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The storm walked into their small town on two legs in spiked, red patent leather heels. 

She waltzed right through the main square, blond wig bouncing to the rhythm of her walk, a leopard print pocketbook slung over one shoulder, matching suitcases in each hand. Her eyes were covered with cat’s-eye-shaped, white-rimmed glasses, mirrors to her soul, unavailable for view. A Lucky Strike hung from her red-painted lips.

She was tall, taller than any man in that town, except for Joe Taylor. Tall and black as the day was long. She walked with a confidence most people in Bigelow had never known. She swaggered along like a cat in heat, leaving swirling curtains of dust in her wake.

People named her right there and then. Named her without an introduction, without two words ever passing between them. Called her things they had only whispered under their breath, or in their bedrooms when the doors were closed tight and passion drove them into saying it. Words no self-respecting, God-fearing man or woman would ever use in public. But now they publicly stated it, because they had a right and reason to.

Slut. Whore. Bitch.

She made her way down the main road past the white-washed homes with their large wrap-around porches and picket fences. Past magnolia gardens and sweeping peach trees where young boys hung precariously from knotted limbs, watching her with large dark eyes.

She walked with purpose past the general store where the white man called Abraham gave out credit and charged a 2 percent interest if you didn’t settle your bill with him by the first Friday of every month.

She came down Pleasant Way, where Anna Lee (said to be the illegitimate offspring of the general store owner) swept at the dirt that always seemed to need sweeping when word came that something interesting was happening outside the perimeters of her home. Anna Lee watched the woman with an even eye and stopped her lazy sweeping, not to tilt her head in greeting but to concentrate on the vision before her. When their eyes met, Anna Lee’s did not smile or blink with shame; they stretched wide and shouted: Unacceptable! Unwanted! Get out!

Sugar turned the corner that held Bigelow’s only schoolhouse. It was small, white and unassuming.

She stopped short, dead in front of Fayline’s House of Beauty, and peeked in at the women whose hair was in the process of being washed, dyed, teased, conked or pressed into the latest styles from New York, Detroit and Washington, D.C.

No one said hello, welcome or even invited her in for a Coke. No, they just sat, openly watching her, their arms folded defiantly across their breasts, hands resting in resistance on their hips, as she examined the chipped blue paint on the dusty store front glass that separated them from her. The paint that used to be a brilliant blue and would have in the past screamed FAYLINE’S HOUSE OF BEAUTY, but years of winter wind and summer sun had faded the letters so that they barely whispered to you what and whose establishment you stood in front of.

She moved on, aware of the pandemonium that was brewing around her.

Sugar walked slowly down a narrow dirt road, sycamores on either side giving an eerie shaded feel to the walkway. The homes that lined the street were identical in every way except colour. Small, neat, board-and-shingle houses, painted white, light grey or a watery sort of blue. Two floors, two windows to each of the five rooms. Fenced-in yards that held sleeping dogs or guileful cats and mulberry bushes that sat beneath open windows shading blooming azaleas.

A sign, rusted and bent nearly in half by a passing twister or unruly adolescent, swung around and around on the lone post, stopping briefly as the breeze that guided its frantic spin lulled.

GROVE STREET.

Sugar stopped, set her bags down and pulled a damp, folded piece of brown paper from her bosom. The address, written in black ink, was now smudged, causing the 10 and Grove Street that were written there to blend into each other, becoming nearly indecipherable.

She looked from the paper to the signpost and back to the paper. Satisfied she was in the right place, she retrieved her suitcases and walked toward her new home and new life.

Behind her the people of Bigelow buzzed like flies around shit. The heat forgotten, all thoughts were on the woman that had just strutted her way right through the main square in front of their children, and more important, in front of their men.

They hated her immediately, not knowing of her childhood or the life that, after only one day of living it, would have had them calling out to the Lord for help.

They hated her and did not know that she had never loved in that way. That way — when a man and woman come together and the cost involved is one that no bank could ever lend out, no national mint could ever print, reprint or discontinue.

They hated her because it was clear that she had been one of them at some point, but had left before she would mature into a woman that tied her hair up in worn cloth at sunset and pushed her sleeves up around her elbows to begin an evening of toil after having toiled all day for the Man. Baking bread and churning sweet butter, growing butter beans and collard greens in the yard behind the small house that would (during her entire life time) belong to the bank even though she had a thirty-year mortgage that should have been paid off five years ago, but somehow the bank keeps telling her about interest that was miscalculated back in ’46. And so now she owes for a few more years, but they can’t say how many for sure, and she won’t demand an exact count, because she’s coloured and they’re not and this is the South, 1955.

At night she would kiss her children (never less than four offspring) good-night. If she was lucky and owned a radio, she could sit on her porch or in the tiny living room and listen to a radio show and chuckle at the humour, because a day of picking cotton, chopping wood or canning fish leaves you with little strength to out-and-out laugh. You save your laughter for real good time evenings, when the boss man is an extra day away. Blessings may shower her and that hot talent Ella Fitzgerald may come across singing “A-Tisket A-Tasket” and get her foot to tapping and maybe even humming along, but not too hard because she’s darning a holey sock as she listens to this song about the basket, or hemming hand-me-down pants, and working with a needle by candlelight can be tedious. She’s got drawers soaking in a bucket behind the house that have to be scrubbed and hung to dry in the night air, but her husband has bathed tonight and splashed a little of that drug store aftershave on his cheeks; that means he wants to do more than just lay beside her, he wants to lay up on her and inside her. So she leaves the drawers to soak for another hour or so, while she does her duty as Mrs and pleases her man, because she can function on three hours of sleep. Keeping her man well fed and satisfied are number one priorities that she can’t slack on because you can never know when a woman dressed to the nines with a blond wig, long legs and a high fat ass that should have been equal to you in almost every way may decide to hop on the first southbound Greyhound and end up looking at you through whispering letters on a dusty storefront window.

  • Sugar

    The Sugar Lacey series

  • Perfect for fans of The Vanishing Half and Where the Crawdads Sing, Sugar is a classic waiting to be rediscovered.

    'The storm walked into their small town on two legs in spiked, red patent leather heels'


    Young and confident, with a swagger in her step, Sugar arrives in the southern town of Bigelow hoping to start over. Soon Bigelow is alight with gossip and suspicion, and Sugar fears her past is catching up with her. Then she meets Pearl, a woman trying to forget her own traumas. As these next-door neighbours become unlikely friends, they wonder if their lives could finally be changing for the better. But small towns have long memories...

    Readers are falling for Sugar

    'Such an enjoyable read... beautifully written, raw and impactful'
    'Riveting, heart-breaking'
    'Very powerful, poignant'
    'Beautifully written... brutal and moving... a must read book'
    'Well-written with rich characters and many twists and turns'
    'So descriptive yet easy to read, and it made me fall in love with all the characters'

    This Bitter Earth, the sequel to Sugar, will be reissued as a Vintage Classic in July 2022 and is available to pre-order now.

  • Buy the book

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