Excerpt from Chalktown by Melinda Haynes, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Melinda Haynes

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  • First Published:
    May 2001, 336 pages
    Jun 2002, 352 pages

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Yellababy had seemed tuned to some advent of change, for he stiffened once and pulled his arms to his chest and rolled his eyes and tried to speak. It was wasted effort and Hezekiah knew it, but he was stopped in his tracks by the color of his brother's eyes: the clearest blue he'd ever seen. And large and thickly lashed in hair so white they seemed dusted with gold. He unfolded the haversack and spread it on the floor and folded a blanket and set it to the seat of it. Through the maze of dresses and past the table full of somebody's cracked china and the naked dolls Hezekiah used to think looked like the real thing, until he saw the real thing and realized the dolls, even busted up, looked better, he saw his mother standing inside the wall of clothes. He bent and with careful hands worked his brother's body into the pouch, seeing the shafts of his mother's legs, stubborn and fixed inside a sea of handed-down dresses suspended from the ceiling. I guess even as a baby I seen her legs before I seen her face, he thought and then he whispered into his brother's ear in a quiet and determined voice, "And now here you are bound to do the same."

The path led to his nearest neighbor's house, a place smaller, but ordered and clean, heaven-like, even though a colored lived there. A drift of vapor lifted out the stovepipe in the man's tar-paper roof and Hezekiah smelled bacon and biscuits and coffee and eggs, a potent blend that made his mouth water. He had not figured breakfast into the beginning of his day, but wished that he had.

The Calhoun place had rambly roses winding around the front fence posts and while no cows grazed beyond the wire, the colored man cultivated the acreage as though God Almighty might be planning on dropping two or three of them down from heaven at any given moment. Field hay had been mown and cubed and bound in silvery twine. Four bales were stacked near a gate, graying in increments that brought to mind things old and of little use, yet held on to for reasons sentimental. A ladle was there, as well as a tin bucket, and Hezekiah knew the man had made himself a recliner of the hay and had sat there during the day previous, staring at the road.

The geese were outside honking in the sunshine. Hezekiah watched as their long necks dug in under their wings and chucked up feathers to shapes resembling vertical white spears. When they raised their heads their feathers smoothed down slick as ice while their webbed feet steadied them in the mud next to Marion Calhoun's truck. Warm air rushed across Hezekiah's face again and he judged the day to be glorious and warm, and the geese seemed in agreement, for in one unified movement, like dancers on a stage, their necks accordioned out and they broke into a brilliant honking chorus.

"Well, there you go. Anybody with half a brain knows geese don't stir when there's to be a freeze."

His brother bucked behind him, afraid, and Hezekiah reached around and soothed him with one large hand to his leg and listened to Yellababy's blaablaablaa and felt his brother's damp hair along the backside of his shirt.

"It's okay. Shush now. It's just them geese," he said. Thinking the whole while: I guess folks with more brain power than his would rightfully be afraid of all that damn noise.

The geese had begun to bother Hezekiah, too, the way they appeared as wild as renegade dogs, and just as mean. The way they took pleasure in cornering snakes, or mice, or anything smaller and weaker, to a point of no extrication and making a party of bringing on death. Two of them were roosting on a greasy tire shaft underneath his neighbor's truck, their dirty heads still as statues, their black eyes glittery and narrow and in perverse contrast to the sky, which had turned up a notch to full-blown light. Bright blue slashed through the trees and across the yard pointing pearly streams of light in the direction of his colored neighbor. There's the way, Hez. Ignore them geese and head for it, the light seemed to be saying.

Copyright © 2001 Melinda Haynes

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