Read The Yellow Braid Online

Authors: Karen Coccioli

Tags: #loss, #betrayal, #desire, #womens issues, #motherhood, #platonic love, #literary novella

The Yellow Braid



The Yellow Braid





a novel by




Karen Coccioli







Copyright © 201
2 by Karen Coccioli.


All rights reserved. No part of this book
may be used, reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by
any information storage or retrieval system, without the written
permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law, or in
the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and


The Yellow Braid
is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between the
characters and real people, living or dead, is

Cover Photo by Entwashian






Love is like the wild-rose briar;

Friendship is like the holly-tree.

The holly is dark when the rose briar

But w
hich will bloom most

Emily Bronte




Caro tiptoed to mute the resounding
click-clack of her heels on the marble floor, but not before
several family members glared at her with their faces pulled down
in a collective frown. Shrinking under their tacit disapproval, she
continued walking toward the altar of Saint Anthony’s Church as
they filed out.

During the memorial service Caro had sat in
the back pew with the staff from New Century Publishers, who’d
taken time to pay their respects to their veteran editor, Marcie
Harrington. Unlike them, Caro wasn’t there out of a sense of

She’d met Marcie twelve years before when
New Century bought out its rival, the press responsible for
introducing Caro to the literary world with her first book of
poetry. Thus, she’d been prepared to hate Marcie for putting her
previous editor out of a job. But the unexpected happened. Their
relationship gathered momentum from the outset. Before long they
were inseparable and Caro came to depend on Marcie’s impeccable

Outside of work, they lunged headlong into
each other’s lives. Caro had squeezed in beside Marcie during New
Jersey Nets basketball games. She’d suffered through New York
Giants football games even though she was clueless as to the
nuances of play. Marcie was at Caro’s elbow when Caro’s daughter,
Abby, had boarded British Air to live in London. Together Caro and
Marcie hiked the 146 miles of the Appalachian Trail that wound
through the center of Vermont’s Green Mountains.

Caro couldn’t
let Marcie go without getting close to her one
more time. The sense of so much stale air between Marcie’s
spiritless body and Caro’s empty heart made her feel weightless,
even worse, shiftless. The ordered pattern of her days seemed to
have gotten tucked into the pinched corners of the quilting of
Marcie’s coffin. Personal tasks and job actions, appointment times
with the publisher, and venues for book readings had been subject
to Marcie’s approval. Without her friend’s intervention, those
agendas would pass in scattered disorder. Marcie was the logician,
the organized planner.

As Caro approached the casket, sequins of
sunlight from the stained glass windows shimmered over Marcie’s
flesh. She seemed infused with life, her death a malicious

She laid her hand on Marcie’s and rolled
her finger over the braided gold ring that she and her husband,
Zach, had given Marcie for her fiftieth birthday. The inscription
unending devotion, Caro & Zach
. Then suddenly overcome with emotion, she backed
away. How careless to walk in Morningside Park alone at night!
Raised on the Upper West Side, she knew better. Morningside had a
worse reputation for muggers than its famous neighbor, Central
Park. A blow to the head with a bat and she was gone.

Caro sensed someone’s approach. She glanced
up to find her publisher shaking his lowered head.

“It’s such a tragedy. I know she was like

Caro replied without taking her eyes from
Marcie’s face. “Thanks, Ethan.”

The funeral director appeared moments later.
“It’s time.”

“I’ll wait for you outside,” Ethan said and
patted her shoulder.

Carol cupped Marcie’s cheek and stared hard
at her face, afraid that as soon as she left she’d forget its
details. Even though she’d been married to Zach for twenty-four
years, after he died his features sometimes blurred in her mind,
and occasionally she found herself studying old photos of him to
re-ignite her memory.

In the parking lot, the hard heat of the
cement burned under the soles of her sandals and she squinted
Ethan’s form into focus.

“Are you going ahead with the beach house,
Caro? My wife’s cousin has a friend who is interested in taking
over Marcie’s half.”

The beach house.
Caro groaned at the reminder.
The summer was the beginning of a year-long sabbatical from her
professorship at Columbia University to finish her latest
collection of poems,
In Search of Eros
. She and Marcie had planned to spend June through
August in Westhampton Beach, Long Island.

I know it wouldn’t be easy, being so soon
and all,” Ethan said. A ring of perspiration encircled his neck and
colored the collar of his shirt. “We didn’t want to think of
You’ll need the change more than ever.”

Caro regained her earlier composure. “As
much as I appreciate the thought, I’d be horrible company.”

“All right then.” He stepped in and kissed
Caro’s cheek.

Throughout the final viewing and service,
Caro had wanted to be alone with her misery. Now as she watched
Ethan pack his stout body behind the wheel of his Mercedes sports
coupe, she leaned forward, about to call him back, but stopped
herself. He wasn’t who she wanted.




There is one friend in the life
of each of us who seems not a separate person, however dear and
beloved, but an expansion, an interpretation, of one’s self, the
very meaning of one’s soul. ~
Edith Wharton




When Zach had died of a massive coronary five
years earlier, the loss had struck Caro in a different way. It had
been sharper than her present grief—a razor-blade kind of hurt that
caused her to cry for days, hard tears that turned her eyes into
burning slits.

For weeks after his funeral, Caro moved
through their home with her arms wrapped around herself as if to
contain the waves of grief that rose up inside of her. A surprise,
really. She had loved Zach, but their marriage was a lopsided
affair: in essence, Caro enjoyed the relatively inactive pleasures
of reading books on philosophy and ancient history, and listening
to classical music in her spare time; Zach built things with his
hands and possessed the level-headedness his work as a general
contractor demanded.

In fact, they’d met when she hired him to
remodel the brownstone apartment her father had left her in his
will. He began work at the end of May, as soon as her teaching
semester was finished at Columbia University. By the completion of
the renovation in September, he’d moved in.

Six months later, after Caro accepted Zach’s
marriage proposal, he said, “I’ll be so proud to call you my wife.
There’s nothing I won’t do to keep you happy.”

True to his pledge, Zach accommodated Caro’s
needs, all in the name of her art. He didn’t complain about the
consecutive evenings when she closed herself up in her study
immediately after supper to work on a particularly difficult poem.
He got used to eating breakfast alone on those mornings when she
rose from sleep with a new idea and went directly to her computer
to get it down before his or Abby’s needs infringed on her
thoughts. He took their daughter to her ballet lessons and soccer
practice on those Saturdays when Caro was stuck grading papers.

Once after a rare argument, when Caro lost
track of time and was an hour late picking Abby up from school,
Zach said to her, “You’re about your work and that’s all.
Everything and everyone comes second.”

Caro’s objection dissolved into tears. “I
know I make your life difficult sometimes…”

“Difficult,” Zach emphasized, “doesn’t even
begin to cover it. I put up with a lot from you, Caro, but
forgetting about Abby is downright negligent.”

“That’s not fair,” Caro protested.

“Oh, yes it is,” Zach shot back. “In fact,
I’m being gracious about the whole matter.”

“Gracious! You’re being a goddamn nag.”

“That’s what I call being accountable for
your actions,” he said, his voice thick with sarcasm.

As the months passed after his death, Caro’s
grief lessened and a quickening sense of freedom stirred inside her
because she’d known her limitations as a wife and mother. With him
gone and Abby in London, she could now work whenever she wanted and
enjoy the solitude of her study without guilt. For her, there was
no better place to be.

As young as four and five, she’d scripted
poems with crayons inside her coloring books, graduating to pens
and paper as she got older. As she’d title each small verse and
sign her name, she’d imagine herself a famous writer in spite of
her parents’ rebukes to “stop daydreaming.” Her father had been
especially callous. “Who do you think you are, Hemingway? People
like him are born different. You’re no more special than anyone
else in this family so get that nonsense out of your head.”

Her mother had patted her head and told her
to stand up straight. “You’ll get married and won’t have to write.
It’s a husband’s job to make a living and support his wife. Look at
your father.”

Caro had accepted what her mother had said
as truth because she was happy with him, and Caro had seen the
early photographs of her dad as a twenty-eight-year-old upon his
arrival at Ellis Island with nothing more than his suitcase. A head
taller than most of his Italian compatriots, his large patrician
nose seemed to symbolize how she’d come to know him—a proud
businessman who’d celebrated his fiftieth birthday with an upscale
move to the suburbs and a brand new Mercedes.

Even so, the sense of being a
never subsided and when Caro
she took to the
character of Jo with unabashed enthusiasm. She’d go about her
bedroom reciting the lines written for the heroine: “I think I
shall write books, and get rich and famous; that would suit me, so
that is my favorite dream.”

As Caro matured, the inner conflict set up
by the juxtaposition of her mother’s advice to depend on a man
versus her own desire for success and independence, produced a
low-grade panic: which path to follow? When she’d met Zach, she
tried to tell herself that loving him would suffice.

But the poetry in her head wouldn’t let her
rest and just as when she was a child, she found herself scribbling
verses on whatever odd bits of paper were at hand. She progressed
to writing on a laptop, and began submitting her work to literary

She’d lost count of the rejections she
received, but then came the occasional acceptance. For their fifth
wedding anniversary, Caro handed her husband a copy of
. “Check out the
table of contents,” she’d said.

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