The long howl of a wolf rolls over me like a toothache. Higher up, shots ring out, the echoes stretching away till theyre not quite heard but more remembered.
Theres nobody on this strip of mountain now but me and Ida, and my grandson, Willm. While I love the boy more than life, Idas a hole in another sock. She lives in the tar paper shack in back of our place, and in spite of this being the coldest winter recorded in Kentucky, shes standing out there now, wrapped in a blanket, quoting scripture and swearing like a lumberjack. Her white hairs ratted up like a wild womans.
Im Idas child. That makes her my maam, and my pap was Tate Harker. I wish he were here instead of buried by the outhouse.
Whoevers shooting the wolves is trespassing.
Ill be out with the boy for a while, I tell Ida.
Ive brought her a boiled egg, bread and butter, a wedge of apple wrapped in cloth, and a mug of hot tea. She follows me inside and sits on her cot. Idas face is yellowed from years of smoke, her lips gone thin, and her neck is like a turkeys wattle. Although theres a clean nightgown folded on a crate by her bed, she hasnt gotten out of this one for almost three weeks.
Pap once told me that when he first met Ida, she was pretty and full of fire. She rode her donkey all over creation, preaching streets of gold over the short road to hell. She still calls daily on the Lord to deliver her from drunkards and thieves and the likes of me. Last summer, she sent off for Bibles in seven languages, then never opened the boxes. Its dark in Idas shack, and thick with liniment and old age smells. Maybe its the sagging cartons, still unpacked, although my Saul moved her here a dozen years ago. Then he died, too.
I cant eat apples with these false teeth, she says.
Willm saved it for you.
Pleases you, dont it, me stuck in this pigsty while you and the boy live like royalty.
Royalty is a cold-water kitchen behind the grocery store. Willm sleeps in an alcove next to the woodstove. I take the bedroom. Here in the cabin, Ive tried to better Idas life, bring a table, hang a curtain, but she says no, shell be crossin soon.
Ill be out with the boy for a while, I repeat.
Ill ask God to forgive your sins, Olivia.
Idas not the only thing that sets my teeth on edge. I worry about the way folks come for groceries but have no money. Most of the time, they take what they need. Willm and I write everything down, and they pay as they cansometimes in yams or yellow onions, a setting hen when the debt gets too high.
If Pap was here, hed tell me everything was going to be all right.
Hurry up if youre going with me, I tell Willm.
Damn fools errand. I put on my big wool cape and mittens. I have Sauls rifle.
Willm brings the toboggan from the barn. Hes wearing a pair of old boots and so many shirts that he looks like a pile of laundry. I can barely make out his dark grey eyes through the round holes in his wool cap. I know what hes thinking, just like Pap used tosome injured thing might need his care.
Ill be forty-two next yeartoo old and thick-legged to plow uphill through snow that makes my hips ache. I should be home in my kitchen, warming beans from last nights supper. Behind me, Willm pulls the toboggan by its rope. We havent gone far before my fingers are froze, my toes are numb, and I realize Ive misjudged the light. Where the snow lays smooth and clean, we stop to get our breath. Its darker up here among the alders and pine. I set the lantern on the toboggan, strike a match, and lay the flame to the wick.
Excerpted from Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall Copyright © 2009 by Carolyn Wall. Excerpted by permission of Delta, 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
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