Debra Holland Quotes

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Antonia Valleau cast the first shovelful of dirt onto her husband's fur-shrouded body, lying in the grave she'd dug in their garden plot, the only place where the soil wasn't still rock hard. I won't be breakin' down. For the sake of my children, I must be strong. Pain squeezed her chest like a steel trap. She had to force herself to take a deep breath, inhaling the scent of loam and pine. I must be doing this. She drove the shovel into the soil heaped next to the grave, hefted the laden blade, and dumped the earth over Jean-Claude, trying to block out the thumping sound the soil made as it covered him. Even as Antonia scooped and tossed, her muscles aching from the effort, her heart stayed numb, and her mind kept playing out the last sight of her husband. The memory haunting her, she paused to catch her breath and wipe the sweat off her brow, her face hot from exertion in spite of the cool spring air. Antonia touched the tips of her dirty fingers to her lips. She could still feel the pressure of Jean-Claude's mouth on hers as he'd kissed her before striding out the door for a day of hunting. She'd held up baby Jacques, and Jean-Claude had tapped his son's nose. Jacques had let out a belly laugh that made his father respond in kind. Her heart had filled with so much love and pride in her family that she'd chuckled, too. Stepping outside, she'd watched Jean-Claude ruffle the dark hair of their six-year-old, Henri. Then he strode off, whistling, with his rifle carried over his shoulder. She'd thought it would be a good day-a normal day. She assumed her husband would return to their mountain home in the afternoon before dusk as he always did, unless he had a longer hunt planned. As Antonia filled the grave, she denied she was burying her husband. Jean-Claude be gone a checkin' the trap line, she told herself, flipping the dirt onto his shroud. She moved through the nightmare with leaden limbs, a knotted stomach, burning dry eyes, and a throat that felt as though a log had lodged there. While Antonia shoveled, she kept glancing at her little house, where, inside, Henri watched over the sleeping baby. From the garden, she couldn't see the doorway. She worried about her son-what the glimpse of his father's bloody body had done to the boy. Mon Dieu, she couldn't stop to comfort him. Not yet. Henri had promised to stay inside with the baby, but she didn't know how long she had before Jacques woke up. Once she finished burying Jean-Claude, Antonia would have to put her sons on a mule and trek to where she'd found her husband's body clutched in the great arms of the dead grizzly. She wasn't about to let his last kill lie there for the animals and the elements to claim. Her family needed that meat and the fur. She heard a sleepy wail that meant Jacques had awakened. Just a few more shovelfuls. Antonia forced herself to hurry, despite how her arms, shoulders, and back screamed in pain. When she finished the last shovelful of earth, exhausted, Antonia sank to her knees, facing the cabin, her back to the grave, placing herself between her sons and where their father lay. She should go to them, but she was too depleted to move.

-Debra Holland
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