Novel Excerpt

Echo Turning is set in Guthrie, Oklahoma, at the close of WWII.

By the second dumping of the day, they usually had a rhythm for as long as James Jr. would keep quiet. They’d back towards each other, throwing wood and debris on the other side of the tree line. Then they’d take it all, pack the wood in the back of the truck, and drive the debris to another, more open area to burn.

Once in the clearing, they’d heap up the debris, throw a small amount of kerosene on top and stand on either side until the pile burned down. The fire was something. Frank would glance up every now and again to see colors between the trees descend into black shadow, while the sun reddened the manmade lake in the distance. Or he’d turn to see James Jr.’s gaze towards the flames and imagine some tale of a neurotic Irish Gypsy running through is head.

When the flames burned low, an eerie stillness took over Echo Turning. James Jr.’s back against whatever falling light was left made Frank uneasy, so he’d find some reason to move, poke at the debris to get it popping again or simply start walking to the truck, ready to go home.

The moment they climbed in, James Jr. always started up. Frank would turn towards the passing sky he had seen his whole life while James Jr. turned the ignition. “I got to first get over to Oklahoma City. Yep. You know, things would happen right here if Guthrie was still the capitol, but Oklahoma City,” James Jr. would said, drawing the words out with the fervor of a child, “I can ride right through the heart and keep on going.” His plan wasn’t just to hitch a ride but to also learn to “play something,” he’d say, while the truck engine rattled.

“What you play now?” Frank had asked him once, after James Jr. insisted on dropping him off in front of his yard so he wouldn’t have to walk home in the dark.

“I’d play the mandolin like Bill Monroe if I thought I could,” he professed, “but I’ll start with the banjo or maybe the harmonica like Sonny Boy. He got the blues alright, but we all know he ain’t going to make it.”

“So nothing?” Frank had thought, clinching his teeth and turning back towards the sky.

…..

“That man racks my nerves Mable,” Frank complained one night after dinner. “He always has but now it’s worse. Every day the same shit. How he going do this, how he going do that.” Frank squeezed a lemon in a glass and then poured in water. “We’d work faster if he’d just shut up.”

Mable watched her husband gulp the lemon water and slam the glass on the counter. “You always say it’s worse,” she said, sitting back in the chair.

“I’m serious. He keep telling me I’m lucky because I ain’t been drafted. He ain’t been drafted neither and hell, I’ll go,” Frank shouted, “just to get away from him.”

Mable smiled slowly without showing her teeth. “He don’t mean no harm. You know how he is, ain’t like the rest of them,” she said, trying to calm him down.

Frank reached for another lemon. “You right but that makes it even worse,” he said. Picking up a knife, he pulled it in front of his face to inspect the blade. “Talk down to you and don’t even know.” He reached for the pumice rock near the sink and slid the blade against its surface, sharpening it. “I can’t wait until we through out there,” he said, running a finger slowly along the edge. He sliced the lemon before turning on the water to refill his glass. “I’m going to look for other work, something in construction.”

Mable got up from the small kitchen table with a hand on her stomach and exhaled forcefully. “The baby’s moving a lot tonight,” she said and began scraping green beans and rice from their dinner plates into an old coffee can on the sink. She looked at the small wicker basket sitting near the back door that her sister Nell came by weekly to refill. Only a scattered layer of green beans remained. “Nell will probably be by here tomorrow. The beans are getting low.”

Frank took a sip from his glass and turned to face Mable. In Frank’s mind, Nell had a downright ill-famed reputation for gossip. As long as Mable didn’t tell her too much and as long as her weekly visits were kept short, Frank thought she was manageable. “You tell her I was working Echo Turning?” he asked suspiciously. Stalling, Mable stacked the dishes on the table. “Yeah,” he said sharply, “I know you did.”

“Oh Frank, Nell don’t care none of where you work.” With the stack of dishes, she walked to the sink.

“She care about Echo Turning though and spreading a bunch of mess,” Frank told her. “Always telling them damn stories.”

A secret keeper Nell wasn’t but she prided herself on telling the truth. “If it’s the truth, it’s always worth telling,” she’d say, “even if don’t nobody ask you.” Frank couldn’t stand it. It seemed to him that the more she told “truth” the worse off everybody in their neighborhood was, especially when it came to Echo Turning. Sure some things had happened out there that nobody could explain but Nell’s stories never helped much, just scared everybody to no end.

There was the story about the manmade lake Nell said was dug from an attempt by the city to cool off the area, have a supply of water just in case of fires, and make the grounds more pliable for certain kinds of vegetation. According to her, it started as only half the size it is now. It had swelled over time and Nell swore that one day bodies anchored to the bottom would float up, exposing the rotting anxiety and fear of death as it permeated through Guthrie. Then there was the story about the oak trunk now laid horizontal on the ground, dried out, riddled with holes, and surrounded by smartweed. Nell said it went tumbling after a fugitive kicked a hole in its hollow trunk and squeezed himself in it. When he realized he was stuck and tried to climb back out, he couldn’t crack a piece loose enough to escape. “A fool,” Nell called him. Then there was everything else. “The living earth,” Frank had heard her say. Wild winds, dancing leaves, an army’s footsteps cantering around. “They’ll swallow you whole,” she’d say, “those brave enough to see something.”

Mable looked at Frank, “She just tell them stories for fun. You know that. They all made up.” She then gleamed at a half-eaten apple pie on the counter. “How’d you like the pie?” she asked, her eyes going soft.

Frank shifted a little to make room for her at the sink. A single basin sink, he installed himself. He grinned so much at his accomplishment Mable never did say anything about it being lopsided, so much so dishes often slipped to the right when she put them down. Smiling now at his pregnant wife he leaned in to kiss her, keeping his arms around her belly. “It was perfect” he said…

© 2016 by Jessica Dewberry. You may NOT reproduce or distribute without permission of the author.

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