Did you know that stars die? she said. They burn themselves out and they fade from the sky, but they are like ghosts.
I looked at her.
There are no ghosts, I said quickly, then felt my face grow as red as the radishes my parents bent over to pick each day.
Oh, but there are, she said, smiling at me with her crooked teeth and lifting my right hand into her own. You see this pinky right here? This little half-moon on the bottom of your pinky nail? It was once a star, you know, a star burning in the sky, but when it came time for the star to disappear, it just fell to the earth instead. Every part of your bodythe moon on your pinky nail, the blue rim in the center of your eyewas once part of a star.
Not even my own mother had ever been kind to me like this. I felt all lit up and almost glowing, imagining my body spread across the night sky like an explosion, sparkling down to the half-moons on my fingernails.
And so the stars come back to haunt us, she said, the way everything else does, sooner or later.
That night I couldnt stop thinking about itme, Tessa Riley, sitting in the town square in front of everyone, talking to her. I stared at my flat body in the mirror, wondered what itd be like to have that sort of presence in the world, to curve and slope and glide. Later I could barely focus on my stretches, and just swung listlessly from the curtain rod. I had to visit Mary Finns library, I decided. I convinced myself that my mother would understand, and as soon as my family came trooping through the house, ducking through the doorway and smelling of sweat and roots, I crossed my fingers and asked her if she would take me to Mercy Library for the first time.
The walls trembled as they slipped the great sacks from their shoulders and dumped them onto the long wooden counters. What? my mother said, whirling around to look at me. You are not going anywhere near that witch. Absolutely not.
My father was silent for a long moment. You know, girl, he said then, as he reached down to grab a sack of vegetables, bringing it down on the kitchen counter with a thud. Bits of earth fell to the floor. All that really matters is a handful of dirt and a perfect oval potato. The rest is just pie in the sky.
But I want to see what its like, I said. I had never spoken back to my father before, and I saw his eyes slightly widen. I cant help in the fields anyway, and I can do my stretches at night. It was true. The potatoes were so big I had to use both my hands just to hold one of them. Each kernel of corn was bigger than one of my front teeth. My brothers and sister could hold three ears in one hand, and I felt like I was surrounded by giants.
As my father continued to haul up the sacks, my siblings began scrubbing the potatoes and radishes furiously, tossing them into large tin buckets, and my mother boiled a pot of potatoes and carrots for one of her famous stews. I was on the floor with corn strewn around me.
Listen to me, my father said, with a menace in his voice that hadnt been there a second ago. No one outside my family would even noticed it, but every single person in that room recognized his tone and what it meant. We caught our breaths and waited. That place is unholy. You will not set foot in there. Theres enough for you to do here. He flashed his face back at me, then breathed out heavily, relaxing. Just pay attention, girl, and the huskll come peeling off like banana skin.
He turned back to the sink and we were all silent then.
Usually my fathers disapproval could put a halt to anything brewing inside me. His disapproval could freeze up a river, it seemed, in the middle of June. But something had shifted in me, and that night I lay in my bed, listening to Geraldine snoring from the other side of the room, and I thought and schemed and reflected.
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."
- PW Starred Review
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