Forage

by Katherine L. Hester Issue: Spring 2016

Can the faith yanking the plane aloft hold it there once the pilot banks and turns across the harbor? The turbines change pitch, the plane climbs; Clare lets out her breath and looks at the bright smear of the Statue of Liberty receding below the scratched window. What else possesses the privilege of that oxidized green color? It’s recognizable anywhere. She closes her eyes against the sight of the sailboats plying the chop far below, white rents in the gray water.

The City, she calls it now. Like she knows it. Aping Serena, whose dorm room is across from her own, who considers herself city-born, City-bred. School, thirty minutes away from the City via Metro-North, is the country.

Serena takes her to Peppermint Lounge and CBGB’s and after-parties in Alphabet City. What Clare won’t admit: she can’t afford the train tickets, the cover charge, the watery mixed drinks.

Serena, who missed their past two Am Lit classes because of photo shoots for Elle in Tangiers and Paris. Did Clare mind loaning Serena her notes on Melville? On Hawthorne? On James? On Edith Wharton?

Of course not.

Although Clare suspects her accommodating spirit belongs to some new Clare, one cowed by Serena’s veneer of city. The old Clare probably would have told her to fuck off.

Earlier that morning, she stood on the M60 as it lurched across the bridge to LaGuardia, and it dawned on her — it takes an awful lot of work to get away from New York. It’s comforting to think of any trip she makes away from it in segments. The second a leg of her trip south is over, she can cross it off a mental list.

Long walk down the hill from the tree-dotted campus to the Metro-North platform, hoisting the beige graduation-gift suitcase that banged against her legs — check. On the train past stops whose names still summon up the terror she felt when she rode in the opposite direction for the first timeafraid she wouldn’t know her station. Through the concourse at Grand Central, clogged with Christmas shoppers. On the graffiti-scrawled subway. To the bus, so crowded she had to stand bracing her legs — also check. Still to get through: the flight itself, late, crowded. And then, all those joyful reunions blocking the gate at the other end in Atlanta.

Until finally, the last leg, provided that Davis Mack even shows up. The highway to — what to call it? It feels wrong, to call it home.

Davis Mack has the heater in the car turned up too high. Or maybe the dusk making starry halos of the sodium-arc lights in the parking deck in front of the terminal is warmer than the weather she left behind. She bumps an elbow against the dash as she wrestles off the wool coat she bought on the street in the City the weekend before. What street? She isn’t sure. She’d just followed Serena out of the Christopher Street station.

“My plane from the City was late,” she explains, folding the coat lengthwise and turning to drape it across the back seat.

“The City,” Davis Mack echoes. He peers in the rear view mirror as he pulls away from the curb. “Like it’s the only one.” Clare slides down in the passenger seat, unlacing and pulling off her salt-rimed boots with a jangle of chunky bracelets. “The City.” He savors the word for a second, then spits it out. “Getting too good for us, Clare?”

“Maybe,” she says. “Thanks a lot for getting off your ass and coming to the gate to meet me. I didn’t even know for sure you’d be out here.” The coat is peppered with tiny moth holes. It had been stupid not to spot them when she lagged behind Serena to look at the clothes the guy with dreadlocks had spread out on the sidewalk. Stupid, to spend twenty bucks of her textbook money on a coat full of holes.

“You’re welcome,” Davis Mack says.

She plants her stockinged feet on the dash and looks out at the interstate, worrying at the hole in one stocking with the big toe of her other foot, luxuriating in the air blowing from the dash vents. They could be anywhere — except she knows from the smell of the air and the actual lay of the land outside the window that they aren’t. Each flat green billboard catches at the headlights; each mile, ticked off, takes her closer. He exits the highway and turns onto the two-lane that snakes north. If campus is country, what on earth would Serena call this place?

Clare relaxes into the bucketed embrace of the seat of  the same car he used to escort her to Homecoming four years ago, when he was a high school senior and she was a sophomore, on a night not much different from this one. A couple of weeks after that, she’d stand to one side of his mother’s carport and watch him hoist its battery from beneath the hood and wipe the insides of the cable clamps with a ragged square of old t-shirt. Mothballing the Celica, his prize possession, two days before he left for boot camp. She’s amazed he still has it.

“I miss much?” she asks after she wakes up at the turn that leads into town. Although it’s hard to imagine anything he might tell her worth the effort that missing it would take.

“Naw.” He concentrates on the wheel. The headlights rake the familiar tally on the sign in front of the mill.

“314 days since our last workplace injury!” she reads aloud. She’s never seen a sadder sight than the blinking yellow light ahead of them on the street and the block-long glitter of the city-purchased Christmas decorations attached to the utility poles. Red-and-white striped crooks, tinseled blue bells. The plate-glass of the storefronts is dark underneath them. “Pizza place closed down,” she observes.

“Yeah.”

He’s already at her parents’ street. He pulls up to the curb out front and takes a breath. Her parents left the porch light burning for her. “So. Pick you up in the morning?”

His voice is formal. Reaching over, he covers her closest knee with one hand. Broken thumbnail, swollen knuckles. She can feel the calluses on the meat of his hand through her ribbed tights. The air hits her, familiar, as she lets the door swing open onto the smell of woodsmoke. But the house itself looks completely unfamiliar, like someplace she never laid eyes on before. “Sure,” she says.

A year ago, she would have slanted her leg away. But then a year ago he wouldn’t have picked her up in the first place.

Too thin, her mother pronounces when she wanders into the kitchen the next morning just as everyone else is finishing breakfast. Too pale. Clare busies herself with the battered silver bullet-casing of the percolator that stands on the counter, pours herself a cup. Leaves it undoctored, black, even though the cream in the cut-glass pitcher on the table swims yellow, deliciously, with fat. As she draws back a chair at the table, her father pushes his back.

Tommy looks up from his bowl of cereal. “Whose funeral you going to?”

Their mother turns from the sink, the homely white of her nurse’s uniform the negative image of the oversized black dress and tights Clare dressed herself in. “E.R.’s shorthanded again. You’re both on your own for supper.”

Life, Clare sees, has gone on the way it always has, without her. “That’s okay,” she says. “I’m hanging out with Davis Mack.”

Her mother sets her cup down on the drain-board. “He still around?”

“He left. But he’s back.”

Clare had laid eyes on him for the first time in three years at the end of the summer. He and a couple of his buddies had been hunkered down on their haunches above the sluice and cascade of the Falls. She and a carload of people she’d known in senior year had settled themselves on the flat rocks below them, putting the six-packs they’d packed in just below the slabs of rock where the white swirl of water eased off. She was headed back to school in three days. He was wearing cut-off, cast-off fatigues; the squint he leveled at the newcomers over the smoke of the cigarette he held pinched in one hand had made him look ridiculous, like some small-town Rambo.

Her mother eyes her. “Take a coat, at least.” She looks from Clare to Tommy. “And you. Don’t forget about that appointment.”

“What appointment?” Clare asks.

“With a recruiter.” Her mother shakes soap from her hands, her mouth a firm line. “Your father and I didn’t have a thing to do with it.”

“Army,” Tommy supplies.

Clare puts her elbows on the table and leans toward him. “Maybe it’s your funeral I’m dressed for,” she whispers. “You dumbass.”

His grin falters. “Everybody does it. Sets up a visit.”

She’d expected to feel a little pulse of pride that her gibe had hit home. But a lick of hair has fallen over his eyes, and he absently pushes it back. If he joins up, they’ll clipper away that beautiful wavy hair and send him home with a high-and-tight and the sort of tawny fatigues Davis Mack had to explain to her before he left —We’re in the desert now, Clare, what the fuck did you think? That we were still storming Normandy?

“Figures,” he says when she settles herself on the passenger seat. It’s hard to know if he means Tommy’s intention to join up or the fact that the recruiter’s vehicle in front of his is such a sad, battered K-Car.

She’d barely gotten a glimpse of clipboard on knees and dress uniform when she walked through the living room and headed out the front door. Tommy’s mumbled introduction hadn’t allowed her to catch the name of the uncomfortable recruiter. But the description she just gave Davis Mack is enough for him to be able to tell it was the same sergeant who signed him up.

“Didn’t you say the whole point was how you were going to get money for school?”

“Three whole years without having to fuck with any of that shit. You expect me to care now?” The way he bends his head to his cigarette, flicking the wheel of his lighter, makes her think she hit a sore spot.

“Yeah.” She leans back in the seat. “I do, actually.”

Up at school, she never feels like she knows exactly what’s what. But sitting here with Davis Mack, she understands things. She doesn’t even have to think about them. She can settle back into the give-and-take of their sparring as comfortably as she settled into wearing his blue corduroy F.F.A. jacket that fall before he joined up.

That jacket had smelled of weed and his mother’s place out in the country, and the musky residue of some cheap cologne he’d probably tried once, before he knew any better, the smell of it transformed by the heat of his skin into something all his own. It’s the smell, in fact, of his car all these years later, although how can that be?

“He’s an A1 Moron to let things go this far. After what just happened to those poor fucks in Beirut? Like he won’t get a scholarship somewhere.” His voice seems barbed with what lies — had always lain — between the two of them. The divide between country and town. Between her parents’ professions; and his mother, without one. “He ought to be able to get something.” He looks over. “Even if it’s not near what you got.”

There’s a proprietary pride in his voice she thinks ought to raise her hackles. She stares out the window, surprised to find that it doesn’t.

The two blocks of the town hardly look any more thriving in daylight. On one side, the same dance-slash-karate studio that replaced the jeweler’s a year or so back. On the other, the drug store that has smelled of burned coffee her whole life, with its three red stools and grease-slicked strip of lunch counter. Three days before Christmas there isn’t anybody to push in or out of the drug store’s double doors to buy any of the Prescriptions — Notions — Sundries advertised on the sign propped against the plate-glass.

Could I buy you a notion after school? Davis Mack had leaned back against the railing of the breezeway that connected the high school building to the gym and asked her that fall of his senior year, when she was a sophomore.

No thank you. She stopped to stare at him. She was bare-armed and goose-bumped, because that was the fall she refused to wear a coat over the dresses she’d found when she and her mother cleared out the old place. If you mean about the drug store, I’d prefer a sundry.

“What shift’re you working?” she asks. The straightaway of Broad Street recedes behind them. During the past summer, she’d realized people who worked at the mill always had to leave places early, before much started happening. Or else they showed up late, once everything had already wound down. Unless they worked the graveyard shift, unlucky scheduling that yanked them out of any social equation.

“None. I traded days off with a guy. Told him I’d work Christmas.”

The road curves back out onto four-lane. They pass the windowless jut of the high school, with its smoker’s no-man’s land of adjoining breezeway, the single place where a person on her way to Gym and a person whose next class was Shop might stand with their heads close together, the smoke from their cigarettes comingled.

She glances over, but he’s just studying the centered profile and headdress of the Cherokee mascot on the sign in front of the building. Last summer, the land on the far side of the high school had still been thick with trees. Now, a scraper wallows in the red slick of mud. A trailer presses against the slope of the hill at the back of the lot, Port-a-John beside it. A blocky sign has been set on the shoulder.

“What’s that going to be?” she asks. They’re already climbing away from it, up and out of the dip of the valley and along the narrow arm of the ridge. “Looks huge.”

“Wal-Mart. So we’ll have someplace to buy shit without driving all the way to Gainesville.”

The wintry morning light strobes through the close-set boles of the trees. “It’s not like I can kidnap him,” she says suddenly, thinking of Tommy, because if he doesn’t enlist, where else will he work? “If he wants to join up, nobody can stop him.”

“Who?”

“Tommy.”

“I could.” Davis Mack’s mouth twists, a half-smile. “The example of me. That could probably persuade him.”

“The example of you. That ought to persuade anybody. Where’re we headed?”

Who knows how Davis Mack even met the guy they’re going to see. Clare’s friendships were all formed in the crucible of study hall and Beta Club, chemistry born of proximity. Whatever she had in common with those people had already dissolved by the day she went out to the Falls with them and waded up to the hem of her dress in the icy water of Deep Hole, craning her neck to look up at Davis Mack. Who she hadn’t laid eyes on in years.

Where all’d you go? she shouted over the rush of the water.

Egypt. Germany, he shouted back. LebanonWhere’d you end up?

His assumption that the future she’d spun out for him when he took her to Homecoming had come true made her shield her eyes and crane her neck further back. He raised his cigarette to his lips and looked down at her, waiting.

New York. It was true, sort of.

He nodded, as if satisfied.

Six months since she saw him at the Falls, and he has picked right back up where he left off. He lives here in a way she doesn’t anymore. This gravel road is one she has never been on.

This high up, the hills tend to fight against the fields. Every odd-shaped little section of cultivated land they pass tells which side won. His friend Spencer, he says as she looks out the window, doesn’t own the place.

The farmer who does still comes out to work the parcels; he grows a little corn, keeps goats on the rest. All Spencer did was rent the house that comes into view as they round a curve. All Spencer has to do now is keep the farmer’s goats out of the barbed wire and telephone him whenever he can’t.

“I helped him rebuild the greenhouse behind the house.” Davis Mack eases the Celica behind a dirty pick-up parked on the shoulder. “But the property backs up on Forest Service land — that’s the main thing.” He gets out, slamming his door.

Clare looks at the slant of the rusty tin roof and the white paint that peels in strips from the siding. The house is the same sort of place that usually sits at the edge of somebody’s grandparents’ land, about to fall back into scrap, jammed, from the scarred pine floor to the 12-foot ceilings, with stored bales of hay: the old place. Whenever there is a newer one, it’s a ranch-style set a little farther back from the road or backed up to a cowpond. Propane tank tethered close; the well out front turned into a planter. They drove past half a dozen like that just on the way here.

The panes of glass in the front door have been replaced with plywood. Davis Mack gives the jamb a smart rap with his knuckles as she turns to look at the strip of field on the other side of the road.

Her grandfather would’ve itched to walk a field that freshly-plowed. He was always pulling his battered truck over to the shoulder of the highway. He always said disturbed dirt and steady rain turned up arrowheads like nobody’s business. The results of those stops, of his sharp eyes, still hangs on one wall of her parents’ garage, the points and potsherds he picked up over the years glued to backing and framed.

It was all in how you loosened your eyes, he told her one Saturday afternoon when she was around ten or eleven, after he’d already moved into town to live in their back bedroom, the brogans and overalls he dressed himself in every day an embarrassment to her and Tommy. He hadn’t said loosen but loose. That particular afternoon he was supposed to drive her to softball practice, but he had been unable to resist the pull of the cleared acre they passed on the way.

She looks at the turned clods littering the field. The morning, gone gray, rings with the sort of quiet that tends to mean snow. At the time she’d thought her grandfather said lose your eyes, like throwing something important away. But once she stooped for the pointed chip of rock that turned out to be her first arrowhead, she understood: it had more to do with bringing something you wanted real bad into focus. Your hope that you’d find treasure was the most beautiful thing about it.

At the sound of the front door opening, she turns around to find Davis Mack’s friend in the doorway, waving them into the house.


When a room doesn’t have much furniture in it, you can’t help but notice the flaws in its paint job. As Davis Mack’s friend Spencer ushers them into the front room, Clare notices: a little skull-and-cross bones has been Majik-Markered onto one wall just above the nest of blankets heaped on an unfolded futon. Beside it, a boxy turntable sits on the floor, black cord snaking to the wall plug.

Davis Mack’s friend is already pulling on the jacket grabbed from the front door knob. “Ready, man?” He picks up a split-oak basket and settles it in the crook of his arm. Somebody — girlfriend, Clare thinks — has appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, festooned with Christmas lights. She blinks.

“Steep some tea, ‘kay? We’ll have it as soon as we get back.” Spencer shuts the front door and leads the way around the side of the house, seemingly oblivious to the incongruity of the basket hooked over his arm. He is a little guy, neatly bearded. The hair at the crown of his head sticks up, like he and the girlfriend had just thrown back the quilts piled on the futon and started their day when Davis Mack knocked.

“Show Clare the greenhouse,” Davis Mack suggests.

Rocks have been sunk into the soft ground in front of them. Spencer jumps from flat slab to flat slab. His basket, the linen pants he wears, cinched with a drawstring, the canvas shoes he slipped onto his feet —all make it obvious. He isn’t from here. But surely not even somebody from somewhere else would be so dumb, to think you can grow pot in an actual greenhouse behind the house where you live.

When he yanks open the door, she sees she was wrong —what Davis Mack was calling a greenhouse actually spent most of its life as something else, more familiar. Inside the long, low building, it still smells of chicken. There is a sigh and suck overhead as the opaque plastic sheeting stapled there settles against the framing. Spencer kicks the door closed. There is no way to tell whether the original roofing blew away or rotted or was torn off. She takes an exploratory breath of the warmer air inside and tastes its loamy weight on her tongue.

“Shitakes,” Spencer says, waving toward the row of hay bales set two abreast. Mushrooms stair-step their sides, obscuring the straw.

“Forty bucks a pound to fancy-pants restaurants in Atlanta,” Davis Mack volunteers. “Spence and I drive down once a week. The chefs buy them out the back door.”

Spencer pads between the bales, reaching a hand out every so often. Clare watches him tweak off a meaty stalk and stash it in his basket.

“They just grow like that? On hay?”

If they do, then every single farmer around here is sitting on a goldmine. She thinks of the stuffed mushroom caps that graced the table at the reception at the Dean’s House when she first arrived up at school. The way a wheel of Brie had sat beside them, and she had looked around and wondered — were you supposed to eat the bloomy rind? Or just the oozing, creamy center?

“Inoculants. I inject them into the hay.” Spencer reaches out, snaps off another cap. “Ever had them?”

She shakes her head.

“Ann’ll sauté us up some, once we get back to the house.”

She turns to Davis Mack. “You ever had them?”

“Sure.” He is already opening the door and waving her through, like a doorman. “But this, it just pays the rent. You’ll see. The real stuff’s out in the woods.”

On their drive up, mist had collected in the low places on the road, the dips in the fields. As Spencer leads them into the trees behind the house, that same mist gains substance, becomes rain, until it’s hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. Over their heads, the leaves drip.

The thick brush ahead and the open land behind them signal the difference between private and public land. Spencer plunges past the shield-shaped metal Forest Services sign. The trail shoulders its way farther into the trees.

Ahead, Davis Mack’s stride lengthens, as if he has found his rhythm. Is it pride or utility that keeps him wearing those old fatigues? Somewhere else, their white blotches might conceal the person who wore them, but all they do here is draw the eye, the same way a whitetail deer would.

“Poaching.” Her voice is louder than she means for it to be. “It figures.”

He looks back. “Goody two-shoes.” His voice is mild. “Spence doesn’t even eat meat.” His hands dangle at his sides. “Besides, you been gone so long you forgot how it works? You’ve got to have a gun to shoot deer.”

“Snow coming,” Spence interrupts. He tilts his face toward the treetops. “Can’t you smell it?” The hint of the snow handles the air. “Hard enough freeze tonight and it’ll all turn to soup.” He points the glint of a pocketknife toward a pretty red and white cap in the litter of leaf mold. “Look. Amanita muscaria. That’ll be black come morning.”

“Poison,” she says.

“They’ll fuck you up,” he agrees. “I wouldn’t touch them. But there might still be a few left.”

“A few what?”

“Chanterelles.”

Davis Mack steps off the trail. He rakes a foot through the fallen leaves. “They taste like lobster.” He gives Clare a deadpan look. “Maybe chicken?”

“Lobster? When’ve you ever had that?”

“Even Fort Bragg, North Carolina’s got a Red Lobster.”

“Taste like mushrooms,” Spencer says over them. “Just look for the yellow in the leaves as we’re walking.”

Without leaves on the trees, the landscape up here is gentle on the eye. The ridge has a worked look, like old leather hide, tanned. Davis Mack has started whistling. She feels a sudden easing in her chest, of a constriction she hadn’t known existed.

“Chanterelles aren’t hard to spot. Not like morels.” He stops to wait for her. “Morels, they’re the same color as the leaves. You got to let your eyes go soft, to bring them into focus. Find a shape that doesn’t seem like it belongs there, poking up out of the leaves. To find chanterelles, all you got to do is look for color where it’s usually not.”

“Like here,” Spencer says. He steps off the trail. By the time they catch up, he is squatting in his pajama-like pants.

“You could spend a whole day out here morel hunting.” Davis Mack watches Spencer snap off a group of stalks with his hands. “‘Course, that’s in early spring. You won’t be here then.”

“Beautiful,” Spencer breathes, rocking back on his haunches. He lays the mushrooms in the basket.

The snow lets loose as they head back down the trail with the full basket; big, wet, feathery clumps, as if the weather held off as long as it possibly could. Davis Mack stops and looks up at the sky again. “Smell it,” he urges. Clare slides and catches herself. “You cold?”

“No.”

He grins. The white stuff keeps coming down.

It has to be late afternoon by now, she gauges as she catches a glimpse of the house’s siding. Spencer stops at the steps to scrape mud from his shoes.

“You-all coming in?” he asks.

It’s more statement than question.

“Course,” Davis Mack answers as Spencer pushes open the front door onto a musty smell Clare hadn’t noticed earlier. A glow reddens the wood stove in the corner. The barefoot, sleepy-seeming girlfriend walks into the living room, a steaming pottery bowl in each hand.

“Putting that together was like working a jigsaw,” she says, seeing Clare’s look at the wood stove. “It was lying in pieces on the floor of the chicken house when we got here. Took us two months to fit it all back together. Can you believe it? That it was still there? That we found it?”

Something — the snow, maybe — makes her voluble. The woodstove would be a safety hazard if the gaps between the wide-paned front windows and the sills didn’t let in so much cold air. Her name is Ann. She was a Botany major at UGA until Spencer convinced her to move up here.

“Fifty dollars a month rent. Can’t beat that. Didn’t think you’d be gone so long,” she adds, to Spencer. “I had to heat the tea back up.” She hands one bowl to Davis Mack, the other to Clare. “It’s strong.” She takes the basket from Spencer. “I went ahead and had some. Your cup’s in the kitchen.”

Clare’s bowl is hot to the touch, but there is no place to set it down other than the floor. She passes it from hand to hand and back again. The steam that rises from it reminds her of the smell of old hay, rained on.

“Damn,” Davis Mack says, shifting his own bowl from one hand to the other. “That’s hot.”

They’re using bowls for cups, Ann says as he and Clare follow her into the kitchen, because they don’t have any mugs. She sorts through the mushrooms as Spencer lays them one by one on the counter. There’s a clay bank, though, at the edge of the property. She made the bowls herself. “And then Spencer used Davis’s library card to check out an old Foxfire book. It had instructions for a groundhog kiln. Davis came out and built it.”

Clare looks over. “You have a library card?”

Davis Mack leans against the counter and takes a sip. “Hot,” he says again to no one in particular, shaking his fingers.

“The handles break off the mugs before I even get them into the kiln,” Ann says. “I got to work on that.”

Clare fingers the bumps on the side of her bowl. “Davis Mack made you a kiln?” The Davis Mack who took her to Homecoming didn’t read. He would’ve smashed a kiln — not built one. And how many afternoons must he have spent out here to earn the intimacy of that shortened name? “What’s going to happen to me if I drink this?”

“Not much. They’re not, like, magic mushrooms.” Spencer pulls another from the basket and studies the paperback on the counter. “Where’s the black paper, Ann? I’ll need to make a spore print of this one.”

Ann whisks a piece of paper onto the counter. “It mellows you out,” she says, turning to the stove. “Makes things cozy.”

“Y’all should just stay here tonight,” Spencer says, looking up. “Road’s going to ice up. We got plenty of blankets.”

Davis Mack looks at Clare over the rim of his bowl.

At Homecoming, he held his hands against her back as the two of them slow-danced. His breath rich with the smell of Jim Beam, his lips close to her ear. He had a cousin, he started telling her, over in Union County, who’d pried up the sash of a back window in some old house and burrowed his way through the stored hay bales to the bedroom and hung up his harvest to dry in the closet. He grew his crop on Forest Service land, and there was nothing anywhere with his name on it: a perfect set-up.

And you know what? Davis Mack had whispered in her ear. There was a suit of clothes still hung up in the closet when he opened the door. Still waiting. That’s the main thing.

Clare had felt the pressure of his hands against her back and pictured wool so old the black had gone rusty, the same sort of suit her grandfather had been laid out in when he was buried the summer before. She knew Davis Mack wanted her to say liar. Knew he wanted them to have to leave the gym so he could show her the place and prove her wrong. Was there even an old house filled with hay two counties over? She’d slipped out of the circle of his arms to powder her nose in the Girl’s Room. By the time she came back in the gym, he’d gone. With some skanky girl happy to ditch the date she’d come with to go see an old house filled up with hay bales.

Ann tosses mushrooms into the skillet. “Stay,” she agrees. The butter hisses. Davis Mack rummages in a drawer and pulls out one pair of chopsticks and then another. He lines them up on the counter as Ann shakes the contents of the skillet onto a plate.

That day back in the summer, before Clare went back to school, she had stood at the bottom of the cascade of water out at the Falls and looked up. She was the one who made up her mind to scramble hand-over-hand up the slippery rocks. If you slip, Davis Mack called down as she put her hand on the first protruding rock, it’s your own fault.

All the same, he had extended the hand that helped her up. “Here,” he says now, fishing around on the plate with a pair of the chopsticks. He retrieves a mushroom “First bite.”

All he did once she lowered herself to the rock beside him was look out at the churn of the water and the rhododendron that slanted up the slope that so little light managed to slant down and say, I been worse places.

The sun has set since they walked into the kitchen. The sky Clare can see through the window is light with snow, except low over the horizon, where the lumbering stretch of the Forest Service land blots it out.

She has never seen anything so beautiful in her life. The square of rippled glass reflects back the dirty kitchen. She opens her mouth. The earthiness Davis Mack lays on her tongue is foreign, familiar; it lies under everything. Some people waste lifetimes figuring that out.

 



Katherine L. Hester

Eggs for Young AmericaKatherine L. Hester’s collection of short stories, was awarded the inaugural Bakeless Prize by Francine Prose and named a New York Times Notable Book. Her fiction also has appeared in Prize Stories: The O. Henry AwardsBest American Mystery Stories, American Short Fiction, The Yale Review, Crazy Horse and elsewhere. She has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Hambidge Center, and Bread Loaf, and Writer in Residence at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina.  She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two daughters.