Excerpt of Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
(Page 2 of 4)
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gist of the story is that even when all else is lost and gone forever,
there is yearning. One of the few welcome lessons age teaches is that
only desire trumps time.
A bedtime drink would be helpful. At
some point in life, everybody needs medication to get by. A little
something to ease the pain, smooth the path forward. But my doctor
prohibits liquor, and so my own home has become as strict as if it were
run by hard-shell Baptists. Memory is about the only intoxicant left.
read on into the night until the house falls quiet. Lancelot is
hopeless. I am dream-stricken to think he will ever choose better.
some point, I put the book down and hold my right palm to the light.
The silver scar running diagonal across all the deep lines seems to
itch, but scratching does not help.
Late in the night, the door
opens again. Scalding metallic light pours in from the hallway. May
enters and walks to my bed. Her skin is the color of tanned deerhide, a
mixture of several bloodswhite and red and blackcomplex enough to
confound those legislators who insist on naming every shade down to the
thirty-second fraction. Whatever the precise formula is for May, it
worked out beautifully. Shes too pretty to be real.
I knew her
grandfather back in slavery days. Knew him and also owned him, if Im
to tell the truth. I still wonder why he didnt cut my throat some
night while I was asleep. Id have had it coming. All us big men would
have. But through some unaccountable generosity, May is as kind and
protective as her grandfather was.
May takes the book as from a
sleepy child, flaps it face down on the nightstand, blows out the
candle with a moist breath, full lips pursed and shaped like a bow. I
hear a hint of rattle in the lungs as the breath expires. I worry for
her, though my doctor says she is fine. Consumption, though, is a long
way to die. Ive seen it happen more than once. May steps back to the
door and is a black spirit shape against the light, like a messenger in
a significant dream.
Sleep, Colonel. Youve read late.
thing is, I actually try. I lie flat on my back in the dark with my
arms on my chest. But I cant sleep. It is a bitter-cold night and the
fire has burnt down to hissing coals. I dont ever sleep well anymore.
I lie in bed in the dark and let the past sweep over me like stinging
sheets of windblown rain. My future is behind me. I let gravity take me
into the bed and before long Im barely breathing. Practicing for the
Survive long enough and you get to a far point in
life where nothing else of particular interest is going to happen.
After that, if you dont watch out, you can spend all your time
tallying your losses and gains in endless narrative. All you love has
fled or been taken away. Everything fallen from you except the
possibility of jolting and unforewarned memory springing out of the
dark, rushing over you with the velocity of heartbreak. May walking
down the hall humming an old songThe Girl I Left Behind Meor the
mere fragrance of clove in spiced tea can set you weeping and howling
when all youve been for weeks on end is numb.
At least that
last one is explainable. Back in green youth, Claire became an advocate
for flavored kisses. She would break off new spring growth at the end
of a birch twig, peel the dark bark to the wet green pulp, and fray the
fibers with her thumbnailthen put the twig in her mouth and hold it
there like a cheroot. After a minute shed toss it away and say, Now
kiss me. And her mouth had the sweet sharp taste of birch. In summer,
she did the same with the clear drop of liquid at the tip of
honeysuckle blossoms, and in the fall with the white pulp of
honey-locust pods. And in winter with a dried clove and a broken stick
of cinnamon. Now kiss me.
Excerpted from Thirteen Moons
by Charles Frazier Copyright © 2006 by Charles Frazier. Excerpted by
permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.