In The Works
EAST OF EVERYWHERE
About the Book
It’s been almost a decade since the end of the war, when the telegram first arrived at their house on Lennox Lane.
Four years since the apartment on Harker Street, where food was scarce and nights were long and their mother slept away her grief.
Three months since Janie was forced to leave her little brother, Brayden, and best friend, Leo, behind at Anthers Hall.
Two weeks since she stole a bicycle and ran away from the new children’s home on the other side of the state.
One day since she arrived in Montours City.
No one knows her secrets in this small town. If Janie is going to make it back to her brother and the only place she’s ever called home, she needs to keep it that way. But when a hard-hearted widow, a boy in a boxcar, and a dog named Panda weave their way into her life, Janie begins to wonder if what she’s searching for isn't better of laid to rest.
Maybe she was only a shadow—a cloud crossing the sun and hovering out of the corner of his eye as the flimsy metal teeth of the rake scraped across the grass, gathering dead leaves into piles and leaving broken pieces in its wake. The man cursed under his breath as giggling children raced across dry grass and plopped belly-up on the largest mounds, arms spread wide, and then again at the Australian Shepherd that bounded in after them. For a second, he paused and turned his head, conceding to the sensation calling from the back of his mind that something was there, something lost and long ago, but the street was empty. The children scattered the leaves, his wife called him in for supper, and the shadow was forgotten.
Maybe she was a ghost—sitting on the wooden porch swing while ladies sipped their tea from porcelain, rose-painted cups. They tilted their heads towards the open windows where the strains of the evening’s radio broadcast blared from inside, but there was something else there among the static—a vibration rolling across the land and the faint whiff of a memory lingering among the clematis that became entangled in the gaps of a lattice wall behind them. For a moment, they broke from their conversation and glanced over their shoulders to the street where centuries-old oaks lined the sidewalks and cars parked against the curb, but there was nothing to see. The radio switched to a news program, the tea had grown cold, and the ghost was gone.
Janie turned the corner and lifted her feet from the pedals of her bike, allowing the tips of her tennis shoes to skim the pavement, the leather already blackened and cracked from wear. The front wheel wobbled from the decrease in speed, and she tightened her grip on the handlebars and leaned to the side before pushing off again with one foot, letting the momentum to carry her further down a new street, past a man in denim overalls raking leaves and white-haired ladies sipping lukewarm tea on front porches, she herself a whisper of a vision of which no one could be certain.
She didn’t know what she expected when she turned off the main road along the river and coasted around the mountain bend. Maybe a small town reminiscent of the one she’d left behind or some thoroughfare to an anonymous city. But when she paused at the green wooden sign, its words etched in fading gold paint, she thought it would be as good a place as any to pause and sleep and see what road came next as she fought her way back home.
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About the Book
The second in a series of novellas that spans the decades. Learn more about the reclusive Vietnam war veteran from Gold in the Days of Summer and The Last Letter in this installment, set in the 1960s.
You’re not nobody…
We were dressed the same. The same fatigues caked with layers of grime and sweat from too many suns spent sleeping in the trenches. The same shell of a helmet meant to cushion our heads like a goddamned baby blanket and its false sense of security, the chinstrap hanging loose because what good would that do us, anyway. The same boots on our feet and canteens in our hands and rucksacks strapped to our backs. Everything was the same—so much the same, we didn’t recognize ourselves anymore, and looking at one was like looking at all.
That’s what no one tells you. That’s what they’re afraid to say when you go down to the recruiting office that’s been transformed from a vacant retail space, squeezed between a pizza shop and an ice cream parlor you used to visit with your folks as a kid.
As a kid…
A kid is what you were. That’s where they get you—one year, they’d say. One flip of the calendar page, another candle on the cake. Turn eighteen, and that was that. One year is all it takes to be a man.
But no one tells you how they strip that away so you’re not a boy, and you’re no man. Hell, you’re barely even a person anymore, barely even human. Now you’re just a uniform—obedient tin soldiers lined up side by side, row after row, unable to tell the difference between you and them until you look in their eyes. Those damn, tired eyes…
You’re not nobody…
The words bark like drill orders in my head, and I grip the glass in my fist, swirl the amber liquid within it, and bring it to my lips. It burns the back of my throat, but I welcome it. Rather the burn of an incurable vice than an unforgiving sun.
I lean back in the metal folding chair, glance briefly up at the porch overhang of this house that isn’t my house, and watch the ones who didn’t have to go over there weed their gardens and bicker with their wives about where to set the sprinklers like that’s all that matters.
My fingers curl around the glass. The ice has already melted inside, and now beads of perspiration are slipping past my hand.
You’re not nobody, you know.
My neighbor’s girl whizzes by on her bike, misses her driveway, and skids to a stop on the grass. She’s half off her bike in a second, hopping away from it as she drops the handlebars. The wheels are still spinning by the time she runs into the house; I hear her shouting for her mom before the front door closes.
Down the block, young voices holler and cheer as a basketball thuds to the ground in a series of echoes I need to block out. A different place, I try to remember—another time, under the same sun but five years moved on. The basketball bangs against the backboard with force, and I wince and reach for the glass.
They don’t know any better. I pray to whatever god-above’s still listening it stays that way.
I raise the glass again.
It’s all you can do when you start to remember everything you want to forget.
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