Friday Excerpt: (W)hole

You know, I don’t think I’ve done an excerpt from my first novel, the book that started it all.

As with many writers, this is not actually the first novel I wrote, but it is the first I published. This book sets the tone in a lot of ways for the direction my career is going. I felt that before I could start writing confidently about the “wounded” heroes that I love so much, I needed to express where that love came from. This book is very close to my heart, since it is the one most closely based on my life (other than the non-fiction True Tales about my real life dates).

What I like to say is that nothing in (W)hole actually happened, but the emotions are all completely true. The thoughts and feelings that Elizabeth experiences are mine.

Yet it is not Elizabeth that people who read this book fall in love with. It is Stewart. Stewart really steals the show and I will always love him deeply. Even after this book and its sequel, I have continued to write about Stewart and tell more and more pieces of his story.

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While Elizabeth shuffled along behind cousin Libby’s mother, she looked over to the elevator at the end of the corridor they were passing. The man in the wheelchair and his friend were there alone.

The man wore a dress shirt that puffed out behind the low back of his wheelchair. His arms hung at his sides, the fingers gently grazing the slim metal rails of his wheels. Elizabeth pressed her fingers into the palms of her hands and felt her fingernails driving marks into her flesh. Then she was on the stairs and he disappeared from her view.

At the reception, Elizabeth sat between her mother and father. Even while eating she kept her camera around her neck. Every so often she would lift it up and take a picture: of the ring bearer chasing the flower girl across the dance floor, of Libby’s mother trying to be charming to the groom’s mother, and whenever she could get away with it, she pointed her camera at the man from the river and took his picture too. Those she would save for herself.

Please God, she begged, let my obsession have a reason, let this man be someone I can be close to. She could almost imagine that she had been born and created to be in this man’s life. Maybe there was a purpose in all things, as her grandmother always said.

“Elizabeth,” Susan said, “You’ve hardly touched your food. Put down that camera and eat.”

One thing Elizabeth did like about weddings was the routine. There was a script that was always closely followed and you knew what would come after what. When the food was finished, the bride and groom had their first dance, and then people were up and out of their seats. Elizabeth stayed put at the table, but her parents went to dance, and most of the other people got up and stood in clusters around the room talking with the people they already knew.

Her camera lay in front of her and she sat rubbing her bare arms to keep them warm. Not wanting anyone to notice her interest, she was trying to avoid looking directly at the man from the river. Strange how her reaction to disability appeared to be the same as anyone else’s; no one would ever be able to tell that she was uncomfortable around it for a completely different reason.

He was now sitting next to the band on the edge of the dance floor, watching the people move. His friend stood next to him and they laughed frequently. Into her view came her mother. Susan was walking directly up to the pair. What was she doing? Elizabeth wondered in horror. Her mother was about to humiliate her and there was nothing Elizabeth could do to stop her.

Susan wasn’t interested in the man in the wheelchair. In fact, she stood directly in front of him, blocking his view as she spoke to his friend. Then she pointed in Elizabeth’s direction and Elizabeth immediately cast her eyes in another direction and pretended she hadn’t been watching them.

Elizabeth picked up her camera and peered through its lens. What else could she photograph? What would Libby want to remember? She moved the camera around randomly. A tie appeared in the viewfinder. Slowly she lowered the camera and found the friend standing in front of her.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hi,” she said. Already she could feel her face flush. What had her mother said to him to make him come over here and talk to her?

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Elizabeth.”

“I’m Robert, it’s nice to meet you.”

“You too,” she said. He had nice, soft-looking, brown hair and a neat, clean-cut appearance; his eyes were friendly, his jaw was strong. Her friends would call him cute. She would too. She knew he was. Her mind accepted the fact that he was attractive, but her body was not responding to him. If he was just…for an instant she pictured him in a wheelchair, but she felt uneasy doing this, as though her thoughts might cause something awful to happen to this innocent man.

“Would you like to dance?” he asked.

Elizabeth was surprised. “Um, sure,” she said.

Robert held out his hand. Elizabeth put down her camera and took it. On the dance floor there were only two other pairs shuffling back and forth, clinging to their partners so close it seemed they were about to bolt for the bedroom. This made Elizabeth uncomfortable and she didn’t quite know how to hold Robert. He took the lead and brought her into a traditional dance hold. They began to shuffle too. The music was slow and boring.

Afraid to look directly into his eyes, Elizabeth mostly let her eyes drift over his shoulder. As they slowly turned, she saw that her parents were watching her closely.

They turned again and suddenly Elizabeth found herself looking at the man she had been secretly observing all evening. He had a beautiful wheelchair. It was small and sporty, with wheels that turned in slightly, and a red tube tucking his feet underneath the body of the chair. He was wearing sneakers with his suit. His pant legs were loose. One of his hands lay in his lap and the other held a glass of champagne.

Just before Robert and Elizabeth turned again, her eyes drifted up to his face and their gazes locked. Electricity seemed to shoot through all the veins of her body. She turned her head to stay with his eyes for as long as possible before her partner turned her around.

“Are you all right?” Robert asked.

“Hmm?”

“You don’t seem like you’re really here.”

“Sorry. I don’t care much for weddings.”

Robert laughed. “I thought all girls loved weddings.”

They turned and Elizabeth was looking at her parents again. She saw her mother frown at the same moment that she heard a voice on the other side of her.

“May I cut in?”

They both stopped moving and broke apart. Elizabeth turned and saw the man from the river and her stomach seized up. He was even more beautiful close up.

“Are you serious?” Robert said, but the man wasn’t looking at him. He held out his hands to Elizabeth.

She felt as though she was in a dream. She saw her hands stretch out to touch his and she saw her fingers trembling. The skin of his hands was thick and rough when she tightened her slender fingers around them. She didn’t notice Robert stumbling to the side of the dance floor and sitting down in the chair she had been occupying.

Suddenly, for the first time, the man seemed very short. Elizabeth was acutely aware of how tall she stood above him. From a distance he had seemed larger than life and now he only came up to her waist. She stepped slowly forward and back and the man holding her hands was rolled back and forth with her. She could feel the heat in her face and knew she was blushing. Hopefully he would think she was just flushed from the lights and the dancing.

How could she know this wasn’t a dream? Pinching herself did not seem like a practical test; instead she tried to open her eyes very wide. If she were asleep, perhaps her real eyes would pop awake if she could get her dream eyes open enough.

The man in front of her raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t a dream. She was so nervous that she could not find a place to rest her eyes. It was too intense to look into his hazel eyes, it was too rude to look at his legs, so she tried to focus on his nose.

2 Comments

  1. Beverly Diehl
    Apr 28, 2012

    Oh Ruth, this is wonderful. I love the electricity between the two of them, and Elizabeth’s yearning for him is so well done. Bravo!

    • RuthMadison
      Apr 30, 2012

      Thank you! When I go through my periods of doubting myself, I’ll just have to come here and read this comment 🙂

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