The thing is, all memory is fiction. You have to remember that. Of course, there are things that actually, certifiably happened, things where you can pinpoint the day, the hour, and the minute. When you think about it, though, those things mostly seem to happen to other people.
This story actually happened, and it happened pretty much the way I’m going to tell it to you. It’s a true story, as much as six decades of remembering and telling can allow it to be true. Time changes things, and you don’t always get everything right. You remember a little thing clear as a bell, the weather, say, or the splash of light on the river’s ripples as the sun was going down into the black pines, things not even connected to anything in particular, while other things, big things even, come completely disconnected and no longer have any shape or sound. The little things seem more real than some of the big things.
People still ask me about it to this day, about what happened and why I think it happened, as if I knew even now after all this time, when everything’s been over for decades except the talk and the myth, I don’t know what else you’d call it. I’m not young any more, so sometimes I can’t tell what things are the things I remember and what things are just things that other people told me. They tell me things I did, and a lot of them I don’t remember, but most people around here aren’t liars, so I just go on and believe them, until it seems that I actually do remember the things they say.
But I still ask myself sometimes late at night about what happened, how it all turned out, about the life I’ve led, you know, everything. I ask myself the same questions they ask me, these people who’ve only heard about it, who weren’t even around when it all took place. What happened and why did it have to happen in the way it did?
Was I damaged by it, they want to know, wounded in some way?
And I always say no. I don’t think I was hurt by it. But I was changed, changed deeply and forever in ways I realize more and more every day. Anyway, it’s too late now to go back, to take that rock out of the river, the one that changed the course of the water’s flow.
The story began this way. And it began here, more than sixty years ago.
This was a town where no crime had ever been committed. Disasters had happened, of course, natural disasters had occurred in the course of things, barn fires, floods, house fires, terrible illnesses. So many fine young men from the town who didn’t come back from the war, or came back from France and Germany bruised and wounded and shy and scared of sharp bright electric sounds in the dark. And sin. Envy and greed and covetousness and pride, there was terrible pride. But no crime. Not in this town.
Brownsburg, Virginia, 1948, the kind of town that existed in the years right after the war, where the terrible American wanting hadn’t touched yet, where most people lived a simple life without yearning for things they couldn’t have, where the general store had tin Merita bread signs as door handles, and, inside, slabs of bacon and loaves of thin-sliced bread and canned vegetables and flour and flannel shirts and yard goods and movie magazines for the dreamers and penny candies in glass jars on the counter for the children.
The card security code is an added safeguard for your credit/debit card purchases. Depending on the type of card you use, it is either a three- or four-digit number printed on the back or front of your credit/debit card, separate from your credit/debit card number. To make shopping at Book-of-the-Month Club®
even more secure, we require that you enter this number each time you make a credit/debit card purchase. Please note that your security code will not be stored with us even if you have saved your credit/debit card information.