Today’s snippet is dedicated to Tim King, who visited last week and wanted to know a little about Libby, the heroine of my new book, Blue Moon, to compare her to Tasmin. We actually see Libby sooner in the book, through the eyes of a mysterious stranger (it’s the Prologue Excerpt, here.) who rescues her.
It’s coming, Libby thought, not with a shudder, but with a little regret. Summer had fled before she’d had time to contemplate what she wanted to do with it, and now fall was turning the trees.
Winter, she thought, and worried over her mental checklist. When she first moved into her grandparents’ cabin a few winters before, she hadn’t been fully prepared for the weather. It was much harsher than she remembered. She ran out of heating oil and had to wait two days for the truck. Never again, she had promised herself, making sure now the tanks were full enough that she’d make it through the winter, changing the filters and checking to make sure the furnace was all right.
It took her a while, slowly unscrewing the cap from the oil filter to change the gaskets. Then she had to put it all back together while simultaneously trying to determine if there was a leak, if she’d crossed the threads or not made everything tight enough. Too tight, and you’ll crack that cheap cast iron casting, she could hear Grandpa Halstead say.
She always tried to do things herself, at least indoor things. Sometimes, she hired people to clear the brambles from the woods, to cut back the tall goldenrod and the tree saplings that sprang up like weeds. While they were there, she kept to the inside, and she kept her German shepherd, Dashiel, with her. Libby could not trust anyone; the secret she protected in the basement would not allow her to.
She knew the men who did her yardwork laughed at her skittishness, but she reminded herself, even when the tall younger brother of the foreman trimmed some roses and left them on the porch rail for her, that Sabin could get to anyone. It played hell with her social life.
This morning, she had curled up in bed and written in longhand, finishing a chapter of her book. Afterwards, she’d typed it into the computer—she was working under deadline and needed to keep up. The sun had broken through this afternoon, and now she was out with her wheelbarrow. She gathered wood and sticks—whatever she could handle by herself or with a hatchet, since she didn’t trust chainsaws, either.
She liked to keep some wood piled up so that if the power went out, she’d be able to cook, maybe heat the house a little during the day. She never bothered keeping it inside the house, because the need was rare, and because she only burned it during the daylight hours, since she didn’t like to leave the damper open on her chimney after dark. You never knew what might crawl down inside, and she was happier to do without than risk it.
“Dashiel!” she called.
The dog paused, wagged his tail and looked at her.
“Don’t go too far from me, okay?”
He wagged his tail a little faster then took off.
She loved her dog. He had large, intelligent brown eyes, and the way he acted, he seemed to almost understand her words. Sometimes, it even looked like he answered her. He was definitely her best friend.
It was a beautiful day. Fall days, Libby thought, were the prettiest, although if it were spring, she then admitted to herself, she would think the same thing. The leaves were just starting to turn, and the few grasshoppers she encountered had already traded in their bright coats for olive drab. Caterpillars hid under pieces of bark and in the crevices of the stone wall her grandfather had built to mark the orchard’s boundaries. She looked at the
chest-high wall, thinking there was something about walking in the woods and finding a wall, lichen-covered and crooked in places, that felt mysterious. She carefully picked up a fox-colored woolly bear, holding the coiled caterpillar until it relaxed and began crawling again. Its fur was incredibly long, and she rubbed the rust fluff against her cheek before carefully putting it back down.
The gate was an old one—all twisted wire and rusted cast iron—mounted between two posts. Its latch was a loop of rusting wire, and she carefully lifted it over the post to let herself in.
The orchard was a shambles—the workmen were only hired to clear away mess, not take care of fruit trees—and she felt slightly ashamed of her neglect. The trees had grown too tall; the apple trees in particular were covered with suckers, and the fruit that did manage to grow was small. She picked up some branches and placed them in the barrow. Fruit wood was supposed to smell the sweetest when burning, but she wasn’t sure she had ever really noticed a difference.
She looked at the twisted trees, and the apples, small, green and tart, that covered the ground. She used to love apples, and in the past, she would have picked the good ones up and stuffed her pockets full. She’d peel and stew them, make applesauce. She sighed, because even memories of her grandmamma peeling apples, of the sweet smell of sugar and cinnamon, did not help overcome her revulsion.
She moved on, touching a tree here and there as she passed. The trees were innocent. She should not neglect them just because of their fruit. The wall had fallen in near the back of the orchard. She paused to try and fix it, stacking the rocks haphazardly back on top of each other. The end result wasn’t very good, but hopefully it would do. She looked up at the two pear trees that stood next to the gap, their branches intertwined. The pears
were large—sweet-looking despite her neglect. She smiled and reached up to pick one, and saw in her mind’s eye, without meaning to, another hand, long fingered and strong, reaching up and caressing the fruit but not taking it.
She pulled her hand back, collected some twigs and rolled the wheelbarrow home. Fruit could be poisoned just as easily as people, and with even worse results. She imagined a bite of pear lodging in her throat, knowing she would not preserve as well as Snow White. Sabin would do it. He’d do it with great glee, happy to punish her.
She shuddered. A shrink would have said something like “You can’t let an abusive relationship make you paranoid. He’s been gone how long? Elizabeth, it’s time to go on with your life.”
But the psychiatrist didn’t know what it was like living with a monster. Not just a man who was so terrible he was monster-like, but an honest-to-God notquite-human monster. Plus, Sabin was capable of anything. She had to remember that before she unlocked her door, before she started her car, before she put food in her grocery cart. Was someone hiding outside? Had someone tampered with the car? Was the container still perfectly sealed?
She dug up her gladiolus bulbs and hung them in the cellar. She stacked the wood against the back of the garage, well away from the house—no need to give things a home to hide in right next to the door—and looked in her cupboards to determine what she’d stock up on tomorrow. Lots of soup, shampoo and paper towels and cleaning supplies, and TV dinners, of course. Libby wasn’t much on cooking. Oh, sure, once in awhile she’d get a taste for
something, but not often enough to really make the effort. She didn’t eat much, and hated to waste.
In preparation for a bounty of TV dinners, she cleaned out her freezer and plugged it in. She refused to use it during the summer, lest she become too much of a hermit. Getting out, she reminded herself, was fun. “So, baby,” she said to Dashiel. “What should I get you for the winter?”
He put his head against her shoulder, and she petted him, amazed at the softness of his hair, enjoying the feel of his skull under her hands. She knelt and scratched him behind the ears, because he loved it, and whispered endearments.
When the floor got too hard and cold for her knees she stood up. After tomorrow’s paycheck-disappearance run, she’d be prepared for the coming snows. She savored the thought of having everything completely locked up for days on end, only going out when she needed something at the store or thought she ought to pick up her mail, the snow deep around her house. She’d spend the days wrapped up in blankets and writing and reading, the silence broken only by the furnace coming on or the refrigerator. She worked best in winter, she thought, because winter had an introspective feel to it, a feeling of quiet, snowbound living that she loved. To tell the truth, though, it wasn’t much different from summer. She would go out less, and she didn’t have to guilt herself into yardwork, but that was about it. Still, she could not wait for it to be truly cold, for the snow to settle into thick piles.
She put the heavy wooden bar in the brackets on either side of the door and closed the thick iron shutters. She barred them as well then checked to see if the little sliding window on each pair was completely closed and hooked. She undid one hook, slid the window cover back and peeked through the five-by-three-inch hole. Everything quiet, she thought, sliding it back shut and securing it.
She shut the window and turned the latch, and then, so she wouldn’t have to see the depressing gray of the shutters, she pulled down the blind and drew the lace curtains.
“I wrote almost two thousand words today,” she said to Dashiel, even though he was in the other room, lapping up some water. She always spoke in his direction, feeling it was a little saner than talking to herself directly. “I think I’ll cook a TV dinner and watch whatever’s on the telly tonight.”