Read an ExcerptIf Memory Serves
By VANESSA DAVIS GRIGGS DAFINA BOOKS
Copyright © 2008 Vanessa Davis Griggs
All right reserved.
Chapter One For I was hungry, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in.... Matthew 25:35
Memory, who was going by the name of Elaine Robertson and had asked Johnnie Mae Landris to just call her Elaine instead of Ms. Robertson, sat on the bed in the room Johnnie Mae said would be hers for as long as she stayed. Certain that she was alone, she picked up the phone and dialed. "Hi, Sam," she said with a grin. "It's me-Memory."
Johnnie Mae had just finished showing her two bedrooms, in both of which the beds were low and close to the floor. The first room had a queen-size sleigh bed with stone-top nightstands set on each side.
"What's the name of this collection?" Memory had asked, attempting to show she was somewhat knowledgeable about life's finer things. Fine furniture always had a name.
"The Amherst collection-it's English inspired," Johnnie Mae said with a smile. No one had ever asked her that before. She was impressed Memory had, but even more impressed that she'd recalled the collection's name to be able to answer her.
"They certainly crafted some exquisite pieces," Memory said, leisurely strolling around the room, touching and tracing various intricate details lightly with her fingers for anup-close-and-personal feel. Fully aware Johnnie Mae had another bedroom she wanted her to see, Memory wasn't trying to be snooty or picky. She'd just never been this close to a setup so nice and was determined she would experience this on her own terms without rushing or glossing over it in order to appear even more refined.
Memory touched the antique brass hardware, felt the smoothness of the cherry-finished wood ... the coolness of the stone-topped nightstand. She marveled at the overlaid carving on the bed's head- and footboard and the doors of the large, three-drawer armoire. Yet nothing she'd seen rivaled the swirling, hand-carved pilasters that topped the nine-drawer dresser's mirror and the armoire that stood catercornered between two walls.
Easing down gingerly on the cushioned bench at the foot of the bed, she looked around again, taking a visual inventory of the entire room. "This is lovely," she said. "So lovely. It's warm and engaging. Feels like ... home." She nodded. "Yes, like home."
"Thank you," Johnnie Mae said as she quickly glanced around the guest bedroom. It was a place she rarely came into and-with the exception of having to periodically dust the furniture and hardwood floor covered largely by a maroon Oriental rug-really had no reason to. "Before you get too comfortable," she said, "don't forget there's one other bedroom I want you to see. Then you can decide which of the two you prefer."
Memory stood up. "This one's fine. In fact, it's better than fine. I keep trying to tell you that I'm not sure I'll even be here long enough to need a place to lay my head."
"Look, Elaine, you can at least stay the night," Johnnie Mae said. She hadn't had a chance to call Sarah Fleming yet, so she wasn't sure what the plan for Memory would be. She just knew she needed to keep her close until she could relay her suspicions to Sarah and find out how she wanted to proceed from here.
Memory strolled toward the doorway and looked back at the room as she and Johnnie Mae stepped into the all-white carpeted hallway. They walked two doors down, passing the opened door of a large bathroom accentuated with gold fixtures and faucets.
Johnnie Mae opened the door to another bedroom. This was the room her mother usually stayed in whenever she came over (which had only been a total of three times since they'd moved into their newly built house back in August 2004).
"Oh my goodness," Memory said, gasping aloud as she scanned the bedroom with one quick swoop. "This is breathtaking ... absolutely breathtaking! Whose collection is this? Not that I'd ever be able to afford anything this grand, but, still, I can certainly brag about having seen it."
"It's called the Royale collection," Johnnie Mae said, then leaned over and whispered, "and it's really not that expensive." She flashed Memory a warm smile.
Memory began to walk around the room. "It has a sort of architectural feel to it."
Johnnie Mae was slightly taken aback. "That's exactly what the woman at the furniture store said when we were looking at it." Each piece had elements found in medallions, crown moldings, and various ceiling tiles (often used throughout Europe) embedded in it. "You're really quite good at this," Johnnie Mae said, again impressed.
Memory noted the low poster bed with its smoky cherry tone. She sat down on the mattress, bounced on it, then stood up-just to see how easy it would be to get in and out of it. That was one thing, at almost seventy, she and people her age cared more about these days: whether they could get in and out of bed without having to climb up or slide down. This bed was perfect, as was the one in the other room. She walked toward the dresser that proudly boasted twelve drawers: three small ones across the top, nine large dovetailed ones below. Her attention darted from the dresser to the armoire to yet another piece of furniture in the room that was too large to be a nightstand yet too small to be any type of dresser.
"What's this called?" Memory asked as she glided her worn, wrinkled fingers across the furniture's gold-painted shells, leaf moldings, and scrolls while noting how the details on it were identical to the other pieces in the collection.
"Oh, this? It's called a demilune. It has shelves inside," Johnnie Mae said, opening its door to show Memory the three shelves now filled with various books.
"A demilune?" she repeated with a look that indicated more information was needed.
"Yes, demilune-for the crescent or half-moon shape of the furniture's top."
"Oh," Memory said, tapping its top with her fingers. She walked back to the dresser, fascinated by how much the design resembled the cherrywood tiles she'd seen on the ceilings of expensive homes in a magazine she'd thumbed through just the other day. The medallions on it-as well as the ones on the armoire, mirror, and dresser-favored floral rosettes. The furniture was visibly solid. A baby blue chaise longue in front of a white-mantelled fireplace seemed to commandeer attention to the large sitting area.
"We can put my things in here," Memory said, deciding on the Royale room. "But again, I want to make it perfectly clear that I don't wish to impose on you or your family. Of all the things I intended today, believe me, this was not one of them."
Johnnie Mae nodded. "Oh, I know. But as I've told you already, you won't be imposing. You can clearly see for yourself, we have more than enough room here."
Memory smiled. "I do thank you for this time to, at least, regroup. I still need to decide where I should go and what I should do next." Memory looked at the French-style telephone on the nightstand. "Would it be okay if I use your phone? I have a calling card, so the long-distance charges won't be charged back to you."
"Of course it's okay. Please make yourself at home. And we have unlimited long distance, so save your calling-card minutes for another time. Feel free to talk as long as you need, to whomever you need." Johnnie Mae headed toward the door. She stopped and turned around. "Can I get you anything? Something to eat or drink, maybe?"
"No, thank you. I'm good for now. Perhaps after I'm finished here, though."
"As soon as Pastor Landris gets home, I'll have him bring up your luggage."
"Oh, I can get them," Memory said as she eased down onto the bed. "With four suitcases, it'll take a few trips, but I'm used to it. I've been dragging those bags around for a while. But I really don't see a reason to bring them up, especially when we're just going to end up having to take them right back to the car, most likely, later tonight."
"Nonsense," Johnnie Mae said. "Pastor Landris will get them. And whether you stay a few hours, a night, or a week, I'm sure there are things in your suitcase you need."
"Whether I stay or for how long ... Well, we'll just have to see about that. But please know that I appreciate you." She looked around the room once more. "Truly, I do."
"Again, feel free to call as many people as you need to and talk for as long as you like. When you're finished, you can come back downstairs to the den. Now, there's a private bathroom right there," Johnnie Mae said, pointing to a closed door.
"I was thinking how I might need a map just to find my way around this place."
Johnnie Mae smiled. "You'll be fine. I'll see you downstairs. I'm going to close the door"-she grabbed the door handle-"so you can have your privacy." She stepped out, shut the door quietly, leaned against it, then released a long, slow sigh.
Johnnie Mae couldn't help but think this might be a good time to call Sarah. Only she wasn't sure how much time she'd have before Memory came looking for her. She decided it was best to just wait for Landris to come home. That way, he could keep Memory occupied while she took the time needed to explain everything that was going on to Sarah and whomever else she might have to. Almost two weeks shy of being seven months pregnant, Johnnie Mae waddled slightly as she walked down the winding staircase.
Memory picked up the phone. She'd been quietly listening to make sure Johnnie Mae had indeed gone back downstairs. Johnnie Mae had told her it was okay to use their long-distance service, but Memory figured that would likely leave some type of paper trail. She pulled her calling card out from the purse she'd kept securely underneath her arm, pressed the toll-free number to connect her, keyed in her calling-card number, then the number of the person she was dialing, and waited patiently as it began to ring.
"Hi, Sam," she said with a grin when the familiar voice answered the phone. "It's me-Memory."
"Well, it's about time I finally hear from you," a deep, scratchy voice replied. "I've been worried sick about you. What's going on? Where are you? Are you all right?"
"Everything's fine and going according to plan." Memory glanced around the room. "Well, truthfully, it's going better than planned. Would you believe I'm at Pastor and Mrs. Landris's house? That's if it's proper to call a mansion a house."
"You're kidding," Sam said.
"Nope. And get this. I had my choice of two of the most gorgeous bedrooms I've ever laid eyes on. Of course, you know me. I ended up going with the Royale room. It's a gorgeous blue. Johnnie Mae says I can stay for as long as I want. Can you believe this?"
"You're lying, Memory. Stop lying."
Memory lightly brushed her hand over the baby blue, jacquard satin comforter (half of the bed was covered up with baby blue and dark blue shams as well as geometrically shaped designer pillows). "You know I wouldn't lie about something like this. I didn't plan for it to work out this way, but you know what they say about God."
"Memory, now, I done told you-don't be playing with God or His name."
"I ain't playing. I'm just telling it like it is. God really does work in mysterious ways. Don't forget, you were the one who reminded me that I'd visited Pastor Landris's church back in Georgia when I stayed with my daughter and granddaughter that time," Memory said. "That had to be God. You know how it is when you think you know someone from somewhere but you can't recall when or where it was or whether it's just your mind playing tricks on you? Well, that's how it was when I saw Pastor Landris here. It was you who ended up helping me pinpoint where I'd most likely seen him before."
"Then I guess you should be thankful for me," Sam said in between a hard cough.
"Now, you know I appreciate you." Memory stopped for a second. "And what are you doing for that cold or whatever that is you have? You sound terrible."
"Oh, I'll be fine. You're the one who needs to take care and watch your back."
"I'm doing that. After that no-good Christopher Harris double-crossed me ..."
"Memory, don't go getting your blood pressure all worked up over him again. God is going to take care of that situation one of these days. And you can believe that."
"Yeah ... Well, God takes a little too long for me. You of all people know how impatient I can be when it comes to having to wait."
"So, what happened with that woman you were staying with last we talked?"
Memory got up and walked toward the closet. The phone wasn't cordless, but the cord was long enough to reach it. She opened the double doors and walked in. The closet was huge. "Arletha was threatening to tell that private detective fellow who's been following me everywhere that I was at her house. I had to get up out of there in a hurry."
"Does she know where you are now?"
Memory came out of the closet and closed the doors. "No. Nobody knows, except for you and the Landrises. And they only know me as Elaine Robertson."
"Well, my lips are zipped. You plan on staying there a little while or what?"
"I don't know what I'm planning to do at this point. As I said, I wasn't expecting any of this to happen this way. But now that this opportunity has practically fallen in my lap, maybe I'll just ride it out and see where it takes me. I just need to think about this a little more, I suppose."
"Memory, I know I don't have to tell you this again, but I'm going to say it anyway. You really need to be careful. Take care of yourself. My friend Mabel died the other night. And you know what they say about death-it always comes in threes."
"Well, don't you worry none about me. I'll be careful. Just because I got saved here recently for real, it doesn't mean I got stupid."
"You just keep me abreast of what's going on," Sam said. "Check in every chance you get, 'cause you know I worry about you when I don't hear from you every few days."
"I know. I'm going to get off the phone now. I'll call you again later and let you know what's happening on my end. 'Bye, dear." Memory placed the receiver on its hook, sat down, then grinned as she looked around the room once more. As she relaxed on the stack of pillows behind her, Memory's grin quickly began to swell into a low, soft chuckle.
Chapter Two Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life. Everything, if you have to," Sarah said.
Johnnie Mae hung up the phone and made her way back downstairs. She walked into the den just as Landris was telling Memory one of his favorite jokes.
"There was a feud between the pastor and the choir director of this church," Landris said, smiling just a tad. "Now, the first hint of trouble seems to have come when the pastor preached on 'Dedicating Yourselves to Service' and the choir director decided the choir should sing 'I Shall Not Be Moved.' Of course, the pastor believed the song had merely been a coincidence, so he put it behind him and didn't think any more about it. The next Sunday, the pastor preached on 'Giving.' After that sermon, the choir members squirmed as the choir director led them into the hymn 'Jesus Paid It All.' By this time, the good pastor was starting to get a bit upset." Landris chuckled a little.
Excerpted from If Memory Serves by VANESSA DAVIS GRIGGS
Copyright © 2008 by Vanessa Davis Griggs. Excerpted by permission.
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