A Sampling of Voices from Steal the North

From Chapter One: Emmy

Until the summer I was sixteen and my mom sent me away, I lived with her in a Sacramento apartment located above a shop that sold seaweed powders, mood mists, Buddha statues, even menstruation journals. According to Mom, the women who frequented the shop were either rich and bored or neurotic. I loved everything about the shop, from the chanting monk music to the smell of sandalwood, and I regularly spent my allowance on tarot cards, amulets, and wishing pots. Mom taught English at three different junior colleges, and because her hours were sporadic and the colleges far apart, I was often alone, though never overnight. We had no family in the Sacramento Valley, or anywhere in California. Our only relatives in the whole world, supposedly, were a few distant cousins up north in Washington, and Mom had left them in the dust when she boarded a southbound bus with me, a baby on her hip. Los Angeles was her original destination, but I kept throwing up, and Mom liked the sycamores trees that shaded the city streets in Sacramento.

As for my dad, I was told he died the day I was born.

Mom didn’t mean he literally died. I learned this the hard way after a fellow second grader teased that he too would’ve keeled over at the sight of my ugly face pushing out of my mom’s vagina. “I meant the most important part of your dad died the day you were born and he didn’t claim you,” Mom explained. “And you have a beautiful face.”

“So, he’s still alive?” I almost levitated.

She hesitated before replying, which was rare. “No, Emmy.” She said my dad, raised on a wheat farm in eastern Washington, was killed in a tractor accident. He’d always been reckless. “I’m sorry, honey.”

“Did you love him?”

“Too much.” I didn’t understand then how you can love someone too much. Now I recognize it’s the only way I know how to love.

After I finished crying, she made me swear I’d never again have a sad thought for that man. But it was my dad, I soon realized, she thought about when we drove mostly in somber silence around the rice fields north of Sacramento. It cheered Mom to drive east on weekends, through quaint foothill towns or even high into the Sierras, which seemed to me as a little girl the loneliest place, haunted by starving Donner Party ghosts. If Mom were to fall apart, I had no one, so I pretended to forget about my dad. Mom had left her past at the California border and never glanced back. I often consulted my tarot decks about her mysterious past and my future. Not even my favorite pack, Healing with the Fairies, warned me about the phone call that came near the end of my junior year.

 

From Chapter Two: Bethany

I used to park my car at the Greyhound station and wait for the buses. More people got on, I finally realized, than off. My sister wasn’t coming back, despite my prayers. Before Kate left, she’d let a truck driver at the highway café where she was working cut off her long hair, which I used to braid. She said he’d offered her “extra” for the souvenir. I understood what she meant, but after all these years I still can’t bear to think of it. In the direct sun, Kate’s brown hair glowed red underneath. My blond hair also catches the sun, Matt says. But he must see it doesn’t hold the rays as Kate’s did. Matt claims I’ve never gotten over the loss of my sister. He says it might’ve been easier on me if Kate had died like our mother because then I wouldn’t feel more betrayed every year that passes without her making contact. But Kate didn’t betray me. There’s more to her leaving than Matt knows. My husband always has an excuse for my behavior: to his parents, co-workers, the other deacons at church whose wives, especially recently, have complained that I take up too much of the new preacher’s time. Probably even in supplication does my husband offer up excuses for me.

 

From Chapter Three: Reuben

This is the second time I’ve seen the girl out watering her aunt’s garden by herself. She’s from California. My sister told me. She looks lost. Not confident. I assumed California girls were pretty sure of themselves. Pretty damn full of themselves, actually. But what do I know? Up north on the Colville Reservation, where I’ve lived on and off my whole life, most of the television screens are blurry. I dated a rodeo queen last summer with blonder hair and a better ass than this skinny California girl has. She’s not bad, though, and probably pretty up close. The aunt, now: she’s crazy. My sister disagrees—thinks the aunt is a healer, or could be. The lady wears a prairie dress and has hair longer than the oldest Indian. Her husband sometimes pauses a moment in his truck after work before getting out and going in to her. He’s a nice guy, always nods, waves, or whatever. We’ve shot the shit more than a couple times about fishing and elk hunting, and once, when I was working on my truck all goddamn afternoon, he came over and gave me a hand. He replaced a vacuum hose and got my truck running right in half an hour, which made me feel like a complete dumb-ass. The girl takes twice as long as her aunt to water the garden and shift the pots, which is perfectly fine with me. Next time she’s out by herself, I’ll go over and say hey. I’ve never been shy with girls, even white girls. Right now she sits on the garden bench and looks up at the sky, then over at the row of tall poplar trees that keep the trailer houses in this park from blowing away in the wind. When she looks over at me, I step back from the window. My sister has two sets of chimes hanging on the eaves outside the kitchen window and twice as many kids inside fighting over the remote control and the bag of Doritos I bought for them at the gas station. I hope the girl didn’t see me staring at her. She probably looked over because of the racket. I should’ve waved.

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