Shelley’s dissertation is entitled The Comforter, a novel of 80,000 words. It is set in Holy City during the tumultuous events of 1927 and 1928.


From Chapter 2

August 1927

Clara stepped down off the train, where the sign on the neat little depot building said Alma. Soul, in Spanish. Maybe this was a sign she was doing the right thing. Maybe she’d get her own soul back. You could still do the right thing even if you didn’t have a choice, couldn’t you?

While the Southern Pacific branch locomotive steamed and chuffed impatiently, the conductor leaned out of the door and passed down the only suitcase she had left. Had he noticed how light it was? “This is the closest station to the Glenwood Highway, miss, just over there across the creek. You sure you want off here, and not Wright’s? Plenty of picnickers go there. Not much around here anymore—they’re planning to close this station in October.”

“I’m sure.” She shaded her eyes with one hand. “Thank you.”

“Enjoy your holiday, miss.” The conductor waved to the brakeman, the train whistled, and it pulled away, steaming up the valley on its southerly way to the beaches of Santa Cruz. 

Silence flowed in to replace the noise, a silence troubled only by the wind in the grass, the brisk chuckle of the creek that wound along the bottom of the valley, and the calls of birds in the pines and oaks. Or maybe those were kids, from somewhere in the few buildings down the way. Clara took a deep breath of dust and creosote from the railway tracks. It was warm, almost hot here on the hillside. But not the heat of Los Angeles. It was different. Softer. 

Except for the birds, she was alone on the platform. 

Even the station master was gone—maybe home for lunch. But now she could hear an automobile not far away, passing on the highway, which was shaded and hidden by the rounded polls of the oaks. The town of Los Gatos lay a couple of miles behind her, to the north, on the other side of Cats Canyon. That’s where they’d be coming from. Now was her chance to catch a ride.

In a minute. 

In a way, she was stranded. But it was nice to have nothing to do but soak in the peace.

She’d been beating her feet on the sidewalks of San Francisco for nearly a week now. No luck. Office positions didn’t need someone with a degree. For a teaching job, she needed more training. More training meant somewhere more permanent to live than the YWCA, and her slender pocketbook didn’t have what it took.

But did she really want to be shut up in an office or a classroom? She’d begun to think maybe she was a country girl locked in a city girl’s life. 

Which was when the city took offense to that—and someone broke into her room at the Y. She’d probably never know who, because the woman at the reception desk sure didn’t, and even the police who’d taken her report had turned up their hands. The thief had taken her little bit of money, her few bits of jewelry, and scooped up most of her clothes, stuffing it all in her big suitcase and walking out the door with it. A lady thief? 

She had the last laugh about the jewelry, though—it was all paste, and she still had her engagement ring on her right hand. Her wedding ring was in her pocketbook, along with a couple of dollars. As for clothes, all she had left was an odd, mismatched assortment the thief hadn’t seemed to want. A skirt without its top. A dress with no shoes. A cardigan that matched an outfit she no longer had. 

There was nothing for it but to ride down to the station and buy a ticket home. Another failure. Another rejection. And nothing to look forward to but the lecture to end all lectures from Mahmee. She’d left the YWCA yesterday morning, hoping no one on the cable-car would see her cry. 

But there are some tears a woman can’t hide. The man sitting next to her on the cable-car offered her his handkerchief and out came the whole story. By the time they’d gone from Union Square to the pier, she’d told him about her miserable week. He, in turn, had told her about someplace called Holy City…