I’ve been pretty quiet about this book aside from showing the cover around occasionally. I haven’t really said anything about it, and there are a few reasons for that. The most important one is, when I think of this novella I don’t even really know what to say without giving the whole thing away.
I will say, I love this book. It’s a completely different beast than my other stuff, a lot quieter and more hopeful. Like all my other stuff, I don’t really know how to categorize this one. With my other books, I can always say, “Well, it’s fantasy” and whatever else you want to call it is your deal. This one, I can’t even really go that far. Is it science fiction? Kind of. Is it not science fiction? Kind of.
A Sorrow Named Joy came about when I was beating my head against the wall with some gnarly writer’s block regarding a few of my other projects. I wanted to tell a story about what it is to both lose and find yourself, about sorrow and happiness, about gardening and art.
So, I did.
At the moment, I’m just releasing this one digitally, but I have a few novellas up my sleeve and when I get enough published, I will create an omnibus of them and release a paperback of that. So, stay tuned.
As for A Sorrow Named Joy, you can buy it on Amazon. Keep reading for the first chapter.
About the book
Joy desires nothing more than her husband’s happiness. She spends her days creating the perfect life for him in their idyllic suburban home. Everything is neat, predictable, and in its place.
When Joy finds a picture that hints at a past she cannot remember, the facade cracks. As secrets are revealed, Joy realizes her blissful life is crumbling and to find herself, she must first lose herself.
Perfect, after all, is only an illusion.
Joy’s days relied on routine, but she didn’t mind. Routine was the order of the world. Everything in its place, every place perfectly dusted, cleaned, and cared for.
Purpose was a heady elixir.
She woke as the sun was cresting the eastern mountains, its pale golden light filling her with humming, throbbing energy, and went to the kitchen. She scooped freshly-ground beans into the coffee maker and then sprinkled in some cinnamon because that was how Mike liked his coffee. Joy studied her reflection in the polished granite countertop while she waited for it to brew. The way her dark hair hung around her shoulders. The dimple in her chin. Her large, bright eyes. Familiar, and yet somehow not. Sometimes, when Joy stared into a mirror, she saw a stranger looking back at her.
Once the coffee was burbling, she moved to the stove. She got the frying pan nice and hot, listened to it sizzle as the oil started bubbling. Her eggs were always perfect, two yellow globes of unbroken yolk, with ham, peppers, and onions around them like rings around a planet. Then, she added two slices of freshly-buttered sourdough toast. A perfect breakfast.
She made sure it was ready when Mike finally appeared. He was still damp from the shower, eyes foggy with sleep, tie hanging akimbo, hair sticking up at odd angles, one side of his collar standing up while the other was neatly folded down.
She arranged his meal on a pristine white plate and set it on a pale-yellow placemat. Coffee next, in a matching mug. A small bowl of sugar and a little lamb-shaped ewer filled with milk were set within reach, but not in the way. After, a bowl of fresh-cut fruit, whatever was in season: strawberries, cantaloupe, and watermelon.
Mike didn’t talk. He was the kind of man who had to stew in his silence before he found words, and Joy loved that about him. She loved how the mornings sort of crept up on him. How he looked rumpled as a bird just fallen from the nest. She’d bask in the comfortable quiet that surrounded him.
She busied herself around the kitchen while he ate, the soft sounds of chewing, the crunch as he bit into his toast, and the slow slurp of coffee the only sounds in their otherwise silent house.
By the time he was ready for his second cup of coffee, morning light was streaming through the window above the sink, illuminating him in a pool of melted honey. She memorized him like that, hunched, unkempt, and sleepy, the yolk from his eggs oozing into his ham and peppers, his toast half-eaten, a fork dangling from his fingers while he stared at nothing. She’d keep him like that in her mind, forever.
Finally, after the second cup, he looked up and smiled. She could feel that grin in her toes. “How are you, my dear?” Sleep clung to his words making them husky and low.
“Lovely,” she said. “It’s going to be a gorgeous day.”
He peered out the window and nodded. “Any plans?”
Joy wondered if there was something he wanted her to do. Something he was waiting to hear. A pause lingered between them, heavy and potent. “I am going to work in the garden. I will go to the store and pick up a roast for dinner, too.”
“That sounds delightful.” He stood, made his way to her, and pressed his lips against her brow. “With potatoes?”
“The little red ones you love, yes.”
“Wonderful, wonderful.” He stepped back, clapped his hands together, and rubbed them like he was planning to do something monumental.
Those hands, so strong, so tender.
“Remember, I’ve got some meetings at work that might keep me late this week.”
“Of course.” As if she’d forget. She turned to the sink, to her pile of dishes, and set about washing them.
He smiled and disappeared upstairs. A minute later, she heard the bathroom sink turn on, his heavy footsteps as he got ready for work. She could picture him up there, fixing his tie and his collar, running gel through his hair, brushing his teeth. A moment later, she heard the springs on their bed groan as he put on socks and shoes.
She was already up to her elbows in suds when he pecked her on the cheek before rushing out the door. Then, Joy was alone, but she didn’t mind. She liked the silence as much as she liked the sounds of him. The sudden echoing emptiness of her house was familiar. It was the sound her life made when she was waiting for Mike’s return.
Their home wasn’t big, but to her, it was the world. She liked the open kitchen that naturally flowed into a family room. The upstairs, its large bedrooms with huge windows that looked out on a sprawling yard. There was an oak tree in the front, limbs so long and laden with leaves the front of the house was always cast in delightful shade. The backyard, however, was her true love. Half had been split into evenly-spaced garden beds, and it got plenty of sun.
Soon, she would go out and glory in the light, with her raggedy straw hat and her worn garden gloves, the white ones with the pink flowers. She’d carry her green bucket with her hand tools and bend herself to the task of fighting weeds. But not yet.
Now it was time to clean. Time to arrange the house, to press the silence into order, and make the emptiness smell like lemon polish and summer.
She hummed one of Mike’s favorite songs. It made her feel closer to him, like she carried part of him in her throat. She liked knowing that even when they were apart, they were together. So, she hummed and washed dishes and dried them with the rose hand towel. A load of laundry went in the wash before she got her furniture polish and sent dust motes soaring into the air to catch the light like a shower of stars.
When that was done, she showered and then dressed for the garden. Her loose linen pants, that worn straw hat which Mike always looked at like it hurt him, and then he’d laugh. How you doin’, farmer Joy? in that exaggerated accent of his, a delightful twinkle in his eyes.
She sat on the edge of their bed in the very place she knew Mike had sat in just moments before and put on her socks and shoes. Her eyes trailed over the walls, the dresser with its ornate wrought iron handles, the pictures of a rolling green landscape sliding easy into a careless sea. Their nightstands, matching, one on each side of the bed, were perfectly cleaned and polished. The bed was made, neat as a pin. Everything was as it should be, and yet…
The drawer of his nightstand wasn’t closed all the way.
It wasn’t right.
She would never dream of snooping. Never dream of poking around in Mike’s affairs. She trusted him, and wasn’t trust the foundation of a relationship? She had no reason not to. And yet, that drawer was open. Just enough to hint at secrets inside.
Her fingers hesitated on the iron handle. To push or pull?
She drew in a breath, and then, with her eyes squeezed closed, she pulled the drawer open.
Inside, the contents were neat. There was the book Mike read each night before bed, some mystery novel he’d picked up at the supermarket a week ago. There was a pair of reading glasses, a set of nail clippers, and a picture in a seashell frame.
A picture in a seashell frame.
With shaking fingers, she pulled the picture out and studied it.
It was Mike, a few years younger, standing with a woman on a beach. The woman had a large camera around her neck. Joy looked up, studied the landscapes on the walls, and wondered if that person had taken them. Then, she pulled the photo closer and caught her breath.
She knew that woman. She knew those eyes and that hair. She saw that face every time she looked in the mirror. Shock stabbed her, cold as winter.
She dropped the photo. The glass in the frame made a loud crunch as it broke right in half. She’d have to go to the store and buy another frame, use the glass to hide what she’d done. Guilt suffused her. This was wrong. She had gone where she shouldn’t and now look at what happened.
She got to her feet, rushed to the mirror over the dresser, and studied herself. She tugged on her cheeks, examined her lips. The face in the picture looked back at her, but she had no memory of being on a beach. She’d never touched a camera in her life.
Who was she?
The stranger in the glass looked as terrified as Joy felt.
The world pulsed and writhed around her. She moved back until she could sit on the edge of her bed and gripped the mattress with fingers that were both hers and not hers. She looked into the mirror, at the face that was familiar and strange, saw the panic in those deer-in-the-headlights eyes. Felt the instant she became a stranger to herself, that slow slice of the knife that seemed to cut her in half. The world tilted, and suddenly Joy didn’t know… anything.
She closed her eyes, bent her head, forced herself to breathe deep five times.
There could be any number of reasons she didn’t remember that moment on that beach. Maybe she’d hit her head. Maybe she’d been sick. People lost memories for many reasons. It didn’t mean Mike was lying to her, did it? She loved him. More, she trusted him.
She trusted him.
With that truth steeling her resolve, calm washed over her. She picked up the picture from where she’d dropped it, and told herself, of course, it was her standing with Mike, and of course, she’d been on that beach and taken pictures. How could it be anyone else? She and Mike enjoyed the sun and walked in the sand and surf. They’d held hands and watched the light dip past the horizon while Mike drank a cold, foamy beer, just the way he liked them.
She put the picture back in his drawer, closed it softly, apology lacing each of her actions.
She shouldn’t have done that. She shouldn’t have snooped. She trusted him.
She went into the closet and changed. She’d have to garden later, but now, she needed to get to the store. She needed to buy the roast and potatoes and the small fudge cake Mike liked for dessert. Mostly, she needed to get another picture frame, one with glass she could use to fix what she’d broken.
She felt a lot like that glass.
She’d never lied to Mike. Never hidden anything from him, and now this. This shattering. This first hidden truth. She didn’t like it. It made her feel bruised.
She got dressed, brushed her hair, and stared at the woman’s face—her face—in the mirror. Then, with head held high, she grabbed her purse and her sandals, the comfortable ones that were good for walking to the market down the road, and left her house, closing her perfectly-painted maroon door behind her.
Birds sang greetings as she passed.
The world was so very, very alive.