short story echoes of ellen

 Now in print and available from SynergEbooks, Amazon, and the author.

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Readers' Reviews:

For a first novel, it's a good one. At first I wondered if Bill Lewis and the author were one in the same. Such devotion is heartwarming.
—Roger Turner, Meadville, PA

Typos and misspelled words detracted somewhat from what was otherwise a great read.
—Jamie Sinclair, Cleveland, OH

Justine was my favorite character. I didn't much care for Blessed of God and Mother Jane. Otherwise hard to lay down once I got started.
—Hazel Tarr, Lakewood, OH

Echoes of Ellen is one of the most unique books I have read recently, and I read a lot of books across all genres. Bill Lewis, the narrator, is a widower whose love for his wife, Ellen, is as strong two years after her death as it was during their life together; so strong and his grief so deep, that at first he cannot bear to remove any of her possessions from the bedroom they shared for so many years. 
I was hesitant about purchasing Echoes of Ellen because bf oswald is an unknown author, but I'm glad I did. I look forward to reading other books by this talented novelist. 
—Richard Williams, Baltimore, MD.

After his wife, Ellen, dies, a man discovers her trove of short stories, never accepted for publication, of which he had never been aware. The writings open new aspects of their relationship as he reconstructs their probable sources and is reminded of people and events in their lives that must have inspired them. This is the theme that ties together a large number of tales about selfishness and generosity, love and loss, deception and truth, fear and courage, and anger and forgiveness. Several stories deal with overcoming the wounds or guilt of one's youth; others involve self-discovery with psychological dimensions. It may bother some readers to be left hanging in ambiguity on several occasions, but this reader enjoyed considering a variety of possible endings (making the book an interactive experience) and being able to choose his own ending. I recommend a slow read: this reader put the book down to digest each story awhile before going on to the next.
-Donald C. Lee, author of A Fool's Disciple and Eclipse of the Bright Moon

I just finished reading Echoes of Ellen. I like buffets, and your book is a literary buffet. There are eighteen short stories on the table, each different; no two characters, plots, or places are alike. And I like the way they were woven into Bill's and Ellen's love story. Thanks for a great read.
-Jefferson Smythe, Front Royal, VA

Synopsis:

On the first anniversary of her death when at last he begins to sort through her things, he discovers four boxes of short stories Ellen had written and stored out of sight under their bed; stories Bill knew nothing about. As he reads them he finds that many were written about people Bill and Ellen had met and places they had been during their life together, and these stories elicit powerful memories because for him they are echoes of Ellen.


Ellen wrote her stories over several years and tried unsuccessfully to have many of them published. As a final tribute to his wife, Bill puts her stories in a time line that begins before he meets Ellen and continues throughout their marriage. Where he remembers the people, events, or places in a story he introduces it with these details. From these details I was able to vicariously experience Bill and Ellen's sometimes tempestuous life together.


Bill is not well educated; his prose reflects that, and in spite of his struggle to write this book using his wife's computer, a device that continually baffles him and often leaves him frustrated and exhausted, he reaches his goal; Echoes of Ellen is completed on the second anniversary of her death as a tribute to her, and at last her stories are published. Bill is not a writer, but Ellen is. Each of her stories is extremely well crafted and unique in theme and character. Once I started one, I had to read it through.

 From the novel:


CHAPTER ONE

William (Bill) Lewis
I thought I had buried the past with Ellen. I was wrong.

Here it is again, and I'm glad.

~ Bill Lewis to his sister-in-law, Suzanne


I buried Ellen on the afternoon of November the second, 2005. We had known each other for fifty-five years, been married for fifty-one of them. One would think that after all that time together I would know everything there was to know about her. I didn't think we had any secrets. I was wrong.

I spent the first year after Ellen's death in a blue funk. I just went through the motions of living; I developed a routine that required little of me, and was as free from change as I could make it. I'd dealt with too much change in my life already and I wanted no more. Yet throughout all my waking time, every minute of it, I was aware of the great ringing emptiness of our home, and the emptiness I felt inside.

As soon Ellen's body had been taken from our home, I moved my things from our bedroom to the guest room at the end of the hall. I knew I could not sleep in our bed again without her, or look at her things on her dresser, her clothes in our closet, and the other constant reminders of her everywhere in our bedroom. I left everything the way it was before she died, and closed the door behind me.

After the initial, hectic business of finalizing a life so long lived; writing thank you notes to well-wishers, canceling Ellen's many magazine subscriptions, notifying her many correspondents— the ones too far away to have read her obituary—and countless other tasks that filled those early days, I morphed into the soporific routine I mentioned.

The morning of the first anniversary of her death, I decided it was time to get on with my life. I had mourned Ellen's passing until I had become a nothing, an old bag of bones just going through the motions of living. It was time for a change. I called Ellen's sister, Suzanne, who lived about an hour away and asked if she would come over and help me dispose of Ellen's things. Since Suzanne had been badgering me for the past six months to do this, she came willingly.

By mid-afternoon, those items that could be donated to charitable organizations were boxed and piled in the front hall waiting to be picked up. Suzanne and I divided the special keepsakes without a problem. We capped off the afternoon with a glass of iced tea on the porch, sitting in silence, each of us fighting back tears. It was almost dark when Suzanne bade me good-bye. As she was walking to her car, she turned and asked if I had gotten the boxes from under the bed.

I was unaware of any boxes and my response said so.

She walked a few steps back toward me. "I saw four boxes stacked one on top of another under the bed, centered up against the headboard. I thought you knew they were there; that's why I didn't mention them before this."
I told her I'd retrieve them and call her about what I found. I came back into the house and had started up the stairs to Ellen's room when the phone rang; it was an elderly neighbor who wanted me to take her to the drug store to pick up her prescription. After we left the drug store, I invited her to eat supper with me at a nearby diner. I was more saddened by the act of closure that Suzanne and I had performed than I thought I would be, yet glad it had been accomplished.

Dining out with my neighbor was a celebration of sorts, as well as a sign of a new beginning for me.

Later that evening, I passed Ellen's room on the way to my room. Her door was open now and I paused to look inside. Something nagged at me, something I was supposed to do in there. I shook my head and started on down the hall. Then I remembered the boxes.

There were four cardboard boxes, the kind that would each hold a ream of letter-sized stationary, taped together one on top of the other under our bed where Suzanne said they were. There was a substantial layer of dust on the top box, and the tape was so dried out that it gave up easily when I pulled on it. They had apparently been under the bed for a long time.

I lifted the lid on the top box and found a large envelope inside of which were a number of letters, twenty-five in all. The earliest was dated May 26th of the second year after I went to work for Pinkerton's; the latest was dated three months after I retired ten years ago. Each was a rejection from a publisher or an editor, of a work submitted by Ellen. Three were from book publishers, the rest were from magazines. Some letters were personal and encouraging replies, some blunt form letters, a few had brief hand written notes across the bottom of Ellen's query letter. Each letter referred to a short story she had submitted. A few of the stories she had submitted twice, one story, Faith, had she submitted three times. None of the stories were dated. Later I discovered that several stories had not been submitted at all.

I was shocked. I had no idea that Ellen ever wrote anything other than letters to friends and relatives. She had apparently been writing short stories also. Doing it without my knowledge. Why hadn't she shared them with me? I couldn't think of a reason. I felt hurt, then angry.
I pushed aside the boxes, got up from the floor where I had been sitting, and went downstairs to make a cup of tea. Curiosity quickly overrode my anger and I carried my tea upstairs to continue my investigation of Ellen's secret boxes. I picked up the box I had opened and moved to her dressing table. Seated, tea at hand, I set aside the envelope and looked at the contents underneath. There were six of her short stories, each neatly bound in a cover. I briefly thumbed through them, then retrieved the second box that contained seven stories bound the same way. There were more stories in the third and fourth boxes, a total of eighteen stories in all.

I met Ellen at a workshop conducted by B. F. Skinner, the world renowned Behaviorist. Ellen was working toward her Ph.D. in clinical psychology and needed this workshop credit for a course she was taking about comparative theories of human behavior. I was there at the behest of the U. S. Army to see if I could learn anything that might be helpful in my line of work—spy chasing. I felt out of place and uncomfortable in the presence of all the academics attending the workshop and it must have showed - at least Ellen noticed. During a coffee break, she left a group she was with and walked over to where I was standing alone. "Are you finding Dr. Skinner's presentation fascinating? I am," she said brightly.

She was small but very well proportioned, with an attractive face wreathed in curly, honey-blond hair. Her eyes were large and amazingly blue. Her radiant smile lit up her whole face, and her body radiated energy. I was so taken by her appearance and charm that it took me a moment to respond. I didn't know quite what to say either, so I opted for the truth. "Frankly, I don't understand much of it," I replied sheepishly.

"Aren't you a psych major?"

I admitted, somewhat hesitantly, that I was in a branch of the military; that I was an investigator.

Just then the break ended and people started filing back into the conference room. "I don't want you to feel left out," she said as she tugged at my jacket sleeve. "There's an empty seat next to me. Maybe I can help you understand more." She offered with such charm and sincerity I couldn't refuse. Actually, I didn't want to.  We sat next to each other for the remainder of the conference.

I took one of the stories to bed with me. Once comfortably settled, I began to read it. I am not an avid reader—I seldom complete a book I start—so I won't claim to be a critic. But the story held my interest and I finished it before turning out my light. During the next week, I read the rest of Ellen's stories. I liked every one of them. But they really aroused my curiosity. Most were about women and no two characters were alike. Also, they were set in different times and in a variety of locations. From where had she gotten the ideas for them?

One of the stories in particular tugged at my memory; there was something vaguely familiar about its setting. I picked through the stack of stories on my desk and retrieved Return to Punkin Center. I settled back in my chair and started to read it again. I was halfway through it when I remembered.

The morning of my sixteenth birthday my father led me out to the decrepit storage shed that leaned tiredly against our back fence. I'd explored it when I was younger, but not thoroughly, as it seemed to be full of junk: old paint cans, broken garden tools, pieces of fence, and more; especially spiders. There was a big something covered with a tattered canvass at the very back of the shed which I was never curious enough about to wade through all of the junk and spider webs in front of it to check out.

"Your present is in the shed, son," he said with a smile and walked away.

I pulled open the door and looked in the gloom for my present, probably gift-wrapped and lying on top of the junk where I could easily see it. Not there. 'Dad's hid it under something,' I thought, although it didn't look like any of the shed's contents had been disturbed since the last time I was inside.

I began pulling out junk and piling it in the yard. After an hour, I had worked my way back to that large thing covered with the old tarp and cobwebs. Carefully I pulled off the canvass - I'm very afraid of spiders - and dragged it out of the shed as fast as I could. I'd not paid any attention to what it covered.

When I came back into the shed, it took a few moments for my eyes to get used to the gloom. When they finally did, they flew open in surprise. The canvass had been covering an old Indian Chief touring motorcycle. It had obviously been wrecked; the handlebars were twisted, the front fender was partially wrapped around the front wheel, which was severely bent, the panels on the left side were scratched and dented, the saddle with warn, padding spilling out of it. Only the stem of the rearview mirror remained in place. 

"Happy birthday, son!" Dad's sudden presence really startled me. Because my disappointment was just turning to anger, I didn't respond. I just turned away from him and stared at the wreck.

"If you'll repair and restore this bike, you'll own a very valuable motorcycle. Hopefully by the time you get it road ready, you'll have more sense than I had and it won't end up in this condition again." 

I asked him what happened, but he turned and walked out of the shed toward the house without answering. I guessed he hadn't heard me.

During the next three years I spent every dollar, and every minute I could spare, restoring the Chief, and by the end of the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I put it on the road for the first time. The day that I should have started my senior classes, I started instead on a yearlong ride around the United States. I did seasonal work to get cash, slept in barns and on picnic tables in parks, took a cheap room every now and then so I could shower and wash my clothes. I had stopped one afternoon at Punkin Center, Colorado for gas.

During our courtship, I regaled Ellen with my adventures during my odyssey, to which she appeared to pay nominal attention; apparently closer attention than I thought, though. She still had the details of my gas stop at Punkin Center well in mind when she created her story around them—almost ten years after we were married.

Over the next several weeks, I reread each story. I began to recognize similarities to places we had visited, events we had shared, and people whom she had talked about. Around these she wove her fascinating narratives. Using the rejection notices as a guide, I placed her stories along a time line. Since I couldn't be sure how much time elapsed between her starting a story and her receipt of the disappointing letter related to it, the time line was only a rough guide indeed. After several attempts to make it work, I gave up. Instead, I placed the stories in order along the time line of our marriage, at least those that contained clues I could use as anchors.
I am going to submit her stories again, this time as a collection, and in the order I grouped them. I have written introductions to some, and suggested where she got the ideas for others. Those about persons or places I did not recognized will have to stand without explanation.

 

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