1946 - 1961
Even when Jude was a boy, his arms and legs bulged, his neck corded, his muscled gut humped beneath his chest. On the steep fields above the road, above the river so wide they called it la mer, he worked in clothes the color of dirt, harder and fasterthan his uncles, though when he paused from digging, he stood awkwardly, uneasy with inaction. By the age of fifteen, he rarely stopped. He sat and ate in the same motion. He undressed and stretched on his bed and slept. Hardship had given his face the uneven angles of an old apple pressed in among others in a cellar crate. He'd never closed his eyes to wonder at what couldn't be seen.
That autumn ended a dry summer. Foliage was dull, like rusted machinery on the hills. Potato harvest had him carving furrows in chill earth. He could never have imagined that a decade later villagers would still discuss the days that led to his disappearance. Or that some nights, watching TV, they would dream his fierce height and red hair, as if they might see him on a Hollywood street.
Of the nineteen Hervé children, he should have been the most content to stay. His grandfather, Hervé Hervé, had raised him, and together they'd fished paternal waters with the regularity of Mass. The Hervés had owned those first rough mountain farms since before the Seven Years War, and when Capt. George Scott burned the French homes, they didn't flee to France. Nor did they relocate for the convenience of a telegraph line and a doctor when Jersey merchants built company villages. But for all their strength the family had developed an unusual trait. Children were born alternately brutes or runts, as if the womb had been exhausted. It was clock-work, enormous child then changeling. Villagers saw and feared this as if through some faint ancient recollection of stories that predated Christianity. They feared even the little ones, frail, scurrying beneath those hulking siblings.
Though half his children were runts as if by biblical curse, Hervé Hervé remained proud. Strong beyond his years, he brought up even the last of his sons to fish and work the fields at a time when cod stocks were failing and farmland returning to forest. He'd grown up during the worst years of the emigration south and had seen too much change to trust it - the poverty, the wealth of war, and again the poverty - until he'd become as hard as the country that had been fled by hundreds of thousands so that it was he his children now fled. In fights, men broke knuckles on his face, his wide, almost Indian features expressionless, his weather-browned skin ignoring whatever bruise. He took his sons hunting hours through the drifts. He never used a compass, and once, when geologists and surveyors sent inland by the province disappeared, he retrieved them. In 1904, walking a dark road, he heard a shot from the woods and a bullet grazed his eye. No one believed it was an accident. If anything, his remaining eye became more intent, imprinted in memories and imaginations. Some claimed he measured the distance to the sea by tasting snow.
In his first marriage he fathered three boys and three girls. Of those sons, two were keepers - he spoke of his children, if at all, in the language of a fisherman. He bred his wife hard, and when she foundered in childbed ,he replaced her with Georgianne, a sturdier woman of no small religious bent who gave him eleven more. Jude was the illegitimate son of a brutish Scots-American tourist and Agnès, Georgianne's fourteen-year-old daughter, who, intent on not giving birth, pummeled her belly, threw herself down hills and stairs, plunged into icy water and hurtled against low branches so that to the villagers she looked like a sideshow tough training for a bare knuckle fight. The pregnancy held and Jude was born with a flat nose and the glassy gaze of a punch-drunk fighter. But he wasn't born alone. He came into the world with a tiny twin sister, in his arms, it was told, as though he expected further violence.
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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