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Authors: Ann McMan

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Bywater Books

Copyright © 2015 Ann McMan

All rights reserved.

By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Bywater Books.

Bywater Books First Edition: December 2015

Map of Lake Champlain from

Lake George and Lake Champlain: A Book of Today

(S.R. Stoddard, Glen Falls, NY, 1915),

Library of Congress collection

Cover designer: TreeHouse Studio

Bywater Books

PO Box 3671

Ann Arbor MI 48106-3671

www.bywaterbooks.com

ISBN: 978-1-61294-064-9 (ebook)

This novel is a work of fiction.

All characters and events described by the author are fictitious. No resemblance to real persons, dead or alive, is intended.

For Anne McMullan Tullar—who saved my life.

Table of Contents

Backcast

Map of Lake Champlain

Prologue

1. Rabbits

Essay 1

2. Found Objects

Essay 2

3. An Obscure Object of Desire

Essay 3

4. Bologna Sandwiches

Essay 4

5. First Blood

Essay 5

6. Happy Hour

Essay 6

7. Borrowed Robes

Essay 7

8. Big Girls Don't Cry

Essay 8

9. Following Signs

Essay 9

10. Heal Thyself

Essay 10

11. Sometimes a Great Notion

Essay 11

12. Ghost of a Chance

Essay 12

13. The Swashbuckler

Essay 13

Epilogue

Appendix

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Reading Group Discussion Guide

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

—Ecclesiastes 11:1

Prologue

Mornings were the best times. And that was especially true of mornings on the east side of the island, where the lake was like polished glass. When you got up early like this, you could watch the sun creep up over Mt. Mansfield. And if you were lucky and it wasn't raining, lake and sky would sometimes collide in a spectacular display of purple and orange. It didn't look real, but it was. The first time she saw it, it reminded her of the skies that dominated the backgrounds of those old religious paintings that were stuck together in the back of her mother's Bible—“The Road to Emmaus,” or that other one of Jesus walking on the water.

She never believed that skies like that existed in real life. Not until she came here.

Nobody was out on the lake this early—nobody but the occasional kayaker, enjoying an easy paddle along the shoreline. She could hear some Canada geese making a fuss as they buzzed the water looking for breakfast. And off in the distance, there was the faint purr of a boat motor. More than likely, that belonged to a bass fisherman—out to hit some favorite spots before the recreational boaters churned things up and pushed the nervous fish into hiding.

She took another sip of her hot coffee. It was her current favorite—Red Eye Roast. She liked to think that this blend was a lot like her: robust, full-bodied, and black.

She pulled a pack of Camels from her shirt pocket and tapped one out. The first smoke of the day was always the best one, and she liked to savor it.

It still seemed incredible to her that she'd ended up here. Her gramma always said that you never could predict how things would
work out, so it was pointless to worry about what might or might not happen.

That was certainly true. But she had to wonder what her gramma would say about this.

Something startled the geese. They took off together and roared back over her head like an angry cloud, honking and complaining.

Then she heard it—faint but distinct. Sirens.

Sirens? At five-thirty in the morning?

Yep. Sirens.
Lots of them
. Headed straight for her.

She swiveled around and looked up the path toward Route 2 in time to see five sheriff's cars roar by. They were heading south—going so fast that the daylilies lining the road in front of the café laid flat in their wake.

What the hell?

Less than a minute later, the sirens stopped.

Great.

Mavis stood up and ground out her cigarette. She took a last, wistful glance at the lake before tossing the rest of her coffee and heading up the path toward her truck.

“Goddamn rug munchers. What've they done now?”

Three months earlier . . .

Barb Davis looked at her plasma cutter with disgust. The damn thing had been on the fritz for the last couple of days, and now its gas-powered motor was refusing to turn over at all. Of course it would quit working now, on Sunday night when there was no place open to fix it.

She ought to just take a helve hammer to it.

She looked around her studio. She could try the oxy torch? Nah. It was too high-powered for the contours she needed to make along the serpentine edge of the giant Calla lily she was slowly freeing from its iron prison. When this sculpture was finished, it would be the grand centerpiece of a cluster of fountains in the vestibule of a new hotel on Mission Bay.

Assuming, of course, she could get her damn torch to work. Right
now, the lily looked like it was retreating back inside the hunk of iron. She didn't really blame it. She wouldn't want to spend eternity in the lobby of an overpriced hotel, either.

It was past time for a smoke. She'd been in here for a couple of hours already. Trying to quit was a bitch. She'd cut back to just six cigarettes a day—not too shabby considering she started out as a two-pack-a-day gal.

She was on her way to retrieve her pack of Camels when the wall phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hello? Barb?” the anxious voice belonged to Brian Devere, curator of the prestigious Rolston-Devere Gallery in Los Angeles—the place that represented Barb.

“Yeah. What's up?”

“Everything's up . . . including my commission.”

Barb was fishing a Camel out of her pack.
Damn. Only two left
.

“Hello? Are you there?” Brian asked with impatience.

“Yes, I'm here.” Barb stifled a cough. “Hold your damn horses—I'm trying to light a smoke.”

“I thought you quit?”

“I'm
trying
to quit. It's not the same thing.”

“Oh, come on, Barb. People who say they're ‘trying to quit' are pussies who cannot commit.”

Barb sighed. Brian loved to quote lines from Kenneth Branagh movies. He said it made him quirky and esoteric, and it was a great way to pick up hot men at cocktail parties.


Dead Again
?” she asked.

He sighed. “How do you always do that?

“I'm twenty-five years older than you, and I watch a lot of TV.”

“Could've fooled me,” he said. “If that's the case, then why aren't you sprawled out in your La-Z-Boy watching
Downton Abbey,
like the rest of the planet?”

Barb took a drag off her cigarette. The smoke filled up her lungs and burned like a stray tongue of fire. It felt glorious. She blew it out with reluctance. “How do you know I'm not?” she asked.

“Duh,” he said. “I called the studio phone.”

“Okay. Busted.”

“What are you working on?”

“The Mission Bay hotel gig.”

“Well, forget about those small potatoes—I've got something
huge
.”

Barb sighed. “You're not going to email me more pictures of your new
inamorata
in a Speedo, are you?”

“Very funny.
No
. As it happens, I just got off the phone with Emily Gascoigne.”

“Who the hell is Emily Gascoigne?”

“She works with Sybil Fenwick at the NEA. I ran into her tonight at the Keating.”

Barb was all ears now. “And?”

“And, it looks like our proposal got funded.”

“No shit?”

“No shit. All phases. A hundred and ten thousand bucks.”

Barb dropped down onto a metal stool. “Fuck me.”

“Sorry, girlfriend. You're on your own for the kinky stuff.”

“I'm stunned.”

“You shouldn't be. I told you it was a great proposal. I mean—a touring exhibit of thirteen sculptures that chronicle the female metamorphosis? The NEA eats that shit for breakfast. Especially now, while the Tea Party continues its campaign to turn women in this country back into clones of Harriet Nelson.”

“I'm stunned.”

“You already said that.”

“I know. I don't know how else to respond.”

“Well fortunately for you, I do.” Brian cleared his throat. “You need to wrap up that water-lily creation and get cracking on pulling your contributing authors together.”

Barb's grant proposal involved inviting thirteen leading lesbian/feminist authors to write first-person essays about formative, transitional experiences in their lives. She would pair those narratives with original sculptures, and the whole shooting match would get boxed up and shipped out for a six-city tour next year during women's history month. Rolston-Devere would get serious props
for being the sponsoring gallery, and they would host the debut show.

“All right. I hear you,” Barb said. “I can't do any more work tonight anyway—my plasma cutter is refusing to cooperate.” She didn't mention that her hands and feet were aching from being in the studio for so long.

“Well, why don't you just fire up that beard blaster thing?” Brian asked.


Bead
blaster,” Barb corrected.

“Well, with you butch types, it's hard to know the difference.”

Barb rolled her eyes. “I'm hanging up now, Brian.”

“Ciao, baby. Call me when you have your list of authors nailed down, and I'll get started on the press releases.”

“Roger.”

Brian disconnected.

Barb hung up and took a last drag on her cigarette.

Getting the grant had been the easy part. The grant money would fund the production of the sculptures and the costs associated with promoting, insuring, and shipping a travelling exhibition.

Now the hard part began. Now she had to find twelve authors who would agree to work on the project with her for free.

She looked into her nearly empty pack of Camels. One cigarette would never be enough to see her through solving this puzzle. It was time to haul out the big guns.

Barb poured herself a big glass of Wild Turkey, light on the ice. She was fond of telling people that it was the only kind of poultry she really liked.

Where
to do the work was no problem. Her cousin, Page, ran a gorgeous inn on Lake Champlain in Clifstock, Vermont. It was the perfect venue for an intensive, two-week workshop. And if she could get everyone together in early to mid-June, they wouldn't overlap with the busiest part of the tourist season, so it would be easier to grab a bunch of rooms.

Her coffee table was covered with a couple dozen books pulled from the sagging shelves in her living room. Writers of every shape, size, and genre were represented. She grabbed a tablet and a pencil that had more teeth marks than paint on its yellow barrel, and started jotting down pros and cons for likely candidates.

After about twenty minutes, she had a pretty expansive list of prospects. Her roster of ideal contributors ran the gamut. After ten more minutes of looking the list over, she'd crossed off two-thirds of the names. Some of them lived in other countries. Others had literary agents who made Cerberus look like Adam's house cat. A few more were famous for their eccentricities. Another two or three were better known for their epic rages.

Barb pushed her notepad aside and picked up her drink. This was getting her nowhere.

Her cell phone rang. She recognized the caller ID.

“Hi there.”

“Why are you still awake?” the voice on the line asked.

“I could ask you the same question.”

“I'm always awake.”

“True.” Barb glanced at her watch. It was nearly ten-thirty. “So why are you calling me?”

“I thought it would roll to voice mail. I was going to leave you a message.”

“What about?”

There was a pause. “I wanted to see if you were feeling better.”

Barb smiled. “Better than what?”

“Better than you were yesterday at lunch.”

“Mavis? You need a new hobby.”

“White woman, I got plenty of hobbies. Checking on your ass ain't one of them.”

“All evidence to the contrary.”

“Whatever. You wanna answer my question?”

Barb sighed. It was pointless to lie to Mavis. She always saw through it. “I'm tired. My joints are aching. Too much time on my feet today.”

“Maybe you should go to bed and get off them?”

“Nice try. I'm not
on
them.”

“Then what are you doing?”

Barb picked up her notepad. It had enough scribbles and crossouts on it to double as a Jackson Pollock sketch. “Remember that big NEA grant I applied for?”

“You mean that feminist navel-gazing project?”

Barb rolled her eyes. “Yeah. That one.”

“What about it?”

“I found out tonight that I got it.”

“No shit?” Mavis sounded impressed. “That's a chunk of change.”

“It is. But I'm having trouble coming up with a good list of writers to work on the essay components.”

“What kind of writers?”

“Any kind of writers.”

“Why is that so hard?”

“For starters,” Barb bounced the notepad against her knee, “most of the ones I can think of are either too busy or too big to work for free—and I can't wait around for a dozen of them to become available at the same time.”

“Hell.” Mavis laughed. “Why don't you just ring up that list of wackos you bailed outta the can last year? Those crazy bitches that started that riot?”

Barb's mouth fell open. Mavis was talking about the CLIT-Con 13.

It was a stroke of genius.

“You're a fucking genius,” she said to Mavis.

“What the hell are you talking about? I wasn't serious.”

“Too bad. I am.”

“Barb?”

“Lemme call you back, okay? The sooner I get this finished, the sooner I can knock off.”

Mavis sighed. “Okay. Call me later.”

“Count on it.”

Barb hung up and tossed her cell phone aside.

Mavis was right.

Nothing brought women together like spending a night in the
slammer. Those “Free the CLIT-Con 13” t-shirts they printed up after the riot that ended last year's literary conference were still selling like hotcakes. Hell. Barbara Walters just got photographed wearing hers on a beach in Montenegro.

It was perfect.
This crew already had a functional, group dynamic. Barb propped her sore feet up and started making another list.

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