When I took a sip it was like drinking grass and sage.
I have an idea, she said, setting down her cup. Why dont we write out your name? Its such a good name; its a shame not to set it down somewhere.
We grabbed our tea and she led me out the door, over to a pile of wood stacked against the building. The sun, low in the sky now, made the landscape blaring and golden. I shielded my face with my hands and stared into it: the mountains hovering in the distance, the sun seeping through them like melting butter.
Here we go, Mary said, pulling a long twig from the pile. And she did the most amazing thing. She knelt close to the ground and began drawing shapes into the dirt.
That, she said, pointing, is a T. For Tessa. Do you hear that? Ta. Her mouth moved slowly over the sound, then spat it from the roof of her mouth.
Ta, I said.
As the sun dipped lower and lower into the horizon, Mary carved into the ground and broke my name into a stream of sounds and shapes: the crossing lines of a T and an E, the two snake shapes spinning out next to them, the shape of a swing set when you see it from the side. The letters seemed to swarm through the dirt, sparkling as if they had a life of their own.
Your turn, she said. I grabbed the twig and Mary guided me through each letter, slowly, until my name lay across the dirt twiceonce in her elegant hand, and once in my own scrawl. When I was done putting my name there, I dont think I had ever seen anything so astonishing.
I did it! I can do that! I cried.
By the end of this month, little girl, youll be able to read words straight from the page. Why dont you come back tomorrow and Ill show you some new letters? In the afternoon?
There are more? I asked, and then I thought about our name at Riley Farm, set out for the world to see. It was all so overwhelming to me, but Mary just laughed.
Im not sure what my parents will say, I said. My heart began to sink then. I had no doubt this would be my first and last visit to Mercy Library, and that I would pay for it as soon as I got home.
I know they dont believe in schooling, but wouldnt they like you to learn to read and write?
My father doesnt believe in it. And my mother wouldnt want me to learn here, from you. I clapped my hand over my mouth. Im sorry, I said.
You know, Tessa, Mary said, bending down to me. Her earrings swung back and forth and made a tinkling sound. There have been more popular women than me in the worldamong the womenfolk, that is. Its all right. But itd be a real shame for you to go through life without any words. Youre a smart girl.
Thank you, I whispered, wondering why I felt like crying. I was so afraid I would never see her again, that I would wake up and realize I had only dreamt this. Fear clenched my chest as I imagined endless days surrounded by giant corn, the smell of earth on my hands, my family towering over me and stomping through the fields. It was like flying through the clouds one minute and dropping back to earth the next. I looked down at my name carved in the dirt, and I leaned down, snatched it from the earth, and dumped it in my pocket.
Now give me a hug and get out of here, she said, and leaned in and gathered me up. For a second the strong spice scent was everywhere. I hope Ill see you again soon, Tessa Riley. Come visit me anytime at all.
Walking back through town, past the fields and farmhouses, I felt like a completely new person. I grasped the dirt in my pocket with my fist, felt it tingle in my palm, and stared up at the black star-speckled sky. The dirt crunched under my feet. I closed my eyes, listening to the rhythm of my walking, the lusty sounds of crickets and frogs in the distance. It was August, and the nighttime just made the heat seem thicker and more wet, like a substance I had to wade through. My heart pounded. The world was bursting with life. I took my time getting home, breathing the night air in and out, stretching out my arms to take it all in. Even if my father beats me black and blue, I thought, this day will have been worth it. No matter how bad things get, I will have this day.
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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