Sneak Preview of STONES FOR BREAD
Want a peek inside of Stones for Bread? Here's the beginning of chapter one:
I’m young, four, home from nursery school because of snow. Young enough to think my mother is most beautiful when she wears her apron; the pink and brown flowered cotton flares at the waist and ruffles around the shoulders. I wish I had an apron, but instead she ties a tea towel around my neck. The knot captures a strand of my hair, pinching my scalp. I scratch until the captive hair breaks in half. Mother pushes a chair to the counter and I stand on it, sturdy pine, rubbed shiny with age.
Our home is wood—floors, furniture, spoons, bowls, boards, frames—some painted, some naked, every piece protective around us. Wood is warm, my mother says, because it once was living. I feel nothing but coolness in the paneling, the top of the long farm table, the rolling pin, all soaked in January.
At the counter, the smooth butcher block edge meets my abdo- men, still a pot-bellied preschooler’s stomach, though my limbs are sticks. Mother adds flour and yeast to the antique dough trough. Salt. Water. Stirs with a wooden spoon.
I want to help, I say.
You will, she tells me, stirring, stirring. Finally, she smoothes olive oil on the counter and turns the viscous mound out in front of her. Give me your hands. I hold them out to her. She covers her own in flour, takes each one of mine between them, and rubs. Then, tighten- ing her thumb and forefinger around a corner of dough, she chokes off an apple-sized piece and sets it before me. Here.
I poke it. It sucks my fingers in. Too sticky, I complain. She sprin- kles more flour over it and says, Watch. Like this.
She stretches and folds and turns. The sleeves of her sweater are pushed up past her elbow. I watch the muscles in her forearms expand and contract, like lungs breathing airiness into the dough. She stretches and folds and turns. A section of hair comes free from the elastic band at the back of her head, drifting into her face. She blows at it and, using her shoulder, pushes it behind her right ear. It doesn’t stay.
She stretches and folds and turns.
I grow bored of watching and play with my own dough, flattening it, leaving handprints. Peel it off the counter and hold it up; it oozes back down, holes forming. I ball it up like clay, rolling it under my palm. Wipe my hands on the back pockets of my red corduroy pants.
My mother finishes, returns her dough gently to the trough. She places my ball next to her own and covers both with a clean white tea towel.
I jump off the chair. When do we cook it?
Bake it. Mother wipes the counter with a damp sponge. But not yet. It must rise.
To the sky?
Only to the top of the bowl.
I’m disappointed. I want to see the dough swell and grow, like a
hot air balloon. My mother unties the towel from my neck, damp- ens it beneath the faucet. Let me see your hands. I offer them to her, and she scrubs away the dried-on dough, so like paste, flaky and near-white between my fingers. Then she kisses my palms and says, Go play.
The kitchen is stuffy with our labor and the preheating oven. The neighbor children laugh outside; I can see one of them in a navy blue snowsuit, dragging a plastic toboggan up the embankment made by the snow plow. But I stay. I want to be kissed again and washed with warm water. I want my mother’s hands on me, tender and strong at the same time, shaping me as she does the bread.