Excerpt of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
(Page 5 of 12)
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Explaining Gus to his wife was going to be the least of his worries.
In fact, it didnt take long for the fuss to die down. When he
wanted to, Edgars grandfather could radiate a charming enthusiasm, one
of the reasons Mary had been attracted to him in the first place. He could
tell a good story about the way things were going to be. Besides, they
had been living in her parents house for over a year and she was as eager
as he to get out on her own. They completed the purchase of the land by
mail and telegram.
This the boy Edgar would come to know because his parents kept
their most important documents in an ammunition box at the back
of their bedroom closet. The box was military gray, with a big clasp
on the side, and it was metal, and therefore mouseproof. When they
werent around hed sneak it out and dig through the contents. Their
birth certificates were in there, along with a marriage certificate and
the deed and history of ownership of their land. But the telegram was
what interested him most - a thick, yellowing sheet of paper with a
Western Union legend across the top, its message consisting of just six
words, glued to the backing in strips: offer accepted see adamski
re papers. Adamski was Mr. Schultzs lawyer; his signature appeared
on several documents in the box. The glue holding those words to the
telegram had dried over the years, and each time Edgar snuck it out,
another word dropped off. The first to go was papers, then re, then
see. Eventually Edgar stopped taking the telegram out at all, fearing
that when accepted fluttered into his lap, his familys claim to the
land would be reversed.
He didnt know what to do with the liberated words. It seemed wrong
to throw them away, so he dropped them into the ammo box and hoped
no one would notice.
What little they knew about Schultz came from living in the
buildings hed made. For instance, because the Sawtelles had done a lot
of remodeling, they knew that Schultz worked without levels or squares,
and that he didnt know the old carpenters three-four-five rule for squar-
ing corners. They knew that when he cut lumber he cut it once, making
do with shims and extra nails if it was too short, and if it was too long,
wedging it in at an angle. They knew he was thrifty because he filled
the basement walls with rocks to save on the cost of cement, and every
spring, water seeped through the cracks until the basement flooded
ankle-deep. And this, Edgars father said, was how they knew Schultz
had never poured a basement before.
They also knew Schultz admired economy - had to admire it to make
a life in the woods - because the house he built was a miniature version
of the barn, all its dimensions divided by three. To see the similarity, it
was best to stand in the south field, near the birch grove with the small
white cross at its base. With a little imagination, subtracting out the
changes the Sawtelles had made - the expanded kitchen, the extra bed-
room, the back porch that ran the length of the west side - youd notice
that the house had the same steep gambrel roof that shed the snow so
well in the winter, and that the windows were cut into the house just
where the Dutch doors appeared at the end of the barn. The peak of the
roof even overhung the driveway like a little hay hood, charming but
useless. The buildings looked squat and friendly and plain, like a cow
and her calf lying at pasture. Edgar liked looking back at their yard; that
was the view Schultz would have seen each day as he worked in the field
picking rocks, pulling stumps, gathering his herd for the night.
Innumerable questions couldnt be answered by the facts alone. Was
there a dog to herd the cows? That would have been the first dog that
ever called the place home, and Edgar would have liked to know its
name. What did Schultz do at night without television or radio? Did
he teach his dog to blow out candles? Did he pepper his morning eggs
with gunpowder, like the voyageurs? Did he raise chickens and ducks?
Did he sit up nights with a gun on his lap to shoot foxes? In the middle
of winter, did he run howling down the rough track toward town, drunk
and bored and driven out of his mind by the endless harmonica chord
the wind played through the window sash? A photograph of Schultz was
too much to hope for, but the boy, ever inward, imagined him stepping
out of the woods as if no time had passed, ready to give farming one
last try - a compact, solemn man with a handlebar mustache, thick eye-
brows, and sad brown eyes. His gait would swing roundly from so many
hours spent astride the ponies and hed have a certain grace about him.
When he stopped to consider something, hed rest his hands on his hips
and kick a foot out on its heel and hed whistle.
More evidence of Schultz: opening a wall to replace a rotted-out win-
dow, they found handwriting on a timber, in pencil:
Excerpted from The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
by David Wroblewski Copyright © 2008 by David Wroblewski. Excerpted by
permission of Ecco, 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.