The End of Miracles

THIS WEEK’S OTHER FEATURED BOOKS, “THE MOTEL OF THE STARS,” BY KAREN SALYER McELMURRAY AND “A DIFFERENT JESUS,” BY JAN LINN, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST.

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THE BOOK: The End of Miracles: A Novel

PUBLISHED IN: May, 2016

THE AUTHOR: Monica Starkman

THE PUBLISHER: She Writes Press

SUMMARY: Margo Kerber has endured difficult years battling infertility while trying to sustain her good marriage and satisfying career. When a seemingly miraculous pregnancy ends in a late miscarriage, Margo is devastated. For a time, the unshakable yet false belief that she is pregnant again provides relief from all-consuming grief. When her fantasy inevitably clashes with reality, Margo falls into a deep depression requiring admission to a psychiatric unit. Uncertain if the sometimes chaotic environment there is helping or making her worse, she seizes an opportunity to flee. Alone on the city streets, new fantasies propel her to commit a crime with dangerous consequences for herself and others. Written by a prominent psychiatrist, this stirring portrait of one woman’s psychological unraveling takes readers on a journey across the blurred boundaries between sanity and depression, madness and healing.

Monica StarkmanTHE BACK STORY: I wanted to tell a suspenseful story that draws the reader in and gives them an intense experience . I also wanted to show that patients with serious psychiatric illness are not that different from the rest of us, and to show psychiatry and psychiatrists at work in a more realistic fashion than is usual in fiction and film.

WHY THIS TITLE: It indicates the story will have a trajectory and move from a time of serious problems to one unexpected ‘miracles’ that overcome them, and then to a time without shields or rescues from the harsh realities of life.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: From the reviews by its readers: it provides an “exciting page-turning read”, a “fascinating insider’s look at psychiatry”, “vivid and sympathetic characters”, and is “beautifully written and thoughtful”.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“Monica Starkman offers a penetrating look at the drastic capabilities of the obsessed mind. Written beautifully and carefully, at just the right pace, The End of Miracles is a thoroughly compelling piece of work.”—Roger Rosenblatt, New York Times bestselling author, literary editor of The New Republic, essayist for Washington Post and Time magazine.

“The End of Miracles is a compelling, empathic novel about a woman whose desperate wish for a child vividly evokes the pain and longing associated with infertility and builds to a climax worthy of a thriller.”—Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Author of Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate and founding editor of Ms Magazine

“Starkman, a prominent psychiatrist, beautifully captures one woman’s journey through depression in this superbly well-written and gripping first novel, which powerfully reveals the complexity and strength of the human mind.”—Booklist.

“For Margo Kerber, the novel’s stoic and sensitive protagonist, the path to motherhood has been troubled from the start. An unexpectedly joyful pregnancy (is) followed by a miscarriage. Afterward, when Margo’s body produces false pregnancy symptoms and cruelly tricks her again, it is clear that she’s been driven to a breaking point. Margo’s collapse, unraveling, and gradual recovery bring a conclusion of forgiveness and hope. Best of all is Starkman’s portrait of Margo―a flawed yet admirably strong victim of circumstance and biology who refuses to be a victim anymore.”—Foreword Reviews.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: See the book’s Amazon page.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Dr. Monica Starkman is a psychiatrist who is a faculty member of the University of Michigan Medical School Department of Psychiatry in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is a clinician and a scientific researcher. Many of her publications in the scientific literature highlight concerns and conditions of women, such as the first study of women’s reactions to the use of fetal monitoring during labor. She has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a recognized expert on the effects of stress hormones on mood and on brain structure. Dr. Starkman has also published in The New Republic and Vogue magazine. Dr. Starkman writes regularly for Psychology Today as one of their Experts.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: I wanted to give back to the world of literature a good book, in return for the great pleasure I have experienced all my life from reading. SAMPLE CHAPTER: First chapter is available on Amazon book site: http://www.amazon.com/End-Miracles-Novel-Monica-Starkman/dp/1631520547

LOCAL OUTLETS: Barnes and Noble, Independent Book Stores

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon

PRICE: Paper: list price $16.95 Ebook; list price $9.95

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: monicastarkman@gmail.com

The Motel of the Stars

THE BOOK:   The Motel of the Stars

PUBLISHED IN: 2008.

THE AUTHOR:  Karen Salyer McElmurray

THE EDITOR
: Sarah Gorham and Kristina McGrath. 

THE PUBLISHER
: Sarabande Books.

SUMMARY:  (from Booklist):  Ten years is a long time to wait for anything. For Jason Sanderson and Lory Llewellyn, it’s how long they’ve each been searching for relief from the emotional paralysis of mourning the same man, Sam Sanderson, Jason’s son and Lory’s lover. For the rest of the world, or at least those fervent New Agers caught up in the hype and glory of the 1987 Harmonic Convergence, the tenth anniversary spells a chance to gather at Grandfather Mountain, a vortex where, if anywhere, there’s a possibility to revisit the spiritual revelry promised by the rare strategic alignment of the planets. A troubled young man, Sam was once a seeker of such mystical wisdom, and his unexplained death a decade ago motivates both his father and former lover to undertake a coincidental journey, looking for an answer to the one question anyone who has ever lost a loved one asks: why? Melancholy yet expectant, McElmurray’s is a keenly sorrowful but plaintively lyrical examination of anguish and longing.

 THE BACK STORY:  “The novel was first a response to the months following a two year travel experience of mine, the last six months of which were spent in India and Nepal.  Those months were filled with sound, light, motion—everything from seven weeks spent walking from a lake in Pokhara in the center of Nepal to a temple near Muktinath in the north to some weeks spent on the banks of the Ganges outside of Varanassi.  I came back into the United States to a Seattle summer, and there was a huge festival going on, one celebrating the anniversary of The Harmonic Convergence, which is the Mayan Calendar’s ancient prediction of the alignment of planets and the advent of world peace.

“That time in Asia, and that New Age celebration, are both in the background of this novel.  The Motel of the Stars is also a response to my marriage to John Johns, my partner of some fifteen years now.  John and I share a history not only of love and commitment, but also of loss.  John lost a son to a Marine helicopter accident back in 1992.  I lost a son when I relinquished him to a state supported adoption when I was fifteen years old.  Our experiences are so very different—John’s son died and he cannot have that son back again; I met my son a few years ago and share a tenuous relationship with him.  Our psychic experiences of grief and longing are also very similar and have made for a complex connection.  One early reader called the book an elegy to grief.  It is that, and also, I hope, it is an elegy to the possibility of healing.

WHY THIS TITLE?:   The title comes from a long ago short story of mine with the same name, “The Motel of the Stars.”   The story’s central character was named Sanderson, and he was a wanderer, a survivor of a world war.  That character has become both Jason Sanderson and his lost son, Sam.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT?   I very recently said to someone that ours is an age of cultural PTSD.  We are survivors of shooting upon shooting, violence begetting violence, ruptures, I believe, not just economics, race relations, class divides, but also of a deeper black hole, a tear in the fiber of the soul.  And I use that word, soul, with caution, since soul can be such a cliché.  The New Agers in my novel can believe in buying souls via aromatic oils.  They can believe fixing the universe is as easy is aligning a spine, as easy as a neat row of stars.  What is the cost of a cultural wound?  What is the cost of fixing it?    I hope this book at least begs these questions.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

McElmurray’s evocative second novel journeys into the New Age subculture, beginning with Kentucky repo man Jason Sanderson, still grieving for Sam, the son he lost 10 years ago. Desperate, Sanderson leaves his concerned wife to find his son’s former lover, Lory Llewellyn, who he believes can help him understand his loss. His search is short–serendipitously, Lory shows up at a repo job–and it’s her globe-trotting account of discovery with Sam that provides most of the narrative. McElmurray traces Lory’s life from troubled girlhood to courtship to treks across Asia and the American Southwest seeking enlightenment; readers will soon suspect that Sam is looking not for answers, but for a way to avoid them. Sanderson himself tells a story filled with questions, passion and despair, and as the intertwining flashbacks roll out, the two characters move ever closer to the 26,000-year cycle-ending Harmonic Convergence of December 24, 2012–after which, Mayan prophesy suggests, the world will be changed unalterably. — Puiblisher’s Weekly Review,

The Motel of the Stars is a meditation on redemption through love and religion. This second novel Karen Salyer McElmurray does not shy away from the hard questions. Her characters journey through sacred territory.  Each setting is drawn in rich detail, and it is a tribute to her skill that we are notjarred or confused by the juxtaposition of Appalachian wilderness, the streets of New Delhi, and the high plains of the Himalayas.  She provides an almost giddy sense of bridging large distances, of pondering a globe spinning and rife with chasms. — Appalachian Heritage.

 AUTHOR PROFILE:   Karen Salyer McElmurray’s Surrendered Child: A Birth Mother’s Journey, was an AWP Award Winner for Creative Nonfiction.  It was called by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution “a moving meditation on loss and discovery of self.”  Her novels are The Motel of the Stars, Editor’s Pick by Oxford American, and Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven, winner of the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing.  Other stories and essays have appeared in Iron Horse, Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Riverteeth, and in the anthologies An Angle of Vision; To Tell the Truth; Fearless Confessions; Listen Here; Dirt; Family Trouble; Women and Their Machines; and Red Holler.  Her writing has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.  Most recently, she was named Distinguished Alumna at Berea College and her essay, “Strange Tongues,” was the recipient of the Annie Dillard Award from The Bellingham Review. She is at work on a new novel, Wanting Inez, which is about fortune telling, tattoos, the mystery of family and love, and the lost identity of land.  She is also in the very early stages of a collection of essays called The Land Between.  McElmurray teaches in the Low Residency Program at West Virginia Wesleyan College and part time at Gettysburg College. 

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

As Jason Sanderson drove the hours east for another foreclosure, he followed signs and directions for only so long. Then he pulled over to listen to cicadas and distant afternoon thunder. He stood in the summer grass, the Joe Pye weeds, tall and purple-blossomed, and remembered himself as a boy, fields where he’d slipped from church with the rest of them to smoke cigarettes and to sip stolen medicinal whiskey. He took in the scents of late August, too sweet wild roses and the pitch-tar smell of coal, and he inexplicably remembered other times. Thirty-some years ago. Saigon. The slick scent of gun oil. The garlic and hard candy taste of some girl’s mouth. He stood in the quiet of strange roadsides and the past was more real to him than now.

He was good at what he did—a job in foreclosures in the eastern part of Kentucky. He began his phone calls to potential clients with questions about the weather and family, or with jokes that Rosa said were over the top. What did the Dalai Lama say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything.

And when it came down to it, to home visits and demands, he hesitated. He knocked respectfully, pretended he was on a social call and accepted cups of coffee meant as last-minute stalling measures before the signed and dated documents were produced.

Today’s foreclosure was for a motel with a name that sounded like Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra. The Motel of the Stars. The folder the general nanager laid on his desk some time back was crammed with more photocopies concerning that motel than he could have counted. Purchase orders and bills. Copies of overdue notices and notices of bank reclamation followed copies of threatening letters from lawyers, then notices from the credit bureau. Numerous calls to the owner of the motel, Frank Llewellyn, went unanswered. He had spoken once to a soft-voiced woman who had promised to send back payment, which had failed to materialize. The Motel of the Stars. Even with mirrored ceilings and magic-finger beds, the motel could not be saved.

He was supposed to know he was nearing Inez when he saw a store with a soda cooler out front here, a gas pump there. He was to see a sign for a coal refinery called Estep’s and then a field cleared for a tent revival meeting. His general manager, who had the fervor of a televangelist and an obsession with stock market indexes, had especially pointed out the revival meeting. They don’t make them like that any more. A preacher who knows how to shake and rattle and roll. They can heal you, son. He gripped the steering wheel as he pulled onto the road again, still studying the manager’s hand-drawn directions.

At a crossroads about an hour back, there was to have been a yellow trailer and then a post office just before the right-hand turn onto a one-lane bridge. There had to be some overlooked landmark. Where are you, sweetie, Rosa would say at times like this, and he would realize he’d been standing at a window and hearing not a word she said about the new sofa slip cover. Where was he now? The signs, turn-offs, and deep green, late summer corn all looked pretty much the same. Who knew how long he’d driven or how far off the map he’d gone? Since breakfast, he had not been himself.

He remembered swallowing weak coffee and toast and how his jaw tightened as Rosa described tonight’s gathering in honor of Sam. She’d been planning it for weeks. You’ll see, she said. It would be a celebration of healing rather than of loss. There’d been an extra visit from the once-weekly cleaning lady. She’d bought sparkling juices for a toast. For appetizers, little cheese wedges wrapped in foil, olives neither of them much cared for, fresh bakery bread. It was time, she said, to move on.

Since before eight, he had moved east, past blue-green expanses of central Kentucky horse farms giving way to foothills. Barns advertising Mail Pouch Tobacco and family cemeteries lush with plastic roses abounded. Then there was parkway country and soon thereafter a town called Clay City and a diner for a bear claw and strong coffee. Only a few more miles from there and the parkway yielded to more stretches of road with passing lanes, more hills rising to small mountains, and then the mountain, that marked the entrance to Eastern Kentucky Proper. It rose, squat and deliberate, rock facings jutting and cedars reaching for a sky limited to his sight by other squat mountains soon to come. His heart tightened, beat faster, and his breath came quicker in the nearer proximity of country way too much like the hollows and mouths of hollows and heads of hollows that had long ago been his own home. And a couple of hours after that, a turnoff left him fumbling with his directions, looking for Inez.

You’re scared, Rosa had told him at breakfast. He did have more than his share of fears. Depths of water. Steep mountains. Today he wasn’t afraid of a thing. Today, something else gripped his heart, propelled him forward past mountain after mountain and sign after sign for little Eastern Kentucky towns. His heart beat and skipped and beat. After his stints in Vietnam, a whole slew of doctors had diagnosed everything from heart nodules to anxiety and counseled him to put his feet up, relax more. One of them even urged him to meditate. Today, he liked this feeling that carried him past town after town. He had exited the parkway a long while back and now houses dwindled in number, nothing but cornfields on one side of the road and fetid-stnelling river on the other. Happy. Feisty. Climax. He sped up with the cheerfulness of these names through a hole-in-the-road town called Radiant.

Usually he listened 10 tapes of show tunes or to stations playing country oldies. Trailers for sale or rent. Rooms to let fifty cents. Now he flipped through AM and FM, but he kept coming back to hypnotic sounds that put him in mind of belly dancers. In honor of a festival called The Harmonic Convergence, there were flutes, a keening stringed instrument, and a radio announcer offering insights. Follow the sounds of cosmic consciousness. Rhythms that vibrate to the sound of one universal mind. Sanderson supposed the music was meant to be religious in some way, but religion wasn’t right either, since that was hymnals and childhood prayers. Which was the one that always made him shiver? If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. The memory of that prayer and the music both recalled his anger and he flipped off the air conditioner, leaned out the open car window, inhaled the pungent air.

This many-years after his first wife’s death, words she loved came back to him. Pungent. Esoteric. Columns called “Enrich Your Vocabulary” and “The Power of Words” were her favorites and she had loved any and every dictionary. Visual ones. Foreign language ones. She consulted bulky desktop versions and pocket editions at odd moments on family outings. She’d give Sam the gift of a sentence. The pungent atmosphere left him feeling disconcerted. Pungent. Sanderson savored the word now.

He loosened his tie, found a new radio station, part static and part country. Hank Williams. Cause tonight I’m gonna see my caramio. Tonight he’d be home again, to fat new sofa pillows and exotic foods for a celebration.

Celebrate rather than mourn? His son, dead ten years. One-handed, he slid his tie off, tossed it into the back seat, set off down the road again. That door had been shut a long time ago and he wanted it to stay shut, ten years’ anniversary or not.

The first year Sam was reported missing at sea, Sanderson had felt numb. Numbness gave way to a grief that made him feel ashamed. Anger at no one in particular swirled in his heart. Rage gave way to uncertainty. He was perplexed when he studied his receding hairline in the bathroom mirror. He grew sideburns and a goatee and plucked gray hairs he’d never seen. He bought Grecian Formula, slimmer ties, and a cologne called Incognito. He took a night class or two, one in astronomy and another in poetry, and he wrote verse that his instructor said was sentimental. There were too many poems about butterflies, sunsets and love. He was never able to describe what he really meant—that image in his head of wings against a door, locked tight against something he didn’t want to name.

He bought a place in Kentucky, in the center of the state. Took a new job.

Repossession case manager. For the new house, he bought a gun case for the living room and stocked it with oiled rifles he never used. He took up golfing, a sport that had never much made sense to him, and he agreed to go on a number of blind dates arranged by his office coworkers. Shirley, a woman with nails bitten to the quick, phoned him three times after their Saturday afternoon coffee date, but he let the machine take the calls. There was Tiffany, who left salty-tasting blueberry pies on his desk at work, and Brenda, who talked him into attending a meeting the Fellowship of Christian Scientists. Lisa. Judy. Lee Ann.

Rosa, fifteen years his junior, worked at the real estate office. She had long red hair and she wore blouses buttoned to the neck, plastic glasses that hid her lovely green eyes. She was just separated when he asked her out for coffee, and he found himself telling her things he told no one—stories about Saigon, about hawkers’ stalls and rainforests, about the times he’d drunk rice whiskey and wished so badly for home he could taste it. He did what he never did, told her the names of three buddies of his who never came back from the war. TWO weeks later he met Rosa for lunch at the room she was renting in town. Unbutton your shirt, she said, and he’d never felt more at ease.

They married quickly, their wedding a small gathering in the home of Rosa’s former high-school principal. There was a three-tiered cake and there were gifts of small appliances Rosa substituted for the less reliable ones he still owned from his marriage to Sarah. Rosa adored him, told him tlus often, told him how he had rescued her from her former country store owner husband, for one. And since the marriage? The last four years had vanished. Evaporated into the atmosphere, Sam would have said. Dinner parties with friends. Country music concerts, of which Rosa was fond. “frips to shopping malls for china and the latest patterns of stainless steel. Vacations up north. Recently, she was on a course of self-improvement, working on everything from her vowels—the way she stretched out i and a with a question embedded at the end of every sentence—to her entertainment skills, to her consciousness, with the help of pop psychology books and a regular Tuesday-night meeting for couples called Energize the Inner You.

Emotional Wellness Encounters, they were called, led by a counselor named Harry Simon, a man with frizzy gray hair and sparkling dentures who spoke of inner peace and spousal communication skills as if they were on sale at a discount store. Harry Simon, as group mediator, kept saying, Let it go, let it go, but Sanderson couldn’t summon a particular time or place for it, though he was fairly certain what they wanted. Rosa wanted more than the war stories he’d told her. She wanted ones about explosions that could make the ground shake beneath your feet. Stories about gunfire and gaping wounds. Weren’t you afraid, Jason? she’d ask him in the encounter groups and he’d feel himself grow sullen in his wish to tell no story at all. Fear. Were there words for it, those times he’d felt fear settle under this tongue?

Jason Sanderson, his father used to say, make your bed. Make your bed and lie in it. He had made his bed by now, and he knew that.exactly, but he wanted some way for his name to be carried into the future. Rosa never exactly said no to this wish of his, but they had not discussed it either, not really. We all have our dreams, our should’ve, could’ve, don’t we, sweetie, she said and sighed and left a kiss in lipstick on his cheek, then busied herself with a handkerchief. By letting go, he knew Rosa meant more. His past. Wife. Son. And more than them, really. How to let go of a son he could on some days scarcely recall?

A place he went, a removal that frightened her. That was what Rosa wanted gone the most. Jason, she’d say when she’d find him sitting alone, staring out a window or at a blank, white wall. He found himself shaking off lethargy and he turned, as if from a great distance, met her smile. Then he felt it most. Vertigo. An enormous height, a precipice. A dizzying fear and afterward an anger so intense it made him sick inside. If he sat still, some days, he thought he might just be able to step closer to it, the vast distance he’d traveled from his own heart.

Signs for a sorghum festival littered the Main Street of Links. That street was just a post office, a five-and-dime, and a fruit stand. A general store promised a Grand Opening and Hot Lunch. He hadn’t eaten lunch yet and he could hear Rosa. You live on snack mix and nervous energy, Jason. Links was as good a place as any, so he drove the main street up and back looking for a place to get some coffee, and settled on a grocery store on the front steps of which sat a boy picking through a mess of weeds and greenish water in the bottom of a metal pan.

“That looks tasty, son,” Sanderson said as he paused on the steps.

“Sang,” the boy said.

“Pardon?”

“Sang, mister,” the boy repeated, gesturing impatiently toward his lap

“Ginseng.”

Sang. Ginseng. Sanderson turned those words over in his mouth.

“I don’t think I’d know ginseng if it bit me,” he said at last. He had a recollection of his grandmother and a trip to the woods to pick greens or to hunt up this and that herb. The boy plucked a gnarly root out the pan and cast it in the direction of his high-topped sneakers.

“Granny’s got me going through everything, just about,” the boy said. He plucked a tiny rock out of the pan, flicked it with thumb and forefinger. His hand had a tiny anchor tattooed on its back.

“She got anything to eat in there?” Sanderson asked as the boy set the pan aside and stretched his skinny, longish legs.

He followed Sanderson inside the store. Bolts of cloth and stray shoes and canning jar lids spilled from boxes here and there, and a woman crouched on her ankles near an open crate.

“Granny,” the boy said. “Beans cooked yet?” He nodded in Sanderson’s direction. “Customer’s here.”

The woman nodded as Sanderson made his way around the pile, and then she stood and gestured with one hand clutching a plastic baby doll.

“Pardon my housekeeping, mister,” she said, her voice a wind-piped whisper that made him want to clear his own throat. As she peered up and down at him, he wondered why he’d carried in his briefcase.

“Got enough stuff in here to clothe the hungry and feed the poor too, mister.” She tossed the doll into a box and nudged a heap of papers with one booted foot.

“That so?” Sanderson said as he eyed the store’s shelves, stocked with the basics, soups and toiletries and animal feed. The store had a grainy scent of feed, a bitter odor that stung the nose.

“My daddy run this store up to the day he died and I don’t reckon he ever throwed out nothing. ” She sighed and shook her head.

“You got a bite to eat around here?”

“Take my daddy, now, mister.” She wiped her hands on an apron marked with grease spots. “You sit right there and tell me if a man needs to keep ary old soap scrap and snake skin he ever come by.” She shook her head.

Across from the shelves were racks of items that must have been geared to tourists. Straw hats. Recycled Mason jars labeled Pickled People, which were small, decapitated heads with puckered faces, made of bits of cloth and cotton. Dried, weedy looking bundles were tacked to the tops of shelves or suspended from the store ceiling.

“Them’s my herbs, mister,” she said. She squinted and gazed up at the bundles. “Horsetail. Mullein.” She gestured toward the lower shelves. “And

I’ve got me a bunch of stuff laid up for this fall. Sang. Yaller root. ”

Sanderson glanced down at jars full of the gnarled roots the boy had been sorting through, and more. Bits of stalks and stems. Seedy looking pods. “Daddy’s the one,” she said, “taught me about healing. Ministering herbs.

Laying on hands, when the spirit took him.”

While she talked, Sanderson studied Granny’s powdery-looking face and lilac-colored cotton dress. He noted her anklets, ones neatly turned down above her shoes. She could have been his own grandmother.

“Not that I took natural to learning what Daddy had to teach me,” she said. “I was too fixed on running here and there and yonder. But he was a good man, my daddy. I’ll give him that one.” She sighed. “Raised six younguns,” she said.

Close to the shelves was a cheese and meat cooler, a counter with a crock pot advertising beans and cornbread and, Sanderson was relieved to see, a 110t dog warmer. He pried a charred-looking wiener off when it came around on one of the revolving prongs, piled on mustard and relish and onions from canning jars marked necessaries. The coffee was instant, and he dumped in llwee packets of sweetener.

your ear?” Ille hoy asked. He’d followed Sanderson back out onto the porch, where he stood eating and looking at the empty parking lot and the tail end of Main Street.

The boy was also eating a hot dog and the two of them regarded Sanderson’s car, a black Pontiac with white wall tires and a license plate with the last name of a famous auto racer, one of Rosa’s idols.

“You know the horsepower on that thing?”

Sanderson had to think a minute, and realized he had no idea. He mumbled something about a V-8 engine, and munched his hot dog.

“How fast have you taken her?”

Sanderson, who used cruise control and had not driven without a seat belt nor played chicken with a road sign in about a million years said, “Oh, hundred, or thereabout. ”

“You ever ride anybody in that car?” the boy asked.

“My wife,” Sanderson answered.

The boy licked mustard from his fingers. “She like cars?”

“Well enough.”

“Enough ain’t enough for a ride like that, mister.”

“That right?”

“I can think of a bunch of folks could admire that car. ”

“I’ll bet you could think of a person or two.” Sanderson swallowed his hot dog.

It was well after noon by now, a heavy-looking midday. Sanderson checked his watch and stood, studying boy and car. Like Sam at that age, he was half boy and half on his way to being a man. Unlike Sam, he was dark-skinned, with blue-black hair. Fifties style, he wore his tee shirt sleeves rolled, with a pack of Marlboros stuck there. Too young to smoke, Sanderson mused.

The boy recited information about torques and engine types and drive trains, and the future glowed in his eyes—a shop all his own as an add-on to the store.

“If I’d had a car like that I could have gotten over there that quick. ” He snapped his fingers.

Sanderson wadded up the hot dog wrapping paper and made a move toward the porch steps.

“Over where?” Sanderson asked, pausing midstep.

Granny wedged open the store’s screen door with one booted foot, gazed up at the sky. “My daddy always said a sky like that one there’s a sign. ”

“Sign of what?” Sanderson swallowed, once and twice. The hot dog taste was still in his mouth, charred and gritty and he began to feel unaccountably tense.

She leaned close, her scent sweet, like pouch tobacco. “Don’t you know nothing, mister?” She elbowed him.

The air now seemed to have a burning scent and he took out his handkerchief, blew his nose. “I used to know a little,” he said at last. “About signs. ”

“Smoke’s a sign of trouble or the Lord, one,” Granny said as she pointed up at wisps of grayish clouds traveling west, the way he’d come this morning.

With a sinking feeling, Sanderson peered up at the whitish sky.

“Most of it’s settled from over that way, besides,” she said and elbowed him a final time.

“Over where?” he asked again as the three of them studied the haze. A heavy feeling had begun to accumulate in his chest and he fumbled in his pockets for tablets to settle his stomach.

“Over to the Motel,” the boy said. “Over to Inez where they’re at. Mama and them. ”

“The Motel?” Sanderson asked and he paused at his car door. “Which one would that be, son?”

Karen Salyer McElmurray

“How many do you reckon there are in Inez, mister?” the boy said, looking indignant. He pulled the cigarette pack from his sleeve.

“What happened over there, son?” Sanderson asked, dreading the answer. The taste in his mouth had coincided now with the smoke-laced sky.

The three of them regarded that sky and the woman pointed down the road in the direction he still needed to go.

As he pulled the car back onto the road, he could hear Rosa. Don’t you just find people tike that a comfort? The very thought made him sad. Safety? Comfort? His first wife, Sarah, filled their house with a variety of items in which she took comfort. Incense cones and burners. Prayer wheels. Candles to invoke safe spirits. At the same time she teased him about wanting the whole world to be safe, from his sock drawer to the details of the morning news. Safety, Sarah would say. Don’t you know that’s a relative term? And now Rosa, his second wife, had joined one self-help group after another, ones that promised safety for the inner child and renewed interrelational-communication skills. Their house was littered with things she called “old-timey.” One whole den wall was devoted to a display of washboards and band saws and signs for Martha White Flour or Bunny: The Best in Bread. Don’t you take comfort in your heritage, she asked him when he suggested that there were too many things, too much nostalgia.

His grandfather had been a First Baptist Church of the Redeemed Soul preacher, and Sanderson’s earliest memories were of Saturday nights and come-to-Jesus sermons followed by dinners on the ground. The healing in his family wasn’t the kind with herbs or divining rods, but, on occasion, his grandfather’s rough-palmed hands touched souls. He remembered those

hands. Gripping his chin, tilting his head to the sky. Listen, boy. Listen to your maker. And he had. During those Saturday night services he saw everything

 

To heal himself after Sarah died, he moved with Sam from the mountains of western North Carolina to central Kentucky where he became regional officer for his repossession company. Regional Repo Man, Sam had called him, which left Sanderson with an image of himself in a super hero costume, defending his office against nonpayment and bad credit. Once Sam was gone and once he married Rosa and they bought a house in a gated community. To get home, he passed through a raised bar and a security guard who nodded to him each and every evening. Mr. Sanderson.

How much more safe, Rosa wanted to know, could their lives be? Gated. Sanderson could almost hear Sam. Facsimile. Pretend country living. As much time as Sanderson had spent trying to batten down the hatches in his life, Sam had been the opposite. Sam. The exact opposite of that word. Safe.

Sam. Sarah. Rosa, her pronouncements about heritage, about healing and moving on. He wondered whether strong, dry hands, his grandfather’s or anyone else’s, might have, could have, pulled his son up from the waves of the ocean that took him. No one really had the power to heal, no less comfort anyone in this world. He drove on, approaching at last The Motel of the Stars under a sky that was, sure enough, thick with smoke.

He passed the Inez diner and then a hardware store and a trailer park. He loved reading the new directions the boy and his grandmother had given him, drove until he saw the Church of the Repentant, his new landmark. He the last sharp curve and had to slow down, back into a driveway, turn I passed the last five mailhoxes, rechecked his directions.

There’d been a fire the night before, all right. What was left of the motel looked careless and abandoned. He sighed and picked up his briefcase and stepped out of the car. Glass from broken windows crunched under his feet as he approached the side yard where there were the odds and ends of everything heaved out at the last second. A dresser with the drawers gone was upended near a metal foot locker; a plastic child’s tractor trailer was melted and shapeless and lay next to what was left of a wooden-framed photograph of a dog. Now, only the last walls of the building itself were standing, and those were a charred substructure held together by pipes and thick, blackened wires. He could have found his way to Inez by smoke-scent alone.

He followed a path littered with before-the-fire cans and bottles that led behind the house. That’s where the people were, less than a dozen of them, seated around the base of a huge willow tree, its trailing fronds singed. A worried-looking woman with foam curlers didn’t meet his eyes. Near her was a younger woman in jeans and cowboy boots, and beside her an old man in a wrinkled wool suit jacket was crouching on his ankles, stirring ashes and dirt. He took his place at the edge of this group.

“Authorities been here yet?” he asked in the general direction of the old man, but no one spoke. He wiped his sooty hands against his trousers and stood, waiting. Already he could envision the investigation he’d have to conduct. Already he suspected arson and he thought of the forms he’d have to fill out, his own possible accountability. Didn’t you have an inkling? Not a clue about these people? He could hear the bank manager now.

Then he heard the voices. Singing, from a rise near the smoldering foundations of the house. He stared in that direction, where there were two little girls. They wore cotton checked dresses, sneakers with the toes cut away, and their joined hands were lifted high as they danced in the grass. Pocket full of posies, the girls sang as they spun. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

From not too far away, someone called to the children. Don’t you all hear me? Get on home. The girls laughed and whispered and hurried up a rise and their laughter died away in the distance. Sanderson set his briefcase down in the grass and approached the chair.

It was metal, its green paint scorched and peeling, and it held a woman, knees in her arms, head resting on her knees, a glimpse of her face the only thing visible from the folds of a blanket covering her. He felt as if he was spying upon a private intimacy, but he looked down into this face, which was shiny with sweat in the hot sun. She reminded him of photographs of Middle

Eastern women covered by impenetrable veils, but more than that. The small pale and sooty face with its shut eyes, was both familiar and disconcerting.

She seemed to be sleeping.

“His girl,” someone said behind him.

“Pardon?” Sanderson asked. The old man with the wool jacket motioned to him. They walked several feet away from the chair, in the direction of the lemains of the house.

“The daughter,” the old man whispered. “Leastways his step-girl, her he had to deal with, once the mother took off. Back six years and more. ”

“What’s her name?” Sanderson studied the huddled figure. Beneath the edges of the blanket, he could see bare feet and polished toenails.

“Lory,” the old man answered. “She’s about as odd-turned as he is, I’d say. ” “Where’s he at?” Sanderson gripped his briefcase, thinking of the coming encounter with Frank Llewellyn, the questions about how the fire had started, insurance premiums, responsible parties. Sanderson’s head swam with red tape it would take months to figure out.

Sanderson straightened his tie, remembering the recent acquisition of the storage building and repair place.

“I came on business, you know,” he said.

He studied the woman and the chair again as she shifted. The sight of her face, so incredibly still, tugged at him.

“Least he kept a clean room and she kept the books or something, upstairs where she stayed,” the old man said. “Place did better than some of us expected. ”

“It’s a shame it didn’t do as well as the rest of us would have wanted,” Sanderson said, and then was sorry for it. If he hadn’t known better, he would have said the woman was peaceful, except for the deep lines etched beside her mouth.

“Sometimes you just have to leave a body be,” the old man said, as if Sanderson hadn’t spoken. He bent, fished a broken cup handle out of the grass. “Before it was a motel, son, that was a house. Not much of one, but it was there almost a hundred years. ”

They both stood looking in the direction of the woman. She was so still Sanderson could see the blanket rise and fall with her breath and he found himself breathing that way too, in time with the rise and fall of her chest. His own chest, to his amazement, felt calmer than it had all day. He stepped back from the chair, breathed deeply. On the table near the woman was an open dictionary, hardbacked and heavy, a random save from the fire. Its pages rustled in the wind and he wondered what page the wind would settle with, what word.

As Jason Sanderson drove the hours east for another foreclosure, he followed signs and directions for only so long. Then he pulled over to listen to cicadas and distant afternoon thunder. He stood in the summer grass, the Joe Pye weeds, tall and purple-blossomed, and remembered himself as a boy, fields where he’d slipped from church with the rest of them to smoke cigarettes and to sip stolen medicinal whiskey. He took in the scents of late August, too sweet wild roses and the pitch-tar smell of coal, and he inexplicably remembered other times. Thirty-some years ago. Saigon. The slick scent of gun oil. The garlic and hard candy taste of some girl’s mouth. He stood in the quiet of strange roadsides and the past was more real to him than now.

He was good at what he did—a job in foreclosures in the eastern part of Kentucky. He began his phone calls to potential clients with questions about the weather and family, or with jokes that Rosa said were over the top. What did the Dalai Lama say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything.

And when it came down to it, to home visits and demands, he hesitated. He knocked respectfully, pretended he was on a social call and accepted cups of coffee meant as last-minute stalling measures before the signed and dated documents were produced.

Today’s foreclosure was for a motel with a name that sounded like Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra. The Motel of the Stars. The folder the general nanager laid on his desk some time back was crammed with more photocopies concerning that motel than he could have counted. Purchase orders and bills. Copies of overdue notices and notices of bank reclamation followed copies of threatening letters from lawyers, then notices from the credit bureau. Numerous calls to the owner of the motel, Frank Llewellyn, went unanswered. He had spoken once to a soft-voiced woman who had promised to send back payment, which had failed to materialize. The Motel of the Stars. Even with mirrored ceilings and magic-finger beds, the motel could not be saved.

He was supposed to know he was nearing Inez when he saw a store with a soda cooler out front here, a gas pump there. He was to see a sign for a coal refinery called Estep’s and then a field cleared for a tent revival meeting. His general manager, who had the fervor of a televangelist and an obsession with stock market indexes, had especially pointed out the revival meeting. They don’t make them like that any more. A preacher who knows how to shake and rattle and roll. They can heal you, son. He gripped the steering wheel as he pulled onto the road again, still studying the manager’s hand-drawn directions.

At a crossroads about an hour back, there was to have been a yellow trailer and then a post office just before the right-hand turn onto a one-lane bridge. There had to be some overlooked landmark. Where are you, sweetie, Rosa would say at times like this, and he would realize he’d been standing at a window and hearing not a word she said about the new sofa slip cover. Where was he now? The signs, turn-offs, and deep green, late summer corn all looked pretty much the same. Who knew how long he’d driven or how far off the map he’d gone? Since breakfast, he had not been himself.

He remembered swallowing weak coffee and toast and how his jaw tightened as Rosa described tonight’s gathering in honor of Sam. She’d been planning it for weeks. You’ll see, she said. It would be a celebration of healing rather than of loss. There’d been an extra visit from the once-weekly cleaning lady. She’d bought sparkling juices for a toast. For appetizers, little cheese wedges wrapped in foil, olives neither of them much cared for, fresh bakery bread. It was time, she said, to move on.

Since before eight, he had moved east, past blue-green expanses of central Kentucky horse farms giving way to foothills. Barns advertising Mail Pouch Tobacco and family cemeteries lush with plastic roses abounded. Then there was parkway country and soon thereafter a town called Clay City and a diner for a bear claw and strong coffee. Only a few more miles from there and the parkway yielded to more stretches of road with passing lanes, more hills rising to small mountains, and then the mountain, that marked the entrance to Eastern Kentucky Proper. It rose, squat and deliberate, rock facings jutting and cedars reaching for a sky limited to his sight by other squat mountains soon to come. His heart tightened, beat faster, and his breath came quicker in the nearer proximity of country way too much like the hollows and mouths of hollows and heads of hollows that had long ago been his own home. And a couple of hours after that, a turnoff left him fumbling with his directions, looking for Inez.

You’re scared, Rosa had told him at breakfast. He did have more than his share of fears. Depths of water. Steep mountains. Today he wasn’t afraid of a thing. Today, something else gripped his heart, propelled him forward past mountain after mountain and sign after sign for little Eastern Kentucky towns. His heart beat and skipped and beat. After his stints in Vietnam, a whole slew of doctors had diagnosed everything from heart nodules to anxiety and counseled him to put his feet up, relax more. One of them even urged him to meditate. Today, he liked this feeling that carried him past town after town. He had exited the parkway a long while back and now houses dwindled in number, nothing but cornfields on one side of the road and fetid-stnelling river on the other. Happy. Feisty. Climax. He sped up with the cheerfulness of these names through a hole-in-the-road town called Radiant.

Usually he listened 10 tapes of show tunes or to stations playing country oldies. Trailers for sale or rent. Rooms to let fifty cents. Now he flipped through AM and FM, but he kept coming back to hypnotic sounds that put him in mind of belly dancers. In honor of a festival called The Harmonic Convergence, there were flutes, a keening stringed instrument, and a radio announcer offering insights. Follow the sounds of cosmic consciousness. Rhythms that vibrate to the sound of one universal mind. Sanderson supposed the music was meant to be religious in some way, but religion wasn’t right either, since that was hymnals and childhood prayers. Which was the one that always made him shiver? If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. The memory of that prayer and the music both recalled his anger and he flipped off the air conditioner, leaned out the open car window, inhaled the pungent air.

This many-years after his first wife’s death, words she loved came back to him. Pungent. Esoteric. Columns called “Enrich Your Vocabulary” and “The Power of Words” were her favorites and she had loved any and every dictionary. Visual ones. Foreign language ones. She consulted bulky desktop versions and pocket editions at odd moments on family outings. She’d give Sam the gift of a sentence. The pungent atmosphere left him feeling disconcerted. Pungent. Sanderson savored the word now.

He loosened his tie, found a new radio station, part static and part country. Hank Williams. Cause tonight I’m gonna see my caramio. Tonight he’d be home again, to fat new sofa pillows and exotic foods for a celebration.

Celebrate rather than mourn? His son, dead ten years. One-handed, he slid his tie off, tossed it into the back seat, set off down the road again. That door had been shut a long time ago and he wanted it to stay shut, ten years’ anniversary or not.

The first year Sam was reported missing at sea, Sanderson had felt numb. Numbness gave way to a grief that made him feel ashamed. Anger at no one in particular swirled in his heart. Rage gave way to uncertainty. He was perplexed when he studied his receding hairline in the bathroom mirror. He grew sideburns and a goatee and plucked gray hairs he’d never seen. He bought Grecian Formula, slimmer ties, and a cologne called Incognito. He took a night class or two, one in astronomy and another in poetry, and he wrote verse that his instructor said was sentimental. There were too many poems about butterflies, sunsets and love. He was never able to describe what he really meant—that image in his head of wings against a door, locked tight against something he didn’t want to name.

He bought a place in Kentucky, in the center of the state. Took a new job.

Repossession case manager. For the new house, he bought a gun case for the living room and stocked it with oiled rifles he never used. He took up golfing, a sport that had never much made sense to him, and he agreed to go on a number of blind dates arranged by his office coworkers. Shirley, a woman with nails bitten to the quick, phoned him three times after their Saturday afternoon coffee date, but he let the machine take the calls. There was Tiffany, who left salty-tasting blueberry pies on his desk at work, and Brenda, who talked him into attending a meeting the Fellowship of Christian Scientists. Lisa. Judy. Lee Ann.

Rosa, fifteen years his junior, worked at the real estate office. She had long red hair and she wore blouses buttoned to the neck, plastic glasses that hid her lovely green eyes. She was just separated when he asked her out for coffee, and he found himself telling her things he told no one—stories about Saigon, about hawkers’ stalls and rainforests, about the times he’d drunk rice whiskey and wished so badly for home he could taste it. He did what he never did, told her the names of three buddies of his who never came back from the war. TWO weeks later he met Rosa for lunch at the room she was renting in town. Unbutton your shirt, she said, and he’d never felt more at ease.

They married quickly, their wedding a small gathering in the home of Rosa’s former high-school principal. There was a three-tiered cake and there were gifts of small appliances Rosa substituted for the less reliable ones he still owned from his marriage to Sarah. Rosa adored him, told him tlus often, told him how he had rescued her from her former country store owner husband, for one. And since the marriage? The last four years had vanished. Evaporated into the atmosphere, Sam would have said. Dinner parties with friends. Country music concerts, of which Rosa was fond. “frips to shopping malls for china and the latest patterns of stainless steel. Vacations up north. Recently, she was on a course of self-improvement, working on everything from her vowels—the way she stretched out i and a with a question embedded at the end of every sentence—to her entertainment skills, to her consciousness, with the help of pop psychology books and a regular Tuesday-night meeting for couples called Energize the Inner You.

Emotional Wellness Encounters, they were called, led by a counselor named Harry Simon, a man with frizzy gray hair and sparkling dentures who spoke of inner peace and spousal communication skills as if they were on sale at a discount store. Harry Simon, as group mediator, kept saying, Let it go, let it go, but Sanderson couldn’t summon a particular time or place for it, though he was fairly certain what they wanted. Rosa wanted more than the war stories he’d told her. She wanted ones about explosions that could make the ground shake beneath your feet. Stories about gunfire and gaping wounds. Weren’t you afraid, Jason? she’d ask him in the encounter groups and he’d feel himself grow sullen in his wish to tell no story at all. Fear. Were there words for it, those times he’d felt fear settle under this tongue?

Jason Sanderson, his father used to say, make your bed. Make your bed and lie in it. He had made his bed by now, and he knew that.exactly, but he wanted some way for his name to be carried into the future. Rosa never exactly said no to this wish of his, but they had not discussed it either, not really. We all have our dreams, our should’ve, could’ve, don’t we, sweetie, she said and sighed and left a kiss in lipstick on his cheek, then busied herself with a handkerchief. By letting go, he knew Rosa meant more. His past. Wife. Son. And more than them, really. How to let go of a son he could on some days scarcely recall?

A place he went, a removal that frightened her. That was what Rosa wanted gone the most. Jason, she’d say when she’d find him sitting alone, staring out a window or at a blank, white wall. He found himself shaking off lethargy and he turned, as if from a great distance, met her smile. Then he felt it most. Vertigo. An enormous height, a precipice. A dizzying fear and afterward an anger so intense it made him sick inside. If he sat still, some days, he thought he might just be able to step closer to it, the vast distance he’d traveled from his own heart.

Signs for a sorghum festival littered the Main Street of Links. That street was just a post office, a five-and-dime, and a fruit stand. A general store promised a Grand Opening and Hot Lunch. He hadn’t eaten lunch yet and he could hear Rosa. You live on snack mix and nervous energy, Jason. Links was as good a place as any, so he drove the main street up and back looking for a place to get some coffee, and settled on a grocery store on the front steps of which sat a boy picking through a mess of weeds and greenish water in the bottom of a metal pan.

“That looks tasty, son,” Sanderson said as he paused on the steps.

“Sang,” the boy said.

“Pardon?”

“Sang, mister,” the boy repeated, gesturing impatiently toward his lap

“Ginseng.”

Sang. Ginseng. Sanderson turned those words over in his mouth.

“I don’t think I’d know ginseng if it bit me,” he said at last. He had a recollection of his grandmother and a trip to the woods to pick greens or to hunt up this and that herb. The boy plucked a gnarly root out the pan and cast it in the direction of his high-topped sneakers.

“Granny’s got me going through everything, just about,” the boy said. He plucked a tiny rock out of the pan, flicked it with thumb and forefinger. His hand had a tiny anchor tattooed on its back.

“She got anything to eat in there?” Sanderson asked as the boy set the pan aside and stretched his skinny, longish legs.

He followed Sanderson inside the store. Bolts of cloth and stray shoes and canning jar lids spilled from boxes here and there, and a woman crouched on her ankles near an open crate.

“Granny,” the boy said. “Beans cooked yet?” He nodded in Sanderson’s direction. “Customer’s here.”

The woman nodded as Sanderson made his way around the pile, and then she stood and gestured with one hand clutching a plastic baby doll.

“Pardon my housekeeping, mister,” she said, her voice a wind-piped whisper that made him want to clear his own throat. As she peered up and down at him, he wondered why he’d carried in his briefcase.

“Got enough stuff in here to clothe the hungry and feed the poor too, mister.” She tossed the doll into a box and nudged a heap of papers with one booted foot.

“That so?” Sanderson said as he eyed the store’s shelves, stocked with the basics, soups and toiletries and animal feed. The store had a grainy scent of feed, a bitter odor that stung the nose.

“My daddy run this store up to the day he died and I don’t reckon he ever throwed out nothing. ” She sighed and shook her head.

“You got a bite to eat around here?”

“Take my daddy, now, mister.” She wiped her hands on an apron marked with grease spots. “You sit right there and tell me if a man needs to keep ary old soap scrap and snake skin he ever come by.” She shook her head.

Across from the shelves were racks of items that must have been geared to tourists. Straw hats. Recycled Mason jars labeled Pickled People, which were small, decapitated heads with puckered faces, made of bits of cloth and cotton. Dried, weedy looking bundles were tacked to the tops of shelves or suspended from the store ceiling.

“Them’s my herbs, mister,” she said. She squinted and gazed up at the bundles. “Horsetail. Mullein.” She gestured toward the lower shelves. “And

I’ve got me a bunch of stuff laid up for this fall. Sang. Yaller root. ”

Sanderson glanced down at jars full of the gnarled roots the boy had been sorting through, and more. Bits of stalks and stems. Seedy looking pods. “Daddy’s the one,” she said, “taught me about healing. Ministering herbs.

Laying on hands, when the spirit took him.”

While she talked, Sanderson studied Granny’s powdery-looking face and lilac-colored cotton dress. He noted her anklets, ones neatly turned down above her shoes. She could have been his own grandmother.

“Not that I took natural to learning what Daddy had to teach me,” she said. “I was too fixed on running here and there and yonder. But he was a good man, my daddy. I’ll give him that one.” She sighed. “Raised six younguns,” she said.

Close to the shelves was a cheese and meat cooler, a counter with a crock pot advertising beans and cornbread and, Sanderson was relieved to see, a 110t dog warmer. He pried a charred-looking wiener off when it came around on one of the revolving prongs, piled on mustard and relish and onions from canning jars marked necessaries. The coffee was instant, and he dumped in llwee packets of sweetener.

your ear?” Ille hoy asked. He’d followed Sanderson back out onto the porch, where he stood eating and looking at the empty parking lot and the tail end of Main Street.

The boy was also eating a hot dog and the two of them regarded Sanderson’s car, a black Pontiac with white wall tires and a license plate with the last name of a famous auto racer, one of Rosa’s idols.

“You know the horsepower on that thing?”

Sanderson had to think a minute, and realized he had no idea. He mumbled something about a V-8 engine, and munched his hot dog.

“How fast have you taken her?”

Sanderson, who used cruise control and had not driven without a seat belt nor played chicken with a road sign in about a million years said, “Oh, hundred, or thereabout. ”

“You ever ride anybody in that car?” the boy asked.

“My wife,” Sanderson answered.

The boy licked mustard from his fingers. “She like cars?”

“Well enough.”

“Enough ain’t enough for a ride like that, mister.”

“That right?”

“I can think of a bunch of folks could admire that car. ”

“I’ll bet you could think of a person or two.” Sanderson swallowed his hot dog.

It was well after noon by now, a heavy-looking midday. Sanderson checked his watch and stood, studying boy and car. Like Sam at that age, he was half boy and half on his way to being a man. Unlike Sam, he was dark-skinned, with blue-black hair. Fifties style, he wore his tee shirt sleeves rolled, with a pack of Marlboros stuck there. Too young to smoke, Sanderson mused.

The boy recited information about torques and engine types and drive trains, and the future glowed in his eyes—a shop all his own as an add-on to the store.

“If I’d had a car like that I could have gotten over there that quick. ” He snapped his fingers.

Sanderson wadded up the hot dog wrapping paper and made a move toward the porch steps.

“Over where?” Sanderson asked, pausing midstep.

Granny wedged open the store’s screen door with one booted foot, gazed up at the sky. “My daddy always said a sky like that one there’s a sign. ”

“Sign of what?” Sanderson swallowed, once and twice. The hot dog taste was still in his mouth, charred and gritty and he began to feel unaccountably tense.

She leaned close, her scent sweet, like pouch tobacco. “Don’t you know nothing, mister?” She elbowed him.

The air now seemed to have a burning scent and he took out his handkerchief, blew his nose. “I used to know a little,” he said at last. “About signs. ”

“Smoke’s a sign of trouble or the Lord, one,” Granny said as she pointed up at wisps of grayish clouds traveling west, the way he’d come this morning.

With a sinking feeling, Sanderson peered up at the whitish sky.

“Most of it’s settled from over that way, besides,” she said and elbowed him a final time.

“Over where?” he asked again as the three of them studied the haze. A heavy feeling had begun to accumulate in his chest and he fumbled in his pockets for tablets to settle his stomach.

“Over to the Motel,” the boy said. “Over to Inez where they’re at. Mama and them. ”

“The Motel?” Sanderson asked and he paused at his car door. “Which one would that be, son?”

Karen Salyer McElmurray

“How many do you reckon there are in Inez, mister?” the boy said, looking indignant. He pulled the cigarette pack from his sleeve.

“What happened over there, son?” Sanderson asked, dreading the answer. The taste in his mouth had coincided now with the smoke-laced sky.

The three of them regarded that sky and the woman pointed down the road in the direction he still needed to go.

As he pulled the car back onto the road, he could hear Rosa. Don’t you just find people tike that a comfort? The very thought made him sad. Safety? Comfort? His first wife, Sarah, filled their house with a variety of items in which she took comfort. Incense cones and burners. Prayer wheels. Candles to invoke safe spirits. At the same time she teased him about wanting the whole world to be safe, from his sock drawer to the details of the morning news. Safety, Sarah would say. Don’t you know that’s a relative term? And now Rosa, his second wife, had joined one self-help group after another, ones that promised safety for the inner child and renewed interrelational-communication skills. Their house was littered with things she called “old-timey.” One whole den wall was devoted to a display of washboards and band saws and signs for Martha White Flour or Bunny: The Best in Bread. Don’t you take comfort in your heritage, she asked him when he suggested that there were too many things, too much nostalgia.

His grandfather had been a First Baptist Church of the Redeemed Soul preacher, and Sanderson’s earliest memories were of Saturday nights and come-to-Jesus sermons followed by dinners on the ground. The healing in his family wasn’t the kind with herbs or divining rods, but, on occasion, his grandfather’s rough-palmed hands touched souls. He remembered those

hands. Gripping his chin, tilting his head to the sky. Listen, boy. Listen to your maker. And he had. During those Saturday night services he saw everything

 

To heal himself after Sarah died, he moved with Sam from the mountains of western North Carolina to central Kentucky where he became regional officer for his repossession company. Regional Repo Man, Sam had called him, which left Sanderson with an image of himself in a super hero costume, defending his office against nonpayment and bad credit. Once Sam was gone and once he married Rosa and they bought a house in a gated community. To get home, he passed through a raised bar and a security guard who nodded to him each and every evening. Mr. Sanderson.

How much more safe, Rosa wanted to know, could their lives be? Gated. Sanderson could almost hear Sam. Facsimile. Pretend country living. As much time as Sanderson had spent trying to batten down the hatches in his life, Sam had been the opposite. Sam. The exact opposite of that word. Safe.

Sam. Sarah. Rosa, her pronouncements about heritage, about healing and moving on. He wondered whether strong, dry hands, his grandfather’s or anyone else’s, might have, could have, pulled his son up from the waves of the ocean that took him. No one really had the power to heal, no less comfort anyone in this world. He drove on, approaching at last The Motel of the Stars under a sky that was, sure enough, thick with smoke.

He passed the Inez diner and then a hardware store and a trailer park. He loved reading the new directions the boy and his grandmother had given him, drove until he saw the Church of the Repentant, his new landmark. He the last sharp curve and had to slow down, back into a driveway, turn I passed the last five mailhoxes, rechecked his directions.

There’d been a fire the night before, all right. What was left of the motel looked careless and abandoned. He sighed and picked up his briefcase and stepped out of the car. Glass from broken windows crunched under his feet as he approached the side yard where there were the odds and ends of everything heaved out at the last second. A dresser with the drawers gone was upended near a metal foot locker; a plastic child’s tractor trailer was melted and shapeless and lay next to what was left of a wooden-framed photograph of a dog. Now, only the last walls of the building itself were standing, and those were a charred substructure held together by pipes and thick, blackened wires. He could have found his way to Inez by smoke-scent alone.

He followed a path littered with before-the-fire cans and bottles that led behind the house. That’s where the people were, less than a dozen of them, seated around the base of a huge willow tree, its trailing fronds singed. A worried-looking woman with foam curlers didn’t meet his eyes. Near her was a younger woman in jeans and cowboy boots, and beside her an old man in a wrinkled wool suit jacket was crouching on his ankles, stirring ashes and dirt. He took his place at the edge of this group.

“Authorities been here yet?” he asked in the general direction of the old man, but no one spoke. He wiped his sooty hands against his trousers and stood, waiting. Already he could envision the investigation he’d have to conduct. Already he suspected arson and he thought of the forms he’d have to fill out, his own possible accountability. Didn’t you have an inkling? Not a clue about these people? He could hear the bank manager now.

Then he heard the voices. Singing, from a rise near the smoldering foundations of the house. He stared in that direction, where there were two little girls. They wore cotton checked dresses, sneakers with the toes cut away, and their joined hands were lifted high as they danced in the grass. Pocket full of posies, the girls sang as they spun. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

From not too far away, someone called to the children. Don’t you all hear me? Get on home. The girls laughed and whispered and hurried up a rise and their laughter died away in the distance. Sanderson set his briefcase down in the grass and approached the chair.

It was metal, its green paint scorched and peeling, and it held a woman, knees in her arms, head resting on her knees, a glimpse of her face the only thing visible from the folds of a blanket covering her. He felt as if he was spying upon a private intimacy, but he looked down into this face, which was shiny with sweat in the hot sun. She reminded him of photographs of Middle

Eastern women covered by impenetrable veils, but more than that. The small pale and sooty face with its shut eyes, was both familiar and disconcerting.

She seemed to be sleeping.

“His girl,” someone said behind him.

“Pardon?” Sanderson asked. The old man with the wool jacket motioned to him. They walked several feet away from the chair, in the direction of the lemains of the house.

“The daughter,” the old man whispered. “Leastways his step-girl, her he had to deal with, once the mother took off. Back six years and more. ”

“What’s her name?” Sanderson studied the huddled figure. Beneath the edges of the blanket, he could see bare feet and polished toenails.

“Lory,” the old man answered. “She’s about as odd-turned as he is, I’d say. ” “Where’s he at?” Sanderson gripped his briefcase, thinking of the coming encounter with Frank Llewellyn, the questions about how the fire had started, insurance premiums, responsible parties. Sanderson’s head swam with red tape it would take months to figure out.

Sanderson straightened his tie, remembering the recent acquisition of the storage building and repair place.

“I came on business, you know,” he said.

He studied the woman and the chair again as she shifted. The sight of her face, so incredibly still, tugged at him.

“Least he kept a clean room and she kept the books or something, upstairs where she stayed,” the old man said. “Place did better than some of us expected. ”

“It’s a shame it didn’t do as well as the rest of us would have wanted,” Sanderson said, and then was sorry for it. If he hadn’t known better, he would have said the woman was peaceful, except for the deep lines etched beside her mouth.

“Sometimes you just have to leave a body be,” the old man said, as if Sanderson hadn’t spoken. He bent, fished a broken cup handle out of the grass. “Before it was a motel, son, that was a house. Not much of one, but it was there almost a hundred years. ”

They both stood looking in the direction of the woman. She was so still Sanderson could see the blanket rise and fall with her breath and he found himself breathing that way too, in time with the rise and fall of her chest. His own chest, to his amazement, felt calmer than it had all day. He stepped back from the chair, breathed deeply. On the table near the woman was an open dictionary, hardbacked and heavy, a random save from the fire. Its pages rustled in the wind and he wondered what page the wind would settle with, what word.

As Jason Sanderson drove the hours east for another foreclosure, he followed signs and directions for only so long. Then he pulled over to listen to cicadas and distant afternoon thunder. He stood in the summer grass, the Joe Pye weeds, tall and purple-blossomed, and remembered himself as a boy, fields where he’d slipped from church with the rest of them to smoke cigarettes and to sip stolen medicinal whiskey. He took in the scents of late August, too sweet wild roses and the pitch-tar smell of coal, and he inexplicably remembered other times. Thirty-some years ago. Saigon. The slick scent of gun oil. The garlic and hard candy taste of some girl’s mouth. He stood in the quiet of strange roadsides and the past was more real to him than now.

He was good at what he did—a job in foreclosures in the eastern part of Kentucky. He began his phone calls to potential clients with questions about the weather and family, or with jokes that Rosa said were over the top. What did the Dalai Lama say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything.

And when it came down to it, to home visits and demands, he hesitated. He knocked respectfully, pretended he was on a social call and accepted cups of coffee meant as last-minute stalling measures before the signed and dated documents were produced.

Today’s foreclosure was for a motel with a name that sounded like Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra. The Motel of the Stars. The folder the general nanager laid on his desk some time back was crammed with more photocopies concerning that motel than he could have counted. Purchase orders and bills. Copies of overdue notices and notices of bank reclamation followed copies of threatening letters from lawyers, then notices from the credit bureau. Numerous calls to the owner of the motel, Frank Llewellyn, went unanswered. He had spoken once to a soft-voiced woman who had promised to send back payment, which had failed to materialize. The Motel of the Stars. Even with mirrored ceilings and magic-finger beds, the motel could not be saved.

He was supposed to know he was nearing Inez when he saw a store with a soda cooler out front here, a gas pump there. He was to see a sign for a coal refinery called Estep’s and then a field cleared for a tent revival meeting. His general manager, who had the fervor of a televangelist and an obsession with stock market indexes, had especially pointed out the revival meeting. They don’t make them like that any more. A preacher who knows how to shake and rattle and roll. They can heal you, son. He gripped the steering wheel as he pulled onto the road again, still studying the manager’s hand-drawn directions.

At a crossroads about an hour back, there was to have been a yellow trailer and then a post office just before the right-hand turn onto a one-lane bridge. There had to be some overlooked landmark. Where are you, sweetie, Rosa would say at times like this, and he would realize he’d been standing at a window and hearing not a word she said about the new sofa slip cover. Where was he now? The signs, turn-offs, and deep green, late summer corn all looked pretty much the same. Who knew how long he’d driven or how far off the map he’d gone? Since breakfast, he had not been himself.

He remembered swallowing weak coffee and toast and how his jaw tightened as Rosa described tonight’s gathering in honor of Sam. She’d been planning it for weeks. You’ll see, she said. It would be a celebration of healing rather than of loss. There’d been an extra visit from the once-weekly cleaning lady. She’d bought sparkling juices for a toast. For appetizers, little cheese wedges wrapped in foil, olives neither of them much cared for, fresh bakery bread. It was time, she said, to move on.

Since before eight, he had moved east, past blue-green expanses of central Kentucky horse farms giving way to foothills. Barns advertising Mail Pouch Tobacco and family cemeteries lush with plastic roses abounded. Then there was parkway country and soon thereafter a town called Clay City and a diner for a bear claw and strong coffee. Only a few more miles from there and the parkway yielded to more stretches of road with passing lanes, more hills rising to small mountains, and then the mountain, that marked the entrance to Eastern Kentucky Proper. It rose, squat and deliberate, rock facings jutting and cedars reaching for a sky limited to his sight by other squat mountains soon to come. His heart tightened, beat faster, and his breath came quicker in the nearer proximity of country way too much like the hollows and mouths of hollows and heads of hollows that had long ago been his own home. And a couple of hours after that, a turnoff left him fumbling with his directions, looking for Inez.

You’re scared, Rosa had told him at breakfast. He did have more than his share of fears. Depths of water. Steep mountains. Today he wasn’t afraid of a thing. Today, something else gripped his heart, propelled him forward past mountain after mountain and sign after sign for little Eastern Kentucky towns. His heart beat and skipped and beat. After his stints in Vietnam, a whole slew of doctors had diagnosed everything from heart nodules to anxiety and counseled him to put his feet up, relax more. One of them even urged him to meditate. Today, he liked this feeling that carried him past town after town. He had exited the parkway a long while back and now houses dwindled in number, nothing but cornfields on one side of the road and fetid-stnelling river on the other. Happy. Feisty. Climax. He sped up with the cheerfulness of these names through a hole-in-the-road town called Radiant.

Usually he listened 10 tapes of show tunes or to stations playing country oldies. Trailers for sale or rent. Rooms to let fifty cents. Now he flipped through AM and FM, but he kept coming back to hypnotic sounds that put him in mind of belly dancers. In honor of a festival called The Harmonic Convergence, there were flutes, a keening stringed instrument, and a radio announcer offering insights. Follow the sounds of cosmic consciousness. Rhythms that vibrate to the sound of one universal mind. Sanderson supposed the music was meant to be religious in some way, but religion wasn’t right either, since that was hymnals and childhood prayers. Which was the one that always made him shiver? If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. The memory of that prayer and the music both recalled his anger and he flipped off the air conditioner, leaned out the open car window, inhaled the pungent air.

This many-years after his first wife’s death, words she loved came back to him. Pungent. Esoteric. Columns called “Enrich Your Vocabulary” and “The Power of Words” were her favorites and she had loved any and every dictionary. Visual ones. Foreign language ones. She consulted bulky desktop versions and pocket editions at odd moments on family outings. She’d give Sam the gift of a sentence. The pungent atmosphere left him feeling disconcerted. Pungent. Sanderson savored the word now.

He loosened his tie, found a new radio station, part static and part country. Hank Williams. Cause tonight I’m gonna see my caramio. Tonight he’d be home again, to fat new sofa pillows and exotic foods for a celebration.

Celebrate rather than mourn? His son, dead ten years. One-handed, he slid his tie off, tossed it into the back seat, set off down the road again. That door had been shut a long time ago and he wanted it to stay shut, ten years’ anniversary or not.

The first year Sam was reported missing at sea, Sanderson had felt numb. Numbness gave way to a grief that made him feel ashamed. Anger at no one in particular swirled in his heart. Rage gave way to uncertainty. He was perplexed when he studied his receding hairline in the bathroom mirror. He grew sideburns and a goatee and plucked gray hairs he’d never seen. He bought Grecian Formula, slimmer ties, and a cologne called Incognito. He took a night class or two, one in astronomy and another in poetry, and he wrote verse that his instructor said was sentimental. There were too many poems about butterflies, sunsets and love. He was never able to describe what he really meant—that image in his head of wings against a door, locked tight against something he didn’t want to name.

He bought a place in Kentucky, in the center of the state. Took a new job.

Repossession case manager. For the new house, he bought a gun case for the living room and stocked it with oiled rifles he never used. He took up golfing, a sport that had never much made sense to him, and he agreed to go on a number of blind dates arranged by his office coworkers. Shirley, a woman with nails bitten to the quick, phoned him three times after their Saturday afternoon coffee date, but he let the machine take the calls. There was Tiffany, who left salty-tasting blueberry pies on his desk at work, and Brenda, who talked him into attending a meeting the Fellowship of Christian Scientists. Lisa. Judy. Lee Ann.

Rosa, fifteen years his junior, worked at the real estate office. She had long red hair and she wore blouses buttoned to the neck, plastic glasses that hid her lovely green eyes. She was just separated when he asked her out for coffee, and he found himself telling her things he told no one—stories about Saigon, about hawkers’ stalls and rainforests, about the times he’d drunk rice whiskey and wished so badly for home he could taste it. He did what he never did, told her the names of three buddies of his who never came back from the war. TWO weeks later he met Rosa for lunch at the room she was renting in town. Unbutton your shirt, she said, and he’d never felt more at ease.

They married quickly, their wedding a small gathering in the home of Rosa’s former high-school principal. There was a three-tiered cake and there were gifts of small appliances Rosa substituted for the less reliable ones he still owned from his marriage to Sarah. Rosa adored him, told him tlus often, told him how he had rescued her from her former country store owner husband, for one. And since the marriage? The last four years had vanished. Evaporated into the atmosphere, Sam would have said. Dinner parties with friends. Country music concerts, of which Rosa was fond. “frips to shopping malls for china and the latest patterns of stainless steel. Vacations up north. Recently, she was on a course of self-improvement, working on everything from her vowels—the way she stretched out i and a with a question embedded at the end of every sentence—to her entertainment skills, to her consciousness, with the help of pop psychology books and a regular Tuesday-night meeting for couples called Energize the Inner You.

Emotional Wellness Encounters, they were called, led by a counselor named Harry Simon, a man with frizzy gray hair and sparkling dentures who spoke of inner peace and spousal communication skills as if they were on sale at a discount store. Harry Simon, as group mediator, kept saying, Let it go, let it go, but Sanderson couldn’t summon a particular time or place for it, though he was fairly certain what they wanted. Rosa wanted more than the war stories he’d told her. She wanted ones about explosions that could make the ground shake beneath your feet. Stories about gunfire and gaping wounds. Weren’t you afraid, Jason? she’d ask him in the encounter groups and he’d feel himself grow sullen in his wish to tell no story at all. Fear. Were there words for it, those times he’d felt fear settle under this tongue?

Jason Sanderson, his father used to say, make your bed. Make your bed and lie in it. He had made his bed by now, and he knew that.exactly, but he wanted some way for his name to be carried into the future. Rosa never exactly said no to this wish of his, but they had not discussed it either, not really. We all have our dreams, our should’ve, could’ve, don’t we, sweetie, she said and sighed and left a kiss in lipstick on his cheek, then busied herself with a handkerchief. By letting go, he knew Rosa meant more. His past. Wife. Son. And more than them, really. How to let go of a son he could on some days scarcely recall?

A place he went, a removal that frightened her. That was what Rosa wanted gone the most. Jason, she’d say when she’d find him sitting alone, staring out a window or at a blank, white wall. He found himself shaking off lethargy and he turned, as if from a great distance, met her smile. Then he felt it most. Vertigo. An enormous height, a precipice. A dizzying fear and afterward an anger so intense it made him sick inside. If he sat still, some days, he thought he might just be able to step closer to it, the vast distance he’d traveled from his own heart.

Signs for a sorghum festival littered the Main Street of Links. That street was just a post office, a five-and-dime, and a fruit stand. A general store promised a Grand Opening and Hot Lunch. He hadn’t eaten lunch yet and he could hear Rosa. You live on snack mix and nervous energy, Jason. Links was as good a place as any, so he drove the main street up and back looking for a place to get some coffee, and settled on a grocery store on the front steps of which sat a boy picking through a mess of weeds and greenish water in the bottom of a metal pan.

“That looks tasty, son,” Sanderson said as he paused on the steps.

“Sang,” the boy said.

“Pardon?”

“Sang, mister,” the boy repeated, gesturing impatiently toward his lap

“Ginseng.”

Sang. Ginseng. Sanderson turned those words over in his mouth.

“I don’t think I’d know ginseng if it bit me,” he said at last. He had a recollection of his grandmother and a trip to the woods to pick greens or to hunt up this and that herb. The boy plucked a gnarly root out the pan and cast it in the direction of his high-topped sneakers.

“Granny’s got me going through everything, just about,” the boy said. He plucked a tiny rock out of the pan, flicked it with thumb and forefinger. His hand had a tiny anchor tattooed on its back.

“She got anything to eat in there?” Sanderson asked as the boy set the pan aside and stretched his skinny, longish legs.

He followed Sanderson inside the store. Bolts of cloth and stray shoes and canning jar lids spilled from boxes here and there, and a woman crouched on her ankles near an open crate.

“Granny,” the boy said. “Beans cooked yet?” He nodded in Sanderson’s direction. “Customer’s here.”

The woman nodded as Sanderson made his way around the pile, and then she stood and gestured with one hand clutching a plastic baby doll.

“Pardon my housekeeping, mister,” she said, her voice a wind-piped whisper that made him want to clear his own throat. As she peered up and down at him, he wondered why he’d carried in his briefcase.

“Got enough stuff in here to clothe the hungry and feed the poor too, mister.” She tossed the doll into a box and nudged a heap of papers with one booted foot.

“That so?” Sanderson said as he eyed the store’s shelves, stocked with the basics, soups and toiletries and animal feed. The store had a grainy scent of feed, a bitter odor that stung the nose.

“My daddy run this store up to the day he died and I don’t reckon he ever throwed out nothing. ” She sighed and shook her head.

“You got a bite to eat around here?”

“Take my daddy, now, mister.” She wiped her hands on an apron marked with grease spots. “You sit right there and tell me if a man needs to keep ary old soap scrap and snake skin he ever come by.” She shook her head.

Across from the shelves were racks of items that must have been geared to tourists. Straw hats. Recycled Mason jars labeled Pickled People, which were small, decapitated heads with puckered faces, made of bits of cloth and cotton. Dried, weedy looking bundles were tacked to the tops of shelves or suspended from the store ceiling.

“Them’s my herbs, mister,” she said. She squinted and gazed up at the bundles. “Horsetail. Mullein.” She gestured toward the lower shelves. “And

I’ve got me a bunch of stuff laid up for this fall. Sang. Yaller root. ”

Sanderson glanced down at jars full of the gnarled roots the boy had been sorting through, and more. Bits of stalks and stems. Seedy looking pods. “Daddy’s the one,” she said, “taught me about healing. Ministering herbs.

Laying on hands, when the spirit took him.”

While she talked, Sanderson studied Granny’s powdery-looking face and lilac-colored cotton dress. He noted her anklets, ones neatly turned down above her shoes. She could have been his own grandmother.

“Not that I took natural to learning what Daddy had to teach me,” she said. “I was too fixed on running here and there and yonder. But he was a good man, my daddy. I’ll give him that one.” She sighed. “Raised six younguns,” she said.

Close to the shelves was a cheese and meat cooler, a counter with a crock pot advertising beans and cornbread and, Sanderson was relieved to see, a 110t dog warmer. He pried a charred-looking wiener off when it came around on one of the revolving prongs, piled on mustard and relish and onions from canning jars marked necessaries. The coffee was instant, and he dumped in llwee packets of sweetener.

your ear?” Ille hoy asked. He’d followed Sanderson back out onto the porch, where he stood eating and looking at the empty parking lot and the tail end of Main Street.

The boy was also eating a hot dog and the two of them regarded Sanderson’s car, a black Pontiac with white wall tires and a license plate with the last name of a famous auto racer, one of Rosa’s idols.

“You know the horsepower on that thing?”

Sanderson had to think a minute, and realized he had no idea. He mumbled something about a V-8 engine, and munched his hot dog.

“How fast have you taken her?”

Sanderson, who used cruise control and had not driven without a seat belt nor played chicken with a road sign in about a million years said, “Oh, hundred, or thereabout. ”

“You ever ride anybody in that car?” the boy asked.

“My wife,” Sanderson answered.

The boy licked mustard from his fingers. “She like cars?”

“Well enough.”

“Enough ain’t enough for a ride like that, mister.”

“That right?”

“I can think of a bunch of folks could admire that car. ”

“I’ll bet you could think of a person or two.” Sanderson swallowed his hot dog.

It was well after noon by now, a heavy-looking midday. Sanderson checked his watch and stood, studying boy and car. Like Sam at that age, he was half boy and half on his way to being a man. Unlike Sam, he was dark-skinned, with blue-black hair. Fifties style, he wore his tee shirt sleeves rolled, with a pack of Marlboros stuck there. Too young to smoke, Sanderson mused.

The boy recited information about torques and engine types and drive trains, and the future glowed in his eyes—a shop all his own as an add-on to the store.

“If I’d had a car like that I could have gotten over there that quick. ” He snapped his fingers.

Sanderson wadded up the hot dog wrapping paper and made a move toward the porch steps.

“Over where?” Sanderson asked, pausing midstep.

Granny wedged open the store’s screen door with one booted foot, gazed up at the sky. “My daddy always said a sky like that one there’s a sign. ”

“Sign of what?” Sanderson swallowed, once and twice. The hot dog taste was still in his mouth, charred and gritty and he began to feel unaccountably tense.

She leaned close, her scent sweet, like pouch tobacco. “Don’t you know nothing, mister?” She elbowed him.

The air now seemed to have a burning scent and he took out his handkerchief, blew his nose. “I used to know a little,” he said at last. “About signs. ”

“Smoke’s a sign of trouble or the Lord, one,” Granny said as she pointed up at wisps of grayish clouds traveling west, the way he’d come this morning.

With a sinking feeling, Sanderson peered up at the whitish sky.

“Most of it’s settled from over that way, besides,” she said and elbowed him a final time.

“Over where?” he asked again as the three of them studied the haze. A heavy feeling had begun to accumulate in his chest and he fumbled in his pockets for tablets to settle his stomach.

“Over to the Motel,” the boy said. “Over to Inez where they’re at. Mama and them. ”

“The Motel?” Sanderson asked and he paused at his car door. “Which one would that be, son?”

Karen Salyer McElmurray

“How many do you reckon there are in Inez, mister?” the boy said, looking indignant. He pulled the cigarette pack from his sleeve.

“What happened over there, son?” Sanderson asked, dreading the answer. The taste in his mouth had coincided now with the smoke-laced sky.

The three of them regarded that sky and the woman pointed down the road in the direction he still needed to go.

As he pulled the car back onto the road, he could hear Rosa. Don’t you just find people tike that a comfort? The very thought made him sad. Safety? Comfort? His first wife, Sarah, filled their house with a variety of items in which she took comfort. Incense cones and burners. Prayer wheels. Candles to invoke safe spirits. At the same time she teased him about wanting the whole world to be safe, from his sock drawer to the details of the morning news. Safety, Sarah would say. Don’t you know that’s a relative term? And now Rosa, his second wife, had joined one self-help group after another, ones that promised safety for the inner child and renewed interrelational-communication skills. Their house was littered with things she called “old-timey.” One whole den wall was devoted to a display of washboards and band saws and signs for Martha White Flour or Bunny: The Best in Bread. Don’t you take comfort in your heritage, she asked him when he suggested that there were too many things, too much nostalgia.

His grandfather had been a First Baptist Church of the Redeemed Soul preacher, and Sanderson’s earliest memories were of Saturday nights and come-to-Jesus sermons followed by dinners on the ground. The healing in his family wasn’t the kind with herbs or divining rods, but, on occasion, his grandfather’s rough-palmed hands touched souls. He remembered those

hands. Gripping his chin, tilting his head to the sky. Listen, boy. Listen to your maker. And he had. During those Saturday night services he saw everything

 

To heal himself after Sarah died, he moved with Sam from the mountains of western North Carolina to central Kentucky where he became regional officer for his repossession company. Regional Repo Man, Sam had called him, which left Sanderson with an image of himself in a super hero costume, defending his office against nonpayment and bad credit. Once Sam was gone and once he married Rosa and they bought a house in a gated community. To get home, he passed through a raised bar and a security guard who nodded to him each and every evening. Mr. Sanderson.

How much more safe, Rosa wanted to know, could their lives be? Gated. Sanderson could almost hear Sam. Facsimile. Pretend country living. As much time as Sanderson had spent trying to batten down the hatches in his life, Sam had been the opposite. Sam. The exact opposite of that word. Safe.

Sam. Sarah. Rosa, her pronouncements about heritage, about healing and moving on. He wondered whether strong, dry hands, his grandfather’s or anyone else’s, might have, could have, pulled his son up from the waves of the ocean that took him. No one really had the power to heal, no less comfort anyone in this world. He drove on, approaching at last The Motel of the Stars under a sky that was, sure enough, thick with smoke.

He passed the Inez diner and then a hardware store and a trailer park. He loved reading the new directions the boy and his grandmother had given him, drove until he saw the Church of the Repentant, his new landmark. He the last sharp curve and had to slow down, back into a driveway, turn I passed the last five mailhoxes, rechecked his directions.

There’d been a fire the night before, all right. What was left of the motel looked careless and abandoned. He sighed and picked up his briefcase and stepped out of the car. Glass from broken windows crunched under his feet as he approached the side yard where there were the odds and ends of everything heaved out at the last second. A dresser with the drawers gone was upended near a metal foot locker; a plastic child’s tractor trailer was melted and shapeless and lay next to what was left of a wooden-framed photograph of a dog. Now, only the last walls of the building itself were standing, and those were a charred substructure held together by pipes and thick, blackened wires. He could have found his way to Inez by smoke-scent alone.

He followed a path littered with before-the-fire cans and bottles that led behind the house. That’s where the people were, less than a dozen of them, seated around the base of a huge willow tree, its trailing fronds singed. A worried-looking woman with foam curlers didn’t meet his eyes. Near her was a younger woman in jeans and cowboy boots, and beside her an old man in a wrinkled wool suit jacket was crouching on his ankles, stirring ashes and dirt. He took his place at the edge of this group.

“Authorities been here yet?” he asked in the general direction of the old man, but no one spoke. He wiped his sooty hands against his trousers and stood, waiting. Already he could envision the investigation he’d have to conduct. Already he suspected arson and he thought of the forms he’d have to fill out, his own possible accountability. Didn’t you have an inkling? Not a clue about these people? He could hear the bank manager now.

Then he heard the voices. Singing, from a rise near the smoldering foundations of the house. He stared in that direction, where there were two little girls. They wore cotton checked dresses, sneakers with the toes cut away, and their joined hands were lifted high as they danced in the grass. Pocket full of posies, the girls sang as they spun. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

From not too far away, someone called to the children. Don’t you all hear me? Get on home. The girls laughed and whispered and hurried up a rise and their laughter died away in the distance. Sanderson set his briefcase down in the grass and approached the chair.

It was metal, its green paint scorched and peeling, and it held a woman, knees in her arms, head resting on her knees, a glimpse of her face the only thing visible from the folds of a blanket covering her. He felt as if he was spying upon a private intimacy, but he looked down into this face, which was shiny with sweat in the hot sun. She reminded him of photographs of Middle

Eastern women covered by impenetrable veils, but more than that. The small pale and sooty face with its shut eyes, was both familiar and disconcerting.

She seemed to be sleeping.

“His girl,” someone said behind him.

“Pardon?” Sanderson asked. The old man with the wool jacket motioned to him. They walked several feet away from the chair, in the direction of the lemains of the house.

“The daughter,” the old man whispered. “Leastways his step-girl, her he had to deal with, once the mother took off. Back six years and more. ”

“What’s her name?” Sanderson studied the huddled figure. Beneath the edges of the blanket, he could see bare feet and polished toenails.

“Lory,” the old man answered. “She’s about as odd-turned as he is, I’d say. ” “Where’s he at?” Sanderson gripped his briefcase, thinking of the coming encounter with Frank Llewellyn, the questions about how the fire had started, insurance premiums, responsible parties. Sanderson’s head swam with red tape it would take months to figure out.

Sanderson straightened his tie, remembering the recent acquisition of the storage building and repair place.

“I came on business, you know,” he said.

He studied the woman and the chair again as she shifted. The sight of her face, so incredibly still, tugged at him.

“Least he kept a clean room and she kept the books or something, upstairs where she stayed,” the old man said. “Place did better than some of us expected. ”

“It’s a shame it didn’t do as well as the rest of us would have wanted,” Sanderson said, and then was sorry for it. If he hadn’t known better, he would have said the woman was peaceful, except for the deep lines etched beside her mouth.

“Sometimes you just have to leave a body be,” the old man said, as if Sanderson hadn’t spoken. He bent, fished a broken cup handle out of the grass. “Before it was a motel, son, that was a house. Not much of one, but it was there almost a hundred years. ”

They both stood looking in the direction of the woman. She was so still Sanderson could see the blanket rise and fall with her breath and he found himself breathing that way too, in time with the rise and fall of her chest. His own chest, to his amazement, felt calmer than it had all day. He stepped back from the chair, breathed deeply. On the table near the woman was an open dictionary, hardbacked and heavy, a random save from the fire. Its pages rustled in the wind and he wondered what page the wind would settle with, what word.

As Jason Sanderson drove the hours east for another foreclosure, he followed signs and directions for only so long. Then he pulled over to listen to cicadas and distant afternoon thunder. He stood in the summer grass, the Joe Pye weeds, tall and purple-blossomed, and remembered himself as a boy, fields where he’d slipped from church with the rest of them to smoke cigarettes and to sip stolen medicinal whiskey. He took in the scents of late August, too sweet wild roses and the pitch-tar smell of coal, and he inexplicably remembered other times. Thirty-some years ago. Saigon. The slick scent of gun oil. The garlic and hard candy taste of some girl’s mouth. He stood in the quiet of strange roadsides and the past was more real to him than now.

He was good at what he did—a job in foreclosures in the eastern part of Kentucky. He began his phone calls to potential clients with questions about the weather and family, or with jokes that Rosa said were over the top. What did the Dalai Lama say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything.

And when it came down to it, to home visits and demands, he hesitated. He knocked respectfully, pretended he was on a social call and accepted cups of coffee meant as last-minute stalling measures before the signed and dated documents were produced.

Today’s foreclosure was for a motel with a name that sounded like Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra. The Motel of the Stars. The folder the general nanager laid on his desk some time back was crammed with more photocopies concerning that motel than he could have counted. Purchase orders and bills. Copies of overdue notices and notices of bank reclamation followed copies of threatening letters from lawyers, then notices from the credit bureau. Numerous calls to the owner of the motel, Frank Llewellyn, went unanswered. He had spoken once to a soft-voiced woman who had promised to send back payment, which had failed to materialize. The Motel of the Stars. Even with mirrored ceilings and magic-finger beds, the motel could not be saved.

He was supposed to know he was nearing Inez when he saw a store with a soda cooler out front here, a gas pump there. He was to see a sign for a coal refinery called Estep’s and then a field cleared for a tent revival meeting. His general manager, who had the fervor of a televangelist and an obsession with stock market indexes, had especially pointed out the revival meeting. They don’t make them like that any more. A preacher who knows how to shake and rattle and roll. They can heal you, son. He gripped the steering wheel as he pulled onto the road again, still studying the manager’s hand-drawn directions.

At a crossroads about an hour back, there was to have been a yellow trailer and then a post office just before the right-hand turn onto a one-lane bridge. There had to be some overlooked landmark. Where are you, sweetie, Rosa would say at times like this, and he would realize he’d been standing at a window and hearing not a word she said about the new sofa slip cover. Where was he now? The signs, turn-offs, and deep green, late summer corn all looked pretty much the same. Who knew how long he’d driven or how far off the map he’d gone? Since breakfast, he had not been himself.

He remembered swallowing weak coffee and toast and how his jaw tightened as Rosa described tonight’s gathering in honor of Sam. She’d been planning it for weeks. You’ll see, she said. It would be a celebration of healing rather than of loss. There’d been an extra visit from the once-weekly cleaning lady. She’d bought sparkling juices for a toast. For appetizers, little cheese wedges wrapped in foil, olives neither of them much cared for, fresh bakery bread. It was time, she said, to move on.

Since before eight, he had moved east, past blue-green expanses of central Kentucky horse farms giving way to foothills. Barns advertising Mail Pouch Tobacco and family cemeteries lush with plastic roses abounded. Then there was parkway country and soon thereafter a town called Clay City and a diner for a bear claw and strong coffee. Only a few more miles from there and the parkway yielded to more stretches of road with passing lanes, more hills rising to small mountains, and then the mountain, that marked the entrance to Eastern Kentucky Proper. It rose, squat and deliberate, rock facings jutting and cedars reaching for a sky limited to his sight by other squat mountains soon to come. His heart tightened, beat faster, and his breath came quicker in the nearer proximity of country way too much like the hollows and mouths of hollows and heads of hollows that had long ago been his own home. And a couple of hours after that, a turnoff left him fumbling with his directions, looking for Inez.

You’re scared, Rosa had told him at breakfast. He did have more than his share of fears. Depths of water. Steep mountains. Today he wasn’t afraid of a thing. Today, something else gripped his heart, propelled him forward past mountain after mountain and sign after sign for little Eastern Kentucky towns. His heart beat and skipped and beat. After his stints in Vietnam, a whole slew of doctors had diagnosed everything from heart nodules to anxiety and counseled him to put his feet up, relax more. One of them even urged him to meditate. Today, he liked this feeling that carried him past town after town. He had exited the parkway a long while back and now houses dwindled in number, nothing but cornfields on one side of the road and fetid-stnelling river on the other. Happy. Feisty. Climax. He sped up with the cheerfulness of these names through a hole-in-the-road town called Radiant.

Usually he listened 10 tapes of show tunes or to stations playing country oldies. Trailers for sale or rent. Rooms to let fifty cents. Now he flipped through AM and FM, but he kept coming back to hypnotic sounds that put him in mind of belly dancers. In honor of a festival called The Harmonic Convergence, there were flutes, a keening stringed instrument, and a radio announcer offering insights. Follow the sounds of cosmic consciousness. Rhythms that vibrate to the sound of one universal mind. Sanderson supposed the music was meant to be religious in some way, but religion wasn’t right either, since that was hymnals and childhood prayers. Which was the one that always made him shiver? If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. The memory of that prayer and the music both recalled his anger and he flipped off the air conditioner, leaned out the open car window, inhaled the pungent air.

This many-years after his first wife’s death, words she loved came back to him. Pungent. Esoteric. Columns called “Enrich Your Vocabulary” and “The Power of Words” were her favorites and she had loved any and every dictionary. Visual ones. Foreign language ones. She consulted bulky desktop versions and pocket editions at odd moments on family outings. She’d give Sam the gift of a sentence. The pungent atmosphere left him feeling disconcerted. Pungent. Sanderson savored the word now.

He loosened his tie, found a new radio station, part static and part country. Hank Williams. Cause tonight I’m gonna see my caramio. Tonight he’d be home again, to fat new sofa pillows and exotic foods for a celebration.

Celebrate rather than mourn? His son, dead ten years. One-handed, he slid his tie off, tossed it into the back seat, set off down the road again. That door had been shut a long time ago and he wanted it to stay shut, ten years’ anniversary or not.

The first year Sam was reported missing at sea, Sanderson had felt numb. Numbness gave way to a grief that made him feel ashamed. Anger at no one in particular swirled in his heart. Rage gave way to uncertainty. He was perplexed when he studied his receding hairline in the bathroom mirror. He grew sideburns and a goatee and plucked gray hairs he’d never seen. He bought Grecian Formula, slimmer ties, and a cologne called Incognito. He took a night class or two, one in astronomy and another in poetry, and he wrote verse that his instructor said was sentimental. There were too many poems about butterflies, sunsets and love. He was never able to describe what he really meant—that image in his head of wings against a door, locked tight against something he didn’t want to name.

He bought a place in Kentucky, in the center of the state. Took a new job.

Repossession case manager. For the new house, he bought a gun case for the living room and stocked it with oiled rifles he never used. He took up golfing, a sport that had never much made sense to him, and he agreed to go on a number of blind dates arranged by his office coworkers. Shirley, a woman with nails bitten to the quick, phoned him three times after their Saturday afternoon coffee date, but he let the machine take the calls. There was Tiffany, who left salty-tasting blueberry pies on his desk at work, and Brenda, who talked him into attending a meeting the Fellowship of Christian Scientists. Lisa. Judy. Lee Ann.

Rosa, fifteen years his junior, worked at the real estate office. She had long red hair and she wore blouses buttoned to the neck, plastic glasses that hid her lovely green eyes. She was just separated when he asked her out for coffee, and he found himself telling her things he told no one—stories about Saigon, about hawkers’ stalls and rainforests, about the times he’d drunk rice whiskey and wished so badly for home he could taste it. He did what he never did, told her the names of three buddies of his who never came back from the war. TWO weeks later he met Rosa for lunch at the room she was renting in town. Unbutton your shirt, she said, and he’d never felt more at ease.

They married quickly, their wedding a small gathering in the home of Rosa’s former high-school principal. There was a three-tiered cake and there were gifts of small appliances Rosa substituted for the less reliable ones he still owned from his marriage to Sarah. Rosa adored him, told him tlus often, told him how he had rescued her from her former country store owner husband, for one. And since the marriage? The last four years had vanished. Evaporated into the atmosphere, Sam would have said. Dinner parties with friends. Country music concerts, of which Rosa was fond. “frips to shopping malls for china and the latest patterns of stainless steel. Vacations up north. Recently, she was on a course of self-improvement, working on everything from her vowels—the way she stretched out i and a with a question embedded at the end of every sentence—to her entertainment skills, to her consciousness, with the help of pop psychology books and a regular Tuesday-night meeting for couples called Energize the Inner You.

Emotional Wellness Encounters, they were called, led by a counselor named Harry Simon, a man with frizzy gray hair and sparkling dentures who spoke of inner peace and spousal communication skills as if they were on sale at a discount store. Harry Simon, as group mediator, kept saying, Let it go, let it go, but Sanderson couldn’t summon a particular time or place for it, though he was fairly certain what they wanted. Rosa wanted more than the war stories he’d told her. She wanted ones about explosions that could make the ground shake beneath your feet. Stories about gunfire and gaping wounds. Weren’t you afraid, Jason? she’d ask him in the encounter groups and he’d feel himself grow sullen in his wish to tell no story at all. Fear. Were there words for it, those times he’d felt fear settle under this tongue?

Jason Sanderson, his father used to say, make your bed. Make your bed and lie in it. He had made his bed by now, and he knew that.exactly, but he wanted some way for his name to be carried into the future. Rosa never exactly said no to this wish of his, but they had not discussed it either, not really. We all have our dreams, our should’ve, could’ve, don’t we, sweetie, she said and sighed and left a kiss in lipstick on his cheek, then busied herself with a handkerchief. By letting go, he knew Rosa meant more. His past. Wife. Son. And more than them, really. How to let go of a son he could on some days scarcely recall?

A place he went, a removal that frightened her. That was what Rosa wanted gone the most. Jason, she’d say when she’d find him sitting alone, staring out a window or at a blank, white wall. He found himself shaking off lethargy and he turned, as if from a great distance, met her smile. Then he felt it most. Vertigo. An enormous height, a precipice. A dizzying fear and afterward an anger so intense it made him sick inside. If he sat still, some days, he thought he might just be able to step closer to it, the vast distance he’d traveled from his own heart.

Signs for a sorghum festival littered the Main Street of Links. That street was just a post office, a five-and-dime, and a fruit stand. A general store promised a Grand Opening and Hot Lunch. He hadn’t eaten lunch yet and he could hear Rosa. You live on snack mix and nervous energy, Jason. Links was as good a place as any, so he drove the main street up and back looking for a place to get some coffee, and settled on a grocery store on the front steps of which sat a boy picking through a mess of weeds and greenish water in the bottom of a metal pan.

“That looks tasty, son,” Sanderson said as he paused on the steps.

“Sang,” the boy said.

“Pardon?”

“Sang, mister,” the boy repeated, gesturing impatiently toward his lap

“Ginseng.”

Sang. Ginseng. Sanderson turned those words over in his mouth.

“I don’t think I’d know ginseng if it bit me,” he said at last. He had a recollection of his grandmother and a trip to the woods to pick greens or to hunt up this and that herb. The boy plucked a gnarly root out the pan and cast it in the direction of his high-topped sneakers.

“Granny’s got me going through everything, just about,” the boy said. He plucked a tiny rock out of the pan, flicked it with thumb and forefinger. His hand had a tiny anchor tattooed on its back.

“She got anything to eat in there?” Sanderson asked as the boy set the pan aside and stretched his skinny, longish legs.

He followed Sanderson inside the store. Bolts of cloth and stray shoes and canning jar lids spilled from boxes here and there, and a woman crouched on her ankles near an open crate.

“Granny,” the boy said. “Beans cooked yet?” He nodded in Sanderson’s direction. “Customer’s here.”

The woman nodded as Sanderson made his way around the pile, and then she stood and gestured with one hand clutching a plastic baby doll.

“Pardon my housekeeping, mister,” she said, her voice a wind-piped whisper that made him want to clear his own throat. As she peered up and down at him, he wondered why he’d carried in his briefcase.

“Got enough stuff in here to clothe the hungry and feed the poor too, mister.” She tossed the doll into a box and nudged a heap of papers with one booted foot.

“That so?” Sanderson said as he eyed the store’s shelves, stocked with the basics, soups and toiletries and animal feed. The store had a grainy scent of feed, a bitter odor that stung the nose.

“My daddy run this store up to the day he died and I don’t reckon he ever throwed out nothing. ” She sighed and shook her head.

“You got a bite to eat around here?”

“Take my daddy, now, mister.” She wiped her hands on an apron marked with grease spots. “You sit right there and tell me if a man needs to keep ary old soap scrap and snake skin he ever come by.” She shook her head.

Across from the shelves were racks of items that must have been geared to tourists. Straw hats. Recycled Mason jars labeled Pickled People, which were small, decapitated heads with puckered faces, made of bits of cloth and cotton. Dried, weedy looking bundles were tacked to the tops of shelves or suspended from the store ceiling.

“Them’s my herbs, mister,” she said. She squinted and gazed up at the bundles. “Horsetail. Mullein.” She gestured toward the lower shelves. “And

I’ve got me a bunch of stuff laid up for this fall. Sang. Yaller root. ”

Sanderson glanced down at jars full of the gnarled roots the boy had been sorting through, and more. Bits of stalks and stems. Seedy looking pods. “Daddy’s the one,” she said, “taught me about healing. Ministering herbs.

Laying on hands, when the spirit took him.”

While she talked, Sanderson studied Granny’s powdery-looking face and lilac-colored cotton dress. He noted her anklets, ones neatly turned down above her shoes. She could have been his own grandmother.

“Not that I took natural to learning what Daddy had to teach me,” she said. “I was too fixed on running here and there and yonder. But he was a good man, my daddy. I’ll give him that one.” She sighed. “Raised six younguns,” she said.

Close to the shelves was a cheese and meat cooler, a counter with a crock pot advertising beans and cornbread and, Sanderson was relieved to see, a 110t dog warmer. He pried a charred-looking wiener off when it came around on one of the revolving prongs, piled on mustard and relish and onions from canning jars marked necessaries. The coffee was instant, and he dumped in llwee packets of sweetener.

your ear?” Ille hoy asked. He’d followed Sanderson back out onto the porch, where he stood eating and looking at the empty parking lot and the tail end of Main Street.

The boy was also eating a hot dog and the two of them regarded Sanderson’s car, a black Pontiac with white wall tires and a license plate with the last name of a famous auto racer, one of Rosa’s idols.

“You know the horsepower on that thing?”

Sanderson had to think a minute, and realized he had no idea. He mumbled something about a V-8 engine, and munched his hot dog.

“How fast have you taken her?”

Sanderson, who used cruise control and had not driven without a seat belt nor played chicken with a road sign in about a million years said, “Oh, hundred, or thereabout. ”

“You ever ride anybody in that car?” the boy asked.

“My wife,” Sanderson answered.

The boy licked mustard from his fingers. “She like cars?”

“Well enough.”

“Enough ain’t enough for a ride like that, mister.”

“That right?”

“I can think of a bunch of folks could admire that car. ”

“I’ll bet you could think of a person or two.” Sanderson swallowed his hot dog.

It was well after noon by now, a heavy-looking midday. Sanderson checked his watch and stood, studying boy and car. Like Sam at that age, he was half boy and half on his way to being a man. Unlike Sam, he was dark-skinned, with blue-black hair. Fifties style, he wore his tee shirt sleeves rolled, with a pack of Marlboros stuck there. Too young to smoke, Sanderson mused.

The boy recited information about torques and engine types and drive trains, and the future glowed in his eyes—a shop all his own as an add-on to the store.

“If I’d had a car like that I could have gotten over there that quick. ” He snapped his fingers.

Sanderson wadded up the hot dog wrapping paper and made a move toward the porch steps.

“Over where?” Sanderson asked, pausing midstep.

Granny wedged open the store’s screen door with one booted foot, gazed up at the sky. “My daddy always said a sky like that one there’s a sign. ”

“Sign of what?” Sanderson swallowed, once and twice. The hot dog taste was still in his mouth, charred and gritty and he began to feel unaccountably tense.

She leaned close, her scent sweet, like pouch tobacco. “Don’t you know nothing, mister?” She elbowed him.

The air now seemed to have a burning scent and he took out his handkerchief, blew his nose. “I used to know a little,” he said at last. “About signs. ”

“Smoke’s a sign of trouble or the Lord, one,” Granny said as she pointed up at wisps of grayish clouds traveling west, the way he’d come this morning.

With a sinking feeling, Sanderson peered up at the whitish sky.

“Most of it’s settled from over that way, besides,” she said and elbowed him a final time.

“Over where?” he asked again as the three of them studied the haze. A heavy feeling had begun to accumulate in his chest and he fumbled in his pockets for tablets to settle his stomach.

“Over to the Motel,” the boy said. “Over to Inez where they’re at. Mama and them. ”

“The Motel?” Sanderson asked and he paused at his car door. “Which one would that be, son?”

Karen Salyer McElmurray

“How many do you reckon there are in Inez, mister?” the boy said, looking indignant. He pulled the cigarette pack from his sleeve.

“What happened over there, son?” Sanderson asked, dreading the answer. The taste in his mouth had coincided now with the smoke-laced sky.

The three of them regarded that sky and the woman pointed down the road in the direction he still needed to go.

As he pulled the car back onto the road, he could hear Rosa. Don’t you just find people tike that a comfort? The very thought made him sad. Safety? Comfort? His first wife, Sarah, filled their house with a variety of items in which she took comfort. Incense cones and burners. Prayer wheels. Candles to invoke safe spirits. At the same time she teased him about wanting the whole world to be safe, from his sock drawer to the details of the morning news. Safety, Sarah would say. Don’t you know that’s a relative term? And now Rosa, his second wife, had joined one self-help group after another, ones that promised safety for the inner child and renewed interrelational-communication skills. Their house was littered with things she called “old-timey.” One whole den wall was devoted to a display of washboards and band saws and signs for Martha White Flour or Bunny: The Best in Bread. Don’t you take comfort in your heritage, she asked him when he suggested that there were too many things, too much nostalgia.

His grandfather had been a First Baptist Church of the Redeemed Soul preacher, and Sanderson’s earliest memories were of Saturday nights and come-to-Jesus sermons followed by dinners on the ground. The healing in his family wasn’t the kind with herbs or divining rods, but, on occasion, his grandfather’s rough-palmed hands touched souls. He remembered those

hands. Gripping his chin, tilting his head to the sky. Listen, boy. Listen to your maker. And he had. During those Saturday night services he saw everything

 

To heal himself after Sarah died, he moved with Sam from the mountains of western North Carolina to central Kentucky where he became regional officer for his repossession company. Regional Repo Man, Sam had called him, which left Sanderson with an image of himself in a super hero costume, defending his office against nonpayment and bad credit. Once Sam was gone and once he married Rosa and they bought a house in a gated community. To get home, he passed through a raised bar and a security guard who nodded to him each and every evening. Mr. Sanderson.

How much more safe, Rosa wanted to know, could their lives be? Gated. Sanderson could almost hear Sam. Facsimile. Pretend country living. As much time as Sanderson had spent trying to batten down the hatches in his life, Sam had been the opposite. Sam. The exact opposite of that word. Safe.

Sam. Sarah. Rosa, her pronouncements about heritage, about healing and moving on. He wondered whether strong, dry hands, his grandfather’s or anyone else’s, might have, could have, pulled his son up from the waves of the ocean that took him. No one really had the power to heal, no less comfort anyone in this world. He drove on, approaching at last The Motel of the Stars under a sky that was, sure enough, thick with smoke.

He passed the Inez diner and then a hardware store and a trailer park. He loved reading the new directions the boy and his grandmother had given him, drove until he saw the Church of the Repentant, his new landmark. He the last sharp curve and had to slow down, back into a driveway, turn I passed the last five mailhoxes, rechecked his directions.

There’d been a fire the night before, all right. What was left of the motel looked careless and abandoned. He sighed and picked up his briefcase and stepped out of the car. Glass from broken windows crunched under his feet as he approached the side yard where there were the odds and ends of everything heaved out at the last second. A dresser with the drawers gone was upended near a metal foot locker; a plastic child’s tractor trailer was melted and shapeless and lay next to what was left of a wooden-framed photograph of a dog. Now, only the last walls of the building itself were standing, and those were a charred substructure held together by pipes and thick, blackened wires. He could have found his way to Inez by smoke-scent alone.

He followed a path littered with before-the-fire cans and bottles that led behind the house. That’s where the people were, less than a dozen of them, seated around the base of a huge willow tree, its trailing fronds singed. A worried-looking woman with foam curlers didn’t meet his eyes. Near her was a younger woman in jeans and cowboy boots, and beside her an old man in a wrinkled wool suit jacket was crouching on his ankles, stirring ashes and dirt. He took his place at the edge of this group.

“Authorities been here yet?” he asked in the general direction of the old man, but no one spoke. He wiped his sooty hands against his trousers and stood, waiting. Already he could envision the investigation he’d have to conduct. Already he suspected arson and he thought of the forms he’d have to fill out, his own possible accountability. Didn’t you have an inkling? Not a clue about these people? He could hear the bank manager now.

Then he heard the voices. Singing, from a rise near the smoldering foundations of the house. He stared in that direction, where there were two little girls. They wore cotton checked dresses, sneakers with the toes cut away, and their joined hands were lifted high as they danced in the grass. Pocket full of posies, the girls sang as they spun. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

From not too far away, someone called to the children. Don’t you all hear me? Get on home. The girls laughed and whispered and hurried up a rise and their laughter died away in the distance. Sanderson set his briefcase down in the grass and approached the chair.

It was metal, its green paint scorched and peeling, and it held a woman, knees in her arms, head resting on her knees, a glimpse of her face the only thing visible from the folds of a blanket covering her. He felt as if he was spying upon a private intimacy, but he looked down into this face, which was shiny with sweat in the hot sun. She reminded him of photographs of Middle

Eastern women covered by impenetrable veils, but more than that. The small pale and sooty face with its shut eyes, was both familiar and disconcerting.

She seemed to be sleeping.

“His girl,” someone said behind him.

“Pardon?” Sanderson asked. The old man with the wool jacket motioned to him. They walked several feet away from the chair, in the direction of the lemains of the house.

“The daughter,” the old man whispered. “Leastways his step-girl, her he had to deal with, once the mother took off. Back six years and more. ”

“What’s her name?” Sanderson studied the huddled figure. Beneath the edges of the blanket, he could see bare feet and polished toenails.

“Lory,” the old man answered. “She’s about as odd-turned as he is, I’d say. ” “Where’s he at?” Sanderson gripped his briefcase, thinking of the coming encounter with Frank Llewellyn, the questions about how the fire had started, insurance premiums, responsible parties. Sanderson’s head swam with red tape it would take months to figure out.

Sanderson straightened his tie, remembering the recent acquisition of the storage building and repair place.

“I came on business, you know,” he said.

He studied the woman and the chair again as she shifted. The sight of her face, so incredibly still, tugged at him.

“Least he kept a clean room and she kept the books or something, upstairs where she stayed,” the old man said. “Place did better than some of us expected. ”

“It’s a shame it didn’t do as well as the rest of us would have wanted,” Sanderson said, and then was sorry for it. If he hadn’t known better, he would have said the woman was peaceful, except for the deep lines etched beside her mouth.

“Sometimes you just have to leave a body be,” the old man said, as if Sanderson hadn’t spoken. He bent, fished a broken cup handle out of the grass. “Before it was a motel, son, that was a house. Not much of one, but it was there almost a hundred years. ”

They both stood looking in the direction of the woman. She was so still Sanderson could see the blanket rise and fall with her breath and he found himself breathing that way too, in time with the rise and fall of her chest. His own chest, to his amazement, felt calmer than it had all day. He stepped back from the chair, breathed deeply. On the table near the woman was an open dictionary, hardbacked and heavy, a random save from the fire. Its pages rustled in the wind and he wondered what page the wind would settle with, what word.

As Jason Sanderson drove the hours east for another foreclosure, he followed signs and directions for only so long. Then he pulled over to listen to cicadas and distant afternoon thunder. He stood in the summer grass, the Joe Pye weeds, tall and purple-blossomed, and remembered himself as a boy, fields where he’d slipped from church with the rest of them to smoke cigarettes and to sip stolen medicinal whiskey. He took in the scents of late August, too sweet wild roses and the pitch-tar smell of coal, and he inexplicably remembered other times. Thirty-some years ago. Saigon. The slick scent of gun oil. The garlic and hard candy taste of some girl’s mouth. He stood in the quiet of strange roadsides and the past was more real to him than now.

He was good at what he did—a job in foreclosures in the eastern part of Kentucky. He began his phone calls to potential clients with questions about the weather and family, or with jokes that Rosa said were over the top. What did the Dalai Lama say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything.

And when it came down to it, to home visits and demands, he hesitated. He knocked respectfully, pretended he was on a social call and accepted cups of coffee meant as last-minute stalling measures before the signed and dated documents were produced.

Today’s foreclosure was for a motel with a name that sounded like Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra. The Motel of the Stars. The folder the general nanager laid on his desk some time back was crammed with more photocopies concerning that motel than he could have counted. Purchase orders and bills. Copies of overdue notices and notices of bank reclamation followed copies of threatening letters from lawyers, then notices from the credit bureau. Numerous calls to the owner of the motel, Frank Llewellyn, went unanswered. He had spoken once to a soft-voiced woman who had promised to send back payment, which had failed to materialize. The Motel of the Stars. Even with mirrored ceilings and magic-finger beds, the motel could not be saved.

He was supposed to know he was nearing Inez when he saw a store with a soda cooler out front here, a gas pump there. He was to see a sign for a coal refinery called Estep’s and then a field cleared for a tent revival meeting. His general manager, who had the fervor of a televangelist and an obsession with stock market indexes, had especially pointed out the revival meeting. They don’t make them like that any more. A preacher who knows how to shake and rattle and roll. They can heal you, son. He gripped the steering wheel as he pulled onto the road again, still studying the manager’s hand-drawn directions.

At a crossroads about an hour back, there was to have been a yellow trailer and then a post office just before the right-hand turn onto a one-lane bridge. There had to be some overlooked landmark. Where are you, sweetie, Rosa would say at times like this, and he would realize he’d been standing at a window and hearing not a word she said about the new sofa slip cover. Where was he now? The signs, turn-offs, and deep green, late summer corn all looked pretty much the same. Who knew how long he’d driven or how far off the map he’d gone? Since breakfast, he had not been himself.

He remembered swallowing weak coffee and toast and how his jaw tightened as Rosa described tonight’s gathering in honor of Sam. She’d been planning it for weeks. You’ll see, she said. It would be a celebration of healing rather than of loss. There’d been an extra visit from the once-weekly cleaning lady. She’d bought sparkling juices for a toast. For appetizers, little cheese wedges wrapped in foil, olives neither of them much cared for, fresh bakery bread. It was time, she said, to move on.

Since before eight, he had moved east, past blue-green expanses of central Kentucky horse farms giving way to foothills. Barns advertising Mail Pouch Tobacco and family cemeteries lush with plastic roses abounded. Then there was parkway country and soon thereafter a town called Clay City and a diner for a bear claw and strong coffee. Only a few more miles from there and the parkway yielded to more stretches of road with passing lanes, more hills rising to small mountains, and then the mountain, that marked the entrance to Eastern Kentucky Proper. It rose, squat and deliberate, rock facings jutting and cedars reaching for a sky limited to his sight by other squat mountains soon to come. His heart tightened, beat faster, and his breath came quicker in the nearer proximity of country way too much like the hollows and mouths of hollows and heads of hollows that had long ago been his own home. And a couple of hours after that, a turnoff left him fumbling with his directions, looking for Inez.

You’re scared, Rosa had told him at breakfast. He did have more than his share of fears. Depths of water. Steep mountains. Today he wasn’t afraid of a thing. Today, something else gripped his heart, propelled him forward past mountain after mountain and sign after sign for little Eastern Kentucky towns. His heart beat and skipped and beat. After his stints in Vietnam, a whole slew of doctors had diagnosed everything from heart nodules to anxiety and counseled him to put his feet up, relax more. One of them even urged him to meditate. Today, he liked this feeling that carried him past town after town. He had exited the parkway a long while back and now houses dwindled in number, nothing but cornfields on one side of the road and fetid-stnelling river on the other. Happy. Feisty. Climax. He sped up with the cheerfulness of these names through a hole-in-the-road town called Radiant.

Usually he listened 10 tapes of show tunes or to stations playing country oldies. Trailers for sale or rent. Rooms to let fifty cents. Now he flipped through AM and FM, but he kept coming back to hypnotic sounds that put him in mind of belly dancers. In honor of a festival called The Harmonic Convergence, there were flutes, a keening stringed instrument, and a radio announcer offering insights. Follow the sounds of cosmic consciousness. Rhythms that vibrate to the sound of one universal mind. Sanderson supposed the music was meant to be religious in some way, but religion wasn’t right either, since that was hymnals and childhood prayers. Which was the one that always made him shiver? If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. The memory of that prayer and the music both recalled his anger and he flipped off the air conditioner, leaned out the open car window, inhaled the pungent air.

This many-years after his first wife’s death, words she loved came back to him. Pungent. Esoteric. Columns called “Enrich Your Vocabulary” and “The Power of Words” were her favorites and she had loved any and every dictionary. Visual ones. Foreign language ones. She consulted bulky desktop versions and pocket editions at odd moments on family outings. She’d give Sam the gift of a sentence. The pungent atmosphere left him feeling disconcerted. Pungent. Sanderson savored the word now.

He loosened his tie, found a new radio station, part static and part country. Hank Williams. Cause tonight I’m gonna see my caramio. Tonight he’d be home again, to fat new sofa pillows and exotic foods for a celebration.

Celebrate rather than mourn? His son, dead ten years. One-handed, he slid his tie off, tossed it into the back seat, set off down the road again. That door had been shut a long time ago and he wanted it to stay shut, ten years’ anniversary or not.

The first year Sam was reported missing at sea, Sanderson had felt numb. Numbness gave way to a grief that made him feel ashamed. Anger at no one in particular swirled in his heart. Rage gave way to uncertainty. He was perplexed when he studied his receding hairline in the bathroom mirror. He grew sideburns and a goatee and plucked gray hairs he’d never seen. He bought Grecian Formula, slimmer ties, and a cologne called Incognito. He took a night class or two, one in astronomy and another in poetry, and he wrote verse that his instructor said was sentimental. There were too many poems about butterflies, sunsets and love. He was never able to describe what he really meant—that image in his head of wings against a door, locked tight against something he didn’t want to name.

He bought a place in Kentucky, in the center of the state. Took a new job.

Repossession case manager. For the new house, he bought a gun case for the living room and stocked it with oiled rifles he never used. He took up golfing, a sport that had never much made sense to him, and he agreed to go on a number of blind dates arranged by his office coworkers. Shirley, a woman with nails bitten to the quick, phoned him three times after their Saturday afternoon coffee date, but he let the machine take the calls. There was Tiffany, who left salty-tasting blueberry pies on his desk at work, and Brenda, who talked him into attending a meeting the Fellowship of Christian Scientists. Lisa. Judy. Lee Ann.

Rosa, fifteen years his junior, worked at the real estate office. She had long red hair and she wore blouses buttoned to the neck, plastic glasses that hid her lovely green eyes. She was just separated when he asked her out for coffee, and he found himself telling her things he told no one—stories about Saigon, about hawkers’ stalls and rainforests, about the times he’d drunk rice whiskey and wished so badly for home he could taste it. He did what he never did, told her the names of three buddies of his who never came back from the war. TWO weeks later he met Rosa for lunch at the room she was renting in town. Unbutton your shirt, she said, and he’d never felt more at ease.

They married quickly, their wedding a small gathering in the home of Rosa’s former high-school principal. There was a three-tiered cake and there were gifts of small appliances Rosa substituted for the less reliable ones he still owned from his marriage to Sarah. Rosa adored him, told him tlus often, told him how he had rescued her from her former country store owner husband, for one. And since the marriage? The last four years had vanished. Evaporated into the atmosphere, Sam would have said. Dinner parties with friends. Country music concerts, of which Rosa was fond. “frips to shopping malls for china and the latest patterns of stainless steel. Vacations up north. Recently, she was on a course of self-improvement, working on everything from her vowels—the way she stretched out i and a with a question embedded at the end of every sentence—to her entertainment skills, to her consciousness, with the help of pop psychology books and a regular Tuesday-night meeting for couples called Energize the Inner You.

Emotional Wellness Encounters, they were called, led by a counselor named Harry Simon, a man with frizzy gray hair and sparkling dentures who spoke of inner peace and spousal communication skills as if they were on sale at a discount store. Harry Simon, as group mediator, kept saying, Let it go, let it go, but Sanderson couldn’t summon a particular time or place for it, though he was fairly certain what they wanted. Rosa wanted more than the war stories he’d told her. She wanted ones about explosions that could make the ground shake beneath your feet. Stories about gunfire and gaping wounds. Weren’t you afraid, Jason? she’d ask him in the encounter groups and he’d feel himself grow sullen in his wish to tell no story at all. Fear. Were there words for it, those times he’d felt fear settle under this tongue?

Jason Sanderson, his father used to say, make your bed. Make your bed and lie in it. He had made his bed by now, and he knew that.exactly, but he wanted some way for his name to be carried into the future. Rosa never exactly said no to this wish of his, but they had not discussed it either, not really. We all have our dreams, our should’ve, could’ve, don’t we, sweetie, she said and sighed and left a kiss in lipstick on his cheek, then busied herself with a handkerchief. By letting go, he knew Rosa meant more. His past. Wife. Son. And more than them, really. How to let go of a son he could on some days scarcely recall?

A place he went, a removal that frightened her. That was what Rosa wanted gone the most. Jason, she’d say when she’d find him sitting alone, staring out a window or at a blank, white wall. He found himself shaking off lethargy and he turned, as if from a great distance, met her smile. Then he felt it most. Vertigo. An enormous height, a precipice. A dizzying fear and afterward an anger so intense it made him sick inside. If he sat still, some days, he thought he might just be able to step closer to it, the vast distance he’d traveled from his own heart.

Signs for a sorghum festival littered the Main Street of Links. That street was just a post office, a five-and-dime, and a fruit stand. A general store promised a Grand Opening and Hot Lunch. He hadn’t eaten lunch yet and he could hear Rosa. You live on snack mix and nervous energy, Jason. Links was as good a place as any, so he drove the main street up and back looking for a place to get some coffee, and settled on a grocery store on the front steps of which sat a boy picking through a mess of weeds and greenish water in the bottom of a metal pan.

“That looks tasty, son,” Sanderson said as he paused on the steps.

“Sang,” the boy said.

“Pardon?”

“Sang, mister,” the boy repeated, gesturing impatiently toward his lap

“Ginseng.”

Sang. Ginseng. Sanderson turned those words over in his mouth.

“I don’t think I’d know ginseng if it bit me,” he said at last. He had a recollection of his grandmother and a trip to the woods to pick greens or to hunt up this and that herb. The boy plucked a gnarly root out the pan and cast it in the direction of his high-topped sneakers.

“Granny’s got me going through everything, just about,” the boy said. He plucked a tiny rock out of the pan, flicked it with thumb and forefinger. His hand had a tiny anchor tattooed on its back.

“She got anything to eat in there?” Sanderson asked as the boy set the pan aside and stretched his skinny, longish legs.

He followed Sanderson inside the store. Bolts of cloth and stray shoes and canning jar lids spilled from boxes here and there, and a woman crouched on her ankles near an open crate.

“Granny,” the boy said. “Beans cooked yet?” He nodded in Sanderson’s direction. “Customer’s here.”

The woman nodded as Sanderson made his way around the pile, and then she stood and gestured with one hand clutching a plastic baby doll.

“Pardon my housekeeping, mister,” she said, her voice a wind-piped whisper that made him want to clear his own throat. As she peered up and down at him, he wondered why he’d carried in his briefcase.

“Got enough stuff in here to clothe the hungry and feed the poor too, mister.” She tossed the doll into a box and nudged a heap of papers with one booted foot.

“That so?” Sanderson said as he eyed the store’s shelves, stocked with the basics, soups and toiletries and animal feed. The store had a grainy scent of feed, a bitter odor that stung the nose.

“My daddy run this store up to the day he died and I don’t reckon he ever throwed out nothing. ” She sighed and shook her head.

“You got a bite to eat around here?”

“Take my daddy, now, mister.” She wiped her hands on an apron marked with grease spots. “You sit right there and tell me if a man needs to keep ary old soap scrap and snake skin he ever come by.” She shook her head.

Across from the shelves were racks of items that must have been geared to tourists. Straw hats. Recycled Mason jars labeled Pickled People, which were small, decapitated heads with puckered faces, made of bits of cloth and cotton. Dried, weedy looking bundles were tacked to the tops of shelves or suspended from the store ceiling.

“Them’s my herbs, mister,” she said. She squinted and gazed up at the bundles. “Horsetail. Mullein.” She gestured toward the lower shelves. “And

I’ve got me a bunch of stuff laid up for this fall. Sang. Yaller root. ”

Sanderson glanced down at jars full of the gnarled roots the boy had been sorting through, and more. Bits of stalks and stems. Seedy looking pods. “Daddy’s the one,” she said, “taught me about healing. Ministering herbs.

Laying on hands, when the spirit took him.”

While she talked, Sanderson studied Granny’s powdery-looking face and lilac-colored cotton dress. He noted her anklets, ones neatly turned down above her shoes. She could have been his own grandmother.

“Not that I took natural to learning what Daddy had to teach me,” she said. “I was too fixed on running here and there and yonder. But he was a good man, my daddy. I’ll give him that one.” She sighed. “Raised six younguns,” she said.

Close to the shelves was a cheese and meat cooler, a counter with a crock pot advertising beans and cornbread and, Sanderson was relieved to see, a 110t dog warmer. He pried a charred-looking wiener off when it came around on one of the revolving prongs, piled on mustard and relish and onions from canning jars marked necessaries. The coffee was instant, and he dumped in llwee packets of sweetener.

your ear?” Ille hoy asked. He’d followed Sanderson back out onto the porch, where he stood eating and looking at the empty parking lot and the tail end of Main Street.

The boy was also eating a hot dog and the two of them regarded Sanderson’s car, a black Pontiac with white wall tires and a license plate with the last name of a famous auto racer, one of Rosa’s idols.

“You know the horsepower on that thing?”

Sanderson had to think a minute, and realized he had no idea. He mumbled something about a V-8 engine, and munched his hot dog.

“How fast have you taken her?”

Sanderson, who used cruise control and had not driven without a seat belt nor played chicken with a road sign in about a million years said, “Oh, hundred, or thereabout. ”

“You ever ride anybody in that car?” the boy asked.

“My wife,” Sanderson answered.

The boy licked mustard from his fingers. “She like cars?”

“Well enough.”

“Enough ain’t enough for a ride like that, mister.”

“That right?”

“I can think of a bunch of folks could admire that car. ”

“I’ll bet you could think of a person or two.” Sanderson swallowed his hot dog.

It was well after noon by now, a heavy-looking midday. Sanderson checked his watch and stood, studying boy and car. Like Sam at that age, he was half boy and half on his way to being a man. Unlike Sam, he was dark-skinned, with blue-black hair. Fifties style, he wore his tee shirt sleeves rolled, with a pack of Marlboros stuck there. Too young to smoke, Sanderson mused.

The boy recited information about torques and engine types and drive trains, and the future glowed in his eyes—a shop all his own as an add-on to the store.

“If I’d had a car like that I could have gotten over there that quick. ” He snapped his fingers.

Sanderson wadded up the hot dog wrapping paper and made a move toward the porch steps.

“Over where?” Sanderson asked, pausing midstep.

Granny wedged open the store’s screen door with one booted foot, gazed up at the sky. “My daddy always said a sky like that one there’s a sign. ”

“Sign of what?” Sanderson swallowed, once and twice. The hot dog taste was still in his mouth, charred and gritty and he began to feel unaccountably tense.

She leaned close, her scent sweet, like pouch tobacco. “Don’t you know nothing, mister?” She elbowed him.

The air now seemed to have a burning scent and he took out his handkerchief, blew his nose. “I used to know a little,” he said at last. “About signs. ”

“Smoke’s a sign of trouble or the Lord, one,” Granny said as she pointed up at wisps of grayish clouds traveling west, the way he’d come this morning.

With a sinking feeling, Sanderson peered up at the whitish sky.

“Most of it’s settled from over that way, besides,” she said and elbowed him a final time.

“Over where?” he asked again as the three of them studied the haze. A heavy feeling had begun to accumulate in his chest and he fumbled in his pockets for tablets to settle his stomach.

“Over to the Motel,” the boy said. “Over to Inez where they’re at. Mama and them. ”

“The Motel?” Sanderson asked and he paused at his car door. “Which one would that be, son?”

Karen Salyer McElmurray

“How many do you reckon there are in Inez, mister?” the boy said, looking indignant. He pulled the cigarette pack from his sleeve.

“What happened over there, son?” Sanderson asked, dreading the answer. The taste in his mouth had coincided now with the smoke-laced sky.

The three of them regarded that sky and the woman pointed down the road in the direction he still needed to go.

As he pulled the car back onto the road, he could hear Rosa. Don’t you just find people tike that a comfort? The very thought made him sad. Safety? Comfort? His first wife, Sarah, filled their house with a variety of items in which she took comfort. Incense cones and burners. Prayer wheels. Candles to invoke safe spirits. At the same time she teased him about wanting the whole world to be safe, from his sock drawer to the details of the morning news. Safety, Sarah would say. Don’t you know that’s a relative term? And now Rosa, his second wife, had joined one self-help group after another, ones that promised safety for the inner child and renewed interrelational-communication skills. Their house was littered with things she called “old-timey.” One whole den wall was devoted to a display of washboards and band saws and signs for Martha White Flour or Bunny: The Best in Bread. Don’t you take comfort in your heritage, she asked him when he suggested that there were too many things, too much nostalgia.

His grandfather had been a First Baptist Church of the Redeemed Soul preacher, and Sanderson’s earliest memories were of Saturday nights and come-to-Jesus sermons followed by dinners on the ground. The healing in his family wasn’t the kind with herbs or divining rods, but, on occasion, his grandfather’s rough-palmed hands touched souls. He remembered those

hands. Gripping his chin, tilting his head to the sky. Listen, boy. Listen to your maker. And he had. During those Saturday night services he saw everything

 

To heal himself after Sarah died, he moved with Sam from the mountains of western North Carolina to central Kentucky where he became regional officer for his repossession company. Regional Repo Man, Sam had called him, which left Sanderson with an image of himself in a super hero costume, defending his office against nonpayment and bad credit. Once Sam was gone and once he married Rosa and they bought a house in a gated community. To get home, he passed through a raised bar and a security guard who nodded to him each and every evening. Mr. Sanderson.

How much more safe, Rosa wanted to know, could their lives be? Gated. Sanderson could almost hear Sam. Facsimile. Pretend country living. As much time as Sanderson had spent trying to batten down the hatches in his life, Sam had been the opposite. Sam. The exact opposite of that word. Safe.

Sam. Sarah. Rosa, her pronouncements about heritage, about healing and moving on. He wondered whether strong, dry hands, his grandfather’s or anyone else’s, might have, could have, pulled his son up from the waves of the ocean that took him. No one really had the power to heal, no less comfort anyone in this world. He drove on, approaching at last The Motel of the Stars under a sky that was, sure enough, thick with smoke.

He passed the Inez diner and then a hardware store and a trailer park. He loved reading the new directions the boy and his grandmother had given him, drove until he saw the Church of the Repentant, his new landmark. He the last sharp curve and had to slow down, back into a driveway, turn I passed the last five mailhoxes, rechecked his directions.

There’d been a fire the night before, all right. What was left of the motel looked careless and abandoned. He sighed and picked up his briefcase and stepped out of the car. Glass from broken windows crunched under his feet as he approached the side yard where there were the odds and ends of everything heaved out at the last second. A dresser with the drawers gone was upended near a metal foot locker; a plastic child’s tractor trailer was melted and shapeless and lay next to what was left of a wooden-framed photograph of a dog. Now, only the last walls of the building itself were standing, and those were a charred substructure held together by pipes and thick, blackened wires. He could have found his way to Inez by smoke-scent alone.

He followed a path littered with before-the-fire cans and bottles that led behind the house. That’s where the people were, less than a dozen of them, seated around the base of a huge willow tree, its trailing fronds singed. A worried-looking woman with foam curlers didn’t meet his eyes. Near her was a younger woman in jeans and cowboy boots, and beside her an old man in a wrinkled wool suit jacket was crouching on his ankles, stirring ashes and dirt. He took his place at the edge of this group.

“Authorities been here yet?” he asked in the general direction of the old man, but no one spoke. He wiped his sooty hands against his trousers and stood, waiting. Already he could envision the investigation he’d have to conduct. Already he suspected arson and he thought of the forms he’d have to fill out, his own possible accountability. Didn’t you have an inkling? Not a clue about these people? He could hear the bank manager now.

Then he heard the voices. Singing, from a rise near the smoldering foundations of the house. He stared in that direction, where there were two little girls. They wore cotton checked dresses, sneakers with the toes cut away, and their joined hands were lifted high as they danced in the grass. Pocket full of posies, the girls sang as they spun. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

From not too far away, someone called to the children. Don’t you all hear me? Get on home. The girls laughed and whispered and hurried up a rise and their laughter died away in the distance. Sanderson set his briefcase down in the grass and approached the chair.

It was metal, its green paint scorched and peeling, and it held a woman, knees in her arms, head resting on her knees, a glimpse of her face the only thing visible from the folds of a blanket covering her. He felt as if he was spying upon a private intimacy, but he looked down into this face, which was shiny with sweat in the hot sun. She reminded him of photographs of Middle

Eastern women covered by impenetrable veils, but more than that. The small pale and sooty face with its shut eyes, was both familiar and disconcerting.

She seemed to be sleeping.

“His girl,” someone said behind him.

“Pardon?” Sanderson asked. The old man with the wool jacket motioned to him. They walked several feet away from the chair, in the direction of the lemains of the house.

“The daughter,” the old man whispered. “Leastways his step-girl, her he had to deal with, once the mother took off. Back six years and more. ”

“What’s her name?” Sanderson studied the huddled figure. Beneath the edges of the blanket, he could see bare feet and polished toenails.

“Lory,” the old man answered. “She’s about as odd-turned as he is, I’d say. ” “Where’s he at?” Sanderson gripped his briefcase, thinking of the coming encounter with Frank Llewellyn, the questions about how the fire had started, insurance premiums, responsible parties. Sanderson’s head swam with red tape it would take months to figure out.

Sanderson straightened his tie, remembering the recent acquisition of the storage building and repair place.

“I came on business, you know,” he said.

He studied the woman and the chair again as she shifted. The sight of her face, so incredibly still, tugged at him.

“Least he kept a clean room and she kept the books or something, upstairs where she stayed,” the old man said. “Place did better than some of us expected. ”

“It’s a shame it didn’t do as well as the rest of us would have wanted,” Sanderson said, and then was sorry for it. If he hadn’t known better, he would have said the woman was peaceful, except for the deep lines etched beside her mouth.

“Sometimes you just have to leave a body be,” the old man said, as if Sanderson hadn’t spoken. He bent, fished a broken cup handle out of the grass. “Before it was a motel, son, that was a house. Not much of one, but it was there almost a hundred years. ”

They both stood looking in the direction of the woman. She was so still Sanderson could see the blanket rise and fall with her breath and he found himself breathing that way too, in time with the rise and fall of her chest. His own chest, to his amazement, felt calmer than it had all day. He stepped back from the chair, breathed deeply. On the table near the woman was an open dictionary, hardbacked and heavy, a random save from the fire. Its pages rustled in the wind and he wondered what page the wind would settle with, what word.

As Jason Sanderson drove the hours east for another foreclosure, he followed signs and directions for only so long. Then he pulled over to listen to cicadas and distant afternoon thunder. He stood in the summer grass, the Joe Pye weeds, tall and purple-blossomed, and remembered himself as a boy, fields where he’d slipped from church with the rest of them to smoke cigarettes and to sip stolen medicinal whiskey. He took in the scents of late August, too sweet wild roses and the pitch-tar smell of coal, and he inexplicably remembered other times. Thirty-some years ago. Saigon. The slick scent of gun oil. The garlic and hard candy taste of some girl’s mouth. He stood in the quiet of strange roadsides and the past was more real to him than now.

He was good at what he did—a job in foreclosures in the eastern part of Kentucky. He began his phone calls to potential clients with questions about the weather and family, or with jokes that Rosa said were over the top. What did the Dalai Lama say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything.

And when it came down to it, to home visits and demands, he hesitated. He knocked respectfully, pretended he was on a social call and accepted cups of coffee meant as last-minute stalling measures before the signed and dated documents were produced.

Today’s foreclosure was for a motel with a name that sounded like Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra. The Motel of the Stars. The folder the general nanager laid on his desk some time back was crammed with more photocopies concerning that motel than he could have counted. Purchase orders and bills. Copies of overdue notices and notices of bank reclamation followed copies of threatening letters from lawyers, then notices from the credit bureau. Numerous calls to the owner of the motel, Frank Llewellyn, went unanswered. He had spoken once to a soft-voiced woman who had promised to send back payment, which had failed to materialize. The Motel of the Stars. Even with mirrored ceilings and magic-finger beds, the motel could not be saved.

He was supposed to know he was nearing Inez when he saw a store with a soda cooler out front here, a gas pump there. He was to see a sign for a coal refinery called Estep’s and then a field cleared for a tent revival meeting. His general manager, who had the fervor of a televangelist and an obsession with stock market indexes, had especially pointed out the revival meeting. They don’t make them like that any more. A preacher who knows how to shake and rattle and roll. They can heal you, son. He gripped the steering wheel as he pulled onto the road again, still studying the manager’s hand-drawn directions.

At a crossroads about an hour back, there was to have been a yellow trailer and then a post office just before the right-hand turn onto a one-lane bridge. There had to be some overlooked landmark. Where are you, sweetie, Rosa would say at times like this, and he would realize he’d been standing at a window and hearing not a word she said about the new sofa slip cover. Where was he now? The signs, turn-offs, and deep green, late summer corn all looked pretty much the same. Who knew how long he’d driven or how far off the map he’d gone? Since breakfast, he had not been himself.

He remembered swallowing weak coffee and toast and how his jaw tightened as Rosa described tonight’s gathering in honor of Sam. She’d been planning it for weeks. You’ll see, she said. It would be a celebration of healing rather than of loss. There’d been an extra visit from the once-weekly cleaning lady. She’d bought sparkling juices for a toast. For appetizers, little cheese wedges wrapped in foil, olives neither of them much cared for, fresh bakery bread. It was time, she said, to move on.

Since before eight, he had moved east, past blue-green expanses of central Kentucky horse farms giving way to foothills. Barns advertising Mail Pouch Tobacco and family cemeteries lush with plastic roses abounded. Then there was parkway country and soon thereafter a town called Clay City and a diner for a bear claw and strong coffee. Only a few more miles from there and the parkway yielded to more stretches of road with passing lanes, more hills rising to small mountains, and then the mountain, that marked the entrance to Eastern Kentucky Proper. It rose, squat and deliberate, rock facings jutting and cedars reaching for a sky limited to his sight by other squat mountains soon to come. His heart tightened, beat faster, and his breath came quicker in the nearer proximity of country way too much like the hollows and mouths of hollows and heads of hollows that had long ago been his own home. And a couple of hours after that, a turnoff left him fumbling with his directions, looking for Inez.

You’re scared, Rosa had told him at breakfast. He did have more than his share of fears. Depths of water. Steep mountains. Today he wasn’t afraid of a thing. Today, something else gripped his heart, propelled him forward past mountain after mountain and sign after sign for little Eastern Kentucky towns. His heart beat and skipped and beat. After his stints in Vietnam, a whole slew of doctors had diagnosed everything from heart nodules to anxiety and counseled him to put his feet up, relax more. One of them even urged him to meditate. Today, he liked this feeling that carried him past town after town. He had exited the parkway a long while back and now houses dwindled in number, nothing but cornfields on one side of the road and fetid-stnelling river on the other. Happy. Feisty. Climax. He sped up with the cheerfulness of these names through a hole-in-the-road town called Radiant.

Usually he listened 10 tapes of show tunes or to stations playing country oldies. Trailers for sale or rent. Rooms to let fifty cents. Now he flipped through AM and FM, but he kept coming back to hypnotic sounds that put him in mind of belly dancers. In honor of a festival called The Harmonic Convergence, there were flutes, a keening stringed instrument, and a radio announcer offering insights. Follow the sounds of cosmic consciousness. Rhythms that vibrate to the sound of one universal mind. Sanderson supposed the music was meant to be religious in some way, but religion wasn’t right either, since that was hymnals and childhood prayers. Which was the one that always made him shiver? If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. The memory of that prayer and the music both recalled his anger and he flipped off the air conditioner, leaned out the open car window, inhaled the pungent air.

This many-years after his first wife’s death, words she loved came back to him. Pungent. Esoteric. Columns called “Enrich Your Vocabulary” and “The Power of Words” were her favorites and she had loved any and every dictionary. Visual ones. Foreign language ones. She consulted bulky desktop versions and pocket editions at odd moments on family outings. She’d give Sam the gift of a sentence. The pungent atmosphere left him feeling disconcerted. Pungent. Sanderson savored the word now.

He loosened his tie, found a new radio station, part static and part country. Hank Williams. Cause tonight I’m gonna see my caramio. Tonight he’d be home again, to fat new sofa pillows and exotic foods for a celebration.

Celebrate rather than mourn? His son, dead ten years. One-handed, he slid his tie off, tossed it into the back seat, set off down the road again. That door had been shut a long time ago and he wanted it to stay shut, ten years’ anniversary or not.

The first year Sam was reported missing at sea, Sanderson had felt numb. Numbness gave way to a grief that made him feel ashamed. Anger at no one in particular swirled in his heart. Rage gave way to uncertainty. He was perplexed when he studied his receding hairline in the bathroom mirror. He grew sideburns and a goatee and plucked gray hairs he’d never seen. He bought Grecian Formula, slimmer ties, and a cologne called Incognito. He took a night class or two, one in astronomy and another in poetry, and he wrote verse that his instructor said was sentimental. There were too many poems about butterflies, sunsets and love. He was never able to describe what he really meant—that image in his head of wings against a door, locked tight against something he didn’t want to name.

He bought a place in Kentucky, in the center of the state. Took a new job.

Repossession case manager. For the new house, he bought a gun case for the living room and stocked it with oiled rifles he never used. He took up golfing, a sport that had never much made sense to him, and he agreed to go on a number of blind dates arranged by his office coworkers. Shirley, a woman with nails bitten to the quick, phoned him three times after their Saturday afternoon coffee date, but he let the machine take the calls. There was Tiffany, who left salty-tasting blueberry pies on his desk at work, and Brenda, who talked him into attending a meeting the Fellowship of Christian Scientists. Lisa. Judy. Lee Ann.

Rosa, fifteen years his junior, worked at the real estate office. She had long red hair and she wore blouses buttoned to the neck, plastic glasses that hid her lovely green eyes. She was just separated when he asked her out for coffee, and he found himself telling her things he told no one—stories about Saigon, about hawkers’ stalls and rainforests, about the times he’d drunk rice whiskey and wished so badly for home he could taste it. He did what he never did, told her the names of three buddies of his who never came back from the war. TWO weeks later he met Rosa for lunch at the room she was renting in town. Unbutton your shirt, she said, and he’d never felt more at ease.

They married quickly, their wedding a small gathering in the home of Rosa’s former high-school principal. There was a three-tiered cake and there were gifts of small appliances Rosa substituted for the less reliable ones he still owned from his marriage to Sarah. Rosa adored him, told him tlus often, told him how he had rescued her from her former country store owner husband, for one. And since the marriage? The last four years had vanished. Evaporated into the atmosphere, Sam would have said. Dinner parties with friends. Country music concerts, of which Rosa was fond. “frips to shopping malls for china and the latest patterns of stainless steel. Vacations up north. Recently, she was on a course of self-improvement, working on everything from her vowels—the way she stretched out i and a with a question embedded at the end of every sentence—to her entertainment skills, to her consciousness, with the help of pop psychology books and a regular Tuesday-night meeting for couples called Energize the Inner You.

Emotional Wellness Encounters, they were called, led by a counselor named Harry Simon, a man with frizzy gray hair and sparkling dentures who spoke of inner peace and spousal communication skills as if they were on sale at a discount store. Harry Simon, as group mediator, kept saying, Let it go, let it go, but Sanderson couldn’t summon a particular time or place for it, though he was fairly certain what they wanted. Rosa wanted more than the war stories he’d told her. She wanted ones about explosions that could make the ground shake beneath your feet. Stories about gunfire and gaping wounds. Weren’t you afraid, Jason? she’d ask him in the encounter groups and he’d feel himself grow sullen in his wish to tell no story at all. Fear. Were there words for it, those times he’d felt fear settle under this tongue?

Jason Sanderson, his father used to say, make your bed. Make your bed and lie in it. He had made his bed by now, and he knew that.exactly, but he wanted some way for his name to be carried into the future. Rosa never exactly said no to this wish of his, but they had not discussed it either, not really. We all have our dreams, our should’ve, could’ve, don’t we, sweetie, she said and sighed and left a kiss in lipstick on his cheek, then busied herself with a handkerchief. By letting go, he knew Rosa meant more. His past. Wife. Son. And more than them, really. How to let go of a son he could on some days scarcely recall?

A place he went, a removal that frightened her. That was what Rosa wanted gone the most. Jason, she’d say when she’d find him sitting alone, staring out a window or at a blank, white wall. He found himself shaking off lethargy and he turned, as if from a great distance, met her smile. Then he felt it most. Vertigo. An enormous height, a precipice. A dizzying fear and afterward an anger so intense it made him sick inside. If he sat still, some days, he thought he might just be able to step closer to it, the vast distance he’d traveled from his own heart.

Signs for a sorghum festival littered the Main Street of Links. That street was just a post office, a five-and-dime, and a fruit stand. A general store promised a Grand Opening and Hot Lunch. He hadn’t eaten lunch yet and he could hear Rosa. You live on snack mix and nervous energy, Jason. Links was as good a place as any, so he drove the main street up and back looking for a place to get some coffee, and settled on a grocery store on the front steps of which sat a boy picking through a mess of weeds and greenish water in the bottom of a metal pan.

“That looks tasty, son,” Sanderson said as he paused on the steps.

“Sang,” the boy said.

“Pardon?”

“Sang, mister,” the boy repeated, gesturing impatiently toward his lap

“Ginseng.”

Sang. Ginseng. Sanderson turned those words over in his mouth.

“I don’t think I’d know ginseng if it bit me,” he said at last. He had a recollection of his grandmother and a trip to the woods to pick greens or to hunt up this and that herb. The boy plucked a gnarly root out the pan and cast it in the direction of his high-topped sneakers.

“Granny’s got me going through everything, just about,” the boy said. He plucked a tiny rock out of the pan, flicked it with thumb and forefinger. His hand had a tiny anchor tattooed on its back.

“She got anything to eat in there?” Sanderson asked as the boy set the pan aside and stretched his skinny, longish legs.

He followed Sanderson inside the store. Bolts of cloth and stray shoes and canning jar lids spilled from boxes here and there, and a woman crouched on her ankles near an open crate.

“Granny,” the boy said. “Beans cooked yet?” He nodded in Sanderson’s direction. “Customer’s here.”

The woman nodded as Sanderson made his way around the pile, and then she stood and gestured with one hand clutching a plastic baby doll.

“Pardon my housekeeping, mister,” she said, her voice a wind-piped whisper that made him want to clear his own throat. As she peered up and down at him, he wondered why he’d carried in his briefcase.

“Got enough stuff in here to clothe the hungry and feed the poor too, mister.” She tossed the doll into a box and nudged a heap of papers with one booted foot.

“That so?” Sanderson said as he eyed the store’s shelves, stocked with the basics, soups and toiletries and animal feed. The store had a grainy scent of feed, a bitter odor that stung the nose.

“My daddy run this store up to the day he died and I don’t reckon he ever throwed out nothing. ” She sighed and shook her head.

“You got a bite to eat around here?”

“Take my daddy, now, mister.” She wiped her hands on an apron marked with grease spots. “You sit right there and tell me if a man needs to keep ary old soap scrap and snake skin he ever come by.” She shook her head.

Across from the shelves were racks of items that must have been geared to tourists. Straw hats. Recycled Mason jars labeled Pickled People, which were small, decapitated heads with puckered faces, made of bits of cloth and cotton. Dried, weedy looking bundles were tacked to the tops of shelves or suspended from the store ceiling.

“Them’s my herbs, mister,” she said. She squinted and gazed up at the bundles. “Horsetail. Mullein.” She gestured toward the lower shelves. “And

I’ve got me a bunch of stuff laid up for this fall. Sang. Yaller root. ”

Sanderson glanced down at jars full of the gnarled roots the boy had been sorting through, and more. Bits of stalks and stems. Seedy looking pods. “Daddy’s the one,” she said, “taught me about healing. Ministering herbs.

Laying on hands, when the spirit took him.”

While she talked, Sanderson studied Granny’s powdery-looking face and lilac-colored cotton dress. He noted her anklets, ones neatly turned down above her shoes. She could have been his own grandmother.

“Not that I took natural to learning what Daddy had to teach me,” she said. “I was too fixed on running here and there and yonder. But he was a good man, my daddy. I’ll give him that one.” She sighed. “Raised six younguns,” she said.

Close to the shelves was a cheese and meat cooler, a counter with a crock pot advertising beans and cornbread and, Sanderson was relieved to see, a 110t dog warmer. He pried a charred-looking wiener off when it came around on one of the revolving prongs, piled on mustard and relish and onions from canning jars marked necessaries. The coffee was instant, and he dumped in llwee packets of sweetener.

your ear?” Ille hoy asked. He’d followed Sanderson back out onto the porch, where he stood eating and looking at the empty parking lot and the tail end of Main Street.

The boy was also eating a hot dog and the two of them regarded Sanderson’s car, a black Pontiac with white wall tires and a license plate with the last name of a famous auto racer, one of Rosa’s idols.

“You know the horsepower on that thing?”

Sanderson had to think a minute, and realized he had no idea. He mumbled something about a V-8 engine, and munched his hot dog.

“How fast have you taken her?”

Sanderson, who used cruise control and had not driven without a seat belt nor played chicken with a road sign in about a million years said, “Oh, hundred, or thereabout. ”

“You ever ride anybody in that car?” the boy asked.

“My wife,” Sanderson answered.

The boy licked mustard from his fingers. “She like cars?”

“Well enough.”

“Enough ain’t enough for a ride like that, mister.”

“That right?”

“I can think of a bunch of folks could admire that car. ”

“I’ll bet you could think of a person or two.” Sanderson swallowed his hot dog.

It was well after noon by now, a heavy-looking midday. Sanderson checked his watch and stood, studying boy and car. Like Sam at that age, he was half boy and half on his way to being a man. Unlike Sam, he was dark-skinned, with blue-black hair. Fifties style, he wore his tee shirt sleeves rolled, with a pack of Marlboros stuck there. Too young to smoke, Sanderson mused.

The boy recited information about torques and engine types and drive trains, and the future glowed in his eyes—a shop all his own as an add-on to the store.

“If I’d had a car like that I could have gotten over there that quick. ” He snapped his fingers.

Sanderson wadded up the hot dog wrapping paper and made a move toward the porch steps.

“Over where?” Sanderson asked, pausing midstep.

Granny wedged open the store’s screen door with one booted foot, gazed up at the sky. “My daddy always said a sky like that one there’s a sign. ”

“Sign of what?” Sanderson swallowed, once and twice. The hot dog taste was still in his mouth, charred and gritty and he began to feel unaccountably tense.

She leaned close, her scent sweet, like pouch tobacco. “Don’t you know nothing, mister?” She elbowed him.

The air now seemed to have a burning scent and he took out his handkerchief, blew his nose. “I used to know a little,” he said at last. “About signs. ”

“Smoke’s a sign of trouble or the Lord, one,” Granny said as she pointed up at wisps of grayish clouds traveling west, the way he’d come this morning.

With a sinking feeling, Sanderson peered up at the whitish sky.

“Most of it’s settled from over that way, besides,” she said and elbowed him a final time.

“Over where?” he asked again as the three of them studied the haze. A heavy feeling had begun to accumulate in his chest and he fumbled in his pockets for tablets to settle his stomach.

“Over to the Motel,” the boy said. “Over to Inez where they’re at. Mama and them. ”

“The Motel?” Sanderson asked and he paused at his car door. “Which one would that be, son?”

Karen Salyer McElmurray

“How many do you reckon there are in Inez, mister?” the boy said, looking indignant. He pulled the cigarette pack from his sleeve.

“What happened over there, son?” Sanderson asked, dreading the answer. The taste in his mouth had coincided now with the smoke-laced sky.

The three of them regarded that sky and the woman pointed down the road in the direction he still needed to go.

As he pulled the car back onto the road, he could hear Rosa. Don’t you just find people tike that a comfort? The very thought made him sad. Safety? Comfort? His first wife, Sarah, filled their house with a variety of items in which she took comfort. Incense cones and burners. Prayer wheels. Candles to invoke safe spirits. At the same time she teased him about wanting the whole world to be safe, from his sock drawer to the details of the morning news. Safety, Sarah would say. Don’t you know that’s a relative term? And now Rosa, his second wife, had joined one self-help group after another, ones that promised safety for the inner child and renewed interrelational-communication skills. Their house was littered with things she called “old-timey.” One whole den wall was devoted to a display of washboards and band saws and signs for Martha White Flour or Bunny: The Best in Bread. Don’t you take comfort in your heritage, she asked him when he suggested that there were too many things, too much nostalgia.

His grandfather had been a First Baptist Church of the Redeemed Soul preacher, and Sanderson’s earliest memories were of Saturday nights and come-to-Jesus sermons followed by dinners on the ground. The healing in his family wasn’t the kind with herbs or divining rods, but, on occasion, his grandfather’s rough-palmed hands touched souls. He remembered those

hands. Gripping his chin, tilting his head to the sky. Listen, boy. Listen to your maker. And he had. During those Saturday night services he saw everything

 

To heal himself after Sarah died, he moved with Sam from the mountains of western North Carolina to central Kentucky where he became regional officer for his repossession company. Regional Repo Man, Sam had called him, which left Sanderson with an image of himself in a super hero costume, defending his office against nonpayment and bad credit. Once Sam was gone and once he married Rosa and they bought a house in a gated community. To get home, he passed through a raised bar and a security guard who nodded to him each and every evening. Mr. Sanderson.

How much more safe, Rosa wanted to know, could their lives be? Gated. Sanderson could almost hear Sam. Facsimile. Pretend country living. As much time as Sanderson had spent trying to batten down the hatches in his life, Sam had been the opposite. Sam. The exact opposite of that word. Safe.

Sam. Sarah. Rosa, her pronouncements about heritage, about healing and moving on. He wondered whether strong, dry hands, his grandfather’s or anyone else’s, might have, could have, pulled his son up from the waves of the ocean that took him. No one really had the power to heal, no less comfort anyone in this world. He drove on, approaching at last The Motel of the Stars under a sky that was, sure enough, thick with smoke.

He passed the Inez diner and then a hardware store and a trailer park. He loved reading the new directions the boy and his grandmother had given him, drove until he saw the Church of the Repentant, his new landmark. He the last sharp curve and had to slow down, back into a driveway, turn I passed the last five mailhoxes, rechecked his directions.

There’d been a fire the night before, all right. What was left of the motel looked careless and abandoned. He sighed and picked up his briefcase and stepped out of the car. Glass from broken windows crunched under his feet as he approached the side yard where there were the odds and ends of everything heaved out at the last second. A dresser with the drawers gone was upended near a metal foot locker; a plastic child’s tractor trailer was melted and shapeless and lay next to what was left of a wooden-framed photograph of a dog. Now, only the last walls of the building itself were standing, and those were a charred substructure held together by pipes and thick, blackened wires. He could have found his way to Inez by smoke-scent alone.

He followed a path littered with before-the-fire cans and bottles that led behind the house. That’s where the people were, less than a dozen of them, seated around the base of a huge willow tree, its trailing fronds singed. A worried-looking woman with foam curlers didn’t meet his eyes. Near her was a younger woman in jeans and cowboy boots, and beside her an old man in a wrinkled wool suit jacket was crouching on his ankles, stirring ashes and dirt. He took his place at the edge of this group.

“Authorities been here yet?” he asked in the general direction of the old man, but no one spoke. He wiped his sooty hands against his trousers and stood, waiting. Already he could envision the investigation he’d have to conduct. Already he suspected arson and he thought of the forms he’d have to fill out, his own possible accountability. Didn’t you have an inkling? Not a clue about these people? He could hear the bank manager now.

Then he heard the voices. Singing, from a rise near the smoldering foundations of the house. He stared in that direction, where there were two little girls. They wore cotton checked dresses, sneakers with the toes cut away, and their joined hands were lifted high as they danced in the grass. Pocket full of posies, the girls sang as they spun. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

From not too far away, someone called to the children. Don’t you all hear me? Get on home. The girls laughed and whispered and hurried up a rise and their laughter died away in the distance. Sanderson set his briefcase down in the grass and approached the chair.

It was metal, its green paint scorched and peeling, and it held a woman, knees in her arms, head resting on her knees, a glimpse of her face the only thing visible from the folds of a blanket covering her. He felt as if he was spying upon a private intimacy, but he looked down into this face, which was shiny with sweat in the hot sun. She reminded him of photographs of Middle

Eastern women covered by impenetrable veils, but more than that. The small pale and sooty face with its shut eyes, was both familiar and disconcerting.

She seemed to be sleeping.

“His girl,” someone said behind him.

“Pardon?” Sanderson asked. The old man with the wool jacket motioned to him. They walked several feet away from the chair, in the direction of the lemains of the house.

“The daughter,” the old man whispered. “Leastways his step-girl, her he had to deal with, once the mother took off. Back six years and more. ”

“What’s her name?” Sanderson studied the huddled figure. Beneath the edges of the blanket, he could see bare feet and polished toenails.

“Lory,” the old man answered. “She’s about as odd-turned as he is, I’d say. ” “Where’s he at?” Sanderson gripped his briefcase, thinking of the coming encounter with Frank Llewellyn, the questions about how the fire had started, insurance premiums, responsible parties. Sanderson’s head swam with red tape it would take months to figure out.

Sanderson straightened his tie, remembering the recent acquisition of the storage building and repair place.

“I came on business, you know,” he said.

He studied the woman and the chair again as she shifted. The sight of her face, so incredibly still, tugged at him.

“Least he kept a clean room and she kept the books or something, upstairs where she stayed,” the old man said. “Place did better than some of us expected. ”

“It’s a shame it didn’t do as well as the rest of us would have wanted,” Sanderson said, and then was sorry for it. If he hadn’t known better, he would have said the woman was peaceful, except for the deep lines etched beside her mouth.

“Sometimes you just have to leave a body be,” the old man said, as if Sanderson hadn’t spoken. He bent, fished a broken cup handle out of the grass. “Before it was a motel, son, that was a house. Not much of one, but it was there almost a hundred years. ”

They both stood looking in the direction of the woman. She was so still Sanderson could see the blanket rise and fall with her breath and he found himself breathing that way too, in time with the rise and fall of her chest. His own chest, to his amazement, felt calmer than it had all day. He stepped back from the chair, breathed deeply. On the table near the woman was an open dictionary, hardbacked and heavy, a random save from the fire. Its pages rustled in the wind and he wondered what page the wind would settle with, what word.

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A Different Jesus

Product Details

THE BOOK: A Different Jesus: A Christian Theology Big Enough for an Interfaith World

PUBLISHED IN: 2014

THE AUTHOR: Jan G. Linn

THE EDITOR/THE PUBLISHER: Sweetgrass Books

SUMMARY: Christian commitment is about living and not just believing, but what Christians believe has always mattered, something that is especially true today. The world is growing more inter-religious and non-religious daily. At the moment there are a billion and a half Muslims worldwide, with that number increasing steadily. There are more and more people of no religious faith, and a growing number of others who engage in Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist practices. Conflict between these religious groups is not uncommon. Tensions between Christians and Muslims are intensifying in many nations. Unchecked this tension will evolve into open conflict that will contribute to a more unstable world order.

In the past Christianity has ruled the world, at least since the fourth century. The Holy Roman Empire (French philosopher Voltaire once said it was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire) that existed between the ninth and nineteenth centuries was so called because of the belief that God sanctioned those who ruled Europe. The collusion between the church and the empire only added to this myth. The church’s power and influence grew exponentially during this period to the point where Christianity became the world’s dominant religion. But times have changed. Christianity remains the largest religious tradition – some three billion adherents – but no longer commands the world as it once did.

There are many Christians who are unprepared for the world as it is, maybe most. There are just as many churches doing nothing theologically to help them navigate this sea of change that has taken place in the last fifty years. I believe the time (kairos) is right for Christians to re-engage our faith tradition in order to fashion new understandings of what can and should believe that will help us face the challenges ahead. The old notion that the way to preserve our faith is to set it in stone was never true. Faith is like anything else. To stay alive it must grow and at the same time adapt to a changing environment.

The purpose of this book is to rethink Christian theology that insists Jesus is “the only way” because he died for the sins of the world. This is called “atonement theology” which I believe is a hindrance to faith rather than a help. It shuts down respect and affirmation of the validity of other religious, essentially claims that God is “Christian,” and in the end contradicts much of what the Bible as a whole actually says. But how can you be a Christian and not believe Jesus died for yours sins? That is the question this book seeks to answer with a theology that is faithful to the heart of the Christian message and big enough to build bridges between different faiths and cultures around the world.

THE BACK STORY: I wrote this book because as a pastor I met too many people who no longer believed what the church had taught them about Jesus, mainly because it forced them to condemn everyone not a Christian to hell (whatever that is), so they were ready to give up on Christianity. I wanted them to know that ministers learn to think in different ways about Jesus in seminary and they should have a chance to be in on those discussions. This book opens that door. I spent two and half years writing it because there is so much research to do on a subject like this. I spend most of my time reading the books and articles that disagreed with what I was writing in order to be able to speak to those concerns and arguments on the other side.

WHY THIS TITLE?: The title suggests there is a Jesus other than the one the church talks about, and there is, only it is a Jesus much closer to what the New Testament actually says than the creeds and doctrines of the church are.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Anyone who is familiar with the “stained glass” Jesus of the church might read this book to find out that there are other ways of understand who Jesus was and what his life, death, and resurrection mean. Also, people of no faith and other faith traditions will be interested in the book, not least because it provides a view of Jesus that may never have heard before now.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“We chose this book for our theology book club. Our group appreciated Linn’s ability to look at New Testament passages which have traditionally become exclusionary to non-Christians, and bring them full circle, historically and theologically, to a probable original context more in-line with Jesus’ message of love. I particularly appreciated his use of footnotes as a sort of writer’s journal or dialogue with his sources, as some of his personal biases were apparent and these notes offered the needed conversation. Those of us who have read various theology books felt the author was broadly accessible and easy to understand; however, some, new to our group, unaccustomed to theology as a subject, did not agree. But since new people read the book and came to the book club, I think that is a testimony to its broad accessibility.” — By Julie Martin, Oct. 7, 2015..

“Are you someone who has long given up on Christianity? Or are you someone who still considers yourself a Christian but you are hanging on by a thread due to the seeming irrelevance of some of the Church’s teachings? Then you should read this book. It is written for you. Dr. Linn argues against a literal interpretation of Scripture. But more essentially, he argues against the common practice over the last few centuries of placing the cross and atonement at the center of the faith. Instead, he argues persuasively and articulately that the central, unique, and foundational heart of the faith is the resurrection of Jesus. He also insists that this understanding of the New Testament, certainly underscored by the writings of Paul, free us to respect and embrace, rather than exclude, our brothers and sisters who are devoted to the other Abrahamic  faiths, namely Judaism and Islam. By extension he would also embrace the other world religions, although I would have wished for more explicit, rather than implicit treatment of this aspect. He devotes about 3 pages of this slim volume (96 pages) to a discussion of those words of Jesus as reported in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except by me”. This is a book whose time has come and one worthy of anyone who honestly seeks to be a follower of Jesus in this age.”– By The Rev. Dr. Ronald T. Roberts, October 16, 2015.

“Jan Linn addresses some of the illogical thinking prevalent in so many “Christian” churches today. Linn disassembles various atonement theories and offers us a new way to think about who Jesus was, his life among us, and clarifies his original message to humanity. “A Different Jesus: A Christian Theology Big Enough for an Interfaith World” is a very refreshing voice to the church universal. Highly recommended.” — By R. Bible on November 6, 2014

AUTHOR PROFILE: Jan Linn is a minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He was Chaplain and Associate Professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia for ten years before serving as Professor of the Practice of Ministry at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He and his wife, Joy, also served as co-directors of the New Clergy Program for the Department of Religion at the Chautauqua Institution for two years. Currently he serves as the Dean of the School of Ministry for the Christian Church in the Upper Midwest Region, with special focus on developing a curriculum based program of education for Commissioned Ministers of his denomination.

In 1998, at the invitation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Upper-Midwest, Jan made the decision to gave up his tenured professorship at Lexington Theological Seminary to become founding co-pastor with Joy of a new congregation in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. It was modeled after the innovative ministry of the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C.. After fourteen years they retired and Jan assumed his writing full-time.

A popular preacher and lecturer, Jan is the author of fourteen books, as well as numerous articles and book reviews. He is a graduate of the University of Richmond, attended Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, Princeton Theological Seminary, and holds the Doctor of Ministry degree from Christian Theological Seminary (Magna Cum Laude). He was a member of his college Areopagas Honorary English Society, the Theta Phi Religious Society, and has been the Shumate Lecturer on the Christian Life at Lynchburg College in Virginia, the John Turner Lecturer, First Christian Church, Lynchburg, Virginia, the William Chidester Lecturer, Sylvania United Church of Christ in Ohio, and the Preacher of the Week at the Chautauqua Institution.

Jan also writes a popular blog called, “Thinking Against the Grain,” that can be accessed at linnposts.com.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: “In a world of religious diversity, Christianity need a voice other than the narrow minded, exclusivistic faith of evangelicalism. This book offers such a voice at a time  when presidential candidates are using religion to divide people and create fear. God is bigger than anything anyone believes about God, else there is no God except the one we create. This book demands an accounting of Christian theology that increases the chances of peace and tolerance of one another that is absent from too much of what the loudest Christian evangelical leaders of today are saying.”

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

A PERSONAL STATEMENT OF FAITH

This book is written for Christians who believe in Jesus but have serious questions about the meaning of his being the savior of the world. They want to be Christian without believing that God rejects everyone who is not. Ironically, surveys suggest these Christians are actually a majority now, but they don’t know that.2 Consequently they feel out of place in the church. Many of them have dropped out. Others are hanging on by a thin thread.

I hope this book will help these individuals see that it’s possible to be thoroughly Christian without dismissing or condemning all other religions. I also hope this material will help those who do believe Jesus is the only way to better understand those of us who don’t.

I did not come to believe in Jesus as a way to God—but not the only way—overnight. I was raised in a large, conservative church that not only told me Jesus was the only way, but also that the Bible was literally the Word of God (meaning the King James Version). The people in my home church loved and supported me as a child of the congregation and later as a student studying for the ministry. But there came a point where I knew that what they taught me was no longer what I believed, not because I doubted my own faith, but because I doubted what they taught me about theirs.

Anyone who has been in that situation knows how emotionally stressful it can be. A sense of separation builds between you and the people you love the most. That was happening to me until I spent a week with my hometown minister, who was holding a preaching mission at the student church I was serving. He was a dynamic but humble minister loved by the entire city as well as our

congregation. Even though his theology was more conservative than mine had become, as the week progressed I began to see that he genuinely believed in what he said. More than that, I knew him well enough to know that the goal of his life was to serve God. At the end of the week, I admired him even more than I had before. We were no closer theologically, but I realized that what mattered more than theology was our relationship.

That is a lesson I have drawn on many times in my ministry, in part because I have found myself at theological odds with a variety of people for a variety of reasons. It is not because I enjoy conflict. I don’t. It is because I think that what we believe as Christians is too important to merely accept claims on blind faith. Moreover, I believe wrestling with questions is vital to spiritual growth. It is a primary way many of us who are Christian make faith our own.

At the center of my questions is, of course, Jesus. Who was he really? Was he human and divine? What does that even mean? Did he die for the sins of the world? If so, how can people of other faith traditions who are friends of mine be in a relationship with God if they don’t believe in Jesus? What is the core of Christian belief? Or, in other words, is there any single belief without which the entire house of cards would come tumbling down?

This book is my answer to those questions. By the time you finish reading, I hope you will see why I believe Jesus was the man he was and why it was God raising him from the dead rather than his crucifixion that changed the world, opening the door to a faith that can thrive in the religiously plural nation that is the United States today.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I realize that the waters of Christian belief run deep, and emotions attached to faith can be so strong that they overwhelm our capacity to think through what someone who is challenging long-standing beliefs is actually saying. This happens to all of us. For this reason I want to underscore that my intention in writing this book is to build up faith, not tear it down. I want to strengthen the church’s witness, not undermine it.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & noble, etc. or directly from Sweetgrass Books at vicki@farcountrypress.com.

PRICE: $12.95 (20% discount for orders of ten or more).

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: janlinn45@gmail.com

Weather Report, August 22

 

OUR CURRENTLY FEATURED BOOKS, “POSTCARDS FROM THE SKY,”  BY ERIN SEIDEMANN, “THEFT: LOSS AND OTHER TALES OF THE WORKING CLASS,” BY JOHN ABBOTT AND “THIS WAY UP,” BY PATTI CLARK, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST.

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One of the reasons we read is to discover people and places and ideas that we’ve never encountered before. This week’s Snowflakes in a Blizzard offerings all provide that sense of discovery, each in its own way.

The photo above is of Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, the magnet for thousands of pilgrims during the 1987 Harmonic Convergence. If you don’t know what this is, you’re probably not well acquainted with the New Age movement. In her novel “The Motel of the Stars,” Karen Salyer McElmurray probes this complex (and sometimes surprising) subculture from both the inside and the outside. She writes:

“The novel was first a response to the months following a two year travel experience of mine, the last six months of which were spent in India and Nepal.  Those months were filled with sound, light, motion—everything from seven weeks spent walking from a lake in Pokhara in the center of Nepal to a temple near Muktinath in the north to some weeks spent on the banks of the Ganges outside of Varanassi.

” I came back into the United States to a Seattle summer, and there was a huge festival going on, one celebrating the anniversary of The Harmonic Convergence, which is the Mayan Calendar’s ancient prediction of the alignment of planets and the advent of world peace. That time in Asia, and that New Age celebration, are both in the background of this novel.”

Jan Linn, meanwhile, is a Minnesota minister who is not afraid to delve into another mystery, that of the life of Jesus Christ. His 2014 book “A Different Jesus” does exactly that.

“I wrote this book,” he said, “because as a pastor I met too many people who no longer believed what the church had taught them about Jesus, mainly because it forced them to condemn everyone not a Christian to hell (whatever that is), so they were ready to give up on Christianity. I wanted them to know that ministers learn to think in different ways about Jesus in seminary and they should have a chance to be in on those discussions. This book opens that door. I spent two and half years writing it because there is so much research to do on a subject like this. I spend most of my time reading the books and articles that disagreed with what I was writing in order to be able to speak to those concerns and arguments on the other side.”

Finally, no one can accuse Monica Starkman of not understanding what she is writing about.  The author profile on her Snowflakes template spells out her qualifications: “Dr. Monica Starkman is a psychiatrist who is a faculty member of the University of Michigan Medical School Department of Psychiatry in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is a clinician and a scientific researcher. Many of her publications in the scientific literature highlight concerns and conditions of women, such as the first study of women’s reactions to the use of fetal monitoring during labor. She has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a recognized expert on the effects of stress hormones on mood and on brain structure. Dr. Starkman has also published in The New Republic and Vogue magazine. Dr. Starkman writes regularly for Psychology Today as one of their Experts.”

What this fails to mention is that she is also a gifted and sensitive writer. Her novel “The End of Miracles” is about a woman whose failure to conceive hurls her into a pit of depression, and the author infuses it with both empathy and a solid scientific background.

UPCOMING ON SNOWFLAKES IN A BLIZZARD, AUGUST 22-28.

“THE MOTEL OF STARS,” BY KAREN SALYER McELMURRAY.

Ten years is a long time to wait for anything. For Jason Sanderson and Lory Llewellyn, it’s how long they’ve each been searching for relief from the emotional paralysis of mourning the same man, Sam Sanderson, Jason’s son and Lory’s lover. For the rest of the world, or at least those fervent New Agers caught up in the hype and glory of the 1987 Harmonic Convergence, the tenth anniversary spells a chance to gather at Grandfather Mountain, a vortex where, if anywhere, there’s a possibility to revisit the spiritual revelry promised by the rare strategic alignment of the planets. A troubled young man, Sam was once a seeker of such mystical wisdom, and his unexplained death a decade ago motivates both his father and former lover to undertake a coincidental journey, looking for an answer to the one question anyone who has ever lost a loved one asks: why? Melancholy yet expectant, McElmurray’s is a keenly sorrowful but plaintively lyrical examination of anguish and longing.

“A DIFFERENT JESUS,” BY JAN LINN.

From Jan: “In the past Christianity has ruled the world, at least since the fourth century. The Holy Roman Empire (French philosopher Voltaire once said it was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire) that existed between the ninth and nineteenth centuries was so called because of the belief that God sanctioned those who ruled Europe. The collusion between the church and the empire only added to this myth. The church’s power and influence grew exponentially during this period to the point where Christianity became the world’s dominant religion. But times have changed. Christianity remains the largest religious tradition – some three billion adherents – but no longer commands the world as it once did.

“There are many Christians who are unprepared for the world as it is, maybe most. There are just as many churches doing nothing theologically to help them navigate this sea of change that has taken place in the last fifty years. I believe the time (kairos) is right for Christians to re-engage our faith tradition in order to fashion new understandings of what can and should believe that will help us face the challenges ahead. The old notion that the way to preserve our faith is to set it in stone was never true. Faith is like anything else. To stay alive it must grow and at the same time adapt to a changing environment.”

“THE END OF MIRACLES,” BY MONICA STARKMAN

Margo Kerber has endured difficult years battling infertility while trying to sustain her good marriage and satisfying career. When a seemingly miraculous pregnancy ends in a late miscarriage, Margo is devastated. For a time, the unshakable yet false belief that she is pregnant again provides relief from all-consuming grief. When her fantasy inevitably clashes with reality, Margo falls into a deep depression requiring admission to a psychiatric unit. Uncertain if the sometimes chaotic environment there is helping or making her worse, she seizes an opportunity to flee. Alone on the city streets, new fantasies propel her to commit a crime with dangerous consequences for herself and others. Written by a prominent psychiatrist, this stirring portrait of one woman’s psychological unraveling takes readers on a journey across the blurred boundaries between sanity and depression, madness and healing.

THIS WEEK’S DEALS

Kelvin Singleton, whose novel “Black Tide Rising” was featured on Snowflakes in a Blizzard last year, is offering free Kindle downloads of all three books in his trilogy — “It Is Written,” “Black Tide Rising,” and “Dark Indian Eclipse.” The offer ends tomorrow and can be accessed through Amazon..

Postcards From the Sky

Erin SeidemannTHIS WEEK’S OTHER FEATURED BOOKS, “THEFT: AND OTHER TALES OF LOSS AND THE WORKING CLASS,” BY JOHN ABBOTT AND “THIS WAY UP,” BY PATTI CLARK, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST.

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THE BOOK: Postcards from the Sky: Adventures of an Aviatrix

PUBLISHED IN: November, 2015.

THE AUTHOR: Erin Seidemann

 THE PUBLISHER: She Writes Press

 SUMMARY:  The aviation world is a man’s world—it always has been, and it continues to be so today. In fact, women make up a mere 5 to 6 percent of the total pilot population worldwide. But from the first time Erin Seidemann experienced what it was like to see the world from a small plane’s perspective, she was hooked—and she’s spent much of her time since then fighting her way into becoming one of that 5 to 6 percent.

Postcards from the Sky: Adventures of an Aviatrix tells of the struggles and adventures one encounters as a woman in the male-dominated space of aviation. With humor and equanimity, Seidemann recounts her varied experiences as a female pilot—from the chauvinistic flight instructor she makes the mistake of falling in love with to the many, many customs agents who insist she can’t possibly be her plane’s owner (“Where’s your boyfriend?”)—while at the same time giving insight about just what makes flying so incredible . . . and so very addictive. Frank, funny, and full of adventure, Postcards from the Sky is an entertaining foray into a world few women have dared enter.

THE BACK STORY: “Only 5% of licensed pilots worldwide are women. I wanted to put my story out there to show other women or anyone interested in becoming a pilot that if I can do it, they can too. I’ve also always enjoyed reading stories from solo travelers, and this book offers that and then some since I am not only a solo woman traveler but also a solo pilot flying my own plane.”

WHY THIS TITLE:  I wanted something whimsical but enough to show it was about a woman aviator. And I think of the chapters as postcards I wrote about my progression as a pilot.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT:  If you like travel, adventure, or aviation, this book has all three with sides of relationships and sex along the way. It’s like Amelia Earhart meets Sex and the City.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“From a young girl who gets motion sickness to an adventuring aviatrix, Erin Seidemann rocks the male dominated aviation world with her memoir Postcards from the Sky. In her book, she details her love of flying, and uses her stubborn will to get her pilots license and buy her own plane. Harrowing tales are shared of flying her small plane Orion around San Francisco, New Orleans, and an unforgettable trip to the Bahamas alone, and Oshkosh Wisconsin do not disappoint. Her story is engaging, entertaining and proves that women really can do anything men can do.”

“I loved this book and I loved where it took me. I had never given much thought to small aircraft, but Seidemann’s adventures made me want to go flying right away. This book was funny, exciting, educational, candid and inspiring. I highly recommend this book and I’ll be looking forward to The Aviatrix’s next adventure.”

“If the author is as good a pilot as she is a writer (and all signs point to that being the case) I’d fly with her anytime!”

“This is a wonderful read for anyone who loves flying. From overcoming air sickness to her solo flight, obtaining her private license and going on to achieve her instrument rating, and buying her own plane(s), flying nationally and internationally the author shares her exciting life. Those who fly and those who dream of it will find it fun and inspiring.”

“I don’t read much lately, as the ease and convenience of the internet provides me with ample videos and articles to stoke my incessant quest for knowledge. However, as I began perusing the first few pages of “Postcards from the Sky” I felt the same anticipation and promise of adventure I got many years ago when I journeyed through the opening pages of Paul Theroux’s brilliant “The Great Railway Bazaar.” While Erin’s vignettes definitely deliver on a unique perspective of aviation, it also offers insight into the mind of a young woman on the cusp of adventure, something this reader and author is forever culturally, genetically and evolutionarily baffled by.”

“You don’t have to be a pilot to enjoy this book. It’s a bit of humor, romance and a lot of adventure. I read the book on a flight from New Orleans to Las Vegas, by the time we landed I was ready to get my pilots license and chase my own adventures.”

AUTHOR PROFILE:  Erin Seidemann was born and raised in New Orleans in Southeastern Louisiana, a part of the state often described as “south of the South.” Erin is as Southern as a rich café au lait enjoyed in a rocking chair in 100% humidity! She attended Loyola University New Orleans and graduated cum laude with a degree in English Writing. Her professional career started with a job in San Francisco editing financial research. Since that paid about what you’d expect any English degree job to pay, she became licensed as a Supervisory Analyst, someone who approves research for compliance, making sure all the rules are followed. While working in San Francisco, Erin took up flying lessons and immediately became addicted. She bought her beloved plane, which she named Orion, while she was still a student pilot. She also took up tailwheel flying, aerobatics, and helicopters, always in search of the next aviation thrill. After four years in San Francisco, it was time to move back home. Her flying base and essentially second home is Lakefront Airport New Orleans. In the little bit of time she doesn’t spend working or flying, Erin is also a voracious reader, a rabid runner despite the threat of heat stroke, and an insatiable traveler. She holds a commercial rating for single engine and multi engine. Erin owned a Cessna 172SP for over ten years and recently bought a Piper Seneca.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: “My first book! I’m already working on the second book, which will pick up where this one left off.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: (Provide link).

http://agirlandherplane.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Postcards-from-the-Sky_Intro.pdf

LOCAL OUTLETS:

Maple Street Book Shop (http://www.maplestreetbookshop.com/) , Barnes & Noble

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT:

Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Postcards-Sky-Adventures-Erin-Seidemann/dp/1631528262/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1468968504&sr=8-1&keywords=postcards+from+the+sky) , iTunes, Indiebound (http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781631528262)

PRICE:

$16.95 paperback (but often discounted at various online sites), $8.69 ebook

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:

http://www.agirlandherplane.com/contact

Theft: And Other Tales of Loss and the Working Class

THE BOOK: Theft: And Other Tales of Loss and the Working Class.

PUBLISHED IN: 2015

THE AUTHOR: John Abbott.

THE PUBLISHER: Cetywa Powell, publisher of UNDERGROUND VOICES of Los Angeles, California.

SUMMARY: My book is a short story collection featuring pieces that follow ordinary folks and the ordeals they face trying to live their lives. The events are sometimes commonplace (a boy trying to go trick or treating) and sometimes disturbing (a strange woman showing up in a man’s backyard claiming that she knows him). Some of the stories contain touches of the surreal, or what some call magical realism, but most of the stories dwell in the realm of literary fiction.

Related imageTHE BACK STORY: I get a lot of ideas for short stories, but I’ve never had the time to write all of them. I can’t foresee a time in the near future where this may be the case. So, I write only those stories whose characters and plots really stick in my head. The ones that haunt me, those are the ones I write. This collection represents the best of these stories ranging from 2007 until 2013.

WHY THIS TITLE?: The title, in part, refers to the story “Theft” included in the collection. I view this story as something of a centerpiece in that it contains many of the themes present throughout the collection. The other part of the title refers the type of characters featured in the book. I wanted the title to evoke a sense of timelessness and simplicity – almost like a modern folktale.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Anyone interested in well-crafted stories in the tradition of Tobias Wolff, Jayne Ann Phillips, Richard Yates, and Joy Williams will enjoy this collection.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“Easy to forget all around us are worlds in motion with lives larger or smaller than our own involved in most of the similar intricacies it takes to survive, to live, to struggle, to love, suffer, procreate, laugh or just stand still. What’s not so easy is the ability to take all these individual identities and have them stand out in their worlds of activity where normally they might not. John Abbott’s ability to allow his characters and their situations to stand out on the page is something one gets in the exchange that takes place between he and his reader. Theft: And Other Tales of Loss and the Working Class masterfully accomplishes the deepest part of this relationship and offers the reader something unique, something apart from the expected, and from the commonplace in the name of a reality running parallel to our own and right before our eyes.” — Paul B. Roth, editor & publisher The Bitter.

“John Abbott’s stories remind me of those writers like Chekhov and de Maupassant. They have the same control of language, the same wry affection for their characters, the same understanding of, as Faulkner put, “the human heart in conflict with itself.” Every moment of emotion in these stories is earned, and the stories’ mastery literally jumps off the page when I read them. The work here is serious without being self-serious, funny without being easy, and always engaging.” — Steven Carter, author of I Was Howard Hughes and Famous Writers School

“This is a dazzling story collection about ordinary people in extraordinary moments, and Abbott give us these moments, beautifully, in lucid prose.” — J.D. Dolan, author of Phoenix: A Brother’s Life.

AUTHOR PROFILE: John Abbott is a writer, musician, and English instructor who lives with his wife and daughter in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His stories and poems have appeared in numerous literary magazines, and his work has been nominated for Best American Short Stories, a Pushcart Prize, and Sundress Publications Best of the Net. Besides this story collection, his full length works include a poetry chapbook available from Flutter Press and a novel. For more information about his writing, please visit http://www.johnabbottauthor.com

AUTHOR COMMENTS: Although I didn’t set out to tackle any particular issues in these stories, I noticed that some of the issues facing society (and individuals) showed up anyway. This seems to reflect real life: the issues/problems we most want to ignore hurt us worse than if we had faced them head on.

SAMPLE STORY: Some of the stories in this collection were published by literary magazines and can be read online by Googling ‘John Abbott Short Stories’ or by visiting his website (www.johnabbottauthor.com). Here is one of them:

THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR

It was supposed to be an easy move. The Hamptons bought the house next door so they’d have a place that was really theirs. For years, Janet had lived in the home her husband had bought before they were married. Even though she did most of the decorating, she always felt the house carried a trace of the man Pete had been before they’d met. Over the years she had tried to not let this bother her. Lately, though, it seemed like her life had no direction. She needed to move forward. She needed something to call her own.

Her motivation increased whenever they were with their couple friends. Whenever Janet asked one of them how they were doing she’d get this reply: We’re in a good place right now. Janet wanted to know what that felt like. All she had was a routine that consisted of watching

game shows and old movies. She didn’t ever consciously decide that moving could shake things up, but when the house next to theirs went up for sale she jumped at the opportunity.

It took her three weeks to get Pete on board. Even after he agreed to the idea he still didn’t seem sure. At the closing his skin looked a strange color. He wouldn’t look at anyone. Once he left the room and didn’t return for half an hour. When he returned there was a huge stack of papers he needed to sign and initial and, as he took up the pen, she thought he was going to vomit.

After it was all over she bought him a ginger ale from a vending machine and they held hands on their way outside. His hand was sticky but she held tight.

“We’ll just bring over a few things everyday,” Janet said as they left realtor’s office. “We won’t even need a moving truck.”

Pete bit down on his lip and smiled with just the corner of his mouth.

“How about we get some food to celebrate?” she said. “Anything you’d like.”

He nodded but he still had that look which said he didn’t know kindness from malice. They ordered pizza with all the toppings Pete liked. They also stopped at a convenience store and picked up beer, paper plates and napkins; Janet figured they could eat at their new place. She parked in their new driveway, turned off the engine, and unbuckled.

“We should get home,” he said. “That pizza’s probably getting cold.”

A few days had gone by and Pete still hadn’t set foot inside their new property. She, on the other hand, had been over a lot, bringing over a couple items each time. A stack of hand towels here, a

couple plates there. Nothing that would be noticeable. Eventually, though, she’d need to do more and she was concerned how this would go over. Her friends told her to plan a romantic dinner at the new place. All you need to do is buy some champagne, light some candles, and fix his favorite food. He’ll come around. When she told them how he wouldn’t even come over for pizza, they got quiet. Oh, they said.

Over the next week Janet started bringing over the furniture. She didn’t try to hide it either. Pete would be watching a movie and she’d walk right by him carrying an end table or chair. “I guess I’m going to over to play house.” His only response was to sink into the sofa. One night after dinner she started dragging the dining room table toward the front door.

“Here,” Pete said, getting up from the sofa. “You can’t get that alone.”

They carried the table across both lawns and through the door of their new house. She expected to see him flinch or as entered but all he did was keep his steady grip on the table.

“Where do you want it?” he said.

They set the table down to give their arms a rest.

“Where do you think it would look good?”

Pete looked around.

“It’ll look the same no matter where it is.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, Pete?”

The furniture was all at the new place now. Her friends had helped move it while Pete was at work. Janet had wanted to at least leave the sofa and television, but Ruby had talked her out of it. Drastic times, babe. Janet knew that her friend was right. Pete had never come around on his own. He had always needed her to comfort him and make the change seem less overwhelming. But she had been doing this for years and was tired.

Once she had the new bedroom all set up, she went back to talk with Pete. She expected him to be upset, maybe start yelling at her, but he was just standing in the kitchen drinking a beer. She walked over to him and put her arm on his shoulder.

“Pete,” she said. “It’s time.”

He drank off some of his beer, set it on the counter, and then ran his hand over the surface of one of the cabinets.

“I don’t think I’m ready yet.”

“You remember when you quit your job as janitor to make cabinets full time?”

He nodded.

“Aren’t you happier now that you made the switch?”

He said he was, but that this was different.

“I’ve lived here a long time,” he said. “I don’t know anything else.”

On her way out of the kitchen she told him that there was nowhere to sleep unless he liked the floor. He followed her to the front door. She stopped before stepping outside and turned to face her husband. He stared past her. As she left the house she just told him she’d leave a light on for him.

A couple days passed before she saw Pete again. Janet was drinking coffee in the breakfast nook and looking out the window when Pete went by with the lawnmower. At first she simply waved as she would to any neighbor but, when she realized it was her husband, her hand froze. He saw her and stopped pushing the mower. He nodded. For a moment their eyes met. Then the breeze picked up, blowing grass clippings off of Pete’s shirt, and he continued mowing.

A week later they pulled into their respective driveways at the same time.

“How’ve you been, Pete?”

“All right I suppose. Bought a new bed and sofa the other day but I don’t care for them much.”

“You can sleep in our bed, you know. I actually miss your snoring.”

“I wish I could, Janet.”

“I don’t understand you,” she said.

Pete looked down at the bushes, touching the spots that were growing uneven.

“Maybe I can’t give you what you want.”

She wanted to say that she wasn’t asking for much, but she wasn’t sure that was true.

A month went by. She figured it was just a phase they were going through. All couples had them. At night, lying in the bed she had shared with Pete for ten years, she thought about starting over:

The thought of putting herself out there again after a divorce scared her. She knew building a new life was a lot of work, but then again, so was living with Pete.

All of these thoughts usually kept her awake. There was this urge to get up and look out the window to see if she could see Pete, an idea she knew was ridiculous because, for one, Pete went to bed at the same time every night and two, he always kept the curtains closed. So instead she’d just lay there and look at the ceiling or read a magazine.

She spent most of her time wondering what it looked like at Pete’s. Part of her wondered if he had found the exact same furniture and then set everything up as it had been. Perhaps he was simply waiting for her to get tired of the new place and come back home. All she had to do was walk through the door and things would be more or less as they were. As the nights got colder and the maples started to turn, she had to admit this idea had some appeal.

Finally, she cracked. She went over one evening with some takeout and an old detective movie. The walk between the two houses seemed unbearably long. When she arrived at the door, she turned the handle but found it locked. She set the food down and got out her keys. For a moment she wondered if she had tried the new key by mistake, but when she compared the two, she realized Pete changed the locks. Now if she wanted to go inside, she would have to knock, as any neighbor would.

WHERE TO BUY IT: The book is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s. You can also purchase a digital copy for a Nook or Kindle.

PRICE: $10.99

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: I welcome any comments about my work. You can reach me via email at jpabbott@live.com. My Twitter handle is John Abbott–@JPAbbottAuthor

This Way Up

 

THE BOOK: This Way Up:  Seven Tools for Unleashing Your Creative Self and Transforming Your Life.

PUBLISHED IN: April 2016.

THE AUTHOR: Patti Clark.

THE EDITOR: Annie Tucker.

THE PUBLISHER:  She Writes Press

Patti ClarkSUMMARY:  This Way Up is a story of healing for women who yearn to lead a fuller life, accompanied by a workbook designed to help readers work through personal challenges, discover new inspiration, and harness their creative power…

Women spend so much of life nurturing and giving to others that when they find themselves alone—because of an empty nest, the end of a marriage, or the death of a partner—they often struggle with feeling purposeless. This Way Up provides a step-by-step way out of this sense of loss and into a life filled with enthusiasm, creativity, and joy.

The book centers on the essential wisdom of introspection and on the importance of following one’s dreams. This message of hope and transformation is then brought to life through an insightful, systematic and easily relatable twelve week program. Day-by-day journaling exercises, thought provoking questions and reader support are provided. For any woman who yearns to lead a fuller life but doesn’t know how to begin, this book is an ideal starting point.

THE BACK STORY: This project has been a ten year process. It began at a bookstore in 2006, while I sat with my son Lukas, having coffee and leafing through a stack of self-help books. He asked why I hadn’t written my own book. He said that I had been telling him the stuff in those books for years, and that I shouldn’t be reading other people’s work, but writing my own.

I knew immediately he was right. If I didn’t start writing, I felt like my own sons would doubt what I had been saying for years: “Follow your dreams! You can do it!” Not to mention it would be a kind of betrayal to myself.

I had been facilitating workshops for teens for about a decade when Lukas and I had that conversation. I later started facilitating Creative Empowerment Workshops for adults with my business partner Deb under an organization we founded called Figjam Workshops. Many of the participants asked if there was a workbook to use as a follow up once the workshop itself concluded. I have those people and my sons to thank for ultimately inspiring me to write This Way Up.

WHY THIS TITLE?: It’s fun, it’s creative and expresses the ethos of the book.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT:  As one reader put it: “This Way Up heals and transforms lives. Too often women struggle to find a purpose, after spending much of their life nurturing and giving to others. It’s a story and built-in workbook that supports you through personal challenges, unlocks inspiration through visualisation and harnesses creative power. Author, Patti Clark’s easy seven tools guide you out of feeling a sense of loss and into a life filled with enthusiasm, creativity, and abundant joy.”

REVIEW COMMENTS:

This Way Up is a bold new path to personal growth and one that will help any woman who caretakes everyone but herself, whether at work or at home. Patti Clark’s approach is wholly unique and the meditations, visualizations, questions, and journal prompts will gently lead you back to yourself.” — Brenda Knight, author of Be a Good in the World.

“Clark has written an extraordinary story of reclaiming creative wisdom. Part compelling tale, part twelve-week course, This Way Up is a signpost for anyone looking to point the rest of her life in the direction of inspiration.”
— Toni Piccinini, author of The Goodbye Year

This Way Up is a healing guide to a more fulfilling life. Chock-full of practical tools, practices and reflection questions, it’s a helpful and relatable book for readers wanting to deepen self-insight, release the obstacles and doubts that hold them back, and find the courage to claim the life they yearn for and deserve.” — Donna Stoneham, author of The Thriver’s Edge

“Anyone over 50 will identify with Kat’s feeling of invisibility and vulnerability; Clark provides realistic tools to empower the reader seeking a better path and life. This book stands out in its unique format as a self-help workbook starting with Kat’s tale. The activities presented are applicable to any age group of women and provides the way for a new creative, more joyful life.”  — Kathy Nester, Penny for my Thoughts blog

“I totally loved This Way Up, but more than that, I realized that I really needed it. I found myself taking notes and drawing pictures . . . thank you so much for delivering this very timely and wonderfully user-friendly help into my hands. Very nicely hewn characters and such easy-to-identify-with people and patterns, which makes readers think that they could easily do this stuff too. I love the fact that this is written as a self-help book for people who don’t want a self-help book! It’s a good tool for the type of help I need – self reflective, confidence-building, spiritual guidance. It’s led me to being more creative as well.” — Suze Podger, “The Artisan” Book Reviews.

AUTHOR PROFILE:  Patti Clark is an accomplished speaker and workshop leader dedicated to helping people through various life transitions on their journey to an extraordinary life. For more than 30 years, and over several continents, Patti has been sharing her knowledge and wisdom with others. She is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and graduated from U.C. Berkeley. She has taught English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and at Oregon State University.  Patti’s work has been featured in several publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe,  and The Mindful Word. Patti spends part of her time in the United States, and part of her time in New Zealand. This Way Up is her first book.

AUTHOR COMMENTS:  “If you enjoy the book and especially if you enjoy working through the workbook, please contact me for more information about the interactive This Way Up Online Workshop Series. You can find more information about the book and the workshop on my website:
www.thiswayupbook.com

LOCAL OUTLETS:  Independent bookstores everywhere (if it’s not there, you can request it – always better to buy locally than online!).

Indie Bound:
http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781631520280

Barnes & Noble:
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/this-way-up-patti-clark/1122601907?ean=9781631520280

Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/This-Way-Up-Unleashing-Transforming/dp/1631520288/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1468951713&sr=8-1&keywords=this+way+up

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT:
For those readers in Australia and New Zealand, This Way Up is available on Fishpond:  http://www.fishpond.co.nz/Books/This-Way-Up-Seven-Tools-for-Unleashing-Your-Creative-Self-and-Transforming-Your-Life-Patti-Clark/9781631520280

PRICE: $16.95

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:
Contact Patti via her websites:
www.thiswayupbook.com
www.patticlark.org

Or via email:
thiswayupbook@gmail.com

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/ThisWayUpBook/?fref=ts

Twitter:
https://twitter.com/PattiClark1

For Publicity please contact:

United States
Joanne McCall
joanne@joannemccall.net
joannemccall.com
New Zealand
Sarah Sparks
sarah.sparks@markompr.com
markompr.com

Patti Clark
www.patticlark.org/
www.thiswayupbook.com/

This Way Up:
Seven Tools for Unleashing your Creative Self and Transforming your Life
 
NZ: (64) 27 777-4735
“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.”

– Dalai Lama