Temple Secrets: Southern Humorous Fiction: (New for 2015) For Lovers of Southern Authors and Southern Novels

BOOK: Temple Secrets: Southern Humorous Fiction: (New for 2015) For Lovers of Southern Authors and Southern Novels
13.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Table of Contents

Title Page
































About the Author

Interview with Susan Gabriel

13 Things I Reveal About Myself in the Writing of Temple Secrets

Temple Secrets Reading Group Guide

Other Books by Susan Gabriel

Temple Secrets







Susan Gabriel








Wild Lily Arts



Copyright © 2015 by Susan Gabriel


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental


Print ISBN 978-0-9835882-7-6


Cover design by Lizzie Gardiner



Author’s website:





The Secret Sense of Wildflower

(a Best Book of 2012 – Kirkus Reviews)


Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories


Seeking Sara Summers


Circle of the Ancestors


Quentin & the Cave Boy




Fearless Writing for Women


Available at all booksellers

in print, ebook and audio formats.








Iris Temple has been threatening to die for three decades, and most of the people in Savannah who know her want her to get on with it. Queenie looks up from the crime novel she’s hidden within the pages of
Southern Living
magazine and takes in the figure of her half-sister, Iris Temple, across the sunroom. Everything about Iris speaks of privilege: the posture, the clothes, the understated jewels. Not to mention a level of entitlement that makes Queenie’s head ache. An exasperated moan slips from her mouth before she can catch it.

Iris’s gaze shifts to Queenie. Her eyes narrow, the adjoining crow’s feet forming a close-knit flock. The look delivers the message that even though Queenie is solidly middle-aged, she is to be
seen and not heard
like a child.

As Iris Temple’s companion for the last thirty-five years, Queenie lives the lifestyle of a Temple, instead of a Temple servant like her black mother, grandmother and great grandmother. With the precision of a Swiss clock, Queenie is reminded daily that she is not a
Temple—though they share the same father—any more than Sunny Delight orange drink is considered
orange juice. She is simply a watered-down Temple—albeit several shades darker.

As she does every morning, Iris studies the local newspaper from headlines to classifieds in the lavish sun room facing the prominent Savannah square. Wicker furniture with rich fabrics mingle with antiques and tropical plants, as gold elephants the size of laundry baskets offer their polished backs to hold Iris’s porcelain teacup.

Focused on the society section, Iris licks her lips as though relishing the fact that the Temple family is one of the elite families of Savannah. Their photographs appear in the newspaper with a regularity that Iris’s bowels rarely achieve. As if on cue, Iris’s stomach gurgles and she shifts her weight onto one hip and rises ever so slightly as Queenie prepares for the inevitable result. If treated more kindly, she might feel sorry for Iris. Instead, she bites her tongue to keep from saying:
Iris, honey, they say humans pass gas 14 times per day, but you hold the Guinness Book of World Records.

For years, Iris Temple’s unpredictable illnesses, usually of a gastrointestinal nature, have manipulated everyone around her. Just last week, a stomachache canceled a Daughter’s of the Confederacy charity event and gas pains dismantled a family reunion planned for over a decade. Any societal unpleasantness is quickly dissipated with a severe attack of acid reflux, followed by fumes guaranteed to clear any gathering. Fumes Iris herself is oblivious to and no one else has the courage to address. To what does Iris Temple attribute these ailments? Gullah voodoo.

Within seconds, the odor’s flight path reaches Queenie, and she holds her breath as Iris turns the page.

“Oh my word, listen to this,” Iris says.

Queenie exhales as Iris begins to read.

Miss Iris Temple, of the Savannah Temples, will be hosting the 20th annual charity bazaar for the Junior League on this coming Saturday. The grand matriarch, also known as Savannah’s grandmother--
” Iris balks and looks as though she’s swallowed something bitter. “Savannah’s grandmother? Is that supposed to be a compliment?”

“Oh, I’m sure it is, Iris,” Queenie answers, all the while thinking,
Savannah’s grandmother, indeed. Never mind that you’re eighty years old and have one grandchild who you’ve never even met.
Or that you don’t have a nurturing bone in your body.

Queenie anticipates what will follow: Iris’s angry letter to the newspaper on embossed Temple stationery that will insist that the reporter be dismissed and Queenie called upon to hand deliver the bad news.

Voodoo or not, most people—including Queenie—consider Iris Temple to be a first class fake. What she blames on folk magic is merely an excuse to bring the fancy families and institutions of Savannah under her control.

And if that doesn’t work
there’s always that damn ledger, kept in a safe at the bank, documenting secrets about rich and powerful Savannah families.
Secrets, Queenie has been told, that their great-grandfather began collecting before the Civil War and that every Temple has contributed to since.

Well, not every Temple
Iris has never asked my thoughts on anything, never mind what I’d like to put in that “secret” book.

It’s true. Iris has noted every affair of prominent men, their illegitimate children, mental illnesses of wives, and any dishonest money dealings she’s ever become privy to. According to Iris, two entire pages are devoted to Queenie. Given the Temple family’s inclination to lie if it benefits them, Queenie questions how many of those so called “secrets” are true. But she does have one that could do some serious harm if it got out.

“Did you call the restaurant about tomorrow night?” Iris asks.

Queenie looks up from her crime novel and gives the expected response. “Yes, Iris, it’s all been arranged.” And then thinks:
Only you, Iris, would counteract a voodoo curse by following a strict diet that consists of no sauces, no spices, and no intermingling of foods. You might as well be eating the Temple Book of Secrets.

Part of Queenie’s job as Iris’s assistant is to make certain that chefs in downtown establishments follow these strict dietary restrictions. Chefs hate being told what to do. But if any fail to meet her requirements, Iris will make sure that they never work in Savannah again.

“And did you tell them about my special condition?” Iris asks, turning to the classifieds. “You know how delicate I am,” she adds. “Fragrances make me nauseous.”

“Yes, Iris. I made them aware,” she says, thinking that Iris is about as
as a piranha.

Fragrances include perfumes and scented body powders, soaps, shampoos and detergents. Every maître d’ in town has been alerted not to sit Iris next to anyone who might fall under the scrutiny of her superior olfactory system.

“What about the Catholic charities meeting tomorrow?” Iris asks. She takes a sip of tea, the sunlight bouncing off the gold inlay of the cup.

“I’ll see to it, Iris.” Queenie resists rolling her eyes.
It would be more of a charity for Savannah if Iris didn’t show up

For the privilege of living in the big house and being Iris Temple’s companion, Queenie pays a steep price. Among other things, she is required to arrive thirty minutes early to every meeting of the Junior League, the Daughters of the Confederacy and any other event that Iris Temple is scheduled to attend to ensure that they are fragrance free. It’s on these days that Queenie feels like little more than a trained bloodhound, sniffing at the heels of Savannah’s elite. More than once she has had to approach a prominent Savannah resident and request she go to the restroom and scrub off expensive fragrances dabbed behind her ears and on her wrists. This seldom goes over well, leaving Queenie to feel blacker than she already is.

Queenie knows how the rich women of Savannah feel about her. She has overheard their whispers, their cutting remarks about her color, her place. No matter what she does, they—like Iris—will never see her as legitimate. They never see her for the woman she is and never think of the burden Queenie carries because of Iris’s insistence that she play Prissy to her Scarlett O’Hara in order to have a decent life.

Yet deep down, Queenie knows that she’s more real than any of them, and is as entitled to her life as Iris is. She is well aware of what their daddy left behind when he passed over. Not that she’s seen a penny of it. Yet Iris has promised to leave her the house when she finally passes to the Great Beyond. And for that, Queenie will tolerate just about anything.

“I smelled one of those horrible dryer sheets, yesterday,” Iris begins again, her nose upturned.

Queenie sighs, thinking of her periodic sleuth for scents while strolling the beautiful Savannah square where the Temple house stands. During this surveillance, Queenie must ascertain whether any housekeepers in the area are using scented dryer sheets. If so, said housekeepers risk losing their jobs and their employers risk having their secrets revealed. Secrets Iris has told them are stored in the bank vault.

As a result, most of Savannah—regardless of race, class, gender or age—is waiting on Iris Temple to die. If for no other reason, so that life can return to scented bliss. Fantasies of Iris’s demise have certainly graced Queenie’s thoughts many times. It is time for Iris to step aside so Queenie can head the Temple clan. She looks around the room, thinking of how she might redecorate adding more color.

“I know it doesn’t bother you to smell the dryer sheets,” Iris concedes. “But if you were a
Temple, you’d understand. You just don’t have our level of sophistication.”

There it is,
Queenie thinks,
as predictable as Old Faithful, and just as full of toxic vapors.

To distract herself from doing Iris harm, Queenie thinks back to when she came to live with her thirty-five years ago in 1965. She was twenty-two years old when she made this fateful choice. Iris was forty-five. It was Mister Oscar’s idea—Iris Temple’s husband—that Queenie join the staff because of a special fondness he had for her. A fondness which extended to the bedroom.

Queenie lifts an eyebrow and studies Iris.
Did she really never know what Oscar was up to right under her nose?

The Temples are one of the richest families in Savannah, Georgia. Iris’s father—also Queenie’s father—made a fortune in the invention and production of prosthetics. A generation after his father, a surgeon in the Civil War, removed thousands of limbs that his son seemed destined to replace.

Though Queenie has seen none of the Temple money except for a meager monthly allowance, she and Iris live in a large Victorian house listed on the national registry of historic homes. A house used at the end of the Civil War by Union officers reveling in their victory during General Sherman’s March to the Sea. As the story goes, these Union soldiers were told to burn the mansion to the ground but they refused to do any damage to it given its rare beauty. The extinguished torch is now encased in the Temple foyer where it was left all those many years ago. It is also the house where the present day Junior League conducts annual house tours to raise money for orphans in a country many of them cannot pronounce and none would ever dream of visiting.

BOOK: Temple Secrets: Southern Humorous Fiction: (New for 2015) For Lovers of Southern Authors and Southern Novels
13.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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