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MOON OVER MOUNTAIN/A/z'sa Slaughter I. Red Cedar, Alfalfa Hay The blanket Ina lay on was wool, a scratchy, yellow-gold cloth like her coat. Rich women wore fur coats, she knew. She didn't know what rich people's blankets were made of. Ina took a few minutes a day to stretch out and rest. Dinner would be easy, canned salmon and soupy potatoes, rough mashed with extra water, a family favorite. There was no need to get up just yet. Outside, her youngest children had spent the afternoon throwing rocks at a telephone pole and drawing in the dirt by the back door, staying closer than usual, watching the road. Eddie's voice came through the window, clear and deliberate. He was explaining to his sisters how their niece's funeral would go. "They gonta put Dar in a box, big as a cow trough." "It gots a lid, though," Myrtle answered placidly. "Lids can't keep out worms, stupid." "Buster said nothin's gonta eat her 'cause she's pickled." Myrtle's voice was assured, the only sound at that moment in the afternoon circle of green all around and dust bouncing in the angled light. Night was far off; when it came, it would pull in darkness like a cover against a chill. It seemed full day, but it was later than that, Ina thought. "Buster's stupider'n you are." Eddie didn't sound as sure of himself as usual. "Mitch and Lydia just fed her clear whiskey, she ain't pickled." The talking stopped, and the only sound was a rhythmic banging as the children kicked a tin can against the side of the house, then nothing but bootsteps. David Alva, Ina's oldest boy, stood on the porch, talking to his father behind him, his voice grieved and tight. Ina eased herself off the bed and hobbled into the kitchen, stiff from her rest. She threw a knob of bacon grease into a skillet, dropping two lit matches into the kerosene stove before managing to get a burner alight. It was good to have the smell of cooking in the house when men came in. "There's money in strawberries," David Alva was saying. "Once it's cleared off and we burn the slash, we could plant early spring, get a little crop at least. Fast." "North slope won't grow nothin'." Royal had said the same thing many times. "We'll be lucky to get back what we coulda kept off the The Missouri Review · 11 timber. You're just lookin' for a way to throw my money away." The boy was bigger than his father, but Royal was still the father, and David Alva was the son, so there would be no strawberries on the five acres now chopped bare and throwing up golden dust in the long July evening. From the window all Ina could see was skidded dirt and pale yellow stumps lighted to brilliance from the west, but she could smell, too—the resins of Douglas fir and red cedar hardening in the sun. At nightfall, mown hay from distant farms, warm leather, axle grease, smells that waited all day in the heat, ripened and found a waiting window. "That ground has too steep a pitch to fuss with," Royal said. "It'll wash, first rain." "Not if we plant it," David Alva said. "Tm keeping my hands out of the dirt," Royal said. There was hate in his voice. He made no secret of it: he hated the hunched, wet cold of January, chaff-inflamed cuts, the sudden bloody slip of a steel blade on a stone sharpening wheel, the thump of the nozzle end of a milk hose against his ribs. His own father had stayed behind to die of a perforated lung in Chadron, Nebraska, but wherever the soil steamed black, or cattle ranged thin grass, the old man followed Royal Keane. It grated on Royal that his own son had fallen so far from the tree, a boy who could do anything with a motor. There was no accounting for it: bred to hate farming, David Alva liked to watch the same...


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