Snow Blind by Pultizer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout is next in our series of extracts from Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award nominees…
Back then the road they lived on was a dirt road and they lived at the end of it, about a mile from Route 4. This was in the north in potato country, and back when the Appleby children were small the winters were icy and snow filled and there were months when the road seemed impassably narrow. Weather was different then, like a family member you couldn’t avoid. You took it without thinking much. Clayton Appleby attached a sturdy snowplow to his sturdiest tractor, and he was usually able to clear the way enough to get the kids to school. Clayton had grown up in farm country and he knew about weather and he knew about potatoes and he knew who in the county sold their bags with hidden rocks for weight. He was a closed book of a man, he inhabited himself with economy, but his family understood he loathed dishonesty in any form. He did have surprising and sudden moments of liveliness. For example he could imitate perfectly old Miss Lurvy who ran the Historical Society’s tiny museum – “The first flush toilet in Aroostook County,” he would say, heaving back his narrow shoulders as though he had a large bosom, “belonged to a judge who was known to beat his wife quite regularly.” Or he might pretend to be a tramp looking for food, holding out his hand, his blue eyes beseeching, and his children would laugh themselves sick, until his wife Sylvia got them calmed down. On winter mornings he let the car warm up in the driveway, scraping the ice from its windows, exhaust billowing about him until the kids tumbled down the salt dappled snow of the steps. There were three other kids on the road, two boys in the Daigle family, and their sister Charlene who was close to the age of the youngest Appleby child, a strange little girl named Annie.
Annie was skinny and lively and so prone to talkativeness that her mother was not altogether sorry when she spent hours by herself in the woods playing with sticks or making angels in the snow. She was the only Appleby child to inherit the Acadian olive skin tone and dark hair from her mother and grandmother, and the sight of her red hat and dark head coming across the snow fields was as common as seeing a nuthatch at the birdfeeder. One morning when Annie was five and going to kindergarten she told the car full of children – her brother and sister and the Daigle boys and Charlene – that God spoke to her when she was outside in the woods. Her sister said, “You’re so stupid, why don’t you shut up.” Annie bounced on the seat beside her father and she said, “He does though! God talks to me.” Her sister asked how did he do that, and Annie answered, “He puts thoughts in my head.” She looked up at her father then, and saw something in his eyes as he turned to look at her that stayed with her always; something that did not seem like her father, not yet, something that seemed not good. “You all get out,” he said, when he pulled up in front of the school. “I have to speak to Annie.” When the car doors had slammed shut, he said to his daughter, “What is it you saw in the woods?”
She thought about this. “I saw the trees and chickadees.”
Her father stayed silent a long time, gazing over the top of the steering wheel. Annie had never been scared of her father the way Charlene was scared of hers. And Annie wasn’t scared of her mother, who was the cozier parent, but not the most important one. “Go on, now.” Her father nodded at her, and she pushed herself across the seat, her snow pants squeaking, and he leaned and got the door, saying “Watch your fingers,” before he pulled it shut.
Taken from the short story Snow Blind by Elizabeth Strout
The winner will be announced on 4th April