my right, brilliant white-spotted orange puffballs bloomed from the horizontal
trunk of some huge tree that had fallen so long ago it was impossible
to identify. It was being absorbed back into the forest: carpenter ants
and fungi broke down the cellulose; raccoons and possums lived in the
cavities and salamanders in the shade; deer and wild pigs ate the mushrooms.
When the whole thing collapsed into rotted punk, more microbes would turn
it into rich soil from which a new tree would grow. I touched its mossy
bark as I passed. This was the world I belonged to now, this one, where
when a living thing died it fed others, where the scents were of mouse
droppings and sap, not exhaust fumes and cordite, and the air hummed with
insects rather than screams and the roar of flame.
Ninety feet over my head the canopy of ash and white basswood shivered
in the constant mountain breeze; it was never quiet, not even at night.
I stood for a while and just listened.
The sudden, rapid drumming of a pileated woodpecker echoed from the dense
growth ahead. I pushed through fetterbush and fern and skirted a tangle
of dogwoods, trying to pin down the source. It drummed again. North.
I found it forty feet up a huge yellow buckeye on a stream bank orange
with jewelweed: big as a crow, clamped onto the bark by its strange backward-and-forward
claws, and braced against the tree with its tail. Its scarlet head crest
flashed forward and back in an eight-inch arc, over and over, a black-and-red
jackhammer, and almost as noisy. Wood chips and plates of bark as big
as my hand showered the weeds. When it reached softer wood, its tongue
went to work, probing for carpenter ants, licking them up like a child
dipping her tongue in sugar. Perhaps woodpeckers developed an instinct
for which trees were rotten with ants, the way a police officer can spot
the criminal in a crowd. It was efficient and brutal. When it was done,
it launched itself from the tree and disappeared downstream, leaving the
remaining ants wandering about in the wreckage of their shattered community.
I wondered if the bird ever gave any thought to those left behind. I never
I emerged from the jewelweed and sat on a boulder by the rushing stream.
Damselflies hummed; a chipmunk chup-chup-chupped next to a fallen pecan;
birds began their evening song. Tree shadow crept to the edge of the far
bank, then across the water. I let it all pour through my head, emptying
When I stirred, it was twilight under the trees; in the valleys it would
be full dark. If my visitors had been smart, they would have turned their
lights on to drive back down the mountain. I stretched, then walked along
the stream bank, savoring the cool scent of moss and mud, following its
curve north until it met the trail that led south and west to my cabin.
Three hundred yards from the clearing there were no birds singing, no
squirrels scuttling through the undergrowth. The long muscles in my arms
and legs and down my back plumped and warmed as adrenaline dilated blood
vessels. I flexed my hands, moved silently to the tree line.
Woods surround three quarters of the clearing, but the southern quarter
falls down the mountain as a heath bald and, unhindered by trees, the
last of the evening sun slanted over the grass and splashed gold on the
windscreen of a dark blue Isuzu Trooper parked by the trailer. A man sat
on the log by the fire pit, one leg crossed over the other, an unlabeled
bottle by his foot. He was slight, with black hair long enough to hint
at ringlets where it touched his collar, and although I couldn't see his
eyes I knew what color they would be: Irish blue. He was whistling "Kevin
Barry" through his teeth as though he might sit there forever.
I know how to look after myself; I have the money to buy whatever I need.
Neither of these things is any protection for the raw wound that is grief,
and this man sat like a sack of sharp salt in the middle of the only safe
place I knew.
He didn't hear me step from the trees, didn't hear me cross the turf.
It would be easy to break his neck, or pull the hatchet from its stump
and chop through his spine at the sixth vertebra. But he had met Julia,
I stood behind him for nearly a minute--close enough to smell the familiar
bitter hint of coffee grounds--before he jerked around and whipped off
Aud rhymes with shroud. After a moment I said, "Dornan."
"I was beginning to think . . . But here you are."
There were dark circles around his usually bright eyes but I didn't want
to see them. "What do you want?"
"Would you sit down at least? I brought a drink." He held up the bottle.
"Say what you have to say."
"For the love of god, Aud, just sit for one minute and have a drink. Please."
I didn't move. "It's almost dark."
"We'd best make a fire then." He stood, tried to look cheerful. "Well,
now, hmm, I'm no expert but that looks like a fire pit, and this, over
here, is no doubt firewood. If I put this in here, then--"
I took the hickory log from him. "Kindling first."
"And where would I find that?"
"You make it."
"I see. And how do I go about doing that?"
His forehead glistened. He knew me, what I might do if he pushed too hard.
Something was so important to him that he thought it worth the risk; I
would have to hurt him or listen. Briefly, I hated him. "Bring the bottle."
Inside the trailer, I turned on lights and opened cupboards.
"Well, would you look at this! You do yourself proud." He ventured in,
patted the oak cabinets and admired the Italian leather upholstery, then
stepped through the galley to the dining area. "A satellite television!"
He pushed buttons. "It doesn't work." I had never bothered to connect
it. "And a real bathroom." The trailer, a fifth-wheel rig, was a treasure
trove of hidden, high-tech delights. I let him wander about while I assembled
plates, bowls, cutlery. "I had no idea these things could be such little
palaces," he said when he came back. "There's even a queen bed."
After five months of solitude, his prattle was almost unbearable. I handed
him a chopping board and knife, and he frowned.
"So where's the food?"
I picked up a cast-iron pot. "Bring that flashlight."
"There's no electricity?"
Only when I ran the generator, and I preferred the peace and quiet. He
followed me to the water pump, where I handed him the pot. "Fill this.
Less than a third."
While he pumped inexpertly I jerked the hatchet from the chopping stump,
split the hickory into kindling, and carried it to the fire pit. Beneath
the ash, the embers were sluggish. I blew them to a glow. When the kindling
caught I added a couple of logs and went to the bearproof hogpen to get
the food. The sky was now bloody, the trees behind us to the north and
east a soft black wall.
Dornan handed me the pot and I hung it over the fire.
"Pumping's thirsty work," he said, and uncorked the bottle. He drank and
gave it to me. The poteen smoked in my mouth and burned my gullet. I shuddered.
We passed the bottle back and forth until the water came to a boil. My
forebrain felt strange, as though someone were squeezing it. I added rice,
and opened plastic tubs of sun-dried tomatoes, green olives, olive oil,
and cashew nuts.
"No meat I see."
"You're the cafe owner. Next time call ahead."
"I tried. Do you even know where your phone is?"
It was around somewhere, battery long dead. The fire burned hotter. I
drank more whiskey. When the rice was done I handed him the slotted spoon.
"Scoop the rice into the big bowl. Don't throw away the water. It's good
to drink cold."
He gave me a sideways look but spooned in silence. Sudden squealing from
under the trees made him jump. "Mother of god!"
"Wild pigs," I said. The rice he had spilt in the fire hissed and popped.
"Would they be dangerous?"
"Not to us."
He handed me a bowl of rice. I added the dried ingredients and olives,
a little oil, and salt and pepper.
We sat on the log side by side and ate quietly while the sky darkened
from dull red to indigo. Firelight gleamed on my fork and, later, when
we set the plates aside, on the bottle as we passed it back and forth.
I rubbed the scar that ran from my left shoulder blade and along the underside
of my arm to the elbow.
Only inside. "Tell me why you came, Dornan."
He turned the bottle in his hands, around and around. "It's Tammy. She's
missing. I want you to find her."
He had disturbed me for this. "Maybe she doesn't want to be found."
"I think she's in trouble."
Overhead, the first star popped out, as though someone had poked a hole
in a screen.
"Now, look, I'm not a fool. I know you're hiding up here, eating this,
this rabbit food, because you want to be left alone. But I've tried everything,
phoned everyone: police, family, her friends"--Tammy didn't have friends,
only male lovers and female competition--"and I've nowhere else to turn."
His face was drawn, with deep lines etched on either side of his mouth,
but I turned away. I didn't want to know, didn't want to care. Stay in
the world, Aud, Julia had said from that metal bed in that white room.
"It started in July. Tammy changed jobs, left those engineers she was
doing business development for and joined some new outfit. Something to
do with shopping complexes."
Stay alive inside. Promise me. And I had promised, but I didn't know how.
"So off she goes down to Naples, Florida, to talk to some people who are
putting in a new mall. Said she'd be gone a week or ten days. Then I get
a phone call saying no, it'll be another three weeks, or four. But just
when she should have been coming home, she calls again. From New York.
She's learning a lot, she says, and she's decided to spend a bit of time
in New York learning firsthand from the consultant who was advising the
Naples group. His name is Geordie Karp. He's one of those psychologists
that study shoppers and shopping. You know: how to design the front display
to get shoppers inside, where to put what so they'll buy it."
He waited. When I said nothing, he sighed.
"She called at the beginning of August, and she sounded happy. So now
you're probably thinking: Tammy met someone and decided to leave me. After
all, it wouldn't be the first time she's seen other men, would it? No,
you don't have to answer that."
The bottle in his hands turned round and round.
"The thing is, you see, I know Tammy; I know who she is, what she's like.
I know you don't like her, and you're not the only one. But I love her
anyway. Maybe I'm a foolish man, but there it is. So I gave her the ring.
I can't help hoping that one day she'll look at that ring, she'll recall
I have money in the bank and I've promised to take care of her, and love
her, and she'll think, You know, maybe Dornan isn't so bad, and she'll
come home and marry me."
He drank, wiped his mouth, remembered me and passed the bottle.
"She was so happy when she called. Do you know what that's like? That
she was happy with someone else? But I've been through it before--she
drops them as quickly as she picks them up, and she always comes home.
But it's different this time--never lasted as long before, for one thing.
For another, she didn't give me an address, or a phone number. And she
hasn't called again. It's been two months. That's not like her."
Excerpted from Stay by Nicola GriffithCopyright 2002
by Nicola Griffith. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, a division
of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may
be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
has been praised by the widest variety of admirers from crime writer
Dennis Lehane's "outstanding" to poet Allen Ginsberg's "astonishingly
gifted" and in the widest variety of ways, from the Washington
Post admitting it's "hard to overpraise the taut plotting and broad
intelligence" of her work to the Los Angeles Times acclaiming her
"beautifully written [sentences]... shimmering with many levels and
complex meanings" to the Village Voice dubbing her a sort of literary
Griffith has written her most accomplished and searing work. She juxtaposes
beauty and brutality in a stunning amalgam of pyrotechnic noir poetry
to match James Ellroy, lush meditativeness that recalls Barbara Kingsolver,
and hard-boiled moral conviction worthy of Andrew Vachss. And she develops
her hero, Aud, bristling with emotional complexity and barely suppressed
violence, into one of the most fascinating protagonists in fiction today.
opens with Aud, normally the epitome of cool-under-fire contained competence,
disintegrating with grief and guilt over the violent death of her lover.
These emotions are new to her, and she has moved deep into the North Carolina
woods, away from people, afraid of what she might do if pushed. Into her
refuge comes her oldest friend asking an impossible favor: to track down
his missing fiancée, a woman Aud despises. The police wont
take his concern seriously, and Aud an ex-cop whose sense of right
and wrong has little respect for the law is the only person he
can turn to for help. But to follow the womans trail to New York
City, she must leave the shelter of her trees and confront a series of
physical, moral, and emotional challenges that she has been dodging for
weeks, months, and years. None of her choices are easy.
is a dazzling showcase for Griffiths literary talent. She layers
an array of different elements urban tension and pastoral beauty,
complex characters and white-knuckled narrative suspense, lyric prose
and visceral violence into a novel of depth, subtlety, and riveting
Jane Griffith was born in Yorkshire, England in 1960 and grew up in
Leeds. When she was seventeen, she went off to the university to earn
a science degree, but left after a couple months. While in England, she
taught women's self-defense, led creative writing workshops, and was the
singer and songwriter for a band. She first came to the Unites States
in 1988 for the Clairon Workshop in Science Fiction and Fantasy. She now
lives in Seattle, Washington with her partner, SF writer Kelley Eskridge.
Her short fiction has been published in the United Kingdom and the United
States and has been translated into several languages. Her first
novel, Ammonite, won a Lambda Literary Award and the 1993 Tiptree
Award. Slow River was written with the aid of grants
from Georgia Council for the Arts and the Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs.
Slow River won the 1996