Characters for a Novel of the Days

Mostly, days sauntered by
like strangers come on Saturday
to the county seat:
there’d be Wednesday,
t-shirted, bearded, smoking a Bugler he’d rolled
himself, thinking of squirrels and the mighty football team
of Beallsville. Or Monday would show up,
brooding by the soldier’s monument
before the Monroe County Court House,
three June turkeys he’d bagged
under the game warden’s radar
stashed like Ice Age boulders in his freezer.

Preacher Man

That was the summer I fell in love. 1977—the hottest summer in 50 years. The heat lay in our holler like somebody had left open a window in hell. Days were so long, the sun never really set, only napped a few hours before waking up full of red-hot fury. At night the darkness wasn’t true, not the black of a winter’s night, but rather faded like the negative of an old photograph.

Hosanna, a History

I am jobless and homeless, with a teenage daughter to support, which is why my daughter, Katie, and I have driven to the property of an 85-year-old woman I barely know, where I am prepared to wheedle, grovel—whatever it takes—to convince the old lady to give me a roof over my head. The woman stands before us in overalls, arms folded, waiting. She has a real name, but everyone in the valley calls her Ma. She is a wizened tiny creature, with thick unruly gray hair. After decades of working outdoors, she is brown and crackled like pine bark. I remembered her and her empty farmhouse when the sheriff’s deputy showed up at my door with an eviction notice.

Speaking Opossum

This was one of the nights where Joseph’s face was pinned to the living room carpet, his older brother’s forearm driven into the tender spot where his vertebrae joined his cranium. That’s what Mrs. Conn, his fourth-grade teacher, called it: cranium. He often mouthed the word to himself on nights like this, rolled it around with his tongue to distract himself from the pain. Mom was in a Xanax coma upstairs, and Dad was tinkering in the garage with an open bottle of Maker’s Mark at arm’s length; so the brothers fought, each trying to survive in his own way.

Empty

I was hungry. Ramen noodles were not available in Kentucky until I was in high school. Daddy would boil them for an hour, ’til they softened, expanded, swelled. He’d toss the water out, add spice last. Shared with four people, one packet never enough. We ate sticks of butter for snacks; not the real kind—government issued. My great grandmother received rations; Alma didn’t cook, didn’t butter, gave the useless to us. This imitation butter—cheap, oily—filled empty hollows, made our gurgling quieter. It stopped our asking. I preferred wild onions from the yard. Daddy, dead now, would hurt if he read this.