Ursula died choking on vinegar. That’s what the coroner tells her daughters, who are fifty-four and fifty-five at the time. “Vinegar my left butt cheek,” Boise says. “You just don’t know how she died.”
The coroner examines Ursula’s bedroom. Every article of glass Ursula owned is broken. And this is saying something, because Ursula owned a lot of glass. She had multitudes of empty milk glasses set out on her dresser. Some contained pools of vinegar; some did not. She had decorative glass bowls in every bulbous shape adorning the top of her wardrobe. On her bedside table were exquisite glass vases that had never met a stem. On long shelves sat glass figurines: coy deer, and Swedish woman curtseying. Above her bed, extending its beaded tentacles to the North and South and East and West, was a massive glass chandelier.
All of these objects are crestfallen; they’d unanimously hit the deck in sharp fragments and aren’t getting up again. A single beaded chain hangs down from the chandelier, like the limb of a dead animal. Ursula’s bedroom is a crime scene of colorless glass.
The coroner wishes to know why Ursula might have been drinking vinegar. The younger of the two daughters, Rake — the better tempered — says their mother was a hypochondriac. She coughed the moment someone else coughed, had a boy transcribing her obituary at the first word of Scarlet Fever in a faraway district. She had been adamant about her impending death for the past thirty years. The vinegar, she believed, cleansed her mouth. Ursula had considered it an instant germ exterminator. She gargled with vinegar four times a day at minimum.
The coroner closes his briefcase. “Your mother died choking on vinegar. I’m very sorry.” He grips Boise’s hand, then Rake’s.
Boise has a secret. She’s about to make her haircutting business boom. Now that their mother’s gone, Boise’s going to have to contribute more to the household expenses than she used to. Ursula had been jobless, sprawled beneath bed sheets day and night, but she’d had a small trickle of income from the charity of an ex-husband. Without that small trickle, Boise and Rake will be short on what they need to maintain the house. They’ll be short on pig feed, and butter, and electricity for the water pump. The funds will have to be replaced.
And it won’t be Rake who replaces them. Of the two daughters, Rake is indisputably the more lucrative. She’s a pig farmer. Men from all over the district — indeed, even the adjoining districts — come to buy her livestock. She’s a good businesswoman, and her pigs have exactly what’s desirable in pigs: portly bellies and no disease.
It’s Boise’s place to bring more money to the table. But Boise is not a good business woman. She cuts hair in their living room — a single chair to seat the customer and a single mirror affixed to the wall. Lately she spends her days languidly sweeping shreds of hair toward their front porch. The silent noon light rests on her back, or she sits and waits, one leg crossed over the other, flipping through antiquated magazines. She waits on the off chance that a customer will show.
Her business has gone from obscure to practically defunct. Boise suspects that no one in the district even remembers she cuts hair. But that’s about to change. Boise has decided to call upon a source of help that she’d sworn off years ago. She sees no other option. Her only skills are snipping and rinsing, so if she’s to provide income, it has to be with her scissors.
But her secret is how she’ll do this. It is something she will never — to the point of her own life’s preservation — share with Rake.
Their house is wide open. It wasn’t designed with the thought to keep anything out. Greek-style windows, with no glass. The sort of windowsills you can sit in so your legs hang out the other side of the house. Doors that aren’t actually doors — simply doorways. Boise and Rake can see directly into their mother’s room when they pass by. The mournful litter of colorless glass has been swept up, so now the room is only bed sheets and a stricken chandelier. The women tack up a rug to block it off.
Boise had lived with Ursula her whole life, but there was a brief period after their schooling when it looked like Rake might start her own home. Rake is a lesbian and fell sincerely in love with a woman named Angie in their teen years. She and Angie were all lipstick and tacky perms and smiles. They used to walk around with their hands in each other’s jean pockets. But the district wouldn’t allow Rake and Angie to marry, and at some indiscriminate point, Angie left. Rake became hermetic and would only leave the house to hang up her laundry and exchange livestock for money.
As for Boise, she’s never had a lover. Boise is neither lesbian, nor straight, nor anything. The thought of pressing her body against some other human’s leaves her feeling deadeningly neutral. The only thing Boise loves is fox fur, and it was fox fur that first caused Boise to explore the back of their house. She was nine at the time and utterly worshipped fox fur coats. There was a merchant at the local market who sold them — elysian amber fur with speckles of white, puffing out from sleeves and gracing hoods. Boise was enraptured. But though she pleaded and pleaded with their mother, bargaining household tasks and sentiments, Ursula would not buy her one. “Fox fur is expensive; we are poor.” So one evening, in a bleary plight of rebellion, Boise ran into the forest behind their house. She stomped through the bed of pay-throes — the regional flower Ursula cultivated along the edge of the forest — and charged into the thicket.
For an hour it was only darkness and forest noises, clicks, spooky rattles, and tonal hums. But Boise found something in the forest that she wouldn’t have believed existed had some other child claimed to have found it. That night became an expansion of what Boise had granted to be real. Suffice to say: She later received her fox fur coat.
Rake has a bob, but she will not allow Boise to cut her hair.
“There’s no point,” Rake says. “If I pay you money, it’ll just end up in the same place as if I don’t pay you. Besides, I like the self-reliance.”
Boise argues that haircutting is the only industry in which she has competence, and that Rake can’t see the back of her own head. When this doesn’t work, Boise reminds her that she’s in possession of special scissors.
“I like knowing that I can meet all my needs myself,” Rake says. “It makes me feel safe.”
Boise doesn’t like this about her sister. She didn’t like it when they were teenagers, she didn’t like it when they were in their thirties, and she still doesn’t like it in their fifties. Rake is so insistent upon independence that it obstructs their relationship — prevents them from having a tight, filial bond. For all she knows, that’s why Angie left her all those years ago. Rake’s will to fly solo can be like a repelling force.
Boise is going to use that as a bentrite later on. The other bentrite is obvious: Rake’s hair looks like she took a ride in a no-cover jet plane.
Boise steps carefully around the pay-throes. She didn’t like them when she was a child, but now they’re antiques — biological heirlooms that Ursula has left them. They each have a string of maroon bells that stretch up from their leaves — which lay flat against the ground — to their tips. They shudder in the wind.
She purposely waited until dusk to venture into the forest. She’s only sought this source of help twice in her life — once for the fox fur coat and once for a trip to the ocean — and both times it had been night when she entered the forest. She wasn’t sure that what she seeks will be there if she searches for it in the daytime. She still isn’t sure.
Her guiding principle is to walk a straight, perpendicular line into the forest, maneuvering around trunks and clusters of vegetation, but more or less keeping to the line. Dusk slides from the red of fruit to a musky haziness. It’s difficult to see where she’s placing her feet. Boise slows her pace to account for the uncertainty of each footfall and presses on.
She stops when she arrives at a distinctive trunk. It is the trunk of an argobring tree. Her mother taught her the name when she was young. In Ursula’s day, the district would arrange graves around argobring trees, the gravestones studding the parameter for a quarter of a kilo at least. The surrounding forest debris would be hacked down and laboriously uprooted to make the argobring stand alone among the dead. The tree’s recognizable because of its sinuous trunk — a trunk that folds into itself like a cinched ribbon, and also because of its throng of vines. The umbrage of an argobring is suspended, quite uniformly, several head lengths above the roots. From there, innumerable vines hang down, creating an enclosed canopy of arboreal string.
This is the tree Boise came upon when she first ran into the forest, angry about the fox fur coat. She approaches the trunk in the darkness, only a faint suggestion of light telling her where it stands. The vines knock against her chest and scratch past her. Boise gathers herself — “What I’m doing isn’t so bad” — and then kneels, pressing a kneecap to the damp earth. She takes her right hand and flattens it against the dirt between the canyon of two roots.
In the time it takes to feel her own chest inhaling air, her hand is met by another hand. Fingers intertwine with her own and a palm becomes taut with her own palm. A firm hand squeeze, the friction of dirt between her fingers. Then, a diplomatic male voice. A leisurely pace.
“Hello,” the voice speaks. “Can you provide me with bentrites?”
Boise had peed the first time she heard that sentence. She’d squeezed her face shut in silent cry — a nine year old experiencing more than they could handle — and waited for a heart attack. She’d feverishly batted at the thought that it was a nightmare. It wasn’t until many minutes had passed that she’d accepted she wouldn’t be rescued by a heart attack or an awakening. It was then she spoke.
This time, however, Boise answers without hesitation. She is there for business.
“I can.” Her pupils drink in darkness. “My sister Rake pushes everyone away. She calls it self-reliance, but it isn’t. She’s anti-social — a deviant. There’s something wrong with her.” Boise pauses. “But I could never say so.”
The voice inquires: “And?”
“And, her hair looks like shit.”
Boise doesn’t know what to add to that; she’d summed it up skillfully in one sentence.
“Are those adequate?” Boise asks.
“They may be,” the voice answers. “What are you asking for?”
Boise’s business booms. Overnight she goes from two customers a week to twelve customers a day. Butts line the windowsills in the living room. The noon light shines upon heads of hair, some bent over while reading antiquated magazines. Boise is all types of glittery emotion: flattered, inflated, cheered. She sings catches of hymns while she combs and applies rouge to her cheeks before tending to the first customer of the day. She puts her hand on the backs of neighbors and acquaintances when they tell her of their newborn babies, their sisters’ engagements. Boise begins to understand that it was more than an issue of making money — with Ursula gone, her sister was the only soul around to talk to. And as Rake is Rake, not much talking took place. The woman just shuffled past her to feed the pigsand ate her first meal of the day alone. It was as if they were not sisters.
Boise triumphantly hands money over to Rake; it’s her end of month compilation.
“Count it. Nearly twenty times what I was bringing in before.” Boise crosses her legs at the table, her pudgy body jiggling with excitement.
“Well, before you were bringing in next to nothing,” Rake says. She counts their earnings, unmoved.
Boise hates this about Rake, too. She’s never enthused about anything. Rake’s emotional spectrum is minute, if existent at all.
“This is much more than we’ve ever had,” Boise says. “Think — we could do something special. This is more than we ever had with Mom.”
Rake says that they should save it and taps the money into an envelope. They should save it in case there’s an emergency or a need to repair the house. There’s always a chance the pigs could contract disease. It’s good to have a cache of funds on hand.
Boise notes that Rake doesn’t even pause to consider Boise’s fifty-sixth birthday, which is on the horizon. Maybe something special could be done for that, Boise wants to say. It is, after all, extra money that she earned. But Boise keeps her bitterness to herself. She doesn’t want to ask for something that should be freely offered up.
Boise finds herself stepping around the pay-throes again, mindful of the blooms. She finds herself moving through the forest in deep darkness, hands in front to avoid incoming branches. She finds the vines of the argobring tree scratching against her shoulders. She finds the earth damp.
“Hello,” the diplomatic male voice says. “Can you provide me with bentrites?”
Boise is ready with her answer.
“My sister, Rake, is so dull. She’s emotionless. It’s no wonder her lesbian girlfriend left her; she doesn’t get excited about anything. I could discover a tub of gold nuggets, and Rake would hardly blink.” Boise notes a tense, knotted feeling in her chest. She’s panting a bit. She needed to say that.
The second bentrite was more difficult. Boise had arrived in anger, but her anger had been about one thing. Now that it had been addressed, anything else would seem like an exaggeration. Especially when the only other bentrite she can think of makes her self-conscious.
“And — she isn’t planning anything for my fifty-sixth birthday,” Boise spits out.
“That is not a bentrite,” the voice responds. It keeps to its normal pace of talking; it doesn’t speed or slow.
Boise thinks. What else about Rake is bad? She really isn’t such a bad sister. Boise feels some shame, rummaging through Rake’s character like this, searching for flaws. But practice makes perfect, and something comes to Boise quickly:
“Rake’s always spent less on me than I have on her. Always. I bought her this nice copper tea kettle once for her birthday. I had a metal smith engrave her name on it. We were in our twenties,” Boise recalls. “And she forgot to give me a gift that year. And Rake’s always made a bigger profit than me.”
The voice proceeds: “What are you asking for?”
So Boise has her embellished birthday. She and Rake lie on the porch after supper. There’s no overhang above the porch, and the stars are visible. It’s muggy; they lay with their backs against the cement. This is the first time in years that Rake has made an effort to spend time with Boise — time when they weren’t busied with obligatory tasks. Boise wonders if Rake’s trying to reward her for the turnaround in business, though Rake doesn’t know how directly responsible Boise was for that turnaround.
A fox fur coat lies beneath Boise’s head and upper vertebrae, like a pillow. It’s too hot to wear, of course. It’ll be too hot to wear all year long. But Boise doesn’t care. Amber fur — it brushes, more titillating than the finest down, against her cheeks. And at her hand is a bag of candied dates with ginger. Her other private birthday request. What she didn’t ask for was Rake’s company — she didn’t think to ask for it.
Boise is surprised when Rake speaks.
“Are you happy?”
Boise is even more surprised by her question. It isn’t said scornfully or in an accusatory tone. It’s inquisitive. Boise totals the stars, the new fox fur coat, the company, the candied dates, and the supper they’d had an hour before.
“I have everything I want,” she says.
Rake is about to have a secret, too. The truth is, all the women in their family have had a strong affinity for something that they do not apologize for. With her mother, it was colorless glass. With Boise, it’s fox fur. But with Rake, it is Angie and Angie alone.
Angie left her because she met another woman. A blonde with big boobs. It was the great, disenchanting event of Rake’s life. It caused her view everything differently. Losing Angie taught Rake that tragedy is on its haunches, prepared to strike. It can seize anything from you at any time. Be wary of your joy; it can be ripped from your rib cage in an instant.
Rake allowed the transition to take place with limp hands. When Angie informed her that she’d met someone else, a woman with whom the “chemistry” was “off the charts,” Rake posed no arguments. She didn’t ask questions. She kissed Angie on the lips — lips that wore a lipstick Rake knew the name of — and let her saunter out the door. What else was to be done? If one isn’t cherished, begging to be cherished can only make it worse.
Following Angie’s departure, Rake gave her family no explanation. They noticed, of course. Ursula used to joke that she and Angie were like the swirled ginger candies sold at their local market: sweet and continually intertwined. So when Angie stopped appearing at the house, and Rake was seen frequently without her other half, there were inquires. “Is Angie sick?” “Are you fighting? Is the issue of marriage coming between you two? You know there’s the option of moving to another district.”
Rake passively let them fall back on whatever theory made the most sense to them. She did not want to explain the blonde woman with boobs.
Rake’s using the water pump behind the house, spraying water into a basket of dirty clothes, when she hears a displaced squeal in the vegetation by their laundry line. A flash of ruddy orange hair — the quivering of plants disturbed — and the distinctive sound of a rogue pig plowing through the forest’s undergrowth.
She takes a split-second gander at the pig pin before flying into the forest after it. A board forming the lower half of the pin had come loose and been rammed into the mud, setting it at an angle. It’s her fault; she’d known the board was loose the day before, and she’d waited to fix it.
Rake stomps through the forest with gusto, looking this way and that, stopping to listen. She hears the pig squeal again. She leaps over fallen trunks and charges through bushes, mentally preparing for what she’ll do when she finds it. From the flash of skin she saw amongst the plants, it’s a sizeable pig. She’ll have to grab it in a hug and hold it to her chest as it thrashes. It will be a long, arm-aching walk back to the house.
Sweat rolls down Rake’s back. She pauses to listen: Nothing. The light breaking through the umbrage above is a mustard yellow. She can see the frenzied, globular flight of a gnat storm nearby; their bodies glint in the sun. It’s afternoon, and she should have hung up her laundry by now. Rake’s on the verge of resignation, reasoning that everyone has setbacks in business and she should just accept the pig as a loss when she hears the snap of a stick. She heads in its direction, knowing full well that it was likely not her pig. But what she finds is a familiar tree.
Rake thinks she knows this type of tree. Her mother pointed it out once, when she and Boise were young. It has a massive trunk that folds over into itself, in peaks and valleys, and tons of vines that hang down from the branches. But Rake can’t remember its name or its significance. She feels there was a reason Ursula pointed it out all those years ago, but whatever it was, it’s gone.
She parts the curtain of vines to make a hole for herself, and then ducks into the tree’s canopy. It’s damp; there’s more moisture under the canopy than outside it. She steps from knobby root to knobby root, holding her arms out for balance, as if on a tightrope. She reaches the trunk and lays her hands against it. Then she sinks to the roots and sits. Rake decides that she won’t tell Boise about the lost pig. She feels guilty — Boise has been doing a first-rate job with her own business, bringing in more customers daily than one would think possible for a haircutter. It’s really quite extraordinary. And with the loss of that one pig, Rake has just allowed fistfuls of money to slip away.
She’s running her fingers across a patch of soil between two roots, tilling it in rows, when it happens. She’s not looking at her hand when she feels shifting at a shallow distance beneath the soil. She whips her attention there, thinking groundhog, when she witnesses a mortifying sight.
It’s fingers. Human fingers, wriggling free from the soil. Nails dredged with dirt — creases at the joints — hair on the flesh — the swirl of fingerprints discernible. Fingers.
Rake screams and bolts upright. She scrambles backwards, tripping over roots and resorting to a backwards crawl up and over them. She feels the blood rush of an emergency, scrambling until she’s at the outskirts of the tree, clinging to some vines like they’re the hem of a mother’s skirt. She screams again and claps a hand over her mouth. How could this be happening?
She can barely see the place where the fingers emerged from where she now stands. She steps onto a higher root, using it as a footstool. The fingers are still there, between the two roots — white skin, caked in dirt — but now they’re visibly part of a whole hand. The hand rests prostrate in the dirt, as if it’s collapsed. It’s not moving. Rake suddenly realizes: Maybe this is a person who’s been buried alive. She’s screaming like a hysterical housewife when she should be helping!
Rake waveringly speaks.
“Hello? Is there someone — there? Do you need help?”
No answer. But of course there’s no answer, if the person’s been buried alive. Maybe that wriggling of fingers was the last iota of life they had left, and Rake had jetted in the other direction rather than digging them out. She moves closer.
“Hello?” She steps closer. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” she whimpers, more to herself than the hand. She’s sure now that no one can hear her. She walks with a steady gait back toward the two roots. She crouches abreast the victim. “I’m so sorry.”
And then she is answered.
A calm, male voice.
Angie is back. Boise is honestly tremendously surprised. It’s almost confounding. It’s been thirty years since either she or Rake has seen Angie, and now she’s back — the fifty-year-old version of herself. One evening, Angie simply showed up. She knocked on the inside of the doorway, where customers usually come in for haircuts. She’d smiled dazzlingly with teeth that hadn’t been much corrupted by the years. “You may not remember me. Does Rake still live here?” she’d asked. It was like something out of a magazine article. Surreal. But Boise knew what it would mean to Rake, so she’d immediately deserted her hair sweeping and left to get her.
The week that followed saw a transformation in Rake. She laughed, sometimes. She made more physical contact with other humans than Boise had seen her do since the first time Angie was in her life. Rake sat with her arm draped around Angie’s shoulders on the front porch. She reached out to touch Angie’s arm when Angie gave her goodbyes, having shared supper at their house. She even made contact with Boise once. Boise had been devouring a meal of eggs and butter before the first customer of the day arrived, and Rake came up behind her, placed a hand on her shoulder, and set a tea kettle on the table. It was the copper tea kettle that Boise had gifted her all those years ago. The change in her manner was so abrupt, and full.
Boise watches as Rake and Angie’s reunion progresses from a genial reacquainting, to a robust camaraderie, to something undeniably sensual. Angie is present at the house every day now. One evening, Boise catches them kissing under the front doorway. Fifty-four years old, and Rake has her hands in someone’s back pockets, holding them to her hips like a teenager first smitten. It’s an odd thing to behold. Boise slips out the back of the house, so she can sit among the pay-throes.
Truth be told, Rake’s blissfulness is beginning to take a toll on Boise. She wonders why it was that no one ever inspired such sentiments in her. She’s never wanted to put her hands in someone’s back pockets. She never wanted to be with one particular person, day in and day out. Boise mulls over the summary of her life and begins to feel dissatisfied. She never accomplished much. She is a mere haircutter. No one ever loved her. She feels the tendrils of discontent creeping throughout her limbs. She wants more than this.
Actual foxes. If Boise had actual foxes, she could have as many coats as her heart desired. She could have a bedspread made entirely of fox fur. She wouldn’t even have to do the skinning; she could sell the foxes the way Rake sells livestock, and then arrange to be paid in fur. She could even become a local vendor and sell coats at the market.
But foxes aren’t native to their district. There are no foxes in the surrounding districts either; that’s why their fur is so expensive. So if Boise is to procure foxes, there’s only one way. It may not be the most honorable way, but Rake has everything that she wants; doesn’t Boise deserve the same?
Her bentrites are loaded in her arsenal before she even finds the argobring tree. She grasps the hand.
“Hello,” comes the voice. “Can you provide me with bentrites?”
Later Boise will look back on this moment and realize that what she was about to confide was inarguably the ugliest of all her disclosures. But Boise does not have that thought now.
“I can,” she says. “My sister has a girlfriend. She’s a lesbian. And the truth is — I’m not a bigot — I don’t hate gay people — but the truth is, it grosses me out. To see their lips touching, lipstick on lipstick. Their breasts rubbing. It’s unnatural. I may not have thought it was unnatural if I hadn’t seen it firsthand, but now that I have, I understand. It’s unnatural. I can see why the district won’t let them marry.”
“And, I liked her better unhappy.”
An amorphous pressure gathers in Boise’s temples. She’s aware that she does not know whether she meant that last statement or not.
“What are you asking for?” the voice inquires.
Foxes confined in wooden crates. Lustrous black eyes and petite amber snouts. Howls, yips. The sound of three-pronged claws scratching tirelessly at boards. The drive for flight is inexhaustible. Those creatures want out.
Boise is trying to enjoy it. She’s had four butchers visit already, and she’s only hosted the foxes a week. Lavish offers, too. One fox for a pellet of fur and enough money to buy butter for six months. She hadn’t known that some people consider fox meat a delicacy. This is why she’s able to get a pellet of fur and money in exchange for a single fox.
Rake doesn’t like it. She judges Boise for her trafficking of an animal that’s sought after primarily for its fur, when its fur is not a necessity.
“And ham is a necessity?” Boise asks. “I think children would grow without bacon.”
“At least ham is eaten.”
“Fox meat is eaten, too. I told you.”
“But it wouldn’t be eaten if you weren’t selling it,” Rake says, which she couples with an eye roll. Boise hasn’t seen her do that since they were children.
Rake laces an arm around Angie’s waist and walks off, but not before Angie gives Boise a glare of disapproval. Angie regards foxes as kindred to dogs, and thus regards their slaughter as morally wayward.
But Boise is sticking to her guns. This is her wish. She’s not going to abandon it now — not when she so deliberately picked it out and made it real.
A jarring shriek. Cacophonous squealing, nails on chalk, utmost urgency. Rake knows the sound — it’s the sound of pigs being butchered. She shoots toward the pin in a racer’s sprint and slams against the boards just in time to see a bloody pig gunning for the forest. Behind it, moving with the incorporeal swiftness of smoke, is a fox. She only recognizes the fox by its color; had Rake blinked, she would have missed it completely. And then they’re gone — the forest vegetation shaking in their wake.
Rake does it again: Leaping over trunks, charging through bushes, ripping through the underbrush. This time it won’t be in vain, though. The fox will definitely overtake the pig, and when it does, they’ll both have to stop. The fox isn’t big enough to drag away its meal; it’ll have to feast wherever the pig drops, and the sound of the pig’s shrieks will serve as a guaranteed tracking device.
Rake’s body is in heavy swing, her heart beating athletically. It’s impressive that she can run at all, and she knows it. The pig’s cries lure her farther and farther into the forest. It’s a few hours past noon, and the light’s a mustard color. She begins to have flashbacks from her last forest excursion — the fright, the impossibility of what took place — but gathers her internal toughness and pushes them away. Rake is levelheaded. She knows she can’t avoid the forest. If what she remembers is real, it was preternatural and therefore unlikely to happen a second time. If what she remembers is not real, there’s no point in thinking on it further. She doesn’t want to become like her mother, who developed into a recluse in service of her fears. Rake pictures a milk glass with a pool of vinegar inside. Four times a day, minimum.
However, Rake does notice a trend. She’s seeing those trees — the ones she didn’t know the name of — rather often. The last time she entered the forest she only saw one. Now she’s beginning to count: a third, a fourth, a sixth, a seventh. Rake’s inner stasis is, admittedly, ever slightly compromised by this. It makes her uncomfortable. Why the change? She couldn’t possibly have strayed far from her last trajectory.
Rake slows to a walk. She stops to listen: No pig cry. If the fox overtook the pig, she should have heard it being slaughtered. She should have heard its last refrain. But nothing. Rake decides to list off all the sounds she can hear but then realizes there aren’t any. There are no sounds. No flap of leaves, no insect buzzes. She looks around for motion: birds, a squirrel darting, a storm of gnats. But nothing. No fellow, animate beings. Now Rake is certain she’s uncomfortable. She turns to go back the way she came.
Vines surround her. They’re so close, she can she see their macroscopic cells of bark. Were they there before? They hadn’t been there before. Or is Rake getting dizzy? A bit removed from up and down, and the difference between viable and not. She tries to steady herself, hoping to regain her mental foothold. Is she overheated? The bark cells could be cities.
“Hello,” comes a male voice. “Can you provide me with bentrites?”
The world undulates. For a moment, Rake is stunned. Then she’s petrified through and through. The voice is unfamiliar. She doesn’t see a hand. In fact — she doesn’t see much of anything anymore. It’s very bright. She wants to shield herself, to find a pocket of shade beneath the dilating white and yellow, but her arm feels heavy.
Rake doesn’t speak, so the voice speaks for her.
“If you cannot provide me with bentrites,” the voice says calmly, “I will ask for something else from you.”
Rake doesn’t answer.
“If you cannot provide me with bentrites, I will ask for something from you.”
Rake feels sick. She can’t think. Something bad about Boise. Something I hate about Boise. But all she can see in her mind’s eye are three-pronged fox claws — her sister’s arms jiggling as they sweep hair onto the front porch — the stars above the concrete — the imploring glass figurines in shards on Ursula’s shelf — the rugs she and Boise tacked up, side by side — white bed sheets — Boise’s rouged cheek, a splay of amber fur brushing against it. In Rake’s last stretch of conscious phenomena, she thinks: “I wonder if Angie would have wanted to come back, on her own.” And then, it’s the end.
Rake died being trampled by pigs. That’s what the coroner tells her sister, who is fifty-six at the time. “Pigs my ass,” her sister says. “You just don’t know how she died.”
Angie is gone as well.