Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

1962

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The Known Bird. Yolanda

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pp. 3-16

Imagine a tree, a bird in the tree, the hills, the creek, a possum, the dog chasing the possum. Imagine yourself a woman who gathers stories in her apron. The sun peeped through the silver maples the day I was born. In the back field, one of Old Man Lucien’s beagles cornered a possum...

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Sky. Blood. Bone. Breath. Lucy

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pp. 17-36

Thunder rattles the windows, and Lucy wakes from a restless sleep, thinking of her husband. Five days ago she gave birth in the squash patch, but for now she prefers the satisfaction of old memories knocking against one another. Let the baby wait. Everyone behind that bedroom door can just wait...

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Little Bird. Francine

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pp. 37-48

By late December, the pin oak and birch are drooped like weeping willows. Snow is on the ground, and Joe Brown is in Francine Clark’s yard, clearing a path to her car. She watches him through the window, sees him bending to pick up brush. Each branch glistens thick with the weight of ice...

1963

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Summer Birds. Touch. The Visitors. Francine

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pp. 51-60

By June, the summer birds have returned and this thing Francine Clark has done is still fresh on every tongue. For months, even through winter, townswomen have come in small clusters to Francine’s door, trying to exchange her secret for a peck or bushel of something. Francine keeps to her volition and greets them only by cracking the door the tiniest bit, or yelling, “Yes, who is it?”...

1972

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Wild Birds on Easter Sunday. Mona

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pp. 63-66

One bird in one tree on Esther Street is warbling loudly. Women stand on the limestone steps of Mission Creek Baptist Church wearing bright hats. It’s Easter Sunday and cool, but the sun is shining a warm blanket over the congregation as they leave. The trees up on the knobs are tiny green guards in the distance...

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Girls. Ducks. No Stars in the Sky. Mona & Yolanda

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pp. 67-72

It is late October, and the hills have colored up like beets and corn. The season balances itself between sweater weather and cold hard frost. Leaves flutter from the trees, and Joe Brown works in the driveway, his head buried underneath the hood of a car, his wrench tink-tinking against metal...

1974

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A Rock. A Stick. A Hummingbird. Mona & Yolanda

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pp. 75-78

By July, things previously buried, dead, or forgotten are making their presence known, growing like choke weed, showing in the curves of thighs, the length of legs, clear on up to the fleshy pink of throats. Burgeoning hips. Breasts like tiny plums that just barely raise the fabric of blouses...

1976

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Warming of Old Bones. New Ways. That Hurting Place. Minnie Mae

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pp. 81-88

Minnie Mae Goode declares, like she has every year from her front porch, when anybody will listen, that Dinner on the Grounds has been going on since slave times. Another sweaty summer presents itself like a gift. Opulence is draped in red, white, and blue. Everyone is celebrating the two hundredth birthday of the country...

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The Prodigal Uncles. The Conk Story. The Red Heat of Memory. The Goodes & The Browns

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pp. 89-102

Kee Kee, who has blossomed full into his body now, is standing shirtless, tinkering with his car, an apple-green Impala he’s rebuilt from the motor out, when the uncles arrive Saturday afternoon. Kee Kee likes it that he and his father are the only men in the house...

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Dinner on the Grounds.

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pp. 103-110

The next day at the church, Joe Brown watches cars line up along both sides of the street. Not just the normal neighborhood cars, the newest of which are at least two or three years old, but brand new cars that gleam in the sunlight and still smell car-lot fresh and sport black glistening tires that haven’t seen much dirt yet...

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The Homeplace.

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pp. 111-116

In late August, when Minnie Mae and her sons arrive at the homeplace, the country feels like it’s settling down to rest for the night. A slight breeze rustles the trees, and sounds grow up and out around them until the hundreds of creatures large and small become one loud voice. It is as if the night has taken up the voices of the Goode kin long past...

1977

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That One Thing Her Mother Warned Her About. Mona

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pp. 119-120

The night after her first encounter with Mouse, Mona stretches out in bed and thinks of him. She still throbs between her legs. It’s pain mostly, where Mouse’s fingers have been, but she finds a great thrill in the secrecy of it all, the feeling that had begun with Obie Simpson that day in the woods and maybe even before then if she thinks about it hard enough...

1978

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The Birthday Dinner. First Sign. Mona

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pp. 123-126

It’s December, and Mona has lost her tongue again inside the Goode house, sitting at their dining table. She loves the clutter and the vastness of the house and all the people and things that fill it up. A large stash of brown paper and plastic bags nest underneath the kitchen sink alongside empty Mason jars...

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Flapping Wings. Nightjar. The Story of a Scar. Mona & Yolanda

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pp. 127-128

“I don’t want my hair done,” Mona says. “I’m getting a perm next week. Plaits are for babies, don’t you think?” Yolanda already feels a thunk in her chest. “Do you wear tampons?” “No.” “You should. They don’t show. All the girls at school wear them.” Mona rakes her nails through her hair...

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The Kitchen Ghosts. The Goode Women (Yolanda, Tookie, Minnie Mae)

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pp. 129-136

It’s snowing. Outside, Joe Brown breathes icy wind into his lungs, rubs his black gloves together, and scrapes the windows of the car. Inside the Goode house, the women make soup. Minnie Mae rests in the living room chair, rising up every few minutes to make a suggestion. “Not too much,” she says when Tookie sprinkles a second salting into the pot...

1979

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The Crow in the House. Tookie

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pp. 139-142

Birds were always a sure sign. She sees the crow, perched high up on the what-not shelf, sitting between a glass replica of the Statue of Liberty and a tiny ceramic boy walking a yellow dog. The bird pecks at the head of the boy. She ignores it for a time, then watches it fly around the living room, lighting on the lamp, at the top of the curtains, on the fireplace...

1980

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Spooining Tomatoes. Long Night. Accustomed to Death. Mona

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pp. 145-148

The daffodils are blooming, and women all over Opulence are spring-cleaning. Mona is helping Francine hang the bedclothes on the line. The setting sun gives Opulence an orange hue in the evening. The April breeze whips at Mona’s skirt. Her mother is working her to death—washing down walls, airing the linen, polishing the windows...

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Blest Be the Tie That Binds.

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pp. 149-152

At the funeral, Mona makes her way through the crowd and sits beside Yolanda in one of the family pews. She glances over her shoulder at her mother, who looks solemn and alone in the back of the church. Then she notices how most of the parishioners are paired up. Even the tiniest of children’s heads bob in twos...

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Need Is a Four-Letter Word. Mona

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pp. 153-162

Mona Clark holds her bus ticket in one hand and in the other a suitcase filled with her clothes. She balances her pocketbook on her thin shoulder and gets in line. She doesn’t know how long she will be able to wear the hip-huggers or the tight-knit blouses. She pats her navel, as if she has simply eaten too much. Once she reaches the city she will find work...

1994

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Girls Everywhere. Kee Kee

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pp. 165-176

His wife, Nadine, refuses to call him Kee Kee. Sounds like a girl’s name to her. It’s one of those nicknames that stuck as soon as he was born. He thought it was no different than Butterball or Fat Baby or Slim or June Bug. He’s heard these names all his life. Her family is not the type to do such a thing...

1995

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A Bird in the Darkness. A Cluster of Lonely Stars. Mona

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pp. 179-182

The shadowy figure that slips behind the curtain now looks a bit thinned out, a little slow moving, not the mother that Mona Clark remembers. The face that she remembers is stern and unrelenting, square-jawed and thick. Her mother, the formidable Francine Clark, always sat with her back to the door at a green kitchen table...

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Little Fish. Lucy

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pp. 183-190

“Mama gone, Granny gone, roots still here.” Lucy mutters this to herself. House is empty. Lucy points at her feet. Where her veins should be, she feels the squash vines growing up from her toes clean up to her head and up through the place where her heart should be. She closes her eyes to make sure they don’t drive her blind...

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The Kitchen Ghosts. Joe

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pp. 191-200

The house feels three-legged to Joe now that Lucy’s gone. In her last days she was smoking up a storm and seeing ghosts with that scared, sad look on her face. He could fix a car, fix a broken gasket, an ax handle, anything with a motor. Folks always asking him to fix this and that...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 201-202

I am tremendously grateful for my agent, Erin Cox, for her unrelenting critical attention and support, and for her belief in this book from the beginning. Thank you, Ron Davis, for your unyielding commitment, for loving me, for shepherding our child, the Wild Fig Bookstore, and for everything else...

Other Works in the Series

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pp. 203-208