Free Reading: Excerpt from Saving Phoebe Murrow

As promised, here is a free excerpt from Saving Phoebe Murrow by Herta Feely. This is from pages 56 through 58 when Phoebe’s mother is getting a manicure.

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Isabel’s thoughts traveled between Phoebe, the TV, and Thuy, whose soft, quiet features belied the strength in her hands. She rubbed Isabel’s forearms, then her palms and each finger. Isabel closed her eyes and tried to relax. She needed to spend more time getting to know Phoebe’s friends and their parents, even if one of them was Sandy. She’d start by being friendlier at the party that evening, and released a long exhalation of air.

“You have long week?” Thuy asked in a low voice. Isabel nodded. Much too long, she thought, when suddenly a local news anchor’s head appeared on the TV screen. He wore an earnest, worried expression.

The words “Breaking News” popped up behind him. For some reason subtitles now failed to crawl across the screen. Isabel’s brow wrinkled. What was he saying? Anything could have happened. Anything from those exploding sewer lids in Georgetown, to a drive-by shooting (she thought of the DC sniper of a few years ago), to another act of Al Qaeda terrorism. Why on earth didn’t they turn up the volume?

The image on the screen flipped to a low-income neighborhood. At the bottom it said, “Adams Morgan.” She caught sight of several police cars outside a crumbling apartment building. What the hell’s going on, she wondered. But the announcer’s face returned, mouthing the words, “…breaking news story. Back in a minute.”

The news made her restless. As Thuy deftly lacquered the nails of her left hand, Isabel wished the manicure were finished. She wanted to be home in her clean house (thank you, Milly) and have a glass of Chardonnay. She again tried to relax, inhaled the familiar scent of polish, but another thought niggled its way into her brain. What if Phoebe’d gone to Adams Morgan after all?

Until recently, Isabel had taken for granted that Phoebe was reliable, alongside being wonderful, smart, and kind. And very pretty, even if she had inherited Ron’s short, slightly stubby fingers. Nor had she ever worried about what other adults thought of her, not even after she learned about Phoebe’s cutting.

She considered this as Thuy brushed sunrise onto her long nails, which accentuated her shapely slender fingers, fingers someone had once referred to as perfect.

Actually, she’d always thought that Phoebe was perfect, or nearly so, until a little over a year ago, when she’d begun accumulating used clothing. Disgusting smelly men’s pants and shirts, women’s dresses, and even old petticoats and tattered jeans. God only knew where she found them. Surely she hadn’t been going to shops in Adams Morgan all along?

One day – when was it? – Phoebe had told her she wanted to design clothes. A skill she’d learned from Ron’s mother. With her chubby, nail-bitten fingers, Phoebe began tearing these hideous clothes apart, then sewed the dark swatches of fabric into skirts and assembling them into misshapen jackets.

At first, Isabel had objected. She wanted to steer Phoebe toward a sensible profession. But all at once, determined and headstrong, Phoebe had insisted fashion was her future. Isabel believed it to be a cutthroat, low-paying industry, and hoped it would be a phase Phoebe was bound to outgrow.

On the TV, the commercial concluded and the same neighborhood featured earlier reappeared. Isabel leaned toward the screen. A crowd of people had gathered behind Cynthia Chan, the reporter at the scene, microphone in hand. Police cars stood in the background. The reporter was saying something, her mouth moving exaggeratedly. Isabel could only guess at the content. Her eyes drifted to the cluster of people surrounding the woman, mostly Latinos, though whites were among them, and a few African Americans.

A girl standing further back near a policeman caught Isabel’s eye. A fair-haired white girl, wearing a jean jacket that looked like one of Phoebe’s creations!

Isabel’s distance from the TV made it impossible to discern the girl’s features. She tugged her hand away from Thuy and jumped out of her chair, awkwardly threading her way toward the TV in her paper flip-flops. She called out for the volume to be turned up. As she drew near, the camera angle shifted and the policeman and the girl disappeared.

Isabel gazed emptily at the screen. The anchorman’s mouth shaped the words, “Thank you, Cynthia.”

Isabel turned around to find people staring at her. She felt the need to say something, but the words caught in her throat. “I just thought the girl looked—” She stopped; her eyes scanned the clientele. They looked like jurors, hanging on her every syllable, their own thoughts in limbo. Normally she took this in stride, but now their stares unnerved her. Finally, she met their gaze, and groping for a word, added, “Familiar. She looked familiar.”

Interested? Get the book on Amazon here. Check back tomorrow for a guest post, and don’t forget the giveaway on Saturday!

Or, for a gripping journey through a young man’s attempt to rescue his sister and his girlfriend from a Native American-style peyote cult, click on Reparation: A Novel of Love, Devotion and Danger

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