Excerpt from CHAPTER 11 THE HUNGRY I page 272

Published July 29, 2017

Aunt Bertha knew what to cook for a young man who was away
from his family for so long. A platter of fried chicken was on the
table when I came downstairs along with mashed potatoes and sweet
peas. I was definitely feeling closer to home.

Aunt Bertha enjoyed a shot or two of booze before dinner, but she
was fine. We ate and talked. Then, I kept eating while she had
another drink. After we chatted about life and politics, she said,
“You’re so smart, William Lloyd.” Aunt Bertha inadvertently slurred
her words a little.

Aunt Bertha exhaled a cloud of cigarette smoke and asked
achingly, “William Lloyd, why’d you leave that way? Run away like
you did?” Her eyes were moist, and her whole body collapsed in
relief after finally asking that question.

Hearing that question out loud—spoken in a dear human voice—
hurt me deeper than I had imagined it would! I heard the question so
many times in my head, but now, hearing it asked so sincerely, gouged
my heart! I couldn’t respond for a full minute. I closed my eyes to hold
back the tears, yet they slowly flowed down my cheeks. I sighed deeply
and heard my voice quiver as I weakly answered. “I’m sorry. I’m so
sorry.” I would be apologizing to her, my mother, and my grandmother,
too! My amends would never be enough, and I knew that.