The Edge of Memory

The Edge of Memory

by Maura Beth Brennan

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781506905532
Publisher: First Edition Design Publishing
Publication date: 12/13/2017
Pages: 262
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

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CHAPTER 1

The Office, Five Months Earlier

The sequence of events that changed her life slipped into alignment on a Thursday afternoon in April.

Harriet had arrived at the office early that morning after a restless night. She stopped in the ladies' room on the way to her desk and stared at her reflection in the mirror.

"You have got to do something to change your life," she commanded the image scowling back at her. Why did she even bother to look in the mirror? Out of habit, she smoothed her drum-tight ponytail and noticed that she needed a dye job. Ugly black roots frowned from her scalp. The bleached-blonde hair was her only concession to anything approaching concern with her looks. It made her feel better somehow. Her mother had been a blonde; at least she could remember that much. There was no makeup to touch up, as she never wore any. She sighed and made her way to her desk.

"Hey, Harriet, how's it going?" the cheerful receptionist at the entrance to the office trilled as Harriet walked past, head down, lost in her thoughts.

"Great, Kathy. Wow, you sound disgustingly perky today." Harriet cocked her head and raised her eyebrows. "Same as yesterday. And the day before that. It's a bit monotonous if you want to know." She put her hand to her chest in mock concern. "How do you even manage it? It must be exhausting."

"Oh, come on, Harriet." Kathy giggled and shook her head. "You're not nearly as grumpy as you let on. You and that sarcastic sense of humor."

"Well, don't let the word get out. It could wreck my reputation," said Harriet as she continued to her desk, leaving Kathy hooting and calling after her.

"Hah. Not much chance of that."

Conversation was not Harriet's forte, nor her favorite pastime. At the office, except for Kathy, she spoke just enough so as not to appear rude. She realized her social skills could use some improvement. The last few weeks, she'd been thinking she would work on that.

Most of the people in the office were cordial, and this temporary job wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for one of the senior partners, Jon Ingram, who was, in Harriet's opinion, a total jerk. She was working at a law firm where one of the secretaries — Mr. Ingram's secretary, to be precise — was out on maternity leave. The firm was big enough that she didn't feel too strange not socializing and small enough that she could find her way around and learn the procedures she needed to know. She wasn't a legal secretary, but she'd done enough temp work at law firms that she could hold her own pretty well. For a while now, she had enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of having a succession of temporary jobs, although the pay wasn't great. But over the last few weeks, a nagging discontent kept surfacing, and she wondered if it might be time to make a change.

The morning progressed without incident, but later, as she sat at her desk in a cramped corner, she braced herself. She had left a typed deposition for Mr. Ingram to review when he returned from lunch. She had no doubt he'd come charging out of his office after he looked it over, screaming about some typo or other mistake, whether it was due to his abominable penmanship or not. Why did the man insist on writing everything out in longhand? It was like he was stuck in the Middle Ages.

In another few weeks, maybe she'd ask the temp agency to find her something new, something other than a legal office. That was the beauty of temp work; if she didn't like it, she'd leave and go someplace else. She resolved to make a list when she wrote in her diary tonight, outlining her options and some types of work she might like to try. Then she could decide what direction to take. She wasn't getting any younger, she told herself, wincing at the trite expression. Her thirtieth birthday was coming up in May.

Just then, Mr. Ingram swept past her desk on his way back from his two-hour lunch, enhanced by liquor, she was sure. To amuse herself, she began a silent count and before she reached thirty, he came rushing out of his office like his hair was on fire, screaming about some petty mistake she had made trying to decipher his pathetic scribbling, and demanding she fix it.

"What an idiot," Harriet mumbled, almost hoping he would hear her.

As she took the paper he practically jammed in her face, she gave him her most polished artificial smile and said, with exaggerated politeness, "Certainly, Mr. Ingram."

She watched him lurch toward his office in a huff. Mr. Ingram was a short, thin man with colorless hair. His posture was poor, and since he was always rushing, he appeared to be permanently angled forward. Harriet smiled and added under her breath, "Yes, Igor." She pictured Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein, hunched forward, entreating, "Walk this way ..."

She had just begun correcting the page on the computer when she detected strange grunts and gurgling sounds coming from Mr. Ingram's office. She was accustomed to hearing grumbling from that office when he complained about some transgression on her part — a misplaced comma or spell-check error, for instance — but these sounds were especially bizarre. She became concerned when the gurgling morphed into strangled gasps. Harriet peeked around the doorway of Mr. Ingram's office and was horrified. She saw him lying on the plush burgundy carpeting, grasping at the air with one claw-like hand, his face a grimace of speechless rage. His face color almost matched the carpeting, and Harriet noticed that one side of his mouth was turned down and half of his face appeared frozen.

"This can't be good," Harriet mumbled as she rushed to Mr. Ingram's side and dialed 911 on her cell phone. When she got the operator, she asked if there was anything she could do and was instructed to stay by the man's side, note his symptoms, and speak in a calm voice to assure him that help was on the way. Harriet did as suggested, and because the poor man looked like he was choking, loosened his shirt and tie.

When the EMTs arrived, Harriet gave them as much information as she could. As they wheeled Mr. Ingram into the ambulance, one of the paramedics told Harriet that her calm action most likely prevented the man from suffering a more massive stroke. "We got him started on IV meds right away," the man told her. "That's crucial in a case like this. Good thing you found him when you did and acted so quickly."

Everybody standing around to watch the excitement gave Harriet a polite round of applause. She, who had worked at this office in relative anonymity for four months, became a bit of an office celebrity. All afternoon, coworkers who had previously ignored her stopped by to gossip and make conjectures as to Mr. Ingram's prognosis.

Kathy was especially impressed. "Wow, that was crazy, huh? You're, like, a heroine or something."

Harriet shrugged and barked out a laugh. "Yeah, that's me, a regular hero," she said, remembering another time when she should have acted to help someone, and didn't.

"Well, I guess you saved him from something much worse. What's that you call him? It always cracks me up."

"Yeah, poor old Igor."

"Right." Kathy laughed. "But, Harriet, what's going to happen now? Do you still have a job?"

"I don't think so. Mr. Baldwin came by to tell me they probably won't need me until Mr. Ingram comes back. But by then, Patricia will be back from maternity leave. So, I guess I'm out of a job, at least around here. Nice reward for a good deed, huh?"

Before Kathy could reply, the phone rang. By the second ring, someone screamed over the partitions, "Where's the temp? Doesn't she have to answer that?" Harriet waved to Kathy and picked up the receiver. She didn't mind answering the phone; it broke the monotony. She often entertained herself by trying out different voices and accents. Her British one was especially good, but she was partial to the Australian. This time, since Kathy was still within earshot, she answered as herself.

"Good afternoon. Mercer, Baldwin, and Ingram."

"Oh, good afternoon, dear. Is this Patricia?" The voice on the other end of the line had a compelling quality to it — exaggerated vowels, crisp consonants, oozing confidence.

"No, ma'am. This is Harriet. I'm sitting in for Patricia for a few months. May I help you with something?"

"Oh. Well, then, let me speak to Mr. Ingram, would you, dear? This is Agnes Bertrand."

Harriet wasn't so sure she loved being called dear, but she explained to the woman what had happened to Mr. Ingram and offered to help if she could, or refer her to someone else. After the appropriate expressions of shock and sadness at the situation, the woman explained that she had been in yesterday to have her will completed and witnessed but had neglected to take it with her. "I wonder if I could come over and pick it up?" she asked.

Harriet remembered this woman — a wealthy, elderly widow. She had typed the will and knew the details. Mrs. Bertrand had left her considerable fortune, except for some charitable bequests, to her one living relative, a nephew. Harriet remembered thinking that was one lucky nephew.

"I saw that you left the will here yesterday, so I put it in an envelope in the mailroom. The mail hasn't been picked up yet, though. Would you like me to drop it off to you on my way home? Save you the trouble?" Harriet knew that the firm would want to coddle this client, one of the their most valuable, or so she had heard.

"Oh, my dear, that would be so kind of you. I'll be waiting for you."

Harriet decided to give herself the rest of the day off and take the will right over there. After tomorrow, she wouldn't be working here anyway. And she'd love to see this woman's house, in an exclusive section of Moorestown, one of the prettiest towns near Cherry Hill, where the office was located. It was April, and the flowering trees had just started to bloom. It would be a lovely drive. She grabbed the envelope from the mailroom and, humming to herself, ran out to her car.

CHAPTER 2

The Residence

After a few false turns, Harriet found Mrs. Bertrand's home on a picturesque street lined with Victorian mansions. This street was like something in a magazine or a movie, where everything took place in the 1800s. No wonder Mrs. Bertrand was nervous about the will. She must have a ton of money to be concerned about. Harriet didn't have much money, but figured why bother wanting it when there was little chance she would ever have it.

The driveway was lined on both sides with handsome, tall pear trees, bursting with white blossoms. Enormous azaleas and rhododendrons hugged the shady porch, just waiting to be fully in bloom. On the sunny lawn was an expansive planted area crowded with tulips and lots of bushy plants Harriet didn't recognize. She rolled down the window — with difficulty; her car had a lot of quirks, a stubborn driver-side window being one of them — and breathed in the gorgeous scents of spring. The sunlight warmed her face, and she closed her eyes and let herself savor the moment. There weren't a lot of flowers or natural beauty where she lived.

When she opened her eyes, she could see Mrs. Bertrand standing on the porch, leaning on her carved wooden cane. She shouted out something to Harriet, waved, and went back into the house. Harriet picked up the envelope with the will inside and sprinted onto the porch. Mrs. Bertrand let her in with a welcoming smile.

"Hello, Mrs. Bertrand, I'm Harriet. But I guess you figured that out."

"My goodness, what a day you've had at your office. That was a terrible thing that happened to poor Mr. Ingram. Although, I must say it doesn't surprise me. The temperament of that man, I just knew he was going to make himself sick. Well, I do hope he recovers quickly and with no ill effects."

Standing next to her in the entryway, Harriet realized Mrs. Bertrand was close to her own height of 5'9". She noted that the older woman's patrician diction was matched by regal posture; she stood ramrod straight, despite leaning slightly on a cane to walk. Although she was eighty-three according to her file at the office, Mrs. Bertrand was the type of woman who would stand out anywhere. She had snow-white hair, which she wore piled on top of her head in a sort of elaborate, twisted braid. Her eyes, though framed by creases and wrinkles, were jolts of brilliant blue, and she fixed them on Harriet as she spoke to her. Harriet looked away, unnerved as she often was by someone's direct gaze. The old woman's skin was beautiful, too — lined with age but creamy pale, her rosy cheeks radiating health and fitness. Harriet thought with some sadness that she must have been quite a beauty. The sadness was not for Mrs. Bertrand, but for herself. Would anyone ever say that about her?

Harriet pulled her attention back to Mrs. Bertrand's comments and said, "Me, too. Hope he's okay, I mean. I'm only a temp, but he was the one I was working for. I guess I'm out of a job now, though." She handed Mrs. Bertrand the envelope.

"Thank you so much for bringing this over to me. I want to take it to my bank early tomorrow and put it in my safety deposit box. Now I don't have to worry about waiting for the mail."

Mrs. Bertrand headed into the house from the entryway and, for some reason, Harriet followed her right into the spacious living room. She stood there, embarrassed, but Mrs. Bertrand's graciousness put her at ease.

"Why don't you come in and sit for a while? Would you have a cup of tea or lemonade? I'd love some company, really. Sit over there by the bay window in the sun. If you don't mind sharing the space with my dog, Shannon."

At the sound of her name, an ancient Irish setter with a gray snout and huge, droopy brown eyes looked up from her bed by the window and managed a desultory wag of her tail.

"Oh, you have a dog!" Harriet smiled her approval. "I love animals. They're better than people, usually." Seeing the dog, she overcame her nervousness at staying to talk to the older woman and sat down on a delicate-looking Victorian chair with carved arms. She hoped it was strong enough to support her.

"That is often so, my dear." As she said this, Mrs. Bertrand rang a bell, and a middle-aged woman entered the room.

"Yes, Miss Agnes?"

"Can we have some tea, please, Evelyn? And then you go on home. It's getting late."

Leaning toward Harriet, Mrs. Bertrand said in that sort of stage whisper older people use sometimes, "Evelyn is the only one I have left now. My companion has left me; or, well, I left her. I caught her striking Shannon this morning. I told her to get out. I won't have that in my house, no matter how lonely I get."

"Companion?" The idea was so foreign to Harriet that she almost laughed. Why would anyone want a companion? She, herself, was glad to be alone most of the time; when she was around people for too long, she usually wished she could leave.

"Oh, I call her my companion, but she was here to help me, really. This house is way too big for an old woman all alone, but I can't bear to give it up. I don't like to drive anymore, and I don't like being in this house by myself. Evelyn comes in five days a week to cook and do light cleaning. And I have heavy cleaning done by an agency once a month. But Janice — that was her name — lived here in the house and took me out and went places with me. I thought it would be enjoyable, but she was often unpleasant. I was rather glad to have a reason to let her go."

As Mrs. Bertrand was talking, Evelyn came in and placed a gorgeous, expensive-looking tray on a carved wooden table. On it was a delicate teapot, which even Harriet's untrained eye recognized to be an antique, with lovely little matching teacups and saucers. Harriet smiled and shook her head. She'd be lucky to get more than a sip out of one of those tiny things.

"What is so amusing, may I ask?" Mrs. Bertrand had a somewhat haughty look on her face. Her head was arched back, and she was peering downward at Harriet. Harriet wondered if that was what the saying "looking down her nose" meant.

"Oh, I was just thinking that with this house and all these beautiful things, I feel like I'm in one of those old movies. You know, where everyone is so polite and genteel. I didn't mean to offend you. I love those old movies. Sometimes I watch them and pretend I'm living in that time. Well, if you could see where I live, you'd know what I mean."

"And why is that? Anyone can make her residence beautiful if she wants to."

"Residence? Oh, please! You're kidding, right? I don't have a residence, Mrs. Bertrand. I live in a dingy little apartment, so I can have an old used car and manage to put a little bit of money away for emergencies."

Harriet's face flushed and she looked away. Who did this woman think she was? How many people lived like this lady?

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Edge of Memory"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Maura Beth Brennan.
Excerpted by permission of First Edition Design Publishing, Inc..
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The Edge of Memory 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Jewelsey More than 1 year ago
At the tender impressionable young age of 9 years old, Harriet watches as her father beats her mother until she dies. Horrified and confused, Harriet is plagued with fear and guilt that somehow she may be at fault for her mother’s death. Some years later Harriet is, basically, psychologically damaged as she experiences tortured nightmares, flashbacks with partial memories and she carries a heavy burden of guilt and fear. She has no joy or happiness in her lonely life of solitude. She has no men or romance in her life. By the time Harriet is thirty she realizes she needs to make some changes to overcome her past and find some sort of healing and happiness. As fate would have it Harriet meets Agnes, a wealthy elderly woman. Agnes needs a companion and asks Harriet to move in with her at her summer home in Maine. Harriet accepts Agnes’ offer and they both agree that it will work and be good. Harriet is looking forward to her “vacation” as an adventure where she can meditate and begin to start a new life. What could be better? But little does she know what she is in for. What ensues is far more than just a nice relaxing time at a beautiful summer home. Harriet is about to experience more than she bargained for. But not all is bad. Will something good come out of this whole ordeal? I fell in love with The Edge of Memory. It’s one of the best books, in its genre, that I have read in a long time. I literally could not put it down and my house suffered for it, as I neglected it for a couple of days and it became a mess. That’s when I know I have come across a great novel. Author, Maura Beth Brennan brings readers a compelling read filled with mystery, excitement and romance. Harriet is a fabulous young woman. She is compassionate and filled with hope as well as fears. Women readers will relate to her as she journeys toward self-acceptance, freedom from the past, guilt, fear and ultimately healing. The romance in this story is alluring and charming. The importance of friendship and loyalty is emphasized in this fabulous story. Which makes it endearing and beautiful. There is a lot going on in this compelling story. It is fast paced and unpredictable. That’s one of the things that I loved about it. I didn’t know what was going to happen next but, I highly anticipated it as I quickly turned the pages. The Edge of Memory is a psychological drama as well as a mystery, suspense and tastefully written romance story. Readers will love the plot and the twists and turns. I loved the way Maura Beth Brennan wrote the characters and their development. They are multidimensional and evolve gracefully. I found myself really caring about the main character and rooting for her with all my heart. I was very emotionally caught up in her story and journey. In The Edge of Memory, all the descriptions are written with vivid acuteness and creativity. Everything from the scenery to the people are deliciously described and a delight for the senses. The whole book is like a thought provoking painting. The Edge of Memory is Maura Beth Brennan’s debut novel and it is excellent. I’m definitely looking forward to more books written by her…. And, I love the book cover-which is always a plus.
ReadersFavorite1 More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Josephine Strano D'Urso for Readers' Favorite Life has left Harriet scarred at a very early age, with her mother’s tragic death at the hands of her father. Although she has only a vague memory of the incident, she’s burdened with guilt for not having been able to prevent it. On the brink of turning thirty, she lives the colorless and solitary existence she’s crafted for herself. Until she meets Agnes, a kind, elderly woman, and her life takes a completely different turn. As Agnes’ companion in the elderly woman’s summer home in Maine, Harriet manages to overcome her low sense of self-worth. She discovers a new self and finds love in Eli, a local craftsman, but the relationship is off to a rocky start. Harriet believes a happily ever after ending is not in the stars for her, and at the first obstacle shuts off her heart to it. Meanwhile, her loyalty to Agnes brings her to look out for the woman’s nephew and only heir who, convinced Harriet is after his inheritance, does everything to discredit her. The Edge of Reason is a funny, uplifting and heartwarming story of love and rebirth. Maura Beth Brennan’s style is smart and sassy, rich in witty dialogue, and her characters are totally likeable. I liked that she is able to master a mix of light comedy, drama and suspense with enough humor and feeling to keep a reader fully engrossed in a plot that would otherwise come off as a little too predictable. It was both fun and touching to follow Harriet as she finds new purpose in taking care of Agnes, to witness their friendship grow and strengthen despite the wicked nephew’s efforts to sabotage it. The story drew me in from the start. I enjoyed reading it, and would recommend it to my friends.
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite If it were possible to find an example of the right blend of elements to write a book for those women who just want to relax with a good read at the end of a long day, The Edge of Memory by Maura Beth Brennan would be it. Short chapters, realistic plotting, believable characters, mounting tension, buried secrets and budding romance, all told using lots of well-written dialogue and enough introspection to add depth make The Edge of Memory a most enjoyable read. It's very easy to understand and accept the actions, attitude and character of the protagonist, Harriet. As a nine-year-old child, she witnessed the murder of her mother by her father. Now, as a 30-year-old, she is haunted by nightmares, unable to remember exactly what happened and her role, if any, in the horrid event. But somehow she feels responsible. As a result, she's a loner, keeping her strengths, talents and real self hidden from everyone, including herself. Enter into her life, Agnes, a wealthy widow who offers Harriet a summer position as her companion. In Agnes, Harriet finds both a role model and a mentor. Toss in Alex, Agnes' nasty, conniving nephew, interested only in the wealth he expects to inherit on Agnes' death, and Harriet finds a strength she never knew she had. Then, add Eli, the handsome local carpenter, and Harriet begins at last to believe she could just have a happy future. As the plot complicates and unfolds itself rapidly, Harriet discovers who she really is and the truth about her past. Best of all, with the help of all the characters in The Edge of Memory, Harriet realizes she is truly worthy of love, including love of self. While the ending is somewhat predictable, Maura Beth Brennan does a great job of keeping readers turning pages, if only to find out if they guessed correctly. Add The Edge of Memory to your summer reading bucket list and enjoy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book! I loved it! A story of self forgiveness, changing your life and learning to live rather than exist! Hope she writes more!