The dry summer had passed, lilac and fireweed and the few wild roses withering in the headlands beyond the fields. Jude watched, drab clothes ghosted against dirt, an animal poised. On an October morning, as he went to cut kindling by the water pump, one of Isa-Marie's schoolmates was waiting on the road to Mass. The boy had rim glasses like those of the Monsignor and had once been praised by the schoolteacher for composing a sonnet on the life of St. Francis. He was holding a roll of paper bound in silk ribbon, which he extended when Isa-Marie stopped before him. He'd just begun to speak as Jude came down the hill through the trees with the thrashing of a bull elk. Without pause or warning, Jude leapt the embankment and carried the boy to the out-house, where he kicked back the board and shoved his head into the rudiments and slime.
That evening, a brief, cold rain fell, and in sunset's last silvery light, small pools shone as if the flat rocks of the coast had been strewn with mirrors. Isa-Marie had turned back on the road and skipped Mass. She'd gone home and into her room and hadn't so much as glanced at Jude when he came in to mug about. She lay in herbed, turned away. He sat and shrugged and cracked his swollen knuckles, his glazed, red face blinking widely, often, as if to communicate feeling. Finally, he went outside and stood in the windy dark. The tide scraped the coast, and between a few isolated clouds a comet sketched a slow, bright flare. He stayed there until dawn lit the gradual contours of the eastern mountains.
Isa didn't leave her bed the next day. At first no one noticed that she hadn't gone to school, but when, two days later, she remained curled in her blankets, the aunts began to murmur. Jude felt Hervé Hervé watching him. Winter was coming on hard, and Isa- Marie had always found the cold difficult. Dawns, when ice flowers sprouted from the stomped and rutted mud of the road, Jude returned inside and went into her room. She wouldn't look at him. She lay on the bed, breathing shallowly, turned to the window. What sunlight filtered through the dirty glass made her skin appear translucent, bluish veins in her temples and throat.
Now, as he did his chores, for the first time he dimly sensed all that he didn't understand. Because of his and Isa-Marie's silence or because she'd been born in his arms and their hearts had beat together so long, he'd assumed to know her mind. But perhaps she'd been in love, the moments before he came crashing onto the road the happiest of her life. He worked in a frenzy, feeding animals and mucking the barn, heaps of manure steaming in the pasture. A dry, crystalline snow fell and puffed about his feet. He gazed up at her window. He tried to understand her heart, to know what would make her better. He closed his eyes and saw sunshine. He saw the cup of the world spreading like a flower with dawn, wide and brilliant beneath the sun, then wilting into a fragrant dark.
The tourists were fleeing winter, their long cars passing along the road in convoys. Days shortened, the sky a cramped, closed space, low and gray, and in the gradual darkness the coast became a rim of ash. Only a few lingered with cameras and tripods, parking in the weeds and hiking onto rises to click shots of the sea, the turning leaves, the rough, exposed shape of the land. Jude watched them, these often thin, dapper men who wore their pants tight at the waist like skirts, and others, long-haired, sporting dainty glasses with colored lenses. They ventured into his field, stumbling on the furrows, watching the swift, automatic motion of his digging as he brought up potatoes from cold, clean dirt. He considered them violently, twisting the shovel deeper.
Though it was hardly possible not to overhear stories of the U.S., Jude had never seen any point in joining the speculation. Talk of fine pay and cheap, easy living meant nothing to him. Maybe, for some, the stony earth and brief summers were not enough, but he'd wanted little else. Only now, for the first time, he wondered who the tourists were, where they came from, what they knew. His father had been one, and his mother had gone south, and so perhaps, he considered, they were his people, too.
Excerpted from Vandal Love by Deni Y Béchard. Copyright © 2012 by Deni Y Béchard. Excerpted by permission of Milkweed Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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