She scooted farther beneath the countertop, crumpling the paper into her lap and hugging the iron pot that stank of yesterdays stewed onions. She waited for the flame to curl upright and steady, staring so hard that her eyes began to burn. She closed them for relief and saw scenes like old photographs: girls with matching bows at the end of plaited pigtails sitting beneath a fruit tree; a boy with limbs so thin they looked like bent reeds on the rivers edge; a man with a face marred by shadows swallowing chocolate that oozed out a hole in his chest; a woman dancing in a bonfire without smoldering; crowds of children eating mountains of bread.
When she opened her eyes, the flame had gone out. The black of night was lifting to velvet blue. Shed fallen asleep in the hiding place. But morning was coming, and it would no longer be safe. She crawled out, bones creaking and popping.
She carried the letter with her, hidden in the flimsy folds of her nightgown, and once more took the steps on tiptoe, past the girls room; through her bedroom door, she slipped back beneath the covers; her husband abided in dreamlessness. Slowly and with great precision, she reached around the bedside and pushed the paper beneath the mattress, then rested her hand on her chest.
Her heart felt foreign, as if someone elses thudded within, moving ceremoniously, while the rest of her lay numb and cold. The clock ticked on the bedside table tick, tick, tick without the tock of the pendulum swing. Her heartbeat filled the balancing pulse. In her mind, she read the letters words to the rhythm of the metronome. Then suddenly, the clock erupted in clattering shouts. The hammer struck the bell again and again.
She did not flinch.
Her husband rolled over, pulling the blanket with him and exposing her body. She remained rigid as a corpse. He switched off the alarm clock, turned back to kiss her cheek, and rose. She feigned deep sleep. The kind that, when true, gives glimpse to eternity.
Soon enough she would join him in the day, keeping silent what she knew and welcoming the white- hot sun as blamelessly as possible. She would tend to the children, scrub the dishes, wind the cuckoos, and sweep the floors. She would bake bread and glaze the buns in melted sugar.
3168 FRANKLIN RIDGE DRIVE
EL PASO, TEXAS
NOVEMBER 5, 2007
Excerpted from The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy. Copyright © 2012 by Sarah McCoy. Excerpted by permission of Crown. 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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