Excerpt of Vinegar Hill by A Manette Ansay
(Page 4 of 7)
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Ellen's father died when she was five, and for several years his Place
at the table was left respectfully empty. But the table was small and soon
Heidi's elbow jutted where his cup once stood; Gert switched her chair
with his to accommodate her new, wide hips. One night, Ellen realized she
couldn't tell where Daddy used to sit. Everyone except Miriam, who had
married, was spread evenly around the table; Mom, Gert, Ketty, Heidi,
Julia, and herself. Without the space there, she could not remember what
her father looked like, and she cried while Mom tried to console her; her
sisters, all much older, said she was too young to remember him anyway.
Ellen thinks now that she should be used to absence, that James's long
trips shouldn't bother her because at least she know together in the guest
room; me and Henry got the top of the bed, and George and Petey got the
bottom. Henry's ma had cancer, and everywhere I turned, there was somebody
giving me orders. . . . "
She spoke as if she were telling a funny story, something she had
overheard or was making up on the spot. This really happened to you, Ellen
wanted to say. How did you feel? How did you cope? But she did not ask; it
would be wrong to encourage Miriam to complain, un?Christian, perhaps
unwomanly. Even Ketty, whose husband drinks, never complains about her
marriage. "Remember that you love him," was the advice she had
given Ellen when she married James. "Sometimes you'll forget, but you
Thirteen years ago, Ellen thought marriage meant love. Now she believes
that marriage means need, and when the need isn't there, what comes next?
On her wedding day, she had looked across the street from the church to
the cemetery and imagined all the women who had come before her, who had
married and born children and died. Some day, she thought, that same peace
will be mine. But perhaps what she saw was not peace, but silence. Perhaps
those women entered the ground because they were tired and had nowhere
else to go. Peace and exhaustion would look the same from where she had
stood at age twenty, at the top of the church steps, high above the cold
At the crosswalk, she stops and waits for a slow line of cars to pass.
The downtown is larger than it was years ago when she and James drove
around on restless spring nights, turning right, then right, then right
again, making bigger and bigger squares, Chinese boxes swallowing the
space where they'd just been. Snow begins to fall, smoothing away the
cracks and wrinkles of the sidewalks and streets, re?creating a world
without sharp edges, without color, without sound. Ellen crosses to the
other side and finds a perfect trail of footprints from a woman's neat
boot. She places her own feet carefully, following in the footsteps of
this stranger so that she herself leaves no tracks, no trace, no sign that
she has ever been here.
"Anything might happen to her," Mary?Margaret says, and
though Amy feels her stomach tighten, she keeps her expression the same.
When nobody looks away from the TV, Mary?Margaret says, "You know,
she walks down by the lake. That's where they found that girl. I told you
about that, Jimmy, and I told her about it too. That girl, she'd been
strangled with her own hair, and it was weeks before they found her. For
all you know, there might be more girls going to be killed, and then
Ellen, she don't listen, she goes walking down there at night without a
brain in her head when there's men out there who would wrap a sweet girl's
braid around her throat." She strokes her own throat, her fingers
pushing deep beneath the pink collar.
Copyright 1998 by A. Manette Ansay. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Avon Books.