' 'You marry me then,' I say, and I ain't even scared.
'What?' he says, his back straight as the steeple.
'Marry me. If you aim to go off and fight, well I don't aim to be a spinster. You make me your widow before you go off and die, that's what.'
'I don't aim to die,' he says, eyes gone all to pupil, arrowhead shiny.
'You do this, you might as well. Mr. Waite, he's gone for sure. You want to be like him?'
'Rosetta,' he says, 'You know a man's got to'
'A man!' I say, pulling my hand away. 'You kiss me by the creek and make me think things and plan on leaving the whole time?'
He looks down, his jaw clenched. 'Rosetta, it's good money,' he says, meeting my glare, taking up my hand again. 'You know when I get back, we'll have money enough for Nebraska, get ourselves that farm'
'No,' I say to him. 'No more dream talk. Don't you leave me here like nothing. You marry me. Next Sunday. Or the week after. I don't care when. But you do it before you go and join. Because if you don't' I can't even say it.
'Don't cry,' he says, reaching for the handkerchief in his pocket.
'You just marry me,' I tell him, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand before walking past the boys, ignoring Sully and Henry pulling faces as I go back to Mama and Betsy.
Betsy's breathing is so loud and my mind won't quit.
All day I waited, but Jeremiah ain't come by to help Papa fix tools or make rope like he always does. And me, staring out the window and slamming doors and clattering dishes the whole time 'til Mama threw me out of the kitchen for giving Betsy fits.
I kick off the quilts, sliding away from Betsy and the warmth coming off her. The floorboards are cold but I go to the window. Nothing. Not a thing but snow outside and my breath turning to mist against the inside of that window.
Out there in the dark, the creek winds through the trees to our back fence line, to where it crosses over onto the Snyders' land. The creek is where I first learned something of Jeremiah besides his name and that he didn't read good for being two years older, the first time Eli got to bothering me on account of our papas' quarreling. I was feeling easy that day, outside our grieving house, proud that Papa was trusting me with a job so grown up.
The water rippled past my shins, the trout darted past my ankles. But fishing always ends in pounding heads with rocks. My pail sat on the squishy mud by the bank of the creek, four trout in there, brushing the sides with their silver-brown tails. My toes old-man wrinkled from being in the creek since first light. Eli came crashing through the bushes behind me, his face red like a dried apple, and his friends, boys whose papas sometimes did day labor for Mr. Snyder, hanging back in the bushes, ready to run.
'You can't fish here,' Eli told me.
'I can fish anywhere I want. You don't own this creek,' I said, wondering if I should run or swim or scream, and standing frozen like a deer instead.
'My Papa owns the pool where those fish hatched, and these fish are mine,' he said.
When he picked up my pail I screamed, 'No! Those fish are for my Mama! She's sick!' but he dumped my four brown trout in the calm water by the bank. They looked sad and stiff bobbing there in the water and I wanted to be everywhere at once, saving my fish before they floated away, pounding Eli's head. Instead I ran at him, clumsy in the water, and stabbed into his belly with my pole. I didn't know that was a mistake until too late.
Excerpted from I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe Copyright © 2014. Excerpted by permission of Crown Trade, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. 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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