Today's Reading

Prologue

It's December in Pennywhistle, the time of year we shake down the Boy Scouts for a decent Douglas fir and dole out tins of fudge to both our elderly and our ne'er-do-wells. Season of giving and all that. The Christmas lights never do come off our roofs—who's got the time or the ladder?—but December means we can finally turn those suckers back on again. Sometimes, if we're real lucky, we'll even get snow. For a few days the cars will remain in the driveways, the children will travel by sled, and the gossip will screech to a halt.

I may be twenty-six and far from home, but, shoot, sometimes I still wish the power would go out. Mamma and Daddy and I would make shoebox igloos in the backyard. She'd heat up a can of beans in the fireplace and Daddy and I would walk through the woods in search of kindling and unscratched lottery tickets. Catching sight of raccoon tracks, we'd go deeper and deeper into the trees. In the winter, our hair's the same color, that once- blond, now dusty hue shared by fawns and squirrels. Our glasses fog up like old friends. Our coats sag, heavy with library books. From him I learned never to dog-ear and always to return. Pausing to watch a cardinal, he'd say, "Did I ever tell you how Tennessee got its name?" and I'd pretend he hadn't, just so he could tell it again.

At this point I'd listen to Daddy recite the dictionary. Instead, I find myself driving across this long, skinny state in seventy-degree weather. The sky shows no sign of snow. The power's doing just fine. The books in Daddy's jacket will soon be overdue.

Once I make it off the highway, Pennywhistle's mainstays emerge from the trees: the Piggly Wiggly, the church, the adult store. Peep and Nina wave as they lock up. In fact, everybody waves. Nothing like moving away to make you feel like a celebrity. Or maybe it's just they know where I'm headed, past the friendly blow-up dolls and two- for-one loaves of Bunny Bread and toward the one store you hope never to visit, not if you can help it.

"I came as fast as I could," I explain.

White ruffled nightgowns hang on one wall. A buffet of caskets lines the other. If we wanted Halloween decorations we'd scour the Quarterflute Walmart, I remind the human goatee behind the counter. He claims the cheapest urn here at the Half-Off Pass Away Depot is fifty dollars, firm. Can you believe that? In a town where you can get a pedicure for five bucks and a smile, fifty dollars amounts to a king's ransom. Ain't even cute, either. God- awful pink thing, buffed and shined like it's something fancy, when everybody knows an urn's just a hop, skip, and a jump from an ashtray. And certainly unfit to house our dearly beloved.

"Fifty dollars?" Mamma scoffs. "Come on, honey. How 'bout twenty?"

"What do you think 'firm' means?"

"Twenty-five."

"Fifty, 'firm'."

"Thirty."

"Dottie, please."

"Thirty-one."

"Mamma."

She holds tight to her purse handle the way a child does with a blankie or a grown man does with a Skoal can. Poor thing. Took me almost four hours with traffic to get home from Nashville, come to find her haggling over the price of a faux marble sandbox like it's redneck 'Antiques Roadshow'.

"Can't you see we's grievin'?" she says.

"Everybody who comes to the Half-Off Pass Away Depot is grieving. I can't be making exceptions just 'cause Earl fished my hand out of a garbage disposal that one time."

"He coulda left you."

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Spoon."

Mamma's lip starts to quiver faster than a hand trapped in a garbage disposal. The town's taken care of just about everything. The flowers, the music, even the obituary. All we have to do is get Daddy to the church before the Elvis impersonator arrives. What with Mamma indisposed, I guess this leg of the journey depends on me.

"Fine. Just the baggie, then."

"What?"

"The Ziploc, please."

"I'm afraid I don't understand—"

"Can we get him to go?"

...

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Today's Reading

Prologue

It's December in Pennywhistle, the time of year we shake down the Boy Scouts for a decent Douglas fir and dole out tins of fudge to both our elderly and our ne'er-do-wells. Season of giving and all that. The Christmas lights never do come off our roofs—who's got the time or the ladder?—but December means we can finally turn those suckers back on again. Sometimes, if we're real lucky, we'll even get snow. For a few days the cars will remain in the driveways, the children will travel by sled, and the gossip will screech to a halt.

I may be twenty-six and far from home, but, shoot, sometimes I still wish the power would go out. Mamma and Daddy and I would make shoebox igloos in the backyard. She'd heat up a can of beans in the fireplace and Daddy and I would walk through the woods in search of kindling and unscratched lottery tickets. Catching sight of raccoon tracks, we'd go deeper and deeper into the trees. In the winter, our hair's the same color, that once- blond, now dusty hue shared by fawns and squirrels. Our glasses fog up like old friends. Our coats sag, heavy with library books. From him I learned never to dog-ear and always to return. Pausing to watch a cardinal, he'd say, "Did I ever tell you how Tennessee got its name?" and I'd pretend he hadn't, just so he could tell it again.

At this point I'd listen to Daddy recite the dictionary. Instead, I find myself driving across this long, skinny state in seventy-degree weather. The sky shows no sign of snow. The power's doing just fine. The books in Daddy's jacket will soon be overdue.

Once I make it off the highway, Pennywhistle's mainstays emerge from the trees: the Piggly Wiggly, the church, the adult store. Peep and Nina wave as they lock up. In fact, everybody waves. Nothing like moving away to make you feel like a celebrity. Or maybe it's just they know where I'm headed, past the friendly blow-up dolls and two- for-one loaves of Bunny Bread and toward the one store you hope never to visit, not if you can help it.

"I came as fast as I could," I explain.

White ruffled nightgowns hang on one wall. A buffet of caskets lines the other. If we wanted Halloween decorations we'd scour the Quarterflute Walmart, I remind the human goatee behind the counter. He claims the cheapest urn here at the Half-Off Pass Away Depot is fifty dollars, firm. Can you believe that? In a town where you can get a pedicure for five bucks and a smile, fifty dollars amounts to a king's ransom. Ain't even cute, either. God- awful pink thing, buffed and shined like it's something fancy, when everybody knows an urn's just a hop, skip, and a jump from an ashtray. And certainly unfit to house our dearly beloved.

"Fifty dollars?" Mamma scoffs. "Come on, honey. How 'bout twenty?"

"What do you think 'firm' means?"

"Twenty-five."

"Fifty, 'firm'."

"Thirty."

"Dottie, please."

"Thirty-one."

"Mamma."

She holds tight to her purse handle the way a child does with a blankie or a grown man does with a Skoal can. Poor thing. Took me almost four hours with traffic to get home from Nashville, come to find her haggling over the price of a faux marble sandbox like it's redneck 'Antiques Roadshow'.

"Can't you see we's grievin'?" she says.

"Everybody who comes to the Half-Off Pass Away Depot is grieving. I can't be making exceptions just 'cause Earl fished my hand out of a garbage disposal that one time."

"He coulda left you."

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Spoon."

Mamma's lip starts to quiver faster than a hand trapped in a garbage disposal. The town's taken care of just about everything. The flowers, the music, even the obituary. All we have to do is get Daddy to the church before the Elvis impersonator arrives. What with Mamma indisposed, I guess this leg of the journey depends on me.

"Fine. Just the baggie, then."

"What?"

"The Ziploc, please."

"I'm afraid I don't understand—"

"Can we get him to go?"

...

Join the Library's Online Book Clubs and start receiving chapters from popular books in your daily email. Every day, Monday through Friday, we'll send you a portion of a book that takes only five minutes to read. Each Monday we begin a new book and by Friday you will have the chance to read 2 or 3 chapters, enough to know if it's a book you want to finish. You can read a wide variety of books including fiction, nonfiction, romance, business, teen and mystery books. Just give us your email address and five minutes a day, and we'll give you an exciting world of reading.

What our readers think...