Friday, 7 April 2017

Chapter One: Sweet Grass (Novel excerpt, second draft)

[This is the second draft of the opening scene from Chapter One of Sweet Grass, a novel I'm writing (you can see the first draft here). The setting is a dystopian near future set in an America collapsing under the weight of a migrant invasion. Feedback of any kind appreciated. I'm trying to get the narrator's tone right.]

What he remembered most was the sound of gunfire.

He never remembered the faces of the men who shot at him. They were all the same, like the fields or streets where he had done his killing. Whether the red dirt of Burhakaba or the white lanes of Malmo, it made no difference. He died no matter where he was.

When he woke, dawn light was filtering into Rayner Dane’s bedroom through the curtains. Having endured hell, he relived it now in an endless playback in his dreams. It was how the men he killed had their revenge.

The blades of the ceiling fan were white sailing ships stilled on a breathless sea. The bedsheet was damp against his back. It was twenty-five minutes after five o’clock, and the house was as hot as a furnace.

There had been an attack overnight in Sioux City. Twenty-one dead. A small crater in the road. Black scorch marks radiating fifteen feet. Eyewitnesses saying it was two beards and a burka-clad bint.

He rolled over and sat up. The floorboards were warm under his feet. The bulb in the bathroom had burned out, so he shaved by feel under the shower. He went back into the light to check in the bedroom mirror. Saw the shine of stray bristles at the corner of his mouth. He licked at them. Felt them prick his tongue. He shaved again until his skin was as smooth as an inside lip.

He ate breakfast standing at the sink. His kitchen was silver and white. Not an unclean surface, not an unclean dish. It was how he liked it. When he finished eating, he washed and dried up. He folded a checked towel over the oven handle. Straightened a cast iron skillet hanging from a hook.

He stood at the sink and looked out the kitchen window. The grass in his backyard was yellow. At the property line it turned green. That was Mrs. Garcia’s. She was up too, soaking the ground around her fruit trees. Lemons. Oranges. Some fruit he didn’t know. Cordero under a spreading cottonwood, panting in the shade.

Rayner had looked after him once, the time Mrs. Garcia fell and was hospitalized. She always said he saved him from starvation. Rayner was not so sure. He looked like the kind of dog who could eat his way through steel cans. On their first day, they formed an uneasy truce. By the time the old lady returned home they were, if not friends, on good enough terms to avoid bloodshed. Mrs. Garcia had never forgotten. Every Saturday afternoon she cooked for him. Fava bean soup. Rabbit in adobo sauce. Buñuelos.

“No Mexican girl is ever going to marry a man all skin and bone like you.”

She said it every time. 

He packed two sandwiches for lunch. A thermos of green tea. A freeze dried meal. Just in case. Fruit – a pear, an orange, a green apple. A bag of strawberries he bought cheap. When he was done, he opened the back door. Cordero heard the latch click. He raised his head, ears pricked. He was a big dog. Thick set. The kind of dog people said was a weapon. Rayner lobbed a carrot into the air. Mrs. Garcia waved. He waved back and locked the door. Cordero lay down on Rayner’s back step to eat. Calling the dog Lamb made him wonder if Mrs. Garcia was right in the head.

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