Thursday, February 25, 2010

Winning Novel at San Francisco Writers Conference

You have to agree from this short selection, that Margaret Rodenberg's novel, Like A Moonshine Bridge, deserved the award. Right from the peppy opening, the prose sings along. Congratulations Margaret.

Like a Moonshine Bridge by Margaret Rodenberg
Chapter 1.

“June’s too common a name,” Grandma said when I was born in early summer thirty-five years ago. “And this girl, she’s going to be special.” So Momma named me July because, except for her life-long habit of opening her legs to boys she wasn’t married to, Momma did what Grandma told her.

Sometimes Momma and Grandma called me Jul. Grandma said that was part of being special since it sounded like “Jewel,” and that’s what I was—a precious jewel. But when Grandma turned her back, Momma twisted my hair around her fist. “If you were really a jewel,” she whispered, pulling me close, “I’d sell you in a minute and take the cash south to Vegas to try my luck.”

So July I was and Jul, too, though more often, as I got older and went to school, they called me “Trash Face” because everyone in Cedar Pocket knew what Momma did with the men who visited our trailer.

And my whole life, my best friend was that boy next door, big blonde Sammy Bear.

“You shoot him, and I’ll cut off his ears,” Sammy said whenever one of Momma’s men got near me. Then we’d get to planning how we could bury the man in the woods, covering up the fresh dirt with hemlock branches. Even picked out the best spot on Vancouver Island, at the base of an old-growth cedar that’s been there a thousand years and more. The Grandmother Tree, they call it, because it’s surrounded by its children’s children. But, though Sammy had his nasty side and liked to catch small things that squealed—squirrels, weasels, cats, an otter now and then—he never did help me kill any of Momma’s men.

Grandma said the Bears had long been trouble—bad blood will out, don’t you know?—and she told tales of banishment and crimes. As time passed, and Sammy and me got skin-close, her tales grew more horrific, her charges touching sacred taboo and ancestral sins. I heard bedtime stories of moons stolen, whale-women raped, cedar spirits felled against their will, dancing masks cursed, and, inevitably, intercourse with all the wrong sorts of bears.

But, though my face looked a lot like Grandma’s, our brown eyes didn’t see the same when it came to Sammy. It wasn’t a surprise when I married him right after high school, and, if you knew Sammy and his wandering ways, it wasn’t much of a surprise when he took off eight months after our son Josh was born. The surprise came when he showed up sixteen years later, not long after his mother Lillian died.

Chapter 2

Up until the week of her accident, Lillian Bear hadn’t left Tilbury Street in ten years. With Sammy gone and her husband gone longer, she had no one to help her, so every few days I did her shopping, and Josh took out the trash and pulled the weeds. Momma, still living next door in the trailer, poked her head in now and then, and she was the one who found Sammy’s mom at the bottom of the stairs. Lillian wasn’t hurt too bad, but Social Services stuck her in Carson Rest Home anyway, her last stop on the road out of Cedar Pocket and this world.
I went to see her as soon as I could.

Her skin looked like a spoiled peach, and all around her face the once-bright blonde hair hung in tangled, colorless strands. Hair snakes, Grandma used to call long tangles when I had them as a child. Sammy’s beautiful mother with hair snakes. That explained the scarf she’d worn in past years.

Lillian leaned over the bed rail and squinted sideways like we shared a secret, just we two. “Don’t tell them I can talk,” she whispered. Then she toppled back, her ashen snakes curling round her head on the white pillow.

In the corridor outside her room, the nurses’ aides tossed angry words, all the while ignoring call bells from their patients. “My turn, my turn to go on break first. It is, it is,” Bett Taylor complained. I couldn’t see for sure who was sharing her shift, so I listened closer for the answer to Bett’s whine. Mean old Charlene Fish from the sound of it, and served them right to have to work together.

I got up and closed the door.

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