Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton - Chapter One excerpt.
I used to go home every Christmas to the house I grew up in, and Finley would be there—eventually, anyway. He’d come swaggering in, all blue-eyed, and gray, three-quarter coat swinging. In from Virginia; the educated man; all beaming, charismatic six- foot- two of him, setting the stage in that rambling Southern house by virtue of his presence. It was that way every year because Finley was the kind of guy who could enter a room and take over completely. My brother was that magnetic.
For me, there was never a time when Finley wasn’t there. He was born eighteen months ahead of me, and even though I’m thirty six years old now, I still say I came into the world following his lead. Mom told me, in one of her rare confessional moments, that Finley was an accidental pregnancy, but that I had been planned. I remember furrowing my brow and thinking that’s odd; if anybody has a God-given, significant purpose for being on earth, it’s Finley. Compared to him, everybody’s a random afterthought, including me. Finley fascinated me. I used to study him: the way he walked, the way he talked, the way the air changed around him.
When we were young, people thought Finley and I were twins. We were both delicately built, with that streaky red-blond hair genetically bestowed upon the Scots-Irish and we both had huge, light colored eyes that were disproportionate in scale to the size of our heads. Finley’s eyes were a hypnotic blue, and mine are a serious green, but beyond that, few people could tell us apart. When Mom moved us without warning from Minnesota to the Deep South—the summer she decided she’d had enough of my father’s alcoholism and was going back home, I didn’t mind because Finley was beside me. His presence was one part security blanket, one part safety net, and two parts old familiar coat conformed to fit my size after years of wear.
It was a complicated love I had for Finley; it was a love devoid of envy tied up in shared survival and my inability to see myself as much more than the larger than life Finley’s little sister. He was easy to admire, for he excelled at everything he did, and the template of this pattern was evident from the time he was in kindergarten: his reading skills were fully realized, his teachers claimed he had a photographic memory, and the sum of the variables that made up the young Finley was such a quandary that his primary school teacher arrived at the conclusion he should skip grades one and two altogether and enter the third grade. After we moved down South, the issue of Finley’s education continued to stymie everybody, for at the precarious age of twelve, Finley was in a scholastic league of his own. My mother’s response to Finley’s brilliance was feigned resignation. She’d wave her graceful hand and sigh, “Well, I just don’t know where he came from,” as if she’d woken up one morning to the great surprise of Finley at the breakfast table, in the stone floored kitchen of the house she’d grown up in and subsequently inherited, in midtown Memphis’ Kensington Park.
By anybody’s standards, 79 Kensington Park was not a kid-friendly house. Fashioned in the style of a stucco French chateau, it was sprawling, it was formal, and most everything in it was breakable. It was the antithesis of the bucolic comfort we’d left behind in Minnesota and being dropped into its clutching embrace felt like being jolted from a dream into disparate circumstances. But my genteel mother was back where she belonged; it was only Finley and me who had to get used to the idea of being displaced Yankee children deposited into a culture whose history and social mores don’t take kindly to outsiders. We were suspects from the very start: we had Minnesota accents, we were white as the driven snow, and we both had a painfully difficult time deciphering the Southern dialect, for the Southern dialect operates at lightning speed and doesn’t feel the need for enunciation; it trips along the lines of implication instead.
Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my mother’s plan was very specific. She simply picked up in Memphis where she’d left off before marrying my father, as if she’d changed her mind over which cocktail dress to wear to a party. The dress would look good on her, she’d make sure of it and it’d show off her curves and float lightly above her delicate knees with airborne fragility from every step of her enviable narrow, size seven feet. My mother didn’t walk into a room, she sashayed, borne from the swivel of her twenty-four inch waist. Her name was Posey, and although there was a lot more to her than she ever let on, by all appearances, the name suited her perfectly.