Homestead

by Rosina Lippi

Homestead

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Book Summary

Follows the passions and fortunes of three neighboring families living in a tiny remote village in the Austrial Alps from 1909 to the late 1970s

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NPR stories about Homestead

Three Books...

Country Cousins: 3 Books About Rural Living

Fewer laughs and more tears come from Rosina Lippi's Homestead. A series of linked stories, it chronicles six generations of women in an Austrian mountain village, starting about 1909. Her characters are drawn with casual grace, and her understated writing is insightful and beautiful. In one tale she describes the interaction between a man and a woman negotiating sexual politics, as "Francesco had feared to ask too much of her, and saw, too late, that he had asked too little." Quiet

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Homestead

Homestead

Homestead


Mariner Books

Copyright © 1999 Rosina Lippi
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0395977711


Chapter One

Anna

Bengat Homestead 1909


"Man Proposes GOD Disposes," read the faded proclamationpainted across the shingles above the Wainwright's door. Withthose stern words over her head, Anna of Bengat homesteadstood hesitating on the stone steps that led to the village shop.Beside her was her nephew Stante; at her back and all aroundwas a near perfect circle of mountains.

    The Wainwright's homestead took up a good portion ofthe center of Rosenau, sprawling along the square across fromthe church, the Golden Eagle, and Goat-Cheese Willi's tidyhomestead. Long ago the house had been painted with steer'sblood in the old fashion, but now the shingled walls were aflaking, clotted reddish brown. Down the west side of thehouse ran the long passageway of the Schopf, an enclosed two-storygallery of silver-gray wood; it was piled high with feedsacks leaking pale streams of oats. A heap of wagon wheelsawaiting repair erupted from the workshop into the dirt road.At the far end of the building where the house melded intocowshed and barn, a speckled hen pecked despondentlyaround a manure heap so old and high that even the flieshad tired of it. A procession of sunflowers with hunched shouldersand drooping heads stretched out into the pasture towardGod's Acre.

    Stante tugged at Anna's sleeve. She took his hand andtogether they went into the shop, which smelled of vinegar andaxle grease and cinnamon. Here the Wainwright's spinsterdaughter waited on customers every morning with cold efficiencyand a notable lack of goodwill. Her father might run aslovenly farmstead, but the household and the shop wereGrumpy Marie's domain, and she kept them as clean and sternas she kept herself. In exchange for cloth, ribbons, buttons,hairpins, thread and needles, lye, whetstones, penny nails, tinbuckets, mustache wax, nail clippers, tobacco, paper stock, ink,horse tonic, cooking pots and pottery, coffee beans and tealeaves, brown and white sugar, salt, spices, feed cake and threegrades of cornmeal, Grumpy Marie took in coins, gossip, surpluseggs, and an occasional bottle of homemade schnapps orcrock of honey. On Mondays and Thursdays Marie was lesssurly, for on those mornings it fell to her to sort the mail thatcame up from Ackenau with the courier. When snow closed theroad and kept the courier away, folks kept clear of the shop andMarie as long as they could.

    On this particular Monday morning in early July, Annawas surprised to see Marie perched high on a box in the middleof the dim room, surrounded by a crowd of women. Smalland lean, she was flushed with high color, and her mood put ahum in the air. What business she could have with these women—allages, from all over the village-on a workday morning, Annacould not imagine. But she had been called, and she had come.

    "Finally," Marie said when she caught sight of Anna."Took long enough. Now we can get started" She fixed Stantewith a stare and gestured over her shoulder with a toss of herhead. "Go look after your brother."

    The boy glanced quickly at Anna and scooted out thedoor.

    Marie worked her jaw silently and looked around the circleof women as if there were marks on their foreheads onlyshe could see. They looked back at her, perplexed but curiousenough to bide a while.

    "You all sign your names Anna Fink," she stated.

    "A-yo," Gide's Annakatrin agreed in a long drawl. "Iguess that's true enough. Every one of us baptized an Anna-something-or-other,and a Fink too."

    "Half the folks in the village sign themselves Fink,"added Annobüobli's Anna, sixteen and easily bored. "Did youhaul us all down here to tell us our names?"

    Marie's stare was enough to make the girl fluster anddrop her gaze. She said, "Today the courier brought a picturepostcard, addressed to Anna Fink."

    There was a hesitation as the women looked at eachother.

    "That postcard can't be for me," Anna said, confused."Peter took me home to Bengat ten years ago, and I've beensigning myself Sutterlüty ever since."

    Marie shrugged. "You belonged to Jodok Fink of River'sBend before you married Bengato Peter. And I got a card hereaddressed to Anna Fink, which I am obliged to deliver, orreturn."

    "Well, ain't there no housename on the thing?" askedAnnimi, her gaze wandering over the bolts of calico and muslin.

    With a withering look, Marie reached into her apronpocket and withdrew the postcard. Watery blues and greensglinted between her muscular fingers. "`Anna Fink,'" she read."`At the River's Bend, Rosenau.'"

    They turned together to look at Bengato Peter's Anna.

    "It's been ten years!" she repeated, squirming slightly.

    "But you were Anna Fink before that," said Annakatrin."No Fink women ever lived down to the River's Bend homesteadexcept you and Rosa."

    "Ten years is a long time, though," conceded PitchforkPaulus's Annatheres thoughtfully.

    "Well, there's an easier way," said Fellele's Annele. Shealternated her weight clumsily from one foot to the other, tryingto shift the burden of a nine-month pregnancy from thesmall of her back. "Who's it from, Marie?"

    "I don't read the mail!"

    "Course you don't," said Annimi, too smoothly. "Give itover to us and we'll sort it out amongst ourselves."

    "Never mind that," Marie snapped, jerking the card upand away as if Annimi had snatched at it. "I got a feeling thishas to do with you," she said, turning to Anna. "No matter howlong you been up at Bengat."

    "Well, all I know is, I'm eighty this past Maundy Tuesday,and I have never got a picture postcard in the mail," Annakatrinsaid, shaking her head. "Don't know who'd send me one."

    "Then you take it, Annakatrin," said Anna, frustrated now.

    But Marie grunted and thrust the card toward her. Thesimpleness of the gesture was disarming, and Anna, who hadjust told herself that she had no intention of taking it, found thepostcard in her hand.

    "There's a mistake," Marie said with grim satisfaction,hovering as if Anna were a stranger from the flatlands and Mariehad just been obliged to put a newborn into her arms, againstall good judgment. "You'll see."

    Anna fingered the thick card stock. She saw a fine drawingof an imposing building, lawns running down to a pier,people strolling, sailboats scattered on blue waves, LakeConstance as smooth and clear as expensive paper could renderit. "The White Horse Hotel" stood in sloping letters acrossthe bottom, and: "For the discerning traveler."

    "Get on with it!" Marie said, so Anna turned the cardover and read out loud, the book language filling her mouthwith its sparseness. It had always reminded her of unripe fruit,resistant and without flavor, something unnatural and of littleuse or beauty.

    "`Dear Anna,'" she read. "`It has been so long. Please forgiveme. I never meant it to be so long. Please have patience.Your Anton. P.S. Please write to me here, I am very lonely.'"

    There was a small silence.

    "Look at those boats. How many folks you think can ridein one of those?"

    "Anton. We got enough of them around here, but don'tsuppose this is one of ours."

    "He writes pretty."

    "What does `P.S.' mean?"

    "It means `I ain't done yet.'"

    "Where is that place?"

    "Never seen the lake myself, except from the northmostridge of the Third Sister on a clear day."

    "Why's that woman carrying a rain-roof in the brightsunlight?"

    "That's no rain-roof, you ijit. That's called a parasol.Keeps the sun off her white skin." This from Annatheres, whohad inherited from her mother, a flatlander, three copies of theLadies Afternoon Journal: January 1891, February 1895, andthe general favorite in the village, July 1900. Annatheres hadcommitted most of all three to memory, and could hold forth onarticles of clothing of strange construction and dubious utility.

    "What does `discerning' mean then, if you're so smart?"

    "Rich," said Annatheres. "Sticky rich."

    Anna never looked up from the card. She saw that thisman with the same name as her youngest boy, this man whostayed at expensive hotels and wrote in an elegant hand (Annahad never seen the like, not even from Father Meusburger, whohad taught her her letters), had written "please" three times infive short sentences. She wondered how disappointed he wouldbe when he had no reply from his Anna.

    Marie stuck out her hand. "I'll send it back where it camefrom," she said in a tone that allowed no disagreement, butAnnakatrin stepped in.

    "Marie, you would have made a fine nun. You got theknack."

    "The tongue, too," muttered Annatheres.

    "There's business needs looking after," Marie said hotly.

    "We're looking after it, ain't we? Now let Anna have her say."

    "It's mine," Anna said, surprising herself as much as shedid Grumpy Marie. She put the card in her basket, and withthat she went outside and walked toward the public well in thecenter of the church square. Anna sat down on the edge of thehorse trough with the postcard in her lap.

    Marie stood in the doorway, hands on her hips, andwatched as the others trailed out after Anna.

    With considerable shifting and nudging they managed tobalance seven abreast on the edge of the trough, seven bluework aprons over pleated black linen skirts, once glassy withstarch but now softened and wilting, like crackled sugar glaze.Below the skirts, seven sets of dusty bare feet peeked out.Without comment, Anna passed the card to her right, andone by one each of the Annas claimed it. Each read it slowly,ran a fingertip over the cool surface, spelled out the mysteriousabbreviations on the stamp and the cancellation.Broommaker's Annamarile, who had not dared say a word infront of Grumpy Marie, let out an audible sigh when she got upto hand it back, finally, to Anna.

    The church bell rang nine, and they startled at the morninghalf gone. In a flurry of skirts they were up and headedfor home.

    Anna got up to go too but froze when Annakatrin turnedback from across the square and hollered, "You best write andtell the man he's gone wrong!"

    Halfway home to Bengat, Anna stopped and retrieved thecard: the blue-green waters, the little pier, the grass thatstretched in a cool sheet down to the shore. A gentleman witha walking stick. A lady in white linen, wearing long gloves andcarrying a parasol, her hair rolled elaborately on the back ofher head. Anna touched the braids wrapped around her ownhead.

    She was about to set out again when she caught a flashof color: Stante, bolting straight up the lower hang of theSecond Sister as if the devil were close behind. She watchedhim climb the hang like a ladder, ignoring the dirt path and itsswitchbacks. The July sun shone like a cap on his head.

    He came to a sudden halt just before her and smiled, noteven short of breath.

    "What is it?" Anna asked. "Did Marie send you chasingafter me?"

    His blue eyes were striking for their contrast to his sun-brownedskin, and for their perpetual look of confusion. Annawatched Stante try to find the words he wanted, and fail. As sheoften did, she found herself wishing that she could give thischild, her dead sister's boy, what God had seen fit to hold back:the ability to open his mouth and say what was on his mind.For a moment Anna was tempted to sit down right where shewas and take him into her lap and rock him.

    "Were you wanting to come visit up at Bengat?"

    The flash of excitement in Stante's eyes told her that shehad guessed why he'd come after her. The way he dropped hisgaze told her that he had come without permission.

    It was so rare that the Wainwright let Stante or Michel comeup to Bengat. He put little value on the twins, but neither wouldhe let them go. Every year on their birthday-the anniversary ofher sister's death—Anna asked once again if she could take theboys in and see to their raising; every year the Wainwright turnedher down.

    "You best be getting back," Anna said softly. "But youcome up again soon and bring Michel with you. In the wheelbarrow.You think you can push your brother all the way up toBengat for some plum dumplings?"

    Stante grinned at her and nodded.

    "But next time come by the road," she said, laughing.Anna rubbed her palm over the crown of his head, and heturned and preened like a cat under her touch.


The men were most taken by the lawn. Their lives were ruledby a simple cycle: they needed milk from the cows to makecheese, the cows needed grass to produce milk, the grass neededcow dung to grow. Peter and his father could not understandgrass without a purpose, without animals.

    "Maybe they graze goats in the night," suggested Anna'smother-in-law, Isabella.

    But they looked silently at the lawn, smooth as a silkhandkerchief, and put no real credence in that idea.

    "So you'll write an answer," Alois said. Her father-in-lawwas a reasonable man, but not one disposed to long discussion.

    "If you think so—" Anna glanced at Peter, who nodded.

    "Imagine the man," said Peter's sister, Barbara. "Waitingand waiting on a word from her, from this Anna. Whoever she is."

    "I'll write it for you, Mama," Olga volunteered. At nineshe was Anna's oldest, more interested in schoolwork than takingcare of two little brothers, and proud of her handwriting.

    "It's your mama's business," Peter said gently.

    Alois gave Anna his fountain pen and showed her how tofill the barrel. Her sister-in-law cut edges and blank spots outof the Farmer's Weekly for Anna to practice on. Olga sharpenedthe pencil with Alois's penknife, under Isabella's careful eye.Only Peter seemed content to let Anna get on with it in her owntime, but even that didn't last.

    "There's a Rosenau over on the other side of Innsbruck,I seem to recall," Peter said when he climbed into bed thatnight. "Maybe you could say so."

    "You don't mind me writing to this stranger?"

    "Don't suppose you could fall in love with a man on thestrength of his handwriting," said Peter, yawning. Then he fellasleep, as he always did, without warning.

    Lying next to him, drowsy but strangely content to beawake, Anna realized that she had no clear memory of Peter'shandwriting, having seen it so few times in her life. He had finishedhis four years of schooling before she began her own;when she married him, she had never once seen him with apen in his hand. Then Anna remembered the marriage registryand Peter's signature, uneven and awkward. She put thethought away and reached for sleep.


The next afternoon, when Isabella and Barbara took Olga offto Lost Calf Meadow to rake hay, Anna settled her two boysdown to nap. Then she put a clean blue bibbed apron over herworkday Juppa, crossing the wide starched strings neatly overher back, winding them around her waist, and tying the endsinto a bow at the base of her spine. Out of habit she put hermarketing basket over her arm and went down to the village tobuy a postcard. On the way she was stopped three times byfolks who wanted to see the picture of the fine hotel and weredisappointed that she had left it behind.

    "There's a village called Rosanna way over in thePustertal," Goat-Cheese Willi called to her across his dung heap.The innkeeper came out of the Golden Eagle to tell her the samething.

    Stepping from sunlight into the pungent shadows ofthe shop, Anna heard the Wainwright before she saw him."Woolly-woolly," he was crooning softly in his crackly oldman's voice. "Woolly-head."

    Stante stood red-faced next to his grandfather. TheWainwright was wobbling the boy's head back and forth with ashovel-like hand. He looked up at Anna as she came in, andstopped. It wasn't her disapproval that worried him, Annaknew that: he was just tired of the game.

    With a forced nod to the Wainwright, Anna addressed herfirst words to Stante, and was rewarded immediately with hissmile. There was a scuffling in the far corner of the room, andthat is where Anna found Michel, tied with a shank of rope toa foot of the tiled oven.

    "He will run off," the Wainwright said to Anna's back."Can't keep track of him otherwise. The Lord knows what devilmenthe'd get up to."

    Where Stante seemed incapable of expecting anythingfrom Anna that wasn't soft and soothing, Michel could onlylook at her with hooded eyes. She crouched down next tohim and reached out; Michel tolerated her caress. Anna wassurprised once again, as she always was when she saw him,at how much of her sister she could find in his face.

    "It's been a while since you come up to see us, Michel,"Anna said, and he looked at her hopefully. "We'll see what wecan do," she whispered.

    Rosa had died before she knew about Stante, who hadhis mother's beauty but nothing else to call his own; or aboutMichel, whose mind was whole but whose body was frail andbird-like, the bones bent into unlikely angles at all the wrongspots. Stante could barely put a sentence together; Michel hada clear high voice and a head full of things to say, but he seldomchose to speak. Rosa had died and left these boys to her husband;her husband had taken the influenza and died the yearafter, leaving the boys not to Anna, who wanted to take them in,but to his father, the Wainwright.

    "Your sister," said the Wainwright behind Anna, as if thatexplained everything away, Stante's tears, the rope burns onMichel's ankle.

    Anna straightened up and lifted an eyebrow, her face stiffwith anger. "My sister?"

    "How'd she manage it, I often wonder. Two half boysinstead of a whole one."

    "These children are welcome at Bengat," Anna said, herwords feeling tight and small and insufficient.

    "They are my only grandsons, sorry as they may be.Nobody will ever say I ain't done my duty by these two sincemy Richard passed on. Woolly here may never be the craftsmanhis daddy was, but he is a good hand in the toolshop whenhe keeps his few wits about him, ain't you, Woolly?"

    "Where is it?" Marie said from the doorway, and bothAnna and the Wainwright turned in surprise. "Did you bring itback?"

    Anna looked from her nephews to Marie.

    "Did you bring the picture postcard back?" Marie saidagain, flapping her apron.

    "I'd like a penny postcard," Anna said.

    Marie drew up. "So you are fixing to write."

    Anna put a coin on the counter.

    "I'd like a postcard," she repeated.

    "That's all you got to say?"

    "And a stamp."

    The Wainwright held up a hand to cut Marie off. "Let meask you this," he said as he put the postcard on the counter in frontof Anna. "When's the last time you spoke the book language?"

    Confused by this question, Anna dropped her eyes fromhis toothy smile.

    "Bet you haven't spoke the book language in years.Couldn't write book-like any more than you could write Greek."

    "I'm the postmistress," Marie said with a withering lookat her father, who had clearly missed the point. "It is myresponsibility."

    Anna turned away from them, from their sourness andgrim self-righteousness, and left without another word to hernephews.

    "Could have been any one of you Finka-Annas!" Mariecalled after her. "Or none of you!"

    Anna forced herself to walk at a steady pace through thesquare, although she could feel their gaze on her back, hot anddemanding as the July sun: Stante's eyes like dusty windows,willing her to turn around because he loved her; Marie's eyes,narrowed and flickering with irritation because she had letAnna get the upper hand and hadn't yet figured out how to putthings right.


That evening Anna was distracted; she stoked the stovethoughtlessly and the milk billowed up and over; she snappedat Olga and then made the boys sit still so she could cut theirhair. At just over one, Tony had little to cut, and she was quicklyfinished with him, but Anna made Jos wait too long, fussingat the job when it was clear that the boy just wanted to be upand gone. Barbara pressed her lips together hard and left thekitchen, but Isabella gave her a penetrating look, her browneyes all the sharper in the soft roundness of her face. Annalooked away, and counted on the fact that her mother-in-lawwas the sort who kept her opinion to herself.

    Later, by lamplight, Anna sat alone at the table in theStube with her things gathered round her: the blank cardpropped up against the oil lamp, the fountain pen in its stand,the pile of scrap paper. She took a pencil and wrote "Dear Sir,"and then: "Your postcard came to me."

    Anna felt her fingers cramping on the pencil; a fine lineof sweat broke out on her brow. Suddenly she wondered whyshe had taken the card from Marie, what she had meant by it.She turned it over to read it again, and again she counted: hehad written "please" three times. Knowing she was beingunfair, knowing herself fortunate in marriage, Anna tried toremember the last time Peter had asked her with "please." Sheforced her mind back over old conversations, days and weeksold, with increasing disquiet. The truth was, Peter didn't usethe word much, but then he had such a gentle way about himthat it had never occurred to her before to feel a lack. Thisstranger, this Anton, he was a different kind of creature fromPeter; even in those few lines she could feel it. Anna picked upthe pencil again, and tried to put down what she thought hewould need to know.


I grew up on the River's Bend homestead in Rosenau. That was some years ago, afore my folks passed on and my sister Rosa and her husband took over and I married away, up the mountain side. The house there has stood empty since Rosa and her husband died. The hayfields are pacted out now. I live at Bengat with my husband and his folks and my own children. I am a farmer's wife and nothing more. Your card is very beautiful, but it does not belong to me.


    Anna looked at these words for some time, and it seemedto her she could hear Father Meusburger standing behind her,his fingers rasping softly in the folds of his cassock. She wassuffused with the same compressed dread she had felt in theschoolroom of the little rectory, where she hunched over hersquare of chalk tablet, copying out catechism sentences writtenon the board in the priest's sharp-edged hand. The book languagewas a strange maze, but she saw now she could find herway through it, if she moved slowly, and if she felt her waycarefully along the barren walls, and most important, if shecould be content with half-truths. The pencil was heavy in herhand, and it found the paper again. What came from it surprisedher, but she let it flow.


Once a young man came through Rosenau on a mountain tour. He was tall and his skin was the color of old honey. His eyes shiny black like his hair. He talked strange, bookish but not bookish, putting his sentences round backwards at times. He stayed in our barn for some days. He ate with us, and paid Daddy good coin. Our Rosa was taken with him. She would sit at the window and watch him come down the road. That was before she married Wainwright's Richard, before her twins came along. Rosa died in childbed.


    When Anna went upstairs, Peter was asleep. She undressedslowly without the lamp so as not to disturb him. Then she gotinto bed and shook him awake.

    "Those boys are my flesh and blood, and I want themhere," she told her husband, her voice hard and full, and thenshe let Peter hold her instead of saying all the things shealready knew but didn't want to hear, instead of making herempty promises about children she could not claim, but towhom she was bound by guilt and love.


The next evening Anna worked over her postcard while thefamily sat together out in the Schopf with the wooden shuttersfolded and propped up to let in the evening breeze. The newspaperscraps Barbara had cut out for her were soon gone, sowith a furtive look out the window Anna took three sheets ofyellowing stationery from her father-in-law's oaken lap deskand hoped it would be enough. She wrote in pencil, in a handthat was small and cramped but became looser, more generous,more complex with every line. In time she didn't have towait for the words to come to her in the book language; it wasas if she had opened some creaky gate that now swung smooth.

    At first she wrote about her sister and her sister's boys,about Michel's egg-like skull that seemed to twist sideways onhis neck as if his ear were attached to the shoulder, so youcould never know what he was looking at. She wrote aboutStante's blue eyes. Anna took more paper and wrote about howPeter first came courting, about her father-in-law's habit ofwhistling to the barn swallows and how they seemed to listen.

    She forgot she was writing to a stranger, a man she hadnever seen: she imagined him love-struck, lonely, wearing awhite linen suit and silk hat and smoking a carved pipe underthe striped awnings of the the white Horse Hotel. Slowly thisimage faded away into the paper under her hands until shecould see much less of him than she could of herself, as a younggirl, a bride, a mother, an aunt.

    When she had used all the stationery in the lap desk, tensheets, Anna looked up with a start and saw it was near midnight.She folded all the newsprint and paper into one packetand tied it up with string. Then she took the blank postcard andthe pen, and in quick, easy strokes she wrote out the addresson one side.


TO: Anton, a guest of the Hotel
Who Wrote to Anna at River's Bend, Rosenau
The White Horse Hotel
Lake Constance


On the other side she wrote "Dear Sir," and then, with littlehesitation:


Your card came to me by mistake. I do not know you. There is no other Anna here in Rosenau who lives at the River's Bend, as I did before I married. If you have not heard from your Anna, perhaps it is because she never received your card. I wish you well.
Sincerely,
Anna Sutterlüty born Fink
Bengat Homestead
Lower Hang of the Second Sister


    On her way up to bed Anna stopped to check on Olga andthen went into the boys' room. Tony had crept under his blanket;she tugged him back into place and smoothed his damphair away from his face. Jos had managed to wiggle out of hisnightclothes, as he always did, and he lay naked on top of hisblanket. Anna admired the sheen of the moonlight on his skineven as she covered him. Sitting on the edge of Jos's bed, Annalistened to her boys breathing in counterpoint, and she wondered,as she had first done when Olga was born and as she hadevery day since, what she would do if the next breath didn'tcome, if her children were to slip away from her against herwill, and refuse to return.

    Peter was awake and waiting for her.

    "It's a good thing we already got a Tony of our own," hesaid, folding back the covers.

    Anna raised an eyebrow at his playful tone. "How so?"

    "Because we could never baptize an Anton now withoutthe whole village wondering what we been up to."

    She laughed. "What I been up to, you mean." With her backturned to Peter she slipped her buttoned nightdress over herhead. "You jealous?"

    "Don't know, exactly," Peter said, reaching out to catchher wrist and pull her into bed. "You finished writing?"

    She nodded.

    "Then I'm not jealous." He paused. "Just what did you say?"

    Anna rubbed her hand across her husband's cheek. "Wantto read it?"

    Peter grinned. "I'm not much of a reading man."

    "Might find it interesting," Anna whispered.

    "There are more interesting things in life," he said,reaching for her buttons.

    "You counting on another baptism?" she asked, and thiscaused him to look up from her nightdress to her face.

    "Why, I suppose we could manage to accommodate a fewmore at our table," Peter said slowly.

    I have never seen Michel smile at anyone but his brother,Anna had written.

    "Children need more than food," she said against Peter'shair; then, feeling the warmth of his silence and his attention,she closed her eyes.


The next morning Anna handed Grumpy Marie the card andwatched her read it right there, mouthing the words one byone. Anna looked away. Neither Stante nor Michel was anywhereto be seen.

    "That'll be the end of that," Marie said, and Anna wasstruck not by Marie's ridicule or disdain but instead by theregret in her voice. Marie was the only woman on this homestead,with animals, the wagonsmithy, the shop, two burdensomeboys, and a contentious and aging father to look after;Anna was not surprised to see white in Marie's hair at less thanthirty, or the weariness that hunched her back. But she wasstartled deep down by this glimpse of a loneliness she hadnever considered. Anna felt a surge of compassion and sadnessfor this woman, and for a moment she wished she had left thewhole business to Marie, who was looking at her now with glitteringeyes.

    "I do my best," she said. "I do my best for those boys.They want for nothing."

    Anna turned away, knowing this for the truth, but findinglittle comfort in it.


That afternoon Anna was sitting in the Schopf with the mendingin her lap while Jos and Tony played in the dooryard. It wasovercast and threatening rain, but they had gotten the hay intothe barn before breakfast and hadn't mowed any more in themeantime. Every so often Anna felt the outline of the folded pagesstill in her apron pocket as she tracked the storm, approachingin fits and starts like a moody and untrustworthy lover.

    The narrow road and the path that fell steeply away fromit to the house were hidden from the Schopf, which lookeddown into the garden and over the village; it was a while beforeAnna realized that somebody was coming. She was just puttingher mending aside when the first scream came, clear andshrill. The boys looked up from their play with round, blankstares; they had been brought up on the screams of pigs, goats,and cows under the knife, but this was something different.Anna leapt the stairs and rounded the corner to see Stantecome flying down the road toward them, pushing Michel in arickety wheelbarrow at a dead run over the hard-packed earth,his face transformed with joy. From inside the wheelbarrowMichel bellowed an odd, deep laughter, his mouth gaping wide,his milky skin flushed with color. Like fragile folded wings, hishands clutched at the sides of the wheelbarrow as it bouncedand rattled.

    Anna saw Isabella leaning out of a window, and thenAlois stepped out of the barn with a wrench in his hands. Olga,caught in Stante's path with a bag of feed on her back, jumpedout of the way as they sped past, and then stood staring longinglyafter them. Peter, his arms white with curd, had come outof the creamery. He leaned there against the wall, his chin loweredto his chest while he laughed, laughter honest and clean,a boy's laughter.

    They watched as Stante raced his brother toward thehouse, faster and faster, breathing hard, pushing with all thestrength in his legs and arms and back, while Michel rolledin the wheelbarrow, beating with his heels, his head turnedagainst his shoulder, laughing and shouting up into thesummer sky.

Continues...



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