Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Absence of Anyone Else Chapter One

The Absence of Anyone Else Chapter One
Copyright 2009 JAR Publishing

The nursery school is filled with toddlers who have trendy
names like Jalynn, Cheyenne, and Ryder. Their mothers are young,
bulging out of pre-pregnancy jeans, driving away in shiny compact
cars with Mardi Gras beads dangling from rearview mirrors.
They’re always in a hurry, it seems. They never notice me, the
woman with a toddler in one hand and basket full of books, paper,
and paint in the other, struggling make it inside. They pay
extra each week to have me come here, yet never take the time to
hold the door. Go figure.
I come to share the gift of art with their children, to offer
their young minds a creative form of expression … ideally. In
reality, I come to give the nursery school teachers a thirty minute
break so that they can sit down outside on the terrace, have a
secret smoke, and gossip about everyone else. They get this every
Wednesday in their schedules; I get forty dollars every Wednesday
in my pocket. Not much, but extra money always helps, especially
in the summer, when I am on vacation from my teaching
job and always seem to overspend.
I deposit my two-year-old son Samson into a playgroup with
four other youngsters and head for the three- and four-year-olds.
I read the group a story about colorful fish, then guide them as
they play with paints and brushes in an attempt to recreate the
story’s characters on paper. They giggle and squeal with delight as
they explore the sensation of paint between their fingers, little
round faces full of so much enthusiasm I can’t help but smile. It
reminds me why I chose art education as my college major all
those years ago. This is joy, I think. These children know genuine
joy in this moment. I laugh with them as they rally around me,
and I am not even upset by the fact that I have green and blue
handprints smeared across the brand new secondhand jeans I found
for three bucks yesterday at my favorite thrift store. Oh well, they’ll
be paint jeans now, I think, smiling at the little color streaked
faces around me. So what if they were designer brand and fit just
As I am packing my supplies and preparing to leave, my cell
phone rings, and I know it’s Daniel by the Mariachi band ring
tone he assigned himself weeks ago. I don’t answer because Sherry,
the director of the nursery school, is talking to me about teaching
an extra session next week. Instantly it rings again, the sound only
mildly mortifying. Daniel is nothing if not persistent, so I slip my
hand inside my bag and turn the phone off.
Sherry and I agree on the extra session and say goodbye. I
collect Samson, who is sitting quietly in the toddler room looking
at a big board book. He’s not especially happy about leaving this
colorful place and squirms and fusses in my arms. On the way
out, I notice a large collection of small paper hands, all different
colors, arranged in the shape of one large hand on the window of
Sherry’s office. I pause for a minute to take it in. It’s oddly uplifting
and I try to keep a mental picture of it in my mind as I load
Samson into his car seat and jump behind the wheel of my station
wagon, silently praying, as always, that it will start.
Despite rails of protest over leaving, Samson is now singing in
his car seat, his mood shifting in that speed of light way only
toddlers seem to master. I sing with him as we head across town to
visit my grandmother, Nan, for lunch. Nan’s home is within easy
walking distance of my own, but the heat of a June afternoon in
Calvary, South Carolina, makes a midday stroll out of the ques-
tion. As we pull up in front of the shockingly purple Victorian,
Samson cries “Eat, eat,” a little mantra he always begins as soon as
he realizes where we are. We have spent every Wednesday having
lunch with Nan since summer vacation began, and she’s definitely
the most interesting thing this town has to offer on a sweltering
summer day.
“Ah, hello, my loves!” She smiles as she answers the door with
an exaggerated bow, taking Samson from my arms and swaying
down the hall as though he were her partner in a ballroom. He
laughs at first but then reaches back for me. He’s already sleepy so
we decide to eat right away.
“You’re in for a treat today,” she says to me as I settle Samson
into a booster seat. “Just wait until you try my latest dish! Had to
go all the way to Greenville to get the right sauce but this old bird
needs to fly the coop sometimes, right Sammy?” She winks at
Samson, who is pulling on his ears. He grins.
“Oh I hope it’s something he will eat,” I say as I scan the room
for a glimpse of what’s to come. Dining with Nan is always an
adventure because she thrives on the exotic. As she begins to lay
out the meal, I am shocked and delighted to see yogurt with cucumbers,
pita chips, falafel sandwiches and hummus. I have not
eaten this type of food in years, but once it was my favorite meal.
“Did you make all this?” I ask, more than a little overwhelmed
by the idea of someone being so versatile in the kitchen. After all, it
certainly isn’t the standard Southern fare of fried chicken, collard
greens, biscuits and peas that line her table for holiday dinners.
“I certainly did!” She smiles as she sits down, tousling my
son’s hair. He smiles at her and his grey eyes are momentarily lost
behind chubby cheeks. I watch as she carefully unfolds a linen
napkin and smoothes it onto her lap. It’s a simple yet elegant gesture
that I try to imitate, but Samson immediately grabs the cloth
from my lap and throws it onto the floor.
“So what’s the inspiration?” I ask as I retrieve my napkin and
place it far from his reach.
“Well,” she begins, “I was poking around on the internet, just
seeing what I could find, when I came across these recipes from
the Middle East. You know most of their dishes are vegetarian,
and I’ve been trying to go that route for years but could never
stick with it. Now I think I’ve finally found food I can give up
meat for!”
We laugh and I am pleased to discover that Samson enjoys
the meal as well. While Nan tidies up, I rock him to sleep in the
same chair my grandmother once used to rock her children, then
her grandchildren and now her great-grandchildren to sleep in. Nan
doesn’t believe in throwing anything away that is still reasonably
useful, even if it is battered, worn, and frighteningly rickety. “Sometimes
it’s the old worn out thing that works the best,” she’ll say.
“Shiny and new might be prettier, but prettier ain’t always better.”
I have always called my grandmother Nan, not Nana like my
sister and cousin do. I do not know why, but to me, Nan just
seems to fit better. I hope that when I reach her age, I have a
fraction of her eclectic style.
She has never cut her hair, preferring instead to wear it in a
long silver braid wrapped around her head like a halo each morning.
She dresses in flowing shifts and scarves, old copper and silver
bracelets—gifts my grandfather, a railroad man, picked up
out West—dangling along her thin wrists. He died before I was
born, but when Nan talks about him, she will finger the heavy
silver locket around her neck and say, “Your Grandfather, he was
perfection.” Inside the locket is a faded picture of a handsome
young man of about twenty, and even now, some thirty years after
his death, her blue eyes will sparkle when she talks about the man
with whom she shared three decades.
I like to think that I take after her, not only in appearance—
for I also have long hair and blue eyes—but also because in this
town, she is like a bird of paradise lost in a flock of sparrows, and
I think of myself the same way. I also thrive on the exotic, not too
readily available here in Calvary.
Nan’s large home is decorated with a mixture of family photos
and random assortments of quirky ethnic statues and masks that
she collects. They are not from travels but from a lifetime of perusing
garage sales and thrift shops, other people’s discarded souvenirs
becoming our family’s heirlooms. As I settle a sleeping Samson
onto the large black couch, I notice an unusual wood carving of a
hand with an eye cut into the center. I ask Nan about this newest
artifact as we sit at the kitchen table, coffee cups in hand.
“Isn’t it just wonderful?” She says. “I was told it represents the
Hand of Fatima.”
I look closely at the small sculpture, which looks like an exaggerated
Iris blossom. A hand, palm facing front, middle three fingers
raised, thumb and little finger bent down in arcs. In the
middle, a large eye stares dully forward.
“I love the Hand of Fatima,” I say. “I remember studying it in
art history. My professor said it’s used in the Middle East to mean
different things. It’s really beautiful.” I can’t stand it any longer. I
cross the room on tip toe as not to wake Samson, and pick up the
hand. It’s surprisingly light. Up close I can see that the carving is
rather crude, as though it were one of many simple sculptures
carved in a single day by some unknown craftsman, a world away,
his wares spread out before him on a colorful blanket at a festive
“Can you believe I only paid a dollar for it?” Nan’s voice is
almost a whisper.
“The Market?” I ask, and she nods, slowly stirring another
cube of sugar into her cup. “You just never know what you’ll find
there. It’s like an adventure.” She sets the cup down, bracelets
jangling. I painted her once as a gypsy, complete with a colorful
turban, layers of shawls and an upside-down fish bowl doubling
as a crystal ball. Hokey, sure, but it had been fun. Nan seemed
genuinely sorry when I no longer needed her to pose.
She has two great loves: the Internet, on which she spends
hours perusing random topics; and The Market, a large mish
mash assortment of yard sales that folks set up on Saturday mornings
in an old parking lot off Highway 25. Occasionally, when I
can rouse myself from bed early enough, Samson and I accompany
her. For nickels and dimes he can add to his ever growing
collection of small cars, and I occasionally find sweet bargains on
clothes that I could never afford to pay retail prices for. I make a
mental note to try and go there with her as my meager wardrobe
flashes before my eyes. I should really update it before school resumes.
I notice Nan’s silver earrings are also shaped like hands, with
little copper hearts and a small stone the middle of the palm. They
have a slight tarnish, obviously vintage, and I am smitten with
them at once.
“I love those earrings! Another market find?” I pour one last
cup of coffee, my only vice.
“No, these came from New Orleans, years and years ago.”
“You went to New Orleans? When?”
“Oh, gosh, let me think,” she chuckles lightly, as though she
almost can’t believe it. “Nineteen forty-four, maybe forty-five.”
It seems unreal to me that someone can have memories from
almost sixty years back, and I pause for a minute, wondering what
I will be reflecting on decades into my own future. Will I be wearing
a pair of earrings that I own now, discussing life over coffee
with some yet to be born child of Samson’s?
I come back to the present. “What were you doing there? Visiting?”
I ask, wondering why I seem to be surrounded by images
of hands today. I glance down at Nan’s for a moment, gnarled
from arthritis and leathery from years spent outdoors tending
her overflowing gardens. They seem almost holy to me, these
hands that have cared for so much and tended so many, from her
children and grandchildren to the delicate blossoms in her backyard.
“You might say that,” she answers rather cryptically, then rises
and walks over to her sink, gazing out the window as she rinses
her cup and places it on the wooden rack. “I was fifteen years old,
can you believe that? Hard to imagine that I was once that young.”
I am about to respond “No” when suddenly there is a rapping
at the door that awakens Samson with a howl. I collect him from
the couch as Nan opens the door for my uncle Johnny. He strolls
in, tool box in tow.
Johnny is a handyman, known around town for his ability to
fix anything in the world that could possibly break. He’s also an
aging hippie, forever clad in his lifelong uniform of a t-shirt and
faded denim cut-offs, long blonde pony-tail trailing down his back.
If you look through our family albums, you’d think he hadn’t
changed clothes in twenty years. He’s not a man of many words,
but a good man who raised my cousin Johnna alone after her
mother went out for cigarettes and never came back. He has something
of Nan’s spirit, just as I do. That he could actually be my
conservative mother’s brother amazes me.
“Grace,” he nods as he enters.
“Hey Johnny. Nan putting you to work today?”
“Somebody’s got to.”
Nan shakes her head. “That leaky tap again. I don’t know
why that thing won’t stay fixed.”
“Cause it’s older than you are, Ma.” Johnny winks at me and
smiles at Samson, who snuggles against my shoulder. “Hey
Sambo,” he tweaks my son’s cheek affectionately.
The clock in the hall chimes four. The hour is coming when
the heat will ease a little and being outdoors will be possible, even
pleasant if we’re lucky enough for a breeze. I say goodbye to Nan
and Johnny as Samson and I head back to our small townhouse.
After playing for a while on the terrace, we step out for a lazy
stroll through the nearby park. Pushing Samson along in his stroller,
I point out birds and butterflies and various other things, and he
eagerly searches for each of them, his eyes wide with wonder. At
the park we see several of my students playing and lounging about,
and they run up to us, alone and in pairs, curious about Samson
and smiling at me. I ask them all the usual “Are you having a good
summer?” questions and they all nod and say “Yes Ma’am.” Most
of the children in Calvary attend Calvary Elementary School, and
because I teach art to all grades there, I know every little face in
this town. Samson watches a few boys throw a ball back and forth,
which thrills him for about a minute, and then we head home for
our evening routine: Dinner, baths, bedtime for Samson, studio
time for me. After a full day, I can’t wait to spend a few hours
alone with my brushes.
My mind is on painting as our home comes into view. Lost in
my thoughts, I do not notice Daniel sitting on the hood of his car
until he raises his hand and waves. I remember the earlier phone
calls and that I completely forgot to call him back, so I smile as he
slides off the car and trots over to us. Samson, who is crazy about
him, squeals with delight, pointing and cooing as he gets closer.
“I was about to give up on you guys,” he says. “I figured you
were out for a walk when I didn’t see the stroller in back.” He
nods towards the station wagon, where I keep Samson’s stroller
when we aren’t using it.
“Stalker,” I tease.
Daniel rolls his eyes, leans over and lifts Samson out of the
stroller. “Hey, Sammy boy,” he says, tossing him high into the air,
a little game of theirs that gives me shivers. Samson screams in
“Stop it!” I say to Daniel, kicking his shin less than gently.
“You know I hate when you do that!”
“But I like it, and Sammy likes it,” he says, tossing Samson up
again, only not so high this time. “So you’re outnumbered Big
Mama.” He smiles as he puts Samson down, holding his hand
while I unlock the door.

Like what you read? The Absence of Anyone Else is a 5-Star Award winning novel available anywhere that sells fine books, and also as a KINDLE E BOOK via

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Absence of Anyone Else


Grace Pruitt, struggling artist and single mother, paints into the wee hours of the night, hoping to numb the pain she's felt since fleeing her beloved Asheville, North Carolina, home three years before. Now back in Calvary, South Carolina, the fading textile town where she was raised, she aches for the exciting life she once led in the heart of the Great Smokies and wonders what, if anything, her future holds. When the terminally-ill estranged father of her son reaches out from the past, she finds herself in the midst of an emotional turmoil that is further complicated by the ever-growing stir of feelings towards her lifelong friend Daniel, a dashingly handsome graphic artist who seems unable to express his true feelings for Grace, despite having confessed to love her years before. Just when her plate of drama seems full, Grace gets a glimpse into the life she has only dreamed of when Cristofer Stanley, successful artist and gallery owner, expresses an interest in representing her art. Fueled by a steady stream of coffee, sage advice (and just a few secrets) from her eclectic Grandmother Nan, and the passionate desire to do what is right for both herself and her son, Grace finally finds the courage to let go of the life she thought she wanted and embrace the life ~ and love ~ she was meant to have.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Small town native Amy Loftis Alley is an artist, art educator, writer, mother, free spirit and tree-hugging lover of nature who resides in Upstate South Carolina. The Absence of Anyone Else is her first novel.
Link to order book:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Motherhood takes many turns...

Driving down I-20, on my way home from a Columbia workshop, I’m searching the dark for something familiar. It’s almost 10pm and I’ve realized that somewhere along the way, I’ve missed a turn…or taken a wrong turn. While I’m somewhat certain that I’m still heading in the right direction, there is no physical evidence to assure me of it. Nothing but a starless night sky and endless miles of highway that may or may not take me where I need to go.

Ahead I see an exit for Hwy. 178, a familiar road. I come to a crossroad, where signs point right and left to towns I’ve never heard of. While I know the road is correct, I’m completely lost as to which direction to take. Which will lead me home, and which will lead me farther from the place that, at this moment, I most long to be?

And then, an oasis in the night, a lone beacon shining. To the right is a service station with a light-flooded parking lot and bars on the windows. While the bars are a little unnerving, signifying the need for high security in this place, the well-lit parking lot makes me feel safe amidst this darkness. Inside, a woman is busy mopping the floor. It’s almost closing time, but she stops and listens to my tale of woe, then pats my shoulder and leads me over to a map on the wall. I listen as she kindly shows me the way that will lead me home, and assures me that I’m not really off course at all. I graciously thank this lady whose polite nonchalance gives the impression that I am not the first wayward traveler who has sought her guidance in the darkness. I try to express my gratitude, the joy I feel for her being there, but she shrugs off my thanks and returns to mopping. It is, after all, near closing time and she, too, longs to be home.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, on the long, winding, and often dark roads that carry us along on our journey of motherhood, we encountered people like this gas station attendant: stranger-sages who could reassure us, with a smile and map, that we are headed in the right direction. That the paths we are taking with our children are, in fact, leading us to the exact place we’re hoping we’ll end up? However, what I have experienced more often than not is just the opposite: People quick to point out my child’s faults, my faults, and that how everything would be better if I would take the same roads that they had taken with their own children. Quick to imply that what worked for their children will work for all children, and would certainly work better for my child than what I am doing, they become like mucky places in the road, bogging us down, preventing us from moving forward. And so we sit, spinning our wheels, wondering if where we’re hoping to go is, indeed, the right place for us.

However, in the words of one of history's most famous sages, we must remember to ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ They don’t mean to pull us down. They don’t mean to waylay us on our journey. They are simply giving us the wrong directions.

Because I felt lost that night on I-20, I would have taken whatever advice the lady at the gas station suggested. Mothers often feel this way, especially when our children are doing or saying things that we don’t understand. Things that aren’t what we want them to do. When this happens, we often go looking for direction…we seek the wisdom of others because we feel lost. We feel we’re not headed where we want to go. And we listen to advice, nod our heads, and go home with the intention of forcing on our children what worked for the children of others, as if they are lumps of cookie dough and we’re the cutters. Even if we’re not sure it’s the right thing. But we’ve never been down these roads before. Nothing is familiar. And so we find ourselves taking whatever advice is offered, even if it is sending us down a road we don’t want to travel.
However, I’ve come to discover that, just like that night on I-20, even when I feel lost, I still have an instinct inside that is guiding me in the right direction. Maybe I still go a little out of the way at times, but the journey is filled with twists and turns, and I always find myself back on the right path. Now, whenever some well-meaning soul imparts their wisdom on me, I nod and smile – I’ve found that simple act can get one through a lot in life – and I continue down the road I’m on, in the direction I know is right for my son and I. Every child is unique. Every parent/child relationship is unique. And thank goodness one does not create human beings in the same repetitive manner of stamping cookies from a lump of dough.

I know there will be many more times along this road of parenting when I will feel lost, confused. Afraid of taking a wrong turn or missing an exit. Not paying enough attention to the road. But luckily, there will always be friends, family, and even stranger-sages, willing to offer direction. Some will be wrong. Some will point out all my wrong turns, all my missed exits. They will tell me I should go the same direction they headed when they were taking this journey. They will bog me down so that I can’t move…if I listen. But I won’t. I’ll smile and nod and remember that there are also those who are like beacons in the night, shining their wisdom, always happy to reassure a lonely traveler that yes, you are heading in the right direction, you’ve just veered a little off course. They’ll seek no praise and take no pride in their words. They’ll simply reassure me that, even though I am heading off into the darkness down a road I’ve never traveled, that I am on the right parenting path for my son and I. I’ll thank them profusely, or at least try to, but they’ll simply shrug and return to their mopping, or whatever duty they are performing, because they have their own journeys they are thinking of. And I’ll head out once more into the unknown, on a path that, while unfamiliar, my mother-heart knows is right.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Greenwood Music Festival is here!

Please come out and support these events...and also have a chance to view my painting, Harmony!

Story From
Greenwood Music Festival this Weekend
Posted on 06.JAN.09
The Third Annual GREENWOOD MUSIC FESTIVAL continues this weekend, January 9-11 at different venues throughout Greenwood. Stacey Robinson performs a concert Friday night, January 9 at 8:00pm at First Baptist Church of Greenwood, 722 Grace Street. He is a Greenwood-area native who has starred on Broadway in "Show Boat", "The Phantom of the Opera" and on an international tour of "Porgy and Bess" with Houston Grand Opera. He will be singing a program which includes Broadway songs, popular selections, and spirituals. Tickets are $15.00.
The children's opera "PINOCCHIO" will be presented by Opera for Kids! FBN Productions, at Greenwood Community Theatre on Saturday, January 10 at 11:00am. This marks the South Carolina premier of this opera in English, based on the popular children's story. The performance will last about 40 minutes and is perfect for the entire family! Tickets are only $3.00

The Bridge String Quartet performs a concert of Mozart, Schubert and selections from West Side Story on Saturday night at the Arts Center at the Federal Building. The concert will be at 7:00pm and tickets are $10.00. This Atlanta-based quartet will perform this hour-long concert in the beautiful Reception Hall at the Arts Center located at 120 Main Street in Uptown Greenwood. Finally, the Palmetto Mastersingers will present a concert on Sunday, January 11 at 4:00pm as part of Sundays @ Four Concert Series at First Presbyterian Church at 108 East Cambridge Avenue. Know as "South Carolina's Musical Ambassadors", the Mastersingers present sacred and lighter fare during this FREE concert for the public. This 60-80 member men's chorus will uplift your hearts during our finale concert. Tickets for all events are available at the Arts Center, the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, and the McCormick Arts Center at Keturah (MACK), and also at each event.

Come and experience a weekend of wonderful music for the entire family!