Once Upon a River
When Margo arrived at the marijuana house, the midnight crickets were screaming. On her twelve-hour, thirty-some-mile trip downstream she had passed swampy places croaking with bullfrogs, but here the tree frogs chirped like insects. Margo pulled her boat onto the sand and climbed up the bank. The place was overgrown, spooky in its neglect. The dock was pulled out of the water, and grass and weeds poked up through the slats. Plywood was nailed over several of the windows, and glass shards in the dirt reflected moonlight. Both doors had padlocks on them. She lit the kerosene lantern she'd swiped from Brian's cabin before heading down the river. She held the lantern up and read the signs posted on both doors: KEEP OUT NO TRESPASSING, with THIS MEANS YOU spray-painted beneath. Junior's pot leaf had been painted over. When neither of the uncovered windows would budge, she began to pry at one of the pieces of plywood.
Before coming down the river, she had hung around downstream from Michael's house for a few days, but did not see any police. She knew they would eventually find Paul, and they'd almost certainly investigate the cabin on stilts. She'd slipped inside the cabin to procure a few items for her journey: the lantern, a small folding military shovel that she was now using to pry at the plywood, a fishing pole, a bottle of bug dope, and a jug of water. She had wiped clean all the surfaces that might contain fingerprints, but if the police brought drug-sniffing dogs, they would smell her. She hoped that Michael had not contacted the authorities. She was sorry to have hurt him.
She worked at the quarter-inch plywood for a long time, pulling out one nail after another, until eventually it was loosened enough that she could slip beneath it and through the empty window frame. She carried the lantern inside with her. The kitchen area was the same as before, with candles melted onto the Formica tabletop. The mattress on which Junior and his friends used to sit to smoke pot in the main room had been replaced by a plaid fold-out couch. She peeked in the bedroom and found it a mess, with bits of mattress stuffing spread across the floor along with wood scraps. Only splintered pieces remained of the wooden bed frame on which Margo had first fooled around with a boy. She closed the door.
She searched the empty cupboards. Inside a bread box she found a boxed brownie mix, and in the drawer beneath the oven, a tin pie pan. She collected paper and wood in a bag to use for starting a fire and carried them outside through the window. She ventured a little downstream until she found the Slocums' garden. Margo knew that if she took vegetables, it was stealing, but she remembered how her father had done favors for the Slocums, once fixing a space heater that had gone out on a cold night, and she picked four tomatoes and a big handful of beans. She built a fire just upstream from where her boat was hidden. She stirred water into the brownie mix and balanced the pie tin of batter above the fire on three rocks, and while it cooked, she munched the raw vegetables. The brownies burned on the bottom, but still tasted sweet and good.
When her belly was full for the first time in days, she noticed the moon was full, too.
Excerpted from Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell. Copyright © 2011 by Bonnie Jo Campbell. Excerpted by permission of Norton. 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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