I closed the door and went to the threshold between the kitchen and the sitting room. "Please keep reading," I said. He forced the words out.
And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature that crawls, with which the waters swarmed, according to their kind, and every winged fowl, according to its kind, and God saw that it was good.
And the Lord God formed from the earth every beast of the field and every fowl of the heavens, and He brought it to man to see what he would call it, and whatever the man called each living thing, that was its name.
My father considered me. His brown eyes were gray in the light. His beard was wiry and ragged-looking, his hands stubby. We all stood still. We watched the mountains where smoke still did not rise, where the silver flyer did not circle back. The blast already seemed like a dream, meaningless and impossible.
Wheat blew against the ground in surrender. The sky flattened, the cottonwoods slapped leaves against leaves. The rain kept coming and we kept watching it come. The froth-white river tumbled all of her stones.
And a mist ascended from the earth and watered the entire surface of the ground.
After hours of waiting for the airplane to return, after the rain quieted to a soft dust, under the palm of a cool pink sky, our river sounded like our river again and we crept out to see what the world looked like now that it was coming apart. The air was thick with the scent of soaked sheep. Our feet stuck in the mud, our clothes caught on blown branches. We stood in the wind-combed wheat above the river. The mountains where the explosion had taken place looked no different from how they ever had. The sky was the sky, vast and prickling with light.
The riverbanks were alive with slapping fish. Beached and afraid, they curled up like question marks. "Something to save," I said, grateful, and I began to gather the fish in my skirt. I walked carefully, the mud slippery and deep, my skinny white legs browning, my socks falling down, until I threw open my bundle in one shining, silver delivery. Back in the water, the fish flicked their tails and disappeared. Everyone joined in, filling dresses and pants pockets and arms with slipping, flapping fi sh. The fish, stronger than they looked, swam out of our hands and made us laugh. We chased them, saying, "We won't hurt you. We're trying to take you home."
As we worked, the banks stopped glimmering with the jewels of trout, but the river receded to offer other treasures. I picked up the spout of a tea-pot, filled with silt. The front half of a piano smiled with its teeth punched out. The butcher found a gentlemen's wool hat with a ribbon around it. From the muck we pulled two bowls, one jewelry box full of mud, a doll with no legs, a matted sweater, some cut logs, a hand-drawn map of the summer constellations smudged but readable, and a woman. A woman - hair, teeth, feet, fingers all. And she was alive.
Excerpted from No One is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2012 by Ramona Ausubel.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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