Chapter no 41 – A Small Herd

Where the Crawdads Sing


Kya’s hands fumbled at the tiller as she looked back to see if Chase was following in his boat from Cypress Cove. She

motored fast to her lagoon and limp-ran to the shack on swelling knees. In the kitchen, she dropped to the floor, crying, touching her swollen eye and spitting grit from her mouth. Then listened for sounds of him coming.

She had seen the shell necklace. He still wore it. How could that be?

“You’re mine,” he’d said. He’d be mad as hell that she kicked him and he’d come for her. He might come today. Or wait for night.

She couldn’t tell anybody. Jumpin’ would insist they call in the sheriff, but the law would never believe the Marsh Girl over Chase Andrews. She wasn’t sure what the two fishermen had seen, but they’d never defend her. They’d say she had it coming because, before Chase left her, she’d been seen smooching with him for years, behaving unladylike. Actin’ the ho, they’d say.

Outside, the wind howled from the sea and she worried that she’d never hear his motor coming, so, moving slowly from the pain, she packed biscuits, cheese, and nuts in her knapsack and, head low against a manic gale, hurried through cord grass along channels toward the reading cabin. The walk took forty-five minutes, and at every sound her sore and stiff body flinched and her head jerked to the side, scanning the undergrowth. Finally, the old log structure, up to its knees in tall grasses and clinging to the creek bank, whispered into view. Here the wind was calmer. The



soft meadow quiet. She’d never told Chase about her hideout, but he might have known about it. She wasn’t sure.

The packrat smell was gone. After the ecology lab hired Tate, he and Scupper fixed up the old cabin so he could stay overnight on some of his expeditions. They had shored up the walls, straightened the roof, and brought in basic furniture—a small quilt-covered bed, a cookstove, a table and chair. Pots and pans hung from the rafters. Then, out-of-place and plastic covered, a microscope sat on a folding table. In the corner, an old metal trunk stored tins of baked beans, sardines. Nothing to bring the bears in.

But inside, she felt trapped, unable to see if Chase was coming, so she sat on the edge of the creek, searching the grassy water land with her right eye. The left was swollen shut.

Downstream a herd of five female deer ignored her and wandered along the water’s edge nibbling leaves. If only she could join in, belong to them. Kya knew it wasn’t so much that the herd would be incomplete without one of its deer, but that each deer would be incomplete without her herd. One lifted her head, dark eyes searching north into the trees, stomping her right front foot, then the left. The others looked up, then whistled in alarm.

Instantly, Kya’s good eye probed the forest for signs of Chase or some other predator. But all was quiet. Perhaps the breeze had startled them. They stopped stomping but slowly moved away into the tall grass, leaving Kya alone and uneasy.

She scanned the meadow again for intruders, but the listening and searching sucked all her energy, so she went back into the cabin. Dug sweaty cheese from her bag. Then slumped on the floor and ate mindlessly, touching her bruised cheek. Her face, arms, and legs were cut and smeared with bloody grit. Knees scratched and throbbing. She sobbed, fighting shame, suddenly spitting the cheese out in a chunky, wet spray.

She’d brought this on herself. Consorting unchaperoned. A natural wanting had led her unmarried to a cheap motel, but still unsatisfied. Sex under flashing neon lights, marked only by blood smudged across the sheets like animal tracks.

Chase had probably bragged about their doings to everyone. No wonder people shunned her—she was unfit, disgusting.



As the half moon appeared between fast-moving clouds, she searched through the small window for manlike forms, hunched and sneaking. Finally she crawled into Tate’s bed and slept under his quilt. Waking often, listening for footsteps, then pulling the soft fabric closely around her face.

• • •

MORE CRUMBLING CHEESE for breakfast. Her face darkened to green-purple now, eye swollen like a boiled egg, neck stove-up. Parts of her upper lip twisted grotesquely. Like Ma, monstrous, afraid to go home. In sudden clarity Kya saw what Ma had endured and why she left. “Ma, Ma,” she whispered. “I see. Finally I understand why you had to leave and never come back. I’m sorry I didn’t know, that I couldn’t help you.” Kya dropped her head and sobbed. Then jerked her head up and said, “I will never live like that—a life wondering when and where the next fist will fall.”

She hiked home that afternoon, but even though she was hungry and needed supplies, she didn’t go to Jumpin’s. Chase might see her there. Besides, she didn’t want anyone, especially Jumpin’, to see her battered face.

After a simple meal of hard bread and smoked fish, she sat on the edge of her porch bed, staring through the screen. Just at that moment she noticed a female praying mantis stalking along a branch near her face. The insect was plucking moths with her articulated forelegs, then chewing them up, their wings still flapping in her mouth. A male mantis, head high and proud as a pony, paraded along to court her. She appeared interested, her antennae flailing about like wands. His embrace might have been tight or tender, Kya couldn’t tell, but while he probed about with his copulatory organ to fertilize her eggs, the female turned back her long, elegant neck and bit off his head. He was so busy humping, he didn’t notice. His neck stump waved about as he continued his business, and she nibbled on his thorax, and then his wings. Finally, his last foreleg protruded from her mouth as his headless, heartless lower body copulated in perfect rhyme.

Female fireflies draw in strange males with dishonest signals

and eat them; mantis females devour their own mates. Female



insects, Kya thought, know how to deal with their lovers.

After a few days, she boated into the marsh, exploring areas Chase wouldn’t know, but was jumpy and alert, making it difficult to paint. Her eye was still puffed around a thin slit, and the bruise had leached its nauseated colors across half her face. Much of her body throbbed with pain. At the chirp of a chipmunk she whirled around, listened keenly to the caws of crows—a language before words were, when communication was simple and clear—and wherever she went, mapped an escape route in her mind.

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