Read an Excerpt
Prominent violinist’s life exposed. Noted violinist Francesca Valentine’s past is revealed. Can you guess which classically trained musician used to weigh 300 pounds . . . see page 8 for details. Ms. Valentine, who just appeared on 60 Minutes last week and has received numerous awards for achievement in the field of classical music, finds herself in the middle of a scandal of sorts. It appears that she is not who she has claimed to be . . . story at eleven. Francesca Valentine, born Claudine Jenkins, could not be reached for comment. . . . This is unbelievable, Mother. What is going on? Did you know there were reporters outside? Mother? What in heaven’s name are they talking about? Who in the hell is Claudine Jenkins? Oh my God, Mother, is this you?”
Francesca couldn’t bear to answer her daughter. Jess was waving some clipping in front of her face, ranting like it was the end of the world. Perhaps it was; only time would tell. She bolted to her favorite place—a refuge where she wouldn’t have to see the stricken look on Jess’s face, glimpse the questions burning in her eyes. What would she say? Where would she begin? How would they ever be able to look at her the same way again? She didn’t think there was anyone else alive who really knew her, the girl she used to be, the pathetic crea- ture plastered across the front page of every major newspaper and sleazy tabloid. She’d been wrong. Francesca stared at the framed magazine covers that were hung along the walls of her expansive dressing room. She smiled; she was beautiful. Sometimes it was almost impossible to believe that she looked like that, so captivating that people wanted to take her photograph and so alluring that men would want to be seen with her in public. Didn’t they understand that the woman on these walls was the only woman who mattered? That other woman, the one in the clipping and on the news, didn’t exist anymore. Why was that so hard for everyone to accept? People change. She began to weep. She believed she had taken care of everything, wrapped up every loose end, severed all ties that connected her to Claudine. Claudine. It felt like a lifetime since that name had rolled across her tongue. She hadn’t planned on ever uttering it again or remembering anything about that woman. Now partial truths were everywhere, and ignoring the countless inquiries wouldn’t make them disappear. Samuel, her fiancé, and her children, Jessica and Jon, would discover that she was a liar, a perpetrator, a common hypocrite. She’d succeeded in reinventing herself. They’d had no idea until now that she used to be someone else.
“HAVE YOU SEEN her?” Jon asked Jessica.
“Is she talking? Has she said anything? There’s got to be some reasonable explanation for this. We’re going to sue the bastards for slander, that’s what we’ll do.”
“No. She’s not talking to me, anyway. She locked herself in the dressing room when I asked her about this . . . this . . . ridiculous photograph.”
“Does Sam know? Mother. Mother, come on, Mother, open the door.” He pounded, hoping she would say more to him than she would to his sister.
They were discussing her like she was some criminal. She heard the agitation and anxiety in their voices, especially Jessica’s. The girl damn near thought she was royalty. Francesca worked hard to make sure her baby girl never felt less than, beneath, anyone else. Perhaps she overdid it just a little. She said a silent prayer that this wouldn’t destroy Jessica. Jon was resilient, he’d be all right, of that she was certain. She laughed at the irony of it all. After all of this time, fate would force her to reveal everything. She’d been discovered, found out. She wasn’t necessarily concerned about Samuel’s reaction or the backlash from her adoring fans. She had to make her children understand that she had done what she had to do for their survival and her own. They were grown now. They would forgive her eventually. She could handle this. Claudine Jenkins could handle anything.
Francesca straightened her floor-length gown and opened the door. They were waiting for her. Judgment cometh.
“Yes, Jessica,” she said as she reached for the newspaper clipping. “This was me.”
“I think I’d better sit down,” Jon said, motioning for his sister to join him. “Was that really your name, Mother? Claudine Jenkins?”
“If I’d been born with a hillbilly name like that I would have changed it, too,” Jessica added.
“You were, and I did,” Francesca answered.
“Mama, what are you saying?”
Jon interjected, “Why don’t you stop asking so many questions, Jess, and let her explain before you get hysterical.”
“Explain what, Jon—that she’s lied to us all these years, every day of our lives, Ms. Perfect, Ms. I’ve Never Made a Mistake? Don’t sit there and act like this revelation isn’t affecting your pristine image of her—I know it is. I know—”
“You don’t know anything yet, Jess, so sit down and shut up. Can’t you see how difficult this is for her? Try thinking of someone other than yourself for a change.”
“Go straight to hell, Jon.”
“Enough of this bickering. Do you want to hear this or not, Jessica?” Francesca said softly.
“Look, it doesn’t matter what’s disclosed in this room today or any other day, Mother—my name is Jessica Marie Valentine, and I was born and raised right here in San Francisco.”
“No,” Francesca answered quietly. “Your name is Lula Mae Jenkins, and you weren’t born anywhere near here.”
“Good Lord, Mama.” Jon spoke nervously. “What have you done?”
“Get comfortable, both of you. This won’t be easy for any of us. Yes, it will be difficult for you to hear, and even more painful for me to confess, but I’ll start from the beginning, the very beginning. A long time ago, before either of you were born, someone gave me a violin.”
CHAPTER 2 JANUARY 1968
“Deeny! Claudine! Get yo bacon-eating ass in here and clean up this kitchen. Um, um, um, big, fat, and lazy, just like yo triflin’ mama. You ain’t gone be that way round me though, ’cause I ain’t havin’ it. Claudine, do you hear me talkin’ to you? This shit better be cleaned up by the time I get home from church.”
Claudine heard him. She always heard him, and she knew better than to acknowledge him, respond, or give the slightest impression she was participating in his biweekly tirade. She tried that once, attempted to explain that it wasn’t her mess. She had heard ringing in her left ear for three days behind the backhand he had given her for having the nerve to speak to him at all. She could still hear him mumbling under his breath as he walked around, inspecting every room. He liked to do that. He thought he was the black Sherlock Holmes. She guessed it made him feel in control.
“Walkin’ round here suckin’ up everythang in sight. Gone fall through the floor into China one of these days. Ass so wide, gone have to grease the door frame with Crisco so you can slide through. Messin’ round with you gone make me late for my solo.”
She lingered in the small bathroom until she felt the walls vibrate. It seemed as if the whole house shook when he slammed the front door. He was her daddy all right, and he hated her just as much as she despised him. It had always been that way. She couldn’t remember a time when it was any different.
Claudine made her way through the house until she reached the kitchen. It smelled odd. Her house usually had a peculiar smell. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she knew it wasn’t normal for a clean house to have such an odor. It reminded her of funk, pee and her brother’s farts, all mixed up. She lived in a duplex, the Tilbos on one side and Hattie Mae, her mother’s sister, on the other. Hattie Mae wasn’t home much, though; always had something to do, somebody to see, some place to go. She didn’t have an official job to speak of, but she did have some official money. She owned a sky blue Chevrolet, the Press & Curl around the corner, and the en- tire house they lived in. Claudine noticed very early on that her daddy, “the Deacon,” might talk crazy to most people, her mama included, but he never raised his voice to Hattie Mae; nobody did.
Claudine wiped the last piece of egg from the counter, dried the heavy cast skillet, and scrubbed away bits of raw egg that had congealed on the side of the stove. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. Bone made this mess. He never cleaned up after himself. Her brother was so vile that she didn’t see how those fast girls could stand to be around him. No one ever made him clear the table or change his own sheets, and he had nothing else to do but breathe. She, on the other hand, continuously had rooms to clean, crusty sheets to change, and an early violin lesson to get to before class.
From the Trade Paperback edition.