Title: ORIGINAL CYN
Genre: women’s fiction
Author: Sylvia Dickey Smith
Publisher: White Bird Publications
Purchase on Amazon
About the Book: About Original Cyn: Protagonist Cynthia Carter’s life appears perfect—but for the fact that she and her husband, The Reverend Wilburn Carter, are controlled by fear. Cynthia is afraid she’ll displease Wilburn and if not him, his parishioners. But her biggest fear is the emptiness swelling inside her.
In the pulpit, Wilburn is the hero: God’s right hand, the messenger, the revered Reverend. At home, however, is a different story: he’s cold, controlling, selfish and self-consumed. Every Sunday, Wilburn stands at the podium and worries which parishioner might stab him in the back. But his deepest, darkest fear is that people will discover he’s a phony.
As Cynthia drowns in her lack of identity beyond what’s assigned by her preacher-husband, she wonders if she should stay in the relationship. Could there be more to life than just being the Pastor’s wife? Before she can decide, events force her to flee. If she goes far enough fast enough, those back home will have to deal with the chaos they created—deal with it or go to hell in their sanctimonious handbaskets. Until a phone conversation leaves her with even more difficult choices…
A powerful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking story, Original Cyn is extraordinary. Novelist Sylvia Dickey Smith takes readers on an unforgettable journey that spans anguish, heartbreak, hatred, love, fear, humor, peace and joy. Resplendent with compelling characters and an exceedingly-relatable storyline, Original Cyn is wholly—or perhaps holy—an original tale about moving beyond the black-and-white and living life in full, vibrant color. Sylvia Dickey Smith’s latest novel is a richly-drawn, rewarding read destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned.
When the sun came up that morning, Cyn Carter did what every other burned-out unambiguous preacher’s wife did. She crawled out of bed, threw on yesterday’s jeans and tee shirt, and did a quick finger-comb as Wilburn strolled out of the bathroom. “If you don’t mind Cynthia,” he said, “can you get a move on? I have an appointment at eight o’clock, and you haven’t even gone downstairs yet, much less started my breakfast.” Sarcasm dripped from his words.
Big fat hairy deal Cyn hustled down the hall toward the stairs. Same story, same attitude, every single solitary day.
Out of habit, she paused just inside the door to her son’s bedroom. His recent departure to college left the house feeling so empty, so quiet.
“I said get a move on, Cynthia,” Wilburn barked as he came up behind her, then stopped to check his reflection in the full-length mirror. After a quick adjustment to his tie, he spun on his heels and walked on, an overdose of aftershave trailing behind him.
Cyn took a long deep breath, as if his departure returned oxygen to the room.
He waited for her at the bottom of the stairs worry lines creasing his forehead. Cyn followed him into the kitchen where he went straight to the coffee pot, prepared and set the night before. He often teased that he expected the coffee ready when he got up every morning, much like the cruse of oil in the Bible. As the story went, the cruse remained full of oil, regardless of how much the poor widow used, implying, of course, that God kept the righteous woman supplied with oil. Guess that made a statement about Cyn’s righteousness, or the lack thereof, for she supplied their coffee.
“I see you’re still moping around like you lost your best friend.” He spooned a heaping teaspoon of sugar into his coffee and stirred, stirred—and stirred.
It made her want to grab the spoon out of his hand and shove it up his butt.
“I wish you’d get over this notion of having nothing more to live for since Justice left for college.” He tapped the spoon against the rim of the cup and tossed it on the granite counter top.
“Don’t be stupid.” Her sharp words startled her. She wasn’t accustomed to talking back.
“Then stop acting like he died. I get depressed just looking at you.”
“You make it sound like I can simply wish away whatever bothers me,” she said through clenched teeth. “That bugs the heck out of me.”
“You watch that pronoun curse word, young lady.” Finger-quotes bracketed his words.
“It’s not a pronoun.” She did her own bracketing.
“Maybe not, but you use it in place of a curse word, so it counts as the same thing.” He tapped his forehead as he spoke as if any idiot should know that. “I never said you could wish anything away, but you sure can do something about it.”
He took a few sips of coffee then ambled to the breakfast table, newspaper in hand. “What I said was to get out and go do something—get it off your mind. Mrs. Turner and a couple of other ladies fold the bulletins on Thursdays. Why don’t you come help them? At least it’ll get you out of the house.”
“No thanks.” She bit her tongue before it released the dictum that a snowball had a greater chance in hell. Mama’s words bounced around in her head. You can think it, Cynthia Ann, but that doesn’t mean you have to say it.
She’d cooked Wilburn’s breakfast so many times she could do it blindfolded, and might as well today, for all the interest and energy she had in doing so. True to form, however, the smell of frying bacon soon filled the house, half-cooked, the way he liked it. After plating the bacon, she basted the eggs, whites firm, and yolks soft.
All while Wilburn read the newspaper and slurped coffee.
As she moved the eggs from the skillet to Wilburn’s plate, being careful not to break the yolks, her mind drifted to the night before. In their twenty-plus years, she’d never known him to take much notice of his dreams, but he’d awakened at straight up 3:00 o’clock in a cold sweat brought on, he’d said, by the image of her vaporizing like an early-morning fog exposed to bright sunlight.
“It’s only a dream,” she’d said, trying to comfort him. She stopped short of admitting how close his dream touched reality, that as of late she felt herself fading into someone else. No, more like exploding into it.
When she put his food in front of him, he folded the paper and laid it beside his plate, eyes still glued on the article he’d been reading. Approaching his mid-forties, Wilburn looked every bit as handsome as he did the day she first laid eyes on him talking to a group of girls at her hometown church. His trim frame and impeccable taste in clothing still made him stand out, regardless of the crowd. The sprinkling of gray at the temples didn’t hurt either. Women, young and old, worshipped him and envied her.
They needn’t have bothered. Although she worshipped him herself before they married, afterward, she’d sworn someone kidnapped him and replaced him with a stranger. Like once he caught her, the romance ended and doing God’s work began. Over the years, he kept her at an emotional arm’s length. Except for the God-talk, she had no idea what went on inside the man’s head.
But she knew what went on inside hers. The day stretched painfully in her thoughts—clean the kitchen, make the bed, wash the clothes, and have Wilburn’s lunch on the table at straight up noon. She poked her eggs with a fork and bit into a slice of toast.
“Cynthia.” His voice was strident.
“What?” She glanced up to see him glaring at her.
“Shame on you. You know we never eat without first saying grace.”
Good lord, she’d broken the cardinal rule of the parsonage, a rule, without a doubt, written on tablets of stone hidden somewhere in the house.
Tempted to say “Grace,” and get on with eating, Cyn thought better of it. Instead, when he bowed his head and closed his eyes, she kept hers up and open, fork in midair. The memory of Justice doing the same thing years ago, and the shame heaped upon him by his father, still rattled her heartstrings.
However, what bothered her the most was Wilburn’s so-called prayers always—always—targeted more than one agenda item, each intended not for God, but for Wilburn’s audience and more often than not, her.
After the blessing, Wilburn glanced her way then back at his food. “You haven’t said anything about my sermon yesterday.” He reached for the blackberry jam and spooned a mound onto his toast. “Didn’t you like it?”
The exact same question, word for word, he’d asked her over breakfast every blessed Monday for the last twenty years. This time, she said nothing. Just kept eating, but not tasting.
An uncomfortable silence filled the room.
Wilburn broke it. “It’s evident you’re still thinking of no one but yourself.” He shoveled in another mouthful of eggs. “You’ve acted like this ever since Justice left for college.”
Their son Justice, a young teen when they first moved to Mobile and into the century-old parsonage, soon started calling his dad’s church the “Do Right Be Good Church,” but never in front of his father.
“I miss Justice, yes, but the boy leaving for college has nothing to do with what I’m going through.” She tried to explain the unexplainable. “It’s not the empty nest that bothers me. It’s me. I’m empty.”
“You’re just depressed. Probably time for your period or something.” He shrugged. “Anyway, if you want something to do, as I said, every Thursday, several women get together and have fun folding the bulletins. If you want to—”
“I don’t want to fold your damn bulletins.” She spat the words through clenched teeth.
Wilburn stood and slung his napkin on the table. “Watch your language, young lady.” He stormed out of the kitchen, slinging words over his shoulder as he tromped down the hall. “I’ll be home for lunch, Cynthia. See that it’s ready on time. Think you can at least do that much?”
The front door slammed behind him, leaving a tension she could pierce with one of Justice’s epées. Did other dutiful preachers’ wives ever daydream about murder?
Over the years, Cyn had learned not to push. After growing up with an abusive father, Wilburn shied away from physical violence, but he learned the more manipulative ways of his mother. Add to that, he suffered the aggravation of an older brother who acted like Mr. Perfect in front of their parents, and tormented Wilburn without mercy behind their backs.
To say Wilburn never crossed the line wasn’t totally accurate. On occasion, he resorted to his father’s ways of dealing with frustration. He never hit her or Justice, but a couple of times he came mighty close when she questioned one of his religious beliefs, and he couldn’t convince her to see it his way.
Addicts filled their cravings with something. His father used alcohol. At times, Cyn wondered if Wilburn’s extreme religiosity was a type of addiction. The thought of that bothered her as much as his lack of intimacy. The distance between them wasn’t new, but it hadn’t improved over the years either. In fact, it seemed to have grown worse.
She’d vowed to be the submissive wife, to honor and obey him at every turn, and Lord knew she’d done that—for decades. So why hadn’t it worked? Why, instead, did she feel like some soul-sucking monster slipped in and gobbled her up from the inside out?
Cyn shoved the chilling questions aside, shifted her brain into zombie-mode and loaded the dishwasher, wiped the table, made the bed, and started a load of laundry, her 14,200,656th load—but who’s counting?
After the laundry, she ran the vacuum, boiled a couple of eggs for the tuna salad she’d make later for their lunch, and then headed outside with a mug of hot coffee. Strolling through her flower garden, the one place where she found peace, she cupped a late-blooming gardenia in her palm and inhaled, letting the fragrance soothe her soul.
She wished Wilburn understood her feelings. Wished he wanted to understand them. Perhaps if he did, he might not resent her reluctance to go to church every time someone unlocked the frigging doors. Instead, he nagged about the responsibility she’d accepted when she married a preacher. “He forgets he wasn’t a pastor when we married,” she muttered, “and he certainly didn’t consult me before enrolling in seminary.”
She felt trapped, like she lived inside the world rather than outside where the air smelled fresh, where possibilities came true, or had the chance of doing so. She longed to breathe, to flap her wings like the baby bird after it outgrows its shell and pecks its way out.
Lost in rumination, she hadn’t heard the back gate open and close until a familiar voice called out, “So that’s why you didn’t answer the doorbell. I hoped I’d catch you out here.”
“Dee?” Cyn dumped her coffee into the thirsty soil and hurried to meet her younger sister. “Sweetheart, I thought you were headed to Europe or something.”
“Operative word, headed, until they diverted my flight to Mobile. Mechanical problems they claimed. Canceled the whole trip until tomorrow. I stood in line at the ticket counter for over half an hour trying to make a connecting flight before my boss texted and said, ‘Hold off, complications of some kind.’ So, anyway, I took a taxi and here I am.”
They embraced for the longest, each bubbling with the joy shared by sisters, who couldn’t be more different, yet never got enough of each other.
As a baby learning to talk, Dee struggled to pronounce her older sister’s name, but could only manage the first syllable, Cyn. The nickname stuck, much to Cynthia’s delight and their mother’s horror. From then on, everyone except Cynthia’s mother called her Cyn. That is until she married Wilburn.
He swore no one would ever call his wife Cyn again. A person might be born in sin, but that didn’t mean he’d let someone call his wife that ugly word.
However, with Dee, Wilburn met his match. She simply ignored his order, acted like she hadn’t heard him. The girl knew no fear. All her life, she slashed through any obstacles in her way as if they existed to encourage her, to prod her into action. Perhaps the red hair and freckles had something to do with it. She spent her childhood fighting and scratching through taunts in elementary school until the bullies ran. Unlike Cyn, she did not tolerate bad behavior or fools.
Arm in arm, Cyn and Dee strolled into the house while Dee chattered about her adventures as a foreign correspondent. “You should see my new cameraman.” She flicked her fingers, laughing. “Hot, hot, hot.”
Cyn smiled, wondering what it might feel like for a man to turn her on again, or to be more accurate, for her to turn on a man.
“Now, tell me about my favorite nephew. How’s Justice? He’s in college now, right? What a neat kid—takes after his mom, that’s for sure.” Dee gave Cyn’s waist a gentle squeeze.
“I’m afraid he takes more after his Aunt Dee.” Cyn laughed. “A thought goes in his head and comes out his mouth. Got himself in trouble a few times because of it too.”
Dee raised her eyebrows in question.
“I remember one night at a church picnic when a bossy deacon ordered Justice to go gather wood for the bonfire.” Cyn smiled at the memory. “Justice felt demeaned by the way the guy spoke to him and countered with, ‘You want firewood, go get it yourself.’”
Dee doubled over with laughter. “He didn’t? Really? Good Lord, I’ll bet Wilburn had a coronary.”
“Wilburn wanted to beat the kid black and blue, but thank goodness he didn’t. Ate a big piece of humility pie with the deacon, though, that’s for sure. And Justice received a heated lecture from his dad on the topic of courtesy.” Cyn smiled, remembering how embarrassed she and Wilburn were over their son’s behavior. Later that same night, Justice had asked Cyn why he should treat someone he did not respect with that same courtesy and respect his dad yelled about. Put Cyn back on her heels for a few seconds, but when she felt the answer in her heart, she knew it to be true. “Justice, you treat all people with courtesy and respect, not because of who they are, but because of who you are, a person who treats others with—”
“Respect and dignity,” he said, finishing her sentence. “Okay. I see what you mean, Mom. Thanks.” He’d given her a big hug and went on his way.
She never needed to talk to him about courtesy again.
Cyn and Dee spent the day catching up on the goings-on of family and friends. That, plus Dee’s latest love interest, which changed as frequently as the weather.
Wilburn always asked why Dee didn’t pick one man and settle down. What did she want to do, hump every man in the country? Cyn hated it when he started in on Dee.
The two sisters dropped any further mention of Wilburn until he called after lunch to cancel lunch. “And don’t bother about dinner either,” he added. “I’ve got a building committee meeting this evening and will likely go straight from it to the deacon’s meeting.”
“And you’re just now telling me? I already prepared—”
“The building committee, Cynthia,” he said as if his precious committee took precedence over everything else, especially her. For months, the committee had been working on an expansion project and planned to present their proposal to the deacons for approval later that evening. Last minute rehearsal, she guessed, but she figured he knew about the meeting before now.
She slammed the phone down and threw the spatula across the room. Before it landed, however, she realized with him not home for dinner she and Dee could breathe easier, longer.
Dee shrugged. “Well, at least you’ve already got tomorrow night’s dinner done.” She stood at the sink cleaning up after Cyn’s prep for a canceled dinner. “I swear, girl, I don’t know what you ever saw in the man. He’s good-looking, if you like that type, but he’s a turd, big sister. I know it. You know it.”
“He’s not that bad.” Cyn laughed, but her words felt like fish bones in her throat.
Dee glanced over her shoulder. “If he isn’t, why didn’t you tell him his call came too late. Look at this mess, all for a man who surely knew of a committee meeting before now. Good Lord, if I didn’t know better, I’d think we still lived in the twentieth century.”
Relieved when Dee’s ringing cell phone and her subsequent exit of the room ended the conversation, Cyn moved to the sink full of dirty dishes, took one look and shuddered. Bits of greasy food floated to the top. Not-so-greasy bits swam around the bottom, waiting.
She shuddered at the thought of putting her hands in that mess under the pretext of cleaning the dishes. It stood to reason, use dirty water, get dirty dishes. Oh, they might look clean, but without a doubt, they contained more germs than before they took the plunge.
All her life, Dee argued dishwashing should be done one way, and one way only. Put in a stopper, fill the sink with hot, soapy water, and plunge every filthy dish into the depths and scrub. Voila, the dishes came out clean.
Not on Cyn’s watch. She pulled the plug and loaded the dishes in the dishwasher.
A few minutes later Dee returned to the kitchen. “My boss called. Former boss I guess I should say.”
“He fired you?”
“Used the term cutbacks.”
The two stood with their mouths open, staring at each other. Then, Dee cracked a smile. “Look on the bright side, you’ll get to tell dipshit I’m here after all.”
“Don’t act ugly.” Cyn turned her back to hide a grin.
“I’m just sayin’...”
“Well, I’m just saying let’s take a glass of ice tea outside and sit on the front porch.”
What she’d say to Wilburn about her sister visiting, she hadn’t a clue. One thing she did know, she had to tell him before he walked in and saw Dee, or else he’d pout for a week.
Once outside, the sounds of a creaking swing and the rapid-moving wings of a hummingbird soothed the silence until Dee spoke up.
“You know what? I’ve heard Catholic nuns consider themselves married to Jesus, right? Thing is, you’re not a nun. You’re not even Catholic. But I get the idea you married Jesus all the same, or at least to a man who sees himself as second-in-command.”
Weary of the topic, Cyn didn’t respond. How could she, and stay loyal to her husband? Plus, she hated to admit her sister spoke the truth.
Cyn’s silence, however, did not discourage Dee. “I guess when you go to church you still sit on the front pew like Wilburn tells you to, so you can catch his drippings from the pulpit. That’s the silliest thing I ever heard.” Dee laughed so hard she almost spilled her tea.
“He laughs when he says that, and you know it.” Cyn sucked through her teeth.
He joked all right, but Cyn had come to realize that, once again, the joke fell on her. Most church members pooh-poohed the New Age phenomenon of channeling. Humph—nothing new to her. Wilburn channeled God every service and most times in between.
However, she certainly wasn’t going to admit that to Dee. Instead, she changed the subject.
“There’s a women’s circle meeting at church tonight. I’m expected to attend. Hope you won’t mind staying here alone. Wilburn is at a deacon’s meeting, so I should get home before him. You won’t have to face him by yourself.”
“Why don’t I go with you?”
“That’d be great, but are you sure you really want to?” Cyn shuddered to think what Dee might say or do at a group like that. Shock the conservative women right out of their pantyhose and padded bras.
“Better than sitting here by myself. Besides, I’ll make sure those biddies don’t take pot shots at my older sister.”
“Careful on that older stuff.”
It felt good to laugh. Cyn couldn’t remember doing so since Justice left. His antics always gave her comic relief.