Before making the decision to purchase my first book, 'Moment of Grace', you might want to take a sneak preview of what you are in for.
Please find below the first four chapters of the book--free!
The first four chapters are short and introduce you to 'the moment' and the main characters. I hope you enjoy reading them.
If you do and you want to purchase the book, click here.
Acknowledgements: Book cover photos: Nancy Halpin; Book cover design: Lara M. Engelhardt. Editor: Susan Hallett; Publication consultant: Iqbal Rahemtulla
J. Barry Engelhardt
Moment of Grace
Copyright © 2012 James Barry Engelhardt
All Rights Reserved
ISBN: 978-0-9917574-1-1 (electronic)
ISBN: 978-0-9917574-0-4 (print)
Author’s website: jbarryengelhardtbooks.com
For my best friend,
The moment we met was
my moment of grace.
With many thanks to my good friends Diana and Rick Bond, my editor Susan Hallet and my mentor Iqbal Rahemtulla without whom this book could not have been.
Cover photos: Nancy Halpin
Cover designs: Lara Engelhardt
Beneath the bridge the roiling river wailed and wept for them.
Jaromir’s delivery truck lumbered under the weight of its load as it rattled onto the far end of the metal bridge. It was rush hour, and the white headlights and red taillights of the traffic sparkled off the snow and slush that blanketed the downtown. His misty eyes made them glitter that much more. A deep fatigue engulfed him and his back ached as he bounced in the rust bucket. “When are they ever going to fix those bloody shocks?” he cussed. Leaving the bridge, he sped down the street towards the warehouse, absorbed in thoughts of his wife and daughter.
Dalila’s right hand went limp and her cell phone slipped to the messy concrete sidewalk as she finished her conversation. She had thought that she was prepared for such news, that she was professional enough to handle it. It was a test result, nothing more, she had told herself. Given her age and position in the universe, it simply required that she make the only obvious clinical decision that made any sense. That’s what her head had told her before. The problem was, the pain and confusion she now felt existed in this moment and engulfed her completely.
From her other now limp hand had already slipped the hand of Lisha, her five-year-old daughter. Like many children her age, she was drawn to any mound of ‘stuff’ that gave her a higher perspective on her world, a sense of freedom. And the recently plowed streets had heaps of snow at their edges to attract her. Climb up, jump off and climb back up again. Whee!
At the curb, Lisha had started to climb up the tallest white mound she could find, happy to be briefly detached from her mother. A bus slipped past her and honked a warning as it stopped just ahead. On all fours she climbed up the slippery knoll and at its summit turned and waved to her distracted mother. Amid the iciness she lost her footing and fell backwards onto the slushy asphalt.
Despite the relentless chatter in his head, Sloan felt utterly alone in the world. Plunging down the stairs of his rooming house, he ran for a few blocks then crossed the street and staggered toward the bridge. And the river. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the figure of the small girl tumbling off the snow bank onto the sloppy pavement.
Just in front of where Lisha had landed, the bus was swallowing up passengers. Immersed in the dazzle of the downtown, Jaromir had been oblivious to the brake lights of the bus ahead. That’s when Sloan felt the pull, and to his own amazement his spindly legs pushed him over the partially snow-covered fire hydrant and across the northbound lane. Perhaps this time things would be different. But it was going to be tight, even if everything went just right.
Which they rarely do. Sloan’s worn, lace-less running shoes lost grip on the slippery median just as he reached the southbound lane. That would be the difference. Stumbling in full flight, he grabbed Lisha under both arms and made a pure vertical jump. It was the best that he could do; it was all that anyone could have done.
The metal and plastic and glass crashed violently together. Then ghostly silence until Dalila’s chilling scream. No signs of life emanated from between the vehicles. Looking underneath the wreckage, the hopeful off-duty cop saw nothing either.
Not even blood.
‘You’re ready’ was all that his father had said. Jaromir was dumbfounded. He never forgot the first time his dad tossed him the keys to the tractor. Just entering puberty, he felt about eight feet tall.
At the end of that long day of working the fields, achy and grimy, he remembered sitting on the step of the tractor sharing with his dad a jug of ice-cold water that his mother had brought out to them. “You men must be exhausted” she consoled. “We put in a good day’s work, mother, a good day’s work,” his father stated proudly as he emptied his glass. That was the first time Jaromir had ever been called a man. And when his eyes met his father’s, he knew that things had changed between them. A confident nod from the patriarch told him that they both knew he was no longer a child.
Jaromir relished that feeling; he took on his new role with the same poise as his father. And just like him, he never stopped enjoying the feel of a diesel engine grumbling beneath him. In fact, he loved not just the feel but the smell and the sound and, well, just about everything to do with big machines. His mother was sure that more grease had passed through her son’s strapping hands than food had, and he ate a lot. Hardworking country boys usually do.
His strong back was sculpted on the ‘back forty’ and in the barn and shed his grandfather had built. Ditto the strong backbone. Farming demanded long hours, self-sacrifice and determination. Rewards included the satisfaction of a job well done and a visceral connection with the earth. And, of course, a few scars as well. You don’t work with tools all day long, especially power tools, without scratching yourself up a little.
Fortunately, most of his scars were just physical, Jaromir would muse. They’d be ugly, but they wouldn’t hurt; maybe even get you a little sympathy from a pretty girl once in awhile. He felt badly for people who had terrible emotional scars because they really hurt and their kind of hurt didn’t go away. People didn’t see them directly, so they only saw what they did to you. And sometimes they’d understand and sometimes they wouldn’t. That was the real tragedy, he thought to himself.
For the most part he avoided such tragedy. He was a well-liked kid, good natured and friendly. School was more of a chore than so-called chores at home, but he survived with a little prodding from his mother. She knew he would much rather be fishing or snowshoeing or doing anything outdoors for that matter. She guided him as best she could through a happy childhood.
Jaromir was by nature conservative; he would take risks but only well calculated ones. He went to church with his parents on Sundays and tried to follow the Good Book the best he could; didn’t see the point in ‘acting stupid’, as he put it. ‘Just gonna get you into trouble and what fun is that?’, he’d reflect. His nature was to play by the rules, even if the rules didn’t always seem fair. People described him as a God-fearing man. He liked that.
As much as he loved his father, and vice versa, they could grate on each other. Jaromir always wanted things done in a hurry; he had big plans. His father had probably been that way once upon a time, he would reluctantly admit. But he had learned to pace himself over the years and he was constantly trying to instill that into his son. Jaromir, being the stubborn one, was not an easy sell. “Pop, if we’re going to make a go of this farm, we’re going to have to speed up, get better machines that can do more of the work for us,” he’d argue, usually to no avail.
His father deep down probably didn’t disagree as much as his son thought he did. In part, life had worn down his father a little. There had been so much political instability and so much economic uncertainty over the years. Better machines cost money. So does raising a family. Can’t do it all; can’t have it all. Sometimes it was just best to plug along with what worked and keep a low profile.
“Jaromir, I think at the moment we have enough,” was all his father would say after much deliberation. At Jaromir’s age, the word ‘enough’ made no sense. Why wouldn’t you want to have more of something good, if you could?
In part, his father had also learned to slow down simply to enjoy ‘the gifts’ as he used to call them. Sometimes, especially when times were tough, Jaromir would see his father just sitting out in the rain, perfectly still. The first time he remembered seeing his father do it, Jaromir was about nine or ten years of age. He was puzzled, almost worried. He asked his mother about it. She smiled sweetly and suggested he ask his father about it directly. When his father came back in the house, as politely as he could, Jaromir inquired about what he had been up to.
“This old mustard seed was just getting a little dry,” he pointed to himself. “I needed to let God water me, Jari. Make any sense?” his father asked as he tussled Jaromir’s hair with his powerful weathered hands.
“Kinda,” Jaromir blurted, though it really didn’t make a lot of sense to him at the time.
Hunched down with his legs tucked under his torso, he waited for them to come out of hiding. He had just poured some warm water over the opening and before long he was rewarded. Carefully he focused his magnifying glass and one by one he zapped the ants as they left their once comfortable and safe abode. What better way for a seven-year-old boy to spend a blistering hot summer afternoon?
It wasn’t that Sloan had a huge mean streak, because he didn’t. And he loved ants; he thought they were the coolest things on the planet. They moved like crazy and could lift way more than their body weight; what’s not to love about them? It was just something about having the ingenuity and the power to fry those helpless critters that appealed to him. He even tried it once on himself, just for fun. Burned like a son-of-a-bitch, he remembered. When his mother, Julie, saw the burn on his lower leg, he told her he was just trying to give himself a tattoo. She figured it had something to do with the ‘y’ chromosome. She was probably right.
It was hard to tell if Sloan’s mop of dirty blond hair was curly or just unruly. Given his temperament, it was likely the latter. That was balanced with a pair of almost beckoning eyes, which seemed in a near-constant state of excitement. A couple of chipped front teeth capped off his impish grin.
So it was hard for teachers to be mad at him for very long when he brought his pet snake to school in his pocket or farted loudly and blamed the quiet girl who sat in front of him in class (to which she blushed profusely). That was just Sloan.
His younger brother, and only sibling, Scott, was another breed entirely. Sloan nicknamed him Scout because he was the curious academic in the family. The name stuck. Sloan was the devil-may-care athletic one; Scout the cautious studious one.
Their parents, Julie and Ben, had always hoped for a bigger family but it was not to be. Julie became pregnant for Sloan easily, too easily in fact. She was pregnant walking down the aisle, though it was a well-kept secret. After that, though, no cause was ever found for their persistent infertility. After years of trying, investigations and a failed in-vitro attempt, they finally decided to adopt. Scott joined them as an infant the summer Sloan learned about the magnifying glass. So it was ironic that Sloan, their older biological son, was an accident and Scott, their adopted younger son, was very much planned. No doubt that shaped their relationship and destinies. It’s funny how twists of fate can do that.
Both of the boys respected their father but they did fear him a little as well; he had a big frame and when he had a couple of drinks he could have a bit of a temper. Ben was travelling a lot with his sales job and regretted not being around more. He knew Sloan would take a little more work than Scott and felt badly that so much of the childrearing fell to Julie. He had given his family a good life but for some reason known only to him, Ben felt he could have done better. And so, like most fathers, he had high expectations for his sons. He reminded them of that frequently, especially Sloan.
Julie was a stay-at-home mom until the boys were both in school and then she worked at the local supermarket where co-workers and customers alike adored her. She had a kind and friendly manner about her, always available to help a colleague or a shopper with a warm smile. That’s what drew Ben to her. But she also doted on the boys and that would sometimes annoy him. Ben accused her of being too soft on them. “But they are just little boys, Ben, they’ll have a lifetime to spend in the cold, mean world when they are older,” she would plea. Ben would shrug his shoulders and mutter, “They have to grow up some day Mommy!” and walk away. The boys learned at a young age how to play off their parents when necessary, especially when Ben was away. What kids don’t?
In that respect, Sloan, not surprisingly, was more the conniver. It was a tough adjustment for him when Scout joined the family. It took a few years before he could tolerate sharing the spotlight with his kid brother. But once he did, Sloan was protective of Scout, and could be quite proud of his little brother’s intellectual gifts in a subtle kind of way.
During later grade school and high school Sloan’s athletic talents overshadowed his in-class antics. Most sports came easily to him. Such talent brought a lot of attention, and he basked in it. He thrived on physical challenges; no dare went unmatched. And he rarely lost; often more out of shear will and determination than from pure talent alone.
Once adolescence hit, the addition of testosterone to his lean physique and his already adrenaline-craving psyche proved potent. Like many young men throughout the ages, ‘screw it or stomp it’ became his way of approaching everything.
A professional career in sports looked like a possibility for Sloan. Ice hockey was his game and he excelled as a defenceman. His large frame was perfectly suited for the physical type of game he played at that position. Scouts were always in the stands taking notes. Girls were, too. There were lots of temptations, lots of people telling Sloan what to do, lots of opportunities that his father never had at his age. Ben would remind him of that and despite his own excitement for his son’s future he would caution him about the hazards.
“Lots of people will want to use you, Sloan, so be careful,” his father would repeat every chance he had.
With a cocky smirk Sloan always assured his father that he could ‘take care of myself, Dad’.
And for a long time Sloan did take care of himself, and that, in a paradoxical way, was part of the problem.
It wasn’t until years later, when he could no longer take care of himself, that he finally got better.
It was hard to tell if she was ecstatic about getting into medical school or relieved that she had not been denied admission. In her world, there was a world of difference. After all, her parents had been very successful in their respective careers: civil service (mother) and manufacturing sector (father). So it was expected that she would follow suit and, with strengths in the sciences, medical school was the most obvious yellow brick road upon which to embark. But you had to be invited, and she had been at long last.
Dalila had been a ‘type A’ child, an overachiever typical of most of the students accepted into medicine. So there was no doubt that she ‘deserved’ to be there.
But then again, like most of her colleagues, she had also been very lucky. And like them, she was not always cognizant of just how lucky she had been. She had come from a better than middle-class family. They could afford university and all of the benefits such attendance bestowed. Opportunities for growth experiences like sports teams, music and dance lessons, even travel, were listed among the good fortune she had accumulated thus far in her life. Her penultimate blessing, of course, was her health. Especially her mental health. That had been a very fragile commodity for a while. Might always be that way.
Early in grade school the teachers were always bragging to Dalila’s parents what a pleasure it was to have her in the classroom, a good student eager to please and help her peers. She pushed herself to excel and was usually at the top of the class. It seemed to be part of her nature. ‘That girl is going to go places’ people would remark. Even as an infant she was a risk-taker with a ‘mind of her own’ her mother would lament. Not that much different from her parents come to think of it; the apple does not fall far from the tree, as they say. So it didn’t seem that her African descent was a prime motivator to prove herself; it was her nature right from the get-go.
There was, of course, a price to pay for that. Endlessly worrying about school. Expectations sometimes raised too high. Disappointment with anything short of perfection. Irritability when everything did not go ‘just right’.
She developed some superstitions and rituals before exams and competitions to expunge any negativity. She had very methodical routines, including rigid patterns of sleep, diet and dress. Gradually these evolved into habits she carried with her all of the time; little obsessions and compulsions to sustain her confidence and assure success in every endeavor.
For a long time it was not a problem. In fact, her parents were impressed with her maturity, her ability to be self-disciplined. And when it seemed a bit over the top, they would make light of it by teasing her about her mannerisms and ‘funny ways’.
But in her teens, some of it stopped being funny. Her weight plummeted and she was frequently unwell. Wisely, and despite much protestation, they had her obtain professional help. It took a long time before she was well again. A long time before she was able to admit that she might possibly struggle with an eating disorder for the rest of her life.
During those trials and tribulations she began to get inklings about her ultimate blessing: a loving, supportive family.
She would come to discover that, indeed, it was her luckiest blessing of all.
Well, do you want to know how it ends up? For information and links for purchasing, click here.