They saw an otter once, floating belly up in the floodwater, feet pointed downstream, grooming the fur on its chest - a little self-contained canoe of an animal. As it passed, the otter realized it was being watched and raised its head. Round eyes, oily and black. The current swept it away while their gazes were locked in mutual surprise.
For days after her return from the hospital, Trudy lay in bed watching raindrops pattern the window. Gar cooked meals and carried them to her. She spoke just enough to reassure him, then turned to stare out the window. After three days the rain let up but gray clouds blan- keted the earth. Neither sun nor moon had appeared since the stillbirth. At night Gar put his arms around her and whispered to her until he fell into a sleep of exhaustion and disappointment.
Then one morning Trudy got out of bed and came downstairs and washed and sat to eat breakfast in the kitchen. She was pale but not en- tirely withdrawn. The weather had turned warm and after breakfast Gar talked her into sitting in a big overstuffed chair that he moved out to the porch. He brought her a blanket and coffee. She told him, as gently as she could, to leave her be, that she was fine, that she wanted to be alone. And so he stayed Almondine on the porch and walked to the kennel. After morning chores he carried a brush and a can of white paint to the birches. When he finished painting the cross he used his hands to turn the dirt where paint had dripped. The slow strokes of the brush on the wood had been all right but the touch of the earth filled him with misery. He didnt want Trudy to see him like that. Instead of returning to the kennel he followed the south fence line through the woods. Long days of rain had swelled the creek until it topped the second strand of barbed wire. He found a tree to lean against and absently counted the whirlpools curling behind the fence posts. The sight provided him some solace, though he couldnt have said why. After a while he caught sight of what he took to be a clump of leaf litter twisting along, brown against the brown water. Then, with a little shock, he saw it wasnt leaf litter at all, but an animal, struggling and sputtering. It drifted into an eddy and bobbed under the water and when it came to the surface again he heard a faint but unmistakable cry.
By the time he reached the fence, the creek water was over his knees - warmer than he expected, but what surprised him most was the strength of the current. He was forced to grab a fence post to keep his balance. When the thing swept close, he reached across and scooped it from the water and held it in the air to get a good look. Then he tucked it into his coat, keeping his hand inside to warm the thing, and walked straight up through the woods and into the field below the house.
Trudy, sitting on the porch, watched Gar emerge from the woods. As he passed through a stand of aspen saplings he seemed to shimmer into place between their trunks like a ghost, hand cradled to his chest. At first she thought hed been hurt but she wasnt strong enough to walk out to meet him and so she waited and watched.
On the porch, he knelt and held out the thing for her to see. He knew it was still alive because all the long walk through the field it had been biting weakly on his fingers. What he held was a pup of some kind - a wolf, perhaps, though no one had seen one around for years. It was wet and shivering, the color of a handful of leaves and barely bigger than his palm. The pup had revived enough to be scared. It arched its back and yowled and huffed and scrabbled its hind feet against Gars callused hands. Almondine pressed her muzzle around Gars arm, wild to see the thing, but Trudy downed her sternly and took the pup and held it for a minute to look it over, then pressed it to her neck. Quiet now, she said, shush now. She offered her littlest finger for it to suckle.
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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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