That suited Len fine. He came looking for remote and he found it, a sweet little forty-acre spread at the end of a dirt road the county quit fixing after the first ranch and behind four gates he had to get out and open, move the truck through, then climb back out and shut to keep the cattle from wandering off their range. He didnt keep cows, himself. Couldnt abide them. He had a hunting rifle his father gave him when he left Tennessee twenty- odd years before, and he rarely had to go farther than his own wood lot to bring down a deer. One animal would keep them through the winter, and one more let him trade with the fishermen up in Eureka. Every summer Meg kept a garden, and Len had his cordwood business and the little lumber mill to bring in some cash. Of course, that was when Meg had been well. Len felt the worry squeeze the box of his ribs. This was the first time hed been out past dark since her accident.
The third gate was Bow Farm, and Len eased down to push the rickety thing aside. He peered down the rutted track that led to the farm house. Thered been stories of trespassers chased off the land by women bearing shotguns. In the stories they were always big women. Big shotguns. Len had lived next door long enough to have figured out that the girls werent all that big, or half as threatening. They werent nuns, or Amish, or cult members, or all sisters with widely ranging fathers, as the rumors had variously claimed and since the tree hugger had joined them, one of them was a man. Len had to hand it to them. Nobody thought theyd stick, coming up here from the city, paying too much for that run- down spread. It was too hard a life. Too wet in the winter and hot in the summer, too many earthquakes and landslides and wild animals who shrieked and snarled in the night. But they were into their third wet season, Willow and the others, and they had saved him, in a way. He didnt know if he could have borne the heartbreak of Megs decline without their help.
The fourth gate, left open when he pulled out that morning, was his own. A single light on in the house poured its yellow into the yard. Len opened the truck door and smelled the wet dripping off the trees. Everything was damped- down and quiet. The road quit here in his driveway. Past that were dark trees and steep hillsides and a five- mile hike to the sea.
Len hadnt told anyone quite where hed gone, or why. Hed asked Willow to stay with Meg until he got back, and he could see her sitting at the kitchen table, her back to the door. He glanced sideways to make sure the kid was asleep but caught sight of the boys round face, his open eyes. Len swore slightly under his breath. He couldnt count on this one to stay put. He crossed around the front of the truck to the passenger side, scooped the boy against his chest, and carried him like a loose sack of grain into the house.
Willow lifted her head to greet him. She cut an elegant figure, with her honey hair swept up like a movie stars, her pearl earrings, those flat shoes that made her feet look dainty not the clodhopper boots Ruth and that Melody girl favored. She was the only one of the bunch to put on lipstick, and anyone could tell she wore a bra. Not that Len was looking. Not exactly. He met her gaze and brushed past Willow to lay the sleeping boy onto the couch by the wood stove. Then he crossed the floor, boards squeaking underfoot, to find his wife asleep in the single bedroom.
Megs face in the muted light was peacefully asleep. Len felt a wave of love and revulsion. It was easy to confuse Megs new blankness with peace, but blank was blank. Blank was blank was blank. If the old Meg was trapped in there, Len had no way to get her out. The old Meg was peaceful. She had never talked much but there had been a calm, an ease to her that Len felt comfortable to be around. She was competent and even- tempered and had a way of running a hand under his shirt and up his spine that tingled the base of his brain and made him yearn, without reason, for the chill and tart flavor of raspberry sherbet. She had always been a modest woman, and now, quite simply, she was not. Len did his best to satisfy her but for him the plea sure had gone out of that part of his life. He felt for the wedding band on his left hand. Fifteen years grown into the flesh of his finger, they would have to cut his hand to get it off. Though why would they. There was no need. Len and Meg. Meg and Len. Even their names were similar, brief and to the point, the consonants crowding the short e. Len. Bed. Meg. Fed. Pen. Leg. Red.
Excerpted from Wrecker by Summer Wood. Copyright © 2011 by Summer Wood. 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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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