Pietroni reads from Ruby's Spoon against the backdrop of Black Country (text excerpt below):
Fly, a. 1. Knowing, wide-awake. 2. Of the fingers: Nimble, skillful.
Cradle Cross was circled round with water, and Ruby could not cross it. To the east ran Ludleye Gutter, a brook that carved a broad but shallow conduit through the clay. To the north and south and west, canals curbed Cradle Crossfilthy slits of water called the Cut; beneath the waterline, wood rotted down to slime, and wire and rusted iron. Not like the sea, where you dont know what the tide might bringa whale, off-course; a raft; a barrel full of something rare and brightthe Cut brought barges loaded up with steel tubes, salt and coal and rivets. And two weeks before the fire that burned Horn Lane, the Cut brought Isa Fly to Cradle Cross.
The Cut ran right behind Horn Laneit kinked round at the southern end of Blickses and swelled out to a basin where the barges turned when theyd unloaded heads of Russian cows or picked up sacks of blood-bone fertilizer for the farms. The Cut then narrowed and ran straight for half a mile behind the vast vaulted horn shed, behind the little row of houses, up and under Wytepole Bridge and on for Lapple. For years now Ruby hadnt dared to walk along the towpath, but she could just manage sitting above it, on the top of the three steep stone steps out the back of Captins Fried Fish Shop, with her back safely pressed against the doorframe. This nightthe night the Cut brought Isa Flywas hot even for July and Ruby came out every now and then, just when the shop was quiet, and sat with Captins best knife and a bucket, starting on potatoes for the next day. She could peel potatoes without looking down, angling the knife so when it hit her thumb it wouldnt slip into her skin, and from her top step she watched the inky, shifting watersthe Cut could not be trusted and it needed watching. Captins narrowboat, his Ferret, nodded gently at its mooring. Looking left, she could see as far down as the gas lamp in the wall on Blickses Kink, and right, to the lantern hanging from a ring sunk in the capstone on Wytepole Bridge. Not much traffic on the Cut on Friday nights.
Shed worked for Captin (Fridays, Saturdays) since she was ten, and she was saving for a boat. Three years shed stood beside him at the counter, dishing up fish suppers to the well-off women, serving out chip ends and skate knobs to the rest. The pattern of the evening, every week: first off, little boys with a penny between them, asking for a bag of bits. Later, courting couples wanting to share a packet so they could stand elbow to elbow. At closing time, the young men from the Leopard would come, taking swigs of vinegar for bets when they thought she wasnt looking. Shed want to lean across the counter with her spatula and smack their sticky fingers; shout, I saw that, Alf Malpass! Bog off, Jimmy Male! But instead, she knew, shed look away and take her pinny to the fat, blind jar of pickled eggs and polish up the glass.
That half-hour lull before the pub closed, Captin and Ruby enjoyed the easy quiet and didnt talk much while they worked: he checked the range and flicked a glob of batter in to test the fat; she scoured the counter and put out fresh greaseproof squares beside the paper, ready to wrap chips, then Captin wiped the counter down again. It ay as I doe trust yo, Ruby, yo knows that. The only way as fish-friers thrive
Excerpted from Ruby's Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni Copyright © 2010 by Anna Lawrence Pietroni. Excerpted by permission of Spiegel & Grau, 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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