It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book’s FIRST chapter!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Maureen Lang and her book: My Sister Dilly
Tyndale House Publishers (September 10, 2008)
About the Author:
Maureen Lang has written three secular romance novels as well as Pieces of Silver, Remember Me, The Oak Leaves and On Sparrow Hill. She is the winner of multiple awards including the Noble Theme Award from American Christian Fiction Writers. Lang lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and three children.
Visit the author’s website by clicking on her name or photo. (ISBN#9781414322247, 352pp, $12.99)
â€œAre you here for the Catherine Carlson release?â€
I looked up in surprise as not one but a half dozen people seemed to have appeared from nowhere. Iâ€™d noticed a couple of vans and cars farther down the parking lot but hadnâ€™t seen any people until now. My gaze had been taken up by the prison, a forlorn place if ever I saw one. Even the entire blue sky wasnâ€™t enough to offset the buildingâ€™s ugliness. Block construction, painted beige like old oatmeal. If the cinder walls didnâ€™t give it away, the lack of windows made it clear it was an institution. The electric barbed wire fencing told what kind.
Two men in my path balanced cameras on their shoulders, and in front of them a pair of pretty blonde journalists shoved microphones in my face while another thrust forth a palm-sized recorder. One on the fringe held an innocuous notepad.
My first impulse was to run back to my car and speed away. But Dilly was waiting. I clamped my mouth shut, gripped the strap of my Betsey Johnson purse, and walked along the concrete strip leading to the doors of the prison. There was an invisible line at the gate that not a single reporter could penetrate. But I knew theyâ€™d wait.
At the front door, a woman greeted me through a glass window. Dilly was being â€œprocessed,â€ she told me, then said to have a seat. I turned, noticing the smell of inhospitable antiseptic for the first time. Hard wooden benches were the only place to sit. Evidently they thought the families of those in such a place needed to be punished too. Iâ€™d have brought a book if Iâ€™d known the wait was going to be so long; there wasnâ€™t even a magazine handy to help me pass the time.
Only thoughts. Of how I would make up for my failures. Iâ€™d told Mac, my best friendâ€”and somehow it seemed heâ€™d become my only friendâ€”that this was the first step in fixing things. Keeping a broken past in the past. Dillyâ€™s . . . and mine.
I remembered the day our parents brought my sister home from the hospital just after she was born. The excitement was as welcome as the warmth of the sun shining through the bare trees that early March afternoon. Everyone smiled, and even though Mom was moving kind of slow up the stairs to our farmhouse, she smiled too. It was the kind of excitement you see when thereâ€™s a new and hopeful change, like at weddings.
I was five, and even at that age I knew my parents had waited a long time for my sister. I heard Mom say once that sheâ€™d envisioned a houseful of kids, but the Lord hadnâ€™t seen fit to bless her with a productive womb. I think I wondered, even then, what my mother would have done with a bunch more kids when I seemed to be in the way of other things she did: lunches with friends sheâ€™d known all her life; making decorative quilts and pillows she sold at fairs; canning fruits, pickles, and jam; or endless work on the farm. In retrospect maybe it was a surprise theyâ€™d even had me and Dilly; she must have been so tired at the end of the day.
I wondered later if everybody was happier because things you wait for seem better once you finally get them. But in recent years I thought everybody in town might have been relieved there werenâ€™t a whole slew of kids born into our family.
â€œGo take a seat, Hannah,â€ Dad had said to me after Mom told us I couldnâ€™t hold the baby unless I was sitting down.
I skipped over to Aunt Elsie on the couch and hopped up next to her, holding out my arms as my mother made the careful transfer. It wasnâ€™t like holding one of my dolls, even though the blanket was made of the same soft material my plastic babies enjoyed. Unlike my dolls, my sister was warm and squirmy. Dad told me not to hold her too tight, so I put her on my legs and pulled back the cover to get a good look at her.
Her eyes were closed, and she wore a pink cotton bonnet. Even then, the straight lines of her brows had been drawn, which later filled in so well. Her cheeks were splotched red and white and her arms and legs moved in four different directions. When she opened her mouth, I saw her flat gums, no hint of the teeth to come someday. I thought she was the prettiest thing Iâ€™d ever seen.
â€œSheâ€™s a dilly,â€ I whispered to Aunt Elsie, whoâ€™d taught me her favorite word for the things she liked. It came from a song called â€œLavender Blue,â€ and while my parents spent so much time at the hospital in those last couple of days, that was what my aunt and I had been doingâ€”going about farm chores singing of things being dilly.
The name on my sisterâ€™s birth certificate was Catherine Marie Williams, but neither Catherine nor Cathy nor even Marie ever stuck. She was Dilly from that day on.
Nearly thirty years later, here I was, ready to bring Dilly back home to our farmhouse.
Finally I heard something other than the distant sounds of an institution. Closer than the clatter of plates somewhere, something nearer than the echo of a call down a corridor. I heard the click of an automatic door lock, followed by the swish of air accompanying a passage opening.
Dilly. Instead of prison orange, she wore regular street clothes. Was it possible she was taller? Did people grow in their twenties? She was still short, having taken from the same gene pool Iâ€™d inherited, but I was barely an inch taller now. Spotting me right away, she dropped her black leather suitcase on the floor. For a moment the case looked vaguely familiar, but that thought was lost when I noted a shadow of someone standing next to Dilly. My eyes stayed on my sister. She flung herself at me before I had the chance to go to her.
â€œThanks for coming,â€ she said, and her voice was so wobbly I knew she was fighting tears. I choked back my own.
â€œThanks?â€ I repeated. Thanks? How could I not come?
â€œItâ€™s a long way from California.â€
I laughed. â€œYeah, another galaxy.â€
The woman beside Dilly stepped closer and I couldnâ€™t ignore her any longer. She was tall and thin, dressed in jeans but with a more formal black jacket that somehow didnâ€™t look misplaced over the denim.
I pulled myself away from Dilly and accepted the womanâ€™s handshake.
â€œIâ€™m Catherineâ€™s social worker, Amanda Mason. We just finished our exit session and sheâ€™s all set to go.â€
Dilly held up a folder. â€œProbation rules, contact names, phone numbers.â€
â€œFormalities, Catherine,â€ Amanda said. â€œNothing out of the ordinary.â€
It was always something of a surprise to me that others outside of our hometown knew my sister by any name but Dilly. She certainly looked ready to go home, wearing a spring jacket I hadnâ€™t seen before, carrying a suitcase I now recognized as one Iâ€™d left behind when I headed to college so long ago.
â€œI didnâ€™t know youâ€™d have luggage,â€ I said when she picked up the black leather case. I didnâ€™t know what else to say.
â€œThe women are allowed to purchase certain necessities during their stay. Clothes, mostly.â€
I knew that, because Mom had told me I could send Dilly moneyâ€”no cash, just cashierâ€™s checks or money orders, no more than fifty dollars at a timeâ€”but somehow I never connected that money with actual purchases. It wasnâ€™t like there could be a regular store inside a prison.
â€œSocks,â€ Dilly said with a grin. â€œMy feet still get cold.â€
When we were little, we shared a full-size bed, before our parents finally bought a set of twin beds. I still remember her icicle feet in winter. â€œYou have a suitcase full of socks?â€
â€œJust about. They never let me keep them all in one place till today. Guess I didnâ€™t know I had so many.â€ Then she turned to the other woman and set the suitcase down again. â€œThanks, Amanda. Youâ€”â€ Something caught in her throat, and she stopped herself. â€œYou did so much for me.â€ She put both of her hands on the womanâ€™s forearms, and the social worker didnâ€™t even flinch.
Amanda shifted her arms to take Dillyâ€™s hands in hers. â€œI havenâ€™t done enough,â€ she said. â€œNot nearly enough.â€
They hugged and I watched, wondering if the prison movies Iâ€™d stopped watching since Dillyâ€™s arrest had given me the wrong impression. No hint of inmate animosity toward those in power here.
â€œKeep praying, though, will you? I wonâ€™t stop needing that.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t even have to ask.â€
Then Dilly slipped away and I had to turn and follow her or be left behind.
Prayer. That was what Dilly had asked for. All our life weâ€™d been told to pray. On our knees, right after we got up, right before going to bed, and as often as possible in between. I might have had faith as a child, but by the time I was in high school, I began wondering what I was praying to. Some light in the sky that saw all the suffering in this world and didnâ€™t lift a fingerâ€”a supposedly all-powerful fingerâ€”to do something about it?
Iâ€™d given up prayer years ago; spiritually, long before I left home for college. Physically, once I stepped foot outside my parentsâ€™ home. I eyed Dilly, trying to see if sheâ€™d been serious about the request or said it because that was what the other woman wanted to hear. But Dilly was looking ahead, walking out the door.
The reporters were still there when we stepped outside. I meant to warn Dilly, to make some sort of plan about getting to the car as fast as we could, telling her in advance which way to go.
But when Dilly came upon them, instead of hustling past, to my amazement she stopped. For a moment she looked to the ground, then to me, and I thought I saw a hint of uncertainty before she took an audible breath. â€œI just want to say one thing.â€ Her voice trembled slightly, and she paused long enough to look down at the sidewalk again, then at each one of the reporters.
â€œWhen I did what I did so long ago, I didnâ€™t have any hope. When I stepped into this place, I didnâ€™t have hope. But thatâ€™s all changed now because of the Lord Jesus.â€
I stared, aware of the silence that followed as the reporters waited to see if she was finished. But that wasnâ€™t why I couldnâ€™t find words or even the gumption to pull her along to the car. What was she talking about? Between this obviously rehearsed statement and the request for prayer, it was as if sheâ€™d â€œdone found Jesus,â€ as Grandpa used to say.
A barrage of questions shot from the reporters.
â€œAre you going to see your daughter?â€
â€œAre you going to try to regain custody?â€
â€œHas your husband forgiven you for what you did?â€
Dilly didnâ€™t answer a single question. Instead, she looked at me, then toward the parking lot. It took the briefest moment for me to realize she didnâ€™t know where to go, which car was mine, so I led the way. I pressed the keyless remote to unlock her door before she reached it. She struggled a moment to get her bag into the rear seat, then settled herself just as I slid behind the wheel.
One of the reporters, the one Iâ€™d mistakenly believed harmless because the only technology he held was a pad of paper, had followed us to the car. He tapped on the window. I saw Dilly reach for the button, but quicker than her, I touched the window lock.
â€œI was only going to crack it,â€ she said.
â€œDo you really want to hear what he has to say?â€
He was yelling now, his young, impassioned face nearly pressed to the glass. â€œDid it take prison to teach you youâ€™re not the one to take matters into your own hands? that your daughterâ€™s life is just as important as anyone elseâ€™s?â€
Dilly and I exchanged glances. I put the car in reverse; there was something militant about the young man that made me want to get away from him, spare Dilly from anything else he had to say. Iâ€™d seen judgment in peopleâ€™s eyes before and I was sure Dilly had too. This guy might be a reporter, but he wasnâ€™t an unbiased one. If such a kind existed.
Dilly stared at him, the brows everyone noticed on her, so thick, so dramatic, now drawn. A moment ago sheâ€™d found the courage to speak about something most people kept to themselves: faith. Now she looked like the Dilly Iâ€™d known when we shared the same roof. Timid, malleable. Maybe hoping I would take her away as fast as I could.
I backed out of the spot even as a thousand questions came to my mind too. I wanted to resist asking, though, unlike the guy with the notepad. His emphasis had been all wrong. Heâ€™d asked about the effect of prison, unconcerned about what Dilly really believed these days.
I still felt awkward after being away from her so long. But even that wasnâ€™t enough to keep me quiet. Once an older, wiser sibling, always so. I figured it gave me the right to be nosy.
â€œDid you mean what you said back there?â€ Since I was navigating out of the now-busy parking lot, I had to focus on driving, avoiding the need for eye contact.
â€œAbout Jesus?â€ She looked behind us at the reporters now packing up. â€œWouldnâ€™t have said it if I didnâ€™t.â€
â€œWhat did you mean?â€
â€œJust what I said.â€
I didnâ€™t know how to rephrase the question to get an answer I could understand, so I found the silence I probably should have stayed with. Once we pulled away from the prison grounds, Dilly touched my forearm much as she had the social workerâ€™s. I spared a quick glance, keeping both hands on the wheel.
â€œIâ€™ve changed, Hannah. God changed me.â€
I wasnâ€™t yet sure I believed her. I wasnâ€™t the only one whoâ€™d grown up in a house where rules were more important than people, work more important than any kind of play, keeping up an appearance of holiness more important than living a holy life. Weâ€™d both vowed never to set foot in a church once we moved out of our parentsâ€™ house, and Iâ€™d kept my end. I thought Dilly had too. I knew sheâ€™d stopped going to church after she got married. But lately . . . Did they even have church in prison?
â€œSince when has God done anything for either one of us, Dil?â€ I asked.
â€œI wanted to write you, tell you all about itâ€”â€
â€œRight.â€ Even I heard the cynicism. Iâ€™d received exactly three letters from her the entire six years sheâ€™d been in prison, despite the hundreds Iâ€™d written. Well, one hundred, anyway. That first year. After that I just sent money orders as I made my plans. True, Iâ€™d made those plans without input from her, but Iâ€™d made them to benefit both of us.
Her eyes, brown like two spots of oversteeped tea, shone with sudden, yet-to-be-shed tears. â€œYou know me, Hannah. Iâ€™m a talker, not a writer. I tried a thousand times to write, but every time I did, my brain froze. I canâ€™t explain it on paper. Itâ€™s something I wanted to tell you in person.â€
â€œWhat about last Christmas? I visited you then.â€
She let out something that sounded a little like a Ha! but not quite as cynical as me. â€œIn front of Mom and Dad? Are you kidding? I couldnâ€™t explain it with them there.â€ She sat back in her seat, and laughter squeezed out one tear, leaving her eyes dry. â€œNot that everybody wouldnâ€™t have liked to see a good argumentâ€”from Mom and Dad about what grace and forgiveness really mean and from you about . . . about everything. The inmates wouldâ€™ve laid bets for a winner, except if nobody drew blood they wouldnâ€™t have been able to figure out who won.â€
I didnâ€™t know if she was being sarcastic or not, since our family didnâ€™t argue. We hid all our resentment and anger, especially from each other. Even now I held my tongue. For a moment I felt like I was back home, preparing to listen to one of Dadâ€™s endless sermons at the family altar heâ€™d set up in the corner of the living room.
I sucked in a breath. â€œOkay, letâ€™s have it, then.â€
But Dilly didnâ€™t reply. She shook her head, her whole body facing me instead of the dashboard. â€œI will tell you, Hannah. Everything. But not right now. Not yet. I need to know something first.â€
I glanced at her again, prepared for the questions I knew sheâ€™d ask.
â€œHave you seen Sierra?â€
I nodded. â€œYesterday.â€
â€œThey let you? Nickâ€™s mother let youâ€”you know, in the same room? You talked to her? How is she?â€
I shook my head. â€œI went to her school. They wouldnâ€™t let me into her classroom, but they told me she was there. That sheâ€™s all right. Then I waited outside until the buses came, and . . .â€ I was tempted to lie, to tell her Iâ€™d seen Sierra close enough to prove what the school receptionist had said, that Dillyâ€™s daughter was okay. â€œI saw all the kids get on their buses, and they looked happy.â€
Whatever joy, whatever light Iâ€™d seen in Dillyâ€™s eyes since the moment she mentioned her daughterâ€™s name began to fade before Iâ€™d even finished talking.
â€œSo she wouldnâ€™t let you see her?â€
There was no way Iâ€™d describe the phone conversation Iâ€™d had with Nickâ€™s mother; I didnâ€™t use that kind of language. Nick had never really taken charge of his own daughterâ€™s care, but his mother had taken full responsibility for Sierra. One thing sheâ€™d stipulated: no visits from anyone in our family.
â€œIâ€™ve got to see her,â€ Dilly said, so low I barely heard her.
I knew seeing her daughter was only the beginning. I knew what she really wanted, but I wasnâ€™t sure what I wanted. Did I really want a fight to restore everything to the way it used to be or should have been? What if we won?
But I reminded myself that when determination was greater than fear, people could do just about anything, even take charge of someone like Sierra.
All I had to do now was make sure that determination stayed stronger than my fears. All I had to do was convince myself, and then Dilly, that I wouldnâ€™t let my fears stand in the way.
Because if I knew Dillyâ€”and I still did, even when she seemed differentâ€”my guess was that our future held three of us together. Somehow, in some way.
Me, Dilly, and her daughter, Sierra.
But not God.
Check back soon for my review. Don’t forget to click the bookcover or title for more info or to buy a copy. Look for other FIRST Wildcard member posts and opinions on this book in today’s blog postings. Click the author’s name or photo to visit her website.