Excerpt from By Way of Water by Charlotte Gullick, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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By Way of Water

by Charlotte Gullick

By Way of Water by Charlotte Gullick
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    Aug 2002, 256 pages

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The cabin looked tired, barely able to hold its shape under the burden of snow. He walked to the structure and flashed the light inside. All was how he had left it last; on the far side of the wood table, the small stove remained tucked in the corner. The stovepipe hung away from the hole in the ceiling, and snow drifted in. He walked the interior, steps softened by the heavy layer of dust on the floor. Mice droppings lined the corners of the room. Something glimmered under the window. He assumed it was a bullet casing left by the hunters who used to own the land, but stepping closer, he saw it was a penny. He kicked it, sending it flying.

Instead of reckoning Sullivan, Jake leaned against a wall and thought about the hunters who used to come here. Wealthy folks from the cities, coming to the land once or maybe twice a year, shooting deer they never ate. Jake wondered if those men had somehow created this night, when he and his family had gone days without food, when the freak storm blew in snow, when all he wanted in this world was to find one deer. Maybe those lawyers and doctors had committed an offense for which Jake now had to pay. He wasn't sure if he believed that, but he was willing to consider it. Anything seemed possible tonight, with the land he loved covered in white and his wife breaking promises to God. The waiting, that's what made him think such crazy thoughts, made him want to scratch the inside of his skin. All the time waiting, for the winter to be over and the falling jobs to start up again, always counting the days of rain, and now this snow. Waiting for that one break, waiting for the mining company to hand over the orders to move, the mine finally approved. Each day without his chain saw in his hands seemed like standing at the edge of his life and watching it stream by. He pushed off from the wall and rubbed his hands together, feeling jumpy, thinking about the hunters who'd sold the land to the mining company without a thought for what the company would do. If Jake could buy this chunk of earth, he'd treat it like one of his children. He walked in the quiet to the Willys, grabbed his fiddle case and brought it back to the cabin. It didn't make any sort of sense, but he figured he'd try. Playing music made him feel like he had wings, and there was nothing he wanted so much in the world as to get away. He opened the case and brought the instrument to his chest, hoping to settle the spirits.

Dale sat in the rocking chair by the woodstove, swaying with silent prayer, blond hair framing her face. Justy still stood by the window, alternately looking out into the night after Jake and watching Dale's eyelids and her fingers tracing the looped letters, New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Justy knew that finger dance; she often passed time at the Kingdom Hall following the same route. Time creaked by, filled by the sound of the rocking chair and wood burning. Micah lay curled in a ball, watching the flame of a candle, head resting on his arm. Lacee sat next to him, thumbing the edges of The Red Pony. Micah twisted to look at Lacee and then stood. His movement made the candle between them dance, and his shadow hung huge on the ceiling.

"Mama," he said.

"Just a minute, child." She didn't open her eyes. Asking for forgiveness, asking for a miracle, one undermining the other, that took attention. But Micah couldn't know this, so he called her again. Dale moved her head the slightest bit, telling him to wait a few more minutes. She slid away from the weak spot that'd shown itself outside Sullivan's store; she wished herself safe passage from that memory. Even as Justy watched Dale, she felt Jake's music flow through his own dark hollows. Micah's stomach growled and Lacee stood, too, her older, slender self stretching up above him. She tapped her foot and watched Dale for an instant. Then she shook her head and placed an arm around Micah's shoulder. "Let's make tea," she said and walked to the front door, guiding Micah along. They went out onto the porch, and Justy could hear them talking. Behind her, Dale called for Jehovah's guidance, and Justy could feel the Scriptures storming through her. Justy moved to the kitchen table and pulled a shiny coin from the coffee can. Walking back to the stove, she flipped the penny over and over, feeling the grooves of Lincoln's face and the word "Liberty" and the year "1970," the year of her birth, seven years before. A knock came at the door and Justy opened it. Lacee and Micah came back in with their cupped hands full of snow.

Copyright 2002 by Charlotte Gullick. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Blue Hen.

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