Emery : The Gist

Emery is a novel I started during National Novel Writing Month that I haven’t finished. I think I started it in 2006, before outlining my stories was a regular practice. I managed to finish long works before outlining, but I have no idea how. It’s too much to keep track of without a blueprint to refer to.

Anyway, I got the idea for Emery from the Winchester Mystery House in California. The Wikipedia entry on the place is a fun read, but the short version is that the widow of the guy behind Winchester firearms left his wife with an absurd amount of wealth, and she used that immense wealth to constantly expand and improve her mansion. It’s a tourist attraction today because it’s just that screwy.

The main character of Emery is not its namesake. The main character and narrator doesn’t even have a name. She’s referred to as mother. Mother is the housekeeper for a large house that was left to Emery by its original owner, Gladys, mother’s employer and Emery’s aunt. Emery first came to the house when she was five, to meet Gladys and stay with her, so that Emery’s parents could go on their first vacation together without Emery in tow.

Emery’s parents are killed on that trip, and Emery is so traumatized that she never leaves the house again. She grows up there, inherits it at a young age, and builds her own little eccentric world inside.

Today is February 10, 2018. I’m working on another project most mornings, but Emery is a nice break from that, so it should continue to develop over the course of the year (if for some reason you are one of the five people Google Analytics tells me visits this site regularly).


It’s always dusty here.

I used to keep the house spotless. Things were different then. The house was smaller, and I had a full staff. People visited regularly. Most everyone in town knew the acoustics of the large front sitting room, knew what it sounded like during a recital, how well it carried to the back. That was a long time ago. Now it’s only Emery and the only visitors are contractors, electricians, plumbers. The sounds they make carry well too, but I shouldn’t complain.

I keep things tidy, but the dust settles.

“Have you seen my hairbrush, mother?”
“Which hairbrush Emery?”
“The boar’s hair.”
“It’s in the kitchen.”
“Next to the brick oven.”

The house gets bigger every year. The walls move outward like a colony of mushrooms.

“I love that oven. We never have fresh bread anymore.”
“Do you want fresh bread?”
“You don’t have to make bread, mother.”

I’m not Emery’s mother. She calls me that because everyone calls me that. It started when I was a teenager. I can’t remember how.

“I don’t mind making bread. If you’ll eat it.”
“I would eat bread. With soup.”

I was the head housekeeper for Emery’s Aunt Gladys. After she died, the rest of the staff left. Emery’s Inheritance will keep her from having to work, and there’s plenty to do here, but most of the others found her to be too strange of a girl. Without Gladys around to keep Emery in check most assumed her eccentricities would become unbearable. They have run wild, but I’ve stayed.

Emery is and has always been in her own world. She no more notices a butler or driver than a knife or fork. I’ve never taken it personally and over time I think I’ve become important to her.

I don’t know if that’s meaningful, but I stay because I promised Gladys.

“Yes Gladys?”
“Will you stay with us after I’m gone?”
“She’ll never leave. You know she’ll never leave.”
“She’ll leave Gladys.”
“She won’t. Will you stay? I can’t stay.”
“In another few years she’ll be a grown woman.”
“Stay that long then.”
“How long?”
“Stay until she’s a woman.”

Emery came here when she was four. I was thirty. Still young. It still seemed possible to me that I’d grow old somewhere else and have a family of my own, but I’m fifty now. Emery is a woman and I’m still here.

“What kind of soup?”


The town is small, only a few thousand people.

I’m not from here. My parents came in their twenties, had me, worked for years, saved, and returned home to Portugal. I was a U.S. citizen, but they expected me to leave with them. When I chose to stay it was no tragedy. We were strangers really. We had affection for each other, but I didn’t know what I was missing in Portugal. I had a good job here. I lost track of them. They may still be somewhere in Lisbon.

Maybe Braga.

I don’t remember much about them now. My father had a hard face, weather beaten, but he was a kind man. My mother used to cook salted cod, dozens of ways.

“There are as many ways to prepare Bacalhau as you can imagine.”

She put it in anything. eggs, bread, stews, salads. To her it was an essential ingredient, like butter or eggs.

“It’s too salty.”

Emery is not a fan. She doesn’t like salt, not even on popcorn, and Bacalhau is a fish stuck in a time before refrigeration. I wouldn’t cook it at all, but I like to keep this little ember glowing.

And I love salt.

“I’ll make you something without fish Emery.”

“I’m not very hungry. The soup will do.”

thanks for reading Emery
more long works

Vipassana Meditation


a meditation technique taught over the course of a silent 10-day retreat.




it’s the people who try hard to forget who go the farthest later to remember.




an experimental piece. Winner of the 2002 Goodman Prose Award at Brooklyn College.