When people ask me what this anthology is about, I’m often tempted to give them the complicated answer: it’s about race, and about how being different from the person you love can matter but how it can also not matter, and it’s about Chinese pirate ghosts, black girl vigilantes, colonial India, a flower festival, a garden of poisons, and so, so much else. Honestly, though? I think the answer’s much simpler than that. Color outside the Lines is a collection of stories about young, fierce, brilliantly hopeful people in love.—Sangu Mandanna, editor of Color outside the Lines
With stories by:
Samira Ahmed | Elsie Chapman | Lauren Gibaldi | Lydia Kang | Michelle Ruiz Keil | Lori M. Lee | Sangu Mandanna | L.L. McKinney | Anna-Marie McLemore | Danielle Paige | Karuna Riazi | Caroline Tung Richmond | Adam Silvera | Tara Sim | Eric Smith | Kelly Zekas & Tarun Shanker
|Publisher:||Soho Press, Incorporated|
|Sold by:||Penguin Random House Publisher Services|
|File size:||728 KB|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
An excerpt from “Turn the Sky to Petals” by Anna-Marie McLemore, the first story in the anthology
I guess I could start with the flowers, the hundreds of thousands of red dahlia petals gathered into baskets at the behest of a rich man. But that would make what happened more about the rich man than about you and me.
This is the way I would tell it, what happened between us. This is how I would piece it together from what I saw and the things you told me:
We did not grow up far apart. My school played yours in a handful of sports, so we might have met. You had that season on the soccer team before deciding that the practices took too much time away from the cimbalom.
Me, I never played school sports. I never even tried. There was never one I loved enough to spend my tendons on it.
You know what I’m talking about. You knew the first time I told you. Because the feeling I know in my ankles—the countless small tears, the sensation of muscle wringing itself out—is one you know in your wrists, your lower forearms, parts of you that you need for the instrument that has you by the heart.
Your gringo teacher often told you what immense promise she saw in you. She said that you would elevate the cimbalom to the level of great orchestra. You winced every time, shrugging away the insult, because while she thought of it as a carnival instrument, you always knew it to be the collection of wood and metal strings that gives music all its colors.
You learned to repair the steel and copper strings yourself, because there were so few who knew how to do it, and finding a repair shop in our constellation of rural towns was never easy. Or cheap. And there was no one you really wanted to trust with the instrument your grandfather had left you. Your grandfather, who performed in both city squares and grand halls, and who you thought of when your music teacher watched you, her stare so intense it burned into your back.
She is beautiful, your music teacher, but I think her beauty dimmed to you every time she pushed you to play the Liszt again, even when you were past the time the lesson was meant to end, even when your tendons felt like they were tearing apart in your wrists. Even when your forearms felt like they were turning to flames.
Your mother, you told me, worried as you iced your wrists at night. And you told her not to, that if musicians wanted to become great, sometimes it involved pain. She pressed her lips together and made you lay bags of frozen peppers under your forearms, because if you had to ice your wrists you might as well bring yourself a little luck at the same time. After a bag had half-thawed, she would throw it into a heated pan, add it to what she was cooking. You told me that, later, when your family ate together you couldn’t decide if you were eating your own pain or your own luck.
Any bystander might not think the instrument you love so much would wear down the tendons in the wrists and forearms. They would simply marvel at how quickly your hands moved, how precisely you struck the beaters against the strings, the tips making the timbre sound different depending on whether the leather is hard or soft. But that is because your skill, your effort, the hours of practice on your grandfather’s cimbalom and the one at your music teacher’s house, made it look easy. Your hands flew, changing direction as quickly as hummingbirds, always finding the right place to land.
But any bystander would not feel the collecting effect of all those impacts. They would not know the wearing down caused by, hundreds of thousands of times, striking the beaters just where they needed to hit. They would not guess at the tension in your wrists, the taut muscle in your forearms, the tiny friction every time you bring a beater down.
Do that enough times, and the pain in your wrists will probably be enough to wake you up at night. Do that enough times, and it will startle you out of sleep, leaving you with the memory of dreams in which your arms are branches on fire.
Still, you took the brush-lined road to your music teacher’s house, your feet as accustomed to the dampening pedal as to the long walk. You did as she told you, repeating the Stravinsky until she said yes, you were feeling the music, not just playing it. Running through the original score of Les Noces until you thought your veins were molten. Wincing as you held your wrists under cold water in her downstairs bathroom, because you did not want the pain showing on your face as you sounded each note of Bartók’s Rhapsody No. 1.
But the pain did show on your face, and your music teacher said that such cringing, such hardening in your jaw, would never let you on the grandest stages. She said you could not take each wrist in the opposite hand between sections or movements, no more than a ballerina can stretch her calves onstage.
Your hands, and your wrists, and your forearms—they spoke, even when you told them, asked them, begged them to be quiet. And the more that pain took hold of you, the more your music teacher cast you aside like a frayed bow.
This is the part that took you the longest to tell me. This is the part that, when you did, made my heart feel like it was cracking open. Because I could feel it. The cold water as you tried to put out the flames in your muscles. The feeling of your teacher losing both patience and the sparkling faith she once had in you. I know the look. I got it from my own dance teachers, when they saw me falter on ankles that were giving out under me, when they caught the wince under my stage smile.
I wish you hadn’t known it too.
That look, I guess, is how you came to be in my great-grandmother’s village, even though you are unrelated to anyone there. Even though you are a different kind of brown-skinned boy than I am a brown-skinned girl.
You came to be in my bisabuela’s village because there is an old man who lives there.
El viejo moves so slowly that he seems to cross the street in rhythm with honey dripping from a spoon.
All of him, that is, except his hands.
He plays, knows, the cimbalom better than you, better than your music teacher. But he also knows what music takes from the body. So when a friend of a friend of my mother mentioned him to your mother, your mother and father thought this man might teach you to save both your hands and the part of your heart that has turned to wood and metal strings.
You would not pay him for his lessons, the man said. Nor would you pay him for the bed at the back of his house where you would sleep, the bed his own son sleeps in whenever he visits. Your payment, he said, would be to help with the flower harvest. You would not do anything that would stress your wrists, he said. No picking plumeria or cosmos. No twisting poinsettias off their stems. But you would help carry the baskets of flowers, las canastas de palma that would be light with their cargo but awkward with their size.
You wondered if this flower harvest happened every year. You wondered this out loud the first time you ever spoke to me. We were standing, waiting for the señoras to tell us what to do.
I told you no, this does not happen every year. I told you what my bisabuela told me. That a man getting married a village away said his bride was so beautiful, he wanted the clouds to rain flowers in her honor. For their wedding day, he wanted to turn the sky to petals.
Another man, one who had grown up here, who had gone to school and then to more school and become a lawyer, told the rich man that he could make this happen. The sky could rain flowers for his bride.
But he would have to pay.
The rich man had owned shares in the maquiladora, whose runoff had poisoned the creeks, whose trucks had torn up the roads. Then, having found a place they could operate for even less money, they left, taking the jobs and the youngest families, with them, leaving the shell of the factory crumbling by the side of the road.
The village, the lawyer said, would only give his bride her sky full of petals in exchange for these things: Clean water (at the time everyone had to buy gallons from a far-off store, relying on the kindness of friends with trucks). Repaired roads. Replaced electrical lines. A building for the school so it did not have to meet in the back of Señora Delgado-Cruz’s house anymore.
The village would sell him the color off its trees and vines and bushes, if he would pay for these things. And the man was so in love that he agreed.
This is how you came to be in my great-grandmother’s village during the flower harvest, those feverish, bright-colored days of picking and carrying cream yucca petals, the pink satin ribbons of brush trees, the blue lilac of jacarandas.
I came to be there because my parents were sick of me moping on their living room sofa during the hours each day I used to be in dance class.
What was happening in your wrists and forearms had been happening in my ankles for months. Maybe longer. But it was in those past months that the wild rush of dancing was no longer enough to mask the pain lighting up my tendons.
I did what you did. Well, almost. I smiled harder to keep myself from wincing, while you held your jaw to keep the stoic face of a concert musician. I lifted my body to pretend there was no weight on my ankles, while you bent lower to the cimbalom, trying to make any pain seem like a fierce intensity.
It ended anyway.
My parents tolerated me burying my face in the sofa for only the first two weeks of summer. Then they told me I would help with the flower harvest. A petal at a time, I would help bring the village my bisabuela loved closer to clean water, and electricity that flickered out less often, and roads that wouldn’t take out a transmission with their ruts and potholes.
So they brought me to my bisabuela’s small but tidy house, with that aluminum roof. (You asked once what it sounds like when it rains, and you know when you used to play “Flight of the Bumblebee” on the cimbalom with hard leather beaters? Like that, only louder.)
My bisabuela knew you and I had something in common, an echo of familiar pain in our bodies. She knew that each evening, you were working at the cimbalom in frustratingly slow movements, the old man teaching you to keep something you love without letting it take everything from you. She knew that every sunrise the curanderas rubbed chili powder and turmeric into your forearms; when we gathered for the harvest, I could see it tinting the brown of your wrists red and gold.
And my great-grandmother knew I could not dance, not like I had been dancing, or in a few years I might not walk. I could dance for the joy of it, the doctors told me, and that was as little comfort as being told I could breathe, but only on weekends.
It was into las canastas de palma you carried that I collected marigolds and cuetlaxochitl, petals the color of the fire we felt in our tendons. It was into those baskets that I set passion flowers, green-and-red and yellow-and-purple, that curled up from dry roadsides. You were chivalrous enough to look away when I cried while plucking morning glories, because as a child I learned that la campanilla morada was a symbol of unrequited love, and the only unrequited love I had known up to then was dancing. It took my heart. It told me I was beautiful.
And then it ravaged the body it had so completely possessed.
The sun beat down on our backs as we filled the baskets, fluffing the petals to let them air.
We did not give the rich man and his bride all our flowers. There were mariposas and hummingbirds to think of. So we left the Mexican sage; the purple velvet of the petals was too heavy anyway, and they were a favorite of the violet sabrewings and fork-tailed emeralds. Same with the honeysuckle, and the pineapple and tangerine sage, which would not survive the flight anyway. We left the opuntia flowers; the weight of their closed buds would make them too difficult to send airborne. We gave him our yellow and rust-red and purple marigolds, but kept the orange and brown to ourselves, because no village should ever give up all they have of cempasúchil.
[This is not the complete short story]