Tonight, by Seaby Frances Temple, Tim O'brien
Seek life. Chache Lavi. That's what Paulie's uncle says they must do. But to seek life, Paulie and her family have to leave Haiti-the only home that Paulie has ever known. Since forever, Paulie has run in and out of the little houses nestled under the palms, smelling cocoa-bread and playing on the beach with her best friend Karyl. But now the little houses are gone… See more details below
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Seek life. Chache Lavi. That's what Paulie's uncle says they must do. But to seek life, Paulie and her family have to leave Haiti-the only home that Paulie has ever known. Since forever, Paulie has run in and out of the little houses nestled under the palms, smelling cocoa-bread and playing on the beach with her best friend Karyl. But now the little houses are gone. Their wood has been made into boats-boats used to escape Haiti.
Paulie wants to stay and fight-to change Haiti into a better place to live. She wants to talk to the reporters and bravely tell the truth, like Karyl's brother, Jean-Desir. But the macoutes come with their guns and knives to stop them. And they do something so terrible that Paulie must face the truth: before the soldiers come back, they must all leave-tonight, by sea.
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Kneeling in the sand, Paulie shredded dry seaweed and fluffed it into a heap between the three black cooking stones, half forgetting that she had no food to cook. She broke palm fronds over the seaweed, then propped two pieces of driftwood with their tips just above the palm. Raking the sand together with her fingers, she built up a ring around the outside of the stones, careful to make room for the air to blow in and give life to the fire, a little and not too much.
Paulie leaned back, still kneeling, circling her upper arms in her hands to warm them. Night had come. The tree frogs stopped singing all at once.
"You got matches, Uncle?"
Paulie's Uncle was washing in seawater from a bucket, pouring it down his back to get off the sweat and sawdust, rinsing his arms.
"All the matches gone, Paulie."
"Go see if you can borrow a coal," her grandmother said. Sitting on the step of her house, a cloth pulled around her thin shoulders, Grann Adeline leaned toward the fire as if it were already lit. She frowned, slapped at a mosquito on her ankle. "Go on, girl. Ask sweetly and somebody bound to give you an ember."
Paulie wandered down the sand path. The small houses clustered under the trees were mostly dark. She could hear voices talking softly, a baby crying. A thin dog came out and sniffed at the backs of her knees. Paulie looked for the glow of a cook fire, smelled the breeze for one. She could feel the sea air, and hear the waves coming in, but it seemed like nobody was cooking.
If Uncle had fifty sentim, she could go to the store and buy a pack of matches, enough for many fires....
Uncle was a coffin maker bytrade, and he had work. The tap-tapping of his hammer was like birdsong, heard every day, so frequent you forgot to notice it. Belle Fleuve had lost three children since last market: Zetwal, Ti Bob, Maribel. Hunger had weakened them and a passing fever had carried them away. But Uncle never had it in his heart to accept money for building a child-coffin. And anyway, today he was beginning work on a boat.
Paulie saw a flicker of orange at the bend in the road where her friend Karyl lived. Good. Almost everybody in Belle Fleuve was like family, but she and Karyl were two fingers on the same hand.
Paulie slipped carefully through the cactus fence that grew around Karyl's yard.
"Bonswa, Lucille, Karyl, Gabriel. Grann Adeline sent me to ask can she borrow one coal? Our fire ready to go except we don't have match.... Thank you, yes? Put it on this shell and I run fast. Thank you . . . bless . . . "
Paulie didn't stay long. Karyl and her family were eating. Paulie kept her eyes from their bowls, but she could smell sweet potato steaming.
Paulie ducked past Karyl's mother, smiling, sheltering the coal with her hand. "Thank you, Lucille, good-night. I must go because Grann wants to cook." She said this so Lucille would not feel pressed to invite her.
On the dark path, she stepped on a sea-almond and picked it up with her toes. It was only the husk, and she threw it back on the ground. Most days she went to the rocks close by the water and found a mussel or two, or some seaweed that filled their bellies so she and Uncle and Grann could sleep. But today had slipped by. Sweet potato boiled with milk would be so good, so good....
Paulie took a big gulp of air to clear away the dream of sweet potato. People knew Uncle was too busy to farm or to fish, the earth so dry now, the fish so scarce it took a lot of time and patience. And Uncle wouldn't get paid to work on the boat. Because really nobody had money, none of the people in Belle Fleuve who needed a small boat to leave Haiti. People would help however they could, though. Share food if they had it. Nobody begged in Belle Fleuve.
Passing a gap in the palms, Paulie looked out over the restless sea. Her parents, mother and father both, were across the water. Gone to find Life. It was a long time now since Grann Adeline had received a cassette tape or money order from them. Paulie peeked under her hand at the ember in the shell. She blew on it gently to make sure it was still live, and it glowed red in answer.
"Paulie, wait up!"
She jumped. Whose voice? Jean-Desir, Karyl's big brother, was walking after her on the path.
He was holding something. Bondye, she prayed, make it a sweet potato.
Paulie turned toward him, holding the shell close, a smile creeping across her face, the wind whipping her short dress. She could see what he held: a fish.
Paulie was a little afraid of Jean-Desir, now that he was almost grown. He didn't play with her and Karyl. Teacher had lent him a radio and he had kept it glued to his ear all year, barely speaking to the smaller children. Instead, he practiced the language of Radio Mee-ya-mee, repeating things he heard on the air, hard songs that sounded like somebody hitting in anger, making sharp explosive pops with his lips. And he had a magazine with pictures of naked women under his mattress: he had slapped Karyl for pulling it out.
Paulie tried not to think of this while she waited for him to offer his gift.
Jean-Desir held his arm straight toward her, dangling the fish at a safe distance from his clean shirt.
"Bonswa, Paulie! Lucille says to ask if Adeline can use this fish while he still fresh."
"Respe, Jean-Desir. Tell your mama thank you, yes, we will cook and eat the fish with pleasure this very night."Tonight, by Sea. Copyright � by Frances Temple. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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