Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ruby Dawn

Ruby Dawn
White Rose Publishing (January 27, 2012)
Raquel Byrnes

Chapter 1

San Diego, California

I should have known to stay away from dark corners. Nothing good ever happened to me in them. But it was my job to look, and it was a good thing I did, because the ghost I found that night belonged to me. In retrospect, the asphalt and the blood seemed fitting, considering my start in life.

A broken child found abandoned in a bus station. I was eight years old and newly born. I lay unconscious for two days in the I.C.U. No memory of who I was, or who hurt me so badly ever came. I simply blinked into existence one morning. The nurses named me Ruby Dawn, after the color of the morning sky the day I opened my eyes.

I grew up on the streets outside various foster homes. Never quite comfortable in the unfamiliar houses or with the well intentioned, I often stayed out until it was too cold or too dark to remain under the sky. I don’t think I ever left the streets I roamed as a child.

I wander them still.

That is how I came to be outside the old brownstone this frigid winter evening. The last stop on my daily route, I parked the beat-up sedan against the curb. Peeling back the duct tape that held the glove compartment closed, and reached for a flashlight. Catching sight of myself in the rear view mirror, I frowned. I tried to tuck my hair back into a ponytail and smooth out my bangs. My eyes looked pale and tired. My shifts as an ER resident, coupled with the time running the free clinic were taking their toll.

How long could I keep this up?

I rubbed my eyes and got out of the car. I pulled some donated coats from the passenger’s side seat and started down the sidewalk. Munch and Joe, old men ravaged by life on the streets, huddled close to a trashcan set ablaze in the alley. They recognized me walking towards them and hid their liquor. It was their version of cleaning up for company. Joe smiled at me with vacant gums, and Munch waved. His gravely voice echoed in the filthy alley like a kicked tin can.


“Hey Munch, Joe, how’re you guys holding up tonight?” I forced a cheerful smile.

“Aw, you know.” Joe shrugged in his layers of suit blazers and sweaters. All his clothes eventually took on the same color as the asphalt. He was shivering, but smiled.

“You guys should get to the shelter. It’s going to be an all-time low tonight. The weatherman said.”

“Weatherman…only job on earth you get paid for bein’ wrong most a’ the time.” Munch waved his hand dismissively.

“We should all be so lucky, huh?”

“Whatcha got there, Ruby?” Joe craned his neck to see what I was carrying.

“Couple a winter coats. Thought you guys might want them.”

“Nothin’ wrong with what I got on.” Munch wrinkled his nose at them .

“No, you’re right about that. I was just thinking that come morning, if you want, you can take these to the thrift shop for me. I could use the favor.”

Joe shrugged, but I saw his tongue snake out and lick his cracked lips. He was interested. He wouldn’t take charity, but he’d take a wage for a job.

“I have so much to do, and you guys usually head out that way, anyway, right?”

“Aw, that store only gives out food vouchers for clothes.” Munch wrinkled his nose again.

Actually they paid cash, except to people I sent in. Anyone who came in with something marked with my initials, got vouchers for food, not cash. I wasn’t interested in supporting the local liquor store.

“Well, I hear the shelter is setting aside something special for the food voucher customers.”

“Special, how?” Joe’s eyes lit up.

I shrugged and made a mental note to drop off a case of something special at the shelter tomorrow night.

“I’ll bet its pudding. Man, I love that chocolate pudding. Those cups don’t need no fridge.” Munch smacked his lips and took the coats from me.

“Maybe.” I nodded.

Something at the far end of the alley crashed against metal trash cans, making me jump. The movement in the shadows looked human. I thought I saw a prone figure flail in the shadows. Concerned it might be a kid in trouble, I looked closer.

“S – Stay here, guys.”

I pulled the heavy steel flashlight from my backpack and shined the beam down the alley. The light bobbed with my shaking hand. I crept forward. A man writhed on the ground holding his side. I flashed the light back up to the top of the fence he must have just scaled--no one there. I walked towardss him, gritting my teeth to quell the fear bubbling in my chest.

“Hey, Ruby, don’t get too close.” Munch called from behind me.

I turned to shush him, and then the man moaned.


“P-police…call,” he gasped between groans.

“Uh, you need an ambulance, not a police car.”

He reached a hand out to me; it was covered with blood. My heart thumped in my chest. I took another step towards him, the flashlight beam quivering across his body. He lay on his side, his face bruised and covered with grime.

“No…I’m on the job.”

“You’re a cop?” I gasped.

He nodded and tried to sit up. I yelled back down the alley at Munch and Joe.

“Call 911! There’s a phone in my car, hurry!”

I leaned in to help him, and then the beam of light hit his face. I pulled back reflexively.

Green eyes under dark brown eyebrows stared back with shock. “Ruby?” he stammered.

“Tom, where have you been? What happened to you?” I grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him into a hug. Breathless, I laughed nervously.

He groaned in my arms. I looked at the pain on his face and let go. He smiled, and it looked like it took all of his strength.

“Well, for starters, I’ve been shot.”

I wiped my eyes and helped him to his feet. We staggered to the mouth of the alley.

The officer that patrolled this neighborhood pulled to a stop in front of us. In the habit of checking on me, Officer Farrell must have been close by when he heard the call. I waved him over, panting under Tom’s weight. “We’re almost there, Tom. Stay with me.”

Tom groaned with the effort.

Officer Farrell rounded the front of the cruiser and pulled open the back passenger door. Covering the top of Tom’s head with his hand, he helped guide Tom onto the back seat.

“Dr. McKinney, are you OK?” Officer Farrell asked me. His gaze ran over the blood on my hands and shirt.

“I’m OK, but I need to get this guy to the ER. He’s losing a lot of blood.” I caught Officer Farrell’s arm with my hand. “He’s a cop.”

“I can’t go in under my own name. Call it in, but don’t use my name. I’m DEA,” Tom gasped from the back seat.

“Buddy, I have you covered,” Farrell replied.

Tom turned, his face pale in the car’s interior light. Breath ragged, he held his hand out to me from the back seat. I climbed in next to him, and Farrell slammed the door shut. We tore off towards the emergency room with lights flashing.

Tom’s eyes fluttered closed for a second, and my chest tightened, panic soaring. I shook him and he started.

“You know, I never said sorry,” he breathed.

I pulled my scarf off and wadded it up, pushing it against his bullet wound. Sticky warmth oozed between my fingers. Sobs welled in my chest. “Don’t start.” My voice cracked.

He reached up and ran his finger down the bridge of my nose. He’d done it a thousand times before, a lifetime ago.

“I shouldn’t have left like that. I shouldn’t have just disappeared.”

I wouldn’t look at him. I couldn’t, not without crying. “You did what you had to do.” I pushed on the scarf.

“Do you still hate me?” He winced through the pain.

I looked at him then. I wanted to yell, and cry, and shake him for all of the heartache he’d caused me, but I didn’t. Instead I frantically slapped the mesh that separated the backseat from the front. “Hurry, Farrell, hurry, please!” I leaned in and whispered to Tom. “Just concentrate on not dying. I only yell at healthy people.”

“I am sorry, Ruby. I…” Tom’s eyes fluttered, closed mid-sentence.

Praying desperately, I held him while we flew through the streets. Lights flashed past the windows, and my heart ached so bad, I struggled to breathe. Tears trailed down and landed on Tom’s dirty wool cap. I cried because I’d lost him before and couldn’t bear to do it again.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Sweethaven Summer

A Sweethaven Summer
Guidepost Books (February 7, 2012)
Courtney Walsh



The church smelled like flowers and dead people. Dead person. Just one. Her mom. The visitation the night before had sent her into an unexpected daze. She’d smiled. Thanked people for coming. Pretended she’d be okay.

She stood at the back of the sanctuary, her black skirt clinging to her waist and thighs and then flaring out slightly. Mom had always liked that skirt. She’d even borrowed it once to go on a date. One of the few Campbell had ever known her mother to agree to. It had always been just the two of them—and Mom seemed okay with that. Now, though, Campbell wondered if her mom would’ve fought harder if she’d had someone in her life. Would she still be dead if she’d had more to live for?

Surely a strong-willed daughter wasn’t enough.

Inside, her anger wadded tight at the injustice she’d suffered, losing her mother when neither of them was ready for it.

Orphaned at twenty-four.

It had only been a week ago that Mom had called and asked her to come over.

“I have some things I want to talk to you about, hon.”

Campbell could tell by her tone—a tone that radiated finality—that Mom was squaring things away. Getting those proverbial ducks in a row. Campbell almost refused to go. She’d argued she had to work—do laundry—do anything but talk with her mother about the inevitable.

About her death.

But Mom had one-upped her. “We need to talk about your father.”

The words hung between them as Campbell tried to think of a response.

Mom had refused to talk about her dad, only saying they were better off this way, and despite their close relationship, Campbell had always wondered about him. Who was he? Where was he? Did he know about her?

Campbell pushed Mom’s front door open, expecting the delicious aroma of hazelnut coffee and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Instantly, she knew something was wrong. She called out to her mom but was met with silence.

“Mom?” She called her name again, then walked through the living room and into the kitchen where she saw Mom, lying still on the hardwood floor, her legs bent in an unnatural position, her arms limp at her sides.

“Mom!” Campbell dropped to the floor beside her and found only a wisp of breath on her lips.

Several minutes later, Campbell watched as the paramedics hoisted her mother onto a stretcher and then put her in the back of the ambulance, unsure of how or when she’d even managed to dial 911. Before he closed the door, one of the men gestured for her to get in. She did, almost robotically. Moving as though in slow motion, she braced herself for the ride to the hospital.

For days, Campbell begged her mom to wake up. Begged her to come back so they could have that conversation over coffee. She had too many questions for Mom to really be gone.

Now, she’d never know what Mom planned to tell her about her father.

Campbell shook the thoughts away and perused the sanctuary, astonished by the number of people who had turned out to pay their respects. The entire staff of Liberty East High School now sat solemnly in the pews. Church friends. Former students. Even the mail carrier who had delivered their mail as far back as Campbell could remember sat on an aisle, his head bowed in reverence as he waited for the service to start.

So many people whose lives had somehow been touched by her mother.

“You wouldn’t believe this if you saw it, Mom,” Campbell whispered under her breath.

Not wanting to make small talk, she pretended to be interested in the program. She wanted to regain her composure. Sometimes the smallest thought popped into her mind, and her eyes involuntarily filled with tears. A glance toward the front of the sanctuary told her this wasn’t a dream. No, she actually stood there, in the back of the church, waiting for her mother’s funeral service to start.

Pastor Scott walked through the foyer and stopped beside her. His kind eyes were familiar after so many years in his church. Even as a rebellious teen when she’d begged to sleep in, her mother had insisted on their going to service. In the end, her faith hadn’t done her any good. God couldn’t heal Mom. Or wouldn’t heal her. And worse, He’d stolen her away at the most inopportune time.

While Campbell hadn’t felt ready to finalize things with Mom, she had to admit, she had questions. Not only about her father’s identity, but about Mom’s childhood—her past. Things Mom had always kept to herself. Things Campbell had stopped asking about for fear of hurting her.

If only she’d risked it.

Anger pelted her heart like a hailstorm.

She pushed it aside.

“You doing all right?” Pastor Scott put his arm around her and squeezed.

She nodded.

“Okay, we’re getting ready to start. I’ll go in first and you can follow like we talked about.” He left her standing in the foyer in her black skirt and gray blouse. Would she ever wear the colors of spring again? Would she ever want to?

Black felt so appropriate.

After the pastor took his place on the stage, it was her turn. As if she were a bride, Campbell began the trek down the aisle. She kept her eyes focused on Pastor Scott, a man, she felt embarrassed to say, she’d imagined as her father on more than one occasion.

Just as she’d done with her third grade gym teacher. Her mother’s male colleagues. Pretty much any man Mom’s age with blond hair and a lanky frame, like her. She didn’t get her features from Mom, so they must’ve come from her dad. Whoever he was.

She reached the front of the sanctuary, avoiding the teary eyes of the crowd, and sat in the pew. She peered down at her long-fingered hands resting in her lap. The blood had left them, leaving them white and cold. She rubbed them together to warm them. It didn’t work.

Pastor Scott glanced at her and then smiled that soft smile. He’d have been a good father to her. She’d have called him “Daddy.” He would’ve loved her and told her she was beautiful; told her she wasn’t an accident. Just a surprise. He’d have made her feel better when the teasing started, told her those kids didn’t know what they were talking about. He would have. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. He wasn’t the one.

Why had Mom waited so long to come clean about her dad’s identity?

She looked at the enlarged photo of her mom, radiant and smiling, that stood on an easel near the front of the church. She couldn’t imagine her mother taking that secret to the grave. Campbell deserved to know—surely Mom had planned to explain everything.

Campbell had asked a few times, but her mother had always said there was no need for her to know. He wasn’t in their life because he wasn’t good for them. Was he in jail? Was he a serial killer? She’d never know.

And every time she’d brought it up, she sensed a hurt behind her mother’s eyes. As though Campbell implied she hadn’t given her enough or that she needed a father because she had a lousy mother. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

Campbell tried to focus on the service. She chided herself for allowing her mind to wander at her own mother’s funeral.

Six pallbearers carried the shiny wooden box to the front, and everyone turned their attention to the pastor.

“Today we say good-bye to a woman we all knew and dearly loved. I don’t have to tell you what a bright light Suzanne Carter has always been in this church, in the high school, in the community.”

She had been a bright light. Campbell’s chest tightened in an emotional tug of war. The part of her that wanted to smile lost to the part that wanted to cry.

She dabbed her cheek with a tissue and tried to compose herself. She had to speak in a few moments. Nausea rippled through her stomach like a stone plunked in calm water.

Pastor Scott continued saying nice things about her mother. A woman everyone loved. Talented. Humble. A friend to all. A devoted mom. A tutor. An art lover.

He left nothing out.

His gaze moved across the sea of faces and landed on her with a slight nod. She felt her eyes widen. Time to stand. Would her legs hold her weight?

“Now we’ll hear a few words from Suzanne’s daughter Campbell.”

She grabbed the pew in front of her and pulled herself to her feet on wobbly knees. Her stomach had hollowed, and moisture coated her cold palms. She smoothed her skirt and begged her feet to carry her to the stage.

Up the three small steps she went with a prayer of thanks she hadn’t tripped. She took the pastor’s spot behind a wooden pulpit and peered over the crowd that had gathered to say good-bye to her mother. They all expected her to say something appropriate. Expected brilliance. It’s what her mother would’ve delivered.

She cleared her throat and pulled the microphone a smidge closer to her mouth. It fed back, its tinny ring cutting through the silence. She clung to the sides of the pulpit as though its wooden frame gave her the ability to stand.

“You all know what a wonderful person my mom was.” She’d practiced her speech in her head. She should’ve written it down. Standing there, with faces staring back, well-practiced words escaped her.

“She…uh…she loved you all as if you were part of her family. You were her family. We were.” She smiled and glanced at the photo of her mother. “Mom had a way of putting people at ease. A way of making you feel like you could do anything. I think that’s because she could do anything. She must’ve figured we were all as competent and graceful as she was.”

Campbell’s eyes scanned the crowd. Mom’s best friend Tilly sat near the front, nodding her support, a sweet smile on her face. The entire high school had the morning off to attend the service in honor of her mom. So many of her former teachers and many of Mom’s students now sat attentively, looking at her.

She cleared her throat and tried to remember what had come next when she’d rehearsed this in front of the bathroom mirror that morning. Mom’s paintings caught her eye. “My mother was an artist. I think she always has been. She described herself as ‘different,’ but it was that artistic eye that separated her from the masses. It transformed the way she saw the world. The way she taught me to see the world.” She nodded at the thought. “She believed in people—even though it sometimes hurt her.”

Mom had always taught her to believe the best about people. The older Campbell got, the harder that had become.

A lump formed in her throat, and she coughed to clear it. “We knew Mom was…dying.” The word jumped out at her and she had to look up at the ceiling to keep from crying. “But no matter how much time you have to prepare, it never seems like enough. She lived a wonderful life, cut short much too soon. She wouldn’t want us to dwell on that, though. She would want us to live more deeply—more passionately—more beautifully. And that is the best way I can think of to honor her memory.”

Even as she said the words, she wondered if she could live the passionate life her mother had dreamed for her. Every ounce of her passion had been sunk in her photography—not in people or relationships. Somehow, she imagined her mother wouldn’t approve.

“Art is a wonderful thing, Cam,” she’d say. “But you have to fill up your creative tank. It’s the people in your life who do that.”

She’d purposely kept her remarks brief, and once again, she begged her legs to transport her across the floor and to the safety of the solid pew beneath her.

Sniffles mingled with the piano as the chorus of “It is Well” rang through the vast room, filling the air with a heavy sadness.

“The song isn’t sad,” her mom had insisted. “The writer is rejoicing.”

“I know where the song came from, Mom. The writer was grieving. He’d just lost his four daughters when their ship to England went down.”

“Exactly. And even in that tragedy, he sang ‘It is well, it is well, with my soul.’” Mom sang the line herself, then smiled. “Pretty easy to trust God when everything’s going your way. Much harder to do that when your life is spiraling out of control.” Mom shrugged then as if she’d said the simplest thing ever, but Campbell couldn’t help but think it sounded a lot easier than it actually was.

Would things ever be well with her soul again?

Pastor Scott ended with a short prayer. Heartfelt and peaceful. Maybe Mom sat overhead on a cloud next to Jesus. Surely she would continue to watch over her only daughter. Would God allow that? Is that how things worked in heaven?

The pastor walked down the stairs and stopped at the edge of her pew, waiting for her to stand at his side. He offered his arm, even though he wasn’t—and never would be—her father. The kind gesture moved Campbell almost as much as the realization that this was it. Time to say good-bye. One last look at the coffin and she mustered the strength to stand. She turned to face Pastor Scott.

He nodded as if to tell her she’d be okay. She weaved her own long arm through his, and they started down the aisle. Then, as if she were watching from a distant place in the room—as if she’d left her body—she headed toward the back of the church. As she walked, she scanned the room. A sea of recognizable faces.

Except for one man.

Tall. Lanky. Older. Gray hair atop a long face. A stranger.

She caught his eye, but he quickly looked away. At the floor. Out the window. Anywhere but at her.

Who is he?

She reached the end of the aisle and followed Pastor Scott into the foyer.

“We can head right over to the cemetery if you’re ready,” he said.

Campbell had made arrangements to ride with the pastor and his wife to the burial. There had been talk of a car to take her—alone—to the cemetery, but she refused. What could be lonelier than an empty car ride to a cemetery?

“Almost. Do you know who that man is?” She nodded in the direction of the stranger.

Pastor Scott followed her gaze and then shook his head. “Not sure. Maybe an old friend? Colleague?”

Campbell frowned. She expected to know everyone at the funeral. And with the exception of this one man, she did.

She stood in place until Pastor Scott’s wife emerged from the sanctuary, followed by the rest of the crowd.

“You ready?” The pastor waited.

Campbell glanced back at the old man, but he’d gone. She scanned the lobby. There was no sign of him. No sign that a stranger had ever been there, paying his respects.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Into the Free

Into the Free
David C. Cook (February 1, 2012)
Julie Cantrell

March 1936

A long black train scrapes across Mr. Sutton’s fields. His horses don’t bother lifting their heads. They aren’t afraid of the metal wheels, the smoking engine. The trains come every day, in straight lines like the hems Mama stitches across rich people’s pants. Ironing and sewing, washing and mending. That’s what Mama does for cash. As for me, I sit in Mr. Sutton’s trees, live in one of Mr. Sutton’s cabins, sell Mr. Sutton’s pecans, and dream about riding Mr. Sutton’s horses, all in the shadow of Mr. Sutton’s big house.

“He owns the whole planet. Every inch and acre. From sea to shining sea!” I lean over the branch of my favorite sweet gum tree and yell my thoughts down to Sloth, my neighbor. His cabin is next to ours in the row of servants’ quarters on Mr. Sutton’s place. Three small shotgun shacks with rickety porches and leaky roofs. Ours is Cabin two, held tight by the others that squat like bookends on either side. All three are packed so close together I could spit and hit any of them.

Sloth kneels in the shade around the back corner of Cabin one. He is digging night crawlers for an afternoon trip to the river. With wrinkled hands, he drops a few thick worms into a dented can of dirt and says, “he don’t own the trains.”

I can only guess where the boxcars are going and where they’ve been. I pretend they carry “limber lions, testy tigers, and miniature horses wearing tall turquoise hats.” It says that in Fables and Fairy Tales, the tattered book Mama used to read to me until I learned to read by myself.

I count cars as the train roars past. Fifteen … nineteen.

“Where you think it’s going?” I ask Sloth.

“Into the free,” he says, dropping another long, slick worm into the can and standing to dust dirt from his pants. He limps back to his porch, slow as honey. About six years back, he shot clear through his own shoe while cleaning his hunting rifle. Left him with only two toes on his right foot. He’s walked all hunched over and crooked ever since. He started calling himself an old sloth, on account of having just two toes. The name stuck, and even though Mama still calls him Mr. Michaels, I can’t remember ever calling him anything but Sloth.

I keep counting to twenty-seven cars and watch the train until its tail becomes a tiny black flea on the shoulder of one of Mr. Sutton’s pecan trees. Seventeen of those trees stand like soldiers between the cabins and the big house, guarding the line between my world and his. It’s a good thing Mr. Sutton doesn’t care much for pecans. He lets me keep the money from any that I sell.

I watch the train until it disappears completely. I don’t know what Sloth thinks free looks like, but I imagine it’s a place where nine-year-old girls like me aren’t afraid of their fathers. Where mothers don’t get the blues. Where Mr. Sutton doesn’t own the whole wide world.

I can’t help but wonder if free is where Jack goes when he packs his bags and heads out with the Cauy tucker rodeo crew.

Jack is my father, only I can’t bring myself to call him that.

Sloth wobbles up three slanted steps to his porch. Mama sings sad songs from our kitchen. Mr. Sutton’s horses eat grass without a care, as if they know they aren’t mine to saddle. I climb higher in the sweet gum and hope the engineer will turn that train around and come back to get me. Take me away, to the place Sloth calls the free.


“Can’t believe you snapped my line,” Sloth teases, reminding me about our fishing trip last week when I hooked the biggest catfish I’ve ever seen. He stretches string around a hook to repair the cane pole. Shaking his head, he says, “I woulda never let that cat get away.”

I climb higher in my tree and watch him get ready for today’s trip to the river. It’s just after lunch and, if I squint, I can see all sorts of fancy hats scattering into shops around the square. I figure most of those people have never seen a catfish snap their line or pulled wig- gling worms from a shady spot of soil. “Aren’t you glad it’s Saturday?”

Sloth nods. He knows I’m happy not to have school today. Between helping Mama with her clients’ laundry and helping Sloth
with his chores, it’s all I can do to squeeze school into my weeks.

I turn back toward town, where families leave the diners. They look like ants, moving back to their nests right on schedule. “All that time wasted sitting inside,” I tell Sloth. “They probably can’t even hear the trees.”

Sloth laughs. But it’s a gentle laugh. One that means he’s on my side. In our town, the trees sing. I’m not the first to hear them. The Choctaw named this area Iti Taloa, which means “the song trees.” Then some rich Virginian bought up all the land. He built railroads and brought

in a carousel all the way from Europe. I guess he fig- ured if colorful mermaids could spin round and round to music, right in the middle of the park, no one would care when he forced most of the Choctaw out and planted a big white sign on each end of town: Welcome to Millerville. The new name never took. Most people still call it Iti Taloa, and the postmaster will accept mail both ways.

Regardless of what folks write on their envelopes, I just
call it home.

More than once I’ve heard Jack say to Mama, “I don’t guess your people mind livin’ on stolen land.” There’s always a bitter sting in his voice when he spits out your people. I figure it’s because his mother was Choctaw.

“Your people too,” Mama argued once. “Your father was Irish, wasn’t he?” I’m pretty sure that was the last time she dared to disagree with Jack.

Another thing Jack says about Iti Taloa is “We may not have gold or diamonds, but we do have good dirt.” Because of that dirt, three railroads cross through town to load cotton and corn, so even when the rest of the country has sunk into the Great Depression, jobs here still pay people enough to splurge at Millerville General, Boel’s Department Store, or even the rodeo, which is based smack- dab in the center of town.

If you could look down from the heavens to steal a glance of Iti Taloa, you would need to look just above the Jackson Prairie, nearly to the Alabama border. Here, you’ll find tree-covered slopes that rise six hundred feet with deep river valleys carved in between. Here, where farmland spreads like an apron around the curves of the waterways, you’ll find pines, oaks, magnolias, and cedars. And here, in the limbs of those trees, is where you’ll likely find me, a child of this warm, wild space.

When I’m not stuck in school or helping Mama and Sloth, I roam barefoot, climbing red river bluffs and drinking straight from the cool-water springs. Each day, I scramble through old- growth hardwoods and fertile fields, pretending I am scouting for a lost tribe or exploring ancient ruins. Other kids in town play with dolls and practice piano. I don’t care much for that. My friends are the trees, and my favorite is this sweet gum. Mostly because she’s planted right in front of our porch, so close I can see Mama’s wed- ding ring slip loose around her bony finger while she drops carrots into a black iron pot. When I was too small to climb, I named my tree Sweetie. Now, every day, I climb Sweetie’s limbs and listen for her songs.

Right now my tree is not singing. But Mama is. I watch her tie her blonde hair back from her long, thin face. I try to hear the lyrics, but all I hear is the thunder that howls across Mr. Sutton’s horse pas- ture. I pretend it is the sound of a stomach rumbling. That a dragon needs lunch. Mama watches me from the open kitchen window as she slices more carrots for a pot roast. She stops singing and smiles at me. “Jack’s favorite,” she says, and I don’t think I like pot roast so much anymore.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sixty Acres and a Bride

Sixty Acres and a Bride
Bethany House (February 1, 2012)
Regina Jennings

Sixty Acres and a Bride

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Blue Moon Bay

Blue Moon Bay
Bethany House (February 1, 2012)
Lisa Wingate

Blue Moon Bay

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Song of My Heart

Song of My Heart
Bethany House (February 1, 2012)
Kim Vogel Sawyer

Song of My Heart