I’m in love with an idea that came to me a few months ago, and I can’t wait to start writing it in earnest! I am mostly Irish and Scottish, a little German and Swiss, and a lot obsessed with all the lore surrounding my heritage. With that, comes my desire to write about those things! I can’t give away too much, or I risk ruining the surprise for my future book, The Never Ending Life of Natalia O’Fahy, but here is a sneak peek at the prologue!
August 7, 2019
Natalia O’Fahy stared out the murky kitchen window of her nephew’s Savannah home. Her forehead crinkled in concentration as she admired the garden. With its thriving arbors and newly blossomed roses, the garden was not at the forefront of her mind, but it did serve as a mild distraction from the heavy thoughts that had plagued her for weeks. Simon would soon pass, leaving a wife, three children, seven grandchildren and a great-grandchild soon to enter the world.
A droplet of sweat dribbled from Natalia’s hairline and settled on her chin. “Blasted heat,” she said, a mutter on her lips as she swiped the droplet away. She returned her attention to the bloody rags in the sink. Simon sputtered so frequently now she might as well give up on keeping clean spittle cloths at his bedside. Amelia was too weak to care for her husband, but it was not the work that bothered Natalia. It was death itself that teased her, plucked her loved ones from her side every so often, leaving her wanting and wishing there was more she could do with her life, her gifts.
“Aunt Natalia?” Simon’s faint whisper drifted through the stagnant house and settled in Natalia’s ears. How many more calls would come from his parched lips before he released his hold on this world and slipped into the next?
“Natalia?” Simon asked again.
“Coming, dear,” Natalia said. She wiped her hands on her apron and fetched a bit of bread and sweet cream before returning to Simon’s room. Amelia sat beside him on the bed, clutching her husband’s hand as if, somehow, the tether between them would keep him in this world for as long as she needed him. Amelia had always been a weak, feeble, wisp of a woman who clung to anyone who would offer her the easy path. Even so, Simon loved her, and so Natalia did, too.
“Here, nephew. Eat if you can,” Natalia said, then pressed the bread against his lips. In the adjacent room, the remainder of the family waited. It would be today, Natalia determined. She had seen death enough to know when it perched at the window, waiting for a stolen moment when no one was watching. Then it would strike.
“I cannot,” Simon said and turned his head. “Amelia, would you retrieve my letters?”
Amelia’s gray eyes narrowed, but she abided her husband’s wish. The frail woman slid her legs from the bed and stood on wobbly knees. Once her cane was beneath her, she managed to move quite swiftly to the spare room where Simon kept his most valuable items—the suit he wore on his wedding day, the letters from his mother tied with a faded silk ribbon, and of course, his beloved childhood lovie, a bear he called… bear.
The moment the door closed tight behind Amelia, Simon relaxed. His tense body released, and he let a great sigh escape his lips. “Natalia…” His fingers brushed against Natalia’s, the only family member his elder. “Do try to live more when I am gone,” he said, then his head slunk to the right, and his eyes fluttered closed.
Natalia shut her eyes tight to keep the tears from falling. She could not allow Amelia to see her in such a distraught state, so she bent and kissed her beloved nephew’s wrinkled brow, pressed his eyelids closed completely, and stood. Natalia smoothed the wrinkles from her apron and moved to the door. As her hand fell upon the handle, she felt Simon’s presence in her heart fade, then it left with nary a moment’s hesitation. He was gone on to his final resting place, and now she would focus on what remained.
She curled her fingers around the handle and turned, releasing the last of her grief before presenting herself to the family. Amelia still shuffled in the side room, searching for the letters, so Natalia beckoned the family to come to her.
“Loved ones,” she said. “Please, meet me in the side room.” Before Natalia could set foot in the room, Amelia let out a great wail and crumpled to the floor. She clutched Simon’s letters in her hand, tearing the browned papers. Natalia pursed her lips again and wiggled the family treasures from Amelia’s grip. Once free, she placed them on a small chest of drawers tucked neatly in the corner of the spare room.
Simon’s children and grandchildren surrounded Amelia, soothing her and begging her to stand, move to the main room and relax. One son, Joshua, stood apart from the others. The youngest, he had the slightest whisper of gray at his temples, a distinguished look that complimented his black hair and warm, brown eyes. Joshua rubbed a hand over his face and scratched the stubble at his chin. His eyes wandered the room until they settled upon Natalia’s face.
“Aunt, come eat something and let them care for mother.” He offered a kindly hand to her, which she accepted if only to relieve herself of the burden of pretending to care that Amelia was putting on quite a show. Her sobs ricocheted off the rafters like a banshee’s screams, settling in Natalia’s ears like a hammer to her head. She did sympathize with the woman, of course, but she did believe the moments after a soul crossed into Heaven should be spent in quiet contemplation. Certainly, she did not believe they should be wasted drawing attention to oneself.
In the kitchen, the bloody rags awaited, so Natalia plugged the sink again and drew a bath of hot, soapy water. Joshua leaned against the counter, squinting each time his mother cried out.
“Not to sound harsh, but that woman could make the deaf shudder,” Joshua said.
Natalia shook her head and chuckled. It was the first time she had so much as smiled in over a week. It felt good. “Thank you, Joshua. I needed that.”
Joshua pushed off the counter and grasped Natalia’s hand. “How old are you, Aunt Natalia? Truly?”
Natalia blew wisps of her deep red hair from her face then smiled. “You should never ask a woman her age, nephew. Who raised you?”
Joshua’s eyes fluttered toward the room where his mother still cried, and his sisters worked with much difficulty to calm her. His elder brother, Henry, grumbled intelligibly and exited the room. He crossed the living room and went out the front door to have a smoke while the grandchildren, most of whom were well into adulthood, wandered here and there in the house.
“Yes, well… Mother, bless her, was never any good at teaching manners, and Father was never any good at telling Mother what to do,” Joshua said. “So, the question remains.”
Natalia sighed and added up the years in her head, having lost track over the last decade or so. “Mmm… One hundred seventy-two, give or take a year or five,” she teased.
“Ah, yes. And when was the last time you had fun? Over a hundred years ago?”
Natalia chuckled again, then a memory surged forward. It took hold of her heart and squeezed it so tightly she could hardly breathe. Her hands shook, and lips trembled so that her nephew steadied her by the elbow. Mischievous green eyes flashed in her mind, a smattering of freckles over the bridge of a slender nose that dipped up ever so slightly at the end, a roguish smile, hands so tender she hardly noticed when they touched her…
“Aunt Natalia? Are you well?”
Natalia squeezed her eyes, begged her memory to hold for a moment longer, but it was gone. He was gone. She released the edge of the counter and slunk to a chair with Joshua’s aid.
“I am sorry, Joshua. I was… remembering something from long ago.”
“Will you tell me? Will you speak of your life, Aunt Natalia? Father always said your life was spectacular. He loved to hear your stories.”
Simon did love to sit and listen to Natalia’s tales, but there were many she left untold. They were personal—some tragic, others filled with hope for a future that never came to fruition. But there was one that weighed on her, one that she considered using her gifts to change, but to do so would alter history, leaving a rift that could change everything that came after it.
Joshua, a chemist by day and mystery novelist by night, sat quietly waiting for Natalia to choose—would she share her life story with yet another generation, or would she keep her lips sealed and take her memories to the grave, not that she would ever die.
“On the day of my nineteenth birthday, I stopped aging. I just… stopped. My parents searched for a cause, a reason that my face never grew wrinkles, why my hair did not gray, but they found nothing before they died. Generation after generation has passed, and no one has found any reason that I am still alive and young. For the longest time, I stayed holed up in my home, afraid someone would see me and ask why.” Natalia shrugged and toyed with her handkerchief. “Why was I so old yet so young?”
Joshua leaned forward, already captivated. Natalia had always loved Joshua the best of all Simon’s children, and so, with that in mind, she dove into the tales of her life with very little care or forethought. She simply wanted to share them, to lighten the load again just as she had with Simon decades before.
“I want to tell you a secret, Joshua, but you must tell no one. No one would understand, but you.”
“Yes, Aunt Natalia. I promise I will tell no one.” He placed a gentle hand over hers, calming her. She patted his hand with her free one and stood. She filled a coffee pot and set it to brew, then placed a few cookies on a plate. Once she had prepared herself, she sat at the table again and started with the memory that haunted her most often.
“I want to tell you about the greatest love of my life, Joshua. Perhaps when I am through, I will know what to do,” Natalia said.
Joshua, not being one to question much when it came to Natalia and her supposed immortality, cocked his head to the left and peered over his eyeglasses. “Will I need a good whiskey for this?”
Natalia smiled and nodded. “Perhaps we best skip the coffee and head straight to the good stuff.”
Joshua obliged and stood, scraping his chair over the scuffed hardwood. His mother would have his head for that, but Natalia would never tell. He poured two glasses and handed one to Natalia. The woodsy scent mixed with light floral and honey wafted toward her. She inhaled and sipped, allowing the alcohol to soothe her rattled nerves.
She set her glass down and began. “It was 1918. I lived in a tiny cottage in Killea, just outside of Londonderry. Technically, I was seventy-one at the time, but, of course, I still appeared a young lass of nineteen. His little brother sold goat’s milk on the side of the road. I remember because one day, I bought some just to have something to pass the time while I waited for my cousin to return home from London.”
“Cousin… Esther?” Joshua asked.
“Indeed. You have studied our history. I am proud of you,” Natalia said, earning a beaming smile from her nephew. “Esther had gone to care for a dear friend after the loss of a child. Anyway, while we haggled over the price, he rode up on his father’s horse. He was quite stern with me at first, then…” Natalia’s voice faded as her mind took her back. “Oh, then our eyes locked for the first time. It was like the world just fell away and left only the two of us standing there in the mist, cold and wet, shivering until we couldn’t stand it any longer. But we wouldn’t walk away. No, we couldn’t.”
Natalia sipped her whiskey again, washing the pain down with the image of that first moment.
“What was his name?”
“Rory,” she said with a sigh. “Rory Kelly. Damn him and those emerald eyes.”