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Sweeping Up Glassby Carolyn D. Wall
The long howl of a wolf rolls over me like a toothache. Higher up, shots ring out, the echoes stretching away till theyre not quite heard but more remembered.
Theres nobody on this strip of mountain now but me and Ida, and my grandson, Willm. While I love the boy more than life, Idas a hole in another sock. She lives in the tar paper shack in back of our place, and in spite of this being the coldest winter recorded in Kentucky, shes standing out there now, wrapped in a blanket, quoting scripture and swearing like a lumberjack. Her white hairs ratted up like a wild womans.
Im Idas child. That makes her my maam, and my pap was Tate Harker. I wish he were here instead of buried by the outhouse.
Whoevers shooting the wolves is trespassing.
“Ill be out with the boy for a while,” I tell Ida.
Ive brought her a boiled egg, bread and butter, a wedge of apple wrapped in cloth, and a mug of hot tea. She follows me inside and sits on her cot. Idas face is yellowed from years of smoke, her lips gone thin, and her neck is like a turkeys wattle. Although theres a clean nightgown folded on a crate by her bed, she hasnt gotten out of this one for almost three weeks.
Pap once told me that when he first met Ida, she was pretty and full of fire. She rode her donkey all over creation, preaching streets of gold over the short road to hell. She still calls daily on the Lord to deliver her from drunkards and thieves and the likes of me. Last summer, she sent off for Bibles in seven languages, then never opened the boxes. Its dark in Idas shack, and thick with liniment and old age smells. Maybe its the sagging cartons, still unpacked, although my Saul moved her here a dozen years ago. Then he died, too.
“I cant eat apples with these false teeth,” she says.
“Willm saved it for you.”
“Pleases you, dont it, me stuck in this pigsty while you and the boy live like royalty.”
Royalty is a cold-water kitchen behind the grocery store. Willm sleeps in an alcove next to the woodstove. I take the bedroom. Here in the cabin, Ive tried to better Idas life, bring a table, hang a curtain, but she says no, shell be crossin soon.
“Ill be out with the boy for a while,” I repeat.
“Ill ask God to forgive your sins, Olivia.”
Idas not the only thing that sets my teeth on edge. I worry about the way folks come for groceries but have no money. Most of the time, they take what they need. Willm and I write everything down, and they pay as they can—sometimes in yams or yellow onions, a setting hen when the debt gets too high.
If Pap was here, hed tell me everything was going to be all right.
“Hurry up if youre going with me,” I tell Willm.
Damn fools errand. I put on my big wool cape and mittens. I have Sauls rifle.
Willm brings the toboggan from the barn. Hes wearing a pair of old boots and so many shirts that he looks like a pile of laundry. I can barely make out his dark grey eyes through the round holes in his wool cap. I know what hes thinking, just like Pap used to—some injured thing might need his care.
Ill be forty-two next year—too old and thick-legged to plow uphill through snow that makes my hips ache. I should be home in my kitchen, warming beans from last nights supper. Behind me, Willm pulls the toboggan by its rope. We havent gone far before my fingers are froze, my toes are numb, and I realize Ive misjudged the light. Where the snow lays smooth and clean, we stop to get our breath. Its darker up here among the alders and pine. I set the lantern on the toboggan, strike a match, and lay the flame to the wick.
Below, to the left, lights blink on in Aurora, and a car or two winks along in the slush.
“Another shot!” Willm says. “Gran?”
I hate it when he looks to me like that, like I can fix every damn thing in Pope County. “Willm, this winter theyll starve to death anyway.”
But I dont mean that, and he knows it. Shortly the hunters will go home to their dining rooms where theyll drink rye whiskey and eat hot suppers. Past the alder line, the last of the silver-faced wolves are curling up, hungry. Theyre the only wolves recorded in Kentucky, and tonight a few more are dead.
In a clearing, we come upon the two males. Willm stares at the round dark holes in their flanks. Their right ears are gone. A small gray female has crawled off under the brush, and she lies there, baring her teeth. Shes been shot, too, and her ear cut away. The blood has run from the wound, filling her eye and matting her fur. Theres no sign of the ears.
These arent just any wolves. The silver-faces have lived peaceably on Big Foley for sixty-five years. Then a week ago, a male was shot and his ear cut off. Willm and I found the wolf, and finished him off. Today, the hunter was back, and he brought others.
“Damn,” I say. “This ones had pups, winter pups.”
“Dont shoot her,” he says.
“Theres lead in her haunch, and shes near bled to death.”
“Well take her home.”
What Im really thinking is—I know who did this.
“Back off from her, boy.” I lay the gun to my shoulder. “Halfway down, wed have a dead wolf on our hands.”
Willm says, “But shes not dead yet.”
Confound this child. I ache with the cold. More snow is likely, and when it comes, itll cover our tracks and the sheer rock faces. It would be right to put a clean shot between her eyes. But also between her eyes is that fine silver stripe.
I wonder if Willms likening himself to the cubs. Times coming when Ill have to tell him about Pauline, although hes never asked. He hasnt yet learned that all Gods creatures got to fend for themselves, and the devil takes the hindmost.
“Well, give me your scarf, boy. Well muzzle her good and tie her on the toboggan.”
“I could sit with her,” he says, grinning.
“You could not. Youll walk behind and keep your eyes open. Now do as I say, or well leave her here.”
“And theres not Gods chance shes sleepin in the four-poster, or under it, either. And if theres no change by morning, Im putting her down.”
Its tricky without a rope. I pull, Willm steadies. More than once the wolf slides off, and we stop to rearrange, and trade places. God love me, every day I understand myself less. Im so tired that the wolf and the boy and Ida run together in my mind till I cant think whos who, or which needs me most.
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