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Excerpt from Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit X
Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit
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    Mar 2020, 288 pages

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Beheld

Alice Bradford

We thought ourselves a murderless colony. In God's good favor, we created a place on a hill overlooking the sea, in the direction from which we came. For a while, God's favor seemed possible. But it pleased Him to have other plans.

I remember that day, in the year of our Lord sixteen hundred and thirty, that the first colonist was murdered. We were divided, as we had been from the beginning—half of the colonists were congregants striving to live as God intended. And the other half? Well, they were why we took care to mend the fences.

It was August, the month of promises fulfilled or never realized. Our harvest had been bountiful: acres of nearly ripe corn, beans, and squash. I had three living children with me in Plymouth. William the younger was six. Mercy was three, already feeding herself porridge, and gentle with the newborn Joseph, when reminded. My two eldest were still in Holland. At forty years of age, I was for the final time a new mother. Joseph, two weeks old, newly whelped. I was blessed to have so many healthy children.

My husband saw the ship's arrival first. He lifted the oiled cloth on the window and said, They'll be here by supper. The newcomers were at least a week past due. Young William followed his father in nearly all ways, including, that morning, climbing up on a chair to see out the window, though he, unbalanced, fell backward. His skull knocked against the floor. I jumped and gave the baby to his father. Everything could have been a sign of what was to come.

I took young William in my arms. He was a clumsy child but recovered quickly, and soon asked to be excused to milk the heifer. It was one of the few chores he enjoyed doing, though he had heard God is always watching enough not to stray too often from his tasks.

Downward to the sea was the shore and a single ship that at this distance looked so quiet, one could think of it as a peaceful sign or as a menace. The ocean rolled toward us. Surrounding Plymouth was the palisade and past the palisade, the wolves. Wolves, so close to resembling our companions, but not of our kinship. Killing our swine and our cows. What swine and cows we had left foraged and trampled on the Wampanoag's crops. We erected more fences. We affirmed we were not at fault. I calculated, incorrectly, that the ship would be here before lunch.

John Billington

John Billington loved mornings. He loved waking before his wife and sons, before the human world woke. If he stirred before them, he thought it already a day blessed by God. When the boys were young—for seven years at least—there had not been a morning like this. Now, his eldest, John the younger, was two years dead, in a grave behind his house. His youngest, Francis, was in bed with his mother.

John Billington heard the ee-oh-lay of thrush. He imagined what trees the birds were on, what fences. Ten, then twenty, the numbers swelling, growing louder, until there seemed to be a symphony. He smiled large enough to reveal his rotting front tooth. His wife and son slept through the noise. Astonishing it was, to hear the low hum in the background of your life brought forth to a crescendo. At fifty years of age, he knew the world was painful, but also beautiful.

Behind the sound of birds, he heard his goat, Mary, opening herself up for her infant. Two weeks earlier she bore three babies. The runt, a male, was the only to survive. He suckled greedily at the teat.

The birds were startling in their shrill calls to one another. Though perhaps this was not a happy sound at all, but instead rivalry. The birdsong came to a halt. He did not hear their wings flapping in the wind. It was as if they saw something and, in fear, kept quiet. He could no longer hear the goats, either. Had sound itself ceased?

John Billington tiptoed from his bed to the door, opened it only enough to slip out. He was a slender man, often preferring drink to food, and the door made little sound.

Excerpted from Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit. Copyright © 2020 by TaraShea Nesbit. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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