Excerpt from Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ellie and the Harpmaker

by Hazel Prior

Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior X
Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior
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    Aug 2019, 336 pages

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"The guy's a nutter!" Clive declared. "Or else he fancies the pants off you. Either way, it would be wrong to keep the thing."

I promptly removed my hand from his arm. All that remained of the magic had now been shattered.

"I don't think my pants come into it!" I snapped. "But you're right, I should return it." I slammed the rear hatch shut. Clive is a big man and I am used to him towering over me, but at that moment I was feeling exceptionally small. "I'll take it back now. There's no point in even getting it out of the car really, is there?" I was struggling to control the bitter twang in my voice. "Are you coming?"

He shook his head again. Sometimes his lack of curiosity amazes me.

"No, I think I'll leave it to you. If I go with you, it might look as if I forced you to take it back. It'll make me look like the wicked ogre. You go, hon, and don't forget to make it clear it's your choice, and you'll have nothing more to do with it. OK, love?"

The "OK, love" did not make it any easier. I was in no mood to be OK-loved. But I got into the car and I drove up the hill and back the way I'd come, to the Harp Barn.

3
Dan

She brought it back. I was sad. I guess giving away a harp is one of those many, many things you are not supposed to do.

Why can't I give her the harp? She likes the harp. She wants the harp. Isn't it my harp to give? I made it with my own hands, with my own wood, with the help of my own saws and glue and plane and sander. I want to give her the harp. She seems to think I must want money for the harp and says she is so sorry, but, much as she'd love to, she really isn't in a position to buy it. I don't want money for the harp. Not at all. If she gave me money for the harp it wouldn't be a gift, would it? She would not value it as much. I want it to be valued. I want it to be valued by her, the Exmoor Housewife, because she has harp playing on her before-forty list and what's the point in having a list if you don't do the things written on it? It is a good harp, made of cherrywood. Cherry is not her favorite tree, birch is her favorite tree, but I do not have any harps made of birch. Still, I think she likes cherry too. It is a warm and friendly wood. And she was still wearing those cherry-colored socks.

"Thank you, Dan . . . for your incredible kindness. I'm really sorry. I've been so stupid, so unreasonable."

I wished she would stop shuffling her feet about.

"I'm sorry to mess you around and change my mind. I'm sorry I took the harp in the first place."

I wished she would stop saying she was sorry.

"It was very wrong of me."

It wasn't. It wasn't. It wasn't wrong. No.

But what could I do?

I carried the harp back to the barn from the back of her car. She followed me in. I placed the harp on the floor, in the middle patch of the three patches of light cast by the three windows, in the center of everything. She put herself beside it, sniffing and shuffling. The other harps stood around, hushed and pale.

"I only took it because my head isn't working properly," she told me.

I glanced at her head. It looked all right to me.

"You see, it's an important anniversary today."

I wished her a happy anniversary.

"No, not that sort of anniversary. It's actually, well . . . my father died a year ago today."

I said I was sorry about that. It is a sad thing when your father dies. I should know.

She cleared her throat. "I still miss him so much."

I asked if she'd like another sandwich.

She shook her head. "We were very close," she said. "Even closer when he got ill. I used to sit and read to him when he couldn't get out of bed anymore, and I remember him lying there, listening and looking into my face. Then one day, toward the end, he said something to me that I just keep on thinking about."

It was hard for me to look at her face so I focused on the socks. But out of the corner of my eye I could see her left hand. Her palm was creeping up the back of the harp, stroking it with the lightest touch. Then it moved away slightly and floated in the air. Her fingers hovered beside the strings like a restless butterfly.

Excerpted from Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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