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Authors: Lisa Samson

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Songbird

BOOK: Songbird
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living, or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2003 by Lisa E. Samson

All rights reserved.

Warner Books, Inc.

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com

The Warner Books name and logo is a trademark of Hachette book Group

First eBook Edition: April 2003

ISBN: 978-0-446-55429-9

Contents

Prologue

Part One

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Part Two

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Part Three

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Part Four

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Part Five

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Part Six

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Part Seven

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Epilogue

Reading Guide

Songbird

One night, after I turned eight, I heard her sneaking out of our room. A real pretty dress the color of the ink on my school papers hovered above shoes with heels whittled down to little dots at the bottom, the kind that look as though you could kill somebody with them if they were giving you trouble.

So from my spot on the bed, the spot next to the sea-foam green wall, I asked her, “Where you goin’, Mama? Who you going with?’”

And Mama said, “Don't even ask, Myrtle Charmaine.”

P
RAISE FOR
L
ISA
S
AMSON'S

“When I want to smile, when I want my heart to be touched, when I want an honest look at life as we live it, I pick up a book by Lisa Samson and I’m never disappointed. Don't miss SONGBIRD.”

—Robin Lee Hatcher, bestselling author of
Firstborn

“SONGBIRD is simply superbl … A beautifully written tale of one woman's remarkable journey. If you haven't yet discovered Lisa Samson, don't waste another moment!”

—Mario Schalesky, author of
Cry Freedom
and
Freedom's Shadow

“Lisa Samson's SONGBIRD reads like a Southern folk poem or road movie with explosions of insight. It's edgy, honest, and rings like a haunting melody. The author pulls you into a waif's world and makes you care what happens to her…. Lisa Samson's an up-and-coming writer who gets downright nosey with her characters—probing inner nits and anatomy to discover what really makes them tick.”

—Janet Chester Bly, author of
Hope Lives Here
and
The Heart of a Runaway

“Lisa Samson's consummate skill as a storyteller shines through her latest work, SONGBIRD. Woven among insights of pure honesty, the story sparkles with hope, encouragement, and healing. I loved this book!”

—Lois Richer, author of
Inner Harbor
and
Blessings in Disguise

“As usual, Lisa Samson delights us with SONGBIRD! Her distinctive writing voice is compelling, lively, and irresistible. A must-read.”

—Nancy Moser, author of
The Seat beside Me
and
The Sister Circle

For my niece, Melissa Chesser, family songbird and my dear friend.

I love you,

—Aunt CeeCee

“None can cure their harms by wailing them.”

—William Shakespeare, Richard III,
Act II

Prologue

Good morning, merry sunshine,

How did you wake do soon?

You ‘ve scared the Little stars away,

And shone away the moon.

I watched you go to sleep last night,

Before I stopped my play,

How did you get way over there,

And, pray, where did you stay?

I never go to sleep, dear,

I just go ‘round to see

My little children of the East,

Who ride to watch for me.

I waken all the birds and bees,

And flowers on my way,

Then last of all, the little child

Who stayed out late to play.

I could be digging graves. That's definitely worse.

It's a cold, drizzly Wednesday night in late November. Gravediggers work out in the eight
P.M.
rain. So off I haul myself to the 7-Eleven, pour up a couple of hot chocolates, slip in a little half-and-half, and slide on back to that small church cemetery right there on Route 29. Imagine my surprise when the fellow down there in the grave, dug only about three feet deep so far, looks up with a smile brighter than the generator-powered light that shines down into the crisp-edged rectangular hole. Now, I don't know much about much, really, but I say when you take the trouble to stop and buy a couple of hot chocolates at the 7-Eleven, and one of the men you hand them to happens to look like Mel Gibson's younger brother, right there's your reward from the Almighty.

I present them the hot chocolates for “When you want to get a little warm,” and accept their “Thank you, now”s. I realize I should say, “God bless you” or something, you know, to fill them in on the fact that my kindness was due to the kindness Jesus bestowed upon me, but I only manage this crazy little salute before I wheel around and almost get plonkered by a hitherto unseen pickup truck backing toward the gravesite.

Thank the good Lord I am able to bite back, “Goodness gracious, you almost had to dig an extra one for me!” And give the fabled grandma Min yet another reason to roll over in the grave I have no idea whether or not she occupies? No, thank you.

So I drive along home to our RV practicing my new solo, “Beulah Land, Sweet Beulah Land,” and tell my husband, Harlan, all about it and we laugh ourselves a good one. Harlan's bald with flimsy hazel eyes, but his pulpit voice, the main attraction of the Harlan Hopewell Evangelistic Crusade, I imagine tints even the angel Gabriel a light shade of green. And I love him.

And you know how they say, “No good deed goes unpunished”? Well, I drag red clay from the gravesite all over our carpet. See? That's when I know I’ve done something right, because the Devil has to get the last word. I know this because each day I have to talk myself out of bed and into the hum of life, and old Scratch does his darndest to win that battle, too.

The great thing about God is that He'll always answer your prayers. One day, oh, years ago after I turned sixteen and had run away from my second foster home, I just prayed to the Lord. I prayed, Lord, help me to see ways to make folks feel like they're worth something. Because I can tell you this, when you feel like you're worth nothing, the thought of living with that for the rest of your life feels like looking down a hole dug clear through to China. Only there's no China at the end. And you know what? God answers that prayer all the time! So many chances greet me out there every day, I force myself to pick and choose which ones to act on! God is so good.

Just like the song says.

Back in 1960 my mama, Isla Whitehead, thought otherwise. At least I guess so. My birth occurred on a night in December so warm I broke my first sweat at the ripe old age of one hour. It hit eighty that day. A record-breaker for sure! And I don't know why I broke a sweat, other than maybe somehow I envisioned the road before me. And my mama went and named me Myrtle. Myrtle Charmaine Whitehead. Now you just tell me if that isn't a name a girl will do her solemn best to slough off right out of the starting gate?

One time Mama said she recognized the trappings of something special built right into me: fame, fortune, notoriety, she never did say. The Lord only knows how someone can tell that by looking at a newborn. Mama claimed infallibility about such matters. Mama claimed the powers of ESP. Of course, she also used to say she knew enough dirt about Queen Elizabeth II to dethrone the poor woman!

Oh, my lands! However, my few memories of very early childhood: sunny days in the park near Lynchburg College, cheese sandwiches by the river, Easter dresses, and cat's cradle, I force myself to recall for my own sake, not for Mama's. I remember the song she always sang when she woke me up, “Good Morning, Merry Sunshine,” but when she stopped singing it to me, I can't say.

Mama wore no golden band from the time I could remember. So far as I know, marriage and Mama never crossed paths. Isla Whitehead was the Woman at the Well but without any marriage certificates to fall back on. If Jesus struck up a conversation with her down by the drinking fountain at the market downtown, He wouldn't ask her the question, “Woman, have you a husband?” because, back then, Mama would have said “yes,” and that would have just been a flat-out lie. Nothing like the Woman at the Well who told the truth, part of the truth, and nothing but part of the truth. As my little King James Bible says, “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.” So He might just have asked her how many men she had, and Mama might have said two, to which He would have replied, “You rightly say. You've had two men, and another twenty to boot.” Although, I can't quite picture my Lord and Savior using the phrase “to boot.”

I can, however, picture the expression of love in His eyes for Mama. It's the same one He has for me, too. “Jesus Lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly.”

Just like the song says.

Oh, I like all the songs.

As far as I know, Lynchburg never labeled Mama as the local strumpet or some such derision-filled title. I never knew about her nights out until I’d aged a bit. And the proverbial train of “uncles” never hokey-pokied through our little rented room. She just lucked out that I slept like Gulliver and never knew she'd flown our sad little life for however brief a time.

In fact, I knew nothing of Mama's dark, insatiable penchant for men and that her life of dates, clandestine love affairs, and dangerous caterwauling had been so widespread until I reached maturity and assembled the puzzle years after she discarded me.

Even now, I have many unanswered questions. But isn't that life?

Anyway, we all have only one tale to tell, our own. And usually questions remain and all we can do is be glad we're alive to field them right on into eternity.

Part One

1

M
ama waited tables down at the Texas Inn, right where Route 29 dipped back up from its sojourn across the bridge that spanned the James River. Now, coming down the big hill before the river you can get the prettiest view of the city of Lynchburg, Virginia. The streets are layered in tiers downtown as though some building farmer decided to employ the Inca method. Beginning with Main Street, jumping up to Church Street, then Court, and finally Clay, downtown just sort of hovers there, the steeples sometimes piercing the morning mist from the river, sometimes glowing like holy swords of fire in the afternoon sun. Now that I’m an adult I appreciate this view, but back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, it wasn't so well lit and some folks thought downtown would never bounce back to the glory days.

BOOK: Songbird
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