Marcia Talley: Sing It to Her Bones

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Marcia Talley Sing It to Her Bones
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    Sing It to Her Bones
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She lost her job. She almost lost her life. Now Hannah Ives is taking her first brave steps back into the world, wearing a wig and her heart on her sleeve after a frightening bout with breast cancer. But in the small Chesapeake Bay town where she came for a vacation, she does not find the relaxation she deserves. Instead Hannah finds a body – of a girl who disappeared eight years before.

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Marcia Talley

Sing It to Her Bones

The first book in the Hannah Ives series, 1998

In Memoriam

Paul Pierre Nash



WITHOUT THE HELP OF MANY GENEROUS PEOPLE, THIS book would not have been possible. Any mistakes made are mine alone and should not be attributed to the individuals mentioned below.

To my husband, Barry Talley, for his love, unwavering support, and unflagging fondness for Chinese carry-out food. To Quentin Kinderman, the other sailor in my life, who would be a dangerous man should he turn to crime. To my daughters, Laura and Sarah, who were with me when Emily was born and know her better than I do. To BM3 Christopher Wellington of the U.S. Coast Guard station at Thomas Point in Annapolis for valuable information about rescue at sea. To Dr. Anthony Massey and Dr. Charles Kinzer for hypothetical glimpses inside a doctor’s files. To friends at the Naval Academy, especially David, Charles, and Bill, for whom no question was ever too off-the-wall, and my colleagues at the Naval Academy library who listened patiently to Hannah’s adventures over countless lunches.

To the Malice Domestic Conference for awarding me their grant for unpublished writers in 1998, I am everlastingly grateful. Thanks, too, to my editor, Jacquie Miller, for her perceptive suggestions and to my miracle-working agent, Jimmy Vines.

To my writers’ groups, who read every word of this manuscript, sometimes more than once-Sujata Massey, John Mann, Janice McClain, and Karen Dieg-mueller in Baltimore; and Janet Benrey, Ron Benrey, Carolyn Curtis, Ray Flynt, Mary Ellen Hughes, Trish Marshall, and Sherriel Mattingly in Annapolis-1,000,000 thanks. There’s a bit of each of you in every Hannah novel.

To my dear friends Kate Charles and Deborah Crombie, who read the final manuscript and offered constructive criticism and encouragement, and to Sara Ann Freed and Linda Sprenkle, who nagged, thanks for being the best cheerleaders a girl could ever have.

To Dr. Stanley Watkins for saving my life and to the 2,599,999 other breast cancer survivors now living in the United States from whom I draw my strength and inspiration.

I cannot bid you bid my daughter live;

That were impossible: but, I pray you both,

Possess the people in Messina here

How innocent she died; and if your love

Can labour aught in sad invention,

Hang her an epitaph upon her tomb

And sing it to her bones…

– William Shakespeare,

Much Ado About Nothing,

Act 5, Scene 1


When I got cancer, I decided I wasn’t going to put up with crap from anybody anymore. I would have quit work right then, too, but even with Blue Cross/Blue Shield paying 75 percent, the surgery and the chemo treatments cost me too much to ditch the job.

I thought about it, though. I imagined walking into her cubicle and announcing, loud enough for everyone in the office to hear, “Fran, I quit!” Just like that. And she’d look hurt and confused and go, “Buh-buh…” and I’d say, “As of right now!” Then I’d strut right out, past all of them standing in a line behind their desks. I imagined they’d be smiling at me and clapping.

My husband thinks it’s the job that made me sick. “All that stress,” he says. “It can’t be good for you, Hannah.” One morning while I was sitting at the kitchen table hugging a bowl of cornflakes and trying not to throw up, he handed me an article he’d torn out of a magazine in the doctor’s office, “Stressed to Kill.” Families can be so helpful. My sisters are always sending me stuff like that. “The Anticancer Diet,” “Super-food for Women,” “Cancer: Facts vs. Feelings.” I keep it all in a manila folder by my bed, so when they visit, they think I’m reading it.

The truth is, I was born stressed. The pediatrician told my mother he had never seen a kindergarten kid with ulcers before. In first grade I went hyper when Mom brought home college-ruled notebook paper. “It says wide-ruled,” I wailed. “It says so, right-here-on-this-list.” And I fussed and whined and carried on until she drove out to the 7-Eleven after dinner and bought me exactly the right kind. I stopped having stomachaches after the second grade, so I suppose I learned to cope. You have to stay in school, don’t you? So you manage. You work it out. The same goes for jobs. And bosses.

I’m not sure when my boss, Fran, started acting like a fruitcake. She was always a little weird, kept her desk locked up tight even while she was sitting at it. Once she attended a two-day seminar at an executive hotel outside the Beltway and came back all fired up about Total Quality Management. Right away she selected six of us to form a group to meet during lunch hour for weeks in order to come up with four or five suggestions to improve our service, like making a telephone training video, installing a second fax machine, and hiring a stress management consultant. When we submitted our list to Fran, she studied it for a long time, then grabbed a black Magic Marker from the ceramic mug on her desk and drew a heavy line through the “stress management consultant.” “We don’t have stress here,” she said. We all gasped, and I swore to everyone in the lunchroom afterward that I saw the papers on her desk flutter.

So this is how I’m dealing with the stress we don’t have at our office. I tell myself I’m in it for the benefits and the money, the paycheck that lets me get on with my life. I have hopes! I play the lottery when I think about it, and every year I order a magazine or two by licking and sticking those itty-bitty picture stamps. But face it, the Prize Patrol from Publishers Clearing House is not going to knock on my door with a check for ten million dollars. So I show up at the office, day after day, or visit the doctors when I have to, like an actor in a long-running play who knows his lines and doesn’t have to think about them much anymore. It’s a show, one act following another.

Emily Jean, in an uncharacteristic display of pragmatism, thought that one up. “Look, Mother,” she said to me one day when I was feeling particularly exhausted and depressed because my hair was thinning out. “It’s like you’ve got these two missions. Remission, that’s one, and you’re working hard on that. Then intermission. Those are the good times between the acts that make all of this other shit bearable.”

“God, yes!” I agreed, but all the time she was talking I was thinking, The way I feel right now, I’d have torally to die. I didn’t tell her that, though. I didn’t want her to worry. “You’re absolutely right, pumpkin,” I said instead. “Let’s get to work on those intermissions.”

I had been contemplating a weekend at Virginia Beach or a two-week cruise in the British Virgin Islands. England, maybe. As it turned out, that cute little cottage in the Cotswolds was going to have to wait. Like I read somewhere, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

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