They had never heard anyone speak this way before, certainly not to them or about them. She stared at them to drive her point home. There was convincing rage and righteousness in her eyes, watery blue as they were, and Jack laughed.
"Oh yes," she said, "I know who you are. The boy thief, the boy drunkard! While your father tells the people how to live! He deserves you!" Then, "Why so quiet? You have never heard the truth before?"
Daniel, the oldest of them, said, "You shouldnt talk that way. If you were a man, Id probably have to hit you."
"Hah! Yes, you good Christians, you come into my house to threaten violence! I will report you to the sheriff. There is a little justice, even in America!" She waved her fist again.
Jack laughed. He said, "Its all right. Lets go home." And she said, "Yes, listen to your brother. He knows about the sheriff!"
So they trooped out the door, which was slammed after them, and filed home in the evening light absorbing what they had heard. They agreed that the woman was crazy and her husband, too. Still, vengefulness stirred in them, and there was talk of breaking windows, letting air out of tires. Digging a pit so large and well concealed that the neighbor and his tractor would both fall in. And there would be spiders at the bottom, and snakes. And when he yelled for help they would lower a ladder with the rungs sawed through so that they would break under his weight. Ah, the terrible glee among the younger ones, while the older ones absorbed the fact that they had heard their family insulted and had done nothing about it.
They walked into their own kitchen, and there were their mother and father, waiting to hear their report. They told them that they didnt speak to the man, but the woman had yelled at them and had called their father a priest.
"Well," their mother said, "I hope you were polite."
They shrugged and looked at each other. Gracie said, "We just sort of stood there."
Jack said, "She was really mean. She even said you deserved me."
Her fathers eyes stung. He said, "Did she say that? Well now, that was kind of her. I will be sure to thank her. I hope I do deserve you, Jack. All of you, of course." That tireless tenderness of his, and Jacks unreadable quiet in the face of it.
Mr. Trotsky planted potatoes and squash the next year, corn the year after that. A nephew of the rural cousin came to help him with his crop, and in time was given the use of the field and built a small house on one corner of it and brought a wife there, and they had children. More beds of marigolds, another flapping clothesline, another roof pitched under heaven to shelter human hope and frailty. The Boughtons tacitly ceded all claim.
Excerpted from Home by Marilynne Robinson. Copyright © 2008 by Marilynne Robinson. Published in September 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured 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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