Excerpt: The Woman In the Cellar

My mind seems to need something to constantly pick over. A problem to chew on, as if my psyche is ravenously hungry at all times. I can’t stop devouring. Are all minds like that? Maybe so. We’re all so busy inside our own heads, we forget to notice that all those heads moving around us are also buzzing with thoughts and plans, desires and memories.

I suppose the difference between my mind and many other minds is that my thoughts aren’t fed, and made more obsessive, by worry and fear and regret.

In one of my high school English classes, I read a story by John Updike that was one of two or three I never forgot. It was the story of a teenage boy who was consumed with appreciation for a girl’s body when she and her friends walked into the A&P where he worked. He asserted that it was doubtful there was a mind inside her skull, but rather a little buzz, the sound of a bee caught in a glass jar. Her thoughts were nothing more than the relentless buzzing of an insect, a language he would never comprehend.

It’s not clear to me if this story was one of millions of instances in which some men think of women as sub-standard in their intellect and even, their humanity. It wasn’t only that her thoughts were impossible to interpret, he suggested they really were quite meaningless. Or was it truly a sweet coming-of-age story meant to illustrate the confusion of sexual awakening and the alien nature of the opposite sex?

The story was written in the early sixties. Obviously, many boys now are more astute, and women have become quite adept at making sure males know what’s on their minds. Still, I can’t get that story out of my own head. It’s lingered all my life, while nearly every other short story that was required reading has evaporated.

Along with my ravenously hungry psyche, I have an equally voracious desire for food.

I love every single aspect of eating. I succumb like a lover to the aroma of sizzling beef, the smell of garlic sautéing in olive oil. I adore the smells of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, a meal I was not likely to enjoy in Australia, where November is on the cusp of summer. A turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes was not the optimal meal in humid, eighty-five-degree weather.

I like beautiful plates and flatware, and tables set as if they’re works of art in themselves — elegantly arranged fresh flowers, candles, or a large glass container filled with polished stones. Recently, I saw a photograph of a table set with black dishes, silver utensils, and sleek glassware. Lined up down the center of the table were twelve hand-blown glass vases, each holding a single red rose. Those vases had such seductive lines you felt they had the softness of human flesh, not unlike the lifelike quality of the figure carved out of wood that dominated the corner of Sean’s bedroom.

The conversation that surrounds a meal is as enticing as the food, increasing the pleasure of eating, and vice versa.

There aren’t many foods I don’t love. I love good steak and rich seafood, pork ribs and their cousin, bacon. I love fried chicken, and stir-fried chicken in a spicy sauce. I love every vegetable I can think of, especially with drizzled butter and a dusting of salt, along with bread and pasta, potatoes and rice. I love Italian, Indian, Mexican, Thai, French, and Chinese food, to name a few. I’m not as consumed by longing for sweets, but I enjoy the occasional chocolate chip cookie, and I’ll never turn down a moist, chewy brownie.

I’m always thinking about my next meal, stopping to study menus posted on the exterior walls of restaurants.

Maybe that’s why I have such a need to run and lift weights, countering my insistent attention to filling my stomach.

I’m hungry. A lot.

All animals eat. All the time. The life of a wildcat or a hawk or a shark is a relentless hunt for food.

One of the problems my mind gnawed on as if it were a plate of baby back ribs, succulent with tangy barbecue sauce, was Carmen Dunn and her Facebook trolling of our fledgling company.

I knew Sean hadn’t given me the full story about her. It wasn’t as if that was a great intuitive conclusion on my part, he’d flat out told me she was his ex’s sister. But first, he’d lied, calling her a friend, and insisting that was all I needed to know.

I’d been quite sure it was not all I needed to know. I was still sure.

The other problem my mind chewed on was the telescope that I’d stolen from the man I’d murdered next door. The expensive, powerful telescope sat on my closet floor, concealed in a rolled-up rug, inside my locked bedroom. Taking the telescope was one of those occasionally impulsive things I’ve done throughout my life. A terrible risk. At the time, all I could think of was how much I loved looking at Saturn and its rings, Jupiter and her moons. I wanted that for myself.

My mind had leapt ahead to that day when I’ll have a magnificent home of my own. After realizing the magic of studying the solar system, a telescope was something I now desired as part of that perfect environment I’ve been building in my mind all my life. But acquiring a large telescope before I owned the home was premature.

Since the telescope became mine, I’d only used it twice.

Now I had to keep Gavin from ever entering my closet, no matter how casually. And Tess was giving me sideways glances because I was locking my door in a house occupied by people who supposedly trusted one another.

The Woman In The Cellar Cathryn Grant


Chapter one from the eighth book in the Alexandra Mallory series — The Woman In the Cellar — now available as an ebook on Amazon.com (paperback coming April 17)

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