Drinking Tea & Eating Granola

Tea is soothing.  It combats early morning sadness with a small dose of caffeine, and for the short space of time that I have not sucked the warmth out of it, the mug is lovely to hold.  Granola: chunky, full of fiber, doesn't settle unpleasantly in a stomach which has been dormant during the night.  Happy things.
what have i been up to
First of all, Plenilune.  I forgot to tell my formatter to set up the Goodreads page for me, so I was thrilled to discover that she went ahead and did it.  I want to say right out that I can write - I'm good at that - but in technicalities and planning, someone has to hold my hand all the way.   But there are already some advance reviews of Plenilune up, so please take a moment to check those out!  Thanks!

I've also been line-editing for Plenilune: you know, grammar, consistency, that sort of last-minute polish which is invaluable.  I don't know what I would do without my line-editor.  My readers owe a lot to her!

Baby kicks.  Yes, I can finally feel my baby kicking!  I am approximately twenty-two weeks along, and currently the kicks are not uncomfortable: if anything, they are a relief just to know that my little girl is moving about and growing.  I am now very obviously pregnant, which makes

packing a tricky business.  Between the natural weariness of making a human being inside me, and the cumulative stresses on my body of doing so, taking down my house and putting it into boxes is tiring.  My husband and I are aiming to be out of our rental home by the end of August (although our new home may not be ready for us), so I am slowly putting our life into cardboard containers.  After a long day of moving about and being on my feet, my lower back gives strident notice.  I am immensely thankful for heating pads and shower stools.  They are lifesavers.

My father and Talldogs.  We pulled through the disaster.  My father has been home, he has begun to work again, and he has even asked that I reinstate my Talldogs installments for him to read.  Between the exhaustion, pain, and disorientation, it took him some time to regain his concentration: picking up a copy of "Foreign Affairs" and reading through an article was a big deal.  The Godfather voice is gone, although people who greeted him at church last Sunday noted that he hadn't quite got his voice back.  He is regaining his strength, and his weight (the ordeal stripped thirty pounds off his frame), and though there are still many milestones ahead of us to make sure everything heals properly, we are immensely grateful and relieved.

Painting.  I'm not a domestic, manual-labour type of person.  While I like good food, I don't actually enjoy making it.  I don't really like housework - especially folding laundry and washing bathtubs - and I know for a fact that I hate sewing.  I am good at making messes and writing stories.  That is about it.  But because Tim and I will be moving into a blank slate of a house, we have made (cheerful) efforts to make our furniture into what we want it to be.  We own a number of huge wooden objects - dresser sets, china cabinets, a piano - which are all dark and stained and old, and we have no qualms about taking a chain to them and repainting them in a distressed, white style (except the piano: we're not taking a chain to the piano).  So I have actually been doing manual labour.  I've always rather despised plastic, so working with wood and pale, neutral tones is soothing to me. 
and that is the story of my life

Plenilune Release Date Announcement

jennifer freitag
october 20th, 2014
The fate of Plenilune hangs on the election of the Overlord, for which Rupert de la Mare and his brother are the only contenders, but when Rupert’s unwilling bride-to-be uncovers his plot to murder his brother, the conflict explodes into civil war. To assure the minds of the lord-electors of Plenilune that he has some capacity for humanity, Rupert de la Mare has been asked to woo and win a lady before he can become the Overlord, and he will do it—even if he has to kidnap her.
En route to Naples to catch a suitor, Margaret Coventry was not expecting a suitor to catch her.
look out for this planetary fantasy, coming this autumn!

What Is Planetary Fantasy?

People have asked me this question: what is planetary fantasy?  Since Plenilune and her sequels fall into this category, I want to answer that question.

"Planetary fantasy" is a complicated genre.  It doesn't have strict boundaries, but the common theme is that these stories take place on planets other than Earth.  One of my favourites, The Worm Ouroboros, takes place on Mercury; two very popular planetary fantasies, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, take place on Mars and Venus.  Naturally, you cannot actually live on these planets, and that is why these planetary fictions are fantasies: they build worlds and surroundings on these planets which are, of course, not supportable. 

A planetary fantasy can include anything from Jules Verne to Tolkien's Roverandom, which are a good picture of the ends of the spectrum from science fiction to totally whimsical.  In between, you may have works like C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy (which is part science fiction, but also heavily philosophical and anthropological) and The Worm Ouroboros, which is very fantastic and has strong overtones of the mythological.  Plenilune would fall between the Space Trilogy and The Worm Ouroboros in its tone: it has the casual life of The Worm Ouroboros, but also the philosophical, anthropological aspects of Lewis' works.  Naturally, it is all my own creation, but if you wanted to know where it would lie in the spectrum, about there is about right.
essentially, planetary fantasy is what it says on the tin

"Do You Call This A Coat?"

In conjunction with my post The Modern Novel, Suzannah Rowntree wrote Technical Excellence Is Good In Itself, and she made a number of points which, if other people have mentioned them, I have not read them, and I was relieved to see someone call the Emperor naked. 

Homeschoolers do not demand excellence of themselves.  The majority of the homeschooling community operates under a mentality of pride and elitism, generally used to out-performing their public school counterparts.  That may be true, but when it comes to art, you still must prove yourself: the fact that you are a homeschooler does not save your art from damnation.  Children with very little life experience, very little accumulated skill, and an obsession for Narnia, Middle Earth, Greek mythology, or various period romances, can write a story, call it a novel, and get it self-published.  And they are praised for this.  Nobody stops them and says, "You have a good thing going.  Keep working at it.  Eventually you will be ready to publish."

One argument I see against the notion of telling children (my own included) that their work is good but not great is that you may discourage them.  Certainly if grace and courtesy are not employed, and the artist's heart is not in the work, a permanent discouragement may set in.  You cannot make someone endure the race.  But sometimes encouragement does not look like blind accolades.  Sometimes it is constructive criticism both in regard to the work and in regard to the artist.

People do not demand excellence.  I am not sure why: fear, perhaps, of the time and sweat it will take to make excellence a reality, and possibly a confusion that to dismiss sub-par work is to dismiss the artist as a person as well.  But you do not owe it to the writer (you do not owe it to me) to like the book.  It is not a direct attack upon my character, it is your judgement (hopefully made with a sound mind and with reason) upon the art.  If you are not willing to cull the tares from the wheat, the only person that reflects badly upon is yourself, not the artist.  Demand excellence.

There is a fear of producing excellence - not that I am afraid of it, but that I am afraid I will not achieve it.  But I have noted that both Beowulf and Bilbo Baggins were put in the situation of going to confront a dragon, only in the former's case there was no fear, and in the latter's case there was profound fear - and yet a determination to go on in spite of trepidation.  Bilbo Baggins is the better of the two.  I am deeply, acutely afraid of falling short of excellence.  Occasionally I write something brilliant, oftentimes I just write passably.  But I go on, and I keep fighting, and I actually owe it to myself and to my readers to make sure what art I produce comes level with, or exceeds the level of, excellent art already created and established.  In this middle-class, plebeian society, there is a lack of an aristocratic demand for good products.  The homeschool community often seems to be a bastion of this laissez-faire attitude toward writing.  This is not universal, but it is common enough that I was glad when Suzannah Rowntree pointed it out by way of warning. 

When you commit to being a writer, you are no longer a homeschooler.  Homeschooling has nothing to do with writing.  Once you enter into the world of writing, you are entering a pantheon full of names that could easily crush you.  It is far better to enter it humbly and to work hard, and to strive to achieve the highest standard of excellence that you can, than to whip off a story, get a cover for it, and pop it on a Kindle so that the world can see the "achievements" of another "homeschool author." 
for inspiration, you can always watch "whisper of the heart"

The Modern Novel

"the modern novel"
Joy Chalaby of Fullness of Joy has been running a party celebrating the birthday of her blog, and I thought I would answer a series of questions she posed on the blogger's opinion of the "modern" novel.

1.  Who are your most well-loved authors of the mid to late twentieth century (1930-1960)?
I want to say C.S. Lewis, because Lewis was an amazing writer and I really enjoy his Chronicles of Narnia, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, Out of the Silent Planet, and Perelandra.  But when it comes to some of his other fictions, and when it comes to his writing in general, I realize that I am handling excellent literature for which I am simply not equipped with the basic tools to understand.  Even his non-fiction The Discarded Image was a stretch at times - although a step which I could take.  But sometimes I have to admit that Lewis simply knew and utilized more knowledge than I have access to or can currently command.

So I'm going to have to go with Rosemary Sutcliff.  Again.  Honestly, I have kind of out-grown my tutor now, and not all of her books exhibit the cutting edge of finesse which I demand in literature; but she is still magical - totally magical historical fiction - and she taught me a great deal of what I know.  I know she was not a Christian and her literature was not Christian, but honestly that doesn't bother me.  Christian fiction is generally sub-par and I don't have patience for that.  The curious light-handedness (which I actually kind of wish Georgette Heyer employed as opposed to her stuffing every historical reference in possible) which she used when it comes to writing historical fiction was delicious and inspirational to me.  Also she knew how to bring her writing and her time periods alive and place the reader's finger on the pulse to share the magic, and I will never, ever be able to express ingratitude for that training.

2.  Who are your favourite authors of the twenty-first century?
I don't have any.  We're only fourteen years into this century.  Give it a little time.

3.  Which genres do you tend to read the most and enjoy from more modern fiction?
I'm going to say that "modern" refers to "within living memory," because I am not sure I own many - if any - living authors in my library.  So it may come down to a toss-up between Rosemary Sutcliff's historical fiction and Georgette Heyer's historical romance, because I seem to have the most of those and they are simply fun to read.  

4.  Are you more willing to invest yourself in a fictional trilogy/series or do you prefer the stand-alone novel better?
I have nothing against the series (gosh darn it, I'm writing one myself), but experientially  the series is generally badly done (Emma - badly done indeed) so I usually prefer the stand-alone novel.

5.  While it is generally agreed that nothing beats classic fiction, there is much gold in the new too!  What are the positive qualities and styles of modern fiction?
I must protest that I fail to see the rage about classic fiction.  As nearly as I understand it, a "classic" is just a book which has survived fame for more than one generation, and honestly if sparkly vampires outlast a generation and continue going strong, they will become classical.  And personally, I have no patience for fangirling, period drama fanaticism, et al, and since I tend to take any and all books and/or authors on a strictly individual basis of merit, I don't like any one genre, classics included.

In terms of "modern" fiction, it tends to be cinematic - which is fascinating seeing one new method of media and storytelling so vitally impacting an old method.  Also "modern" fiction tends to engage the emotions of the reader more than older fiction; even I share this view: that the reader is a "ghost" character, almost as much a part of the story one is telling as the characters one has made up and is writing.  In older writing one often merely watches the emotions and reactions of the characters, whereas in "modern" fiction the reader's heart is intricately linked with that of the character.

6.  What is your greatest hope for modern fiction?
I'm cynical and jaded.  I don't put any trust in anybody's writing but my own.  You will hear audiobooks and rumours of audiobooks, and many dystopian novels will arise, but honestly writing is pretty much the same as it has ever been: the market is full of good and bad, fads come and go and books from either camp remain.  Of the writing of books there is no end, and lo the ink stains will be with you always, even to the end of the hand-soap dispenser. 

7.  List five books by modern authors you have read which you either hope or predict will become "classics" in years to come.
A Wrinkle In Time, The Grand Sophy, The Eagle of the Ninth, Mara: Daughter of the Nile, The Screwtape Letters.  Challenge me.

8.  In reading modern books, do you predominately read from the secular or Christian market?
Of the seven fictions I have read so far this year, the only overtly Christian novel among them was Rachel Heffington's Fly Away Home, and I was quite pleased with that novel.  Most of the time Christian fiction is shallow, unrealistic, uninformed, and uninspiring.  My two favourite novels of 2014's first six months are Mary Stewart's Nine Coaches Waiting (superb prose, excellent plot - if a "Christian" writer were to touch it, it would taste like fifteen cubes of sugar in a three ounce cup of tea) and Georgette Heyer's These Old Shades, which sports a deliciously cold-blooded revenge plot.  So yes, I tend to read secular fiction.  When the Christian authors can gird up their loins adequately (and talk of loins without colouring up and lowering their voices) I'll probably be perfectly happy to read them too.

9.  List three of your favourite novels written in this century.
Again, this century is only fourteen years old.  I'm not in a hurry.  I can wait to see how books weather.

10.  Of various as-of-yet unpublished books that you know about, what are five that you most wish to read one day?
Lamblight, Maresgate, Cruxgang, Drakeshelm, Ampersand.  I am rather a chap of one idea, and I don't do things by halves either.  You'll thank me later.

The Borders of Living

I want to thank you all for your prayers regarding my father.  We take it one day at a time - some good, some bad - and it is too early to tell what the progress will be.  I think he will be able to pull through, and now my biggest concern is that he not get pneumonia on top of all this.  Your prayers for fellow saints, as always, do not go unappreciated.
It was Mermorine, the youngest of Morterick’s daughters, who met them as they walked in. She was elbow-deep in a massive vase of white and blue faience-work, a bundle of yellow iris and foamy chervil rustling to her movements as she ordered them in the jar. She looked round instinctively and caught Raymond’s eye: the colour mounted instantaneously in her cheek.

God bless the waters of Lethe...

Avery slipped past her and flung back over his shoulder, “Raymond, have you got a pack? I’ll play you in some rough and honours.”

He thumbed the gold thread—and beneath his breastbone an answering colour glowed, hot-gold, small and spark-like and steady.
The St. Jermaine spirit.

[She] looked down at him from the back of her pitch-brown hunter, her feuillemort hair tossed up and pinned in a raging crown about her head. Her pale pink mouth, carved on severe and artful lines, smiled cruelly.

French and Latin better,” his lordship protested lazily; “and a little Carmarthen—but I am not bad with Greek.”

We owe each other no favours,” she said, reaching up with her spare hand to brush a few loose tendrils from her eyes. “I am glad of that.”

"I know that when I find I can pray no more than the merest cries for help, I am glad of the saints who have wrestled with God on the borders of living and have won their way into the land of blessing."

He almost did not see the rider for the ridden. Amid the mud-speckled, heavily-haunched beasts that strode rank on rank through the gateway stepped a blistering goddess of a mare, so obviously Carmarthen-bred that it was almost an insult to the eyes. It wore travel tack, but its buckles and metal-pieces splintered with shards of rayed silver in the light, and the torches seemed to lose their illumination as the mare eclipsed them, her coat shiny-glowing and pale gold as the colour of lightning. All her lines were long and fine, her ears delicately curled inward toward each other, her reflective blue eyes overcast by a fringe of white lashes. She was a bizarre, gorgeous creature, with the most beautiful step and shift of muscles, and judging from the lightness of the rider’s hands upon the reins, she had a superb mouth.
Himself no horseman, Alwin nevertheless gestured to the cream champagne and murmured, “Damn!
His orderly nodded appreciatively.

"The consul? I don't know. I don't think so. And you could not pay me," the orderly added, "to be the man who breaks her in."
"That is good to know," said the honey of the golden demon in the doorway. "Your pay is in arrears as it is."

"I only use strong language when I have the moral high ground."

This Great Glass Elevator

you can see the roads that we all traveled just to get here
a million miniscule decisions in the line
why they brought us to this moment isn't clear
but that's all right
we've got all night
many roads // andrew peterson

“We’re calling EMS.  We’re calling EMS!
“I’m on my way!”
“Your brother just texted.  They’re taking your father to the hospital.”
Wednesday morning, beautifully sunny and lazy, the dog-day middle of the week: I had set out my little glass bowl and my teaspoon and my bag of pink French clay to make a mask for myself, knowing that if I set it up the night before I might not be hindered by the notion that I was too tired to set the articles out in the morning.  My husband would coddle me and kiss me good-bye, leaving for the office, leaving me to roll back over with my baby so that the two of us could doze through the morning.
Wednesday morning shattered like a gunshot. 
I got out of bed, forcing my heart not to race like a rabbit which has lost its warren.  Would he make tea for me, please?  I could get ready in under an hour with the pedal pushed all the way to the floor.  Nothing fancy, only something presentable: I stood in front of the mirror sick and praying, going through the familiar motions of tight-lining and blending neutral eyeshadows.  The sunlight was beautiful, perfect for make-up work.  I stared at myself as my hands brought out the best in my features.  My stomach was sick: my reflection tensed: I did not have time to be sick—no time for that!  I yanked the brush through my short waves.  Above my stomach, my heart felt stoned: terror had hit it like a peregrine in mid-dive.
The power cut off just as we were getting ready to leave.  Dear God, I begged lamely, dragging my broken wings after me as I stepped out the door: don’t let it be one of those days.
We got in the car and it leapt away with us, snarling unpleasantly as its fourteen years complained at the treatment while the turbo-charged horses flung their shoulders into the collars.  I sat numbly in my seat, clutching my mug of tea, praying and being sick, being sick and wishing I could pray with better alacrity.  We swung into town, following the phone’s instructions through the underbelly of the old milling district as we attempted the shortest way to the brick-worked Catholic hospital.  Somehow we did not get too lost.  Somehow we made it without spilling tea or the damp fragments of a breakfast neither of us wanted.  The long blue Audi yanked into the parking lot, snaked among the resident cars until it found a stall, and fell into place, its parking brake screaming as my husband nearly tore it up from the console.
The emergency entrance was low-browed, brick, and uninviting.  As we strode up the steep driveway toward the awning I could see my brother waiting for us, stolid, grim, his sunglasses looped round the back of his collared shirt: the call must have whipped him off a job site God and my brother alone knew how far away from this place.  God and my brother alone knew how he had flogged his horses to get here.  The police had not stopped him. 
Without a word he turned and led us through the emergency room lobby.  “Two more family,” he told the receptionist, and she unlocked the massive door for us, letting us through into the labyrinth.  With his usual broad-shouldered determination my brother led us down the narrow passages and finally we turned, the hallway opening out into a long, straight shot with the image of my sister in tousled hair and navy-stripes leaping familiarly out of the background of beige walls and blood-curdling medical equipment. 
No tears.  I noticed that first.  The almond colour of her skin was not warped with scarlet.  No tears.
We were not let in, my husband and I.  We stood with my sister in the hallway, trying not to be underfoot, while all that we could see of the little waiting chamber was a curtain, my mother’s little heeled sandals, and the badger-clawed feet of a hospital bed.  I could hear their voices.  I stood feeling pale as a ghost while my husband held me, and I listened to the tell-tale Godfather hoarseness of my father’s voice.  I wanted to see him.  My heart beat once, writhed with the agony of it, and lay still.  I wanted to see him. 
They took us out of the hallway.  I do not know how long we waited, seated, standing, leaning grimly against the walls while the nurses surged back and forth and my mother’s little heeled sandals moved about beneath the edge of the curtain.  Finally a nurse came breezing by—everything of unimportance cleared like chickens from her path—and stopped, whipping round on us. 
“Are you all together?” she asked.  “Only two at a time in the hallway, please.  The rest will have to wait in the ER lobby.”
Only two at a time.  Of course that meant my husband and I would go: my brother, who was the competent one, and looked like Uncle Exeter’s mace, would stay to help rule; and my sister, who despite her pale face and clear eyes could not bear to be taken from a stone’s toss of my father, would stay too.  As one unit my husband and I wove our way back to the lobby and waited, trying to buoy hopes that were insulted and spat upon by the drivel of the television playing overhead.
We waited.  I opened up The Tulip, glad for its large print and brightly panelled illustrations, and tried to read a few lines.  I knew enough about emergency rooms to know with some certainty—it was the only certainty I had—that we would be waiting all day.  My sister came eventually to join us, and our spirits lifted a little from sheer human nature.  Time crawled.  No news came like a spirit sent back to moisten the lips of the damned.  It was like hell, that eternal monotony. 
The voice of the receptionist called across the lobby to us.  “Would you and your sister like to go back to see your dad?”  Lord love her!  My heart bolted from cover: how I had forgot the singsong drawl of the South in which I lived.  It seemed to nest in this place.  Yes.  Yes, of course.  We knew our way: she opened the door for us.
I was able to see him.  He was resting, flat on his back covered in something printed: I will never clearly remember what it was.  His baby brown eyes, which I shared, were closed; his olive skin was ashen pale.  A very indistinct voice, like the shapeless form of my subconscious, warned me that I knew this image: it was the image of a corpse.
I turned at once and stood my turn for my mother’s arms.  She had greeted my sister, who was already buckling under the strain.  Pain was stabbing at the backs of my eyes and my throat felt unsteady, but somehow I spoke: small things, unimportant things that I would never clearly remember afterward.  I would not let him be woken.  Even though the formlessness of my subconscious sketched an apparition on the wall of my mind: What if he never wakes and he will never say good-bye?—I could not bear to have his tenuous rest snapped. 
“The nurse says he is holding steady.  They will be able to do the CT scan soon.”
Holding steady.  I understood those words.  I did not know what a CT scan was, only that it would show the medical practitioners the magic pictures of their art and—God willing—help them divine the problem.  Then we could find a cure.  For now, he was holding steady.  I took those words like a torch and carried them back with me to the lobby and my husband.
The waiting went on.  We read, he and I, and stole bleak glances at the television screen which was an idol I despised in those hours.  Finally—my brother came around the corner, his arm on my sister’s shoulder as he led her. 
My heart stopped.
She had her hands over her face, desperately trying to crush back the tears.  My brother’s face was grim and heavy, as it had been through the morning hours. 
“His appendix ruptured,” he said, with mingled tenderness and the bluntness of a hammer.  “He is septic.”
My hand came up over my mouth before I knew I had moved.  Those, too, were words I knew.  I hoped that God knew the airless spasming of a soul to be a desperate cry for help.  I was so terrified that I was conscious of no pain: I wondered, much later, if I experienced a shock.
There was my sister to take care of.  She sat down and crumpled forward, sobbing and trying not to sob.  I plunged my hand mechanically into the pocket of my bag and handed her my handkerchief: she took it without question, not caring at this point whether I had ever used it before.  Somehow, mostly, with only a few smarting tears, I held myself together.  Thinking back on imaginations of times like this one, spiralling into uncertainty and terror, I thought my body would be torn to shreds by grief and anxiety.  Now I only sat numbly, one hand on my sister’s shoulder, the other hand clasped within my husband’s grip, and my limp, dazed mind stretched feebly after heaven.
Presently a woman approached us tentatively from the direction of the receptionist’s desk.  I recognized her: small, black, one of the staff of the place, with that odd gentleness about her that so infrequently ran in white veins.  She looked sombre.  My heart could not take much more of this.
This is it.  It’s over.
“Excuse me,” she said softly.  “Forgive me for intruding—but I couldn’t help but notice you were so upset.  Is there anything I can get you?  Some water, perhaps?”
Dear God in heaven!  Not that!  I sat stunned, my mouth forming the smile which some form of good breeding and social gentleness flogged out of me by sheer habit.  I felt my throat tear and betray me.  Not that!  Not kindness.  If only you would be rude and discourteous, I could hate you and the anger would steady me.  I cannot stand kindness just now.  Courage cannot defend against it.
We thanked her, God knows how, with broken voices and tears that we were desperately trying to stave off.
Time does not cure wounds, but somehow it enables us to live with them.  The sobbing stopped; the navy-striped figure uncurled.  She had her little pocket scriptures jammed into her elegant tote, and she removed it wordlessly.  It sprang out at me like a light in a dark place, a solid object in a hades of ghosts.
“May we share?” I asked.  My voice was raw, barring back tears.
She said something, a question of some kind: I will never afterward remember clearly what it was.  All I know is that we sat side by side in the sunlit lobby, soaking in the glow of Davidic psalms.  Terror, uncertainty, grief, anxiety, the physical manifestations of inner turmoil, were nowhere near to diminishing.  I could not know what the future held.  But something gilt in the words overlaid the world and I lifted my head, swallowing, feeling something more solid than desperation barring across my soul to brace it against the impact.  Who knew what peace really was?  Whatever this was, I would take it. 
News came in unbroken starts, kicking at traces which were not ready to be laid on.  They would be rushing him to surgery.  Young and inexperienced, I thought this meant it would happen soon.  Soon!  Over and over in my head I saw a girl in a science fiction show—pure fantasy, all acted, all safe—lying against a metal bulwark with a gunshot wound in her stomach and the doctor demanding if the captain knew the effects of stomach wounds.
“I surely do,” the captain replied, a wicked edge in his calm tone.
Over and over I heard that voice while time dragged on and nothing happened.
At last my brother came for us, rounding us up with the news that they would finally be taking my father into what they called “pre-op,” and that we were to move further into the sanctum of the hospital.  We moved, an exodus of silent, desperate mendicants: myself, my husband, my sister, my sister-in-law, now my father-in-law as well.  We spoke to the angel at the entrance of a new waiting area and she told us to find seats and that news—when there was news—would be brought.
God save us all from suffering alone.  Somehow the increase in our numbers had bolstered my spirits.   The others—they were hard to read.  My brother went on, stalwart and grim as usual, with occasion flashes of humour when our spirits sparked and lit.  My sister went on, studiously reading the Scriptures or jotting down tiny script on the back of a church bulletin: now and then I saw her face fall, the overwhelming uncertainty cloud her features, and I wondered if the nightmare had struck at her again.  There was nothing I could do.  I sat in my horrible numbness and prayed.
At last—God remembers the hour—my mother emerged from the hallway.  Our bruised souls soared at her like doves from a dovecot.  At that moment, she was the most beautiful thing in the world to me.  I had agonized for her, alone wherever she was in the hospital, standing by my father as his life was falling into eternity.  I wanted to be there and did not know where she was.  At last she had come back to us, and at one glance I knew she was tired but steady, and she had left my father in capable, human hands.
I wanted to take her weariness from her.  I wanted to soothe her troubles.  I wanted—of all small, prosaic things—a portable stick of mascara and a hair brush just so that she could have the comfort of putting herself together.  There was nothing lacking in her appearance to me, but I wanted to give her these little things.  And I did not have them to give.
She sat down and told us he would be going into surgery soon.  Soon!  That word again: a part of me still believed its pretty lie.  The preliminary examinations, which was the best I understood “pre-op” to be, was blunt and honest: the appendix had ruptured and the infection would have spread.  They would do all they could, but…
I could not understand the words she used, only that there might be subsequent surgeries, that there was risk of set-back.  I understood that my father was going under the knife to have a terrible infection scrubbed out and that it would be hard to do, even in this day of modern medicine.
Sitting back into the lobby armchair, I knew I would loathe anyone who ever said in my hearing that they wished that had lived a hundred, two hundred years ago.  They were fools.
The first hour crawled by and a member of the staff—rank and serial number wholly unknown to me, though I pray God will bless her—came punctually to tell us that my father had not yet gone into surgery.  The medical jugging act was still being performed, but soon—soon!—they would have him fitted into his slot and the anaesthetist’s mask fitted over his face.
We ate a form of lunch.  I had to say that Macdonalds had stepped up their game since I had last wedged their burgers over my jaw.  My gut took the food and did not object.  I saw that my mother had orange juice, and ate even though she had no appetite.  I could not blame her, but four months of pregnancy had made me impatient of the excuse: the body needed food, and the body was going to get it. 
With a punctuality I had never known in a corporation before, the staff member returned every hour to inform us of progress: my father was in surgery, a surgery which lasted over three hours, and we writhed through those hours wishing we could sleep or stretch or gain relief.  But we waited, mournful dogs with our jaws on outstretched limbs, waiting for our master to come home.
At last the ordeal of swallowing razors was over.  An Italian-looking gentleman in scrubs came up behind my mother and touched her on the shoulder, breaking off an anecdote I will never remember at all, and she whipped round with recognition on her face.  I sat across from them, while the whole of our gathering leaned in on every side to hear his words.  Odd, how one does not always remember the words, only the shape of them.  His looked like relief.  He was kind and serious, but I would remember that the surgery had gone well.  I would remember that he described the nearly fatal event as a kind of hand-grenade exploding, with a lot of pus and infection and a number of abscesses, and outposts of further damage somewhere in the inscrutable tangle of the human gut.  The tissue in which the stitches had been made was badly corrupted, and he was concerned that the stitches would not hold, but out of the horrific nightmare picture he thought he had got the worst of it away, and while the professional in him warned us that there was risk of further infection, he was, on the whole, quite pleased.
It was good.  I wanted that captain in the science fiction show to reach up and take down the receiver, announcing through the ship in his warm, velveteen tone that we were finally out of the woods, but that voice did not come.  Still, the crew around me relaxed a little, ragged and worn, but relieved.  If I remembered to pray, I did not remember the moment afterward.  I hoped God knew. 
We began to disperse at last.  My niece and my nephew would have to be collected.  All during the day contractors and foremen had assured my brother they would put their backs into the day’s work and to tell us all, too, that they were praying for our father.  Did God hear the prayers of the wicked on behalf of the just?  I thought perhaps he might.  I did not know, but perhaps he might.  But now those jobs needed my brother to inspect them and shut them up for the night, and the long charcoal beast of my brother’s truck would go roaring through the dusk at speeds which did not abide contemplating.  My father-in-law would go home, bearing gladder tidings with him.  My sister would hitch a ride with my sister-in-law, aimed for her house, two bags of clothes, and the household cats which would need their insulin shots administered.
The waiting settled in again, my mother and my husband and myself bunked in a new waiting room while my father recovered from surgery.  Arrangements for the following day—days—jerked their creases out beneath our ironing.  The end of this day was in sight, and I thought that was a relief to us all. 
A telephone rattled from the wall of the labyrinth waiting area.  We started, but ignored it: our cell phones were within arm’s reach, and had been all day.  The next thing we knew, we were once more startled out of our flogged daze by the sound of my maiden name being called.  My mother took the phone from the nurse: with some confused idea of supporting her, and an even vaguer notion of being part of the news, I drifted after her.  Her answers to the still small voice on the other end were short and worried me, until at the last moment her tone went up with relief and appreciation, and I knew all was well.
They would be moving him up to his room now.
Even after all these hours, I failed to realize what ‘now’ meant.  My mother and my husband and I went directly abovestairs, riding the elevator which shook my battered equilibrium almost more than I could handle.  I still had another two hallways to walk down, and room numbers to read.  We found my father’s room and swung round the doorway.  To my disappointment, the bed was made up and empty.
“They said we would most likely get here before him,” my mother assured me. 
It sounded as though he would be just behind us.
It was over an hour before he arrived.
My sister and sister-in-law had returned before he made his appearance.  Over-night bags were bestowed on the window-seat, and once more we fell to waiting.  It almost felt cruel, by this point, to be so close and still to have to wait.  I sat on the hard window seat, cold in my skirt, my toes jammed into the ends of my heeled shoes, tired and aching and wishing I could lie down and cry like a child. 
Soon, I kept telling myself, looking at the clock which had once been my friend and had forever betrayed me.  Soon.  It will be soon.  Any minute now.
The moments which clustered around the beginning of the end may come back to me in the distant future, when the early days of my life are made clear by distance.  I do not remember them now.  “There he is!” someone said—my sister-in-law, perhaps.  The voice was steady: it could not have been my sister.  I remember that my body was on the inner side of the little hospital room, and somehow I was one of the first through the doorway, out into the bright yellow lights and the long hollow hallway, and there he was, wheeled by a cheerful black nurse—would no one teach me how they are so cheerful?—strolling him down the hallway toward us on his gurney.  He was sitting up, his eyes were open—dazed eyes, but lovely—and he was humming a weak, dramatic theme as he was wheeled into the doorway.  After all this time of listening to his agonized wheezing from behind a curtain, and then losing him to the silence of the hospital and the care of total strangers, to hear his thin but lucid humour was a relief I could never quantify.
Almost at once we lost contact with him again.  We crowded round him as his gurney was coaxed alongside the hospital bed, gripping his hands, kissing his forehead, gritting our horse-teeth against tears we had promised ourselves we would not cry.  But then the prosaic mechanics of the hospital kicked into gear, kindly but inexorable, and we were thrust from the room for the sake of space while he was lifted from the gurney onto his bed.
We formed our cluster just outside his door, parting only when nurses came wheeling the metal icons of their religion up and down the hall to mystical purposes known only to themselves.  We talked—about waking up from anaesthetic, about dreams, about babies and their care and the fears that attended their care-takers: small things which seemed important and warmed our hands as we held the topics close. 
We did not hear the sound barrier break when the long charcoal truck brought my brother back.  My sister said, “There he is!”—a singsong chant I was coming to know well—and that stolid figure was once more striding toward us, rejoining the group.  I wrapped my arms around my husband and my toes cried pitifully in my heels while we told my brother that we had witnessed our father’s coming, that we would be let in to see him again soon.
At last the impossibly cheerful nurses which swooped around my father began to disperse, and the many life-giving, blood-chilling tubes which must be set up and checked and turned on were all in place, and the small mob of which I was a part was let in through the door.  Somehow we all got ourselves round the bed, shaken and relieved…and it was strange to me that we had to tell the patient what had happened.  On the other side of his sleep, he remembered agony; on this side he had to be informed of the doctor’s assessment.  That nasty gap in which he had been in the doctor’s and God’s hands, and might have been taken from our own, would thankfully never surface in his memory.
“It was the strangest thing,” said the Godfather voice.  His hand moved to his forehead in a mimicry of an old habitual gesture.  It cut at me to see the listlessness of the motion: was he still in pain?  “It was not twenty minutes before we were going to go to the doctor’s appointment when the pain became unbearable.  We were all ready to go.  I thought—I really thought—I might actually die.”
He almost died—and he was still in the balance.  We were all thinking it, tasting terror and knowing this was no hyperbolic joke: the pale, ashen patriarch lying between us had knelt sweating on the brink of death and we had almost not pulled him back in time.  I bit my lip: Whatever happens, Father in heaven—
“When I was waiting for them to run the scan,” he said presently, “I prayed Paul’s prayer.”  His eyes passed softly round the group of us.  “That I thought it would be better that I should remain.”
We lingered, knowing that we should go and let him rest—already the meagre strength, which he rallied with a force of will which amazed me, was visibly diminishing.  But we wanted to be with him as long as we could.  Eventually my brother and my sister-in-law departed, and my father said—I do not remember when—that he thought my brother was very shaken.  He would not show it, but the young lion had been shaken.
It was time for us to take my sister away with us and to let my mother and father rest.  My sister gripped my father’s hand and leaned in, looking suddenly tiny and fragile next to the heavy hospital bed, and kissed his brow as best she could.  He held her hand tightly and she stayed close, frozen with the horror of a small animal.
“I gave you a scare, didn’t I,” he said quietly.
Her lips made a movement, crushing up on themselves as she tried to swallow back the tears that were sprinting from her eyes. 
Behind me, I heard my husband slip tissues from the dispenser on the wall.
My father whispered, “I’m sorry.”
I took the tissues—I was also in need of them, as the rawness of my throat and the picture of my sister breaking down again in the solitude of the room overwhelmed me.  I gave one to her, offering it and making sure it focused amidst the tear-blindness which had come over her.  I clutched my tissue hard and approached my father’s side among the desert of tubes and machines.
He took my hand and I kissed his brow.  “We’ll go now and let you rest,” I said practically, although the voice which was speaking did not sound like my own.  “We love you.”
“I—love you, too.”  The big hand shook mine reassuringly…
Looking down at him, so thin and pale and still in danger, I, too, felt the scent of terror welling up in my nostrils and I shoved practicality aside.  “You have to get better.  You have to—you have to see my baby.” 
My voice broke completely.
The strength snapped back into his eyes.  “Oh, I will.  I intend to see them all.  I will do everything the doctor says.  I will be the model patient.”
Tears curled and burned over my cheekbones, but I smiled weakly.  Practicality was coming back and for the sake of his own indomitable will power I would pull myself together.  “I will go now and break down some more in the car,” I said, equal parts candid and pathetic.  “We will see you.”
None of us spoke aloud on the ride home.  I think we were all speaking to God.  What we said, and what we meant by what we said, only the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost know.
july the second, the year of our lord two thousand fourteen