When her young, anorectic patient Artemisia goes missing, Dr. Diana Verdi embarks on a surprising journey. In the middle of the Australian desert, she discovers the secret to Artemisia's healing. But will she find the girl in time?
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Finding ArtemisiaA Journey into Ancient Women's Business
By DENISE GREENAWAY
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 Denise Greenaway
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDiana braced herself and turned the shower on full-bore, squealing as the cold water pelted her head and leaked into her wetsuit top. She held her breath and peeled off the warm, rubbery skin.
The water pounded her chest and arms, turning them red. "Aghh!" she yelled. No one was in earshot except a barking Rex and her son Jack, playing Frisbee with his father. She could have kept on yelling, even stomped her heels had she wanted. Their sundeck was completely private.
Instead she turned off the tap and looked down at her feet—bits of sandy seaweed stuck between the decking cracks. Mindlessly, she squelched them with her toes, wrapped herself in a beach robe, and stood staring at her family playing on the beach in front of her. There was an awful lot to lose.
Ten years—certainly the longest relationship she'd ever had. And what about Jack? All the evidence was conclusive about the mental health of children subjected to divorce. Even when the couple approached it in a civilised way, children often carried a sense of guilt or resentment at the inconvenience of living in separate houses, missing one parent or the other. And then, of course, there were the acrimonious divorces where partners not only hurled venom at each other in front of the children but also used them as venting boards.
Marcello had been glad there were no children involved in his first marriage. He told her so. In fact, she was certain his keenness to have Jack was proportional to how secure he felt in his marriage to her. But his expectations since she'd become a mother were changing the way she felt about him.
When they'd first met, children weren't even on their agendas. They were both committed to their careers and their media profiles.
Initially, when she'd sought out the media as part of her advocacy for girls, anorexia was not a popular subject. But not long after, two networks were vying to have her on their chat shows. That's how she'd met him—in the make-up room before a Sydney morning show. He was the darling of Melbourne's orthopaedic circuit, and was in Sydney overseeing some of his repaired Olympic athletes. She was doing her weekly spot.
Under the bright lights of the dressing room, he joked with her. "And what are you famous for?"
"Eating disorders," she mumbled beneath a mound of make-up.
"In athletes?" He talked to her reflection, his head reclined in the big leather chair.
"Not necessarily." The mound spread like mortar across her face. She didn't want to encourage him. She'd been in make-up often enough to know how pressed for time it was and how little this sort of chat was appreciated.
"Look up, please." His beautician waved a mascara wand in front of him. "Maybe you could continue this conversation later."
And so they did, over coffee in the studio canteen, with their make-up still on.
"So, basically, that whole thing was a beat-up." He placed his espresso cup neatly on its saucer and grinned at her.
His teeth were well-shaped and white, but not porcelain white or manufactured-looking. She noticed teeth. "They nearly always are set-ups for a beat-up. There's a formula. They scour news events and then arrange experts to comment." She hadn't seen his teeth in the studio, just his mouth and his full lips. They were outlined with a very fine ridge. Buddha lips.
"Is that so?" He leant back, his suit silken and impeccably cut, Italian for sure. "Have they ever asked you to bring a patient along with you?"
She liked that he seemed interested in her work. "I was ambushed once." She would never forget it. "It was on a show where I was describing some of the psychological features of anorexia. After I finished my spiel, they brought out this poor girl. She could barely stand up. They seated her right beside me and asked me what I could do to help her."
"That's outrageous!" His eyes still lined with mascara. "What did you do?"
"Took a breath." Diana laughed. "And then I quietly explained that it would take some time—some very private time—with the young lady before we could come up with a plan."
"Touché." He seemed genuinely impressed. "That's thinking on your feet."
She tried not to blush. "They didn't think so." She shrugged. "They didn't renew my contract."
They both laughed. And when they stopped, there was an awkward silence, the kind that sits between two people when they realise they've just been carried away.
He took control. "We haven't really introduced ourselves ... Marcello."
There was something about the way he pronounced his own name. The c was a "ch," and the double l seemed to roll for a very long time. The o was a round musical note.
"We were introduced on the show," Diana said, as he extended his hand. It was fine and slender. She put hers into it. The skin felt softer than her own.
"Not like this." His eyes stared into hers.
She withdrew her hand. At his age, he was probably married, a "player" up in Sydney for a good time.
"An Italian name." She tried to sound matter-of-fact.
"Exactly, but not Roman like yours."
"My mother named me. But her lot's from Ireland, and my Dad's come from England. There's a smattering of French, I believe, but no Roman relics that I know of."
"You never know till you start digging them up."
"Have you dug up yours?"
"Didn't have to. My parents brought theirs with them."
So he was the child of immigrants and a doctor to boot. There was something unpretentious about that. But with his looks and money, he'd have to be taken. "Lovely to meet you, Marcello." She stood up. "But I have to get back to the other side of the city." He hurried to her side to remove her chair. A gentleman. Charming.
He touched his cheek. "And I must get this stuff off my face before I go and enjoy the rest of the day in your fair city."
Neither of them moved. He was much taller than her. She had to look up to him.
"I'm not going back to Melbourne till tomorrow."
She knew he was fishing, but she didn't want to bite. She was tired of being hit on by married men. Besides, she was still smarting from her last relationship.
"I don't suppose you'd be free to have dinner with me tonight." His voice was calmly confident.
"Only if—" she wanted to say only if you're single.
"Only if what?" he teased.
She didn't want to give herself away. "Only if I get to choose the restaurant." She would wait till then to probe his eligibility status. "It is my town after all."
Leaving the city had been a huge change for both of them. Work-wise it was effortless, but their private lives quickly felt the strain. For the first time, they were really living together full-time. Before that, their relationship had been an exciting, intercity affair—passionate, even desperate, their gruelling workloads allowing only tantalising snatches of each other.
But then, living together brought predictability, demands, wilfulness, and dwindling spontaneity—especially on weekends. If Marcello wasn't working, he wanted her to stay in bed with him and forgo her swimming. She'd agreed to Saturdays but not Sundays. Soon, she looked forward to Sundays.
And now there was Jack.
She could hear his laughter floating on the breeze. He must not be sacrificed for either of their sakes.
Chapter TwoTheir house was a perfect fit to their wish list: near the beach, north-facing, not in a housing estate, no close neighbours, no bricks or tiles; with retracting glass doors and windows for a "no walls" feel, an open fireplace, large decks, an outdoor shower, eco-conscious tank water, self-contained office space, established gardens, and a granny flat.
Shortly after they'd e-mailed their requirements to the local real estate agents, they received a welcome response.
We have just listed what you are looking for. All items checked. In addition, this sensitively renovated, beachside home has water features, gardens, ponds, and an outdoor goddess bath.
They'd both laughed at the blurb, but secretly, Diana was curious about the goddess bath.
"Is it ready, Mum?" Jack ran across the deck with Rex, who was covered in sand and stinking of dead fish.
"Take him round the side, and we'll give him one after you." She was still in her beach robe, and her hair was still wet. Barefoot, she hurried across the living room floor and down the steps to the back garden to meet Jack at the bathhouse. It was as breathtaking as when she'd first seen it hidden behind a hedge of orange jessamine, its Japanese-style roof supported by four hand-carved posts. At this time of year, when the white wisteria wasn't in bloom, the hand-hewn shingles were exposed.
Jack was already there, standing on the deck beside the in-ground bath, trying to keep a hold on Rex. Deep, wide, and inviting, the bath would have been an easy fit for a goddess and a sizeable entourage. These days, the entourage included a child and a dog.
"Can I do it?"
Diana nodded, and he turned on the hot and cold faucets, strategically located within reclining-goddess reach. A torrent shot from the spout, housed inside a large, ceramic lion's head. Once she'd tested the temperature, Jack jumped under the lion's mouth, and the water cascaded across the top of his head and shoulders. She looked about for the shampoo.
It was peaceful here in the back garden, protected from the wild beach winds. She loved the remnant rainforest, a natural sanctuary for local and migratory birds—ravens, pee wees, honey eaters, butchers, wrens, kookaburras, and even the regal bower. Tall tree ferns and lush palms provided a hideaway for the bush orchids and the tiny ground flowers. And the flowering natives were a seasonal source of excitement amongst the honeybees. For perfume, she'd planted moonflower, jasmine, and gardenia.
"Mum," Jack said as he pulled his head out from under the torrent. His long eyelashes, heavy with water, looked just like his father's. "Dad said you don't want to come skiing."
She hadn't expected that. She was hoping to tell him herself, with his father.
She hadn't yet given Marcello her decision. After last night's explosion, she hadn't dared.
"I'm not very fit at the moment." She moved his head down and put a dollop of shampoo on it.
"Yes you are." He lifted his head back up. She put it down again and began rubbing the shampoo into a lather. "You were just swimming."
She laughed. "It's not the same. I'm always swimming."
"Even when it's cold." There was admiration in his voice.
"Where I come from, the water is a lot colder than this."
She rinsed his hair. That stopped him talking for the minute and gave her time to think. Why was Marcello talking out of school? Was this some kind of divide-and-conquer strategy or just another pile of garden-variety guilt?
"Do you want to stay in?" she asked him.
"No." He stood up. "We're having pizza."
Jack looked around for Rex.
"He ran off as soon as he saw the shampoo bottle," Diana told him.
He started laughing. With his front teeth missing, it was so unashamed. His belly was still contracting when she towelled it.
She wrapped him in a goddess towel—extra thick and fluffy and kept in the bath house—and held him. Before he was born, she would never have thought such love was possible. "Heavenly love" was how she had described it in the hospital. It seemed to descend onto her when she first held him, and it just kept on growing.
"I'm going to get dressed and help Dad." He wriggled out.
She kissed the top of his wet head. She wanted to kiss him all over. Off he ran, his little bum cheeks wobbling behind him.
She didn't want him to have pizza. She wanted to make him a salad sandwich, with lettuce and beetroot and carrot and homemade mayonnaise, just like her mother used to make after swimming—a sandwich so large, it would topple before you could get your mouth around it. She was starting to miss things about her mother, surprising things.
Marcello was already in the kitchen, smelling of sweet shampoo, his face freshly shaven. He looked rested, as men can on weekends. But despite the at-home façade, there was unfinished business smouldering from last night.
"You told Jack." She approached the stainless steel bench.
"Told him what exactly?" He was busy opening and closing cupboards.
"About skiing." She crossed her arms and stood opposite him.
"What about it?" He unwrapped the dough he'd prepared earlier.
About skiing, she would have liked to say, I'm over it. I've been doing it with you for over ten years now. It's not my sport; it's your thing. I don't even think I like snow anymore. Besides, why shouldn't it be the thing that you and Jack do together? But she didn't.
"Thought I'd better prepare him for the worst," he said as he threw some flour onto the shiny surface.
"I just explained to him that I'm not fit enough at the moment." He stopped and looked at her. "And I'm not." She wanted to reason with him, appeal to him.
"But you're fit enough to go to a conference in the middle of the desert." He flung the flour with one hand and leant on the bench with the other.
"It's not the same thing." She hated to have to explain. "Besides, I did have it booked before—"
"Before what?" He raised a floury fist. "The girl ran away?"
"Before—" she said, trying to regain her breath, "—I realised it was the school holidays." His words had winded her. She refused to believe her patient would run away. It was more likely she was kidnapped.
"And now that you realise it, you're still considering going?" He threw the dough onto the flour.
She had booked it six months ago, immediately after her mother died. She probably needed to get away then, but now it was imperative. But she couldn't discuss any of her decision-making processes with him, not while he was so hostile towards her and blaming the girl for everything.
"You gave that girl six months of our lives," he shouted. "And she still ran away!"
She could still taste the panic that had gripped her when the girl's grandmother burst into the office and broke the news. "Artemisia's gone. Her mother's taken her!"
But Marcello wouldn't stop. "And there's absolutley no reason to believe she will come back!"
She grabbed her side of the bench to stop the room from tilting.
"And so now you want to run away, too." He flounced the lump. "To the desert."
"Are you going to the desert, Mum?" Jack came running down the stairs. "Can I come?"
"Not if you're going skiing." Marcello whirled the wobbly mound.
"Can I have a turn?" Jack grabbed a bar stool and dragged it near his father.
"Try pounding it first," Marcello said.
Jack's fists were tiny next to his father's. "Will there be real Aborigines in the desert?" he asked his mother.
"Maybe." Diana didn't know what to say. She was far too concerned about how much Jack may have heard of their conversation.
"Then I want to come," he used his whining voice and poked a finger into the dough.
"Don't put holes in it," his father scolded.
She had considered the possibility. It would not be the first school holiday she had spent alone with him.
"I'm going to a conference," she said, hoping to justify it to Marcello. How many conferences had he been to in the last six years?
"So you are going!" Marcello glared at her.
It was out now. It had been said. She must not falter.
"It could be boring," she told Jack.
"Skiing won't be boring. Will it, Dad?" Jack watched his father throw the mound into the air again. It landed heavily.
"And if you miss this season, Jack, you could get out of practice," she spoke gently to him.
"You'll get out of practice." Jack looked up at his father. "Won't she, Dad?"
Marcello still didn't answer. He simply divided up the dough and began to roll it with the precision of a surgeon and the ease of an Italian.
She watched him. She knew how much he'd been looking forward to a family holiday. But she just couldn't do it, not this time.
Chapter ThreeAlice Springs Airport felt friendly and strangely exotic. Diana wondered what the overseas visitors made of all those Akubra hats and walking boots.
It had been years since she'd been to a totally new place, certainly not since Jack had been born. It's going to be great, she told herself as she strode past the souvenir shops and out to the bus stand. She needed this time alone to clear her head. If only she could stop worrying about Jack and about the girl. She laughed. It was a bit like the white rabbit joke, the one where the holy man holds the secret to eternal youth—a potion which he hands out freely to anyone who wants it. But as he does so, he tells the recipient, "For the potion to work, you must not think about white rabbits while you're drinking it."
Excerpted from Finding Artemisia by DENISE GREENAWAY Copyright © 2012 by Denise Greenaway. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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