About Secret Lives
Secret Lives is a big novel about big issues—aging and death, the way our society treats its senior citizens, women’s friendships, the powers of love, the theory and practice of magic, the rebirth of the Goddess and Her ancient religion. It’s about the untidy mysteries of human life. As the baby boom generation ages, the issues in Secret Lives become more significant to readers and also more recognizable. Issues that used to matter only to their parents are now starting to pop up in the boomers’ own lives. This novel will thus appeal not only to the large audience that reads pagan fiction, but also to mainstream readers who love a good, complicated story and may have heard about pagans and gods and goddesses. As they read, they will learn a great deal.
Each chapter is a standalone story, although there are two arcs that comprise two stories and three stories. The bulleted notes that follow the barebones outlines and show how the stories are braided together and explain many of the allusions. An event may be foreshadowed in early chapters, for example, be the major plot of another chapter, and be resolved or echoed in later chapters. Likewise, people who appear as minor characters in some chapters become major actors in other chapters.
You can read more about Secret Lives at www.barbaraardinger.com
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From Chapter 2 of Secret Lives:
“Aha, my pretty one,” cackled the hag in the pointed hat. “I’ve got you now! You’re in my power. You’re mine, mine, mine!” Still cackling, she held her squirming captive up close and peered at it until she was satisfied with what she saw. Then she smiled fiercely and set the animal back on the counter, keeping one gnarled hand on its back.
A youngish man in faded chinos and a washed-out University Accounting Team sweatshirt approached. “Oh, Aunt Bertha, here you are,” he said mildly, looking around the pet shop. Three or four suburban mothers had backed away, pulling their toddlers with them. “Stop cackling,” he added. “You’ll scare the children.”
“Phooey,” Bertha replied. “Wendell, you know kids don’t get scared. Their mothers get a little spooked, though.” She whirled to face one such mother, an anorectic young thing standing near the firmly-lidded piranha tank. The mother pulled her Ralph Lauren skirt and sweater set closer to her body. As the old woman gave her a cheek-splitting grin, she inched around the tank, then reached back to yank her four-year-old son after her. “Stanley,” she said, trying to interest him in a school of guppies cavorting in formation in another tank, “look at all these pretty fishies.” Stanley pulled back toward the piranhas.
“Boo!” The witch clapped her hands and there was a minor tsunami in the guppy tank.
Wendell had a sudden coughing fit, the mother fled to the safety of the next aisle, and young Stanley squatted under the piranha tank like a miniature granite idol. What would this weird old lady with the purple hair do next?
“You really shouldn’t act out,” Wendell said after he’d stopped coughing. “And you coulda got arrested for taking that hat from the costume shop. Luckily, I was able to convince the manager that you’re merely senile. He let me pay for it.”
“It is fetching, though. Goes with the cackle. Is this another Margaret Hamilton period coming on? Do we get green skin again?”
Bertha smiled demurely. “No, I’m just having a little fun while I run this errand for the girls. Wendell,” she added seriously, “you’re a whole lot smarter than your father gives you credit for. Smarter than that piss-pocket brother of yours, too.” She cackled again and held up the cat. “See, we’ve found her. How do you like our feline friend?”
The friend was a calico cat. Most of its face and left side were black, tipped spottily with gray and orange. Its ears and much of its right side were fiery red-orange, and its forehead, cheeks, belly, and paws were gutter-snow white. The texture of its fur approximated indoor-outdoor shag carpeting left outdoors maybe three thunderstorms too long, and its tail looked like a bottle-brush that had cleaned entirely too many bottles. Its eyes were dark orange, and you could tell from the cunning expression on its face and the impudent thrust of its tail that this was a feline that would never, ever acknowledge even the possibility of having a human “owner.”
Find out who this cat was in its last life. (Hint: a famous occultist.)
Check out the FREE READER’S GUIDE: http://www.barbaraardinger.com/secret-lives
From Chapter 3 of Secret Lives:
Sarah’s son has cooked up a big real estate deal in Yorba Linda and moved her out of her home and into the Center Towers Retirement Residence in Long Beach.
Herta looked Sarah straight in the eye for a long moment. Neither woman blinked.
“Your daughter and granddaughter are very concerned,” Herta finally said. “They tell us your other children are also very concerned because you’ve been ‘depressed.’ Well, that’s understandable, since almost all your treasures were packed up and put away when you moved. … But, frankly, there seems to be nowhere else you can go. Your children are willing to take you in, but none of them really have the room. Or the time.”
“I lived that way before I came to the Towers,” Sophie said. “A couple months with Doris, and her at work all day long, then pack everything up and move down to Sissie’s, then a couple months and, wham, back with Doris. It’s no way to live. I can tell you that. Never a room to call your own. Never your own friends. Watching daytime TV because there’s nothing else to do. Practically everything you own in a suitcase all the time. Waiting for your kids to find time to do for you. I never knew where to call home. That’s why I let the social services find me a place here.”
“I lived with my nephew and his wife,” Bertha said, petting the feather boa as she spoke. “I did their cleaning—well, I helped Lupe, the maid. Taught her some English while I was at it so she’d know what’s what. And I had to put up with their tight-ass Republican friends.”
“So,” Herta resumed, “you don’t have much of a choice. Your son is willing to support you as long as you live. And you do have friends here. But I guess you know that by now.”
“Why, I guess I do.” Sarah looked at these strangers who were spending time with her and actually listening to what she had to say. She was being cared about and cared for as if she really mattered. “I think you are my friends. Even though I don’t hardly know all your names.”
“Sarah, what do you want?”
She took another sip of her tea and looked down at herself in the wheelchair. She considered the days and weeks and months and years ahead, knowing that she was getting older, weaker, knowing she’d always be afraid she’d fall down again. She thought about her children, living and dead, and her Jake, whom she missed every night of her life, and every morning. She was grateful that her children and grandchildren (and even the greats) came to visit, phoned, sent her pretty cards, but she realized that they all had lives of their own. She saw that some of these women lived in this old folks home and seemed to be happy here. But maybe they’d never lived the way she had, out in the country (back then) with clean air and clean land.
How could she ever learn to be happy in that bare little room with no kitchen in this old folks home with a hospital pressing down on top of it? How could she be happy with endless days of nothing useful to do?
“What do I want?” She looked around at her circle of new friends. “I want to die.”
About Barbara Ardinger
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is the author of Secret Lives, a novel about crones and other magical folks, and Pagan Every Day: Finding the Extraordinary in Our Ordinary Lives, a unique daybook of daily meditations, stories, and activities. Her earlier books include Goddess Meditations, Finding New Goddesses (a parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Quicksilver Moon (a realistic novel … except for the vampire). Her day job is freelance editing for people who have good ideas but don’t want to embarrass themselves in print. To date, she has edited more than 250 books, both fiction and nonfiction, on a wide range of topics. Barbara lives in southern California.
love the details.
This looks like an interesting book. I love the cat already!
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