The air was so heavy and humid, it felt to Maddie as if she was breathing through a wet rag. Or maybe it was the pain of betrayal that lay so heavy on her heart, it was a crushing weight on her chest. Clear thought was as fleeting as the blink of the lightening bugs she’d observed only a few nights ago when she was still naïve to the truth of her marriage. A truth that no amount of running would change.
“You can try to escape your problems, child,” her mama once told her. “But you take yourself with you.”
If only Mama were still alive, Maddie would have retreated into her loving arms. Instead, she found herself wandering through the historic district of Savannah, Georgia as if immersing herself in the past could bring clarity to the present. The plane ride from Knoxville was a blur, as was the Uber from Hilton Head Airport. She didn’t even remember packing up the small carry-on bag she now pulled in her wake. Her mind had been plagued with Eric’s pleads for forgiveness and her desperate need to get as far away from his as she could.
She wandered through Forsyth Park under the canopy of Spanish moss dangling from the thick branches of oak trees that might have been in existence when General James Oglethorpe himself walked these grounds. What had life been like nearly three hundred years ago? There would certainly have not been sympathy for a wife whose husband had strayed. They were merely chattel in those days, not unlike slaves. Worse than slaves since Oglethorpe had mandated that Georgia would not take part in that despicable practice.
As day gave way to dusk, Maddie found herself on Bull Street. With each couple she passed walking hand-in-hand, her throat tightened with the tears she’d thought were spent. How many times had she urged Eric to come away to Savannah with her? He’d been more interested in hunting trips with the guys or playing golf in his spare time than taking romantic trips with her. He didn’t care much about history or architecture or art. Or her, apparently. Wasn’t his affair proof of that?
Rain started to fall as she approached the Mercer-Williams House, a place where music and literature juxtaposed years apart in its bizarre past. Johnny Mercer of “Moon River” fame and, more recently, Jim Williams who killed his lover in this very house years after Mercer was dead and gone. That event gave birth to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Johnny Mercer, just like Eric, wasn’t a faithful husband, either, having had an affair with a young Judy Garland. Was every story steeped with disappointment and infidelity? Were there no happy endings?
Maddie swiped at the rain that dripped from the end of her bangs and continued her trek down Bull Street until she arrived at the Six Pence Pub. Another reminder of an unfaithful husband. It was getting dark, and she had no clue where she’d spend the night. It was the height of the tourist season, and she didn’t relish the idea of sleeping on a park bench. She’d have to think about her next move, but not before she had something of substance in her stomach. She couldn’t remember when she last ate.
Once inside the pub, Maddie spotted an empty stool at the bar. She shivered when the air-conditioned cold raised goosebumps along her damp arms. Why hadn’t she thought to bring a sweatshirt? After tucking her carry-on in front of the stool, she hiked herself into the tall chair between an older man who appeared to be alone and a woman who was glued to her companion.
“What can I get for you?” The tall, lanky bartender loomed over Maddie as he swiped the bar with one hand and slipped a paper coaster in front of her with the other.
“Can I order food here?”
“Sure.” He reached under the bar and produced a menu then moved away.
“You look cold.” The older man’s observation cut into Maddie’s perusal of the menu.
Her gaze flicked over him only long enough for politeness’ sake. He appeared harmless, although Maddie had been fooled before. He wore a wide-brimmed tan hat with a black band over curly blond-gray hair pulled back into a ponytail. His full beard and mustache were the only salvation of his otherwise effeminate appearance.
“It’s the air conditioning,” Maddie mumbled before focusing again on the menu.
“Doesn’t help that you’re dripping wet,” the man said. Could he not take a hint? “Got caught in the rain, did you?”
She swallowed a sigh. “Yes. I should’ve known to carry an umbrella.” That would have required her to think clear enough to bring one along with her sweatshirt.
“Name’s Paul.” He tipped his hat and offered a smile that peeked through the blond-gray facial hair.
“Maddie.” She pushed the menu aside. Unless she was rude, there seemed no way to deter him from conversing.
The bartender reappeared. “You decide yet?”
“Shepard’s pie,” she told him. “And sweet tea.”
“You got it.” He turned to her new acquaintance. “You want another Sazerac, Paul?”
“Appreciate it, Aaron.” He glanced at Maddie. “Can I buy you a drink?”
She choked back a laugh at the preposterous notion that Paul could be flirting with her. With her hair plastered to her head and mascara smudged beneath her puffy, red-rimmed eyes, he most likely felt sorry for her. “That’s kind of you, but no thanks. I’ll stick to tea.”
Paul nodded and waved Aaron away. “You from around here?”
She shook her head. “Knoxville.”
“Ahh.” His mustache twitched. “I lived there for a short time. Right after my first wife and I got divorced. Are you on vacation or something?”
Maddie watched as Aaron approached with her sweet tea. “Or something.” She smiled her thanks to Aaron and unwrapped the straw he set down beside her glass.
“Do you like movies?”
Paul’s question came so out of right field, Maddie merely raised her eyebrows at him.
“This here restaurant is well known for a movie that came out about twenty-five years ago.”
“1995,” Maddie confirmed. “Something to Talk About. Julia Roberts and Dennis Quaid.” She tilted her head toward the front window. “She was walking down Bull Street and caught him sitting at the front table with another woman. They had quite a row right there in front of everyone.” Maddie could relate. Hadn’t she all but taken off Eric’s head with her own accusations?
“Ahh.” Paul smiled. “So, you are into movies.”
She stirred her tea with the straw and tried a smile of her own. It felt stiff as if the muscles had atrophied. “Not so much into movies as I am into Savannah.”
His gaze narrowed. “You married, Maddie?”
She sighed. “Yes, for the moment.” She drew a sip through the straw while Aaron traded Paul’s near-empty glass for a full one then slipped away again. He moved from patron to patron with the ease that came from familiarity. Maybe she should become a bartender. She could lose herself in the lives of others, like Billy Joel in “The Piano Man.”
“For the moment, huh? That sounds cryptic.” He shifted in his seat and raised his glass to his lips.
“Let’s just say I’m weighing my options.” She wasn’t comfortable being the focus of their conversation. “You said your first wife.”
His blond brows shot up beneath the band of his hat. “Huh?”
“Earlier.” She waved a hand in the air. “When you were talking about living in Knoxville.”
“Ahh.” He nodded. “Yes. Janice was her name.”
“Are you married now?”
He grimaced and shook his head. “Twice married and twice divorced.” He raised his index finger. “Gained enough knowledge to know what makes a marriage work, though.”
Maddie bit the inside of her cheek to keep from asking if he knew so much, why he was divorced. “Do tell,” she said instead.
“You gotta invest in each other’s lives. Take me for instance.” He paused to take a sip of the Sazerac then wiped his mustache with a slender finger. “Janice and I never did march to the beat of same drummer That’s all well and good in the beginning, but eventually…” He saluted her with his drink. “You got to have common ground. Do you and your husband do things together?”
Maddie frowned and shook her head. “We used to.” Their focus had shifted over time to the kids’ extracurricular activities. Sports, music lessons, school projects. Little by little, those things had taken precedence over their lives while their marriage eroded. It overwhelmed everything, including their relationship with God. When was the last time they’d attended church on a Sunday morning? They’d vowed at one time to make Jesus the center of their lives, and now he received the smallest sliver of their time, if any at all.
Eric might have betrayed her, but they both betrayed the Lord, leaving the door wide open for the enemy to slip in and take control. She ran a shaky hand down her face. What have we done, Father? Is there any way back to You? The words that rushed through her mind took flight to the heavens.
It took a moment for Maddie to realize someone was talking to her, and it wasn’t Paul. She whipped around to see Eric standing behind her, water dripping off his dark hair and down his face. How had he found her? Could it be the Lord hadn’t given up on them after all?
To be continued next month.
Susan K. Beatty
For the Joy of It
Authors write for many reasons. For me, it is the joy—the foundation for all other motives.
Joy that the Lord has called me to write, and that He has opened the doors of opportunity for publication.
I’m grateful I get to write stories that explore the tough subjects of life to encourage and challenge readers. Sometimes this means those who have experienced these challenges may find reading my story too much of a trigger point for them. I understand.
Then there comes along a review such as this for my novel Faces of Courage:
“This book tackles the very difficult subjects of domestic violence and breast cancer…I too have been through domestic violence–and the waters of my past were stirred up this week, and I was an emotional wreck…But despite the wounds of my heart oosing out from my past, I found this book to be surreal and comforting. I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me to keep reading through the pain…I found comfort…I felt like God was telling me through this book that it’s okay to cry… think it’s a great read for anyone facing challenges they’ve never imagined they’d face.” Thank you to the Cats in the Cradle blog for reminding me of the joy, my why, for writing what I do.
Life is hard, and sometimes we need escapist fiction (I know I do!), but I also believe reading and writing a book that will inform and bring us closer to the Lord’s love and grace shows us the beauty in our own hard.
My next two works, the novelette Carmen’s Journey of Courage, and the novel The Fragrance of Violets, explore unforgiveness, anger, and bitterness. Too often, this unholy triangle rules our lives. Sometimes it’s hard, very hard, to recognize and understand the crux of the problem. Even harder to face it. But we need to deal with it to get to forgiveness. And forgiveness can’t be just an exercise of the mind. It must also be a matter of the heart.
Carmen believes all she needs is to receive her aunt’s forgiveness. Fiona can’t imagine granting forgiveness to someone very close to her because he hasn’t asked for it. Will they get their hearts right?
Another source of my joy in writing is what I learn about these difficult topics. I don’t mean just what I learn from my research, but what the Lord teaches me personally. Am I too much like my characters? Do I have matters to confess, accept the forgiveness for in my heart, and actually change my thinking, my behavior? Can I find my courage at the intersection of faith and grit?
Speaking of self-learning. As I planned this article, I had intended to write about the less than joyful part of writing—editing. The disappointment of receiving a manuscript from your editor with a dozen corrections, questions, and suggestions on each page. Grappling with the feeling of failure. Then actually doing the hard work of fixing and re-writing.
But then, as I read The Anne of Green Gables Devotional by Rachel Dodge, I learned another lesson. Rachel writes on Day 34, “Pruning if painful. However, it’s also purposeful.” Was there a correlation between pruning and editing? Sure, there’s pruning of words, but in an aha moment, I realized there’s pruning within myself, cutting away pride, leaving me with an understanding God’s in control, not me. And He has a plan.
Rachel adds, “If you sense you’re being pruned…there’s fruit in your life—and God is preparing you for more.”
Thank you, Rachel Dodge, for writing this eye-opening devotional. (And who doesn’t love the Anne of Green Gables books?)
It seems there is joy in editing after all. I can’t wait to find out His purpose, His plan for me.
Carmen’s Journey of Courage releases in September and The Fragrance of Violets in May 2022.
Where do you find joy? Where do you find courage?