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

"Y'all wanna try one-a my face masks this time, Ella?" She slide the bathroom mirror cross, pull a glass jar-a green goop from the shelf, unscrew the top an dig in a finger.

"Can't be bothered. Too hot." Ella screw up her nose.

Delores get to smearin the gunk over her face, smoothin it roun with two fingers. Waitin for the thing to harden she notice Ella starin at her in the mirror, lookin at her mighty serious, like she wanna say somethin but can't muster it to come.

Carter's daddy's starin over at him like he wanna say somethin but can't get it spit out.

"You gon have a stab at this, son?"

"Nah. Can't be bothered. Too hot." Carter's relieved that's all his daddy asked.

He watch him draw back his spit, hock it hard. The saliva hurl through the air an arc right off the side-a the porch like a spat cherry pip.

"No sign-a brawn in you, kid. No fight at all, an you damn near ten." Carter's daddy shake his head. "Place like this, you better toughen up real quick. You been mopin roun ever since Granma Izzy die. Was already on the cards, Cart. Woman were half shrivelled an ready to go anyways. Buck up bout it, eh?"

Ain't no buckin up gon cover up how much Carter miss his gram. She with the angels now, his mama say. Knowin Gram an her contrariness, Carter ain't so sure bout that prediction. Sides, maybe she even like to be down where the heat is, given how she went an all.

Cold got Gram Izzy. Least that's how Carter's mama say it, whenever anyone ask. 'S odd to think bout it now, with this summer air so thick with bein heated it feel like you're walkin through water. Cold got her. Like she was hunted down. Like the cold was some kind-a assassin creepin icy an cruel through gaps in the elm an hickory, dodgin through the sweet gum trunks till it hit the Mississippi Delta. Carter magine the killer cold burstin clear of the forest, headed fast for their cabin as it snag on the thistles, leapin eager over the knee-high grass fields an skimmin bove the oil-slicked tar an boggy dirt roads. He magines the cold spinnin toward them, like the stones he an his ma used-a race over the river come summer. They ain't gone stone skippin since way back fore Carter's daddy lose his job. Back when there was less baked beans, an everythin was better.

Gram was sittin in the rocker in her room when the cold creep up. Slept there mose nights cause she grown not to like lyin flat. Her old bones didn't like it, she said. Cold must've unlatched the window somehow, snuck up on tippy toes an strangled her real quiet. Gone near as soon as she close her eyes, the men who came to get her body say. They knew cause it was hard to straighten her onto the stretcher. They lay her on her side, body still curled in sittin shape like a question mark, pale skin already tinged grey.

His mama order him out the room, but Carter'd watched from the hallway, green eyes wide. Not scared, mind you. Jus interested. She wasn't super ole, Gram Izzy, but well over sixty, with her heart tired out, an all ready to meet her maker. Carter an his Gram had talked bout it. She been well ready, even if he hadn't quite been.

Carter's daddy'd watched him, watchin them carry out his gram's body, had sipped on his morning beer as he slapped Carter on the back. "That's it, son, no tears, y'all toughen up," he grunt, then turn an slowly follow Gram's body out to the van.

Carter let it all out then, soon as his daddy's back was turned, tears streamin down his face. He banged his forehead gainst the hallway wall again an again, till his ma came an put her arms roun him, tight, like she hadn't done since he was real li'l. Without his gram, Carter'll die. He know that, sure as he now breathe.

Carter's daddy shake his head as he stretch out a piece-a cloth, cut away at the edge of it with the thick black-handled scissors till a long, four-inch-wide strip falls away.

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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