Excerpt from Sasha Braun’s The Borders

Gale’s Furrow is a house with its own designs. Up close it seems misshapen, as if its stones once tried to buck the frame. Even before there are shovels in the ground or stones dragged from the river, the house seems to twist away from what its builder meant it to be. Stubborn, petulant—like a tree that won’t grow straight or a song refusing the voice it's written for.

Dressed in yellow and black against a backdrop of dirt and grassland, Marie is like fire. Her dress on the ground behind her is like a trailing blaze catching straw and bramble. There is no shade and everything in the heat is brittle. Straw snaps beneath her feet like ice.

In town, Marie’s presence had been like something in the air, like humidity baked out of the mud. Stopping at the bank to sign papers, she sensed it—men and women in the street eyeing her passing as if it were weather. Now, at the end of the lane, Marie asks the driver to wait. She’ll walk up alone. She wants the solitude. Her things will arrive by wagon later and the girls in a week, but right now what she craves is the distance of a treeless skyline: a sepia-toned world before there are even photographs old enough to colour it like that, a place called Snowflake on the bottom edge of a country barely named.

In 1894, when she buys the house, Marie knows nothing of its past. She doesn’t know the women here before her, and she knows little of the man Gale who built the house. Later, she’ll learn about Isa, Gale’s first wife found dead in a river, that there are those who believe he put her there, even if he was never charged. Some of this she’ll learn from Alice, Gale’s second wife, who never learned how to be anything but a ghost of the first.

Other stories she’ll learn from men visiting the girls in her house, her brothel. These will be men who pause before leaving, who think to say a thing casually but look at their boots when they say it. They’ll tell her Gale cheated his wealth out of other men but lost it before he finished building his house. They’ll speak of frosts and fires, that it was the land itself that pushed him back, how he built his house like a cairn for one wife then asked another to live in it. They’ll say it quietly, envy in their voices, as if they couldn’t help but covet what they outwardly detested. Years from now, Marie will hear from these same men how Gale died fighting the Boers.

They’ll leave these stories with Marie like a tip on the dresser. Marie will gather them like another woman would keep letters in a drawer. She’ll do it for Alice. By then it will be for Alice that she does anything: Alice who teaches Marie to remember, who becomes for Marie a road back to everything she left behind.

In this moment though, walking up the lane, Marie cares nothing. She has little interest in what a man might have done. The thought of life as a vagary makes her wince. To her it is like a smell she can’t separate from a childhood anguish she no longer remembers. It is a thing to make her shudder without knowing why. Right now, more than anything, what Marie wants is to get outside of loss, to get as far away from it as she can. What she sees in Gale’s Furrow is a great stone house where time is a thing that happens far away.

 

©Copyright 2016, Sasha Braun