Jackson hadn't rejected the idea outright. Willa Fern was a goodlooking woman, at least in the framed photo Warren had kept on his desk, and she was neither too old nor too young - mid- thirties - and Jackson had entertained a Pygmalion fantasy in which he played Rex Harrison to her Julie Andrews, or perhaps her Audrey Hepburn.
He heard a sound under the deck. The groundhog. He'd been so quiet for such a long time in his musings that the groundhog must have thought it was safe to go down to the stream. The dog started barking, but instead of going back down in his hole the groundhog made a break for it.
He had a second hole, of course, in the front of the house by the woodpile. Jackson kept filling both holes with a mixture of dirt and clay, only to find them opened up the next time he looked. The groundhog was scuttling down to the stream. He was halfway down the slope by the time Jackson had him in his sights. Jackson closed one eye, sited on the groundhog, which was turning to look at him. He pulled the trigger, the gun fired, the groundhog scuttled down to the stream.
He took shells out of the .22 and put them back in the box on the table. He put the gun back in its case. He made another small pot of espresso in one of Claude's many espresso pots, a French pot with a spout on it. This one had a little shelf. You put your cup on the little shelf and the coffee came out of the spout and into the cup. If you forgot to put a cup on the shelf, as he sometimes did, the coffee spilled all over the stove and ran down into the burners.
He drove into town. The dog, Maya, riding shotgun.
He stopped at Farm King on the way into town and bought a Have- a-Heart trap. The clerk, who recognized Jackson and called him "professor," suggested pouring antifreeze down the groundhog holes.
"What about the dog?"
"You want to keep the dog away from there for a few days."
"Any other ideas?"
"Get yourself a hose and pour ammonia down the hole. Wait a couple of minutes," she said, "to let the ammonia settle. Then you add a bottle of bleach and get the hell out of there. You don't want to breath that stuff. You know, a lot of house wives get sick that way, mixing ammonia and bleach. They think..."
Jackson paid for the Have- a-Heart trap.
"You put some canned peaches in there, you'll get something."
He put the trap in the back of the truck and stayed on the highway instead of turning on Farm King Road to avoid the smell from the meat processing plant when the wind was from the north; past the prison, then east on Broadway to the Circle at the center of town. It was the most attractive way to approach the town, Colesville, named after Edward Coles, an abolitionist governor who eventually got disgusted with Illinois politics and went back to Philadelphia. Broadway, once you got past Lindon Road, was lined with big houses and big trees, oaks and maples and an occasional elm that had survived the blight. The houses were eccentric, but lovely in new coats of paint. Like the houses in San Francisco, except they weren't all jammed together.
At Cornucopia on East Main Street he bought gorgonzola instead of one of the more expensive French blue cheeses, fresh pasta, French bread. He'd spent a year in France with his parents, when he was twelve, and then he'd gone back on his own for a year of doing nothing in Paris. After a week at the international youth hostel on the rue Trousseau, he and a French girl from Toulouse who was looking for a roommate moved into a little apartment on the rue Stanislas, across from a tanning salon (Centre de Bronzage). They shopped every day at a fruiterie on the boulevard du Montparnasse and at the same charcuterie that his mother had patronized across from the Métro station. He still shopped every day, at the Hy-Vee in Colesville, and at Cornucopia. It was a way of getting out, giving a shape to the day, being around people, seeing what looked good. He hadn't had much appetite for a while, but it was coming back, and he was able to drink a little beer or wine now without any ill effects.
Excerpted from Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga. Copyright © 2010 by Robert Hellenga. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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