Five people. Eight months. Lives end. Lives begin.
March to November navigates the entangled points of view of Tracey Duggan and her circle of friends and foes in modern-day Belfast, Ireland as they struggle with bereavement, broken marriages, broken dreams and broken minds.
All Tracey wants is a normal life. All she has, however, is violence and betrayal from those closest to her.
Can Tracey escape the pattern of destructive relationships that plague her? Will her new boyfriend Tommy decide to be right or be happy? Will her sister-in-law Molly find the strength to deal with her new situation? Will her brother, Dermot let go of his past and man up to his mistakes? Can Dermot’s lover, Sheila really have it all?
Belfast is not the city of bombs and bullets of their childhood, but it’s still full of trouble for these five as they alternately walk, run and stumble along the road toward a shocking finale.
Tracey turned her kayak with a wide sweep stroke, stretching her torso forward and straightening her arm against the drag of the water, adjusting her balance with her hips and thighs so she didn’t capsize. She made a conscious effort to engage her back muscles as she pulled the stroke through. The paddle made a satisfying swoosh as it tracked an arc through the water from bow to stern, nose to tail. Although she’d been kayaking for nearly two years, she still couldn’t think of her boat in technical terms.
Her brother Dermot had treated her to kayaking lessons for her twenty-fifth birthday. It was the best present she’d ever received. She’d been taught never to kayak alone, but it was relatively safe here where the River Lagan flowed flat above the weir at Shaw’s bridge. There was a steady traffic of joggers and cyclists who used the towpaths, where in bygone days horses had dragged barges to the port in Belfast.
The appearance of a lone figure around the corner coming towards her sent a spike of adrenalin through her gut. She thought she recognized that distinctive swagger – the shoulder plunging into the stride made by the corresponding leg, hands jammed in pockets, his head bobbing from side to side. His lower body seemed unable to match the pace, so that his stance pitched forward. Oh God, could it be her ex, Kieran Quinn?
Her heart hammered. Tracey squinted and strained forward, desperately hoping she was wrong and trying to focus more sharply, but the figure was too far away. It could be Kieran, but an evening stroll by the river was not his style. Perhaps he was coming to buy drugs. It would be dark soon. She shuddered, recalling the words he’d spat at her when she had ended their relationship.
“Don’t think you can get rid of me that easily. I know where you live, and I can punch my way through that door again if I have to,” he had said.
The man kept his head down and his shoulders hunched as he slouched past. He didn’t look towards the river, and Tracey, at the far bank, couldn’t really identify him with any certainty.
I’m overreacting. Whoever that is doesn’t even know I’m here. She inhaled deeply, her breath visible in the cold air as she exhaled. Kayaking was meditation to her. Usually she could zone out on the river. But she couldn’t get Kieran out of her head. Why the hell had she stayed with him for eight months? In the beginning, things were sweet. He had a steady job. He took her out on the weekends. Then one day he arrived on her doorstep covered in blood and drunk out of his mind. Most of the blood belonged to him, but he was too drunk to remember what had happened. Over the next six months he had gone on benders more and more frequently.
Tracey pulled her paddle through the water rhythmically, building up speed. The river whispered as it slid past her boat, droplets landing across her spray-deck, sparkling briefly before soaking into the black neoprene. The earthy smell of the water mixed with the tang of her wetsuit created a scent Tracey had grown to love. Her heartbeat steadied.
Her muscles were warm, but her hands felt frozen, clenched around the paddle, her skin marbled grey and lilac. The cold day snatched heat from bare skin. Once she hit a velvety, warm bath every cell in her hands and feet would tingle painfully back to life.
She trailed her paddle in the water, slowing the boat and steering it to the wooden platform of the jetty. If that was Kieran, she needed to get loaded up fast. At that moment she envied the joggers who could just stop when they were done and jump in their cars and go. She still had to carry the damn boat to the car and strap it on the roof-bars.
Tracey felt vulnerable hanging on with her fingertips to the grey, splintering wood. She took one last look at the flecks of light dancing on the water and scanned the far bank. It was empty all the way from where she had just turned at the bend, as far as the bridge downstream that lead to the car-park, except for a couple of cyclists with their heads down who were spinning their way across the bridge. She exhaled a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.
Grabbing the strap of her spray deck, she pulled, popping it open. Cold air flooded the cavity of her boat. Steam rose from her damp neoprene-clad thighs. A half-inch of water slopped around the bottom of the kayak, dampening her bum so the skin felt puckered and soggy.
Tracey put a hand on either side of the kayak’s opening where her hips touched it. She pushed down and slid out of the boat as if she were slipping off a pair of jeans. She steadied herself. If she went too quickly now, she could end up in the river between the boat and the shore. She tried to ignore the urgency that rose up within her. With one arm, she grabbed the jetty and hauled herself further out, crawling until she could get her bum under her, keeping her feet in the boat, preventing it from moving off with the current. Then she reached down, grabbed the boat, and swung her feet ashore.
Standing up, she dragged the boat out of the water. Still casting glances along the towpath, she turned the kayak upside down and see-sawed it clumsily over her knee to empty the water. A honk from the river drew her attention to a family of ducks.
Shit, shit, shit! There he was again, on her side of the river now. He must have crossed on the footbridge upstream.
She hefted the yellow kayak onto one shoulder, using her buoyancy aid to pad out the contact between the hard plastic and the bone. Hooking her toes beneath the paddle shaft, she raised it to within reach of her hand. With the boat balanced, she looked up. He was getting closer and looking her way.
The sun, on its way to the horizon, popped out from under a cloud. The sudden brightness dazzled her, forcing her to lower her eyes. Tracey examined the ground in front of her, avoiding sharp stones, and hurried awkwardly up the hill to the parking lot.
Goosebumps rose on her scalp as she approached her car. Parked beside her blue Honda Civic was a white Subaru WRX. The passenger door was black. It had been replaced after Kieran pounded his mate’s head against it during a fight.
The shadows lengthened briefly before the sun disappeared again as she hefted the kayak onto the roof rack of her car and pulled at the straps quickly. Fingers stiff, she fished the keys out from under the wheel arch, stashed there in case she capsized and lost them on the river. The bikers she’d seen earlier jumped into their cars and made off, leaving her in the parking lot with only two other empty cars.
Tracey flung open the door of her car and pushed her dry clothes off the driver’s seat. Usually she’d get changed, but her nerves rattled too much to take the time. She spread the towel out so that she wouldn’t soak the seat too much with her damp bum.
She had just turned the key in the ignition when a knock on the window made her jump. Tracey looked out at the thin, pallid face of the man with whom she had once been intimate. Her stomach pitched into her throat. Kieran placed a hand on the roof of the car and twirled his other hand in a circle. She took a deep breath and wound down the window.
Byddi Lee grew up in Armagh, Ireland, and moved to Belfast to study Biology at Queen’s University when she was 18. She made Belfast her home for twenty-one years, teaching science and writing for pleasure. In 2002 she took a sabbatical from teaching and traveled round the world for two years, writing blogs about her adventures as she went. She returned to Ireland in 2004 and resumed teaching. In 2008 she and her husband moved to San Jose, California where she made writing a full-time career. After the publication of her short story, Death of a Seannachai, she decided it was time to write, March to November.
She is currently writing her second novel, a science fiction story set in a future where the earth’s icecaps have melted and Armagh is the capital of Ireland.
Besides being a novelist, Byddi is also a Master Gardener. She writes a blog on life as an Irish gardener and traveler living in California called, “We didn’t come here for the grass.” She also gives talks and classes on gardening.
And links to the author website - http://www.byddilee.com/
And to my book on Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/March-
And to my blog - http://byddi.blogspot.com/