From the time he was two, Sterling Schiffler loved to read aloud. It came as naturally to him as birdsong, as smooth as a cool, mysterious, foggy fall morning, as definite as cedars burdened by shawls of snow, reeling ahead like ranks of defeated soldiers in the winter sun.
By the time he was five, he was a rapacious reader, big news in his hometown of Crisfield, Maryland, where most everybody either ran, repaired, built, stored, crewed, painted or stored boats or hauled oyster shells for fill or number one jimmies up to Baltimore for the pittance they gave you for risking your life.
Naturally the town was proud when he graduated at sixteen, the youngest ever in the history of the high school. They were equally proud when he was accepted at the same age to Yale, and pleased as pie when he graduated in three years with a soc degree and married a rich girl from Towsend.
His grandmother was mostly Lenape, and she was not so sanguine. She called his wife, not so secretly, “the trickster,” and said that there was something about her heart that was not right. Sterling tried his best to ignore his grandmother’s advice, but eventually there were two truths even he could not overlook.
First, he was unable to support her in the style to which she was accustomed. Even though she worked a bit organizing parties and functions¾at which she was particularly apt—she was always broke, even when Sterling started commuting to Baltimore to earn more money.
Equally unfortunate was her discovery that she preferred her own sex over the opposite. They divorced, but she refused to leave Crisfield, leaving Sterling with nothing to do but move. He could not bear it to see them everywhere, and at all the best functions, too. So he answered the first ad he found, for a job as a program specialist serving mentally retarded adults. The job was in a place called Pigeon Forge, Pennsylvania, just on the fringe of the coal region, from what he could make of the map.
He was scared and upset, but determined to make the best of it. He was determined that she would not see him hang his head.
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