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

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Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Foreign Soil

And Other Stories

by Maxine Beneba Clarke
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  • First Published:
  • Jan 3, 2017
  • Paperback:
  • Oct 2017
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Print Excerpt


Delores kick her knickers off, reach down to pick them up, scrunch them in a ball an toss them cross the bathroom, into the pink plastic laundry basket.



Jeanie carry the cane clothes basket into the kids' room, rest it on top Lucy's bed. Few thin, sweat-soaked strands-a hair fall loose from her ponytail. Jeanie take a sharp breath in, blow the blonde threads outta her eyes. The room's hot, unbearably stiflin. The summer Still's here in Mississippi meanin business, so ain't no open window gon offer no respite. Some-a the brightly coloured squares on the crocheted blanket spread cross Lucy's toddler bed, they startin to unravel. Multicoloured loops-a loose wool ring the larger holes. 'S the way Lucy digs at Izzy's blanket when she fallin asleep: sticks them li'l fingers through the gaps in the thick, woven wool an clutches the thing to her as she driftin off. Always with that bastard right thumb jammed deep in her mouth. Damn thumb-suckin's bucked out the chile's front teeth. Real looker their Lucy woulda been. Now she's gettin to appear rabbit-like. Jeanie touch the blanket, sigh. She never been one for mendin. Praise the Lord it's summer, cause come winter she gon have to find a way roun to fixin it, now her mama-in-law Izzy passed on. So many things been broken an not made good again since Izzy not roun no more to fix em.

Jeanie tip the washin basket on its side. Small jumble-a clean kids' clothes fall out on the bed. She separate her son's clothes from her daughter's: warm rainbow-a reds, pinks, yellows an purples on the one side, khaki, denim, blue on the other. Jeanie sigh to herself. Lord know what she gon do bout that boy-a theirs.

She pick up one-a Carter's t-shirts, fole it in half vertically. She fole both sleeves back together, bring the bottom hem up level with the neckline, place the folded shirt on the bed, start again. Cotton in the next shirt's worn tissue-thin. Nother spin cycle in their ole top loader it'll mose likely rip through. 'S what they find at the thrift store these days for wearin. Been like that a long time, since Jackson los his job. Near four years go now.

She start on the shorts, foldin em vertically, stackin the clothes in two small piles. These days Jeanie drive halfway cross the county, searchin out the smaller charity shops where she ain't gon bump into folk they know, folk who gon tell Jackson where she been shoppin. Ain't no shame in bein poor, far as Jeanie's concern, though sometimes there's misery in it. Shame oughta be on em people who talk. All-a em know the welfare don't go far. Half the households in Newmarket los an income when the meat plant close down, not jus hers. Still, her Jackson has his pride—his damn Southern pride—an she guess she gotta least leave him have that.

Once, years back, Jeanie made the mistake of lettin Jackson know they been thrift store shoppin. Carter proudly show his daddy the new picture books she made sure to get him after the teacher said he gettin behind on his readin. She been in such a hurry to get dinner on the table she forget to take the damn store tags off em.

"Now you listen here," Jackson hissed to her, after Carter an the baby was tucked up in bed. "I mighta been outta work five months, but that don't mean my children gotta be playin with some nigger's leftovers."

Jeanie'd wanted to ask him what made him think any black their end-a Mississippi was so much better off than them white folk was. Stead she nodded, promised to buy from the Walmart next time.

Openin Carter's side-a the wardrobe, Jeanie lower the small stack-a folded t-shirts into the second to top drawer, open the third drawer an stuff in the two pair-a shorts. She move back to the bed an start sortin socks—stuffin one inside the other till they all paired off. How Jackson spect her to feed four people an clothe em new with nothin at all comin in she ain't never gon know. She ain't one can work miracles. Still, what her Jackson don't wanna know, she jus gon try her damnedest to make sure he don't catch wind of.

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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