On the 28th day we’re reading “Gifts” by Kimberlee Smith.
[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]The Tepper Twist: “The long haul.. whew…”[/cryout-pullquote]
In the kitchen, Mum has a tangled bunch of limp snakes in her hands. Taipan, Western Rattlers, and Death Adders. She shakes them loose into a cardboard box that has ‘MASTER BEDROOM’ written across it in square black letters, then looks at Etheline, who toddles toward her. Mum’s expression – pinched brow , pursed lips – says Don’t come near. This is grandmum’s work.
Backsliders, a Love Story is yet another compelling foray into serial fiction. It’s a series that is not afraid to take chances in its storytelling, while also remaining grounded in its authentic setting, thus engaging the curious tourist in me as well. The initial installments held us with the mystery of the situation, which involved snakes and a strange baby being raised by its grandmother. It wasn’t clear at first that we were witnessing this story from the perspective of the child’s dead mother (snake-bitten while pregnant), who is doing her best to watch over her baby from the strange beyond. It would have been easy for this story to stall once the mystery was revealed, but there was plenty of plot and theme to carry us onward, often with breathless anticipation. Last month concluded the grandmother’s journey to find her ex-husband, a rather mysterious figure himself (a snake-handling preacher collecting lost souls in the Outback). This resolution served to satisfy our plot desire, but also raised the specter of a new issue, one that our protagonist has been avoiding since the very beginning. She is not in fact the child’s mother. She never even met the child, actually, and has no right to dictate what becomes of the babe. To further complicate the choice, a girl is stillborn to the preacher’s new wife, and this vulnerable child-soul joins our protagonist. This forces an ultimate decision-whether to remain in limbo to watch over the child that feels like hers but actually is not, or to move on with her new child to whatever lies beyond the veil.
It’s a fine escalation, and one that leaves us longing for December 28th. Which, I’m happy to report, has arrived. Grandmother and baby have returned from their troubling journey, but life is not rosy for them, or even normal.
Mum’s been in a catatonic state ever since she encountered Brother Tom’s new family, helping deliver his wife Alice’s newborn son and bury its stillborn twin, Jacaranda, my new baby here in the afterworld. I’m not sure she’ll ever come out of it. She moves around like she’s had a lobotomy. A botched one. She doesn’t think or feel any more, other than yammering to herself and shooting poisonous looks at Etheline. Resentment. Disappointment. Jealousy. She’s accepting the minimum to get by: minimum sleep, minimum air, food, and substituting liquor for water. Always.
I try to reach out to her but she’s not listening.
This powerlessness might easily send our protagonist packing. She has a child to watch over, a husband to find in heaven. Why should she remain here amid the tension of watching her real-life baby being ignored too often, crying too often from feeling abandoned in the world? But it’s not so easy for a mother to leave and love is a powerful, patient force in our lives (and apparently our deaths).
What I want Mum to know is that we all have been renewed through a death.
Read the story to understand the full context. You will not be disappointed.