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The Lightness of Dust is not a traditional romance—in fact, I describe it as a “dark-romance fantasy.” The central theme is the love story of Lily Ostendorf and Samuel Freeman, and while theirs is a love unlike any other, endings are not always what we might expect—or even hope for.
Sam is the caretaker of the Persephone music Hall in 1940 Seattle; he is also an artist with an amazing gift for creating hauntingly life-like portraits with his brush. Night after night he watches the well-to- do attend performances in finery that he could never dream of owning…until he earns enough from a single portrait to purchase a fine overcoat. Sam saves his coins to purchase a ticket to a show; though as the caretaker he can watch any show he likes from behind the stage, Sam wishes to assume the air of a gentleman and enjoy the show from the seats.
As luck, or perhaps design, would have it, the performer that night is Lily Ostendorf, a beautiful European musician whose mastery of the violin sweeps Sam away on a wave of auditory wonder. After the show Lily seeks him out and announces that she traveled from war-ravaged Europe to meet him after encountering one of his paintings.
As an unknown in the art world, Sam finds it odd that his work would have traveled so far. This is the first instance of Sam noticing something odd about Lily—but as he falls deeper into her these strange occurrences bother him less and less.
One morning Lily arrives at the Persephone as Sam is preparing to re-paint the theater and asks him to paint her as she “used to be.” When Sam awakes from a trance and sees how he has fulfilled her request…
What is it about Sam that attracted Lily? His talent, perhaps? Lily has lost so much of her life that one might say she has lost even the girl she once was, but can a painting, no matter how wondrous, restore that? Lily never told me directly, but after telling her story I have to believe that what Lily sees in Sam is the chance to live, for however short a time, the life of a normal woman: a life filled with love and hope and the heartbreak that we all risk to enjoy them.
The Lightness of Dust: Book One of The Meronymy
Samuel Freeman, caretaker of the Persephone Music Hall in 1940 Seattle, dreams of the day his art will move him beyond the life that holds him. Lily Ostendorf, a beautiful foreign violinist, encounters Sam’s work in war-ravaged Europe and crosses the ocean to meet him. One night at the symphony unites Sam and Lily in a love story that resonates through the ages.
From ancient Anatolia—where a gifted young healer fights to marry her true love despite her father’s wishes—to modern-day Northern California—where Professor Jake Morgan struggles to save his marriage from the schemes of an alluring graduate student—the thread woven by Sam and Lily draws lives together and summons an unspeakable fate.
Follow the thread as mortal cares scatter with The Lightness of Dust.
Enjoy the full-chapter excerpt below!
Chapter Five – The Dark Keeps its Own Company
Sam paused at the rear of the theater. The stage looked different somehow, perhaps because tonight he was not part, however remotely, of the performance. The uncoordinated sound of musicians warming up their instruments ushered Sam down the aisle. He compared the row and number printed on his ticket with those stamped into the seats until he found a match. Front row, in the center. The seat had seemed a bargain when he’d purchased the ticket.
“Where would ya like to sit, Sam?” Marcus asked. “In one of the balconies?”
“Are you crazy?” Sam replied. “How much for something in front? Center, maybe?”
Marcus looked back quizzically and shrugged. “Ten cents.”
“Ten cents?” Sam returned the look. It was a lot of money. “How much for the balcony?”
“Geez, Sam. You’ve worked here how long? How do you not know how much the tickets cost?”
Sam shrugged. “Never had to pay to see the show before. The balcony?”
“Twenty-five cents to the sides. Thirty-five at the back.”
Sam blanched. “Gimme the front row, then, Marcus.”
Sam remembered shaking his head in disbelief. Why Mr. Craddock would sell the best seats at the lowest prices had been one of the great mysteries of Sam’s life for the past few days. Now, however, the mystery resolved. From his new vantage point below the stage Sam realized that he’d purchased what might actually be the worst seat in the house. He’d counted about a dozen musicians when he walked in; those at the front of the stage now completely blocked his view of the rest. Sam looked back at the balconies suspended in the rear of the theater with the realization that from those seats one could probably see all of the musicians on the stage. No matter. This time he would enjoy the show in the full light of the stage, not from the shadows where the richness of the sound strayed around corners and filtered through curtains.
Sam turned further in his seat to get a better view of the crowd. A couple wearing elaborate evening wear and pinched, cold faces was typical of the audience in the balconies above and behind him. Those scattered near him at orchestra level for the most part seemed happier, or at least as though they might be more pleasant to converse with. No one, however, sat near Sam; so few seats were occupied that one might take his pick of the rest. He straightened his jacket. Alone in the glow from the stage he began to feel as though he himself was the performance and the musicians the audience. He wondered if they would enjoy the show.
The stage quieted. Lights dimmed. Murmur trailed away. The conductor walked to center stage where he stopped and clutched his baton in two fists at his waist. Sam began to look around at the audience again but remembered how his jacket had bunched before. He freed the button and looked. Small. Too small. Mr. Craddock would keep the guarantee.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the conductor began softly, allowing the hall to carry his voice to all ears. “Tonight we are pleased to present to you several pieces, of our own composition, that we believe you will enjoy. In honor of the city that has been the inspiration of us all, we call them the Rain City Concerto.” Weak applause interrupted the introduction. The conductor spoke over the sound. “It is also our very special pleasure to present to you the newest member of our group, coming to us recently from Europe…Ms. Lily Ostendorf!”
Stronger applause welcomed the thin, pale woman who floated onto the stage with a violin and bow held lightly in her left hand. She smiled brilliantly at the audience. A graceful dress of pleated blue satin, tied in a bow at the small of her back, competed only with her hair for attention. Platinum tresses tumbled over her shoulders, pulled the very light from the air, and flung it back at the audience, multiplied. She entered from stage right to pause near the conductor. Everyone present felt that she took care to look at him or her directly in greeting. Struck, Sam no longer heard, no longer saw, no longer felt. Nothing existed but the woman on the stage and the roar of his pulse in his head.
Lily Ostendorf nodded to the conductor, who bowed in return as she took the empty chair at the front of the stage.Taptaptap! The conductor struck his stand. Held his hands in the air, palms out. With a flick of the conductor’s wrist, Music floated up as the wind and Sam as a kite before it. Never had he experienced music this way; he had not known that music could be felt. Music had touched him before, of course. Tonight, however, Samuel Freeman felt the vibration of each string, the rush of wind through each flute; the emotional and spiritual experience nearly overwhelmed him. When Lily Ostendorf stood for the third movement a soaring passage rose from her hands; mournful angels wept over throbbing cellos. Until that moment Sam had never considered how deeply lonely, or how devastatingly alone, he truly was. Parents, passed. Friends, few. God, gone. Until now. For these few moments Sam knew his religion; the goddess on the stage wove sacraments around his soul.
The audience greeted the last notes of the evening with standing applause. Ms. Ostendorf left the stage first. The thunder of the thin crowd drew her back out for a deep bow before they trickled from the hall like water. When the last of them was gone Sam remained seated. He savored the evening, eyes closed, resisting acknowledgement that the magic had ended. His responsibility to the theater overcame him at last. He had, after all, only gotten permission to attend the performance by promising Mr. Craddock that he would work as late into the night as it took to get the hall ready for the next day.
Just as he steeled himself to make the mental step down from patron to handyman, a woman’s voice startled him. He opened his eyes. Lily Ostendorf sat two seats away, asking through an expectant smile whether he was feeling unwell.
“No. No, ma’am,” he replied. “Just the opposite.”
“Was the show pleasing to you?” she asked.
Sam laughed unexpectedly.
“My accent amuses you?” Her accent became more pronounced.
“Not at all, Ma’am. It’s beautiful, like your playing.” After exchanging only a few sentences Sam realized that he felt comfortable talking to this woman. He wondered at the fact that he was so inarticulate around other, much plainer, women. All other women, in fact.
“Lily, Samuel. Call me Lily. Would you like some help cleaning up?” she asked.
His chest hollowed. “What was that?” At once his suit felt frayed and faded.
“Cleaning. Sweeping. Straightening. Would you like some help?” Lily pantomimed pushing a broom and made soft pfff pfff pfff sounds with her lips.
A tossing wave of emotion silenced him. Suddenly he felt ashamed of the job that fed and clothed him when so many had so much less. His worn suit scratched his flesh. The missing button pressed uncomfortably into his neck. “How do you know my name?” It was all he could say.
Lily cocked her head to the side. “I inquired as to your name backstage, Samuel. May I call you Sam?” He nodded. “Through the whole of the performance tonight only you felt the story I told. The others heard the music. Some heard its beauty. Others thought that it resembled something they had been taught to find beautiful.” She pivoted in her seat to study the stage. Moments stretched into minutes. Neither spoke. Sam sensed that they were communicating nonetheless, which only intensified his discomfort.
Still facing the front of the hall, she continued. “But you felt the music. You lived the story. And you recognized the sadness. Most importantly, you recognized the sadness as the window to joys past.” Sam didn’t remember having any such thoughts but did not correct her. “So I asked,” she said. “Your Mr. Craddock told me your name. He described you as the janitor.”
“Handyman,” Sam protested, worrying after he spoke that perhaps there was not so much difference after all. “I’m responsible for the entire operation of this hall. I do more than sweep.” He stood.
“Where are you going, Sam?” His insides hollowed again at the hurt in her voice, but it couldn’t be helped.
“I should get to work now. Good night, Ma’am.”
“Your Mr. Craddock asked me to dinner this evening. I told him I needed some time to settle my things into the hall and that you would let me out. The truth is that I wanted to speak with you.” She chided gently, “Did I miss out on a fine meal for no reason, Sam? Will you stay a while longer?”
Hating himself for his wounded pride, Sam forced the words out. “You were right Ma’am. I will let you out. Please follow me.” Lily stood but did not follow. Where Sam strode directly to the doors, she took a longer route and followed the curves and bends in the walls. He propped the door open impatiently with his toe. When she finally stepped into the night Sam moved his foot and released the door. Through the narrowing gap he saw her cross the sidewalk and sit heavily on the curb. Soft light spilled from the Persephone across her slumped shoulders. Sam caught the swinging door and stepped into the night with her.
“Is someone coming for you?” he called to her. “Are you waiting for someone?”
Without turning her head Lily replied, “No, Sam. I never wait for people to come for me. Not anymore. There are just somany, and I find them easily enough on my own.”
He wondered if she hadn’t understood the question, so he stepped closer. “What I mean is, is someone coming to take you home? So you don’t have to stay out here in the dark by yourself?”
Lily’s bright hair shook. Sam’s shadow fell across her. “Who is to say that I am alone in the dark, Sam? The dark keeps its own company.” The moon peered through a thinning in the mist; Lily watched it slip back into the depths.
She looked small sitting alone on a dark curb with her feet crossed in the gutter and her thin arms wrapped around her knees. “I guess I could make sure you get home safe, Ms. Ostendorf,” he offered hesitantly. “If you’ll give me just a minute I’ll get my coat for you.”
She stood and faced him squarely. “Thank you, but that will not be necessary. And Sam? Did I tell you that you could stop calling me Lily?” The night swallowed her.
Sam locked himself inside the Persephone. He took care to hang his suit neatly next to the topcoat in the closet and donned the extra set of trousers and a work shirt he kept in the supply closet in case of emergency. Handyman once again, Sam went to work with a heart aching with the thought that simple pride had ruined a beautiful night.
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