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Excerpt from Ginny Gall by Charlie Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ginny Gall

by Charlie Smith

Ginny Gall by Charlie Smith X
Ginny Gall by Charlie Smith
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2016, 464 pages

    Feb 2017, 464 pages


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Kim Kovacs
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Print Excerpt

Ginny Gall

He was born on the shaded back porch of the board and batten house, cabin really, that smelled in every room of pork fat and greens and of Miss Mamie's Coconut Oil Soap hi mother used to wash down the floorboards. The back porch because that was as far as his mother got on the hot July day in 1913 exactly fifty years after the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, a day uncelebrated in Chattanooga. His mother, Capable Florence, called Cappie, a good-time gal who worked sometimes as a domestic but hated the work and made most of her money processing one of the back rooms at the Emporium—former slave quarters of the old grocery exchange, then a cookshop and hotel for negro folks passing through Chattanooga, and now the city's main brothel—in a big narrow vestibule divided by curtains into a half dozen smaller rooms that could be rented for two dollars an hour.

When her water broke as she was coming through the backyard carrying a sack of oranges given to her by a oldtime customer, her children had tried to help, but the gushing stinking swirling unexpected secret waters of her body—her agony and the way her eyes momentarily rolled back in her head—had scared them near to death. As she hauled herself up the back steps they stood out in the yard screeching. Cappie didn't have time or the inclination to tend to them. As she staggered on the first step, feeling the animate, resolute, massacree push of her own body ejecting itself or attempting to, experiencing in this moment the extremity of panic as her body told her—shouted—that such crudesence was in fact impossible, followed immediately by the give in her muscles that let her know that was a lie, the gummy little bushy-haired head poked forth. She was still climbing the steps as the baby's shoulders jimmied their way through, yelling as she came (while Coolmist yelled Git down! git down! and the twins crouched at the base of the little chinaberry tree, clasping hands around the trunk), not willing anything but surrendering to some power in herself that compelled her, or allowed her, she said later, to raise herself, like a wreck being raised off the floor of the Tennessee river, some old wedding cake of a riverboat, lifted streaming and creaking—and bellering, her daughter said later—and keeping her feet like a woman wading through biting snakes, crouched, bowlegged, staggering on the sides of her delicate high-arched feet, making the top step, her trailing leg weighing suddenly a thousand pounds so that she felt as if the cradle of her hips was cracking as she raised her foot and lurched forward, attempting to make it to the big rocker—why was it leaned face-first against the side of the house with its skinny legs sticking up like an old man praying?—yelling at Coolmist to pull the God almighty chair out, that she never made it to, at least not before the full compact bundled body of her fourth child squirted out, falling not straight down but in a slant off to the side but not so quickly that she wasn't with one hand able to catch the baby by the arm and keep it from hitting the floor, which at the time was the most important thing.

As for Delvin, though he didn't remember this episode until they told it to him, first his sister Coolmist and then the twins and then his mother when he came crying to her, he always had a sensation of falling or being about to, an emptiness in his gut as if he had just let go or been let go of. The little twitch that comes to everyone just at the border of sleep and wakefulness, the start or jump, was for him a powerful kick; he felt himself thrown backwards from a height, falling into a deep pit that had no happiness at the bottom of it; and he lashed out from it; he fought back.

"Shoo, it was just this world snatching at ye," the old man John William Heberson, called J W, told him, clucking his stony laugh, speaking of the fall from his mother's womb. "But she cotched ye, didn't she?" he'd add, his eyes sparkling. J W was the old africano storekeeper down the road who paid his mother to visit him, every Saturday evening after he closed up. "Yessir," he said, "she cotched ye."

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Excerpted from Ginny Gall by Charlie Smith. Copyright © 2016 by Charlie Smith. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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