THE EARTH BREAKS IN COLORS
These are the first two pages of my new novel, The Earth Breaks in Colors (available on Amazon):
The call of an owl woke her. A call that always sounded like loneliness — wide and hollow, carried on dark winds. She pulled back the white eyelet curtains, trying to get a glimpse of the owl in the towering oak trees that circled the backyard, but with the moon only a thin sliver — like the scraped edge of a coin — she couldn’t see anything except a shadowy maze of branches.
It wasn’t unusual to hear owls in the canyon. Sometimes, if her father took her out to dinner, like he did last night for her eleventh birthday, she would hear them in the car when she opened the windows, her hair blowing back behind her and her eyelids closed against the rush of air.
The hypnotic cooing was suddenly interrupted by something hard and persistent — a shovel digging into dirt. It was way past midnight, her father had turned off the outside lights at ten when he went to bed, so who could be out there in the satiny night digging and scraping at the drought-baked ground? It was hard to believe one of their neighbors would be gardening in the wrong yard at this hour, particularly since none of their neighbors were that close. The properties in the canyon were spacious and rambling. You had to make an effort to meet people who lived in nearby houses.
Whoever was digging was off to the side where her windows wouldn’t allow her to see. There was simply no choice but to put on her slippers and go out the back door.
The screen door slapped shut behind her — her father kept meaning to fix the spring. As she walked down the three steps onto the dirt she recognized the long curve of his back. He was wearing jeans and a plaid shirt, and something was beside him on the ground. She couldn’t tell what it was. He straightened up, aimed the shovel again and plunged it into the ground, stepping down hard on it with one foot and then leaning back as he brought up some dirt and tossed it to his left. She was pretty close to him now but he still hadn’t noticed her.
He dropped the shovel and turned around. His hair, usually tied back in a ponytail, was loose and sticking to his cheeks. He pushed it back with both hands.
“Hey, Whisper,” he said, his own voice soft and low.
Her name was really Janice, but her father had started calling her Whisper when she was still a toddler because that’s how she always sounded. As if she were whispering. Kids in school called her that, too, as did most of the teachers. Only the principal insisted on calling her Janice.
“What are you doing?” she asked him, moving closer in small steps.
She saw now what was on the ground — the gold clock that had always sat on their mantle. Beside it was an old red and white ice chest with some folded plastic inside it.
Her father placed the shovel down, came over and squatted down in front of her. He smelled like toothpaste and sleep. “This is our secret, okay? You gotta promise me,” he said.
“But what are you doing? Why do you have the clock out here?”
She’d always been told never to touch the clock because it was so valuable. It had been in her father’s family for generations — all the way back to his great-great-grandfather who brought it to America from Ireland, thinking he might have to sell it just to survive. He didn’t, although the story went that at times it was actually wrapped up in newspaper and carried to a pawnshop.
“Every time something would happen to derail the plan,” he father would say, his voice bulging with excitement as though he’d never told the story before. “The pawnshop would be closed, or the street would be blocked because of an accident. Or a rainstorm would turn into a deluge and he’d have to turn back. He just wasn’t meant to sell the clock. God always got in the way and stopped him.”
It was through the weave of storytelling, passed down through generations, that the clock came to symbolize answered prayers. One day it will be yours, her father always said. It was his way of ending the story…until the next time he told it.
Now the clock’s story was about to change.