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Shae-Lynn Penrose drives a cab in a town where no one needs a cab—but plenty of people need rides. A former police officer with a closet full of miniskirts, a recklessly sharp tongue, and a tendency to deal with men by either beating them up or taking them to bed, she has spent years carving out a life for herself and her son in Jolly Mount, Pennsylvania, the tiny coal-mining town where she grew up.
Two years ago, five of Shae-Lynn’s miner friends were catapulted to media stardom when they were rescued after surviving four days trapped in a mine. As the men struggle to come to terms with the nightmarish memories of their ordeal, along with the fallout of their short- lived celebrity, Shae-Lynn finds herself facing harsh realities and reliving bad dreams of her own, including her relationship with her brutal father, her conflicted passion for one of the miners, and the hidden identity of the man who fathered her son.
When the younger sister she thought was dead arrives on her doorstep, followed closely by a gun-wielding Russian gangster, a shady New York lawyer, and a desperate Connecticut housewife, Shae-Lynn is forced to grapple with the horrible truth she discovers about the life her sister’s been living, and with one ominous question: Will her return result in a monstrous act of greed or one of sacrifice?
Tawni O’Dell’s trademark blend of black humor, tenderness, and a keen sense of place is evident once again as Shae-Lynn takes on past demons and all-too-present dangers.
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Tawni O’Dell is the New York Times bestselling author of Coal Run and Back Roads, which was also an Oprah’s Book Club selection. She lives in Pennsylvania with her two children and her husband, literary translator Bernard Cohen.
For more information about the author, visit www.tawniodell.com.
I drive a cab in a town where no one needs a cab but plenty of people need rides. I've been paid with casseroles, lip gloss, plumbing advice, beer, prayers for my immortal soul, and promises to mow my yard, but this is the first time I've ever been offered something living.
The girl's around eleven or twelve. About twenty years too soon, she already possesses the self-centered, self-destructive attitude of a survivor of a string of bad relationships, failed diets, a drinking problem, and the realization that life is just a bunch of confusing, painful stuff that fills up the time between your favorite TV shows.
Her outfit looks like it's been picked out by a pedophile with a penchant for banging hillbilly girls, but more than likely her mom bought it for her. She's dressed in a pair of tight denim shorts with eyelet trim, a pair of clear plastic platform sandals encrusted in silver glitter, and a skimpy halter made from red bandanna material. Her exposed midriff sports a unicorn tattoo which I hope is water soluble.
She wants a ride from Jolly Mount to the mall and wants to pay for it with her four-year-old brother.
"I'm not doing this for my health," I explain to her as I put the nozzle back into the gas pump. "This is my job. I have to make a living. I can't pay my mortgage or my heating bill with a toddler."
"You could sell him," she suggests.
"That's against the law."
"The law won't ever find out."
I screw my gas cap back on. She watches me while she stands with all her weight positioned on one skinny leg, one nonexistent hip thrust out with her hand resting on it, the bent angle and sharp point of her elbow making an almost perfect triangle of bony flesh against the yellow custom paint job of my Subaru Outback.
Her other hand holds the hand of her brother, not tightly but not casually either, the way a daisy holds on to its petals.
"Maybe he doesn't want to be sold," I tell her. "Maybe he wants to stay here."
"Then you could keep him. He can't do much now but when he gets older he could be like a slave for you."
I look down at the little guy. The spray of freckles across his nose and the hand-me-down jeans with rips in the knees and the cuffs rolled up several times remind me of my own son, Clay, when he was that age.
He turns twenty-four today. I have to remember to give him a call later. I don't make a big deal over his birthday now that he's grown. I don't let myself get emotional either, since the emotions surrounding his birth have always left me feeling torn up inside. I guess that's what happens when the best thing in your life is the result of the worst mistake of your life.
I wasn't all that much older than this girl standing in front of me now when my dad dropped me off at the entrance of the Centresburg Hospital, already two hours into my contractions, and told me to call him when I was "done."
Shannon was with us, sitting in the cab of the pickup crushed between the enormous globe of her sister's belly and the silent, hulking presence of our coal miner father who'd been pulled out of the damp, black earth midway through his shift in answer to my emergency call. Since he was going right back to work, he hadn't bothered to clean up or change out of his dirty coveralls. His face and hands were coated with rock dust: the crushed limestone sprayed inside mines to control the combustible coal dust. It gave his skin a bluish-white pallor, like someone who'd been frozen solid and dug out of a snowdrift.
Shannon was this girl's age and full of the same sort of generalized contempt and misplaced confidence in her ability to not care about anything as long as she told herself nothing was worth caring about, but I remember she looked worried that day as I climbed down out of the truck wincing and breathing funny and cradling the baby still inside me. I couldn't tell if she was afraid for me or afraid for herself because she was going home with dad alone.
"I don't believe in slavery," I tell the girl. "Besides, maybe he wants to stay with you."
"I don't think so."
"I think he's pretty attached to you."
We both look at the boy this time. He doesn't have the exuberance of most children his age. He hasn't been fidgeting or whining or trying to get away. He stares back at us with the endlessly patient gaze of a sheep waiting at the gate to be let out or let in.
"But he ain't mine. He's my mom's," she says.
"He doesn't belong to you or your mom."
I walk around to the driver's side of my car. They follow me.
"He's not a dog. He's a person. You can't own another person. Although another person can own you. You'll learn about that when you start dating."
"I already date."
"Okay, enough." I hold up my hands in a sign of defeat. "This is more information than I need. If you don't have any money, what else do you have?"
She opens up her grimy purse, pink with a jeweled kitten on it. I would have killed for a purse like that when I was her age although I never would have taken it outside the house for fear E.J. or some of the other guys would have made fun of me for being a sissy.
She pokes through the meager contents with the tips of her fingers, which are polished in chipped purple: a cracked pink plastic Barbie wallet, a lipstick, a comb, a piece of notebook paper folded into a small square, a lighter shaped like a pig, and a handful of what looks like ordinary gravel.
She gestures with her head toward the boy.
"Kenny collects rocks."
I take the lighter and flick it on. The flames come out the pig's nose.
"The lighter," I state.
"No way. I love that lighter. I just stole . . . I just bought it with my own money inside."
"No lighter, no ride."
It's her turn to size me up. She looks me over. I wonder what she thinks about my outfit, if she's being more generous than I was with hers. Ancient scuffed Frye harness boots, long bare legs, a camouflage miniskirt, olive drab tank top, cheap drugstore sunglasses, and a pink Stetson that Clay gave me two years ago as a Mother's Day gag gift that I was never supposed to wear: looks like she was dressed by a Vietnam vet with a penchant for banging middle-aged cowgirls.
Her gaze leaves me and runs over the car. jolly mount cab is written on both sides but about a month ago, someone blacked out jolly and cab on the driver's side door and added the word me.
It now reads mount me.
I don't have any idea who the vandal is. I'm sure it was nothing personal. I've even taken my time getting it fixed. I tell myself it's because I don't have the money, but part of the reason is simple admiration and encouragement for the creative thought process behind it.
When E.J. and I were in sixth grade and the Union Hall was still standing and hosting community events, a square dancing club called The Naughty Pines came to town to put on an exhibition. E.J. and I switched two letters and the next day the marquee read tonight only: the naughty penis.
We thought we were the two most brilliant people alive.
It was inevitable that we would be caught, since we bragged openly about what we had done. Eventually word spread throughout the school, and we were sent to the principal's office. I never did understand why our teachers were allowed to become involved, since the act didn't occur on school property or during school hours, but I guess they believed that, since I didn't have a mom to teach me right from wrong, they were responsible for disciplining me.
Apparently, I've passed the girl's inspection because she hands me the lighter and opens the back door.
My cell rings.
"Jolly Mount Cab," I answer.
"I need a cab to drive me from Harrisburg to Jolly Mount," a man's voice greets me. "There's not a single cab company here that will do it. One of the drivers I spoke to recommended you."
"What'd he say?"
"He said he thought you'd take the job."
"No, that's not what I mean. What'd he say about me?"
"He said he thought you'd take the job," he repeats.
The girl crawls inside the car and motions for her brother to follow. Once he's seated beside her she makes him fasten his seat belt but doesn't put on her own.
"What'd he really say about me?" I ask him.
A brief silence.
"He said you're attractive, although he didn't use the word 'attractive,' but I think that was the point he was trying to make."
"Does that make you more eager to have me drive you?"
"I doubt I'd be interested in you in that way."
"Why not? Are you gay? Faithful? Celibate? Impotent?"
"Fair enough," I say.
I'm trying to figure him out. His manner of speaking sounds almost rehearsed. There's not the slightest trace of any kind of a regional accent in his voice; he enunciates too well, and he uses very little inflection. He talks rapidly but he's also fond of dramatic pauses. He's sort of a cross between Captain Kirk and the guy who did the English voice-overs for all the old Kung Fu movies.
My guess is he grew up talking one way and puts a lot of effort into not talking that way anymore.
"Where are you exac...
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Book Description Shaye Areheart Books, 2007. Hardcover. Condition: New. 1. Seller Inventory # DADAX0307351262
Book Description Shaye Areheart Books, 2007. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110307351262