Sugar Cage (G K Hall Large Print Book Series)

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9780816155774: Sugar Cage (G K Hall Large Print Book Series)

Countless critics and authors are entranced with this debut from a remarkably talented Southern writer. Set amid the sand dunes of Florida in the 1960s, and overflowing with supernatural magic and realistic humor, this is a tale of two families, best friends and best enemies for 20 years, whose lives are touched by a woman with a spirit much greater than her role as a maid.

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About the Author:

Connie May Fowler grew up in Florida and now lives with her husband in St. Augustine. She received an M.A. in English from the University of Kansas. In addition to Sugar Cage, Connie May Fowler is the author of Before Women Had Wings and Remembering Blue.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

From: Sweet Poison

Emory Looney

This here, in the early summer of 1960, is how it ended. I mean, there was lots of other fights after this one. Other reasons why I decided I couldn't take no more of my daddy. But what happened on the field that day underneath a hot sun with the whole town watching -- that was the event that ended my childhood. The other fights were just gas in the wind.

I think that on the first day of summer vacation a lot of other kids sleep in. They dream about all those ball games they'll play until way after dark or about swimming so long their fingers wrinkle up like crocodile skin or about playing pool at the colored pool hall without their mamas ever knowing about it. But me, I didn't have time for any of that. I woke up as soon as the sun started shining through the navy-blue curtains Mama had sewed a couple of weeks before. They were blue with white jets, and they were neat because if you squinted your eyes as the wind blew them you'd think that the jets were real, that they were zooming in amazing flight patterns before your very eyes.

But on this first day of freedom from school I couldn't be bothered with imaginary jets because, see, it was also Game Day. Tiama's yearly Free Men and Prisoners Baseball Game. In just three hours, criminals and businessmen would walk together, play together.

I got out of bed and pulled open my curtains. Our house is across the street from the fed and my bedroom is situated so as I can see it perfectly clear. I looked past the oleander in our yard and spied on the guard in his tower. I wondered if he was itching as bad as I was to get to the game. I wondered if the prisoners were already in their baseball getups. Maybe they were practicing pitching and batting in the prison yard. Last year my class took a field trip over there, and it was real different seeing those convicts under those circumstances. I'd seen them only at the game before that. But being behind those huge granite walls, hearing not just one but two monster gates clang shut behind me, and seeing the prisoners in their rec room leering at us with cigarette smoke shading their eyes -- well, I knew there was another side to those guys, one that didn't show at the game. But that was okay. It didn't really scare me. In fact, it made me want to play in that game more than ever. Just imagine pitching to some guy who was so mean he'd just as soon knife you as look at you. I'd spent hours supposing what I'd do if after they played the scratchy National Anthem record over the PA and as the two teams went to shake hands a murderer or a car thief or a bank robber squeezed my hand till it hurt, and growled, "If you tag any of us you're a dead man." And in my mind I always laughed straight in his face. And then I'd be the first baseman and like a major leaguer I'd do it: I'd tag the dog-faced convict a clear two feet from the base, and the crowd would roar as the ump screamed, "Out!"

And see, I had more than just a faint notion that all this might come true. I had kind of a guarantee from my daddy. After the last game, after Tiama got whipped for the eighth straight year, my daddy, he said to me, "Shit, son, next year we're going to put you out on that field."

And I was going to hold him to it. Yes, sir. A dream come true. He'd be so proud of me.

But I couldn't do it straightforward. He could be real disagreeable. I would have to coddle him into a good mood and then remind him.

That's why I couldn't lay there dreaming about long days of freedom with nothing to do but fool around town. I had to devise a plan.

As I stood at my window watching that guard pace, I decided the one thing I'd seen Daddy do that he seemed to really enjoy was eat. So it was easy. I'd get into his good graces by fixing breakfast. I thought, Do something with eggs and toast and ketchup and tomatoes. Keep his cup filled with hot coffee and rub Mama's shoulders. Don't make any faces, even behind their backs, and don't pop the question until after he has lit up his first cigarette.

It was a good plan. So I put on some shorts and my Mickey Mantle number 7 New York Yankees T-shirt. I went into the bathroom and shut the door behind me real quietly. Mama had recently bought a bunch of yellow ceramic fish and hung them on the bathroom's green walls. The fish had long black eyelashes and red puckered lips -- not like any fish I'd ever seen. They looked real stupid swimming above the commode. But Mama thought they were gorgeous and said she was going to go downtown to the Woolworth's and buy those fuzzy commode covers in a shade of yellow that would match the fish. "That'll look damn good," she'd told my daddy.

I turned on the faucet and ran some water over my face. I looked up into the medicine cabinet mirror and stared closely, checking for the possibility of whiskers. I had just turned fourteen. Seemed like what Mama called peach fuzz should show up any day. But no, all I had was a couple more pimples. I suspected that the pimples was getting in the way of whisker growth. Last week Mama bought me a tube of that stuff Clearasil. She hadn't said a thing. One day I come home from school and there it is, sitting on the table by my bed, next to my goldfish bowl that was empty because Oscar the Fourth had recently kicked the bucket. Oscar One, Two, and Three I had buried in the backyard, kind of like a funeral. But by the time Oscar the Fourth died I'd had it with goldfish. Him I just flushed down the toilet. As I watched his shiny orange body swirl down and away, I screamed at Mama, "Don't you get me any more fish. " And even though Mama was nice enough to buy me something like Clearasil even after I'd yelled at her about the fish, I don't think the stuff worked. I still had pimples and I still didn't have any whiskers. I looked over at Mama's ceramic kisser fish. I thought about how I had convinced myself that Oscar the Fourth would live a long, healthy life just because I had wanted him to. Then I thought, Well, maybe my plan won't work. Maybe nothing I'd do would make any difference. But then I said to myself, No, Emory. You may have a baby's butt face, but you're good. Good enough, old enough, to play ball.

I opened the medicine cabinet, and there between the shaving cream and a tube of lipstick and some iodine was Daddy's Aqua Velva. I took it out and splashed some on my face. I patted it on hard the way Daddy always did. Mama likes to say that I'm the spit and image of Daddy. I don't recognize it so well. Except maybe the head hair. We was both thick with it. I stared at my aging face and deepened my voice. "Well, Daddy, what order do you think we'll be batting in?"

And I heard his voice trickle in my mind: "I'm not sure, son, but let's get going. We don't want to keep the team waiting."

I put up the Aqua Velva and knew I'd make Mama and him proud. I'd play almost as good as Daddy. Might hit a home run, maybe off Ezekiel Williams, he's the state pen's star player. Hell, Jack Higgensmith, owner of the white pool hall, he'd probably give me a few games on the house. Maybe even slip me a beer or two.

See, in Tiama, this ball game was the biggest jag in town. Prisons, that's all we had. The state pen, the fed, the women's prison, the juvenile detention center, plus the city jail. My teacher, Mrs. Hoffman, she said she suspected that was some sort of American record, all these prisons.

St. Augustine, that's north of here, they're known as the oldest city in the United States. They get lots of money that way. Dumb Yankees come down here and spend hard, cold cash to see Ponce de León's Fountain of Youth, when we all know it isn't anything more than a spring fed by some stupid river. So one year the Tiama City Council got disgusted with St. Augustine's oldest this and oldest that. They decided to lure some of those tourists down here and they started a town motto, "Prison Capital of the World."

And they made another decision. They said that from then on, the prison team would be sort of a criminal all-star team. No more would just prisoners from the state pen play. But the feds and the locals too. That way everybody but the women and the juvenile delinquents would be represented. And I'd be there. And I'd help us win.

I was pretty confident as I walked into the kitchen and threw open the icebox door. I got the egg carton out and found Mama's big red mixing bowl beneath the sink. I cracked open the first egg, then another. I cracked four eggs in all, as I'd heard Daddy speak fondly of four-egg omelets. But since I didn't know an omelet from a hole in the ground, I planned to scramble these.

I stared down into the bottom of the bowl and realized I'd landed four perfect yolks. Each was unbroken and glistening. Good sign. Maybe means four homers. A splash of milk, a pinch of salt, two dashes of Tabasco. A few whirls with my fork was a tour around the bases. I'd watched Mama do this a million times.

I buttered two pieces of bread and put them on a cookie sheet. Broiled toast. I buttered a third piece for me. I sliced a tomato and set it on a plate, just like Mama always did. I figured it was all going perfect, until I realized I had no idea how to make the damn coffee. Potential strike.

I ran my finger along the butter and then stuck it in the sugar bowl. I sucked the sugar butter off my finger. Through my head I tried to piece together what I'd seen Mama do. I couldn't figure out if she put the coffee in the water and it boiled through the basket, or if the coffee sat in the basket, totally separated from the water. It was a mystery, but I knew if I screwed it up Daddy would never let me forget it.

The game isn't over yet, I coached myself.

I heard the toilet flush. I froze. Please, God, I prayed, don't let it be Daddy, not without my plan, my cooking, fully executed. Someone was standing behind me. I held my breath. I turned around. Thank you, God, it was Mama.

On Mother's Day I'd given her a rose-colored quilted bathrobe, because Rose was her name, and she wore it now, even though it barely stretched across her big belly, because she was ...

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