Authors: Mary Campisi
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas, #Contemporary Women, #General, #Literary
What kind of mother walks away from her family?
This is the question many readers asked after finishing
Pieces of You
, Book One of The Betrayed Trilogy. They wanted to know the real story behind the disappearance of Evie Burnes. What’s Left of Her offers an intimate glimpse into Evie Burnes’s life before her disappearance—and after.
Here’s a snippet from
What’s Left of Her:
It is the painting that makes her come alive; she lives inside of it, right in the core of the oil: red, purple, yellow, blue, black, breathing its heavy scent, smearing the slickness of it on her fingers, her shirt, her face. She’s tried to hide from it for years, denying the pull, instead forcing herself into layer upon layer of daily existence that is too tight, too restrictive, too foreign. But lately, the stretches of midnight to early morning hours in the attic have increased, the need to be up there, hidden away,
, has grown into a wild, nameless yearning that calls to her, seducing her soul with its promises.
She knows who she is, who she has always been, despite years and miles, a husband and two children. It all comes down to honesty. But what she does not know, and what she fears most, is acknowledging what she is
Because that will change her life forever.
The Betrayed Trilogy:
Pieces of You, Book One
Secrets of You, Book Two
What’s Left of Her, a novella, Book Three
What’s Left of Her:
The Betrayed Trilogy, Book Three
Table of Contents
To my readers
Because you wanted to know the story behind the disappearance of Evie Burnes
She dips the tip of the brush in red, brings it to a wedge of naked canvas, bloodying it with each stroke. Red. Red.
The smell of the oil fills her brain, seeps through her, more powerful than the benign watercolors she forces herself to use in the daylight. This is night, she is alone. The truth emerges without fear of discovery or chastisement. It can just be, as it is…as it has always been.
She dips her brush again. Emotion guides the thick bristles over canvas, first in red, then orange, and finally an exhaustive pale pink.
It is a beautiful sunset, tucked between tall buildings clustered together, gray peaks of steel and concrete, the likes of which have never existed in Corville. These structures fill the sky, shoulder to shoulder, claiming their space alongside tiny patches of green and endless concrete. She chooses the smallest building, located in the center of the canvas and picks up another brush, dabs a bright yellow spot halfway up. Heat emanates from the tiny blob, pulls her back through the years. This had been her window.
This had been her home.
She stares at the yellow, memories begging her to breathe life into them. Just for a little while, a few moments, a few more strokes.
It had always been just the two of them: her mother, Amelia Rose Arbogast, and herself, Evelyn Elizabeth. Evelyn was six when she realized all of her friends had fathers who lived with them, left the house every morning, and came back every night. Her own father, Edgar Allen Arbogast, was nothing more than a fading snapshot of a man whose hair may have been brown or black, whose eyes looked blue but might have actually been hazel green. He was tall, at least standing next to the “Welcome to Niagara Falls” sign, he looked tall. But it was hard to tell. She’d never seen the sign for Niagara Falls in person and she’d never seen her father in person either.
It was difficult to say exactly when Evelyn figured out the truth about her mother and father, the truth about herself, too. Maybe it was when she was eleven, and was digging through a box of her mother’s old books. Tucked in the middle of
The Old Man and the Sea
was a newspaper clipping with her grandfather’s name, Theodore J. Arbogast, in bold print on top. Evelyn read about his death from “a lengthy illness” at age fifty-seven, how he’d grown up in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, spent thirty-two years in the coal mines, served in World War II. How he was survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and his only daughter,
The significance of that article took another year to register and when it did, two months after Evelyn’s twelfth birthday, everything changed. Who
the man in the snapshot? Was he her real father? She spent hours staring into the oval mirror in her bedroom, the snapshot tucked into the edge of the mirror’s oak trim, comparing noses, chins, eyebrows. Was it him? Maybe there was a similarity in the cheekbones, high, part-hollowed, and the hands, the way the thumb jutted out a bit more than normal.
Was it him?
She never asked her mother; how could she when Amelia labored over the tiniest matters of etiquette and proper form:
Never use the embroidered hand towels in a guest bathroom, look instead for everyday ones, or, if you must, fan your hands dry and dab with tissue or toilet paper. Sit with your left hand in your lap unless you are using a knife. Wait until your guest asks you twice if you’d like a refreshment before accepting. Your name is Evelyn, not Eve, Evie, or Lyn.
On and on they went, trivial, benign instructions that Evelyn grew accustomed to, even accepted and eventually contributed to without complaint. These were surface adjustments, arbitrary actions that held minor significance except to her mother.
Amelia adjusted externally, Evelyn accepted, and they both avoided the issue of Edgar Arbogast or whatever his real last name was, or first, for that matter. He became nothing more than a photo tucked in Evelyn’s underwear drawer, seen twice a year when she sorted through her old bras and panties to make room for new ones. Somehow she could never quite bring herself to toss it in the garbage, and when she and her mother packed for their first and only trip, an excursion to Niagara on the Lake, Evelyn laid the picture between the pages of
and stuffed the book under the stack of shorts in her suitcase.
Niagara on the Lake was going to be a respite from the hot July nights in the high rise on Belmont where she and her mother lived, six blocks from the city, one block over from the bus line that took Amelia to her job in the basement of Philly’s Rothford’s Department Store. It was going to be freedom from the job where Amelia toiled, from 7 to 4, five days a week, stitching and hemming other people’s garments on her Singer sewing machine alongside eleven other women, most around her age, most mothers, most sole supporters. Evelyn took the 1:15
bus to Rothford’s every Saturday afternoon where she roamed from department to department, imagining herself in mint-julep silk dresses and long fur coats, using KitchenAid mixers and Sunbeam steam irons. She’d chosen a powder blue suitcase and travel bag from American Tourister with a small carry-on case and peel-off letters for monograms. EEA. Evelyn pictured herself walking up the steps of an airplane whose destination was anywhere, she didn’t care, as long as she got to use the luggage and could get high enough in the air so when she looked down, cars looked like dots.
Appliances fascinated her, probably because their apartment was limited to an electric percolator and a two-slot toaster; none of the gadgets and electrical conveniences that filled Rothford’s shelves in various sizes and styles. What would it be like to own a mixer, not a huge one, just a small two-beater that could whip up potatoes into lumpless piles of white? Or a can opener that did not require the endless cranking but snapped the top right off with an effortless jerk? Or the electric knife with its long double blades that hooked together and sliced meat as thin as Sam’s Deli?
When she had her own home, she’d fill it with all of these and a few more, too. And then she’d buy doubles for her mother, clothes, too, lots and lots of clothes: thick terry cloth bathrobes with monograms and padded slippers, beaded evening gowns, wool scarves and matching gloves, silk pajamas.
Rothford’s was a young girl’s fantasy. Each week, Evelyn’s imaginings rearranged a section of her life, shifted and reworked it until her home now and in the future was filled with Rothford merchandise. The thin, white towels in the bathroom of her home on Belmont were replaced with plush ones in pink and green. The sheets on her twin bed weren’t white anymore; they were lavender or rose sateen. The clock in her bedroom was digital, not wind-up.
Her clothes were store-bought, not hand sewn by her mother, even though Evelyn knew most of the skirts on the racks were unlined and the stitching on the pants and dresses would be loose or pulling from too many try-ons.
Amelia Arbogast tried hard to see that her daughter had everything she needed, though she was the one who made that determination and often engaged in lengthy conversations to ensure Evelyn understood the difference between need and desire.
was having clothes to wear, food to eat, and a place for shelter.
on the other hand
was wanting those clothes to be Rothford custom-tailored; the food to be lobster drawn in butter or half-inch porterhouses; the shelter, a six-bedroom residence in the suburbs. It was all about accepting one and not becoming slave to the other.
It wasn’t until years later, after Amelia’s death, that Evelyn fully understood what her mother had been trying to teach her. It took even longer to acknowledge she’d been right.
The idea of painting had started out as nothing more than the whimsical hope of a seven-year-old trying to hold onto the last vestiges of summer. First, there were sunsets, burning yellow with swirls of orange, dipped in water and stroked over paper. Next came cloudless skies stretching in endless swatches of blue, streaked and fading. There was water, too, a swimming pool, a small lake made darker by the heat of the sun.
One winter night her mother brought home a set of oil paints she’d purchased at a close-out from the art supply store three doors down from their apartment. Evelyn spent the rest of the winter and summer, too, immersed in the color and texture of oil. By fall she had a job at the art store, cleaning brushes, accepting deliveries, and stocking shelves in exchange for lessons. Oil and canvas breathed life into her, ignited her fingers as they worked the brush over canvas. This was it; this was what she had been born to do. This was where need replaced desire. First landscapes, then stills, then people. Faces captivated her, forced her to pull the essence from beneath the surface, peel back skin, expose truth in all of its imperfect variations.
That was the reason they’d planned the trip to Niagara on the Lake. It was a graduation present of sorts to Evelyn, an opportunity to see other artists’ work, absorb the atmosphere, picture herself among them.
Let the need to paint pulse through your veins and pour out your fingers,
her mother told her. It was such a wonderful, grand plan, one that took Amelia seven months of scrimping to afford.
But they never made it there. Seventy-two miles from the New York state line a pain shot through Amelia’s belly, so fierce and hot it leached the breath from her lungs. Evelyn drove the seven miles to the nearest hospital, frantic to find help, while her mother lay doubled over in the back seat, moaning and clutching her stomach. Twelve hours later, the doctor at Corville General Hospital in Corville, Pennsylvania, pronounced Amelia Rose Arbogast, age forty-two, dead from a ruptured appendix.
And Evelyn’s need to paint, the urgency that brought her on this journey and stole Amelia’s life, shriveled under the blueness of her dead mother’s lips, transforming itself into guilt and fear and a pain that took years to forgive.
She dips her brush in yellow paint, searches the canvas for just the right spot in the black sky and dots it with small, quick jabs. But the stars can’t equal the brightness glowing from the window on the sixth floor of the high rise. That spot alone is reserved for Evelyn, a beacon shining hopes, dreams, and a future of unfulfilled promise. No matter years or circumstances, she is always drawn back to that building, to that window, to that life.