Excerpt from The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Hollow Ground

A Novel

by Natalie S. Harnett

The Hollow Ground
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  • First Published:
    May 2014, 336 pages
    Aug 2015, 336 pages

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Ma swung open the door and tramped to the table. Dutifully I heated up the pan, thinking how the way people liked their eggs matched their personalities. Ma all folded with the center golden part cooked and flattened. Daddy, raw and drippy, running all over with just a flick of a fork's tine.

"Goddamn it, Brigid," Ma shouted, pointing at where I'd glopped egg onto the stove. "That's what happens when you don't pay attention. When I was your age, they wouldn't give me nothing to eat for the whole day if I'd wasted good food like that. Accident or not!"

"Lores," Daddy said as if he'd swallowed the "Do" of Ma's name. Dolores means sorrow and Daddy always tried to take some of that sorrow from her and hold it inside him. As he sat across from her at the table, you could see it in him—the sadness with Ma's name on it. Brother probably saw the sadness too because he came over from where he was playing with his cars on the kitchen floor and nestled his head to Ma's chest, her breasts just as pointy as all the features of her face, and it struck me that this was all Brother probably remembered—Ma and Daddy joking and eating together. He was only six years old so he probably didn't remember the trailer over by Mercher's Dump or home being anything but Auntie's house.

I flipped two eggs and served Ma. Then I did Daddy's breakfast. The two yolks on the plate looked up at him like gleaming eyes in a ghost's face. Daddy slopped with his toast at the yolks, letting the yellow ick drip down his chin—a family joke. We always pointed and gagged, watching him perform this disgusting feat like he was a circus performer. This time he played it up special and my stomach clenched like so many fists. He was supposed to take Brother to Katz's Department Store for their end-of-winter coat sale, but afterwards he must have been planning to go to Pete's Pub. Ma must have been able to tell too because she said, "Take your time today, Adrian. I'm thinking of having some of the girls over to play cards."

I knew Ma didn't want Daddy around when her girlfriends came over because she was ashamed that he had no job, which was crazy because most of the daddies around had no job. I guess Daddy knew too because he said, "I'll take all the time I want." And then he looked her dead in the eye so she knew not to start with him. For me, I didn't mind if Ma had some of her friends over, even though it meant I'd have to clean up and serve coffee and cake. I didn't mind because while she was at work and while Daddy and Brother were shopping, me and Auntie would have the house all to ourselves. And whenever me and Auntie were alone together we'd sit on the couch, sucking on candies, Auntie reading her mysteries and me reading whatever historical romance I was into at the time.

When Brother and Daddy were finally ready to go, Brother swung open the front door and rushed out into a choke of cloud caused by the fire heating the wet ground. Daddy shrugged into his peacoat, grimacing with pain. When he got back home, I told him, Auntie would make him a remedy to get the damp out of his bones. "Okay, Daddy?" I said.

But Daddy said nothing. His eyes were that icy blue they got when they were looking off to that other place, the place that turned him empty inside. The place he thought he could fill with dice and whisky.

When he stepped out onto the porch, he turned first one direction, then another, squinting into the gathering fog like something was out there to get him. Brother beckoned from where he stood near one of the boreholes in the street, the long pipe smoking as it vented out of the ground. Brother waved his little knit hat that he'd crushed in his hand, but Daddy jogged down the steps, hands thrust deep into his coat pockets, and walked away from him.

Copyright © 2014 by Natalie S. Harnett

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