Excerpt from Redemption Road

The picture card.  He knew right where to find it because he had hidden it centuries ago by wedging it under an angle where a roof truss connected to a supporting beam, at the very end, far from where anyone would ever dream to look.  So he held one hand above him to steady his steps and struggled to the end of the attic across the planks he had laid on the ceiling joists and reached high into the dark corner through silky cobwebs.  His fingers trundled over the wood like a giant spider until they found the tattered edges of the picture.  He gently slipped his thumb beneath a corner and wiggled the card free.

He took it, without looking at it, pulling it closely to his chest in case Charlie came in, and retraced his steps through the attic and down the rickety stairs.

He returned to the bed, sat down, placed the tin on his lap and took the post card away from his chest.  It shook in his fingers as he held it to the light. More than a half century ago in the battle that would be called “the Bulge” his hands were white from blood frozen to a standstill in the veins, and everything he touched, his cartridges, his cigarettes, the Zippo lighter, shook just like this.  Now the crooked fingers were frozen by time and covered in transparent parchment skin that leaked blue through the pores.  But the shaking wasn’t from any of that, not from time, nor pain, nor injury, but rather from the image on the card. In his fantasies he imagined that he would go to retrieve the card and it would not be there, or perhaps the image would have somehow changed to, say, a fishing boat from a Florida resort, and everything that had happened would have been just a dream.  But of course that wasn’t going to happen, and what had always been there was still there.

Like it had done so many times before, the photo cried out to him, and he tilted it into the shimmering threads of sunlight that slanted in through the drawn blinds and illuminated tiny bits of dust that floated off the card, each speck a memory, each memory a feeling.  He bit his lip as he gazed at it.

From the clouds of an umber patina emerged an amoeba of people, gathered together in the center of a town he knew very well. Spilling out the door of the jailhouse and onto the street, old men and young men and women and children smiled, celebrated, and grinned at the camera with eyes white with evil delight.  Posed like a baseball team that just won the big game.  A gnarled tree crawled up the right margin of the picture, arthritic in its twists and bends.  One huge branch extended out over the sea of faces, and from it hung a black man, his clothes hanging in ribbons as if they had been shredded by the teeth of some hideous beast.  His legs were exposed almost to his knees and pockmarked with splotches of black that could have been blood.  His head was tilted to one side so that his face was away from the camera lens.  His feet were bound, and a piece of rope dangled loosely from his right arm.

In the foreground of the photo, almost dead center of the scene, were two young men. One was holding the wrist of the other, lifting his arm like a referee announcing the winner of a boxing match.  Grady’s eyes bore through the decades between then and now and locked onto the silent and still gaze of the boy whose arm was being lofted.  Eyes to eyes.  His own eyes to his own eyes.  Oh, if that boy could gaze across the sea of time that wafted between them!  If he could see this old man staring at him so far in the future, the same way the old man could look into the past.  But it was a one-way mirror, wasn’t it?  And the young Grady Hagen in the hideous postcard had no way of knowing or sensing the pall of melancholy and shame that would follow him like a shadow from that moment until now.

Glory lord above, Grady thought, what sort of time and sensibility could make men act in this way and then . . . and then . . . take pictures like this and make them into post cards and sell them as souvenirs?  Of course, at the time it didn’t seem out of the ordinary at all.