Photo of Duff Brenna on book tour in Bend, Oregon Cover of Murdering the Mom, a memoir by Duff Brenna Cover of Minnesota Memoirs, short stories by Duff Brenna Cover of The Book of Mamie, a novel by Duff Brenna

And there she came, she and Thorn, Thorn clinging to her back and her big legs churning like the haunches of a mule. Thorn waved his hand at us, crying out “Gawd, oh gawd, ain’t she wonderful?” She pulled up in front of us snorting and blowing and stamping and sweating, her face excited and happy, and his face too. They both looked like they wanted to run some more. He jumped off though, and held her by the hair, like he was holding reins.

—Mamie’s game of “Hippa-weee”

Excerpts: The Book of Mamie

From Chapter One: Drowd’n Man
From Chapter Three: A Moment of Truth
From Chapter Nine: Dragon Fire

From Chapter One: Drowd’n Man

Mamie Beaver, she had to come from the moon. Or maybe even the stars. One star, big and fat and fiery. First one at night, star light, star bright. It just seemed that way, seemed natural — more natural than that she was John Beaver’s daughter. Except that she had his size, she didn’t look a thing like him. They were opposites. They were like two forces of nature, two winds coming from opposite directions, two mountains breeding landslides, two oceans battling it out, making storms like the Atlantic and the Pacific dueling at Cape Horn.

Mamie Beaver, head like a proud pumpkin, a froggish ear-to-ear smile. Retarded Mamie Beaver? Brain of a five-year-old? Quiet and slow-moving body, with arms held straight down, fingers rigid, like Frankenstein’s monster. She was a farmer’s daughter, and she was his mule. Her strength was legend throughout northern Wisconsin. Her father would loan her out for harvest work, and it was said she earned him enough in season so that he didn’t have to keep but a pig and a steer and a dozen milk cows, together with his garden, and that was enough for the two of them to live at Bulls-Knoll independent of the world.

We were farmers too, but there were nine of us altogether, with Mama and Pa and six boys and one girl, so we never had any cause to hire Mamie. She was just GIRL, the myth-legend kind, like the Amazons or Wonder Woman. We’d heard stories about her all our lives, and Pa used those stories to put us in our place once in a while, especially if we whined about something he wanted us to do, like putting up bales — a thousand bales in the field, each one weighing fifty to sixty pounds — and having to get them in because rain was expected overnight. “Oh,” he’d say, “don’t trouble your puny selves. Mamie’ll be by soon and show you how it’s done.” None of us could stand the thought — a balloon-headed Beaver coming to add notches to her reputation at our expense — the hay always got up without Mamie.

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From Chapter Three: A Moment of Truth

On the way to the river, John Beaver kept pumping me for information about Mamie. I did my best to answer politely, but it got harder and harder with the questions he asked. First it was just how she was and what she looked like, had she lost weight and did she have much to say? Then he said, “How can that big dummy know nuff to get along so good out there, Foggy? How you figure that? What’s her secret, ey?”

“I think she’s smarter than we know,” I told him. “She can sing her ABCs now. I taught her how to do it and she caught on like that.” I snapped my fingers. “She still can’t write nothing, but she’s got a good memory.”

“Smarter than we know? Neh,” he said. He spit juice on the floorboard between his legs. Adding to a puddle that was already there, dark and slimy as an oil leak. “Maybe someone smart has been sportin for her, ey?” He poked me in the ribs with a finger that felt hard as a wooden dowel. I rubbed my ribs and knew I would have a bruise there. “Yeah, maybe someone been hep’n hisself to some moose meat. I mean it’s just a little thought that’s been occurrin to me since your old man called me last night.” Again he spit between his legs. “Ey?” he kept saying, twisting his head towards me. “Ey?” Grinning tobacco stained teeth. His ammonia breath made my eyes water. I felt acid melting my insides, nauseating me.

“Not me, Mr. Beaver,” I managed to say. “Not me. Nosir.”

“Ey? Course not, course not. That good little Christian Fluppy wouldn’t think of such a lowlife, mean ole thing. Some would, though. Some would take a’vantage of that lunkhead. But not you, not ole Fluppy Puppy. Some would, though, uh-huh, some would just for the fun of it. Know what I mean? She wouldn’t know what you were up to. She’d think you was playin a game, just sportin her. You been sportin my Mamie, Fluggy Muggy?”

“Nosir, honest. Not me.”

“Good. Glad to hear it. Good Fluggyboy like you, no way, no how.” He flicked my ear with his fingernail. It stung like a spider had bit me. “Come on over here,” he said, reaching out and grabbing a hunk of my hair.

“Yeow!” I hollered. “Let go! Lemme go, goddamn it!”

“Shet yer face, you little pile of crap!” He pulled my head round like it was attached to a balloon string, giving me a hell of a shaking.

“Pleeease sir, p-pleeease s-sir,” I stammered. My voice got high as a girl in a chorus reaching for high C’s. “I’ll shut my face, sir,” I shrieked.

“Damn right you will, Fuzzybutt. Now, tell me the truth, when did you hear bout my givin out with a reward, ey?”

“I don’t know, sir. Maybe a week ago. Don’t know.”

“A week ago?”

“Yessir. Thirty dollars everybody’s saying.”

“Greedy little pecker poker. Maybe you heard it yestiday.”

“Nosir, before yesterday.”

“But maybe yestiday and you decided she wasn’t worth givin up no thirty bucks, ey? I got yer number, pecker poker.”

My mind was off-track. I didn’t know what to make of what he was saying.

“You know,” he said. “You know what I’m talking bout, boogie-woogie. You the one kept Mamie out there so you could play house. And she done some things for you, Foggybottom, heh? Didn’t she? Mamie knows how. Oh, don’t she ever!” He shook my head again. I thought the roots of my hair were coming out and I’d have a bald patch right in the front and have to comb my hair forward to hide it.

“Yeow!” I kept crying. He shook harder still, and I couldn’t stand it. It seemed better to let him have his way. So I said he was right. “Yessir, you’re right, sir.”

“Uh-huh,” he answered, satisfied. “That’s what I thought, that’s what I fuck’n knowed. Nasty little pecker poker.”

He let go of my hair and I tried to rub the roots back in. Jesus, it felt on fire.

He was talking, saying, “Ain’t nobody put one over on this badass Beaver yet. I seen right through ’em, goddammit, don’t I though? I know what makes ’em tick. You pimply pecker pokers is all the same — full of sap! Nasty-sticky-icky that makes you tick. And Mamie’s easy. You wanted her to yourself for a while. Ain’t it so?”


“Best not to be lyin to the Beaver, Foffybuns.”


“You and Mamie, right? Keepin her in the woods, ey?”

“Me and Mamie, yessir.”

His hand swept backward across my mouth. I tasted blood and was too stunned to yell or even to feel anything for a moment. Then my front teeth started aching and my lips pounded like my heart had leaped inside them. It was all I could do to keep from weeping. I was in pain and terrified. John Beaver was as much a horror as that naked mink had said he was. I wanted my Pa and my brothers. I wanted Calah to hammerlock the sonofabitch and Calvin to pull his hair and Cush and Cutham to stomp him, pinch him, rub his face in the slimy tobacco juice between his feet. But even as I thought it, I wondered if twice ten of them put together were any match for someone so huge, so thick and wildly ape-built. One of those gorilla silverbacks you see in zoos.

“That’s a promise of what you deserve for all that sticky sap of yers!” he said. Brown spittle flew from his mouth, raining on the windshield and dashboard and the backs of his hands. For a moment he was quiet, and then his voice came at me low and slyly. “She do the no-rain dance for you?” he asked, coaxing me with his elbow.


“You playin dumb again, Foggywoggy? You tellin me you don’t know what her no-rain is? You don’t wanna tell me that, son. She done it for you, didn’t she?”

“Yes, the no-rain dance.”

“I woulda give ten toots to see that. Nasty plowboy plowing,” he said. He was breathing hard through his nose, his nostrils flaring and “Heh, heh, heh” sounding like hiccups coming from his mouth.

We drove slowly, the truck rattling over the bumpy road coming at last to the highway. Where we turned east and passed the factory at Blueberry that would have bought my cucumbers. But I wasn’t about to ask John Beaver to stop. I was in no mood to do anything but point the way and keep my mouth shut. Let him collect Mamie and take me home. I was sick at heart that I was leading him to her, but it seemed there was nothing else I could do.

“Heh heh heh, I got the goods on you, Fluffybum,” he said. “You a little poontang monster! Heh heh heh, got the goods on the poontang monster. I bet yer sayin to yerself, ’Fuck that reward money, I want my mama.’ Is that what yer sayin, Fuzzynuts?”


“You juss tell ole upright Jacob that you couldn’t take no reward for hep’n a worried-sick papa get his baby girl back home safe and sound. A good neighbor juss wouldn’t wanna take rewards for something noble like that. Now would he?”


“Gotta keep a step ahead in this life, Fluggybunny.”

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From Chapter Nine: Dragon Fire

We were hitchhiking when this guy in an old, beetle-shaped Nash stopped for us. He stared out the window for a moment, not talking, just sort of sizing us up. He had bulging eyes with heavy lids and girlish lashes. He had a blond beard and blond hair so blond it was nearly white. His hair fell partially over his face and to his shoulders like a monk’s cowl. He made me think of pictures of Jesus, where Jesus is pointing sadly to his bleeding heart.

“Runaways, runaways,” he said in a thick, syrupy voice. “I can spot runaways a mile away. What’s the story, children?” The tone of his voice pulled me toward him. I liked listening to the sound, syrupy and deeply musical, like he might be an opera singer. A baritone. I told him we weren’t runaways, that we were orphans heading for Ashland, for the farms hiring hay buckers. He smiled slyly and nodded his head. “Sure, sure,” he said, “whatever you say.”

“It’s the truth,” I answered.

Still nodding and slyly smiling he said, “I travel the byways of Minnesota and Wisconsin, up and down them, day after day, doing what I can to get the message across. We’ve lost touch with the Father. We’ve lost touch with the love. We hate our children because we’ve lost touch with our souls. You are evidence of it — poor, young throwaways, tomorrow’s trash in America.”

I told him we weren’t runaways, nor throwaways, but he insisted we were, and we weren’t to worry — he would die painfully of the bubonic plague before he would betray us. “Thirty-times-thirty pieces of silver wouldn’t drag your secret from me, brother and sister. Nay, I travel the byways to rescue whoever I can because Armageddon is coming. We live in the end times. The prophecies are being fulfilled. The final battle with the anti-Christ is on the cusp. Titanic forces are at work to destroy the world, but they won’t succeed. When Christ sweeps the anti-Christ aside with his mighty arm, the rapture will come and all true believers will be saved. Hallelujah.”

While he was talking, his long-fingered hand was sweeping the air like he was gathering in the true believers, the saved.

“Me and Mamie believe in God,” I said.

“I know you do,” he replied. And then in a matter-of-fact way he asked me if I knew how to drive a car.

“Every farmer’s son knows how to drive,” I said. “I learned when I was ten.”

“Yes, of course, but can you drive this dying miracle?”

He got out and ran his hand over the roof. I stepped back and looked at the entire Nash. The fenders were full of rust holes and dents. The bumpers were rusty too with here and there a hint of chrome. ROLLING GLORY was painted across the trunk, and there were two bumper stickers as well. One said THE WORLD ENDS TOMORROW, and the other said JESUS IS COMING AND BOY IS HE PISSED. The engine was idling roughly, little puffs of charcoal smoke shot from the exhaust pipe. I told him I was pretty sure I could drive it, that I had driven a Dodge pickup that was worse.

“Then let’s go. We got work to do,” he said.

He climbed into the back and I got behind the wheel. Mamie rode shotgun. I put the car into first gear and eased my foot off the clutch. The clutch was slipping badly and the smell of hydraulic fluid hung inside the car. The gas gauge said empty; the temperature gauge said hot. The engine shuddered like it was hitting on only five cylinders. But the dying miracle moved forward and we were on our way to somewhere east of where we were.

Above the chatter of the car itself I heard, “I’m Robbie Peevy. I’m on a mission from Jesus to save the town of Temple, where I was born thirty-two years ago and where I first heard the call. Those who are true believers in my divinity are gathered in Temple right now, waiting for me to do something dramatic. I won’t disappoint them. Dramatic is my middle name.” He winked at me in the mirror.

Then he said he had figured out that if I kept the car moving at forty-five miles an hour, we would be in Temple in two hours. I wasn’t to go over forty-five, however.

“It’s the breakup barrier for the likes of this sore-footed beasty,” he said, pounding the car’s ceiling. “Above forty-five its life breath is sucked away and its body starts to disintegrate; rust shatters and falls like red snowflakes, leaving us riding a bent frame, butts tanned in asphalt, terror in our hearts, and no triumph in Temple.” Patting my head gently, he asked if I understood what he was saying. I told him I wouldn’t go over forty-five.

“Bless you, my child,” he said.

I said I wasn’t a child, I was almost sixteen, my name was Christian, and next to me was Mamie.

“Well then, Christian and Mamie, howdy!”

“Howdy!” Mamie answered.

He leaned over the seat and looked closely at her. Then he said, “What a big one you are! A real leviathan!”

Mamie shook her head in agreement.

“Jesus has done it again,” said Robbie. “Worked a mysterious purpose for me this day. I can feel it, yes, Lord. A boy named Christian climbs in my car with an angel-faced leviathan beside him. What could be clearer than that? It’s no accident, I’ll tell you truly. There are no accidents in this life. Our lives have all been a rehearsal for this glorious meeting on the road to Temple. I can feel it! Yes, Lord.” And then Robbie burst into song, singing, “A migh-ty for-tress is our God —

When the song was over I told him that we needed gas and water for the car.

“Not to worry, my son.”

“Gas says empty. Water gauge says hot.”

“Faith cures a nervous disposition. We ride on the breath of Jeee-sus! Besides, those gauges don’t work no how.”

Glancing at Mamie, I saw she was bending close to Robbie’s golden hair, which was hanging partially over the front seat. Her lips were puckered and she was blowing air and making the hair shiver.

“It all falls into place,” said Robbie. “My faith is rewarded with a sign.” He put one of his hands on my shoulder and the other one on Mamie’s shoulder. “I can feel it. I can feel it.” And then he added, “Keep it under forty-five, Christian. Look how close you’re getting. Feel this dying miracle vibrating? She’s talking to you, son, saying you’re getting close to the disintegration barrier. Pay attention, son. Pay attention to her voice.”

He burst into song again. This time singing — “I got Chris-tian and Mamie go-ing my way; I got tri-umph in Temple today; but go forty-five, o-o-o forty-orty-five, I say; old beee-easty canna take no mo-ore; we’ll be fa-alling through the flo-or; yahoo, yeah, yeah yo, ain’t it so, Joe-o-o?

He patted our backs and laughed. His laughter was low and heavy like the beat of a bass drum. We laughed too and he said, “Does that mean you like my improv song?”

“Real good,” I told him.

“You know what?” he continued. “I once knew a holy man who was slain by demons. Oh yes, I’m talking now! Telling you the story, children. Listen to me, listen to me good. This holy man he had the gift of healing. God told him the future and gave him the gift to heal the sick. He saw demons causing diseases, and he used his power to cast those demons out. Just like Jesus, I’m saying. But then one day he tells me, he says, ’Robbie, my son, they’re ganging up and plotting against me. I won’t last long. But I want you to remember that I forecasted my own death. I’ll die on a certain appointed day. Tell it to the believers. They’ll take comfort in it.’ He said he wasn’t afraid. No, he wasn’t worried. That’s what it means when Jesus puts the finger on you. You never know fear afterwards. The promise of the resurrection keeps a perfect niche in heaven always in front of your eyes. Glory! All glory to God! I’ve been promised it too. Like Elijah, I’m going up on a whirlwind a straight shot to the balcony. That holy man he did die on the appointed day just as he said he would. Death came for him in a mysterious way. Very mysterious, very mysterious. He was out for a little ride on his motorcycle, riding along in a place he had been a thousand times before. I’m saying he knew it like the back of his hand. The pavement was as dry as Ezekiel’s bones in the valley of dry bones. No traffic neither. No sudden wind. Everything perfect, but the holy man — he crashed and burned just the same. The demons ganged up on him obviously. But Jesus rescued his soul and carried it to heaven where it sits at the right hand of God. Oh howdy, howdy!”

“How —” echoed Mamie.

“Demons, darling. Demons did it. Demons shut his medicine down the way they do. That’s how they are.” He paused, taking deep breaths and staring hard into Mamie’s face. And he said, “But you know what? They’d have a tough time with you. You’d give them back hell I can tell.” He looked at me. “Christian,” he said, “tell me the truth. Is this girl as strong as she looks?”

“Probably stronger,” I said.

“And maybe just slightly dense?”

“Slightly, yeah. She can’t read or write.”

Jesus loves her, this I know, for the Bible tells me so! Holy Fools! He loves them!” Robbie turned around and looked out the rear window. “But watch out, there might be demons who hate her. Could be, I’m saying, they could be on her trail. Wake me up if you think you see them closing in. I’ve got a hex and a prayer that will ward them off.”

With those last words Robbie flopped down on the seat, and in a few seconds I heard him snoring. I drove on toward Temple, keeping it slow, forty-five. The woods were thick going by, looking endless and heavy with varieties of green, and shading the road and standing stiffly beside us. I wasn’t worried about nothing. The car kept hiccupping along and belching black smoke now and then, but truth is I felt a holy man was lying in the back seat, and those demons nor nothing else could bother me. Robbie had said we were riding on the breath of Jesus. What could be better or more comforting than that?

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