The Farming Of Bones

Paperback | May 7, 2013

byEdwidge Danticat

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It is 1937 and Amabelle Désir, a young Haitian woman living in the Dominican Republic, has built herself a life as the servant and companion of the wife of a wealthy colonel. She and Sebastien, a cane worker, are deeply in love and plan to marry. But Amabelle''s  world collapses when a wave of genocidal violence, driven by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, leads to the slaughter of Haitian workers. Amabelle and Sebastien are separated, and she desperately flees the tide of violence for a Haiti she barely remembers.

Already acknowledged as a classic, this harrowing story of love and survival—from one of the most important voices of her generation—is an unforgettable memorial to the victims of the Parsley Massacre and a testimony to the power of human memory.

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It is 1937 and Amabelle Désir, a young Haitian woman living in the Dominican Republic, has built herself a life as the servant and companion of the wife of a wealthy colonel. She and Sebastien, a cane worker, are deeply in love and plan to marry. But Amabelle's  world collapses when a wave of genocidal violence, driven by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, leads to the slaughter of Haitian worker...

Edwidge Danticat is the author of numerous books, including Brother, I’m Dying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a National Book Award finalist; Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; and The Dew Breaker, winner of the inaugural Story Prize. The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, she has been published in The New Yorker, The New York ...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8.2 × 5.5 × 1 inPublished:May 7, 2013Publisher:Soho PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1616953497

ISBN - 13:9781616953492

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1 His name is Sebastien Onius.   He comes most nights to put an end to my nightmare, theone I have all the time, of my parents drowning. While mybody is struggling against sleep, fighting itself to awaken, hewhispers for me to “lie still while I take you back.”   “Back where?” I ask without feeling my lips moving.   He says, “I will take you back into the cave across the river.”   I lurch at him and stumble, trying to rise. He levels my balancewith the tips of his long but curled fingers, each of themalive on its own as they crawl towards me. I grab his body,my head barely reaching the center of his chest. He is lavishlyhandsome by the dim light of my castor oil lamp, even thoughthe cane stalks have ripped apart most of the skin on his shinyblack face, leaving him with crisscrossed trails of furrowedscars. His arms are as wide as one of my bare thighs. They aresteel, hardened by four years of sugarcane harvests.   “Look at you,” he says, taking my face into one of hisspacious bowl-shaped hands, where the palms have lost theirlifelines to the machetes that cut the cane. “You are glowinglike a Christmas lantern, even with this skin that is the colorof driftwood ashes in the rain.”    “Do not say those things to me,” I mumble, the shadows ofsleep fighting me still. “This type of talk makes me feel naked.”   He runs his hand up and down my back. His rough callusedpalms nip and chafe my skin, while the string of yellowcoffee beans on his bracelet rolls over and caresses the tenderplaces along my spine.   “Take off your nightdress,” he suggests, “and be naked fortrue. When you are uncovered, you will know that you are fullyawake and I can simply look at you and be happy.” Then he slipsacross to the other side of the room and watches every movementof flesh as I shed my clothes. He is in a corner, away fromthe lamp, a shadowed place where he sees me better than I seehim. “It is good for you to learn and trust that I am near youeven when you can’t place the balls of your eyes on me,” he says.   This makes me laugh and laugh loud, too loud for the middleof the night. Now I am fully disrobed and fully awake. Istumble quickly into his arms with my nightdress at my ankles.Thin as he says I am, I am afraid to fold in two and disappear.I’m afraid to be shy, distant, and cold. I am afraid I cease toexist when he’s not there. I’m like one of those sea stones thatsucks its colors inside and loses its translucence once it’s takenout into the sun, out of the froth of the waves. When he’s notthere, I’m afraid I know no one and no one knows me.   “Your clothes cover more than your skin,” he says. “Youbecome this uniform they make for you. Now you are onlyyou, just the flesh.”   It’s either be in a nightmare or be nowhere at all. Or otherwisesimply float inside these remembrances, grieving for whoI was, and even more for what I’ve become. But all this whenhe’s not there.    “Look at your perfect little face,” he says, “your perfectlittle shape, your perfect little body, a woman child with deepblack skin, all the shades of black in you, what we see andwhat we don’t see, the good and the bad.”   He touches me like one brush of a single feather, perhapsfearing, too, that I might vanish.   “Everything in your face is as it should be,” he says, “yournose where it should be.”   “Oh, wi, it would have been sad,” I say, “if my nose hadbeen placed at the bottom of my feet.”   This time he is the one who laughs. Up close, his laughtercrumples his face, his shoulders rise and fall in an unevenrhythm. I’m never sure whether he is only laughing or also cryingat the same time, even though I have never seen him cry.   I fall back asleep, draped over him. In the morning, beforethe first lemongrass-scented ray of sunlight, he is gone. But Ican still feel his presence there, in the small square of my room.I can smell his sweat, which is as thick as sugarcane juice whenhe’s worked too much. I can still feel his lips, the eggplantvioletgums that taste of greasy goat milk boiled to candiedsweetness with mustard-colored potatoes. I feel my cheeks risingto his dense-as-toenails fingernails, the hollow beneath mycheekbones, where the bracelet nicked me and left a perfectlycrescent-moon-shaped drop of dried blood. I feel the wet linesin my back where his tongue gently traced the life-giving veinsto the chine, the faint handprints on my waist where he held ontoo tight, perhaps during some moment when he felt me slipping.And I can still count his breaths and how sometimes theyraced much faster than the beating of his heart.   When I was a child, I used to spend hours playing with myshadow, something that my father warned could give menightmares, nightmares like seeing voices twirl in a hurricaneof rainbow colors and hearing the odd shapes of thingsrise up and speak to define themselves. Playing with myshadow made me, an only child, feel less alone. Whenever Ihad playmates, they were never quite real or present for me.I considered them only replacements for my shadow. Therewere many shadows, too, in the life I had beyond childhood.At times Sebastien Onius guarded me from the shadows. Atother times he was one of them. 2 Births and deaths were my parents’ work. I never thought Iwould help at a birth myself until the screams rang throughthe valley that morning, one voice like a thousand glassesbreaking. I was sitting in the yard, on the grass, sewing thelast button on a new indigo-colored shirt I was making forSebastien when I heard. Dropping the sewing basket, I ranthrough the house, to the señora’s bedroom.   Señora Valencia was lying on her bed, her skin rainingsweat and the bottom part of her dress soaking in baby fluid.   Her water had broken.   As I lifted her legs to remove the sheets, Don Ignacio,Señora Valencia’s father—we called him Papi—charged intothe room. Standing over her, he tugged at his butterfly-shapedmustache with one age-mottled hand and patted her dampforehead with the other.   “¡Ay no!” the señora shouted through her clenched grindingteeth. “It’s too soon. Not for two months yet.”   Papi and I both took a few steps away when we saw theblood-speckled flow streaming from between his daughter’s legs.   “I will go fetch the doctor,” he said. His hidelike skininstantly paled to the color of warm eggshells.   As he rushed out the door, he shoved me back towards theseñora’s bed, as if to say with that abrupt gesture that the situationbeing what it was, he had no other choice but to trusthis only child’s life to my inept hands.   Thankfully, after Papi left, the señora was still for amoment. Her pain seemed to have subsided a bit. Drowningin the depths of the mattress, she took a few breaths of relief.   We sat for a while with her fingers clinging to mine, likewhen we were girls and we both slept in the same room.Even though she was supposed to sleep in her own canopybed and I was to sleep on a smaller cot across from hers,she would invite me onto her bed after her father had goneto sleep and the two of us would jump up and down onthe mattress, play with our shadows, and pretend we werefour happy girls, forcing the housemaid—Juana—to comein and threaten to wake Papi who would give us a deeperdesire for slumber with a spanking.   “Amabelle, is the baby’s bed ready?” With her handstill grasping mine, Señora Valencia glanced at the cradle,squeezed between the louvered patio doors and her favoritearmoire deeply carved with giant orchids and hummingbirdsin flight.   “Everything is prepared, Señora,” I said.   Even though I wasn’t used to praying, I whispered a fewwords to La Virgen de la Carmen that the doctor would comebefore the señora was in agony again.   “I want my husband.” The señora clamped her eyes shut,quietly forcing the tears down her face.   “We will send for him,” I said. “Tell me how your bodyfeels.”   “The pain is less now, but when it comes on strong, it feelslike someone shoves a knife into my back.”   The baby could be leaning on her back, I thought,remembering one of my father’s favorite expressions whenhe and my mother were gathering leaves to cram into rumand firewater bottles before rushing off to a birthing. Withoutremembering what those leaves were, I couldn’t lessenthe señora’s pain. Yes, there was plenty of rum and firewa -ter in the house, but I didn’t want to leave her alone and goto the pantry to fetch them. Anything could happen in myabsence, the worst of it being if a lady of her stature had topush that child out alone, like a field hand suddenly feelingher labor pains beneath a tent of cane.   “Amabelle, I am not going to die, am I?” She was shoutingat the top of the soft murmuring voice she’d had since childhood,panting with renewed distress between her words.   We were alone in the house now. I had to calm her, to helpher, as she had always counted on me to do, as her father hadalways counted on me to do.   “Before this, the most pain I ever felt was when a wasp bitthe back of my hand and made it swell,” she declared.   “This will pain you more, but not so much more,” I said.   A soft breeze drifted in through the small gaps in the patiodoors. She reached for the mosquito netting tied above herhead, seized it, and twisted the cloth.   Gooseflesh sprouted all over her arms. She grabbed mywrist so tight that my fingers became numb. “If DoctorJavier doesn’t come, you’ll have to be the one to do this forme!” she yelled.   I yanked my hands from hers and massaged her arms andtaut shoulders to help prepare her body for the birth. “Braceyourself,” I said. “Save your strength for the baby.”   “Virgencita!” she shouted at the ceiling as I dragged herhousedress above her head. “I’m going to think of nothingbut you, Virgencita, until this pain becomes a child.”   “Let the air enter and leave your mouth freely,” I suggested.I remembered my mother saying that it was important thatthe women breathe normally if they wanted to feel less pain.   “I feel a kind of vertigo,” she said, twitching like live fleshon fire. Thrashing on the bed, she gulped desperate mouthfulsof air, even though her face was swelling, the veins throbbinglike a drumbeat along her temples.   “I will not have my baby like this,” she said, trying to pinherself to a sunken spot in the middle of the bed. “I will notpermit anyone to walk in and see me bare, naked.”   “Please, Señora, give this all your attention.”   “At least you’ll cover my legs if they come?” She grabbedher belly with both hands to greet another surge of pain.   I felt the contents of my stomach rise and settle in the middleof my chest when the baby’s head entered her canal. Still Ifelt some relief, even though I know she did not. I told myself,Now I can see a child will truly come of this agony; this is notentirely impossible.   In spite of my hopefulness, the baby stopped coming forwardand lay at the near end of her birth canal, as thoughit had suddenly changed its mind and decided not to leave.Numbed by the pain, the señora did not move, either.   “Señora, it is time,” I said.   “Time for what?” she asked, her small rounded teeth hammeringher lower lip.    “It’s time to push out your child. I see the head. The hair isdark and soft, in ringlets like yours.”She pushed with all her might, like an ant trying to move atree. The head slipped down, filling my open hand.   “Señora, this child will be yours,” I said to soothe her.   “You will be its mother for the rest of your days. It will beyours like watercress belongs to water and river lilies belongto the river.”   “Like I belonged to my mother,” she chimed in, catchingher breath.   “Now you will know for yourself why they say childrenare the prize of life.”   “Be quick!” she commanded. “I want to see it. I want tohold it. I want to know if it is a girl or a boy.”   Her forehead creased with anticipation. She tightenedevery muscle and propelled the child’s shoulders forward.The infant’s body fell into my arms, covering my houseapron with blood.   “You have a son.” I proudly raised the child from betweenher legs and held him up so she could see.   The umbilical cord stretched from inside her as I cradledthe boy child against my chest. I wiped him clean with anembroidered towel that I’d cut and stitched myself soon afterI’d learned of the conception. I rapped twice on his bottombut he did not cry. It was Señora Valencia who cried instead.   “I always thought it would be a girl,” she said. “EverySunday when I came out of Mass, all the little boys wouldcrowd around my belly as though they were in love with her.”   Like Señora Valencia, her son was coconut-cream colored,his cheeks and forehead the blush pink of water lilies.    “Is he handsome? Are all his fingers and toes there?” sheasked. “I don’t think I heard him cry.”   “I thought I would leave it to you to strike him again.”   I felt a sense of great accomplishment as I tore a white ribbonfrom one of the cradle pillows, wrapped it around theumbilical cord, then used one of the señora’s husband’s shavingblades to sever the boy from his mother. Señora Valencia wasopening her arms to take him when a yell came. Not from him,but from her. A pained squawk from the back of her throat.   “It starts again!” she screamed.   “What do you feel, Señora?”   “The birth pains again.”   “It is your baby’s old nest, forcing its way out,” I said,remembering one of my mother’s favorite expressions. Thebaby’s old nest took its time coming out. It was like anotherchild altogether. “You have to push once more to be certain itall leaves you.”   She pushed even harder than before. Another head of curlyblack hair slid down between her legs, swimming out with theafterbirth.   I hurried to put her son down in the cradle and went backto fetch the other child. I was feeling more experienced now.Reaching in the same way, I pulled out the head. The tinyshoulders emerged easily, then the scraggly legs.   The firstborn wailed as I drew another infant frombetween Señora Valencia’s thighs. A little girl gasped forbreath, a thin brown veil, like layers of spiderwebs, coveringher face. The umbilical cord had curled itself in a bloodywreath around her neck, encircling every inch between herchin and shoulders.   Señora Valencia tore the caul from her daughter’s face withher fingers. I used the blade to snip the umbilical cord fromaround her neck and soon the little girl cried, falling into achorus with her brother.   “It’s a curse, isn’t it?” the señora said, taking her daughterinto her arms. “A caul, and the umbilical cord too.”   She gently blew her breath over her daughter’s closed eyes,encouraging the child to open them. I took the little boy outof the cradle now and brought him over to the bed to be nearhis mother and sister. The two babies stopped crying when werubbed the soles of their feet together.   Señora Valencia used the clean end of a bedsheet to wipe theblood off her daughter’s skin. The girl appeared much smallerthan her twin, less than half his already small size. Even in hermother’s arms, she lay on her side with her tiny legs pulled upto her belly. Her skin was a deep bronze, between the colorsof nut shells and black salsify.   Señora Valencia motioned for me to move even closer withher son.   “They differ in appearance.” She wanted another opinion.   “Your son favors your cherimoya milk color,” I said.   “And my daughter favors you,” she said. “My daughteris a chameleon. She’s taken your color from the mere sight ofyour face.”   Her fingers still trembling, she made the sign of the holycross from her forehead down to the sweaty cave betweenher swollen breasts. It was an especially hot morning. Theair was heavy with the scent of lemongrass and flame treeslosing their morning dew to the sun and with the smell ofall the blood the señora had lost to her children. I refastenedthe closed patio doors, completely shutting out the outsideair.   “Will you light a candle to La Virgencita, Amabelle? Ipromised her I would do this after I gave birth.”   I lit a white candle and set it on the layette chest beside thecradle that had been the señora’s own as a child.   “Do you think the children will love me?” she asked.   “Don’t you already love them?”   “I feel as if they’ve always been here.”   “Do you know what you will name them?”   “I think I’ll name my daughter Rosalinda Teresa to honormy mother. I’ll leave it to my husband to name our son. Amabelle,I’m so happy today. You and me. Look at what we havedone.”   “It was you, Señora. You did this.”   “How does my daughter look? How do you find my duskyrose? Does she please you? Do they please you? She’s so small.Take her, please, and let me hold my son now.”   We exchanged children. For a moment Rosalinda seemedto be floating between our hands, in danger of falling. I lookedinto her tiny face, still streaked with her mother’s blood, andI cradled her more tightly in my arms.   “Amabelle do you think my daughter will always be thecolor she is now?” Señora Valencia asked. “My poor love,what if she’s mistaken for one of your people?”