Big Lies in a Small Town - Diane Chamberlain
Edenton, North Carolina
March 23, 1940
The children knew it was finally spring, so although the air still held the nip of winter and the grass and weeds crunched beneath their feet, they ran through the field and woods, yipping with the anticipation of warmer weather. The two boys and their little sister headed for the creek, drawn to water, as they always were. The girl, only three and not as sure-footed as her brothers, tripped over something and landed face-first in the cold water of the creek. Her big brother picked her up before she could start howling, cuddling her close against his thin jacket, a hand-me-down from one cousin or another. He looked down to see what she’d stumbled over and leaped back, dropping his sister to the earth. Grabbing his younger brother’s arm, he pointed. It was a man, lying there, his rumpled clothes sopping wet and his face as white and waxy as the candles their mama kept around the house for when the electric went out, which was every other day, it seemed.
The younger boy backed away. “He alive?” he whispered.
The little girl got to her feet and started moving toward the man, but her older brother grabbed her arm and held her back.
“Uh-uh,” he said. “He dead as a doornail. And look”—he pointed—“his head all caved in.”
“Let’s git outta here!” the younger boy said, turning to run back the way they’d come, and his brother was quick to follow, holding their sister beneath his arm like a football. He knew they wouldn’t tell. Wouldn’t say nothing to their mama or no one. Because though they were young, one thing they’d already learned. Colored boy found with a dead white body? That didn’t look good to nobody.
North Carolina Correctional Facility for Women Raleigh, North Carolina
June 8, 2018
This hallway always felt cold to me, no matter the time of year. Cinder-block walls, a linoleum floor that squeaked beneath my prison-issue shoes. You wouldn’t know what season it was from this hallway. Wouldn’t know it was June outside, that things were blooming and summer was on its way. It was on its way for those outside, anyway. I was facing my second summer inside these cinder-block walls and tried not to think about it.
“Who’s here?” I asked the guard walking by my side. I never had visitors. I’d given up expecting one of my parents to show up, and that was fine with me. My father came once after I’d been here a couple of weeks, but he was already wasted, although it wasn’t yet noon, and all he did was yell. Then he cried those sloppy drunk tears that always embarrassed me. My mother hadn’t come at all. My arrest held a mirror up to their flaws and now they were as finished with me as I was with them.
“Dunno who it is, Blondie,” the guard said. She was new and I didn’t know her name and couldn’t read the name tag hanging around her neck, but she’d obviously already learned my prison nickname. And while she might have been new to the NCCFW, I could tell she wasn’t new to prison work. She moved too easily down this hallway, and the burned-out, bored, bitter look in her dark eyes gave her away.
I headed for the door to the visiting room, but the guard grabbed my arm.
“Uh-uh,” she said. “Not that way. S’posed to take you in here today.” She turned me in the direction of the private visiting room, and I was instantly on guard. Why the private room? Couldn’t be good news.
I walked into the small room to find two women sitting at one side of a table. Both of them were somewhere between forty and fifty. No prison uniforms. They were dressed for business in suits, one navy, the other tan. They looked up at me, unsmiling, their dark-skinned faces unreadable. I kept my gaze on them as I sat down at the other side of the table. Did they see the anxiety in my eyes? I’d learned to trust no one in this place.
“What’s this about?” I asked.
The woman in the tan suit sat forward, manicured hands folded neatly on the table. “My name is Lisa Williams,” she said. She had a pin on her lapel in the shape of a house, and she reminded me a little of Michelle Obama. Shoulder-length hair. Perfectly shaped eyebrows. But she didn’t have Michelle Obama’s ready smile. This woman’s expression was somewhere between boredom and apprehension. “And