An excerpt from the book Gone Too Long by Lori Roy follows. Copyright © 2019 by Lori Roy. Published by arrangement with Dutton, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
March 2017 -- today
Stopping in front of Tillie’s place, Simmonsville’s only thrift shop, Imogene Coulter pauses, turns away from the smell of fried eggs and sausage gravy rising out of the café on the corner, and closes her eyes until her nausea passes. On the street behind her, the antiques shoppers are just starting to arrive, all of them drawn on a Saturday morning to the part of town where quaint hasn’t yet morphed into dilapidated. Most will pass Tillie’s place by because there’s no striped awning to invite them in. Drawing in one last breath of fresh air, Imogene grabs the door handle and pulls. Overhead, a small bell rings. It’s not the weight of the door she struggles with, but instead it’s the weight of yet another hangover and another one-night stand.
“Didn’t mean for you to come in today,” Tillie says, smiling to see Imogene. “Mrs. Tillie’ll have my hide for bringing you down here.”
Tillie, the shop’s owner for going on fifty years, sits at his worktable. He wears a banded magnifying lens over his eyes, and his thinning white hair is tussled. He’ll be repairing a cell phone because that’s mostly what keeps the lights on these days.
“I was out and about,” Imogene says. “Figured I might as well stop by.”
“A book so good you can’t look away.”
-- O Magazine, “Best Books of Summer”
Tillie will know she’s lying. She came because he sounded worried in the message he left, and he has been more like a father to her than Edison Coulter ever was. The fact that Edison is getting buried today doesn’t change that.
“They in the safe?” she asks.
“The cabinet,” Tillie says, sliding the single lens up onto his forehead.
Tillie has surely noticed that Imogene’s voice is pitched too high, making her sound like her sister, Jo Lynne. The only thing Imogene and Jo Lynne share, besides a mama, is a similar voice, but only when Imogene is compensating. Compensating for drinking too much or sleeping with too many men.
She never asks the names of the men she sleeps with, and they don’t need to ask hers. Some, she already knows. Small town and all. Others seek her out because they’ve traveled to Simmonsville, Georgia, to meet the great Edison Coulter, head of the Knights of the Southern Georgia Order, and they believe his blood flows through her veins. She never tells them otherwise until she’s walking out the door, and then she shakes out her long red hair and asks … you think this mess come from Ed Coulter? But now Ed Coulter will be buried by day’s end, a fact she wishes would bring her some relief, hope even, but doesn’t because everything he believed will live on in all the others who followed him. She wonders if all those men who came from across the country will still come now that he’s dead, and she wonders why she ever slept with them in the first place. But she knows why. It’s been the perfect way to punish herself while simultaneously punishing Edison Coulter.
Anyone whose people go a generation or two deep in the South will have a story about a grandpa or a great-uncle who was in the Ku Klux Klan. Imogene’s family dates all the way back to the Klan’s beginning, but she also has to sit across from it at the supper table every Sunday night.
Other books by Lori Roy, a graduate of Kansas State University, include Bent Road, winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel; Until She Comes Home, finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel; and Let Me Die in His Footsteps, winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel.
To learn more, visit Roy's website. Signed books of Gone Too Long may be ordered from Tombolo Books (call 727-755-9456 or email [email protected]).