The Sleeping Night

The Sleeping Night
Barbara Samuel

June 2012 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-127-2

An unforgettable romance in an unforgiving time.

From the six-time RITA winning author
Our PriceUS$14.95
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An unforgettable romance in an unforgiving time.

They’ll need love and courage to see the dawn.

He's a hometown native, returning from the war, determined to change the world he'd fought to protect. She's the girl who's been his secret friend since childhood, now a beautiful woman. Her war-time letters kept him alive. But he's black, and she's white.

In 1946 in Gideon, Texas, their undeniable love might get them both killed.

Barbara Samuel is a multiple award-winning author with more than 38 books to her credit in a variety of genres. Her work has captured a plethora of awards, including six RITAs; the Colorado Center for the Book Award (twice); Favorite Book of the Year from Romance Writers of America, and the Library Journal’s list of Best Genre Fiction of the year, among many others. Visit her at


"Barbara Samuel transported me to 1940's Texas with her outstanding imagery.  I was very moved by this beautiful story!" -- Wendy Catalano, NetGalley 

"Barbara Samuel's rich prose brings to life the countryside, the people, the food and the weather, so we feel steeped in the atmosphere and the times. This excellent romance deserves a wide audience." -- Clara O’Beara, Fresh Fiction

"A tense, haunting, beautiful, love story." -- Lisa Harsma, Books. Lists. Life.

"Starcrossed lovers show up often enough in romance, but rarely with such convincing emotion.... the love story here is beautiful...against the shadows of violence and hate, the goodness of some characters and the beauty of the love story show vividly in unforgettable book" -- Lynn Spencer, All About Books

"Love, love, loved this story.This story has it all, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a well thought out and enthralling story about two people whose love for one another helps them face challenges." -- Sarah Ducharme, LibraryThing

"…the story was riveting and very romantic. . . I'm happy I read it." --Brie Clementine, Romance Around the Corner

"…an AMAZING book to read." -- Melody May, Silly Melody Blog

"A beautiful, passionate, thought-provoking story about forbidden love." -- Hannah Fielding Blog

"…a very moving and heartfelt story…" -- Kathy Branfield, Book Reviews and More By Kathy Blog

"…the love of the two primary characters is sheer brilliance." -- Michelle Cunningham, GoodReads

"This is one of those books that remains memorable in your heart." -- Arianna Bonfanti, NetGalley


— 1 —

Gideon, East Texas


On the morning that Angel Corey was arriving back in her home town of Gideon, Kim McCoy buzzed around her bookstore like a mad woman, trying to get things ready. The author was arriving at 11 o’clock to talk to the Black And White Book Club.

Corey had written plenty of books in her eighty years, but mostly they were spiritual in nature—ponderings on the nature of the soul and God. And she was famous for a radio show she’d been hosting for some forty years now.

Her new book was different, written—or rather collected—to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the war. In the window were copies of Corey’s book, War Letters (with Recipes), which had been deemed frivolous by MariAnna Hayden, who was twenty-four and Very Serious About Books and never liked it when they picked something with even a hint of romance or "traditional” women’s work, like recipes.

The older women in the group let MariAnna rage, remembering their own days of drama and agitation, and went ahead and read the book anyway. They read it for the Gideon connection, mainly, and to give themselves a bit of a pat on the back. The book club had been instrumental, after all, in the war memorial that was being christened today.

But the older women cried over Corey’s book, too, remembering things in their own lives. Remembering a time when things were harder, when the town wasn’t quite as easy in its skin as it was now.

Kim stacked copies of the book, with its cover of handwritten V-Mails, in the front window of her bookstore, Morning Books. She had taken the name from a poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar. The store, cozy with armchairs and plenty of shelves and corners, sat right on the main drag of Gideon proper, a bookstore that featured African American books mostly, with some local history.

Which was actually another point of contention with MariAnna, that they were bringing a white author to an African American bookstore. MariAnna wasn’t black or even biracial, like Kim herself, but she made more noise than anyone. Honestly, she got on Kim’s last nerve, but she was grandmothered in since her grandmother had been an original member of the Black And Whites.

Kim said it was her bookstore and if she wanted purple people in it, she’d invite them. The Black and Whites backed her up.

The book club had been meeting once a month since five young women, three white and two black, had established the reading group in 1972. The South had not been entirely integrated in those days, and they had felt very daring and avant garde. Their first book reflected that: Fear of Flying, by Erica Jong. It broke the ice and let them read pretty much anything else they wanted after that, including some incendiary things like The Letters of Angela Davis and, later, Helter Skelter, after which they reckoned they didn’t much care for true crime.

They kept the rules loose, and the selection of titles absolutely fair. Each person put her name on a list (there were only women, no matter how often they tried to tempt spouses, sons, fathers, friends into the club) and when a name came up, the book club read whatever book she chose. Period. Each reader had one veto she could utilize once every two years (which was so strict because of Betty Michelin, who didn’t like anything but mysteries and killed pretty much everything else that came up; Betty quit the club the very next month and everyone breathed a sigh of relief).

The Black And Whites had struggled a time or two. Once was when they decided to brave themselves and public opinion and go see a Spike Lee movie. It ended up hurting just about every single person’s feelings on some level, requiring Augusta Younger, then president, to call a halt to the evening discussion and send everybody home to cool off. The subject of the film was forbidden for one year, and at that time they all had cooler heads and could talk about it a little more calmly.

The club now had twelve members, five white and seven black. They tried to keep it more or less half and half, to preserve the spirit of the founders, but the truth was, they hadn’t lost a member or picked up a new one in nearly three years, since MariAnna joined, taking her grandmother’s spot. One year before that, Johniqua Younger, just turned nineteen, had joined, taking the spot left vacant by Tillie High, who had finally died of the lung cancer that nagged her for years.

The whole group had said, too bad Tillie wasn’t alive for this day. Too bad she couldn’t be here for this.

Kim stepped back to look at the store through narrowed eyes. Would it pass muster? This was the most important guest they’d ever had.

If not for the book club, Kim would not own the bookstore that was her pride and joy, complete with two cats—one white, one black, naturally—who chased the mice away and kept customers company when they curled up in an easy chair. If not for the bookstore, she would not have had the courage to leave her husband, who was not abusive, not evil, just completely and utterly wrong for her.

The Black And Whites were all aflutter about Angel Corey coming to town. Years ago, everybody in Gideon had thought she died, of course. That was the funny part of the title of one of her books, The Resurrection of Angel Corey. This morning the first thing Angel was going to do in Gideon was visit her grave and put some flowers down on it. Kim thought it was morbid, but what did she know? She was only thirty-six. Graves seemed a long way out.

At ten, Kim did a walk-through. They’d agreed to a morning meeting since the ceremony for the Medal of Honor winners and the unveiling of the Gideon WWII memorial was at two pm. They’d all want to be there for that, too, of course, especially Angel.

The book club, along with one guest each, strictly enforced, started gathering by 10:20. All women, because Angel’s brand of spirituality had been directed at women all along, all ages, from old to young. They brought mock apple pie made with Ritz crackers, and Spam with beans, and somebody even tracked down some Postum, which Kim thought was just about the nastiest thing she’d ever tasted.

At 11 o’clock on the dot, a black car drove up with proper pomp. A beautiful young man got out of the driver’s seat, tall and caramel skinned, with a glaze of black hair smooth against his head.

"Hel-lo!” said Johniqua Younger.

They all swooned over the way he opened the door and helped the woman within to her feet, but then she brushed his hand away and he laughed, making it plain they knew each other.

And Kim had to touch her tummy to rub at the butterflies, because there was Angel Corey herself, her hair snow white and clipped short. She was a little stooped, but otherwise looked spry in a chic dress, belted at the waist. Her arms were full of bracelets, and she strode into the store with an air of happy expectancy.

"Hello,” she said. "I reckon you’re all waiting for me.” She smiled, looking at each one of them in turn. "Now, which one of you is Paul’s granddaughter?”

Kim stepped forward, and lifted a hand shyly. "Here,” she said with a little squeak.

And Angel Corey, who was famous in sixteen countries, and had written twelve books, and had established a foundation named after her own father, Parker Corey, came forward and kissed her on the cheek. "I am so happy to meet you, sweetheart.” She squeezed Kim’s arm. "Thank you for giving me a reason to come back to Gideon.”

"Thank you for coming,” Kim managed. She gestured toward the food. "We made... um... lots of things. From the war.”

Angel smiled, her pale green eyes as beautiful as they were in her pictures, and took Kim’s hand. "How about if I read a little first? You want to come sit beside me? I think,” she said, taking what the Black And White’s called The Queen’s Chair, because it was the chair the book club leader always sat in, "that there’s only one thing I can read from.”

Sunny Walker, as pretty as her name, edged forward, holding the book out. "The War Letters?”

Angel nodded and took the book. Only then did Kim see that the old woman was struggling with high emotion. "Can I get you something? Water, coffee?”

"No, sweetheart.” She squeezed Kim’s hand. "An old woman is allowed to be emotional.” A glaze of tears brightened the green eyes even more, and she paused for a long moment, taking in the group seated in a circle around her. "I’m looking at all of you and thinking how happy my father would be to see your book club. This is a fine, fine day, and I’m so proud to be with you.”

The young man at the back of the room edged forward, grabbing a bite off the table before he sat down nearby Johniqua, who straightened and pretended to ignore him. He smiled, and scooted over one more chair so he was sitting beside her.

Angel composed herself, opened her book, and began to read.

"It began with a letter from Isaiah High, who had been my friend when we were children, but not for a very long time.

"November 25, 1942

"Dear Angel,

"I heard from my mama about Solomon and I’m just writing to tell you how sorry I am...


And who shall separate the dust

What later we shall be?

—Georgia Douglas Johnson



— 2 —

Gideon, Texas


Everybody always said too bad about Angel Corey, living out there on the edge of Lower Gideon with only her crazy daddy Parker and no mama to put her straight.

The word in town was that Parker had seen a vision in the trenches of France in the Great War, just before they shipped him home for the gangrene in his feet. Parker never spoke about it, but it was clear he took seriously the notion of Jesus being "the least of these,” because from that day forward he treated every rag-tag stranger and down-and-out colored like the good Lord himself.

Had it just been Parker by himself, living like some crazy preacher out there in his store, folks might have turned a blind eye. A Corey had run the store since the War Between the States, after all, and he wasn’t much trouble, miles down the road from Gideon proper. A man had a right to make a profit and, though the coloreds had little enough, they spent most of what they had right there in Parker’s store.

But his little girl was the kind of child people never can leave alone. No accident she was called Angel. Gobs of spun-sugar hair the color of morning and great green eyes as strange as her mama’s, who appeared in Gideon out of nowhere one hot summer day and died one quick year later when her baby came into the world. Women were always sending Angel clothes they’d cut down from something of their own, and tsking over her hair when they saw her at church. More tongues wagged over the lack of a woman to put pin curls in those tresses than over Parker’s lack of inclination to marry again, though both received considerable discussion.

Among the men in town, another subject took precedence over her curls or lack of them. They worried about what kind of ideas she was picking up down there. Only decent people she ever saw was the ones at church and the odd farmer stopping in at Corey’s if he didn’t want to go all the way to town. Parker had even taught her to call colored people by their last names—Mrs. this and Mr. that. More than one person had tried to talk her out of that habit, including her aunt Georgia, Parker’s own sister. Georgia told Angel it was plain silly, that habit of hers—she wouldn’t call a dog Mr. Spot, now would she?

But typical for Angel, that’s just what she started doing. Every dog and every cat, Mr. Rover and Mrs. Puffy.

Lotta people decided right then she was lost.

Tsk as they might, Angel never felt overlooked or unloved. She had her daddy, who told her stories at bedtime—stories about faraway places, about the chateaus and vineyards he’d seen in France, about brave soldiers and pretty dancing girls in cafés in Paris. In his voice, even the stories about Noah and Abraham took on a special sense of excitement. He read to her about King Arthur and Merlin; about elves and leprechauns; about all kinds of places and people and things nobody but her daddy seemed to know.

She also never missed her mother, seeing as she’d never had one to miss. Anyway, if she needed a mama, there was always Geraldine High, who scooped Angel up in her lap on the warm Texas nights, singing to her on the porch of the store while her husband Jordan—who was the only other man in the whole county who’d gone to Europe for the Great War—and Parker talked late in the night.

Angel often shared Mrs. High’s cushiony bosom with Isaiah, both of them falling asleep as she sang lullabies. Isaiah, two years older, was sometimes her best friend, sometimes her brother. It was Isaiah who listened with her to the stories her daddy read, Isaiah who brought her bluebonnets and wild daisies, Isaiah who colored church pictures with her late at night.

It seemed to her that a child could not have a better life than she did. She would sit on a corner of the porch on Saturday nights, her legs tucked up under her dress, and listen to the voices swirling around and into her bones, a quick-slow rhythm in the black voices that was unlike the voices of the white folks in church. Sometimes, with the indigo summer sky stretched overhead, she would listen to Jordan High laughing and think of God: God in a good mood, like he never was in church; God like he must have been when he made the sky. It was a luxurious sound, rich with knowledge and awareness and love. She’d close her eyes and let that laughing flow through her, thinking of God with a black face and strong black hands, and all the children of the world gathered into his lap.

She had enough sense to know that she couldn’t tell her Sunday school teacher that she thought God must be black. The God in church wore long robes and a long beard and he was always mad about the sinners. But in church on Sunday mornings, she never felt God spinning around in her heart and head, so big, like he did on Saturday nights when Jordan High laughed.

One August night, Angel sat on the front porch of the store in her bare feet, waving away mosquitoes with a cardboard fan. They ate her like she was lunch, and her ankles were already spotted with bites she couldn’t resist scratching.

A slow stream of customers came in, as they did every Saturday. Laughter spilled out of the screen door behind her, and the radio was playing and, nearby the window, two men swapped friendly insults about something that happened that afternoon in a cotton field. Over all the voices, her daddy’s, deep and full, boomed out greetings to his customers.

From down the road, on foot, came a pair of travelers, one tall, one small. Angel straightened expectantly and waved. Isaiah dashed ahead of his father and ran to the porch.

"Hey, Angel,” he said. "Look what I found down by the river.” He held up the papery skin of a snake, almost whole.

"Can I see it?” Angel asked.

"You lookin’ at it now, girl,” he said. "You can hold it, too, if you want. Careful though. I ain’t never found one like this before.”

As Angel held out her hands, palms up so as not to wound it, the boy’s father gained the small pool of yellow light cast through the windows of the store. "Evening, Miss Angel,” he said in his deep voice. "How you doin’ tonight?”

"Just fine, Mr. High.” She displayed the skin. "You see what Isaiah found?”

"That’s quite a prize,” he agreed and touched his son’s shoulder before going up the steps to the store.

Isaiah sank down next to her. Bony knees stuck out from below his cut-off pants. His ankles were streaked, his shoes muddy, and he smelled like sunshine and dust and river water. "How come you don’t get scared like other girls?”

"What’s to be scared of? I think it’s pretty.”

"Me, too, but Florence Younger screeched like she seen a ghost when I showed it to her.”

Angel shrugged and handed it back to him. "You wanna do somethin’?”

"Yeah.” He grinned, his wide mouth a mix of half-grown teeth and baby teeth and two that had almost reached full size. "Go on and get your daddy’s book. The big one.”

Angel looked at him for a moment.

"Go on,” he said, nudging her, a secret in his dancing dark eyes.

Suspecting a trick, she nevertheless did as he said, finding the book on the table in the living room where it always sat. As she hurried back through the thinning collection of customers in the aisles, her daddy caught her arm. "Where you think you going with that book, gal?”

"Just to the porch, Daddy. Isaiah said to get it.”

Parker pursed his lips, then let her go. "Be careful with it, hear?”

Angel drew herself up to her full height, the heavy book clasped against her chest. "Have you ever known me or Isaiah either one to be uncareful with a book?”

Behind her, a man chuckled; Parker, meeting the man’s eye, grinned, too. As she hurried on her way, she heard somebody say, "You got your hands full with that ’un. Smart as a whip, she is.”

But Angel paid it little attention. Grown folks always talked like that about her, and about Isaiah, too. Which was why she imagined they had become friends. Somebody was always shaking their heads about one or the other of them, or making a little sound in their mouths like the food was good, "Mmn-mm-mm.” Only in this case it was a "what are you ever gonna do with that child?” noise.

Once, some grown-up had looked at Parker and Jordan, talking quietly by themselves and said (like Angel and Isaiah were deaf) "What are you gonna do about those children?” Straight out.

Parker had looked at the woman through the smoke of his cigarette and said, "I don’t aim to do nothing. They’re children.”

The woman had made that sound in her throat, then gone on with her shopping. Isaiah and Angel had talked about it and decided the difference they felt in themselves was the fact that both their daddies had gone to France for the war. They came back different, so naturally their children were different, too.

Parker often read to them on these soft Saturday nights after all the customers went home. He read a lot of books. But this one, both agreed, was the best. Fairy Tales from Around the World.

Angel carried the book outside to Isaiah.

"Sit down,” he said, the secret spreading now to his face, where a dimple winked in his cheek. He opened the book with ceremony. "Which one you want?” he said.

Still puzzled, she shrugged. "I don’t care.”

"Come on, Angel. You always pick one.”

"Okay. Hansel and Gretel.” She giggled, because he hated it. It scared him.

But without a single protest, he opened the book to the story and began to read, "Once upon a time...”

Angel listened, her mouth hanging open for a long, long moment, staring at him as he bent his head over the open pages. He didn’t read it as good as her daddy did, but it was a whole lot better than what Angel could have done.

"You can read?”

"You hear me, don’t you?” But a grin betrayed his belligerent tone, and he softened. "Pretty good, huh? I been practicin’ all summer. Your daddy gave me a book of my very own.”

"Oh, you’re doin’ real good.” She tucked her dress over her knees. "Read me some more.”

And he did.

Much later, Parker and Jordan came out on the porch, where the children had moved to drawing with pencils on flat sheets of butcher paper. The men’s voices drifted over Angel, making her sleepy, and she laid her head down on her hands to rest for just a minute. Their words were indistinct, only their voices plain, and she waited for the laughing that would come.

But tonight their voices were serious. Isaiah’s great dark eyes focused on the men, the crayon in his hand forgotten.

"What’s wrong?” Angel asked him.

He frowned in a puzzled way, his gaze fixed on his father. "I ain’t too sure,” he said in a soft voice. "Somethin’.”

Parker glanced at the children. "Little pitchers have big ears,” he said, pursing his lips.

"Well,” said Jordan, a gentle smile replacing the worry in his face, "so they do. You children done already?”

Isaiah glanced at Angel quickly. If they said yes, then Jordan would stand up and hold out his hand for Isaiah. The evening would be over. "No, sir,” he said.

"Whyn’t you come on over here, anyway. Let me tell you a story tonight.” He settled back in the chair to make room on his long legs for both children. They scrambled up and he looped an arm around each, slowly beginning to rock back and forth in the still night. Parker turned off the porch light, then lit a cigarette, ice clinking in his tea as he lifted the glass to his lips.

Angel settled her cheek against Jordan’s shirt. Isaiah rested his head on his daddy’s shoulder. The gentle rocking made Angel sleepy and she yawned, closing her eyes as Jordan’s deep voice rumbled through his chest into her ear. "A long, long time ago...” he began.

Long as she could hear that velvety rich voice in her mind as she drifted off to sleep, Angel didn’t even care about the story. Isaiah shifted, his knee bumping hers, and she drew her legs a little closer to give him more room. She heard him take in a shuddery, long breath that turned into a hard yawn. Without opening her eyes, she smiled.

Much later, she stirred, and found herself in her own bed. Foggily, she turned over. She listened for a minute, and sure enough, the sound of her daddy and Jordan talking came in through her window. She drifted away again.

The next Saturday was the last of the month. Things had gone pretty much like always all day. Angel ran errands for her daddy, fetching lengths of cloth and keeping tea brewed to cool the lips of the customers. As she worked, she kept looking for Isaiah, who was always first through the door.

The night grew later; the customers drifted away. Angel’s daddy told her to get the broom and start sweeping up.

She was angling the old broom under the lip of a set of shelves when Isaiah burst through the screen door, letting it slam hard behind him. His face was dirty, his clothes askew, and his chest heaved like he’d been running a long way.

An immediate hush fell over the voices of the remaining customers, voices that had, until that minute, been rolling easily about the long front room of the store. All eyes fell on the boy, including Angel’s. They knew, looking at that face, that whatever they heard wasn’t going to be good. Angel felt her stomach fall to her feet and she clenched the handle of the broom with fingers that would be full of splinters the next day. Isaiah’s eyes swiveled around the room, lit on Angel, and passed to her father, who broke the silence.

"What is it, Isaiah? Speak up, child, speak up.”

"Mama said come get you.” His voice was thin with horror. "They killed my daddy.” His lip trembled, his eyes wide and shimmering with terror. "They killed him—”

At the remembered ugliness, Isaiah fell straight to the floor in a dead faint. Later, Angel didn’t remember doing it, but she ran to Isaiah, washed his face with a cloth she had wet with cool water, then helped him out to the porch to get some air when he came around with a jerk. By then there was hardly anybody else around; only a few women with a keening sound to their voices and a worry in their whispers.

It didn’t make sense to Angel right away, about Jordan High being dead because it was the first time in her life (unless you counted her mama—and she didn’t remember her) anybody she knew died. As she sat holding Isaiah’s hand in the darkness of the porch, she heard the rich sound of Jordan High laughing in her mind. She looked at the stars and Isaiah wept. Angel held his hand in the darkness, feeling something big and sad move inside of her. But instead of tears, she held on to the thought of Jordan High in heaven, laughing with God.

After a time, there came the flicker of torches and flashlights through the trees, winking in the darkness of thick pines. Isaiah dried his eyes and let go of Angel’s hand. He stared at the silent crowd. A hardness drew up his face as he watched the pinpoints of light weave toward them, and Angel had enough sense to know not to say a word.




How arrives it joy lies slain

And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?

—Thomas Hardy "Hap”

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as child: but when I became a man I put away childish things.

—I Corinthians 13:11



— 3 —

Mrs. Rachel Pierson
#2 Old Farm Road
Gideon, Texas

June 29, 1945

Dear Isaiah High,

I went yesterday to Corey’s store, for Parker is not well. There I saw your mother and, when I asked after your health, she shared the news that you have decided to stay in Europe for a time. She gave me your address when I said I might have a job for you to do, if you are interested.

It has been a long, difficult war and you must be very tired (I remember well the exhaustion of the soldiers in our last war) so, if you cannot do this thing for me, I will understand.

My wish is this: that you would see for me if there are any of my sister’s family remaining alive. They were Jews from Holland, and I had hopes I might hear from them when the war ended, but I have not. There was my sister, her husband, and their daughter, who will now be in her middle twenties. I will be happy to pay you what ever you wish. I want only to know if any of them are still alive so that I do not have to spend the rest of my life worrying if one of them is starving. If you find any of them alive, I will take them in here.

Please let me know at your earliest convenience if this is a task you wish to undertake.


Mrs. Rachel Pierson



— 4 —

Gideon, Texas

May, 1946

By the time the train reached Texas, Isaiah felt like he’d been traveling a thousand years. He was weary of sitting and wanted a meal that filled him even more than he wanted a night’s sleep. His temper had been boiling for thirty-six hours and, if he’d had any doubts that he could return home for any length of time, riding Jim Crow through the South, where his uniform with its bars meant nothing at all, had disabused him of that notion.

He had been in Europe for more than four years, first in England, then across France and into Germany. He’d understood that his service had changed him. Until he’d been forced to board the colored car at the Mason Dixon line, he had not realized that it might be impossible to return to the Jim Crow South, to fit himself back into the rigors of a system that now seemed antiquated and peculiar.

However much he and his fellow soldiers had changed, it was clear the South had not. Companions warned him with stories of the beatings that soldiers received when, after long years away, they forgot themselves and tipped counter girls or filled paper cups with water from white water fountains.

Some of them, naturally, were young men who wanted to test the walls upon their return, soldiers full of themselves and the guns they’d held and the freedom they’d discovered on foreign shores.

Most had just forgotten. A grandmother in a blue calico dress warned Isaiah that there were always those willing to remind a colored man of his place.

"Yes, ma’am,” he said. "Thank you kindly.”

Isaiah worried over Gudren, up front in the white cars—worried about her being alone in her frail state, with her accented English. He’d found her in a refugee camp, half-dead, and it had taken several months before she’d been well enough to travel. Those months had given her some dignity, giving her time to flesh her emaciated frame, grow some hair, lose a little of her refugee look. She would still be plainly a stranger. He didn’t like to think of anyone being rude to her.

Though, considering all, a little rudeness wouldn’t be anything much to a woman who’d survived the camps.

At last they made it to Gideon. Isaiah and Gudren were the only passengers to get off the train.

"This is Texas?” she asked in wonder. "I thought it would be a desert. This is beautiful.”

"I reckon it can be.” He picked up her bag. "Let’s look for Miz Pierson.”

The car, a long fat Chrysler, waited near the door of the station. An old white man had evidently driven the car, for he still sat behind the wheel. Standing outside it was blind Mrs. Pierson, her chin jutting out. Only her hands, restlessly wringing themselves, gave her away. Her face had aged thirty years since he had left just before the war. It made him sad.

"Miz Pierson,” Isaiah said, "I brought you your niece, just like I promised. This here’s Gudren Stroo.”

The two women met with outstretched hands. Each waited a little shyly, until Gudren said quietly, "My mother talked about you so much.”

Tears, unmistakable in the late afternoon sunlight slanting through the pines around the station, glittered in Mrs. Pierson’s sightless eyes. "I only wish it could have been sooner,” she whispered.

Gudren bent to hug her aunt and Isaiah stepped back, his throat closed. It was worth coming back to Texas, worth Jim Crow a hundred times, to deliver this single life into the keeping of one who knew and cared.

As he slung his duffel bag over his shoulder, Mrs. Pierson’s voice halted him. "Isaiah High,” she said.

He turned. "Come see me in the morning. We have things to settle between us.”

"No, Miz Pierson. We’re square.”

"Perhaps,” she replied. "Nonetheless, I wish you would take the time. You must allow me to thank you for this precious work you’ve done.”

Isaiah hesitated, knowing she would press more money on him. He didn’t aim to accept it, but there was no harm in stopping by anyway. He nodded. "All right, then. I’ll be there.”

Gudren stepped up to him and held out her hand. "Thank you.”

Isaiah, conscious of the curious faces of the onlookers, ignored her hand and kept his head angled low. "You’re welcome. You get well, now.”

He left them, setting out toward home. As he passed through Gideon proper, he kept his gaze fixed firmly on his path so that he wouldn’t be required to speak to anyone, wouldn’t accidently meet the eyes of anyone who’d take offense. It shamed him to do it, after so long walking like a man in the world.

Even with his lowered eyes, it was apparent nothing in Gideon had changed in his absence. Women still shopped in flowered cotton dresses, men still gathered in little knots by their cars to talk cotton. He felt their eyes following him.

What had he expected? He shook his head. Something. The entire world had turned itself inside out, spilling intestines from one corner of the globe to the other. Fifty million people were dead, Europe was almost destroyed, and horrors he could barely comprehend had been unleashed.

But here, white folks lived in Gideon proper, black folks across the river and down the road in lower Gideon. The library wouldn’t give him a book and he better not try stopping for a beer until he crossed that bridge.

His walk carried him through a path in the woods by the Coreys’ store, but he didn’t stop. He glimpsed the worn roof through the trees, and the sight brought a surprising clutch of sorrow and... what? Nostalgia, maybe. A time lost to him.

Parker and Angel. Before he left, he would have to stop to see them. On his way out.

He crossed the bridge into Lower Gideon, black Gideon. Here the houses sat a little bit farther apart, leaving room for chickens and hogs and the occasional cow. Almost every yard boasted the flat of a newly planted garden.

Nothing had changed here, either. Houses still had need of a good coat of paint. Rickety rockers sat on rickety porches. He took a breath against the pang it gave him, seeing the truth. They were so damned poor. He’d forgotten—poor and proud, or poor and tired, or poor and defeated, but poor. Here and there, fresh whitewash had been applied to a fence or a new screen door hung. Here and there, holes in windows had been patched with cardboard, or pigs had ruined a yard.

In the middle of the afternoon, there was no one much about. Field workers were planting cotton for the farmers who spread for twenty miles in either direction. Domestics were busy cooking and cleaning in genteel Upper Gideon. Those unlucky or unmotivated enough to have no work at all slept or gathered in the back rooms of the juke joint further down river. Isaiah saw only Mrs. Cane, hoeing in her garden, an apron tied around her dress. She didn’t see him and Isaiah didn’t holler.

His mama’s house sat as close to the river as the Corey store on the other side, and Isaiah knew if he jumped in and swam across, he’d be able to jog through the woods in a nearly straight line to the tree house he and Solomon and Angel had built. Not that he would, not with copperheads and water moccasins lurking in those sleepy depths, but once he had. He shook his head at the memory. A wonder he hadn’t been bit to death.

It was plain no one was home in the High house. If his sister had been there, she would have had the radio on, and his mother never worked without singing something. A gentle quiet surrounded the simple house with its polished windows and swept walk. Someone had recently built a new set of steps up to the porch. The new wood gleamed in contrast to the old pine boards above it.

Inside, Isaiah took off his hat and hung it automatically on the coat tree, pausing at the scent of home hanging so richly in the room, a combination of cooking fat and lemon oil and a hint of his mother’s talcum, an unexpectedly powerful mix, like the sight of the roof of the Coreys’ store.

Then the nostalgic mood broke with a vicious growl from his belly and he headed for the kitchen, finding two leftover chops, gravy and three biscuits from breakfast. There was even, to Isaiah’s deep delight, half a pecan pie. He wolfed all of it down. Finding himself still longing for more, he scrounged around in a closet for a fishing pole. Time of day wasn’t the best, but he figured he might catch a catfish for supper. Surprise his mama when she got home.

Geraldine High walked slowly up the road toward home. Her right knee ached with a vengeance, which told her there would be rain in a day or two. It was swollen twice its normal size, and she’d be lucky to sleep tonight with the pain of it. In her shoulders was a weariness born of lifting and folding and scrubbing. With one palm, she rubbed the tight spot.

The earthy scent of frying catfish drifted out into the early evening air as she walked up the porch steps. Geraldine thought gratefully that her daughter Tillie must have gotten home from the cotton fields early. Maybe a neighbor had dropped by the fish after a good catch. Whatever it was, she was thankful that for once she didn’t have to cook it.

She headed straight for her bedroom when she came in, unbuttoning her blouse as she went, thinking about the day. Mrs. Hayden’s grandchildren had been underfoot since they’d tumbled out of bed at breakfast.

"Never met such a pack of undisciplined children in my life,” she muttered, shedding her skirt. They’d run through the kitchen, trompled up and down the stairs and slammed out the back door, scattering their things all over the place. Mrs. Hayden had told Geraldine not to worry herself about the children, to let them pick up their own things. Easier said than done when their toys were on the counters where Geraldine cooked, when their squabbling spilled into the kitchen. Once, she thought, pulling a loose cotton housedress from her closet, once she would have scolded any child in her kitchen, given them an ear boxing they wouldn’t forget and sent them firmly outside with their games. Now...

She sighed. Both she and Mrs. Hayden were too old for all those children.

In her loose, comfortable dress, she went toward the kitchen, giving her scalp a good scratching. "I tell you, Tillie, I’m going to get after those children tomorrow. Can’t be letting them run all over like that. I’m so tired tonight I can’t even see straight.” She breathed deep. "That cat sure smells good, honey.”

It was only then that she looked up. And it wasn’t Tillie home from the fields at all. It was her son Isaiah, grown as broad and sturdy as his daddy, looking so such like him (except for his eyes, she thought proudly, those eyes are mine) that it nearly gave her turn. With a little cry of joy, she moved forward, lifting her hands to cup his face. "Isaiah! What are you doing here? Why didn’t you tell me?”

"It was a surprise.” A full, rich chuckle rumbled up in his throat and he scooped her into his arms. "I sure missed you, Mama.”

His arms were like blocks of wood, his shoulders broad as oak trees. "Put me down!” she protested, laughing. But she gripped him back, relief flooding her. It was good, so good to have her child in her kitchen, lifting her clear off the floor and laughing in her ear. Tears stung her eyes for a minute. They were blinked away by the time he let her gently down.

He kissed her head. "I figured you might be hungry.”

Looking at all the food piled up on the counter, she said, "You didn’t have to go all through this, son. I’d have fed you.”

Isaiah bent to check the cornbread browning in the oven. "Naw, Mama. I ate everything you had in this kitchen when I got home. Had to make up for that.” He pushed her toward the table. "You set down and put up your feet. We’ll eat in a minute. What time Tillie get home?”

Geraldine waved a hand. "No telling. She may notbe home. Girl’s gone wild, Isaiah. Spends most her time over to Harry’s, raisin’ Cain.” She sighed. Her youngest had always been in trouble. She needed a daddy, that’s what ailed her. Now she spent all her time looking for somebody to fill up that empty spot and, when nobody could, drank it away. In one way, Geraldine understood it. In another, Tillie had been better taught than that. She’d come to a bad end one day.

But that was her second child. This one standing before her, her eldest and her son, was something else again. Not that he wasn’t no trouble, because he sure had been in his turn. Too proud and too smart for his own good and, as she eyed him now, she didn’t see that had changed much.

Maybe war had taught him prudence.

Guiltily she thought about Parker Corey. She oughta tell him. But later. Right now, she was going to keep him all to herself and eat the meal he’d cooked for her and drink in the wonder of his presence right here in her kitchen. After supper. There would be time enough then to tell him.

She stopped for one minute behind him, putting her head against his back. "Boy, I missed you more than I can even tell you.”

"I know, Mama,” he rumbled. "Me, too.”

They talked all through supper, and he told her stories—safe stories, funny stories, not the dark or ugly ones—then Isaiah cleaned up the supper dishes. Now, his ribs straining after the huge meal, he squatted against the south wall of the house, smoking a Chesterfield. The sound of the river swishing and splashing mixed with the copper-edged notes of a steel guitar in the juke joint—Harry’s—not far away.

Texas weighed in the air like blood. Isaiah smelled the faint rot of growth on the riverbank, smelled cornbread and bacon fat and somebody baking a chocolate cake. All of it was familiar, the signposts of his childhood. Once, he had taken pleasure in the view of the sky through the branches of cottonwoods that lined the river and clogged the sewers around lower Gideon, had felt his heart pumping in joy at the sound of the music playing down yonder.

Tonight, he could barely breathe. His nose had learned other scents—lavender and heather and death. Gideon had become like one of the places he’d read about as a child. Real, surely, but without meaning.

The man he had become could not bow under the weight of this old Gideon. One way or the other, it would kill him if he stayed. His plan had been to see his mother and sister tonight, then head out tomorrow, maybe west to Colorado or California. He meant to pause at the Corey store only long enough to tip his hat before he jumped back on that train and took himself out of Texas. He wasn’t a man that needed lessons taught more than one time.

But now he’d learned that Parker Corey was dead, had been buried only a few days before. Whatever he said to himself, he knew he’d pay his respects, both to Parker and to his daughter, widowed by the same war that had spared Isaiah.

Flicking away the butt, he straightened—and started as a figure appeared in the trees beyond the house. He frowned, trying to make out who it was.

His sister strolled into the light—but not the child he’d left. "Lord have mercy,” he said, shaking his head, for she was six feet tall and broad shouldered, with a ripe, lush figure beneath her worn dress. He whistled, low and long, in admiration. "Honey, you did some growing while I was gone.”

She whooped and ran toward him, up the steps to throw herself into a back breaking hug, bringing with her a scent of whiskey. "So did you,” she said, and broke away from him saucily. "But while I got better, you just got uglier.”

A little bit tight, Isaiah thought as she flung herself upon the porch rail. Something tense and wound and hard inside of her. He propped a foot up on the rail and shook a cigarette out of the pack toward her. "That’s all right, honey,” he said with a lift of his eyebrows. "I got all I need.”

"Little easier to find it someplace else,” she said, dipping her head to the match he held. "Men get to run away. A woman’s always stuck behind.”

"You wanted to go fight Germans, Tillie?”

"Bet I’m as strong as most the men you fought with, bigger than most.” She spit a bit of tobacco from her tongue. "Don’t see why I couldn’t have learned to fire a rifle.”

"Yeah, well, it wasn’t no adventure.”

She jumped off the rail restlessly, and moved a few feet to stare into the dark. "Maybe. Maybe not. All over now, anyway.”

He thought of the rubble in the cities, the empty, blasted fields. It would be a long time before Europe forgot. But he didn’t want to talk about the war. "I hear you broke my record for picking cotton.”

"I sure did.” She grinned, showing straight white teeth and the same dimple Isaiah had. "Mama tell you?”

"Angel wrote me about it.”

Tillie stared at him for a minute, smoking, her long, exotic eyes unreadable. "She wrote you letters?”

He nodded. "I think she wrote every soldier in town.”

"I don’t know about all that,” she said quietly. Then, "You heard Parker died, I guess.”

"Mama said it wasn’t but a few days ago. Can’t believe I missed him by so little.”

"It was a blessing, Isaiah. You better off remembering him the way he used to be. It’s a wonder he lived as long as he did.” She shifted and smiled in memory. "He didn’t think it was so silly I wanted to be a soldier. Told me I’d be a good one—and I would’ve been, too.”

Isaiah smiled back. "I reckon you would have. Probably better than me—I didn’t like it.”

"Someday,” she said wistfully. "Maybe I’ll have a granddaughter goes to war someday.”

He touched her shoulder. "Maybe it’d be better if we didn’t have no more wars instead.”

"Yeah.” She snorted, then ground her cigarette beneath her heel. "Give me a hug. I gotta get me some sleep before I fall over. I’m glad you’re home, ’Saiah,” she said, hugging him tight. "I really missed you.”

In the morning, Isaiah went by Mrs. Pierson’s as he’d promised. She tried pressing money on him, and he refused—she’d already sent him a bundle, and he had money saved from his pay through the war. He didn’t need it.

She offered him a job, rearranging her considerable yard. He gently turned that down, too. "I’m not staying, Miz Pierson. I’ll spend a few days with my mama, then I’m on the next train out.”

"I reckon you’ll want to pay your respects to Angel Corey at least.”

He bowed his head. He’d been thinking maybe he could skip out. What difference would it make?

As if she sensed his hesitation, Mrs. Pierson said, "Her father—”

"I know,” he said curtly, hands laced together. "He saved my life. I owe him.”

"I was going to say her father loved you like a son.”

Which just shamed him that much more.

After leaving her big house, he cut toward the river where it ran through town and followed it north to the cemetery where Parker had been laid four days before.

It was an old, old graveyard, the ground uneven with the roots of trees buckling the earth, knocking headstones a kilter in the oldest areas. In the midday sunlight, the air was still and green and quiet, broken only by the twitter of finches fluttering in the branches. He paused, feeling the peace of it ease down his neck.

As he stood there, wondering if he really wanted to visit a grave or just go on home, Angel Corey came from the town end of the graveyard by herself.

Isaiah stepped backward, hiding himself beneath the low hanging arms of a pine tree. She came slowly, weaving through the headstones in her ambling way, wearing a simple white dress with a wide collar, legs bare, feet stuck into a pair of slides. She was slight beneath the vastness of the Texas sky, and the pale, fine hair just skimmed her narrow shoulders, straight as if she’d used a ruler to cut it.

She was older, too. Skinnier. Not a beauty, never that, but still pretty as she’d ever been.

At Parker’s grave, she knelt, brushing that hair out of her face with an impatient hand, and placed a handful of flowers on the freshly turned earth. Then she stood and let her hands hang at her sides. Isaiah thought she might be talking, but he was too far away to tell for sure.

She looked so damned alone. Lonely. And it was no illusion. Her husband had been torpedoed in the Pacific three years before and, with her daddy gone, there wasn’t going to be anybody else in Angel’s corner.

Sure as hell couldn’t be Isaiah.

What he should do was go on and get it over with, he thought, give her his condolences and get himself on out of Gideon. But he couldn’t seem to make himself move forward. Or away.

As he watched, she lifted her face to the sunshine and closed her eyes. Little as she was, he thought she looked strong. He swallowed the thickness in his throat, then turned away and walked back toward home the way he’d come, a thousand memories of her presenting themselves to him. Angel as a little girl, and a teenager, as a widow writing him letter after letter, keeping his spirits up. He hadn’t told her he was coming back, either. He’d stopped writing to her once the war was over. It had been time to create some distance again.

Along the way through the woods, he found himself plucking wildflowers. When the worn roof of the Corey store came in view, he left the dimness of the forest to put the flowers on the step, where she’d be sure to find them when she came back home. For a long conflicted minute, he wondered if he ought to just wait for her.

Tomorrow, he thought, crossing the bridge to lower Gideon, maybe tomorrow he’d be ready to talk to Angel Corey. Face to face, without thousands and thousands miles between them.

And then, he’d just go on to California, far away from Gideon and Angel and the whole sorry mess that began when he started writing those damned letters.


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