I looked up at her, afraid she was making fun of me. Me? I asked.
I scrunched up my mind and thought hard about her question. I could barely think of anything I liked, let alone loved. I knew I didnt like farming or shucking corn. I knew I didnt like Oakley, or my giant, ravenous family, or the vegetables that spilled from the counter and sink and onto the floor. I knew I didnt like the way I felt all the time, so freakish and small, so scared of everything.
I dont know, I said, finally, watching the light streaming in from the windows and slanting through the air. This is the only thing Ive ever loved, being here right now. It came up on me just like that, the realization that there was nowhere Id rather be, that this was as close to happiness as Id ever been.
She smiled. Its a good place, this library. Like entering another world. You can open up any of these books and just forget about the fields and rivers outside, the farms and horses. The past.
Its so different here, I said. Youre so different.
She peered into me and shook out a cigarette from a pouch beside her. The tobacco and paper crackled as she lit up. Tell me about yourself, Tessa Riley, she said.
I stared at the crazy-quilt skirt my mother had sewn for me, fingering the hem. I felt paralyzed, convinced I could never speak of my own life out loud, but I still felt the stories beating at my throat and lips.
I have a sister named Geraldine, I began, and two brothers, Matthew and Connor. Geraldine and I share a room and the ceiling is as high as the stars. My moms name is Roberta, and my dads name is Lucas. They dont notice me much, though. Theyre always busy in the fields.
Really? Mary asked.
I nodded solemnly. Im not sure what possessed me then, but for the first time in my life my mouth just opened and everything came rushing out. I told Mary about the wooden house and the fields, and the rows of gem-hard corn we based our livelihood on. I told her about my favorite log and my fathers terrifying hands. I told her about how my mother made all my clothes out of the scraps of my sisters and brothers jumpers and dresses and pants. And I told her about how my mother laughed at me as she stitched my skirts and blouses, how she called them clothes for a babys doll.
Mary leaned toward me and touched my arm. They just have their own vision, she said. For people like you and me, the world is different.
I thought of the world outside my window, and the one I dreamt about when I was out in the fields alone. Not knowing what to say, I just looked up at her and smiled.
She stood and stretched. Im making some tea. Want a cup?
Yes, please, I said, though I wasnt quite sure. She winked at me and started walking to the open space beyond the stacks, on the left side of the room. Her sandals clacked dully on the floorboards. Alone, I stared at her desk, trying to memorize everything on it before she got backthe glossy cards and scattered notebooks, the rumpled papers for her cigarettes, a discarded silver bracelet, a tiny clown figurine painted red and yellow. I wanted things like that someday, I decided. Things of my very own.
Soon the whole place smelled like herbs. When Mary reemerged with two steaming cups of tea a few minutes later, it seemed like the most exotic thing in the world. I peered into my cup, staring at the greenish water with the herbs floating at the top.
Its my special recipe, Mary whispered. It will make you irresistible.
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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