THESE DAMP STONES, Installment 3

THESE DAMP STONES, a novel-in-progress by Sheryl Monks

 

The store was the nearest place in Clinch to shop if you didn’t have a car. Or if you didn’t have gas money to drive fifteen miles into Iaeger, which is where she usually went when Wannace could take her. There was a Piggly Wiggly in Massey, but that was clear across Huff County. Clinch was just a skip away from Johnnycake, and Johnnycake was just a skip away from Iaeger.

The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time.

Seifert turned his attention to the television. “There’s a true politician for you,” he told Roland, gently pulling a silk handkerchief from his suit-coat pocket.

Roland slid a small door to one side and extracted a leather tobacco pouch, which he untied and rolled out on the flat surface of the counter. There were a couple of glass canisters of loose tobacco on the shelf behind him, as well as several less expensive boxes of cigars, raw twists and plugs, and a large assortment of rolling papers and cans of snuff.

Seifert unfolded the handkerchief to reveal a hand-carved meerschaum pipe engraved in the image of a bearded old man. It was a beautiful pipe with a coppery patina just beginning to highlight the crags and crevices of the old man’s beard. Seifert stuffed the handkerchief in his pocket, spun the pipe upside down and tapped it against one palm to dislodge the old tobacco inside.

“Turn that racket off,” Roland told Donetta, motioning toward the TV. She was bent over, reaching into the pasteboard box, her arms loaded with small cartons of baking soda, which she continued to shelve. Behind her a poster for Chesterfield Kings.

Dreama kept an eye on Condy as she rifled through a container of seed packets and then a box of sewing patterns. Thrown over her shoulder was a drawstring purse she’d made from a pattern Imogene Riffe had given her. Dreama had not learned to sew expertly by hand, but she could piece together simple patterns.

Inside the purse there were five booklets of pastel-colored Food Stamps, which she’d been receiving since January. One of her sisters in McDowell County had been getting stamps since the trial run Kennedy had initiated two years earlier. The miners’ families in West Virginia had made an impression on the young senator when he’d come campaigning in 1960, and he had not forgotten them.

She bumped Willard down to the floor and steered him around stacked bags of Poulin Grain feeds and Purina bone meal, cracked corn and layer feed. They wound around tables of baler twine, stacks of galvanized wash tubs, and a couple bins of moldering produce toward the shelves that stocked canned food items.

The wind picked up outside and slapped the screen door in its frame a couple of times, the little bell ringing wildly and then ceasing.

Seifert tossed the spent tobacco into the coal bucket beside the darkened potbellied stove behind him, and then leaned in close to inhale the new shipment’s sweet pungency. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, the corners of his graying mustache rising ever so slightly. “I don’t generally care for the aromatics,” he said, picking up a pinch of the tobacco and drawing it closer to take in its full effect. “But these Oriental blends make up for what they lack in flavor.”

Roland smiled, nodding appreciatively. “You’ll want to smoke this one here slow. I’m told it’ll start to burn hot if you smoke it too fast.”

THESE DAMP STONES, Installment 2

THESE DAMP STONES, a novel-in-progress by Sheryl Monks

 

When they arrived, Dreama ushered the boys onto the porch where tin walls signs advertised Lark cigarettes and Royal Crown Cola. Water dripping from the eaves caught in the wind and speckled her face as she opened the screen door and shooed the boys inside. They had walked a long way, and Condy ducked under his mommy’s arm to reach the cool, musty refuge within. He had carried the bottles clear from the head of Bramlick Holler, and he slid the yellow crate onto the scarred counter.

There was a TV going in the far back corner of the store, and when the bell over the door rang, Roland’s wife Donetta reached to turn it up. Dreama recognized the voice. It was the President speaking. He had just visited the area, was over in Inez, Kentucky, where he’d has his picture taken with lots of people in their yards. Dreama had liked him better for it, for displaying his ordinariness. She especially liked the one of him squatting down next to a man and his sons on their shabby front porch. Imagine, the President of the United States of America hunkering down in a crouch with his knees thrown wide open just like any other man would do.

The challenge of the next half century, President Johnson was saying, is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.

Condy looked over his shoulder at his mother to see if he should wait for Roland or Donetta to redeem the bottles for cash. He glanced toward the wire magazine rack under the small window, and decided the bottles would be alright if he left them alone there a minute.

For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.

Dreama inhaled slowly, the sweet scent of rotting cantaloupe and the dry yeast of animal feed inundating her senses as she paused listening, a smile almost breaking at the corners of her sunken mouth. She wore a loose-fitting housedress with a reverse collar and big pockets, and looked to be about forty years old though she was not yet twenty-eight. Her hair, nearly three feet long, was wound into a small, hard knot at the base of her skull and held tightly with bobby pins.

The screen door screeched open, stealing her attention, and Herschel Seifert stepped inside. He was seeking re-election as constable of Clinch, and Dreama supposed he was there to pass out his customary bottle of whiskey for Roland’s vote.

“Afternoon, Mrs. Paynter,” he said to Donetta. “Boss around?” He smiled, and Donetta called for Roland, who entered the room carrying a case of baking soda.

Roland dropped the box on the floor at his feet and removed his glasses to wipe at a speck of lint. “Put these sodi-powders out,” he barked at Donetta. “Back there on the dry goods shelf.” He returned the horn-rims to the bridge of his nose and walked across the room to shake hands with the constable. “Your shipment came yesterday,” he said, more brightly.

“Good,” Seifert said, bellying up to have a look inside the glass display case where Roland kept expensive pocket knives and cigars and other specialty items.

Condy kept an eye on his bottles, thumbing absently through the pages of a comic book, his daddy’s old miner’s cap sliding down over his eyes. He cocked the hat back and searched for the letter column, running a finger down the page when he found it.

Willard complained of the cut on his foot hurting, and Dreama scooped him up and turned the toddler’s thick ankle to have a look. She rubbed spit on her fingers to wipe away some of the filth and then kissed the foot playfully again and again until Willard forgot the hurt and laughed. Then she latched him to her hipbone and made her way deeper into the dimly lit building.

Follow My Work-in-Progress: WIP 1

I thought I’d share some of the novel I’m working on. Every day or so, I’ll be posting a couple of pages of my WIP here on my blog, and I’d LOVE to get your feedback in the comments section. Hope you enjoy, and thanks much!

THESE DAMP STONES

 a novel-in-progress

by

Sheryl Monks

Thou art but a shadow, a dream of happiness I so long possessed; where has treacherous fate conducted thee? Did she deny thee to meet the rapid stroke of never-shunned death, in the open face of day, only to prepare for thee a foretaste of the grave, in the midst of this loathsome corruption? How revolting its rank odour exhales from these damp stones! Life stagnates, and my foot shrinks from the couch as from the grave.

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Egmont

The tillage of the poor may produce abundance, but injustice sweeps it away.

~ Proverbs 13:23

 

LBJ

PART ONE

~

“The Great Society”

CHAPTER ONE

May 1964

It had come a sudden shower. Water gushed down the mountains in raging gullies, turning the dirt roads into creek beds that fed into the tributaries of the Tug River. They clung to the care of the mountain, which offered up animal paths leading toward Clinch. The leaves of the trees rained down again as they passed beneath them, Dreama lifting the boughs of branches for the boys to hunker under. Across the river, they saw steam rising from the asphalt of US 52, the air now gathering heat and collecting on their foreheads.

Condy struggled under the weight of the crate he was carrying, the glass bottles clinking as he went. “Watch for pop tops when we get to the road,” he called back. Willard had already cut his foot on one, coming out of the holler. They sauntered along, breaking up the twigs and the roots with their toughened little feet.

When they reached Slate Fork, Condy led the way down the steep embankment, balancing the crate before him, the muscles in his wiry forearms taut as baler twine. He touched bottom, then set down the wooden tote-box and reached up for Dreama to lower Willard by one arm. After Willard was safely over the swollen ditch, Dreama held fast to the saplings that would bend with her weight and lower her easily. They crossed over the swinging foot bridge, muddy water churning below, and down toward the highway.

Though they didn’t know it, the President was at that moment speaking to the nation from the campus of a university in Michigan. Elsewhere, there were protests and rumors of war, though none of it crossed the mountains that rose up on all sides and sheltered them.

In Clinch, they passed the depot and the coal tipple and a string of old company houses covered in tarpaper siding, perching precariously on foundations of stacked stones. Diesel fuel and the chuff of trains in the rail yard commingled with the smell of rain and earth and the twittering of birds scouring the ditches for worms. Willard slapped at the puddles and drove his toes deep into the warm black mud of the ruts and grooves alongside the road. He found a Nehi bottle, and turned, holding it high for Condy to see.

Across the river near the train trestle sat a Queen Anne style mansion built by an early Pennsylvania coal baron on a street called Bosses’ Row. Further down the way sat the superintendent’s home and the other big houses.

Roland Paynter’s feed and seed store sat discordantly nestled in a row of new and old downtown merchants and offices. There was a furniture store and a funeral home. A bank, a barber, the post office. A burger joint and a Five and Dime had sprung up near the run-down movie theater where teenagers as far away as Mohawk had once come for the serials and still came occasionally for sock-hops.

In the distance, rain hung in the sky like a swarm of bees, low and nebulous over the mountains, threatening a fresh downpour that might keep them waiting inside the feed store a long time. Roland’s was one of the oldest structures in town, erected from sawmill slats harvested from virgin Appalachian timber, or so the stories told.

Night Train: The First Ten Years

NTI was tickled to learn recently that my story “Run, Little Girl” previously published in the literary journal Night Train has just been published in a new anthology, Night Train: The First Ten Years. The story appears alongside the work of these other fine writers: John McManus, Judd Hampton, Ed Falco, Tom McNeely, Glenn Blake, Pam Painter, Tom Cobb, Kerry Jones, Silas House, Mary Speece, A. Ray Norsworthy, Roy Kesey, Stephan Clark, Dewitt Henry, Steve Almond, Robert Boswell, Dylan Landis, Larry Fondation, Ron McLean, Jon Papernick, Laura Payne Butler, Mary Helen Specht, Curtis Smith, Bob Thurber, Mary Kelly, Brian Howell, Phong Nguyen, Heather Fowler, Roxane Gay, Andrew Scott, Steve Frederick, Jim Nichols, Olivia Kate Cerrone. I’m honored to be included. Heartfelt thanks to Rusty Barnes, Alicia Gifford, and all the fine staffers at NT.

New Semester

I’m so happy to see a new semester beginning at Salem. This time, I’ll be teaching Intro. to Fiction & Creative Nonfiction, one of my favorite courses. I’ll be posting a few exercises and thoughts on writing that I’m sharing with my students, so come back again soon.