"Ernest Hill has always been a writer of great power and psychological depth, creating characters that resonate brilliantly beyond the boundaries of gender and race. Cry Me A River is a remarkable book. It runs deep and it runs fast." --Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
An absentee father from a "no good" family, Tyrone Stokes was imprisoned for shooting a man in a convenience store. His wife saw her chance to end their marriage and raise their son, Marcus, on her own. Now Tyrone has returned to Brownsville, Louisiana, to discover that his boy needs help--help that Tyrone is desperate to give, if he can only figure out how.
Marcus has been convicted of the rape and murder of a young white girl. An execution date is set, and it's rumored that the Governor will refuse clemency. Tyrone is convinced Marcus is innocent, despite a stack of evidence against him--but he is also wracked by knowledge of all the ways he has failed his son. Against all odds, Tyrone sets out to keep Marcus alive--and perhaps put his family back together again.
"Hill is a skilled storyteller." --New York Times Book Review
"I couldn't put it down...Would fit well on the shelf with the works of Richard Wright and Chester Himes." --Ernest J. Gaines, bestselling author of A Lesson Before Dying
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Kensington Publishing Corporation
January 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Cry Me A River by Ernest Hill
Dazed and confused, Tyrone backed the truck out of the yard, pulled the lever into drive, depressed the accelerator, and sped toward the main highway. As the truck raced past the lake, he gripped the steering wheel with both hands and stared into the twilight. Though his eyes were clear and his vision was unobstructed, he saw nothing. Not the beautiful, orange July sun that had risen just above the east bank. Not the flock of wild birds dancing in the treetops. Not the stand of fresh honeysuckle that ran parallel to the still blue water and decorated the roadside well past the point at which he turned onto the highway leading into Brownsville.
No, he did not see because he could not see. And he could not see because he was remembering the sound of the soft leather soles of his sister's slippers sliding across the surface of his mother's old wooden porch. He was hearing again the soft, steady tapping of her bare knuckles against his closed bedroom door. He was seeing the pain in her wide, bloodshot eyes just before she asked the question: "You heard about your son?"
He had suspected that something was wrong even before she told him. He did not know why. Maybe it was the way she had averted her eyes before she spoke. Or the way she wrung her fingers in her hand. Or the way she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Or maybe it was because in forty years of living he had learned that good news never came this early in the morning.
"No," he said, alarmed but trying not to think the worst. "What about him?"
"He killed a white gal," she said, immediately dropping her gaze again before adding, "So the law say."
The meaning behind her words was clear. The impact instantaneous. He felt his knees buckle. His head became light. He opened his mouth to speak, but shock rendered him silent.
A space of time passed in which he tried to listen to her, but his mind could not focus. Too many thoughts came too quickly. She said a lot of things, but all he could remember was... "He killed her...He raped her...And they done set the date...He gone die in eight days."
A thousand times he had driven this route. Ten miles through the swamp...a left at the traffic light...right onto Hospital Road...a double curve...a stop sign...a sharp right turn...a half mile north on Highway 17... left across the tracks...a short drive through the projects...Chatman Avenue...Death Row...home.
His old house came into view, and instantly the last ten years of his life dissipated. Suddenly, he was hearing again the fading sound of his wife's shoes striking the bare concrete floor outside his tiny cell. He was remembering the sight of her tear-stained eyes, seeing her frail, trembling hands clutching the cold steel bars, hearing the tone of her unsteady voice as she mumbled, "I can't do this no mo'."
He parked his truck on the shoulder of the street, ambled out, and bound toward the house. No sooner had he crossed the yard and climbed the steps onto the porch than he heard someone call to him from the adjacent house.
"Who you looking fo'?"
Instinctively, he turned and looked in the direction of the voice. The woman was sitting on a screen-enclosed porch. The mesh wire from the screen obstructed his vision, and he could not identify her.
"Mrs. Stokes," he said, instantly wondering why he had said Mrs. Stokes and not my wife.
"Pauline?" the woman questioned him.
"Yes, ma'am," he said.
Now he recognized her voice. It was Miss Leona.
"She ain't there," Miss Leona said. Her voice was friendly, but Tyrone was sure that she still did not recognize him. But how could she? Ten years had passed since he had been sent to prison. He had been a youngster then. Now he was a man.
"You know where she at?" he asked.
"What you want with her?" she wanted to know.
"I come for her," he told her.
There was an awkward silence, and Tyrone was sure that now she was remembering him. You the one they used to call Deuce . . . You the one killed that man over yonder in Cedar Lake. Suddenly, Tyrone heard the latch on her screen door snap shut.
"What your name?" she asked.
"Tyrone, he told her, ever aware that she had asked simply to con- firm what she suspected.
"You Pauline's husband, ain't you?"
"She up to her mama's."
"Thank you," Tyrone said. He turned to leave, but the sound of her voice stopped him.
"You ain't moving back here, is you?"
"No, ma'am," he said. "I ain't."
"Good," she said. Then, quickly added, "I mean... 'cause ain't nothing 'round here for you to do 'cept get in trouble. And ain't no sense in looking for trouble if it ain't looking for you."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, descending the steps and making his way to his truck. As he walked, he understood. He and his family were pariahs. They were trash to be collected and discarded. He started the truck and headed into the country, vowing that his son would be executed over his dead body.