Rosalyn McMillan This Side of Eternity

ISBN 13: 9780684862880

This Side of Eternity

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9780684862880: This Side of Eternity
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After the death of her father in the late 1960s, Anne Russell and her family struggle to survive in the face of strikes, civil rights protests, and a deep-seated racial tension that permeates virtually every facet of their everyday lives, in a story set during the civil rights movement in Tennessee. 75,000 first printing.

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About the Author:

Rosalyn Mcmillan was for twenty years a Ford Motor Company worker. After two serious accidents, which ended her career in the auto industry, she used the drama unfolding in her life as the inspiration for her three successful novels, Knowing, One Better and Blue Collar Blues, all published by Time Warner.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

"Where's my daddy?" Anne screamed. "What have they done with him? I want to see him! Why can't I see him! No! No! Please. Not like that!"

Clutching the edge of the brown wool blanket against her heart, her body shivered more from emotion than from the cold February night.

As she struggled to shun the horrible images of death, she felt a stiff hand roughly shaking her. The stale odor of hot cigarette breath against her face made her wince, as someone repeated her name over and over again.

Still half asleep, she made an effort to open her eyes.

"Annie Mae, will you please shut up!" her sister Vanilla Mae demanded. "You're going to wake up those damn brats."

The six surviving Russells lived in a modest low-income wood-frame house. It was all that their father had been able to afford.

Since the death of their older brother and his wife last summer, their two nieces and nephew slept in their younger brother's old bedroom, next to them. The walls were so old and dilapidated they could hear the bedsprings creak when any of the children made the slightest movement.

Anne believed that she heard a slight tremor just now. It sounded like someone was clapping his or her hands together.

"I'm sorry, Mae." Her throat was hoarse and scratchy.

"See," Mae said, after they heard a much more distinct sound in the next room, "she's up." They both knew who it was.

By then Anne's eyes had adjusted to the darkness. She looked across the room to the clock-radio on the dresser. It was nearly three in the morning. "I'll check on her," she said, exiting the bed they shared.

Turning on the hall light, she opened the children's bedroom door. First she spotted Wesley snoring softly in the bed near the closet -- a drooping sage green army blanket, used as a room divider, was nailed to the ceiling. To her left, the two girls, Bentley Camille and Nikkie Anne, slept in a twin bed barely three feet away.

As she moved closer, she noticed that six-year-old Nikkie was sitting up, looking dead in Anne's face.

"Why you always making that noise?" Nikkie asked with eyes as innocent as flower petals.

"Shhh," Anne cautioned. "Aunt Anne has bad dreams sometimes."

"I never dreams. How come? How come I don't get to dreams?"

Nikkie was a special child. Taking care of her had been a huge challenge, especially for Mae, who quit school the year before to become her surrogate mother.

Sitting on the bed beside her, Anne said, "I don't know, baby. Some people never dreams."

But Anne's dreams were not always bad ones. Sometimes she dreamed beautiful dreams about her mother. Anne would tell all of her secrets to the woman she felt was her best friend. She would have liked

to share these special moments with Nikkie, but she wouldn't understand.

Even in the semidarkness, she could see Nikki's strong features. Like Anne, she had the wide-set Russell eyes and milk chocolate coloring. In her large, shadowed brown eyes lingered more pain and sufferings than a child her age should know.

"Are you sad your daddy died?"

"Yeah..." Anne reached out and rebraided one of her three thick pigtails that had come loose. "And I'm sad about your daddy and mommy, too."

"Uh-huh. Me too. Heaven must be getting pretty crowded up there."

Anne smiled, "I was thinking the same thing, Nikkie. And you know something? A famous poet named Cummings said it better than I ever could. He said that life wasn't a paragraph, and death, he thought, is no parenthesis."

"I don't know what that means."

Sometimes Anne forgot about Nikkie's handicap. She had a bad habit of talking to herself, as though Nikkie were her personal sounding board.

"I'm sorry, baby. I'm merely trying to say that life goes on, even in death. And one day you and I will get to see our loved ones. And then -- well then, neither one of us will ever have to worry about dreams anymore."

"Hmm," Nikkie said, as if she were trying to grasp what Anne had said.

"Now hush. It's time for you to get back to sleep. You've awakened Aunt Mae. And we both know that isn't a good thing."

Nikkie shuddered.

Anne motioned for her to lie back down.

After Nikkie had turned on her side, she pulled the quilt up over her and Bentley's shoulders and blew Nikkie a kiss good night.

While tiptoeing down the hall to use the bathroom, she could smell the smoke from Mae's Camel cigarette on her way back up.

Though they'd kept it a secret from their father, and brother Kirk, Mae had been a chain-smoker since the age of thirteen. Worse than that addiction was her ever-increasing messiness. Ashes and dirty clothes were the dominant decor in their tiny bedroom.

"Haachew!" she sneezed as she entered their room.

"This nightmare shit has got to stop." Mae flicked the ashes off the sheer sleeve of her blue baby doll gown and glared at Anne. "I haven't had a good nights sleep since..."

"Daddy died," Anne said quietly. She stared at Mae's haggard face. A year ago she was pretty. Four years her senior, Mae and Anne both had thick manes of hair, Anne's dark brown, while Mae's was a shocking reddish brown. Mae's face was a perfect oval; Anne's was heart-shaped. Mae's dark brown eyes were a bit too close to her nose, while Anne's were bright and wide-set like their brother Kirk's. Anne's full lips softened her exotic features, but Mae's tight narrow lips that rarely smiled made her look ten years older.

Maybe that's why she doesn't look pretty anymore.

But giving credit where credit was due, Mae had been a godsend to the Russell family. Kirk, as well as their father, often complimented Miss Mae, as they oftentimes called her, about her unfailing maturity.

At age six, Mae cooked, cleaned, and baby-sat as well as a grown woman did. It was a duty that their father had reluctantly bequeathed on her three years after his wife, her mother, had died during childbirth with Anne.

And today, shouldering all of that responsibility had taken its toll. Mae smoked two packs a day, and had been sexually active since age twelve.

"Do you see Daddy crunched up in that machine?" she said in a

high shrill voice as if she'd shared the same dream. "Is that why you're screaming?"

Anne nodded, her face lit by the glow of Mae's cigarette. "Uh-huh. And I see Stuart and Danielle's faces pressed against Daddy's chest with blood all over them. All of them are screaming for help."


Stuart, Anne's brother, and his wife, Danielle, were killed in a car accident eight months earlier.

Anne wondered how one family could endure so much tragedy.

Where was the God their father had always prayed to? The God that her father had said almost made their mother a saint.

And what exactly did a saint mean? Was it the same as a nun -- a homely-looking woman in black clothing who didn't believe in sex?

Since their father's death, the church they belonged to had taken up a love offering so often it was becoming embarrassing to attend service. Mae said the family was cursed, but, in the three years since she first voiced that thought, she would never tell Anne her reasons why she felt that way.

"It's in the cards, child," she would offer. "Every one of us is going to suffer a horrible death. Just like daddy, Danielle, and Stuart did. You mark my words."

If you believe that stupid bullshit, then why are you inhaling cancer sticks as fast as you can light one?

Nothing made sense. Her mother and father were gone. Her brother and sister-in-law, whom she'd come to love as a real big sister, erased. Still, something was off. There were too many pieces missing in their tiny puzzle of life.

"God don't like ugly," Anne said, breaking the thick silence. She went to the dresser and fondled the Austrian crystal beads that belonged to her mother. She wore them to church every Sunday. "I

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