Her car was parked in the only spot in the county that wouldn't incite gossip, her own driveway. People knew that station wagon and still tended to think of it as belonging to her mother. She'd rescued this one thing from her mother's death, an unreliable set of wheels adequate for short errands with kids in tow. The price of that was a disquieting sense of Mama still coming along for the ride, her tiny frame wedged between the kids' car seats, reaching across them to ash her cigarette out the open window. But no such thoughts today. This morning after leaving the kids at Hester's she had floored it for the half-mile back home, feeling high and wobbly as a kite. Went back into the house only to brush her teeth, shed her glasses, and put on eyeliner, no other preparations necessary prior to lighting out her own back door to wreck her reputation. The electric pulse of desire buzzed through her body like an alarm clock gone off in the early light, setting in motion all the things in a day that can't be stopped.
She picked her way now through churned-up mud along the fence, lifted the chain fastener on the steel gate, and slipped through. Beyond the fence an ordinary wildness of ironweed and briar thickets began. An old road cut through it, long unused, crisscrossed by wild raspberries bending across in tall arcs. In recent times she'd come up here only once, berry picking with her husband Cub and some of his buddies two summers ago, and it definitely wasn't her idea. She'd been barrel-round pregnant with Cordelia and thinking she might be called on to deliver the child right there in the brambles, that's how she knew which June that was. So Preston would have been four. She remembered him holding her hand for dear life while Cub's hotdog friends scared them half to death about snakes. These raspberry canes were a weird color for a plant, she noticed now, not that she would know nature if it bit her. But bright pink? The color of a frosted lipstick some thirteen-year-old might want to wear. She had probably skipped that phase, heading straight for Immoral Coral and Come-to-Bed Red.
The saplings gave way to a forest. The trees clenched the last of summer's leaves in their fists, and something made her think of Lot's wife in the Bible, who turned back for one last look at home. Poor woman, struck into a pile of salt for such a small disobedience. She did not look back, but headed into the woods on the rutted track her husband's family had always called the High Road. As if, she thought. Taking the High Road to damnation; the irony had failed to cross her mind when she devised this plan. The road up the mountain must have been cut for logging, in the old days. The woods had grown back. Cub and his dad drove the all-terrain up this way sometimes to get to the little shack on the ridge they used for turkey hunting. Or they used to do that, once upon a time, when the combined weight of the Turnbow men senior and junior was about sixty pounds less than the present day. Back when they used their feet for something other than framing the view of the television set. The road must have been poorly maintained even then. She recalled their taking the chain saw for clearing windfall.
She and Cub used to come up here by themselves in those days, too, for so-called picnics. But not once since Cordie and Preston were born. It was crazy to suggest the turkey blind on the family property as a place to hook up. Trysting place, she thought, words from a storybook. And: No sense prettying up dirt, words from a mother-in-law. So where else were they supposed to go? Her own bedroom, strewn with inside-out work shirts and a one-legged Barbie lying there staring while a person tried to get in the mood? Good night. The Wayside Inn out on the highway was a pitiful place to begin with, before you even started deducting the wages of sin. Mike Bush at the counter would greet her by name: How do, Mrs. Turnbow, now how's them kids?
From Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver Copyright © 2012 by Barbara Kingsolver. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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