Mary Finn, I thought. I honed in on the idea of her, grabbed on to it as if she were a talisman. I just couldnt imagine anyoneor anythingthat beautiful. My mind set to wondering about it, about what she was like. If she would be as mean to me as all the rest of them, or if maybe there was something different about her, that same thing that set all the old hags on edge. The more I thought, the more I felt something crack open in me. Before then I had always kept to myself. I had gone whole days without touching another human being or making a sound.
One morning a few weeks later, long after the hedge incident wed vowed never to speak of again, my entire family except me left to look at the pumpkins a farmer had grown two miles down the roadso big, they had heard, that two people could fit into each one. I waited half an hour before dropping down from the curtain rod and heading to the town square. With a pounding heart, I sat on the curb in front of the Oakley courthouse to watch the people pass. I sat stiffly, self-consciously, and tried to ignore the kids who walked by laughing. After an hour, my back and legs were starting to ache, and I wondered if I should go to Mercy Library itself to find her, though I had never been there before and the idea filled me with terror.
It was then that I looked up and saw her, and I knew right then and there what all the fuss was about. There was no mistaking hernor was there any mistaking the old women who crossed themselves as she passed by, the men who stopped right in their paths and were moved to dance or song or tears. She carried a straw basket filled with red and yellow vegetables, with some papers and books poking over the side, and she walked through the square with her head up, her black hair glittering in the light, so wild it was like a field of weeds. She wore silver earrings that hung to her shoulders and a bright skirt that swished around her feet as she moved. The other townspeople scurried past or loped along, but Mary walked calmly, like a dancer, her back perfectly straight. I gazed up at her and thought she was the most beautiful woman Id ever seen, with her blue eyes and brown, freckled skin; she was the kind of woman that adults are wary of and children loveyou could just imagine that she had cabinets filled with candy when your own parents had only milk and grain.
When Mary turned her cats eyes on me and then started walking toward me, I gasped out loud. I didnt even know where I was. I felt like I was traveling up and down a muddy river on some long, open boat, or slashing my way through crazy branches and trees in some huge rain forest. The funny thing was, Id never even known those other kinds of places existed before I saw Mary Finn walk toward me with that hair no earthly comb could ever get through trailing out behind her, smile at me, and sit down by my side.
She smelled of the spices my mother baked oranges in. Her wrists jingled with bracelets. I felt myself enveloped in her scents and by her hair that brushed my bare shoulders and made me shiver as she sat down.
For a few moments she just sat next to me, stretching her tanned legs into the street, smoothing her skirt over her knees. I could only sit and stare. I watched her hands and her calves and thought how her skin seemed warm, like a blanket, or bread just out of the oven. When she turned to me and smiled, I felt like Id been struck.
What a perfect little girl you are, she said. Why are you sitting here alone?
I stared at her. I could barely believe that she was sitting right there in front of me. Mary Finn, who was the closest thing to a movie star Oakley had ever seen.
But she just rubbed her brown arms and stuck her hand in her hair the way other women stick combs.
Excerpted from Rain Village by Carolyn Turgeon. Copyright © 2006 by Carolyn Turgeon. Excerpted by permission of Unbridled Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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