"Maybe Aletheia couldn't be found to give Pandora truthfulness." I answered my own question, as it seemed Mama had no intention of answering. "Maybe, unlike hope, truth couldn't be contained in the jar."
It was at that very moment that BEFORE passed away. For a second or so I thought I was seeing Mama like Papa had minutes before: she seemed both blurry and bright. She looked dusty, yet the dust had a white-yellow shimmer. And she waved, not with her hands. Her body waved, undulated, but barely. Just barely. And the smell. It was stronger than Papa's, as if Papa had dragged in his bucket of fish guts, and fish heads with their bulging fish eyes, and cooked them up. I looked toward Papa, away from Mama, and the smell faded, as if it blew away. Then I looked at her again. Wham. It blew back. Like someone had cut the cheese. The phonograph needle lifted, the room fell silent. Then the hum began: the monotonous chorus. It started out softly then picked up volume. I looked toward Tessa, wondering whether the joy I heard was hers, but while looking at Tessa, I heard only silence. So I looked again at Mama. The hum began softly then picked up volume.
The taste came then. Sort of an aftertaste. It was the first time I'd ever experienced this taste. It wasn't sour or salty, yet it made me pucker. Even though I didn't like the taste, I felt myself relishing it. So later, when the taste became an afterthought, I longed for it.
"You thought that dead snake was beautiful, Yllis?" Mama said.
I nodded my head. I wasn't sure what I was sensingI didn't know it was guilt. But I knew the experience was real. I wondered why I hadn't sensed it before. And I thought about the painful, beautiful truths that hover about like gnatsabout how so often we just swat them away: Papa wasn't my papa, that blue-eyed half blood was. It wasn't Papa who was the bastard. It wasn't Grace.
It was me.
All the emotion swirling around this fact had distorted it for me before. But there it was, spread out before me on my birthday, just like that snake.
"Did you kill that snake, Yllis?" Mama said, although she knew I wouldn't do such a thing: I'm no killer.
Our dog Lint moseyed over and lay on my feet, as if trying to back me, as if to say, "How could you ask her that?" Given all I'd seen and heard and smelled, I thought I might look down and find that colorless Lint had a color after all. But Lint was hued as always, that color that was no color and every color, like lint.
"Well, at least it can't bite anybody now," Papa said.
"Even dead rattlers can bite," I said. "Even a rattler with its head chopped off can bite."
"Stop being contradictory, Yllis," Papa said. "Show your father some respect."
"You're not my father. That Indian we saw? He's my father. I know for sure he is."
"Your father?" Tessa said. "Hah. I knew it. I always figured you were adopted."
"What?" Mama said. "Why would you say that, Yllis?"
"Stop that, Yllis," Papa said. "You stop that right now."
"That's ridiculous, Yllis," Mary Catherine said, but she strangled her wrist with her rosary beads.
"Now whose pants are burning?" Grace said.
Somebody needs to tell Aletheia's story, I thought: truth should have her day. As far as I could tell, I was the only one whose pants weren't burningthat is, until Papa gave me the paddling.
But now? Now I know Aletheia didn't need my help. She was perfectly capable of telling her own story.
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.
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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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