Still Kicking, But Not High

Not only a great title, but a great first novel by BILLIE HANSON DUPREE. I’m pleased to share the first chapter here.

For more about Billie, visit her website.

Still Kicking but Not High

Chapter 1

“He didn’t do nothin’ to me! Why did I have to kill him?” Bill slid out of his nightmare, the same every night. He awoke covered in a light coat of sticky sweat, his body shaking and his mouth open, gasping for breath. 

He looked around the closet. Since he came home from the hospital in Italy, he had been sleeping in this closet, alone. The first time he ever had a ‘private room,’ if you could call this a room. With nine sisters and brothers, privacy was unheard of in his family. His nightmares changed that. Mama fixed him a pallet in the living room closet so that he would not break his brothers’ sleep in the boys’ room.

The door squeaked open, and his sister Jo entered. She tightened her chenille housecoat around her body, then knelt on the pallet and embraced him.

“Billy, you were screaming again.” 

 Bill stared at Jo’s thin face, his eyes wide. 

“It’s ok, Billy. It was just a dream. You’re home now brother.”

Bill felt his quivering dissipate. He continued to hold on to Jo. “Yeah, I know Sis, but why do the dreams have to come every night?”

Jo shrugged her shoulders.

As his breathing returned to normal, he stopped shaking, and let go of her. His eyes fixed on the wall in front of him. Blue wallpaper with tiny yellow daffodils. Bill continued staring, still as stone. 

“You ok now, Brother?” Jo’s gaze seeking reassurance. “Mama’s in the kitchen so you need to wash up. Breakfast be ready shortly.”

Jo stood up and backed out of the closet. Bill continued to sit, staring at the wall. Tears rolled down his face, his shoulders trembled as he tried to stifle his sobs. When will I get back to being Bill? 

He stood and began to gather his clothes. His faded denim trousers, leather belt and blue work shirt hung from nails on the wall. He dressed himself, cinching his belt tightly to hold up his jeans, which had fit before the war, but now hung from his scrawny body.

Bill opened the closet door and walked out into the living room. The air felt cooler here. There had not been time for the cool of the night to evaporate into the heat of the San Joaquin Valley day. 

“Morning Son.” Papa moved toward a window.

Bill glanced at Papa, ashamed that he had slept so late. 

“Morning, Papa.”

Pulling down the window shades and closing the windows on the side of the house where the sun would soon be heating the walls and warming the house even more, that should have been him, not Papa. As the eldest, he was supposed to be an example for the younger kids. Not anymore. 

Slipping down the dim hall to the bathroom he knocked and not hearing an answering yell, entered. He turned on the water faucet and splashed his face with the cool water. He soaped his hands with the strong, homemade soap and washed his armpits vigorously. Bill dried himself on the damp communal towel that hung limp from the wooden peg on the wall. He had stopped looking in the mirror to see if he had washed his face well, unwilling to look into his eyes.

Bill was the last to enter the warm, noisy kitchen, but no one had begun to eat yet. Mama put the bowl of eggs on the table and walked over to the sink. She never sat down to eat with them. 

Papa spoke. “Heads bowed, eyes closed. God is great, God is good and we thank Him for this food. Amen.” Papa did not put much store in the God Mama worshipped, and his blessing was always short, just enough to placate her. 

Times had changed. Before Papa and Mama bought the farm, they would only get corn meal mush and a biscuit with Mama’s homemade jam for breakfast. The farm had been a blessing, purchased from the money he and Samuel sent home during the war. The only blessing from the war. Samuel had been killed, and he had come back a different man.

“I’m leaving after breakfast to pick up the workers for the fields. Bill, you wanna come with me today?” The room became quiet, movements stilled. Bill felt the eyes of his brothers and sisters on him. Ruthie, the youngest, the only one who continued eating.

“No Papa, I’ll just stay here and help Mama today.” He stared at the scrambled eggs and thick slices of bacon on his plate and waited for Papa’s response in the heavy silence. 

“Boy, the doctor says your shoulder and leg are healed. You been helping Mama for the last three months, and she don’t need no more help. Right Ella?”

Mama turned from the sink, wiped her hands on her thin blue apron, folded her arms across her flattening chest, and stared at Bill. 

“Papa’s right, Son. It’s time you got out of the house. We’ve all been praying for you, but now it’s time foryou to do something.”

Bill looked at Mama, and she returned his gaze without a smile. So, Mama has finally sided with Papa on this, he thought. He knew it would come, but not this soon. The quiet days on the farm were like balm to his unreliable mind which skittered like a calf from images of bloody deaths to the crashing sounds of battle.

“Alright, Papa,” Bill replied, his voice low. He looked at his plate and continued to eat although the eggs and bacon now tasted like sawdust in his mouth. Conversation resumed at the table. 


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6 Responses to “Still Kicking, But Not High”

  1. Monique L. says:

    Great beginning, so many interesting characters to learn more about! Can’t wait to read the whole book. Thanks for highlighting this author.

  2. Nikki Prince says:

    I really loved t his! Can’t wait to read more!

  3. Cindy Medrano says:

    Thanks for the excerpt! I am looking forward to the complete book and to other works from this budding author. We need more voices like this!

  4. Kathleen says:

    Oh my, can’t wait to read the complete story!

  5. Amy Anderson says:

    Yes, one can relate…closet sleeping area when in a full house, shutting curtains on sunny side of house, Family pausing to listen and of course the effects of war on a soldier. The images are easily recognized.

  6. susan lawson says:

    Hooks you right in. Want to read more.