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Another Governess / The Least Blacksmith

A Diptych

Joanna Ruocco, Ben Marcus

Publication Year: 2012

Stark and vibrant, the two halves of this sutured book expose the Frankenstein-like scars of the assemblage we call “human.”
 
In “Another Governess” a woman in a decaying manor tries to piece together her own story. In “The Least Blacksmith” a man cannot help but fail his older brother as they struggle to run their father’s forge. 
 
Each of the stories stands alone, sharing neither characters nor settings. But together, they ask the same question: What are the wages of being? The relentless darkness of these tales is punctured by hope—the violent hope of the speaking subject.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Cover Page

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p. 1-1

Title Page

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword

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pp. ix-x

What marks this severe book is an astounding level of discipline in the prose. Joanna Ruocco, a writer of stark effects, seems to have squeezed her sentences so tightly they are sheer muscle. Just read a few. They are simple, strict, rarely veering from the basic structure you might encounter in a children’s book. ...

Another Governess

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Chapter 1

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pp. 3-4

My hair is altogether changed. My face is altogether changed. I am very slim. The dress hangs on me. It slides from my shoulder and the cloth is newly stained. A button dangles. I must repair the button. There is a needle in the nursery. Somewhere there is a needle. I will use it to repair the button. ..

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Chapter 2

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pp. 5-6

I walk in a small circle on the carpet. Fluids have marked the carpet. I walk in small circles. There is a table in the nursery. There are two chairs. There is a rocking horse. The paint has chipped from the legs of the rocking horse and the tail is ragged, falling short of the fetlocks. ...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 7-8

Open your books, I say. The children certainly have books. The nursery is flled with books. I see books on the desks by bottles of black fluid and I see books on the carpet. The crib is filled with books. There are no books on the table. On the table, there are cakes. The children wait by the cakes, on their knees by the cakes. ...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 9-10

The baker had a daughter. The baker’s daughter worked in the bakery. She cut the gray cakes of yeast. She mixed yeast and water for the baker. Her fingers were wrinkled with moisture and they gave off a sour odor. The nails had come loose in the nail beds. The skin that seals the nails in the nail beds was too soft to hold the nails in place. ...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 11-12

The children eat and eat. The children cannot stop eating. They cannot stop while there are cakes on the tray. Even as they chew their cakes they shove more cakes into their mouths. Spot gags. He keeps chewing. He gags. Spit, I say to Spot. I put my hand below his mouth. Spit, I say. I put my fingers on his lips. ...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 13-14

There is a tray of cakes on the table. There is a pitcher of milk. Spot drinks from the pitcher. He coughs into the pitcher. Milk runs down Spot’s chin as he puts the pitcher on the table. He lets the milk drip. He reaches for a cake. I should stop him. The cakes will sicken the children. The cook used bad flour. ...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 15-16

It is a grand house. There are many rooms, closed rooms, locked rooms. The nursery is a closed room. It is a locked room. There is a key to the nursery. She had a key. She must have had a key. She locked the children in the room. Otherwise the children would crawl down the halls. ...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 17-19

My shoes are very large. They gape around my ankles. The soles are rimmed with offal. I have tracked the offal on the carpet in the nursery. The children have noticed the offal, the smell of the offal. They have felt the thicker offal where it smears into the slickness of the fluids. ...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 20-21

There is dust in the air. There are nits in the air. There is dirt on the windows. The light is dim. It is dirty, dim light. The children think my hair is pale, long and pale, darkened by the dirty, dim light. They think my face is just a sliver in the light. I crowd the children from the table. I eat cake after cake. ...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 22-33

Spot is grown. He is a man. The Master must be an old man, a very old man. I did not realize the Master was such an old man. The Master walks with a stick. He beats the floor with the stick. He beats the walls with the stick. We hear his cries and the blows of the stick. We hear the Master on the stairs. ...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 23-25

The brickmaker had a daughter. She lived by the beck, hard by the beck. She lived alone by the beck. The brickmaker worked in the brickfield and his daughter lived by the beck. The brickmaker made bricks with refuse and clay. He mixed one part refuse to five parts clay. The beck had a stone bed and between the stones, clay. ...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 26-27

I dip the hem of my dress in the pitcher of milk. I clean the skin on my face. I pick between my teeth. I pick beneath my nails. I am pretty and clean. I squeeze gray milk from the hem of my dress. I straighten my dress. I am pretty and clean for the lesson. Spot notices that I am clean. He stands on his feet, his big feet. ...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 28-29

On the desks, the books are black. The spines are black. The covers are black. I open the books. Inside, I see black. The children have ripped the pages from the books. I lift a book by its spine. The covers tap together. I make the edges of the covers tap together. The book has black jaws. I laugh. ...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 30-31

There are two chairs in the nursery. The children sit on the chairs. I sit on the rocking horse. The rocking horse creaks. I am very slim, but it creaks. Dust falls from the withers. Nits rise from the withers. I sit astride the rocking horse. The saddle is hard. I tighten my legs. The saddle rubs. It hurts. ...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 32-33

The children eat and mess. The dogs eat and mess. The Master eats. He messes. There are pails for the Master’s messes all through the house. Only the rocking horse does not mess. The food stays in the mouth and nostrils of the rocking horse. It greens. It hatches nits. In the kitchen, the cook takes meat from the hooks. ...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 34-36

Where is your globe? says Spot. Yes, says Tamworth. Her jaws move slowly. A cake rests in her mouth. She lets her jaws hang. Spot’s face is moist. Spot stands. He is very large. His legs quiver. The fabric of his trousers is too thin. I see the shapes beneath the fabric and the stains on the surface of the fabric. ...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 37-38

To be the Master you must have dogs. You must be surrounded by dogs. Dogs follow the Master. They run ahead of the Master. They feed from his hand. The Master beats his dogs with a stick. They limp. Their legs are straight and stiff. They leak fluid behind. From their jaws, they leak offal. ...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 39-41

The butcher had a daughter. The butcher worked in the back of the shop and the butcher’s daughter worked in the front of the shop. When people passed the shop, it was the butcher’s daughter they saw through the window. Everywhere the butcher’s daughter went the townspeople recognized her ...

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Chapter 19

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pp. 42-44

I gather the crumpled pages from the corner. I put them in the fireplace. The map is stuck to the wall where the food has wetted it. I scrape the map. I peel the map from the wall and put it in the fireplace. There is nothing to make the papers in the fireplace burn. There is no flint and steel. There is no phosphor. ...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 45-46

Get up, I say. Get up. Open your books. We will study rocks. The children do not move. I move. I pace. The children do not move. I rub my wrists together. I rub my wrists on the back of my neck. The nursery is damp. The walls are made of stone. The stone drips. Along the tops of the walls, women’s faces. ...

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Chapter 21

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pp. 47-49

The lesson is spoiled. I say, the lesson is spoiled. There will be no more lesson. We will sit on the carpet. Don’t move, I say. Don’t move. You are a rock. We are rocks in the nursery. We are clods of dirt in the nursery. This is the new lesson, I say. We are very still. We are quiet and still. Yes, says Tamworth. ...

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Chapter 22

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pp. 50-51

The vicar had a daughter. The vicar’s daughter sang behind a hedge. The vicar’s daughter sang like a linnet. She took a large book behind the hedge. She took a cup of overdrawn tea. Hours are always passing. The books are bound in buckram. The little book is mensuration. The large book, voyages and lives. ...

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Chapter 23

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pp. 52-54

Tamworth wiggles in her chair. She makes fists of her fat little hands. Ragbaby, says Tamworth. It wants ragbaby. She puts the fists to her ears. The squealing noise does not stop. Tamworth wiggles. The reddish lids twitch against the bulge of her eyes. Tamworth is grown. She makes a smell that comes from her lap in the chair. ...

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Chapter 24

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pp. 55-56

I walk to the crib and touch the iron rails with my fingers. I look down at the crib, at the rags in the crib. The rags are piled very high. The squealing is very loud. I put my hand in the crib. I apply pressure to the rags. The rags compress. The rags compress. They are cold and damp. Nothing moves in the rags. ...

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Chapter 25

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pp. 57-59

The tray is empty. The pitcher is empty. Flakes fall from the corners of Spot’s mouth. White flakes fall. Tamworth rubs deposits from her teeth with the hem of her dress. The deposits are white. That is where the milk has gone. It has dried on Tamworth’s teeth. It has dried in the corners of Spot’s mouth. ...

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Chapter 26

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pp. 60-61

The woodcutter had a daughter. The woodcutter’s daughter was big like the woodcutter. Her arms were big. Her legs were big. Everyone said what a big girl the woodcutter’s daughter, a very big girl. If only the woodcutter’s daughter were a son, the son would go into the forest with his father. ...

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Chapter 27

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pp. 62-63

The orchard is altogether changed. Where are the apples, the soft, rotten apples? The orchard is not brown. It is hard and gray. The walls are hard and gray. They drip. They are stone. The trees are stone. The trees have grown together. The faces in the knots of the trees are gray. Every face has an open mouth. ...

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Chapter 28

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pp. 64-65

You can see into the orchard from the tower. You can see into the orchard from the forest. On one side of the orchard, tower. On the other side, forest. I saw through the bushes in the forest, lights in the tower, shapes in the orchard. The house lit the orchard. It made shadows in the orchard. ...

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Chapter 29

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pp. 66-68

Put fat on the opening. Rub the fat with your hand. Rub the fat hard with your hand, with the palm of your hand. Slip inside. Slip the boot hook inside. Pull from inside the opening. That is how things are born, even in a grand house. With fat and an opening. With a hand or a hook. The children listen. ...

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Chapter 30

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pp. 69-71

The nursery door is open. It is a wooden door, a small wooden door; a child could push open the door. Where are the children? It is a dark time of day. Not night. No, it is a dark time of year. It is a dark season. The walls are very gray. The carpet is wet. The chairs are empty. Where are the children? ...

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Chapter 31

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pp. 72-73

The farmer had two daughters, each daughter like the other. They rode on dainty ponies, each pony like the other. Sometimes they walked. Arm in arm, they walked from the farmhouse to the fields. They sat on a low stone wall. They clapped hands. They walked into the forest. They found the hovel of the half-wit. ...

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Chapter 32

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pp. 74-85

The knob had a daughter. She was a fluid. No, she was a worm. She was not a worm. She was a thread. She was a hair. The dog had a hair. The pig had a hair. The milk had a hair. Look in the milk. There is a hair. It is thicker at the root. It is long and thin. It is sticky at the root. It smells. The dung had a daughter. ...

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Chapter 33

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pp. 75-76

The nursery is changed. The sounds have changed. It is not squealing. It is not banging. It is dripping. The nursery drips. The chimney drips. On the roof of a grand house, chimneys, a forest of chimneys, thin chimneys, black chimneys. The Master walks in the forest of chimneys. The forest is not safe. ...

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Chapter 34

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pp. 77-78

The nursery is filled with books. There are books on the carpet. There are books on the chairs. The crib is filled with books. The covers of the books are black. Each page is a cat, the skin of a cat. The children flip the cats. They rub the cats. They scrape the cats with their nails. The children are vastly changed. ...

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Chapter 35

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pp. 79-80

After the lesson, we will go to the forest. We will take the globe to the forest. We will take the books to the forest. We will ride the rocking horse all through the forest. We will push the horse with our legs. How many legs? I say. Six legs, says Spot. Six legs, says Tamworth. We have six legs. A fly, I say. We are a fly. ...

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Chapter 36

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pp. 81-82

I look at the crib. I look at the window. I look along the top of the wall. I look at the faces, gray faces, gray masks of women’s faces. Every mouth is open. The Master watches. He watches through the mouths in the masonry. I throw the tray at the wall. I throw the pitcher at the wall. I hit the wall with the chair. ...

The Least Blacksmith

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Chapter 1

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pp. 85-88

My brother the blacksmith must hire a striker. My brother is a young man. Some day he may have a son. It is best for a blacksmith to have a son for a striker. When the blacksmith retires, the striker takes over the forge. The striker carries on the good name of the forge. ...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 89-91

The forge is on the hill. It has the highest elevation of any business in the town. Our house is behind the forge. Our house is smaller than the forge. There are two windows in the front of the house. You cannot see the bay from the windows. The windows look onto the back of the forge. ...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 92-95

In the morning my brother wakes me. I follow him from the house to the forge. I face my brother across the anvil. I did not expect to be my brother’s striker. When my brother taps with his hammer, I have to remind myself that I am his striker before I strike with the sledge. My brother is unhappy. ...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 96-99

Now that I am my brother’s striker, there is no helper to pump the bellows and sweep the floors. There is no helper to go into town for the meat and the bread. My brother says he will hire a helper. Until my brother hires a helper, I must perform the old tasks. I am glad I must perform the old tasks. ...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 100-103

After I buy the meat and the bread I think about where to go. I have been gone from the forge for much of the day. It should not have taken so long to buy the meat and the bread. I am very slow. I am developing too slowly. Our father did not take an interest in me. He could tell that I would be slow. ...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 104-106

I retrace my steps to the bakery but I make a mistake. I do not remember this intersection. I choose a street. The streets by the wharves are narrow and winding. I end up back by the bay. Now I am farther from the forge than I was when I followed the doctor to his office. I pass the muddy stretch on the edge of the bay. ...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 107-109

My brother is too hungry to ask questions about what I did all day in town. He eats standing up at the anvil. I eat standing at the double doors. I have no difficulty emptying my dish, even though I ate the loaf of bread earlier in the afternoon. I must be growing. I look out at the bay. The sun is low over the bay. ...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 110-112

A storm must have blown in from the ocean after dark. The sky is dense and black. In the flashes of lightning, the dark skin beneath my brother’s eyes looks burned. His lips look burned. He banks the fire for the night. In the house, he eats cold meat from the pan. I open the newspaper. I find the obituary for our father. ..

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Chapter 9

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pp. 113-114

My brother does not know why there are no customers. He dresses three axes. He forges hoe after hoe. He paces to the double doors of the forge. It is a clear day. On clear days, you can see the peninsula across the bay, the faint gray outline of the mountains. My brother calls to me. He can see the peninsula. ...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 115-117

My brother closes the double doors of the forge. I look at the iron door pulls. They are the same as the monk’s talisman. That is why the monk’s talisman looked familiar. I feel close to the monks now that I know their talismans are modeled on the pulls of the double doors. ...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 118-121

Today is the first of the month. If our father were alive he would go to deposit the heavy bag of money in the bank. My brother gave the heavy bag of money to the doctor. My brother has nothing to deposit in the bank. For as long as my brother can remember our father deposited money in the bank on the first of the month. ...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 122-124

My brother has used up our father’s bar iron and rods. My brother’s metalwork is stacked against the inside walls of the forge. It is very impressive. I wish customers would come to the forge to praise my brother and buy high-quality tools for their homes and businesses. Now my brother has only scrap metal to work with. ...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 125-127

My brother eats looking over our father’s ledgers. He does not notice that I have not emptied my dish. I try to empty my dish but my throat has narrowed. Even the smallest bites of meat lodge in my throat. I leave the table and sit on my bed with my dish. I push the meat off my dish onto the floor. ...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 128-132

In case customers come while my brother is down at the bank, I stay at the forge. I do not mind. It is a good opportunity to repair the champion’s knife. Often at night my brother leaves the fire alive in the hearth, banked under ashes. This morning the fire is out. I shovel coal on the old fire, two shovelfuls of the good wet coal my brother uses so sparingly. ...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 133-135

When my brother returns from town, he does not have the meat or the bread for dinner. I am lying on the grass outside of the forge. I prop myself up on my elbow when I hear my brother call. He calls to me. I see my brother’s empty hands, dirty and big, hanging by his sides. I do not call back to my brother. ...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 136-137

I wonder if my brother has no hope. Sitting beside me on the hill with his hands by his sides, he looks as though he has no hope. The man who sold our father’s father the forge had no hope after he lost his family to a common disease. Our father’s father bought the forge. Our father’s father had hope. ...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 138-142

When I go into the forge in the morning, my brother is holding the champion’s knife. He is looking at the champion’s knife. I make a noise and he notices that I am standing in the double doors. My brother smiles. He asks me if I want to play mumblety-peg. My brother has never asked me to play mumblety-peg. ...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 143-146

In town, there is a lawyer who can draw up contracts. His office is next to the bank. Before my brother leaves to see the lawyer, he eats the last of the onions fried in butter. It is a bad breakfast, onions fried in butter. I use a lot of butter because the onion is small. My brother’s lips are covered with grease, and his fingers. ...

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Chapter 19

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pp. 147-149

In the morning, I cannot remember how I got to my bed. The house smells good, like toasted bread. My brother is frying bread in butter in the pan. I eat the hot bread ravenously. Every muscle in my body aches. The calluses on my hands are cracked and they sting when I move my fingers. ...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 150-152

I think that it is morning when I hear my brother coming toward me. He is ready to begin work in the forge. I open my eyes and it is very dark. I smell the salty thickness of the fog, the fog that hides the moon and the stars. It is not morning. My back is stiff and wet. There is moisture on my face, moisture from the air. ...


E-ISBN-13: 9781573668293
E-ISBN-10: 157366829X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781573661652
Print-ISBN-10: 1573661651

Page Count: 162
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1st ed.

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