Mama says no matter how poor folks are, whether you're a have, a have-not, or break your mama's back on the cracks in between, the world gives away the best stuff on the cheap. Like, the way the white-hot mornin' light dances in diamonds across the surface of our creek. Or the creek itself, babblin' music all day long like Nessa when she was a baby. Happiness is free, Mama says, as sure as the blinkin' stars, the withered arms the trees throw down for our fires, the waterproofin' on our skin, and the tongues of wind curlin' the walnut leaves before slidin' down our ears.
It might just be the meth pipe talkin'. But I like how free sounds all poetic-like.
Beans ain't free, but they're on the cheap, and here in the Obed Wild and Scenic River National Park, dubbed "the Hundred Acre Wood," I must know close to one hundred ways to fix beans. From the dried, soaked-in-water variety to beans in the canbaked beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans
It don't sound important. It's just beans, after all, the cause of square farts, as my sister used to say with a giggle on the end. But when you're livin' in the woods like Jenessa and me, with no runnin' water or electricity, with Mama gone to town for long stretches of time, leavin' you in charge of feedin' a younger sisternine years youngerwith a stomach rumblin' like a California earthquake, inventin' new and interestin' ways to fix beans becomes very important indeed.
That's what I'm thinkin' as I fill the scratchy cookin' pot full of water from the chipped porcelain jug and turn on the dancin' blue flame of the Bunsen burner: how I can make the beans taste new tonight, along with wishin' we had butter for the last of the bread, which we don't, because butter don't keep well without refrigeration.
Sometimes, after a stint away, Mama will appear out of nowhere, clutchin' a greasy brown sack from the diner in town. Then, everythin' we eat is buttered thick as flies on a deer carcass, because it would break mine and Jenessa's hearts to waste those little squares of gold.
Mama says stealin' butter is free, as long as you don't get caught.
(She also says g's are free, and I should remember to tack them onto the ends of my ing words, and stop using ain't, and talk proper like a lady and all. Just because she forgets don't mean I should. Just because she's backwoods don't mean me and Jenessa have to be.)
At least we have the bread. I'm glad Ness isn't here to see me scrape the fuzzy green circles off the bottom. If you scrape it carefully, you can't even taste the must, which, when I sniff it, smells like our forest floor after a wetter month.
I freeze, the rusty can opener one bite into the tin. Nessa? The crunch of leaves and twigs beneath careless feet and the unmistakable sound of branches singin' off the shiny material of a winter coat is too much noise for Jenessa to make, with her cloth coat and footsteps quiet as an Injun's. Mama? I scan the tree line for the lemon yellow zing of her spiffy store-bought ski jacket. But the only yellow in sight drips from the sun, fuzzyin' up the spaces between hundreds of shimmerin' leaves.
I reckon I know how a deer feels in crosshairs as my heart buh-bumps against my ribs and my eyes open at least as wide as the dinner plates stacked on the flat rock behind me. Movin' just my eyes, I see the shotgun only a superloooong arm stretch away, and breathe a sigh of relief.
We're not expectin' anyone. I think of how I look: the threadbare clothin' hangin' loose as elephant wrinkles, my stringy hair limp as overcooked spaghetti soaked in corn oil overnight. In my defense, I've been stuck on the violin for days, workin' out a piece I've yet to perfect; "suspended in the zone," as Mama calls it, where I forget all about the outside parts. Although, here in the backwoods of Tennessee, it don't matter much. We've had maybe one or two lost hikers stumble upon our camp in all the years since Mama stowed us away in this broken-down camper in the sticks.
Excerpted from If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch. Copyright © 2013 by Emily Murdoch. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Griffin. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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