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One thing’s for sure: Aletta’s poised for change. Her ...
One thing’s for sure: Aletta’s poised for change. Her no-good alcoholic ex-husband is stirring up trouble, a new lover turns out to be bad news, and she can’t bear another day of lying to unsuspecting customers. As Aletta digs deeper into her family history, her mission becomes clear: If she ever hopes to regain her clairvoyance, she must go to New Mexico to uncover her great grandmother Adelaide’s fascinating but troubling past. So with some kooky friends dying for an adventure outside the confines of their small-town world, Aletta sets off for the southwest, where she will finally come to understand her special talent and the real meaning of life.
“Dayna Dunbar has Barbara Kingsolver’s gift for portraying human weaknesses with warmth and compassion. Her strength lies in evoking the magic of place and that inexplicable yet powerful connection between heart and home.”
–Janice Graham, author of Firebird
“A warm and loving picture of small-town life in America. What I especially like are the women who, against all odds, find the strength to take that life into their own hands.”
–Loraine Despres, author of The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc
Aletta watched the double-winged airplane with the open cockpit fly across a pale blue sky, its propeller buzzing like blades on a fan. Everything else faded away, and Aletta stared mesmerized even as the high-pitched hum of its engine turned into a series of sputters and groans. Suddenly, the small yellow plane tumbled end over end until it smashed into the earth, pieces of it flying everywhere, seeming as fragile as the shell of an egg dropped on the floor.
Aletta started so violently that Clester Henry yanked his hands from in front of her eyes. "My Lord, Lettie, I didn't mean to scare ya," he said.
The vision of the smoldering plane crash faded away and the gymnasium returned, with its smells of popcorn and sweat and the noise of squeaking sneakers and clapping fans. Aletta checked to make sure Gyp, her toddler, was still playing at her feet, then turned around and saw Clester, a guy she'd known since high school, his narrowed hazel eyes looking at her with concern from under his John Deere cap.
"Are you all right?" he asked. "You jumped like a wildcat."
Aletta forced herself to speak. "I didn't see you when I came in."
Clester had sneaked up behind her and placed his hands over her eyes. "Guess who?" he'd whispered, but she hadn't heard him because the moment he touchedher, the little plane buzzed in her ears and the horror of it going down played out in front of her eyes. Her psychic gift had sprung to life when he touched her, just as it did when she touched someone. Usually, she could control how much she saw, but when she wasn't expecting the visions, they came on through like a runaway train.
"My littl'un's right out there," Clester said, pointing to the court where nine- and ten-year-old girls with pink faces and ponytails played a chaotic game of basketball.
"Mine too, on the other team," Aletta said, trying like hell to regain her composure. She watched her daughter, Ruby, yank the ball from another girl's hands and dribble it furiously toward the goal.
Aletta stood up abruptly. " 'Scuse me," she said, and scooped up Gyp. "I gotta go to the ladies'."
With wobbly legs, she made her way down the bleacher steps and found Randy, her chubby, sweet older son, playing underneath them with a couple of other kids. "You stay right here," she said sternly.
"We're just playin', Mama," he said.
Aletta felt her throat beginning to tighten as she rushed out of the gymnasium into the rainy afternoon. She ran to her '57 Chevy, holding Gyp's head to her chest to try to keep him from getting wet, and climbed behind the wheel. She covered her eyes with her hands and saw the plane shatter to pieces again and again. "I can't do this anymore," she said aloud.
Almost two years before, her drunk bastard of a husband had run off on her, leaving her to care for their four children on her own. Out of desperation to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, she'd put a sign in her front yard on Main Street in Okay, Oklahoma: aletta honor, psychic reader. In order to make a living and stay at home with her kids, she'd had to face her own painful past. When she was eleven years old, her father and uncle had been shot and killed when they confronted a man who claimed that Aletta was a witch.
The deaths of her husband and brother caused Aletta's mama, Nadine, to turn bitter and to believe the devil was at work everywhere she turned. Her relationship with Aletta got worse the older Aletta grew, until they barely spoke even while living in the same small town. It wasn't until her mother lay dying a few months after Aletta put her sign out that they were able to make amends. In addition to all of this, she'd also fought a local church for the right to continue her business. After all was said and done, she'd actually become somewhat of a success.
At first, she had thought she was set, that she'd be able to earn a decent living from telling her customers what she saw when she touched them. A little part of her actually thought she could help people. But there was a huge burden in knowing things about folks before they happened or seeing how events in their pasts were affecting them now. How much should she tell them and what should she keep to herself?
One of the first things she had decided was that she'd never tell anyone anything unless they were her paying customer. It was none of her business unless they came to her directly.
With her own family, she didn't get the visions, but she was careful not to touch other folks. She didn't want to deal with what she saw. Sometimes, however, she couldn't avoid it, and an old friend like Clester Henry would sneak up on her before she could do anything about it.
Aletta forced herself out of the Chevy and back into the gymnasium with Gyp. Randy was still playing underneath the bleachers, so she returned to her seat next to Clester.
"That girl of yours is a real player," he said just as Ruby banked a shot home.
"Thataway, Rube!" Aletta yelled, and pumped her fist.
On the opposite side of the court, Jimmy, her ex, stood up and yelled through cupped hands, "Keep shooting, girl. You're the offense!"
He showed up at every single one of Ruby's games. It was the only thing she could count on when it came to Jimmy.
"She loves it," Aletta said, then continued without taking a breath, "So, you flying airplanes these days?"
Clester grinned like a kid. "You saw my shirt. I been taking lessons for six months. I'm certified since last month and just bought me a real beaut. You oughta see her."
Aletta read his T-shirt. henry hawk's flight school, it said, under a severe-looking hawk with its wings spread wide. "Maybe you shouldn't fly. It's so dangerous," she said.
Clester's grin faded. "Now you sound like my wife. I've wanted this since I was just a kid, and it makes me happy, Aletta. I work my ass off all week, and this is my reward."
"I just wish you'd take a break or something."
"I believe I will," he answered with sarcasm. "I'm gonna go smoke a cigarette right now. Nice seein' you."
Aletta watched him as he walked down the bleacher steps and out of the gym. Frustration and worry clumped together inside her stomach like curdled cream as she watched the rest of the game.
The young man who sat on Aletta's couch looked like he might burn a hole in her Elk in the Forest landscape painting, the way he was staring at it. She didn't always work on Saturdays, but he'd said he wanted to see her right away, and she needed the money, so she booked the appointment. Now she wished she hadn't. This handsome young man with silky brown hair and sad eyes was forcing himself not to cry.
Aletta gazed up at the painting, as she had so often since she'd set up this office for her psychic reading business over a year before. She'd fallen in love with the piece of art as soon as she'd seen it at Good as New, the thrift store down the street. Even though she knew the sprayed gold frame was a bit tacky, she didn't care. She'd wanted something beautiful in her office, something that would take her away, even if only for a moment, from duty and worry and chores. The painting did that, pulling her into its luminescent sunlight washing over a forest meadow. The elk, with its enormous antlers and gleaming brown eyes, seemed almost mythical to her.
She pulled her gaze from the painting and looked back at her customer. "It ain't that big a deal, Corliss," she said finally. "Sometimes I just don't get anything." She was lying to him. She had seen something when she'd taken his hands, but it was something she wasn't willing to divulge. The risk was too high that he would freak out, as her fifteen-year-old daughter, Sissy, would say.
His blue eyes cut at her, then went back to the elk. "You have to help me, Ms. Honor. I feel so different from folks around here, like I don't belong at all. Jenny wants to get married, but I just want to run off and hide when she talks about it."
"Maybe you better not get married," Aletta said, a little too forcefully.
"Why not?" Corliss turned to her hopefully. "Can you see that sometimes I have these feelings . . . ?"
Aletta turned away from his sweet blue eyes. This was breaking her heart, but she couldn't tell him the truth, could she? It might be 1977, but around these parts a man falling for another man was still some serious sinning, and the repercussions she could face for telling this young man that she'd seen him happy, living in California with a man named Scott and a golden retriever, was more than she could risk. She knew darn well that her vision was just one possibility for Corliss, that it was up to him to make the choices to get him there. She'd already fought off the Burning Bush Church just for putting her sign out, and she couldn't be expected to fight another battle. It was just too much.
"Oh, it just sounds like you're not ready for marriage, is all," she finally answered. "Sorry I couldn't help you more."
They walked to the front door, and Aletta kissed his cheek. "I don't take payment unless I get something, so keep your money."
Sissy, who sat in the kitchen eating an apple, pushed her feathered brown hair back and blinked twice when she saw Corliss. She got off the bar stool and leaned against the door jamb, watching her mother and Corliss say goodbye.
"I want you to remember something," Aletta told Corliss. "I been on the so-called fringes of society since I was yea big, and living there in hiding was the worst thing in the world. If you feel like you aren't like other folks, don't you worry about it. You're all right just as you are."
A tear finally escaped from his eyes, and when one came, the rest followed all too easily. Beginning to sob, he rushed out the door to his El Camino. Sissy came to the door, and she and her mother watched as he sped away.
"Who was that? He's gorgeous," Sissy said.
"Don't even think about it," Aletta answered.
"What'd you say to make him cry?"
"He's a sweet young man tryin' to find his way, just like the rest of us," Aletta said, more to herself than to Sissy. She grabbed her macramé purse. "I got an appointment over at Joy's. Watch Gyp, you hear?"
Aletta said a little prayer for Corliss as she walked the twenty yards to Joy's Femme Coiffures next door.
"Come on over and take a seat," Joy Trippi said, swiveling around in her rose-colored faux-leather beautician's chair.
Aletta stood where she was, her hand covering her mouth. "Wow," she said finally.
"It's been a hoot just watchin' people walk in the door today, " Darla, one of the other beauticians, said out of one corner of her mouth. The other corner held bobby pins.
Joy laughed, and several of the women in the salon laughed along with her. Joy's hair was in a full Dolly Parton--style blond meringue whip.
Joy started singing in her smoke-scratch voice. "Come on, little dear, and let me cut that head a hair . . ." She started moving her skinny hips and beckoning Aletta toward her with pink-nailed fingers.
Aletta laughed and plopped down in the chair. She eyed Joy with a grin. "You look a lot like her, except for two things."
"So I need about five more cup sizes, and my lyrics stink, but I got the hairdo down," Joy said, lighting a long, thin cigarette.
Aletta relaxed back into the chair and took a deep breath. She figured that how she felt when she got her hair cut was how rich people must feel when they go to Hawaii--pampered and special.
"Nothin' fancy," she said to Joy. "Just a cut."
Joy sighed her disapproval. "I swear, my mission in life is to get you into a Farrah Fawcett and some heels."
Aletta smiled patiently. This was nothing new. "I don't have time to fix my hair every day for an hour. You know that."
"But it's such a shame. You got the natural looks, with those cheekbones and green eyes. All you need is a perm, a bleach job, and some Maybelline and you'd knock 'em dead."
"Just the regular, please, ma'am," Aletta said, then relaxed as Joy's skilled hands moved through her hair. She'd long since been able to control the visions with Joy, just ignoring anything that sneaked through.
"So how's it going with Eugene? You feel any better about things?" Joy asked.
"I can't tell you how much I wisht I did," Aletta answered. She'd been dating Eugene Kirshka since just after she and Jimmy split the summer before, and at first she'd thought he might be the man for her because he was so kind, responsible, and steady. "I know he's such a good man--"
"Hard to find these days," Joy interjected.
"And he's great with the kids, but the truth is he doesn't challenge me in any way. Not my brain or my soul."
"Or your body."
Aletta shook her head sadly. "Not that either. Besides, I want to see what it's like not to have a man telling me how to live for once in my life."
Joy hooted. "Now, the first deal I can buy, but don't try to give me that crap about wanting to be alone."
"No, I mean it. I feel so unsure about everything--men, my business, raising my kids even. Maybe being on my own will help me get my footing," Aletta said.
"It sure sounds like we're gonna find out.&
Excerpted from The Wings That Fly Us Home by Dayna Dunbar Excerpted by permission.
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1. How are the themes of home and homecoming played out throughout the novel? What does home mean for each character? How do all of the characters ﬁnally come home? What does home mean to you?
2. What does the eagle feather symbolize? Why does Aletta feel she can’t conduct a legitimate reading after receiving the feather from Julian? How does she reclaim her gift?
3. Aletta Honor is initially an insecure person. How does she release her past pain to discover her identity? Do you know anyone who has had to let go of their past in order to grow?
4. Aletta lacks the conﬁdence to make it on her own without a man. Does she ﬁnally liberate herself? Have women’s roles signiﬁcantly changed since Aletta’s era?
5. Is Aletta a good single mother? Does she do the right thing leaving her kids with Vee while she goes to Santa Fe?
6. How do the strains of peer pressure and parental divorce affect Sissy’s behavior? Do you think the mother-daughter relationship in this story is a typical one?
7. Do you think that Okay, Oklahoma, represents a microcosm of everything that’s right or wrong in small-town America? Would you want to live there–then or now?
8. Do you think Jimmy will quit drinking for good? Did you like his character more by the end of the book?
9. Aletta dates Eugene immediately after her marriage disintegrates,even though he “fails to challenge her brain or her soul.” What do you think is the key to a compatible partnership?
10. What are the differences and similarities among the men in Aletta’s life? Do you think she and Jimmy can repair their marriage? Do you think Aletta and Jimmy’s relationship is realistic?
11. Do you think Julian is the right man for Aletta?
12. Do you think Vee is a strong or weak character? Does she help or hinder Sissy? How do the Honors transform Vee? Why do you think she went back to Okay, knowing she would eventually get arrested?
13. What role do Aletta’s vivid dreams play in enhancing her journey of self-discovery? Do you believe in the importance of dreams? Can you remember a dream that greatly impacted your life?
14. How does Aletta’s family genealogy transform her life? How do Native American women such as Adelaide and Senda link Aletta with her strength and identity?
15. What is the symbolism of Aletta’s journey into the mountains? How is she changed upon her return? Have you or would you consider a vision quest for yourself ?
16. Near the end of the novel, Aletta declares: “I’m the tcaiyanyi of Okay.” What does she mean? Why is it signiﬁcant that she says this?
Posted May 18, 2013
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