She stayed in the living room with the baby while Gar led Almondine to the workshop. Up and down the aisle the dogs stood in their pens. He turned on the lights and tried to sketch out a plan on a piece of paper, but his hands shook and the dimensions wouldnt come out right. He cut himself with the saw, peeling back the skin across two knuckles, and he bandaged them with the kit in the barn rather than walk back to the house. It took until midmorning to build a box and a cross. He didnt paint them because in that wet weather it would have taken days for the paint to dry. He carried a shovel through the south field to the little grove of birches, their spring bark gleaming brilliant white, and there he dug a grave.
In the house they put two blankets in the bottom of the casket and laid the swaddled baby inside. It wasnt until then that he thought about sealing the casket. He looked at Trudy.
Ive got to nail it shut, he said. Let me take it out to the barn. No, she said. Do it here.
He walked to the barn and got a hammer and eight nails and the whole way back to the house he brooded over what he was about to do. Theyd set the casket in the middle of the living room. He knelt in front of it. It had turned out looking like a crate, he saw, though he had done the best he could. He drove a nail into each corner and he was going to put one in the center of each side but all at once he couldnt. He apolo- gized for the violence of it. He laid his head against the rough wood of the casket. Trudy ran her hand down his back without a word. He picked up the casket and carried it to the birch grove and they lowered it into the hole and shoveled dirt over it. Almondine, just a pup at the time, stood beside them in the rain. Gar cut a crescent in the sod with the spade and pounded the cross into the ground with the flat side of the hammer. When he looked up, Trudy lay unconscious in the newly greened hay.
She woke as they sped along the blacktop north of Mellen. Outside the truck window the wind whipped the falling rain into half-shapes that flickered and twirled over the ditches. She closed her eyes, unable to watch without growing dizzy. She stayed in the Ashland hospital that night and when they returned the following afternoon, the rain still fell, the shapes still danced.
It so happened that their back property line lay exactly along the course of a creek that ran south through the Chequamegon forest. Most of the year, the creek was only two or three feet wide and so shallow you could snatch a rock from the bottom without getting your wrist wet. When Schultz had erected a barbed-wire fence, he dutifully set his posts down the center of the stream.
Edgar and his father walked there sometimes in the winter, when only the tops of the fence posts poked through the snowdrifts and the water made trickling, marble-clicking sounds, for though the creek wasnt wide enough or fast enough to dissolve the snow that blanketed it, neither did it freeze. One time Almondine tipped her head at the sound, fixed the source, then plunged her front feet through the snow and into the icy water. When Edgar laughed, even his silent laugh, her ears dropped. She lifted one paw after the other into the air while he rubbed them dry with his hat and gloves, and they walked back, hands and paws alike stinging.
For a few weeks each spring, the creek was transformed into a sluggish, clay-colored river that swept along the forest floor for ten feet on either side of the fence posts. Any sort of thing might float past in flood season - soup cans, baseball cards, pencils - their origins a mystery, since nothing but forest lay upstream. The sticks and chunks of rotten wood Edgar tossed into the syrupy current bobbed and floated off, all the way to the Mississippi, he hoped, while his father leaned against a tree and gazed at the line of posts.
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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