As soon as Mam comes through the living room door she sniffs so hard I can hear the hair clips on her yellow pincurls chatter against each other.
It smells sooty in here, she says, and its chilly. You could have made the fire instead of sitting there with your beak in a book.
I dont like lighting the matches. You know that.
Dont be silly, Gwenni. She kneels down and begins to riddle the half burnt lumps of wood. Clouds of fine ash billow around her. A girl of thirteen, she says, and sighs.
I uncurl and push my book back under the cushion. Twelve and a half, I say.
Mam rams the half full ash pan back into place and crumples newspaper into the grate over which she lays a grid of kindling and three logs. The matches sputter and die but at last the paper catches light and the wood begins to crackle. Mam stands up and shakes the folds of her blue satin dressing gown. The stale scent of Evening in Paris drifts from them with the ash. I try to hold my breath but I feel a throb above my eyebrows, like the ghost of the dripping tap, and the back of my neck stiffens. I rub it with a cold hand, and remember what I saw in the scullery when I got up.
Theres a mouse caught in the trap, I say.
I think so.
A dead mouse wont hurt you.
Im not afraid of it. I just dont like touching it.
Mam takes the empty wood box into the scullery. Through the door I watch her as she crouches by the trap. John Morris follows her and she pushes him away with her elbow, then eases the spring from the mouses broken back and picks up the body.
Nain said she pulled a mouse out of a trap by its tail like that once. It was only pretending to be dead and it swung right round and bit her thumb, I tell her. Mam carries the corpse out through the back door and throws it into the bin. Nasty, dirty thing, she says and slams the bin lid over it.
She washes her hands under the dripping tap and says, Bring in the kettle to fill, Gwenni. The firell be hot enough. Your fatherll be wondering where his cup of teas got to.
I take the kettle into the scullery. The green distemper on the walls is beginning to peel and flake, shaping faces with sly eyes and mouths tight with secrets. There are new faces there every day. I try not to see them watching me.
Mam, I say, when I was flying last night I saw something that scared me.
Mam fills the kettle and puts it on the fire in the living room. Her hands shake and some of the water slops over onto the logs, making them hiss.
In the Baptism Pool, I say.
Dont talk rubbish, says Mam. And I thought I told you I didnt want to hear about that flying nonsense again. You havent been telling anyone else about it, have you?
I asked Aunty Lol if she could remember me flying when I was little.
How many times do I have to say it, Gwenni? People cant fly.
But I can remember it. I can, really. You and Aunty Lol were holding my hands and swinging me and then you let go and I just flew along the ground without touching it. Like this. I crouch and fold my arms around my legs.
Mam grasps my arm and yanks me up. Stop that. Stop that, she shouts. Her dressing gown slithers open and she pulls it tight around her and takes a shaky breath.
Listen to me, Gwenni. It never happened; that was a dream, too. Dont you dare say anything to anyone about it again.
Why not? I rub my arm where Mam has squeezed it.
Excerpted from The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan Copyright © 2009 by Mari Strachan. Excerpted by permission of Grove/Atlantic, Inc. 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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