THE BOOK: “Waiting for You at Midnight.”
THE AUTHOR: Vicki Salloum.
THE EDITOR: Gene D. Robinson, editor and publisher of Moonshine Cove.
THE PUBLISHER: Moonshine Cove Publishing, Abbeville, South Carolina.
SUMMARY: The novel is about a woman who, following her husband’s death from cancer, realizes she has no one with whom to share her most intimate thoughts and feelings. So she begins writing to her best friend — her dead husband — in a spiral notebook, telling him about her days and nights in the aftermath of his death. She describes in detail how she feels about the three men she variously meets while attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. In words funny, naughty, and moving, she relives the scenes of her romantic encounters and jiltings and crushes that go nowhere as well as beautiful nights spent with one of the men. In the course of her writings, she exposes her ferocious love for her dead husband even as she searches for someone to take his place. This “manuscript with no identity,” as the widow, Arabella calls it, is not only a celebration of her husband’s life but a deeply felt journey into the forbidden territory of an older woman’s sexuality, grief, and alcoholism and her efforts to find enduring love while mourning the loss of her greatest love.
THE BACK STORY: Like the novel’s narrator, Arabella Joseph, I, too, was married to a man who died from cancer. I remember several days before he died, some friends came over to celebrate his birthday. As we were eating cake and ice cream in the living room, one friend asked me what I was currently writing. I told him nothing. My husband looked at me. smiled, and then turned to our friend. He said, “The next thing she’ll write about will be me,” meaning I’ll probably write about his illness. He knew that my life experiences had often been the material for my books.
I told him I definitely wasn’t going to write about that, thinking that all we had gone through together since he had become sick was too painful to even think about, much less write about. But in the weeks and months following his death, people would come up to me and ask sympathetically how I was doing or how I was coping. I found that I couldn’t convey to anyone the depth of my devastation, not that anyone genuinely wanted to know. The only person I could talk to honestly about what was going on with me was my best friend — my dead husband.
So, like the narrator in my book, I started writing to him in a notebook, telling him about the things I was doing each day, the people I was with, pouring out my heart to him, baring my soul. Those diary-like like scribblings became the material for Waiting for You at Midnight.
WHY THIS TITLE? The main character, Arabella, met Logan, the man who was to become her husband, more than twenty years earlier. Their first significant time together was on the night of New Year’s Eve, when they slept together, and then the next morning, when they went walking around the city of New Orleans, holding hands and telling each other their life stories.
Fast forward more than twenty years when Logan dies in late September. Three months later, the widow Arabella realizes she will be alone on New Year’s Eve. She thinks of all the past New Year’s Eves that she’d spent with her husband and becomes terrified at the thought of being without him on this night that meant so much to them. She scrambles to find friends to be with and parties to go to and, when her plans fall through and New Year’s Eve finally arrives, she begins to see things in a different light. In her thoughts she speaks to Logan, This is New Year’s Eve. You are no longer with me. Everything I have of you is right here in this house. Grief-stricken, she longs for his spirit to appear to her at midnight and she realizes that on this special night there is nowhere she would rather be than alone with him at home, in the place where they loved each other.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? It’s about a woman who shows tremendous courage and integrity in her struggle to find out who she really is and what she is genuinely seeking and how to go about attaining a life worth living. If a reader is looking for something light, he or she may not want to read Waiting for You at Midnight. But for those who would like to know what it’s like when a loved one dies and your world collapses and you realize you may have to change your attitude and old way of doing things to rediscover how beautiful life really is and how joyous it can be this book will give them something to think about.
“ . . . Through concise, elegant prose that hits with great force, [Salloum] engages her readers, bringing them inside the skin of her complex character while at the same time creating believable conflict which results in a satisfying serious novel and a triumph for its author . . . ” — Norm Goldman, publisher & editor of Bookpleasures.com.
“Vicki Salloum’s novel, ‘Waiting for You at Midnight,’ is at once a paean to enduring love and the sacrifices that come along with it as well as a tragic tale of loss and survival and hope. Narrated in a voice that is candid, warm, conversational, and familiar, readers will instantly feel at home with this novel’s timeless and universal themes, its flawed but lovable characters, and its gritty and realistic sense of place. Waiting for You at Midnight is truly a book that is not to be missed.” — David Armand, Author of ‘My My Mother’s House.’
“Waiting for You at Midnight is a haunting journey through the land of the living in New Orleans. Arabella is an unforgettable heroine who lifts the veil of grief to reveal the force of life. The writing is seared with passion. I was entranced.” — Christine Bell, auhor of “The Perez Family” and “Grievance.”
“It shook me, this book. Just grabbed hold of me and shook out whatever defenses I’d marshalled against grief. Waiting for You at Midnight is a story of a single year in the life of Arabella, the year following the death of her husband. But this is not a sad book. There is muddling, yes, and missteps, for sure, but there is no wallowing. It is a story of care care set in New Orleans, the City that Care Forgot, a contrast that lays the human condition out bare and honest for all the world to see.” — Barb Johnson, Author of More of This World or Maybe Another.
AUTHOR PROFILE: It took me a long time to find the kind of work that I was passionate about. At various times, I was a teacher, secretary, bookstore clerk, waitress, business manager, editorial c onsultant. At one point in my life, I was so bored by what I was doing that I shamelessly walked out of my job as a secretary and found my way to a career planning center. I took a series of aptitude tests and was advised that I should be a writer. I went back to college, earned a second degree in journalism, and became a newspaper reporter. It was when I discovered fiction writing that I finally found what I was really meant to do. I feel blessed to be able to take all of my experiences and observations of people that I have known to create fictional worlds which aim tomake sense of our existence and the human heart in turmoil.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: Waiting for You at Midnight is a story of loss. The loss of love. The loss of youth. The loss of physical beauty. The loss of someone who sees you and knows your history and cherishes you and respects you. It’s about the loss of everything this is irreplaceable to the narrator, Arabella. I wanted to tell a story about how one rises above all that loss to find acceptance and inner peace.
I take the streetcar to my church. A Mass is underway. As I’m walking down the aisle, I see an old man sitting in a pew. There’s blood dripping from the back of his head. I sit in the pew behind him about midway down so I won’t have to sit where I can see the back of his bloody head. Just before Communion, there’s a time when worshippers in the congregation join hands and pray the Lord’s Prayer. I realize too late I’m the closest person to the man, though I’m in the middle of the pew behind him. He’s been using his hand to wipe the blood off. When it comes time to join hands, he turns to me. He looks timidly at me. He reaches for my hand.
I don’t know what to do.
I’m sure he is homeless. There are many homeless people hanging around St. Jude’s, eating in the soup kitchen across the street, dropping in for daily Mass. I know if his blood is on that hand and he has AIDS or hepatitis, I could get a disease if I have an open sore and he touches the sore on my hand. Hesitantly, he reaches out to me. I can’t stand to touch that hand. At that moment, I realize mercy can be as simple as touching the hand of a man who needs me. And still I cannot touch that hand.
I go outside. It’s still light. There’s a splattering of a cloud shaped like a diving pelican. In the shady part of the street, a cool breeze blows past me amid the rustling of the russet tips of the palm trees on the neutral ground. A smell of gasoline permeates the air.
I cross North Rampart Street then take a left and, a few blocks up the road, hang a right at St. Peters. It’s the most beautiful day, belying the feel of tragedy, the rippling clouds hovering over the dormer windows of the cottages and pitched roofs and street lanterns and iron-laced balconies that constitute the Vieux Carre. I keep walking past the Gold Mine Saloon and buildings of pink and green and yellow, past the Maison Bourbon Bar and the Cornet, the sound of jazz blasting the air that smells of pee and stale booze.
I walk past the Krazy Korner and Ali Baba ’til I get to a place I have avoided for the last twenty-seven years of my life.
Pat O’ Brien’s Bar.
It’s where I once had a slip. That was six weeks after I joined the program. That night, I had a craving. I got in my car and drove past the church where I had just been to an AA meeting. And as I was driving past, I had an overwhelming urge to scream: Please, somebody help me! Please, somebody save me! But I kept on driving and continued on to my destination and, at Pat O’Brien’s, ordered three rum drinks famously called a Hurricane. I got drunk, managed to get home, and then went to a meeting the very next day. I never had a slip again.
That was twenty-seven years ago.
And now I’m back at Pat O’Brien’s.
I enter the red, cobbled corridor and walk through a door to my left. It is midnight inside. Or, at least, it seems that way. Rivulets of light filter through squares of window panes facing St. Peter’s. Two couples sit at the bar. They sit five vacant seats away from each other. They are being entertained by a tow-headed bartender.
The name tag on his shirt reads Donnie.
“Decadence is the largest gay festival in the country,” Donnie regales the couples, leaning back against dark wood shelves displaying dense rows of bottled liquor. He laughs, clapping his hands. “Decadence . . . me and my husband go to it every year.”
A massive TV screen stretches across a wall. Decorative mugs hang from the ceiling. A duo belts out a tune from a juke box. The rowdy Donnie is showing off:
“ . . . He ejaculated in the crowd . . .” Donnie’s having a good time, watching his captivated audience. “I had to hear that for a solid year, so I had to say I don’t want to hear it. He just went on and on and on . . . .”
The walls of the bar are brick. Framed photos decorate one wall. They show groups of revelers celebrating. Two jowly men in cowboy hats look like the photo was taken in the ’50s. Most are in black and white.
“It was hot as shit . . . .”
Donnie’s voice. He’s congenial and vivacious, a hot personality and likeable. I can see why they hired him. Perfect for this bar.
“ . . . I don’t know how to play piano, so . . . .”
He sees me and comes over.
I’ve been looking down at a drink menu. There’s a drink called a Rainbow. It contains Grenadine, vodka, and Blue Curaçao. I order it. He brings it to me. It comes in a tall, slender glass. The liquid is layered in colors of the rainbow, deep red at the bottom then yellow then deep blue and light blue, an orange slice and cherry floating on top.
“Be sure and stir it,” Donnie orders me.
He places a bag of popcorn on the bar and then leaves to entertain the tourist couples.
“If you go to St. Louis Cemetery #1,” he tells them flamboyantly, “say hi to my mamm’mah Pablo.”
And then, “Revolution will be your nice, nice dinner. Your options for tonight are . . . .”
A black man carries in a load of ice. He pours the ice into bins.
My fingers are on the glass. It’s icy cold, feeling good to the skin.
“ . . . I went to Portland, Oregon, and was blown away. There’s a heroin epidemic. That’s what it is . . . .” Donnie pauses to reflect. “I don’t think they’re homeless,” he ruminates. “A lot of them are just bums. They just don’t wanna work.”
Donnie heads my way again.
“You’re not drinking your drink. Why not?” His voice is loud and authoritative, a tone of voice that demands an answer.
I oblige. “I’m taking my time.”
He looks at me determinedly. I’m a little afraid of him.
“Why are you taking your time?” he asks in his commanding voice. He’s a bit arrogant—almost like he’s ordering me. Silly man, he doesn’t need to order me.
I stick the tip of my finger into the icy liquid. Simulate licking it. “Good,” I tell him.
I’m playing with Donnie now. I get the feeling he doesn’t like it. Donnie can’t figure me out. He jerks back slightly, as if catching the drift of things, as if catching the effluvium of my wasted life.
I put the glass to my lips and smile. Donnie looks down at me, perplexed. But for all the meetings I attend it would be so easy making this liquid vanish. In my imagination, I feel it sliding down my throat. The euphoria is intoxicating. I can’t remember the last time I felt this good. And then there’s a moment of reflection when it dawns on me how all the stacked-up bricks of all the years of my sobriety will come crashing down on my head if I do the thing I’m compelled to do. I set the glass down on the bar. Donnie shakes his head. Frowning, he walks away.
In the distance, Donnie and the tourists chatter.
“. . . We went in the courtyard and looked at their menu and it looked very, very good.”
“It is very good. I’ve eaten there many times . . . .”
For some reason, I think of Sea.
The next right thing no longer matters.
It was one of the golden slogans: do the next right thing, do the next right thing. Inch by inch is a cinch. Fake it ’til you make it. Don’t quit before the miracle happens. To thine own self be true.
I pick up the Rainbow, admire its myriad colors. I drink ’til there is no more. I drink and the relief floods over me. I drink and it feels heavenly. It feels good to give up, finally. Not so good but perfectly right. Not so right but perfectly just. Not so just but fair. I order another. And then another.
I stagger down Bourbon Street, a drunken floozy on her way to the streetcar. When I get home, I get in my car. It’s dark beyond the windshield. Dark everywhere. The road is blurry. I’m dizzy but I don’t kill anybody. I go to Sea’s place. Get out of my car. Fall down in the dusty road. It’s like I’m bowing to him in sorrow. On my knees, begging him. There’s a black wreath on the door. Anthony must have put it there. My nose is bleeding, from the fall. I touch my nose. It reminds me of the old man in the church.
“Sea . . . ,” I scream, “you’re an angel! Forgive me. I am sorry . . . .”
Then I hear him yelling back, clearly and in his own voice: he couldn’t stand the land of the walking dead. So he’s finally with his Father. And as if he were standing right there over me, though I know it’s only my guilty heart, he says, “Bitch, get outta here—!”
But it isn’t Sea at all.
It’s a different voice.
Anthony’s sitting in the blue plastic chair, his booted foot propped against the porch rail.
“Bitch, get outta here . . . ,” he repeats. “What are you doing, trying to cause more trouble? It’s not enough what you did to Sea? You gotta come over and rub his face in it?” His voice is menacing, belligerent. My first thought, If I were a foot or so closer I’d probably smell his liquor breath.
“You fucking cunt!” He rants and raves.
And what is he doing here anyway?
“Get outta here,” he calls out threateningly, “or I’m gonna fucking kill you, bitch!” Good grief, he’s really mad. “And if I ever catch you at a meeting again, I’ll kick your ass—you AA whore!”
I do my best to get on my feet. My head is really swimming. I’m nauseated, I can barely stand. I’m aware my nose is bleeding; I wipe the blood off on my skirt. I feel like I’m going to throw up. I stare him down in the middle of the street. But I don’t really see. I can’t see anything, it’s too dark. But there’s something I have to tell him. It’s urgent that I tell him.
Because if I don’t tell him, if I let this stand the way it is, if I walk away believing it—believing him—shamed and cowed and riddled with guilt, I’ll jump off the bridge, I know I will. So this is what I tell him: “Shut up! ’Til you’ve lost someone who’s your whole world, you’ll never know what it’s like being in my shoes!”
“Shut up yourself, you fucking bitch—”
“And, furthermore,” I cut him short. “I didn’t do this to Sea. He did this to himself. I won’t let you guilt-trip me. I won’t let you crush me. I won’t let you make me crawl in a hole and die. And furthermore still, you can take a flying leap. You’re nothing but a shithead, Anthony!”
I head toward him but stop before I get too close. He might have a gun, a knife, a machete. In the ebony night, I feel his eyes. They are burning coals; they scorch me.
“Fuck you,” I yell, the liquor giving me courage. “And so help me God, if you ever threaten me again, I’ll call the cops. I’ll come after you myself!”
I’m a few feet away—I stumble to my car. I turn to him for the final word, “And just for your information, I’ll go to any goddamn meeting I want!”
As the bellowing word “Whore!” reverberates through the night, I get in my car and start the engine. I want to step on the accelerator, foot to floor, and, in my murderous rage, smash through the porch and make confetti of the chair. But God stands before me. The image of Sea himself. A gasp breaks the silence. I turn and drive away.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Waiting for You at Midnight is slated to be released to the public on July 7, 2018. On that date, it will be available at select independent bookstores.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Following its release on July 7, the book will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most other on-line booksellers.
PRICE: $ 13.99
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Anyone who’d like to get in touch with me can go to my author website, http://www.vickisalloum.com and find my e-mail address on the Contact page. I promise I’ll write back. And if anyone happens to be in that neck of the woods around November 10th, drop by the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge, where I’ll be one of the author participants. I’d love to meet you, say hi, and talk about books and writing. Finally, here is the link to my Twitter account:https://twitter.com/VickiAol