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Hazel Crabtree was fifteen years old, and no one thought twice about her expanding waistline as she crept around the edges of rooms, watching her mother ignore her and ignoring me in turn as I kicked at her and spun and grew myself some lungs.
I never heard Hazel's side of the story. She birthed me but was never in any sense my mother. I heard an expurgated version from my aunt Genny; to hear Genny tell it, I frolicked bloodlessly into the world attended by singing rabbits. From Aunt Bernese, I got raw medical data and a flat recitation of events in the order they occurred.
But my mother, Stacia Frett, told it to me as a love story, hers and mine. It wasn't a declaration of war to her, it was simply the tale of how we found each other. My mother's version, withevery nuance communicated by her expressive face and flashing hands, dominated my imagination. Over the years, I interwove her story with what I had gleaned from Genny and Bernese, until I had an interpretation that felt like truth. It was as if my soul had been floating above the scene, watching, waiting to be sucked into my body with the air of my first breath.
I don't know why Hazel Crabtree went to Bernese for help the night I was born, and Bernese did not think to ask her. The why of things did not often trouble Aunt Bernese, but she was a master at discovering the how. Before agenting my mother's art became a full-time job, Bernese had worked in labor and delivery over at Loganville General. I like to think Hazel came to the Fretts because she knew Bernese was a former nurse and pragmatist savant who, beneath her bluster, had a kind heart. This was a distinct possibility: At that time Between, Georgia, had a population of about ninety people. Everybody knew everything about everyone.
But more likely, she was being practical. Bernese and her husband and their boys lived on the lot at the dead end of Grace Street. Her sisters, Stacia and Genny, lived together in the house next door. There wasn't another house on the block, and Bernese's backyard overlooked empty miles of Georgia pine trees. The only other nurse in town lived on one of Between's more populated streets; she had close neighbors. The last (although perhaps the most important) factor was that Hazel had to know going to the Fretts for help was a surefire way to piss off her family.
Bernese woke to the sound of someone banging on her front door a few minutes past four in the morning. She came down the stairs pulling on her robe, getting her gun hand stuck in the sleeve. Her husband, Lou, trailed behind her, saying nervously, "Is the safety on? Is the safety on? Hand the gun to me and then put your robe on, Bernese. Is the safety on?"
Bernese got herself untangled and tucked the gun into her armpit, barrel down, while she tied her robe belt.
"Is that the thirty-eight?" asked Lou. "Lord-a-mercy, why didn't you get your little purse gun?"
Bernese opened the door and there was Hazel Crabtree, holding a wad of her mucous plug cupped in both hands and saying, "This came out. Is this a piece of baby? I hurt."
Bernese said, "Holy monkeys! You're pregnant? Lou, call for an ambulance." Tiny towns like Between didn't have 911 service in 1976, so Lou went to get Bernese's emergency-numbers card from the drawer. But Hazel shoved past Bernese and grabbed at him, falling to her knees as she yowled, "No, no, you can't call anyone. My mother can't know."
Then she let go of Lou and said in a high, panicked voice, "Something's coming. Something else. Something bad is coming." Hazel scrabbled at her belly and crotch, frantic. Her sweatpants were soggy, and she shoved them down to mid-thigh. She wasn't wearing any panties. Then she tilted and tipped over, writhing on the foyer carpet.
Bernese looked up and saw all three of her young sons huddled in a clot on the stairs. They were clutching one another on the second-floor landing, staring down through the banisters with wide, horrified eyes.
"Never you mind," Bernese said to Lou. He was tugging at his earlobe as he watched Hazel flail and howl on the floor. He set the phone back down in its cradle on the hall table. Bernese said, "Get up there with the boys. Tell them something. I will fix this." Lou trotted obediently upstairs and picked up the toddler, herding the two older boys back toward their bedroom. Hazel's contraction subsided, and she rose up on her hands and knees, panting.
Bernese's front door opened into a carpeted entryway. A wide doorway on the right led to the den, and straight ahead was a long hallway to the kitchen. On the left, the stairs went up to a landing that overlooked the foyer. There was a heavy table, almost a sideboard, that ran the length of the staircase. The phone was on the edge of the table, close to the front door, and the rest of it was taken up by the huge glass terrarium that housed Bernese's beloved luna moths. The adult moths were awake, some fanning their wings as they posed on the perches and twigs. Others had paired off, attaching end to end to make the kind of desperate love that comes with an extremely short life span.
Bernese tried to step around Hazel, heading for the table so she could set down her gun and pick up the phone, but Hazel reared up on her knees in front of Bernese, crying, "No, you can't! No one knows I'm this way. No one can find out!"
She was grabbing for Bernese's arm, but she fell short and jerked at her hand, squeezing. The gun went off. The bullet whizzed past Hazel's head, smashing through the glass of the terrarium and burying itself in the staircase. Glass showered down, pattering onto the carpet and sprinkling Hazel's wild red hair.
Hazel and Bernese froze in the sudden silence, their eyes locked on the smoking hole in Bernese's stairs. From upstairs, Lou yelled, "Bernese? Bernese?" They heard his footsteps clattering across the upstairs hall, the little boys running in a panicked herd behind him.
"Stop!" screeched Bernese, and the footsteps stopped dead. "No one is hit, Lou. Stay with the boys."
"I asked you was the safety on," Lou called down, aggrieved.
Bernese hollered back, "Maybe you better put the safety on your mouth."
Next door, the gunshot woke up Bernese's sister Genny. Genny bolted upright, clutching the covers to her bosom. Her bedroom window overlooked Bernese's front lawn, and she saw the downstairs lights blazing and Bernese's front door standing open. Genny got up and ran on tiptoe down the hall to Stacia's room. She flipped the light switch and sat on the bed, shaking Stacia awake. Stacia sat up, her gray eyes opening wide, immediately alert. She held her fist up to her chin, thumb and pinky spread wide, asking by sign and her expressive face what was wrong.
Genny shook her head and signed back, Heard gun. She cut her eyes to the left to indicate Bernese's house, then signed, Lights on, door open. What do we do?
As soon as she finished signing, she moved her right hand to pluck at the fine dark hairs on her left forearm, tugging hard enough to lift her skin in points. One of the hairs popped out, torn root and all from the follicle.
Don't pick, Stacia signed. She gently peeled Genny's fingers away and gave her a bracing pat, then signed, I'll handle it. Stacia climbed out of bed and pulled on her robe. She tied the belt with savage efficiency, then spun on one heel and took off for the front door at a dead run. Her long black hair was unbound, and it unfurled behind her like a banner.
Genny stared openmouthed for a moment and then said, "Goodness grief!" She ran after Stacia, waving frantically in a futile attempt to catch her eye, signing, Wait! Wait! Call police! Help! Wait! at Stacia's implacable back.
She chased Stacia in this manner all the way across the lawn to Bernese's front porch. She stopped short of the stairs and leaned down and grabbed up a pinecone, ripping up a chunk of sod with it. She threw it as hard as she could past Stacia, through her line of sight. It thunked against Bernese's siding, and dust puffed out of it all the way around, like a firework going off. It left a black smudge on the porch, like an outsize thumbprint on the wood. Stacia paused to give Genny an irked look over her shoulder before she disappeared through Bernese's front door.
Genny stood a few steps outside the glow of the porch lights, tugging at her long black braid. Her nervous fingers climbed up, following the weave of her braid, all the way until she touched the fine hairs at her nape. She gathered two or three in a pinch and ripped them out, twiddling her fingers together to shake off the loose hairs and then immediately seeking out another pinch. A luna moth came fluttering drunkenly out the front door and wafted up, disappearing into the night. Genny watched it go, and then she scuttled up onto the porch. She peeked inside.
Bernese and Stacia were helping Hazel to the other side of the foyer, picking their way through shattered glass from the terrarium. Hazel was moaning and naked from the waist down. Her sweatshirt had hiked up over her grossly distended abdomen. The rest of her body was so skinny that Genny could see her ribs. Hazel's thighs were streaked with blood. Glass fragments sparkled in her hair, inappropriately festive. Three or four of the luna moths were dancing up around the light fixture, and one was fluttering in Hazel's wake, as if drawn by her bright hair. Genny saw the gun sitting by the phone on the sideboard.
"What's happening?" Genny squawked, jerking out another pinch of hair at her nape. "Is she shot? Was she shot in her pants?"
"No one is shot," said Bernese. "It's a baby coming, and it's coming now, very fast. Help me here."
Bernese and Stacia lowered Hazel back down to the carpet in the doorway to the den. They tried to get her to squat, but she flopped onto her back and lay there, thrashing back and forth as another contraction took her. Stacia signed rapidly, and Genny said, "Stacia wants to know, what do you need?"
"Boiled string. Scissors. Clean towels," said Bernese as Genny repeated her words in sign. "Hot water. A doctor, but that's not going to happen. I think this baby is coming now."
Stacia nodded curtly and ran down the long hallway into the kitchen. Bernese knelt by Hazel until the contraction subsided and she was still again. She was sobbing quietly on the floor: "It has to stop. Make it stop."
"It will stop," said Bernese. "We have to get this baby out is all. Genny, come sit by her head."
"Me?" Genny squeaked.
"Unless you want the naked end," said Bernese, staying beside Hazel. "Breathe," she said.
"Oh, oh, oh, oh," said Genny. She stayed right where she was in the doorway, rocking back and forth, her gaze flicking around the room, glancing off the moths and Bernese and the blood and the gun on the table, unable to light on anything. Her busy fingers sought hairs to pull as she rocked herself faster.
"Another one is coming," said Hazel. "Make it not come."
"You want it to come," said Bernese. "It will get this baby out, and then it will all stop. So let it come."
"No, no, no, I don't want it to come," Hazel moaned, but it came anyway. It came relentlessly, and she was helpless in it, with Bernese roaring at her to push.
Genny was weaving harder, panting, tugging at her hair. Bernese glared at her. "Quit that picking and get by this girl's head. Now. And quit panting. I don't have time to drag your big butt out of the way if you faint."
Hazel shook her head wildly back and forth, twisting her body as she fought the contraction. Genny, watching, dug her fingernails into her forearm hard enough to draw blood and then stared down at her arm for half a beat. The pain cleared her head, and she accessed the thread of Frett resilience buried in her, deep under her nerves. She stilled her hands and scurried over to kneel beside Hazel's head.
"There you go. You and her breathe together," instructed Bernese. Once Genny was in place, Bernese braced herself against the doorway and put the heel of her hand at the top of Hazel's belly. She leaned in to it, bearing down and saying, "And you, girl. Push hard from here."
Hazel shoved at Bernese's hand, weeping. She slumped again as the contraction ended, and Bernese said, "Next time you push like that at the start."
Hazel said, "I don't want a next time."
Genny reached out and patted ineffectually at Hazel's shoulder. Hazel grabbed Genny's wrist, looking up at her, beseeching, "Please tell her to quit it."
"Oh, honey," said Genny, pity softening her horror. "No one can make Bernese quit anything."
"I hate you," said Hazel to Bernese. "I hate you, you dumb whore."
"Why, this is Ona Crabtree's girl!" said Genny. "This is little Hazel Crabtree!"
"Course it is," said Bernese, a world of Frett contempt ripe in her voice. The two families had nothing in common and had long regarded each other with animosity. The Fretts were a proudly emotional bunch. No Frett lips ever touched liquor (they even sipped grape juice at communion), but their moods could sweep through them as fierce and fast as any drug. Their decisions came from the gut, and they didn't care one fig for what outsiders thought of their actions.
The Crabtrees, on the other hand, almost universally had the deadeye, and their emotional range ran from sullen right on up to enraged. Wary and canny, they felt nothing more keenly than the gaze of the disapproving world, a world that was out to get them. Their responses to feeling judged were shrugs and sneers followed by lashings of great, cold violence.
The Fretts were meticulous, order incarnate. The Crabtrees lived in unimaginable squalor. The Fretts lived within convention and tradition, while the Crabtrees spread like kudzu, generating chaos and more Crabtrees, generally without benefit of marriage. The Fretts had both money and the respect of the town. They were the royal fish in this tiniest of ponds, and the Crabtrees fed along the bottom.
This defied what the Crabtrees felt should be the natural order of things, because the Crabtrees, like everyone else in Between, were white. They were paper-white, pure Irish, most of them, maybe a little French or English or German blood in some of the branches. It was merely annoying when morally solvent white folks looked down on them, but it was maddening to take it from the Fretts, the children of a white father and a mother who was, as Ona put it, "half a damn squaw-Indian."
Hazel had closed her eyes for a moment, resting. Genny looked down at Hazel's pale eyelids, so smooth and dewy, and said, "Goodness grief, honey, how old are you? Bernese, you be sweet. She's a baby herself!"
Bernese said, "Apples don't fall off trees and land all the way downtown. She's almost sixteen, and I think her mama is my age."
"I hate you," said Hazel to Bernese, and then her eyes opened wide again. "Oh no, it's coming."
"This time you push," said Bernese.
"I don't know how to push," said Hazel, looking desperately to Genny. "Oh no, please do something. Do anything."
"Push like you're going number two," said Bernese, and Genny said, "Bernese! Really!"
Excerpted from Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson Copyright © 2006 by Joshilyn Jackson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
I was lucky enough to pick this book up, the cover caught my eye. It is the first and only Joshilyn Jackson book that I have read. This story has a great story line, and good characters. The characters were described so well, you really feel as if you know them. I recommended this book to all my reader friends and family. I loved it.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 18, 2011
Posted February 14, 2014
A book about rivalries (which are quite popular in the South) and small deep south towns. Of course Joshilyn Jackson gives the audio book some great humor as she narrates, and includes likeable characters (Hatfields vs. McCoys), quirky, and fun banter between all parties. An array of independent women, outspoken, sassy, and families which stick together and protect their own. The book is about total family dysfunction; however, is a heartfelt story and of course as always, entertaining --loved Bernice!
Jackson does a job explaining Usher’s Syndrome and the independence of people who are deaf-blind. The details of the interpreter’s life, and differences between city and county life. I would highly recommend her latest book “Someone Else’s Love Story”, “My Miraculous”, as well as “Backseat Saints”-currently reading “God’s In Alabama” and loving it!
Posted August 8, 2013
Posted July 30, 2013
I picked this book up at my daughters just for something to pass the time. I couldnt put it down. Really a good book. I loved the story and the crazy people in the story. Read it!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 2, 2013
After reading Gods in Alabama, I just knew I wanted to read more from this author, but I was very disappointed with this selection. Very blah! Even the action was disappointing.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 15, 2013
Posted August 25, 2012
Posted June 30, 2012
Posted February 1, 2012
Posted January 9, 2011
I read this book on a recommendation and I am so glad I did. I could barely put it down and had it read in 2 days. Just enough suspense to keep you reading and just enough romance to keep you wanted more.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 21, 2010
I was fortunate enough to pick this book up as an unabridged book on cd to listen to on a recent driving vacation, just something to pass the time while on the road. Sometimes, whims pay off in unexpected ways. the more we listened, the more engrossed we became with all of the characters in this book. Having lived in the south for most of my young life, I completely identified with Nonnie, Fisher, Bernese, the Fretts and the Crabtrees. Having the author reading her work puts you right in the middle of Georgia ( she's a Southerner, too). We hated to stop driving bacause then we had to turn the book off. One night we sat in the car to get to the end of one cd so we could begin fresh the next morning. This is an excellent addition to southern-themed fiction and is well worth a read ( or listen).Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 20, 2010
This is the first time I have read a book by Joshilyn Jackson. I love Southern Fiction and with all the great reviews on Backseat Saints, Joshilyn Jackson's newest book, I decided I needed to give her books a try. I am so glad I did! Right off the bat the first chapter had me cracking up. I could feel the chaos in the room as Hazel Crabtree, Nonny's birth mother, was giving birth on the Frett's floor. All of the characters in this book were quirky and flawed! The feud between the Fretts and the Crabtrees puts the Hatfields and McCoys to shame and Nonny is caught right in the middle of it. Nonny has been raised by Stacia Frett who laid claim to here as soon as she was born. Ona Crabtree finds out three years later that Nonny is actually her granddaughter and won't give up on being part of Nonny's life. Nonny does her best to keep the peace between the two families but like everything else in her life it all falls to pieces. At times I felt very frustrated for Nonny being pulled both ways by both families. I had this picture in my mind of her arms stretched out and each family pulling her arms to their side. If you like quirky, flawed characters this is a great book to read! I am now the newest Joshilyn Jackson fan and will be reading all her books! She did a fabulous job tackling difficult subjects with a bit of humor and Southern hospitality thrown in! I loved it!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 10, 2009
I found this little gem on the sale table, and have subsequently purchased several other copies to send to friends. Jackson is a skilled and sensitive writer, the plot, though wacky, totally captivated me and I couldn't escape it! I'm not a fan of books being made into movies, but this one should be. I've seldom read a book where every single character was so complete and visible to me. A absolutely loved it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 9, 2009
The CD version of the book captured the instant conflict and passionate cliffhanger romances of the pivotal character, Nonny Frett. In spite of the constant character conflicts throughout the story, all issues get resolved at the end. The conflict within Nonny Frett is painstakingly, descriptively, and poetically communicated to the audience. The endearing main characters are believeably typical of small town folk in the South.
The author's ending post notes accurately disclaim fictional references to actual places and organizations during the storys' time period.
Although Nonny is not disabled, I would recommend this story to adults with disabilities, however, NOT to children-due to languzge. It is replete with signing references, as one of the main characters is deaf and blind.
Posted June 24, 2009
Between is a light, loosely written novel about a truly dysfunctional family in just about every way. Initially, I thought I'd be drawn into the story with a group of women, pulling together in their very different ways, and thought a mom who had to "sign" everything to her daughter would also give it a warm twist. The book is a bit of mystery, a bit of romance, a very easy read. I just wasn't drawn to the characters and even though Ms. Jackson tied it all together in the end, I didn't close the book with the feeling that I would miss sitting down with the characters. It was more like a quick trip to somewhere different; nice for a bit but not going back here anytime soon.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 4, 2009
Posted January 15, 2009
This book has heat, heart and makes you hold your breath -- beautifully written, excellent imagery - you can 'see' as you're reading. LOVED IT and want more from this gifted writer! Thanks Josilyn -- I've immediately passed this along to a good friend. Loved learning as I read "X. Machina" and the 'real life' of those who live without sight or hearing. Beautiful!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 19, 2008
loved this for so many reasons. I read alot. THis moved me more than any recent fiction than I have read. Moved me greatly. Wow. Took me by surprise for so many reasons. If you love a good story, pick this one up. I want more of these characters!! Please!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 20, 2008
I read Joshilyn Jackson's first novel, Gods in Alabama, and absolutely loved it. I immediately passed it on to a friend. I was eager to get Between, Georgia, but this novel was a huge disappointment for me. If you read Gods in Alabama and are expecting something similar here, this is not it. It is a very slow read, and it really doesn't even get interesting until Chapter 13. With barely over a 100 pages to go at that point, it's too little too late. The book isn't terrible, it just certainly isn't one I would recommend. Jackson is great at characterization, but there is little to the plot of this story.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.