"Set the canner further back on the stove," Ma Richards said. All the good feeling from the dinner table was gone from her voice.
"Ive got to leave room to set the other one on," I said.
"You wont need room if that tips over on you," Ma snapped. She had changed back to her old self.
Instead of answering I started carving up more fat at the table. I sliced twenty times this way and twenty times crossways. The fat sliced easy as clotted cream or thick jelly. My left hand was so slick with grease I couldnt pick up anything but the blocks of fat. I raked the knife across the board harder than I needed to, to show how determined I was to get the job done and ignore Ma.
There was a little blood on the fat and on the board also, and I hardly noticed when I felt a nip at the end of my middle finger as I held a slab down to slice it. But when I saw the bright blood on the white fat I knowed Id cut myself. A drop fell from the end of my finger, and then another. "Oh no," I said.
"What have you done?" Ma said.
"Just a nick," I said.
"Dont get blood on the lard fat," Ma said.
I grabbed a dishcloth and wiped the grease off my finger. Id cut a place on the tip about the size of a pinhead. But it kept bleeding bright red drops. I cleaned off the left hand with the cloth and tore a strip from a fresh linen rag. I bound up the finger as best I could to stop the bleeding.
"Thats what comes of being in a hurry," Ma said.
"Ill have to be more careful," I said. I wasnt going to take the time to get mad at Ma, and I wasnt going to stoop to the level of her snideness. With the bandage on my finger I finished slicing up the second pan of fat and then lugged the heavy canner to the top of the stove. But as I slid the container onto the stovetop I pushed it too far to the right and hit the canner already there. The boiling fat rocked like a wave had been sent through it. I backed away and seen a tongue of boiling lard spit up and over the rim as the wave sloshed on the side of the canner. The flung grease hissed on the stovetop and turned to crackling bubbles and smoke. But there must have been enough grease so that some of it busted into flame, for I seen fire on top of the stove. That might not have amounted to nothing, except the rocking and sloshing continued in the canner and the hot oil spit out again and leapt right into the flames. With a whoosh the fire flared on the stovetop. I think it would still have been all right and just burned there sizzling on the metal except a little more grease sloshed out of the pot and the fire caught onto that and followed the splash back into the pot. That was when the fire blazed up in the canner itself. All the hot oil caught at once and the flames jumped to the ceiling, lighting the kitchen.
"Oh my god," Ma said.
I looked around for something to throw on the flames. There wasnt a blanket or quilt anywhere. There wasnt anything bigger than a dish towel.
Now a grease fire is a worse kind of fire than usual. A grease fire hisses and jumps from one spot to another. There was grease all over the stove and all over the kitchen. The flames darted from one spot to another.
Ma run out to the back porch and got the water bucket. Id heard that throwing water on boiling grease is the worst thing you can do, and I hollered for her to stop. But she flung the bucket of water right onto the flaming pot. You would think cold water would put a fire out, but the dousing exploded in a hiss and made the boiling lard splash in all directions. The flames followed the leap of the splash. The water just spread the fire. Flames landed on the second canner of fat and on the dishpans full of fat on the table. The whole kitchen seemed to turn to flames before my eyes. The curtains on the wall caught fire, and heat blistered my face.
Use of this excerpt from GAP CREEK may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright © 1999 by Robert Morgan. All rights reserved.
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From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary
The captivating story of an unconventional New England family.
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