A small boy flees a toxic family – all the way across the alley to Rip’s Bar and to a vivid troupe of broken people in the Albuquerque Bosque. They hide him from his car-thief drunkard father, his cocaine-freak mother, and his ganged-up abusive brother.
The boy trades family for a hodgepodge of drinkers and losers. But it’s bad timing. A new bridge proposed across the Rio Grande will wreck the neighborhood. The barflies share responsibility for the child while their Bosque crumbles. They collect misery like small change and rally to keep their ghetto alive. Can the working poor beat City Hall and keep the kid out of the system?
“Jones’ rich crisp prose reads like poetry, telling a story ripped from the headlines with heartbreaking clarity and razor sharp detail. The cast of misfits, thugs, lost souls and do-gooders left me with important questions about the value of neighbors and neighborhoods. The best book I’ve read in a long time.” – Anne Hillerman, author of Rock with Wings
“A rising tide is a gritty, smart, deftly plotted novel full of lively and unforgettable characters, and Jones’s Albuquerque is as alive on the page as the Northeastern towns of Russell Banks. Read this book.” —Tom Barbash, author of Stay Up With Me
Semifinalist Faulkner Wisdom Competition
3 Silver Presidents Awards, Florida Association of Publishers and Authors
Scott Archer Jones is currently living and working on his sixth novel in northern New Mexico, after stints in the Netherlands, Scotland and Norway plus less exotic locations. He’s worked for a power company, grocers, a lumberyard, an energy company (for a very long time), and a winery. He has launched three books. Jupiter and Gilgamesh, a Novel of Sumeria and Texas in 2014, The Big Wheel in 2015, and a rising tide of people swept away in 2016. Scott cuts all his own firewood, lives a mile from his nearest neighbor and writes grant applications for the community. He is the Treasurer of Shuter Library of Angel Fire, a private 501.C3, and desperately needs your money to keep the doors open.
Follow Scott Archer Jones on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ScottArcherJones
Purchase: a rising tide of people swept away available at Fomite Press.
Review Published in Taos News:
Some people shouldn’t have children. Certainly, that’s the case for the parents of Gerald Matthew Roger Whittington, known as GMR, one of the central characters in Scott Archer Jones’ novel set in the Albuquerque Bosque.
GMR’s father is a drunk who steals cars for a living. His mother does drugs and worse. His older brother is a bully who joins a gang. Then there are GMR’s sisters, both victims of bad parenting.
The difference for GMR, who is 10, is that he chooses to live on the city’s streets, finding places to sleep and eating out of Dumpsters. His standard for food: “I don’t eat it if it’s got bugs. That’s the rule.”
His parents don’t seem anxious to locate their kid. So lucky for him, the denizens of his neighborhood take a positive interest in the boy.
Jones opts for one of those hard-scrabble sections of the city for his setting. Think bar and a liquor store combo, a pawn shop, bail bondsman and the ilk. The neighborhood certainly has seen better times. So have the people who live and work there, or maybe they never have.
Here’s a description: “little houses that had defined a neighborhood proud in the ‘50s, impoverished in the ‘80s, broken in the ‘90s and collapsed into a mixed–race ghetto.”
Jones does jam an awful lot into 232 pages, including a large cast of characters that makes it hard to keep track of them at times. (My favorites are the librarian and the bar’s owner.)
Likewise a lot happens. Besides trying to save GMR from his family and the perils of homelessness, the neighbors rally to protest the construction of a bridge that would doom their part of Albuquerque. They give it their best to fight city hall.
For me, the best part of this novel are the ways the adults help GMR. Those noble efforts help him stay clean, fed and safe. They are GMR’s real family.
Archer, a resident of Angel Fire, is the author of “Jupiter and Gilgamesh, a Novel of Sumeria and Texas” and “The Big Wheel.”
“a rising tide of people swept away” is available in paperback from Fomite Press (fomitepress.com) and retails at $15.
Joan Livingston is a writer and reader living in Ranchos de Taos.
Read Chapter One Below
Slap in the middle of the Albuquerque strip shopping center, Rip’s Bar and Package Liquor dominated its accidental, sagging skyline. First of all, it stacked up a full two stories while other places squatted on the street as one-story nests of cinder block. Second, it had a 50’s front made of narrow blond stone, forming a planter and a wall that carried a ribbon window above chest height. The window ran black against the facade, but three beer signs glimmered through the glass dimly during the day and brightly at night. Rip’s did not resemble the village center. It did resemble one of Albuquerque’s lost souls.
Across the street a small boy came pounding around the corner of the Thrift Store. He was dressed in a torn T-shirt and shorts, dingy socks and cheap sneakers. With a huff he threw himself under the table out front of the Thrift. He scuttled back against the front wall of the store, sucked himself into a ball, and tried to breathe slow, easy. He could hear running footsteps. Staring sideways, back the way he came, he saw cargo shorts, tanned legs, two large expensive athletic shoes. They stopped right in front of him. Stuffed under the large flat deck of the table, he held his breath. His view of the legs cut off at the thighs. He saw the toes point right, then scuff around to the left. They faced across the street. With a gritty sound on the pavement, they came full around and pointed at him. He held his breath.
He heard the curse, “Chingado.” One of the feet kicked a rock down the street. The shoes scuffed off. He waited as long as he could, and only then let out a long ragged breath. He eased himself up to the front of the table, so he could scan up and down the street. He would wait here.
The strip smelled of trouble, filled with stores that wobbled on the edge of bankruptcy. It had always been in trouble though, and the locals reacted to their impending financial failures with fatalism that matched the overall seediness of the storefronts. First on the right crouched Cut ‘n Curl, the hairdresser’s, with a cheery window hung with pink shears and a regular house door freighted with sleigh bells. The awning overhead missed most of its edging and now sagged alarmingly. Across the way, the boy contemplated the heads that moved back and forth inside the Curl. He was dark, and as dusty as the straggly tree hanging over the street in front of him, a tree that erupted from a two-foot square of litter and cigarette butts. His gaze shifted to the left, to the next store.
Bob’s Taxidermy leaned up shoulder to shoulder with Cut ‘n Curl, and Bob’s glass had once been painted in child’s tempura with an elk poised above a cliff and surrounded with dwarfish conifers. The paint had long since started dropping to the floor inside as dust, and the elk had developed a mange of transparency – Bob himself often stared out through the withers of the beast, waiting. The boy didn’t like Bob, but he did like the elk.
The strip also owned a combination locksmith and Christian bookstore establishment, Key to the Kingdom, and a taco stand, Julio’s Taquería. A pawnshop, Enchanted Valley Cash 4 U, squatted by a bail bondsman known as Soulful. Soulful had titled his place AAA Slammer Relief and hung his windows with stout bars that showed the rusting permanence of an old state penitentiary. Irony ran up and down the street, laughingly dark under the New Mexico sun, but the boy didn’t feel it. He felt hungry. The boy drew his arms back into the body of his oversized tee shirt, leaving the sleeves flapping, and wiggled his shoulders back and forth. He crossed the street, went down a narrow opening between the Bail Bond office and the pawnshop. Appearing armless, he ricocheted down the two walls to the dumpster at the back.
At nine a.m., Red Donnie furtively approached Rip’s door. He scratched at the aluminum handle set in a door of tinted glass, much like a dog asking to be let in. In a moment the bolt clacked once and the door opened. The guardian of the door, a silver-haired man, stepped back so that Red Donnie could enter. Red Donnie eased inside, and the door closed on its hydraulic piston. “Thank you, Tenn,” he said.
“Sorry I’m late opening. We were up until about midnight. Susan was having another crisis, and the boys wanted to help her out.” Tenn led the way, all five feet of him, and Red Donnie followed, towering over him by a foot and a half. The short man marched, shoulders back and head held high, while the tall man threw his feet out in front of him with a scuffing sound. Donnie, his hair tied back in a ponytail, bent forward, casting a shadow over his friend. Their trail was cloaked in dust motes limned by the window’s harsh light. Tenn rounded the counter and stepped up, suddenly becoming six feet high. Red Donnie folded up, a stork on a barstool, and pecked his head forward out of his shoulders. They were eye to eye, the old and the middle-aged.
“Have you seen the boy this morning?” Red Donnie flinched as he asked and diverted his eyes obliquely away.
Tenn squinted up his left eye. “Wasn’t out back when I hauled out the trash.” The bartender set up a shot glass, filled it, and pulled a light beer.
While he waited, Red Donnie prodded a bar mat back and forth. “Listen, Tenn. We should do something. It’s our Christian duty. Either that or our karmic need.”
“Karmic need? That’s a leftover from your hippie days.?”
Red Donnie ducked his head like a youngster. “We’re talking about the boy.”
Tenn said, “What would you do, then? He’s going to run wild. You know that.”
“He’s a good boy.”
“Actually,” said the bartender and paused. “Actually, you don’t know that.”
Red Donnie replied, “We’re all innocent as children.”
“I doubt he’s been raised very innocent in that house.”
“That’s why he left, why he’s always leaving. He turns his back on the things that happen there.” The tall man slurped at his beer, and threw the shot into his mouth. The whiskey drew his face taut and he appeared older, closer to his fifty-eight years.
Tenn said, “You’ve never even talked to him, or at least he’s never talked to you. Damn few people have heard him speak.”
“He needs a good home.”
“Well, Donnie, you sure can’t give him one. Even if he let you, you couldn’t take him home to your mother. If you don’t mind me saying so, your mother is a terror.”
Red Donnie raised up from the counter, dropped his elbows down at his sides. “Mother is a fine Christian woman. Sometimes she can be sharp tongued.” He dug in his pocket and produced four crumpled dollar bills and a quarter. “Time to go to work. Watch out for the boy, if just for me.”
“I tell you what. I’ll set some food out for him. You can owe me.”
Tenn wouldn’t have another real customer for a couple of hours, so he had time. He slipped a paper plate out from beneath the counter, jerked a bag of potato chips off the rack, and added a plastic packet of two hygienically sealed jerky strips. From the bar refrigerator he hauled out a jug of two percent milk and filled a beer mug with it. He trod through the package liquor part of his establishment and into the back storeroom. There a scratched and battered door hung open on its uneven hinges, and Tenn could see through the screen door into the alley. He kicked the rickety screen open with his foot, and caught its edge on his knee as he stepped out. He stooped the short distance needed and set the plate and glass on the back step.
For the next hour, Tenn unloaded the dishwasher, swept the floor, and settled all the chairs back on the ground. He waited behind the counter, working Sudokus.
At ten, the paperboy arrived. The front door creaked and Tenn glanced up from the puzzle. “Hi there, Cabell.”
A young man hesitated in Rip’s door. He stuck his head further into the room, then back out into the street, turning first to the right and then left. “Have you seen the boy?”
“The homeless one.”
Tenn said, “He’s not as homeless as some. He just doesn’t go home.”
“He sleeps outside and eats out of dumpsters.”
“Everybody got to make their choices.”
The young man shrugged.
Tenn hesitated, softened the judgment. “He’s doing okay. You watching out for him now?”
“No. Curious, that’s all. Here’s your paper.” He clumped across the floor in immense unlaced sports shoes and held out the folded Albuquerque Journal. “Why do you call me Cabell?”
“Your name is Calloway, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but….” Calloway’s voice died off. He shuffled his huge feet twice, and deposited his canvas bag on one of the stools.
Tenn said, “Cab Calloway was a singer. Look, your folks named you Ignatius, right?”
“And you don’t like that name, right?”
“So, get another one.”
Calloway scratched behind his ear. “What other one?”
“If you won’t pick….”
“Then I will.”
Calloway said, “I’ll think about it. You always make things more complicated than they have to be.”
“Sit down and I’ll make you a limeade.”
“Can’t. The Journal comes out 365 days a year, and I gotta make my rounds.”
“I’ll make you one to go. Wait there and I’ll be done in a jiff.”
Calloway leaned on a barstool, dressed in a tee shirt and a jacket. His hair hung in bangs across his tanned forehead.
“Say, Cabell, aren’t you hot in that jacket? It’s not exactly winter.”
“Might rain, later.”
“Might not.” Tenn slid a red plastic cup across to the paperboy.
“I worry he might get wet, if it rains.”
“Who might get wet?”
“You know. GMR.”
“The boy? He’s got sense. He’ll find a doorway or a shed and stay dry.”
Unconvinced, Calloway turned to go, “Thanks. For the limeade.”