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Cry of Angels

A Novel by Jeff Fields Foreword by Terry Kay

Publication Year: 2006

It is the mid-1950s in Quarrytown, Georgia. In the slum known as the Ape Yard, hope's last refuge is a boardinghouse where a handful of residents dream of a better life. Earl Whitaker, who is white, and Tio Grant, who is black, are both teenagers, both orphans, and best friends. In the same house live two of the most important adults in the boys' lives: Em Jojohn, the gigantic Lumbee Indian handyman, is notorious for his binges, his rat-catching prowess, and his mysterious departures from town. Jayell Crooms, a gifted but rebellious architect, is stuck in a loveless marriage to a conventional woman intent on climbing the social ladder.

Crooms's vision of a new Ape Yard, rebuilt by its own residents, unites the four-and puts them on a collision course with Doc Bobo, a smalltown Machiavelli who rules the community like a feudal lord. Jeff Fields's exuberantly defined characters and his firmly rooted sense of place have earned A Cry of Angels an intensely loyal following. Its republication, more than three decades since it first appeared, is cause for celebration.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v

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pp. vii-viii

When Jeff Fields was fourteen, nudging against fifteen, he left his home and moved into a boarding house in Elberton, Georgia. To provide for his needs, he took a job at the Elbert Theatre, first as usher, then as projectionist. It was a watch-and-be-wary, learn-on-the-go lifestyle...

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pp. 1-5

The storm broke and thrashed along the river in the summer darkness, with water slanting, leaves flying, trees bent and writhing in the wind. Beyond the metal crying of Dirsey's beer sign, wrenching violently on its pole, behind the rattling windows of the rough board and tar-paper...


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pp. 9-22

...Like everybody else in the boardinghouse, I had been aching to meet the girl who had come to marry Jayell Grooms. She had arrived the night before to begin her stay with us until Jayell could get them a house built, which was to him as important a prerequisite to a proper...

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pp. 23-38

...Places at the table were claimed by the boarders on arrival at Miss Esther's, and held for life. With the exception, of course, of the transient Mrs. Porter. No place suited her, and no sooner was she seated than she was prevailing on someone to swap. The sun was in her eyes. Her chair had a bit...

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pp. 39-45

...Gwen Burns swirled into the parlor in a crisp white dress, complete with hat and gloves. When she saw me waiting on the couch, all decked out in my sport coat and clip-on bow tie, she looked surprised but said nothing. When I followed...

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pp. 46-55

...tore loose from my grip and hurled himself back at the squeaking fence. In the glare of streetlight on the other side, the big collie dog was frenzied with fury, fangs bared, climbing the wire. Jojohn howled back at him, waving his arms, the great blubbery face taunting, tormenting. The dog...

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pp. 56-67

...and the chaotic scene with Em, Gwen skipped breakfast, pleading a faculty planning session at the school, where she would be teaching eighth-grade English and civics. When Miss Esther asked me if she was satisfied with our Episcopal church, I had to admit that we went to Four Forks. That worried her....

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pp. 68-83

...Mountain, which rose out of the rolling foothills at the back of Quarrytown and overlooked the town and the Ape Yard. By driving back and forth between Quarrytown and Atlanta on the weekends during the summer he was at the college, Jayell had kept his construction business going as best he could. But the Waugh house, almost finished...

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pp. 84-89

...day after Labor Day I dutifully greased down the sprigs of my new haircut, found a pair of socks that would stand exposure on the gymnasium floor for calisthenics in P.E. class, and with Gwen Burns beside me on that first day, walked over to College Avenue to enter the bewildering fracas of high school...

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pp. 90-99

...boardinghouse. As we waited for Jayell to build them a house, she made her presence increasingly felt. She wrinkled her nose at most of Farette's meals. She argued politics with the men, who knew nothing about politics, which accomplished nothing and took away the fun. She pointedly asked...

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pp. 100-105

...drunken tear, he abruptly announced, "Hell, I know what she wants is a plain old ordinary house, so by God, why don't I just build her a plain old ordinary house! What's she want, one of your Ranchero models, a Tara, a Magnolia Manor?"' He ripped through the drawings and magazine clippings piled on his office...

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pp. 106-115

...sandwiches and potato salad on a sawhorse trestle. Since it was Saturday, Jayell, for once, had let the shop boys knock off at noon, but he had asked me to stay and help him salvage a small barn after we finished painting on the Ledbetter house...

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pp. 116-127

...we had saved our money for weeks. For entertainment, Quarrytown was about as well off as most small towns. There was the Tower Theater and traveling shows that still came through occasionally in those days, including a "science show" set up in a vacant lot by a man who stood on the tailgate of a pickup and did tricks...

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pp. 128-137

...finished, a fact that was obvious to everyone, it seems, but Jayell Grooms. He still had Em and the older shop boys on the premises from dawn to dark, and expected the rest of us to keep coming directly from school, although there was little to do but tap and scrape, carry bits of lumber from here to there, and try to look busy...

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pp. 138-145

...was to be a church wedding. Jayell wanted a quick civil ceremony, but since Gwen and her mother had conceded to his refusal to have the wedding in Atlanta, he felt he had to give in on that point. Gwen's mother came to town a week prior to the wedding, and after one visit to the boardinghouse, put...


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pp. 149-156

...was to go inner-tubing on the Little Iron River, and the Sunday following Jayell's wedding seemed perfect. The day had all the markings: the heat, the sluggish stirrings, the musty smell, like yesterday called back for another shift. By mid-morning even the clouds seemed to knock off and head...

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pp. 157-161

...sitting up in bed buttoning her gown. Dr. Breisner stood beside her in his baggy seersucker suit, shaking down what looked to be, in my excitement, a large black thermometer, but turned out to be his fountain pen. His heavy brows knitted in concentration as he tried to get it to write. Miss Esther was staring at...

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pp. 162-164

...a new station wagon with the eleven-year-old twins, Victor and Vanessa, asleep on a mattress in the back, and towing an aged bird dog in a U-Haul trailer. "Spider goes ever'where with us," chuckled Vance proudly, lifting the bruised animal down. Vance was approaching forty...

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pp. 165-169

...the time required to "get Miss Esther's affairs in order," which meant placing the house with a realtor and crating up the things that Lucille liked, and those that Miss Esther absolutely refused to part with, for shipment to North Carolina. On Sunday afternoon Mr. J. J. Bearden of Bearden Real Estate assembled everyone in...

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pp. 170-177

...wagon was loaded, and the hired ambulance had arrived for Miss Esther. Vance had howled in protest over the extravagance until a hurried call to the insurance agent reassured him that it was covered by her major medical. But when the men arrived with a stretcher she shooed them out of her room...

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pp. 178-184

...and water leaked through a crack beside the window and splattered on the sill. It took several moments to realize where I was, and then I lay on Em's cot listening to the rain drumming and fighting the empty feeling inside me. I pulled the footlocker up to the window and sat looking up through...

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pp. 185-194

That night Tio came struggling up the gulley with a slab of fatback, some flour wrapped in newspaper, and a small jar of molasses. We fried the fatback and crumbled molasses in it and I sopped it with shards of the hoecake he made in the skillet....

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pp. 195-200

...In the loft, I wrestled him into the makeshift bathroom, dodging his flailing elbows. He fell heavily against the tin wall, shooting out cracks in the enamel, and he glared at me through a grotesque black mask of shoe polish. "What did you come back for?" "I might ask you the same thing." I tried to unbutton his shirt and he pushed me away. I slapped his hands aside...

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pp. 201-207

...well singing softly to himself. I poured bucket after bucket of water over him and told him all that had happened, the cigarette in his mouth washing apart until only a strip of paper lay on his lip. He sat smiling and humming that wordless song as he watched the dawn drift in from the woods...

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pp. 208-215

...fairgrounds, the gathering place for day laborers from the Ape Yard. We settled ourselves under the umbrella oak and waited, and for a while it seemed no one else was coming. Then, with the first gray tinting of the air they began emerging from the shadows of the hollow. They drifted up the winding paths and settled around us with a rustle of crusted work clothes...

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pp. 216-221

...be so quick to step forward, and when men of Hutchinson's reputation came we watched the black people for the hesitation, the polite mutterings of work already promised, and let their trucks go by. It was good to be out early again and working. We bolted a quick breakfast at the bus station, the only place open at that time of the morning, and raced each...

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pp. 222-226

...And so strange to be crawling toward it through the weeds, toward that comforting old hymn trembling with fear, as though a monster might be calling in your mother's voice. There were about a hundred people in the pasture, leaning against their vehicles, standing, squatting, singing, while a huge cross lapped its fire in the wind. On a flatbed truck...

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pp. 227-235

...There was never enough to go around, and by unspoken agreement Em and I sat still with the other younger men until those with children had found work, and then the elderly. Often as not that was all there was, and we returned home with nothing but hope for the next day. Finally school started and I was limited to whatever I could find in the...

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pp. 236-243

...watching Gwen leave the house for work, and apparently having drunk his melancholic self-pity to the dregs, came tearing out of convalescence and took the job with Smithbilt Homes. They had no major projects going in Quarrytown at the time, only an occasional house or two contracted by individuals...

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pp. 244-251

...Halloween night. The streets were filled with little trick-or-treaters in dime-store masks, pouring past the store-where Mr. Teague and Tio had laid in an extra supply of candy for them-and on up the hill to the boardinghouse. The boarders had pushed Ruby Lampham's bed against the upstairs window and gathered round to watch Mr. Burroughs and Mr. Rampey...

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pp. 252-260

...Tio was all over it, squatting, feeling, testing, pulling. "You don't know what you're talkin' about, man; we take her apart and clean her up, touch up a little here and there, this mama bird'll totally fly!" We dragged it back to the garage and Tio cleared a space and began overhauling operations immediately. He spread one of...

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pp. 261-272

...Work had been scarce, and it was cold; the thermometer hung at twelve degrees and the wind howled up out of the Ape Yard in gusts that lifted tin and sent a bird side-stepping to get his balance. And worst of all, it was Christmas. That whiplash frenzy of joy that cracked at the end of each dying year was flying upon us again...


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pp. 275-280

...official opening of the six-month-long centennial observance, and a thundering, hell-springing day in Quarrytown. Mayor Growler had made a proclamation speech from the courthouse steps. Poncini Park, a network of sidewalks and benches crisscrossing two acres of azaleas behind Galaxy Plaza, had been...

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pp. 281-289

...peanuts, watching him deliberate. The principle was sound, we all agreed on that. By rights the automatic potato bin should work like a charm. The manager of the Valley Farm store had grown so accustomed to seeing Tio hanging around studying his operations that he took the boy aside to give him...

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pp. 290-297

...association, but the very next day Doc Bobo began quietly buying the property around Mr. Teague. One by one the shacks were emptied, their occupants relocated in the cheap prefab little houses that began springing up along the south side of the hollow. "Let him clean 'em all out," said Mr. Teague...

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pp. 298-304

...graveside service. Reverend Reese of Rehobath Pentecostal officiated. He didn't know the Boggses, but Em pressed five dollars in his hand and he came. Phaedra stood with an arm lined in her father's. Marvin Boggs, a scrawny little man with a brown suit coat over his overalls, stood rubbing his stringy hair in his eyes...

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pp. 305-308

...heard from again. One Thursday, at suppertime, Em came wandering up the steps. Alone. And to all questions about Jayell, or where they had been, he would only close one eye and answer, "Shhhhhhhh." Phaedra Boggs must have been keeping a close watch on our place from her house, because Em was hardly in the door and scratching...

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pp. 309-312

...houses on the sloping acreage surrounding Teague's store. Once, sometimes twice a week one of the poor black families could be seen loading their belongings into a pickup or one of the trucks from Bobo's mill and descending the winding dirt road to the raw, hastily constructed little shacks on the south...

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pp. 313-322

...as Mr. Bearden talked, motionless, like waxen figures, staring at the floor. Mr. Bearden took his hat from the hat rack. "You may have all the time you need and, of course, I stand ready to help with arrangements in any way I can. My card is on the mantle. Please do feel free to call."...

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pp. 323-328

...After we were stuffed with sausage, grits and eggs until we could hardly walk, we were herded into the bus with the other boarders, and enough box lunches to feed a regiment, and carted off to Jayell's. Jayell had already recruited his shop boys and was lunging among the piles of salvage lumber that stood in large...

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pp. 329-335

...up the slope to the right of the other two, more onlookers drifted up from the Ape Yard. Neighbors came to watch, to roam through the curious structures and tease Willie Daniels and his mother about the prospects of living in such a bizarre house...

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pp. 336-341

The next morning Em refused to budge from the loft. "Stay away from there, boy! We're through with that place, you hear me!" "Speak for yourself," I said, pulling on my clothes. "We done crossed Bobo now, can't you get that through your head? We crossed Bobo!" "And he backed down, didn't he?" I said, still feeling extra good about having busted him one...

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pp. 342-347

...against the predawn blue of the window. When he saw I was awake he stepped through the window onto the roof of the shed. I jumped out of bed and followed him, and we stood looking down into the early shadows of the Ape Yard. I couldn't make out anything unusual; there were a few people...

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pp. 348-354

...The news of Mr. Teague's humiliation of Doc Bobo and his single-handedly standing off the Flat Creek crowd swept through the Ape Yard with electrifying force, greeted everywhere with shock, disbelief. The story leaped from ridge to ridge, growing in the telling, and the store experienced a sudden upsurge...

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pp. 355-363

...beautiful, clear July night. Stars sparkled out the window, through which a cool breeze worried the flame of the lamp on the table. I would miss the loft. There could be no substitute at Wolf Mountain for its comfort, its smells. I looked around at it, with its splintery ribs, its stains, the empty fish tank, and...

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pp. 364-367

...There had been rain in the night, and when the first hazy slivers of sunlight began to worm their way through the trees beyond the river, heavy black clouds still lay banked to the south. Silent lightning licked at the distant earth. Doc Bobo's voice rang...

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pp. 368-373

...was descending through the red earthen light. Down the terra-cotta slopes he came like a charging primeval beast, jumping, bouncing, clearing the rain-gutted trenches, howling that inhuman cry. Heads poked out of the supper club's windows. The dog boy on that end of the porch, recovering...

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pp. 374-383

...boys who had been guarding the crowd were edging toward the other end, their frightened eyes darting. Suddenly they sprang over the far rail and took off down the road toward the river, knees high, pumping hard, their shoulders jerking as they ran. Doc Bobo stood in the yard...

E-ISBN-13: 9780820338637
E-ISBN-10: 082033863X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820328485
Print-ISBN-10: 0820328480

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2006

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Subject Headings

  • Orphans -- Fiction.
  • Georgia -- Fiction.
  • Aunts -- Fiction.
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