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This Bitter Earth

This Bitter Earth

Bernice L. McFadden - Author

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ISBN 9781101153901 | 288 pages | 31 Dec 2002 | Plume | 18 - AND UP
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In This Bitter Earth, Sugar Lacey is on her way out of Bigelow, Arkansas, where she’d come to break with the past. With her worn leopard-print suitcase and her head held high, she walks past the prying eyes of its small-minded, cruel-hearted townsfolk, praying for the strength to keep going. She doesn’t stop until she arrives at her childhood home in Short Junction.  Here she learns the truth about her parentage: a terrible tale of unrequited love, of one man’s enduring hatred, and of the black magic that has cursed generations of Lacey women.  A powerfully realized novel that brings back the unforgettable characters from Sugar, McFadden’s bestselling debut, This Bitter Earth is a testament to the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.

Bigelow
Winter 1955

Chapter 1

Sugar made her way down the road. The wind pushed at her back, hurrying her along and away from Bigelow and the people that gathered at the door of the church to watch her departure.

The women hugged themselves for warmth and smiled while nodding their heads and clucking their tongues in triumph while the men, including the Reverend Foster, lifted their collars against the gale as they watched Sugar's long legs and hefty bottom fade away into the gloomy night. The men hung their heads; they would miss her and the pleasure she'd given them.

Good pussy gone traveled through their minds as they patted their thighs in tribute.

Sugar walked with her head up and shoulders back as she slowly made her way down the road that had brought her to Bigelow. She moved past Fayline's House of Beauty, which was closed and empty, but the laughter that had been had there at Sugar's expense still echoed in her mind, fusing with the wind, adding to Sugar's sadness.

Sugar rounded a tight bend and the darkness swallowed her. Bigelow's residents cocked their heads and strained their eyes as they tried to penetrate the blackness, but she was gone. Not even the light tap-tap-tap of her heels could be heard.

Satisfied, they returned to their pews and their Bibles as if she had never been there at all.

Once out of their view, Sugar crumpled, her shoulders slumped and her head dipped. The secret she carried with her tore at her heart and filled her eyes with tears.

The secret hollered inside of Sugar's mouth, rattling her teeth, pushing her tongue to curl the words out. Sugar would not speak it, but she did write it.

She'd scrawled it on the corners of napkins and at the bottom of the obit section of the county newspaper. She'd written it on a page in the Sears catalogue, the one displaying hunting knives.

She wrote it in block letters, sometimes in pencil or black ink and once, just once, in red.

She kept those tiny slips of truth, folded into neat squares or crumpled into tiny balls, hiding them away in her coat pocket, because she knew she would be leaving Bigelow and she had to take the secret with her.

Lappy did it.

When she got to the mouth of town and was sure that the eyes of the Bigelow men and women were far enough away, she reached into her pocket and pulled her secret from its depths. They were heavy, those three little words on those tiny bits of paper, heavier than the blows that Lappy Clayton had covered her body with, but not as heavy as the casket that held Jude's body.

Sugar released the papers to the wind and watched as they danced and skipped their way across the cold hard ground. She covered her ears as the words screamed out to her:

Lappy did it. Lappy did it. Lappy did it.

Sugar wouldn't tell, but someone else one day would find one of those pieces of paper and they would.

She moved on, hoping that she would never have to return to Bigelow but knowing that she would. Her life had been tailored that way.

Her departure only guaranteed her return, and every step forward just put her two steps closer to where she had been

“McFadden’s sensuous prose and folk wisdom conjure a memorable character with complexity and grace.”  —People magazine

“At times dark and haunting but ultimately hopeful, This Bitter Earth is a riveting tale of courage and triumph.” —Heart & Soul

 


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