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Excerpt: 'Bent Road'

Bent Road by Lori Roy

Chapter One

Celia squeezes the steering wheel and squints into the darkness. Her tires bounce across the dirt road and kick up gravel that rains down like hail. Sweat gathers where the flat underbelly of her chin meets her neck. She leans forward but can't see Arthur's truck. There is a shuffling in the backseat. If they were still living in Detroit, maybe driving to St. Alban's for Sunday mass, she would check on Evie and Daniel. But not now. For three days she has driven, slept one night in a motel, all five of the family in one room, another in her own car, and now that the trip is nearly over, Arthur is gone.

"Are we there yet, Mama?" Evie says, her small voice drifting out of the backseat.

Celia presses on the brake. The car rattles beneath her hands. She tightens her grip, clenches her teeth, holds her arms firm.

"No, baby," she whispers. "Soon." "Can you see Daddy and Elaine?" Evie says. "Not now, honey. Try to sleep. I'll wake you kids when we get to Grandma's."

Outside Celia's window, quiet fields glow under the moonlight and roll off into the darkness. She knows to call them fields, not pastures. She knows the wheat will have been harvested by now and the fields left bare. On their last night in Detroit, Arthur had lain next to her in bed and whispered about their new life in Kansas. "Fields are best laid flat," he had said, tracing a line down Celia's neck. "Wheat will rot in a low spot, scatter if it's too high." Then he pulled the satin ribbon tied in a delicate bow at her neckline. "Pastures, those are for grazing. Most any land will do for a good pasture."

Celia shivers, not sure if it's because of the memory of his warm breath on the tip of her earlobe or the words that, like her new life, are finally seeping in. In Kansas, Arthur will be the son; she, just the wife.

As the car climbs another hill, the front tires slip and spin in the dry dirt. The back end rides low, packed full of her mother's antique linens and bone china, the things she wouldn't let Arthur strap to his truck. She blinks, tries to look beyond the yellow cone that her head- lights spray across the road. She's sure she will see Arthur parked up ahead, waiting for her to catch up. The clouds shift and the night grows brighter. It's a good sign.

From the backseat, Evie fluffs her favorite pillow, the one that Celia's mother embroidered with lavender lilacs. Celia inhales her mother's perfume and blinks away the thought of her grave and Father's, both left untouched now that Celia is gone. Taking another deep breath, she lets her hands and arms relax. Her knuckles burn as she loosens her grip. She rolls her head from side to side. Driving uphill is easier.

Broken glass, sparkling green and brown shards scattered across Willingham Avenue on a Sunday morning in the spring of 1965, had been the first sign of the move to come. "This is trouble," Arthur said, dumping the glass into a trash barrel with a tip of his metal dustpan. "Just kids," Celia said. But soon after the glass, the phone calls began. Negro boys, whose words tilted a different way, calling for Elaine. They used ma'am and sir, but still Arthur said he knew a Negro's voice. A colored man had no place in the life of one of Arthur Scott's daughters. Of this, he was damned sure, and after twenty years away, those phone calls must have scared Arthur more than the thought of moving back to Kansas.

Not once, in all their time together, has Arthur taken Celia back to his hometown, never even considered a visit. Here, on Bent Road, he lost his oldest sister, Eve, when he was a teenager. She died, killed in a fashion that Arthur has never been willing to share. He'll look at Evie sometimes, their youngest daughter, usually when the morning light catches her blue eyes or when her hair is freshly washed and combed, and he'll smile and say she is the spitting image of his sister. Nothing more, rarely even uses her name—Eve. But now, the closer he gets to home, the faster he drives, as if he is suddenly regretting all those years away.

Under the full moon, Daniel leans forward, hanging his arms over the front seat. Dad's truck is definitely gone. Ever since sunset, Mama has clenched the steering wheel with both hands, leaned forward with a straight back and struggled to keep Dad's taillights in sight. But the road ahead has been dark for the last several minutes.

From Bent Road by Lori Roy. Reprinted by arrangement with Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright Lori Roy, 2011.

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Lori Roy