A Different Kind of Blues

A Different Kind of Blues

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by Gwynne Forster

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At thirty-six, Petra Fields gets a shock that causes her to take a look at her life, and she's not proud of what she sees. Her past is a catalog of secrets and lies that she's never had the courage to own up to, and Petra knows she won't find peace of mind until she's made amends. But the task is far more difficult than she expected.

The first and hardest step


At thirty-six, Petra Fields gets a shock that causes her to take a look at her life, and she's not proud of what she sees. Her past is a catalog of secrets and lies that she's never had the courage to own up to, and Petra knows she won't find peace of mind until she's made amends. But the task is far more difficult than she expected.

The first and hardest step is admitting to Krista, her teenage daughter, that the father Krista believed was dead is very much alive—a revelation that will change their relationship forever. Then there's the neighbor whose husband Petra had an affair with, the former coworker that she got fired, and a list of other acquaintances who are understandably angry at her sudden desire for forgiveness. Far from setting her free, the truth seems to bring more complications and heartache, but also opens up her life in surprising ways. And when Petra is granted a new chance at love, she'll face the biggest challenge of all—finding the courage to seize her own happiness and start over for real. . .

Praise for the Novels of Gwynne Forster. . . "Accomplished prose that challenges us to think, feel, and imagine." —Robert Fleming, author of The Wisdom of the Elders

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In Forster's heartwarming ode to life (after Getting Some of Her Own), Petra Fields of Ellicott City, Md., learns she has an inoperable brain tumor. Only 36 years old and a single mom, she resolves to face her diagnosed four to six months of life with dignity, so when Rev. Jasper Collins tells her to make a list of people she's wronged to ask for their forgiveness, she hops to it. Most important? Telling her 18-year-old daughter, Krista, that her father is actually not dead. But after apologizing to others (like her neighbor, whose husband she slept with), Petra gets fed up with apologizing and heads off on a monumental road trip that takes her to San Francisco, where she falls in love. She meets other admirers at tourist stops, and, after a transformative visit to Martin Luther King's Tomb, Petra heads home ready to face whatever comes Although Forster doesn't break new ground with this "terminal patient becomes enlightened" tale, it's still wise and wonderful as it points out, once again, the importance of honesty and appreciating what you have while you have it. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
At 36, Petra Fields looks at her life and doesn't like what she sees. She decides to reveal her biggest secret to her daughter, who wrongly believes her father dead.

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A Different Kind of Blues

By Gwynne Forster


Copyright © 2008 Gwendolyn Johnson-Acsadi
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0235-7


Petra Fields sat on her back porch that early June evening, fanning the unseasonable Ellicott City, Maryland, heat, drinking sweetened ice tea, and playing cutthroat pinochle with her two friends, Lurlene Bruce and Twylah Hill. In her thirty-six years, she didn't remember experiencing such unbearable heat.

"Girl, I sure am glad you left your cigarettes home," Petra said to Lurlene. "Smoke gives me a headache."

"Everything gives you a headache," Lurlene said and threw out the ace of spades, trumping Twylah's ace of hearts. "You didn't used to complain so much."

"I don't complain unless you're smoking. Everybody with any sense has quit."

Lurlene raked in a winning sixty-four points, folded her cards, and stacked them in front of her, an indication that she didn't intend to play any longer. "Now you get off my case, girl. I'm trying to quit, and the least you can do is help by not mentioning the word 'smoke.' I wish you'd go see a doctor about those headaches. It's probably that job of yours stressing you out."

"Yeah, my boss is to die for," Petra said, looking skyward and pretending to swoon. "I ache just thinking about him, and I have to watch his idiot secretary crawling all over him, hugging him, and doing everything but you know what. The man's married, but does that tart care? Lord, forgive me."

"What you need to do is pray," Lurlene said. "You're in church every time the door opens, but you're as big a sinner as I am."

Petra looked toward the ceiling and rolled her eyes. "I'm not sinning when I tell the truth. That girl is a tart."

"Now don't y'all start dragging that poor girl's name through the mud," Twylah said. "For all you know, she ain't doing a thing more than you see."

"I gotta be going," Lurlene said. "It's hot, and I wanna get out of these clothes. One of these days after I get rich, I'm gonna have everything I own air-conditioned, starting with my brassiere."

"Me too," Twylah said, "not to mention a few other garments. Y'all want to play after work tomorrow?"

"I can't," Petra said. "Right after work, I have an appointment to get my annual checkup. Dr. Barnes is so self-important that he makes you pay if you miss an appointment. We can play day after tomorrow. Okay?"

Lurlene pulled air through her front teeth. "Barnes makes me sick with his prissy self. If he was practicing in Baltimore or Washington, he wouldn't make a living. See y'all day after tomorrow."

Twylah released a guffaw. "My daddy says Barnes is in cahoots with Ken Woods, the undertaker over on Pratt Avenue. He said Woods ought to give Barnes a percentage of what he takes in."

Petra didn't care for those sentiments. "Everybody knows Barnes isn't a genius," she said in a voice suggesting boredom with the topic, "but he's the only black doctor in this part of town, and we have to support our own."

Minutes after Petra arrived at work the following morning, Jack Watkins, her boss and head of Watkins Real Estate Agency, called her to his office. "Have a seat, Petra. This will only take a couple of minutes," he said in what appeared to her as cold and unfeeling tones.

Petra sat down, but she didn't lean back in the chair; indeed, she sat ramrod straight, pressed her elbows to her sides, and waited for the ax to fall. "Yes, sir."

When he raised an eyebrow, she remembered that she hadn't addressed him as "sir" in at least seven years. "I'm promoting you from receptionist to office manager as of today, and you'll get an additional fifty a week. That means you have your own office."

She closed her mouth, thanked him, and managed to get out of his office without dancing like a wild woman. Then, she cleaned out her desk and moved into her new office. Petra remembered to telephone her mother with the news that she'd just gotten a two hundred dollar a month raise, and her chest seemed to swell to twice its size. Oh, how she enjoyed telling that to her mother, the woman who said she'd never amount to much, that she had sacrificed a good life for a few minutes of sex with a man she thought so little of that she didn't even tell him she was pregnant with his child. Forty-two thousand dollars a year was at least proof that she wasn't a failure.

"You deserve every bit of it," her mother said. "You're a hard worker, and I'm proud of you."

Petra caught Jack and his secretary holding hands in the coffee-room pantry. Knowing that he wouldn't object because he was vulnerable, she asked him if she could leave half an hour early to keep her doctor's appointment.

"Sure," he said. "For half an hour, you don't have to ask. Just let me know ahead of time."

She left work at four o'clock, stopped at Orchid Nails, got a manicure, and arrived at the doctor's office promptly at five-fifteen. After a lengthy exam and several tests, she looked at her watch. Seven o'clock. He still hadn't told her to get dressed. At a quarter of eight, he came into the little cubicle, where she lay freezing in a thin white gown, treated her to his patented smile and said, "That's all for today. I expect you're exhausted from these tests. Drop by tomorrow after work, and I'll give you the test results."

Didn't he care that she'd been freezing in that over-air-conditioned office for nearly three hours? With chattering teeth, she tried to smile. "I'm more tired and hungry than exhausted. I'll see you tomorrow." She dressed and left, wondering how doctors managed to diagnose a patient's illness before they had access to high-powered MRI and CAT scan testing machines.

As soon as she left the doctor's office, she called Lurlene and Twylah and canceled their date for the next afternoon. Apart from some annoying headaches, nothing was wrong with her; she was only thirty-six years old and hadn't taken a day of sick leave from work in at least four years. She wished Reginald Barnes didn't have to seem so important, but at least she only had to see him once a year. Recently, she'd been tempted to switch to Dr. Meredith, the white doctor who some of her acquaintances used, but she believed in supporting her people when she could.

Buoyed by her promotion and the additional two hundred dollars a month income, she decided to eat dinner at The Trolley Stop Restaurant on Oella Avenue, a few blocks from the Benjamin Banneker Museum. Her daughter, Krista, was at her grandmother's, so she didn't have to cook if she didn't want to. After a steak dinner, she passed a movie theatre on her way home and, on an impulse, decided to see the movie. At last, she could afford to splurge occasionally. Life was good, and she'd been waiting a long time to say that. Then she went home, kicked off her shoes, and turned on the television. With Krista away, she didn't have to watch the BET channel with its tasteless messages. Steve Harvey's jokes were more to her taste.

The next morning, Petra decided to go to her doctor's office on her lunch hour instead of after work so that she could meet with her girlfriends, provided they hadn't made other plans. "Hadn't expected you till later today," the doctor's receptionist said when Petra walked in. "Have a seat, and I'll get your test results."

Petra sat down, picked up a copy of The Maryland Journal from the table beside her, and began to read.

"Come in, Ms. Fields, and have a seat."

She looked up and saw Dr. Barnes standing just inside the door of his private office. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine," she said, sat down and crossed her knees.

"Any pains in your head?"

Petra stared at him. Why would he ask her about headaches now? She hadn't mentioned her headaches to him, because he hadn't previously asked. "Uh ... yes. Sometimes, they're very unpleasant."

"Hmm. I can imagine." He pulled up a chair, sat with his knees almost touching hers, and took her hand. "I'm afraid the news isn't good."

She lunged toward him. "What do you mean? There's nothing wrong with me," she said, her voice rising. "Is there?"

He nodded his head up and down. "I'm sorry to tell you that you have a brain tumor, and it's inoperable. You've got four to six months left."

"What?" she screamed. He repeated it.

Petra jerked her hand out of his and jumped up. "You're lying. You don't know a damned thing about medicine. You're making this up to sound important. I knew I should have gone to another doctor."

"Petra, please. I know this is difficult for you. It's hard for me to have to tell you this, and I'd give anything if I didn't have to do it."

"I don't believe you. You don't know what you're talking about." She tried to control her trembling lips and to ignore the tears that cascaded from her eyes and dripped down her dress. He reached out to console her, and her fists pounded his chest. "Leave me alone. Just get away from me," she hissed as anger furled up in her. Anger at the doctor, at Providence, and at life. Helplessly, she sank into the chair, devastated.

"Miss Parks," Barnes said to his receptionist, "please get Ms. Fields some water." He turned back to Petra. "At least you know," he said, "and you can put your affairs in order. I'd do that right away."

Petra gazed at the man who had just taken away her hope for the future. "Put my affairs in order? Is that what you say I should do? I don't have any affairs, Doctor. I don't owe anybody a cent. I pay my bills at the end of the month, and I never buy more than I have money to pay for."

Barnes cleared his throat. "Well, they're final arrangements to be made, and you can spare your mother and Krista the need to take care of all that."

"Final arrangements. What do I care about final arrangements? If they want to dress me up and put me on display, that's their business. I want no part of it. Thanks for nothing." She stared at the astonished man. "And you be sure you don't leave here before I do. All you doctors know is how to stick your hands out for money. You're as greedy as a hookworm in a large intestine and just as useful."

She walked out of the office without looking back. Never mind his hard-and-fast rule that bills should be paid when service was rendered, or that her home was not within walking distance. She struck out down Oella Street with tears obscuring her vision, not considering the direction or the distance, unaware even that she walked. Her cell phone rang, but she didn't connect the sound to the gadget in her pocketbook. It rang continuously and, irritated by the noise, she looked around for a way in which to quell it and realized that the sound came from her phone and that she had walked all the way to the Patapsco River. She sat on a bench several yards from the river's grassy edge and answered the phone.

"Petra, this is Jack. Where the hell are you? My two agents have closings, and I have to check out a store that's just been put up for sale. Get the hell back here."

Simultaneous with Jack's demand, a sharp pain settled in the top of her head, not worse than any other she'd had, but sufficient to remind her of what she faced. She took a deep breath, closed the cell phone, and put it back into her purse.

Drops of rain soon escalated into a shower, and she put on the plastic rain hat that she always carried in her pocketbook and scampered through the wet grass to the old B&O Railroad Station. She stood on the ancient platform waiting for the rain to ease up and through her mind flashed the things she had dreamed of doing, the places she had always wanted to go, the experiences she'd never had.

"Why me?"

"What did you say, miss?" a man who stood nearby asked her.

She shook her head. "Nothing. I was talking to myself." Petra didn't know the man and didn't want to talk with him or with anyone else, so she ran across Maryland Avenue to the drugstore and phoned for Well Tried Taxi. Half an hour later, she walked into her house.

"Where've you been in this rain, Mom?" her daughter Krista asked, greeting her with a kiss as she usually did. "You're soaking wet."

She had to decide whether to tell her mother and Krista about the doctor's diagnosis; but looking at seventeen-year-old Krista, whose eyes sparkled with hope and dreams, she couldn't do it. For nearly eighteen years, it had been her and Krista. After Krista's birth, Petra moved out of her mama's home as soon as she could save enough money for a down payment on a house of her own. It hadn't been easy raising a child alone, especially not one as precocious as Krista, but her daughter was the joy of her life.

The sound of rain against the window brought her back to the present. "I didn't have an umbrella," Petra said, stating the obvious.

"You're snowing me, Mom."

Petra hugged her daughter, now developed into a beautiful young woman. "Am not," she said, fighting back tears. "You're home from school early. Feel like making some chili con carne? Nobody makes it like you do."

"Okay, I'll put it on, but can you look after it and cook the rice? I have a lot of homework. By the way, Reverend Collins called to ask if you'd do the church bulletin this week. He said something's wrong with his computer."

"Something was wrong with his computer last week. If he wants me to be responsible for the bulletin, he should say so."

"It's not much, Mom, and he knows he can depend on you."

"All right. I'll go down there and get his copy." She didn't feel like eating or preparing that bulletin or pretending that life went on as usual. It didn't. At least not for her. In six months, she wouldn't be there. And she didn't much feel like hearing any of the reverend's pious words. What meaning did they have for her?

After changing into dry clothing, she walked four blocks to the parsonage of the Disciples Church and knocked on the door. "I didn't expect you so soon," the Reverend Jasper Collins said to Petra. "Come in while I ... What's the matter?" For a man in his eighth decade of life, his youthful looks buttressed by thick hair not fully gray, and Jasper Collins didn't look a day over sixty. He peered at her over his wire-rimmed glasses. "Something's wrong with you, Petra. You look like you lost your best friend. Minnie, could you bring us a pot of tea, please," Collins called to his wife. To Petra, he said, "I'm not prying, but it may help to talk about it. Nothing you say will go any farther than my ears. Is it a man?"

Petra shook her head. "I wish it was, Reverend. You don't know how badly I wish it was a man. I could deal with that."

He bowed his head. "Let us pray." She bowed her head, but his words didn't soothe her as they did in the weekly Wednesday prayer services when she left the meetings spiritually renewed.

After the prayer, he said, "Now tell me what the problem is."

Minnie placed before them a tray containing a tea service for two and several slices of coconut cake, smiled at Petra, and left the room. Petra poured a cup of tea, added sugar, and took a small sip. How could she make herself utter the words? If she said them, she would believe them, and she couldn't do that. But the preacher, being a man of God, might be able to help her. The TV preachers healed people. Maybe he could, too.

She leaned back in the chair. "Yesterday, my boss gave me a fantastic raise, and I didn't even have to ask for it." Her voice broke at the same time that he smiled and said, "Wonderful. I'm glad to hear that. So what —"

She interrupted him. "Today, less than twenty-four hours later, when I thought I had the world by the tail, Dr. Barnes told me that I have less than six months to live."

"He what?!"

"You heard me correctly. He advised me to get my affairs in order and to do it soon."

The reverend's lower lip sagged. He rubbed his hands together and shook his head from side to side. "My Lord!"

"I don't know what to do. I'm not going to tell people and have them feeling sorry for me."

"No, I guess you wouldn't want that. Are you sure that's what Reggie Barnes said?"

"Yes, sir. That's what he said, and he'd just read the results of my tests."

"Hmm. I see. Well, sister, it's a bitter pill, but in some ways you're being blessed." She glared at him and stood, prepared to leave his house in a huff. "Now, now. Sit back down. No point in getting angry. You have a chance to get your life in order and put yourself right with your Maker. Not many people have this chance. If you want to be forgiven for your sins, you have to forgive everybody who's wronged you and ask forgiveness of everybody you've wronged."

She didn't like the sound of that, but she knew that, like many holiness preachers, Pastor Collins meant what he said. "I don't remember all the times I wronged someone," she told him. "So what will I do?"

"Make a list." He left the living room, returned a few minutes later with the material for the bulletin, and handed it to her.

"I feel like doing all the things I always wanted to do, seeing places I wanted to see."


Excerpted from A Different Kind of Blues by Gwynne Forster. Copyright © 2008 Gwendolyn Johnson-Acsadi. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

GWYNNE FORSTER is an award-winning, national bestselling author. She is also a demographer and former senior United Nations Officer, in which capacities she has traveled the world. She lives in New York City. Visit her website at GwynneForster.com.

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A Different Kind of Blues 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Character was boring and stupid. A waste of money.