John O’Neill never dreamed raising children would be like this. In contrast, his daughter Elaine had a pretty good idea what she was getting into when she decided to become a parent. Eccentric family, check. Unusual household, check. Homeschool the kids? Heck, why not? Ten years later, being a parent comes naturally to Elaine; far easier than being a sister.
This novel project traces three generations of the O’Neill family across the American Midwest – sometimes farther afield – reaching to understand how past events have structured their present realities. One grown child is a painter working in the Twin Cities, another is a lab researcher in Austin, and between them lies the family homestead in western Pennsylvania. Tension ever-present, when violence abruptly surges, each member of the family responds in radically different ways, each striking remade balances between memory, love, and cold reality.
The following excerpt is the prologue from Lineage. This excerpt has been modified to exclude adult language.
That was when he first realized the seriousness of this business.
John sighed, ran his hand over his face. Liz had gone all mother hen and was putting the girls to bed. The sun wasn’t even fully down, this soon after Midsummer. Only the shadows were getting blacker; that was how they could see time passing on this surreal evening. The cops had been and gone. The house still smelled like good, wholesome, homegrown dinner, baked chicken and corn on the cob. George was pacing the kitchen linoleum, smoking indoors like he never did.
You’d think it would have been that time when Thena had that bad fever with the nasty ear infection, or Elaine’s stomach flu when they took her up to the county hospital because she couldn’t even keep water down. They plugged an IV right into her immediately, and John willingly took the blame and all the nurses’ scolding for not bringing her in sooner, even though it was Liz who had held out, and him and Kiki who had finally insisted their baby was going to the ER. Liz probably still hadn’t forgiven herself for that one.
The great thing was, Elaine would never remember the ER. Even without the fever, barely three was too little to remember a thing like that, let alone Mom thinking she didn’t need a doctor. How long would it take for Liz to forgive herself this?
He sighed again, seeing only the yellow walls of Greenfield Hospital between black windows onto the cold spring night. The hot July kitchen, almost sweating with humidity, still flooded with not-quite-twilight, was all but unseeable to his glazed blue eyes. And Elaine wouldn’t remember this, either. Not really, not the way the rest of them would. Not the way Athena would remember.
Kiki plunged down her glass tumbler so hard that George, ten feet away across the linoleum, flinched at the impact. When he saw the glass miraculously held together, he turned to complete another pacing circuit, puffing especially hard once on his cigarette. John didn’t even know George still kept cigarettes. Liz was bound to yell at him when she came down; no one would hold it against her, not tonight. Normally, George smoked a pipe. Used to be mostly weed, but more and more it was the tobacco he’d started growing a couple years back. It was out there growing now, in the humid July dusk. Come September, he’d string it up to dry and then George would smoke his small yellow harvest, away into nothingness with that little pipe. Normally, it was a pipe, but nothing was normal right now.
When John’s eyes came back into focus on Kiki, he didn’t know if things could ever be normal again.
“It isn’t right, John. How can this happen?”
She reached again for the whiskey bottle and neither of the men stopped her from pouring another one. John wasn’t sure if this was three or four. He knew she was going to be angry with herself in the morning, but for now, he wasn’t going to get in her way. If she picked up George’s cigarettes, then he’d intervene, but Kiki made no move to leave her seat at the kitchen table. Just yesterday, the girls had been drawing with crayons at that same table. There was a bit of green paper crayon wrapper caught in between the drop leaf hinge.
John made sure to remember that next time he bought them crayons, he would buy Crayola, not the cheapo off-brand that even he could tell was inferior, all too-shiny wax. His girls were brave, and strong and stubborn—like their mother, like all of them. They were going to have to be even braver and stronger than anybody had thought, before. This was a serious business, like he had never known it before, and by God, he could afford to give their girls the good crayons.