The co-op smelled like every other one she’d ever been in, like cumin and curry and chamomile. The bulk food bins by the door reminded Blue of Saturday-afternoon grocery shopping with Mama and Tish, Tish complaining that Mama bought food for birds, not humans. This co-op was bigger than most, with a loft full of people eating lunch—dreadlocked mothers with nursing babies, bearded men in meandering conversations.
It was all so familiar. She’d arrived in Maine knowing all about couscous and falafel and marinated tempeh. The first time she’d seen a dead deer hanging from a maple in a front yard, though, she’d been horrified. Teena had laughed when she said something about it.
“Yeah, it’s not quite in season; but Jimmy Ballston usually looks the other way when it comes to Meggy’s pop. They need it, you know?”
She hadn’t known. It had come as a total shock to discover that there were people who counted on those deer, along with every- thing else their families shot, grew, or scavenged from the land, to feed them through the year. She’d thought she knew what poor looked like, but she learned pretty quickly that there was more to it than what she’d seen in the cities and college towns Mama had set them down in.
She wasn’t going to find venison on the co-op lunch board—just locally raised pork, free-range chicken, and winter greens from “extended season” farms. She settled for a cup of mushroom-bar- ley soup and a roll studded with wheat berries.
She was fumbling in her pocket when her turn came at the register. A faint scent— something sweet and bad and familiar—teased her nose. She looked up, into the pale blue eyes of the cashier. The woman’s long brown hair was separated into three braids and held away from her face with a red bandanna. A silver stud pierced her nose, silver rings garnished her fingers, and silver chains draped around her neck. She raised one eyebrow.
The bills drifted from Blue’s hand to the floor as shock loosened her muscles. Her soup steamed on her tray, the plastic making a slight chattering sound as it shivered under her touch. She reached for her notebook.
“No need.” The woman’s voice carried smoke in it. Tails and curls spun out along the air. “Remember this, Bluebird Riley: you have just three days with any person who knows your name. Three weeks if you keep your true self hidden. If you stay with anyone longer than that, you’ll invite suffering upon them.”
Blue looked around her. No one seemed alarmed. Either they couldn’t hear the woman, or evil cashiers were part of the scene here. Blue wrote quickly.
That’s not the deal. You didn’t say anything about that!!!
The woman drew her finger over the words. The paper darkened, the edges curling up as she passed over it. Again Blue looked, and again she saw no reaction from the people around her. “Terms and restrictions, the fine print. Never accept a deal without knowing everything. Once you give away your voice, Bluebird, you give away your rights.” Her eyes flicked back, toward where Jed balanced an apple on a paper-wrapped sandwich. “Besides, a resourceful girl like you shouldn’t need others to do her work for her.”
The noise of another tray against the metal counter behind her. “That’ll be $6.15, please.”
Blue bent down and grabbed her money off the floor. She pulled out a ten and waited for her change. The woman smiled, dimples dotting her round cheeks. “Thanks so much, and you have a nice day.”
Devil and the Bluebird
Publisher: Amulet Books