Once they were leaving, she kept the baster a secret because she was afraid Cal would say they couldn't bring it with them. They could only fit so much in the car, and before it ran out of gas, they would have to abandon it, carry their possessions the rest of the way. There was so much to carry, they had ended up making multiple trips with their stuff, and then they drove the car in the opposite direction until it sputtered dead, so they couldn't be followed. It was a small miracle that they found their possessions again, piled where they'd left them, unharmed.
Frida had smuggled the baster, like she had most of the artifacts. Cal eventually discovered her other things, but she'd still managed to keep the baster hidden.
She'd initially intended on using it in the afterlife, in whatever way it was most needed. And then, one day, she realized she wouldn't. Occasionally she toyed with the idea of snapping off the tag, which was attached to a string at the base of the bulb. At least it wasn't one of those plastic threads; she used to hate those, how they would leave holes in clothing and require scissors to remove. Those doodads were probably the whole reason America had gone to hell, the plastic seeping poisons, filling up landfills. What foolishness. But she loved the turkey baster precisely because it still had its tag. She loved its newness: the pure glass of the cylinder, its fragility, and the plastic butter-yellow bulb still chalky to the touch. It inhaled and exhaled air like that first time. She had to keep it hidden. It belonged only to her, and the secret of it had become as precious as the object itself.
Frida was tucking the briefcase under the bed when Cal stepped back into the house, ducking to get through the oddly small door. She liked how tall her husband was, and his narrow shoulders made him look even taller: stretched. Every morning he combed his short reddish hair with his fingers; it was so fine that little knots formed at the back of his head as he slept, and he hated it. Frida loved that, and she loved how every morning he woke with crescent-moon bags under his golden-hazel eyes, no matter how well rested he was.
A fine veil of soil covered his shirt and face, and he'd untied the bandanna from his neck so that he could wipe the sweat from his brow. The room filled with the sweet stink of him. Their feet had started to smellnot the vinegary scent that had cursed Frida in L.A., but something fungal and rotting, a bag of dying vegetables. Cal had said they smelled homeless, and she agreed. That's when they brought out their last Dove bar and their tube of antifungal cream. They didn't discuss what would happen when they ran out. Their homemade soap, made from Douglas fir and the fat of vermin, smelled great but didn't actually work.
"How are the traps?" Frida asked.
Cal shrugged and went toward the thermos. They drank coffee once every two months, a treat, and the rest of the time they filled the thermos with water from the well. On the morning after a coffee day, the water absorbed some of the bitterness that still coated the thermos. If the world didn't end, and they moved back home, she would sell it to the cafés, get rich off coffee-water.
Cal filled his cup and drank it in one gulp, his Adam's apple sliding up and down his neck. That Adam's apple. He had once explained to Frida how Plato believed that the soul's partsits reason, its passionwere located all over the human body. Frida liked to imagine Cal's soul, a sliver of it, residing in his slender neck, the jagged cliff that signified he was a man. He could never pull off drag with an Adam's apple like that.
"I know you think the traps are ridiculous," he said when he was finished drinking.
"I don't. You've built dozens of snares before, and they've worked. Why would I question you on traps?"
Excerpted from California by Edan Lepucki. Copyright © 2014 by Edan Lepucki. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. 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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