Skip to main content



Sap Rising


She came into Sonny's life like wind, like a storm that blew in one night and was gone the next, leaving him with a yearning that would take years to fill. At first Sonny thought he was still caught in the depths of his dream, but then a stronger force pulled him back to a moon-soaked room, and into the lingering laughter that filtered through the cracks in his bedroom door and sounded like stars. Sonny knew the sounds of night surrounded by the softness of Moss Woods. For nine years he'd slept in that room, with the worn mahogany bureau, the paneled wardrobe, and the cedar chest, listening to his younger brother's and parents' breathing against the monotonous drone of insects and frogs spirited under the cover of darkness.

Sonny swung his legs over the side of the bed. He had gone to sleep in nothing but his underwear. And as he stood up, stretching his slight frame, a hint of the muscles that would pull him into manhood seemed somehow clearer in the moon's light. He picked his way to the door, opened it a crack, and slid through, pulling it quickly behind him as he went to stand at the top of the stairs. The glow from the kitchen cast the stairway into shadows, so Sonny had to hold on to the banister as he made his way to the bottom step. He could make out the voices of his mother and father and of another man whose voice he did not know. He poked his head around the corner, blinking his watery eyes against the kitchen's sudden brightness.

His father sat at the head of the table, his mother at the other end, her back to Sonny. A man sitting to the right of his mother poured himself a glass of beer from the paper bag he held in his hand. The man was around his parents' age, Sonny could see that. He was a shade lighter than his drink, with a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of his nose and eyes that smiled even as his mouth disappeared behind his glass. A woman sat beside him, and once Sonny had seen her, he could not take his eyes from her. She was the darkest person he had ever seen, with almost everyone in his family being light-skinned and freckled.

But this woman was the color of ripened mulberries, the purple-black stain that covered Sonny's lips and hands when he gorged himself on the fruit's sweetness. Her cheekbones were so high the lower portion of her face seemed to belong to someone else. She sat quiet, looking back and forth among the other three as they traded conversation. Sonny shifted his weight, and the movement caught his father's eyes.

"What're you doin' up this time of night? You supposed to be sleepin'."

His mother turned around in her chair, her face a picture of pursed lips and contorted eyebrows as she tried to capture Sonny's eyes with her own. Before Sonny could come up with an excuse that would satisfy her, the beer man said, "Sonny! That you? My Lord, you done got big since the last time I saw you. Tall."

Sonny smiled, tucking his chin into his chest.

"You know who I am?" He didn't wait for Sonny to reply. "I'm your uncle Kenny. Remember me?"

Sonny's smile spread into a grin. He nodded his head hard so that it felt as if it would fall off and roll across the kitchen floor.

"Come over here. Let me get a good look at you." His uncle Kenny stretched his arms toward him, and Sonny flew from his mother's accusing eye and into the welcomed embrace.

Sonny felt himself engulfed in a close, quick hug before being taken by the shoulders and held at arms' length. His uncle's eyes searched Sonny's flushed face until he seemed satisfied with what he read there.

"You got yourself a fine young man here, Leonard, Sissy. Looks like Daddy when he was a boy, don't he?" His uncle turned to the woman by his side. The palm of his hand lay against the back of Sonny's neck, and Sonny was sure his uncle would be able to feel the heat rise up in his body. "Annie, this is Sissy's oldest boy, Sonny."

Sonny could feel the woman looking him over. He wanted to look at her, too, but didn't. She was from the city, and his mother had told him about city folks. How they was evil, devils, all of them going to hell except Uncle Kenny, who still had a chance at salvation since he hadn't actually been born there.

"Yes," his mother said. "This one here's a good one, as long as I stay on him. You gots to stay on chirrun these days."

"And what about that other one?" His uncle Kenny squeezed Sonny's neck.

"Now, that Dennis, he's somethin' else, child."

"He was, what? three, four when I was last here?"

"Three. Just turned seven." Sonny could feel himself disappear once his mother's words were off him. "And when I say he's a mess, I mean he is just a mess. 'Bout a week or so ago, I come outside, and the boy had let all the chickens out of the coop. He running behind, talkin' about, 'Fly away, birds, fly away. You free!' "

"Lord have mercy!" Sonny's uncle sputtered, choking on a sip of beer. Everyone at the table laughed, as Sonny slipped away to go sit in the corner of the room. The conversation flowed around him like sea currents, and he was relieved that his uncle had diverted his mother's attention. He watched the way Annie nodded her head at the stories shared, laughing at the parts she was supposed to. Every now and again she would say something to his mother in a voice that sounded like dusk.

She didn't look like she was evil, with her soft hazel eyes and a laugh that pulled him to the edge of his seat. Sonny watched as a moth fluttered against the screen door, trying to get to the light over the porch. The hum of insect wings and the drone of the conversation weighted his eyes, and his lashes began fluttering against the top of his cheeks. When he heard his name he nearly jumped from his seat, eyes wide and blind at the sound of his mother's voice.

"Come on, little boy. It's time for you to get back to bed."

"But I ain't tired." He tried to keep his voice from a whine. Sonny hated it when his mother called him a little boy, as if he were a child like Dennis. "Besides, it's too hot."

He crossed his arms over his chest, imagining he had become one with the chair. His mother crossed her arms as well, and Sonny could see that she was going to push the issue, even in front of this Annie woman.

"Let the boy go, Ruthie," Sonny's father said.

"Leonard, he needs to get his butt in the bed."

"How 'bout he come sit out on the porch with me?" Annie said.

Sonny's mother turned to the woman at her brother's side. She tilted her head, her eyebrows arching into her hairline as she looked down the length of her nose at the other woman.

"I mean, if that's OK with you all?"

Sonny's mother said nothing at first, just continued to look at the woman. She waited. Sonny knew she was good at that. Could ride the space between the passing of time and the beat of a person's heart for just that right moment. As if she knew just how long it took to let a person know everything he or she needed to know.

"I guess it's all right. But...”" His mother raised her finger as Sonny bounded out of his chair. "But you not goin' to be out there that long. So don't get yourself too comfortable."

"Yes, ma'am."

Sonny walked across the kitchen and past his mother, his steps slow and measured. His knees quivered like a colt's from the strain of trying to keep himself from running as he made his way out the door and onto the porch with Annie.

"Let's go sit on the steps, Sonny," she said once they were outside.

Sonny went over to the screen and pushed at the heat-swollen wood until the door gave way and opened into blackness. He and the woman sat down on the cement steps. It was cooler out here, much cooler than inside, making the boy suddenly aware of his bare skin.

"It's beautiful here," she whispered.

Sonny looked around the blackened yard, his face a puzzle. "Don't you have nuthin' like this where you from?"

"Not in the city."

She pointed to the heavens. "See how big the sky is?"

Sonny followed her finger. The sky looked the same as it always did.

"It ain't so big where I live."

"You mean it's smaller? The sky?"

"Oh, yes, much smaller. Folks made it that way."

"Folks can make the sky shrink?" The boy cut his eyes at the woman.

"In the city they can."

Sonny leaned against the stair. His mama might be right, he thought. Maybe those folks is devils, anytime they can take God's Heaven and make it smaller, and he told her he believed it's cause everyone there's going to hell anyway.

Excerpted from SAP RISING © Copyright 2001 by Christine Lincoln. Reprinted with permission by Pantheon. All rights reserved.

Sap Rising
by by Christine Lincoln

  • Genres: Short Stories
  • paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0375727779
  • ISBN-13: 9780375727771