Cover image for Camilla's roses
Camilla's roses
McFadden, Bernice L.
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Publication Information:
New York : Dutton, [2004]

Physical Description:
xiii, 205 pages ; 22 cm
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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The poignant tale of a woman who discovers the fragility of life and the strength of a family’s love, from an author praised by Toni Morrison for “searing, expertly imagined scenes”

Known for bringing to life a host of endearing characters who reveal tender truths about humanity, Bernice L. McFadden now turns her storytelling talents to an unforgettable and deeply troubled woman named Camilla.

Unfolding in a progression of stirring and powerful chapters, Camilla’s Roses presents a life haunted by the past. Camilla’s childhood was immersed in chaos and love, and steeped in the myth of perfection. As an adult, she never looked back, refusing to acknowledge the people and places that had scarred her so many years ago. But a legacy of cancer proves inescapable, forcing Camilla to embrace the past—no matter how painful it may be—and to salvage what is left of her love in order to save her daughter. As Camilla discovers the bittersweet limitations of motherhood and reconciliation, she also awakens an inspiring message about the mortality issues we all must face.

The author of four bestselling novels, Bernice L. McFadden receives consistent accolades from reviewers coast to coast, and has captured the hearts of thousands of readers. With Camilla’s Roses , she is poised to win over her widest audience yet.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Camilla and her husband have successful careers and a beautiful young daughter. Then she discovers a lump in her breast and realizes too late that she has turned her back on the people whose support she needs the most. Generations of women in her family, moving from a southern small town to Queens, New York, have carried the middle name Rose, and some have carried a legacy of breast cancer. But Camilla has been estranged from her unruly family since she went to college, leaving behind a drug-addicted mother, a grandmother raising scads of abandoned grandchildren, and an addled great-aunt. Ashamed of her family and her race, she lightened her skin and adopted a false background. She is living a complete lie when tragedy strikes. McFadden, author of Sugar 0 (2000) and This Bitter Earth 0 (2002), will enrapture readers again as she moves between the past and the present and the perspectives of different characters to tell a story of family and reconciliation. --Vanessa Bush Copyright 2004 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Ashamed of her race and dysfunctional family, Camilla Rose leaves them behind and invents a new life for herself, complete with husband, career, and beautiful young daughter. Then she discovers a breast lump that turns out to be cancer, a disease shared by some of her estranged female relatives. McFadden (Sugar) traces Camilla's family history back to her great-grandmother in Georgia and her indestructible rosebush that has provided names for each generation of the family's women. The book focuses primarily on Camilla's grandmother Velma, who lives in Queens, NY, and cares for her dimwitted sister Maggie while raising several abandoned grandchildren. Camilla's mother, Audrey, drifts in and out of the family, depending on the state of her heroine addiction. This story underscores the importance of family and the strength it gives in overcoming such problems as drug addiction, breast cancer, abandonment, and infidelity. Narrator Patricia R. Floyd reads clearly and with just the right inflection. Recommended for large public libraries.-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Rose Charlottesville, unable to claim Georgia or Florida, but settling in both places; its name in place, but state allegiance caught up in red tape and government paperwork until the latter part of the eighteenth century when the town was divided into Charlottesville (on Georgia land) and Charlotte Bay (on the Florida side). But the people that called the town home had known the place for so long just as Charlottesville that they found it hard to refer to it as anything else. The return addresses found on letters that were sent to family and friends that relocated to different parts of the country stated: who and what street, road or route and then just, Charlottesville, USA. A quaint town, filled with people who lived in harmony; tiny wooden houses, barns well-stocked with grain; preserves in the cellar, animals fat and content. Abundant in everything anyone could ever want. Charlottesville was dense with vegetation brought over during slavery times. Java plum and carob trees dotted the countryside, jungle berry bushes climbed trestles and wood fences and there was an abundance of strawberry guava trees at the mouth of town. All of those exotic plants, trees, and shrubs were commonplace in Charlottesville, found in any backyard or the wide yawn of land that wouldn't be developed until the mid- 1950s. It was as unique a place as it was common; boasting nine- month-long summers and residents that had only heard of snow. Hope was everywhere in that small place few had heard of; resting in the dawn of each new day, in the blue jays' song and seen in the young eyes of the laughing children that played tag around the massive barks of the African tulip trees. Almost perfect. It was the rosebush that caused the envy and thievery. Where it came from, no one knew for sure. Algiers or Morocco, depending on who was telling the story. One of a kind and thriving on Hurston land is what caused the problems. Horticulturists came from all over the country to see this rosebush that did not grow in any other part of the country and all of the attention elevated its owners up to a kind of celebrity status. It had been stolen a number of times, dug up in the thick of night and hauled away by some jealous neighbor, but always returned, wilted and half-dead. "Heathens," Abbey said as she steadied the bush in place as Joseph shoveled dirt back into the hole and patted it into place. Back in its own soil, in its front-yard home again, the rosebush flourished and so did Abbey, coming up pregnant each time the rosebush was stolen and returned; she gave birth to ten children; eight girls and two boys, christening every one of the girls with the middle name Rose. And they in turn did the same and the same holds true for every girl child after that and so on and so on. Years later the tradition still holds firm and continues in that place that claims two states, with no zip code and one rosebush, but it also flourishes in a borough named after a little-known English royal that is bordered by the sea, where remnants of a world's fair still stands; it still thrives in a place called Queens. ThePresent Camilla Rose Tuesday was their day. Camilla picked out a matching thong and demi-cup bra. Purple-and-black mesh that showed most everything. She sat down at her dressing table and admired herself in the mirror as she squirted on some perfume, plucked at a few stray eyebrow hairs that had burrowed through since her last waxing. The car pulled into the driveway and then the front door opened. There were greetings exchanged between employer and employee and then the heavy sigh her husband Bryant always took before he began to climb their sweeping staircase. When he walked into the bedroom she was seated on the mahogany four-poster king-sized bed, facing him, bent over seductively so that her hair covered her eyes. She had on the spiked black pumps she'd bought for an art reception they'd attended some time back, the pumps he said did something to her legs, something that drove him wild. She remembered he couldn't stop staring at her that night, those pumps, that dress, and the way she wore her hair swept up, except for a few strands that floated down her neck, bouncing and beckoning him to kiss her shoulder blades. Which he did, every time he called for another martini. He told her, on the way home that night, that she'd have to keep them on, the pumps, and when he got her home that night he fucked her until she thought he'd break himself off inside of her. Now, sitting there on the bed, her legs spread wide, the mesh material barely covering her vaginal lips, and throwing even more coals onto the fire by twirling a lollipop between her candy- apple red-painted lips. Bryant dropped his briefcase and pushed the door shut behind him. "Crawl," she said and Bryant plummeted to his knees and did just that. Tuesday was their day. It was after that and the lovemaking and the soft talk before the quiet of resting in each other's arms and Lena, the housekeeper, tapping on their bedroom door and whispering that she would look after their daughter, Zola, until they came down for dinner. It was after all that that Bryant stepped in behind her in the shower, kissed her neck, and cupped her soapy breasts in his hands and caressed her still-erect nipples between his forefinger and thumb and then pressed his hard-again penis against her backside and allowed his passion to carry him away and squeezed her breast a little too roughly for Camilla's liking, even though she didn't voice her protest, it wasn't until then that he felt the lump. "What's this?" "What's this?" That question took on a life of its own, Bryant's textured tone dropping away, not even the letters of that question remained. When she heard it reverberating in her ears, she could not picture the spelling of the words. That question became the sound of an angry ocean, the color of slate, the question mark itself, a dagger. She couldn't get a mammogram until the following Monday and that lump seemed to grow with every dawning day. She couldn't keep her hands off of it. She pushed and prodded, rubbed and pinched it. But it wouldn't go away. She pressed hot compresses against it and then ice packs. She rubbed salve on it and the green pulp from the aloe vera plant. She cupped it at night and spoke to it, prayed it away, and cursed it to hell. Bryant told her she was worried about nothing. Babette, her mother-in-law, said that it was probably just a cyst. A cyst. And besides, "You're just thirty years old for chrissakes. You're too young for it to be anything but a cyst," she said. The easiest thing to do would be to pretend like there had been no discovery in the shower, no phone call to Dr. Franklin, and no Monday. Camilla was good at pretending things away. But she found this situation to be a bit more challenging. The lump was a daily nuisance and the word Monday mocked her from her wall and desk calendars. Only the phone call could be dismissed as fantasy. The week inched by and Camilla busied herself with work, giving her best advice on lazy husbands, wayward children, and vindictive girlfriends. The letter that had asked her if she was Camilla Rose from 142nd Avenue, she destroyed that in the paper shredder-and a minute later when she looked at the spaghetti-thin strips splayed at the bottom of the bin, she pretended that it was bank correspondence offering her yet another low-interest, high-credit, charge card. The days eke by until Monday is upon her and she finds herself sitting in the waiting room, dressed in a Gap T-shirt and denim capris, studying the copper polish on her toenails, coaxing her mind to think of pleasantries: sunflowers, white roses, and the first time she and Poe kissed. That last thought had surprised her and her head snapped up as if she had blurted the thought out loud. "Camilla Boston?" Her name is called and some of the other women, who wait, glance at her pedicured feet, they watch the swing in her hips and think they hear Duke Ellington's "Take the 'A' Train," while their eyes travel up her leg scaling her curved hip, finally coming to rest in her waistline and they "humph" to themselves and straighten their backs, while making a mental note about their toes and wondering where their walking music has gone off to. The room is made up of sterile whites and sanitary steel grays. Camilla tries to shut out the cold gel the technician swathed across her breast, but that was hard, the technician's gloved hand, the squeeze bottle of thick white gel, the woman's smile, and her rest-assured manner, did nothing for Camilla's nerves. She could feel her buttocks clapping together, her knees beginning to quake, and the sound of her teeth chattering away in her mouth. Poe came to mind again and the childhood nights on the patio with her cousins, all of them lying on their backs staring up at the moon, mouths crammed tight with Oreos, fireflies blinking in pickle jars. "I know it's cold. It'll be just a moment. You'll see, you blink your eye and it'll be all over with," the technician said and lifted one of Camilla's heavy breasts and set it on top of the metal shelf. She handled her breast expertly, delicately, but Camilla still felt like a piece of meat. "It'll pinch," the technician said before she walked over to the control panel and pressed the button. The top shelf came down and squashed Camilla's left breast. She felt tears stinging at the corner of her eyes. Velma had pinched her many times. Camilla knew what a pinch felt like, this was something else. "That wasn't so bad, was it?" the technician said and readied Camilla's right breast. Later, for the sonogram, Camilla lies on the table in a dark room while technician number two rolls the sensor across her left breast and then the right. It was the same procedure she'd had done when she was pregnant with Zola. But this time she wasn't watching the screen for a hand, a foot, and sweet lips sucking happily on a thumb. This time she strained to see the mass. And sure enough, there it was. Dr. Franklin chewed on his bottom lip as he examined the X rays. He scratched at his chin and made a sound in his throat before giving his full attention to Camilla. "Well, Camilla, it seems as though there is something here. In both breasts. Something small," he said and used his thumb and forefinger to imitate just how small. "But to be sure, we should take a biopsy. Just a precautionary measure. Nothing to be concerned about." Camilla nodded her head and heard her mother-in-law in her mind: Milk duct. Cyst. But then the question came. "Camilla, let me ask you this, do you have a history of cancer in your family?" What family? Camilla was a phoenix who rose from the rubble, a ghost who appeared out of the blue. Dr. Franklin was a family friend and had been present and smiling at the engagement party. He had heard the story of how she and Bryant came to be a couple and when he looked around and saw that he knew practically everybody there, he swirled the ice around in his crystal glass filled with Wild Turkey and asked, "Where are your people, Camilla?" A hush seemed to descend on them and Babette gave Dr. Franklin a tight smile, hooked him by his elbow and guided him back toward the bar. "Come, Cedric, I think your drink needs topping off." Whatever Babette told him seemed to be satisfying be-cause he never broached the subject again although Camilla had the feeling that despite Babette's words he wanted to ask her even as he slouched in the sixth pew of the glass cathedral church. She saw him, Dr. Franklin, wheezing beneath the sixty extra pounds he'd piled on after his hip surgery, mopping his forehead with a blue handkerchief and twisting his head this way and that in order to try to get the best view he could from behind Odessa Harris and her Empire State Building-high hat that had a brim as wide as wings, ruining the view for Dr. Franklin and guests ten rows deep. She had the feeling he wanted to ask her right then in front of God and Bryant's family and friends and her heart had beat extrafast when the minister got to the, "Does anyone have any objections why this man and this woman should . . ." He knew her story. Not the real one, of course. No one knew the truth. Now Camilla suspected that the question he posed was just another way at getting at the truth. She blinked at him, hoping the very gesture would erase his question and take with it the memory of those people and that house pressed into the corner of Foch Boulevard and 142nd Avenue. That house, whitewashed and trimmed in gray, with a black-shingled roof that pointed and then sloped. Four bedrooms and a rickety staircase that climbed past the stained-glass window that had been broken a number of times over the years, but never replaced, just patched with masking tape and the thin sheets of plastic that her grandmother, Velma, saved whenever she picked up some article of clothing from the dry cleaner. Living room, dining room and good-sized kitchen that led out to a small porch and then down to the backyard. That house sprouted children, seemed to grow grown folks; aunts that came to visit for a spell, the ones that dropped consonants from their words, cussed when they felt like it, talked with their mouths full, made no apologies for who they were; goddamn it, they had made it through- through wilds of Africa, slavery, emancipation, reconstruction, segregation, and the thirty-two- hour bus ride here! They called it as they saw it and referred to most everybody as baby-sucked marrow from chicken bones, licked their fingers clean after a meal, scratched where it itched no matter who was watching, laughed openmouthed, and passed out kisses and hard candy just because some little one was so damn cute. The uncles, necks scented with Old Spice or Aqua Velva, they chew tobacco, some roll their own cigarettes. Coffee in the morning and whiskey in the afternoon through evening. Always sipping on something and uttering "Jesus" at least three times a day. Morning time, their eyes still crusted with sleep and breath rank as they slide, slip, and ease their way across the sheets and press themselves into their still-sleeping spouses, dicks hard and poking, hands tugging and pulling until the women stop slapping and the "uh-uh" and "git now!" turns into silky moans and legs part and the women flower right there on the sheets. Afternoon time and the men are uttering it again; walking down the street, tossing dice against a brick wall or talking shit in the barbershop all the time watching the young things bounce by. Miniskirts, platform shoes. All to die for. "Jesus," the men whisper and rub the inside of their thighs. Later in the evening, kids put down for the night, a game of spades, tonk, or dominoes going on at the dining room table; the women close by, seated at the elbows of their men or milling about in the kitchen, whispering, giggling, brushing crumbs off of the counter, pulling back the shade to check on the night sky. The men, one eye on the game and the other on the women, are suddenly struck speechless. Toothpicks roll across pink tongues, hearts beat soundless through the blessed moment of silence. The men know that black women are women at the very least; magical at their zenith and biblical at the core, being with a black woman was as sacred as dousing oneself in holy water. That house, square-windowed eyes, dark cousins for pupils watching the citified people with wonder and in the late summer of 1952 Camilla Rose was not even a notion; Maggie Rose held center stage in that house, even though her sister Velma Rose, still hated her and had only recently stopped wishing her dead. ThePast Maggie Rose She hadn't always been that way. She'd been beautiful once, practically perfect, except for the scrape on her knee and the one she got on a jutting nail when she was eight years old. But no one ever really counted that one because it was set deep inside her dimple, hidden away, almost invisible, unless you looked real close. Caramel colored and bathed in light, nobody looked real close at Maggie; their eyes got ambushed in her long eyelashes, perfectly shaped nose and those lips, heart-shaped and a natural shade of blush. People didn't want to look at Maggie up close; it would have been too much for them, like eating sugar right from the bowl or sucking sap straight from the tree. You had to stand back to admire her, like one would do an exceptional piece of artwork. Maggie was indeed extraordinarily beautiful but not extremely bright. She got mixed up adding one and one, couldn't spell to save her life and wore shoes without laces until she was ten years old because she just couldn't get the gist of knotting two pieces of string together. Maggie, nineteen and still fond of dolls, playing pretend, and dress-up, not interested in boys, well, not really, preferring to stay up under her mother, baking and sewing, spending Saturday nights sitting at her father's feet, listening to him read from the Bible, watching him puff on his pipe. Nineteen and happy just to be alive and well and big sister to Velma, just fourteen months younger than her, but not as pretty-well, not even close-but not ugly either. Velma's got a sharp tongue and a quick temper. Angry, the townspeople say, because she inherited her father's bucket nose, but she should be grateful, they whispered, because as dark as she was, she wasn't blue-black like her daddy, because a blue-black woman would never get a husband in Charlottesville, maybe somewhere yonder, but not here, they said. Maggie dotes on Velma, bucket nose, dark skin, ornery disposition and all. She bakes cakes for her, sews dresses from material she buys on discount from the odds-and-ends store she works at, and stands proudly at the door on Friday nights when Velma's boyfriend Lloyd George comes to collect her to go out dancing or just to town for ice cream floats. They share a room, Maggie and Velma, and a double-sized bed that's draped with colorful quilts that Maggie has stitched together with her own beautiful hands, they snuggle together in that bed and Velma whispers secrets in Maggie's ear, confides in her about the butterflies in her stomach and the song her heart belts out every time she's close to Lloyd. "Y'all think you gonna get married?" Maggie's voice is filled with excitement and wonder. "Hope so," Velma says; her head already filled with baby's breath and the white-lace gloves that were wrapped in tissue and tucked away in the bottom drawer of her mother's bureau. "Lord, I hope so," she breathes and wraps her arms around Maggie's neck. "And then the babies will come and I can go collect them from the collard-green patch out back." Velma laughs at Maggie's ignorance. She's told her a million times where babies come from but Maggie never seems to remember that. "That's what grown folks tell little children. That ain't really where babies come from. They grow up inside of you and then come out down here." Velma had spread her legs and pointed down between them. She'd even pulled the lips far enough apart so that Maggie could see her "bell" and the hole beneath it. "This here is where the babies come out." Maggie had just blushed and turned her head away. "Oh, you just funnin' with me." Another time, after a spring rain, Velma had dragged her to the back porch where their cat Sweetie was mewing loudly. "Sound like a baby crying," Maggie muttered as Velma dragged her down the slick back steps. "What's the rush?" she said only after she slipped and ended up on the last step, behind first. "Look here," Velma said and pointed to the dark space underneath the stairway. Maggie strained and stretched her neck. There was Sweetie, pushing out the third kitten of the eight she would give birth to. Maggie watched in amazement as the birth sack squeezed out of Sweetie. It looked like bubble gum to Maggie. Not the pink one, but the red one that left her tongue on fire. "Oh my lord!" Maggie screamed. "Sweetie's gonna die! Her insides are coming out!" Velma grabbed Maggie roughly by the shoulders. "Maggie, Sweetie is giving birth. This is how animals are born. This is how humans are born." Maggie had just blinked at her. "We just like the animals. The cows, sheep, goat-" "Cats?" Maggie had ventured. "Uh-huh," Velma said. Maggie hadn't always been that way; mangled and mean, but after what went on between them Velma had wished ugliness on her a million times and on the real bad days, death. It seemed like one day Lloyd was hers and the next day he belonged to Maggie. He had tricked Maggie, Velma was sure of it, but she could only hate one of them and so that would have to be Maggie, because she was beautiful, stupid, and kind. She'd found them in the root cellar, amongst the jars of preserves, a blanket on the floor beneath them. They were already done by the time Velma came down the stairs. She smelled them first, the stink of sex mixed up with the scent of tobacco leaves Papa had first dipped in cognac and then strung up to dry. It was that smoky aroma that Velma spent days trying to wash out of her hair. She'd scrubbed her skin raw, trying to rid her body of the scent of them. "It was as if," she whispered to the wind one day, "their bodies had come together and caught fire." Maggie was sitting up, her knees pulled close to her chest, hiding her naked breast. Her face was tilted upwards and bathed in the sunlight that streamed through the small window. Lloyd was on his back, his body stretched out long. His color had gone from red to bronze over the summer, and his skin just seemed to shimmer. His right arm bent beneath his head, the fingers on his free hand sweeping Maggie's spine, cutting through the film of perspiration there. Velma could tell even then, by the way he touched Maggie that he loved her. He had never touched Velma that way. "What?" That's all she could find in herself to say and Lloyd shot straight up at the sound of her voice, grabbing at the corner of the blanket, trying to hide his nakedness and what he had done. Maggie, poor stupid beautiful Maggie, had just turned her head towards her, smiled and said "Hi, Velma." Hi, Velma? How stupid she was. Not understanding that Lloyd was hers and that no, it wasn't okay to do what she'd done with him. "But why?" Maggie had whined days later when Velma still wouldn't talk to her. "You said we were like Sweetie, like the animals." Velma had gone crying to her parents about what Lloyd and Maggie had done to each other down in the root cellar. Chappo had pinched her lips together and looked to her husband for a word. Handy lit his pipe, picked up his Bible, and invited Lloyd out to the back porch. "Don't hurt him, Papa." Velma had thrown a miserable plea at her father's back. Unable to look at Maggie, Chappo searched the kitchen for something to do. "But I-" Maggie didn't understand what it was she'd done wrong. "Hush now." Chappo cut her off without glancing her way. Yes, Velma had said that and had reiterated it time and time again when she pointed out that Jeremiah Johnson had two bulls and twenty cows, their own chicken coop had just one cock, and "Look here, Maggie. Says here in the paper that they puttin' Oasis, the sable-colored thoroughbred and two-time winner of the blue ribbon, out to stud." What else was Maggie to think about sex? Love was one thing, the Bible said you were supposed to love all of God's creatures and that's what Maggie did. Sex was something else, something her parents never spoke on, something she had come to understand from Velma. They were, as Velma had indicated, just like the animals, so what she and Lloyd had done was okay. Wasn't it? Velma stood across the room, staring Maggie down, slaying her slowly with her eyes. An hour later, a sudden wind picking up, and the voices of the men no longer sounding like the low rumble of an approaching summer storm, but crisp, like autumn. There is even laughter, and a friendly pat on Lloyd's back as they step in from the porch. The screen door slams shut and Lloyd doesn't even look Velma's way, his eyes are all over Maggie who's too stupid to appreciate the significance. "Well, we gone have us a weddin'," Handy announces. Chappo waits for the rest, her face remains serene, her eyes fixed on her husband's. Velma's heart pounds in her chest. "Since these two jumped the gun, they gonna have to tie the knot. She spoiled and I don't know one good man who'd want a spoiled woman." Velma's mouth dropped open and then snapped shut. She was spoiled! Goddamit he had spoiled her too, her and a few other women in Charlottesville! Maggie still didn't understand what was happening. "Will you marry me, Maggie?" Lloyd said and then dropped down awkwardly on one knee. "I loves you, Maggie." Velma's sight was leaving her. She was going blind with madness. Her heart jumped up and into her throat. She couldn't believe what she was hearing, what she was seeing. "Is that what you want, Maggie?" Chappo said. Handy had had his say and she had been patient about waiting for him to talk first, but she wasn't sending none of her daughters down the aisle, spoiled or not, if that's not what they wanted to do. Handy's shoulders dropped some, he could feel the tail of his manhood searching frantically for a hiding space. "'Cause if you don't want to, you don't have to." Chappo's words were so powerful; Velma thought that it must be a written law somewhere. Maggie looked down into Lloyd's face. "Can we have kittens and puppies?" "Yes, yes," Lloyd said. Oh, my god! Velma heard her heart scream inside of her chest. She looked around wildly and her eyes settled on the ceramic mixing bowl that sat on the shelf over the sink. "What do you think, Mama, should I?" Maggie looked to Chappo. "It's up to you, baby." "Papa, you think I should." "Y-" "It's your decision, baby." Chappo cut Handy off before he could answer. Handy's tail found the perfect hideout and settled itself between his legs. "Velma, you think I should?" Chappo cleared her throat, forced a smile and reached a hand out to touch Velma's trembling wrist. "Uhm, your sister is not feeling like giving out any advice now, baby," Chappo said and turned and reached for the mixing bowl. "Git yourself together, girl," she hissed at Velma. "My mama gave me this bowl." "Well, I guess it'll be okay as long as I can have a puppy and a kitten," Maggie said and Velma hit the floor cold. By the late 1940s, Handy and Chappo dead and buried, Charlottesville, along with the bits and pieces of what had gone on between them, behind them; both sisters were living up in New York with factory jobs and husbands. Velma was four months' pregnant with her third child and Maggie six weeks' pregnant with her first. Velma had gritted her teeth when Maggie spouted the news and grabbed her hand to press against her belly. Maggie was beaming and Lloyd stood alongside her just as bright, not even a trace of guilt in his eyes. How could he do it? She found herself still asking that question even as she forced a smile and agreed to plant some collard greens in the corner of her yard, because Maggie couldn't; she lived in a tenement in Brooklyn, her bedroom window looked down on pavement and garbage cans. "Sure I'll do that for you, Maggie," Velma had said through clenched teeth. "For the baby!" "For the baby," Maggie agreed. Now, Maggie, always clad in a housedress, black socks that climbed her calves and stopped at the knee, shaggy green slippers that hindered her already hobblelike walk. Head tied up and always smelling like liniment. Fifteen years after the accident she was still mumbling to herself, hustling the children off to school in the mornings, passing out sneers instead of kisses after a night of weeping, and smoky dreams of the last time she laughed out loud and felt her husband's hands on her body, his breath against her neck. The mornings that followed those nights, and there were many, many nights like those, Maggie's mind would wander to the last day of smiles and laughter and an apricot sun shirking the horizon, Maggie in the driver's seat of that emerald green and white- topped Ford her husband Lloyd loved so, her belly swollen and low and barely able to fit behind the steering wheel. She didn't want to drive, but Lloyd convinced her to go on ahead and do it because his head was bad from the Scotch Velma had put out special and just for him. Special and just for him. Maggie didn't want to drive. Being in control of a machine that long and wide, unnerved her. She had trouble running the vacuum cleaner, for chrissakes. "My head is bad, baby, go on and take the wheel. I'll guide you. It'll be fine." Lloyd was slurring and those eyes of his, those big brown eyes that had got Maggie all caught up with him to begin with, were bloodshot and half-shut. "We could stay here with Velma. Go home in the morning when you can drive." Maggie spoke to her belly and pressed her behind against the driver's side door. Someone hollered out something from the backyard and then there was a swell of laughter before the music went up a notch. Lloyd looked longingly over Maggie's shoulder. The smell of marijuana and barbecue ribs wafted over the fence and Lloyd inhaled deeply and smiled. "You want to stay anyway, I can tell," Maggie said and pressed the palm of her hand against his chest. God, she loved this man, she thought to herself and moved her hand to his shoulder and then down his arm. Their hands linked and Lloyd bent down and gently kissed her cheek. The smell of Scotch nauseated her and the baby kicked violently inside her womb. "You need to sleep in your own bed," Lloyd said and touched her stomach. "'Sides, I think I might want some tonight." Lloyd gave her a sly look and Maggie blushed and then giggled. He still made her feel like a schoolgirl. "You gonna drive, baby?" Lloyd reached behind her and grabbed onto the door handle. "Yeah, okay." She would remember how her hands looked, a warm bronze and clenched tight around the steering wheel, her wedding band choking her finger, hands swollen from pregnancy and the heat. B.B. King on the radio, the windows down and the wind pulling at her hair and making it hard for her to breath., Lloyd leaned in close, one hand resting on her belly, the other thrown around the back of her seat, the feel of his warm breath against her face as he encouraged her on, persuading her to "Give it a little more gas. Just a little more," as they merged on to the highway and then the "Yeah, yeah, that's it. That's it baby, that's why I love you. That's why I love you." Just hearing those words gave Maggie confidence and she pushed her back into the seat and pressed down harder on the gas pedal, moving into the left lane to take over a green Buick that had been creeping in front of her. She would remember her laughter, hers and Lloyd's, entwined with the sound of the wind, the engine and B.B. King, the feel of the leather seat beneath her exposed thighs, the bobbing head of the brown-felt dog on the dashboard, but not the red brake lights of the truck in front of her or Lloyd's hand suddenly on top of hers, the abrupt jerk of the car as it lunged right, Lloyd screaming for her to brake, "Brake!" the shattering of glass and bending of metal as the car tore through the steel divider, the sick sailing feeling of flying through air without wings, and then the sudden impact. Witnesses would report that the car rolled and bounced down the grassy knoll like a ball, finally coming to a stop, right side up. They didn't notice the smoke, not at first; they'd confused it with the billowing clouds of dust and dirt that mushroomed when the car finally came to its crashing halt. They moved forward, slowly at first, their hearts beating hard in their chests and faces laced with shock. Then someone saw a spark of blue-and-white and then a yellow flame snaking its way from what was left of the front section of the car, along the sides and towards the back. Towards the gas tank. Antoine Black and his brother Pedro were the first ones out of their car and down the slope, but turned back when they saw the flame. Walking backward a few paces before finally turning around and running, tripping over their feet and screaming for the other Good Samaritans and onlookers to get back. "It's going to blow!" Pedro screamed as he passed his brother, scrambling on all fours to scale the grassy incline. Davis Browton, either, didn't hear the warning or just damn well didn't heed it, because he kept coming, even shoving Antoine out of the way when Antoine grabbed hold of his arm and tried to jerk him back. He kept coming because he didn't know any other way to live. Fifty-four years old, recently widowed, father of two and grandfather of one. His life had been one big uphill climb; he'd stumbled a number of times along the way, alcoholism, adultery, gambling, a yearlong bout with depression after his wife passed away from cancer. That had been the worse fall for him. Losing Cheryl had made him lose his grip on life and he swan-dived into a black oblivion. But he'd eventually straightened himself out, with the help of his family, his sons, they'd helped him stitch it back together again, like a patch quilt, a piece from here and scrap from there. He was flawed but whole. Davis kept coming because so many people had kept coming for him. The smoke was thick by then, and the smell of gasoline strong, the flames licked out at him as he grabbed hold of the door handle, oblivious to the heat, his mind discounting the pain for the moment as he tugged and pulled and banged at the door. He couldn't see in, had no idea if anyone inside was alive, but he kept at it. Samuel Tyler joined in. Fresh out of the police academy, just married, baby on the way, his wife Amanda resting at home, a chicken baking in the oven. She wouldn't have let him go down that hill, she would have kicked and screamed for him not to do it, she'd loved him since high school, had saved herself for him while he sowed his oats through college and the year he spent working at his father's plumbing-supply business before finally tiring of that and taking the police exam and her hand in marriage. She wouldn't have allowed it. Together, Davis and Samuel somehow pried the door open. They started on the woman first, pulling at her arms, squeezing their hands down between her legs, trying to dislodge her feet, yanking at the steering wheel, pulling and tugging until, miraculously, she came loose. Her feet were on fire; Samuel threw himself on top of them while Davis worked at trying to get the man out. He was stuck good, but his eyes were open and he was screaming; Davis couldn't hear his voice, not above the sound of the flames, the sirens that were coming from every direction and the pounding of his heart in his ears. He couldn't hear his voice, but he saw the tears that swelled up in Lloyd's eyes and evaporated as soon as they spilled out and onto his cheeks. The heat was intense by then, the flames raging, Davis's arms were beginning to blister and he could see blood and bone where Lloyd's denims used to be, where Lloyd's skin used to be. Samuel dragged the woman to the base of the incline. He yelled up for help, but the Black brothers were fear-stricken and that would not allow them to come back down again. Instead they backed away, pushing themselves further into the crowd and out of sight. Two other men answered the call and they hustled down and carried Maggie as gently as they could up the incline. Samuel rushed back to the car, his wife's face in his head, the scent of his mother's perfume suddenly in the air. "These are how last moments begin," he thought as he rushed forward. The explosion propelled Davis, shot him like a rocket across the ground where he hit with a thud. The force of it sent Samuel stumbling backwards, but he did not fall, he just rocked on his heels for a moment and when the second explosion came, he fell to his knees and covered his eyes against the billowing fire cloud that blocked out the sun. Davis, dazed, scooted backwards on his behind until someone in a uniform rushed over and threw a blanket over his flaming arms. Excerpted from Camilla's Roses by Bernice L. McFadden All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.