There is a darkness in men’s hearts that war sets free. When their war is over, they bring that darkness back home with them. It’s a short trail from the jungles of Vietnam to the forests of the Appalachian Mountains.

Read this excerpt from the new novel by Jonathan Chamberlain — in shops on June 16th.

 

Chapter 1

I’m sitting here waiting for her in the usual place, Betty’s Bookshop. I check my watch. She’s late. I look out the window to see if I can see her coming. I can’t. Up till now she’s been pretty good about the time thing. That’s something I hate – people being late. But I guess it doesn’t matter. I don’t mind sitting here, reading. Betty has set out one corner of the shop with a few tables and a coffee machine. There’s a rack of leaflets of upcoming events. And for those of us who are too mean and cheap to buy a half-way decent coffee, she also provides free coffee. It’s the worst. Not much different from dirty dishwater. But hey, it’s free. You get what you pay for.

So here I am. Betty is behind the cash register with one of her girls. That’s the way Betty swings. She may not know about coffee but she does know how to run a bookshop. And if it takes a dyke co-operative to achieve that, I have no qualms. That’s just fine with me. Joe would cackle invective at the thought. ‘You fucking pinko liberal shit.’ I can hear him drawl out the words with mocking venom. It’s almost as if he’s still alive and living in the synapses of my brain. I’m not alone here. The girl at the next table is pale, no breasts, just skin and bones, face studded, spotty, shoulder tattooed, hair matted. Got a baby with her. How on earth did she get a guy to pop her cherry? (That’s the way bro, Joe cackles. You tell ’em.)

I check the time again. Alice is ten minutes late. I can read from the confusions of feeling that I’m feeling about this that I’ve kind of fallen for her. She makes my stomach quiver in a loose bowel sort of way. This is a new feeling for me. It was never like this with Norma. And Maddie screamed into and out of my life like a blazing comet. Falling in love at fifty-five is no joke. It’s crazy. Silly. I feel a fool. She used to scare me. Not because she’s scary. She isn’t. Not at all. It’s me. I’m pathetic. Emotionally very wobbly. Vulnerable. Like jelly. Not because of her. Because of everything else. I just didn’t know it until I met her. Then I saw how impossible it was to just reach out. You’ve got to reach out from a place. I didn’t have that place. There was nothing there. And she was beautiful and pretended not to see how it was with me. And she is so strong and confident and clear eyed and everything a person should be and I am still stuck in this thing that I should have got myself out of long ago. But I’m getting out of it now. Something’s happening. That’s scary too. A different kind of scary. I want her to know how I’m feeling but I’m scared it’s too strong. Don’t worry, I tell myself. She’s not going anywhere. You don’t have to rush anything. Just let the way you like her seep into your words and the way you talk and the way you wave your arms and the way you smile. Let her know. But you don’t have to dump it on her all at once. Let her feel it. And if she likes it she’ll let you know. That’s what I tell myself. I call myself ‘you’. Like I’m my own father. Weird.

But I’m not sure yet what to make of her new Cadillac. ‘My husband left it,’ she explained when she showed it to me. ‘He came to see me to sort a few things out and when he left, he gave me his Cadillac. He’s gone now. He won’t be back. He’s gone from my life.’

‘How can you be so sure?’ I asked.

‘I just know.’ And there was a firmness about the way she said it so I know she knows something she’s not telling me. Like he’s got terminal cancer or something. But I don’t understand about the Cadillac. But then again, why should it make sense? Some things just don’t make sense.

Above the coffee machine there’s a TV. The flicker of it caught my eye. The sound is off but the images are clear enough. Our soldiers in Iraq. They’re coming back. Barack says so. Yippee! And then what? We still haven’t learned from Vietnam. You send soldiers to fight meaningless, vicious, enemy dehumanizing wars and they come back home, they bring the war back with them. And the grand violence of our policy makers gets transmuted into little parcels – small individually wrapped little packets – of hate and rage and brutality. I know about this. I feel a surge of disgust. I can’t look at the screen any more. I can’t watch it. The knowledge I carry is sour in my belly. And then there she is! Alice. She’s sitting right there at the table smiling at me. She must have snuck up on me. Christ! I jump with the shock of her being there suddenly.

‘Ouch! I didn’t see you.’

‘You were a hundred miles away.’

Ten thousand more like it. Or nine thousand two hundred and fifty to be a little more precise.

‘Was I?’ I smiled sheepishly and nodded.