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Authors: David Hill

Sacred Dust

BOOK: Sacred Dust
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“FASCINATING.”
—The New York Times Book Review
HIGH PRAISE FOR
SACRED DUST
“[A] sweeping canvas with gut-wrenching visceral details … Unfailingly packed with generous emotion and a breathing history.” —
Publishers Weekly
(starred)
“With
Sacred Dust
David Hill has dipped his hands in the lifeblood of the South. It’s blood poisoned by rage and racism but cleansed by forgiveness. ‘Life will devil and vex you,’ one of the characters here concludes. That’s what this rapturous and thoroughly engaging novel will do as well.”
—John Gregory Brown, author of Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery and The Wrecked, Blessed Body of Shelton Lafleur
“A PASSIONATE FIRST NOVEL … HILL IS A DEFT STORYTELLER. He keeps the story moving propulsively forward and offers a climactic battle for justice that is stirring and persuasive. And in Rose he has created an iconoclastic, moving heroine.”

Kirkus Reviews
“POWERFUL AND INSIGHTFUL … An engrossing story …
Sacred Dust
is a book that will stay with you. Its richly drawn characters ring as true as those in history books of the South.”

Rocky Mountain News
“Hill shows us a complicated, contradictory part of the South and makes us see it the same way as those who inhabit it.… There are no easy answers and Hill’s characters are too realistic to expect them. That is what makes
Sacred Dust
such an absorbing and memorable book.”

West Coast Review of Books
(4 stars)
“A debut novelist with an ear for dialogue as sure as his eye for detail.”

Memphis Flyer
“A MOVING NOVEL.”—
Booklist
“A POWERFUL FIRST NOVEL with roots in Southern literature that run as deep as William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. The characters are vivid and the tensions are genuine. David Hill’s voice is strong and convincing. He is a writer to watch and his first novel is a book to read.”
—Dan O’Brien, author of
Brendan Pratrie
and
Equinox

A Delta Book
Published by
Dell Publishing
a division of
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
1540 Broadway
New York, New York 10036
Copyright © 1996 by David Hill
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. For information address: Delacorte Press, New York, New York.
The trademark Delta® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries.
eISBN: 978-0-307-76722-6
v3.1
To Lonnie
Heartfelt thanks to the following angels, living and departed:
Patty Mayer, Steve Malin, Marjorie Braman, Lea Queener, Linda Oates, Sunta Izicuppo, Michael Jeter, Muffin, Libby Boone, Michael Cherry, Marion Brayton, Bob and Betty Hill, John Pielmeier, Martha Holifield, Gary Cearlock, Kate Permenter, Jeanine Edmunds, and Ed Schmidt.
I am also grateful to: Phylicia Rashad, John Irving, Tennessee Williams, John Matoian, Sarah V. Clement, Virginia Woolf, The New Dramatists, Lisa Bankoff, Phil Rose, Linda Woolverton, and Jeanne Williams.
Say to those who are of a
fearful
heart,
“Be strong! Fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
With the recompense of God,
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall
be opened,
And the ears of the deaf
unstopped;
Then shall the lame man leap
like a hart,
And the tongues of the dumb
sing for joy.
Isaiah 35, Verses
4–6
Before “the Trouble”
O
ld people down here still say “the Trouble.” That house was built … or that family left town … or there hasn’t been an ice storm like this since …
Before “the Trouble”
… means all that began with the universe and it was our cradle, our fresh clean toes tucked between sheets perfumed by the meadow sun as we slept in our houses across a dirt road from each other.…
Before “the Trouble” was only called time back then, our time to taste warm night air laced with the new leaves or the coming of autumn or fresh turned earth. It was our grassy eternity of childhood peeping through the sorghum jungle into the cemetery at black faces long tormented with lament and the singer was shrill as a jay and held us under her mournful spell and we were thrilled to know there was a dead man in that casket.
Even the morning of the day that snaked into the night when eternity split was before; warm wet earth sinking under racing bare feet. How deceptive, our snug, our final, four-cornered wild rose Saturday together.
Even so passing over late Saturday morning, without a sign, boding presence or premonition—no warning bell! The dust road coiling
through our woods was not, had never been, a road, rather the submerged spine of a three-clawed Sleeping Evil.
Nor did we imagine in our fast fading sublime then time the perfumed breeze warming our necks as we sang and waded in the stream was no breeze, rather the slow waking breath of the consuming Serpent.
We talked our favorite old different sides of the same coin litany.
“I’m eight and you’re eight.”
“I’m eight and you’re eight; I like horses and you like horses.”
“I’m eight and you’re eight; I like horses and you like horses; my name’s Miller and your name’s Miller.” Moena had added something I never knew.
“How’d we get the same name?”
“Your great-granddaddy give it to my great-granddaddy when he bought him.”
All was in perfect, as ever and always, asymmetrical balance as we dried our blue tingling toes in the sun and Moena, a stalk of sweet straw wedged into the groove behind her singing tooth let slip that Beauty B. was making me a doll for my August birthday, a gypsy fortune teller from a magazine picture Mother showed her.
We were imperious to assume August, arrogant to proclaim dominion over pasture, creek and wood. We held each other our most sacred protectorate, hopelessly confusing ourselves with each other.
The straight up sun announced dinner which was what you called the big Saturday noon meal back then in Prince George in the country.
Half past noon and our white sprawling house creaked amiably. The meal was still drifting onto the table. Saturday dinner was Hattie and Florence’s chore. Washed up, I sat down to await Hattie’s rolls. I vamped and blinked repeatedly at Father’s “Where’d you get to all morning, Eula?”
Flossy spoke, nervously obsessed about dangerous railroad tramps which Mother rightly guessed came of reading trash novels. Mother off on a sermon about mental putrefaction and the wages of disobedience. Now she cut her eyes at Hattie who had charged several yards of expensive silk to Daddy without his permission.
There was a distant booming like thunder. Fate was galloping towards us on horseback.
Fate was galloping towards us, but silently.
One o’clock. Dessert was peach cobbler. We lingered in the dining room, almost bilious and quite giddy and ignorant of the invisible threads of fate gathering and twisting and knotting up into a hard, thick noose.
In the dying light of the day under the night God forsook us, before the shining gold mist of first dusk leapt into darkness, I sat nervously in the dining room waiting with Hattie for the doctor because Wee Mama had turned badly again. I was all dread and thrill to watch her die and do the grown-up things I dreamt of, washing the corpse, setting the hair, seeing her laid out in the beautiful box. It was already a brooding Paradise, sitting alone with Hattie, listening for the doctor in the chair with cracked wooden seat that pinched you if you stood up too fast. There was a long low rumble like distant thunder. Hattie asked if it was sprinkling.
I went out on the front porch to see. It was a clear, windless night waiting for a moon. No, it wasn’t sprinkling.
It was raining pure brimstone evil.
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BOOK: Sacred Dust
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