I met Kathleen through a mutual author friend and was offered the opportunity to read and review her cozy mystery. I did and I liked it very much. She has accepted an invitation to be this week's guest and share her bio and an excerpt from her delightful story.
Kathleen enjoyed a varied work history, including gymnastics coach, server at an all-night bagel shop, park supervisor, telephone operator, manager with Canada Revenue Agency, and a correctional officer at a maximum-security prison.
The youngest of four, she lived most of her life in Ottawa, two years in Saudi Arabia, and a tent in Baja for a month for the love of yoga and the ocean. She and her husband spend most of their time near the Rocky Mountains with their fish BOO II (named after the character in her favorite book).
Kathleen loves Anne of Green Gables, trekking through new fallen snow, making snow angels—everything snowy and Christmassy—hot chocolate, holiday music, watching old-time classics.
Follow her on twitter at: @CranidgeK or connect with her via her website: kathleencranidge.com
Excerpt: Christmas on Union Street
Here? I watched her move to the sink. She didn’t look like she was into Christmas. Maybe she was being polite. I wanted to tell her I wasn’t into Christmas, either. Not this year, anyway. Water surged out from the high faucet. She looked over her shoulder at me, waiting for my response as she rinsed our bowls.
“I hadn’t really thought of it.” It was a week away. I had thought of avoiding it, if I were to be honest. No one wants to hear that, though—not a week before Christmas. I was sure she would have been an ally.
“You’re welcome here, of course.” She turned off the tap and wiped her hands down the front of her dress, her smock? Is that what you called a muumuu?
I wanted to ask her what Christmas meant to someone whose first question had been, “What’s your sign?” A Christmas Boho. Ho, ho.
“I’ll show you the rest of the place,” she said, saving me from answering. She led the way out of the kitchen.
I chewed on the question as I followed. Where would I be for Christmas this year? I didn’t want to think about it.
We moved into the adjoining dining room. It dwarfed the kitchen with its long, mahogany table…buffet, sideboard, and hutch. Was she someone who couldn’t let go of things, or did she just like to be surrounded by things? Lots of things. I quickly counted the place settings, each with a vintage looking silver plate with scrolled trim. Twelve. How many people lived here? It was an outstanding table. I kept wanting to peek at Gina. This table seemed too formal for her. I imagined the English royal family might have something just like it at a cottage—they would probably call a summer house. On top of the buffet was a blanket of cotton snow grounding a magnificent Christmas village. Warm lights glowed from the windows of the houses and shops. I stole a glance sideways at Gina, intrigued by this woman who seemed so opposite of Christmas. If I took the room, Christmas would be surround-sound.
Behind her, I glimpsed the living room. She motioned an arm in that direction, and we moved in. I could feel her studying me. A Douglas fir towered in the corner, encroaching on a bulky burgundy wingback chair with the beautiful complement of an ottoman in rich shades of gold and deep maroon paisley woven into the fabric. On the opposite wall, a huge brick fireplace extended to the ceiling. Large logs were neatly set in the hearth, which measured at least three feet by three feet. There were ample places to sit for a cozy dozen in that room, including a well-cushioned sofa in front of the window. Although it was the middle of the day, the December light coming in was minimal, but the lamps gave the room a warm glow.
We walked across the front hallway into the den. Books and books on thick wood cases ran from floor to ceiling on two of the walls. Next to a pecan-colored leather armchair, I noticed a tall side table with a pipe in a brass ashtray. Again, I wondered, who lived here? She caught me looking at the pipe.
“It was my dad’s,” she said. “After he died, I missed the smell of it. I started to light some of his tobacco and burn it, inhaling the sweet familiar aroma.” She shook her head and paused. “After a few weeks, this little ritual satisfied me less and less.” She gave me a funny look, as though she was sizing me up for the first time. “Then I savored some on my tongue for a few days. But I felt I was bordering on chewing the tobacco and I didn’t think Dad would like that.” She laughed. “One night, I filled the damn thing and took a few puffs.” She shook her head then picked up the carved wood and inhaled deeply. “I know. It’s the craziest thing. It’s now a wretched habit.” She said wretched, like my favorite great uncle used to say. Almost like it was something good. “Every evening, after the dishes are done, I come in here and have a little puff-puff.” She laughed and brought it to her nose again then returned it to the ashtray and shrugged at me. She looked like she wanted more than a sniff. What a character. Everything about her was unique, easy-going…and intriguing. I knew then I would take the room.
Gina led the way up the stairs. Rich red runners softened our steps, but the wood beneath still creaked and groaned. “Don’t mind the noise. This house likes to talk.” She smiled. “Your room is at the top. If you decide to take it.” She paused on the large landing and pointed to two bedrooms on either side of the washroom at the head of the stairs.
“My room.” One thumb jutted to the left. “And Harry’s room.” Her other thumb to the right. “Harry works a lot. Sometimes I think I could get away with having two tenants in there.” She laughed. “It could be days before you meet. I know he’ll be here Christmas Eve.”
We continued up another flight of stairs. The next story held the same floor plan. She splayed her crooked thumbs to both sides again. “The door on the left is Nathalie’s. Kiki’s here on the right. You will hear her before you see her. A ball of energy, that one. She’s visiting from South Korea to learn English. She’s been here five months. She’s determined to make every second count. Not even the cold Vermont weather can stop that one.” She smiled at me. “I like to knit her things.” She turned that smile to me. “Which reminds me. I love that sweater you have on. Such a lovely pink. Is it cashmere?”
I touched my neckline. “It is. My dad gave it to me last year for… Christmas.” This time last year. I needed to get out of this subject. “How about Nathalie. Will I meet her soon?”
“Nathalie?” Gina looked surprised. Then the outer corners of her eyes turned down. “Oh, dear. Sorry.” She raised an arm weakly toward the room that she said was Nathalie’s.
“Nathalie died. Around this time last year.” She leaned her hand on the doorframe and looked into the room. I wanted to inch closer to give form to the mass of shadows. I caught a sliver of a white duvet on a brass bed, a stack of suitcases facing the door, with a floppy hat on one and a stuffed lamb on top of another. “I haven’t had the heart to clear it out. I guess I should. Well...” She sighed and touched my arm.
We continued up. I turned and stretched my gaze back to Nathalie’s room. I pictured my mom’s narrowed look she’d give me when we were invited to one of our new neighbor’s house. I sometimes wandered off into the rooms and then asked too many questions. I liked empty rooms—I always made up a mystery. Maybe I wouldn’t have to make one up here. Gina’s breath filled the hallway, labored from the two flights of stairs. I thought back to the pipe in the brass ashtray. She held the banister and pointed upstairs. “That brings us to your room.”
The runner on the oak stairs was almost plush, its deep reds more vibrant as we moved up, obviously less traffic to the fourth floor. She caught her breath and paused near the top. “Haven’t had anyone up here in years.”
I looked beyond Gina at the rich oak door. The final level, the attic, offered no landing. I pulled my sweater tighter. It was chillier up here. I hadn’t signed a lease. As much as I already liked Gina, I wouldn’t freeze for anyone or anything. And why hadn’t there been anyone up here? I looked down the staircase—the rest of the house seemed to fall away…
“I put the heat on this morning,” Gina said as if reading my mind. “I promise you one thing, I don’t scrimp on heat.”
I didn’t doubt her. It was hard to forget the warmth the rest of the house held.
“Now.” Gina hesitated. “As you can see, there is no bathroom on this level.” She looked at me, apparently waiting for a protest. “You’ll have to share the one below.”
“Of course.” An ensuite wasn’t expected. I did want to see my potential room, though.
“And remember, there’s no landing. So, if you do get up in the middle of the night, the stairs are right outside your door.” Her hand held the doorknob, but she continued to pause. “It is an attic, but it’s a pretty good size.”
I smiled and nodded to encourage, my eyes on her crooked knuckles wrapped around the doorknob. Finally, she resumed the twist of the brass. She seemed to enjoy building suspense. She was good at it. It would be interesting for sure to hang out with her and that pipe. I imagined being curled up in the den some evenings after dinner. I’d even let her read my palm for fun. I felt that little giggle, wiggle in my chest.
“Oh.” Gina slightly moved back.
I clung to the banister, leaning into her, my breath caught and held in my chest, giggle de-wiggled.
I tried to see over her. But was she ever tall. I was pressed up against her, blocking the momentum of her reaction, but couldn’t get my eyes around her. What was in there for God’s sake?
“Huh,” she said with subdued surprise, but she didn’t move.
She was good. “What is it?” I asked, my voice a hoarse whisper.
“The tree.” She finally fully opened the door and moved in.
Now I could get my eyes on the room. There was a tree, about four feet tall, in one corner, aglow with colored lights. Straight ahead in line with the door was a window with heavy brocade panels gathered to each side, creating a bulky frame. Through those drapes, the sky was white, thick with snow. A king-sized bed with a substantial duvet and large pillows took position on an angle looking out at the room. I imagined my feet sinking into the luxurious shag rug beside the bed. The coolness from the stairway fell away. There was instant warmth from every slope and corner that lured me, starting right from its root of wide planked golden pine. As I took in the room, Gina continued to stare at the tree.
“Is there something wrong?” I asked. I had almost forgotten her lead up to this as I collided with magic. The beauty gripped me. The perfection of the room expanded my senses. I let go of my tour of the space and focused on the tree that had stopped her in her tracks. It didn’t look like there was a bird or a mouse in the tree—I hadn’t seen any of the branches move. I hoped there weren’t any mice up here…I scanned the pine floors.
“No, no, it’s just…the tree…um…” She looked over at me. Then she shook her head. “Oh, it’s nothing. Sometimes I can be a bit forgetful.” She shook her head again, but I saw her look at the tree and scan the room as if searching for something.
More intrigued than scared, I signed on.
Thank you Kathleen, for being our guest this week.
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