Excerpt of Vinegar Hill by A Manette Ansay
(Page 6 of 7)
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She folds up the collar on James' s coat; she is walking hard now,
swinging her arms. It feels good to move her body, to break into a sweat
and flush with bright heat, her heart a steady song inside her. She spent
most of her childhood working outdoors with her sisters, Pulling thistles
in the fields, shoveling stalls in the cow barn, carrying heavy pails of
milk. Even now, her shoulders are rounded from the weight of those pails;
her legs and upper arms brim with muscle. As she turns toward the lake,
gusts of wind pinch her cheeks and she squints to see the moon rippling
between the clouds, following beside her like a curious eye. The lake is
rough, so she chooses the higher path that winds its way past the
courthouse, past the band shell, past the water treatment plant, until it
reaches the upper bluff park.
Many years ago, a woman was found dead somewhere along this trail.
She'd been killed by her husband, strangled with her own braided hair.
People have seen her ghost here, but Ellen is not afraid. If she appears,
Ellen will show her the outcropping of rock that looks like a cow, and the
shadowy sumac with its soft, deer fur, and the moon's odd dance through
the clouds. She will remind her how there are so many things on the earth
that are beautiful and good. Even a ghost must remember some happiness.
Even in the midst of that terrible marriage, there must have been moments
when she slipped away and swam naked in a nearby creek or walked along the
lakefront picking up stones. The ghost will remember those quiet times;
she'll lead Ellen up the path, saying, This is where the wild strawberries
grow thickest; this is where I came to braid my hair.
But the ghost does not appear; soon Ellen has reached the upper bluff
park. The trail ends beneath a clump of pines that overlooks Holly's
Field. Ellen feels the way she thinks God must feel, powerful and strong.
The town below seems like a toy town: there is the fire department with
its large, circular drive; there is the police station, the church, the
tavern, the grocery store, and the mill. Tiny cars line the streets,
tucked nose to tail, and the green paper trees are capped in white. The
rows of houses twinkle with lights; each of them looks the same. If she
reaches down and swings open the hinged walls, there will be the mothers
and fathers, the brothers and sisters, the cats and dogs, all with
red?paint smiles. Ellen can almost believe this, standing beneath the
When she gets home, it is after nine. The house is dark; she lets
herself in with James's key from his coat pocket. The stale smell of the
house swallows her in. She turns on the lights, hangs up her coat takes
off her shoes, all by rote, A toy house, she thinks, with toy children and
toy mothers and fathers. She feels deliciously calm, self?centered. Her
glasses fog and she takes them off, wipes them with a comer of her shirt.
Without them, the room is softly blurred. She puts them back on and shapes
snap into focus: couch, chair, coffee table, television, the Last Supper
framed in mock gold. Jesus is stretching a hand out to Judas, who has
already turned away. Ellen has often wondered what it was that Judas
intended to buy with the thirty pieces of silver. Thirty pieces of silver
must have been a lot of money. You could go away on thirty pieces of
silver, far away, and never come back.
But there is nowhere Ellen wants to go. James and the children are
here; her mother and sisters are close by, and even though she doesn't get
to visit them often, she likes knowing that they are near.
As soon as she and James have their own apartment, things will get
better between them. And they'll have visitors: Ellen's sisters, old
friends she lost track of when she moved to Illinois, new friends she and
James will make together, friends of the children. She looks around the
living room, realizing it won't be difficult to move: nothing here belongs
to either of them. Before they left Illinois they'd had a huge rummage
sale. After they'd sold what they could not fit in the car or send by
mail, they found themselves with seven hundred dollars.
Copyright 1998 by A. Manette Ansay. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Avon Books.