would find everything she needed to know. When Maxine was buried, her lies would be unearthed. It wouldn’t be long now. She was sipping life from a glass that was neither half empty, nor half full, a glass emptying so rapidly she could see it in the eyes of the hospice nurses and the few friends who came to visit her at home.
The bedroom door opened, and Trish poked her head in. “Nana, you awake?” Maxine nodded, thinking For now, and, Please God let them forgive me.
Carleen Brice, Author of Children of the Waters, June 2009 www.carleenbrice.com