"Ginger Pinholster, a master of significant detail, weaves her struggling characters' pasts, present, and futures into a breathtaking, beautiful novel in City in a Forest." -IndieReader Approved
Winner of a gold medal in the 2020 Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards
Hidden in the heart of Atlanta, a pristine forest shimmers with magic, but an unscrupulous developer plans to flatten Silver Park-unless two brave women can stop him. Arden Collier risks losing her home. Parker Gozer owns most of Arden's secret forest, which is rooted in Atlanta's rich African-American history. As Arden struggles to reclaim her artistic voice, Parker confronts the man who once preyed upon her-and now wants to spoil a rare urban oasis. Both women fight to protect the place that has tangled itself around their hearts like flowering kudzu vines, achingly sweet as a beloved child.
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|Publisher:||Black Rose Writing|
|Edition description:||First Printing ed.|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.01(h) x 0.50(d)|
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On her breezy aquamarine porch, Arden ran a thumb over the letter's sinister return address, which featured an amateurish sketch of two crossed nails, reminding her of the county's plan to crucify her. Above her head, a wind chime trembled. A rooster-shaped weathervane turned in creaky circles on the roof. In the side yard, a glass menagerie hummed. The mangy lawn, surrounded by forest, sat lifeless. Her grandfather's half-bald chickens were long gone.
She opened red double doors and moved into her house, through a narrow maze of cardboard boxes. Plastic bags stuffed with clothes, furniture piled high with crushed paint tubes, broken picture frames, and half-finished charcoal drawings blocked her path. In the room she had at one point used as an office, she stepped over more boxes to reach a desk buried by paper.
After speed-reading the county's latest citation — this one demanding five-hundred dollars in fines — she placed it on top of the others, next to Jared Astor's letter asking to visit her studio.
For a moment, she rested her hands on the letters, pressing down as if they might fly off.
She picked up Jared's message again, typed and with his handwritten signature in looping black ink. She liked reading it, although she hadn't answered it — couldn't possibly invite a famous art dealer like Jared Astor to visit until she decided where to put everything she had been saving. The elegant cursive letters of his name made her think of his famous, mahogany-colored face above the tightly knotted purple tie he was always wearing on TV.
"An opening in the gallery schedule," the note said. "Curating a retrospective on Atlanta artists ... Impressed by your feminist take on African dikenga figures ... bold color choices ... call me at ... would like to visit your studio."
As she read his last line, her hands felt chilled where they were touching the thick paper with its distinctive watermark. No one had been inside her house since her husband Joel left. She returned Jared Astor's letter to the stack, climbed over a chair, and squeezed through a side door she couldn't fully open because of a rolled carpet that was pressed against it, too heavy to be moved out of the way.
She loved how the east wall of her house seemed to stretch on forever as she walked beside it: overlapping ivory planks, stained glass, and gingerbread trim in shades of rose and lilac. She stopped to remove her sneakers at the halfway point, near a basement door where her toes sank into a soggy patch of strawberries. The ground was wet because of an overflowing septic tank — the county's latest cause for concern. Below the back deck, she unlatched a purple gate, stepped into her sculpture garden, and blinked. Like kudzu vines, the menagerie had grown thick and tangled, impenetrable in spots.
My home, she thought.
Light sparkled through hundreds of antique blue, green, and red bottles arranged like delicate soldiers on shelves built into the garden's narrow brick entryway. Popping through it, she ducked under strings of sea glass and multicolored Christmas lights to survey her frozen ballet: bronze women on pedestals with outstretched arms and gaping mouths — dancing, giving birth, fighting, weaving — each separated from the next by waist-high walls painted orange and red, yellow and blue.
These were the dikenga figures she both loved and hated. They were her one claim to fame, completed many years earlier. Each wooden base told a story, intricately carved, about the bronze figure's history so that the top and bottom made up then and now, a complicated past segregated from the striving present. The life cycle, cut off from a future. On the surrounding walls, wobbly black brush strokes formed words too small to decipher from a distance.
"Racism," one said.
A cloud flickered overhead. The garden dimmed. Wind rippled across the glass bottles, making them hum — a cascade of discordant notes that nonetheless fit together, like M.C. Escher's crazy upside-down staircases. She stepped into a gazebo, pulled open a blue curtain, and lashed it with her ex- husband's necktie.
Inside, wrinkled paint tubes, brushes, and strips of gauze were heaped onto a butcher's block along with a bucket of milky water, scissors, and an open jar of Vaseline. She perched on a stool, greased her face, and covered it with wet gauze. When she picked up the mirror, she was hidden, as usual, except for her eyes. Behind the mask, her pupils contracted to pinpoints surrounded by faint reddish-brown halos. Her long braids fell forward, sticking to the gauze. She inspected her teeth and flared her nostrils, momentarily happy with the effect until she looked at all the other plaster copies of her face, arranged in rows across the floor, one after another.
It had been a year since Joel moved away. Still, she couldn't seem to come up with new work. She had been stuck looking at her own face every morning, unable to decide what should happen next in her life, or with her art. Her last show had been badly reviewed. The critic's words still triggered a withering inside of her.
"Self-indulgent ... It's like she's obsessively turning the same jewel over and over, refusing to let it go."
Idiot, Arden thought. Stupid self-important narcissist.
"She seems pinched."
Really? What the hell's that even supposed to mean? Misogynistic bastard. God forbid if she should try anything new, or ambitious, and fail to pull it off perfectly.
Each mask took at least an hour to dry, and longer than that before she could paint it. Arden lowered herself onto a damp armchair, careful to avoid the spots where rusty springs were erupting through the upholstery. Reaching into her satchel, she pulled a scarred scrapbook onto her lap. The words, "Our Family" were stamped across the cover under a faded pink ribbon that had come untied on one side. Leather crackled when she opened the book. She had thought of the scrapbook last night, a second after her eyelids fluttered shut. Usually, she looked to history books for inspiration: the movement of Africans to America, the Trail of Tears, or Jim Crow.
Maybe it was time to look at her own history, finally, to learn what she had lost, and what was holding her back.CHAPTER 2
Parker's throat clenched, and in her mind, she was transported back to Atlanta, her hometown, the place that had tangled itself around her heart like flowering kudzu vines, achingly sweet as a beloved child, lost but never forgotten.
A paved road crumbled into gravel and dirt. She pictured Silver Park, vivid and noisy with birds all around the waterfall that was technically open to the public, but still mostly a secret. She imagined herself in another world and time, bright green with moss-covered trees, algae shining on wet rocks, and leaves crackling underfoot. She smelled smoke from a fire. Nearby, her childhood friend Arden's Great Aunt Wilma stirred a pot with a boat paddle. Sheets and shirts and underwear snapped on lines strung between trees.
In reality, she was stuck in her fishbowl office, twelve stories above street level in Washington, D.C. Sirens blared and protestors shouted below the windows while her boss, Dr. Tinley, explained why she would have to work late again. Parker sank deeper into her chair. She had promised to chauffeur her daughter's lacrosse team to a game.
"The deadline's tomorrow," Dr. Tinley said, clutching yet another research grant application — twenty-three pages of essay questions, boxes to be checked and long sections for filling in facts. His quiet, dignified tone almost made the demand sound reasonable. "The thing is, dear, the funder's going to stop by at four-thirty. I wish we could postpone it, but we need the support and we've been personally invited to submit this one. It's a wonderful opportunity for a nonprofit like ours."
The paper whispered in his sweet, wrinkled hands. A four-thirty meeting meant she would be trapped at work until five-thirty, after which she would be caged in D.C. rush-hour traffic. She might make it to Northern Virginia by seven-thirty, tops, if she got lucky. "I can't write anything else today," Parker said. "I need to take my daughter and her friends to a game. I'll be back bright and early tomorrow."
Below his caramel-colored eyes, a brittle smile formed. "I remember when my children were young, how hard it was to juggle everything."
Parker took the application and set it face-down in her to-do box. "Thanks for understanding. I'll get it done first thing tomorrow."
At street level, the protests intensified. She could hear the questions but not the answers. "What do we want? — garble, garble! When do we want it? — garble!" It had been going on all day. It was driving her crazy. What did they want? She knew what she wanted — more time with her daughter and an occasional whiff of fresh air. In all the years she had been working in D.C., she hadn't heard a single birdsong from her office, where the windows were sealed shut.
Dr. Tinley shifted his weight without turning to leave. The ultra-thin wool of his pearl-colored suit rustled. "I need you here to meet this funder," he said, mournful but resolute. "You're part of what we're selling. Nobody makes it rain like you do. That's well-known."
Parker's mind raced. If she couldn't reach her husband, she would have to call her best friend and self-appointed "Life Coach" Jolene. Maybe Jolene could pick up the girls. Once again. How many more favors could she ask of Jolene? Parker's mouth opened and closed, but no words emerged. She spread her fingers lightly across the application without touching it, as if it might be diseased and her job was to heal it. "I — I just can't do it. I'm sorry. It's my turn to chauffeur. I skipped my last turn. I promised the other parents I'd be there. The girls will be waiting for me."
Dr. Tinley stopped smiling. "Phone a friend. Ask your husband to leave work early."
"I could call into the meeting. You could put me on speaker phone." Parker imagined herself in the bleachers by Joie's sports field, struggling to hear the conversation through her earbuds, shouting into the phone while other parents glared.
"We both need to be here in person. This is a two-million dollar invited grant application we're talking about. Your ability to generate publicity is a big part of why they're interested in working with us. You know as well as I do that we're three months from closing our doors if we don't find more funding."
Parker sat up straighter. "What? No. I didn't know it was that dire, actually."
"I didn't want you to worry, dear, but yes, it is that dire, and if we go under, we'll all lose our paychecks. We also wouldn't be able to help people all over the world. I know you love your daughter, but think of that little girl we met in Nigeria, the one who was drinking water poisoned by oil flares. She needs you, too. You could tell your daughter what you're doing to help children like that. You would be her role model."
His liver-spotted hands and sing-song voice reminded Parker of her father before he died. She picked up the application and turned it right-side up, feeling defeated. She needed her paycheck, and his mention of Oba, the tiny girl with enormous brown eyes, made her chest ache. "I understand."
"That's my Parky," Dr. Tinley said, mangling her name, as usual. He either couldn't pronounce the second R, or he thought of "Parky" as an affectionate nickname, or maybe he had once owned an obedient dog by that name. "You're the best public relations director I've ever met. Everybody says so. I mean it. I'm lucky to have you."
From Parker, a rogue laugh escaped, half-snorted. "I'd say so." Which is why you need to pay me a lot more than you do, she thought.
"Come to my office a few minutes early. Don't be late."
"No sir. Never."
When he was out of earshot, Parker lowered her head onto her desk, tapped it lightly against the glossy wood, and groaned. She tried calling her husband Beamer, but he almost never turned on his silly Radio Shack flip-phone — it was an issue — and she got voicemail at his work number. With construction jobs in a slump, he hadn't been spending much time in his office lately. Jolene also didn't pick up or answer a text message. Parker left messages for three other parents, but after fifteen minutes of agonized waiting, she hadn't heard from anyone. Probably they were all ignoring her, given her track record as a no-show for carpool duty.
She fished two twenty-dollar bills out of her wallet and walked down the hall to see her work friend, Liam.
He was watering one of his many pink and white orchids, which lined the windowsill of his corner office, with its stained-glass table lamp and red shag rug. When she waved the cash at him, he stopped, set down the pitcher and parked his knuckles on his hips. He was wearing vintage purple corduroy slacks with a matching blazer and a rose-colored tie. "Oh, my," he said. "Are we going to the casino?"
"I know it's a lot to ask," Parker began.
"Then the answer's no. I mean, if it's a lot to ask." Liam sat down, deadpan, and he crossed his legs, exposing royal blue socks dotted with stylized green sea turtles.
Parker folded the twenty-dollar bills over three times. She pictured Joie's heart-shaped face, contorted with worry while she looked and looked for Parker, who wouldn't be there. She hoped Liam didn't notice the slight tremor in her chin. "Okay."
"Ha," Liam said. "Girl, stop it. You know I'm kidding. What's going on?"
"I'm stuck here until dinnertime. I have to be in a meeting with this new funder, and after that, I have to write a whole grant application. The boss wouldn't let me off the hook."
"So, a typical Tuesday at the office," Liam said, smiling while he plucked lint off his socks. "What's different this time?"
"I'm supposed to pick up Joie and her team at three-thirty and get them to the lacrosse field. I've begged off carpool duty for a solid month. I can't reach Beamer or any of the other parents. The girls are going to be sitting there, waiting for me."
Liam made a tsk-tsk sound, rubbing one pointer finger over the other one like he was trying to start a fire. "You're a bad, bad working mommy. You're probably going straight to hell."
"That's definitely how I feel, like I can't win."
Clapping his hands, Liam stood up and kissed her cheek with a flourish. "Leave it with me. I love that little princess more than rainbow sprinkles on chocolate ice cream."
Her shoulders collapsed with relief. She shoved money into his hand. "I'm compensating you for this. I insist."
Liam shoved back. "Oh, good grief, no. What do you think I am, a stripper? Put your money away. Seriously, this is what friends are for."
"I feel badly. It's such an inconvenience for you."
Liam took hold of Parker's fingertips. "Let me ask you a hypothetical question — if I came to you and said I needed your help — let's say, I needed surgery and there was nobody to drive me home, or maybe I needed somebody to check on my Dad while I was out of town. How would that make you feel?"
"I would feel honored. Like you trusted me."
"Exactly." He gave her fingers a squeeze and let go. "So stop it. I'm honored you asked me to pick up Joie. You know I adore her. Plus, now I have a perfectly good excuse to leave work early. By the way, have you ever thought about eating something? I know thin is in, but you don't have to work yourself to the actual bone."
"I sure do love you."
"Who doesn't? I mean, look at me. I'm fabulous."
Parker laughed. "Three-thirty. You know where I live. Joie can give you directions after that. Thank you. Really, thank you."
Checking his watch, Liam said he should skedaddle. He shouldered his satchel, offered a military salute, and he was off.
More than she could explain, Parker was grateful for Liam.
She had time to kill before the meeting at four-thirty. She should have worked on the grant application, but after skimming it once, the Internet unleashed its strange siren's song. Facebook and Twitter were no fun — nothing but laughing babies and cats shredding toilet paper to trance music. She opened her feed of Atlanta news and started scrolling. It made her feel closer to home, to read about what was going on there. Coca-Cola had released a new flavor that reminded Parker of a Starbucks Halloween offering. A driver who'd been stuck in gridlock for four hours because of a six-car pile-up on the downtown connector had ripped off his clothes before streaking north on I-75, screaming. A meth lab had exploded inside a Cherokee County trailer home; metal fragments and chicken feathers were found a quarter-mile away. Trees Atlanta was planting blight-resistant hybrid chestnut trees because all the real chestnut trees had gone extinct before Parker was born.
At the next headline, Parker took her hands off the keyboard and sat back.
"Caldwell Developers Announces $5 Million Silver Park Deal," the headline said.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "City in a Forest"
Copyright © 2019 Ginger Pinholster.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
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.
Table of Contents
1. Arden Collie,
2. Parker Gozer,
3. Arden Collier,
4. Buddy Caldwell,
5. Parker Gozer,
6. Jared Astor,
7. Parker Gozer,
8. Parker Gozer,
9. Buddy Caldwell,
10. Arden Collier,
11. Parker Gozer,
12. Arden Collier,
13. Parker Gozer,
14. Buddy Caldwell,
15. Arden Collier,
16. Vera Van Der Griff,
17. Parker Gozer,
18. Arden Collier,
19. Parker Gozer,
20. Arden Collier,
21. Parker Gozer,
22. Jared Astor,
23. Parker Gozer,
24. Buddy Caldwell,
25. Parker Gozer,
26. Arden Collier,
Note From The Author,
About The Author,