In the Family Way

In the Family Way

by Tommy Hays


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780615897141
Publisher: Sterling Lord Literistic
Publication date: 03/15/2014
Pages: 166
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.35(d)

About the Author

Tommy Hays grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and was educated at Furman University and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. His first novel was Sam's Crossing. Hays teaches at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts. He lives in Asheville with his wife and two children.

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In the Family Way

Two weeks after my brother Mitchell was killed, my mother finally emerged from her bedroom, hair uncombed, eyes puffy and wide. She said nothing to us, who watched her cross the floor to the bathroom, where she emptied the medicine cabinet. She stepped into the living room holding a waste can full of medicine bottles and announced that she had become a Christian Scientist.

The year was 1962. I was nine and didn't know what Christian Science was. But I could see it had enabled my mother to walk from her bedroom and speak to us, and I was grateful for that.

She had taken Mitchell's death harder than any of us. She had grown up in a family of early deaths. Her grandmother had died giving birth to her mother, Grace, who, in turn, had died giving birth to a stillborn daughter. Her father, Jeru, so grieved these losses that he died three years later, at the age of forty-one, of a heart attack. My mother and her brother Charlie then went to live with their great-aunt and great-uncle, Louise and Clem Marshbanks. Brother and sister, Louise and Clem became my mother's surrogate parents and, eventually, my surrogate grandparents.

Mitchell was almost eight when he was killed, and I was the only witness. Death had made my family conspicuous. We buried Mitchell alongside my grandparents in Springwood, Greenville's downtown cemetery. My mother often visited his grave on her way home from the newspaper, where she worked. She said our grandparents and Mitchell didn't actually die, she claimed no one died. "Death," she was fond of repeating, "is the ultimate illusion."

My father took solace in my mother's discovery of Christian Science. It justified hisown religious preoccupations. Ever since his college days, he had read and studied books of the great Eastern religions, but after Mitchell was killed, he immersed himself in them with a new zeal. He resigned from his job at the advertising agency and began to write a novel. He kept strange hours. For him, church became a late-night diner where he discussed the Buddha over a cup of coffee with a road-weary trucker. Mitchell's death drove both my parents to religion: My mother, a Southern Baptist, turned Christian Scientist, and my father, a midwestern Presbyterian, became a Waffle House mystic.

Mitchell's death put me off God. I didn't trust a deity who allowed what had happened to Mitchell in the Moores' field that afternoon. I placed my faith in the pioneers, inventors, and baseball players whose stories I devoured nightly. In my personal sect, the holy trinity was Daniel Boone, Lou Gehrig, and Thomas Alva Edison. Since Mitchell's death I had become obsessed with biographies and read under the covers with a flashlight late into the night, losing myself in the abridged lives of great men.

The nights I couldn't read, when the words sat there on the page, being their secret selves, leading me nowhere, I relived the afternoon Mitchell and I had been playing along the creek bank, in the field next to Uncle Clem and Aunt Louise's house. I see the German shepherd, its broken chain trailing behind, tear across the creek from the direction of Colored Town. The dog charges through the high grass, not barking, not even growling. We run, but I am heavy and slow. I might be screaming. When Mitchell sees the German shepherd gain on me, he drops back, and I run past him. He holds out his opened hand to the dog. I hear him speak; the words seem to be whispered in my ear. "Here, boy. Come here, boy. It's all right." Mitchell has pulled off this trick before, and I have a second to believe it will work before the dog takes him down. Uncle Clem appears at the edge of the field with his .22. Two Negro boys splash through the creek, calling the dog. The rifle fires in the air, but the dog doesn't run. Uncle Clem beats it off Mitchell with the butt of the gun, then shoots it three times.

My last memory of Mitchell is him standing there, hand out, palm up, offering himself as he always offered himself to everyone and everything. That is how Aunt Louise said I should remember him. Never mind that I had my back to him, that I was running and could not have seen it. She said I should hang on to that image and forget about afterward because that was no longer Mitchell.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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