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

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Chalktown

by Melinda Haynes

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

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Print Excerpt

Book One
1961

Ask any man what the only good thing about George County is and he will likely tell you this: the only good thing about George County Mississippi is that it's so full of flat nothingness that nobody, not even Jesus, can sneak up on a body.

Excerpt from Chapter One

By the old pump shed, near where the holy yokes leaned, the late winter grass was worn down as old brown velvet. Slick and near napless, the path seemed straight and narrow as any good preacher might preach, for behind the trail sat his mother's house, spread out and pieced together, misshapen as sin. If ever there was a clear picture of salvation in Hezekiah Sheehand's mind, the worn-down strip of dirt stood to paint it. His brother strapped to his back, he reached around and patted the five-year-old's leg and wished Yellababy could smell the warmish winter air and appreciate it, or even notice the odor of goose shit muddying up the ground and make a face at that, but smells were beyond Yellababy's realm of understanding, as were most things the rest of the God-fearing world took for granted. Hezekiah knew this and kept on walking, his eyes down to the brown velvet path of salvation the whole while.

Behind him, the house squatted low beside a cherty road that wound through George County, Mississippi. Hot as hell in the summertime, with a wet steamy heat that soaked the skin and soured the clothes, the place seemed a final haven for mosquitoes and candle moths and cicadas 'til late at night, when finally -- around ten or eleven o’clock -- even the bugs tired out. Winters were better. Damp, but nicer. No bugs then. Just hoarfrost that crunched underfoot and icicles that pointed down to the porch where the guts of sewing machines and boxes of carburetors were stacked next to dead car batteries and bent buckets and glass-globed lanterns empty of oil.

Inside the house his mother was up and stirring, tagging clothes for resale, for the winter season was almost over and even dirt-road women were growing anxious for spring. Earlier, while still undecided about whether or not to go for a walk, Hezekiah had shared the doorway with her, their hip bones touching at uneasy points of contact. Wind had brushed through the opening and there'd been a flutter and out the corner of his eye he'd seen a tag pinned to the neck of the dress she was wearing. Twenty-five cents, he read. He'd decided he would go then, realizing she was modeling her goods and that as soon as he stepped off the porch, she'd find herself digging through the cardboard boxes of shoes in search of a pair that came close to matching the faded shade of the dress, and still this wouldn't suit her.

"The bus has come and gone," she had said to him while they stood inside the doorway, her arms crossing her stomach, his arms matching hers. Hezekiah had grown taller through the winter months, equaled out in portions of healthy weight and broader shoulders and larger hands and feet. The playing field was level now, he stood nose to nose with her, and knew it.

"And I weren't on it," he had answered, matter-of-factly. Neither had his sister, Arena, but this had not been mentioned.

He glanced to the side, in avoidance of those blue eyes trying to stare a hole through him, and saw the corner table housing religious statues. Marys and Josephs and one or two Queen Elizabeths were huddled there, price tags fastened around their plaster necks with pale rubber bands. Hezekiah saw the craggy pink plaster face of Saint Joseph, one eye cast lower than the other as if the human hand painting it had slipped or misjudged the application, or, perhaps, grown lazy. That solemn orb seemed dead as a button, waylaid by false expectations and disappointments, more than a little sad, and Hezekiah could not help wondering why folks with religion always looked so bitter when all they had to put up with was thievery of the Sunday School money, or possibly the devil.

Copyright © 2001 Melinda Haynes

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