The Evening Hour

Bloomsbury USA recently published Carter Sickels's novel The Evening Hour. It tells the story of a young man trying to stave off the gloom that surrounds him in the coal country of West Virginia. He travels the back roads and hollows, encountering various uncommon characters, trying to survive inside and out. Kirkus Review calls it, “A plainspoken novel, but one with intensely lyrical moments.”

Here is a glimpse of the opening:

Cole double-locked the trailer door behind him, then stood on the top rickety step for a moment, still waking up. Gunmetal sky, with the faintest hint of light rippling at the edges. There was a tight chill in the air on this early April morning, and he shuddered, rubbing his bare arms. The air smelled like sulfur and scorched earth.

He started his pickup, let it warm up a minute. He’d just bought the Chevy off  his twin cousins. Piece of shit. Busted taillight. A rusted-out hole in the floor of the passenger side that he covered with cardboard, so that dust and gravel didn’t shoot up into the cab.

Instead of heading out, he drove up to his grandparents’. The lights were on, blazing yellow squares beckoning him. He knew his grandmother would be up. She didn’t sleep much; Cole was the same way. He saw her looking out the kitchen window, her pale moony face always worried.

The house was warm and smelled like frying bacon. Cole wiped his feet on the welcome mat and tightened the drawstring waist of his scrubs, which were too big for him, the cuffs spilling over his black hightops. He glanced at himself in the mirror by the front door. It had been a late night, and he looked rough. Three-day-old beard, beak of a nose, thick lips. Goat eyes small and sleepy. His scruffy, bleached-out hair made him look like somebody else.

“I’ve got breakfast ready,” his grandmother greeted him.

“I can’t stay. I got to get to work.”

In pictures from her youth, his grandmother was thin and willowy, but he’d only ever known her as stout, with sausage-link fingers and doughy flesh. Her hair, in a bun, was the color of gravel. This morning she wore a button-down denim shirt pulled over a thin house coat and mint green slippers, her white-as-bone ankles thick and swollen like they’d been injected with something.

“Pshaw,” she protested, pinching his arm. “You set and eat, put some meat on those bones.”

“Grandma, I just stopped in for a minute.”

She was studying him. “Well, I see you did that foolishness to your hair again.”

“It’ll grow back.” He added defiantly, “Anyway, I like it.”

“I don’t know why you’d want to mess with its natural color. If God wanted you to have blond hair, he would have given it to you.”

“Well, anyway. I just come by to check on Granddaddy.” Yesterday she had called to tell him that his grandfather was throwing a fit; Cole hadn’t listened to the message until he rolled in at three a.m. “Sorry I  couldn’t get over  here last night,” he added.

“You’re hard to get a hold of.”

“You could call my cell when I’m not at home.”

“I thought you said it  doesn’t work.”

“Doesn’t, most of the time.” Cole glanced at the clock on the wall. He should have just gone straight to work. “Well, is he okay? How is he?”

“He’s all right now. Rebecca and Larry came over last night to help get him settled down.” She shook her head. “It was the blasting. Lord, he thought it was the end of the world, you never heard such carrying on,” she said angrily. “You smell the sulfur?”

“Yeah, I figured.”

Whenever the coal company blasted the mountain, the walls of Cole’s trailer trembled, the floors vibrated. His friends told him to take the money and run. The other day he’d found rocks the size of basketballs in his yard.

Copyright ©2012 by Carter Sickels, The Evening Hour by Carter Sickels, reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury USA

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