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It's totally 1899, and Calogero is new to Tallulah, Louisiana. He was born and raised in Sicily, but now he's staying with some men he calls his uncles who run some markets in and around Tallulah. He sees his uncle Francesco get into an argument with a white man and even pull a gun to try to scare the man into being nice to his family. Carlo, Francesco's brother, thinks this is stupid and dangerous.
There is some serious prejudice against Sicilians in America, and fear and power struggles erupt in this town between the white men and the Sicilians. The white men want to be treated as the privileged people they think they are, but Francesco refuses to treat them differently from his black customers. Go Francesco, right?
Francesco also insists on ignoring his neighbor's requests to tie his goats up at night. Dr. Hodge says they keep him awake by walking along his porch, but Francesco just can't seem to make himself care.
The free-range goats become more and more of a problem for the doctor, who gets angrier in response. Hey, lack of sleep will do that to you. At the same time, the white townspeople get mouthier and more racist when it comes to Calo's family. They don't like Calo's family hanging out with the black townspeople, because they're afraid that by doing so, Calo's family will give the black townspeople hope and encourage them to want bigger and better lives for themselves than the ones they currently lead.
Well, that's charming.
Trouble finally erupts when Dr. Hodge loses his temper and kills Francesco's goats. Francesco is so sad about it that he doesn't seek revenge, but peaceful Carlo—Calo's nice uncle—yells at the doctor for breaking his brother's heart. Dr. Hodge doesn't take kindly to this hollering: he beats Carlo up before trying to shoot another of Calo's uncles, Giuseppe. The doc misses, but Giuseppe shoots the doc back, anyway. Luckily, he only hits the guy in the leg.
So the doc lives, but now there's even more trouble. Calo watches as an angry mob of white people decides to murder his uncles and younger cousin, Cirone, in the slaughterhouse. Calo feels guilty and desperate to save them, but, as a Sicilian boy in the Deep Deep South, there's not much he can do. Though he doesn't want to, he runs away, with some dogs and some hate-fueled men right on his tail. Calo runs as fast as he can, but the dogs stay close behind him, following him through a swamp and toward the river.
Then, right as the mob reaches the riverbank, Calo jumps in and finally gets away. Phew.
Calo is found by an acquaintance named Joseph, who brings him back to his house. The scariest part is behind Calo, but the poor kid's got some serious mourning to do, so he spends the day resting and eating and crying while Joseph takes care of him. Then Joseph helps Calo come up with an escape plan, gives him a canoe and some supplies, and sends him on his way. As the story ends, Calo floats down the river, thinking about how he will see his brother again and how—someday—he'll return to Tallulah.