Half an Inch of Water

Half an Inch of Water

by Percival Everett


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A new collection of stories set in the West from "one of the most gifted and versatile of contemporary writers" (NPR)

Percival Everett's long-awaited new collection of stories, his first since 2004's Damned If I Do, finds him traversing the West with characteristic restlessness. A deaf Native American girl wanders off into the desert and is found untouched in a den of rattlesnakes. A young boy copes with the death of his sister by angling for an unnaturally large trout in the creek where she drowned. An old woman rides her horse into a mountain snowstorm and sees a long-dead beloved dog.

For the plainspoken men and women of these stories—fathers and daughters, sheriffs and veterinarians—small events trigger sudden shifts in which the ordinary becomes unfamiliar. A harmless comment about how to ride a horse changes the course of a relationship, a snakebite gives rise to hallucinations, and the hunt for a missing man reveals his uncanny resemblance to an actor. Half an Inch of Water tears through the fabric of the everyday to examine what lies beneath the surface of these lives. In the hands of master storyteller Everett, the act of questioning leads to vistas more strange and unsettling than could ever have been expected.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555977191
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 09/15/2015
Pages: 88
Sales rank: 766,413
Product dimensions: 5.53(w) x 8.18(h) x 0.53(d)

About the Author

Percival Everett is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California and the author of nearly thirty books, including Percival Everett by Virgil Russell, Assumption, Erasure, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, and Glyph. He is the recipient of the Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the Believer Book Award, and the 2006 PEN USA Center Award for Fiction. He has fly-fished the west for more than thirty years. He lives in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt

Half an Inch of Water


By Percival Everett

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2015 Percival Everett
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55597-909-6


Little Faith


A spring-fed creek ran through the ranch and so even in the harshest summer weeks there was a narrow lane of willows and green grass. Moose and elk browsed and left deep tracks in the muddy banks. Sam Innis had grown up there with his mother, his father having died in the war in Vietnam. The woman had clung to her husband's dream, leasing out pasture, raising a few beefs, and giving piano lessons to the ranch children in the valley. She turned down many offers on the place, saying that even imagining such a thing would be a betrayal. Love of the spread had been rubbed into him like so much salve, a barrier against whatever was out there in the world, a layer of peace. His mother held him close, not wanting to lose her only remaining family, but let the ranch, the land, shape him. She let him go for his education and died while he was away at vet school. He had the old woman cremated and her ashes were mixed now into the dusty furrows, mud, and deep tracks of life of that place. At dusk, when the owls and bats were whispering about, Sam would sit by the creek and watch the few trout rise to some hatch.

The desert rolled like always, constant, brown, ocher, and especially red in the distance. The pressure of people, the efforts of people had killed off much of the life, but none of the desert. His mother had said it: you can kill everything, you can tear it all up and build, you can pipe water to it, but the desert is the desert, more desert every day. It unfolded itself before him as he crested the ridge and started down the big curve of highway that would take him to the road to his place. The late- morning sun was still behind him, but the shadows of the sage were beginning to shorten.

Sam and his wife were driving home from a memorial service. The oldest resident of the reservation had died at ninety-two. That was old for anyone, but especially for a Native man. Someone had told Sam that the life expectancy of an Indian male was forty-four. The Indian man who offered the statistic did so without the slightest show of bitterness or even fear. It's just a thing, he said. The service had been at the Episcopal church. Sam didn't like churches.

Sam didn't know what the old man's death had been like. Apparently he was walking one minute and not the next. Sam hadn't known Old Dave Wednesday very well, for only a few years, but once, while Sam was out examining the horses at the tribal ranch, the two sat together on a hillside.

I am an old man, Dave said.

I suppose, Sam agreed. How old are you exactly?


That's old. My mother didn't live to be that old.

They had hiked up the hill to look down at the ranch. Dave was telling him how the tribe planned to bring water down- mountain via an old-fashioned drainage ditch.

Dave pointed at the hills with an open, shaky hand. From over there. Them surveyors came and looked and said it was possible. Said we need some engineers. And all of them want to get paid.

Sam nodded.

Dave rubbed his knees. I'm glad to be sitting. I can't walk like I used to.

None of us can, Sam said.

I will die soon.

Sam was not so comfortable with this talk, but he said, We all die. He hated this platitude.

So I'm told. And there is nothing wrong with it. If you do it right, then you don't have to do it again.

They sat silent for a bit. Sam looked at the horses in the pasture below and then over at the hills where the water would come from. Measure twice, cut once, he said.

Dave laughed. Then he laughed again, at something else.

What is it? Sam asked.

Us, the old man said. We are Sam and Dave. We are soul men. He laughed again, louder.

Sam brought the pickup to a stop on the gravel next to the house. He and Sophie sat there for a few seconds and let the ticking of the killed engine settle into silence. They stared ahead at the fenced pasture and the willows far off along the creek. A colt pranced around his mother.

You okay? Sophie asked.

Sam looked at her.

About having been in a church.

Sam chuckled. Yes, I'm okay. Let's get changed so we can take care of these beasts.

Zip, the border collie, greeted them at the door and followed them into the house through the kitchen. Sophie stopped at the counter to check the phone messages. Sam walked upstairs, peeled off his jacket, and undid the knot of his tie. He sat on the bed and kicked off his shoes.

These shoes hurt my feet, he said as Sophie entered.

You always say that.

It's always true. You should bury me in them. That way you'll know I won't be doing any ghostly walking.

I was looking forward to your ghostly walking.

You are a sweet-talker, aren't you?

Yes, I am. She unhooked the back of her dress and let it slide down her body to the floor.

All right. And you're a tease.

Yes, I am.

Come here, Missy. He reached for her hand.

You know I love when you talk cowboy.

Do you now? Come here.


Yes, you, ma'am.

He stood and held her, kissed her.

The house shifted, it seemed. Then the whole structure shook, swayed as if riding a wave. They clung to each other. There was a crash downstairs. The clock bounced off Sam's nightstand. And it was over and everything was quiet for a brief moment and then the mules were braying and the horses were calling out. Then Zip started barking.

Wow. Sophie dropped to a knee and comforted the dog. Earthquake?

I'm guessing so.

Sam slipped back into his dress shoes and headed for the stairs. Sophie grabbed her robe and pulled it on. She followed him down. Sam wondered if there would be another tremor. At the bottom he could see that the framed picture of his mother had fallen, but only the glass had cracked. Other pictures were askew, but nothing seemed to be broken. They stepped into the mudroom and changed into their boots, then walked out the kitchen door. The world didn't appear any different. The sky was cloudless. The hills were still standing in the distance. Zip ran in circles. The horses were stirred up. The skittish mare was kicking her stall wall in the near barn. A loose barn door that Sam had been meaning to repair for weeks now lay flat in the dust.

You go settle the horses, Sam said. I'll check the propane.

Sam watched Sophie move off. She stopped to say something soft to the little donkey in the paddock just outside the barn. Zip stayed with Sam. She always stayed with Sam. He went to the cabinet on the exterior wall next to the back door and grabbed a pipe wrench and a spray bottle filled with soapy water. The large green propane tank was thirty yards from the house. It looked fine. He listened as he looked at the gauge and felt around the joins. He sprayed the connections and saw no bubbles. The line to the house was underground; there was no checking that. He walked back to the house and into the kitchen. He pushed the stove away from the wall and bit and sprayed the line, all good. In the cellar he checked the furnace. The pilot was surprisingly still lit. No leaks. Same with the water heater. Sophie was in the kitchen when he came back up.

Everything all right? she asked.

All good.

I can't believe we had an earthquake. She sat at the table. I didn't even know we had a fault.

You don't, Sam said.

Who's the sweet-talker?

The barns?

Just that door. Horses are scared.

Horses are always scared. They'll be fine in ten minutes. Sam set the spray bottle on the table. I guess we should turn on the radio.

They sat in the kitchen, drank tea, and listened to the local station. There had been a quake, the magnitude of which had not been determined, a surprise to everyone and a source of incessant chatter. There was little to report in the way of damage and they quickly grew tired of people calling in to repeat the experience of the previous caller. Broken canned goods, cracked washer drums, ruined china sets. One woman called to say that in the minutes right before the quake her chickens, to a hen, had laid an egg.

And how does she know that? Sophie, said laughing.

The rooster told her, Sam said. He looked out the window. I figure the office phone will start ringing soon. Now that everybody has figured out they're all right, they'll start seeing stuff wrong with their animals.

The phone rang.

Sam picked up.

It was Terry Busch from north of town. She was a new transplant, from California to live the quiet life. I want to buy a horse and I need a vet check, she said.

What'd you think of the quake? Sam asked.

That was hardly a quake, the woman said.

I guess not for you.

There's this beautiful leopard Appaloosa down near Randy Gap. Can you meet there this afternoon? Two?

Sam looked at the clock. It was twelve thirty. Two thirty?

That's good.

I'll meet you at the flashing light at two thirty.

He hung up.

Didn't sound like an emergency, Sophie said.

City woman wants a horse, Sam said. Everybody ought to have a horse. And the lucky ones of us can have mules.

You and your mules.

I'm supposed to look at Watson's mare at one. That won't take long and that's on the way to the Gap.

What about lunch?

I'll take an apple with me.

Sophie made a disapproving face.

Two apples.

Just make sure you don't feed one to a horse.

Yes ma'am.

Sam walked out of the house and to his work truck, where he inspected his vet pack. It was his habit. He restocked every time he returned home and always checked his supplies before setting out. The sky remained clear, if a little cool, but heat was on the way. Zip hopped into the truck before him.

He drove the unused back roads to the ranch of Wes Watson. The back way was actually faster, but rough on the suspension, the truck's and his. He looked at Zip as they bounced along. Probably not the best thing for my prostate, he said to her. The mare he was seeing he'd seen before for vaccinations and once for a hoof problem. Now Wes wanted to breed her.

Wes met him at his truck. Greetings.

Greetings to you, Sam said, laughing.

I thought it seemed like a pleasant way to, to —

Greet someone? Sam offered.

More or less.

So, you want to breed the Paint. She in season?

You're here to tell me.

Going to use live cover?

Nope. Sperm's on the way.

Sam nodded. He followed Wes into the barn. The quarter horse was standing calmly, already cross- tied in a washstand and backed up against a rail. Sam looked at her while he pulled on his glove. Well, her tail's up, isn't it?

Her tail's always up, Wes said.

Sam gave the horse's neck a stroke and moved down to her flank. He inserted his gloved hand into the animal's vagina. She took a step but stayed calm. He could see she was in estrus before he was inside. He felt around, shook his head.

What is it? Wes asked.

We might have a problem, Sam said. He felt around more. I think she's got a hematoma.

Is that bad?

Sam slowly removed his arm and hand. No, not bad. But she won't be getting knocked up for a while. She's going to have to cycle a few times before this resolves itself. Won't affect her fertility. We'll keep an eye on her.

How do you know it's not a tumor?

The other ovary feels normal. If it were a tumor, the other would probably be smaller than normal. Plus, she's not acting all crazy with hormones. I'm going to take some blood to be sure.

All right. That's disappointing.

Sam flexed his hand, rolled down his shirtsleeve. She sure is a pretty horse, I'll give you that. I see why you want to breed her.

She's a looker. Even tempered, too.

They walked back to Sam's truck. Zip lay in the vehicle's shadow.

So, did you feel the shaker? Wes asked.

Oh yeah.

We hardly did. The wind chimes on the porch shook. That was about it. So, where you headed from here?

Down to Randy Gap. Vet check.

Wes nodded. So, I just leave her alone? Wes asked about the horse.

Leave her alone. Treat her like a horse. Sam opened a cabinet in the pack in the back of his pickup, pulled out a syringe kit and some vials. I'll get me a little bit of blood and I'll be on my way.

You know, you're okay, Wes said.

Sam looked at him. How's that?

You know, being a black vet out here. I have to admit, I had my doubts.

About what exactly?

Whether you'd make it.

You mean fit in?

I guess that's what I mean, yeah.

Wes, I grew up here. Grade school. High school. I've never fit in. I probably will never fit in. I accept that.

Wes's face was now blank. He didn't understand. He was just a degree away from cocking his head like a confused hound.

Sam said, Thanks, Wes. I'm glad you think I'm okay.

That's all I was saying.

I know, Wes.

Randy Gap, eh? Bad medicine down there.

That what folks in the tribe say?

No, that's what I say. You don't have to be no Indian to spot it.

I suppose that's right.

Sam left Wes there in the sun, walked back into the barn to collect blood from the Paint mare.

Randy Gap was the confluence of two draws and two roads and had nothing to do with anyone named Randy or Randolph. It had been so named because supposedly whenever old-timers drove cattle through there the bulls would get crazy horny and slow everything down. Now it was the weather in the gap that slowed everything down; snow and rain and wind seemed to concentrate on the area. It was windy when Sam found Terry Busch waiting there, leaning against her Subaru. He crunched to a halt on the gravel roadside.

Hey, Terry.


So, you want to buy yourself a new horse.

It's not far, she said. Couple of miles.

I'll follow you. He watched the woman walk back to her car. She was his age, but she looked younger. Or maybe it was that he looked older. What was forty-four supposed to look like?

He trailed her to a dirt road and then a half mile in to a trailer home surrounded by pipe corrals and paddocks. Horses stood in most of the enclosures, some clean, some not. He'd seen places like this before and there was little good about them. He parked behind Terry and got out. He left Zip in the truck.

A teenage boy came from the trailer. He wore a tight T-shirt that said One in the Oven with an downward-pointing arrow. He tossed his cigarette into the dirt.

Well, here I am, Terry said.

I'll get him, the kid said without expression.

Warm, Sam said, referring to the boy's greeting.

The teenager came back with a fifteen-hand Appaloosa gelding with a nicely defined blanket on his rump. The horse was clean and freshly shod.

Isn't he beautiful? Terry was not playing the role of the cool buyer. She stepped back and looked at the horse.

Sam circled the animal. Nice markings, all right, he said. But that's not why I'm here, is it? He reached out to shake the kid's hand. I'm Sam Innis, the vet.

The boy shook his hand. Jake.

Sam let go of the boy's limp mitt. Let's take a look at him. Anything you want to tell us?

The boy shook his head. I don't know anything. They come in, we sell them. This one eats everything we put down, I can tell you that.

You mind trotting him over there about twenty yards and then back to me? Sam watched as the kid led the horse away. They kicked up dust. Sam studied the animal. As they were coming back he said, He's a little wide in the chest. See how he paddles? Like he's swimming.

Is that bad? Terry asked.

Better than being too narrow and knocking his feet together. He won't be much good at jumping anything. He asked the boy to repeat the trot away and back. He's loose in the caboose. Terry, his legs are everywhere. What do you want to do with him?

Ride trails, that's all.

Sam nodded. He might be okay. I can see why you like him. He's pretty. Being wide is a good thing for your comfort. Well, let's take a closer look. He's not exactly wide through the stifles. Sam caught himself. He didn't want to be too negative. After all, Terry liked the horse.

The winded boy came back with the horse and stood quietly. Sam measured the circumference of the leg just below the knee. Good bone. He grabbed the knee. He's just a little buck-kneed.

Terry came close and looked with Sam.

Sam looked at Terry. He's got a beautiful coat. Flies don't seem to bother him. Sam looked at the horse's eyes and then at the boy. Just how much bute did you give him?

A little, the boy admitted, caught off guard.

What is it? Terry asked.

Will he lunge? Sam asked.

Yeah, Jake said.

Sam took the lead rope from the boy and got the horse trotting counterclockwise around him. He stopped him and picked up his left forefoot.

What is it? Terry asked.

They gave the horse a drug for pain. He's got some navicular issues. I mean, Terry, you can live with all the problems I'm finding, I'm sure. Corrective shoes will help his heels, but he won't be much good for long or strenuous rides. What are they asking for him?

Three grand, Jake said.

Sam smiled. I wouldn't pay more than eight hundred.

You're crazy, the kid said. He was red in the face.

I've been told that, Sam said. Terry, I can keep checking him, but it won't get better.

This horse is sound, the kid snapped.

Sam nodded.

I guess I'll pass, Terry said to Jake.

So that's it? The boy grunted.

Thanks for showing him to me, Terry said.

Yeah, right. He muttered something to himself as he walked the horse away.

Sam walked with Terry back to her car.

I think he's pissed, she said.

He was trying to rip you off. Maybe not the kid, but the guy he works for. Healthy horses are expensive enough to take care of.

Thanks, Doc.

Sam felt bad. Terry had had high hopes for the animal, was a little bit in love with him. He watched her fall in behind the wheel of her car, start it, and have a bit of trouble getting turned around.

Sam climbed into his own truck and laughed when he had the same diffcult time getting himself about-faced. He drove home.


Sophie answered the ringing phone as Sam stepped into the kitchen.

We're fine, she said. What about you? That's good. Oh, I see. He just walked in. She handed the phone to Sam. It's the sheriff.

Dale, Sam said.

You okay over there? Any damage? the sheriff asked.

Nothing. What's up?

I'd like you to come out here and give us a hand. We've got a lost little girl next to the reservation. Up in the Creeks.

How long has she been lost?


Excerpted from Half an Inch of Water by Percival Everett. Copyright © 2015 Percival Everett. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Little Faith,
A High Lake,
Wrong Lead,
The Day Comes,
Finding Billy White Feather,
Liquid Glass,
Graham Greene,

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