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Excerpt from Chapter One



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My father’s ship blew up the first week he was out—not bombed or anything, just due to some kind of engine failure—in the middle of the night when all the crew was sleeping. They never found the bodies. “Must have been a mess,” Grandma’d said a hundred times, “and doesn’t it just figure that good-for-nothing would go out in a flash without doing anything to get the glory.”

My mother always yelled back, “How could I have known my husband would go missing and I’d be stuck in this godforsaken place, pregnant, with a self-centered daughter, a grouchy old woman, and not a penny to my name?”

But the yelling my mother was doing right now hurt my ears. I clicked the door shut, filled the kettle, and put it back on to boil. The wind was a high-pitched whine, as if it were a poor lost thing looking for a place to settle. I shivered, the mudroom icy as I grabbed a stack of wood for the fireplace. My father’s old boots were by the back door. No one had noticed when I placed them side by side, laced and polished and buffed the way he liked them. My mother was right. I was a self-centered daughter. My father was missing because of me. No Lutheran Ladies’ remedy would soothe that ache. It burned from the inside out.

It didn’t seem real, my father gone for good, especially when he’d been gone so many times before. But he came back those other times. He’d be a little worse for wear, maybe a bruise or two turning yellow around his eyes, but my mother always let him back in. The house would be silent, the air thick and crackling with too many nerves on edge, until his smile would finally break my mother’s will.

My father was unpredictable. You never knew what he might do. I liked that best about him and I missed it most. But my mother needed him to come home on time from a regular job and stuff dollar bills in the savings jar behind the breadbox. She needed him to fix the step on the back porch and stop disappearing for days on end. She needed him to pour his own whiskey down the kitchen sink so she wouldn’t have to.

With him gone for good, my mother was a fire ready to light but missing a match. Grandma’d stepped right in and took over. We watched my mother’s stomach grow and grow and worked ourselves into a routine of eat, chores, sleep, eat, chores, sleep, with arguments for entertainment.

Then my sister struggled out and all that changed.