Wednesday, September 28, 2011

First Words: Our Daily Bread by Lauren Davis

"Near the top of North Mountain a tumbledown shed leaned against an old lightening-struck oak at the edge of a raggedy field. Inside Albert Erkskine bent over a sprouting box and gently, methodically, planted the marijuana seeds he'd soaked last night. He placed each one half an inch deep in the soil-filled paper cups, pushing the seed down with his index finger, the nail black-rimmed. The air, hazy with dust motes, smelled of warm moldy earth mixed with the fertilizer he used in the sprouting mix. The seeds had been perfect, virile and had given off a good solid crack when he'd tested them on a hot frying pan. Once the seeds were settled in their nest of humus, soil, and fertilizer, he'd water them and leave them in the locked shed under a grow-light fueled by a small generator. Later, in a couple of weeks, he'd plant the seedlings out in the field. In the meantime he'd prepare the field with hydrated lime and a little water soluble nitrogen fertilizer.

Growing a good cash crop of marijuana took smarts and Albert was well aware of how smart he was. He knew, too, the power of his physical presence. He would have been called handsome in another place, with the cleft of his chin, and the furious shine in his brown eyes. Even as a whip-thin, lock-jawed boy there had been something about Albert, some flash of sinewy grace."

What moral ambiguities result when we view our neighbors as “The Others,” as “those people”? This is the conflict between the Erskine Clan, long-shunned by the people of Gideon, who live in secrecy and isolation on North Mountain, and whose bootlegging enterprises are expanding into methamphetamine production and the God-fearing townspeople

of nearby Gideon. For generations the clan’s children have suffered unspeakable acts of rape, child abuse, incest, and psychological torture. The intolerant, self-righteous Gideonites decline to intervene, believing their neighbors to be beyond salvation. “That’s the mountain,” they say. “What do you expect from those people?” Yet in both groups nearly everyone has a secret and nothing is as it seems.

Twenty-one-year old Albert Erskine dreams of a better life and explains to a new teenage friend from the town, Bobby Evans, the meaning of the “man’s code” on the mountain: “You keep your secrets to yourself and you keep your weaknesses a secret and your hurts a secret and your dreams you bury double deep.” Bobby’s eight-year-old sister, Ivy, suffers incessant bullying by her classmates. Her father, Tom Evans, a well-liked local

bread delivery man, struggles to keep his troubled marriage together. As rumors and innuendo about the Evans family spread, Ivy seeks refuge in Dorothy Carlisle, an independent-minded widow who runs a local antique store. When Albert ventures down from the mountain and seizes on the Evans' family crisis as an opportunity to strengthen his friendship with Ivy's brother Bobby, it sets in motion a chain of events which can only result in unexpected and dire results.

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