Mama told me this story at least a hundred times as I grew upclaimed she'd named me Amaryllis after a shepherdess in her favorite Virgil poem. "You seemed partial to fields," she said, and she didn't even crack a smile. The name Amaryllis comes from the Greek amarysso, meaning "to sparkle," Mama said, "to shed light." She was wont to remind Papa there is in fact a "Mary" in the name. Mama insists she'd intended to call me Marylla for short, or maybe even just plain Mary, but these nicknames never stuck. I was Yllis from the start. "I'm Yllis," I'd say, when I'd meet new people. "Phyllis?" they'd say. Sometimes, "Willis?"as if even my sex was a mystery.
Papa's deceased mother had been christened Mary Ann, and until that moment of truth in the blueberry field, Mary Ann was to be my "blessing," as Papa would say. But I've no doubt Mama knew it would have been a sort of sacrilege to name me after dead Grandma Slepy, let alone the Mother of God.
Mama herself was named Christina, after God himself according to Pa. Perhaps that's why the name made her itch. Whenever Papa introduced her as such, she'd claw behind her ear and up her right side and correct him. "Seena," she'd say. "Call me Seena."
"What kind of name is Seena Slepy?" Papa would mutter to himself. Then he'd go on to introduce himself, Dick, and the Marys. And me, Yllis.
I myself have an affinity for the name Seena, perhaps because it contains the word "see." Long before I had any understanding of who I amwhat I amI could see Mama's instincts were right: I was different, and not just on the surface. I didn't fit in my family, I didn't fit in at school. Classmates and teachers (and Mary Tessa) so ridiculed me for my "wild imagination," I wasn't sure I belonged on earth. Yet I knew things about earthabout people on earth. I often knew what people would say before they spoke. I knew whom people loved, whom they despised. I knew what gave others joy and fury and envy, even when they didn't seem to know themselves.
Just to set the record straight, envy is not green. And rage isn't red hot, and the blues have nothing to do with blue. Envy is more dust colored, a transparent sort of gray. It quivers, like heat rising. Rage itself is not any shade of redit's not any color at all. It's a smell, like fried-up fish. Melancholy? The blues? Melancholy's more of a shimmer than any color. And it creeps: blues on the move.
People say joy is infectious, but that's a myth. It's melancholy that's infectious. And sneaky. It skulks about, climbing legs, mounting skirts. It's particularly active when joy is in the room. Joy shows up, a sort of humming, and melancholy gets the jitters. I've seen it time and again. While joy bathes one personwho purrs almost, like she's been plugged inmelancholy makes the rounds. And those closest in proximity to joy are melancholy's most likely targets. That's not to say joy's humming doesn't sometimes spreadit doesbut melancholy is crafty and determined, while joy spreads mostly when it tries not to. At least when it doesn't try too hard.
Guilt, in contrast, is tricky to see, smell, hear, because guilt is a musha combination of envy and anger, joy and melancholy. And love. But I know guilt. I know the taste of its quivering, shimmering, cloudy, smelly, buzzing self.
I met guilt first in the time BEFOREbefore Africa, before Papa's death, before my love for Mama took on a taste I couldn't recognizewhen envy may as well have been green, and anger could have been Papa's flush, and joy might have been quiet, not a hummer. And sadness? As far as I was concerned then, it was my mother. Snug in the world of her mind, Seena was the goddess of deception, Apate herself, ensnared in Pandora's storage jar. But at the time, I mistook her cunning for sadness.
It was the day of my eleventh birthday and the bicentennial and we were summering on the Danish Landing, a hodgepodge of cottages owned by Rasmussons and Sorensons and Jorgensons and Eihlersons. And Slepys. When Mama convinced Papa to buy the cottage we'd been renting in a probate sale, he said, "At least we all look Danish." Then his eyes dashed to me, and the skin beneath his pale mustache went pink, and his ears looked hot to the touch.
Excerpted from Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum. Copyright © 2011 by Christina Meldrum. Excerpted by permission of Gallery Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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