Wirewalker by Mary HallWirewalker by Mary Hall

Wirewalker

byMary Hall

Hardcover | September 6, 2016

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Sometimes heroes can be found in the most unlikely places.
 
Fourteen-year-old Clarence Feather knows no world beyond desolate Mayfair Heights. Three years ago, his mother was killed before his eyes by a stray bullet. When his father becomes unable to keep the family afloat, Clarence is manipulated into running drugs. But he longs to be a good person, in spite of the seemingly impossible odds.
           
Wandering through his neighborhood, Clarence meets Mona, a huge albino Great Dane. The two develop a deep bond. When he is forced to attend a dog fight as a rite of passage, Clarence realizes that Mona isn’t safe, and neither is he. Can he find a way to protect Mona? Can he survive life in Mayfair Heights and still become the person his mother wanted him to be?

A novel about self-reliance, difficult choices, and imagination in the face of danger and isolation, Wirewalker is a masterfully written debut that blends gritty realism with moments of fantastical escape.
Mary Lou Hall lives with her husband, dogs, and dreams in Richmond, Virginia. She teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and is working on her second novel.
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Title:WirewalkerFormat:HardcoverDimensions:304 pages, 8.56 × 5.75 × 1 inPublished:September 6, 2016Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0670016462

ISBN - 13:9780670016464

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Chapter One: Mona He saw the dog every day. The dog was part of the afternoon walk he made each day to the Kwik-Bi-Handi- Mart, where he would buy a snack and a soda and then just head out to wander. If he had money, it was sometimes the money his father left him after a night full of plenty to drink. Once in a while, after long evenings of booze and sports radio, his father dropped sticky coins and vitamins on his bedside table as he slept. On most days, though, the money was what he got from the errands he ran for Johnnyprice, a friend of his father’s who had taken him under his wing. Johnnyprice was called Johnnyprice, like it was one name instead of two, and Clarence had never known either name to be spoken without the other. He wasn’t a tall man, but his thick freckled body was a wall of meat and muscle. If you touched him, poked him, slid into him, even punched him, nothing moved and nothing gave, and Clarence was glad Johnnyprice was part of his family, even if they didn’t share the same blood. Come the end of his weekend errands, Clarence almost always ended up with a couple of twenties in his pocket, and he’d head to the Kwik-Bi and spend a few dollars on Andy Capp’s and Mr. Pibb, his all-time favorites.When he got home, after his dad and Johnnyprice had settled in around the kitchen table with the sports radio squawking, he’d creep into his closet to stash the rest of his cash in his mama’s big-buckled purse, hidden way back un­der his puffy winter coat. His mama’s purse still held her baby-powder smell, and he’d lift it to his face and suck her into his lungs, the same way he’d done most every day for al­most three years. Next he’d pull out her red leather wallet and open it like a book, gazing down at her driver’s license photo to make sure he still remembered her alive face, not just her dead one. Making money made Clarence feel impor­tant, like he was holding his own, on his own. Before long, he thought, he’d be one of the men.The dog lived toward the end of his street, a few blocks away from the Kwik-Bi. In the afternoons its huge white head floated ghostly in the big downstairs window, watch­ing. The dog never barked, never made any noise Clarence could hear. It just kept its eyes on him, from the moment he walked into its sight until the moment he left it. Most days, he would speak to the dog in his mind. I see you, were the words he would silently form. I see you, dog, seeing me.One steaming night in mid-July, his father sent him to the Kwik-Bi for frozen pizza and toilet paper. He took his usual walk, past the empty lot growing the wild, twisted tree, past the house with the stacks of rusted metal in the yard, past the house of the old man who asked him was he staying out of trouble like a good boy should? The walk was the same as always until he got close enough to see that things had changed at the house of the white dog. Tonight the dog’s head wasn’t floating in its window but was attached to the dog itself, which was outside, unfenced, and the size of a small pony. Everything else was the same: the dog was watching him, just like always, but this time, there was noth­ing between them but air and skin. I see you, Clarence said in his mind, though this time, the words felt phony, on account of his terror.“Oh, she won’t hurt you!” A tiny beige woman in a Bar-B-Q Palace uniform waved at Clarence from the open door. “You can come on over and pet her if you want. She’s noth­ing but a big baby.” Clarence found himself drifting toward the dog, hypnotized in spite of his fear. Given a saddle, he’d be able to ride that dog. “Her name is Mona,” the woman said. “She’s a Great Dane.” The woman scampered down the stairs in little red sneakers that seemed meant for a child, and her feet didn’t seem to want to stay still, not even when she stopped and laid her bitsy left hand on the dog’s white globe of a head. She seemed just like an amped-up, Slurpee-sucking kid, except for her eyes. Her face seemed to be caving in right there around her eyes, and it was a look Clarence had seen on certain women who carried on with Johnnyprice: a heaviness under the skin. “She’s an albino,” the woman said now. “That’s why she’s all white, with the baby-blue eyes. Come on over and pet her if you want.”To Clarence, it seemed like a long time passed before he reached the dog. It was like something was wrong with his legs, or with time. When he finally got close to her, he stopped and stared into the pale sky of her eyes. He’d never seen an animal with blue eyes, and those eyes made her seem a little bit human, a little bit like him. “Hi, Mona,” he said to the dog, and then he held out his hand, like the woman at the bottom of the steps was showing him. A dripping tongue the size of a cold cut escaped from Mona’s mouth and danced over his fingers, leaving them wet and shiny in the streetlight. He couldn’t help but laugh, partly from fear and partly because it felt so funny, a big tongue like that tickling his fingers until they were sticky with spit.Truth was, he’d never been that close to a dog before. Truth was, the only dogs he knew about lived in the wild stories told at the kitchen table, now that his mama was dead and gone. What he knew was that these dogs were off in training somewhere, learning how to kill one another. What he feared was that one day, he would have to watch them do it.“She likes you,” the woman giggled, and though he knew it wasn’t cool, Clarence found himself smiling. “My name’s Gina, by the way.” Gina’s red-sneakered feet kept moving as she spoke. It seemed that at any moment, she might just lift off of the grass or burst into song. “So . . .” she contin­ued. “This guy I know is putting up a fence for Mona, so she can be outside sometimes. She gets lonely cooped up in the house all by herself, and I’m working a lot of doubles lately. So you should stop by—I mean, if you want to. I think she’d like that. I think she likes you, you know?”Clarence understood what Gina was saying about Mona, but he had more pressing things on his mind, like how to make his mouth stop smiling. He’d learned, from watching Johnnyprice and the other guys and especially his father, that there was something a man lost when he smiled. So he made his mouth back into a straight line and slid his hands into his pockets. “I’ve got to go,” he mumbled. Mona licked at the space between them, at nothing. “I’ve got to go to the store for my dad now.” He turned away from Gina and her dog and headed out onto the street, and he didn’t look back this time, not like he usually did when Mona’s head floated ghostly in the window. But even without seeing her, he knew she was watching him, and he carried that knowledge home, right into his room, where the weight of the night fell hard, and he fussed the edges of his sheets while the radio blared in the kitchen. He stared up at the ceiling, remembering her human eyes, reminding himself that those blue eyes still watched him and would watch until he slept.***The fence went up on the morning of Clarence’s first fight. Johnnyprice and his dad had decided he was ready, based on his performance in whatever it was they were judging him on. He felt this judgment deeply but couldn’t name it, regardless of whether he was doing well or majorly screwing up. What he knew was that he’d been running on luck when it came to the two of them. There were no rules he’d been able to figure, and if there were, they were keeping them to themselves. What was wrong one day was the right thing the next, and then the next day it might suddenly be wrong again.So he just shut up and did what he was told, on whatever day it was and no matter how it had been the day before. This was especially true if the two of them had been drinking. He found that if he shut up while they were drinking, they some­times patted him on the back and told him he was all right, and if people came over, his dad might tell those people he was all right, and at moments like these, everything would stop while the whole room raised their drinks to him, and for a moment he’d forget his mama toppling from her chair at the table where these strangers now sat, lifted drinks in their hands, his name on their lips.The fight was to be between one of Johnnyprice’s older dogs, the one called Nasty, and one of the puppy pits owned by the guy they simply called Y. Y was a boy-man, not a man-man like his dad or Johnnyprice. Clarence imagined they called him Y because he was always shrugging like he was asking a question with his body. Why? his body demanded every time he moved, his narrowed eyes daring anyone to answer. Why, goddammit? Why?Clarence didn’t know why; he only knew that some­times when he delivered for Johnnyprice, he’d run into Y coming around some corner, hands disappearing into ass-dragging jeans, that same shrug asking and accusing. “Whatcha got there, Itty?” he’d ask, motioning with his head toward the folder where Clarence carried the little bags for Johnnyprice.“Nothing,” Clarence would answer. This is what Johnny-price had told him to say, especially if the question was coming from Y. “Schoolwork is all.” He’d hug the folder a little more tightly and move slowly past Y, usually looking down at his own feet, though he knew he should keep his head up and make his mouth into a straight line, the way the men did.“A’ight,” Y would say, turning so that his shrug followed Clarence as he passed. “Run along then, boy. Get on home with your schoolwork. And go get a few more inches on you while you’re at it. Itty-bitty thing like yourself . . . it’s hard to believe you’re just a few months away from high school.”Clarence had both Y and the fight on his mind as he walked to the Kwik-Bi to get his dad’s noon cup of coffee. On weekends his life was better if the coffee was waiting when his dad rolled off the sofa and stumbled into the kitchen. At 11:30, Clarence would start walking, and by 11:55 he’d be waiting on the back porch while his dad leaned over the sink, spat, then ran himself a cloudy glass of water. When his dad finally turned around, Clarence would step in, hand him the coffee, and then leave as quickly as he came. He’d got­ten good at buying time, and at knowing when he needed it. Today was a fight day, and his dad would be extra-ornery or stupidly happy, and stupidly happy didn’t last, now that his mama was gone.As he passed Gina’s house, he noticed some young-dude versions of Y standing around in her yard, admiring a fence that seemed to have popped up out of nowhere. They weren’t all that much older than Clarence, but they talked like men—running their hands across their dripping faces, bragging about putting the fence up, muttering foul-mouthed smack about who’d done more work and who should get paid the most. A towering dude with tiny braids glanced up at Clarence as he passed, giving him the slow, Y-boy nod. Clarence dropped his eyes and picked up his pace.He knew Mona was right over there in the living room window as he passed, but he kept his eyes fixed in front of him and refused to look back at her. He couldn’t let the Y-boys see that he cared about a dog, especially on the day of a fight. But he still spoke to her in his mind, like he always did when he walked by Gina’s house. As best he could tell, no one could get into his mind, at least not yet.I see you, Mona, he thought, and he realized she could hear him. He didn’t know how, any more than he’d known how she watched him as he slept, but he sensed her pres­ence like he sometimes sensed the presence of his mama, as a warmth settling in his blood. As he opened the door at the Kwik-Bi, he found himself wondering if Mona was listen­ing in. Then at home, as he handed his father the coffee and slipped out the kitchen door, he realized he was telling her things he’d never told anyone. They’re testing me, he said to her silently, taking the back steps two at a time and wander­ing off down the alley. I don’t know how to be. I don’t know how to be. What. They want.He rode out the day by keeping his feet moving. He knew Johnnyprice and his dad were thinking big thoughts about him and the night to come; he just wasn’t sure what those big thoughts were. But he knew one thing most definitely. The him he’d been up to this point was not the him he needed to be later. He just hoped the him-he-needed-to-be showed up at the fight.He walked as the afternoon grew gold, then orange, fi­nally bluing into a deep, hazy dusk. He’d talked to Mona all day long, wandering the same alleys and sidewalks he always did, but today the walking had brought no relief. He passed the Kwik-Bi one more time and then forced himself to turn down Bedford Street. It was time to go home. It was time to face whatever was to come.By the time he passed back by Gina’s house on Bedford, Mona stood alone on the other side of the new fence, and the Y-boys were gone. It was strange, seeing her out in the yard without Gina, just the flimsy, see-through fence between the two of them. He wasn’t scared, exactly. That wasn’t the feel­ing. The feeling was a vibration in his backbone, something like the one he’d get when the grown-ups raised their glasses to him, but quieter. Less like someone hollering, more like someone humming.He took his time walking over to the fence and then laid his hand against the wire. “I see you,” he said, and Mona ambled her largeness over, pulled herself up onto her back legs, and settled her front feet on the fence above him. She was taller than he was, much taller if he counted how far up her paws reached above her head. On any other day he would have backed off in fear, but at this moment he had a hum in his body, some desire greater than fear, and so he closed his eyes, kept his hand on the fence, and waited. Seconds that felt like minutes passed with his eyes closed and his hand on the fence. He listened to himself speak to Mona in his mind. Hey, Mona, he said, hoping that this might be the day she’d finally answer him.In front of him, just inches away, he could hear her breathing. He could smell the rot of her warm fishy breath. Then all of a sudden he felt her tongue slap against his hand like the slimy back of a catfish. It was a feeling he both loved and hated at the same time, like when he was little and his dad used to tickle him until he cried. Clarence always came back for more, too, often taunting his father, a man who suffered from what his mama called a “short fuse” but who back in the day knew how to keep that fuse from blowing. When he thought about it now, Clarence could see he’d al­most always been a boy who came back to the things that scared him.He thought about his dad’s tickling, thought about Mona, and then he smiled, realizing there was no one around to see it one way or another. The air felt cool on his wet teeth, and he liked it. He was getting tired of keeping his smile locked up behind the hard straight line of his pulled-tight lips, so he smiled again. He kept on smiling. Then he opened his eyes, looking up into the baby blue eyes of the dog. “Hey, you,” he said. Mona nuzzled her pink nose into the shape his hand made against the fence, and once again the hum passed through his body like music. “Hey, girl,” Clarence said. “I see you, girl. You’re a good girl, now aren’t you, Mona.”Mona’s name had barely left his lips when he heard the voice behind him. Y’s voice. “’Sup, boy?” Y asked. Clarence kept his face right next to the fence; he kept looking into the eyes of Mona. “That dog likes you, don’t it. That’s a real big dog now, ain’t it, boy.” Clarence could tell from the way Y’s voice circled him, dancing, that he and Mona were together in the wrong place at the wrong time. “Well, why don’t you bring that dog to the fight tonight, Itty? That is, if you’re coming. That is, if you’re allowed to come, is what I mean.”“Oh, I’m coming,” Clarence spat, and as he looked into the almost human eyes of Mona, he suddenly felt afraid. Not of her, and not even of Y. He could hear Y’s feet kicking asphalt, moving in the direction of the Kwik-Bi, away from him. He was afraid of the boy he’d been all day: fourteen years old and talking to a dog in his mind. He was afraid he was starting to like that boy, the very same boy who’d be heading to a dogfight that night. “Don’t look at me,” he sud­denly said to Mona, and he took his hand off the fence and wiped it on the front of his jeans. “Don’t look at me like that, dog,” he said, and he turned and walked toward home.When he got home, Johnnyprice and his dad were sitting at the kitchen table, listening to sports radio and drinking beer. “So, how you doing there?” Johnnyprice asked, grab­bing Clarence and pulling him in close, then rubbing his knuckles on Clarence’s head until his scalp burned. “Just look at your little old self. Gotta toughen you up, Itty. Those dudes don’t mess around in high school.” When Clarence was younger and his mama was alive, this would have been just a tickle, but since her murder, these two tickled him with sloppy hands. In what used to be her house, a little bit of pain meant all was well. In what used to be his mama’s house, his one and only goal was to keep the pain under control.“I’m fine,” he mumbled as he freed himself, then just kind of stopped and stood there in the middle of the kitchen, feel­ing gangly. Saturdays were when Johnnyprice paid him for the errands he did after school on Fridays, when the three of them had to playact like nothing was happening. They’d been playacting for over two years now, and each of them knew their parts by heart, though Clarence was starting to tire of their little production.“So, I’ve got a little something for you, my boy.” Here it was. It was time for Johnnyprice’s voice to dip low, grow thin and quiet. His green left eye twitched into a clumsy wink while his brown right eye sat still and glassy. Clarence’s dad nodded, then shot Johnnyprice a look that was first hateful, then as blank as a board. This was his usual look for Johnnyprice—and for Clarence—these days. The nodding was part of the act, but the dead look: that part was for real. His dad took his time getting up from the table, stretched, and let out a dramatic, make-believe yawn.“The beer,” he said, pointing to his stomach as he headed down the hallway toward the bathroom. “Can’t hold the beer for anything these days.” It was true that his dad couldn’t hold his beer, but that was the only honest thing being said in the kitchen at the moment. Once his dad was gone, Johnnyprice reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of money, fanning the bills out like a poker hand. Johnnyprice was playing his part too, though Clarence was starting to wonder why either of the men bothered. It wasn’t like the truth of the matter would change anything. It wasn’t like he could walk away and do anything but what they wanted him do.“Take something extra this time,” Johnnyprice said with a grin that showed plenty of teeth, but no joy. “Big ones, little ones—you choose. You done good, my man. You always do good work for me.” Clarence took two twenties and just stood there in the fluorescent light, folding the bills into a squares. It was his turn to act, but today he didn’t have it in him to pretend to be grateful. “You ready for the fight to­night then?” Johnnyprice changed the subject, leaning back in his chair and yawning. Clarence nodded because he had to, but he didn’t look up from his hands. He kept folding the twenties into smaller and smaller squares.He was trying to forget the part of him that had awak­ened that morning, the part that knew something bad was about to happen. His mama never tolerated talk of dogs in the house, and she would never—no matter what his age—let her own son go to a fight. But his mama, she was gone, and these two men were all that was left. “You know, it’s just the big guys get to go to the fight,” Johnnyprice assured, and he pulled Clarence in close again, knuckle-rubbing the top of his head more gently this time. “So I guess you’re one of the big guys now, huh?” Clarence felt his mouth fall into a hard straight line on its own, no effort necessary.“Yeah,” he said. “I guess I am.”

Editorial Reviews

“Mary Lou Hall’s Wirewalker is a daring leap into magnificence. This is storytelling at its bravest and most beautiful. Seeing life through Clarence Feather’s eyes, feeling it through his wounded, magical heart, I fell in love with the world all over again. Ms. Hall reminded me that when there’s no way out, and not even a way through, there’s always a way in. The gateway and the treasure are one and the same: compassion, and Mary Lou Hall’s is as boundless as her talent. Wirewalker tore me up and healed me too.  It’s a call to resurrection for anyone who has forgotten how to hope.”   —Paul Griffin, critically acclaimed author of Stay with Me and Burning Blue“Sometimes starting high school, dealing with your family, and surviving the neighborhood takes the strength of a superhero, but when there are no Batmen or Spider-Men, it takes a real life superhero like Clarence Feather to keep it all from falling apart. Wirewalker beautifully and powerfully reminds us that when navigating a world that offers no good choices, a heart that’s good and true can still save the day.”   —Brendan Kiely, coauthor of the Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award–winning All American Boys and author of The Last True Love Story"Debut novelist Hall paces her story patiently, allowing each questionable decision Clarence makes to increase the dramatic tension, while quietly raising the stakes for the secondary cast—human and canine—as well. There’s grit and challenging honesty here to serve readers who are not quite ready for full-out Urban Lit." —BCCB"The gritty subject matter of the novel should captivate readers" —Booklist