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Burning Margueriteby Elizabeth Inness-Brown
Synopses & Reviews
The fire had gone out not long before he woke. The air in the cabin was cold enough to chill his nose but not cold enough to show his breath. The stove, when he reached out, was still as warm as his hand.
Inside the sleeping bag, his body had generated its own heat, and the goose down kept it there, cocooning him. It was good to know he could survive a night in the cabin if he wanted to, that he could survive even the deep cold of a night in February. The only difficulty was convincing himself to leave the warmth of the bag.
He did it by imagining the smell of coffee. Down at the house, Tante would have the coffee percolating on the stove, boiling it with the chicory that gave it a burnt taste that went away only when he stirred in sugar and filled his mug to the lip with milk. The kitchen would be warm, the fire hissing and popping. Tante would have forgiven him by now, as he had already forgiven her. She would be ready for him to come back, she would not say a word, and they would go on as ever. After thirty-five years, after the whole of his life and a third of hers, forgiveness came easily to them, and often. The passing of time pressed them to it, made nothing else important enough to stop it. All you ever really have is time; she taught him that.
He dressed inside the bag, took his boots from its bottom where he'd kept them warm, climbed out and put them on. Opened the stove door, stirred the ashes, made sure the fire was out. Rolled up the sleeping bag and put it into ripstop plastic, and put that into more plastic, and put that into the cupboard to protect it from mice and squirrels. Laid a tarp over the cot to keep the dust and droppings off. Cast his eye about the place. Pulled his coat from the hook and put it on; pulled his hat down to his eyes, wrapped the scarf around his neck and face, stuck his hands into his gloves, and went out the door into the cold.
It was first light, a winter dawn. If he'd wanted to take the time to climb the ridge, he could have seen the blush of sunrise warm above the horizon. But here on the western slope the light was colorless, flat. His footsteps cracked the icy air. Judging from the way his breath hovered, the temperature was well below zero.
Around him the trees seemed to hold themselves still. They looked almost dead, like the trees onstage in a high school play. His high school play. Because he was good with wood and because he had a truck and because he could drive a nail straight, he had been asked to design the set. He had made a forest of trees, bringing summer into the drab auditorium. Each of the three nights, he had refreshed the dream with new-cut saplings, their leaves kept green by the moist medium in which they stood. But as powerful as the illusion was, the trees had looked dead to him. He could tell a live tree when he saw one, and those trees had looked dead, more dead even than these looked in the dead of winter.
The first slope down from the cabin to the house was slick, thin snow over leaves. He reached his hands ahead to the trees, grabbed their brittle limbs to steady himself. Twigs broke off in his hands. To inhale froze his nostrils, to exhale thawed them. The air was raw on his cheeks and lips.
When the slope leveled, he relaxed his caution. In winter you could see deep into the woods. He watched for what he might see, for what might be there, looking for nothing in particular. Sometimes you ca
One winter morning James Jack Wright finds ninety-four-year-old Marguerite Deo—the woman he has always known as “Tante”—lying dead in the woods outside his cabin, clad only in a flowered nightgown. With this arresting scene, Elizabeth Inness-Brown ushers readers into her mysterious and lyrical narrative, the story of two closely braided lives that forces a reconsideration of our notions of maternity, loyalty, love, and perhaps death itself.
As James Jack sets out to fulfill Marguerite’s unusual last wishes, the narrative unveils the secrets of their pasts. It arcs from Depression-era New Orleans to a barren New England island at the turn of the century, from an illicit passion and an unforgivable crime to the relationship between a small boy and a tough, reclusive woman who turns out to possess an unsuspected capacity for love.
Elizabeth Inness-Brown's ecstatically received first novel is a brilliant narrative in which two lives are revealed and our notions of motherhood, loyalty, love, and perhaps death itself, are examined.
One frigid winter morning James Jack Wright finds ninety-four-year-old Marguerite Deo — the woman he has always called Tante — lying dead in the woods outside his cabin. Over the ensuing day he will set out to fulfill her startling last wish. At the same time, Burning Marguerite arcs backward from Depression-era New Orleans to a barren New England island at the turn of the century, from an illicit passion and an unforgivable crime to the relationship between a small boy and a tough, reclusive woman who possesses an unsuspected capacity for love.
About the Author
Elizabeth Inness-Brown is the author of two acclaimed collections of short stories, Satin Palms and Here. Raised in the North Country of New York State, she now teaches writing at Saint Michael’s College and lives with her husband and young son on South Hero, an island in Lake Champlain, Vermont.
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