The cottage is on a lake named Margrethe, in a mite of a town named Grayling. The prior owners named the cottage "Deezeezdaplas." Papa left the name hanging near the front door as a "welcome" sign. (Mama said it was more of an unwelcome sign.) And he painted the cottage the Danish-flag red and white "to fit in." But Grayling sits nearly two hours' drive north of our hometown of Midland, so there was no fitting in for Papa. While Mama and the Marys and I spent the whole summer at the Danish Landing, and some long weekends in the spring and fall, Papa was purely a weekender, and what the locals called a half bloodmaking ill-reference, Mama said, to the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians who'd inhabited the area long before the Danes arrived. And making Papa's pure Polish blood boil.
But it was a weekend, and fourteen-year-old Tessaby then a seasoned troublemakerand I had headed down the Old Trail to gather kindling for the campfire Papa was determined to build, even though the wind had blown the lake to foam and was spitting acorns from the trees, and the moss beneath our feet felt more like moist flesh, and the kindling we'd gathered was as wet as the towels dripping on the line and as likely to start a fire as a mound of tomatoes.
"Snake!" Mary Tessa said. Her braided hair jerked as if lopped as she sprang back. The kindling rolled down her legs. Tessathe closest Mary to my age, but still three years my seniorwas no rookie when it came to snakes. She and I had kept a box of garters on more than one occasion. But her voice was high pitched, her body stiff.
"Where?" I said. "What? Is it a rattler?"
I knew there were rattlers in these woods. Papa had told us of them. "The eastern massasauga rattlesnake lives in these woods, girls."
"What kind of name is massasauga?" I'd asked. But Papa ignored me.
"It's the only venomous snake in Michigan," he'd said. "And it's rare. But it's out there. Make noise when you head onto the Old Trail. Scare those snakes away. Clap your hands. Bang sticks together." Then he'd sent us off to carry back loads of kindling, reminding us to never talk to strangers, "especially those red-skinned natives." I assumed at the time he was referring to the Rasmusson boys, whose sun-fried Danish skin was a peeling hot pink. I'd seen Papa watching them watch bikini-wearing Gracewho was eighteen going on eight, as far as Papa was concerned.
I tried to push past Tessa to see the snake, but she spread her own sunburnt arms wide. "No, Yllis," she said. "No. Go back."
"I'm not going back," I said. "I want to eye that snake." I slipped under her outstretched arm, but she caught me by the hair.
"Hey," I said. I dropped my kindling, swatted at her, but my efforts were fruitless. At just three years older, Tessa was twice my size. "You can't do that. You let me go."
"I said go back." And she dragged me by my hair, but she couldn't stop my looking, she couldn't stop my seeing. The snake was a rattlesnake. But it was dead. Not just dead. Someone had sliced off its flat triangle head and carefully slit its body wide, pinned it flat. Its entrails lay exposed there, in all their completenessand the rattle, too. And I saw there was an amazing beauty about those entrails, that hollowed-out rattle and that decapitated head with its cat-pupil eyes. Yes, there was a beautiful, remarkable mystery in how perfect it all was. How smart. As if someone had sketched out those innards again and again before getting it just right. The plump blob of heart beneath the elongated left lung, and the right lung snaking thin between the stretched stomach and liver, ending alongside the coil of small intestine. The greenish gallbladder ball hugged by the darker pancreas ball. The kidneys like worms, one chasing the other. I knew these body partsI'd found Mary Catherine's Sophomore Anatomy discarded in the trash, and I'd hidden the book beneath my bed. But there lay what I thought were human parts, all thinned out as snake parts.
Excerpted from Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum. Copyright © 2011 by Christina Meldrum. Excerpted by permission of Gallery Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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