PERSONAL BAGGAGE
A Tale of Marriage, Medicine and Murder

Chapter One

This is a preview to the chapter Chapter One from the book PERSONAL BAGGAGE by Margaret McMillion.
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Summer sunlight sent a golden glow through the outstretched wings of a hawk floating on currents of air above Dixiana, Mississippi on an afternoon in the year 1991. Without warning, the flier plunged straight at a house cat lying on the roof of a small red car. Springing up from her nap, the long-haired calico hissed and slashed as the powerful predator swept past.

From a weed patch in the center of the driveway circle, a ­woman rushed to rescue her pet. Comforting the animal, she stumbled past a bed of yellow zinnias and sank into a Pawleys Island hammock beneath the protecting arms of a live oak tree, whose leafy canopy danced softly on a honeysuckle breeze. The kitty kneaded Penelope Augusta Nichols Pewitt’s stomach and purred while the hawk circled slowly overhead.

“I think you scared it, Callie.”

At the sound of Penny’s alto voice, the fluffy feline looked up. Under usual circumstances, a small droplet of moisture rested at one corner of the animal’s mouth, but happiness accelerated her salivation rate and she had drooled from both corners until the two strands converged in the middle forming a Y. Disrupting the shimmering letter, Penny placed her daughter's cat on the ground as a small mut with the high bellowing bark of a beagle joined them to announce that their neighbor was waving from her front yard.

Like her father and grandmother before her, the older woman lived in the temple style house in which she was born: Oakden, with tall ceilings and three layers of bricks between the walls of rooms unaltered for generations. If the truth were known, she had preserved her heritage by permitting thousands of strangers to walk through her home and gawk at her family’s possessions.

Misty Vanlandingham shaded her eyes. “I need to ask you something,” she called.

Penny climbed out of the hammock, sauntered down her driveway, and crossed Oakwood Street, where heat waves rose from the pavement into air thick with the watermelon fragrance of freshly mown grass.

Misty spoke in a tone Jackie Kennedy might have used in a comment about the Rose Garden, while her glistening face bore witness to the temperature in massive Oakden on one of the stickiest summer days Mississippi had dished out. “A brand-new pair of black lace undies disappeared from my laundry basket and I think your dog might be the culprit.”

Long past the puppy stage, Penny’s dog Zac seized any opportunity to swipe the neighbors’ papers. He dug up flower beds with joyous barking and pilfered trophies from all over town: a cell phone which rang incessantly, several hats from a baseball cap to a bonnet, and innumerable shoes from the porch of their Japanese friends. In fact, until his masculinity was removed, he had distributed his DNA all over town.

Penny attempted to imagine her neighbor in black lace undies. “I’m sorry. I really try to keep him out of your yard.”

Misty acknowledged the apology with a wave of her hand, collected mail from her box, and smiled at Penny. “How are things with you?”
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