Photograph: Grace Flora

The essay that follows, which first appeared in our November/December issue, is the last published in the lifetime of its author, Dave Byrne, who died in his home in Virginia on Thanksgiving Day. Dave was a Boston Review discovery; he published four stories with us in the final year and a half of his life. He wove imagination and lyricism into insightful criticism and proved a master of the personal essay. In Ground Down to Molasses,” a magisterial work of creative musicology and history, he demonstrated a remarkable ability to elucidate a subject while not only leaving intact its core mysteries but, indeed, deepening their power. Dave was a natural—observant and erudite but also playful, never didactic. Writing was not his profession, and he published nothing until years of hardship, much of his own making, culminated in a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer. The prison term he relates in “Speaking in Tongues” was a turning point. After his release, Dave became the writer he always was.

–The Editors

You are placed in a holding cell to be observed and await classification. There are about twenty-five other men there on any given day, and it’s a deadly time—no reading, no TV, and no one sane in the mood for conversation. All you can do is eat, sleep, and try to come down from whatever you were doing too much of when you got here.

• • •

After three or four days—I had already begun to lose track of time—I was interviewed, photographed and issued a change of clothes. My new bracelet stated that I was now a resident of E-2, where four of us were marched off to in the late afternoon.

The deputy slid the gate open and we walked into the tier. I stood just inside the entrance, stunned, unable to move or speak. Here was Goya; here was Hogarth’s descent; here was the absolute failure of my mind to anticipate what was now in front of me.

The tier was about eighty feet long and thirty feet wide. (I paced it off, roughly, weeks later.) There were ninety-six beds in bunks of two, lined up in rows of twelve. In the front of the tier were four metal tables, a communal shower with three heads, two toilets, and a long porcelain sink.

In a less crowded world, this space would have served as a kind of dayroom. In this world, practically every inch of the floor was covered with bedrolls, most of which had bodies on them. These forms slumbered, read, talked, stared at the ceiling. The metal tables were almost completely obscured by inmates playing cards, chess, and board games The overhead lighting was so dim that it took minutes to actually see all the bodies, to separate the bodies from the deafening noise, to separate the noise from the stench of body odor, piss, shit, and steam heat.

On occasion, the human imagination creates a luminous canvas, a cello concerto, an amusing TV series. Mostly, though, the imagination serves a more utilitarian purpose: we navigate our worlds by constantly envisioning the rough boundaries of the proximate future. These imaginative constructs offer a way of coping with a perpetual falling into the unknown. In order to maintain the illusions of logic and linearity we need every day not to be a new day. It works, on the whole, rather well.

Except, of course, when it doesn’t.

I stood in the crowded cage, paralyzed. A shirtless man with “RIP BIGGIE” tattooed on his left shoulder reached over and patted me on the back. “Welcome to the jungle, pops. You better find some place on the floor for that mattress.”


The tier boss promised me a bunk near the front of the sleeping area. He knew an inmate who was being released the next day and said he’d make sure I got the bed. I thanked him. I checked out the bed, and it looked promising. It was near an overhead light, and not too far from the windows lining the exterior catwalk—any light for reading was helpful. The bed was also on the perimeter, which was a desirable place to be when fights erupted.

Later in the day, an inmate named Bradley approached me about another bed. He and five others had pieced together a section of bunks toward the rear of the tier. “You oughta come down here, man,” he said. “We can seal off the cut with one more white guy. Give you a little protection.”

I declined. It was darker down there, and the white crew didn’t look like they’d provide much in the way of security or good company: a couple of stringy old bikers, two overweight guys who took medication in the morning and slept all day, a young man who paced the tier with his Bible tucked under his arm, and Bradley.

‘Welcome to the jungle, pops. You better find some place on the floor for that mattress.’

“Do what you want, pal,” Bradley said, puzzled. “Tell ya, though—I’m a career criminal. Been in this shit-hole six times. You’re better off with your own people here. You wanna play with the jigs, that’s your business.”

I looked down the aisle at his Aryan compound. “You’d have to wake these guys up for a race war, dude. Point ’em in the right direction. Spoon out the Geritol.”

“Safety in numbers, pal.”

“Right. I got a lot of free time here, Bradley,” I said. “I count stuff out of sheer boredom. Here’s the latest census: one hundred and twelve blacks, seven whites, nine guys from south of the border, and one Japanese schizophrenic.”

“Whatever.” The career criminal waved me off. “Lemme know when you change your mind.”

When he wasn’t planning his next major crime, Bradley provided laundry services to the inmates. Racism did not prevent him from washing underwear in the sink. Pair of shorts for one canteen item. Long-sleeved thermal for two items. He set up shop several nights a week and happily washed the dainty whites of a mostly black clientele.

Bradley looked like a squat, overweight Robert DeNiro. He was from New Jersey; here, his accent sounded like he was visiting from another movie. While he seemed pissed when I passed on his recruitment offer, he still stopped by my bunk several times a week to chat. He usually hit me up for a spoon of coffee, with the promise that I’d get it back double on Friday. When he came by he’d start conversations as though we were already in the middle of them.

“Yep. Feds are trying to get me to roll over on the Newark guys. Not happenin’. I couldn’t ever go home again.”

“That right?”

“Hell no. I’d rather do the time than end up in a dumpster. Those guys don’t play.”

“What are you being charged with?”

“Cigarette deal. Feds busted into my room, found three hundred cartons of Marlboros. Somebody pointed them there, too. I think it was my old lady, but I dunno. When I find out, though–” He punched his fist into an open palm. “Gotta get out of here before summer, though. You ever been here during the summer?”

“Nope. Never been here before. Why?”

“The heat, man. It’s unbelievable. Gets up to a hundred degrees and stays there. You know, I’m a career criminal.”

“Yeah, you mentioned that.”

“Been locked up half my life. And I never been in a joint with heat like this. Can’t sleep, don’t want to eat. The jigs don’t mind, but a white man shouldn’t have to put up with it. Anyway, come down to the cut later. We’re gonna play some poker. Get you out of Africa for a couple of hours.” And divest me of my canteen items, most likely; one bet I would make was that Bradley had a well-marked set of cards.

Back Again

A chilly February day. Terrell and I were sitting against the exercise-yard fence. I couldn’t play basketball because I sprained my ankle jumping out of the top bunk. Terrell, a voluble, obese man in his thirties only came out to the yard to escape the fetid air inside. His sport was chess.

“How’d court go?”

“I got sixty days on the capias. Failure to appear on a trespass charge.” Terrell sighed. “Bullshit.”

“Where were you trespassing?”

“I was up in a smitty in Blackwell, right? Waiting for shawty to come back with a rock when the jump-outs roll up. No drugs, no drug charge, so they get me on the trespass. I’m still on paper, probably get time for littering.”

Terrell popped an orange slice—mess hall contraband—into his mouth. “And I still got to go back to court next month for old shit.”

“Dropping candy wrappers?”

“Naw. Possession of paraphernalia and child support. Lawyer says I can go to drug court for the stem charge, but I don’t know. That judge a bitch when he see you twice . . . more than twice. And check this out: my baby momma all over me ’bout some money, so I get a job out in the West End. Only I can’t get to the jont ’cause my license suspended for fines, and the bus don’t run out there. How to keep a nigger downtown, right? Game rigged, pops.”

“You lose the job?”

“I kept it for a minute—my brother carried me up there in his car. But, same time, I supposed to be going to this anger management class ’cause of this beef I got into with my cousin’s boys. And I can’t get to that jont ’cause the white fuck—nothing personal, pops—he won’t let me leave early. Bitch drop a dime on me, P.O. gonna violate me, white fuck say he gonna fire me. You know what I say?”


“I say fuck it, pops. Started up on the rock again, hustlin’, doing what I got to do. Knew I was gonna end up back in this motherfucker again. You wanna play some chess later?”

“I’ll see if I can clear my schedule.”

“You funny, pops. Think they’ll give me drug court on that stem jint?”

“I don’t know, man. I believe it’s just kind of a crapshoot.”

Terrell and I got up to go inside. A basketball flew past and bounced off the fence. Coils of razor wire glistened in the sun. Sirens howled up the hill. “Knew I was gonna end up back in this motherfucker,” he muttered. He wasn’t talking to me anymore. “Knew it.”

Winter Night

Saturday evening, maybe nine o’clock. Snow was falling, light and windblown, illuminated by a single spotlight outside the catwalk window.

I’d received several pieces of mail earlier, which I read and re-read. The communications were cautious and circumspect, as if they had been written with a larger audience in mind. I had only been here five weeks, but the letters seemed like dispatches from barely remembered ruins.

Radar, the best rapper on the tier, was banging out a Lil Wayne song, keeping odd and perfect time on the edge of a metal table. An old man was cutting a young man’s hair with a razor extracted from the disposables we were provided. There was a tender seriousness to this exercise: the careful positioning of the head, quiet appraisals from the barber. “You looking good now, short.”

Scott, a Jamaican who was waiting for more than a year to get sent downstate, glanced up from his game of solitaire to observe the grooming ritual. He laughed, tapped the edge of my bunk. “Little dudes run the streets for years, all greasy and smelly, crack pipes up they ass. Then they get locked up and they wanna look all cris.”

The Hispanics were holed up in their cut, eating from a communal plate of rice and beans. They kept to themselves, walked softly. Their leader, Jose, was a muscled-up dude from Mexico. He smiled and patted me on the back whenever we crossed paths. Jose pretended not to speak or understand English, but I knew he did both well. We were processed in together, and I heard him doing his classification interview. I asked him how he was doing one morning in the breakfast line. “Lo mismo,” he replied. “Pero peor.”

I laughed. “And what exactly does that mean?”

“The same. Only worse.” He didn’t smile.

The Word in the Box

One small TV, mounted high on a cement pillar, for this crowd in the cage. I ignored it, mostly.

On this night, though, I decide to watch the crowd watching. A group of inmates gathered for a rerun of COPS. It was the usual scene—three uniforms have wrestled an emaciated and shirtless man to the ground and cuffed his hands. The man lay on his stomach, alternately howling and sobbing, sounds wrenched from a back-brain in need of more bad medicine. The uniforms, as uniforms do when they are on camera, imitated clinicians.

“Looks like PCP intoxication,” said one.

“I know this individual,” said another. “He’s out there even when he’s not smoking boat.”

The man howled.

A few of the younger inmates laughed. “Yo, that motherfucker is off the chain!”

“Groundhog be bringing his mail!”

Most of the inmates just stared. I wondered how many people on this planet—in living rooms, jail cells, doctors’ offices—were watching this scene from a hot night in a deserted strip mall play out.

Ivan Turgenev wrote his fictions when executions were still public spectacles. The writer put aside his stories one time to witness the hanging of a notorious murderer. Turgenev’s long ordeal—and the condemned man’s somewhat shorter one—resulted in a plaintive and aggrieved essay entitled “The Execution of Tropmann.”

Scarcely one thousandth part of the crowd, no more than fifty or sixty people, could have seen anything in the semi-darkness of early morning at a distance of 150 feet and thorough the lines of soldiers and the cruppers of the horses. And the rest? What benefit, however small, could they have derived from that drunken, sleepless, idle, depraved night? I remember the young laborer, who had been shouting senselessly and whose face I had studied for several minutes. Would he start work today as a man who hated vice and idleness more then before? And what about me?

The criminals are pathetic, stumbling creatures, and the cops are false at the core.

What Turgenev missed—his vision more obscured by moral queasiness than horse’s cruppers—was the subtler lesson of the spectacle. While methods of punishment have become less corporal, the insistence that the population witness the spectacle remains constant. The lesson does not have to be transparent, or even wholly articulate: it simply needs to be repeated until it is embedded in the genetic code of the culture. Attendance at the guillotine or gallows was limited—and hampered—by proximity and sightlines. Contemporary media erase the inconveniences of time and architecture, allow for a more efficient and generalized presentation. Michel Foucault notes that nineteenth-century journalists began to function as flacks for a legal code that had divested itself of monarchs:

To this was added a patient attempt to impose a highly specific grid on the common perception of delinquents: to present them as close by, everywhere present and everywhere to be feared. This was the function of the fait divers, which invaded a part of the press and which began to have its own newspapers. The criminal fait divers, by its everyday redundancy, makes acceptable the system of judicial and police supervisions that partition society; it recounts from day to day a sort of internal battle against the faceless enemy; in this war it constitutes the daily bulletin of alarm or victory.

COPS is part of the electronic fait divers—one of the longest running television shows in history, constantly in syndication, always on. It makes no sense as drama. The criminals are pathetic, stumbling creatures, and the cops are false at the core—suckers for the code, sociopaths for the paycheck. Both sides act out their parts automatically, as if in a dream. To watch is to enter the dream, to learn the lessons of the culture through half-formed inference. The great majority of the show’s audience has not, and never will be, incarcerated. We learn by staring. This is what happens, this is what will happen. We watch as though it is our duty, and it is.

The Sabbath

We were allowed to watch TV on Sunday morning if the programming was religious, and a handful of inmates would pick a particular sermon from a local station. The preaching was fiery, but the gospel music sounded tinny on the shoddy television.

I plucked my current book from under the mattress and tried to read. The science fiction novel—one of the few I’ve read—was abysmally plotted and badly written. It had its virtues, though—eight hundred pages of small type, for one. That represented a significant amount of time in which to wander around in a tale of lunar colonies, worry about the cosmic dust storm that seemed sure to gum the works, scan the prolix narrative of the lovers for a paragraph of credible dialogue or a description of weightless sex.

The televised service, though, was difficult to block out. I couldn’t locate the preacher’s accent, which made him more audible somehow. “The end times,” he declaimed, “let us consider the end times. They will not, dear friends, I repeat they will not come with sufficient warning for those who reside outside the circle of grace. This is how it is described in Revelations . . . this, then is how it will be: ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, dressed in fine linen and scarlet, and glittering with gold and precious stones and pearls! In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’ Ruin, children! Absolute, total ruin! The end of times!”

The inmates were calling back, now, exhortations to “tell it!” and whoops of laughter, as if this was just the good news they’d been expecting; as if they did, in fact, reside inside a circle of grace that was temporarily fortified with steel and cement.

I tossed my book to the foot of the bed.

Donte, my neighbor, was sitting up, cross-legged, reading his Bible. He never even glanced at these televised sermons.

“What are you reading, Donte?”

“Proverbs. I read Proverbs every day. My grandmother taught me to read Proverbs every day.”

“Read me something from Proverbs, man. Give me something to chew on.”

He continued to stare at the book. He recited softly, so that I had to strain to hear. “Like a dog returns to its vomit, so a man returns to his folly,” he said. “That’s Proverbs 26:11.”

I said nothing.

Donte rubbed his washed-out eyes. “That means we will be here next week.”

The television preacher was done. The inmates wandered back to their bunks. The credits rolled, and the choir began to sing:

I’m kind of homesick for a country
To which I’ve never been before
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
For time won’t matter anymore.

“It means,” said Donte, “that we have been prophesied.”

A Classic Look

When inmates are taken to the tiers after being processed, they are escorted past the mental health unit: a cage like all the others, but more visible to traffic and, one supposes, more quickly accessed by the staff. Unlike the other tiers, the interior of this space is subdued, hushed; these inmates, dosed with neuroleptics and phenothiazines, sit on the edges of their bunks and benches.

Even sitting, many of them are in constant motion. Twitching, grimacing, switching one contorted posture for another. These staccato, involuntary motions are more often the dyskinetic side effects of the medications than symptoms of the original illnesses.

An elderly man, standing near the bars, hooted like a great horned owl. Another, invisible to me, moaned long and low, two octaves below the birdsong of the ancient tenor. A sign on the gate to the tier, directed at the passing traffic, read “Do Not Talk To The Inmates.”

During the course of my sentence I passed by this tier at least ten times. I never talked to the inmates, and, after the first time, I didn’t even look at them. I stared at the tiles on the floor, kept my head down. To see these obtunded souls from some theoretical outside was to enter into a wordless complicity with their captors; the only way to subvert the contract was to avert my gaze.

The tier at Richmond City Jail. Photo: Eva Russo/Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Small Talk

A group of us were being transported across the river for court appearances. Handcuffed and shackled, we were herded into the windowless van and sat on benches lining both sides of the dark interior.

I was sitting between two other inmates from E-2. Rafe, on the left, was a muscled and edgy young man with long dreads. On the right, Macy—older, graying, missing teeth. His potbelly might have been a distended liver, and he smelled musty and sour. Our legs were shackled together, and Macy had cursed me earlier when I stumbled on the stairs. We got along, though; we had a mutual friend on the streets whom we expected to join us any day.

It was quiet as the van backed out and headed toward the bottom.

Macy was the first to speak. “Ain’t this a bitch? Wake you up at four in the morning so they can carry you to the court by nine thirty, and the jont only nine feet away. Damn! Macy sighed. “Wish I was home sleeping in my own bed.”

“Home? You say home?” Rafe laughed. “You ain’t got no home, old head. Smitty, maybe, if they ain’t run you out. And you damn sure ain’t got to bed!”

“You don’t know me!” Macy cried, slamming his shackled feet on the metal floor. “You don’t know me!”

“I know you, motherfucker!”

“You ain’t know shit! My ol’ lady, she up in church hill. She–”

“What don’t I know? I know you spent you whole life messed up or locked up. Forty or a rock what I know about you, pop.”

“True that.” Macy was talking to me, now. “Been locked up or on paper since 1972.”

“Yeah,” Rafe said, “you Al Capone. Three hundred arrests for trespassing.”

“Won’t no trespass this time. SWAT roust me on this joint. I–”

“SWAT didn’t roust you, pops. Animal Rescue pick you tired ass up. Gonna put you to sleep next time.”

“You don’t know me! You don’t know me!”

Macy and Rafe took a break while the van cruised up what I guessed was Hull Street. Macy nudged me. “You going home today?”

“Doubt it. Might get sent to high court.”

“Damn. You don’t want to go upstairs for real.”

“Nope. We’re going to try and make a deal, just have to see how it plays out.”

“Judge might let you out on a ’cognizance bond if you got a job.”

“Yeah, I got a job. I think I got a job.”

“What kind of work you do?”


“No shit. I’m a landscaper, too. Been in the business my whole life.”

“Oh no you don’t!” Now it was Rafe’s turn to slam his feet on the floor. “You ain’t no motherfucking landscaper.”

“You don’t know me!”

“Pops steals lawnmowers from they sheds.” Rafe was talking to everyone now. “He ain’t work a day in his life. Landscapers on Southside can’t work either—pops stole they tools.”

“That’s right!”

“Can’t nobody work ’cause pops stole all they shit!”

“Pops gonna steal the leg irons and we all gonna walk home!”

The van came to a stop and the engine shut off. As we climbed out, Macy chuckled. “That Rafe something else, huh?”

“Kind of harsh,” I said, one old head to another.

“Oh, he all right,” Macy said. “He know me.”


It was late afternoon when we walked out of the jail. I took deep breaths, filling my lungs with the cold air. The leafless trees on the hill above us fanned out like cracks in the gray sky. The lights in the bank towers down by the James were already on.

Kelvin and I had been released together. We’d both been on E-2, nodded in passing, had a conversation about baseball once. He was a dark-skinned man with a braided goatee. Not unfriendly, but remote and quiet. He was shivering as we stood there, wearing only a long-sleeved T-shirt.

“No jacket?”

“Hell, no. I got arrested on the Fourth of July. Least I won’t wearing sandals. You waiting for a bus?”

“No money. I mean, they gave me a check for the money I had on me, but I don’t know where to cash it.”

“Store up the street. Cost you a dollar, but you don’t need identification. I got to cash mine, too.”

We walked to the store up the street and cashed the small checks. I bought a ginger ale and a pack of cigarettes. Kelvin bought a forty of Steel Reserve. We went around to the side of the store so he could drink the beer without attracting a cruiser. The ginger ale, cold and carbonated, washed down my throat. I thought nothing had ever tasted so good. The cigarette smoke made me dizzy and euphoric. I started to laugh. Freedom, for a moment, was something you could taste.

Kelvin finished his forty in seven or eight long gulps. Tossed the bottle in the median carpeted with brown grass.

“That was quick.”

“Not really. I was drinking a beer when the cops found me. That jont took me eight months to finish.”

Neither of us wanted to spend what was left of our money on bus fare. We were both going to Southside and decided to cross the river together. We walked quietly, taking in the lights and the traffic and the different noises. I had been outside three times in the last two months—drizzly, cold days in the exercise yard, surrounded by chain link and barbed wire. This sudden world seemed bright and disjointed. We headed toward the river at 14th Street, and I pointed out the fenced-in square as we crossed Franklin.

The fence surrounded the site of an archeological dig. What they were digging up was a slave jail, a storage shed for slaves to be sold down the river. It was owned and run by a man named Lumpkin, who was considered brutal even in those brutal times. The plot of ground was known as the devil’s half-acre. After the war, and Lumpkin’s death, the land housed a school for freed slaves. He left it to a black woman, Mary, a former slave and the mother of his children.

“You know about the slave jail?” I was making conversation, as our silence had become lengthy.

“Nah. I don’t know nuthin’ about a slave jail.”

“It was–”

“Don’t want to know nuthin’ about a slave jail, either.” Kelvin gave me a sideways look.

We walked across Mayo’s Bridge. An earlier version of this bridge served as the Confederate escape route as downtown Richmond was burning to the ground. The rebels then burned the bridge behind them.

The site of Libby Prison was a few blocks upriver from where we were walking. This was the jail for Union officers, perhaps a little more humanely run then the hellish facilities for enlisted men on Belle Isle. In 1864, about a hundred officers tunneled out of the prison. Half got away, a few drowned in the James, the rest were recaptured.

Further upriver, on the bluffs near Hollywood Cemetery, stood the original Virginia state penitentiary. It was designed by Benjamin Latrobe, and European notions of rehabilitation were central to its architecture and administration. Solitude, prayer, and penance. As they became aware that occupied Richmond was vaporizing, the inmates—more interested in freedom than reform—busted out and joined the drunken, desperate festivities downtown. The structure was razed for good in 1905.

Kelvin and I crossed the river, which was high and muddy; the rocks that defined the fall line were mostly submerged. The riverbanks were lined with the pale, surrendering arms of large sycamores. An osprey flew by with an early herring in his beak and dropped it into the rapids.

“I need another beer,” Kelvin said. We stopped and he bought a forty of Hurricane. We faded into an alley and sat on milk crates. Kelvin spilled a ritual drop on the ground and bowed his head. It was dark now, and getting windy. He started to empty the bottle with his world-class gullet.

“You ever heard of the Briley brothers?”

Kelvin looked at me sideways again. “Man, why you keep talking all this crazy old shit? ’Course I heard of ’em. My pops was from Northside, grew up with those crazy motherfuckers. Stayed away from ’em, too. Pops won’t no angel, but he wouldn’t have anything to do with ’em. Briley boys scared everybody.”

The Briley brothers and their small gang went on a killing, raping, and robbery spree in the 1970s. They were finally caught and sent to the maximum-security prison in Mecklenberg. The prisoners then engineered a six-inmate escape from death row that astonished everyone for its brazenness and ingenuity. They were eventually caught again and brought back to the Richmond penitentiary, which had been rebuilt on the outskirts of Oregon Hill. They were finally executed in the 1980s. The new penitentiary was torn down in 1992; the land was sold to a company that makes fuel additives.

Kelvin’s eyes were getting a little glassy, but his mood was improving. “You know they wrote a song about those dudes. I think it was some guy from Mecklenberg came up with it. But you better not sing it too loud in this town.” He started singing in a flat monotone. If the song ever had a tune, this wasn’t it:

Late one night in the heat of May
Six brave comrades made their getaway
No doubt they had a master plan
They used their minds to escape from the man
Out came the guards with their sniffing dogs
Sniffing the scent over hollow logs
Two were caught not far away
Their freedom lasted only half a day.

Kelvin hit the last of his beer. “Goes on for a while, but that’s all I remember. Let’s get out of here before we end up talking to the cops. I am not looking to go back to jail tonight.”

We walked up Hull Street, past the empty storefronts, the courthouse, the early slingers. Cut over after a mile and headed up Semmes Avenue.

“Hope my sister home,” said Kelvin. “She don’t know I got out.”

I stopped at the top of the rising road and turned around, straining to see the obscured skyline.

• • •

Imprisonment and escape. Gates opened and gates closed. Bondage. False freedoms.

Fleeing to nowhere, for nothing. These are the alternating currents of Richmond’s history—they bleed through the narrative of the place like the ghost signs of an earlier commerce bleed through new paint. People and places fuse together and cannot face down the hardest facts: that history, too long endured, cannot be carried to higher ground. That sometimes the weight is too much. That you can only balance on the fall line for so long.

“I’m turning here,” I said. “Thanks for the company.”

Kelvin didn’t turn around. “See you next time, man.” He laughed his tired laugh and walked down the root-shattered sidewalk.