The Laws of Harmony by Judith R. Hendricks
By SMW Staff
Thirty-two-year-old Sunny Cooper lives in Albuquerque where she struggles to make a living voicing radio spots, to hold on to her floundering relationship, and to forget the first eighteen years of her life, spent on Armonía, (Spanish for ‘harmony’) a commune in rural northern New Mexico. It was at Armonía that Sunny grew up a hippie kid, hating it, dreaming of a normal life with indoor plumbing, new clothes and a nuclear family instead of a constantly changing cast of strangers. It was there when Sunny was eight, that a freak accident took the life of her four-year-old sister, Mari, leaving her family fragmented and scarred.
Just when it looks as if the “normal” life she craves might be within reach, her fiancé Michael is killed in a truck accident, and she begins to discover that he was not exactly who she supposed. Questionable business practices come to light, making her a target for revenge-seeking scam victims, and a stranger appears, claiming to be a brother Michael never told her about. Still reeling from these revelations, Sunny uncovers evidence that Michael was having an affair with her best friend.
It is this last disclosure that causes her to bolt, selling all her painstakingly accumulated possessions and heading “as far West as I can go without flying over water.”
Coming to ground on San Miguel Island—ironically, in the town of Harmony—she finds a job waiting tables at the Ale House and begins to rebuild her life. Her first, tentative friendships are with cowgirl naturalist Freddie, hair stylist Trish, bookstore owner Hallie, and Piggy Murphy, the reformed one-percenter who tends bar at the Ale House and teaches her to ride a motorcycle. She even imagines the stirrings of romantic feelings for local sailor and carpenter JT Lakes.
When an unexpected reminder of the past sets up an emotional encounter with her estranged mother, Sunny recognizes that only by making peace with her history can she finally emerge from its shadow and claim her new life.
The heat is a presence. Palpable and relentless, it rolls over Albuquerque like a hot iron.
Right behind it come the spring winds, pushing several thousand tons of dust from Arizona on through to Texas. Whistling around the corners of the buildings. Drying the new grass and flowers to brittle straws. Blowing patio furniture into someone else’s yard. Making people yell at the spouse, kick the dog, slap the kid, start smoking again, drink more, drive faster.
Michael’s already dressed for work and making coffee when I wander into the kitchen, wrapped in my terrycloth robe, still damp from the shower. I sidle up to kiss his neck, just where his dark hair is starting to creep down over his collar, and wipe away a little smear of shaving cream behind his ear. He reaches around me for his coffee mug and kisses the top of my head absently.
“It’s supposed to be hot like this all week,” he says. He sits down at the table and submerges into the newspaper.
“Want some cereal?” I take clean bowls and spoons out of the dishwasher.
I pull the box of corn flakes out of the pantry and pour some in my bowl, add milk and sit down across from him. I’ve already eaten about half of my cereal when he looks up.
“Did you say something?”
“I asked if you wanted cereal. Since you didn’t answer, I took it as a no.”
“Sorry. I was thinking.”
The coffee maker sighs, announcing the completion of its cycle. I pour some in his cup and set it on the table. “What are you doing today?”
“This morning I’m meeting with Ted Rossmore.”
“Venture capital guy. Then this afternoon I’ve got a couple conference calls…” The silence is filled with the rustling of the newspaper, the clink of my spoon against the bowl.
After a minute or so, I lay my hand on his arm. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
He gives me an indulgent smile. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“Something feels wrong to me.”
“Something always feels wrong to you. It’s your normal state.” He folds up the sports section and smiles at me. The intense blue of his eyes is still startling, even after almost three years of seeing it everyday.
“What? I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“The truth. Whatever it is.”
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