WeWriWa—Presents from the Lindmaas

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This week will be my last Christmas-themed excerpt, in honor of the recent Orthodox Christmas. It comes from Chapter 90, “Cruel Christmas,” from A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, the fourth book about my Russian-born characters. It’s set during January 1951.

Milena Kalvik, age 26, is the nanny of Tarmo and Meri Lindmaa. Their father Vahur, a widower about to turn 33, lost his wife in the final bombing of Tallinn, Estonia in 1944. Meri is particularly attached to Milena, never having known her birth mother. She was born in a posthumous C-section two months prematurely, and has a very unusual scar on her face from the rushed surgery done in the dark with only a knife.

Milena has had feelings for Vahur almost since they met, and adores his children, but doesn’t think he could ever reciprocate.

The Lindmaas are Taaraists, followers of Estonia’s original religion Taarausk (Taaraism), which is built around Nature worship. Taara is their supreme god.

Milena fetches the gifts she bought for Vahur, Meri, and Tarmo. Though they don’t celebrate Christmas, it felt wrong to not give them anything in return. For Tarmo and Meri, she bought James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks and Anne Parrish’s The Story of Appleby Capple, respectively. Vahur’s present is a painted necktie with Bengal tigers.

“I hope you like our gifts,” Meri says. “Tarmo and I spent a lot of time making them. It was easier to do when you don’t live with us anymore.”

Milena unwraps a set of four coasters from Tarmo, painted with geometric patterns in a rainbow of colors, and a green, heart-shaped ceramic candy dish from Meri. Her heart skips a beat when she discovers a rough-cut pearl necklace from Vahur.

“You didn’t have to get me something so personal,” Milena protests.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“I’m only your children’s nanny. The other jewelry you’ve gotten me is unprecedented enough.”

“Why shouldn’t I honor such a special person with pearls?” Vahur smiles at her. “I’ve never seen you wearing pearls, and thought you deserved your own, in a unique style. So many other ladies wear basic, boring white pearls, but how many wear rough-cut pearls? It’s special, just like you.” Vahur takes it out of the box and fastens it around Milena’s neck. “Every lady deserves pearls from a man, and since no one else did it, I took it upon myself.”

“So you feel sorry for me because I’m an old maid?”

“Perish the thought. Taara’s keeping you single so long because your husband’s very special and worth waiting for. It takes more time to match some people. Not everyone is lucky enough to find a soulmate at all of sixteen or twenty. You’ll appreciate him more when he reveals himself.”

Milena’s heart flutters at that choice of phrase. She can’t let herself believe Vahur is speaking about himself, but the possibility exists. Her heart beats even faster when Vahur helps her on with her winter wraps and takes her arm.

WeWriWa—Welcoming 1980

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

For my New Year’s snippet, I’m sharing from Chapter 11, “New Year’s Eve Delight,” of my long-hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up, the third book in my contemporary historical family saga about the Troys and the Ryans, and a modern retelling of sorts of Margaret Sidney’s Phronsie Pepper. It’s now New Year’s Eve 1979, and instead of spending the entire holiday sharing private romantic moments, Justine and David are forced to endure the negative running commentary of older siblings who still see them as children.

David’s term of endearment for Justine, cuisle mo chroí (COOSH-la ma cree), means “pulse of my heart” in Irish.

Working synopsis:

Justine’s jealous feelings at the birth of Julie’s first child are quickly turned around when she reconnects with David, now twenty-five and a Ph.D. student. Unfortunately, her older siblings and their friends have a hard time seeing her, after years of being the precious family baby, as a grownup woman who’s old enough for marriage, motherhood, and moving out with her new family. But then, when her young nieces become Duranies, an unexpected opportunity opens up for Justine to finally prove once and for all to her family that she’s a responsible, capable, mature adult.

When the tray of food is passed around to her, she takes a handful of nuts and a few crackers.

“Would you like something to drink with that?” David asks.

“Watch it,” Adicia says. “Justine won’t be twenty-one till March. Have you ever given her alcohol before?”

“Of course not! I rarely drink myself, but it’s nice to have a little on holidays and special occasions.”

“You’ve let me have champagne and wine before on New Year’s Eve,” Justine says.

“Yeah, but I’m your sister, not an older boyfriend who’s slept his way across Europe!”

“I slept with a handful of women, not the entire female population!” David says.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

Justine grudgingly accepts the orange egg cream David brings her in place of champagne. During the remaining few minutes of the decade, she sits snuggled up against him, trying to tune out the rest of their families. If they were in Times Square, she’d probably be kissing her new boyfriend, but for now she’ll have to settle for a hug to greet 1980.

“Don’t worry,” David whispers. “We’ll be back in Albany soon enough and can have all the privacy we want. In the meantime, the anticipation will make it better.”

“I hope so.”

He hugs her again. “Welcome to 1980, cuisle mo chroí.”

WeWriWa—The party ends

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari at a party held by her parents.

This comes right after last week’s excerpt, when a group of young Maggerini (May Day singers) came to the courtyard to perform. Now the happy mood of the party is broken by the necessity of leaving prematurely.

The word “windows” was frequently used to refer to eyes in Medieval Italy.

Babbo came up behind me and put his hand on my back. “Dante, we must return home. Unlike certain other people here, we haven’t the luxury of spending all day at a party. Work can’t entirely stop for the sake of Calendimaggio.”

I bent my head slightly. “Yes, Babbo.” As badly as I wished to remain here the rest of the day and prolong my closeness to Beatrice, I wanted even more to avoid tasting the sting of the birch and transforming a joyous day into a ruined, unhappy day. “May I bid farewell to my friends first?”

“Of course, but don’t take too much time doing it or let anyone pull you into a long conversation. I have important business to resume, and you have Latin to study.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

To my great delight, when I turned to my right, I found Beatrice’s lovely emerald windows directly fixed upon me. An angelic smile graced her countenance.

“It was very nice meeting you and your family, Bice. I hope we’re able to visit again soon.”

“I enjoyed meeting you too. I’m surprised we never met before when we live in the same neighborhood and also both have summer villas in Fiesole.” She adjusted the violet crown I’d set upon her head. “Ricovero and I will put in a good word about you with our parents. I don’t think they’ll disapprove of you visiting us again.”

I smiled at her and nodded. “The next time I visit, I’ll bring a little gift to thank your parents for their hospitality. God should bless your family in all things.”

WeWriWa—Called to dinner

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari at a party held by her parents. They’re now walking in the garden.

This comes a few pages after last week’s excerpt. Before being called to dinner (the Medieval name for lunch, the biggest meal of the day), Beatrice suggested Dante might become friends with her brother Ricovero. If he’s friends with both of them, her parents will be more inclined to approve future visits.

The next-best-friend Dante mentions in La Vita Nuova is believed to be one of Beatrice’s brothers, and we know from Folco Portinari’s will (which names all his children) that his oldest sons were Manetto and Ricovero. His other three sons were under eighteen as of 1288, which would’ve made them too young to be friends from childhood.

The Taste of Medieval Food - Medievalists.net

Just then a maidservant came into the garden and announced it was time for dinner. Without having to be asked twice, I went towards the door and followed the other guests towards the great hall, where an immense feast awaited.

Beatrice led me to a long walnut table where all the other children were taking seats. The scents of the food laid out before us were so tempting, nothing like the meals I usually ate at home. Babbo and I didn’t eat like peasants, but we were nowhere close to the level of a wealthy family like the Portinaris, who regarded things like wheat and beef as everyday staples instead of luxuries to be indulged in when finances could justify it.

“Ricovero, this is my new friend Dante,” she told a boy dressed in a burgundy tunic and cornflower blue hose. “Mamma and Babbo will be more likely to invite him to visit again if he’s friends with you too. He’s serious and thoughtful like you, so I think you’ll like him.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Ricovero said.

The nine lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“If Bice likes you and thinks you’re a good person, I must too. She’s a better discerner of worth than many adults.”

We chose chairs near the back left-hand side of the table after almost everyone else had claimed a seat. Presently, maidservants and manservants came around with linen hand towels and shallow silver basins for washing our hands before eating. After that, we said Grace in one voice, and then finally we were at liberty to partake of the apéritifs eaten at the start of every meal to open the stomach.

There were so many to choose from, but I didn’t want to reverse the positive impression I’d made so far, and so settled for just a few pieces of sugar-coated ginger and honey-covered anise. For an apéritif beverage, I directed a manservant to pour me a tankard of sweetened milk. I could drink wine any time I wanted, but milk was a special treat I didn’t often have the opportunity to enjoy.

WeWriWa—Walking through the garden

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari at a party held by her parents. They’re now walking in the garden.

Some of you may recognize “In his will is our peace” as a line from Paradiso, where it’s spoken by Dante’s friend Piccarda Donati. The line “midway our life’s journey” is also the famous first line of the CommediaNel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita. (I recently finished memorizing all 136 lines of Canto I of Inferno in the original Medieval Florentine Tuscan, and am now working on Canto II.)

We walked on through the rest of the garden, and Beatrice named each flower, herb, and tree we encountered. I already knew some of them from botany lessons, but didn’t interrupt her to say this. Listening to the sweet voice of this youngest of God’s angels was like drinking the finest ambrosia.

After we’d traversed the entire main section of the garden, Beatrice led me to a low, white stone wall with many columns. Just as she said, it provided a marvellous view of our city and the hill of Fiesole. All the houses laid out below appeared at a much smaller scale than they truly were, as though they were part of a miniature village populated by dolls.

Beatrice leaned against the wall and looked down as far as possible. “Sometimes when I’m here, it feels like a small preview of looking down upon all the spheres of the heavens from the top of Paradise. That must be the most indescribable experience possible.”

That image sent a chill up my spine.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“Even if the greatest glories are to be found in Paradise, we shouldn’t be too eager to go there. Everyone should be blessed to live over a century like Saint Anthony the Great. Even if God only wants us to attain the ideal Biblical lifespan of seventy or eighty years, we’re nowhere close to being midway our life’s journey yet.”

“Oh, I’m not eager to trade my life on Earth for the eternal life for a long time yet either. God put us here first for a reason, however long he wants us to live in our physical bodies. In his will is our peace.”