Excerpt from Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Foreign Soil

And Other Stories

by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke X
Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 272 pages
    Oct 2017, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Naomi Benaron

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Print Excerpt

Excerpt from "Gaps in the Hickory"
A Story in Foreign Soil: And Other Stories

Ella laughed when Delores said this, rolled them big brown eyes-a hers. "Ain't nobody roun here gon mess with me, Delores. They knows I can take care-a myself. An sides that they knows they come anywhere near me, my mama gon hunt them down an break every bone in they sorry body. Sides that too, they all seen me hangin roun with y'all an know I got a white lady lookin out for me now."

Delores warn Ella last time that if she snuck in at night again she was gon confiscate her key, lock her out so she like everybody else an need an invitation to come in an visit. In truth, Delores got no heart at all to do that, an that sweet chile know it damn well. Ella share a bed with one-a her li'l sisters: a nervous thing that wet the sheets jus bout every second night. When her sister get to wettin, Ella creep out the cold an stink-a their bed an sneak cross the hallway to Delores. Set herself up on the mattress that's stashed under Delores's bed an stay the night.

Delores turn to the window, her long silver-grey hair fallin from her face. Lef the curtain open last night she did. The sun's shinin yellow on her cheek, so hot it feel like she jus opened the oven an ducked her head in to check on one-a her butter cakes. The crooked gum side her window is standin steady, only the slightest rustle-a leaves every now an then. The large red an yellow Carnival flags strung up from the telegraph pole out her window, they hangin limp, like they used-a be livin but now they dead.

Delores sigh, put a wrinkled hand up into the shaft-a light streamin in the window. She been tryin to forget bout Izzy these last months—that she gone from this world an ain't never comin back. She been tryin to keep busy not thinkin bout her friend, but now the summer Still done turn up. It's Izzy's Still, really—the dead quiet centre-a summer. Izzy the one start callin it that, way back when they knew each other in Mississippi. Delores can't get her ole buddy out her mind this mornin. It's like the ole woman's soul is risin itself up through the drought cracks in the dirt, walkin toward her from out there over the state line where she done been buried.

Delores rub at her eyes, stretch out. Need a new mattress, she does. She so tall her feet been near hangin off the end-a this one for years, an besides that she keep wakin with pain shootin down her back. She done looked at the shops last week. How these things become so damn expensive? How a simple bed gon break the bank like that? Delores stand up, straighten her long legs an step clear over Ella an her mattress. Chile don't stir none, so she close the bedroom door hind her, walk cross the hall to the bathroom, lif up her baby-blue nightgown, ease down her knickers an lower herself onto the toilet. She stare down at her white thighs, sighin.

Delores make a mental list as she weein, tally up all the things she gotta do today: for her own self, an for organisin Carnival. Damn. She done tole Ella they gon have a Beauty Day together. She cut for time, but Ella been so lookin forward to it. First things first, though—her smalls gotta be washed. All the machines in the laundry room broken, so she been cartin her bigger clothes to the laundromat, but not her underwear. She look down at her knickers. They hot pink with purple lace roun the bottom.

"Too saucy for an ole woman like you," Ella said when she saw them hangin up dryin on her balcony last month. Delores don't pay her no mind. She several years past sixty now, an done with worryin bout people talkin. She gon damn well wear whatever she want. Them saucy knickers restin on the bathroom floor now, roun her ankles, half coverin them normous feet-a hers. Why she gotta be born with such hoofs, Delores always be wonderin. Can't never find women's shoes to fit the things. She mostly end up buyin from the men's section, replacin the borin brown laces with pink ribbon.

Excerpted from Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke. Copyright © 2017 by Maxine Beneba Clarke. Excerpted by permission of Atria 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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