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  • Published: 7 March 2023
  • ISBN: 9780857529411
  • Imprint: Doubleday
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $32.99

Go as a River

Extract

One violet twilight, I sat motionless on the grassy edge of a small neighboring meadow. My snare – a little prison box I had fashioned together with twigs and yarn – was propped at a slant on a Y-shaped stick and baited with clover flower. I waited stubbornly, or perhaps just naively, faithful to my method. Bats dove and spun above me, plucking miller moths from mid-air. Night noises roused cricket by cricket. A doe appeared on the meadow’s edge, tiptoeing from the aspens. She straightened her neck in surprise, blinked, and lightly stamped her feet, unsure what to make of me. Her black eyes glistened and blinked again, and her white tail feathered back and forth in indecision. Still as stone, I gazed at her. I had seen many animals since my arrival – ground squirrels and tree squirrels and bullet-nosed chipmunks; marmots and rabbits and porcupines and foxes and a lone coyote hunting in a field; herds of deer and elk moving across the hillsides – but this doe was the first to seem as interested in me as I was in her. We locked eyes for a long while.

The doe turned gracefully back the way she had come and pranced out of sight. Seconds later, she reappeared, followed by a delicate spotted fawn. I gasped at the simple beauty, and they looked toward me in perfect unison. The fawn crept closer to her mother with noiseless, careful steps. They crossed the meadow fluidly, side by side, then disappeared into the foliage. Suddenly, the shrubbery rustled where the doe had first emerged. I braced for a predator in pursuit. Instead, a second fawn burst forth, smaller and even more delicate than the first. He rushed across the clearing to keep up with his mother and sibling, so scrawny and oblivious it made my heart ache.

I saw the doe again a few evenings later – her favored fawn at her side, the runt several lengths behind – as the trio cautiously approached the creek near the hut. After they tested me again the following dusk, they frequented my camp for their evening drink. I felt camaraderie in their trust and relief each time the weakling fawn emerged from the bushes in determined pursuit of his family.

The month passed one step at a time: one waking, one fire, one pot of oats, one walk in the woods, one attempt to catch food, one sunset, one can of beans, one night. I hauled fallen branches from the forest to build a lopsided fence around my garden. I dribbled creek water from the canteen onto the emerging greens and lay a quilt over them each night to protect against the frost.

When I remember June of 1949, I see my seventeen-year-old self sitting naked at the creek’s edge after bathing, sun pouring across my young body like warm honey, my belly a pale and mysterious globe, my breasts so full and strange. My baby tumbled in my womb and kicked at my heart. Sunflowers and purple lupines and pale-pink wild roses ornamented the hillsides. Magenta spikes sprang up from the stream bogs, each stalk a tiny circus of pink elephant heads, their trunks lifting to the sun. I caught grasshoppers just to study their tiny grinding jaws. I counted a dozen different colors of butterflies. Delicate happiness pushed through the mud of grief just as surely as the summer forest blossomed from winter.


Go as a River Shelley Read

From the publishers of GREAT CIRCLE, a soaring, heartstopping debut novel of female resilience and becoming

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