Call Me Home

Excerpt from the new novel Call Me Home by Megan Kruse

Megan Kruse is a young writer of raw and fearless talent and Call Me Home showcases all she can do. She writes here of harrowing lives — of a family bent and broken by violence, where each person is desperately trying to somehow grow toward light and liberation. In the process, she offers a most unlikely tale of hardness and hustle, of grace and loss, of painful love and tough breaks and the unimaginable paths we must all eventually take toward survival.

— ELIZABETH GILBERT, author of Eat, Pray Love

 

Jackson

Silver, Idaho, 2010

The belated Easter party was to be held that Saturday night at A-frame A, the most complete of the new houses. Just a few beers, and then the Longhorn, according to the much-circulated plan.

 

Who had an Easter party? Jackson didn’t care. He was going to see Don. He hadn’t seen him since Honey brought him to the East side on Tuesday; each day that Don’s truck didn’t appear, Jackson tried to pretend he wasn’t disappointed. Now he shaved in the pocket mirror, the one he’d stolen from Lydia, and put on a clean shirt. He did everything slowly, meticulously. He drank the rest of the bottle of wine. What a girl he was. He thought again about the lock of hair he’d given to Chris. In his imagined, more perfect life, he discarded sentimentalities. Into the trash with the birthday cards, faded photographs. A better Jackson would scorn them all.

 

It was a little past seven when he made the walk to A-frame A. Already the light was draining away; he hadn’t remembered a flashlight. The lake was lapping against the shore, a dark, bright line that curved like a knife blade in the dim evening light. The clouds had lifted, and the faintest web of stars was beginning to stretch over the water. There were crushed cans along the path. When he got to A-frame A, there was already a crowd. Jackson was a little late, because he hadn’t wanted to be too early, but now it seemed like he shouldn’t have worried. He could hear Jay Donahue and Bill inside, shouting and laughing, already drunk. The floor was still not sanded, but the windowpanes were up, the electrical wiring coursing through like veins. Someone had set up a card table and filled it with bags of chips, open plastic cartons of donuts, and cupcakes. There was a group of men sitting around it, drinking from a small cityscape of open bottles. Don was nowhere in sight. He had the feeling of walking onto a stage.

 

“Jack!” Bill flagged him over. “You gotta hear about this. Tell him, Jay.”

 

The whole room smelled of men – a different smell from the high school cross-country locker room, which had appealed to Jackson in another way – wispy, ephemeral slips of running shorts, clean sweat, shampoo. The men in Silver smelled dirtier. Beer sweat, sawdust. No one had touched in the locker room – all of the runners were virginal, clean, and of themselves, communal only in their dedication to noble pursuits: a second shaved from the half mile, a lighter pair of running shoes. The Silver crew touched with beery, cheerful abandon, and Jackson was one of them. Their meaty hands palmed him. Was it possible they weren’t thinking of sex? All of the things that had marked him in Tulalip, in Portland, evaporated. It seemed like no one saw. Then there was Don, he thought. Don saw or he didn’t. Jackson looked around for him but he couldn’t see him. Josh, the crew leader on the north side, was holding up a pen, one of those naked lady pens, and laughing loudly. Jackson laughed loudly, too, slapped his own skinny leg – A broad! And her top falls off ! Was it really this simple? Men and their simple wants. Josh turned the pen and the woman’s top slid down again.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Jackson saw Don climb the steps to the open house, knocking his boots against the doorframe. Don was wearing a red sweater that pulled against his stomach, his round shoulders hunched forward. He was carrying a case of beer and smoking a cigarette.

 

Don didn’t look at him. He gave a wide, encompassing smile to the room, and Jackson concentrated on an open fifth of Early Times. He took a long drink, and then another. One of the guys slapped him on the back. “Good man!” he said, knocking his own bottle against Jackson’s.

 

Amy

Women’s Shelter, Alamogordo,

New Mexico, 2010

 

The New Mexico sun was a flat disk, the clouds high above in the hard blue sky. The house was the same as all of the others in town – a brown stucco box, bleached to a bone color in places. Inside was a long hallway with six doors and part of a family behind each one. The mailbox was always empty, and it bothered her the way the mail car drove right by. Wasn’t it a giveaway? It seemed like an obvious thing to overlook when you were trying to make a building look like a home, like a place that held any whole family instead of six or seven approximations: what was left of families, after. The backyard was a scrabble of dirt and rock, where Lydia sat with a little boy against the tall wooden fence while Amy was inside talking to the caseworker.

 

“You can’t blame your son,” the woman kept saying to her. “You can’t blame him, and you can’t blame yourself, but you were right, you needed to go without him. You couldn’t take the chance that it would happen again.” The woman’s eyes were watering, in danger of spilling over. “This happens with teenagers,” she said gently. “They get angry at their mothers. They want their fathers’ love, and their fathers manipulate them just like they manipulated you. You had to make a decision for your safety and your other child’s safety.” She waited, but Amy didn’t say anything. “Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.

 

Her head felt thick. The woman didn’t understand. Who would? The idea of trying to explain made her feel like she was trying to walk through thick mud with aching, bone-tired legs. He was safe, she knew that. Jackson was always the self-sufficient one, the big brother. But that was the problem – he rarely seemed to need his mother, but he needed Lydia, and Lydia him. From the time Lydia was an infant he’d watched his sister, held her, fed her, protected her. Amy had at times almost resented their closeness, Jackson’s hovering, for the way it implicated her, proved what Amy knew: that Gary was dangerous. In some ways, Amy thought, Jackson considered Lydia to be his, and she couldn’t blame him for it.

 

She hadn’t chosen one over the other, she told herself now; she had not. It was the right thing to do. Jackson had a life ahead of him that shabby Tulalip, Washington, could not give him, and she knew with as much certainty as she knew her own love for him that he would leave that town, that he would make his own life and see his father for what Gary was. And to take Jackson – to bring him to this new life, when he was supposed to be starting his own – wasn’t right.

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