Shaken in the Water
1903: a Mennonite woman gives birth to a daughter named Agnes. The child bears a birthmark known in Low German as Tieja Kjoaw, the Tiger’s Scar. The mark portends greatness or tragedy. Agnes becomes the matriarch of a family struggling for greatness: her husband shaves his entire body to win God’s favor; a tornado carries her daughter away on a clear winter day; convinced he is a modern Moses, her son frees a truckload of cattle; her granddaughter butchers a cat to save her marriage; a tiger residing in her daughter’s backyard claims to be the love of Agnes’ life.
Praise for Shaken in the Water
…compelling, disturbing, and engaging…
The reality of the world Jessica Penner creates in Shaken in the Water is never quite what it appears to be: love can so swiftly shift-shape into hatred, rage into compassion, understanding into rejection and longing. But for the reader there is always the Voice calling, “Herein!”—“Come in!”
Excerpt from Shaken in the Water
Agnes had a birthmark that crossed her back from her left shoulder to her right hip. The midwife who had brought her into the world once whispered to her that it was a Tieja Kjoaw—Tiger‟s Scar. It was thin and delicate, with a slight swirl to each end like the underscore of a signature. It was slim and sensitive to touch. Usually she wore her corset to bed to keep it protected from the maneuvering sheets. When her husband, Peter, touched it on their wedding night she gave a little gasp of pain. He stopped caressing her back and curled his fingers around the back of her neck. It was completely dark; even the curtains were drawn against the feeble light of a mid-cycle moon. All that could be heard beyond their stifled breath was the lonely echo of a cricket somewhere downstairs.
Peter’s hand fell away from Agnes’ neck. Daut deit mie leet, he whispered. Forgive me.
Agnes knew she should fumble for that hand, press it against her breast and whisper any sort of lie to explain it away. That would end his embarrassed conjecture; it would help make their milk-fed marriage stronger. But she could not lie to him just yet. She wanted to be married more than a half of a day before she began lying to her husband.
Noch nijch, was all she could force through her lips. Noch nijch.
Not yet, he whispered in anxious agreement. Noch nijch.
Agnes had tucked her nightgown beneath her pillow so she would not have to find it in the dark. She slid it over her head. It was made of a light silk that she had sewn months ago during an ice storm; she was not surprised by how cool the threads felt as they slid over her August-soaked body.
Peter had not been so prudent. He shook the sheets and felt the floor for his pajamas. Had they been in love, this would have been shyly hilarious. Agnes lay down on her side of the bed and let him search alone. Finally, he found the pajama bottoms and struggled back into them. The bed swayed, creaked and bumped against the wall beneath his shifting weight. Peter’s parents’ bedroom was below; two of his unmarried sisters slept across the hall. Nearly everyone in the Harder household would breathe a sigh of relief and believe Peter was now truly married.