Women’s Work

The following excerpts from the six Sky Spinner books illustrate a variety of pursuits women characters find themselves involved in: outside housework, photography in a refugee camp, loading turkeys headed for slaughter, practicing an escape for a magic act, caring for an Alzheimer’s-stricken mother, and instructing an unruly classroom and its new student.

Suite Harmonic—Chapter Twenty-seven:
It was a Saturday afternoon in mid-October, and Kate had dragged a ladder around the side of the house and climbed it to knock down the empty paper-wasp nest under the eaves above her parents’ room. Since she had a broom in hand and her hair tucked up in a kerchief, she kept on working, cleaning off cobwebs and the leaves that were stuck in them. She was humming and even whistling as she worked, trying to remember the bugle calls John had taught her. She stretched each way as far as she could. Every few moments, she got down to move the ladder and planted it well, testing it before she climbed back up. She was making a circuit of the house, and she could feel the dampness at the small of her back and on her neck.

Time Stamp—Chapter Eight
Maddie spent most of the morning after the meeting wandering the camp. She’d started on the outskirts finding her wide shot at a slight elevation that would give context to the other photographs she wanted to take, settling finally on an image that had mountains in the background, a patchwork of roofs and a scatter of people in motion, who were both small in terms of the full picture, and small in reality. Then she moved on to photos of the artifacts of camp life—a canteen that said U.S. Army, a blanket airing on a scrawny tree. By the time she was prepared to concentrate on the camp’s inhabitants, she had accumulated a contingent of willing young subjects who seemed ready for their close-up, though that wasn’t Maddie’s next step. Instead, she sat on an offered stool and, occasionally reaching into a pocket and handing out one of the small wooden toys she’d bought on a Paris street corner, made the acquaintance of grandmothers who were tiny to start with and bent even tinier from the weight of babies strapped to their backs.

In the Land of the Dinosaur—“Turkey Run”
They were moving downhill now, the turkeys pressing up against each other, their squeals growing sharper. Rennie felt the ground go pulpy again beneath her boots. The rain had soaked under her jacket sleeves halfway up her arms. She couldn’t see the man from the truck. He was holding the corner, though, forcing the turkeys along the fence. She could tell from the bulge of turkeys beside her. They were climbing on each other’s backs. In front of her a turkey was down in the mud, his body twitching while the others walked over him. Rennie shoved the flashlight into her pocket and pushed a way clear with the stake and pulled the turkey upright. It was covered with mud and she scraped at it with her fingernails, but the turkey spurted away, lunging on with the flock, one muddy wing hanging broken at its side.

There were other turkeys down. Rennie tripped on a turkey that was drowned in a puddle and felt water squishing in over her boot top. There were turkeys sliding in the mud and moving sideways and backward and scrunching up together.

“They’re backed up! They’re closing too fast!” She was yelling as loud as she could.

The Second Magician’s Tale—Part Eight—Chokehold
Mac and I begin going over things. As we start work, we talk to each other above the thumping noises in the next practice room. The room is warm from the dryer vents. When Mac shuts me inside the box—a faint smell of lemon oil is mixed with the dark—the heat feels nearly intolerable. I try to keep my breath slow, try to feel calm and not choky. I’m maybe getting the hang of things. It’s coming back to me. My hands are free and here’s the knife. I can feel the smoothness of the handle. I trace the rope on my arms and I find the strands. The ones that aren’t pre-cut. I check the noose. And in spite of this heat THAT IS PRACTICALLY GLUING MY CLOTHES ON, I’m amazed again at this world of darkness. It’s such a startling way to work. Is a coal mine like this? Easy with the knife. Easy. I’m not panicking. Really, it’s almost as if Julian’s here. The air feels charged. It’s like waiting for something that’s part witchcraft. Maybe snakebite.

It is so, so hot. But there’s no twinge at my neck. No Mac testing the rope. No suffocation. So yes. Good job, Mac. And now, if I can do this. One more uppercut slice of the knife.

There. The noose is free. It’s slipped away. I tug my way out of the sack, out of the hood, and this is totally enough for me today. I knock for Mac to release me, and the light dazes me as I make the sweaty crawl out.

Watching Oksana—“Mother Tongue”
Gathering herself, Janice went back through the kitchen to her mother’s room and opened the door a crack. She looked in. Her mother was awake, looking at the galaxy Daniel had glued to the ceiling. “Ready to get up?” Janice asked, wondering if her sister had managed to get the bed changed.

“Veist oy…” her mother said, her voice trailing off, and Janice knew what she was saying this time.

“With this one, everything’s ‘it seems,’ ” Uncle Abraham had told her. “No more life that is. Everything just seems.”

“You mean it seems as if the stars are right in your room?” Janice asked. She tugged her mother’s slippers on and slid the bed rail down, lodging her hip, thin as it was, against the bed to support herself as she lifted her mother upright. When her mother was sitting, Janice waited a moment before helping her to the floor, doing everything in slow motion so that her mother didn’t grow light-headed, buckle, her greater size knocking Janice over and collapsing them both to the rug.

Clare, Loving“The Nuns on the Roof of St. Peter’s”
Sister Mary Andrew turned from the list of pHs she had written on the blackboard and came straight down the aisle toward Clare.

“There are numbers of spiritual value, of mystical wonder,” Sister said. “We must always seek them out.” She was rubbing the chalk dust from her hands, and Clare could see her darty-eyed smile, smell a scent that was almost but not quite powder.

“We are studying the ocean in geography, and we may all consider it God’s work that Clare McHenry has moved here from the seacoast to tell us about it in person.”

“About the ocean?” Clare asked, surprised.

“Yes. The ocean and the coast.”

“Tell us the pU,” somebody whispered behind her. Clare wasn’t sure if Sister had heard.

“I don’t know the numbers,” she said and the class, who had all been snickering, laughed out loud.
Sister Mary Andrew thumped her hand on Clare’s desk. She was puffy behind her glasses. “I didn’t ask you for numbers. I didn’t think you were a child to make fun. Is this something to do with your background? With your mother being Protestant?”

“No, Sister.” Clare didn’t want them to, but her knees had started shaking under her dress so the lines of the plaid jumped. “About the ocean?” she repeated.

“Yes, of course the ocean.”

Sister Mary Andrew motioned for her to stand up and Clare did, her hands gripping the wooden lip of her desk, one twitchy knee on the seat.


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