Hesterwine, Texas 1943

Hesterwine, Texas 1943

Excerpt from Chapter One:

The bus rolled slowly down Hesterwine’s broad main thoroughfare and past a spattering of gas stations and vacant lots. Small, unassuming dwellings lay strung like imperfect beads between large, pretentious old homes with encircling balconies on their upper floors and wide, sweeping porches below. Looking straight ahead and using the bus's windshield as a frame, the town looked like a shabby painting, a picture not deserving of a place over the mantel but worthy of examining if only because of its melancholy scruffiness. A five-and-dime store, with a big, bleached red and white sign was most prominent among the array of faded brick and wood storefronts of white, brown, or dusty rose, all standing beneath soaring wooden facades that reminded Mary of an old cowtown she'd seen in a western movie. On both sides of the street, tar-roofed awnings hung low over the sidewalks, coupling the buildings to one another like a train of sun-bleached circus cars.

Shade provided by those old canopies was likely most appealing on a blistering day like today, but few townspeople seemed to be taking advantage of them, except for two unsmiling, blue-haired old ladies, with hands gesturing and mouths moving, while standing in front of a huge Lassie Come Home billboard. The soaring facade above the elderly ladies boasted a multicolored neon Rialto Theater sign—perhaps the town's tallest and brightest adornment when lit.

The bus turned right at Goldrod's Corner Drugstore, air brakes hissing again as it slowed to let a big white dog with a red collar and a blasé air trot across the street. Mary Kenny watched the dog as it jogged along the sidewalk, same speed as the bus .

Perched on the edge of the communal seat in back, Leeta Bulow also watched. The bus and the dog took a right turn into a wide, oil-spotted, concrete alleyway that separated the drugstore from a triple set of railroad tracks about a half block back from the drugstore's rear. The brakes hissed again as the bus rolled to a stop and the driver, a tall man with pockmarked cheeks and dark glasses, pulled the lever and popped the door open. He flicked the visor of his blue cap, and called out “Hesterwine, Texas. It's a thirty-minute stop, folks. Soda fountain and food right through there.”

 He pointed at a set of dark green doors framed by identical plate-glass windows. A sign over the doors stated Whites Only. To the left of the entrance and its adjoining plate-glass window another sign, COLORED Get Food and Bus Tickets HERE, dangled over a small opening with a sliding service door. The military men and civilians filed off the bus, some of them laughing and joking, as they disappeared into the drugstore. The colored soldiers strolled across the railroad tracks to the depot where a colored family—one of them holding a sign that said Christ Emanuel Baptist Church—beckoned to them with upraised sodas and sandwiches; ‘Pee Pants’ followed them. The driver hoisted himself back up the high metal steps, curled his forefinger in a beckoning wiggle, and yelled toward the back of the bus

 “End of the line for you, back there, gal....”

He softened his expression when he looked at Mary Kenny. “For you, too, miss,” he said, “unless you plan on buying some more ticket[.”