The darkness of Ron Rash’s work contrasts with its unexpected sensitivity and stark beauty in a manner that could only be accomplished by this master of the short story form.
Nothing Gold Can Stay includes 14 stories, including Rash’s “The Trusty,” which first appeared in The New Yorker.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.32(h) x 0.99(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Nothing Gold Can Stay
By Ron Rash
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2013 Ron Rash
All rights reserved.
They had been moving up the road a week without seeing another farmhouse, and the nearest well, at least the nearest the owner would let Sinkler use, was half a mile back. What had been a trusty sluff job was now as onerous as swinging a Kaiser blade or shoveling out ditches. As soon as he'd hauled the buckets back to the cage truck it was time to go again. He asked Vickery if someone could spell him and the bull guard smiled and said that Sinkler could always strap on a pair of leg irons and grab a handle. "Bolick just killed a rattlesnake in them weeds yonder," the bull guard said. "I bet he'd square a trade with you." When Sinkler asked if come morning he could walk ahead to search for another well, Vickery's lips tightened, but he nodded.
The next day, Sinkler took the metal buckets and walked until he found a farmhouse. It was no closer than the other, even a bit farther, but worth padding the hoof a few extra steps. The well he'd been using belonged to a hunchbacked widow. The woman who appeared in this doorway wore her hair in a similar tight bun and draped herself in the same sort of flour-cloth dress, but she looked to be in her mid-twenties, like Sinkler. Two weeks would pass before they got beyond this farmhouse, perhaps another two weeks before the next well. Plenty of time to quench a different kind of thirst. As he entered the yard, the woman looked past the barn to a field where a man and his draft horse were plowing. The woman gave a brisk whistle and the farmer paused and looked their way. Sinkler stopped beside the well but did not set the buckets down.
"What you want," the woman said, not so much a question as a demand.
"Water," Sinkler answered. "We've got a chain gang working on the road."
"I'd have reckoned you to bring water with you." "Not enough for ten men all day."
The woman looked out at the field again. Her husband watched but did not unloop the rein from around his neck. The woman stepped onto the six nailed together planks that looked more like a raft than a porch. Firewood was stacked on one side, and closer to the door an axe leaned between a shovel and a hoe. She let her eyes settle on the axe long enough to make sure he noticed it. Sinkler saw now that she was younger than he'd thought, maybe eighteen, at most twenty, more girl than woman.
"How come you not to have chains on you?"
"I'm a trusty," Sinkler said, smiling. "A prisoner, but one that can be trusted."
"And all you want is water?"
Sinkler thought of several possible answers.
"That's what they sent me for."
"I don't reckon there to be any money in it for us?" the girl asked.
"No, just gratitude from a bunch of thirsty men, and especially me for not having to haul it so far."
"I'll have to ask my man," she said. "Stay here in the yard."
For a moment he thought she might take the axe with her. As she walked into the field, Sinkler studied the house, which was no bigger than a fishing shack. The dwelling appeared to have been built in the previous century. The door opened with a latch, not a knob, and no glass filled the window frames. Sinkler stepped closer to the entrance and saw two ladder back chairs and a small table set on a puncheon floor. Sinkler wondered if these apple-knockers had heard they were supposed to be getting a new deal.
"You can use the well," the girl said when she returned, "but he said you need to forget one of them pails here next time you come asking for water."
Worth it, he figured, even if Vickery took the money out of Sinkler's own pocket, especially with no sign up ahead of another farmhouse. It would be a half-dollar at most, easily made up with one slick deal in a poker game. He nodded and went to the well, sent the rusty bucket down into the dark. The girl went up on the porch but didn't go inside.
"What you in prison for?"
"Thinking a bank manager wouldn't notice his teller slipping a few bills in his pocket."
"I ain't never been past Asheville," the girl said. "How long you in for?"
"Five years. I've done sixteen months."
Sinkler raised the bucket, water leaking from the bottom as he transferred its contents. The girl stayed on the porch, making sure that all he took was water.
"You lived here long?"
"Me and Chet been here a year," the girl said. "I grew up across the ridge yonder."
"You two live alone, do you?"
"We do," the girl said, "but there's a rifle just inside the door and I know how to bead it."
"I'm sure you do," Sinkler said. "You mind telling me your name, just so I'll know what to call you?"
He waited to see if she'd ask his.
"Mine's Sinkler," he said when she didn't.
He filled the second bucket but made no move to leave, instead looking around at the trees and mountains as if just noticing them. Then he smiled and gave a slight nod. "Must get lonely being out so far from everything,"
Sinkler said. "At least, I would think so."
"And I'd think them men to be getting thirsty," Lucy Sorrels said.
"Probably," he agreed, surprised at her smarts in turning his words back on him. "But I'll return soon to brighten your day."
"When you planning to leave one of them pails?" she asked.
"Last trip before quitting time."
She nodded and went into the shack.
"The rope broke," he told Vickery as the prisoners piled into the truck at quitting time.
The guard looked not so much skeptical as aggrieved that Sinkler thought him fool enough to believe it. Vickery answered that if Sinkler thought he'd lightened his load he was mistaken. It'd be easy enough to find another bucket, maybe one that could hold an extra gallon. Sinkler shrugged and lifted himself into the cage truck, found a place on the metal bench among the sweating convicts. He'd won over the other guards with cigarettes and small loans, that and his mush talk, but not Vickery, who'd argued that making Sinkler a trusty would only give him a head start when he tried to escape.
The bull guard was right about that. Sinkler had more than fifty dollars in poker winnings now, plenty enough cash to get him across the Mississippi and finally shed himself of the whole damn region. He'd grown up in Montgomery, but when the law got too interested in his comings and goings he'd gone north to Knoxville and then west to Memphis before recrossing Tennessee on his way to Raleigh. Sinkler's talents had led him to establishments where his sleight of hand needed no deck of cards. With a decent suit, clean fingernails, and buffed shoes, he'd walk into a business and be greeted as a solid citizen. Tell a story about being in town because of an ailing mother and you were the cat's pajamas. They'd take the Help Wanted sign out of the window and pretty much replace it with Help Yourself. Sinkler remembered the afternoon in Memphis when he had stood by the river after grifting a clothing store of forty dollars in two months. Keep heading west or turn back east— that was the choice. He'd flipped a silver dollar to decide, a rare moment when he'd trusted his life purely to luck.
This time he'd cross the river, start in Kansas City or St. Louis. He'd work the stores and cafés and newsstands and anywhere else with a till or a cash register. Except for a bank. Crooked as bankers were, Sinkler should have realized how quickly they'd recognize him as one of their own. No, he'd not make that mistake again.
That night, when the stockade lights were snuffed, he lay in his bunk and thought about Lucy Sorrels. A year and a half had passed since he'd been with a woman. After that long, almost any female would make the sap rise. There was nothing about her face to hold a man's attention, but curves tightened the right parts of her dress.
Nice legs too. Each trip to the well that day, he had tried to make small talk. She had given him the icy mitts, but he had weeks yet to warm her up. It was only on the last haul that the husband had come in from his field. He'd barely responded to Sinkler's "how do you do's" and "much obliged's." He looked to be around forty and Sinkler suspected that part of his terseness was due to a younger man being around his wife. After a few moments, the farmer had nodded at the pail in Sinkler's left hand. "You'll be leaving that, right?" When Sinkler said yes, the husband told Lucy to switch it with the leaky well bucket, then walked into the barn.
Two days passed before Lucy asked if he'd ever thought of trying to escape.
"Of course," Sinkler answered. "Have you?"
She looked at him in a way that he could not read.
"How come you ain't done it, then? They let you roam near anywhere you want, and you ain't got shackles."
"Maybe I enjoy the free room and board," Sinkler answered. He turned a thumb toward his stripes. "Nice duds too. They even let you change them out every Sunday." "I don't think I could stand it," Lucy said. "Being locked up so long and knowing I still had nigh on four years." He checked her lips for the slightest upward curve of a smile, but it wasn't there.
"Yeah," Sinkler said, taking a step closer. "You don't seem the sort to stand being locked up. I'd think a young gal pretty as you would want to see more of the world." "How come you ain't done it?" she asked again, and brushed some loose wisps of hair behind her ear.
"Maybe the same reason as you," Sinkler said. "It's not like you can get whisked away from here. I haven't seen more than a couple of cars and trucks on this road, and those driving them know there's prisoners about. They wouldn't be fool enough to pick up a stranger. Haven't seen a lot of train tracks either."
"Anybody ever try?" Lucy asked.
"Yeah, two weeks ago. Fellow ran that morning and the bloodhounds had him grabbing sky by dark. All he got for his trouble was a bunch of tick bites and briar scratches. That and another year added to his sentence."
For the first time since she'd gone to fetch her husband, Lucy stepped off the porch and put some distance between her and the door. The rifle and axe too, which meant that she was starting to trust him at least a little. She stood in the yard and looked up at an eave, where black insects hovered around clots of dried mud.
"Them dirt daubers is a nuisance," Lucy said. "I knock their nests down and they build them back the next day." "I'd guess them to be about the only thing that wants to stay around here, don't you think?"
"You've got a saucy way of talking," she said.
"You don't seem to mind it too much," Sinkler answered, and nodded toward the field. "An older fellow like that usually keeps a close eye on a pretty young wife, but he must be the trusting sort, or is it he just figures he's got you corralled in?"
He lifted the full buckets and stepped close enough to the barn not to be seen from the field. "You don't have to stand so far from me, Lucy Sorrels. I don't bite."
She didn't move toward him but she didn't go back to the porch, either.
"If you was to escape, where would you go?"
"Might depend on who was going with me," Sinkler answered. "What kind of place would you like to visit?" "Like you'd just up and take me along. I'd likely that about as much as them daubers flying me out of here."
"No, I'd need to get to know my traveling partner better," Sinkler said. "Make sure she really cared about me. That way she wouldn't take a notion to turn me in."
"You mean for the reward money?"
"You've got to be a high cloud to have a reward put on you, darling. They'd not even bother to put my mug in a post office, which is fine by me. Buy my train ticket and I'd be across the Mississippi in two days. Matter of fact, I've got money enough saved to buy two tickets."
"Enough for two tickets?" she asked.
"I do indeed."
Lucy looked at her bare feet, placed one atop the other as a shy child might. She set both feet back on the ground and looked up.
"Why come you to think a person would turn you in if there ain't no reward?"
"Bad conscience— which is why I've got to be sure my companion doesn't have one." Sinkler smiled. "Like I said, you don't have to stand so far away. We could even step into the barn for a few minutes."
Lucy looked toward the field and let her gaze linger long enough that he thought she just might do it.
"I have chores to get done," she said and went into the shack.
Sinkler headed back down the road, thinking things out. By the time he set the sloshing buckets beside the prison truck, he'd figured a way to get Lucy Sorrels's dress raised with more than just sweet talk. He'd tell her there was an extra set of truck keys in a guard's front desk he could steal. Once the guards were distracted, he'd jump in the truck, pick her up, head straight to Asheville, and catch the first train out. It was a damn good story, one - Sinkler himself might have believed if he didn't know that all the extra truck keys were locked inside a thousand pound Mosler safe.
Excerpted from Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash. Copyright © 2013 by Ron Rash. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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.