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Jessica Maria Tuccelli
A breathtaking Georgia-mountain epic about the complex bond of mothers and daughters across a century.
In the autumn of 1941, Amelia J. McGee, a young woman of Cherokee and Scotch-Irish descent, and an outspoken pamphleteer for the NAACP, hastily sends her daughter, Ella, alone on a bus home to Georgia in the middle of the night—a desperate action that is met with dire consequences when the child encounters two drifters and is left for dead on the side of the road. Ella awakens to find herself in the homestead of Willie Mae Cotton, a wise hoodoo practitioner and former slave, and her partner, Mary-Mary Freeborn, tucked deep in the Takatoka forest. As Ella begins to heal, the legacies of her lineage are revealed.
Illuminating the tragedy of human frailty, the power of friendship and hope, and the fiercest of all human bonds—mother love—Glow transports us from Washington, D.C., on the brink of World War II to 1836 and into the mountain coves of Hopewell County, Georgia, full of ghosts both real and imagined.
Jessica Maria Tuccelli lives in New York City with her husband and daughter. Glow is her first novel.
When I was a child, Momma informed me that there were no such things as ghosts. I was crushed and confused because my best friend and confidant, Lovelady Belle Young was in fact a ghost. When I begged Lovelady to come home to prove Momma wrong, she flat out refused, saying she wasn't in the business of convincing folks of her existence and that nay-sayers were just plain old scared of haints and besides, didn't my Momma and Poppa believe in God and Satan, and surely they had never seen them in person. Much as I hated to admit, Lovelady had a point.
My brother Buddy, four years my senior and therefore wiser, according to him, suggested I keep my bond with Lovelady to myself lest I sought to remain forever friendless in the corporeal world, or worse, burn in the raging fires of eternal damnation with Beelzebub himself.
And so, Lovelady remained my secret.
I discovered her in the Takatoka Forest, which poured down Warwoman Mountain into what my family called our backyard. I wasn't supposed to be in those woods. Momma had forbidden it, saying my curiosity was stronger than my commonsense. Buddy had warned me about the wild boars. He said they feasted on folk like me: nimble-legged nine-year olds with smart mouths. He said beware of old women, those shrunken apples who lived in the hills; they could steal your soul with death-dust. Even worse was Giasticutus, a giant catawampus who smothered children with his wings before swallowing them whole. But Buddy said a lot of things. He was free to roam as he pleased.
[One day,] after services, Buddy took off in directions unknown, a recent occupation, while I was left to entertain myself once more within the confines of Momma's wild garden.
I discarded my worship frock for a sensible and loose-hanging blue ensemble with a dropped waist and thankfully plain, and skipped to the bank of a narrow branch behind our home, where I espied, to my delight, a tiger-striped swallowtail butterfly zipping about the rhododendrons. […] I lit after it, leaping over the branch and running up the slope, tramping through patches of butterweed and sliding up the yolk-yellow mess. I crawled through the log fence, tripped and recovered, then knuckled my way up as the black and yellow creature soared into the Takatoka. Never before had I defied Momma's restrictions, but with abandon now, I scuffled after it, plunging through a thicket of mountain laurel.
The swallowtail escaped my clutches anyway, winking in the sunlight, and vanishing above the dogwoods and pines. As blood trickled down from a cut on my knee, I flopped down on a rotting log, spit in my palm, and wiped my leg clean.
Through the cream-cupped fringe of laurel, I could still see the back of our house, the paint-chipped shutters, the sloping porch, the board and batten covered in ivy alive with twittering swallows.
But here I was in the presence of towering trees, well beyond the boundary of our homeplace. Here I was.
I will never forget the bubbly feeling that rose from my toes to my neck.
The higher I climbed, the cooler and darker the forest became. It was a restful dark, not a frightening one, created by a canopy of old growth. Giant long-legged daddies with rosy oblong bodies scurried as I slipped by, and bronze capped snails left glossy trails up stout trunks of tulip poplar. Moss, too, climbed up its bark. Stacks of mushrooms billowed out of woody crevices: teacup pink, mottled umber, jelly brown, their shapes shifting from cupcake to saucer flat. Glistening stems of ghost pipe poked out of the layers, life sprouting everywhere from death. It was glorious.
When I came upon a clearing of ferns, I knew I had found a fine place to stop. On the far side was a pile of mossy boulders shaped like a grand throne and agreeably vacant. Just then, as I leapt over a shallow riffle to the tune of knightly trumpets, I heard a snap of branches. I stood still and listened. I took another step forward. So did something else. I waited, and then walked three paces before I heard it again. Could it be a deer? Oh, how delightful that would be. But it was too heavy to be a deer. Giasticutus? An old hag? No! A wild boar! It had to be. Jumping Jehoshaphat! I clutched my buckeye branch and crouched ready for battle, bared my teeth, and with a mean slice to air, growled.
There came a girl's giggle, high and light.
"Who's there?" I demanded.
"Who's there?" her voice rang, as if from all around.
"I asked you first," I said.
"I asked you first," she echoed.
"You most certainly did not! Don't you got no respectability? Creeping up on a person. Stop sassing me and show yourself."
"You show first."
"I'm right here in plain sight."
Her laughter swelled around me, and it was as sweet and colorful as a handful of jellybeans. With each pop of mirth, I craved even more. And then she fell quiet.
Beside my throne, a honeysuckle thicket shook. "What's your name?" I asked the bush politely.
"Follow," the voice said, so close it grazed my ear.
I reeled about, but no one was there.
Not ready to admit defeat, I scaled up the pile of boulders and settled into the warmth of its stored sunlight, hoping my aloofness might draw her out. I lay back, capping my hands behind head, my ears keyed to her movement. I tussled with patience, a fine Anighilahian custom, which I deemed as necessary as a woolen sweater on a summer day. Tugging on a strand of honeysuckle, I pinched a blossom between my thumb and forefinger and slid the petal skirt up from its base. Drops of nectar pooled at the flower's base. I touched the tip of my tongue to the bead. "Tastes like honey. Yum. You try." I offered the vine to my unseen friend.
A hand emerged, but quicker than a drop of water on a fry pan it withdrew into the thicket.
"Amelia J. McGee!"
Buddy was charging up the trail, flush pink in his cheeks from the effort. […]
"Who in tarnation are you talkin' to?" he asked from the edge of the clearing.
"Nobody," I said with a shrug of nonchalance. Whoever she was, I wanted her for myself.
"Listen Miss Fancy Pants, you're gonna be in a heap of trouble if you don't get home."
"I'm leaving now," I said loudly, hoping my hidden companion might hear me.
Along with the perils of wild boars and catawumpuses, Buddy had long ago instilled within me another frightening notion: he bade me to never look over my shoulder to the place I had just left. If I did, my toes would turn to salt. He called it Lot's Rot. But as we headed down the trail, the hair on the back of my neck suddenly shot up. I had the distinct sensation we were being watched.
I dared to look back.
There she stood, barefoot in the mist, maybe twelve or thirteen years old, a Negro girl in an old-fashioned white petticoat hemmed below her knees. Her hair hung in long braids, each one anchored by a blue ribbon.
I gaped as she withdrew a broken honeysuckle vine from behind her back. She waved it like a wand and smiled smugly. As she plucked a flower and tongued its nectar, she began walking backwards into the blue mist, fading like an aging ambrotype: first her feet, then her legs, until all I saw was her smile.