Authors: Bonnie Jo Campbell
Women and Other Animals: Stories
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright Â© 2002 by Bonnie Jo Campbell
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
First Scribner trade paperback edition 2003
and design are trademarks of
Macmillan Library Reference USA, Inc., used under license
by Simon & Schuster, the publisher of this work.
Designed by Kyoko Watanabe
Text set in Sabon
Manufactured in the United States of America
10Â Â Â 9Â Â Â 8Â Â Â 7Â Â Â 6Â Â Â 5Â Â Â 4Â Â Â 3Â Â Â 2Â Â Â 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Campbell, Bonnie Jo
Q road : a novel / Bonnie Jo Campbell.
Â Â Â Â Â p. cm.
813â².54âdc21Â Â Â Â 2003050434
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 0-7432-0366-6 (Pbk)
eISBN 13: 9-781-45166-076-0
To Mike, Tom, Sheila, and Geo,
fellow wild children of Michigan
AT THE EASTERN EDGE OF KALAMAZOO COUNTY, AUTUMN
woolly bear caterpillars hump across Queer Road to get to the fields and windbreaks of George Harland's rich river valley land. With their bellies full of dandelion greens and native plantains, these orange-and-black-banded woolly bears travel at about four feet per minute, in search of niches where they can spend the winter. Near the oldest barn in Greenland Township, many of them settle in and around a decaying stone foundation overgrown with poison ivy vines. It is land they have occupied for centuries, this tribe of caterpillars, since long before George Harland's great-great-great-grandfather bought it from the federal land office for a dollar and a quarter an acre.
More than a century and a half after that purchase, on October 9, 1999, David Retakker pedaled his rusting BMX bike south along Queer Road, with the Harland property on his right and the sun rising over Whitby's pig farm on his left. David, twelve years
old, hungry, and wheezy from asthma, didn't mind the pig stink, but he couldn't understand why all the caterpillars wanted to cross the road. There must be millions of them, David thought, for already hundreds lay flattened or stunned or dead alongside, and more kept coming. He'd seen woolly bears before, but he couldn't remember if it had been spring or fall, and surely they were never as plentiful as this. David steered with one hand; the other he rested on his knee, with the index finger folded in a way that mimicked amputation at the lower knuckle, so he could pretend he had the same injury as George Harland.
Off to David's left, dozens of rust-colored Duroc hogs appeared no bigger than caterpillars as they snuffled in the grass and mud behind long, low whitewashed structures. David imagined them chopped into hams, bacon, and pork steaks, smoked and sizzling for breakfast in cast-iron pans. Beyond the soybean field on his right rose the tall trees surrounding the Harland house and outbuildings, and as David got closer, he made out Rachel Crane, standing in front of her produce tables with her arms crossed and her rifle hanging over her shoulder on a sling. Rachel was seventeen, only five years older than David, but she was always looking out for him, which was okay. Still, she was staring so intently at the pavement that she didn't seem to notice his approach, and he told himself he might even sneak past. That would be a feat, he thought, to sneak right past her, first thing in the morning.
Rachel's roadside tables were set up in front of George's old two-story house, and just to the side was parked a utility wagon piled with dozens of pumpkins. The tables were heavy with winter squash, tomatoes, a few melons, bushel baskets of striped and spotted gourds, and on the ground sat five-gallon buckets of Brussels sprout spears. Hungry as he was, David could turn down Brussels sprouts; and the big, flesh-colored butternut squashes gave him the creeps, made him think of a pile of misshapen mutant bodies without eyes or mouths or limbs. Rachel's gardening enterprise didn't
much appeal to David, because he wanted to work in fields of corn, oats, and soybeans the way George did. Those grains went into bread and breakfast cereal, food that could fill a person up.
As he got closer, he studied Rachel's black hair and her face, which appeared to glow orange in the light coming from the east. Whenever she was standing somewhere, you got the idea that she'd already been there a long time and it would take a lot to move her. He used to want to be just like Rachel, but a couple years ago she'd swelled dangerously, becoming thick with breasts and hips, and since then he'd tried to keep some distance between them. When she looked up from the road this morning, her dark eyes sent a jolt of electricity through him, and he jerked his handlebars and veered straight at her. Rachel jumped out of the way and David careened into the shallow ditch in front of the stacked cantaloupes. His bike tipped over sideways onto him.
“Are you okay?” Rachel said.
“I'm okay.” David stood up and righted his bicycle.
“Well, you sure as hell don't know how to steer.”
“I lost my balance.”
“Well, then use both hands when you ride.”
David checked his index finger, which was still not severed at the knuckle, and rolled his bike backward until he was beside her.
“Damn it,” Rachel said, “you just backed up over that woolly bear.”
“What did that woolly bear ever do to you?”
“There's so many I can't help it,” David said. “And besides, you kill lots of things.”
Rachel threw up her arms and yelled, “What's the hurry? Next year you can all fly across the damn road.”
“I was talking to the woolly bears.” Rachel adjusted her rifle
strap. “I watched this woolly bear crawl all the way from the other side of the road, and then you came along and smashed it.”
David looked down at the pavement to where Rachel pointed out a caterpillar flattened beside a dark smear of guts. To avoid feeling bad about it, David looked up, to the bright ceiling of sycamore leaves, each as big as a person's face, extending across the driveway to the edge of the pasture. David glanced up the driveway, tracing its path to the silos of corrugated tin, the big wooden stock barn, and beyond to the silver and red pole barns where George kept his tractors, balers, and combines. David didn't see George's truck.
Beside the driveway, just beyond the reach of the branches, stood a pony, a donkey, and a long-haired llama, side by side, pushing against the barbed wire in places where they'd already mashed the barbs down with their chests. David considered going over and petting the animals, but then he wondered if his bedroom clock at home might have been slow and if he might already be late. He'd woken up repeatedly during the night worrying about the time. And now George's truck was nowhere around; maybe George was already down there waiting for him.
“You don't know what time it is, do you?”
“Why are you in such a damn hurry?” Rachel said.
David knew Rachel worked hard to put swear words in most every sentence; she'd told him that plain talk, without swearing, was weak and invited argument. And he could see you had to keep in practice with swearing, even when you didn't feel like it.
“I'm helping George put a wagonload of straw in the barn,” David said. “Didn't he tell you?”
“Maybe I don't hang on every damn word out of his mouth like some people.”
“So how come you married him then?” David's raspy breathing was painful to hear this morning.