In the audience some shrieked, some found their voices dried up in their throats, some leapt to their feet, others were paralyzed where they sat. None of them could tear their eyes away from the convulsing figure of Red Woman. "Help her!" someone cried out from the back, but no one seemed willing to physically touch the woman, whose shaking was growing stronger.
It must have been during the commotion that the wind cooler and saltier than beforebegan to pick up. It set the fire in the grate flickering violently but did not put it out. It lashed Nhi's and Vi's hair in front of their eyes. The red fabric rose from where it had puddled on the floor and wafted first into a far corner of the temple, where it fluttered for a moment from a spire-like carving, and then with another gust it was whipped away into the night. It was only then that Red Woman stopped shaking. Softly, for such a large woman, she dropped to her knees, then pitched face-forward into the fire. It was then that the man with the missing teeth leapt out from the shadows and yanked her back by the shoulders, but he wasn't fast enoughthe acrid stench of burning skin and hair filled the temple, and the seer was bellowing in agony with both hands clasped to her face. When she let her hands fall away, a wail of horror rose from the audience and echoed off the ancient stones.
Nhi and Vi were already on their feet and making for the jungle, but they turned to look back over their shoulders at the sound. Though they were halfway through the temple arch, they could still see Red Woman's face clearly: The coals had seared away the flesh around one eye, and the socket was black and gaping like a second screaming mouth. In unison, the twins turned away again and ran into the darkness.
"Why, Sister, what are you doing?" Sister Emmanuel suddenly exclaimed.
"What? I'm not doing anything!"
I protested. Sister Emmanuel gave me a funny look.
"Your hands, Sister," she said softly. I looked down at the tabletop where I had been resting my forearms. With a shock, I saw that my hands were moving strangely, clenching and then relaxing in a slow but relentless rhythm, the wrists rolling backward and forward each time my fingers tightened. I had been so engrossed in the story that I had not noticed.
Sister Emmanuel wiped her own hands off on a dishcloth and then placed them on top of mine. My body shuddered, and the clenching stopped. "Perhaps that is enough for today," Sister Emmanuel said, rising from her chair. It took me an awfully long time to realize that I was alone in the kitchen.
We had not made a plan to meet again, but when I came to the kitchen the following afternoon, she was there. The egg roll filling was already prepared, but this time it had been divided between two mixing bowls. "Here," she said, sliding one over to me as I took my place at the table. "You are ready to make them, too."
I looked down at my clumsy hands. I had woken up several times in the night to find them moving of their own accord at my sides. "But I don't know how!" I protested. "Of course you do." Sister Emmanuel readjusted her sun-glasses, then sank her hands into the bowl. "I have been teaching you."
In the years since his wife's death, Vu had grown increasingly detached from the world outside his routine of work, sleep, and two bowls of rice daily. He became a colorless, insubstantial man. Each morning the townspeople would watch Old Vu ride his rickety bicycle to the officehis back bent, his head lowered, his bony knees looking like they were about to pierce through the material of his baggy, grayish suit with every pedaland each evening they would watch him ride home again. He never spoke to anyone, not even to Mrs. Dang when she came over with a plump hen to try to entice him into eating more.
Excerpted from The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith. Copyright © 2014 by Violet Kupersmith. Excerpted by permission of Spiegel & Grau. 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."
- PW Starred Review
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