TheCruelMotherFrontCaitlin Ross grew up in Detroit, but it never felt like home. With a mother who despises her and a pair of hypercritical sisters, she has reason enough to keep her distance. Memories of her year in a mental institution only firm her resolve never to go back. But Caitlin’s mother is dying. If she stays away now, Caitlin will lose her last chance of reconciliation. More important, she’ll never know why she never fit into her family, or why her mother spurned her from birth.

Family matters take a back seat once Caitlin arrives in the Motor City and runs into her former psychiatrist. He needs help with a problem patient; seeing herself in the girl, Caitlin reluctantly agrees. Her inquiry leads her to the realm of Faerie, where a plot is brewing to change the shape of the mortal world through a process with the potential to destroy the Universe. Caitlin and her troubled teen ally can stop it, but doing so will force Caitlin to confront devastating knowledge about her own origins. Now she must choose between personal safety and the fate of worlds.


When the call came on our home phone, I knew it had to be bad news. All our friends had our cell numbers and almost nobody used our landline anymore. It also happened to be Mabon, the fall equinox. Almost everyone we knew in Gordarosa practiced some form of alternative spirituality. Even the nominal Christians often acknowledged the old holidays in some way, if only as an excuse to take the day off and drink a few more beers than usual. Knowing Timber and I fell outside the norm in some indefinable way, most assumed—correctly—that we did the same. And this year the holiday fell on a Sunday. Adding up all the facts, I came to the inevitable conclusion that the person on the other end of the jangling line was someone to whom I did not want to speak.

“I’ll get it.” My husband, Timber MacDuff, started to rise from his chair on the front porch, where we’d been spending a peaceful afternoon hour soaking up the autumn sun. His abrupt movement unseated the calico cat sleeping in his lap. Zathras made an indignant noise at finding herself on the ground and took a swipe at Timber’s leg. “Behave, you,” he said to the cat.

The phone rang again, sending a shiver of apprehension down my spine.

“Let the voice mail get it.” I closed my eyes as if blinding myself would shut out the incessant din. Pictures played over the backs of their lids, nebulous images painted in fire and blood. I did not want to see them.

“No, I’d better pick up. It could be about work.” Back in May, Timber had started construction on a custom home on Pine Mesa, south of town. The project was his first as a general contractor, and though he never admitted it out loud I knew he worried over it.

“Your crew would call your cell.”

“Aye, perhaps. Still,” he said, going in the door.

I stayed in my chair, trying not to prick my ears toward the interior of the house. It didn’t help. In a minute the ringing stopped as Timber picked up the extension in the living room, and through the wide open windows I heard him answer.

“MacDuff here.”

A long silence. All of a sudden the air around me felt heavier, as if a thunderstorm were rolling in. I opened my eyes, but the sky above town remained clear and not a breath of wind stirred the poplars in front of the house. In a flash of unwanted vision, I saw my husband standing near the fireplace, phone receiver to his ear, his mouth harsh and unwelcoming.

“I dinna believe she wants to speak to ye.” The thickening of his Scots burr betrayed his emotion.
Another silence, then my husband grunted as if he had received a punch in the gut and exhaled in a long gust.

“All right. Just a minute.”

I closed my eyes again, pressing them tight enough to block out anything but dark. The front door creaked open. Boots shuffled across the porch, and Timber took my hand.

“It’s for you, love.” His voice was gentle, and a knot of fear constricted in my stomach. “I think you’d better take it.”

I looked at him. He’d hunkered down on his heels before me. His face held a weird mixture of pity and anger, and shadows filled his twilight blue eyes. The sick feeling in my stomach intensified. I already knew.

Nodding, I got up and went into the house. I found the phone on its little table between the fireplace and the big tweed chair, receiver lying off the hook like the corpse of a small animal beside its den. I picked it up, put it to my ear.


“Caitlin. You need to come home.”

I sank onto the edge of the tweed chair, swallowing against another surge of nausea, my hand clenching on the phone cord. I hadn’t heard the voice in over a decade, but I knew it. Only someone in my family could wrap so much disapproval in six words. My sister, Una.

“What is it?” I didn’t need to ask. The last time we’d spoken, we’d fought over my grandmother Ross’s will. Grandmother Ross, for reasons I never understood, had left me the bulk of her sizeable estate, with small bequests going to each of my sisters. They’d tried to have her declared incompetent after the fact and have the will nullified. The judge had ruled in my favor. I hadn’t been back east since, and neither of my sisters had come to my wedding. Just one thing could make Una call me now.

“Mom’s dying.”

I listened hard for grief. For a catch in her voice, or even the blank tone that hides sorrow. But I only heard irritation at the inconvenience.

“Her maid found her lying in the living room a few weeks ago and took her to the hospital,” Una went on, and now I had to stifle outrage. My mother had been in the hospital for a month and no one had seen fit to inform me? True, we hadn’t a great relationship or much of one at all, but she was my mother. I should have been told at the outset, not summoned at the last minute like an errant dog. I supposed I should count myself fortunate Una had called me at all.

“Pneumonia,” Una said. “When she didn’t respond to the antibiotics as well as they expected, they did some tests. She has advanced bone cancer. She must have been in pain for a while.”

Well, that was like my mother. Soldiering on without asking anyone for help because she didn’t want to be a bother, and besides, the doctors probably couldn’t do much anyway.

“How long?” I asked, wondering what I felt.

“A week. Ten days. You should come home.”

The word again. No good to tell Una that Michigan was not my home, had not been my home in decades, if ever. Home was where people loved you, and mine was here, with my husband, with our unborn child. Just the week before, I’d bought my first pair of maternity jeans, and I looked forward to a normal, uneventful pregnancy. But, like the rest of my immediate family, Una spoke a language comprised of social constructs devoid of deeper meaning, syllables imbued with guilt and divorced from truth. Like my mother, like our sister Mairghread, she’d do her stoic duty without discernible complaint, swallow her bile, and later take out her sense of injustice on someone else.

“I’ll get a flight as soon as I can. Today, if I can make it,” I said.

“Good.” I imagined her pursing her lips, the thin, colorless lips she’d inherited from our mother. “It’s about time you did something right in your life, Caitlin.”

She rang off. I dropped my hand into my lap still holding the receiver and sat staring at it until it began to scream. As I roused myself to hang it up, a big hand took it from me and replaced it in its cradle.

“We’re going, then,” Timber said. I had no idea how long he’d been standing there, or how much he’d overheard. Enough to guess what I intended, it appeared.

“You don’t have to. You have work.” My voice rang hollow in my ears.

“Caitlin.” He hunkered down in front of me. “The crew can do without me for a time. I’m not about to let you face this alone.”

“Okay.” A lump rose in my throat. I didn’t understand it.

Strong arms encircled me, pulled me close. I rested my forehead on a muscled chest.

“It’s all right,” my husband murmured. “All right to grieve. Let it out.”

But I didn’t feel grief. Not for my mother. Not for a woman I had fought and feared and sometimes despised for more years than I could remember. How could I? Her blood ran in my veins, but I had no connection to her, none at all. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought the fairies had left me on her doorstep, for all the sympathy between us. Except, if my mother had found a child on her doorstep, she’d likely have called Social Services and thought no more about it. Any grief in my heart was for something that had never been, never would be. Perhaps for a kinder person it would have been enough. But I was not kind. I knew myself well enough to know that much.

“Hush,” Timber crooned, although I had made no sound. “Hush.”

I allowed him to hold me for a time. After a while, dry-eyed, I disengaged myself and got up to search the internet for a flight to Detroit.

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