A Very Tall Summer

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It was a very tall summer in 1957, and I’ll tell you why…
And so begins the most terrible summer for Charlotte Windover.
She and husband Jeremiah began a new life together surrounded by a wide expanse of a corn and sky. After years of brutal disappointment, she finally resolves to change her life. When Jeremiah is suddenly killed at an abandoned homestead, life becomes more isolated and harrowing. And with the threat of random fires being set by a mysterious figure known only as Croy, Charlotte’s life has become even more desperate.
In a land of big skies and small dreams, A Very Tall Summer is the tale of a woman’s resolve to overcome her broken past, and at any cost.

***

“The land takes hold and humbles and diminishes. It punishes a soul for the vainglorious hope of harnessing it. Rich brown, powder gray, it makes no difference; it overwhelms and chokes a man’s thoughts. It lodges itself upon the skin, under the fingernails, inside work boots and carburetors, it’s always there, at the foot of the bed, in the washing machine, behind the ears, laying claim to you, reminding you it’s there and soon you won’t be. You will be buried in it in time, and even if a hard wind comes and pulls your bones out of the ground, it will mock you, mock your arrogance.

“This was our life, and we expected no more than a decent crop, grocery money, medicine money, repair-the-tin-roof money. Warmth in winter, clean water in summer, the haunting fragrance of corn to placate our shabby mortality.”

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Transparent blue

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There was a loud crack of thunder nearby. It was very loud. I looked to the sky, and it was transparent blue; if you could see beyond it, you could see all the stars. I turned to Jeremiah, and he was

falling to the ground, his belly red and wet. It wasn’t thunder at all, but a gun shot.

He reached for his tobacco pouch. “I wish you wouldn’t do that when you’re driving,” I said. “You get it all over yourself and make a mess of your shirt.”

I’ll be more careful,” he said, and he frowned.

I will never get all that blood out of his shirt, I thought. It was an odd thought, removed from everything, a wandering flea in my head.

Gunth kept an old bentwood rocker on his porch,” he said. “Maybe it’s still there.”

The road was flat, shimmering heat rising already. It would be a hot day, and I was glad for the big shade tree in our yard.

A common sound, except when it is unexpected. A common sound, except when it tears a hole in your husband’s belly. A common sound, except when your legs are stone; no, not just legs, but everything. I was stone eroding from inside. Everything I knew was a single ruined thought. Too shocked to speak, or scream, or beg time to step back for a moment, to contemplate what had been done. And Jeremiah stood still for a moment, for the rest of his lifetime, his hands cradling his damaged stomach. His eyes saw nothing but whatever thoughts were left behind them. And then he fell. Collapsed in the dust, and the dust chuffed up and surrounded him, unconcerned.

And there was another shot. My legs were stone. I understood.

Excerpt from A Very Tall Summer. Available from Amazon:

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For a limited time only, Ordinary Handsome is free if you purchase A Very Tall Summer. That’s two Handsome books for the price of one! Tell them what they’ve won, Johnny!

“That’s right, for a limited time, Ordinary Handsome is free if you purchase A Very Tall Summer. Both have shiny covers and words inside! And did I mention the covers? Yes! They’re shiny! And, um, different colors!”

“That the best you can do?”

“Gimme a break. You told me there’d be pie. And you call this coffee? You wake me up at 5 in the morning for this? And the covers aren’t so shiny. And you’re out of Splenda. What kind of monkey house are you run–”

That’s right! Two for the price of one!

“And this coffee was imported from Saskatoon. Is that even legal? And another thing, where are my shoes?”

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Kisses

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I wanted to tell you what that first kiss tasted like, but didn’t, because then you’d know it wasn’t you. Your kisses were always affectionate, but awkward. You never knew what to do with your mouth, or where your tongue should or shouldn’t go. I should have told you to trust your mouth, let your tongue weave until it became as natural as drawing breath.

I was seventeen and Mam was weeding bull thistles out of the garden. I offered Henry Miller a glass of lemonade. He was a neighbor boy who sometimes helped when things were run down or busted. We’d known each other since childhood. We were talking about the dust and the wind, and then he snuck a kiss. I felt his tongue dash around my teeth, and it startled me. But it was so sudden and sweet that I didn’t push him away. Not at first. It was like a spark set off in my head. Then he tried to slip a hand under my blouse, and I pushed him away, more afraid of Mam if she saw us than of what he was doing. Henry didn’t take offense. He knew he was being a rascal. He was two years older than me, and awfully presumptuous. I didn’t say a word to him, and he smiled, like he knew something about me that I didn’t.

Excerpt from A Very Tall Summer

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Dull company

Did he even see me?

There were weeks when he was the only person I saw. Hard winters, we’d be together, isolated with only each others dull company. And the more I think upon it, the more I believe Jeremiah was ashamed of how he looked, and could not confront his pug face every morning. Those set-back eyes and brooding, gray eyebrows. What did he see when he saw himself, I wonder. The terror of being lost in the vastness of a flat world, those acres and acres of disappointment and resentment? It’s all he had, all he knew. He was no accountant or artist, not a shopkeeper or salesman. He was a farmer. He knew the soil and I think he grew indifferent to it. The land could be cruel, and that cruelty grew in him, no matter his mild supplication of hope each spring. A man could tend to it the best he could, but it was beyond his will and desire. What was the point of it, but empty, wasted years with a wife who moved from room to room to avoid the emptiness.

What did he see? The same thing I saw, but magnified? And how did he see me? A disappointment? Someone whom he could lay claim to and control? There was kindness there, in the beginning, but it curdled with isolation. We had nothing in common other than our wariness of each other; fear of the land, fear of a stretched horizon that bled brown into an infinite sky.

Excerpt from A Very Tall Summer – now available