Outer storms, inner storms, and nowhere to hide...
~ 1938 ~
Clarke. They call her the marked girl. Beginning at her left shoulder, a
pink birthmark tracks up her throat just past her jaw, like a finger
pointing to her brain. Abandoned by her family, she is ostracized by
everyone but her grandmother and cousin Bert, Six years of dust storms
have left sixteen-year-old Lilli close to death with dust pneumonia. Now
she must leave the only real home she’s ever had, or risk death when
the next storm hits.
is sent to her aunt and cousins in Florida to recover. The possibility
of a different life presents itself, yet circumstances snatch it away,
and she flees to New York City. Unable to find a safe place, she yearns
for the storm ravaged home she left. All doors appear to be closed to
her, and she resigns herself to the lonely fate of a marked girl. Once
again, she is close to death, this time with no one to help her. Will
this storm prevail, or is there a new answer for Lilli?
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the silence woke me. Had I finally died? My eyes blink open and the
ever-present grit hurts my eyeballs while I survey the room. The
weathered clapboard walls and roof still stand. I lift a pale hand and
study it. I’m still here, too.
front door yawns open, and the two windows on either side are
un-shuttered. A portion of cloudless blue sky shines above the flat,
brown landscape. I draw in a shaky breath, relieved that only a slight
rattle sounds in my chest. Voices flutter in from somewhere on the
Gram says, “I decided. When she’s strong enough, I’ll send her to my sister.”
“What if Aunt Margaret don’t want her?”
Cousin Gerald clears his throat. “Lilli’s bad luck. Cursed. Everybody
knows that. She’s marked.”
I had enough damp in my eyes, I might cry. How unfair people are. It
always surprises me, though by now I should have wised up.
Gram’s sweet voice calms my flush of
anger. “It’s wrong to blame her for things that happened. It’s not her
fault. And I don’t believe in luck.”
“Aunt Helen, open your eyes. When bad
things happen, you got to ask why. Cousin Sally lost her wits after she
birthed Lilli. She was fine after she had Frank and Jasper. Then, after
Lilli, there goes her right mind.”
“It’s not Lilli’s doing. I’ll never believe that.”
you’re the only one who don’t. This family’ll never live down what
happened.” A chair leg scrapes and Cousin Gerald’s boots sound on the
porch steps. “I’m glad she’ll be going, though, for your sake. You ain’t
had a moment’s peace the years you’ve had her.”
heart breaks for Gram. Maybe he’s right. Nothing has gone well for her
since I came. The few pleasures she did enjoy have been stripped away.
Invitations to social gatherings and friendly drop-by visits have dried
up like the creek in our back yard. People avoid her, even at church,
because she brings me there. They say God marked me, like Cain,
though I never murdered anyone like he did. But murder followed me
anyway, so they say.
God can smile on her once I leave. The
slight, rhythmic thump of her rocker punctuates her humming of “His Eye
is on the Sparrow.”
His eye is on you, Gram. But He doesn’t care a lick about me. Why
do I have to go live with Great-Aunt Margaret? I hardly know her, but
she’ll hate me like everyone else does. Everyone except Gram and Bert. I
heave out as big a sigh as I can manage and drift back to sleep.
smell of food cooking wakes me and Gram’s soft singing from the porch
makes me smile. Bert will come by soon, like he does every afternoon. I
roll onto my side and sit up on the edge of the bed. Dust plumes up from
the mattress and settles on the floor, coating my bare feet. I stifle a
cough. If Gram knows I’m up, she’ll leave her singing and come see
about me. Let her have a few moments of enjoyment.
“Lilli? You awake, hon?”
Oh, well. “Yes, Gram. I’m okay. Don’t need anything.”
She hustles in and settles her tall,
spare frame next to me. Dust motes dance in the sunlight from the
windows. The sight of her heart-shaped face and gentle, blue eyes always
cheers me. I get my baby-fine, brown hair from her, and my blue eyes,
but not her calm, even temper. Or her hopeful faith. She studies me and
pats my left shoulder. Nobody else except Bert ever touches my marked
you need is some water and food. Your cousin, Gerald, brought us a
jackrabbit this morning and I fixed some stew. Think you could manage
I nod. While she fetches a bowl and wipes the dust out of it, Bert’s tall body comes into view across the yard.
“Best dish up some more, Gram. Bert’s coming.”
stands in the doorway and grins at me. Though adopted by Cousin Gerald
as a toddler, Bert acts more like family to me than my own ever did.
“Well, well. She lives, after all. You finished scarin’ Auntie?”
Gram clucks her tongue at him. “Let her eat something before you rile her with teasing.”
“She must be better if she’s up to getting riled.”
Gram chuckles. “Sit down and have some stew with us. Your daddy brought us a jackrabbit.”
Bert pulls out one of our chairs and
parks himself. Heads bowed, Gram gives thanks while I peek at Bert’s
dusty head and shoulders. Years of short rations had carved any extra
flesh off his sturdy body. We all look the same now, rangy as starved
The watery jackrabbit and turnip stew
is devoid of fat, like we are. Fat. The days of butter melting on
vegetables, glasses of creamy milk, and stews made with fattened meat,
are the stuff of fond memory now. The crispy fat of a pork chop haunts
my dreams. If it weren’t for food relief, we’d live on thistles.
slurped his stew and thankfully refrained from any jokes about how dust
improved the flavor. “Sam Gordon up and left. Must have gone before
this last storm.”
nodded, her face drawn down in sorrow. “I figured, once he lost his
boy, he’d leave. He looked mighty sick at the funeral. Poor soul.”
Though hungry, I had to force down the
stew. What’s the sense of hanging on? How many more awful stories can I
bear, how many more storms? If I had the strength, I’d jump up from the
table and run, past all the dust. Faster than an automobile. I’d outrun
all of it. But not without Gram or Bert. Does she hang on for me, the
way Sam Gordon had for his last living child? With my family gone, she
wants to leave the farm to me. She says someone with our blood has to
there is no farm. Only acres of dust. Once she sends me from here, will
she give up? No, she’ll still have Cousin Gerald and Bert. And all the
folks in town will come around again once I’m gone. I can see that.
They’ll greet her at church the way they used to, with big smiles, not
the careful nods they dish out now.
tired of it all. Tired of being judged. When I go, Bert and Gram won’t
have to stick up for me anymore or try to keep me alive. At least I have
that much to hold on to.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shew Bolton is a wife of 41 years, mother of five grown sons, and
grandmother to a boy and girl. Ever since she learned to write, she
would jot down her thoughts and impressions in little snippets of
inspiration in the form of poetry, song lyrics, or short essays. About
six years ago, she decided to try her hand at writing a full-length
book. She’s since written five works of fiction, two non-fiction, and is
working on an idea for a children’s book, as well as more fiction
manuscripts. Writing a full-length work is much more challenging than
she thought, and she has received so much valuable assistance from other
writers, especially from the ACFW critique groups. Her husband has been
supportive of her long hours spent at the keyboard. Many thanks to her
beloved Johnny! She thanks God and His Son for her life, her loved ones
and the spark of creativity inside every person. She believes each
person is a unique creation, with their own special voice and place in
this amazing universe. God’s handiwork amazes her every day!
Jacqueline Hopper resides in her father’s boyhood village in Atlantic Canada. During her free time, when she’s not catering to her cats with treats and cuddles, she reads to gain knowledge, cleans her apartment to maintain order, and writes for pleasure. Though she’s been writing from the age of ten, the publication of her short story Listening To Crows was her first step toward becoming a full-time author.
You can find Jacqueline’s books on Amazon.