When Riley Farm appeared ahead of me, I squashed the dirt in my hands, steeling myself, preparing for anything. I crept across the front lawn, deafened by the sounds of the crickets and cicadas, and pushed through the front door as quietly as possible. The house felt so stark and prim against the lush night. I felt a knot form in my throat and stay there. I stood for a moment in the dark, empty hallway, barely breathing, then heard the clattering of silverware coming from the kitchen. I stood for a few minutes longer, suspended between two worlds, before I tiptoed into the kitchen, to the round oak table we all crowded around.
My father and brothers shoveled bread and stew into their mouths, not even looking up. I took my seat next to my sister, and my mother handed me a bowl without saying a word.
Where have you been, child? my father asked.
I froze. Im sorry, sir, I said, staring into my stew. I was doing my stretches outside.
I felt his eyes on me and winced.
Tessa, I thought, squeezing my eyes shut and focusing on the dirt, the shapes, the sounds pulsing from Marys tongue. Ta.
Eat your stew, he said, in a voice so tight I thought it might whip out and lash me. Later, I knew, he would make up for whatever he was holding back now.
I came from a long line of farmers whose lives were controlled by seasons and
whose skin was hard against the wind. My family had been on that Kansas land
longer than anyone could remember, and our name was Riley, a name marked on our
front gate and on the windowsills, we were so proud of it. The Rileys were a
strong clan, my mother always told us. We came from the earth and our arms hung
heavy at our sides.
When I was born the midwife lifted me into the air and screamed; she thought my mother had birthed some kind of rodent, I was so small. Once theyd finally cleaned me off enough to see that I was a normal babythough I was about a third of the size of the usual kindmy mother decided not to call me Geraldine after her sister, as shed planned to do. Geraldine is no name for a munchkin, she said. Geraldine is a name thatd stretch two city blocks. So my mother plucked a name out of the sky and called me Tessa, and I got a Geraldine for a sister two years latera baby sister as big as a tree stump.
I dont think its any stretch to say that my mother hated having such a strange creature emerge from her body, but she tried her hardest to challenge fate and whatever devil had played such a trick on her. She taught me to do backbends and headstands and cartwheels, and made me do stretches every day in the kitchen window, but while Geraldine grew and grew till her head bumped the ceilings of the shops in town, I remained what I was: a terrible mistake. Please, I whispered into air every night, holding the word on my tongue like sugar, but when I got to four feet, time stopped for me and the world went on and left me behind.
Probably my mother tried loving me as long as she did out of disappointment, pure and simple. Geraldine, despite her gift for growing, was an ill-tempered, dumb child at best, one who snorted and cried when she didnt get enough to eat, and my brothers were not good for much besides hauling in our crops and trampling down everyone elses. Of course, when it came down to it, my siblings were far better children than I and kept that farm running and food on our plates, but I think my mother could have used someone to talk to sometimes, someone with a bit of soul in them. I guess its an easy thing for me to say now, when seeing my mother again is about as likely for me as sprouting fins, but I think my mother could have found a friend in me back then if I hadnt shamed her so much. Some things arent ever meant to be, I guess. All I know is that its a terrible thing to be born someones failure in this world.
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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