Playing My Mother's Blues

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-11-17
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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Dani Carter was seven years old -- her sister, Rose, seventeen -- when their beautiful, impetuous mother, Maria, walked out of their lives, abandoning her husband and family for a love affair. Over the decades that followed, Dani has married a successful man and given birth to a wonderful son. But love has long been missing from her marriage, propelling her into the arms of another and inspiring troubling thoughts of escape. The sins of the mother, Dani fears, have been visited upon the daughter. Now that she finds herself in a similar heartbreaking situation, Dani can't help but wonder who Maria really was. It's a puzzle that may soon be completed, after a lifetime of searching for missing pieces. Maria, calling herself Mariah, is about to reenter her daughters' worlds, bearing secrets and bitter truths . . . and, perhaps, long-awaited answers to what could possibly drive a mother to sacrifice what was dearest to her heart. Playing My Mother's Blues


Playing My Mother's Blues

Chapter One

I talk to ghosts these days; they are my only company. We speak at odd and sundry moments—when the morning sun peeks into my bedroom, while I'm sitting on the bus to work, as I sip one of the two mixed drinks I allow myself before dinner. Events that occurred decades ago haunt me. My life is filled with phantoms.

The most persistent, of course, is the man whose life I took. Mine was a crime of rage and passion. He shows up at night before I fall asleep. Even after all these years, I can feel him enter my bed, touch my foot with his, pull me toward him against my will.

My daughters, Dani and Rose, who are both still alive and always a pleasure to see, arrive with first light. I see them as I saw them last, Dani as a little girl, Rose near womanhood. I talk to Dani as if she were still my baby, trying on my crazy earrings, dancing in my shoes, spraying herself with my cologne. Rose looks as she did on the night that changed us both, but I try to forget that image and replace it with one of her laughing as she used to when she would tease or scold me.

My ex-husband, Hilton Dells, appears when I least expect him. He'll show up suddenly, some small incident calling him up. Like today on my job, when Irish, the cashier who works the station next to me, was carrying on about this wedding she saw on TV.

"Did you see it?" she asked, and the girls at the other stations all began talking at once, giving lengthy descriptions of the dress the bride wore, the flowers in her bouquet, the engagement ring on her finger. That was when I thought of Hilton Dells and my own wedding,which none of the chatteringwomen could have imagined.

My wedding dress was made in Paris. His choice, not mine; I was too foolish to be insulted by his presumption. I wore his mother's diamond ring. He once told me it was the only thing of value she had ever owned. I should have kept it; it would be of value to me right about now. I left it on my pillow the night I left them. I gave back everything he'd given me—dresses, jewelry, furs, everything except the two things I valued most, which he snatched away.

I've never liked weddings.

"Well, did you see it?" Irish was impatient for my answer. Her real name is Bernadette but we call her Irish, because even though she's been here fifteen years, she still has an Irish accent that gives a charming lilt to everything she says."Did you see it when he gave her that last kiss? So what did you think?"

"Pretty cool," I said.

"Pretty cool! Maria, is that all you can say?"

I'm known here as Maria, the name my mother gave me. I was a number at Somerset—1054836.When I got out, I realized "Mariah," the name I once called myself, belonged to the past; Mariah died with Durrell Alexander.

I chuckled at Irish's excitement about the TV wedding, which brought another question.

"Maria, where is your mind?" Irish has reddish-brown hair that she tucks under a cap, and eyes so green they look fake. She's pretty but carries too much weight for someone her age.

It was going on eleven, and the Friday-morning shoppers had come and gone; the ones who shop at lunchtime hadn't yet arrived.


"Yeah, it was good, wasn't it?" I said, my mind returning from another of its journeys. Irish is thirty and married, with two kids and a disabled husband whom she adores. She goes to school at night to "better" herself. I liked her the moment I laid eyes on her because she's the same age my Dani is now.

But she's not Dani. She's "Irish," with curls that slip out of her cap, an angelic grin, and a bigoted husband who hatesblack people. She probably assumes I'm Hispanic because ofmy coloring and my name; most of the women at Somersetdid even though I constantly told them what I was. By thetime I left, I spoke Spanish with the best of them; it was easierthat way.

"Maria, have you ever been married?"

"Yeah. Long time ago." I should have lied; I usually do. Butit's hard to lie to a woman who reminds you so much of yourdaughter.



"I wish my wedding had been like that one on TV, with along dress and a lacy veil and a big diamond ring I could wearinstead of this old thing." She held out her hands. I noticedthat she'd bitten her nails to the quick the way I used to.

"What was your wedding like, Maria?"

"Justice of the peace. Fast and easy. The ceremony, not themarriage. That lasted longer than it should have." That is themost I've told anyone about the life I led before I moved backhere and began working in the store.

"Wanna get some lunch? Grab something at Dean's? Theygot specials on Friday."

"Not today, honey. I brought my own. Next week? I'lltreat."

"Really?" Her eyes lit up.

Sure. That's me. Big-time spender, Maria.

Irish gave me a sunny grin, and I realized how fond I'vebecome of her.

But not too fond. I keep to myself as much as I can. Idon't like to explain to people who I was before and where Ispent the last twenty years of my life. I treasure my solitude.I'm addicted to silence and privacy; I wallow in it. A sandwicheaten alone in some quiet clean place is a pleasure I never denymyself . . .

Playing My Mother's Blues. Copyright © by Valerie Wesley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Playing My Mother's Blues by Valerie Wilson Wesley
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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