Tessa turned from the window, slid the camera down the counter just as the wind threw a branch against the window to Papa's left.
"Where's the kindling?" Papa said.
"We found a snake," I said.
"Where's the kindling?" Papa said again, and louder, as if somehow we'd failed to hear, although the entire cottage is the size of a two-car garage. You might be able to choose to not listen while in the cottage, but you pretty much couldn't choose to not hearthe Marys and I had learned that well enough when Papa had rushed us to bed so he and Mama could "sleep."
A storm was brewing. I could see through the front windows on to the lake, where the waves had been stirred into such commotion, it was hard to be certain the lake was water at all. I imagined it rising up, some humongous animal with mounds of white fur and dark, wet eyes.
Another branch smashed the side window. And then another. "That'll do for you," Tessa said. She pointed to the window just as a large something hit the roof. "There's your kindling."
"Did you hear that, Seena?" Papa said. He looked first at Tessa then at me. Then he looked at Mama. But Mama (true to form) wasn't listening. The Greek dictionary sprawled her lap; she pressed her face into Hesiod. "Seena!" Papa said. He raised his voice louder than I expect he intended. Lint whimpered. Still Mama didn't budge. Papa ripped Theogony from Mama's hands and shook it to the floor, like one might shake off a leech. In so doing, he slid across Scrabble, scattering the maze.
"I was winning!" Mary Catherine said as she snatched up letters. Her rosary beads, made of olive seeds from the Garden of Gethsemane, swung like clinging seaweed from her wrist. She was quivering gray with envy, as was usual, but her mood ring was dark blue. According to the mood chart, which I'd studied that morning, she was "very happy, full of love, passion and romance," which served to confirm Tessa's claim the ring was nothing but liquid crystal, a temperature gauge.
"You weren't winning," Grace said. "I thought saints didn't lie." Then she turned her attention to adjusting her chain belt, as if to say, "I really couldn't care less."
"What's happened?" Mama said. She grabbed Theogony and dusted it, then she looked at Papa like she'd just watched him murder a babe. "Who's hurt?"
"Mary Tessa and Yllis are being disrespectful," Papa said.
"And Papa ruined our fun," Mary Catherine said.
"What's new?" Grace said.
Papa zipped around to face Mary Grace and the newspaper grazed her golden head.
"I was talking about Tessa. And Yllis," Grace said.
"Pants on fire," I said.
"We saw a rattler," Tessa said.
"A dead one," I added, "with its insides all laid out and its head chopped off."
"And Yllis said it was beautiful."
"Gross," Mary Catherine said.
"We met an Indian, too," I said. "A real one. Well, he probably was a half blood."
"We didn't talk to him, though," Tessa said.
"Yeah we did . . . ," I started, but I stopped myself, remembering Papa's instructions about strangers.
I knew I should change the subject when I realized everyone but Mama was looking at me. It seemed Mama's Pandora story was a sure way to lose their attention. "Where was truth in that story you told about Pandora, Mama?" After that experience with the snake, truth was on my mind. "You told me before there's a goddess of truth. What did you say her name is? Aletheia? Why didn't Aletheia give Pandora truthfulness? Why wasn't truth still in the jar, along with hope?"
Up until that point, Mama still had been thinking in GreekI'd seen the distance in her eyes. But my words yanked her back in a way Papa's hands hadn't. She looked at me, thenonly me. Not at sassy Tessa. Not at dusty Mary Catherine. Not at hot-pants Grace. Not even at Papa. Still, she didn't say a word.
Excerpted from Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum. Copyright © 2011 by Christina Meldrum. Excerpted by permission of Gallery 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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