Secrets Buried in the Yard: A Story of Sisters, Survival, and Salvation
By Neely Kennedy
In the December Ladies' Home Journal Book Club selection The Death of Bees, novelist Lisa O’Donnell tells the sordid coming-of-age story of two sisters, Marnie and Nelly, who struggle to survive a life of squalid neglect and abuse. The story begins with gruesome details as the sisters dispose of their addict parents by burying them in the backyard, following their mysterious demise. Fearful of being taken into the child welfare system, and vowing to do whatever it takes to stay together, the girls promise to keep the deaths a secret. With starkly different personalities and coping strategies, the quarrelsome Marnie and Nelly remain committed to one another, their secrets, and the hope of a better tomorrow. Their survival is only truly possible, however, due to a lonely and compassionate neighbor, Lennie. Identifying with their outcast status, he offers them safe harbor and a chance at the love that they so desperately desire.
Below are excerpts, as told by Marnie, Nelly, and Lennie, that highlight both a childhood rooted in chaos and their second chance at a happy family.
MARNIE: “That’s when I get it, I’m crying for what should have been. It’s not a picture of a family in my back pocket, it’s a picture of something she never really wanted. We were something that happened to her and though she held our hands and kissed our foreheads and sometimes tucked us into our beds, there was always a beat in her eyes as if she was thinking What am I doing here? and I know this because of the things she let happen to us.”
MARNIE: “Even when I was grateful, it wasn’t for the things a normal person would be grateful for: “Thanks for not coming home with total strangers and keeping me up all night with ‘Blue Monday’; Thanks for buying eggs and not crack this week” … “Thanks for suffocating yourself, Izzy, and making it easier to move your dead body into a coal bunker.”
MARNIE: “I know I should be grateful for people like Lennie, he’s been amazing to us and cared for us, but it scares me. I don’t know why, it just does.”
NELLY: “My father, a loathsome, malignant type of fellow, sat me on his lap in the nighttime. Said he loved me.”
NELLY: “I was ever so relieved as she walked away, I returned to calm and rushed home to Lennie. We can play together and eat crumble. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered. A crumble and a violin. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
NELLY: “There is no moment in which we say goodbye, there is no finality as he slips into peacefulness, he simply leaves us, and thought I seek courage when he passes I am weakened by tears, but I must hide them for he leaves us a lie to conceal, a lie he sent to save us."
LENNIE: “She carries too much behind those green eyes of hers. It makes me sad for the girl, everything fresh and honest savaged from her hand by angry dogs, a childhood devoured. Nelly on the other hand holds tightly to her infancy seems more vulnerable…”
LENNIE: “Marnie is obviously someone of importance in their little pack, all of them attracted to the damage they share and the pains they’ve known. Urban living has certainly hardened them. The neglect and the poverty, it steals so much from children, forcing them to snatch whatever’s offered them—and how they grab at the things put upon them by strangers, the unnatural comforts and abhorrent cruelties.”
LENNIE: “I am glad they girls have one another, it’s a lonely journey otherwise and so I leave them with their secrets and the things they share. It bonds them and keeps them strong. It is important to stay strong, it ties you to life and forces you to walk on, even if it’s only with a dog.”
LENNIE: “They’re like little strays when you think about it, being fed scraps from strangers’ tables, and strays never leave scrapes, do they? They’re always hanging around for the next fishbone. I never fed them scraps. I fed them love. I fed them the things they needed and from the heart.”
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