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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Tour: The Memories We Bury

TheMemories

Today I am thrilled to share with you all, H.A. Leuschel's latest novel, The Memories We Bury, "An emotionally charged and captivating novel about the complexities of female friendship and motherhood." From June 29th to July 5th, you can purchase her book for ONLY $0.99 on Amazon! You can also try to win a digital copy of The Memories We Bury by entering the giveaway below!

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The Memories We Bury
Publication Date: April 17th, 2020
Genre: Contemporary/ Psychological Suspense

An emotionally charged and captivating novel about the complexities of female friendship and motherhood. Lizzie Thomson has landed her first job as a music teacher, and after a whirlwind romance with Markus, the newlywed couple move into a beautiful new home in the outskirts of Edinburgh. Lizzie quickly befriends their neighbour Morag, an elderly, resourceful yet lonely widow, who’s own children rarely visit her. Everything seems perfect in Lizzie’s life until she finds out she is pregnant and her relationship with both Morag and Markus change beyond her control. Can Lizzie really trust Morag and why is Markus keeping secrets from her? In ‘The Memories We Bury’ the author explores the dangerous bonds we can create with strangers and how past memories can cast long shadows over the present. 



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Excerpt

Chapter 3 – Lizzie, 29 November 2013


Sweat was pouring down my back, and I struggled to put one step in front of the other. Where was my mum when I most needed her? A sister would have been nice, too, or an aunt. Picturing them in my head, they were smiling, tender, whispering soothing words into my ear, holding me up under the armpits, and rubbing my aching back.
I had to suppress a scream after accidently bumping my chest into the doorframe reminded me of how heavy and sore my breasts had become. With clenched teeth I moved over to a chair to hold onto and steady myself. I conjured her up again in my mind – my mother with her tired, pale but soft gaze whenever I was ill. Her harsh nature would have slipped off her like the skin of a snake, revealing her softer self for long enough to help me through this moment if she’d still been alive. I sighed and shuffled towards the sofa to sink into its soft cushioning.
An imaginary person standing next to me slowed down my beating heart, pushed the panic out of my nervous limbs, and suppressed the fear I felt for my little one, rummaging inside my body, pushing down on my bladder, making my stomach heave with the acidity that rose into my throat and mouth. I braced myself for the imminent waves of pain. The baby had no room left to move, had stretched my skin to a tight bulky protrusion, and my slim legs in stark contrast stuck out of my warm maternity dress below. ‘If Markus doesn’t take us, Morag will’, I whispered, stroking my tummy.

I leaned back into the sofa and thought of Morag, my dear neighbour and friend, a woman who’d made me feel so special from the moment we’d met. I closed my eyes and let myself believe that it was okay to dream of her as a mother, replacing the old image of my real one swatting me away as if I’d been a fly buzzing into her ear.
Morag’s hand was warm the first time I held it, her eyes attentive and her demeanour gave me the impression that she was genuinely interested in me. She’d been busy in her front garden where she’d snipped at her neat rose bushes and trimmed hedges. Her dark eyes were alive, matching her words. ‘It’s so wonderful that I will have steady neighbours again.’ She beamed. ‘We’ve met before, haven’t we?’ She turned to Markus and held out her hand, who shook it heartily.
‘Yes, I checked on the house on a few occasions. It’s been a good rental investment, but I look forward to moving out of the city centre and enjoying it… with my lovely wife.’ He’d laced his arm around me and squeezed me into his toned chest.

My eyes lingered on a framed picture, pulling me back to reality. It was my wedding photo that reflected a different person to the one I was becoming. I was already a trained music teacher when I first met Markus, filled with the passion for my craft. I was what you’d call a typical introvert because I avoided crowds and interactions with people and shied away from eye-contact. Music had been the ideal vehicle through which I wanted to communicate with the world.
I’d spent our first year together moving between Markus’ rental accommodation on Holyrood Road, near Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, and my childhood family home in Craigmillar. From Markus’ living room window, I couldn’t peel my eyes away from Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano, offering me a different view every day. Whether fog or rain were blurring the shades of the city’s prominent green hill one day, or sunshine and blue skies making my eyes spot hikers and dog walkers mounting the strong rock on other days, I marvelled at the sight each time. ‘I would never tire of this view, Markus,’ I said, sipping my coffee and standing at the window.
‘Yeah, a cool spot, isn’t it?
I had to agree. We were close to Edinburgh’s oldest landmarks and just minutes away from the city’s bustling centre. ‘My grandad would have loved this,’ I said, with an ache in my throat.
‘Now, you’ve got me,’ Markus said, wrapping me in a big hug at the mention of my beloved grandfather.  The start of our relationship had been a period of spontaneity, fun and first love for me. I’d been living with my dad until he suffered a fatal heart attack three years earlier, the last remaining member of my family gone. Falling in love with Markus had helped me move on. I’d inherited my parents’ small family apartment, and despite its setting in one of the less affluent parts of Edinburgh, I was glad for the financial independence it offered.
‘You’re such a gorgeous woman, Lizzie. The moment I spotted you and watched your fingers travel over the piano keys, oh my word, I knew we had to be together.’ His eyes had a cheeky gleam when he’d spoken these words, and at the end, his hand had travelled to his top jacket pocket to extract a small box. I’d been tongue-tied about being offered my first gift of precious jewellery. He’d hooked the delicate necklace around my neck, before sweeping me off my feet to make me laugh.

Half a year later, it was an engagement ring he slipped onto my finger, as he’d grinned into my astonished face. ‘Markus!’ I’d said, clutching at my chest.
‘I’m a romantic at heart.’ He looked at my hand, and kissed it where the sparkling gem was covering my skin, causing my eyes to well up. ‘This is to show you that I mean every word I said months ago. We should give notice to the tenants in my house in Dalkeith, you move out from your place – not just some sexy underwear and the odd blouse that have found their way into my wardrobe’, he winked. ‘I want us to have a real home.’
‘A real home,’ I said, and nodded as if Markus had read my mind.
‘Yes, and I know we spoke about kids and all, but maybe we shouldn’t rush in that department yet, okay?’ Heat rose to my cheeks at the mention of children.
My father died relieved that he lived long enough to see me receive my teaching diploma and that he’d been able to leave me with a debt-free patch to live in. He’d been the last person I’d called family.

A gasp escaped my throat as another contraction pulled me back into reality, piercing my lower spine like a knife, taking my breath away. My false ideas about natural and women have been through this pain for thousands of years vanished into thin air as I moved over to the rug, lowered myself towards the floor, and once I was on all fours, let out a groan. I’d read many accounts of childbirth, its painful progress described in minute details on insightful websites. However, the reality was far worse than I could have ever imagined.
‘It’s too early for us to become parents,’ Markus had said.
‘You knew I’d forgotten to take the pill…’
‘Yes, don’t remind me; what a disaster.’ He’d sighed and slumped back into a chair, looking as heavy and grey as the clouds darkening our living room that day.
From that moment, I’d been on my own with the baby, only getting the odd reluctant yet kind query from Markus when I’d been up in the early morning vomiting and struggled to ready myself two hours later for work. Sometimes he seemed to awaken from a slumber and apologize for his lack of presence. The baby had become an ice cube stuck between us. It would melt over time, I hoped, and vanish as soon as Markus held his child for the first time.

I hummed to myself for a while, willing the reprieve from pain to last longer, and tried to explore what a steady tone may achieve during the height of a contraction. It helped me control my fear and prepared me for the next onset of tight muscles that contracted through a life of their own. I crawled over to the coffee table and reached for my mobile again, the small white headphones still plugged in from my previous listening session. The screen was blank, no new messages.
I’d started contracting the night before but dismissed them for Braxton Hicks contractions. By 9:30 I noticed that they were getting as regular as the beats on my metronome and I sent a text to Markus who’d left early that day, with no response. I called his direct line at work and then his mobile again, both of which rang off without an answer. It was 10:15 and my husband was out of reach. I dialled his number again and got through to his colleague who reassured me that Markus should be back from a meeting any time soon. ‘I’ll try to get through to him, Lizzie. Is there someone else who can help you in the meantime?’ Yes, you moron, but I want my husband here, not someone else. I didn’t utter the words aloud, but said, ‘Yes, sure,’ through clenched teeth and hung up. Another contraction cut through me as sharp as a razor and left me bathed in sweat. There was no time for anger, as much as it hurt to feel stranded like a whale on dry sand.

It was a shock to realize that after weeks and months of his loyal phone calls during the day, he was unavailable when I most needed him. Markus had come around to the idea of a family – or so I thought – pleased I’d given up my teaching job in town, sold my parents’ home and provided some stability to his former chaotic lifestyle by creating a homely and welcoming place to come back to in the evening.
I placed both hands on my tight belly and exhaled loudly, noting with dismay that whenever I had tried to get in touch with Markus, he was never available or only responded hours later. It had always been on his terms. Frustration made me want to throw the vase he’d offered me for my last birthday off the table. I’d asked for a vase yet had been incredulous at the choice he had made. He had looked pleased with himself and his eyes had seemed innocent when he asked whether I liked it with that endearing eagerness to please in his voice. Markus had thought the best place for the hideous black item should be the centre of the coffee table where, until then, I’d left my books or some magazines.
‘So, is that a way of telling me you don’t like my magazines and books lying out?’ I’d asked cheekily, watching his eyes roll in response.
‘You don’t like it?’ He grimaced with a mock impression of a sad face.
‘What? No, it’s lovely… unusual… interesting,’ I’d mumbled, conditioned a long time ago to never criticise, and noted that he had not answered my initial question.
‘I knew you’d like it,’ he said, slapped his hands on his thighs and got up to pour himself a beer.

I eyed the wretched item, but before I could satisfy my sudden urge to dethrone it, another contraction was pulling me to the ground and I knew I had to act fast because despite all the maternity books showing that a first birth was slow and its journey often scattered by false alarms, my symptoms were challenging the statistics now.
‘Hello, Morag,’ I breathed down the line, my hand sweaty as it held the phone too tightly. I urged my body to finish the sentence before another contraction would mute any sound escaping my mouth. ‘I need you…’
‘Lizzie? Are you OK?’ Morag’s voice cut through my sentence and because I only managed a gasp, she continued, ‘I’ll be right over, hold on tight, pet.’ I burst into tears, and managed a silent nod before the line went dead. Morag had been keen to make me her friend and, by the looks of it, even make me into another of her children, so urgent and intense were her maternal reactions to help and protect me.
Remembering my father’s casket being lowered into the ground not that long ago still brought back a dull ache at the centre of my stomach. I’d stood at the foot of his grave, the heels of my soggy boots sinking into the mud, realizing that I’d never found a common ground with either of my parents. It wasn’t your fault, my dad had whispered to me on his death bed. You’ve been a wonderful daughter to me. I’m sorry that we’ve not been such good parents. However, I still felt it had been my fault that I’d never invoked the tender feelings in my mother I so yearned for. I could still picture her proud smile when I came first in a local music competition or was given a prize at school, yet that smile was distorted by the pain she could inflict, inked into the image like a botched tattoo. My mother’s hands went clammy, her voice changed in tone and her eyes blinked when she left the safety of her four walls, and nothing would change this – no loving, patient husband or a quiet and obedient daughter like me. To break through that complex web of insecurities, it would have needed a great deal of determination and self-knowledge which I didn’t have as a child.
And now there was Morag.
I checked again for a text from Markus, and leaned over to rest my head and my arms on the nearby sofa. The coming and going of the pain had filled my morning and now it was lunch time, and still there was no sign of my husband.
‘Morag!’ I called out, relieved to see her silhouette appear in my line of vision. We’d insisted to trust her with our extra set of keys because I was turning into a heavily pregnant woman and Markus into an increasingly absent husband. You never know, Morag had said, nodding with approval, my expertise as a former nurse might come in handy.
Morag came close enough for me to smell her familiar floral perfume mixed in with something else, sweet and almost spicy. She must have been in the middle of baking one of her awe-inspiring cakes for a charity event or other social gathering because the smell carried an aroma of pleasant, sweet scents. It made my nose tickle and I sneezed before I could greet her.
‘Bless you, dear,’ Morag said, and placed a hand on my bulging tummy. ‘So, do you think our little one is ready to come out?’
‘I think so, yes. Gosh, it’s so good you’re here.’
‘You’re lucky I was still at home. I started the baking late today, but no worries darling – I’ve saved the dough and have already finished the cupcakes. It’s all under control.’ Her voice was chirpy and fresh while I felt sweaty and dishevelled next to her apparition of perfection, her styled silver hair, and clothes that matched with her shoes and handbag. As usual, she had starched her blouse to within inches of its life.
‘I couldn’t bake to save my life,’ I said.
‘Yes, and you look like corn ready to pop,’ she added, with her eyes wide, and I couldn’t help but burst out laughing.
‘That’s a good one, Morag, you come out with some crackers.’ I emitted another giggle before the next contraction transformed it into a deep groan, noticing that Morag’s face also changed from bright to solemn. The urge to scream overwhelmed me as the next wave of pain pushed its way through my body but ended up as a choked whimper.
‘Take it easy. Shallow breaths. Relax as much as you can,’ Morag said, while her right hand stroked my lower back in circular movements.
‘Aaaah.’ I exhaled slowly, the contraction subsiding and the warmth of Morag’s hand reaching through my skin.
‘Yes, dear. I know – I’ve been there... a few times. Can you believe that? And there were no epidurals and gas or whatever they give you now to help with the pain. Oh, sorry lassie, no reproach intended.’ She stepped away from me, clasping her hands together with the determination that I recognized as resourceful, and ready to take on a task. ‘Anyway, I’ll get everything ready. Our wee one is in a hurry!’ she said. ‘I’ll fetch the overnight bag… I guess you left it in the bedroom?’ I nodded, wiped my moist forehead and sipped some water from a half-filled glass Morag suddenly held in front of my face, to ease my parched throat. While I heard Morag’s busy footsteps move about the house, I heaved myself up and walked to the kitchen sink, cupping some water to refresh my face and drinking a few more mouthfuls straight from the tap.
‘Are you okay?’ Morag called from the upstairs landing. I exhaled through my mouth and braced myself for the next wave of discomfort, shouting, ‘Okay’ up to where Morag continued to rummage about. ‘We’re almost ready, love,’ Morag said as she reappeared downstairs, flitting between the kitchen to fill a small water bottle and the bedroom where she picked up a clean T-shirt for me. I was sweating and she commented that a looser top would help cool me down. ‘Here you go, and there’s a damp cloth to freshen you up a bit.’ The distraction stopped me from crying out as the next contraction made me grip the sides of the sofa, and I willed myself to breathe evenly. The intensity that had come and gone like a dark force within astounded me, because its grip squeezed and released my muscles without warning.
‘So, where is your husband?’ Morag asked, poking her head around the corner, and there was an undertone of disapproval. I mumbled some feeble excuse about work but knew I couldn’t fool her. She nodded with pursed lips. ‘Ah. I thought so,’ she said, her face like a loch’s flat and impermeable surface yet presaging unknown depths beneath. She was difficult to read because most of the time she had friendly chats with Markus even though I had a niggly feeling that she wasn’t too keen on him. ‘Don’t worry, the two… well, the three of us I should say, will be fine. Your husband is working hard, I’m sure,’ she conceded, shrugging into her coat and carrying mine over to the sofa to help me into it.
I’m not sure whether Markus deserves you, she’d once said.
But Morag, you don’t know him, I’d replied, hoping that I didn’t sound too reproachful.
I’ll give him one thing, pet. He’s found a lovely, gentle soul in you. So, there is hope, I suppose, she’d said, and her eyes had glazed over, lost in her own thoughts.

We were about to close the main door behind us when Morag shouted, ‘Hang on, hold your horses,’ and ran off to fetch what she’d forgotten. ‘The hot water bottle will ease the contractions when you sit in the car, my lovely. Let’s go,’ she said, hugging the fluffy item against her chest. ‘Aw, how exciting, Lizzie. You’ll be holding a baby in your arms soon. I can’t imagine anything more special than that.’ She smiled at me, prickling with excitement. ‘I remember that first encounter so well. The beginning of motherhood, everything ahead… a fresh start.’ She reached out her hand and patted my forearm. ‘I’m there for you. You’re such a slight little thing…’ Her last words floated in the air and I smiled.
‘I don’t know how I’d manage without you,’ I said, averting my eyes and looking down at my bump.
‘It’s a pleasure, Lizzie dear,’ Morag responded, while I flinched and clutched at my tummy instinctively. ‘Oh, another contraction already? Hmm, if only Pete could see me now,’ Morag exclaimed, her comment a reminder she’d been a widow for ten years and had told me she still struggled to come to terms with the lonely days at home, despite having joined a vibrant seniors’ book club, and contributed to many social events throughout the year. ‘Now I have you, my life is complete again. Thank you, darling,’ she’d let slip another day, before hoovering the floors for me and preparing a fish pie that was soon baking in the oven for dinner. ‘My children seem to be oblivious of my loneliness. They have found their life partners but after all these years, still no grandchildren in sight.’ Seeing the sad look in her eyes, I thought better than to mention that bearing a child surely was a personal choice. If I had, she’d have turned and walked away plumping up my sofa cushions, straightening my curtains or rearranging my jars and cans in height order in the kitchen. In the Little Miss book series, she’d have inspired the Miss Tidy title, no doubt.
When I previously asked her what she thought of me taking a break from work, she commented that ‘putting my career on hold was the best decision in my life. Why have a child if you plan to give it to a stranger to look after? Trust me, you won’t get bored. You have your whole life in front of you to work but only one chance to see your baby grow. And who will decorate your house, cook and look after the garden, make it a real home?’ Her eyes had lit up and without me even noticing it, we were shopping at Dobbies Garden Centre, preparing the baby’s bedroom together, and she taught me how to manage a household with expertise and a level of finesse I’d never known before. She kept me on my toes and weeks had passed before I realised that I’d neglected my two best friends, sending Cathy and Juanita short text messages only.
So sorry for not being in touch. Morag is awesome, like a mum. You must come over to see for yourself xxx.
‘Did your mum teach you all this?’ I’d asked Morag one day, but to my surprise the question only earned me a deep frown and a shake of her head.
‘My mother led a life of her own,’ she ended up saying to break the awkward silence. It was all she ever said about her mother, a relationship that I suspected was as mired a minefield as mine had been.
When I’d announced that the nausea overcoming me whenever she prepared a fresh cup of coffee was because of the early stages of pregnancy, Morag’s eyes had lit up like a Christmas tree and she’d run over to hug me. She’d had tears in her eyes when she let go again and looked into mine, holding me at a small distance away from her, her cheeks flushed with pleasure.
‘You love kids, don’t you?’
‘You have no idea how much, Lizzie,’ she’d said. I’d deduced that because both Morag’s son and daughter had opted to have no children, the yearning would have built up for years, making its landfall at my doorstep. ‘Sometimes, you need to accept that you can’t depend on your family for making your dreams come true,’ she’d said. ‘So, from now on, you can count on me like you can count on a real mother,’ Morag had added, and squeezed my arm.

As the memories came and went, I carried my bulky body to the car, apprehension pitted in my stomach. After laboriously settling into the passenger seat, the reality that I was about to give birth hit me as well as another contraction. I groaned and doubled over, retching at the smell of air freshener dangling from the rear-view mirror.
‘All right love, hang in there.’ Morag patted my bent back, then drove out of the tight garage.
I reached for the window. ‘Sorry, Morag. I need fresh air, or I’ll be sick.’ She frowned, nodded in response while adjusting the mirror, checking that the towel she had placed on my seat was still covering all the edges.
‘Just in case,’ she’d said, as usual a step ahead with planning unpleasant eventualities. ‘In case your waters break.’ She smiled and off we went onto the main road. There was a chill in the air with my window down a quarter of the way and we chatted about the possibility of a white Christmas this year. We listened to the radio, a forecast telling us to expect a very wet weekend, the chatter cut short by my hand turning it off. I needed silence to endure the increased frequency of the pain.
Morag stayed by my side, holding my hand, rubbing my back and talking soothingly into my ear when we arrived on the maternity ward, pulling the trolley bag behind us while supporting me with her other free arm. My eyes burned with tears at seeing her kindness.
My real mother had succumbed to a virulent cancer of the lungs, causing her to live the last months of her life in bitter regret and anger. Why me? she’d asked anyone willing to listen, and added how unfair life had been, which would culminate in an unfair death to top it all off.
I’d been tempted to burst out laughing the first time I heard her lament because it was a comical remark, coming from the woman who’d not only submitted her body to decades of chain smoking but also exposed her husband, daughter, and father-in-law to it. We suffered from her addiction as much as we also understood how hard it would have been to give it up. She’d known no different as a child. I didn’t want her to be in pain, whether or not it seemed almost a logical consequence. She was my mother and something ingrained it in me that I needed to honour her, regardless of whether or not she deserved it. You have only one mother in life, don’t you?

My vision had fogged up with the pain that returned in my lower back. I put all my efforts into steadying my breathing, willing my knees not to shake. My hands were chilled, and I slid them under my coat where they settled onto my tight, warm bulging tummy, a little heater that seemed to have attracted and now contained all of my body’s warmth. I resigned to give in to the inner force at work, an independent power that had settled in a corner of my body and had grown to its biggest size, and was now about to move out.
It was not at all what I’d expected but, I wasn’t sure what I had expected. Explanations from other pregnant women during my antenatal classes were too descriptive or too vague for me to internalize. I only went to two classes anyway, as Markus never made it on time and I gave up rather than face a room full of couples alone, and their inevitable scrutinizing gazes or the risk of being pitied. To Morag’s queries I proclaimed that the classes were boring and not worth both my and Markus’ time. For once, my neighbour had not prodded further, simply nodded. ‘You’re right. There is nothing that I can’t tell you anyway, dear. Don’t waste your precious time.’

When I held my baby in my arms, Morag was the one who wiped my tears and hers out of our faces and, thanks to her, I believed all would be well.
’Well done, darling,’ she whispered. ‘This was a quick birth. I admit I’m surprised. He’s quite a hefty fella, given your little frame.’ The compliment elated me. ‘I’m so proud of you,’ she added, and a mixture of relief and love for my friend’s selfless dedication made me shake with tears. ‘Now, now, come here, my darling,’ she said, and embraced me. ‘The moment Markus sets eyes on our little miracle, he’ll fall in love with his beautiful son.’
My mobile phone bleeped with an incoming call the moment I settled my baby in his cot for the first time. Words tumbled out of my mouth as I heard Markus’ voice at the other end. He listened to my story of giving birth, the wobbly knees, the searing labour pains that had come fast and furious as soon as I had lumbered myself to the hospital lift, with Morag in tow. He reassured me he’d be up in a minute, that he was looking for a parking space. I sighed with relief that he’d not abandoned me. He’d not apologized nor explained his lack of response to my attempts to reach him, yet I’d not let him talk either, so I put the phone down and slumped back into the bed with a sigh and closed my eyes.
Morag was leaning over the cot while my mind adjusted to being a mother. The midwives had all commented on the ward that for a firstborn it had been quick, too quick even to assist with an epidural. I shivered at the memory of having squeezed Morag’s hand so tightly that the woman had winced in pain herself. It should have been Markus sitting by my side and the more time passed, the more it stung, leaving my heart aching. ‘Keep breathing, focus on your breathing. You’re almost there,’ Morag had said, her voice reaching me through the fog that clouded my senses during the most intense part of labour. The baby’s weight had borne down towards my hips and I grasped onto the sides of the bed as if sailing on a ship on a stormy sea. I’d been a vessel whose cargo was being released onto dry land. When he cried his lungs into shape, I threw myself into a life I cannot put into words yet.


Photo - Helene edited
About the Author: Helene Andrea Leuschel gained a Master in Journalism & Communication, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. She later acquired a Master in Philosophy, specializing in the study of the mind. Helene has a particular interest in emotional, psychological and social well-being and this led her to write her first novel, Manipulated Lives, a fictional collection of five novellas, each highlighting the dangers of interacting with narcissists. She lives with her husband and two children in Portugal.




TheMemories
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1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for featuring my new book on your beautiful blog!! :-)

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