PLAIN LANGUAGE 
Excerpt



        That afternoon as he rode the fence line, he looked to the east and saw a dark cloud that started at the horizon and rose into the sky, turning yellowish brown at the top where the sun permeated it.  Above, the sky was a flawless blue.
        A forest fire, he thought.  The drought had turned the plains into a tinderbox.  But as he stared at the roiling mass filled with brown and green spots,, he saw that it was not smoke but a wall of dust moving toward him.
        The hairs on his arm tingled with the kind of static electricity that preceded a tornado.  A coyote streaked along the edge of the pasture, and the field was alive with rabbits escaping the oncoming duster.
        The grasses stood strangely still.  The cloud moved forward, a creeping, fearful thing.  Everything seemed off-kilter—the absence of wind, the electrically charged air, the disturbing quality of light that fell over the prairie, the feeling that the elements were in suspension, waiting.
        Alfred's only thought was to get home to Virginia.  She would be terrified.  He urged his horse into a gallop.  At home, he found Virginia lowering the plywood storm windows.
        Before long the cloud was on top of them.  The air became so dark they had to light a lamp in the middle of the afternoon.  The wind did not pick up until they sat down to dinner.  Then it came with a terrible force, flinging grit and tiny pebbles against the house.  In the drafty room, the lantern flame sloshed against the curved sides of the glass chimney, blackening it.  Virginia could feel cool currents move about the room and, though she could not see the dust, she could feel it in her throat when she breathed through her nose.
        They put napkins over the food and ate hurriedly from under the cloth, heads bent to the table.  Afterward, she set the dishes on the counter.  There was no reason to wash them now.

"An exceptional novel about the power of memory and desire." 


Ursula Hegi, author of

Stones from the River

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