Alta Journal is pleased to present the fourth installment of a five-part serialization of the opening section of Properties of thirst, the new novel Marianne Wiggins, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist. The book is a multi-generational California saga in which rancher Rocky Rhodes battles the Los Angeles Water Corporation against the backdrop of World War II, the internment of Japanese Americans, and the death of his wife.
Each week, we will publish online the continuation of this first section, entitled “The first property of thirst is an element of surprise”. Visit altaonline.com/serials to continue reading and register here for email notifications when each new installment is available.
IIn the house, someone was running, then he heard the sound of women’s voices and, Cas running with her, Sunny burst into the portals. A well-behaved child, she had always been wiser than her age and Rocky could see, now, in the terror on her face, that she understood the deepest sadness of this news that was unfolding, elsewhere, in the world – until her saying two words that made no sense. to him:
– two words, in Rocky’s mind, that made no sense together in one sentence.
“Stryker. Stryker is in Pearl Harbor.
It seemed to take some time before he replied accusingly, “But you told me he was with the fleet.” In San Diego.
“I Told you…” The words slowed, but her voice rose, “Don’t say I didn’t. to tell about you Tops. The fleet was moved last year.
He knew it.
-he knew that, it had been reported on the radio – last April – Roosevelt had ordered the Pacific Fleet from California to Hawaii as a warning to the Japanese, but Rocky had stubbornly or blindly allowed himself to think that “the Pacific Fleet Pacific” did not mean stryker“’Pacific Fleet’, in Rocky’s mind, was a code word, a specific cover, for all the sons of those other fathers.
It wasn’t Sunny’s fault – no Cas either – he had made it nearly impossible for them to tell him about his son.
Cas walked over, pulled out the envelope she’d been tapping—hidden– in his pocket. “It happened yesterday.”
She handed it to him and when he hesitated, she said, “You need to take a look.” He is married.”
This took Sunny by surprise.
Rocky took the letter and scanned it for a return address – there was none: just “USN, Honolulu” in Stryker’s teenage penmanship – then he opened it.
Sunny could see that the letter was a single page and a photograph was hidden inside.
Behind them, the voice of the man on the radio stopped, then resumed, narrating what sounded like a geography lesson, an atlas of the western states – Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah – until that she realizes that he was naming ships.
She watched her father quickly read her brother’s letter without changing his expression. Then she saw the muscles in his face relax as he examined the photo. He looked up, met Cas’s eyes, and held his gaze for what seemed to Sunny enough time to write a treatise. Twins. She felt left out: at a time when the world as she had known it seemed to be in pieces, when she needed both her father and her twin most.
She couldn’t help herself: “Are we under attack? Will they bomb us next?
Rocky folded the letter back into the envelope and handed it to his own twin before answering. “Get that out of your head, honey. California’s too far away.
“But they have Hawaii…” She took his arm. “I do not understand what is happening.”
Rocky put his left hand, with his fingers missing, over hers. “Do you want to ride with me to town?” The phones will all be down. I go to Lone Pine for Western Union.
“Everyone will be at church,” Cas warned, then Sunny walked away from them and said, “Somebody please explain to me what’s going on…”
The last time death had felt so close in this house, she was three years old.
And his father had rung the bell.
“Let me go and try to find facts about your brother,” Rocky told him. “Come and roll. It makes you feel good to be with other people.
Sunny shook her head.
After Rocky left, Cas put his arm around his shoulder and handed him the letter. “I was going to show you this, whatever.” There are no secrets between you and me. Who knows why Stryker does what it does. I don’t know why he didn’t want to tell you first.
It was because of Stryker that her fiancé fled the county. Stryker was the reason Sunny wasn’t married.
She turned the letter over in her hand, hesitating, as Rocky had done, to find out what exactly Stryker had in store for them this time.
The first word was written in big block letters and jumped off the paper:
Sunny’s eyes scanned the page—super kid named Suzy—In the United States, Christmas—relatives in Sacramento—then: “Named the 1st 1 Ralph the other Waldo, that should score points with the old one.” (Emerson, do you understand??) Don’t tell Sunny ’cause she’ll freak out, I’m getting caught before her! Imagine me a dad! Times 2!!”
His handwriting hadn’t changed since he was ten.
– and no, she couldn’t imagine him as a husband Where a dad.
But there he was, in the photo, a tall, handsome blond navy flag in his starched whites, leaning over the shoulder of the little woman who was looking at him, her face partially obscured by a pair of aviator sunglasses, her very black hair curled along her head. forehead like a wad of cash or a big sausage, lips curled into a smile. She wore a light dress with large darker flowers on it – large flowers, like in Hawaii – and she wore silk stockings in the sun (the light streamed down her calves). She had small feet in big black pumps and small hands, though Sunny couldn’t see the wedding ring.
Stryker had landed in Hawaii over a year ago and Sunny had received half a dozen letters from him around that time, none mentioning the “big kid Suzy” who looked like half her size, Sunny had to admit it, and very heavy, poised in it. arms two identical shapes that looked like swaddled torpedoes. Ralph and Waldo. Third line of consecutive twins in the family – Rocky and Cas, Sunny and Stryker before them. But those two had broken the mould, Sunny thought. Unlike her and their father, these two would be identical. No one but themselves – and not even themselves – could ever tell them apart.
Sunny took her aunt’s hand, almost twice the size of hers. Ever since their mother’s death, Cas had been the defining woman in Sunny and Stryker’s lives, arriving to help her grieving brother and sacrificing her own chance at parenthood. There was no woman Sunny loved more. No one trusted anymore. “If anything happened to Tops,” Sunny said. “If you and Tops didn’t live near each other, if he lived far away from you and something happened to him, if he got sick or had an accident – or died – don’t think you wouldn’t know? ”
“What do you mean?”
Cas stiffened a little. Sunny felt her aunt’s attention drift to the radio.
“…I mean, don’t you think you would feel it, like a premonition…”
“Oh for God’s sake.” Cas pulled his hand away. “What’s up with you, button…?” »
“-like a doubleI mean.”
“Where do you pick up this garbage? »
Where?– the first distinctive sound Sunny had probably ever heard in life had to be the sound of Stryker being born, the sound of Stryker screaming. Whole years had passed when she had believed Where is your brother? was his name. She walked into a room alone and the first thing she heard was Where is your brother?sounding the alarm that Stryker had escaped again, somewhere on or off the premises, unaccompanied, unattended, unpaired. Where is your brother? supposed You don’t do your job: every time he gets in trouble, so do you. Every time he gets in trouble, it’s your fault.
Sunny’s life had been designed by others in service to her brother. Who could blame her habit of surveillance, the guilt she felt when she didn’t know where Stryker has been?
“I don’t feel Stryker is in any danger. I don’t have that feeling at all. I don’t feel like Stryker is… dead.
“…oh, for God’s sake, don’t be stupid – the nation has been attacked, boys are dying and you’re acting like a seer from the First Act. Premonition my ass. Pull yourself together. Your mother would be ashamed to hear you talk like that.
– Big Cannon, Artillery Case Summon: Sunny mother. What is Sunny mother have you thought or done? How did Sunny measure up to her unknown mother’s dreams for her?
Cas could see she landed a blow and immediately regretted it. She patted Sunny’s hand. “Let us concentrate our intelligence on doing something useful. Despite what your father says, I’ll take care of the phone. We need to know someone who knows someone high up in the Navy. I will make the calls. What are you going to do?”
Sunny stared at her. Everyone in the family had the same blue eyes. Different pieces of the sky.
“Cook, I guess. Start making lots of food.
None of them dared to turn off Rocky’s radio so they left it there, ringing in the void. portals as Cas walked towards her apartmentand Sunny walked, without any real thought or plan, out of habit, to the kitchen.•
TO BE CONTINUED
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Properties of thirst by Marianne Wiggins. Copyright © 2022. Reproduced with permission from Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.