Here’s what I know for sure: A cast iron skillet must be seasoned with lard. Pickling and preserving are best done during a waning moon. And secrets buried deep never stay that way.
I plant myself in front of the box fan wedged into the window and lift the hem of my shirt so the air can move across my skin. The Harvest Moon was once a grist mill, and its thick, old limestone walls help cool the inside. But we serve breakfast and lunch six days a week, and there’s no escaping the heat once it really gets cooking.
Gran eyes me from the opposite side of the small kitchen where she’s prepping food for tomorrow night’s festival. She runs the blade of her knife between the ribs of a side of pork she was given for curing the Thompson baby of colic. Breaking through the bone, dismantling it piece by piece, her hands never pause, never falter, even with her gaze on me. She tosses strips of meat into a bowl of spicy marinade, her own secret recipe, and the bones into a roasting pan for broth. Nothing ever wasted.
My sisters and I grew up in this kitchen with its stainless steel tables, white walls, and faint scent of bleach. We’ve been rolling out biscuit dough, scrubbing salt into cast iron, and sneaking spoonfuls of strawberry moonshine jam from the time we could barely see over the counter. So I know what Gran is thinking: Standing here next to the fan could be construed as idleness, something she cannot abide, even if it’s only June and already ninety degrees in the shade.
A bead of sweat slides down the back of my neck, drawn out by the humidity that’s been hunkered down around the base of the mountains for weeks now. I once read that there’s a correlation between an increase in temperature and in brutality. That hotter summers are violent ones. I don’t know if that’s true, but with the way the air sits now, thick and heavy, everyone’s temper seems set to boil.
At the back of the kitchen, Rowan, my older sister by eleven months, lifts the metal handle of the commercial dishwasher, releasing a cloud of steam that plasters her dark hair against her pretty face. All four of us sisters have long dark hair, bright blue eyes and rosy full lips, but Rowan has the darkest and the bluest and the fullest. Yet she wears her beauty like armor to keep others from getting too close. A rose with sharpened thorns.
Her shirt lifts as she reaches up to put some glasses away on a high shelf, just enough to expose a few lines of the black ink that slithers and curls along her hip. It was Mama’s discovery of the snake tattoo that relegated Rowan to dish duty this month. And much as I’d like to avoid the dining room, I don’t envy her. It’s the hottest job in the kitchen.
Sorrel, our eldest sister, shoves through the swinging door, a tray piled high with dirty dishes on one shoulder. She rushes past me toward the dishwashing station as Rowan turns, likely unable to hear Sorrel’s approach over the rattle of the high-pressure wash cycle. They collide with a clatter, and the entire tray tips backward. Plates and glasses clang against each other, and all I can do is watch, waiting for everything to come crashing down. Yet somehow, at the last possible second, Sorrel manages to right it.
She lets out a slow breath of relief just as a single steak knife, teetering on the edge, topples over the side. It lands on its point with a sharp thunk, quivering as it sticks straight up from the floorboards.
“Knife fell,” Mama warns from her station, pausing in drawing her own serrated blade through the green skin of a tomato.
“Trouble’s comin’,” Gran finishes the old bit of folk wisdom with a glance toward the window. The skies have gone a sickly shade of green as storm clouds gather strength over the mountains.
Copyright © 2023 by Kate Pearsall. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.