Excerpt of Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum
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Danish Landing, Michigan
Mama said I was born in a blueberry fieldthat she was squatting, not to birth me, just to pick. Her hands were stained that purple-blue, and her lips were ringed black-blue, and a once-plump blueberry teetered on her tongue, staining her teeth as gray as a November sky. But it wasn't November, it was steamy July, Independence Day. And in the distance Mama could hear the sizzle on the Landing, where long-legged Mary Grace, always-obedient Mary Catherine, and troublemaker-in-training Mary Tessa swirled their sparklers, their sun-streaked hair dancing so close to the ephemeral glow that three-year-old Tessa singed her golden tips a crispy black.
"What in God's name?" Mama asked, as if she didn't know. She'd birthed the Marys in a steady succession like they were part of a fugue. Every two years a new one appeared, almost to the day: their bald heads glistened like the harvest moon and their dark lashes crept down their faces, giving them that startled look they have to this day. Even so, when Mama felt that wrenching tug, what she later described as her "rearrangement" (for she swears her internal makeup was never the same), and when she realized she was pushing whether she wanted to or not, she asked that very question, "What in God's name?"
I expect the question was a bit of an omen, as Mama seemed certain from the start I was going to be far more different from my sisters than they were from each other. While the Marys all came "as civilized children should" (Papa said) in the sterile world of white walls and white floors and white-clad, rubber-gloved professionals, I splattered down into a blueberry bush, wasting a full morning of Mama's toil. (No one would eat the berries she'd picked, convinced I'd splattered myself into her bucket as well.)
My mop of black hair was so tangled in the scrawny bush, and Mama's hands so slippery with blueberry juice and the mess of me, she couldn't free me, so she pulled a pair of pruning shears from her skirt and gave me my first haircut right then and there, while I wailed like a robbed jay. When she'd finished I appeared a shrunken old man, a bald sun on the tiptop of my head with a halo of greasy hair matted about it, and a forehead so furrowed in fury, the lines didn't soften for days. "With the way you carried on," Mama said, "there was no need to phone the doctor. Anyone within earshot knew you were in this world for the long haul."
Before traipsing back to the Landing, Mama clipped the cord with those same shears then swabbed me with her skirt in attempt to make me presentable to Papa and the Marys. Papa was fuming at the eldest Mary, leggy Grace, over tiny Mary Tessa's singed hair, and all the Marys were weeping. Mama had to tap Papa thrice and knee him once just to get his attention. When he did turn toward her and saw my sticky skin and haloed hair and the partial blueberry that dangled from my left ear, he screeched as if a Mary, then bellowed, "Mary, Mother of God!" And the Marys cried louder, and I wailed again.
"Your daughter," Mama shouted, to be heard over the racket.
"But what about her hair?" Papa said.
"She came when I was picking," Mama said. As if that explained it.
My hair has always had a touch of blue when struck by morning light, and my skin is nearly as dark as my sisters' is light. And my eyes are that pale, just-ripe-blueberry blue. When I asked Papa as I grew why I look the way I do, all swarthy skinned and swarthy haired and icy eyed, so different from he and Mama and the Marys, he asked me what exactly did I expect given the way I came crashing into the world?
Mama named me Amaryllis, right out there in the blueberry field, and when Papa's mustache quivered after she told him the name, and his eyes took on the glassy, stunned gaze, Mama straightened her long back and stretched her giraffe's neck and flounced that Mary-hued hair as she pointedly turned away, and Papa knew the name was not negotiable.
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.