An Excerpt from OUR LOVE COULD LIGHT THE WORLD
Contributor

A while back, She Writes Press authors were given a great opportunity to gain exposure for their books through the online platform JukePop Serials. This is a place to post a part of your book--the first three chapters, for instance, or in my case the first three stories from my linked collection, Our Love Could Light The World. It's free to post, and it's free to read. You can't beat that! Here's a sample from my first chapter, below. To read the entire first story, as well as the next two stories, click here.

The old lady had died some time that spring. No one knew exactly when because she’d been shut up in a nursing home forever, and then one day the son came around with a mover and that was that. The whole place was cleaned out. Minor repairs were done to the outside. As to the inside, it was hard to say for sure. People up and down the street who’d been there long enough to remember the old lady remembered a cramped, ugly kitchen, with Formica counter tops and a vinyl dinette set. While she was gone no one had lived there. The son came by every now and then and made sure things were okay, and people wondered why he didn’t just take charge and sell the place. It wasn’t as if she’d ever come back, the old lady. Once you went into a nursing home that’s where you stayed. Until the funeral parlor, and that little plot of ground you hoped someone had been good enough to buy for you in advance.

Then the Dugans moved in. Although the street wasn’t particularly close-knit—no block parties or pleasant potlucks—the neighbors welcomed them. Their efforts were ignored. The Dugans had moved seven times in the last ten years, and the idea of putting down roots was just plain silly. Soon the neighbors made comments. Not only were the Dugans unfriendly, they were noisy and didn’t collect the shit their dog left wherever it wanted, usually in someone else’s yard.

Mrs. Dugan left every morning at exactly seven-thirty. She got into her car, a rusty green Subaru, wearing a suit. Her hair was up in a bun. She even carried a briefcase. No one knew what she did. One man said she worked in a bank. The woman across from him said she sold insurance.

Mr. Dugan didn’t work because he’d hurt his back years before on a construction site. The disks he’d ruptured eventually went back in place, but not before causing permanent scarring and calcium deposits, which caused pain that ranged from annoying to agonizing. He was never without pain, in fact, which kept him close to his beloved whiskey.

Five children made up the family. The eldest was Angie, a fat, teenage girl with a nose ring and short, spiky green hair. She ruled her siblings with a steady stream of insults. Her favorites were “dumbass,” “dumbshit,” and “horsedick.”

The next in line was Timothy. The slight droop of his left eyelid was a painless affliction. He wasn’t aware of it until people stared hard, then looked away in embarrassment. A baby-sitter once told him it was a gift from God, proof that Timothy was special. The baby-sitter was an old woman whose saggy chin sported a forest of short, white hairs.

Twin girls, Marta and Maggie, came just after Timothy. Mr. Dugan had objected to the German name, Marta. He thought the German people were fat, pretentious slobs. Far too young to ever have been directly involved in the Second World War, his sentiment stemmed from a boss he once had, Otto Klempt, who told Mr. Dugan he was the laziest worker he’d ever had in his storeroom. Oddly enough, Marta was rather like Mr. Klempt in temperament, harsh and scornful. Maggie was quiet on the surface, yet full of deep longings and desires she was afraid to share. One day, she was sure, she’d be on the stage,
and very, very rich. Her husband would do everything for her—in her later years she’d see that she developed this idea from watching her mother bully her father—and she’d take every gesture with the same mysterious smile she gave her other fans.

The youngest was Foster. The name was based on a statement Mrs. Dugan made, that if she had any more children they’d end up in foster care. Foster had been born with a twisted leg that gave him a definite hitch in his stride, but otherwise did little to slow him down. He was a pleasant child, despite the generally sullen atmosphere of his household.

All in all, the five children didn’t particularly care for one another, and they didn’t dislike each other, either. One thing they knew was that they stood as a pack against the rest of the world, a term that had special significance after one of their neighbors came home to find them all roller skating in his driveway, where they’d apparently knocked over his trash cans in the process, and called them a pack of wild dogs.

He was punished for that. Paper bags full of dog shit, carefully collected over the week from their mutt, Thaddeus, were set afire seconds before a frantic knock on the door, made by Maggie, their fastest. Answering the call, the neighbor found the growing blaze and reacted as anyone would, by stamping it out. HAHAHAHAHA, the children thought to themselves, individually, in the privacy of their own thoughts, for that caper, like all their others, was born in committee, yet appreciated alone.

Angie felt the lack of community most. We don’t have enough family time is what she concluded. She’d seen families spend time together. Across the street, the Morrises were always having cookouts, and batting balls, and playing badminton. The children—two, maybe three—laughed a lot. The mother never yelled, and the father had a strong, steady gait. She knew her own family could never be like that, yet she wished they could.

Mrs. Dugan came home from work tired. She was often crabby, too. She worked in the sales department for a small company that sold manufactured homes. Her job was to walk clients through their purchase options. The people she dealt with had all fallen on hard times, or were old and looking to downsize. None had the flush of optimism.

Mrs. Dugan thought she herself had once been full of hope and ambition, which, over time, had been whittled away. She decided to give herself a kick in the pants, and when the chance came to represent the company at a regional conference, she put in her bid, and even took her boss out for lunch.

She was chosen. She walked on air. Mr. Dugan didn’t like the idea of her spending three days down in Wilkes-Barre. He was glum, and snuck sips of whiskey from a flask he kept on a shelf in his closet.

“Three days, Potter. One, two, three,” Mrs. Dugan said. She couldn’t wait. She loved her family, and she hated them, too, and lately the balance had been tipping towards hate.

“And just what is it you plan to do at this conference?” Mr. Dugan looked like he was about to put his head through a brick wall, something Mrs. Dugan used to admire about him and now found exhausting.

“Attend presentations. Walk around the convention floor. See what other vendors are doing to improve sales.”

“Sounds boring.”

“Only a boring person would say that.”

The stone face melted. His mouth turned down.

“I’m sorry, Potter. I didn’t mean that. You’re not boring.”

“Yes I am, or you wouldn’t have said it.”

He took himself off to the small back room he called his den and lay down on the couch. He watched the dust dance in the light. Maybe three days wouldn’t be so bad. Three days wasn’t all that long. He could get a lot of good drinking done in three days. The thought cheered him.

Over dinner, Mrs. Dugan laid out the program.

“Angie, you’re in charge. But don’t you do all the work—share it equally. Start getting ready for school. There’s only another week left. When you’re not doing that, I want you each to clean your rooms. When you’re done with that, take turns weeding the garden.” The neighbors complained most about the garden. “And make sure Thaddeus gets his
walks regular. I don’t want to come home to a house full of dog poop.”

Around the table the faces were still. The children had never been away from their mother before. Plans of mischief were being born, right there, as forks were lifted to mouths, and pieces of inedible pot roast were slipped unseen to Thaddeus below the table. Angie knew where her mother kept some extra money. That would come in handy when she took off for the mall. The twins planned to stay up all night watching TV. Timothy and Foster would live on ice cream and candy. They’d been handed a vacation, and they intended to make the most of it.

Mrs. Dugan packed her bag in a state of excitement and fear. She didn’t have very nice clothes, although they were respectable. Which of her four blouses would go best with the brown suit? Or with the second hand lavender one she just bought? Where she’d never given much thought before to her appearance at work, she was now overcome with self-criticism and doubt. She had to look the part. She was an executive on the move. Secretly she yearned for a promotion, more money, and to get the family out of rental homes and into a place of their own. That thought made her sit down suddenly on her bed. The promotion might come, as might the money and home ownership, but the people who lived there would be the same—lazy, unkempt, and bad-tempered.

“Change your mind?” Mr. Dugan asked when he found her there some time later, still sitting. Some strands of black hair had escaped her bun and floated around her small, pretty face.

“No. Just taking a break.” And with that she was up, finished packing, put her bag by the front door so she wouldn’t forget it in the morning, and then shouted for her children to get ready for bed.

Click here to read the rest!

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