Raised in the city, it took Sandra some time to get used to her new home in West Virginia, but she soon found that the forests, rivers, and mountains were safer than the house that held her volatile father. Exploring the outdoors distracted her from the violence waiting at home.
But then her mother became pregnant again. And Sandra’s concern for her family grew when her mother returned home from the hospital without the baby.
In Two Thousand Minnows, Sandra reflects on the events of her childhood and adolescence, including the time spent traveling across the country with her anxious, worn-out family in a small, cramped car. As she grows older, she realizes that what they’re chasing when they move from town to town—the perfect, stable life—could never exist for her until she found the answers to all the questions she never asked. As an adult, Sandra decides to stop running from the past and instead revisit it, refusing to give up until she unearths the truth—and finds the sister who never came home.
“Like many stories of survival . . . it’s likely to offer welcome comfort to readers who endured childhood traumas themselves.” —Publishers Weekly
“One of the great literary discoveries of the year.” —Holly Goldberg Sloan, author of Counting by 7s
“I stayed up late, caught up in this story of a West Virginia girl’s search for a lost baby—and her own truest self.” —Laura Cunningham, author of Sleeping Arrangements
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"Hey Sandra, wanna go fishing?"
Dad is standing by the crooked screen door watching the dark sky threaten to rain. He looks like a bored little boy who wants to go out and play. I do too. I am seven and a half and tall for my age. I don't know how to fish. I saw Dad get mad and throw his pole in a creek once. But that was a long time ago when we used to live in Phoenix, Arizona. Things were different then; a little louder and a little more rocky. But we're here now, in the mountains of West Virginia. No one knows us, and no one cares. It's slower around here and a lot more quiet. So quiet that my head doesn't know what to do with itself. Back in Arizona I knew what to do, how to act, and what to look out for. But here it's different. Dad says we're starting over. I've never started over before. It's sort of like being lost. I look around all the time, trying to find something familiar. So far I don't recognize a thing.
This cabin is my new home and it's not big and it's not roomy. It sits across from the river and says Go ahead and play. Even the ratty furniture invites me to jump on it. The brown couch with soggy cushions has been jumped on at least five hundred times, I can tell. The walls have been painted so much they don't even know what color they are. And the green chair now rocks so far back that the wall has to stop it from throwing me to the floor. The tired old woodstove stands alone in the living room. I still have no idea how it works. The house is cold — not chilly — and the light has trouble shining in, because of all the trees I guess. The carpet is wiry and bald in some places. It feels like lots of boots tromp tromped across it. To the right of the living room is a small dreary kitchen. The cabinets hang loose and the floor has scars all over it, probably those boots from long ago. They say it was a hunting and fishing cabin. I guess cabins aren't like houses. They don't have to be pretty, and they get worn out.
The back door opens wide to three crooked cement steps, and a thin dirt path cuts through the grass that's in its way and circles all the way around to the side of the house. The backyard is not a backyard at all, it's a mountain. This mountain has vultures, big black ones, with dead wrinkled red skin for heads. I stay out of the backyard when they land. The other day, I saw one as tall as Mark. He's my little brother. He's okay, but he's still kind of small, and I have to be careful with him. He's five, shy and quiet. He mostly stays out of Dad's way because Dad yells at him more. Shelly's my little sister, she's six, and I don't have to be as careful with her. She's always scared, she's prissy and she acts like a girl. Not me, I hate wearing dresses. I'm what they call a tomboy. All that means is I'm tough, I never say No, I'll get too dirty, and I always want to climb.
Off the kitchen in the back, through a faded green curtain, is a large closet made into a bedroom, with a set of bunk beds and a twin. This is ours and the twin is mine. Off the other side of the living room is Mom and Dad's room. The bathroom sits in a tiny hallway, and that's it.
"Are you coming?" Dad is halfway out the door. I run to my closet bedroom and grab my dirty blue tennis shoes.
Mom stands behind Dad and nags, "Bill, you be careful out there. You don't know anything about this river." Mom used to sing for nightclubs, but now all she gets to do is hum once in a while. She's decided to give it another try with Dad and not sing anymore. I bet it's because of the baby. They split up back in Phoenix. Mom just got tired of it; all the fighting and stuff. She's not happy yet, but we've only been here a little while. She probably misses all her friends.
"What in the hell are you talking about? I practically grew up on this river." Dad scratches his head. "As a matter of fact, I lived here every summer till I was about sixteen. Dorothy and George brought us here right after school was out." I see his face settle back into his thoughts, and I don't want to know what they are.
"All right Dad, let's go." I pound out of the screen door across the dew wet grass, dropping one of my tennis shoes as I go. The hill slopes down hard and fast to the road and I have to watch it. My feet can easily get away from me. If I lose my balance and go too fast, I might end up in the road when one of those mean coal mining trucks flies by. They sound like they're in pain as they bounce hard down the road. Some of the coal flip-flops off the back, glad to be free. The trucks go about a hundred miles an hour and they don't watch for kids. Heck, they'd squash me like a caterpillar. I've seen them do it. I don't know why those dumb old caterpillars even try to cross the road. They should just be happy where they are.
I wait and watch. The road's clear, no trucks. Dad forgot his jacket; he turns and runs back to the house. I can't wait, I can't, I love that river. My feet scurry across the damp road; I can smell the wet tar. The air smells too ... damp, like rain. Then, as if stepping onto a cloud, the sand covers my feet and the road is gone. I manage not to step on sticks, walnuts, or rocks as I dig each toe in deeper than the other. Now Dad's right behind me. He unchains the upside-down boat from the tree, and with a heave we flip it over. He drags the boat down the bank and into the river. The river slaps the boat on the side and then nudges it hello.
"Go ahead, get in. Make sure you stay in the middle and go all the way to the back."
I trip over the pole, lose my balance, and fall into the wooden seat. Dad rolls his eyes but doesn't say a word. He shoves the boat, avoiding the cold water. The boat rocks hard, then swishes and rolls as we settle down.
The clouds drip a drop or two of rain. I say nothing. Maybe he won't feel it. He rows us out into the middle, and suddenly I'm lost in this still place called Fort Springs. Back on the bank the trees sway just a little, and the clouds reflect in the stillness of the river. The birds seem to be hiding from the rain that is coming.
Dad dips his pole with a single wiggling worm into the water. I lean over and dangle my hand along the sleepy current, wishing I could go swimming, but that's over. Fall is here, so I'll have to wait until next summer. Dad reels up the drowned worm and cusses at him for not doing his job. He toys with a bobber and lets the dead worm go back to work tricking the fish. The raindrops fall one at a time hitting us on the forehead. I ignore them and so does Dad. "Ya know," Dad says as he closes his tackle box, "the best time to fish is during the rain." I'm convinced. After all, the fish are already wet; why would they care if it rains?
We sit there and sit there. Time floats by, along with the twigs, leaves, and river gunk. Dad leans behind his wooden bench and pulls out his BB gun. I don't like that thing. He points at the defenseless tree and snaps the trigger. He misses. He pulls again and a BB flies. "See that? Bet ya I can hit it." I look into the bank at whatever "that" is, and he fires. "Got it." The beer can bounces. He shoots at everything not alive and kills it. I watch and cheer him on. "Wanna try?" Dad holds the gun my way. I shake my head no. His pole lays limp over the side of the boat; it's done fishing. The rain comes and splashes inside the bottom of the boat. Dad aims at a leaf in the water and shoots. He shoots again. The leaf finally drowns. Nothing around us moves. Then up pops a fish alongside us. Dead. Dad looks at me and I stare into the bulging eyes of the fish. He's been hit. The fish must have got it when Dad shot the leaf. Dad slaps his knee, "I'll be damned." He fires again and again. Two, now three more fish pop up like Cheerios floating in milk. "Sandra, who said you had to fish with a pole?" Dad rows to his catch and nets them into the boat. "I told you the best time to fish is when it rains. Nobody's out and you can shoot all the damn fish you want." I laugh and laugh. I can't believe how many fish must have been swimming around under us the whole time, and then bang! Dad shoots them. My hair is wet and Dad is drenched by the time we get back to shore. He puts the fish on a stringer and pretends this is his catch for the day.
As we walk up to the house, old Mr. Grimes can't believe his eyes. "Son, you catch all those?" Mr. Grimes gimps off his porch and heads our way. He's been here all his life. He tells me that every time I see him.
Dad smiles back. "Sure did." He holds out his victims. "Want'em?"
"Why sure if you're not eatin' em'."
Dad hands them over, stringer and all. He pats me on the back as we walk away. "I hate cleaning fish."
"But Dad," I giggle, "shouldn't you tell him to watch out for the BBs? What's going to happen when he bites in and breaks his tooth?"
Later that week, Friday night, I finish dinner and help Mom clean up the kitchen. It's a quiet night. Dad is out, maybe at work. Mom isn't herself; she isn't funny or kind. No jokes tonight. I keep to myself. I can't figure out why it's so weird. The air has that thick electric feeling in it, a bad night feeling.
"Mom do you want to color?"
"No, I'm tired, why don't you color with Mark ...?"
The night is moving slowly and I pray it's my imagination. I stay alert and cautious. I don't want to ask where's Dad. If I do, she might say "I don't know" with that voice. The cold and dead sound that says nothing. Her voice is the key and I'm afraid of it. She stares away as she speaks. It's better to stay in the dark and act surprised later. Time to go to bed, and that means stay awake and wait.
Shelly and Mark fall fast and hard to sleep — they know deep down inside, but they can use sleep as a way out. I can't, it's my job to help. God is trying to talk to me but I won't listen. Dad promised out loud that he wouldn't drink anymore. I am going to believe him, I have to. God is the problem; He keeps making it hard. God is still trying to warn me; I hear him but I won't answer. If I answer it will be true, and if I answer I'll be scared out of my mind. He'll make it happen for sure if I answer. "Shut Up! It is not going to happen."
The car pulls up and I feel Mom shrivel up inside when the car door slams. She stays in her room. The electricity is here. It is buzzing, humming, and now the door opens. No time to feel. I check out of my body and get into position. Ready . . . hold on. I have to pay close attention because my timing is crucial, and it can save my mom's life. I turn to Shelly and Mark all the way awake, propped up tight on their beds, and snap, "Shut up! I told you, if you guys scream it'll make it worse." They don't know how Mom feels when they scream. I do. It makes it hard for her to defend herself.
I listen. He is calling her names, asking questions that he doesn't want answers to. "Please mom, don't say anything!" I send her thought messages. I know better than to come out of my room. He'll start throwing things when he sees me.
I leave my bedroom, but my body stays in bed with Shelly and Mark. I help her think. I slow him down. What kind of hitting is it? With his hand or his fist? I listen, trying to slow him down with my thoughts. If it's his fist we need the police. I forget about the neighbors who always called the police; we have no neighbors now. What am I going to do? I have to get her out of the house. I move like a snake into the kitchen. He can't see me. I open the door to the outside. I know she won't have time to turn the handle. She sees me. She knows what to do next, get out of the house! Dad is dragging her out of the bedroom by the hair. She needs to stand up. She's screaming. I hate it when she screams. Now Mark and Shelly are screaming. I can't stop it, they are not supposed to scream. She's running for the door. I look at Shelly and Mark, but they don't move. Dad lunges and grabs for her. Mom makes it out!
I block the door with my back up against it; he is pressing against my body. I will kill him. He will sleep tonight and I will kill him, no question. He smells like the stuff, and he is green just like the devil. I hate this man. Why is he doing this? His eyes meet mine and I stare into his soul. I am more powerful than him. Watch. "Dad, it's okay, Mom's gone, let her go."
He melts like green slime under a rock. "Sandra," he stumbles onto my shoulder. "I am so sorry. I love you kids so much. Your Mother is a whore and she makes me mad, but I love you."
I watch him from my bed with Shelly and Mark crying on my lap. They know the game and they know their cue. Together we plead, "We love you Daddy, it's okay." He continues crying, begging and explaining himself. This is my cue. "Dad, don't worry, it's okay, tomorrow it will be better, we know, we forgive you."
"Forgive me! You little pieces of shit. Your Mother is a cheating, lying whore I'm alone here. You're all against me!"
Now Shelly steps in. "I know Daddy, I know. We will do better, I promise. We love you." She talks really fast, and soon we are all scrunched up repeating our love over and over again. I am out of the room looking for Mom, but I can't look too hard or he'll know. If he feels or sees my fear he'll win. I have to get him out of our room and into his bed. I never had to do this much work before; usually the police come and the baby-sitter helps. I must stay strong. Mom is going to die out there. There are no police, baby-sitters, or neighbors.
Good, he's back to hating himself and wanting us to forgive him. I won't talk this time, we'll all just listen. Mark is sucking his fingers — he has no tears — and Shelly is babbling to herself and listening to him. I am watching. When will he stop crying and just go to bed? I have to get outside and find Mom. It's snowing, and she has no coat or shoes.
He's done, he's gone, he's told us to go to sleep. This is not a good time to disobey. I hear him lock the doors. I get up and unlock the kitchen door, it's close to my bed — not too risky. The front door could have been deadly. Shelly and Mark are asleep. I told them I would go find her. I open my window and call to her. It is black, no streetlights, no moon, no point. I will wait one hour, and then I'll go find her. If she's hurt she won't be able to hear me. I am looking for her out of my body. My head is popped out of the open window, and I notice the tears are warm on my cold face. I want my mom now. There she is creeping toward me. I say nothing. I have to get her inside. I hold her hands and help pull her through the window. She's cold like an ice tray, and I wonder if she could die. I don't know a lot about cold. She kisses me on the cheek and crawls deep into my covers. I rub her body starting with her arms until each part is warm. I listen for her breathing. I do not sleep. I look around the room at Shelly and Mark across from me, they are so small. I see Mom with her beautiful skin and her black hair. I decide I am okay with them around me, and I would rather die myself than see them hurt. I love them very, very much.CHAPTER 2
We've been here over four weeks. The house has settled down and so have we. The hot water works almost all the time. The river is moving slower and they say it will be an early winter. Winters in Phoenix, where I was born, meant nothing but put on your sandals and grab a sweater in case it rained. Dad has been telling Shelly and me about how much fun it'll be riding the bus to school. I used to ride my bike.
The first day of school is here; it's six a.m. and time to get ready. The bus will pick us up at seven in front of the house. How does the bus know where we live? Shelly and I stumble out of bed with knots in our hair and squinty eyes. Mom gets up in about the same shape and starts a little fire; it goes out twice before she cusses loud enough, then it starts. It only warms us up if we're standing next to it. She gets our clothes out and hangs them on a kitchen chair close to the stove so they'll be warm when we get dressed. She makes it a game and we laugh at each other. Mom knows as much about the cold as I do. I thought all you had to do was turn on a heater. Shelly is quiet while Mom rips out her tangles. She's nervous. I rip out my own tangles and all three of us wonder about the big day ahead. Mom starts breakfast and packs us a lunch at the same time. She leans on the rusty sink. I notice that she is getting more tired as the days go on.
I have Shelly with me as we wait at the edge of our front yard. It's too cold to wait outside anymore. I don't know what to do. Do I have to be out here, or will the bus honk if it doesn't see me? I better just wait. Mom watches us from the living room window. I see it! I see the yellow blur way down there. It's coming. What do I do? Do I wave, or what? It's the first time we've ridden a bus.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Two Thousand Minnows"
Copyright © 2014 Sandra Leigh Vaughan.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Smiles shyly. "Sooo... whats up?"
He blanches. "Erm - Hi."