The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope - By Rhonda Riley


The Land

My husband was not one of us. He remains, after decades, a mystery to me. Inexplicable. Yet, in many ways, and on most days, he was an ordinary man.

With him I learned that, before all mysteries, surrender is inevitable. We all give way to our true natures. This is his story. It is, of course, also my story, for I am the one left to do the telling.

Now finally, after decades, I am writing this down for my daughters, for their children and the children after them, the act of writing my atonement for all I have not told them. Until now. For now I have proof. Sweet, indisputable proof.

Sarah, our youngest daughter, sent me a photograph weeks ago, a full year since she moved to China with her husband, Jian, and their son, Michael. In it, her hair is glossy dark brown and straight. Her eyes are a deep brown as well, and the folds of her eyelids now suggest Asian ancestry. Her curly red hair and gold-flecked green Irish eyes are gone; in her new skin, she is her father’s daughter. Lil, my daughter who lives with me now, insists that Sarah must have had plastic surgery and dyed her hair. She’s puzzled and disappointed that her sister would take such measures to fit in where she now lives. But I know the truth.

This truth begins on a Saturday in 1944. I was fresh out of high school and already tired of working at the cotton mill when I heard our car pull up in the backyard. Then Momma trudged through the door, hard news on her face.

Without taking her coat off, she slumped down into one of the dining chairs. She stared at the table, then opened her mouth as if to speak. I propped the iron up.

Every day brought news of boys missing or dead in the war. Momma and Daddy had been visiting my widowed aunt Eva. Two of Eva’s three sons were already dead. The third, Ricky, was overseas after lying about his age to sign up with the army. I braced myself, expecting Momma to announce Eva’s remaining child among them. Instead, she closed her mouth, hung her head, and covered her eyes as Daddy paused on the back porch to wipe his feet.

“It’s your aunt Eva, Evelyn. She’s gone,” he said.

Then Momma began to cry in earnest. Aunt Eva, the baby sister of my grandmother, was in spirit, if not in fact, the matriarch of our family. Closer to Momma than her own mother had been.

I unplugged the iron as Daddy went to find my sisters, Rita and Bertie.

“It’s okay, Momma. It’ll be okay.” I rubbed her back. I loved my stern and demanding aunt Eva. I could not imagine her energy stilled by death and the farm left empty. But I sensed, even then, that this change was larger than a single death, that it would radiate out from this single point.

Daddy returned, shepherding my sisters into the kitchen. Bertie held out a handkerchief for Momma. Rita blinked nervously. Tears were rare for our mother.

Momma wiped her face and sighed a deep, shuddering sigh. “I knew something must have been wrong. She hadn’t been into town in over a week. She always . . .”

I started to sit down again and reached for Momma’s hand.

Daddy stopped me. “You’re going to the farm with me. Eva’s cows haven’t been milked.”

I didn’t want to leave Momma, but he was right. I was the one who should go with him. My brother, Joe, had no interest in the farm. Bertie had never deigned to touch a cow’s teat, and any animal larger than a house cat intimidated Rita. I knew Aunt Eva’s farm better than I knew my own bedroom. I followed Daddy to the car and slid in beside him.

“Probably a heart attack,” he said. “I don’t think she suffered. Your momma found her on the parlor couch, pictures of her boys next to her.”

He offered no more and I didn’t ask. We had never been much for words, the two of us. I looked out at the houses we passed. Eva was gone. A wave of anger surged through me. I tried to console myself with the hard practical thought that the natural death of an old woman was better than one more boy dead.

Daddy muttered, cursing the roughness of the steep driveway and downshifting the old Ford.

“The coroner’s here,” Daddy announced as we pulled around behind the house. Eva’s dog, Hobo,