“When you disappeared, your father suffered terribly.”

No duh – I didn’t want to sound cliché.

“I can only imagine.”

“I wanted him to see someone. To talk to someone. He actually had an appointment.”

I sopped my face on my sleeves. “Then?”

“They found you.”

“Should have kept the appointment.”

Mom sighed. “I’ve never lied to you and I’m not going to start now. Our savings ran out quickly. Your college fund is gone.”

“Yeah, put that on my shoulders.”

“Lindsey! I didn’t mean it that way.”

“We going to lose the house?”


“I’ll get a job. Some mad scientist might need an assistant.”

Mom snickered.

I worked to my feet, teetering on the oak cane.

Mom stooped.

“I can make it. I needed Dad to carry me. If he can’t carry me, I’ll see if I got the fortitude to carry him.”

“You’re a lot like your great grandmother.”

“The steelworker or the whore?”


“Sorry. The steelworker or the prostitute?”


“Yeah, I can see me with an I-beam over the shoulder and two babies on the hip.”


I got six of the seven numbers punched on the phone no less than fifty times when I decided I couldn’t call John.


I was awake for an hour, staring at the ceiling waiting for dawn. I had to pee. The toilet was a million miles away. I’d had enough days lying in my puke, urine and feces. Mom entered, setting a tray on my desk.

“Don’t expect breakfast in bed every day now.”

“How about we clear space in the attic and shackle me to a stanchion.”


“Right, basement’s better. You can toss me bones now and then.”

“It’s not that at all. I thought it would be easier for you, with the stairs and all.”

“And you want me to go to school today?”

“I’ll speak to Mr. Riggins later. See what accommodations can be made.”

 I worked the blanket back, rolled to the side and slid off the bed, resting on my knees. Mom took me under the arm. I pushed to my feet.

“Not so bad. I stiffen pretty good when I don’t move for awhile.” I hobbled around, looking up at Mom. “Thanks for breakfast. I know it’s difficult for Dad to look at me. I get all that. I’m current on my schoolwork, thanks to Janet. I’ll call Mr. Riggins today and discuss my options.”

“School is really important.”

“Yeah, it is. Go to work. I’ll be fine.”

Mom held my face and eyes. “Your father loves you.” Her lips came to my forehead.

Be nice if he showed it.

“I get all this. I’m like this perfect little tomato that Dad’s wanted all this life and finally he gets it. Then, nature comes along and eats at my pretty red flesh. I’m not what he wanted. I’m no longer what he loved. I’m corrupted like he warned me I’d be.”

Mom blinked repeatedly.

“He had a dream, Mom. He dreamt I was pure and I’d grow up, get married and have pure, perfect babies just like me. That dream’s been shattered on the hull of life-to-come, launching me forward on the sea of time, Dad on the dock, watching his feet, unable to even look at me.

“To him, I would’ve been better off dead than coming back wrong, this corrupted monster, a cruel joke on his immortality.”

Retrieving my medicine bottle from the nightstand, she shook it. “How many of these did you take?”

“I’m not sure.”

Drugs may have inspired the melodramatic allusion, but not the seminal idea.

Mom turned at the door. “There’s nothing natural about what happened to you.”

“Yeah, right. Let’s blame the supernatural. An ancient evil risen, maybe even Satan Himself choosing to settle an ancestral vendetta. Maybe great-who-ever-to-the-umpteenth-power granddad tried to trick the gods into eating human flesh.”

Mom blinked again.

“Nature, Mom, is a ruthless suitor. From stillborn calves to winter’s damage to the garden to men who bury children in the ground or dumpsters. I could gnash my teeth, whine about that Johnson at work and choose not to see reality. I could pretend the world is only what I want it to be, slamming the door on what I can’t face.”

I sucked air, leaning on my cane. “You remember two years ago in school a girl, Octavia, I used to help often with her school work? I talked about her a lot.”

“The cripple.”

“No, Mom, not crippled. I said she didn’t come over our house ‘cause we didn’t have wheelchair access.”

“Sorry. Physically challenged.” 

I shrugged. “Cripple’s fine if it applied. She had multiple sclerosis.”


“She died.”


“There was this guy that’d come around school at lunchtime and help her. I told her it was great her dad would go out of his way like that. Turns out he wasn’t her dad. He was a volunteer doing what he could to help her mainstream. Her father ran for the door and slammed it behind him before her tenth birthday.”

“That’s horrible.”

“If we can believe Octavia, that’s typical. Seems dads can’t face having their pretty little tomatoes bruised in any way.”

“You can’t take the specific and cast it to the general. You have your father all wrong.”

I shrugged. “OK.” I watched my perfect reflection looking back from Mom’s eyes. I didn’t care why Dad thought me a leper. Understanding his reasoning wouldn’t change anything. I could understand the reasoning of a man who shoved a baseball bat in my rectum while pounding in my vaginal canal with his penis and the damage wouldn’t be lessened.

I wanted Dad to love me no matter what. I knew I asked too much. I opened my mouth to tell Mom.

I shrugged again. “OK.”

Mom understanding wasn’t important, either.


Two hours later, when I made the kitchen, I didn’t need membership in the Scooby Gang to know Dad hadn’t made it home the night before. I called the store, to see whether he was there.

He was.




My conversation with Mr. Riggins didn’t go well, me being a minor. I thought of the doctors talking over me in lofty platitudes as if I had no say. Stuck in a causality loop, he returned to: “If you’re ambulatory, you come to school.”

“I’ve heard of lots of kids who get taught at home. I thought you’re required to provide education to –”

“You’re thinking of students who get expelled for disciplinary reasons. You’ve missed so much school, we’re considering having you repeat the grade if you can’t make up the days in summer session.”

That’s where the conversation went bad. I thought to say I could test out. I thought to tell Mr. Riggins to talk to all my teachers past and present and the principal. Mr. Riggins was hired new for the school year. Like Janet, all the correct words stuck in my throat. I zinged some sarcasm, slamming the phone down.

Regroup. I’ll make an appointment and have a face-to-face.


My plan for the day was to rake out the front gardens, bagging up the old mulch and winter’s debris, then hoeing and weeding. That done, I figured on a trip to the garden center with John after dinner. I wasn’t rich, but I had some money saved up from birthdays, chores, babysitting and odd jobs.

Noon raced toward me. With gnashed teeth and wet cheeks, I was halfway done, three large bags of debris on the curb. I pondered mastering the porch steps to pee as I filled the fourth bag when the police rolled up like in the movies.

Four cars, lights flashing, blocked the street, eight cops, guns drawn, crouching, walking like spiders, yelling at me to get facedown on the ground. I was amused, not scared. No threat of anything could come close to the certainty I’d already faced.

I did not get facedown on the ground. I stood as erect as my damaged body allowed, clocking the cops as they circled, yelling, pointing their guns.

What is your problem?”

A foot from behind crossed my ankle, a hand between my shoulder blades followed through, pinning me to the grass. I was cuffed, pulled to my feet and dragged to a car, deposited on the backseat.

I passed out, likely from the pain.


I woke secured by stiff sheets, suffocating on the odor of clean.

“You are one lucky young woman.”

“Matter of opinion.” I was thankful I could talk, my throat not violated with a tube.

The face was new. “I mean: None of our work’s been undone.”

“You don’t have to pop me open like a baked potato again?”

He snickered.

“Who are you?”

“I was attending when they shop-vac-ed you out of the dumpster and brought you in the first time.”

“Attending? In charge?”

“Something like that, Lindsey.”

“One of the king’s horses or men?”

“Not really. We just held you together with spit and duct tape until they could put you back together again.”

“I’d thought I personally thanked everyone. Thank you.” I let out a long breath. “When they moving me upstairs?”

“Don’t sound so excited. We see no reason to keep you, which is why I said you’re lucky.” He looked over his shoulder. “As I understand it, you’re under arrest?”

I shrugged. “Yeah, I think so.”

“Cops all over the place.”

“Chicken Littles storming the hill to kill the wolf.” I rolled my eyes. “Can I borrow your phone?”

On the second attempt, I got the number correct. “I’m really, really sorry I said I should blow up the school, Mr. Riggins. I didn’t mean it. I was just saying if to get schooled at home I gotta be a discipline problem, I should just blow up the school.”

Mr. Riggins cut into me about watching what I say and words have meaning. I listened until his speech became white noise.

I presented the doctor with his phone. “Could you please tell my vice principal what I’ve been through. Feel free to detail the injuries all you wish and don’t leave out the medications I’m on.”

He did as requested, clinically. I could tell when Mr. Riggins turned green.

A mature male voice roared from the hallway, obviously angry. My doctor watched the door. I couldn’t make out the words. The context was about kids out of control, terrorist threats and nipping buds.

I never thought of myself as a bud.

I recognized his confronter’s voice, Detective Kelley Lewinsky bringing the war. They passed the doorway, the older man backing up, Kelley Lewinsky pounding a finger on his chest, her face in his, her voice not loud but penetrating.

The man, red-faced, fired back.

Kelley put her phone to her ear. “Sorry to bother you, Mr. Mayor. We need you down the hospital as soon as you can get here. Yes, it’s that important. Yes, it’s about the Lindsey matter. No, Mr. Mayor. He doesn’t seem to hear a word I’m saying.”




“Are you all right?” Kelley took my hand.

I nodded. “Yeah.”

She cursed under her breath. “We get this half-assed training –”

“And can’t wait to use it?”

“Sometimes we overreact. Doctor?”

He nodded. “We did an extensive battery.”

“Good.” She produced a business card. “Send the invoices here.”

“I have nothing to do with that. See the girl in accounting.”



Kelley was a hard woman, like my mother on steroids. I learned the wheelchair was not mandatory.

“I thought you were walking better.”

“I try to.”

“Don’t. Recover as you recover. Don’t try to prove anything to anyone.”

I judged the sky. “Can I use your phone? Mom’ll be home soon and worried about me.”

“I spoke to her.”

“Good. Thanks for coming to my rescue.”

She cursed under her breath again. “I’ve lost seven now. I won’t lose you.”


“Pulled her out of the dumpster this morning.”


I couldn’t tell whether Mom was more upset over the house getting trashed looking for bomb paraphernalia or me getting assaulted by the police.

“I’ll fix it, Mom.”




“They’re not twelve,” I told Kelley.


“The dead girls. They’re younger, aren’t they?”

“That’s not really your concern.”

“You’re lucky I’m not armed.”

“That sounds like a terrorist threat.”

We laughed darkly.

“I’m the only one who had her inners chemically fried.”

“Did John tell you that?”

“No, it’s obvious. Some stuff’s been published. Me and Janet were following. I was thinking he did that to cleanse his DNA, but he did it the first day. There had to be another reason.”

“There’s a DNA evidence match with you and the other seven known vics. We have no doubt it’s the same perp.” She turned from the windshield, watching me carefully. “You do understand everything I say to you about the investigation is completely, totally off the record? It’s like I never said it.”

“Yeah, I get all that. John’s never, ever said anything. He’s been supportive, a good friend.”

Kelley bit her lip. “I’ve been concerned about you and John.”

“He’s never been inappropriate!”

“Your friendship is inappropriate.” She paused. “You’re unique.” She smiled. “Truth be told, you seem to do John a lot of good. Why do you think?”

“Not sure, maybe he’s just never had someone he can talk to, open up to.”

Kelley snickered. “Why do you think you’re the only one with fried inners?”

“I was menstruating.”

Kelley nodded.


Two men in dark suits and sunglasses met us at the car.

“Pete, Mort.”



Finally on my feet, I nodded. “Pete, Mort.”

Stone faces softened. “Cute.”

“I like her.”


“We know.”

I planted my gnarled oak cane and pulled forward.

Mort surveyed the school’s front walk. “May I carry you?”

“In a hurry?”

Kelley stepped to my side. “Is he inside?”

Pete answered with a sharp nod.

“The mayor’s waiting for us.”


Mort deposited me on a chair. I pushed to my feet, offering a hand. “Mr. Mayor.”

Bright eyes met me, a hand dwarfing mine. “I’ve heard so much about you, Lindsey, I feel I know you.”

“Sorry to take up your time.”

He waved off my comment. “When you’re up to it, I want you to make an appointment, free up an afternoon, I’ll have you down City Hall.”

“I’d like that.”

“Bring a friend. We can do lunch.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You do know I’m not old enough to vote?”

He laughed. “Kelley said you were fun.”


The mayor spoke, mostly. No one got scolded. Misunderstandings were put behind us. “What would you like to do, Lindsey?”

“Test out?”


“Take the tenth-grade exit exam?”

“And pass it.”

I giggled, holding my stomach.

“How about you take all your class finals and the exit exam with the rest of your class. Pass or fail rests on the results.”


“Mr. Riggins?”

He nodded. “Now, that wasn’t so difficult.”

The mayor was gone with a wink.


“Would you like to go home?”

“I didn’t know I had a choice. John’s always gotta get back to work.”

“I am at work.”

“In that case, let’s go down the garden center. I want to get some pansies.”

“I saw ‘em on closeout yesterday.” She put the car in motion. “Why do you suppose he tortures his vics?”

“I saw a flier, missing girl, the latest child to be murdered.”

“You can’t know that.”

“Yes, I can. Anyway, I don’t care what you do when you’re around people like yourself. I don’t care what you call us. I’m sure there’s lots of cute names like Dumpster hamburger. When around me, please don’t disrespect us by calling us vics.”

“That’s slang for victim.”

“I know. Don’t call us that, either. You’re right. I’m unique. We’re unique.”

“I understand.”


We came to a stop under the No Parking sign.

“Dad walked out two nights ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. John didn’t say anything.”

“Haven’t told him, not that I would. I only mention it now because he works here.”

“You can stay in the car. How many you want?”

“That’s not what I meant. He can’t look at me, embarrassed by me.”

“Watch what you assume. Trust time to change a lot of bad thinking.”


The pansies were outside, by the entrance, fifty remained, as Kelley said, on closeout. “Man, they’re scrawny,” Kelley said.

“They’ll perk up once I get them in the ground and water them.”

“Wait here.”

She returned with Ed, the front-end manager.

“Buck a piece is obscene. Twenty bucks for the lot.”

“We get full return –” He did a double take. “Lindsey?”

“Hey Ed, how you been?”

“I heard what happened.”

“Slim on details, I hope.”

“By the look of your face, obviously.”

“Gee, thanks!”

“I didn’t mean it that way. Let me get your father –”

“I’ll see him tonight.”

“Twenty?” Kelley held a bill out.


“Thanks, Ed.”

“Take care of yourself.”


“I don’t think he tortures them.”

“Let me get you a mirror, maybe a copy of your medical report.”

I squirmed on the wicker chair. “I’m not going to get them in today. Hose ‘em for me?” I rolled my eyes. “I mean, you know, maybe he doesn’t know it’s torture?”

“Like beating a child for his own good?”

“Yeah, maybe the parent doesn’t know he’s doing real harm.”

“I’ve heard that crap before.”

“Oh, Kelley, don’t get me wrong. I’m not making excuses. Maybe he doesn’t realize we’re people, human beings. Maybe we’re just like chickens, to be broken under his hand, plucked and butchered.”

She let air escape through her teeth. “It’s far too easy to see a man who’d do this to you as a monster.”

“Is a tiger who slips his leash and eats a kid a monster?”

“A tiger doesn’t have a choice.”

“Maybe he doesn’t, either.”

“I’d shoot the tiger, if I could draw a bead.”

“I’d expect you to. Like the tiger, I don’t think you have a choice.”

Kelley knelt, putting a hand to the side of my face. “When you’re ready, I need you to tell me all you know.”

I rolled my eyes. Duh. “Oh, fried on the first day?”

“I am a detective. Does John know?”


“When you’re ready.”




Pete, Mort, Kelley, the mayor and I could go see Dad. The mayor could talk, not scolding anyone and we could come to an acceptable understanding.


Finally, as Mom put breakfast on the table, she came at me. “I warned you over and over that mouth of yours was going to get you in serious trouble.”

“Children learn what they live, Mom. Good thing there was intervention. I might have started the conversation reading the definition of hyperbole to Mr. Riggins.”

Mom rolled her eyes.


We didn’t talk about the brontosaurus sitting in the corner – Dad’s disappearance.


I had no idea how John would take betrayal. Under cloudy skies, I dragged the sixth bag of debris to the curb by noon. Being Saturday, Mom was off from work, lifting the task of fixing the house from my shoulders. She thought I should watch TV.

John spoke before he was fully from the car. “God, Lind, sorry I missed you the past two days!”

“Understood. You got another girl.”

John came close.

“Kelley said, number eight.”

John blinked twice. I knew Kelley hadn’t told John about my memory.

“Kelley told me everything she said was off the record and I wasn’t to say anything. I figured I could say stuff to you.”

“It’s just that –”

I wormed the folded flier from my pocket. “I kinda guessed anyway.”

John nodded.

“Do we all look alike?”

“Close enough, but that’s not been released.”

I looked straight up, standing under John. Minty breath.

“Doing anything this afternoon?”

“I want to get the pansies in the ground.”

“It’s going to rain.”

“Buy me lunch?”

“What would you like?”

“The best damn barbecue on the planet.”


“I’d let you off in front, but –”

“You can let me off in front and find a place to park.”

John bit his lip. “I don’t like the neighborhood.”

I shrugged. “The shrink said –”

“You told me.”

“Is it poor people or black people that bothers you?”

John balk. “It’s neither. I mean, you should keep yourself from any questionable situation.”

I shrugged again, opening my door. “Park the car.” I pulled myself erect. Chasing my cane, a passerby’s hand hooked under my arm and lifted me up the curb. I thanked the aged caramel face. He hurried on his way.

Faces like a Whitman Sampler pushed back from the misty rain, wrapped in hoods or covered in hats passively watched like statues, eyes red, yellow and white, cigarettes held between lips, brown paper bags mocking faces, hiding poor man’s treasure.

When my destination became obvious, the door swung open, yellow teeth eager within the dark, wrinkled face beckoned me forward. 

“Thanks.” I nodded, pulling on the cane.

“God bless! God bless!”

I paused, mystified at his excitement, watching his wonderful dark eyes.

“We thought you were dead!”

“Sorry to disappoint.”

He cackled a wheezing laugh, much like a rapid grunt.

“Moses pulled you out the dumpster!”

I narrowed my eyes. “The Bible guy?”

Again, the laugh.

“No, no. Old Moses.” He swept his arm. “Lives down the railroad. We was looking for stuff and found you!”

I blushed, imagining the eyes drinking in my naked body. I held a hand forward. “Lindsey. Thank you.”

His callused hand enclosed mine. “Mathew! God bless! God bless!”

“Yeah. God bless.”

“We thought you was dead! They told us nothing! Nothing in the papers! Nothing on the news!”


He puzzled at the strip of sky between the buildings, squinting. “That way.” He pointed at Armond’s Records. “’Bout six blocks that-away, ina alley.”

That, I had no memory of.

Names and hands came at me. I shook each, repeating the name, assaulted by cigarette, stale booze and human stink. I confessed. “I’m a Dumpster Girl.” No one had to be told what a Dumpster Girl was.

Faces frozen, awed, hands coming to me again, just to touch.

“God bless.” Breathless, rolling over lips.

I felt like Jesus in Jesus Christ, Superstar, drowning in the mob’s love, all reaching, expecting something.

John, his badge over his head, other hand on his hip, thumb freeing the strap on his holster, identified himself. “Back off now!”

They did, slowly, fading back to statues.

I took a breath. “It’s OK. They’re friends.”


Inside, I dropped on a wobbly chair to the right of door, the table in front of a picture window. “Ribs, extra sauce and some fries. Root beer.” I guessed, never having seen the menu.

John watched down on me, biting his lip. “Beef or pork.”

I didn’t hesitate. “Pork.”

John retreated, all eyes following as he approached the counter.

Out the window, across the street, through the barely rain, kids, young adults hung in front of Armond’s. I don’t know what I expected to see. I’d planned to return, to look, to watch. I took advantage of John.

“Come here often?” John placed sodas on the table.

“Work on your pickup line.”

He snickered. I fished in my purse. He declined my money with a shrug, retreating.

Two kids in front of Armond’s shook hands, making an exchange. I wondered whether John’d be compelled to act, witnessing a drug deal.

“You going to be able to eat all this?”

My eyes popped. “Good to be on solid food. Don’t know what you’re missing ‘til you don’t get it, not that I don’t like applesauce and oatmeal.”

“Can’t imagine.”

The meat fell from the bone with a touch of the fork.

“I wasn’t joking. Do you come here often? They know you.”

I shrugged. “Mom doesn’t know.”

That I can imagine.”

“No, I don’t.”

He tasted his pork, two fries and sampled his soda. “You were here, weren’t you? This is where it happened?”

I was going to play dumb. “No.” I nodded to the window. “Over there.” I presented my fork. “But, this is the best damn barbecue on the planet.”

He nodded, squinted. “That’s not a safe place to hang out.”

“How thoroughly dad of you.” I rolled my eyes. “I don’t – didn’t hang out there.”

“We work that place, I mean the police do. I didn’t mean –”

I swept the air. “I was buying condoms.”





What to say and how to react is always clearer after the fact. I should have told Kelley and Janet:

“I get flashes.”

John nodded. “One of the doctors said that might happen.” He rolled his eyes, checking the notes in his head. “You said you remembered leaving school.”

“Yeah, I did.”

“Now? You came –” He nodded toward Armond’s Records. “Here to buy – you know.”

I held his eyes, slipping a fry in my mouth. “Condoms.”

He blushed, his eyes dropping to his plate, fidgeting with his fork. “Why?”

Certainly not a cop-question.

I shrugged. “Unprotected sex isn’t advised.”

His eyes stayed on the plate. “I’d not thought of you as sexually active.” The blush deepened.


“If it makes you feel any better, I was buying a three-pack, not a gross.”

John’s eyes met mine, shock, like I could read his mind.

Another shrug. “Not like I did it often.”

“How often?”

There is a question I bet John wished he could take back.

“What’s it matter? How many times have you done it?”

He sat back, blinking. “None of your business.”


He took a breath. “Sorry, I mean, I didn’t, you know.”

I bobbed my head.

We ate.

Finally. “Why here, I mean, who gave you a ride? Your boyfriend? You could have got those things anywhere.”

“Two buses and walk twelve blocks. I didn’t want Mom to have a clue.”

His eyes crossed.

I rolled mine. “I mean, if kids can buy drugs without their parents knowing, I’m sure I could buy condoms.”

“You use drugs?”

“I smoked pot once, didn’t like it. You?” Maybe I glared.


I wormed the flier from my pocket, unfurled it, placed on the table. “Where was she?”

John measured my face.

“She was supposed to be at the library with her girlfriend. Her friend said she met her boyfriend in an abandoned house. The boyfriend said she never showed.”

“We all have a similar story?”


“Dumpster Girls.”

He nodded.

“She met him there a lot?”

“I don’t think we asked.”

“Ask. She did.” I watched Armond’s. “There’s a backdoor.” I pointed. “Alley comes out two buildings down. Paranoid people like myself who believe every cashier near my house has my mom on speed-dial and someone who knows Mom will drive by as I come out of Armond’s can slip out the back.” I bit my lip. “That’s where I smoked pot.”

“And? You were smoking pot, and?”

“That was another time. You’re wrong about this ‘hood. Most these people won’t hurt anyone –”

“Some will.”

“No more than people in the mall or supermarket or hanging out near abandoned houses. If a meteorite’s going to hit you, doesn’t matter where you are.”

I narrowed my eyes, putting my hand to my forehead. “Must have come up behind me. Smashed my head into the wall.”

“That’s all you remember?”



John, there are moments watching your eyes drinking me, I forget how damaged I am. I forget the chasm in our age and culture. I forget that you love me by default, that I’m no longer a whole woman. The doctor, poking with a needle, my knees painfully apart, said I had nerve damage, the extent not predictable. I would lie naked under you. I would accept you as you accept me. I would accept and bear the pain of penetration so you could experience what a man needs to experience from the woman he loves.

If I could give you a baby, I would – today. That’s not only how much I love you. That’s how I love you.


Of course, I didn’t say that, not to a man who blushes at the mention of condoms. I took his hand, like mine, sticky with barbecue sauce. “You make me want to recover, to stand straight again, to run on a beach.”

“I’ve never had a friend like you.”

That’s because we’re lovers, not friends.

“They say the gods never curse us without an offsetting gift.”

He lifted my hand to his mouth and licked my finger. “Good barbecue.”

I shivered.

He opened a wipe provided with our lunch and carefully cleaned my hands.

I shivered again.



As we left Uncle Joe’s, I was swept up in synchronicity, strangers offering:

“’Bye Lindsey!”

“God bless, Lindsey!” Lots of God blesses.

“Don’t be a stranger, Lindsey!”

“Take care, Lindsey!”

The hospital people shared my recovery. I understood that. I didn’t get why these people saw me as their own, but they did, embracing me.


After going to the alley where I pointed out my blood on the brick wall, we walked three blocks to the car, John visibly relieved the tires weren’t missing.

I waved to my new friends as we rolled by.

“If they’d stop the substance abuse, they’d be productive members of society instead of a drain.”

I bit my lip. “Maybe you got the horse in the wrong place.”


“Horse, cart, you know. Maybe our society’s not provided the opportunities for them to be productive members of society so for enjoyment, instead of vacationing in the Bahamas or watching their $3,000 TV, they stand on the corner with a four-buck bottle of wine.”

“You might have a point.”

“John, never do that.”


“Agree with me just ‘cause, as if I won’t like you if we don’t agree.”

He took a deep breath. “Drunks are a waste of human flesh. Any problems they get, they ask for. You have no idea how much damage a drunk driver can do.”

Or an alcoholic mother can do to a child?

I grimaced, laughing. “Now, don’t you feel better? I’d not sweep so generally, but I’d agree, at least from what I saw in school. Kids get drunk, do stupid stuff, then blame the booze.”

“Imagine if they did that every day?”

“Then I’d agree with you.”


John held the car door. I worked to my feet.

“Did that really bother you, that I kissed your cheek?”

“Huh? Who said it bothered me?”

I came under him, put my palm to his chin and swept his cheek with my thumb, putting my thumb in my mouth. “Barbecue sauce.”

“You did, said you kept track or something.”

“You may kiss my cheek anytime you wish.”

He bent for my cheek. I turned my head at the last second, putting my lips on his. Without hesitation, I turned, pulling on the cane toward the house.

“I can make it. I know you’re in a hurry.”

John planned gathering a forensic team to work the alley, not my idea of fun on a Saturday afternoon, maybe well into the night.




“I saw that.” Janet met me on the walk with an umbrella.

“Good. I was afraid you’d not believe me.”

She giggled, looping my arm around her neck. “She ain’t heavy. She’s my sister.”

“Do you love me, Jay?”

We worked up the steps.

“Scale of one to ten? Number of teddy bears? Dancing hearts? How do we measure?”

We reached the porch. “Would you do this for me?”

This, what?”

I dropped on the wicker chair, panting.

“Oh, go through what you have?”


“Would you wish that on me?”

“No. I love you.”

She held her breath, kneeling, watching my face, her hands in my lap. “I would, Lind, willingly submit if I had the reasonable expectation that it’d do you any good.”

“Just hearing you say that does me a lot of good.”

She winked. “You did say you could get me a date.”

“Oh, you’re much too old.”

She frowned, narrowed eyes holding mine. “Don’t take this wrong, but I know I lost you. We were as much one flesh as two human beings could ever be. We walked history hand-in-hand. Sisters couldn’t be closer. We were beyond twins. We got dressed in the dark at Farm Hands that one morning and accidentally switched underwear we’d worn the day before and thought nothing of it. We’ve shared toothbrushes, deodorant and tissues. One flesh.”

I nodded, my eyes closed, waiting for the metaphorical door to slam.

“In the yellow wood, two roads diverged. You didn’t choose the road, Lind, but it’s taken you away from me. I’m not going to fool myself, thinking you’ll ever return.”

“Yeah, normal.”

“If I could, Lind. If I could walk that road and be as you’ve become, again our hands intertwined, the same flesh, I would, in a heartbeat.”

I choked, sobbing.

“I’m willing to let you go, Lind, so I can embrace who you’ve become. We’re not the same flesh anymore and that really, really sucks, but that’s only going to make me love you more, love you different.”

We held each other. I cried.

“You could have just told me on the scale of one to ten!”


Some spiritualistic beliefs claim pain verifies we’re alive.


I was aware Mom watched from the door. I doubt she heard and if she did, I knew she’d not understand. I’d pushed Mom’s hand and there, there away. I didn’t know why. Janet showed me.

Octavia’s mother didn’t run for the door like her father – like my father. She still craved her daughter be normal. I could see it in her eyes. I’d done the same thing to Octavia, Mom only knowing she was a girl from school I tutored. When Octavia’s health went into a crash and burn, bringing on her death, I didn’t say anything to Mom.

Mom would only love me if I could use my knife and fork. Dad didn’t look at me, yet prodded Mom to correct my misbehavior at the table.

Mom started a scrapbook the day after she got married. She planned, with labeled pages for my high school graduation pictures, my college pictures and my wedding pictures.

Plenty of blank pages for her grandchildren.


Janet had a date, which she offered to cancel. Paint ball. I suggested I could go along. I could be the target. I found Mom in the kitchen.

“Dad’ll come around.”

She nodded.

I drew a deep breath. “You guys can have another kid.”

Her eyes cut through me like a vivisectionist’s scalpel.

“Yours was a difficult birth.”

God! Don’t say it! Lie if you have to!

“They had to do a hysterectomy.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You should be.”

Like with John, I’m sure Mom wished she never rung that bell. I would’ve run from Mom, if I could run. I hobbled behind John’s cane.

“Lindsey –”

I waved my free hand over my head. “I know, Mom. I know.”


I spread the newspaper on my bed, kneeling on the floor. Sitting was uncomfortable. I was amazed how well the authorities could control information. Her school picture was featured, Monet-esque multicolored pastel background, over-smiling almost laughing, eyes and face up to the right, shrugging, hair cascading down over her shoulders. I had a school picture from years before just like it. The photographer made a silly joke about me being too beautiful not to be married.

Details were slim. A Dumpster Girl fan knew she was a Dumpster Girl, even if a trash container wasn’t mentioned. The article reported the cause of death as strangulation. I knew the cause of death was the body’s inability to maintain life through multiple traumas. The paper didn’t mention the sexual assault or mutilation.

I found her picture ironic, if not inappropriate, even offensive. The morgue photo would be fitting: eyes closed, black & white, at peace in her torment of bruises and lacerations. The picture should be who she is, not who she was.

The phone shouted from my nightstand. While reading, I picked up the receiver and almost said hello, hesitating when I heard a stranger’s voice.

“Sally? From the store?”

“I know who you are,” my mother said, sharp, cold.

“I just wanted to let you know. I mean.” The voice paused. “He’s OK.”

“Crashing with you?”

Hesitation. “We’ve been friends for a long time. Friends help friends.”

Something was muttered about any excuse.

“Look. I told him to call. I just wanted to let you know he’s OK. He’s safe and warm. Not to worry. Things’ll work out.”

 The receiver resounded sharply.

“She sounds upset.” The phone clicked.

I would have run to Mom, if I could run.


Though I’d never met Sally from the store, I knew who she was. Mom thought Dad got much too excited when she came up, Mom giving Dad the look at the mention of her name.

I had the latest Dumpster Girl’s phone number and name, on the flier. I didn’t know what the authorities told the family. The family had a right, I guess, to know the details of their daughter’s injuries. Maybe wisdom resided in her school picture roosting on the mantelpiece, not replaced with a forensic photo.

I wondered whether Sally from the store could give Dad a perfect baby to replace me coming back wrong, a corrupted monster, a cruel joke on his immortality.




My doorknob jiggled, followed by light tapping. I never lock my door, making an exception.

“What do you want, Mom?”

“Open the door.”

With the help of John’s cane, I struggled to my feet, and did as instructed.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Mom said.

I returned to my knees, flipping the newspaper. “It’s OK. People get angry, frustrated, say stuff. I wasn’t really going to blow up the school. Did you see this?” I pointed. “That makes eight of us. She died. Seven died. The hospital said I’m a miracle.”

I glanced up at Mom, Mom stared down on the article. “Do you think I’d been better off dead?”

“No! Of course not!”

“I’m sorry I messed up your inners.”

“Wasn’t your fault.”

I leafed the page. “You got to have me. I grew in your belly, the perfect meld of you and Dad. I got born, fed of your body and ate from your plate.” I turned another page. “That’s much more than I get.”

“You know we –”

I showed Mom the back of my hand. “Once the seed sprang from your belly, I laid out in the warmth of you and Dad’s perfect love, you and Dad’s love rained down on me, nurturing the sprout, my roots reaching back into you guys, my branches reaching up.

“Now, you turn away. Maybe I’m not ready to fledge.” I twisted, looking up at Mom.

Her eyes danced to the newspaper.

“Look at me.”

She did.

“I will not, never abandon you or Dad. You got no idea what I’ve endured to be here, today. You got no idea, not in your wildest imagination, the fire I walked through.” I took a breath. “Just to be here.”

Her eyes danced again.

“Look at me.”

She did.

“I might not be ready to fledge, but compared to where I’ve been, what I’ve seen and suffered, I can be ready in about two minutes.”

“You’re my daughter and always will be.”

“You look at me different.”

“I came to you the other day, at the dinner table, to comfort you and you pushed me away. Maybe it’s you that sees me differently –”

“Huh? Oh-my-God, Mom. Do you know how pathetic you sound? Jay? Janet on the porch? You’re jealous because she could touch me and you couldn’t?

“Your touch is cold, Mom, insincere, delivered out of obligation not love. You want me to be normal, as I was, and that’s never going to ever happen. I gnashed my teeth against the pain, forcing myself to use the knife as long as I could stand – for you.

“For you.”

I struggled to my feet, standing under Mom. “I’m sorry I screwed up your inners and I’m sorry this happened to me. I’ll accept you as little or as much as you can give me, and that’ll be OK.”

“You’re too young to understand –”

Again, words spoken unchecked.

“Oh, give me a freaking break.”

I rolled my eyes as her hand came across my face. I jerked away, keeping my feet, watching her eyes.

“For six days, I spent an hour each day, a guy gripping my knotted shirt with one hand, pounding my face with his other. If slapping me makes you feel better, have at it. It’s meaningless to me.”

I thought Mom could never be broken. I’d thought her the strongest person I knew. Like with Dad’s no matter what love, Mom’s invincibility crumbled from the inside soon after I was pulled from the dumpster.

I wasn’t the only one who came back wrong.


Mom cried herself to sleep.


I gathered all my medications, sealed them in a plastic bag and hid the bag under old clothes in the back of my closet. I wasn’t really suicidal, even with my passing thought of taking the pain away. I’m glad I didn’t say it aloud, things people say so easily misunderstood or twisted.

Mom didn’t have to reject me. She chose to. When Dad hit the front door, he rejected her as much as me, not her choice. I did feel crashing with a single female coworker inappropriate no matter how innocent the reality. I didn’t know what a suicidal person looked like.

I hid the pills.


Mom went to church, a guess. I couldn’t imagine where else she’d be early on a Sunday morning.

The sun chased the clouds away, promising a beautiful day.

Digging hurt. I persisted with my trowel, anxious, determined to see the pansies stand erect, happy faces pushing toward the sun, greeting me each morning. I knew from Farm Hands the soil, water, and my care would restore health.

A shadow crossed me. “Are you Lindsey?”

Two women, smartly dressed, stood in my yard, watching down on me. I would’ve guessed Jehovah Witnesses if not Sunday. They looked like mother and daughter, the daughter being in her twenties.

“Are you Lindsey?” The daughter narrowed her eyes.

Heard you the first time.

Sitting on my legs, leaning on one hand, I went back to digging with the other. “Yeah, that’s me.”

“We’re with a national victim’s advocacy group.” She held a card forward. “We protect the rights of victims, ensuring they get treated properly and get all the help they need.”

Great. Now I’m a national victim.

I popped a pansy free from its pot. “We need money. Mom and Dad’ve lost their savings.”

“We don’t offer financial support –”

“Who sent you?”

“No one sent us.”

“Who put you onto me?”

“You’re antagonistic, Lindsey.” The mother looked to the daughter.

The daughter took a breath. “We got involved because I, myself, was a victim. When I was much older than you, fifteen, I was seeing this older boy.”

I’ve considered getting my age or maybe date of birth tattooed on my forehead.

“I was young, naïve. He talked me into doing things I didn’t want to do. I’ll spare you the details, but you can imagine.”

Mom picked up. “When I caught him, I contacted the police and they made like Chastity was the criminal!”

Chastity, figures.

“Would you get the flat off the porch, please?”


“Container holding the flowers.”

“Are you listening at all?”

Without sparing theatrics, I worked to my feet pulling on John’s cane. I gripped the hem of my sweatshirt and lifted to my chin. “Do go on with your story of having sex with your boyfriend being such a horrid experience.”

The daughter, fading three shades of white, backed away, turned and hurried off, vomiting in the street.




John squinted at the business card, produced his phone, and tapped on the numbers. “Out of service.”

“Something wasn’t right.”


“Everything. They said what they were with, not who they were with. Obviously, they mistook me for a child. Can I get a carry permit?”


“Can’t blame a girl for asking.”

“Can you describe them?”

“Not really. How about their tag number?”


We sat on the front step. Sliding my hand between his arm and body, I took John’s hand. He didn’t care about the dirt. My head dropped on his shoulder.

“Other than a tuft of your hair on the brick, we didn’t find anything in the alley.”

“All night?”

“Just came from a working breakfast.”

“You smell like you’ve been up all night.”

He tried to pull away. I held.

“I like the way you smell. You can crash on the sofa if you want.”

“I’m OK.”

“Mom’s not home.”

“They leave you alone too much.”

“OK, Dad. If I could get a carry permit, it’d not matter.”

“Just because I’m concerned about your safety, doesn’t mean I’m like your father.”

“How about you loan me your throw down?”

“How’d you know –”

“I didn’t until now.”

He blushed.

“The way he nailed me, even packing a M72 shoulder rocket wouldn’t have helped, anyway.”

He put his phone to his ear. “Investigating what? OK.”

“Private investigators.”

“Can they lie to me like that?”

“No law against it.”

“Looking for?”

“The Dumpster Girl murderer story.”

“I showed off. They know. Damn my ego.”

“They can think, but not really know.”

“My disappearance ran in the news. My appearance ran, slim on details. You don’t need an abacus to add that up. I’m sure there’s some kinda paper trail a blind guy could follow.


“Likely writing a book,” he answered.

Mom’s phone vibrated in my pocket.


“You get breakfast?”

“Yeah, Mom.”

“You OK?”

“John’s here.”

“I’ve been at church.”

“I guessed.”

“Madison wants to talk.”


“He is our spiritual counselor.”

Not our. “OK. Be home before dinner?”

“I don’t know.”

“Guess I’ll see you when I see you, then.”


John twisted, looking at the house as I snuggled my hand back in his. “Do you have to give your father the message?”


“His car’s not here –”

“Ran off. Couldn’t stand to look at me. Mom’s getting some spiritual guidance. The way they’re acting, you’d think it was them and not me.”

“Church can be helpful in troubling times.”

“It’s not a church, meets in the basement of the Knights of Columbus. New Age holistic nonsense.”


I shrugged. “To some, I guess. Madison’s got his shtick. Makes me uncomfortable. He’s one of those guys who’s just gotta touch you all the time, you know. I gotta give that much to Dad. When Dad decided church wasn’t for him, he just stopped going. Mom, raised in a traditional church, when she decided it wasn’t for her, found something to replace it. Kinda like giving up beer because drinking beer gets you in trouble, replacing it with wine. You go to church?”

“Not since I was a kid.”

“I go – went – because Mom did. As much as I hate yard work –”

“Hate yard work?”

“OK. As much as I used to hate yard work, I’d rather work on the lawn with Dad than go to Mom’s church.”

“We’d go to church, me, Mom and Dad. Sing the songs, pray, praise God, do all the right things. Mom’d be drunk and whack me around before the sun went down.” John shrugged. “Didn’t see where church did much good for us. Over the years, seen some good for others.”

“What’d your dad do?”


“Your mom.”

“Hide behind closed doors in his study. Anything from him came down from the mountain. That means –”

“Oh, you’re going to get so smacked. I know what that means.”


I could see the pansies, the plants I got in the ground, perking up, time melting away.


“How about I help you finish?”

“How about, John, you go home and get some sleep?”

“That does sound like the better choice.” He untangled from me and stood.

I took his hand, following, staying on the lower step, which brought my eyes four inches below his.

I could read his mind, his eyes dancing on my face.

Mouth, cheek, mouth, cheek, mouth, cheek?

“You have the absolutely greenest eyes I’ve ever seen.”

“Only one in the family. Must be a cuckoo.”

“After what you’ve been though –”

Mouth, cheek, mouth, cheek, mouth, cheek?

I giggled, standing as erect as my damaged body would allow, all my weight on my left foot, my right hand on John’s shoulder for support. “Some cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of others!”

John blushed. “I’d better go, before I fall asleep on my feet.”

I put my free hand on his other shoulder. “OK.”

“You really don’t like being touched?”

“Huh? Oh, Madison?” I nodded quick and sharp. “I’ve been on dates, you know, like to the movies. The lights go down and the kid gets grabby. No, I don’t like being touched like that. Maybe if there were flowers and candy –”

John snickered, his eyes laughing.

“I mean, like I knew the kids, but didn’t really know the kids, you know.” I rolled my eyes. “If you’ve not figured it out yet, women need an emotional connection before we get pawed. A connection like we have.”

Hint, hint, hint.

Minutes raced by like a snail crossing the sidewalk, John watching my eyes.

“I’d better get going.”

I ran my tongue over my lower lip, closing my eyes. If I had poster paper and paints, I’d have made a sign.

His lips touched mine, his lower lip rolled once, his breath stale from a night with no sleep.

I melted, dropping back to the step, my bones liquefying.




Madison’s trick was the same I used on John. Madison knew how to proactively listen as if what’s being said was the most important thing ever said.

He’d put his hand on a shoulder, maybe taking someone’s hand as he listened. He had the creepy habit of palming my chin when addressing me. His hand smelled of scorched cod liver oil.

I much prefer spiritual leaders talking down from the mountain.


My plots were done by mid afternoon. I liked the smell of soil on my hands and clothes but washed anyway, stripping to my underwear in the laundry/mudroom behind the kitchen, letting my hair loose.

I owned bras, didn’t need to wear one, rarely did.

Up the hall, as I rounded the foyer and placed my left foot on the first step, ready to drag my right leg up behind me, rapping sang from the front door.

“Lind! Lind!”

“It’s open, Jay!” I turned.

Janet entered with a bag of hamburgers and a stranger.


“Sorry.” I shrugged. “Caught me changing.” I chased John’s cane. “I’ve lost any modesty I ever had. Lindsey.” I offered my hand.

His oaken russet eyes, which matched his shaggy hair, went wide. His mouth mocked speech, finally: “What the hell happened to you?” He didn’t take my hand.

“Lindsey, David, David, Lindsey.” Janet twisted her face. “I didn’t tell him anything about you-know-what.”

“I was in an accident.”

“No, duh!”

“No duh at all. Stand there and stare at me going up the steps or find the kitchen. I’m going to put some clothes on.”

Janet pushed David toward the back of the house, caught up to me, helping on the stairs. “Sorry, Lind. If I knew you were running around in just your panties, I’d have sold tickets and brought a crowd.”

“What happened to Bobby?”

“Trading up.”

“And older man. I must be a bad influence.”


Mom suggested getting some muumuus. I declined, not ready to retire in housedresses. Socks, shoes and pants didn’t go on easily, however. I could live in sweatpants and sweatshirts.

I worked my yellow sundress over my head, the hem dropping to my knees. With the spaghetti straps and swoop neck, my scars weren’t hidden. I was beyond caring.

Janet and David settled in the backyard on lawn chairs around the table, smoking pot.

“We have burgers for your mom, too.”

I shrugged. “Off on a spiritual retreat –”

“I didn’t know she was being attacked.”

“Go figure.” I nodded, dropping on a chair between them. “You do know my boyfriend’s a cop, right?”

 “Oh, it’s just pot!” David laughed inappropriately. “Janet told me ‘bout the accident. Wow, you got nailed by a truck? Wow. Them scars are cool!”

I rolled my eyes, tempted to give David the speech I gave John about agreeing with me. “Relax, David. You don’t have to impress me.”

“No! Seriously, man!”

Yeah, seriously – man.

“David’s a senior.”

“Oh? Would’ve guessed older.”

“I get that a lot. Janet’s told me lots about you. It’s Lind this and Lind that.” Again, the inappropriate laugh. “I thought you were hooked up the way she went on!


“What about it?”

“You want to smoke some?”

“No, thanks.”

“Oh. Are you one of them?”

“Lindsey doesn’t smoke pot.”

I narrowed my eyes at Janet. She didn’t smoke pot, either. I thought to give a speech, telling Janet if she felt she had to act differently, do things she didn’t like, to agree with David to be his friend/girlfriend, she was being immature.

Yet, that’s what I caught John doing.

I swallowed my thoughts, ate a burger and fries, watching Janet slip away. Letting me go freed Janet to get on with her life, two roads in the yellow wood. I liked the way she watched David’s face when he spoke. I liked the laugh he pulled from her.

Janet was right. We could never be as we were.


I didn’t like David and decided how I felt didn’t matter. David was a dim bulb, barely aware of his surroundings. If anyone shouldn’t smoke pot, it’d be him. David was a simple man with simple ideas, able to enjoy simple pleasures like a well-cooked French fry, which he carried on about.

I liked that about him, and I liked how he looked at Janet.


We didn’t discuss schoolwork, rare for us. I didn’t mind.


Clouds rolled back in with evening. I welcomed the threat of rain, my pansies standing ready to receive a drenching like soldiers receive orders. David asked whether he could hug me good-bye. I told him to be gentle. He was, holding me, inhaling me like I inhaled John.

I liked that about him.

Night stalked me, jumping from the bushes. I’d walked Janet and David to the porch, dropping on the wicker chair, the car pulled away. I watched the clouds blot out the blue.

I was hidden in darkness when I realized the day escaped to where days go. The house, lifeless, lay dead behind me. I thought to go in, turn a light on, turn the porch light on, so Mom could find her way. I narrowed my eyes at the walk, ensuring I didn’t leave a trip hazard.

It’s not like I couldn’t move. I felt oddly at peace, comfortable in my skin, happy with my company. In one act, my childhood was swept away. I thought other people did walk the same road in the yellow wood, just not as suddenly. A pencil point gets dull over time, unnoticed until the pencil won’t write.


A car stopped in front of the house.

Mom had a head on me. Madison had a head on her. He opened the door, ceremoniously helping her out. I thought to call, to greet, making my presence known.

Mom giggled, Madison guiding along the walk, an arm around her waist. They stopped, their faces met, a cliché silhouette against distance backlight.

Again, they paused at the bottom of the steps. I could hear their wet tongues sloshing at each other.

I imagined what John’s mouth would taste like.




I thought to pretend I was asleep. I didn’t need to. Mom, in a daze, entered the house, locking the door.


I didn’t have to wait long, Mom’s phone vibrating in my pocket.

“Yeah, Mom?”

“Where are you?”

“Thought I’d go for a walk, such a nice night.”

“I figured you’d be in bed.”

“This early? I’m almost home. Don’t lock me out.”


“Did you eat?” Mom didn’t glance up from the kitchen table, eyeing her glass of water.

“Yeah, Jay stopped by with burgers. You?”


I put the pot on for tea.



I shrugged, no idea what to ask. “Tea?”


“Got the pansies in.”

“I’ll look in the morning.” Mom stared through me.

“Did anyone look at you funny in church?”

“No. Why?”

“You have your T-shirt on backwards. You’d better take a shower. I doubt Dad’ll be home, but you smell like cod liver oil.”

Mom blushed.

I didn’t mention she stank of hard liquor and cigarettes.


I settled on my bedroom floor with my algebra homework, chamomile tea, rain calling a peaceful song of spring and my thoughts, a confused world. I wanted to call John and ask about my father’s actions. I wanted to call Kelley and ask about my mother’s actions.

I wanted to call Janet and make her promise she and David would fall in love, get married, make perfect love and within the vortex of that love, make me a perfect baby that I could hold and love forever, no matter what.

No matter what for real.


My pencil point broke. The doctors were vague with my prognosis. I passed, or rather my parents passed, on physical therapy. Some day I wanted to run on the beach. For the moment, getting to my desk would do. I slid the drawer open.

 The tampon box mocked me. I’d wondered why Mom didn’t menstruate. I guess I knew, but I didn’t know. Mom and I never had to have the talk, Mrs. McDougal at Farm Hands offering up an encyclopedia of information on human reproduction months before I’d begin menstruating.

Mrs. McDougal filled me with a sense of wonder and pride, menses flowing from my body, tethering me to the earth and universe.

It’s who we are, what we are.

Who I was, anyway. Now, a poor reflection, a mocking, pathetic imitation of humanity.

I emptied the tampon box on the desk, half-pencils dancing in all directions. The box, when new, was a gift from Dad, hanging on the Christmas tree soon after my first period. Dad stood with his elbow resting on the mantle, his eyes afire watching down on me, bigger than life.

Bigger than life.

So in love with me.


I dropped the empty box in the trash basket.


I woke to the front door slamming. I wondered whether Mom was off to work or spiritual guidance. She was late, likely hung over. One Fourth of July, Dad caught me sipping beer and got me drunk. I wasn’t so drunk I threw up or passed out, but I was sick the next day.

Dad told me the lesson inevitable and best learned in the safety of our home.


Hair, like course peach fuzz, finally crowned my pubic. He’d shaved me, dry shaved while I screamed against the gag. I wasn’t hairy, just enough to place me as a mature primate, I thought a cute definition. He was not happy with his mistake and should have thrown me back. He was willing to sculpt me more to his liking and imagine me as he wanted me to be, not as I was.

Not that I have the memory, but the hospital shaved me again.

My jeans hung loose. I’d lost weight, which I could put back on. Janet wanted to play count-the-ribs. I passed.

I managed to tie my sneakers.

My sweatshirt boasted I went to Penn State, draped on me like a tent. I would have tied my hair back if I could’ve stood having my hands over my head for long. I left Mom’s phone off, stowed in my front pocket with my money.

The rain flattened my pansies. With the day, the sun became involved. I stood on the sidewalk, backlit. As if conducting an orchestra, I delivered an inspirational speech to my subjects. I stood erect, raising both arms to the sky, feeling powerful beyond belief, imagining the pansies rising, rising, rising.

I’d left John’s cane by the door, placed my left foot, swinging my right, pivoting, placing my left, swinging my right. My right leg refused to bend correctly in normal use, pain radiating from my knee to my hip. Three blocks up, I dropped on the bench, panting, smiling at an elderly man.

He had a cane, not unlike mine, on his lap.

He nodded back. “They got special public transportation for people like you.”

“Good morning. There are no people like me that lived.”

“Nice day.”


“Polio? If you don’t mind me asking. Had a kid, polio.”

“No. Accident. Did you run out on him?”

“Her. No. She couldn’t get around as good as you. I carried her everywhere, like hugging her, holding her.” He stared through me. “Held her into death. What a gift. Beautiful like you.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Some sixty years ago. I can see her face, eyes watching me, green like yours, like it was yesterday.”

“The pain never goes away?”

“Wouldn’t want it to. The love is there with it.”

I wanted to ask whether he were God or at least an angel.

He reached in his jacket. “Want to see her picture?”

“She’s beautiful, breathtaking.” The child in the photograph, head and shoulders, was naked, eyes closed. “Is she dead – I mean in the picture?”

“We were poor.”


“Not like today, cameras were rare, photography expensive.”

“There’s our bus.” I worked to my feet.

“Your bus. I come, sit, talk to people waiting for the bus.”

“I’m glad I needed the bus today.”

“There’s special transportation for people like you.”

“There are no people like me that lived.”

“Nice day.” He winked.







back to index *** chapters 21 to 30