A bad day, a wrong choice and the consequences: a tale of self-discovery. Michael is a metalworker with a name for building good fences. He’s even known by some neighborhood kids as Mr. Fence Man. But he wants to be something more: an artist like his former business partner, Alex. An artist, like his girlfriend, Jess, wants him to be. The commissions are starting to come in, and along with steady work making fences, things are looking good. The only problem he has is with his closest neighbor, who won’t allow visitors to pass through a gate between their properties. This dispute becomes a fight and Michael, enraged, makes a wrong choice. Haunted by the result of his choice, Michael starts to fall apart: a death weighs down on him, exposing the weaknesses in the persona he was creating for himself, the weaknesses at the heart of him. Sunflower is a story about a man having a bad day and making one bad choice. But underneath that, it also about his coming to terms with himself: who he is – and who he is not. Ultimately, Sunflower is about how we define ourselves as people, and how we seek to be what we are not.
|Publisher:||Holland House Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Cass McMain was born in Albuquerque and raised in the far North Valley, among the cottonwoods. Her first love was always houseplants, and she now maintains a house full of them. After a career in garden center management,she took a new path. Or rather, an old path; Cass started writing at the age of six, knocking out stories on her typewriter.
Read an Excerpt
By Cass J. McMain
Holland House BooksCopyright © 2013 Cass J. McMain
All rights reserved.
The wind made everything worse. It gusted up the back of Katie's short waitress uniform and numbed her thighs. The sweater she wore was almost worse than nothing; the wind went through every hole. She felt like she was being stabbed with toothpicks. Toothpicks made of ice. Katie thrust her hands into her armpits and trotted faster toward her car.
It hadn't been the best of days. She had spent half her shift waiting on a table of men who patted her on the ass every chance they got. The tips from that table, and most of the others, had been pretty slim. She had broken a full rack of coffee cups. Well, that had been partially the dishwasher's fault, hadn't it? But of course she took the blame. It was easier than arguing about it. She had planned to stop at the grocery store on the way home, but now she just wanted to go straight home and take a hot bath. And there was this wind, which made everything worse.
Her first thought when she saw the envelope on the windshield was that it was a ticket, but even as the thought came to her she dismissed it as ridiculous. This was free parking, after all. Deciding it must be advertising, she grabbed at it angrily, then recognized the handwriting as Helen's. your turn, it said.
Katie frowned, clutching the envelope against the gusty wind. My turn for what, Helen? She unlocked the car and flung herself down into the seat, shaking her dark hair out of her eyes and wishing she had left it in the ponytail she had worn on her shift.
When she opened the envelope, she laughed. Out came the magazine clipping, one she had seen several times, along with the note. The note was short, and Katie recognized the words there as the same ones Helen had added to the top of her painting: Find the Sun. Face it. Always.
She must have finished the painting, then, Katie thought, her thumb caressing the smooth paper of the clipping and staring at the bright sunflowers pictured there. Her eyes misted over a little as she read and re-read the message in Helen's neat writing. The last word had been underlined twice. Always ... and now it's my turn.
She sat looking at the picture and thinking of Helen, and then she was thinking of the hospital, and the boy, and the sweatshirt, in a familiar and painful daisy chain of thought. Each memory dragging one behind it, unstoppable. Soon enough the mist in her eyes had begun to drip off in tears. One fell on the clipping, and Katie wiped it quickly.
The hospital, the boy, the mother, the shirt. That damn shirt. And of course, this was at the heart of what it was her turn to do, wasn't it? It was her turn to heal, her turn to move forward. Helen had done it, after all. Katie closed her eyes, and tears pushed out around the edges. Her thoughts again circled the boy and the hospital. It was so hard to imagine derailing that train of memories.
"But it's my turn to do it," she whispered unevenly to herself.
Maybe it was. Maybe it really was her turn. She looked at the restaurant, and at the flowers in the magazine clipping, and back again.
When she got home, she tucked the clipping into the mirror over her dresser, and didn't give it much more thought that day. But over the next few months she thought about it more and more.
In August she finally called her uncle to see if his offer was still good.CHAPTER 2
Michael relaxed with a cup of coffee, waiting for the truck to bring his metal order so he could get to work. His kitchen had a view of the neighbor's field. He loved this kitchen and spent much of his free time sitting right there, on this wooden stool. Michael gazed out and his reflection gazed back, his shaggy brown hair outlining slim features.
People who say they like sheep, Michael thought as he sipped his coffee, really only like pictures of sheep. He had long felt these animals were better viewed from a distance. The calendars and picture puzzles were always full of pristine white dots grazing in fields. Real sheep appeared to him to be clean only right after being shorn. He looked at the calendar Jess had hung by the telephone. Predictable, perfect sheep.
His thoughts turned to The Sheep Shop downtown which featured sheep-themed gift items. Jess had purchased a number of items from the shop and hung them around the house. A friend of hers knew the owner of the shop and had arranged for Michael to create a small art piece for her. As a result, he had spent some long hours watching sheep. When he finished it, the woman (whom he and Jess had nicknamed Sheep Shop Shirley, but whose real name he had long forgotten) had refused to accept it.
She had said, with a slightly aggrieved tone, that the piece 'looked too tame'. Coming as it had from a woman who was standing underneath a gently spinning mobile featuring animals made of pure white silk, Michael had been unsure how to feel about this. His sheep had been a simple, rounded silhouette, and did not appear vastly different from the other items in the shop. He had taken it home and left it in the yard, where it still sat, rusting in a rather charming way. Michael wondered if the woman would like it better now.
Alex could have done it. Michael smiled at his reflection in the glass window. Alex would have given her the sheep of her dreams. He thought of a sheep with vampire fangs and lightning bolts for hair, and laughed. He considered for a moment and wondered if he could add some element to his sculpture that would make it more interesting, or maybe convert it to a towel rack or something for the house. He was headed out the door to look at the failed sheep when the phone rang, startling him out of his musings.
"Mr. Bowden? We have a small problem out here with your order." The voice was not that of the normal delivery driver for Metal Suppliers Inc. "The gate is locked. Can you come open it up for us?"
Michael had been getting his iron from MSI for years; long enough to be on a first name basis with most of the employees there, but this guy sounded new.
He sighed. "Nope, you're at the wrong gate. You came down the wrong road. It's hard to explain on the phone, hang on a sec and I'll come out and show you." He hung up the phone, shaking his head. It was always like this.CHAPTER 3
The young man was leaning on his truck, smoking a cigarette, when Michael got to the corner of the property.
"Hi there, sorry about the confusion," Michael called across the fence. "That gate is my neighbor's, and he won't let me use it. You need to back up and take the other road. Hang on, I'm coming to show you."
With that, Michael climbed over the small gate that separated his land from his neighbor's, and walked across to where the driver was waiting.
"Well, I'm sorry, Mr. Bowden. It does say on the ticket here that Polly would draw me a map, but I guess I didn't get that part. This happen a lot?"
"Oh yeah." Michael laughed. "Almost every time, don't sweat it." He directed the man to back the truck down the dirt road, then follow the path south to the next road, across the small bridge, and finally back east to his own driveway.
The driver swung out of the cab and looked at the gate. "This is just a few feet from where we started!"
Michael nodded. "Yeah. Neighbor won't let me use that little bit of road there, always have to go around. It's a pain sometimes." He was tired of explaining this to people, tired of people who always exclaimed the obvious: that it would be much easier if he could use the other gate. As if he himself had never considered that.
"You ought to try an' talk him into it, make it a lot easier on everyone," said the MSI driver as he hit the switch on his tailgate lift. "I mean, that little bridge looks scary. What do you do when you get a bigger truck in?" The lift whined into position. "I tell you, I wouldn't much like to drive over that with the other truck, fall right through!" He gripped his cigarette between his teeth as he hauled the pallet jack around and scooted his load toward the lift.
Michael nodded some more. The real problem, he knew, was not actually the weight of the larger trucks, but their length. They couldn't make the turn onto the bridge to begin with. He had been facing this problem for years. He always had to make special arrangements for deliveries, explaining to driver after driver why they had to go around, why they could not use their trailers, why they had to risk the little bridge. Worse, he had actually had to turn down a couple of jobs because he had no way to bring the materials in.
"Maybe someday," Michael said, almost to himself. The MSI driver grinned back at him, and handed down the paperwork for his signature.
"Just sign right there sir. Building a fence or something?" The man raised an eyebrow at the newly delivered stack of steel bars and sheet metal.
"Actually I'm working on an art piece this time, but I have done plenty of fences in my day." He gestured back toward his own entry gate. "I did that fence."
The driver's gaze moved to the gate, and across the fence, where it naturally alighted on the large metal dog that was the business sign. The dog was a good five feet long, and perched playfully on the fence. Underneath his paws were the words "Bow-Bow," crafted in metal.
"Hey, that's cool," the driver said. "I didn't notice that when I came in. You do that?"
"Sort of," Michael said.
The truth was, he had not done any of the work on that dog, other than to help steady it while Alex affixed it to the fence. Michael had built the fence itself, but the artwork was strictly Alex — the other half of Bow-Bow Enterprises.
Until just over a year earlier, Michael had been business partners with Alex Grabowski. Alex had been the more artistic of the two men, and had done several projects around town that showed great flair. They met at a workshop Michael had attended in hopes of igniting some artistic ability in himself. Alex had attended as a speaker. For nearly six years Michael and Alex worked together on projects for Bow-Bow Enterprises, a company name Alex came up with by taking the fragments of their last names, Bowden and Grabowski. The team had taken on mostly smaller jobs, fences and small art pieces, but had, toward the end, taken a few larger orders. The artwork came so naturally to Alex, almost like he was simply wishing the metal into whimsical shapes, carving it out of butter instead of iron or steel.
When they formed their partnership, Alex quipped, "Michael can take all the straight lines, and I'll take all the curves."
This had proven to be the case. Fence work bored Alex. Measuring and fitting hundreds of identical rods in precise order was much better left to Michael, who found it soothing. They had been in the process of making a name for themselves when Alex suddenly moved to Dallas and started his own business there. He had left his half of Bow-Bow with Michael, but he could not leave his artistry, and Michael had been forced to return to mostly doing fence work.
This delivery was for the first artistic piece Michael was attempting since his efforts with the sheep. He was nervous about it. He jerked out of his thoughts and realized the driver was still standing there, waiting for his paperwork back. He thanked the driver again, his voice rougher than he wanted it to be.
"No problem. I get paid by the hour no matter how many driveways I have to go down," the driver said with a grin. "Good luck with your art thing."CHAPTER 4
Ted Marrs watched out his window as Michael closed the gate and headed back toward his house. He let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. Since Alex had left, there hadn't been even one incident with Michael arguing over the use of that gate. Alex had been quick-tempered on the subject, and Ted had been in heated arguments with him a number of times. These exchanges appeared comical on the surface because Alex, who towered over Ted by nearly a foot, hadn't daunted the old man at all. Ted had not liked Alex to begin with, and felt that people who claimed to be 'artists' were mostly full of shit.
Truth be known, he was more intimidated by the slim-hipped Michael, who was maybe 150 pounds and five foot, eight inches or so. Michael had business sense, and was more shrewd. Alex had spent his time building monstrosities like the 'Head-Foot' now gracing the entryway of the courthouse at the taxpayer's expense. The actual name of this piece, inscribed in the plaque at the base, was 'Best Foot Forward', but since the piece consisted of nothing but a huge foot connected by a rod to a huge head, it had been dubbed the 'Head-Foot' by locals.
Fences, now, Ted considered useful. He could admire a man who built fences. Michael's pleas for the use of his gate had almost — almost — swayed him, far more than Alex's rantings ever had. Ted didn't blame Michael for trying, but he didn't want trucks in his driveway. He especially didn't want trucks crossing the small patch of land at the end of his driveway.
"Planting a tree there one day," he whispered to himself. "May as well get used to that idea."
Ted had been getting used to that idea for going on fifteen years now.
After taking a last swig of his now cold coffee, Ted swirled the rest down the drain and rinsed his cup. He set the cup carefully next to the coffeemaker. He didn't bother washing the cup but maybe once a week. Why bother? It was only coffee after all, and only him drinking it. He had no worries that someone else might show up to partake of coffee with him: his children lived far away and his wife was gone.
He sighed. With one last, almost embarrassed, look out the window, he turned away and headed to get dressed. He planned to clear away some brush that was building up along his east fence, and wanted to get it done while he still had shade from the hot New Mexico sun.
The brush-encrusted east fence ran along the side of a wild bosque area, which fitted between his land and the road leading to his driveway. While Michael's south border was a small dirt road that bordered the irrigation ditch, Ted's view to the south of his driveway was of the ditch itself, which angled at that point and came right up against Ted's land. South of the ditch was another dirt road, and it was this road Michael had to use to reach the small bridge that crossed the ditch. The entire surrounding area was a mishmash of irrigation ditches, drainage ditches, bridges and bumpy little dirt roads that could hardly contain the width of a car, much less allow one to pass coming the other way.
Although complicated to traverse, the land was lovely. Huge cottonwood trees dwarfed the houses in every yard. The homes varied widely in style and size, and the occasional trailer or mobile home could be seen right next door to large territorial-style adobes. People kept all manner of farm animals here. Ernest's sheep in the field to the west of Michael's could be heard bleating from Ted's house, and across the way to the south a woman named Loretta kept stables where she boarded horses. There was even an Emu farm a few houses further west, Ted had heard, but he had never bothered to go see it.
The land Ted, Michael and Ernest lived on had once been one property until around fifty years ago when a man named Hunt had subdivided it into three lots. The land to the west held the original old house. Hunt had lived in the house he built on the eastern lot, until he sold it to Ted forty years ago.
Ted's house was small for a family but more than enough for one old man. After his wife died, he largely ignored the housework. She had been using the smallest bedroom as a sewing room; it remained as she had left it the day she died, but for the dust. A sampler she had been working on remarked 'God Grant Us The'. It lay on the seat where she had left it. Everything in that room lay just where she had left it. Ted never intended to go into that room. Nor did he use his own clothes closet where Doris's things hung, untouched. Ted simply draped his few clothes over the back of a chair. He washed them only slightly more often than he washed his coffee cup.
After choosing a pair of pants and a shirt from the pile, Ted dressed and went outside to survey his trees. The underbrush was messy-looking, but the real problem was that it was a fire hazard. He had been warned twice by the county to keep that brush cleared out or have it cleared out for him at his expense. The monsoon season had not developed this year, and early August found the entire state in drought conditions and under fire warnings. Ted started on the task of pulling the tangles of brush and weeds away from the trees, muttering to himself as he went.
Excerpted from Sunflower by Cass J. McMain. Copyright © 2013 Cass J. McMain. Excerpted by permission of Holland House Books.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Cass McMain writes a tight, compelling story, and Sunflower boils down to a study in faith and loyalty. Throw in a smattering of support and just a touch of empathy. I found this ending very satisfactory - although it felt like I should like Jess, I never considered her a true partner for Michael. McMain goes on my list of must read authors. I received a free electronic copy of this novel from Netgalley. Cass J. McMain, and Holland House Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.
"Sunflower" by Cass McMain has real to life characters and settings that could take place in normal day America. It's a suspense/thriller type book and is you enjoy reading that genre you're going to love this book. One word of caution is to read this book slowly and not try to rush through it. There are quite a few things I missed and went back to figure out what was happening. Once I did it was a really good story.