Excerpt from The Visitor by Sheri S. Tepper, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Visitor

by Sheri S. Tepper

The Visitor
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2002, 416 pages
    May 2003, 416 pages

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Once Roger had gone, there no one to threaten Rashel into being nice. One time Father caught Dismé crying and he demanded to know why. Dismé, caught off guard, said she was lonely, and she missed having her shawl, because it was the only thing left that had belonged to Mother. Father, sounding angry, which he hardly ever did, ordered Rashel to give Dismé's shawl back to her.

Call-Her-Mother said, "The child leaves her belongings all over the house. Why don't we return everything!"

The shawl had been washed in hot water. It was shrunken to nothing, a stiff, felt-like thing the size of a kerchief. Her hat had been sat upon; her book had paint spilled over all the pretty pictures; everything was spoiled.

"There," Call-Her-Mother said. "Such a fuss over a lot of trash. I hope you're satisfied."

Father was staring at the shawl, his face very cold and still. Dismé's mother had worn it when they met. It was woven of very fine wool, printed in a design of roses, and it had been very soft, very old and an armspan each way. True Mother had given it to Dismé, particularly. Father touched it with a forefinger, his face flushing as he looked up at Cora, angry, really angry.

"Who did this?"

"Why, Cal, I'm sure the child did it hers…"

"The child did nothing of the kind. She treasured it far too much. Who did it?"

"It probably got mixed in with the wash, accidentally."

"Accidentally. Like the hat. Like the book. Like the little pillow I gave her. There are too many accidents, Cora. Far too many Turnaway accidents."

Dismé had no word for the expression on his face. Anger was only part of it. Maybe disappointment? Whatever it was, it made Call-Her-Mother turn very red, then very pale, and that was enough to make Dismé lie awake at night, worrying about Father. Call-Her-Mother and Rashel were both Turnaways. It wasn't smart to fool Turnaways. Should she stop showing she loved Father? Everything she loved disappeared, or was broken, or died…

Father changed after that. He became less dreamy, more solid, which puzzled Call-Her-Mother. One day he asked Dismé to help him clean the back areaway, beside the toolshed. When they were almost finished, he said softly, "Go get me the Latimer book, Dis. Hide it under your shirt. I've made a place in the shed where we can keep it safe."

Dismé went into the little room her father used as an office and listened, being sure that Call-Her-Mother and Rashel were upstairs. The Latimer book was a black book with a name in gold: Nell Latimer, Father's great great so many time great grandmother. It was on the bottom shelf, behind some other books, Dismé removed the books, first carefully, then with panic, for the space behind them was completely empty.

"It's gone," she whispered to Father, when she returned to him.

He bit his lip. "Gone?"

"Gone, Father. Really. I took every book out of the shelf and I looked at each one."

"Rashel," he said, like a curse.

"Or her mother," whispered Dismé. "They both take things."

He didn't contradict her. He hadn't doubted her since he had seen her mother's shawl. Instead, he said bitterly, "It'll be somewhere in the house. Look for it, Dismé. Whenever you have the chance. Damn it, it's a Commador book, not a Turnaway thing. Not Cora's nor Rashel's, but ours."

"What's in it, Papa?"

"I'm ashamed to say I don't know. I started to read it once, but a lot of it was very personal and embarrassing to read. I felt as though…I were intruding, so I never really…Well. It was written by our ancestress, a sorceress, a star-reader."

"You said there was something about purple prayer, rising from the world like smoke, and something about the monster that came in the dark to strike the world a mortal blow, and something about the part that broke away…"

Copyright 2002 Sherri S Tepper. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher HarperCollins.

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