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Authors: Rachel M. Harper

This Side of Providence

BOOK: This Side of Providence
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Early Praise for
This Side of Providence

“Luminous, heartbreaking, and profoundly redemptive,
This Side of Providence
is a hauntingly beautiful novel about the unbreakable bonds between a wounded mother and the children she tries to love. In original, poetic, and surprisingly operatic prose, Harper brings her distinct blend of clarity and compassion to these wonderful pages, echoing the structural ingenuity of William Faulkner and the passionate intelligence of James Baldwin. A must read.”

            
— Rebecca Walker, author of
Adé: A Love Story

“So beautifully written and incredibly compelling that I found myself not wanting to do anything but sit inside this world until everyone turned out all right. Rachel Harper is a stunning writer.”

            
— Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award-winning author of
Brown Girl Dreaming
and
Miracle's Boys

“A truly remarkable novel. Rachel Harper writes with jagged grace and unflinching courage—a willingness to confront fear and pain through characters beautifully alive with feeling, truth, and compassion.”

            
— Scott O'Connor, author of
Half World
and
Untouchable


This Side of Providence
is sung by many voices, some achingly youthful, some wise, some wizened, who sing of desperation, who sing for compassion, who sing from the margins the long song of family. Harper's great achievement is that of choirmaster, keeping the arrangement of voices honest and clear, and somehow pitched toward love.”

            
— Justin Torres, author of
We the Animals

“Survival, forgiveness, belonging, addiction: Rachel Harper guides readers along the knife-edge lives of her characters with silken pacing and muscular prose. With deep empathy and intellect, she paints a universal story of honest, imperfect love, and hard-won family. This gorgeous book balances the gritty with the good-hearted, reminding us that only what is dark and difficult can give rise to redemption.”

            
— Neela Vaswani, author of
You Have Given Me a Country

“Here is a novel that can save lives. Harper holds no bars about the dangers of addiction and poverty, yet offers hope for the near-miraculous ability of courageous young people, guided by dedicated teachers, to survive and flourish as unique and valuable individuals. Readers will root not only for struggling children, but also feel compassion for the flawed adults whose lives are spinning out of control. With unflinching honesty and unlimited love, Harper tells it like it is in many of our cities, and how it can be better. I'll never forget these characters or this novel.”

            
— Sena Jeter Naslund, author of
Ahab's Wife

“Rachel Harper is a channeler of voices, an inhabiter of bodies, an invoker of spirits. In this exquisitely braided narrative, she trusts her characters to tell their own stories, and grants each of them their own broken poetry. A stunning achievement—I did not want this novel to end, but when it did, I felt a rush of cathartic joy.”

            
— K.L. Cook, author of
The Girl from Charnelle
and
Love Songs for the Quarantined

“An ambitious, beautifully written, heartfelt novel that demonstrates the centrality of family under the most arduous of conditions.”

            
— Jervey Tervalon, author of
Understand This
and
Monster's Chef

Praise for
Brass Ankle Blues

A Target
Breakout Book

Borders
Best Original Voices
finalist


Brass Ankle Blues
is a beautiful debut…full of humanity and elusive shocks of recognition. It gracefully explores the fissures and possibilities that all young selves experience. This is a marvelous novel.”

—
The Providence Journal

“The family tensions, poignant discoveries, and richly evoked setting should help this find a broad audience.”

—
Booklist

“Rachel Harper's fierce debut is a tender, passionate, and moving read. A clear window onto a world rarely seen in contemporary fiction.”

— Shay Youngblood, author of
Soul Kiss

Also by Rachel M. Harper

Brass Ankle Blues

Copyright © 2016 by Rachel M. Harper

This book is a work of fiction. With the exception of historical names and locations, the characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

26 Ways of Looking at a Black Man
is excerpted by permission of the estate of Raymond R. Patterson.

Published by Prospect Park Books

2359 Lincoln Avenue

Altadena, California 91001

www.prospectparkbooks.com

Distributed by Consortium Book Sales & Distribution

www.cbsd.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Harper, Rachel M., 1972-

This side of Providence / Rachel M. Harper.

pages; cm

ISBN 978-1-938849-77-0 (softcover : acid-free paper)

1.
  
Puerto Ricans--Rhode Island--Providence--Fiction. 2.
  
Single mothers--Fiction. 3.
  
Heroin abuse--Fiction. 4.
  
Domestic fiction.
  
I.
  
Title.

PS3608.A7747T48 2016

813'.6--dc23

2015033178

Cover design by Nicole Caputo.

Cover photography by Nic Skerten/Trevillion Images.

Layout by Amy Inouye, Future Studio.

for my children

What in me is dark

Illumine, what is low raise and support,

That to the height of this great argument

I may assert eternal Providence,

And justify the ways of God to men.

— John Milton,

Paradise Lost

Contents

Arcelia

Cristo

Arcelia

Miss Valentín

Cristo

Luz

Arcelia

Snowman

Cristo

Miss Valentín

Luz

Arcelia

Cristo

Miss Valentín

Snowman

Luz

Javier

Arcelia

Cristo

Arcelia

Miss Valentín

Luz

Cristo

Arcelia

Miss Valentín

Lucho

Arcelia

Luz

Snowman

Cristo

Arcelia

Javier

Arcelia

Trini

Miss Valentín

Cristo

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Arcelia

B
efore they knock down the door, I run. I'm wearing flip-flops, men's pajama bottoms, and a tank top with no bra. My sunglasses on the top of my head. I grab my baby and tuck her under my arm like a purse. She's one of the few things I own, and unlike everything else in my possession, I never lost or broke her.

I hear them enter the apartment—the front door cracks, their voices boom—but I'm gone before they catch me. Out the back window and down the alley before I know where I'm running to. Doctors always say I'm too skinny but you'll never catch me with my hips stuck in no window—even them small ones they put in basements—and I can still outrun almost any man, even in sandals and with a baby in my arm and a dope habit that keeps me shooting almost ten bags a day.

My baby's three now—not a baby anymore—and if I put her down she could run alongside me, but I hold her instead, to keep her close to my body, and to remind myself that I still have something to hold onto. Besides, what kind of mother lets her little girl run from the police? I don't know a lot of things, but I know that ain't right.

Me, I'm always running. So quick my feet don't seem to touch the ground. I hear the sound, though, the slap of my sandals on the pavement as I run down Manton Avenue in the rain. It sounds loud and quick like a machine gun. I am not a gun, but sometimes I feel like a bullet. Fast. Unstoppable. Deadly. I used to think I could outrun a bullet, when I was a
child and I still believed in things I couldn't see. Like the truth, love, and forgiveness. Today I believe in only the things I can feel: hunger, pain, my beating heart.

I don't remember most of my childhood. I got a few memories from when my mother was alive, but not as many as I should. Only a few are clear. The rest are faint and jumbled, like the lines of a long and complicated joke that ends without a punch line. Or that never ends.

I see flashes all the time. Real quick, like a movie preview. They jump into my head and jump out, quick as they came. I try to control them, but I can't. They're not mine. They come so often they don't belong to me. It's like I'm watching TV without the sound. Like I'm remembering somebody else's life. There's a kid in most of them—me, I guess—but I don't recognize her. I try not to look her in the eyes. There's a man with her, or sometimes a boy, but he is always someone she knows. He looks kind, but he is not kind. Sometimes he smiles at the girl, but she never smiles back. She is always trying to escape, or looking for a place to hide.

When the rain stops and darkness comes, I'm still running. My baby girl is asleep in my arms, her breath a whisper on my neck. The high gone, she's now too much to carry. My arms and legs burn. I cut through the parking lot behind Atlantic Mills, hoping to lose the cops before my legs give out. I been running my whole life—either to people or away from them—and I don't really know where to go anymore. All the streets look the same and I wonder if I'm lost. Not sure it matters, as long as I keep moving. All roads got to end somewhere.

I run up an alleyway where two men are working under the hood of an old Buick. The car looks familiar but they don't. My legs continue to move, purely on instinct. I hear music from inside the car, the radio playing a Spanish song about a bird that follows a balloon all the way to the sun. The old man whistles the tune, and the younger one sings so softly I can't even tell if he knows the words.

They don't stop to look up as I sprint past them, as if I'm so fast they can't see me.

As if I'm invisible.

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