I realized I was standing there with my mouth open, so I snapped it shut and forced myself toward the shelves. I picked an aisle without even looking and began wandering through it, running my fingers along the spines of the books. I stopped and plucked one off the shelf, stared at the black markings inside until I grew dizzy. I heard a sound then and looked up to see a couple standing at the end of the aisle, kissing. When a man turned in and started toward me, I nearly fell over with fearuntil I realized he wasnt paying me any mind at all, but was staring intently at something through a gap on one of the higher shelves.
Suddenly I heard the faint sound of sobbing. I looked around, startled, then tiptoed over, as far away from the man as possible, to peer through one of the openings myself.
I saw a woman with a scarf pulled over her face, sitting at the table and crying. Mary Finn sat across from her. I heard the shush of whispers but could not make out what they were saying. The two women were almost opposites: the one hunched over and covered from head to toe, the other awash in color, her black hair coiling down her bare arms, her tanned, freckled shoulders glimmering as if with oil. Marys eyes were intent on the woman across from her, and she reached out her hand to the woman, patted her arm. I moved closer, out of one row and into another, and another, where I could hear. It was one advantage of my size: I could move quietly, as if I were not there at all. By the time I was able to see again, Mary had set out a deck of cardstarot cards, I would learn laterand was explaining them to the woman. Then, for a moment, the womans scarf slipped and I saw her face in profile, only for a split second before she quickly covered herself again. It was Mrs. Adams from down the road, I realized, shocked. But she was different now, rubbed raw and bare. I could see her sadness, slipping off her body like smoke.
But how can I make him stay faithful? I heard her whisper, her voice all twisted up from any way Id ever heard it.
I have no mind for vision or prophecies, Mary whispered then. I just know what the cards say. But if I were you I would wear a yellow skirt and toss yarrow root in his tea before bed. It will keep him close to home when he wants to wander. She reached down and held up a handful of something green and glittering, then quickly wrapped it in a kerchief and slid it to Mrs. Adams.
Thank you, the woman whispered, wiping her face. Mary looked up then, straight at me, through the books. Her eyes like cats eyes, blue as sapphires. I ducked. A moment later I heard Mrs. Adams shuffling away, and prayed Mary was following her.
My heart pounded.
What are you doing, little girl? I heard Marys smoky, low voice over me and looked up. The scent of gingerbread wafted down the aisle.
Im sorry, I whispered, but she just smiled and beckoned for me to come toward her.
Have you come to visit me? she asked. These women, they always want my advice. They think Im some kind of witch. She made a spooky face and I laughed without thinking. Then they ignore me on the streets, pretend they havent come by to tell me their heartbreaks and woes. Theyre embarrassed that they have hearts at all, I think.
I smiled. I sneaked out of my house. Ive never been here before.
Come, she said. Theres probably a line out the door by now.
I began following her through the stacks to the front of the library, staring at her multicolored swirling skirt.
Have you come for some books, too? she asked, looking back.
I blushed. I cant read, I said.
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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