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1 JUMPING FROM THE GREAT POINT By TARAH DUNN 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 2008
2 2008 Tarah Dunn
3 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ABSTRACT.....................................................................................................................................4 CHAP TER 1 MOTHER.................................................................................................................................5 2 KIDS.......................................................................................................................................10 3 THERAPY..............................................................................................................................21 4 FERRY...................................................................................................................................26 5 BEACH...................................................................................................................................36 6 DEEP LAKE COLLECTIVE.................................................................................................42 7 NIGHT.......................................................................................................................... ..........74 8 BOOKSTORE........................................................................................................................75 9 BED........................................................................................................................................84 10 THE WORD BIRD................................................................................................................. 88 11 ALICE.....................................................................................................................................90 12 HETAL SHAH..................................................................................................................... ..93 13 DOWN........................................................................................................................... .........96 14 CASS........................................................................................................................... ...........97 15 EENY, MEENY, MINY, MOE............................................................................................101 16 GONE........................................................................................................................... ........105 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.......................................................................................................108
4 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 JUMPING FROM THE GREAT POINT By Tarah Dunn May 2008 Chair: David Leavitt Major: Creative Writing Jumping from the Great Point focuses upon the meaning of communit y, identity and the role of the individual within he r community. The protagonist, Bella Ornstein, deals with the death of her mother and her subsequent appe arance as an apparition, while negotiating the demands of motherhood and marriage. The nature of normalcy and the formation of identity are explored through Bellas childhood years spent at a commune in New England, and through her life as a wife and mother on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts.
5 CHAPTER 1 MOTHER I think I killed m y mother. What I know for su re now is that my mother is dead. Every July my mother, Kate, came to visit. Every year, I wished something would prevent hera broken leg, say, or a car accident. She came to the island on the ferry carrying a bag full of wooden toys for my husbands kids. She stayed for a week. On the seve nth day, I put her back on the ferry, sent her back to the commune, and tr ied to forget about her for another year. The summer I was twenty-three, I stood on Straight Wharf predicting her accident the day she died. I mean, I didnt know I was predicting it. It was just a daydream. It was Friday. I parked in the cobbles toned lot of the A&P and walked down the boardwalk next to the harbor ba sin. From a row of white boats tethered to their moorings, tall poles like javelins jutted up against the sky. Tourists grouped around the boats for hire, and men who worked the sea were gutting bluefish on shallow counters. I cut across Straight Wharf, passing the shops, weaving through the shoppers, ma king my way to the pier, where I leaned against a blue capped pole and watched the ferry co me in. My daughter Alice slept in a sling on my chest, and I stretched to ease the strain on my back. I imagined Kate sat in a blue plastic seat on th e top deck of the ferry as the boat backed out of its slip in Hyannis. The black grates of the ferry railings penne d in the people in the hard blue bucket seats. It was one ocloc k, and the open-air decks swarmed with tourists wearing shorts, sweatshirts and baseball hats. Welcome aboard the Motor Vessel Great Po int, announced the captain through a speaker close to Kates ear. No one paid attention. Th e tourists popped open bags of chips and bit into soft pretzels, sipping soda and beer. Their children hung precari ously from the metal railings,
6 marveling at the harbor as it slipped past in a long liquid moment. The summer people, in the booths adjacent to the snack bar, flipped open their weekend editions of the New York Times Their children played Gameboys and restra ined the family Labradors who lunged enthusiastically at every passerby. Kate wore a pair of khaki shorts, Birkenst ocks and a blue t-shirt. Her hair was long, wavy, the color of old ivory. She hugged her bac kpack to her chest and closed her eyes. It was at this point, imagining what could possi bly be going on inside her head that things began to fray and separate. I knew that the ghosts of Kate past could not nestle dutifully within her like the Matryoshka of other women, the colo rful outlines of their girlhood selves faintly gleaming through the older selves that have succeeded. When she died, my mother was 49. Kates se lves were various and contradictory; they poked at her spine and her womb, her eye sockets and the top of her head. The ten-year-old Kate, still reading her Dick and Jane primer, often pinched the ni neteen-year-old wearing the wedding dress her mother chose. The one-year-old tied to the training potty cried out to the forty-two-year-old entering the commune in Vermont. The forty-three-year-old betraying her daughter watched numbly. She couldnt remember her happiness. That was just what I hoped, really. I hoped the past grasped Kate morning and night, whether she was doing yoga in the ba rn or sitting at a communal meeting. The past was always there, eavesdropping. I imagined the selves were not equally st rong. The echoes of Kate as a baby and little girl were easily squashed. Summoning the image of a starving African child or a three legged dogsad, serious thingswould dispel th e bride, that ghost of vanity.
7 But her self at forty-three was wily and tenacious. My mother committed me when she was 43. I was 17. Forty-Three would screen i dyllic images of our old home in Connington, no matter how much she hated the suburb of Boston in which she raised me. Forty-Three shows her leaving me in the psych ward. Perhaps Forty-Th ree taunted her as she sat upon the blue plastic seat: she hates you, go home, Forty-Three would have said. Kate would have given up on her meditation. She could not have focused her mind with Forty-Three clanging around inside. She rose, bracing her feet against the rolling deck. Backpack over her shoulder, she made her way over to the white metal railing that surrounded the top deck. Two boys were tossing potato chips crumbs over the side of the boat. A sea gull lunged, diving to catch the fragments before they disappeared beneath the waves. Kate leaned against the railing, fascinated by the enormous churning wake made by the engines of the vessel. I imagined Forty-Three whispering, Bad mother. Youre a bad mother. Jump. The ocean would have been nearly blac k, waves rolling white caps. She slipped her backpack off her shoulders. She straddled the ra iling awkwardly, the two boys silent with shock. She jumped. The ferry moved onward as a tiny fi gure flailed and bobbed in the black water. It was unlikely that they d ever find her body. I stood at the edge of the wharf, watching the ferry move slowly through the harbor. There were three boys sitting on the roof in back of the Hylin e building. They were in their early teens, long-haired and tanned. They pus hed and boasted. Then, as the ferry was almost in the slip, they stripped off their t-shirts and jumped off the roof. They cannon-balled into the harbor water, sending it sloshing against the ties and the brick-edged side of the slip. The ferry sounded
8 its horn. A girlfriend stood watching, chewing on the end of her braid, and I wanted to tell her to jump A horn sounded from the ferry as it continued to move into the slip, now almost on top of the boys. But they swam to the side, pulled them selves up and were out of the water before the ferry slipped into the space. The boys were sh aking themselves out like hyperactive puppies when a girl who worked for the Hyline came ar ound the corner, calling, The cops are coming! There was a police officer ther e within the minute, but the boys were already gone, having picked up their clothes and run off behind the ro w of shops on Straight Wharf. The cop stood next to me, one hand on the walk ie-talkie clipped to his belt. Bella Ornstein? he asked. Yes, I said. Nice article about you in the Inky. See, the day before, I was in the paper. On Nantucket, everyone reads the paper. It doesnt matter what you arenative, washashore, summer people or daytripper. Ever y Thursday, you go to the Hub or Fast Forward or Cumberland Farms or the Stop and Shop, you hand over a dollar, and you get your copy of the Inquirer & Mirror. The Inky will tell you about almost ev erything that happens on-island: clashes over land development, art openings, film fe stivals, the hijinks of the board of selectmen. A police log boldfaces the names of the arrested or convicted. The log confirms, not reveals, because everyone already knows that the brother of th e paint clerk at Marine got a D.U.I., or that a bunch of teenagers broke into some summer hous es on Cliff Road. Everyone reads the paper to feel that they are part of the island.
9 That Thursday, there was an article in which I was interviewed about a new book that we were promoting at the bookstore, and everyone ha d something to say. It started at the gas station. Hey, nice picture of you. In the paper, said the guy who stepped out of his little wooden booth to pump my gas. Oh yeah? Thanks, I said, kind of pretending I hadnt seen the article, or that I didnt care about it, but of course I had already read it. Th e paper sat next to me, in the passenger side seat, folded down so that I didnt have to see myself every ten seconds. In the picture, Im standing in the bookstore before a display of Cass book, my arms framing the books like a game show hostess. A piece of hair is stuck to my mouthtoo much lip gloss, I guess. The reporter had called at the bookstore the week before. G il heard the phone ringing but he kept on doing whatever it was he was doing. G il never answered the phone, at home or at the bookstore. I dug the phone out from under a pile of orde r slips, and it was this guy from the Inky. I was a little nervous about it, but I said yes.
10 CHAPTER 2 KIDS Thursday morning, I sat in a ratty wicker arm c hair in the meeting room of the St. Pauls parish house. I slurped my coffee, exchanging st iff smiles with the other mothers. I was just twenty-three; they were all at least a decade older. ber-mothe r sat in the most comfortable chair, supporting her nursing son with all of th e pillows in the room. My daughter Alice was downstairs in the basement with Gina, who babysat for the mothers group. Gina had white curls and wore big plastic glasses and a lipsticked smile but she couldnt lift the babies because of her back. I knew I should worry. I worried about not being worried. Going to mothers group usually required at least half a Xanax. ber-mother never left her baby with Gina even when he was bawling so loud nobody could talk. She was in the Inky that week tooprofiled on the front page. In her picture, shes wearing sunglasses, all that bl onde hair bunched over one shoulder as she leans over the engine, cleavage pushed up. The caption read, ber-mother drives a Ford Explorer converted to run on cooking oil. There were five other mothers in the room sitting on the hand-me-down sofas and chairs. A latecomer with wild uncombed hair, cup of ta ke-out coffee from Fast Forward in hand, set a car seat on the floor. Her tiny infa nt slept, its arms and legs je rking randomly. I smiled at the baby, thinking how nice it was that Alice was 10 months old, that her head wasnt floppy anymore. Newborns are like beached fish. Sometimes, when my attention wandered at the beginning of group, as everyone was getting sett led, I thought about who would decorate this way, as if we were sitting in the living room of somebody who had put a chintz covered wingback chair next to a burgundy La-Z-Boy and a mustard yellow corduroy sectional sofa. A woman who grew African violets, who wore cat-eye d glasses and black hair with a silver streak
11 in front like Cruella DeVilles. I never got around to figuring out what she was wearing, because Mary would call, Good morning! a nd I would stop thinking and listen. How is everyone doing this morning? she asked. Since we met on Thursday mornings, Mary frequently kicked off the discussion by pulling the Inky out of her PBS tote bag and asking us what we thought about various articles. Good! we all chorused. Those groupsits like being a child again yourself, sitting in a circle, being good for the teacher. Good! Well, this is pretty exciting. I don t know how many of you have seen the paper yet, Mary unfolded her copy and held it up, But there are two articles this week on our very own! We smiled. I wondered if the native moth ers present that morning were scoffing at the phrase one of our very own or if it was just my imagination. If you were born on the island, you are a native. I was not a native not married to a native, not ev en the mother of a native. Alice was born in Boston, at Brigham and Women s, because I was nervous about giving birth at the Cottage Hospital. Youre a washashore, or round the pointer, if theyre being polite, or coof, if theyre not. The natives, I mean. Even with my picture on the front page of their paper, I didnt really belong. I had no idea you were so envir onmentally conscious, ber-mother A truck that runs on vegetable oil, an organic garden that provides all your pr oduce, solar panels, wood-burning stove, cloth diapershow do you manage cloth diapers? Mary asked. Ive done cloth diapers since my firs t, back in ber-mother said. Unbelievable! Mary said. Well, it just works really well for us. I ha ng them out to dry on the lineI just love them, ber-mother went on to describe the enti re process from slapping on a fresh diaper to
12 washing a dirty one, as if she was talking about buying a new pair of shoes. I wondered how anyone could feel actual pleasure in taking shit-filled bundles and scraping off the mushy poop into the toilet before soaking them in a bucket of organic bleach, throwing them in the washer and then drying them in the thin Nantucket sunlight. But doesnt it waste water to be washing di apers all the time? I suddenly heard myself ask. The other mothers looked at each other sideways. Uber-mother smiled at me sharply, her son st ill attached to the nipple of one perfect breast. Bella, you should knowi ts all those disposable diaper s. I just couldnt live with myself, knowing that I was putting literally hundreds of diapers into the landfill. They dont decay for over a hundred years, they say. Ther es probably a whole mountain of disposable diapers at the dump. Wow. A mountain of diapers. Maybe we could use it for skiing? I asked. A few of the other mothers giggled. Do you guys like skiing ? My dad lives out in Colorado, Ive been meaning to go visit him for a while but I just have nt gotten around to it. Of course, my mothers coming today, cant get away from her, every year. David wants to take Carlyle to Vail when he s three, Sally said. He says its the best age to get them started, it s just like. ber-mother stared her down. Well, when its my childs future that s at stake, I just think we should do everything thats humanly possible you know? With the next one, were going to try Elimination Communicati on. She lifted the baby to her shoulder and burped him in three light pats. Elimination Communication?
13 Yes, you dont use diapers of any kind. Y ou listen to your baby s signals and they relieve themselves in the potty! Its an amazing way to bond with your child, ber-Mother said. Well, its a wonderful articl e. Very inspiring. And Bella Your article talks about a new book thats just come out at your bookstore. Tell us abou t this book, Mary said. Well, its written by a guy th at I grew up with, Cass Snyder, and its about alternative energy sources. Wind power, mostly. Hes going to be doing a talk next Saturday, actually, at the bookstore. You all should come. The silence was complete. There was a movement to bring wind power to Nantucket Sound, which made Ca sss book of interest to lots of islanders. The idea of the sound filled with tall metal windmills had pretty much electrified anyone who had heard of it. But no one in the mothers gr oup was willing to give an opinion on anything that didnt have to do with kids. The conversation moved on to the other article of interest on the front page, an expos on the horrible MCAS scores of the Nantucket public school students. I spent the rest of the hour slouched in my chair, drinking my coffee, wondering if ber-Mother would call in an anonymous tip to the Inky I could just see the headlin e on next weeks front page Bookstore Owner, Bad Mother? The other mothers went out for more coffee at the Bean after group ended, but I left without saying goodbye to anyone. As we drove out of town and around Milestone rotary, heading east to Madaquesham, I put on a Baby Eins tein CDa little self-flagellation, I guess. I couldnt tell whether Al ice liked it or not. At home, my stepdaughter Chloe was sitting at the kitchen table, drawing. She pushed her glasses up her nose and twirled a strand of her l ong red hair around her fingertip while she drew.
14 I looked over her shoulder at the page. She had drawn a pair of glasses with Coke bottle lenses, suspended in space like they were perched on the nose of an invisible face. A crowd of kids with huge heads pointed at the invisible girl, their words rising in bubbles like weather above their heads: Four-Eyes. Freak. Chloe had recently gotten glasses, and the other 7 year-olds teased her about them. I set Alice down in her car seat on the floor, a nd Chloe slid off her chair to unstrap her. Chloe sat on the kitchen floor w ith Alice in her lap. Alice ha d grabbed a finger of each of Chloes hands and they were dancing to prete nd music. When Alice was just born, Chloe sat on the sofa next to me when people visited, holding a burp cloth at the ready, watching to make sure people held her carefully, putting little offerings in her bass ineta tiny stuffed cat, her old baby rattle, a daffodil she picked from the garden. My stepson Ethan was watching television in the family room. He was in limbo until camp started, and didnt want to do anything but watch television a nd play video games. Several hours after I got home, after endless rounds of diaper changing, feeding, peek-a-boo, and picture books, after making all three kids lunch and helping Chloe draw a horse, I got up from the computer and asked Ethan to keep an eye on A lice, who was trying to pull herself up on the coffee table. Ethan had been sitting around the living room, bor ed, while Alice was playing by the coffee table. I went to my bathroom upstairs, lock ed the door behind me, and peed, thrilled to be alone. After I washed my hands, I examined myself in the bathroom mirror, tweezing a few hairs from my eyebrows. Then Alice screamed. I ran downstairs to find Alice on her st omach, a thick coffee table book of Cary Hazelgroves photographs pinning her down. I lifted the book off, picked her up and yelled at Ethan, What is wrong with you? Cant you even pretend to act like a big brother?
15 As his face closed on itself, I was reminded of this toy I had as a ki d. A 3-D Viewmaster, I think it was called. Youd slide a cardboard disc with ten tiny pictures into the top of the toy, hold it up to your eyes like a pair of binoculars, and pull the or ange lever on the side. Image after image would pass before your eyes. I had slides of Disney characters, mountains and waterfalls, foreign cities and peoples. Etha ns face was like seeing through the Viewmaster again, except instead of Mickey Mouse or the Ei ffel Tower, emotional places passed before my eyes resentment, sadness, hatred. I almost said to him, Your face is like a Viewmaster, but I didnt even know if he knew what one was, and anyway it didnt s eem like a very adult thing to say. After a few minutes, I put Alice in her Exer saucer and went upstairs. I knocked on his door, spoke sweetly, apologized for raising my voice, but Ethan wouldnt answer. I called my work friend Karen. Oh, Bella, all si blings wish each other dead at some point or another, she said. Im sure Ive told you the story about the time I caught Tom trying to smother Liz in her crib? He was just threeor was it four? Anyway, Liz was down for a nap and I was doing something and all of a sudden I reali zed I hadnt heard Tom for a while, and I went into the babys room. Tom had dragged the rocki ng chair up to the crib a nd he had pulled all her covers over her headyou know in those days we didnt know about SIDS or any of that, my kids went to sleep on their stomachs practically swimming in blankets Right. But Ethans twelve, I said. I had popped Alice onto my breast, and she was content, but I was still crying. Ka ren could tell stories about her ch ildren for hours, just like they were still in diapers, even though they were now in their thirties. And I walked in and just couldnt even speak, and he looked up at me with that sweet little face and said, Mommy, I was just trying to make the ba by stop crying. I swear, my blood
16 just froze, but Toms turned out just fine! Hating that little baby does not make the boy some kind of a monster, she concluded. Dinner time. I stood staring into the refrigerator at a bag of Ba rtletts tomatoes, a top roast wrapped in white paper, a head of lettuce, cardboard containers of milk and yogurt, and a pair of chicken breasts nestled on a Styrofoam tray, tuck ed in with a sheet of plastic wrapso much food. At the back was my stash of processed f oods, the Snackables and cans of Chef Boyardee I bought compulsively at the Stop and Shop, hiding th ese items from Gil under bags of fruit like they were boxes of condoms. We ate dinner every night with the china and s ilver. It was one of Gils traditions. Soon after Gil and I got married, I tried to start a trad ition of my own, thinking I could help the kids learn about the environment. I called them into the bathroom and flushed the toilet. See all that water going down the toilet? I asked. Litt le Chloe nodded eagerly. Her brother Ethan looked at me with his eyebrows ra ised, like he was thinki ng, so what? He was eight, and already as smart-asse d as he would be at eleven. Every time you flush the toilet, youre using ab out three gallons of water. That can add up to over 100 gallons a week! But you can save lots of water with this rhyme I learned as a kid: if its yellow, let it mellow, if its brown, flush it down. You want us not to flush the toilet afte r we pee? Ethan asked, curling his lip. Well, yeah, thats the basic idea. That is so gross. Where were you a ki d, in the Appalachians or something? So went my first and last attempt to ch ange the ways of the Ornstein family.
17 That night it was Ethans turn to set the ta ble. He was laying Gils china, a chinoiserie pattern of green and gold. We considered ge tting new china when we got engaged, but Gil had collected four patterns by the time we met, so there didnt seem to be much point. Ethan skidded around the table on his Wheelies as he put down the bread plates and the di nner plates. His long, thin face was contracted in a frow n, his gingery hair falling in his eyes. When he hit a good long slide or pulled off a tight turn, he allowed himself a small smile. It happened as I was taking out the head of le ttuce. I heard the sound of splintering china, then a tiny giggle. I peered around the corner into the dining room. A broken salad plate lay at Ethans feet. He lifted a foot a nd stomped one of the larger shards with the heel of his Wheelie. Even the littlest amount of discipline from me could induce a tant rum of nuclear proportions. He was eleven but he acted like he was three. I should have gotten the broom and dustpan, pretended it wasnt deliberate. I should have called Gil, so that he would hear my story first, so that he could scold Ethan without getting the evil stepmother involved. After I heard the plate drop, I walked into the dining room. Ethan, I told you a million times to be careful with the china. What were you thinking? He mumbled something. What was that? Youre not my mother! Thank God! I said. Youre a golddigger. Everybody knows youre just a goldigger. Thats what everybody says, you dont even have a job and you just spend my dads money. Everybody being your mother, right? I asked. Then I hauled off and slapped him. Ethan stared at me, holding one hand to his check.
18 You are going to be in big trouble, he said. The first summer I lived at Gils, Chloe was four and Ethan was eight. The kids spent a couple of days exploring by the wooden hunting stand in between two vacant lots down the street. Of course, it was su rrounded by poison ivy. Gil was rea lly busy at the bookstore, and Susan was away with her new husband on their honeymoon in Provence, so I was the one who rubbed them with calamine lotion and played their favorite movies for them. I dunked Chloe and Ethan in oatmeal baths. Id leave the bath room door open and listen to Chloe playing. Rowr, I am a dragon at the beach. Now you never can get me. Now your baby never can get you. I even duct-taped mittens to their hands when they wouldnt stop itching and the red oozy patches became infected. Chloe and I became frie nds, but all that nursing didnt make Ethan and I like each other any better. I was just his da ds twenty-year-old girlfriend, who he wished would disappear. He wanted his mother. So did I. That night, after I had fed the kids and made them go to slee p, I was lying in bed watching Larry King. I heard the whine of the garage door as it rose and lowe red, heard Gil opening cupboards in the kitchen and then finally the light tr ead of his feet on the stairs. He entered the bedroom carrying a little plate of olives and cheese. The childre n are all asleep? he asked, his eyes fixed on the television. Well, I drove Chloe down to the Boxshes go t a date with a cute eight-year-old. Ethans in the basement drinking whiske y and watching online porn, and Alice is screaming her head off because shes got a dirty diaper I just didnt feel like changing. You know, the usual, I said.
19 Larry King leaned confidentially towards his guest, a ditzy star let, his big glasses steady on his nose even as his head dipped towards her cleavage. Very funny, Bella, Gil said. I wish you would make more of an effort with Ethan. I picked up the stress ball lying on my bedsid e table, and began to squeeze. The ball was painted like the world, with two white blips for eyes over the Pacific Ocean and a smile crossing Australia like a belt. I squeezed the ball till the eyes of the world crossed and my hand cramped. The paint was cracking off, leaving behi nd long, thin white stretch marks. What do you mean? Did you talk to Ethan? I can understand losing your temper. But its not okay for you to yell at the kids. Im doing my best, Gil. I pushed myself off the bed and stalked away into the bathroom. I sat on the toilet and began to cry. Gil knocked on the door. Bella? May I come in? Do you even remember what tomorrow is? Its not a birthday or annive rsary, I know that! My mother is coming tomorrow, Gil. So ju st leave me alone, I said. I turned on the bathtub to cover the sound of my crying. I droppe d in a bath bomb from a little perfume store in town, and took off my sweats. The bomb hit th e water and exploded, transforming the water into a fizzing purple cocktail of dried rose petals and lavender. I pr opped my feet up on the edge of the bath and watched a drop of water zig-zag down my foot sliding over my ankle and disappearing. He knocked on the door again. Gil, would you just fuck off and let me take a fucking bath, okay? I swore because I was sure he couldnt hear me over the running water.
20 Someone is hungry! Gil called in a sing-song voice. I got ou t of the tub, dripping water on the tile, unlocked the door and jumped back into the tub. He was holding a whimpering Alice. When she saw my breasts, enormous ni pples bobbing at the surfac e of the water, she started howling. Gil took off her sleeping bag dre ss and diaper. I sighed and held out my arms. I cradled her against my chest for a few moment s. She wriggled towards my nipple, head bobbing, her mouth puckered, opening and closing until she grasped a breast in both hands, drove her head against me and latched on. G il smiled and shut the door behind him with the softest click.
21 CHAPTER 3 THERAPY On Friday morning, I had an early appointm ent with my therapist. It was foggy as I drove out to her office near the health club. At the in tersection of Milestone and Polpis, three deer ran across the road, their liquid eyes reflecting the gleam of the headlights as they were hypnotized by the car. At the office, the therapist welcomed me in, and sat in the chair next to her desk. My therapist was a woman in her late fifties, with sh ort silver hair and little wire-rimmed glasses. The therapist leaned back in her office chair, a small yellow notepad resting on her knee. She always wore the same thinga tunic top, tights, knee-high boots, and a bunch of Art Deco rings and bracelets. Once, we ran into each other in the snack line at Jetties. She was wearing a pink t-shirt and denim cutoffs. I almost walked away and pretended I didnt see her, it was so weird. It was like seeing her naked. I slipped off my flip-flops a nd sat cross-legged on the beig e couch. I pulled my stress ball out of my bag. So, Bella, how was your week? she asked. Fine, you know. I was always a little slow to start out. And what else is going on in your life? A ny new issues with Etha n or Gil? she asked. My mother is coming todayI dont know if I told you that before. So, your mother is coming to visit. How do you feel about that? I started braiding the fringe of the throw that lay on the couchs arm. I dont even know how to talk about it, I said. Say whatever youre thinking. What are you thinking about, Bella?
22 I shrugged, and reached inside my bag for the packet of unbleached recycled paper tissues. I always brought my own tissues, anticipating th at I would cry, but not wanting to use the box that my therapist provided. I slapped Ethan last night. The therapist murmured that non-word noise she made when she was waiting me out. But I beat her. If you feel comfortable, Id like to talk a little bit about the Collective, the therapist said. I nodded, but didnt speak. Deep Lake Collective: List of Items to Bring YES: 1 bra 5 pairs underwear 3 shirts 2 sweaters 3 pairs pants (jeans or workpants) 3 pairs socks 1 pair sneakers 1 pair boots All Cash Identification Card (Drivers Li cense, Student I.D., Passport)
23 Financial Legal Papers (Car Title, H ouse Deed, Stock and Bond Certificates) Personal Legal Papers (Birth Certificate, Marriage License) NO: Electronic Devices (i ncluding Cell Phones) Credit Cards Food or Drink Pets NO: Jewelry Make-up Hairbrushes Soap or Shampoo or Razors NO: Maps Pens or Pencils or Paper Newspapers or Magazines or Books NO:
24 Drugs (including Prescription Medications!!) Contraceptive Devices Menstrual Products I dont really want to talk about it. Ok. Lets start by saying whatever you re thinking. What are you thinking, Bella? I dont know, I said, placing a ha nd on the black and white notebook. Would you like to share your journal, Bella? asked the therapist. No, not really, I was being difficult because I knew that she was going to get the thing about my slapping Ethan out of me, and I didnt want to talk about it. But she couldnt read my mind NO: Drugs (including Prescription Medications!!) Contraceptive Devices Menstrual Products and we danced in verbal circ les until the beeping of her watch told me our time was up. I put my tissues back in my bag, stretched and stood. My therapist finished the note she was scribbling on her notepad. Bella, Id like to give you some homework. Id like you to write a letter to your mother, and tell her how you really feel. Bring it to ou r next meeting, and well discuss it. All right?
25 I nodded. She wrote me another script for Xanax and I was on my way. I composed letters in my mind as I drove home, got Alice, and drove into town to pick up my mother. fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you forever to infinity.
26 CHAPTER 4 FERRY Af ter I left the therapists office, I went home and picked up Alice. I parked in the cobblestoned lot of the A&P and walked down the boardwalk next to the harbor basin. From a row of white boats tethered to their moorings, tall poles like javelins jutted up against the sky. Tourists grouped around the boats for hire, and men who worked the sea were gutting bluefish on shallow counters. I cut acr oss Straight Wharf, passing the shops, weaving through the shoppers, making my way to the pier, where I leaned against a blue capped pole and watched the ferry come in. My daughter Alice slept in a slin g on my chest, and I stretched to ease the strain on my back. I stood at the edge of the wharf, watching the ferry move slowly through the harbor. There were three boys sitting on the roof in back of the Hylin e building. They were in their early teens, long-haired and tanned. They pus hed and boasted. Then, as the ferry was almost in the slip, they stripped off their t-shirts and jumped off the roof. They cannon-balled into the harbor water, sending it sloshing against the ties and the brick-edged side of the slip. The ferry sounded its horn. A girlfriend stood watching, chewing on the end of her braid, and I wanted to tell her to jump A horn sounded from the ferry as it continued to move into the slip, now almost on top of the boys. But they swam to the side, pulled them selves up and were out of the water before the ferry slipped into the space. The boys were sh aking themselves out like hyperactive puppies when a girl who worked for the Hyline came ar ound the corner, calling, The cops are coming! There was a police officer ther e within the minute, but the boys were already gone, having picked up their clothes and run off behind the ro w of shops on Straight Wharf. The cop stood next to me, one hand on the walk ie-talkie clipped to his belt.
27 Bella Ornstein? he asked. Yes, I said. Nice article about you in the Inky. They werent letting anyone off the boat. All the passengers we re together in the inside section. Four police officers walked up the gang plank, and swarmed over the boat, going in and out of doors, up and down the decks, calling incompre hensible things at each other, barking into their walkie-talkies. We all stood therethe peop le waiting for people on the boat, the people in line to take the ferry back to Hyannis, the Hy -Line employees who pushed the luggage carts and did everything to make the boat ready for its retu rn trip across the sound. I held Alice in the sling. As she slept, her little red-veined eyelids fluttered. Ten minutes went by. A woman standing next to me asked, What on earth is going on? and then someone else said, Someone went missi ng off the boat. Jumper, some kids said. Now theyre matching up the numbers. Next we could see the police and the Hy-Lin e workers carrying the luggage up into the indoor section. There were piles of suitcases, L.L. Bean totes, even a bag of golf clubs. A police officer led a little girl, maybe ten or eleven, down the gangplank. I noticed her hairit was dark, parted in the middle, stragg ling to her waist in uncombed waves and snarls. She wore a red dress and brown leather Mary Ja nes. I rubbed my scalp, remembering the hours my mother had spent yanking the tangles out as I squirmed and whined in pain. Mrs. Ornstein, if you and your sister woul d like to come over here, Im going to ask you to wait in the office for just a bit. My sister? I dont have a sister. I laughed. The girl looked away.
28 This young lady says shes your sister, Viol et Hollander. She was traveling with your mother Ok, well, where the hell is she? I pushed my hair off my face in annoyance. The police officer gave me the of ficial serious face. Were searching right now, weve got the Coast Guard out there with two cutters, but with the waves out there, and fr om what the witnesses said Finally Violet spoke. She jumped. Violet and I sat in the office fo r half an hour. Violet stared at Alice, who still slept. How old is she? Violet asked. Ten months, I said. How old are you? Ten. Thats funny, she laughed. Were both ten. And then, after everyone had disembarked, and the ship was sitting there empty and white, my mother strutted down the gangplank. She wore a straw hat, a long skirt and a tank top. She spotted me and waved hello, her hand moving in a cupped orbit like the Queen of Englands, exposing the long dark hair in her armpits. I le ft the office and walked over to her. Violet followed. Bella! My mother held her arms open. I wanted to shake her. This is really serious, Kate. The police are going crazy here. You need to go talk to them. Violet looked at me for a few seconds and then looked away. It was like she had seen all she needed to see. Oh, Bella. You always take everyt hing so seriously. Its nothing.
29 Nothing? Right. Of course. And by the way, you didnt tell me you were bringing someone. Anything you want to tell me here? I asked. This is Violet. Shes come to see the circus. Well, youve certainly created one. Un-fucking believable. Le ts just get out of here, I dont even want to talk about this anymor e until I can fucking calm down. Where are your bags? The police kept them. It was Violet speaking. Fine. Gil can pick them up later. Lets go. I marched off towards the A&P parking lot. I was walking really fast, pushing through the crowd. Still the Wagoneeroh, I loved this car! she said. Yeah, its great. My mother had always gotten excited about the most random things. She settled into the passenger se at and rolled the window down. Violet slipped into the back, buckling herself in. I took Alice out of the sling and st rapped her into the car seat. She woke up and began to complain a little. Violet picked up Alices rattle and shook it. I turned the car on, impatient to back out of my spot, and give it to the people in the Hummer who were waiting behind us. I could feel them about to beep their horn, but my mother hadnt buckled her seat belt. Mom. Hmm? Seatbelt? I raised my eyebrows. She laughed and gazed out the window again. Fine. Suit yourself. I gave just a little more gas than ne cessary, jolting us backwards. Andele! she cheered.
30 As we turned left onto Milk Street I glanced over my mothers head up at Main Street. It was that time of early afternoon when the shadows cast by the elms reach halfway across the cobblestoned road, and the middle of Main Street is a ragged aisle of s unshine, drawing the eye past the cars parked at a slan t in front of the shops, stretc hing up towards the Pacific Bank. A kid stopped at the curb, did th at little thing with his foot that pops the skateboard up, grasped the board and waited for an opening in the traffic. Wh en it came, he dropped the board, pushed off with his left foot, a nd floated across the painted white bars of the crosswalk. He skated off down the sidewalk, and I drove forward. I dont know if youve noticed, Mom, but theres a baby in the backseat. My daughter? That youve never met? My mother turned and smiled at the back of A lices carseat. Of course, your baby. she said. I completely forgot abou t the baby. I did bring toys for your stepchildren. Great, Mom. Thats great. What a silly word, isnt it? Stepchildren. We should just call them all your children. Chloe and Ethans mother might have something to say about that, I said. She shrugged. Just as we turned onto Milestone, my moth er saw a young couple on the side of the road, thumbing for a ride. Lets pick them up, my mother said. I pulle d the car onto the sparse grass and sand of the verge.
31 Do you need a ride? I called. Violet slid over and the two of th em squeezed into the back seat. I got on the road again and drove over the swells and long flat passages of Milestone. The wind was warm and the bike path was crammed with bikers, whole families on identical blue rentals, couples on tandems, little children pulled in small triangular trailers uphill and downhill. There were a few lemonade stands along the bike path, run by enterprising children. The young couple talked about th eir native Ireland, their resp ective jobs as golf caddy and nanny, until we reached our road. At Russells Way, they got out of the car and set off down the bike path towards Sconset. What a cute couple, my mother sighe d. That was odd, I remember thinkingthey hadnt spoken a word to her the whole time, and she didnt like to be ignored. It was easy to miss the turn off of Milestone Road. There was a littl e street sign, but it was back from the bike path, almost in the bushes, at the bottom of a swell in the road. Russells Way was a washboard dirt roa d. In the summer, the bushes wore a layer of dust like the powdered wigs of olden days. The deep green scrub brush, unable to grow tall because of the wind. Bushes spread into an impenetrable tang le, a carpet covering the va lley, held back at the edges by roads cut into their mass, ready to re-colonize the dirt or asphalt of the road. You could drive fast, your ribs shaken into your throat as you bounced over the potholes, the washboard ridges, the patches of sand. Or you could drive slow taking 20 minutes to get to the house, bored out of your mind, nothing to look at but the acres of low brush you couldnt see over, the dirt road stretching out ahead, with a curve in the road that hid the sea. On the left, we passed Quahog Lane, an oasis carv ed out of the moor of ten houses built around a U-shaped road paved in asphalt. Gils house was another half-mile down the road, the closest house in the
32 Valley to the beach. The next closest was up on Quahog. The retired couple who lived there would pass by the house around seven every morni ng on their way back from the beach with their two Labs. The dogs would be dripping wet, their muzzles frosted with sand, their precious tennis balls tucked behind their teeth. Gil had snacks waiting on the pati o. I got a call, he said. Yeah, I know, Im sorry. Shes such a drama queen. It was nothing, really, just some kind of ridiculous fuck-up on her part. Only my mother, right? I told him. He looked at me strangely. Maybe I should call your therapist? he said. I ignored him. Dont you have some big thing? Some Pl anning Board meeting or something? I thought you would want me to stay here with you, Bella. No, just go. Well s ee you tonight. Susans going to come pick up the kids in a little while. She said shed be over as soon she could. I thought I would take Alice, put her in the sling and hope she sl eeps. I hope thats all right with you? he asked. That was when I knew my mother was dead. Susan would only help if someone had died. Sounds great, I said. Bye, bye, bye! Violet, would you like to stay here or go with Ethan and Chloe? he asked. Stay, she said. He left, looking ba ck over his shoulder to smile at me. Come on, lets go find Kate, I told Viol et. We opened the sliding doors from the kitchen, and went out onto the dec k. Below us was the green of th e lawn, a square cut out of the scrub brush that covered Madaquesham Valley, bushes knit together in a bumpy green quilt reaching to the the horizon, the ocean that surrounded us only a thin blue line. Gil had put some
33 snacks out on the table. My mother was lounging in one of the white wicker chairs, shaded by the umbrella. Gravelax! My favorite Gil really shouldnt have, my mother said. You would have bitched if he hadnt, I said. Bella! Thats not very nice. Thats me, not very nice. Really, Bella, I didnt raise you for this, my mother said, wavi ng her hand at the SubZero, the acres of conservation land, Ethan a nd Chloe watching the big flat screen TV. Who are you to judge how I live? I asked, tr ying to keep the kids from hearing me argue with a ghost. Violets childhood has been nothing like yours was, or mine, thank God. With her, Ive done it right. What am I supposed to say to that? But youre a mother now. You must want your children to be as free as they can, to become their own people. Whatever, Mom. Violet came out on to the deck and announce d, Those children are watching television. Oh, sweetheart, my mother said, running her hand over Viol ets hair. Violet crouched down, humming as she ran a finger over the spaces between the boards. Is this like a traumatic thing? For her to witness television-watching? Kill your television, Violet said. Oh, for fucks sake. I went inside. Chloe and Ethan we re lying on their stomachs in front of the television in the family room. They were watching a show about meercats. One
34 little animal was standing on its hind legs in the middle of a desert cracks in the ground stretching in every direction. Should we turn off the television? Chloe asked. Were not turning off th e TV, stupid, Ethan said. Carry on, I said, with a wave of my hand. In the kitchen, I poured another shot of rum into my glass of Coke. The stress ball was on th e counter. I tried to cr ush it to death before I went back outside. Mom, do you want anything? I called out to her on the deck. Who are you talking to? Ethan asked. I walked away. Evil, evil child. After appetizers, I took my mo ther down to the guest bedroom she usually stayed in. There was a queen size bed with a comforter prin ted with huge yellow roses. There was a white wicker chest of drawers, and a wh ite wicker chair with a cushion pr inted with huge yellow roses. Since it was an upside-down house, with the living space upstairs and the bedrooms downs, the bedroom windows opened onto the lawn, with a view of the tangled branches of the scrub brush. I dropped her duffel bag next to the bed, and star ted backing out of the room. I tripped over Violet, who was standing right behind me. Oh, shit. Are you all right? She got to her feet and grabbed my hand. Where do I sleep? she asked. Chloes room had two twin beds, so I led Violet down the hall. Chloe was sitting on the enormous Claire Murray rug that covered her bedroom floor. The rug was a birds-eye view of downtown Nantuc ket, the Old Mill in one corner, the Episcopal church in another. Bunnies and bi rds danced among the buildings. Chloe, Violet is going to sl eep in here with you, all right?
35 Sure! Chloe smiled. Do you like American Girl dolls? Violet shrugged. Chloe led her to the disp lay shelf where her three American Girl dolls stood, held by white wire braces around their wais ts, keeping them upright and on duty at all times. Underneath the shelf were three separate trunks of doll clothes, three sets of periodaccurate doll furniture, and a spread of lifelike plastic doll food. The girls were chattering about doll stuff as I left the room. Ethans room was next door, the door shut and covered with littleboy signs: Do NOT Come in, No GIRLS allowed. I continued down the hall to my bedroom and flopped onto the bed. A little while later, I heard tires crunching on the gravel driveway. Th e kids clomped down the stairs, yacking away, and opened the door for Susan. Bella, Im taking my kids to my house now. Call me if you need anything, she yelled. I didnt answer.
36 CHAPTER 5 BEACH Com e on, I said, Lets walk down to the beach. Ive never been to the beach, Violet sai d. I packed a picnic dinner and we walked along the sand strewn dirt path that lead to the beach. Violet and my mother held hands as they walked barefoot. Gils dog Maddie ran ahead of us. Split rail fences, wood greyed by the salt air, lay on either side of the path holding b ack the moor bushes burst ing with glossy green leaves. Clumps of Queen Annes Lace grew alon g the roots of the bushes, stems swaying with the effort it took to support th eir glory, intricate white moon s that looked as though fairies crocheted them every night. The sun was setting. Look, Violet called. Its like a fried egg. I looked and laughed, because the sun was like a fried egg, the white center dropping out of a yellow haze down into the far edge of the ocean. The sky faded into pink at the edge of the ocean. The sand glowed where the water had touched it, wet and shiny in the near dark. I went left, away from the main beach, towards the Gibson house. Unlike any of its neighbors, this house was on the beach, almost in the water. The Gibson house was surrounded by black bags filled with sand, battlements intended to stop the inevitable loss of the house to the ocean as the south shore of the island continue d to erode. From overhead, passengers in the tiny commuter planes could see the black bags and wonder what military exercise, what trench warfare, was being conducte d on that stretch of beach. For several years, the house had seemed ready to slip in to the ocean. During the final and most severe noreaster of the winter, islande rs had laid wagers on whether the house would finally disappear. The ocean had swallowed the sw ingset that once stood in front of the house.
37 The windows on the first floor were boarded up. Bu t Mr. Gibson still lived there, waiting out the storms, bringing out trucks loaded with more ba gs to strengthen the defenses around his castle. Over the years, a weird pattern emerged. Th e bags seemed to be trapping sand, shoring up the position of the house. Some people said that as more sand accumulated around the black bags buttressing the Gibson house, more bluff was lost under the neighboring houses. The road that once looped along the bluff, connecting th e Gibson house to the neighboring houses, was gone. The Gibson house perched on a peninsula, while huge cylinders of concrete, the septic systems of the neighboring houses, fell to the be ach below like ancient ar tifacts uncovered by the storms. The ocean was flat. A scum of pebbles and s eaweed at the edge of the beach showed how far the tide had receded. I walked slowly. Ahea d, seagulls gathered along the shore, pecking at the wet sand, then squawking. They fled as I neared, breaking into flight and wheeling away over the ocean. A few birds slipped down and mounted the waves, bobbing under every so often to nab a fish. A few days before I had almost drowned. It was a warm afternoon, with hardly any breeze. The whole family had walked down to our beach. We spread out our blan ket and set up the sun shade so that it covered Alice, who was still sleeping in her car seat. We ate tuna fish sandwiches and potato chips and drank Cokes. Gil and Ethan boogie-boarded. Chloe made a sandcastle and decorated it with se aweed flags and seashell gems. I sat in a chair outside the sun shade with a big glossy shelter magazine at my side, an issue which bris tled with little blue stickies inserted by Gil. It was like summ er reading when I was in schoolaccompanying me everywhere, but never opened.
38 Alice woke up and began to cry. I nursed he r, changed her diaper, and then I waved Gil in to shore and waded out into the water. That swim started out like every one Id ever had on the South Shore. I trudged through the tide break, wa ter clutching at my ankles. I splashed in the bubbly white froth formed by the little waves. That afternoon they were lazy, relaxing into the lip of wet sand at the shoreline. A little further in, I jumped into a wave that rose up in front of me. Then, to get all of me wet, I dove into the next wave. I crested with the waves, diving into the ones that snuck up on me, getting rolled a couple of times, popping back up with sand in the crotch of my swimsuit. Then I was behind the breaking waves, in the da rk of the deep water. I knew the rules. Watch for riptides. Pay attenti on to how strongly the tide pulls at your calves as you enter the ocean. Dont struggle. Let th e current move you downshore, downshore, downshore. Do the dead mans float. Wait to be rescued. On the beach little figures were moving around. I was too far out to make out their faces, or what they were doing. I drifted. Even just treading water, my stroke got sloppy. I hoped that no one would try to swim out to me. I slipped under and got a mouthful of water. I flailed back up. Lots of people drown off the South Shore. There were people I had never met, names in the newspaper, two or three every year. Also people I knew of: a doctor who came to the bookstore nearly every day in the summer. He went for a swim a nd drowned out at Madaket, his wife and children watching from the shore. In the end, a surfer paddled out, put me on his board and towed me to shore. The bluff had eroded inward, forming a rift that looked like a cave. To my left, the bluff looked as though it had been attacked with a wrec king ball, pipes sticking out into mid-air.
39 There was a foot of soil on top of the sand of th e bluff, chunks of which had fallen and lay like big bricks of chocolate the size of a head. A sparrow sung. It was perched in one of the last bushes on the bluff. Then a whole group of sparrows flew in, and the single one joined them and they flew in formation back down the beach. I was still, watching the sparrows go. The ocean wore a million sparkles. For just one moment, the sea and the sand and the birds a nd even the black bags surrounding the Gibson house came together and made sense and I was part of them and they were part of me. My mind was quiet but glowing. Threads, knots, connections, prayer, Godand then the oneness was gone. We were close to the Gibson house, close e nough to see the bags. Th e bags extended into the water, lapped by the tide. As I gazed at the bags, one of them moved. A portion of the bag separated from the rest and turned over. It was a seal, gazing at me with those round puppy eyes that make tourists try to pet them. They bite. She gazed at me with black eyes. Maddie came bounding up and began to bay at the s eal. I tried to shush her, but the seal slid off the bag and into the water. I sat in the sand at the waters ed ge, ankles in the rising ti de, and watched the seal swim away. Violet, did I ever tell you the story a bout Bella and the t-shirt? my mother asked, sitting up away from the tide. Tell me, she said. Well, when she was little, two or three, a fr iend of mine made Bella a t-shirt. Future Feminist, it said. And do you know what I did? I took a permanent marker and crossed out the word Future. I rolled my eyes. I had heard this st ory only a couple of dozen times before.
40 Bella wore that shirt everywhere. We went to demonstr ations and friends houses I mean she wore it everywhere But one morning, I tried to put the t-shirt on her, and it wouldnt go over her head. No matter how hard I tugged and Bella was screaming, her head was stuck and she was just beside herself. Violet nodded. She was hugging her knees to her chest, rapt with attention, like she was listening to a bedtime story. Well, it wouldnt go over her hea d, and I started to cry. Of cour se, it wasnt just the shirt that didnt fit, it was her father. .it was everything. But Bella reached up to pat my face, and she said, You sad, Mommy? And then Bella said, Mommy, dont be sad. I wear the shirt. And it was then I knew she would always take care of me. It was dark as we walked back. I carried th e big flashlight and point ed it ahead of us. Violet skipped, ran, trotted almost the whole way back. She pointed out the rabbits that raced across the road, startled by our sounds, our bobbing light. We returned to the house, cold and tired. Gil s car was in the driveway, and so was a silver sedan. Violet ran into the house to put the sh ells and stones she had collected in Chloes bedroom. My mother went with her. I hung up my jacket on the pegs by the door and started up the stairs. Hello, I called. Ch airs scraped away from the tabl e in the kitchen up above me, and Gil appeared. Where did you go, Bella? I was worried. We walked to the beach. Without even telling me? I had no idea where you were! Calm down, Gil. I just took my mother and Violet to the beach.
41 Bella, your therapist is here. She wants to speak to you. She appeared next to Gil at the top of the stairs and gave me a little wave. Bella, I think we should talk. What? I asked. What was it like? What was what like? But I knew what she meant.
42 CHAPTER 6 DEEP LAKE COLLECTIVE My m other gave away everything I owned, even Mr. Bear, in a yard sale. It was January. My parents had just divorced. I went around the neighborhood in my mittens and winter boots, putting up the signs she had made. Moving Sale Saturday 9 p.m. Everything must go. Couches, chairs, tables, clothes, the television, her jewelry, our vi deotapes and books she put it all on the frozen yellow grass in our side yard. I wished it would snow, a nd that the snow would hide everything we owned, and no one w ould come. But the neighbors came. My parents wedding silver, twelve place settin gs with their initials wrapped together in this weird writing you could barely read, went to Mrs. Bowen, who lived two houses down. The dining room table went to Mr. Richards, who carried it out of our yard with his son, a senior at my high school. My mother filled plastic s hopping bags and pushed them into the arms of anyone who was walking by. One bag, which she gave away to the clerk at the little market on the end of our block, held her makeup bag and a pa ir of her high heels, my navy dress coat and a handful of plastic spatulas. Mrs. Bowen came back and tried to talk to me. I stood shivering behind the folding card table, putting the money people gave me into a shoeboxten dolla rs for the dining room table, fifty cents for our microwave. Well, this is quite the yard sale. She had paid fifty dollars for all of the silver. My mother had tried to give it to her for free. Is everything all right, Bella? she asked. I looked around the yard, at the rich people snatching up pilled wool blankets and old videotapes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and walked away. In the last shopping bag, my mother put the picture frames that used to stand on the fireplace mantel. They held pict ures of my grandparents when th ey were still alive, my parents
43 at their wedding, my mothers sister at her law school gradua tion, me as a baby, naked in the sand of a silvery beach. She threw the pictures in the trash, but I took them out, wiped off the food slime and put them at the bo ttom of my backpack. In the la st shopping bag there was also a stack of washcloths and Mr. Bear. I had always had him, since before I could reme mber. My parents told me that he came in the mail as a present when I was born. He was a Paddington Bear, with fluffy honey-colored fur and a little blue overcoat. By that January da y, his fur was worn down to a thin layer of grey velvet. His tummy was scraped ba re by all the times Id turned the metal ring to hear the music box inside him play Fr Elise I pulled the bag out of the hands of Laura Freedman, the mom who lived next door. I had been her babysitter. Bella? she asked. I took Mr. Bear out and ra n up the driveway, acro ss the back lawn. I climbed over the low stone wall and up into the woods. When I was younger, I thought I was a witch. I wa s a weird kid; I think I got the idea from this book called Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, Wi lliam McKinley and Me, Elizabeth I thought that magic could be everywhere. I was in third or f ourth grade, and there we re these girls I didnt like, so I decided to make a magic potion. I we nt through the spice draw er in the kitchen, and collected all these spices cardamom, cumin, cayenne, oregano. Anything that was dark or spelled strong. I threw pinches of each spice in a plastic sand wich bag, and then I took it to school the next morning in the pocket of my jeans. At recess, I walked up to the two girls, Shauna and Stacey, and I threw my magic potion at them. I meant to throw it on their backs, really sneakily so they wouldnt ev en notice. But it was windy, and the spices got in their eyes. I got pulled out of class and sent to the principals office. My mo ther took me home but then she had to go back to work. After she was gone I ra n out into this part of the woods where a big
44 clump of maple trees hung over a ring of glacial rocks. I cl imbed into the ring, dug into the ground with my fingers, and buried my bag of spices. The magic really worked, because Shauna and Stacey were never mean to me again, at least not to my face. I buried Mr. Bear face down in the fairy ri ng and covered the mound of his grave with leaves and twigs. We ran away from home in my mothers Ja g, the shoebox full of money stuck between the seats. Think of it as a year abroad, she said. Im not in college, Mom. A year as an exchange student, then. Re member those boys from Spain we hosted when you were in elementary school? What were their names? I dont know. Juan and Javier. Do you remember the time that the younger oneJuan, I thinkthat time when Juan put a piece of bread in the toaste r with the jam already on it? Can you imagine being thirteen, fourteen and neve r having toasted a piece of bread? Yeah. You are going to learn so many things. We both are. Things we dont even know we dont know! This year will be so much better for you than all the insanity of junior year at that school, all the SAT pressure and rsum building, all of that. Great. I understand that its a change, and God knows youve never been good with change, but you
45 Werent we supposed to turn there? Oh, shit. Does this mean we get to go back home? No. So who am I supposed to be exchanging with? What? You said I was like an exchange student. Who are they sending in exchange? Do you have to be so difficult? Because I thought, you know, if Im supposed to go there and give up television and the phone and all my friends, not to mention my juni or year and probably any hope of getting into a good college, at least if I knew there was some other girl who was going to go live like a normal person, then maybe I could feel better about going to your stupid frigging commune. Think of it as an exchange of the old you for a better you. What parts am I exchanging? I need to concentrate on the road. My nose? Youve always sa id our noses are too big. Bella, would you please just shut up and let me drive. Sure. But, Mom? What? Youre a bitch. I hate you. Of course you do.
46 I woke up once when we stopped at a little gas station on the state bor der that didnt even have food, just two gas pumps. We arrived at the gate s of Deep Lake Collective in the ea rly evening. For the last hour of the trip, we had traveled on a local access road. I watched the road unfurl, gray and winding, from the van window, mile after mile. The road wa s choked with pine trees. Every time the van swung around a curve, its headlights illuminated the wh ite rot on the tips of the pine needles. There was a little crescent moon hanging in the sky, and the air was thick with cold, every breath a miracle. Then, abruptly, my mother turned off into th e trees. I screamed, thinking she had lost control of the vehicle. But the car plunged thro ugh an arch of pines and continued up a narrow dirt road. Thirty minutes of bouncing and jostling later, my mother turned off onto another side road, this time a rutted path that was barely wide enough for the car. Every so often, a branch would whip against the window, startling me. We drove down this path for fifteen minutes, my mother clutching the steeri ng wheel to steady herself. At the end of the path, there was a clearing in the trees. In the clearing stood a stockade. A pair of towers, about two stor ies high, flanked a thick gate, ten feet tall. The walls of the stockade stretched out on either side, surrounding the perimeter of the Collective. It was like a picture in the medieval chapter of my hi story textbook. A teenaged boy wearing a domed bamboo hat slipped through an opening at the base of one of the towers. Under the hat, I could only see his high, sharp cheekbones a nd the pastiness of his skin. He approached the drivers side and peered in through the window.
47 Hello, how are you? my mother asked pleasantly. The guy said nothing, just looked past her at me. He was tall and skinny. His eyes were brown and his long hair was dirty. He wore all blackboots, T-shirt and jeans. He stared. That was Cass. Im her mother, Kate Hollander, my mother said, snapping her fingers in his face. Cass slipped back through his hidden door, and then the gates swung open. We drove through, and the gates shut behind us. Welcome, Cass called behind us. I looked out the window to see him standing in the doorway of the guard booth, bowing from the waist. My mother braked, hard, the wheels of the car skidding a little in the thick dirt. We stopped because there were three teenagers playing croquet in the middle of the road. They were swinging at the croquet balls in the dark, aiming for wickets lit up by candles in tiny jars. A short girl, maybe a little younger than me, weari ng railroad stripe overalls and a large wooly cardigan, swung her mallet and sent her yellow ball smashing into a candle. The glass exploded and the candle went out. The other kids laughed. There didnt seem to be teams, as far as I could tell: they were simply roaming around the patch of dirt in the near dar k, hitting balls through the wickets, not understanding the rules of the game. Do you often play croquet in th e dark? my mother called out the window. Its when we see best, the short girl said. My mother tapped the horn. The players st ared and slowly shuffled aside. As the car began to roll forward, the girl in rail road stripe overalls darted in front of the car, plucking up the wickets and kicking over the candles. Though he r clothes were baggy, it was obvious that she
48 was pregnant. My mother shook her head, roll ed up her window, and sw ung the Jag in a wide circle to avoid the jars. There was a knock on the window. Im Sarah, your guide, a young woman told us when my mother rolled down the window. Ill show you where to park. Deep Lake Collective was two dozen cabins around a lake, and several barns used for communal activities, all be hind the stockade. There was an e normous greenhouse filled with pot plants. The barns were built from salvaged wood from the old barns and farmhouses that were being torn down all over the state by those who were moving North to get away from the cities. The main barn was round. It was made of grey stones and topped with a red-shingled roof in the shape of a cone. It had two large, sliding metal doors which would not be opened till the last frost of the year, in May or June. We slipped inside. It was dark. There was no electricity in the barnthe room was lit by candles, fat pillars of beeswax emitting strands of light. The candles were nestled inside hand-blown glass hurricanes, the irregular globs and waves of the glass pooling and twisting the light li ke yellow taffy. The hu rricanes lined the sills of the narrow windows and covered the rough tables carved from fallen trees. A large fireplace stood in the center of the fa r wall, a monstrosity of stone big enough to roast a cow upon a spit. The barn reminded me of elementary school field trips to Sturbridge Village or Plymouth Plantation where the worker s in the living museum s wouldnt admit they knew about stuff like the television or the car. People were gathered in little groups, their fo rms shimmering like littl e blobs of coalesced color. My mother and I followed Sarah toward s the fireplace, bags slung over our shoulders, picking our way around the various groups of people on the floor and furniture. I clutched my
49 backpack close, trying not to hit anyone. The ai r was thick with smoke, little twists of it rising from the joints passed around, mingling with the f og of fire smoke hanging in the rafters of the barn. PEACE LOVE HARMONY The words were painted in red on the rafters of the barn. By the fireplace, a group was roasting marshmallows and nuts. Some sat on pillows on the ground, others on wooden benches. One woman reclin ed on a chaise lounge with huge rips in the chintz upholstery. Sarah smiled and bent her head to the wo man on the couch, then pulled my mother forward. Maggie, this is our guest Kate Hollander and her daughter, Bella. Maggie was wrapped in a hand-knit shawl of multicolored yarn, ragged edges nestled against her throat and hands. She had long, fluffy white hair, deep set eyes and a gap in her front teeth. She wore half glasses, slipping down he r pug nose. She uncoiled herself from her couch and held open her arms. Welcome! she cried, as she stepped fo rward and drew my mother into her arms. Maggies voice was much younger than her face. As I stood by, wondering when my mother would step out of Maggies arms, I felt someone watching me. I looked around, and sa w Cass sitting on the back of a sofa in a corner, surrounded by a group of teenage boys. A Super 8 camera rested on his shoulder. He was moving the
50 camera slowly so that its eye swept over and abso rbed everything in the barn. The eye seemed to stop upon me. I stared back at it. Cass lifted hi s face from behind the video camera, smiled, then bent his head back behind the machine. I l ooked away, blushing. A mo ment later, I glanced back. The eye of the camera had moved on, but the three other boys who were sitting with Cass were now looking at me. My mother and Maggie stepped apart slightl y, still clutching each others arms. Maggie lifted her hand to brush a piece of hair off my mothers forehead, then leaned in and whispered something to her. I stood there, ignoring the boys in the corner. I had never even seen my mother hug my father like that. She usually ente red a hug at an angle, patted your back and let go as quickly as she could. Then Maggie hugged me. My cheek against the sc ratchy wool of her shawl, I smelled her: wood smoke and sweat-musk, sunshine and flour, th e tang of piss and the brine of the ocean and the juice of roasting meat fat. I sneezed. How could one person smell of so many things, things I had never smelled on a person before? Magg ie dropped a kiss on my hair and let me go. Come, sit, Sarah said, The meeting is about to start. She led us to a nest of batik print cushions piled against one of the support beams of the barn. Sarah brought us tea from a kettle hanging in the hearth. The warmth of the mugs s eeped through our hands. Later I learned that the mugs, like most things there, were made at th e Collective, baked in a kiln in a shed near the potters cabin. The cup was lumpy and rough, glazed with muddy strands of color. I sipped the tea and grimaced. It was swampy, n early too bitter to drink. It was nothing like the Celestial Seasonings teabags piled in box upon box in the cupboard above the sink at home, before my mother put all our food, even the half-empty bot tles of ketchup and mustard, in brown grocery bags and took it to a food pantry.
51 An older woman stood and struck a little bell, and everyone fell silent at its chime. The sofas and chairs and the clusters of people were all arranged around the space in the center of the barn. The piece of floor upon which Maggie stood was marked by a yellow circle, the enormous painted sun in a mural of flowers and trees a nd birds spreading away across the floor. The golden glory of the lilies had been scuffed awa y, the black-feathered wi ngs of the blackbirds plucked clean by years of footprints. I wonder if theyre skeletons by now. Anyway, standing on the sun, Maggie smiled at everyone and began to speak. Let me tell you a story from my time with the Children, (she said. This was the story that she told when there were visitors, when an outhouse overflowed or someone broke a rule). Every afternoon, we had to meet. In the sal on, it was called. Because we were in a Roman palazzo. The Family of God had rented it, with lie s, just like everything el se they did. This was back in the early s, when the Family st ill had group houses abroa d. The rejection of systemites, the problems with the lawall th at came later. When I was a teenager, the Children believed in scraping all the accumulated crap off your mind. Anyones mind. All the stuff you had learned in regular sc hool, all the stuff the system di d to you. And that would bring you to nirvana. (Maggie snorted). So, every afternoon, our teacher as ked us, "What does God dig? "Togetherness, all th e teenagers said. "How do we get together?" she asked. "Through love!" "Who do we love?" she asked. "Each other!"
52 "Show your love !" the teacher said. Some of the kids, who had been with the Children longer, stuck their tongues down each others' throats. Most kids just high-fived, hugged, tickled. One of the boys came up to a tall girl named Maggie (here she winked at her audience) who sat apart from the group. He reached out and grabbed her breast. Maggie shrieked, smacked him, and s houted, "He just grabbed my boob!" The rest of the kids watched as the teacher got up from the chair where she sat before her circle of students and sat down beside Maggie, who was now crying. "He digs your energy, honey. He thinks you're pretty," the teache r said. Then she sat back down in her chair, and continued on to the end of the lesson. Whats your name? she asked. Maggie. (The adult Maggie pretended a desperate, darting look around the room). Thats the name your parents gave you. Were just one big Family here. What name do you want to give yourself, your Fam ily name? They all watched. Maggie. My names Maggie. And then, just like every day, one of the kids took of his belt, and handed it to the teacher so she could beat Maggie. (Everyone booed). "Mom, I don't want to go to the jam sessions anymore," Maggie said at dinner that night. Her mother Anna let the spoon drift from her hand. (Here Maggies audience cheered, as at the introduction of the goddess in a folktale). Anna wasnt eating her soup. A skin formed over the top, and her spoon got soup all the way up its handle, not a drop making its way to her mouth.
53 "Are you listening to me, Mom? Ma ggie asked. Anna was watching her husband, who sat at another table, flir ting with another woman. An older woman sitting across from them said, "The Family is here for each other." The woman put her hand over Annas and patte d. Anna began to eat her soup. Maggie and her parents had gone to Italy on vacation. For th e first week, her mom hated everything, the men staring on the sidewalk, ru bbing up against the women and even pinching their butts, how hot it was, the tiny bitter cups of cappuccino. But on the Monday of their sec ond week, they met Richard sitti ng in a sidewalk caf. He had seemed normal. He said that he was an Amer ican, lived in the city for business, and offered to show her mother the nice parts. They spent every day of the second we ek with Richard. On their last night in Italy, Richard invited them all over to dinner at his house, and Maggies parents had decided to stay. It turned out Richard was pretty much the boss of the Rome house. Every week, he would call the thirty or forty Ch ildren into the salon to read a letter from their leader, who they called the Father. "Beloved Children, belove d of Father," he read with a big smile, Number one. I love you very much! I know you are all working very hard for God and for me and for all the poor victims of the Man who dont know love. Several women burst out crying, while others rocked back and forth, moaning. Richard read on. When he got to the part about assignin g sexual partners to the children, Maggie freaked. Are you serious? she asked. Maggies mother told her to be quiet. Maggie was given to one of the important guys in the house, a man in his forties with big sideburns called Malaysia Tom. After the letter was rea d, the adults shut the doors to the salon to ta lk about the letter. Maggie and the other girls took th e little kids they had to baby sit out to the courtyard. "Dee, I bet your guy will make you do everything," Autumn said to Trinity.
54 "I bet your guy will be really bad in bed, Trinity said. She chewed on the end of her braid. All the girls were supposed to have long hair. "Youre both so gross," Maggie said, poking at the dead fish in the marble fountain with a stick. She stirred the slimy water and splashed a green wave at the little children who sat along the edge of the fountain. "Maggie, don't talk like that! Whatever Richard decides is right," Autumn said, jiggling a crying baby. "Love's right," Trinity said. A little girl, splashed by the wave, shrieked, and then turned towards the teenagers, pouting. "Like I care if Father says I should, its gross. Hes like forty, Maggie said. "You better not say stuff like that if you dont want to get reporte d. Father loves you. He loves all of us, Trinity told her, even though no one they knew had ever met the Father or even seen a picture of him. Yeah, that's the point," Maggie said, wa tching the little boys stack chunks of broken tile, kick them over, and start all over again "Do you think it will hurt?" Autumn asked. "Why would it hurt?" Trinity asked. "Its what Father wants us to do." "I know," Autumn said, "But do you thi nk it might? Thats what Ive always heard." "Of course it hurts," Maggie sa id. She was covered in sweat. The humidity had made her hair frizzy. She hadnt taken a shower with real water pressure since she got to Italy. None of her girlfriends from home would ha ve recognized their friend, the girl who would wear orange juice cans in her hair hours longer than anyone else to stra ighten it, the girl who played gym with the boys even when she had her period, who scared off that creep in the
55 car who followed them home from school one time by telling him her dad was a cop who was waiting at the door for her with a shot gun. (Once again, the audience cheered). Now she spent all day watching little kids, the one girl on her block who had never babysat because the thought of dirty diapers made her want to puke. (Maggie smiled, amused at her younger self). But in the Family, you had to work at your assigned task or get the belt. She spent her nights in the common room. Men were always watching. Back home, she had felt eyes upon her as she walked to the bus st op, or ran an errand for her mom, heard passing cars voice whistles, baby and yea hs. It was like how its co ld in the winter when you dash from your car to the drugstore, not good but ove r quickly. The Familys house was like sitting outside in the snow, all day long. Freezing to d eath inch by inch. (The women in the audience shivered collectively). Drinking on e beer made her feel it a little less, and another made her feel almost good. They played records at night she ha d never heard before. She drank and swayed in the center of the room to the music with the other girls and boys. That night Malaysia Tom brought her beers, offered her hits on his joint, touched whenever he could. Just little thingsa hand on her shoulder or her waist. She smiled like it was fine, and wandered away to da nce with the other kids As it got later, people began to go off in pairs. Autumn and Trinitys assignments clai med them and they went upstairs, to lose their virginity under water-ri nged ceilings, watched by the people in the wall murals. (Everyone frowned). Finally Maggie was the last one dancing in the center of the room. Malaysia Tom watched her, a beer in his hand. There were other people in the room but they were lying around on the furniture and the floor, wasted.
56 Come on, Maggie, Malaysia Tom said. She swayed like she was really drunk, and as he took her by the hand and led he r down the hallway she giggled. Whats so funny, pretty girl? he asked her, his arm drifting to her waist, pulling her close to him. She kept laughing. He led her into hi s bedroom and shut the door. He pushed Maggie onto the bed and pulled the straps of her tank top off her shoulders, exposing her breasts. She continued to giggle, though she fe lt sick. As he unzipped his pa nts, his thing (Maggie lowered her voice) jumping towards her, she raised her eyebrows and laughed even louder. Is that your, your, your pe nis? she asked, pointing. Yeah, he said. He was already starting to get soft. Havent you ever seen one before? No, not like that! All right, all right, very funny, Malaysia Tom said, tucking himself away and zipping up his pants. He got up and stumbled into th e bathroom, where she could hear him pissing. When he returned to the bedroom, she could f eel him standing over her, watching her, as she pretended to be asleep. She lay curled up on her side, very still, until Malaysia Tom lay down next to her and began to snore. She lay awake for what seemed to her like hours, but it was only a few minutes. The next day, Maggie woke up when the street team walked past the open door of Toms room, their tambourines jangling and sneakers squeaking. The Rome house always needed money. The little kids would go out every day to sing in the streets and panhandle. An adult would always hang out in the background to collect the money. The Children also whored out their women and girls. It was called flir ty fishing. (Everyone booed.)
57 Maggie got out of bed and went down the hall to the carpeted back stairs that led to the kitchen. Several of the women were cooking breakfast. She stood around, hoping not to be noticed, hoping to grab some bread when they werent looking. But the women were waiting for her. Good morning, Maggie! How was your night? one woman asked. She stood barefoot before the ancient stove frying sausages, work ing to keep the burner lit. Maggie shrugged. We hear that you were very selfish, Maggie, another said. We hear that you wouldnt share with Ma laysia Tom. Were very disappointed, Maggie, said a third. Your mom will be very disappointed when she hears, said the first. The women stared at her with sad eyes. Their hands were stoppe d, over the frying pan, the butter knife, holding an egg held against the edge of a bowl. Were afraid for you, because theres no pl ace here for selfish gi rls who wont share, said the frying pan woman. But you know we love you Maggie, and we could give you another chance, said the knife. We could let you do some flirty fishing, said the egg. So they dressed her upvery 60sand caked all this makeup on her. No one usually wore makeup at the Rome house, but they gave Maggie the works. Pancake foundation, eyeliner, eyeshadow, false eyelashes, lipstic k, blush and powder. The makeup was oldthe eyeliner was worn down, the foundation cakey. They dressed her in a white minidress and kneehigh boots. They pulled her hair into a ponytail and coated her with bracelets, earrings, a necklace. Very groovy. (The wome n shook their heads in disgust.)
58 Maggie and the frying pan woman walked to th e Hotel Principessa. As they climbed the steps, Auntie River held Maggies arm tightly, hur ting her, whispering instru ctions in her ear. She nodded at the concierge as he opened the doo r for them and led the way to the bar. She paused on the threshold, looked Maggie up and down, and wiped away a smudge on her cheek with her thumb. I wont go in with you, but Ill be here the whole time, watching you, understand? the woman said. Maggie nodded. She was very scared. As she stood at the edge of the room, she saw big booths, where wo men in fancy clothes sipped cocktails with their dates. Auntie Rive r gave her a little push. Maggie walked in and perched on a stool at the bar. The glass bottles of liquor stacked high in tiers twinkled. Un Coca Cola and rum, per favore, she said to the bartender, just like she was told. Prego, signora, he answered, mixing the drink in a tall glass. He set the glass before her on a napkin and she stared at the ice in wonder. There was a man sliding onto the empty stool next to her before she could say boo. Un altro, per favore, he said to the bartender, then : Posso offrirla una si garetta? he asked, holding a pack of cigarettes out to her. He was short, fat and old enough to be her father. I dont speak Italian, she told him, sipping from her drink. She wondered if the frying pan woman was just around the corn er watching her like she said. Ah, scusi. Would you like a cigarette, signorina? he said with a smile. Okay, she answered, taking a gold tipped cigarette. Are you on holiday here in Italy, signorin a? he asked. He wore a wedding band. (The audience growled).
59 She smiled and tilted her head back, blowing sm oke up in the air. She felt very cool, like Jane Fonda or Faye Dunaway. No, I live here, she said. Not here in Rome? he asked. She nodded. She was supposed to be talking about the Children and God and Love, but she had no idea what to say. Well, that is very lucky. I am only visi ting, but I was hoping for a private tour, of spots only the locals go, you understand? He sm iled, resting his elbows on the bar. She blushed. Im not a local. But nevertheless, perhaps you can help me d ecide if this is the correct hotel. I am concerned that there may be another with a better view you could recommendperhaps if you could see the view from my room you might he lp me decide, the man said with elaborate courtesy. Behind the bar, the bartender rolled his eyes. (Dont do it, one little girl cried out.) Okay, she said with a shrug. The man helped her off the bar stool, guiding her out of the hotel ba r with his hand on her elbow. They walked across the lobby to the elevator s, Maggie stumbling slightly as the heel of her boot caught in the brand new shag carpet. Th e piped-in music playing in the elevator was so cheerful Maggie began to hum along. The man star ed straight ahead unt il the door opened on the fifth floor. Then he took her by the elbow and escorted her down the co rridor, turning his key into the lock of room 512, usheri ng her into the r oom with a bow. So wheres your view? she asked. Would you like a drink? he answered, crossing the room to a small bar. He poured an inch of whiskey into a glass for himself and o ffered her the same. She said no and wandered out to the balcony. The Roman lights shone in the da rkness; she wondered what the other girls in the city were doing at this hour, if they were sitting in their bedrooms doing their homework, sitting
60 down to dinner at their kitchen tabl es with their mothers, if thei r fathers were opening the front door, home from work early enough to eat dinner with the family. The man drank his whiskey and smoked another cigarette, standing too cl ose to her. Shall we? he asked. She followed him into the bedroom and watche d as he slipped off his shoes and set them by the bed. He unbelted his trousers and lay th em on the chair beside the bed, lining up the creases. His legs were hairy. She sat on the bed, playing with the zippers on her boots. When he started on the buttons of his st riped silk shirt, she slipped down the zippers, but he told her to stop. She waited and watched as he took off the shirt and laid it on top of his pants, pulled off his white undershirt and briefs. He stood before her naked. He began to(here Maggie hesitated)to touch himself. Look at me, he ordered. She watched him until he was done. He pulled a chunk of lire out of his money clip, tossed it onto the bed, and walked into the bathroom. Maggie smoothed the top of her ponytail, tugged on the hem of her mini dress, and strode across the bedroom like a superhero in her wonderful white boots. (The f aces of the little kids, all scrunched up and scared, began to relax). She knocked on the door of the bathroom. The shower was running, and there was no answer. She knocked again, and the man calle d, Li ho pagati! molto giusto! Please! I need your help! she said. Che cosa? Take your money and go! Please! she screamed.
61 The shower water stopped and the man opene d the bathroom door. Be quiet! What do you want from me? Please, she said, please. The man shook his finger in her face. Be a good girl and go home. I dont want any trouble from you, capisce? He was still naked. She went into the bathroom and handed him a towel, not looking. Im only fourteen, she told him. I just wa nt to go home. The man wrapped the towel very tightly ar ound his waist, slapped her across the face (booing)and crossed himself. (More booing). He scurried to get dressed. He buttoned his shirt wrong and forgot to tuck it in. He left his belt unbuckl ed. He forgot to put on his undershirt. He held his shoes in his hand and said, Non li conosco dalla vigilia, I have never met you, I did not know you were fourteen. He took th e money from the bed and put it back in his pocket. (The audience began to reci te the last lines with Maggie). I want to go home, she told him, crossing her arms. And if I have to, I can be loud! She screamed. And the man dropped his shoes. Live in peace, Maggie intoned, rais ing her arms in a universal embrace. In peace, the members of the commune st ood and echoed. There were men with long grey braids and women with shor t grey bobs, teenagers with bead s and feathers intertwined in their hair, boy children in dre sses and babies weari ng nothing but sweater s above their bare behinds. Men stood on one side of the barn a nd women on another like there was an invisible barbed wire fence between them.
62 The ice bitten earth crunched under our feet as Sarah led us to her cabin, halfway down the semicircle of cabins surrounding the lake. Sleepy waves sloshed against the bank a few feet away from the path. No one spoke. A chill wind crept through our hats and mittens. The cold seemed endless, but soon Sarah stopped in front of a tiny cabin and lifted the latch. There was no lock, just a bar of metal resting upon a holder. As I stood in the entryway, Sarah and my mother freaking out over wet boots and mittens and the dead fire in the cabins wood stove, I heard a tinkling bell echoing across the lake, and then a loud boom. I squinted into the darkness. Come in and shut the door, Bella, my mother scolded. Dont be scared, its just the gate. There s been the occasional problem with people from the town. We bar the gate at ten oclock curfew to keep us all safe and sound, Sarah said. Bella, shut the door before we all freeze to death! my mother said. I shut the door, setting the flimsy latch in place. I fell asleep in my sleeping bag on a nest of blankets on the floor close to the stove. Very early the next morning, there was a knock at the door. Sarah climbed down the ladder from the sleeping loft and went to the door, stepping over me. She eased the door open and found a note pinned there. Stepping back insi de, she frowned at the piece of paper. I watched her through barely open eyes, pretending sleep. The paper was milky in color, rough, homemade. My mothers name was written on the front, in strange curvy letters. Later I woke to the sounds of my mother and Sarah laughing. Sarah was sitting at the table, drinking a cup of tea, while my mother sto od. Sarah told us to put on our warmest clothes, and we left the cabin to go to breakfast, crunchin g the ice-stiffened dirt of the path as orange sunlight wobbled over the grey of the buildings. The pine tree s were pregnant with snow.
63 Meals at Deep Lake Collective were eaten at long wooden tables, enormous bowls of food placed along the middle, everyone seated on benc hes. This barn held the kitchen and the laundry, as well as the main eating hall. Maggie sa t at the head of the ro om, at a smaller table placed perpendicular to the longer tables. My mother and I were seated at the head table while Sarah sat far down at the other end of the room. Before the food was served, Maggie led the room in saying grace, a prayer unlike any I had heard before. My parents werent religious. No prayers were said over food, sports games, hearts desires. But on holidays at my grandpa rents houses, at sleepovers at friends houses, there had been prayersfrom blunt little rhymes at Christmas to beautiful Hebrew said over the Shabbat table. After breakfast, I was alone. Maggie called my mother to her and, arms linked, they walked away. You can explore today, kiddo. I think your mother may be busy for a while, Sarah said. And then she too walked away. I watched for a few minutes as the barn emptied and those on kitchen duty began to clear the tables. One woman who was clearing the head table began to glance at me. Afraid I was about to be roped in to washing dishes, I slipped off the bench and out of the kitchen barn. I wandered next door to the ga thering barn where I had witn essed the meeting the night before. A group of older men were sitting, naked, in silence on the floor, each an island upon his own mat. Their soft penises lay on nests of gr ey scraggly hair. I stood in the doorway, blinking into the dark of the barn, as they went through a series of yoga poses in unison. One man looked towards me and I backed out quickly, shu tting the door as quietly as I could. I wandered down the path to another ba rn, one that actually had animals.
64 There was no school, and very few childre n. The younger children were kept in the nursery cabin, where the women of the Collectiv e took turns caring for one anothers babies, until said babies were old enough to dress, fee d, and use the latrine on their own. Then they were loosed upon the commune. The elementary school age children were to be found in the animal barn, playing with the baby animals, or in one of grow houses, helping Mosey, the head gardener, tend to the plants. A group of older children were learning crafts from the women. These children sewed, crocheted, quilted for hours each day, making clothing that they would proudly model at mealtimes. Children of all ages would gather after lunch in the gathering barn, where one of the adults woul d read aloud from a classic, Animal Farm or The Bhagavad Gita For a few hours, I joined the young children in cradling the piglets and kittens in the animal barn. I skipped lunch, unwilling to walk into that large gathering barn alone. I hid out in Sarahs cabin. After an hour, I came out of the ca bin, and trudged back to the gathering barn. A woman in her fifties whose grey hair was cr opped into a crew cut was in the middle of Black Beauty, almost to the part where th e horse is separated from its beloved master. But the woman had an irritating habit of interr upting every third paragraph to voice a Marxist analysis of the story of the horse, and I eventually wandered out of the reading, into the deepening gray of the late afternoon. I slipped out of the we st side door and found them waiting for me. It was all four of them, the cr oquet players I had seen when we first entered the Collective, Cass and the knot of kids I had seen in the barn on the first night. They stood in the path, staring at me. There were two teenaged guys with stubbly jaws and long hair, unparted and pulled back in ponytai ls. One ponytail was yellowy blonde, the other dark, curly, and brown. Cass was the one with dark curly hair, Jake the blonde, carrying a
65 cardboard box. Lily, a tall girl with a shaved head, leaned against th e barn. They wore baggy jeans and flannel shirts. The fourth, Aurora, a little younge r and smaller than the rest, wo re a long dress and a little woven pouch on a string over her shoulder. Her ha ir was long, and tangled, the back matted into large knots. Her stomach was swollen. She leaned against Jake as though he were the barn, twirling a stick in her left hand. Cass stepped forward, stood closer than was polit e. In those days, my hair was naturally blonde and reached my waist. I had been Alice fo r Halloween every year of my life. My mother loved to see me in the blue dress with a crinolin e, covered with a white pinafore, my hair held back by a black velvet ribbon, holding a little st raw basket for candy. For years she accompanied me around the neighborhood as the Queen of Hearts, wearing a long red dre ss with a red ruff and a headdress with little cards se wn upon it, until one year I asked if I could go by myself, with my friends. She said of course. The next morni ng I noticed the sleeve of the Queen of Hearts costume hanging out of the trashcan in the kitchen, almost hidden by a layer of beer bottles. When I met him, Cass was about seventeen, but he looked much older than the boys at my high school. It was something in his long, tangled hair, his stubbl e, the smell of his sweat. He was tall, but slender. He had muscles from the manual work they all did at the Collective, but most of the football players really, most of the boysat Conni ngton High School were bulkier. Were going for a ride. Want to come? Cass asked. He turned and they all walked away. They didnt look back to see if I was coming. They walked behind the barn to where the commune vehicles were kept, a graveled area carved out like the buildings from the pine trees. The gravel was sparse and old, st ones studded with patches of dirt. A small metal shed nearby
66 held dozens of red gas cans. Lily took two, holding their weight uneas ily as the gas sloshed around. The commune had three vehiclesa station wa gon, a Japanese sedan, and a battered work van. Cass opened the van with a key that hung around his neck on a hemp lanyard studded with blue beads. The four piled in. Jake slipped the cardboard box in to the foot well of the passenger side seat. I stood a few feet back, still unsure if I would join them. Aurora sat in the seat nearest the passenge r side door. Well? Arent you coming? she asked. I climbed into the van. Get into the back, Aurora told me, handing me a blanket. Get under this. He wont let us through if he sees you, Lily said. I did as I was told, crawling into the back and disappearing under the blanket. The blanket was orange and smelled of dog. Through the tightly woven wool, I could see only dim pinpricks of light. The van stopped at the gate. There was a tap on the passenger side window. Jake rolled it down. Let us through. My mom said we could go, said Cass. Turn that camera off, will you? the gatekeeper said. Come on, youre being captured for posterit y, Cass said. The gatekeepers walkietalkie crackled with static. Gate to Maggie, come in, the gatekeeper called. He tried agai n, and a third time, but got only empty static in response. Your mom knows youre going into town? the gatekeeper asked Cass sharply.
67 Of course, Cass said, rolling his eyes. After a few moments, the van rolled forward. As the van passed the booth, I could hear the squawk of the walkie-talkie as the gatekeeper tried again to reach Maggie. Shes turned her walkie-talkie off because shes in with your mom, Cass called back at me. Under the blanket, I blushed, my stomach fluttering. The van passed through the stockade gates and bounced down the rutted dirt road. You can come out now, Aurora whispered ov er her shoulder. I pulled the blanket off and sat up. I watched through the back window as the stockade gates clos ed behind us, staring until the little flakes of snow twirling down from the soupy grey clouds became a blur. Twenty minutes later, we stood on the front step of a tiny Cape with brown siding and a large flag bearing the image of a grinning snowma n in a top hat. The wind was blowing snow sideways across the road, and the flag whipped ag ainst my cheek. Cass knocked. Inside I heard a dog bark and someone yelling. Then the door wa s opened by a girl our age, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt that couldnt conceal her large chest, her hair twisted into brown dreadlocks. Hi Ellen, Cass said. She looked suspiciously over our shoulders, even though we were cl early the only humans in the vicinity. The house was in the woods at the end of a dirt road off the county highway, almost as isolated as the commune. Come on, Ellen said finally. We cramme d into the entryway, a tiny mudroom where the hooks were overloaded with jackets. Winter boots tidemarked by the sa lted snow lay on the floor where they had been kicked off. We all to ok off our shoes, and followed the girl into the kitchen, passing a living room c ontaining a puffy leather sectional sofa. An print of a red barn hung above the sofa.
68 In the kitchen, the Collective kids sat down on the floor, and Ellen hoisted herself up on a kitchen counter. I slunk to the far end of the kitchen, which wasn t very far from the doorway, to sit at the kitchen table. The ta ble was next to a set of glass sliding doors, opening onto a porch. My friends were skiing in Colora do or riding rollercoasters at Disney World or burning on the beach in Jamaica on their Christmas breaks. I wondered what the fuck I was doing there. Jake rested his box on the ground. Martin is kind of pissed, Ellen warned the others, drumming her heels against a cupboard. She picked up a water bong sitting on the counter and lit it. It began to bubble, a comforting sound like the wh istling of a tea kettle. Ribbons of color, orange and purple, intertwined under the surf ace of the glass down the length of the cylinder. Pissed at us? Cass asked. Ellen shrugged and passed him the bong. Where is he? asked Jake. Basement, Ellen jerked a thumb at a door. Ill go talk to him, Cass said, his hand on the doorknob of the door to the basement. I wouldnt do that, Ellen said. Tried to bring him some cheese fries and he nearly knocked my teeth in. The bong had made its way around the room. Aurora held it out to me. I rose from my seat and took it, my finger replacing Auroras in its position over the hole, clutching the Zippo. I sat, set the bong on my lap, and lit it. I had never smoked from a bong before. The opening was so big I didnt know wh at to do with my mouth, so I wrapped my lips around the whole thing. Everyone laughed. Jake made some obnoxious j oke about blow jobs.
69 There was a chime, a long echoing series of bells that filled the air. I looked towards the hallway, expecting Ellen to s lide down from the counter and answer the front door, but she gestured towards the basement. Go ahead, she said. The Deep Lake Co llective kids stood and walked down into the basement. Jake went first, carrying the box. You too, blondie, Ellen said, sucking on her cigarette, look ing suddenly much older. So I followed through the door and tripped on the top stair. The stairs to the basement were too steep and I reached out for a rail, but there was only empty space. I wobbled for a few seconds, expecting to fall head over heels onto the concrete floor below, but my hand was grabbed and an arm folded around my waist, lifting me from th e stairs and setting me down on the floor. I stepped back, blushing, from Ca ss and looked around the basement. At first, all I could see were the shelves. Made of metal, they cove red three of the walls, reaching from floor to ceiling. Five wire baskets with hand-wr itten labels on them rested on each shelf. I edged closer to the wall and examined one of the labels. Cedar Shingles. I peered through the holes in the wire basket at hundreds of tiny honey colored squares of wood. I put my no se up to the basket and inhaled. The fourth, exterior wall was hung with little display cases containing tiny rooms. In one of these shadowboxes, a doll sat in a wing chair next to a small ta ble. She was shrouded in a long white dress that covered her from throat to toe. A wide pink sash cinched her waist. Her blonde hair was swept up into a mushroom cap on top of her head. Her blue eyes were painted open. One hand reached out into airwhether to pick up one of the wee teacups adorned with pink roses on the spindly table, or to emphasi ze a word she was trying to let loose from her painted shut lips, it was hard to say.
70 Martin leaned over the worktable in the center of the room. Martin was a lot older than us and wore thick glasses. He was short, fa t, and bald. It was difficult to imagine him threatening to knock anyones teet h in, let alone his girlfriendi f that was what Ellen was. Whats your name? he asked, dipping a tiny brush into a pot of red paint and gently stroking a piece of trimwork. Th e curliques were a perfect 1/10th scale replica of the trim on the house in the Polaroid. He didnt lift his head, but I kne w he was speaking to me. Bella. Bella, he mimicked. So, whats up, Martin? Jake asked, arms cro ssed and feet planted on either side of the box. Martin paused, looked around the room, out the tiny windows halfway covered in dirty snow as though he expected the answer to be written on the greyed glass. Whats up? You kids came to visit me, ri ght? I didnt send any message to you. Didnt ask you to come over here. Maybe I should be asking you whats up. We brought you the box, Cass said. Give it to me. Jake handed Martin the box. Martin set it on his worktable and pull apart the flaps. He pulled out a plastic bag, and I waited to see white powder, green buds, bullets. But the bag was fille d with tiny carved wooden panelsminiature wainscotting. This is not what I asked for. I need squares, not rectangles. What the hell am I going to do with this? He shook the bag in the air. Ellen said Boy, youre going to save yourself a whole lot of trouble if you remember one simple rulenever listen to a female. Especially one like Ellen. Then I did something stupid.
71 Yeah, I mean, why listen to a girl when you can just knock her teeth in? I said. Martin looked at me for the first time since we had trooped down the stairs. Who is this? Who is she? Why is she here? he yelle d, spit flying from hi s thick little mouth. Martin, Bellas a friend of ours. Dont worry about it, Cass said. Dont worry about it? Martin flung his pa intbrush down on the worktable, splattering the nude, waiting pieces of trim lined up along one si de with red paint. He came out from behind the table and pointed his finger in my face. Who are you? Who are you? he asked. I stood still, looking over his shoulder at a row of baskets on a middle shelf on the wall across th e room. Joints. Bathroom Tile. Curtain Rods. It was like when my dad went off. The other kids were saying things, but I didnt hear what they said. I was waiting. It was in the way he got quiet, his cheek twitc hed, his whole face darkened to purple. Think youre better than me, huh? he hissed, and then he slapped me. When we left, there was an orange dog lying in the middle of Route 3. The van almost hit it, but Cass swerved in time and we pulled over to the side of the road. We all got out and walked over to the dog. We were in the middl e of the busiest road for miles around, and soon another car was almost upon us. Jake went and stood in the middle of the lane, motioning the cars to slow down. At first we couldnt tell if he was alive. His eyes were closed There was blood on his muzzle, and on the ground under his mouth. Aurora knelt on the cold asphalt and put her hand on his stomach. Hes breathing, she said after several minutes.
72 We need to get him out of the road, Cass said. Are you sure we should we move him? I aske d, images of CPR instructors telling us to never move the victim, to brace th e neck on a backboard in case of spinal injury swirling through my head. But Lily grabbed his back legs and Cass his front, and they moved him onto the verge of the road by the van. The dog had shit himself. Aurora knelt down again, stroking him and murmuring sweet little things. Should we call Animal Services? I asked. B ack home this would have been the right thing to do. Theyd just put him down, Lily said scor nfully. She leaned up against the van, arms crossed, refusing to get involved. Come on, get up, Cass was telling the dog, who still hadnt opened his eyes. Maggie opened the door and came towards us. She was wearing another shawl, this one all the colors of the fall leaves. Youre back from your trip, she said sweetly. She looked us over, barely acknowledging the dog bleeding on the ground a few feet away. Where is Cass? she asked. Im over here, Maggie, Cass called from a corner when no one answered her. She squinted in his direction. Filming? she inquired. He nodded. The dog seemed to be breathing more slowly. Aurora put her hand, and then her ear to his stomach. What should we do? I asked Maggie. I could sense immediately from the way the others stiffened, didnt look at each other, that this was the wrong thing to do. The dog made a
73 noise somewhere between a whimper and a screech. Aurora folded herself even closer to him, her hands slowly stroking from head to back. Bella. Maggie released my name in a long sigh. She came closer and put her hands on my shoulders. I trust your judgment, she said, You can deci de how to handle this. And then, with a general smile at all of us, she walked away.
74 CHAPTER 7 NIGHT That night my m other arrived, as I slept, I was the ocean. We came flowing up Centre Street. We covered the cobblest ones and splashed at the ankles of the people and the wheelwells of the cars. We were dark and strong, roiling wi th the strength of the tid e that pushed us over the level of the sea. We lapped at th e roots of the trees, a wet relen tless tongue. Then out of us like a hiccup came a wave, dragging down small dogs and children and shopping bags. The people were left standing about in wais t deep water, the trees suddenl y shortened, the cars drowned. Parents put their remaining children on th eir shoulders and made for higher ground I rose out of the water and fl ew out of town, along Milestone Road, out towards the stretch of barren conservation land called the Serengeti. It was now a lake, punctuated by the tooth of Altar Rock. A dozen houses perched upon the cliff in Sconset had been knocked off by the force of the rising ocean. They floated, upside down, several hundred yards out to sea.
75 CHAPTER 8 BOOKSTORE I woke up earlier than anyone. I snuck out of bed and went upstairs to stand on the porch. A light breeze carried the scent of the box hedge up acro ss the lawn and ruffled the edges of the rosa rugosa, which was gleam ing pinkly on the trellis above the front door and in clumps around the patio. I lifted my face to the sun, closing my eyes. For a moment, there was no ocean breeze touching the air with cold fingers, warning of the iron grey months to come. There was only the smell of box and grass and lavender. I took Violet and my mother to the bookstore before the rest of them were up. We passed a few bikers already pedaling away on their identical blue rental bikes on the bike path that ran parallel to the road. I liked to open the store. There was a girl Gil had hired for the summer who was supposed to open, but I preferred to be there, with the books, in the quiet. I sat on the window ledge and looked out at Owl Street, unwra pping the red foil of a chocolate I had grabbed from the bowl next to the register. Outside the window, the restaurant next door was getting ready to open. A girl in a black apron sat at one of the outdoor tables, rol ling silverware into napkins. My last restaurant job had been four years be fore. It was at an Italian place called Sprigo. That restaurant closed soon after, and then in its place came Gardenia, and then The Grey Lady, and after that I forget. I worked at Sprigo the winter I was ninetee n, One night in late November or early December, it was slowonly three tables all nightand they told me to go home. After a few drinks with the guys in the kitchen, I put on my down jacket and my scarf, my boots and hat and mittens, and left. Stepping out of the restaurant was like stepping into a black-and-white movie.
76 Winter on the island is not colorized. The trees, houses, fences, sidewalks were all grey. The cobblestones of the streets were grey. Where it wasnt grey, it was white. The shutters on the houses were white. Snow was falling fast, veiling the sidewalk and the parked cars in white. The weather was so bad the ferry hadnt been able to make the trip back to the mainland. I went down India Street, past the library, closed and quiet, turned down Centre and then up Main. I walked through the downtown. No one was driv ing on the cobblestoned streets or walking on the brick sidewalks. I walked past the stores all the way up to the bank, and then I kept going up, stopping in front of the huge old houses, thre e brick triplets, a white columned cake, all shuttered for the winter. Up the street it was da rker and darker, and so I went back down Main towards the stores. I turned left on Petticoat Row, looking in the shop s at all the beautiful things. The stores were decorated for the Christmas Stro ll weekend, when prizes would be awarded for the best displays. I stopped at Gils bookstore An entire little town was in his window. Every little store and house and church glowed with light. The roof s were frosted with snow, thick globs like th e buttercream icing on the cupcakes at the bakery on Orange Street. Trees with long naked branches reached out over the buildings, each of which wore a red-bowed wreath. The PrettyPenny Sisters Lace Shop, a grey stone cottage with green shutters, was next to Thom Thumbs Butchery, a white and red building whose sign was swinging in the chilly breeze. The brick chimney of the Eau de Beaute perf ume shop puffed curls of white cotton smoke. Carolers stood on the steps of the bank, leaning against the ropes of ev ergreen threaded through its black iron railings. Girls in bright big-skirted dr esses warmed their hands in muffs as they skated across a pond of glass. Boys hid behind the perfectly cone-shaped pines at the edges of the pond,
77 throwing snowballs at the skaters. A bunch of ki ds were building a snow castle, watched over by a snowman with a coal-toothed smile. In the center of the village square was a ta ll tree buried in ribbons and tinsel and popcorn garlands, glass balls and little tw inkling stars. A gold angel spr ead her wings at the top of the tree. A father carried a sack of presents on hi s back across the icy stone s of the square, heading towards a thatched house where a mother with gold hair read by the fire to her children. Sticking out of the top of his sack were tiny copies of books I almost remembered The Night before Christmas The Polar Express. At the mansion on the hill they were having a Christmas party. A long line of carriages pulled by white horses waited in front of the hou se. A girl stepped out of one, helped by a young man in a fancy suit. She wore a white hat over her black curls and carried a tiny dog. Above the village hung a regular-sized paper sign that said Happy Holidays, in glittery silver letters. I heard a little bell, and looked closer at the village, searching for a bell swinging in a church steeple or a caroler ringing a hand bell. Arent you freezing out ther e? called a man from the doorway of the bookstore, the sleigh bells on the handle of the door still echoing. He was tall, grey-haired, and had nice eyes. I went inside. Would you like something warm? Cappucino? he asked me. Sure, I said, and he ducked behind the long carved counter of the register and disappeared behind a purple cu rtain covering a doorway to the right of the counter. There were the bookshelves, and some big chairs, but what I noticed most was that everywhere there wasart, I guess. Exotic rugs on the floor, Asian statue s in the corners, tiny paintings hung in rows on the walls. The cash register counter was long, like a bar, and carved
78 all down the front with female goddesses. On th e top of the counter were little baskets and stands of knick-knacks, beaded bracelets, tarot card packs, Magic 8 Balls, tiny silver good luck charms, and magnets with pictures of fifties hous ewives, balloons floating from their mouths full of sassy sayings. I stood there in my dow n jacket, wondering if I should be there. Are you visiting? The sleigh bells on the door handle jingled as Amy, the college kid Gil hired for the summer, came in, carrying an iced coffee. I was thinking about going to get one when she stopped in the middle of the room. She looked a ll nervous, and I said, What? in a joking way. Im so, so sorry to hear about your mother, Bella. God, that sounds so stupid, she said and then she stopped awkwardly. Oh, that. No, dont worry about it. I he ard my mother snort from somewhere in the Philosophy section and glared in her direction. Is there anything? I mean, anyt hing you want me to do? she asked. Actually, could you get me an iced coffee? Of course, absolutely. She started to bo lt towards the door as if I had asked her to secure the nuclear launch codes. Oh, and Amy, can you make sure they put in extra ice and a raw sugar? Ill take care of it, she nodded, shutting th e door very carefully behind her. Violet stared after her, then went back in to the childrens section to read.
79 That first night, Gil drove us out to Madaquesh am in his Triumph. My car was in the A&P lot under inches of snow. I have a generator, in case the power goes out, he told me. It was snowing so hard the windshield wipers couldnt keep up. We skidded into the other lane as we passed the airport road. My wife and kids are away. Id love to have someone to watch this movie with. The automatic lights came on as we stumbled out of the low green car onto his gravel driveway. They hurt my eyes. For a second I thought it was his wife catching us. He dropped his keys and had to dig through the snow, without gloves. We were laughing so hard at his digging through the snow that we didnt even need th e excuse of something to drink. In the front hall he took off my coat and kissed me. He was older, and less embarrassed. He pulled me on top of him, and nudged me onto my knees. After he came, and I pretended I did, I lay there, not touching him. He spooned up against my back and kissed my hair like we had done this before. He went into the shower, and I thought, is this what grown-ups do? Shower afterwards? None of my others had. I got up from the bed and opened the top drawer of the burea u. I stood, completely naked, fluid dripping down the inside of my thigh, and looked at his wife s underwear. The drawer was divided by zigzagged pieces of plastic, and in each angled nich e there was a set, bra and undies. All matching white cotton, the brand name printed on the waistb and. In the drawer below were her socks and nylons. Thick black tights, pairs and pairs of white tube socks. At the back were a few pairs of novelty socks, printed with smiling cows or pink breast cancer ribbons. In the next two drawers were stacks of nightgowns and flannel pajamas. On the top of the dresser was her jewelry box. It was a tall stack of wooden ovals, each level swinging open on a hinge. In the top tray were earrings: gol d lightship baskets, pearls, a
80 pair of big diamond studs. I put the diamonds in my ears, slid my hand down the curve of my waist and posed in the mirror in my red lace thong and bra. If only I had known then how nice I looked! Before Alice, I would complain about a shadow of cellu lite below my ass, a pocket of softness under my arm. After Alice there were stiches in my cunt, red stretch marks across my belly like a wild cat had clawed me. Gil finished his shower and fucked me agai n, this time against the dresser, thong pulled aside, while I wore his wifes earrings. I still feel bad about that. The first few customers were browsers, who ca me in after having breakfast at one of the restaurants. A few people bought beach reads. I let Amy work the register and I enjoyed my coffee as I used the computer to check on recent orders. A pair of mothers marched up to the counter. Their horde of pale haired kidsthey must have had three or four eachran to the back of the store, where we had a special section of toys and childrens books. They started in on Amy. Im looking for a childrens book. Its new, it has a pink coverdo you know which one Im talking about? said the skinny mother. Amy led her back to the childre ns section to scan the covers of the picture books, and the sk innier mother tapped her fingers on the counter. Excuse me, can you help me? I need to find The Cat in the Hat ? Its spelled T-H-E She went on to spell out the entire title. Sorry, can you spell that again? I asked. She rolled her eyes, spelled it again, and I tapped the keys on the computer, pr etending to type it in. A line started forming behind her. Nope, cant find it. Try the li brary, I told her. Amy return ed to the front with the first mother, carrying an armful of books for her.
81 Customer service just gets worse every summer. Where do they find these people? the skinny mother asked the skinnier. Amy blushed and began to ring up their books with shaking hands. Why dont you go take a break, I murmured to her. Its okay, really, she said, not looking at me. Go, I got it, I said. Amy ducked away behi nd the curtain and I finished the transaction, sending the mothers on their way with a loud, Enjoy your stay! The rest of the line was fine. Children bought br acelets, bouncy balls or the latest in the series they were reading. One man bought Casss book. A pair of teenage girls in mini-skirts bought a stack of magazines and a Magic 8 Ball. They shook it on their way out, giggling about boys. At the end of the line was the mother of one of Chloes friends. I smiled at the familiar face in a sea of strangers. Busy this morning? she asked. She and he r husband ran a bike rental shop down on the Strip. Busy enough. She leaned in to whisper over the counter. Is it me or do they get ruder every year? This guy was going on, this and that, complaining about how it used to be like this last year because we moved the sunblock display from the front of the store to the back! I told her about The Cat in the Hat woman and we laughed together. Well, you knowcan't wait to see their money at the beginning of the summer and can't wait to see them leave at the end. When finally there was a lull, I sat on the st ool we kept behind the counter and reached for my drink. The ice had all melted.
82 I tossed the plastic cup in the trash and glan ced up at the article about me. There was a weight-bearing column right in the front of the store, so Gil had painted it br ight blue and used it as a kind of bulletin board. The column was c overed with articles a bout the bookstore, about Gil, Gil and Susan. The interv iew about Casss book was my firs t and last appearance on the column. People passed by the window outside, carrying shopping bags and talking loudly. I closed my eyes briefly, and then opened them at the so und of the sleigh bells on the door handle. Susan walked in, expecting to see Gil. I can always tell when she s expecting him, because her face changes when I answer the door at the house or wh en its me behind the counter at the bookstore. It closes like a fist, just like Et hans, but Susan makes hers open again. Susan is really short, a little over five feet, olive ski n, big dark curly hair. Its clichd, but were completely opposite, physically. Oh my God! What are you doing here? Sweetie, you should not be here. You should be home with your baby right now. What was Gil thinking? she told me. Its all right, Susan, I wanted to come in. My mother doesnt mind. Of course not, dear. Susan smiled at me. My mother came out of the corner where she had been reading and put a hand on my arm. Bella, dont make a scene. You know they cant see me, my mother said. I know, Kate, but would it kill everyone to make a little bit of an effort? I raised my voice. Customers were staring. Bella, lets just step out side. Susan hooked her arm through mine and pulled me gently towards the back door. Amy, Im leaving you in charge. Amy nodded at Susan, who after all still owned half the bookstore.
83 Wait! Wait for me! Violet called as we left. She came running to the back door, holding a copy of Nightbirds on Nantucket in one hand and her shoes in the other. Bella? Susan asked. Sorry, Violet, I said. Susa n, this is my sister, Violet. I didnt know you had a sister, Susan said. Neither did I. Violet and I walked to Susans car hand in hand while Kate blew in Susans ear and pinched her arms.
84 CHAPTER 9 BED At hom e they were waiting for me. Be lla, shes dead. Your mother is dead. I looked at her, standing less than an arm s length away from me, making a disappointed face at Gil. She led Violet away. I know that, I said. I knew that. I walked away. I took a knife from the drawer next to the refrigerator and put it in the pocket of my jeans. I just need to be alone for a minute, I told them. I went into our bedroom, and then into our bathroom, and locked the door. Not to kill myself, obviously. The knife was just a little insurance against the waves coming for me. Of course, she was already in there. A little privacy, please? She shook her head. My mother watched as I drew on my skin: swirls, Xs and Os. The knife left white trails, edges of torn skin, no blood. Careful. Bella, open the door. Gil pounded on the door and pulled at the handle. The bathroom door opened. Gil was lifting me to my feet, guiding me to the bed, and my therapist was standing at my side. Bella, Im going to give you something thats going to help you relax and sleep. Fine by me, I thought. I stuck the pi ll between my teeth and my lip, and as it dissolved nothing mattered, and I floated on a numbness. All the while my mother was still s itting in a corner of the room, chattering away, as I drifted off. I wanted to be well and truly fucked up. To forget. Forget, forget, forget. When I woke, my mother wanted to tal k. Bella, why are you so angry at me? How long have you got?
85 She snorted. I mean, we could talk about the divorce, or we could talk about the commune, we could talk about the I stopped, st epped around the next thing and continued. We both knew I skipped it. You know what you did, I said. She waited. You told them I was crazy. She raised her eyebrows at the bed, seeded with food crumbs and used tissues and gossip magazines, the plates of food on the floor, the pill bottles on the nightstand, the bottle of beer for swallowing the pills. Im not that kind of crazy, I said. Bella, I did the best I could. We said nothing. There was nothing to say. The first pysch ward was a big hospital floor where every room smelled like urine, every inch of the tiled bathroom smelled like someone had been pissing on the walls, the mirror, the shower curtain. The nurses kept behind their station and the patients wandered around in hospital gowns, the backs not tied very well. I kept getting flashe s of assessaggy, hairy, tanned, round. I sat on the bench by the door. I wa s only there for ten minutes. My mother saw the big male patients and smelled the piss bathroom and marched us out of there. It was the second ward, the one with only females, that was peace. It was in Newtonor was it Brookline? I cant remember Its blurry, the car ride to the place, seeing college kids walking the sidewalks and wondering how normal happened, how I slipped off the tracks, why clawing the insides of my wrists with my fingernails wa s like breathing.
86 Youre Depressed. Paxil You. Are. PSYCHOTIC. And Bipolar? Librium Haldol Seroquel Klonopin Ativan Risperdal Klonopin Lithium Klonopin Dalmane Glad You Kicked That Psychot ic Thing! Youre Bipolar. Depakote & Neurontin Topamax & Neurontin Seroquel & Neurontin Tegretol & Neurontin Lamictal & Neurontin Topamax & Neurontin Youre Pregnant. Valium Congratulations! Youre NOT Bipolar. (Na ughty, naughty Paxil.) Youre Depressed. Celexa But Youre Still Anxious.
87 Celexa and Xanax Now Youre Fat. Wellbutrin & Therapy Wellbutrin & Prozac Wellbutrin & Lexapro Wellbutrin & Trazodone & Klonopin Wellbutrin & Klonopin & Effexor
88 CHAPTER 10 THE WORD BIRD Som etimes my mother lay next to me. She di d yoga stretches on the rug, sat on the chair, fiddled with the television, poke d fingers in the bowls of chicken noodle soup Gil brought me. Too cold, she said, Bella likes it hotter. But he didnt hear. Sometimes I would wake up and Violet was next to me, nestli ng between me and my mother. Chloe brought glasses of water and tea, pl ates of cinnamon-sugar toast. She placed magazines on my nightstand. Sometime s, she carried notes from Gil. The air was salty and smelled of cut gra ss. The landscapers had come, whirring and roaring around my windows. I got up and cranked the windows shut; closed the curtains so they couldnt see me. Chloe and Violet brought Alice in and placed he r between my mother and I. Alice smacked on her pacifier like a teenager chewing gum, and pulled on my mothers long hair. Alice listened quietly as Violet told us all a story with me in it. One morning, a flying pig appeared to a little girl. The Word Bird is very sick. You must go to him. But how do I get there? Bella asked. Through a forest, across a jungle, a nd past a city, until you reach the sea. But how can I make him better? The flying pig could not tell Bella, because the words were dying. Bella walked. Through the forest of lost children, who could not cry for home. Acro ss the jungle of wild animals, that could not growl their names. Past the city of parents, who could not say I love you. Until she came to the sea.
89 On the very tippity tip of a jetty was the Word Birds nest. The rocks were very slippery. Bella got down and crawled. Her knees bled. Her fingers froze. Suddenly, she slipped on a patch of slime and fell into the sea. Help! she thought, for she could not speak. As she sank, she felt a sharp tug on her cloak. The Word Bird pulled Bella into his nest. No one has visited me for hundreds of years, he said. I was dying of loneliness till you came. All of us, the children and th e animals and the parents, need you, said Bella. Dont die. Will you stay with me? asked the Word Bird. I cant stay. I must go home. But I will write you forever, every week, rain or shine, happy or sad, Bella said. And that is how the words were saved, Violet said. I came to myself in one dream. I was lying in bed, taking another pill, and the other me walked in and stood next to the bed. She was wearing a pair of earri ngs I had thought about buying, a cute skirt and a li ttle tank top. She was carry ing Alice in the sling. I didnt want to be the one to say this, but someone has to. You know, you have a responsibility to your child. Its selfish to just lie here in be d, not even taking care of her. But Mom is I dont have time for this. I have to go nurse the baby. She cut me off. You wont believe what I said to me, I told my mother when I woke up. Children. She shook her head.
90 CHAPTER 11 ALICE Gil wanted us to have a baby. I didnt think I would get pregnant, just like I didnt really believe I would ever go to the m oon or die. At my prenatal yoga class, one of the other preggers passed out copies of a list. One of my girlfriend s emailed this to me. She says its a lifesaver for us first-time moms. Snuggle a Bug cloth diapers Maya Wrap Sling-Bright Stripes by Maya Wrap ERGO Baby Carrier w/ Solid Lining Camel w/ Camel Mary Jane Pastel Baby Socks by Trumpette Robeez Infant/Toddler Kitty Slip On BabyLegs Blue Bubbles Leg Warmers by BabyLegs The Baby Book: Everything You Need to K now About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two (Revised and Updated Edition) by William Sears The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding: Sevent h Revised Edition (La Leche League International Book) by La Leche League International Bummis Super Snap Diaper Cove r: Small (8.5-15 lbs) by Bummis 3-Pack Girl Kissaluvs Fi tted Cloth Diaper: Size 0 (5-16 lbs) by Kissaluvs Evenflo Triumph 5 Convertible Car Seat Walnut Hills by Evenflo Fisher Price Peek-A-View Auto Mirror Seahorse by Blue Ridge SIGN with your BABY Baby Sign Language Kit: Includes Book, How-to DVD, Quick Reference Guide by Joseph Garcia Signing Time! Vol. 1: My Firs t Signs DVD DVD ~ Leah Coleman
91 Medela 100% Cotton Washable Nursing Pads 4 Pack by Medela Medela Nursing Stool by Medela Bosom Baby Lavender Dot Nursing Pillow by Bosom Baby V-neck Nursing T, Short Sleeve by Nursing Mamas Majamas MJ Maternity/Nursing Pajamas by Majamas Lansinoh Lanolin Nipple Cream by Lansinoh Basic Comfort Especially for Baby C ontoured Changing Pa d by Basic Comfort Complete Healthcare Kit by Dorel Lighthouse Backpack by Lands' End Weleda toiletry products Graco Ultra Clear Dual Pa rent Monitor ~ Graco Baby Boppy Rock In Comfort Travel Swing ~ KIDS II Arm's Reach Natural Original Co-Sleeper ~ Arm's Reach Concepts Maclaren Volo Saffron Orange Stroller The First Years Sure Comfort Newborn to Toddler Tub Baby Whoozit Baby Einstein Discover & Play Entertainer by Graco Baby Sassy Me In The Mirror by Sassy Baby's Quiet Sounds Video Monitor Medela(R) Limited Edition Pump in Style Advanced-Taupe & Chocolate Brown with Mulberry Trim By the end of the list I was ready to abort.
92 Before Alice, Gil and I smoked pot together. He had a pipe made of green jade, really beautiful, just like everything he ow ns. In the first couple of mont hs I was sick all the time. Take strawberriesI'd want strawberries so bad I had to have them right then. Strawberries were the only food in the world I could imagine eating. I' d eat them, and fifteen minutes later I'd be puking them up in the bathroom. Strike strawberries off the list. It went on and on, till I could only keep down Wheat Thins, Twizzlers, and Che rry Coke. I went to the doctor and he said, Its normal, perfectly normal. Gil caught me sitting on the patio smoking up. Women in Jamaica do it, and their babies turn out fine, I argued. My baby's not Jamaican, he said. He went to the tool shed, took out a hammer and hit the pipe. It skidded away off th e table, just barely chipped, but he made a big crack in the table thats still there.
93 CHAPTER 12 HETAL SHAH I wouldnt get out of bed. My m other told me to go take a shower, to eat something, to change my clothes. When her nagging didnt wo rk, she said, "Talk to me. Anything. Tell me. This winter there was a real crazy woman who came to the island, I told her. She was homeless. And, you know, there really aren't any homeless people on Nantucket there's no homeless shelter. There are pe ople who live in shacks and boats, people who live five to a bedroom, but they're under the radar. This wo man, Hetal Shah, was all over, in everyone's faces. I went to coffee at the Bean with the mo thers' group (have I told you about them? I asked. She shook her head). I saw her through the window, pacing before she decided to come in. The girl and the guy who worked the counter at the coffee shop started freaking out when they saw her. "Oh my God, she's back!" "We need some security here." "I have no problem having her thrown out of here. The safety of you guys has to come first." Hetal pushed open the swinging wooden door. She walked up to the counter and began asking questions from a sheet of paper. "Can you please explain this to me? What is the difference between a slave and an employee? Wh at is the difference between servitude and slavery?" Hetal shook the piece of paper. "I don't know, I don't know, I don't care," the counter guy said. "You can't do this in here," the girl said. Hetal went back outside. I glanced out the wi ndow at her; she was smoking a cigarette. I
94 went outside and stood near her, sipping my coffee. She sat on the ground, her big bag spilled all over. On the bricks of the patio were a box of maxipads, loose cigarettes lined paper, stained white underwear, a handful of library pencils. Sh e had these huge green eyes and big glasses. She looked like she hadnt showered in a whileh er legs were hairy, her toenails so long they curled. And she was wearing just flip flops, ev en though it was November, and this blanket over her head. Do you have a place to stay ? I asked Hetal. Is there someone I can call? She looked up at me and asked, What is the difference between servitude and slavery? I offered her some money. She said no, she couldn t take money from me. I said she could pay me back, so finally she took it. I walked to the police station, ji ttery with too much caffeine. The last time I had been in there, I tried to report Gils car as stolen. It tu rned out the problem was that I forgot where I had parked it. But luckily, I couldnt report it b ecause I couldnt remember the make, model, or license plate number. The only thing I knew about it was that it was a bl ack truck, and it was not where I had left it. It was very embarrassing. Luckily, the police officer on duty was not the one I had talked to during the truck incident. I told him about Hetal. Yup, weve been dealing with this woman fo r the past week. Names Hetal Shah. Shes been kicked out of the Town Building, out of the library, we brought her in for the night and tried to feed her, but she thinks the food here is poisoned. She ag reed to go to the hospital, but when she got up to the window, she suddenly lost interest, the officer explained. Well, I gave her a little money, but
95 This hard faced woman wearing too much makeup who sat next to the cop interrupted me. I thought about giving her money too, but it s just like giving a dru nken bum money. Its not going to do her any good. When she ge ts hungry enough, shell come back. Well, I dont think its exactly the same thing, I mumbled. In the chorus of thank yous that came from the crowd that had now ga thered, I made my way out the door. In the middle of the night I thought of the perfect thing to say. Yeah, because when shes starving to death, shes suddenly going to regain her sanity, stop thinking the food at the police stati on is poisoned, and de cide to go there. The next day I went into the Bean during a break from the books tore. Hetal was sitting in the corner seat of the coffee shop, writing. The Bean was really busy for November, and this guy I knew, Will, was working at the counter. I ordered coffee and a muffin, and I asked Will, Hows she doing? She comes in first thing, this whole week, every day has been getting worse. Today she was harassing people, saying, Pay me a dollar to look at me. The last thing I heard was th at one of the church groups dona ted a ferry ticket to get her off island. My mother cried.
96 CHAPTER 13 DOWN Maybe I should join m y mother there, on the invisible side. Maybe Kate and I could braid each others hair and hold each other and whis per things that make no sense forever but understand each other perf ectly. Maybe there would be no missing pieces, no misunderstandings, no edges that dont match up. Ma ybe she would be me and I her as it was in the beginning, forever and ever Amen. But reall y, it probably would be my own personal hell. My mother changed her clothes. Id never se en that black dress before, with the smocking on the top and the eyelet skirt. Whered you get that? I asked. A store in town. Her smile was coy. I asked no more questions; it was even more exhausting to speak to her dead than when she wa s alive. But what does dead mean, anyway, if you can go shopping? Mom, who is Violet? Wh ered you find her? I asked. She found me. Dont you recognize her? I felt myself sinking away. I buried myself in the covers when Gil came in the room. I hurt. Violet was the only living one who felt lik e water, who didnt tear me with her eyes. Death will have no tentacles, no inner tubes ex panding in your ribs, pushing jagged glass into your heart, I told myself. Death will not be. And for a moment, that w ill feelnot feel?lucky. I saw the newspaper. Everyone was dead or dying. I hated this world.
97 CHAPTER 14 CASS I woke up at the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. I got out of bed and tiptoed down the hall, stopping at a window to see who it was. A girl wearing a wiggle dress got out of Gils car, long dark ha ir coiled across her breasts, dark sunglasses covering her eyes. S he leaned against the car, shifting every few minutes as though in response to an invisible camera, an imaginary photographer calling, Give me sexy! Give me pouty! Good, now more! Cass climbed out behind her. They had come from the commune. He still dressed in all black. He wore sunglasses. He was taller, thic ker, and had less hair. Gil said something and Cass said something back, pushing his sunglasses up in to his hair. His dark eyebrows were still shaggy, crazy long hairs going in all directi ons. His voice was rough; he coughed like a smoker. I heard Gil open the front door. I walked back down the hall to the bedroom and slid under the covers, lying on my side with my back to the door. She was still sitting in the chair in the corner. Cass is here. Wonderful. She dangled her legs over the ar m of the chair and tipped her head back so that her hair brushed the ground. What day is it today? I asked. She told me. I had been in bed a week. Has he brought that girl of his? she asked. Who is she? No response. I heard them walking down the hall towards my bedroom. She might be sleeping, Gil said quietly. I felt them th ere, peeking into the room. You might as well say hello, my mother told me.
98 Gil touched my shoulder. Bella, are you aw ake? I stretched, pretending to be halfasleep, and turned towards him. Gil sat on the ed ge of the bed, and Cass leaned against the wall. Violet slipped in behind them. My mother cros sed the room and lay down next to me. She got under the covers and brushed my bare legs with her cold feet. God, this must make Cass happy. Now he can finally have everything his own way. Mother, what are you talking about? I whispered. Now he can finally run the whole show. Is this your stepdaughter? Cass asked. Chloe, right? He smiled at her. There were little wrinkles cut under his eyes No. Cass, dont you know Violet? He s hook his head. I looked at Violet. She was sitting in the corner chair. My mother got up, st ood next to her and stro ked her hair, starting at her forehead and running her hand all the way down the length of it. Violets eyes were nearly shut. Sorry, Im confused. Doesnt she live at th e Collective? With my mother? Shes my mothers kid, right? Cass shr ugged, smiled. He looked stoned. Ok, but you see her, right? You se e her sitting in that chair? Of course I see her. A very sleepy young la dy, brown hair, probably thinks were a pair of kooky grumps, right Violet? Cass ta lked like an idiot to children. He doesnt know me, Violet told me. Cass nodded. Cass was there, in my kitchen, leaning against the granite countertop, a bottle of beer in his hand. He was there. My face felt like it wa s wearing the wrong expression, that everyonemy mother, Gil, Cass and Jacqueline, Violet and Ethan, even Chloe and Alicecould see through me. In my kitchen, wearing black jeans, a black t-shirt, black boots, taller even than Gil, just so
99 present I pressed my hand to my mouth to stop fro m giggling as Gil leaned into the refrigerator to take out some cheese. So we got into Hyannis, and then. Cass was speaking, though I wasnt paying attention to what he said. In a moment Id fi nd myself naked, and the ch ildren would look at me as though I had farted, and then Id wake up. Lets go out into the garde n, Gil said. Once we were th ere, sitting in the Adirondack chairs, Ethan circling the terrace in his Wheelies, Chloe helping Alice to walk along the flower beds, I was embarrassed. About the house, the car, all the things, Gils things, that Cass must hate. Jacqueline wandered away through the garde n, a glass of wine in her hand, sighing every so often. I imagined Cass in Gils place. Somehow, we had ended up here together, just another Saturday evening, the sun slippi ng away into the sea as we drank beer and ate cheese and crackers while the coals of the grill got hot, the ki ds bickering and lifting their little tanned hands up to the table to grab another cracker. So, Im sorry I dont seem to have much to offer you, Gil said, gesturing at the meat sitting next to the grill, the crackers and cheese. My mother, standing behind his chair, smirked. Since youre all vegan, I meanI dont know what I mean. No, its fine, Cass said. Ill eat pretty much anything. Gil nodded and went inside to get more wine. Cass leaned over and put his ar m around my shoulders. Ethan bellied up to the table and glared at Cass. Does my dad know youre doing that? he asked. Ethan! Go to your room right now! Youre not my mother, he said, and he wh eelied away inside, digging in his heels when
100 he reached the grass, tearing out little clumps. Cass just laughed and shook his head. I went inside to use the bathroom a little while later. WHOR was written in my lipstick on the bathroom mirror. The lipstick was on its side, uncapped, next to the toothbrush holder. What do they teach them at that school? I thought. And then I corrected his spelling, adding the E with quick even strokes. I added a curlicue on the bottom with two hash marks. I thought about using so me more colors, doing a whole mural, but then Alice started crying a nd I went downstairs.
101 CHAPTER 15 EENY, MEENY, MINY, MOE Dont follow us, Mother. I m ean it, I to ld her as I dressed. She shook her head in disapproval, but she didnt follow as I tiptoed out of my room. Gil was still sleeping on the couch upstairs. Cass and I were walking to the beach. We snuck out of the house before anyone else was awake. He put his arm around my shoul ders and we walked like that through the fog. I didnt think wed end up like this did you? I asked. He shrugged. What did you want to be when you grew up? I asked him. An astronaut. I wanted to go to space camp so bad. I begged my mother for like six months. But then I found out astronauts had to have 20/20 vision, so, poof, he waved his hand. There went that dream. I never knew that. So how about you? What did you want to be? he asked. I shrugged. I dont know. I always wa nted to be the best at something. We sat on the cold sand, watching the sun rise. He pulled a silver one -hitter, a baggie and a lighter out of his pocket. I watched as he pack ed it, inhaled, packed again and passed it to me. What the hell, I said, and I lit up. After it was done, Cass took a round yellow pill out of a bottle in his pocket and put it on his t ongue. He handed me one and I swallowed. After a while, I put my hand down his shorts and stroked him, while he put a hand up my shirt. I unzipped his pants and put my mouth on him, then pulled away hastily as I thought I heard a dog barking. We went back into the scrub, just barely hidden. It was like when we were kids, except he had a gut and I had cellulite and we both knew lots more moves. We kissed.
102 With Gil, every kiss was a thought, until we had so many between us it didnt even feel like a kiss anymore. Casss tongue slid in my mouth, a nd he grabbed the back of my head, pushing his fingers through my hair. He kisse d my earlobe, and then down my neck. His mouth tasted like last nights wine. I wanted it to be like it was, back when we were kids. When it was over, we had sand in every crev ice and the sand fleas had eaten us alive. How are you doing? he asked. I laughed. Im being haunted. I slapped my stepson. I think about killing myself. Cass packed his one-hitter again, looking out at the oc ean. I had forgotten how little he spoke. Whatever happened to the orange dog? I asked. He knew exactly what I meant. She got better, dont you remember? I thi nk theres still a coupl e of her grandpuppies running around, he lied. So how are things at th e Collective? I asked. Same as always. Jacqueline joined us this spring. Jake and Lily come back every so often. Were going to really miss your mom, he said. Really? I smiled. I would have thought it would be easier for you, now that shes gone. He nodded. You and Alice and whoever else. You could stay in your moms cab in. As long as you want, he told me. Thats sweet, Cass. Thanks. I mean it, though. Itd be cool to have you back. Cass left me at the end of the driveway and h eaded back to his hotel. I crept into the house through the side door. It was like old times. Before the kids knew Gil and I were dating, I would
103 park my car on the dirt road and creep up the sh ell driveway in the dar k, waiting in the garage until Gil came down and let me up. The garage al ways smelled of car oil and grass clippings. He would feed me. We would fuck in his bed and fall asleep. In the morning, I would be shy and pull the sheet around me. Gil sprawled acros s the bed naked except for his socks. I would hear the children, first a scra ping like mice and then, louder a nd louder, bumping and thumping as they climbed out of their be ds and padded across the hall. I w ould hide in the bathroom and dress while they said, Daddy, Daddy! like th ey had been separated by days and miles. Gil would say something parental. The mattress would creak as the three of them snuggled into bed together. I would stand in the bathroom very quietly, trying not to breathe, trying not to think about the wet spot, about their littl e soft knees skidding across our fluids. Breakfast! Breakfast! All right, lets go downstairs and get somethi ng to eat, Gil would say loudly, signaling that it would soon be safe for me to sneak out of the bathroom and down the basement stairs, then exit through the garage. I kept close to the line of bushes as I snuck down the driveway, only relaxing once I had driven my car down to the main road.
104 Gil Cass Thinks Im a basket case Doesnt talk -Old -Has stupid girlfriend -Thinks he knows everything -Lives at Collective -Ethan -Not a parent -Susan -Not into monogamy -Uptight -Will never leave Collective +Bookstore +Young(ish) +Lives on Nantucket +Fun (pot, etc.) +Cooks +Has known me forever +Good father +Better sex (even though hes annoying +Destiny? and arrogant about it) +Doesnt think Im crazy +/Loves me +/Probably doesnt love me. Maybe Id do better with eeny, meen y, miny, moe. Or flower petals Something that would take the decision out of my hands. Of course, th at assumed there was a decision to be made.
105 CHAPTER 16 GONE My m other was gone. She wasnt in my room so I checked in the guest room. Even before I saw the empty bed in the guest bedroom, I sensed it. The bed was unmade, the comforter halfway on the ground. I looked in the closet and under the bed, but of course her backpack and her duffel bag were gone. I cracked the door to Chloes room, expecting to find both girls aslee p. Violet was lying on the trundle bed, with her back to me, curled up in the fetal position and crying. She was trying to stifle the noise by crying into a pillow. Chloe lay asleep in a blanketed lump on the bed. Violet? Whats wrong? Did you have a bad dream ? I asked. Had my mother told Violet she was leaving? Had Violet seen he r go? She was shaking with tears. Violet, whats wrong? Talk to me. I sat on the edge of the trundle and put my hand on her shoulder, wondering if she would push me awa y. But she didnt even notice. She shook her head. Death, she choked out. Death? I dont want to die, she wailed, overcome by another wave of sobbing. Oh, honey. Youre not going to die. Youre not going to die for a very long time. I dont want to end. Itll be centuries and centuries and I wont exist, she screamed. Chloe began to wake, muttering grumpily. Come on, lets get you a tissue, I said, pulling her upright and leading into the bathroom. I tried to remember what they had taught about death at Deep Lake Collective. She will come back, Violet said.
106 Yeah, of course, I said. This is just so me kind of miscommuni cation. Did she maybe say something to you about going somewhere? Violet shook her head. I walked upstairs into the kitchen. My mother left. She just took off, I told Gil. He stood with his back to me, pouring half a container of egg whites into a bowl and whisking in a little skim milk. I sat on a stool at the kitchen island. Did she? he said. He poured the egg mixture into the iron skillet on the range. He next poured boiling water from the kett le on the stove over the coffee gr ounds in the glass presspot. Finally, he crushed several orange halves against the ceramic ribs of the white juicer, collecting the juice in a champagne glass and filling the gl ass to the brim from an already open bottle of champagne in the refrigerator. When had he opened the bottle of champagne? Most mornings, I admired the precision he brought to the task. But watching him ma ke breakfast that morning, all I felt was irritation. Gil, shes gone, I said. Bella. He paused over the pan, not l ooking at me. Then he kept cooking. You dont understand, shes really gone. Why would she leave all of a sudden like that, without saying goodbye or anything? Im making you breakfast, he said, slicing a grapefruit and placing one half on a small glass plate, next to five melon balls wrapped in thin slices of pros ciutto. He placed the fruit plate on the kitchen island in front of me and popped a melon ball into his mouth, closing his eyes in appreciation.
107 Cowboys really does have very good prosciutt o, he told me. I picked up a melon ball and threw it at him. It hit him on the chest and fell to the counter, leaving a faint wet stain on his white mens nightgown from the J. Peterman catalog. He ignored the tossed melon ball and continued eating. I waited for him to look at it, to pop it in his m outh or throw it in the trash. I waited and he looked at me with eyes that were suddenly awake. I got off my stool, circled the island and stood several feet away from him and reached out for the melon. As I closed my fingers on it, he grabbed my hand. I was going to eat that," he said playfully, and he opened my hand, pulled it to his mouth and lifted the melon off with his tongue. He swallowed without chewing, then grinned at me as though we were lovers, not married. Are you even listening to me? My moth er took off, without a word and left Violet! Why are you being so blas about this? He glanced down at the stain on his nightgown. He picked a spatula out of the jar of kitchen implements and gently stirred the egg whites. He slid his eggs onto a warmed plate. I looked up to see Violet standing in the doorway.
108 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Tarah Dunn was born in Boston, Massachusetts. She graduated from Grinnell College in 2002 with a B.A. in English. She graduated from the University of Florida with an M.F.A. in creative writing in 2008.