When he returned to the house, the aunts had just arrived, quiet now. Isa-Marie's soft, persistent coughing came from upstairs. She'd always been sensitive to the chill - frileuse, the aunts had called her, la frileuse. She hadn't left her bed or eaten in days. Afraid to wake her, he listened from outside her room. The few times he'd gone in just to hear her breathe he'd stepped softly, opened or closed the door as quietly as he'd be enable. Hearing her cough, he felt as if he was struggling against something invisible, suffocating and blinding, like a blanket over his face. He wanted to know what he could do, who to fight.
From the unlit hallway he listened to his aunts.
C'est triste. But she would never have married. It was only a matter of time.
Oui, it's sad. She should have gone to the convent. Yes, the convent - she'd have made a good nun.It is sad.
Tellement triste. Elle était si jolie.
Jude stumbled outside. A gray sun settled faintly against a distant, watery horizon. Far off, the church'sspire was a frail ensign between sea and mountains. The cold mustered about him. At the docks he found Hervé Hervé. He asked what they should do - rare words, stumbling, Qu'est-ce... qu'on devrait faire? Hervé Hervé had been drinking.He'd just tied down the weir and put up the boats. Hestopped and took in Jude with his single eye.
There's no point, he said against the windy silence. They die. People die. To call a doctor would be a waste of money. You can't change anything.
In the darkening chill Jude rushed against this rage. He went to the woodpile and grabbed the axe and swung. He split savagely, driving aimless, glancing blows until the handle splintered. He crouched, panting. Not knowing how to cry, he could only groan. Stiffly, he walked to the outhouse. It was set back in the trees. He opened the door and knelt as his grandmother had taught him in church years ago. He lifted the board. Without closing his eyes, he pushed his head inside, down through the thin layer of ice.
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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