When 10-year-old Cissy Byrd's father dies her mother, Delia, packs up Cissy in her Datsun and drives from their home in southern California to Cayro, Georgia. Cissy loves to read, which is a good thing because it is one of the few things that helps to keep her from going crazy as she meets her half-sisters for the first time, and watches as her mother cares for their dying father, a man who once abused Delia. Cissy reads a lot and finds reading material from a variety of sources including
- "pilfering" paperback romances from the mean-spirited twin daughters of her mother's friend M.T. and trading them in for science fiction at Crane's (a downtown book exchange)
- the public library (natch)
- borrowing from Nolan, the young man who is lovesick for her sister Dede, and who "meticulously" sorts and shelves his collection
Nolan also introduces Cissy to spelunking, which she discovers she loves perhaps more than reading. The book's most poetic (and sensuous) mention of libraries (which had little to do with books or reading) comes in a description of Cissy's dream about flowstone "the slowly moving rock beneath the dirt" that "comes in shades from pure white to calcium yellow to mottled red"
In her dreams flowstone was not hard but thick and soft as stale meringue. That white paste found in grade school libraries, dense and cloying and slowly stiffening against the skin, that was the flowstone of Cissy's dreams. She lay back into it and it took on the shape of her body, the warmth of her skin. It settled beneath her, gently crept between her fingers and toes, and rose to cradle her hips. Compressed, Viscous. Alive. Growing slowly, but growing. Flowstone made a white noise in Cissy's head, intimate and safe. She waited for it to wrap her around, slowly encase her body, and by that motion season her soul.Like Cissy I like reading, too, of course, but I do not share her interest in caving. I tried exploring a cave once and I am really not interested in doing it again. I will, however, occasionally find my way to a cavern tour, the kind in which there are perky guides, lots of colorful lights and other gimmicks, and no belly slithering.
Pam and James crawl out of Breathing cave Bath County, Va. c 1986