Monday, May 20, 2013

Alma's Will excerpt by Anel Viz

In Alma’s Will by Anel Viz, an old woman’s dying wish to turn her house into a safe home for troubled gay teenagers stirs up painful memories and bitter resentments, but also leads to tearful reunions and—someday, perhaps—to healing.

Livia Redding returns to Macon, Georgia, with her husband and children after her mother’s death to settle her estate. She is shocked and offended to hear that the will stipulates that her house be used as a safe home for gay teenagers rejected by their families. Against her husband’s better judgment, Liv decides to contest it and stay on in Georgia with their children.

But her mother had a reason for making the bequest: her son, Ronnie, who disappeared a quarter-century ago, after his father threw him out of the house because he was gay.

Alma’s Will
Silver Publishing (May 18, 2013)
ISBN: 9781614959359

Excerpt (2 short consecutive chapters from Part II):
[Situation: Pending a decision on the validity of her mother’s will, the court has granted Liv’s petition and given her permission to clean her mother’s house and pack its contents. She is convinced that Alma was under the influence of the interracial gay couple next door when she decided she wanted her house made into a safe home.]


Liv poured herself a tall glass of lemonade, her third that morning. She'd forgotten how hot Macon could get in summer. Unless the heat affected adults more. The twins and Li'l Eric didn't seem to mind as much, playing out in the back yard. "Hotter'n hell and a helluva lot less comfortable," Daddy used to say. "Thank God for cold beer!" Of course she remembered about the heat; only her body had forgotten how it felt. Had July always been this hot? Maybe those activists were right about global warming.

She looked out the kitchen window to check on the children before returning to the pile of half-packed boxes in the living room. She saw that one of those men next door—the white man, Franklin—had come out to work in his garden. No harm in that other than his apparel: a sleeveless tee-shirt and one of those skimpy Speedos men like him liked to wear. He wasn't paying them any attention, and they'd been warned not to talk to those neighbors. That black cat of her mother's, the one she called Ronnie, lay curled up in the sun. How fitting that that cat had attached itself to them!

The thump-thump of Li'l Eric's ball on the back of the house blended in with the familiar sounds of a Macon summer: flies buzzing, the whirring of the ceiling fans, and the absolute quiet in the street outside on a scorching day. What other physical memories had stayed with her? The sour odor of beer on Daddy's breath and the sweat sticking to his body when he'd hug her close. "You like the feel of a strong man's arms, doncha Princess? Nothin' queer about you!" Her brother, Ronnie. No one ever mentioned his name. Had Daddy been that attentive when he was around? She only remembered wishing for a brother or sister to share in those hugs.

Now she was sweating like Daddy. Why hadn't Mama put in central air like those men next door? It wouldn't have surprised her to learn it was the heat that killed her. She'd refused an autopsy when the police called, out of consideration for the doctor who'd have to perform it. She'd been dead for a week when they found her… and in this heat!

The heat. She'd have visited more often after Daddy died except for that, she told herself, but only their summers were free since the twins had started school. Christmas was for Eric's family—dozens of people from all over the country, while in Macon there were only Daddy and Mama, and Eric loathed Daddy, loathed him from the very first, even before he got drunk at their wedding. "Thank God for cold beer."

They'd come home to ask permission to marry. She wasn't quite eighteen yet. She'd gone to Atlanta with a girlfriend to take some secretarial courses so she could land a decent job, and never really came back. She signed up for a course on investments, thinking it would come in handy, but it turned out to be corporate investments and not much use. The instructor, though, was a young man out to earn a little money on the side while he finished up his MBA. Eric—so smart, so worldly. A few weeks into the course she found herself shacked up with him. Then, towards the end of the semester he was offered a good job in Idaho. She figured she'd never see him again. She never expected him to propose. So they went to Macon and he met her father.

Now she was back home, after all this time. At the Heymers', that is. Who owned this house was up in the air; she was only allowed in to pack up the contents. That much Mama had left her, though she couldn't sell them off yet.

She remembered her surprise at seeing those two men, Mama's neighbors, there when Evan Marker read them the will. He said they'd helped her with the house after Daddy died. She thought maybe she'd left them a token something to thank them. Some token—the whole damn house, and to turn into a home for queers! What the hell had gotten into Mama? It was like a slap in the face. She'd nearly sunk through the floor.

She'd left the office fuming, but Eric shrugged it off. The house was peanuts, he'd said. He'd even laughed.

"What's so funny?" she'd asked. "People like that make me sick. You suddenly approve of homosexuals?"

"Are you kidding? You know what I think. I just wonder what made her come up with that one. Gay teenagers—what a kick in the balls to that redneck father of yours! Alma finally had the guts to spit in his face. Can't you appreciate the irony of it all?"

"No, I can't. What does Daddy have to do with it anyway? It's not your name that'll be dragged through the mud if this house thing is upheld. The local papers will have a field day." And all the time she was thinking: They'll dredge up Ronnie.

Eric had made light of it: "What the hell? You'll be far away." He only knew that she'd had an older brother who died when she was four.

They'd had the same argument two or three times before he left and since then had thrashed it out over the phone more than once.

Liv had never known Eric to be so stubborn. True to his word, he wasn't standing in her way, although he wasn't much help to her, either. At least he'd promised to come back for the hearing. "If it comes to that," he'd said. Of course it would come to that! None of them was going to back down; a settlement was out of the question.

She didn't regret her decision to contest the will. As Eric had predicted, the case showed signs of dragging on forever. She'd stay to see it through, though, with or without her husband. In the meantime she was alone.

At last there had been a glimmer they were making some progress. A glimmer—no more than that. Up till then, her lawyer had been in correspondence with their lawyer; now they had decided that everyone concerned should come together and try to reach an agreement. Pointless, of course, but still progress if you saw it as a last gasp to forestall the inevitable.

The meeting would take place in Evan Marker's office two days from now. She didn't look forward to it. Those men gave her the creeps. In spite of that, she dragged out the packing and constantly risked running into one of them by coming over for a couple of hours every day to check on the house… her mother's house. Her house. It wasn't fair that she couldn't live there but had to pay the electric bills if she wanted lights and cold drinks in the refrigerator. Thank God Eric was the big earner and he sent her money to cover her expenses. She didn't have a job anymore. Well, it couldn't be helped. She'd find another once she'd put this business behind her and gone back to Idaho.

She went back to her packing.

Li'l Eric

The lemonade was almost gone; Liv had been gulping it. Had she been this thirsty as a child? Probably. The kids kept coming in to ask for something cold to drink. Bet they'd be wanting more any minute now. What were they up to? It had been a while since she heard Li'l Eric's ball. She started back to the window to see what was up.
She wasn't really worried. Eric was right about those men—they did keep to themselves. Liv picked the vegetables now, though she couldn't use most of them and they were piling up in the fridge, and the weeds had started to take over. Those men might not come into the yard, but it would still be irresponsible not to keep an eye on the kids with people like them living next door. She wasn't too concerned for the twins. They were older and always together. One of them wouldn't go off on her own. Also, they learned about not trusting strangers in school nowadays, and girls were naturally more obedient than boys. Li'l Eric, now, had only done first grade. No telling what he might do. An overly sensitive child—sometimes willful, sometimes timid and fearful. And besides… She wished his sisters would include him in their games. She didn't feel comfortable with him playing alone.

The boy had evidently mastered bouncing his ball against the wall to his satisfaction. Either that, or he got bored doing it, because now he was throwing it as high as he could and trying to catch it. She smiled. He missed every time. He needed his father; Eric would have played catch with him, taught him, if he were here. He'd have said something to that man too, told him to put on a pair of shorts. Perhaps she ought to say something herself. No, better not to acknowledge him; he might think she was ogling him.

The sweat glistened on his body. He'd taken off his tank top and was standing in the middle of his yard, swigging down his pretentious bottled water with his head thrown back and his shock of straight blond hair hanging loose—and wearing next to nothing, no doubt to show off that indecent bulge of his. Did he have to make a display of being thirsty? People like that had become shameless, making a spectacle of themselves, flaunting their gayness as if it were something to be proud of!

As she was turning away from the window, she saw the ball go over the fence. She was about to tell Li'l Eric not to touch the allamanda—she'd warned the children several times already, but kids forget these things when there's a ball involved. The man noticed it too. He walked over, picked it up, and tossed it back to Li'l Eric, who fumbled it and had to run after it. The man smiled and said something. Liv flew to the door.

"What did you just say to my son?"

"Not much. I just said, 'You're welcome.'" He must have thought her a mother hen.

"He remembered to thank you, then. That's good."

"Not exactly. I said it as a reminder. He wasn't rude, really. I think your children are afraid of me, you know."

"It's safer when kids are a little distrustful of people they don't know. We've told them to keep their distance. That's all."

The man frowned. "Don't you think it would be better not to involve your children in this unpleasantness about the house?" As if it were any of his business how she brought up her children!

He must have caught on as soon as he said it, because a look of anger flashed across his face and his body stiffened. Liv was prepared to stare him down, but he simply turned his back on her and walked away. "And I'll thank you not to walk around like that when my children are here," she called out after him. "I don't want them staring at you."

He ignored her. His rudeness rankled. She almost wished he had answered her back so she could give him a piece of her mind. On the other hand, if they got into an argument there was no telling what he might say, and in front of the children, too! She'd said too much already. The girls had paid them no attention, absorbed in their game; Li'l Eric, of course, had taken it all in. It made her nervous. Like a sponge, he was—such an observant child, always wide-eyed, always watching.

"Come inside, sweetie," she said. "We can play a card game. Mommy needs a break."

He followed her into the house.

"My, but I'm parched! I think I'll have a glass of cold lemonade. How about you, sweetie? Would you like one too?"

He nodded.

"It's all right to thank people if they do something for you," she said while she filled their glasses. "That isn't what we meant by not talking to them. We just don't want you having a conversation with them. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Mommy." He hesitated. "Mommy?"

"What is it, sweetie?"

"The man, the one who threw me the ball… I think his name is Jay."

"How do you know that?"

Li'l Eric looked alarmed. "I heard the other man call him that," he explained.

She must have spoken curtly, with an edge to her voice. "It's not nice listening in on other people's conversations," she said gently.

"I wasn't trying to listen. They were talking loud."

"Just keep away from them, okay? Pretend they're not there. Let's forget about it now. It isn't important. What game do you want to play? Rummy? Go Fish?"

Liv handed him the lemonade while he tried to make up his mind. "That's a very full glass I gave you," she said. "You be very careful carrying it into the living room, okay? I'll go get the cards. You see what I meant about them not being nice people?"

Li'l Eric nodded gravely, but she could tell he had no idea what she was talking about.

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Victor J. Banis said...

very nice, and so evocative, I can almost feel the heat of a Georgia summer (I actually lived in Alabama, but the heat didn't know the difference.)Thanks for sharing this

Jaime Samms said...

There's a real sense of place in this excerpt. Not so sure I care for the main character, but then, I suppose that's partly the idea, and a good reflection of your skill, Anel. I can't ignore her, that's for sure!

Jon Michaelsen said...

Anel, the excerpt is incredibly gripping and pulled me right into the story, even though I cringed from the bigoted character's words and actions. It will no-doubt land in my impossibly long TBR list!

Anonymous said...

As Jamie said, there's a real sense of place here, not to mention the heat. And the tension.
Good work.

Joe DeMarco