C Pam Zhang | The Missouri Review | Spring 2017 | 17 minutes (4,793 words)

This short story first appeared in The Missouri Review, the quarterly print journal produced at the University of Missouri since 1978. In a frontier Western mining town, the children of two Chinese miners struggle to survive on their own. It’s the first chapter of an in-progress novel. Our thanks to C Pam Zhang and the TMR staff for allowing us to reprint it at Longreads.

* * *

Ba dies in the night, prompting them to seek two silver dollars.

Sam’s tapping an angry beat come morning but Lucy, before they leave, feels a need to speak. Silence weighs hard on her, pushes till she gives way. Leaking apologies or Ha ha has.

“Sorry,” she says now to Ba in his bed. The sheet that tucks him is the only clean stretch in this dim and crusty room, every surface sticky with tobacco spit. Ba didn’t heed the mess while living and in death his mean squint goes right past it. Past Lucy. Straight to Sam. Sam the favorite, round bundle of impatience tapping at the door in too-big boots. Sam clung to Ba’s every word and now won’t even meet the man’s gaze. That’s when it hits Lucy: Ba really is gone.

She digs a toe into the dirt floor, rooting for better words. Words to make them listen. To spread benediction over years’ worth of hurt. Dust hangs ghostly in the air, no wind to stir it.

Something prods her spine.

“Pow,” Sam says. Ten to Lucy’s twelve, wood to her water as Ma liked to say, Sam is nonetheless shorter by a full foot. Looks young, deceptively soft. “Too slow. You’re dead.” Sam cocks fingers back from pudgy fists and blows on the muzzle of an imaginary gun. The way Ba used to. Proper way to do things, Ba said, and when Lucy said Teacher Lee said these new guns didn’t clog and didn’t need blowing, Ba judged the proper way was to slap her. Stars burst behind her eyes, a flint of pain sharp in her nose.

Lucy’s nose never did grow back straight. She thumbs it, thinking. Proper way, Ba said, was to let it heal itself. When he looked at Lucy’s face after the bloom of bruise faded, he nodded right quick. Like he planned it all along. Proper that you should have something to rememory you for sassing.

There’s dirt on Sam’s face, sure, and gunpowder rubbed on to look (Sam thinks) like Injun warpaint, but beneath it all, Sam’s face is unblemished.

Just this once, because Ba’s big muck-shovel hands are helpless and stiff under the blanket—and maybe she is good, is smart, thinks in some part of her that riling Ba might make him stand and swing at her jaw—Lucy does what she never does. She cocks her hands, points her fingers. Prods Sam in the chin, at the join where Injun paint gives way to baby fat.

“Pow yourself,” Lucy says. She pushes Sam like an outlaw into the street.

* * *

Noon sun sucks them dry. Street stretched shimmering and dusty as snakeskin. End of the dry season, rain a distant memory. They keep quiet, saving spit. The clapboard buildings loom gray now that heat’s flaked the paint away. People lounge in shadow like dragon lizards. Like lizards, only their eyes move.

Old Jim sits in the general store, scritching in his ledger. It’s wide as him and twice as heavy. They say Jim’s got every birth and fight, every stolen horse or heart in the territory written down.

“Excuse us, sorry,” Lucy murmurs, weaving through the older kids who loiter near the candy. Kids who skip school, whose eyes are perpetually wobbling, looking for a solution to their boredom. “Pardon me.” She bobs her head, shrinks herself small. The kids part lazily, arms knocking at Lucy’s shoulders. They swivel to watch her pass.

Jim’s still looking down.

“Excuse me, sir?”

A half-dozen eyes prick Lucy’s back, but Jim doesn’t look. She bites her lip. Knowing the idea’s a bad one but not knowing any better, Lucy edges her hand over the counter to flag Jim’s attention.

When Jim’s eyes snap up they’re bloody red. Devil’s eyes, some call them. Some call the lines that web Jim’s eyes spells, say Jim has arcane ways of seeing, the better to fill his book. The real question, Lucy knows, is this: if Jims sees all, why doesn’t he pay her any mind?

Off,” he commands. His voice flicks, steel wire. His hands go on writing. “Washed that counter this morning.”

Behind Lucy the kids break into jagged laughter. That doesn’t bother Lucy, who after life lived in towns like this has no more tender parts to tear. What turns her stomach into a cold, cold box, the way it did when Ma died, is the look in Sam’s eyes. Sam squints as mean as Ba.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Lucy says because Sam won’t. Her laughter shields them, makes them part of the pack.

“Only cornmeal left,” Jim says. A ghost of a smile on his thin lips. “More when the train comes. Got dried oysters. Chicken feet. Shelby lost hens to a fox.”

“Don’t need provisions,” Lucy lies, already tasting the melt of the chicken skin on her tongue. She forces herself taller, clenches hands at her sides. And she speaks her need.

I’ll tell you the only magic words that count, Ba said when they threw Ma’s books in the boiling river. He slapped Lucy to stop her crying, but his hand was slow. Almost gentle. He squatted down to watch her wipe snot across her face. Ting wo, Lucy girl: On credit.

Ba’s words work some sort of magic, sure enough. For the first time Lucy can remember, Jim’s pen pauses.

“Say that again, girl?”

“Two silver dollars. On credit.” Ba’s scratchy voice at her back, in her ear. Proper way, he said, dangling the small sack of coin on the night Ma went, is to bury with silver. Lucy can smell the whiskey on his breath. Daren’t turn. Should his shovel hands clap her shoulders, she doesn’t know if she’ll scream or laugh, run or hug him round the neck so hard she won’t come loose no matter how he cusses. Ba’s words tumble out the tunnel of her throat like a ghost clambering from the dark: “Payday’s Monday. All we need’s a little stretch. Honest.”

That doesn’t bother Lucy, who after life lived in towns like this has no more tender parts to tear.

She spits on one hand and stretches it over, careful not to touch the counter.

Jim’s no doubt heard this refrain from miners, from their dry wives and hollow children. Poor like Lucy. Dirty like Lucy. Barefoot like Lucy. Jim’s been known to grunt, push the needed item over the counter and charge double interest come payday. Didn’t Jim once hand a pack of Ace bandages on credit to a girl with blood on her dress? A girl desperate like Lucy.

But none of them quite like Lucy. Jim’s gaze crawls on up her face.

“This store sells dry goods, girl. Pork I’ll give your Pa on credit, and grain. For money, get him to the bank.”

The spit dries on Lucy’s untouched palm. Her skin pulls tight, as if it means to shrink her down to nothing.


“Where?” Sam’s face appears over the counter. Accomplished by dint of standing on the toes of the new boots, creasing them where they haven’t been creased before. Sam’s always stepped careful to save the leather.

Jim waves them out the door.

* * *

Small, Sam is. But capable of a man’s strides in those calfskin boots. Sam’s shadow licks back at Lucy’s bare toes; in Sam’s mind the shadow is the true height, the body a temporary inconvenience. When I’m sheriff, Sam says. When I’m a wrangler. More recently: When I’m a famous outlaw. When I’m grown. Young enough to think desire alone shapes the world.

“Bank won’t help the likes of us,” Lucy murmurs.

Sam doesn’t appear to hear. Those boots tap even faster. Dust tickles Lucy’s throat, and she stops to catch a breath. Coughs. Oh no. Bends. Please no. Her throat ripples, bubbles. She retches last night’s dinner, tinged coal-black, into the street.

Straightaway come the strays, licking at her leavings. For a moment she hesitates, though Sam’s boots call an impatient tattoo. She imagines leaving her lone relation to crouch among the dogs, fight them for every drop that’s hers. Their life of belly and legs, run and feed. Simple life.

She makes herself straighten and walk two-legged.

“Ready, pardner?” Sam asks. This one’s a real question, not a chewed-out line. For the first time today, Sam’s dark eyes aren’t squinted. Under protection of Lucy’s shadow they’ve opened wide, something there half-melting. Lucy moves to touch that shorn black head where the red bandana’s come askew. Remembering the smell of Sam’s baby scalp: yeasty, honest with oil and sun.

But by moving she lets sun hit. Sam’s eyes squeeze closed. Sam steps away. Lucy can tell from the bulge of Sam’s pockets that those pudgy hands are cocked like guns again. Lucy spits to clear her throat. Both of them watch the ashy wad land.

“I’m ready.”

The floor of the bank is gleaming board. Blond as the hair on the lady teller’s head. So smooth no splinters catch Lucy’s feet. So smooth the tap of Sam’s boots acquires a raw edge, like gunshot. Lucy can see the back of Sam’s neck redden under the Injun warpaint.

Ta-tap, they go across the bank. The teller staring. Sam quickening.

Ta-TAP. The teller leans back, mouth moving. A man in a suit peers out.

TA-TAP TA-TAP TA-TAP. Sam at the counter on tiptoe, staring up.

“Two silver dollars.”

The teller’s painted mouth smiles, but her face above doesn’t. “Do you have—”

“They don’t have an account.” It’s the man speaking, looking at Sam as one might a rat.

Sam’s boots gone quiet.

“On credit,” Lucy blurts.

“I’ve seen you two around. Your Pa send you to beg?”

In a way, he did.

“Payday’s Monday. All we need’s a little stretch.” Lucy doesn’t say, Honest. Doesn’t think this man would hear it.

“This isn’t a charity. Run on home you little—” The man’s lips keep moving for a moment after his voice has stopped, like the woman Lucy once saw speaking in tongues, a force other than her own pushing between her lips. “—children. Run on before I call the sheriff.”

Terror walks cold fingers down Lucy’s spine. She recognizes the look in this banker’s eyes. She thinks of Ba stiff in the bed, eyes squinted. She thought he was angry. Now she knows different. His was the measuring, long-distance squint of a hunter watching prey on the horizon. If Ba’s spirit can sneak into a man as rich as this banker, what hope have she and Sam got? Already she’s seen the signs of possession. Ba’s squint in Sam’s eyes. Ba’s anger in Sam’s body. And that’s besides the other holds Ba has on Sam: the boots, the spot on Sam’s head where Ba placed a patient hand. Lucy sees how it’ll go. Ba will rot day by day in that bed, his spirit spilling from his body and moving into Sam until Lucy wakes up to see Ba looking out from behind Sam’s eyes. Sam lost forever.

They need to bury Ba once and for all, lock his eyes with the weight of silver. She must make this banker understand. Please, she starts to beg.

Sam says,


She’s about to tell Sam to quit fooling. She reaches for those chubby fingers, but they’ve gone curiously shiny, black. Sam’s holding Ba’s pistol.

The teller goes limp. The man doesn’t catch her as she faints.

“Two silver dollars,” Sam says.

“I’m so sorry, sir,” Lucy says into the thick silence. Her lips click up. Ha ha. “You know how kids are with jokes, please excuse my little—”

“Run on before I have you lynched,” the man whispers. Looking only at Sam. “Run on you dirty. Filthy. Chinks.”

Sam squeezes the trigger.

A roar. A bang. A rush. The sense of something enormous passing Lucy’s ear. Stroking her with rough palms. When she opens her eyes the air is gray with smoke and Sam is staggering back, hand clapped to a cheek bruised by the pistol’s recoil. The man is spread across the ground. For once in her life Lucy resists the tears on Sam’s face, puts Sam second. She crawls away from Sam. Ears ringing. Her fingers find the man’s ankle. His thigh. His chest. His whole, unblemished, beating chest. There’s a welt on his temple from where he leapt back and banged his head on a shelf. Apart from that, the man is unharmed. The gun misfired.

From the cloud of smoke and powder Lucy hears Ba laughing.

“Sam.” She resists the urge to cry too. Needing to be stronger than herself, now. “Sam, you fucking idiot, bao bei, you little shit.” Mixing the sweet and the sour, the caress and the cuss. Like Ba. “Sam, we gotta go.”

* * *

What could almost make a girl laugh is how Ba came here to be a prospector. Like thousands of others he thought the yellow grass of this land, its coin-bright gleam in the sun, promised even brighter rewards. But none of those immigrants reckoned on the land’s parched thirst, on how it drank their sweat and strength. None of them reckoned on its stinginess. The streams bore no gold. The soil bore no crops. Instead they found a far duller prize locked under a mile of backbreaking rock: coal. A man couldn’t grow rich on coal, or use it to feed his eyes and imagination. Though it could feed his family, in a way, weeviled meal and fatty pork, until his wife, coal dust seeped down her lungs, died delivering a son. Then the cost of her feed could be diverted into a man’s drink. Months of saved wages amounting to this: a bottle of whiskey, two headstones. What could almost make a girl laugh—ha! ha!—is that Ba came here to strike it rich and now they’d kill for two silver dollars.

* * *

So they steal. Too easy by half to become what others call them. Crawling up the dry arroyo, bellies in the dirt like common weasels. All the way to the schoolhouse at the edge of town. Lucy sneaks to the spot she knows is blocked from view by a chalkboard. Voices rise inside. Recitation has a rhythm as holy as gospel, the rich boom of Teacher Lee calling and the chorus of students in answer. Almost, almost, she lifts her voice to join.

She bites her cheek till blood comes, and unties Lee’s old horse, Nellie. At the last moment she takes Nellie’s saddlebags, too, heavy with oats.

Back home Lucy instructs Sam to pack what they need from the house. Someone has to instruct now that Ba’s gone; by age the task falls to her. Lucy keeps outside, clearing the toolshed, probing the garden for early vegetables. Thumps, clangs from the house. The sounds of grief and fury. Lucy doesn’t enter; Sam doesn’t shout for help. An invisible barrier touched down between them in the bank, when Lucy crawled past Sam to touch the banker with gentle fingers.

Lucy leaves a note for Teacher Lee. She strains for grand phrases, the marching words he taught her. As if they could be a proof stronger than the proof of her thievery. When she looks down, her paper is filled end to end with Sorrys.

Sam emerges with blankets, pots, and Ma’s old carpet, rolled and lumpy. Lucy can’t guess what Sam tucked inside there, and they shouldn’t tax the horse, but—what’s between them makes her hair prickle. She doesn’t ask. Only hands Sam a wizened carrot, their last bit of sweetness for a while. A peace offering. Sam puts half in Nellie’s mouth, half in a pocket. The kindness heartens Lucy, even if its recipient is a horse.

What Lucy doesn’t do is peek in for a last goodbye to Ba. His eyes don’t scare her no more; they’ll be riding far enough to outrun his haint.

Lucy girl, Ba says, ben dan.

He’s in rare good humor. Employing his fondest cuss, the one she was weaned on. She tries to turn and see him, but her neck won’t twist.

What’d I teach you?

She starts on multiplication tables, but her mouth won’t move either.

Don’t remember do you? Always making a mess of things. Luan qi ba zao. Ba must be spitting in disgust. There’s the wet splat of his tobacco hitting the ground. Can’t get nothing right. As she grew older, Ba shrank. Eating rarely. What he consumed seemed only to feed his temper, which stuck by his side like a faithful old cur. Dui. Thassrigh’. More splats, growing further from her. He’s starting to slur with drink. Yaliddlewhore. Given up on math, he learned language. A rich vocabulary that Ma never heard. You lazy sackash—sh—gou shi.

* * *

She wakes up to gold all around her. The dry yellow grass of the plains grows high as a jackrabbit, enough to hide two sleeping kids. The wind imparts a shimmer like sun off soft metal. Her neck throbs from a night on the ground.

The water. That’s what Ba taught her. She forgot to boil the water.

She tilts the flask: empty. Maybe filling it was a dream. But no—she remembers Sam whimpering from thirst in the night. She remembers going down to the stream.

Months of saved wages amounting to this: a bottle of whiskey, two headstones.

I taught you to boil it, Ba drawls. Soft and stupid. Where d’you keep those brains you like so much? The sun’s unforgiving; he fades with a parting shot. Why they melt clean way when you’re scared.

Lucy finds the first splatter of vomit shimmering like dark mirage. The mass of flies shifts lazily. More splatters lead her to the stream, which in daylight reveals itself as muddy. Brown. She didn’t boil the water. Further downstream: Sam. Eyes closed, fingers unfisted at last. Clothes a foul, buzzing mess.

This time Lucy boils the water, builds a fire so high it makes her head swim. When the water is as cool as it’ll get she washes Sam’s fevered body.

Sam’s eyes waver open. “No.”

“Shh. You’re sick. Let me, pardner.”

No.” Sam’s bathed alone for years, but this time is different.

Sam’s legs kick without strength. Lucy peels back crusted fabric, holding her breath against the stench. Sam’s eyes burn so shiny with fever, it looks like hate. At the join of Sam’s legs Lucy bumps something. A hard, gnarled protrusion. She draws half a carrot from the soft tuck between her little sister’s legs: a poor replacement for the parts Ba wanted Sam to have.

Lucy’s eyes throb with exhaustion. While Sam’s eyes roll back like a spooked horse’s, settling on the horizon. Lucy finishes the job she started, her hand shaking so that the washcloth bumps roughly against Sam’s raw-chafed crotch. But Sam doesn’t whimper. Doesn’t look. Pretending, as she always does when the truth can’t be avoided, that she has nothing to do with this body of hers, a child’s body, androgynous still, prized by a father who lost a son.

Lucy knows she should speak. Instruct. But how to explain this pact between Sam and Ba that never made sense to her? A mountain’s risen in Lucy’s throat, one she can’t cross. Sam’s eyes follow the carrot’s arc as Lucy flings it away.

* * *

For a day Sam retches up dirty water, and for three more she lies in fever. Eyes closed when Lucy brings horse oats mashed into porridge, returns with scrounged firewood. In these silences Lucy studies a sister she almost forgot: the budded lips, the dark fern lashes. The ways Sam hid herself were small. Childish. Dirt and war paint. Boys’ clothes. A boy’s chopped hair. But even when Sam insisted she’d never be a wife, insisted on riding out with Ba, Lucy figured those for the old games of dress-up. Never this far. Never this carrot, this trying to push and change something deep inside.

The smell of sickness clings to camp, though Sam’s shits have stopped and Lucy bathes her daily. A smell akin to rot. Clouds of flies persist; Nellie’s tail won’t quit flicking. Sam’s suffered enough blows to her pride, so Lucy doesn’t mention the stink.

One night Lucy comes back dangling a squirrel, Sam’s favorite. She caught it trying to scramble up a tree with a broken paw. The rock Lucy used was quick, the drying of her tears slower. But Sam’s nowhere to be found. Nor Nellie. Lucy spins, hands bloody, heart ticking and ticking. To match its rhythm she sings a song about a tiger playing hide-and-seek. It’s been years since this thin stream was wide enough to support anything bigger than a coyote; the song comes from a lusher time. A song that Sam, if Sam is scared and hiding, won’t mistake. Twice Lucy thinks she sees a flash, a stripe, in the mesquite. Little tiger, little tiger, she sings. Footpads behind her. Lai.

A shadow swallows Lucy’s feet. A pressure between her shoulders.

This time Sam does not say Pow.

In the silence Lucy’s thoughts circle and come down slow, almost peaceful, the way vultures drift without a hurry—nothing to hurry once the deed’s been done. What happened to the gun after they fled the bank? How many of its chambers were loaded?

She speaks Sam’s name.

“Shaddup.” Sam’s first word since No. “We shoot traitors in these parts.”

She reminds Sam of what they are. Pardners.

The pressure slides down to rest on the meat of Lucy’s butt.

“Don’t move.” The pressure disappears. “I’ve got my sights on you. Not a step.” Lucy should move. She should. But. Know what you are? Ba snarled at Lucy the day Sam came back from school, left eye a plum. Lucy’s clothes damningly clean. A coward. A girl. Mei yong. But the truth is Lucy didn’t know that day, watching frozen across the schoolyard, if it was bravery that made Sam goad the taunting kids. Was it braver to move loud or stand quiet as Lucy did, letting spittle run down her lowered face? She didn’t know and doesn’t know now. Lucy hears reins slap, Nellie’s whicker. Feels hooves hit the ground, each step thunder through her bare feet.

* * *

She says: “I’m looking for my little sister.”

High noon on the street of a town that’s just store and post office, everyone napping save for two brothers who kick a can till the cheap metal ruptures. For a while now they’ve been eyeing a dog, a stray, wondering if they can lure it with the sack of groceries their mother sent them to fetch. The dog hungry but wary, remembering old blows.

And then this apparition, blown in to end their boredom.

“You seen her? My sister?”

Spooked at first, the boys look closer. The white’s only dust. The specter is only a girl, one even dirtier and poorer than they.

The stupider one, the plumper one, who will learn kindness after he sheds his fat, sneers and starts to say no.

The skinny one jabs him in his padded stomach.

“Maybe we did and maybe we didn’t. What’s she look like, huh?”

The girl starts to say, but her voice is thin and dull. They grow impatient.

“She got hair like yours?” A hand jerks out and grips the girl’s black braid. She totters off balance, straightens in time for the other boy’s hand to grip her crooked nose, twist. “A flat ugly nose like yours?” The hands are grabbing wrist and ankle, pulling at eyes, pinching, hard, at the skin stretched tight across her high cheekbones. “Funny lips like yours, huh? Hey, did we see another freak like her, huh?” Nodding, pleased with each other, they’ve found their word. Freak freak freak, they chant, no longer aiming for specific parts, punching and pinching indiscriminately, thumping with the rucksack of groceries.

The dog watches from a distance, with relief.

Her quiet perplexes them. They grab her mouth, her throat, and feel along it for answers. The fat one is trying to absorb the communication of her pulsing skin. What feels so familiar. Years from now it will come to him in a dark room as he sits by the fast-cooling body of a daughter still hot with scarlet fever, that it was the texture of sadness.

What happened to the gun after they fled the bank? How many of its chambers were loaded?

For now he holds longer than he means to, caught in wondering, and who knows how long he would have held if a round brown kid didn’t come barreling into his back.

The fat boy drops the girl’s throat and falls, gasping from the impact.

“Geroff,” says the tiny dirty newcomer who hit him. This kid has the girl’s same hair and eyes.

“You and what army, freak?”

The kid whistles, summoning a horse from a copse of mesquite. Without moving his eyes (flat, squinted, mean) the kid reaches up toward the lumpy roll of carpet on the horse’s back. What the kid means to touch, they don’t know. One brother thinks he sees a gleam, hard and black as coal. But before the kid makes contact, a fat white something plops from the carpet and hits the dust.

The girl, looking up in wonderment, head spinning, thinks: Rice!

They are white grains, like rice, but they wriggle, and crawl, and split outward as if lost and seeking. The kid’s face is impassive. A breeze insinuates itself among them, bringing on the churning smell of rot.

And the skinny brother skitters like a firecracker, shrieks: Maggots!

Nellie, good-natured sweet old nag, but shuddering, wild-eyed, barely contained, carrying fear on her back for five full days now, takes this voice as a message and finally decides to bolt.

She doesn’t go far with the kid holding her reins. She jerks, her load of pots clanging alarm. The lumpy roll of carpet slides off and flaps open, spilling an arm. Part of what was once a face.

Ba is half jerky and half swamp. His skinny limbs dried to brown rope. While his softer parts—groin, stomach, eyes—swim with greenish-white pools of maggots. The boys don’t see it, not truly. They run at the first suggestion of the face, and that suggestion alone will haunt their dreams for years to come. Only Lucy and Sam look full on. He’s their Ba, after all. And Lucy thinks—why, this is no worse than his face in a dozen other permutations, monstrous with drink or rage. Or that once she saw him crying and didn’t dare go up, his features so melted by grief she feared her well-meant touch would dissolve his flesh. Expose the skull beneath. Now there it is, that peek of white bone, and it is not so fearful as her imagining. She sees more than she thought she could, bears it standing where those boys cowered. They ran, and their imaginings will follow all their lives at their heels. For her, the haunting is done. A kind of joy runs hot down her throat, followed by snot, sniffed-back tears. She feels a swell of gratitude for Sam, who’s come to stand by her.

“I aimed to miss,” Sam says. “That banker. I only meant to scare him.”

Lucy looks down, always down, into her sister’s sweat-shiny face. A face brown as mud and just as malleable, a face on which Lucy has seen emotions take shape with an ease she envies. Many emotions but never fear. Yet there is fear now. For the first time she sees her resemblance in her sister. And this, Lucy realizes, this more than the schoolyard jeers or the press of the gun’s cold snout, is her moment of courage. She closes her eyes. She sits, face in her arms. She judges the proper way is quiet.

A shadow cools her. She feels rather than sees Sam bending, hovering, sitting too.

“Needs burying,” Sam says after a minute.

“Need two silver dollars,” Lucy says. The mountain’s gone from her throat.

Nellie chews a tangle of weed, calmed now that the burden’s off her back. Lucy knows that feeling. Ba’s still there but he’s there, in front of Lucy, where she can see him, no longer behind her, a voice in her ear, a shadow in her sleep, a ghost looking out from Sam’s eyes.

Lucy reaches to tousle Sam’s hair. Brushes something rough. It’s the boys’ rucksack, left behind. Slowly, Lucy weighs it in her hand. Remembers the clank of it hitting her. She reaches in.


A hunk of salt pork, the greasy leak of cheese or lard. Hard candy. And waaay beneath, knotted in the fabric, hidden if her fingers didn’t know where to look, if she weren’t a prospector’s daughter, one whose Ba said, Why Lucy girl, you feel where it’s buried. You just feel it, she touches on coins. Copper pennies. Nickels etched with beasts. And silver dollars to lay over two white-swimming eyes, close them the proper way, sending the soul to its final good sleep.