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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"Where you think you’re goin to?" his mother had said, quietly. Her bare feet planted on the damp wooden floor.

"Maybe Chalktown, I was thinkin," he had answered, hoping for an instant that Virgin Mary might be murmuring a prayer from a point he couldn't see.

"No sir, you aint," she said.

"It's spring almost and I don't see why not."

"Because of school's why not. I thought Mr. Calhoun told you about that county car out here lookin for you."

He had. But Hezekiah had been marking his days of truancy with a red crayon he kept hid underneath his bed. Upon waking, he'd counted them up and done the math and come to the belief that he had three -- or was it two? -- days left. While he stood in the doorway and felt the uncommon warmish air, he drew inside his mind a map of George County. The small towns inside that map: Lucedale, Agricola, and Basin and the river that ran within spitting distance of all of them: the Pascagoula. The roads that ran alongside, and the houses situated on those roads. All the people inside those houses. The map became bigger and bigger inside its grid. And once it stretched beyond his mental margins he tried to imagine somebody at the county seat suddenly taking notice of one dirt-road boy skipping school, making a game of the system, but he couldn't. It would be like looking for one fly amid thousands buzzing the fat carcass of a cow.

"George County aint got the money to waste lookin for me," he said.

"Well," she said. "I think you’re wrong there. The man in that car yesterday weren't out here shoppin. He was pretendin was all. Studied that holy yoke for a minute." She pointed to THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE IN EVERY PLACE BEHOLDING THE EVIL AND THE GOOD. POVERBS 15:3. His father, Fairy, had left the r out of Proverbs, and no one had bothered to repaint it. The ox yoke leaned against the pump house, marked down by fifty percent. "He stayed for most of an hour and never parted with a dime."

"I’m goin anyhow," Hezekiah had said, looking at her, noticing the slack skin around her mouth and the brittle sheen that lit across her forehead and the almost transparent covering of skin at her temples. Blue veins traced upward into her blond hair, where one shank had worked loose from its pin and settled over her ear. He felt a momentary pity for her that shifted something inside his lower gut. She was a formidable woman who was unraveling at her seams and it was this thing that made him want to walk away and never look back. There had been a sound then, a low troubled moan, and he had glanced down to his brother, stretched out on the floor atop his blanket. "I think I’ll take him, too," he said.

"Suit your own self, then. I think you’re askin for it, though. And I aint one to grieve when a person gits what they got comin."

Susan-Blair had walked away from the doorway then, and the dress tag quit its fluttering and Hezekiah went about the business of getting ready.

The kitchen was an unsightly mess. Stacks of dishes, all different makes and models, filled the counter space. Paper plates wearing leftover food, stacked by the sink. Three metal coffeepots set to the stove. She'd dirty one and go on to the next, he figured. What with her present occupation, there seemed no likely end to the supply, either. The milk had gone over so he filled a fruit jar with water, another with apple juice, and shoved four cans of Vienna sausage in the front pocket of the old haversack. Leg holes had been cut into the drab olive green and once his brother had been fitted into it, he would be carried out of the place. High time, too. Hez had gone to his back room and fetched up three clean diapers, stood looking at them for a long moment before picking up two more. No way a shitty bottom would set a curfew to his day.

On his way to the front room, he had stooped and turned off the gas heater in the hall and then gone to the kitchen stove and checked the registers. As much as he hated them, he'd not wish her, or his sister, to be a victim of leaking propane. He glanced around. Unless a messy house could suddenly acquire the ability to turn lethal, no one was likely to die before he made it back home that evening. Hezekiah left the room.

Copyright © 2001 Melinda Haynes

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