About The Book
"I am hurting. Fractured in places stitches can't heal."
Autumn’s Child tells the desperate story of Layla, as a young and naive twelve year-old girl. Over ten critical years, her life quickly changes like the colors of the trees in autumn. The accidental death of her parents forces her to abandon her religious, middle-class lifestyle. She moves to the inner city of Chicago with her grandmother and aunt, her only living relatives. Layla tries to approach her new life with optimism, but the perfections of her past life haunt her tormented journey. After coming to grips with the reality over the years that her only aunt despises her, Layla soon discovers that she may secretly hold the keys to helping her aunt’s diminishing health in her hands. Layla’s faith and sanity are continuously tested as she matures throughout each season of her life. She stumbles through her new found reality while learning how to play the distinct set of cards she’s been dealt. Layla’s neighbor and best friend, Shay, helps guide her from adolescence into adulthood. Autumn’s Child chronicles a life on the opposite side of the coin; where friendships grow out of tragedy, and the pressure of a marginalized life weighs heavily on pure souls. Layla must make many compromising decisions, all while perpetually asking the reader, What would you do?
Book Excerpt-Chapter Four
We exited the freeway, I mean expressway, and got off on Independence Boulevard going north. The streets seemed to have a dim halo at the peak of the day. Sara’s long, strawberry blonde hair was all I saw as she “ohhed” and “ahhed” out of her window. Exasperated she said, “Look. Look, LaLa. They’re playing jump rope with two ropes. How do they do that?” I put my head down and started to hum an old tune.
“LaLa, we’re almost there.” We approached a tall, two-story brick building on a street with so many people outside you would have thought it was a church picnic. Towards the end of the sidewalk, water from a fire hydrant sprang loose and there were teenagers in tee shirts running through the stream. Small children in diapers sat in puddles of water and buckets were being filled with the water. Everyone seemed so happy except for me. As we pulled up front, Ms. MacNair exhaled and looked at the both of us in the backseat and said, “I guess this is it. You two grab your things, lock the door, and hurry to the house there.” She pointed to a gray tombstone building. Ms. MacNair walked swiftly to the door with Sara and me trailing behind with the few bags I could bring on the plane. She rang the doorbell and knocked simultaneously while glancing at me. I saw a thousand lies in her eyes, some of which I knew, but most I didn’t. We waited at the door as she rang the bell over and over again.
“You two locked the car doors right?”
We both nodded our heads and held on to each other. The air tingled my nose as if the city of Chicago was trapped in an invisible bubble and was being injected with deadly toxins and nothing within those entrapments could get out. I felt its permanent musk penetrating through my skin, branding me its own. As we waited, Ms. MacNair tightened the grip on her purse whenever someone walked past or when a car drove by. Her face reddened like a tomato during harvest as she looked into her purse for the paper to reconfirm the address, “Come on, someone. Please,” she said to herself.
“Mom, if no one answers can Layla come back to California with us?” Sara asked, crossing her fingers that rubbed gently against mine.
“No. She has her own family,” she shouted unconsciously.
The screen door opened and I saw a bigger, greasier, and louder version of my mother. I stared at the women who had stolen my mother’s eyes and were using them to haunt me. Sara and I look up at her as we stood in the doorway as if we were waiting for tickets to a horror movie.
“You must be Layla,” she grabbed hold of my arm and pulled me through the entrance. Taking hold of my shoulders she embraced me tightly. I was gasping for air when she finally let me go. Sara abruptly took hand as we walked through the apartment. There was a picture of my parents on their wedding day on the mantle; that was before they had found God.” My dad held a Champaign glass as he sternly wrapped his other arm around my mommy’s belly.” There were also my school pictures lined up on the mantel in a defined row. As I aged, year after year, my images had been greeting strangers in a place I’d never been. Ms. MacNair and my Aunt Libby sat on the plastic covered couch, but Sara and I stood.
“Oh, I gotta show you to yo room, baby girl.”
Everyone spoke like my mom in this city, but Aunt Libby especially. She drew words together in rapid speech, the end syllables of words dropped or slurred together.
The room that would now belong to me had an eerie feeling. It was small and had white walls. A mattress and box spring with old, green and yellow flower print bedding was pushed against one wall. As soon as we sat down, the hinges of the bed growled and crackled like hungry stomachs and there was a window by the dresser leading to a small gangway that defined our space and the neighbor’s. The buildings were so close together that if I reached my hand out far enough I could have probably touched the stones of the neighboring building. I started to take my Bible out of my bag, hoping that it would force some light into this bleak home and placed it on the bed.
“That’s yo Bible?” Aunt Libby asked me as she stood in the doorway.
“It was my… my mom’s. The Bible’s mine now. She left it for me.”
“Well I’m sho glad that ain’t all she left ya,” Aunt Libby said with a laugh.
Ms. MacNair shot her a disapproving glance, her blue eyes squinting together in a quick stare.
“I hope you put it to good use, ‘cause we don’t read much of the Bible around here. Now I’m gonna let you alone to do whatever you kids do, but don’t go meddlin’ with nothing around here. This is a big city, not like that little half a town yo mom ran off to. God rest her soul. I don’t know how my little sister run off and die and leave me with her kid. Oh well. You’ll like it here. Just don’t go meddlin’ with nothing. Y’all want something to drink? You girls?”
She came back with an orange, tangy drink that made my jaw sour. But before Ms. MacNair and Aunt Libby left the bedroom to go sit back on the plastic couch and talk she said, “You know, this was yo mama’s room before she ran off with yo daddy to ‘Cal-e-forn-i-a.’ I caught em’ making you right there in that bed.” She pointed, “That bed. Yo mama wasn’t always so holy.”
I looked up at her and saw darkness. She was a pretty fair skin woman, no make-up needed, but darkness was all I saw.
“My mama always served the Lord!”
She took the bags from my hands and placed them on the ugly bed before walking past and saying, “Obviously you didn’t know yo mama.”
I was angry, hot, heated, fuming. “Oh yeah,” I said, “Well my mama didn’t know you!”
She walked away saying to Ms. MacNair, “I know you didn’t bring no loudmouth, back talkin’ child in my house?”
“She’s just a little feisty now. All this is new to her. You have to work a little with her, just until she gets use to her living arrangements and her new beginning. I promise. My little Sara and Layla have been friends for years. She’s a doll. Just give her a little time.” Ms. MacNair talked timidly as if she was afraid of rejection, like the smallest move would have changed her life forever.
Ms. MacNair came back to the bedroom, stood in the doorway as we peered out the window at my view of the bricks from the next building, and motioned Sara to come join her in the hallway.
“Yes,” Sara asked as I listened at the door.
“After you girls are finished putting Layla’s things away, make sure you take back the clothes she borrowed from you. Okay, princess? And be sure you two play nice.” Ms. MacNair whispered in her smug, tone that I had become accustomed to those last few weeks.
“But… but, Mom, those are our friendship clothes. Plea… please, Mom, I already have one. That’s my one from last year, remember? I can’t fit it. Pleeese. We need friendship clothes.”
“Alright, but no more gifts for a while. I don’t want you getting use to giving your nice things away.”
Sara came back into the room and I hurried to the window and continued looking out.
“It’s not that bad. We just need to fix it up a little,” Sara said.
“What’s not that bad?” “The room. We just need to fix it up a little.”
“Like, oh my God! We could totally start by cleaning up and getting rid of all this clutter.” Sara looked up and said, “Sorry. Didn’t mean to say God’s name, but you know what I mean, right?”
“Whatever. It’s no big deal. I don’t know why I ever cared anyway.”
There were boxes of old pictures, used clothes, and paper. We both began to put the boxes in the small closet and pushed them to endless corners, but it was still bad. A little better, but still bad. Ms. MacNair and Aunt Libby were talking grownup talk in low tones when we came from the bedroom to go to the bathroom. As I waited for Sara to come out of the bathroom I heard a cough coming from the back by the kitchen. When I looked up, I saw a woman not much bigger than me emerge from a mystery room by the backdoor.
“Gran, Grandma.” I said, but actually asked.
She wobbled closer with her frail legs. Her hair was the color of fresh snow and she had those eyes, too, my mom’s eyes, but they were forgiving, not haunting at all. I walked over to her and held her strong hand as she held onto the kitchen table with the other.
“Oh, baby, it’s been so long.” We embraced and it was the closest my spirit came to letting go, to finally feeling freed.
“So, so big,” she said.
“How are you, Grandma?” I repeated her name over and over in my head, “Grandma. Grandma,” and it felt so good.
She slowly sat on the chair closest to what I assumed to be her room.
“Oh, I’m alright. Doing just fine with my grandbaby coming for me.” The fan in the kitchen window blew her housecoat away and I got a glimpse of those bonny legs. I was caught in the slavery of her skin, identifying with every wrinkle and deep crevice. The wrinkles on her face accented her beauty, like fine designs on the clothes of the rich.
“Oh,” I stood up, “this is Sara, my friend from California.” Sara stepped forward and politely said hello.
“Are you the nice young gal that’s been so good to my baby?”
We talked for a while about our plane ride and all the nice things she remembered about me until the two in the front finally came to check on us.
“There’s one of those snowball stands across the street. You two go over there and get um.” Aunt Libby lead us outside and pointed to the stand where a line of soaking wet kids stood in the blazing sun before a middle-age women serving crushed ice in foam cups with different color juice syrups for a quarter. It must have been obvious that we were new in the area because groups of kids stood around just looking at us both. This was the first time in our childhood that Sara was the minority instead of me.
The day ended and Sara left in a wild protest. She cried then I cried and Ms. MacNair took a strong hold of Sara’s forearm and pulled her towards the car. The last thing I saw were Sara’s hands and face glued to the back window as the car rolled away. Everything that had been official was now gone and I stood on the front porch until night came and I waited for someone to drive me too away from that tainted picture I was forced to live.
About The Author
L. Nicole Murray is a creative writer by passion, training, and profession. She is a Columbia College graduate with a degree in Fiction Writing and Marketing. Nicole’s dual Gemini personality helps her pursue creative writing as a personal profession. Nicole explores the creative landscape of the mind to craft fiction out of real emotion. She currently writes short stories, novels, poems, and screen plays. Autumn’s Child is her first novel.