Authors: A Piece of Heaven
More praise for
A Piece, of Heaven
“In this beautifully written ode to family bonds, the author presents an in-depth view of what truly matters in life-lasting relationships…. Readers should have their handkerchiefs ready and prepare to be enchanted.”
“Beautifully drawn but deeply wounded characters populate the pages of this exceptional romance. Seamlessly combining the dark issues of abandonment, betrayal, infidelity, and alcoholism with a compelling love story, Samuel has written an intense, multi-faceted tale of relationships, family, and healing love.”
No Place, Like, Home
“A lyrical novel of family, loss, and redemption, beautifully written, beautifully told.”
“If [you] yearn for a happy-ever-after ending,
No Place Like Home
is a novel for you.”
The Denver Post
Also by Barbara Samuel
Published by Ballantine Books
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
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This one is for Meg Ruley
warrior, champion, wise woman
and all-around wonderful human being.
It’s impossible to express how much some people helped with this book. My deepest thanks go, first and most deeply to Sally Pacheco and Adolph Chacon, because the book was born in their backyard on a summer night when someone started talking about holy dirt— and the help didn’t stop there. Thanks to both of you for so generously sharing your world. Thanks to Sally for leading discussions, especially for sharing your mother and your insights on certain things. Thanks to Adolph for teaching me little things, all the time, words in Spanish and the way things were done in the old days and a million other things I can’t possibly name.
Thanks to Mary Francis Pacheco, Sally’s amazing mother, who shared stories of her life and times and made them live for me. Thanks to Krista Barber, Jennifer and Willie Chacon, who gave me an entirely different view of Chimayó. To Christie for a perfectly timed and insightful critique, to Holli Bradish, for a great artist’s date down at Chimayó and Taos, a day I will always remember as magical and rare, and to the gang—clients and employees alike—at SCCCS. I had no idea, when I walked in those doors, how much my view of life and love and the universe was about to change, and I’m grateful.
And thanks to Rita Valdez, class of 1977 Doherty High School. Thanks, girl, for standing up for me all the time with those big, bad girls.
Sins become more subtle as you grow older: you commit sins of despair rather than lust.
Placida Ramirez knew she did not have much time. There was old in her bones, not like it had been when she was sixty and her knees got stiff after a rain, or when she was seventy-six and sometimes fell asleep in her chair, half-shucked corn still in her hands when she woke up.
No, this was an old that went deep, deep. She was the oldest woman in an old, old town, and even the littlest ones called her
And it would not be so bad to go on now. She’d outlived four of her children and two of her great-grandchildren, not counting the ones that never really came. Her husband had died so long ago she had lived longer without him than she had with him.
There was only one thing keeping her, and Placida had to fix it before she could go. So it was that she gathered herbs and incense and candlesticks that she had not used for a long, long time. And she waited till the moon was right—full and bursting with the light of women— and she cast her petition to the Madonna, the Virgin, the Mother.
Prayers did not always work. But this time, Placida felt a rush of warm wind over her old bones and
through her heart. For a moment, she scowled at the candle flickering over the carved wooden robe of the statue of Guadalupe, thinking maybe this was just going to bring her more energy to see to things herself. “No,” she said, and poked a finger toward the candle. It fell over.
With a small cry, she grabbed it up, but it was too late. The flame on the old altar cloth sped right for the thin muslin curtains over the window. They went up in a shiver of smoke. With her gnarled fingers, she could not unfasten the knots of her apron as fast as she wished, and in despair, she turned and took up the kitchen towel, trying to beat out the leaping flames. With sharp, disappointed movements, she slapped at the fire.
That was the trouble with saints and prayers and spells. A person had in mind a perfectly reasonable plan, but the tricksters always seemed to take it as a challenge.
The Taos News:
Full Moon Facts
The full moon is the phase of the Moon in which it is fully illuminated as seen from Earth, at the point when the Sun and Moon are on opposite sides of the Earth. The full moon reaches its highest elevation at midnight. High tides. Names for the August and September full moon: Full Red Moon, Full Green Corn Moon, Full Sturgeon Moon.
It was a good thing for Placida Ramirez that the moon was full when she set her house on fire at three o’clock in the morning that August night. Because it was the moon, shining like a searchlight through her bedroom windows, that had awakened Luna McGraw Technically, it was a dream about her long-gone father that yanked her out of sleep. It was worries about her daughter’s arrival tomorrow that kept her awake.
But the moon, so coldly white in the summer sky, took the blame.
Dragging on a pair of shorts beneath her sleeping shirt, she got up to make some coffee. It would make her mother crazy to know Luna was making coffee in the middle of the night. Why not a cup of tea? Something soothing and relaxing?
Not her style. Once upon a time, she would have poured a hefty measure of gold tequila into a water glass and sipped that. A part of her still wished she could.
At least coffee had some bite. Measuring out Costa Rican Irazú into her new Krupps grinder, she counted
out the seconds to twenty-one. Perfect grind for a latte. Perfect grind for her, anyway. The world was entirely too full of coffee nazis these days—coffee was about individual taste, and no one should let anyone else tell her what to like. She liked hers strong enough to stand and walk by itself, with steamed milk and a pound of sugar. As drugs went, it wasn’t bad. Also, a good latte took some detail work. The measuring. The grinding. Now she pressed the grounds, the color of good earth, into a tiny metal basket, and clicked on the machine. While it was heating up, she poured one-percent milk into a giant ceramic mug and waited, yawning, for the steam to be hot enough to make a froth.
The actions and the smell of coffee eased some of her restlessness, and she found she could stand there with one bare foot over the other without twitching too much in nicotine withdrawal. Or wondering why it had suddenly seemed like such a brilliant plan to quit smoking right now, when her daughter was coming to live with her for the first time in eight years. Maybe, she thought with resentment, it would be better to try again in a few weeks, when there wasn’t so much at stake.
But of course, Joy was the reason she had decided to try. The reason she could stick with it for a few more days. Joy hated cigarettes and Luna hated feeling like such a failure in front of her daughter. Not smoking seemed like a gesture of earnestness.
And really, she needed to quit anyway—everybody had to quit, right?—it stunk and made you wrinkle faster and it was bad for your health, and it was nearly impossible to go out and have a long, lazy dinner with anyone these days unless you wanted to keep a patch handy, which was almost as sick in its way.
Primary reasons, she said to herself, an old habit. A note taped to her cabinet said it:
mind dread diseases or wrinkles. She hated the smell of cigarettes on her body and in her hair, in the air and on her hands. Yuck. The way things smelled mattered to her—perfumes and incense and flowers, herbs and morning on the desert. Coffee brewing in the middle of the night.
The machine started to gurgle, and she stuck the steamer into the milk, bringing a fine foam to the top, then poured the finished espresso into the mug, added three packets of turbinado sugar, and stirred it all together.
Now what? There was a button that needed sewing on her best blouse. A novel, lying facedown on the kitchen table, could be read. In the workroom off the kitchen an assortment of crafts, including a half-painted table, waited. Luna went and stared at it—the wildest one yet, a blooming pink rose with a bleeding heart at the middle of it. Her mother hated it, said it was scary, and while Luna didn’t agree with her, she wasn’t in the right mood to work on it, either.
Tobacco. Tequila. White zinfandel. A long Marlboro, red pack.
At least they would be something to
With a half-bored, half-agitated sigh, she carried the mug outside to the porch. The cold moon burned overhead like an evil omen. Luna glared at it, settling into a metal, motel-style rocker she had painted with a kitschy, smiling Virgen de Guadalupe in a pink dress and lime green cloak and a Barbie-doll face. Guadalupe Barbie, she told people who wouldn’t be offended. Even people who really loved her—and frankly, what was there not to love about ‘Lupe?—were pleased by the rendition. Sitting there eased Luna, like sitting on her mother’s lap.
But still that searchlight of a moon blazed over Taos. In the canyons of her mind, Luna’s demons howled at it.
She could see them, with their greenish lizard skin and long claws and ears like bat wings, dragging out all the forgotten sins of a lifetime, the little and the big. All the sorrows that ordinarily stayed safely buried, the tattered bits from childhood, the protected velvets of things she couldn’t bear to look at. One demon plucked out a bracelet made of copper links, machine-stamped with thunderbirds, and hearing her gasp of surprise and outrage, ran off cackling with it.