Authors: Ron Rash
Tags: #FIC027040, #FIC000000, #FIC050000
Award-winning novelist and poet Ron Rash is the author of eleven books.
One Foot in Eden
was his debut novel and the second of his books to be published in Australia. Ron recently received the Frank O’Connor Award for his collection of short stories
. He lives in the Appalachian mountains, USA.
The paper used in this book is manufactured only from wood grown in sustainable regrowth forests.
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Copyright © Ron Rash, 2002
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All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
First published in the United States by Novello Festival Press
Published in the United States by Picador, 2002
This edition published in Australia by The Text Publishing Company, 2011
Cover design by WH Chong
Page design by Susan Miller
Typeset by J&M Typesetting
Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press
National Library of Australia
Author: Rash, Ron, 1953-
Title: One foot in eden / Ron Rash.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9781921656965 (pbk.)
Subjects: Dams—Design and construction—Fiction.
Real estate developers—Fiction.
Dewey Number: 813.54
For Bill Koon
One foot in Eden, I stand
And look across the other land.
The world’s great day is growing late,
Yet strange these fields that we have planted
So long with crops of love and hate.
HERE had been trouble in the upper part of the county at a honky-tonk called The Borderline, and Bobby had come by the house because he didn’t want to go up there alone. I couldn’t blame him. One badge, especially a deputy’s badge, might not be enough. It was a rough clientele, young bucks from Salem and Jocassee mixed with young bucks come down from North Carolina. That was usually the trouble, North Carolina boys fighting South Carolina boys.
I had a good book on the Cherokee Indians I’d just started, but when Bobby knocked on the door I knew I wouldn’t be reading any more this night. ‘Go have you a smoke on the porch,’ I told Bobby. ‘It’ll take me a minute to get dressed.’
Janice didn’t open her eyes when I went into the bedroom to get my shoes and uniform. The lamp was still on, a book titled
beside her. I looked at Janice, the high cheekbones and full lips, the rise of her breasts under the nightgown, and despite everything that had happened, and hadn’t happened in our marriage, desire stirred in me like a bad habit I couldn’t get shed of. I turned off the lamp.
Bobby and I followed the two-lane blacktop into the mountains. No light shone from the few farmhouse windows, not even a hangnail moon above. Darkness pressed against the car windows, deep and silent, and I couldn’t help but think I was seeing into the future when much of this land would be buried deep underwater.
‘It’s a lonesome-feeling night, Sheriff,’ Bobby said, like he’d read my mind.
Bobby lit a Chesterfield, his face flaring visible for a moment before sinking back into the dark.
‘Haints are bad to stir on a night like this,’ Bobby said, ‘least-ways that’s what my momma always claimed.’
‘What?’ Bobby said.
‘Haints. You believe in them?’
‘I never said I did. I’m just saying what it was Momma notioned.’
The fighting was over by the time Bobby and I had got to The Borderline. Casualties were propped up in chairs, though a few still lay amidst shattered beer bottles, cigarette butts, blood, and teeth. It was as close to war as I’d seen since the Pacific. I let them see my badge. Then I stepped through the battlefield to the bar.
‘How’d this start?’ I asked Bennie Lusk.
Bennie held a mop in his hands, waiting for the last men on the floor to get moved so he could mop up the beer and blood.
‘How do you think?’ Bennie said.
He nodded toward the corner where Holland Winchester sprawled in a chair like a boxer resting between rounds, a boxer in a fight with Jersey Joe or Marciano. Holland’s nose swerved toward his cheek, and a slit in the middle of his forehead opened like a third eye. His clenched fists lay on the table, bruised and puffy. He wore his uniform, and if you hadn’t known Holland was sitting in a South Carolina honky-tonk, hadn’t seen the Falstaff and Carling Black Label signs glowing on the walls, your next guess would have been he was still in Korea, waiting at a dressing station to be stitched and bandaged.
‘What do you reckon the damage?’ I asked Bennie.
‘Ten ought to cover it.’
Bobby and I walked over to Holland.
‘Sheriff,’ he said, his wrecked face looking up at me. ‘Looks like you got here too late to join the ruckus.’
‘Looks that way,’ I said. ‘But it seems you got your share of it.’
‘Yeah,’ Holland said. ‘Sometimes when a man’s hurting on the inside a good bar fight can help him feel some better.’
‘I don’t quite catch your meaning,’ I said. ‘All I know is you’ve caused a good bit of damage to Mr. Lusk’s establishment.’
‘I reckon I did,’ Holland said, looking around as if he hadn’t noticed.
‘I know what it’s like when you get back from a war,’ I said. ‘You need some time to settle back in. You pay Mr. Lusk ten dollars, and we’ll leave it at that.’
‘l ain’t got no problem with that, Sheriff,’ Holland said.
‘Next time you’ll go to jail,’ I said. I smiled but I leveled my eyes on his to let him know I was serious.
‘We’ll see about that,’ Holland said. He smiled too but his dark-brown eyes had gone flat and cold as mine.
He reached into his pocket and lay a leather pouch and roll of bills on the table.
‘There, Deputy,’ Holland said to Bobby, peeling off a five-dollar bill and five ones. ‘You run that money over to Bennie.’
Bobby’s face reddened.
‘I don’t take my damn orders from you,’ Bobby said.
For a moment I was tempted to go ahead and cuff him, because it was sure as dust in August that we’d have another run-in with Holland and he wouldn’t come quietly. Tonight he was already wore out and wounded. Tonight might be easy as it got.
‘Take the money to Bennie,’ I said.
Bobby didn’t like it, but he picked up the money. Holland stuffed the roll of bills back in his pocket.
‘Look here, Sheriff.’
Holland opened the leather pouch and shook the pouch’s contents onto the table. A Gold Star fell out, then other things.
‘Know what they are?’ Holland asked, dropping the Gold Star back in the pouch.
I stared at what looked like eight dried-up figs. I knew what they were because I’d seen such things before in the Pacific.
‘Yes,’ I told Holland. ‘I know what they are.’
‘That’s right, Sheriff. You would know. You was in the World War.’
Holland held one up to me.
‘You reckon them ears can still hear?’
‘No,’ I said.
‘You sure about that.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘The dead don’t hear and they don’t speak.’
‘What do they do, Sheriff?’
‘They just disappear.’
Holland placed the ear with the others. They lay on the table between us like something wagered in a poker game.
‘There was some said it was awful to cut the ear off a dead man,’ Holland said. ‘The way I see it, taking his life was a thousand times worse and I got medals for that.’
Holland picked the ears up one at a time and placed them in the pouch.
‘These here won’t let me forget what I did over there. I don’t take it lightly killing a man but I ain’t afraid to own up to it either. All I did was what they sent me there to do,’
Holland stuffed the pouch into his pocket.
‘What did you bring back, Sheriff?’ Holland asked.
‘A sword and a rifle,’ I said. ‘Nothing like what you got in that pouch.’
Then Holland Winchester said the last words he would ever say to me.
‘There’s some that gets through it easier than others when the shooting starts, right, Sheriff?’
Those words were what I remembered two weeks later when Bobby interrupted my lunch.
‘Holland Winchester’s missing,’ Bobby said. ‘His momma’s got it in her head he’s been killed.’
Bobby sounded hopeful.
‘You don’t think we’d be that lucky, do you?’ I said.
‘Probably not,’ Bobby said, the hope in his voice giving way to irritation. ‘Holland’s truck is at the farm. It ain’t like he would walk to a honky-tonk from there. He’s probably just laying off drunk somewheres. Probably down at the river. I told her to call if he comes back.’
‘Let’s give him a couple of hours to wander back home,’ I said. ‘Then I’ll go up there and have a look-see.’
Janice sat at the kitchen table, and she flinched when I said ‘look-see’. Hillbilly talk, Janice called such words, but it was the way most folks still spoke in Oconee County. It put people more at ease when you talked like them, and when you are the high sheriff you spend a lot of time trying to put people at ease.
Janice wore a dark-blue skirt and white blouse. She had another meeting this afternoon. Friends of the Library, DAR—something like that.
‘There’s a missing person up at Jocassee,’ I said, ‘so I might not be back for supper.’
‘That will be fine,’ Janice said, not looking up from the table. ‘I won’t be here anyway. Franny Anderson invited me to have dinner with her after our meeting.’
I leaned over to kiss her.
‘Don’t,’ she said. ‘You’ll smear my lipstick.’
I walked back to the office and waited for Holland’s mother to telephone. When no call came, I got in my patrol car and headed up Highway 288 toward Jocassee, toward what had once been home. The radio said it was over one hundred degrees downstate in Columbia. Dog days are biting us hard, the announcer said. I had the window down, but the back of my uniform already stuck to my skin as I left the town limits. The road was wavy with heat and humidity, its edges cluttered with campaign signs staked in the ground like tomato plants, some for General Eisenhower or Adlai Stevenson and even one for Strom Thurmond. Most were more local, including a couple with my name on them.
The blacktop steepened and pressure built in my ears until I opened my jaws. The road curved around Stumphouse Mountain, and beyond the silver-painted guard posts the land dropped away like those old European maps of the unknown world. If it were late fall or winter I would have been able to see a white rope of water on the far side of the gorge, a waterfall that had claimed two lives in the last twenty years.
The road leveled out, and suddenly I was in the mountains. It surprised me, as it somehow always did, that so much could change in just a few miles. It was still hot, but the humidity had been rinsed from the air. Pines got scarce, replaced by ash and oak. The soil was different too, no longer red but black. Rockier as well, harder to make a living from.
Dead blacksnakes draped on the fences told me what I already knew from the way corn and tobacco wilted in the fields—it had rained no more up here than it had in Seneca. I wondered how Daddy and my brother’s crops were doing, and I reckoned no better.