Hillwilla: A Novel

Hillwilla: A Novel

by Melanie Forde


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Beatrice Desmond, 55, lives on a remote farm nestled in a deep hollow in southern West Virginia. A native of Boston and a graduate of an Ivy League college, Beatrice is a fish out of water in Seneca County; although she maintains contact with certain friends and family, too often, Beatrice retreats into her work as a translator and editor, or into the bottle of Jack Daniel’s she maintains nearby. Fate finally intervenes, requiring Beatrice to befriend and shelter Clara, an abused teenager, and accept the job of ghostwriting the memoir of her dashing but enigmatic neighbor, Tanner Fordyce. Gradually, Beatrice finds her resolute independence and crusty reserve soften, her carefully constructed barriers fall, and her guarded and self-protective nature moderates, as she explores the renewed pleasures of emotional involvement. At times sad, at times hilarious, and always quirky, Hillwilla celebrates the glories of nature, the resilience of the human spirit, the healing power derived from genuine connections with others, and the potential for reinventing ourselves—at any age.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780988591974
Publisher: Mountain Lake Press
Publication date: 09/01/2014
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Melanie Forde is a veteran writer, ghosting in diverse formats—from academic white papers to advertising copy. Under her own name, she has published numerous features and commentaries about the natural world. She lives in Hillsboro, West Virginia.

Read an Excerpt


By Melanie Forde

D Street Books

Copyright © 2014 Melanie Forde
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4956-0062-3


Spit Happens

Beatrice wiped the wads of chewed-up vegetation off her face and thought of omens. Here it was, New Year's Day, and this was one of the first things to happen to her. But Beatrice told herself this would not be an omen — it would not set the tone for the entire year.

No. Getting spat on was merely serendipitous, she told herself. She just happened to get caught in the crossfire between Graf and Tess, as they duked it out over the flake of hay she had slipped into the wall rack. Graf was newly gelded and grumpy. Tess was old, arthritic and grumpy — and bigger. She lobbed off the first volley, and Graf, the lesser llama, took it full on the mouth — apart from the clumps that had landed on Beatrice. That's all there was to it: serendipity.

For other people, serendipity was about magical gifts that dropped out of the sky and into their laps and changed their lives for the better.

Stop it, Beatrice, or you'll end up a worse whiner than the biggest West Virginia godhelpus.

Beatrice Desmond had, after all, experienced benevolent serendipity — the kind that made you look forward to waking up in the morning because just maybe there was another gift under the metaphoric tree. And yes, Beatrice had experienced the kind of serendipity that made you want to stay home with the covers pulled so tightly over your head that you could hardly breathe. No one gets to the age of fifty-five without being in the wrong place at the wrong time, just when the deer dashes onto the icy highway. Just when the dear friend dies.

For the most part, Beatrice had lived a planned life, where the good things came from lots of organization and hard work, which could avert or at least minimize a lot of bad things. That was how it should be and how Beatrice's life was. But at times she couldn't help wishing for a gentle shove in a happy new direction.

This was one of those times. Graf and Tess weren't the only ones with the grumps.

At least I didn't have to spend the night in this godforsaken weather, like these poor things.

Beatrice closed the paddock gate and willed her legs to take small, flat-footed steps along the snow-packed path back to the house. At a few tricky spots she whipped her hands out of her down pockets to struggle for balance. The last thing she needed was a fall.

She turned around and looked back at the barn, where all six llamas were chowing down greedily, having worked out an appropriate pecking order in the inscrutable camelid hierarchy. "Who would take care of you, if something happened to me?" she wondered aloud.

Not for the first time, Beatrice felt a wave of relief at seeing those red walls. They were the typical dull "barn red," a paint famed for its ability to penetrate wood deeply and fortify the most decrepit of barn boards. Surely many paints of similar consistency could serve as well. Indeed she had seen dark green and gray barns in the country. But here, in Seneca County, West Virginia, barn red predominated.

She had heard myriad tales about barn red's origins. According to many, the prototypes relied heavily on ferrous oxide — rust — which was inexpensive and had the added virtue of inhibiting mold. Others claimed the original barn-red paints derived their hue from the blood of slaughtered livestock or from lead chromate — a toxic, pinkish substance that dried quickly and was protective against wet rot. In northern New England, barn red supposedly stood out even in whiteout conditions, when the farmer might become disoriented on his way to feed the animals. Perhaps because of her own New England origins, Beatrice favored that explanation, although she wondered why the farmhouse wasn't painted barn red as well. Wouldn't the farmer also be in danger of losing his way in the driving snow, as he shuffled back home after tending to his livestock? Especially if his house was white, as Beatrice's was?

She chided herself for letting her thoughts wander. All those mental side roads and detours so often got her into trouble with reductive-thinking colleagues, most of whom were men. But more and more women preferred to think one thought at a time, too. Conversation had become agenda-driven. Get to the next item on the schedule. People like that built straight driveways instead of ones that curved first north and then south, as Beatrice's did on its quarter-mile journey from road to house. Those graceful curves were one of the attractions of her little homestead.

"Where was I?" Beatrice asked herself. "Red, right." The red was welcome because it offered visual relief from the monochromatic bleakness of an Appalachian winter. Also a good part of an Appalachian fall and spring. Here, gray was the primary color. Even with full snow cover. The snow on the pasture had blue-gray streaks from the shadows of the surrounding mountains, which cast her hollow into an early twilight by 2 p.m. every day. On winter mornings, the sun didn't clear the eastern hills until nearly 9 a.m. — if it managed to penetrate the cloud cover.

What am I doing here?

In the past year, this remote homestead had lost its last vestige of charm for Beatrice. But she felt tied to it because of the llamas, which were a serious constraint on mobility. If not for them, she and Ralph would have packed their bags and headed back, in defeat, to civilization.

With his butt planted firmly in the snow, Ralph soberly observed Beatrice carrying out her barn chores. Gray with ample white flecking, he blended into the scene, as he silently stood guard. He had long ago forgotten the ignominy of being banished from the barn and pasture. The day the llamas arrived, he had dashed off, barking and wagging his tail, to greet them. But instead of returning his greeting, the strange beasts dug in their feet, fixed him in the eye, and made that noise. Ralph had never heard that noise before. It sounded like fear and menace and lunacy intertwined. He barked back more authoritatively and then sped toward them. One of the beasts lowered its head and charged toward Ralph. Ralph permitted himself a small startled yip before he headed back toward the house.

He had since come to understand that the llamas were part of the extended pack. His person liked them. Not better than she liked Ralph, of course. Like most setters, he had a big heart and was generous enough to share his human. So if she had to tend to them, he would stand guard for her. And because of his big heart, he would guard them as well against interlopers who were not part of the pack. It was very nice to be of service.

Ralph liked being a good dog.

"Good dog," Beatrice said breathlessly, as she paused in her hike from barn to house to flip Ralph's bangs with her gloved hand. She bent forward and locked eyes with him, just inches from his frosted muzzle. He fluffed out his flews to get an even deeper draught of the tea and toothpaste on her breath. And was there a bit of last night's lamb still lurking somewhere between his human's teeth? Ralph would be happy to remove it for her. But humans didn't seem to like that service. So he contented himself with breathing in Beatrice. He liked the way his human smelled and signaled his contentment by sweeping an arc in the snow with his tail.

As soon as Beatrice straightened up, Ralph sprang forward to show her the rest of the way to the back door. At least he hoped that was where she was going. Ralph would like very much to warm up by the wood stove, have a drink of water and look to see if his person had dropped any cereal on the kitchen floor.

Beatrice appeared to be veering off for the Boring Building, where she did nothing but sit at a table that was not for eating. Ralph turned around, ready to guide her there. If he were human, he would have sighed. But he was a dog, so he bounced forward.

"Oh screw it, it's supposed to be a holiday. I'll work tomorrow. C'mon Ralph, let's have another cup of tea."

Ralph went vertical, as he turned around and dashed for the back stairs with such enthusiasm that his hindquarters skidded on the icy landing. He immediately went into a sit-stay and held out a paw for her to examine. "Did you hurt yourself, boy?" asked Beatrice, lifting the proffered paw. He calmly let her examine all four legs and declare him fit. With that assurance, the setter slammed his elbows on the landing, raised his rump in the air and made wild loops with his tail, before levitating himself through the dog panel in the back door.

Beatrice thought it would be very nice if she could park her rump before some kindly soul, proffer her limp wrist, and receive assurances that all was well. In fact, that was precisely what she needed.


Bart Sighs


"Happy New Year, Daddy!"


"You have some other offspring I don't know about?"

Bartholomew Desmond had been awakened from a contented nap and an even more satisfying dream in which he was an indeterminate number of decades younger than his sixty-five years. Now, what he really wanted to do was poke the fire to keep out the drafts from the nor'easter blowing outside. What he really did not want to do was talk with his only daughter and be reminded of the passage of time. Yet it wasn't her incipient crow's feet that upset him. He did find it appalling that he could be the father of a woman on the brink of middle age, but what upset him was the internal transformation in his once-sweet, perpetually laughing, ginger-haired girl.

"Oh, I'm out of it. Just dozing off a little before the fire. Sorry. And Happy New Year to you, too."

"Are you feeling okay? You taking your blood pressure meds? I hope you haven't been out shoveling. Have you been being good?"

Of course, I've been out shoveling. Who else is going to do it? And why should anyone else do it? It's my house, isn't it? It's my problem if I need to go somewhere. And if you're so bloody concerned, Martha, you could haul your tight little ass over here and man a shovel yourself.

What Bart did say was, "Of course I'm taking the pills. Of course I'm taking care of myself. I appreciate your concern, but I'm not senile or an invalid, and I expect to make it all the way through the year just begun. So don't worry. How bad is the snow out your way?"

"We have almost a foot already. But it looks like it's petering out. And I didn't say you were an invalid. I just worry. You're all I've got, Daddy. Who else am I gonna worry about?"

"Well, you've got your aunt. I'm sure she'd like to hear from you, find out how you're doing."

"Beatrice? Fat chance!"

Bart sighed, loud enough for Martha to hear. For a change, he did not fill the awkward silence with soothing words. He looked longingly at the dying fire and sighed again, softly this time.

Why do some women have to be so unpleasant?

"Oh, I know you think I'm being petty. You always take your little sister's side. Even against me. But after what she did to me, I don't want to have anything to do with her again. I really needed a hand five years ago, and she just couldn't be bothered ..."

And there it was again, the old lament about the inheritance.

Tune up the bagpipes. The dirge begins anew.

It was all about the small fortune that fell out of the skies, courtesy of ancient Aunt Adelaide who had trekked off to Australia — to Adelaide, as a matter of fact — and lost contact with the whole fam damily back in the States. Everyone had thought she was long dead, but she made it to the plummy age of ninety-five, living in a Sydney nursing home. She had married well and generated prodigious progeny, none of whom danced sufficient attendance on her in her widowed dotage. To punish them, she bequeathed the bulk of her estate to an animal welfare organization and left the rest, one hundred fifty thousand dollars, to her American relatives. The money was to be divided equally among Nephew Bart, Niece Beatrice and Great-Niece Martha.

Bart, whose determination to overcome the genteel poverty of his and Beatrice's childhood resulted in prudent investments, had no particular need for an extra fifty thousand. It certainly would have been nice, but he owned the slate roof over his head and the half -acre of well-landscaped Dover soil on which the old, well -appointed house sat so gracefully. He didn't need or want much more than that — and peace. It wasn't as if the money would go to underwrite a scuba-diving excursion to Aruba. Bart had no particular interest in ever leaving Massachusetts again.

So when Martha complained about the woes of starting up her new interior design firm, Bart promptly offered his daughter his share of the manna. She hadn't even gotten around to asking him, although Bart knew she would. Making the offer was easier than listening to the oft-repeated complaints about the plumbing problems in her smartly situated but ancient-of-days Boston office building. And when those tales of woe subsided, Martha would wind herself up for more tales of the alimony she had to pay to get out of her miserably disappointing second marriage.

"... almost near a nervous breakdown, with all that stress. And Beatrice knew that. She knew the extra money would have given me the cushion

I needed. I could have avoided the second mortgage I'm paying just to furnish the office, to make it look presentable. You always told me that the face you present to the public is so important, Daddy. You understand that. And maybe I wouldn't be working every freakin' holiday to pay for all the expenses. You know I'm calling you from the office right now, Daddy, and ..."

Had he ever lectured his daughter about putting on a good face for the public? Bart couldn't remember. Maybe he had. After her mother died of breast cancer, he was on autopilot for much of poor Martha's childhood.

Working my ass off, raising a little girl, what did I know? I muddled along and probably resorted to all sorts of stuffy platitudes to appear paternal.

It wasn't that he didn't love his daughter. There were times he truly adored her. He just knew he had not the dimmest notion of how to raise a child. Like the solid, responsible man that he was, he just kept showing up, day after day, at work and at home.

I did the best I could. No, I faked it. But that's pretty much what life boils down to — faking it, as conscientiously as possible.

"... does she do with it? Buys some dirt-bag place in Appalachia. She's gonna be a farmer in her second childhood? Give me a break!"

The fire was out. Bart was going to object and say that Beatrice had always loved the country, loved to play in the dirt as a child, loved animals. He was going to object and say that it was Beatrice's money, and if she wanted to throw it out the window of a train pulling into South Station, well, that was her prerogative. But he didn't. He sighed again.

Just as Martha seemed to be working up a new stanza, Bart heard an annoying click in his ear and was informed she had to take another call. "I'm sorry, Daddy, but it might be that new client on Beacon Hill I'm trying to land. Gotta go. Happy New Year and be well!"

The phone went dead before Bart had a chance to return the good wishes. There was a time when he fumed over call waiting. He had always found it the height of rudeness to jettison one partner in conversation on the chance of making a more satisfying connection with that metallic click on the line. Bart likened call waiting to being on a date and then jumping up from the table to snag the better-looking woman who had just strolled into the restaurant — while the forsaken date was left to pick up the tab. Somewhere along the line, he had ceased to care about the decline of manners and decency. As long as he could putter around his garden and take his aging black Lab for a walk, the rest of the world could kiss his white Irish ass. Not that he would ever share that misanthropic sentiment with anyone else, except maybe with Bea. He would smile and nod amiably when needed and let the world think he was a doddering old fudd. As long as the world left him in peace.

Bart rose gently from his button-down leather easy chair and creaked over to the fireplace to wad up newspapers and resurrect the embers. Addie, lying just off the apron, thumped her black tail heavily in sleep. Bart smiled.


Post-Holiday Blues

Evie Rudner swirled her nearly empty Manhattan dejectedly. "This is definitely not a glass half full."

Her lunch companion was her secretary, Shirley McClintock, still a sparkly southern belle despite the march of time. Shirley was also one of the few women who could snap her fingers to catch a server's attention without giving offense. Motioning toward Evie's glass to signal the need for a refill, she flashed the waiter a thousand-watt smile.

"Goddamned holidays. Next year, remind me to make vacation plans for, I dunno, the Seychelles, so I can miss all that Christmas cheer," Evie said.

"Next year, don't trek off to West Virginia for Thanksgiving. You've been in a pet ever since."

Shirley made no pretense of submissiveness toward her boss. She knew how much Evie valued her. Evie, despite her love affair with all things high tech, was old school about secretaries. She needed a live human being, not voice mail, to keep the Forces of Chaos from storming her castle, at least on the job. Shirley was an excellent portcullis.


Excerpted from Hillwilla by Melanie Forde. Copyright © 2014 Melanie Forde. Excerpted by permission of D Street Books.
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.

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Hillwilla: A Novel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
JBronder More than 1 year ago
Bea has struggled from humble beginnings to an Ivy League graduate. But she has had enough with society and has moved to the mountains of West Virginia. There she is considered an outsider by the locals, but she could care less. She has her home, her animals for companionship, and a job as a translator and editor. Then her neighbor Tanner Fordyce tries to convince her to ghostwrite his biography. She reluctantly agrees and then finds herself helping Tanner rescue Clara from a troubled home life. Bea sees herself in Clara and although grudgingly, she does help Clara. But along the way Clara helps her in return. This is a great, heartwarming story. I find a lot of my tendencies in Bea. I grew up on a little farm and have come a long way. Yet I find that I would rather stay at home with my cats than have to go out and deal with other people. I can also relate to Clara and some of how she grew up. But the best part of the story was how Bea realizes that she really does need other people and that they can be a bright part of her life. I loved the scenes; I could feel myself right there in the pages. You can’t help getting sucked into the story and keep reading into the late hours wanting to know what is going to happen next. This is a stand alone book but I could see other adventures for Bea in the future. I can’t wait to read what Melanie Forde comes up with next. I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hillwilla is a wonderful book paricularly if you like character study.  Beatrice Desmond is the main character and could be described as a recluse who lives in West Virginia and doesn't want anyone'shelp.  Beatrice's life changes when she is forced to,help a teenage girl.  Clara must move in with Beatrice for awhile, but then Beatrice breaks her leg and must depend on Clara.  Soon others intrude on Mrs. Desmond's life and she seems to lose her anonymity.  Ms. Forde has written a book that is filled with imagery and portrays realistic characters attempting to live life their own way.  Set in rural West Virginia with llamas and dogs, Hillwilla is a good read that makes you keep turning the pages to see what happens. Maybe there will be a sequel?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago