THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET

Aug. 24, 2021

 

 

THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET

By Joan Hall Hovey

Feeling a thrill of both recognition and surprise, Nancy double-checked the address she'd scribbled on the scrap of paper she held in her hand. But there was no doubt; this was the same beautiful white two-story house, with its black shutters and gingerbread trim, she'd passed to and from school for much of her young life, and that she'd so often fantasized about. She had imagined how it would look inside: chandeliers, oriental rugs, a sweeping staircase leading to beautiful bedrooms. A house fit for a movie star. Set back from the street, the manicured lawn rolled down to the ornamental wrought-iron gate parallel to the street. There were a few well-placed white birch trees, one of which had a cozy bench beneath it. Nancy had never seen anyone sitting there.

She was here to be interviewed for the job of companion to an elderly woman. Light housekeeping and meal preparation included, the ad said. No problem.

Looking up at the house a moment longer, she then opened the gate that swung inward easily and went up the stone walk flanked by colorful flowers that gave off a glorious fragrance. Taking a deep breath, she rang the bell.

At once, a tall man perhaps in his somewhere in his forties wearing black-rimmed glasses opened the door and smiled at her. He had a nice face and deep blue eyes. "Hello. You must be Nancy. Meadows. I'm Richard Preston, Mrs. Worth's lawyer and friend of many years. Mrs. Worth is waiting for you in the library slash bedroom since the stairs have become too much for her." He gestured to the partially open french doors. "You may go right in,"

The house was even grander than she had imagined as a little girl. The staircase curved upward in the center of the large room, leading to the landing that she assumed branched off to opulent bedrooms. An enormous crystal chandelier hung from the high ceiling completing the Hollywood ambiance. She could almost see the legendary Norma Desmond descending the stairs in Sunset Boulevard. "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille."

On entering the library, her eye was drawn to the wall of bookshelves holding many leather-bound books. There was a small fireplace, and Nancy envisioned a crackling fire to warm chill winter nights. Knowing she might never come here again, she tried to burn every detail to memory.

Mrs. Worth sat like a queen on a luxurious sofa, a crocheted shawl draped across her knees. Beneath silvery, upswept hair, her face, with its classic bone structure, was pale and too-thin. But the light blue eyes that scrutinized Nancy, held an unmistakable sparkle.

"I can see you're impressed with the place. Proves you have good taste. It will go to my niece when I'm gone; no doubt she'll make the place unrecognizable. But I suppose most young people would prefer it more modern, open concept as they say, lots of granite and stainless steel. Still, it makes me sad. Come closer, my dear. My eyes aren't as sharp as they used to be. Sit, please."

A chair with curved legs angled toward Mrs. Worth and Nancy sat, horrified at the thought of someone changing anything about this house, let alone tear down walls.

She'd worn her navy linen suit and pearls. The pearls had belonged to her mother when she was alive. They weren't real of course, and Mrs. Worth would know that. But she thought they looked nice.

"Well, Nancy Meadows, you look like a sensible young woman. Are you?"

"I am, yes, ma'am."

“Always?”

“I think so. Yes.”

"Really. How boring for you. I was a bit of cut-up myself at your age. So what do you do for fun?"

Nancy tried to hide her surprise at the woman's candor. "I like to read. Take walks. I love old movies.”

"Aw, an old soul. You're not the type to take off with my best jewelry, are you?"

"Oh, no. Ma'am. I would never..."

"Please, quit calling me Ma'am. Makes me feel like an old woman. Oh, hell I am an old woman."

Nancy couldn't suppress a grin and Mrs. Worth held hers, barely. She was engaging in a little tease. "You may call me Delia. That's if I decide to hire you."

"Of course."

"I assume you have references."

She had two. Mrs. Worth scanned them. "Fred Belding, Poor Freddy. You were his caretaker, then. He speaks highly of you."

"I didn't know he'd written that letter. His sister found it in his papers. You knew him?"

“In another time. So tell me. Why is a lovely looking, smart girl like yourself wanting to be a companion to an old lady? Surely you can find something -- more suitable. Or perhaps you should be in university. What are you? Eighteen?"

"Twenty-two. I've never been terribly comfortable with people my own age. After the death of my parents in the pandemic, I was raised by an elderly aunt who is also gone now. She loved the old movies too; we would watch them together. I enjoyed her company and that of her friends. And I like to help people who may not be as physically strong and agile as they once were.”

“Is there a boyfriend?”

“No. I find boys my own age rather silly."

Delia Worth grew thoughtful, then reached for her cane beside her, transferred the shawl from her knees to her shoulders, and rose shakily to her feet. Nancy had a natural urge to help, but feared being thought presumptuous."

"Richard," Mrs. Worth called into the other room. "I don't think we need look further."

Nancy's heartbeat kicked up a notch. Was it possible? Did she have the job? Was she going to live in this beautiful house -- the house she'd dreamed of as a child -- and be companion to this elegant lady. She felt like she was floating a few feet above the carpet.

The lawyer stood in the doorway, his smile including them both. "You've obviously made an impression, Miss Meadows." He turned his attention to Mrs. Worth. "Your niece is here, Delia," he said softly. Before he put period to the sentence, a woman swep into the room with barely a glance at Nancy. She kissed her aunt's cheek lightly. Nancy took in the taupe linen dress, the highlighted hair. Sea green Gucci sandals and bag, (the brass double G's visible) completed the ensemble. Nancy felt drab by comparison; the pearls didn't seem quite so smart somehow.

"Who are you bringing into the house now, dear Auntie. You're quite vulnerable, you know, and they're all kinds of lowlife out there, willing to scam an old lady. "No offense," she said to Nancy, whose face had caught fire.

“I'm sorry, Nancy,” Mrs. Worth said. “Bethany, that was unkind even for you. Nancy, you may begin tomorrow,” she said, smiling apologetically. “Molly, my cleaning lady will be here in the morning and she'll show you around. I sleep late mornings. If that's acceptable to you.”

“Yes, yes. Very acceptable. Thank you, Mrs. Worth.”

“Delia. Remember?”

“Thank you ...Delia.”

On her way out, Nancy heard Mrs. Worth chastise gently, "Who I bring into this house is my affair, Bethany dear. I've been handling my own affairs for a lifetime now. I'm sure I'll be fine. Now, to what do I owe the pleasure, darling? Haven't seen you in a while."

"Can't I check up on my favorite aunt without being suspect? I had my Tarot cards read yesterday and she said I'm coming into a lot of money.”

“Really? So when am I to die?”

“Oh, Aunt Delia, you're terrible.” She trilled a laugh that scraped along Nancy's nerves.

Early the next morning Nancy arrived with two battered suitcases and was met at the door by a jolly-faced woman who was presently wiping her hands on a dishtowel. "You're Nancy," she smiled, slinging the dishtowel over her shoulder and extending a warm hand. "Ma'am said I was to put the coffee on and it's just finished perking. There are eggs or cereal, whatever..."

“I've already eaten, thank you. Bur I'd love a coffee.”

"All right, then. I'm Molly, by-the-by. Molly Inman. I come twice a week to clean. When you're finished your coffee, I'll give you the grand tour."

Her bedroom was upstairs, third on the right. It was a spacious room, flooded with light pouring in through the tall window facing onto the lawn. The room had its own small fireplace and a bed the size of a raft. Feeling like she had tumbled into a fairytale, she unpacked her few things and went down into the well-equipped kitchen.

Having prepared a vegetable soup for lunch and a light salad, apple strudel for dessert, she carried the tray into her new employer, who removed her glasses and set down the book she'd been reading and drew the folding table close to her.

“Ah," she said, smiling her approval. "I could smell the hot apple and cinnamon from the kitchen. My favorite. But you don't have to go to such trouble, dear. I've always been a light eater, conscious of my weight, you see. A piece of toast and tea is generally what I take for lunch. Not that it matters now, but eating light has kept me trim and reasonably healthy at ninety-two. Along with dancing."

"You were a dancer?”

Delia Worth brightened. "Once a dancer, always a dancer, my dear. I was dancing right up until my 90th birthday, for myself only, of course. Until I slipped on the icy step outside and broke my hip.”

“I'm so sorry.”

“Me too.”

“You look like a dancer. You're still beautiful.”

“You're very kind, Nancy. Though I must confess I was paid a similar compliment by a count once, and also a prince, as I recall. He had terrible table manners. But he was very rich. He bought me expensive gifts, perfume. Chanel No. 5. It's still my favorite. I was quite a dish back then."

"Yes, I can see that. You're regal, yet earthy."

"You have a way with words, Nancy Meadows."

"I read a lot.”

"We have that in common. Although I didn't take to books until I was much older.”

"Would it be rude of me to ask if your – husband's passed?" Nancy asked timidly.

“Or if I'm divorced? Yes, it would, but I'll answer. I only ever loved one man and I married him. His name was Stephen – Stephen Crane, like the man who wrote The Red Badge of Courage. Ironically, he died in the war."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry."

"It's fine. A long time ago. What about you? Despite finding boys your own age silly, I'm sure you've dated at some point?"

"I did. Briefly. It didn't work out.”

"Relationships often don't. Better to think of your future on your own terms. Along with Richard's investment brilliance, I have my career as a dancer to thank for the comfortable life I have at my advanced age. For this house."

“Really?”

“Yes. Exotic dancing. You might as well know. I wanted to be on the legitimate stage, but it was not to be. It was the depression, you see, times were tough. A lot of the girls I worked with had other dreams - actresses, singers, even ballerinas - but you made do. If you wanted to eat.” She laughed and Nancy heard a bitter note in the laugh that told her all Delia's memories weren't so rosy.

“Not everyone called it exotic dancing,” she said, a little defensively. “I was also called a stripper, as my niece likes to remind me. As did my brother when he was alive. But we were never cheap or vulgar, not like the girls now. We were ladies. Always well spoken, well turned out. It's all about stirring the imagination of your audience, not baring it all. There's no mystery there. I never did the bump and grind routine. The good ones didn't have to. You must have heard of Gypsy Rose Lee."

"Yes, of course."

"She and I were good friends at one time. She died young. 59, seems very young to me now. She was so vital. I learned a lot from Gyp. As no doubt, you did from your aunt and her friends. Different things, of course."

Nancy found herself sitting beside her employer on the divan, without being aware of making the move. "Very different, I'm sure. She must have been really something."

"Gypsy? Yes, she was. Her real name was Rose Louise Hovic. She was witty and smart. I didn't have her gift of gab, but I did all right. Those were the times; we partied with famous actors like Spencer Tracy, big-name politicians, art dealers. I met Artie Shaw. He was a big celebrity bandleader. He was married for a time to Betty Grable at one time. He treated her lousy, we all knew about it. At least we heard about it. Do you like to dance, Nancy?"

“I love it. Though I haven't danced much, mainly in my bedroom with no one watching.”

“You have wonderful posture and you move like a dancer. I used to take a lot of the new girls under my wing: I could teach you. Would you like that?”

"I – don't know. I don't think...”

“It could be fun. And a great way to stay in shape. Give it some thought. Would you like to see some photos – of that time..."

"Oh, yes, please. I'd be honored."

"They're in the studio, in the closet. Right through there. She gestured to the other set of french doors, which Nancy had assumed led to Delia's private washroom. "Don't be confused by the wall mirrors and ballet barre in there. There was a time when I planned to teach dance, but it never came to fruition. I took tap and ballet as a child, you know. There's an old record player and a few LP's in there as well, dear."

She was met with an expanse of gleaming hardwood floors, their golden hue reflected in the wall of mirrors at the back and side of the room. She crossed to the dressing room which was complete with a walk-in closet, makeup mirror with lights, posh washroom facilities including a large shower. All seemed to be waiting to fulfill its intended purpose.

Over the next couple of weeks, Nancy entered into an alternate world as she perused the many photos in album after album. The early ones in black and white, later in vivid color, with a running commentary from Delia. Newspaper clippings, posters celebrated the stunning and steamy, 'Delilah', Delia's stage name.

Through her imagination, Nancy lost herself in smoky rooms filled with throbbing, thumping music, enthusiastic audiences.

Delia taught her some basic moves in exotic dancing. And as they grew closer, the stories never lost their thrill for her, though some of her stories gradually grew darker.

"It wasn't all good times and glamour," she told her once and Nancy knew the admission didn't come easy. She spoke of nights when some man would hurl ugly insults or reach for her like she was a piece of meat on a hook.

"There was one club manager, Minsky's I think it was,” she said, “who decided he didn't want to pay me. A short, fat little creep name Fritz. I don't remember his last name. I threatened to have the place closed down if he didn't give me my money. It got ugly. You absorb a lot and some you block out. But it seeps through..You oughta know about that too. But I guess I needn't worry about painting too rosy a picture for you; it's not like you're going to tread my path. Burlesque is dead and gone."

"It's different, to be sure.” Nancy been sheltered but she wasn't stupid. "They were nasty men and I'm sorry you experienced that. But I love hearing these stories, Delia, the good and the not so good. It all made you the person you are now, which is pretty wonderful, in my opinion. You look tired, Delia. Let's get you over to your chair and I'll make up your bed.”

“You're sweet. Anyway, no one ever wants to hear these old tales so it's nice to have someone to tell them to.”

Settled beneath the blankets, Delia asked, “What about you, Nancy? What is your dream?”

“I'm living it.” She fluffed a pillow, cupped Delia's head, and slid it under. “Being here, being your companion, it's everything.” She picked up a loose photo that had fallen out of the album, and admired it. “You really were gorgeous, Delia.”

Delia smiled, looking at the photo in Nancy's hand. “You're good for my flailing ego. Actually, you remind me a little of myself back then. Willowy. Long dark hair, those blue bedroom eyes. Take a look in the closet and pick yourself out a couple of my old gowns."

"Oh, no I couldn't..."

"Of course you can. I'll be your tutor, you'll be my muse. I'll dance vicariously through you. Would you refuse an old lady the pleasure?”

Nancy knew it was emotional blackmail, and Delia's grin told her she wasn't oblivious to the fact.

***

The black silk gown flowed over Nancy's skin like cool water and Delilah's dance shoes fit like Cinderella's glass slippers. She smiled at her fanciful self in the mirror. Her aunt, who'd been very religious and thought dance was the devil's work, would have been shocked to see her now.

Delia was most complimentary. “You look stunning, dear. “ Then she added in almost a whisper. “Bethany must never know about this.”

Her niece visited often. She was always pleasant, but Nancy didn't trust the smile that didn't quite reach her eyes, and would make herself scarce when she was around.

Once, passing the door, she overheard Delia say, her voice lowered. "I don't know what you have against Nancy, Bethany. Actually, we get on well. She's a lovely young woman and she plays a mean game of scrabble. Unlike you,” she half-teased, “who looks like she's having teeth pulled to sit through a game. And then you throw the game just to get it over with."

"I might sue for alienation of affection." Bethany chuckled to show she was kidding, but it left Nancy with an uneasy feeling. When the door closed behind her, Nancy got ready for her dance lesson.


“Put the album on, darling. It was “The Entertainer” and Delia's face lit up as the music began to play. Nancy swayed to the rhythm. At first, she felt awkward and self-conscious, but gradually she began to lose herself to the music.

"Yes, that's it. Feel the beat enter your body, give yourself to it. You own the stage, Nancy. Not so fast,” she directed. “Slower, subtle, giving just a hint of your mystery. Your power. Strike an attitude. A little naughty, a little haughty. .. ah, yes, much better.”

It was 1940, the room is smoke-filled, ringing laughter and applause. Glasses tinkled -- and the music played. The photographs in the album came alive in her alternate world.

Enough. Turn it off. “

Nancy had been caught up in the moment, and now stood frozen, worried she had somehow displeased Delia. And then Delia cried, “Oh, these legs, these useless legs."

The next night Delia insisted she put on the gold lame. “I'm going to show you some great new moves."

"Delia, are you sure? I don't..."

"Yes, I'm sure. Forget last night. I was wallowing in self-pity. Mourning my lost youth.”

Nancy danced for Delia most every evening, taking in all her instruction and advice, but gradually putting her own stamp on the routines Delia taught her. Delia told her she was wonderful. "My family was embarrassed by what I did for a living. But my parents are gone long ago, my brother more recently, and I don't give a damn what my niece thinks. I supposed I've spoiled her, to my detriment. I often see the distain on her on her face when I refer to my dancing days. You know it's hard not to mention it ever: dancing was my whole life. And I was damn good at it."

"I know," Nancy said.

"You don't know anything,” she gently contradicted. “You're a baby."

"But I do. I almost feel like I went through it with you.”

"As much as I hate to say it, you're getting to be damn near as good as I was. Damn near, I said.” She smiled. "I see you're developing a style of your own. You were born to dance, Nancy. We'll have a glass of very fine wine later to celebrate your progress."

As the music began to play, the beat and throb of it filled the room, once more entering her body. She sashayed across the floor in Delia's high heels,shoulders back, proud, the way Delia and shown her.

One evening, in the midst of her performance, Richard came into the room. Startled, Nancy faltered, but Delia motioned her to continue, and after an awkward beat or two, she did. When she finished, they both applauded. Before leaving, Richard apologized to her for his intrusion, but Delia had invited him and told him to say nothing, and would not listen to his arguments against it. Nancy felt mildly betrayed, but only mildly. She was proud of her skills and knew her dancing had pleased him. More important, she had felt safe under his gaze, admired but not leered at. She liked Richard Preston. Liked his quiet strength, the warmth and intelligence in his eyes, the wry humor.

Later, alone in her room, the music continued to play in her head and Nancy twirled in front of the long mirror, revealing a long, shapely leg in the net stockings Delia had given her. Despite the 70 years that lie between them, Nancy and Delia had become best friends. They'd crossed generations to a deeper place inside both of them.

One afternoon during a visit from her niece, Nancy heard Bethany on the telephone. “I don't think that old lady is ever going to kick the bucket,” she half-whispered. “It's like she's got a new lease on life. The money is going to pay to keep her old bones alive. I love my aunt, but damn, Gerald, we could do so much with it.”

Nancy, stunned by what she'd heard, slipped out of sight. She knew she couldn't tell Delia; she'd be devastated. Or think I was just jealous. What about Richard? But what proof did she have. Only what she'd heard on the phone, and it wasn't as if they'd been planning her murder. And she'd said she loved Delia. Maybe I'm making too much of it.

On a snowy Monday morning just before Christmas, Nancy had been out doing some last minute shopping for Delia and upon returning, was met at the door by Bethany which surprised her, since Delia's niece generally visited in the afternoon. She'd been crying.

"My aunt passed away a short time ago, Nancy, while you were out – somewhere. We'll have no more need of your services."

Nancy stood outside the door, stunned at the news, unable to take in that Delia was dead. Gone from the world. That couldn't be. “But she was fine when I left her,” she stammered, the tears coming despite her efforts to retain her dignity. “She asked me to get -- I can't believe it. When? Where's Molly? What happened?” In shock, she was barely able to put a coherent sentence together. But then she remembered the phone call. Her Bethany done something to Delia?

Taking the bags from Nancy, she handed her an envelope. "We've paid you a month's severance. Though I can't really justify a letter of reference. I must admit you worked very hard to gain my aunt's trust. There are things missing, some jewelry, but we'll just let that go unless you force my hand. I knew what you were the minute I laid eyes on you." She reached behind her and brought out Nancy's suitcases.

Nancy swallowed hard. "I'm not a thief. And I don't require a reference from you, Bethany. It would mean nothing. She picked up her suitcases and turned to leave, heard the door close behind her.

Blinded by tears, she practically stumbled into Richard coming up the snow-covered walk.

"Nancy, I just got the call. I knew you'd be devastated, I am myself, dear. Let's go back inside..."

"No. Bethany just gave me my severance pay and told me I'm no longer needed. When did Delia die? She was fine when I left this morning. Molly was with her. How did everything happen -- so fast, Richard." She broke into sobs and Richard held her until they subsided.

"She had a massive stroke, dear. Let's be glad it took her. She wouldn't have wanted to spend whatever time she had left, unable to speak, perhaps even to think.” He glared at the front door, anger in those warm eyes. “I'm sorry about Bethany. She's a spoiled, selfish woman. But not to worry, Between us, Delia left her amazing dancing student well taken care of. Wipe your eyes. It'll all be fine.”

He removed a crisp white handkerchief from his suit jacket breast pocket and took her suitcases from her. “Let's go sit on the bench over there for a minute or two.” He brushed the snow off the seat with his sleeve. “When we leave here, we'll book you into a hotel room for the time being.”

"Delia was one of the kindest people I ever knew. She's already given me so much.” She glanced over her shoulder. “She loved that house, Richard. She was proud of it. I can't bear the thought of its being torn apart and changed. It would lose its own heart."

"I'm sorry. She wanted to leave you the house, you know, but Bethany would have fought you in court for it and won. You were with Delia less than a year, merely an employee, as far as the law is concerned. Delia's considerable bequest to you will assuredly irk, but I don't think she'll complain too loudly. She's already fixing to move into the home. But you'll have enough money to buy yourself a place of your own if you choose, perhaps in a similar style..."

I want to keep the house for Delia.

The following day, at the reading of the Will, Molly Inman sat sniffing and wiping her tears. She wouldn't need to clean anyone's house for the rest of her life, unless she wanted to, which was unlikely.

Delia's wealth went far beyond what Nancy could have imagined. As far as Bethany harming her aunt, Molly said she and Bethany were together in the kitchen when they both heard the thump and ran to see Delia on the floor, unconscious, and called 911.

Bethany had not looked at Nancy during the entire proceedings, but Nancy felt her fury from across the room. Her husband sat beside her, a seemingly amused expression on his face. Nancy thought there was something smarmy about him.

Later that day, sitting across from Richard in a small cafe, she asked, already knowing the answer, "Do I have enough money to buy the house from Bethany?"

“Yes. But she wouldn't sell it to you, Nancy. You know that."

She doesn't love the house as I do, Nancy thought. The house was like a friend that someone was threatening to disfigure. She needed to let go, but how could she?

Richard reached across the table and thumbed an errant tear from her cheek. For some time Nancy had sensed his attraction to her and it surprised her how much she liked and trusted him. Perhaps in part because Delia did. But she knew it was more than that.

"I do know that Bethany's planning to come to the house on Tuesday night and staying over,” Richard said. “She wants to get the feel of the place. I'm guessing the dance studio will be the first to go."

The very thought of its destruction brought a wrenching, almost physical pain to her heart.

“I still can't believe she's gone, Richard. Without any warning at all.”

“She was old, Nancy.”

“No, she wasn't. She was the youngest person I ever knew."

“She was 92, darling, soon to be 93. We don't get to live forever. Nancy, you've given her more in these last months than you realize. You let her live again. Truly live.”

“I hope so.”

“It's true. She'd come to love you like a daughter. Perhaps that's why she sent you on those errands. She didn't want you to be the one to find her. As for Bethany's eagerness to dismantle the dance studio, it's almost as if it offends her,” Richard said, more to himself than to Nancy.

There had to be a way to save it.


It was well after midnight as she lay in a bed in a hotel room that a vague idea began to take shape in her mind. By morning, the plan was solidified. It might not work, but she had little to lose.

On Tuesday night, long before Bethany arrived at the house, Nancy used the key Delia had given her to let herself inside. Going straight to the dance studio, she placed candles strategically around the room, creating an eerie ambiance in the otherwise darkened space. But she was counting on Bethany's own imagination to supply the crucial ingredient. She recalled the Tarot cards Bethany believed in. Wiping clammy hands on her jeans, she changed into the gold lame dress still hanging in Delia's closet. She checked her make-up which she'd applied with great care, brushed her hair loose, letting it fall to her shoulders.

Everything ready, she waited, pacing, double-checking that she had thought of everything. It was coming onto darkness when she finally heard the key in the lock and the front door open.

Please let this work.

 

She stepped back into the deepening shadows.

 

Bethany's heels clicked on the stretches of hardwood between the carpets, growing sharper as she entered the library, then falling silent. Nancy let out a breath and dropped the needle into the familiar groove of the old record player. The first strains of music began to play. She'd chosen The Stripper by David Rose, slightly tinny from wear, volume down so that it played ever so softly, as if coming through a rent in time... as the beat of the drums, the blare of horns work their magic...Bwaaa na naaaaa, bwaaa na naaaaa…

Bwaaa na naaaaa, BWAA NA NAAAAA Naaa ...

The dancer began to sway ...


The french doors flew open, causing the candle flames to flicker in the sudden draft, multiplying themselves in the mirrored walls. The fiery circle embraced the ghostly dancer in her shimmery dress, throwing the rest of the room into darkness.

 

Bethany stood frozen in the doorway, eyes wide, her face cast in horror at the sight of her Aunt Delia in her younger days moving barely perceptibly. The dancer smiled at the paralyzed spectator, reached out to her with pale spectral hands.

A blood-curdling scream broke from Bethany as she whirled and fled the room, and seconds later, the house, the front door slamming against the wall in her wake.

Richard showed only mild surprise when Bethany phoned him the following day and directed him to put the house on the market, that she'd changed her mind. Nancy was elated and Richard set up the sale of the house so that Bethany would never know the real name of the purchaser. Only three months later, she and Richard were quietly married and Nancy had never been happier.

It was the last time she saw Delia's niece until today. She's been walking down the walkway on her way to her dance lesson. In the same moment, Bethany drove past the house and seeing her, suddenly braked. Nancy hesitated on the walkway. Their eyes locked for a long moment before Bethany sped off.

Nancy continued on to her lesson.

She'd been taking modern dance at the Dance Academy across town for the last several months and loved every minute of it. Striving for excellence was exhausting, but joyful work. Come next fall she would have her certification to teach young people in her own home. A degree in dance was also in her plans. She had no taste for performance except for her own pleasure, and to demonstrate routines for her students. And maybe dance for her husband, on occasion. She would carry on Delia's dream, while also making it her own.

They were in the library and Richard was working on a brief. Nancy sensed Delia's presence, she could almost smell her perfume. Chanel No. 5.

"Bethany looked like she saw a ghost," she told Richard, who knew nothing about her little ruse. Or so she thought until he looked up from his laptop and said quietly: "Strange how it all worked out, isn't it? Delia always said you were a smart girl. "Almost as if Delia had planned it herself," he said, with a trace of a smile.

 

 

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Mar. 8, 2017

Promoting Outside the Box

PROMOTING YOUR BOOK OUTSIDE THE BOX by JOAN HALL HOVEY

My best promotional efforts involve a combination of things. When my first book LISTEN TO THE SHADOWS was published, I didn't have a computer so my promotion was done outside the 'box' literally. Since I belong to writers organizations like Mystery Writers of America and Crime Writers of Canada and Writers Federation of New Brunswick, I made sure news of my book was included in their newsletter.

I did a mass mailing of flyers to bookstores in Canada and the U.S. I introduced myself at local bookstores and set up signings, and I did radio and TV interviews. (Some authors choose to send out postcards, but I like the substance of a flyer) If you are diligent, you will begin to create a bit of buzz that will gather momentum like the proverbial snowball rolling downhill. For example, the day after the TV interview was aired, the newspaper called for an interview. The story came out with the heading: A DREAM COME TRUE FOR LOCAL AUTHOR. Local woman lands New York publisher with first novel. I believe my own excitement and enthusiasm, not to mention hard work, had a lot to do with getting the exposure I wanted for my book.

You really do have to get out there and let people know about you and your book.

Finally, when the complimentary copies of my beautiful novel arrived, I had a poster of the cover blown up and pasted it around town - the library, university, etc. I've also done many interviews since, (like this one) written articles, all of which gets your name and the name of your books 'out there.' Share your experiences with other writers. I had an article coming out soon in THE WRITERS MAGAZINE titled 'My Journey to Publication.'   I also had one in MYSTERY SCENE MAGAZINE.  I was very excited to be included among the pages of these prestigious magazine, and moreso because they’re  ones I've subscribed to for many years, and learned much from. 

Since that first book, I’ve written  And Then He was Gone, The Deepest Dark, The Abduction of Mary Rose, Night Corridor, Chill Waters, Nowhere To Hide and Defective, all available on amazon.  It’s different now with the internet at your fingertips, literally.   I’ll send out a press release and post on Facebook and Twitter and other social media.  My wonderful publisher  Books We Love, Inc will run a few ads.  I’ll do a virtual book tour.  There are a number of book tour companies on the net.  Google them.  Compare prices and services. As I get older,  travelling has little appeal for me, so this works great.  

Remember: No one can sell your book like you can. It's your baby. Show it off. It goes without say that you should always present your best self, but I'll say it anyway: be warm, friendly, courteous always. Even when people ask you what you perceive to be dumb questions. Even if a bookstore owner declines to let you sign your books in her store. Be gracious, never be pushy or obnoxious. And remember to say thank you for any kindnesses or favors. A thank-you card to the story/library/coffee shop person is always appreciated.  

Lastly, make sure everything you did for that first book is put into a file for future reference. You'll have accumulated names, addresses for your mailing list, and all sorts of helpful information that will save a lot of time and effort when you get ready to launch your publicity campaign for that second book. Good luck and happy writing!

Website: www.joanhallhovey.com

 

Feb. 12, 2017

Most  psychologists and others who study the subject of childhood memory, say it is rare that we remember anything before three years old.  Well, I can go back much farther. I was born in 1935, and I saw the Hindenburg when it floated over Saint John, New Brunswick in 1936 when it came, or 1937 when it returned.  I’m guessing the latter since I was standing on my own.  I would have been two years old,  I can still see it in my mind’s eye,  almost blotting out the blue sky and filling my vision, a huge silver airship (although I didn’t know what it was then), and I recall vividly the emotions that rocked my tiny body;  shock, fear and awe.  It was so big and close, it seemed I could touch it.  Someone must have said, ‘Look up, Joanie,’ and I did.  And my mind snapped a picture of it that would stay with me always.

Tragically, the Hindenburg disaster at Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937 brought an end to the age of the rigid airship, The disaster killed 35 persons on the airship, and one member of the ground crew, but miraculously 62 of the 97 passengers and crew survived.

Another memory is of my mother doing a wash in the kitchen of our old cold water flat on Thorne Avenue.  Unknown to her, the washer was leaking and the water ran down into the flat of the woman downstairs.  She burst into the house and slapped my mother hard so across the face, it stunned me.  She was a big woman.  I railed at her as she went back out the door, beating on her bum.   I can still feel the flesh of that woman’s bottom against my little hands.   (That’s how tall I was.) My mother, a petite shy woman, was standing at the washer crying, and I was furious at the woman who had made her cry.   Even now, I can feel that rage and pain, the powerful emotions that accompanied the incident, and never let me forget it.  Another snapshot for all time. 

There are other events from my babyhood that I can recall, and each one is accompanied by a strong emotion.  Here’s another: I first knew the hot flush of embarrassment one day when I with my family in my grandmother’s back yard.  For some reason known only to me, I decided to pee in one of the little dishes in my tea-set that I was playing with and heard everyone laughing behind me and understood they were laughing at me.  Oh, the shame.  I feel it scald my face. 

 How far back can you remember?   

Jan. 6, 2017

 

Art Lessons Granny Taught Me

By Joan Hall Hovey

This essay, in large part was my first published story.  It was published more than 30 years ago in Home Life Magazine.  This updated version was published in Mystery Readers Journal.  I hope you enjoy it. 

The illustration is by Padgett.

***

               She was 71 and lived alone in the cluttered attic of an old, two-story frame building with her easel, her paints, her brushes and sometimes, me. Her name was Lillian May (Watts) Hall. 
               When neighbors spoke of my grandmother, they said, “A nice woman.” Then frowning and in whispers, the added, “but kinda funny.”  And in the early fifties, to the people who lived in our small, unsophisticated town, there was indeed something ‘kinda funny’ about an old lady who sat alone in her attic room and painted pictures.  At first glance, she was not unlike a million other grandmothers of her time - the same iron-gray hair drawn back in a bun, wire-rimmed glasses, a dark, high-buttoned dress with long sleeves and detachable lace collar, and a cameo brooch clasped modestly at her throat -  but there the similarity ended. 
Granny, a tall, angular-boned parcel of nervous energy, was not the average storybook grandmother.
               Every day Granny would lose a prized possession.  It might be a valued brush, a particular tube of paint or a piece of canvas. 
And while I stood on the sidelines, she would tear through her private disaster area, sending papers, books, talcum-coated hairpins, an unmated stocking, and her pink garters helter-skelter – all the while looking remarkably like an enraged bird.
               Almost always she would find what she was looking for, but occasionally I would be the one to spy the object of her frenzied search.  “Here it is, Granny,” I’d say, proud of my Sherlock Holmes tendencies.  She would smile sheepishly, relief flooding her face.
 
               “Now, wasn’t that foolish of me to get so upset,” she would apologize.  “I’m just a silly old woman, dear.  Don’t pay me any mind.” 
Then, calm and serene once more, she would begin the gentle strokes of her brush on the canvas.
               I often stood at the small, rickety table beside her, a piece of Bristol board and a brush in front of me. 
I was even permitted to use the valued paints (which she could barely afford for her own work) so that I could play artist.
               After hours of painstaking work, Granny would set her brush to rest, stand back with a critical eye, and appraise the completed painting. 
When it had dried sufficiently, and she was satisfied that it was of some worth, she would don her coat and hat and with the painting under one arm, off the two of us would go, door to door, in an effort to sell it.
               She walked with a brisk, sure step, and many times I found myself breaking into a run to keep up with her.  But we never had to walk far before making a sale.  Although neighbors found her way of life strange, they liked and bought what she painted. 
It was hard times, and the return for her efforts was meager, yet sufficient to pay the rent on the attic, buy a few groceries at the corner store, and keep the coal bucket filled during the long winter months.
               I had a friend whose grandmother spun for her many fascinating tales of her girlhood.  But even there, Granny fell short.  In fact our roles were quite reversed.  It was I who spun the tales for her.  One story still causes me to cringe when I remember it.  It was during summer vacation and I had just returned from a day at the beach.
 
               “Granny! Granny!” I shouted excitedly as I flung open the door.  “A man fell off the diving board at the lake today and I jumped into save him.  He almost pulled me under with him, but I punched him on  the jaw and knocked him out, and then I swam back to shore with him under one arm. 
Everybody on the beach cheered,” I finished breathlessly.
               “Oh, my dear child,” Granny said with concern.  “You certainly did have a busy day, didn’t you?”  Then abruptly the concerned expression changed to amusement and she broke into a gale of laughter.  Rocking back and forth in her wicker chair, she laughed and laughed, absolutely delighted, but not for a moment fooled.  Every few seconds she would remove her glasses and wipe the tears from her eyes. By this time I was writhing inwardly and trying in vain to twist my story into something more plausible, but it was no use.  I was caught in the web of my lie. (Lesson 1. If you want your reader to suspend disbelief, you must make sense.)  I suspected she knew even then that I had the makings of a storyteller. 
And I’m absolutely certain she knows now.
               Granny has not been with me for a good many years, and indeed I am a grandma now myself.  In fact, a great-grandma. 
The year I turned fifteen, I was working as a housemaid when the telephone call came telling me that Granny had been rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.
               The hallway was in flames, making escape impossible.  Granny had climbed out of the dormer window and crouched on the ledge below it.  A passerby heard her cries for help and called up to her to stay there until he returned with a ladder.  Then the man fled to put in a call to the fire department.  Whether the heat from the flames became unbearable or whether Granny simply panicked, I’ll never know.  But she didn’t wait for the man to return with the ladder.  Instead, she jumped from the ledge  and fell in a crumpled heap to the ground below.  Her back was broken.  In two months she was gone.  I stumbled around, lost, for a long time.  I felt betrayed by God.  And then I grew up.  After a fashion.  But the child in us never goes far.

~*~

               In my third suspense novel (I have written eight, the last two being The Deepest Dark And Then he was Gone) titled Chill Waters, my heroine deals with loss and betrayal on several levels.  Following the breakup of her marriage, after learning of her husband’s infidelity, Rachael Warren retreats to the old beach house in Jenny’s Cove, where as a young girl she lived with her grandmother.  It is the one place where she had always felt safe and loved.  But she is about to learn that ‘a safe place’ is mostly an illusion.  And that evil can find us no matter where we go.
               Jenny’s Cove is located in St. Clair, a fictional St. Andrews, a small town in New Brunswick, Canada.  St. Andrews lies on the Passamoquoddy Bay, and is close to the American border.  A place of charm and beauty, St. Andrews/St. Clair is a magnet for tourists and artists alike.  The beach house in Jenny’s Cove, however, is isolated.  Waves crashing against the rocks, and the sudden summer storms that visit Jenny’s Cove add to that sense of isolation. As a child, Rachael had found the violence of the storms and the sound of the sea comforting.  As a woman stalked and terrorized, that will change.

               I like the blending of light and dark in a novel.  Using shadowing to enhance dramatic effect, as in a painting.
               I also enjoy writing about women who struggle against great odds and triumph, as did my grandmother.  But, as in life, it’s never easy.  In books, the author must be even harder, damn near impossible.  And in the suspense novel, there are always unseen
dangers.
               My own life provides fodder for my imagination.  But it is my grandmother who taught me the art of concentration.  When she was painting, the house could have fallen down around her and she would have paid it little attention.  You knew not to talk to her then.  Only the brushes, canvas and the work at hand held any reality for her.  All else faded into the background.  Her focus was that of a child’s in the midst of intense ‘play.’  (If you have ever watched a child at play, and we all have, you know there is no one quite so serious.)  and she never stopped learning.  It was not about fame or fortune for her, as it is not for her granddaughter – but about the work, and the pursuit of excellence.  In her seventies, she was still taking art lessons when she could afford the few coins, from a Mrs. Holt on Elliott Row, a respected art teacher in Saint John, New Brunswick.   Sometimes she took me with her and I’d wait in the foyer.  
There were always books to keep me occupied.
               As Mrs. Holt’s lessons were important to my grandmother, my grandmother’s lessons were crucial to me.
 
               To quote author Willa Cather, “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”
           
               I believe that’s true. 

Jan. 3, 2017

by Joan Hall Hovey

The year was 1984, a lovely summer’s day and I was sitting in the packed, buzzed audience waiting for Stephen King to appear.  To say I was excited is an understatement. Uncool? Totally. I’d bought my hardcover copy of his book Different Seasons for him to sign.  I wouldn’t be denied. I had all his books in hardcover – Carrie, Cycle of the Werewolf, Danse Macabre, Salem’s Lot -  there would be  many more to come. He was my hero in a time when I was already much too old to be star-struck.  I’ve read that it is mainly teenagers who are addicted to Stephen King’s work, and I was hardly that.  Though probably immature.  I’m at a much more more advanced age now and that hasn’t changed, and I hope it never does.  Stephen King was  the Elvis Presley of the literary world.

I hadn’t had a novel published yet; that was still a dream, floating somewhere above the horizon. But I’d written and published some articles and short stories, enough to make me eligible for a travel grant through the NB Arts Council to London, England to the writers workshop at Polytechnic Institution  on MaryleboneRoad, aptly across the street from Madam Tussauds wax museum.  Stephen King would be a panelist, along with authors P.D. James, Robert Parker and some others.  I was eager to hear all the celebrated authors, but I’d flown all this way from New Brunswick, Canada to see and hear Mr. King. 

He came into the large room through the back door and I swear I knew the instant he did.  You couldn’t miss the rising buzz of the audience, of course, the shifting of bodies as people turned to look, but I also felt the change of energy in the air. On stage, Stephen King joked about his ‘big writing engine’ and I had heard (within my third eye – yes, it can hear) its power, its purr.   Or maybe there’s more to it.

As he talked to us about writing, he spoke about seeing with that third eye.  The eye of the imagination.  He told us to imagine a chair.  Then he said it was a blue chair.  I saw it clearer now.  He added the detail of a paint blister on the leg of the chair.  Now I saw it close up, with my zoom lens.  We hung on his every word.  He was funny and brilliant and entertaining, and we learned. Everything he said was not necessarily something brand new, but were reminders to pay close attention to details.  To always tell the truth in our writing.  I even got to ask a couple of questions.   And his answers to all our questions were thoughtful and insightful.   I try to pass along a few of those lessons to my own students.

Stephen King has been teaching creative writing to aspiring and even established writers for decades, long before his wonderful book On Writing came out.  Such a gift to writers that is, regardless of the genre you write in.   I am gushing.  I don’t mind. It’s true.

I have been fortunate to have had many highlights in my life –  an anniversary trip to Niagara Falls with my wonderful husband, the births of my children and grandchildren, great-grandchildren – a trip to the Bahamas with my eldest son – my own first novel published and several more after that - and I have to say that that workshop in London, England, where Stephen King spoke to us about writing, is right up there.  Thank you, Mr. King.

I want to leave you with a quote from an interview with contributing writer for the Atlantic, Jessica Lahey, published in The Atlantic,  Sept  2014.  She asked him if teaching was craft or art.

“It’s both,” he said.  “The best teachers are artists.

Stephen King is an artist on every level.   He tells the truth.  In his fiction.  And in his teachings.