Rivers of the Soul

Rivers of the Soul

by Leslie Esdaile Banks



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781585710591
Publisher: Genesis Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 12/28/2001
Pages: 526
Product dimensions: 4.88(w) x 7.26(h) x 1.42(d)

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Chapter One

Return to Philadelphia — Day One

    What was she doing here? She was thirty-seven, not seventeen, and definitely not supposed to be moving back home. Antoinette tried to chase away the mental demons that tortured her as she carefully walked up the icy front steps to cross the threshold to her new place in the world. She felt like Alice going through the looking glass. Everything was familiar, yet strange in so many ways. And everything had changed. Her independence was gone. Her husband was gone. Her finances were gone. Her figure was gone. Even her mother was gone.

    Antoinette hesitated on the landing as self-confidence abandoned her again, just like her job and her husband had. She found herself peering at the reflection of an overweight, tired woman trapped within the frosted panes of the front door. What had happened, and why did it happen without warning? This was not who she had been ten years prior, when she seemed to have everything in the world going for her. Now, her tall brown form, with the additional bulk and layers from a heavy winter coat, made her want to run screaming into the street. But even a nervous breakdown was a luxury she couldn't afford, not with a four-and-a-half-year-old child to care for, and elderly parents to worry about.

    She steadied herself and took a deep breath, bumping the sides of the building entrance with the overstuffed box as she made her way inside, and cursing the width of her hips in the process. Damn Brian Wellington, he'd promised to stay with her till death do you part.

    The mover'squestion about where to situate her furniture felt like a slap in her face. How would she know where to put anything at the moment? This wasn't her split-level single home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, with the manicured lawn. Nor did it have half the space she had become accustomed to. Everything would have to be squeezed and jockeyed into a workable position. Once they'd made their way to her unit, Antoinette glanced around the living room for a moment and let her breath out in a rush. Semi-dazed, she set down her load and took off her coat slowly, then wiped her hands on her sweat pants before running them through her hair.

    The moving man gave her a look filled with agitation and repeated his question about the piece of furniture he was carrying. It seemed to take her too long to respond. She could tell his mood by the way he expelled a snort of annoyance—it was a sound that went well beyond sheer exertion as he dropped the heavy piece with a thud.

    "I dunno," she murmured after a moment, "give me a minute." Even her once-executive brain was failing her. Each decision seemed to tax every mental faculty she could garner.

    Adjusting the hair-scrunch that precariously held her shoulder-length ponytail, she stared back at the young moving man who assessed her like another heavy box to lift. Quickly making a mental note to buy a perm kit and a little rinse to chase away the gray, she studied the smooth dark face and flawless white smile that stood before her. She found herself wishing that she had at least worn some lipstick to preserve what was left of her feminine dignity.

    The near-teenager simply shrugged and leaned against the wall as she thought about where to put the chair. Why his blasé non-response bothered her so, she couldn't determine. But, it did. Her only option was to force his casual gaze out of her head and to give him some instructions.

    "Please set the Queen Anne in the living room," she said quietly, glimpsing how effortlessly he swept up the heavy piece, and noticing how the muscles in his back created a deep gorge as they narrowed into an invisible valley beneath his lifting belt. She was sure that this dark chocolate youth had a black man's sway back, that deep concave gully just before the muscles give rise to a firm, high, muscular butt. She closed her eyes briefly and turned away. Her girlfriends had been right; two years without a man was much too long. The kid before her was probably only twenty years old. Of course she looked like an overstuffed piece of furniture to him just like her ex-husband had once told her she would to any man.

    "You got a nice spot, lady."

    She didn't answer, ending the conversation by selecting a box to rummage through.

    This wasn't home, or the place where her childhood began and ended. Instead, it was a temporary bookmark in her life. This was just a place where she would bide her time until she figured out what to do next.

    To avoid the hubbub that her friends were causing as they talked cheerfully and moved about the condo with her stepmother and aunt, Antoinette mentally escaped through the window. She focused on the dull winter sky that felt like the color of her life, and forced herself to look away from the direction of her father's home positioned just around the bend of the adjacent corner of the long block. The oppressive gray framed the barren trees. Each mature oak that lined the street below seemed to sway in unison as it creaked out its resistance to winter under the weight of glistening ice. Yes, she thought to herself, beautiful but harsh. She hated this time of year.

    "Now isn't this just perfect, Toni? I mean, you and Lauren have all the space you two need, and the view of The City is wonderful," May said. "Plus, you're only around the corner from me and your father."

    Her stepmother's voice chimed with an expectant tone as she began to unwrap and arrange Antoinette's paintings against the living room wall without asking Antoinette where she wanted the items placed. May stopped briefly to admire the view through the window, then went back to arranging the art. "I'm so glad that some of this awful snow is starting to go away. The City looks a mess after it has turned all brown and sloppy. But isn't this place wonderful?" she asked again, this time waiting for an answer.

    "Just great, May," Antoinette returned flatly, pressing her hand against the cold glass pane and watching the fog around her palm fan out from the heat of it.

    Okay, maybe she was still alive. Barely. Perhaps the walking dead. She was oddly surprised to find that her body still gave off perfunctory warmth, despite the hollow within it.

    Deciding to busy herself with any task, instead of responding to what was bubbling inside of her, Antoinette stepped away from the window and away from her momentary mental escape. She knew she would have to endure them all and talk to everyone sooner or later. She let out a deep sigh as she picked up the previously neglected box. "This was an answer to my prayers."

    "Now, what's that supposed to mean?"

    Instinctively, Antoinette forced a smile. With a grand sweeping gaze of the condo, she reluctantly lingered on the spaces that May was so proud of. The immaculate, newly-sanded hardwood floors, the fresh paint job May had ordered, the matching mauve drapes that May had custom made, and of course, the large bay-window that faced Center City. Today she hated mauve.

    "Nothing. It's lovely," Antoinette muttered.

    May eyed her suspiciously. "Not everybody gets to have the option to move into a place like this right after a divorce, especially when they don't have a job yet."

    "May, I really do appreciate this." Common sense took over. Antoinette knew that May had detected a sheen of resentment in her tone, and had taken extreme exception to it.

    "It's just great," Antoinette said, trying to sound deeply appreciative. "It's a lovely space, and a much better arrangement than me and Lauren moving in with you and Dad would have been. I mean, that would have crowded you newlyweds with my four-year-old just as your retirement fun was about to begin. This works much better. Thanks for allowing us to take over your condo."

    She watched May's shoulders relax and her smile return brightly.

    "I knew it from the beginning. That's why I told Matt this was how it had to be, and he needn't be here today. Not for this part, anyway. Decorating, and getting the cleaning done, is really women's work. Lauren needs a special environment, with her asthmatic condition, and you need to restart your life. In a month or two, when you begin paying rent, you won't have to bother about a security deposit, or getting the utilities turned on, and what have you, and your father and I will have a tenant in our property that we can trust. So, it's in everyone's best interest."

    "It's a perfect solution. Better than crowding everyone into the old homestead." Antoinette would not allow her expression to change as she grabbed' another box and turned away from May. "Yup. No sense in wallowing in self-pity, and looking at old high school pennants on the wall from a too small bed."

    May laughed. "Oh, please. I had your room, and your sister's room redone six months ago. That old junk that was collecting dust would have been the least of your worries. But you're right. This is better."

    Antoinette kept walking toward the hall closet although May's comment had nearly taken her breath while she was in mid-step.

    "Re-did the room?" Mays words trailed her down the narrow corridor and hovered over her, making it hard for her to breathe as the walls seemed to close in. She couldn't answer.

    Yet, how could she blame May for redecorating? Any woman would have done that. How could May have known about the promises that her parents had made on her wedding day? That the tiny row house that she'd grown up in would always be home, that she could always return, and that she'd always be their baby no matter what. May hadn't been there then, nor could she ever understand how close they had all been. When her Mom died, it was the end of an era. Now a new queen resided where home used to be. There had been a changing of the guard.

    Listening intently to the gaggle of female voices that emanated from the living room and kitchen where her friends Tracey, Val, and Cookie were working, Antoinette allowed her hand to reverently touch the taped seal on the large moving box before her. Although this one was unmarked, she knew its contents intimately. Where she had written on all the others with large visible print, this one had been left anonymous. Like Pandora's Box, it waited for her to summon the courage to break the seal on her past. It was the one that she had discretely taken from her stepmother and her Aunt Pearl's efficient hands, then hidden under piles of suitcases. It was the one that she didn't even want her friends to see. No. This sarcophagus of buried hopes and plundered dreams required a solo evacuation. Stuffing the box into the bottom of the hall closet, she quietly closed the door on her past.

    "Hey, T, you gonna help us get this place into shape, or what?"

    She took a deep breath before answering her girlfriend Cookie's call. "Coming, coming, just trying to stuff as much into the closets as I can to get it out of the way for now."

    Her Aunt Pearl had come into her secret hallway space, quietly moving behind her with the silence of a ghost before placing a supportive hand on her shoulder. Antoinette didn't start at the touch; somehow she had expected her Aunt to materialize. The gentle act didn't frighten her. It was Pearl's way, and she thanked God that her Aunt had heard her internal tears.

    "Chile, that's no way to move in," Pearl said quietly, holding Antoinette's face between her arthritic hands as she moved in front of her. "You have to unpack and put things in their rightful place. Like you stayin' a while. Let go, and let God."

    Antoinette just looked at her aunt and tried to smile before lowering her gaze to the floor. There was something strangely intimidating about looking into those kind bluish-brown eyes. Wisdom, and what felt like a hundred years of knowledge, emanated from a depth that went beyond their surface cataracts, making direct eye contact with her Aunt Pearl too intense. Just a casual glimpse into them told her that they both knew the truth. She didn't want this.

    "It's okay, baby ... one day you'll be sure."



    Both women became very still as May approached. She ruptured their telepathy, fracturing the silent understanding that they shared, chasing away her Mother's spirit that always resided in those moments. And, as expected, May's response to being excluded from their quiet gathering in the hall was registered in the protest of her increasing gait. By the time she'd reached them, May had pulled her five-foot-one-inch frame up as tall as she could make it. Pointing her chin upward at them as she smoothed the front of her pink and green silk jogging suit, May was poised for battle.

    "Regardless of Antoinette's lukewarm acceptance of this arrangement, and unless you think this move is temporary, Pearl-ine, and have a better option—my suggestion is that you stop babying her. I think this is a fair alternative, given the circumstances. Don't you?"

    Her stepmother had obviously picked up the scent of their combined ambivalence. It was now going to be like fending off a Rottweiler.

    Aunt Pearline just shook her head and moved toward the bedroom. On the surface, her aunt's demeanor hadn't changed, but Antoinette knew, just as May did, that May had better get out of Pearl's face. Fast.

    "Temporary? It's all settled. Everything is fine," Antoinette said quickly, reading her aunt's unspoken closure on the subject.

    "I would think so," May fussed in a testy voice, lingering where Pearline once stood. "Why in the world would we all be going through all of this trouble for you to just jump up again, without a plan, and irresponsibly wreak havoc in everyone's life? This has to be final. We've all had enough of your back-and-forth on this where-to-live issue."

    For a moment Antoinette couldn't answer. She'd been attacked outright, all because she was sharing something special and unspoken with her aunt. She hated this contest, especially when May should have understood that it was futile to try to replace the affection she had for Pearline. If May would just back off, she'd give May her own new and different space to occupy within her heart. But never the same space. There were too many original bonds forged, rivers crossed, and too much water under the bridge. Just like moving into her parents' house and redecorating; it would still always be her mother's home.

    Trying to steady herself before she spoke, Antoinette took a deep breath and stared at May. Common sense should have told the woman that a few brief years in her father's life could never eclipse the unconditional love and devotion her Aunt Pearline showered on her. Ever. Just like nothing could suture the hole in her heart caused by having to give up her home and her marriage. It was all tied together in one complex ball of yarn. The emotions that ran through her were inexplicable. Why couldn't May just relent for once? Why couldn't she understand that moving in here meant that she'd lost two homes, not just one? Why couldn't she understand that Aunt Pearline was the only thing in her life that hadn't changed? And why in hell did she have to fight about that now!

    Antoinette felt acid building on her tongue before she even spoke.

    "No, May, this is permanent. I just want to get some order established before Lauren comes home. This move has been traumatic enough for my baby, and I don't want Lauren walking into her and Mommy's new place and having to step over boxes. Okay? So I pushed the ones that I don't have to unpack into the closets. I'll deal with it later. Aunt Pearl was just helping me. Period."

    Upon hearing Antoinette's words, Pearline stopped, turned and re-entered the hall. Antoinette cringed inwardly as she stood between the two very formidable women. One tall and brown, one short and yellow; a show down was in the offing, and she knew that her aunt wasn't about to have a child of hers defend any position on her behalf. Aunt Pearline was well accustomed to speaking for herself, which meant May was on very thin ice, and way out of her league to mess in Pearline's private talks like this. Antoinette held her breath.

    "Hey, Toni, where d' you want these canisters?" Valerie's gaze darted nervously between the three women hovering in the hallway as she rushed up and threaded an arm around Antoinette's waist, guiding her toward the kitchen. "I thought they would look pretty up on the counter top. You always keep your kitchen so nice. My house is always a pigsty. We'll have you back in business in no time."

    "Did you hear the way she spoke to me, Pearline?" May's voice had become shrill. "I think Antoinette needs therapy, or something, for that repressed anger. I certainly didn't cause her life to turn out this way."

    Antoinette could hear her stepmother's voice trail off as she walked forcibly down the hall. It was with no small measure of satisfaction that her Aunt only grunted a response. But now in the center of the action, the kitchen, she knew she would probably have to come between Cookie and Val. She assumed that was why Val had come to get her before Val lost her Mother-Earth charm and slapped Cookie. Obviously, Tracey-the-peacemaker, had given up her position, and was no longer able to keep Cookie and Val at bay. It had been that way for years. At least there was another constant in her life she could depend on.

    Antoinette let out her breath slowly as she watched her two friends take their positions in her new kitchen. The stakes on this bout of who was the better friend were high, but at the moment she was so tired that she could barely stand. Refereeing this match was out of the question. The move alone, and the emotions that went with it, were draining enough. Now this?

    Holding court, as usual, Cookie was knee deep in rhetoric by the time she and Val grabbed and opened another box. Perched on a kitchen stool, Cookie had one hand on her hip and a cigarette dangling between two perfectly manicured red talons. Antoinette watched as Val raced to put a paper cup beneath the ash that was about to drop in the sink, while a smile widened on Cookie's gaunt, brown face and Tracey cringed. Adjusting her stylish animal print head scarf, Cookie took another drag and dropped the butt in the sink, purposely missing the cup. Both Antoinette and Tracey sighed and exchanged a weary glance as Val set the paper cup down very precisely and tightened the rubber band that held back her clay-red, all natural Nubian locks, then moved away quietly to unpack a box sitting at the edge of the kitchen.

    "Hey, lady. Where you want the bed?"

    The sudden male voice and question jarred Antoinette, and she looked up quickly at the movers, drawing an exhausted breath before speaking.

    "In the bedroom, I guess?" Antoinette stared at the two movers trying to jockey her king-sized bed past the kitchen arch and down the narrow hall, hoping that they wouldn't nick the fresh paint job.

    The head mover grunted and dropped his end of the mattress. "I mean, what position? We're on the clock and only moving this monster once. Do you want it on the wall, facing the window, or what, lady?"

    "It doesn't matter."

    The two men let out a disgusted breath in unison.

    "Put it against the window," May said with authority as she re-entered the hall, "so she can get a good dose of morning sun. Maybe that will improve her mood."

    "In front of the window?" Cookie took a swig of beer and shook her head in defiance. "She's a bachelorette. Can't have all her bizness up in no dang window. Pulleeeze, May!"

    "Cookie, please," Tracey murmured, going to find a box to occupy her.

    "I'm not going to dignify that." Clearly disgusted, May huffed toward the back of the condo, motioning for the men to follow her.

    "It doesn't matter," Antoinette said again firmly when the men didn't follow May.

    "We ain't moving this till y'all decide. Drop your end, man."

    The other end of the mattress hit the floor with a thud, and both men leaned against the wall for a moment until May's evil-eye grit made them stand away from the new paint job that she had been viciously protecting during the entire move.

    "Look," Valerie said, her line of vision darting between Antoinette, Tracey; and Cookie then back to the movers, "this is Toni's space. We've been putting things up all afternoon, and nobody has really asked Toni where she wants any of it. Just give her a minute to decide."

    Cookie looked up from her beer, and sucked her teeth. "She said it didn't matter, Val. Why are you always reading too much into everything? If you had a job, and didn't just do this full-time Mommy thing, you would understand about time and money. The chile is on a deadline. We gotta get this joint ship-shape before Lauren gets back here Sunday night. The girl don't care where the bed is going, cause that bed ain't seen, and knowing T, ain't gonna see, no action for a while. So she might as well put it by the window."

    "What has my not working outside of the home got to do with me trying to be sensitive to Toni's needs, Cookie?"

    "This is not the time, Cook," Tracey's voice pleaded. "C'mon, gurl." Tracey's wide brown eyes held a combination of anger and pity, and she positioned her petite, T-shirt and jeans clad form between Cookie and Val as she smoothed her freshly permed curls behind her ear.

    The head mover looked at his watch. "Ladies, can we do this later, and just decide where this last big piece is going?"

    "Want a beer, Val?" Tracey inched past the movers and went toward the refrigerator, making a wide-berth slice between Val and Cookie. When Valerie didn't respond, Tracey got two cold ones from the fridge, handed Valerie one and issued a warning glare at Cookie. "There's no need to argue about it. We can help her move the bed later if she doesn't like where it's set today. No problem."

    "Are you crazy, Trace?" Valerie put down her beer and tucked one stray lock behind her cowry shell-laden ear. "The bed weighs a ton, and we'd have to move the dresser and armoire and everything else in the room. Toni has to decide, it's her room, her environment, and we haven't asked her anything all day."

    "Well, at least we agree on something. And, yes, it does matter where the bed is put, which is what this whole decision is about, y'all," Cookie shot back, giving Valerie a sideways glance as she took a deep swig of beer.

    "Well I wish one of y'all ladies would tell us where the bed is going, before we move it."

    Antoinette looked at the movers and at her all female crew. "Put it next to the wall."

    "Not the wall that adjoins the baby's room, guys," Cookie chuckled, appearing considerably mollified. "See, my girl has some sense left."

    When the movers didn't respond and just picked up the mattress on the count of three, the potential combatants dispersed. Antoinette closed her eyes briefly and opened them, then looked around the ready-made condo. Almost everything was set in place. A place. Someplace. An efficient place. But nowhere that she would have put it.

    Flanking Valerie, Tracey went to the far side of the room to finish unpacking the fine china, her Mother's treasures, and anything else that didn't have to go into the kitchen. The lines in the sand were drawn. The older women were in the back, working on the baby's room and her bedroom separately. Val and Tracey were working in the living room. That left her and Cookie to do the kitchen.

    Time was wearing a hole in Antoinette's brain.

    "Would somebody tell Valerie how to clean out a drawer before she puts the silverware in there?" Cookie hollered into the pass-thru between the kitchen and living room. "Although it might take a whole village to raise one child, I told you that you didn't need a whole tribe to move you in, Toni, just a few close friends because everybody does things differently."

    "Look, Cookie, just because I got married early and my house isn't a museum, doesn't mean I don't know how to clean out a damned drawer." Valerie's oval cafe-au-lait face went beet-red, and she almost slapped herself with a rag as she slung it over her shoulder. Then tugging at her silver bangles, she pushed them up her wrist hard and folded her arms over her chest.

    Cookie stared at Valerie for a moment then let out a howl of laughter. "Aw, sookie, sookie, now. The chile is gettin' serious. Let me shut up. I was just playin'." Turning on her heel, Valerie huffed past them. "I'll do the bathroom, Toni. Someone has to arrange your linen closet and put up some art or something in there."

    Antoinette closed her eyes and rubbed her temples.

    "Toni, what do you want us to do with all of your insurance sales awards? Do you want them on the wall over your roll-top desk in the living room?"

    Antoinette shook her head without opening her eyes. Tracey's voice seemed so furtive. "No. Leave them in the box, I'll put them away in the closet."

    "You can't do that! Cookie, talk to her." Tracey sounded appalled, and she walked back into the kitchen with the box in her arms, presenting the evidence. "You worked too hard for these awards. Just because Brian didn't appreciate your success doesn't mean that you shouldn't be proud of who you are."

    "Were," Antoinette said flatly. She didn't want to discuss it, or think about the main contributing cause to the failure of her marriage. Success.

    "Tracey, please, that was a long time ago." Antoinette could feel her voice quavering with emotion. She knew it; she should have moved in alone.


Excerpted from Rivers of the Soul by Leslie Esdaile. Copyright © 2001 by Leslie Esdaile. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Rivers of the Soul 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
ReeseMB More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite book of all times; it is work of art. The elders in this book are timeless and precious. If you were blessed enough in your life to have loved like this, then you've truly been loved. Leslie you are missed