"Aunt Maddy's Chair" came next. It was published in Peeks & Valleys in 2004.
Writing is such lonely business. Sometimes you have to travel through a wilderness of rejection slips (Lord knows I've a pile of them), crawling on hands and knees, almost to the point of breaking, before you get to that sweet oasis the Acceptance Letter.
When I first started this journey I had no idea that the wilderness would be my home for somewhere close to a year. I was discouraged. I was downhearted. Did I want to give up? Sometimes. But I plugged on. Why? you ask.
Because it didn't matter if anyone wanted to read my stories. It hurt my feelings a bit, but that still wasn't the point. I put words to paper so that the people in my head - the ones I'd been talking to for a while - would have a place of their own and give me some peace. I know, I know. I promise you, I'm sane.
True artists create out of love for their creation. Not to be noticed, and definitely not to get paid. Don't get me wrong. Getting money to do something you love is a nice perk, but not the spine of the act.
I realized something in that wilderness. I love to write. Sitting here, right now, writing this blog ... I'm in Heaven. If I'm so poor I can't afford the paper, I'll write my stories in the dirt.
When I came upon an oasis with "The Barn" I was overflowing. When I received the letter for "Aunt Maddy's Chair" a few weeks later ... I wanted to do back flips in the yard.
Aunt Maddy’s Chair
Jacob Lydel stood at the door of the tiny box style house. He looked at a pyramid of unclaimed newspapers resting on the porch. Aggravation stabbed at him. Someone should have brought her the paper, he thought. Everyone knows how much she likes reading the newspaper. Then he caught himself. I mean liked. A ripple of embarrassment moved from his scalp down his back. His wife Audrey was always telling him how insensitive he was, but his Aunt Maddy had only been dead for a couple days now. Anyone could have made the same mistake.
"You all right, honey?" Audrey asked. She shifted their son Eli from one hip to the other. Eli let out a little whimper then went back to surveying his new surroundings with wide eyes.
"Yeah," Jacob said turning around, "I’m just looking for the key." He searched his pockets, finally finding the tarnished brass key in the inside breast pocket of his jacket. Connected to the key by a tiny ring was a piece of paper. The words, MOM’S HOUSE KEY, were written in black marker on the paper key chain.
Jacob turned the key, and with a minor nudge of his shoulder, opened the door. The smells of stagnate hospital air strangely mixed with mildewed carpet wafted around them.
"You go ahead in," Jacob said. "I’ll go get our bags."
Audrey stepped past him stopping just inside the door. "You sure this is all right?" she asked before Jacob had a chance to leave. "I mean, is Brandon okay with this? His mother just died. Staying in her house seems sacrilegious or something. We could still find a hotel." There was a desperate plea for reconsideration glinting in her eyes.
"Yeah, it’s fine," Jacob said. "It was his idea. Besides..." Jacob’s voice curled into the broken pitches of an old woman’s; his best imitation of his aunt. "Aunt Maddy would have called us all damn fools for gettin a hotel room, when she had perfectly good rooms goin to waste right here." A sinister smile crept onto Jacob’s face. "You’re not afraid of sleepin in a dead woman’s house, are you?"
Audrey slapped Jacob’s shoulder. "That’s not funny!" She shifted her weight and gave a quick glance inside dark house behind her. "Have some respect!"
"Oh, calm down," Jacob said. "I was just kiddin. Besides, Aunt Maddy would’ve thought it funny. She always did loved a good scare."
"Yeah, well, it’s still not funny. Now I’m not gonna be able to sleep tonight."
"We’re just stayin one night. We’re headin home right after the funeral tomorrow. Just go on in and get comfortable. I’ll get the bags and be right back." Jacob started through the yard towards the car. He stopped and turned to Audrey, who was setting Eli on the ground. "Hey, if you see Maddy in there, just hand her Eli. She always liked playin with little kids."
Audrey snatched Eli back into her arms and shot Jacob a look that said: Laugh it up. You’ll get yours.
That night, after a fine meal of delivered pizza, they settled into the livingroom. Jacob and Audrey sat on the couch flipping through the only four channels that weren’t blocked from the TV. Eli was on the floor scribbling on a piece of paper with a crayon. Dried splotches of pizza sauce clung to his face like the rosy cheeks of a doll.
"Who dat?" Eli asked pointing to an old brown reclining chair just off to the right of the couch.
"That’s Aunt Maddy’s favorite chair," Jacob replied never looking up from the TV.
Eli stared at the chair for a moment then went back to coloring.
"Do you think he talks okay," Audrey asked, "y’know– for a two year old?" Jacob was too busy channel surfing to answer, which landed him an elbow to the shoulder.
"Ow," Jacob yelped. "I don’t know. I don’t hang out with a lot of two year olds. He could be a freakin genius for all I know."
"Fweakin denus, fweakin denus," Eli repeated with hysteric joy.
"That’s just great," Audrey said glowering at Jacob. "Why don’t you teach him to curse while you’re at it?"
"If it’ll make you feel better," Jacob said with a smile.
After ten minutes of idle threats, Audrey finally got Eli to quit repeating his father’s bywords. Audrey knew it was boredom, not the threat of a spanking, that quieted her son, just as she knew that he would start back up again right in the middle of church someday. Murphy’s law.
The family sat quietly for awhile. It was Eli that broke the silence.
"Who dat?" Eli pointed to the brown chair again.
Audrey sat up. She made a couple of quick glances between Eli and the chair.
"She looked awful, didn’t she?" Jacob asked.
The question caught Audrey off guard. "Who looked awful?" Audrey reluctantly pulled her eyes away from the chair.
"Aunt Maddy," Jacob said. "At the viewing today. She looked so thin; like a skeleton. And that wig she had on– it wasn’t right. It didn’t look anything like her real hair. Too short."
"Well, that’s what chemotherapy does to you. It eats away the good parts just the same as the bad." Audrey felt the urge to look at the chair, but she forced her eyes to stay on the TV. "No wig would’ve looked right. They never do. Besides, you can never find one with long hair. Not as long as her real hair was, anyway."
"Who dat?" Eli asked, pointing to the chair again.
"Who is who?" Audrey asked Eli. Her voice was loud and full of panic.
"What’s wrong?" Jacob asked, a bit alarmed by his wife’s voice.
"Eli keeps pointing to the chair and asking who’s that. It’s freaking me out." Audrey shook as cold chills crawled the length of her body like a thousand cold fingers.
"Will you quit it?" Jacob asked, a little aggravated. "I was just kiddin earlier. If I knew you were gonna to be a baby about it, I would’ve just kept my mouth shut. He doesn’t mean who’s that, he means what’s that. He’s just askin about the chair." Jacob stared at Audrey, waiting for a response, but she kept her eyes on Eli.