Take Me Home
It was mid-afternoon when Addie finally got on the train going
to Rock Springs. The bright, cloudless sky was comforting as
an embrace. Addie gripped her cloth sack and leaned against the
window. Cheyenne was a surprisingly orderly city, built on a grid
that lipped right up to the train tracks, but the precision made
her nervous, made her feel hemmed in. It was certainly a change
from what she'd seen coming into Cheyenne. Wyoming Territory,
the expanse of it all, gave her a grand new feeling, as if all her life
she'd been living in a crate and someone came along, ripped off the
top, and let all four sides drop away. It seemed as if a person, even
a woman, could stand and walk off in any direction they chose.
Where else could she think such a thing? The land didn't give you
much to work with, it was true, but on the other hand it looked so
swept clean that not much was bound to get in your way. And the
thing about heading out for fresh places, she decided, was not that
she was getting dumber, but that there was a new thing to learn
every five feet. It was enough to wear a person out.
Rock Springs was just hours off, and she felt safe enough to take a nap, though she peered down the length of the car at the other passengers just to be sure. Maybe weeks earlier some of them might have given her reason for pause, but now the dusty lot was unexceptional: a father, mother, and son wearily leaning on each other; a paunchy man with a raccoon tail for a beard, his companion a baggy-eyed colored man wearing a brass-buttoned vest and clutching a fiddle case; and at the far end, a gray-haired woman and her even grayer husband biting into what Addie thought at first was an apple but took to be a Brandywine when juice dripped off her chin. What must Addie look like to these passengers, she wondered, a green-eyed pile of dirt? Not someone to rob, that was for sure. She closed her eyes to the clomp of boots and plopped-down bags of other riders, which became, as she fell asleep, the sound of chopping wood.
Then there was the vision of her mother, her dress soaked with perspiration as she swung an ax down and through a piece of maple standing on end, splitting it near perfect as she always did. With each strike, Addie's mother looked at the divided wood and the growing pile and then all around her. No daughter or son nearby to carry it away. "I'm right here," Addie wanted to call out, but her dream would not let her. So her mother continued, wiping her face between each perfect blow, never pausing to take aim. She didn't need to. Her mother's hands held an ax so often they had a mind of their own. They were hands made for God's earth, her grandmother used to say. But if that was true, Addie had always thought, He certainly made the rest of the body suffer for it. Addie had felt the thick calluses of her mother's palms pass as soft as they could over her cheek, the tenderness a contradiction of sensation, like coming upon a barbed-wire coil set around April larkspur. With a jolt of the train Addie popped awake. It had been precious too little time asleep, though as she looked out the window she saw they'd made it outside Cheyenne. Here again was the land she preferred, the distant horizon meeting clear sky, calling to mind the shoreline of an impossibly blue lake. It was a wonder people chose to cram themselves together in Cheyenne rather than do what her brother had, get a big piece of land and spread your arms as wide as you chose. "You must have been very tired," a woman sitting next to her said.
It was the first time Addie noticed she had a companion. "Every inch of me," she said, focusing on the sturdy, scrubbed-clean woman, who had tightly drawn gray hair that kept streaks of its former brown. Her dress was the powdery green of poplar buds. But tidy as she was, her yellowish, rough-looking hands gave away the fact she'd known hard work.
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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