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First, there were the bells. Three of them, cast from warped shovels, rakes, and hoes, cracked cauldrons, dulled ploughshares, one rusted stove, and, melted into each, a single golden coin. They were rough and black except along their silvery lips, where my mother's mallets had struck a million strokes. She was small enough to dance beneath them in the belfry. When she swung, her feet leapt from the polished wooden planks, so that when the mallet met the bell, it rang from the bell's crown to the tips of my mother's pointed toes….

My mother had a filthy nest of hair, knots of iron muscle in her arms, and, for me alone, a smile as warm as August's sun. by the time of my birth she had been living for some years in a small alpine hut adjacent to the church. No, that is inaccurate. My mother lived in the belfry. She came to the hut only when the belfry, exposed to the mountains' bitter weather, became too cold, or too full of snow, or when she had hunger of the cheese rinds and cold gruel the villagers left for her, or when the sumer lightning storms swept down the valley and struck our belfry--they often did, the bells ringing as if tolled by ghosts. Though she was filthy, and never washed herself her entire life, every week she scrubbed me from head to toe in the frigid water of the stream. She fed me from a wooden spoon until I was full to bursting. I did not then know of how other children played and laughed, how they pretended to be kings and soldiers, how they danced and sang song together. I wanted nothing more for my life. I wanted only to sit there, my four-year-old legs dangling over the edge of the belfry. To look at the mountains. to listen to the beauty of the bells.

--- THE BELLS, a novel by Richard Harvell.


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