The Vine Basket

The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley Read Free Book Online

Book: The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley Read Free Book Online
Authors: Josanne La Valley
of the ten rods that would frame her basket. She worked fast, spreading the rods slightly each time she went around. Picking up new weavers as she needed them.
    Mehrigul worked at a frenzied pace. Not stopping. Trying not to think about whether what she was doing was good or bad. Her hands seemed to go wild again as they had that day with Memet, knowing what they needed to do to make a basket that was good for nothing but to look at. She loved it when the wispy tendrils showed up, looking like wiry worms sticking out from the sides of the basket.
    When the top of her basket was as wide as her spread-out hand, she paused. Picked the basket up, turned it back and forth. It was cone-shaped, like the other one. Absolutely good for nothing. But hadn’t Mrs. Chazen given her one hundred yuan for just such a useless thing?
    Tomorrow she’d borrow Chong Ata’s knife again. Trim and bind the basket. Add a small handle. Then make another that had some purpose—one that could hold peaches and still be a bit different. She’d try to do that.
    She gathered her bundles of cut vines and took them to the bamboo grove. Her work must be kept as secret as her token. Going deep inside, she laid the vines at the side of her clearing, between sturdy stalks that would protect them from the wind and the sand. She brought in her unfinished basket, then covered everything with a few old and broken culms that lay scattered on the ground. No one ever came to the bamboo grove, but just in case . . .
    Before Mehrigul started down the lane, she gathered a few bunches of leftover grapes she’d found hidden deep in the vines. She picked up fallen walnuts along the way and added them to the pouch she’d made from her shirttail. This would be the excuse for her absence—she’d been foraging for food. The grapes, when dried, would make a few more handfuls of raisins for them to eat during the winter. She’d crack open the walnuts and add the meats to their supper.
    A smile crossed her face as she took one last look back at the bamboo grove.
    Now both she and Ata had secrets.

    P LEASE , A NA, GO WITH Ata to market. Just this once. You may have some friends left who’ll stop by when they hear about your baked squash. What am I supposed to tell them when they ask for you? ‘Where’s Aynisa?’ they’ll say.” Ana had wandered over to the earth oven where Mehrigul stood, perhaps having some recollection that she should be useful.
    Ana gave no response, nor had Mehrigul expected one.
    Mehrigul was waiting for the last batch to be baked before loading it onto the donkey cart. She had started the baking the day before. The squash crop was abundant this year, and now was the perfect time for harvest. They should make good money today.
    It was Mehrigul’s task to build the fire in the bottom of the pit and to keep adding wood until it burned down to glowing hot coals. She covered the coals with a thick layer of green twigs to form a nest for the squash she had picked and washed. The squash were large, so only two or three fit in the oven at a time. Ana managed to appear when it was time to throw in her special ingredients—wild onions and a weed she never named but that she said had been used by her family since far back in time. The pit was covered by more green twigs and a layer of flat stones and left for hours.
    With that batch cooked, Mehrigul would start over. She had worked late into the night and had begun again before dawn. Soon Ata would harness the donkey and it would be time to leave.
    â€œAna, please,” Mehrigul pleaded again. If Ana went, she’d have many hours to make baskets, with no fear of being seen or called upon to work. And she hated the thought of being alone with Ata.
    Ana stood with her hands clasped, her head slightly bowed. It had been years since she’d gone to market. Mehrigul knew Ana was embarrassed by their poverty. Most of all, she could not

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