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Excerpt from Ella In Bloom by Shelby Hearon, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ella In Bloom

by Shelby Hearon

Ella In Bloom by Shelby Hearon X
Ella In Bloom by Shelby Hearon
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2001, 256 pages
    Jun 2002, 272 pages


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'She has it in her mind, your mother, to have all her grandchildren together for the occasion. It's been a spell, a long spell it seems to me, since we had a proper celebration.'

'Daddy,' I protested, 'that's only two weeks away. I can't leave my watering jobs. And trying to get a ticket this late!'

The trip back for the funeral had been a nightmare: the absence of Terrell everywhere. Mother barely speaking, Daddy broken-down weeping, my sister's husband and her big boys walking stiff and stunned in their dark suits. Sleeping again in the double room I'd once shared upstairs had been claustrophobic. Passing out coffee after the service, the trivial had blurred with the tragic: I mustn't spill anything on the black button-front dress I'd pilfered; my sister would never be back.

'I wouldn't want you to pay for the tickets,' my daddy said. 'You can't have an easy time of it, a woman on her own.' He sounded genuinely worried, as if he'd just learned I'd been thrown out on the street.

'Really, I couldn't!' I tried to think. For the funeral, I'd driven most of the night to get there; Birdie and I had slept in the car and cleaned up at a hickory-smoked-hamburger stand on the outskirts of Austin. I couldn't do that again. But even with free tickets, it cost money to travel. July and August were my busiest times of the year; I couldn't cancel a job. And what would I wear? Where were the linen dresses of my letters?

Where indeed.

'That's my present to your mother. Getting all the young ones here.' Daddy cleared his throat again. I could imagine him, stooped, as very tall men became, thinning white hair and beard, probably wearing a dress shirt and vest even in the house, professor's clothes, to make the call. 'You had a good visit with your sister last year at this time, of which we got a full report. But your mother and I are behind in our catching up. When you were here for the....' His voice caught.

'We'll come,' I told him. 'Of course.'

Off the phone, in the muggy, chilly, air-cooled kitchen, I made myself a glass of iced coffee, the leftover breakfast brew. I looked in my closet and quickly shut the door. I decided to wash my hair in the shower and then comb it out, see how bad the ends were and how shapeless the mane. 'Can't you do something with that hair, dear? had been a refrain of my mother's all the time I lived at home. Maybe Buddy taking it in his hands, burying his face in it, saying, 'Don't ever cut this stuff, hear me, you've got million-dollar hair,' was all it took for me to pack my bag and run away.

However, Daddy's invitation raised a problem more serious than either my strapped finances or my frazzled appearance: the matter of my sister Terrell's purported visit to see me last summer in Old Metairie. She had called me, at first I thought just to say hello, about a year ago, shortly after the Fourth, to say she was telling them all - Mom and Dad and Rufus, her husband - that she was coming to see me, that she meant to get back in touch with her baby sister Ella. But that she wasn't really making a trip to see me. That she had a man. 'You mustn't think bad things about me. We're head over heels in love and I never ever had that before, the way you did with Buddy. He makes me feel so young; I'm out of my mind.' They had been trying to get together for just about absolutely forever, she said, and now at last they'd arranged this weekend to New Orleans. Did I think she was just awful?

'Who is he?' I'd asked, not wanting a name, just wanting some clue, I guess, of how come she'd picked him. It made me nervous, and more than a little bit sad, to hear about her doing this. I still thought of her husband, back when he was just a law student called Red, as the one friend I'd had before I left home. He used to confide to me how crazy about Terrell he was and I used to confess to him how bad I wanted to get out of there, that house and family that he was wanting so much to marry into.

Excerpted from Ella in Bloom by Shelby Hearon Copyright 1/1/01 by Shelby Hearon. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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