It’s one month until the release of my first novel, Multiple Exposure. Much of the book centers on the landscape, especially a cave near Ellen’s home. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter, “Existing Light”, about Ellen’s childhood:
Cumberland Cave had smooth teeth carved into the limestone. Eighty years ago, they were precisely polished stone steps that swayed along the cliffs with deep curves. They welcomed big brass bands performing on riverboats that docked in the city. Musicians from Benny Goodman’s band among others left the riverside and the city; they cruised out of town and carried trumpets and drums, the clarinet, into the twilight area of Cumberland Cave where they danced audiences into the kingdom of swing.
Under the moonlight, people were pushed by the humidity, smothered toward the cave, where cool air currents gushed out of the darkness. In the white-gloved hands of ladies, fans fluttered beside the delicate moths of dusk. Helen Ward’s voice serenaded across the salty, sparkling limestone. In the pockets of men, you could smell flasks, shots of Tennessee brandy made by my family. Even during the prohibition, the Masters family continued making their traditional plum brandy and bribed the local authorities. Granna said that most of the farmers were caught up in making applejack, brandy from apple trees, but the Masters focused on plums. “Smart decision since those temperance ladies waged war on the apple tree cause of the Jack’s trading it and cut them down. Plums made it through.” She smiled. The Masters family always “turned the tables” and my Granna was fond of playing Benny Goodman’s song. Since the mid-1800s, the plum trees had been cloned and cultivated with care about a mile from Cumberland Cave, as the crow flies. Masters Brandy quenched the thirsts of the cave’s visitors for generations and those stories grasped my attention since I could prop my head up to listen and skin my knees on the trails surrounding the park.
The afternoon I found the turtle, I had sneaked and tried my first sips of the family brandy. After the hot flush of swiping the brandy and running away, my young mind didn’t think about which direction, just away, I found myself perched on a short bluff close to Cumberland Cave. Then, I wandered the trails until the heat blurred my vision and dragged my shoulders down, until I stumbled and scraped my palms, elbows, and kneecaps. Tiny rocks and dust embedded into the skin and got trapped in the blood. Anticipation quickened my pace as I approached the cool entrance to the cave, longing to sit in the cold shade and place my hands on the stones to stop the stinging sensation that pulsed across my limbs. I was thinking about the stage and what it must have been like to hear the big bands. In our house, Granna had pointed to a photograph of Helen Ward, her name signed with a red pen across the bottom. One of Edythe Wright in a thin dress and Tommy Dorsey with a trombone. All signed to The Masters Family. The music, “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” an elusive sunny side of the street, filled my childhood with nostalgia for something I had never experienced.
On the trails, I imagined that Edythe Wright removed her high heels while she walked around the lake toward the cave. I wanted to envision where she stood on the stage. My sweaty hair clung to my face and shoulders and caused a constant irritation. I climbed the ramp to the cave and stopped while I twisted my hair swiftly into a knot on the top of my head and wound a band around it tightly. It fell forward and perched itself like a horn on the front of my head. That’s when I saw the turtle sitting in the center of the platform. Its eyes closed slowly as if absorbing me. Then, it looked as if it had been awaiting my arrival. I could feel its focus on me in the emerging silence. “Turtle?” I said aloud. Turtles stretched their necks, poised on the toppled dead trees along the edge of the lake, but I had never seen one on the platform.
As I walked closer to the turtle, the smile slipped from my face.
Book Launch Party at New South Coffee Company, 14 Sept., 2012, from 6-8 p.m. New South Coffee Company is located at 110 Franklin Street in Clarksville, TN.
More about Multiple Exposure: A new mother is alone. Her husband is deployed…again and again. They misunderstand one another. They try to connect with Skype, emails, packages, and letters. Even when he returns, they’re disconnected. Will they fall in love again? Will they remember how to be a family in spite of war?
To read more about Multiple Exposure, click here.
Copyright: Shana Thornton, 2012