Release date for “Fireflies” is 4/3/13
Phew! This whole writing journey is a wonderful but also challenging experience. At times, it’s almost terrifying, especially when you are waiting on replies from agents or publishers and you’re still in the beginning stages of the whole process.
I’ve decided to continue trying to find an agent and have set a time limit on this endeavor but for now, I’ll keep that to myself. However, what I won’t keep to myself is this revised first chapter of FIREFLIES. At the suggestion of a fellow writer (with a great deal more experience than I) as well as a couple of agents whom I respect, even if they haven’t decided to take me on yet, I’ve torn apart and rebuilt the first chapter of my novel and I must say, I really am happy with the outcome!
Without further adieu, I give you the revised, new and improved Chapter One.
Ennis found a bird. He stood like a fence post, straight and still and about half as tall, cupping the small brown sparrow between his chubby palms and looking down in sorrow. Its feathers were softer than he had imagined they’d be and it didn’t try to peck him or escape as he expected. Its tiny talons scratched him lightly and felt tickly against his skin. Its dark blank eyes stared open, yet its body didn’t move.
As his hands folded apart, the bewildered bird sat silent between them. The air was warm and dry until a sudden cool breeze blew back the amber curls on his forehead and he let out a gasp. His bright green eyes flashed open wide and the bird took flight startling him and his hands fell to his sides.
“Bye bird,” he whispered, turning his eyes to the sky and shoving his hands into the front pockets of his dusty coveralls.
Late spring had come to Luzerne County but already the temperatures had begun to creep into the warmth of summer. The sun still sat low in the west in the evenings, yet the days grew longer, which always lifted everyone’s spirits, as did the end of formal schooling for the year. These were the days when the younger children would rush to finish their chores and race off to explore their own pursuits of happiness, which their dear father Dr. Owen Whelan always encouraged.
Ennis however didn’t need to pursue anything; it pursued him.
“Ennis, is that you?” rang his sister Teagan’s voice from inside the barn.
She stomped out of the barn in her brother Brogan’s old boots and breeches, carrying a shovel and began walking in circles around him, full of suspicion. She stopped abruptly, pushed the scoop end of the shovel into the dirt hard and asked, “Ennis, did you see a dead bird out here?”
“Nnnnope.” Ennis answered and skipped off toward the house.
“Ennis wait!” she called out, pointing at the ground. “There was a bird, here, lying in this very spot!”
“It wasn’t dead Teagan. It was only sick. It’s better now and he’s flown off.”
Teagan’s brows lowered as she leaned down at Ennis in disbelief.
“I find it a bit peculiar that suddenly out of nowhere, a bird that was either dead or dying, up and flew away.”
“What’s peculiar Teagan?” Ennis asked unaffected by her intimidating posture.
“You are brother, you are but that is nothing new!”
Ennis was born on New Year’s Day 1875 and was finally catching up to be averaged size for his six years. He was a happy child but at times seemed frightened by unseen things and clung to his mother’s skirt. He was born frail and was still treated as such to a large degree by her. Sarah favored and coddled him. She feared him touched by his frightful entrance into this world and his unconventional behavior often held her eyes open all night long.
His first cry had taken many minutes longer than the rest. During his delivery, Owen feared him stillborn but after what seemed like an eternity to Sarah, Ennis wailed his first cry. Owen swore this pale limp infant, his lips blue, his small soft body so still, would never live to see the sun come up, but like a miracle, he did. The next morning, when he latched onto her breast for the first time, Sarah peered at Owen with tear filled eyes and said, “This is the last.”
Sarah first noticed Ennis’ unique temperament one morning when she awoke to find him lying peacefully in his cradle and not squealing for attention as most infants do. As she stood over him, his peridot eyes brought her into focus, acknowledging her presence above him and an innocent smile grew across his sweet, tiny face. She spoke aloud to him as she lifted him into her arms, “You’ve waited inside me womb for a long time Ennis, to show me those beautiful eyes. I’ll never be homesick again.”
Teagan shook her head, took one last look around and shrugged. She returned the shovel to the barn and raced past Ennis, around to the front of the house, taking the porch steps two at a time and bolting through the front door.
“Ma!” Teagan called out.
“Teagan, for heaven’s sake, why are ya’ shoutin’?” Sarah asked, as she rushed into the parlor.
“Ennis is acting strangely again,” Teagan moaned, rolling her eyes.
She stepped around her mother and walked into the kitchen with Sarah on her heels.
“What do ya’ mean strangely?’ Sarah asked with great impatience.
“Oh Ma, you know, odd. I asked him if he’d seen a dead bird because I was going to bury it but he claimed it just flew away. Ma, that bird was dead or almost. I don’t know what he did with it but it’s impossible that the bird just flew off.”
Teagan was up to her elbows in the wash basin as she explained herself and never realized the expression on Sarah’s face had transformed from one of curiosity to a thousand miles away.
“Ma, are you listening to me? Honestly Ma, I don’t know why I bother to tell you anything he does anymore.”
“Get ready for supper and help your sister set the table. There’s nothin’ wrong with Ennis a family’s love cannot endure,” Sarah responded briskly, hurried to the back door and stepped outside.
On the front porch of the white, two and a half story Victorian farmhouse stood Liffey, dressed in her plain white, long sleeved blouse and long brown skirt, over which she wore their mother’s old kitchen apron with the deep pockets in front. Sarah embroidered it with tiny red tulips with long green stems surrounded by shamrocks, which were now faded from years of wear. Liffey was as always, calling them all to supper.
Liffey, the eldest of the two sisters, was very much the second ‘mother’ of the house, even at only seventeen. She wore her mass of strawberry ringlets pulled neatly back in a tight bun, a few wisps of hair just above her ears danced in the breeze.
“Ennis, what have you been doing?” she asked as he approached.
“I found a bird. It let me hold it and then it flew away.”
“Show me your hands. You shouldn’t be touching wild things! You could catch a disease! Come in and wash up. Dinner is almost ready.”
Ennis as always obliged and obeyed his sister and without delay, rushed to wash up.
“Ma? I washed my hands Ma,” said Ennis, drying his hands on his coveralls and squirming into his seat at the oak dining table. His father’s seat to the left of him sat empty.
Sarah snapped into reality upon hearing Ennis’ voice and rushed back into the kitchen.
“Ennis, come here ta’ me please,” Sarah ordered. “Empty yer’ pockets for me now,” she added, holding out her hands reluctantly, expecting anything.
“But I have nothing in them Ma.”
“Please Ennis, just do as I say. Turn them inside out.”
Ennis conformed to prove his honesty, while Sarah stood with her hands outstretched peering down at him.
“May I tuck them back in now Ma?”
Sarah nodded and kissed him on top of his head, while throwing Teagan a disapproving glance. “Go back ta’ yer seat child.”
Teagan took her seat at the table with a thump and joined in the conversation between Ennis and Liffey about the bird. Teagan still wasn’t convinced that Ennis hadn’t stowed the poor dead creature away somewhere for further examination later but their banter and laughter soon lightened the mood but served to do nothing but irritate their older brother Fagan as he had worries of his own.
“Can we once eat our supper and speak afterwards? Teagan take that hat off and talking of dead birds at the supper table is not very appetizing!” Fagan barked. He had no patience for silliness at the supper table.
“Well, sorry to disappoint you Fagan but we’re eatin’ dead birds for supper!” chimed Patrick as they all broke into laughter.
“Oh please Fagan! Teagan, remove the hat and Patrick, no nonsense at the table please,” said Sarah in a tone they understood all too well to mean “this is your only warning.”
Around the table the Whelan family sat, waiting for their father to arrive home. He always arrived just in the nick of time for supper. He liked checking in on the almost full term mothers to be and watching over those too sick to travel. Most of his time at his office was spent tending to the coal mining families of the county.
Doctor Owen Whelan was a good man, a loving husband and a devoted father. He never raised his voice in anger, nor did he have cause to. His wife Sarah could. Sarah was the heavy hand. Sarah kept the children in line and most often, watching her discipline the eldest of the brood was enough for the younger children to walk the line she had drawn. They all knew quite clearly where it was and they kept their distance.
“Ma, where is Da tonight?” asked Liffey, as she handed the pitcher of milk to her left for Fagan to pour for the younger children.
“Your Da is checking in on the Olsen family tonight on his way home. He should have been here by now.”
Sarah had only spoken a moment, before they heard the front door swing open and the sweet voice of Owen Whelan bellow through the house, as he whipped off his hat and hung it on the rack next to the door. He still carried his thick Irish accent as did Sarah but much more prominently at home with his family.
“Wait fer your Da!” Owen exclaimed as he hustled into the kitchen, pausing at the wash basin to clean up before taking his seat at the other head of the table opposite Sarah.
“You weren’t going to start supper without your ole Da were ya’?” he smiled as he reached over to give Ennis’ curls a toss.
“Well I wasn’t about to put up with seven hungry bellies much longer Owen but you saved us all from starvation yet again dear,” Sarah winked.
“So which one of ya’ children will say the Grace be to God this night?” Owen asked.
As with almost every supper, Ennis’ arm flew up in the air as he wiggled with excitement in his chair.
Owen overlooked him playfully as usual, hoping one of the others would offer the blessing.
“Oh for Heaven’s sake Da, let Ennis do it,” Fagan rumbled.
“Oh Ennis, I missed ya’ there my boy!” laughed Owen, un-phased by Fagan’s remark. However, they knew Sarah took note.
Ennis, who was now using his right hand to hold his left arm in the air exclaimed, “Oh thank You Da! Everyone, join hands. Our Father, I found a sick bird today and picked it up and it flew away. Thank you and bless this food Ma cooked. Amen.”
Ennis spoke with his eyes squeezed tightly shut and nearly the same tight squeeze on both his father and Patrick’s hands. Everyone said their amens and the sound of dishes clinking and the chatter of young people began to ring the dinner bell and as always, open the floor for commentary.
“Da, can I get a word with you after supper?” asked Fagan.
“I expect ya’ will Fagan as I’ve come from the Olsen’s,” Owen replied as he peeked up from his plate.
“Thank you Da,” Fagan said and went back to work putting gravy on his chicken.
“So how did you find the Olsen family this day Owen? All well I hope?” asked Sarah.
“Well, yes, they are all once again in good health. This influenza goin’ ’round is a nasty one and this late in the season no less! The rest, ya’ know I cannot speak to as it’s for Gods ears and not me own,” Owen sighed and said as he leaned back in his chair to loosen two buttons on his vest and threw Fagan a wink.
“Da, I’m hoping for a few words too,” said Teagan.
“Well Teagan after me words with Fagan, have I any words left, we shall have ours,” Owen smiled.
“Da, don’t you find it a bit odd none of us ever get sick?” asked Teagan with a mouthful of buttered biscuit.
‘Why it’s not a ‘tall odd Teag. Yer’ hearty Whelan’s and pretty well fed too! So what happened ta’ words after dinner?” Owen laughed.
“Oh I’ve more for after dinner Da but since we’re on the subject, what a curious thing so much sickness is everywhere in the valley and you tend to them all, yet we’re as healthy as horses. Now that I’ve thought about it, our horses don’t even get sick. As a matter of fact, I can’t even recall the last time any of us have ever been…”
“So we shall count our blessin’s even more so Teagan. Now, pass those biscuits please,” interrupted Sarah, making an attempt at closing the subject.
After dinner, Liffey and Teagan gathered the dishes and went to work in the kitchen helping their mother. Patrick and Ennis scattered to play a while, before having to wash up and change into their night clothes. Connell however already had his nose in a medical book studying as Brogan worked by candle light with pencil in hand, at the desk he shared with his elder brothers, putting down his thoughts.
Owen reclined under the soft glow of a lantern on the front porch and he and his eldest son were having their words.
“Da…” Fagan had only uttered one word before his father spoke to him.
“Yes, Fagan. I spoke to Mister Olsen about your plans for marryin’ Mary. Before you speak, I’ll save ya’ from lyin’ awake tonight wonderin’ yourself silly. Mary has told her parents she expects ya’ to ask her soon and they decided this is agreeable to them you should do so.’
Seemingly, all of the smiles Fagan had ever lost had been found and it made Owen a happy man to witness his son so full of joy.
“Yes, now go wash up and get some sleep. She’s expecting ya’ to come calling this Sunday after church and you can speak to Mister Olsen proper and get his blessing,” Owen added, wishing he had more good news for Fagan, as being able to enjoy his smile was a rare treat.
“Thank you Da! Thank you so, so much!” Fagan smiled, as he stood and turned to head into the house, surely to share the good news with his brother Connell.
“Send yer sister out here! Yer Ma’s good cookin’ is makin’ me yawn.”
Teagan crept almost on her toes out the door and walked softly to her father’s side as he sat gazing out at the night sky.
“Teagan, where’s your words girl?” he asked never lowering his eyes from the horizon.
“Oh Da you know I have plenty of words to say most of the time,” she mumbled, as she leaned against the porch railing and scooted herself up and sat.
“So what is this about tonight, Teagan?”
“Da, how old do I have to be to get married?”
“Oh so you’ll be getting’ yerself married soon aye? Who’s the lucky fella? Eli?”
Eli Morgan was Teagan’s best friend. He was Welsh with white blond hair, six feet tall at least, almost eighteen and the eldest of two. His parents had immigrated to America a few years before he was born. They too started in Philadelphia, where Eli’s father worked as a blacksmith and they moved to Plymouth, at the beginning of the coal mining boom. Although they lived a good few miles from the hustle and bustle of Wilkes-Barre, his father made a fine living and had been teaching Eli his trade.
He and Teagan of course met the same as all good children of Luzerne County – at church. They had been complete opposites on the outside but seemed to know each other’s thoughts and played with no strife from the first day. The mothers had nick named them pepper and salt which seemed to fit them both in appearance and flavor. The Morgan’s were also their closest neighbors to the east.
“Oh Da, what else can I become other than a wife?”
“Teagan my beauty, now what on Earth besides a wife and a mother would suit ya’?” he asked, knowing full well how Teagan felt about such a traditional life.
Teagan threw herself at her father’s feet and proclaimed, “Da, why can’t women be doctors? Don’t women help tend to the sick? Didn’t women take to the battlefields during the war to save the soldiers and bind the bloody wounds?”
“Calm down now! Women have been doctorin’ since the beginning of time and some medical schools are acceptin’ women now…”
“Really Da!?’ Teagan exclaimed, stopping him mid-sentence.
“Yes, yes Teagan. Why don’t we take some time and thought and if yer up to it, I’ll let ya’ study on some of me medical books a while?’ he answered, taking her hand in his and smiling down at her from his old creaky porch chair.
“That’s as fair an offer as I could ever ask for Da,” wept Teagan, pushing her tears back with a deep breath and a smile, albeit unsuccessfully.
She swiped the two wet streaks from her cheeks with the backs of her hands in a slap and pulled herself up to give her father a hug.
“I love you so much Da,” she whispered, squeezing Owen tight.
“I love ya’ too my Teag. Now go help yer Ma and get ready for bed,” Owen whispered back, holding back a few tears of his own.