The New Wilderness by Diane Cook

The New Wilderness by Diane Cook

Author:Diane Cook [Cook, Diane]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2020-08-11T00:00:00+00:00

Part V

Friend or Foe

Agnes watched her mother that first day from the depths of a dream. At times seeing her felt as jarring as a nightmare.

Bea had walked up to camp like a dangerous stranger. Like a Ranger. Laughing and gruff. Her back and neck tight. Ready to start citing violations, threats. Her breath fogged out of her mouth as though she were a furious winter animal. But Agnes had known before anyone else who it was. When they still had their hands on the knives or stones, Agnes was cowering, trying to disappear.

Carl had greeted her mother first.

“Well, look who it is,” he cooed, embracing her longer than necessary, laughing in her ear, then strangely listing with her as though they were slow-dancing.

Her mother frowned. “Am I in the right place?” she said over his shoulder.

“Yes,” he said. “Everything’s different now.”

“No shit,” she’d murmured as she pulled away and looked around. People had begun to gather. Curious faces peered at her.

Her mother ducked her head and lowered her voice as though to tell a secret, and it was in a way. Agnes could not hear it.

“In off the waitlist,” Carl said, sweeping his arm toward the rest of camp. “We’ve doubled in size!”

“That’s a lot of people to feed.”

“Nothing we can’t handle,” he said, taking Bea’s hand.

Agnes saw her mother frown again. She looked around the camp for something, casually at first, then frantic, as though fearful she wouldn’t find it. Then her eyes locked on Agnes. Flashes of emotions crossed her face. They quickly resolved into a frown. Then a tearful smile. But Agnes could only see the frown, her mother’s hand kneading Carl’s absently as she gazed at Agnes.

Her mother floated to her, drawn like a magnet.

“Hey, you look great,” Carl called after her, licking his lips. He looked famished.

Agnes froze on the stone where she perched and willed herself to become the stone, or become stone-like, a wall of stone. Stony in the face of this person. Even as her heart thumped and her eyes watered as though she’d eaten something bitter and sour, unripe. Play dead, she instructed herself.

Agnes felt a hand on her shoulder and realized Val was there next to her. Perhaps had been next to her the whole time, watching Carl and her mother, perhaps feeling as bewildered as Agnes did right now. Agnes looked up at Val. Her face was twisted, disappointed, no doubt, to be looking at Bea again. Val had a much clearer sense of her feelings. Agnes tried to conjure a similar clear disappointment, but she couldn’t.

Her mother stopped a foot away from Agnes, her face a mask of emotions, none of which Agnes understood. Her mother didn’t reach for her. Agnes’s stoniness had kept her at bay. She shivered there perched on her lonely rock, her knees up and hugged to her, her toes gripping.

Finally her mother cleared her throat, and Agnes instantly opened herself to whatever her mother would say after so long.

“Why is my daughter so skinny?” she barked, eyeing Val.


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