I’m sharing this excerpt from Pushing Back, the first book in the Boone Series, to mark the publication of the fifth book. Choosing Family is scheduled for release in May of this year. This selection is from early in Pushing Back, and Boone is looking for his father, who stormed out of the house earlier. He finds him in the front yard of the house, scanning the road.
He’s sitting on the tailgate, the shotgun across his lap, the box of shells right beside him. The sun is low now, right in his face when he looks down the road, and his eyes are almost shut against it. I can hear him talking to himself when I get to the front bumper.
“Bastards better not follow me up here. This is my home, goddammit. They better not come up here.”
He keeps saying this over and over, his eyes never leaving the road.
It had been three or four hours since he had left the house. None of us knew where he had gone, but we never did, so that was nothing new. I think about asking, but as soon as I think it I know better. The mood he’s in, I’m on thin ice just going out there. I hate this, I think. I take another step towards him.
He tenses and I think he’s going to swing the shotgun around in my direction, but all he turns is his head. He turns far enough to see that it’s me and then turns back.
“Come on out here, Boone. Sit down over on this side and watch the road up toward the Thompson’s.”
I asked Momma one time where I got that name; I was afraid it was after Daniel Boone and I thought that was really stupid. The truth was worse.
“Your daddy and me used to drink a lot of Boone’s Farm wine. It was all we could afford, and your daddy hadn’t learned how to make his own yet.” She had kind of smiled to herself. “Well, anyway, you asked.”
So I let all the other kids at school think that Daniel Boone was this big hero to my parents and they laughed and made fun but it could’ve been a lot worse.
I never told anybody the real story, and they didn’t give me a middle name, so I couldn’t go that way to get out of it. So I was Boone. I had already looked up about changing my name, I mean, who wants to be named after some kind of cheap wine? But I knew that wasn’t going to happen until I hit eighteen and moved out on my own.
One time I made the mistake of telling Momma what a stupid name I thought it was and didn’t know Daddy was just coming into the room. That wasn’t the worst beating I ever got, but it was pretty bad.
None of us were safe from his black moods. Well, Hannah. Far as I know, he never laid a hand on her. Momma, me, Frankie, that was different. Sometimes it’d be a week or two between beatings, but, like I said, nobody got away clean. Part of it was liquor, I know that. Part of it was they treated him the same way they treated all of us. If you lived up where we did, in any of those counties just outside Knoxville, you were trash and people felt like it was all right to shit on you any time they wanted to. Daddy had one job after another, he’d take it as long as he could, and then some boss would say something that he just couldn’t walk away from. He had pride, I’ll give him that. Plus he’d stand up to anybody. It was that time leading up to his standing up for himself that was hell for us at home. He would bottle it up all day long at work, maybe stop for a few on the way home, and then one of us would say something or not say something or do something or not do it, and he’d blow. Sometimes we could tell by the way he took that last curve before he whipped into the driveway and up into the yard. Sometimes none of us saw it coming. A couple of times I saw Momma’s hand tighten around the handle of the cast iron skillet she had on the stove, but she never swung it at him. I think if she had there’d be a grave for one of them out there behind the house, county or no county. I used to wonder sometimes which one of them would win if it really got down to it. She’d always back down, though. Always. Never pushed back.
And Frankie, well, I still can’t talk about Frankie.
“What is it I’m watching for?” I break the silence. He’s stopped that talking to himself he was doing when I came up. He doesn’t turn, doesn’t take his eyes off the road.
“Just tell me if you see anybody. Specially anybody you don’t know.”
“Even Ginny Thompson?”
The butt of the shotgun catches me in the stomach before I have a chance to tighten up. All the air whooshes out of me and I bend double, trying to keep from falling off the tailgate into the dust.
“Don’t you understand English, boy?”
“Yes sir,” I manage, but it comes out more of a croak than anything else.
He’s already looking back down the road. “Get your head up, then. We’ll be losing light soon.”
I slowly get my wind back and we sit, not saying anything, until we can’t see the mailbox down at the road and the first couple of stars are starting to show themselves in a sky that still has a little color.
“I’m hungry,” he says to himself, like he doesn’t remember I’m out there with him. “Reckon I’ll go on inside.”
I know better than to move just yet.
“You want me to stay out here and keep watch?”
I don’t know whether that’s the right thing to say or not. It’s impossible to know one way or the other. I know that when I mentioned Ginny Thompson, the twelve year old that lives up the road, I got slammed in the gut. You never know with Daddy.
He looks over at me. “Nah, no need.”
He doesn’t seem quite as mad. Maybe the people he was looking for not showing up before sunset eased his mind some. Maybe if they, whoever they are, haven’t come by now they’re not coming. A part of me is dying to ask him who he’s looking for and why they might be coming all the way up here, but a bigger part of me tells me to keep my damn mouth shut.
He hops down off the tailgate and I slide down, trying not to make any noise when I land, even if it hurts, which it does. He puts the tailgate up and heads off, shotgun in the crook of his arm, the box of shells in his crippled left hand. He has to hold the box against his stomach; he hasn’t been able to close the fingers of that hand since the accident with the hay baler half a dozen years ago. The doctors had told him he was lucky to still have the hand. They couldn’t give him back much control over the fingers, though, so it was more a claw than anything else. All this time gone by and he’s still mad about that, still talks about the Trent family like they held him and shoved his hand in there on purpose. Everybody, including me, knew his sleeve got caught in the machinery and the oldest Trent boy had saved his whole arm, cutting that sleeve before it could pull him in up to the shoulder. Quick with a knife, that boy was, but Daddy, as far as I know, never thanked him for that. The Trents paid the hospital bills, too. I think he did mumble something to them about that, but it was hard for him.
And there’s part of all that I understand, at least a little. Daddy never wanted to owe any man anything. They say pride is a sin, but I don’t know. Daddy doesn’t have much but pride, so I think I know why he hangs on to it so tight and gets so mad when he has to take a big swallow. I get that. I just wish us folks that have to live with him didn’t have to suffer when he thinks he’s lost face. I start to follow him toward the house.
He’s limping again. I wonder if somebody on the job kicked his ass today and that’s what this is about, but I know better than to bring it up. Ever since the baler thing he’s had to take whatever job he can — I’ve seen him rig a piece of rope into a sling so he can carry heavier stuff — but I know there’s a lot of young men out there that can work him into the ground, and they’re the kind that would let him know it every day. Tomatoes are just coming in and just like every year he’s mostly at the Wilcox place again, a big farm with greenhouses and fields full of plants. He’s up against all those Mexicans that sneak across the border; he hates the sight of them. He told me once that those brown-skinned bastards never stopped for a break, just kept on, shaming all the good white folks around them. I wonder if that’s who I was supposed to be watching for.
I give up thinking about it and start toward the house when, pretty far off, I see headlights.