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From Chapter 1 October 1985

October 1985, Friday Evening, Colfax

The black oak tree clung to the slope that plunged to a narrow creek behind Alta’s little house near Colfax. Dusty leaves dropped to the ground. I leaned on the porch railing and looked up, studying the Sierra foothills, scraggly Digger pine interspersed among oaks, then higher, Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. I raised my gaze to take in the first range of mountains, the forest so thick with Jeffrey pine and white fir I couldn’t see the road climbing toward Donner Summit and over to Truckee, no matter how well I knew the way. Merely a narrow cut split the green-black spiky silhouette of the top ridge in the twilight.

Squinting through my glasses, I watched stars glint on one by one. Quiet. Not a chipmunk ruffling the leaves, not a jay squabbling with its competitor.

My granddaughter, Polly, moved her chair, and next to me, Lane, my twelve-year-old great-grandson, crumbled leaves and asked the names of mountain peaks. He wore jeans and a sweatshirt, never overalls or a jacket like his great-uncle Raleigh wore on the night long ago that came to my mind. Maybe the autumn scent of pines reminded me of the old days.

“I wish Raleigh hadn’t been fooling around with those wild boys when the hotel caught on fire. Easy to say now, but he wouldn’t have fallen on his wrist and twisted it so bad.”

I turned and leaned back, my elbows resting on the verandah railing. I pulled the heavy sweater tighter over my shoulders and took another sip of sloe gin, never whiskey, not after the heartache it caused in my family. And no cocktails anymore. I was too old for them.

Head down, Tiny stirred with a swizzle stick.

She sipped her gimlet and said, “I don’t know, Mary. So long ago.” -original post 5-2011

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