From Correction of Drift, a novel in storiesby Pamela Ryder
out now from FC2
LINDBERGH BABY MISSING
The New York Evening News
March 2, 1932
DARING MIDNIGHT ABDUCTION
NATIONWIDE SEARCH UNDERWAY
The Dallas Star
March 2, 1932
Investigators believe that the kidnappers are professionals interested only in extortion and not in unnecessarily harming the boy.
Mercer County Mirror
March 3, 1932
Investigators believe that the kidnappers are not professionals but a local gang.
Mercer County Mirror
March 5, 1932
Police have found a cleverly constructed collapsible
ladder in the woods beneath the nursery window.
The St. Louis Star
March 3, 1932
Police have found a crudely made ladder in the woods below the nursery window.
The Garden State Gazette
March 3, 1932
In the Hands of the Pigman
It remains unclear why the family dog, who often slept outside the
nursery door, did not bark as the boy was taken from his crib, or why the
Colonel and Mrs. Lindbergh did not hear the rungs of the ladder crack.
Princeton Free Press
April 9, 1932
They lit out on foot, in wing tips, in oxfords—black & white, and ox-blood brown—and sharp-toed boots of yellow buck with high tops and a fancy stitch—hurrying along the moon-bright road, following the markers of snowpatch in ditches and the vapors of the one of them ahead—hard breaths of men in suits and city shoes too thin-soled for a country thoroughfare, wrong for these parts. Pinstripe, worsted, herringbone. Sporting fedoras. Single file as they go, these three—over ruts and dips, over small stones heaved out by freeze along the road cut, the man in front clutching his suit coat closed one-handed at his throat, carrying in the other by its handle-grasps a satchel of the sort that country doctors or burglars are thought to keep, or spinsters traveling by rail might set in their laps—but he is none of these. Nor are the other two behind him, rounding a bend and swinging widely with the burden that they tote between them: a ladder carried by its sidepiece, the rungs crudely cut. Faint blue marks of carpenter’s chalk. A hasty nail here and there piercing together boards of sapwood and yellow pine. Measured. Sawed. Tested for their weight, for their steps—now hard upon the frozen road, this lane newly made through old stands of oak and ash, hacked through to the house beyond. A fieldstone in the old style, whitewashed and double-storied—they can see it through woods wind-swept of leaves, as it is this time of year when what went cold and slow of heart before the first frost tunneled underground to wait out warmer weather now starts to stir. In burrows. Dens. Back rooms. In boardinghouses of longing and petty discontent, abode of bail jumpers, repeat offenders, wife-smackers. In cellars and speakeasies. In foul alleys slimed with the spittle of idlers and shirkers skilled at no trade but the swindle, the conspiracy to commit. Clever with the concealed weapon; handy with the shiv. Men who winter in custody, in lockups, in sorry apartments of single occupancy or in flats where wives wait up. Wrung hands and handkerchiefs. Accusations. Alibis. In rented rooms and in dismal kitchens. In the corridors of old hotels lacking bellhop or porter where the rooms are rosy each evening with the pulse of neon in the window, bleak by the light of day. Dwellings of ne’er-do-wells set loose upon these far wooded districts, this frozen country lane.
They move on with the moon behind them and the last seep of sundown on the hills and drifts. Lacework of trees above the ridge. So still a day. One of them remembering a sky such the same as this but long ago, one late afternoon of sledding—yes, the same light, he thinks, one of them does, and those trees, too, in silhouette, the same—Billy! That’s enough I said. Now I said. You get on in here William. Why you’re half-frozen and where is your other mitten?—and the other one remembering the buckets of mums and buckets of roses in the evening at the trolley stop. The people stepping down from the lighted cars in the early dusk and saying: Evening, evening, yes good evening, not so cold for nearly Christmas is it? And well I see you’ve got your boy with you tonight. Helping out and learning the business are you Bean? And people walking on past or stopping to buy. A bud for your lapel sir? A bouquet to take home to the little missus? Pass me two of those long stems there Bean. That’s it Bernard and put in a sprig of baby’s breath for the lady. Scent of spring and cut green things this winter’s eve. Fern wrapped in paper and carnations in bunches: the all-white ones and the ones with petals spattered red—candy-cane carnations is what he called them and sometimes he called them peppermint. But aren’t you cold. Aren’t you cold and can’t we go home now Pop? and the third man remembering the cold the men brought in on their linen coats and the canvas bed they carried and the snow tracked in on the bedroom floor and Mutter takes the handkerchief she always holds to her mouth and takes it down but never says about the wet or tells them go back and wipe your feet the way she always says. The way she always tells him to. Instead she makes his name—Rudy—with her mouth like making a kiss but the spittle and they take up the canvas bed by the long poles and her mouth says something but the spittle again and the blood and they lift her in. Yes, so very still a day.
They travel on under early stars and the tree shadows that stripe the road and fold over the slopes, accommodating each mound, each rut. A grove of spruce. Long cones. A storm-split oak, downed limbs cracked with many winters’ weight—but that one fork where you can put your foot. You get down from there Bean! You hear me Bernard? That branch will never hold—trunk split and decaying heartwood deep.
The man in front stops and puts his satchel roadside on a stone. The two coming along just behind him set the ladder on its sidepiece. Cigarettes are shaken from the pack. Rasp of match head on the bootheel of his yellow bucks. They lean in, faces chrome-blue with moonlight, then flame-bright, and they stand hunched and stamping as they suck the smoke in long breaths. None speak. Whatever wind there was has ceased, or nearly so. The snow has started, a sifting of it down upon these woods—of late called the Colonel’s woods—a fine and grainy snow, imperceptible in its descent and told only as a hiss: the fall of it on the crown of a fedora, the hush of it one of them hears along the brim—a kettle hardly at a simmer. Do hurry with that tea will you please Mrs. Grogan and give your Billy there a cup. The whisper of it the other one of them listens for in the boughs of spruce, in the boughs of ash and—in the dune wind where the beach grass grows and in a shell cast up and held to his ear and the spits of foam sliding over his feet. Take him by the gill Bernard. Mind the hook there Bean. No downside up it goes with the slit longways down the belly and mind that blade—that’s innards just like you. Mind your fingers. And the sigh of it one of them knows beneath his boot soles, in the old leaves in the ditches—The long locomotive hiss in the hollow of the station. Smell of steam and smoke. Mutter’s hand. Papa’s glove. The big valise with the broken lock. The latch. The scuff. Chocolate with the foil peeled back. The row of little window shades. One comes up. Papa’s glove. Mutter’s hand waving back. Rudy, sag tschüss, Papa! Sag tschüss! Snow clouds thin as mist at the tree line. The moon veiled. A shape blacker than the sky behind it drops from its perch, crosses overhead in silence and in silence ascends. “See that?” says one of them but no man will answer that he has. They take their final draws of smoke. They toss away the butts that rise and glow in brief, bright arcs—and fall as stars are thought to do, or comets might in stories. See that one Bernard? And oh another. There it goes Bean just like a snowball but a tail made of stardust that sparks and catches fire. Fix your coat. Button up. Watch now. Listen to your Pop. Oh you missed it. Oh look up boy. Look up.
The ladder is hoisted shoulder-high. On they go, following the road and the road cut wall where roots protrude, finely branched and clutching their stones. Pale stems of gray birches. Small pools, still iced over. Now passing stump and stump. Logs in a stack. On now, where the road levels out, nearing the house with its walls glowing white as bone. Steady smoke comes from the chimney. The sky behind it bends and stars there tremble with the heat. Old snow in the eaves. The roof of layered slate. All is dark in the upper windows: bedroom, bath, bedroom, nursery—the boy—the baby—they suppose, having been put to bed. In the lower level, lamps have been lit. The shank of the evening, as it is said. Folks at home. Den, dining room, living room, kitchen. Light in the square and leaded pane above the front-room door. A crystal chandelier in the entranceway. A gilt-edged mirror. A table with a marble top and clawed feet clutching globes of glass. Don’t touch that Billy. Candlesticks. Bottles on the sideboard. Ice in a silver bucket. The butler would be poking the hearth, they suppose. Bright logs. Firedogs. Brass tools. The cook would be rewarming the Colonel’s dinner, the Colonel being late. I’m afraid my husband’s been delayed Mrs. Grogan. Well the boy can wait. The boy Billy yes of course but in the kitchen with you Billy. T-bone and gravy and corn cut from the cob in a dish with specks of pepper and butter and rolls in a little silver basket and ice cream in a cup. If you think you must Mrs. Grogan. Nothing contagious I should hope and take whatever time you need. After you serve dessert—that would be best and you’ll finish the silver before you go of course and whatever’s in the sink.
And the Colonel—they suppose he would be having his dinner if the three of them came knocking—so courteously, so quietly knocking—the Colonel looking up from his plate, pushing back his chair, perhaps with some surprise. Perhaps glancing at the clock. And then he would be standing, wiping the grease from his mouth. Tossing down his napkin, one of them imagines—I’ll get that, Dear. Stepping from the table, coming to answer. Yes. Right away. Who’s there? Who is it? Neighbor or reporter? Pistol or blade? A wing-tipped shoe to breastbone or belly? The butler might be brandishing the poker. Yes, that would be swell, thinks the man in pinstripes. Or the cook with a pot—oh, that would be rich, thinks the one in herringbone. And the nanny or the nurse—one or the other—running for the boy, knowing from the start it was all about the boy—why else but for the boy?—as she scrambles up the stairs, thinking she might hide him. Catching her by her skirt, or ankle, or foot as she scrambles on the stairs and clutches at the banister; pulling her down there on the landing or sliding her down to the living-room floor. Holding her against their clothes: pinstripes wet with snow, herringbone flecked with blood. A rib cracked through by sharp-toed boot; the sole of an oxford pressed upon a throat.
And the wife—the Colonel’s wife—they had seen her—why, who hadn’t seen her?—front-page and stepping from a cockpit, in newsreels beside the Colonel cutting ribbons and once even waving with the boy—yes, with the boy, the very same—or smashing champagne to a wing. The Colonel’s wife in her fine shoes and stockings and her pretty silk dresses, walking that straightforward sort of way some women walk. The way American women walk, thinks the one in his boots and his worsted suit. Oh, yes, he has seen them, followed them in his yellow bucks down evening streets. Watched them in shops and windows and yards. Sitting in parks or trolley cars with their ankles crossed and stockings with seams and garters that peek and not the patched woolen hose Mutter wears most cold nights laid belly down upon their old featherbed and smelling of cabbage and Bismarck Schnitzel and whimpering to Papa with her mouth in her pillow: Bitte hör auf! while the bedsprings shriek and Papa and Mutter dance like the dogs chained up in the pigman’s alley. Like the one that stands on his feet like a person would stand or a boy would stand and the big Papa dog has white front feet like a pair of mittens and his feet hold the hips of the little brown dog. Walking up the back the little brown dog who is chewing something ropey and pink she is pulling from the pigman’s barrel while the dog with the mittens walks up her back. Papa on her back. Mutter on her pillow and chewing on her pillow like a chained-up dog telling Papa: Ach! Du tust mir weh! Ach! Bitte! And now Mutter sees who is peeping at the door—catches her Rudy right there at the door and calls: Rudy geh weg! Geh weg von der Tür! No, the Colonel’s wife would have stockings of silk and slim-heeled shoes with the toe tips showing her painted toes. The pinned limbs; the luscious struggle. He can hear the sound of silk shredded. Satin sheets. Cries, tears—into a satin pillow. Ach, Rudy! Du tust mir weh! Bitte! Rudy. Bitte.
The moon is high now, widely ringed—clouds in shreds surrounding—but the road still bright where they pass, the three of them shrugged in their suit coats and the light, fine snow falling on their shoulders, falling on their shoe tops; melting in ruts where they have stepped, wet along the window sills, the roof slate, the chimney rim; and falling on the branches, the roots and the boulders, the downed oak limbs, the broken boughs of spruce and juniper that cover the sedan where they have left it ditchside—hidden on the road where the road turns out; snow still falling to settle on the runners, wet on the fenders, melting on the windshield.
They had motored into town—rumbled, fairly growled in the slung-low sedan, a rear window cranked down for the ladder length, the rest kept cracked for the smoke of their cigarettes. Spoke-wheeled, white-walled. Spare at the rear. The doors with the slightest blistering of rust.
Past fields they went, rime-white where the land lay in the cold shade of hillsides, or russet in the afternoon sun. Rows of cornstalk stubble. Hardened furrows in fields turned under. Past ponds iced over or partly thawed where streams ran out of them or in and waterfowl circled or rested or rose partly up with outstretched wings. Following a creek for a time: fringed reeds, black alder, bare wands of black willow. Train trestle, wooden bridge and then at the railing with the writhing sack and Mother says: Let go Billy. I said let go. No you can’t hear them. Because they are sleeping. That sound is the river. You heard me: let go. And then the foam closing over and then the bubbles coming up and spilling through a gully where brambles grow. Past gates and long rail fences; caged-in gardens full of old stalks of something and of snow, and cabins and shacks and front steps of other folks. Front yards of other folks. Stacks of split wood. Sheds and coops. A dog beside his barrel, tethered to a post. A shifting of paws. A scuttling at the door. Finish your dinner. No you can’t keep him. No he can’t come in. No not so much as a scrap I said and past goats following surefooted down a craggy hill. Old low walls of found stone. Salt lick. Pump handle. Silos. Troughs. Hay in tied-up bales or strewn about. Muddy barnyards—in one stands a lone tan cow—and then another, and another, and the one with horns—the bull?—one man among them wonders, that one black and black & white—a kind of cow called a Jersey, another of them remembers; yes, that’s what it would be out here where we are, and that one with a calf. The sideways grind of jaw. The muscled tongue. Are you coming Bernard? Did you hear me Bean? And Mother hoisting the platter to the table: monstrous appendage surrounded by skinned potatoes. Parsley. Father standing in the place Father stands and taking up the long knife and sliding it through the thick purple curve of it. Pimpled at the tip and something grizzled at the root. Pass that mustard. What now Bernard? What is it now Bean and stop picking at that and eat. And pigs, too, there where the mud is unfrozen and black and inside the shed where they snort with their big strange snouts and snooze and eat their corn and the happy pig Mutter points to just above the door—Schau, Rudy!—and there’s the happy pig on the sign above the door and he is all dressed up in a hat that a cook would have. A clean white hat like a mushroom on his head and a clean white apron and he’s holding a hatchet in his square little trotters and standing up just like a person would be standing if a person were a pig with feet like a pig’s on a sign above the door. The bell there on a spring. Mutter’s arms full of bundles. Komm schon, Rudy! Smell of sawdust. Smell of blood. Herr Fleischer! says Mutter to the pigman behind the counter. Herr Stümper! Mutter says. And the pigman is there right behind the counter in the same white apron that the happy pig has on the sign above the door but the pigman doesn’t have a mushroom hat but a flat straw hat and he touches his hat with his ordinary hand like a boy would have or a person would have and not a little trotter that the happy pig has on the sign above the door. Herr Fleischer! says Mutter. Herr Stumper! She says and he is bent behind the glass Herr Fleischer is. And down Herr Fleisher goes and into the case where the big head rests. The clean strange snout. The holes in his nose for sniffing all around. The eyes closed with lashes white and long upon the cheek scalded of its bristle and just behind the ear standing up so tall and clean and furred inside and soft is the pucker where the skin of his neck is sliced and the dribble of it pools at his jaw. At the curved-up ends of his happy mouth. Pinking the ice that melts where he rests and he waits all the while in his bright metal pan.
Schweinefleisch, Herr Stumper! Mutter tells him.
Zwei Pfund Schweinefleisch. Bitte. Zwei Pfund!
First stars appeared above the horizon. They motored on under the rising moon. Beyond the fields and barns, the woodlands lay in shadow—forests, they thought, where deer must live. And bear and boar, they did suppose. And there, out there, where the snow starts up in little spins: a cave of sorts made where long ago boulders must have moved, rolled into each other as they have heard stones used to do, or there, in that grove or log or sheltered slope or hole where wild things must go, sleeping out their winters, dreaming such dreams she will for such a long while of sleeping with a blanket of roses spilling all the way down to the bright brass handles. The bright brass hinges. And his face or something like his face looking back at him in the lustrous wood but fun-house long then bowed with the slope of the lid while they walked him forward. Come on. Smell of wax and maybe meat and the sound of the hinge. Well yes Billy yes. I suppose it’s like a bed only closer at the sides and see the satin pillow. See there the rose that lifted from the blanket of roses and flies away in the road. See there the men who dug even with the ground so frozen and the carpet of something like grass cut close but too brightly green for wintertime or even spring that the men have set tight square and frayed around the hole. Dirt in their fists. His eyes watered in the cold. His nose. Don’t snuff son. Everyone standing huffing at their hands. See Billy. Something like a bed but only closer in. Come on. These dark slopes, cold fields, cold pastures; these Jersey hills they traveled, three turns off the county highway, two turns out from the town.
A light snow slanted in the wedge of the headlights, collected in the running boards. Hot cloud at the tailpipe. Rattle of the ladder propped through a rear-door window. Steady tick of a stone frozen in a tread. On they went, slowed down inside the city limits, motoring past its places of trade, appearing in its storefronts, its windows of industry: Dry Goods & Notions with its bolts of plaid and plain and polka-dot; Hopewell Beef & Hog with hooks in a row displaying pieces of local beasts; Mercer County Market with bins of red spuds and the last of the Winesaps; Midtown Pharmacy with its glass amphora and display of commodes and crutches and canes. Past Aldo’s Barber Shop where the chair has been left atilt and snippets of townsmen still cling to the razor and strop. Seeing themselves shuttling past, lengthening and bending then gone again at an alleyway, a cross street, a walkway; reappearing in the postmaster’s window, in the greenhouse glass, in the bakery door. Tailpipe smoke in the windowpane. Whitewalls on the asphalt and cinders. Snow in the treads. Squeak of wiper. Rattle of the ladder. Windows misted with the steam of men who sweat despite the weather. Past homes of stucco, brick, clapboard. The three of them watching past the tied-back curtains and half-pulled shades where a woman wipes down the dinner table. A wife, perhaps, setting out the breakfast plates. A husband, perhaps, turning the page of his newspaper. Or a father, he might be, hearing the chime of the big hall clock. Setting aside his pipe. That squeak he makes on the stairs. Third one up. Closing the door. Checking the latch. Bracing the chairback below the knob. Left at a tilt. Untucking his shirt. Buttons. Belt. Folding the length of leather across his fist. Buckle end. Hitching up his pants. Letting the strap play out.
The road bends left and ends. Before them lies a scattering of stumps, the clearing wide-cut. Wood edge, courtyard, wall of the house as white as parts of the sky now is: a passing cloud, moonlight diffused. They step into the Colonel’s yard. They walk there through the oblong cast of lighted windows. Snowpack squeaks beneath their soles, melts where they step on the courtyard cobbles in black and perfect shapes of sole and heel, boot and shoe. There, too—other tracks of what crept along before them: small clawed toes, impressions of a tail of a something that awakens on wintry nights. Climbs from its den or burrow or the nest it made in a boy’s lost mitten. Skitters though forest and field to the place where the plaster is cracked in the Colonel’s house or a window won’t close or a door is set not right in the jamb. Steals what has dropped to the pantry floor, scraped into the trash or missed beneath the supper table or swept into a corner. The three of them come along the slated path.
Now just at the whitewashed wall.
Now below the shuttered window.
They press to the house; they are black against the pale. The ladder is righted, last rung to the windowsill. Snow is set loose from the gutter edge and glitters down the way some think that stardust might. It settles in the brims of their fedoras. It catches in a trouser cuff and a turned-up collar.
The bottom ladder boards sink in a bit, the surface there uneven, a season ago spaded under—perhaps dug for a flower bed of violets or mums just beneath the frost line, or candy-cane carnations and the white petals flecked with red. They didn’t smell like peppermint. Not the way you said. No Pop. You said so but no they never did—where some things sleep on past the thaw and the first warm days and the setting of buds. Some will sleep on through the first spring moon; sleep as the last snow melts and the streams run clear on the stones; sleep on when the spring rains come and seep into their satin beds; sleep on as roots of oak and ash seek the polished wood boxes that become the vessels where the rain collects. Sleep on inside the rotting cloth, the wet.
The satchel is set at the foot.
Contents are handed out. Crowbar. Chisel. Sack. The sort that potatoes are toted in, or feed corn, or kittens. Scudding of old leaves along the wall and around their feet. From somewhere far off comes the howling of a dog, a note that rises so low and lonely. Perhaps the same one they passed miles ago. Yes, of course that one, the very same, one man now thinks, and he thinks that it would not be any other. The sound when Father takes the stick and smacks it on his palm and goes out to the yard and slams the door. No he isn’t. No he wouldn’t. That’s just singing. The same as singing is what howling is. What dogs will do when the moon is full and when Father walks out to the yard.
A wing tip steadies the bottom rail.
An oxford braces the sidepiece board.
A boot of yellow buck steps up upon the rung.
The wind begins to rise and brings the smell of the woods—boughs of spruce and juniper split for the woodpile, cut for a clearing—the smell of fresh cut wood, and of sawdust and blood and there is the pigman reaching down past the counter behind the glass where you can’t see his face where the pig head rests. And the pigman puts his hand in the case behind the glass and he puts his hand on the tall clean ear and Mutter says: Rudy! Schau, Rudy! How old Mr. Pigman wiggles his ear! And the pigman looks up and his hat is straw and he hasn’t a snout but the pigman has a nose. Just a nose like his nose and the kind of nose any boy would have or any person would have and the hands hold a hatchet but the pigman hasn’t trotters like a pig ought to have but he does have hands just the same as a boy would have or a boy should have if he really was a boy. Up goes the hatchet he has in his hands. There it goes. There it goes. There it goes going down and it makes the sound coming down on the big wood block as it goes through the muscle and it goes through the bone and the wood-smoke smell of oak and ash, of the snapping logs in bright combustion, becoming heat and becoming light, escaping up the chimney stack and bending the stars, warming someone’s kitchen in someone’s house they passed along the road or along the way—or maybe from the house they passed in the town—the smell of it on the blowing snow, on the clean, cold air mixed with the scent of coming spring; of turned earth and planted fields and baled hay and the sweet green feed oh so much feed and corn to eat and rolls and butter and ice cream for their dinners and so happy for their dinners and then so full and soon they are sleeping or something like sleeping with their lashes long when their eyes fall closed, when their tongues come out—and their hearts grow so very slow and cold and they have no need to speak.
Pamela Ryder's stories have been widely published in literary journals, including The Black Warrior Review, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Conjunctions, The Texas Review, and Quarterly West. Correction of Drift is her first novel.