From the Book

Book_DesperationRoadAn excerpt of Michael Farris Smith’s upcoming novel, “Desperation Road”

It was another five miles from the truck stop to McComb and another two or three miles at least from the interstate to downtown and Broad Street. She didn’t know if the child could walk any further today or not. And there was no guarantee that the shelter would even be there. She had tracked them down before only to get to the front door and find a faded note taped across the top explaining that due to lack of funding we regret that we have closed. Please call the police in case of an emergency.

He had said he’d be right back but she had known by the sound of it that he was lying. But he’d at least left a hundred dollars on top of the television. And he’d left the bag filled with her clothes and the child’s clothes outside the motel room door. It wasn’t as bad as it’d been before. Maben had almost felt a small victory in being left sympathetically. But that didn’t change the fact that the van was gone and he was gone and she had already forgotten his name and she and the girl had been left alone again in a room that didn’t belong to them. So they’d started walking. Three days ago. Going back to Mississippi because there was nowhere else to go. New Orleans had been no good and Shreveport had been no good and all she got from Beaumont had been the creation of the little girl and she didn’t know why she thought they should head for Mississippi other than that was where the trail had started. She had left with nothing and she was coming back with nothing but another mouth to feed. And now that she was back the heat rising off the asphalt didn’t look any different than the heat rising off the asphalt anywhere else. She had half-expected something magical to occur once they crossed the state line and maybe it had with the old man giving them a ride and forty bucks. And as she looked at the ice cream dried in the corners of the child’s mouth she decided that was about as much as she could expect.

“Momma,” the girl said.

“Yes.”

“Are we in Mississippi yet?”

“Yeah, baby.”

“Can we stop walking now?”

“Almost.”

“Can we get one of those rooms?”

“Stop asking questions and come on.”

They had slept off the road, walking into clumps of forest that stood back from the interstate, their clothes spread out across the leaves and dirt, eating packs of crackers and potato chips and drinking Cokes and breathing more easily in the cover of the night. They smelled and she knew it and once the girl was finished coloring they walked out of the café and through the gift shop and back toward the truckers’ quarters. They ignored the TRUCKERS ONLY sign and went into the women’s dressing room. Maben stood next to the shower stall while the child bathed herself and after the child was finished and dressed the woman took a shower and felt a relief in the filth that ran down her body and washed down the drain. They took turns drying their hair underneath the hand dryers and the woman found clean t-shirts and shorts for them in the garbage bag. She told the girl to wait in the dressing room and she walked into the convenience store and stole a small bottle of lotion and she returned and lathered the child’s red arms and face and neck and then she did the same for herself. She then washed their socks in the sink and she wrung them and dried them under the hand dryer while Annalee lay stretched across the tile floor with her head resting on the garbage bag. By the time the socks were dry the girl had fallen asleep and Maben sat down next to her and leaned her head back against the wall and prayed that no one would come into the dressing room while the child rested.

She had discovered that once things started to go bad that they gathered and spread like some wild, poisonous vine, a vine that stretched across the miles and the years from the shadowy faces that she had known to the lines that she had crossed to the things that had been put inside her by strangers. It spread and stretched until the vine had consumed and covered her, wrapping itself around her ankles and around her thighs and around her chest and around her throat and wrists and sliding between her legs and as she looked down at the girl with her sunburned forehead and her thin arms she realized that the child was her own dirty hand reaching out of the thicket in one last desperate attempt to grab onto something good. She stroked the child’s hair. Admired her small hands folded underneath her cheek. And then she lay across the floor next to her. There were times when it was impossible to sleep as all the evil in the world seemed to gather in her thoughts and she couldn’t figure out how to keep the child from it and there were other times when all the evil in the world gathered in her thoughts and exhausted her to the point where she couldn’t fight it anymore and this was one of those times when she gave up and with her head across her arm and her arm against the cold tile floor, she slept.

Desperation Road has been hailed as “maybe his best work yet” by Tom Franklin, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and a novel “as rich and alive as any you’ll find in contemporary fiction” by New York Times bestselling author Wiley Cash. Desperation Road releases on February 7, 2017, and will be followed by The Fighter in 2018. More information about pre-ordering and upcoming events is available at michaelfarrissmith.com.