A Sparrow’s Song – by JoAnn Woodford
Set in the mid-1950’s in the tiny, midwestern village of Branch Creek, a married woman and mother of two, 25-year-old Eve Byrd, is haunted by her past when her supposedly dead father, Burke, re-enters her life. Eve’s father had been a cruel and abusive man. His abuse began when Eve was a small child, shortly after her mother committed suicide and ceased when her father left home, leaving Eve to fend for herself at the age of fourteen. Not hearing from her father since, Eve is convinced he is dead. And her father’s abuse? Eve has promised herself she’ll take that secret to her grave.
Eve and her out-of-work husband, Paul have two children—eight-year-old, Lolly and 11-year-old, Mark. Eve keeps her promise and remains silent about her father’s abuse. When Paul allows Burke to live with them in exchange for money, Eve becomes frantic. She must get her father out from under her roof and away from her young daughter, Lolly. Believing extra money will help and, without her husband’s permission, Eve takes a waitress job at a local tavern, the Red Feather.
Lolly is excited to learn she has a grandfather, but worries he’ll favor her much smarter and older brother, Mark. She is thrilled when she realizes Grandpa Burke prefers her, but soon becomes frightened by his strange behavior. He runs his tongue up and down her neck, tickles her without mercy and presses her uncomfortably close to his body. Lolly attempts to tell her mother and Mark about Grandpa Burke’s unwelcome behavior, but Mark loves his grandfather and refuses to listen and her mother’s infatuation with the town doctor, Gerald Levi, as well as her increased bouts with alcohol prevent her from accepting what’s happening in her daughter’s life.
Winters are long and harsh in Branch Creek and when spring arrives, Lolly is thrilled to learn she has won a school contest. She dares to think that perhaps she is no longer a drab, puny, not-too-smart Sparrow, but a beautiful, smart, red-breasted Robin, singing a Robin’s song.
A carton of rat poison disappears from the Red Feather’s kitchen, and shortly after Grandpa Burke’s health severely declines. When Dr. Levi insists Eve spend more time caring for her father, their romance dwindles and her emotions are shattered.
In the middle of the night, following an attempt to end her life in a nearby lake, Eve is rescued by overnight fishermen and returned home. She is defeated and can no longer keep her secret. Eve confides in her only friend, Ruth, an elderly, yet feisty co-worker at the Red Feather. After sharing the details about her father’s abuse, Eve’s life changes. Her secret is out. She experiences a new way of living and a freedom she’s never known before.
While Eve is regaining her strength, Ruth remains in the household. She works secretly, preparing Grandpa Burke’s food. A day later, after asking Eve for forgiveness, Grandpa Burke dies. Eve is silent, withdrawn, confused by her pity for him. Lolly is overjoyed. She has been set free. After examining Burke’s body, Dr. Levi comments that if he didn’t know any better, he’d think the “old man had been poisoned.” Lolly is shaken by Dr. Levi’s comment and that afternoon, she discovers an empty carton of rat poison hidden beneath the kitchen sink.
At her grandfather’s wake, Lolly dares to look directly at her grandfather’s body. After all, he’s dead. He can never hurt her again. And Eve? She is stunned by his death and remains silent, finally grateful for the husband she has at her side.
And how exactly did Grandpa Burke die? Did Ruth poison him? What about Dr. Levi? Did he poison the old man? Or was Burke beaten to death by his own guilt and shame?