Here’s the openings of some stories I’ve had in print.
Go to PUBLISHED STORIES for more information.
Padgett caught her arm and pulled her up. The river, lapping the bank into muddy silt, gave her up reluctantly, releasing her entrapped right foot with a stubborn sucking sound. He steadied her elbow as she climbed the bank. In the late afternoon murk she looked up at him and said, “I’m gonna die, aren’t I?”
“Shush, Imojean. Don’t talk like that.”
She nodded obediently. Yet as she returned to work, shoveling uncooperative mud along the bank to receive the sandbags Padgett hauled from the truck, she watched the hole her foot had made until it filled with silt and disappeared.
He dragged over the remaining sandbags, then paused to rest. Fine rain fell like feathers from the low clouds. He drew a soggy kerchief from his pocket and wiped his forehead under the hat. For a moment he watched Imojean work. Her shirt lay plastered to her breasts. Black mud painted her arms and legs, and her thick hair lay subdued across her shoulders. He wiped the kerchief across the back of his neck and glanced upriver. Far out where the Yazoo swept in a turbulent bend past his land, walkers patrolled the levee, rifles stuck in the crooks of their elbows as if busy ants had seen fit to arm themselves. The river already swelled in flood. If not for the levee, he and Imojean would have been working knee-deep in brown water.
In his mind, Grandpa Fitzhugh spoke. Old Grandpa who had died ten years before, who still seemed alive, always just outside the door or on an errand into town, had said about weather like this back when Padgett was a child, “Things is out of balance, boy. That’s why all this damned rain. I’ll fix it if I can, but it takes strength and energy and I’m getting so damned old. You remember that, Padge. She’ll fight and she’ll always win, ’cause it takes strength to keep her out of balance, and you’re worse a fool than me if you think you’re stronger.”
I had never felt so strange. I could not move well, as if my limbs had frozen and were only now beginning to thaw, and a sensation at once painful and tingling crawled across my skin. It had started a moment before at my head, it seemed, and moved slowly in a flush down my body, taking with it the creakiness in my joints and the stiffness that moments before had afflicted the muscles of my arms and legs. I was not content where I lay. Rather I felt victim to an agitated turmoil, a longing to throw away prudence and leap to action despite the lassitude of my body and the cloud presently evaporating in steps from my brain. And I was certain I had heard voices not a moment before. One I was sure I recognized, though who it might have been escaped me, as most other memories seemed to have done. The other said, at least as I perceived it, “He is the puppet and this is the string.”
The words, however, were thickly accented. On reflection I thought they might be more accurately portrayed as, “He da poppet an’ dis da string,” a dialect of those living more southerly than De Soto Parish, and a cause for alarm had I then realized I was in De Soto Parish and what was happening to me there. In any case, I eventually satisfied the troubled restlessness in my mind by sitting up and gazing about. It was night, and the darkness contributed to the dimness of my vision even as the veil fell from it. Trees above tangled their branches together and moved them about in a warm breeze, sounding to my ears like the tumble of water against a distant river’s edge, though it came sharper and clearer even as the seconds passed. By the color of the turning leaves, I thought the season to be late summer, the warmth of it waning and tending toward cold autumn. I wore black boots and gray slacks, and my hands peeking out from the gray material of my sleeves appeared parched and darkened, as if I had recently spent far too much time in the open sunlight. This was all I cared to study, because at that moment I felt such a longing for home and bedside that I put all else from my mind and rose unsteadily to my feet.
—Night Of Passions
The gas station attendant asked for two dollars and thirty-eight cents, then casually wondered where Roland was heading. “Testaville,” Roland said.
The attendant seemed unable to decide between a laugh and a frown. “Testaville?” he said. “Lots of weird people in Testaville. We get truck drivers all the time who don’t want to go in, and they’re happy when they get out.”
Roland smiled. He pulled out three dollars and handed it over. “I know. I grew up there.”
“Never been there myself. How long you been gone?”
“Well, maybe it’s worn off by now.”
Roland didn’t laugh. He took the change, then looked the attendant over quickly before pulling out onto the highway. The attendant was young, in his middle twenties, about the same age as Roland. His shirt was cleanly pressed, his hat spotless and sharp, his attitude relaxed and easy to talk with. This was different from what Roland was used to, and he wasn’t thinking of the big city.