Hard Times by Les Edgerton: Cover Reveal + Excerpt

Hard Times is the best country noir I’ve read in a long while. A knife-edged, cold-eyed story of love and hate at their most visceral, it’s worthy of a place of pride on the shelf next to William Gay and Daniel Woodrell.”—Scott Phillips, author of Ice Harvest and That Left Turn at Albuquerque

Take a first look at the cover of Hard Times by Les Edgerton (Bronzeville Books, December 2020, design by Reginald Pulliam) and read on for a new excerpt!


I hold a beast, an angel and a madman in me.

—Dylan Thomas

Arithmetic Prize

Once, in Miss Wexler’s third grade, Amelia Laxault won the arithmetic prize. She got a certificate and a gold fountain pen from Miss Wexler and a bloody nose from Arnold Critchin, who caught her on her way home, jumping out from behind a thicket of blackberry bushes along Boudreaux Creek, about a mile from her place. Before she knew what was happening, he hit her, grabbed the paper, and ripped it in two.

Why’d you do that? she said, getting back up, brushing dirt off her shirt with one hand, wiping blood from her nose on the back of her other arm. She doubled up her fist and took a step toward the boy.

’Cause, Arnold said. Stupid girl. He glared at her and threw down the pieces of the certificate and ran back the other way, toward his own home.

Later, out in the privy, she taped it back together and put it in a shoebox she’d hidden out in the woodshed. The next morning, a Saturday, she worked in silence with her mother, taking the shirts her mother kneaded on the scrub board to squeeze out in the rinse tub and put them in the basket to be hung up. When her mother leaned back on her stool for a moment, legs splayed, wiping her forehead with the hem of her dress, she ran to the shed and got the certificate and the pen.

Here, she said, thrusting the mended paper at her. Her mother wiped her face again and pushed up off her stool to stand and read it, a smile gradually softening her mouth as she labored through the words. Amelia held the gold fountain pen up high and the light caught it and both she and her mother gasped at the beauty of it. Read it, Momma, she said, handing it to her.

The pen… she stammered… is might… mightier… than the sword. That’s… that’s from the Bible, she said.

No, Momma. Mrs. Wexler said it was from a play. An Englishman wrote it.

What’s it mean, girl?

I’m not sure, Momma.

Later that night, after her father’d shoveled the last bite of red beans and rice into his mouth and scoured the plate with a piece of cornbread, he told her she was done with school.

What boy would marry a little smart aleck? he said, cheeks bulging with cornbread. You can read, that’s enough. He crumpled up the certificate and stuck it in his pocket. She knew better than to say anything. Later that night, when everyone was asleep, she crept into her parents’ room, found her father’s trousers hanging over a chair, retrieved her certificate and hid it under her pillow with the golden pen that she hadn’t shown him. On Monday morning, she went out to the fields with him. He never knew she cried herself to sleep the two nights previous. She did everything he asked, once accidentally slicing the back of her forearm with the machete, cutting sugar cane. He laughed and told her to spit on it.

Rub it in, it’ll quit. I ain’t gonna kiss it and make it well like yore teacher does, he said, in that voice of his like a saw biting through thick oak planking, and she did. She didn’t cry then, and she didn’t cry after that for a long time.

***

She dreamed the oddest dream that night. Of a huge black man and a machete. She knew she was dreaming and she made no effort to wake up. She didn’t know what the dream meant and she wanted to understand it. Dreams were important in her family. Not the men’s so much, but the women’s. Her grandmother and her mother both had dreams and they often foretold important things in the future. She hadn’t known her grandmother, as she’d passed when she was two years old, but she retained an image of her. An old woman, with long white hair and a mole on her chin with an enormous black hair that sprouted from it. Not a clear picture—more like an image viewed through cheesecloth or plastic sheeting. She’d talked with her mother and her mother assured her it was the correct image. Her mother suggested she’d seen a photograph of her but no such photograph existed when they looked for one. Her mother thought there had been one at one time and it had just become lost. Two-year-olds don’t remember like Amelia claimed she had, she said.

In her dream, she was running and it was always the dark of night. All around her were flashes of red, like the eruptions of a volcano, and there were black trees on all sides. Loud barking from dogs filled the air. Just before she woke up, a giant of a black man appeared in her path. He was wielding a huge machete. And then the machete materialized in her own hand and that was the last image she recalled when she woke up and thought about her dream.

She didn’t know if the man was there to save her or destroy her.

She didn’t know why there were dogs in the dream. They didn’t own a dog and she never thought about dogs when she wasn’t in her dream. But, there they were and she didn’t understand why.

It was a dream that returned again and again through the years. There were other bits added to it in later versions, but the main action remained the same. She never learned if the black man was her savior or her executioner. She never knew what was chasing her but she knew it was something evil and malignant. Awake, she wondered if the black man was hunting her like her father hunted rabbits, with a dog that would chase her in circles until she passed by him with his shotgun. Or in the black man’s case, a machete. Maybe that’s why there were dogs in the dream.

The other thing that was puzzling was that when she woke she felt oddly at peace. Her mother had no answer for that either, except she thought it was a sign that the black man was there to somehow help her.

Perhaps…

There were many mysteries in life and Amelia assumed this was just one more of those.

 

A Neighbor Boy

The years passed, the long hot summers spent in the fields tending their cotton and cane from sunup to dusk, and the winters spent tending to their hogs and chickens and the one milk cow as well as her father’s mule. Amelia had to do those chores in all seasons, but during the months when the bitter blue northers swept down meant she didn’t have to go out into the fields so it became her favorite time of the year. It also meant she was expected to help out her mother with her sewing and household chores along with the livestock jobs, so her workload wasn’t really lessened, just changed, but since she got to work side by side with her mother, it was a lot better than having to be out in the fields with her father.

Part of their property was a bottomlands area where Boudreaux Creek meandered through: too wet for cotton and not much better for sugar cane. Whenever they planted cane, it was almost always attacked by a rot, and for several years, her father had just let it lie fallow. One day in her thirteenth year, as it transpired, Amelia’s father got the idea to dam up the creek and flood it and try growing rice. Before he flooded it, he planted rice plants he’d nurtured in a small greenhouse he’d built out next to the barn and then opened the dam.

It turned out to be a smart move as the field proved ideal for rice growing.

Her father also showed her how to use a seine to trap minnows from the creek and also showed her how to take the minnows and place each one in a small hole he dug with a trowel beside each rice plant. For fertilizer, he said. There were lots of minnows, almost enough for a third of the plants. It really worked because she could see those plants were always bigger and greener than the plants that didn’t get a fish. They both wished there were enough minnows for the entire field, but there weren’t. Still, there were a lot.

Eventually, care of the rice field became almost the sole province of Amelia. Her father decided he didn’t like trudging through the mud and besides, she seemed to have a genuine green thumb with the rice and she didn’t mind the wetness of it all that much.

Besides, she was just a girl and so what choice did she have?

And, something else happened that made her anxious to head out to the rice field each day.

A new neighbor boy appeared one day in the year she was fourteen. His name was Billy Kliber and he and his family had just moved into the old Faulkner place just up the road.

One early summer day, she was out checking on the rice when a tall, fairly handsome, redheaded young boy came walking out of the woods. She instantly liked him. When he smiled and showed off a small gap between his front teeth he didn’t seem the least bit self-conscious about it.

Hi. I’m Billy, he said, and then did the totally unexpected. He stuck out his hand and she saw that he was offering to shake hands with her. Good-looking and polite! She figured out right away that he wasn’t from around there, not with those kinds of manners. She’d never heard of a boy shaking hands with a girl before that moment.

And, he made her laugh. Billy just had a way about him of looking at things from a different vantage point than most folks she knew. It was like he saw the humor in just about everything, even the bad things.

Just think, he said, once they’d told each other about themselves, you could go to China and probably end up being the first woman emperor. I bet they never saw a white gal who could raise rice like you can. They’ll think you were an alien goddess set down amongst ’em from up in heaven and will probably want to set up a temple so’s they could worship you. You’d end up being the matriarch of the Amelia Dynasty.

She didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, but it sounded funny. He sure knew a lot about things outside of the county. China and all! And, he dressed weird. Not in overalls like all the other boys she knew, but regular blue jeans and T-shirts. It seemed kind of risqué to her and she liked that.

Pretty soon, he began coming to the rice field just about every day. She showed him how to raise and lower the dam and why it was important to change the water level from time to time. One of the good things about rice was that, unlike other crops, you didn’t have to worry about weeds much. The water level prevented most weeds from getting a toehold. Once they were planted, until the harvest all that was required was minding the water level.

Sometimes they would catch minnows and reach beneath the water and plant them alongside the plants that hadn’t received a minnow yet. He liked doing that as much as she did.

That summer was the happiest she remembered ever being. Pretty soon, Billy was showing up at the rice field every day.

And then, the sunshine in her life went away.

It happened one morning when she was lowering the sluice gate to let the water in. Billy was sitting with his back to a tree watching her and cracking jokes when from behind him out popped her father from the dark piney woods bordering the field.

What the hell you sniffin’ around my girl for? he thundered, his face black with fury, looking down at the boy. In his hand he was holding his machete.

Billy jumped up like a scalded cat. My name’s Billy Kliber. I live over there.

Daddy, this is Billy. He’s our neighbor.

I know who he is. Git off my property.

But, sir—

Her father stepped toward him, drew his machete back.

I said, git the hell off my property. Somethin’ you don’t understand about that, boy?

Billy shrugged, glanced at Amelia, then turned and walked off.

That night, at supper, Amelia tried to talk to her father.

He’s a nice, boy, Daddy. Why—

I don’t want to talk about that boy, Amelia, he said, cutting her off. He’s not one of us. No good will come of that one.

She knew better than to argue with her father. Later, her mother tried to explain. Child, the Klibers aren’t like us. Mr. Kliber is some kind of artist. He just rents the old Faulkner place. He don’t farm or nothin’. Yore daddy’s just tryin’ t’look out for yore best interests.

She tried to explain that she liked the boy, but her mother wouldn’t listen, just hung her head down and said, You best mind yore daddy. You want to go with boys, you best pick you out one of us. A farmer. Least someone who works with their hands. Those kinds of boys are nothin’ but trouble. Lead to nothin’ but misery. They don’t want but one thing from little girls like you. She didn’t ask her mother what that “one thing” was. She was pretty sure she knew.

That didn’t mean that was the last of Billy Kliber. Two days later, he came by the rice field.

I don’t want your father to chop my head off, he said, laughing when he said it, but his eyes were serious underneath his grin. But I like you, Amelia. That was the first time he kissed her.

The way it worked out, they decided not to chance meeting at the field any more. She’d sneak out, nights, and meet him down by the creek.

As those things transpire, eventually they got around to sex.

It was a Tuesday night and she had just gone to bed. Her parents were already nestled down in their bed in the room next to hers. She was nearly asleep herself when she sat straight up in bed, her eyes wide as saucers, and she nearly screamed. All she could manage was a muffled sound that elicited a response from the other room.

What, Amelia?

It was her father.

A hand over her mouth had kept her from screaming. A hand owned by Billy. Whose eyes glittered mischievously just inches from hers. It took a second to realize he had climbed in her window and was in her bed. He took his hand away.

Amelia?

Nothing, Daddy. I was just having a bad dream.

Well, go to sleep, he said, his voice gruff and irritated.

Yes sir.

She listened, holding her breath, while the bed in the other room creaked. Her father turning over.

After awhile, the sounds died down.

They’re sleeping. Maybe, Billy whispered.

What are you doing? she whispered back. She pulled her covers up over the both of them.

He reached over, put his hand on her neck and pulled her to him, his mouth slightly open to receive hers. He had the softest lips, she thought.

He started to give off a little moan, and then stifled it, midway, which caused them both to shake with silent giggles. For some reason, that effort aroused her even more. It must have him as well, from the look that came over his face. This time, she reached for him and drew him to her and their lips came together and she felt like she was falling off a ledge on a very high cliff, but it was a pleasant fall, not at all terrifying. More like floating. He laid back on the bed and pulled her to him, taking extraordinary care not to make a sound and it seemed like the more he tried to remain quiet the more intense his arousal became. It was the same for her.

He kissed her again and opened his eyes briefly and she had hers open as well, and they remained like that, eyes open, hands seeking each other and her body had never felt so focused on a single thing in her entire life.

She felt his fingers on her panties and she felt the air when he slid them down and then his hand was inside and it was incredible, the sensation.

The silence they had to maintain just made everything impossibly delicious. Every movement was in tiny increments as they undressed each other. Her legs opened and he was leaning over her and then he was in her and her legs were around his waist and squeezing and all the time she looked into his eyes, never blinking and they would move together and start to move faster and then both of them knew at the same exact moment that they had to slow it down—their bodies were completely attuned, as one—and they made love that way, slowly, with controlled urgency and when she could stand it no more, he came, and then she came just after he had and while he was in the midst of his passion, and it was like nothing she had ever experienced. No screaming, no speaking, no sound whatsoever, just the silent heaving of both their chests, and they could barely move during any of it, so that it was like every cell in their bodies was screaming above the point where the human ear could hear it.

His hand went over her mouth and hers over his, each feeling the hot breath of the other.

Neither said a word as they lay coupled, and even though Billy had climaxed, his penis stayed hard longer than it ever had and then gradually relaxed and got small and slipped out and it was only then that he eased off her to her side and lay, stomach-down on the bed, his arm across her breasts, her hand warm on his forearm, her breath mingling with his, the perfume of his wet hair in her nostrils.

Five and then ten and then twenty minutes passed before either moved.

Amelia was the first to stir, lifting up on her elbow and gazing down at Billy, who could only shake his head in disbelief.

That was… she started to whisper.

He put a finger to her lips.

No words, he said in a ragged whisper. There are no words.

She nodded and laid her head on his chest and for long minutes they just lay like that. After awhile, as if by mutual, silent consent, they both sat up and put their clothes back on.

Her eyes probed his, darting back and forth, rapidly, searching for a sign in his face of what he was feeling, her own expression one of wariness.

He pulled her down with him onto the bed.

He looked at her with eyes so large and luminous she thought she could easily fall into them and drown.

The only word I can come up with is this. He leaned over, put his mouth to her ear, and whispered.

She pulled back and when she saw his face she felt a happiness flood over her, a kind of joy she had never felt before in this life. She brought up her hand, caressed the side of his face.

I feel the same word, Billy, she said.

They came together, their lips touching, melting together, and this wasn’t a bruising, lusty kiss. It was a kiss of sweetness, soft, enveloping, pure.

I love you too, Billy, she whispered, her voice husky in his ear, the natural perfume of his hair making her faint with giddiness and delight.

They lay together, not moving, just holding each other, feeling the other’s heartbeat against their chests. No matter whatever happens for the rest of her life, Amelia thought, I’ll always have this perfect moment.

They lay together like that for long, delicious moments, and then gradually became aware of sounds and movement coming from Amelia’s parents’ bedroom. Amelia was the first to stir. She gently pulled Billy’s arms from around her, kissed him chastely on his forehead, and sat up.

You’ve got to go, she said, her face mock serious. Now.

She smiled at his back as he vanished out through her window.

And she imagined the future.

For the next month, she snuck out three or four times a week and they’d meet down by the creek and talk and laugh. And make love.

She was young, three months shy of fifteen, but whereas in the city she’d be considered young, out here in this country, she was marrying age.

And, they talked about just that. She was all for running away right that minute, but Billy talked her out of it. He wanted to finish high school, he said. Probably go to college.

When he said that, she felt sick. If he went to college, there’d be no way he’d ever want a wife with just a third-grade education.

She cried herself to sleep that night when she got back home and snuck back in her bedroom window. She did what had become her habit when stressed. Went over the multiplication tables in her mind. Two times two, equals… She didn’t know what to do. She knew she loved Billy, but she knew he wouldn’t want an ignorant girl like her forever. She tried out all kinds of fantasies in her mind, but no real answers came to her.

Six times six…

In a way, her fate was decided for her.

 

Arnold Critchin Takes Amelia to a Dance

The very next day, Arnold Critchin showed up at her house at suppertime. He came to ask her daddy’s permission to take her to a dance that was being held the following night at the grade school gym in Cooleyville, the same school both of them had gone to. He didn’t ask Amelia, just her father.

Who seemed delighted to give his permission.

She knew better than to refuse her daddy.

So she went.

And, that sealed her fate from that day forward, even though she didn’t know it at the time.

Arnold had grown quite a bit since the third grade. He was still skinny, with toothpicks for legs, so thin he looked like a stork, but he’d developed some height, stood just over six feet tall and was still growing. He had a bad haircut, bad teeth, and bad posture. He walked kind of bent over, like he was ashamed of his height.

She was surprised as well as dismayed when he showed up to ask her father for permission to date her. She’d run into Arnold from time to time, mostly during the few times when she went to town with her folks, but they’d never talked or anything. Usually, he was with his friends and did the same as most boys did when they saw a girl. Just hooted and hollered at them, making jokes underneath their breath and then laughing. She always felt uncomfortable around them and mostly tried to avoid them when she could.

When he came by for her the next night, he was polite and quiet in front of her parents, but as soon as they left the house and began walking the three miles toward Cooleyville, his countenance turned surly. He began walking faster and faster and Amelia almost had to run to keep up with him.

Can you slow down some? she said, a few steps behind him.

He turned and glared, but began walking slower. Girls! he said, spitting out the word. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he grinned at her. Sorry, he said. I ain’t used t’walking slow.

It’s all right, she said. My legs just aren’t as long as your’n. She felt a little better when she saw his smile.

When they got to the dance, they stood up against a wall, watching the folks dance. After a few minutes, Arnold spotted some of his friends and told Amelia, I’ll be right back, and went over and began horse-playing with them, hitting each other on the arm and laughing as boys are wont to do. It was the last contact they had until it was time to leave. She saw a girl she used to go to school with and went up to her and began talking and after awhile it was time to go home. They hadn’t danced even once. She wondered why he had even wanted to go with her. In a bit, it became clear why.

On the walk home, he was quiet the whole way until they got to the small pine woods near her house. Without any warning, he turned back to her where she was following behind and wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him.

Arnold! she said. What are you doing?

He snickered. Gettin’ a little sugar, he said. It’s what you do on a date, y’know. He bent down to kiss her, but she twisted her face away. She tried to break free of his grip but he was stronger. She hit him with her fist, but he’d grown bigger and stronger since she’d tried to hit him that time in the third grade and this time all he did was laugh and punch her so hard in the jaw that she went straight down, dazed and semiconscious.

All she could remember later was his bad breath, panting in her face as he held her down and did his business. She started to cry at one point, but stuffed back the tears, and closed her eyes, enduring. Doing the multiplication tables all during the act.

When it was over, she sat up and pulled her clothes together. Arnold said nothing, just stood and waited for her and when she stood up and began walking toward her house, he followed behind.

You bastard, was all she said. His only response was to grin at her.

Her father was on the porch, smoking his pipe.

Y’all have fun? he said. Amelia didn’t even look at him, just walked by and into the house. She heard him and Arnold talking, but couldn’t make out the words. They both laughed at something and then it was quiet. She guessed he’d gone. She finally fell asleep with her multiplication tables. Eight times eight, equals sixty-four. Nine times nine…

He came around a week later to ask her to the picture show, but she got out of that by pretending to be sick. That week, Billy had also come by, throwing pebbles at her window until she came and opened it.

You want to come out? he said.

No, she said. I can’t, Billy. My daddy will— She didn’t get a chance to finish as her bedroom door burst open and there he stood. He strode over to the window. You! You git the hell out of here! She’s got a boyfriend. Don’t need none’a yore kind sneakin’ ’round here. You git now!

Billy’s face paled, but he stood his ground. I’d like to hear Amelia say that, he said. Her daddy turned, ran out of the room, and returned a few seconds later, his rifle in his hands. He strode over to the window and shoved the barrel out, pointed at Billy. I ain’t tellin’ you again, you little pissant! Git off my property.

Billy… She was surprised to hear the word come out of her mouth. Billy, you got to go. I don’t want… she hiccupped, swallowed. I don’t want you comin’ ’round here any more.

He stood there a long moment, then turned around and shuffled off.

And that was that. The last time she saw him for a long time.

Seven times seven…

 

A Wedding

Oh, lordy! Amelia’s mother had said, when she finally told her. Amelia, yore daddy’s gone kill yore poor sweet self. Oh, child!

He didn’t, although there was a moment when she wished he had. He only slapped and cuffed her, kicking her hard enough in the side, she thought she’d maybe lose the baby whose existence she’d just revealed, but it was only a bruised rib that eventually healed on its own.

The worst part was marching over to the Critchin place, one of her daddy’s hands twisted in her hair, the other grasping the stock of his .40 caliber rifle he’d named “Peacemaker.” They got married the same day, soon as the hubbub and cussing died down, over at Justice of the Peace Dunfield’s, who did the officiating, drunk as a cow on silage, the bridegroom glaring at the floor the whole time, spitting just before he mumbled, I do. Three days later, she turned fifteen.

After the wedding ceremony, her mother made up a stew and brought out a pound cake she’d baked the night before and both families gathered inside to eat and celebrate. Amelia’s father had a surprise. He gave the newlyweds a parcel of land along the south end of his property for a wedding gift. He’d made out the deed transfer in Amelia’s name, which Arnold wasn’t too happy about, but said little, seeing as how it was a free gift. The next day, he and Arnold and Arnold’s father and a couple of Arnold’s no-account friends spent the day and erected a three-room cabin that looked like it was falling-down even when it was brand-new. By the time it was done, they were all drunk. A week later, they dug a well along with a pump in the house. It took a while to locate water since the house was on a hill and the water table was pretty far underground. There was no thought given to electricity. Too expensive.

Her mother came outside after the wedding to where Amelia was sitting by herself on the porch. She sat next to her on the swing and after a moment of silence, she put her arm around her daughter and squeezed her gently.

Just try not to argue with him, she said. That’s the best advice I can give you. Amelia thought about that for a minute, then said, Is that how you are with Daddy? She knew it was and mostly she felt bad for her mother in the few times she’d argued with him as it meant instant wrath and often a slap across the face, but at this moment she was fully wrapped up with her own situation and what she said was from bitterness, rather than from empathy.

So that’s what I got to look forward to? she said. Be his doormat? Like you with Daddy? It was the first time she’d ever seen her mother cry and it shook her. I’m sorry, Mama, she said. She took one of her mother’s hands in hers. I know what you did. I know most of the time you spoke out to keep Daddy from jumping on me when I mouthed off. I wish you hadn’t done that mostly. Except I was just grateful you stuck up for me. I know what you was doing.

Oh, child! her mother said. It’s just the way it is, with women. You’ll learn. It’s not so bad most of the time. Just try to stay out of their way and you’ll be just fine.

Then her mother said something that made her blood curdle. We women have a talent, she said. We know how to endure. It’s what we do. It’s what we can do.

Endure?

That was what she had to look forward to?

And, she knew her mother was right. It was what she had been prepared for all her life. She shivered briefly. Her grandmother would have said a ghost just walked over her grave.

That was the only time her mother and her had had a talk like that. She nodded her head. She didn’t want to argue with her. But she didn’t know if she could live like her mother had. She’d try, but…

And, it was unreasonable, but she felt an immense anger at Billy. Why hadn’t he come and rescued her? She knew the answer—he doubtlessly didn’t even know she was getting married. And, once he found out, he’d lose all interest in her. What boy would want a girl who’d been with another man? She felt her anger lessen a bit. That part of her life was over, she decided, accepting what looked like her inescapable fate. Her mother was right about that. It was just a woman’s lot to have to behave as they did. She resolved then and there to put Billy out of her mind forever. Time would heal everything she told herself. I was a child then, but I’m a woman now—a married woman and it was time to do what the Good Book said, to put away childish things and become a woman.

She got up and walked back into the house with her mother. She went over to where Arnold was sitting at the table with his male friends, all of them already half-drunk.

Hi… honey, she said, haltingly, her cheeks burning. She reached down and planted a quick peck on his cheek. His friends hooted and started making wisecracks about how lucky Arnold was, asked him if he needed any help that night, things like that.

It was all she could do to smile and pat him on the head instead of what she felt like doing—haul off and smack him in the back of his skull with a frying pan. She saw her mother out of the corner of her eye and it took away some of the sinking feeling she was having when she saw her mother’s lips soften into a brief smile, her eyes glistening a bit.

Until the cabin was ready, she stayed with Arnold at his folks’ house. Once it was ready, the couple moved in, along with Arnold’s two bluetick hounds, Rufus and Sandy. Amelia had said very little during all of this, but for the first time she spoke up, when Arnold brought the dogs inside and put down pallets for them to sleep on in the house.

Outside, she said, her head down and eyes lowered, but defiance set to her mouth. I won’t have no dogs livin’ inside the house. I ain’t no white trash.

Surprisingly, Arnold didn’t argue. He simply went outside and spent the day building a kennel for them.

Better off out here, anyhow, he said. No self-respectin’ dawg wants to be around no woman anyways. Bad enough I gotta be.

That night they had sexual relations. They’d had it every night since the wedding, and the only reason it wasn’t rape was that they were man and wife, under the law. This was the first night she hadn’t tried to fight him though. Out of gratitude for putting the dogs out. In one respect it was better. She wasn’t overcome with embarrassment like she was when they did it at his parents’ house with only a thin wall separating them. Where she could hear his father’s cough and the squeak of his parents’ bed whenever one of them rolled over, nothing compared to the noise Arnold made. In the mornings, she kept her eyes downcast and couldn’t look at either of them during breakfast, although she could see Arnold’s father looking at her from time to time, a sly grin on his face. She couldn’t wait to get out of that house and into their own, for that reason alone.

 

Copyright © 2020 by Les Edgerton.


About Hard Times by Les Edgerton:

In 1930s East Texas, fourteen-year-old Amelia Laxault’s father insists she marry Arnold Critchin, a local boy who assaulted her on their first date. When Arnold’s alcohol-fueled brutality devastates their family, his ineptitude with crops destroys their farm, and his poorly run moonshine business lands him in prison, Amelia struggles to feed her four children as the Depression worsens and a secret from her past looms large.

Three hundred miles away, Lucious Tremaine tangles with a white police officer. Fleeing to Houston, a second altercation leaves him with a gunshot wound. Desperate and weak, he makes his way into the backwoods.

As Lucious encounters increasing obstacles and Amelia’s challenges escalate with Arnold’s return from prison-and a visit from her first love, who is now the local sheriff- an explosion looms. Will Lucious make it to Houston? Can Amelia save her children from both starvation and Arnold’s increasing, vengeful violence? As the odds stack up and the food runs out, Amelia must summon all her courage, strength, and ingenuity to attempt to save her family.

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