Excerpt from Stealing by Margaret Verble, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Novel

by Margaret Verble

Stealing by Margaret Verble X
Stealing by Margaret Verble
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    Feb 2023, 256 pages


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I thought the cabin was still empty until I saw the red rooster out in the road. He was really flame orange, but people call those roosters red, and he had a big, bright green feather curling over the top of his tail. I had on my sneakers and was walking in a smooth gully the rain had created. So I wasn't kicking gravel or making any kind of noise, and he didn't look up from his pecking until I was close on him. Then, he cocked his head to the side and looked me over, slit-eyed. It was March. I hadn't been down that road since fall. And by the tilt of the rooster's head, it was clear to me he'd been around some time, maybe all winter. He owned that territory, or at least he owned the chicken part of it, and he wasn't going to give ground scared, or even in a huff. He lifted a foot, held it up in a claw for only a second, and then he walked off like he had business in the weeds he'd been meaning to get to all morning. I admired him for that.

Mama always called the cabin "the cabin." It was really more like a shack, but "shack" isn't a good word to describe where people live, particularly if they happen to be your kin. So when my great uncle Joe lived there, Mama said it was Uncle Joe's cabin. And when he was killed, I still said it was Uncle Joe's cabin for a while, because I didn't forget him just because he was dead. Every time Mama and I visited Uncle Joe he gave me a new and interesting rock to play with. He called them river stones and said that the Arkansas River had made them smooth and shined them up. But I never actually saw Uncle Joe go down to the river. He spent most of his time sitting in a rocker on his front porch. Next to his rocker on one side was a spit can and on the other side was a brown paper bag with his bottle in it.

Uncle Joe was sort of watery in the eyes, and he was black-headed and dark, like most of Mama's people. But he was the only one of them who lived close to us. I don't know why we lived off away from the rest of our family, but we did. And Mama told me, "Kit, this is my uncle, your grandmother's brother" more than once. I guess she did that because I was so young she was afraid I'd forget it. She knew she was dying and probably wanted me to know who I belonged to before she left. Or, maybe, she had a feeling for the future and hoped Uncle Joe would rescue me and take me to her parents and sisters. He probably would have, too, if he could've stayed sober and alive.

The rooster wasn't the only new sign of life at the cabin, just the first, him being out in the road. When I got closer, I could tell somebody was living in there. The door was open, its hole covered only by a screen with a tear in it. And I heard a noise from inside. It was somebody humming. I craned my neck as I walked past, thinking maybe I could see who'd moved in there. But I couldn't see anything except the outline of a refrigerator inside the door in exactly the spot Uncle Joe had kept his refrigerator in.

So there was only the humming and the refrigerator, and then, past the cabin in the ruts of the lane forking off to the east, some chickens and a couple of black and white spotted guineas. One of the guineas was large and one bitty and both of them screamed. They were for the snakes, and they told me that whoever had moved into the cabin knew what they were doing, because it was definitely not safe to be out and around in the summer without some warning system for snakes. I always carried a stick to swing at the weeds whenever I got off the road into the pasture. But guineas work in the opposite direction. They warn people about snakes, whereas sticks warn snakes about people.

I kept thinking maybe I'd run into a dog, too. It's unusual for anybody to live out in the country and not have one. But a dog didn't turn up, and I walked on down the ruts wondering who was in the cabin behind me and not really wanting to go fishing at all. But fishing was what I'd set out to do, and fishing is what I did. Not that it did me any good on that particular day. I only got nibbles and one tiny perch that I threw back because he was too small to make a meal by himself. But I may have cut the fishing a little short out of curiosity. Not much happens out in the country, and you don't want to miss anything when it does.

Excerpted from Stealing by Margaret Verble. Copyright © 2023 by Margaret Verble. Excerpted by permission of Mariner Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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