Fiction Cathy Cash Spellman Bless the Child

ISBN 13: 9780446516976

Bless the Child

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9780446516976: Bless the Child

Maggie O'Connor's devil-worshipping daughter returns to claim the baby that she had abandoned in a drug haze two years earlier, and Maggie must rescue the child from the clutches of her mother and mysterious stepfather. 75,000 first printing. Lit Guild & Doubleday. Tour.

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About the Author:

Cathy Cash Spellman is the author of three New York Times bestselling novels -- So Many Partings, An Excess of Love, and Paint the Wind -- as well as a nonfiction work, Notes to My Daughters. She has been published in sixteen countries. Formerly a vice president at Bloomingdale's and creative director at Revlon, she teaches several alternative-medicine disciplines, holds Black Belt rank in Goju Ryu karate, writes about alternative healing for many publications, and is the astrology columnist for Mode magazine.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Maggie O'Connor set the burglar alarm with trembling hands and pounding heart. She turned the key in the lock of the little antiquities shop on Sixty-eighth and Madison that provided her livelihood and tried to regain control. But the memory of the voice on the phone had undone her completely.

Jenna, her daughter, had called. Jenna, rebellious, headstrong, hostile, and missing for the better part of two years. The urgent voice, not-quite familiar...the pain of memory seared in its almost childlike cadence...the brutal question marks of where she'd been, a punishing enigma. A fearsome kaleidoscope of visions had flooded Maggie at the sound. Jenna, the precious child she'd loved more than life -- Jenna, defiant and unforgiving at one futile drug rehab after another -- Jenna, the heroin addict, who'd cut your heart out for the price of her next fix. Maggie shook her head forcefully to clear it of unwanted images and flagged a taxi in the driving rain.

"I have to see you tonight, Mother," Jenna had demanded, a disembodied voice from nowhere. Was it fury or frenzy or desperation in the tone? "At the house. Six-thirty. For Christ's sake be there!" Then only the hum of the dial tone to evidence that a call had ever happened.

Where had it gone so wrong between them? Maggie pillaged her soul for the millionth time in search of answers. Where had all the love gone? Surely the exquisite little girl she remembered so vividly had loved her once upon a time. The child with the flashing mane of silver-blond hair and eyes like the Irish Sea, who'd held her hand and lisped out stories over cupcakes, had loved her.

Fourteen had been the incomprehensible year when the silver child had disappeared forever, and a sullen, defiant teenage changeling took her place. Fourteen, the year her beloved daughter had metamorphosed into something unlovely and unreachable. How many times after that had Maggie reached out to touch, only to have her hand bitten back by reproachful words and hostile accusations? "Her ears aren't attuned to your frequency, sweetheart," Jack, her husband, used to say, shaking his head in consternation. "It's the damnedest thing to watch, Maggie, but it's like she can't comprehend a word you say. It's probably just some stupid Freudian mother thing she'll grow out of. You'll see. We'll all laugh about it when we're old and gray."

Maggie caught her breath at the pain those words evoked. Jack's voice still vibrant in her ears...Jack's face still inviolate in her memory. Wasn't time supposed to heal all wounds? Wasn't the loneliness supposed to lessen?

Tears welled up and she bit them back. Now, they would never laugh together, never grow old, never understand why life had thrown them such an unconscionable curve. Jack was dead. Even if she still reached for him on the pillow in the long dark hours before dawn...even if she still held conversations with him in her head when she needed advice. Even if she sometimes fantasized that he gave it. Jack was gone.

At least he hadn't lived to see his little girl with track marks on her arm, selling her body on Eighth Street to get money for heroin. Maggie had borne that alone.

She tried to force her heart to a bearable staccato, paid the driver, and turned her collar up against the steady slate-gray downpour. Maggie needed the comfort of home.

Jenna was slouched in the doorway with a bundle of clothing in her arms. Or that was what Maggie thought, until it cried.

* * *

"It's cold out here!" Jenna's voice was accusatory, as if Maggie made the weather. No greeting. No "I missed you, Mom. How have you been?"

"I came as fast as I could, sweetheart. I couldn't believe it was really you on the phone. I've missed you so damned much!" Maggie threw her arms around the soaking figure, and tried to control her hurt when Jenna wriggled free of the embrace.

Maggie managed the lock with unsteady fingers and reached inside for the light switch; tears were choking back all the words she knew she should be saying. She stared at the tiny being in Jenna's arms, struck dumb by the magnitude of so small a creature and all it presumed about the past and future.

"Aren't you going to say anything else, Mom! I thought you'd be glad to see us." Jenna, spare as a Communion wafer, stood in the foyer, shedding water like a drainpipe. Still angry, still unforgiving.

"I would have been glad to see you two years ago!" Maggie blurted as she shrugged off her dripping coat, then instantly regretted her outburst. She's home, she chided herself. That's all that matters. She's alive. Anything else we can fix.

"Of course, I'm glad to see you, sweetheart, I'm just overwhelmed by your really being here. I've dreamed of this moment so long! Oh, Jenna, I didn't know if you were alive or dead...I tried so hard to find you -- a private detective, the police. But they said there wasn't a trace..." The words were only fragments, tiny abbreviations of the anguish suffered, the heartache stored forever in some private compartment of the heart.

Jenna wasn't listening anymore. Her eyes were darting around the room, casing the possibilities. A survivalist assessing the terrain.

"I'm hungry," she said, laying the baby on a chair, casually as a box from Bloomingdale's.

Maggie shook herself to dispel the sense of unreality, of unreasoned fear.

"The baby, Jenna. Is it yours?" Stupid question. No, Mother, I found it on the subway.

Maggie picked up the bundle tentatively, as if it were made of fairy wings. She moved the wet receiving blanket away from the fragile, wriggly lifeform and was startled by its breathtaking perfection.

"My God, Jenna. This baby is brand-new!"

"She's ten days old. The birth certificate is pinned inside the blanket. I figured you might need it for something."

Maggie looked up quickly, searching her daughter's face.

"I might need it? Why on earth would I need it?"

Jenna looked away, uninterested in the question.

"Is it okay if I get something to eat? I haven't eaten in a while. She's hungry too." Non sequiturs were the speech pattern of addicts, Maggie remembered, her stomach tightening at the thought. As if the brain only focused at random selections, like a CD player.

Maggie tried to quell her anxiety. She unwrapped the soggy blanket and gingerly extricated the tiny infant, pressing it to her heart. "Funny, but you never forget how to hold a baby, no matter how long it's been," she whispered, lost in the small warmth. "Fifty million years of biology, I guess." Jenna blinked at her mother, uncomprehending as a lizard on a rock.

Not certain what to do next, Maggie started toward the kitchen, tears dangerously close. "We can figure things out better on a full stomach..." she said quietly. Anything was better than standing there, stared at by wraithlike, unseeing eyes.

"What's your daughter's name, sweetheart?" she called over her shoulder, forcing cheer into the sound.

"Cody. I call her Cody."

Maggie smiled down at the infant, trying the name on her for size. "That's a beautiful name...I think it suits her. Is it from her father's family?"

The bedraggled girl spat her reply. "Look! I'm only here because I have nowhere else to go." The voice was strung out, on the verge of something.

Maggie took a sharp breath and tried again.

"I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, Jenna...it's just that I'm way out of my depth here. All I know is that I love you and whatever trouble you're in, we can fix it..."

The girl silenced her mother with an impatient gesture.

"Listen to me, Mom. I've got this baby. I can't take care of her. I have to leave her somewhere. She's your granddaughter for Christ's sake!"

Aghast, Maggie turned from the refrigerator, words spilling against her will. "You can't be serious, Jenna! You just appear after two years without a single word, and you mean to tell me you're only here to deposit your baby on my doorstep? That's absolutely outrageous! Where have you been? Why didn't you let me know you were all right? Where did this baby come from? If you need help, you know I'll help you..."

"I need a place to leave this baby," the voice insisted, relentless as sleet and twice as cold.

This is really happening, Maggie thought; the blood pounded so hard inside her, she felt dizzy. Instinctively, she clutched the baby tighter to her body and it began to whimper, an infinitesimal sound. Oh, Jack, where are you when I need you?

"She's soaking wet, Jenna," Maggie said softly, not knowing what else to say, wanting to calm the lunacy with something commonplace. "Do you have any diapers for her? I didn't mean to shout at you. Let's just stay calm and try to figure this out, okay?"

Jenna searched her mother's face, alert for nuance.

"On the sideboard in the foyer," she answered quickly, "there's a bag with diapers. I'll get them."

Maggie heard the wet sneakers squeak down the parqueted hall, and thought of other, better times. Then she heard the front door slam and knew that Jenna was gone.


Maggie sat in the old nursing rocker she'd dragged up from the basement, and crooned to the infant in her arms. Irish Revolutionary ballads...the kind with twenty-seven verses, all of them emotional. She'd been singing softly, for over an hour, remembering, remembering...And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse, Millay had said. A woman would know.

But, just looking at the baby was balm for the heart. The translucent eyes were closed in sleep, the tiny lips still wet with the formula she'd gotten at the corner drugstore. One tiny fist was wrapped around Maggie's finger in a grip that seemed permanent.

Only an hour ago, she'd felt wrung out by anger and the inexorable sense of failure that had flooded her in the wake of Jenna's departure. She'd sobbed out her frustration silently, as she rocked the baby -- feeling as she had when Jack died, ravaged by forces outside her control. But none of that seemed remotely important now. The baby made it all curiously irrelevant. Cody was perfection. Cody was love. She deserved laughter, not tears. How could anyone not be grateful she existed in the world?

Maggie rose painstakingly and placed the sleeping bundle in the middle of her big bed, then turned out the light and climbed in beside her granddaughter, careful not to disturb. A crib would be needed tomorrow, and about a million other things...Lights zigzagged across the ceiling in an artful pattern and she watched them, grateful for the many quiet hours before morning.

She needed to think, not sleep.

And she needed to pray.

Copyright © 1993 by The Wild Harp and Company, Incorporated

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