ETWG First Chapter Book Award: The Tides of Mississippi by Philip Levin

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The Tides of Mississippi by Philip Levin is a Finalist in the Romance category of Published Books for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

A family torn asunder!

Love and hope amidst tragedy and death

A life-shattering tragedy wreaks havoc on the lives of a normal upper-income family with devastating results. Unable to cope with the catastrophe, each member of the family seeks to retreat from society in a different way. The father becomes a recluse – seeking refuge in isolationism. The son searches for forgetfulness in alcohol and drugs. The mother tries to find solace in mental institutions and the guidance of psychiatric doctors.

The Tides of Mississippi is a multi-award winning, heart-wrenching story of anguish, pain, anger, hate, love, hope, salvation and forgiveness that will touch the hardest heart of stone. The twentieth book by noted Mississippi Coastal author, Dr. Philip Levin, The Tides of Mississippi tells of building love and hope out of tragedy and realizing trust means forgiving and accepting, as the true nature of the Mississippi culture comes alive in Levin’s dynamic saga of home, friends and the hearts of those from the Magnolia State. 

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Award-Winning First Chapter

Holding open the condo door, I watched my son, Andrew, trudge past, his tattered T-shirt bragging of past glory, a science fair from two years and a lifetime ago. Sullen, shallow eyes peeked out from below dirty bangs. He dropped his lumpy canvas bag on the terrazzo floor, and I watched him walk through the living room and out onto the balcony where the opulent Mississippi sun poised ready to dive into the gulf waters. With the glass door wide open, the heat rolled in like a blast from an open oven.

Coming up beside him, I observed him staring out at the beach ten stories below. Dark circles stair-stepped down from below his eyes onto cheekbones whose sun-deprived skin stretched tight. I laid my arm on his shoulders in a gesture of fatherly love. “Welcome to your new home.”

Philip Levin
Philip Levin

Andrew scanned the beach, its white sands sparkling in the setting sun. The sun worshippers having retired for the day, the occasional car on Beach Boulevard offered the only sign of human life. Beyond the beach, the Gulf waters lay placid and dark. He leaned out over the rail, pursed his lips, and let loose a spit-bomb. We watched it plummet to the sands below.

“This freakin’ wasteland ain’t never gonna be my home.”

I gripped the rail with my free hand, listening to the wind chimes sing of disharmony. “Give it a chance, Andy. Enjoy the peace … the solitude. Why, I bet it’ll only be a couple of days before you’re running on the beach, basking in the sunshine.”

Andrew stepped back from the rail, glaring at me from below inflamed lids. “Got it all planned out don’t you, Dad? Jeez.” For long minutes I watched him stare out to eternity until he turned away and trudged back inside. Dr. Hopkins had said he wasn’t ready, yet this morning, in that cold Chicago hospital lobby, it had all seemed so obvious. Get the boy out of there and everything would be fine. Now I wasn’t so sure.

Inside I found Andrew staring at my bookcase. I came up and pulled out Franklin Roosevelt, the War Years. “You remember this one?” I asked. “First biography you ever read.”

His gaze drifted to the floor. “Where’s my room?” He followed me down the hallway, grabbing his bag on the way to the smaller of the condo’s two bedrooms. The room’s few pieces of furniture, bed, dresser, small desk, and chair, crowded the space, two abstract drawings barely breaking the monotony of the three white walls. He dumped his clothes into a smelly pile on the closet floor, threw himself onto the bed, and buried his face in the pillows.

“Welcome home, Andy,” I said.

He turned and sat up on the mattress edge, his face studying mine. “Chicago’s my home. The sooner I get back there, the better.”

The anger in his voice stung, and I flashed him a smile of reconciliation. He didn’t acknowledge it, instead turning to face the glass wall looking out to the beach. People said we looked alike, and until recently we’d had somewhat similar childhoods. I’d never had to deal with the trauma Andrew had just gone through … well, we’d all suffered through. “I had to bring you away,” I told him. “To rescue you.”

He rose and walked up against the window, staring out at a landscape so different from suburban Chicago it might have been an alien planet. The wind buffeted the glass with a whoosh, whoosh, of ghost whispers.

“Now what?” he asked.

“Give you a couple of days to settle in, I guess.” I watched his breath create an ethereal fog on the window. It faded. Shadowed. Faded. “Next week you can register for your senior year. Say, maybe they have a cross country team.”

Andrew leaned his shaggy head against the pane, his eyes fixed on his untied tennis shoes. “Don’t care.”

I grabbed him in a hug, felt his rigid resistance, and pulled tighter. He pried himself loose and collapsed onto the bed, staring at the slowly turning ceiling fan.

“You ever have nightmares?” he asked.

I sat, giving the bed a ripple. “Sometimes. More often since the tragedy.”

“Those kids in the unit …. Kidnapping. Gang rape. Ritual tattooing. How the hell did I get stuck in there? Just for smoking a little pot? Jeez.”

I reached out, but Andrew pushed my hand away.

“It wasn’t just smoking pot, and you know it. Look, your life’s going to be entirely different now; a fresh start.”

“I belong in Chicago.”

“You almost died there.”

He turned away, balling up hard against the wall. His voice barely leaked out. “Maybe it’d been better if I had.”

I took a moment to restart my heart, forcing away the images of the too recent funeral. “Andy, please,” I whispered.

He remained silent and I reached out, rumpling his hair, like I used to do during those better times. “We can make this a happy home, the two of us. Remember how we used to go to museums and shows? Talk about history and politics? We can make a new life here. We have each other, Andy. Let’s make it work.”

He pulled the pillow over his head, holding it down tightly with clenched fists.

“Can’t you give it a try?” I whispered.

I stood and studied my son’s long legs stretched out below the shredded jeans. Six months ago those legs had been muscular, instruments for bringing home trophies. Now they were merely padded bones.

The air conditioner hummed.

I stepped to the door. “You hungry? I’ll make up a batch of my famous spaghetti.”

The only reply came from a seagull’s call echoing faintly through the window.

I stepped halfway through the door and turned to say, “If you don’t come out I’ll leave yours in front of your door here.”

Closing it behind me I leaned back, squeezing my eyes shut. I tried to make a mental list of what I needed to do; disable Andrew’s bedroom lock, clean out the medicine cabinet, oh, a hundred chores. But I couldn’t concentrate.

I tried to pull up memories of those days when everything was so perfect, a mere eighteen months before. Those images wouldn’t stay, morphing into the grief and anger that had shattered our family. Everything was gone, all but this last piece, this last chance to salvage something of our lives. How am I supposed to help my son when I’m struggling to keep my own sanity?

I walked into my bedroom where I picked up the framed picture of a younger Andrew, a smiling Andrew. I traced the photo’s edge beneath the glass, folded to tuck away the part lost forever. Picking up this memory, I hugged it tightly against my chest.

 

 

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