She looked at me with surprise just as we came to her desk, where three people stood waiting for her return. All old farmers, I realized, with their hands full of books. I expected them to be angry, having been made to wait like that, but they all lit up and practically shone as Mary came near them.
Well, well have to fix that, she said, winking at me, before taking her seat behind the desk. Why dont you sit next to me while I help these gentlemen? She smiled up at the first man in line as I sat on a stool nearby.
Shakespeare, I see, Mary said to the man. The sonnets. Theyll make a romantic of you yet, Joe.
I swear that old farmer blushed all the way down to his collarbone. I liked Troilus and Cressida, he said. You were right about thatun.
Mary smiled, then picked up another book and put it in with the one he was holding. Youll like this even better.
I watched Mary check out books for at least half an hour before the library began emptying out. I stared at her mass of hair, so black it seemed to glint blue in parts, and her brown shoulders. My sister had brought home a movie magazine once and I had felt the same way then, looking at the women with pale hair and dark lips, their eyebrows like swooping lines across their foreheads. I touched my hair with my hands, imagined my body stretching up and filling out, covered with swishing fabrics like the ones Mary wore. This is what it means to be a woman, I thought. She picked up each book and thumbed to the cards in the back, and I watched her strong, sure hands.
I sat on the stool, praying she wouldnt tell me to leave.
After a while, when the library had cleared out, Mary turned to me. Its busiest in the mornings and evenings, she said. Mostly I have the afternoons to myself. She smiled. So tell me, why dont you know how to read? Arent you in school?
No, I said softly. My folks dont believe in schooling. Im supposed to work in the fields with the rest of them, but they dont want me on account of my smallness. I could feel my face growing red and lifted up my hands to cover it.
Dont believe in schooling? she said. What do they have you do all day, then?
I looked up at her, nervous, but saw she wasnt laughing. I used to have to do chores but my house is so big, I couldnt do much. I cant do anything right is what my mama says. Sometimes I sneak out and hide in the fields or come to town to watch people. My mama wants me to eat potatoes and stretch my body in the window so Ill get bigger. Then I can make my contributions, she says.
Well, you should have visited me sooner because that doesnt sound like much fun at all. She laughed. Thats the craziest thing Ive ever heard, in fact.
I took my hands slowly from my face and rested them in my lap. I looked up at her and smiled.
You know, she said, leaning in closer, I didnt get along with my family either.
Yes, she said. My father was not a nice man. I left home as soon as I was able.
Oh, one day I would like to do that. All of a sudden it seemed possible that I could leave Oakley some day, just like that.
You will, she said. Theres a big place for you in the world, no matter what you think now. Youre like I was when I was your age, back when I thought I had no place at all.
I just looked to the floor, my heart beating wildly.
What do you love to do, Tessa?
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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