|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.11(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.77(d)|
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Wednesday, December 27, 1978
I pulled the pink chenille robe from Mrs. Faraday tighter and snuggled my toes into the thick yellow slippers from Amos Akkadian. Ruby's house was still quiet. As I scuffed down the dark hallway, I could smell the Christmas tree, sugar cookies, gingerbread and steam shushing through the radiators.
The streetlight glowed through my front window. Leaning near the glass, I saw that a thick snow had fallen. I yawned and wiped away the misty circle my breath made. My eyes got big as I gazed at how the roofs, window ledges, tree limbs, even the telephone wires on Evergreen Way, they all seemed coated in crystal and marshmallow cream.
I shut my eyes. I let the good feelings from my first truly happy Christmas in ten years tingle through me. I looked up and saw foamy black clouds opening. Pale oranges, yellows and blues shone through. Dawn looked like a magical shore along a dream ocean that stretched out into space.
Suddenly, brilliant streamers sparkled across the sky. They were blue like the Calliope River on a sunny day. They flashed above and through and then below the clouds. Just as quick as the lights appeared, they were gone. I rubbed my eyes and searched for more. I wished that I could fly like that. Glittering.
Wednesday, December 27, 1978
I'd left so long ago that in Earth's precession of the spring equinoxes, our Sun then crossed the equator at Aries' western end. Earth had experienced a brief and slight cooling. Tsunamis plagued the Lebanon coasts. Volcanoes had erupted everywhere from Tongariro and Ngauruhoe in New Zealand to Krafla in Iceland, Fuji in Japan, Monte Albano in Italy, Ranier in North America and Pelee in the West Indies. Outbound, I'd passed the jet-black and ten-mile-wide Halley's Comet at aphelion. Light had just burst from the star Naos in the ancient constellation Argo. Although I'd traveled through asteroid fields and busy meteor swarms, most of the time, I'd sailed through sparkling solitude. Centuries passed without a meaningful encounter. And despite promising myself never to return, there I was, nearly home again.
Riding waves that swelled and rolled, I wondered what could pull from that far. The suction was like supernovas whose remnants had drawn so far back, they not only disappeared into themselves, they sucked in everything within their long reaches. Light could not fly fast enough to escape.
Nearing the Kuiper Belt, I could finally feel my Sun. Unlike the more spectacular stars that blazed bright and blew out quickly, I admired how my small, yellow Sun burned steadily, even if modestly, and would sustain its little solar family for billions of years. Quickly, I crossed the orbits of Pluto, deep-sea-blue Neptune and then Uranus. I felt welcomed by the honey-gold Saturn with the most glorious belts and the garnet-and-pearl Jupiter. After passing the asteroid fields, strengthening solar winds helped slow my approach. When I could finally see Earth, I realized perihelion was near. At a bit beyond one hundred forty-seven million kilometers, home would be closest to its star.
As a thin rim of scarlet and diamond white arced over Earth, dawn split the sparkling black. Earth's soft and shifting wrapper looked like a glistening veneer. Emerging from boundless and sparkling dark, the outermost edges were gossamer.
Above a billowing thunderstorm, I watched red and blue flashes shoot toward space and flare over hundreds of miles. Getting closer, the clouds were like frames opening sometimes broad and sometimes pinhole views of my variously more solid Earth. I loved reexperiencing the grace, power and pride I'd always felt in Mother's vapor ships.
In childhood, I'd loved riding the jet streams, skimming the cloud tops and zooming through sunlit chasms. Depending on Mother's mood, I'd either be looking for or running from her thunder ships, where the up- and downdrafts really surged and ice crystals tickled as they pinged, popped and bloomed into raindrops and hail.
When ocean currents, air patterns and heat were just right, I especially liked sneaking near Mother's merging squall lines and supercells. Fearing that I'd either be smashed or blasted apart, Mother strictly forbid funnel rides. Though her punishments could be severe (sometimes I couldn't visit Grandmother Beah), I occasionally risked a tornado plunge. I'd let the vortex snatch and swirl me down until I dropped from the cloud bases. Screaming, I'd plummet toward an Earth that was wet, wide open and nowhere near as developed as the towering structures, huge bridges, paved roadways and flying apparatus that had been invented while I was gone.
I was amazed to find so many man-made lights visible at such great distances. As night's indigo lace slipped from a cluster of large, icy lakes, I decided to explore buildings beside a river. Many produced their own clouds. One larger construction gushed voluptuous columns. Getting closer, I found the emissions repugnant, which was odd because on other worlds, sulfurous gases had delighted.
Pale golds glowed through mists that grazed the gray-white landscape like sheep. I sailed just above the river, then paused by an old stone wall. I listened and let the water's song soothe worries about the family issues that had forced me to leave millennia ago. I let the ruby and platinum sky absorb fears about the monster that chased me. If, across the light years, The Afreete did get near Earth, by that time I planned to backtrack and pull Its horrors away.
Looking up, distant Uranus traveled with pastel yellow Venus, which had risen like the Moon at last quarter. Jupiter shone high in the sky. Saturn glowed in the southern part of Leo with Pluto even lower. Closest to the rising Sun, hot, little pink Mercury twinkled as Neptune neared conjunction. I watched, feeling bedazzled and joyful as, one by one, those star worlds flickered and disappeared.
When all were gone, I drifted up a crooked, cobblestone byway, floating just above the cottony snow. Ice-coated oak and elm trees extended their branches over habitats built shoulder-to-shoulder, straight up. Icicles crowded the eaves, downspouts and ledges. Strings of garnet, pearl, turquoise and emerald lights blinked inside frosted windows. Then I saw an extraordinary tree. Its thick graceful limbs rose from a trunk patterned in flax and soft browns. The distant branch tips were as tall as the buildings and dangled small, ice-brightened seed spheres.
I was so intrigued that a female child surprised me. How had I missed hearing her footsteps in the crusty snow or the rustling as she pulled newspapers from her canvas sack and thumped them into doorways? Snow flecked her pink and yellow cap, her eyelashes and her brown cheeks. Her bright black eyes looked up, as though at my face, and she smiled. I felt so warmed, I could have melted. I could have grown as large and effulgent as one of the biggest stars. After all, my kind had been human once. And human remained the easiest and, for many of us, the preferred physical form.
I stood in front of a house clearly long abandoned. I was hoping for more human contact when an adult female exited the building across the street. Her shoulders were back. Her head high. Her gait was brisk. Snow fluffed up and swirled around her.
Bundled in burgundy and gray, her assertive posture captivated me. When she coughed, spearmint vapors puffed from her mouth. Maneuvering to see her face, I discovered lustrous and decidedly vigilant eyes. That's when I knew I must meet her. I must take some form, even though briefly.
After a few steps, the woman glanced back. I froze, mortified that she might actually see me. She merely frowned, shook her head and moved on.
I hung in the air, replaying her glance one million times. An eon compressed into one second as my developing heart thumped larger and larger.
Saturday, February 3, 1979
Moon: First Quarter
In April 1969, during a bad rainstorm, Daddy and Momma's car slid into a ravine. Probably if Daddy hadn't been handy, that rusted-out Cadillac wouldn't have been on the road. Sections had been welded and bolted with sheet metal. Windows were cracked. Springs came through the seats. The state trooper said that Momma and Daddy died before the ambulance came. They had no insurance.
Our place back in Creame, Ohio, was rented. We never locked the doors. We had a windmill that pumped well water and a picnic table in the kitchen. Momma made curtains out of old sheets. She even hung one in the outhouse. And Momma braided strips cut from old clothes into rugs.
We had a fireplace, an old woodstove and grates in the first-floor ceilings to let the heat rise. The sofa and two chairs in our living room were old and heavy. They had nubby, dark green fabric and were stuffed real thick. Until I was eleven, we had no electricity. We used kerosene lamps.
We had a porch bordered with tall hedges. Out front were some evergreens that Momma and Daddy planted. There was a rope swing with a slightly tilted wood seat that Momma said was hanging from the old elm when we moved in. When we were little, Otto Melkpath, Terry Allister and I played there a lot.
After my parents were buried, all I carried out of our home was some pictures, Daddy's pool stick, a quilt, a thimble, Momma's emerald earrings and some clothes. Whatever fit in two suitcases and a bag, I carried to Homestead where I lived with my grandmother Lucille. Until then, I had only known Creame, Ohio's wide blue skies and flat land. After growing up with smells like dew on corn silk, plowed earth after rain, lilacs just before summer and Momma's butternut pies, how was I supposed to accept Homestead's smoke? I gagged on fumes from more cars and buses and trucks than I could count.
In Creame, Ohio, I had hens clucking and bees buzzing and cricket songs. So how could I handle hundreds of voices rising from Homestead's side streets? What could I do with the boomings inside dirty gray buildings that seemed as high and long as mountain ridges? How could I settle down with people who lived life so different? When I got my heart broken there, I caught the Greyhound to my only other known relative, Aunt True in Akron. Didn't know I was heading for more sadness.
The MileMaster Train and Bus Depot in Good Sky, Ohio, was a one-story, dark brown building with a pitched tan roof and dormers. The gutters and downspouts were the same bright red as the platform. Huge lanterns hung beside the doors. Inside, colored prints of locomotives and diesel engines hung beside old-time photos of buses with drivers smiling by the doors. A dark wood pedestal with a silvery ball about a foot in diameter stood in the middle of the station and reflected the room and skylight, which was stained glass stars forming a railroad track to a smiling moon.
When I came out of the MileMaster during that passenger and mail stop, I smelled popcorn. I wanted it even more than the pizza that was right next door. After passing the Elm Bowling Lanes, Hampton Plumbing and May Belle's Antiques & Collectibles that hot afternoon, I knew the bus would leave in twenty minutes. But the air under the maple trees looked green like Momma's earrings. Marigolds were everywhere. They bobbed in the grasses along the railroad tracks and grew in windowboxes and wooden tubs down the main street. The town's red and yellow brick buildings had leaded glass doors that sparkled. They made me feel hugged. Like Momma and Daddy were near. Most of the shop windows were pictures made of colored glasses just like the MileMaster's skylight, and I felt like Frau Edda was peeking through those scenes of flower gardens, sailing ships, birds flying over mountains and the windows showing what was in the stores, like stained glass cupcakes and pies, stained glass shoes and stained glass books.
Passing the little war memorial with red and white petunias growing around the bronze soldier statue and Goldberg's Jewelry and Watch Repair, Chang's Tea Garden and the Big Star Picture Show, most of the people sitting on the redwood and wrought iron benches looked up from their newspapers, books and baby strollers and smiled.
I couldn't resist the fudge and chocolate smells at Singer's Confectionery & Ice Cream. When I opened the door, tin ornaments clinked overhead. Jelly beans and jujubes, gumdrops and butter mints, the yellow and pink, purple, orange and green candies glowed like jewels around folks sipping root beer and orange soda floats.
Standing just beyond the white, wrought-iron tables covered with candy-striped cloths was Ruby Graham. She was creamy brown like Sugar Babies and her brown hair had red highlights. Ruby was stocky, with gold-flecked, brown eyes and stood a couple inches taller than me.
Rose Singer was a perky, little woman with a crisp, white apron over her flowery dress. Her auburn-tinted hair arched in pouffy, starchstiff curls. With thick, blue eyeshadow over piercing brown eyes, she said to Ruby, "Why don't you put cards in shops and in the church bulletins? Run an ad in the Gazette?"
I gazed at the fancy, old-fashioned cash register. Swedish ivy hung in front of the windows. Cuckoo clocks ticked on the walls as Ruby said, "That's a good idea, Rose, but kind of slow. I'd sure like to get a new boarder settled in before I start traveling."
"Don't worry," Rose Singer said. "Everyone knows how lucky someone would be to get rooms so reasonable, especially with such good cooking. Word will spread fast."
Even though little bells had rung when I came in, they both looked up then as though surprised to see me. I said, "I'd like to get some popcorn."
"Oh, you want Faraday's," Rose Singer said. "It's just up the street. Redbrick building with a big sign."
"You can't miss it," Ruby added.
I thanked them again.
"Such a nice girl," Ruby said.
"Yes," Rose smiled. "You must come back sometime. Here." She put pink and yellow bonbons in a white paper bag and said, "Free samples."
I knew I had to hurry. After all, Aunt True or my cousins Eddie and Jeffie would be waiting. But the farther I went, the lighter my heart got. I felt relaxed like the rest of those people sitting in front of Watson's Bakery, the Good Sky Bank and Trust and Schwartz's Flowers with the buckets of carnations, dahlias, hollyhocks and daisies.
After I passed Morton's Lumber & Hardware, Akkadian's Junkyard and the Longacre Grain Distributor, there, right across from Crawford Custom & Commercial Draperies, I found the big, golden-lettered, carnival-type sign that said, FARADAY'S POPCORN FACTORY, REFRESHMENTS & SUPPLIES BY THE BAG OR BOXCAR.
Mrs. Faraday was as round as the laughing Buddha statue I could see inside the doorway. Her black hair with white strands was cut even at ear level, and her skin glowed. She was a little taller than me. Laugh lines crinkled around her eyes. Mrs. Faraday must have been leaving and started when she saw me. She smiled quickly and bright, then bowed a little and said, "Ni hao. Welcome to my shop, pretty girl. How can I help you?"
"I came for--"
"Oh, I see. Well, you're the first one to apply. Amazing you heard about it so fast. We can't pay much, of course, but the job's easy, and it's a nice place to work. Usually my manager handles the hiring, but he's off on an errand so come in, young lady. Friends call me Mei-Yeh. You look like you're new to Good Sky. Tell me about yourself."
Mei-Yeh led me between tall shelves with tubs and boxes for popcorn, cups, straws, napkins and candies. When she noticed me watching her limp, she pouted playfully and said, "Darned stubbed toe. Now I feel storms two days before."
Mei-Yeh served me tea and fortune cookies in her cozy office filled with ferns, bamboo, spider plants and all kinds of glass and jade and ebony laughing Buddha statues and playful dragons. As she moved, I smelled her lilac dusting powder. Crystal suncatchers hung from lamps and by the window. Red and green tomatoes caught sunlight on the window ledge. She even let me call long-distance and ask Aunt True to send back my luggage.
Frank Singer, Rose's husband, showed me how to start the coconut oil melting on an old gas hot plate. Then he helped me roll in buckets of raw seed from sacks in the storage room. After that, we got the measuring cups. They were whopping, quart-size versions of the tin ones Momma used with dents for the ounces and quarter cups.
Hard to believe that for ten years I'd got up, walked down Evergreen Way and strolled past the Calliope River, no matter what the weather. Then I'd head past Birch Street and Laurel and turn on Pine to get to Faraday's. After I climbed the loading dock steps, opened the wooden door with a big window and passed the cartons of paper cups and napkins, tubs for popcorn and boxes of Tootsie Rolls, Now and Laters, Bit-O'-Honeys, Milky Ways, Mars bars and penny candies, I turned and opened the door to the popping room. It wasn't much wider than Ruby's kitchen but a couple times longer.
Running down the middle of the room were the stoves and other contraptions that popped and sorted the corn. Once the seeds and oil were in place, I felt like a symphony conductor ready to start the orchestra. I'd walk to the first burner and tilt up its kettle, which was the size and shape of Momma's hat box. Then I'd turn on the gas and strike a match. After a sky-blue ring of flames snapped up, I lit the next one. When all five fires were started, I'd lower the kettles, pour in an eighth cup of salt and seasonings, usually butter flavored, and a quart of popcorn seeds.
The morning I was to start by myself, Mrs. Faraday came in. Bright purple silk embroidered with frolicking yellow dragons rolled over her plump body. After the oil and buckets of corn were rolled out and everything was just right, Mei-Yeh scooped up a handful of kernels. As her black eyes sparkled, she said, "Believe it or not, sweet child, there's a science to all of this. It's been found that corn is best when dried to appoximately fourteen percent moisture. With more than that, the corn pops chewier and smaller until nothing happens. Going the other way, as the seeds get drier, they don't have enough moisture to expand the starches and get themselves out of the shell. Sometimes, the heat helps them crack it open, but they can't bloom."
Mrs. Faraday pressed one kernel real hard. "But the key to all of this working is the shell. It's got to contain all the heat and pressure that'll build inside and then break at the right moment. If all goes well, this dead-looking little thing bursts into something new and, if we've done our work right, it's at least forty times bigger." Mrs. Faraday paused as though she wanted to say more. Eyes sparkling, she shrugged her shoulders, then poured the kernels back in the bucket. "I think there's a lesson in that stuff. My husband, he would have had wonderful words for it. Until he died about five years ago, he had the sweet shop." Mrs. Faraday's face brightened even more. "You'll find me there a lot."
Maybe there was a lesson in the popcorn. I knew that the kernels weren't hand picked--and certainly never machine harvested--until the stalks were withered, and the corn was so hard the kernels couldn't be dented, not even with a fingernail. And I knew that after adding a cup of oil, the corn popped in a minute and gushed itself out of each pot's little latch door.
From there, a conveyor belt tumbled the snowy puffs into a big barrel strainer. It rolled like a Ferris wheel, sifting the unpopped kernels and shells into a tub underneath. The corn that popped big enough bounced into huge yellow plastic bags. When the bags got full, I twirled them and twisted a little band around the top.
As Mei-Yeh said, it was easy enough work. Sometimes I felt like a clock pendulum walking back and forth filling the kettles. Overflows were embarrassing, especially because I had to mark how much seed, oil and salt I used and how many bags got filled. But sometimes I did get distracted or daydreamed.
After a few years, the popping room was remodeled and got a miniature escalator that lifted the corn into a hopper with a trapdoor. That way, I could accumulate a lot more before bagging. When I had help, especially during school breaks and over the summer, I could do fifty or sixty bags in an hour.
Around lunchtime, I'd scrub the kettles mirror bright, sweep the wood floor that was covered with flowery linoleum and wipe everything. Then I'd help in the office until time to go home.
I was glad I stayed in Good Sky. There were so many who helped, like May Belle. I don't think anyone knew her last name, just like no one was sure where she went every spring. May Belle always kept her travels to find new old merchandise a secret. May Belle's skin was brown like a fawn. Her voice was light. She had the bubbliest laugh and the warmest eyes. Even in winter, May Belle wore pastel pinks and yellows and flouncy, bright green skirts.
Silvery bells tinkled above May Belle's door. Small, Persian carpets padded her polished, light pine floor. She had plain and fancy-carved wood tables, some so small, a dinner plate barely fit. Others were big as my bed. She had paperweights, jewelry boxes, saltcellars, little ornate picture frames and lovely lamps on beautiful, Oriental-print runners. While lots of the stuff in May Belle's Antiques & Collectibles moved real fast, there was a chess set that stayed. It had creamy tan and black marble squares and a jade border set in a mahogany frame. The silver and gold pieces were mounted on thin slices of jade over mahogany bases. They looked like Africans in flowing robes and wraps. The pawns all had drums of different types. The bishops wore turbans.
Just like I'd ask about the Japanese, Mexican and Indian dolls and the rose crystal glasses and the amethyst vases, all of which eventually sold, May Belle said, "The one who will receive this has not yet inquired." Her playful eyes winked.
Over the years, while I waited to see just who that might be, the oak and elm trees on Evergreen Way kept rumpling the redbrick sidewalks. Each of the four cobblestone blocks curved a bit, so Evergreen Way zigzagged from Cedar Avenue to the Calliope. That gave the street a kind of mystery. I didn't know what to expect beyond the next bend.
My rooms were on Ruby's second floor. All opened onto the hall. My kitchen was in front. My bath was in the middle. My bedroom overlooked Ruby's bricked yard. There, she had a small garden for collard greens, mustards, tomatoes and hot peppers along the pine wood fence. On the other side was the Watsons' yard. They ran the bakery. Looking southwest, there were hundreds of clustered housetops, the Birch Street Elementary School and Laurel Street Methodist Church steeple. Then there was flat land, the curl of the Calliope River and Crane Island. Beyond all that was the world.
Most nights, I watched television with Ruby and Amos. Ruby especially liked "Laverne and Shirley" and "Soap." Amos never missed "Happy Days" and "All in the Family," although he wasn't too happy when the woman who played Edith left the show. I liked "Three's Company," and all of us gathered for "Mork and Mindy." After that, up in my room, I'd read the Good Sky Gazette or one of those Victoria Holt or Mary Stewart romance books.
Sunday evenings, sometimes I'd go to Ruby's quilt group at Corinthian Baptist Church. It was white wood with a brown roof. There were windows of stained glass squares beside the arched doorway and a little tower with a bell that Pastor Martin rang on Sunday mornings. I liked how Corinthian Baptist always smelled like bayberries. I liked the church's dark red carpet, the bright oak, the raised altar with the lush green (even though plastic) ferns, the purple altar cloths with crosses like gold mirrors and the small choir stand with the red slipcovers and cushions that The Flying Needles made for the chairs.
Tuesdays, I usually went with Ruby and Amos or Mei-Yeh to the Applegate Mall. One Saturday a month, I caught the Greyhound to Aunt True's and gambled nickels at Po-Ke-No. Thursdays, I put away books at the library. It was a two-story, brown brick building with juniper hedges along the walls, terra-cotta roof tiles and leaded glass windows that made rainbows on the cherrywood tables and tall book shelves. I'd stamp library cards, do some filing and alphabetize things in the card catalogue. Mainly, I worked in the children's room.
I liked picking books for tabletop displays, especially around Christmas, Easter and Black History Month. I liked cutting the turkey, teddy bear, umbrella and snowflake activity announcements that were photocopied on bright-colored paper. I also cut out paper favors, little crowns or feathers or moons and stars, things the children could wear during the stories. Sometimes I'd show cartoons, but mostly I read to the children and watched them grow up. That's where I first really noticed Clement.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Sandra Lee Gould's charming debut novel, Faraday's Popcorn Factory, is truly a delight to read. Unlike many African-American writers, Ms. Gould dares to venture into the domain of mysticism and fanstasy, while at the same time creating characters who remind the reader of his or her next door neighbors. Set in the town of Goodsky, Ohio, Faraday's Popcorn Factory explores the burgeoning relationship between Willow, who is nursing a broken heart, and Clement, who is battling with his mother (who just happens to be the creator of tornadoes) over his perceived destiny. What results is love story quite unlike any before, that simultaneously examines color,class, and familial issues. Ms. Gould is a master of description and her prose is beautiful and enchanting. If you are tired of sophmoric stories like those penned by Eric Jerome Dickey, then Faraday's Popcorn is a must read for you.