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Barbara K i n g s o lv e r {ANo ve l }Pr o d i g a l Summer —for Steven, Camille, and Lily, and for wildness, whe. Barbara K i n g s o lv e r {A No ve l } Pr o d i g a l Summer —for Steven, Camille, and Lily, and for wildness, whe Prodigal · Prodigal. Prodigal Prodigal Melanie. Prodigal summer: (a novel). byKingsolver, Barbara. aut. Publication date For print-disabled users. Borrow this book to access EPUB and PDF files.

Prodigal Summer Pdf

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Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. About the book. Prodigal Summer weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. If Rachel Carson (), whose book Silent Spring () inaugurated the current environmental activist. PDF | What are the emotional stakes and cultural afterlife of living with A close reading of a scene from Prodigal Summer is presented as an.

She paused there with her feet in the dry duff, listened. Nyaa nyaa nyaa, spat the chickadees, her familiars. Then, a crackle. She waited until he emerged at the edge of the dark grove. Lose the bobcat? No, lost you. For a while. Not for long, I see. He was wearing his hat again, with the brim pulled low. She found it harder to read his eyes. He smiled. His eyes widened, for only a second and a half.

She could swear his pupils dilated. She bit her lower lip, having meant to give away nothing. And bobcats, and bear, and fox, she piled on quickly, to bury the coyotes.

But especially the carnivores. She shifted, waiting, feeling her toes inside her boots. He gave a small shrug. Deer season was many months over and gone. Why the carnivores, especially? No reason. I see. Keeping tabs on the predators tells you what you need to know about the herbivores, like deer, and the vegetation, the detritovores, the insect populations, small predators like shrews and voles.

All of it. He studied her with a confusion she recognized. She was well accustomed to watching Yankee brains grind their gears, attempting to reconcile a hillbilly accent with signs of a serious education. He asked, finally, And what you need to know about the shrews and voles would be what, exactly?

Voles matter more than you think. Beetles, worms. I guess to hunters these woods seem like a zoo, but who feeds the animals and cleans up the cage, do you think? He took off his hat, daunted by her sudden willingness to speak up. Are you trying to make me mad? Right there I was being what you call a pain in the ass. And before that I was being nosy. I apologize. She shrugged.

She smiled. Yeah, a fair share of that. He glanced up into the hemlock. Keeping an eye on paradise. Tough life.

He nailed her then, aimed his smile straight into her. All his previous grins had just been warming up for this one. You must have some kind of a brain, lady. To get yourself hired in this place of business. It takes a certain kind of person.

Not human ones. I did have a bear in my cabin back in February. He stay with you the whole month? She laughed, and the sound of it surprised her.

Long enough to raid my kitchen, though. We had an early false thaw and I think he woke up real hungry. Fortunately I was out at the time.

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What do you live on, nuts and berries? The Forest Service sends up a guy with a jeepload of canned food and kerosene once a month. If I was dead, see, they could stop putting my checks in the bank.

I get it. One of those once-a-month-boyfriend deals. She grimaced. Lord, no. They send up some kid. I lose track and forget when to expect him, so he just leaves the stuff in the cabin. Truth to tell. She held his eye for as long as she could stand it. Under the sandpaper grain of a two-day beard he had a jaw she knew the feel of against her skin, just from looking at it. Thinking about that gave her an unexpected ache.

When they resumed walking the trail, she kept him five or six steps ahead of her. He was quiet, not somebody who had to fill up a space between two people with talk, which was good. She could hear the birds. After a while she stopped to listen and was surprised when he did, too, instantly, that well attuned to her step behind his. He turned toward her with his head down and stood still, listening as she was.

Just a bird. She waited, then nodded at the sound of a high, buzzing trill. That one there. Magnolia warbler. Amazing, said Eddie Bondo. Every single thing you hear in the woods right now is just nothing but that. Males drumming up business. I mean that you could tell all that from a little buzz I could just barely hear.

Years, probably. And now twice, in these two visitations. Blushing, laughing, were those things that occured only between people?

Forms of communication? So you do watch birds, he accused. Not just the predators. Not the big bad wolf. I thought the big bad wolf was your game, ranger lady. Who shot the last wolf out of these parts, Daniel Boone?

The gray everybody knows about, the storybook wolf.

But there used to be another one here. A little one called the red wolf. They shot all those even before they got rid of the big guys. A little wolf? I never heard of that. She hesitated. Depends on how you call it. They kept their voices low. She spoke quietly to his back, happy to keep him ahead of her on the trail.

He was a surprisingly silent walker, which she appreciated. And surprisingly fast. Feminine was a test like some witch trial she was preordained to fail. Coyotes: small golden ghosts of the vanished red wolf, returning.

She wished for a look at his face. Did I say that? Almost but not quite. I said I look for them, she said. The skill of equivocation seemed to be coming to her now. Talking too much, saying not enough. Not to me. New to this place, is what I meant. And then they just up and decided to extend their range into southern Appalachia a few years ago. Nobody knows why.

Could, she thought. She suspected he already knew much of what she was telling him. Which was nothing; she was keeping her real secret to herself. Not most girls you know, but just watch me now. Coyotes have turned up in every one of the continental United States in the last few years. In New York City, even. Somebody got a picture of one running between two taxicabs. What was it doing, trying to catch the subway? Trying to catch a rat, more likely.

She would be quiet now, she decided, and she felt the familiar satisfaction of that choice, its small internal tug like the strings pulled tight on a cloth purse.

Try, also, to keep her eyes away from the glossy animal movement of his dark hair and the shape of the muscles in the seat of his jeans. But the man was just one long muscle, anywhere you looked on him.

She set her eyes into the trees, where a fresh hatch of lacewings seemed to be filling up the air between branches. They were everywhere suddenly, dancing on sunbeams in the upper story, trembling with the brief, grave duty of their adulthood: to live for a day on sunlight and coitus.

Emerged from their slow, patient lives as carnivorous larvae, they had split down their backs and shed the husks of those predatory leaf-crawling shapes, left them lying in the mud with empty legs askew while their new, winged silhouettes rose up like carnal fairies to the urgent search for mates, egg laying, and eternal life.

The trail ended abruptly at the overlook. It never failed to take her breath away: a cliff face where the forest simply opened and the mountain dropped away at your feet, down hundreds of feet of limestone wall that would be a tough scramble even for a squirrel.

And had nearly gone right over. So easily her life could have ended right here, without a blink or a witness. She replayed it too often, terrified by the frailty of that link like a weak trailer hitch connecting the front end of her life to all the rest.

To this. That your hometown? There was the silver thread of Egg Creek; and there, where it came together like a thumb and four fingers with Bitter, Goose, Walker, and Black, was the town of Egg Fork, a loose arrangement of tiny squares that looked from this distance like a box of mints tossed on the ground. How do you know? She laughed. The way you talk, for one. You know every single soul in the county? Every soul, she replied, and his dog.

A red-tailed hawk rose high on an air current, calling out shrill, sequential rasps of raptor joy. She scanned the sky for another one. Usually when they spoke like that, they were mating. Cole, the man who buried his face in every fold of her skin to inhale her scent. He could only love sex more if he had antennae the shape of feathers, like a moth, for combing the air around her, and elaborately branched coremata he could evert from his abdomen for the purpose of calling back to her with his own scent.

The pheromones? He was astonishingly large. Here was a happy giant, naked in her bed. Even shaving armpits defeats the purpose. The whole point of pubic hair is to increase the surface area for scent molecules, and she told him so. And soon he would be gone, the happy, earnest enormity of him, his closely trimmed beard that marked lines on his jaw and up the center of his chin to his wonderful mouth. They hardly left her bed, in fact, and she had to call her lab to claim sudden illness.

Lusa was speechless. For the next year he courted her with an intensity that caused her to ovulate during his visits. She began taking real care, lest a pregnancy too close to their wedding provide his relatives with the goods on Lusa they seemed to want.

Herb will be up later this morning to borrow the pressure sprayer. This was typical Cole, to answer an appeal to his emotional core by appearing not to have one.

Herb knows what a pressure sprayer looks like. No thank you. Before their favorite subject was me. They did mean her harm. They had from the beginning. Lois evidently told Oda Black my maiden name was Zucchini. Widener, as if there were no Lusa at all. How can Lois do that? He gestured. Picture your eldest sister. Picture her sitting in that chair, blue hair and all, forgive me, wearing a face that would curdle milk.

Picture me serving her dinner on this plate, right here. A painting of a sphinx moth. I would not have china with black widows on it. In your family home, where you and your sisters have eaten every Thanksgiving dinner of your lives, prior to the mortal offense committed by your wife against Her Majesty Mary Edna. Damn your whole family, if all you can do is ridicule me. The plate seemed more valuable than the marriage. Too many times in this past year she had hung up the phone and walked around in circles on the braided rug in the parlor, a grown, married woman with a degree in entomology, sobbing like a child.

How could she care so much what they thought of her? Any girl who pursued the study of insects had learned to ignore public opinion. Both her parents had come from farming lineages, but they had no more acquaintance with actual farm work than could be gleaned on a Sunday drive through the racehorse pastures east of Fayette County.

Lusa had wanted to be different. She could still feel the childhood desire in her body, a girl bending close to breathe on the mirror when hard play on summer days dampened her strawberry hair into dark-brown tendrils against her face. She returned to the kitchen without looking at him. She said he put a bullet in every one of their heads, right in their den.

It was way last spring, I think. Around the time your mother got sick. Before the wedding, anyway. Did it occur to anybody to be interested in the idea of coyotes being here, two thousand miles or something from the Grand Canyon? Such as a newborn calf. I also doubt if he shot them, to tell you the truth. I bet he missed. I hope he missed. But if you care to know my end of it, Lusa, I hope he got them.

I know. She felt vulnerable and unconvincing in her nightshirt. She went back out to the porch, letting the screen door slam behind her. She set the milk back into the cooler to reseparate and noticed that the Io moth was still hanging on the porch screen. She reached up and gently slapped the screen where it clung. Pity the little bird that opens its mouth for a bite of moth and gets stared in the face by that. Jolly old life, full of surprises.

His whole big exasperating person was still there at the table, smoking cigarettes. Arcs of pale ash stretched like starry nebulae across the dark tabletop between his left hand and the ugly tin ashtray balanced halfway off the table. It was a full hour past dawn now; the sun was well up. Was he that determined to vex her? No, I do know.

Nature is an uncle with a drinking problem. You have to persuade it two steps back every day or it will move in and take you over. He had his own I-can-put-up-with-this tone of voice that made Lusa want to scream her red head off. We shit, we piss, we have babies, we make messes. The world will not end if you let the honeysuckle have the side of your barn. Their kindnesses had grown stale, and their jokes were all old chestnuts, too worn out for use.

Your damn cigarettes are stinking up the kitchen. Ay-rab mama, Polack daddy—he held this against her too, apparently, along with the rest of his family. And yet neither of them, truly, was that kind of person.

There was nothing to say, but still they said it, the honeysuckle and the tobacco. Bitter Creek, that stream was named, and the hollow running up the back of their farm into the National Forest, people called Bitter Hollow.

How would it be in ten years? Had she really wanted so badly all her life to live on a farm? This is how moths speak to each other. For several more minutes her hands lay motionless on her book while she considered a language that could carry nothing but love and simple truth. Ten days later the marriage would reach its end. When it came, Lusa would look back to that moment at the window and feel the chill of its prescience.

She could have allowed him the pleasure of two packs a day, it would have made no difference in the long run, since there was to be no long run. For Cole the failure was not simply one of money, but of attachment. He hated being away from the farm for even one night when he had to make a run over the Blue Ridge and down into North Carolina.

Or she could teach at the community college in Franklin. Would that also shame him? She was thinking of that, picturing herself with a class of nursing students in a biology lab, just before the sheriff drove up to inform the next of kin. It was very early, a damp dawn that had committed itself to nothing yet, still perfectly windless and scentless. There was a strange quality to these mornings when Cole was away and she woke up here alone; she was free. As free and disembodied as a ghost.

If he were just hurt, in a hospital, that was something Tim could have stopped down below to tell. This was a different mission— requiring notice to the wife.

She knew why. Did not know the details—would never know some of them, in fact. The damage to the body was of the kind that sisters and brothers-in-law discuss at length but wives are never told about.

But she knew enough. Now, she thought, her body going cold, as the long white car moved so slowly up the driveway that she could hear the individual pops as the gravel shifted beneath the tires.

Right now, from here on everything changes. But that would not be true. It was because of the large empty bed, he felt; a woman was an anchor. Lacking a wife, he had turned to his God for solace, but sometimes a man also needed the view out his window. Garnett sat up slowly and bent toward the light, seeing as much with his memory as with his eyes.

There was the gray fog of dawn in this wet hollow, lifted with imperious slowness like the skirt of an old woman stepping over a puddle. There were the barn and slatsided grain house, built by his father and grandfather in another time. Every morning of his life, Garnett had saluted that old man in the hillside with the ivy beard crawling out of his chin and the forelock of fescue hanging over his brow.

The birds were starting up their morning chorus. They were in full form now, this far into the spring. What was it now, the nineteenth of May? Full form and feather. He listened. The prothalamion, he had named this in his mind years ago: Garnett held his face in his hands for just a moment.

As a boy he had never dreamed of an age when there was no song left, but still some heart. She needed to listen to this: It could wear out everything in its path with its passionate excesses, but nothing alive with wings or a heart or a seed curled into itself in the ground could resist welcoming it back when it came.

The other warblers woke up soon after the black-and-white: By now a faint gray light was seeping up the edge of the sky, or what she could see of the sky through the blackarmed trees. This hollow was a mean divide, with mountains rising steeply on both sides and the trees towering higher still. The cabin was no place to be if you craved long days and sunlight, but there was no better dawn chorus anywhere on earth. In the high season of courtship and mating, this music was like the earth itself opening its mouth to sing.

Its crescendo crept forward slowly as the daylight roused one bird and then another: The dawn chorus was a whistling roar by now, the sound of a thousand males calling out love to a thousand silent females ready to choose and make the world new. It was nothing but heady cacophony unless you paid attention to the individual entries: And then came the wood thrush, with his tone poem of a birdsong.

The dawn chorus would subside in another hour, but the wood thrush would persist for a long time into the morning, then pick up again in early evening or even at midday if it was cloudy.

She lived with wood thrushes for company. Deanna smiled a little to think of Nannie down there in the valley. Nannie lived for neighborly chat, staking out her independent old-lady life but still snatching conversation wherever possible, the way a dieter will keep after the cookies tucked in a cupboard.

No wonder she worried for Deanna.


The sky had a solid white cast by now, mottled like an old porcelain plate, and the voices began to back off or drop out one by one. The Forest Service never questioned it. Sitting at the table beside the window with her coffee on snowy February mornings, she could lose hours watching the colorful crowd that gathered outside, envying the birds their freedom in the intense cold. Envying, even, their selfimportant fuss and bustle.

A bird never doubts its place at the center of the universe. She was addicted to their presence, too.

More silver each year, and less tea. Apparently it was a rule for women in their forties: She rarely noticed her hair except to let it out of its braid for a run once a week or so, like a neglected hound. And who could be bothered with haircuts, weekly or monthly or whatever they had to be?

Eyeliner, for instance: The kind without a man. Eddie Bondo was gone, and that had to be for the best. If what he said was true, that he intended only to hike over to Clinch Peak for a day or two and then come back to see her again, he would need his pack. A chance to listen to the dawn chorus and brush her hair without being watched.

She stretched her legs straight in front of her while she rebraided her hair into its familiar rope, an exercise her hands could do without mirror or attention. She gasped, dizzy, falling up, straight up into the treetops. She wondered how she would look to him now, lying here like this.

She cursed aloud and sat up. Damned thing, self-consciousness, like a pitiful stray dog tagging you down the road—so hard to shake off. So easy to get back. No man had ever spoken to her so freely of her body, or compared it to such strange and natural things. Not only a silkworm. Also ivory, for instance, which he claimed was unnaturally smooth.

She had been listening too hard, she realized now, for the things he left out—what he meant or believed. To have her bare stomach compared to walrus ivory, was this strange compliment hers alone? She had no idea how to take him but had taken him nearly as hard as possible.

It still ran a shock of physical weakness all the way through her to think of certain things: The look of awestruck joy on his face when he entered her. She walked a circle around the room, stepping into jeans and boots without slowing down much. She took a bite and stuffed the rest into her jacket pocket to eat on the trail, or later on, while she waited in the blind she was going to build. She took the Bitter Creek trail down the mountain as fast as she could without breaking into a run, which would be pointless.

If they were there, they would still be there in ten minutes. Or they might not be there at all. If this was the same family that had lost half its members in one day over in the Zebulon Valley, the survivors would be cautious.

She was sure it was that family, or else some other refugees of human damage. Backup plans were their trademark, the famous coyote wiles.

Everything that was possible to know about them, though, Deanna knew. That only the alpha female would bear young, for instance; the other adults in the pack would forgo reproduction. If their parents got killed, the pups would hardly suffer for their absence—that was the nature of a coyote family. That was the point of it. Any predator that needs to sleep at night has already lost the game, with a coyote.

She slowed to a walk and then stopped a quarter mile from where she recalled the den as being, to consider building her blind. She could build only one blind, since she wanted to create as little disturbance as possible and leave few clues in case anyone else should be poking around here.

Mornings, then, it would be. But this family had its own history. So it had come up high, to stage its raids from safe hiding, like Geronimo. She began to move forward again slowly, breaking and collecting low branches from sourwood trees. She left the path, protecting her eyes as she pushed her way through a thick clump of rhododendrons.

Her intention was to circle wide around the den to where she could look at it from across the creek. The real trouble, the bear poachers and that ilk, generally came from other places. Those men specialized and so had to range widely. She sidestepped slowly downhill until she could see across the creek to the tangle of roots at the base of the giant fallen tree.

She raised her binoculars to the slice of darkness beneath the roots, held her breath, and focused. No point building a blind until she knew they were still here. Deanna knew exactly when the morning ended. She knew when the air grew still enough that she could hear caterpillars overhead, newly hatched, eating through thousands of leaves on their way to becoming Io and luna moths.

In the next hour the breeze would shift. She had offered him her services: The curator had politely suggested that if she wanted to see coyotes in groups she should take a trip out west, where the animals were so common that people got acquainted with them as roadkill. The conversation had given her a stomachache. Two years after her arrival, one of the most heavily poached ranges of southern Appalachia was becoming an intact ecosystem again. All of that was the point, but to her mind only partly so.

She breathed out now, resigned. It would happen. On her way back up the mountain she consciously slowed her step. She heard another magnolia warbler—a sign and a wonder, it seemed to her, like something risen from the dead. So many others never would rise again: She deferred to the extinct as she would to the spirits of deceased relatives, paying her quiet respects in the places where they might once have been.

The early human settlers migrating into this region had loved them and promptly killed them. Now most people would call you crazy if you told them that something as exotic as a parrot had once been at home in these homely southern counties. She stopped and stared at her feet.

Here were tracks, fresh, and she paused to study them out: The claw marks were there, too, clear as could be. Two and three quarters inches front to back. This was not a gray fox, and not a red fox. A big one, probably male. A little farther on, where the trail crossed a clearing and, most likely, other animal trails, she found his scat. She squatted down and poked it apart with a twig. A coyote could eat nearly anything: Human garbage, a house cat.

The farmers down below were right to believe a coyote could take a lamb; working together, a pack might even bring down a full-grown cow. But that would take a huge pack, two dozen animals maybe, more adult coyotes than existed in this county and probably this end of the state. Hardly a creature on earth could thrive more capably on junk that was useless to humans. She was surprised by the hard, dark glint of an apple seed. Then several more.

Apple seeds at this time of year, late May? Apples were just barely past blossom-drop stage down in the valley. More likely this fellow had crept into an orchard where someone grew old-fashioned leathercoats that stayed on the tree all the way through winter into spring. Deanna was sympathetic. Nannie was a generous woman who did not count her Arkansas blacks after the guests left. Something else here surprised her: No millet grew on this mountainside, or on any farm down below, as far as she knew.

Certainly not red and white millet together; that was a combination unlikely to be found on any farm. Mostly it showed up in the commercial seed mixes people put out for their birds. Probably this was the birdseed she had put out herself.

She stood up blinking, peered downhill through the tree trunks, and thought about it. Who else around here was likely to be feeding chickadees? She had ignored her notebooks completely for the full nine days of his visit.

Even now she felt abnormally jumpy, in need of something to eat, or to look up, or to check on, and had to scold herself like a child to sit still and focus. Anything could have happened in those days, life or death, and she would have missed it. What she had here on this mountain was a chance that would never come again, for anybody: Paine called a keystone predator. No one had known, before that, how crucial a single carnivore could be to things so far removed from carnivory. Of course, the experiment had been replicated endlessly by accident: Plenty of people had watched and recorded the disaster of eliminating a predator from a system.

What had kept muskrats in check, historically, was the mink now mostly coats , the river otter also nearly gone , and, surely, the red wolf. There was no telling how the return of a large, hungry dog might work to restore stability, even after an absence of two hundred years. Rare things, endangered things, not just river life but overgrazed plants and their insect pollinators, might begin to recover. Or maybe coyotes would turn out to be pests, as newly introduced species nearly always are.

Maybe the farmers were right to shoot them—she had to concede it was possible. She believed coyotes were succeeding here for a single reason: The two predators were hardly distinct: Like the coyote, it was a scent hunter that could track in the dead of night, unlike the big cats that hunt by sight.

It was like a coyote in its reproductive rate, and close in size.

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This was what she believed she would see, if she watched, at this magical juncture: If she was not too lazy or careless. And if she did not lead a killer to their lair. She bit her pen, trying to concentrate. She wanted something to eat, warm and particular. But for this whole day her body had been speaking to her of its presence: Maybe navy bean soup would do it, she decided, jumping up and going inside.

Navy beans steaming in an enamel bowl, smothering the rest of the leftover cornbread. She would bring it back out here to the porch chair and sit facing west, with her back carefully turned on Clinch Peak. But she was pretty sure she had a can of precooked white beans in the back of the cupboard. She shoved aside the Dutch oven to look behind it and was dismayed to see the heavy iron lid sitting ajar. Darn it! Tears sprang to her eyes as she stared into the heavy pot.

She slammed down the lid, swung the heavy pot down from the shelf, and headed outside. Living alone leaves you no one to curse but yourself when the toilet paper grins its empty cardboard jeer at you in the outhouse, or when the cornbread is peppered with poop.

She could blame the mice if she wanted to, little devils. All right, then; fascinated by animal scat though she was the last straw for her ex-husband, that part of her thesis , she was not about to eat it, nor eat after a mouse, either.

She walked to the end of the porch in her heavy wool socks and continued out to the boulder under the wild cherry. She shook the hunks of yellow cornbread and crumbs onto the ground, adding her loss to the nebulae of birdseed glittering there. The surprising ascent, like a pair of pale hickory leaves caught in an updraft, arrested her there in the doorway. As if they were already ghosts, mourning their future extinction. This one was out of its element, awake in broad daylight.

A busy chipmunk might have rousted it from a lower resting place. Her horror had made her want to throw it down, and it was only her preconceived affection for the luna that made her hold on.

When these creatures danced above their yard at night, she and her dad called them ballerinas. But this was no ballerina. It glared at Deanna, seeming to know too much for an insect and, worse, seeming disdainful.

She sat up in bed hugging herself under the blanket, holding her braid in her mouth to keep herself still. A quieting of the insect noise, a change in the quality of night that means something is there, or someone. Should she speak? Out in the darkness beyond the end of the porch where she scattered the seed—that was where he was. She could actually see movement. If it had eyes, of course, and if they were looking at her directly. She waited a little longer, heard nothing.

Clicked on her light: Not human, not raccoon. Using binocular vision, we judge the location of an object by comparing the images from two eyes and tracking directly toward the stimulus. But for species relying on the sense of smell, the organism compares points in space, moves in the direction of the greater concentration, then compares two more points successively, moving in zigzags toward the source. Using olfactory navigation the moth detects currents of scent in the air and, by small increments, discovers how to move upstream.

When was that, a hundred years ago? Day before yesterday? What an odd thing, Lusa thought, to buy and install plastic woodwork in this town surrounded on every side by forests.

Visitors just now arriving for the viewing would have to wait in line for an hour or more, Mary Edna had just announced seeming pleased after going out for reconnaissance. The line was out the door now that it was evening and people were getting off work.

Tonight was a friendlier business, their chance to look at Cole and say their private good-byes. There was hardly a soul in the valley who had not turned out, it seemed. Cole was very well loved—Lusa had known this, of course. And also there was the handiwork of the undertaker to be admired, given the accident. She knew they were sorry, though. When Mary Edna went out front to hold court she was replaced by Jewel or Lois or Emaline, interchangeable blocks in a solid, black-clad wall.

Maybe not precisely interchangeable. She found it impossible to feel anything. Somehow her numbness seemed connected with the great din of noise. As the evening wore on and on, the noise seemed to rise like a tide. So many conversations at once added up to a kind of quacking racket that she could not begin to sort through. She found herself considering, instead, the sounds of nonsensical phrases that bounced into her ears.

Mountain speech, even without its words, was a whole different language from city speech: Them cows come over on Lawrence again. Bitter Holler. This last, she realized with a start, was Mary Edna. Over near the door, speaking of her, Lusa. How could this have been decided already?

But it was only natural, even a kindness, Lusa supposed, for them to release her so easily. She felt a strange lightness: She could walk away from Zebulon County. No, it was that she could leave this place, be anybody she wanted, anywhere at all. She put her hands to her face and felt a joyful urge to tell Cole: Oh, God, Cole. She ground her knuckles into her eye sockets and vaguely grasped how far gone she must be.

Shock, two nights without sleep, and two days of people eating ham sandwiches in her kitchen had caused her to lose her mind. Her body, as if it belonged to someone else, began to shake with a dry, sharp rack she was helpless to stop, a strange weeping from her throat that sounded almost like laughter. What was she trying to say? That Lusa had no prerogative to the greatest grief? The evening had the sensation of a dream she would not remember in the morning.

Trapped in the endless repetition, she shook the callused palms of men who still milked cows by hand, and accepted the scented, too-soft cheeks of their wives against her own.

Only the Lord knows why his time came so soon. She opened her eyes for fear she would fall into the darkness. He used to come play with my daughter. But you do. You learn to love the place somebody leaves behind for you.

As the woman went out the door Lusa caught sight of her calico skirt swinging to the side, like a curtain closing. Herb could take her, she suggested, and then come back to wait out the evening with the rest of the family.

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She told Mary Edna she would stay here till the end, until the last person had said good-bye to Cole and left this room. She just repeated it, more angrily each time, until she made it come true. But it was the opposite: Over what? She could swear it was the quiet that woke her, the fact that their talk of crops and rain and beef prices and rheumatism suddenly ceased when they realized she was sleeping. Things at least quieted down after dark, when all the reasonable hours for eating or visiting were past.

But nights were the worst for Lusa. Apparently they had moved in. It was Saturday now—Sunday morning, rather, could that be right? She wished for deafness—she had already overheard too much, too many suppositions about her fragility, her plans, her lack of religious faith or even her own kin to lean on. Things seemed to calm down a lot when the visitors left, but Lusa could still hear them talking and handling food. Everything in the kitchen remained exactly as their mother had organized it.

She could picture the two of them now, their hands uncrinkling and reusing squares of aluminum foil to cover the casseroles. If only she could sleep, only leave this place for a little while. Sleep would not come to her tonight. There were ghosts everywhere, even here in the neutral guest bedroom where Lusa had hardly spent an hour of her life before this. One more piece of the bottomless unfairness of this death: Out of the Blue, it was called. Now Cole was permanently missing from their number, like a tooth knocked out, and his upright bass stood waiting in its corner.

Other dead men had surely played it before Cole. How strange that you could share the objects of your life with whole communities of the dead and never give them a single thought until one of your own crossed over. Lusa had come only lately to this truth: She sighed and got up. She would go back to her own bedroom and read Nabokov or something to shut off her mind.

A book would make morning come sooner. That dread was nothing, now, compared to the unbounded misery of a sleepless night. At this moment she would give her soul for daybreak.

In her present state of mind, who knew? She could just as easily have left it in the refrigerator. The kitchen had been quiet for a while.

Her sisters-in-law must be asleep at their posts on the parlor and living-room couches. I heard you moving around. I was just coming down to get a book. You need to sleep. Tell Lazarus he needs to get up.

I brought you something to take. I got these from Dr. Gibben when Shel went away. I had the same thing. And so, take what—poison? Racked her useless brain for meaning. Not even aspirin for a headache.

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Does that seem silly? Her voice came from the darkness above it. The empty vessel, as she had called her. The Lord helps you forget. The white-winged apparition above her lowered itself down and hugged her tightly. After a minute they let go of each other. The same as me. You have to give in sometime. If she looked just off to the side of it she could see it there, like a distant, guiding star.

Drink you a glass of water with it and go lay down. Sometimes you just need a little help. First she feared to feel the effects of the pill in her limbs, and then, slowly, she arrived at the much more dreadful understanding that there would be no effect. When the clock downstairs chimed twice, Lusa felt pure, bleak despair.

Jewel was right: Her mind was longing for death. And then it was over. Sleep took Lusa away to a wide, steep pasture cleared out of the forest. A man spoke to her by name: I know the shape of your body. The unbearable, exquisite pleasure of being chosen. The wrong words are impossible when there are no words. She rolled toward him and opened her blanket.

He was covered in fur, not a man at all but a mountain with the silky, pale-green extremities and maroon shoulders of a luna moth. He wrapped her in his softness, touched her face with what seemed to be the movement of trees. His odor was of water over stones and the musk of decaying leaves, a wild, sweet aura that drove her to a madness of pure want.

It was those things exactly, his solid strength and immensity, that comforted her as he shuddered and came into her. She woke in a sweat, her back arched with simultaneous desire and release. She touched her body quickly—her breasts, her face— reassuring herself of her own shape. It seemed impossible, but here she was after everything that had happened, still herself, Lusa.

She curled onto her side and stared for a long time out the open window at the solemn poplars standing on either side of the hollow, guarding the mouth of the mountain that still breathed gently into her window.

Above the trees stood a pale white sky where the waxing moon must have hung just a little while ago: A day of her own, faintly scented with honeysuckle. She pulled up the sheet and closed her eyes, accepting solitude in the bed that was hers, if she chose it.

The thought made him smile. They had reckoned it to be theirs, for a ten-year-old boy will happily presume ownership of a miracle of nature, and then carve on it with his knife. Something Indian. The Indian Tunnel. Who else could have felled that tree? He and his sons would have spent a whole day and more with their shoulders against the crosscut saw to bring down that giant for lumber.

Probably they took away tree-sized branches to be milled into barn siding, but that trunk was just too big of an old monster and had to be left where it lay. Left to hollow itself out from the inside till nothing was left of it but a game for the useless mischief of boys. Mules, they had to use in those days for any kind of work that got done: A tractor was a thing still yet undreamed of. A mule could be coaxed into many a steep and narrow place where a tractor would not go, it was true.

That was just it, the very thing he had been trying to tell the Rawley woman for years. People keep the customs of their own day and time for good reason.

In those days, a girl went away for a decent interval to visit a so-called relative and came back sadder but wiser. But not Miss Rawley.

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She never appeared the least bit sad, and the woman was unwise on principle. Of course there was the tragic business with the child to win them over, but even so, Nannie was the sort, she could get away with anything. Every one of them just as pleasant as the day is long when they meet her out here in the lane, Nannie all rosy-cheeked amongst her daisies with her long calico skirt and braids wrapped around her head like some storybook Gretel. They might gossip some, for how could such an odd bird fail to attract the occasional sharp arrow let loose from Oda Black down at the Black Store?

But even the vociferous Oda would put a hand beside her mouth to cut short a remark about Nannie, letting the suggestion of it hang but packaging it with deep regret.

Nannie bribed Oda with apple pies; that was one of her methods. People thought she was comical and intriguing but for the most part excessively kind. He suspected Nannie Rawley had been put on this earth to try his soul and tempt his faith into doubt. Why else, with all the good orchard land stretching north from here to the Adirondacks, would that woman have ended up as his neighbor?

Her sign alone was enough to give him hives. He could see it now through the weeds, the back side of it, poking up out of the bank above Highway 6. He squinted to make sure; his eyesight had reached the point where it required some effort. That in a nutshell was Nannie Rawley. He hoped she was watching. He had to grasp it with both hands and wobble the stake for quite a long time to loosen it out of its hole.

He could picture it. She had no respect for property, for her elders in general, or for Garnett in particular. No use for men at all, he suspected darkly— and just as well. No love lost there on either side. He had to stop every few yards to untangle his shirtsleeves from the stickerbushes.

Everywhere else in Zebulon County—everywhere but here—the county road workers kept the road cuts mowed or, if the banks were too steep for mowing, like this one that fronted his farm, at least kept them sprayed. It took only one good dose of Two-Four-D herbicide every month to shrivel these leafy weeds to a nice, withered stand of rustybrown stalks, easily raked down afterward to show the world a tidy frontage. Probably it was all they talked about down at Black Store, that Garnett Walker was a lazy old man!

Now it was the second of June, and the spray truck must be due again soon. How could she always know when it was coming? Was that witchcraft, too? In previous years, he had talked to her. His heart was pounding from the effort of bushwhacking through this godforsaken mess.

But that was not to be. There was no end to her ignorance or her zeal. That would be along the lines of the Catholics coming to check up on the morals of their pope. He paused again to catch his breath. His arms ached from thrashing the sign, and he felt a queer heaviness in his left leg. It was practically a swamp. The briars had become almost impossible to get through, and he still had twenty yards to go to reach the line fence.

Garnett felt purely miserable and almost lost heart: But no, he wanted to cross over down here below the fence line and throw the cursed sign into her weeds, where it belonged.

He decided to push on, twenty more yards. If only his poisons would drift over onto her trees. He knew very well, and had told her so, that without his constant spraying to keep them down, the Japanese beetles would overrun her orchards completely. Success without chemicals was impossible.

Nannie Rawley was a deluded old harpy in pigtails. He could see the fence now—the posts, at least. But as he moved toward the property line, the sensation of heaviness in his left leg grew so unbearable, he could hardly drag it.

Heaviness in the left leg? He stopped to mop the sweat off his face. His skin felt clammy, and a sick ache gnawed at his stomach. Dear Lord! After how many days, or weeks? Oh, sweet Jesus! Through his ragged breathing he cried out in spite of himself: It looked like a yellow paper box with the bottom cut out.

Here I am, thought Garnett, at the end of my allotted days, staring at a yellow paper box with the bottom cut out. My last view of this earthly life: Dear Lord my God, he prayed silently.

He tried to help with his useless legs, but he felt as if he were participating in the sport of alligator wrestling and knew, with a sinking heart, that he was the alligator. She knelt over him, peering down with concern, and he gasped at the sight of her red-bandanna-crowned head reeling wildly through space. You go on with your business, but maybe if you get a chance directly you could call up the ambulance.

He felt confused—would there be blood, with a stroke? Or some kind of deformity? Suddenly his chest felt better and his head was perfectly clear. It had gotten hold of the edge of his leather sole with the vise grip the snapping turtle is famous for, and true to its fame, it appeared to have no plans on letting go until Zebulon County got thunder. Although it did seem to Garnett that its dark little beady eyes were looking up at him fairly sheepishly.

Poor thing, thought Garnett, to have to commit yourself so hard to one moment of poor judgment. Let me go get a stick and whack it to make it turn loose of you. Knowing what a soft spot you have in your heart for pests and vermin. Her hands had felt so strong, guiding him up the bank like the grip of destiny itself.

Like the claws of a she-bear! Having those hands on him once was enough for today. He and I will just head back home now. Thank you for your help. He turned sideways to cast a glance back. She was quite put out with him, it seemed, or else she was making her mind up that he was crazy as a loon—one of the two.

It made no difference either way to Garnett Walker. He turned back toward her again, tilting his head a little to the side. As if her heart were not pounding at its cage like a sudden captive. He might have thought he was joking, but she knew some truths about human scent. That was how pheromones seemed to work, in humans at least—nobody liked to talk about it. Maybe excepting Eddie Bondo.

Could she pretend not to rejoice? How could she not want him back? Which do you mean? The supply seemed endless. Deanna wondered if these tiny particles would cling to their damp skin or enter their bodies on an inhaled breath. She shrugged.

Was he serious? A woman knew both those things if she was paying attention. It amazed her, the obvious animal facts people refused to know about their kind.This lifetime. He nodded. He wrapped her in his softness, touched her face with what seemed to be the movement of trees. She pressed her lips together, inclined to avert her eyes from so many pink scrota. Both nights she awoke in a sweat, disturbed by the fierce, muffled sounds of bats mating in the shadows under her porch eaves, aggressive copulations that seemed to be collisions of strangers.

His hair had the thick, glossy texture she envied slightly, for it was perfectly straight and easy and never would tangle.

But as he moved toward the property line, the sensation of heaviness in his left leg grew so unbearable, he could hardly drag it. Any girl who pursued the study of insects had learned to ignore public opinion. But solitude is only a human presumption.

JUDI from Washington
Look through my other posts. One of my extra-curricular activities is amateur wrestling. I do love reading novels reluctantly.