Fire Sale


Total Recall

Hard Time

Ghost Country

Windy City Blues

Tunnel Vision

Guardian Angel

Burn Marks

Blood Shot

Bitter Medicine

Killing Orders


Indemnity Only

G . P. P utnam’ s S o n s New York

bleeding kansas

S a r a P a r e t s k y





Fellow refugees from our own patch of bleeding Kansas

The promised peace has not yet come to Kansas. With many fears, and

many sufferings before them in the cold months coming, they will look

forward to a day of deliverance, when the new reign of peace and

righteous laws takes the place of oppression and tyranny.

—Mrs. Sara Robinson, Kansas, 1856


I attended a two-room country school but know nothing about farming.

Without the help of the Pendleton family—John and Karen, their children,

Margaret, Will, and Liz, and John’s parents, Al and Loretta— could not

have begun to write this book let alone finished it. Needless to say, the

errors, which are doubtless legion, are all my own. Further, there is no

resemblance whatsoever between any real Kansans, whether friends of my

youth or the amazingly energetic Pendletons, and any of the people in this

novel. All the characters here, especially Nasya, are creations of my own hectic


Thanks to Karen Pendleton, I am a proud honorary member of the

Meadowlark chapter of Kansas 4-H; the many skills Lara Grellier learns in

4-H in this novel are a real sample of what Kansas kids actually do learn.

I spent an informative afternoon at the Newhouse Dairy near Topeka. I

am grateful to a very overworked Will Newhouse for taking time out of a

day that starts at four each morning, for the first milking, to talk to me. As

he warned me, that was scarcely a beginning of understanding dairy farming,

so I apologize for the numerous liberties I have taken with cows in this


Professor Allan Lines, at Ohio State University, provided much useful

information on farm economics.

Sue Novak, at the Kansas State Historical Society, was generous with her

time and resources as I began my research into Kansas pioneer history. Sheryl

Williams, curator of Special Collections at the University of Kansas, was


most helpful in directing me to sources on the early history of settlement in


My brother Jonathan helped in many ways, from talking over the book as

it developed, introducing me to Douglas County DA Angie Wilson, who

generously provided information and advice on Kansas law and Douglas

County courts, to helping create the Hebrew-speaking heifer.

I have taken a number of liberties with the Douglas County government,

including times of bond hearings, and the behavior of the sheriff ’s department,

which I modeled more on Cook County, where I live, than on the real

behavior of Douglas County deputies. In addition, for my own story needs I

moved the county fair from August to July, which would never happen in

reality. I have also added about a mile to the landscape between Lawrence

and Eudora to accommodate the Schapens, Grelliers, Fremantles, Ropeses,

and Burtons so that I need not displace the Pendletons, Wickmans, and

other actual farmers in the valley.

If you are ever in Douglas County, look up the Pendleton Country Market.

My old two-room school, Kaw Valley District 95, where I played baseball

with more zest than skill, is now a high-end prep school not too far from

Highway 10. It now boasts many rooms.

With the exception of Z’s Espresso Bar, every place and person mentioned

in this book is fictional.


I grew up in eastern Kansas in the valley of two rivers, the Wakarusa and the

Kaw. On maps, you’ll see the Kansas River, but we call it the Kaw, as the

Indians who first settled there did, and that is the name I use in this book.

I’ve been away from Kansas for forty years, but it still is in my bones. The

landscapes of childhood are so familiar that it is hard to write about them. I

see Chicago more clearly now than I do the prairies, where my brothers and

I hiked and worked and played. It took eight years of thinking about the

people and places I knew before I could write this novel.

In the 1850s, the ferocious struggle over slavery in Kansas earned the territory

the nickname “Bleeding Kansas.” The wars fought on that soil were

among the bloodiest in our nation’s history, as pro- and anti-slavery forces

battled over whether the territory would join the Union as slave or free.

John Brown’s name is well known, but at least a thousand anti-slavery emigrants

were murdered in cold blood by “border ruffians,” as they were

called, who poured into Kansas Territory from the neighboring slave state,

Missouri, with the tacit consent of territorial governor Wilson Shannon,

himself a slave owner. In 1861, Kansas came into the Union as a free state,

but Lawrence suffered a bloody massacre in 1863 in which hundreds were

murdered by raiders led by the Missouri slave supporter William Quantrill,

who took advantage of most of the able-bodied men being away fighting for

the Union.

I grew up on that history, on knowing I shared a heritage of resistance

against injustice. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother, Henry Ward Beecher,


sent “Beecher’s Bibles” into Kansas Territory: trunks full of rifles for antislavery

forces covered with Bibles so they could get past the slavers who controlled

access to Kansas. I grew up proud of the role of pioneer women, who

sewed bullets into their crinolines to smuggle them past the slaver guards.

A century after Kansas came into the Union as a free state, it was painful

to acknowledge that Lawrence was a segregated town. In the 1960s and

’70s, in a reprise of Bleeding Kansas, the town of Lawrence and the University

of Kansas became the site of some of the bloodiest campus battles in the

nation—ver segregation, over women’s rights, the Vietnam War, American

Indian rights, African-American rights. Some of the town reacted in alarm,

convinced that Communists had taken over the town, the university, and

the county. The Republican revolution began then. People who thought

African-Americans and women were out of line demanding their rights

began taking over government at the grass-roots level to ensure that oldfashioned

values would prevail.

This novel is set in the present, against the backdrop of that history. It is

set on the farms of the Kaw Valley, where I grew up. In 1958, my parents

bought a farmhouse east of town to escape the poisonous segregation of the

era, which affected African-Americans the most but, to a lesser degree, Jews

as well. The house we lived in had been owned by the Gilmore family, who

at one time farmed ten thousand acres in the Kaw Valley. My family lived in

that house for forty years, but locals still call it the Gilmore house, never the

Paretsky house, and in this novel the Fremantle house is treated in the same

way. Like the Fremantle house, “our” house had a Tiffany chandelier in the

dining room, a silver-backed water fountain in the upper hall, and many

beautiful fireplaces.





From Abigail Comfo r t Gr e l l i e r ’s Jour nal 16







From Abigail Comfo r t Gr e l l i e r ’s Jour nal 59







15. FIRE DANCE 104





20. TAPS 143

Part Two FALL




24. WHO WAS THAT . . . INTRUDER? 173







31. PENNED IN 232

32. PHOTO OP 240



Part Three MIRACLE






40. A GIRL’S “FRIEND” 303

41. COLLAPSE 309



44. PUPPY LOVE? 334


46. TALK, TALK, TALK . . . NO ACTION 348


From Abigail Comfo r t Gr e l l i e r ’s L e t t e r s 357


48. WORD STORM 365





53. SAMHAIN 398

54. BURN, BABY, BURN 405


Part Five CODA


57. TIDYING UP 426

58. SPRING 430

Pa r t O n e




Heat devils shimmered over the cornfield. It was late July, the

midday sun so hot that it raised blisters on Lara’s arms. It turned the

leaves into green mirrors that reflected back a blinding light. Lara shut

her eyes against the glare and held out her hands, trying to reach the edge

of the cornfield by feel, but she tripped on the rough ground and fell,

grazing her knees on the hard soil. She’d had plenty worse falls, but this

one so humiliated her that she started to cry.

“Don’t be such a baby,” she whispered fiercely.

She sat up to inspect the damage. Her dress had a long streak of dirt

up the front, and her knees were bleeding. She’d made the dress as part of

a summer 4-H project for the county fair. It was pink lawn, with a

placket up the left side edged in rose scalloping, and she’d won first prize

for it. She got up, her knees stinging when she straightened them, and

hobbled the last few yards into the cornfield.

The corn was so tall that walking into the field was like walking into a

forest. After a few dozen steps, she couldn’t see the house or any of the

outbuildings. The rows looked the same in all directions, neat hills

about two feet apart. If she turned around in circles a few times, she

wouldn’t know what direction she’d come from. She’d be fifty yards

from home but would be so lost she could die in here. Probably she’d

die of thirst within a day, it was so hot. Blitz and Curly would find her

bones in October, picked clean by prairie hawks, when they came to harvest

the corn.


She lay down between the rows and stared at the sky through the

weaving of leaves and tassels. The corn was as tall as young trees, but it

didn’t provide much shade: the leaves were too thin to make a bower

overhead the way bur oak would. She scooted close to the stalks so that

leaves covered her face and blocked out the worst of the punishing sun. It

was a close, windless day, but when she lay completely motionless she

could hear a rustling in the leaves, a sort of whooshing, as if they created

their own little wind within the field.

Grasshoppers whirred around her. A few birds sang through the rows,

pecking at the corn. The ears were just taking shape, the kernels at blister

stage. The smell was sweet, not like the icky, fake-flavored corn syrup

you got with your pancakes at the diner, but a clean, light sweetness,

before anyone took the corn and started manufacturing things from it.

She lay so still that a meadowlark perched on the stalk right above her.

It cocked a bright eye at her, as if wanting her opinion on the world.

“They’ll make the corn dirty,” Lara told it. “Here in the field, it’s

clean. But then they’ll take it to their stupid factories and turn it into

gasoline or plastic or some other nasty thing.”

The bird chirped in agreement and turned to peck at one of the ears of

corn, trying to get through the thick husk. When Lara reached up an

arm to strip the husk back, to help out, the bird took off in fright.

In the distance, she heard her father calling her name. She squinched

her eyes shut again, as if that would shut out sound and sight both, but

in a few minutes she heard the louder crackling of his arms brushing

back leaves.

“Lulu! Lulu!” and then louder, closer, more exasperated, “Lara! Lara

Grellier! I know you’re in here. Blitz saw you go into the field. Come on,

we have to get going.”

With her eyes shut, she felt his shadow overhead, heard his sudden

intake of surprised breath. “Lulu, what are you doing down there? Did

you faint? Are you okay?” And he was bending over her, smelling of shaving

cream—o strange, Dad shaving in the middle of the day.

It didn’t occur to her to lie, to say yes, the sun got to her, she fainted,

she was too ill and weak to go. She sat up and stared at him, imagining

how she must look covered with dirt and blood.


“I just fell, Dad. I’m okay, but I wrecked my dress. I can’t go like this, I

wrecked my dress.” She burst into tears again, as if the loss of a stupid

dress mattered. What was wrong with her, to cry over her dress at a time

like this? But she sobbed louder and clung to her father.

He stroked her hair. “Yeah, baby, you look like you decided today was

mud-pie day. It’s okay, the dress’ll clean up fine, you’ll see. You run in the

house and wash up and put on something else.”

He pulled her to her feet. “No wonder you fell, wearing those crazy

flip-flops in the field. I keep telling you to put on shoes. You could step

on a nail, get tetanus or ringworm. Aphids could lay eggs under your


It was a familiar litany, and it eased the worst of her sobs. When they

got to the house, he hesitated a moment before letting go of her arm.

“See if your mom needs any help getting dressed, okay, Lulu? And don’t

forget your trumpet.”

Later, when she’d been away from Kansas for years and finally

came home again to run the farm, with children of her own who couldn’t

tell the difference between a stalk of corn and a sheaf of wheat, the colors

were what Lara remembered from that day. Most of the other details

she’d forgotten, or they’d merged in her mind with all the other shocks

and horrors that made up one long year of grief.

What her aunt Mimi and uncle Doug said when she shoved past them

in the kitchen or Curly’s sour remark to Blitz, just loud enough for her to

hear, “Are we supposed to drop everything and clap, now that Lulu’s

turned into a drama queen?” let alone Blitz’s rumbling warning to Curly

to get off Lara’s back, “She’s been through too much for a kid her age,”

none of that stayed with her.

All she remembered was the heat, green leaves against blue sky, the

red-brown blood on her pink dress. Oh, yes, and her mother, sitting on

the edge of her bed in a bra and panty hose, staring blankly at the pictures

of Chip and Lara on the wall in front of her.

The sight terrified Lara. Her mother was the active presence on the

farm. Jim was cautious, uneasy with change, but Susan was a gambler, an


experimenter. After he took physics, Chip labeled her a perpetual motion

machine, “p-double-m” in teenspeak, because she never sat still, not even

in church or at the dinner table—here was always someone who needed

a helping hand up the aisle or “Just one more shake of salt will make this

dish perfect.”

That hot July day, Lara shook Susan until her mother finally blinked

at her. “You’re hurting me, Lara. I’m not a pump. You can’t draw water

out of me by yanking my arm up and down.”

But she got up, and let Lara choose an outfit for her, a gold linen dress

that Lara loved for the way her mother’s auburn hair looked against the

fabric. Susan sat while Lara pulled up the zipper and tied a dark scarf

around her throat, Susan smoothing Lara’s own brown curls away from

her daughter’s face with a wind-roughened hand. She seemed so very

nearly like herself, even on this day of all days, that some of the tightness

went out of Lara’s chest. Nothing would ever be right again, but it

wouldn’t be so horribly wrong if her mother started moving.

If the details of the year blurred into a long memory of grief for

Lara, her father thought of them as a string of tornadoes roaring down

on him. Jim saw himself as small, bewildered, holding out his hands in a

futile effort to push back the funnels of wind.

For a long time, he played that most useless of all games: if only. If only

I had paid more attention to Chip, seen how unhappy he was. If only I

hadn’t argued so much with Susan about the bonfires or the war. If

only I’d told John Fremantle no one could live in his parents’ old home

because it was too run-down.

For some reason, that last one gnawed at him most, maybe because it

was the one thing he thought he could have controlled: letting Gina

Haring come to live in the valley. Not that it had been his decision, but

he and Susan had been keeping an eye on the Fremantle house ever since

Liz Fremantle died. Her three children had come back for her funeral,

had looked at the old house and agreed with Susan that it would take a

lot of work to restore it to the splendor of its early days, and had fled

again, to New York and London and Singapore.


And then right before Thanksgiving last fall, John Fremantle called

out of the blue to say he was renting the house to Gina Haring. Gina was

his wife’s niece. She’d been through a difficult divorce and needed a

cheap place to live while she figured out how to pull her life back

together. And all Jim thought was, one less burden. Not, what will a

stranger do to the subtle balance of relationships in the valley? Well, no

one does think about that, do they?



The news that the Fremantle children were renting out their

parents’ house had whipped around the Kaw Valley that previous fall.

Before Jim and Susan decided whether Blitz, who worked for Jim and was

a first-class mechanic, should try to fiddle with the Fremantles’ old octopus

furnace, let alone the best way to get keys to Gina Haring, all their

neighbors knew she was coming. In fact, two days after he heard from

John Fremantle, Jim ran into Myra Schapen at Fresh Prairie Cheeses. Jim

had stopped in to buy a slab of cheddar; Myra was delivering the raw

organic milk Annie Wieser used in making her artisanal cheeses.

“What’s this I hear about the Fremantles?” Myra demanded when she

saw Jim.

She was eighty-something, and her false teeth fit badly so she clacked

like a loose combine shoe when she talked.

“I don’t know, Myra, what do you hear?” Jim said.

“John Fremantle’s letting some hippie take over the house. Or, worse,

a sodomite.”

“Then you’ve heard way more than me,” Jim said. “I only know that

his wife’s niece is moving in next week. She’s had some hard times, and

he’s renting the place to her.”

“Hard times? Her husband divorced her because he found her in


“Myra!” Jim interrupted. “You weren’t there anymore than I was, so

neither of us knows what went on in the lady’s life. My only business is to


make sure the house is fit for her to move into and try to make her feel

welcome in a strange place. She’s been living in New York City—he

country’s going to seem like a foreign land to her, most likely.”

“Make her feel welcome!” Myra’s jaws worked around her teeth. “In

your place, I would have thought about my neighbors and spoke up. We

don’t need our children exposed to people like her. I’m not surprised you

don’t worry about your own pair, the way you let them roam around doing

whatever they like, but I care about my grandchildren’s immortal souls.”

“I expect Junior can look after himself,” Annie Wieser said briskly.

Junior, who played football at Lawrence High, had been an enthusiastic

bully since he started first grade.

“ ‘Every sound tree bears good fruit.’ ” Myra half smiled, taking

Annie’s comment as a compliment. “But Robbie, that’s another story

altogether. Takes after Kathy, and I can’t whip it out of him.”

When she stumped out of the barn, Annie made a face at Jim. “Poor

Kathy. I’m not surprised she ran off, although I’ve never understood how

she could leave those two boys with Arnie and Myra. Of course, she tried

to take them that day she left, but when Arnie stopped her she just

seemed to let them go. Or maybe the gentleman in the case didn’t want a

great lout like Junior on his hands. But why not take Robbie?”

Jim only grunted. It made him uncomfortable to be drawn into conversations

about his neighbors, the endless speculations on who did what

and why. Arnie had shot at Kathy when she drove out to tell him she was

leaving and that she wanted her sons; she’d stopped at the Grelliers’ farm

afterward, trembling and crying, until she was calm enough to drive off.

That was the last anyone around Lawrence had ever seen of her—s far

as Jim knew, anyway.

“How does Myra get her news?” He fumed at supper that night. “I

haven’t told a soul about John Fremantle renting out the house.”

“No more have I,” Susan said. She was peeling an orange, trying to

cut off the rind in a single piece without touching the fruit with her

fingers. She’d been practicing all fall. Tonight, she held up a perfect spiral

in triumph.

“Way to go, Mom.” Chip grinned, and gave Susan a high five.

“Myra’s installed a mike in every house in the valley,” Lara said. “Then


she listens in on our conversations and posts the juiciest parts on the

Schapen website.”

“She knows when you’ve been sleeping,” Chip sang off-key. “She

knows when you’re awake, and who you wake up with.”

Susan laughed, but Jim shook his head gloomily. “I hope she doesn’t

want to make trouble for the young lady. When I asked Myra why she

said Gina Haring was a sodomite, she clacked her teeth and said it was

common knowledge.”

“I didn’t think women could be sodomites,” Chip objected.

“Why not?” Lara asked.


Jim cut off his son. “More than I want to hear on the subject, especially

at mealtime.”

“Myra has that cousin in St. Jo who grew up with John Fremantle’s

wife,” Susan said. “That’s probably who told her about Gina Haring.

And then Myra might have embellished Ms. Haring’s story so she could

get angry about it. Myra has to be angry about something all the time,

you know. If she was ever happy, she’d probably fall apart.”

Myra’s rages had been part of Jim’s life since he and his brother, Doug,

came to live on the farm. They’d always spent a few weeks with Gram and

Grandpa in the summer, but they’d never been part of county farm life

until their parents died and Gram and Grandpa took them in. The brothers—Jim, nine; Doug, eleven—ad been startled by how much the other

children knew about them when they started at Kaw Valley Eagle School

in the fall. Two town boys suddenly transplanted from schools with more

students in each classroom than made up all eight grades at Kaw Valley,

they were furious at the way the other kids discussed their parents.

It seemed to Jim that their classmates knew more about his dad’s

childhood than he did himself, repeating stories they heard from their

own parents, who’d grown up with his father. Arnie Schapen, who was

Doug’s age, liked to needle the Grellier boys by insisting that their dad

had been drunk at the wheel when a Santa Fe freight train crashed into

his car. Arnie also taunted the brothers for being sissies.

“You don’t know a baseball from an ear of corn,” Arnie yelled when

Jim overthrew first base and the ball landed in the cornfield behind the


school. Jim had never liked fighting, but Doug jumped into the ring—

really, into the cornfield—with zest, punching away his grief and anger

over their parents on Arnie Schapen’s nose and shoulders.

That was the first of dozens of encounters between the two. Once,

when Doug broke Arnie’s front tooth, Myra marched over to the Grellier

farm, waving a dental bill under Gram’s nose. “You better pay that bill,

Helen Grellier. Seventy-eight dollars your hoodlum grandson cost me.”

Gram made a shooing gesture. “You want to pay my doctor bill for

Doug’s broken nose, Myra? That was a whole lot more than seventyeight

dollars, but I’d be ashamed to ask someone else to take responsibility

for my boy’s behavior. You go on home and hoe some peas. That’ll

take your mind off this nonsense.”

Jim’s grandparents were just a little older than Myra, who had married

late. Arnie, Myra’s only child, was born when she was past forty. Gram

said that before Arnie was born, Myra had five or six miscarriages. Gram

thought that’s what had soured Myra on life, all those losses combined

with the hard-line religion she practiced. Schapens and Grelliers used to

be Methodists together, but when Myra married Bob Schapen, she took

her husband, and later her son, to Full Salvation Bible Church.

Jim, under his own wife’s influence, had also left the Methodists, in his

case for the Riverside United Church of Christ. Susan had insisted they

join because it was the church Jim’s many times great-grandmother helped

found. Gram shook her head, exasperated by Susan and what Gram

thought of as her fads; she and Grandpa stayed with the Methodists.

The three families, Schapens, Fremantles, and Grelliers, had first met

in 1855, when they came to Lawrence as anti-slavery pioneers. They had

staked neighboring claims near Lawrence for safety.

More than once, the first Robert Schapen had come to Jim’s ever-sogreat-

grandmother’s rescue: her husband was an idealist, a French

disciple of Emerson and Alcott, who often forgot his farm and family

when he was in the grip of a transcendent idea.

The Fremantles brought money and status west with them. Horace

was a judge, Una one of the Salem Peabodys, and they built what looked

like a mansion to the rest of the valley. After their first house was burned

by Quantrill’s raiders in 1863, Horace built an even grander place when


the Civil War ended. Marble fireplaces with Venetian tiles set into the

sides, a grand staircase leading down to a formal parlor, a veranda that

enclosed three sides of the house, these had all been extraordinary in pioneer


When Jim was a boy, it was still a wonderful place, but after Mr. Fremantle

died old Mrs. Fremantle stopped trying to keep on top of repairs

or modernizing things that badly needed it, like digging a deeper well

to get below the rusty water that was rotting out her pipes. Jim tried to

pitch in when he could, but he didn’t have the skill or the money to

repair the roof or the flashing around the chimney. By the time Liz Fremantle

died, the mold along the chimney walls and cat urine in the

floorboards had turned the place squalid.

Every time Jim or Susan went over to check on the roof after a

microburst or tornado swept through the valley, they e-mailed John Fremantle

with a catalog of decay. Jim got Blitz and Curly to help him seal

up the basement so that cats couldn’t get into the house, and Susan, one

hair-raising afternoon, climbed up to replace the flashing around the

three chimneys. They couldn’t afford to take on other repairs themselves.

Despite its decay, Susan loved the house. She’d fallen in love with the

history of the three families and their fight against slavery before she’d

fallen in love with Jim. Abigail Grellier, who Jim only thought of as the

grim-faced woman in the photograph on the front-room wall, was a living

person to Susan.

The first time Susan visited the Grellier farm with Jim, back when

they’d been students together at Kansas State, she’d asked a thousand

questions about its history that Jim couldn’t answer. He and Doug never

thought about things like Quantrill’s raiders, or the way the anti-slavery

women circumvented the slavers’ posts along the Kaw River. Grandpa

was entertained by Susan’s enthusiasm. He showed her however many

great-grandmother Abigail’s diaries and letters in the tin trunk in the attic.

Susan had stayed up half the night poring over the faded ink, reading

bits out loud to Jim. “You mean you’ve never even read these? But, Jim,

this is the trunk she brought with her from Boston. She had to keep her

food in it the first year on the farm because it was the only thing the mice

couldn’t eat through. I can’t believe it, can’t believe I’m sitting on the


same trunk! And that piano down in your gram’s parlor, that’s the piano

Abigail carried out here.”

Jim tried to explain to her that his family’s history meant something different

to him, something he found hard to put into words. It was a sense

of having a place in the world, a place ordained for him. Susan, whose

father, unable to hold on to a job, had moved every two or three years,

responded with a kind of wistful eagerness that Jim found touching.

She’d finally let him pull her down next to him, finally let him turn out

the light, make love, but she’d been too excited to sleep much. Jim had

grinned idiotically all through breakfast the next day while Susan catechized

his grandparents about Abigail. How many of her children had survived?

How had she decided who inherited the farm? Could Jim’s grandmother

run the farm herself the way Abigail did when her husband was away?

Grandpa couldn’t resist Susan’s flushed face and bright eyes, but Gram

found her questions naive or pointless. This was a farm, not a museum.

Even after Jim and Susan were married and Susan proved she could carry

her weight at harvesttime, Gram often treated her as if she were a child

who had to be indulged or restrained.

When Lara was little, Susan used to take her over to visit the Fremantles.

Mrs. Fremantle would give Lara sour lemonade and chocolate chip

cookies while Susan wandered through the house, tracking the descriptions

in Abigail’s journals against the floor plans.

Now and then, Liz Fremantle let Susan lead a tour through the house

for the Douglas County Historical Society or a Riverside Church study

group. Susan showed visitors the outsize flour bins where Una Fremantle

had hidden Robert Schapen and Etienne Grellier during one of the

slaver raids and the basement room where Judge Fremantle stored guns

for the anti-slavery militia in Lawrence.

Susan mourned the fact that the Grelliers’ old two-room shanty (rebuilt

after Quantrill’s raid in 1863) had been replaced by a proper house in the

1860s. That house had been demolished in turn in the 1920s, replaced by

the comfortable two-story, brick-and-frame place where the family still

lived. Susan wanted to feel herself in Abigail Grellier’s two-room lean-to,

with the slats so wide apart the mice and snakes came in and out at will.

Susan wished she could explore the Schapen place, to see what remained


of their original buildings, but if she’d suggested that to Myra or Arnie they

would have assumed she only wanted to snoop and sneer. It seemed to be a

point of honor for Myra to live in almost-punitive austerity. She still bent

over the low zinc sink installed in the 1920s when her father-in-law

brought plumbing into the house. The steep stairs to the second floor

weren’t carpeted, and only the cheapest rugs—ag in her father-in-law’s

day, discount bath mats for Myra—ay at the front and back doors.

Susan told her daughter that Myra lived like that to increase her grievance

with the Universe. “Everything in the world works against the

Schapens. Myra to this day blames your grandpa for the death of their

dairy herd in the thirties. She’d only just come there as Bob Schapen’s bride

when the drought took hold. She thought the Grelliers should have sacrificed

half their beef herd and shared out their hay with the Schapens.”

No matter what happened, whether it was a hailstorm or a county

tax levy, the Schapens felt that they’d been cheated—ometimes by the

thieving Fremantles, sometimes the lying Grelliers, sometimes the government,

or the Indians or the Jews. But someone was always trying to

drive them out of the valley, take what they’d fought for.

Over the decades, the Schapens turned more and more inward, away

from the rest of the farms around them. By the time Chip and Lara came

along, everyone was so used to thinking of the Schapens as surly that the

Grellier children didn’t even try to be friendly to Junior, who was Chip’s

age, or Robbie, who was in Lara’s grade at school.

It was different for Susan, at least when she first married Jim. She

actually tried to visit the Schapens, inspired by a friendship between the

original homesteading Schapens and Grelliers that she’d read about in

Abigail’s diaries. Jim’s grandmother warned Susan that Myra and her son,

Myra’s husband having died some years before, struck by lightning as he

rode a load of hay in from the fields, “liked to keep to themselves,” but

Susan laughed, and said the Grelliers owed them some kind of hospitality

gift to make up for all that Arnie Schapen’s ancestor had done for Abigail.

“I’m a new face here—aybe they’ll take to me,” she said to Jim’s

grandmother. Young wife, triumphant in her youth and sexuality, sure

they made her invincible.

She baked an apple pie, using Baldwins from the Grellier trees—he


offspring of wild trees Abigail had found on the land—and Abigail’s

recipe for crust, which meant buying lard, since, to Susan’s disappointment,

the Grelliers didn’t butcher their own livestock. One raw November

morning, she drove down the narrow gravel lane that connected the

Schapens to the rest of the world.

Myra Schapen came to the door. “Oh. You’re Grellier’s wife. What do

you want?”

Susan was taken aback. She managed to hold out the pie pan and

stammer that she wanted to meet Arnie and Arnie’s wife, Kathy, that this

was a neighborly visit.

“We don’t need charity in this house,” Myra snapped. “Especially not

Grellier charity. You tell Jim Grellier and that grandmother of his that I

wasn’t born yesterday, I know what they’re up to sending you over here.”

“What are you talking about?” Susan said, her voice high and squeaky,

as it always became with stress or excitement. “They didn’t want me to

come at all.”

“Maybe you’re lying, maybe you’re telling the truth. Either way, we

don’t need any Grellier pies.” And Myra shut the door on Susan.

Susan flushed a painful red. She ran back to the car, slipping on the

gravel in the yard so that she ended up dropping the pie. She didn’t notice

Arnie come out of the barn and take a tentative half step toward helping her

back to her feet. She clambered into her car and drove home, blinking away

tears, sliding in through the unused front door of the house so she could

change out of her dirty jeans before Gram saw her and said, “I told you so.”

Over at the Schapens’, Myra recounted her triumph to Arnie and

Kathy. Kathy, who worked at a bank in Lawrence to help pay the farm

bills, said she thought it was time they got over all this grudge holding.

“It was brave of her to come here, Mother Schapen.”

“Brazen, you mean,” Myra clacked. “I know you dated Jim Grellier

when you were in high school, but you married my son, and I expect you

to remember it. And remember that you’re a saved Christian and they’re

no better than pagans. No, they’re worse than pagans, because they have

the chance to hear God’s saving Word and they turn their backs on it.”

In Myra’s eyes, people who worshipped at Riverside United couldn’t

have been closer to hell if they’d been Catholics.

From Abigail Comfort Grellier’s Journal

June 22, 1855

Kansas Territor y

My new home! what is there in it to raise my spirits? We are settled

in a fine piece of land about five miles east of Lawrence, but M. Grellier

was unable to find lumber for a house, so we dwelt for four weeks

in a tent, where I also was delivered of my son, whom I have christened

Nathaniel Etienne, in memory of my dear father and my babe’s

own father. How I have need of my father’s spirit and guidance in

this land.

As I lay ill, not knowing if I should live to suckle my little one, Mrs.

Schapen, who has arrived to keep house for her son Robert, came to

visit. She is one “whose mercy never fails,” for she saw the straits in

which I was reduced, and her son, a fine young man of some two and

twenty summers, appeared the very next day with a party of other

young men, and within two days had a prairie home built for us. In

truth, it is a rude shelter, and I try not to sigh too loud for the comforts

of my mother’s home, the carpets, the glass windows: here, we

put in sheets of unbleached muslin to keep the fleas and mosquitoes as

far removed as is possible. And the unfinished floor allows the prairie

mice to dance merrily around me as I nurse my little Nathaniel. But

we are able to assemble a bed and raise it above the ground. We have a

roof that keeps out the prairie showers, and with these good neighbors

I would be unworthy of the love of God if I had a disposition like a

perpetual dripping on a rainy day.

The Fremantles, whom we also met on our journey westward, are

settled near us as well. We are three little sailboats on the Kansas

prairie, the Fremantles, the Schapens, and us. When you ride the California

road west from Kansas City, and then turn a half mile to the


north, you come first to the Fremantles, where Mr. Fremantle, who

was a Judge in Boston, is building a fine house, two stories, and a

stable to house three horses and a team of oxen. Then you arrive at our

rude shanty, and a quarter mile farther on Robert Schapen and his

mother, who live as simply as we do.

July 17

The Missourians pour into Kansas territory every day, seeking to

harm us, and a woman alone with an infant is not an invitation to

their mercy but to their rapacity. Last week, I heard horses’ hooves

upon the road while I was washing Baby’s skimpy clothes and saw a

cloud of dust as a band of eight or nine of these ruffians rode toward

Lawrence along the great California Road. I gathered little Nathaniel

and lay beneath the bed, pressing his face against my breast so that he

should not whimper. I heard the men say, “No one here, shall we burn

the place?” and another reply, “No, for we may want to move into

such a nice home by and by,” and then off they rode again.

August 22

Mrs. Fremantle came to call when Mr. Schapen was helping me

hang a front door on our shanty home. She herself, of course, lives in

great comfort in the mansion Mr. Fremantle is building for her. I try

to suppress the sin of envy, for we are not to be concerned with “what

we should eat and how we should dress,” but I confess in my secret self

that I would dearly love a wooden floor rather than an earthen one. So

why would she grudge me a real door to replace one of hopsack that

lets in every piece of dirt and vermin to attack my poor wee mite of a


“Mr. Schapen, you must be well ahead of the rest of us with your

plowing,” said she with a broad smile, “if you have time to help Mrs.

Grellier with her housekeeping.”


“Mr. Grellier is so busy with his school that the rest of us are pitching

in,” my kind neighbor said. “A school benefits the whole community,

and I’ve never seen anyone so fired up with ideas for the improvement

of mankind as Mr. Grellier, even if I can’t always understand him.”

My husband’s French accent becomes heavy when he is excited, as

he often is these days, both by our political woes and by his own ideas

for the improvement of mankind. When we are alone we speak French

together, but of course few people here can converse in that tongue.

Mr. Grellier’s mind is so lofty that he seldom remembers the trivia of

daily existence.

I will not pine for the fleshpots of Boston, like the apostate children

of Israel in the desert. I will not indulge in regrets, remembering my dear

mother questioning me, “You are so prone to impetuosity, my dear Abigail.

Perhaps we should not have named you so, your spirit is too often

highly exalted, and then, as if in reaction your spirit goes into mourning

(meaning in Hebrew my name signifies ‘father of exaltation’). I hope,

my beloved daughter, that you do not find yourself in a period of

mourning for this impetuous marriage.” And I, dear Mother, thinking I

knew better than you, and knowing that Mr. Grellier is a good man, a

disciple of Fourier and of our own beloved Bronson Alcott, thought not

of the hardships the women in Mr. Alcott’s community have endured.

Oh, let there be no repining, nor any attention to Mrs. Fremantle

and her insinuations! I will boil water for the laundry and the dishes in

a tin pan that I have to carry some two hundred paces, from where we

were able to find a well of potable water, and bear my yoke like a

Christian, for I am here not for my own comfort but “to ease every

burden and to let the oppressed go free.” And in my own darkest

moments I know that my life is free and easy in comparison to the


T h re e


The week before Gina Haring moved in, Uncle Doug and Aunt

Mimi came down from Chicago for Thanksgiving. Doug was a litigator,

Mimi a financial consultant, and their one child was around seven. The

brothers didn’t see each other often—t was hard for Jim and Susan to get

away from the farm, and Mimi, frankly, hated country life. Chip and

Lara had spent a month with them in Chicago the previous summer, but

Mimi and Doug hadn’t been to the farm for almost three years.

Thanksgiving morning, Chip took off early to spend the day with his

girlfriend. Neither Susan nor Jim was crazy about Janice Everleigh:

“Surely he can do better than that,” they’d worry, after she spent a day on

the farm with Chip, wearing heavy eye makeup even while going out

on the combine in the hot sun with him, giggling, flirting, but never

talking. Jim, looking at Janice’s large breasts bobbing up and down under

her tank top, gritted his teeth and talked to Chip about safe sex, keeping

his opinions of the girl to himself. Don’t make her into a martyr in his

eyes, Susan had cautioned.

Susan didn’t like Chip abandoning his family for the Everleighs, not

on a major holiday, and not while his aunt and uncle were visiting, but

Jim put a finger over her lips when she tried to argue Chip out of it. “I

don’t think your folks liked you spending all those Christmases with

Gram and Grandpa before we got married, Suze.”

“That was different! My parents’ house was so—o dreary. Here, it

always felt like Christmas, and I try to make it feel like Thanksgiving,


too. But you’re right, I mustn’t be a possessive mother. Let Chip spread

his wings.”

Chip bent her backward in a sweeping bow and kissed her. “Don’t worry,

Mom, your little bird will come home in time for Grellier apple pie.”

“Her little turkey bird, is more like it,” Lara yelled at him as he went

out to his car.

While the turkey cooked, Lara and Susan showed Mimi and Nate the

X-Farm. This was Susan’s latest passion, but Lara was, if anything, more

enthusiastic about it than her mother. Doug and Jim watched them from

the kitchen window

“Susan doesn’t wear out, does she?” Doug said. “First the bread oven,

then the co-op market, now an experimental farm. What’d Lulu say they

were going to grow? Confection sunflowers?”

“We figure we can’t compete with the big producers if Susan tries for

an oil-use crop, but everyone wants to eat healthy nowadays. Organic

seeds should be a hit in the health-food stores.”

Jim spoke tersely, not wanting his brother to see he was worried about

Susan and the X-Farm. Doug and Susan had never really hit it off, going

back to those Christmases and summer vacations when she’d visited the

farm. Doug would tease her about her interest in local history, but there

was always a bite to his teasing that made Susan flare up.

When Jim told Gram and Grandpa he was thinking of asking Susan

to marry him, Doug had exclaimed, “You sure you want someone that

intense on a working farm, Jim?”

“Mind your own business,” Jim snapped back. “You never wanted to

work this farm, you’re running off to law school to turn into one of the

leeches who suck the life out of the land, and now you don’t want to

admit the country bumpkin can attract a woman as amazing as Susan.”

“All I’m saying, Jim, listen, she’s beautiful, she’s fascinating, but she

carries on about those old diaries as if Abigail and our farm were a movie.

Can she be happy living real farm life, not a made-for-TV romance?”

Jim had tried to knock him down, which led nowhere, because even

though Doug was in law school he was still stronger than Jim.

Jim thought about that conversation from time to time, when Susan’s

enthusiasms swept away everything in her path. The ill-fated co-op market


had been the most disastrous venture, because it had been the biggest,

but there’d been other smaller actions along the way.

Many farmers in the valley had a small market on their property

where they sold fresh produce in the summer. Many also went into

Lawrence twice a week to set up a stand at the town’s farmers’ market.

One year, Susan decided that a co-op market would be the salvation of

the area’s small farmers. Everyone would bring their produce to one central

location, the families would staff it to cut down on overhead, and

they’d eliminate the brokers who took all the farmers’ money and gave

nothing back.

Susan brought a missionary zeal to the idea, talking it up at the extension

office, visiting neighbors with pages of cost projections, produce

suggestions, and profit possibilities. When Susan had a head of steam,

she could persuade most people to do most things.

Although the Schapens and Greynards said they weren’t giving up

their private markets so a Communist like Susan Grellier could make

money off them, Liz Fremantle agreed to it. The Fremantles, even when

they were old, widowed, the last of their line to farm, carried a lot of

weight in the valley; nine more farms followed suit.

Jim remembered how excited Lulu was the day the Kaw Valley Market

opened. She kept waking him, demanding to know if it was time to get

dressed. She insisted on skipping school to help Susan open the doors.

Once it got going, the market garnered interest all over the three-state

area. Susan gave interviews on Nebraska and Missouri public radio as

well as the Lawrence television station. Her picture was on the cover of

the Kansas Farm Bureau Journal and in the Douglas County Herald. Lulu

brought all the articles into school, and Mrs. Lubbock put them on the

bulletin board.

For eighteen months, Susan rose at four and drove round all the participating

farms, collecting whatever they had for sale at the moment—

flowers, pumpkins, lettuce, dried gourds, goat cheese, even emu steaks.

Every Sunday afternoon, she’d tot up the week’s sales and scrupulously

divide the proceeds among the participants.

The market was a success of sorts, in that people did drive out from

Lawrence and Eudora to shop, but the store never made enough money


to hire a manager. The burden fell on Susan to keep the market open and

staffed; the other families taking part didn’t treat working there as a serious

commitment. During the co-op’s last six months, Susan slept less

and less, and she had a feverish flush all the time.

One morning, Susan slept through the alarm, slept through Jim getting

up to make coffee. She was still asleep when he came back at noon

for lunch.

Susan finally got up in the middle of the afternoon, her face stained

with tears. “I can’t do the store anymore, Jim. I’m not strong enough, or

good enough, or— don’t know what enough—o inspire the rest of the

families to help me out, and I can’t keep it going on my own.”

“Then let’s make a plan for closing it down. Give people notice.”

“They don’t give me notice when they don’t show up for their shifts

and I have to drop what I’m doing on our own place to fill in!”

“Baby, I know you’re right, but you can’t just turn your back on it.

That’s a recipe for courting ill will. It was a hard enough job getting

people to sign up. Now they’ll call you a quitter, and it’s not good to get

people riled up, even if they’re in the wrong. You can’t farm out here if

you’re on bad terms with your neighbors—ur farms are too small. We

have to cooperate to survive.”

“Then tell your old friends to cooperate with me for a change. I’m

tired of it being a one-way street. I’ve been neglecting Chip and Lara to

help out the neighbors. Chip’s playing in a big game over in Shawnee

tomorrow—’m driving over to watch. If people get upset enough to

start pulling their weight, then maybe I’ll get involved again.”

The next morning, Jim sent Curly out to collect the produce, even

though he’d been planning on using Curly in the oat field that day, and

Curly kept the store open for a few hours.

Curly—om Curlingford—orked in the winters for a cousin who

had a construction business in town; he was a font of news about everyone

across northeastern Kansas. Jim knew Curly would tell the whole

world some exaggerated version of Susan’s behavior, but he didn’t know

what else to do—e couldn’t take the time to run the store himself, and

he couldn’t spare Blitz, who was more like his right arm and best friend

than a farmhand.


Sure enough, although some people, like Annie Wieser, spoke up for

Susan, and others, like Peter Ropes, who farmed south of Grelliers’ and

had always been a mentor to Jim, refused to discuss Susan at all, most

people had a field day at her expense.

Lulu was heartbroken. She loved that market. She’d gotten into fights at

Kaw Valley Eagle with Robbie Schapen and Chris Greynard over whether

the market was a Communist idea. Two days after Susan turned her back

on the project, Jim got a call from Mrs. Lubbock at Kaw Valley Eagle to say

Lulu hadn’t come in. Jim found his daughter down at the market, trying to

shift hundred-pound bags of produce, crying with rage and helplessness.

She was ten years old, tall for her age, but Jim picked her up and carried

her to the truck, and spent the day with her, away from the farm, from

school, treating her to a hot-fudge sundae and a movie in town.

The building still stood at the crossroads on Fifteenth Street, the paint

on its sign peeling, the Jayhawk strutting across the board faded to a pale

blue. Junior Schapen and Eddie Burton had shot out all the windows,

and the inside smelled of mold and rat droppings.

The market had come after Susan’s passion for starting a bakery. The

stone oven, where she could make five hundred loaves a day, still stood

behind the greenhouses. Occasionally, she’d fire it up and make bread for

a church fund-raiser or to raise money for uniforms for Chip’s baseball

team. Susan had built the oven herself, over Gram’s objections, and made

it work, too. She’d even signed up a half-dozen grocers in the county to

carry her homemade bread, but, as with the market, the effort had never

turned into a paying proposition. Susan had dropped it with only a

week’s notice to her customers.

Along the way, she took up lesser projects, learning how to make

flashing for the chimneys, setting up a loom in the front room so

she could weave cloth the way Abigail Grellier had done, re-creating the

Freedmen’s school Etienne Grellier started in 1863 and coaxing the

Lawrence schools into sending their classes to see it one spring.

Her latest enthusiasm was for organic farming. “We can all do our

part to make our carbon footprint smaller,” she announced. “Farms are

terrible energy users, and if we could farm organically our profit margins

would be so much better.”


Jim had argued about it with her for over a year, wary now of Susan’s

enthusiasms. His wife could accomplish anything, and he loved her for

it, but she didn’t have staying power and that was a problem when you

had such a cost-sensitive business as a farm. Besides, the climate in eastern

Kansas wasn’t great for organic farming. The plains, unsheltered by

mountains, were swept by winds as cold as northern Canada’s in the winter

and burned by heat as warm as northern Mexico’s in the summer.

Crops were too vulnerable to drought and pests in such weather extremes.

You had to be able to fall back on some chemical interventions.

In the end, Jim agreed to let Susan experiment with fifteen acres across

the tracks south of the house. The Fremantle children had sold off their

parents’ farmland after Liz Fremantle died, keeping just ten acres around

the house. The X-Farm was part of the land that Jim had bought. It was a

triangular plot, with a point sticking into Peter Ropes’s field at the south;

the hypotenuse of the triangle ran along the western boundary of the

land the Fremantle children had kept with the house.

Susan had stayed with the X-Farm for three years, a record in a way,

although Lara, who’d been cautious at first—usan’s withdrawal from

the co-op market still festering—ad done a great deal of the day-to-day

work. They’d get their organic certification this coming summer if everything

went well.

Jim wasn’t going to tell his brother any of that history. To be fair, Doug

had never criticized Susan again, once she and Jim were married, but he

always tightened in his sister-in-law’s company. Even her small projects,

like learning how to peel an orange in a single beautiful spiral, rubbed

him the wrong way. Jim wasn’t going to say he worried whether Susan

could stick with the X-Farm long enough to show a profit on her crop.

Fo u r


The saturday after thanksgiving, while Chip drove Janice,

Lara, and little Nate into Kansas City to watch the tree lights turn on

in the Plaza, the four adults went over to scrub down the Fremantle


When Jim unlocked the door to the kitchen, Mimi wrinkled her nose

at the odor. Despite Jim’s embargo, the cats’ urine and spraying lingered,

so that the house smelled faintly like the lion enclosure at the zoo.

Doug said, “Someone’s been doing dope in here, little bro. Who uses

this place?”

Jim sniffed deeply. Sure enough, mixed in with mold and cat was the

sweet smell of marijuana. Faint but unmistakable.

“Maybe Junior Schapen’s been breaking in,” Susan suggested.

“Arnie’s kid?” Doug asked.

“Arnie’s three-hundred-pound gorilla, is more like it,” Jim grunted.

“He’s way more aggressive than Arnie was at that age. Myra seems to like

it, seems to egg him on, all in the name of Jesus, of course.”

The brothers scouted the ground floor, but couldn’t see any signs of

broken windows or forced locks.

“Chip?” Doug suggested.

“Certainly not!” Susan flushed. “That would mean Etienne had stolen

the keys behind our backs, which he’d never do. Besides, Etienne wouldn’t

be so—o idiotic. He’s an athlete, baseball is his life. He wouldn’t do something

that jeopardized his playing. Anyway, where would he get it?”


Mimi laughed. “Susan! Athletes use drugs all the time—t’s all over

the news every day.”

“Why do you call him ‘Etienne’?” Doug demanded, distracted from

the main argument.

“It’s his name.”

“He hates it. You should know that by now.”

“He’ll grow into it,” Susan said serenely. “It’s a name with a noble heritage

in your family, Doug.”

“No Grellier has been named that for a hundred fifty years. Chip—”

“Etienne,” Susan corrected him.

Chip complained to me about it when he visited Chicago last


While his wife and brother bickered, Jim walked through the house to

see if he could find a stash of weed. Junior Schapen wasn’t smart enough

to break into a house without leaving a trail of broken glass. But Chip

was, and several times in the past year Jim had wondered about his son’s

behavior. Chip had started having mood swings and outbursts of anger

at odds with his usual disposition. When he’d asked Chip, point-blank, if

he was doing drugs, his son had laughed at him, then left to go to the

Storm Door with his baseball buddies.

Chip and Curly were pretty tight; Curly might buy dope for Chip. Or

maybe at school—hen Jim had gone to high school, you could get a

nickel bag openly on the premises. He thought the school had tightened

up its drug monitoring, but maybe not. He’d have to talk again to Chip,

which he didn’t relish.

He went back to the kitchen, where Doug and Susan were still arguing,

and dragged them off to start scrubbing. “Doug and I’ll do the walls

and ceiling if you gals will take on the floors.”

There were five big rooms on the ground floor, and then the front

hallway, which itself was bigger than the Grelliers’ family room. By the

time the women had worked their way into the hall, they were black

with soot. Susan had a tangle of spiderwebs in her auburn curls.

“This smell is never going away.” Mimi sat back on her heels in


The front hall had taken the worst of the cat invasion: the two women


had scrubbed urine stains, scooped feces. It was up to Susan to dispose

of mouse and snake remains; Mimi had blanched at the sight of the

mummified carcasses. She looked at the grand staircase, with its carved

newel-posts and balustrade. It all needed to be cleaned, as did the carved

double front doors; the etched-glass panels were black with dirt and


“They’ll have to strip all these floorboards and refinish them, unless

they decide it’s too much trouble and tear the house down completely,”

Mimi said, tossing her scrub brush aside and getting to her feet.

“Don’t say that to Susan,” Doug called from the front parlor. “She’ll

never forgive you for even suggesting it.”

“It’s true, I do love this house,” Susan said. “I guess it seems silly to

someone who doesn’t know or care about the history, but I like to think

about a time when people were so committed to doing the right thing

that they’d even risk their lives for it.”

She climbed a ladder and began wiping off the red globes bracketing

the tops of each of the four doorways that opened into the hall. Mimi,

perched on the bottom landing of the staircase, asked if they were some

kind of emergency light.

“They’re fire extinguishers. Una Fremantle was terrified of fire after

Quantrill burned down their first house. That little bead sticking out of

the bottom holds sulfuric acid. The globe on top has baking soda in it. If

a fire got hot enough, the glass would break. Baking soda would fall on

the acid, so the room would fill with carbon dioxide and choke off the

fire. At least, that was the theory. I don’t know that these globes would

create enough CO2 to do any good.”

“We could burn some of these floorboards.” Doug came into the hallway.

“That would get rid of the stench and test the bulb doohickeys at

the same time.”

Mimi, seeing her sister-in-law redden, got to her feet. “I vote for

lunch. Nothing like hard work to make leftover turkey sound good.”

After lunch, they went up to the second floor, using the back stairs off

the kitchen, with its narrow risers enclosed inside narrow walls. A big

patch of plaster had fallen from one wall, exposing the laths.

Doug shook his head, and said he couldn’t believe any of the Fremantles


cared enough to put money into saving the place. Susan disagreed, saying

it should be on the National Register of Historic Places. So Doug

began baiting her, with the sarcasm that made him effective in court.

Privately, Jim agreed with his brother, but he didn’t want to raise

Susan’s agitation level any higher by weighing in on the discussion.

“Come on, you two,” he called from the top of the stairs. “Enough quarreling

over something neither of you has the power to control. Let’s see if

we can make this bathroom and bedroom bearable for the lady.”

The other three joined him, but their morning stint had drained their

energy—specially Doug and Mimi’s, who weren’t used to such hard

physical work. However, even Susan felt daunted by the second story. Liz

Fremantle had stopped housecleaning some years before her death, and

the six bedrooms were filled with old newspapers, a train layout, laundered

clothes that had never been put away, as well as boxes her children

had sent home for safekeeping while they moved around the world.

Susan clucked her tongue anxiously over the patch of blue-black mold

around the master-bedroom fireplace. She pulled out a tape measure,

and announced that the mold had spread three more inches since she’d

last looked in August.

The four of them did their best to clean the main bedroom, with its

fireplace, marble washbasin, and heavy cherry furniture, but gave up on

the rest of the second floor.

“If this Gina Haring cares about clean, she’ll take care of it. If she

doesn’t, she won’t notice,” Doug pronounced.

“No one could help noticing all this,” Mimi said. “I hope the Fremantles

aren’t charging her much. Really, they should pay anyone who’s willing

to stay here.”

They packed up their cleaning gear and stowed it in the truck. Before

they started home, Jim walked the perimeter, making sure the basement

was sealed. He saw that the two-by-four was still bolted across the outside

entrance to the old coal cellar but didn’t bother to check the bolts.

Mimi and Doug came over to him.

“Susan just remembered that all the dishes are dirty. She’s washing

enough to set out and look hospitable, or something,” Doug said.

“What’s that house out there that’s fallen over?” Mimi asked.


Beyond the barn, visible in fall through the bare trees, stood the remnants

of a small single-story house.

“It used to be a bunkhouse,” Jim said. “Back when the Fremantles

farmed ten thousand acres, they had four, maybe six, hands who lived


“And they just let it fall over?” Mimi said. “It’s so—o dreary, like the

House of Usher, or Miss Haversham.”

“It burned down,” Jim said, “the first year Doug and I were living with

Gram and Grandpa.”

“Mrs. Fremantle took it into her head to rent it to some hippies,”

Doug explained. “You know, back in the wide-open sixties Lawrence was

quite the counterculture heaven, and there were a lot of communes dotted

around the county, kids trying to harvest the local weed.”

“Local weed?” Mimi wrinkled her forehead.

“During the Second World War, when the Philippines were blockaded,

the government tried to get farmers all over the Midwest to grow

marijuana for hemp, because we got all our rope hemp from the islands,”

Doug said. “It made poor-grade rope, and poor-grade dope, but if you

were a lazy hippie you could get enough of a crop to make enough cash

to buy the real thing. So Liz Fremantle, who liked to thumb her nose at

local convention, she rented out the bunkhouse to some hippies. It really

riled Myra Schapen. And then one night the bunkhouse burned down.”

Jim had only hazy memories of that fall. He was nine, and his parents

were newly dead. Arnie Schapen used to talk about the hippies all the

time at school. He was Doug’s age, two years older than Jim, and he was

always bringing tales into school about what the hippies were doing. He

said they had orgies, which Jim thought, in the confused way of children,

meant the same thing as ogres, and he started watching for one-eyed

giants coming out of the bunkhouse.

One of the girls in the commune mooned Arnie’s mom when she

went over to complain to the Fremantles about the hippies. Jim had been

in the kitchen with Gram when Myra Schapen stopped off on her way

home, shaking from head to foot in her fury.

“We survived Quantrill,” Gram said to Mrs. Schapen. “Don’t you

think we can survive a bunch of confused college kids?”


That only got Mrs. Schapen mad at Gram. “Be your age. These

people are Communists. Maybe they’re too naive, or too duped or indoctrinated

over at the university, to recognize what these so-called hippies

are up to, but they’re taking over our town. Now they’re trying to take

over our farms, and Liz Fremantle thinks she’s hip or cool, or whatever

their lingo is, because she’s helping them do it. There’s been a firebombing

every day over in town for the last nine months, in case you

hadn’t noticed, but you don’t care if a bunch of Commies blow us all up

in our beds.”

Gram said she had better things to worry about than a few college

dropouts. “And how do you even know what they’re up to, Myra? I live

closer to them than you do, and I’ve never seen one-tenth the stuff you’re


That had sent Mrs. Schapen away in a huff. Gram laughed about it

with Grandpa over dinner. The fire had taken care of the problem for all

of them. The Schapens said the bombs the kids were making blew up on

them, but the sheriff figured they burned candles and incense when they

were stoned and the place went up. He said there wasn’t any evidence to

show they’d ever made bombs, or even owned a gun, although that didn’t

stop Arnie’s folks from spreading the story.

Jim remembered the fire. It was October, and he thought the Fremantles

were making a bonfire for Halloween. He’d grabbed Doug, and

they’d raced across the tracks and along the road to see if there would be

marshmallows and cider. The two of them stopped when they saw the

bunkhouse. It looked like some kind of fancy Fourth of July display, a

house shape pulsing with fire.

Then Grandpa came running, along with the Ropeses and the Wiesers,

who lived east of the Fremantles, even the Burtons from their ramshackle

place over near Highway 10, to keep the blaze from spreading. Jim and

Doug had formed part of a bucket brigade.

The kids from the bunkhouse, sobered up by disaster, pitched in, too,

the girls working as hard as the boys. Only the Schapens hadn’t helped.

Doug said later he saw Arnie standing with his folks in the background,

watching all of them work but not lifting a finger. When it was all over and

Liz Fremantle really did hand out hot chocolate, the Schapens took off.


It was then that one of the girls started screaming that someone was

missing. When the Fremantles and Grandpa got it all sorted out, they

discovered that one of the boys had died in the fire.

“Did you ever know the name of the kid who died that night?” Jim

asked Doug.

“Nope. Just that the girl blamed the Schapens for setting the fire, and

Myra said they’d done it themselves. The girl was sure the Schapens were

Minutemen or something,” Doug said. “No one ever proved it one way

or another, but I think Mrs. Fremantle let the kids stay in the big house

for a month or so while they sorted themselves out. Gram said Mrs.

Fremantle always felt it was her fault the boy had died. She said she

should have made sure they had a fire extinguisher out there, but I don’t

see how she could have known they’d blow themselves up.”

“So there was a bomb?” Mimi asked.

“Oh, no, I don’t know. Not a bomb, but they were doing drugs and

burning candles all night long, and a fire was almost inevitable. Jim, get

your wife before she decides to reupholster the furniture—’m freezing

my ass off out here.”

F i ve


It was starting to snow as they drove home, big, wet flakes that

melted on the windshield. By the time Chip drove into the yard with his

sister and cousin, the snowfall was heavy enough to coat the fields, but

not bad enough to make Doug and Mimi think they wouldn’t be able to

get to the airport in the morning.

Mimi started a load of clothes while Lara helped Susan set out leftovers

in the kitchen. Doug put a bottle of wine on the table. He and

Mimi almost always drank with supper. Since Jim and Susan didn’t care

much for alcohol, drinking rarely and only on festive occasions, Doug

always brought four or five bottles with him. Tonight, after asking the

blessing, Susan gave a self-conscious laugh and let Doug fill a glass for

her. The wine flushed her and softened her. She even flirted a little with


Jim, watching her eager smile, the light glinting on her pale freckles,

thought how much more vital she was than her small, elegant sister-inlaw.

Mimi worked out every day, but Susan worked, and it made her

more vivid, at least to Jim. I scored so much better than you did, he

thought in silent competition with his brother. You went for looks, but I

won on personality.

Nate was full of everything he’d seen and done with his big cousins

today—he lights, the zoo—ll the things he saw regularly in Chicago

seemed magical because he’d done them with Chip and Lara. Chip had

even bought him an early Christmas present, his very first big-league


baseball glove. “Me and Chip, we’re going to be in the outfield. For the


“Royals, doofus.” Chip grinned, and cuffed Nate lightly on the ear.

“How’d the cleanup go?” Lara asked.

Mimi detailed the day’s woes, but Doug interrupted to ask about the

marijuana. “Who’d be in there doing dope?”

Mimi looked worriedly at Nate. He was arm wrestling Chip, who

faked a strenuous effort and then let Nate knock his arm over half

the time.

“Maybe Junior Schapen,” Lara suggested. “He and Eddie, they go all

over on Junior’s bike. They could ride across the fields to the house and

no one would see them.”

“Peter Ropes would if they came in from behind,” Susan pointed out.

Mimi wanted to know who Eddie was.

“Eddie Burton,” Chip said over Nate’s head. “He’s kind of a retard.”

“Etienne! You know better than to use that language.”

“We know, Mom, we know,” Lara put in hastily. “He’s a sad case.

Maybe he got lead poisoning as a baby, from sucking on all those rustedout

cars in their yard, or maybe something else that stopped him being

able to learn even the whole alphabet, but you have to admit he’s gotten

pretty creepy now he’s older. Even when we were still in school at Kaw

Valley Eagle, he was doing stuff like starting fires in the trash cans.”

“Yeah, but Junior sicced him on that,” Chip interrupted her.

“Maybe,” Lara said, “but did Junior make him come into the girls’

bathroom and crawl under the stall to look up Kimberly’s skirt?”

“Eddie Burton?” Doug echoed. “What’s he doing with Junior Schapen?

I saw Hank Drysdale when I went into town yesterday, and he was full of

some rigmarole about Clem Burton assaulting Arnie, or something. He

was surprised that I didn’t know, until I reminded him that my brother

was the original trio of hear-no-evil monkeys rolled into one.”

“Burtons have a hard enough time of it without me spreading their

problems all over the U.S.,” Jim said through thin lips. “You know good

and well that you can’t farm in the valley—”

“—f you’re on bad terms with your neighbors,” his children and

brother finished in a chorus.


“Which makes no sense,” Doug added, “because the Schapens go out

of their way to be on bad terms with everyone.”

Hank Drysdale was the county sheriff. When he and Doug were in

law school together, Hank used to come out to the farm for picnics or to

pick sweet corn; he got to know a number of the area farmers, who’d

mostly supported him when he ran for sheriff—xcept for the Schapens

and Greynards. Arnie, already working as a deputy, was convinced Hank

Drysdale was a liberal, if not an outright Communist.

“Drysdale wondered why you and Susan never drop in on him when

you’re in town,” Doug added.

“I figure Hank’s a busy man, running that department. And he was

always more your friend than mine,” Jim said.

“You should cultivate him,” Doug said. “It never hurts to have the top

lawman on your side. If I hadn’t run into him, I wouldn’t have known

what was going on around this place. He told me Myra Schapen put up

some nasty comment about one of the Burton girls on her home website,

and Clem went over, threatening to blow Arnie to kingdom come.”

“Yeah, that was pretty dumb,” Chip put in. “But only a Burton would

be dumb enough to go over to Arnie face-to-face like that, with him

being a deputy sheriff and aching to put the whole valley behind bars.”

“Of course, Myra could drive stronger men than Clem Burton round

the bend.” Doug laughed. “What was it she said? Hank couldn’t remember,

or wouldn’t tell me.”

Ignoring warning signs from their parents, Lara and Chip explained,

“She keeps this ‘News and Notes’ column on the Schapen website.

Mostly, she brags about how many people Junior massacres at football

every week. But then Cindy Burton had an abortion, and Myra wrote,

‘We believe all life is sacred, so it grieves us when an innocent child is

slaughtered. If a family can’t feed their children, they should learn the

virtues of self-control.’ ”

“How did she even know?” Mimi demanded.

“That’s the point, Aunt Mimi,” Chip said. “Eddie Burton, he’s

Cindy’s brother, he probably told Junior, and Junior told Myra. He

knows Myra worships him, and every now and then he throws her a



“Listen to you two.” Susan was distressed. “A, you don’t know for sure

that Cindy had an abortion, and, B, if she did, you can’t know that Eddie

told Junior.”

“Oh, Mom! It was all over the county,” Chip said, “except for you and

Dad refusing to admit it was going on. And, you know, Curly says the

reason the Burtons made Cindy get an abortion at all is because Eddie

was the father.”

“Etienne!” Susan’s face was flushed. “I won’t have that kind of talk

in here.”

“I suppose it might have been Junior Schapen,” Chip conceded.

“Yes,” his sister agreed. “You know, lots of times I see Junior trying

to hide that old Honda of his in between the used cars in the Burtons’

front yard.”

“Yeah,” Chip said. “And of course Eddie will do anything for Junior,


Jim reached across the table and cuffed Chip on the shoulder.

“Oh, all right,” Chip grumbled. “But you can’t blame Clem for being

pissed off that Schapen made Burton’s business everyone’s business. And

then when Clem got fined a thousand dollars just for threatening Arnie,

he went and shot holes in the Schapens’ milk barn in the middle of the


“Enough!” Jim slapped the table. “I won’t have such mean-spirited

talk in here, especially not during a family holiday. You want to laugh at

me for hearing and speaking no evil, be my guest. I’d rather be a naive

fool than spread so much poison around.”

His children and even his brother fell silent. Mimi murmured something

about laundry and packing, and got up from the table. Susan, after

giving her husband a look, went to help her. While Lara started on the

dishes and Doug took Nate into the family room to play Foosball, Jim

steeled himself to talk to Chip about the marijuana they’d smelled in the

Fremantle house that morning. It wasn’t the best time—is outburst had

left everyone on edge—ut he wanted to get the conversation over with

as fast as possible.

“Why do you keep harping on me about dope?” Chip glared at his

father. “Do you think I’m some kind of addict?”


“I want to know you’re not breaking into Fremantles’ and smoking,”

Jim said doggedly. “And if you are using marijuana, I’d like to know

where you’re getting it.”

“Why?” his son demanded. “Do you want some?”

Jim’s own temper rose. “What kind of crack was that? If Curly is supplying

you with drugs—”

“Curly is not supplying me with drugs, okay?” Chip stared at his

father with hard, hot eyes. “And I won’t lie to you: I sometimes smoke

with the guys on the team, but I don’t do it often. And I don’t do it when

I’m alone.”

He turned on his heel and ran up the stairs, slamming the door to his

room. Chip was supposed to be helping Lara with the dishes, but Jim

didn’t feel like confronting his son for a second time in five minutes so he

went into the kitchen to help her himself. She saw how upset he was; she

gave him a lighthearted rundown of their day in Kansas City, trying to

coax him into a better mood.

Jim kissed her forehead. “Baby, I’m a crab cake tonight. You go on up

to your homework—’m better off doing the dishes myself.”

When he’d finished, Jim went into the family room and challenged his

brother to a Foosball match. Nate jumped up and down with excitement,

cheering on his dad, who beat Jim by two points. Nate demanded

a turn with Jim, who let his nephew win. The little boy’s glee slowly

brought Jim back to his more usual level spirits.

Lara, bored with her history book and drawn by the laughter, came

back downstairs. She challenged Jim and Doug to a team game, she and

Nate against the brothers. Jim was surprised all over again by how competitive

his brother was: even though it was his own son he was playing,

he put everything he had into the game, even snapping at Jim for letting

Nate kick a ball past his defenders.

“We won, we won!” Nate squealed. “We beated them.”

He and Lulu exchanged high fives, and then Lara scooped him up

under her arm. “Come on, shrimp. Even Brian Urlacher has to go to bed


“I am not a shrimp. I’m a giant. Put me down!”

Later, in bed, Jim told Susan about his abortive conversation with


Chip. “The way he reacted makes me think he is smoking over there at

Fremantles’. You don’t think you could talk to him, do you, Suze?”

“If Etienne swore he wasn’t using drugs often, I think we have to

believe him,” Susan said.

“He didn’t. That’s the point. He won’t lie to me directly. But he did a

good job of dancing away from my questions.”

“After Tuesday, when this Gina Haring moves in, it won’t be a problem

anymore.” Susan turned out the light. “It’ll be good to have the

house to ourselves again—’d forgotten how crowded this place feels

with seven people in it.”

“So seeing Nate running around doesn’t make you wish we had

another little person here?” Jim said, only half teasing. He liked all children,

especially his own, despite his recent brushup with Chip. It was

going to be hard when his son went off to college next fall.

“Oh, Jim, I’m forty-five now. I can’t go through another pregnancy.”

To soften her response, she put her arms around him and pulled him

close to her in the bed.

S i x


Sunday night, Lara and Chip slipped out of the house, muffling

their laughter against their parka sleeves. They’d told their parents they

were going to stay up late to watch a movie. If their father was surprised

that they’d agreed so easily on what to see, he didn’t say anything.

They sat in the family room, watching March of the Penguins, for half

an hour after the lights went out on the second floor. When they were

sure all was silent in their parents’ room, they slipped out of the house

through the garage, leaving the television on as a decoy. Chip didn’t turn

on the flashlight until they’d reached the gravel road on the far side of the

train tracks.

Yesterday’s snowfall was starting to melt. Wheat stubble poked

through the snow in the Ropes field like stubble in an old man’s beard.

The dead stem grasses along the drainage ditches waved ghostly arms in

the wind.

Chip switched off his flashlight, and said, in a deep, soft voice,

“They’re in there, you know, waiting to jump out at you.”

“They are not,” Lara said, louder than she intended, because, in the

dark, the towering grasses looked menacing. “Don’t be an idiot. I’m not

stupid Janice Everleigh, who’s going to cling to you and screech, ‘Oh,

Chippie, protect me, you’re so big and brave.’ ”

Chip picked up a handful of soft snow from the road and tried to stick

it down Lara’s back. She struggled with him and slipped in one of the

deep ruts in the road. He grabbed her and pulled her to her feet.


“You okay, Lulu? Don’t go spraining anything— don’t want to have

to explain it to Dad.”

“Well, don’t push me, turkey.”

They continued, arm in arm, skirting the holes, until they reached

the Fremantle place. This was the part that Lara dreaded: going into the

basement in the dark through the old coal chute. Dad had nailed all

the basement windows shut, and seen to it that all the downstairs doors

and windows were locked, when he was struggling to keep the cats out of

the house. He’d even boarded over the coal chute and bolted it shut, but

Chip had slipped the bolts free.

He and Lara had been using the Fremantle house as their private clubhouse

for the past two years. Chip did go there to smoke dope with

Curly or occasionally with a friend from the baseball team. Lara kept her

diary tucked behind the overmantel in the master-bedroom fireplace

where it had slipped away from the wall.

Lara loved the feeling of privacy, of owning the place, that she got

when she went to the mansion. She could poke around in the rooms that

hadn’t been used since old Mrs. Fremantle’s children left Kansas forty

years ago. She’d found Mrs. Fremantle’s wedding dress in the back of one

closet and preened in front of the watery mirrors in it.

When Mrs. Fremantle died, her kids had taken most of the valuable

furniture. They’d left a rolltop desk and a cherrywood table that dated to

the Revolution, as well as a rickety piano that Susan thought could be

valuable. All the windows had brocade drapes that now hung in shreds

from the cats scratching them.

Lara would sit in a window seat in the master bedroom, writing by

candlelight, pretending she was Abigail Grellier listening for Border Ruffians,

while Chip and Curly horsed around in the back parlor.

Lara’s favorite thing in the house was a Tiffany chandelier in the dining

room. It was made of stained glass, like a church window, only its six

sides showed people doing things with grapes—lanting or picking

them or making wine out of them. A big piece had broken off, the piece

that would have shown the tub with people stomping grapes to make


Before Prohibition, Mom said, every county in Kansas had at least one


winery, and the chandelier commemorated the one the Fremantles used

to own. You could see where they had grown their grapes, out behind the

old hay barn at the back of the property. Mom said it would cost thousands

of dollars to get the piece made to match the rest of the glass. Lara

tried to make the broken panel in her art class at school, but she couldn’t

get the colors to turn out right.

Before she started the X-Farm, Mom had toyed with the idea of creating

a vineyard and a winery herself: Chateau Grellier. Lara loved the idea

of it, mostly because of the chandelier. She even designed a wine label in

her art class, with a tub of grapes set in the middle of a wheat field. In the

end, though, after going over the numbers, Susan had to agree with Jim

that the payback horizon for wine was too far.

When she was little, Lara had loved her mother’s stories about the

early days in Kansas. Susan would copy pages from Abigail’s diary into

her own commonplace book, because the diaries were so fragile she

didn’t want to destroy the paper by handling them too often. Then she

would read bits to Lara, and tell her the history, the battle raging over

slavery in the Kansas Territory, what the women did, how the Delaware

Indians, who used to live north of the Kaw River, helped the anti-slavery

settlers. Susan would write notes to herself on the edges of her commonplace

book, almost as if she were communicating with Abigail.

Susan also put her own family’s stories into her commonplace book,

the clippings about the co-op market that ran in the Douglas County Herald,

or the time Chip’s home run won the Northeast Kansas Little League

tournament. “A hundred years from now, your granddaughter will want

to know how we were living, how we faced up to the challenges, just like

we want to know about what Abigail did,” Susan explained to Lara.

Lara couldn’t imagine that anyone would find her life as interesting as a

pioneer’s. How could playing basketball or working on the X-Farm compare

to Abigail’s hacking off the head of a snake that slithered through the

great gaps in the floorboards or lying on top of her baby to keep him from

crying while Border Ruffians ransacked the house? But when she was ten,

Lara dutifully started a diary. Sitting next to her mother at the diningroom

table, she would write about her day at Kaw Valley Eagle or how she

rescued the meadowlark fledglings she’d found in the cornfield.


When she turned thirteen, the previous year, she also turned secretive.

The privacy of the deserted Fremantle house became like a cloak of invisibility

she could wrap around herself. Lara left her diary behind the mantel,

where her mother wouldn’t be able to find it, and she would sit in the

east-facing master bedroom, where there wasn’t a danger that Dad would

see her flickering candle from the wheat field when she wrote in it. For

the same reason, Chip and Curly hung out in the back parlor, the one

used for receiving special visitors back in pioneer times.

Tonight, she and Chip wanted to retrieve the private things they’d left

here. Chip was especially worried about his stash of dope, but Lara didn’t

want to lose her diary.

When they got to the coal chute, Chip undid the cover and slid down

first. He waited at the bottom for Lara, who dallied: she was terrified, and

didn’t want him to know. For all the money they’d put into building a fancy

house, the original Fremantles had left the basement unfinished. It had a

dirt floor, where snakes and wolf spiders roamed. Lara didn’t mind them

so much in the daylight, but she didn’t want to land on one in the dark.

“Come on, Lulu,” Chip yelled up at her. “We want to make it


She shut her eyes, took a breath, and slid down the chute. He caught

her at the bottom.

“Point the light on the ground. I don’t want to step on a spider. And

don’t fool around with me, I don’t like it,” she added as he crawled his

fingers up her scalp.

They ran up the steep stairs to the kitchen. The house smelled like

bleach, from yesterday’s cleanup, but the acrid stench of cat spray underlay

the bleach, making Lara sick to her stomach. Chip pushed through

the swinging door into the dining room while Lara headed for the staircase

to the second floor.

Her foot was on the first step when the kitchen door opened. She

couldn’t hold back a scream.

“Hello, Lulu.”

“Dad! What are you doing—”

“What am I doing here? More to the point, what are you two doing



“It was a dare,” Lara said quickly. “Chip dared me that I was too


“Lara, don’t lie to me. If you don’t want to tell me the truth, just keep


Lara flushed and dug her nails into her palms so she wouldn’t cry.

Chip said he was sorry, they had left a few things here.

“So you have been breaking in here!” Jim said. “I tried talking to you

about this Friday, and you were too cowardly to tell me the truth. How do

you think that makes me feel? I was asked to keep an eye on this place, and

not only did you take advantage of my responsibility here, you lied to me.”

When neither of his children spoke, Jim said, “And what ‘things’ did

you leave here? Dope? Don’t tell me you’ve been letting Lulu smoke.”

“No, of course not. Me and Curly, we come over here sometimes.”

“After what you said Friday night? When I—”

“I told you Curly wasn’t buying drugs for me. That’s the truth.”

Jim breathed hard through his nose, then he turned to look at Lara.

“And what were you coming here to get?”

Chip said, “She just tagged along for the adventure. She was going to

watch from the upstairs window to see if you were coming, but you beat

us to it.”

Jim’s hard eyes stayed on his daughter for a second. Lara didn’t know

why Chip had lied for her, but she was too upset to say anything. Jim

made Chip get his stash, which he’d stored inside a beat-up piano in the

house’s front parlor. When Chip and Curly got high, they’d play the

piano. They thought it was excruciatingly funny to play songs where you

could only get half the notes to come out.

“This is real,” Jim announced, smelling it. “I thought maybe you were

harvesting the local weed. Where did you buy this?”

“From a guy in town, okay, Dad? Now you have it, does it matter?”

“Of course it matters, because even if I throw this out you’ll just get

more. Is that the life you think I want for you, breaking into other

people’s houses, getting stoned there?”

“What are you going to do? Tell Arnie Schapen to search me every

time I drive past his place?” Chip spoke with a kind of fake jocularity

that always got his father’s goat.


Jim and Chip both knew Arnie would think he was in hog heaven if

he caught one of the Grelliers breaking any law, but Jim was too angry to

think clearly, so he said, “If that’s what it takes to keep you from doing

dope or breaking into empty houses, maybe it’s not such a bad idea.”

At that, Chip lost his own temper. He flung open the back door and

took off down the Fremantle drive toward the road.

Jim knew he’d overreacted, but he was still angry with both children.

He glared at his daughter. “Were you in on this? Were you joining those

drug parties?”

She shook her head. “I smoked some once, but I didn’t like it. Anyway,

Chip didn’t want me to, he only let me because I begged him. I

wanted to see what it was like. And we never hurt this house, so don’t act

like we’re robbers or something.”

“Not robbers, housebreakers, and too ignorant to cover your tracks.

Come on. It’s past midnight, and you have school in the morning, so let’s

get home.”

Once they were outside, Jim closed the coal chute. He found a screwdriver

in the pickup and rebolted the two-by-four to the cellar cover.

When they were heading back home, Jim emptied the bag of marijuana

out the window. Tijuana gold mixing with wild Kansas hemp—aybe

they’d breed a wonderful hybrid that would bring a new generation of

hippies to the area.

The truck passed Chip, trudging down the road. Jim was seldom

angry, and never for long. The sight of his son walking through the snow

in his sneakers made him feel ashamed. He swung down from the cab

and apologized to Chip for losing his temper, but he couldn’t apologize

for throwing out the dope or caring about his kids breaking into the

house. Chip climbed into the truck, but he stayed angry with Jim for a

number of days.

Later, Jim wondered if his anger that night had been a catalyst for

disaster. If I had kept my temper, if I had seen it from Chip’s point of

view, he would think over and uselessly over.

S e ve n


Susan and lara’s breath made white puffs in the cold air, barely

visible against the gray sky and peeling paint of the porch. Lara stomped

her feet, which were freezing in her running shoes, but Susan stood still,

not wanting to jar the pie she was carrying.

“Maybe we should just go in and leave the pie on the table,” Lara suggested.

“She must know we’re here but doesn’t want to answer the door.”

“Not the first time we come over,” Susan said firmly. “She won’t know

who we are or why we left a pie.”

It was two weeks before Christmas. Neither Susan nor Lara had met

Gina Haring yet. The day Gina moved in, Susan had a church board

meeting, so Jim had shown Gina the house and explained the workings

of the old octopus furnace, with its eight outsize arms pushing hot air

into the house.

Lara knew Gina’s car, a battered turquoise Escort, from all the trips she’d

made past their house on her way to Lawrence. The Escort stood in the circular

drive, alongside a newer car, one of the Honda hybrids. They didn’t

recognize the hybrid model—o one who lived out here would own a car

too small to take the punishment of country roads—ut it had Douglas

County plates, and a bumper sticker that proclaimed witches heal.

Susan had waited until eleven to drive over, not wanting to seem like a

busybody. Lara came with her, hoping her mother and Gina Haring

would get into some deep conversation so she could slip upstairs to

retrieve her diary.


The morning after she and Chip had broken into the house, her father

had bolted two large planks across the coal-cellar doors. Lara didn’t know

how she’d get in again uninvited unless Gina drove off and left the doors

unlocked, and she couldn’t sneak through the fields a million times a day

to see if that had happened.

Susan was finally agreeing with Lara’s suggestion to leave the pie with

a note for Gina when Gina opened the kitchen door. Lara couldn’t keep

back a little gasp of admiration. Gina had on jeans, but they’d been ironed,

and the big sweater she wore was made from yarn so soft Lara wanted to

reach over to pet it. Not even her aunt Mimi wore such expensivelooking

clothes. Gina also looked older than Lara had expected, her face

thin, with well-defined bones, her dark hair combed severely behind her

ears. Although it was Saturday morning, she even had on makeup, and

tiny gold earrings.

Susan rushed through the business of introductions: My name is—You

met my husband—y daughter—If there’s anything you need—Here’s

a pie.

After a moment’s hesitation, Gina invited them into the kitchen. No

one else was there, which made Lara wonder if the hybrid was hers along

with the Ford. Gina didn’t smile or say anything, just stood holding

the pie as if it were a foreign object she’d never seen before. Lara

flushed, wondering what she and Susan could have done to make her so


“I re-created the recipe as best I could from my husband’s great-greatgrandmother’s

papers,” Susan was saying. “Of course, she didn’t list

ingredients in detail, or proportions, but I did as much research into pioneer

baking as I could. Since you’re going to be living here, I thought

you’d be interested in a pie that comes out of the history of this area. The

apples are from the trees behind this house, and they still have branches

going back to the 1850s. I think it’s pretty authentic.”

“It also tastes good,” Lara ventured, seeing that Gina was looking even

more forbidding.

That made Gina laugh. Her front teeth were crooked, which seemed

somehow glamorous to Lara, the little flaw that made the rest of her look



She finally murmured something that might have been a thank-you,

adding, “I’m not much interested in pioneer history.”

“Oh, but once you start learning about it, you’ll change your mind.”

Susan ignored Gina’s chilly tone. “This little triangle, where we and Fremantles

and Schapens live, was at the center of some of America’s most

violent battles in the 1850s. Not this house, but the people who lived

here—his house wasn’t built until 1871, but the Fremantles, and my

husband’s family, even—”

“Mom!” Lara interrupted, embarrassed because Gina was looking

stern. “She doesn’t care about all that stuff, she just said!”

Gina said, “It’s always engaging to hear from someone who is enthusiastic

about a subject.”

The words showed interest, but her tone was cold, smooth, like ice

cream. Embarrassed though she’d been by her mother, Lara couldn’t bear

for anyone else to make fun of her. She said abruptly, “It’s freezing in

here. You know, if you don’t turn the furnace on, the pipes will burst. Do

you want me to light the pilot?”

“Lara!” Susan was embarrassed in her turn. “She doesn’t need you

telling her how to run the house.”

“Maybe I do,” Gina said. “I’ve never lived in a palace before. The furnace

is on, but I can’t afford to heat a palace. I put space heaters in the

rooms I use. The rest of the place stays a nice fifty-five degrees, perfect for

the spiders and the mice.”

Lara looked at her, baffled. It was impossible to tell what Gina meant,

because, despite the sarcastic words, she sounded enthusiastic, as if she

wanted to make the house attractive to vermin. Lara decided it was safer

not to say anything else. Besides, she couldn’t believe Gina didn’t have

any money: not only did her clothes look as though they cost a fortune,

she had a big cappuccino machine on the counter; one not even that

fancy was for sale at Z’s Espresso Bar, and it cost twelve hundred dollars.

Gina glanced at Lara’s troubled face and smiled, a genuine-looking

smile, and said with genuine-sounding warmth, “I’m sorry, I’m a little

distracted this morning. I know your house, because your father pointed

it out to me when he drove out with me last weekend to open up this

place. Who lives behind me? Do they own all those cows?”


“The cows belong to the Schapens,” Lara said. “You can’t see their

house from here. Really, you can’t see it from anywhere, not even our

hayloft, because their farm is built so far back from the road. The Ropeses

live behind you.”

Lara pointed at the gray clapboard house across the field, where her

best friend Kimberly had grown up. Kimberly and her parents lived in

town now, but Kimberly’s grandfather still farmed the land. She and Lara

had gone to Kaw Valley Eagle together, before Kimberly’s dad gave up on

farming and took a job in the maintenance department at the university.

Now Lara and Kimberly were in ninth grade together in town. They

played basketball on the junior varsity team.

“Your husband told me you were an expert on the house,” Gina said

to Susan, still in the same warmer-sounding voice.

It was all the encouragement Susan needed. She launched into the

story of Abigail’s journey west, how the Fremantles and Schapens had

helped her when Etienne Grellier was too busy thinking great Transcendentalist

thoughts to work the fields, how Abigail’s oldest son married

Una Fremantle’s daughter and that’s how the Grelliers ended up with all

the papers about the house.

Lara watched Gina’s face. She was blinking under the avalanche of

Susan’s information, but she continued to listen. Her face didn’t have

that blank look people get when they are really thinking about lunch or

their date to the game instead of what you are talking about.

Susan showed Gina the flour bin where Una Fremantle had hidden

her husband during Quantrill’s raid, a waist-high receptacle that pulled

out of the wall at an angle. When Lara was a child, she used to beg Mrs.

Fremantle to let her climb into it, so she could pretend to be hiding out

from Quantrill.

“Quantrill burned down my husband’s family’s shanty and the Fremantles’

first house—his is the one Judge Fremantle built after the Civil

War. The Fremantle kitchen survived Quantrill, fortunately, or the judge

would have been murdered. Una Fremantle was always obsessed with fire

after that. Have you seen the study? Once, Jim and I took a trip to

Boston so I could see where the Grelliers and the Fremantles had started

their pilgrimage, and I got to tour the house that Horace Fremantle grew


up in. This room here is an almost exact replica of his father’s office. I

fixed it up so you can work in here, if you want.”

Susan ushered a dazed Gina across the small foyer at the bottom of the

back stairs, through a bathroom next to it, and into Horace Fremantle’s

study beyond. Lara knew all about Horace and his effort to look important

in his father’s eyes. She knew how much the marble in the fireplaces

cost and where it came from, and how when the wagon hauling it from

Kansas City sank in the Wakarusa River the first Mr. Fremantle and the

first Mr. Schapen rescued the marble and the oxen. She waited until her

mother was in full flight in the study, then ran up the back stairs. The

boards didn’t creak if you moved fast and light.

The stairs ended next to Lara’s second-favorite thing in the house, a

drinking fountain built into the hall wall. It hadn’t worked for years, but

it was beautiful. The back was a silver shell, and the fountain part was

more of the same marble as the fireplace. Lara could hear her mother at

the bottom of the main staircase, her voice high and squeaky, as it always

was when she was excited.

Lara tiptoed to the south end of the hall. The bedroom in the southeast

corner had a closet that connected with the main bedroom. It had

been cold in the kitchen, but it was freezing up here. Lara felt a sneeze

coming on, tried to hold it in, succeeded only in exploding in the middle

of the connecting closet.

“Gina? Is that you? I thought I heard more voices downstairs.”

Lara froze at the entrance to the main bedroom. A woman wrapped

in a heavy dressing gown was sitting up in bed, drinking coffee and reading

a newspaper.

She dropped the paper and flung aside her reading glasses when she

saw Lara. “Did they send you on a reconnaissance mission? Do you want

a full report on my name and who I am?”

Lara flushed. “I’m sorry: I didn’t know anyone was up here.”

“Then why did you come up? Didn’t you know Gina was living here?

In town, we don’t wander uninvited through people’s houses.”

“I’m sorry,” Lara repeated helplessly. “Honest, if I’d known you were

here I would have stayed downstairs.”

“You didn’t see my car standing out in the yard all night and wonder if


someone had a breakdown and needed a jump? That was the previous

visitor’s excuse.”

She gave “visitor” a sarcastic emphasis, meaning Lara was just one

more nosy intruder. “Gina!” she added, leaning forward in the bed to

shout. “I’ve caught a live one. Do you want to come get her?”

Lara turned a deeper red. Already embarrassed, she found she couldn’t

move her legs, much as she wanted to back up and disappear. She heard

her mother and Gina’s steps on the hall stairs; an instant later, they were

in the bedroom.

“Lara!” Susan cried. “What are you doing up here?”

Lara looked around wildly and saw the blue-black patch of mold

around the fireplace. “I came up to see about the mold. It’s gotten worse,

you know, and they could get a bad lung infection from breathing that


“She’s right,” Susan said to Gina, “it isn’t healthy to breathe in those

funguses. But, Lara, you’re almost fifteen, you know better than to think

you can still parade through here without permission. I’m sure if you’d

told Gina—”

“Doesn’t anyone out here mind their own business?” the woman in

the bed demanded.

“Of course,” Susan said stiffly. “I’m sorry my daughter broke in on

you, but it was with the best intentions. I’m Susan Grellier. My husband

and I were the caretakers until Gina moved in. I didn’t realize it would

take Lara so long to adjust to being a visitor instead of someone with the

right to be in the house. We’ll leave now. But you have our phone number,

or Gina has it, if something goes wrong, or you’re lonely—”

“How can we be lonely when everyone in the county waltzes in before

noon?” the woman said.

“Autumn, I think they’re different. Susan’s a neighbor. She baked a pie

in the best tradition of the Old West. She’s a historian—t least, she’s an

amateur historian—nd she knows a lot about the house. She came over

to tell me about it.”

Once again, Lara couldn’t decipher what Gina was saying. She

sounded as she had when they first came in, as though her meaning

didn’t lie in her words but in her inflection. The woman in the bed


seemed to understand her because the angry lines had smoothed out of

her face, making her look younger.

“Autumn Minsky runs Between Two Worlds in Lawrence,” Gina said.

“We met when I went in for—upplies last week.”

“As the sheriff was at pains to find out early this morning,” Autumn

snapped, but then suddenly laughed. “You should have seen his face

when I gave him one of my business cards—e acted as though it would

turn him into a toad. Which I wish it had, once he told me he’d been

keeping an eye on my store!”

Lara knew Between Two Worlds. It was a New Age store where you

could buy incense or books on pagan religion, but they also sold jewelry,

little gold suns on gold chains that cost hundreds of dollars, earrings in

the shape of crescent moons with turquoise or lapis set in them. Some of

the things weren’t so expensive, though. Her friend Melanie Derwint

had four piercings in her ears and wore silver moon-shaped studs she’d

bought at Between Two Worlds.

“The sheriff ?” Susan asked. “Has Hank Drysdale been out here?”

Gina shrugged. “I didn’t catch his name. He stopped by at eight in the

morning because he saw Autumn’s car in the yard. He claimed to be worried

about my safety.”

“He wasn’t as bad as the other one.” Autumn shuddered. “At least it’s

possible the man was a sheriff, although he didn’t have a uniform or a

marked car.”

“What was he driving?” Lara asked at the same time her mother asked,

“What other one?”

“Some horrible-looking lout straight out of Cold Comfort Farm had

climbed up the big tree outside the bathroom window and was peering

in when I got up to pee around six this morning,” Autumn said.

Lara was startled to hear a grown-up woman use that word boldly in

the middle of conversation: I have to pee, she rehearsed in her mind.

Would Kimberly and Melanie go, “Ooh, gross,” or would they think she

was totally cool?

“What happened?” Susan asked.

“I opened the window and shouted at him. He grinned as though he’d

just done the cleverest thing on the planet and kept hanging on the


branch while I kept shouting, until I suppose his hands froze and he

more or less fell out of the tree. And then got up and ran away.”

Lara said, “Was he about twenty, maybe? With dark curls and red


“He had on a stocking cap, and anybody outdoors on a December

morning would have red cheeks,” Autumn said impatiently. “Is he your

boyfriend? Did you two dare each other to spy on us?”

“No!” Lara cried. “I don’t have a boyfriend, and it wouldn’t be him if I

did, if it’s who I think it might be.”

“Calm down, Autumn.” Gina walked to the bed and put a hand on

her friend’s shoulder. “Who do you think it was, Laura?”

“Lara,” Susan corrected automatically, while Lara said, “Mom, don’t

you guess it was Eddie? It’s the kind of thing he does.”

“Who’s Eddie?” Autumn demanded. “Remember, we don’t have a


Lara blushed again. “Eddie Burton.”

“Lara,” Susan said warningly, meaning don’t say something you can’t

back up with facts.

Lara knew her mother didn’t like to hear about perverse acts. Susan

wanted to believe that people had pure and ardent spirits, that no one,

from her beloved abolitionists to the most tiresome of her neighbors,

ever abused their children or raped a heifer or did any of the other

grotesque things that went on day in and day out somewhere in Kansas,

even right here in Douglas County, if you could believe Curly and Chip.

“Mom, if he’s climbing their trees and staring in the window at them,

they have a right to know who he is—r, at least,” Lara corrected herself

conscientiously, “who I think it could be. And they should let Sheriff

Drysdale know, because otherwise Arnie Schapen will just use it as an

excuse to lock up Eddie, or come in here and snoop around.”

She turned to Autumn and Gina. “The Burtons live down the road to

the south—chapens are to the west. You can’t see Burtons’ from here

because it’s off behind the Ropeses’ house, but if you drive up the

county road toward Highway 10 and see a run-down place with about

a hundred cars up on blocks in the yard, that’s Burtons’. And Arnie—Mr. Schapen, I mean—e’s a deputy sheriff, so it could have been him


who came out this morning to check on your car, but the Burtons

are, like—”

She caught her mother’s headshake before she brought out the word

retarded and changed it to, “They don’t always, well, catch on as fast as

most people. Especially Eddie. He was at Kaw Valley Eagle when I was,

even though he’s a whole lot older, and his whole lesson, every morning,

was saying the alphabet, which he never could remember past the letter f,

and then he’d get a nosebleed and have to—”

“But does he climb trees and spy on people?” Gina interrupted.

“Oh! That’s the first I ever heard of him doing that, but he used to

crawl under the bathroom doors to look up our skirts, me and Kimberly’s,

and now he likes to set fires—”

“Lara,” Susan cut her off. “You have to get into town for basketball


She turned to Gina. “If you wouldn’t mind bringing the pie pan back

when you’re done— used one of our real ones. They make better pies

than the throwaway pans. And, please, people out here are friendly.

Don’t get the wrong impression just because of one little incident.”

“Yes, indeed,” Gina said. “They might burn down your house if you’re

an abolitionist, but perhaps since it was winter they just wanted to be

helpful, heat the place up for you. So they climb the tree outside your

bathroom to make sure you haven’t frozen during the night. That sounds

very friendly indeed.”

Lara giggled, but her mother shepherded her from the room. As they

walked down the back stairs to the kitchen, Lara heard Autumn Minsky

say, “Honestly, Gina, when I told you Lawrence was a center for the arts

in the Midwest I wasn’t expecting people to reenact In Cold Blood for

you. Maybe you should rethink staying here. It smells and it’s cold—”

“And it’s cheap,” Gina said. “My uncle isn’t charging me anything but

utilities and taxes to stay here. Nowhere in New York could I find a place

that cheap, let alone a gothic horror like this. Maybe I’ll write a novel

about it while I’m out here, Cold Comfort Farm meets In Cold Blood—I’ll

call it something like Cold-Blooded Farm.

E i g h t


On the way to Lara’s basketball practice, mother and daughter talked

over their morning with Gina Haring.

“She can’t really be poor, the way she says she is, can she?” Lara said.

“Did you see her cappuccino machine? Or her clothes! Did you notice

that sweater? It must have cost a hundred dollars, easy.”

“Easily,” Susan corrected automatically. “I can’t imagine what it

cost—our aunt Mimi sometimes spends a thousand dollars on an outfit,

but even her clothes aren’t that fine. I think Gina’s husband was very

wealthy—he probably has the wardrobe she bought while she was


“And then he divorced her because she was sleeping with women, and

he didn’t give her any alimony or anything.”

“Lara! How can you say such a thing? We don’t know anything about

her marriage or why it ended.”

“Melanie Derwint told me. She goes to Full Salvation Bible with the

Schapens, and she says Myra told Mrs. Derwint.”

“And if Myra Schapen says something, it must be the gospel?” Susan

demanded. “Until Gina chooses to confide in us, we won’t make any

assumptions about her private life. All Mr. Fremantle told your dad was

that she’d gone through a difficult divorce, and we don’t have any right to

ask her questions or guess what that means.”

“Oh, all right,” Lara agreed sullenly, all the while planning to talk over

what she’d seen with Kimberly Ropes at basketball practice.


Her mother’s mind wandered into a different place. “Did you hear

what Gina was saying to Autumn as we were going down the stairs? That

she would try to write a novel about the house? It would be wonderful to

have that kind of creative gift.”

Susan’s voice trailed away, trying to imagine the special light that must

flood the mind of someone with a poem or a novel coming to life inside

them. Different from having a baby, which anyone could do. An artistic

vision would sustain you in hard times, the way Abigail Grellier’s vision

had sustained her. Susan would have to share some of those old diaries

with Gina.

“She talked in such a funny way,” Lara said. “I don’t think she’s serious

about writing a novel—he just likes to say things. Why would she do

that, say things like ‘living in a palace,’ when you know she was probably

thinking it was the worst dump she ever saw.”

“Artistic irony,” Susan murmured, bathing Gina’s rudeness in an inspirational

glow. “If she really has a vision, she may not realize how she

sounds to other people.”

“And the woman from Between Two Worlds,” Lara went on. “Did

you see that bumper sticker? ‘Witches Heal.’ Is she a witch? Do you

think Gina might be one, too? She said she went into the shop for ‘supplies.’

I should have gone into some of the other rooms to see if she has a

witch’s altar set up. Maybe she can conjure the spirits of the dead—he

could set up a seance for you with Great-Great-Grandmother Abigail!”

“Lara, no. I’ve seen Autumn Minsky at the farmers’ market in town.

I’m sure she doesn’t believe in anything so superstitious.”

“But, Mom, Ms. Haring said she’d gone into the store for ‘supplies.’

What could that mean, unless it was for some kind of witch ceremony?”

Susan cast around in her mind. “Incense,” she decided. “To cover up

the smell of cat.”

“Even though we didn’t smell any when we walked in? That was lame,


“No one burns incense in the morning,” Susan said firmly. “Not even

confirmed witches.”

They had pulled up in front of the high school. Lara grinned and said,

“Good try. Me and Kimberly will be at the library at one, okay?”


“Kimberly and I,” Susan corrected, but Lara was already halfway up

the walk.

When Susan and Lara reported on the visit to Jim that night at supper,

he looked narrowly at his daughter. “Your mother is wound up

about the mold and the Fremantle house, but it’s hard to believe you are,

Lulu. I’d like to know what’s in that bedroom you care about so much.”

“Nothing, Dad,” Lara said earnestly. “Mom was telling Gina all the

stuff I’ve heard a million times, about the fire extinguishers and the

marble in the fireplace and everything. I just wanted to—”

Her voice trailed off. She couldn’t think of any reason that made sense

for why she had gone up to the main bedroom. No matter what she said,

it was snooping, exactly as Autumn Minsky from Between Two Worlds

had said. Lara was as bad as Eddie Burton, or almost. The thought made

her squirm, but also suggested a diversion.

“Dad, those women, they said Eddie Burton had climbed that old

evergreen on the south side of the house and was peeping in at the bathroom


“Lara!” Susan exclaimed. “We don’t know it was Eddie.”

“But, Mom, who else could it have been?” Lara was aggrieved.

“Maybe Myra Schapen,” Chip suggested. “Getting ready to add a

little paragraph to ‘News and Notes.’ ”

It was the first night Chip had joined them for supper since his

blowup with Jim over the marijuana at Fremantles’. The rest of the family

was so relieved to see him that they laughed loudly, especially Lara,

who was happy to have the spotlight turn away from her.

“Yes, Myra has a periscope into every house around here; it’s the only

way I can figure how she knows everybody’s private lives.” Jim said. “She

and Gram had some real fights about it when your uncle Doug and I

were boys.”

“Maybe Arnie was her spy when you were boys together,” Lara said,

“and now she has Junior and Robbie doing it for her. It could have been

Junior up that tree, because the lady from the witch store, she said whoever

it was grinned like he was the cleverest guy on the planet, and whenever

Junior gets away with something slimy he does grin like that.”

“Junior would break the tree,” Chip objected. “Maybe it was Robbie.”


“Oh, yeah, like Robbie would do anything for Junior. You know

Junior bullied Robbie even more’n me when we were at Kaw Valley.”

“So he bullied Robbie into spying for him,” Chip said.

“You see,” Susan exclaimed, “you two just started a new rumor. Two

new ones. In five minutes, you’ve gone from claiming it was Eddie Burton

up the tree to saying maybe it was Junior Schapen, or even his

brother. Do you understand now how wrong it is to put out your opinion

and claim it was fact?”

“And please remember that you two aren’t to call Arnie and his mother

by their first names. They don’t like it, and we don’t need to go out of our

way to stir them up,” Jim added.

“I bet Lulu’s right, though,” Chip said, “that it was Eddie Burton

peeping in through the bathroom window.”

“But why?” Susan demanded.

“Because he’s a creep,” Chip said. “Also, because he’s been Junior’s

gofer since we were eight. People have been wild to know what Autumn

Minsky is doing with Gina Haring ever since her car first showed up last

week, so it figures that Myra—anny Schapen—ould want to be the

first to know. Curly will find out all about it and tell me.”

“Chip, don’t. I don’t like the way Curly spreads news all over the

place—e’s like a wind blowing stalk rot to every farm in the valley.

Don’t encourage him to blow up Ms. Haring’s troubles bigger than they

already are. Leave Ms. Haring alone.”

“Oh, Dad! Anyway, we don’t need Curly to tell us what Autumn Minsky

is doing out at Fremantles’—veryone knows.”

“They do?” Susan said sweetly. “And exactly what is that, Etienne?

And exactly how do they know it?”

Chip reddened and didn’t answer, but Lara said, “You mean, because

she was in Ms. Haring’s bed, Chip? But I thought you said women can’t

be sodo—”

“Lara, you’re displaying your ignorance, not how cool you are, so put

a lid on it.”

Lara subsided into a glower. She found relief in kicking Chip under

the table for raising the subject to begin with. Chip kicked back and hit

her chair leg.


“I’m worried about the Burtons, anyway,” Susan said to change the

subject. “Ardis is coming into the food pantry once a month now, they

told me at the church board meeting. That fine Clem got for going over

to Arnie’s with his shotgun is really taking a toll on them.”

“Mom,” Chip chided mockingly, “that’s gossip, you know.”

Susan bit her lip. “You’re right. It’s just— feel for Ardis, with five children

all living at home, plus Clem’s great hulking father, who has to have

his diapers changed every few hours. How are they ever going to pay off

that fine on what she makes clerking at By-Smart?”

“They could if Clem would get off his butt and work his land, or even

find a job himself,” Jim said shortly.

Lara stopped foot fighting her brother to say, “The lady from Between

Two Worlds said someone from the sheriff ’s office came around checking

on her car, you know, that red hybrid. Maybe that was Mr. Schapen.”

Jim made a face. “I guess I could give Hank Drysdale a call, just

ask him if he sent someone out there. I don’t want Gina Haring being

bothered, not when she’s taken that house off our shoulders. Which

reminds me, Lulu, whatever you were doing there this morning, don’t.

Even if you left your own stash of dope in the master-bedroom fireplace.”

“Dad! That’s unfair. I told you last week I don’t do drugs, and I’m not

a liar.”

“I don’t like to think of you spying on the neighbors. Whatever you

were doing in Gina Haring’s room, I don’t want you snooping around

like Myra Schapen. You’ve got enough going on in your own life not to

add the neighbors’ activities to your list.”

“I wasn’t snooping, Dad, at least not like that. Besides, it’s so unfair to

compare me to Myra Schapen. I don’t go around threatening people with

hellfire and damnation, or put stories about them on the Web!” Lara’s

eyes were swimming with hurt tears.

“But, sugar, gossiping is as bad as putting it on the Web,” Jim said.

“I know you don’t like gossip, Dad, but the Schapens are such jerks,

and Eddie Burton is creepy. If I can’t talk about them, it will all fester

inside me.”

“And give you a terrible complex?” he suggested. “And a farmer’s


daughter can’t afford a fancy psychiatrist to sort out her problems so it’s

my duty to let you gossip so you don’t build up weird complexes?”

Lara laughed reluctantly, unwilling to give up completely on her

grievance. “Something like that, Dad. Of course, maybe Mom and I will

make the X-Farm into such a huge success that we can all afford therapy.”

He pulled her over and ruffled her hair. “I’m spending my share on a

fancy trip. When you and your mom are organic-sunflower millionaires,

talking to your shrinks about how hard it is to have all that money, I’m

going to be hanging out in Argentina all winter with the bobolinks.”

From Abigail Comfort Grellier’s Journal

July 23, 1855

The sum of money my dear mother gave to me on our parting is

fast depleted by the exorbitant price the Missouri ruffians charge for

the basic needs of living. With a sack of wheat $6, we make a baking of

bread do for a week. I must store it in my tin trunk to keep the greedy

mice from it! We have apples a plenty, for there were trees on the land

that M. Grellier staked out, and they are a great gift and mercy to us.

I used some of my precious hoard to buy a cow, and “Mrs. Blossom,”

as I christened her, has some days been my dearest friend, for

M. Grellier is very busy in the town with the militia that will try to

protect us from the ruffians. She stands near me while I tend my vegetable

garden, dug for me with great kindness by Mr. Schapen, who

has a team of oxen. One acre of this prairie sod is now under cultivation!

And my radishes, peas, and corn are all rising well.

N i n e


“Yeah, Soapweed, it all sucks.”

Robbie Schapen leaned his head against the Guernsey-Jersey’s flank.

The urge to curl up around her warm body and go back to sleep was so

strong that he sat upright again. She hated—ll the cows hated—automated milking. No matter how careful you were, the rubber tubes

and vacuum pump moved milk through them too fast for comfort. If he

fell asleep, she’d bellow in agony when her udders were stripped. That

would be cruel to her, and would also bring his dad—r, worse yet, his

grandmother—o see what new blunder he’d made.

He scooted over to Scurf-pea and attached the teat cups, moved on to

Bittersweet, Daphne, and then Connie. Five cows on a side—is side—move them out, bring in the next five. A race of sorts that he won about

once every three months.

Junior could outmilk both Arnie and Dale, but that was because he

didn’t worry about hurting the cows. The ones he milked always had the

highest rate of mastitis on the farm, so Robbie thought it was fucking

unfair—Sorry, Jesus, but it really is—for Dad to hold Junior up to him as

an example. A cow with mastitis has to be on antibiotics, and you can’t

use her milk—ou take it from her, but you have to throw it out until

she’s well again. So the faster Junior milked, the more money they lost.

But try telling Dad that.

Today, fortunately, Dale Bracken was on the other side of the drainage

pit. He was a tired, quiet man who worked for Arnie, coming out to help


with the early milking and doing odd jobs, like spraying the lagoon,

which collected wastewater runoff from the grazing pastures and milking


Robbie turned on the pump, watched the milk flow through the

Lucite tubes, checked the udders, turned off the switch, and removed the

hoses. “Okay, girls, out you go.” He slapped Cornflower’s flank. She was

the lead cow in this lot, and once she moved out the other four would

follow. As soon as Soapweed, last in this group, was in motion, Robbie

trotted back to the yard and brought in his next five.

Naming the cows was his job. It was actually a punishment, something

his grandmother thought up because he’d broken his leg, or maybe

because he’d been crying when the broker showed up to buy the cows

after his mother disappeared. Robbie couldn’t remember very clearly:

he’d only been nine at the time.

First, Nanny had told him Mom was dead. But Junior, who was

eleven back then, said, “She’s not dead. She ran off with some guy she

met at the bank.” So then Nanny said Mom was a harlot who couldn’t

take family responsibilities, and that was the main story she repeated so

often it was like a routine part of daily conversation: “Hello, Nanny, how

are you?” “Your mother was a harlot.”

She usually repeated it when Robbie did something to annoy her.

With his olive skin and skinny frame, Robbie looked like his mother.

Blond, broad Junior, he was a true Schapen. Nanny was also very fond of

saying that.

Robbie didn’t remember his mother clearly. After she left, Dad, or

maybe Nanny, had thrown out all her pictures. Robbie rescued three

from the garbage when his grandmother was in the field and Junior and

Dad were in the barn. He kept them taped under one of his bureau

drawers where Nanny wouldn’t find them. She was always snooping

through his things, looking for clues about whether he was queer,

because Robbie liked to play the guitar and hated sports.

Junior was a defensive end. He was hoping for a football scholarship

from Tonganoxie Bible College for next year, which meant he couldn’t

flunk any more of his courses this year. He was flunking biology this fall,

but the college didn’t care about that, because in Lawrence you had to


study evolution to pass biology and Junior told the people at Tonganoxie

he’d been flunked because he was the only student to take a stand against

forcing students to disregard the sacred Word of God. Really, Junior had

failed because he never did any work for the class. He hardly did any

work for any classes, but most teachers passed him because he was on the

football team. Only Mr. Biesterman, the biology teacher, and Ms. Carmody,

in English, refused to give a free ride to the football players.

Of course if Tonganoxie found out what Junior and Eddie Burton

had been up to, good-bye college, good-bye football. Robbie sometimes

thought about telling, especially when Nanny was raving about Junior

like he was one of the elect sitting at God’s right hand. The fact that he

didn’t wasn’t out of loyalty—e and Junior had always sacrificed each

other on the altar of Nanny’s anger—r even that he was afraid of Junior.

He was a little afraid of him, of course, his brother being so big and so

prone to use his fists. You’d be an idiot not to be somewhat afraid of him.

But Robbie’s reasons for not telling were more complicated than just fear

of Junior. For one thing, he only suspected, he didn’t know for sure.

More than that, Robbie was afraid if he put his suspicions into words

he’d make them real.

Robbie used to have to go to all Junior’s games, but last year he started

playing guitar for the Salvation Through the Blood of Jesus Full Bible

Church’s youth programs. The teen group met on Thursday nights,

when a lot of Junior’s games were scheduled.

Nanny snarled about his lack of family commitment, but Robbie took

her hands and said in a wistful voice, “Nanny, I have to put my commitment

to Jesus first, because didn’t He tell us that ‘he who loveth father

and mother more than me is not worthy of me’?”

Nanny had scowled at him and snapped something about Satan and

Scripture, but Robbie only smiled a kind, patient smile, one that he had

practiced in front of the mirror for a long time: you cannot be punished

if you are soulful and solemn. “Pastor Nabo says our metal band is an

important Christian service, because we get kids to come to Jesus

through music.”

Nanny thought music was a waste of time. If she’d been the last

person on the tractor, you could count on the radio being tuned to Rush


Limbaugh and William Bennett. If Robbie was the last one using it, he

left it tuned at top volume to a heavy-metal station. The sound always

jolted Nanny when she turned on the engine—a small pleasure, the price

of which was a lecture on Mick Jagger and the dangers of hell waiting for

people who jumped and danced on stage and were sodomites when they

left it. No matter what Pastor Nabo said, Nanny wouldn’t believe that

rock or metal weren’t the devil’s playthings.

Nanny essentially worshipped Junior’s football playing. Come to

think of it, she was an idolater, with a golden football instead of a golden

calf on her altar. She still talked about Dad’s stats from when he’d been in

high school thirty years ago, and for the last four years all she’d talked

about had been Junior’s, how he’d made more tackles than Dad in a

game against Shawnee Mission or fewer in the homecoming game

against Wyandotte. Robbie tried to imagine what she would do if he

said, “Nanny, you and Dad have turned Junior and his football team into

a statue of Baal.”

“I’m not brave enough for that, Jesus,” he whispered against the cow’s

side. Anyway, maybe Jesus didn’t want him thinking up ways to torment

Myra. “Why should I do your work for you,” Robbie said out loud.

“She’ll die one of these days, and you can torment her yourself.”

Dale, working across the pit from him, looked over. “You say something,


Robbie blushed, hoping the machines were too loud for Dale to have

made out his words. “Just practicing my lyrics.”

And then he did start practicing the new song he’d written last night

for him and Chris Greynard to sing at youth group next week:

Who moves the mountain?

King Jesus!

Who moves our hearts?

King Jesus!

Hearts and mountains

Big and small,

They’re nothing to the King,

He can move them all!


In His Spirit

We can move them, too

Hearts, minds, mountains,

We move them all

With the power of your love

Your precious, precious love,

King Jesus!

He started to sing more loudly, then remembered where he was: in the

milking shed. Not that the cows, or even Dale, would tell on him, but

Nanny sometimes came out unexpectedly in the middle of milking to

inspect him.

She never worked with the cows, not because she was eighty-seven

and couldn’t handle the workload, but because the herd had been her

daughter-in-law’s idea. The Schapens used to raise cows back in the early

1900s. They even had their own dairy, Open Prairie, back then, but during

the Dust Bowl Robbie’s great-grandfather had to butcher or sell the

herd—hey couldn’t cultivate their own grazing land during that long

drought, and they couldn’t afford to buy fodder for the herd.

Nanny blamed the Grelliers. Back in the Depression, they raised beef

cattle, which they grazed on their acres down by the Wakarusa River.

Nanny thought the Grelliers should have sacrificed half their herd and

shared their grazing land and fodder with Arnie’s grandfather. Just imagine

if the Grelliers had suggested the same thing to them! Nanny thought

Susan was a Communist who was bound for hell just for running that

co-op market. If she’d said kill half your cows for us, Nanny probably

would have burned down the Grellier house.

According to Junior, his and Robbie’s mom thought she could start

Open Prairie up again when the organic craze first got going twenty years

ago. She’d bought a mixed herd of Guernseys, Jerseys, and Brown Swiss,

starting with fifteen cows. She looked after them herself, before and after

her day job at the bank. On her own, while Dad and Nanny scoffed,

Mom had dug and lined the lagoon. And she had gone around the

county to all the independent grocers, finding buyers for her milk.

His mother’s job at the bank in Lawrence had been essential for the


family to make ends meet. Like most small-farm families, someone had

to work outside the farm if they were going to keep the land—that’s why

Dad had become a sheriff ’s deputy after Mom left. When she started the

herd, though, she had had high hopes for her cows. She’d thought they

might let her quit the bank job and stay home with Robbie instead of

leaving him in Nanny’s care.

When he was little, Robbie loved going out in the early morning with

his mother to do the milking or make rounds with her to the local grocery

stores. He could hardly believe it now, leaning against Gilly’s side, trying to

keep his eyes open. He’d stayed up too late last night, working on the new

song, which he had to do almost silently so as not to bring his father or

grandmother in on him. He and Junior took turns doing the early shift

with Dale. He didn’t know what would happen when Junior left next fall—Robbie would probably have to get up every morning to do the milking.

Mom and Robbie had named the cows. That was their secret together,

Robbie’s and hers, because Dad and Nanny thought naming cows

was a sissy thing. He hadn’t been supposed to let Dad know the cows all

had names, although now that he was older he realized it wasn’t that big a

secret: Mom used to write the names on the backs of their ear tags. Each

tag showed the breed, the date of birth, the registration number, and, on

the back, the name she and Robbie had given it. They tried always to give

new calves names that started with the same letter as the mother.

It was how he learned his alphabet, Mom squatting to look at him, her

face smiling. “Okay, Robbie, Sunflower starts with S. Now we need

another S-word for her baby daughter.”

“Superman,” he shrieked, jumping up and down.

“It’s an S-word, all right, but is it a good name for a girl?”

And then he thought of Sugarplum, because it had been near Christmas,

and she’d read him about visions of sugarplums, not that he knew

what a sugarplum was.

Nanny had this bitchy attitude toward the cows because when Mom

took off Dad planned to sell the herd. He’d turned against the cows,

probably because Mom loved them, and he caused mastitis in a lot of the

herd by his rough handling of the milking machine—nformation Robbie

got from outsiders, at 4-H or the farmers’ market.


“You’re the one who made us keep those cows, Robbie,” he could hear

his grandmother saying. “You’re the one who can name them.”

It didn’t make sense, but there never had been anyone Robbie could

discuss it with to try to make sense of it. Nanny made it sound dire, as if

naming the cows was like mucking out the milking shed, so that the pleasure

he’d had with his mother in thinking up names had disappeared.

He reckoned in six years he had named over a hundred cows. He was

running out of ideas and was starting to reuse names from cows who had

died, starting to hate the whole routine. Only the unspoken knowledge

that his grandmother would feel triumphant if he stopped naming the

animals kept him going to lists of wildflowers and colors, even turning to

foreign languages, to come up with new ideas.

He slapped the last of his cows on the side and urged her out the shed

door. Dale had finished already and was bringing in the water hoses to

swab out the pit below the milking stands. Robbie disconnected his milk

lines and took them out to the washroom with his milking jars and teat


It was still dark, but it was almost always dark for the morning milking.

They started at five, finished around six-thirty, and this time of year

the eastern sky was barely turning gray even when they finished.

He hurried to the washroom and dumped the equipment into the

sink at the corner. Dale would disinfect it and set it out ready for the

evening milking.

The light was on in the kitchen. Nanny would have breakfast ready.

He mustn’t dawdle, but he still took a chance and ran over to the new

enclosure, where Soapweed’s new calf stood in a lonely state. She was

bawling, longing for company, for her mother, for food. She was only

four weeks old.

Robbie hated that part of dairy farming. It was cruel to take babies

from their mothers. The other calves didn’t fare much better than Soapweed’s

calf, being pinned next to little sheds outside the main barn.

Working cows couldn’t be sharing their milk with their own offspring. It

all had to go to the farm. At least the other new calves were outdoors.

They all could see the sun and each other.

Soapweed had cried for forty-eight hours straight when Serise was


taken from her. And poor Serise, she was in this god-awful—sorry, Jesus,

but it is—pen, no sunlight for her, no friends. Robbie undid the lock and

went in to pet her.

“King Jesus, He moves the mountains,” he crooned, rubbing her

nubby red head.

The cow nuzzled him and tried to suck his fingers. He smelled of

milk. He had it on his clothes. She wanted to nurse so badly it hurt him.

“Your bucket of ultrapure is coming soon, girl, don’t you worry. And

when you’re rich and famous, don’t forget who looked after you, either,

you hear?”

“Hey, Robbie!”

Robbie jumped, but it was just Dale, who added, “You know Arnie

don’t like you in here. And I seed your Nanny looking out the kitchen

window for you. Maybe you’d better go on inside.”

Te n


“What took you so long?” Myra asked. “I saw Dale cleaning out

the jars before you showed your head.”

“Yes, Nanny,” Robbie said. It was easier to agree with her than to offer


“Those Jews are coming from Kansas City this afternoon to look at

the calf,” Arnie announced. “Make sure you’re not playing that music of

yours while they’re here. We need them to give us a favorable answer, and

that guitar churning up the air isn’t going to put them in a good frame of

mind any more than it does me. And don’t wipe your mouth on the back

of your hand. What do you think that piece of paper is next to you? A

copy of the Ten Commandments?”

Junior snickered. Robbie gulped down his eggs and raced upstairs to

shower. He couldn’t stand to go to school with milk on him. It had happened

earlier this year, when he started in ninth grade, in town, and the

memory of the girls mooing in the hall as he passed still made his ears

burn. Lara Grellier had been in the group. He suspected it was she who

told the others. They were city girls, who wouldn’t know how fresh milk

smelled, just that Robbie smelled funny.

He stood under the shower until the hot water ran out, then rubbed

a clear space on the mirror to inspect his upper lip. Junior had only

started shaving last year, when he turned seventeen, but Robbie was hoping

that dark-haired musicians grew mustaches faster than blond football



“I won’t wait all day for you, Romeo!” Junior bellowed, rattling the

bathroom doorknob.

Robbie sprayed himself with the bottle of aftershave he’d started keeping

in his backpack after Junior filled a previous one with ammonia. He

pulled on his black becoming the archetype T-shirt. They were his

favorite Christian metal group, the one he modeled his own sound on.

He’d stenciled jesus rocks on the back. Nanny hated the message, hated

the shirt, and she’d ruined his first one in the laundry by deliberately

pouring bleach on it. It was another thing he kept in his school backpack,

folded flat inside his social studies notebook.

Robbie ran back down the stairs, his backpack draped over his shoulder.

More than once, Junior had gone to school without him and he’d

had to hitch a ride. Robbie had been lucky one time back in September,

getting to the crossroads just as Chip and Lara Grellier were pulling out

of their yard. Chip was going to drive on around him, but Robbie

jumped in front of the car, waving his arms frantically, and explained

that Junior had left him behind.

He’d scrunched into the back of Chip’s Nissan, his knees around his

ears, his nose almost resting in Lara Grellier’s soft brown curls. Her hair

smelled like fresh grass, and he could see the line where her tan ended

beneath her tank top. He felt himself contract with longing. Was this

love? And could he be in love with Lara Grellier, who had broken his

front tooth in a fight when they were in sixth grade, whose family always

went out of their way to hurt the Schapens? Besides which, she went to a

church where they believed in evolution instead of the Bible, so according

to Myra, Arnie, and Pastor Nabo she was bound for hell. Maybe it

was his—obbie’s—ob to save her.

When they got to school and she jumped out, he’d been imagining

her breasts under his hands as his passion guided her to Jesus. Her mocking

“End of the trail, milkboy” made him blush, as if she had seen his


The next several times that Junior left without him, Robbie had

sprinted to the crossroads, hoping to get there ahead of the Grelliers, but

each time they had already left for town and he’d been forced to walk the

long mile to the main road before getting a lift.


After that he’d tried harder to be ready ahead of Junior, since Myra

thought it was good discipline for Robbie when Junior left without him.

“This is what it will feel like when Jesus comes again in glory, to be left

behind with the sinners. So you learn to be ready, ready for school, ready

for the Lord.”

When it was his turn for early-morning milking, he imagined his

workload next fall if Junior went on to college. The one good thing was,

he’d get to take the pickup to school himself, no more of this hassling

by Nanny and his brother. Chip would be gone, too, probably, taking

his little sports car off to college, so maybe Lara would ride with him,

Robbie Schapen.

“Lulu” was what her family always called her. Back when they were in

grade school at Kaw Valley Eagle, he used to tease her: Lulu makes doodoo,

Lulu the boo-boo. Now he blushed with shame. No wonder she

called him milkboy.

“Lulu,” he murmured into the foggy mirror.

Junior rattled the knob again. “Last call.”

Today, as he bolted out the door, Nanny shouted, “You change that

shirt when you get home from school, young man. I want those Jews to

see you looking like a Christian, in a real shirt. You hear me?”

“But this is a Christian band, Nanny,” Robbie called, jumping into

the truck, which Junior was starting to put in gear.

“Says you.”

Junior sprayed gravel as he spun out of the yard.

“Says me, says Pastor Nabo, and says anyone who isn’t too ignorant to

listen to music.”

“Yeah, when the roll is called up yonder Nanny will be miles ahead of

Becoming the Anti-Christ in the line. So listen to her, knucklehead.”

Archetype, not anti-Christ, you ignorant ape. Anyway, why is Nanny

so bent out of shape about some Jews coming to the farm?” Robbie complained.

“Lawrence is full of Jews. We know lots of them from school

and the market. Why do we have to put on good clothes and let a bunch

of strange men fool around with Soapweed’s calf ?”

“If you’d get your head out of your ass and listen to something besides

your own useless guitar, you’d know that this could be the end of the


world starting right here on our farm. We could be so rich we’d never

have to milk another cow again.”

“If the world comes to an end, we won’t have to, anyway, we won’t

need money. Besides, we’re not supposed to lay up treasure on earth.”

“I’d love to have me a little car like Frenchie Grellier drives,” Junior

grumbled. “It’d be great to rub those golden Grellier noses in our shit for

a change.”

The remark reminded Robbie again of sitting squashed behind

Lara, the smell of her hair, the softness of her skin at the nape of her

neck. If Junior had a little sports car, he and Eddie Burton would ride

around in it, terrorizing the county. Not that they didn’t already, on

Junior’s bike.

“Chip bought the car with the money he made working last year’s harvest.

Do you know that Mr. Grellier pays him for his time in the field at

harvest? Can you imagine Dad paying us to do the milking?”

“If Soapweed’s calf is this special heifer the Jews need, we’ll be able to

hire two men to do the milking for us,” Junior gloated.

All that day at school, Robbie thought of Soapweed’s calf, alone in her

special pen behind the barns, crying for company. Then he thought of

buying his own sports car, of Lara Grellier sitting next to him. They’d be

parked out back of Clinton Lake, with the top down. He’d be playing a

song to her, a love song. Her lips parted, eyes glowing at him, her blouse

unbuttoned so he could see her breasts. He drew a picture of them in his

Spanish notebook, small, firm, the nipples little raspberries.

When the bell rang, he saw her in the hall, laughing with Melanie

Derwint and Kimberly Ropes. The trio passed him as if he weren’t there,

so they didn’t notice the blush that turned his dark skin to mahogany.

When he and Junior got home a little after three, Pastor Nabo was

already there, pacing restlessly around the front room, the room they

opened up only when company came. Myra had lit the oil heater, so that

the room was warm but smelled greasy.

Robbie went upstairs to change into the blue-striped shirt Nanny had

ironed. The sleeves were already too short, but she wouldn’t buy him

another shirt until next year. Arnie would never pay him for his work

on the farm; he and Myra thought the Fifth Commandment was the


cornerstone of Christian faith. More than not committing adultery or

murder, you must honor your father and grandmother.

Robbie studied his reflection in the bathroom mirror. If he rolled up

his sleeves, the shirt wouldn’t make him look so much like a chimp, his

too-long arms swinging at his sides.

He went to the landing and peered over the banister. Junior was

sucking up to Pastor Nabo, calling him sir and laughing heartily at something

the pastor had said. “Yes, sir, Pastor, I suck dick,” Robbie muttered.

He pulled a grimy notepad from his back pocket and sat on the

top step.

Love your neighbor

As you love yourself.

Jesus taught us this.

Jesus taught us this.

I love my neighbor.

Her hair is like bronze,

Soft bronze,

Living bronze,

It moves in the breeze,

Shines in the sun.

I love my neighbor.

Her breasts are like—

Like what? Like little ice-cream sundaes with cherries on top? He’d

never seen any girl’s breasts, just snuck looks in a magazine when he was

out on his own in a place where no one could possibly tell on him. Lara’s

breasts weren’t like that, not those huge, gross mounds of flesh in the

photographs. Hers were small and white. When she wore a tank top to

school, he could see the soft shape through the fabric, so small his hand

would completely cover them.

I love my neighbor, but she doesn’t know I exist, and if she does think

about me she imagines I’m the same kind of jerk as my brother. He put


the notepad back into his pocket and went downstairs before his grandmother

sent Junior up to find him.

“Ah, Robbie,” Pastor Nabo said when he came into the front room. “I

understand the mother has been your special charge.”

“Yes, sir,” Robbie said, pulling his mind away from Lara to Soapweed

and her calf. “She’s a Guernsey-Jersey mix, and we bred her with a bull

we’ve used before, a Jersey-Canadienne up in Wisconsin.”

“And this is the first time you’ve had a solid red calf ?”

“Yes, sir,” Robbie said. “Sometimes they’ll be born all one color and

the markings will come in later, though. And Serise, well, this calf, she’s

only four weeks old, so it may be too early to tell if she’ll stay solid.”

“Yes, yes.” Pastor Nabo rubbed his hands together in the oily room. “I

think we all understand it’s too early to be certain that the Lord is sending

His messenger to us here in the valley of the humble Wakarusa and

Kaw rivers, but we can pray, we can pray for spiritual guidance, for the

strength to be worthy of His grace if He is showering it on us.”

“Roll down your shirtsleeves, Robbie,” Myra snapped, before bowing

her head along with Arnie, Junior, and the pastor.

Pastor Nabo was only a minute or two into his exhortation when they

heard the Jews’ van pull up in the yard. He gave a hurried amen, and

rushed out with Arnie and Junior to greet them, Nanny stumping along

in her black Hush Puppies.

Robbie hung back, unexpectedly nervous. When the party returned

to the parlor, Robbie bit back an exclamation. The three men were nothing

like Mr. Lewin, who taught chemistry at the high school, or Julie

Sugarman’s dad, who owned one of the shoe stores on Massachusetts

Street. They looked like a picture out of his history book, with their long,

dusty coats, their beards, and the corkscrew curls that stuck raffishly out

underneath their black hats. They were dressed identically, which made

it hard to tell them apart. Two were heavy, with round cheeks puffing out

from their graying beards. The third was short and slender, with a square

jaw that made him look like Abraham Lincoln.

“So let’s go look at this miracle heifer,” the short man said. “You mustn’t

get your hopes up, you know. If she’s only four weeks old, well, a lot can

happen in the next thirty-five months.”


“We know that,” Pastor Nabo assured him. “And we aren’t calling her

a miracle. But it did seem like, well, something special, that she just happened.

I’ve read about these efforts to breed a perfect heifer, and I’ve

always thought God would provide one when the time was right, that it

was sinful, almost, to try to breed against His will, if you follow me.”

“Sinful?” the tallest of the trio said. “I wouldn’t say sinful. If we are to

rebuild the Holy Temple, we have to prove we are willing to labor for it.

The work is large and the day is short. We must do as much as we can.”

“Nonetheless, if we’re to believe the Seventy Weeks prophesied in the

Book of Daniel, the end of days is near,” Pastor Nabo said, “and the Lord

will show us by giving us a sign that He is ready for the final battle

between Chri—etween the forces of Light and the forces of Dark.”

The tallest man said something in a foreign language. Was it Hebrew?

Robbie wondered. Was this how Jesus had talked, in that funny language

they’d used in the movie about His Passion?

Arnie, with Junior and the pastor in tow, led the trio to the special

enclosure they’d built for Soapweed’s calf. Robbie followed. When Myra

tried to come along, too, the Jews said sternly that no women must come

near the calf.

“Has she been handling the animal?” the short man asked.

“Nanny doesn’t have anything to do with the dairy farm,” Junior said.

“But what difference does it make?”

“What difference, young man? Because a woman in the enclosure

could pollute the heifer even before she’s reached maturity.” It was one of

the two heavy men who spoke. “I hope we haven’t wasted our time in

coming here.”

“No, no,” Arnie said. “No women have been near the calf. My mother

is the only woman on the place, and she never works with the cows.”

The party moved on to the enclosure where Soapweed’s calf stood in

lonely splendor. Arnie had set up an array of work lights so that the Jews

could inspect the heifer. The three men stopped inside the enclosure; the

tallest gasped in amazement. The calf was a dark orangey red, from the

bridge of her nose to the end of her scrawny tail, a red heifer without discernible


The perfect heifer was bawling; she was hungry and lonely. Robbie


wanted to put his arms around her and let her suck on his fingers, but

now he felt nervous about what you could and couldn’t do around

the calf.

The three men had brought rubber mats with them, which they knelt

on to inspect the calf. They looked at her hooves, lifted her tail, studied

her belly. They dipped rags in some kind of glycerin mix and scrubbed

her sides to see if the Schapens had dyed her.

“Right now, she looks as though she has potential,” the short man

finally said. “We’ll come back once a month to check on her. In the

meantime, no women in the enclosure, no leaning on the animal or any

other act that makes her work.”

“Leaning on her makes her work?” Robbie asked, wondering if he

should confess that he sometimes hugged her—ell, every day, really—because she was so lonely.

“She has to exert force to prop you up. That is work,” the short man

said as if it were elementary physics and Robbie was too stupid to follow.

“Keep her clean, as you are doing. Make sure no sharp objects are in

the compound— cut on her flesh would be disastrous. And don’t let her

become a spectacle for sightseers,” the tallest man added. “I know the

temptation is great with an animal that potentially may be this special,

but that is work for the animal, having to put up with the eyes of

strangers. And a crowd is hard to control; someone might start touching

her— woman in her impure time might touch her.”

Her impure time—hen she had her period—veryone knew that.

Robbie was so tired of these men and the way they were bossing him and

his dad and even Nanny around, he almost blurted it out. Arnie was

beaming with pride, and nodding as solemnly as if God Himself were

talking to him. Sorry, Jesus, Robbie whispered to himself, but you know

what I mean. It embarrassed him to see Arnie, the toughest man in the

county, kowtow to these creepy-looking men in their round hats and

long coats.

Arnie and Pastor Nabo walked with the Jews back to their van. They

conferred again in their guttural, secret language, then told Arnie he

needed to build the calf ’s pen above a rock base, preferably obsidian,

since that was the rock where the Holy Temple had been built. If she


came in contact with the earth, she would be in contact with death. And

Arnie nodded and agreed, although even Nanny muttered about the cost

and where would they find obsidian around here?

The three men lived in Kansas City, with a group of Jews who all

wanted to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Pastor Nabo had heard about

them from another Salvation Bible Church, in Kansas City. Before they

left, they assured Arnie they’d be back about the same time next month.

Pastor Nabo beamed and rubbed his hands. “I think we can tell the

elders, Brother Schapen. Of course, it wouldn’t do for television cameras

to show up. They’d startle our heifer, maybe make her injure herself. But

it wouldn’t hurt for the church elders to know what may be in the wind.”

Arnie nodded slowly, thinking it over. “As long as they operate in

complete secrecy.”

He turned to Robbie. “Well, well, who would have thought it’d be

you who’d bring us fame and glory. Don’t you go calling that calf one of

your flower names. She’s a holy animal; she’s destined for glory. If we

keep her free of any impurities, they’ll use her in their Temple sacrifices

and that will pave the way for Jesus to come again in glory.”

He stopped smiling and looked stern. “You boys have to promise me

you are not going to talk about this outside the family. If people like Jim

Grellier or his crackpot wife get hold of this information, no telling what

they’ll do to try to make us look bad. You hear me?”

Both his sons mumbled “Yessir.” Junior added, “These Jews don’t even

have a Temple, right? And they want her when she’s three? Don’t tell me

they’re going to rebuild Solomon’s Temple with all his cedars of Lebanon

and cubits of this and that by the time this calf is three!”

“No, no,” Pastor Nabo said. “But they have the instruments prepared

for her ritual slaughter, and they only need her ashes—”

“Slaughter?” Robbie cried. “You mean they want to kill her?”

“Of course they want to kill her,” Arnie snapped. “Did you think they

wanted to breed her so they could pour her milk over the doors of the

Temple? Haven’t you read your Bible, Robert? Don’t you know the Jews

were always commanded to make burnt offerings, which is why the sacrifice

of Jesus on the cross means Christians don’t have to kill animals

before they can worship God?”


“Yeah,” Junior added. “The Jews are going to end up in hell unless

they take Jesus into their hearts. That’s why they wear those funny hats,

to hide their horns—hey’ve given themselves up to Satan. We’re just

using them to pave the way for the Rapture.”

A confusing array of images swept through Robbie’s head—oapweed’s

calf laid on an altar and sacrificed, with the Jews and Arnie and Pastor

Nabo dancing and bowing around her; himself taking the calf and hiding

her, taking her to Lara Grellier: You have to help me hide her. They

want to give her to the Jews to sacrifice. And Lara wouldn’t laugh or call

him names. She’d understand how important this was and help hide the

calf on the Grellier land.

Pastor Nabo drew him aside and spoke to him quietly. “You love Jesus

and want Him to come again to save the world, don’t you, Robbie?”

“Yes, sir.” Robbie’s voice came out as a whisper.

“And you know it says in the Bible that Jesus cannot come again until

the Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem. And the Jews can’t rebuild the Temple

until they have a perfect red heifer. As it tells us in the Book of Numbers,

they require a perfect red heifer for the high priest to become pure

enough to enter the Temple.”

“Yes. I know that, Pastor. I just thought, I sort of thought, my calf

would be standing outside the walls. I didn’t know they would kill her.”

“They will do it very humanely, Robbie, and it will be for the glory of

God. And you, the servant of this cow, the one who helped her through

her delivery of this calf, you’ve been picked out by God for this very special

deed. You will be known throughout the Christian world!” Pastor

Nabo’s voice thickened with emotion. Robbie thought the pastor was

imagining himself, Werner Nabo, at the center of Christian glory and


E l e ve n


It wasn’t until a few days after Christmas that Jim finally found time

to drop in on Gina Haring. An ice storm had broken the roof of one of

the greenhouses where Susan planted seedlings for the X-Farm. Between

fixing that and all the preparations for Christmas—Susan’s baking alone

was a three-day enterprise, as she tried to re-create every dish the

nineteenth-century Grelliers might have eaten—e didn’t have time to

think about his neighbor’s problems.

Jim farmed a half section down by the Wakarusa; Blitz reported that

the ice storm had also damaged his levee. When he finished repairing the

greenhouse, Jim drove the two miles east, past Fremantles’, down to the

Wakarusa. The road was nothing more than a pitted gravel track that

Fremantles, Schapens, and Grelliers had used since landing in the valley.

As Jim bumped from rut to rut, he cursed Arnie and Myra for their stinginess.

When old Mrs. Fremantle was alive, the three families pitched in

to lay down new gravel every spring: the county didn’t maintain private

side roads like this. After her death, Arnie refused to help pay for upkeep.

Since the Grellier farm was right on the north-south county road, this hurt

Arnie more than it did Jim—xcept when he needed to go to the river.

On his way home, he pulled into the Fremantle yard. Contrary to the

custom of the country, the kitchen door was locked. New York habits, or

maybe fear after someone climbed a tree to peer into her bathroom. It

wasn’t until the third time he pounded on the door and helloed loudly

that Gina finally came and undid the lock.


She looked surprised to see him, but not stiff or unpleasant, as Lara

had described her. When he explained that his wife and daughter had

reported on her Peeping Tom, she asked him in for coffee.

“It’s my one domestic skill, making good coffee, so you have to let me

show it off.”

She offered him espresso or cappuccino. Jim normally drank black

coffee, but Lara had described the fancy cappuccino machine and he was

curious to see what it was like. Lawrence had at least twenty cappuccino

bars, but people who had to count their dimes stayed away from threedollar


Gina twirled the knobs and the machine made noises like the Kansas

City Chief roaring past the house. In a few minutes, she handed him a

mug filled with foam that looked like whipped cream. The coffee tasted

rich, almost sweet, under its cap of foam. He drank coffee all day out of

habit, not for taste, and he said the first thing that popped into his mind,

that he’d better not get used to cappuccino because he couldn’t afford

such a rich drink.

“It’s all a matter of what’s important to you. I’d rather wear two

sweaters and type with gloves on than pay the utility company to warm

this big drafty house.” She wasn’t wearing gloves, but she did have on a

big sweater, the kind that somehow made you aware of the body underneath

it. When she crossed her legs in her skintight blue jeans, he had a

disturbing thought of how soft her skin would feel.

He said quickly, to push the thought from his head, “We wear two

sweaters and type with our gloves on and we still drink boiled coffee. But

maybe you’re right. I have a thing for machinery, and I do spend money

on good equipment. The big workhorses, the combines, the tractors,

need to last thirty years, and they will, if you take good care of them. So I

fill my shop with machines that let me repair my own equipment. But a

lot of times, they’re things I could get by without. I just got a new jig

borer. Used, I mean—t’s new for me.”

Jim plowed earnestly through the description of the machine, describing

how Blitz—litz Fosse—ho worked for him and was a wizard with

machines, had retooled it. No man who cared that much about jig borers

could possibly think about soft white thighs under skintight jeans, he


seemed to be telling himself, especially not a man married to a woman as

amazing as Susan.

“Good heavens,” Gina said, “I couldn’t possibly repair this machine

here; I don’t even know how it works. I just like the taste of the coffee it

makes for me. Would you like another?”

“No, no. I only came by to see if you were okay, to make sure you

hadn’t had anyone else bothering you.”

“I haven’t seen anyone, if that’s what you mean, but I started locking

all the doors,” Gina said. “I called Uncle John to tell him he needs better

locks on the ground-floor windows. Right now, every time I hear a noise

in the night I jump up and race around to look out the windows. I never

realized how many boards went into a house or that each of them creaks

separately sometime during the night! Autumn—o you know her?

Autumn Minsky, from Between Two Worlds in Lawrence?—he won’t

even stay here after dark now.”

He laughed with her, but uneasily, not wanting to imagine her and

Autumn together in the night. “Can you describe the person you saw in

the tree?”

“It was Autumn who actually saw him. She says he looked like everyone

else out here, just another—” She bit off the words in consternation.

“Yokel?” Jim suggested. “Country bumpkin?”

She gave a wry grin. “Your daughter said it sounded like a youth who

lives a couple of miles from here, who’s mentally handicapped.”

Jim said, “Lara is fourteen. A lot of times, she leaps before she looks. It

could have been Eddie Burton, but there are a few other possibilities.

Did you hear an engine—ar, truck, motorcycle—fter he ran off ?”

“Why—h, if he was on foot it narrows the range of suspects.” After

narrowing her eyes in thought, Gina reluctantly shook her head. “I can’t

remember, and if I push at it I’ll just be creating a memory.”

“Eddie’s pretty harmless, but if you aren’t used to him he might seem

threatening.” Jim got to his feet. “I’m going to have a word with his dad.

And I’ll let Peter Ropes—e lives in that house behind you—now to

keep an eye out for anyone crossing his sorghum field toward you. I’ll

also mention it to the sheriff.”

“No, don’t do that,” Gina said. “The sheriff was already here, and he


made me feel really uncomfortable, as if I was at fault for living here or

something. He checked on Autumn’s car, and when he found out who

she was he lectured her about her store: he said he was keeping an eye on

it to make sure she wasn’t holding satanic rituals there.” Her eyes turned

hot with anger.

Jim remembered Susan and Lara talking about Autumn’s bumper

sticker, something to do with witches. “If she’s doing witchcraft or something

in the store, he might—”

“Wicca,” Gina corrected him sharply. “And it’s none of his business

what we do. Damned narrow-minded busybody. I lived in New York my

whole life and never had a cop visit me in my home to check on my religious

beliefs—et alone the sheriff. I don’t even know if New York has a


“Hank Drysdale’s a good guy; this must have been a deputy.” Jim

refused to say, “Arnie Schapen, busybody, poking his nose into everyone’s

business, with or without a badge,” as his children would have done,

because while it sounded like Arnie it might have been someone else. “If

you want, I’ll let Hank know what’s been going on, your Peeping Tom

and your narrow-minded busybody.”

The anger in her eyes died down, and she gave a reluctant grin, showing

the crooked teeth, which seemed as charming to Jim as they had to

Lara. “When you parrot my words back to me, I’m the one who sounds


“I didn’t mean it that way,” Jim said. “I’m sure I’m as narrow-minded

as anyone out here when it comes to thinking about witchcraft—’ve

never come in contact with it, you see. We Grelliers, we’re very dull, ordinary

Protestants. Not even born-again.”

“Your wife makes your family sound romantic and dramatic.” Gina

moved over to her machine and started twirling the knobs again.

Jim opened the back door. “Maybe they were a hundred fifty years

ago. But nowadays, I promise you, we are very dull.”

“I don’t know about you, but Susan is not dull or ordinary.” Gina

handed him a second foam-filled mug.

“I can’t take that,” he said. “When will I get the cup back to you?”

“I’ll collect it when I return your wife’s pie pan. Thanks for stopping


by. I feel better, knowing there’s a friendly person close at hand.” She

smiled again.

He felt himself turning red, like a teenager being singled out by a

cheerleader. The mug was too big for the pickup’s cup holder, but he

found an empty doughnut box behind the seat and rested the cup in

that. Even so, a good deal of the foam slopped out as he bounced along

the rutted track to the county road. He paused at the crossroads to finish

it before it all spilled out.

He stopped at the Ropes place, since it was on the way to Burtons’.

Peter Ropes had grown up with Jim’s father and had been one of Jim’s

mentors after Grandpa died and Jim was struggling to run the farm on

his own. Peter, who’d turned seventy last year, farmed only a section of

his acres now, leasing the rest, some to Arnie, who grazed his herd there

in the summer.

Jim found Peter in the barn, where he was replacing a blade on the

disk head to his tractor. Jim helped him undo some frozen bolts, and

explained what had happened over at Fremantles’.

“It sounds like Eddie Burton,” he told Peter. “And I wondered if you’d

seen him snooping at Fremantles’ or anything.”

“Eddie’s always wandering around,” Peter Ropes said. “He should be

set to some kind of job. Plenty of people with his kind of problem can do

a job of work, if it’s simple enough and explained clear enough to them.

But Ardis is overstretched as is, and I don’t suppose Clem is up to working

like that with the boy.”

“Probably not,” Jim agreed. “My son told me Eddie hangs out with

Junior Schapen. Seems kind of funny, when you think how much Clem

and Arnie go after each other.”

Peter Ropes grunted, tightening the bolt on the new blade. “Yep,

Junior does kind of go lockstep with Arnie on who he should feud with.

I reckon he and Eddie have some kind of special relationship, the way

boys do sometimes. I often see them riding past on that motorcycle of

Junior’s, neither of them wearing helmets of course. Want me to call you

if I see either of them crossing over to Fremantles’?”

Jim made a face. “You know how I feel about that, Peter, the way we

all look out the corner of our eyes to see what the neighbors are up to,


but I suppose in this case—if it’s Eddie, I don’t think he ever hurt anyone,

but if he got startled or excited— don’t know that Gina, the lady

who’s renting Fremantles’, you know, knows the country. She’s from

New York, probably knows what to do if she’s bothered by a big-city

punk, but she might overreact to someone like Eddie.”

Peter leaned against the tractor and turned the spanner around in his

oil-covered hands. “Eddie’s not just an overgrown boy, Jim. He’s got a

man’s body and a man’s urges, but he doesn’t have the brains or moral

sense to know when or what to do with them. The lady ought to get a

dog, if she’s set on staying out here.”

Jim’s face brightened. “Good idea. I’ll stop on my way back and suggest

it to her. I guess I’d better try to have a word with Clem, before I lose

my nerve.”

Twe l v e


Farmers aren’t housekeepers. Most farms have rusted-out harrows

and trucks, used tractors that never found their way to a scrapmetal

broker, somewhere on the property, but they’re usually not right in

front of the house, where you trip on them coming and going. Clem’s

place looked like he’d sown bolts and axles in the night, and the yard had

sprouted broken-down cars and equipment.

Five cars rested on cement blocks, all missing some piece of the body.

The engines lay strewn in front of them, like entrails from a deer that

had been savaged by dogs. Pride of place went to a 1961 Lincoln Continental

convertible. If Clem ever did restore it, he could probably name

his price and move out of debt. It needed a rear passenger door, a hood,

wheels, and quite a bit of engine. Every now and then, you might see

Clem or his uncle Turk working on it, but most of the time it lay under a

swaddling of plastic, protecting what was left of the interior.

Jim parked his pickup on the edge of the road. He moved slowly, not

wanting to deal with Clem or his uncle, hoping Eddie wouldn’t be

around. Why did they have that old wringer washer out here? Maybe

Clem had finally let Ardis get an automatic machine. He sidestepped a

rusted coulter but crunched down on the head of a doll and shattered it;

the eyeballs rolled around, blinking at him.

Clem didn’t answer his knock, so he let himself into the kitchen.

Clem’s father was sitting at a table, stirring his fingers through a bowl of

cereal. A cat was trying to get its head in under the old man’s fingers. The


table was covered with newspapers, magazines, and plates of crusted

food. The sink was stacked with pots and dishes, an elaborate tower that

looked as though hours of labor went into keeping it from overbalancing.

Maybe the first person to drop a plate had to wash everything underneath.

The house was even colder than the Fremantle place. Jim zipped up

his parka and kept his gloves on.

Mr. Burton didn’t notice Jim or respond to his feeble “Good morning.”

Beyond the kitchen, Jim heard voices. He followed the sound to a

front room, where Clem’s uncle Turk was watching television— big set,

maybe thirty-six inches, that dominated the shabby space. No lights

were on, but the television was pulsing with color and noise, cars whipping

around a track, NASCAR in the living room.

Turk was a big, shambling man, about fifteen years older than Jim.

He’d come to live with Clem and Ardis sometime back, maybe eight or

nine years ago. No one knew what he’d been doing before he arrived, and

no one ever heard of him working. He tinkered around the cars with

Clem, and drove over to the track at Woodlands to watch the greyhound

races. When he won, which wasn’t often, he was generous, splashing

money around both his family and Lawrence’s bars.

Although it wasn’t noon yet, Jim saw Turk had finished most of a

quart of Colt 45. Jim cleared his throat and called out.

“Who’s that?” Turk squinted across the dark room in Jim’s direction.

“That you, Grellier? What you want?”

“I was looking for Clem.”

“Clem? He’s right here. Clem!” Turk shouted, and then shook his

nephew, who was dozing on the floor at his feet. “Clem, Jim Grellier’s

here looking for you.”

Clem sat up. Jim had been afraid he was drunk, passed out, but he was

just dozing. He grinned foolishly, and said he’d had too late a night. “I’m

too old to keep up with Turk.”

Turk grinned, and swallowed the last of the malt liquor. “You’re out of

practice, Clem. It’s been too long since I won anything. Picked up a bundle

on the dogs yesterday. Clem and me went out to celebrate.”

“That’s nice,” Jim said. “Clem, I just want a quick word. Can we step

in the next room.”


Clem followed him into what was once a dining room, guessing from

the furniture beneath the jumble of rusted appliances and papers that

covered most of the surfaces.

Jim couldn’t figure out how to approach his subject, so he asked first

about the Lincoln. “Making any progress on her?”

“Nah. Too hard to track down the parts. I had a lead on a cylinder

block, but it turned out to be from a ’seventy-three, wouldn’t fit in this

engine head. You heard something?”

“Nope. Just admired the lines as I was walking up the drive,” Jim lied.

“Eddie helping you out?”

“Eddie?” Clem repeated as if he didn’t know anyone by that name.

“Oh, Eddie. He kind of wanders around, does his own thing. Can’t

drive, but he gets pretty far on his feet. Got a call from someone over by

Stull last week. Boy is good with numbers, memorizes hundreds of

phone numbers, can add a blue streak. He ain’t as dumb as some folks

think, just never could learn anything out of a book. But then, we Burtons

aren’t readers, anyway.” Clem laughed heartily.

“You ever think about getting him some kind of training so he could


“What are you, Grellier, the county social worker? Since when do you

care so much about my boy?”

“Sorry, Clem. I was thinking out loud, thinking if Eddie had a job it

would give him something to do with his time. Someone climbed up a

tree and was looking into the bathroom at the old Fremantle house, spying

on the lady who’s living there. From the description, it sounds like


Clem took a step toward Jim. “You calling my boy a pervert, Grellier?”

Jim held up his hands. “Easy, Clem. Take it easy. Eddie doesn’t have

enough to do, that’s all. And he hangs out with Junior Schapen, who

might take advantage of him. That’s all I’m saying.”

“You saying my own boy hangs out at the Schapens’? What you do,

spy on him for Deputy Arnie?” Clem was shouting—he loud, blustery

shout of someone who knows he’s wrong.

“Clem, am I that kind of guy, spying on people? I’m just saying, Eddie

doesn’t always know if he’s doing the right thing or not, and if Junior


wanted him to spook that city lady at Fremantles’ Eddie’d do it to make

Junior happy.” Jim was sweating in the cold room.

Clem’s mouth dropped as he thought this over. “Yeah, you’re right.

Arnie Schapen would be happier than a pig in mud if Eddie did something

he could be arrested for. I showed Schapen up good in court, made

everyone see him for the asshole he is, and he can’t forgive me that. He

probably sicced Junior onto Eddie, trying to get Eddie to break the law

so he can arrest him.”

“Could be,” Jim agreed. Not that he believed it, but if Clem did it

would make him more willing to keep tabs on his son.

Clem clapped him on the arm, breathing stale beer on Jim. “Sorry to

lose my cool there, man, but every time I hear that Schapen name I see

red, white, and blue. Turk give me twenty bucks yesterday, out of his

winnings, and I have to put it on that damned fine. Schapen goes around

spreading lies about my family—bout my own daughter!—nd I’m the

one who has to pay a thousand-dollar fine, not him. If I could afford me

a lawyer, I’d sue him for false witness. But everything costs money—’m

surprised they don’t fine us for breathing.”

Jim again agreed, wondering how the Burtons afforded that big television,

or even their electric bill. He turned down an offer of a drink and

made his way past Turk and the television back to the kitchen. The old

man at the table had fallen asleep. The cat was eating the cereal.

T h i r t e e n


Jim had thought of stopping again at Fremantles’ to suggest Gina

find a dog, but as he was pulling out of Clem’s yard Gina passed him,

heading toward Highway 10. Just as well: he’d spent over two hours on

social calls—f that’s how you’d classify a visit to Burtons’.

When he got home, he paused a moment in his truck, shaking the last

cold drops of the cappuccino into his mouth, carefully thinking about

nothing. Inside, the house still smelled like Christmas: pine needles and

cinnamon. Susan had moved on to her next project: figuring out a design

for her organic-sunflower packages and logo. Jim found her in the dining

room, where she’d covered the table with her work.

Susan and Lara had spent weeks arguing over the best name. Lara had

wanted “SuLa,” for Susan and Lara. She said it sounded Indian, and

would make people think of the prairie and Native Americans, but Susan

insisted on “Abigail’s Organics.” Lara finally gave in, and created a dozen

or so designs, some from old photographs she’d found in books at flea

markets, some her own drawings.

Susan was bent over the designs, her unruly hair caught up in a clip to

keep it out of her eyes, exposing the line of her neck. Her skin was

brown, the skin of a woman who spent most of her time outside, not like

Gina’s soft white face and hands. Jim bent over and kissed the nape of his

wife’s neck.

“What do you think?” She leaned back and looked at him. “I like this

one that Lara drew of a girl in a sunbonnet, but the picture is too crude.”


“Crude is going to reproduce better. Why don’t you take a break

before Lara gets back from basketball practice?” He lifted his eyes suggestively

toward the second floor.

“I don’t need a break—his is really—Oh, you mean—” The tanned

skin darkened under her freckles.

Since leaving college and moving into the farmhouse, they’d rarely

made love in the daytime. First there was Gram and Grandpa, then Chip

and Lulu and Curly and Blitz—veryone knowing what it meant if two

people went upstairs in the middle of the day. Once, early in their marriage,

they’d climbed into the hayloft. When they emerged, they’d found

Grandpa in the yard on the tractor politely waiting for them to leave

before he drove inside. With the house finally to themselves in the winter,

they never thought of sex: too much to do, machinery to be fixed,

germination trays to prepare, meals, errands, accounts.

Susan looked at the pictures in her hand, then laid them out on the

table and got up to put her arms around him. “Hard time at Burtons’?”

“Yes. Let’s not talk about it. I want to think about you right now.”

Really, of course, he meant himself, his own complicated desires to be

made simple in her body. He held her tighter, then, risking his back and

knees, swept her off her feet and carried her up the stairs.

Later, as they were pulling on their clothes, Jim asked where Chip was.

Chip had driven Lara in for her practice. Although at fourteen she could

legally drive herself to school and back, Jim didn’t like her on the county

roads when they were icy. Chip hadn’t said anything about his own plans

for the day.

“School starts again day after tomorrow. I asked him yesterday if he

was ready and he bit my head off,” Jim added. “What’s eating him? Until

this fall, he was such a happy kid, none of the moodiness boys his age

often fall into.”

Susan shrugged. “Maybe it’s the thought of going off to college.”

“But he’s dragging his feet on his applications,” Jim said. “When I

asked him about that, he said if I was so hot on a college degree I could

go in his place. You don’t think—ould Janice be pregnant?”

“Ask him.” Susan ran her fingers through her tangled hair.

“You do it. I did safe sex and drugs, although that wasn’t such a success.


Maybe he’s smoking more dope than he let on—hat would sure make

him moody.” He paused at the bedroom door, unsettled by the thought

that suddenly ran through his head: he’d rather find out Chip was doing

drugs than that Janice was pregnant.

Jim heard the kitchen door bang shut. Lulu had brought Kimberly

Ropes home from practice. While Kimberly’s folks spent the afternoon

with Peter Ropes. Jim and Susan went downstairs to offer the two girls

Susan’s homemade mince pies and the ubiquitous overboiled country


Jim and Susan were asleep before Chip drove into the yard. In the

morning, he refused to get up for church. When the family returned

home following the ritual stop at the pancake house on Twenty-third

Street after church, they found him in the family room with a bowl of

cereal, watching the Chiefs.

Jim looked significantly at Susan, but she shook her head and went

into the kitchen to check on a batch of baked beans she was preparing for


“You are such a slob.” Lara didn’t have her parents’ inhibitions. “What

are you doing, lying around in your pj’s at noon? Were you out drinking

with Janice last night?”

“I was minding my own business, HullabaLulu,” Chip said.

Using the old nickname meant he was prepared to be conciliatory, but

Susan stuck her head in the family room. “Etienne, you know how

destructive it is to get drunk. And I hope you aren’t so upset by your private

worries that you would drink and drive.”

“Mom, I know what I’m doing. I’m eighteen, I don’t need a babysitter.


He flung the cereal bowl onto the coffee table and stomped up the

stairs. Before Jim could steel himself to follow, he heard a tentative knock

on the kitchen door. Susan turned around and called for the visitor to

come on in. A moment later, Jim heard Gina Haring’s deeper, softer

voice. He went into the kitchen.

“I’m returning your pie pan,” Gina was saying.

She’d put it on top of Jim’s oat-crop file, which he’d left on the kitchen

table in the morning, planning to work on it after church. Thinking


back on the scene later, what Jim remembered most clearly, more even

than Chip’s anger, was his own annoyance that Gina hadn’t cleaned the

dish properly: a finger of caramelized sugar had dribbled down the side,

making the pan stick to his spreadsheet.

She noticed his glance and peeled the paper away. “I’m sorry. I took

the pie to Autumn’s and I thought she’d washed the pan.”

“You didn’t eat any yourself ?” Susan was hurt.

“I did; it was delicious. I’d put it in the freezer, actually, so I could

make it my contribution for Christmas dinner—on’t worry, I made

sure everyone knew you baked it.”

“Oh, please—” Susan made an embarrassed gesture. “I don’t care

about that, as I hope you know. We hadn’t seen your car for a week. Did

you go back to New York for the holidays?”

“New York—t’s not an easy place for me to be right now.” Gina made

a face. “I stayed in Lawrence with Autumn Minsky— thought I owed

myself a break in a house with real heat.”

Jim got up hastily and took the pie pan, which Gina was still holding,

to put in the sink. He found her mug, which he had carefully washed

and put aside, and handed it to her. Those slender white thighs, which he

couldn’t quite put out of his mind, embracing plump, pugnacious

Autumn—e quickly returned to the table and busied himself with his

oat-crop data.

“How do you spend your time?” Susan asked. “Are you doing any

work on the house?”

“Me?” Gina laughed and looked at her slender fingers. “I think I know

which end of a hammer you hold, but I’m not sure how to swing it. I

worked in public relations before my marriage. I’m trying to reconnect

with old clients, see if I can build up some kind of private business

so I don’t have to live in mold and ice forever. That isn’t going too well,

so I’m dabbling with writing a book. Like every other college English

major, I always imagined I had a big novel in me.”

“It’s a pity you can’t use the fireplaces,” Susan said, ignoring the biting

self-mockery in Gina’s voice. “What’s your novel about?”

“Oh, romance among the Wiccans. Nobody writes about us as if we

were real people. I thought I could write a love story with Wicca as the


backdrop. As if you were going to write a love story with Christianity as

the backdrop.”

Susan’s eyes sparkled. “No, I’d make the anti-slavery days my backdrop.

I’d set a romance in the Fremantle house. After all, the Victorians

fell in love, just as we do.”

“Why do you care so much about that house?” Gina asked. “I can see

it used to be wonderful, but it’s falling apart, and smells of cat pee.”

Lara, attracted by the talk, came in, her iPod earpieces dangling

around her neck like a stethoscope. Pee, Lara thought. Gina and her

friend are obsessed by pee. That was how she would casually introduce the

word into conversation with Kimberly and Melanie at lunch tomorrow.

She covertly eyed Gina’s clothes. She was expensively, even exotically,

dressed, in a bloodred jacket with fur trim and fringed cavalier

boots. The leather was soft and clean, except for a few mud spatters Gina

must have gotten walking from her car to the house. Boots like that

wouldn’t survive five minutes if you really walked through snow in them,

Lara thought scornfully, wondering at the same time how much they

cost and whether they would make her look as sophisticated as they did


“It’s the pee and the mold, and everything, that makes me care about

the house,” Susan was saying. “Things like that don’t seem repulsive to

me. Just sad, the way a person who used to be, oh, maybe a great athlete,

seems sad if she’s falling apart.”

“But why does it matter to you?” Gina repeated.

“It’s the history of the time!” Susan leaned forward, with her coffee

mug between her hands. “The Fremantle house is beautiful, but it’s what

it meant to the valley back then, that’s what I feel when I walk through it.

That’s why I’d like to set a book there, except I can’t write. Where is your

story set?”

“I put it in New York, because that’s what I know, but, listening to

you, I’m wondering if I should write about Uncle John’s house instead.

After all, we’re going to have an Imbolc ceremony there, which I could

never have done in the city—t least, not with a real fire.”

Susan, always eager for new experiences, peppered her with questions

about her ritual.


“It’s a fire festival. We cleanse ourselves to be ready for spring. You know

the Swedish festival, where a girl wears a crown of burning candles?”

When Susan and Lara shook their heads, Gina smiled. “They do—take my word for it. It’s a sort of Christianized version of the old goddess

ritual. You should come see what we’re all about.”

“When is it?” Susan asked.

“February second. If you do decide to come, you need to bring a gift

for the fire, something to burn that will bring you good luck in the harvest.

Come to think of it, Imbolc was originally a farmers’ holiday—they’d beg the Earth Mother for a good harvest. I’d think every farmer

around here might want to do that.”

“No, because then Myra Schapen would write them all up on her

website,” Lara put in.

“Myra Schapen?” Gina repeated. “Isn’t that the family you said lived

on down the road? Is Myra in school with you?”

Lara blinked, trying to imagine a teenage Myra. “She’s about a hundred

years old, and she’s like a witch! I always expect to see her with a

corncob pipe when she’s out on the tractor. It’s her son, Arnie, who’s the

sheriff ’s deputy. He came—robably he’s the one who came over to spy

on you when you moved in. Myra—anny Schapen, I mean—he drove

his wife off, and now she and Arnie—r. Schapen—hey live with her

grandsons. Junior is the biggest bully—”

“Lara!” Susan cut her daughter off. “You cannot be talking about the

Schapens like that. Just because you can’t get along with Junior and Robbie

doesn’t mean Gina won’t find a way to talk to them. And you know

your father and I don’t want you using Myra’s and Arnie’s first names.”

“If Gina does a witches’ bonfire, you know the only thing Myra—Nanny Schapen—ill say is that Gina and her friends are going to hell!”

Lara said stubbornly. “The Schapens have a website, and she’s always

writing up stuff about us or other people around here in a really mean


“But if she’s a witch, as you say, she and I are kindred spirits, and she

belongs at our ceremony,” Gina said in the aloof, mocking voice she’d

used when Lara and Susan first saw her. “Perhaps I’ll call on her and issue

a formal invitation.”


Lara turned away, embarrassed both by her own blunder in calling

Myra a witch in front of Gina and by Gina’s ironic inflection.

“There’s no privacy in the country,” Jim said to cover the awkward

moment. “You may think because you don’t live near anyone that everyone

minds their own business, but if you have a bonfire the whole valley,

from the Kaw to Highway 10, will know what you’re doing.”

“I know,” Gina said, laughing with real amusement. “Remember, I’ve

already had a Peeping Tom and the witch’s son calling on me.”

“That reminds me,” Jim answered. “I talked to Clem Burton. He’s

going to keep an eye on Eddie, in case it was Eddie up your tree. And I

spoke to Hank—ank Drysdale, the sheriff—asually. But it wouldn’t

hurt for you to have a dog over there.”

“A dog?” Gina said blankly. “What would I do with it when I left?”

“Take it with you, leave it for the next tenant— don’t know.”

“Since I don’t know, either, I think I’d better rely on locks and bolts.

But, Susan, I wish you would consider coming to our Imbolc ceremony.

I think you’d enjoy it.”

Jim, seeing his wife’s face light up, found himself tensing. She would

enjoy it. Witchcraft would become a new passion with her. Arnie and

Myra would have a field day, writing about the hell-bound Grelliers. He

realized that Gina was asking him something and jerked his attention

back to the kitchen.

“That building that’s collapsed out behind the barn,” she repeated,

“can I use that for the bonfire?”

Jim hesitated. “A boy was killed when that place burned down. I’m

not sure if they ever brought his body out. Maybe you should leave it


“Jim! They must have brought him out,” Susan protested. “Liz Fremantle

wouldn’t have let a boy rot in there, you know that as well as I

do.” She turned to Gina and explained the history of the commune, the

fire, the bucket brigade.

“Were you here?” Gina asked her.

“I was a schoolgirl,” Susan said, “living in— can’t even remember

what town we lived in then. My father never could hold a job more than

two or three years; we were always moving. That’s why I was so thankful


to marry someone who was rooted to a single place, whose family had

a long history there. No, I just used to hear Jim and Doug—Jim’s

brother—alk about it. And Gram and Grandpa, of course, so I feel

as though I had seen it, that’s all. Right before the fire, someone put

weed killer on the marijuana crop. The kids were out grieving over the

damage—n the moonlight, I can just picture them—hen the house

went up in flames.”

“And you never knew who died?” Gina asked.

Jim shook his head. “I wasn’t quite ten. I don’t remember the details

that well; I just remember forming part of the bucket brigade the night

of the fire. And Myra Schapen, she always terrified me. And she came

over to watch the fire, with Arnie and his dad. The Ropeses and the

Wiesers, even the Burtons—veryone helped except Myra and her husband.

I looked up and saw her watching the fire. The expression on

Myra’s face, that made a believer out of me!”

“A believer?” Gina said.

“I knew that’s what would be waiting for me in hell if I died without

Jesus,” he said, laughing to cover his embarrassment at mentioning God

to this sophisticated woman who practiced witchcraft.

Fo u r t e e n


Twice a month, Lara’s church youth group helped stock the shelves

and fill bags at a Lawrence food pantry. In January, after school

had started up again, Lara came home from her Saturday stint and

announced that Elaine Logan had been at the pantry. The rest of the

family was already sitting down to lunch. Lara grabbed a bowl of soup

and took it to the table, blurting out information through a mouthful of


“What? Is Elaine back in town? I thought she was living with her sister

or someone in Chicago,” Jim said.

“Didn’t I tell you? Curly said she showed up at New Year’s drunk as a

skunk,” Chip said.

Naturally, Curly knew. Even though Curly and Blitz worked in town

in the winter—litz as a mechanic for the school system, Curly for his

cousin’s construction business—hip hung out with Curly. Lara was

pretty sure Curly took Chip drinking, but she knew it would really piss

off her parents if she shared that suspicion so she kept it to herself.

“Poor Elaine,” Susan mourned. “What a terrible waste. She was a

wonderful student, could have done anything with her life.”

She says she was a wonderful student,” Chip corrected impatiently.

“You know the kind of lies that old bag tells.”

“Etienne! I will not have you using language like that, especially not

about someone as unfortunate as Elaine.”

“But, Mom, she really is ghastly, not unfortunate,” Lara said. “Like


today, I offered to carry her groceries for her, and she said, ‘Aren’t you

Jesus’ favorite little lamb,’ in the nastiest way possible. And she makes

stuff up, so you can’t tell whether it really happened or not. Like, do you

believe she really turned down a scholarship to medical school?”

People change with time, Jim thought, but his daughter was too

young to know you could start out filled with promise and end up worse

off than Clem Burton. It was hard to believe it of Elaine—at, leering,

drunk more often than she was sober—ut maybe she really had been a

student bright enough to get into medical school thirty-five years ago.

“You’d better warn Gina Haring,” Chip said.

“That’s right!” Susan said. “It didn’t occur to me, even when we were

telling Gina about the bunkhouse, because Elaine’s been away for over a

year now. But maybe she won’t try to come out. You know, after Liz Fremantle

died Elaine did stop her visits.”

“All the more reason she’ll do it now,” Lara said. “She’ll hear the gossip

about Gina and want to check her out.”

“And what gossip would that be?” asked Jim in his coldest voice.

“Just that someone’s renting the house,” Lara said hastily.

“And that she’s a dyke who practices witchcraft,” Chip added.

“Etienne! You’re not to use that word,” Susan said. “If you mean that

Gina is a lesbian, say that. But you don’t know—”

“Mom, I’ll promise not to use the word dyke if you’ll promise to stop

calling me Etienne. You know I hate it.”

“You’ll grow into it,” Susan said. “One of these days, you won’t want a

child’s nickname any longer and then you’ll be glad you’re used to hearing

your real name. Anyway, we don’t know that Gina Haring is a lesbian.”

“Come on, Mom, everyone knows.”

“By which, I take it, Lara talked to you and you talked to Curly, and

now everyone in Douglas County knows Gina and Autumn Minsky

have spent a night in the same house,” Jim said drily.

Chip scowled and turned his head away. Lara said, “Dad, it’s not like

it’s some secret. She announced it right here in the kitchen, like she

wanted us to know.”

“She didn’t announce she was a lesbian, Lulu. And if that’s what you’re

telling everyone—”


“I didn’t tell everyone. I asked Chip and Kimberly their opinions, you

know, after I saw Ms. Minsky in bed that day we went over. I asked if

that meant her and Autumn were—”

She and Autumn,” Susan corrected.

“Okay, she and Autumn. So I wondered, did that mean she was a—you know. I tried to ask you, Dad, but you got that wooden-statue look

on your face you always get if I talk about anything even remotely concerned

with sex, so I had to ask someone else.”

“And Chip is an expert?” Jim gave a ghost of a smile, trying not to be

annoyed by the criticism.

“Ask Janice Everleigh,” Lara said pertly.

Chip made a violent gesture. “Dad is right. You should mind your

own business for a change.”

“Sor-ree!” Lara said. “Can’t you take a joke?”

Brother and sister glared at each other as if they were four and eight,

not fourteen and eighteen. Jim sighed and tried to change the subject,

asking Lara if she knew where Elaine Logan was living.

“Mmm-hmm,” Lara said through a mouthful of peanut butter. She

swallowed. “You know, it’s Ms. Carmody who takes our youth group to

the pantry, and she was asking Elaine how she was settling into New

Haven Manor.”

“New Haven?” Jim was surprised. “How long will that last? They have

a strict no-alcohol policy.”

“Rachel Carmody is on the board,” Susan said. “She might have persuaded

them to give Elaine a trial.”

“Rachel does a lot, between the youth group and being on the church’s

board of directors, besides teaching high school. I’m surprised she’d take

on another board.”

“Yes,” Susan said, “but that’s who people always want, someone who’s

shown she’s responsible. Anyway, when I see Gina on Monday I’ll explain

who Elaine is and that she sometimes hitches a ride out to wander

around the property. I do hope Gina won’t mind—laine got into the

habit when Liz Fremantle was alive.”

“What are you doing with Gina?” Lara asked.


“She asked me to stop into Between Two Worlds to look at a book on

the Imbolc ceremony.”

“That shop is such a heap of New Age horseshit,” Chip said. Then,

catching his father’s expression, he quickly edited himself: “Horse doodoo,

I mean. The girls go there to get their fortunes told off the tarot

decks. I went with Janice one night, and it is so bogus. Why do girls go in

for that kind of crap?”

“Why do boys go to the Storm Door and get drunk on three-two

beer?” Lara demanded. “At least we don’t throw up and stink after we

have our fortunes told.”

“Okay, you two, enough,” Jim said automatically, adding to his wife,

“Why are you looking at this Imblog ceremony?”

“Imbolc,” Susan corrected.

“Mom, you’re not going in for Gina’s witch stuff, are you?” Chip


“No, of course not, but I do want to see her fire. This is the year we’re

getting full organic certification for the X-Farm. We could use some

good luck for our sunflower crop, so some seeds will be my gift to the


Jim’s lips tightened. “Suze! You’re on the board of directors at Riverside,


His wife smiled provocatively. “We’re an open-covenant church, Jim.

We start every service saying, ‘Wherever you are on life’s journey, we welcome

you.’ Of course I’m not going to become a pagan. But a party with

other women, a bonfire—e’ll throw in leftover evergreens from Christmas

for luck, I’ll add some sunflower seeds, they’ll dance and have

drums, I’d love to be there.”

“Mom, don’t do it!” Chip said. “You know it’ll be in Myra’s ‘News’

column by Monday morning. Don’t get involved with that bunch of

crackpots. I can’t take the fallout from another one of your weird ideas.”

“Just what do you mean by that, Etienne? What ‘weird’ ideas of mine

have bothered you so much?” Susan’s voice trembled.

“Come on, Mom. Don’t you know everyone around here thinks

you’re nuts, that you’re a Communist? What are they going to say if you


dance around a bonfire with a bunch of dykes? Arnie and Myra and

Junior will be telling the whole valley that you’re a dyke, too!”

“Etienne! We just finished saying we don’t want you to use that word.

Beyond that, I can’t believe a son of mine would be so small-minded as to

care about public opinion, least of all what the Schapens think. Anyway,

how can people say I’m a Communist when everyone knows how active I

am at church?”

“Because of the stuff you do. The co-op market, wasn’t that a Communist


“Etienne, you’re making me crazy. The market wasn’t some state-run

outfit taking people’s profits from them, it was a local initiative where

everybody benefited without needing a middleman. Besides, look at all

the farmers who took part in it: the Ropeses, the Longneckers, the

Wiesers, even Liz Fremantle. It’s only narrow-minded people like Arnie

Schapen and Dennis Greynard who tried to sabotage it.”

“If you hadn’t named Lara for that stupid Russian movie, maybe the

talk about you being a Commie wouldn’t have started in the first place.”

Privately, Lara agreed. But she didn’t want to get involved in a fight

between Chip and her mother. Anyway, Lara wasn’t a weird name, at

least not compared to Etienne—f Susan hadn’t explained to everyone

that it was Lara, not Laura, because she was named for Julie Christie’s

character in Doctor Zhivago, no one would ever have thought twice

about it. Susan watched the movie about a hundred times when she was

pregnant with Lara, and of course people like Arnie Schapen took it for

granted that if you liked something Russian you were automatically a

Communist. People were so ignorant, Lara agreed with her mother

about that, but at the same time Lara wished she was a little more clued

in to how they reacted to the things she did.

“Did you know,” Jim asked, trying to calm down the passion at the

table, “that the early Christians held all their possessions in common?

That really is Communism. Imagine how Arnie Schapen would react if I

suggested that to him.”

“He’d be thrilled,” Lara said, trying to help. “He’d take Dad’s John

Deere and make us drive his old Case tractor.”

Jim winked at his daughter, and added, “He’d also have you up doing


the five o’clock milking. One reason we don’t have animals—he thought

of getting you and Chip out of bed before dawn every day.”

Chip and Susan were still flushed with battle, but Lara laughed loudly.

Chip got up from the table and stomped upstairs. They heard the water

running in the bathroom. In a few minutes, he came back down, heavily

drenched in aftershave.

“Don’t you have homework?” Jim called to him.

Chip’s only answer was to slam the kitchen door hard enough to shake

the windows. They heard his car start, the engine roaring as he gunned it,

and then the wheels spinning in the icy gravel.

“What’s going on with him?” Jim said.

“Etienne has always had his moods. He doesn’t like to be thwarted.”

Susan, still angry with her son, didn’t want to see his point of view.

Jim turned to Lara. “Lulu, do you know what’s eating him? It’s not

something with Janice or at school, is it? Is she—o you know—”

“Is she pregnant?” Lara cut in as he dithered for a euphemism. “She

wouldn’t talk to me about it, but I don’t think so. Anyway, you know

Curly is the person Chip talks to, not me. Make Curly tell you, or get

Blitz to make him—e’s scared of Blitz but not of you.”

“Scared of Blitz? What’s scary about Blitz?” Jim was incredulous. Blitz

was more than a farmhand, more than a crackerjack machinist—e was

the closest friend Jim had.

“The way he looks at you, like he sees right through you, and doesn’t

think much of what he’s looking at, you know, Dad.”

“You make him sound like he’d be at home with Gina’s witches.” He

stared narrowly at his daughter. “And you also make me think you know

what Chip has said to Curly. I know you, Lulu, you slip in and out of

places, and people don’t know you’re there. Come on, spill it. What is

going on? It’s not tattling if it helps me get things sorted out.”

Lara turned scarlet but burst out: “Oh, Dad! No one wants to hurt

your feelings, but Chip doesn’t want to farm.”

Jim blinked and sat back down. His first thought was to say automatically,

if he doesn’t want to farm he doesn’t have to, but he realized it

wasn’t that simple. His own father hadn’t wanted to farm; he’d gone into

town and become an insurance agent. Then a Santa Fe freight, speeding


around a hill to the unprotected Fifteenth Street crossing, had killed

both him and his wife, leaving Jim and Doug to live with Gram and

Grandpa on the farm.

From the moment he first got to drive the small tractor that summer,

Jim had known that farming was his life. He couldn’t imagine a different

one. Knowing, too, that he was working land his family had worked for

seven generations—e didn’t have Susan’s romantic fantasies about Abigail

and the Abolitionists, but standing on land that he belonged to

brought him a comfort beyond wife or children, or even, really, God.

Sitting at the table now, studying his hands while he tried to think

about the future of the farm if Chip didn’t want it, Jim remembered the

guy who blew up the federal building in Topeka some years back because

the feds were confiscating his farm. The man had been an idiot, growing

marijuana on his land, selling it. Still, if the feds had merely sent him to

prison he would have gone knowing he had his land to come home to,

but they were taking a farm like Jim’s, one his family had lived on for

seven generations. When he got out of prison, his life would be gone.

Jim couldn’t imagine blowing up a building and killing people, but he

still thought he understood how the guy must have felt.

He didn’t say any of this, just looked at his daughter’s scared, anxious

face and put a hand to her cheek. “It’s not your fault, Lulu. And it’s not

your problem. The worst thing I could do for Chip is to try to make him

stay here when he doesn’t want to be here. It’d be the worst thing for the

farm, too—t’s a recipe for failure. But why is it eating him now?”

“Baseball,” Lara said. “Now is when people like him get to try out. He

was sure he’d get to try out as a walk-on, but not even the Royals are

interested. Haven’t you noticed how he runs for the phone whenever it

rings? And he checks his e-mail, like, every ten seconds.”

“Baseball? You mean, when he went to that camp last summer and

played in front of those scouts? And they won’t take him? Oh, poor Etienne,

no wonder he’s upset, his dreams shattered like that!” All Susan’s

anger with her son evaporated in her distress. She looked as mournful as

if it were her own dreams that had been demolished.

“Y-e-es,” Jim said doubtfully, “but he was never that good.”

“He was MVP in the northeast Kansas league last year,” Susan flashed.


“Sweetheart, a thousand boys are MVPs every year, but not too many

are good enough for the majors. I guess Chip thought baseball was big

enough that if he got drafted, he wouldn’t have to talk to me about the

farm. He can go to college this fall, though—e should get accepted at

K-State or Baldwin, don’t you think, if he started on his applications

right away? He’d have four years to figure out some kind of direction—maybe coaching, or sports management.” Jim tried to sound hearty, as if

he thought these were wonderful choices. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”

“Chip hates school,” Lara said. “You know he does. He’ll go to college

only if you make him.”

“Lara is the student in the family. We’ve always said so,” Susan added.

Jim looked at his daughter, trying to smile. “Lulu, you’d better be

careful. You’re carrying a lot of parental ambitions on your curly brown

head. You’re the student, you’re the one who likes to work the farm, you’re

the one who plays the trumpet and your ever-so-great-grandmother’s


Lara grinned. “I’ll instruct a team of agriculture students out on the

X-Farm while heading up a marching band and pushing a piano through

the furrows. You’ll see, Dad, it’ll all work out.”

“I know you’re trying to be funny, but you could do it!” Susan’s eyes

glowed. “Look how Abigail ran this farm on her own, even before the

first Etienne died, and she did it—”

“In twelve-pound wool skirts. I know, Mom. But could she play the

trumpet at the same time?” Lara went upstairs to start her homework.

F i f t e e n


“ou wouldn’ mind if the farm went to Lara, would you, Jim?”

Susan asked later.

“Mind? What, because she’s a girl? Of course not. What a ridiculous

idea—’d be ecstatic. But it’s true that she’s our brainy kid. I don’t want

her to give up doing something, oh, big in the world because she thinks

we want her to stay here. Let her stretch her wings when the time comes.”

He paused and took Susan’s hands. “You know I don’t interfere with

the things you do with your friends, Suze, but this bonfire, couldn’t you

put that off ? If Chip is this upset about his life, let’s not add to his woes

when we don’t have to.”

Susan pulled her hands away. “If I could make Etienne a baseball star

by giving up my friends, I would, but it really troubles me that my own

son worries so much about what small-minded people like Arnie and

Myra Schapen think. He pays no attention to anything I say to him,

about his course work, or his plans for his future, or the amount of time

he’s spending with Janice, whose only attraction I can see is between her

bra straps, which, by the way, her mother should talk to her about getting

fitted properly. But, anyway, Janice doesn’t do anything to improve his

mind or enhance his life— know you agree with me about that! Why am

I supposed to placate him by staying home this coming Thursday?”

Jim rubbed his forehead. “It makes me uncomfortable, Suze, I guess

that’s the point. I’m not superstitious, but—omen dancing around a

fire, pretending to be witches—”


“But they’re not, Jim, they’re not pretending to be witches. It’s female

bonding, it’s going back to the old women’s religions, when women felt

powerful and comfortable in their bodies. Gina says women used to be

in charge of the harvest, the planting, all the old fertility rituals. If Etienne

is upset by me wanting to celebrate women’s lives, I haven’t done a

very good job as a mother raising a son who isn’t comfortable with

female power.”

He could tell from the glib, disjoint phrases that she was repeating

what she’d heard from Gina, or Autumn Minsky at the bookstore, but it

irritated him all the same. They argued about it until bedtime, and off

and on again during the week, but on Thursday she left the house after

supper with a bag of sunflower seeds, her “gift to the fire.”

Predictably, Chip refused to eat supper with the family on Thursday.

He came home from school long enough to see that his mother was

intent on attending Gina’s Imbolc ritual and announced he was meeting

Curly in town for a burger. When Jim asked if he was keeping up in his

courses, he yelled “What’s the point?” and once again slammed out of

the house.

Jim had tried talking to his son about how to think about a future

without a professional ball career, but Chip wouldn’t respond. Instead,

Jim later overheard him driving Lara to tears by shouting at her that she

was a tattle-telling brat who hadn’t changed since she was four and told

Dad it was Chip who had broken Mom’s crystal vase.

Lara was excited by the thought of the bonfire and begged Susan to

take her, but Jim put his foot down. The image of Gina’s body entwined

with her friend Autumn’s hovered at the edge of his consciousness. He

imagined some kind of depravity that would unnerve Lara and degrade

Susan. When he tried to suggest this to his wife, she became furious, and

they had the kind of shouting fight that left him hollow with helplessness.

On Thursday, Jim took a bowl of chili into the family room and

doggedly watched a movie while Lara and Susan ate in the kitchen. Over

the television, he heard Susan’s squeaky voice and Lara’s laugh. He felt

hurt that they could be happy when he was upset.

A little later, the kitchen door banged shut again, the pickup engine

turned over, and his jaw tightened. Had Susan taken Lara with her? If


she had—ut, after a minute, he heard Lara washing the dishes. He

turned back to the television, trying to care about what Morgan Freeman

and Clint Eastwood were doing in front of him.

He went to the kitchen. Lara had gone upstairs. He stared out the

back window, but the bulk of the barn and equipment sheds blocked any

view of the Fremantle house. He put his work boots on and walked out

behind the outbuildings.

He was turning back to the house when he saw a shadow move in the

grasses on the far side of the track. Something about the way the grasses

bent told him it wasn’t a coyote or fox but his daughter. Damn Lulu,

anyway. He didn’t want her watching the drinking or whatever else the

women might do. He started through the dead grass after his daughter.

The ground was gluey from a recent freeze-thaw cycle. He never

mowed near the tracks, and the head-high wild grasses and weeds had

become a dumping ground for rotting fenceposts and rusty plowshares,

as well as the bottles and bags that landed everywhere, even along tracks

through a cornfield. Like fox droppings, he thought, with their telltale

pointed ends, garbage was the recognizable excretion of the human

species. He banged and stumbled his way to the tracks, barely saving

himself from falling several times, roundly cursing his wife, his daughter,

the whole female half of the species.

When he finally made it to the train tracks, he slopped through the

muck along the ties: at least the ground was level here. In the distance, he

could hear the traffic on K-10 like a faint roar of wind, but as he got

closer to the Fremantle place that noise was covered by the sound of

drums and singing and laughter.

He followed the sounds and the glow of the fire through the remains of

the old apple orchard. Gina and Autumn had constructed their bonfire not

far from the ruins of the bunkhouse. Beyond it loomed the Fremantles’

main barn; they’d built it there so their hands would have easy access to it.

The fire wasn’t big, but to Jim’s surprise it had been carefully laid: he

somehow hadn’t expected that kind of skill from city women. It was burning

steadily. The dozen or so women gathered around it were laughing, a

few were beating drums, and someone outside his field of vision was playing

a flute. The women were passing bottles around to share. Every now


and then, someone would throw something into the flames. He’d see a

burst of color, green or gold, now and then a flash of red, and everyone

would cheer.

He made out Susan’s back, her unmistakable halo of curls and the

bulk of her down vest, and, near her, Gina’s taller, leaner silhouette.

Someone passed Gina a wine bottle; she drank from it, then handed it to

Susan, who at first shook her head, but then, after Gina seemed to urge

her, took a swallow and quickly passed it on. Underneath his annoyance,

Jim felt a twinge of pity for his wife, who didn’t much like alcohol but

who wanted to be part of the group.

Staying well back from the fire, he skirted around, looking for Lara.

Years of practice had made her a skilled eavesdropper—r tracker, to be

charitable. He almost missed her, but she must have moved at his

approach because he looked up and saw her perched on a low branch of a

bur oak.

“Enjoying the show, Lulu?”

In a flash from the fire, he saw her flatten her upper lip against her

teeth; she was nervous, not knowing if he was angry. He held a hand up

to her, and she let him swing her down.

“Oh, Dad, don’t be mad. This is so—o amazing! No one does stuff

like this. It’s totally awesome! I wanted to see the ceremony, and I knew

you’d hate it if I went with Mom.”

“Did she ask you?”

“She wouldn’t let me. She said you’d expressly forbidden it. And, anyway,

it was for her and her friends.”

Jim felt some of his tightness ease at realizing his wife had respected

his wishes, at least as far as not involving Lara in her new hobby. “So you

decided to be Pocahontas Grellier and trail along?”

Lara grinned at him; the question meant he wasn’t angry anymore.

She snuggled up to him as she used to when she was seven or eight,

although she was tall now, at eye level with him. They watched the fire

ceremony together in silence for a while.

“You know, Mom wants to have a vision,” she startled him by saying

sometime later.

“A vision?” he echoed uncertainly.


“Like however many great-granny Abigail’s. That’s why she wants to

be at this bonfire. She hopes she’ll look into the fire and see a vision.”

“Your mother didn’t tell you that!” he exclaimed.

“No, but read between the lines. She talks about Abigail’s vision all the

time to Gina, or anyone who will listen, but she says she doesn’t do anything

exalted enough with her life to merit a vision. But she’d probably

have to smoke dope, or something, and I don’t think she’d do that. Or

maybe fast for forty days. But—”

“Lulu, your imagination is working way overtime. Your mother is an

enthusiastic woman, she gets passions for causes, but she’s not the kind

of person to lose track of the real world around her.”

Lara mumbled something that Jim decided he didn’t need to have

repeated, and they watched a few more minutes in silence. The flute

playing and the drumming became more intense, and the women started

dancing around the fire. Again Jim felt a twinge of pity for his wife, trying

to join in but moving awkwardly. They weren’t dancers, he and

Susan, not even in their college days. Susan was quick in all her motions,

racing around the farm, the house, but quick wasn’t necessarily rhythmic.

As the women circled and the drumbeat got louder, one of the

women took off her coat and her shirt, and then another one did the


Jim sucked in a breath, embarrassed, titillated, angry—e couldn’t tell

which feeling was on top. “This is where we go home, Lulu. I hope your

mom leaves her clothes on. February isn’t the month to prance naked

around a fire.”

She didn’t resist, but as they walked away from the fire she kept turning

her head to look. “Dad, I’ve been looking at naked girls for years. We

don’t get underneath towels to change for gym, you know. And if this is

the first time you’ve seen—Oh!”

Before he could react, she broke off and poked him in the shoulder. He

turned automatically. She wasn’t pointing at Susan, as he’d feared, but

beyond to the far south side of the property, where the trees stopped and

the Ropeses’ field started. Just visible behind the trees was Arnie Schapen,

a set of binoculars pressed to his eyes.

With a rough gesture, Jim dragged Lara away from Arnie’s field of


vision. She wrenched away from him and darted back to the edge of the

clearing, where she stood making a defiant gesture. When Jim reached

her, he started to yell at her for stirring the waters but broke off at a

movement in the tall grass to Arnie’s right.

Jim pulled Lara down so they were both shielded by the undergrowth.

After a few minutes, they saw Eddie Burton and Junior Schapen emerge.

Junior’s face glistened with a kind of greed Lara had never seen; Eddie

was laughing in a kind of donkey’s hee-haw.

S i x t e e n


Some of our neighbors don’ seem concerned about their immortal souls. They

think that drinking, dancing naked, and other abominations are benign acts that

the Creator overlooks, or maybe rejoices in. Nothing could be further from the

Truth! We pray for our neighbors to come to Jesus and experience a close personal

relation with their Creator and Savior. Can you profess Jesus and dance

before the fires that are a foretaste of Hell?? Apparently one of our neighbors

sets herself on a higher plane than Jesus, thinking she can do both. Instead,

she’ had a glimpse into the flames that wait for her on the other side.

When Susan and Gina read the Schapens’ website, they were both angry.

Arnie’s photos were too blurry to make out anyone’s faces, or even the fact

that a number of the women had been naked, but Susan resented the

Schapens’ attacks on her Christian commitment. Gina didn’t care about

that, but she was furious that Arnie had trespassed and invaded her privacy.

Susan couldn’t get any sympathy at home: Jim said he’d warned her,

Chip said he wished for once she’d think about someone besides herself.

“I told you your weird crap was making all of us a laughingstock, but

you had to do it, anyway. Do you know the kind of stuff they’re saying in

school, Junior Schapen and his group of football wannabes? How you’re

a harlot or the whore of Babylon? They even hassle Janice for being my

girlfriend, all because you had to prance naked around a fire with a bunch


of other loonies! She came this close to breaking up with me over it.”

Chip held his thumb and forefinger together.

“Too bad she didn’t,” Lara muttered, but too softly for Chip to hear her.

Lara didn’t know what she thought about her mother and the bonfire.

She’d been excited by the spectacle, the drumming, the dancing, the wild

unexpectedness of it, but that was before she saw Eddie Burton, his face

glistening, licking his lips. That had made the whole evening so shameful

that she couldn’t think about the fire at all.

All the talk at school further upset her. Even Kimberly Ropes and

Melanie Derwint said they thought Susan had gone too far. “What those

women were doing is witchcraft, Lara, and my pastor says you can go to

hell for it,” Melanie told her. “If you want to save your mother, you

should keep her away from those people.” After that conversation, Lara

didn’t have the nerve to admit she’d watched part of it. She certainly

couldn’t mention Junior and Eddie.

And then Junior Schapen started taunting Lara in the hallway whenever

he saw her. “Seen your mom on her broomstick lately?” he’d call, or,

“Check her forehead to see if any horns are growing there?”

“Any horns around will be on you, cowman,” Lara yelled back. “You

spend so much time in cowshit, it’s filled up your head, you and your

creepy friend Eddie.”

Chip happened to pass her in the hall just then, which was fortunate,

because at the mention of Eddie’s name Junior lunged for Lara. Chip

muscled Lara out of Junior’s reach and dragged her into an empty classroom.

“I am not going to fight Junior or his asshole friends for you over

this, Lulu, so stop stirring him up.”

“Chip, he was there, him and Eddie. And Eddie, his face, I can’t tell


Chip said roughly, “We’re not at Kaw Valley anymore, Lulu. Whatever

Junior and Eddie do, we can’t do anything about it. You have to do

like Janice: turn the other cheek.”

“Do like Janice? You mean show everyone in school my big, wobbly


Chip grabbed her shoulders and shook her. “One moron in the family

is all I can stand, so you’d better take that back.”


Lara mumbled an apology that she didn’t mean and ran down the hall

to her geometry class. When she got home, Lara told her mother that

thanks to her she and Chip were having a tough time at school. “If you

find me in the emergency room after Junior breaks my neck, I hope

you’ll know you can only blame yourself.”

“Lara, don’t stoop to their level. Don’t go fighting boys like Junior

Schapen. It makes you look as bad as they do.”

“Mom, I’m trying to stand up for you, but the way you carry on no one

can support you. People say you’re a witch for taking part in the bonfire, they

say you’re doomed to hell. What am I supposed to do? Tell them I agree?”

The next day, Robbie Schapen raced past Lara in the cafeteria and

dropped a folded square of paper on her tray. She was afraid at first to

pick it up, wondering what insult it might contain, but when Kimberly

reached out a hand for it Lara took it herself and unfolded it.

Dear Lara, I’ sorry about everything. Would you come with me to

the Christ-Teen Group at Full Bible Christian this Thursday? The

group’ a lot of fun, I play electric guitar and write the lyrics, Junior

doesn’ go.

Kimberly peered at her curiously. “What’s it say?”

“Oh, all those Schapens are totally bogus!” Lara stuck the note into

her social studies text. “Like I want to go hear some sermon on hellfire

from his church.”

Later, during Spanish, she took the note out and studied it. Was he

trying to insult her by asking her to his stupid, narrow-minded church or

was he asking her on a kind of date? She tried to picture going out with

Robbie Schapen. He had put grasshoppers down her T-shirt in sixth

grade and smashed up her diorama of Kansas during the age of dinosaurs

when they were in third grade, but, really, he wasn’t as bad as Junior. Of

course, after the grasshoppers she’d slugged him hard enough to break his

front tooth, so they were sort of even.

Still, if she went to his youth group she’d either have to get Chip or

Dad to drive her—r ride with Robbie and his dad, since she and Robbie

were both too young to drive alone at night. The more she imagined the


evening, the more horrible it seemed. She scrawled, “Sorry, my folks

won’t let me,” on a piece of paper and dropped it on his desk in chemistry,

which they had together at the end of the day.

Susan meanwhile took refuge from her critical family with Gina Haring.

Gina mocked the whole idea of religion, saying that it was no more

superstitious to light a bonfire to the goddess than it was to worship bread

and wine by pretending they were your god’s body and blood. When

Gina saw that her comments upset Susan, she put an arm around her and

said, “I love you because you’re so sincere,” which comforted Susan since

no one at the farm these days was telling Susan they loved her.

She spent most of her free time with Gina, either at the Fremantle house

or with other women from the bonfire at Between Two Worlds. And it was

at the store that Susan learned about K-PAW—ansas Patriots Against the

War. At supper, Susan showed Jim and Lara one of K-PAW’s brochures.

“Did you have any idea what’s been going on over there? Did you

know we’ve been torturing people? Our government? Or that nearly four

thousand of our soldiers have died? Why are we there?”

Jim said, “Suze, it’s all I can do to get a stalk of wheat to come up out

of the ground. I figure we elect people to Congress to think about

whether we need to go to war or not. Anyway, I thought you and I agreed

before the war started that the president and Congress were making the

right decision. We shouldn’t start second-guessing them now. Just

because the war is going badly is all the more reason not to turn on our

leaders. Saddam was a tyrant, he was threatening us—”

“But he wasn’t, Jim.” Susan’s amber eyes widened in her intensity.

“Read this and you’ll see he never had any weapons like we said he did.

The whole war, everything we were told about it, it was all lies.”

Jim took the pamphlet from her and laid it next to his plate. “A pamphlet

by a bunch of Kansas women doesn’t carry weight with me. What

do they know about war or foreign policy?”

“How can you belittle us without even reading the evidence? Just

because we’re women doesn’t mean God didn’t give us brains to think

with. It’s all documented in here, you could look at it instead of being so

superior about being a man.”

Jim scrunched his eyes shut for a second before answering. “Susan,


if you think I feel superior to you, or any other woman, you haven’t

been paying attention to me for the last twenty-five years. You know darn

well that’s not how I look at the world or your place in it. I’m just saying,

this is a group of women, well meaning, maybe even smart, but they’re

not involved in government, they don’t have access to the information our

leaders had when they made these decisions. I don’t want you going out

on a limb with them and getting hurt or hurting our reputation.”

“Mom, you know we have to plant the lettuce and beans this week,”

Lara interrupted. “And I have basketball tomorrow night. It’s a big game,

against Shawnee Mission North, so I really really want you and Dad to

be there, okay? So can we talk about that, and who’s going to drive me in

since Chip won’t take me?”

Jim seized gratefully on the diversion. The rest of the meal was spent

working out the week’s schedule, who would drive Lara to the game,

who would get the germination trays set up in the greenhouses for the

nonorganic crops, what paperwork had to be filed with the organicgrowers

certification board before they could put in the sunflower crop

in April, whether Jim could fix the damage to the greenhouses from last

month’s ice storm on his own or if he needed to hire Curly’s cousin.

After dinner, when Jim dragged a reluctant Susan into the family room

to watch a Columbo rerun, Lara took the K-PAW brochure from the

kitchen table. She read it through, wondering which of her parents was

right: the flyer was filled with footnotes from the New York Times, USA

Today, and other papers, but could you trust those papers to tell the truth?

All Lara knew was that she didn’t want another fight to build up at home,

especially over an issue where her mother would stir up more public notice.

Lara tucked the flyer into her school binder; the next day, she threw it

out when she got to school, hoping that if it wasn’t in the house her

mother would forget about it. In the excitement of the basketball game,

which they lost by one point, of working on a play for Presidents’ Day

with Melanie, and the rest of her life, which included band practice,

choir, and putting in the seedlings, Lara forgot about K-PAW.

Susan didn’t: she picked up another flyer from Gina and started going

to the group’s meetings. Until then, she’d paid no more attention to the

war than to gasp with dismay every time a suicide bomb targeted U.S.


troops, but in short order she had mastered all the history, all the outrages

K-PAW claimed Americans had committed, the numbers of dead Iraqi

children, the numbers of American boys and girls with terrible injuries.

“Why does Gina Haring care so much about this war?” Chip demanded

on one of his rare nights at home—e was spending more and

more evenings fooling around with Janice in the back of his Nissan or

meeting his buddies in town for burgers or pizza.

“We all do, Etienne, not just Gina. Our country was founded on principles

of decency and justice. But we’ve murdered hundreds of thousands

of innocent Iraqis with our bombs and all for what? So that the president’s

oil friends can get rich?”

“Says you and the New York Times. If you watched Fox News, you’d

know those are just slanders New York Jews use to try and make the president

look bad. And why is it your business, anyway?”

“Since when does anyone in this house use a negative word or tone of

voice to describe people of a different religion or race? It is the tradition

of this family, of your heritage, to take a stand against injustice.” His

mother’s eyes flashed. She ran up to the bedroom and came back downstairs

with her commonplace book.

“Here’s what your father’s great-great-grandmother wrote about the Civil

War: ‘June 17, 1862. We have always shared the Peace Testimony advocated

by our brothers and sisters the Quakers, we could not sit passively by while

others shed their blood on behalf of our brothers and sisters in bondage.’ ”

Susan looked sternly at her son. “Pacifism, the peace testimony, is your heritage,

Etienne, as is commitment to work on behalf of the oppressed.”

“Yeah, well, even old Gramps Etienne finally saw the light and joined

the Union Army,” Chip reminded her.

“But only to save the oppressed,” his mother insisted.

“And that’s what we’re doing in Iraq!”

“Killing a hundred thousand women and children to save them?

Explain the logic of that to me, mister!”

Chip ignored her. “I think Gina’s putting you on and you’re too ignorant

to tell. She’ll get you all stirred up, then leave you high and dry. Just

you wait.”

That was one of the milder exchanges Chip had with his mother. As


the winter wore on, the two had blistering arguments whenever Chip ate

at home. Lara couldn’t stand the tension. If Chip and Susan started in at

dinner, she’d leave the table, go up to her room, plug her music into her

ears, and doggedly read The Hobbit. One day, she made up flyers in

art class, announcing the creation of PPGF—atriots for Peace in the

Grellier Farm. She brought them to the dinner table. Jim ruffled her hair,

grateful to his daughter for trying to diffuse the tension, but Chip told

her not to be lame, and Susan wouldn’t even look at them.

Lara had her own battles with Susan, but hers concerned the X-Farm.

Susan was spending so much time on K-PAW activities that she wasn’t

paying proper attention to the seedlings in the organic greenhouses.

The Grelliers grew lettuce, herbs, beans, and a few early vegetables in

the X-Farm for sale in their own market, the one they’d reverted to when

Susan shut down the co-op. The Kansas growing season for lettuce was

short: between the arctic winter and the Sahara summer lay a window of

about six weeks, so plants had to be ready to go into the ground when

the last frost was past. Lara wheedled Curly into coming out to help her

transplant the seedlings from germination trays into larger ones, where

they’d grow until they were planted outside, but she was furious with

Susan for treating the work so carelessly—er mother didn’t even notice

or thank her for taking care of the transplanting.

“I found the certification forms in your desk, too” Lara said. “You still

haven’t completed them, and we have to have an inspection or we might

as well not bother to put the sunflower crop in because we already printed

the packages saying they’re certified organic.”

Susan kissed her daughter’s forehead. “I’m too busy right now to

worry about paperwork. If you fill out the forms, I’ll sign them.”

Lara struggled as best she could, but there were fifteen pages that covered

everything from where they stored synthetic pesticides on the main farm

relative to the X-Farm to how they planned to ship the crop when it was

harvested. Jim helped her, but he had, or tried to have, a serious talk with

his wife about the situation.

“Lara cannot run the X-Farm. She isn’t old enough or experienced

enough. And, anyway, I will not have her sacrifice her education or her

music and basketball to do the job you signed on for when you persuaded


me to let you have that land. I will not let Lulu plant the sunflowers. You

have to do that if you want this crop to work, Suze. And if you don’t

have time or energy for the X-Farm, we should sell the land to Curly’s

cousin—e’s been asking for it, off and on, ever since I bought it from Mrs.


“I’ll take care of the crop, Jim. Don’t lecture me. When have I ever

shirked a responsibility?”

Jim wanted to remind her of the co-op market and the bread oven, but

there were too many arguments in the house already so he bit the words

back. “Just remember, somewhere in the world a hundred twenty-eight

people are eating because we’re growing crops. That’s an important responsibility,

more important than worrying about the war, because the crops

are something we’re in charge of. Whether you stand on a street corner in

Lawrence handing out leaflets isn’t going to make a difference to this war,

but whether you get that crop in the ground, that will make a difference to

what people eat next winter. Not to mention our bottom line.”

“I said I’ll take care of the crop, Jim.” Susan glared at him. “Don’t talk

to me as if I were Eddie Burton.”

The fights between Chip and Susan got worse when K-PAW decided

to hold a protest on March 8, International Women’s Day, which, Susan

said, quoting her new friends, was traditionally “dedicated to peace.”

Susan announced she was taking part. Jim protested, while Chip’s rage

was so extreme that he spent several nights in town with Curly until Jim

and Blitz made him go home again.

Later, Jim wondered if that had been his biggest mistake. Should he

have left Chip in town? He’d forced Chip to come home because he’d

imagined his son drifting, following Curly’s aimless life, not graduating

from high school, let alone going to college, never being able to have a

real job or a real future and settling into the farm as an unwanted default.

If he’d left Chip alone, let him cool off at Curly’s. If. If.

Early on the Sunday of the march, Susan painted a peace slogan on an

old sheet. She drove over to the Fremantle place with it, where she roused

Gina from bed and got her to help attach the sheet to some bamboo

poles. She left the house that morning as excited as a small child off to see

Santa. She spent the night in jail.

S e ve n t e e n


From the Douglas County Herald


An anti-war march got out of hand Sunday when some of the

leaders, including local farmwife Susan Grellier, threw hog’s

blood on pro-war demonstrators who had gathered in South Park

for an alternative event. Only about eighty people, part of a group

that calls itself “Kansas Patriots Against the War,” were marching

against the war; about five hundred, including local military personnel,

and families from as far away as Kansas City and Wichita,

were in South Park, where a band was playing patriotic songs.

Arnold Schapen, a farmer who is also a Douglas County sheriff ’s

deputy, had donated two hundred pounds of hamburger for the

group, who call themselves Kansas Patriots Speak Up.

Schapen says some good-natured teasing between the

groups—any of whom have known each other for years—as

taken the wrong way by Mrs. Grellier and others in the anti-war

group. Mrs. Grellier threw blood on a contingent of local ROTC

members, yelling, “Our blood is on your hands.” In the resulting

skirmish, Schapen handcuffed her and six other offenders:

Autumn Minsky, who owns Between Two Worlds on Seventh

Street; Elaine Logan of 1706 Vermont Street, Gina Haring of

New York, Jonathan Schlager of 2834 Missouri Street, Oscar


Herschel of 2323 Orchard Lane, all in Lawrence, and Theodore

Black of Eudora. The seven were charged with two misdemeanor

accounts, of violating their parade permit terms, and creating a

public nuisance, and were each fined $250.

One of K-PAW’s ringleaders is from New York, Deputy Schapen

pointed out. He warned that “outside agitators turned Douglas

County upside down in the seventies. We’re in danger of seeing that

happen all over again today. The time to stop violence is before it

gets out of hand. We need to send a message to sodomites and

witches that they are not welcome in our community.”

Gina Haring says she lives half a mile from Deputy Schapen’s

farm. “Apparently, Mr. Schapen considers an outsider to be anyone

who doesn’t live in his house and share his extremely narrow,

medieval beliefs.”

Ms. Haring is a niece of John Fremantle, the son of Elizabeth

Fremantle, who died two years ago; Elizabeth Fremantle left

money for many civic projects in Lawrence, including the Children’s

Theater, named for her late husband Nathan. Gina Haring

is currently living in the Fremantle house five miles east of


Jim was in the wheat field when Susan called from the county jail to

report her arrest. He’d been kneeling to feel the level of moisture in the

soil and to see if the freeze line had retreated. The wheat had made it

safely through the winter; right now, it looked like clumps of dead grass.

It was still at least three weeks from breaking dormancy, he decided,

when he heard his daughter screeching, “Dad! Dad!,” at the top of her

lungs as she ran into the field in her flip-flops. “It’s Mom,” Lara panted,

handing him the phone. “She’s in jail!”

“It was Arnie,” Susan blurted out to him, distraught. “He was at a

pro-war rally in park. He started hassling Gina and me, calling us harlots,

and worse names than that. I was carrying a plastic bag of hog’s

blood, we were going to pour it over a poster of the president at the end

of the march, but I swung it at him to try to make him get away from me

and it broke and he arrested seven of us.”


“Oh, Susan,” was all Jim could manage.

His concern for the winter wheat evaporated. Even though he could

sense her fear from the way her voice trembled, he was angry, unable to

utter even mechanical words of comfort. He had been opposed to the

march, to the whole K-PAW venture in his wife’s life. And see what came

of it: Susan had been arrested, just like the rioters he remembered from

his adolescence, the kids who turned the town and the valley upside

down with drugs and anti-war violence, imagining that they were the

only people on the planet with working brains.

Because it was a Sunday, Susan had to spend the night in the new jail

out on Twenty-fifth Street. Despite his anger, Jim drove over to see her,

but it was after hours and he wasn’t allowed in. The guard, a tiny woman

barely out of high school who seemed too frail for the weight of the gun

and handcuffs hanging from her waist, told him that he couldn’t visit a

prisoner unless he was on an approved-visitors list, anyway.

“But it’s my wife,” he said. “She was arrested this afternoon.”

The guard shook her head. “I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t let you in. She

was arrested at that march downtown, right? There will be a hearing at

ten-thirty in the morning. You can bring your lawyer, and she’ll probably

be released on bail.”

Jim knew some lawyers, from church and through his brother, but the

only one he and Susan ever consulted helped them with their estate planning

and advice on threading through the maze of government regulations

affecting the farm. Those legal bills were high enough that he could

well imagine what it would cost to have someone represent Susan in the

courtroom. She’d have to take her chances in front of the judge, he

decided, and if she had to do thirty days, well, serve her right for taking

part in the blasted march. All the same, he worried about Susan spending

the night in a cell. When he got home, he called his brother in Chicago.

“Schapen, huh?” Doug said. “Damned asshole. If they charge Susan

with assaulting a cop, she could be in big trouble. But for this hearing

tomorrow, tell her to plead not guilty and wait to see what the charges

are before you hire anyone. If it’s a criminal case, maybe I could fly down

to represent her.”

Jim was grateful, not just for the offer but for Doug not taking the


opportunity to reiterate his views on Susan and her resemblance to an

unguided missile.

“Call Drysdale,” Doug added. “He’s a good guy. He won’t want to

drag you through a court battle.”

“I can’t do that, Doug. I can’t trade on your friendship with the guy.”

“Jimbo, that’s why we have friends—o we’re not on our own when we

need help.”

Jim was unconvinced, but when he got to the courthouse next morning

he found that Doug had played big brother behind his back: Hank

Drysdale met Jim outside the courtroom.

“Jim, I’m so sorry Susan had to spend the night in jail. You should

have called me yourself— didn’t even know she’d been arrested until I

got Doug’s message, and he didn’t reach me until after midnight.”

The sheriff bent forward to add confidentially, “Between you and me,

Arnie got overzealous. This was a Lawrence event; Chief Furman had

four Lawrence police officers posted at South Park, and Arnie was only

there as a civilian taking part in a counterdemonstration. Any rowdiness,

it was the LPD’s call on how to respond, not an off-duty county deputy’s.

Chief Furman is pretty unhappy with me, letting one of my boys muscle

in on his cops’ jurisdiction.

“I’ve spoken with the DA and with the mayor. No one wants a big

trial that’ll bring a lot of outsiders into the town: no one wants to see

those seventies riots all over again. Bad enough they’ve brought reporters

in from Topeka and Kansas City. Someone told me there’re even runners

or stringers or whatever from Chicago, so we plan to keep it low-key. The

DA is willing to believe it was an accident, especially since it was Susan

carrying that bag of blood. We’ll call it a B misdemeanor. No need to go

to trial unless you want to, but then there’d be court costs and her fine

might go up. Your call, though.”

Jim wondered if Susan would insist on a trial. Would she think she

was a martyr, like Jim’s ancestors, and that a trial would be romantic? He

didn’t say this, just nodded at Hank, who clapped him on the shoulder.

The two men went into the courtroom together, where they separated,

the sheriff joining the prosecutor’s table up front, Jim looking

around for a seat. The courtroom was full of people, most of whom were


strangers to Jim. The only one he recognized was Rachel Carmody from

church. She waved to Jim and scooted over on her bench to make room

for him.

“Elaine Logan lives in New Haven Manor. I’m on their board, you

know, and they needed someone to look after her in the courtroom,”

Rachel explained. “I’m sorry about Susan. She’s such an ardent spirit. I’m

sure this must be a shock to her.”

“To me, too,” Jim couldn’t help saying, then quickly added, “How did

Elaine get involved?”

“She’s an old seventies peacenik, or at least she says she is— never

know if half the stuff she says is true. She claims she was involved in that

commune that used to live somewhere near your farm. I’m assuming

that’s how she met Gina Haring. Isn’t she living out there, too?”

“Yep. At the Fremantle place. That’s where the commune was, too.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t seen Elaine, then—he hitches out there

sometimes to moon over her past, and she’s pretty hard to overlook. The

New Haven director got an SOS from her only last week, demanding he

come pick her up at the crossroads. Elaine is as proud of being arrested as

if she were Joan of Arc on her way to the stake, but I have an unchristian

feeling that Gina was just using her to swell her numbers—ven though

the country has turned against the war, you don’t get too many people

willing to take to the streets in this neck of the woods.”

Jim smiled wryly. “I wonder if it would be any comfort to think Gina

was just using Susan, too, but Susan likes big causes. Sometimes I think

she’s been waiting her whole life for this anti-war nonsense.”

He broke off, embarrassed at having said so much about his private

business, and said, to change the subject, “I see the place is full up.”

“Some of them are the K-PAW members.” Rachel pointed to a group

across the aisle, most of them women, most in their fifties or sixties,

neatly groomed, looking anxious. “The others are mostly from the other

side, Kansas Patriots Speak Up. They’re the ones carrying the little flags.”

Jim was so rattled he hadn’t even noticed the American flags a lot of

the spectators were holding. For reasons he couldn’t quite define, the

sight upset him. It was as if the courtroom were an Olympic stadium and


the spectators were all set to wave their flags and yell “USA! USA!” when

the hearing started.

Rachel nudged Jim and pointed out the reporters. Jim recognized the

man from the Douglas County Herald who’d come out to the farm when

Susan was running the co-op market and a woman from the local cable

channel. The others were strangers.

“I guess they’re hoping we’re going to reenact bleeding Kansas for

them,” Rachel said. “And if Elaine Logan gets close to any of the Speak

Up people, that may start to happen, which is why I’m going to hustle

her out of here as soon as the hearing is over.”

The clerk stood and announced the judge. Jim and Rachel got to their

feet with the rest of the spectators. The hearing was for everyone who’d

been arrested over the weekend, not just the marchers. Jim had to wait

while a man charged with beating his wife, a woman who’d broken a mirror

in a fight at the Storm Door, and two teens who’d ridden their motorcycles

through someone’s front yard, all had their cases heard.

The protestors were then called forward as a group. They seemed

bedraggled after their night in jail, especially Elaine Logan. She was a fat

woman, wearing gray sweatpants and a pink sweatshirt stretched tight

over an enormous bosom. Her faded blond hair stood out from her head

in dirty elflocks. Her hands were shaking, but she looked pugnaciously

around the courtroom, making a peace sign at the group from Kansas

Patriots Speak Up, who hissed at her. She poked Gina, urging her in an

audible whisper to make a stand for justice. Gina stepped back without

looking at the older woman. She was holding herself aloof, looking neither

at the judge nor her fellow arrestees, not even Autumn Minsky.

Susan was so white that her freckles stood out like polka dots on

muslin. She, too, tried to whisper to Gina, but Gina stared forward,

ignoring Susan as completely as she had Elaine. Jim felt a spurt of anger:

Gina had gotten Susan and Elaine involved in her stupid march and now

she was acting like they were flies she was switching off her back. For the

first time since his wife called him yesterday, Jim felt the urge to wrap his

arms around her, comfort her, protect her from the big bad world.

When the hearing began, Arnie Schapen testified as the arresting officer.


The Kansas Patriots waved their flags as he spoke, just as Jim had imagined

they would, but the judge told them bluntly it was a courtroom, not a

football field, and they would have to leave if they couldn’t observe appropriate


Arnie gave his evidence without looking at Jim or Susan, but Jim

could see he was smirking when he sat down. The judge gave the protestors

a short, sharp lecture on civil conduct before offering them a choice

of a fine or a trial. Jim waited tensely while Susan looked again at Gina,

who chose the fine. Susan and the others all followed suit. It was suddenly

over, no criminal charges, no trial, but two hundred fifty dollars!

Where was that money going to come from?

As soon as the judge dismissed the protestors, Rachel Carmody hurried

to the front of the room to collect Elaine Logan. Jim waited for

Susan at the back of the courtroom. She stumbled down the center aisle,

exhausted, and collapsed against him. He put an arm around her, but

neither of them spoke, not while he stood in line at the cashier’s window

to pay her fine, not while she signed for her belongings, not while they

walked out to the parking lot. The reporter from the Herald recognized

them and hurried over, followed by a camera crew from the local television

station. Jim shook his head, not saying a word, just picked up his

exhausted wife and carried her to the pickup.

When they got to the farm, she looked up at him, her amber eyes

painfully large. “I’m sorry, Jim. I couldn’t help it.”

“We’ve got to come up with that money somehow, Susan, so maybe

you’d better pay attention to your sunflower crop for a while.” In the

complicated mix of tenderness and anger that he’d been feeling for

twenty-four hours, it was only harshness that he felt able to express now.

She stared at him, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. “I need you

to understand how it happened, Jim. I didn’t mean to get you in trouble

or make a spectacle of myself.”

“I’m too worn out to listen right now. You go up and take a bath, get

some of that jailhouse dirt off you. I have to go out to the wheat field.”

She flicked her tears away; he noticed she had dried blood on her hand

and on the front of her blouse. He often wondered later if he’d taken her

in his arms then if things would have turned out differently.


When he turned to go to the fields, he noticed a light in the combine

shed. Blitz was there, underneath the combine. He was taking apart the

clutch—he bearings and gears were laid out on a tray next to the clutch

housing. Blitz had the radio tuned to a country-music station and was

talking to the machine in time to the music: “Yes, this bolt done left you,

broke your poor old Caterpillar heart.”

Jim didn’t think he could stand it if Blitz offered him sympathy, or

even commented on Susan’s arrest, but when Blitz heard him come in all

he did was pop his head out from the engine to say, “Should have done

this before harvest last year. Three bearings are just about shot to hell. I

don’t know why Reba here didn’t freeze up on us in the field.”

Blitz called the combine Reba after his favorite country singer. He

talked to her as if she were a horse, slapping her side when he eased her

out of the shed. Lara once told him she was surprised he didn’t give Reba

sugar cubes to suck on, and he laughed and said, “She takes oil right

from my hand, she’s such a good old girl.”

Blitz had shown up on the farm sixteen years ago, in the middle of a

blizzard. He was driving from Abilene to Olathe, where he had a lead on

a machinist’s job, when his pickup got stuck in a drift. He’d seen the

spotlights at the train crossing, a faint orange against the blizzard’s whiteout,

and when he made for them he found the Grellier farm just beyond.

Jim had been in the equipment barn, trying to salvage the gearbox on

his grandfather’s diesel truck, when Blitz staggered in, his black beard a

mass of white crystals. After he’d caught his breath, he explained that he

needed a tow, but could he sleep in the barn until the storm passed? Of

course, Jim and Susan put him up on the spare bed on the sunporch. In

the morning, Jim found him in the barn, machining a new gear for the

old diesel truck. When the snow stopped, Blitz went on to Olathe, but

he returned a few weeks later. He wondered if Jim didn’t need help.

It was the first winter after Jim’s grandfather had died, and Jim was overwhelmed

by the job of running the farm on his own: he’d welcomed Blitz

like a savior. It was Chip, just learning to talk, who gave him the nickname.

“Blitz, him come in blitz,” he crowed, trying to say “blizzard.” The memory

twisted Jim in half. Why hadn’t he known then that nothing was too

hard to handle if your boy was shrieking with delight at the world?


Blitz handed him a long screw. “Bolt’s frozen on. Can you undo it?”

The morning moved through a soothing rhythm of repairs, Jim

replacing the fan belt on the tractor while Blitz machined new bearings

for the combine, Jim putting new siding on the X-Farm greenhouse,

where he checked on the seedlings, while Blitz hammered a bent disk on

the corn-head shredder.

Jim knew Lara had been looking after the seedlings, but he hadn’t paid

enough attention to how they were shaping. He checked the moisture,

but Lara had been keeping up with the watering. They’d joked about her

taking over the place a few weeks ago, but maybe she really would want

to now that Chip had made it clear he didn’t: she had the knack and the

patience to care for the plants.

You had to be a gambler and a conservative at the same time to be a

farmer. Every time you put seed in the ground, you were betting against

God Almighty and the politicians that the weather would be good, the

pests controllable, the fuel prices low, the political situation overseas

stable so you could sell your crop there. And you had to be conservative,

willing to play by those out-of-date rules of hard work, sweat of the

brow. Who would choose such a life? You only did it if the life chose you.

At noon, Blitz pulled a meat-loaf sandwich out of his lunch box for

Jim. Jim ate half of it before he remembered that Blitz was a vegetarian.

So Blitz had come out prepared to look after him. The thought was consoling.

He punched Blitz on the arm.

By the end of the afternoon, Jim felt calm enough to go back into the

house to face his wife. She was asleep, purple shadows on the delicate

skin under her eyes. Jim sat on the bed, holding her hand, stroking her

freckled forehead.

He heard a car door slam, then the kitchen door: Lulu was home.

“Dad! Dad! Are you in the house? Where’s Mom? Is she in jail? Chip got

suspended from school for fighting Junior Schapen and Milt Riley.”

E i g h t e e n



Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head

of the wife as Christ is head of the church. Paul wrote this in Ephesians,

under the divine inspiration of Jesus Christ, which means those are the words

of God, not words you can listen to or not as your mood strikes you. Some of

our neighbors who profess Jesus don’ seem to understand this. Their wives

run around like crazed animals from a circus, not like sober Christian women.

At times like this, we pity the wife but blame the husband for not filling his

God-ordained role as head of the household.

God is not a pacifist! In the Bible, God repeatedly takes lives to spare His

Chosen People or to make a point to His Chosen People about how far

they’e strayed from His Word! In Genesis, God kills everyone on earth,

except Noah, his family, and the animals, because the Children of Israel have

done so much evil in His sight. In Exodus, God kills every Egyptian firstborn

to save the Children of Israel, and God continues to use His four dreadful

judgments—word, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence—gainst the sinful.

America is under a dreadful scourge right now, thanks to the liberals and

their encouragement of sodomy, abortion, and idolatry. Our neighbors seem

hell-bent on bringing further wrath down on all our heads. They disrupted the

town by pretending that pacifism is a Christian virtue; they danced in front of

idols. Maybe it’ their French blood. If it is, we sure don’ need cheese-eating

surrender monkeys in the Kaw River Valley!


Lulu printed the file out at school and brought it home with her. Jim

read it through slowly, his anger building again. The cornerstone of his

philosophy: you can’t farm in the valley if you’re on bad terms with your

neighbors. He worked hard to be a good neighbor, so why was Arnie

Schapen determined to make war on him? Did he think he could drive

Jim off the land or did he just like fighting, the way Junior and Chip—and Jim’s brother, Doug, for that matter—eemed to like it?

Lara’s face, usually round and soft with the residue of her baby fat, was

pinched, her cheekbones sticking out from anxiety. “They were all

laughing and talking about it at lunch, so I went to the computer lab and

printed it out. Every time Junior or Milt Riley or his other friends passed

me or Chip in the hall, they’d lift their shoulders up and scratch their

armpits like they were monkeys.”

“Monkeys?” Jim was bewildered. “Were they trying to say you and

Chip are related to monkeys? I thought the Schapens’ church was against


“No, Dad,” Lara said with exaggerated patience. “Thanks to Mom

bragging to the whole world about your ancestor coming from France,

everybody knows Grellier is a French name. They were saying we were

surrender monkeys.”

“So Chip felt he had to fight them?” Jim asked.

“I guess.” Lara hunched a shoulder. “It was in senior English, so I

wasn’t there.”

“Where’s Chip? Didn’t he drive you home?”

Lara shook her head. “Mr. Meadows made Hector—e’s the guard,

you know—scort Chip out of the building. Melanie drove me home.”

Jim started to say, “You know you’re not allowed to ride with underage

drivers,” but bit the words off before they came out. Lara didn’t need any

more tension in her life today. Come to think of it, neither did he.

“Your mother’s okay,” he said instead. “They let her off with a fine.

She’s asleep right now, pretty worn-out from a night in jail. Schapen was

mad that they didn’t charge her with a felony, so I guess he rushed home

and got his ma to put this up on their website. It’s mean, it’s petty, but he

only did it because he felt helpless. Can you remember that and try not

to fight the Schapen boys yourself ?”


Lulu gave a wobbly smile. “I guess.”

“You know, Lulu, I’m kind of worn-out myself—hat with worrying

about your mom, I didn’t sleep much last night. All this anger swirling

around is exhausting, too. You want to go into town, get ice cream or a


“Everyone’s staring at us, Dad, staring and talking.”

“I bet the people at Chill! never heard of Arnie Schapen or Susan Grellier;

they’ll give you your hot-fudge sundae without even looking up

from the ice-cream bins.”

“Yeah, okay, I guess,” she muttered: good daughter making a martyr

of herself for her desperate father.

Jim pulled a wry face and went back up to the bedroom to leave a note

for Susan. She was awake, roused by the noise Lulu had made shouting

through the house for Jim, but not moving. She looked at him dully.

When he told her about Chip, she bit her lip and turned her head away

from him on the pillow.

He took her hand again, but inside he felt a hard spot of resentment

toward her: Arnie was a loose cannon, but Susan had played a part

in starting all this, too. “Suze, can you lay off the anti-war stuff for a

while until this school thing and Arnie’s vendetta both calm down?


She stiffened, but after a long pause said, “I won’t go on any marches

or hand out leaflets until I’ve worked off the fine. I’ll get to work on the

sunflower crop tomorrow, but I want to go to K-PAW meetings, Jim. I

think that’s fair.”

It was fair, he supposed, but he wanted her to be generous, to say she’d

leave peace work to the university people who had less to lose. He didn’t

know how to say that to her, though, so he finally just told her he was

taking Lulu into town for ice cream.

When they got home, Lara was calmer. No one at the ice-cream parlor

had shown any signs of knowing the Grelliers had the mark of the beast

on them, so she’d been able to enjoy her hot fudge, and even wave at one

of her classmates, who came in as she and Jim were getting ready to leave.

It was close to six when they got back. Blitz had left and Chip hadn’t

shown up. Jim tried to call his son, but Chip wasn’t answering his cell


phone. Susan had gone back to sleep and left a note asking them not to

wake her. Jim challenged Lara to a game of miniature pool. She went to

bed around ten, happier, but he stayed up, waiting for his son to come


He dozed off in the kitchen and woke with a start when Chip drove

into the yard, his wheels spraying up gravel because he’d taken the turn

too fast. Jim’s neck and knees had frozen from sleeping sitting up; it was

an effort and an agony to get to his feet. As soon as Chip came in, Jim

realized he was drunk.

“Beer never solved any problems I heard of, except cash flow to the

beer companies,” he told his son.

“Yeah, well, write that up on Arnie’s website for him, tell him the

cheese-eating surrender monkey likes beer, not frog wine,” Chip said.

“How come you let Junior get under your skin like that?” Jim asked.

“Jesus Christ, Dad, what planet do you live on? Here’s Mom, hanging

out with those dykes, letting Arnie arrest her ass because—”

“Chip, I know you’re angry, and I know you’re drunk, but do not talk

to me in that language, and do not use it about your mother. Tell me a

simple story about what happened today.”

Chip flushed and swayed, clutching the refrigerator for support. “It’s

her fault for giving me that stupid name. I’ve told her my whole life I

hate it, and all she says is I’d like it if you hadn’t encouraged me to hate it.

Well, nothing would make me like being called after some stupid

Frenchman who was too lazy to do a lick of work on the farm and then

got shot because he was off running a school he had no business at in the

first place.”

He raised his voice to a falsetto, mimicking his mother: “Etienne is a

noble name, with a noble history in your family—he man who gave up

his country to come to Kansas and fight for freedom. Chip! Chip could

be a chip on your shoulder or a chip of paint, not a name you can be

proud of.”

Jim couldn’t help smiling at Chip’s mimicry. “It was Grandpa who

nicknamed you Chip; he said you were a chip off the old block. I guess

that made me proud, so it was what I always called you, not because I

didn’t like your Christian name.”


“Well, I hate it. And without even talking to me, she went and registered

me for school in town as Etienne, so every time I start a new course

I have to tell the teacher to call me Chip, and Mottled—s. Motley, my

English teacher—he won’t. She always calls me Etienne no matter how

many times I ask.

“So today Milt Riley starts yelling ‘Hey, Frenchie’ when I get to

English class. And, honest, Dad, I tried to ignore him. But then fucking

Junior Schapen says, ‘Frenchie, your ma’s a heroine, ain’t she? Will you

sign my copy of the County Herald pretty, pretty please?’

“And then Riley says, ‘She ain’t a heroine, Schapen. She’s a fucking

jailbird!’ And I still didn’t look up, until Junior says, ‘Come on, Frenchie,

autograph the paper for me. I never met a real celebrity before.’ And I

told him not to call me a Frenchie, because our family was farming in

this valley when his people were still humping cows in a shack in


Jim sighed. “You couldn’t just let it go, could you? So what happened—Junior jump you?”

“No.” Chip’s voice was thick with resentment. “Mottled called out in

that nasal voice of hers, ‘Etienne, your discussion is so lively I want you

and Milton to come to the front of the room to share it with the class.’

And then fucking Riley says, ‘Eh-ti-yen,’ like making this huge point

that my name is French, and he says I have such an interesting family history

I should tell it to the class. And then he starts in on Mom, saying she

used to be a Commie when she ran that stupid co-op market and now

she’s like a member of al-Qaeda, and that’s when I lost it.”

“I see.” Jim rubbed his head, wishing he could rub one sensible idea

into it, but all he felt was wool and numbness. “We’re going to have to

think of some way to patch this over until the school year ends.”

“I’m not going back to school. I’m eighteen. You can’t make me.”

Jim squinted up at his son in the dim light. Chip wasn’t only bigger

than he was, he was angrier. Jim couldn’t possibly make him do anything.

“I hate to think a son of mine could be such a coward he couldn’t

face the consequences of his own actions.”

“Think whatever you like. I’m not going back to school.”

“Then you can start doing a day’s work on the farm.”


“And be here day in and day out, with Mom getting wackier by the

minute and you pretending nothing’s wrong? Thanks but no thanks.”

“We’re not going to figure it out in the middle of the night,” Jim

finally said. “But you have to think about it, son, think about a plan for

your life. You can’t spend your nights at the Storm Door getting drunk

and your days in bed. And if you give up on your education now, it’ll be

that much harder to finish later on.”

Chip stared at him, the night swallowing up the hot hurt in his face,

then swung on his heel and went up the stairs to his room, thumping as

loudly as he could in running shoes. The next day, he locked himself in,

refusing to talk to anyone in the family.

On Wednesday, he got up early to drive Lara into school, not talking

to Jim or Susan but telling his sister he was looking for a job. He didn’t

come home that night, didn’t phone. On Thursday, Jim tried Curly and

then Janice, but they both said they hadn’t seen him—lthough Lulu

told him from the way Janice was carrying on at school, she was sure Janice

knew what Chip was doing. That made Jim try to talk to Janice again,

as well as to her parents, but the Everleighs said they didn’t want their

daughter hanging out with a loser like Chip.

At that, Jim lost his temper. “Good. His mother and I don’t think she’s

the right person for him, either. She’s not a help in his life.”

At the end of the week, when Jim and Susan were frantic enough with

worry that they’d reported Chip’s disappearance to Sheriff Drysdale,

Blitz, who had his own sources of information, dragged Curly out to the

farm and made him talk to Jim.

Lara watched them from her bedroom. She saw Blitz go into the

house, leaving Curly standing in the yard, shivering in his windbreaker.

Curly was a small man with a shock of blond hair that grew in a natural

Mohawk, so that even at thirty-two he looked like a teenager. Alone in

the yard, he looked even younger. Lara saw her father come out of the

house with Blitz. The three men went to the barn.

Lara slipped out of the house through the door to the garage. She

hiked across the edge of the wheat field, crossed through the combine

shed, and reached the back end of the barn. There were a couple of places


where boards had come loose from the concrete foundation slab. She

found a gap wide enough to slide through.

When her head and shoulders were inside, she could hear the murmur

of voices but couldn’t make out what they were saying: the men were at

the front of the barn, on the other side of the tractor heads and machining

equipment. Lara slithered all the way inside.

The board made a low snapping, singing sound behind her back, but no

one noticed—arns are always making noises: the wind whipping around

the sides, animals crawling along the rafters. The men hadn’t turned the

lights on, and Lara couldn’t really see, but she tiptoed slowly forward,

hands out, so she’d touch a piece of equipment before she tripped over it.

She heard her father smack his hand on something. “Damn it, Curly!

When I called you on Thursday, couldn’t you tell I was worried sick? I

haven’t slept for five nights. And when the sheriff talked to you, you lied

to him! I don’t even know what to say to you. You’ve been working out

here for, what, nine years now? How could you betray my trust in you?”

And then Curly’s voice, thick with misery: “I promised Chip. I’m

sorry, Jim, but I couldn’t go back on my word. Do you want me to quit?”

A long pause, during which Lara held her breath. Don’ fire him, she

pleaded in her head. Chip’ disappeared. Don’ get rid of Curly, too. And

then her hand came down on a can full of ball bearings and sent them

flying around the barn, a cascade of balls that rattled and banged like a

giant pinball machine. The lights came up in the barn, and she hugged

herself, painfully exposed.

“Lara! What on earth—” her father cried out.

“I’m sorry, Dad,” she wailed. “I wanted to know where Chip was. Did

he join the Marines?”

“Did you know?” Jim yelled. “Are you another one who knew and

didn’t tell me?”

“Don’t, Dad. I don’t know where he went, I only wondered because he

used to have those recruiting pamphlets on his dresser. And I told you

and Mr. Drysdale that I thought Janice knew what he was doing, but she

wouldn’t talk to me. Is that what Chip did? Did he join the Marines? Is

he in Iraq?”


He stared at her for a minute, frightening her with the ferocious look

on his face. She didn’t know that he wasn’t staring at her but at himself:

how could he be the least knowledgeable person in Douglas County

about the people closest to him? He’d never noticed any recruiting pamphlets

in Chip’s room, but Lara had seen them. Blitz noticed that Curly

was hiding news about Chip; Lara was sure Janice knew. Only he, Jim,

had spent the week stumbling around like a blind drunk at the fairgrounds.

Finally he said, in a dry, small voice, “Lulu, don’t stand there in the

dark. Come on over here. And, Curly, I don’t want you to quit. I couldn’t

take it if I had to have a stranger around the place right now. Just tell me

everything you know.”

Curly shuffled his feet, his blond rooster’s comb of hair drooping in

his eyes. “I don’t know much, Jim, honest, but he stopped by that apartment

building out on Sixth Street on Wednesday afternoon—ou know,

that big complex where I been working for my cousin. He showed me his

enlistment papers and said he was on his way to Fort Jackson. That’s in

South Carolina. He told me he’d be sleeping in his car to save money

until he reports to the base. I give him a few twenties so he could get a

motel room along the way. He made me promise not to tell you and

Susan, said he’d call you himself when he got there.”

He glanced at Lara. “He said he’d’ve preferred the Marines, only they

make you take a bunch of tests or something first and he wanted to get

going fast as he could.”

“And did he call you or anything along the road?” Jim demanded.

Curly nodded miserably. “This morning. He called me from South

Carolina to tell me he got there safe and sound and he starts his basic

training Monday morning. He found hisself a pretty cheap room outside

the fort where he’s staying the night. I— got the name wrote down


He started turning out his pockets, looking for the scrap of paper with

Chip’s motel written on it.

Lara felt a cold knot in her stomach. Chip was going to be a soldier.

They’d make him march around in formation when he never even liked

to be told to make his bed or do his homework. No more hiding in the


Fremantle house, smoking dope with Curly, or going to the Storm Door

with his baseball buddies. He’d turn into a stranger, she wouldn’t see him

for years and years, and she’d be alone on the farm with Dad and Mom.

The loneliness terrified her. Mom was hanging out with Gina and the

K-PAW people, and even Dad was acting strange, as though space aliens

had come to live inside his body and make him walk in a funny, jerky

way. What would she do? Who could she talk to?

Curly finally dug out the number, and Jim took it to the house so he

could call Chip. Curly followed him, but Lara stood still next to the big

metal planer, her teeth chattering.

Blitz came over and put his flannel shirt around her. “I know it seems

frightening, but maybe it’ll be a good thing for him. Boy doesn’t know

what he wants to do with his life. The Army might help him sort that out.”

Lara clenched her teeth to stop the sound. Blitz was trying to cheer

her up, which he’d never done before, so she nodded to show she understood,

at least understood the gesture, even if she didn’t understand what

he was saying.

N i n e t e e n


In the middle of May, the Grelliers drove out to Fort Jackson to

watch Chip graduate from basic training. Susan hadn’t wanted to go. She

told Jim she couldn’t lend her presence to an activity of which she disapproved

so strongly.

“You going doesn’t mean you approve of Chip’s choice. It means

you’re his mother and you love him,” Jim said, so angry his knuckles

showed white where he was grabbing the chair back. “I know you hate

this war, but you love our son. He loves you and he needs to see your

face before they send him eight thousand miles away. All those e-mails he

writes, can’t you see he’s scared?”

Susan bit her lip but finally agreed to go. Jim left Blitz in charge of the

farm. For once in a blue moon, they’d had the right mix of rain and sun;

the wheat crop should be outstanding, if the weather held, and Jim knew

he could trust Blitz to make the right decisions if it didn’t.

They spent two nights on the road, going south through Kentucky to

see the caves. Susan stayed in the truck, reading a history of pacifism,

making pointed remarks about turning their son’s dangerous situation

into a pleasure trip. They camped out to save money, and Jim was grateful

for his daughter’s presence in the tent, which precluded any pretense

of marital intimacy.

Lara was both nervous and excited at the prospect of seeing Chip as a

soldier. Her mother was so upset by his enlisting that Lara couldn’t talk

about it at home, but at school she’d become something of a vicarious


heroine for having a brother in the military. Of course, Janice Everleigh

was milking his enlistment all she could, acting like they were married or

something—he went around the halls in his baseball-letter jacket, her

face radiant. Overnight, she’d gone from girlfriend of a loser who fought

in school and got kicked out to the lover of an American patriot.

When they got to the fort, Lara didn’t recognize Chip at first. He

looked so strange, not like himself, in his uniform, with his hair shaved

close to his head. Then he caught sight of them and ran through the

throng of soldiers and families, his eyes wet, and Lara could see he was

homesick and excited that they’d come.

“You’re not mad at me, are you, Dad?”

“Just scared, son. If you’re doing what’s right for you, how can I be

mad? And I’m proud of you for doing it in the service of our country.”

Susan only said, “Oh, Etienne, I’m so sorry,” which could have meant


During the ceremony, Chip held himself rigidly erect, along with the

other recruits, but Lara could tell from the way he licked his lips that he

was scared. It was only then, glancing at her parents, that Lara saw her

mother wearing a prominent button that read mothers against war.

“How could you?” she whispered to Susan, furious. “Take it off !”

“How could he?” Susan whispered back. “If I have to see him carrying

those dreadful weapons, with his beautiful curls shaved off, he can see me

supporting him with this badge.”

The next day, Chip left for advanced infantry training in Oklahoma.

Lara, angry about Susan’s button, refused to speak to her mother during the

drive home. When they reached the farm, Susan threw herself into K-PAW

work, while Lara tended the organic-sunflower seedlings in the greenhouse.

For the first time, on her fifteenth birthday, Lara was allowed to drive

the combine. When she finished her part of the field, Curly grinned at

her and said, “How drunk was you, Lulu, to make those big curves in the

field? Or is that one of your art projects?” But Blitz clapped her on the

shoulder and said she’d done well for a beginner.

Two weeks later, Gina built a new bonfire to celebrate Midsummer

Eve. Susan went to the ceremony without even mentioning it to Jim,

relations between the two had become so strained.


In the weeks before that fire, Lara had watched Susan growing herbs

in the X-Farm greenhouse, Saint-John’s-wort, heartsease, lavender. She

had dried them and tied them up in bundles with red and gold thread.

Lara was having her own fight with Susan, about the fate of the X-Farm.

She was curious about the bundles of herbs but too angry with her

mother for tying up the organic greenhouse with them and neglecting

the sunflower crop—hich was overdue for transplanting to the field—to talk to her about her herb bundles.

Still, at ten o’clock Lara followed her customary route along the tracks

to watch Gina and Autumn set the fire alight. Hiding behind the Fremantles’

big hay barn, Lara watched a parade of women file through the

old apple orchard, each carrying a lantern. They were silent until they

reached the fire, when they stood and faced it and began singing, the

music sweet but distorted by the crackling of the fire. Lara could see her

mother, her face alight with eagerness.

Elaine Logan was there as well, her gigantic bosom unmistakable in

the firelight. Her breasts were so heavy that even the largest sweatshirts

pulled tight across them—er “shelf,” Curly called it. “Think about it,

Lulu, you could rest your coffee cup on it,” he said, making her blush

and giggle.

Ever since Elaine had been arrested with Gina and Susan, she’d started

hitching out to the Fremantles’ two or three times a month. She’d pick

up a ride as far as the train crossing at the county road behind the Grelliers’,

then waddle and puff her way up to the Fremantle place. Once,

when Lara was up on the combine, she actually saw Elaine let herself into

the house.

Autumn or some other Wiccan had given Elaine a ride out tonight

for the midsummer fire. Elaine was already slightly drunk when she got

to the Fremantles’ and in a boisterous mood, hovering between hilarity

and belligerence: she might do anything if she thought the other women

were slighting or ignoring her. Seeing Elaine at the bonfire, face gleaming

in the firelight, Lara hoped she wouldn’t take off her sweatshirt. It was

pink tonight, with the Pink Panther outlined in dark sequins. She had

her head thrown back, laughing loudly at something one of the women

near her was saying.


Before choosing a roost, Lara had scouted the area but hadn’t seen any

sign of Eddie Burton or the Junior Schapen. She lay in the high grass,

watching the ceremony begin. Susan handed out her bundles of herbs;

the women circled the fire, singing and tossing the herbs into the blaze.

Life at home had been so filled with fights lately that Lara had forgotten

how exhilarating her mother could be when she was filled with

enthusiasm. Seeing Susan so ardent made Lara wish she could get up and

join the dance herself, but she knew she’d be self-conscious trying to

move with all those naked women. Besides, if Jim came looking for her,

the way he had in February, he’d be furious to find her taking part.

Lara felt these days as though she were teetering in the middle of a balance

beam: keeping Jim happy meant making Susan angry. Taking

Susan’s part meant upsetting Jim. It was too hard to deal with, so Lara

mostly retreated to practicing the trumpet or working on the X-Farm.

She had a big project, too, for the county fair, monitoring pest levels in

the organic-sunflower crop against state standards for chemically farmed


She dozed off, thinking about her sunflower project, and was roused

by the sound of sirens. Flashing red lights were creating a pulsing glow

like that of the bonfire. Men in fire slickers erupted through the apple

trees, carrying fire extinguishers and other equipment, followed by several

men in sheriff ’s uniforms, including Arnie Schapen. Their radios

were squawking, and between that and the noise of the sirens Lara

couldn’t make out what anyone was saying. She saw Gina, tall and slim,

trying to argue with the men. Elaine joined them. Sometime while Lara

had been napping, Elaine had taken off her sweatshirt, and her huge

breasts surged like the ocean as she spoke. Then Susan came up—mercifully, with all her clothes on—nd apparently began putting in her

two cents. What was Susan saying? Lara wondered. “Don’t you know this

area is the bastion of free speech in America? This is where your ancestors

fought and died to keep America free.”

While Gina and Susan were arguing, the men were dousing the bonfire,

using extinguishers and a dump truck full of sand. The truck had

driven along the road and then cut across the field where Lara was lying.

She hadn’t heard it coming and missed being hit by about a foot.


She backed away from the blaze and crept across the field to the road,

then across the train tracks to her family’s farm. She didn’t want to risk

being seen by Arnie or any of the other deputies.

It was while she was crossing the tracks that she saw Eddie Burton. He

was standing at the edge of the field she’d just crossed, staring at her.

While she looked at him, he started moving his arms and jumping

around. After a few seconds, she realized he was imitating the women at

the bonfire. And then he started shrieking, “They had it coming, didn’t

they? Firemen come. Those women had it coming to them.”

She was horrified that he’d seen her, but something kept her from

being able to turn away from his grotesque pantomime. Suddenly, Junior

Schapen appeared next to him. He put his arms around Eddie, almost as

if he were embracing him, but Eddie pointed at Lara.

Junior started across the road toward her. The sight unglued Lara’s

feet, and she ran through the corn. She could hear Junior pounding after

her, trampling down the stalks, but she was slimmer and faster, and

she knew her way through her own fields to her own farm. When she

reached the main barn, she slipped inside through the loose board at the

back. She waited there in the dark almost an hour, listening to rats and

raccoons snuffling through the rafters, until she heard the pickup pull

into the yard. She crawled back through the board, not wanting to risk

running into all the machines in the barn.

When Lara finally went into the house, Susan was pouring out her

woes to Jim. “I can’t believe Arnie would do such a small-minded, meanspirited

thing. He claimed we were violating some county fire code or

other, he got the volunteer fire departments to come out from Baldwin

and Eudora and had them put out our fire.”

“Susan, you can’t expect me to get outraged on your behalf. I’m tired

of all this witchcraft shit. You’re on the board—” Jim broke off at the

sight of Lara. “Damn it, Lulu! Did you take part in that damned fire?”

She shook her head. “I was just watching. Dad, Junior and Eddie Burton

were there. They saw me, and Junior chased me home.”

She couldn’t bring herself to report anything else, how Eddie’d been

behaving, the strange way Junior had put his arms around Eddie. Jim


went out to look for Junior, but he told Lara that she had herself to thank

for the episode.

“If you’d stayed home like I asked you, you wouldn’t have gotten such

a scare. Maybe this will teach you that I have a good reason for asking

you to do things.”

Lara bit her lip and went up to bed. Both she and Susan felt Jim hadn’t

been sympathetic to them, but when Susan tried to share her own hurt

feelings with her daughter, Lara scowled at her. “I wish you wouldn’t do

weird stuff, Mom. That Elaine Logan, she was about the grossest thing

I’ve ever seen. How can you want to be part of something she’ involved


The next day, she put it all in an e-mail to Chip—t least, all but the

part about Elaine’s giant breasts. She didn’t want Chip joking about

them with his Army buddies. She told him everything else, the bonfire,

how she’d sneaked out to watch it, how she’d seen Junior and Eddie, and

Eddie had chased her home.

Then, next morning, Mom went over to talk to Gina about getting revenge on

Arnie. She had some kind of goofy plan for Sheriff Drysdale to make the

Schapens go through sensitivity training on other religions!!! Like Arnie and

Myra and them would ever think anyone but them was right. And Gina said,

“hat’ an exercise in futility,”in that kind of snotty voice she uses to put

people down.

Chip wrote back to tell Lara to mind her own business. His enlistment

seemed to have evaporated his anger with their mother.

Mom works hard, Lulu, let her play however she wants to. Believe me, I thought

I knew hard work until I joined up. If this is what adult life in the big outside

world is like, maybe I’l want to be a farmer after all. Whatever Gina wants to do,

just ignore it because you’l only get into water over your head. If she thinks

she can take on Myra and Arnie, let her get burned all by herself, okay?

And for Pete’ sake, Lulu, KEEP OUT OF JUNIOR’ WAY. What him and

Eddie do together is their business, unless they start setting fire to the house


or trashing the fields, so don’ go spreading around stories at school, promise

me. Junior is about the meanest person I know. After dealing with Junior

Schapen, believe me I am not afraid of any Iraqi insurgents.

Chip had five days’ leave when he finished his advanced infantry

training at the beginning of July. Most of his time he divided between

Janice and Curly or hanging out with his friends from high school. His

last night at home, though, he took Lara bowling, just her, not Curly,

Janice, or his friends from the baseball team.

They had a pizza at Gianni’s, and Chip said, “Remember, Lulu, you’re

the brainy one. Don’t do like me, running away from home by joining

the Army. You can make your escape by running away to college. And

don’t worry about me. I was the toughest guy in my unit in basic ’cause

none of the others had ever spent seventeen hours on a combine under a

hundred-degree sun. I know how to survive in the heat.”

He hesitated before adding, “Write me, Lulu. Write me every day if

you can. I need to know you guys still remember me.”

It didn’t even occur to Lara to tease him about Janice, who probably

didn’t know how to put a sentence down on paper. Instead, when his

unit reached Iraq she sent him e-mails full of the ordinary news of the


Twe n t y


The day after the county fair ended, Lara e-mailed Chip:

I see it’ like a hundred and twenty in Baghdad, and it’ about that hot here, so

the animals at the fair really suffered. Robbie Schapen camped out all night

with his dairy cow; he even played his guitar to her. Pretty funny, huh? Mom’

pie only came in second this year—he didn’ really pay attention to her baking,

but I got first place for my dress and my organic pest control project.

Junior took part in the hay bale tossing contest, which was a laff riot, because

he’ so full of himself.

Curly, who’d taken Lara that evening, had said, “Junior and his old

man are the kind of guys who love themselves so much they eat their

own shit and like it.” Lara added that in quotation marks, making sure

Chip knew it was Curly speaking, that she wouldn’t say something so

dirty, even if every time she thought it she started to giggle. She knew it

would make Chip laugh, although, come to think of it, Curly had probably

said it to him a million times.

“Anyway, when the platform was fifteen feet high, Junior tossed the

bale and it landed on his head. It knocked him out, but even Big Arnie

could see it happened because Junior was hotdogging. They stopped the

contest for a bit while they made sure Junior was okay, just a little concussed,

but given that his head is pretty solid ear to ear they really should

have checked the hay bale for damage.”


She was hitting the send button when the doorbell rang. Lara

couldn’t place the sound at first, because in the country no one ever went

to the front door or even rang a bell. Not just at their house, but every

house in the valley, people always went in through the kitchen, and

kitchens opened onto the yard—t’s the way farmhouses were built.

Lara didn’t even realize her house had a doorbell until that moment.

When she heard the shrill sound, she thought it was the old black telephone,

the one Gram used to have in her bedroom, because she couldn’t

abide the new, lightweight plastic ones.

Lara went down the hall toward the back bedroom and then heard the

sound again coming from the front door, except, of course, the front of the

house was at the back, at the bottom of the big staircase, which the family

also never used. She ran down the stairs, her hand automatically caressing

the eagle head carved into the newel-post at the bottom. She could see

the outline of two men’s bodies through the white-glass panel, but she

couldn’t wrestle the door open, it had been locked for so many years.

“Come around to the kitchen,” she shouted through a crack along the


She ran through the cold front room. It had been her parents’ bedroom

when Gram and Grandpa were alive, and then Gram’s bedroom when she

got too frail to manage the stairs, but they never used it now. She ran into

the dining room and then the kitchen, where she stood waiting for the

men. As soon as she saw them, in their formal chocolate jackets, covered

with medals and gold buttons, she knew Chip was dead. She didn’t say

anything but started screaming “Dad! Dad!” and ran to the barn, to the

combine shed, to the cornfield, before remembering her father had

announced at breakfast he was working the oat field, two miles distant.

She was so distracted that she started to run along the train tracks that

marked the south boundary of the farm, as if she could run in her flipflops

all the way to the Wakarusa River where the oat field lay, but Blitz,

who’d been irrigating the corn, caught sight of her. He came after her in

the small Cub tractor and scooped her up.

“It’s Chip,” she panted. “I need Dad, they’re from the Army, they’re at

the house.”

Blitz turned the Cub around, heading toward the house.


“No, no,” she shouted, pounding his side. “We have to find Dad.”

“I’m going to do that, Lulu, but I want to get the pickup.’ ”

When she kept pounding him and screaming, he stopped the tractor

and grabbed her arms. “Listen to me, Lulu. We will get there faster in the

truck than in this thing. Stop your yelling. Your dad needs you to be

strong for him, you hear me?”

When they got back to the house, the two men in uniform were still

standing outside the kitchen door. One of them was holding his hat,

turning it around and around in his hands.

Blitz went up to them. “You here about Chip? Chip Grellier?”

And the one playing with his hat said yes, he was Captain Wesson, was

Blitz Chip’s father?

“Mr. Grellier is in another field, about twenty minutes from here. You

sit in the kitchen and wait. This here is his daughter. We’ll find him.”

It was funny, in hindsight, that Lara hadn’t tried to find Mom, who

was just across the tracks in the X-Farm. Maybe Blitz thought of it and

decided it would be better to get Dad first. It wasn’t until they found

Dad and were driving back in the pickup, the three of them squeezed

into the front seat, that Dad asked Blitz where Susan was, did she know

about Chip?

“We don’t know anything yet for sure,” Blitz said.

But of course that was what Captain Wesson and the other man had

come to do, to say they were very sorry, that the Grelliers should be

proud of their son who had given everything for the defense of his country,

but he had been killed when a bomb was detonated on the road he

was patrolling south of Baghdad.

Chip had been in Iraq for twenty-four days. He’d been a soldier for

twenty-three weeks. He wouldn’t even be nineteen until November 6.

Now he was dead.

It took twelve days for his body to come home. First it went to Germany,

then to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, then to Kansas City,

where the family picked up his body. The process stunned them all: they

assumed he’d be in a real coffin, and that someone would be standing at

attention on the tarmac to welcome his body home. Instead, he’d been

stuffed into a metal box in the hold of a cargo plane, and the family had


to fill out a bunch of forms and drive around to the back of the airport to

collect him, picking his coffin out of a jumble of giant containers holding

tractor parts and milk cartons. Fortunately, Blitz had driven over

with them. Dad could never have managed everything on his own.

The Army said he could be buried in a military cemetery, but Dad

and Mom wanted him to come home, to be buried next to all the other

Grelliers, starting with little Lizzie, 1852 to 1855, “The Shepherd has

gathered up His Lamb and carried her to His bosom,” her gravestone read.

Lara had often read the faded inscription when they’d gone to put

flowers on her grandparents’ graves, the graves of her dad’s parents. The

graves didn’t mean anything to her: Dad’s mother and father died when

he was nine, so of course Lara never knew them. Even the later graves,

for Grandpa and Gram, didn’t make Lara particularly sad. They’d been

so old when she was little, they hardly seemed part of the same species

that she and Chip belonged to.

But now Chip was going to be in the ground. For the rest of Lara’s life

he would be lying there, all alone in the dirt. He’d been her big brother,

he’d frightened her and teased her, but he’d protected her from bullies,

and given her a canary for Christmas the year she broke her heart over

one of the farm cats getting run over by the tractor. And now she’d get

older than him. He’d be eighteen, going on nineteen, for the rest of his

life. But unless she joined the Army, and went to Iraq and got blown to

bits, she’d be old someday, old like Gram. The whole thought made her

insides come together, as if her heart had disappeared and her chest collapsed

in on itself.

The Army provided an honor guard at the funeral but couldn’t give

them a bugler to play taps—here weren’t enough to go around, Captain

Wesson said, even though Fort Leavenworth was only thirty miles away.

Captain Wesson said he’d provide a CD they could play at the graveside,

but all the Grelliers, and Blitz and Curly, too, agreed that would be disrespectful

of Chip to have a recording instead of real music, so Lara, wearing

the blue seersucker suit that she’d made for last year’s county fair,

with panty hose over her scraped knees, stood above her brother’s body

and played taps on her trumpet.

Pa r t Two


Twe n t y - O n e


Jesus wants us to be pure,

Jesus wants us for His own.

Save that burning love,

Take it to the Savior’ throne!

Burn, baby, burn,

Burn with the fire of righteousness.

Burn, baby, burn,

Catch on fire with Jesus’love.

That perfect love

Everlasting love

Catch on fire

Catch on fire

Catch on fire with Jesus’love!

The sound crashed through the gym floorboards and ran up everyone’s

legs. Crotches tingled, ached, the dancing grew wilder, strobes

chased each other faster across the walls, so that the thrusting, sweating

bodies looked like parts of a machine moving so wildly the pieces would

fly off.

Robbie tucked his grin behind a blank stare, nodded at Chris Greynard

on drums, prolonged the chorus another three minutes. They were hot.

Becoming the Archetype and Sons of Thunder couldn’t match them.


“Thank you, Jesus, thank you for the shower of your love,” he sang,

slowing down the tempo. “Your Spirit’s here, it’s in us, send us out into

the world to do your work!”

He softened the chords. Behind him, Chris moved from drums to

xylophone, and the kids in the crowd started singing along with them. It

was ten-thirty; Pastor Nabo would be turning up the lights in another

minute. “Send us out into the world in love, help us do your work in

love.” This was the traditional farewell song for the Full Salvation Bible

Church Christ-Teen Group. Robbie thought it was corny, but he loved

to lose himself in the chords and the crooning harmonies.

The lights came on and the crowd gathered in a large, sweaty circle,

holding hands. Pastor Nabo joined the circle, taking the hands of two

unpopular girls who came every Thursday in the hopes of attracting

notice, even from overweight, sweaty guys like Neal Grafton. But Neal,

of course, drooled after the peppy, popular girls in the group. Pastor

Nabo always went out of his way to notice the two girls, who came early

to mix Kool-Aid and iced tea for the rest of them and baked cookies for

everyone at Christmas.

“Jesus!” the pastor intoned. “Pour down your Spirit on these young

people, keep them pure in heart, mind, and deed in the week ahead.

They live in a world of great temptation, Jesus, a world filled with drugs

and abortion, homosexuality and false teachers, where Satan is holding

sway. Satan has come among us in person, Lord. Satan is holding orgies

not five miles from here. Keep these young people from giving in to him,

help them remember that a moment’s pleasure here on earth is repaid by

an eternity of torment in the just fires of hell.”

Robbie knew that his father had made a big fuss about the women living

in the old Fremantle place and that he had just about burst his

deputy sheriff ’s uniform with pride when he got the Eudora fire department

to come put out their bonfire in June. Of course it was wrong, it

was wicked, to indulge in witchcraft, like Gina Haring did, but Robbie

still felt angry with his father for bragging to Pastor Nabo about how he’d

made fools of the witches. Why couldn’t Arnie have left them alone? Lara

Grellier’s mother had been at the Midsummer Eve bonfire, and now

there was one more reason why Lara hated him.


“At the same time, Lord, you have given us a sign,” Pastor was saying.

“A sign here in the heartland, where a saving remnant remains true to

your Word. Your disciples questioned if any good thing could come out

of Nazareth, and so it is today with Kansas. A nation of liberals and

sodomites ridicules us for holding fast to the Bible, but we shall confound

them, as the Nazarene confounded His disciples, because you

have sent your sign to us here in Kansas, even in a manger!”

The pastor’s voice choked with emotion. Robbie shifted his feet

uneasily. Pastor was talking about Soapweed’s calf. She was ten months

old, and she was still completely red, from her forelock to her hooves, so

the Jews had given her a Hebrew name, Nasya, which they said meant

“miracle.” Most of the kids around him knew about Nasya—r Nassie,

as Robbie thought of her—t had been impossible to keep her existence

secret. As soon as the elders saw the heifer, they told their wives, the talk

became common around the tables of Full Salvation Bible Church members,

and pretty soon everyone in the county knew about it. Robbie had

even heard whispered comments at the county fair.

Right after the fair ended, the Douglas County Herald sent a reporter

out to the Schapen farm to follow up on the rumors. Robbie knew his

father had been tempted to show off the red heifer; once or twice a week,

Arnie speculated out loud on how much money they’d get if the heifer

was still flawless when she turned three. And if she wasn’t flawless, all the

more reason to start making money on her now, charging admission so

folks could see her, even advertising the special quality of milk that came

from her mother and the other cows on the farm.

However, the Herald sent out a woman reporter, and Arnie wouldn’t

run the risk of the woman polluting the heifer. Perhaps it was the time of

her impurity, Robbie intoned to himself as his father talked it over inside

the house with Myra while the reporter cautiously approached the cows

grazing behind the milking barn.

Myra thought they should seize the opportunity for publicity, but

Arnie disagreed. Arnie said the Jews would find out in a heartbeat that

he’d let a woman not only look at Nasya but write about her.

“If God is speaking through us, as the Jews seem to think, we can’t risk

alienating Him.”


“And since when have a bunch of Jews told a good Christian woman

what to do in her own home, on her own farm? Jesus came to free us

from Jewish law, and, here you are, kowtowing to it as if our Savior had

never shed His blood for you. I’m starting to question your salvation,

Arnold, you taking those men’s word over that of your own mother,”

Myra snapped.

Listening to the two of them shout, Robbie realized his father was

afraid of Nanny. It was a sad and humiliating thought that this big, blustering

man who frightened Robbie felt small in front of Nanny.

The argument finished with Arnie, breathing hard, telling the

reporter the story about the calf was just a rumor. “Some kids got hold of

a wild tale and they’re pulling your chain, miss.”

The reporter still hung around for another half hour, photographing

cows, which made Arnie happy because it would help the farm if the Herald

ran a story on his herd. She finally left when Junior, getting bored,

went out to the pasture and came back with a bucket of manure that he

spilled on her shoes, apologizing with an ugly grin for his clumsiness.

The Jews, dressed in long black coats even in the middle of the July and

August heat, had come every month to inspect Soapweed’s calf. Robbie

had finally learned their names. The short one, who seemed to be the main

spokesman, was called Reb Ephraim. One of the tall, stout ones, Reb Meir,

didn’t speak much, but he seemed to be the leader of the trio, while Reb

Gamliel did the main inspection, getting down on a rubber mat to look

at Nassie’s vulva. Reb Meir always questioned Arnie about who had

access to the heifer, stressing that women must not be allowed near her.

Arnie loved the injunction against women. “You know, if your mother

were around, that calf would have been made impure before it was twelve

hours old. The Lord has a plan for everything that happens in our lives,

and now I see He sent that clothes salesman to seduce Kathy because He

was paving the way for our household to be worthy to receive the calf.”

Arnie had said this a million or two times since the first visit by the

men from the Bet HaMikdash Yeshiva in Kansas City. It was hard for

Robbie to believe the Lord took Kathy away from her children just so

they could make money from a calf. Sorry, Lord, but I wish my mother

still lived here. Or that she’ taken me with her. He wondered, as he often


did, what he’d done as a small boy to get his mother so angry that she up

and left, abandoning him to Myra and Arnie.

The day after the Herald reporter came out, Robbie was working the

sorghum field, across the road from the Grelliers’ experimental farm. He

saw Lara wandering through her sunflower crop. Robbie hadn’t heard

about Chip’s death; he only thought Lara looked forlorn, in need of

comfort. In his head, Robbie sauntered across the road, suave, cool; Lara

looked up, her face alight with pleasure; he mentioned the reporter and

the calf; she laughed and said she would never betray any of Robbie’s

secrets, not even for a chance to be on American Idol.

In reality, watching her, he turned the tractor too sharply. The harrow

swung wide into the drainage ditch, almost toppling the tractor. Robbie

leaned forward, opening the throttle and turning the wheel hard. For a

hair-raising instant, he thought he was going to have to jump clear of

the tottering Case and hope for the best, but after a horrible few seconds

the machine righted itself, and he was able to pull the harrow out of the

ditch. Beneath his sunburn, his face had been hot with mortification; he

hadn’t even risked a look across the road to see how Lara had reacted to

his clumsiness. As it was, he had to endure a searing lecture from Myra

and his father for bending a harrow blade and damaging the end of three

rows of sorghum, while Junior made fun of him for days.

Robbie wondered for the first time if his mother had run off to get

away from Myra, rather than because she didn’t love him, Robbie, any

longer. He wished he knew where she’d gone. He’d Googled her at

school, but he didn’t know the last name of the man she’d run off with

and his searches didn’t turn up any Kathy Schapens. When his dad said

that God had sent the clothing salesman to seduce Kathy as part of His

plan, Robbie did venture to ask the man’s name, but Arnie demanded to

know whether Robbie wanted to follow his mother down the road of

fornication and everlasting torment.

“He’s not a Schapen, you might as well face it,” Myra said viciously,

taking out on Robbie her anger over being barred from the heifer.

Afterward, Robbie had gone into the bathroom and stared at himself

in the small, wavery mirror, wondering if the clothing salesman was

really his father. It was true, he didn’t look like Arnie or Junior, but when


he pulled his precious pictures of Kathy from the underside of his dresser

drawer he didn’t seem to look like her, either.

His mother’s hair was dark, like his, but curled, where his was straight

and spiky. Arnie was mostly bald now, but the hair he had was tightly

curled, as was Junior’s, reddish gold hair that on Arnie had deepened to a

rusty brown. In one photo, Kathy had scraped the curls back from her

face, so Robbie was able see her round, soft cheeks. His own face was

long and narrow compared to hers.

“Make these children worthy of the Lamb.”

With a guilty start, Robbie came back to the present, to the big meeting

room at Full Salvation Bible, the sweaty bodies around him, girls

clad modestly in knee-length skirts and blouses or sweaters that didn’t

reveal any cleavage. He thought of Lara Grellier’s nipples poking through

the thin fabric of her tank top when he’d sat behind her in Chip’s Nissan.

It was hard to believe that Chip Grellier was in hell, although he had to

be because the Grelliers weren’t true Christians. But Chip had been a

hero, a patriot, he hadn’t just ranted about loving his country, he’d gone

to Iraq and died to prove he loved America.

Make an exception for him, Jesus, he shed his blood just like you did, Robbie

prayed silently while Pastor Nabo continued out loud, “Make them

worthy to receive the miraculous harbinger you have given of your

imminent coming. Protect them, seal them as yours, so that they may

spend eternity with the blessed. We ask this, Lord, in the name of your

Son, who taught us to pray—”

Robbie recited the Lord’s Prayer with the kids around him, who

hugged and kissed and began sorting into groups of three or four, the

ones dating, the ones sharing rides home. One of the girls who’d been

holding Pastor Nabo’s hand had a crush on Robbie; she lingered while he

and Chris went up on the stage to pack their equipment. Robbie tried to

ignore her. Amber Ruesselmann was a hardworking, pious girl; Myra

thought she would do him good. Amber carried her Bible with her in

school and read it endlessly during study hall or break. She’d made Robbie

a batch of brownies for his birthday last March.

“You don’t deserve a good Christian girl like Amber, but she might

save you from Satan,” Myra sometimes said.


“What about Junior?” Robbie demanded. “He’s never had a girlfriend

and he’s eighteen. Isn’t it time he showed me a good example?”

But Myra said Junior was saving himself for marriage, without explaining

why Robbie couldn’t be doing the same thing. He sometimes wondered

if she could read his thoughts, knew he was interested in Lara.

He’d written a poem to Lara, or at least for her, after he learned about

Chip’s death, but he’d never had the courage to send it to her.

He realized Amber had been talking to him, but he had been so lost in

his daydreams that he hadn’t heard her.

“I thought maybe you’d like to join a prayer session at school tomorrow,”

Amber repeated.

“Nope,” Robbie said, then, noticing Pastor Nabo was listening in,

added, “My grandmother says when a man and a woman are alone

together, Satan is always present as an uninvited guest. Let’s not take

chances, Amber.”

Pastor Nabo nodded approvingly, but Amber flushed to the roots of

her mousy hair, embarrassed by even the suggestion of sex. Behind her

and the pastor, Chris Greynard made an obscene pumping gesture. Robbie

bent quickly to tie his shoe so that neither Amber nor Pastor could

see his inadvertent grin.

“Come on, Schapen,” Chris called to him. “Time for cowboys to get

home to beddy-bye so they can get up bright and early and milk their

prize Jerseys.”

Robbie wouldn’t turn sixteen until next March so he couldn’t drive at

night, but Chris Greynard had celebrated his birthday in August and

could drive both of them. Things were way better than they used to be

when he had to depend on Dad or, worse, Junior, to come get him.

I longed to hold her,

Bring her comfort in the night.

I longed to hold her,

Help her come into the light.

He sang the refrain to his song for Lara under his breath as Chris

turned north onto Alabama Street, heading toward Highway 10.


“She’s ready and waiting for you,” Chris said.

“She is?” Robbie faltered, his heart pounding. “How do you know?”

“Come on, man, why do you think she was inviting you to pray with

her—he chance to wrestle with the devil for your immortal soul?”

“Oh. Amber, right.” For one heart-stopping moment, somewhere

between fear and desire, he’d thought Lara had talked to Chris about


“So who do you want to comfort in the night, man? When’d you start

writing love songs, anyway?”

“It’s all about love, dude,” Robbie answered. “Isn’t that what they’ve

been telling us our whole lives?”

Twe n t y - Two


Board Meeting Minutes,

New Haven Manor September 29

old business

New Haven executive director Michael Nilsson reported to the

board that Elaine Logan set fire to the building on Labor Day (see

September 8 “New Business” minutes). The fire was quickly extinguished,

and no one was injured, but Mr. Nilsson explained that

Elaine Logan was intoxicated, in contravention of New Haven rules;

she has been warned twice before that the third episode would result

in expulsion.

The board discussed alternative placements, but Ms. Logan refused

to go into a detoxification program, which all housing options similar to

New Haven require. She collects a monthly Social Security check of

$220; Rachel Carmody appealed to the Riverside United Church of

Christ to supplement this with enough money to rent Ms. Logan a

room in a regular rooming house. Ms. Logan stayed there for only three

nights. She has been seen begging on Massachusetts Street and in South

Park. After a long discussion, the board agreed that until Ms. Logan

agrees to a detox program and commits to sobriety, we can’t house her.

Three days ago, a Ms. Gina Haring, who is renting the old Fremantle

house east of town, reported that Ms. Logan has been hanging around


her property. Rachel Carmody agreed to drive out to talk to both


other old business

KU pathologist Bill Picking traced the recent shigella outbreak to

a food handler, who has been fired for ignoring posted hygiene standards.

Driving between the rows of sorghum and corn, Rachel Carmody felt

insubstantial. The fields were dry and the crops close to maturity, but to

her untrained eye the rust-colored sorghum heads and weathered tan

cornstalks appeared dead. She drove this route several times in the summer

when she came out to the Grelliers’ farm market, but today it looked

unfamiliar, even ominous.

The sky was the color of lead. It stretched taut above the fields, like a

tent covering the prairie, keeping out air. With her car windows down—the air conditioner had failed last month, and she was trying to save

money by not repairing it until next summer—he roar of the wind

across the plants was so loud it drowned the radio. Although it was the

middle of September, the heat still had the closeness of high summer.

Rachel had a disturbing vision of the birds that hovered over the

sorghum flying skyward and dashing their brains against the leaden sky.

Teenage horror stories were compounding her dread of the errands she


The boys in her English classes, obsessed by war and horror games,

often produced phantasmagoric scenes of zombies, werewolves, and other

monsters in their school writing. No matter what the topic, whether fiction

or nonfiction, she could count on a dozen dramas involving wizards

and demons from the boys; the girls tended to write about world peace

and harmony. The year the Lord of the Rings dominated the movie world,

she read endless accounts of Orcs and Sauron terrorizing the world until

some brave Kansas boy brought them to their knees.

She’d just finished marking the first hundred fifty essays of the new

school year on the topic “If I were in charge for a day” and found three


that told her, “If I ran the government for a day, I would muster an army

of Orcs to destroy all the Muslims.”

Most kids facing that topic assumed they would be in charge of the

United States, although a few wrote about running the school. Lara

Grellier had turned in one sentence: “If I were in charge for a day I would

oblitterate this whole sorry planet to save everyone the bother of destroying

it one person at a time.”

Rachel had marked it D, and added: “Lara, we both know you understand

the assignment and that you can do better work. I don’t object to

the sentiment, but to your laziness in not working it out. See me to discuss

a second chance at this topic. Also, even for a one-sentence submission,

use spell-check.”

Rachel pulled over to let a dump truck pass her. Its wheels spat gravel

into her windshield. How did the pioneers stand it, that vast expanse of

prairie, where plants grew higher than the tallest man’s head, and land and

sky and wind blurred into a ball of gray noise? Just driving through it, dust

billowing around her, Rachel felt disoriented. But families like the Grelliers

and the Schapens had built farms here when there weren’t roads, the women

washing clothes in tubs they filled with water obtained at great hardship.

One winter, for the church’s study group, Susan Grellier had made a

presentation on Jim’s pioneer ancestors. She’d put up clippings from the

old territorial newspapers on some of the great events of the day: how

pro-slavery men poured into Kansas and threatened judges and killed

settlers so that pro-slavery candidates won elections; John Brown and

the Pottawatomie Massacre; Quantrill’s raids. Then, to show daily life

against this backdrop, Susan read from Jim’s great-great-grandmother’s

diary, where Abigail Grellier recounted how Mrs. Fremantle checked to

see if Abigail’s linens were white and ironed.

Sitting at the crossroads south of the tracks, Rachel noticed a small,

hand-lettered sign pointing left to the open prairie dairy, open daily

10 to 4. She knew the Schapens lived close to the Grelliers, but she’d

never known exactly where they were. She craned her neck, looking for

the Schapen house, but the sorghum field and high grasses in the ditches

blocked any of the buildings from her view. Every now and then a car

came north down the county road and turned toward the dairy.


Junior Schapen had been a tiresome boy, the worst kind of student:

ignorant, unprepared, and arrogant. He’d assumed that his status on the

football team exempted him from classwork, and Rachel had endured

more than one belligerent visit from the coach, demanding that she raise

Junior’s grade from an F to a C. When she compromised on a D, she’d

felt filthy for betraying her own sense of integrity; even so, the coach had

treated her to another tirade, as had Junior’s father, dressed in his

deputy’s uniform, and nearly threatening her with arrest for messing

with Junior’s chance to go to college: even Tonganoxie Bible College,

where Junior ended up, had some minimal admission standards.

When she saw another Schapen on her class roster this fall, Rachel had

been dismayed, but at least at first blush Robbie seemed like a different

kind of boy, skinny, shy, interested in poetry.

“If I were in charge for a day, I would make everyone stop what they

were doing to sing a song, any song, not in harmony or unison, just sing.

By the time they finished singing, they would be so filled with happiness,

they would stop trying to hurt each other.” He had appended a second

page, called “A song I wrote”:

Her hair shone silver

Under the prairie sun.

Her lips burned with fever

As she lay alone at night.

Her tears gleamed

Like diamonds through the mist

When they laid her poor dead soldier

Laid him in the dust

“Please tell me, is this any good? Is it okay to rhyme mist with dust?”

he had added.

It was derivative, a country-and-western song, but it had some grace

as well. She’d wondered idly who he was writing for, who he was too shy

to show his song to. Rachel’s experience of adolescents was that they

wrote about the particular, people or things they knew, not abstractions.

Chip was the only Lawrence student who had died in the war. From


the poem, Rachel wondered if Robbie had a secret crush on Janice Everleigh,

Chip’s old girlfriend. Janice was studying business systems, whatever

that meant, at a community college in Kansas City. She still came to

the high school’s football games, driving Chip Grellier’s old Nissan and

draped in his baseball-letter jacket.

Rachel had always thought Janice was too superficial for someone like

Chip Grellier, and surely even more so for a boy like Robbie, with his

hankering for poetry. Now, sitting at the crossroads with the Grelliers in

front of her and the Schapens to the left, Rachel wondered if Robbie had

been writing to Lara Grellier. They must have grown up together out

here, gone to that boarded-up little school she’d passed at the turnoff

from Highway 10.

Rachel was frankly worried about Lara. Until this fall, Lara had always

been part of a crowd of kids, both in Sunday school and at high school.

She’d been a leader in the church youth group, a good student in school,

the kind of bright, fresh-faced girl who made adults smile. Since her

brother’s death, she’d dropped out of choir, didn’t come to Sunday

school, and was doing abysmal course work.

Lara had been working the Grellier booth at the farmers’ market in

town last Saturday. Rachel went up to the table just as another woman

asked Lara how her mother was.

My mother? Don’t you mean Chip’ mother? Susan Grellier has taken

to her bed. I haven’t seen her for days.” Lara’s face blazed with a scorching

anger, the kind of anger kids use to suppress tears. “She’s stopped eating.

Maybe she’ll starve to death.”

Since the start of school, Susan had been in church only once. She’d

appeared emaciated, her face white under its bridge of freckles, her redbrown

mop of curls limp and unwashed. It looked to Rachel as though

Jim had practically carried her into the pew.

Even the experimental farm, which Lara had shown off when Rachel

came out in June to buy early tomatoes, was suffering. The sunflowers,

heads all facing east, bowed under the weight of their seeds. The field was

full of blackbirds, rising and swirling as they attacked the seeds, and the

plants looked bedraggled, as if they weren’t getting enough water.

“Your car break down? Oh, it’s you, Ms. Carmody.”


Rachel squawked. She’d been so lost in thought she hadn’t noticed the

man approaching the car. After a moment’s panic, when she tried to figure

out if she could drive away with him leaning into the car, she realized

it was Blitz Fosse. She hardly knew him, except as the man who cleared

the teachers’ parking lot during heavy snowstorms. She knew he sometimes

worked for the Grelliers, but she hadn’t recognized him out of the

context of school.

She smiled weakly, her heart still pounding. “I’m avoiding some hard

errands, that’s all.”

“They must be hard: I watched you sit there for ten minutes, looking

like a kid called to the principal’s office.”

“Yes, I’m a terrible coward.” She knew he was teasing, but she spoke

seriously. “I don’t have the right skills to be a teacher. I love poetry and

literature, but that’s not enough—ou have to be able to stand up to

abuse and backbiting. I don’t like having to fight people.”

“Being able to hit people between the eyes is an overrated skill.”

“If I were as strong as you, maybe I’d believe that.”

“If you were as strong as me, you’d have a different set of problems.

Every John Wayne wannabe tries to push you into a fistfight.”

She finally smiled. “Okay, I can believe that. Are you spending a lot of

time with the Grelliers? I’m worried about Lara.”

“I work for Jim every year until we bring in the corn. Repairing equipment

for the school board is something I do between harvest and planting,

not the other way around. Didn’t you know that?”

She shook her head, ashamed at her own ignorance. “I’ve lived in

Lawrence for twelve years, but I’ve never figured out how to tap into the

communal gossip spring.”

He jumped back to her previous comment. “Worried about Lara


“I’m her Sunday school teacher as well as her English teacher. She’s

not coming to church, which is between her and her parents, but she’s

doing close to failing work in most of her classes, and she hasn’t kept her

appointments with me.”

“I wondered, way she’s been carrying on. Of course, the whole family’s

in trouble—ou know that if you know them from your church.”


“Yes.” She looked at him squarely. “Last week at the farmers’ market,

Lara said her mother stopped eating. How is Susan functioning out here?”

He hesitated. “It’s not my business to pry into their business,” he

finally said. “If you want to talk to Lulu—ara—’m not sure she’s

home. I could be wrong, but I thought I saw her take off across the fields

awhile back. If you want to talk to her folks about her—ell, Jim’s carrying

a heavy load right now. If Lulu is screwing up, it’ll just be one more

thing he probably can’t do much about.”

“I like him, too,” Rachel said. “I have to see Gina Haring, anyway.

She’s upset because a homeless woman she sort of befriended is hanging

around her house.”

His thick brows shot up in surprise. “Why should you drive all the

way out here because of that? Let Haring sort it out—he’s capable of just

about anything, from where I look.”

“Oh, she’s sort of a problem child. Not Gina, the woman. Elaine

Logan. I’m on the board of a home where Elaine was living; we had

to throw her out because she was setting the place on fire. Not on

purpose—assing out while smoking. We feel some responsibility for

her.” She mustered a smile. “Congregationalists don’t support a cult of

the Virgin Mary, but I’m beginning to think I was dedicated at birth to

Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility. I’m tired of it, but I agreed to talk

to Gina. I’m hoping that between us, we can come up with some inspiration

about Elaine. Afterward, I’ll stop back by the Grelliers’. If Lara’s

back, I’ll have a word with her about her classes.”

His dark face relaxed into a grin. “No wonder you’re looking like a

dog facing a burning hoop. Angry teenager and an ice queen in the same

afternoon. That does take courage. Even if you were as strong as me, you

couldn’t punch your way through those encounters. Still, you don’t mind

people knowing you’re afraid, so you’re already ahead of the game.”

He stepped back into the road, hesitated again, then leaned once more

through the window. “Lulu needs to know how proud Chip was of her


He slapped the roof of her car and waved her on her way.

Twe n t y - T h r e e


A battered blue Ford stood in the Fremantles’ drive, but when

Rachel went to the kitchen door she didn’t get an answer to her knock.

She stood for several minutes, listening, thinking, at least she’d tried to

see Gina, she could turn around now. But after knocking twice more, she

pulled open the door and stepped into the kitchen.

The room was almost bare, as if Gina never ate or cooked. An enamel

table, its white surface chipped and creased with knife scratches, stood

under the window. It held only a handful of ripe tomatoes and the big

cappuccino maker, which Rachel had heard about from Lara Grellier

back in the spring when Lara was still a lively, engaged teenager. An oldfashioned

industrial clock, dating to Mrs. Fremantle’s days as a bride,

seventy years ago, ticked loudly in the still room in counterpoint to a

drip from the rusted kitchen faucet.

“Hello?” Rachel called. “Gina?”

There were five doors in the kitchen, two leading outdoors and three

into the interior. Rachel had been in the house a few times before, most

memorably when Mrs. Fremantle let Susan Grellier run a tour of its Civil

War history. What stood out in Rachel’s mind was not the layout of the

house, but the mud-floored cellar, where Una Fremantle and her children

hid from Quantrill’s raiders in 1863.

Rachel started with the door farthest to her left. This led to the dining

room; she stuck her head in and called hello again, more boldly this

time. When no one answered, she tried the second door, which opened


onto the cellar stairs, a set of planks, really, roughly nailed into steeply

rising open stringers.

Rachel shut the door quickly, remembering all too well the giant spiders

from the tour she’d taken. “Harmless,” Susan had assured her, but

Rachel didn’t believe any spider the size of her palm could be harmless.

The third door led to a narrow stairwell, where chunks of plaster had

disappeared from the walls, exposing the lath. Rachel heard a scrabbling

sound, like papers being dropped, or mice running through leaves. She

wondered if Gina were up there, sitting silent, waiting for her to leave.

Her face grew hot. How dared Gina call, demanding help from New

Haven’s board, and then hide from her? She turned to leave, but had a

sudden vision of herself offering houseroom to Elaine Logan, not out of

charity, but out of cowardice, because she hadn’t been able to face Gina

Haring. She laughed nervously and started up the stairs, pausing halfway

to listen again.

“Hello!” she shouted. “This is Rachel Carmody, Gina. You asked me

to come out here, remember?”

This time she heard a kind of thud, something being dropped. She

ran the rest of the way up. The long hallway at the top offered another

array of doors. She turned to her right and started flinging them open.

The rooms beyond hadn’t been used in months, maybe years, judging by

the thick dust on the floors and furniture. A narrow-gauge model train

covered the floor in one of the side rooms, but it, too, was heavy with

dust. Only the master bedroom showed signs of use, the unmade bed

presumably the place where Gina slept. The floor in here was more or

less clean, but you’d have to dust every day to keep up with the dirt floating

in from the fields and the gravel road. The house showed no signs of

someone who dusted every day.

Gina had left a blue-striped nightshirt in the middle of the floor. It

looked expensive, like all Gina’s clothes—ombed cotton, maybe, or

silk—omething Rachel couldn’t afford. She almost bent to pick it up,

then thought Why should I be her maid and moved on through the closet

that connected to another unused room, this one stacked high with old

magazines and papers. A limp tarlatan prom dress hung from the closet

door. Here the dust had been disturbed by someone—ina?—orting


through the boxes of papers. She’d dumped ones she didn’t want on the


Rachel left the room through a far door, past a door leading to the

steep attic stairs. She called up the stairs and even climbed a few risers,

but the heat up there shimmered down on her, at least twenty degrees

hotter than the rest of the house, and she saw wasps at the top, like small

parachutes floating on the currents of hot air. Not even Gina would hide

from her up there.

As she turned away, she suddenly thought of Elaine Logan. Why

hadn’t that occurred to her sooner? Gina might have left the house, gone

into town with some friend, which would explain why her car was in the

yard and she wasn’t home. Elaine could have walked in, helped herself to

the house. It would be totally typical of her, and typical of her as well

to think she should run off and hide when she heard Rachel calling.

Bracing herself against the heat and the wasps, Rachel forced herself to

go all the way to the top of the attic stairs. She kept her hands defensively

on her head and peeped underneath her arms. The attic was full of boxes,

old baby furniture, the thready remnants of onions from the days when

bulbs were hung from the rafters to dry. She didn’t see Elaine, or anyone

else, and ran thankfully down the stairs, shutting the door with a thump

and brushing imaginary insects out of her scalp.

There was one last bedroom just past the attic door. This was clearly

the most important room to Gina, the one where she was writing. A laptop

was set up on an old side table; next to it were stacks of papers and

books. She’d even piled them on a daybed that stood under the east window.

In contrast to the other rooms, even the bedroom where she was

sleeping, here Gina had scrubbed the walls and the floor.

Much of the faded floral wallpaper had peeled from the walls. On one

bare patch of plaster, some bygone Fremantle had written differential

equations in a tiny hand. Next to these, Gina had hung a poster-sized

photograph of a woman with long dark hair, inscribed, “Gina, This is

what a Wiccan looks like.” The woman was smiling so intimately that

Rachel was discomfited, as if she had walked in on someone’s bedroom.

She turned away, but as she left the room movement out the east window

caught her eye. Beyond the apple trees stood the heap of charred,


weathered boards that had once been the Fremantle hands’ bunkhouse.

Someone was out there in the wreckage—achel could just make out a

figure through the trees.

She ran back down the narrow stairs to the kitchen and out the south

door. The earth was rough, untended, beneath the high grasses, and she

stumbled in her low-heeled classroom shoes. She slowed down to keep

from hurting her ankles.

When she reached the ruins, Rachel found Gina Haring stabbing at

what was left of the roof with a long board. She turned when Rachel

came up, but didn’t stop what she was doing. Rachel stood well away

from the overhanging beams—hey looked unstable, and Gina’s poking

seemed singularly inept.

“I’m Rachel Carmody,” she finally said as Gina kept slamming the

board against the remains of the roof.

“Hang on a minute. I’ve almost got this piece.”

Gina shoved several more times. A section of roof tumbled down,

landing with a sighing thud among the weeds and charred wood inside

the house. Both women jumped as a family of rabbits scurried from the


Gina dropped her long board and stood panting. She had on heavy

work gloves, a T-shirt with the sleeves cut off at the armholes, and old

jeans, but she still made Rachel feel dowdy. It was something in the way

she held herself, perhaps, or the way her hair was cut, curling back from

her face into a perfect oval at the nape of her neck. Her arms in the

sleeveless tee were tanned and sinewy.

“Jim Grellier warned me not to go into the ruin of the bunkhouse

because the roof was unstable,” Gina said.

“So you’re taking off the roof. I guess that makes sense. What do you

want it for—ore firewood?”

Gina looked startled. “Who are you? Have you come to lodge another

complaint about the bonfires? I can’t believe how much attention people

out here pay to each other’s every move! In New York, if I set a fire in the

street no one would notice, and there’d be two million people around me.”

“You wouldn’t believe how little I care about anyone else’s business. I

only heard about your bonfires because of Susan Grellier. She was trying


to explain them to me after church one Sunday—he loved the ritual,

but some of the church’s board thought even for an open and inclusive

church, a pagan ceremonial was going too far. There was quite a debate

at the meeting, and Susan was describing what went on. I’ve never felt

free enough to experiment with New Age ceremonies, but Susan

embraces change. Used to,” Rachel amended sorrowfully, “until life dealt

her the kind of change that no one wants to embrace.”

“Her son’s death, you mean. People blame me for that,” Gina said.

“Blame you?” Rachel wrinkled her forehead. “You didn’t encourage

Chip to enlist, did you? I— thought you were part of the anti-war


“I am.” Gina struck a defiant pose, gloved hands on hips. “But a

couple of people have told me it was my fault that Susan got involved in

the movement. They say that Etienne enlisted because of the fights they

were having over it.”

“Etienne—h, yes, of course, that was Chip’s formal name. I forgot. I

think Susan was the only person who called him that.”

“I only knew about him through Susan,” Gina said, “so that’s how I

always think of him. Etienne Grellier. When he joined the Army, Susan

said he was doing it to get back at her, because he kept trying to argue her

out of her work in the movement.”

“Who can possibly say what led Chip to enlist? I think a lot of things

were preying on him.”

Rachel’s voice trailed away. It troubled her that she couldn’t remember

Chip clearly. He’d stopped coming to church a year or so before he

enlisted, and that was where she’d chiefly known him, since he hadn’t

been one of her English students. Her most vivid memories stemmed

from seeing him at the farmers’ market, where he’d been a bright-faced,

good-natured boy, bantering easily with the customers, until the last six

months or so before he’d left home. He’d turned withdrawn and surly, to

the point that she’d wondered if drugs had become an issue in his life.

When he joined up, she’d even privately thought the Army might be

good for him, by giving some structure to his life.

“Has anyone at Grelliers’—litz, Jim—uggested you’re responsible?”

Rachel asked.


Gina flushed under her tan. “Some hysterical girl came up to me after

the funeral and said if it wasn’t for me, Etienne would still be alive.”

“Janice Everleigh. I didn’t hear her accuse you. The rest of her outburst

was hideous enough.”

Chip’s girlfriend had seen herself as the heroine of the drama, almost a

widow; church gossip said Janice tried to lay claim to Chip’s body, then to

his life insurance, even though he had designated his parents and sister as

beneficiaries of the ten thousand dollars, asking them to give five hundred

to Tom Curlingford. At the interment, Janice snatched the flag as Chip’s

honor guard started to hand it to Susan and Jim. She draped it around

herself like a cloak and ran to the open grave, leaning over it and wailing

as if she were going to fling herself in. Susan stalked up to her and tore

the flag from her shoulders while Janice screeched, “You don’t have a right

to that flag. You hate the flag, you hate America, you hated Chip being in

the Army.” Susan had stared at Janice for a long second, but all she said

was, “Etienne. His name was Etienne, and that is how he is being buried.”

Rachel shuddered in the September heat as she remembered the scene

but said to Gina, “You’re so sophisticated, I wouldn’t think anyone could

get under your skin, especially not a girl like Janice.”

“Yes, I know: everyone thinks I’m some kind of shellacked, unfeeling

manikin. The truth is—’m an empty hole underneath my shellac. Anyone

can fill it with anger or contempt.” Gina compressed her lips, as if

ashamed of revealing herself, and added quickly, “I went over to the

Grelliers’ to offer my condolences, but Susan was lying down, and Jim

said he couldn’t suggest a good time for me to come back—hich

sounded as though he wants me to stay away!”

“He may have been speaking out of despair. He may be afraid there won’t

ever come a time when she’ll be— don’t know—aybe healed enough for

visitors. I have to go there after I leave here, and I’m dreading it myself.”

“What—re you visiting everyone in the county or just the ones who

danced around the bonfire last June? Are you going to call on Arnie

Schapen and his mother? Myra Schapen’s the kind of person who gives

witches a bad name. She and Arnie brought the fire department out to

douse our midsummer fire, but you can tell them from me that I still

plan to have a fire at Samhain.”


Rachel felt a headache building behind her eyes. She was tired, and

talking to Gina was strenuous work. “I don’t have any plans to see Mr.

Schapen, nor do I know what Samhain is, so it doesn’t matter to me.

Besides, I’m only here because you asked to see me!”

“I? I’ve never heard of you!”

“Elaine Logan,” Rachel said, angry. “You called New Haven Manor

and demanded we do something about her hanging around you, even

though you invited her to your fire ceremonies.”

“Oh.” Gina suddenly grew quiet, deflated almost. She looked down at

herself and murmured something about not realizing how dirty she’d

become, poking around in the bunkhouse. “And I’m sure you’re not

comfortable in that pantsuit. Isn’t it rayon? Rayon holds heat terribly.

Who would believe it could be almost ninety on September twentieth?”

“Never mind my clothes and your dirt,” Rachel snapped. “I have lessons

to prepare and a ton of other things to do this evening. I came out

here as a favor to you, so if you don’t have anything creative to say about

providing for Elaine’s well-being I’m going home.”

“I’m sorry. I know you’re doing me a great favor. The Schapens spy on

me so constantly that they’ve thrown me off balance. Come into the

house with me for a minute so we can discuss Elaine.”

Her frank apology, the wistful appeal in her eyes, the gap-toothed

smile Jim and Lara both liked—ll those things affected Rachel, too. She

let herself be mollified, let herself be led to the kitchen, where Gina took

two bottles of water out of a nearly empty refrigerator.

“There’s so much iron in the Fremantle well that it’s undrinkable—

have to buy bottled water in town. All the pipes are rusted out, too—I don’t even like to bathe out here—t was turning my skin orange, so I

joined a gym in town just to have a place to wash up.”

Gina rinsed her arms under the sink tap. When she dried them, she

showed Rachel the towel. Sure enough, it was faintly streaked orange.

Rachel nodded, her face grim: adolescents avoiding difficult discussions

indulged in similar dramatic tactics. “Elaine Logan.”

Gina flung the towel away. “I can’t be responsible for her. She’s too


“I don’t think anyone asked you to be.”


“No. But she’s started coming out here almost every day, and I can’t

make her go away.”

“When I got here, I heard noises on the second floor. I thought it

might be you so I went up to see, only no one was there.”

“Well, damn her, anyway! I told her two days ago she had to find some

other drop-in shelter. And here she is, the second my back is turned,


“I don’t think so. She’s a very big woman, and she doesn’t move fast.

She couldn’t have hidden from me, even in the middle of all the boxes

and clothes and whatever else in those second-floor bedrooms. I probably

just heard mice or squirrels or something.” Rachel’s voice trailed

away uncertainly. She was sure she’d heard something drop or fall. “You

don’t have a cat, do you?”

“Everyone here is obsessed with animals.” Gina shook her curls in irritation.

“Jim thinks I need a dog, you think I need a cat—pinsters or

dykes are supposed to love animals, is that it?”

“You are an Olympic medalist in the conclusion jump!” Rachel cried.

“I asked because a cat might have knocked something over to make the

sound I heard. How did you get from there to accusing me of the kind of

homophobia that rides in your head?”

“Oh. Sorry.” Gina bit her lip and looked at the floor. “Why can’t

Elaine go back to New Haven Manor?”

“Because they have a no-alcohol policy, which Elaine kept violating.”

“And you Christians can’t stand for a homeless woman to drink?”

Gina looked up.

“We Christians turned a blind eye to that for months—veryone at

New Haven knows she doesn’t have a lot of choices—ut Elaine has set

the place on fire three times when she passed out while smoking. We

can’t ignore the problem because she’s endangering other people’s lives,

not just her own. She could stay at New Haven if she joined AA or went

through a detox program, but she refuses to admit that she drinks. She

says the staff are lying, that they set the fires themselves.”

The pain over Rachel’s left eye intensified. “How does she get out

here? For that matter, why did she come? You must have made her feel

welcome in some special way.”


Gina shook her head. “After the midsummer bonfire, she started

attaching herself to me. I tried to discourage her, but she says my greataunt

let her roam around the property, which makes her think she’s entitled

to the use of the place. Back in the summer, back before Etienne’s

death, Susan Grellier told me Elaine had only come out a few times

when Great-Aunt Liz was alive, but Elaine has blown it up in her head to

remembering that she practically lived here. She somehow persuades

people to give her a lift to the crossroads and sometimes even bullies

them into dropping her at the door. I never know when she’s going to

show up.”

“What’s so special about this house that she’d go to all that effort?”

Rachel asked.

“She says she was part of the Free State Commune. That was a bunch

of hippies that lived in the bunkhouse—hat ruin where I was working

when you showed up. I don’t know about the commune— was never in

this house before I moved here— don’t even know any of the Fremantles

except my uncle John, who isn’t even really my uncle. He married my

father’s sister. Anyway, I wasn’t born when the bunkhouse burned down,

but Elaine says her lover died in the fire.”

“How terrible!” Rachel’s ready empathy was engaged. “Perhaps that’s

why she drinks so much.”

“Frankly, I don’t even know if that’s true,” Gina said impatiently. “She

enjoys drama, as you’ve probably noticed. She entertains herself by making

up stories with herself as the heroine, so I don’t know what I can

believe of her memories.”

“Is that why you’re excavating the bunkhouse?” Rachel asked.

“What—o see if I can find any proof of her story? No.” She twisted

her mouth in a rueful smile. “I’m hoping to find—”

A strangled screech, the staple of horror movies, brought both women

to their feet. Gina stood for a second, trying to pinpoint the noise, then

strode through the dining room to the front hall. Rachel followed her.

The great front door, slowly swinging on its hinges, screeched again.

Twe n t y - Fo u r


The two women stared at it for a frozen moment, then Gina said,

“That door was bolted on the inside. I’ve never used it. Elaine was hiding

out in here after all, damn it!”

She pushed the heavy door open and went out onto a veranda that

surrounded the house on three sides. The house stood on a slight rise,

man-made when it was built, to keep it above flood level when the Kaw

and Wakarusa rivers spread their waters through the valley. From the top

of the rise, Rachel saw a trail of bent and broken stems through the

waist-high grass, showing where the intruder had fled.

The yard was filled with trees—irs, sycamore, walnut, a dozen varieties

that Una Fremantle had brought with her as seedlings from Massachusetts;

these had grown so huge over the centuries that they shielded

the road from sight.

Rachel went down the porch stairs and made her way through the bent

stalks and past the trees, but the wild prairie grasses in the drainage ditch

still blocked her view of the road. She slithered into the ditch. When she

made it up to the road, she couldn’t see anyone in either direction.

The wind kept the high grasses in constant motion, but as she stared

across the road into the twilit fields a different kind of movement caught

her eye. Something like the wake a boat would make in a turbulent

ocean was splitting the corn in the field to the north. She squinted, concentrating

on the motion until it was lost from sight. Whoever was going

through those fields was heading northwest toward the Grellier house.


Rachel limped back up the road to the Fremantle drive and slowly

returned to Gina. Scrambling through ditches and grasses in her school

shoes had raised blisters on her heels and toes. When she got back to the

house, Gina demanded to know where Elaine was.

“It wasn’t Elaine.” Rachel sat on the veranda steps and took off her

shoes. Blood was oozing through the stocking on her left foot. “She can’t

move fast. Whoever this was could run.”

Gina’s shoulders sagged. “Anyone could get in here who felt like it—the place has five doors. I have keys, but you can see what a sieve it is. My

God, I wonder if it was Arnie Schapen or that dreadful mother of his,

trying to plant some kind of evidence here so he can prance around in his

deputy’s uniform and arrest me.”

“It’s hard for me to imagine Mr. Schapen giving up his dignity by

squatting down here in the hallway for half an hour or sprinting to the

road with me after him—e’d be more likely to shoot me and claim selfdefense.”

Rachel peeled off her socks and stared mournfully at her bleeding

feet. “I don’t know Mr. Schapen’s mother, but this was someone who

could move fast on foot. Unless she really is a witch, I doubt an old

woman could have gotten away by the time we came out the front door.”

“People have the wrong idea about witches,” Gina said. “We don’t do

magic, we can’t influence the outcome of events or violate the laws of

physics any more than Christians can. However much the Schapens

photograph our rituals, they won’t find any sign that we fly or kill babies

for their blood or any of the other crap they accuse us of.”

“If Junior Schapen were still living at home, I might suspect him,”

Rachel said, “but the football coach, or Arnie, persuaded a local Bible

school to let him play football for them, despite his abysmal grades, so

he’s over in Tonganoxie.”

“They do have another son. I’ve never met him, but he passes here

sometimes on his way to the Wakarusa. Hard to believe, but people eat

fish out of that muddy creek.” Gina flushed. “I’m as bad as everyone else

out here, aren’t I, keeping track of who’s doing what?”

Rachel smiled, but shook her head. “That must be Robbie. He’s in

my sophomore English class this fall, but, Schapen though he is, he


seems so engaged by poetry that I can’t imagine him doing something

so—o sordid.”

“Eddie Burton!” Gina exclaimed. “I would have thought of him at

once if Elaine hadn’t been hanging around.”

When Rachel said she didn’t know him, Gina gave a harsh bark of a

laugh. “That’s because he’s mentally deficient, or whatever the jargon

is—ouldn’t even learn the alphabet, according to Lara Grellier, so it’s

not likely you’d have seen him in your high school. He climbed a tree

outside the second-floor bathroom, spying on me the week I moved in

last winter, and I know I saw him lurking around the place on Midsummer

Eve, when Arnie Schapen called out the fire department against us.

But Jim spoke to Eddie’s father, and I haven’t seen him since the last fire.

I’d forgotten about him until now.”

“Where does he live?”

“Down near K-10.” Gina pointed south toward the highway, away

from the Grelliers’. “That ramshackle place with the cars up on cement


Rachel shook her head again. “I saw movement through the field to

the north. Who lives that way besides the Grelliers?”

Gina shrugged. “I don’t know. A million people, all minding my business,

but I don’t know their names. Lara and Etienne Grellier used to

come into this house when it was empty—im says they treated it like a

kind of clubhouse. Maybe it was Lara—he slipped into the bedroom

one morning right after I moved in, looking for some damned thing.”

“Lara?” Rachel tensed. “I can’t believe it.”

“The country is a murky place. All these houses, with people doing

dreadful things in them, any of them might think it was a funny idea to

break in here. I can believe it of Lara or the young Schapen or Eddie or—or anyone else, if I knew their names.”

“Why Lara?” Rachel demanded sharply.

“No special reason,” Gina said, “except that she’s one more teenager in

a place where everyone seems to lead disturbed or disturbing lives.”

The trouble was, Rachel realized, she, too, feared it had been Lara.

The new, downward-spiraling Lara might try almost anything to get


some attention from Susan. If Lara was deciding to add vandalism or

housebreaking to her new hostile persona, she was heading for more serious

trouble than Rachel could help with. She couldn’t bear to think of

the pain it would cause Jim. She made one of those meaningless prayers:

Please don’ let it be Lara. Let it be someone else’ child, someone else’ problem.

Protect Jim from more harm.

Gina ran her hands through her hair, leaving a trail of dust across her

temples. “Will you go through the house with me? I don’t want to spend

the night jumping up every time a board creaks—nd every board in this

house creaks, believe me. I can fix you up some Band-Aids for your feet,”

she added, seeing Rachel’s pained look at her bloody socks.

Rachel rubbed the tight spot behind her eyes where her head was

throbbing. She wanted to hobble to her car, bypass the Grelliers’, forget

life east of town, and sleep for a year or two, but then she imagined what

it would feel like when she had left, when the light was gone, and Gina

was alone.

With surprising patience, Gina cleaned Rachel’s blisters and wrapped

them in layers of bandages. She even gave Rachel a clean pair of socks.

When Rachel was duly wrapped up and able to walk again, Gina took a

heavy-duty flashlight from a kitchen drawer. With Rachel at her elbow,

she went through each of the downstairs rooms in turn, then went up the

formal front staircase to the second floor. The clutter in the bedrooms

Gina wasn’t using was so dense it was impossible to tell if anything had

been added—r, indeed, taken away—ut the black dust covering the

surfaces didn’t seem to have been disturbed.

It wasn’t until they got to the little corner room Gina was using as a

study that they found anything out of the ordinary. Gina checked her

laptop, to make sure it was still there, to make sure her work files were

intact, but Rachel was looking at the portrait of the dark-haired woman.

“There’s a cigarette stub in her mouth,” she said.

Gina glanced up from her machine, then sprang to her feet, furious.

“It’s a roach. How dare they? Come in here, spy, and then deface my


“A roach?” Rachel moved closer to the picture. “But it looks like a



“You are damned naive for a high school teacher. Marijuana. The

butts are called roaches, okay?” Gina blazed with anger but worked carefully

on the tape holding the end of the joint to the woman’s lips to make

sure she didn’t pull any of the paper away. “They did this so Arnie

Schapen could march in, wearing his deputy sheriff ’s uniform, looking

for drugs, and get me locked up! And then his repellent mother could

write a screed about dykes who practice witchcraft and use drugs.”

Rachel looked at the roach meekly, feeling there was, in fact, something

amiss with her for not knowing what it was. Her roommate in college

had smoked dope, but Rachel had never wanted to try it, and her

adult milieu had never included drug users. Over the years, her students

had used the language of the drug world in the hopes of shocking her,

but she couldn’t remember whether she’d ever seen roach in a student

paper. Maybe this joint end meant it really had been one of the Schapens.

If Arnie or Junior Schapen were breaking in, Rachel wouldn’t want to be

alone in this big house.

“Who is the woman in the picture?” she ventured, as Gina searched

the room for any more drugs.

“She’s someone— treated very badly.” Gina’s face twisted in pain. She

led Rachel abruptly from the room. On her way downstairs, she said,

“I’m not up to going into that basement, are you?”

“No,” Rachel agreed thankfully, “but I’d nail the door to it in the

kitchen shut if I were you. That way, if someone tried to break in

through the cellar they wouldn’t be able to get into the house. I need to

stop at the Grelliers’ on my way home. Do you want me to ask Blitz

Fosse to come over and do that for you?”

“Is he the big guy with the dark beard? He looks at me so disapprovingly

whenever I’ve gone over there, I can’t imagine he’d help me out.”

“Don’t jump to any more conclusions today, okay?” Rachel said,

thinking of Blitz’s encouragement to her on her way over. “You’re so—o

elegant, you make all the rest of us feel awkward. Most people are nervous

and uncomfortable around strangers, after all, but they do want to

find common ground, not look for the nearest rock to pick up and


It was a talk she gave to at least one student at least once a term, but


Gina said, “Actually, I don’t believe that. If it was true, we wouldn’t have

so many wars.”

“But you’re part of that peace group. If you want peace, then why not

try practicing peaceful behavior? It’s that old saying of Gandhi’s, ‘Be the

change you want to see in the world.’ ” Rachel stopped, embarrassed to

find herself preaching. “Is there someone you could stay with or someone

in your group who could come out to be with you tonight?”

“Call me from the Grelliers’,” Gina said. “If Blitz or Jim can come

over to nail things shut, I think I’ll be okay. Maybe I should let Elaine

Logan move in here, after all—he could sleep in the living room, where

anyone coming in through the front would trip over her.”

Rachel smiled, but said seriously, “At least you wouldn’t be alone in

the house.”

Twe n t y - F i ve


It was six-thirty, the autumn twilight a hazy purple, when Rachel

pulled into the Grelliers’ yard. Lights were on in the kitchen and one of

the upstairs rooms. When she knocked on the back door, she heard a

chair scrape, and then Jim opened the screen door for her. His face was

thin and drawn, but he smiled kindly at her.

“Blitz said you’d be stopping by. Come on in.”

Blitz, sitting at a table in a little eating alcove, got to his feet and

ambled over. The pain behind Rachel’s eyes lessened, and she looked

around, curious. Unlike the Spartan kitchen at the Fremantle place, this

was filled with color and family artifacts: the children’s clay handprints

on one wall, school artwork in Lucite frames, blue ribbons from the

county fair, a signed baseball in a Lucite box.

“That’s George Brett,” Jim explained, when he saw Rachel looking at

the baseball. “Chip caught one of his foul balls when he was five, the last

year Brett played. We stayed after the game and got it signed.”

When she stepped closer, Rachel saw a faded snapshot of Chip standing

next to his hero, grinning ecstatically. Her heart contracted at the

wide, gap-toothed smile. “here have all the young men gone,”she murmured

under her breath.

“How did it go over at Fremantles’?” Blitz asked.

“Okay enough,” Rachel said. “But something rather frightening happened.”

She explained about the intruder and finished with a request to

help bar some of the entrances.


“Gina should come over here,” Jim said. “If someone’s breaking in—you say that she’s there alone right now? I’ll call her, she can sleep on the

sunporch, it’s plenty warm enough right now. Maybe—aybe Susan will

get up if Gina comes over.”

“She isn’t getting up at all?” Rachel was aghast.

Jim shook his head. “I took her to the doctor finally. He gave her an

antidepressant, but he said it could take six weeks for it to take hold, and

it’s hard to talk her into swallowing the pills.”

“Jim, I’m so sorry.” Rachel laid a hand on his arm, then jerked it away

as if she had done something shameful in touching him. “Would you

like me to see her before I leave?”

“You could try,” he said doubtfully. “Maybe a woman . . . what can I

give you to drink? Blitz and I were having a beer, but there’s tea or coffee.

Maybe some kind of juice, I’m not sure.”

“Tea. Point me to it and I’ll do it, if you want to phone Gina.”

Jim showed her an assortment of boxes in one of the cupboards and

turned on the gas under the teakettle before taking the phone into the

dining room. Rachel heard the eager note in his voice when Gina

answered and turned firmly toward the stove, her headache suddenly

harsher. She noticed Blitz watching her and wondered if all her confused

feelings were written on her face. If so, she’d better turn on her public

face, pretend she was facing a classroom.

Blitz went to a dish cupboard and brought her a mug, choosing one

from the Kansas Farm Bureau that announced a kansas farmer feeds

128 people plus me.

Rachel put a bag of mint tea in the mug. “I didn’t realize Susan was in

such bad shape. I mean, I knew she looked dreadful when Jim brought

her to church last week, but not getting up!”

“Yep. I don’t know what it is, guilt, maybe. Grellier doesn’t discuss it.

If she doesn’t want the rest of her family to disappear on her, she should

make an effort, get her feet back on the floor. With Susan, they’re never

exactly on the ground.”

Rachel was startled by his frankness. “Do you dislike her?”

Blitz gave his crooked, unexpected smile. “Nope. I’ve always liked her.

She and Jim took me in when I got lost in a snowstorm sixteen years ago.


She was pregnant with Lulu. Chip was two, maybe three. He gave me my

nickname,” he added irrelevantly, “Blitz, for blizzard. My real name—my parents, oh, they called me Aloysius. Parents! Who wouldn’t rather

be a blizzard? Chip was such a happy little boy . . .”

His voice cracked. He drank from his beer can to steady himself.

“Chip named Lulu, too—e couldn’t pronounce his r s when he was

little. The whole family used to be so happy. Even if she does look at the

world cockeyed, it’s Susan’s passion that’s made this farm go. I couldn’t

live with her, myself—oo many days when you leave her in the attic and

come home and find her in the basement. Or sometimes the other way

around. She gets fired up, then after a while she crashes and burns. She’s

never gone on like this before. Usually, two, three days, a week max, and

she’s, well, not revved up, but ready to pick up the reins again. I’m not

saying losing a son isn’t a special source of loss, but if you let yourself go

too far away I don’t know how possible it is to come back again.”

He gave a self-conscious bark of laughter. “I don’t usually say that

many words from the beginning of the day to the end. Must be you have

a gift for listening. I’m worried because I love them all. Especially Jim.”

“So Lara—t’s a tougher problem than I realized. Gina suggested—not that I believe it myself, but—ara, Gina said she and Chip used to

use the Fremantle house when it was empty—” Rachel broke off in the

middle of her disjoint phrases.

“That Lulu was flitting around in there, pretending to be a ghost?”

Blitz supplied. “It’s possible, I suppose. She was out this afternoon; showed

up again about forty-five minutes ago. She probably knows a lot of ways

into Fremantles’, but—hat would she be doing there now?”

“She—r whoever it was—aped a, a roach.” Rachel stumbled over

the word. “Taped a roach to the mouth of a picture Gina has on the wall

in her workroom. Do you think Lara is using drugs?”

Blitz rubbed the back of his neck, considering. “If she is, not a lot.

And if she is, it’s probably out of some crazy sense of connecting to Chip.

He and Curly, they used to do reefer over in that house when it stood

empty. I don’t know why the boy thought anything he did was secret,

even if he was alone in the dark, but Lulu—I’ll talk to Curly. Damned

jackass better not be getting weed for her.”


“Who’s Curly?”

“Tom Curlingford, the other guy who works out here.”

“I didn’t actually see the intruder. Gina told me that another teen in

the area, developmentally disabled—ddie, I think she said—”

“Yes, Eddie Burton. After he climbed up a tree to peep into her bathroom,

Jim talked to Clem Burton, who promised to keep tabs on Eddie.

The Burtons are a ramshackle family—ddie could easily be breaking in

at Fremantles’, thinking it a pretty good joke.”

Rachel hesitated. “I saw, not the intruder, but someone cutting through

the field across the road this side of the tracks, and Gina said the Burtons

live the opposite direction.”

“Yeah, but Eddie doesn’t have anything to do with his time. His parents

are too disorganized to get him into a group home or job training.

He’s a grown kid, and he covers a lot of ground during the day. Some

days, he rides the boxcars up the Santa Fe tracks as far as the outskirts of

K.C. Ardis—is mom—nce had to pick him up in Tonganoxie, and

that’s a good thirty miles away.”

Jim came back into the kitchen, his face brighter after talking to Gina.

“She doesn’t want to spend the night—ays she won’t give local busybodies

the satisfaction of driving her out of her own bed—f we’ll go over

to batten down the doors and loose windows. Brave lady.”

Blitz headed for the barn to collect slats and hammers. The tea and

Blitz’s company had eased her headache, but Rachel felt the muscles

clench again as she tried to think of a way to talk to Jim. She was too

tired for subtlety.

“I didn’t know how badly Susan was doing. It must be a terrible worry,

on top of losing your son, so I hate adding to your burdens, but I’m concerned

about Lara.”

The brightness faded from his face, and he sat heavily on one of the

kitchen stools. “She’s not in trouble in school, is she?”

“She will be if she doesn’t pull herself together soon. She’s a popular

kid, with the teachers as well as the students, and everyone wants to help

her before it gets serious, but she’s not doing her course work. I’ve tried

to talk to her, but she refuses to meet with me. It might be good to set up

some appointments for her with a counselor.”


“Oh, my God. Where I am going to find the money? Susan’s treatment,

it’s already been—ever mind, not your problem.” He gave a

ghost of a smile, a grimace so ghastly Rachel flinched.

Rachel suggested Natalie Grimshaw, an associate at their church who

was trained in pastoral counseling, or perhaps the school counselor.

“He’s too swamped to do individual work long-term, but if Lara could

see him once or twice maybe it would help—efore you have to think

about paying someone to listen to her. Since she won’t meet with me at

school, I thought I’d stop by, try to make her talk to me at home.”

Jim shrugged, tired again, and spoke to the kitchen floor. “Yeah. Go

on up, see her. I’m not much good for her right now. Between Susan and

Chip, I don’t seem to have much ‘give’ left in me. Unfair to Lulu, but—Damn it, Rachel, I feel she’s being unfair to me, too, right now. Does

that make me a terrible father?”

He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Sorry, Rachel. I’m

going to pieces, I guess. I keep thinking of my grandparents, how they

handled my father’s death—nd he was their only child. Sometimes I

wonder if there’s something wrong with me, a curse even—y father is

killed, my son is killed, my wife is unraveling. What’s wrong with me? I

know we’re not supposed to think like that—ook how God spoke to

Job—ut I can’t help asking why.”

He looked up at her and forced a smile. “You’ve gone out of your way

for Lulu, coming out here and all. Believe me, I’m grateful. Maybe if I’m

out of the house, she and Susan will listen to you.”

Rachel nodded, tears of pity pricking the backs of her eyelids. When

he left, she took her tea with her up the flight of stairs between the

kitchen and the dining room. She’d never been in the Grellier house,

but it was a straightforward place, without the millions of doors at the


Night had settled in while she was talking to Blitz and Jim. The upper

hallway was dark. She saw a sliver of light on the floor to her left and

moved cautiously toward it, hands out to feel for obstacles. When she

reached the door the light was shining under, she shut her eyes for a

moment, took a breath, as if she were jumping off the high board, and

turned the knob.


Lara was lying in bed, wearing only a T-shirt and underpants, iPod in

her ears, eyes shut. She didn’t move when Rachel came into the room, but

from the way she tensed, her eyes squinching tight, Rachel knew Lara

was aware of her. She walked to the bed and pulled out the earpieces.

Lara sat up, scrambling to pull the comforter around her. It was a rosecolored

quilt, which she had made for 4-H two years ago, with emblems of

her life stitched to it—unflowers, trumpets, basketballs, even a combine,

worked out piece by piece from green and yellow scraps—nd its bright

hopefulness seemed pathetic against the pain and anger in Lara’s face.

“I thought you were Dad. What are you doing here?”

“Giving you a chance to talk.”

There was a plain deal desk, homemade, painted white, against one

wall. Rachel pulled out the pine chair in front of it and turned it around,

facing the bed. Her blisters were throbbing; she needed to sit.

“If I wanted to talk to you, I’d do it at school. Does Dad know you’re


“Yes. Were you in the Fremantle house this afternoon, Lara? What

particular version of your reasons for being there should I tell your dad?”

“I wasn’t there. I’ve been here since I got home from school.”

“Blitz Fosse says you were out until about an hour ago.”

“So you and Blitz are a gossip team now? Call Myra Schapen and get

her to put it on her website.”

Only years of dealing with surly adolescents kept Rachel from giving

in to the anger Lara wanted to rouse in her. “Whoever was in the Fremantle

house ran through your cornfield. Blitz didn’t see anyone but you

go past.”

“Yeah, he thinks someone died and named him God, but he doesn’t

know or see everything. Lots of people live out our way. Being as how the

corn is higher even than his all-seeing eye, I doubt he’d know if the whole

track team was running through it.”

Rachel changed the subject since she clearly had taken the wrong tack

with the Fremantle house. “Lara, you’re a smart girl and a good student.

If you fail your courses, that will affect the whole course of your life:

where you go to college—hether you can even go to college—hat

kinds of careers are open to you, everything. Perhaps you’re trying to


punish your mother for abandoning you right now when you need her

most, but is the satisfaction you get from punishing your mom worth the

harm you’re doing yourself ? I haven’t talked to Susan; I will before I

leave. If she is so depressed that she’s not getting out of bed or eating, you

could damage your own life without getting any response from her. Not

because she doesn’t love you, but because she doesn’t have the strength to

help you. Lara is the one person who can help Lara right now.”

“This isn’t Sunday school. You don’t have to preach a sermon.”

“You’ve been in my Sunday school class for sixteen months,” Rachel

said, “and my English class for a month. How many sermons have you

heard me preach?”

Lara turned her head away, angry at being cornered, unable to come

up with an answer.

“The hardest thing about adolescence is that everything seems too

big. There’s no way to get context or perspective,” Rachel said. “Pain and

joy without limits. No one can live like that forever, so experience finally

comes to our rescue. We come to know what we can endure, and also

that nothing endures.”

She was speaking to herself more than to Lara. After twelve years in

a classroom, she knew the intensity of adolescence, and knew no cure

for it except growing up. And then one has age and experience, and

mourns the loss of intensity. Maybe it’s why musicians and mathematicians

are said to peak young—oetry needs the fire of an unbounded


“My so-called mother is an adolescent, then,” Lara said sulkily. “She

seems able to experience pain without limits.”

Rachel didn’t want to get sucked into that discussion. “When did she

last eat?”

“She’s not a baby, and I’m not her nurse. It’s not my job to make her eat.”

Rachel blinked at the savagery in Lara’s voice. “I don’t think it is, but I

bet you keep an eye on what she does. When did she last eat?”

“She gets up when no one’s in the house,” Lara finally said. “Sometimes

I find an empty carton, or she’s eaten cold soup out of a can.”

“Sounds appetizing. What about you—hen did you last eat a real



“You want to move in and cook, and sleep with Dad?”

“I want to smack your smart little mouth, and I would if that would

have the magic effect of turning you back to the person you were six

months ago. As your teacher, in Sunday school and sophomore English,

as a friend of your family, I want to help you if you will let yourself be

helped.” Rachel kept her voice calm, but she wondered if she had some

longing for Jim that showed in her words or in her tone.

Lara reddened at Rachel’s remark and even mumbled something like

an apology, which reassured Rachel: if the girl still had some vestiges of

courtesy in her, she wasn’t out of reach yet. “I eat. Dad gives me grocery

money. I buy stuff on my way home. That’s how I know Mom’s eating

when I’m away because Dad doesn’t like yogurt.”

“Do you have a grandmother or aunt nearby, someone you could stay

with for a bit? It must be hard to live here right now.”

“Dad’s folks died when he was nine. My mom’s mother thinks Mom is

pretending to be sick to make herself the center of attention. She and my

grandfather live in Salt Lake City. Whenever they come to visit, all they

do is criticize Dad for being a loser and tell Mom she’s going to get skin

cancer from being out in the sun.”

“They sound wonderful,” Rachel said. “Let’s find someone in your life

you could talk to. What about Pastor Natalie at church? Or Mr. Gartner

at school?”

“I’m not sick. I don’t need a therapist, if that’s what you’re suggesting.

My brother died, in case you hadn’t noticed. I have a right to be upset!”

“Yes, he did. Would it make Chip happy to know you were doing

your best to fail your classes in his memory?”

“That’s not fair!”

“Blitz told me how proud Chip was of your brains. He used to brag

about you and your special accomplishments. The best way to honor

him is to continue to be the person he was so proud of, don’t you think?”

Lara didn’t say anything, just pulled the comforter up around her

head and rocked herself. Teachers must not touch students, Rachel

reminded herself, putting aside the impulse to gather the girl up, quilt

and all, and hold her until her dry sobbing subsided. Instead, she spoke

briskly to the shrouded head.


“The term is only a month old. It’s not too late to pull yourself together.

You owe me two essays, which I’m going to give you a chance to

make up. I talked to your teachers in biology, Spanish, and math. They

are willing to let you redo your first month’s assignments. Today is Monday.

You can turn your papers in to me this Friday.”

Rachel stood. “I’m going to try to talk to your mother, but if she’s

decided to withdraw from life I can’t make her return. Lara, if you don’t

have an aunt or grandmother you can live with then you need someone

who cares about you to talk to. You can talk to me whenever you feel like

it, but I’d like you to have someone you feel close to. Are you staying in

touch with your friends?”

“All they care about these days is who’s going to the homecoming

dance with who. They don’t want to hear about Chip, even if it’s just

memories about him. If I talk about him, they tell me not to be morbid.

They don’t want to think about the war, or people getting murdered, or

even mothers who lock themselves in their bedrooms. Melanie’s mother’s

a drunk. That doesn’t stop people from being friends with her!”

The quilt muffled Lara’s voice, and Rachel had to lean forward to hear

her. “Robbie Schapen?” she suggested.

“Robbie Schapen?” Lara shrieked, pulling the quilt from her head.

“The Schapens hate us. Mr. Schapen arrested Mom, and Nanny Schapen

gloated about it on their website. Junior got Chip in trouble—e’s why

Chip ran away from school and died. Robbie Schapen is———hornworm from a whole family of vermin.”

“Whatever a hornworm is. Maybe you should try talking to him. I

was Junior Schapen’s teacher, too, you know, and Robbie isn’t the least

bit like him.”

Rachel put the chair back under the desk. “Your father and Blitz Fosse

are over nailing the entrances to the Fremantle house shut, so if you were

the person who broke in there you should know that it will be much

harder to get in and out now. And if you are smoking the marijuana that

was taped to Gina’s photograph, don’t forget that Arnie Schapen is a

deputy sheriff. If he really does hate your family, he’d be happy to have

the chance to arrest you for possession. You in juvie court is not something

that would help anyone, least of all Chip.”

Twe n t y - S i x


When she knocked on the door of the master bedroom and no one

answered, Rachel turned the knob and walked in. Lara had exaggerated

only that one detail, that Susan had locked herself in. The rest of the

story was much worse.

The room was dark and smelled of stale sweat, unwashed sheets, and

a faint moldy odor that baffled Rachel until she fumbled her way to a

light switch. The must came from the old books, stained orange with

mildew, that covered much of the bed. More books were on the floor

next to it.

Susan was sitting cross-legged against the headboard, wearing gray

sweats that hung so loosely on her she looked like a marionette inside a

sack. The clothes seemed oddly familiar. After a puzzled moment, Rachel

saw they had lawrence high school printed up one leg and the lion

mascot on the top: Susan was wearing her dead son’s workout clothes.

She was surrounded by piles of paper covered with her large, round

script; she was holding a pen and pad of paper in her lap.

“Do you write in the dark?” Rachel asked.

Susan stared at her blankly. “I turned off the light for privacy, but that

doesn’t seem to mean anything to you since you barged in anyway.”

Rachel wondered where Jim was sleeping. Maybe the sunporch he’d

been offering Gina, or even his son’s room. No one could possibly want

to sleep in this smelly room, in a bed filled with books and paper.


“What are you writing?”

“Words. Words.” Susan waved her hands as if that would explain her


Rachel picked up a piece of paper at random.

War the answer to a mother’ prayers. War, Peace, War, Peace. Peace

you live without. Find peace, find death, find war, find life, lose all,

the dice throw. Milton, Shakespeare, sin of sins.

Rachel let the page fall back onto the bed and picked up one of the

musty books. It was an old journal, the entries dating to the 1850s. The

book fell open to a page which Susan apparently read often, judging by

the intermarginal notes in her round hand. Rachel squinted to make out

the faded script, with its high curling f s and ss.

August 24, 1855

I woke alone in the middle of the night, alone save for my babe.

Abigail Comfort Edwards: who are you, where are you? Only

the wind rushing through the prairie grasses hears me, and it

pays me no more mind than if I was one of the hundred thousand

grasshoppers buzzing through those grasses all day long.

And then I laughed at myself, a shade hysteric, for I had even

forgot that I am no longer Abigail Comfort Edwards but Abigail

Grellier, a married lady, mother of a baby boy, and of my

precious lamb who lies with Jesus.

Next to it, Susan had written, “Who is Susan Brandon Grellier?


Rachel looked at Susan. “Abigail—hat was Jim’s great-greatgrandmother,

I think you told me. It sounds as though she also lost a

child. What kept her going?”

“She had a vision,” Susan said. “Her vision sustained her. I had no

vision, only the desire for one.”


“What was her vision?”

Susan beckoned to her. Rachel knelt next to her, holding her breath

against the full smell of Susan’s unwashed body.

“She saw the Mother of God in chains. A slave in chains, holding her

broken Son, also a Negro slave,” Susan whispered urgently in Rachel’s

ear, digging bony fingers into her shoulder. “She told no one. Congregationalists

don’t believe in the Madonna the way Catholics do—he

thought her family would scorn her. But the Mother of God sustained

her through every loss: her oldest child, her husband, and after her husband

died she lost her last baby. Through it all, her vision kept her


She shook Rachel’s shoulder, making sure she was listening. “Pride.

The angels fell because of pride. I think that’s right, don’t you? To be

punished for too high an ambition?”

“Susan! God isn’t a demon. He doesn’t sit in His heaven pouring judgment

out on us for being human, and He certainly doesn’t start wars or

send young men like Chip to fight and be killed in them because their

mothers longed for visions.”

“Etienne. Why can no one call him by his right name?”

“Etienne, then. God did not choose for Etienne to die, to punish you

or Jim or Lara, or even Etienne himself. God knows what it’s like to lose

a child, after all: His own Son died a painful death, and God Himself

stood by helpless while it happened.”

Susan looked at her with the same blankness, as if Rachel were a

stranger spouting Albanian or Hungarian, some incomprehensible language.

“The empty womb. You preach about God and children from

your empty womb. It’s a joke—o you see?— pun. Jesus was in the

empty tomb; you’re in the empty womb.” She picked up the pad of paper

in her lap and began writing again.

Rachel could tell her own face was scarlet, the stereotype of the oldmaid

schoolteacher, no knowledge of the outside world allowed except

what she learned from books. She wanted to cry out, “I’ve loved and lost,

even a pregnancy I’ve lost,” but she only said, “I’d like to change the

sheets, Susan. You’ll feel more comfortable in a clean bed.”

Susan didn’t pause or look up. “I don’t want to be comfortable.”


“And Jim? And Lara? Do they need to be comfortable?”

Susan kept scribbling. “If you came here to lecture me on my duties as

a wife, don’t. You never married. You know nothing about it.”

“You have two children, Susan. Lara is starting to fail her classes, she

needs you. Do you want to lose her as well as Chip—tienne?”

“I don’t have a quotation dictionary. Who said ‘the sin by which the

angels fell’? I was sure it was Milton, but I tried to find it on the computer

and couldn’t. Didn’t you study poetry in college? I did. It’s how Jim

and I met. He took a poetry class as an elective his junior year, in

between Topics in Plant Pathology and Building a Business Plan for Your

Farm. I used to know lines and lines and lines of Elizabeth Barrett

Browning, but after all these years of working the land I can’t remember

the simplest poems. Can you give Lara a quotation dictionary to bring

home for me?”

“Susan.” Rachel stopped, not knowing how to go on. They didn’t

offer a course in managing destructive families when she was studying

education. Finally, she decided to ignore the sidetrack on poetry.

“Lara has to do her homework. That’s all I’m sending home with her,

her homework. You must read it, you and Jim both. I’m going to tell

Lara you both have to sign it before I’ll look at it: I need to know you’re

paying attention to what she’s doing.”

“She’s fifteen. Girls of fifteen were running households a hundred fifty

years ago. Do you think we’re too easy on our children? Do you see that

in the classroom, Rachel? A generation of young people we haven’t expected

enough from? The last true measure of devotion, does any child

know that anymore before they go for soldiers? I used to know the

answer to that quotation but I can’t think what it is anymore.”

“Lincoln at Gettysburg,” Rachel said helplessly. “ ‘That from these

honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they

gave the last full measure of devotion.’ I doubt that Chip would consider

you hiding up here in his dirty sweats an appropriate measure of devotion.

Won’t you get up, get out of bed long enough for me to wash the

sheets and wash those clothes?”

At that, Susan did look full at her, eyes blazing. “I will not have you wash

the last trace of my son Etienne from my body. Nor may you tell me what he


would or wouldn’t consider appropriate devotion. I am his mother. If the

mother of Jesus could weep at His grave and hug Him to her, in all His

blood, why can’t I hug my dead son’s sweat to me? They wouldn’t let me see

him covered with blood. I can only feel his sweat.”

“What will you do if Lara turns to drugs? Or if Jim can’t get in all the

crops? Your organic sunflowers looked pretty withered to me.”

“Don’t preach to me, Rachel Carmody. You know nothing about

farming and very little about children.” She turned back to her pad,

scribbling madly, ripping sheets of paper off and tossing them aside.

For the second time that evening, the Grellier women, divided on

every other point, had accused Rachel of preaching. Was she? Had she

spent so many years in front of a class that she assumed she knew better

than anyone else?

Rachel picked up one of Susan’s discarded pages.

Some buried Caesar bled last full measure of devotion—e the living

living living are the walking mocking dead dead dead—evotion—true devotion—est friend—esus Jesus Jesus no gods before ME I

take your sacrifice and condemn you to death. Meddling

Rachel got unsteadily to her feet. “At least take your medicine, Susan.

Maybe it will help you find your way to an authentic vision.”

Susan didn’t answer. Rachel went back out to the dark hall and groped

her way to the stairwell. Her face was ashen, her hands trembled. When

she saw Blitz and Jim in the kitchen, she fought back tears with an effort.

The headache had returned, making it hard for her to see.

“I’m afraid I was in over my head with both Lara and Susan. I’m

sorry— thought I could do some good, but all I did was stir them up.”

“Yep. It’s that kind of time. I appreciate you trying, Rachel, I truly

do.” Jim clasped her shoulder and let it go. “I guess I should think about

some supper for Lara.”

“Why don’t you sit down, have a beer with Blitz? I’ll think about

dinner—t’s the least I can do, maybe the only thing I can do.”

Next to him, Blitz nodded. “Good idea, Ms. Carmody. Jim and I’ve


been harvesting soybeans all day, and we are about as tired as is possible

without actually falling down.”

Rachel scrubbed out the sink, washed the stack of dirty dishes that

had piled up since Jim or Lara had last felt like cleaning. The mindless

housework was calming, even though her feet hurt through Gina’s


She rummaged through the cupboards and refrigerator, minding Jim’s

warning that Blitz was a vegetarian, and settled on spaghetti with tomato

sauce and cheese. There weren’t any vegetables fresh enough for a salad,

but she found a bag of broccoli in the freezer. All the time she was cooking,

she kept thinking of Lara’s snippy “You want to move in and cook,

and sleep with Dad?”

Nonetheless, when she had the table set, for four, she went back up

the stairs and knocked on Lara’s door. A muffled sound that might have

been yes or no or go away made her open the door. Lara had pulled on a

pair of jeans. She was reading The Hobbit, earpieces in, but didn’t get up

when Rachel told her there was spaghetti on the table. Rachel went

down the hall and gave Susan the same news, but neither mother nor

daughter appeared at supper.

Rachel finally joined Blitz and Jim at the table in the alcove. The men

were hungry after twelve hours in the fields and another hour sealing

up the Fremantle house, but Rachel could barely bring herself to go

through the motions of eating.

“We did a rough and ready job—olted the doors, nailed slats over

the ones that can’t be locked from the inside, and put wooden blocks

in the ground-floor windows so they can’t be raised. Gina’s a mighty calm

and determined lady, I’ll say that for her,” Blitz said. “I suggested she

move into town if things were too tough out there, but she said she had a

right to be in the house, no one was going to budge her.”

“I had her add my cell phone to her speed dial. If anyone does try to

break in, I can be there in five minutes,” Jim added.

“That’s good,” Rachel said mechanically, imagining the chaos if he

bounded in and found his daughter taping roaches to Gina’s pictures. “I

wondered if it would be good for Lara to stay with a friend while Susan is


so upset.” The inadequate word made her feel all her inadequacies. She

saw her own handwriting, red ink,

Use a word more appropriate to the level of emotion you are trying to


“No!” The word burst from Jim. “She’s my only anchor to sanity right

now. I’m not going to have her go live with strangers. I lost my son. I’m

not going to lose my girl.”

“There’s losing, and then there’s losing, Jim,” Rachel tried to keep her

voice steady but couldn’t manage—he day had been far too long already.

“If Lara fails her classes, or starts using drugs, you will have a hard time

getting her back.”

“Lulu’s too steady to get into that kind of trouble,” Jim said. “She

knows I’m counting on her. Maybe she’s a little rocky right now—eck,

we all are—ut she’ll pull through. As soon as we get the winter wheat

planted, I’ll talk to Glen Meadows. He knows Lulu from church, he

knew Chip, he’s a good man. Maybe he’ll let Lara take a leave of absence

or cut her course load to what she can handle right now.”

“He might,” Rachel agreed. The principal was a decent person, wanting

his students to succeed. “Susan—” But she couldn’t think of anything

to say about Susan and finally asked lamely what the doctor had said.

“He said it wasn’t surprising for a mom to be upset when her son was

killed,” Jim said flatly. “He gave her some drugs, like I told you.”

“You know she’s writing a lot?”

“The doctor said keeping a journal can help her work through her


Rachel folded her napkin into the shape of a bird. “Have you read any

of it? She’s got hundreds of pages with only a few words on them.”

“I’m not invading Susan’s privacy. It’s her way of showing grief, and I

respect that.”

“Lara feels you’re expecting her to be Susan’s minder, see that she eats

or—r whatever. She resents that.”

“Well, damn it, Rachel, I can’t get Susan to eat. I’d think her daughter

would want her mother to be healthy.”


“She does, Jim. She wants her to be a mother, not an invalid. She

doesn’t want to have the roles reversed right now. That’s why I thought it

might be good for Lara to be where someone could mother her.”

“If I didn’t think you meant well, Rachel, I swear you and I would

have a falling-out. Listen to me: my daughter is not going to live with

strangers. That’s final.”

Rachel pushed her stool away from her uneaten food and stumbled to

the door, bumping into the counter and the stove because she couldn’t

see through the tears she was blinking back. Absolutely the last time she

would try to do good for anyone, whether student, family, or homeless

drunk falling through the cracks.

Blitz, who hadn’t spoken during Jim’s and Rachel’s conversation, got

to his feet and followed her to her car. “His world’s fallen apart. Don’t

blame him too much.”

“I was probably out of line.” She just managed to get the words out.

“The fact that he’s too scared to listen doesn’t mean you were wrong to

speak. I’m going to ride into town behind you; I don’t want you falling

into a ditch on your way home. Or at least if you do, I’ll be there to pull

you out.”

She smiled gratefully. The truck headlights in her rearview mirror kept

her company all the way back to her tidy ranch house. Blitz stayed outside

until she’d unlocked her door and flashed the porch light for him.

Twe n t y - S e ve n


In the night, the unbearable late-year heat broke. A thunderstorm

moved through the valley, waking Jim as he slept on the sunporch. He

sat up on the folding bed and watched lightning fork to the ground

along the river two miles away, and then rain poured on the house,

pounding the uninsulated porch roof with the urgency of stampeding


The corn was close to harvest. Too much rain now and it would rot in

the ground. He couldn’t summon fear or worry about it. Like everything

else on the farm, whether the corn rotted or came in perfectly seemed

uninteresting. Losing the crop would increase his financial worries, but

even that couldn’t spark any emotion in him.

He looked across the fields to the east, but the angle of the house

blocked any view of the Fremantle place. Was Gina asleep? Was she all

right? On a restless impulse, he pulled on his jeans and a slicker and

drove the pickup along the pitted road to the Fremantles’. The house was

dark, its gables emerging in the sudden flashes of lightning and then disappearing

again, a black blot against the fields. The rain streamed across

his windshield in a thick gel.

Lightning suddenly lit the entire landscape, as if a movie crew had set

up shop on the Fremantle veranda. In the blue-gray flash, he thought he

saw a person outside the big front doors. He climbed down from his

truck cab. The rain covered him like a shroud, pouring inside the collar

of his slicker, so that in a moment he was wet inside his coat.


He put his hands over his head and stumbled to the veranda as fast as

he could. The wind was whipping water across the porch floor, but the

wide wooden canopy provided some protection from the wet. He scuttled

to the great double doors, wondering what he’d do if Eddie Burton

or even Junior Schapen were there.

It was Elaine Logan. Encased in a black trash bag, she slouched against

the double doors, another black bag full of her belongings next to her, a

pint bottle nestled in a crease in her lap.

She smiled up at him. “Hello, Farmer Jones. Wet enough for you and

your corn?”

Even without the muzzy smile and the pint bottle, he could tell she

was drunk. “You can’t stay out here, Elaine. You’re trespassing. Gina

doesn’t want you here. I’ll drive you into town, find you a place to spend

the night.”

“It’s my home more’n it’s hers. I’m just a little girl. You can’t beat up

on me.” The words came out in a high-pitched baby voice.

Jim felt the skin on his arms crawl underneath his clammy shirt. “No,

Elaine, you’re not a little girl. You want to be someplace dry, don’t you?

Up on your feet; now, there’s a good woman. Let me drive you into


“Who are you, you big bully? You mind your own business and leave

me alone, damn you. I got a right to be here, more’n you have. They told

me I could stay.” She began howling, so loudly her wails could be heard

over the thunder.

He looked down at her angrily. Another damned woman in his landscape

who didn’t give a rat’s ass about what he thought or wanted or

needed. He wanted to howl himself.

At that moment, the front doors swung open behind Elaine. She toppled

backward in a heap of trash bags and vodka. Gina stood above her,

wearing a pair of jeans and loafers underneath her combed-cotton nightshirt.

She jumped to one side as Elaine fell over. “I heard the noise. What is

she doing here?”

“I don’t know,” Jim said. “Storm woke me and I couldn’t get back to

sleep, so I thought I’d check up on you, and there she was.”


“When I looked out and saw your truck, I thought it was Eddie Burton.

My heart started pounding like—ike whatever they pound like

when you’re frightened.” Her voice was cool, but Jim saw she was carrying

a carving knife and that her hand was shaking.

“Don’t try taking on Eddie with a knife, not unless you know how to

use it,” Jim said. “He could wrestle it from you and use it against you.

And don’t open the door when you’re alone here in the middle of the

night. If I had been Eddie—” He clipped off the end of the sentence

without finishing it.

In one of the blue-steel flashes of lightning, her crooked teeth showed

as she smiled. “I’d be lying in a pool of arterial blood. Yes, I need to be

more sensible, but Elaine’s howling—Where is she, anyway?”

She moved back into the hall and found a light switch. The bronzeedged

chandelier came on but with such a feeble glow that Jim that

couldn’t see the homeless woman, for all her great size.

“Elaine!” he called. “Elaine?”

He and Gina both turned at a sound from the stairs above them.

Elaine was inching her way up the stairs on her rump, going backward

like a dog crawling out of a room, hoping no one will notice he’s got the

family roast in his mouth. When she saw that they’d noticed her, Elaine

put her fingers over her face, giggled, and squeaked, “Peekaboo!”

Jim shut his eyes. “How did you get out here, anyway, Elaine? Were

you in the house this afternoon?”

“Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies,” she said in a singsong, her

fingers still covering her eyes.

“Elaine, Ms. Haring doesn’t want you here. You come with me, like I

already offered, and I’ll drive you into town.”

She pouted. “I won’t go. I belong here, way more than you do, Farmer

Jones. This is my home, I was born here.”

“What are you talking about? I’ve lived here my whole life. I know all

the Fremantles. You were never born out here.”

“Gina isn’t a Fremantle, but she gets to live here, so why can’t I? I even

knew Mrs. Fremantle, she let me stay, and Gina never laid eyes on her

that I heard of, Farmer ‘Know-It-All’ Jones.”

“I don’t know what she’s talking about,” Jim said to Gina. “She


showed up out here two or three times in the last ten years, but I don’t

think your uncle’s mother ever let her spend the night in the house.”

“That’s a lie, Farmer Jones, and you Christians go to hell for lying.

Mrs. Fremantle did too let me stay here, I have a paper to prove it.”

Jim looked helplessly at Gina. “She’s too big for me to budge on my

own. Do you want me to call the sheriff ? I’m afraid that means Arnie,

but he’d be able to bring a crew. They could at least get her out of your


“Call the sheriff, call the sheriff, he can start a fire like he did at midsummer,

we’ll all be dry and warm,” Elaine crooned above him. “You

wanna see my paper about my mommy and me living here before Sheriff

Arnie burns me up in smoke?”

“See? You get everything backward!” Jim fumed. “He didn’t start the

midsummer fire, he put it out! And your mother never lived here. I hope

you aren’t trying to pretend you’re one of Liz Fremantle’s children.”

Elaine started to scrabble in her bag, pulling out a brassiere whose

cups looked like skillets. She dropped it negligently on the stairs, followed

it with some men’s boxer shorts. “I got my paper here somewhere.”

Jim looked away, looked at Gina, whom he expected to mirror his

own revulsion. Instead, she was looking thoughtfully at Elaine.

“I don’t want Arnie Schapen to help me manage my life. Elaine can

spend the night. I can put a clean blanket on one of the beds. You’re

soaked, Jim, and it’s turned chilly. You’d better go home and get dry

before you come down with something. Thank you for checking on me.”

The words were thoughtful, but she hurried him out the door so fast

that he felt his skin prickle with shame, as if Gina could see into his

heart, could know that he had driven over out of his own loneliness and

need, not because of any altruism over her. He walked back into the wet,

not staying to hear whether she had pushed home the bolts he and Blitz

had installed on her front door this afternoon.

He turned the truck around in the yard, but at the entrance to the

road he stopped, not wanting to go home despite his wet clothes. He

turned the heater up to high and stared north, at his own corn, the stalks

bending under the pummeling from wind and water. His crop, his wife,


his daughter—ll these worries he couldn’t think about. He sat like that

for almost an hour, not dozing, just staring frozenly at the corn. The

4:32 westbound freight finally roused him, and he pulled into the road.

The surface had turned to wet clay; he had to fight to keep his truck

from skidding into the drainage ditch.

At the intersection with the county road, he waited for the last freight

cars to roll past. The rain had finally eased; puddles glinted black under

the crossing lights. The caboose rumbled by. Jim had the truck in gear,

ready to go, when he saw a slender figure jump free from the caboose ladder

and land in the weeds to his left. The figure rolled a few feet and

lay still.

Jim was opening his truck door to see if the man was injured when he

realized it was Eddie Burton. He wasn’t about to risk another rebuff tonight,

especially not from one of the Burtons. Anyway, Eddie’s posture

made Jim think he was lying doggo until he had the road to himself.

Jim drove across the tracks and turned in to his own yard, where he

killed the truck lights. He waited a minute, then drove back out to the

road. He squinted up the slight rise at the tracks and saw Eddie’s slim figure

shambling south toward the Burtons’.

If Eddie had been the person in the Fremantle house this afternoon,

he could easily have run into the Grellier corn and hunkered down, waiting

for the 6:43 eastbound freight. What did he do, roaming around the

county all day? And what business was it of Jim’s, come to think of it.

It was almost five now, no point in returning to bed—his close to his

usual rising time, he wouldn’t go back to sleep. Standing in the yard, he

noticed the light was on in the master bedroom. Did Susan know he’d

gone out? Was she taking advantage of the cover of night to do her endless


He hadn’t been in his own bedroom for several days, not since he’d

taken Susan to the doctor. Despite his assurances to Rachel, Susan’s

writing frightened him. He’d tried tidying some of the papers. Susan had

watched as if he, Jim Grellier, were an intruder on his own land, in his

own house, as if his wife were holding herself still until the intruder left,

just as Eddie had lain in the weeds a few minutes ago, as if Jim, whose

family had farmed this valley for a hundred fifty years, were the prowler,


not Eddie, whose shiftless parents let him ride all over the state looking

for houses to break into.

He felt a rage rise in him, against his wife for treating him like this,

against Gina, against Eddie, against the world. If he went inside now, he

might murder Susan, or at least violate every code of decency he lived by.

He went to the back of the barn, where Chip had cleared out space for

a weight-training room. His Christmas present to his son two years ago

had been a complete weight set; he’d found a used machine in Overland

Park that Blitz cleaned and refitted.

Chip had been so sure building his upper body would give him the

edge he needed to make it to the pros. The Royals had the worst record

in baseball this season. Would they be any worse off if they’d given his

boy a chance in A-ball? In his head, Jim kept writing them a letter: you

could have given him a chance—ould that have killed you?—ould’ve,

would’ve, should’ve, don’t walk down that road. Pastor Albright had

counseled Jim and Susan on that in the one session they’d attended.

Good advice, if you could bring yourself to follow it.

Jim turned on the bare bulb that hung over the corkboard Chip had

put on the floor. Dust and cobwebs covered everything. He got a bucket

and a bottle of bleach and scrubbed the floor, the equipment, even the

light fixture. He stripped off his wet clothes and turned on a space heater.

By the time the area was clean, he was already sweating, but he unfastened

the barbell and started lifting weights. He worked for forty-five

minutes, pushing himself beyond his limits, as if daring the fates to

cripple or destroy him, but all that happened was his undershorts and

T-shirt got soaked through. Finally, he returned the equipment to its

racks, lining everything up so that Chip would find it all in order.

He lay down on the cork floor to rest his back and fell asleep. In his

dreams, he was playing catch with Chip at Royals Stadium in Kansas

City. Chip was five, with his front teeth missing, but he had the coordination

of an adult, and George Brett was saying, “You belong in the outfield,

son,” so Chip ran out on his little-boy legs, face full of joy. George

Brett started hitting fungoes to him, and Chip held out his hand in its

outsize glove. “Don’t touch it,” Jim tried to yell, but he couldn’t make a

sound. As he watched, frozen to the ground, the ball exploded in Chip’s


hands, splintering his small body into red smears that filled the stadium,

so that Jim himself was suddenly chest-deep in blood.

He woke, his heart pounding, his mouth dry, his throat raw. When he

sat up on the cork floor, the muscles in his shoulders and lower back

ached so badly that he could hardly pull himself upright. The pain he’d

been seeking in the night had filled his joints while he slept, and, now

that he had it, he didn’t want it. He only wanted to feel better. “Don’t

wish for anything too hard,” his grandmother used to say, “because you

won’t relish it when you get it.” Right as usual, Gram. He tipped an

imaginary hat to her, and staggered to the sink in the far corner of the

barn to sluice his head under the hose. The water was cold, and it only

made him hurt worse.

His jeans had dried in front of the space heater while he slept.

He pulled them on but carried his shirt and slicker. Outside, it was still

raining—he soft misery rain that goes on and on, like the whimpers of a

teething baby. The temperature had fallen thirty degrees in the night. By

the time he’d hobbled through the rain into the house, his teeth were

clacking from the cold.

He found Lara heating a frozen waffle in the microwave. It was eight

o’clock. She should have been out of the house by now.

“Dad! I thought you were working the north quarter with Blitz!”

“Is that why you’re pampering yourself like the Queen of the May in

here instead of having your fanny in your chair over at school?” He

gasped in pain and grabbed the back of a chair to support himself.

“What have you been doing? You look like a train wreck. Did the tractor

fall over on you?”

“My ego fell over on me. The storm woke me, and I decided to work

out with Chip’s weights in the barn. I way overdid it.”

He didn’t tell her about driving to Fremantles’, much less about seeking

out pain. It wasn’t the kind of thing you burdened your kid with.

Besides, in the cold of the morning it seemed idiotic. He asked instead if

she had any ibuprofen. Lara rummaged in her backpack; her face alight

with mischief, she handed him a bottle labeled for relief of menstrual

cramps. He shook his head but poured out a handful of tablets,


chewing four and laying the rest on the kitchen counter before handing

the bottle back to her.

“Gross, Dad, don’t you even want some water with those?”

“I’d have to walk to the sink. I’ll just stand here until they kick in.”

She suddenly started fussing around him, bringing him juice, putting

water on to boil for coffee, running down to the laundry room in the

basement for a clean, dry shirt, tossing the wet one in the machine, then

coming back up to help him fasten the buttons.

He brushed her fingers aside. “Okay, okay, knock it off. You’ve earned

your written pass for being late.”

“Thanks, Dad.” She grinned at him, the old Lulu briefly showing

through the new, sullen Lara.

He put his hand under her chin and tilted her head so that she had to

look at him. “Sweetheart, the one thing I really need you to do for me

isn’t making me coffee, although this tastes better than what I boil up,

but to buckle down with your classes. You hear? I don’t want any more

teachers making a home visit because you’re not doing your work.”

“Okay, Dad, okay,” she muttered.

He walked to the desk in the corner of the kitchen where he and Susan

kept the farm accounts and found a pad of paper in the jumble of unopened

mail. The sight overwhelmed him. He was behind in everything—uarterly

tax returns, bills—e hadn’t even balanced the checkbook this month,

although Susan usually did that. If he didn’t pay the grain elevator today,

he wouldn’t be able to store his corn when he started harvesting.

He massaged the small of his back with his left hand while he wrote

out a short note for Lulu. She kissed the top of his head and skipped out

to the old pickup. After Chip enlisted last spring, Blitz had fixed the

truck so that Lara could drive herself to school. It was over twenty years

old, its battered body so rusty and weathered you couldn’t tell it had once

been blue. Blitz had taken the engine completely apart, fixed all the

cylinder heads, and found four good used tires for it at Hardy’s Tire

Shack. Lara had scorned it at first—t looked so ratty next to Chip’s

Nissan or the SUVs some of her classmates drove—ut, that summer,

she’d fallen in love with it. Her art project for the county fair, in fact, had


been to paint the sides with a history of the Grellier farm, from the days

of the dinosaurs to the present. She hadn’t won a ribbon, but Jim loved

the pictures. Susan did, too—r had, when she was still paying attention

to Lara.

After a time, when the ibuprofen started to work and he wasn’t quite

so sore, Jim went upstairs to change out of his dirty jeans and socks. He

took a hot shower in the kids’ bathroom. Then, wearing just the clean

shirt Lulu had dug up for him, he stood outside his bedroom door for a

long minute, praying for courage to go in for clean socks and underwear.

When he went in, Susan was sitting at the vanity table he had bought

her their first Christmas together, writing on one of the pads Lara made

out of old government reports by cutting them into 81⁄2-by-11 sheets and

stapling them so the blank sides faced up.

“ ’Morning, Suze,” he said warily, trying not to notice the smells in the

room: old clothes, old sweat, old blood.

She glanced up at him but kept writing.

“Suze, we need to talk. This isn’t good, for any of us, you sitting up

here, writing your head off, not eating, not bathing.”

When she didn’t respond, he walked over to her and gently took the

pen and notepad away from her. She didn’t protest but started scrabbling

through the heap of pages on the vanity for another pen. He took her

hands and knelt in front of her, his joints giving him such a jolt he

couldn’t keep back a grunt of pain, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“Suze, we’re all going crazy here over Chip, all three of us in our

unique ways. Yours is the most public and obvious, but Lulu isn’t doing

her schoolwork—he’s deliberately courting failure, Rachel Carmody

said last night. I’m not attending to the crops or the bills. I can’t do it

alone. I can’t keep the farm going without you, don’t you understand?”

“The farm has weathered troubled times before,” she said, her eyes

flicking anxiously to the paper he’d placed behind him on the bed.

“No, darling. The family has weathered troubled times. The farm just

exists, regardless of who owns the land. But if we lose the land, how will

we exist? Please, baby, please get up and help me.”

“I will, Jim, I really will, as soon as I finish writing this. I can’t do anything

until I get it all off my chest.”


“Susan, I’m begging you—f not for me, for the farm. You’ve always

loved this place, the history has mattered so much to you. Help me preserve

it so we can pass it on to Lulu.”

“That’s what I’m trying to write here, Jim, how history affects us, how

our lives are controlled by it. When I’m done with that, I promise I’ll

come down and go through the bills and help you get it all sorted out.”

She twitched her hands free from his loose clasp and scurried to

retrieve her pen and notepad. He sat on the floor, arms over his head,

and rocked in misery.

Twe n t y - E i g h t


Jim spent what was left of the morning in his north quarter section,

working with Blitz to dig up the soybean field. The crop had been

infested with stem borers, which Jim should have seen sooner. By noon,

the rain had started falling so heavily that they had to stop.

Blitz went home then, while Jim cleaned himself up for the second

time that day. His back and legs still ached, but the morning’s work and

Lara’s menstrual tablets had eased the worst of the pain. He heated the

spaghetti left over from last night, tried to sort out the mess of papers on

the desk in the corner, but his brain was cut in too many fragments for

him to make sense of anything. He could hear Susan pacing the floor of

the bedroom like a ghost, present in the house but not connected to it.

The sound drove him so wild that he went into town with a check for the

elevator. He lingered in the office, a bare room with a grimy cement floor

that smelled of corn, to talk with Herb Longnecker and Peter Ropes,

who were also using the rainy day to run errands.

No one would talk about the only things on his mind, Chip and

Susan, but the weight of their pity lay heavy in the air. What they did discuss,

besides the University of Kansas football team’s sputtering performance

and whether the school would do any better in basketball, was the

story going around about Arnie Schapen’s special calf.

“Did that lady reporter stop and talk to you, Jim?” Peter Ropes asked.

“She came by my place, but I told her I had too much to do on my own

farm to know what Arnie was doing on his.”


“Lulu came home from church with some garbled story, that the

Schapens had a calf they were turning into an idol, like the Israelites did,

to tempt the rest of the valley, see if we’d fall down and worship it. I can’t

break my kids—an’t stop Lulu—rom gossiping about everyone around

us, no matter how bizarre the story is.”

“Dale, Arnie’s dairy hand, he says it’s some special calf the Jews need

for their prayers,” Herb Longnecker said. “He says these three Jews come

over from Kansas City every month to check on it because if it has any

flaws in it, they can’t use it. There must be money in it somewhere, if the

Jews are involved, so I don’t see why Arnie isn’t bragging about it more.

Myra Schapen’s mad as sin because the Jews say it’ll hurt the calf ’s magic,

or whatever it has, if a lady goes near it.”

“That must be why we’re not reading about it on the website,” Peter

chortled. “Usually, if Junior makes a tackle or Arnie blows his nose, she

trumpets it all over the Internet.”

“Funny how Myra never writes about the other boy,” Herb said. “Our

Ruth’s daughter, Caroline, is in school with him—ell, Lara must be,

too, isn’t she, Jim? Caroline says the boy is a good musician, plays lead

guitar in his church’s heavy-metal band. You’d think Myra would write

something about him sometime. Instead, we’re getting every detail of

Junior’s games at Tonganoxie Bible College.”

“Heavy metal? What’s that? Two combines falling on a guitar?” Peter

Ropes laughed, and the meeting broke up.

Jim stopped at the store for some frozen pizzas. Lulu liked yogurt, but

he always got the wrong kind, so he bought three different flavors just to

be on the safe side. Ice cream—he two of them were keeping Wiesers

Dairy in business these days, the amount of ice cream they were going

through—hocolate for Lulu, strawberry for him. Vaguely thinking there

should be something healthy on the menu, he added a head of lettuce

and a bag of carrots, and tried not to read the total bill before running his

credit card through the slot.

By the time he got home and unpacked the groceries, the rain had let

up. His grandfather would have gone back out to the north quarter section.

His grandmother would have somehow made Susan get out of bed

and get back on an even keel.


If Gram had done like Susan and taken to her bed when Jim’s father

died, what would Grandpa have done? Jim couldn’t imagine his grandmother

behaving so extravagantly. He remembered the county fair when

Susan first entered her apple pie out of Abigail’s sketchy recipes in the old

diaries. The judges had been dismayed and disdainful, and Susan came

home weeping. Jim had tried to comfort her, but she took to her bed and

lay there for two days. Gram got fed up.

“No one can be best at everything,” Gram told her. “You learned a lot

this year, Susan, and we’re proud of you. Now you have to learn from your

failures and move on. You certainly can’t lie around feeling sorry for yourself,

not with the hay to get in and the market to attend to. And the tomatoes

need spraying—ast night, Jimmy found hornworm in the west rows.”

Susan had dragged herself out of bed—he never could stand up to

Gram, who wouldn’t cajole or tease her into feeling better, the way Jim or

even Grandpa would.

Jim pictured himself going upstairs to her now. “No one can be number

one at everything,” he imagined saying, “not even at grieving. So

learn from your loss and move on.” But the thought of trying to talk to

his wife again was so painful that he finally got back in the truck and

drove south on the county road to Burtons’.

On the way, he couldn’t help glancing at the Fremantle house. Gina’s

behavior last night still rankled. After he’d gone out of his way—elped

her make the house secure, offered her a place to stay, driven over to

check up on her in the middle of the storm—or her suddenly to act as if

he wasn’t there or didn’t count, that made him angry. And then to let that

homeless woman, that Elaine Logan, spend the night—nd that was

after Gina made Rachel Carmody come out because Gina claimed Elaine

was more or less stalking her. Gina hadn’t behaved well, by him or by

Rachel: he was right to be angry. But he still looked down the road, as if

he might see some kind of sign in the southeast bedroom where she’d set

up her office.

“You expecting to see a banner reading come make love to me, jim

grellier?” he said aloud. He gunned the engine and hurtled down the

county road toward Burtons’ at seventy, jolting his sore spine in the potholes,

spraying gravel into the ditches.


The beater Ardis used for getting to her job was parked along the edge

of the road, maybe ready for a fast getaway, if she got so she couldn’t cope

with Clem and Turk and her children. Someone had flung a drop cloth

over the Lincoln, but the rest of the cars on blocks were littered with

branches and dead leaves from the weeping trees in the yard. Jim picked

his way through the rusty parts to the back door.

Ardis answered his knock, blinking in surprise at the sight of a visitor.

She had been a pretty young woman when she and Clem married, with

dark hair and a firm, plump body, but the plumpness had oozed into fat

during five pregnancies and life below the poverty belt. She wrinkled up

her moon-shaped face in a sort of smile.

“Jim Grellier.” Her voice came out in a slow, soft wheeze, as if the bellows

for producing air were buried so far in her soft, fat breast that they

could barely push sound to the surface. “I was sorry to hear about Chip,

but you must feel real proud of him. Everybody says he was a hero.”

“Thanks, Ardis. I’d rather be happy than proud, but I guess you don’t

get to choose, do you?”

She smiled uncertainly, not sure what he meant, but asked him to step

inside. The pile of dishes in the sink he’d seen last December hadn’t

changed. Looking at the empty frozen-food boxes scattered on the counters

and floor, he wondered if the dishes were a monument to the last

time anyone had cooked a meal in the kitchen, then thought of the pizzas

he’d picked up an hour ago for himself and Lara. Judge not, judge

not, he reminded himself. Not so hard to see how everything could cave

in around you.

“Where’s Clem’s father?” he asked. He’d expected to see the old man

still at the kitchen table.

“Oh, last week he wandered out of the house and tripped and fell. He

just doesn’t know enough to watch where he’s going anymore and he

broke his hip, so he’s in the nursing home for a bit. Until his Medicare

runs out, I guess. Would you like some pop?” Her soft voice wheezed all

the words together in one long breath.

“I’m fine, Ardis. I was hoping to talk to Eddie.”

“He’s in the living room, watching TV, with Turk and them.”

Jim followed her across the cracked linoleum to the living room. Turk,


Clem, and Eddie were jumbled together on the couch, watching Star

Trek. Eddie’s sister Cindy was sprawled on the floor, eating chips; a tabby

with a missing ear shared the dip container with her. The three youngest

children were still in school, Ardis said. The bus would bring them home

in an hour or two.

Turk was drinking out of a quart can of malt liquor, which he waved

in a kind of salute when he saw Jim come into the room. “Hey, Grellier,

how’s it going?”

“Fine, Turk, fine,” Jim said automatically. “Everything okay here?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Clem tried to sit up, but the couch’s sagging

springs pulled him downward.

“No reason. I just wanted to make sure Eddie got home okay.”

“Well, here he is, you can see him for yourself.”

“Yep,” Jim agreed. “Riding the rails, that’s a hard way to get around,

isn’t it?”

Eddie smiled slyly and looked at his hands. With his head bent over,

hiding his vacant expression, he was a nice-looking boy, almost girlishly

pretty, except for his hands, which were broad and square. He resembled

Ardis, the way she used to look before she cloaked herself in layers of

fat—e had her dark curls and long lashes. He felt Jim’s gaze and looked

up; a thread of drool ran from the corner of his mouth to his sweatshirt.

Eddie’s shoulders were hunched over so Jim couldn’t see the whole front

of the shirt, but the letters anoxie b were visible.

“Tonganoxie,” Jim said idly, filling in the missing letters.

Eddie’s face changed from smirk to terror, as if Jim had accused him of

blowing up the town. “I’m not in Tonganoxie, not there, no one seen me,

I swear no one seen me.”

“What’s got into you, Eddie?” Ardis said from behind Jim. “Mr. Grellier

here ain’t saying he seen you, are you, Jim?”

“I saw him jumping off the westbound freight at four-thirty this

morning. Way he was walking, I wondered if he’d twisted an ankle or


“Now, ain’t that neighborly of you, Grellier.” Clem spoke with heavy

sarcasm. “You don’t need to worry about my boy, when you couldn’t take

care of your own boy.”


“Easy there, Clem,” Turk protested. “Chip Grellier’s a war hero. Jim

couldn’t’a saved him from a terrorist mine, no father could.”

Jim’s head began to swim from the strangeness of the conversation,

but at least the fear died away from Eddie’s face, replaced by his sly slackjawed

grin. He picked up a half-gallon bottle of cola from the floor in

front of him and tilted his head back to drink. With his shoulders back,

Jim could read the shirt: tonganoxie bible college.

“So you went to visit Junior Schapen?” Jim asked. “All the way from

here by riding the rails? I didn’t know the freights ran through Tonganoxie.

I thought all the lines passed through Kansas City.”

Eddie dropped the bottle, spilling cola over himself, the couch, and

Clem, who jumped out of the sunken cushions with a curse and a smack

along the side of his son’s head. “Ardis! Ardis? Come and clean up after

your retard son who just spilled shit all over the couch.”

“I never seen Junior. Anyone who says they saw him and me, they’s

lying.” Eddie was choking from the cola running the wrong way down

his windpipe.

Ardis went over with a dirty bath towel and began dabbing at her son,

and the couch, although most of the cola had run into the exposed foam

rubber of the cushions.

Clem looked at his son in disgust. “What’s got into you, boy? So what

if you up and visited Junior Schapen? Why shouldn’t you?”

“Junior don’t like folks to know him and Eddie are friends.” Cindy

Burton spoke from the floor, startling Jim, who’d forgotten about her.

“Why not, Cindy?” Jim asked, like it was any of his business.

Turk laughed. “You went to college, Grellier. You show up on campus

with a boy like Eddie, would anyone else talk to you?”

“That ain’t fair, Turk,” Ardis sighed, still dabbing at the foam rubber.

“Eddie’s a good boy, nothing to be ashamed of. If Junior Schapen thinks

he’s too good for Eddie, well, I say to hell with him. And to hell with

Arnie, too.”

“Arnie, don’t say nothing to Arnie,” Eddie said. “Arnie will kill me, kill

Junior, we’ll go to hell, not even the cow will save us.”

“The cow?” Jim asked. “You can’t mean Schapen really is worshipping

a cow!”


“The cow is special, you can’t talk about it!” Eddie cried, his eyes

knuckling in his agitation.

“But—rnie Schapen can’t possibly believe a cow will save him. He

goes to Full Salvation, or whatever that church is, out near Clinton Lake.

It’s Bible all the way through—hey believe there’s no salvation except

through Jesus. And where do the Jews come in?”

“The Jews, they want that cow, and Arnie, he’s keeping it for them,

ain’t that right, Eddie?” Cindy said helpfully from the floor. “When the

Jews come right out and take it, then Arnie and them will be famous and

richer than—han Donald Trump.”

“You can’t say about the cow, no one can’t say,” Eddie cried, thrashing

his arms on the couch. To Jim’s horror, his nose started to bleed.

“Eddie, Eddie,” Ardis stroked his hair. “It’s okay, it’s all okay, baby.

Come on. You come with Mommy. She’ll fix you up, put ice on your

nose, make you some fries in the oven, okay? Come on.” She led the

bleeding, snuffling Eddie from the room.

Clem turned to Jim. “Is that why you come here, Grellier? To get my

boy all stirred up?”

I came here because I couldn’t stand to be at home. The sentence

popped into Jim’s head, so upsetting him that he blurted out, “Someone

was hiding out in the Fremantle house yesterday afternoon. They pasted

a roach, a joint, on a picture. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t Eddie.”

“Eddie don’t use dope, and don’t you say otherwise. What are you

going to do, report him to Arnie Schapen so Schapen can put on his tin

star and put my boy away?”

“Yes, he does, too,” Cindy said unexpectedly from the floor. “I seen

him and Junior together a hunnert times, smoking and laughing and carrying


“So now you’re a damned stool pigeon, too?” Clem demanded. “You

gonna rat your own brother out to Mr. Sheriff ’s Deputy Schapen?”

“I know better’n talk to Mr. Schapen or any of them Schapens. I hate

Junior, only him and Eddie are friends, so I have to do like they say, even

when it’s something dirty.” Cindy’s face turned red as tears of misery

spurted out of her eyes.

“Oh, for chrissake, Cindy, get over it,” Clem said. “And stay away


from them boys if you don’t want to get hurt. Jesus Christ, who is the

retard in this family? Look what you started, Grellier!”

Jim began edging his way out of the room. He stepped on the cat,

which yowled and spat and ran behind the couch. Turk laughed, which

made Clem yell at his uncle not to treat the family like it was a TV show.

“And you, Grellier, go mind your own goddamn business. Maybe it

was your wife over there yesterday, she’s plenty friendly with that stuckup

dyke who won’t even give me the time of day when I seen her at the

food pantry. She’ll talk to that drunk whore Elaine Logan, but when I

offer to carry her bags for her she gets all snotty and looks at me like I’m

a hole in the floor she has to step around.”

Jim nodded, and backed out of the room. The bathroom was in a little

room off the kitchen. As he passed it, he could hear Eddie crying still,

and Ardis’s wheezy voice crooning to him.

Twe n t y - N i n e


When jim got home, he washed the dishes, scrubbed down the

countertops, and swept and washed the floor. Since getting the news

about Chip, he and Susan had let things slide around the house. He

didn’t want to slide down to Burton-style living.

What had he been thinking, to go over there at all? It was completely

against his philosophy of not messing with the neighbors’ business. All it

did was set people’s backs up. He’d told his kids that a thousand times if

he’d told them once, and here he was a walking, talking example of how

to get everyone stirred up against you. Clem Burton was a loose cannon;

in the same half minute, he’d damned Arnie and Jim impartially, as if

they were the same man, and who could blame him? Jim would have

done the same if Clem came over claiming Lulu or Chip—laiming Lulu

was breaking into someone’s house.

He went up the stairs, into his bedroom. Susan was asleep. Anger was

building in him. How dare she lie around like this, self-indulgent, hugging

her grief while he tried to keep the farm going?

His ever-so-great-grandmother’s diaries were on the bed, partially visible

beneath the landfill of papers Susan had created. Papers covered the

bed; more were scattered across the floor. He waded through them on his

way to her side. He shook Susan’s arm, lightly at first, but, when she

didn’t respond, more roughly.

She moaned; her eyes were puffy slits, but she didn’t move. He bent

down next to her. “Susan! Susan?”


He lifted her head, which lolled back on his arm. Fear chased his

anger; for a long moment, he stood still. Was it her heart? Starvation?

The drugs? A hoarse gasp from his wife goaded him to action. He slid

through the mass of papers to the bathroom and scrabbled in the towel

caddy for a washcloth. Scraps in Susan’s sprawling handwriting littered

the sink and bathtub; she’d even written on the wall while sitting on the

toilet. As he ran cold water onto the cloth, he read “No vision, television,

tell-a-vision,” scrawled over so many times the letters blurred together.

He hurried back to the bed with the cold wet cloth and draped it

across his wife’s forehead, so that water ran down her ears and neck,

but she only twitched and moaned again. Her breathing was shallow

and fast.

“Lulu!” he yelled. “Lulu! Come here!”

His daughter didn’t answer. He scrabbled through the wild mass of

papers, looking to see if his wife had taken any pills, but he didn’t see an

empty bottle. He picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. He

slipped and almost fell on the paper as he went to the bedroom door but

managed to catch himself by grabbing the dresser handle.

Susan swayed on his shoulder like a bag of seed corn, except she wasn’t

as heavy. He stumbled down the hall to his daughter’s room. Lara had

her everlasting music stuck in her ears.

“Get those damned ear things out!” he shouted, beside himself with

terror. “Your mother! When did you last see her or hear her, or anything?”

Lara stared at him, undone by his fear, by the sight of her mother’s

body dangling over his shoulder. She couldn’t speak.

“Did you see her today?” Jim screamed.

Lara shook her head, not taking her eyes from him. He was unpredictable;

he might do anything.

“Go down to the kitchen,” he panted. “Look to see what she’s eaten.”

When she didn’t move, he screamed “Now!” so ferociously that she

got to her feet, sidled past him out of the room, down the back stairs to

the kitchen. He took the main staircase, the one they never used because

it opened onto the unused front room. It was wider than the back stairs,

the risers shallower, easier for him to manage with his wife on his back.


The front room was chilly and dusty, and he moved as quickly as he

could through the dining room to the kitchen. Lara was standing next to

the sink, trembling so much that she had to clutch it to steady herself.

“Did you just buy blueberry yogurt? I think she ate that, and—nd—”

She held out her hand with the empty bottle of antidepressants in it.

“Okay, Lulu.” His daughter’s panic was like a slap, forcing him to

steady himself, to think for all three of them. “We’re going to take your

mom into town to the hospital. I want you to go out and open the truck,

get the front seat moved forward so I can lay her in the back, okay?”

She nodded and ran on wobbly legs out to the yard. It had started to

rain again. He waited in the kitchen doorway until Lara had the truck

open, then followed and laid Susan on the backseat. He didn’t know

whether he should elevate her torso, so that gravity would bring any

drugs still in her stomach back through the esophagus, or if that might

make her choke to death. He compromised by laying her flat.

“Lulu, call the emergency room to let them know we’re coming in.”

“Dad— can call from the truck. I don’t want to stay out here by

myself.” Her face was wet with rain and tears, a glossy, glassy covering

that made her look as though she were a museum exhibit.

He told her to turn on the engine and get the heat on; he had to fetch

blankets and their insurance documents. As he drove, she tried phoning

the hospital. Whoever she was talking to wasn’t helpful, kept asking questions

that made Lulu more panicky and tearful. He told her to hang up

and to call Sheriff Drysdale.

“It’s—t’s for my dad, for Jim Grellier, there’s a serious problem, he

needs Mr. Drysdale,” Lulu gabbled to the receptionist, then handed the

phone to Jim.

“Hank? Oh—an you track him down?” He knew the avidity with

which everyone would greet the news once it started to spread, but he

couldn’t avoid telling the receptionist a guarded version of the truth: his

wife’s life was in danger, he needed help.

By the time the sheriff came to the phone, Jim was already in town,

driving down Kentucky Street toward the hospital. Drysdale took in the

facts and promised to alert the hospital.

“Where you at now, Jim?”


“Kentucky, just coming up on Seventeenth Street.”

“I’ll have a car at Sixth, they’ll guide you into the emergency bay.”

When Jim handed the phone back to Lara, he strained to hear his

wife’s breathing. The hrunka-hrunka of the windshield wipers drowned

out other sounds. He turned them off, and made out Susan’s slow, shallow

breath underneath the drumming of rain on the truck’s roof.

At Sixth Street, a sheriff ’s car was waiting, lights flashing. When he

dipped his own headlights at it, the driver turned on the siren and led

Jim through red lights, over to Fourth Street and into the hospital’s

emergency entrance. A couple of attendants came out, moved his wife

onto a gurney, told him where to park.

By now, he, too, was trembling, barely able to control the truck. He

and Lara supported each other across the parking lot back into the emergency

room. A young intern, hardly older than Chip, took as much

information as Jim could give, how many pills, what time, Susan’s allergies,

family medical history, then showed him to the room where families

waited for news. Jim and Lara went in but couldn’t find seats next to

each other, so Jim leaned against the wall near his daughter’s chair.

Since finding Susan, the need to act had carried him like flotsam in a

fast-moving current. When he relinquished her to the hospital, he suddenly

had nothing to do except wait. A television, perched high above

the room so everyone could see it, was tuned to some drama that kept its

characters in a state of feverish emotion. Jim couldn’t bear the shouting

on the set as a backdrop to his own anxiety and fear. His mouth was dry,

and he kept going to the drinking fountain in the hall, but no matter

how much water he drank his mouth still felt as though he had lined it

with cotton.

Lara leaned back, with her music in her ears. Jim pulled out her earpieces

and squatted next to her.

“What time did you get home this afternoon?”

“I don’t know. Maybe three-thirty, maybe four.”

“Had your mother eaten the yogurt?”

“Dad, I don’t know. I don’t keep track of what she’s eating. She just sits

up in the bedroom like a vulture, devouring us while she starves to



“Lara, that is a terrible way to talk about your mother, especially now

when she may be—” He bit off the word before it came out. No more

dying right now in this family, please, Jesus, please. “Anyway, I’m just trying

to get a feel for when she might have taken those pills. The doc asked me.

It matters whether they were in her bloodstream long enough to hurt her


“Like it could be more damaged than it is right now,” Lara muttered,

just softly enough that Jim could pretend he hadn’t heard her.

Jim pushed his palms against his eyes. “Please, Lulu. Help out here.

Did you get a snack when you came in?”

“I had some ice cream. I didn’t notice the pill bottle in the garbage,

but I wasn’t looking. Anyway, I don’t think she ate the yogurt before I got

home, because blueberry is my favorite flavor, which she knows, so I

think I would’ve noticed if the carton was in the garbage. Where were

you? Out in the north quarter section?”

“I had to run an errand when I got back from town with the food.”

“Over to Fremantles’? Checking to see if anyone pried your barricades

off while Gina was out of the house?”

He felt his cheeks grow hot. He’d been fretting over Gina Haring

while Susan was feeling abandoned and desperate enough to take her

own life. An accident, he corrected himself. She was depressed; it was an

accident. She was trying to take enough of the pills to cheer herself up,

get back to her everyday life.

“You weren’t over there yourself this afternoon, were you?” he

demanded. “To see if you could get past Blitz’s and my barriers?”

She reddened, but before she came up with an answer a nurse summoned

him to a counter in the emergency room. Jim asked one anxious

question after another—ow was Susan? could he see her? was she going

to be okay?—ut the nurse just kept repeating that the doctor would talk

to him in a minute.

After a quarter hour, while doctors and nurses passed without looking

at Jim and Lara, the young intern reemerged with an older woman in a

gray gown. She was Dr. Somebody. Was he Mr. Grellier? They were

going to keep Mrs. Grellier for a few days for observation.

“Her brain, does she have brain damage?” Jim’s voice was tight and


high, like it had been when he was thirteen and it first started to break.

“Can I see her?”

“We’ll have to do some brain scans to make sure there are no lesions.

She’s lucid. She knows her name and where she lives. But she’s a little

shaky on the date—t first, she thought it was 1856.”

“She’s, like, obsessed with these old diaries about Kansas,” Lara whispered.

“Maybe she went to sleep thinking she was living back then.”

“I see.” Dr. Somebody looked as though she might say something else

but changed her mind. “The main worry is whether she is a further danger

to herself, so we’re going to put her in the psychiatry ward for a few

days and try to get a sense of her mental state. Very often, after a suicide

attempt fails, people develop a newfound desire for living. That may well

happen to your wife. Do you know if anything particular was weighing

on her these last few weeks?”

“Our son. Our boy, Chip, he was killed in Iraq. She—t’s hit her

pretty hard.”

“She was protesting the war,” Lara put in. “Chip was mad at her, so he

went and joined. And now she thinks maybe she killed him, although

she’s still against the war.”

Dr. Somebody wrote a note on her chart. The intern took Lara and

Jim into a curtained cubicle where Susan was propped up on a gurney,

wearing a hospital gown. Her arms stuck out of the sleeves like a stick

doll’s. Bags of fluids were attached to her arms, which were strapped to

the table so that she couldn’t take out the needles. She looked at Jim and

Lara and looked away.

Jim bent over her and kissed her forehead. “Hi, honey. How are you


“Tired. I’m tired. I thought I could sleep for a hundred thousand

years. Why did you let them wake me up?” Her voice came out in a raspy

whisper, the result of the tubes the doctors had stuck down her throat

into her stomach.

Jim bit his lips. He’d been hoping for a miracle— sudden zest for living,

not an attack for saving her life. Words of love, of concern, died on

his lips.

He said dully, “They’re going to keep you here for a few days while


you get stronger. I’ll come every day, but do you want anyone from the

church to visit? Or any of your friends, like Gina?”

She shut her eyes without answering. Jim went over to Lara and whispered

to her fiercely to kiss her mother, to say “I love you,” something,

anything, to make Susan feel better.

Lara gave him a murderous look but went to her mother’s side. “I’m

here, Mom. Your child, Lara, remember me? Any chance you feel like

you’re my mother, too?”

T h i r t y


Jesus said to the devil, “t is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”Some of our neighbors don’ understand that message. They spent the summer

dancing around shrines built to Astarte, even though it is said, “hosoever

would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death, whether

man or woman.”When the Lord took their son, they repented not. Will the

remnant of this family repent now that the Lord has seen fit to remove the

wits from the wife, so much that she tried to take her own life?

Every Wednesday, teens at Salvation Bible Church were supposed to

blanket downtown Lawrence to bring people to Jesus. Teen Witness, it

was called, and Pastor Nabo said it was among their most important


“When they see bright, happy young people like you who’ve given

your lives to Jesus, you will be an example to other young people. University

students who come down to the bars on Massachusetts Street

don’t realize they are thirsting not for beer but for the Word that will

make them whole. You can bring them that life-giving Word.”

The teens, wearing modest clothes—alf-length skirts for the girls,

jackets and ties for the boys—anded out flyers with Bible verses on one

side and a schedule of services at Salvation Bible on the other. The most


ardent, like Amber Ruesselmann, tried to seize strangers’ hands and force

them to pray with her for the Holy Spirit.

Robbie hated Teen Witness. People laughed at him enough because of

his weird clothes, his cow milking, his angry father, and Nanny, who

posted all her neighbors’ problems on the Web. She had made Robbie

teach her to use the Internet, then was always coming to him for help in

putting photos and stuff on the Schapen Web page. If he tried to argue

with her, she and Arnie both got on his ass about the Fifth Commandment.

Most weeks, Robbie avoided Teen Witness because of the farm’s milking

schedule, but, for some reason, this fall Nanny had decided that

Robbie wasn’t showing his faith strongly enough. It was something complicated,

something to do with her anger at the Jews’ not letting her near

Soapweed’s special calf, or her anger with Robbie for not being a muscular

blond clone of Junior, whom she missed, even though she drove over

to Tonganoxie Bible every Saturday to watch him play football. Or

maybe she was just getting senile. Ever since school started, she had

forced Robbie to race home on Wednesdays to do his share of the

evening milking, then drive back to town for Teen Witness.

“Junior never had to do this,” Robbie said to her.

“Junior had football practice.” Myra’s false teeth clacked like a snapping

turtle, as if she wanted to stick out her neck and snap off Robbie’s


“I have band practice.”

“You spend enough time making that racket. You’re doing Teen Witness

for Jesus and you’re doing it so the valley can see we’re a Christian

family, not like some out here. Jesus is showing the Grelliers the error of

their ways, all right.”

“Isn’t it enough that you wrote it up and put it out on the Web?” Robbie

shouted. “How do you think Lara feels having you point a finger?

Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged’?”

Myra hit him so hard across the mouth that his lip split.

“Don’t you try quoting Scripture to me. You’re this close to the pit,

Robbie Schapen. If Jesus returned this minute, with your disrespect fresh


in your mouth, you’d be left behind with those Grellier heathen you’re so

fond of.”

Robbie recoiled, not so much from the blow but from the fear that

she’d divined his longing for Lara. He was so careful with the songs he

wrote for her, to keep them taped inside his biology notes, between two

pages of formulas for carbon derivatives. When he went upstairs to

change, he double-checked the notebook. The pages seemed secure.

Anyway, Myra wasn’t subtle: if she’d found his love poems, she would

have been screeching about them.

He took a quick shower, and put on a jacket and tie, but stood in his

room for a time, staring out at the fields. Too many trees and barns lay

between his house and the Grelliers’ for him to know what Lara was


The day after they took Mrs. Grellier to the hospital, Lara had stayed

out of school. She’d been coming the two weeks since then, although in

the classes they had together, biology and Spanish, she hardly seemed to

be doing any homework. Robbie worried that she might start failing her

classes. He imagined offering to have study sessions with her. The one

time he’d tried to approach her, she’d looked at him with so much contempt

that his blood froze and he backed away without speaking.

Of course, that was because of Arnie and Myra. Naturally, Arnie had

learned about Mrs. Grellier taking a drug overdose when he went on

duty at the sheriff ’s office that night. He’d been ecstatic at more bad luck

befalling Jim Grellier, gloating that now Jim would know what it felt like

to try running a farm without a wife to help him out.

“And that daughter of his he’s always been so proud of, mark my

word, she’ll be next, drugs or pregnant, or maybe both. Grellier has

always looked down on me, but when he sees Nasya—ees this miracle

calf the Lord sent me—nd when he sees how my boy is making a success

over there at Tonganoxie Bible while his own son is burning in hell,

he’ll be eating my shit and wishing it was his. Like the Bible tells us,

‘Pride goeth before destruction.’ ”

No wonder Lara looked at Robbie like he was a plague of kafir ants.

He turned gloomily from the window and went back down the stairs.


Myra came out of the kitchen to look him over, to make sure he wasn’t

wearing his becoming the archetype T-shirt. “I called over to Amber

Ruesselmann’s mother and told her you’d be by for Amber in twenty

minutes. So, mind you, step lively now. And remember, Amber’s a good

Christian girl, so don’t try any nastiness with her.”

Since you think I’ a faggot, Robbie thought, why do you imagine I’ try

any nastiness with a girl, especially one as butt-ugly as Amber. And how dare

you set up a date for me without talking to me first? But he kept that, and

the rest of his rage, to himself, too scared of his grandmother to risk

another confrontation this afternoon. Instead, he slammed the door as

hard as he could, ignoring her clacking and hissing behind him about the

sin of using objects to do his swearing for him—hat will send you to hell

just as sure as taking the Lord’s name in vain. He knew the litany by


Robbie drove slowly down the long side road that connected the farm

with the county road. Arnie had stopped maintaining their end when

old Mrs. Fremantle died, and it was as rutted and hole-filled as the Fremantles’

side. When Robbie asked why they couldn’t get a load of gravel,

at least for their side, his father answered incomprehensibly, “I won’t give

Jim Grellier the satisfaction.”

Robbie turned south toward the highway but stopped to look at Mrs.

Grellier’s experimental farm. He had joined Junior and Chris Greynard

in making fun of her and teasing Lara when Mrs. Grellier had started the

farm four years ago. Now he felt ashamed, especially since no one was

looking after it. The dying organic-sunflower crop was one more thing

Arnie was gloating over.

Blackbirds and meadowlarks were helping themselves to the seeds. As

he watched, he spied Lara. She had draped herself in a sheet and was running

down the rows, flapping her arms. The birds rose and squawked as

she approached but settled back down on the flower heads as soon as she

moved to the next row. They bent the sunflowers almost to the ground as

they helped themselves to the seeds.

Robbie pulled his truck as close to the ditch as he could and climbed

down from the cab. By the time he had picked his way through the ditch,

on the east side of the road, and reached the field, Lara had disappeared.


He felt a sharp contraction under his ribs. She had seen him coming and

taken off for home. Just as he turned to leave the field, though, he caught

sight of her: she was sitting in the middle of the field, her white-draped

arms over her head like a tent.

He walked up to her slowly. “Lara? Lulu?” His voice came out in an

embarrassing squawk, as if it were still breaking in the dreadful way it

had done all last year.

“Go away!” Her own voice was muffled by the sheet.

He squatted next to her, his right hand out, palm up, as if she were a

meadowlark herself that he was trying to coax. “Lara, it’s me, Robbie. I

was driving by, and I—h, I saw you here. Do you need some help? With

the birds, I mean?”

“What, so you can laugh at me, and put it on your family’s website?

‘Some of our neighbors have grandiose ideas, but God hates them and is

punishing them by letting the blackbirds eat their crop while their

mother tries to kill herself ’?”

He turned crimson. “I wouldn’t ever do that, Lara, honest. It’s my

nanny, her and my dad. I tried to make them stop, but they don’t listen

to anything I say.”

She finally pulled the sheet free of her head and looked at him suspiciously.

She’d been crying so hard that the dirt on her cheeks had turned

to mud. Somehow that made her look all the more vulnerable, all the

more appealing. He leaned over and put his arms around her. She

smelled of dirt and sweat, not fresh grass as she had when he was

crouched behind her in Chip’s Nissan last winter. He didn’t care. He

couldn’t believe it, she was in his arms, she wasn’t fighting him off or calling

him “cowpoke,” or “milkboy.” She was leaning against him.

“You’re all dressed up,” she said. “Now your good clothes are dirty.

Will your gram be pissed off ?”

“Probably. I’m supposed to be—” He broke off, reddening again,

ashamed to tell her about Teen Witness.

“Supposed to be what? Going to church?”

“Sort of,” he muttered. “We’re supposed to do this witness thing, you


“Oh! You’re part of that group!” She pulled away from him.


“Not really. I mean, really, yes, I am. I go to Salvation Bible, and it’s

part of the youth ministry. But, well, I hate Teen Witness. Only my

grandmother, she’s on me like my underwear. Sorry, I mean she’s always

nagging at me, like I’ll go to hell if I don’t do what she says. Of course, she

thinks I’m hell-bound, anyway, because of my music and me not playing

football. I don’t know why she thinks Teen Witness will save me.”

Lara giggled. “So you’ll be there with me and my mom and—nd

Chip, because she says us Grelliers are hell-bound, too.”

“But—ut I don’t think Chip is in hell,” Robbie stammered.

“Of course he isn’t!” Lara’s face turned round and red with anger.

“Only an ignorant—ickhead—ould believe something so mean and


“Don’t be mad at me, Lara,” Robbie begged. “I can’t stand you to be

mad at me.”

And then, without knowing exactly how it happened, they were lying

on the ground, wrapped up in Lara’s dirty sheet, and she was crying and

telling him how angry Jim was with her, how he told her she wasn’t carrying

her weight on the farm.

“He acts like I’m this total loser because I don’t look after my mom.

But how can I look after someone who doesn’t talk to me or eat or—r

even take a bath?” She laughed nervously, thinking the idea of Susan not

bathing was so gross he’d run away in disgust.

But Robbie was kissing her teary eyes, and she was letting him kiss her

mouth, letting him put his hands underneath her sweatshirt and feel her

skin, which was softer than anything he had ever imagined. She didn’t

wear a bra. He couldn’t imagine any of the girls in Teen Witness going out

of the house without a bra on: it was part of being a modest Christian girl.

The thought made him even more excited. He cautiously touched one of

her nipples. She moved her breast away from him but let him keep his

hands on her back. He found himself telling her how his grandmother

thought he was a total loser because he didn’t like sports and wasn’t big

and blond like Junior and Arnie.

“But you look interesting, like—ike one of the old Delaware Indians,

who used to live north of the river.” In the midst of all Abigail Grellier’s


papers were some old photographs of leaders of the Delaware Indians

who came to the aid of the anti-slavery pioneers.

“Yeah, my mom’s mom was part Indian—unsee, I think it was—but I don’t really even look like my mom. At least, I just have three pictures

of her. Nanny and Dad burned all the others when she ran off—

don’t remember her face after all this time. I know your mom is kind of,

well, not doing too good right now, but—ut at least she’s still here.”

“Maybe. But it’s like Chip was her only child,” Lara burst out with all

the hurt and anger she’d been feeling since Susan retreated to her room.

“And even before Chip died, she was already abandoning the X-Farm. I

had to do all the work with the organic-certification board. And now,

now Dad won’t help me with the crop because he’s bringing in the corn

and the sorghum, so I can’t use the combine. And, anyway, how are we

going to pay Mom’s hospital bills? He might even sell the X-Farm.”

Robbie held her tighter. He wanted to say he’d help her bring in her

crop, but he couldn’t quite imagine telling his father he was using the

Schapens’ combine to help out the Grelliers.

The October twilight was closing in around them; the birds had

stopped eating the sunflowers and gone off to their nests. Lara’s cell

phone rang. She looked at the screen: it was her father.

She didn’t answer it. “He wants to know where I am—e’s afraid I’m

breaking into the old Fremantle house.”

The phone call silenced them both. Robbie started to wonder what he

could say to Nanny—hy hadn’t he picked up Amber Ruesselmann?

why hadn’t he been to Teen Witness? why were his clothes dirty?

“You’re supposed to be going out with Amber?” Lara giggled again.

“Nanny thinks she’s a good Christian girl for me, that if I start praying

with her I won’t go to hell,” Robbie said gloomily. “If she knew

about you— mean, about how I feel about you—he’d be furious,

because you’re a Grellier. And, anyway, she’d never believe someone as

pretty as you could ever like me.”

Lara didn’t say anything. As pretty as she? As pretty as someone with

tiny breasts and a pimple on her chin, with mousy hair, covered in dirt?

Susan thought worrying about appearance was a ridiculous waste of


time, maybe because Susan’s mom spent all her spare time, and money,

on skin treatment and makeup; she’d even had eyeliner tattooed on her

eyelids. If Lara worried about her mousy hair or her pimpled skin, Mom

would say, or at least she used to say, “It’s the content of your character

that counts, Lara, as Dr. King said, not your hair or your skin.”

“Why not tell your gram you got a flat tire?” Lara suggested.

Robbie was appalled at the thought of out-and-out making up a story,

but when Lara reminded him of all the lies his grandmother had told

him—bout his mom, about him, about the Grelliers—e felt a thrill

almost as pleasurable as the excitement of being with Lara herself.

It was completely dark when they finally got to their feet. “I—hen

can I see you again, Lulu?”

“In biology, tomorrow,” she teased.

“No, I mean, well—”

“After school,” she suggested. “We could go to that park in town

down by the river. No one we know ever goes there.”

He started to agree, eagerly, then remembered that tomorrow was

when the Jews were coming to look at the calf.

“You mean there really is a magic calf on your place?” she demanded.

“I thought it was just the way people talk around here.”

“It’s not magic,” Robbie said. “It’s just special. It’s all red, see, and the

Jews need a perfect red heifer if they’re ever going to build the Temple

again in Jerusalem. And Jesus can’t come again unless the Temple is

standing, and—”

“Robbie, you can’t make Jesus come by doing stuff !” Lara cried.

“No, of course not. But God won’t rebuild the Temple, the Jews have

to do it themselves. And if we can help them do it, then the end of days

will be that much closer.”

Lara shivered and pulled away from Robbie. Pastor Albright at Riverside

United Church of Christ didn’t preach about the end of days. Vague

images of devastation flitted through her head. The X-Farm, its sad rows

of sunflowers, would look like the photographs of Iraq she studied on

her computer where the bombs had torn big holes in everything. “Serves

you right,” she would whisper through the screen to the Iraqis, “serves you

right for blowing up my brother.”


In the cold gray light of the new moon, the field already looked desolate.

Did God really want that, to destroy the whole farm, just so people

like Robbie’s grandmother could be in heaven?

“I don’t want the end of days,” she said.

“Not want the end of days? But—on’t you want to be with Jesus in


“Oh, Robbie, it’s—t’s—” She spread her arms so that the dirty sheet

billowed around her like the feathers of a bedraggled peacock. “I’m living

in the end of days right now. I want the farm alive, I want my mom out

of the hospital, I want my brother alive, I don’t want any more people

dead and the farm burned down.”

Her phone rang again: still her father trying to track her down. She

again stuck it back in her jeans without answering it.

“But don’t you want to be with Jesus?” Was Nanny right, were the

Grelliers already damned? How could you not long for the end of days?

“Maybe you should have gone to Teen Witness with Amber,” Lara

said, trying her best to be hurtful. “I don’t want a sermon from you or

anyone in your family, telling me how my brother and my mother are

damned. You and Amber can pray over me to your heart’s content.”

“Lara, no!” Thoughts of the end of days, the building of the Temple so

Jesus could come in glory and kill all the Jews, along with people who

pretended to be Christians, people who worshipped with their lips but

not their hearts, vanished. Instead, he thought of Amber’s pasty, acnescarred

face and the soft skin of Lara’s back underneath her sweatshirt.

He grabbed her and pulled her to him, but she pushed him away.

“I have to go home,” she said. “My dad is freaking. The next thing you

know, he and Blitz will be out looking for me, and then they’ll see your


As if to prove her point, her phone rang again. This time, she

answered it. “I’m in the X-Farm . . . Yeah, I heard it ring, but I was trying

to stop the birds from eating all the seeds . . . Yeah, I’m on my way . . .

No, don’t. I’ll walk.”

She headed toward the road, wrapping the sheet tightly about herself.

Robbie jogged after her.

“But Lara—ulu— want to see you again.”


“I’ll be in biology tomorrow.”

“But I want to see you alone, be with you alone. Would you come to

my youth group tomorrow night? We could go out for a Coke or something


“After you’ve finished worshipping your cow?” Her words were still

mean, but her tone was softer, more provocative.

“Well, after these Jews from Kansas City leave we have supper and

then I go back to town for youth night.”

“Let me come and see the golden calf with you, and I’ll ride along to

your youth group,” she said.

“No, you can’t, the Jews say not to let any women near it, not even

Nanny is allowed.”

“Robbie! What is with you and all this stuff ? If you think women are

so evil they’ll destroy your stupid calf, then I’m so evil you can’t be alone

with me.”

“Oh, Lara, I don’t think that, please. I don’t even want them to use the

calf, and she’s so lonely, shut up all by herself, it’s cruel. But even if I said

you could come, my dad would be there, he wouldn’t let you anywhere

near the calf, and if I tried to show her to you by myself my nanny is

always checking on me. It just isn’t possible.”

They had reached the train tracks. Just over the ridge, Robbie could

see the lights of the Grellier house. Even though he knew Lara’s mother

was ill and her father upset with her, the house still looked warm and

cozy to him. Arnie and Myra did nothing to fix up the Schapen house,

except keep the roof shingled and the gutters cleaned, but they never

even painted it, while, inside, they still used the old lights and furniture

Robbie’s grandfather had grown up with in the 1930s.

Even from the outside, you could see that the Grelliers cared about

making the house look inviting. It was painted a soft cream—lthough,

of course, you couldn’t tell that in the moonlight—nd the shutters were

a dark, rich green, and when he’d sneaked into the yard in the dark early

one morning after milking, trying to guess which room was Lara’s, he’d

seen the modern lamps in the family room, and the kitchen, with its

bright-painted cupboards. Jim Grellier had come to the window that

morning, coffee cup in hand, staring at the sky as he tried to guess the


weather, but Robbie had felt sure Jim had seen him. He’d backed away,

run home, and never tried spying on Lara again.

Robbie ached with so many desires he didn’t know which was uppermost

in his mind—o be part of Lara’s family, to be inside the Grellier

house, to kiss Lara, to touch her again, to make her respect him and his

music. If Lara walked across the tracks without kissing him, she would

disappear from his life forever. He put a tentative hand on her sheetdraped


She stood rigid for a heartbeat, then turned to look at him. “What

time do the Jews come?”

“They get there around four-thirty and stay for about an hour. Does

this mean—”

“I’ll be here by the tracks at six-thirty.” She brushed his cheek with her

lips and darted into the yard around her house.

T h i r t y - O n e


Cars began arriving around four while Robbie and Dale were

starting the afternoon milking: first Pastor Nabo with three of the elders,

then some dedicated, avid church members, all male. They went into the

house through the front door, not the kitchen.

From her perch in the crotch of the oak tree, Lara could see Myra

Schapen through the kitchen window. Arms folded across her chest, she

was walking back and forth, her jaw snapping up and down, as if she

were biting holes in the air. Lara pulled her legs up underneath her.

Myra’s wild face was frightening. If she went to the window, if she saw

Lara dangling there—Lara pictured Myra with a pitchfork, a shotgun, a

backhoe, knocking Lara out of the tree, mutilating Lara, Myra snapping

her jaw all the while.

As soon as she got home from school, Lara had run into Chip’s room

to rummage through his box of effects. When the Army sent them back,

Susan had taken Chip’s sweats, and Jim his iPod. He liked listening to his

son’s music while he was alone on the tractor. Songs he’d hated when

Chip was alive now made him feel close to his dead son. Jim had let

Curly help himself to whatever he wanted, even though it meant he took

the fielder’s glove Chip had carried with him to Iraq. Lara hadn’t even

wanted to go near the box before, but this afternoon she rummaged

through it until she found Chip’s desert fatigues.

The uniform was miles too big on her. Just as she had her fabric shears

poised over the pant legs, ready to slash four inches off the bottoms, she


realized it would be a desecration to cut them. Instead, she made a deep

hem, and basted a series of tucks into the waistband. Even so, she had to

cinch a belt pretty tightly to keep the pants from sliding down her hips.

The shirt was also big on her, but that meant she could wear a sweatshirt

underneath to keep warm. She pulled her hair back on her head with a

clip, then tucked it inside Chip’s camouflage cap.

The clothes still smelled of Chip, his sweat, the aftershave Janice Everleigh

had put into the first and only care package the family had sent.

Lara paused at the top of the stairs, suddenly feeling queer, putting on

her brother’s clothes to sneak up on Robbie’s house. Then she thought of

the night three years ago when Chip had slithered through the ditch and

into Arnie’s barn, draping all the cows in toilet paper because of some

fight he’d had with Junior.

Lara giggled, remembering Myra’s fury. She’d been sure it was Chip

who did it. She’d come to the Grelliers’ kitchen, screaming bloody murder

at Jim and Susan, who only stared at her in bewilderment. Susan had

even said, “Myra, you’ll damage your heart if you keep getting this exercised.”

Lara and Chip had had to run to the barn before they exploded

with laughter and gave away the whole story. Chip would approve of her

mission; he would send her luck. “From up in heaven, you snot-filled

Schapens,” Lara hissed.

Jim had started bringing in the corn, which meant he was with Blitz

and Curly in the field closest to the house. Lara watched them from the

window on the landing. It was almost four. The light would hold for two

more hours, so they weren’t likely to take a break anytime soon. Even so,

she crouched low to the ground as she left the house, sticking up an arm

to open the door to her pickup, then sliding into the driver’s seat—he

didn’t care if they saw her leave, but there’d be buckets of questions if

they saw her in Chip’s uniform.

She parked her truck on the service track that ran between the X-Farm

and the Ropeses’ sorghum field, out of sight of the road and her own

house. Mr. Ropes had cut his sorghum. He might see her truck from his

back window, but he would just think she was working the X-Farm.

The October sky was a dull gray, an iron sky pressing down on the

earth. It didn’t hold rain, just a chilly dreariness. The blackbirds and


meadowlarks were still working furiously at the sunflowers. As Lara

walked along, she swung Chip’s cap at them. The sight broke her heart,

all that hard work disappearing into their greedy little bellies, but she

didn’t take extra time to try to chase the birds away.

“An exercise in futility, anyway,” she said under her breath, repeating

the phrase she’d heard Gina use last summer.

Thinking of Gina made her wonder how she’d get back into the Fremantle

house now that Jim and Blitz had nailed shut the door between

basement and kitchen. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” she whistled.

“Tomorrow the sun may be shining, although it is cloudy today.”

Her mission this afternoon was easier, since she only had to sneak

onto the Schapen land, not break into the house. It was also riskier. If

Gina found her at Fremantles’, she would be cold and nasty but not

frightening. If Myra or Arnie Schapen found her on their land, they’d

hurt her. Physically, probably, while grinning and saying they were beating

the devil out of her. They’d go after Jim, too, maybe sue him for trespassing

or some shit.

“So be careful,” she admonished herself when she reached the county


She knelt in the ditch until she was sure no one was around in the

fields or on the road, then crossed the road and dropped down into the

ditch on the far side. She’d worried that Chip’s light fatigues would stand

out against the dark autumn landscape, but, once in the ditch, she saw

that they blended perfectly with the dead grasses and leaves around her.

When she reached the Schapen buildings, she stuck her head up cautiously.

She saw Robbie in the distance, calling up the cows from the

south pasture.

She poked a hole in the ground with her finger. Her feelings about

yesterday were too complicated for her to understand. The pleasure of

having someone care about what she was thinking and feeling, that had

been a balm to her sore spirits. The physical thrill of being touched in

that way, that was new to her. Oh, yes, her own hands on her own body.

But not a boy’s hands. Huddled in the ditch, watching Robbie, she ran

her fingers lightly over her arms and shivered from the memory of his



But he was a Schapen. Even if he was obviously different from Junior

and Arnie and Myra, he still was one of them, went to that bizarro

church where they thought they could make Jesus come again by breeding

a red calf. And because he was a Schapen, did she want to spend

more time with him really? Was that why she was sneaking over here

really? To spy on his golden calf just because he’d said she couldn’t, was

that a way of saying she didn’t care what he thought or said?

Robbie disappeared from her field of vision, but he’d be back soon

with the cows. She’d have to move now. She picked out a big bur oak

near the driveway as her spy’s perch, double-checked the outbuildings for

any sign of Arnie or Myra, then crawled across the rough-cut grass to the

tree. Arnie came out of the house, and she froze against the ground, but

he was heading for the new enclosure, the little round house he’d built

for his golden calf. Lara couldn’t actually see the special pen from here,

but she’d watched Arnie building it last winter, before the corn and

sorghum grew high enough to block the view across his fields from

Highway 10.

Lara jumped up, grabbed a big overhanging branch, and hoisted herself

up, quickly, smoothly, no mistakes allowed here. A second later, she

was in the tree crotch, shielded by the branch from house, barn, and


Pocahontas Grellier, champion tracker. Too bad 4-H didn’t have a category

in that at the county fair; she’d take the grand prize every year.

She’d gotten to her roost in the nick of time: Robbie’s pastor drove up

seconds after she’d found a place flat enough that she could sit. After him

and the four cars with other church members—r so she guessed the

men to be; except for Chris Greynard’s dad, they were strangers to her—there wasn’t any action on the road. She watched Robbie and the

Schapens’ hired hand working the cows in and out of the milk barn; she

saw Arnie leave the circular enclosure and go back into the house.

She could see the details of the kitchen, the industrial clock on one

wall, the corner of the old-fashioned range, its enamel chipped, and then

Arnie and Myra talking. Arnie disappeared and Myra turned to the window,

but only to fill a teakettle, Lara realized after a nervous moment: the

sink was probably under the window where Lara couldn’t see it.


She began to understand how isolated Robbie’s life was. The county

road running past her own house carried traffic all day long. She could

see the Ropeses’ from her bedroom, and even bits of the Fremantle place.

But the side road dead-ended here at the Schapen farm. People only

drove up this way if they were going to Schapens’, and Arnie and Myra

were so mean no one ever just dropped in on them the way they did Jim

and Susan.

Poor Robbie! How could he stand it, cows for friends, a witch and a

warlock running his house, a bully for a big brother? Maybe in the hospital

the nurses had made a mistake, given his mother an Indian woman’s

baby. Maybe over on the reservation, there was some big blond lunk who

thought he was a Pottawatomie. Lara almost giggled out loud at the image.

Another car was coming up the road now. A dusty Dodge van turned

in to the Schapen yard. Lara stretched out along the branch to get a better

look as three men climbed stiffly down. These must be the Jews.

There were Jewish teachers at Lara’s high school and a number of Jewish

kids in her class, but they were all like Lara’s friends, worrying about how

they looked, what people thought of them, who was going out with who,

how they were doing in their classes. These three men were exotic, not

just foreign in space but in time as well. Like Robbie, when he first saw

them last winter, she recognized the strange clothes from pictures in her

history book. They were wearing the round, hard black hats, the long

black frock coats, the corkscrew curls—ike the men from the Lodz

Ghetto who were killed in the Holocaust.

Arnie came out from the front of the house with the pastor from Salvation

Bible Church. Lara couldn’t hear any of the conversation, but she

could see Arnie strutting, as if he were trying to prove that he, not these

strange, bearded men, was in charge. After another minute, the other

men joined them, and they headed toward the special calf ’s round


The Schapens’ hand emerged from the milk barn and got into his

beat-up Chevy. A few minutes later, Robbie came out and headed to the

house. He passed through the kitchen, where Myra snapped her jaw at

him. He seemed to be ignoring her—e passed on through a swinging

door without stopping to look at her.


A light came on upstairs. After a time, Robbie reappeared in the

kitchen, his hair wet, wearing his sports jacket. At this distance, Lara

couldn’t tell if he’d been able to get yesterday’s dirt out of it.

When he opened the back door, Lara heard Myra screeching, “Did you

hear me, young man? I told you to fetch the coffee cups from the parlor.

You’re not a man or a church elder, you don’t belong out there in Junior’s

place. I’m not here to wait on you hand and foot. You do as I say.”

In the dull twilight, Lara could see Robbie slump over, as if Myra’s

words were rocks hitting his shoulders. She stifled an impulse to jump

down from the tree and race over to him, to put her arms around him

and console him.

Robbie slouched his way across the yard, passed the milking shed and

other outbuildings, and disappeared from Lara’s view. Myra stood in the

back door, hands on hips. Probably her jaw was still snapping even now

that she’d shut up. She finally returned to the house, pausing at the window

that overlooked Lara’s tree, but, after a time, she went through the

swinging door into the room beyond.

Lara took a breath, tightened her stomach muscles, swung over the

branch, and dropped into the yard. Keeping low to the ground, she moved

around behind the milking shed, hopping around the cow patties that

were splattered everywhere. In the gray half-light, she couldn’t avoid

them all. “Sorry, Chip,” she muttered to her brother, “I got your brandnew

fatigues all stinko.”

On the far side of the milking shed stood equipment sheds. Beyond

them, the lagoon for collecting wastewater glimmered purply black in

the fading light. She paused at the main barn, where Arnie kept his combine

and his tractor. The golden calf ’s special pen lay another hundred

yards beyond it. The troop of visitors was so big they couldn’t all fit into

the enclosure; a half-dozen men shoved for position in the open doorway,

craning to see what was going on inside. Lara could hear their

voices, raised in excitement, but could not make out the words.

The ground between the main barn and new pen was rough, open

terrain. The only possible cover was a set of small sheds, about eight in

all, where new calves were tied up. She didn’t know anything about dairy

farming, and couldn’t understand what the calves and sheds were doing


there, but they were her only way of getting close to the golden calf ’s


It wouldn’t be dark for another hour, so she had to hold her breath

and get close to the ground, inevitably putting hands and knees both

smack into cow shit. She swallowed a gag and got behind the nearest of

the little sheds. The calf bawled in misery when it saw her. Its hair was

wet and tufted, like a newborn kitten’s; it couldn’t be very old. Lara

wiped one filthy hand in the dirt and petted the calf.

“You poor little thing, where’s your mom? She take an overdose of

drugs and end up in the ER, that you have to be tied up like this all

alone, crying?” she murmured, stroking it.

The calf tried to suck on her fingers, and she saw there was a bucket of

milk at its feet. She dipped her fingers into it, momentarily forgetting

her main goal, and let the calf suck the milk from her fingers. A louder

cry from the men startled her. Lara glanced over at them, but they were

still looking into the enclosure; they hadn’t seen her. Still, she was pretty

exposed out here. She patted the calf ’s rump and darted behind the next

shed, working her way toward the golden calf.

She felt triumphant when she reached the last shed in the row without

detection. This one didn’t have a calf tied to it; she backed into the dank,

musty straw covering the ground inside and studied the closed pen. It

wasn’t sealed, the way it had appeared in the distance: the roof was raised

about a yard from the walls so that air could blow through. The wall was

also six inches or so from the ground to make it easy to sluice out the pen.

Arnie had put in a series of skylights in the roof, which Lara could see

because the interior lights were on, but the sides didn’t have any windows.

Poor calf, Lara thought. No mom, no fresh air, no buddies to talk to.

She was only fifteen feet away now and she could hear the excited

voices of the men crowded into the doorway: “It said what?” “How can

they tell?” “What does it mean?” “Shut up so we can hear for ourselves!”

At that moment, her cell phone rang. Her heart almost stopped, so

great was her fear, but the men were too intent on what was happening at

the pen.

She looked at the screen. Her father. Oh, no! Not checking up on her

now! She backed into the empty shed again and answered.


“Lulu, where are you?”

“Just out, Dad, I’ll be home pretty soon.”

“Where is ‘out,’ young lady?”

“I’m at a friend’s house. I’ll call you in a minute. Got to go!”

“Don’t hang up! I’m going into town to see your mother, and I want

you to come with me. Tell me where you are!”

She hung up and turned her phone to vibrate, which she should have

done before she left the house. If she told Dad what she was doing, he’d

have ten fits. Besides which, she didn’t want to see Mom. Anyway, she

had a date with Robbie—ort of a date. Seeing Robbie would be way

better than looking at her mother’s dead-alive face and listening to a lecture

from Dad.

She could feel the phone vibrating. Her father called her three times

while she stared at the phone face. It was six o’clock. She should go home

and wash up so she’d be on time to see Robbie, but—hen she’d get

sucked into going into town. And, besides, she was this close—he had

to see the calf.

T h i r t y - Two


Lara scuttled away from the empty shed. She made a wide circle

around the miracle calf ’s pen, moving so close to the waste lagoon that

she heard the frogs and insects chirping at its edge, then crawled through

the field to the back of the pen. She lay flat on the ground, which was wet

and smelly from a recent sluicing, and peered under the raised wall. The

men inside the pen were shouting now, some yelling at the others to shut

up, but all of them creating so much racket that Lara couldn’t make out

individual words.

She couldn’t see much: straw on a raised platform with large black

stones beneath it, Arnie’s overalls and the black pants of the three

Jews and Pastor Nabo to her right, unidentifiable legs of two men in

front of her so close that she could have reached a hand in and untied

their shoes. Robbie’s legs, which would be skinnier than any of the

others, weren’t visible—e must be lost in the crush at the door. She

could see nothing of the calf but heard its anxious bleating over the men’s


“What a gift, what a blessing.” Pastor Nabo choked on the words.

“Brother Arnie— can’t believe—ere, in your manger—Let us pray!”

Nabo intoned Jesus’ name, and started to thank Him, but one of the

Jews interrupted. “You may mean well, my friend, but this calf is speaking

the sacred Name of Ha-Shem in Hebrew. She is calling on the Holy

One in language so ancient and so sacred, it would be a sacri—t would

be a mistake to invoke your Christ’s name on her. She is set aside for the


rebuilding of the Holy Temple, and, as such, she must not have her mission

compromised by other gods.”

The man’s voice, as thick with emotion as Pastor Nabo’s, briefly

silenced the others. Lara heard someone directly in front of her mutter,

“Damned Jews, trying to tell us how to worship.” Another voice said,

“Later, Kurt, later.”

The men started filing out. As the crowd thinned, Lara could see the

calf ’s red legs dancing uneasily around her raised pen and then Robbie’s

jeans as he climbed up on the platform next to the heifer. All the visitors

were gone. Robbie and Arnie were alone in the building.

“Don’t you do anything to that calf !” Arnie shouted. “That calf is set

apart, she’s sacred. You cannot touch her or spoil her the way I know

you’ve been doing. You come along with me now, boy.”

“But, Dad, do you think she was really saying the secret name of God?

To me, it sounded like ordinary bleating, you know, the noise they

all make when they’re nervous. And this girl, she’s so lonely, it’s made

her act—”

“And you know better than the Jews what ancient Hebrew sounds

like, I suppose?” his father said. “Don’t go talking like that: this heifer is

going to make our fortune. You come along now.”

Robbie’s legs turned around and stepped down again from the platform.

He was moving slowly. Lara pictured him slumped over, the way

he’d been when Myra was yelling at him.

The work lights that had brightened the pen went out, and the calf

bleated again, “Yeh-heh, yeh-heh,” as Arnie shut the door. Lara heard

him cry, “See, there it is again. She’s repeating God’s secret name. She’s

bound for glory!”

The gap between the ground and the wall was narrower than Lara’s

shoulders, but the dirt was soft from all the sluicing the Schapens

gave the pen; it didn’t take Lara long to scoop out a shallow trough with

her filthy fingers. She stretched her arm under the wall. Her fingers

closed on one of the black stones; grabbing it, she pulled herself all the

way inside.

The day had almost spent itself while she’d been watching and waiting.

Without the work lights on, she could barely make out the heifer on


her raised platform. The dimness turned the heifer’s red-orange hide to

black. The animal heard her and moved restively.

Lara wished she could turn on the lights, but they’d show through the

skylights and bring Arnie on the double. She got to her feet, stubbing her

toes against the boulders that surrounded it. As her eyes adjusted to the

murky pen, she saw the railing around the platform and the calf ’s manger

full of hay.

“Hey, girl, it’s okay,” she whispered to the heifer, reaching an arm up

through the railing to scratch her flank. “I know you’re not supposed to

have any females near you, but, dang it, you’re a female yourself, you

must miss all the other girls in the herd, not to mention your mom.”

The calf bleated again, the “yeh-heh, yeh-heh” that had so amazed the

men, but then lowered her head and rubbed against Lara’s outstretched

hand. Lara grabbed the railing and hoisted herself up to the platform.

She swung a leg over the rail and climbed inside the enclosure.

Her heart was racing. If Arnie found her here, she was worse than

dead. The thought only made her want to raise the stakes. Arnie thought

he was everyone’s boss, he thought he could gloat over her mother’s illness,

over Chip’s death, but she, Lara, could destroy his precious heifer,

bring him down to earth in a hurry.

What if she stole the heifer? She could hide it in the X-Farm, feed her

sunflowers. She swung back over the enclosure rail. Using the pale light

from the screen on her cell phone, she tried the door. It was padlocked

on the outside. If she was going to take the calf, she’d have to come back

with a screwdriver to undo the padlock.

The cell phone gave her a new idea. She scrambled back into the pen,

tucked Chip’s cap into one of the back pockets of his pants she was wearing

so her face would be recognizable, and took a picture of herself with

her left arm draped around the heifer’s neck. Holding the phone at arm’s

length, she turned and kissed the calf on the nose and snapped the shutter


The calf butted her in the chest, sending her sprawling into the straw.

Lara laughed with excitement. “Want to play football, do you, missy?”

She got up, grabbed the heifer’s shoulder, and had flung a leg up over her


back when she heard voices outside the enclosure and the sound of a key

in the padlock.

She froze with terror. She couldn’t get out of the pen and under the

wall before the men came in. She dove into the manger and pulled the

hay over her head. It was a tight fit. She was terrified her shoes were

showing, but she couldn’t afford to sit up to check. In another second,

the lights came on inside the room.

The heifer was bucking and snorting around her small pen. Lara had

alarmed her by trying to climb onto her back, and she was further startled

by the return of the men. Lara heard Pastor Nabo cry in ecstasy,

“She’s full of the Holy Spirit!”

The hay was tickling Lara’s nose; she sneezed several times before she

could work a trembling hand through the grasses to squeeze her nostrils

together, but it seemed that the calf was making enough noise to muffle

the sound.

Through gaps in the manger slats, she could see a little bit of what was

going on. Arnie unfastened a gate in the calf ’s enclosure and the men

climbed onto the calf ’s platform. Lara couldn’t tell how many there were,

especially when a couple of them leaned back onto the manger. If she

goosed them, maybe they’d think the Holy Spirit was descending on them.

“Now that the Jews have gone, we can invoke the God they have

ignored to bless this holy animal.” The pastor’s voice shook with


“Pastor, we don’t want to jinx her in any way.” Arnie’s voice was

uneasy. “Until the Temple is rebuilt and the Temple sacrifices begin

again, she’s kind of a Jewish calf. If we baptize her, maybe something will

go wrong with her.”

“Brother Schapen, I respect your fears, your concerns, but the Lord is

not controlled by superstitions. We can’t ‘jinx’ a calf He’s put His special

mark on any more than we can create her ourselves. The Lord Himself

knew the Jews were a stiff-necked people. We’ve seen this time and again

in our dealings with these men from Kansas City. They won’t accept

Jesus as their Savior. They only want to rebuild the Temple for their own

worship, not to hasten the Lord’s return.”


“Yeah, Arnie, Jews or no Jews, since when do we let a bunch of guys

from Kansas City tell us how to run a farm or raise a calf ?” Chris Greynard’s

father said.

“But they were the ones who knew what the calf was saying. None of

us would have known it was repeating the sacred name of God.”

Secret name,” Pastor Nabo corrected. “The secret name of God. The

Jews have special knowledge that comes from dedicating their lives to the

Law instead of the salvation that comes through Christ Jesus. The Lord

spoke to them first through the Law. Since they refuse the salvation that

could be theirs, they only know half the story. And the half they refuse,

the cornerstone that they reject, is our Savior Jesus Christ. We cannot

reject Christ. We must invoke His blessing. If you’re afraid of the presence

of the Lord, Brother Schapen, maybe Brother Greynard should take

charge of this calf.”

Arnie said sulkily that the calf had been given to him, to his farm, and

he didn’t need anyone else to take care of it. “But if we’re willing to disobey

the Jews over this prayer, maybe we should let women into Nasya’s

pen. You know my mother is a holy woman, Pastor, and it seems hard

that she can’t go near a calf on the farm she’s looked after for over sixty


“I think we all know the answer to that, Brother Schapen,” Pastor

Nabo said. “We know that when Jesus spoke to us through His apostle

Paul, He told women that they were to be subservient to men. We don’t

allow women to preach in our churches, and we don’t want them desecrating

this heifer. Let’s invoke the Holy Spirit on this animal, my brothers

in Christ.”

The men on the platform knelt. The poor calf was trembling in distress

at having so many men close to her. All the while the pastor prayed,

she moved anxiously around, bleating her pitiful “yeh-heh, yeh-heh.”

Every time she made the noise, the men around her cried, “Praise Jesus!”

and “Hallelujah.”

The pastor’s prayer went on and on. He beseeched the calf to bring

the day of the Lord, the day of Rapture, close to them. He besought her

to go willingly to her solemn sacrifice, and recounted the Temple sacrifices

from the Bible. He praised the calf for her holy virginity.


Lara’s left leg was cramping. She wanted to scream in pain, and in

annoyance with the pastor for being so full of himself that he couldn’t

shut up. She needed to get home. Robbie would be waiting for her at the

tracks and think she’d stood him up. Dad would be so pissed off; she

didn’t even want to think about that. Behind those thoughts was something

deeper, scarier, that revolved around the calf itself and the way Pastor

Nabo was praying. Temple sacrifices, purity, the virginal cow—he

words evoked images of blood and rape that sickened her.

Lara felt her face wet with tears but knew she couldn’t cry out or even

move. She clamped her teeth down on a mouthful of straw and held

onto it for life. When the pastor finally finished, when the men climbed

to their feet and left the enclosure and Arnie turned out the lights. Lara

slid from the manger as quickly as her cramped and shaking legs would

take her. She flung herself under the depression in the ground and

crawled past Arnie’s milking barn, then ran across his sorghum field to

the road. She’d get her truck tomorrow. She couldn’t face going into the

dark sunflower field now.

Lara trudged slowly to the train tracks. Robbie had said he would

meet her there at six-thirty. It was a little after seven, and there wasn’t any

sign of his truck. He must have gotten tired of waiting. She walked on

into the house on leaden legs.

It was only after she’d stood under the shower long enough to use all

the hot water, as she tried to flush not just the cow shit but Pastor Nabo’s

hot, blood-filled words away, and after she’d put Chip’s fatigues into the

washer with a double cup of soap and another of bleach, that Lara realized

she was missing her cell phone. She remembered now: she’d been

holding it when the men came into the pen. She must have dropped it in

the golden calf ’s manger.

T h i r t y - T h re e


When Jim got home, the kitchen light was on, but his daughter’s

truck wasn’t in the yard. He could hear the washer working through a

spin cycle, so she must not have been gone long. He called her name, and

then dialed her cell phone for what seemed like the twentieth time in the

last hour only to get her voice message, the perky voice she reserved for

her friends. Her own father didn’t get that happy, lively Lara these days.

Susan was coming home. When he went in to visit her this evening,

the doctor said they would discharge her on Saturday. That should be

making him happy, his wife under his roof instead of in the hospital, but

instead he felt scared.

He needed his daughter in the house to keep him from feeling so

alone, so overwhelmed. Even though the hospital bills frightened him

because their insurance plan didn’t cover psychiatric care, he was more

terrified still of how his wife might act when she returned. The drugs and

whatever they’d been doing with her in therapy had made her more

coherent, but she talked to him, her husband of twenty-three years, in

dull monosyllables, and her eyes were dead in her gaunt face.

He went up the stairs and looked into the master bedroom. He hadn’t

gone into it since he took Susan to the hospital two weeks ago. The mass

of papers was still strewn across the room, and everywhere he looked he

saw where she’d scrawled words onto walls and furniture, words about

peace and war and death that didn’t fit together in any way he could

make sense of.


He would have to get all that cleaned up, the walls scrubbed, fit all

that into the next two days while bringing in the corn. The ball of tension

between his shoulder blades grew. Lara would have to suck up her

resentment against him and Susan and help out.

He went back down the stairs to the front room. He and Susan had

used it as their bedroom when they got married, and then, when Gram

got too old to manage the stairs, they’d moved her in here and taken over

the main bedroom upstairs. Since Gram died, they used the front room

only at Christmas, to set up the tree and open presents.

He found the bottle of bourbon Chip had given him last Christmas

and poured two inches into one of his ever-so-great-grandmother’s crystal

glasses, which stood in an old-fashioned breakfront in the corner. It

was cold in the room, because he kept the doors closed and the heat shut

off to save on fuel, but he sat down at Abigail’s walnut folding table. He

lifted the glass and offered a toast to his son, then drank the bourbon

quickly as if it were medicine. He gasped from the burn in his gut—e

almost never drank, and never that much that fast.

He nodded at the bottle as if it had confirmed something he’d said to it

and poured out another inch. He tried to remember Chip’s face as he’d

been on his last home leave, but all Jim could see was his son’s eager grin

in the picture with George Brett. He tried to remember his own parents,

who’d been dead for almost forty years now, but he couldn’t even say what

color his mother’s hair had been. It was as if his parents and grandparents,

and now his son, lived in the country of the dead, while the country of the

living moved further and further away from them. And yet someday he’d

move to that country, too, so it couldn’t be all that distant.

He’d been brought up to believe the dead were with Jesus, who wiped

away all their tears, but it was hard to imagine. Hard to think that Jesus

was any more real than the hobbits and gremlins Lara liked to read

about. If you really exist, Lord Jesus, Jim prayed to himself, and if the dead

are in your arms, take me to them now. I need my grandfather. I need someone

who cares about me and the farm. I want my boy with me. Don’ leave

me here with this sick wife and troubled daughter and our farm falling

deeper and deeper into debt. Please, please.

The cold began seeping through his clothes. He took the bottle with


him into the family room and stretched out on the couch, not bothering

to take off his shoes even though his feet hurt. He lay there, holding the

bottle, but not drinking any more, just staring bleakly at the ceiling.

After a time, he became aware of his daughter standing over him. He

didn’t notice how pale she was or the tearstains on her face but sat

upright, anger flooding him.

“Where in Jesus’ name have you been, Lara Grellier? I have called and

called your phone and you have been acting like you’re the queen of

England, too high and mighty to talk to me. If you can’t answer your

phone when I’m calling you, then I am stopping the service on it tonight.”

“I lost it,” she whispered.

“Goddamn it, Lulu, I will not have you lying to me!” He slammed the

bottle against the coffee table.

“I’m not lying. I— dropped it after you called me. I mean, after

the time I answered, and—nd it was dark, so—o I couldn’t find it.”

He got to his feet and looked her in the eye. “Where were you? At the

Fremantle house?”


He drew his hand back to slap her and put it down in the nick of time.

No matter how angry you were, you did not hit people, especially not

your wife or daughter. Nothing could ever justify that. But Lara had seen

his hand and seen the murderous fury in his face.

She backed away from him and hugged her arms around herself.

“You’re drunk, aren’t you?”

He looked down at the bottle of Old Grand-Dad and made an effort

to swallow his rage, his fear, all the emotions that were pummeling him

to the point that he didn’t know who he was anymore. “No, I’m not

drunk. Can you please tell me where you were this afternoon? You

weren’t with Kimberly or Melanie. I know— called their mothers.”

She tried to speak but couldn’t choke out any words.

“Do you have a boyfriend I don’t know about?”

The thought of Robbie made her blush despite herself, but she shook

her head. Jim saw the blush and said wearily, “Lulu, please just tell me

the truth. If you’re sleeping with some boy, I won’t be happy, but I can

deal with it better than I can you lying to me, okay?”


“I—ad, I went over to see the Schapens’ special calf.”

This was so unexpected that he burst out laughing. “And did it perform

a miracle while you were watching?”

“Dad, it isn’t funny. These Jews came from Kansas City. They come

every month to inspect the cow—obbie says she’ll lose her special

power or whatever if she isn’t red all over or if there’s some kind of nick or

anything wrong in her skin—nd all these men from Arnie’s church were

there. Dad, they got down on their knees to pray to the calf. They said

they were praying to Jesus, but Robbie’s pastor, he went on and on, all

about blood and stuff. I was hiding in the manger, and that’s when—”

“You mean you sneaked into Arnie’s farm uninvited?”

“Yes, yes. They don’t let any women come near the calf, Robbie told

me, not even Myra— mean, Ms. Schapen. And Myra and Arnie,

they’ve put so many lies on their website, about Mom and Chip—you know, they say Chip is in hell! So I thought it would serve them

right if I went right up and kissed their stupid calf and put a picture of

it out on YouTube. Only, they came in, Arnie and the pastor and all

these men.”

When she finished her tale, Jim didn’t know whether he was proud of

Lara for her nerve or angry with her for her spying. In the end, all he did

was take her hands and bring her over to sit next to him on the couch.

“Sweetheart, I think we’ll leave your phone in Arnie’s manger and

chalk it up as part of the worst year of our lives. They’ll find it sometime

when they’re cleaning, but they’ll just think one of the men out there

dropped it.”

“But, Dad, I took pictures with it, a picture of me with the calf.

They’ll know it’s mine. And Arnie, he’s a deputy, he can probably trace

our phone number on it through some police database.”

“We’ll have to go over, then, and tell Arnie the truth.”

“Dad, no! You know how mean he is! He’ll sue you for trespass or me

for ruining his calf, or something. He thinks the calf is going to make

him rich. Can’t you and Blitz go over and talk to him and Myra about

something else, keep them in the house? Then I could crawl back into

the pen and get my phone back.”

“Baby, you know I don’t like you sneaking into places. And now you


see one reason why. You need to learn to face up to the consequences of

your actions and one of those consequences is telling Arnie the truth.

Maybe that will cure you of trying to spy on people.”

“No, Dad, no!” Her voice rose, trembling near the breaking point.

He was tired, too tired to try to reason with her or think of any other

solution to the problem. “Okay, Lulu, okay. We’ll talk about it more

tomorrow; I’m too tired to think right now. And that’s because I’ve been

bringing in the corn all day, not because I had two shots of bourbon.

Now I have some good news for you: the doctor says your mom can

come home on Saturday.”

“Oh,” she said blankly. “I mean, good, I guess. Is she eating?”

“Yes, she’s put on six pounds, they said. And she’s taking her medicine,

so she’s starting to feel better.”

Father and daughter stared bleakly at each other, each imagining how

much harder their lives would be with Susan back in the house.

“Which reminds me,” Jim said, as if they’d both spoken the shared

thought, “I could really use your help cleaning out the bedroom, Lulu.”

She opened her mouth to protest, then remembered how much

trouble she was in and how much she needed his help. She mumbled

something that passed for agreement.

Jim clasped her to him. “Lulu, we’ll get through all this. I don’t know

how, but we will.”

She clung to him briefly, despite the smell of bourbon, which she

found disgusting. For a moment, she forgot all the hurtful words he’d

said to her since Chip’s death. For a moment, she felt like little Lara,

whose daddy could cure anything that was wrong in her world, from her

despair at her mother’s abandoning the co-op market to her hurt feelings

when Chip beheaded all her dolls.

Then she remembered her cell phone and how Jim wouldn’t help her

find it. And how Robbie hadn’t waited for her at the crossroads. Even

though it was her own fault for being late, he might have cut her some

slack. After all, yesterday he seemed to want to be with her. She turned

from her father and went to put Chip’s clothes in the dryer.

There wasn’t any way for Lara to know that Myra Schapen had forced

Robbie to wait in the kitchen with her until the men were through in the


heifer’s pen, since Robbie refused to go back out to pray with them. The

calf ’s fear and loneliness made him miserable. Even though it felt like

sacrilege, to go against Pastor Nabo and the Jews, Robbie couldn’t believe

the heifer was speaking ancient Hebrew. She sounded too much like a

frightened, lonely calf to him.

At six-thirty, hoping to see Lara, he started for the kitchen door.

When Nanny demanded to know where he thought he was going, he

said to town, to set up his music for Teen Youth Night.

“You’ll ride in with Pastor Nabo, young man. And if you’re not going

to go pray like a Christian man and take your responsibilities seriously,

then you can work in here with me like a woman and help me get all

these coffee cups cleaned up. I’m not having you disappear on the pastor

like you did last night. I’ll be ashamed to hold my head up at the

women’s Bible class tomorrow, when Gail Ruesselmann asks me how you

could leave poor little Amber in the lurch. Flat tire, indeed. Tonight it’ll

be trouble with the carburetor, no doubt!”

Robbie could only be grateful that Myra hadn’t guessed he’d spent the

whole evening right across the road with Lara Grellier—hat would

really have fried her eggs! She thought he was out doing drugs or getting


“But, Nanny, Pastor can’t drive me home after Teen Youth Night!”

He’d been afraid she’d snarl that he could walk home, but he was startled

when she said Junior would pick him up.

“Junior?” he cried in dismay. “He’s over in Tonganoxie.”

“He’s coming home. I called to tell him how this calf was speaking

Hebrew and about to make us all famous, and he decided he’d best come

home and see for himself. His first class isn’t until ten tomorrow. He’ll be

able to drive back in the morning. It’ll do you good to spend time with

your brother, instead of drinking and carrying on like a sodomite in

some Lawrence back alley!”

“Nanny, I’m a better student than Junior ever was, I work hard at Teen

Youth. Why can’t you trust me to get myself to church and back?”

“I trusted you last night and look where you ended up. And don’t you

go comparing yourself with Junior. If you had his abilities, you wouldn’t

need to boast about your grades. Pride goeth before destruction, young


man, and don’t you forget it! And if you think I’m calling that cup clean

just because you ran water over it, think again.”

While the men were still praying over the calf, Robbie finally found a

chance to slip out and walk the quarter mile to the crossroads. There was

no sign of Lara. His depression deepened. Why had he ever believed

someone as beautiful, as unusual, as Lara Grellier would seriously think

of going out with him, especially to a lame event like a church-youth

meeting? If he was honest, he’d have to admit he’d just wanted a chance

to show off to her how good a musician he was. He’d imagined her eyes

shining at him on the way home, telling him how special his music was,

so he’d have a chance to sing one of the songs he’d written to her.

He waited until a quarter of seven, then turned back to the farm,

shoulders hunched over, kicking rocks. He got to the yard just as the

men were starting to get into their cars and Myra was shouting his name

loud enough for God and all the angels to hear it.

T h i r t y - Fo u r


Jim had gone to bed as soon as the nine o’clock news finished. Lara

went through the motions of her homework while picking at a pizza, but

she was too tense to eat, let alone study.

Now that the weather had turned chilly, the uninsulated sunporch

was too cold at night for sleeping and Jim had moved into Chip’s room.

Lara listened to her father’s heavy breathing; the bourbon he’d drunk was

making him snore. The raw noise was oddly comforting—t made her

feel at least she wasn’t alone in the house.

She tiptoed past Chip’s door to the sunporch, where she had a view of

the road, wondering what time Robbie’s youth group ended and when

he’d be coming home. She had a half-formed notion of stopping his

truck, telling him what had happened, and seeing if he’d retrieve her cell

phone. Maybe he’d be so mad at her for coming near his precious calf

he’d never speak to her again. And why should that bother her? What did

she care if a loser Schapen turned his back on her? She’d be better off.

Lonelier off.

She must have stood at the window for close to an hour, but all she

saw were cars and pickups racing down the county road between Highway

10 and Fifteenth Street. A few minutes before eleven, a jeep turned

off the county road, heading toward Schapens’. That was Junior’s: Arnie

had bought it for him when Junior left for college so he wouldn’t have to

ride his motorcycle in bad weather.

Lara’s stomach tightened. Junior hadn’t been home once since he’d


started over at Tonganoxie in August. Arnie must have found her cell

phone in the manger. He’d called Junior. The two of them would come

over and arrest her or beat up Dad and burn down the house.

She thought about waking her father, but she imagined what he’d say:

we’ll face Arnie if he comes here, and, meanwhile, think twice the

next time you want to pull a stunt like sneaking into the special heifer’s


She’d done it once, she could do it again. She went down to the utility

room and took Chip’s fatigues out of the dryer. “Sorry, Chip,” she murmured,

“I got your uniform stinko once already today, and now I’m

going to do it again. But just in case Arnie hasn’t found my phone yet,

I’m going back for it. Remember me, your stupid little sister? Look after

me if you’re not too busy playing your harp, okay?”

Lara giggled with nerves—he couldn’t picture Chip playing a harp. If

he was with Jesus and the saints, he’d be so holy she wouldn’t recognize

him. But if she got to heaven herself maybe she’d be holy, too. Only,

would Jesus even let in someone like her, who messed up in school and

got her dad in trouble with the meanest man in the Kaw Valley?

“Help me get my cell phone back and I promise I’ll scrub all that

garbage off the walls in Mom’s bedroom,” she pleaded, not with the

Lord—oo remote, too busy to bother with Kansas farm girls—ut to

her brother.

Lara slipped out through the garage, taking care not to wake her

father by banging the door shut. Once she was outside in the cold October

night, she felt so frightened she almost turned around. Only the

thought of Arnie’s and Myra’s gloating over one more screwup by her

family, of what Arnie might do to her if he had found her phone, made

Lara move forward.

She had just reached the county road when she heard Junior’s jeep

coming back down the road from Schapens’. She dropped into the ditch,

terrified that he was heading into her yard, but he turned south toward

Highway 10. She waited until his taillights had turned into little red dots

before getting out of the ditch. She dashed across the intersection and

into the bushes that Arnie never bothered to cut back.

The yard lights were on around the Schapen house; two shone near the


cow barns. Another was set up near the sheds for the baby calves. Lara

could see Robbie’s truck in the same place it had been when she came over

in the afternoon. It was parked on the verge so the visitors would have

room on the gravel drive. Maybe he’d never gone out at all. Maybe Myra

had wormed out the truth about him and Lara and forced him to stay

home. The idea brought a little calm to her jumbled thoughts.

The kitchen light was on, but Lara didn’t risk getting spotted by

climbing the oak tree to peer in. If the Schapens all rose at four-thirty or

five to do the milking, she couldn’t believe anyone in the family would be

up now. However, the Grelliers and the Schapens were so at odds she

knew nothing about their habits, the way she did for Mr. Ropes, or used

to for old Mrs. Fremantle—ara had known when Mrs. Fremantle liked

to go to bed, what shows she stayed up to watch, what she did when she

couldn’t sleep. Same for the Ropeses, after all the sleepovers she had done

with Kimberly when they were little. She could believe Myra would

stand in the kitchen all night brewing witch’s potions, but maybe she was

just staying up because her prize creep grandson Junior had come home.

Lara sank to the ground and crawled around behind the cow sheds.

The cows lowed as she passed, but the sound of their munching, the hard

jets of their urine hitting the floor, the soft plops of cow patties dropping,

sounded normal and soothing.

She repeated her maneuver of the afternoon, swinging in a wide arc

away from the cow barns so she could come to the heifer’s pen from

behind. The lagoon seemed enormous now, its inky water alive with menace.

She got to her feet and ran. In the stubble of Arnie’s sorghum, Lara

heard the night creatures moving away from her, alarmed by so big a beast

in their midst: at this hour, voles, possums, and deer mice owned the

fields. An owl swooped past her, hunting, and the scream from the small

being it caught made Lara scream herself and drop back to the ground.

She had studied all these field animals for 4-H projects, had even

identified those eaten by owls from the bones in owl pellets. That had

been an impersonal science project, but tonight she felt like one of those

little animals herself, helpless in front of Myra Schapen’s claws.

She crawled the rest of the way to the pen, again lying flat, and rolling

underneath the outer wall through the depression she’d dug earlier. The


heifer danced uneasily in her enclosure when she heard Lara come in,

and bleated her nervous “yeh-heh, yeh-heh.”

“It’s okay, girl, it’s okay,” Lara said, her voice shaking. “It’s just me, the

heathen Grellier girl.”

She crept up to the platform and started digging through the hay in

the manger. Standing on the floor, she couldn’t reach all the way to the

bottom. Once again, she swung a leg over the enclosure fence. The calf

started bucking and running around the small space.

“Easy, girl, easy.” Lara backed into the manger and stuck her left arm

in. “I hope if you found my phone, you left it alone, okay? I don’t want

to have to dig through all your poop—”

She broke off at the sound of voices outside the barn door: Junior and

another man. She froze with fear and then dove once more into the

manger, wildly covering herself with hay, praying for obliteration. In

another instant, the door opened, and the calf started dancing in earnest,

crying out at the top of her lungs.

Junior laughed. “So that’s the Holy Spirit at work. Look at her go—what a gal! We ought to try to ride her.”

Peeping through a gap in the manger slats, Lara watched as Junior and

the man with him tried to corner the calf. The poor animal was already

so frightened that she reared up and tried attacking them with her front

hooves. “You go, girl!” Lara mouthed encouragement. “Knock him out.

Put a hoof through his idiot skull.”

The calf ’s frenzy was getting Junior angry or excited—ara couldn’t

tell which, but he was trying to grab the calf ’s head and wrestle her to the

ground. He looked as though he’d put on another fifty pounds since he’d

gone off to college. Next to him, the calf, who probably weighed five

hundred pounds, didn’t seem all that big.

“Don’t hurt her,” the other man said. “Arnie be very, very mad if she’s


Lara almost cried out—hat was Eddie Burton! So Junior had been

heading to the Burton place when he passed her on the road. She felt a

dizzying wave of relief. They didn’t know about her; they weren’t thinking

about her at all.


“Yo, dude, don’t tell me what I can and can’t do on my own farm.”

“No, Junior. But Arnie, he come around with his gun, he wants my

daddy in jail. You know, if he seed you and me he’d shoot me. I’m scared

of Arnie.”

“Be better if you were scared of me, boy.” Junior’s voice combined a

caress and a threat in the same breath.

Lara’s relief turned to nausea. She remembered the wildness in Junior’s

and Eddie’s faces at the midsummer bonfire, and she knew what was

going to happen next. Don’, don’, don’, she begged Junior in her head.

Stop him, she prayed to Jesus or Chip, or even the calf if she were listening.

Lara felt Chip’s fatigues turn wet with her own urine, but that

humiliation wasn’t as great as the revulsion that made her whole body

shake with shock.

Junior grabbed Eddie, who laughed excitedly and halfheartedly

punched at Junior’s arms until Junior pinned his hands and undid the

snaps on Eddie’s jeans. When he pulled down Eddie’s underpants, Lara

squeezed her eyes shut, but she couldn’t close her ears to the sounds,

Junior grunting, Eddie squeaking, then a loud cry from Junior which

made the calf bellow in turn. Junior roared in laughter at that and said

the calf was blessing their union.

“It’s her first holy deed,” he said, and Eddie said oh, yes, the calf was

very holy.

Lara opened her eyes, hoping that she would see them leaving the

enclosure. Junior’s naked buttocks, as large as a prize hog at the fair, were

almost under her nose. They were pallid, the color of lard, with coarse

hairs down his spine like hog bristles. He wasn’t pulling on his pants but

getting up on his knees to straddle Eddie. Lara shut her eyes again. She

couldn’t help whimpering aloud, but mercifully the calf was still bellowing

and Junior and Eddie were laughing so they didn’t hear her.

Junior’s laugh stopped abruptly. Lara heard him scrambling upright

and then say roughly, “What are you doing in here, twerp?”

“Dad’s home from patrol.” It was Robbie. “I thought you’d want to

know. You don’t have to thank me—e’ll be real proud that you’re admiring

his perfect heifer. She is still a heifer, isn’t she?”


“Knock it off, choirboy, or I’ll break your nose and tell Nanny that I

caught you being naughty with the family prize.” He zipped his jeans

and yanked Eddie roughly to his feet.

“Oh, for God’s sake, Eddie—e’s not going to do anything to you,”

Junior added, because Eddie was shaking too much at the thought of facing

Arnie to be able to pull on his clothes.

A few seconds later, Arnie appeared. “What’s going on out here? Robbie,

what are you doing to the—unior! Well, well, Junior, what brings

you home?”

Lara couldn’t see Arnie’s face, but the change in his voice was

profound—nger at Robbie for disturbing the calf turned into something

like thick cream at the sight of Junior. Poor Robbie! He saved his

brother from being caught by Arnie and instead of thanking him Junior

was going to blame him for hurting the calf. It was so wrong she wanted

to sit up and denounce Junior.

“Nanny called me—he told me this calf of yours was performing

miracles. I hopped right in my ride to come see for myself. And me and

Eddie, we saw her in action, didn’t we, buddy?”

“What did she do?” Arnie demanded eagerly.

“Miracle,” Eddie volunteered in a husky gulp. “She made a miracle for

me and Junior.”

“Eddie Burton?” Arnie seemed to notice him for the first time. “Burtons

don’t belong on my property, I thought I made that crystal clear to


Junior laughed. “Take it easy, Dad. Me and Eddie are buddies, nothing

to do with Clem—e don’t know Eddie’s here instead of tucked into

his crib for the night. And he won’t blab, will you, Eddie?”

“No, Arnie, no sir, I won’t say nothing to anyone about the calf or

Junior or nothing.”

“See you don’t,” Arnie said, his voice ripe with menace. His tone

changed back to milk and honey when he reiterated his demand to know

what miracle the calf had performed.

“Just that noise that Nanny said you told her about,” Junior said easily.

“She sounded like a cow to me, but, hey, if the Jews think she’s spouting

magic I say let’s cash in on it.”


The calf came to rest by the manger. Her flanks were wet with sweat,

and she was breathing hard.

“Robbie,” Arnie barked, “her water trough’s empty. What were you

doing out here to get her so wild? And her feed, it’s all over the place. Get

this manger cleaned out and put sweetgrass in, you hear me, boy? Don’t

forget, you have to be up in four hours to start milking, so maybe you’ll

think twice before you come out here getting the calf all wound up with

your music or whatever the fuck you were doing.”

Junior snickered and Eddie gave a falsetto laugh. Arnie slapped Junior

on the back and led him out of the enclosure. He stopped at the door to

warn Robbie he’d be back to check on the calf in fifteen minutes, so Robbie

needed to step lively.

The door shut behind the trio. Robbie put his arms around the calf

and stroked her softly, wiping her wet flanks with his shirttails. Any

minute, he would start putting fresh hay in the manger; he’d find Lara,

find her in Chip’s fatigues, covered with cow shit and wet with her own


Scarlet with shame, Lara sat up. “Robbie? Robbie, it’s me.”

He stared at her in disbelief, not recognizing her in Chip’s fatigues and

with straw in her hair.

“It’s Lara Grellier. Don’t be mad at me, Robbie.”

Pa r t T h r e e


T h i r t y - F i ve


In somewhat mulish compliance with an order from Jim, Lara was

on hand to greet her mother when Susan came home from the hospital

on Saturday afternoon. She put her arms around Susan, trying not to

flinch from her mother’s drawn face and dull eyes, and pecked her cheek,

muttering, “Welcome home, Mom.”

“Yes, it’s good to come home,” Susan said stiffly, in the formal tones of

a foreigner practicing English.

The doctor had told Jim not to be surprised if Susan was nervous for

the first few days: she’d been living in a sheltered environment, so the

outside world was bound to seem frightening at first.

“Try to behave as normally as you can around her, even though I

know you’re worried about how she may react. She truly is stronger than

she was when she arrived. Going to a grief support group with other parents

whose children died has been a help to her.” The doctor looked at

Jim’s tight-drawn face. “It might be a help for you, too: the next meeting

is Wednesday evening.”

Jim nodded, but he was too nervous to pay much attention to the

doctor’s words, only thanking her with a mechanical courtesy, before

going with the nurse and the orderly to help Susan pack up her things.

Besides the small suitcase Jim had brought in when she was admitted,

Susan had a shopping bag of medications, along with a list of emergency

phone numbers for support staff, and a six-month calendar of appointments

for group therapy, the grief group, and private therapy.


The social worker who met with the Grelliers before they left stressed

the importance of Susan’s attending all these sessions. Jim tried not to see

dollar signs when he looked at the schedule. Nothing was more important

than Susan’s health, after all.

When they got home and Lara had greeted Susan, Jim asked about


“I waited for you two, even though I’m starving,” Lara announced,

gamely trying to keep up the pretense of a happy family gathering. “We

had band practice this morning and then basketball, and I’m hungry

enough to swallow an alligator stuffed with goat. Where do you want to

eat? Kitchen or dining room?”

“I’m not hungry,” Susan said. “Just very tired. I’ll go up and lie


“Suze, you need to eat something.” Jim tried to keep a note of panic

from his voice. “Lulu will bring lunch into the family room, where you

can be cozy on the couch.”

He nodded at his daughter, who made a face, but busied herself with

making up the kind of tray they created in 4-H, everything attractively

laid out for an invalid.

Rachel Carmody and a few of the other women from Riverside

United Church had come out to help clean this morning. They’d also

brought food for the family. Rachel’s dish was the best, an eggplant

lasagna with a romaine salad, so Lara chose that, eating a large spoonful

of noodles out of the pan while she fixed the plates.

She was arranging a flower display, using foam core and wires so it

would be truly artistic, when a van from Global Entertainment Television

pulled into the yard. A reporter wearing heavy makeup and a vivid

blue jacket hopped out of the passenger’s seat. Lara watched in anger as

the woman walked toward the front of the house.

Right after Chip’s death, the Douglas County Herald and several area

TV stations had tried to do stories on Susan. How did it feel to be an

anti-war protester whose only son had died in the war? Susan had been

upset by the question, by the microphone thrust in front of her face, and

Jim had pulled her into the house, with a stern reproof to the reporters.

The sight of the woman striding toward the house made Lara burn


hotly. What were they doing, getting a police report from Arnie on every

move Susan made so they knew to the minute when she arrived home?

Lara ran through the dining room to the front hall, shouting for her father.

She wrestled open the heavy door and glared at the woman. “Who are

you and what do you want?”

“I’m Ashley Fornello with Channel 10 in Kansas City. I’d like to come

in for a minute and talk to you about your special visitation.” She thrust

out a hand and a wide smile.

“She’s not a visitor. She lives here.”

The reporter’s smile broadened, if that was possible. “Not visitor,

honey, visitation. I understand she’s very shy, but we wouldn’t put a mike

on her, and we’d film her with a remote camera.”

“That’s creepy!” Lara said. “And you can’t spy on her. It’s against the law.”

Jim came up behind Lara and put a hand on her shoulder. “We don’t

have anything to say to reporters, miss, so why don’t you just be on your

way and let us keep on doing what we’re doing.”

“But this is news. People will want to know about it. This kind of

exposure could get you the attention you deserve.”

“I’ve had more attention than anyone deserves, miss,” Jim said. “What

would help me most about now is peace and quiet. Come on, Lulu.”

“If you’re not up to talking, I can understand that.” Ashley Fornello

nodded sympathetically, her shoulder inside the open door. “If I promise

to be very respectful, would you let me just take a peek inside the barn?”

“To see the combine?” Lara was bewildered.

After a startled moment, Jim gave a shout of laughter. “No, Lulu. She

wants— think she wants—ell, you tell us what you’re looking for, miss.”

“Aren’t you Arnie Schapen?” Ashley Fornello asked.

“No, ma’am. You’re on the wrong side of the tracks and then some.

You go on south toward Highway 10. About half a mile up, you’ll see a

house on the left with a bunch of old cars in the yard. They’ll be glad to

help you.”

When he’d shut the door, Lara’s eyes were round with wonder. “Dad,

you sent her to Burtons’.”

“Clem deserves a little excitement,” Jim said. “Anyway, it’ll do the lady

good to work for her story. But how did she find out about Arnie’s calf ?”


“Oh, Dad, everyone in Douglas County knows. They were all talking

about it in school yesterday, because Chris Greynard’s dad was out on

Thursday when, you know, they prayed to the calf, and so was Mr. Ruesselmann,

so they all heard Nasya say this secret name of God. The men talked

about it at home, so naturally Amber Ruesselmann brought the story to

school. Of course, all she wanted was for everyone to look at her like

she was something special. Then the women’s group at Robbie’s church—they meet on Friday—o Nanny Schapen talked about it there, although

the other ladies knew already. It’s not like the calf was a secret or anything

before Thursday, but after that they couldn’t keep the miracle to themselves.”

Jim put his hands on his daughter’s shoulders. “It wasn’t you? You

swear you weren’t responsible for spreading the news about what you

overheard on Thursday?”

“No, Dad, honest. I—No!”

The events in the calf ’s enclosure were still too raw in Lara’s mind for

her to want to talk to anyone about them. She’d only told her father the

vaguest details of what she’d seen on her second trip—t was all too horrible.

Junior and Eddie in the middle of the cow’s straw and manure,

Eddie’s sly laugh, got mixed in her head with her own shame at soiling

her clothes so that she felt as though she’d somehow been part of that

scene on the floor, the grunting, the cow bellowing, the filth of it all.

She’d been soothed only partially by Robbie’s joy on seeing her emerge

from the manger. He hadn’t minded her clothes—hip’s clothes—covered in cow shit, or the dirt on her face, but clung to her, disbelieving

his good fortune at seeing her emerge like this, Venus from an ocean of

muck. His own misery at his brother’s swagger, his father’s unfair accusations,

vanished as he held her. That swagger, those accusations, also made

him ignore the strictures against women in the shed.

He helped Lara dig her cell phone out of the manger. While he dried

off poor, sweaty Nasya, Lara filled the calf ’s water trough and helped

Robbie replenish the manger. Then, just in the nick of time, before Arnie

came back with a grudging approval of his work, Robbie smuggled Lara

out of the enclosure the same way she’d come in—s soon as he could,

while Junior was driving Eddie someplace else and Arnie and Myra went


to bed, sneaking back out of his house and escorting Lara home across

the sorghum field.

They hadn’t discussed Junior and Eddie, beyond Robbie saying,

“Sorry about my brother,” while Lara shivered and held on to him,

despite her embarrassment over her clothes. They’d lingered in her yard

only long enough to make a whispered date for Sunday afternoon before

Lara ran inside and flung herself under the shower again.

Friday morning, when Jim went into her room to rouse her for school,

Lara clung to him, her eyes sticky with tears she’d shed in her sleep. Jim

couldn’t get her to tell him exactly what she’d seen, but the details she did

let out—unior there with Eddie, getting the cow upset—larmed him.

He worried, too, about what Robbie might report to Arnie, despite Lara’s

belief that Robbie wouldn’t say anything.

Jim cradled his daughter until the worst of her distress had passed. He

wanted to take her into town, for a movie or a sundae, those cures for her

childhood woes. Unfortunately, weather, equipment rental, and Susan’s

imminent return meant he had to make the corn harvest his priority.

He sent Lara to school, again with a note to excuse her tardiness—his

time on account of the harvest—ut told her she was to come straight

home afterward. “Sugar, I hate to ask it, but I need you to help me clean

out your mother’s room.”

Later Friday morning, while Curly was at the far end of the field emptying

the grain wagon into the big truck Jim rented for the harvest, Jim

reported part of Lara’s escapade to Blitz. “Trouble is, she went back for

her damned phone after I fell asleep. She says Junior came out from

Tonganoxie Bible and brought Eddie into the shed with him. She

wouldn’t say what they did, but—hatever they got up to, it shook her

pretty hard.”

Blitz grunted. He knew, or at least suspected, Junior’s relationship

with Eddie, but he didn’t talk about the things he knew or guessed, either

on the farms or in the Lawrence schools. Curly picked up the most

extraordinary details about people’s private lives while working on his

cousin’s building projects; he happily shared them with everyone he met.

As a result, Blitz kept his own counsel whenever he and Curly were

together. Jim, of course, was the last to know ill of anyone, even Junior


Schapen, so Blitz didn’t embroider on the situation, just agreed it was

more than a fifteen-year-old girl should have seen.

“Although if she’d paid attention to me to begin with and cut out this

wretched habit she has of sneaking in on people, she wouldn’t have seen

whatever it was to begin with,” Jim added, exasperated.

Blitz only grunted again, but when Jim said he’d told Lara to clean up

the mess Susan had left behind Blitz took matters into his own hands.

He didn’t say anything to Jim, but he didn’t think a girl who’d just witnessed

some pretty raw sex, with or without a heifer—iven what he knew

about Junior, neither would have surprised him—eeded to be cleaning

up after her mother. When he was alone in the combine, he called

Rachel Carmody.

“I know you shouldn’t try to bribe a teacher, ma’am,” he said, “but

Susan Grellier is coming home tomorrow afternoon. Could I take you to

that fancy French restaurant in Prairie Village if you’ll organize some of

your church ladies to clean out that bedroom tomorrow morning before

Susan gets home? Grellier says he’s siccing Lulu on it, but it’s too big

a job for a kid. I’d help, but we’ll be in the field until midnight tonight

getting the corn in and I’ll be back on the combine tomorrow while

Grellier’s fetching Susan.”

Rachel had seen the room and she shared Blitz’s unspoken commentary

on the appropriateness of giving the job to Lara. She did a quick

phone-around and on Saturday morning arrived with a team carrying

brooms, buckets, and casseroles.

The women sent Lara into town to her band and basketball practice.

They cleaned and did laundry. At eleven, when the men broke from harvesting

for lunch, Jim carried the great pile of Susan’s scribblings out to

the yard and burned them. Blitz and Curly returned to the cornfield, but

Jim went upstairs to shower and make himself tidy for his wife. As a last

act, before driving into the hospital, he carried his ever-so-greatgrandmother’s

diaries up the ladder to their tin trunk in the attic.

T h i r t y - S i x


Global Entertainment was merely the first of the news crews to

ride out Saturday afternoon in search of the calf. CNN came next, followed

by Fox and a stringer out of Kansas City for some of the Chicago

and St. Louis papers. Most of them stopped at the Grelliers’ for directions.

Lara and Jim took turns answering the door and sending them on

to the Burtons’ to sink or swim as best they could.

A few sightseers were arriving, too, mostly area families who’d been

hearing rumors of the calf for months, but a few from farther afield,

picking up rumors out of the ether. Lara watched the parade from the

family-room window. She tried to interest Susan in the drama, even

telling her about the way the men had prayed to the calf on Thursday

and showing her the pictures she’d taken with her cell phone. The old

Susan would have objected as loudly as Jim about Lara trying to stir up

gossip about the Schapens; the new, drugged Susan only nodded and

said in a languid, uncaring voice, “How nice, Lara.”

“Mom! It wasn’t nice; it was gross. First of all, I was covered in cowshi—cow poop, and, second, all these creepy guys were kneeling on these

rocks and praying to the heifer. I bet when Moses came down from Sinai

and found the children of Israel worshipping the golden calf, it was

exactly like that, and the poor calf was crying for its mother, and—”

“Lara, can I see you a minute?” Jim took his daughter into the

kitchen. “Sweetheart, I can see you’re upset with how lethargic your

mother is. I am, too. But don’t poke at her as if she were an anthill. When


she feels strong enough to start responding to us, she will. That’s what

the doctor says, anyway. And, in the meantime, we need to give her as

much support as we can.”

“I’m trying to help her see there’s a world outside her head! Why do I

have to always be the one who’s wrong? Why can’t she be the one who’s


“It’s not about right or wrong,” Jim said. “It’s about what she’s strong

enough for. You’re stronger than she is these days.”

“That’s so unfair!” Lara cried and fled from the house.

Jim sighed and went back to the family room. He stood at the window,

watching his daughter as she ran across the yard toward the road

until the trees blocked her from his view. The knot of tension between

his shoulders was so big he felt as though he had a basketball glued to his

neck. Mute wife behind him, distraught daughter in front of him, him in

the middle.

“I hope she’s not going back to Schapens’,” he said aloud, hoping

Susan might respond, but she said nothing.

He turned to look at her, but she was pleating the plaid blanket he’d

put across her lap. “I’m just going out to see——e can’t afford her

courting disaster with Arnie. Do you agree?”

“I don’t know, Jim. I don’t know anything, except I’m tired and my

head is filled with fog. Please, let me go to bed.”

Jim wanted to burst into tears himself, but he said quietly, “Of course.

Go on up to bed. I’ll tuck you in after I check on Lulu.”

When he went outside, he found his daughter perched on an upper

branch of the elm near the road, watching the people heading toward the

Schapen place. He went back into the house long enough to fetch windbreakers

for them both, then pulled himself up to the branch below hers,

groaning out loud—he muscles he’d strained working out with Chip’s

weights last week had been further stressed by his stretch of sixteen-hour

days in the fields.

“Hope you’re not turning into an old man, Dad,” Lara said from the

branch above him.

“Hope I’m not, too, Lulu. That’d make you about forty, way too old

to still be living in a tree at home.”


Harmony restored between them, they watched together in silence.

During the time Jim stayed with her, he figured at least twenty people

passed them. Some came into his yard, hoping for directions, but Jim

didn’t feel like climbing down from the tree to help them, and Susan

ignored the doorbell. He’d never been a tree climber as a boy, but he

began to see why Lulu liked it. It was peaceful to sit suspended above the

ground, even if the dust from the procession on the road below made

him cough.

“How much do you reckon Arnie’s charging folks for looking at his

calf ?” he asked.

“Do you think he would?” She was surprised.

“Stands to reason. He’s been telling enough people that heifer was

going to make his fortune. Unless he thinks he can sell her for some

astronomical amount.”

“Dad, you know they plan to burn her.”

“You mean they’re going through all this to have a barbecue?” He

thought she was pulling his leg.

“No. Burn her up into ashes so she can be used in sacrifices, if the Jews

rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. It seems horrible, she’s such a lonely,

scared calf. How can Jesus want people to kill a calf ?”

“Oh, baby, Jesus doesn’t want us to hurt each other, let alone some

poor heifer, but we seem to do it, anyway. When you think of all the

people who’ve been slaughtered because someone told them God or Jesus

or Allah wanted them to do it, it’s enough to make a grown man cry. It’s a

good thing God is the one who’s really in charge of our sorry lives, not all

these priests and pastors and rabbis who think they know best.”

“I thought maybe I could rescue Nassie and hide her in the sunflower

field,” Lara blurted.

“Lulu! Please, please un-think that thought. I can’t even imagine what

Arnie would do to you when he found her. And if you think you could

keep her secret for thirty seconds around here, you’ve never listened to

Curly share the news of the world.” He paused a moment, trying to keep

his voice neutral, not wanting to accuse her of eavesdropping, “How do

you know they want to burn her?”

“Robbie told me.”


“So you and he are starting to get along, even though he’s a Schapen?”

Jim quizzed her.

“He’s not so bad. Not like Junior and their evil grandmother.”

Jim squeezed the leg that was dangling over the branch above him.

“I’m going to go check on your mom. You stay out of trouble, okay?”

“I’m not going over to Schapens’, if that’s what you mean,” she said


He stood up on his branch and hugged her, then swung to the

ground, his trapezius protesting so that he couldn’t keep back a bark of

pain when he landed.

Back in the house, he went straight up the stairs so that he wouldn’t

have time to think, worry, dawdle. Susan was lying in bed, her breath

short and shallow. Real sleep, he thought, kneeling next to her, not faking

it in the hope he’d leave. He couldn’t help patting the covers and the

floor underneath for scraps of paper or a pen, but he didn’t find anything,

even when he stuck his hand between the box spring and mattress.

He knelt there, holding her hand, hoping she might wake up and

smile at him. When she didn’t stir, he found himself praying, not to Jesus

but, as Lara had on Thursday, to his dead son. He didn’t expect much

help or understanding from the Lord. Maybe God had lost a son, like

Pastor Albright had said, but Jesus didn’t know anything about that kind

of loss, didn’t even know the grief Mary felt when she laid His own broken

body in the tomb. Maybe Jesus knew about human sin and suffering,

but He didn’t know human grief: even when He wept over His dead

friend Lazarus, the next second He brought Lazarus back to life.

“Give me a hand here, boy,” he said to Chip. “Your mother went off

the deep end this past year. You were the heart and center of her life, so

give me a hand now, pull her back to the country of the living. We’ll all

be with you soon enough. Help us make it through this time, son.”

He knelt so long that he lost all feeling in his legs. He lay flat on the

bedroom floor, waiting for the numbness to wear off. He couldn’t

remember ever feeling this alone. Even the winter after Grandpa died, he

had Gram and Chip and Susan. Now Gram and Chip were dead; and

Susan, if she didn’t return soon, he didn’t know what he’d do.

Blitz had been working in the combine shed all afternoon, putting the


combine to bed for the winter; Jim heard him give a couple of sharp

honks, saying good-bye, as he drove out of the yard. A few minutes later,

the back door banged: Lara coming back inside. That was one relief.

By and by, he got back to his feet and went downstairs to eat supper

with his daughter. They took another one of the casseroles the church

women had baked into the living room and watched reruns of I Love

Lucy until bedtime. Jim lingered on the landing, but he finally went into

his bedroom and climbed under the covers next to his wife. He lay there

stiffly for a long time, listening to her breathing. But, finally, around one

in the morning, he slipped into a fitful sleep.

T h i r t y - S e ve n


From the Douglas County Herald


When Jesus returns in glory, it just may be due to local farmer

Arnie Schapen. Several hundred people were herded into his

dairy farm east of town this past weekend, some from as far away

as Texas, all eager for the sight, or at least the sound, of a red heifer

who—ome believe—peaks Hebrew.

“She could be the perfect red heifer the Book of Numbers tells

us is required for Temple sacrifices,” explained Werner Nabo, pastor

of the Salvation Through the Blood of Jesus Full Bible

Church, where Schapen worships.

Three men from the ultraorthodox Jewish yeshiva Bet HaMikdash,

in Kansas City, come out every month to examine the calf

and make sure she remains without blemish.

I spoke with Reb Meir and Reb Ephraim from the yeshiva.

They said it would be a major act of blasphemy to reproduce the

sacred name of God in a newspaper, so I won’t try to print what

the calf has allegedly been saying. You’ll have to go out and hear

her for yourself—f you’re prepared to shell out five dollars for

twenty-three seconds in the calf ’s pen (I timed it!) and if the calf is

performing. Like all artists, she’s temperamental.


Reb Meir and Reb Ephraim are concerned that the crowds

may harm the heifer. They also told me that women are not

allowed near her, in case their menstrual cycles affect the heifer’s

development. This stricture led to several altercations between

Schapen, who’s a Douglas County sheriff ’s deputy, and women

who had come to see the calf. Most of them were resolved peaceably,

if not happily, although Schapen threatened to have one

woman taken away in handcuffs.

“This is one place in America where the liberal lesbian agenda

is not in charge,” Myra Schapen, the deputy’s octogenarian

mother, told me. “No one can force affirmative action down our

throats on our own farm.” In time-honored tradition, she and the

other women organized refreshments that they carried to the men

and boys waiting in line for a brief glimpse of the calf, which

Schapen is calling Nasya, the Hebrew word for “miracle.”

When the first reporters arrived, Arnie and Myra were at Tonganoxie

Bible watching Junior play football. Robbie was taking advantage of

being home alone to practice guitar in the house, so he didn’t even notice

the Global Entertainment van when it pulled into the yard or hear Ashley

Fornello ring the front doorbell. It wasn’t until he glanced out the

window and saw her bright blue jacket disappear around the milking

shed that he realized someone was on the property.

His first thought was that Lara had come looking for him. He knew

her mother was coming home today—t was why they weren’t trying to

meet until Sunday—ut maybe she missed him as much as he missed

her. He put down his guitar and hurried out to the back of the work

buildings. When he realized it was a grown-up, and a stranger, he felt let

down but tried to be polite.

It had taken Ashley Fornello so long to get a coherent story out of the

Burtons that she’d lost some of her high-gloss reporting veneer. She told

Robbie that she needed to see the miracle heifer and tried to bribe him

with fifty dollars to let her into the enclosure.

“No, ma’am, I’m sorry, but ladies aren’t allowed near the calf. The rabbis


made it real clear.” When he said this, he wasn’t thinking about Lara being

in the calf ’s pen—he was separate from the rabbis, his father, the pastor.

Her hiding in the manger didn’t count as a female being near the heifer.

But if he let a reporter with a camera in—he hair on the back of his neck

stood up, imagining Arnie’s reaction. “My dad will be home around five.

You can talk to him, but he’ll say the same thing.”

Ashley wheedled, flattered, bribed, tried to get him to point out the

calf ’s special pen so she could take a picture from the outside. She asked

him if he could repeat what the calf was saying. He kept saying “No,

ma’am” as the easiest way to avoid trouble until she wondered if everyone

in the valley was mentally deficient.

Before long, her rivals showed up, and then the stream of pilgrims

began, initially people from Robbie’s church, then the larger county

community, as word spread via text messages. At first, Ashley and the

other camera crews were content with interviewing the would-be sightseers,

but pretty soon they got impatient and started going into the different

barns and milking sheds.

Over in Tonganoxie, one of Myra’s cronies in the parents’ section got a

text message from her daughter saying that her boyfriend’s mother had

gone to see the magic cow. The woman showed the message to Myra at

halftime, and she and Arnie did the unthinkable: they left partway

through one of Junior’s games. He’d been doing so well, too, Myra

mourned in the truck going home—hree solo tackles and part of a sack

in the first half alone.

By the time they reached the farm, there were twenty or thirty people

milling around the back buildings. Arnie grabbed his deputy’s megaphone

from the trunk and ran across the rutted lot to the heifer’s pen.

Robbie was standing outside the door, barring people from breaking in,

but the more enterprising camera crews were climbing up to take shots

through the skylights.

Arnie turned on his megaphone. “I’m Arnie Schapen, and this is my

property you’re trespassing on. If you have business here, talk to me and

we’ll sort it out.”

As the news crews shoved for position around Arnie, their mikes outthrust,

Myra started to snarl at Robbie for letting all these people on the


property. Arnie interrupted his remarks to Ashley Fornello from Global

to pull Robbie into the center of the group of reporters. He clapped Robbie’s

shoulder. The boy might look weedy, but he’d stood up to all these

people. Maybe underneath that hippie getup and long hair, he really was

a Schapen.

All he said out loud was, “Robbie here bred Nasya, our special heifer.

Of course, he was looking for a good milk bearer, not a miracle, but God

doesn’t send us miracles when we’re arrogant enough to try to create

them ourselves. We don’t know what the future of this heifer is. We don’t

know if she’ll make it to three years old without a blemish. But what we

do know is, the Jews who are paying attention to Nasya for us think she’s

pretty special.”

“I heard from one of your neighbors that she’s performing miracles,”

Ashley Fornello said, thinking of Eddie Burton’s disjoint comments, that

the calf had blessed him and told him he was doing the right thing.

“I haven’t seen any myself,” Arnie said, “but, well, she’s started speaking

ancient Hebrew.”

There was a ripple of disbelieving laughter among the television

people. “What’s she saying? Give me more grass?”

Arnie’s lips tightened. “If you came out here to make fun of me—r,

worse, make fun of the Lord—here’s no need for you to hang around.

According to the Jews, she’s begun saying the sacred name for God that

no one has spoken out loud since the last of their high priests was murdered

two thousand years ago.”

“So how do they know?” the man from Fox demanded.

“You’d have to ask them,” Arnie said. “I’m just a simple Kansas farmer.

I figure the Jews know more than I do about ancient Hebrew and the

Old Testament, but if you guys are up on your biblical Hebrew I’ll be

glad to learn from you.”

The crowd laughed at that, with him this time, so Arnie went on to

say that the Jews warned them against letting women into the enclosure.

“Not even my mother has been allowed in to see Nasya. Most of you here

are like me, believing and hoping for the risen Lord to come again in

glory. And even if you don’t share all my beliefs, I know you’ll respect

them, and respect this heifer. So I’m going to ask the ladies to be patient,


to remember what the Bible says, that they should ‘learn in quietness and

full submission,’ and to honor my commitment to look after this precious

gift the Lord has trusted to me.”

“Too bad for you, Ashley,” the Fox reporter said to Ashley Fornello.

“But if you’re quiet and fully submissive, we’ll let you borrow some of

our footage.”

“Sorry, boys,” Arnie said. “I can’t allow cameras in the special enclosure.

They may disturb or overly excite Nasya. And because of the wear

and tear on the place, if you want to see the calf I’m going to ask you to

pay a little something for the privilege.”

“Five dollars,” Myra snapped.

“Five dollars,” Arnie agreed. “My mother will set up a table near the

house, and you can line up there to pay. We’ll let six people in at a time.

Of course, members of my church, they get a special rate of three bucks.

If you want to join, I can give you the pastor’s cell phone number.”

No one knew if he was joking or serious, so everyone laughed

uneasily. Myra, ordering Robbie to fetch her a card table and a jar she

could use to hold the money, moved the crowd to the gravel yard outside

the kitchen door. At five, when Robbie went off to start the evening

milking, everyone had left, including the television people.

Sunday turned into a different story. The clips that the Kansas City

stations ran, using pictures of Nasya taken surreptitiously with cell

phone cameras, got picked up on YouTube and the national networks.

Even the New York Times sent its own reporter instead of relying on a

local stringer to talk to Arnie. By Sunday afternoon, the crowds grew so

large that managing them turned into a headache for the family.

At three, when Robbie had planned to meet Lara at her truck at the

X-Farm so they could drive somewhere private, he could see he’d never

make it out of the farm on time. The cowman, Dale, had come over, and

some of the church elders were helping out. Junior, drawn home by the

excitement of seeing his father on television, was enjoying the chance to

shove people into place in the line, but Myra was keeping a bony hand

and malevolent eye on her younger grandson.

She had planted Robbie at the card table, collecting cash from people

and giving them numbers so they’d have a secured place in line. When


Myra went into the kitchen to oversee preparation of another batch of

cider— dollar a cup, no refills—obbie sent a text message to Lara.

Since Myra always examined the phone bill and catechized him about

any text messages he sent or received, it was a bold and desperate move.

It was at three that Reb Meir, Reb Ephraim, and a van full of yeshiva

students and teachers arrived from Kansas City. Reb Meir was furious

with Arnie for allowing so much publicity to escape about the heifer. He

banished everyone from her enclosure, lining his students—ho looked

more like street toughs than a religious community, despite their fringed

shawls and long frock coats—n front of the entrance.

Myra squawked in outrage. Junior, always eager for a fight, ran over to

confront the yeshiva boys. Arnie pushed past Junior, his hand on his gun

belt, his nose an inch from the enclosure door.

“You’re on private property, and this is my calf. She’s sanctified to the

living God, to the Lord Jesus Christ, not to the dead letter of the law, so

get away from that door.”

“Fine.” Reb Meir came up next to Arnie. “Do as you please with her.

If you don’t wish our help in ensuring her ritual cleanness, I will make it

clear that she is so deeply flawed, under the ‘dead letter of the law,’ as you

call it, that no one will want to use her for any sanctified purpose.”

“You can’t go around telling lies about my heifer!” Arnie shouted.

“If you won’t let me examine her alone, and in quiet, I can only

assume that she has been violated and you are ashamed to let me see her

for myself.” Reb Meir shrugged and called to his students in Yiddish.

They laughed and started back to their van.

“Chickens,” Junior called as they passed him. “Piglets.”

“You’ve eaten so much pork, your brains have turned to lard,” one of

the students responded.

Junior jumped him, knocking him to the muddy ground and grabbing

him by the throat. The other yeshiva boys began punching Junior

but couldn’t make a dent in him. Shouting to each other in Yiddish, they

grouped themselves on Junior’s left side and pushed, as if rolling a log—or tipping a cow. In a moment, they’d flipped him onto his back.

The cameras were rolling. For the journalists who’d been hanging

around hoping for some kind of action, the altercation was a miraculous


answer to their prayers. The yeshiva boys were punching Junior in the

face. He roared. Pushing them aside, he got to his feet, picked up the

ringleader of the students, and threw him to the ground. Some teens

from Salvation Bible joined in, kicking or picking up larger pieces of

gravel to gouge with. The yeshiva boys fought back with equal savagery.

Of course, the crowd quickly formed a raggedy ring around the fight.

Some of the parents were even cheering their sons, applauding when

they scored direct hits on the opposing boys.

Robbie slipped into the front of the crowd, near Chris Greynard’s

father, to see how much damage Junior was doing. He hadn’t been

involved in a fight himself since his Kaw Valley Eagle days, and he wasn’t

going to start now, either for or against his brother. Junior was dangerous

when he was mad. Robbie hoped someone could stop him before he paralyzed

one of the yeshiva students, although they were fighting as aggressively

as the Salvation Bible crowd. One of them even seemed to have

some kind of weapon, knuckles or maybe a knife—obbie saw a flash of

light on metal, but the boy was moving too fast for Robbie to tell.

As he stood in the circle of onlookers, nervously chewing a hangnail,

Robbie heard one of the reporters say, “This is what life is going to be

like all day, every day, if these crackpots actually try to rebuild the

damned Temple.” Another answered, “No, it’ll be worse, because they’ll

be using bombs and grenades instead of just fists.”

“Why?” Robbie couldn’t help asking the men.

“Don’t you know where they want to put up the Temple?” The first

man was smoking. He talked out of the side of his mouth, like Clark

Gable in an old western.

“Yes, of course,” Robbie stammered. “In Jerusalem, in the place where

the old one was.”

“And you know that’s a holy site for the Moslems, right?” The reporter

pinched off his cigarette just below the glowing end and stuck it in his

windbreaker pocket. “So if these nutcases start building on the Dome of

the Rock, the next thing you’ll see is World War Three in the Middle

East. This here is just the first skirmish.”

Junior or Arnie would have pointed out that they themselves were


among the so-called nutcases the reporter was condemning, but Robbie

only flushed and turned away. Pastor Nabo often proclaimed that God

was not a pacifist, especially when he was talking about Lara’s mother

and other anti-war protesters. Pastor would rub his hands in glee over the

coming fight of Good versus Evil. Just this morning, he had preached on

one of his favorite themes, how the coming war with Islam would

destroy half the people of the earth.

Was that really what God wanted? Robbie wondered. For World War

III to break out over rebuilding the Temple? Would that herald Jesus’

return in glory or would it just mean more misery, with people like Chip

Grellier getting killed and people like Lara breaking their hearts over the


Look at Junior right now. If you asked him, Junior would say he was

fighting for the glory of Jesus’ name, when Robbie knew his brother only

ever fought because he loved beating people up.

The yeshiva boys were fighting hard, but the Christians were definitely

winning this skirmish in the war of salvation. Reb Meir and the

other yeshiva teachers seemed to realize this because they called out to

their students in Yiddish. None of the onlookers knew what they said,

but the Jewish youths, their clothes torn, their faces cut and bruised,

pulled themselves unwillingly out of the melee and slouched over to

stand next to their teachers.

Junior and his cohorts yelled abuse at them, but when the yeshiva students

started to shout back Reb Meir and Reb Ephraim silenced them

with raised hands.

“It’s good for the Jews to learn how disciples of the Prince of Peace

behave in public,” Reb Meir said to one of the reporters. “Now that we

see what they want to do with their calf, we can’t be involved.”

The reporters surged around Reb Meir. “Does this mean you don’t

think she’s the perfect red heifer you need for the Temple?”

“I think if the Schapens are this violent, there is every reason to suspect

they have abused the heifer and that she is no longer sanctified, or

pure enough, to use in ritual sacrifice.”

Robbie could see his father’s face register first fury, then worry: he was


counting on Nasya to make their fortune. If the rabbis said she was

blemished, the crowds would evaporate, along with the money he was

taking in, as well as the recognition the heifer was starting to bring him.

Arnie never found it easy to be conciliatory, but he walked over now

to Reb Meir and said, “Look, boys will be boys, whether they’re Jews or

Christians. They all got carried away, but I promise you this kind of

behavior has never taken place in Nasya’s presence. We have respected

her in every way, even making sure we put obsidian under her pen the

way you told us to.”

Reb Meir nodded slowly. “I’m willing to treat this as an aberration,

but you must let me examine the heifer to make sure the crowds haven’t

molested her.”

The two men shook hands, both looking as though they were swallowing

live beetles, but the television cameras caught the clasped hands

and fake smiles: that’s what would matter tomorrow morning. The

reporters began bombarding the pair with questions.

“Have the crowds hurt Nasya, Reb Meir?” “Arnie, what do you mean

by ‘the dead letter of the law’?” “Does your church say the Jews are going

to hell?” “Why does it hurt Nasya for people to look at her?” And from

the women, fuming over their lack of access: “She’s female. You’re men.

You’ll do her more damage than we could.”

Reb Meir held up a hand. “We don’t know what shape the calf is in; we

haven’t seen her since all this disturbance began. Of course, yesterday was

the Sabbath—t was impossible for us to drive over to keep an eye on her.”

The reporters also wanted to know whether having a red heifer meant

the Jews were ready to start rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. “She’ll

be three before you know it. Will the Temple be ready by then?”

“No,” Reb Meir said. “Assuming she’s still unblemished in three years,

we can sacrifice her according to Torah precepts and store her ashes in an

appropriate container—hich we have already created, in accordance

with Torah precepts—ntil the Temple can be rebuilt.”

“And when the Temple is rebuilt, then Jesus will come again and

destroy it, isn’t that right, Mr. Schapen? He’ll cast the Jews and Muslims,

and even Christians who don’t believe the same way you do, into outer


darkness while whisking you to heaven, isn’t that right?” Ashley Fornello

was feeling aggressive after spending two days in a barnyard, getting her

story secondhand from the men around her.

Arnie shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t like having these things

spelled out so plainly in public, not while he still needed Reb Meir to

help him look after the calf. “I’m not any kind of theologian,” he finally

managed. “I’m just a simple Kansas farmer God entrusted this special

calf to. So I think I’d better let Reb Meir look at her, make sure she’s

doing okay with all this excitement. If he gives us the go-ahead, we’ll

start letting people back into the enclosure.”

The excitement died down while Reb Meir and his colleagues examined

the heifer from stem to stern, so to speak. Nasya moved restlessly

around her pen, worn-out by so many strangers and unhappy—r so it

seemed to Robbie—ith the way they were touching her to make sure

her virginity was intact. When Reb Meir finally gave Nasya a clean bill of

health, Robbie relaxed. He’d been afraid of what Junior might have gotten

up to with Eddie when they were in the enclosure Thursday night.

He went back out to the yard, hoping to make his escape, but Myra

was there and jumped on him, dragging him back to the money table.

He thought they were acting like the money changers Jesus had driven

from the Temple, but when he mentioned this Myra’s face turned


“And the damage to the pen, and to the yard, you’re going to repair

that yourself, Robbie? If you’re too squeamish to touch money, you can

go inside and heat up another five gallons of cider.”

“Nanny, I need a break. I have to start milking in another hour.”

“Your brother was standing up for the farm while you gawked like a

girl on the sidelines, afraid to get your hands dirty. You go in the kitchen

with the other girls, and I’ll take care of the money you’re too pious to


Robbie went into the kitchen, into the crowd of church women washing

cups and gossiping. “Nanny says could you please heat up some more

cider?” He was astonished to hear the words coming from his mouth,

and even more surprised when he found himself moving quickly to the


front of the house, out the unused front door, and down to the road. He

started to run, jumping out of the way of the cars heading to the farm,

praying as he went. Not for the Second Coming or the sanctity of the

heifer, but for something more simple: that Jesus would keep Lara in the

X-Farm until he reached her.

T h i r t y - E i g h t


Between television, YouTube, and text messaging, the Schapen

heifer quickly turned into global entertainment. As pictures of Nassie

flooded the Net, Islamic leaders threatened jihads that would “make Iraq

look like a kindergarten picnic” if anyone, Jew or Christian, tried rebuilding

the Temple on the Temple Mount. The Israeli consul general

for the Midwest held a press conference to assure the world that rebuilding

the Temple was not part of Israeli government policy. He added that

Reb Meir and his yeshiva were an extremist fringe of Judaism that misunderstood

Torah. Reb Meir startled his Christian supporters by replying

that Israel should not even be recognized as a country because a state

of Israel could not exist in the absence of the Temple.

Dashiell Goode, professor of Near Eastern languages and literature at

the University of Kansas, explained that the sacrifice of the red heifer

mentioned in Numbers didn’t have anything to do with cleansing people

from sin. “The passage is obscure and hard to interpret, but it seems to

treat a class of impurities connected to handling dead bodies. It’s only

recently that a small group of would-be millenarians have started conflating

the sacrifice in Numbers with Christian teaching about Jesus’ blood

sacrifice on the cross. Raising and slaughtering a perfect red heifer serves

no textually grounded religious purpose today.”

Professor Goode also pooh-poohed Reb Meir’s claim that Nasya was

speaking ancient Hebrew. “No one knows how to pronounce the secret

name of God. It was an oral tradition among the high priests, who


passed it on to their successors in private. The Name was too holy for

ordinary people to use in ordinary discourse. When the last of the high

priests was killed during the great rebellion against Rome in 70 c.e., the

pronunciation of the secret Name died with Phannias ben Samuel.”

Arnie, Pastor Nabo, and various authorities from Full Bible Christian

seminaries countered Professor Goode’s “blasphemous, atheistic beliefs.”

Other scholars weighed in on every aspect of the debate, from how you

knew a heifer was perfect—tself a subject of debate: could she have three

white hairs, five, or none?—o whether the Second Coming of Jesus

would even be noticed by most people. As a result of all these arguments,

sightseers flocked in ever-larger numbers to the Schapen farm to get their

own view of the calf.

Arnie was so proud of his heifer that he gave Robbie fifty dollars to

spend however he wanted—“Even on more of that catcall music you

like, son”—n act of generosity that made Myra fume.

Robbie was touched by the gift, but it was the only pleasure he had

out of the calf ’s popularity. Just as his dreams of Lara had miraculously

turned into reality, he had no time to see her. They couldn’t get together

at school, not if they wanted to keep their relationship hidden from their

families. And now, on top of his work with the cows, Robbie had to help

Myra tend to the visitors. He would grab a few feverish moments with

Lara, slipping away to the X-Farm when he finished the afternoon milking,

only to endure his grandmother’s relentless bitterness when he

reached home again.

“Where have you been, young man?” she would demand. “I was looking

for you all over to take charge of the cash receipts so I could make a

bit of dinner for your father. And for you, I might add, although why we

bother to feed someone who doesn’t pull his own weight around here—”

Arnie astounded Robbie by sticking up for him—eally, twice in one

week, if you counted the fifty dollars. “Now, then, Mother, you know he

does two milkings a day as well as keeping up with his studies and the

church youth group. And we wouldn’t have the calf at all if Robbie hadn’t

bred the mother.”

“All the more reason for him to stick around and do his share.” Myra



Robbie reported his woes to Lara Thursday evening, as they huddled

among the drooping sunflowers at the X-Farm. “And then she went on

and on, the way she always does, about what a loser I am.”

“I’d think your gram would be happy as a pig in mud right now with

all the attention your farm is getting in the news.”

“Yeah, but nothing makes her happy. Except maybe Junior beating up

people. It was practically like Jesus coming again in glory to hear her talk

about Junior pounding those Jewish boys from Kansas City on Sunday.

‘And what about you, Robbie? You were sitting around like a schoolgirl

in tears not helping your brother at all. Just what I’d expect from Kathy

Sheldon’s son.’ Then came the usual earful about how my mom was a

harlot and I was a harlot’s son, and it was practically like Junior didn’t

even have the same mother as me.”

“Your gram sure has a thing about mothers—he hates mine and

yours both. Maybe she’s really a space alien. Maybe she brought Junior

with her from outer space, so she hates human women who can have


Robbie laughed dutifully but burst out, the darkness a shelter behind

which he could speak: “I keep wondering what’s wrong with me. Why

would my own mom go off like that? She— always thought she loved

me. We played games, we named the cows together, and then—whammo!—he disappeared without a word, not even a birthday card.”

“But she did want to take you with her,” Lara said. “Don’t you

remember the day she left? She came out for you, but your dad forced

her off the land.”

“I was there when she drove out,” Robbie said angrily. “Nanny said

she came to pick up her clothes and never even asked about me.”

“Robbie, that’s not true!” Lara sat up in the twilit field. “I was only

nine, but I remember her driving over to our house and crying for, like,

an hour because your dad locked you and Junior in the barn. And when

she tried to get into the barn, he shot at her. And Mom and Dad even

tried to talk to your father, but he wouldn’t listen. You know my father,

he doesn’t talk about stuff much, so he won’t talk about Arnie— mean,

your dad—o I don’t know what happened when my folks went over.

But, cross my heart, your mom really wanted to take you with her.”


“Then why did she disappear? Why didn’t she ever write?” Robbie

wanted to believe Lara, but six years of Myra dinning at him that his

mother was a harlot who thought more of her clothes than she did her

own children was hard to overcome.

Lara stroked his hair. “Have you ever tried to track her down? She

grew up in Lawrence, didn’t she? My dad says he went out with her a few

times in high school, before she married your dad, so don’t you have

another grandmother in Lawrence?”

“No, her people moved away years ago, and I can’t find them. Even

though my mom’s family went to Salvation Bible, no one at church will

talk about her. It’s like they’re so afraid of Nanny that they won’t even

tell me they ever heard of my own mother’s family. I’ve tried Google,

but their last name was Sheldon, and there are a zillion Sheldons in

America. Of course, I’ve Googled her, too—athy Sheldon and Kathy

Schapen both—ut if she married the man she ran off with, her name

would be different. That still doesn’t explain why she never writes or


“Maybe she does and your nanny burns her letters,” Lara suggested.

“Your mom is the one person who knows how scary your nanny is, so she

probably doesn’t try to phone.”

“You’re so lucky,” Robbie said wistfully. “You have both your parents

with you, and they don’t pretend the crappy stuff they do is for your own


“You wouldn’t say that if you were living with the Zombie Queen,”

Lara said. “My mom might as well have run off with someone. Her body

sits around the house all day working on some stupid project for occupational

therapy while her face is blank, like a turnip.

“These ladies from Riverside Church came out this afternoon, including

Ms. Carmody—ou know, she belongs to our church—nd Turnip

Grellier sat staring out the window like they weren’t there. Dad wanted

me to make tea, but I couldn’t take it, not the way she sat without saying

a single word. I know this is a terrible thing to say but sometimes I look

at her and wish my dad hadn’t—adn’t found her in time.”

She let out a hiccupy sob. Robbie pulled her close, the refrain of a new

song flitting through his head: I longed to wash all those heartsick tears


away. He could hear the chords, but it would sound better with a fiddle

than a guitar.

After a long embrace, when they both knew they needed to go home,

Lara said, “You know, Robbie, if it was me I’d look to see if your gram is

hiding letters from your mother in her room.”

“Lara! I can’t go into her room. Do you know what she’d do?” Visions

of whippings, both verbal and physical, of being thrown out of the

house, his guitar smashed to pieces, all the violence and threats of violence

that had descended on him since his mother disappeared washed

through him and he trembled.

“Not while she’s home,” Lara said. “But maybe your mom left a note

or something and your gram is hoarding it and gloating over it. Wouldn’t

it be worth some risk to find that out? I’d do it for you if I could get to

your house without anyone seeing me.”

“Oh, Jesus, no, Lara,” Robbie said. “Don’t try coming near our place.

My dad would probably burn down your house if he saw you going

into ours.”

Lara’s cell phone rang: Kimberly, checking on algebra homework.

Lara said she’d call her back and hung up, but a second later her father

phoned, demanding that she get home for supper.

Robbie scrambled to his feet and ran down the track to the road: if it

was time for the Grellier’s supper, it was way past mealtime in his house.

When Lara got home, Ms. Carmody and the other church ladies had

left. Jim was in the kitchen, trying to read, Susan in the family room,

where she’d taken possession of the long couch, filling it with an afghan

she was endlessly crocheting as occupational therapy. Jim looked

bleakly at his daughter but didn’t ask where she’d been: he didn’t think

he could cope with an evasive answer from her. Instead, he forced a

smile, told her there was chili on the stove, and asked if she had done her


“When she was out here this afternoon, Ms. Carmody reminded me

that your mother and I both have to sign off on your homework assignments.

You still have two problem sets to do before you’re caught up in

algebra. And she said you owe her a book report on The Red Badge of

Courage compared to The Things They Carried.


Lara pinched her lips together. “She only assigned those to me because

of Chip.”

“Yes, and because she thinks you have the maturity to read and

respond to them. She hopes they’ll help you understand what may have

been going through Chip’s mind when he went to Iraq. Come on, sweetheart,

please.” The last sentence came out as an anguished plea; he hadn’t

intended it, his voice cracking from fear.

Lara turned from the stove to stare at him. The idea that her own

actions might make her father cry—he’d never imagined she had that

much power. She spooned out the chili and brought a bowl to him,

nudging him to move over in his chair. She wedged her tall, skinny body

next to him, and they ate together in silence.

In the morning, Jim drove Susan to town for her appointment with a

social worker. The social worker was a man, which seemed odd to Jim,

but the guy was experienced and easy to talk to—t least, easy for Jim to

talk to. Susan wasn’t saying much to anyone.

The social worker pulled Jim in for a few words at the end of Susan’s

session: he wanted Jim’s perspective on how Susan was functioning at

home. Jim said things weren’t as bad as they’d been in the first month

after Chip’s death. Susan hadn’t started writing again and she was eating,

but she wouldn’t talk to him. It wasn’t the way it had been before, when

his wife was inhabiting some remote place where she didn’t hear him.

She just didn’t care about anything.

“She needs an occupation, she needs her friends to visit her,” the social

worker suggested.

When they got home, Jim tried getting Susan to look at the farm

accounts. She had always maintained the books, had known down to a

penny what their cost per acre was, and how to decide when it was better

to bet on soybeans, when on corn, but now she just looked at him and

said, “Oh, Jim, it’s too much for me right now. You got the corn in, you

can take the time now to add up these numbers. Or maybe Lara . . .” Her

voice trailed away; she started picking apart the threads on her sweater.

Lara was angrier than Jim and therefore more ruthless with her

mother. When she got home from school, and her father reported on the

social worker’s comment, Lara dragged her mother to the X-Farm.


“Look at this field: the birds have wrecked it, but there’s still something

here to harvest. We could do it together. I can clean out the hopper

on the combine so it meets the organic-certification standards, and I’ll

drive the wagon if you’ll run the combine.”

Susan looked at the sunflowers, then turned without speaking and

slouched back to the house. Lara, beside herself with fury, followed her,

shouting, “The X-Farm and the sunflowers were your idea, but it was me

who made them come true! I put in the crop and saw we got certified

while you were dancing around bonfires with Gina Haring and Elaine

Logan. So get off your butt and help me save the seeds. Even if you wish

it was me over in the cemetery and Chip standing here, you can pay

attention to the crop.”

Susan stopped and turned to look at her daughter. “Lara, it’s me I

want over in the cemetery, not you, so leave me alone.”

Lara watched her mother move on her dead legs back to the house. So

enormous was her rage that she went out to the supply shed and found

the crates with the packages she’d designed.

“Abigail’s Organics, Abigail’s Orgasms, Abigail’s Colonics,” she shouted,

thinking of as many hateful words as she could. She dragged the crates

into the middle of the drive and set fire to them. But they were packed

too densely and wouldn’t burn.

Jim had seen the drama develop from the equipment barn, where he

was straightening a disk that he’d bent when he drove the harrow over a

tree root down by the river. He ran out as the yard grew thick with

smoke. Looking from his daughter’s tight, angry face to the crates, which

he himself had marked for the x-farm last June, he finally said, “If you

want to burn them, you need more oxygen on your fire. But if you think

you might want to use them next year, I’ll put out the fire and help you

salvage them.”

“You said you were going to sell the X-Farm to pay Mom’s medical

bills!” Lara screamed. “This was my only chance for a crop, and it’s too

late, it’s ruined, and she doesn’t give a rat’s tailbone.”

“I’m sorry, baby.” Jim put his hands on his daughter’s shaking shoulders.

“I should have let you have the combine for a day, but all I was

thinking about was the corn crop and how you’d need Curly to help you


clean the rasp bars and the hopper up to the organic board’s standards. I

wish I could promise you I’d make it right next year, but I’m not sure

I can. I’ll have to run the numbers in a month when I have a chance

to see—”

He broke off the sentence without finishing it—when I have a chance

to see if Susan is ever going to recover. To see whether I have to sell my acres

to a developer. Peter Ropes might want to buy, but a developer would

pay five times as much. There were plenty of builders, Curly’s cousin

among them, who coveted land out here for mansions, as Kansas City’s

commuters moved farther and farther afield.

Curly’s cousin had come around one morning, offering Jim a price on

the X-Farm that would just about cover Susan’s medical bills. Which

meant Curly had been gossiping to his cousin, and the whole county by

extension, about Susan’s condition and Jim’s finances. Jim was angry and

chewed out Curly. When Blitz heard about it, he came so close to beating

the younger man to a pulp that he went home to cool off. Curly prudently

lay low for several days.

If Jim sold to Curly’s cousin, Peter Ropes would hate it, having city

people living out here; they’d start wanting to zone the place to keep

noise down. And Arnie would be furious, because the first thing city

people did was shut down animal operations—oo much smell too close

to them. They moved to the country for peace and quiet, by which they

meant golf courses around their houses, not working farms.

Friday afternoon, after helping Lara put out the fire and telling Curly

to see how many of the packages were still usable, Jim walked over to the

X-Farm; he hadn’t been there since Chip died. Despair, fear, anger with

his wife, all these had turned him against the organic farm.

As he lifted the drooping sunflower heads and saw the damage the

birds had done, he wondered if his impulse to sell the X-Farm stemmed

more from anger with Susan than a need for money. Not that her medical

bills weren’t a huge and mounting worry—ut he could sell the half

section he farmed down by the Wakarusa. It would be good pasturage for

Arnie’s cows, for instance, and easier to maintain as a grazing pasture

than a crop field. Assuming Arnie would even buy Grellier land; he’d be

sure there was some hitch to it if Jim offered it to him. Maybe Jim could


set up some elaborate scheme where Arnie would think Jim was cutting

him out of the picture—hen he’d want to buy.

Arnie was so sure this calf of his would make him rich—ven Jim had

heard that talk, down at the grain elevator, or at the coffee bar in town

where he went sometimes to talk with other men his age. Not that

he ordered their expensive cappuccinos and whatever, any old java of the

day would do him fine. He’d nurse one cup for half an hour while he

caught up with people from church, or Peter Ropes and Herb Longnecker,

who also stopped in there.

The thought of cappuccino made him walk to the east edge of the

sunflower field to stare at the Fremantle house. Gina, bundling him out

of the way as if he were a tiresome two-year-old and letting that horrendous

Elaine Logan move in. Surely, they weren’t—is stomach turned at

the thought—t was hard enough to accept Gina with Autumn Minsky

from the bookstore. Riverside was an open and accepting church, but

sometimes he thought they went too far.

T h i r t y - N i n e


It might have consoled Jim to know that relations between the

women at the Fremantle house were strained if not downright cold. Gina

had asked Elaine to stay on an impulse: the naked longing on Jim’s face

was more than she could take. It was the look her husband used to wear,

hoping against all odds she might be in love with him, and she didn’t like

the reminder of the life she used to lead, when she’d buried herself deep

in the closet so she could have access to beautiful clothes, rare art, splendid


When her uncle offered her the use of the house while she got back on

her feet, Gina thought she’d have some welcome privacy in the country,

time to recover from the pity or scorn of the people she’d lived around in

the six years of her marriage. She’d imagined exploring her interest in

Wicca, coming to terms with her lesbian self, all in a remote but comfortable


Privacy, comfort—oth had been fantasies—nd if she’d been able to

celebrate Wiccan holidays and sleep openly with other women, she’d also

done so in the middle of mold, cold, and open warfare from the neighbors.

She’d arrived in Kansas full of good resolutions: she’d rebuild her

old career in public relations. She’d try to write a novel, a long-standing

fantasy that had faded in her years of marriage. Instead, although she

busied herself with Wicca, with lovers, and with the anti-war movement,

the isolation made it hard for her to organize herself.

Networking via the Net was possible in theory, but of course the


Fremantle house didn’t have a broadband connection and the old phone

wires were too uncertain for dial-up. She had to do her business via

BlackBerry, which cost a fortune, or go into town to an Internet cafe.

Both made it hard for her to restart a career that seemed more remote

every week.

In the summer, she started work on a novel—omance and social

commentary, about the upscale closeted women of New York. She managed

to write eight pages in the month of August, and when she read

them over the language felt brittle and phony. Perhaps she was choosing

the wrong setting; perhaps she needed to write about the people around

her right now.

When Elaine Logan had come out for Midsummer Eve, she kept prattling

about her baby who died in the fire. Elaine was such a mix of fantasy

and fabrication that Gina hadn’t believed her. While the Grelliers

had told her about the fire, all those years ago, and the youth who had

died in it, they’d never mentioned a baby.

In fact, at the midsummer fire Elaine had a fit when Susan Grellier

said there’d been no babies in the bunkhouse. “And you were there,

Missy Know-It-All? You think because you know the War Between the

States, you know the Civil War, too. But you don’t. And I do. Because I

lived through the real Civil War.”

Arnie had arrived with his fire truck a short time later, putting an end

to any squabbling among the Wiccans, but the tale began to worry Gina.

She wanted to see what lay inside the ruined bunkhouse. If a baby had

died there that no one knew about, maybe it would explain why Elaine

had become the tiresome drunk she was today. Maybe that would be

Gina’s book, Murder on the Plains. She could visualize the cover and the

reviews. The book would be unusual; it would let her reclaim her dead

Manhattan life.

The day that Rachel Carmody came out to see her about Elaine, Gina

had decided to dismantle the old bunkhouse, to see whether she could

find any relics from the fire. When Elaine showed up during the storm

later that night, Gina thought Elaine might be able to give her more

details about the baby or the fire. She also thought Elaine would provide

company of a sort, a buffer against the intruding eyes of the Schapens,


Burtons, and Goddess Knew-Who-Else. She’d been afraid, too, after seeing

the roach taped to her poster. Even with the bolts and bars Jim and

Blitz screwed to the windows and doors, the house was too isolated, too

easy to break into. Gina had thought another human in the place, even

one as strange as Elaine Logan, might make her feel safer.

The decision proved as confused and fruitless as all the other choices

Gina had made this past year. When Gina asked about the baby, Elaine

would put a finger along her nose, like a caricature of a movie spy, and

say, “Dead men tell no tales,” or whine that no one believed her.

She wouldn’t help out, even with the minimal housework Gina

required, and Gina had to hide her wine, which made Elaine snarl abuse.

She bewildered Gina by her rapid swings, from hurling ugly insults at

her to clinging to her, as if Gina were her own mother. One morning,

Elaine fumbled in her trash bag of belongings and pulled out a crumpled

copy of her college transcript.

“You’re writing a book, aren’t you? I read some of your pages. You’re

not making much progress, are you? And you’re trying to write about my

old commune. You should let me help. I got A’s in English, see?” She

thrust the transcript at Gina, who was furious that Elaine had been

snooping into her papers and embarrassed that this drunken homeless

woman could so easily recognize the bare bones of her story.

Gina called Rachel Carmody to see if the church could help find

another placement, but that proved a vain hope. Gina certainly wasn’t

going to call the sheriff for help, not when it was his deputy who’d caused

most of her problems, so she settled into a kind of cold coexistence with

the older woman.

Most days, unless it was raining, Elaine walked the quarter mile to the

county road and hitched a ride into town. All the people flocking out to

see the Schapen calf made it easy for her to get a lift. In Lawrence, she’d

make a circuit of her usual haunts, finishing at Raider’s Bar if she’d been

able to panhandle enough money for liquor. Most nights, she found someone,

often Turk Burton, to take her back out as far as the crossroads.

Gina refused to give her a key to the house. If Elaine returned after

Gina had gone to bed, she wouldn’t get up to let the older woman in.

Elaine screamed venom up at Gina’s window: “If some farmer you want


to impress comes by, then you’ll get up, but not when it’s me, a helpless

little girl!”

Whether Gina even heard her, Elaine didn’t know, but she spent one

cold, wet night in the Fremantle barn. Elaine had hated it, because of the

rats and the fact that the roof leaked, so the next time she got drunk and

lost track of time she stayed at a drop-in shelter in town.

Gina hoped that meant she was gone for good, but later that afternoon

Elaine returned, pouting and grumbling. The next morning, she

announced she was going over to see the Schapens’ calf.

“Everyone’s talking about it in Lawrence. Why don’t you come with

me? A cow that speaks Hebrew. That’d give your book something no one

else is writing about.”

“Arnie Schapen may choose to involve himself in my affairs, but I

have zero interest in his. Besides, haven’t you seen that women aren’t

allowed in the calf ’s enclosure?”

“Can’t you at least give me a lift? No one ever helps me out, and I’m

such a tired little girl.”

“Because you’re hungover,” Gina snapped.

Pouting, grumbling, Elaine set out for Schapens’ on foot. She had to

rest half a dozen times, leaning against trees or fence posts since it was a

major effort to get up from the ground. At the county road she hoped

someone would stop and give her a lift, but it was the middle of a weekday,

the slowest time for traffic going out to see the calf. She waited

twenty minutes at the intersection, before finally puffing her way up the

rutted track to the farm.

Arnie and Myra were going about the usual business of the farm;

Arnie was disking his sorghum field, Myra had driven over to Wiesers’

with the midweek milk delivery. Dale, the cowman, was tied up with

extra work for the calf. Arnie had told him to knock together some

benches for visitors to sit on, and to put up fencing to keep them out of

the main milking and grazing sections of the farm.

Myra’s spreadsheet for the calf began to include expenses she hadn’t

anticipated for wear and tear on the land. She wanted to up admission to

$7.50, but Arnie was afraid people would accuse them of caring more

about money than the Lord’s anointed.


As it was, they needed volunteers from Salvation Bible to help with

the pilgrims. Weekdays, when traffic was light, one of the church elders

who was a retired heating contractor waited outside Nasya’s pen to let in

any men and boys who wanted to see her. Gail Ruesselmann took care of

collecting admission.

On the morning Elaine showed up, Gail was sitting in her SUV, doing

needlepoint, ready to hop out to direct traffic. Only ten cars had arrived

that morning. Gail had sent the men and boys to look at the calf, while

the women went to the kitchen for cider, or at least some warmth.

Pastor Nabo was in the kitchen. He drove out to the farm most days,

hoping for more television cameras—e had new points on his side of

the red heifer debate that he wanted to project to a worldwide audience.

However, the big entertainment companies had moved on to newer stories.

Only the reporter from the Douglas County Herald was there, and

she had already heard everything the pastor had to say thirty or forty

times. The reporter moved into the chilly front room, leaving the female

pilgrims to study photographs of Temple artifacts, all created according

to biblical precepts, that the pastor had loaded onto his laptop. These

included a vessel for collecting Nasya’s blood, when the day came to sacrifice

her, a picture that always roused an appreciative squeal of horror

from Nabo’s audience.

When Gail Ruesselmann saw Elaine stagger into the yard, in her

bright pink sweatshirt with the Pink Panther outlined in sequins, she

climbed down from her SUV and asked if she could help.

“I want to see this cow everyone’s talking about,” Elaine puffed.

“We all do,” Gail smiled brightly. “But we women are not allowed

near the calf.”

“Why not?”

“It’s one of those mysteries that we don’t question. Why don’t you sit

down for a minute”—ail pointed at a rough bench that Dale had just

finished hammering together—“and I’ll get you a cup of cider. Where

did you park your car?”

“I don’t have one. I walked. I’m entitled to see this cow. If she’s going

to bring about the end of the world, the way they’re saying on TV, I have

a right to see the cause of my doom.”


“If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, His love and His sacrifice will

take you straight to His bosom in heaven. You won’t have to worry about

your ‘doom,’ as you put it,” Gail said. “Have you accepted Jesus as your

personal Savior?”

“Oh, fuck all that religious shit,” Elaine said. “You holy hens and your

everlasting preaching make me want to puke. If God made this world,

He did a sorry-ass job of it. Now, let me see this one perfect thing you

claim He created.”

“Even if I wanted to let a woman break the Law of God, it wouldn’t

be someone who’s taking His name in vain,” Gail said. “Women are not

allowed into the enclosure with the animal. There’s no argument about it.”

“Bull piss, there’s no argument about it. We’re going to argue plenty,

you and me.”

Gail turned pink with outrage. “Can’t you open your mouth without

spewing forth dirt?”

Me spew out dirt? Yours is the dirty mouth, spouting all that hypocritical

crap. Did they tie you up and beat you to make you believe you’re

a baby who can’t think for yourself ? I was here when the February Sisters

took over the university, and I don’t let any man tell me what to do.”

With a militant gesture borrowed from the seventies, Elaine clomped

across the yard toward the barns.

Gail ran after her, grabbing her arm and yelling, “No, you don’t. You

can’t go back there.”

Elaine ignored her. Gail tried to stop her, but even though Elaine

couldn’t walk fast she was too massive to hold back once she’d started

moving. Gail kept step with her, pulling out her cell phone to call the

pastor in the kitchen.

“Pastor! There’s a horrible woman— harlot, a Jezebel! She wants to

get into the enclosure, and I can’t make her listen to reason!”

They had reached the milking shed. Beyond it, Nasya’s teepee-shaped

enclosure was visible at the end of the row of huts for the new calves.

Elaine put her shoulders down like a football player and headed toward

it, her arms swinging like sides of beef. One flailing arm smacked Gail in

the diaphragm hard enough to make her double over in pain.

The church elder guarding the enclosure saw the women but assumed


they were bringing him a message of some kind from the house, or perhaps

a sandwich. He’d escorted the last of the most recent group of men out of

Nasya’s pen half an hour earlier and was feeling both hungry and bored. It

wasn’t until Elaine came straight to the door and started to pull it open that

he realized he had trouble on his hands. He leaned into the door, trying to

hook the padlock in the latch, while Elaine yanked on his arm.

Gail had gotten her wind back. She wanted to help the elder push the

door shut, but Elaine grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her from

the entrance.

In response to Gail’s call—Weak woman panicking, he thought—Pastor Nabo walked out from the house across the lot, taking his time.

When he saw the tussle at the enclosure, he realized it was more serious.

Weak woman seeking strength from the male. He took a minute to call

Arnie on his tractor in the sorghum field, warning him trouble was brewing

at the sacred enclosure, then put all his strength into moving Elaine

away from the door. With the elder and Gail Ruesselmann pushing, they

were able to keep the door shut long enough for the elder to snap the

padlock into place.

“Woman, whoever you are I command you in Jesus’ name to get away

from that door,” Pastor Nabo thundered.

Elaine turned and spat. “I am not part of your stupid church with its

sexist rules. I don’t believe women are supposed to sit around twiddling

their twats while men tell them what to do, so unlock that door, buster.”

Arnie rolled up on his tractor in time to see Elaine spit. He jumped

down, not even bothering to turn off the engine, and ran to the enclosure.

“Has she been inside? Has she spoiled the heifer?”

“No, Brother Schapen. It took three of us, but we managed to keep

her out.” The elder was panting, wiping sweat from his face with a tissue.

“You’re on private property, you drunken slut!” Arnie recognized Elaine

from all the years she’d been hanging around the bars in the county. He’d

even run her in more than once himself for disorderly conduct. “I have the

right to admit whoever I want to see my calf, and no drunk liberal feminazi

is going to come on my land, insulting my faith and violating

my rules. If you don’t want to be arrested for trespass, you’d better leave

right now.”


“Nazi yourself,” Elaine shouted. “You little tin-pot Hitler, don’t you

go telling me what to do.”

She lay down in the mud in front of the door, knocking the elder out

of the way as she toppled over. All of the people who’d been in the

kitchen with Pastor Nabo were surrounding the calf ’s enclosure now.

There were around two dozen of them, about a third men, and a number

of teens with their ubiquitous cell phones. The kids began taking pictures

of Elaine, roaring with laughter at the sight of her giant thighs sinking

into the mud, and e-mailing them to their friends.

“This is a lie-in, for all you kiddies who weren’t yet born in the sixties. It’s

how we protested injustice back then, and it’s how I’m protesting it now.

You can’t bar women from this calf. Join me! Let’s get our rights out here.”

Arnie was turning purple with fury. He started to scream at Elaine,

then bit off the words. He got back on his tractor and drove across the lot

to his SUV, where he stored his deputy sheriff ’s gear.

Myra, returning from delivering raw milk to the Wieser farm, saw Arnie

pull his handcuffs from the back of the SUV. She hurried to his side.

“It’s this damned drunk,” Arnie fumed to his mother. “I’ve run her in a

dozen times over the years, but the liberals at Grelliers’ church encourage

her to drink and carry on, just so she can thumb her nose at law and order

in this county and make me look like I’m the bad guy. I’ve had it! This is

my land, and she follows my rules or she gets her fat ass slung into jail!”

He ran back to the calf ’s enclosure, Myra following as fast as she

could. When Arnie reached the teepee, he could hear Elaine singing

“We Shall Overcome,” off-key and missing some of the main phrases.

He shoved through the circle of onlookers and knelt next to her to put

the cuffs on her.

“Brother Schapen!” Pastor Nabo spoke so commandingly that Arnie

looked up. The pastor jerked his head significantly toward the rear of the

crowd. Arnie, lips tight with fury, stepped away from the onlookers.

“Brother Schapen, people are taking pictures, e-mailing them, and

there’s a reporter here for the County Herald besides. I don’t think it will do

our cause good to spread a picture of you arresting this—his creature—around the world. My advice is to let her lie there, ignore her. She’ll get

tired of being cold and dirty soon enough if no one pays attention to her.”


“But, Pastor, she’s been living over with that lesbian witch the last few

weeks. And I know she took part in their bonfires. Having her this close

to Nasya—he’s completely committed to Satan’s cause! She could do

permanent harm to the calf !”

“Arresting her will give fuel to our enemies,” Nabo objected. “At least

while these visitors are here. Wait for them to leave. We can do what we

want if no one’s recording it, but if the Jews think we’ve done something

to put Nasya at risk who knows what they might do.”

Arnie slapped the handcuffs against his thigh, trying to make up his

mind. His mother arrived and pushed her way through the gaping visitors.

Myra was decisive and commanding. Maybe she’d figure out some

way to get that disgusting woman off their land.

He followed his mother back to the door of the enclosure and heard

her start to harangue Elaine. Elaine had shut her eyes and was singing,

“esus loves me, this I know, / He makes my brown shit white as snow.”“Don’t add to your problems by taking the Lord’s name in vain,”

Myra clacked.

Elaine opened her eyes and looked up. She started to say something,

and then suddenly seemed to recognize Myra.

“Murderess! Get away from me. Don’t try to preach to me, you murdering

whore. You killed my baby. I saw you dancing around the fire,

laughing your head off !”

Fo r t y

A GIRL’ “RIEND”As the pilgrimages to the heifer showed no signs of letup, most

area churches began discussing what Nasya meant. Was she a miracle, a

portent, or an abused animal? Even Pastor Albright, at Riverside United

Church of Christ, preached about her at the eleven o’clock service:

The Word of God according to the prophet Hosea: “I desire goodness,

not sacrifice; Obedience to God, rather than burnt offerings . . . They

have made them molten images, idols, by their skill, from their silver,

wholly the work of craftsmen. Yet for these they appoint men to sacrifice.

They are wont to kiss calves!”

When I was preparing today’s sermon, I had to keep reminding myself

that Jesus was telling me that I could only cast the first stone if I was without

sin myself. And if you in the congregation don’t know it, my wife can

surely tell you that I am definitely not free of sin!

A ripple of laughter ran through the congregation at Riverside United

as Pastor Albright continued:

So I’m not going to stand here and tell you that our Christian brothers

and sisters are kissing calves out at the Schapen farm, or acting like harlots,

or any of the other abominations that Hosea spells out. You know,

when I read the Book of Hosea I am uncomfortably aware that the Bible

is not suitable reading for young children.


The congregation laughed again, and Pastor Albright went on in his

conversational style to talk about sacrifice, and what it meant.

We believe with Paul that when Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross, it

was once and for all time a complete sacrifice for mankind. It means we

no longer have to offer literal burnt animals to the Lord, because Jesus

shed His blood for all of us. But He also left us some pretty stern commandments.

He told us that the most important commandment was to

worship God with all our hearts, and, right behind that, to love our

neighbor as ourselves. And I can’t help wondering how much of that

neighborly love is going on in our community these days.

Jim, sitting next to Lara near the back of the church, let the words

flow over him without registering them. He couldn’t seem to notice anything

around him these days. Even the crowds that continued to chew

up the gravel on the county road, spreading dust into the Grellier house

as they raced to Schapens’, scarcely existed for him as he struggled with

his silent, withdrawn wife.

The worry churned round in Jim’s head as Pastor Albright spoke on

the hubris of supposing we know what’s in God’s mind. “Does God want

war? Does He want us to rebuild the Temple? We can only study Scripture

and pray for guidance. We can’t presume to say with certainty, ‘We

are doing exactly what God wants.’ ”

Jim didn’t know anymore if he agreed or disagreed with Pastor

Albright and the board of directors on anything. He’d been opposed to

Riverside’s war resolution, when the directors prayerfully announced the

church’s opposition to the war in Iraq, but it was clear now that they’d

been right and he’d been wrong. Would Chip still be alive if Jim had

agreed with Susan, if he’d opposed the war, too?

Lara nudged him: the collection plate was being passed in front of

him. The sermon had ended, and he hadn’t noticed.

A dozen times in the last week, he’d picked up the phone to call Gina:

“This is Jim Grellier. You doing okay? Susan’s home from the hospital,

and the social worker says it would do her good for her friends to visit

her. Could you stop by?” He kept rehearsing his careful words, because


what he really wished was that Gina would come visit him. Each time he

pressed the speed dial button, he put the phone down before it started

ringing, afraid he wouldn’t be able to mask his neediness if Gina


He knew Elaine Logan was still camping out at Fremantles’, because

most days he saw her standing by the train tracks, thumbing a ride

into town. With all the people driving to Schapens’, it seemed someone

was usually willing to stop for her. Jim couldn’t bring himself to talk to

her, let alone give her a lift—he shame and anger he’d felt the night he

found Elaine on Gina’s doorstep still felt like a physical pain around

his heart.

Curly, back at work, told Jim about the scene at Schapens’ farm, when

Elaine accused Myra of killing her baby. Curly said it took six men to get

Elaine to her feet. He said the Herald reporter had coaxed Elaine to ride

into town, promising the paper would investigate if Elaine gave them all

the details. The reporter had gone through all the unsolved child murders

for the last forty years but hadn’t found any that might plausibly

connect Myra and Elaine and a baby.

Jim had been ashamed with himself for listening to the whole story,

knowing that all he really wanted was for Curly to mention Gina’s name.

But of course Gina hadn’t played any role in Elaine’s drama. And not

even Curly knew what Gina was up to, although he did report that she

kept poking around in the ruins of the old bunkhouse.

“They’re getting ready for another bonfire, you know,” he’d told Jim.

“For Halloween. Maybe Susan would like to take part in it, give her

something to be interested in.”

Blitz had silenced Curly with a ferocious glare, but in a moment of

gallows humor Jim had thought maybe it wasn’t a bad idea. He could

drive Susan over. It would be something more fun for her than farm


Even though Gina didn’t come, or even call, several members of

K-PAW did drive out one evening after their weekly meeting. Susan

couldn’t seem to remember who they were or what the protest was about.

They finally left, with little chirping admonitions of “Peace,” like the

hippies used to say back in the sixties. Jim asked them if Gina was still


part of their anti-war movement, and Oscar Herschel, the ringleader,

said, “Oh, yes. She doesn’t make it to meetings very often, but she’s still

committed to the cause.”

Jim was trying hard not to take his anxieties out on his daughter the

way he had earlier in the fall when Susan was collapsing, but he couldn’t

cope with the way she kept vanishing. He worried that she was sneaking

into the heifer’s pen, trying to jeopardize Arnie’s big success. And even

though she swore she hadn’t crawled into the enclosure again, he could

tell she was lying, or at any rate concealing something. At least she had

stopped failing her classes at school. She wasn’t doing well, not the honorroll

work she’d produced her freshman year, but Rachel Carmody had

assured him that at least Lara was going through the motions these days.

His daughter poked him again; once more, he returned to the present

with a jolt. The service had ended, and everyone was getting up. Jim

might as well have stayed in bed, for all the attention he’d paid. Lowpitched

laughter and conversation floated around him. Pastor Natalie,

the associate who was trained in pastoral counseling, came over, as the

other clergy took up their posts by the door.

“When can I visit Susan?” she asked Jim.

“She’s not doing well with visitors right now, Natalie.”

“That’s what I hear. If you don’t mind, I’d like to see her. We miss her

around here. Is Wednesday afternoon good for you? You’re out near that

miracle calf, aren’t you?”

“The miracle calf is near us,” Lara said. “I want to charge Arnie

Schapen a dollar for every car that goes by because I’m the one cleaning

off the dust they spread all over our house.”

“Have you seen it?” Pastor Natalie asked.

Lara clasped her hands and assumed an expression of total sanctity.

“Girls aren’t allowed in. Didn’t you know our menstrual blood might

make the calf start hemorrhaging or something?”

“Lulu! Enough.”

Jim felt his face burning, embarrassed at his daughter’s language,

despite Pastor Natalie’s spurt of laughter. Natalie looked at him, her

laughter turning to sorrow and pity. Rachel Carmody had given him a

similar look when he came into church this morning. He was a Grellier,


damn it all, not an object of pity. If this was how people were going to

treat him, he’d stop coming to church.

“You do what you think you need to do, Natalie.” He turned away.

“Lulu—ancakes today?”

It was their old Sunday ritual, which they hadn’t followed since Chip’s

death, pancakes after church. Jim waited tensely, afraid Lara would turn

him down and disappear on her mysterious errands, but after a brief hesitation,

when he saw her look at her watch, she agreed.

They walked over to the river before getting into Jim’s truck. The

church had originally been built during a drought cycle; it wasn’t until

the first time the Kaw overflowed its banks that the settlers realized their

mistake. The second building was set back from the river’s bank; the

church planted a peace garden between the new building and the river.

Lara ran her fingers through the dry lavender flowers. “Dad, you

know it’ll be a good thing for Pastor Natalie to see Mom. One of these

days, someone is going to say the right thing to Mom, the thing that will

make her come back to life. Like the prince in ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ ”

“So I’m not really a prince—s that what you’re saying?—ecause my

kisses don’t have any magic to them?”

Lara blushed and snapped off a piece of lavender. It was when she bent

over the plant that Jim noticed the hickey on her neck. So someone was

kissing her, that was where she was flitting off to. He felt a further abandonment

as well as worry. Who could she be seeing that she didn’t want

to tell him about?

All through lunch, he tried to summon up the language to talk to her

about it. It wasn’t until they were heading back to the farm that Jim said,

“Lulu, you’re too young for sex. I’m afraid if I ask you, you’ll lie to me.

So I’m just going to say—f that’s become part of your life, will

you promise to be responsible?” He kept his eyes on the road but was

aware of her looking at him, her dark eyes large, her cheeks crimson.

“You know what that means, right? You—ou take steps to see that

you’re—” He stumbled over the words. “Safe sex. You know what that

means, don’t you?”

“Dad, please. I can’t. It isn’t like that. We just hang out,” she whispered.

“How did you know I was—”


“I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck, baby,” he said when she couldn’t

finish the sentence. “Why don’t you want me to know his name? Is it

someone—Oh! Robbie Schapen, of course. That’s why Arnie didn’t skin

your ass when you were in his manger!”

“Dad! Mr. Schapen doesn’t know. He’ll kill Robbie if he finds out. You

can’t tell him. Promise you won’t tell him!”

“You two are playing with fire, if you think someone won’t see you

and rat on you. But, of course, I won’t talk to Arnie. Maybe as long as

these crowds keep up, he won’t notice anything. Bring Robbie to the

house, though: don’t go sneaking off with him in your pickup.”

They’d reached home. She dashed inside, still scarlet around the ears.

Robbie Schapen. He wasn’t Jim’s first choice for his daughter, not that

family with their violent religion, their dislike of women, not to mention

their hatred for Jim himself. But he couldn’t forbid Lara from seeing

Robbie. Then she’d become even more secretive. And, anyway, he

couldn’t face any more friction in his family. As long as there were

no pregnancies, no bad diseases. If she made it to twenty-one without

those, without getting killed on the Kansas highways, or fleeing to a distant

war—If, God, if, if, if. Keep her safe for me. Can’ you do this one thing, Jesus, or

are you really not omnipotent after all?

Fo r t y - O n e


Jim followed Lara into the house on lagging feet. His wife was in

the family room. She had taken all the farm accounts from the filing cabinet

in the kitchen and spread them on the low table in front of the

couch, but she was staring sightlessly at a cooking show on television.

“Pastor Albright and Pastor Natalie both asked after you,” Jim said

with the kind of fake heartiness he couldn’t turn off when he spoke to

Susan. “Pastor Natalie wants to visit you Wednesday afternoon.”

Susan didn’t look at him. “I wish you’d stop arranging my life as if I

were a chess piece you could move around wherever you felt like.”

Jim’s head filled with a familiar fog, the mask of anger that took over

more and more of his brain. “Susan, if I could move you around wherever

I felt like, I’d move you back to where you were a year ago. I wish you’d

make some kind of effort instead of sitting like a zombie day and night.”

“I am a zombie, Jim. That’s why I act like one. You saved my life, so

now you have to accept having an undead person in your house. You

should have thought of that before you took me to the hospital.”

The bitterness in her voice made him furious. “Save this drama for your

therapist. If you really want to die, there are a thousand ways on a farm to

make that happen. If you don’t, then pull yourself together and start paying

attention to the farm and your daughter even if you resent me too

much to pay attention to me. Did you know Lara’s been sneaking off to

make out with Robbie Schapen? For all I know, she’s sleeping with him!”

“Robbie Schapen?” she repeated. “How can she do that to me?”


“Do that to you?” Jim said blankly. “She’s doing it to herself, or with

him, not to you.”

“How much she must hate me, to start sleeping with the boy whose

brother drove her own brother to his death.” Spots of color burned in

Susan’s cheeks, the first real emotion she’d shown in months.

“Maybe she’s lonely and he’s available,” Jim shouted. “Maybe it

doesn’t have anything to do with you at all!”

“How can she be so disloyal to Chip’s memory?” Susan’s voice trembled.

“She’s lost her brother, she’s lost you, she’s lost the sunflower crop she

worked on so hard. Is she supposed to give up on life, join a convent or

something, until you’ve decided it’s time to return to the world? Instead of

thinking this is about you, or Chip, try to see that it’s about her. How

much does she know about sex? Safe sex, I mean. Have you had that talk

with her? I don’t want her having sex, not at fifteen, and not with Robbie,

but she needs to know he has to wear a rubber. Does she know that


“They cover that in school.”

“It will mean more if it comes from you,” he cried. “I tried in the car

coming home, but—elp me here, Suze, please—ou know how hard it

is for me to talk to Lulu about sex.”

“She doesn’t listen to me.” Susan started picking at the skin around

her fingernails.

“Because you’ve stopped talking to her! Think about what it would

mean if she got pregnant.”

“What difference would it make, in the end?”

“When it was Chip with Janice Everleigh, you thought it would be the

end of the world if she started a baby, and I talked pretty forthrightly

with Chip. It’s your turn to step up to the plate.”

Susan’s lips quivered and tears seeped from the corners of her eyes.

“That’s below the belt, Jim, it really is.”

Time was when he would have picked her up, kissed those tears away,

but now they only increased his annoyance. Jim looked at the papers

Susan had strewn across the table. “You know, Curly’s cousin would pay

twenty-seven hundred an acre for the X-Farm. Think about that as you

study these bills.”


“What difference does that make? X-Farm, K-PAW, the co-op market,

why did I imagine anything I said or did would matter for one minute,

let alone a whole lifetime?”

She picked up a handful of papers and tossed them, as if they were a

fistful of wheat she was throwing up to winnow. It was too much. He

went into the kitchen, where he found a beer buried in the refrigerator,

and took it upstairs, to watch the Chiefs game on the set in the bedroom.

After an hour or so, Susan came up to lie down. She looked pointedly at

the beer, at the television, but Jim didn’t move. Finally, she climbed into

bed, not bothering to take off her clothes, not even her slippers. Jim turned

up the volume on the television. When the game ended, he gave up on the

silent struggle for control of the room and went back downstairs.

He looked at the farm accounts, strewn every which way on the table

and floor, feeling a hollowness under his rib cage. Now that the corn was

in, he needed to plant the winter wheat. He’d never decided how many

acres to put into wheat on his own before, and he’d never waited until

the day before planting to figure it out. First with his grandfather, and

then with Gram and Susan, they would discuss the rotation schedule, the

number of acres, and the varieties weeks before Labor Day. And now?

Four weeks ago, under Blitz’s prodding, he’d ordered seed, changing

the varieties based on last year’s crop. He hadn’t run the numbers to

decide on how much acreage to put into wheat or which fields to rotate,

and here he was at the tag end of the planting season. With less thought

than Lulu was putting into sex with Robbie Schapen, he would go out

in the morning and spread nitrogen in the no-till fields he was going to

use this year so that he could plant next week.

The beer in the middle of the day had left him with a sour taste in his

mouth and a headache, but he grimly pulled all the accounts together. If

Gram were still alive, she wouldn’t tolerate dramatics in Susan, or in him,

either. The farm had to come first. He turned on the computer and

opened his farm spreadsheet folder.

After a time, the familiar calculations began to soothe him. He

stopped thinking about the wreck of his family and concentrated on the

University of Illinois’s advice on nitrogen. Would it be better to bet on

lower prices from foreign producers next year and get the rest of what he


needed then or buy it all now and know he had it? That was the kind of

question Susan helped answer. She was a risk taker. She would have said

bet on Venezuela and Iran, even though the risk of interrupted supplies

was greater. He pulled a quarter from his pocket and flipped it. Heads.

He went with Susan’s imaginary advice and lowered his fertilizer order.

At five, he heard his daughter tiptoe down the front stairs, trying to

slip out the front door. On impulse, he called to her to wait and ran up

the stairs to forage through the box of Chip’s effects.

“Lulu, these were Chip’s. I don’t want the situation to arise, but if it

does, use them, promise?” he folded her fingers over a packet of Hot Rods.

Both of them were blushing, but Lara thrust them into her jeans pocket.

“And you be home by nine, you hear? Or I’ll get Blitz to hunt you


“Dad!” She gasped in a high, uncertain voice and ran out the door.

She had showered and washed her hair since church, he noticed, and

smelled of sweet lemongrass. His heart turned over.

Oh, be kind to her, Robbie Schapen. Be good to her or I’l kill you.

After a time, he returned to his calculations, marking off fields on the

computer crop by crop: winter wheat in the northeast section that had

lain fallow this year and in the section where he’d grown oats. Soy by the

river? Maybe. He didn’t need to decide that today, especially if he

decided to sell those acres. Corn? He hated using the same fields twice

running for corn. It was too expensive, both in chemical inputs and

stress on the land. Alfalfa there, and corn in this year’s wheat fields?

He was so wrapped in his calculations that he worked the afternoon

away. When he stood to turn on the lights, he suddenly remembered his

daughter. Where was she? What was she doing? Was Robbie feeding her?

Arnie didn’t pay his sons for time on the farm, as Jim had always paid

Chip and now Lulu, so if Lulu and Robbie were sneaking off someplace

to eat would Lulu be paying for the meal? For some reason, this made

him angry again.

He debated trying to track her down. Come on, kids, let’ go into town

for a pizza. Before Arnie, patrolling the county in his deputy sheriff ’s

uniform, surprised them in a lay-by and shot them both.

He was standing in the kitchen, staring into the refrigerator, while


these confused thoughts chased through his head, when someone

pounded on the back door hard enough to shake it in its frame. So vivid

had his imaginings about his daughter been that he sprinted to the door,

expecting to find Arnie on the other side. When he saw Elaine Logan, he

stared at her in the blankest bewilderment.

“I thought you were Farmer Jones, but she says your name is Jim.” She

blew beery breath on him, and he stepped back. “She told me to come

find you.”

“She?” His mind was still on Lulu, arrested or shot or both.

“Gina. She’s trapped in that old bunkhouse and can’t get out.”

He shook his head, trying to change gears, and looked past Elaine to

the darkening sky. “What’s she doing out there this time of night?”

“She isn’t. I mean, she is, but she was there for a while until I got back

from town. Good thing for her I came home early. And good thing I

heard her screaming for help.”

“Does she need an ambulance?”

“I’m not a doctor, and I’m not an archaeopteryx. I can’t dig her out,

and I can’t tell if she’s hurt. That’s why you’d better come along.”

Archaeopteryx, an old dinosaur. She meant archaeologist, but he

couldn’t stop picturing the wingspan it would take to give Elaine lift.

The other part of his head was ticking off what he would need. Work

lights, chains, the big tractor, attach the small supply cart in case Gina

had broken a leg or arm or something and needed to lie flat.

He took the plaid wool comforter from the living-room couch and

ran to the barn. Behind him, Elaine called in a horrible, high-pitched

voice, “You can’t leave me here, I’m afraid of the dark.”

He ignored her, hefting chains and a work lamp into the supply cart,

adding a roll of foam rubber and splint-sized pieces of wood. A wood

saw, two shovels. A gallon of water. He drove the load back to the house,

where Elaine was sitting on the stoop, snuffling through her fingers.

“Come on, climb up!” he shouted at her over the tractor engine.

“I can’t. Can’t climb so high. You lift me, Farmer Jim.”

“If you can’t climb up on the tractor, get in the cart,” he yelled.

She pushed herself to her feet and lumbered over to the cart. “It’s cold;

it’s dirty. Elaine will get sick.”


“It’s the cart, the tractor, or walk back,” he said, exasperated.

“No need to be rude. Didn’t your mommy teach you any manners?”

She grabbed the cart and managed to swing a leg over the side. Her

foot caught in the chains, and, with a loud howl, she pitched over backward

onto the foam rubber. Jim hoped she hadn’t broken anything. That

would be the last straw, going off to rescue Gina and having to run

Elaine into the hospital with a busted hip.

He drove at the tractor’s top speed, almost thirty miles an hour. Over

the loud kerchunk of the engine, he could hear Elaine’s howls, screaming

that he was trying to murder her. He stopped outside the Fremantle

house long enough to ask her if she wanted to get out there and then saw

he’d have to take out the coil of chains, which had bounced up onto her

leg. He drove on to the back of the lot, slowing down to avoid the apple

trees: the tractor was too big to navigate this area easily.

By the time he reached the bunkhouse, night had enveloped the land.

Little pricks of light showed around him, his own house, the Ropeses’,

the modest lights of Eudora two miles distant.

He placed the tractor so that its headlights shone onto the bunkhouse

and jumped down. “Gina! It’s Jim Grellier. Are you okay in there?”

“I think so. I’m buried under part of the roof, and I can’t move it.”

Her voice had lost its usual coolness, but he could tell she was trying

not to panic. Under the tractor lights, he studied the wreck of the building.

The main support beam of the roof, which had stayed in place all

these years, had come down, bringing the rest of the roof with it. If he

started pulling the roof away with his chains, he ran the risk of the rest of

the structure falling in and crushing her.

He explained the problem to her. “What I think I can do is pull away

the front of the building: it isn’t connected to the roof anymore. Then

maybe I can burrow underneath what’s left of the floor and reach you.”

He set up the work lamp so he could see more clearly where he needed

to fasten his chains. “When did this happen?”

“Around four. I tried to call for help, but I couldn’t get a signal on my

phone in here.”

“What were you doing, anyway?”

“She thinks she’s an ickyologist.” Elaine had managed to dislodge herBLEEDING


self from the cart and waddle over to the bunkhouse. “Will she die in

there? People do die here, you know. The Schapens burn them up.”

“Hi, Elaine,” Gina said. “I am an ickyologist; I dabble in icky stuff.

Thanks for finding Jim for me.”

“He was mean to me. He bounced me in the cart and hurt my poor

little tushie.”

Jim thought he could see which boards he could pull clear without

bringing more of the house down onto the place where Gina was lying.

He unhooked the cart from the tractor, backed up close to the house,

and attached his chains to several pieces of board. He drove forward just

far enough to put a small amount of tension on the chains, and then

jumped down to check that he was moving the right pieces. The wood

had softened and rotted with time; the piece of siding he’d attached his

chains to broke up as he was moving away instead of pulling the front

with it.

“It’s going to take longer than I thought,” he called to Gina. “This

wood’s too rotten for easy handling. Anything fall in on you?”

“Just more rotting things. I don’t want to imagine what they are; it’s

hard enough to lie here without screaming from claustrophobia. I’m

going to look like a chimney sweep by the time you find me.”

“That’s okay. I look like a prairie dog, from grubbing in the ground.”

He unwound the chains from the rotted boards and tried to find a

sturdier place to attach them. Again only a small amount of wood held as

he pulled away from the bunkhouse. He had to repeat the process half a

dozen times before he cleared enough of the front to take a shot at the

back room where Gina was pinned. At that point, he took his shovel and

started digging away thirty years’ worth of dirt, animal droppings, and

rotted wood.

While he worked, he kept up a cheery conversation with Gina. Elaine

kept interrupting, insisting that the Schapens burned children in the old


“Gina will find the bones, and then they’ll go to prison, bad, nasty

people, with their calf. Do you know, Farmer Jim, you have to have a

penis to see that calf ? You could go look at it, but I can’t. And then I tried

to show them how we used to do protests back in the sixties, and they


dragged me away, and Gina wouldn’t even give me a drink. I’m thirsty

now, and she won’t let me have her wine. That’s selfish and mean.”

When Jim offered her his water jug, she said, in her horrid, little-girl

voice, “He’s teasing Baby Elaine. He wants her to drink nastiness.”

He’d drunk most of the gallon of water himself by the time he’d

cleared away enough of the dirt that he could wriggle into the back area,

where Gina was pinned. He’d had to use a trowel for the last few feet. He

played his flashlight around and saw Gina lying about four feet from

him, the main beam of the roof perched on more of the decomposing

siding about three inches from her head.

“Hi, Jim,” she called when she saw him emerge through his tunnel.

“Hey, Gina, hang in there.” He whistled through his teeth, trying to

figure out how to approach her. “I can’t get a hold on anything to pull

that wood away. It’s all so soft that if I try to move the sides, the beam

will fall on you. I’m going to shovel this dirt away, make you a little tunnel

so you can crawl out from underneath.”

In another forty minutes, he’d dug a deep enough trench that Gina

was able to crawl to him. He pushed her ahead of him through the first

tunnel. When they reached the outside, she tried to stand, but shock and

exposure made her tremble too violently to get up. He carried her to the

cart and looked doubtfully at Elaine.

“I’m going to get you inside, get you warm, and then I’ll figure out

what to do with her.”

Gina’s teeth were chattering but she managed to grin. “Thanks,

Superman. I know you’ll think of something.”

Fo r t y - Two


It was after ten by the time he’d returned all his equipment to the

cart. Elaine was lying on the ground nearby, snoring loudly. When she

didn’t respond to her name or a sharp shake of her shoulder, he poured

the remains of his water jug on her. She looked up at him blindly in

the tractor headlights and then swore at him with a startling viciousness.

She called him names he’d never heard. When he tried to get her into the

cart, she accused him of trying to kill her.

“Then you can walk to the house.”

He was so exhausted he could hardly bring himself to climb up on the

tractor, let alone behave with reasonable civility. When he’d crawled up

into the seat, he turned around and saw Elaine trying to scramble into

the cart. He waited, his skin itching with fatigue, until she toppled in,

then drove back to the house, trying to hit every hole he could find.

He left the tractor, with Elaine still in the cart, in the drive while he

went inside to say good-night to Gina. If Elaine hadn’t emerged from the

cart when he went back out, he’d unhitch it and leave it in the Fremantle

yard until tomorrow.

Gina had taken a shower and was sitting at the kitchen table, nursing

a hot drink. Her dark hair was springing up in little ringlets around her

face. She had on a severe dressing gown that zipped up to a high collar

and covered her down to her toes, but when she moved the lines of her

body were unmistakable. Jim squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to

think, not wanting to imagine.


She got to her feet. “Jim, I can’t begin to thank you properly. I’d be

dead if not for you.”

He managed a smile, swaying slightly in the doorway. “Life in the

country, Gina. We help each other if we can.”

“You’re going to fall over in another second!” she cried. “Why don’t

you spend the night here? You can clean up, if you don’t mind smelling

like blood—orry, that’s the way the rusty water smells to me. I’ll make

you a drink, and you can crash on the daybed in my study.”

Jim thought about riding home. It was only five minutes away, but it

meant returning to Susan’s angry, inert presence, to his daughter—Lara!

How could he have forgotten her, out somewhere with Robbie Schapen?

He had to get back, he was starting to say, when Lara phoned him.

She was frantic because the truck and car were both in the yard but he

had disappeared.

“Lulu, you okay? Gina Haring got herself trapped in the wreck of the

old bunkhouse. I’ve just finished digging her out . . . No, I don’t know

what she was doing there . . . She’s fine, just shaken up . . . Did you get

dinner? . . . Okay. I may have a drink before I come home, so you get to

bed, sweetheart.”

When he hung up, he collapsed in the other kitchen chair. “I should

go home. Susan isn’t in great shape, and I don’t like to leave Lulu alone

with her.”

Gina stood without speaking and steamed a mug of milk for him at

her espresso machine, then poured brandy in it. “I have to hide all the

alcohol from Elaine, which makes it hard to have a drink when I need

one. What did you do with her?”

“She’s in the cart.” He gulped down the hot, sweet milk. He hadn’t

eaten since the pancakes he’d had with Lara at noon; the brandy hit him

almost at once, making his eyelids thick but soothing his itching skin.

“I’d still like to know what you were doing in that bunkhouse, but not

tonight, not when I’m one inch from falling asleep.”

He finished the drink, but when he stood he realized he wasn’t in any

shape to drive the tractor, even the half mile to his farmyard. He let Gina

find him a pair of old Mr. Fremantle’s pajamas and a towel.

If he hadn’t been so very tired and so very filthy, he couldn’t have


brought himself to stand under the shower. The glass door and the

shower floor were thick with orange scum and rust had dug deep grooves

in the metal walls. How had Liz Fremantle lived with this all those years?

And how did Gina, so fastidious in her appearance, tolerate it?

Even so, the physical pleasure of hot water on his dirty head and arms

felt so good that he stood there until the water began running cold.

When he got out of the bathroom, Gina was sitting on the bottom of the

stairs outside the door.

She stood with an effort. “I’m dead on my feet, too.”

She led him up the stairs, past the bare laths where the plaster had

fallen out, to the back bedroom where she tried to write. “I’m sorry

about Susan, Jim. I’ve been a bad friend, but I’ll come over this week to

see her, truly I will.”

He couldn’t muster the strength to answer, just stumbled around her

small worktable and fell onto the daybed. He didn’t even ask about

Elaine, although his last conscious thought was to wonder if she had

passed out in his cart.

When he woke, the room was dark. He stretched a hand out for the

bedside clock and panicked as his fingers closed on air. For a moment, as

his hand flailed, he couldn’t think where he was or why his joints ached

so. And then he remembered: Gina Haring.

In the dark room, he felt desire lick up his legs. Get your clothes on,

Farmer Jones, get your clothes on and go home where you belong.

He found the lamp on Gina’s worktable and looked at his watch,

which he’d dropped on the floor with his clothes last night. It was five in

the morning: his mind said that was time to get up, even after a night of

heavy work, even in a strange room. Which was good. He could get

home before Lara woke and save himself the embarrassment of trying to

explain why he’d been gone all night.

He stood, trying to stretch the kinks from his tired body. He was supposed

to spread fertilizer on his wheat fields today—e hoped he didn’t

fall asleep on the tractor. He picked up his clothes from the chair where

he’d flung them last night. They were too foul to contemplate wearing

again. He instead zipped his jacket over Mr. Fremantle’s pajamas and

rolled his jeans into a ball. He’d managed to shove one of his socks all the


way under the daybed; his knees protested loudly as he knelt to fish

it out.

As he brushed away the dust bunnies clinging to his sock, he found a

small photograph, a yellowing black-and-white shot of a youth with a

thin, dark face and a mop of thick hair, almost an Afro. He stared at the

picture, puzzled. He thought he recognized the wide, sensitive mouth,

but it wasn’t one of the Fremantles.

He was too tired; he couldn’t put his own name to his own face this

morning let alone some thirty-year-old photograph. He laid it on Gina’s

worktable. As he bent to pull on his socks, though, the memory came to

him: Jim himself as a boy, sitting in front of Grandpa on the big tractor.

They were harrowing corn—t least, he had a vivid picture of the bright

green stalks. And then Grandpa got angry: “ot in my field, young man.”Grandpa set the brake on the tractor and jumped down. The youth had

been angry, but the young woman he was with had laughed at Grandpa

in a saucy way. She’d had hair the same color as cornsilk, and it hung

down over her like a waterfall.

It was this man, Jim thought. He was using the cornfield as a place to

have sex. At the time, Jim couldn’t make sense of the scene, nor of

Grandpa’s anger: “n front of the boy,”he spat at Gram over lunch. “ow

could they do that in front of the boy?”That made Jim think it was wicked to have your clothes off in front of

a child, or out of doors, even though Gram said, “Now, Nathan, they

couldn’t have known you’d be harrowing there today with Jimmy.

They’re bone ignorant about farming. Just don’t tell Myra—he’s trying

to get the sheriff to arrest that whole bunkhouse, and throw in Liz

Fremantle for good measure.”

Right after that, someone had killed all the marijuana plants the hippies

were growing behind the barn. Jim and Doug had always assumed

Myra did that—ut what if it had been Grandpa, angry about sex in the

cornfield? And then had come the fire in the bunkhouse, which had

driven away all the hippies, including this one.

Jim had never known the name of the boy who died in the fire. Maybe

it had even been this one, the one in the picture. The boy probably

hadn’t been much older than Chip. And Jim didn’t even know his name!


He was sitting on the bed, lost in space, holding his socks, when Gina

appeared, still wearing her green dressing gown.

“I thought I’d sleep round the clock, but I kept jumping awake, thinking

the ceiling was collapsing on me. I saw the light and figured you

couldn’t sleep, either.”

“I’m always awake around five; my body doesn’t know any better.” He

gestured at her worktable. “I found this picture under the bed. I think

maybe it was one of the hippies in the bunkhouse.”

Gina looked at it, but shook her head. “I’ve never seen it—nless—Elaine gave me her college transcript, trying to prove to me she was

smart enough to help me write a novel—aybe this picture was with it?”

She picked up a crumpled document from her worktable and handed

it to Jim. The seal of the University of Kansas’s registrar announced it as

the “Official Record of Elaine Logan.” In the spring and fall of 1969—the end of her sophomore and beginning of her junior years—laine had

received A’s in the Victorian Novel and the Honors English Seminar, B’s

in all her other subjects. In the spring of 1970, she’d failed one class and

dropped the others. In the fall of 1970, she’d withdrawn.

“I didn’t know she’d been a student at the university—t’s hard to


Gina’s shoulders sagged. “She’s going to drive me into an insane asylum.

Some days she’ll quote reams of nineteenth-century poetry: she

knows ‘Barbara Frietchie’ by heart, and I’ll hear her declaiming, ‘“hoot,

if you must, this old gray head, / But spare your country’ flag,”’or, ‘hrist!

What are patterns for?’A minute later, she’ll start talking baby talk, and

want to pretend I’m her mother.”

Jim laughed softly. When Gina said crossly that it wasn’t funny, he

apologized. “It’s just life I’m laughing at. I don’t want to go home because

Susan won’t talk to me, and you don’t want to be here because Elaine

won’t stop talking.”

Gina made a face. “You can say that again. Elaine says she lived in

the bunkhouse when it was a commune. Is that true?”

Jim shrugged. “That’s what Liz Fremantle said. I guess Elaine left

Lawrence after the fire. Whatever she did in between didn’t do her a

whole lot of good. A mental hospital, where they kept her in restraints,


gave her all those drugs. That’s what I did hear from Curly—om

Curlingford—ho works for me, but I never know if what he reports is

true or not.”

“I don’t think Elaine’s psychotic, just addled,” Gina said.

“Is that why you were excavating the bunkhouse? To find out if she

really lived there or not? I wouldn’t think there’d be any evidence after all

this time.” Jim smiled.

Gina flushed. “You and Susan told me about the boy who was killed

in the bunkhouse. Elaine keeps talking about him, too, but she also says

her baby died in the fire. Maybe it sounds ghoulish, but I wanted to see.”

“Excavating for bones?” Jim’s amusement fled. “It does sound ghoulish.

Don’t you have anything better to do with your time?”

Gina stiffened. “I am so tired of every mortal soul in this county sitting

in judgment on me. My New York friends warned me that people

out here were narrow-minded. I should have listened to them.”

“We’re no more narrow-minded than city people who sit in judgment

on us for thinking differently than they do,” Jim objected.

Gina smiled brittlely. “Arnie Schapen sicced the fire department on

our midsummer fire. He also was pretty crude in the response he organized

to our K-PAW march last winter, as you should remember.”

“I certainly do remember,” Jim said with a spurt of anger. “How can

you say we’re narrow-minded after that, after my wife danced around

your bonfires, and even got arrested taking part in a group you drew her

into? And then—Oh, my God, Gina, is it all a game with you? The fact

that my wife turned her energy to the anti-war movement, that my son

went to Iraq and was killed. Did that matter to you at all, or were you

just playacting, trying to pretend you were some sixties hippie?”

“It’s not playacting, Jim. My own life is in turmoil. Not on the scale

yours is, maybe, but I keep screwing around trying to figure out how to

make a living and getting more and more stultified out here by myself. I

thought I could write a book about the dead boy in the bunkhouse, that

it would be a way of using this time here productively.”

She came to sit next to him. “The only thing I will apologize for is

neglecting Susan, and that’s because I haven’t known what to say to her.

It’s cowardice that’s kept me away, not malice, or—r because I think her


life is a game. Do you honestly believe I’m responsible for your son’s

death? I know your man Blitz does—e treats me as if I were every

plague ever visited on the land of Egypt.”

“Blitz isn’t my man, or anyone else’s,” Jim said irritably. “I don’t hold

you responsible for my son’s decisions, but Susan must have told you

how hard your anti-war group was on her relationship with him.”

“Of course, but I only heard it from her side. She felt he was trying to

dictate to her what she could do, who her friends should be. I agreed that

no man should dictate her political beliefs or actions, especially not her

son. No woman, for that matter. Anyway, even if I were a fairy-tale witch

and could have foretold the future, seen your son’s death in a crystal ball,

how could I have stopped Susan from participating in the anti-war

movement or my bonfires?”

Jim thought of all the fights in the family last winter. No one could

have stopped Susan once she had her mind made up, that was true. No

one could stop Chip, either, come to that. He had always been more like

his mother, more passionate, more intense, than Lulu.

“Still,” Jim said, “I’d like to know what’s real and what’s fake. The

bonfires—ere you doing that to see what kind of rise you’d get out of

us, checking how narrow-minded we actually are?”

She sighed. “I’ve been a Wiccan for, oh, since I was in college, but I’ve

never lived where I could try some of the rituals on a bigger scale. I met

Wiccans in Lawrence, the way everyone meets people who share their

beliefs. The bonfires grew out of that. We all were longing to have real

bonfires, do the full ceremonials. One of the women had taken part in

them in Massachusetts and showed us how to set up the fires.

“They are meaningful to me, these rituals, as much as church and

communion are to a Christian. We will have our Samhain festival at the

end of October, when the world celebrates Halloween.” She stared at

him as if daring him to condemn her religion.

“Fine. Burn down the whole property, as long as it doesn’t cross the

tracks and get into my cornfield. Are you really trying to write a book

about the kids in the bunkhouse?”

“I don’t know.” She played with one of the gold studs in her ears. “I’ve

started reading what I can find about them—here isn’t much. They


called themselves the ‘Free State Commune.’ They grew dope, of course.

Susan told me how Myra Schapen killed the crop.”

“We don’t know who did that,” Jim corrected her. “My brother and

my wife assume it was Myra, but no one saw her do it.”

Gina picked up a stack of paper by her laptop. “The Free State ringleader

wrote for an old underground newspaper in Lawrence. His name

was Dante Sirota—e’s the kid who was killed in the bunkhouse. He was

pretty inflammatory about the Vietnam war, and on the collusion of

townspeople in violence against Indians and African-Americans in the

area. I can imagine how Myra Schapen would have reacted to him. I can’t

help wondering if she set the fire in the bunkhouse.”

“The sheriff concluded at the time that the fire was started accidentally.

The kids burned a lot of candles, and the wiring in the bunkhouse

was pretty ancient, so—”

“Naturally the sheriff said that!” Gina cried. “The law-and-order man

wouldn’t challenge the local power structure, especially not when the

communards were urging the abolition of private property.”

Jim thought with longing of his fields and the winter wheat. How safe

and reliable the land was, not filling your head with romances about dead

revolutionaries and great-great-grandmothers and visions—ust land that

might or might not give you the crop you wanted but wouldn’t pretend to

be something it wasn’t.

“Maybe. Maybe. But I don’t think Myra Schapen set that bunkhouse

on fire.” He got to his feet again.

“But Elaine saw her the night the bunkhouse burned,” Gina argued.

“She went over to look at that miracle calf, or whatever the Schapens are

so puffed up about, and she recognized Myra Schapen. She told me

when she got back here.”

“It’s true Myra was at the bunkhouse the night of the fire. I saw her

myself when my brother, Doug, and I were helping with a bucket brigade.

Mr. Schapen—yra’s husband, who died a few years later—as there,

too. But just because Myra wasn’t helping put out the fire doesn’t prove

she set it. Why don’t you talk to Hank Drysdale, Gina? He’s the sheriff

now, and he’s a decent man. He can look in the files at the county building

and tell you what the investigation showed.”


“Oh, Jim! I bet you were the last guy in your school to give up on

Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, weren’t you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” He was nettled. “That I’m too naive

or too bone ignorant to make reliable judgments about people?”

“I’m sorry— wasn’t trying to insult you. You’re such a decent person,

Jim, basically, you can’t believe there’s bad in anyone, can you, not even

Myra Schapen, let alone a sheriff who’s supposed to uphold law and

order?” She put a hand on his sleeve, white hand, long fingers.

Even annoyed with her, disliking her dogmatic opinions, he couldn’t

stop flashes of fantasy. “And what if I can’t? Is that such a bad thing?

Myra is a pain in the butt, I’ll give you that any day of the week, even

Sunday, but I will not believe she put a torch to a bunkhouse when she

knew people were inside of it.”

He removed her hand from his arm. “I have to go, Gina. I need to get

Lulu up, make sure she gets to school, and I have to fertilize twelve hundred

acres today.”

She moved around him to face him in the doorway. “Promise me you

won’t say a word to anyone about my looking for those—hose bones in

the bunkhouse. Please! I can’t stand for people to make fun of me.”

He smiled faintly. “I don’t believe in minding other people’s business

for them. You’ll come see Susan sometime soon?”

“A trade, you mean. I’ll visit Susan and you’ll keep quiet?”

She gave him a saucy smile of her own; once again, he saw the young

woman in the cornfield and felt a breath of hot July air on his neck. He

took Gina’s face between his hands and kissed her, expecting her to back

away, slap him, or say something cold and cutting, that she might do it

with Susan but not Jim. Instead, she slipped her hands under the top to

Mr. Fremantle’s pajamas and ran her fingers up his back. They were as

soft as he’d imagined, whispers on his wind-roughened skin. He knew he

should draw away, return home to face his responsibilities: daughter,

wife, wheat. Instead, he pulled Gina closer, wishing he hadn’t given all of

Chip’s Hot Rods to Lara.

Fo r t y - T h re e


The sky was still dark when Jim left the house an hour later. This was

usually the hardest hour of the day for him, the long wait for sunrise after

the autumn equinox, but today he was grateful for the protection from

his neighbors. The Schapens would have finished milking by now; Myra

or Dale were often leaving with milk deliveries about this time, and

Arnie might well be returning home from his sheriff ’s deputy shift.

Gina had made Jim a cappuccino before he left, and between the richness

of the coffee, the pleasure of her body, the guilt of lying with her, he

felt light—ight-headed and light on his feet. He jumped onto the tractor,

so light that not even his dirty boots dragged him down.

He had put his own dirty clothes back on. In case either Lara or Susan

was up when he got home, he didn’t want to compound his guilt by

making up a story about Mr. Fremantle’s pajamas. He had the engine

going and was bouncing down the drive, singing “roggy went a-courtin’and he did ride,”when he thought he heard someone cry out. He braked

hard, sure it was Gina, and turned around.

It was still too dark to see, but he heard the cry again over the tractor

engine and swung down from the high platform. It wasn’t Gina at all but

Elaine Logan.

“What do you think you’re doing, Farmer Jones?” she snarled. “Trying

to break every bone in my body? Why don’t you ask people if they want

to get yanked all over the country before you drive off with them?”

She was struggling to push herself upright, but a piece of chain had


come loose and was lying across her stomach, as Jim realized when he got

close enough to see her in his taillights. He burst out laughing, which

made her even angrier.

“I could sue you, you and every rotten motherfucker out here. That

Schapen and his calf that he won’t let anybody see, his murderer of a

mother, all of you, getting together to destroy my life.”

“When you put it that way, I can see we’re a bad bunch,” Jim said, still

laughing but lifting the piece of chain from her and trying to help her

out of the cart. She had wrapped herself in the plaid comforter and lain

down in the middle of the foam rubber he’d brought along; her weight

had wedged the foam so tightly into the cart that he couldn’t get underneath

her or the foam. He was beginning to think he’d need to drive her

back to his barn and use his crane to hoist her out when she grabbed his

arms and managed to free her own shoulders. He quickly knelt, got his

hands under her, and shoved. She fell onto her left side but was finally

able to push herself upright.

“You’re going to hear from my lawyer, Farmer Jones, leaving me outside

all night, laughing your head off while you molest me. I’ll go to the

sheriff, I’ll talk to that Sunday school teacher, the one who’s in love with

you, you’ll see what trouble I can cause when I put my mind to it.”

“I’m sure you can,” Jim said. “Can you also find your way back to the


“Without help from you.” She turned and waddled up the drive, very

much on her dignity.

The Sunday school teacher who was in love with him, he thought as

he climbed back on the tractor. She must mean Rachel Carmody. He

started to laugh again, thinking how embarrassed Rachel would be by

such an accusation. He was a molester, Myra Schapen a murderer, and

Rachel a would-be adulterer—nlike Jim himself, who was the real


He was still laughing when he pulled into his own yard. Lara was up,

leaning against the counter, eating blueberry yogurt out of a carton.

Susan never allowed that kind of sloppy habit, but Jim didn’t feel like

correcting her, especially not this morning when he’d been so incorrect



“What’s so funny?” his daughter demanded.

“Oh, Elaine Logan. I told you last night how I went over to dig Gina

out of the bunkhouse. Turns out Elaine crawled into my cart and slept

there. When I started up the tractor just now, she woke up and began

hurling insults at me. I was afraid I was going to have to get the crane to

pry her off the tractor. She thinks Myra Schapen murdered her baby, and

a bunch of other stuff. And she kept calling me Farmer Jones.”

“It doesn’t sound very funny to me,” Lara said coldly. “And it’s wrong

to make fun of Elaine just because she’s fat. You told me that yourself.”

“I know, I know. I can’t help it, sweetie. I don’t know what’s got into

me.” And he gave way to another loud burst of laughter, collapsing onto

one of the kitchen chairs.

Lara stared down at him, her lips pinched in disapproval, looking as

forbidding as the sepia photograph of ever-so-great-grandmother Abigail

in the front room. “Are you drunk, at seven in the morning?”

He forced the laughter down his throat. “No, Lulu, just light-headed

from too little sleep. Is your homework done? Are you taking off ? What

do you have on today?”

“I have basketball practice until four-thirty. Then me and Kimberly

are going to work on our science project.”

“Which is what?” Jim asked, not wanting a meeting with Kimberly to

be a cover-up for a date with Robbie Schapen.

“We’re taking swabs from doorknobs in the girls’ and boys’ bathrooms

and culturing them. Then we’ll compare them to see if one has more

germs than the other.”

“You don’t need a science project to do that. You can write up the

results here in the kitchen. Boys are filthy creatures who should keep

their hands in their pockets at all times. You certainly don’t want one of

them touching you.”

“You are acting really strange this morning!” she cried. “What happened

over at Fremantles’? Did Gina put a spell on you?”

“She was too tired and beat-up to do much witchcraft—he was

trapped in the bunkhouse for about two hours before Elaine wandered

by and heard her yelling for help. Elaine walked all the way here to find

me, so you’re right, it’s very bad to laugh. Elaine’s the real hero in this


story. Gina was darned lucky that Elaine came out to the bunkhouse and

that I was home. That center beam missed killing her by about an inch.”

“What was Gina doing there, anyway?” Lara demanded.

“She’s decided to write a book about the kids who used to live in the

bunkhouse. She was hoping they left something unusual behind. Ludicrous,

really—here’s nothing there but rotting furniture. The old enamel

kitchen table was still there but all rusted out. I cut my shin pretty good

on it when I was crawling in after her. Those hippies had a name, which I

never knew. They called themselves the Free State Commune.”

Jim didn’t think Lara needed to know Gina was really searching for

human remains. He went over to the counter and started the coffeemaker

just for something to do, something that wouldn’t betray him

when he talked about Gina. “Your mom up?”

“You know she never is, this time of day. Are you going to stay home

tonight? Should I count on eating here? Because if you leave me with the

zombie again, I’ll spend the night at Kimberly’s.”

Her crudeness told him she was worried that he’d slept with Gina. He

wasn’t going to lie to her, swear he hadn’t done what he had, so he settled

for a partial truth.

“Lulu, by the time I got Gina out of that wreck I was so beat I couldn’t

move. I have to confess that she gave me a drink, and after that brandy

hit my empty stomach I was too woozy to drive the tractor home, so she

let me sleep on the couch.”

“Oh. That one in her study?”

He forgot his own embarrassment. “And how do you know about that

couch, missy? When were you in Gina Haring’s study?”

She fiddled with her yogurt carton. “Uh, when Mom and I—”

“Lulu, were you the person who taped a roach to that poster on the


“She was so mean to Mom, getting her all stirred up against the war,

then not even coming over to say she was sorry Chip died! I figured she

could suffer a little.”

Jim suddenly felt the ache in every muscle he’d strained last night. “You

were breaking into the house when I expressly told you to stay away, and

you promised you would.”


“I never promised!”

He took her shoulders. “Lara. No more of this. If Junior had found

you when you hid in the Schapens’ manger, he’d have beaten you so hard

you might not ever see again or walk again! What will it take for you to

stop sneaking into people’s private spaces?”

She scowled, fighting back tears, then broke away from him. “I’ll be

late for school, and we can’t have any more of that, either, can we? Tardiness

and making up excuses and not doing homework. Are you like

Mom? Do you wish it was me who died in Iraq and Chip who was here?”

He grabbed her again. “You’re out of line here, Lara Abigail. I wish

Chip was alive but he’s not. And I’m glad you’re here, you’re the bright

spot in my heart, which is why I don’t want you making mistakes so big

that you can’t correct or undo them. You hear?”

She muttered an apology and started for the door, but Jim blocked her

path. “One last thing, Lulu: where did that roach come from that you

put on Gina’s poster?”

“I’m not smoking dope. That was one that Chip left behind. I found

it in the piano—ina hasn’t touched anything in the parlor, you know—it’s all thick with dust.”

Jim sighed, his light mood evaporated, but he let her pass. He didn’t

know if he could believe her or not, and he hated that more even than

the idea of her smoking. If he’d so alienated his daughter that she

wouldn’t tell him the truth, what was he going to do? He watched her

climb into her old pickup, the dinosaurs on the side too covered with

mud for him to make them out.

When she’d taken off in a great spray of gravel, he poured a cup of

thin, watery coffee and took it upstairs to Susan, who was lying awake in

the dark.

“Come on, Suze,” he coaxed. “Get up, have breakfast with me. I’m

laying down nitrogen for the winter wheat today. I’d love it if you’d go

over the field charts with me, make sure I’m choosing the right varieties

and the right acreage.”

She turned over. “Not today, Jim. I’ll look at them later. I’m not ready

to get up.”


He sat down next to her in his dirty clothes. “I went over last night to

rescue Gina Haring from the bunkhouse. Silly woman had been poking

around in there looking for bones from the hippie who died in the fire


“That was noble of you,” she said, not moving. “Was she hurt?”

He recounted the rescue, trying to make a drama of it, trying to make

a comedy of Elaine’s behavior, but he’d never been much of a storyteller,

and his wife’s passive back made his voice peter out. He sat looking at her

unkempt hair, again feeling Gina’s soft white hands on his back, her

silken skin next to him in the Fremantles’ creaking bed. No stretch marks

from childbirth, no roughness from too many days in the sun.

“ill I see you again?”he’d asked at the door. She’d only smiled,

brushed a hand across his cheek, and said, “hank you for helping me last

night, Jim. You saved my life, and I’ truly grateful.”Which he took to

mean that this morning was a thank-you gift, that he shouldn’t expect to

go back for seconds. The thought produced an ache beneath his ribs

sharper than the soreness in his muscles.

Finally, he went downstairs, not bothering to change. His clothes were

unbearably filthy, but he was going to spend the day in the fields, so why

put on something clean now? He fixed himself peanut butter sandwiches

to eat later, filled a thermos with the watery coffee, and scrambled four

eggs, which he ate out of the pan.

Lulu and I, we’re reverting to a state of nature, not bothering with

plates and sitting down at the table. Pretty soon, if he wasn’t careful, the

house was going to look like the Burton place. Tonight he would make a

proper dinner. Even if Susan lolled apathetically in the family room, he

would shower, would sit down at the dining-room table with his daughter

and eat like a human being.

He took his lunch box and drove the tractor to the equipment shed, so

he could unpack the cart and attach the spreader to the tractor. Grandpa

had taught him that you halved your workload if you put everything

away as soon as you finished using it. That way your equipment was

ready when you needed it. If it needed repairing, as it inevitably would if

you hadn’t put it away, you could fix it now.


He dragged the chains to the far wall and slung them over giant

hooks. He folded the plaid comforter and left it by the door so he’d

remember to take it back to the house. As he hung it over a sawhorse, a

square of paper dropped from the blanket. It was a photocopy of an old

newspaper clipping so folded and faded that it was practically illegible.

Jim held it directly under the light, trying to make it out. It had been

cut from the Douglas County Herald, but the date wasn’t clear. The headline

was melodramatic:


Lawrence, Kans. Last week, the violence that has rocked Douglas

County for the past eighteen months took the life of one of the

hippies who have been squatting on empty farms in the area. We

reported on the fire that killed a boy who had been living in a

bunkhouse on the Fremantle land, five miles east of town. The

other youths in the commune managed to flee, but the dead boy

had apparently passed out and didn’t wake when the others cried

out to him.

Neighbors are divided as to whether the hippies were part of

the Weather Underground and blew themselves up in a homemade

bomb; the sheriff says it was an accident from too many

candles and too much dope. Sheriff Delano assured us that the

fire was a pure accident. He says there is no evidence the hippies

in the bunkhouse had firearms or were toying with explosives.

Delano also says there is no evidence of arson. Nonetheless, University

of Kansas students poured into the streets claiming that

local right-wing groups actually set the fire.

Yesterday, that fire claimed a second life. The shock of last

week’s fire sent one of the girls living in the bunkhouse into premature

labor; she miscarried and came close to bleeding to death


“We put all the girls into the back bedroom to spend the rest of

the night,” Mrs. Fremantle explained, “but we didn’t even realize


one of them was pregnant until one of the girls came to get me,

worried by how badly her friend was bleeding.”

The Fremantle house is a historic mansion, with a Tiffany

chandelier, silver drinking fountains, and all kinds of hiding places

where runaway slaves hid in the decade before the Civil War.

Liz Fremantle, 67, and her husband Walter, 78, had outraged a

number of area farmers when they let seven hippies move into an

unused tenant house behind their mansion.

See our editorial, “Where Will the Violence End?” on p. 21.

Jim sat down on one of the sawhorses. Elaine Logan was saying her

baby had died in the fire; he had to assume that this was what she meant.

She must have been the girl who miscarried in the Fremantles’ back bedroom.

Why else would she carry the article around with her?

He’d have to take the clipping back to the Fremantles’. If it was this

precious to her, she’d be missing it. Unspoken, in the back of his mind,

was the thought of Gina. If he took Elaine’s clipping back, Gina would

come to the door. They would—o nothing.

His watch beeped. Jesus Christ! Nine in the morning, and he hadn’t

even put the nitrogen in the spreader. Enough of all these women: his

wife, nursing her grief like an old sock; his daughter, gambling with sex

and missing school; and his—ot his lover, not after a single embrace—call her his neighbor. And that damned drunk Elaine. Enough of all of

them. He put the cart away, hitched the spreader to the tractor, and

began filling it with sacks of fertilizer.

Fo r t y - Fo u r


When he realized how much media attention circled around the

calf, Junior Schapen started coming home more often. He was thinking

partly of his future. The pros didn’t scout Tonganoxie Bible, and someone

with connections in the NFL might see him here on national television.

At least, that was one of Junior’s excuses to Myra—hat, along with

his pious duty to help her and Arnie with their sacred charge.

“He’s so bogus,” Robbie complained to Lara. “How come Dad and

Nanny don’t see through that whole pious bullshit line he feeds them?”

Robbie figured his brother’s real reason for coming home so often was

the chance to bully people visiting the farm. One Thursday, the animal

rights group ARK—nimals R Kin—ere picketing, as they had each

day since learning the Schapens were raising an animal just to slaughter

her. Junior had attacked them as though they were the opposing line, or

even the anti-Christ. He’d actually given one woman a concussion and

broken her arm.

The woman had threatened to sue, but Arnie said the people

from ARK were trespassers who’d been asked to leave more than once.

He, his mother, and Gail Ruesselmann were all witnesses to the fact

that the ARK people had acted as though they were about to attack

Junior first.

“Junior loved the whole event,” Robbie told Lara, “and Nanny was as

proud as if he’d saved America from Osama bin Laden. Then she was on

my butt about where had I been. Of course I didn’t tell her that!”


Lara giggled, because he’d been with her, as they were this evening, in

their new hideout: the loft of the old Fremantle barn.

In the beginning, starting with the Sunday the crowds first swarmed

to the Schapen farm, they met in Lara’s truck; she parked it on the track

in the X-Farm and they sneaked away from their separate homes to meet.

They sat in the cab, sheltered from any prying eyes by the towering sunflowers,

grabbing hungrily at each other, exchanging bits of news about

their discordant families in breathless whispers.

That refuge lasted only a short time. After Lara tried burning the sunflower

packages, her father felt so stricken that he asked Curly to salvage

what he could of the seeds. Curly cleaned the hopper, combined the

field, and disked under the stalks. When Lara got home from school, Jim

showed her the yield: only sixteen hundred pounds, less than ten percent

of what they would have gotten if they’d harvested on time! Lara was so

upset by the small crop that it was easy to hide her dismay at the loss of

her secret place.

That evening, she and Robbie embraced furtively in the open field

and then sped home before anyone spotted them. Lara spent that night

putting the meager harvest into what remained of Abigail’s Organics

bags. She could sell these at the farmers’ market, even if the harvest was

too small to market on the scale she and Susan had envisioned when they

put the crop in. Then next year, unless Dad had to sell the X-Farm,

people would at least recognize the name.

Robbie spent that same evening in the barn, ignoring Myra’s criticism

and Junior’s bullying while he worked out chords on his guitar.

Love your neighbor

As you love yourself.

Jesus taught us this.

Jesus taught us this.

I love my neighbor.

Her hair is like bronze,

Soft bronze,

Living bronze.


It moves in the breeze,

Shines in the sun.

I love my neighbor.

Her breasts are like pomegranates.

It says in the Song of Songs

My love’ breasts are small and perfect

Like twin—Like twin what? He couldn’t come up with an image beautiful enough

to describe Lara’s breasts. And then Junior grabbed his guitar and threatened

to break it if Robbie didn’t get in the house to help Myra with the


“Aren’t you supposed to be at college?” Robbie demanded, uselessly

trying to pull his guitar away from Junior.

Junior punched him in the gut. “Aren’t you supposed to mind your

elders, twerp? Get in there or I’ll snap this little piece of junk in half.”

Robbie went sullenly inside, where Nanny lectured him for half an

hour on his bad attitude. On the weekend, he couldn’t get away from her

until late on Sunday. This was partly due to the crowds. Even though

Global Entertainment and Fox and the rest of big media had lost interest

in the story, Nasya the miracle calf was still hot news on fundamentalist

Christian and Jewish blogs. This meant there were long lines at Nasya’s

enclosure every Saturday and Sunday; Nanny figured they cleared almost

twenty-five hundred on the weekends, after you subtracted the expenses

of maintaining the property.

When Robbie finally got away, he and Lara drove her truck into town.

They went to the park on the north side of the Kaw River, with its bike

trail that ran the seventy miles between Kansas City and Topeka. To their

dismay, it seemed as though everyone in Douglas County was there—he

kids making out, the adults walking their dogs. Even Kimberly Ropes,

Lara’s best friend, was there; the girls smiled weakly at each other, each

chagrined to be caught with a boy who she’d never mentioned to the


At school the next day, Kimberly asked Lara what she’d been doing


with Robbie. “Winding him up,” Lara grinned. “I thought it might be

fun to see how far the milkman would go if he thought he had a chance,

but he was completely pathetic, as you might imagine. What were you

doing with Kevin?”

“We— think we’re going to the homecoming dance together. Want

to double-date?”

“Who with?” Lara hooted. “Not the milkman, that’s for sure!”

That seemed to satisfy Kimberly, to Lara’s relief: she and Robbie

couldn’t afford for whispers around the high school to filter back to Robbie’s

family. In the halls, the two acted as though they barely knew each

other, and in the two classes they shared, biology and Spanish, they sat as

far away from each other as possible, so aware of one another that they

heard nothing of the class around them.

Desire made Lara inventive. The old Fremantle barn stood in back of

the apple trees, about a hundred yards from the ruin of the bunkhouse.

During the two years that she and Chip had treated the place as their private

clubhouse, Lara had always hated the barn because of the spiders.

There were snakes up there, too, but she had never minded them; they

chased away the rats who scrabbled for old bits of grain wedged in cracks

along the floor joists.

After school, she drove her truck past Fremantles’, pretending she was

heading to Jim’s river acres, and scanned their yard. Gina’s battered Escort

stood near the door. Lara waited until six, but Gina never emerged. The

next day, Lara was luckier: when she got home from school, Gina was

gone. There was no sign of Elaine, either.

Robbie was doing the afternoon milking, so Lara worked alone. She

drove her truck through the apple orchard to park behind the barn. If

Gina came home before she finished, Lara would just have to trust to her

luck to get off the property unseen.

The Fremantles had never turned off the water tap in the barn, and

there were working electric outlets. Lara hooked up a length of flex cord

and brought up a work light and a big push broom. Using a leaf blower,

she forced most of the spiders out of the rafters. In October, snakes were

giving birth; a garter snake had left a family in a corner that she tried not

to disturb. The rest of the loft she swept and scrubbed. It was a drag,


carrying water up and down the ladder, but by the end of the afternoon

she had it pretty well cleaned.

She brought up Chip’s sleeping bag, provisions like juice and Fig

Newtons in a rat-proof metal hamper, and a flashlight, and still managed

to leave before Gina returned. Susan was in the family room, staring into

space. Jim was busy somewhere on the land.

On an impulse, Lara ran up to the second floor. She pulled on the

rope that opened the hatch to the attic, bringing down the stairs folded

up inside it, and fetched down the old tin trunk that held Abigail’s

diaries. She tiptoed down the stairs, hoping to avoid her mother, but she

needn’t have worried, she realized bitterly: Susan acted as though Lara

didn’t exist. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you! she yelled inside her head.

Lara drove back to the Fremantle house. Gina’s car was still gone. She

didn’t want to put the trunk in the barn, where rain might leak onto it.

She surveyed the locked house. The second-floor bathroom offered her

best chance for entry. She put the trunk by the kitchen door and shinnied

up one of the pillars on the veranda that circled the house. Yes, Pocahontas

Grellier, mistress of the mountains and the plains, has no trouble

scaling this cliff, which daunts the white settlers like Eddie Burton!

The bathroom window was unlocked. Careless, Gina, very careless,

Lara mouthed, slipping inside. She ran down the back stairs, unlocked

the kitchen door, and brought in the trunk. It was too big to fit into the

niche in the fireplace where she used to stow her own diary. She went

through the connecting closet to the northeast bedroom and stowed Abigail’s

trunk in the bedroom closet, under the limp graying prom dress

that hung on the door. She was just pulling out of the Fremantle drive

when Gina’s Escort turned east from the county road. She waved at Gina

as they passed: perky farm girl, on her way home from the river.

On Wednesday afternoon, when Myra ordered him to go to town for

Teen Witness, Robbie and Lara finally met in the Fremantles’ hayloft. It

was a tough trek for both of them. Since all the crops were down, if

they’d gone across fields someone would have spotted them; Myra would

have heard three seconds later and come after Robbie with a large-gauge

shotgun. By the same token, they couldn’t drive their pickups down the


road and park—im might choose that very moment to inspect his riverbottom


Instead, they hiked through the rough undergrowth in the drainage

ditches, where the prairie grasses stood higher than the tallest man’s

head. The ditch bottoms were muddy and filled with every kind of

garbage that humans could think to toss, from car parts to condoms.

They had to go past the bunkhouse and approach the barn from behind,

slipping in through a board that Robbie had loosened, and then quickly

climbing up the old ladder to the hayloft. At least for Lara, half the pleasure

of meeting in the loft was the excitement of evading detection as

they came and went.

She didn’t tell Robbie that. Nor did she reveal another part of her reason

for meeting at Fremantles’: she wanted to check up on her father. She

and Robbie were exchanging almost every secret their families had, but

she couldn’t put into words, even to herself, her suspicion, her fear, that

her father had slept with Gina after rescuing her from the bunkhouse.

Lara wanted to keep Jim under her eye to make sure he didn’t do anything

dreadful—lthough what she would do if she saw his truck pull

into the yard she hadn’t imagined. The stroking, touching, moaning she

and Robbie did didn’t count as sex, in her mind. Sex would mean pulling

Chip’s packet of Hot Rods out of her jeans pocket and persuading Robbie

to put one on. She wasn’t ready for that, and neither was Robbie, not

after all the mauling he’d seen his brother and Eddie go through.

She and Robbie could never stay together very long. Jim would start

phoning Lara around six-thirty, but more worrying was the effort Myra

Schapen was putting into finding out where Robbie was going. And it

took them so long to hike through the ditches and out to the barn that in

the end they only spent a short hour together.

“Nanny can’t be happy with success, she can only be happy if she finds

out I’m a fuckup.” Robbie’s language became coarser when he was with

Lara; it was part of the sense of freedom he had when he was with her,

breaking all of Myra’s taboos in one delicious outing.

“I mean, we’re getting so much free publicity from all the news stories,

plus YouTube and blogs and everything, that we’re getting milk orders


from Christian wholesalers all over the country,” he went on. “We don’t

have a big enough herd, or a big enough plant, to pasteurize and ship

milk to those places, but Nanny and Dad upped our per-gallon price by

almost five percent anyway, even for our oldest customers.

“Of course, Mrs. Wieser was really upset. She came over to meet with

Nanny and Dad, and said her cheese business was what had kept us

afloat all these years, that she should get to keep her old rate. And she’s

right. Nanny told her to take it or leave it. Mrs. Wieser took it, but I

think she’s looking for another supplier—here’s a guy near Topeka who

can supply her with raw organic milk, same as us. But if Nassie turns out

to be a dud, we’ll be totally screwed. I tried to say to Nanny that we

ought to honor our commitment to the Wiesers, but Nanny whacked

me on the head and told me I wasn’t a true Schapen and all the rest of

that crap.”

Lara nodded soberly, not at Myra’s insult but the economic worry.

Like Robbie, she couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t known to a

penny what it cost to run the family farm.

“Anyway,” Robbie added, “Nanny is desperate to find out where I’m

going after the afternoon milking. Not to mention how she is so on my

case about going to Teen Witness with Amber.”

Lara giggled again and bit Robbie in the neck. “Tell her you’re with a

vampire. Tell her you have too much respect for Amber to infect her with

vampire blood.”

She bit him again. He yelped, and they scuffled happily for several


“Lucky for me it’s football season or she’d have Junior chained to me

like a prison guard,” Robbie said a little later. “He tried to follow me this

afternoon, but I was too fast for him, and he had to get back to the

school—e missed football practice yesterday, and his grades aren’t good

enough that they’ll let him keep his scholarship if he keeps missing practice.

But I think he told Eddie to spy for him. So, Lulu, we really have to

be careful.”

Lara agreed, more readily than Robbie thought she would. She was

more courageous than him, or at least more willing to take risks, but

Junior and Eddie in the heifer’s shed had frightened her badly enough


that she didn’t want to court the disaster of them coming on her and


“We can cool it for a day or two,” Robbie said. “I’ll go to my youth

group tomorrow. Maybe we could get together Saturday: I think Nanny’s

going to leave Mrs. Ruesselmann in charge so Dad and her can drive over

to Tonganoxie Bible to watch Junior play.”

“Three days,” Lara said.

They clung to each other, trying to ward off the impending separation.

And then it turned out Robbie couldn’t even get away on Saturday

because Arnie kept him hopping all afternoon. They didn’t meet again

until Monday evening. After four days’ separation, they melted together.

They clung to each other in Chip’s sleeping bag, whispering, stroking,

not caring how late they were.

When she got home at eight, after ignoring Jim’s calls to her cell

phone, Jim told Lara she was grounded for two weeks and that he was

going to enforce it.

As for Robbie, even though he always left the Schapen farm on foot

when he slipped off to see Lara, Myra was so furious at his late arrival

home that she took away his truck keys. She gave them to him in the

morning so he could drive to school and then took them away when he

was doing the afternoon milking. Since Myra monitored all the phone

bills so closely, he and Lara were reduced to using e-mail. At night, when

they were supposedly doing homework, or at study hall during the day,

they sent each other longing messages, Robbie’s filled with the songs he

was writing to her, Lara’s with pictures she had drawn of him or the two

of them together. Robbie saved her messages on a flash drive that he kept

in his jeans pocket, making sure he erased them from the family machine

each night.

Fo r t y - F i ve


The only good thing about her and Robbie’s two-week separation,

at least in Lara’s mind, was that if Jim had to keep an eye on her, to

make sure she was out after school only to go to basketball or band practice,

she could keep an eye on him, too. No trips over to Gina’s, at least

not after school.

Jim embarrassed her by driving her to and from school; the winter

wheat was in, and he wasn’t nearly so busy during the day as he had

been all fall. She told her friends that her truck was in the shop and sat

sullenly at her father’s side all the way into town. Secretly, she enjoyed

the time alone with him, especially after school when they might stop for

a coffee at Z’s or at the store, where he let her choose the dinner menu.

She’d done a cooking course at 4-H and amused her father with her lectures

on nutrition and balanced meals.

One afternoon at Z’s, she asked him, point-blank, if he had been visiting

Gina. When he froze before answering, she looked at him from

under her lashes as if inviting him to confide in her. “I mean, did she

have any terrible aftereffects from the bunkhouse falling on her?”

“Not that I know of, Lulu. You could have asked her yourself when

she came over to see your mother.”

Jim tried to speak naturally, but Gina’s visit, which he had longed for,

had not been a success, for him or for either of the women. Gina had

treated him with the coolness of a stranger when he answered the door,

while Susan insisted on receiving Gina in the front room, dressing as if


she were a Victorian widow in deep mourning with the Gold Star pin the

Army had sent her at her throat.

After letting Gina in through the kitchen, Jim busied himself with

farm accounts in the family room. He knew Lara was eavesdropping:

he’d seen her crack open the door that connected the parlor to the

unused front staircase. Instead of admonishing his daughter, Jim wished

he had the nerve to join her.

When Gina said she was sorry for everything Susan had been through,

Lara, peering through the crack in the door, watched her mother bow

her head like a queen, saying nothing.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been to see you sooner,” Gina said. “I guess I’ve

felt helpless.”

“Then you know exactly how I feel,” Susan said.

“We’ll be celebrating Samhain at the end of the month,” Gina said

after a pause. “That’s the original Celtic ceremony the Christians took

over and turned into Halloween. We’ll make a fire and show Arnie

Schapen that he can’t frighten us out of the valley.”

Susan didn’t answer, just sat with her hands folded in her lap.

Gina ploughed on, desperate. “We hope you can join us, Susan. You

brought so much good energy to our earlier ceremonies. Even though it

marks the end of summer, Samhain is a festival of new beginnings. If you

came, perhaps it could be a time for you to make a new beginning as


“Did Jim tell you to deliver this message?” Susan asked.

“No!” Gina was startled. Even from behind the door, Lara could sense

her wariness. “But you’re hovering between life and death, and Samhain

is the time when the world itself is balanced between life and death. If

you come to the festival, you might find yourself ready to choose life


“I see.” Susan’s voice held the dryness of old leaves or old paper.

“You’ve done your duty. You’ve visited the sick, and apologized for whatever

you imagine your own sins are. You can go now.”

Lara scrambled to her feet and was waiting in the kitchen when Gina

left. She watched her father suspiciously for any signs of passion, but he

merely came into the kitchen to thank Gina for being neighborly.


The sight of her had brought desire to the surface, like a sore tooth.

Only the awareness of Lara’s sharp gaze made him behave as remotely as

Gina did herself. But he drove over to Fremantles’ the next day, after

delivering Lara to school, while Susan worked on the endless afghan that

her occupational therapist thought would do her good.

Gina met him at the door, gave him her crooked gap-toothed smile, but

told him it wasn’t a good idea for him to visit her. “I don’t want to do any

more harm to Susan than I already have. And the one thing I’ve learned in

my short stay in the home where the buffalo roam is that everyone for miles

around is watching the deer and the antelope play. If you keep visiting me,

people will notice. Inevitably, one of them will say something to Susan.”

She looked down at her hands, at the long white fingers that roused

Jim more than the idea of her body. “I ran into Clem Burton at the drugstore

this morning, and he said he’d be glad to come out the next time I

was trapped inside a falling building. Elaine probably blabbed it all out

at Raider’s Bar—lem’s uncle Turk drinks there, which means everyone

out here knows at least that you pulled me out of the bunkhouse. Let’s

not have them start telling each other that you’re neglecting your wife

and your farm by visiting the local witch.”

His face burned. He couldn’t say anything because he knew Gina was

right, but he pulled her to him, anyway. She let him kiss her but drew

away almost at once. As he turned to leave, he saw Elaine Logan in the

kitchen, her face alive with malevolence.

After that, Jim was just as glad he’d grounded Lara: driving her back

and forth to school gave some shape to his time. That, of course, and taking

Susan to her therapy appointments. Settling the bills for September,

Jim tried to believe Susan’s therapy was helping her.

He studied his wife for any encouraging sign. She was bathing regularly.

She ate enough to keep her weight steady. Those were the good

signs. But, on the minus side, Susan wouldn’t go to church or the farmers’

market. Nor would she talk to people, not even Rachel Carmody,

who faithfully phoned every few days. Besides the afghan, now about ten

feet long, Jim didn’t know how his wife filled the hours when he was in

town or working on the repairs that farm buildings and machinery

always needed.


When Pastor Natalie came over on her promised visit, Susan received

her, as she had Gina, in the formal parlor in her black dress with the

Gold Star pinned at her throat.

“Susan, I’m so very sorry for the loss you have suffered,” Natalie said.

“Our family is used to the senseless shedding of blood in the name of

some higher good,” Susan said. “Some alleged higher good. Abigail’s

brother Michael died at Peach Tree Creek.”

Natalie blinked uncertainly, and Jim mumbled, “That was a battle in

the Civil War.”

“July twentieth, 1864, just outside Atlanta,” Susan said. “Mr. Grellier

had been murdered the previous August, in the great slaughter committed

by Quantrill here in Lawrence. Mr. Grellier was teaching in a school

for freedmen, and this, of course, was gall and wormwood to a slaveholder

like Quantrill. Abigail said of Mr. Grellier’s death, ‘It is what we

came into the Kansas Territory to do. Not to be murdered, but we were

called by God to take up His yoke, and we were to count no cost.’ I don’t

remember her words more exactly, but Jim, or perhaps my daughter, has

hidden her diaries away from me, so I can’t check them for you. They

used to be in our attic, but who knows where they are now. The invalid

must be protected at all costs from her personal desires.”

So she had been looking for the diaries. Jim had thought, or hoped,

that Susan had forgotten them. If they weren’t in the attic any longer,

then Lulu must have moved them. He felt so tense he thought his skin

would turn inside out on him, while Lara, dragooned into sitting in on

the visit with him, froze: if she told her father what she’d done with the

trunk, he’d ground her forever!

Jim didn’t think he could endure more of the conversation. “I’m going

to make some tea, Natalie. Do you want any, or a soft drink?”

Natalie gratefully accepted the offer of tea, but Susan, sitting pointedly

under the portrait of Abigail—ressed, like herself, in black, with a

cameo at her throat rather than a Gold Star—hook her head.

“Is that Abigail?” Natalie asked, looking from Susan to the portrait.

“What did she do after she lost her husband and her brother?”

Susan fingered her pin. “She went on. She had to. She kept this farm

going and raised her surviving children.”


“What kept her going, do you know? Or what’s your guess?”

“Do you want me to say it was her faith in Jesus?” Susan said with a

bark of laughter.

Natalie shook her head. “I want you to say what you think kept her


“She’d had a vision,” Susan said listlessly. “She came out here because

she’d had a vision. And her faith in her vision helped. Also, she was very

close to one of the neighbors, Mr. Schapen, and his mother, and their

love sustained her.”

Lara pinched her lips together. Her mother was behaving in a shocking

way—he was playacting at being in mourning. She pretended she

didn’t want visitors, but, really, whether it was Gina or Pastor Natalie, or

even poor Ms. Carmody on the phone, Susan was enjoying the chance to

show off how depressed she was.

For instance, when Pastor Natalie said, “We miss you. We need you at

Riverside Church,” Susan said, “To do what? Show you what happens

when the blind lead the blind?”

“Bogus,” Lara said under her breath. Bogus. She got to her feet and

went to the kitchen to help Jim make tea and to tell him what she

thought of Susan.

“I bet if we left Mom totally alone, she’d come around, because she

wants an audience.”

“You think? You an expert now on human psychology as well as nutrition?”

He handed her the tea to take into Pastor Natalie so that he

wouldn’t have to go himself. “Lulu, where are those diaries? And don’t

tell me you don’t know.”

“Do I have to tell?” she whispered. “I’m taking good care of them, I


Jim felt the hair crawling on his scalp. “Don’t tell me you put them in

the miracle calf ’s manger!”

“No, Dad, honest— haven’t been near the calf again. The trunk is

safe, okay? I just couldn’t stand it if Mom started going through those

old papers again, scribbling notes like she was some clone of Abigail’s.”

“Oh, Lulu—” He threw up his hands, not knowing what to say,

finally finishing weakly, “They should go to the university library. The


archivist there has been asking for them, and the library would take better

care of them than we can. Bring them home, okay? We’ll take them in

together to the archivist.”

Lara nodded and scurried to the front room with Pastor Natalie’s tea.

The pastor didn’t stay much longer. When she’d left, Lara leveled her

scorn on Susan.

“You want us to think you’re teetering on the brink of death because

you’re so overwhelmed by losing Chip, but then you dress up as if you

were in a play and sit underneath Abigail’s portrait so everyone will see

what a martyr you are. You never even wore that Gold Star to Chip’s

funeral, or anything, so I know you’re just showing off !”

Susan looked at her. “Perhaps you’re right, Lara. My feelings are so far

away from me that I don’t know what they are anymore, and drama

seems a way of at least pretending to have feelings. Do you know where

Abigail’s diaries are? You are so alert about what everyone in the family is

doing, I’m sure you know where your father put them.”

It was Lara’s turn to be discomposed, but she said hotly, “Even if I did

know, I wouldn’t tell you. I couldn’t bear it if you locked yourself in your

room again, studying those old books and writing crap all over the walls.

Do you know how long it took Ms. Carmody and the other ladies to

clean up after you? Do you even care?”

After a long pause, Susan said, “I don’t like you shouting at me, Lara.

You’re my daughter, not my mother or my drill sergeant.”

Lara bit her lip and fell silent. Susan undid the Gold Star from her

throat and pinned it to Lara’s sweatshirt.

“I’ll share my loss with you,” Susan said. “We’re a Gold Star family.

They tell me in therapy to remember that I’m not the only mourner in

the house.”

Fo r t y - S i x


From Pastor Albright’ Sermon

Hope that is seen is not hope, Paul tells us. What was he saying to the

Church in Rome? When we say “Our hope is in the Lord, who made

Heaven and Earth,” we certainly see the earth, and now, thanks to the

Hubble telescope, we see heaven upon heaven, but these don’t take away

our hope in the Lord.

Paul is talking in part about Jesus’ return. Every Christian for two

thousand years has been hoping to see Christ come again in glory. We’re

like small children whose parents have left us for the day. We fear that

they will never return, and the day seems unbearably long. Grandma or

Uncle John or whatever unfortunate adult has to look after us hears us

whining and panics. Maybe Grandma says, “If you’re extra special good,

Mom will bring you a present when she gets home,” or, “If you clean up

your room and wash the dishes, Mom will come home.” By the end of

the day, we’ve done all our chores, we’ve been as good as we know how to

be, and Mom still hasn’t come back. We haven’t been able to influence

her behavior. And yet, all the time she’s away Mom is thinking of us. Her

love for us never wavers.

We Christians are like that. It’s hard to believe we can’t make Christ

appear in glory. If we go through every prophecy in Revelation, and Isaiah

and Hosea and Micah, if we sacrifice that red heifer and rebuild the Temple,

surely that will prove how good we are and make Him come home in


a hurry. It’s hard to believe we can do all that and still not make God do

anything that isn’t in the Holy One’s own good time. It’s hard to believe

Jesus still loves us when He seems so distant. And yet we are obliged to

live in hope.

“Oh, yeah, mothers always come back for their children, don’t they?”

Elaine Logan muttered. “Pious hypocrite. As bad as all the other Christians.

‘Whited sepulchers,’ just like the Bible says.”

Her voice carried to the people in the pews closest to her. One or two

giggled, but most of them shifted uneasily in their seats, not wanting to

be near someone who was unstable but mindful as Christians that it was

their duty to love and respond to her.

Elaine had hitched a ride into town with Jim and Lara Grellier. When

they saw Elaine waving her arms at the crossroads, her face sullen, Lara

had urged Jim to drive right on past—ertainly, his own inclination as

well. But he saw Arnie’s truck approaching from the Schapen farm:

Myra, Robbie, and Arnie on their way to Salvation Bible. If they picked

up Elaine, she might well tell them everything she knew about Jim, and

then he’d supplant news of the miracle heifer on Myra’s website. He told

Lara to climb into the back and let Elaine have the passenger’s seat.

“Farmer Jones, Farmer Jones,” Elaine crooned as she hoisted herself

onto the running board. “So you do know how to treat a lady. And is this

Mrs. Jones?”

“No! I’m his daughter, and his name isn’t Jones,” Lara cried, angry

with Jim and disgusted by Elaine, whose breath smelt sour. How could

Gina stand to have someone so foul on the premises?

“ ‘All the animals are very hungry, but where is Farmer Jones?’ ” Elaine

quoted from the children’s book. “Why, he’s rolling in the hay, just like

his lovely daughter, isn’t that right? All those old tales, they knew what

they were talking about.”

When books said a character’s “head swam,” it was the literal truth,

Lara realized. Shame and anger nearly suffocated her, and the gray fields

disappeared in a hazy mist in front of her eyes.

“If you weren’t such a drunk, you wouldn’t make up stuff and start

telling people it was true,” Lara said.


“You’re so pure, like all good Christians, where what you say matters

more than what you do. But something is happening, and I know what it

is, don’t I, Mr. Jones?”

“Where do you want me to drop you?” Jim asked hastily, as embarrassed

as Lara and therefore not paying attention to Elaine’s revelations

about his daughter.

Elaine said she’d get out wherever they stopped, so they drove her to

the church with them. Jim lost track of her then: he wandered into the

church hall for a cup of coffee while Lara went off to Rachel Carmody’s

Sunday school class with Kimberly Ropes.

Jim assumed that Elaine had taken off, but between Sunday school

and church she popped up again. He was talking to Rachel at the back of

the nave when Elaine rolled in from the porch. She’d found someone to

give her a drink in the last forty-five minutes, or maybe she kept a bottle

in the cloth bag she carried that proclaimed, in faded letters, women’

liberation union.

“I’ll be your chaperone, Rachel.” Elaine leered. “You don’t want to be

alone with Farmer Jones. He’s a bold man, the farmer. And his daughter’s

just as bad.”

Rachel and Jim both flushed. Jim remembered Elaine’s earlier crack

about Rachel being in love with him. Surely, that couldn’t be true?

Rachel was such a solid, reliable woman. Jim couldn’t imagine that she’d

indulge in a foolish fantasy about a married man—orgetting for a

moment that that same married man had a foolish fantasy about a different

unmarried woman.

Fortunately, other members of the congregation were coming in to

worship, asking Jim about Susan, talking to Rachel about parish matters.

The organ began to play the voluntary. Jim wasn’t sure how it happened,

perhaps through Elaine’s maneuvering, but he found himself wedged in

a pew with Rachel and Elaine. Lara was sitting farther back, with a group

of other teens from Sunday school. At least she was doing better, that was

one comfort, to see her with her old friends again.

“Now you two can be cozy together, and I’ll watch over you,” Elaine

said, breathing gin over them.

As the service progressed, Elaine became more sullen and more belBLEEDING


ligerent. At first, she grumbled about bad mothers, and then how Jim

was a whited sepulcher, but when Pastor Albright spoke about the red

heifer and how to think about the prophecies in Revelation Elaine’s

grievances turned to Arnie.

“He thinks he’s the boss of everyone. He’s not the boss of me, not him,

and not his murdering mother. They’ll be sorry. They think I’m not good

enough for their calf, they’ll see if that calf is good enough for them.

Them that takes cakes / Which the Parsee-man bakes / Makes dreadful mistakes.

High and mighty Sheriff Arnie will see, just you watch!”

At that point, Elaine became so loud that Rachel tried to get her to

leave the service. Elaine stood and shouted, “You call yourselves Christians,

but you can’t wait for the service to end so you can go on with your

gossip and your fucking and your drinking. I’m saying out loud what

you’re thinking, so you want to throw me out. Well, I’m not going!”

Congregation and minister were momentarily silent, then he said,

“We acknowledge that we are less inclusive than we are called to be. We

acknowledge that we sometimes find it difficult to accept the gifts that

others bring. Lord, teach us to accept the words this woman brings as

gifts, and to learn from them. As all our gifts come from you, help us to

give back to you that which you have loaned to us.”

The congregation took this as an invitation for the offering. Servers

leaped up with collection plates, and the organist began a prelude to the

offertory anthem at such a volume that Elaine found herself drowned

out. Uttering general curses against Rachel, Jim, Arnie, and all Christians

everywhere, Elaine strode out of church as fast as her bulk allowed.

Of course, her outburst was the subject of conversation at the coffee

hour. Since Rachel and Jim seemed to be the pair attached to Elaine,

they found themselves called on as experts by everyone who wanted to

discuss the situation, until Jim, exhausted by the ordeal, grabbed Lara

and fled with her to the House of Pancakes.

The next day, when he came to school to collect Lara, Jim sought out

Rachel in the teachers’ lounge first. He apologized for leaving her in the

middle of the coffee hour.

She smiled. “I don’t have your allergy to conversation—r what you

always call gossip. Elaine’s situation is troubling, though. I’m glad Gina


Haring is offering her a home, but if Gina moves back to New York I don’t

know what we’ll do with Elaine. She’s such a strange mix, too. The things

she knows or half knows, like quoting from Kipling’s Just So Stories.

Jim shook his head, puzzled, so Rachel said, “Those lines about ‘akes /

Which the Parsee-man bakes’—hat’s from Kipling. She was clearly an educated

woman before she became, well, what she is today.”

Jim thought of the transcript he’d seen in Gina’s study. “Yes, I guess

she was.”

Rachel smiled at him. “As long as you’re here on school property, Jim,

let’s do a little school business. Lara is performing better in most of her

classes, but her work in biology and Spanish is very marginal, and the

rest of her work is only at a C level. Except for social studies, where she’s

doing a major report on Iraq—istory, religion, the works.”

Jim was startled. Lara hadn’t said a word to him about it.

“She seems happier these days,” Rachel added. “Which is good. But I’d

like to see her putting the muscle into her work that she gave it last year.

And I don’t want any F’s or D’s on her permanent record, so maybe it’s

time for another fatherly chat. I did try talking to Susan about this last

week, but she didn’t seem interested. I’m afraid it’s all falling on you.”

Jim looked around the lounge to see how many people were in

earshot. “I—Lara’s spending a lot of time with one of the boys in her

class. She’s been grounded for two weeks—his is the start of her second

week—o I was hoping she’d pay more attention to her schoolwork.”

“Do you know who the boy is?”

Jim leaned forward and whispered Robbie’s name, so that no eavesdropper

could pick it up and spread it around.

Rachel nodded. “That would have been my guess. I understand why

he wouldn’t be your first choice, but he’s a good kid, even a good student,

not like Junior. Melissa Austin—he’s in charge of the music program—she thinks he’s a pretty good musician, too. We all imagine Mr. Schapen

is an ogre, but he’s supported Robbie’s music, even buying him a good

guitar and seeing he has the lessons he needs.”

Jim was surprised—e wouldn’t have expected that of Arnie—ust one

more proof of how wrong it was to sit in judgment of your neighbors.

“Maybe that’s why Lulu’s started playing her trumpet again.”


Right after Susan’s hospitalization, she’d thrown it down the cellar

stairs, saying she never wanted to see it again. Jim had retrieved it and

put it in her room. Three weeks ago, she’d started practicing—he was at

band rehearsal right now. He left Rachel to listen to his daughter play.

On his way to the music room, he ran into Blitz, who was doing his

winter stint for the school board. They talked for a couple of minutes,

about the winter wheat, about when Blitz might come look at the

planter, which hadn’t spread evenly when Jim was putting in the crop,

and then Rachel emerged, and Blitz’s face lit up. Rachel smiled, too, not

with Blitz’s warmth but friendly enough, Jim saw.

Jim felt let down, then laughed at himself. “Serve you right, you old

porker,” he said under his breath. “You wanted Elaine to be wrong about

Rachel being in love with you, then you wanted her to be right. You want

a harem, boy, become a Mormon. Otherwise, stay loyal to the one wife

you’ve got.”

On the drive home, he talked to Lara about her school performance.

“I’m happy that you’re paying better attention, baby, although I wish you

were working up to your real abilities. Rachel—s. Carmody—ays

you’re doing outstanding work on some report you’re preparing on Iraq,

which proves that you can do better. I don’t want to nag. I know you’re

having a tough time, between losing Chip and the way your mom’s acting,

but I can’t have you failing any courses. Will you buckle down in science

and Spanish?”

She was looking out the window, not at him, but she nodded grudgingly.

“Maybe next semester you’ll feel like picking up the reins again, hmm?

I don’t want you to wreck your chance for a college education, Lulu. You

have the brains to go to a good school.” He paused, then said, “You and

Robbie Schapen still seeing each other?”

She gasped, then whispered, “Sort of.”

“And you’re being careful?”

About sex? About stirring up talk in the valley? The unspoken end of

the sentence. He looked over at her. Her head was bent down, so that her

brown curls fell forward, exposing the long white line of her neck. She

looked so fragile that he could hardly stand it. He repeated the question

until she gave him back a muffled assurance.

Pa r t Fo u r


From Abigail Comfort Grellier’ Letters

August 29, 1863

My dearest Mother,

How can I find the words to recount our horrors? I sit among the

charred ruins of my home, my children clutching my skirts and crying.

They want their papa. They look for him on the road, but he will

never come home again.

All last week, the air was hot and still, as if the prairie itself were

Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, seeking to burn us to a cinder. The corn

shimmered under the sun, so that from the doorway of the house my

eyes were nigh blinded by the glare, and I fancied myself standing outside

Grandmother Peabody’s neat frame dwelling in Lynn, shading my

eyes from the sun striking the green waters of the Atlantic.

Oh, Mother, if you knew the ravages of my guilt in the midst of my

grief ! How many times did I let the sun go down on my anger with

M. Grellier. His noble ideals were too great to be encompassed in the

body of a farmer. When he set off for his school, how I did inveigh for

his leaving me alone to deal with the homestead and the children.

When he was going on an errand of special grace, instead of praising

him I whined as if I were Baby, grizzling over her new teeth.

How my shame at my harsh words now threatens to strike me to

the ground. Why did I not rejoice in my good fortune, to be married

to a man of such lofty principles? Instead, I cried out bitterly. I had

broke the sod alone, save for the help of our kind neighbor, Mr.

Schapen. I had planted and harvested nigh on my own for eight years.

Now, when blackbirds threatened the crop, could he not stay?

No, he replied, in his patient way. For this hot weather means that

the freedmen, who have lately moved into our free state of Kansas from


Missouri, escaping the vile slavery under which they toiled, are free from

their labors—or you must know that many hire themselves out as

farmhands to earn money for purchasing a stake of their own. And as

many are eager to learn to read and write, my husband must needs teach

them. The school meets—et—lose to the homes where the freedmen

and their families live, some fifteen miles distant, and M. Grellier

deemed it kindest to our horse not to drive him back and forth in this

dreadful heat each day but to bunk with one of the freedmen.

On the morning of 21 August, the children and I slept badly on

account of the heat. All the windows, covered by mosquito netting,

stood open, as I prayed for some stirring in the wet heavy air. Around

four in the morning, the clopping of many horses on the main road,

which is a scant half mile south of our homestead, roused me. I stole

out of the house and saw, against the predawn sky, the silhouette of

many men on horseback. I feared at once that it was the demon

Quantrill, who had vowed to raze the town of Lawrence, out of his

hatred toward us for making Kansas a free state.

Scarce knowing what I did, I flung on a few garments. Helen and

Nathaniel I dragged wailing to the cellar and told they must make no

sound, that they must answer to no voice but Mother’s. Tucking Baby

under my arm, I raced on foot to rouse our neighbors, first the Schapens,

then the Fremantles. Mr. Schapen rode to the town as fast as he could to

sound an alarm, but, alas, he arrived too late. They had already begun

their rapine—urning, slaughtering—h, the murder of Judge Carpenter

while his wife lay covering his wounded body with her own! They lifted

her arms and shot him in the head. God, have you no mercy? And yet she

had this mercy, that she was with her husband as his soul left this world.

All day Friday, the children and I huddled in our cellar. As the

rebels returned drunk on that which makes men madder than all the

rum in the Indies—runk on the blood of their fellow men—e

heard them yelling and carousing. They came into our yard—ven

now I can hardly write for the shaking that fills my entire body! I lay

across Baby to smother her cries, nigh suffocating her, while Helen

and Nathaniel shivered under my shawl, frozen so by fear that the

thermometer might stand at 120 degrees and not warm them. The


Ruffians, laughing the whole time, set fire to our house, my little

house that took five years’ hard work to build.

When we finally rose from our hiding place, our house lay in cinders

around us. We had naught but the few things I had brought to the cellar

in my old tin trunk. Our only blessing was that Blossom and her calf

had escaped notice, for the corn where I hid them is now eight feet

high. The smoke and turmoil distressed her sadly, and she gives little

milk, but enough that my babes have something for their evening meal.

By and by, Mr. Schapen and his mother came to see how we fared.

The reports were of the gravest, he said, many slaughtered, many

Negroes murdered. Did I have the strength to go with him? When Mrs.

Schapen offered to take the little ones home with her—heir homestead

had escaped the rebels’ attentions— said I must see for myself.

We arrived at my husband’s school in a few hours’ time, hours in

which we passed through such scenes of destruction, fires still smoldering,

bodies lying in ditches! I pray your eyes never look on such

terrible sights. And there, just outside the shanty walls, lay my husband’s

body, among those of the men whose children he had gone to

teach. Their wives and babes stood round, as desolate as I—ore, for

they must needs witness these cold-blooded murders. We fell into one

another’s arms, sobbing and praying. One woman begged for my pardon

for bringing my husband into harm’s way, and those were the only

words that could possibly have brought me strength.

“It is what we came into Kansas to do,” replied I. Not to be murdered,

to be sure, but we were called by God to take up His yoke, the yoke that

our countrymen had laid on the bondsman, and we were to count no

cost. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life

for his friends.” The heroes of Shiloh and of Gettysburg played their

noble roles in the conflict that consumes our nation, but my children’s

father was a greater hero still, for he laid down his life for his friends.

I can write no more, dearest Mother. Don’t fear for our safety, for

our good neighbors watch over us.

Ever your loving daughter,

Abigail Comfort Grellier

Fo r t y - S e ve n


Halloween fell on a Wednesday that year. The Monday before,

Lara’s grounding was finally over, and she and Robbie were blissfully

reunited in the Fremantle barn. After a time, they looked up, still holding

each other, but ready to take part in the larger world.

Gina and her friends from town were laying the bonfire for their

Samhain festival, pulling boards from the bunkhouse and gathering brush

from the apple orchard and other trees on the property. They were also

picking apples from the trees that still bore fruit. It was part of the ritual

that the harvest all be in or fairies would blight the crops, Gina said.

Some of the group were placing buckets of sand around the perimeter

of the bonfire. The fall had been so dry that area farmers were being

warned not to burn off any fields, and, in town, they were considering

banning barbecues.

Elaine Logan was tagging along after the other women, picking up

small sticks and adding them to the pile. She stopped frequently, sometimes

looking toward the barn, almost as if she knew Robbie and Lara

were up there. It was Robbie who first noticed her staring at the loft.

“How could she know?” Lara whispered. “She’s too big to climb the

ladder, and we’d see her if she was trying to hide behind a bush or something.

Can you imagine her climbing down into the ditches? She’d never

get out again.”

They both laughed quietly but soon fell silent, uneasy about whether

they’d been found out.


When Elaine thought no one was looking, she pulled a half-pint from

her sweatpants and took a quick swig. Lara mimicked her, mockingly,

which shocked Robbie. His church prohibited alcohol altogether, as Lara


“Oh, come on, Robbie, everyone knows Junior was drinking Mogen

David in the parking lot as soon as he started high school, and Chip used

to see him after football games over at the Storm Door.”

“Just because Junior gets drunk even while he makes Nanny believe

he’s the most pious boy in the whole county doesn’t make drinking right.

And Elaine Logan, she’s been homeless all these years. I wouldn’t think

you’d find it a joke to see her getting drunk.”

“She came to my church last Sunday, and she’d already been drinking

before the service started. She stood up and called us all whited sepulchres.

And she made a creepy remark to my dad, kind of suggesting she’d

seen you and me together,” Lara whispered in a hot undervoice.

“All the more reason to take her drinking as a serious problem instead

of making fun of it,” Robbie said doggedly.

“Maybe you’d better go to your church Halloween party with Amber,”

Lara said. “You can tell her how dreadful alcohol is and how terrible I am

because my parents sometimes have a drink on their anniversary or my

dad shares a beer with Blitz and Curly. Amber can pat your arm and say,

‘Oh, Robbie, I’ve been so worried about your immortal soul, but now I

know you’ve returned from the brink of the pit.’ ”

“Don’t, Lulu! You know I don’t talk like that about you, so why do you

make fun of me when I’m trying to stand up for what I think is right?”

“I won’t if you won’t preach at me.” She made a face, somewhere

between a pout and a kiss, and held out her hands to him. They came

together again.

It wasn’t the only issue they disagreed over. Salvation Bible Church

was opposed to evolution and to birth control; Riverside Church actively

supported both. Because Robbie was lonelier than Lara, he struggled

more to understand her point of view than she did his. Everyone at Salvation

Bible when they turned thirteen took a pledge of abstinence until

marriage. At least once a month, Pastor Nabo preached on how people

who used artificial contraception or had abortions, or who disputed the


creation of the universe as described in the inerrant Word of God, would

be writhing in torment someday. It was hard for Robbie to think that the

Grelliers really were Christians, when they believed that the earth was

billions of years old, or that Cindy Burton wasn’t damned for having an


“But you told me it was Junior who raped her,” Lara said.

“Junior came back and bragged that he and Eddie had done it

together,” Robbie said. “But it was Cindy who took the innocent life of

her baby.”

“If anyone is going to hell, it should be Junior and Eddie. They’re the

ones who hurt an innocent girl,” Lara argued. “And it wasn’t a baby. It

was a little fetus as big as my thumbnail.”

“And you don’t think that was wrong?”

“Robbie, I don’t. Especially when her own brother—Don’t you see

how gross that is? The baby would have had horrible problems if it had

been born. Don’t send me to the Salvation Through the Blood of Jesus

Full Bible Church’s hell, please. I mean, not unless Chip is there, and

Gram and Grandpa. Anyway, how can we speak for God, deciding who

is damned and who is saved? God is so much bigger than us, so much

bigger than our hates and fears.”

Lara was unconsciously quoting Pastor Natalie and Pastor Albright.

Like Robbie with Pastor Nabo, she had listened to her church’s theology

every week her whole life and believed it to be the truth.

“Only God knows what is in our hearts and souls,” she added. “And

He knows that in my heart and soul, against all my best judgment, I’m in

love with you.”

And the argument ended, as theirs always did, in each other’s arms,

fumbling hotly in the sleeping bag, Robbie tormenting himself with the

question of whether he’d be doubly damned if he, a., let himself get

inside Lara and, b., used one of Chip’s condoms to go there.

It was after that particular argument that he first asked Lara to go to

his church’s Halloween celebration. “We don’t do a hell house—ou

know, those setups some churches use to show us what happens to the

damned. But Pastor Nabo preaches about the godly life, and then we

have kind of a dance. Chris and me are going to play this year.”


“Can I wear a costume?”

He shifted uncomfortably. “Pastor Nabo discourages them because

they’re part of the satanic version of Halloween. No, don’t jump down

my throat. I’m only telling you what he calls it.”

“If I can’t wear a costume, then everyone would know it was me,” Lara

said. “And, pretty soon, our private business would be everyone’s supper


“But a lot of kids come from the community because their parents like

them to be in a safe place on Halloween,” Robbie urged. “And I want

you to hear me play— mean, really play, not just listen to my lame

podcast that I had to record myself. Oh, why can’t we see each other


Lara hunched a shoulder. “My dad already knows—r, at least, he’s

guessed—o it’s just a question of your father.”

“And Nanny and Junior. Oh, Lulu, maybe we could run away


“To a cave by the river!” Lara was enthusiastic. “We could live on what

we stole, or maybe Kimberly Ropes would bring us care packages. In the

spring, I’d plant sunflower seeds and tomatoes. You could sneak over to

your place and get us milk!”

“I was thinking of Nashville, so I could try out my music for a real

audience and see what they think.”

For a moment, they both got carried away by the fantasy: Robbie a

star, singing on Grand Ole Opry, Lara famous for her album-cover

designs. No more getting up every day at five to milk, no more Nanny

criticizing every move Robbie made, no more Susan sitting like the original

Immovable Object, sucking all the air out of the Grellier house.

Lara’s cell phone rang. It was Jim. The grounding still fresh in her

mind, she answered at once. Her father told her she had fifteen minutes

to get home.

“If we aren’t going to run away together tonight, we’d better get home

now or he’ll ground me for a whole month instead of two weeks,” she


Reluctantly, they untangled their arms and legs and slipped down the

ladder to the barn floor.


Elaine Logan was standing at the bottom. “I caught you, I caught you,

I knew you were up there! Mean children, not letting me play with you.

What will you give me not to tell?”

The two stood frozen for a moment and then dove through the loose

board in the back of the barn and ran for their lives through the field to

the road.

“Spies inside, spies inside!” they could hear Elaine screaming to Gina

and the other Wiccans. “Myra the murderess has her spies looking at you!”

Robbie and Lara crossed the road and landed in the drainage ditch,

waiting for the pursuit to begin in earnest. A minute later, they heard the

eastbound freight approaching. They scrambled out of the ditch and

jumped across the tracks. Shielded by the train, they ran on the grading

until they reached the county road, where they laughed triumphantly.

“Still,” Robbie said after a final kiss, “we’d better find a different place

to meet.”

“How about Nassie’s manger?” Lara teased.

“Don’t joke about it, Lulu,” Robbie begged. “Junior’s started lurking

around Nassie’s pen at night. He had so much fun beating up the lady

from Animals R Kin, he can’t wait for someone else to try to break in.

He’s carrying Dad’s second gun, the Colt. He even talks about training

an armed militia, but Dad won’t agree to that.”

“Doesn’t he have to go to class or anything over at that Bible college?”

Lara asked.

“Yeah, like Junior ever cared about class, even in high school,” Robbie

said. “He got the football coach to give him some special pass or something

for the holy or sacred or whatever work he said he was doing,

guarding Nassie, because curfew over there is supposed to be eleven

o’clock for all the good Christian boys and girls.”

Headlights appeared on the Schapen road. Lara fled for her own

home; Robbie dropped into the ditch.

Fo r t y - E i g h t


Lara reached home, breathless, as Jim was taking lasagna—another gift from the church women—ut of the oven. He looked

meaningfully at the clock, but all he said was, “Bring plates over to the

oven and get yourself washed up. You’ve been mining coal or drilling for

oil, judging by your looks.”

Lara ran up to the bathroom to clean up the worst of the dirt; she’d

have to wash her hair after supper. She helped Jim set up trays in the family

room, where Susan was ensconced in her corner of the couch, the

afghan making a handy barrier between herself and her family.

Over supper, Lara tried again to interest her mother in the Halloween

bonfire. “They’ll be dancing, and everything, like they always do. They

don’t call it Halloween, you know, but Samhain, which is some ancient

word meaning ‘summer’s end’— looked it up at school. Gina’s picking

apples from the old Fremantle trees to roast in the bonfire—”

Lara broke off nervously, afraid that Susan would ask how she knew,

but Susan only stared at her dully and said, “That’s nice,” in the dead

voice that made Lara want to pick up a knitting needle and skewer her

mother. Jim raised his eyebrows but said nothing—ot for the reasons

Lara feared, that he guessed she’d been on the Fremantle land overhearing

Gina—ut because he wanted to know what Gina had been doing

and saying, and he could hardly ask his daughter. Lara stopped trying to

make conversation. She gulped down the rest of the lasagna, hurried into

the kitchen with the dishes, and ran upstairs, muttering, “Homework.”


“I hope that’s what she’s doing,” Jim said to Susan. “Rachel says her

schoolwork is marginally better. But she’s spending too much time with

Robbie. I’d like to know where! I don’t want her having sex in a ditch

with a boy. Could she have found someplace over on the Fremantle land?

Do you think we should talk to her about it?”

Susan shrugged. “If you think it’s the right thing to do, go ahead.”

“She’s your daughter, too, Susan. I don’t want her destroying her

long-term happiness just because she’s feeling lonely and abandoned

right now.”

“Maybe Etienne would still be alive if I hadn’t argued with him about

his life choices. I’m not going to kill our other child by arguing with her.”

Jim, like his daughter, wanted to scream with fury, but he picked up

the remote and turned on the football game. Susan stared vacantly at a

recent issue of Farm Family Living.

They were both startled to hear Elaine Logan yelling from the

kitchen, “Farmer Jones? Farmer Jones, I know you’re around here someplace.”

“Elaine Logan.” Jim got to his feet, wondering if—oping—ina had

gotten into trouble again.

“Farmer Jones, don’t think you can hide. I’ve seen the spies you and

Myra Schapen set on me, murdering bitch. Don’t think I haven’t. And

don’t think I’ll put up with it for one second longer!”

Elaine appeared in the doorway between the kitchen and the family

room. Burrs covered the legs of her turquoise polyester pants; her faded

yellow hair was matted with leaves she’d picked up resting on her way

from the Fremantles’ to the Grellier farm. Her appearance startled even

Susan, who dropped her magazine.

“What are you talking about?” Jim demanded.

“I need to sit down, and you could give me something to drink. Just

because I’m not ready to take off my pants and wave them in your face

doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to be treated as politely as Gina.”

Jim looked nervously at his wife, wondering what she would make of

Elaine’s comment, but Susan only said, “Sit down. You are as welcome as

any other visitor to our home.”

Her cold, languid voice didn’t sound especially welcoming, but Elaine


went to the couch, sinking into a heap of afghan. Susan exclaimed

angrily and tried to extract her handiwork, but the burrs on Elaine’s

pants stuck to it. Elaine made no offer to help Susan clean the blanket

but reiterated her demand for a drink. When Jim offered tea, coffee, or

juice, Elaine gave him a sour look, but said juice would do.

She swallowed the orange juice in one long, loud gurgle, slammed the

glass down on the coffee table, and announced, “I’m tired of your daughter

and her lovebird boyfriend spying on my home. I have a birthright to

that house, Myra Schapen only has a death right to it. The farmer’s

daughter and the murderess’s grandson better get used to it.”

Jim looked at her in blank bewilderment. A birthright to the Fremantle

house? Did Elaine have some delusion about being a secret Fremantle

heir? Then he thought of the newspaper clipping Elaine had drop