I’m delighted to give you a peek inside The Weight of Memory by Shawn Smucker with an excerpt – and a chance for three of you to win a copy of your own!
THE WEIGHT OF MEMORY
GENRE: Inspirational Speculative Fiction / Suspense
RELEASE DATE: July 6, 2021
When Paul Elias receives a terminal diagnosis, he leaves his physician’s office in a fog. Only one thing is clear to him: if he is going to die, he must find someone to watch over his granddaughter, Pearl, who has been in his charge since her drug-addicted father disappeared. Paul decides to take her back to Nysa–both the place where he grew up and the place where he lost his beloved wife under strange circumstances forty years earlier.
But when he picks up Pearl from school, the little girl already seems to know of his plans, claiming a woman told her.
In Nysa, Paul reconnects with an old friend but is not prepared for the onslaught of memory. And when Pearl starts vanishing at night and returning with increasingly bizarre tales, Paul begins to question her sanity, his own views on death, and the nature of reality itself.
In this suspenseful and introspective story from award-winning author Shawn Smucker, the past and the present mingle like opposing breezes, teasing out the truth about life, death, and sacrifice.
Anytime to Three Months
Her words hover in the air, hummingbirds, and I hold my breath, glance up at the clock above the door, and watch the red second hand twitch its way through a minute. I pinch my bottom lip in between my teeth. There is a small piece of paper under her chair, the tiniest corner torn off, left from the previous examination. What news did that patient receive? What diagnosis?
What will I leave behind?
“I’m sorry, Dr. Cortez,” I say. “Can you repeat that?” Each of my blinks is like the shutter on an old camera, holding for an extra moment so that I see the negative of her on the inside of my eyelids. I reach up and rub my eyes. Why do I not feel a deep sadness?
I think it would be appropriate for me to feel a deep sadness.
“Mr. Elias,” she begins again, and her words have a lullaby quality to them, as if she’s explaining a monster to a child, the darkness sleeping under the bed, the movement subtly shifting in the corner of the room after the light turns off.
My mind wanders, this time to you, to the happiness on your face when you see me waiting outside of the school, or how heavy your eyes are when you’re trying not to fall asleep. I think of all the made-up tales you have told me, all the imaginary friends, all the whispering voices. I realize in that moment that I can never tell you this news, because it’s a monster far too scary, a story far too dark for an eleven-almost-twelve-year-old. There is relief with the realization that I do not have to tell you. That I will not tell you. So I look over at Dr. Cortez, finally ready to listen.
“Mr. Elias,” she says, “do you understand what I’m telling you?”
I wonder how doctors can possibly appear to be so young. Like high school students. Dr. Cortez’s hair is held together in a bright pink scrunchie, and she has no wrinkles at the corners of her eyes. We have become friends through the last months, closer as the news has become increasingly worse. She has always tried to soften the blows.
The thought hums through my mind that this is a practical joke, one of those television shows where they play pranks on unsuspecting chumps. I smile to myself, eager for this to be true. I actually check the room for a hidden camera. Perhaps in the light switch, or in that pointy wall mount behind the glass jar of cotton swabs? Or in the tiny pendant that sways, barely visible inside the neck of her blue blouse where the top button sags, undone?
But there is the knot on my head behind my left temple. That is no practical joke. And there are waves of nausea, moments when I nearly black out. Those are not practical jokes. And Dr. Cortez wouldn’t lie to me. Maybe it’s God. Maybe God is the prankster here.
My face must be suitably blank, because she tells me once again, for the third time.
“Mr. Elias? There is no treatment available,” she says. “It’s too far along. I’m very sorry.” The buds of tears form in the corners of her eyes, those eyes that have no wrinkles, and the left side of her mouth twitches in a sad dance. She stands and turns away and pretends to rearrange the various pamphlets on the counter. I shift ever so slightly on the ex–amination table, and the paper underneath me crackles like electricity.
She turns, holding out one of the pamphlets, and I take it from her smooth hands. She is a child. The words on the pamphlet read, “Hospice Care and You.”
I take another deep breath. I am full to bursting with air. I let it out in a long sigh.
“Are you still blacking out?” Her voice is probing, gentle.
I shrug, nod.
“Are your pain levels okay?”
I nod again.When I think I’ll never find words again, five of them disturb the surface. “How long do I have?”
She clears her throat. “Mr. Elias, I don’t normally...” Her voice collapses in on itself.
“Dr. Cortez, I’ve been trying to get you to call me Paul for over a year now.” I try to chuckle, but no sound comes out.
“Mr. Elias... Paul...” she says.
“I understand,” I say, and my composure seems to catch her off guard. I shrug and give her a small but heavy smile. “I’m fifty-eight years old. I’ve had many good years. But I have a granddaughter in my care. She depends on me. She has no one else, and I’ll need to find someone to take her in.” My voice cracks. I clear it. My words come out all breath. “It would help, I’m sure you understand, if I had some idea.”
I have never felt so much like I’m underwater. I think of Mary. What was the last thing she thought, going under? Was she afraid? Was she thinking of me? Could she see the light from the midmorning sun, glimmering too far above her?
The doctor shakes her head. “I don’t normally ... It’s a guessing game. You could live much longer.”
My mouth tightens into a smile. “I understand,” I say again, trying to nudge her with a kind glance. “Your best guess.”
She breathes quietly, a bird quivering in the brush. She licks her lips. Her head tilts, and her hand moves instinctively to the unbuttoned collar of her blouse, hiding the triangle of tender skin. She can’t make eye contact with me as she says the words, and this fills me with an immense amount of affection for her. It’s all I can do not to move across the small room and hug her.
“The soonest? Anytime, really.” She seems to be holding her breath. She doesn’t know where to look.
“And the longest? Perhaps two or three months.”
Her chest quivers in what seems to be a stifled sob. It strikes me as both completely unprofessional and deeply human.
Between anytime and three months.
I feel a subtle relief. There it is. The finish line.
I think of you, and the relief turns sour. How can I leave you behind? Who will take care of you?
The idea comes to me as I sit in Dr. Cortez’s office. I will take you back to my hometown, back to where I grew up. Back to Nysa. I will show you the home I was born in, the creeks I fished, the small town where my friends and I caused trouble. To me it feels like the last safe place in the world, and if I have to leave you, that seems the best place to do it. I don’t know who will take you in, but the idea of driving with you through these early autumn days feels so good that I decide we will leave today. This afternoon.
Or tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow morning at the latest.
I stand and take a deep breath, as if everything is finally beginning. I approach the door, and Dr. Cortez doesn’t stand. I know she is very new at this—her face is in her hands. I reach down and my fingertips graze her small shoulder, and I squeeze her collarbone reassuringly. I’m surprised at how fragile it feels, like an eggshell.
“Thank you, Sarah,” I whisper. “You have always been forthright with me. I know you’ve tried many things. And I appreciate that. This will get easier. Telling people. Don’t worry.”
She reaches up to squeeze my hand, but her reach stops somewhere short of her shoulder, short of my fingers. I walk away, breathing, each step a deliberate effort to keep going.
Outside, the late September air is soft and warmer than it should be.
Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2021. Used by permission.
Shawn Smucker is the award-winning author of Light from Distant Stars and These Nameless Things, the young adult novels The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There, and the memoir Once We Were Strangers. He lives with his wife and six children in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You can find him online at www.shawnsmucker.com.
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