A cryptic letter on her grandmother’s grave and a mysterious inscription on a carousel horse leads artist Maya Brice to Hank Hauser, the ninety-year-old carver of the beloved carousel she has been hired to restore in time for its Fourth of July reopening in her Delaware beach town. Hank suffers from Alzheimer’s, but on his “better” days, Maya is enthralled by the stories of his career. On his “off” days, he mistakes her for her grandmother—his secret first love.
While stripping chipped layers of paint from the old horse and peeling layers of fragmented memories from the old man, Maya untangles the intertwined secrets of love, heartbreak, and misunderstandings between three generations of strong willed women.
Orly’s Konig’s Carousel Beach—available May 8th—is a powerful novel that untangles the secrets of love, heartbreak, and misunderstandings between three generations of women, perfect for summer beach reading and book clubs. Please enjoy this excerpt.
Everyone has secrets. Some are selfish, some necessary, but all have the potential to shred lives.
I should know. For the past year, I’ve been marinating two secrets. I don’t know any more if I spun them to protect others or myself.
For the past year, I’ve alienated myself from everyone who cares about me. I’ve sequestered myself in a repurposed garage with only wood animals to talk to and embraced the guilt. Well-meaning friends and family, even virtual strangers who know what happened, tell me it’s time to move on.
They don’t understand.
In forty-seven minutes, I’ll be standing at the cemetery, commemorating the yahrzeit of my grandmother and my baby. People will tell me it’s time to let go.
They’ll never understand.
I pinch my eyes shut and attempt to breathe through the lump in my chest. I don’t want to go to the cemetery.
My family was never religious. My mother could probably count on one hand the number of times she’s been to the synagogue. My grandmother held on to a few traditions, although I don’t think she had a frequent-visitor card to the local temple either. It was when my grandfather died five years ago that she seemed to find a new connection with religion. Okay, that’s stretching it a bit. She still didn’t go to services, but she become strict about observing the Jewish mourning practices and lighting Shabbat candles in honor of her late husband.
And she spelled out exactly what we were to do when she passed. My mother was not impressed. But my mother was also a stickler for appearances. She would enforce Grandma’s request to the last dotted i.
So here we are.
“There you are. We need to get going.” Vale stands in the door to our bedroom. He’s ready to go; handsome in a dark blue suit, a white shirt, and the yellow-and-blue tie my grandmother bought him our first Christmas as a married couple. Back when everything still felt possible.
“Interesting choice of tie.” My left eye twitches. I try to soften my tone but the words escape, unchecked. “She gave it to you.”
Vale’s shoulders tip back almost imperceptibly, just enough to make the crease across the front of his shirt pull smooth. “I know what tie I have on. I thought she’d like it. That you’d appreciate the sentiment.” His right eyebrow pops up, challenging me.
“I didn’t think you believed in that spirit stuff.” I mimic his tenor. His brown eyes darken.
“Really, Maya? Today you want to pick a fight? Over a tie?” His jaw juts left, the set of his mouth leaving no question where another mistimed comment from me will lead us. He turns and moves toward the stairs. “I’ll be waiting in the car.”
In the bedroom, I stare at the black dress hanging on the back of the closet door, still wrapped in the clear plastic from the dry cleaner. I walk past it, turning slightly so my shoulder doesn’t brush the bag. The last time I wore it was to their funerals. I grab the hanger and shove the dress behind the hanging clothes at the back of the closet, then reshuffle my other clothes to hide it.
It’s just a dress. An expensive one, I’m sure, since it was my mom who bought it. But it’s tainted. It has the invisible stains of their deaths.
The horn blares. I yank a maxi from its hanger. It’s a soft, flowing fabric, really more of a beach dress, especially with the waves of blues, from light to dark. Grandma and I bought it together two summers ago.
I slip on a pair of high-heeled sandals and tuck my hair into a quick French knot. A swipe of mascara and lip-gloss, and I’m done. It’s the most I’m capable of.
I ease into the car and catch Vale’s pinched expression. I know my comment about his tie is coming back.
“Interesting.” He turns away and starts the car.
He doesn’t approve. Mom won’t approve either. But Grandma will.
We drive to the cemetery in silence. Music doesn’t seem appropriate, and conversation seems to be something neither of us has the energy to tackle.
He turns the car into the driveway and through the large gates of the cemetery. He hesitates at the first fork, the silent question sizzling between us.
I suck in air and look to the right. “Not today.”
He doesn’t state the obvious. It’s been “not today” for a year.
I visit Grandma’s grave regularly. With her, I can wallow in my grief, then unleash my anger. I’d told her to take it easy. But she was a stubborn old lady and had overruled me. She was an adult. She made her own decisions. She didn’t need my protection. It wasn’t my job to mother her.
But it had been my job to protect my unborn baby. And I’d failed. I can’t visit his grave because I’m afraid of the guilt, and I’m drowning in the grief.
“Not today,” I repeat.
“Of course.” It’s barely audible over the rumble of the engine as he pushes on the gas pedal. The car lurches forward, and my stomach plummets. I sneak a look at Vale and wonder how we got here.
What happened to the young us? The couple we were? The couple that found humor in almost everything and comfort in each other?
I need to say something.
“Remember Crazy Stan’s funeral? I’m still amazed there isn’t a poster with our faces and a big red line through them at the front gate.”
Vale chuckles. “True. Do you even remember what got us giggling like that?”
I squint back in time until I capture the memory. “The Rottweiler with the kippah.”
“Oh my god, that’s right.” The corners of his mouth disappear into dimples and his eyes crinkle.
“What possessed them to do that?”
“And how did they keep it on him?”
Vale’s smile deepens and the dimples that mushed my insides all those years ago, work their magic again. “We used to laugh a lot.”
“We did.” The dimples push out, the crinkles smooth away. And as quickly as it came, the moment flitters out the open windows of the car, leaving a gaping stillness.
I look closer, trying to find the man I married. The slightly too long hair that flopped when he got animated, the mischievous glint that was the innocent warning for one of his wicked jokes.
I reach and touch his right hand, which rests on the gearshift. My index finger glides over the ridges of his knuckles. I want to lace my fingers through his, hold the gearshift together the way we used to. I want to feel his comfort and know that everything will be okay. Vale turns slightly toward me and allows a slow smile to soften his face. But his attention stays on the narrow road and his hand tightens underneath mine as he shifts from third to second.
A line of cars stretches ahead of us, and we park behind a black Tahoe. Our Audi sedan looks like a toy in the caravan of SUVs and minivans. One other lone sedan, my mother’s Mercedes, sits at the front of the row.
Luckily our parking spot is under the canopy of a willow tree. I pull myself out of the car and inch closer to the tree. From here I can see Grandma’s grave and my family standing awkwardly around it. They can’t see me, and the only person who’s noticed our arrival is my brother, Thomas. He acknowledges Vale then looks at the passenger side. I see the line deepen on his brow, and he looks back at Vale, who hitches his head in the direction of the tree.
Vale walks to where I’m hiding, encircles my waist and pushes me gently forward. “It’s okay. Come on.” His voice barely carries over the whisper of the breeze through the feathery leaves.
“I can see fine from here”
“But you’re expected up there.”
“Do this for her.” Does he mean Grandma or Mom? He gives me another gentle nudge.
As I approach the group, my brother moves forward and gives me a kiss on the cheek. Mom turns and nods, the movement serving the double duty of a hello and scrutiny. I can just barely make out a perfectly shaped eyebrow behind the rim of her dark Chanel sunglasses. At least my diamond earrings and upswept hair aren’t offensive. My father beams his welcoming smile but stays glued to her side. Assorted friends create a semicircle around the grave. A handful of Grandma’s octogenarian friends fill in a few open spaces.
Vale leans close, kisses my cheek, then gives my waist a you-can-do-it squeeze before moving to stand with my brother and the rabbi by the headstone.
I linger a step outside the circle of dark, solemn faces surrounding the grave. I can’t bring myself to close her escape route.
“Never block the path to the sea, Mims. It’s seriously bad juju,” she’d always say. The willow rustles, and I can’t contain a giggle.
Mom notices. She always does. She takes a half step back and mouths, “It’s a memorial, Maya. A little respect please.”
I shoot a desperate look toward my husband. He gives me what I’m sure was meant as a reassuring smile. It only succeeds in making me feel more isolated.
The rabbi begins reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish and the respectful hush becomes a somber silence.
By tradition, tonight we should be lighting candles and sharing stories. Mom will light the candles, but there will be no sharing of stories, no reminiscing.
My relationship with my mom is challenging on its best days. But her relationship with her mother was outright belligerent. Mom was closer to her dad—one of the few things she and I have in common. When Grandpa died, her already tenuous relationship with her mom was stretched like an old rubber band.
I steal a look at my dad. He winks in return. He’d better be around for a good long time. I don’t think our mother-daughter band has much stretch left.
I turn away from the assembled crowd and look at the view. Grandma picked this spot herself. When we buried Grandpa six years ago, she purchased the plot next to him and the plots on either side, then had it written in the contract they would be laid to rest facing the cliff and her beloved ocean.
The rabbi drones on, his voice merging with the background noises—the rustling willow, the crashing surf below, the impatient gulls, the utter stillness of a cemetery.
How can it already be a full year? My hand touches my belly. I try to cover the move by pulling on my dress, feigning a tug-of-war with the wind. I back away from the grave and the crowd. My mom places a small, smooth stone on the newly placed grave marker. My dad bends to do the same.
I take a few steps closer to the cliff and will the wind to snatch my grief and dump it into the sea.
A voice cuts the lulling song of the breeze, “At least you made the effort to be here.” Mom’s curt tilt of the head closes the subject on my choice of attire. “You’re just like her. She wasn’t much for tradition either. Until recently, at least.” I bite the inside of my lip. No need to point out that six years is outside the definition of “recent.”
A gull squawks. A wave crashes. The willow shimmies. “Ah, don’t pay any attention to her, Mims. She was born uptight.” Grandma’s words tickle the back of my neck. As long as I can remember, it was “us” against “them.” Them being Mom and Thomas. Dad refused to take sides, at least openly. Grandpa was the familial Switzerland.
“I will expect you at the reception.” Mom turns and walks off, not waiting for an answer.
I release the clip holding my hair. Curls blow across my face, whipping the tears away. I shut my eyes and count to three. I hear my mother thanking someone, then someone else, her voice getting farther away with each count.
Car doors slam behind me, signaling that the memorial is over. Tires crunch the gravel.
I take a half step forward. The wind grabs at my hair, twisting curls high then dropping them to thump against my back then up and around my head. Through the tangled mass, I look out at the ocean. The delicate fabric of my dress twines around my legs, and a parade of goose bumps prickles my arms.
“Where did I go wrong, Grandma? Oh God, I miss you. I need you. I don’t know how to get past this,” I push the words past bottled up emotions. The wind picks up again, drying the salty drops on my cheeks.
“It’s time.” Vale touches my arm and the goose bumps reverse direction. “Are you okay?”
I squeeze my upper arms in a protective hug. “I don’t think I can stomach going to Mom’s. Can we go somewhere? Just the two of us?” I turn, hopeful for a reprieve.
“She’ll be mad if you don’t show.”
“She’ll be mad if I do show. We both know I can’t live up to her expectations.” I wave my fingers open to indicate my less than perfect appearance.
Vale watches the cars slip over the hill. He turns back, his mouth drawn, but the softness in his eyes gives him away.
“Thank you.” I release the stranglehold on my nerves.
We sit at a table on the patio outside the Sugary Spoon, our favorite coffee shop, a block from the beach. A seagull hippity-hops around the tables, eyeballing every occupant in turn, looking for the next person who will give him a tasty afternoon snack.
The summer season hasn’t started yet so the main strip is still pretty quiet, especially on a Thursday afternoon. It’s warmer here, without the cliff breeze, and I’m glad for my summery dress. Vale shifts in his dark suit, removing the jacket and tie with a relieved sigh.
The seagull hops to our table, his black beak open, his beady eyes sizing us up.
“Are you going to finally talk about this?” Vale tosses a chunk of his croissant to the gull, then turns to look at me.
“What this do you want to talk about?” I cringe inwardly. He’s trying to be supportive. I know he is. They all are. But if one more person tells me to put it behind me, to let it go, I’ll lose what’s left of my mind.
He’s watching me. I blow into my mug, even though the liquid isn’t hot anymore, and watch the white froth of milk swirl into a muddy brown mess.
“It’s time to move on, Maya. For your sake. For our sake. It wasn’t your fault.”
I force my gaze up and make eye contact.
How do I move forward when I destroyed everything? How do I tell him that it was my fault? That I killed them both?
Copyright © 2018 by Orly Konig-Lopez
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