The Story Behind the Story: “When Gravity Lets Go”

In the small town of Sylacauga, Alabama, there is a spot on Gravity Hill Lane where gravity does indeed appear to let go. It’s really only a slight incline, not a hill, but the narrow, black-top road angles downward, and if you stop, place your car in neutral, and lift your foot off the brake, your car will roll backward and uphill. It is a most strange phenomenon.

My wife Rhonda knew of this spot, and on a trip to Sylacauga, we managed to find it and pulled off to the side of the road as we watched the car that had been ahead of us stop and then, yes, roll uphill. The woman driving, and her companion in the front seat, began laughing, looked toward us, shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders. After they pulled away, I drove into the spot, and as we followed suit, my wife and I, and her young niece and nephew in the backseat, laughed as hard as the couple we had just watched.

Like the character in my story, I have a parent who suffers from increasing dementia, and it occurred to me that our experience on Gravity Hill Lane might have potential as a metaphor as I considered the way someone with dementia lets go of memory, logic, and reason–just as gravity, and the “logic” of gravity, let go of us that day, and we entered into a dimension where things are incomprehensible.

If you look up this site on-line, you will read that it is an optical illusion created by the horizon beyond the incline. But I’m here to tell you, that short span of black-top angles downward. Or perhaps I don’t always want a mystery explained.

And finally, a meteorite did fall through the roof of one Ann Hodges on November 30th, 1954, and struck her on the thigh. Strange things happen in Sylacauga, Alabama, hometown of Jim Nabors, a.k.a., Gomer Pyle. Alas, I couldn’t find a way to work him into the story.

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About Marlin Barton

Marlin Barton is from the Black Belt region of Alabama. His most recent book is Pasture Art, a collection of short stories. He has published two novels, The Cross Garden and A Broken Thing, and two previous collections, The Dry Well and Dancing by the River. His stories have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards and The Best American Short Stories. He has also been awarded the Truman Capote Prize for short fiction. He teaches in, and helps direct, the Writing Our Stories project, a program for juvenile offenders created by the Alabama Writers' Forum, and he's been teaching in the low-residency MFA program at Converse College since 2010.