Book Review: The Face of the Earth

When Does A Spouse Move On?

A friend once told me of an elderly gent who visited his wife everyday in the nursing home. She had advanced Alzheimer’s and wasn’t responding to anyone at all anymore.
Finally someone there asked him, “Why do you still come and sit with her every day? She doesn’t even know who you are?”
The old man relied, “But I still know who she is.”

At what point, if ever, are you released from your marriage commitment when the one you made them to is absent, either literally or mentally? For some people a marriage is simply an agreement “for as long as we feel like it.” A Christian, however, promises “before God and these witnesses…to be faithful…for as long as you both shall live.” Are there circumstances where God releases a spouse from that promise?

I just finished this amazing story where the author sets up this scenario and demonstrates a sensible, faith-based response to the question. I really admire the scruples of the characters in this book! While these are people who embrace Christian principles and seek direction through prayer, I’d recommend this book to anyone.

The Face of the Earth

© 2017 by Deborah Raney
(First published in 2013 under the same name by Howard Books/Simon & Schuster.)

Friday, Sept 3rd:
Principal Mitchell Brannon pauses on his way home from work to call his wife Jill, a third-grade teacher who’s driving home from a personal development conference in Kansas City. He’s happy he persuaded her to go, now they’re planning a relaxing evening at home. They’d just delivered their second child to University and are starting their new life as empty nesters. Jill has been feeling blue about this change, but Mitch is rather looking forward to being “just the two of us” again.

He gets her voice-mail, so he leaves a message: “Just wondering where you are. Give me a call so I know when to put on the steaks.” She hasn’t arrived yet when he gets home, but she’s left him a message on their house phone at 1pm saying she’s leaving the hotel and should be home by six at the latest. She sounds upbeat, ready to be home.

Mitch fires up the grill at 6pm and takes out the steaks. Calls and gets her voice-mail again. That’s odd. At 7:30 he shuts off the grill, calls the hotel, verifies her leaving time, checks the weather to see if there’ve been any storms along her way. At 8pm he stops pacing the floor to call her best friend, Shelley Austin, a divorcee who lived next door. Shelley hadn’t heard a peep from Jill that day. By 9 pm he’s calling everyone who might possibly have heard from her.

Mitch calls Highway Patrol. No reported accidents. And they seemed reluctant to get involved — after all, she may have chosen to not come home. Mitch doesn’t buy that; he knows he and Jill have a good marriage. She’d never worry him like this. Has she been in an accident? Shelley comes over to help Mitch in his search, calling all the hospitals in KC and along Jill’s route home. The next morning they head out and drive the route she’d have traveled, hoping to find some clue.

Saturday Sept 4th :
Highway Patrol officers pay a visit. They have no news, but bombard Mitch with questions. Is she choosing to stay away? Did she seem depressed? Had they quarreled? Can anyone verify where he was during those hours when his wife went missing? Obvious insinuations.

Mitch & Jill’s son and daughter come home from University and join in the waiting, the rushing to the phone. Always hoping. There must be some reason… Then Jill’s cell phone is discovered on the floor in the parking garage.

Mitch and Shelley are two vulnerable human beings thrown together in a time of high emotions time and you know the connection is sometime going to produce sparks. Shelley’s trying to not betray her friend. Mitch intends to be faithful to his wedding vows and keep hoping, “Til death do you part.” Eventually, though, he wonders: at what point are you released from those vows when the one with whom you made them has vanished from the face of the earth — and may never return?

This story is masterfully written and played out in a totally realistic way. You ride along with these people on their roller coaster of hope and despair, feeling with them through their painful vigil, the nightmares, the (finally tiresome) expressions of sympathy, the flashes of hope when some new detail is uncovered, the suspicion, the gossip. I appreciate that Mitch respects the Bible admonition to “avoid all appearance of evil” even though he needs Shelley’s help and support.

Cautionary Note:
Don’t start this book after 9 pm unless you can afford to be up half the night. It’s very hard to put down.

The Comfort of a Plan B

With apologies to DIY husbands everywhere. We all have our limitations. 🙂

“Why spend money on a plumber? I can change these taps myself. Nothing to it,” Frank announced when Reyanne showed him one of the kitchen taps was leaking into the cupboard below.

“Of course you can,” Reyanne assured him.

Half an hour later he returned from Home SuperMart with a new set of taps and began to study the instructions.

Reyanne was quite comfortable with the situation. Frank meant well, though being a shoe salesman, his plumbing skills weren’t top notch. But Plan B was in place. While Frank was out buying the taps, she’d phoned several local plumbers and found one who could come on short notice. She’d put the man on speed dial.

Frank wandered out to the garage and came back with a pipe wrench that he tightened around the drain under the sink. Before long he gave a grunt of frustration. “It isn’t supposed to be this hard to get apart.”

Reyanne grabbed her phone when she heard a metallic clank followed by the sound of water splashing. She was already hitting speed dial when Frank yelled, “We’re going to need to get a plumber!”

The plumber agreed to come ASAP, then instructed her how to shut off the main valve in the basement. She managed to do that while Frank got a grip on the water hoses trying to splash him.

Plan B is a wonderful invention, Reylene thought,

Stroke of Bad Luck

Levi groaned and shifted in bed. Groggily he opened his eyes. Man, the light hurt! Then he was jolted awake by the realization that someone was lying beside him.

He turned to see who it was and his eyes opened wide. Who was SHE? He sat up and looked around the strange room. Was he drunk? Why did his head feel so funny? He rubbed his face with his hands and noticed…a wedding ring!

Whoever she was sat up and kissed his cheek. “Morning, love.”

He rolled out of bed and stood, gripping the corner of a dresser. His glance fell on a studio photo, a wedding picture. Him and her. When? Why couldn’t he remember? He touched the picture. “Uh, how long have we been…married?”

He heard a little gasp. “It was two years last month. Levi, are you okay? Is your headache worse?”

“Headache?” he echoed and shook his head.

“You went to bed with a headache last night, remember?”

He felt no pain now but something wasn’t right. Nothing in the room looked familiar. He eyed the picture. At least he’d picked a pretty wife. Her voice was nice, too. What was her name?

He glanced out the window and the whiteness startled him. “It’s winter!”

“Maybe you should lie down again, Honey.” She sounded hesitant, worried.

Carefully he turned toward her. “My parents? Where are they? I need to see them.” Were they even still alive?

“Dad will be leaving for work about now, but Mom’ll be there at home.” She stood up and looked at him, her dark eyes reflecting her fear. “Sure. Let’s go see her. And maybe you should see a doctor, too?” She grabbed a robe and left the room.

Levi found the bathroom and had a shower. Then he hunted through dresser drawers to find clothes. He picked out some familiar ones and put them on.

When he found his way to the kitchen later he saw a laptop on the table, open to a screen headed “Signs of Stroke.” He pondered that word. Is that what had happened to him?

Writer’s note:

The dialogue is fiction, but a friend told me about a 30-year-old neighbour of hers who had a stroke in the night and five years of his life’s memory banks were completely wiped out. Not only had he gotten married a couple of years before and bought a little house, but he’d also started a business. Life can hand you a real whammy sometimes.

Winnie Plays Monopoly

Another tale of Winnie, our blog’s crotchety, opinionated senior. These days she hopes to alter her widow status by altar-ing Ernie Harris.

Casserole

When Ernie opened the door, Winnie gave him her most cheerful smile. “Brought you a casserole for lunch, Ernie. Thought you might like a little bit of good home cooking once in awhile.”

“Why, that’s right nice of you, Winnie. And your good food just hits the spot. I can’t cook to save my life, but at least I’ve learned how to heat things up in the mike. I haven’t mastered boiling water yet, though.”

“You just need someone to teach you these things.” Winnie paused, arranging her next thought. “Ernie, we’ve known each other a long time, so I’m not going to beat around the bush. Have you ever thought of getting married again?”

“Oh, yeah. I started thinking about it a couple of weeks after Barb passed and I’ve been thinking about it every day since. A fellow gets lonely, you know.”

Winnie’s cheeks turned a bit pink. “Well, maybe we…you and I…”

Ernie deftly derailed her train of thought. “But I know it’ll never happen. No woman would be fool enough to marry me. Not with all my bad habits. In fact, Barb often threatened to get an apartment downtown where she couldn’t hear me snoring every night. Nope. No one with any sense’d have me.”

Winnie shut her mouth and stared at him a moment. “Well, I’d better be getting along. Hope you enjoy the casserole.” She shoved the dish into his hands and hurried back down the sidewalk.

cooking-1363061_640Ernie took a deep breath. That was close one. He chuckled and carried the dish to the fridge, setting it beside the ones Agnes Jones and Phoebe Folden brought around last night. He chuckled as he took out the beef stew and lemon pie Francine Miller dropped off this morning. Sometimes it paid not to know how to cook.

“Still, Ernie,” he advised himself, “You’d better keep on your toes when these old chicks start bringing casseroles or you might end up being hen-pecked for the rest of your days.”

He was still chuckling about his quick wits half an hour later as he passed the gas bar and saw Abner Stilsbie getting his tank filled.

“What are you looking so happy about, Ernie?” Ab called. Ernie joined him by the pumps and the two men chatted awhile. He wasn’t going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, so he didn’t tell Ab exactly what transpired. But…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Hey, Winnie.” Abner Stilsbie tapped her on the shoulder in the grocery store later that day. “How’s life?”

“Oh, hi, Ab. Well, I can’t complain. My arthritis isn’t so bad today and I’m getting used to them new blood pressure pills the doctor gave me. I’ll sure be glad when the weather cools off a bit, though. I haven’t been able to take the heat so well since I hit fifty, but I take it easy on days like this.”

“I hear you’ve taken to playing games with Ernie Harris and you almost won.” He winked. “Did you buy Park Place and Boardwalk. Or maybe you bought up all the railroads?”

Winnie stared at him. “Abner Stilsbie, whatever are you talking about?”

“I saw Ernie just before dinner and he was looking like that cat that got the cream. I asked him what he was so happy about and he said he’d been playing Monopoly with you. He said for a moment it looked like he was headed for jail and bankruptcy, but at the last moment he pulled out a “Get out of jail free” card.”

Winnie gasped and her brows formed a deep frown.

“I supposed you must ‘a bought up some of them pricey digs and were charging high rents. Though honestly, I’d ‘a never took you for one to play Monopoly, Winnie.”

Winnie’s eyes narrowed. “So he was playing games, was he? Well from now on he can
live on baloney sandwiches.”

Ab’s eyes widened. “What’s Monopoly got to do with baloney sandwiches?”

“Ernie Harris can go boil in his own hot water.” Winnie grabbed a tin of coffee from the shelf. “And I hope it’s pickle brine.” She marched away in a fury.

Ab’s eyebrows shot up and he shook his head. “Talk about a sore loser. I’ll never understand women. Never!”

Monopoly

You Can’t Borrow Love

SOMETHING BORROWED

“Something old and something new,” Marielle said as she did up the buttons on the bodice of her gown. “But everything I have on is new. I just can’t think of anything old to add.”

“Well, I can,” said her mother, pulling a small bag out of her pocket. “I brought along one of my grandma’s brooches. Let me pin it right here at your shoulder.”

“Now I need something borrowed and something blue.”

“Something borrowed….that’s your groom,” said Treena.

Marielle heard her mother gasp and saw the glare she shot at Treena. Her sister had been trying for a humorous note, but there was an unmistakable jab to her words.

Marielle sighed. She supposed Treena was only echoing what everyone was thinking. Marielle lifted her chin in defiance against the gossips. Okay. So she had caught Kirk on the rebound. Renee had dumped him for a richer, better-looking guy. But Marielle had always liked Kirk and she’d made herself available when he needed a shoulder to cry on. Before long he was returning her affections, then he’d proposed.

Marielle’s mind went back to the evening she and Kirk announced their engagement to her family. Treena had been sour from the get-go. She’d been less than forthcoming with her congrats and after he’d gone home, Treena had come to her room to talk her out of her plans.

“Can’t you see the obvious, sis? Kirk has been hurt and he may be doing this to spite Renee, but I’m sure he still has feelings for her — if he’d just admit it.”

“So. I’m going to make Kirk so happy he’ll forget Renee even exists. I love Kirk.”

“Love him as a sweetheart, or love him as a pet project?”

Marielle had scowled at her sister and ordered her out of the bedroom. No one was going to rain on her parade.

She brushed Treena’s snippy remark aside and admired Great-Grandma’s brooch. What happened before doesn’t matter, she told herself for the nth time. I’m going to make Kirk so happy. I’m going to love him so much he’ll forget any feelings he ever had for Renee.

“I borrowed my bridesmaid’s toe ring. And my corsage has a blue ribbon around it. So I’m all set. Let’s be off.”

The next half hour whizzed by; soon she was walking up the aisle beside her father to take her place by her groom. Kirk wore a big happy smile as he turned to watch her approach. Perhaps it looked a little forced, a little too bright, but Marielle was confident that his joys would soon be as real as hers.

A couple of hours later they were standing beside the reception table receiving congratulations from an elderly family friend when, out of the corner of her eye, Marielle saw Renee approach. She was alone. What happened to Mr Rich Hunk, Marielle wondered.

Renee paused not far away and gazed at Kirk, a look of regret on her face. Marielle glanced at Kirk and saw the same expression written on his face as he returned Renee’s gaze. All three of them froze for a moment, then Kirk turned back to her again.

She saw a quick flash of remorse in his eyes, then his too-bright smile fell in place again. But in that brief unguarded glance, Marielle recognized the truth.

She’d just make the biggest mistake of her life. You really can’t borrow love.

I posted this story last year on Christine Composes. It’s a bit depressing compared to my usual style, nevertheless true-to-life for some young women. I’m pondering whether to include it in my book.

(I see part of this post leaked out last night as I was scheduling it. Sorry about that.)

The Perfect Man

One afternoon in an old English town Lynn and Millie were enjoying tea and scones at a local tea shop. During the course of their visit Lynn remarked, “Have you heard that June’s daughter Tiffany is finally getting married?”

“Yes. I heard June telling her sister Debbie all about her daughter’s fiancé at the flea market last Saturday,” Millie replied.

“I gather Tiffany’s telling everyone she’s found the perfect man,” Lynn said as she spread jam on her scone. “She claims it’s a match made in heaven.”

Millie smiled and shook her head. “I’m afraid she’ll soon learn that there’s no such thing as a perfect man.”

An older gent sitting at the next table had been listening in on this conversation. Now he leaned over to say, “Forgive me for eavesdropping, ladies, but I’d like to correct your misconception. There is indeed such a thing as a perfect man.”

“Oh, really,” said Millie. She regarded him with raised eyebrows and a bit of a smirk, fully expecting he’d declare himself to be this perfect specimen.

The gent nodded. “I’ve been told this many times. But I confess, I’ve never met him.” This was followed by a long-suffering sigh. “He was my wife’s first husband.”

Troy’s Wake-Up Call

A writing prompt I did one time. We were to give someone a weird day in an alternate universe. I decided on a successful businessman suddenly stuck in a body that won’t move.

WHAM!

As a reward for our recent hard work, our sales team had chosen to spend a few days at a resort renowned for its golf greens. I was flying in with my small plane and everything was A-okay. Visibility was great; the tarmac stretched out invitingly; my landing gear was unfolding as it should.

It would have been a perfect landing — if only those crazy birds had stayed put.

In my descent I could see the hotel and fairway on my left in the distance. I also took note of the winding stream below as I brought my small plane down, focused on the strip of asphalt ahead. I never saw the two birds they say rose up from the river below. I only felt a violent jerk as something hit the prop and I lost control.

I woke up flat out on a bed, hearing blimps and bleeps from machines and soft voices. Definitely hospital sounds. I tried to open my eyes or turn my head, but my body was like stone. I couldn’t stay awake.

I came to later, hearing familiar voices right near my bed. My wife, Lacey, my mom and dad. They were murmuring, talking about the crash of a small plane, a bird in the prop. Some memory started coming back to me. I tried to open my eyes, to make some noise. I tried moving my hand, my foot — anything to let them know I was awake — but my body refused to cooperate. I couldn’t even tell that I even had arms or legs. Maybe I didn’t? Had they been amputated? That thought scared the living daylights out of me.

“How long do you think it will be until he comes out of this?” I could hear the fear in Lacey’s voice.

Another voice, professional, yet kind. “We can never be sure. A lot of patients with similar injuries come to within a week or two. Some don’t.”

NO! I don’t want to lie here another week or two, I want to get up, move around. Then his last words buzzed around in my brain, torturing me. Some don’t. Ever.

“What are the chances that Troy will live a normal life?” Dad’s voice.

“That’s impossible to determine until he wakes up and we assess how much neurological damage has been done. But we really shouldn’t be discussing this here. Some patients do hear even if they can’t respond.”

Hours passed — or was it days? I came to many times and tried to move, but it was like someone had set me in concrete. What I wouldn’t give to at least say a few words, find out what was going on! When the doctor was in the room I tried my hardest to scream, but not even a squeak came out.

I lived for the visits of my family. Lacey brought Kyle and Tianna. They were full of questions “Why can’t Daddy open his eyes?” Lacey explained, “Daddy’s in a coma. It’s like he’s asleep. But maybe he can hear us, so talk to him.”

“How long will he have to stay there?” Poor kids. They didn’t understand, but they tried.

Lacey urged them to tell me things about their day, so Kyle told me about school. Tianna told me about the new girl on our street. Their voices were like a lifesaver to a drowning sailor. If only I could communicate just how much those visits meant to me.

I made a vow. When I come out of this, I’m going to tell them every day how sweet their voices sound.

Even the medical people brightened my dark world. How I wish I could tell them that! I knew from the few comments the nurses made right by my bed that they were moving me, washing me, but I felt nothing. Much as I hated to be so helpless, their snatches of gossip as they worked with me reassured me that I was still in the land of the living.

Then came that marvelous day when my eyes opened.

If you only knew what it’s like to live in a dark shadow for days — or was it even weeks? — and then one day be able to see light and color and living, moving people. Wonderful is far too small a word. It’s like saying the Grand Canyon is large. And to see the faces of Lacey, the kids, my parents, standing around me with great big grins. To see the hope shining in their eyes when I said my first words.

The only thing better was the day I took my first shuffling steps. This was the first step of my new life as a husband, a father, a son. Thank God for second chances!