She may have been thirteen, fourteen at the most. Her hair was long and a light brown that might have been mousy on one whose skin was not so white. Hers was very white, actually blue-white, naturally, although something told me that she had always been pale. She was thin, which made her appear tall, even in that position. The nose was long but straight, and she had teeth in the front of her mouth that were prominent, a combination that distresses the young girl to see in the mirror, but promises future handsomeness. Her cheeks still had a wan touch of rose in them, though they were sunken, and her ears were delicate and angular. There was red around her lips, in contrast to the blueness of the face. It was coldly, indifferently pretty.

The thought was absurd, I know, misplaced, but it was pure. Like her. Maybe that’s what took hold of me. Her eyes were open, and kind, and seemed to be smiling at me, which was also absurd – why would she be smiling? Yet, that was my first thought when I found her. Her hair fanned out behind her head on the cold grass to make half of a halo, her coat was covering her, one of those quilted coats with a hood, and she was giving me a gentle smile, as if she knew that I would find her, and she didn’t want it to be too hard on me. So she welcomed me, you might say.

I walked up that steep path, feeling the chill, wind churning, the sea off to the left and down, a drop of a hundred feet, a harshly beautiful sky of shifting grey and white and black and orange that I seemed to walk into, the knoll ahead about to level off, the grass a brighter green than I expected. The last ten feet were difficult, almost vertical, but I had been there before, with Xan, and I knew the view was worth it, even though I wasn’t there solely for the view.

And there she was.

“Mr. Brown?” He is young, and African-American, and wears one of those Smokey the Bear hats with the wide brim. He never looks at my statement after he reads it; he looks only at me. I want my name to be something other than Brown. I want a long Greek name that he has to ask me to spell. His nameplate reads Upshaw.

“You’re the gentleman who found her?”


“Do you come here often?” He must know there is a joke there. We choose not to know it, together. His face is round and neutral, and there are tiny black spots on his cheeks that I feel ashamed to have noticed at such a time.

“I was here once before, about a month ago.”

Xan said she was taking me to her favorite spot. My idea was to walk at the wildlife preserve, but she changed my plans all the time, countermanded them. So we hiked up the shore to the cliff. She clipped along ten feet ahead of me (one foot for every year’s difference in our ages); she was pretty rugged and liked showing off. She also liked being competitive with me. Her face was happy; it always was happy when we did something that she wanted to do. But she mixed the selfish side of her personality with the generous; she surprised me by pulling sandwiches and fruit out of her backpack, and a couple of those little airline blankets.

“Hiking? Picnicking? Mr. Brown?”

“Both, actually.”

He smiles. “Yeah, I guess you’d have to hike here to have a picnic. You’re alone today, sir?”


I expect to have to defend myself. I am prepared to be magnanimous and tolerant of law enforcement as they do their job, prepared to feel like a preliminary, though unlikely, suspect. I anticipate the next question to be: Who was there with you?

But he doesn’t ask that, he focuses on my eyes in a benign way.

“ Detective Sergeant Fleck may want to ask you a few questions.” He touches the brim of his hat. He knows. Young as he is, he knows more than I do. He knows I’m not the one, that I couldn’t do it, that I’m not lying, not only that I’m not lying but that I have no lies to tell. At least, none that would be important to him, none about the girl. I am a perverse disappointment to myself.

“It’s warm today,” Xan said. She gushed when she enjoyed the weather, made the moment into a sensory, physical, athletic experience. She pulled off her top and sat there in the sun, bare-breasted, shook her golden curls, stretched her arms out and up to the heavens in a pagan thanks to the gods for the wondrous day, and grinned at my unsteady surprise.

“Ha, ha. Your provincial side is showing. Your turn.”

“My turn?”

“Take off your shirt. You won’t feel so out of it.”

I did. I was amusing to her. She took off her cross trainers and socks and flexed her toes. She forged ahead of me in these things; she embraced the freedom from physical restraints in a way that left me feeling like I was only along for the ride.

I took off my sneakers and socks and Xan, breasts bouncing and dimples beaming, very nearly laughing at what she knew to be my continued confusion about how to respond to her when she was walking the edges of social barriers, stood and removed her shorts. She wasn’t wearing underwear. She laughed hard, remained standing long enough to survey her realm and feel the air on her body, then enjoyed my regarding her nakedness (more pointedly, the mesmerizing profile of her sinewy rear end and thighs, her smooth pelvic skin and the top of the patch of hair that did match that on her head, and the welcome imperfection of her abdomen’s slight bulge), before she giggled and dropped onto one blanket while yanking the other out from under me and covering herself with it.

“You can take yours off under here if you want,” she invited, holding the top blanket above her.

“I’m Detective Sergeant Fleck.” His voice is from some neighborhood and has no reverence in it. “Mr. Brown?”

“Yes.” He is fast, too fast; I am sure he will miss something.

“I read your statement,” he nods his head at the clipboard in his hands, then he looks at me. Suddenly he is not fast, he is stuck, stuck looking at me. He will ask me for Xan’s number, he will ask about what we did here. I will have to tell him, for he knows I will only tell him the truth. I won’t be able not to, and then he will see me as depraved.

“ I may ask you to take a look at the scene again, go through exactly what you did, so I can see it first hand. This could be difficult, you’re probably upset already, but if you can handle it…” His hands go out to the sides. He has thin hair that gets combed over into a dark, shiny pool. “…it could be very helpful, obviously.”

I want to go there again. I cannot say it. That would be inexplicable, but I want to see her, that much I know.

“ Fine,” I say, and I worry for myself, and for what might be the deviant compulsion I am harboring so hospitably.

Stuck again, this time on me, he nods into my face. That’s what he does, he nods, he nods away the grey area in his brain and when it is satisfactory to him, he stops and looks at something else, looking for his next nod.

Her feet were twisted to her left, and her toes pointed straight at me when I first crested the hill. The shoes were brown with straps across the top of the foot with bulky socks of a dirty cream color stuffed into them. A short view of her legs could be seen under the edge of her coat. Her calves were unformed, yet about to assume some shape or character if they could get another year. But they wouldn’t, they would be stopped at the point of readiness, smooth and resilient, their only flaw a scrape under the right knee.

They regard me, Fleck and the African-American officer, Upshaw. The officer checks Fleck, Fleck checks me, nods. I don’t know whether to look away or not, if it would look more innocent, or more guilty. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t done anything. They are the cops and they are in control and I want to fit in. I don’t want to be wishy-washy, wacky, or weird.

“The Sergeant thinks that’s all we’ll need, for now.” The officer looms over me kindly. “He’d like to talk to you later, though, after we’ve had a chance to study things more thoroughly.”

“Do you want me to go to the station?”

“The Sergeant said we might even visit you at home. Are you sure you’re okay to drive? Is there someone at home who you could call to come for you?”

They don’t even want me to walk the scene with them. Fleck walks quickly toward us.

“Do you remember seeing anything, Sir?” he asks. “Any objects, food, toys, bags, anything at all around here, on the ground, even if it was far down the hill? Anything?”

“I don’t… I’m sorry.”

“Okay. We’re going to send you home, now but we’ll need to talk to you later, after we get more information and you get a chance to collect yourself. Okay?”

I won’t get to see her again.


“Sure…Whatever you need.”

He sort of laughs like there is a bitter irony in my words.

“Okay, we’ll see you later.” He walks back to the crest, and the scene, and her, her bed. It is a bed, a final bed.

My first sight of it was uplifting. The grass was tall and soft, and invited rolling in it. Children would roll and play, teens would roll and joke and tease, young adults would roll and make love, old folks would be reminded about rolling in the grass when they were kids.

It was warm and calm that first time. Xan finished me off, that’s what it was like to make love to her. She grabbed hold of the moment and took what she could, and it was mostly good for me, too. Afterward, we lay and napped. Then we ate some grapes and cookies, naked under the blankets, until it was time to go. She wanted to stay longer, but we had tickets. She didn’t care about the tickets. We always had that kind of hitch; she would change plans on a whim.

I drive home very slowly. Maybe it is because I have brought myself to that image of her in her final bed. And I can’t see it again, won’t be permitted to see it again. I drive very slowly past streets that I know, but which seem suddenly quite unfamiliar. They are having their second first impression on me and, though I navigate my way home errorlessly, as if on automatic pilot, I go twenty-five miles per hour on twenty-five mile per hour streets for the first time ever. I am mourning, I realize. But it is not just her death, for I didn’t know her alive. I am mourning the distance that increases between us with each twenty-five mile an hour street. I park in front of my strange house feeling ill, and sour, and forlorn.

Her face was turned to greet her discoverer. It was a soft look, gentle, intended, I felt, I believed, to ease the shock for whoever arrived. The cops would posit later that it was part of her assailant’s sick profile, done on purpose, a demonstration of deviant ego and demented whimsy. I knew that she was thinking beyond that heinous moment, thinking about her people, about me; she knew that I, whoever I would be, would need her help to get through it. Perhaps they all know something like that.

The things in my house seem to be waiting for me, to see how I am. My couch doesn’t extend the usual invitation to flop and flick on the television. The coffee table seems neater than I left it. The lamps and books and photographs on the walls and in the remote areas of the room watch and wait.

I put the TV on anyway, lie on the couch, probably sleeping, a light semi-conscious miasma of daydream and rehash. Then it’s on the news. It’s the earliest of the evening broadcasts, and it’s there. Her name is being withheld, but the police think they have a suspect, and they have a shot of the spot, with the yellow tape tied to sticks, and the white outline of the victim’s last position. It is all too soon for me; the world knows now, and worse, they disrespect me, they hurt me, by running to the story faster than I can, by disregarding her specialness and calling her a victim. I shut the thing off.

She was contained on that grass. All the room in the world for a girl her age, yet her legs and arms were close to the rest of her in an unspectacular position. The outline of her hips could be discerned under the coat, wide-hipped for a slender kid. Sometimes, even young girls show their future potential for carrying children.

Sergeant Fleck is on the phone.

“Hey, Mr. Brown, how are you?”

“I’m, okay.”

“You sure? You were kind of shook up before.”

“ I’m fine.”

“Okay. I wanted to go over some things with you, if I may, take, maybe, half an hour.”

“That’s okay.”

“I can come over now, if it’s all right.”

“Sure.” He makes sure of the address, then repeats that it shouldn’t take more than half an hour.

He said ‘I’. ‘I’ will be over. I assumed it would be he and Upshaw, that they would come to look at me some more, to study me, the ‘sort of’ witness, the discoverer of horror, to judge me on my technique and originality. My ridiculous mind starts to worry over whether or not to put out a dish with nuts or some pretzels. Coffee comes to the rescue, coffee is more appropriate and, in fact, I have wanted coffee for hours.

I climbed those final twenty yards to the grassy overlook with coffee on my mind. It was the reward I would give myself for the hike, the boost I would turn to when it was time to move on, time to expunge the memory of Xan and claim that spot for myself. For a second, I had thought of bringing a cup with me, nice and hot and strong with three sugars and half and half. But I didn’t want it up there. It would bring too much complacency to the moment. I would sit for too long, and feel too comfortable. I only wanted to see it again and let it all go.

But there she was, with her fingers stopped in a position that resembled a hand in a painting, Michelangelo, slightly curled, poignant, open enough to see the palm, which still looked to have color in it, even though that made no sense. I didn’t see the other hand; her right arm was under the coat.

The coffee maker is still sputtering when the bell rings. Fleck enters, nodding. “Thanks for seeing me in your house,” and he moves to the living room, surveying as he goes.

Upshaw is not with him; he is alone.

Fleck sits without my offering. “When we have crimes of this nature,” he begins, “we try to provide some support for the folks who have come in contact with the scene. Before I go, I’ll give you the name of a counselor.”

I nod, not sure what to say. I can tell I will do everything during his visit with his regard of me in mind. I will be conscious of my walk, my waist, my breath, my voice, my stance – and he will be looking at me thinking of none of that. I won’t know what he is thinking, and I will care.

“You’re name is Doug, right?” he asks.

“Yes.” He remembered. “I made coffee.”

“That would be great,” says Fleck. I serve us both.

He has no papers in front of him. “I wanted to ask you something, I forgot before. When you were walking along that path, did you pick anything up?”

I hate him, now, because he has none of the romantic/heroic qualities I want to associate with brilliant police work, nor has he even one iota of the charming solidarity of the antihero with the one eye and the basset hound and the cigar and the car that always breaks down. But he has somehow figured out the one thing that I have omitted from my statement.

A piece of paper flew down at me in the wind. It was heavy, not crumpled, torn sprockets at one end, longer than letter size, and flying on the gusts, down from the direction in which I was headed, flat and right at me, stable and unwavering, as if it would decapitate me. I moved to my right and put up my hand. A corner of the thing struck my palm and traveled on, detained only for a second, but I saw that it was a drawing, in pencil, and it was the view of the ocean from somewhere nearby, and there were dolphins arching out of the water and splashing under again.

I tell him about the drawing. He smiles and nods a lot.

“Yeah, we found it. Forensics told us there was evidence of human contact — skin, body oils, as well as the victim’s prints. We found her sketchbook down by the water. Her family said she was an avid drawer. She wanted to be an art student. We were going to ask you to submit to a few tests, but since you remember touching the drawing…”

“I did touch it. I’m sorry I didn’t recall it before.”

He shrugs. “Very common.” He produces a notepad from his jacket pocket and scribbles something. He offers me a piece of gum. I refuse; he puts the pack back in his jacket pocket. “Okay, Mr. Brown. You’ll be hearing from the DA’s office and I’m afraid they’ll want to put you through this all over again, but it has to be.”

I want to ask about the suspect, I want to ask about the drawing, about the body, about the girl, but I will not compromise the desire that I have identified in myself as the strongest: I want to be the smartest, most prescient witness they have ever known, the least trouble, the most dependable.

“What am I allowed to know?” pops out of me. Fleck stops nodding and chewing.

“What do you mean?” he asks.

I hate him again. He’s supposed to know what I mean, supposed to be aware of my needs, but he’s stonewalling, making me explain what he understands perfectly well.

“Mr. Brown?”

“It’s okay. I don’t want to overstep my bounds, but… What was her name?”

Fleck starts nodding again. “Her name was Grace, Grace-” and he speaks her last name but I do not hear it. I hear the reverberation of “Grace”.

Of course. With the same sense of the inevitable like a box that falls from the top of a pile as you try to move the pile all at once, the name tumbles on to me. What more fitting name could she have than a word which describes my one and only view of her? It came to me just as he said it, as if the word and the name were waiting for the precise instant of their greatest impact on me, and it brought me back to the picture of her hair fanned out on the green, green grass, and her nose, straight and long and proud.

He goes to the door. Fleck turns and hands me a card. “Call this number; someone can help,” he says and then he is gone.

Xan drove the shore road all the time, and kept telling me that she would take me to “that spot right there,” and she’d turn in the driver’s seat, take her eyes off the road, and point out the back window, laughing like a hyena because she knew it made me nuts.

Everything makes me ill. I can’t eat, sleep, can’t drink. The phone rings.




“Jeez… Hi.”

“Did you watch the news?”

“Eh, some of it.”

“You were on, at least I‘m pretty sure it was you. There was a murder at that spot by the shore where we picnicked that time and they had a shot of the police talking to you but there was no sound; you didn’t say anything. You seemed kind of out of it. It was you, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. It was.”

“The girl was stabbed and messed with, they said. You saw her?”

“What do you mean, messed with?” I have to sit down.

“Mutilated, like, he carved something in her stomach that looked like a whale or a dolphin or something.”

“Oh, God…”

“Yeah — and her right hand is missing-”

I want to wail, like I am having myself carved up, I want her pain, in me.

“Isn’t that sick? Did you see that stuff? They have a guy in custody, I think.” She can’t know how much I hate that these things I need to know most I must get from her.

“Hello?” she says.



“Yeah, uh, I need to go out. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“Oh, well, it’s okay, I just thought of you, so…”

“No, I’ll call you soon.”

“Okay. Hey, if you want to have a beer later, or something, Neil and I are just hangin’ out.”


Mutilated, that is one of the words I do not want to hear, do not want associated with her. Mutilated, molested, murdered, one by one they come for me, marching in single file to despoil the specter of Grace.

I walk. That afternoon, I went to a place to claim it for my own, to begin to loosen the grip of one woman, and I fell into the mortal lock of a girl. I wanted to replace the woman, but I didn’t ask for the girl. On a street called Sagamore Lane, not knowing how I got here, I think that I have been too willing to accept her, have given her too much room in my life, my soul, and that it is a fault in my character.

There was a sunken look to her nose and eyes that made me think of offering her a tissue, a congested look. This was puzzling to me after. Why would I think such a thing? The tangents that intersected the awful reality of the sight of her were innocuous and removed, Buddhist, almost, and I tagged myself selfish because of them.

“You found Grace.” The woman came all the way across the steps with two little girls, both under ten. It wasn’t easy, as the front of the Church of the Nativity was packed with hundreds of mourners. I saw her coming and waited, as if I knew.

“We saw you from over there and wanted to welcome you.” She shook my hand. Her face was fair and freckled and had too many wrinkles, her hair light, her eyes green.

“I’m Gracie’s Aunt Alice,” and she began to cry. So did I. So did the girls. “Thank you for coming.”

I almost said, ‘My pleasure’.

“ Of course,” I said.

She gives a tiny smile through a stream of tears, and she means both, the smile and the tears, and starts back to the other side of the steps, back to the rest of the family, and there, waiting for her, are a flock of green-eyed, light haired, weeping freckles, and they are all girls, or women who were once girls – I don’t see or look at the men – and there seem to be more and more of them.

That’s what the sunken, congested quality of her face was… crying. She had cried out all of her tears; her sinuses were a dried out wasteland.

Fleck walks over to me from across the back of the church. “You haven’t called the counselor.”

“No.” I can’t say more. He is lucky, I think at that moment, lucky to have a job title which allows him to stare at people, catalogue their behavior, and never be accountable for his own.

There are wonderful, beautiful tear-irrigated speeches about the talents and the intelligent sweetness and the endearing mixture of child and adult in the departed Grace, never mentioning the heinous acts which took her from us, an unbearably admirable restraint on the part of the speakers. I am no match for any of it. I break and flood with grief; I shake with the enormity of the release. I am way in the back of the church and no one is near, and it is so, so sad because I wouldn’t want them to see me, but I want more than anything to be in the midst of them all, her people, when I do this. Behind them, high overhead on the dome of the ceiling above the altar, is a mural of Jesus Christ ascending into heaven, ringed by cherubs, the white-headed, white-bearded father watching from the one side, and the mother, the woman in the prototypical nun’s garb, watching from the other. They all have their hands open, palms out, slightly curling in that same poignant way as did Gracie. With my eyes fixed on them, I utter a defiant prayer: “Where were you that day?” I demand. “Where else could you possibly have been?”

They file out of the church in even greater numbers, hundreds of them, now, blooming on the front steps of the Church of the Nativity, still weeping but smiling through it, still green-eyed and light-haired, and still freckled, unwilling to give each other up.

And I am unwilling to give her up, either. I drive to the shore road, stand at the bottom and look up at it. They have taken that place from me. He who did that, and the police, and the cameras; I can’t go there.

Until I saw those other girls on the church steps, I hadn’t remembered the freckles. She had them, but they were purple, and ever so small, they could have been anything, dirt, anything.

I can only stare up at the place. I can see it, and her, but I can’t go there.

“We’re going to do something up there, at the spot where she was killed,” Aunt Alice said to me after the Mass. “We’re not sure, probably a candle vigil, plant some things for her. If you’re interested, someone will call you.”


Of course. Then I will go back, with them, with the freckles and the green eyes and the light hair, for I never, ever, want to lose her, and if I go with them, the legion of the freckles and light hair, perhaps they will eventually come before her, eventually eclipse Gracie, giving her rest at last, and I won’t see her quite so much. I will have to wait, but I will go back.

Skylight: Novel Excerpt


Rain again.

It always rained when I was alone.

A summer storm gathered off-shore, and though I told myself it was still miles away, that didn’t stop the new French windows from rattling. They were beautiful in the Show House; opened wider, left less to the imagination than any windows I’d ever seen. Now I had them, and I couldn’t close them tightly enough. I kept checking the burnished latches in my daughters’ rooms upstairs. Re-locking, re-tucking, half-mother, half-warden. I was wearing a path on the new ivory wool carpet, but couldn’t see it yet. My footprints would appear later, with enough time and close attention, like the shape of things only visible from the sky.

In between bed-checks, window checks, gutter checks, I sat in my plaid den, biting my nails in front of movies I all ready knew the endings to. I let myself worry during the commercials. Every flash and boom in the sky was an assumption: that the lightning would find whatever was metallic and brittle in me.

When my nails were gone, I folded laundry, sorted mail. Distraction. The knitting of my life. In the background, Hugh Grant carried Sandra Bullock through traffic so she could go to the bathroom. I couldn’t find the scissors—art project? School poster?–so I opened the Neiman’s package with my teeth.

The white tissue unfurled: three floral bathing suits and the pink silk nightgown I’d ordered to surprise Sam. Or surprise myself. Something. I stood up, pulled off my tank top and shorts and pulled it on without bothering to close the shutters. The bodice was tight but the silk brushing against my legs was almost intoxicating after my cottony week. I fell into it like a hotel bed, allowing myself.

At three I woke up writhing on the sofa, clutching at the spaghetti straps. The nightmare again: someone sitting on me, hands at my throat, trapped screams. I stumbled into the bathroom, splashed water on my face. I lifted my head to the mirror, still dripping, and saw only the nightgown: wrinkled and knife-pleated, drenched in sweat. There was no possibility of returning it now.

In the kitchen I wrestled with the childproof cap on the bottle of Xanax while the wind picked up, flinging small branches on the new tin roof above me. Bronze with flashes of green, the roof was beautiful but noisy. The price you pay, I was told too late. The squirrels thought it was a slide; the rain, a timpani. The new skylights were even louder: a drum solo at the top of the stairs. I swallowed the pill and started to cry. I was not the kind of person who could live in a noisy house.

I should have been happy. The renovations were nearly complete. The shifting estimates, the money tussles, all behind us. They’d installed the new skylights the day before and all the dark corners of the house were flooded with light. Sam hadn’t seen it yet; he was off somewhere again, gone three or four days—I couldn’t remember which– to somewhere. Golf outing, conference, convention. They all involved sport masquerading as business. His clients’ names blurred together in my memory the same way the names of the hotels did. He told me, but I couldn’t absorb the information. Was that a true telling? I never really grasped where he was or who he was with. I knew all I needed to know: that someone was serving him steak and fetching him fresh towels, and I was home sorting his socks.

Now the contractors were gone, too. No men, no one to blame.

A hard noise made its way through my sniffling. I looked up, as if the answer was written on the ceiling. I heard it again. With each breath, I replaced negative thoughts with positive ones. I actually say them out loud. I stood at my farmhouse sink in the house that was never a farm and spoke into the new curved faucet. “People don’t break into houses on nights like this”, I stated calmly. “It’s the storm. It’s the wind. It’s squirrels on the new tin roof,” I said. Squirrels on the new tin roof. Something snapped, then shattered. Not squirrels, I knew in my bones. Not branches, not wood, tin or metal. Glass. Broken.

The portable phone blinked on the other side of the room. I tiptoed across the new hickory floor. The tongue and groove was silent, but my limbs rattled in their sockets. I had the phone, but not the scissors. They were not in their glass holder with the markers and pens. My eyes darted as I moved past the laundry room, the closets, the table in the hall. Later, I will kick myself remembering the weapons I walked by, the point of a pencil, heavy vase, bug spray. As I walked up the stairs, the broken glass sound stopped, and my body relaxed. One moment to last a week. I will have to dig back to remember it.

The room at the top of the stairs is filled with my oldest child’s stuffed animals. Like my husband, she can’t give anything away. Some of the fuzzy beasts could fit in a pocket, others are bigger than she is. That is why, when I first looked into the darkness, I think He is a giraffe. Or a bear, holding a cub. A cub dressed in my daughter’s nightgown.

My thumb squeezed the talk button on the phone, but there was no dial tone. The lack of it, the absence of sound filled the room. The plush zoo muffled our sharp breathing, my heart pounding. It was beyond intimate: past sharing a bathroom, past putting your child’s bloody finger in your mouth. He stared at me. I stare back, steady eyes, chattering teeth. Regret, meet fear. Fear, meet regret. My sleeping six-year-old daughter, I will think later, looks oddly comfortable draped in His arms.

I dropped to my knees and utter the only fearless words I have ever spoken:

“ Take me,” I say. “Take me instead.”

I am ashamed to admit I wasn’t completely relieved when He did.

“My purse is in the bedroom,” I whisper to Jamie. As He folds the blanket around her, she wakes up to see her mother taken away in lingerie. A picture worth a thousand hours in therapy. Those are my last words: My purse is in the bedroom. Not ‘take care of your sisters’ not ‘I love you.’ Does she even know how to use the cell phone in my purse? Is ‘send’ one of her vocabulary words?

I will question it all eventually. My motives, my judgment. Can you doubt the movement of a hand as it pulls away from the flame? But for now it is done. The decision has been made, the goodbyes spoken.

She does not scream. She does not speak, or follow. She is a solemn, thoughtful child who sleeps as deeply as she thinks. I learn later that the scissors were on her desk, next to her homework. Completed homework. It’s possible she just goes back to sleep. A dream, she will think until she wakes up and finds me gone. My youngest child, a small tiger of a girl, might have leapt on His back. My middle daughter could have split atoms with her scream. It seems He had chosen the right one.

I am heavier than Jamie, and I cannot be carried. I give enough resistance that He is dragging me, which seems to feel right to us both. We have determined who is in charge, and who is protesting. Down the steps, my own Berber carpets scratch my ankles, my own arrangements of roses choke me with their hopeful scent.

Had He taken one look at me in the nightgown, glistening with sweat, my breasts heaving with fear, and decided I was worth more than a six year old? If He thought in that moment, that split-second when we sized each other up, that I was sexy, shiny and precious, something of value, He was in for a surprise. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had an actual sexy thought. Purchasing the nightgown didn’t count—it was shopping. Later I would wonder if He’d simply heard something forceful in my tone. If I knew, maybe I could replicate it; then the children, the contractors, the world, would listen to me.

He duct-taped my mouth, pulled me up the long driveway to the street. I let Him. That seems impossible now. But I was half naked and wet and I’d bitten off the only weapons I had. The wind whipped my hair, wet slaps against my lips, cheeks. Debris dug into my bare feet: Shards of wood and tin, bent nails, fiberglass clippings, everything they intended to clean up tomorrow. It hurt, and I was suddenly furious. Not at the builders, not at Him, pulling on my arm. No. I was angry at my husband. For being gone. For insisting on the cheaper skylights that popped open like a compact, for decreeing that we did not need an alarm system on the second floor, just the first.

In all things, I blame the husband.

“ How can it be possible,” Sam says one morning, as my daughters sniffle over his burnt waffles, “that I am always the one who is wrong?” But he is. It is so clear to me, and so opaque to him.

If I had an affair, stole from the neighbors, bludgeoned my children for spilling juice, it would be his fault. He knows I have panic attacks; that I am always afraid. And still he travels, still he leaves me, still he pooh-poohs the alarm. I am so angry at my husband I could wrestle him to the ground. But this man at my side? No. Him, I have apparently been waiting for. All the fear and panic of my life was because I expected Him to come. And this, all this anger toward my keeper, and not my taker, is even before I know the truth. That our home was chosen because of my husband, and not because of my daughters.

That Jamie was selected not because she was Sam’s meekest, but because she was Sam’s favorite.

He will tell me this later, the why and the how and the where. I will know everything except when. The answers will satisfy me without pleasing me in the slightest. But in the moment, there is only long wet driveway, open car door. The streetlight above us is dark and so is the car’s interior. We are in shadow; part of the rain; we do not exist. He pushes me in. Gently, but still a push. This is it, the true crime, what all my obsession was preparation for. I was walking down the aisle of my fear. Graduating. The scars will be a diploma in my hand.

The seats are soft and warm against my wet legs. I am astonished by what I think: That it is not nearly as bad as I imagined. And that for the first time in fifteen years of marriage, the tables are turned: Sam will not know where I am.

In the car, He tells me I can peel off the duct tape. I wonder if He is too squeamish to do it, the same way I can’t bear to rip off the girls’ band-aids. Do we have that in common? I work the corners off gingerly, trying not to pull the small blond hairs around my lips. I tear the last section off and air floods my lungs, as if my nose couldn’t pull in enough. I picture my daughters in their beds, mouths open in their sleep. I try not to imagine anything crawling in.

He binds my hands and feet with rope, then asks if it’s too tight. Yes, I decide to say. He slides his finger between the rope and the softest part of my wrist. It reminds me of how I tested Rexie’s dog collar before she ran away. He pulls his finger out, does the same on my left wrist. Same outcome. He does not loosen the rope. There are tests for everything. Some of us shake formula onto the inside of our wrists, blow on hot pizza. Others pull on handcuffs, buy extra duct tape, put chairs under doors. He wants me to believe my comfort counts.

I am not shaking anymore; the Xanax, or something, is working. I am calm enough that my eyes consider escape. I look around the car for weapons. There is nothing on the seats, nothing but mud at my feet. I hope it is mud, and

not blood. I shiver, adding it up: dirty floorboards, cut feet. Metal. Puncture. Germs. My feet start to sting and my whole body shudders again. In my Land Cruiser there are baby wipes in the glove box, hand sanitizer in the seat pocket. He will not have these safety nets. My teeth rattle. If He doesn’t kill me, I am going to die of lockjaw.

Do you need a blanket? He asks. Of course he would have this in the trunk: blankets, garbage bags, tape, rope. There, is I shiver with certainty, a shovel and axe there too. I think of the trunk open, picture the contents. Still life of death.

Tears run down my cheeks. I need a tetanus shot, I whisper. He blinks slowly. His skin is darker than mine; his voice lightly tinged with accent. It is possible he will not understand words like tetanus. He inhales deeply, turns on the car, slides the heating control from blue to red. My feet start to warm.

He looks at me again. I am shaking. It is 80 degrees but I am shaking as I always shake when I have my panic attack. He takes off His button-down shirt, hands it to me. Underneath, his r t-shirt is thin and old, like the last t-shirt in the bottom of your drawer.

I lay his shirt across my lap; it smells familiar, of lime. I continue to cry, remembering being pregnant, always cold, my back hurting, and Sam oblivious, never offering a blanket.

I see that He is not a person without manners.

He pulls out into the street. I look back at the house. The nightlights glow pale blue inside three of the smallest windows. The large ones are dark. This is how my house looks when I am not in it.

Did I say a prayer as we left, ask God for what I was owed? I don’t remember. My head was filled with detail: an obsessive obligation to remember everything, to not disappoint the police, to be the best witness. The small picture has always taken my mind off the big picture. The car is a Cutlass, maroon velour interior, fifteen years old. He looks Latin, is about six feet tall. I stare at his hands and wrists, arms flexing on the wheel. No tattoos or distinguishing marks. Like me, He could be anybody. There have been hundreds of people in my house, muddy boots, crumpled work gloves, saw dust-y hair. Some arrive at dawn; the subcontractors, closer to ten. Each day I come home to their evidence: coffee cups, cigarette butts, sticky bakery papers from their donuts. Their DNA crumpled underfoot. They have held the keys to my front door, opened my refrigerator and my mailbox, leaving their Gatorade and their bills: handwritten, stained from the job. I remember some of them, not all. But none of them look like Him.

I think of Jamie still in her bed, the description I did not have to give: the freckle on her ring finger, the small scar on her chin. A framed school photo I could have handed the police: the clenched smile, a stranger’s version of her. Do my daughters know what I look like? Can a child know that I am tall? Can

they conjure a crayon word for my hair? There they go, to the box of 64, pulling out ‘Wheat’, drawing me: all arms and legs, no good head on my shoulders. They will find the phone, I tell myself. They must.

It is quiet on the turnpike. A few trucks, a few cars. A small parade of oddballs who travel in the middle of the night instead of sleeping. The broke, the desperate, the hopped up on caffeine. We join them.

As He passes a truck on a curve, He asks why I did not come upstairs sooner.

What? I ask, not understanding.

Didn’t you hear me walking on that damn roof?

I thought you were a squirrel, I say.

He turns back to the road. A car filled with teenagers passes us as if we were innocent. They assume husband/wife, brother/sister. There is no radar for what we are.

I am calm enough to be annoyed by His roof question. A hearing test, graded. I have failed to exhibit the proper amount of homeowner curiosity. Was there another taunt coming—why didn’t you go the knife drawer instead of the phone cradle? Don’t you keep mace in the house? I look at Him, driving, and want to start a fight. I want to say that good burglars scouted their territory, learned things: man gone, alarm disabled, tin underfoot. The moment of break-in, after all, was just a moment. A heat, a burst of decisive grace. All the long hard work went before; anyone knows that. Even I know that. Sam’s words suddenly ring in my ears: It isn’t a competition, he always says. But it is, Now, I have to prove myself better than a burglar.

The exits on the turnpike are numbered by the miles between them. If you are an adult who is not tied up, not on Xanax, not bleeding from rusty nail wounds in your feet, it is simple to do the math. But you have to know where you start to know where you are. I do not. It is one of the things Sam hates about me—I don’t ever have the numbers he needs. What time did you leave? How much rain did we get? His mind is like a newscast, fixed, while mine fills constantly, replenished with softer things: colors, textures, smells. I know the police will want the Sam things.

The exit sign marked ‘36’ is green and wet ahead of us. I have passed it dozens of times, never taken it. He turns on his blinker, and I imbue the act with meaning: He is civilized, considerate. A lesser criminal, surely, would just have swerved. The cloverleaf curves all the way around, counter-clockwise. I am leaning in his direction. The edges of the tires squeal. Something new to consume me: the possibility of a blow-out.

Your husband is gone a lot, He says.

My cheeks burn. Salt in wound. Why doesn’t He just say that I’m old, tired, ruined? I bite my tongue, wish for the duct tape back.

Four nights last week, He adds. Alcohol on the fire.

I sigh deeply, look down. Game over; he has done his homework. But how hard was it? Could anyone watching me know this? Maybe you didn’t have to count cars in the driveway, watch Sam’s newspapers and golf magazines pile up on the marble counter. There was me taking out the garbage, sweeping sidewalks, shoveling snow. There was my false cheerfulness at dinner time, the father-tickles, the father-roughhousing the girls needed at night. The detached father-words I sometimes said after working all day, ‘Girls, not now.’ How deep I had to dig to remember them, from my own father, gone so long now. And I wonder: Did my body, juggling the mail and my briefcase, wiping the dogs feet, doing the dishes, through the window, up the road, through the high-speed binoculars in his nondescript Cutlass look to any thief, kidnapper, murderer, like a woman’s whose husband was gone? I could feel the difference; was it possible that with enough insight, or a big enough zoom lens, you could see it? That was the kind of enhancement the FBI needed: look, there, go in tight, see that? Right there, on her shoulders, it’s not doctor appointments, parent/teacher conferences, deadlines at work no, blow it up more, Lieutenant, look, don’t you see? It’s the weight of the world.

I start to cry. I feel His eyes on my tears. He has given me something to cry about. Perhaps the other women He’s abducted have cried too. I lift my bound hands and wipe my nose and cheeks. He watches me, does nothing.

What can He do? This is not my car, with Kleenexes in the front visor and napkins in the back pocket. He has the things he needs, not the things crying women do.

He pulls to the shoulder, along a grove of trees. I should be afraid: Murderers always choose trees. But He just looks at me. It has been a long time, but I know what it means when a man watches you cry: He is waiting, afraid to ask, but wanting to be told. I tell.

My daughters are alone in the house, I sniffle. We are out of cereal and milk. That is what I unload: shopping worries, list thoughts.

They’re too young to use a gas stove, I continue. It’s new and complicated—even my husband can’t remember which knobs work which burners. And the new microwave has a lot more buttons than the old one. I pause and He blinks slowly. Can He sense what I didn’t say: The kitchen was designed for me. Not children. Not husbands. It is, finally, what I wanted. What I needed. The distraction of planning, buying, then having, using. Polishing, shining, admiring. It is my car. I also neglect to tell him this: That like a car, I cannot give away the keys. The combination of fire and heat and children terrifies me. That I fully imagine them going off to college without learning how to strike a match.

You have a pantry, he replies.

It is an odd word to hear on a man’s tongue. I wonder about the origin of it, the root.

I consider the pantry, the layout of food: The granola bars are on the highest shelf so is the cereal. I have laid out my own kitchen to ensure my children’s starvation. Was there anything they could they reach? Water bottles? Juice boxes under the sink? I imagine them downstairs, socks on wood floor, slipping, climbing, no parent, no phone, no food. The heavy silver doors of the Sub-Zero refrigerator taunting them. I think of the mushrooms sprouting on the bases of our oak trees out back, the wild onions growing near the creek, and am suddenly terrified that they will eat them.

They are babies, alone in a house, I cry. They don’t have a phone, they don’t know the neighbors, they don’t know how to cook. They can’t pour milk. You have to let me make a phone call, I sniffle. Please. Begging, already. No shame.

They’ll be fine.

Please call my mother-in-law and tell her to come get them, I say. Call from a pay phone.

I have to think for a moment: are my in-laws home? They live a few blocks away but travel constantly, offer to help, but don’t really want to. When I invite them to the kids’ birthday parties, they always have plans. Perhaps a kidnapper could break their reserve.

When I was a child, we packed our own lunches, He says to the window.

Not when you were six.

A six-year-old can make a sandwich.

I shake my head. I see the knives, the glass jars, the difficulty of packaging. No, I say. Our first argument. I am losing.

My husband won’t be home for three days. They’ll starve.

Your husband will be home in the morning.


He’ll be home in the morning.

He says it with certainty. He knew Sam was gone, knew which daughter slept where. What else does He know? The question sends fingers of panic along my spine. He has been watching. The blueprint of our house is just a shell; He can’t know what it really holds. He hasn’t studied my architecture, the answers to my lost password questions, my mother’s hidden maiden name. No. There are some secrets Sam and I still trust to each other.

No, I have his itinerary, I say stupidly.

I have his wife, He says, and pulls back onto the slick highway, tires spinning, flying for a moment, before we reconnect with the road.

I have been married to Sam for one-third of my life. I consider this one of those facts you pull out of a drawer every New Year’s Eve when you take stock of your life, knowledge too frightening to contemplate more often, like spending 40% of your life sleeping, or that women over 30 have a better chance of being struck by lightning than romance. A marriage like ours creeps up on you, like middle age, like a beer belly, unnoticeable for a long time until one day, suddenly, there it is. An accomplishment, but not quite a monument.

The last five years have been a blur of soccer uniforms, Girl Scout cookies, unmatched socks. A messy collage of life, and now, I am torn out of it. I am leaving town alone for the first time since my youngest daughter was born. I can see the headline now: It took a kidnapping for me to realize how much I needed a vacation.

My life wasn’t always an assembly line. Sometimes, before I fall asleep, I remember the days when there were choices in front of me, instead of a long list. Some of the choices were agonizing, some of them frightening, but others

delightful. Decadent. There were lists at the office, perhaps, but none in my head, no going through the motions, no have-tos, just want-tos, and might-want-tos. It made the moments before sleep different. It made sleep optional. It made dreams definite. That feeling, I am fairly certain, is gone for good. That is the part you don’t want people to know when they ask you what it’s like to be married for so long. You can explain the miracle of children, the Christmas-card version of your life. But how do you explain the absence of possibility?

My children have a hard time understanding events that occurred before they were born, and so do I. I squint at the photos of my younger self like a detective. Who is she? What would she have done, where would she have gone? I can barely remember those days, let alone explain them. And yet there is much to explain. It will take two days deep into Exit 36 before I begin to focus on the larger worry, something beyond my children being unfed, or how it might feel to have a knife at my throat, or a bullet in my head. It would be okay if He knows, but what it They know?

I picture my children going through the house, searching closet by closet for food, phones, warm clothing. They will cuddle in my t-shirts, wear my perfume. They will ransack my closet before the police.

What if they find it first?

The Box underneath my shoeboxes is a can of worms, but they will open it like it was a gift. How can I undo the damage if I am not there to explain?

As if I know how to do it, where to begin.

I know I have to start practicing.

But how do you tell your daughters about the men you loved who weren’t their Daddy? When they say, ‘If I had been born to you then, would I still be me?’ How on earth do you tell them no?

No, you would be a different person, you would have a different life. We all would. And who is to say if it would be better or worse? But different is always worse to a child.

And always, always, better to an adult.

We drive for what feels like an hour, but could easily be less. Rain stretches things out. There is no clock in the car, no moon in the sky. I could ask, don’t. My feet are warm, the mud or blood has dried. Later I will ask him for more, not now. He has already said no to loosening my wrists and calling my mother-in-law, and I don’t want all the no’s at once.

I glance at the instrument panel, the blue flashes of information. 60 mph. The gas tank is full, the fluid levels and engine temperature, normal. The Cutlass, though old, has been recently serviced. But I still don’t trust the tires. The occasional spin and hydroplaning worries me. There isn’t that much water on the road; we haven’t been drenched by a single truck. The tires must be bald in places.

I have been the kind of person who had to drive on bald tires, and I don’t want to do it again. The velour seats after so many leather years take me back: I took out the window at the wet trees and remember being a young girl with an old car. Using the emergency flashers more often than the turn signals. Begging strangers for a jump, having only a dollar to put in the tank. The first responsibility, and it was too large.

Are we going much further? I finally ask. It is a child’s question. Because, I clear my throat, the tires are bald.

Don’t worry about the tires, He says. A response you would give to a child.

I hang my head. We go around a curve in the woods and a scene unspools: the car could spin, tires with no grip, leaving the ground. We fly down a gully, twisting in the air, and land against a boulder, upside down in a creek. Through the gash in the windshield, water seeps in. I am trapped: my hands and feet are bound. In my version He cannot save me; He has a gash in His head, and I have to watch us both die.

Tears again. I have no sleeves of my own, only skin to use. I bury my wet eyes in my bound hands.

The tires aren’t that old, He says. I hear the weary confusion in his voice. I am being taken to an undisclosed location, to await an uncertain fate. And I fret over the safety of the tires?

This isn’t your car, I sniff. You have no idea how old they are.

How do you know?

You drive it like someone else’s, I say.

It is true and we both know it. The tires squeal but not because of his tentative driving. He doesn’t know the car’s limitations, and I don’t know His.

Relax, He says quietly. Nothing will happen.

The words frightened people always hear from the non-frightened. They never give me comfort. Not when my father used them on his deathbed, not when my nurse used them during labor. They are not meant to comfort me, they are meant to shut me up.

If the tires blow out, only one of us will be able to open the door and walk away.

We’re almost there, He sighs. Five minutes.

I am quiet.

Here is something they don’t put on the label of the prescription bottle: you will need more than Xanax to get through a kidnapping. You will need words of comfort. You will need a warm blanket in the dark motel room, salt on the take-out fries, free cable TV.

And you will need company.


An area resident for fifteen years, Kelly has set nearly all of her fiction in Philadelphia and its suburbs. She balances her writing with her role as Chief Creative Officer of Tierney Communications, Philadelphia, and her role as mommy. She lives in Rosemont with one husband, three children, a dog, a cat, a hamster, and all the laundry that doesn’t get done because she’s always writing.

Kevin’s Funerals

I tried to get over Kevin, my ex-boyfriend, by pretending he was dead. Not the kind of dead where you sip an iced frappuccino on a cloud, but the kind where you’re stuffed into a wooden box and buried under dirt during a rainstorm. I did this on the advice of my therapist, Dr. Marta Pearce.

She said it would help. She said, if I really concentrated, I might be able to experience closure and as a result, move on. So, every night before bed I shut my eyes and pictured Kevin’s funerals. I did this for eight consecutive days, even though Dr. Pearce thought once should be enough. But I like the number eight and frankly, I like picturing Kevin dead. I even went to bed early, just so I could spend extra time on his funerals before my medication kicked in. I would cook up all kinds of scenarios, but the basic story went like this:

I am the last to arrive at Barclay’s Funeral Home, and by last, I mean that I make an entrance. You know the kind where everyone turns and stares, not because I’m late, but because I’m mysterious and beautiful and wearing a slinky black dress and leather espadrilles.

The crowd whispers excitedly, “How did Kevin get her?”

And, “Isn’t she that famous model?”

Kevin’s mother, a pink cushion of a woman who always wore too much perfume even after she found out she was allergic, which leads me to believe she did it on purpose, rushes over to embrace me. I don’t hug her back because she never did this when Kevin and I were dating, and besides, I don’t like to be touched.

“You’ve lost weight, Sharon,” she says, and I can tell she’s jealous. “You look amazing.”

It’s true. I have lost weight, or at least I’m going to. Soon. And I’m taller than I was when Kevin and I were together, by at least an inch.

She also says, “Kevin’s last words were, ‘Breaking up with Sharon was the biggest mistake I ever made.’”

And, “‘Sharon was the love of my life.’”

And sometimes, “‘My life sucks without Sharon.’”

I shrug, as if these revelations mean nothing to me, and wait for her to admit she was wrong about me.

“You were perfect for him,” she says finally, dabbing her eyes with the lace hankies I sent her the Christmas after Kevin and I broke up. “I realize that now.”

I can’t help myself; I smile. I was perfect for him. I still am.

She bites her lip and walks away, a pink cushion of regret.

Kevin’s sisters stare daggers at me, but I am used to this. In real life, Alana and

Courtney exchanged secret looks whenever Kevin brought me home. Dr. Pearce said it was because they were uncomfortable around me, but I know it’s because they were jealous. In all eight versions of the funeral Kevin’s father orders them to move down a seat so I can sit up front. Then he marches over, gives me his arm, and personally escorts me to the casket.

“My son was a damn fool,” he says, loud enough for everyone to hear. “He never should’ve let you get away.”

Kevin’s father always liked me. After the break-up, I would sit on Kevin’s front steps all night long, waiting for him to change his mind. The next morning, Kevin’s father would drive me home. Sometimes, he was late for work because of me.

“I can’t keep doing this, Sharon,” he’d say.

But, he did. Because he liked me.

“This is wrong, Sharon. It has to stop.”

It went on for a year.

“Can you forgive him?” Kevin’s father asks when we reach the casket. “Can you move on with your life?”

Of course I can forgive Kevin, now that he’s dead. Of course I can move on, now. And to prove it, I lean over and kiss his dead lips. A collective sigh rises from the crowd like fresh pastry.

Kevin is beautiful. What I mean is, he has a handsome face. The rest of him has been horribly mangled in a freak accident involving a deer and a Toyota Camry and lots of bleeding, inside and out. In one funeral, he’s lost both of his legs, and the casket is only three feet long. In another, he has a pair of antlers sticking out of his chest. Kevin is horribly deformed, except for his face. I kiss him again.

“I’m sorry,” Kevin’s father says.

That’s what he always said after we did it. When I told Dr. Pearce about the car rides, she said I had transferred my sexual feelings for Kevin to his father. That wasn’t it at all, but I didn’t argue because sexual transference looks a lot better on my chart than exchanging blow jobs for news about Kevin.

Everyone smiles at me now, even Courtney, Kevin’s older sister. I feel sorry for her because she takes after her mother, which means she wears clothes that try to fool you into thinking her thighs are not as big around as tree trunks. But they are. I’ve seen her in a bathing suit. Alana, Kevin’s other sister, has a Bikini Body, but it doesn’t matter because she’s a bitch. No matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine her smiling at me. In two versions of the funeral, she’s in the car with Kevin when he hits the deer.

I wrote all of this in a journal and gave it to Dr. Pearce. She seemed surprised I’d filled 88 pages and was impressed with my attention to detail.

“I hope this is an effective coping skill,” she said, and I watched her write those exact words on my chart. “But perhaps we should look at a different exercise. What do you think, Sharon?”

Dr. Pearce always asks what I think. She’s the only person who does, so I pause before I answer. I think this makes me look intelligent.

“Dr. Pearce [pause], wouldn’t it be better [longer pause] wouldn’t I be better if Kevin were really dead? Think how much more effectively I’d cope if I could really go to his funeral. Wouldn’t that be a great way to get over him once and for all?”

I could see by the look on her face that this was the wrong thing to say. I’ve always been good at reading people’s faces, a skill I learned from living with a mother who was an expert in giving Looks. You had to guess what she was thinking because she wouldn’t say, and most of the time I was right. This look, the one Dr. Pearce gave me, was a mixture of denial and apprehension. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen it today. When I was riding the bus over here, there was a girl sitting across the aisle from me. She was my age, which is thirty-one, or maybe she was eighteen, I’m not sure. The point is, she was reading the May Cosmo and crying. Well, I’ve read that issue several times and there is nothing in there to make you sad, so I knew it had to be something else, like the death of a puppy or a brain tumor or maybe a bad break-up. I got up and sat next to her.

“Excuse me? Miss? I have something to tell you.”

She looked at me and there was a crazy hope in her eyes. I chose the break-up.

“Your ex-boyfriend sends his love.”

The look she gave me was identical to the one Dr. Pearce gave me in her office and similar to the one my mother gives whenever I talk about being a fashion model. Anyway, the girl got off at the next stop, but not before whispering, “asshole,” which only confirms that I was right about the boyfriend.

Dr. Pearce didn’t curse and she didn’t leave the room, but I had to spend the rest of our session trying to convince her that I was only kidding about Kevin. I even offered to tear up the journal and never write about another funeral (though I wasn’t sure I could actually do this), but she called my mother anyway and asked her to pick me up.

“I don’t think you should be alone today, Sharon,” she said, placing her hand on my shoulder. Dr. Pearce never touches me unless she’s giving me bad news.

The fact is, and she knows this, I’m not alone at Bridgeway House. There’s Elaine in the next room, and Katie who shares our bathroom, and the woman who empties trash cans all day. But I knew what Dr. Pearce meant. She didn’t want me to lock myself in my room and refuse to come out for two days, like last time. And she didn’t want me to cut myself because eight months ago she wrote, “No longer a danger to self or others” on my chart and she didn’t want to take it back. I know all this because I read my chart whenever Dr. Pearce leaves the room.

“Sharon? Please look at me. I’m going to call your mother now. I’d feel better if you stayed with her tonight. What do you think?”

I sat back and let her do the thing that was going to make her feel better, even though I knew my mother would be pissed.

She’d say, “I’m sick of this bullshit, Marta.”

And, “Goddam it, do you know how busy I am?”

That’s what she always says when Dr. Pearce calls, even if she hasn’t called in a long time. And, she hasn’t. Not for eight months. So there’s really no reason for my mother to be mad.

I call her my mother, but actually (and she agrees) I’m not sure we’re even related. I look nothing like her, just like Alana looks nothing like her mother and

Courtney. My mother is long-limbed and nasty, like a spider in a children’s book, and doesn’t have to diet to be skinny, and used to say when I was little and before I became too much for her to handle that she took the wrong baby home from the hospital. It was a joke, I know, just not a funny one.

She would also say, “Do you really need that piece of cake?”

And, “You take after your father’s side of the family.”

And sometimes, “I don’t know what to do with you anymore, Sharon.”

And it is possible I was switched at birth because my mother and I are as different as two people can be, although there is no mention of a hospital mix-up in my chart.

So this woman, my mother or maybe not, came dressed in a two-piece tweed suit and black espadrilles, and had her own session with Dr. Pearce. Even though I couldn’t hear them, I knew Dr. Pearce was telling on me, which should bother me but doesn’t. It would be different if she was saying these things to Kevin, or even Kevin’s father, but my mother doesn’t expect to hear good things about me. She came out of that session with the same mad face she had on when she went in.

“Ready to go home, Sharon?” she asked, but she was only being polite for Dr. Pearce’s sake. When we got outside, she took my hand and dragged me down the street like a shopping cart with a broken wheel. Her apartment is four blocks from the office, which gave her plenty of time to say,

“I can’t believe this is still going on.”

And, “Do you know how busy I am?”

And finally, “When’s this going to end, Sharon? Can you tell me that?”

I didn’t answer because, truthfully, I’m not sure what this is. I don’t think it’s the therapy, because my mother likes Dr. Pearce. And it was her idea that I increase my medication, so that’s not it. Maybe it’s the phone calls. My mother can’t take personal calls at work. She is a financial advisor at a brokerage house and when she has to leave early because of my behavior, either “all hell breaks loose” or “the shit hits the fan.”

Anyway, that’s what she says. But, I don’t call her anymore because there aren’t any 8’s in her work number and I don’t like the way her voice sounds when she answers and furthermore, today was not my idea. I hope Dr. Pearce told her that.

I suspect it’s my career plans. She wasn’t happy when I dropped out of college after two months, but, as I told her at the time, a fashion model has no need for higher education. I know, at five foot two inches, I’m not tall enough for the runway, but I have my sights set on print ads and there is no height requirement for that, according to Women’s Wear Daily or W, as it’s now called. And, if I put my mind to it, I can lose the ten pounds that the camera adds. I can lose more than that, if I want to.

My mother hates when I talk about this, but that’s because she’s someone who has no problem crushing every dream I ever had. When I wanted to be a secretary, she said, “You can barely handle clerical work, Sharon,” and to prove it, gave me a job at her company. The people there weren’t friendly; at least the women weren’t. They were jealous because Mr. Abbott, the supervisor, favored me over all the other file clerks. He’d call me into his office and say,

“You’re doing an excellent job, Sharon.”

And, “You’re an important asset to the company.”

And then, “I pass Bridgeway House every morning –why don’t I pick you up?”

When we were late for work he’d tell me not to worry and sign me in at the regular time. He said no one would know the difference because we weren’t that late, and on the mornings he took too long, I’d just finish him off in the car.

How was I supposed to know that dating your supervisor was against company policy? Models don’t have to worry about things like that. They are free spirits who make their own rules. That’s what I told Mrs. Olmstead from Personnel when she called me into her office for a private chat. Only, it wasn’t private because my mother was there and kept screaming things like,

“That goddam bastard!”

And, “I should have him arrested!”

This was her way of showing she was on my side, but all it did was upset me so much that I called her a cunt and threatened to be a danger to myself and others. After I was escorted out of the building by my mother and two security guards, I left a message on Mr. Abbott’s phone (his number had three eights) asking if he still wanted to date, but his number was changed and I couldn’t figure out the new one, even after spending an entire afternoon trying different combinations. That’s when Dr. Pearce changed my medication. And even though my mother wonders out loud what the hell I do all day, she doesn’t hesitate to bring up “that fucking disaster” at Blackwell Brothers when I talk about getting a job. So I don’t talk about it anymore, at least not to her. So that isn’t what she wants to end.

This bothers me. I can’t stop thinking about it. Even after Jay Leno is over and I’ve cut up every one of my mother’s fashion magazines, I can’t stop.

When I wake my mother to ask about it, she tells me to go back to sleep. But she of all people knows I can’t do that. I have to know. Now.

“Sharon, please. We’ll talk about it in the morning.”

I know we won’t.

“I can’t deal with this again, Sharon.”

It’s not just her Look this time, but her voice, dripping with something that is not poison, but worse. Separation. The splitting of an atom.

“You should go to sleep.”

I’m afraid to go to sleep and I tell her this.

“Should we call Dr. Pearce?”

I threw the phones in the bathtub an hour ago.

“Jesus, Sharon.”

Resignation, maybe.

Maybe not.


My heart beats quickly. I remember what it is now. It’s Kevin.

She wants Kevin to end, or rather my feelings for him. She wants to get inside my head and stop me from thinking about him. That’s what Dr. Pearce wants, too. Everybody wants this. Everyone but me.

“Do you think it will end,” I ask her, “when Kevin is dead?”

My mother is finally silent. That gives me hope. But then, she looks at me and screams, “Are you out of your fucking mind?”

How does a rational person answer a question like that? There is no answer. (This is in fact what I say to her.)

“Please tell me you’re joking, Sharon.”

I have never told a joke in my life. She knows that.

And suddenly she’s shaking me, as if she can empty out everything that makes me different from her. And she’s repeating herself.

“Twelve years. Twelve years. Twelve years.”

She says this as if my heart is attached to a clock.

“He has a wife, Sharon. Children.”

Families break up. Fathers leave. My own father left when I was five.

“Kevin doesn’t love you anymore.”

That is just plain mean.

“He’s moved on.”

Her words are hooks that make holes in my skin and let in all of her spider poison. When she’s completely drained, she gives me a look that I mistakenly read as defeat. But, I’m wrong this time. She has a little poison left.

“It was so long ago, baby.”

And I don’t have anything to say except, not to me. I want to scream this in her face and tell her I hate her and have always hated her and then I want to ask her why? Why are we nothing alike? Why aren’t I tall and beautiful and have a job where the shit hits the fan if I’m not there? Why do I have to think about Kevin every day, and why won’t I have a Bikini Body by June 1 like it promised on the cover of the May Cosmo? Why can’t I be like everyone else? When is this going to end? But I don’t ask any of these things because my mother, the spider, is crying.


Terry Mergenthal has been writing since the age of nine, when she launched a school newspaper from her basement with carbon paper and a used Remington typewriter. Two years ago, she left a career in corporate sales to pursue writing full time. She is working on a collection of short stories and recently completed her first novel, Redeemer, the story of a family marred by murder-suicide in the 1970’s. Terry currently lives in Cherry Hill with her husband and two daughters.

Catherine Street

Alberta likes to walk the Italian Market and look at the fish. She thinks they watch as the people pass, awareness lingering in the black marbles of their eyes, kept cool and alive by the boxes of ice in which they sleep. She smiles at the sturgeon and stickleback to let them know she knows.

When we get back to Catherine Street, the Vietnamese couple are having sex in the apartment under ours. Their passion increases as the temperature rises, and with the sun blazing hard at 92-degrees, they can’t seem to keep their hands off of each other. The woman’s moans echo up the chimney and pour out of our fireplace.

Alberta lies across the bed and watches me undress. Her gaze follows as I shed my underwear and stand next to her, breathing deeply. I fall forward, into her smell of limes and grass.
When I wake, Alberta is crying, fingering the glass fox on our night stand. I lean close and push the hair off the curl of her ear.
“I dreamt I left you,” she says.
“You are leaving me,” I answer.
She nods.

Alone, I make coffee and stand next to the fire escape, slick with sweat in the twilight. A little girl sits on her step as an old man walks his dachshund along the curb. From the roofs and telephone wires, the birds sing their last songs.

The next morning, I stroll the market until I see Alberta coming toward me.
“How was Susan’s?” I say.
She palms the back of her neck. “Her couch gave me a crick.” In a brown bag she carries rhubarb and wine. “You knew I’d be walking here?”
“Of course.”

In the heat of the afternoon, the Vietnamese couple fights, their curses rattling in my fireplace. Then there’s the clap of a hand on damp skin. “Don’t hit me,” he says, and she answers, “Why shouldn’t I?”

Alberta comes over later that week and we have sex in the shower. It’s tremendously hot as the steam creeps around our legs and over the wings of her shoulders. When we’re finished, we look at each other and blink.

“I found your bracelet under the couch,” I say to her on the phone. I pretend to admire it on my wrist, the cherry garnets and opal.

Alberta breathes into the receiver. “So that’s where it was.”

By August, the last of her clothes are gone and all of her records—except for the one I hide from her. Time takes a cigarette, says Bowie. The old man walks his dog, the little girl sits, as the street lights fill the street with light.


Joseph lives in Baltimore. His work has appeared in numerous magazines, both online and in print. For links to more of his work, his image and word pieces, and other features, click here.