THE FOURTH HOUSE, my Book of the Month Club Feature Selection debut novel, took place in the fictional town of Mountain City on the fictional street of Good. Like many novels, not all of it was purely fiction, but was inspired by real events and places in the author’s life.
The house of the protagonist was modeled after the house in which I was born. Unlike the main character, I did not live there my entire childhood, but moved – was forced to move – when I was three years old. Like the main character, my father abandoned my mother and me, forcing us to sell the house and downsize to a small apartment in the same town.
Change, like the loss of a father and the only home I’d ever had, is disconcerting to a three-year-old. One of my oldest childhood memories was of the day of that upheaval. We’d finally moved into the apartment and were all relaxing at the kitchen table. My grandfather was a quiet man of few words, but when he spoke he made it count. Sensing my mood, he turned to me and quietly said, “Everything’s gonna be all right.” Cliché, I know, but profound and beautiful in its simplicity, for it covered any and all anxieties I was feeling. Everything’s gonna be all right. And it was.
We sold our house to the Davis family, who had a girl, Colleen, a year younger than I. Ironically, the Davises lived in the apartment we procured. Essentially, we traded houses; them moving up, and us moving down.
For no logical reason, we made friends with and remained friends with the Davis family. Bill Davis, the patriarch, had a wonderful tenor voice and my mother, the church organist, teamed with him often as they performed together in churches throughout our small town.
After high school graduation, I never saw any of the Davises again. I can say that about a lot of people from Mountain City. I left and hardly ever looked back, so the onus is on me.
Last night, I went to a party in New York hosted by Dan Gerstein and his company, Gotham Ghostwriters, with whom I occasionally work. It was a nice crowd and a good time was had by all. I milled about the room, talking to old colleagues and meeting new ones.
Toward the end of the night, a small blond with cupid lips approached me saying, “I hear you’ve written a lot of books,” which, as a ghostwriter, I have. We began talking about writing, about education, about a plethora of subjects. It was nice. At the end, as with all previous conversations I’d had that evening, we exchanged business cards. She got mine first.
Her jaw visibly dropped. “You’re Kerry Zukus?”
“You’re Kerry Zukus.”
“I’m Colleen Davis.” Simultaneously, we gave each other the biggest bear hug I’ve shared in a long, long time.
I’m a writer. Colleen Davis is a writer. We both work with Gotham Ghosts and we both attended that one party on that one night, of all the holiday parties in the entire world. And neither of us had any idea of any of this up until that very moment.
Speaking of ghosts, Colleen confided to me once I’d told her about my novel and her/our house: “Don’t call me crazy, but I always thought there were ghosts in that house.”
Maybe there were and maybe there weren’t. But two ghostwriters did live there, one after the other.
Hey Dan, thanks for inviting us to your party. Can’t wait to see what surprises next years’ will bring.