TITLE: The Inlaid Table
GENRE: Historical fiction
Beginning of book
No Good Deed Morrisville, Pennsylvania, spring 1981
Why tempt a compliment when the insults come so naturally? Still an optimist, Joey Peshkin aimed for the more flattering goal. She usually outran housework fast as a ferret escapes his cage. This day she wasn't trying to be a hero, just wanted to do something right. She hunched her shoulders, flexed her muscles, and aimed the oily rag at the smudged table. She would get this old thing clean if it killed her, make her family proud.
The table caused more problems than it was worth. Florid and fussy, every surface carved, inlaid, or painted, it emerged from another century a cluttered sense of beauty stranded in a world of sleek lines.
Secrets on a table. Everyone in the Peshkin and Liss families argued over who owned it and therefore in whose house it should reside, though its cluttered, old-fashioned style suited neither. One of its four arabesque legs slightly smashed and wobbly, it stood almost two feet tall, too short for dining or a study desk. With a palm's width of skirt carved of trailing vines, and a circular top 18 inches in diameter, the intricate marquetry surface attracted all the attention. Tiny chips of colored wood puzzled into images of unidentifiable creatures and flora anchored the center. A band of nearly geometric designs chased its edge and bewildered admirers, as no one could figure out the purpose. Joey frowned as she studied the outer circlet, swiping the polishing cloth over a variety of staccato maroon curves and slashes against a lemony background, trying to determine its symbolism. Despite her efforts she enjoyed no success. Flagrant in its presence, evasive in its meaning, the table harbored a family mystery that spooked her immigrant parents. Yet it remained a fixture in their home.
The inlaid table shined more than ever but even squinting, Joey couldn't see her reflection, not so much as the hint of a reddish gleam. Back aching, she arched and lifted her head, then caught her image in the wall mirror. She scowled at her 14-year-old face. Ghosts in a mirror. Her father's broad cheeks and wide smile formed under the winged arches of her mother's brows, matronly furrows incised above her narrow nose. A cocktail of her parents, but still no explanation for her red hair.
From the kitchen she heard the metallic clanks and watery whooshes of a feast preparing, smelled herbed turkey roasting. Passover evening imminent, a dozen tasks waited for attention. The holiday that proclaimed freedom demanded a freight train of work. She frowned at the table, leaning over to examine the edge design of tiny wooden inlays until the longest of her curls swept across its surface. So much for all the television ads that showed triumphant housewives looking over newly polished furniture as if they were mirrors. She read the label on the bottle of cleaner once more, making certain to apply it properly, then bent to her task