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1 ROUGHLY THE SIZE OF RHODE ISLAND: A MEMOIR By LEAH CARROLL A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2007
2 2007 Leah Carroll
3 Dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. Louis Goldman
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Thanks to my wonderful teachers: Jill Cime nt, David Leavitt and Mary Robison. I thank my supportive family, especially Ann-Marie an d Taylor Carroll, Derek Vierra, and Sandra and Ruth Goldman. Thanks to Hayden and Meg for the use of their computers and all their help. And thanks to Chewy for all the obvious reasons.
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 4 ABSTRACT 6 ROUGHLY THE SIZE OF RHODE ISLAND 7 PEOPLE I WENT TO HIGH SCH OOL WITH WHO ARE DEAD NOW 50 WHO YOU ARE AND WH O YOULL NEVER BE 59 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 74
6 Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts ROUGHLY THE SIZE OF RHODE IS LAND: A MEMOIR EXCERPT By Leah Carroll August 2007 Chair: Jill Ciment Major: Creative Writing This thesis contains the first part of what will be a novel length memoir. It also contains two personal essays.
7 ROUGHLY THE SIZE OF RHODE ISLAND: A MEMOIR Observe. Exhibit A. This is a photo of the hotel room where my mother, Joan Carroll (nee Goldman) was murdered. It is a motel, act ually, a one-story affair with a parking spot outside the door. This is where my mother dr ove with a man named Pe ter Gilbert and another man named Gerald Mastracchio to buy some coca ine. This is where Mastracchio spread the cocaine out on a table and demande d sex from my mother while G ilbert watched television. It is here where, in the words of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Dean Starkman: Mastracchio emerged from the bathroom with a towel, threw it around Carrolls neck and yanked. Mastracchio grunted to Gilb ert for help as Carrolls face turned purple.Gilbert grabbed the towel as Mast racchio stepped on Carrolls face for leverage. "Come on you fucking rat," Mastracchio wheezed. "Give me the death rattle." This happened at the Sunset View Mote l in Attleboro, MA. On October 18, 1984. My mother was thirty years old. I ha d just turned four. Dean Star kman, the Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote a five part series for the Providence J ournal on Peter Gilbert, the man who snapped my mothers neck with a towel. In it, she is menti oned only twice. Both times she is referred to as Joan Carroll, a mill worker from Cranston, and one of Mastracchios drug customers. Until I read this article I had no idea that my mo ther had ever worked in a mill. Please direct your attention to this next exhibit. It is fourteen years later. This is a photo of the hotel room where my father, Kevin Carroll, died. To be accurate it is not really a hotel either. It is strip club called The Sportsmans Inn in Providence, RI and you can rent the rooms upstairs for $40 a week. The small sign on the do or advertises a free Italian buffet every afternoon at 4:00. On the morning of December 23, 1998 the proprietor of the Sportsmans Inn tried to gain access to my fathers room, but c ould not get the door open. The reason he could not
8 get the door open was because my fathers dead body was blocking it. He was fifty years old. I was eighteen. Later that evening the police gave me his posse ssions in a Ziploc bag. There was a pair of glasses, a Mont Blanc pen, an e xpired identification card from hi s former job at the Providence Journal, roughly $200 in cash and change, and a suicide note addre ssed to me. In it my father said, The proudest moment of my life was when you read The Night Before Christmas aloud to Ann-Maries family. When I read this I thoug ht, Really? That was your pr oudest moment? Of your life? I was too young to remember my mothers funera l, but I do remember that at my fathers funeral a lot of people from the Providence Journal came. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Dean Starkman did not come. By that time he had left Providence to work for the Wall Street Journal. Other people from the newspaper came, though. Howard Sutton, the publisher came. Everyone said that I should be very pr oud. In the receiving line I s hook Howard Suttons hand. I have absolutely no recollection of doing so, or what Howard Sutton even looks like, but I am proud to say that he was there at least. On the way home from the funeral I wa s driving alone and there was a sound like screeching all around me. I thought for a moment that something was caught in my tires. When I realized it was me making the sound, when I real ized I was shrieking, I just stopped. All of the air left my lungs, and there was silence. Isnt it strange, in a way, that both of my parents died in hotel rooms? Or is it a common thing? Do people die in hotel rooms often? I have no personal aversion to hotels, but maybe I should develop one.
9 There are other similarities. I collect them like bits of string, old thumbtacks, discarded safety pins. They are things that have no prac tical use at the moment but may prove useful somehow later on, at another time. After my mo ther died my grandparents were going through her things, and my grandmother found a handgun. What do we do with it? she asked my grandfat her. This is right after they had found my mothers body and the police were questioning my family on a daily basis. Throw it out, said my gra ndfather. Just get rid of it. When my father died his be st friend told my aunt that the police had found a gun in his hotel room, but they were keepi ng it because of the suspicious na ture of his death. So far they have never returned it to us. Also there is this: one of the police officer s who investigated my mothers murder was convinced that my father had killed her. He kept him in a cell for twenty-four hours screaming at him and accusing him. When they found my fath ers body in the Sportsman Inn, this man was one of the detectives assigned to the case. Rhode Island, as you may know, is a very small place. And not just in geography. As a small child I had a fascination with my mothers decomposition. I would ask my grandmother, Is Mommy bones now? Mommys in heaven, my grandmother would say. There was something deeply uns atisfying about this answer. Until I was ten years old my family told me that my mother had died in a car accident. This was not the truth. I have these photos, this evidence. I place them before me and say, This is where it happened. Do you see? I want to answer the ques tions I have. What was this childhood, this life, book-ended by death.
10 My name is Leah Carroll. My address is 1225 Pontiac Drive, Cranston, Rhode Island 02920. My phone number is 944-3655. Theses are al l things I know. My mom is proud when I know these things, and my Grandma tells me to remember them in case I ever get lost. My grandmas name is Ruth. My moms name is Joa n. My dads name is Kevin Im four years old and Ive just caught on that my parents have re gular names like I do. Kevin and Joan. Joan and Kevin. Its fascinating to me. I am eating a TV dinner, which I love because each part of the meal comes in its own little tin foil compartment. There is the square of bright green p eas, the square of crusty salted mashed potatoes, and the rectangle of Salisbury st eak. I also like TV dinners because I get to eat them in front of the TV off of a tray perched in my lap. I have a towel knotted around my neck in case I spill anything, but Im too big to spill, and so I resent the towel. Its like a giant bib, and bibs are for babies. I say, Kevin, I like the mashed potatoes be tter than the peas. What do you like Kevin? Dont call me Kevin, Leah, says my Dad. He is in the wingback chair next to the couch eating his own TV dinner. Joan, I say, why cant I call Daddy Kevin? My mom shrugs. My dad says, Because Im your father. You call me Daddy. But your name is Kevin, I say. If you call me Kevin one more time you re going to be in big trouble. I stab the peas with my fork and then wa ve it around in the air saying, Kevin, Kevin, Kevin, Daddys name is Kevin.
11 Suddenly my dad is out of the chair and gr abbing me under the shoulders. The tray falls to the ground. Salisbury steak splats on the wood fl oor, peas go rolling in all directions. My dad pushes open my bedroom door with his foot. The door bangs against the wall and bounces back towards us. Dad lets go of my armpits and I sail through the air. I land on my bed, stunned. I havent made a sound yet. Dad slams the door sh ut. The towel is still knotted around my neck, and I bob up and down on my waterbed, dumbstruck. I stare at the door an d let out a long wail. My leg hurts from where it hit the side of the bed when I la nded, and I cry and cry and cry, holding the towel to my face, and curling into a ball in the middle of the big undulating bed. Later my mom comes into my room and sits down on the bed. Crossing her legs Indianstyle, she pulls me onto her lap. She unknots th e towel and wipes my grimy face with it. Leah, Leah, she says, stroking my h ead, what are we going to do with you? I look up at her, terrified. Youre not going to call the police on me are you? I cant imagine anything more frightening than being arrested by the police. My mom gets a strange look on her face, like something has just occurred to her. She looks at me for a few seconds, and then starts running her fingers thr ough my hair again. No sweetie, she says. We wont call the police. There are times that are fun with Mom and Da d, like when they teach me all the words to Rock and Roll High School by the Ramones and then Mom and I make up a dance. I can make them laugh for hours while I use the coffee table as my stage, doing my Ramones routine. Sometimes Mom and Dad blast Beat It by Michael Jackson on the re cord player and I know all the words to that one too, and we all dance around the living room. Th e dogs go crazy running around our feet and jumping up on two legs.
12 There are other times, though, like the time Im in the backseat of my moms little blue Volkswagen. I am sitting next to a blond headed boy about my age, maybe three or four years old. My mom and the boys mom are sitting in th e front seats. The boy s mom has spiky blonde hair, and I think it is ugly, and not near ly as nice as my moms brown curls. My mom says, Okay, seatbelts on. I say, Click! hoping that my impersonation of a seatbelt being buckled will fool her and I wont have to put mine on. She looks in the rearview mirror, raises her eyebrow. Was that you saying click, or wa s that the seatbelt? she asks. It was the seatbelt, I say. I am practicing at becomi ng an expert liar. I lie about everything, just to see if I can get away with it. Ive also recently realized that I can think things in my head, and other people will have no idea wh at they are. Sometimes when Im driving with my mom I think, Shit, fuck, shit, and then look at her to see if shes noticed all the swear words Im thinking. Put on your seatbelt, Leah, says my mom as she starts the car and edges out into the street. We pull into a gas stati on parking lot and shut off the car again. The two moms roll down their windows and light cigarett es. The little blonde boy kicks the back of his mothers seat. When I do that I get yelled at, but his mom doe snt say anything, just looks bored and blows smoke out the window. I ask, Can I get a hot dog? Sometimes my da d and I walk down to this X-tra Mart and buy hot dogs and ice cream cones. Not now, says my mom.
13 I start to protest, because Im bored and hot in the backseat of the car, but then the blonde boys mom says, Oh shit, an d Im shocked out of my whining by her out-loud swear word. A police car pulls into the parking lot and the sp iky haired mom slides out of her seat and underneath the dashboard of the car. Why is she hiding, Mommy? I ask. My mom says, She stole a pack of cigarettes and if the police see her theyll arrest her and take her away. I look over at the blonde boy, s till slumped down next to me, banging rhythmically on the back of the front seat with his little feet. He seems unaffected by this information, but my heart is beating so hard in my chest I can feel it pulsing in my wrists and ankles. I keep very still, except for my pounding heart, waiting for the police car to pull out of the parking lot and leave us alone. The preschool I go to is called Wonderland, which sounded like it would be fun, but is definitely not. Firstly, I dont like getting dropped off by myse lf. In the mornings my dad pushes down the front seat of his car so I can climb out into the Wonderla nd parking lot. He looks at my face and then licks his thumb, wiping hard at my cheek with it. Then he drops me off. This is the worst. Every morning I scream and cling to his cl othing while he tries to peel me off of him and hand me over to the teachers. But the WORST part about Wonderland is lunc h. We eat off plasti c trays with little compartments for the food, but instead of the delicious little squares of the TV dinner, this tray is filled with a combination of f ood I think is disgusting. The egg noodles are cold and quivery and make me dry heave, for real, even though the t eacher says Im faking. And the absolute worst part about lunch is the Jell-O. I cant stand how it moves and wiggles. I cant imagine putting it into my mouth and eating it. Every day I try a diff erent method to avoid it. I hide it in my napkin,
14 I drop it on the ground, sometimes I just stare at th e tray, heaped with quivery disgusting Jell-O, shut my mouth tight and refuse to eat a single bite, even if it means I have stay inside while everyone else goes outside to play. I didnt always go to Wonderland. I used to ha ve a babysitter named Audrey, but that was before my paper bag nose happened. Audrey is my moms best friend. Shes white and her husband is black, and their kids are black too. I cant quite wrap my head around this fact. Audreys daughter shows me the palm of her hand where the skin is pink and says, See? I say, Youre white here, too and touch the side of her face which is covered in pink, fleshy spots. Destinys dad gave her a bath in the sink when she was a baby and accidentally poured scalding water all over her. She has scars all down the right side of her body. Destiny slaps my hand away and runs crying to Audrey. She says, Leah said Im black and youre white, so you cant be my Mom. Its true. I did say this. It seems to make sense to me. When my mom and I go out people stop us in the grocery store to te ll us how much we look alike. An old lady said to us yesterday, Youre baby is so pretty, just like you. I thought, Im not a baby, and glared at the old lady, but my mom just smiled and walked away. Audrey tells me, Leah, dont be prejudiced. I stomp outside. I wasnt trying to be prej udiced. Im embarrassed at being yelled at by Audrey and I feel stupid. I sit down on the hard plastic shelf of the swi ng set and grind my foot into a small anthill. Instantly I re gret it. The ants go skittering in all directions trying to find their
15 way back inside. I get down on the ground and poke at the anthill with a stick, trying to open it up again. Destiny comes out of the back door with her brother. They live on the bottom floor of a three family house, in Providence. My mom always calls Providence, the city. When I think of a city I think of Sesame Street, and to me A udreys neighborhood doesnt look all that different from my neighborhood in Cranston, except for that here all of the yards are separated by chain link fences, and the houses all have three storie s instead of one. It certainly doesnt look like Sesame Street with the front stoops and the big fire hydrant. Mom says we can go to the store, sa ys Destiny. Marcus will take us. Destiny opens the chain link gate and we walk out of the little back yard and onto the sidewalk. Im going to get a Coke, she says, and when I drink it Im going to say Aaahh like they do in the commercials. Do you want to do that too? I dont know what shes talking about really, but it sounds fun, so I say yes and the three of us head to the Cumberland Farms across the st reet. When we are about to cross Destiny asks, Do you want me to swing you? I say sure, and Destiny grabs my hands and swings me up over th e curb. Something goes wrong though and they drop me and suddenly I am sk idding, face first, into the concrete. I can remember the ground coming up at me, fast, fast, and then nothing. Later on, at home, I look at my face in the hallway mirror. My nose and forehead are all scabby and it reminds me of the way a crinkled paper bag looks. There are brown and red and pink scabs all in a line down my forehead and cove ring my nose. Some feel crusty and some feel soft and I cant see the skin on my nose at a ll. Thats how I get my paper bag nose and wind up at Wonderland. I poke at my scaly sk in and listen to my parents.
16 Dad is screaming at Mommy in the living room Hes saying, That slut is not going to watch my daughter anymore. I know hes talkin g about Audrey, because Mom is crying. I feel bad for getting her in trouble. Later that night I wake up a nd hear them fighting again. Dad is yelling at Mom, but I cant tell what hes saying. I walk out into the living room. My mom is sitting on the brown couch with the red and white flowers all over it. Shes crying. Dad is standing by the window. My moms dog, Brandy, is curled up at her feet. His yellowy tail thumps the ground when I walk in. My Dads Boxer, Ali, is sitt ing next to him, ears alert, face proud. He doesnt look away from my Dad when I come into the room. I ask, What are you fighting about? Mom says, Nothing Leah. Its okay. My dad says, Were fighting because I want your Mom to quit smoking. And I think Audrey makes her smoke. My mom glares at my Dad. He crosses his arms over his chest. I sit on the couch next to my mom. Brandy puts his head between us. His poop is orange, and my mom says it is because he has cancer. I l ove him with all the love that I have. Hes a ragged looking mutt who growls a nd bites, but with me he is gentle and protective, no matter how much I tug on his ears or try to ride him like a horse. Ali is too wild for me. He wins prizes at dog shows and does everything my dad tells him to, but hes too strong and knocks me down, and once he chewed on my play kitchen set. When I found the tooth marks in the little aluminum frying pan I cried for hours. You shouldnt smoke, Mommy, I say. Its bad for you. Dad comes and sits next to us on the couch, Ali trotting beside him. Will you tell me if your Mommy sees Audrey? he asks me.
17 Mom starts to cry again, which makes Brandy skittish. He staggers up on his weak hind legs and backs up a few paces. I nod yes, and prom ise to tell him, because I dont want my mom to smoke and get cancer like Brandy. My mom and I are a secret team, keeping secr ets from my Dad. One day she tells me we are taking the city bus. She makes it sound like a great adventure. I dont know where her little Volkswagen is. We go to her friends house in the city, and she leaves me in the living room for what feels like hours. Waiting for her to come back, I study the brow n letters on the outside of her purse and watch television in the darken ing room. I sit on the floor pulling at the long strands of brown carpet and wonder what is up th e set of stairs. We dont have stairs in my house. It seems like she is never coming back for me. When she does we get back on the city bus. Mo m says, Isnt this fun? I nod. It is fun, the way the bus lurches and wh eezes around the city. If you want to do this again, she goes on, you cant tell Daddy where we were. If you tell Daddy, Ill get in big trouble and we wont be able to ride the bus again. Do you unders tand? She kisses the top of my head. On another day, the Volkswagen is back, a nd my mom and I pull up in front of a small house with orange shutters and a bunch of st eps leading up from the sidewalk. Mom takes the keys out of the ignition and tells me to wait in the car. She leans over patting the space underneath the dashboard and tells me to get down there, and stay there until she comes back. Ill lock all the doors, she says. You have to stay right here, okay? I think I know what to do, because I rememb er when the spiky haired mom hid there from the police. But I dont know what Im hiding from. I think maybe its my dad. Lately weve been staying at my grandmothers house without him. Mom locks and shuts the car door. After a
18 few seconds I sneak a look out the window, even t hough she told me not to move. I see her back going up the stairs to the house. Sh es wearing a black leather jacket cut close at the hips. She walks up, up all those stairs. And then shes gone. But not right away. Not for real anyway. On the night she disappears for good, Mom packs my stuff into a blue suitcase and we go to my Grandmas house. I sit in the back of the car and snap the brass buckles on the suitcase open and closed. I dont want to stay at Grandmas house again, I say. Mom doesnt say anything back How come I always have to stay at Grandmas? I ask, but Mom ignores me. When we get there she takes the suitcase into the house. Gr andma is wiping the counter in the kitchen with a damp to wel. I hug her around her knees, a nd say, I love you Grammy, but I dont want to stay over tonight. Grandma just smiles like she doesnt hear me and kisses the top of my head. She looks just like my mom, but with white hair. The inside of her pocketbook smells like lipstick and gum. I sneak it open and leave her love notes and drawings. I steal tissues from the little package she keeps inside her purse and look at myself in her compact mirror. I put on her sunglasses and pretend to be her, hands around the imaginary steering wheel of her big blue Dodge. Because Mom and Grandma are ignoring me I go into the den. Grandpa is there in his reclining chair. Grandpa is always in his reclining chair. Its wher e he sleeps and eats and spends all his time. His dog, Spot, snores on his lap. He only gets up when Grandpa does
19 Grandpa tells a lot of jokes I dont ge t, and sings old fashioned songs like Hey good lookin/what you got cookin? Sometimes we watch The Three Stooges and Grandpa laughs and laughs and laughs. He tells me that the Stooges are Jewish, just like us. I curl up on the leather couch in the den and bring my knees to my chest. I start crying so Grandpa will notice me. He watche s the television. I te ll him Mommy says we have to stay over again. Grandpa doesnt look away from the TV screen. He says to me, Knock, knock. I sniff wetly and keep my head buried in my knees. Whos there? Boo. Boo who? I ask. Whaddaya cryin for? he asks, and looks at me, waits for my laugh, which comes, but doesnt stop the tears and I wipe my face on th e afghan, while Grandpa adjusts the TV antenna with his foot. Mom comes to the doorway of the den. Hi Dad, she says and kisses Grandpa on the cheek. Hi Joanie, says my Grandpa. My mom ha s a sister, my Aunty Sandy, but my mom is Grandpas favorite. Grandma told me so. Mom says, Leah If you dont stop cr ying you wont get your present. I run after her into kitchen where there is a big cardboard box, half as big as me. On the front is a picture of a vacuum, and a broom, and a mop. I start trying to tear the box open, anxious to get at the cleaning utensils inside. Grandma takes scissors fr om a drawer and says, Here Lee-Lee, Ill do it.
20 Together we pull out the miniature cleaning s upplies. I stroke the ropy ends of the mop, imagining all the games I will play with these toys. I will be a mommy, cleaning the house and yelling at the kids. I will be an orphan who has to clean the whole house before the orphanage lady comes back and beats me. I will be a princess, locked away by an evil witch, and made to clean her dungeon. I barely notice when Mom ki sses me and walks out the door. She turns and says, Ill be home late toni ght. Ill wake you up, okay? I hear her car rev up and out of the driveway as I push my broom around the orange and brown linoleum. Grandma ties a bandana around my head so I can be just like a real maid. Later that night Grandma lets me wear one of her housecoats over my pajamas. Its made out of maroon velour and goes down over my f eet. When we walk down the stairs Grandma holds up the back and keeps saying, Be careful, be careful, be careful each time I take a step. We make our special nighttime snack by pouring p eanuts and big fat golden raisins into a bowl and then shaking it up so theyre all mixed together. Grandma lets me have spoonful of peanut butter, and Im still licking the spoon when we go into the den and sit together on the couch. Grandpa says, That kids nuts for peanuts, and he and Grandma laugh. Grandma thinks that all of Grandpas jokes are funny. Grandpa puts the TV on Murder She Wrote That Angela Lansbury is one classy lady, says my grandma, and Grandpa agrees. Normally I just think Murder She Wrote is kind of boring and fall asleep on the sofa halfway through. But this nights episode is kind of scary. In it, a lady gets trapped inside of a bank safe and claws a me ssage into the metal lockers with her fingernails saying who shut her up inside. But she dies before she can finish, and Jessica Fletcher has to solve the case. Being trapped insi de of stuff really scares me so I ask Grandma if we can go upstairs. I dont want her to think Im a baby t hough, so I dont tell her Im afraid of the show.
21 She says, Sure, Lee-Lee, when the s hows over. Why dont you close your eyes? Thats what I do and then pretty soon Im as leep. I have a dream that three men come to the kitchen door of my grandparents house. They are pounding hard on the wooden door and in no time they bust through the chain lock and come storming into the house. Grammy starts to scream and tries to open the window of the den so that we can jump outside, but the window is stuck and she yanks and yanks, as the men ge t closer. Suddenly Grandpa rises up from his recliner. He picks the big chair up over his head and stands in the doorway of the hall blocking the room from the three men. He screams, Get the hell out of my hous e! Then he throws the recliner down the hallway and the men fall down like bowling pins. Get out! he screams again and starts to pick up the recliner a second time. The robbe rs run, screaming, out of the house. When I wake up, Grandma is lifting me off the sofa, and Grandpa is sitting in his chair, eyes closed. Shows over, sa ys Grammy, time for bed. I waddle sleepily up the stairs in my big hous edress. When Grandma is tucking me in, I say, Make sure Mommy wakes me up when she gets home. Grandma kisses me goodnight and doesnt say anything. Make sure, I say. This time she gets a strange look on her face. Did you like your present? she asks. I think of my cleaning supplies, of the day I have spent, hair tied up in a bandana, being punished by various made-up characters: the wi tch, the orphanage lady, the evil stepmother. Yes, I say, nodding adamantly. Good, Grandma says. Ill tell her, okay?
22 Im not sure if Grandma means that shell te ll my mom to wake me up, or that shell tell her I liked my present, but Im sleepy so I bur row down into the crocheted bedspread and close my eyes. When I wake up the sun shines bright and the bed next to me is untouched. Mommys not home, I think. When we stay at Grandmas house my mom and I sleep in the bed together. Its the bed that my mom slept in growing up. I walk down the stairs and into the kitchen. I can hear voices before I get there, and one of the voices is my dads. I run into the kitchen, surprised to see him there and he scoops me into the air. Mommys not home, I say. Grandma bends over the kitchen table and st arts to cry. She and my dad talk about Moms car. Dad says he wants to go out and look for it again. Grandma says we should let the police do that. Grandpa is in the den, sitting in his recliner. Th e TV is blaring loud, and the sound seeps into the kitchen. Wheres Mommy? I ask again. Im not scar ed, or confused really, just curious. Grandpa starts to cry again, and Dad puts me down on the ground and starts pacing around the kitchen. My grandmother stands up from kitchen table. Lets just go, she says to Dad. Lets go look for the car. I dont know what the police are doing. Good, Dad says quickly, shaking his car keys in his fist. Lets go, Ruth, he says. Lets just go. Grandpa goes into the den to tell Grandpa th ey are leaving. He tu rns up the television. Well be right back, she says to me. Her f ace is splotchy from crying, and her lipstick is all worn away around her mouth, except at the very edges. Her breath smells like coffee.
23 When they leave I kind of halfheartedly mop the floor with my toy mop, but its not as fun without my bandana tied around my head, and Grandma is the one who does that for me. I go into the living room and look at th e pictures in frames set up next to the expensive couch that Im not allowed to sit on. I make the faces in the pictures talk to each other. Hi Kevin and Joan, I make a picture of my Aunty Sandy say to a picture of my mom and dad. In the picture my aunt looks really pre tty. Shes wearing a green shirt that says Army and big silver earrings. Hi Leah, I make a picture of my mom say to me. Here I am says the picture. Here I am. Here I am. Here I am. There are things I know: Mom is missing and I am scared. There ar e things I dont know: Mom is dead. Her body is rotting in a cranberry bog off the side of I-95 and it will stay that way until one of her killers make a deal with the police. She will get buried in March, six months after she disappeared. Nobody will tell that my mom is dead. But I will figure it out. My grandmother and I live in a wo rld of make believe. Its not like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood of Make Believe. Theres no King Fr iday and Queen Saturday. I dont get to see Henrietta Pussycat, whom I love, in person. I don t get to cuddle with Daniel Striped Tiger who is so shy that he fills me w ith a sense of sadness deep within my stomach. There are no annoying breaks from our world of make believe for a vi sit to the pencil factor y or a chat with Mr. McFeely. Mr. Rogers doesnt pop up at the beginning of our day to narrate what happened the day before. He doesnt say Yesterday in Grandma a nd Leahs world of make believe they went to the Rhode Island Mall and Leah as ked Grandma if they could sit in the big pit in the middle filled with fake trees where all the old men smoke cigarettes and Grandma said NO of course not
24 and that Leah should never smoke because smoking kills you and Leah thought but Mom smokes The only real difference between our world of make believe and the rest of the regular world is that in our world of make believe, my mom is still alive. Theres no trolley car to signal the beginning and end of this make believe, so my grandma and I keep at it, relentlessly. At night I sleep with Grandma in her bed a nd Grandpa sleeps downsta irs in his recliner, like always. Before we go to bed, we say the Jewi sh prayer for protection. Grandma sleeps on the outside of the bed, and I sleep closest to the wa ll. Every night she opens the small blue prayer book on the nightstand and reads, Oh Lord, grant th at this night we may sleep in peace. And that in the morning our awakening may also be in peace. May our daytime be cloaked in your peace. Protect us and inspire us to think and act on ly out of love. Keep far from us all evil; may our paths be free from all obstacles from when we go out until we return home. Then we turn out the lights and Grandm a says, Now we pray for Joanie. In the darkened room I can just make out my grandmas silhouette in the light from the streetlamp that glows through the edges of the blinds. Her head is covered in plastic rollers and her nightdress makes a kind of zipping sound as it r ubs against the sheets. Her partial dentures sit in a glass of water on the night stand. The pink and silver of th em at the bottom of the cobalt tinted drinking glass always look like jewelry to me, like treasu re sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Dear God, says Grandma please bring Joanie home safe to us because we love her and miss her. When my grandmother says this I picture my mom sitting in a field under a big spreading tree. She seems happy enough, in my imagination, but I wish shed come back, from wherever
25 she is. Even then, as we pray, my mom seems to exist only in the world my grandma and I have created, this world of make beli eve. I know that if I went looking I would never find that tree. Its part of some other world, like the puppets from Someplace Else that sometimes make an appearance on Mr. Rogers and that throw me off a little bi t, make me just a little bit uncomfortable and a little bit unsure of what is real and what isnt. Sometimes, in the mornings, Grandma takes me with her to work at Klitzner Industries. Its a big factory in the middl e of Providence where they make pins and medals and emblems and the best thingAmerican flags inlaid w ith shiny red, white, and blue gemstones. Grandma lets me pin the American flags all over my jean jacket. I tell her I want to spell out LEAH on the back and she starts to arrange the flags in lette r shapes, but keeps getti ng distracted by all the people who come up to say hello to us. Most people who work at Klitzner Industries ar e very old, at least as old as my grandma, but they bring me pastries and tell me how much they love my mom and me. Once they let me put on a show by my Grandmas desk, upstairs, a bove the factory part of the building. I told them I would sing a song I learned in nursery school, but instead I made up all the words and punctuated them with pirouettes and held my fi sts up to my face to convey the proper emotion. Nobody seemed to know I was faking, because afte rward they all clapped and Grandma laughed, out loud, which she used to do all the time, but hadnt so much since Mom went away. Rhode Island, Grandma tells me, is the costume jewelry capital of the world. She pokes at the denim with the sharp stick of the shining American flag. By now Ive pretty much lost interest in the flags. Im working on the adding machine, and I make it send out an endless roll of narrow white paper covered in numbers and my own imaginary algebra. I calculate my age, grandmas age, moms age, Brandys age, Dad s age. I add them all together, then subtract
26 them again, add them some more. My tongue po kes from the edge of my mouth in fierce concentration. Grandma says we can leave soon, because she s not working, just visiting. As we walk out the door everyone stops us to say goodbye. Good luck, they tell my grandma. We love you, they say and rub their hands quickly across her arm, her back. What a brave little lady, a woman says to me as we are buzzed out the front door. Shes wearing a fur coat, a sure sign that shes some ki nd of villain, so I slink away from her and move around my grandmothers body. Thank you, Helen, says Grandma, and fur co at lady gives her a peck on the cheek. I tug at grandmas hand, anxious to get back to the car. When we leave Klitzner Grandma says she has errands to do. I hate errands, probably more than just about anything else. Sometimes when Mom has errands to do she lets me sit in the car, but Grandma is nervous I will get kidnapped, so she makes me go inside every place we stop, and the places are all boring. At the bank I try to swing from th e velvet ropes that crisscross the floor, but the brass poles holding them up go toppling down, crashing onto the marble floor, and Grandma squawks my name, shushing me and trying to lift up the ropes. At the market I pluck a grape as I roll past in the shopping cart, and grandma swats it out my hand. Thats stealing! she says. Grandma never ge ts mad at me; she just gets a little more nervous than usual, which is pretty nervous. She clutches the grape inside the palm of her hand looking all around. You could ge t arrested! she says. I say, Mom lets me eat grapes when we go shopping. Grandma is at a loss. No, she doesnt, sh e says, and it sounds like shes begging me to tell her Im lying, that I could not possibl y be telling the trut h. She looks horrified.
27 Sometimes, maybe because Grandma and I are together so much, I kind of like making her nervous, and I really am telling the truth, so I say it again, She does, I say, she always does. Every time we go shopping. And Dad lets me t oo. This second part is a small lie, because Ive never been to the market with Dad, but I say it anyway. Grandma looks at the waxy green grape in he r hand and drops it into the bin of oranges, her face stricken. Will Dad come get me soon? I ask. So metimes Dad picks me up and we go to Meshanticut Lake to feed the ducks a loaf of Wonderbread. Other times he takes me to Newport Creamery, or sometimes to Shawns Tavern, where I drink Shirley Temples and Dad orders me a hamburger. But he always drops me b ack off at Grandma and Grandpas house. Maybe when Mom comes back? I ask. Grandmas face breaks open. Its like all the li nes in her face go loose and her eyes get red and watery. I wish I hadnt said anything about Mom, so I say, Ill tell Mom and Dad its not okay to steal grapes from the market. Grandm a moves closer to the s hopping cart, pressing my face into her neck. Her chin digs into my head because shes shaking, but I dont tell her that it hurts. At night my Grandpa and Aunty Sandy and I al l watch television together. Tonight were watching the Wizard of Oz. Grandpa tells me that the horses of a different color in the Emerald City are painted with Jell-O powder. He says they had trouble finishing the scene because the horses kept licking the Jell-O off of themselves Grandpa is maybe the smartest person I know and knows everything about movies and Jewish people and war.
28 He tells me stories about when Mom and Aunty Sandy were little girls, and how much they loved the Wizard of Oz and Snow White. He says, Remember Sandy when we took the bus to see Snow White in the theater? He remembers so much at once that eventu ally Aunty Sandy says, Shhh, Dad. Im trying to watch the movie! She kisses me on the top of th e head, and I move closer to her, curling my legs up underneath me. Just when Dorothy is about to go up in the Wizards hot air balloon, the television screen goes blank. Suddenly there are chimes and a gra phic comes up on the TV. It reads: Channel 10 Special News Report. The chimes signaling the br eaking news continue as the graphic fades and the camera swoops down on the news anchors. They sit at a desk in front of an enlarged photograph of the Providence skyline: The Hospita l Trust building, the Biltmore Hotel, and the Textron Tower jutting up out flatness. I can feel Aunty Sandys body go stiff. Breaking news at this hour in the disappearance of Cranston woman, Joan Carroll, says Doug White. He has deep furrows in his brow and a kind of breathless exc itement in his voice. A picture appears over his left shoulde r. It takes a second for me to realize that the picture is of Aunty Sandy and my mom. Smiling, they sit in lawn chairs in a photograph taken at the Klitzner Industries yearly clambake. Its a strange feeling seeing my aunt on the TV. The TV! Its like it is real and not real. Aunty Sandy is on the TV. I feel like I should be ex cited, but I know better. Something is wrong. Something is awful. This is live footage, says the disembodi ed voice of Doug White. The video on the screen shows flashing police lights and police me n pulling a stretcher up over a grassy slope. There is a leathery brown sack on top of the stretcher. Inside the sack, I know, is a dead body. I dont know how I know that.
29 Those motherfuckers! screams my aunt, pi cking me up off the c ouch and running with me into the kitchen. Those fucking assholes! Mo therfuckers! She is screaming, and crying and, now, so am I because Ive heard my dad swear and Ive heard my mo m swear, but Ive never heard Aunty Sandy swear, and Ive never seen her look at me like this. Like Im there and like Im not there, like she doesnt know what to do with my body except squeeze me to her tightly so she doesnt really have to see me. Now she is crying, howling, in my ear, and I try to match her pitch and frequency, and its not hard because Im terrified. Grandpa yells from the den, Ca ll the news! Call the news! Aunty Sandy yells back, Those motherfuckers showed her skeleton! I dont remember any skeleton from the TV. I remember the body ba g and the flashing police lights, but for a long time now, whenever I picture my mom, that is wh at I picture: a skeleton. First there is Dorothy and the horses and all the make believe. Then ther e is a skeleton, which is a kind of make believe itself. After we see Moms skeleton on the TV, I know shes dead, because every one tells me shes not coming back and Im a child, but Im not stupid. Grandma and I dont pray anymore at night. Grandma lies in her bed most days, and when shes up, she bumps into things. One time sh e sneezed really hard, so loud it sounded like a scream and she looked up, stunned, and started to weep. She cried so hard that she started to hiccup and that made her cry more. But other than that she almost never makes a sound. Grandma usually talks all the time, so to see her so quiet scares me ; it scares me even more than the idea that Mom is never coming back, becau se by now Ive gotten us ed to her being gone. Right then its my grandma I miss, and I feel gui lty for every mean thing I ever said, for every time I ever screamed or whined, or told her a lie.
30 I never go to Moms funeral. Aunty Sandy tells me that Dad is coming to get me. She says, But Grandma and Grandpa and I still love you. And youll come see us every week, ok? I nod my head yes. I say yes, as if I have any control in where I go or who I see. Dad picks me up at Grandmas house in April. Grandpa says that spring is coming, but its still gray and icy. I cant play outside because th e wind cuts right through my winter jacket. Its the kind of weather that Grandma and Grandpa ca ll raw and I try to say the word like them, Rawr I say over and over, the way they do, so that it sounds like the noise a dragon or lion would make. Grandma has my blue suitcase all p acked and when Dad comes into the kitchen she says, And youll bring her back on Sunday? She says it like its the co ntinuation of some thought, some conversation shed been having with Dad already. She looks up into his face and I can see shes crying again. Dad says, Of course, Ruthie. I hug Dad around the legs, excited to be going with him. Grandma bends down and squeezes me tight; her smell of lipstick and Kleene x and clean hair is al l around us. I love you, she says. Be a good girl. In the living room I say goodbye to Grandpa. S pot perches on his lap and the two of them watch TV. Say bye to Spot, Grandpa says. I grab at both of Spots floppy ears and pull his face directly down to mine. I love you, Spot, I say. Make sure you take all your medicine. Grandpa has to give Spot special medicine fo r his heart, but Spot is too smart and wont take the pills. Grandpa has to hide them inside a saugie and even then sometimes Spot eats the
31 whole hot dog, and leaves the pill, licked clean, on the kitchen floor. When he does this Grandpa just laughs and pulls another saugie from the big boiling pot. He will cover one in yellow mustard and celery salt, a nd give it to me with a slice of br ead. I like saugies be tter than regular hot dogs because they snap when you bite into th em. Grandpa and I eat them in the den in front of the TV while we watch Judge Wapner. Now, no saugies in sight, Grandpa turns away from the TV to pat me on top of the head and tell me goodbye. It feels okay to be leavin g with Dad, but I miss Grandma and Grandpa. I dont want Dad to know, because I dont want to make him feel bad, but he tells me, Youll visit every Sunday. I promised your Grandma. Grandma waves at Dad and me as pull out of her driveway. Dad turns around at the end of the street where theres a bi g white sign with black lettering that says Dead End. It sounds so haunting and scary to me, and Im afraid to go past the sign, to the ch ain link fence and the lot covered in weeds. I dont know wh ats in the Dead End but I im agine its a place just like the one we saw on the news, filled with flashing lights and bodies in bags. It reminds me of Mom in a bad way, and I always look away. If sh es in there I dont want to know. I ask Dad, Will Brandy and Ali come to Aunty Ritas with us? Aunty Rita is Dads sister and were staying with her until we find an apartment of our own. Im sad we dont live in the little green house on Dixwell Ave anymore, mainly because I will miss our landlords, Joe and Mary. They liv e in the brown house next door, the one that seems impossibly big compared to any other hou se Im used to. It has two stories, like Grandmas house, but theres a bathroom on Joe a nd Marys second floor, and they have a giant sun porch that wraps around the back of the house.
32 Whenever I was there Mary would give me Milano cookies from the jar on her kitchen counter. I called them Joe and Ma ry cookies and she gave me as many as I wanted every time I visited. The last time I was there she taught me how to say the word animal properly: an-i mal, because I had been pronouncing it incorrectly: am-i nal. I said it the right way over and over in my headanimal, animal, animaland ev ery time I said it, the word sounded stranger, like a pretend word, like something I had made up. Dad says, Brandy and Ali had to go live on a farm because your cousin George is allergic to dogs. Can we visit them? I ask. I think that A li will be fine on a farm, chasing animals and probably biting them, but that Brandy will be lone ly because he is sick and because he loves Mom so much. He used to follow her all around our little house and watch everything she did. Nothing could break his concentration; he woul d look right past me no matter what I did, even when I would get on his back and put my face, upside down, in front of his and whisper, Braaaaaandy, Brandy is an aminal. Things are different at Aunty Ritas house from the way they were at Grandmas house. For one thing, Aunty Rita smokes like my mo m did. Grandma, Grandpa, Aunty Sandy, Dadthey all think smoking is disgusting, but A unty Rita smokes long cigarettes that say Virginia Slims in elegant green lettering up the side. In th e morning Aunty Rita makes coffee in the big, silver percolator and taps the end of her cigare tte against the edge of the kitchen sink, waiting for the coffee to brew. At night she stirs dumplings into the pot of beef stew, blowing cigarette smoke into the air and drinking a glass of white wine. Aunty Rita is so skinny that when she hugs me I can feel her tiny bones and I try not to squeeze too hard so I wont hurt her. Shes s hort, like my mom, but where Mom was round and
33 full, Aunty Rita is sharp and pointed. When she gets dressed in the morning she pulls her satin camisole against her chest, looks into the mirror of her vanity and says, Lets just hope you get boobies like your Mom instead of nothing like me. I blush when she says boobies and look away, but hope that I will look like my Mom instead of Aunty Rita when I grow up, because Aunty Rita looks old, much older than she is, and my mom was beautiful Everybody says so. While Aunty Rita is small and sharp, her boyfriend Danny is fat and round. He has a big bald shiny head and owns a meat market. He waddl es through the door at ni ght with big cuts of beef wrapped in white paper. Just put it in the freezer, Dan says Aunty Rita, gesturing with he r cigarette. She doesnt seem to like Danny very much and neither do I. Th ey sit in separate room s of the house all night; Aunty Rita sits in the kitchen smoking and dr inking wine and Danny moves from the TV room to Aunty Ritas bedroom, where he lies in bed watching television and dr inking manhattans. One night I go up to the bedroom and Danny beckons me over to the bed where he is sprawled, a glass nestled precariously ne xt to him on the sheets. Here, Leah, he says, I have a present for you. I walk reluctantly to the bed, not really wanting any present Danny would give me. He holds up a maraschino cherry betw een his thumb and forefinger. Close your eyes and open your mouth, he says. I close my eyes but refuse to open my mouth. Instead I hold out my hand. Danny laughs quietly and says, Stubborn little girl and drops the wet cherry into my palm. I open my eyes. Go ahead, he says. Eat it. Because Im used to cherries that come on t op of ice cream sundaes and not cherries that sink to the bottom of manhattans, I eat it without hesitating, and instantly st art to gag. It tastes
34 like gasoline. I spit it on to the rug and run downstairs, cr ying, the sound of Dannys laughter loud in my hot ears. I can still taste the alcohol and it makes me feel like throwing up. When I tell Aunty Rita what Danny did, she smoothes my hair gently away from my face and says, What a fat, bald shithead. Dad isnt around much because he works double shifts driving trucks for the Providence Journal, saving money for our apar tment. He delivers both editions of the paper: the Journal in the morning and Evening Bulletin at night. I th ink his job is very glamorous, because the newspaper is famous, and every time I see somebody reading one I tell them where my Dad works. Once Dad showed me how he fills the honor boxes with newspapers. He had a ring of keys with a big metal key chain that had the wo rds East Bay Distributio n stamped onto it, and the keys opened all the honor boxes. We didnt need a quarter to open them up like everyone else, and Dad said we could have free newspapers whenever we wanted them. Every time Dad walks out of Aunty Ritas door Im afraid he wont come back. Sometimes when he leaves I cry so hard that I make myself throw up and Aunty Rita has to make a bed for me on the couch and put a wet wa shcloth on my forehead. We stay up late and watch movies on HBO in the dark living room. A ll night I watch the glowing tip of my aunts cigarette move up and down from the coffee table to her mouth, and fall asleep waiting for Dad to come home. Aunty Rita tells me all the time that she wi shes she had a daughter to go with her three teenage boys: George, the oldest, Sean in the mi ddle, and Patrick, the youngest at twelve years old. She tells me that its just like Im her daughter, with me and Dad living in the house, and she lets me do whatever I want. She lets me sit at her vanity while I perform fake commercials for
35 Windex and Carlo Rossi wine, a nd anything else I find around the house. When I put her flesh colored under-eye concealer all over my lips she te lls me it looks beautiful. One night she sets up a candle light dinner for me and Patrick because I have a mild crush on him. She sets the kitchen table with long taper candles and a tablecloth and ginger ale in wi neglasses, and she laughs when my cousin kisses me on the cheek an d I run, screaming, from the room. Sometimes, late at night, while we wait for Da d to come home, she offers me a sip of her Michelob Light, and tells me about her parents, my grandparents, who died before I was born. She tells me how much my dad loved my grandmot her, who died when he and Aunty Rita were still kids. She says, Your Dad and I are called Irish twins. Do you know what that means? The door in the kitchen slams shut and George walks into the living room. Hi Ma, he says. Aunty Rita says, Tell Sean its time for Marissa to go home. Geor ge is seventeen and Sean is fifteen. Sean spends hours in his room with his girlfriend Marissa, but Aunty Rita makes her leave when it gets too late. Sean and Marissa walk quietly into the kitchen and Marissa say, Goodnight Mrs. McCormick, and then sh e and Sean step out onto the porch. Aunty Rita stubs out her ciga rette and goes on talking, Irish twins is what they called us in school because we were born so close togeth er we might as well be twins. We grew up together. Thats why you guys are here, right now. Because Ill always take care of you. At Grandmas house I was never allowed to st ay up this late, or to talk the way that Aunty Rita and I do, like were both grownups. But Grandmas house felt happier than this one. It was smaller, but brighter. Aunty Rita keeps he r curtains closed almost all the time. She says she doesnt want people looking in. She pulls the shade down behind the lace and touches the
36 fabric. She tells me what lace curtain Irish m eans, and then she laughs her raspy laugh when I ask if were lace curtain Irish because we have lace curtains. Most definitely not, she says. Most everything in Aunty Ritas house is orange and brown. On the mantel there are pictures of my dad and my aunt at their first communions. There are pictur es of Sean and George and Patrick when they were lit tle and old black and white pictur es of Dad and Auntys mom and dadmy dead grandparents. At Grandmas house there are pictures of Mom everywhere and a big framed picture of Mom and Dad at their wedding, but at Aunty Ritas house all of the pictures are old. They sit gather ing dust next to the framed sa yings that Aunty collects like An Irish Blessing decorated with Celtic crosses and gilt edged shamrocks. Aunty Rita teaches me to tell people that I am half-Irish and half -Jewish. She tells me that Dad should sign me up for Irish step-dancing le ssons, but I tell her Id ra ther take ballet, like Lindsay, the little girl who lives across the street from Aunty Rita and wears her hair back in a thick plastic headband, her bangs sticking out like a spiky crown. When we first get to my Aunts house Sean gives up his bedroom for Dad, and shares with George. Im supposed to share a room with Patrick, and sleep in one of the twin beds crammed into the corner of the wood-paneled walls. The problem is that Im terrified of Patricks room. He likes to sit in the da rk playing Atari and listening to music that sounds angry and loud. The room is covered in heavy metal posters: Ir on Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica. All around me are skulls and fire and chains and half-naked women. But the most terrifying poster of all is a cartoon-like drawing of a blond woman in a red dress. Her mouth is open in a grimace and her tongue is bright pink against her teeth. There is a man in a black ski mask behind her, and hes
37 strangling the woman with a piece of wire. But the worst part of the poster is the word, written in red lettering, dripping with re d blood. The word is: MURDER. When I first see the picture it sends me runni ng into the living room, where I squeeze into the corner between the brown plaid couch and the wall. I try not thinking about it, but I cant get the picture or the word out of my brain, no matter how tightly I squeeze my eyes shut. Patrick comes to find me and when he does, he kneels down and pushes the couch away from the wall so he can fit in next to me. He asks, Did something in my room scare you ? Patrick has longish brown hair that he wears in a rat-tail, ruddy skin, and chubby cheek s that make him look baby faced, though at twelve he seems old to me. I nod yes to his question but refuse to tell him what it was. Was it a poster? he asks. Again I nod yes. Was it a music poster? I shake my head no. Patricks reddish face gets pale. He asks, Did it have a word on it? A word that begins with M? I nod my head yes and start to cry because just the first letter of the word is so scary to me. Later I hear Pat and Aunty Rita in his room tearing down all the posters. Aunty Rita is muttering something quietly and Pat says, B ut Ma, I didnt know she could read! Even after the posters come down, Im too scared to sleep in Patricks room. At Grandmas house I always slept in bed with her, a nd so now I sleep in bed with Dad. At first its unofficial; I wont go to sleep unless Im in Dads room. But soon enough the room goes from being Dads room to being our room. Its the only place I feel safe.
38 Dad says I have to start school. I dont want to go, because I hated Wonderland so much, but Dad says this school is different, because this school is for big girls and not babies. He says, This is school, Leah. Not daycare. So I am enrolled in kindergarten at Giant St eps, a small private school in Swansea, right near Aunty Ritas house. Giant St eps, Im told, is progressive, and its important I go to a progressive school because Im smart. I already know how to read and how to print, and Aunty Rita says Im five going on fifteen. Giant Steps is a house in which most of the walls have been demolished to make a large open space where children aged K3 all interact with one another. The principals name is Miss Razza. Shes terrifying and awesome, a huge woma n with a red face and a wild head of black curly hair. Our other teachers are Miss Southern, whose blonde hair is cut short, like a boys, and Miss Sullivan, who has long blond hair and wears plaid jumpers over turtlenecks and who is my instant favorite. At Giant Steps, they dont believe in the strict guidelines for what children should be learning at specific ages. Miss Razza says that children will learn what you teach them, so in kindergarten we spend as much time drawing and painting as we do discussing current events in a circle, sitting indian style. Were divided no t by a grade number: kindergarten, first, second, third; instead we are divided into groups named af ter the planets. They do this, Dad tells me, so we dont feel like one group is better or smarter than the other, but even at five I know it is better to be in Mars than Pluto, and when Chris S eal misspells the word volcano in front of the whole school, we know that his move fr om Jupiter to Saturn was a demotion. Its disorienting and awful at first to be ta ken to school in the morning. When I stayed with Grandma we would be togeth er all day, and so now I hate being dropped off with strangers.
39 I get used to it, though, because the teachers like me, it seems, a nd pay special attention to me. They ask me how I am a lot, and how Im feeli ng and if I like living with my dad. I tell them good, and fine, and yes I do, but I start to avoid their faces, their crinkled eyes the little pats they give me on the head. I start to make friends. I meet Rebecca and I wa nt to impress her. I tell her the thing I believe is most impressive about myself. I say, My mom is dead. Rebecca is small, much smaller than me, though were the same age. Its perfect to play house with her because her size dictates that Im always the mom and shes always the baby. She looks up from where she is curled on the gr ound, thumb in mouth, pretending to be my baby daughter. She says solemnly, My mom is a doctor. Later, Miss Razza asks me what I sa id to Rebecca about my mom. My moms dead, I say. Why do you think that? asks Miss Razza. I shrug, annoyed by Miss Razzas questions a nd her constant concern. I dont know why I think my moms dead. I just do. Maybe its something I overheard, maybe its something I figure out for myself. I am smart after all, smart enough to be in Mars and not Pluto. Miss Razza asks, Leah, where is your Mom? I cock my head to the left and roll my eyes, put my hand on my hip and sigh. My mom is dead, I tell her again. What about this does she not understa nd? Mom is gone and now its me and Dad. Its almost like Mom was never there. It turns out that when Dad enrolled me in Giant Steps he told Miss Razza he was divorced. My constant refrain, all of my school yard bragging about my dead mom, makes Miss
40 Razza and the other teachers think Im a dement ed child of divorce, abandoned by a wicked mother and trying to cope the best way that I can. For all of their attention to progressive learning techniques, we have some strange rules at Giant Steps. Were only allowed to write in curs ive; we never print. We are only allowed to color up and down, never side to side. Once, when we are given an assignment to draw the inside of our houses, Miss Razza is enra ged by our finished projects. What do you call these? she screams. She s holding a piece of oaktag, covered in colored pencil depicting a kitchen. What is th is supposed to be? she asks, pointing at something that looks like a ladder, dr awn next to the table and chairs. She brings the drawing to Kelly OConnor, a girl who always has her hair pulled back into a perfect french braid. What is th is supposed to be? Miss Razza asks again. Kelly is literally shaking. Big round tears drop off of her cheeks and onto the table in front of her. Its stairs, she says. Its the stairs in my k itchen. I didnt know how to draw them. Miss Razza has no sympathy for Kellys tears. She says, These dont look anything like stairs. This isnt how you draw stairs. Didn t Miss Coffee teach you anything about drawing? She tosses Kellys art project back onto the pile and shuffles the whole stack furiously. She leaves the room in a huff and we hear her offi ce door slam close. Miss Coffee, our art teacher, grabs the stack of oaktag and looks ar ound, seeming close to tears herself. We sit, silent, patiently wa iting for Miss Coffees direction, all secretly grateful it was Kelly who was yelled at, instead of ourselves. Fr ee time! says Miss Coffee and runs to Miss Razzas office. When she emerges her face is blotchy and shes carrying her purse.
41 Later, Rebecca tells me that Miss Coff ee was fired. I heard Miss Razza call her a hippie, she says. We can tell there is a compli cated relationship between the adults, with Miss Razza firmly in command, and Miss Southern clearly her favorite. Rebecca and I are favorites of Miss Razza as well. I proudly tell my dad, Im the teachers pet, after another child taunts me with the phrase. We seem immune to Miss Razzas rage and ar e always being taken out of the classroom to have our reading and test skills measured by long standardized tests. For one of these Im assigned to write an essay on an animal and I choose to write about foxes. Armed with a dictionary and an encyclopedia entry I write my one page paper with thorough concentration. When I give it to Miss Razza she reads it silently until she comes to the last paragraph. Then she calls Miss Southern over to read my paper. Her face is scarlet and shes shaking, but not with anger or frustration. When she ha nds the sheet of paper to Miss Southern they both explode with laughter. Miss Razza gives me my essay and points out the sentence they find so funny. Ive written, the female fox is very proud of her beautiful white breasts. Miss Razza says, I think you meant to say breast, singular, not plural. Th en she squeezes me on the shoulder and tells me what a good job Ive done. From these tests we know that Rebecca and I ca n read at an eighth grade level, but that Rebecca also excels in math, where as I am merely learning math concepts at my age level. Im terribly jealous of her for th is and I keep it a secret when I proudly tell everyone I know how well I can read. On Sundays when Im with Grandma I offer to read things aloud for her and she never fails to be impressed by me.
42 Once in Miss Sullivans class we are given an assignment to look up the first word in the dictionary. Everyone else rushes to the bookcases to grab a reference, but I stay seated looking calm and sure of myself. Rebecca decides she sh ould just write down whatever I write down. Later, Miss Sullivan calls us up and holds out the two sheets of lined paper on which weve written our definitions. Did you girls copy each other? sh e asks. Thats cheating, you know. Rebecca and I shake our heads no, we swear we did not copy, we promise we did not cheat. Miss Sullivan asks, Are you sure? The word we have written on our piece of paper, the word we have defined and classified as the first word in the di ctionary is this: Haircut. When Miss Sullivan sends us to Miss Razzas office, Miss Razza just laughs and hangs our papers on her bulletin board. The tw o of you certainly are creative, she says. But there are other times that we dont get away with things so easily. As five year olds were learning our multiplication tables. The ones and twos are easy. Even the fives and elevens have a trick. But the times table we just cannot grasp is zero. None of us can understand how if you add something to something you could po ssibly wind up with nothing. It cant be demonstrated with pie pieces, and because weve been trained to question things, too think critically we want to know why something multiplied by zero becomes zero. We want the reason. Because thats just how it is! Miss Southe rn says. Weve been going over the concept the whole morning. What about this do you not understand! Its just how it is! Somebody starts to cry; its pr obably Kelly OConnor, and then we have to write out our times tables over and over. Im anxious every time I write a number times zero and have to write
43 zero. All I want is an explanation. Sometimes, when Dad doesnt have to work the dayshift at the Journal he lets me stay home from school. So metimes even when Dad does have to work, I pretend to be sick so that he wi ll have to stay home with me. I get so good at pretending that I can make myself throw up on cue, but once Ive th rown up I feel terrible, and the line between pretending to be sick, and being sick for real, blurs. Sometimes I get so nervous when Dad is leaving for work that I start to feel sick to my stomach and I cry and beg him not to go. Im afraid that if he leaves he wont come back. On the days when Dad and I stay home he says were being bums Being bums involves eating instant oatmeal that Dad prepares by mixi ng it with water and then pouring in a dash of milk and covering the whole thi ng with sugar so that when y ou take the first few bites the oatmeal crunches between your teeth. Then we ta ke our oatmeal into Aunty Ritas living room and watch cartoons. My favorite cartoon is Inspector Gadget, and sometimes I talk to Dad pretending that my fingers are a phone, just like Gadge ts. I pull out an imaginary antenna from my index finger and say, Ring, ring. Dad pulls out his finger antenna and answers the phone. This is Inspector Gadget, I say. Can I talk to Leah? asks Dad. I say, Hello Daddy, this is Leah. Dad says, still holding his imaginary phone to his ear,Did you tell Miss Razza that Mom was dead? I look at Dad sitting at the other end of th e plaid couch. Between us is a small mountain of pillows and blankets that weve moved from the bedroom. This is another condition of being
44 bums. I move my hand away from my face. I know Dad isnt playing the game anymore. Im worried I will get in trouble. Did you say that, Leah? he asks. Yes, I say. Why did you say that? What do you think happened to Mom? This is a difficult question to answer. I th ink a lot of things happened to Mom. I think shes in heaven maybe with God, because thats who Grandma and I would pray too. I think she is bonesbones in a bag, bones under the ground. I th ink also that she just went away, that she disappeared and that this kind of disappearance is what death is Thats why sometimes I get so nervous when Dad leaves. It seems like anyone at anytime could just disappear that same way, could just die. Do you want to know what happened to Mom? he asks. He still, improbably, is holding up the imaginary phone, talking into his index fing er, like Inspector Gadget. Before I can say yes, Dad goes on, Mom died in a car accident, he says. Do you understand what that means? Surely this is not the first lie Dad has told me and wont be the last, but it is, I think now, the most justifiable of all his fictions. Its one th ing, I guess, to tell a five year old that her mom is dead. Its something else entirely to tell he r she was murdered. And so I latch onto this story, despite my prescient terror over Pats murder poste r, and despite the way that the news will send me into hysterics, send me running from the room and covering my ears. I gr ab onto this lie and I believe it, and for many years my Dad and I make it the truth. I say, It means shes not coming back. And Dad says, It means were our own fam ily now and that I love you very much.
45 Sometime I beg Dad to let me stay home from school, but because hes gotten a promotion at the Providence Journal, he cant stay home and be bums with me. This is maybe the best of all because if he says yes, then I get to go to work with him. When we go to Dads work we drive into downtown Providence to the Jour nals seemingly huge office on Fountain Street, right next to the Biltmore Hotel, where men in black suits stand beneath the brass and burgundy awning waiting to park the cars of people th at I can only assume are fabulously rich. Dad works on the third floor and we take the elevator up to his cubicle. He has a triangular plaque that reads Kevin Carroll, Distribution next to his computer and a big black and white calendar pinned to the dividi ng walls of his little office. He also has a rolling office chair, similar in style to the one favored by Dr. Claw, the faceless villain from Inspector Gadget, and I like to sit in the chair, my back towards my dad, and pretend to be giving evil orders. Dad shows me where they make the newspape r; he shows me the huge machines that cut the giant reams of paper and print the words. In the middle of the machinery is a long twisting slide, where the finished and bundled newspapers shoot down to the trucks for delivery. Every time Dad will ask if I want to slide down. He says hell do it with me. Every time I tell myself that this is the visit Ill go down the giant slide. I can picture the truck drivers faces, all my dads friends, when we come out the other end inst ead of a bundle of newspapers. But every time I chicken out at the last second. The machinery is loud and metallic and the slide seems to high. Im afraid of getting hurt. At lunch time we go to Murphys Pub and De li with all the guys from Dads office. Its across the street from the Journal office, tuck ed behind the hulking buildings of Westminster Street, shady and cool inside even when the sun is shining brightly. I lo ve being inside Murphys with Dad and his friends. Everything inside is a different shade of green, from the felt coasters
46 on the table, to the wooden bowl of pickled tomatoes and cucumber s that the waitress, winking at me and Dad, slides in front of us. Cute date, Kev, she says. Marie, this is my daughter, Leah, he says, reaching up to loop his arm lightly around her waist. My grandmother ha s told me how handsome my Dad is, with his Tom Selleck mustache and thick head of salt a nd pepper hair. Dad started to go gray in his early twenties but never tried to hide it. It was so mething that distinguished him, a nd his gray hair became his pride and joy. He primped in front every window, ever y mirror, smoothing back all that hair and saying, Your dad is one good looking man. Even then I understood it to be a boast based on fact, something that was confirmed every time a woman laughed too loudly at one of his jokes and leaned in to touch his arm, every time he wo uld walk into a room and smile his big confident smile and everyone would yell, Kev! Well look at you Leah, with those beau tiful brown eyes. W ould you like a Shirley Temple? Marie leans in close to me and I can fe el her hair brush against my face and smell her perfume. Shes a lady in the way that grandma us ed to be, and Aunty R ita is not, and I blush despite myself. Extra cherries? Marie winks at me and I look away. We eat corned beef sandwiches and potat o salad, and Dad and all his friends drink Heinekins and laugh. The men all call me Princess L eah, after the character from Star Wars, and even though my name is pronounced differently, I still love the nickname and the attention and the way that all the men laugh at my dads jokes a nd tilt their heads back to get the last drop of beer before they push their chairs back from the table and say Back to work! Being inside Murphys is like being inside of a cool green cocoon, its like be ing inside the belly of some
47 enormous friendly whale, and some of the men rock on their heels as we walk back to the Journal offices. Its a Friday and Dad tells me that hes going to drop me off at Grandmas house for the weekend. Going to Grandmas is part routine an d part despair. I have a bedtime there, and Grandma worries too much and Im terrified that Da d wont come back to pick me up. But it also feels safe, it feels right, the one constant thing in my life; Grandpa will be in his recliner, with Spot on his lap, Grandma will be in the kitche n talking on the phone, the spiral cord wrapped around her legs and waist as she tries to move around to clean the counters and scribble on a sheet of paper, the china sits silently in the breakfront, stacked for some occasion that will never happen. Grandma will point to the china closet and say, Someday these will be yours. Theyre antiques and theyre very special. Dad and I drive away from the Providence Journal and out onto the highway, to Grandmas house. When I look behind me I see the s kyline, its three tall buildings jutting into the sky surrounded by lights coming on in as the sun sets. When will you pick me up? I ask. Ill get you on Sunday, he says, downshifting the Volkswagen Rabbit as he turns onto Grandmas street. Dad always lets me sit in the front seat, but Grandma makes me sit in the back. She says its safer. When we get inside Grandma is all pani cky energy. She hangs up the phone and says, The hurricane is coming tomorrow. Do you think it will be bad? Grandma is so small that she has to look up into Dads face when she talks to him, just like me Her expression is etched with terror. I start to cry. Ruthie, says Dad. Itll be fine. Ill be back on Sunday. Its just a storm.
48 Okay, says Grandma. Well be able to call you? If it gets bad? Well be fine in the house? You think? Grandma can turn any series of statements into a string of questions, and even I am so accustomed to it that I can usually just ignore it, but the id ea of hurricane is scary, especially if Dad wont be there. Please Daddy, I say, please come ge t me before the hurricane starts. Dad leaves Grandma his work phone number and promises that hell come get me if the storm is too bad. He says, I promise Leah. Just call me. When he leaves Grandma and I tape up th e windows with big x s of masking tape. Grandpa has the news on and the T.V. shows imag es of the grocery store, mobbed with people. Grandpa asks, Ruthie, did you get bread and milk? Is there food for Leah to eat? Yes, Lou! says Grandma. She walks into th e den to list off the things she bought at the market, and then stops to watch the footage on th e television. There is a graphic of a hurricane with huge yellow letters beneath th at read Hurricane Gloria. It s raining a little outside, but nothing severe, and I wonder when the hurricane will st art. All I want is for Dad to come get me. When Grandma and I go to bed that night, I see that Dad forgot to pack my bear, Charlie. Grandma tucks me in to my side of the bed we sh are and looks in the closet for a stuffed animal. The ones she finds are old and feel hard and I do nt want to use them, but I cant sleep without something. Grandma bunches up a corner of her gr een and purple comforter and holds it in her fist. See, she says, holding the bundle of fabric cl ose to me, its just like a stuffed animal. This is really all a stuffed animal is. I grab the wad of comforter. Im exhausted fr om my day at Dads office, from the fear of the hurricane and I hold onto the littl e lump crying silent, defeated tears. Its not at all like a
49 stuffed animal. Grandma knows it and she rubs my back until I fall asleep. Over and over she whispers, Poor Leah.
50 PEOPLE I WENT TO HIGH SCH OOL WITH WHO ARE DEAD NOW Kate F. was tall and blonde and as rumor ha d it, she fucked Aaron P. at a keg party in front of a room full of people. I thought she was ruined and beautiful and I wanted to be just like her. She had a kind of strange down-turned mout h that made her look perpetually sulky and I practiced the look sometimes in my bedroom mirror. I would im agine that, like Kate, I was on the field hockey team, and that, like her I was a juni or instead of a freshman, that like her, I was blonde and curvy, instead of dark and small. People whispered things about Kate F. Mean th ings. She wasnt as smart or pretty as her two older sisters. She wasnt as good at field hockey. She was slu tty. And most often: there was something just not quite right a bout her, she was off somehow, she was crazy. But still, she hung out with the most popular people, she was at the best parties, sh e sailed and her parents belonged to the country club. And all of th ese whispers about Kate F. just made me worship her more. I thought she was dramatic and interesting, and not like the other bland, demure girls who ran the school. This is my most vivid memory of Kate: It is September of my freshman year in high school and we are playing field hockey in last period gym class. The sun shines warm and low and a breeze shakes the trees all around us. Th ere is a beautiful suburban cacophony of cars, and tennis balls bouncing off the asphalt, and teenage girls laughing, and the dull thwack of a field hockey ball against the wooden s tick. And for some reason all this light and sound, all of these people and their perfect lives, the way the warm wind feels brushing against my skin when I am fourteen and alone and terrified, it just makes me want to scream And standing next to me is Kate. The wind blows her honey colored hair around her head and she stands in the middle of the
51 field, balancing her field hockey st ick absent-mindedly with two of her fingers. She is wearing a white tee shirt and blue shorts. I smell her pe rfume; White Musk from the Body Shop. It is cloying and over sweet. Her mouth is turned down, like always, and there is a faint pattern of bruises all around her wrist. In that moment I th ink we may be the only two people in the world who are real. Later on in my life I thought about that mo ment in the green grass behind the tennis courts of my high school. I thought how maybe in that split second I so mehow sealed Kates fate, dooming her to kill herself five years later, dooming her to fling hersel f fourteen stories out of her sisters apartment building. I thought abou t how her hair must have looked streaming out behind her as she fell towards the ground. The house I grew up in was deadly quiet and smelled like my father and my tottering, overweight, dandruffy cocker spaniel. I loved my dog with an intensity and openness that I reserved for Shilo and Shilo alone. When her hips started to go bad I would hoist her into my bed and stay there for hours, scratching her back and belly and chin. In return she would half shut her eyes in ecstasy and leave my bed coated in black fur and my fingernails caked with large flakes of her dead skin. Maybe because I was used to it, I never noticed her smell, until one time my friend Seth came into my bedroom and wrinkled his nose in distaste. Your house always smells weird, he sniffed the air and searched fo r the perfect word to describe the smell. It smells like, humiditiy, he nodded slightly, satisfied with his choice. From that time on I banished Shilo from my bedroom. To this day I am still sensitive about smells. I mop and Lysol obses sively, I stand with the refrigerator door open for minutes at a time, sniffing and disposing of day old food. Bu t of all the misspent tim e of my youth, one of
52 the things I regret the most is those last few years that I lost with my smelly, barrel shaped dog, her warm body curled into mine like a shrim p, those hours of uninhibited mutual adoration. My fathers scent was different and one that couldnt be so easily eliminated from my life. He doused himself daily in Polo cologne, but as the years went on there was another, different scent that lingered beneath the first one In spite of his hepa titis and hypertension he drank an endless rotation of Jamesons whiskey and Miller L ite. As he got older and sicker I could smell his insides decaying. One time in high school I sneaked out of the house and spent the night with my friends at a rest stop off of Rt. 195. I wa s maybe fifteen and slept crammed into the opened hatchback of my friends Ford Escort. Though Id smoked pot before that was the first ni ght I ever really got high and I remember a kind of epiphany crystallizi ng in my mind, an Oh, this is what people are talking about, before the full on haze of ho megrown Alaskan Thunderfuck wrapped itself all around me. When I came home in the early hours of the morning, dizzy from lack of sleep, my dad was up waiting for me. He screamed at me fo r hours, poking his finge r into my breastbone, flecks of spit flying out of his mouth, while my stepmother sat silently across from me on the couch. Finally he stopped and tears started to roll down his face. The sun now was shining brightly into the living room a nd I could see the dust coating ev erything, the picture frames, the glass coffee table, two inches deep on the television screen. He said, I thought you were fucking dead. His words sounded like he was swallowing them while he spoke them. I had never seen my father cry before when he was sober. I we nt to him and wrapped my arms around his chest. He was wearing a blue sweater and I turned my f ace into it, breathing in the spicy scent of Polo
53 and the darker, sweeter undertone of his distinct smell. I knew th at we were both standing there and thinking of my mother. Thi nking of how she left one night and then ten months later the police were digging her body up from besi de a cranberry bog in Sharon, MA. My father pushed me away. Go get some sleep, he said. You smell like a pack of cigarettes. I went to my room and let myself weep, re lieved that the screaming was over. I think I knew even then my father was dying. He killed hi mself four years later, only a few months after Kate F. committed suicide. By that time Dean R. was already dead. Seth and Jimmy M would come next, both at the same time, overdosing on ether theyd stolen from the Massachusetts pharmaceutical school. And then Katie B, two years later, murdered by Ronnie R, her high school boyfriend, in the driveway of his big gaping house on Rumstick Road. Dean was the first to die. It was the summer after high school was over and before all of my friends had left for college. It seems now that I spent the en tire three months of that summer in the sprawling beachfront estate of my frie nd John. Johns parents were on a perpetual summer getaway somewhere exotic and exclusive. My stepmother had divorced my father two years before and though I fancied myself worldly and expe rienced, I had lived most of my life in an affluent suburb and my fathers new tiny apartm ent in South Providence scared the shit out of me. He lived in a row of stately Victoria n houses, the neighborhood headed towards gentrification, but not quite ther e. From my Dads window I coul d see the Columbus Theater, maybe the last pornographic movie theater in Rh ode Island. Its marquee was a mess of letters and symbols, the titles themselv es of most of the films too di rty to spell out completely. The bottom row of the marquee never changed, a syncopa ted row of xs in triplicate wrapping all the
54 way around. On one of the first days I lived ther e I went to the small grocery store across the street from his apartment to buy soy milk and wa s shocked to find that nearly every item there was a Goya product. I reported this to my dad in a kind of horror and he smiled at my naivete. Try the guava nectar, he told me. Its pretty tasty. He tried I think, my Dad. He bought a futon that I folded out at ni ght and together we attempted to learn to use the in ternet. He let me hang the gorge ous photographs he had taken and I did it with a childs sensibility, nailing the frames everywhere, some upside down, some crooked on the walls. Mostly though, we avoided each other, avoided certai n realizations about one another. Here I was, his bril liant girl, the child he had taught to read at three years old. The little girl who at ten years old and hospitalized for a burst appe ndix, he had dutifully sat by for hours reading out loud to from the collected work s of Steinbeck. Grapes of Wrath. Cannery Row. Of Mice and Men. And now I was seventeen. A hi gh school dropout with no prospects to speak of. And here he was, my giant of a father, that dashing man who had filled the hole left by the death of my mother, his dark hair and must ache now completely white, his brilliance cut by liquor and disease, his body slowly emptying itself out, offering itself up. I would hear him retching in the bathroom when he tried to eat, even when he was sober. I could smell the piss on his sheets in the mornings. I wiped the blood fr om the door frame he had come barreling through earlier in the night, as I made my escape from that sweltering apartment to the cool open porch of Johns house in Barrington. That was the summer I would leave a note for my Dad and then spend a week straight at Johns, rising early and alone to sit on the porch overlooking Na rrangansett Bay. I drank grappa pilfered from his parents li quor cabinent out of a juice glass and watched the sun come up,
55 wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life. That was the su mmer that Kate F. was found by the police, two years out of high school, na ked and screaming at the burned out shell of the old Dairy Mart. Everyone laughed and rolled th eir eyes; see, she really was crazy. That was the summer Dean died. Dean R. had a fraternal twin named Steve, but they were inseparabl e and so alike we all assumed they were identical. We didnt distingu ish between the two of them, calling them Stean and Deve or justthe twins. It was only after Dean got cancer th at you could tell the two of them apart. The cancer started in his leg as a dull ache, something the boys in our group of friends would tease him about. Did that hurt, you pussy? one of them would ask as he punched him in the left thigh. Dean, ever good-natured, laughed it off, rubbing hi s sore leg and taking the abuse. After he had been limping for months his mother made an ap pointment with the doctor. By that time the cancer had almost completely eaten away at the bone and soon Dean had to use a crutch, then two crutches, then a wheelchair. I saw him once, right before I left high school for good, sitting outside of one of the boys bathrooms. What are you doing? I asked. He looked d azed and yellow in the fluorescent lights. I dont know, he said, I was in study hall a nd started to feel sic k, He looked up at me, his face bloated and shadowed beneath his baseball hat. There were deep circles under his eyes. He sort of scrunched up his s houlders and stretched his hands out, palms up, a gesture of oh well what are you gonna do, I guess this kind of thi ng just happens. I didn t know then if I was supposed to pretend that it was normal for him to be throwing up at 10:00 in the morning or
56 acknowledge something about his cancer. His left leg was encased in a giant cast and it sat propped in front of him in the chai r, bent slightly at the knee. I heard that later on, right before summer started, the doctors amputated his leg. We didnt see either of the twins un til Dean died that August. A few days after it happened Steve came to Johns house. Seth, he of the unfort unate forthcoming ether incident, brought over mushrooms and we ate them and sprawled out on Johns back lawn. I saw the moon eclipse itself into a bright shining hoop of light an d rolled over to tell my friend Alex. We need popsicles, she said. More than anything. We do, I agreed. We stood to go into the house and saw Steve on the deck, prostrate in a lounge chair, staring at the sky and wearing D eans baseball hat. I realized I had never seen him without his brother before. Later that night in the attic bedroom of J ohns house that I had claimed for my own, I lay sweating in front of a box fan and thought about the cancer eating away at Deans spine, into his brain, eating away at everything. Coming down fro m the mushrooms I felt greasy and paranoid. I kept seeing Dean crouched at the edge of my vi sion, looking like he was ready to spring towards me. It was the end of August and Johns parent s were coming back to their house soon. People were packing and preparing to leave fo r college, headed to California, Connecticut, Boston, Maine, all places that seemed airy and op en, endless. I retreated back to my fathers apartment in Providence briefly before moving in with an aunt. I know now that this was about the time Kate F. moved in with her sister away from Barrington and the sidelong glances.
57 I cant tell you exactly, what the connection is between Kates death and my fathers death. They were both suicides, I suppose, but th ere is something else, something I cant quite grasp. I know only that somehow one he lps me to explain the other. There was a time, after I had moved out of my fathers apartment, after that summer was over, when the fall had begun, and Kate F. had ju st jumped from her sisters window, that my Dad picked me up at my aunts house. He was teaching me to take photographs and I asked him about this one photo he had taken of me as a chil d. In it, I was sitting next to a window and the sun light was streaming in all around me. I loved that picture and looking at it always made me feel sad for the little girl pictur ed there, with her brown overalls, and her curls glowing in the soft light. It was something in the way I held out my hand toward the camera, something in the determined set of my chubby jaw and the look in my eyes, that I didn t recognize in myself anymore. I can teach you about light, said my Dad. But first we have to find the perfect rose. The first florist we went to was a miss. Th eir roses were wrapped in plastic and crowded with babys breath. At the next florist my Dad found what he was looking for. Propping open the cooler door he pulled the long st emmed rose from the bucket, and handed it to me, its wet stem dripping onto the tile, its petals peeling outward and curving gently at the ends. The sun was setting as we drove back to his apartment. This is the perfect time of day, he sai d. His apartment windows faced west and flooded the room with light. When he opened the door th e smell made me hesitate a second before going inside. Everything inside was tidy, but unused an d grimy. All of those wonderful photographs on the wall were coated in a thin film. The apartment was rotting.
58 My dad placed the rose on a windowsill and showed me how to set my camera to the manual function, how to best capture the light on the red petals of the flower. I focused the camera and shot almost an entire roll of film He came out from his bedroom carrying his large camera bag and a tripod. He put the bag down on the futon and unzipped it. Theres some really good lenses in here, he said. My best ones, and some filters and stuff too. Youll learn how to use them. He zipped the bag back up and held it out towards me. I want you to have them. Im not going to need them anymore. This I think is the instant that reminds me most of that afternoon on the soccer field behind my high school. What if I had said someth ing, instead of let the revulsion, the impatience rise inside of me? Was I goading him with my silen ce to do it, to finally ju st get it done with for real? I took the bag from him. A nd when I think of it now I swear that when he let go I felt like I was in freefall, like I had just stepped off of some awful precip ice, stepped right out of the window and into all that li ght, all that nothingness.
59 WHO YOU ARE AND WH O YOULL NEVER BE Marias mom says that if shed known it was going to be so nice she would have brought the sunscreen. I dont know what that word mean s and in my mind I picture a collapsible tent, like a giant parachute, that we would stretch ove r the bleachers to protect us from the sun. The lady next to us says she brought some and when she pulls the br own and gold plastic bottle from her purse Maria and I slip down be neath the bleachers to avoid having the stuff smeared all over our faces and arms. Im disappointed about the parachute, but it s okay because I have pierced ears and Maria doesnt, so Im showing them off. Maria is j ealous and she says, I saw my Mom kissing your Dad. Youre lying, I say. You cant kiss unless youre married. This I know is not true, because at my fifth birthday party I locked Gregory Calderiso in my closet and said to him, Pretend Im She-Ra and youre He-Man and Skeletor has us prisoner so we have to kiss. And then I kissed him fl at on the mouth and he pushed opened the doors of the closet, running from my room. Still, I dont want to think that my Dad was kissing Marias mom, because hes mine and not anybody elses. From the field we hear the softball make contact with the alum inum bat and everybody stands up above us on the bleachers, clapping an d yelling. Marias mom screams, Go Kev!, and I run up to the chain link fen ce to watch my Dad sliding into home base. His face is all red and he stands up smiling and winks at me. In the dugout all of the guys are hollering and Dell, who fascinates me because his head is comple tely bald and shiny, tackles my Dad and then hands him a can of beer.
60 Damn, says a guy in the front row of the bleachers, that Kenny Rogers lookin motherfuckers pretty good. I get all swelled up with pride because I know hes talking about my Dad, because my Dad has gray hair and a gr ay mustache just like Kenny Rogers, who sings country music Ive never actually heard. Its getting dark when the softball game is over, and Marias mom sprays me all over with bug repellent. It smells like tin and I can taste it on my tongue, so I squirm away from her. Theres a bunch of teenage boys, sons of the guys on the team, standing by the dugout and Maria and I walk over, hoping theyll notice us. For the most part Im terrified of teenagers, but I happen to be in love with Dells son, Patrick. He ha s a big port wine stain on the side of his face and an earring and I think hes b eautiful. Hes maybe thirteen years old, but since Im five he seems impossibly old and sophisticated. Hey kiddo, he says when he sees me. Your dad played a pretty good game. Some of the boys are smoking cigarettes and I love the smell even though my dad hates smoking. Once I saw a pack of candy cigarettes at the X-tra Mart, but I knew my Dad would never buy them for me, and I covet them like almost nothing else. The sm ell of cigarettes mixes in the early night air with sweat and beer from the cooler and bug spray. With most people Im talkative to the poi nt of being obnoxious, which they accept, I think, because Im cute and big-eyed and motherle ss, but when Patrick talks to me I clam up. I cant even look at him. Are you cold? he asks. I nod yes vigorously and he pulls off his bl ack hooded sweatshirt and slips it over my head. It hangs down past my knees like a dress. Im in heaven. I cant think of what to do or say
61 so I barrel past Patrick and r un for the dugout. Behind me the boys are laughing and I want to die Im so embarrassed. I throw myself around my Dads legs and he scoops me up and swings me over his shoulder so everything is upside down. Im scr eaming and banging on his back and he tosses me back around right side up. I wrap my legs around hi m and dig my chin into his neck. He asks if I liked the game, and I say yes. Some guys were talking about how good you were, I say. He says, Of course they we re. Your Dads the best. He plops me back on the ground. Do you want to stay over at Kathleens tonight? he asks. No, I say. I pull my arms into the giant sw eatshirt and stick out my bottom lip. I can feel tears burning in my eyes, and I push th em out through sheer for ce of will until they run down my cheeks. Kathleen is Marias mom, and I dont want them kissing anymore. Hey Leah, my dad says, its okay, we ll go home by ourselves. He leans down and licks his thumb, scrubbing the dirt and tears off my face. Even though I hat e when he does that, I let him, because I know it means he love s me more than Kathleen or Maria. Give me one second and well go, he says. Hes wearing his white baseball pants and the red tee shirt with the Providence Journal logo on it thats the team uniform. I have the same tee shirt and I wear it as a nightgown. My Dad reach es into the cooler and pulls out a can of beer, popping it open. He leans his head back and without touching the lip of the can he pours the beer into his mouth. It pours and pours and I can see his Adams apple moving up and down. When hes done he throws the can onto the ground and picks me up. Can I sit on your shoulders ? I ask, and he obliges.
62 I wrap my arms around his neck and rest my cheek on his head. I must look like an orangutan all folded up like that. As were walking to the car I he ar Patrick yell, Hey! at us, but I dont say anything. We keep walking and I close my eyes. In the car on the way home I pretend that the streetlights are catching us, thro wing us from one beam of light to the next. When I tell my Dad this he says, I used to th ink that when I was a ki d too. I close my eyes again and fall asleep in the backseat, a ll curled up in Patricks sweatshirt. I get just about through the door of Twin Oaks before I start to tear up. Billy Temple is sitting at the bar and he looks so much like my Da d that I feel like someone has a fist inside my stomach, squishing up my guts. I dont think Ive seen Billy Temple since I was eighteen, since the year my Dad died, seven years ago. I think se ven years is too long a time to still be crying about this. I try hard to swallow the tears, to choke them back, so that Billy wont take one look at me and go running in the other direction. Hes the kind of man, I think, who doesnt want to watch a woman cry. Billy turns on his bar stool and rises to meet me. Can I get you a drink? he asks. Its three oclock in the afternoon and the winter sun is beaming off the Pawtuxet river, pouring into the oak and maroon interior of the bar. Ill have a glass of Pinot Grigio, I say. Im smiling and wiping furiously at my eyes with the backs of my hands. Inside Im swearing at myself to stop crying like a big fucking baby. Outwardly I smile demurely and unwrap my pink s carf, unbutton my coat. The bartender, in his white shirt and black vest, looks at me and winks at Billy as he r eaches up for a wine glass. Billy says, This is Kevin Carrrolls daughter, and the mans whole fa ce changes. I pretend not to notice. I joke with Billy about my baby face a nd how I always get carded. Billy is drinking Grand Marnier and Im trying to get it toge ther. I take a big swallow of wine.
63 Earlier that day I picked up my dads autopsy report from the Rhode Island Medical Examiners office. In the car I tear open the ma nila envelope stamped Co nfidential and read the disclaimer on the first sheet of paper. This report provides an exp licit description of the deceas eds Injury(s),disease(s), or characteristic(s). When present, postmortem Changes brought about by natural decomposition after death and additional Postmortem artif acts are also describe d in the report(s). Please consider that the report may have an adverse impact on the Reader. The reader may want the support of family, friends, clergy, or personal Physic ian during their review of the enclosed report. Regretfully, the emotional Effects of these reports cannot be predicted or prevented without sacrificing the legal and scientific va lue of the report itself. I feel a queer little thrill go through me as I shuffle th rough the pages. I dont know what it is Im looking for. Or rather, I know exactly what Im looking for but I dont know what it is. When my dad died he left me a suicide note. Bu t his death certificate says he died of natural causes. His body was found in a rented room abov e a strip club, but I cant find a police report related to the incident. Im looking for answers, for confirmation of something. Im all pumped on adrenaline, like Im solving a mystery, like Im hot on the trail of some big lead. Im full of bravado. I fancy myself clinical and detached. I laugh out loud at the stupid disclaimer. Support of the clergy! Thats hilarious. The first page says The body is that of a normally developed, adequately nourished, adult white male who appears approximately the st ated age 48 years. The measured height is 72 inches, and the scale weight is 225 pounds. Rigor mo rtis is present and equally developed in the extremities. Livor Mortis is light purple, poste rior, dependent and fixed. The body is cold to
64 touch. The scalp hair is gray, measuring up to 1 1/2 inches in length. A laceration to the right side of the head and superior portion of the right ear will be described under evidence of Injury. There are no palpable fractures. The external au ditory canals are dry. The irises are hazel/blue. The pupils are round, symmetric and measure 0.5 cm in diameter. The cornea are clear. The conjunctivae and sclerae are unremar kable. The nose is palpably in tact in the midline, and the left nostril contains a slight amount of grumous, dried, dark brown fluid, extending over the upper lip. The teeth are natural and in good repair. There is no evidence of injury to the lips, tongue or oral mucous membranes. The anterior stru ctures of the neck are palpably intact in the midline. The neck veins are slight ly distended, and there is upper ch est, neck, and facial plethora. The chest cage is symmetric and intact with mild ly increased anterior to posterior diameter. There is mild bilateral gynecomastia. The abdomen is firm and atraumatic. The lower extremities are symmetric and intact. The feet are clean a nd atraumatic. The upper extremities are symmetric and intact. The hands are clean and atraumatic and the fingernails are fairly well groomed. The thoracic, lumbar, and sacral spines are palpably in tact. The anus is clean and atraumatic. There is no unusual or distinctive odor about the body. When received the body is clothed in blue deni m pants, a black leather belt, a black long sleeve sweater, a gray sock, and a Timberland brown boot the left boot and sock have been removed from the body for attachment of the toe tag. It is at the part with the boot that I utterly and completely lose it and forget that I am supposed to be an impartial jour nalist, a detective. I have both hands on the steering wheel of the parked car and Im crying all over the autopsy re port. Im thinking three equally bizarre things. I am remembering the funeral director handing me those boots in a plastic bag. Im sorry, he had said, we cant give you the pants. They were he lowered his voice and looked away
65 from me, like he was hoping he wouldnt have to explain. The pants were soiled. I realize, because of those boots, because th ere were two of them in the bag, that when I saw my dads body in the funeral home, he had already been au topsied. If Id pulled away the sheet tucked under his chin I would have seen the Y shaped in cision. I am trying to divide 72 inches in my head and having trouble with the math, but Im pretty sure it only adds up to six feet and my dad always said he was 6. I ask Billy Temple if its okay to record our conversation. He has thick white hair, an impeccably groomed beard and mustache, and a thick Chicago accent. He was my dads best friend. I explain what Im doing again. I tell him Im writing about my Da d, that Im trying to get to know him better. Im interviewing people who knew him well. Im trying to find people from his past; this woman Kathleen he used to date, guys he served with in Vietnam. Billy asks what Id like to know and I go blank. What I really want to do is wrap my arms around Billy Temple and pretend hes my father, have him usher me around the room and brag about how well Im doing, what a good daughter I am. This is irrational, and pathetic and Im sickened by just how acutely I want it. How did you meet my Dad? I say, struggling for something to ask. Billy considers this, takes a drink from his snifter. We were both in Blakes Tavern one night, he says, and I had on a baseball hat with my platoon number on it. Kevin came over to me and we got to talking about Vietnam. I was in the navy. I never once was on a boat that whole war, though. Your dad, I dont know if you know, he drove an Amtrak during the war.
66 Billy stops for a minute, shakes his empty glass at the bartender, signaling for another. Your dad and I. He stops again. I can hear a hitch in his throat. The bartende r places a new glass of Grand Marnier on a cocktail napkin in front of him and sweeps the empty away in one swift movement. Billy takes a swallow and continues Y our dad and I, we were the same kind of guy. He wipes at a tear and lifts hi s glass to take another drink. P eople are gonna look over here and think were breaking up, he says. When Im very young I have a recurring dream th at Im walking with my father. The venue changes from dream to dream; sometimes it is the vast parking lot of Lechmeres where, in my waking life, I spend hours with my dad while he ogles outsized TVs a nd stereo systems. Sometimes it is the long, narrow pa th that cuts behind our apartm ent building and leads out into the playground of the adjacent Catholic school. The context, though, is always the same. My dad is walking ahead and I am a few feet behind him. He doesnt turn around. A ll I see is the back of him. And though I dont hurry my pace to meet his, I am suddenly filled with the absolute and sickening understanding that even if I try to cat ch up with him, I never will. He will always be right out of my reach. I wake from this dream nauseous and swea ting. I crawl under my dads sheets and curl into him like a shrimp. I try to explain the dream but he doesnt understand. Im right here, he says. Im not going anywhere. The next morning he gets me ready for sc hool. What do you want to wear? he asks. I am going through what my Aunty Sandy calls, a princess phase. I refuse to wear anything except party dresses. I will not wear the dress unless I am also wearing a slip and stockings and patent leather s hoes. My dad is bemused and seemingly unaffected by this. He
67 tries briefly to persuade me to wear a turtleneck beneath my sti ff pink polyester dress. I refuse. My dad shrugs. What do you want for lunch? he asks. Mustard sandwich. I say. I look at the cloc k on the oven. I am late for school. My dad is late for work. We dont care. My dad spreads yellow mustard between two pi eces of white bread and cuts the crust off. He gives me a Little Debbie Oatmeal Crme Pie fo r breakfast. I am convinced that my father is the worlds greatest chef Our apartment complex has a pool and when its warm he takes me swimming. When we get back to the apartment he makes me what we call the Daddy Special. It consists of tuna, no mayonnaise, retaining th e shape of the can, on a plate, with a pickle. There are times when my dad leaves me for days, a week, sometimes more, with my grandmother or my Aunty Sandy. I am in near perp etual despair that he will never return. They try to feed me chicken and vegetables. My aunt cu ts up an apple, tries to coax me into eating a raisin. The only thing I will eat with any kind of consistency is Kraft Macaroni and Cheese but only if the powder is poured directly onto th e pasta and not mixed with anything else. My grandmother cries because I remind her of my Mom and she thinks the way I eat will make me sick. I cry because Im convinced every time I m dropped off there that my father is never coming back. My dad puts the mustard sandwich in a brown paper bag with a Fruit Roll-up and a juice box. The cold February air gusts right through my dre ss and thin stockings as we walk to the car I dont mind though. In addition to my collection of beautiful party dr esses, I have long, curly hair, and every night my dad brushes it, one hundred strokes at a time. He tells me, It hurts to be beautiful.
68 The autopsy report concludes It is my opinion that Kevin S. Carroll, a 48 year old white male, died as a result of cardiomeg aly and steatosis of the liver asso ciated with a clinical history of chronic ethanol use. Reportedly, the decedent had a longstanding history of heavy ethanol use and checked into a motel in an intoxicated st ate. When checked upon the following day, he was fully dressed with injuries to the right side of hi s head, consistent with a terminal collapse in a secure motel room. There was no evidence of bl eeding throughout the ro om, supporting the fact that these injuries to the scalp were terminal events. At autopsy, he had an enlarged greasy liver with steatohepatitis, consistent w ith acute and chronic ethanol use, as well as an enlarged heart with microscopic findings consistent with hypert ensive cardiovascular disease. An additional significant contributing condition to his death included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Cause of Death: Cardiomegaly a nd Steatosis of the Liver Associat ed with Clinical History of Chronic Ethanol Use. Other Signifi cant Findings: Laceration to Scal p of Right Side of Head Due to Terminal Collapse and Chronic Obstructive Pu lmonary Disease. Manner of Death: Natural. I ask Billy Temple if he knows about the su icide note. Outside the sun has begun to go down and the light shifts direction in the bar. It is setting brillia ntly over the water, but inside Twin Oaks, the room is filled with shadows. Th e bar starts to come alive; people are talking louder, their heads closer togeth er. In the dining room the din of silverware against plates, hundreds of conversations, begins to rise in volu me. There is a man in the entrance calling out the names of parties to seat. Every couple of seconds he come s over the loudspeaker. Aloisio, party of four, Solinger, party of six, DiPietro, party of three.
69 Im nursing my one glass of wine like its keeping me alive. Billy has had three Grand Marniers at this point, but doesnt show it. He says Your dad tried to give me that note. He told me that if anything ever happene d to him I was supposed to give it to you. I told him I didnt want any part of it. He stops then and turns to look at me, asks me what was in the note. I take a deep breath, because for quite a stretch now, Ive been dry eyed, laughing with Billy and taking notes of what he says on a small legal pad. I paraphrase the note for him, trying to keep my voice level. I tell him the letter said my dad was sorry, that depres sion and alcoholism had ru ined his life, that I should read the Mark Twain story The Five Boons of Life to try and understand how he felt, that he was proud of me, that I should take care of my sister. I dont tell him, I cant tell him, not right then anyway, that I didnt get the note until almost a month af ter my dad died and when the detective gave it to me it felt like my heart turned completely inside out. It felt like I was hearing my dad speak again. It felt like I felt right then, sitting next to Billy Temple at the bar and hearing him tell stories. Billy nods, like he understands. I said to him Im not gonna have anything to do with this. If you want to kill yourself, fine, but Im not helping. It got to the point where we were in the hallway at Blakes there and we were fighting, kind of pushing each other around. Your dad gave the note to Scotty, the bartenderdo you remember him? I nod yes and Billy goes on. Somehow we got outside. It was real cold, and you know how your Dad dressed. Suit and tie all the time. But his shoes were untie d, and his ankles, I could see they were all swollen. I said, Kev, when was the last time you went to a doctor you asshole? Billy laughs a little, and pushe s away his empty drink. And Im sorry to say. He stops, reaches for the empty glass, looks at it and puts it down again. Im sorry to say that our last
70 words to each other were, your dad says to me Fuck you Billy Temple and I said Fuck you right back Kevin Carroll Im wiping away tears, sniffing into a co cktail napkin. The bartender deposits a new drink in front of us and Billy picks it up. Yeah, he says quietly, almost to himself. I know. I am walking home from school one time, probabl y in about the fifth grade. If I cut across the football field it makes the walk a lot shor ter, so thats what I always do, even though sometimes, especially in the spring, the fiel d gets all muddy and my feet get soaked. For the last few weeks Ive been on guard because Daniella Riley has pledged to kick my ass. I am in terror of her because shes two years older and has, reportedly, done LSD. Today, though, I wait until she has already left school to begin my walk home so I feel safe and like I outsmarted her. Im slogging through the muddy field, enjoying the newly warm air and from a little bit away I can see my dad sitting under a tree at the far end of the field, on the other side of the track. All of a sudden I break into a run. Its a shoc k to see my dad here, on school property, a kind of weird displacement, and Im so excited, I dont even really know why. Hey, he says, when I get to the tree. He doesnt stand up, just tilts his head back and closes his eyes, like its perfectly no rmal for him to be sitting there. Did you come to meet me? I ask, because suddenly Im not so sure. Of course, he says. Nice day. I kind of stand there, unsure of what to do while my dad sits with his eyes closed and his legs stretched out in front of him. Finally he opens them and looks at me. My backpack is enormous, filled with binders and schoolbooks that we are not allowed to keep in our desks. I wear it on one shoulder, b ecause to be caught dead wearing it over both
71 would be to risk unholy mocking and scorn in my school. But its so heavy that it digs into me, and I have to keep switching shoulders. When I take it off at the end of the day I have deep red grooves from the straps. Let me take that, says my dad, standing up and sliding the backpack off of me. It looks like a toy when he holds it, a piece of doll furniture. Lets go, he says. We cross Lincoln Road and start the walk back home. My dad doesnt say anything, but suddenly he grabs my hand. I feel a little bit t oo old to be walking down a main street holding my dads hand, but I dont take it away. The trut h is I fear him and miss him in equal parts. He has remarried, and hes almost never home. Hes also almost never sober. A few days before this he had totaled his da y-old Mitsubishi Galant and we ha d to drive to the police station in the middle of the night to pick him up. My st epbrother and I had worn our winter coats over our nightclothes and when my stepmother pushed open the door of the po lice station a gust of overheated air swirled all around us. We stepped carefully over the sleep ing bodies of homeless men in the vestibule. In my stepmothers car, on the way home, my da d turned to me in the back seat. He said, Leah, I want you to know what kind of guy your dad is. Kevin, leaver her alone, my stepmother had said. She stared strai ght ahead and gripped the steering wheel as she drove. My dad ignored her. I couldnt see his face in the dark car. He said, Your dad is the kind of guy who once shot a kid in the face in Vietna m. I didnt care. I laughed about it. Nobody cares when you die. They laugh. I started to cry trying not to make a ny sound, hoping my dad would turn around. Every couple of seconds I stifled a sob and gulped in a big breath, wiping the snot from my nose. When
72 we got home that night I sat crou ched beside my dresser, terrif ied my dad would come into my room and tell me more. I could hear him throwi ng up in the bathroom, saying to my stepmother, over and over, We laughed. So now, I hold his hand and walk down the st reet, surprised and happy because he came to see me, because Im not scared, because its finally warm outside, because I dont have to carry my backpack, because I dont have to shar e him with anyone, because I think this means maybe hes sorry and I forgive him with all of my heart. Because were alone again, like it used to be. At Twin Oaks my phone has been ringing in my purse but I ignore it. Billy Temple starts to look a bit uncomfortable, like he knows what Ive been thinking; like he suspects that if he doesnt say something I might st ay here all night with him. You got dropped off, he says, you have a ride home, right? I blush and dig the phone out of my bag. Its my cousin who has been calling, and she is my ride home. Yeah, I say and flip open the ph one, look at the time. I didnt realize how late it was getting. I have to go anyway. I pr ess the send button to dial my cousin. Suddenly things are weird between Billy and I, in the way that things get weird in a bar, after a certain number of drinks after a certain hour of the day. He says, If you want some dinner or somethingDo you want so mething to eat? Are you hungry? Oh, no, no, I say. Im all brisk, all business. My cousin picks up the phone. Can you come get me? I ask. Im outside now, she says. Shes eighteen. Blonde and tan and impatient. Shes driving my aunts giant SUV and I hear loud music in the background.
73 Shes here, I tell Billy and start to pack up my stuff. I put away my legal pad, my digital voice recorder. Ill walk outside with you, says Billy. Time for a smoke. My dad hated smoking so much, I say. Billy laughs, pulling out a pack of Winstons from his pocket. I know, he says. My cousin is parked by the entrance. Outside, I turn to Billy, unsure of what to do. I hold out my hand for him to shake it and he pulls me toward him into an embrace. I hug him back tightly. Thank you. I say, opening the door to the SUV and sliding in. My cousin clicks her cell phone shut and looks at Billy Temple. Oh, she says. He looks so nice. He is lighti ng a cigarette and he looks upward as he blows out the smoke. One second, I say and jump suddenly out of the car, scurrying back towards Billy. I dont really smoke, I say, but could I have one of those? Billy smiles and takes a cigarette from his p ack, hands it to me. But right about now you could use one, right? He pulls me back in quick kisses me on the top of the head and then turns away suddenly. It seems impossible to move from this spot, but I get back in the car, dazed, holding my unlit cigarette. We can go now, I say.
74 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Leah Carroll was born in Rhode Island in 1980. She received her bachelors degree from Emerson College and will receive her M.F.A. in creative w riting from the University of Florida in August of 2007.