Andi Marquette is at it again. check out an excerpt of her latest novella From The Hat Down here. Then do what I did and buy the darn thing so you can finish reading it.
Today is #DDay70. I tried to post on that Twitter hashtag but something kept going wrong.
Sally Bellerose has done it again. She won this year’s Saints and Sinners short fiction contest. Then she generously posted it here for your reading pleasure.
I love it when writers I admire do things like that.
I woke up at 2:30 am this morning, don’t know why. I made coffee, turned the internet machine on, and saw the date. There are some we don’t forget. Many veterans of that singular day in World War Two might be surprised that someone not of their generation remembers that day. So many young men buried in that cemetery in France.
I have lately starting working on my next novel again. This time the important thing will be finishing it. Following Andi’s and Sally’s lead, here’s a little excerpt:
Marengo County 1880 The Morgans
“If you can’t kill ‘em with kindness, you might as well shoot ‘em,” Mama said, standing calm as a glass window pane, smoke still rising out of the barrel of her shot gun. Us kids were all lined up on the edge of the porch, running to a halt when we heard the blast. I pictured Mama with a leather headband, one single feather in the back, wearing a buckskin skirt with fringes swaying. Boy, was I wrong about that. Daddy had reached us by now, dinner napkin still around his neck. He didn’t stop on the porch, but went right on into the yard and yanked that twelve gauge out of Mama’s hands.
“What in Sam Hill are you doing?” he yelled, loud but not as if he really was mad. I guess we all were trying not to laugh, because a loaded gun is nothing to laugh at.
Mama just pointed up the dirt road to Grandma’s house, about a hundred yards away. We all looked that direction and saw Uncle Ulmer, staggering around the yard and talking to himself. “Don’t worry,” Mama said. “I didn’t shoot him, I shot at him. If I wanted to hit him, I would have, you know that for a fact.”
We all did know that as fact. Mama always hit what she aimed at. I knew, but the younger kids might not, that there was no way that shotgun could have reached that far, so Uncle Ulmer was never in any real danger. The best use of a shotgun is the loud noise it makes when you chamber a round and the fearful loud boom when you pull the trigger. That tends to make anyone in close vicinity take off at a run.
The thing is, Uncle Ulmer couldn’t run. Even as drunk as he was, he knew well enough not to make Mama mad enough to really shoot him. Uncle Ulmer lost a leg in the War, and ever since, he stayed drunk as often as he could sneak some moonshine into the house. Daddy whittled a nice piece of cypress into a leg. It had straps on it, and a foot too. Uncle Ulmer saved it for occasions when he had to dress decent. He preferred a simple peg leg for everyday use. He hated using his crutches or a cane because he wanted his hands free, so he stomped around the yard like a pirate, his face showing a dark beard, punching holes in the ground with every step, waving his brand new Winchester and muttering.
No telling what Uncle Ulmer had done this time to provoke Mama to fire a warning shot. Seeing him stumbling around the yard with a loaded gun was probably enough. Having survived the War, all but his leg anyway, Uncle Ulmer always paid attention when a weapon of any kind went off. It made him start twitching and shaking like a dog with fleas. Even in his drunken state Uncle Ulmer appreciated the scattering effect of buckshot and Mama’s good aim enough to abandon further escalation of hostilities.
“Every one of ya’ll get back in the house and finish your supper. I’m not staying up past dark to get the dishes done. Young Charles, you get me some water as soon as you get through. You should have done it before you sat down to eat, as you well know. Now scoot, all of you.”
We all scooted, even Daddy. Mama wasn’t mean, not ever, but I had seen her kill a cottonmouth with her hoe. Nobody ever doubted Mama’s intentions, that’s for sure. My daddy was Charles Barrett Morgan, who came from a fine Southern family who owned hundreds and hundreds of acres and slaves to work them, before the War. I kept a picture in my head of Daddy too, imagining how he must have looked, and this picture was pretty accurate. I know because Daddy told us stories often enough about his family and all their land and slaves before the War.
The fact that our land was all that was left of the thousands of acres the family once owned meant something to Daddy. It meant he was not like every other struggling farmer. His family had long grown cotton with slave labor. The land he plowed behind a cantankerous old mule, its rich dirt sifting into the cuffs of his pants, into the creases of his skin as he walked every step of his property, his father and grandfather had surveyed from the backs of beautiful horses saddled in gleaming leather, and they wore shiny black riding boots, like the kind you see in that portrait of George Washington. I picture them as they watched the overseer, who watched the sweating black people, who lived in a string of cabins that were all gone now, except for a few for sharecroppers, land owned now by the Duboses who came here after the war and bought up all the land, slowly getting the Morgan land piece by piece, until it all shrunk down to the last quarter section we lived on, and the ten acres Grandma Morgan held.
Settled back at the supper table, Daddy finally asked the question all of us wanted to. “What was Ulmer doing this time?”
Mama held the baby on her lap and fed her mashed field peas. “William Dubose is all you need to know. That man has built a bank in town. I swear he won’t be satisfied until every single piece of dirt and every dollar in this county belongs to him.”
Whatever Mr. Dubose had bought, that wasn’t the only reason Mama was mad. Her few remaining family members kept getting pushed farther and farther back, into the deep woods. See, Mama was a Choctaw Indian. Now Dubose owned all their land and the timber on it too.
I always believed that one reason Daddy tried to cling tight to his ancestry is because he was so ashamed of Mama’s Indian background. It caused me to wonder why he ever married her in the first place. I think he did it because he was afraid of Mama’s father, who lived deep in the woods beside the river with the Mowa band.
If Daddy, a fine, upstanding, Christian example of generations of white breeding in the Morgan clan, had been sincerely true to his own heritage, he would have married someone from another upstanding family and kept Mama in a cabin in the woods to have his children, who would grow up on collard greens, corn, fish, squirrels, and deer meat. I wouldn’t have minded that secret life so much. As long as he saw fit to bring me books, that is.
He couldn’t resist those dark brown eyes, that blue-black hair, the cheekbones and the spine. He did a fine trade business with the Choctaw, because they respected Mama.
Charles Barrett Morgan, Mama often said, is so contrary he would argue with a fencepost. All the Morgans are contrary, she claimed. Maybe that contrary streak is what gave him the courage to marry Mama. I know it certainly is responsible for most of the whippings I got.
I also know that white-skinned, blue-eyed boys and girls everywhere in the county sure gravitated to our family. Something about the brown eyes that turn to black when we get snapping mad, the dark brown hair, the way we go quiet sometimes, all traits I link back to Mama’s side, attracted every skinny white boy with over-sized Adam’s apples and big knuckles to my sisters, and the same was true about the girls with curled hair and starched dresses coming to see my brothers, who fell for the lowered eyelashes and sweet smells quicker than water skittering on a hot skillet.
I used to wonder why Mama stayed with Daddy when they fought so much. Now I know that when brown eyes change to black, it isn’t always because of anger. It’s something else that turns them dark, inward-looking, opaque. I know that I have eight brothers and sisters, and all of us were born no more than two years apart, some of us only separated by fifteen months, a pair by only twelve months. By my calculation, Mama stayed in a constant state of gestation for almost eighteen years. Daddy liked those snapping dark eyes.