The next morning I dutifully hung from the bar. My muscles were so strong I could hang for hours, and on most days I just lifted myself up and over it or tried hanging from my ankles. That morning I hung still as a board, dreaming of my escape. Waiting. I stared out into the fields, at my parents and siblings bodies bent over the crops, the sun burning their backs. The corn jutting up.
When it came, lunch seemed to last for hours. I stood on a stool stirring the stew, as usual, while Geraldine set the table and my father and brothers rested in the den. At the table, I shoveled in my food without tasting it, trying not to stare at the clock or my familys shrinking bowls of stew. I could barely sit still, and more than once my mother had to warn me to stop fidgeting.
Yes, maam, I said, my feet burning, my whole body straining toward that library across town.
As soon as the bowls were washed and the house empty, I hurried outside, crouching down in the dirt road so my family wouldnt catch sight of me. I scrunched myself alongside the corn and moved as quickly as I could toward open space. Once I was out of their line of vision, I ran and ran and nothing else mattered. The whole countryside smelled thickly of manure and growing vegetables and cut grass, but I ran so fast all I smelled was wind. It was exhilarating, breaking their hold like that. I could barely breathe, and my muscles burned from my shoulders down to my calves, but I laughed and whooped when I reached the main road that stretched through the farmland: the fields of crops and the creeks and rivers that crisscrossed our part of the world like veins. I followed the road through the country and into town, sweeping past all the people who stopped in their tracks and just gaped at me. I didnt care. For a minute I thought: the world would be so beautiful, if it were just this, this feeling right now.
Finally the library loomed up in front of me. The air seemed to go cool and misty, all at once, as if a thunderstorm were about to burst on us. From the outside the place looked like a massive barn more than anything else, except for the piece of metal swinging from a stick out front saying Mercy Library and the fact that it had been painted stark white. There wasnt much around it, just piles of overgrown grass and clumps of dandelions and some trees hanging down into the road, one with branches so long they scratched across the librarys roof. I stared up at the library, my heart pounding so hard it threatened to break through my chest.
It was the farthest Id ever been from home. Already it felt like hours and hours had passed, though it couldnt have been more than forty-five minutes. For a moment I considered turning back, but something inside me wouldnt allow it. All the bravery buried within me seemed to push up to the surface, forcing me to take another deep breath and walk toward the front door. This is my chance, I thought. My one chance for something new.
Just then an old couple pushed out past me.
I saw the way you were looking at her! I heard the woman hiss to the man under her breath.
I was getting book advice, Meg, book advice.
Startled, I slipped out of their path as they barreled by, then stepped into a vast, almost church-like space with old wood floors and a breezy high-beamed ceiling. Light streamed into the space from the huge windows on either end, illuminating the dust in the air. Towering shelves divided the room, all painted different colors. Books poured from every box, every shelf, every basket, and every drawer. To my left was a large desk with books and cards spread over the top, an ashtray filled with half-smoked cigarettes. People milled around with books in their arms, but quietly, as if afraid of making a sound. I could have sworn I heard the sound of rain, but when I glanced out one of the long windows on the far wall, the sun was flaring and the sky bright blue. The whole place smelled like smoke tinged with spices and must.
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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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