I am thrilled to feature Misha and her novel STILL WATERS with you today. Welcome, Misha!
STILL WATERS by Misha Crews
Storms break when we least expect them. We float out onto the open sea, with calm water beneath us and clear skies overhead, luxuriating in the benevolence of the universe. But then the air grows thick, and the wind changes direction. Clouds gather overhead, the rains let loose, and all at once the water is our enemy.
Sea change. There's a reason for that expression.
Driving home from his grandmother's funeral, Chris Appleton could feel a change coming. It was in the prickle on the back of his neck, and the itchy feeling under his skin. Foreboding had settled beside his grief and exhaustion: three black crows sitting side-by-side on his chest.
Chris glanced in the rearview mirror. His mother and stepfather sat in the back seat. They were silent, each one looking out a different window. Only their hands, touching slightly on the seat between them, told the story of the closeness that they shared, in body as well as spirit.
Outside the air-conditioned comfort of the automobile, heat-drenched lawns and sun-hot sidewalks rolled slowly by. Christopher would have liked to be out there: walking in the hot, wet air, with the damp round scent of summer blackberries in his nose, feeling the sun beat down on his shoulders. He'd like to wander down to the creek and climb on the mossy green rocks, the way he had when he was young.
But today was not the day for walks, or for dipping his feet in the cool waters of memory. Today, unfortunately, was a funeral day – not the first he had known, nor the last he would see.
From an early age, Chris Appleton knew Death. With his own eyes he had witnessed the twitching, staring void that marks the passing of a living creature. And, like most human beings, he found it terrifying. And fascinating. After the glory of a human life, death is a sorry inevitability. And maybe that's why Chris had become a doctor.
Of course, he hadn't exactly gone from childhood directly to medical school. He had been born in 1951, the year of Catcher in the Rye, and started med school in 1973, the year of Gravity's Rainbow. In between, a lot of stuff had happened, including the Sixties. Now here they were in 1984, the year that had so terrified him when he'd read Orwell's book in junior high. The world was a very different place, and he was definitely not the same human being who had first come face to face with mortality.
He turned the car onto First Street, drove around the traffic circle with its giant holly tree, and pulled into the short driveway in front of his house. He looked up at it for a minute before setting the brake. From the back seat came his mother's voice, sad but soothing.
"I'm so glad we didn't sell this place when we got married," she said. In the rearview mirror, he could see Mother touching Dad delicately on the wrist. Then she turned her head and met Chris' gaze. The wrinkles around the corners of her eyes and mouth only seemed to accent the gracefulness of her face. Her hair, which had once been as black as night, was now run through with silver. "It was such a pleasure to see you move back here when you started your practice, Christopher. I know it made your grandparents happy, too." There was a pause. "Did Bess say she was coming over later?"
"She and Kevin will meet us for dinner."
Chris's sister had flown in from
for the funeral, and after the wake she and her husband had decided to go back to their room to rest. Mother and Dad had tried to convince her to stay with them, but Bess, who knew her own mind and who had always liked her privacy, had opted for a hotel. Seattle
Christopher got out of the car, watching as Dad crooked out his elbow and Mom took his arm. She looked over at Chris and smiled, her expression cheerful despite the tinge of sadness brought on by the passing of his beloved grandmother. There was a time, oh so long ago, when Mom had only given him that smile on special occasions. Although she'd tried to hide her melancholy, for the first part of his life his mother had been a distant, beautiful mystery. Like the moon, she was luminous but lonely.
But not anymore. Not for a long time.
They walked across the front lawn and up the steps to the porch. When they got inside, Christopher went to hang up his suit jacket.
"Jenna, are you all right?" Dad asked softly.
From the corner of his eye, Chris saw his mother nod. "Are you?"
"I'm not really sure. Things will never be the same." Dad's voice was thick with grief.
Chris turned his head slightly in time to see his mother put her arms around Dad's shoulders. Deciding to give them a moment alone, he ducked into the kitchen and grabbed a beer from the refrigerator. A few minutes later he heard the click of his mother's high heels on the hardwood floor and he turned around. Mom looked elegant as always in her black mourning suit, but her face was tired and her eyes were sad.
"Can I get you anything?" he asked, suddenly feeling awkward. "I've got drinks, coffee…that's about it."
"Bachelor," she said fondly. "Don't you have any food in the house?"
"Are you hungry?" he asked with concern. "I could go out and – "
"Coffee would be great," she told him gently.
Dad came around the corner. "I'll make it," he said.
Chris tried to object, but Dad waved him away. "Go on you two, get out of the kitchen and let me do my work." He clapped Chris on the back, and their eyes locked for a moment. Christopher knew what his stepfather was trying to tell him: go see to your mother.
It's a job that only a child can do, but that no child wants to: comfort your parent, after his or her parent has departed.
Of course, Christopher's grandmother wasn't really Mom's biological mother. But Kitty Appleton, who had relished the name of Grandma, had had a way of collecting children. Anybody who needed a mother had found one in Kitty. And all of them had lost something with her passing.
Chris followed his mother into the small dining room, half of which was taken up by painting supplies. Brushes, tubes of oil paint, canvases – no matter how neatly he stored everything, it still looked a mess. Well, he liked a little bit of artistic clutter, so it didn't really bother him, but he had a feeling that there was a motherly comment coming – something about picking up after himself. But she surprised him yet again.
"I'm so glad you've kept up with your painting," she murmured. "You always had a good eye for art. You really seemed to enjoy it when I would take you to museums."
"I did," he said softly. Actually, the enjoyment had come from feeling that he was making his mother happy. His love of art had come later. But this wasn't the time to be particular about things like that. "And besides, painting is a great stress reliever." He slipped an arm around her shoulders. "Good for the body and soul, you know?"
Although Mom nodded gently, he wasn't at all sure that she had heard him. She seemed far away, lost somewhere in the wooly fog of memory.
"Let's go sit down," he suggested. "Dad's bringing the coffee."
But on the way to the sofa, she paused at a shelf loaded with family photos. Chris stood next to his mother, scanning the pictures, taking in all different kinds of facial features. Eyes, noses, mouths – all the same basic components that made up any human face, and yet the variety never ceased to amaze. And regardless of how different these people were, they had one thing in common: they were family.
"Oh, I haven't seen this one in a long time," Mom said softly.
She picked up a silver frame, showing a picture of herself holding Chris when he was about six years old. They were at the beach. The sun was shining down, and the ocean waves were behind them. The colors in the snapshot were faded now, but the image was clear. Mom was looking at the camera, and Chris was looking at her. And both of them were beaming.
"That was taken the summer before Bess was born, wasn't it? I remember that day," Chris said.
"How could you? That was almost thirty years ago!"
He answered simply. "Because that was the happiest I had ever seen you." He gazed down at his mother, remembering well the days when he used to gaze up at her. Then he turned his attention back to the photograph.
"That was 1957. A lot's happened since then," he said, unconsciously repeating the thought he'd had in the car. "I've sometimes wondered what it was that made you so happy that day."
"Why haven't you ever asked me?"
"I guess because I thought it wasn't my business. Or maybe I thought that you'd tell me someday, if you ever wanted to."
Suddenly he realized his mother was looking at him, with a loving expression in her wide gray eyes. "You've turned into a fine man, Christopher Appleton."
The hot prickle of a blush invaded his cheeks. "Well thanks, Mom. You're pretty awesome yourself."
Her eyes drifted back down to the picture. "I haven't always taken an easy path in life, and many times I've been afraid for you, afraid that you would suffer for my mistakes."
She smiled and set the photo back on the shelf. "But either by good fortune or divine intervention, you turned out well, and so did Bess. Better than well. I think that one of the hardest things for any child to do is to look at his parents as if they were people – red-blooded human beings who make mistakes, tell lies, and keep secrets." Again she looked up at him. "The fact is that you are now a grown man, who no doubt has secrets of his own."
Chris shifted, the beginnings of a protest bubbling on his lips. But Jenna lifted her hand. "Don't try to deny it, son, and don't worry. This conversation isn't about your private business."
"No?" That foreboding feeling had crept back. "Is it about yours?"
"I think…." Jenna took a breath. She looked back at the shelf, at the cluster of images crowded together. "I think what it's really about, is that picture."