Nicole Seitz, Author of Southern Fiction
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BEYOND MOLASSES CREEK
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THE INHERITANCE OF BEAUTY
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SAVING CICADAS
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A HUNDRED YEARS OF HAPPINESS
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TROUBLE THE WATER
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THE SPIRIT OF SWEETGRASS
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Recent Progress in Gullah/Geechee and sweetgrass culture

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books - Saving Cicadas

Saving Cicadas by Nicole SeitzExcerpt

PROLOGUE
The Window

“Do you believe in…past lives?”

She’s waited a week to get the gumption to ask him, but now she’s second-guessing. Priscilla keeps her knees together and smoothes the flowers in her skirt. She pulls her hair to the right side of her head and stares at the big black book on his desk. “I mean, I know you don’t, but—”

“Why?” he says. “Do you believe?” A flash of sunlight fills the room—a temporary break in the clouded sky. And then it’s gone, and all is gray again.

“I’m not sure. I’m starting to wonder.”

He swivels his chair and leans back, cracking his knuckles, one after the other after the other. “I can tell you, you’re not the first to ask. We’ve got some Cherokees here, and the traditional belief of rebirth comes up every now and again. Usually when somebody loses a loved one.”

Priscilla stares down at her knees.

“I certainly don’t claim to know all the mysteries of God,” says Fritz, “but I do know we all have former selves, pasts we’ve got to deal with and learn from. Otherwise we carry these former lives on our shoulders, unable to let go.” Priscilla glances up at him finally, searching his face. “Some people remain stuck living past lives. But you can exchange that burden for something wonderful—”

“No. That’s not really what I’m talking about, Fritz. I do understand what you’re saying, it’s just…”

“What is it, Priscilla?”

She tucks a strand of long blonde hair behind her ear and shakes her head, studying the lines of his simple pine desk. “She’s…she remembers things. Things she can’t possibly remember. She talks about family members, ones who’ve been gone for years now. I don’t know, maybe it’s the photographs, or maybe I’ve talked about them to her or around her. Maybe she’s just extra sensitive, attentive. I can usually explain it away, except…”

“Except what?”

She looks him in the eye and says, “The window.”

Fritz pauses and glances at the window behind Priscilla’s shoulder. It’s simple and unadorned, unlike the ones in the other room with their magnificent colors and stories. On the other side of the clear-paned glass, a mockingbird swoops to the ground and calls out warning beneath a blanketed sky. “Tell me about this window,” Fritz says.

“She can describe it to me in detail…but I don’t know how. I’ve never talked about it. To anyone.”

“I see.”

“It comes to me in my dreams. The window.”

“You’re thinking she can read your mind now?”

“I don’t know, I—”

“Maybe you talk in your sleep.”

“No. It’s not like that,” Priscilla says. “She’s special. You know her. There’s something…different about her. There always has been.”

“If you ask me, I’d say she’s a bright, loving child. Tell me. Does she seem troubled by these memories?”

“No. She acts as if nothing is strange at all, as if it was just the other day or something. She goes on and on about that summer too…when we left Cypresswood. It just unnerves me.” Priscilla uses her left hand to pull her right arm close to her side.

“If you’d like me to talk with her, you know I will. But, maybe not just yet.” Fritz leans forward and places his elbows on his knees. He clasps his hands together and looks just over her shoulder, then finally meets her eyes. “We each have something, Priscilla, some memory that haunts us, that shows up in our dreams. In your case, it’s a window. Maybe what bothers you is not that your daughter remembers this window she can’t possibly know, but that she reminds you of the thing it represents—something you thought you’d let go of long ago.”

She looks up at him and her lip trembles as if she may cry or speak. She does neither.

“She’s a good girl, Priscilla. A blessing in your life. Sometimes God has a way of using children to speak to us. To lead us closer to him. If you want my advice, let her lead you. She may say something truly worth hearing one of these days.”

Fritz takes Priscilla’s free hand and squeezes it, and the two sit engulfed in the moment, oblivious to the fact that they’re not alone. Hidden in the shadowy corner of the preacher’s office, a lone head bows and whispers, Amen.


PART ONE: THE MACYS HIT THE ROAD


CHAPTER ONE
Flying Dreams
Janie

Come over here by the light and let me see what pretty pictures you drew. Oh, this one here is my favorite, Janie. Is this a car?

Yes, ma’am.

Can you tell me about it?

I trace my finger along the red and blue lines on construction paper, the green blurred trees, the yellow circles for faces—then I close my eyes. It’s how I remember best.

It was about four years ago, the last trip we ever took together—my mother, sister, grandparents and me. Course, we didn’t know it at the time. You never know something like that, like it’s the last one you’ll ever get, till it’s just a memory, hanging like mist. This is what happened that summer, true as I can tell it. Not a one of us was ever the same.

I sat in the front seat, all eight and a half years of me, twirling my hair and trying to hum a happy tune. I did this, knowing Mama was nothing at all close to being happy after just finding out she was having another child. In fact, sitting so close to her I thought my mama’s fear and anger smelled a lot like dill pickle relish and red onions. Or maybe it was just Grandma Mona, old and mean and full of egg salad, breathing down our necks from behind the seat.

Some things, like the smell of fear and anger—and guilt—are enough to drive anybody out on the road, even when gas prices are about to kill you.

A gallon of gas had soared to over four dollars that summer, and Mama said that alone might do her in. Not like she had a money tree or anything in the back yard. Hers was hollow, dead, and bearing no fruit—certainly no dollar bills. No, Priscilla Lynn Macy was a working woman, said she gave her life and youth to the pancake house. So you might think it strange we would set out on the highway. I did, anyway. But I would soon find out this was no regular summer vacation. We were destined to go.

Mama had stuck her long blonde hair in a ponytail, packed the whole caboodle into the car—the past, the present, the future—and we were barreling down I-26 at seventy-five miles an hour, and she had absolutely no idea where she was going, or maybe she did. Maybe she knew deep down she wasn’t running away from her problems but hauling them right along with her.

Rainey Dae Macy, my seventeen-year-old sister, hugged a plastic baby doll in the back seat and watched the trees blur into a long green line. She didn’t like change or surprise vacations, but she kept her mouth shut anyway. She was used to doing whatever pleased Mama, fearing her special needs made Mama’s life just a little bit harder than most.

I was more or less a normal kid. Like most, I dreamed of saving the world someday. Not like superwoman, but I don’t know—making sure kids had clothes and enough to eat, making sure people like Mama had good jobs that made money and made them feel good when they went home each day, like they did something with their brains—like they did something to help the world in some small way. Not like they were wasting every second of every day of every year of their lives—like Mama had said, oh, more than a time or two.

---

Two nights before we left Cypresswood, Mama was tucking Rainey into her princess sheets on the top bunk when she asked her how many days there were until Christmas.

“About six months,” Mama said.

“How many days?” Rainey insisted. She liked to count things. She was good at it. And she counted days like seconds, like sand.

“Let’s see…a hundred and ninety, I think.”

Rainey started to whine, “That long? I want it now.”

My mother was sensitive to any talk about Christmas presents. She’d hear one and add it to her master list. That way, come holiday time, she wasn’t scrambling to save money and frantic to buy. So she asked, full of hope, “Why, is there something you want for Christmas, honey?”

“Yeah, but…I cain’t tell you,” said Rainey.

“Why not?”

“I made a wish. On a dandelion. Won’t come true if I say it.”

“If you tell me, honey, I can help you write a letter and make sure Santa knows about it.”

“Huh-uh,” said Rainey. “God knows. He tell Santa.”

I was lying in the bottom bunk, listening to the whole thing. I was wise for my age. Not meaning any harm, Mama often said things in my presence that aged me, partly because she was a single mother doing the job of two, and partly because she had a special needs child and a crappy job and she was going gray early. Sometimes, she’d just about talk to the wind in order to get it all out.

So I, Janie Doe Macy, listening to the wish conversation and knowing my mother the way I did—how hard she worked, how hard she tried—felt sorry for her.

“Don’t worry, Mama,” I said. “I’ll get her to tell me. I can help you make sure Santa gets the message.”

Mama kissed Rainey on the cheek and on her flattened nose and on her upturned eyes.

“Goodnight, sweetheart.”

“Night, Mama. Don’t forget Janie light.” Rainey knew I was deathly afraid of the dark.

“Goodnight, sweet Janie. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

“’Night,” I said.

Mama reached down and turned on the night-light, then she stood there at the door, not leaving, and smiled at us in a strange sort of way. She started counting on her fingers. Then she spouted out, “Oh good gosh, I’m late. I’m never late.” She reminded me of the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, and I wondered what she could be late for at this hour. The light from the window was turning sapphire blue.

When the door closed, I looked up to the top bunk and whispered, “Rainey, you can tell me your wish. Sisters don’t count.”

“Huh-uh. I wished on the dandelion. It won’t be true.”

“Rainey, just tell me. Please?”

It was quiet from the top. Then Rainey leaned over the edge and looked at me. Concern spread like butter across her face. “Oh, I prob-ly won’t get it. I wish… I wish I had wings and flied around.”

“Oh. Really? Like an airplane? Like a bird?” I bit my lip and turned my head to the wall, heartsick, knowing the wings she wanted couldn’t possibly come true. Not even Santa could pull that one off.

“Like a angel.” I heard Rainey lay back on her pillow.

“Gee, Rain. I don’t know if that one can happen. I used to wish the same thing when I was little. But I’ve had dreams where I’ve been flying. Have you ever had one of those? You’re high up over the trees and the buildings and it feels like you can do anything at all, like nothing is impossible?”

“No.” Rainey sniffled. The room was growing darker.

“You should tell Mama about the wings,” I said. “You know if she can help it come true, she will. Remember how she put you in the Olympics and you won that pretty medal for running? Member that?”

“Yeah, I member.”

My sister and I stopped talking after that and settled in for sleep. Knowing Rainey, she was praying even harder for her wings, never minding she couldn’t get them.

In the bottom bunk, I lay there trying to remember that feeling, what it felt like to fly. And I fell asleep hoping, just maybe, I’d have one of those carefree, light-as-air flying dreams again like I used to when I was much younger than the wise old age of eight-and-a-half. For some reason, I suspected my wings were too short to ever catch air and lift me off the ground—that some children, no matter how hard they try, will never fly.

Copyright ©2009 Nicole Seitz. Reprinted with permission from Thomas Nelson.

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Copyright © 2007 Nicole Seitz. All rights reserved.
The Spirit of Sweetgrass Trouble the Water, coming February 2008!