He laughed. "It's a little farther than nowhere."
"Sounds like you need a wife more than a sister."
"Almost had one," he said, sitting down again. "Emiline was her name, real pretty and sweet. But she said yes to another fella who had better prospects."
She heard his heart in his voice, and, pushing her stool next to him, Addie sat with her arm around his back. "Sorry to hear it," Addie said. "But someone will come along."
"It's for the best, I reckon." Tommy stared at the ground. "I got this idea there's one person in the world can make you happier than anyone else."
"Just one, Tommy?"
He looked at her and smiled. "It's long odds, I know. But it's something to hope for. Till then," he said, tousling her hair, "it's you, me, and eighty acres. And besides, you're the one we got to get married."
There was a response, to be sure, but she decided to hold it. A woman steps into a snare the day she's born, Addie had learned. Her mother warned her about it before loosing herself, which was the difficult thing for Addie, understanding her mother had fled an unhappy life and at the same time wondering if she herself had played a part in the unhappiness. If Addie had done something differently, might her mother have stayed? Could it have outweighed the kind of husband her father became?
She looked around the hovel in which she and Tommy were sitting. Worthless as her father was when the drink took him, even he, at first, managed to keep the family in food and clothes, and the cabin mostly intact. Addie thought of the shabby town they'd walked through to get here. There was its creek with undrinkable water, and the coolies she'd been warned against. And if Dire was anything like Rock Springs, she was better off alone wherever Tommy had his homestead. She looked at her brother and then at the sad little sack that contained everything she owned and what money she had left. And when she found herself nodding, it was as if her body had made up its mind before her brain. "Guess I'll need an apron."
"No," Tommy said, winking. "You'll need guns." It was an uncomfortable night of sleep, Addie taking the carved shelf with the wool blanket, her brother on the dirt floor with a coat propped under his head for a pillow. He'd fallen fast asleep, but she lay awake in total darkness. Now and then there were voices outside, men speaking words she didn't recognize except for the slurring quality. She'd lived with her father long enough to understand that drunkenness was an international language.
But it wasn't the strange voices that were on Addie's mind; it was that suddenly she was a homesteader with Tommy, which felt like stepping backward. It wasn't an apron she was hoping for, but something else she couldn't name. There wasn't a word for it, the idea that she wanted to make her own way, choose the folks who might help her along, rather than be told exactly what she was confined to hoping for. It was an impractical thought, she decided. It was men who owned, who needed support. Their father had tried to carve out a living on a parcel of land in Kentucky, and that came to nothing, worse than nothing. Her mother abandoned them, Tommy left too, and after a few years of helping her father haul wood into Orgull, Addie practically had to drag him into town as well, away from the place he didn't want to leave and didn't have the discipline to keep up with. By the end, the cabin was more leaky and drafty than it had ever been. The elm that partially hung over the roof split in two, coming down on the roof, to which her father merely replied, "That was your ma's favorite tree."
After the elm, the drinking got worse, if that was possible. On his better days her father roused himself in the morning and headed into the woods with his ax and saw, and the mule too if he planned to get any real work done. She could hear him out there sometimes, the thwack of steel against green wood, the thrush and thump of a falling tree. But even on these better days, more and more often the woods eventually got quiet except for the birds and chattering of bitter squirrels. Evening would commence, and Addie knew what she had to do, track her father down before nightfall. The scene was always the same, him sitting on the ground, back against a felled tree. The mule watched her approach with indifference, and it shamed her to think that her father was the duller animal of the pair.
Excerpted from Take Me Home by Doris Haddock. Copyright © 2010 by Doris Haddock. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. 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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