To read Lisl's review of Anna Belfrage's Book of the Month Award-winning novel A Rip in the Veil, click here.
Lose some, win some - Alex Graham and Anna discuss the consequences of slipping through time
There was something dejected about Alex that autumn day. She came walking without her normal bounce, eyes turned inward, and I scooted to the side, patting at the stone beside me in invitation.
Alex sighed – deeply.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, running recent events through my head. As far as I could make out, she and Matthew were as happy as always, both of them lit up from within in each other’s presence. I pursed my mouth; at times, I worried that I’d made them too dependent on each other, thereby making them devastatingly vulnerable to the other’s absence. Should anything happen to either of them…My thoughts drifted away, and the outline of book number two in the series took shape, making my stomach knot itself in protest. Could I really put them through that much pain? So many horrors?
Yet another sigh from Alex returned me to the present – well, the present in the sense that here I was, having a therapeutic conversation with my make-believe (but oh, so real) protagonist of The Graham Saga. And before you all roll your eyes at me, muttering depreciating comments about batty writers, let me state that I firmly believe all writers develop strong relationships with their characters. It’s just that some prefer not to shout this to the world at large…
“Honey?” I stroked her back. The russet broadcloth strained over her rounded back, Joan’s former bodice a tad too small, having been let out to fit Alex’s substantially rounder frame. Don’t get me wrong; it’s more a question of Joan being very thin. The woman shares her uncommon height with her brother Matthew, but where he is muscle and wide shoulders, a strong broad chest and long, powerful legs, Joan is thin and supple like a willow twig – and as unbreakable.
“One of those days,” Alex muttered. She extended her legs, studying her worn boots. “Sometimes…” She bit off, shaking her head.
“Yes?” I prompted.
“I miss it,” she said simply. “I miss the buzz, the sound of music spilling from a radio, the smell of sun on hot asphalt, the luxury of electricity, of hot water at the turn of a tap.” She kicked at a rock. “But that’s just stuff, right? I can do without the stuff…” She chuckled, somewhat sadly. “…well, I have to do without the stuff, don’t I? – but today I miss the people.”
“Like Magnus,” I said. Who wouldn’t miss a father like Magnus? Into this tall blond man, I’d poured all the qualities I would have liked in a parent – and some of them my real father most definitely had, but most he didn’t.
“Yeah.” Alex gave me quick look. “You miss him too, don’t you?”
“Magnus?” I shook my head. “I can find him anytime I want – I just have to open one of my manuscripts.”
“Uh-uh. That wasn’t what I meant.” Alex shoved at me. “I meant your father.”
Okay, so how had this conversation ended up being about me? But the thing is, it’s difficult to lie to your characters – after all, they’re a part of you, and so to lie to them is to lie to yourself.
“I do.” I smiled at nothing in particular. “But especially I miss that there is so little to miss, you know?”
“Like with my mother.” Alex’s mouth tightened. She disliked talking about Mercedes – and in her present 17th century environment it made sense not to talk about a woman who painted portals through time. Being a witch in the here and now came with substantial risks.
“Maybe.” I rubbed at a spot of something greasy on her sleeve.
“Tallow,” she explained. “Those candles stink like hell.” She leaned back, face to the weak sun, and closed her eyes. “Will I ever see them again?”
“Magnus and John, you mean?”
“No, Tony Blair and Clinton,” she retorted sarcastically. “Will I?” Her voice softened, a begging quality to it.
“I don’t know.” I took a deep breath. “If I write you back, I may not be able to ensure your return to Matthew.”
Her face paled, the fingers on the stone tightening on the moss. “Why not? You’re the writer.”
“Logic.” I tugged at a stand of faded grass. “You fell through time due to a number of circumstances. Yes, you could – potentially – be dragged back the same way. But then what? You think I’ll be able to produce yet another humongous thunderstorm?”
“But her paintings!” Alex shivered, pulling the shawl closer round her shoulders. “I can use one of them, can’t I?”
“Sorry, honey. Magnus has destroyed them all.” Not quite – but not even Magnus knew he’d missed one. I leaned close enough to see her eyes. “I can write you back – of course I can. But if I do, you’ll probably never see Matthew again.”
“Never?” Her mouth wobbled. Her gaze locked on the distant house, the dark slate of the roof wet after the recent shower. The door to the kitchen opened and the household filed out, men and women in dark clothes who spoke to each other as they made their way across the yard.
“Bible class done?” I asked, knowing for a fact Alex was more than creative when it came to avoiding these – in her opinion – far too lengthy discussions about God and faith. A point of contention between her and Matthew.
“Obviously.” She fiddled with her cap, ensuring it covered her hair. “He could come with me.”
“He could. But do you think he would be happy there?” I had serious doubts about that. Matthew Graham had his roots firmly planted in the soils of his day and age. Alex considered this in silence while adjusting her shawl and collar.
“No.” She sounded dejected. “It would kill him, I think. He belongs here.” And so, per definition, do you, I thought, smiling in her direction. Not that she noticed, all her attention trained on the house.
Matthew appeared in the doorway, and beside me Alex softened, mouth curving into a smile, hitherto tense shoulders dropping an inch or so. She ate him with her eyes, this tall well-built man with dark, curling hair. As if drawn by magnets, his gaze leapt up the hillside, finding her. He raised his hand and came striding towards us – well, her. Sometimes, Matthew tended to ignore my presence.
“He’s mad at me,” she stated, watching his movements.
“Yeah, he doesn’t like it when you miss class,” I teased. I covered her hand. “So what will it be, Alex? Will you stay here, with him, or go back to John? To Magnus and Isaac?”
At the mention of her son, she started. “Isaac,” she said softly. “Is he alright?”
“He is. Between them, John and Magnus are spoiling him rotten.”
“So they’re all doing fine without me, aren’t they?” Alex stood up, brushing her apron into neatness.
“They are. Yes, they miss you, but life goes on.”
“It wouldn’t for him,” she said, looking at the man presently leaping up the slope. “And it wouldn’t for me either – not without him.”
“No,” I agreed. “It would be one long slow march towards death – for both of you.”
“I’m staying.” She was already moving away from me, to him. I watched as they met, and whatever remarks he had planned to make about her absence were forgotten when she flung her arms around his neck.
“Lass?” He wiped at her face. “Why are you weeping?”
Alex just shook her head, rising on her toes to kiss him into silence. Large hands slid round her waist and drew her close – impossibly close. He murmured her name when she released his mouth, hazel eyes wide and luminous as he looked at her.
I left them to it – at times, being a writer is uncomfortably like being a Peeping Tom. With a little wave I walked off. None of them noticed, lost in their own private little world. As it should be, I suppose. After all, I’d created them to be like that – two halves made a whole, at their strongest when together, at their weakest when apart.
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