Winter again and we want the same nocturnal rocking, watching cedar spit and sketch its leafy flames, our rooms steamy with garlic and greasy harvest stew. Outside frosted windows-- claw marks on yellow pine, Venus wobbling in the sky, the whole valley a glare of ice. We gather in the kitchen to make jam from damsons and blue Italian prunes, last fruit of the orchard, sweetest after frost, frothy bushels steeping in flecked enamel pots. Michael, our neighbor, decants black cherry wine, fruit he ground two years ago, bound with sugar, then racked and racked again. It's young and dry. We toast ourselves, our safety, time the brandied savory of late November. I killed a man this day last year, says Michael, while you were away. Coming home from town alone, you know the place in Lolo where the road curves, where the herd of horses got loose New Year's Eve, skidded around white-eyed, cars sliding into them? Didn't see the man until my windshield broke. Could have been any one of us. Twenty-nine years old, half-drunk, half-frozen. Red and black hunting jacket. Lucky I was sober. We stand there plum-stained as Michael's face fractures into tics and lines. He strokes his wine red beard. Michael with no family, gentle farmer's hands, tilts the bottle, pours a round, as if to toast. It was so cold, he says, that when it was over, he swirls the distilled cherries under a green lamp, there was less blood on the pavement than you see this moment in my glass.
From Except By Nature published by Graywolf Press, 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Sandra Alcosser. All rights reserved. Used with permission.