Excerpt from Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Sweeping Up Glass

By Carolyn Wall

Sweeping Up Glass
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2008,
    278 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2009,
    336 pages.

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Chapter One

The long howl of a wolf rolls over me like a toothache. Higher up, shots ring out, the echoes stretching away till they’re not quite heard but more remembered.

There’s nobody on this strip of mountain now but me and Ida, and my grandson, Will’m. While I love the boy more than life, Ida’s a hole in another sock. She lives in the tar paper shack in back of our place, and in spite of this being the coldest winter recorded in Kentucky, she’s standing out there now, wrapped in a blanket, quoting scripture and swearing like a lumberjack. Her white hair’s ratted up like a wild woman’s.

I’m Ida’s child. That makes her my ma’am, and my pap was Tate Harker. I wish he were here instead of buried by the outhouse.

Whoever’s shooting the wolves is trespassing.

“I’ll be out with the boy for a while,” I tell Ida.

I’ve brought her a boiled egg, bread and butter, a wedge of apple wrapped in cloth, and a mug of hot tea. She follows me inside and sits on her cot. Ida’s face is yellowed from years of smoke, her lips gone thin, and her neck is like a turkey’s wattle. Although there’s a clean nightgown folded on a crate by her bed, she hasn’t gotten out of this one for almost three weeks.

Pap once told me that when he first met Ida, she was pretty and full of fire. She rode her donkey all over creation, preaching streets of gold over the short road to hell. She still calls daily on the Lord to deliver her from drunkards and thieves and the likes of me. Last summer, she sent off for Bibles in seven languages, then never opened the boxes. It’s dark in Ida’s shack, and thick with liniment and old age smells. Maybe it’s the sagging cartons, still unpacked, although my Saul moved her here a dozen years ago. Then he died, too.

“I can’t eat apples with these false teeth,” she says.

“Will’m saved it for you.”

“Pleases you, don’t it, me stuck in this pigsty while you and the boy live like royalty.”

Royalty is a cold-water kitchen behind the grocery store. Will’m sleeps in an alcove next to the woodstove. I take the bedroom. Here in the cabin, I’ve tried to better Ida’s life, bring a table, hang a curtain, but she says no, she’ll be crossin’ soon.

“I’ll be out with the boy for a while,” I repeat.

“I’ll ask God to forgive your sins, Olivia.”

Ida’s not the only thing that sets my teeth on edge. I worry about the way folks come for groceries but have no money. Most of the time, they take what they need. Will’m and I write everything down, and they pay as they can—sometimes in yams or yellow onions, a setting hen when the debt gets too high.

If Pap was here, he’d tell me everything was going to be all right.

“Hurry up if you’re going with me,” I tell Will’m.

Damn fool’s errand. I put on my big wool cape and mittens. I have Saul’s rifle.

Will’m brings the toboggan from the barn. He’s wearing a pair of old boots and so many shirts that he looks like a pile of laundry. I can barely make out his dark grey eyes through the round holes in his wool cap. I know what he’s thinking, just like Pap used to—some injured thing might need his care.

I’ll be forty-two next year—too old and thick-legged to plow uphill through snow that makes my hips ache. I should be home in my kitchen, warming beans from last night’s supper. Behind me, Will’m pulls the toboggan by its rope. We haven’t gone far before my fingers are froze, my toes are numb, and I realize I’ve misjudged the light. Where the snow lays smooth and clean, we stop to get our breath. It’s darker up here among the alders and pine. I set the lantern on the toboggan, strike a match, and lay the flame to the wick.

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Excerpted from Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall Copyright © 2009 by Carolyn Wall. Excerpted by permission of Delta, 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.

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