Monday, July 8, 2013

For Such A Moment by Marie Wells Coutu

“If I don’t do this … I might as well perish.”

Revealing her secret could save lives…or change hers forever. In this book that re-imagines the story of Queen Esther in a contemporary setting, Ellen Neilson enjoys her comfortable life as the wife of an American CEO. Having lived in America since the age of ten, she has forsaken her mixed heritage and kept aspects of her childhood secret. Her husband has become engrossed in his job, and she believes having a child will salvage their troubled marriage.

When her cousin Manuel, whom she hasn’t seen for twenty years, shows up as one of her husband’s managers, Ellen fears that her past will be revealed.  The company buys a banana plantation in her home country of Guatemala, and Manuel informs her that illegal pesticides have poisoned the water. People are dying, but she doesn’t know who’s to blame for the cover-up.


Chapter One

   Ellen Nielson scanned the large office, seeking a secret corner where she could escape. But the ten-foot-tall antique paneled walls and Architectural Digest furnishings offered no hiding place. No corner where she could curl up and pretend the doctor had made a mistake. Pretend to be three years old, not thirty.
   She must have done something terribly wrong to have earned the blow her doctor had just delivered. No children. Ever.
   Dr. Rostenberg continued the barrage of words—words as cold and biting as the sleet and snow hitting the tall, narrow windows.
   Ellen squeezed her eyes shut. She had imagined rocking her babies, building snowmen with her children, pushing them on the swings at the park.
   The doctor’s voice broke through her clouded mind. “Mrs. Neilson, do you understand what I’m telling you?”
   Ellen sat militarily tall, the way her dad had taught her, and held onto the arms of the overstuffed chair as if it were a life raft. She fought to keep her voice level. “I can never have children.”
   Dr. Rostenberg pressed her lips together. “I know this is difficult for you. I’m sorry that I can’t give you more answers or at least provide some hope.”
   Ellen leaned toward the elegant desk. Slowly and softly she spoke, just above a whisper. “You said the infection I had as a child caused it.”
   Dr. Rostenberg looked down at the slim file that lay open in front of her. “Your tests show that you had tuberculosis. I can only surmise that the infection progressed to genital tuberculosis, resulting in the intrauterine scar tissue we found. This has left your uterus incapable of receiving a fertilized egg.”
   Ellen hated the doctor’s sterile voice, cold and remote, as if she were reading from a textbook. But she would not have gone to anyone else. Dr. Rostenberg was the top infertility specialist in Minnesota. Ellen leaned back and released her grip on the chair arms, moving her hands to her lap. Even though she had survived the illness that killed her mother, it had left her infertile. And she hadn’t even known it. She willed her face to stay calm, expressionless, despite the turmoil swirling in her stomach. “Then it’s my fault my husband and I cannot have children.”
   The doctor frowned and shook her head. “You shouldn’t blame yourself.”
   “I didn’t know TB could cause infertility.”
   Dr. Rostenberg leaned back and took off her glasses. “Usually it doesn’t—if it is treated. We might be able to confirm my diagnosis if I could see your medical records from—”
   “There are no medical records. As you guessed, I wasn’t treated at the time.” Ellen stood, gathering her coat and gloves. She saw no reason to continue the discussion. “Besides, what difference would it make? I’m incapable of having children, and there’s nothing you can do.”
   She strode across the thick carpet to the door.
   “Mrs. Neilson.”
   Ellen looked back, her hand already on the doorknob. “I appreciate your time.” Her mamá had taught her to be polite, and she hadn’t been today.
   “If you would like me to meet with your husband, I would be happy to explain my diagnosis to him,” Dr. Rostenberg said.
   “Thank you, but no, that won’t be necessary. I’ll … I’ll tell him myself.”
   Somehow. She had to find the right words to tell Erik.
   “Mrs. Neilson, you do have another option—”
   Ellen didn’t want to know about any other option. She wanted a baby. Hers and Erik’s baby. A baby might rescue their relationship, bring them back together.
   She closed the door and mechanically made her way through the clinic’s checkout process. As soon as she reached the lobby of the elegant historic building, she slid into the restroom. Thankfully, it was empty. She locked herself into a stall and leaned against the cold granite door.
   She let her tears flow and reached for the toilet paper to wipe her eyes. One thin square tore off. She plopped onto the toilet seat and pulled off a long section of paper. She leaned forward to blow her nose and the automatic flush activated, spattering water on the bottom of her pants suit.
   She gulped air between sobs. “You’ve done it again, God.” She wanted to yell, but instead she whispered. “Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
   After a few minutes, she ordered the tears to stop and took several deep breaths. She stepped out to a sink, ran cold water over her fingers, and dabbed at her eyes. She tugged at a paper towel and a thick stack fell out of the dispenser onto the marble counter. Any other day, she might have laughed at the mishap.
   She wiped her face with the rough paper and leaned in close to the mirror. Using the makeup from her purse, she tried to hide the splotches on her long face and pointed chin. For once, she wished she had her mother’s brown skin that wouldn’t show the red streaks. Ellen looked like her mamá, with dark, almost black eyes and straight black hair. But she had the fair complexion, along with the tall, slender frame of her American father that obscured her Mayan heritage and led to the common assumption that she had been born in the United States.
   Erik knew she was born in Guatemala. But he didn’t know that she had lived there for ten years with her Mayan mother before coming to Kentucky to live with her father and stepmother. Perhaps he wouldn’t have the same disdain for the Maya Indians that the ladino Guatemalans had. But she could not risk having him look at her with the disgust that she remembered seeing, even in the faces of the men who had visited her mother in their little shanty. No, as much as she wanted to, she could never tell Erik her whole story.
   She inspected her face. Satisfied she had covered the evidence of her anguish, she returned to the lobby. Ordinarily, the snow and frigid wind that blew into Minneapolis overnight from the Dakotas would have kept her snug at home by a fire. But it had taken months to get the appointment with Dr. Rostenberg, and she would not have dared miss it. She should have stayed home, clinging to uncertainty and hope.   Now, that hope disappeared into the snow whirling around the Nicollet Mall outside the large windows.
Ellen’s best friend Diane had cautioned her that having a child might not be the right answer for her marriage. “That’s a huge burden for a tiny baby,” she had said. “The child will be the one to suffer most if you don’t make the marriage work first.” She had to concede that Diane might be right, and now it would seem that God agreed.
   Ellen pulled on her suede gloves and snugged the mink-lined hood of her Armani leather coat around her face. She relished the soft touch of fur, the luxurious feeling that assured her she would never go hungry again. It reminded her of the comfort and tenderness she had always experienced in Erik’s presence. Until the last year or so.
   She gulped several deep breaths to store warm air and pushed on the heavy door. A gust caught the glass and jerked it all the way open. Fighting the blast, she struggled to walk out, then pushed the door shut again. Despite ice-slickened footing, she hustled across the pedestrian mall and turned the corner by Bruegger’s Bagels. On the spur of the moment, she ducked into the shop for a few minutes to collect her thoughts and escape the bone-chilling cold. If only she could so easily evade the freeze locking up her insides.
   The aroma of warm cinnamon tickled her nose. She ordered hot tea and sat at a small table in the corner. She inhaled the steam as she wrapped her hands around the paper cup, grateful for its heat. What would she say to Erik? He had changed since the responsibility of running the company had been thrust upon him four years ago. They had been happily in love for the first three years of their marriage; now all he cared about was growing, processing, and distributing fruits. Millions of dollars’ worth of bananas, coconuts, oranges, and pineapples. His father had been like that—always preoccupied, always busy. Now Erik was becoming just like him: focused on meetings and business deals, increasing production and reducing expenses. Did he even want a child?
   Her after-school class at the Walker Art Center had been cancelled because of the storm, so she could go see Erik right now. She worked out a speech in her head—brief and void of details. Better not to say too much. She gathered her things. On her way out, she tossed the full cup of tea in the trash can.
   The tall buildings blocked some of the wind as she hurried the last two blocks to the Neilson Building at 46 South Sixth Street. She stepped inside the revolving door and relished the warm air. She let her cheek brush against the wet fur before she pushed the hood of her coat down and shook her thick shoulder-length hair back into place. Her brown knee-high boots struck a dirge across the granite squares.
   A uniformed guard looked up from his newspaper. “Morning, Miz Neilson. Cold enough for ya?”
Ellen paused to sign the guest log. She couldn’t return his cheerful greeting, but she remembered her manners. “The week of Thanksgiving is too early for a storm this bad.”
   “I hear ya. Lived here my whole life, but some days, I’d move to Florida in a minute if I could.” His mouth twisted down on one end, and Ellen heard more than the usual Minnesotan-tired-of-the-cold complaint.
   “What’s stopping you?”
   He shook his head, rustling the fringe of gray hair that edged his high, shiny forehead. “Kids and grandkids are all here. The wife won’t leave ‘em, and we can’t afford to be snowbirds.”
   A knife twisted in her middle. Everyone had children. “You can’t blame her. Family’s the most important thing.”
   “Yes, ma’am. Guess I wouldn’t really want to leave ’em myself.”
   She nodded, moving away to escape the conversation. “Try to stay warm, Ed.”
   She hurried toward the bank of elevators. The doors of the left elevator opened, and she waited for a man to get off before she stepped in. She pushed the button marked 27 and leaned against the polished wall.
   No one disturbed her by calling for the elevator, and she reviewed what she would say to Erik. She went over it twice before a soft “ding” announced that the carriage had reached the top floor.
   She crossed the spacious reception area and approached the desk. Marcie, Erik’s pleasant, gray-haired secretary, typed at her computer. She turned to greet Ellen with a smile that chased away some of the chill.
   “Mrs. Neilson. I wasn’t expecting you. Did Mr. Neilson know you were coming?” Marcie didn’t wait for an answer. “The executive team has been meeting since nine. But they’ll probably break for lunch soon, if you’d like to wait.”
   “Thanks, Marcie. I’ll just make myself some tea.” She hurried down the hallway toward the kitchen area. She needed to be busy, not sitting in the outer office waiting. She always felt out of place there, despite Marcie’s friendliness. She decided to fix tea for Marcie, too.
   She returned in minutes carrying two mugs of chai just as the double doors to Erik’s office opened. She set one cup in front of Marcie, then turned to speak to the executives leaving her husband’s office.
   The first pair of men checked their iPhones as they walked past her, looking up just long enough to return her greeting.
   She smiled at the next group, a woman and two men debating lunch plans. Ellen watched the final group move toward the office door.  She recognized two of the men, but not the third one.
   Erik must have finally filled the vacant managing director’s position. The short, muscular man shook hands with Erik, and Ellen noted his prominent, well-shaped nose and high forehead. His cropped black hair and golden brown skin told her he might be Latino—maybe even Mayan, though that would be a rarity here in Minneapolis.
   When he turned and came through the doorway, Ellen looked into his dark eyes and stopped smiling.

About The Author

Marie Wells Coutu began telling stories soon after she learned to talk. At age seven, she convinced neighborhood kids to perform a play she had written. She wrote her first book, “I Came from Venus,” in eighth grade, but studied journalism in college. After a career writing for newspapers, magazines, governments, and nonprofits, she returned to her first love—writing fiction—at the age of fifty-five. For Such a Moment, winner of the Books of Hope contest, is her debut novel.

Marie and her husband live in South Carolina, much too far from their three grandsons in the Midwest. Marie’s version of their love story is included in the anthology Falling in Love with You from OakTara. When she isn’t writing or traveling with her husband, she enjoys growing African violets, making jewelry, and playing an occasional bad game of golf. She has a collection of various colors and styles of hats and is rarely seen without one. She invites you to interact with her at her author website  or at Mended Vessels, on Facebook or on Twitter: @MWCoutu.

Purchase For Such A Moment at:

Marie Wells Coutu is giving away a copy of For Such A Moment. To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You can enter the book giveaway twice—once on each Spotlight post for the author. Please note: The giveaway is for U.S. addresses only.


cjajsmommy said...

What a wonderful spin on the story of Esther! Please enter my name to win a copy of the book.


djragno (at) hotmail (dot) com

Patty said...

Sounds like an interesting if sometimes difficult to read book. Infertility can be so devastating and painful.


apple blossom said...

most interesting book love to win thanks

ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

Patricia Bradley said...

That was a terrible thing to do! Leave me hanging like that! Sure hope I win the book. pat at ptbradley dot com

squiresj said...

Would love to win and review this book. I have not read any of her books.
jrs362 at Hotmail dot com

smiller said...

A debut novel about Esther and one to follow about the Samaritan woman. Both sound really good. sharon, oceanside

Patsy said...

Would to read this book.

KayM said...

I love to read contemporary fiction based on Bible stories. I am looking forward to reading For Such a Moment. I would love to win a copy.
may_dayzee (at) yahoo (dot) com

Anonymous said...

Been waiting to read a book about Ester. One of my favorite characters in the Bible. Sure hope I can win it. Thanks for a chance to do so.
Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

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