Dogwood, page 1
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Copyright © 2008 by Chris Fabry. All rights reserved.
Cover photograph of girls copyright © by Getty Images. All rights reserved.
Cover photograph of path copyright © by Ned White/iStock photo. All rights reserved.
Title page photograph copyright © by Michael Sacco/iStockphoto. All rights reserved.
Designed by Beth Sparkman
Edited by Lorie Popp
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Fabry, Chris, date.
Dogwood / Chris Fabry.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4143-1955-1 (sc)
ISBN-10: 1-4143-1955-X (sc)
1. Married people—Fiction. 2. Triangles (Interpersonal relations)—Fiction.
3. West Virginia—Fiction. I. Title.
Build: 2013-05-24 08:34:05
For AK, who believed.
“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.”
“Eternity is a human stream and our stories are the rain, falling, flowing, surging, searching for an end. But there is no end. Never will be. And that’s the great thing about living.”
“Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?”
“I think that life is full of pain. . . . It’s painful for everybody. . . . Growing is painful. But I think that the only way through it is through it. . . . And anything that helps is a blessing.”
Part One Chapter 1
Part Two Chapter 19
Part Three Chapter 33
About the Author
Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion
Ruthie Bowles once said I would wind up hating her. She was right.
I met Ruthie on a Tuesday afternoon after a sleepless Monday night in my closet, a space littered with poetry and my mother’s well-worn Bible, dog-eared at the Psalms. The poetry kept me sane, and the Psalms gave me hope. NyQuil stopped working long ago.
“Whoever fights monsters,” Nietzsche said, “should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
I ran across that in a quote book. At 3 a.m. it looked interesting. Ruthie doesn’t quote Nietzsche, but the truth is the truth. I am a student of the abyss, but I get no credit. It’s a night class I audit.
When I met Ruthie, I had an ache in my heart left by the echoes of friends and choices. Mistakes. I knew women in the neighborhood, names and faces from church and the local preschool, but I did not have what Anne Shirley would call a bosom friend, and there were few prospects.
My husband, Richard, pastor of the Little Brown Church—though it is not little and more cranberry if you ask me—has been supportive. “Just give it some time,” he’ll say. “We all go through tough seasons.” I’ve seen him lose a night’s sleep about three times in his life, and I fight resentment when I hear his rhythmic breathing. Sleep is a luxury to anxious minds.
Since childhood I have sung about the “river glorious” of God’s peace. I hadn’t planned on the river running dry.
And the church. I longed for a refuge or oasis. Instead, it became Alcatraz. To me, church has always meant relationships, not a building, but my problems sent me away from people rather than toward them.
In my first fledgling nights in the closet, when sleep and every sense of peace crawled away and hid like a wounded animal, I feared I was losing my mind. I pictured white-coated men strapping my arms and pushing me toward an oversize van while my children screamed and the elders shook their heads. I could hear my husband saying, “She just needs a little time. We all go through tough seasons.”
Ruthie walked into my loneliness—or should I say hobbled—at a time when God was trimming the nails of my soul to the quick. Angels laughed so hard at my prayers that they held their sides. So many angels.
And God was silent.
One of my mother’s favorite songs contains these words: “Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet, or we’ll walk by His side in the way . . .” I’ve felt constantly in his way. He seemed too ticked off to tell me to get out of it, so he kept quiet. The ESO, Eternal Silent One.
My constant companions were fears, not God. I convinced myself he was simply on vacation, out carrying someone else on that beach with all the footprints. My heart had shriveled, and my soul was as wrinkled as the prunes Ruthie loved.
I kept a journal—don’t ask me why—and the ramblings tackled these fears and questions. Ruthie was the first to tell me that God hadn’t abandoned me but was drawing me deeper, calling me out of the shallows, past the abyss, and into the current of his love and mercy.
Yeah, right, I thought. God hadn’t asked me if I wanted to go deeper, and thank you very much, I liked the shallows. It’s easier to play when there’s no current. In the middle you lose your footing; you lose control.
However, something drew me to this old woman. Was she an apparition? an angel in disguise? It would be my luck to get an angel with varicose veins. The sliver of hope that she was from God kept me going, but I did not know she had secrets and a closet full of haunted memories. She had seen the abyss long before me and had wrestled monsters of her own.
I suppose we all do.
I grew up in Dogwood. There are memories and stirrings from some other life. My mother and father, Cecilia and Robert Ashworth, still live here. So do his parents. At least, Will’s mother does.
Ruthie asked me about him at that first meal, what she dubbed our “First Supper.” She asked innocently, or so it seemed at the
“My husband is a good man,” I said. It sounded appropriate, and I hoped she couldn’t sense the hurt behind the answer. I knew I had settled for less. Someone safe. Faithful as an old dog but better smelling.
Ruthie let the answer slip away as easily as my children coming down the slide at the park where we watched them play. Tarin is with me during the day. Darin and Kallie are already in school.
I changed the subject. “Do you have children?”
“Grown,” she said. “They fly like birds before you know it. Just when you thought you had the nest figured out. But I guess that’s our job.”
She smiled. “He flew too.”
Was he dead? Had he left her? “I’m sorry,” I said.
“I remember when mine were your daughter’s age. I was different then. Wrapped up in froth.”
Ruthie scooted forward on the bench. “Like a beer on tap. You spend your life chasing froth and bubbles. I used to think it satisfied, that it could fill me up and make me happy. But froth is froth. Empty. What I needed was underneath, at the root, the soul. Can’t find happiness in froth, at least not for long.”
She sounded like a preacher—or one of those homespun storytellers on public television, dispensing wisdom one sound bite at a time. I wanted to switch channels or leave. Make an excuse. Head for a fictional doctor’s appointment. I needed to get home to the wash. But it was already evening, and I couldn’t fool her. Plus, something drew me. Was it her voice, her eyes, or the way she seemed to wallow in life?
“Come to my house for dinner,” Ruthie said. The idea came out of the blue, like a magician pulling fried chicken out of a hat.
“That’s very kind of you, but—”
“You look like you could use a friend and I love children.”
When I was a child, my brother and I wandered near bushes my mother had ordered us to avoid. We were searching for hidden treasure or a lost baseball—I can’t remember which—when we stumbled upon a hornet’s nest the size of Detroit. Bobby Ray ran, but I stood, paralyzed by the enormity of the nest and all those stingers writhing inside. For a month I had nightmares about hornets covering my face and arms, stinging every inch of exposed flesh.
As it turned out, one lonely hornet snapped me from my stupor, and I ran to my mother, my arm swollen. She grabbed a fresh onion from the refrigerator, cut it in half, and placed it on the sting. The onion felt wet and slick. “Hold it right there,” she said. “It’ll draw the poison out.”
I have been staring at the hornet’s nest called life, afraid to live, too stunned to move. Ruthie was the one who drew the poison from my soul. She became my teacher. Our classroom was her living room or the playground at the Memorial Park. Some of the most intense lessons we tackled while standing in line at Wal-Mart.
“Life isn’t pretty, so you’ve got to hug the ugly out of it,” she said one day.
She had no idea how much ugly there was.
My counselor says everybody has a story. Well, here’s mine.
I killed my sisters at 7:43 a.m. on a July morning in 1980. I remember it was July because baseball season wasn’t even half over, but my father had already given up on the Reds. I remember it was 7:43 because my watch got stuck when I jumped the guardrail. The Focal my dad had bought for me at Kmart just stuck. Little hand between the seven and eight, big hand between the eight and the nine. Closer to the nine.
That was the first thing I told the man who was supposed to help me. He wanted to know why I had killed them. I couldn’t answer. I figured he knew anyway. He seemed to know a lot of things even though he just asked questions.
Everyone has a story, he said.
Why don’t you tell me the rest?
I don’t remember much.
He put a hand to his beard. Why do all counselors have beards? Seems like all the ones in the movies have them. Counselors must take a class in facial hair. You’d think they’d shave or at least trim a bit and wouldn’t try to hide anything.
You didn’t actually kill them, did you?
That’s not the truth.
Yeah, it is.
Then take me back. Tell me what happened that morning.
I want to hear how you remember it. I want to experience it with you.
I couldn’t. Though I had relived the sights and sounds and smells of that day a thousand times. When I was asleep or maybe awake. I don’t know. My little sister with her neck twisted—her arms to her side but her neck turned around, like she was trying to be funny. Karla. She had just turned eight a couple of weeks earlier. June 20 is her birthday. It was easy to remember because that’s also the birthday of West Virginia. Abraham Lincoln was around when that happened. At least, that’s what our teacher told us. Mr. Kilgore told us much more than that, but I don’t remember a whole lot except that it was during the Civil War and we didn’t want to be a slave state like Virginia. It’s hard to remember the little things, especially on a test.
They gave Karla a cowgirl outfit for her birthday, and she would’ve worn it every day if Mama had let her. She squealed when she opened it and pulled off her clothes right there in the kitchen to put it on. Mama said, Oh, Karla, but she went right ahead and tried it on. The morning I killed them, Karla and Tanny wore starched white T-shirts that smelled like a million cut flowers. Their hair in pigtails. Hand in hand, walking toward a future they’d never see because of me.
When I think real hard or talk about that morning, I can smell the radiator fluid. It was all over the place. And the engine hissed. I never knew a person could do that much damage to a car. A deer, yeah, but a person? Especially a couple of kids.
Then the car pulled back and my other sister was under there, the air coming out of her mouth, puff, puff. And Tanny just stared at me with eyes glazed over like she was sick or something.
Karla and Tanny dead by the road and it was my fault.
The counselor took a long time just looking at me with his lips together. Then he said, Tell their story.
I thought he meant my sisters, so I started telling him what it was like to have sisters and how much I wanted a brother who could play cars or go hunting or ride bikes. The girls could ride bikes—heck, Karla was the first to go off some of the jumps I made. Probably more fearless than a lot of brothers, but I still wanted one. And that made me feel even more guilty for what I’d done.
Then I told him about Mom letting me feed Tanny a bottle when she was a baby. And one time I didn’t burp her and she blew the whole bottle on my new baseball glove. I wanted to spank her, but everybody just laughed. Ha-ha. I never did get the formula smell out of the glove. Ruined the leather. Anytime I’d miss a ground ball, I’d blame her.
But my counselor didn’t mean that. He didn’t mean for me to tell the stories of my sisters.
I told him about how I took them the way we weren’t supposed to go—up the dirt road that cut through to Route 60. Mama told us never to walk that way when we were going to Mamaw’s. Said it was too dangerous. If she only knew some of the places we’d been, she wouldn’t have been so scared, but I guess she was right. When you look back it’s a lot easier to tell when people are right.
Tanny and Karla reminded me what Mama had said and tried to get me to go the other way down by the creek, but I grabbed their hands and pulled them through the bushes and out to the gravel and the dust and made them come. I just wanted to walk by her house. The girl with the red hair. She had a horse, and the guys at school said sometimes she’d ride it in the morning before her dad left. I thought he must be a good dad to let her do that before he went off to work, wherever that was. The nickel plant. Union Carbide. I never
The red-haired girl was outside that morning—I couldn’t believe it—but she wasn’t having fun. She was crying, yanking on her father’s arm as he put the horse in a trailer. I thought maybe they were taking it to the vet, but she kept screaming, No! You can’t!
And that’s when I remembered Charlotte’s Web. Mrs. Munroe had read it to our class in the fourth grade, and lots of people cried when Charlotte died—I hope I’m not spoiling it for you. I couldn’t forget the first few lines—Papa going to the hog house with an ax.
I wanted to help the red-haired girl. I wanted to run in there and save the horse for her so she’d like me and we’d be friends and one day get married. I figured he was taking that horse to the dog food factory or maybe the glue factory. That’s what my friends said happened to old horses. I’d like to think that what took place next in my story prevented him from killing that old horse, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t.
Her daddy looked at me. I wanted to be the hero, but I chickened out and took Karla and Tanny back toward the road, back the way we weren’t supposed to go, looking for the trail that led to the street where Mamaw lived.
The counselor looked at me as if he knew what I was thinking, as if he could see right inside me, though I know that’s not possible. Looks that you see in the movies, like a person can tell what’s going on in there. Sure felt like it to me.
I’m going to give you an assignment, he said.
Someone of your intelligence should be able to handle this. He turned and grabbed a pad of yellow paper, the kind you tear off and that has green lines on it. He ripped off the top pages that had writing on it and plopped the whole thing on my lap. Start from the beginning, he said. Don’t leave anything out.
I can’t write.
Just tell it as it comes. As you find out. Don’t worry about the spelling. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Do I get a grade or something?
Do you want one?
He leaned forward. What do you really want, Danny? In all the world, what do you really want?
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