Cora's Heart ExcerptOctober 8, 2013

CHAPTER ONE CorasHeart_150x225

Danger lurks in every ball of cashmere. – Eliza Carpenter 

            Cora sat on an overturned apple basket in front of her storage shed, her legs splayed out, the heels of her old blue cowboy boots resting in the dirt. The fire engine had driven away minutes before, Jake Keller waving his arm cheerfully out the window as they went. Of course he was cheerful. They’d gotten to fight a fire and isn’t that what firefighters lived for?

            The worst part was that it was a ridiculous fire. It was a teeny-tiny blaze, entirely the result of her own stupidity. Cora couldn’t begin to imagine how people in town would talk. Or, more appropriately, how they would laugh. When Cade MacArthur’s old shack burned down a few years ago, the valley had rocked with explosions as propane bottles blew through the outer walls, which in turn ignited a grass fire that blazed up the hill. It had been the lead story in the Cypress Hollow Independent, with color pictures on the front page. And when Phyllis Gill’s chimney caught on fire and spread into her attic and then down into her yarn room, the whole town had taken up a collection to replenish her stash. Skeins from almost every family had flooded in until Phyllis begged them to stop, saying that she’d reached the limit of the amount of yarn she’d be able to knit before she died.

            Compared to those, the little fire at Cora’s shed hadn’t rated more than one engine using the water it carried on board. She herself had missed it all. She had been across the yard in the house, making a sandwich. She’d heard a siren but it had shut off so abruptly that Cora had assumed Buddy Hansen was practicing on the engine again – all the volunteer firefighters loved whooping the siren as often as they could get away with it.

            After she’d finished pressing her sandwich together, using tomatoes from the garden and her homemade mozzarella, and cutting it diagonally with her sharpest knife, Cora had put it onto a chipped china plate and had wandered out of the house into the sunshine. She would eat it in the storage shed, as she often did. Fall was finally settling into the valley – leaves bursting into scarlet, the scent of wood fires in the air. It was her favorite time of year. Although the smoke smelled stronger now than it had when she’d gone inside . . .

            It had taken a moment for her eyes to register the fire engine parked, lights flashing, in front of the shed. Water. They were streaming water. Into her shed.

            She dropped the sandwich, the plate shattering on a flagstone, and ran.

            It was over when she got there.

            In the time it took to make lunch, everything she’d worked toward for the last three years was gone.

            It was a tiny fire, comparably. The entire shed wasn’t more than a hundred square feet total. But it had been chock-full – lower shelves held whatever she was growing that was in season (recently figs and small persimmons), the higher ones stacked three jars deep with her canned goods – cucumbers and chilies and apricot jams. Heck, she’d even made the shelves that had held her washed and carded merino fiber. She had learned to use the electric saw without cutting off any fingers, learned just how many thwacks it took with the hammer to get the nails in and flush to the board. The shed was more than storage – it was her workshop. Her larder. She did most of her spinning and dyeing inside it. It held everything she sold at her stand at the Cypress Hollow weekly farmers market. All her soap and candles. All the seeds, the dried herbs . . .  

            The walls hadn’t burned. They were only blackened. But everything else she’d had inside the shed was either burned or ruined by smoke or water.

            “We were on our way to the training tower up the valley,” said Jake Keller. “Saw the smoke. It was just dumb luck we were here. Coulda been worse.”

            “But how . . . ?” Cora wasn’t able to finish the sentence.

            “Best guess, one of those candles,” one of the firefighters said.

            “Oh,” she said in a small voice. Earlier, while she’d been sorting heirloom squash seeds, she’d lit one of last year’s rosemary-lemon candles, wanting the scent to mix with the wood smoke coming from up the valley.

            It was all her fault.


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