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

Kids' bedroom's a peculiar shape. Front wall juts out slanted-like so the window overlook the front door an porch. 'S as if the bedroom's tryin-a scape from the rest-a the house. From where she standin, Jeanie can see all the way down the long dusty drive. Out on the front lawn Lucy's swirlin roun in a circle, tangled hair flyin out behind her, wigglin her shoulders in some kinda showgirl shimmy. Window's closed, but Jeanie can see Lucy's li'l mouth openin wide in song. Jeanie's husband's sittin on the porch bench, can-a beer perched nex to him, readyin those damn torch sticks-a his to go ridin. Carter's on the porch steps, back turned to his sister's dancin ways, talkin to his daddy.

Jeanie gather up the pile-a pink an white socks, pause a moment as she stare out the window at her son. Carter's doin that thing with his nails again. Lord have mercy. Boy's clenchin his fist over an over as he look at his daddy, makin red half-moon welts in his palm with his fingernails. Ever since his gram Izzy passed on, her Carter's been fadin. Hurtin. Carter's skinny white legs swimmin in his cut-off army pants, makin him look smaller than his nearly ten years. Kid's skin an bone. Jeanie ain't seen him eat a full meal in months. Without Izzy roun, she ain't quite sure how to handle the kid, even though he hers. Can't figure him for tryin. Come from nowhere, their Carter had. Least nowhere they ever be willin to discuss.

Out the window, Jackson's chattin to Carter, pointin to the pile-a sticks at his feet as he barkin at the boy. Carter's turnin away from his daddy, lookin down at his own feet.

Delores stop inspectin her long, tapered toes an get to finishin her business. She flush the toilet, move over to the sink an wash her hands, lean in an stare at her face real close in the mirror. She gettin ole. No matter how much mail-order miracle cream she use on em, these wrinkles not gon let up. No how, no way.

"Y'all starin in the mirror again miring yourself, Delores?" Ella push into the bathroom, sit down on the can, the plaits in her hair all stuck out an crooked from lyin on one side while she slept.

"What I tell you bout sneakin in here at night?" Delores ask, turnin to face the chile.

"Well, what the Lord teach your damn self in the Bible bout pride a sin?" Ella answer back, pullin on the toilet roll. "An here you be, preenin in the lookin glass anyways."

That chile don't watch her mouth, it gon bring her all kinds-a trouble. Delores shoot her a look like death warmed up, but Ella jus stare back at her with one eyebrow raised up.

Delores leave the room while Ella's on the toilet. They all friends in this buildin, an Delores lived here twenty years now, ever since she leave Newmarket, but you never can be too sure who gon accuse you-a what where there's a li'l pickney concerned. Whenever Izzy came to visit, she warn Delores bout gettin too close to the girl. Only thing much they ever argued bout. Surprisin, given the years an history an heartache hung between em.

"Y'all need to make peace with your son so's you can get to see them beautiful grandpickney-a your own an stop takin in strays from next door," Izzy'd scold her. "He's a grown man now, an it's gotta be time he saw the truth. Could be it change things between you."

"Y'all call my Ella a stray one more time I'm gon throw you off that balcony to meet your maker right here in the middle-a Orleans," Delores seethe.

Was all well an good for Izzy to say. She had her grandpickney livin right there under her own goddamn roof out in Sippi. Weren't no way Delores baby would get to talkin to her again. Specially not enough to let her see them kids-a his.

When the toilet flush an the tap start runnin, Delores open the bathroom door again. She make her way over to the mirror cabinet while Ella dryin her hands.

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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