Chapter One Excerpt – Apex Book Company



by Cherie Priest

Coming May 14th, 2024

ISBN (softcover) 978-1-955765-20-6

Available through Diamond Book Distribution



The first Ellen Thrush has probably been dead all this time—and it’s not that I don’t care, exactly. I care, I think. I’m curious, at least. But thank God, no one expects me to get too worked up about it. She vanished before I was born, and all I have of her is an old picture or two and her name. My mother gave it to me when I was born: two years, one month, and thirteen days after Ellen mailed a Christmas card to my grandmother. In it, she wrote that she was happy, and she wished the family a wonderful new year.

There’s evidence to suggest she didn’t mean the last part, but it’s not for me to say. Maybe she was a bigger person than I am.

Frankly, I’d be surprised.

We are too much alike, as my mother and grandmother have never failed to remind me. When I did good things—when I finished my master’s degree, when I bought my house with my own money—then I was so very much like my long-lost Aunt Ellen. She had such an independent spirit after all! But when I did things the Thrushes didn’t like, somehow it was still the same story: when I dropped out of my doctorate program, when I got a DUI, when I came home with a girl instead of a boy. Oh yes. So much like my no-good, pervert of an aunt, may she rest in peace wherever she lies.

That’s when they’d pretend that I never switched to using my middle name. They’d call me by her name, with a sneer just loud enough to be heard. Even after I got my sober-for-a-year chip. (I shouldn’t have bothered. I threw it away.) Even after I brought home another boy or two, like I was trying to maintain a balance on some ledger. It never seemed to matter.

So I don’t see the Thrushes very much—not anymore. I didn’t go missing like Aunt Ellen; I just quit coming home.

Plenty of people said that’s exactly what Ellen did; she ran away from home, if you can call it that when a woman’s an adult in her twenties. But I don’t believe it. Sure, I fantasized more than once about walking away from Thrush House myself, leaving behind everyone who ever called it home. Of course, I understand the urge to quit arguing, to quit participating in the endless escalation of whose feelings are hurt most, and why, and by whom. Absolutely, they are exhausting women who deserve one another.

I can truly imagine there’s a world where my aunt Ellen might have had it up to here, packed a suitcase, and rode off into the sunset with her thesis advisor slash girlfriend—an esteemed professor of women’s history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

But not this world. I don’t believe that Ellen ran away, and I don’t believe that she’s alive anymore either.

I don’t believe she would have abandoned Judith.


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