by Melinda Clayton
Genre: Southern Fiction, General Fiction
On the anniversary of her husband’s death, forty-nine-year-old Emily Holt runs away, leaving an unmade bed, an unlocked house, two college-aged sons, and an overabundance of bad memories.
Struggling to make peace with the death of a husband who’d been lost to mental illness, she vows to drive to the end of the road, which, she’s surprised to find, is just outside the tiny mining town of Cedar Hollow, West Virginia.
As Emily struggles to redefine and rediscover herself, the good folks of Cedar Hollow are more than happy to help.
Exclusive excerpt from Shadow Days by Melinda Clayton
From Chapter 14: Emily Holt
I didn’t start crying until I saw the old woman bent over a claw-foot tub shaking bath salts into steaming water. I’d followed her directions, hosing myself off before letting myself in the back door to the laundry room and stripping out of my clothes. She’d left a bathrobe for me, just as she’d said she would, and I surrounded myself in the soft folds before starting the washer and gingerly peeking into the kitchen.
It was empty, silent except for the soft ticking of a cooling stove burner recently turned off. Ms. Puckett—Erma, I reminded myself—had obviously been making lunch before she’d been interrupted by yet another of my crazed appearances. I felt guilty for bringing chaos into the lives of these people. That had never been my intention; I just didn’t know how to escape it.
I trailed through the living room, relieved to see it also empty, and made my way up the stairs. Erma had mentioned a hot bath, which sounded perfect. I was once again freezing, my teeth chattering hard enough to jar my head. I’d bathe and dress in fresh clothes before finding a phone and calling my boys. I was certain neither of them had planned a visit home over the weekend; they’d likely be splitting their time between studying for exams and partying with friends, but on the off chance they noticed my absence, I didn’t want them to worry.
These were the thoughts running through my head when I approached the bathroom and was met with the warm aroma of gardenias, the soft light of a flickering candle, and Erma Puckett, testing the water one last time before turning off the knobs. I don’t know what it was about that scene that caused grief to bubble up in my throat, but it did, and it was just as uncontrollable as my hysterical laughter had been only moments before. Wiping my nose against the back of my hand, I wondered briefly how many calories I was burning with my out-of-control mood swings. At least there was that.
“Goodness, you scared me,” she said, turning and spotting me in the doorway. “I didn’t hear you come up. Now, I’ve put fresh towels on the rack for you and there’s plenty—” She stopped, catching sight of my face. “Oh, honey.” She didn’t reach for me, for which I was grateful. Instead, she leaned her cane against the wall, put her hands on her hips, and looked me up and down, squinting in the flickering light from the candle.
“I don’t know what it is that’s working on you so,” she said finally, “but one thing I do know. You’ve got to get your footing. You can’t keep going on, stumbling from one day to the next. That’s no way to do it. You’ve got to get your footing.”
She patted my arm as she walked by on her way to the door, balancing on her cane to turn back to me. “Take all the time you need,” she said, before closing the door behind her with a decisive thump. I was left wondering if she meant I should take my time finding that elusive footing, or if she simply meant in the bath. Both, I hoped.