Friday, 3 June 2011
Author Spotlight - Excerpt from Burning Hearts
Long Island, New York
Erica Brogna hurried down Hill Street, eager to sketch her new design, a forest green taffeta dress with a swirling skirt for a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary -- her first significant assignment. She paused to inhale the salt scent on the ocean breeze, and her gaze lingered on a copse of red, rust, and gold maples near Ada's house and dress shop.
She smiled, pulling her cardigan tight around her, and dropped the newspaper Poppa asked her to bring to her mentor and employer. She retrieved the paper and saw Bess Truman smiling as she entered Walter Reed Army Hospital. With the war over, the First Lady visited broken soldiers in long-term care. Erica slapped the paper closed before rage and depression overtook her. So many boys had not come home.
Chin jutted out, she smoothed the pleats of her skirt and marched toward Ada's house. She'd think on pleasant things and hand the paper over without a fuss as she did every morning. Nothing would ruin this day.
She climbed Ada's wooden front steps and opened the door.
Smoke filled the living room Ada had turned into a fabric shop. Erica waved a hand in front of tearing eyes. Gray vapors, like swirling fog, partially obscured bolts of fabric stacked against the opposite wall.
"Ada! Ada, answer me please." Dropping the newspaper, Erica rushed toward the stairs, trampling Bess Truman's image. "Ada can you hear me?"
Coughing, she grabbed on to the cutting table in the middle of the room, steadied herself, and reached for the phone -- no dial tone. Perhaps the fire melted the line.
She yanked the collar of her blouse over her nose and mouth against the smoke. The stairs loomed before her, seeming as impossible to scale as Mount Everest. She lunged forward, gripping the baluster, and thrust herself up two steps. Since Ada wasn't outside, she had to be upstairs.
As Erica climbed, the smoke thickened and swirled around her. It was darker with each step.
One hand clasped the rail and pulled, and she advanced a few more steps. Heat blasted against her skin from above, and soft crackling sounds drew her gaze to the upstairs landing. Squinting into the smoke, she lost her grip on the banister, missed the next step, and fell backward tumbling to the bottom.
The back of her head smacked against the baluster, and wooziness followed sharp pain. She tried to stand but couldn't get her bearings.
Will triumphed over ability. She hoisted herself, ignoring the dull throb at the back of her skull. Her palms stung, the skin scraped off during her fall. She took a deep breath, and a coughing fit seized her. Shallow breaths were the better alternative.
Planting her penny loafer on the bottom step, Erica began her climb again, shaken but with new resolve. If she could reach the top of the stairs, she could also make it to Ada's bedroom.
Halfway up, the scratches on her palms pulsated as the temperature rose. So did her knees -- must've scraped those, too. The pungent smoke shrouding her darkened, and grit clung to her skin. She couldn't see the banister or the top of the stairs and each breath took effort.
Poppa's lectures on fire drills flashed into mind -- stay low in a fire to get fresh air. She dropped to her knees and crawled, ignoring her pain. A sickening smell made her stomach lurch.
Inch by inch she crept, now three quarters of the way up. Hot, putrid air assaulted her windpipe, and she doubled over, her insides trembling.
Heaving herself forward, she maneuvered up one more step, but the smoke pushed back, choking her. She sobbed, knowing she couldn't make it to Ada, and scrambled down, hoping she could find help.
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