And now here she went risking everything, pointing her little chin up that hill and walking unarmed into the shoot-out of whatever was to be. Heartbreak, broken family. Broke, period. What she might do for money if Cub left her was anyone's guess. She hadn't been employed or even exactly a regular to human conversation since the Feathertown Diner closed, back when she was pregnant with Preston. Nobody would hire her again as a waitress. They'd side with Cub, and half the town would claim they'd seen it coming, just because they thrived on downfalls of any sort. Wild in high school, that's how it goes with the pretty ones, early to ripe, early to rot. They would say the same thing she'd heard her mother-in-law tell Cub: that Dellarobia was a piece of work. As if she were lying in pieces on a table, pins stuck here and there, half assembled from a Simplicity pattern that was flawed at the manufacturer's. Which piece had been left out?
People would likely line up to give opinions about that. The part that thinks ahead, for one. A stay-at-home wife with no skills, throwing sense to the four winds to run after a handsome boy who could not look after her children. Acting like there was no tomorrow. And yet. The way he looked at her suggested he'd be willing to bring her golden apples, or the Mississippi River. The way he closed his fingers in a bracelet around her ankles and wrists, marveling at her smallness, gave her the dimensions of an expensive jewel rather than an inconsequential adult. No one had ever listened to her the way he did. Or looked, touching her hair reverently, trying to name its color: somewhere between a stop sign and sunset, he said. Something between tomatoes and a ladybug. And her skin. He called her "Peach."
No one else had ever called her anything. Only the given name her mother first sounded out for the birth certificate in a doped anesthetic haze, thinking it came from the Bible. Later her mother remembered that was wrong; it wasn't the Bible, she'd heard it at a craft demonstration at the Women's Club. She found a picture in a ladies' magazine and yelled for her daughter to come look. Dellarobia was maybe six at the time and still remembered the picture of the dellarobia wreath, an amalgam of pine cones and acorns glued on a Styrofoam core. "Something pretty, even still," her mother insisted, but the fall from grace seemed to presage coming events. Her performance to date was not what the Savior prescribed. Except marrying young, of course. That was the Lord's way for a girl with big dreams but no concrete plans, especially if a baby should be on the way. The baby that never quite was, that she never got to see, a monster. The preemie nurse said it had strange fine hair all over its body that was red like hers. Preston and Cordelia when they later arrived were both blonds, cut from the Turnbow cloth, but that first one that came in its red pelt of fur was a mean wild thing like her. Roping a pair of dumbstruck teenagers into a shotgun wedding and then taking off with a laugh, leaving them stranded. Leaving them trying five years for another baby, just to fill a hole nobody meant to dig in the first place.
Something in motion caught her eye and yanked her glance upward. How did it happen, that attention could be wrenched like that by some small movement? It was practically nothing, a fleck of orange wobbling above the trees. It crossed overhead and drifted to the left, where the hill dropped steeply from the trail. She made a face, thinking of redheaded ghosts. Making things up was beneath her. She set her eyes on the trail, purposefully not looking up. She was losing the fight against this hill, panting like a sheep. A poplar beside the trail invited her to stop there a minute. She fit its smooth bulk between her shoulder blades and cupped her hands to light the cigarette she'd been craving for half an hour. Inhaled through her nose, counted to ten, then gave in and looked up again. Without her glasses it took some doing to get a bead on the thing, but there it still was, drifting in blank air above the folded terrain: an orange butterfly on a rainy day. Its out-of-place brashness made her think of the wacked-out sequences in children's books: Which of these does not belong? An apple, a banana, a taxicab. A nice farmer, a married mother of two, a sexy telephone man. She watched the flake of bright color waver up the hollow while she finished her cigarette and carefully ground out the butt with her boot. When she walked on, pulling her scarf around her throat, she kept her eyes glued to the ground. This boy had better be worth it: there was a thought. Not the sexiest one in the world, either. Possibly a sign of sense returning.
From Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver Copyright © 2012 by Barbara Kingsolver. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
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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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