Excerpt from One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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One Night Two Souls Went Walking

by Ellen Cooney

One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen   Cooney X
One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen   Cooney
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    Nov 2020, 216 pages

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One

Once when I was small I asked my parents, What is a soul?

My father called it a mystery, like the genie in Aladdin's lamp. He knew I'd been reading stories of Arabian Nights. But what he said could not be true. A soul can't slip from a body and speak to you and grant wishes, if you rubbed yourself like rubbing a lamp. I had tried, many times.

My mother said that if she had to compare a soul to a character in a story, she'd pick Tinker Bell, the best thing about Peter Pan.

So I began to imagine a fairy inside me, curled up sleeping for most of the time, perhaps on a cushion of my guts, or some pillow of an organ.

"Wake up, Soul," I would say, but it didn't matter. I had to accept the fact that it could not be told what to do. I never had a clue when it would remind me it was there, whirring about like crazy, fluttering inside my rib cage, zipping around wherever it wanted to go, because of course it would do that; it had wings.

And it knew about the other thing. Like that was its job.

"The other thing" was what I called it when there was ordinary, everything ordinary, life going on as it does, and then suddenly there's a something else. I could never describe it to myself, but I could have called it "the thing that doesn't have words."

Once I heard a thrush sing in twilight, its notes ascending, its melody like no other, and then I had to feel sorry for flutes, whenever I heard one. Maybe the flutist was a genius of a musician, but my soul had learned a flute is not a bird.

In the waiting room of my dentist, a stranger suddenly smiled, and the light of that face was beautiful, when one second earlier, I thought I was looking at someone ugly and weird.

In stacks of the library where I wandered, where almost no one went, where everything was old and a little beat-up, a ray of sunlight came in, filled with swirling bits of dust, when nothing else was moving, and I saw it wasn't dust but particles of the spirits of those books, free and out playing around, like no one was watching.

Moments. They were moments. They belonged to the other thing and they could never be broken, as you can break a clock, but not time.

I would say to my soul, "Wide awake! Good job!"

But you can't believe in fairies forever.

The first time I saw the cathedral, on a drive with my parents, I felt I was looking at a castle. And then bells began pealing.

I could not understand why the car wasn't stopping so we could go inside. I begged.

Once I sat bedside with a painter who yearned as a child to be taken into the art museum he could see in the distance from a window of his family's apartment. Their building was in a neighborhood of tenements as far away from the museum, to him, as the other side of the moon. He'd grow up to have work of his own on its walls—but that's not what he wanted to talk about with his chaplain. He wanted to talk about longing for art when he didn't yet know what it was, outside of the sketches he secretly made, and how something inside him would leap and get excited when his eyes took in a flash of colors, perhaps in a woman's dress, or on the shelves of a storefront, cans and bottles and cardboard containers arranged just so. The funny thing was that the painter had no memory of the first time he entered that museum. His soul hadn't bothered to register the actual event.

He was nearing the end of his life. "I'm putting my soul in order, Reverend, like I never did with my studio," he told me.

I understood him, exactly, about the museum. But for me and the cathedral, it was different. I remembered.

I knew what a funeral was. My grandfather was being laid to eternal rest.

I had barely known him, even though he was the only one of my grandparents alive beyond my babyhood. He was an often-frowning figure who always seemed covered in shadows, at the far end of the table at big family gatherings, the first to be served, the first to stand up and leave. My parents and sister and brothers always seemed to put up a guard when he was present, which they didn't do with other people. Apparently he had a temper he was never interested in controlling.

Excerpted from One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney. Copyright © 2020 by Ellen Cooney. Excerpted by permission of Coffee House Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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