Family Graces

Family Graces
Kathryn Magendie

April 2012 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-122-7

The Third Book in the Graces Trilogy
Our PriceUS$15.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Virginia Kate’s journey of understanding and forgiveness brings her back to the moment that changed her family’s fate forever...

"Grandma Faith calls to me to her ending that she says is her beginning. I must start with her, for she is the beginning of Momma who is the beginning of me who tells the stories—the stories are made real by the telling. The others will follow. ‘Round we go. The mommas, the daughters, the children. They all wait for the releasing. The women of the ages. The little girls who lost their way and then were found. The mommas who wanted and those who did not. Where one lost, another recovered. The fulled circle goes ’round and ’round.”

The final novel of Kathryn Magendie’s Graces trilogy completes the saga begun in her acclaimed ebook bestseller TENDER GRACES and its sequel, SECRET GRACES.

Kathryn Magendie, a West Virginia/Appalachian native and adoptive daughter of South Louisiana, lives in a little log house with two dogs, a husband she calls "GMR,” (Good Man Roger), and a ghost dog, tucked in a cove in Maggie Valley, among western North Carolina Smoky Mountains. She spends her days writing, photographing nature, and as Publishing Editor of The Rose & Thorn, a literary e-zine. Her next novel for Bell Bridge Books will be The Lightning Charmer. Look for all of Kathryn Magendie’s novels coming soon in audiobook at, and iTunes. Visit her at


"…a beautiful story about the power of love and the incredible inner strength of women." -- Rosemary Smith, Netgalley


The Last Five Days Began on a Friday

I try not to think on Grandma Faith’s life in those last days before her killing and the burning away of her body, because I cannot help her, it’s scarce too late. But she asks it of me. What I can do for my grandma is listen. If it is white-boned hard to think on the end of her life and write it down, then it was ever-more so for her to have lived it.

I tremble, put on a brave face, but it is a lying kind of brave. She would tell me it isn’t true, that I am brave, for she believes in who I am and not who I believe myself to be. I take deep breaths. Quiet the voices save but the one I need to hear. Look at nothing but her words, her photographs, her evidence. And on that Friday...

...she woke to the other side of the bed emptied. The West Virginia mountain was very-early-morning-stilled. "Luke?” Faith turned her head to the closed bedroom door, called again, soft, "Luke?”

The old place slanted on that mountain between Pocahontas and Summers counties was filled with a strange humming, a crackled tension. The hairs on the back of her neck stood straight. Her body burned from soles to scalp. The air thick and hot, hard to breathe in. She eased out of bed, sneaked her feet to the door, listened. From the opened window a breeze flew in and touched her face.

Faith remembered the dream of herself as a little girl running and playing while her parents watched over her. Growing up with a full belly, a soft safe bed, sweet voices that gentled her to sleep. Her daddy was the rock of their house—tall and wide-shouldered and kind-eyed. He wasn’t handsome in the way some considered the word, but to Faith he was the most handsome man in all the important ways of the word. Faith’s mother loved her husband more than the sun warmed winter, maybe even more than she loved her own daughter. Even so, Faith’s mother had been sweet, one who wasn’t strong-willed but strong-loved.

Her daddy had often said to her, "Always do right.”

"How’ll I know it’s right, Daddy?” she’d asked.

"You’ll know when your breath comes easy and your eyes won’t look away. Your body tells you what your mind tries to deny.”

Faith startled when a branch scratched the window. She breathed deep, put her hand upon the closed door, as if checking for heat. Things had taken their turn in her young life when her daddy died too young, his good heart bursting; then her mother lost all her sense and heaved from the earth on purpose, leaving Faith orphaned and alone.

Soon came the man making nice and promises never to be honored. Demon liquor and pure mean bones had buried down any good that had been in that man. Some say moonshine-liquor ruined him, muddled his mind. Some say he always had the evil in him and the drink coaxed it out of hiding.

"Where are you, Luke?” she whispered, took her hand from the door and turned back to the window, where the branch skritched and scratched upon the upper glass, calling for her attention, saying to her, "The window is open. Come climb out of me and run away. Quick now. Run. Run. Run.” Her daddy’s presence filled the room. She often felt him, and always with sorrow for what could have been had he and her mother lived to help see her through womanhood.

"He’s up earlier today,” she said. "I wonder why.”

Faith’d had hope when she’d moved on the mountain with her new husband. She made a garden; she made a home; she made the salt rising bread and apple butter. Luke was a bit rough in their marriage bed, but he’d never put his hands on her in anger, and he complimented her cooking, her hair, her dark eyes, her way with words. That changed soon enough.

The opened window beckoned, and Faith went to it, leaned out and sniffed the air. She was unsettled, and her eyes burned and itched. "Out there beyond this mountain is freedom,” she said. Beyond the mountain she was chained to, freedom called.

The first time he hit her, Faith was pregnant with their first child. She packed her bag, walked out the door, and stood in the dirt with feet planted wide apart. She had no money, nothing but a few pitiful things in her hope chest that meant everything to her and nothing to anyone else. There was a baby to think of. She turned and went back inside, unpacked. Time had a way of slipping away from a woman whose thoughts were set on surviving each day. It shamed her how she’d stayed and taken whatever was dished out. What seared her most was how Luke had dished out his anger to her children, too; it broke her heart in as many pieces as there were heated stars.

"Luke? Are you hiding?” Faith called soft again, then took in breaths of the West Virginia air. In out in out, slow and easy to stop the pounding of her blood. Over the mountain the sun would soon make its way to light up what was covered in darkness—fiery sky.

She knew she should have kept walking down off that mountain the day he first hit her, and all the rest of the times. Living in a ditch with the dogs would have been a better life. "Except,” she told an old hickory tree, "You see, I’d not have my children and my grandchildren if I had run.” The tree waved in the breeze, as if it understood. "But, old faithful tree, how cruel life could be to offer up choices such as those, don’t you think?” The old tree agreed. It had seen much, that she knew, same as she had.

She missed her granddaughter terrible, how the little mite would help her with the bread and apple butter, their hands comparing small and slight as the breeze to strong and scarred as that tree. Even then, Faith knew Virginia Kate would be the one. The storyteller who would one day set free the words, the stories of their lives.

"Time,” she said, and pulled off her white gown she’d embroidered herself and placed it across the bed. She reached for her yellow cotton dress hanging on the chair, wiggled into it, slipped her feet inside worn-out shoes, all the while feeling the humming, that terrible terrible hot pressure in the air. Taking another deep breath, releasing it slow, Faith walked out of the bedroom and to the kitchen.

At the pocked kitchen table was Luke, still and hard as granite. He sing-songed, "Well well well.”

The hairs on Faith’s neck stood ever higher.

"If’n it ain’t my ever-loving wife.”

She tied on her apron, and then lit the stove.

"Ima thinking I want a fine breakfast,” Luke said. "Some biscuit and gravy... .”

The thrumming grew stronger. She turned to fetch the flour jar.

"... and Ima want some bacon with them biscuit. Out from the smokehouse.”

Faith hoped he didn’t notice her hands trembling.

"Yup. I went out to the smokehousem’self and had me a look-see. Where’s that bacon? I said to m’self. What’all’s in this here smokehouse?”

A wild keening shrieked inside her head. Heat pressed against her. His chair scraped back and she turned. Daddy, save me.

Luke, big and mean and red-faced, held the bulging draw-string pouch Faith had kept hidden from him for so many years.

She’d been sloppy. He must have seen her. He must have been watching. For her to be so close.

His words punched the air and fell heavy thudding. "You lying cheating wallering hog.” Luke spilled out the money from the pouch. Dollars fluttered out like dead bird’s wings; coins jingle-jangled as they bounced on the table and on to the floor.

Faith took a running step, another. Two more steps and she’d be to the door. One more—

— he grabbed her unplaited hair, fire in her scalp, burning, yanked her back. The horrible dance began. How strange to have no screaming, only his fists thudding on her body, their harsh breaths heaving. She felt as in a dream. Wake me up near you, Daddy.

She fought him as he pulled her to their bedroom.

"Stop wigglering, Faith.” He jerked hard, near pulling her arm out of its socket. "Why you make me do this, woman? Why?” He sounded so sorrowful, it almost made her feel bad for whatever she’d done, crazy thinking. Crazy feeling. Crazy. He shoved her into the bedroom, loomed large in the doorway. "Why you can’t behave?”

She pressed together her lips. Best not to spew out a rage not to be requited.

"Ima better not see you try to git out.” He slammed the door. Soon came hammering. More hammering at the window. Through the pane he said, "Don’t want to have to do this, but I got things to do and I ain’t trusting you now.”

Faith lay upon her bed, wondering what was broken inside of her. She’d see no doctor as that wasn’t allowed. To be a grown woman who couldn’t make her own decisions to go to a doctor, or most anything at all, made her cry for the first time that day. She tried to suck back in the tears, for crying was for the weak and never did a person any good. But the tears scalded her face and neck anyway.

"Momma?” Her youngest at the door. A soft knock. "Momma?”

"It’s all right, Ben. It’s all right.” Her voice sounded strange from the swelling. Two of her teeth were loose.

"Momma? You hurt? Daddy hurt Momma?”

"Oh, dear Ben,” she whispered. She pulled from her bra the last three dollars she had—apple butter and salt-rising bread sales money she’d not had time to hide in the smokehouse before Luke found it—eased herself up, and to her shame had to crawl to the door. Oh, her body did hurt so. The bills turned wet from her sweat. She slipped the money under the door. "Baby,” she said, "take this and run far away.”

Ben shoved the money back through to her. "No, Momma. I told you a-fore. I am not leaving you!”

She heard him run off, where he’d hide in the woods he loved so much. Ben didn’t understand that if he’d escape, as her other children had done, she could run without worrying over him taking the brunt of her leaving, but he wouldn’t leave his woods and the things he whittled on the tree trunks—whimsical sculptured birds, bears, wolves, bobcats, and fantastical creatures he made up from the images swirling in his inner-mind. The woods were full of his imaginings.

Faith lost time and then it came back. She liked the lost time better.




The sounds of nails pulled free woke Faith from a dream where her daddy said she’d be happy soon, happier than she ever knew she could be. She had smiled up at him, young again, and wistful and strong and free.

Luke stepped into the room with a square board, on which was placed a biscuit with a slice of ham, an empty jam jar filled with milk, and bread gone stale that he’d smeared apple butter on. "Here, woman,” he said. "I figure on you must be hungry. Ima sorry it took me so long.” He stroked her cheek. "I done hurt you some bad and Ima right sorry for that, too.”

She lowered her eyes to her shoes.

"Look’a me, woman.”

She raised her eyes.

"I said Ima sorry.” He put the food-board on the dresser her son Jonah had made with his own hands, and her pretty daughter Katie Ivene had painted flowers at the corners of the drawers. That dresser was one of the finest things she owned. He asked her, "You listening?”

She nodded, wished she would grow to be a big strong giant woman so she could rise up, knock him sideways, stand over him and say, "There! Now, how do you like that? How do you like it dished out to you? There!”

He sniffed the air, wrinkled his nose, bent down to the vase she’d placed in the corner of the room.

Faith’s face heated. She’d had to do her business inside that vase; the dead flowers little Ben had picked for her laid beside it.

"You don’t got a lick a sense, woman.”

"You knocked it out of me, Luke.”

"Got to smart-mouth me don’t you?” He smacked her face and a tooth went skittering across the floor. "Ima hate when you make me do these things to you.” He shook his head, scrubbed at his chin. "Ima hate it.” He locked her back in, hammer hammer. From outside the door he preached his ever-sermon, "You think you’d make it out there without old Luke? You think you’d be took in, mongrel dog with a feeble-minded son? Nobody want no mongrels showing up on they’s doorsteps. Ima only one who loves you and only one who’d ever put up with your shit.” His boots thundered off.

Faith thought how he was so paled white, and she was not, and his eyes near colorless, hers deepest dark. How different they were on the inside and the outside. Inside out, how ironic that she was light with good and he was dark with evil.

After she rested a while, she tried to eat the bread and apple butter but it hurt to chew. She softened it in the milk and swallowed it. The ham biscuit she wrapped in one of her hankies that had pansies she’d embroidered on the corners. She bent to pick up her tooth, and then Faith eased herself to the hope chest her mother had placed her things in right before she’d torn open her wrists and let her life bleed out. Faith had found her mother dying, too late to save her.

Faith had asked, "Mother, why?”

And she had answered, "Hurts too much. I can’t stand it.”

"I hurt you?” Faith asked. "Did I hurt you?”

"My girl, you are my heart, but you aren’t enough to keep me here.”

"Not enough,” Faith had said with ever-remembrance. Her parents’ graves were side-by-side.

Inside the hope chest, she dropped her tooth. Underneath her mother’s wedding dress, a pair of gloves, a flowered hat with a silver hat pin, and other pretties Faith’s mother had loved, Faith had placed her own special mementos, along with a thick journal that her daddy’d given her, and photos. She took out the journal and wrote, wrote, wrote. She revealed the hidden. Fortune would have it that she had never been meant to stay in the old world for long, only long enough.

Her last entry read, "Luke found my run-away money. Things are bad. I’ll send my secret words to Katie for her to keep.” She shook out her mother’s sewing notions from the box into the hope chest, filled the box with her photos and journal, and tucked it under the wedding dress until she could mail it to her younger daughter.

She lay down, so very tired. Her bed became the island where she floated along, waiting for whatever would come upon her next. The feeling was almost pleasant, for many voices spoke to her and let her know things were as they should be. When she closed her eyes, her life played behind her lids. There was bad, but also great good. She had regrets, but wrapped up in those regrets were the not-regrets, so the two could never be severed.

There had even been a time when Luke had seemed to love her, and she thought she could gentle him, give him what he needed to become a better man. She knew the life he’d led, because he’d told her. How his daddy beat him, and how his mother brought home men when her husband was gone—Luke never had a gentling hand until his wife’s, no love but his wife’s, no good in his life until Faith became his wife. She figured on how she could help him to know that—as a good wife would; a good wife would find a way. But she could not, he could not. Yet, her children and grandchildren came of her union with Luke. How could she deny them? They had always been enough to keep her there. Her eyes were steady and her breath came easy when she thought of her children and grandchildren.

"Love,” she whispered. "I have had the love of my children and grandchildren, and some have had not near enough of any love at all.”

She opened her eyes and took in the room as it closed the night around her.




Luke let her out. Her home looked as if a banshee had shrieked in. He said, "Clean it, woman. Ima sick-a looking at it.” He grabbed her hair. "Don’t think to git away. You hear? I’ll kill you. Kill that idjut son, too.”

Faith stayed silent, put her tongue to the hole where the tooth had been and worried it.

He gave her a wall-eyed woe-begotten look. "Goddamnit, Faith. Why?” He stroked the hair he’d pulled. "You know I hate to hurt you? Don’t you? You make me do it. Hiding off money. Prancering smart mouth with them airs you got. Think you so smart with them books you reading all’a time.” He kissed her cheek, leaving a wet stain, patted her back. "I’ll be back, directly. Maybe I’ll bring you something from town.” He hitched up a sigh, said, "Oh, Faith. I don’t ever mean it. I don’t. I don’t ever mean it.” He grabbed her and hugged her hard to him.

It hurt her broken body. Hurt her thoughts. Hurt her in too many ways to understand how she could still pity him.

When he went down the path, Faith first scrubbed where he’d kissed her cheek, and then limped to her hope chest and took out the box. She used her special whistle-call to beckon to Ben.

He came to her, his eyes puffed from crying, body dirty, hair full of sweat and filth. Faith couldn’t stand it. She took in her arms her youngest.

"I love Momma.” He hugged her gentle as could be. "Momma my only and bestest friend.” He kissed her cheek right where Luke had, but Ben’s kiss was sweet and she’d never wash it away.

"Baby,” she told him, "I need you to help Momma. I need you to be quick about it and not say a word to Daddy, you understand?”

He nodded, sniffled, rubbed his dripping nose with his shirt.

She gave him the box and the three dollars. "Sneak to town and mail this to your sister. You understand?”

"Uh huh. I unnerstand.”

"It’s very important.”

"I done maileded letters and stuff for you afore. I’m not stupid.” He poked out his chest.

"I know, sweet baby. I know you aren’t stupid.”

He straightened, made himself taller. "I read good. Momma teached me.”

"I’m so proud of you.” Faith couldn’t stand on her feet much longer. The dizziness swarmed her head, and her insides felt mushy, her thoughts jerky and cloudy. Am I dying now, Daddy? "Now be quick and go on. Be careful and wise.”

"Yes’M. I’ll be back real soon.”

She gave him a hug, pushed her face to his wood-shavings filled pocket and inhaled her boy’s innocent scent. She said, "Don’t come back here, son.”

"I get scare’t when you say that.”

"Shhh. Shhh. It’s okay, baby.”

"I love Momma.”

"Go on. Momma will be here waiting for you.”

"You won’t leave me?”

"No baby-boy.”


"Never ever ever.” She would have to make it so, for Ben. Too late.

"I won’t let Daddy know nothing. I never do. I all’a time keep secrets. I know lots of secrets.” He took off with her box held tight to his side.

Faith had to think, but thinking was hard, her head pounded and a bad sick roared in her stomach. Maybe if she grabbed a few things and met Ben in town they could find someone who would help. Maybe the sheriff would take pity.

Oh, her shame flamed within, burning bright. To let people know how she lived, shame. To ask for help, shame. And even still, bent on leaving him, Luke’s words were branded deep into her flesh. Where would she and Ben go? Who would want her and her strangeling boy-man?

Or... Faith’s insides quavered and quivered... or, she could... she could... "I could kill my husband,” she said. The world stopped turning on the cusp of horrid possibility. Daddy, don’t be angry with me for what I need to do.

Evil sniffed out good whenever it could so it could taint it.

Faith was throwing her things inside her daddy’s old leather bag when she heard steps. She threw the bag under the bed, kicked at it. She could make it. She could do it. She could stay strong. For Ben.

"Whadya up to, woman?” Luke asked.


"You think Ima stupid? And I was getting soft on you, and this here’s how you be?”

"I’m only what you’ve created, Luke.” She faced him, eyed him down. "This is what you’ve made. Me, broken up and pulled to pieces. I’m a woman, Luke, one who’s taken enough. I can’t take any more.”

"You gone sass me more?” He took a step.

She reached behind her back under her pillow where she’d hidden her longest sharpest kitchen knife.

When he came at her, she slashed the knife at him (too soon, too soon!) cutting through his shirt.

"You bitch!” Surprise had lit his face wide-eyed. "I’ll kill you!”

She sliced through his right arm. The blood soaked his shirt as he howled and grabbed his arm. She cut his chest, jumped back, and then lunged forward and sliced again—the knife opened the side of his face as he screeched. She felt herself leaving herself, tried to shake it.

Luke narrowed his eyes, growled as though a monster in a nightmare.

As she lifted the knife with her last strength, Luke knocked it away, sending it soaring across the room where it clattered against the wall and onto the floor (too late too late, Daddy).

"I got you now.” He flung himself to her.

I’m already dying, Daddy. He can’t kill me.

She left her body, rising up up up. Oh, but it felt wonderful to be free. She saw herself below, still and broken as Luke stepped back, his chest, arm, face, bloodied, his eyes wild.

"Goddamnit!” He scooped her up, laid her in their bed. "Goddamnit! Faith! Faith! Don’t leave me, oh, Faith.” She hovered above him as he sobbed out a strange sorrow. He took off her dress, left the room, and came back with a wet rag that he washed her with, and then he dressed her in the embroidered nightgown. Brushed her hair. Placed her hands upon her chest. He said, "I got blood on your pretty nightgown.” Then he moaned.

She followed as he went out for his jug. Watched him as he fired the demon liquor down his craw. He then washed his face under the water pump, his arm, his chest, said, "My woman cut me up. Goddamnit.”

Faith had the broadest of sights. Everything became clear and opened. And with her new sight, she saw how he’d been playing with her for a while. How he knew about the money long before he let on. But she also saw deeper, to a scared little boy trembling in a corner. He was evil, and he was pitiful.

A crafty quiet came over Luke. "I can’t go to no jail,” he said. He set to work. First, he poured kerosene around the house, lit a match, and stepped back from the WHOMP of the fire, from the terrible heat of it. The flames ate and ate and ate. When he was sure the fire would devour it, he ran down the path.

Faith looked upon her body. Eaten away, skin, long thick dark hair, muscle, blood boiling to bursting from veins, bone baking and cracking and creaking, marrow sizzling. She felt a soft quick moment of sorrow for the body of the woman turning ashes to ashes, though the body was no longer the She that made up her self.

Even at the time to go, she felt pulled to the earth. She could not leave.

There came a movement from the woods—

Ben, run away!

"No, Momma! You leaving? You leaving?” He had a black eye, and bruises on his arm. "I didn’t tell! I didn’t tell; I promise! I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”

Oh, baby, I know! Run away, Ben!

Her boy fell to his knees, his mouth opened wide to a silent scream. She hovered next to him, pushed against him as he rose and stumbled to the shed, the flames hot at his back. Pushed against him as he grabbed the shotgun his daddy had tried to teach him to shoot with—Ben always pretended he didn’t know how to shoot it because he just couldn’t kill anything, oh, strange irony. She pushed against him as he staggered to the woods, his mouth still opened, his tongue holding the screams, his eyes widened. She pushed pushed pushed—Daddy save my boy!—against him as he slid down the trunk of a willow tree, put the gun to his head, and pulled the trigger.

Keening keening keening. The spirit world keened for the lost. Oh, the hurting world lost another innocent one.

She met him as his spirit came to her. Her sweet boy. He threw himself into Faith’s airy arms and all was right in his forever-after world. She sent him off to her daddy, who lived where she could not yet be until she was set free, when the stories were told.

Years later, gone in a blink,Faith saw Luke’s spirit rise up from his old dying sick body eaten alive with cancer. That weak spirit struggled up from the mean-tainted body; and how it fought to shuck off the evil that had weighted it down in the man that was Luke. Unfolding as the moth, it unwrinkled itself, burst open in light, and left the shell that made Luke who he had become. There would be no hell for the man Luke. No place where he burned forever and screamed and gnashed his teeth. The burning happened on the hurting earth, not in the After.

Faith waited again, and when the moment was right, called to her granddaughter. Virginia Kate. Virginia Kate.

And her granddaughter had gone to the West Virginia holler, to that emptied old white house down the long road, had opened the attic door, climbed the stairs, and shone light upon the hidden words.

"Time, Virginia Kate,” she’d urged once again, "to tell the stories, made real by the telling.”

...her ending was the beginning. The storyteller tells the stories.

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