up and down the coast. Spills, explosions, poisoned water and air. “Some
things should stay in the ground,” she’d said. But leaving things there
never made anyone money. He’d signed the papers, anyway.
Evaline handed the photograph back to Jake.
“Think I’ll keep this one,” he said and tucked it into his pocket.
“Brody will get a kick out it. Grandma fluffed up like a queen.”
Evaline stood, studying the coffee in her mug. Was that a fleck of
aluminum? She dumped her mug over the porch rail, steam rising off
the mulch. “Coffee’s stale.”
Jake sipped his. “Tastes fine.”
Evaline took the cup from him anyway. “Better safe than sorry.”
“I’ll brew another pot. Don’t drink any more tap water.” She hooked
the mugs by the handles and pushed through the screen door into the
kitchen and took a bottle of water from the fridge. When the Gillies first
chose this land, there’d been a stream running through the property, a
tributary of the river that filtered the water through stones and silt before
flowing past the original clapboard cabin. The stream had dried up in
the ’70s, back when canals were dug into farm fields and the water bled
down to a trickle. Now all that remained on the property was a thick
slice of mud snaking from the peanut field and out into a drainage ditch
alongside the gravel road. The ground here had always been muddy, with
swamps bordering the towns to the south and the preferable farmland
up north, where old oceans had left crushed mollusks and minerals
composting in the rich, black soil. Here, Evaline and Harlan had fought
clay since Harlan got the land from his grandfather. The clay came from
the shale beneath it, and all of the shale from decomposed feldspar,
mica, and quartz. The mud and the clay had compressed over millions
of years, hardening into layered rocks permeated with the crushed and
liquefied bones of the creatures who’d lived here before. Evaline won-
dered how long before the dead Gillies became gasoline, too.
The clay didn’t detour Harlan, the only brother willing to take over
the farm. The ink was still wet on the title when Harlan carried his bride
across the farmhouse’s creaking threshold. Clay soil didn’t much matter
when pasturing cattle and sheep, as his grandfather had done, declaring
his ancestors fools. Harlan, though, wanted things rooted.
“You could mold a man outta this stuff,” he’d say, trying to run
a plough through the field back when his hair had been brown. His
grandpa laughed when the plow snapped off its handle and pointed at