Alice Hoffman - Green Angel - Free download as PDF File .pdf), Text File .txt) or read online for free. Alice Hoffman - Green Angel. Green Angel Heart I once believed that life was a gift. I thought whatever I wanted I would someday possess. Is that gre hoffman alice practical magic. Alice Hoffman's most magical novel to date—three generations of extraordinary women are driven to unite in crisis and discover the rewards of reconciliation.
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After nearly twenty years of living in California, March Murray, along with her fifteen-year-old daughter, Gwen, returns to the sleepy Massachusetts town where . Green Angel by Alice Hoffman. About the Book. Alice Hoffman introduces us to Green just a few weeks before her sixteenth birthday, a time when “as far as [she] . Editorial Reviews. From School Library Journal. Starred Review. Grade 9–11— Green, 17, who first appeared in Hoffman's Green Angel(Scholastic, ).
Instead, I had been weeding and thinking about my lunch. I was standing under the perfect, blue sky feeling sorry for myself. That was when I took a pin and some black ink. I began to mark my arm. I outlined a raven, and then a bat, then a rose that looked like a flower found at the end of the world.
That's who I was now without my mother and my father and my moonlit sister. Blood and ink. Darkness where before there had been patience, black where there'd once been green. The decision of who would stay and who would go to the city was made arbitrarily that day, a single white page of fate that altered our future. I could have insisted. I could have run after them.
Then I would have been there to turn to my mother at the instant when it happened. The last thing I saw would have been her black hair and the O fire behind her, red as roses.
But I was the one who was still alive, the girl whose eyes burned, whose vision was blurry, whose stomach growled, who wrote upon herself with black ink, as if that could change anything. Once, I had wanted only one thing: to be sixteen. One simple, easy desire. That day wasn't so far away, but it might as well have been forever. I was no more certain that my wish would be granted than I was that daylight would remain, that the birds would sing, that my garden would grow. Soul Wanting only darkness, I began to sleep.
I slept longer and longer. I ignored daylight and hope. I didn't care if the sky had begun to clear. Most of the ashes had fallen to the ground, leaving the horizon a faint washed-out blue. On several occasions I had noticed white clouds.
There was the promise of sunshine. That wasn't what I wanted. I would rather sleep than eat or see the sky. Each time I put away my ink and pins, I closed all the windows. I drew the shades. When I went to sleep, This is what I dreamed under the table where I felt safer, I tied a scarf around my burning eyes so not even the tiniest bit of light could disturb me or remind me of what I had lost.
When I slept, I dreamed of the world as it was. My sister was clearing away the ashes. My sister was opening the window. Her hair was the color of moonlight, ice-colored, knotted from sleep. Help me, she'd demand when the window stuck fast in my dreams, when the door wouldn't open, when the ashes were so deep she'd never be able to clear them away all alone.
I'd rise from my bed and do as she asked because I couldn't deny her anything. Once again, I was Green, who had patience. I was the girl with long, black hair who held the open book, white pages, empty and clean, black words flying like ravens, still waiting for the future, still hopeful, still me. Whenever I dreamed and my sister was beside me, I could breathe easier. Auroras skin was silver, aglow with light. Sometimes in my dreams she had grown up and was my age exactly. Even as my twin she was still my beloved opposite: the moon, not brackish green water.
Bright, not dim. Wild, not plodding and shy. She was my sister and she knew my thoughts before they were spoken.
She knew why I couldn't bear to see. Why I wanted the cinders in my eyes. Why I never bothered going to my mother's medicine cabinet, where there were so many ointments and cures. My vision was little more than shadows, but even in my dreams, I wouldn't search for a cure.
You know what you have to do in order to see, Aurora told me. She pinched me and pulled my hair to try to make me cry, but I wouldn't. Not in my sleep nor in my waking life. My sister may have been cold as silver in my dreams, but she was as real to me as the candlesticks on the dining room table.
As real as the moon climbing into the ink-black sky. As real as needles and pins. Each time I awoke, I felt her slip through my grasp, a cloud of mist evaporating in the light of day. While I was sweeping the floor, while I collected buckets of water from the well, while I counted the jars of blackberry jam that were left in the pantry, first four, then two, then none at all, I was still with my sister.
Each night, before I slept, I took the black ink and tattooed ravens and roses and bats that could fly through the dark. Though I was almost blind, I could see well enough to do this. I could spy black ink, sorrow, loss, hearts breaking. I could see well enough to see that I was alone. I could see that soon enough I'd be starving if I didn't figure out what to do next. I had picked all the blackberries that grew in the woods, all the blueberries, all the raspberries.
I had found wild asparagus and made soups in the black pot I kept on the fire I left burning in the stove. My hands were rough from chopping wood, from gathering asparagus in the marshes, from collecting the few berries that hadn't been singed black from the heat across the river. There were very few tins left in the pantry, no flour, no salt. And my stomach went on growling, wanting me to stay alive.
But I wasn't a fool. I took precautions. I wore my leather jacket, my clothes with thorns, my heavy boots into which I had hammered half a dozen nails.
I carried my i stones and my slingshot. I was ready for looters, wild men, highway robbers. I expected almost anything, but when I left the woods for the mam thoroughfare, all that greeted me was an unnatural silence. There used to be traffic; there were trains that ran on the hour racing across the silver bridge into the city. Now the bridge had all but melted in the heat from the city.
It was closed, a thick rope tied across the entrance. People stayed close to home, worried about what might await them on the open road. There used to be children headed to the river to swim on hot days; now there was no one.
There used to be bicyclists, carts, farmers on their wav into town to the monthly market; now there was nothing but the dust I kicked into the air with every step I took.
My sister's dog had followed me. He snarled at the few strays lurking about, pets left to fend for themselves when their owners failed to return home.
On one corner there were two dead ravens, their feathers thick with ash. The plum trees that had lined the road were leafless, the bark gray. When I passed the church just outside the village, there was a sign printed with the names of everyone who'd been lost. One after another, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.
I was amazed by how many there were. But I was not surprised to see my name among them. The girl I had been, the one called Green, they were right about her. She was gone. The shopkeeper at the general store stared hard when he saw me.
He didn't know who I was, with my short hair and my black ink and the nails in my shoes. He reached for the club he kept near his money box, ready to fight me off if need be. Even after I told him I was my parents' daughter, he didn't seem to believe me.
He spoke to me from a distance, keeping the counter between us, as if he were conversing with a ghost. Everyone said you were dead, he insisted. I didn't dispute this. I didn't say these people were wrong. I just took what I'd brought to trade out of my backpack and held it up to the light.
The shopkeeper noticed my cloudy eyes; he could tell I was half-blind, and perhaps this was why he tried to cheat me. He told me the ring I had was copper.
But I knew it was gold. My mother had kept this ring in a bowl on her dresser, and I had played with it ever since I was a baby. I knew what I held in my hands. Pure sunlight. Pure gold. I laughed at the idea that my mother's most valued piece of jewelry was copper. The sound of my voice frightened the shopkeeper and he stepped even farther away.
He didn't know what to expect from me, but one thing was certain. I wasn't shy anymore. I wasn't that quiet, moody girl Green, whom anyone could fool. I was the girl who could touch the earth and gauge where to find the river. I was the one who could feel sorrow in the wind.
I knew that gold was heavy, copper warm, and the silver candlesticks I brought forth from my backpack felt like ice. I suppose you're going to tell me these are a deer's antlers, I said of the candlesticks, which had been cast by J one of the finest silversmiths in the city.
I know what I have, I told the shopkeeper. I expect to be paid well. That was the last of any arguments at the general store. As a matter of fact, the shopkeeper called for his wife, who came to watch me with narrowed eyes, as if I were a circus act or a charlatan. Green, the shopkeeper's wife said uncertainly. She'd known my family quite well and had often bought vegetables from my mother. But in the world we now lived in, why should she trust me any more than I trusted her?
Why shouldn't she gawk at the nails in my boots, the slingshot in my pocket? The shopkeeper and his wife tested my ability to distinguish by touch. If I could identify silver and gold, what else might I know? Sure enough I could tell green tea from black, navy beans from kidney beans, earth from ashes, honesty from deceit. I had another talent, it seemed. One that made people nervous.
After that, rumors flew around quickly enough. There were those who swore that anyone who touched my hand would be visited by bad fortune. I didn't disagree. I wanted the looters to hear about how I could turn the luck of anyone who came near me. And who was to say I wasn't cursed? I had lost my mother and my father and my sister, and sometimes when I caught a glimpse of myself in a shop window, I wondered if perhaps I hadn't lost myself as well.
Every time I tried to say my name out loud the word stuck in my throat, a black stone, a silver stone, a stone as white as moonlight. Before long, every shopkeeper on Mam Street knew of my talents and my cloudy eyes. Even the looters, gathered under bridges and on street corners, were wary and stayed clear. In every store, people I'd known all my life hurried when I came to trade what I no longer desired for what I needed.
They were forced to be honest with me, and they gave me what I'd come for. Gold and silver in exchange for cranberry juice, white rice, bandages, brown sugar, salt, vitamins. Coins and candlesticks for eggs, tins of baked beans, sugar, vinegar, laundry soap, candles. There were good people in town who were helping out their neighbors and others who saw an opportunity for greed. Some people were busy cleaning the ashes out of the schoolhouse, while others were selling overpriced lanterns and oil and counting their profits.
Honorable or not, most people were desperate for good fortune. Many hung horseshoes above their doors. They made certain to keep sprigs of rosemary nearby, to protect them from evil.
But I knew better. I was defended with my nails and my thorns. I wore boots with nails, a scarf of black thorns. One time when I was leaving town with my heavy backpack, a woman I recognized, a teacher of mine, called out for me to be careful on the road. She was kindhearted, and I remembered her lessons in language and history. But she wasn't my teacher anymore. I waved, but I hadn't learned anything new from her. I already knew that danger was everywhere. I took a different route home each time to ensure that no one would follow Onion and me.
I favored paths so rocky and steep, anyone else would have stumbled. It was the season when the earth turned red and yellow, when the whole countryside was blessed with orange light, but not anymore. Usually the leaves changed slowly: rubies, garnets, amber. This year, they had all dropped off at the same time.
This was the season when my sister and I had gathered fallen apples from the trees in our neighbor's orchard.
The old woman would chase us away, shouting and throwing stones that dropped harmlessly on the grass. Now, the orchards were bare and the apple trees were as fruitless as fence posts. The hillsides were black; the road littered with garbage. Feral house cats living in the ditches would claw at any kindness, and Onion was so afraid of these wild cats, I had to carry him when they hissed and showed their claws. I tried to avoid the looters who had wrecked my garden.
I'd heard they'd taken up residence near the river, at a place made out of half-dead timbers they called the forgetting shack. Some slept beneath bridges, but they all gathered at the fire they kept burning when the dark began to fall. I could smell smoke coming from their direction.
When I held up my hands to the east, where they were gathered, I could feel their pain, a kind of pain that was much worse than what I did to myself with my ink and my pins. Once in a while, the looters arrived at a house in town in the middle of the night, threatening the citizens, demanding food.
Most of them were no older than me, a few were only eleven or twelve. They had lost their parents, and, one by one, they'd run away from their empty homes. They drank gin until they were dizzy. They made themselves sick with whatever they found in their parents' medicine cabinets, tablets to make them woozy with dreams, pills that kept them up all night.
I had seen Heather Jones, the girl I knew who had joined them, panhandling on a corner. She had woven a hundred braids in her hair, and she wore what had once been a beautiful white dress. People walked by without looking, they didn't want to see the emptiness in her eyes, but I put some coins in her tin.
I didn't wait for her to thank me. That's not why I did it. It was because I remembered the white dress she wore, how pretty she'd looked in school, how jealous I'd been. Now, the fabric was torn from the brambles she slept upon. Now, it was closer to gray. I could hear the looters every once in a while, music rising from down at the forgetting shack at the river. I felt protected by my bad reputation and the nails I hammered into the trees all around my I house, a warning not to come near.
But sometimes I'd wake in the night and I'd listen to their music. I couldn't help myself. Voices carried on the wind, and their voices called to me. Several times, I'd left my sister in my dreams, and risen from my bed under the table.
The loneliness I felt cut right through me, and not even sleep could ease my sorrow on nights such as these. Help me, my sister called in my dreams, but I no longer went to her to help her carry water from the well, or sweep the floor, or close the window.
One night I went out very late. I made my way through the woods to see the forgetting shack for myself. I watched the looters dancing until their feet were bruised. Their bodies were covered with sweat. Some of them howled, and the sound went down my spine.
Some of them spun in circles, until they looked like spires of silver. Standing there alone, I swayed in time with the music. There were drums and tambourines. There was the organ they'd stolen from the church and the flutes they'd taken from the school music room. But this music was different from anything I'd heard before. It was something that scared me and made me want to be closer to it at the very same time. I thought dancing with the looters would be like jumping into the fire.
I would never have to think again. All I had to do was join them, do as they said, follow their lead, forget everything that had come before. I laughed out loud at the notion and my laughter made them turn to me, all at once. The boys I'd gone to school with were all looking at me. Most of them had never noticed me before. Now I could probably have any one of them, if that's what I'd wanted. They were lonely the way I was. I could dance all night long with any boy I chose. I could forget right along with them.
They started to call to me as if they knew me. They started to come nearer. They thought I was Green, too shy to speak. Green, who had patience and pretty long hair. Green, who would dance with anyone who asked, anyone who grabbed her, anyone who pulled her closer to the fire.
Leave her alone, a girl shouted. It was Heather Jones in her dirty white dress. She was drunk, but she recognized me. Does she look like she's one of us?
Now the boys examined me closely. They saw the black roses and ravens on my skin. They noticed the nails on my boots, and my clothes, covered with thorns, so that anyone who tried to touch me would surely bleed. They ran from me then, as though I were the dangerous one. They went back to their fire as if they'd never even noticed me standing so close by. I went home, grateful to Heather for calling out. She knew I wasn't like them. All the same, I understood what they were after.
I understood wanting to forget. Things that made you remember cut like pieces of glass. A song, a memory, a blade of grass, a white dress, a dream, all of it as painful as the deepest wound. I went home and locked my door. I was glad to be away from those pathetic creatures at the forgetting shack who didn't know how to face the darkness of their lives. That wasn't me. Heather Jones was right. I wasn't afraid of the dark. I didn't mind a certain kind of pain. I welcomed it because it took me away from my loss.
It was better than anything at the forgetting shack. It was under my control. I took the pins and the bottle of ink and held them close. Every night I tattooed more black thorns, vines, roses, bats. When I had less skin to cover, the task grew more difficult. I turned to my fingers and toes. My instep. My thigh. I had to squint and take my time. I worked hard, far into the night. Once I fell asleep still clutching my pins, spilled ink spreading across the table in a dark and endless pool.
Now when I dreamed, my sister took my hand in hers. She was still like moonlight, but fainter, more sorrowful. She whispered something I couldn't understand. It was as if we spoke different languages, as if I were losing her even in my dreams.
The thorns on my skin were sharp and fierce, like me. The thorns could pierce through any dream. I grew restless in my sleep. I took to avoiding it whenever I could. Green, my sister called to me whenever I grew so tired, I couldn't help but drift off. It was the only word she spoke that I understood, but I couldn't answer to that name.
Instead of tears there was soot in my eyes, so I called myself Ash. This was who I had become, but it was also the reason my sister stopped coming to me in my dreams after that.
She didn't know me by name anymore, so how could she call to me? When I closed my eyes to search for her, I was a stranger. Treasure I was gathering chestnuts deep in the woods where no one ever ventured, not even the crows, when I heard something nearby.
Beside me, Onion began to growl, low in his throat, the way he used to whenever hawks came too close to our garden. Whenever there were strangers in the yard. I bent to the ground, and I could feel footsteps. At first I thought it might be the looters, come after me.
This is who I loved But when I touched the air, I could feel regret in the wind. I thought it might be the girl, Heather Jones, with her neat braids and her ruined dress. Every once in a while she left her tin outside my gate. I filled it with bread or cooked rice or a bit of sugar. Sometimes I added a small pot of my asparagus soup.
But when I pushed away the overhanging branch of an oak tree in order to peer through, I could feel hope in the stems of the singed leaves. The few birds that were left in the woods were chattering, flapping their wings, hopping from branch to branch. I could hardly see through the shadows, but when I narrowed my eyes I observed something white moving through the bare trees.
It wasn't Heather in her torn dress. She slept most of the day, along with the others from the forgetting shack, exhausted from their wild nights. I thought it might be a ghost that approached me. My sister, perhaps, with her snow-white hair, or my mother, m her favorite white shawl, or my father, his beard gone white with the shock of what had happened to our beautiful green world. I dropped to my knees, not caring about sticks and stones. I could feel the thorns I had sewn onto my jacket and leggings stabbing through me.
I wanted my family more than I ever thought I JiO could want anything. Any bit of them, any piece would suffice. If it were only a ghost that I'd found, that would have been enough for me. I wouldn't have asked for more. If it were nothing more than mist I could neither touch nor hold, formed into the shapes of those I loved, so be it.
As long as I could see my sister, my mother, my father, I would pay any price. Accept any answer. But it was no one I loved there before me. Not in spirit or in body. It wasn't a ghost or an angel or an enemy. It wasn't mist or cloud or memory. It was only a dog, a huge white greyhound. She was standing motionless, the scattered leaves on the ground turning to powder beneath her paws.
I grabbed Onion to make sure he wouldn't charge only to be snapped up by the larger dog in one bite. I carried mv sister's terrier and the basket j of chestnuts through the woods.
I had traded away nearly everything that was worth trading, but I still had to eat. I had to quiet my churning stomach. Later, I would pound the chestnuts into flour and bake bread, but if I needed to defend myself against this strange dog on the way home, the chestnuts would work as well as stones when put to use with my slingshot. Onion growled all the way home, so I knew the other dog was following. But I couldn't see her. I didn't hear a thing. She was a stray, like so many others, but something more as well.
She was a ghostdog, mist through the woods, a pale cloud, silent and graceful. When I went inside the house, I could still feel her out in the yard. I put my hand on the cool glass of the windowpane, and there she was. She felt exactly like sorrow. That night I baked, and while the loaves of chestnut bread cooled on the rack, I went out to the porch. I alone sat on the steps where I used to sit with my sister, back when we thought the world was ours.
If Aurora walked through the gate oo now, she wouldn't recognize me. She'd run from the ink on my skin; she'd shy from my choppy hair and the thorns that covered me, head to toe, front to back. It seemed so long ago that we used to sit side by side, shoulders touching as we shelled peas for supper. Whenever we husked corn, we would toss the corn silk on each other's heads and laugh until we were dizzy.
We were so certain of our futures back then. We were so sure of how we would fill up those blank, white pages. We would grow old together, marry brothers, live in houses so near to each other, we would be able to hear one another singing lullabies to the children we would surely have someday.
A few stars came out and shone, glittering and far away. The ashes had all fallen to the ground and I could see the moon, silver in the sky. Like a patch of moonlight, just as white, there was the dog in the garden.
I waited, because I knew it would take time before she approached. I didn't blame her for keeping her distance. After a while, my legs began to cramp up. I wanted to go inside and bolt the door.
But I stayed where I was, on the porch, in the moonlight. I dredged up whatever patience I'd once had, back when I was Green.
At last the white dog came closer. I didn't say anything. I was afraid I might scare her away. I knew what it felt like to be alone. I knew what it was not to trust anyone. All the same, I reached out my hand, the only part of me that wasn't covered with thorns. Now that the dog was beside me, I noticed that her paws were singed, the skin patchy and oozmg and black. Greyhounds were meant to run, but every step must have brought this one agony.
When the greyhound rested her muzzle in my outstretched hand, I understood why I'd thought she was sorrow. I would have never guessed that a dog could cry, but this one did. Maybe she'd been burned by embers, like the ones in my eyes, or maybe she'd lost everyone she'd ever cared about, the way I had. I called her Ghost. When I said her name aloud she looked up at me, and when I went inside she followed the way ghosts do, silent, but there all the same. She curled up on the stone hearth, which was cool on her burned paws.
Then she slept as though she hadn't had any rest for days, her feet racing through her dreams. My own dreams were empty that night, devoid of moonlight. Even when I closed my eyes, my sister was always just out of reach. I started in my sleep and sat up, hitting my head. I was still sleeping in the pile of quilts under the dining room table. I'd been avoiding the room I'd shared with my sister; now I dragged along the pillows and quilt and went to open the bedroom door.
There was moonlight streaming through the window, and before I knew it I'd fallen asleep in my sister's bed. In the morning, it was as if Ghost had always been there. She ate from the same bowl as Onion, and the terrier didn't seem to mind. I found a salve in my mother's medicine cabinet, made from Saint-John's-wort and yarrow.
I understood that a greyhound was not a greyhound unless it could run. I called the white dog to me, and she let me apply the ointment and wrap bandages around her paws.
That next night, Ghost slept at the foot of my sister's bed. I woke only once. I thought I had felt the dog running in her sleep. I thought I heard the sound of weeping, but when I stroked the greyhound's face, there were no tears. The next time we went into the woods, I brought along a loaf of bread and a thermos of cold, clear wellwater.
I had planned to go back to where the old trees grew, to gather the last of the chestnuts, but Ghost had other ideas. She wouldn't follow. She led. Her paws were still so tender, she couldn't manage any more than a trot; still, I had to run to keep up with her. In no time my heart was pounding in my chest. How fast she must be when she ran at full speed. How much she must miss racing like mist. How sad that she was forced to plod through the woods with me as I stumbled through the brambles with my eyes that only saw half of what was there, with my nail-studded boots that slowed me down.
Before I realized where we were headed, we had arrived at my neighbor's house. The house was dark, and the front gate moved back and forth in the breeze.
The yard was littered with debris, broken branches, black apples, clods of mud. Nothing grew in this place but nettles, tall and bitter, stinging to the touch. This was the house that belonged to the neighbor who had thrown stones when Aurora took apples from her orchard. We had hooted and stuck out our tongues and made faces at her. We had run across her meadow laughing, but late at night we had wondered if she was a witch who might put a spell on us for eating the golden delicious apples we had gathered.
Now that I was beside my neighbor's door, I noticed a pile of the same white stones I had found in my yard, the ones that had been carefully aimed to chase away the looters, the ones that looked like moonstones. I hadn't given a moment's thought to this old woman, but she had obviously remembered me.
I knocked on the door, and when no one answered, I pushed it open. I went into the house and there she was in her kitchen with nothing to eat but birdseed. Soot covered everything.
The clocks no longer told time. Have you come to return my stones? I have something better to give you in return, I told her. I left the bread and the thermos of water on the table, then I took the broom, the mop, the bucket, and began to clean. I was good at it by now. With one touch, I could tell what needed care. The books on the shelf were thick with dust. The floors were coated with muck. The paintings on the wall appeared black, until they were wiped clean to reveal women whose faces resembled my neighbor, younger, prettier relatives who looked down upon me kindly for rescuing them from the ashes.
When I had finished my work, everything in my neighbor's house gleamed. I had repaid my debt to her. Now I was the only thing covered in ashes. Ashes stuck to my skin, my choppy hair, the thorns on my clothes, my black tattoos. Green, the old woman said to me. She had eaten every crumb of the bread I'd baked and drank every drop of water from my well. I wouldn't have guessed she knew me well enough to know my name, but it was too late to call me that now.
That's who I used to be, I told her. Now my name is Ash.
Whatever your name is, I have a gift for you in return. It's out on my porch. There was only a big bag of birdseed, but I carried it with me. Once I'd reached home, I left the birdseed in the garden. I guessed it was worthless. I assumed it was all the old woman had. My hands hurt from cleaning my neighbor's house. My feet ached in my father's old boots. My skin hurt from the sharpness of the pins. I had no time for worthless gifts. I fell asleep in my sister's bed, exhausted.
I woke once, and when I looked in the garden I saw the greyhound, white as the moon. She was tossing the bag of birdseed into the air as though it were a toy, shaking it with her teeth. In the morning, there were a hundred birds in the garden. I sat on the porch where I used to sit with Aurora and listened as they sang a hundred different songs. The birds had converged from everywhere, from the deepest woods, from the charred canyons of the city. There were cardinals as red as cherries, jays as blue as the sky used to be, crows with night-black feathers, swallows with graceful wings, flocks of sparrows, mourning doves the color of tears.
When the hundred birds were finished eating, the garden was littered with the husks of pumpkin and barley seeds. Something else had been left behind as well. Two baby sparrows, dusty and ash-covered, their wings too singed to fly. I took off my jacket and shook out the thorns, then carried the sparrows nestled in the jacket's lining.
I brought them into the warm kitchen. That night I dug until I found some juicy worms. Is it all right to eat those? I heard someone say. It was Heather Jones in her white dress, so skinny she looked like a ghost herself. She reeked of gin, and looked woozy. Her legs were covered with sores and little burns. Still, she smiled at me as though we had once been friends.
I realized that Heather was prepared to eat worms. That's how famished she was. I brought out some tins of beans, a loaf of bread, a few asparagus. I wished I'd had more. I'd been trying and failing to fish down at the river, and I couldn't think of anything else I could spare. Then I remembered something I'd stored away. I ran and found a dress that had belonged to my mother, soft blue denim that wouldn't be so easily-torn by the brambles in the woods. Heather held the dress up to her carefully, as if it were made out of sapphires.
Oh, she said. How beautiful. I thought about how jealous I'd been of her. She'd been one of the prettiest girls in school. By now we could hear music from the forgetting shack. We could smell the billows of smoke. I'm late, Heather said. You don't have to go if you don't want to.
It was as polite as I had ever been, and this was as good an invitation as I could manage, but Heather just laughed.
She was unsteady on her feet. When you looked closely, you could see that her features were fine. So close to her, I could smell liquor and dirt. Don't you hearP Heather insisted when I let her know she could stay. They're waiting for me. Heather ran off with the blue dress, and there was nothing I could do about it.
She thought they were waiting for her. She thought she could dance her sorrow awav. She must have believed she could j forget that her mother and father had also gone into the city that day. I went inside to mash the worms into a paste. My hands were even uglier now from digging, from cleaning the old woman's floors, from chopping wood.
I hardly recognized them as my own. I wondered if I was only a black cloud, a spray of mist, a stone, and nothing more. I studied the black roses ringed with thorns that I had inked onto my skin. I was Ash, and these were my hands. But when I fed the worm paste to the baby sparrows they didn't care if my hands were ugly, that my burning eyes could hardly see, that my long, black hair was hacked off, lying in a pile in a corner.
When I patted the dogs, they didn't care if my boots were old, if there was dirt under my nails, if there were thorns in my clothes, sharp as knives. Wrhen I swept my neighbor's floor, she had not cared that I was covered with ashes.
Every day I baked two loaves of bread, one to share with the dogs and the sparrows, one for my neighbor on the other side of the hill. My days were divided into tasks.
I collected chestnuts in the morning, baked at noon, and late m the day I visited the piles of remembrance stones in the woods, white and black and silver. In the evenings, I took out my pins. I was covered now, my feet were covered with thorns, my legs with black vines, my arms with dozens of black roses. There were two ravens on my shoulders, and after propping up a mirror, I'd managed a bat at the nape of my neck.
Every now and then I found room for a black leaf or an inky bud about to bloom. As I worked, the sparrows nested in the pile of hair in the corner. A sparrow wasn't a sparrow unless it could rise into the sky, even I knew that. Soon enough the fledglings' singed feathers had fallen out, but I didn't guess how strong their wings had become until they began to flit around the house.
I didn't know what they had been busy weaving in their nest until they presented me with their gift a fishing net made from the strands of my own black hair. I went down to the river that very night, as far away from the forgetting shack as I could. The moon was full. Streams of silver light reminded me of my sister. She would often dance while the rest of us worked in the garden.
I used to tease her for being lazy. I used to call her names and tell her she'd never amount to anything if she didn't pay attention and work harder. Now I understood that she was working hard at dancing, at laughing, at being moonlight. She wasn't like poor Heather, forgetting with every step she took. My sister was learning the world as she danced. She was understanding the earth, the air, the fire of her own blood, the falling rain that made her laugh and dance even more wildly.
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Nobel Foundation. Retrieved June 2, Nominated with Gulzar "Jai Ho". First Asian to receive three nominations in the same year. First Asian to win two Oscars in the same year.
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Kennedy, who in Baxter's novel was crippled but not killed in As in real life, Kennedy splits with Carter to unsuccessfully challenge him in the primaries, causing Carter in turn to lose to Reagan-Bush in the general election.
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