The year is 1878, and 13-year-old Eva has lost all the family she's ever known. Eva feels like an orphan--but she's not. Sadie Lewis, the woman who gave her up at birth, is alive and well in Denver. And Eva sets out to find her, carrying only an address on a slip of paper.
But Denver holds more surprises than Eva can bear. When she reaches 518 Holladay Street, she discovers Sadie Lewis's shocking secret--a secret that lands Eva in a house of ill repute, forced to dance with strangers for her keep. But Eva knows in her bones that she's free--and that she's got to escape. In a novel that pulses with the sights, sounds, and wild dangers of the frontier West, Elisa Carbone explores the many faces that family, and freedom, can take.
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September 10, 2006
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Excerpt from Last Dance on Holladay Street by Elisa Carbone
Eva's hands shook as she opened the small wooden box. What would Mama Kate think if she knew how often she peeked in here these days? That she had already given her up for dead? But Eva couldn't help herself. Carefully she unfolded the worn, yellowing envelope and read the return address--again. Sadie Lewis, 518 Holladay Street, Denver, Colorado. And the letter--read it for the hundredth time. December 1865. This is for the child. Plez do not rite back. The letter was now thirteen years old, sent that first Christmas. Each year since then the envelopes had come, and the money, but no more letters. If it were not for that devilish mare of Mr. Harper's, Eva wouldn't even be in this predicament. If a horse could be hung for murder, she would have strung up that mare. It happened just a year ago. Eva was on her way from the house to the barn with slop for the hog when she heard the mare's shrill whinny, then Daddy Walter's curses, and knew the mare had hurt him. She dropped the slop bucket and went running. Daddy Walter held a rag to his bleeding hand. "Daddy!" she cried, and tried to see how bad it was. "It's nothing, sweetheart," Daddy Walter said. "She didn't like me driving nails into her hooves, so she decided to drive a nail back into my hand, make me see how it feels." But the blood soaking into that white rag made Eva's stomach queasy. "We should get you bandaged proper," she said. "Mr. Harper needs his mare back by this afternoon. I'll finish up here, then I'll come to the house and you and Mama Kate can fix me up with all the salves and tinctures you can find." He grinned through the pain. Six days later he took to his bed with a fever and headache and his jaw so stiff he could barely speak. The doctor said it was tetanus and there was nothing to be done. Eva and Mama Kate cared for him. They spooned thin soup through his clenched jaws and tried to hold him down when he thrashed and choked and cursed as if the devil himself had entered his bones. The day he finally lay still, it was a relief. Even white folks they hardly knew came to his funeral and said nice things about him, as if having a black man in town had been an honor. After that, the house was much too quiet, much too empty. Eva kept thinking she heard Daddy Walter's voice or footsteps or laugh. Then she would remember. If it wasn't for that mare, Mama Kate would be leaving her with Daddy Walter. Instead she was leaving her to a woman who couldn't even stomach a thank-you letter from the child she gave away. Eva carefully folded the old letter, put it back in its envelope, and closed the box. Then she went into the yard, where Mama Kate was hanging the clothes they'd just washed--not their own clothes, but their neighbors', washed and ironed to bring in cash. "Mama Kate, let me finish up here," Eva said, taking a pair of heavy men's dungarees from her. "Please go sit in the shade and rest." "I can't rest all day," Mama Kate objected. But Eva took her hand, led her over to the three-legged wash stool, and sat her down. "Just talk to me while I hang these. I'll be done in no time." At least while school was out for the summer, Eva wanted to do as much of the work on the homestead as she could. The more Mama Kate rested, Eva reasoned, the better her health would be. Later Eva would take their horse and buckboard and ride the two miles into town to deliver the clean clothes. Then she would stop at Mr. Harper's store, not to buy anything, but to pay down their debt from last winter. She would ride back home as the late sun turned the prairie grasses to gold. She'd give the cow her evening milking, shut the chickens up for the night, and help Mama Kate make supper. They heard a woman's cheery voice call from the front gate. "Buon giorno! Good morning!" Eva squinted into the bright sunshine and smiled as their neighbor, Mrs.