Excerpt from This Side Of The Sky by Elyse Singleton, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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This Side Of The Sky

by Elyse Singleton

This Side Of The Sky
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2002, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2003, 304 pages

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KELLNER Russia
1951

LONG IN SUFFERING, QUICK IN LOSING-SEVEN YEARS. EVERY day, another season of winter whisked by, just like that. Did she think he had been killed? Or did she assume he had married someone who looked more like him?

He knew that to her he had become a man of dead promises. Yet, he remembered her elegant mind, the deep blackness of her hair, the liquid brown of her eyes, and the way her pearl earrings drew his eyes to the curve of her neck.

He did not know whether he would live out the day. And he had only one reason to care. The single thing that redeemed the world was that somewhere, she lived. Even now, in this endless winter, he could feel the warmth of her hand.

LILIAN
Mississippi
1930

...a flight of unsung hearts...

AS A GIRL, I LOVED ANYTHING WITH WHEELS OR WINGS-including Pontiacs, trains, bread trucks and hummingbirds-because they all had the power to get out of Mississippi. This is what I wanted to do, and couldn't do on the authority of my underage feet alone. But I swore to myself that once grown, I'd do anything to leave. If my legs were broken, I'd hobble. If my eyes were blind, I'd grope and stumble. If a cement wall stood at the state line, I'd defy natural laws, sprout great wings that flailed the thick air and beat the mighty odds so I could soar away-anything. I didn't know then that the highest fence might be my own mind. I did know, though, that in Mississippi, I was just killing time and mourning its passing. Away I could have adventures, cross oceans, sample cities and get a glamorous job. I could fall in love, resolve my deepest hurts, author my own life and write it as a gleaming epoch so that for oneperpetual moment, I'd feel joy.

One thing was certain: I'd go with Myraleen when I left. She felt as dead as I did in Mississippi and came to share my determination to escape a place where we'd been mismatched with our own lives.

Miz Herdie was the first to get an inkling of it. She took care of us when we were little. When we first started walking, we walked with purpose, she said. Our stumbling steps weren't roundabout and nearsighted like the other babies'. We waddled out the door in a northeasterly direction, past the chickens, toward the mustard and turnip greens that thrived along the gate, and we probably would have left the property altogether if she'd let us. It was as if we were being pulled by a gossamer string.

She knew it, she'd say later. One day we'd fly away, and it would be a flight of unsung hearts and untried legs, and if we smacked the ground and shed our lives in the attempt at living, well, that's just how things went sometimes.

Myraleen and I stayed with Miz Herdie while our mothers worked. Myraleen's mother worked in a white lady's kitchen. Mine shucked oysters down near Gulfport. A wagon burdening two horses for one hour hauled her and some others to a house on the pier packed with wet buckets of grimy brown shellfish. What I remember most clearly from the earliest days was riding up to Miz Herdie's porch in Mudear's arms, and my face being pushed into the old woman's bosom. I knew better than to cry.

Miz Herdie placed me on the floor beside a little girl with no color, who bit and scratched. People who came around looked at that child, reared back their chests and said, "Yeah, daylight done broke on that one all right, damn near white!"

Myraleen had no clear reason to fight me. I'd be over in a corner, playing with a shoe box, and suddenly she'd be at my side, with those paper-thin nails poised for combat. This went on for a long time, it seemed, until I came to think Myraleen was punishing me for some unknown wrong. Mudear would get mad, and tell me I'd better learn to pick up my feet, instead of falling so much and getting all scratched up or she'd add a whipping to the scratches.

from This Side of the Sky: A Novel by Elyse Singleton, Copyright © 2002 Blue Hen Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

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