Excerpt from All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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All the Names They Used for God

Stories

by Anjali Sachdeva

All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva X
All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva
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  • Published:
    Feb 2018, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Cynthia C. Scott

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THE WORLD BY NIGHT

Sadie was sixteen when her parents died, and the gravedigger told her he would charge her less if she'd help him. Typhoid had killed so many people in town that he was tired of digging.

"Can we do it at night?" she asked. Her skin could not weather the long hours in the sun, and in the glare of day she would be nearly blind.

He agreed, and so there they were, twilight 'til dawn, shaving slivers of hard-­packed earth from the walls of the graves. They had the coffins lowered by morning and the gravedigger looked at Sadie's flushed face and said, "Go on and get inside now. I'll finish this. I'll do it proper. You can have your own service tonight."

"Aren't you afraid of me?" she asked. She'd been wanting to ask all night. When she was tired or nervous her irises often jumped back and forth uncontrollably, as though she were being shaken, and she knew they were doing so now. It unsettled people, and more than one preacher had tried to cast spirits out of her, to no effect.

The gravedigger looked at the earth for a long time, the pits with the bodies resting at the bottoms. "I saw another girl like you once, at a freak show in Abilene," he said. "White skin and hair like yours, eyes like I never saw, almost violet. They called her the Devil's Bride, but I think she would've liked to've been married to a good man, tending chickens and baking biscuits just like anyone else. Anyhow, you're a fine digger."

Now Sadie is twenty and it is June and her husband Zachary has been gone for two months, moving southeast across the Ozarks and maybe farther, to look for work. She is not afraid of being alone. She was alone for two years before she met Zachary and she had thought she would spend the rest of her life that way. Just knowing he will come back sooner or later is enough.

She sleeps in the sod house through the bright hours of the day when most women do their chores, saves her work for early morning and dusk. When the dark has settled she walks across the prairie, making her way by scent and feel. She finds some clumps of grass that smell like onion, others like sweet basil, others still covered in silvery down that tickles her fingertips.

As the days pass, she saves up things to tell Zachary about when he comes home: A patch of sweet blackberries by the side of the pond where she draws the wash water. A hollow where a covey of grouse nest. Most important and mysterious of all, a hole in the ground with nothing but darkness inside, about the size of a barrel top. The grasses there move even when there is no breeze, and the hole breathes cool air. Once, she lowered a lantern into it at the end of her clothesline and saw a slope of jagged stone leading down. She stuck her head into the opening and breathed, and the air smelled just like the walls of her parents' graves.

When Sadie first met Zachary it was dusk and he was drunk. She was sweeping the front steps of the house she had lived in with her parents, and had a pot of elderberry jam boiling on the stove inside. A man stopped at the gate and said, "Appaloosa." Sadie kept sweeping, but the word brought to mind the horses, stark white with a dappling of dark spots, that the Indians rode across the plains. "Appaloosa," the man said again. "Appaloosa, I'm talking to you." He sauntered up to her and took her face in his hand, fumes of whiskey and turpentine exuding from his clothes. He had straight black hair to his shoulders and fingers that were strong and calloused. Sadie stood very still as he rubbed her chin with his thumb, then showed her the dark purple smear of elderberry juice that stained it.

"Not real spots at all," he said. "You're in disguise. You must be one of those Arab horses like the kings and queens ride, white from head to shoes." He licked his thumb clean. Sadie didn't say anything, just tightened her grip on the broom handle, but he dropped his hand and stepped back and bowed to her lightly. "I'll see you tomorrow," he said, and just as quickly as he'd appeared, he was gone.

Excerpted from All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva. Copyright © 2018 by Anjali Sachdeva. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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