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Breath, Eyes, Memory

Edwidge Danticat

Section Three: Chapters 22–23

Section Three: Chapters 19–21

Section Three: Chapters 22–23, page 2

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Chapter 22

The next morning, Grandmè Ifé goes to the cemetery to pay her last respects to the dead coal-seller, Dessalines. Sophie asks Atie about Louise. Atie says they are very close, and that when she leaves, she will miss her like her own skin.

When Grandmè Ifé returns, Atie has already left to see Louise, and does not come home for dinner. As Grandmè Ifé and Sophie eat dinner in the darkening yard, Grandmè Ifé points out a lantern moving beyond two distant points on the hill. The light belongs to a midwife taking trips back and forth between the shack with the birthing mother and the yard where water is boiling. After the birth, if the child is a boy, the lantern will be put outside the shack, and the father will stay awake all night with the newborn. If it is a girl, the light will be put out and the mother will be left all alone with her child. About an hour later, the light goes out.

Chapter 23

Atie does not come home all night. The following morning, Atie returns with a sullen Louise, who retrieves her pig from the yard and leaves without saying a word. Atie tells Sophie that Grandmè Ifé threatened to kill the pig unless Louise took it away.

On the porch, Atie slowly applies leeches to the lump on her calf, grinding her teeth as they suck her blood, and trying to write in her notebook.

That night, Sophie volunteers to cook rice, black beans, and herring sauce for dinner, her mother's favorite meal. Atie takes her to a private vendor to get supplies. On the way, they pass the family graveyard. Atie tells Sophie that her family name, Caco, is also the name of a bird so scarlet that it gives the appearance of fire.

Sophie is surprised at how easily the cooking comes back to her. She recalls the proverb that Haitian men insist that their women are virgins and that they have all ten fingers, each of which has a use: mothering, boiling, loving, baking, nursing, frying, healing, washing, ironing, scrubbing. The meal is excellent, and Grandmè Ifé compliments Atie on her influence. Atie is touched by the compliment, but nonetheless retrieves her notebook and heads off for a reading lesson with Louise.

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