The sixteen contemporary and historical stories in Pretty Chrysanthemum and Other Stories by Nancy Lane remind readers how family is at the core of human experience and how relationships, especially those between parent and child, rely on the power of love to overcome challenges. Below is an exclusive excerpt from the short story collection.
The Widow in the Tide Pool
“[…] all things are one thing and that one thing is all things—plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.”—John Steinbeck
My mouth hurt—too many nights clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth. My swollen eyes stung. I watched flurries of pink and white tree blossoms dance with the April wind behind Peter Duke’s head. A huge, west-facing window dominated the grief counselor’s fourth floor office. I wished to be there, with the blossoms, outside and away. I ached to cry and convulse in the solitude of my car and shake the parking garage off its foundation and wallow in the rubble.
“Have you been writing in your journal? Exercising?”
“Good, Valerie. Often when dealing with grief, people resist forming new habits. You do well to embrace both, develop new habits and cherish old routines.”
The timer bell buzzed. Peter reached over and tapped it silent.
“Unfortunately, this is the last session covered by your insurance for the year,” he said. He withdrew a pamphlet from his desk drawer. “This is a guide to the seven stages of grief. We’ve talked about the stages, but this also gives you a list of services and hotlines. Do you have any questions?”
I should ask him something. “Yes, Peter, which stage am I in now?” I expected his answer would be, “Stage Three, Anger.”
“Valerie, only the person experiencing grief can assess their current stage. That said, it’s still not easy. Emotions can swing widely throughout a day, and you won’t necessarily experience all seven stages. You are intelligent and resourceful. I’m confident you’ll work through the stages and reach acceptance and hope.”
I took the pamphlet, shook his hand, shut the office door behind me, and bounded down the hall toward the exit sign. I banged on the elevator button until the door opened. The elevator car whirred and jolted to a stop at the orange parking level, where I exited and dropped Peter’s pamphlet into the nearest trash receptacle.
Journal entry—April tenth
WOTD: resist, as in, “People resist forming new habits.” I resist the pastor’s suggestion I sit up front in the widows’ pew instead of back where Ray and I always sat. I resist Jake’s suggestions: get out, meet new people, go to classes. Jake, with his wife and his life in Atlanta, checks in with Mom every few weeks. I resist what others tell me to do. I’m alone. Nothing I do will change that.
I didn’t tell the pastor about my decision to leave Portland and move to the Oregon coast. When I told Jake, he started to say something, but Judy, obviously listening on the phone speaker, whispered to him. He whispered something back and then asked me if I needed his help.
“No, you can stay put in Atlanta. I’ve arranged everything, moving tomorrow morning.”
“Wait, Mom. Did you sell the house? Did you buy another one?”
“I’ve listed the house for sale. Tomorrow movers will take my boxes and some furniture. An estate sale company will sell the rest, but I’ll be gone when they do, seven hours away in a mobile home in Scenic Shores Estates.”
“No, Jake, a mobile home in a senior community at the coast.”
“Never heard of it.”
“It’s an unincorporated community founded in the seventies. It’s way south, almost to California. Dad and I drove through it many times on vacations to San Francisco. We mused about moving there someday.”
A pause, more whispers.
“You have to watch your finances now.” I could imagine Judy nodding with Jake. “Shouldn’t I take a look at the paperwork, make sure you’re not getting scammed?”
I had to remind myself boys grow into men and feel protective, which can come across as being chauvinistic. Jake had always been a good son, and Judy, always sweet and supportive. They helped, as I needed them to, with the funeral details, but now, recovered from the initial shock and disbelief of Ray’s death, I didn’t need them looking over my shoulder.
“Son, it’s done. I can manage my own affairs, thank you.”