To read an excerpt from the book, please click on the following link:

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Prologue: Asha Veil Book

I wanted to share my prologue to my book about the Asha Veil murder. I went up Love Creek Road today to find the memorial cross which was made for her and placed at the ravine where her body was found. Love Creek Road has pavement that ends abruptly, and then a dirt road I did not trust to navigate safely with my rattling little car. It also may be on private property, so I will call the person who helped place the cross (a local minister) and see if he can help me with trying to view it. Still, as I drove back, I felt Asha's presence very strongly and suddenly got the first line of the prologue and then the rest. This is narrated in Asha's voice, from the afterlife; I think only the prologue will have this particular device and the rest will be straight narrative nonfiction, but you never know with my writing. I decided to give Asha the life she deserved, for a little while, and I think I wanted her to tell me what that was. Warning: this piece describes a violent murder, though it is not particularly graphic, and a childbirth. Thank you, every one of you, for reading this; it is still a very rough draft.

As background for those who do not know this story, Asha Veil was a Polish immigrant, a very hard-working and well-educated woman (she had a music degree) who worked at a local market. She was seven months pregnant and separated from her husband when she was murdered by the man she thought might have fathered her child; he was a co-worker at the market, married, with three children. He murdered Asha because she asked him for a DNA test (she was unsure if the baby was his or her husband's) and told him she would seek child support if the test showed he had fathered the child. He killed Asha and her unborn baby because he did not want his wife to find out about her, and did not want to pay child support to Asha. He dumped her body down a ravine on a local, rural road. Her killer was sentenced to life in prison without parole and his wife divorced him. The baby was proven to be the child of Asha and her husband, Richard.

The killer took Asha's backpack and dumped it about a mile from where I live, on Quail Hollow Road; it was recovered by local citizens who formed a search team.

The backpack contained gum, keys, a wallet, and a few other things, including a list of items for the baby shower Asha was planning.


My daughter was conceived in a cemetery, beneath tall oak trees weeping with Spanish moss.

“Or so I thought,” I say to the women at my baby shower, and we all howl with that rueful laughter of women who know too much now and nothing back then. We sit crowded around a coffee table with a square glass top; on it, reflected in the glass, an intricate cake sculpture cleverly fashioned from folded cloth diapers, flannel receiving blankets, baby socks, terrycloth sleepers in yellow, pink, blue, and lavender, all crowned with a circle of duck pins. The real cake stands next to it, half-eaten,” Welcome Baby” in confetti sprinkles still visible on the white frosting, raspberry jelly oozing between chocolate layers. I wear a rhinestone tiara the women placed on my head when the party began; in my hand, a goblet of blue glass etched with moons and stars, brimming with pomegranate juice. The other women hold glasses of white wine; we lift our glasses and there is a toast, for me and the baby to come. Presents, piled in a heap by the couch, wait in their bright wrappings, their curls of ribbon and sparks of glitter. After we open presents, there will be a silly game or two and then we will say goodbye.

Weeks later, the women will gather around me as I give birth in my own bed, propped up with pillows, red towels beneath me to protect the sheets. One woman wipes my face with a wet washcloth scented with lemon; another brushes my hair back from my sweaty forehead; another helps me onto my side and presses her fingers hard into my tailbone, where the pain concentrates at the peak of every contraction. They will do this until the final push, when my baby slides into the hands of the midwife in a great gush of blood and water; she gasps her first breath and begins to cry. “A girl,’ the women say, “A girl,” as I take her into my arms, the cord still pulsing, not yet cut, and call her the name I have chosen: Anina.

Three months pass, and I am in my little apartment in Santa Cruz County, California: Capitola, to be exact, a small seaside town, crowded in summer, but it is winter now and the tourists have gone away. When I take Anina for her afternoon walk in her stroller, I first bundle her in a hat and sweater of soft purple wool, knitted for me by a friend at the market where I used to work. She will look at me with her big blue eyes, red hair peeking from under her hat, as I swaddle her in a blanket printed with the alphabet. The sky is often gray and heavy with clouds and sometimes it is very cold, but I know the fresh air is good for her.

But there will be no walk today; Anina has taken a late nap in her small crib, a cradle, really, made from light wood, connected to a U-shaped frame by strong metal hooks. There is a brass pin I can pull out to make the cradle rock gently, suspended by the hooks. Anina rarely cries, but I like to rock her anyway. She sleeps beneath a yellow fleece blanket my mother sent, along with many other baby things, from my old hometown in Poland. Anina has moved the covers a little and they bunch around her; she looks like a baby at the center of a golden rose. I smooth the blanket, tucking it in just so, the way the women showed me after she was born.

These women have been my friends since the night I found myself stumbling, lost in a forest ravine, blinded by tears and blood that would not stop running into my eyes. My head and throat burned with pain I still cannot forget, though the women have told me I will not remember this, in time. I could not move the fingers of my left hand and knew they were broken. Still, I was able to walk; hours before, I lay motionless on cold dirt, foxtails embedded in the skin of my face. When I finally rose and walked off, I looked back only once at the shape on the ground. More foxtails snagged in all my clothes and covered my socks; they stabbed the soles of my feet with every slow step, for I had lost my shoes. Anina kicked and struggled in my womb, so frantic that I had to stop every few minutes to stroke my belly with my right hand, talking and singing softly in Polish to her until she calmed down. As I walked on, feeling my way between crowded trees and wicked blackberry thorns, I stumbled on a rock and fell to my knees. There was a trickle from the wound on the back of my head; I touched it and brought my fingers away, sticky with clotted blood. My right hand’s ring finger throbbed; they say I had a sliver of my own skull lodged deep beneath the nail.

I heard a rustling noise, sat back, and looked up. A streetlight I had not seen before illumined the space far above me: clustered there, standing on pavement, so many women, in burquas and black veils which showed only their eyes, women in saris threaded with bright silver, women in leather tunics intricate with embroidery and fringe, women in cocktail dresses with crinolines puffing out the skirts, women in Victorian gowns, women wearing jeans and t-shirts, women with shell garlands draped around their necks, women with beads woven into their hair, a chorus of women, all ages, shapes, sizes, colors, costumes, different except for one thing: each held a baby nestled in the crook of her arm.

All of the women raised a hand and beckoned to me; then, like a flock of silent birds, they turned and began to file off. I did not want to be left there, alone in the shadows and cold; somehow I found the strength to drag myself up and over the lip of the ravine and followed them down the dark road.

Sometimes now, one of the women expresses a longing and then I am not in my little apartment. Last week we were at an elementary school; the women whose children would go to a different school than this are patient and understanding; we will all have our turn, and it is fun to share so many places, so many lives, to see what our children would have looked like at different ages. We waited on the sidewalk for the kindergartners to climb the hill to the curb. Soon we heard “The Ants Go Marching” and each mother turned her head in the direction of the song. The teacher appeared and then the children behind her in a straight line; Anina was first because her name begins with “A”. The braids I so carefully twined that morning were loose and her hair, darker than her baby hair but still red, fell over her eyes.

“What happened to your hair?” I laughed as I hugged her. She smelled of cedar pencils and waxy crayons.

Each mother gathered her child into her arms; each child had a gift for her: pictures scrawled on poster paper, spiders twisted from pipe cleaners, clay animals carefully shaped and painted.  Anina had made an ink print of her own palm, pink on a piece of white cardboard, her name printed with a black marker in the corner.

But I am happiest now in this time, when my baby sleeps in her small room and my breasts begin to fill with the milk she will take soon. When the women arrive, we will feed our babies and chat in a circle on the floor; there is room for us all. When the babies are full, burped, and their diapers changed, the women will pick them up and leave, swiftly, like clouds vanishing in a chilly night breeze. I will stand and take Anina to the window then, as the sun begins to sink in fire and color over an ocean blue as steel. My daughter will open her eyes wide and reach out as if to capture the sun in her small hand. I will smile and kiss her cheek, soft as the petal of a blooming flower.

My name is Asha Veil, and this is my paradise.