Cover

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Frontmatter

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Contents

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p. vii

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Prologue: Saint Bernadette at Night

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pp. 1-2

My first recollections of story books come with the scents, sounds, and textures of Caribbean nights and with images of a little girl curled in bed over white sheets covering a small cotton mattress that retained her body shape impressed and deeply molded in it. She holds a thin, glossy, illustrated book about the life of Saint Bernadette...

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Down by the River

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pp. 3-16

It is Saturday, eleven in the morning, so Angelina sits and waits by the phone. Most Saturdays she sits in the big office chair that used to be my father’s. I imagine her legs are stretched, her toes fan out in the hot October air. Her pigtails carry two barrettes each, one at the base and one at the tip, and she is wearing the white dress her uncle Noula bought her...

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Life Outside My Own

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pp. 17-20

Inevitably, she fell. The drop from the southern side of the pool was a good two meters. Ingrid and I had always thought the narrow terrace around the water a perfect running track. Her basset hound, Valentino, liked the idea as well and raced alongside us, ears flapping, unconcerned that one of us might finally trip over him...

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Marie-Ange’s Ginen

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pp. 21-32

My name is Marie-Ange Saint-Jacques and I got on that boat November third with my heart open and my eyes closed. My mother, Venant Saint-Jacques, also got on the boat. She too did this with an open heart since she got on that boat only because of me, but, unlike mine, her eyes were open—they had to, you see...

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Dogs

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pp. 33-53

Wednesday morning, an elephant walked the streets of Port-au-Prince after a visit with the president. The elephant was led by a dandy dwarf. This fellow had a large, red, heavily made-up smile on his clown’s face, which nevertheless looked grim under a green top hat. There were two camels walking along as well, and four tigers kept two by two in a cage...

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Meat

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pp. 54-60

With three bullets stuck in his chest and still in his chair, the dead watchman at the downtown Port-au-Prince Bridgestone store got his shoes stolen from his feet less than three minutes after the zenglendo thieves killed him so they could rob the place for whatever small amount of cash was in the register...

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Land

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pp. 61-79

The day I stood naked under the midday sun with two land crabs Djez

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River Valley Rooms

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pp. 80-129

If I were to tell about Justin in a kind of present-day diary that also takes glimpses of the past, I would start with the time when he stood near the gate with his new green felt hat on. A grown man, he looked as if he were about to go out on business or just came back from it. But Justin is not going anywhere...

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Grande Jesula Gets a Visit

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pp. 130-140

“Tita! Come here you dried up old cook! Get your face out of that chicken stew and bring the corn kernels to feed these pigeons before they start coming down on us and pestering this beautiful young lady who’s here to see me...

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The Chapel

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pp. 141-152

I am a chapel. A simple white pentagon of roughcast cement blocks aired through two wooden doors and cedar shutters. The past haunts and decorates me. The present crosses me from one door to the other like someone running after a second chance. The future takes its cues from the sky...

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Venant Found It Hard to Know

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pp. 153-158

“Listen, this happened in our very own Haiti! As real as my name is Venant, there he was—Papa Gede! Standing in his specially-reserved-for-him black redingote and saying, That goat is missing a piece so I’m not taking it! Then he stomped and grinned. The oungan who was officiating called all the ounsi and told them to stop dancing...

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Dame Marie

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pp. 159-166

On the morning I was leaving Port-au-Prince for Dame Marie, stopping through Jeremie, a mourning dove paused an instant below my window, and when it flew away, it dropped an underbelly feather that descended to the ground calmly like a large snowflake. It was hot in the plane, so small that we had to bend down to get in and take our seats...

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At the Gate

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pp. 167-190

There is a day I’ll never forget: November first, it was. I had started toward Camp Roussel early—the sun would get high overhead really fast and there were no shade trees, save for a few scrawny bayawonn. Their small leaves were always so parched and suffocated with dust that they seemed to...