Sample text for Weaver's daughter / Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.
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"I can pick apples," I said. "I know a ripe one from a green one just as well as Hezzy and Nan."
Ma stopped weaving. The clack-clack-thump that had filled the cabin all morning stopped too.
"Better than Nan," I said.
Ma looked at me for a long minute. "Sit," she said. "You are just as useful inside."
"Yes, Ma." I squirmed. 'Twas autumn, and our old trees were filled with ripened fruit. I sliced an apple with Ma's knife and strung the slices on a string. I draped the strings above the hearth to dry. Piles of apples waited on the table in front of me. I could never keep up. 'Twas not fair. I should be picking, too, and then we could all slice and string.
Clack-clack-thump, clack-clack-thump, clack-clack-thump. Ma was weaving a coverlet of indigo-blue and butternut-yellow wool. When she was finished she would take it to Jonesborough and trade it for a sow, a mother pig. Next spring we would have piglets, and after that we would be rich in ham and bacon and lard.
I smothered a cough against my hand. I looked at Ma to see if she noticed. She did not. Her hands worked the loom steadily. Clack-clack-thump. I wished to be a weaver someday. Already I could weave plain cloth, and I spun better than both Nan and Hezzy. Nan did not have a mind for such things. Hezzy wove fancywork, near as well as Ma.
A bird chirruped outside the open door. A red leaf blew into the cabin and lay against my foot. I kept my hands steady to their task but could not keep my mind so well occupied. It was autumn. My sickness time. And I felt the sickness coming.
An apple rolled to the floor. I picked it up and bit into it. Its spicy sweetness filled my mouth. Our trees, neglected as they were before we came, still yielded good fruit.
I looked about the cabin. Ma's loom, the bed and the underbed beneath it took up one whole side. Besides, we had a spinning wheel, table, two benches, even a ladder-back chair. Pa had built shelves on either side of the hearth to hold our cooking gear, and the half-loft above the loom and bed would soon be filled with the fruits of our harvest. Including the apples I was stringing.
Clack-clack-thump, clack-clack-thump. I had awoken that morning with a tightness in my chest and a heaviness through my nose. Winter, spring, summer, all the year past, I had prayed every day like Jesus in the garden that this be taken from me.
Suddenly I coughed hard. Clack. Ma's hands went still. The loom stopped. Ma looked to me. "'Tis nothing," I said. "Nothing." We both knew why Ma had kept me indoors today, but neither of us would say it.
Hezzy burst through the doorway with a basket of apples. "That's three of mine now to Nan's one," she said, upending the basket onto the table. Apples rolled everywhere. Some fell to the floor.
Ma and I looked at Hezzy. Slowly Ma smiled. "Aye, then, what has Nan found?" she asked. She thumped the beater onto her weaving and started the shuttle again. Clack-clack-thump, clack-clack-thump.
Hezzy grinned. "Nothing but an old worm. She's watching it walk up a stick."
I cut an apple and handed half to Hezzy. She ate it, smiling. I smiled back. Nan paid attention to small things. Hezzy was the one to climb among the tree's highest branches, Nan the one to sit and peer at a stick.
My friend Suzy Pearlette said I was exactly in the middle of my sisters: halfway like Nan, halfway like Hezzy. But today I was neither on the ground nor in the tree. I was the one to sit in the cabin, to not pick apples at all.
"Tell your sister to gather the windfalls for cider," Ma said. "She can do that while staring at worms."
I coughed again, harder this time. Ma and Hezzy both froze. I frowned at them.
"Are you ill?" Ma's voice rose sharply.
I shook my head. I felt another cough coming on but shut my lips against it. My nose itched. I sneezed.
Ma got up from the loom. "Your eyes are swollen," she said. "You should have spoke."
"Truly I feel well."
"There's a wind from the west." Hezzy shut the door. She reached above the loom and swung the paper window closed. The cabin darkened.
"No, don't!" I said. "The wind doesn't make me ill."
"Something does," Hezzy said.
Ma studied me. "Some say mullein leaves cure congestion," she said, "or onion poultices to the chest."
"Onions didn't help her last year," Hezzy said. "What does Ma Silver say?"
Ma Silver was a midwife, newly come to our area. She grew herbs and doctored some when she wasn't busy birthing. Our old midwife had died--good riddance, some said. She had smelled of rum, and her cures rarely healed anyone. Ma Silver had birthed Mrs. Farah's last baby, and Mrs. Farah spoke well of her.
Our ma shook her head. "I will ask," she said.
I minded the Gospel message that we should be full of hope in the Lord. I said, "Perhaps this year won't be so bad." I didn't believe my own words. Dread filled me, fear of what lay ahead.
Ma put her hand to my forehead. "Perhaps we will go to Jonesborough. There is a doctor there."
I hated Jonesborough. I hated the noise and stink of so many people. "Take Hezzy," I said. "She wishes to see the fine folk. I would rather stay here."
Hezzy snorted and went out. Hezzy would soon be thirteen. Of all of us she was the only one to care for finery, the only one to dream of silk dresses and sweetmeats. Hezzy was often impatient with me.
Ma smiled gently. For a moment she pressed my head against her bosom. "Poor Lizzy," she said. "My poor daughter."
I laid my knife on the table and put my arms around Ma. Her hard round belly poked my side. We had a baby coming, near Christmas we hoped. "What can't be cured must be endured," I whispered. 'Twas what Ma often said.
"'Tis true," Ma answered, "yet we will cure you if we may."
She went back to the loom. "Don't work more than you feel able," she said. "If you take a spell, rest for a while."
"I won't take a spell," I said. I cut an apple in half with one stroke and smothered another cough on the back of my hand. Paring apples, how hard was that? While Nan and Hezzy worked outside in the sun.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Asthma Fiction, Frontier and pioneer life Tennessee Fiction