“I have so much to tell you.”

“I’ll send my file.” Ronnie pulled a notepad from her bag.

“Mabel’s my friend, Ronnie. I hope you’ll still be my shrink.” I rolled my eyes. “And, my friend, if that’s possible.”

“Maybe Mabel wants to take over.”

Mabel chuckled her jolly chuckle. “That’s Mrs. McDougal to you. Lindsey and I have a relationship beyond therapy.”

Ronnie nodded sharply.

Mabel held my hand. “I’d love to hear any stories you wish to tell, as long as they’re good stories.”

Ronnie narrowed her eyes. “You consider me a friend?”

“You’re one of the few people who can actually come close to understanding me. You don’t talk down to me. You set me straight when I get strange ideas in my head. Sounds like a friend to me.”

Ronnie blushed.

“She’s beautiful when she blushes, don’t you think, Mabel?”

“Yes, she is.”


Mabel and I left the tent, wandering toward the football field, each chasing a cane. Rain, like a wet kiss, misted around us.

“You knew it was me?”

“Of course, Lindsey.”

“What I’ve been robbed of is beyond words.”

She paused, teetering on her cane, squinting at the horizon. “I only told the beginning of the story.”

“What if none of us popped that year?”

Popped. I’d have gathered all you and told the story anyway, the blood’s always a poignant reminder. Life’s about experiencing, not always about knowing what’s to come.”

“What’s to come, Mabel?”



“You arrive at the doorstep early, but arrive just the same. Life, youth is about consumption, appetite, taking into your body, expelling, bleeding out onto the earth that birthed you. You remember the story.”

“I’ve told the story.”

“Of course, you have.

“When the blood no longer flows, when the appetites of the flesh become different, the energy spins and becomes consumed within your belly. Life becomes driven by thought, wisdom, not action.”

I closed my eyes to the dark clouds and rain. “I’ve become an old woman at fifteen.”

Mabel chuckled, melting my heart. “Elder woman.”

“I fucked up Mom’s plumbing when I was born, her blood no longer spilling onto the earth. She’s hardly what I’d call an elder woman.”

“Well, we have elders and then we have just plain old people.”

“What makes the difference, do you think?”

“Choices. When a woman holds onto what was, playacting her youth, bitter, unable to rejoice in her greatness, wallowing in her losses, blind to the gifts.”

“She gets caught in a narcissistic spiral of self-diminishing, trapping herself forever as a girl-child, a half-adult, never really growing up?”

Mom and Dad are perfect together.

Mabel laughed, holding her belly with both hands, she laughed from her soul.


Mabel warmed my being with farm stories, the girls that came and went. We laughed until it hurt over a horse insemination tale, Mabel, with wide eyes and spread arms detailing the horse’s penis, the sire excited, anxious, the mare nonchalant. “This horse was a favored lover. Four strokes!”

“Then off to eat some hay!”

“Sex and love are not the same thing. I’m sure you know that.”

“I do, yes.” Watching back on the tent, Madison had entered, looking for an early lunch. “You’ve had no children of your own.”


“Met him?” I bobbed my chin.

Mabel narrowed her eyes over the fifty feet. “Had the pleasure.”

Her sarcasm was not lost.


“I was gang-raped on an army base when I was about your age, left for dead.”


Fucked up my plumbing.”

We looked at each other, seconds bleeding together. We laughed again, holding our stomachs, belly laughing from our souls.


We lingered, moving back toward the tent, Mabel, a busy afternoon ahead, me wanting to sit with Janet, pine, tell her I love her.

“What do you think they want?”

Kelley, John and two uniforms stormed the tent.

I shrugged. “Picking up Madison, I’m sure. I filed a complaint.”

“Must be weak. Public spectacle.”

“Yeah, gotta send a message.”


I invited Mabel to dinner. She asked whether I should check with Mom. I gave her the look.


I held my right arm out, accepting Janet. “You remember Jay?”

“Of course! My, have you grown into a beautiful young woman!”

“Thanks, Mrs. McDougal.”


I watched Mabel sink into the first lunch period crowd. “The other counselor.”

“Really? Sign me up! Madison’s good for a laugh, Doctor Ronnie’s just plain weird!”

I sat, Janet off to the lunch line. The kids were returning, feeling comfortable, the shooting moving back in their minds, melting in time. Unconsciously, I picked out the three children he’d choose, plucking the virgin bud from pre-fertile soil.

One nymph appeared before me, soft milk chocolate hair cutting the sides of her face dropping to her waist, oversized eyes like dark brown evergreen in deep shadow, flesh like birch.

“Can I speak to you?”

Obviously, you can use the language.

Instead, I smiled, keeping her eyes, drinking from her awe. “Of course.”

“Me and my girlfriend’ve been following, you know.”

“The Dumpster Girls.”


I thought she might ask for an autograph.

“I know there’s more than what’s been said.”

“I can’t give out any details. I have to respect the people working the case.”

“Detective Lewinsky’s task force.”

I blinked three times.

She shrugged. “There’s more than four of you?”

I nodded, subtly.

“That’s what me and my girlfriend don’t get. More than ten?”


“Still.” She looked over her shoulder. “You’d think they’d run a how to keep yourself safe public announcement 24-7, giving us all the details they have. There’s going to be more girls, right?”

“I’ve wondered the same thing.”

“I heard you’re working with the task force.”

Oh, she’s good.

“No, you haven’t.” Something about how her shoulder dipped.

Another shrug. “Can’t blame a girl for trying.”

“The buddy system.”

“That simple?” She rolled her eyes. “OK, yeah, that’s true? No witnesses?”

I nodded. “Travel in groups. Never, ever, be alone on the street and watch repeated behavior.”

“Like walking home from my friend’s the same time every day?”


She held her notebook forward, my original missing person flier on top.

I autographed, flamboyantly.

She put another copy over the first. “For my girlfriend.”




Janet dropped next to me.

“I’ve never known you to be shy. Why’d you hide behind me?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She put a French fry in my mouth. “I was like that at Farm Hands, if you remember. She’s always amazed me. I’m just not comfortable around her. How weird is that, though? Her showing up.”

“Yeah. I was thinking of locking her and Madison in a room.”

Janet laughed.

“You still have that dress you wore back in seventh? To the spring formal dance?”

The handkerchief Dad called it, yeah, in the attic somewhere.”

“I’ve dropped a couple of sizes.”

“You must be really planning busting the move on John.”

“Date with someone else, actually.”

“Don’t sound so smug. Did you tell this other guy you’re using him to make someone else jealous?”

“I asked John out first, he turned me down.”

“Ah, a revenge date!”

“Not that at all. Not like I went looking.”

“You could wear your black dress.”

“Cotton, hangs on me like a tent. I’ll save it for funerals. Yours is silk.”

“Still might need to belt it. I have a silk scarf finer than Joseph’s coat. Silk’s a bit much for hamburger and fries, though.”

“You remember last year, the big party we read about in the paper, making fun of just about everyone and everything?”

“The way the ice sculpture held the bottle did look like it was peeing punch!”

“The Governor’s Ball, hosted this year by the mayor.”

“You’re going?”

“If the dress fits.”

“I’ll ditch after lunch, unbag it, get it to the cleaners and wait for them to clean it!”

“Will you be my squire Saturday afternoon? Help me get dressed?”

“It’d be an honor!”


 Jack Stroman appeared, dark suit, eyes busy behind his sunglasses. “Lindsey.” He nodded to Janet, reaching for me, to help me up, spun on his heel, taking a child to the floor, his hand on the kid’s throat.

He half-smiled, blushing, pulling his vic to his feet, adjusting and brushing at the kid’s clothes. “No running with forks. Someone could get hurt.”

The kid blubbered, almost in tears, apologized, walking off briskly.

Jack shrugged, taking me under the arm. “Hair trigger.”

“No duh. Jack, my best friend, Jay. Jay, Jack.”

I gained my feet.

“Nice to meet you, Jay.”

“Me, too.”

I took Janet’s hands, bent, kissing her forehead. “Thanks.”


“Being you.”


Jack put his finger to the side of his noise. “I’ve pulled some interesting background on your friend.”


“Yes. We’ll speak later. Nothing in front of Mr. Steinberg.”



I glanced to the right without moving my head. “Doesn’t he eat?”

“Stroman’s been with me for years. Ex-military. Did he tell you? Of course not. He got hung out to dry on an op.” Mr. Steinberg waved a hand over his hamburger, fries and soda like shooing flies. “He’ll tell you, if inclined. Not my place. I picked him up when no one else would. He’s been thankful every day. Takes his job seriously.”

“He can’t sit with us and eat and protect you?”

“Pretty much.”

“I’m thankful, too, Mr. Steinberg, beyond words, for all you’ve done for me.”


“Yeah. My dad’s been having problems –”

“I recall. Drinking long?”

“New habit. Not just that. Hard to explain.”

“Take your time.” He bit his burger.

“We used to be close, Dad so in love with me. He stopped going to church after I was born. I used to think he didn’t need church because I became his god.”

“What we love most becomes our god.”

“Ya think?”

“In many ways.”

“Dad failed.”

“How so?”

“My kidnapping, all that goes with it.”

“He didn’t protect you.”

“I don’t see it that way.”

“I understand. He sees it like that.”

“For him, it’d been better if I came back dead, not this living reminder of his failure, this corrupted monster, a cruel joke on his immortality.”

Mr. Steinberg nodded. “If you accept my gifts –”

“It’ll emasculate Dad even more. If I’m to be fixed, it’s gotta be Dad doing the fixing.”

“I understand and I expect nothing less from you. Now that you’ve made the point very clear and took your stand, let’s get those doctors to work. It’s about you, not your father.”

“No. Nothing exists in isolation. It’s about him as much as me.”

“I disagree.” He winked. “I’m big enough to agree to disagree. I understand. I simply don’t agree.”

“Dad needs to find a way.”

“I can’t, in good conscience, put your father in a job he didn’t earn or can’t perform.”


“If he does well in the special assignment, he’ll be offered a promotion in the district with more responsibility. I’m not sure yet where we can put him. We’ll make room.”

“He didn’t earn this thing with the Governor’s Ball?”

“He’s up for it, in many ways.”

“If he does good, he gets a promotion.”

“Yes. With that, a health benefit package that’ll cover most of what’s being offered.”

I bit my lip.

“Isn’t that what you want?”

“Yeah. Honestly, if I were you, I don’t know if I’d give my dad a position of responsibility.”

“I’m not giving him anything. He has to earn it. If he earns it, he’s going to have to prove he deserves it.”

“Fair, if nothing else.”

“I try to be fair in all my dealings.”

My eyes welled. “Thanks, Mr. Steinberg.”

“For what, specifically?”

“Being my friend, mostly. And, understanding.”

“Understanding is easy if you get out of your own way. Friendship, well, that takes work. I’m proud you call me friend.”

“Back at you.”


I dropped next to Jack in the front seat after the egress swallowed Mr. Steinberg.”

He eyed me carefully. “Home, James?”

“Supermarket first. Got some shopping to do.”

“I’ll call ahead. Your order will be waiting for us.”

I shrugged. “As much as appearances to the contrary, I happen to like walking.”

“That you can walk.”

“Yeah. Besides, I want to pick out my own stuff.”




Jack shadowed me, omnipresent yet unobtrusive. Not that I was paranoid or particularly scared being out, in crowds, around people, though Ronnie insisted I should be, I felt warm and ultra-safe with Jack at my shoulder.

I held up a tomato. “I like the soft ones.”

“Firm, crunchy.”

Maybe in a salad. I’m making meatloaf.”

I felt jack nod. “Peel, deseed, crush. My grandmother used to do that.”

Great – I’m a grandmother.

I dropped three tomatoes in the basket Jack carried. “I’m having an old friend to dinner. She taught me how to cook. Meat loaf is her favorite. You want to join us?”

“Thank you, no.”

“Really. It’s no trouble.”

“My wife likes me home for dinner.”

“Oh. I’d not considered –”


A medium onion, two pounds of ground beef, clove of garlic, pint of milk and loaf of cracked wheat bread later, I worked the self checkout, Jack with his back to the door, watching every movement in the market.

“So. Madison.” I weighed the tomatoes, calculating the price.

“They didn’t hold him.”

“There’s a surprise. Charges?”


“Scare him?”

“Made him cocky.”


Jack took the bag. “I have an appointment with him tomorrow.”


I hung on Jack’s arm.

“I’d water your pansies, if you’d ask.”

“I know.”

“Madison had cursory involvement in a doomsday cult forty years ago. Allegations of child abuse flew around, nothing proven. The members scattered before the hammer came down.”

“Which is the chicken, which is the egg?”

Jack helped me on the steps. “I don’t understand the question.”

“Did the doomsdaying come after the allegations?”

“That’s a good question. Difficult to say.”

“I mean, if they had a spiritual club sharing God’s love with children, they could go into panic mode if someone dropped a dime.”

Jack snickered. “Beliefs are often molded to meet desires. Though certainly not accepted behavior, back then, doomsday cults were regular enough to not be surprising.”

“Anything else?”

“Not really. A few paternity suits, nothing stuck. He’s picked his victims carefully, his victims have much to lose coming forward.”

“Like Mom. What about his program to eliminate demons?”

“If he’s got a manifesto, I couldn’t find it.”

“I told you what he thinks of me.”

“I repeat: Beliefs are often molded to meet desires.”

With my door open, I turned back to Jack. “Children?”

“He doesn’t –”

“I mean you.”

“Two daughters, grown. I have three grandchildren.”

“That’s wonderful.”

His jaw tightened. “If they’d been taken, I’d have moved Heaven and Hell –”

“What was it you told me about revenge?”

“Believe me, I’d have made things worse.” He offered the slightest bow. “Ask. I’ll water your pansies.”

I shivered. “It’s mine to do.”


Mabel McDougal and I stood on the front lawn, an image distorted like a funhouse mirror.

“Great meatloaf.”

“I added dark corn syrup to the tomato sauce.”

“Ah, I thought something like that.”

 “They embarrass me.”

Mabel chuckled. “Many children don’t care enough to be embarrassed by their parents.”

“They’ve not dealt well.”

“What, Lindsey, do you expect? Do you think your father can stand tall, say something wise, make everything better? Do you think your mother can kiss it and make it all better?”

“There was a time they could.”

“You’re not a child any longer.

“I’ve really messed things up.”

“The blame’s not yours.”

“Who then? Maybe what.”

“Maybe none. Calf’s are stillborn because calf’s are stillborn, same as pansies reach for the sun and the ocean gently touches the beach.”

“Sometimes we can save the calf, push fate back, like a bulwark.”

Bulwark to fate, Mr. McDougal grumbles that all the time.”

“I thought that, you know. Things happen as they happen and we’re just witnesses. I told everyone I had no memory, like it was none of my business.”

“You remember the pony?”

“I do.”

“Mr. McDougal led you and Janet around.”

“He tripped.”

“The pony ran off.”

“Me and Janet on its back.”

“What did you do?”

“After I screamed?”

Mabel chuckled.

“I reached forward getting hold of the reins. I thought: Wow, just like in the movies.”

The taxi appeared around the corner.

Mabel rolled her eyes toward the house. “My offer stands.”

“I’m tempted to get in the cab with you now.”

“I feel time on the farm would do you good. I’ll be heading back next week.”

My shoulders sank. “I gotta hang. They’re really in trouble. I gotta help them.”

“No, you don’t.”

“I don’t see any other bulwarks.”

“Not everything needs fixing.”

“Not everything can be fixed.”

Mabel smiled, taking my cheeks, kissing my forehead. “Sometimes what we think needs fixing is just us saying we don’t like the way things are, the choices others have made.”

I opened the taxi’s door.

“Your father’s seeing Ronnie?”


“She’s good. I like Ronnie. Your mother should see someone, too.”

“She doesn’t think she’s got a problem. Dad only goes because Ronnie’s cute.”

“She needs someone to talk to.”

“I could be that someone.”

“Someone outside, a confidant.”

She had one. He fucked her, literally and figuratively.

“They’ve both had more put on their shoulders than anyone should have.”

Mabel winked up at me. “Go look in the mirror, Lind.” She pulled the door shut, waving as the cab jumped into motion.


Dad must have run for his Scooby-snack before we hit the front door. I’d asked him, please, please, not drink until Mabel left.

Instant Asshole: just add beer.

“We’re in agreement.” Mom watched me from the table, her arms across her chest.

“That my meatloaf’s great?”

I hooked my cane on the back of a chair, gathering dishes.

“You will not go to Farm Hands this year.”

“I made plenty. You guys can take sandwiches for lunch tomorrow.”

“Did you hear your mother?”

I shrugged, working toward the kitchen. “I’m too old for Farm Hands.” You don’t listen. Mabel invited me to live on the farm, not participate in the program, though I suspect I’d be put to work with the kids.

The three plates slipped from my hands, two shattering on the floor, the other bouncing twice.

“If this family breaks up, it won’t be my doing.” If you’d stop thinking up mandates to hand down from the mountain just to prove you’re not worthless and get off your fat asses for five minutes, “I could use some help cleaning up. I can wash if you’d just clear the table.”




Like Janet cowered behind me under the cafeteria tent, hiding from Mabel McDougal, my parents cowered behind lofty words, posturing and playacting. I didn’t understand Mom and Dad’s fear until Mabel suggested I come stay on the farm for a while.

Mabel saw I was at risk, not saying in so many words. I was like a mouse in a box, trying to see what the outside of the box looked like. I trusted Mabel’s assessment.

I would not abandon my parents.


Jack stood at the door, declining my invitation to enter. “Putting the fear of God into someone who thinks he speaks for God is difficult.”

“Difficult, not impossible?”

Jack gave me a sideways smirk. “Everyone wants to go to Heaven. No one wants to die.”

I burned to know details, wishing I were along. “Did he cry, Jack?”

“When he broke, on his knees, grabbing at me jacket, begging.”

Satisfaction rushed inside me, warm like hot chamomile down my throat, saturating my heart.

The feeling repulsed me, yet I was unable to back away, closing my eyes. “What did we learn?”

“He doesn’t know your attacker, just a devoted fan.”

Fan. I was a fan.”

“Not like he is.”

“A True Believer?”

“Good way to put it.”

“Me and my ilk are what? Sent by the Devil to lure men to do evil?”

“Pretty much.”

“Has he personally hurt a child?”

“True Believer, conviction. No balls.”

“Trusts in God’s mission. Fears the laws of man?”


“Did you ask about the break in?”



“He believes he can rid you of the evil.” Jack rolled his eyes. “He thinks, is pretty sure, he can pick out the demons.”

I twisted my face. “I’m sure he’s got a demon detector in his pants.”

“That is his spiritual center.”

“Maybe his god.”

“He’s pretty sure, but not positive.”

“He doesn’t want to hurt the innocent by mistake.”

“You’ve been tagged.”

“I get it. Since Madison’s hero picked me, I gotta be one of the demons.”


“So, he broke in to do what?”

“He says to talk to you, to confront the demon, driving it out.”

“What do you think?”

Cold, matter-of-fact: “Murder you, maybe rape your dead body.”

“Finish what his hero started. Can’t go wrong when doing God’s work.”

“Lindsey, think carefully. Would you like me to water your pansies?”

I didn’t need to think, carefully or otherwise. “No.”

He raised an eyebrow. “He’ll keep coming. Like a jihad, a holy war with all its fringe benefits.”

“Seems they get their virgins on earth.” I waved a hand at the air. “Let him keep coming. I’m not afraid of him.”

“You should be.”

I looked Jack in the eyes. “I’ve stood tall in Hell. He’s got nothing.”

Jack shivered.


The paradox of circular thinking gave me a headache. Madison thought me evil, believing himself good to destroy me. Madison having declared his jihad, I’d then be righteous to declare him evil, doing good to destroy him.

Uncomfortable with such power, Jack’s willingness to water my pansies scared me. He placed his sword at my feet. He had his own reasons, maybe to drive out his own evil, maybe to protect his grandchildren. If he were to water my pansies, he could then blame me for his choices and actions.

Just like Madison.


I left the vat of spaghetti sauce to simmer, chasing my cane at the beckon of the doorbell.

“Ronnie! Great to see you! Staying for dinner? I’ll impress you.”

Dark, brooding. “I have an ethical problem.”

“Can’t eat with clients?”

She tried to smile.

I drew her in, sweeping an arm toward the dining room table. “Tea, coffee? Anything?”

She set her briefcase on the table, releasing the snaps. “May I use your bathroom?”

“Sure. You know where it is.”

I watched the turn of her ankles sprouting from her three-inch pumps, wondering if I could navigate in my heels the coming Saturday. With a hand on the railing, she paused, nodded, poignant conviction in her eyes, a difficult decision made.

With Ronnie out of sight, I opened the briefcase, which held one sheet of paper, a lab report.

I’m so fucking smart.

“Dad’s got gonorrhea.”


Ronnie gave me a half smile and averted eyes. “I have to get back. We have an appointment Monday morning, early.”

“I understand.” I followed to the door.

She paused, hand on the doorknob, not turning. “The real therapy’s not started. Posturing, boasting, telling glorified stories about himself.”

“He likes pretty girls. Sounds like him.”

“I’ve never thought of myself as pretty.”

“That’s your father’s voice in your head.”

“I know. Difficult to shake.”

“My dad, the old dad, the dad who likes pretty girls is still in my head, loving me, pining at me.”

She turned, her eyes digging into mine. “Yes, Lindsey, you’re a good friend. I’ve not had many.”

“You’ve not allowed many.”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Your dad’s voice. He says you’re not worthy of something as lofty as friendship.”

“Yet, here we are.”

“Yeah, huh?”

She dropped her briefcase, cupped my cheeks and kissed my forehead, taking me up in her arms. “Thanks.”

I hugged back. “And, thank you.”


Once again, I wished to know the length and breadth of the conversation Mom had with Dad concerning her indiscretions, eh, escapades. “Monday.”

I shrugged at the meatballs, dropping them one at a time in the sauce. Ronnie’s a M.D., logical she’d draw blood to determine the proper treatment for Dad’s urinary tract infection. I wanted the source of the infection to be Sally. I knew she wasn’t.

I wasn’t sure Dad would know that.

Resting at the kitchen table, I put my head in my hands. Dad would know Mom had sex with someone. Ronnie gave me a heads-up so I could do damage control.

I was tired of being the only adult in the house. I wanted to look toward Saturday, my date with Snow and being a kid dressed up like a woman, still knowing I’m a kid. I wanted to be excited about meeting new friends, people closer my age.

I wanted to run on the beach, my hair flowing, chasing me, the sun beating down, glaring off the sand blinding me to everything but the bliss of the moment.

I sobbed quietly for all I’d lost, no one to hear, no one to offer a hand or a there-there.




I lost Friday morning in the e-mail between Mr. Lauferty and the engraver, finally downloading Ruth Anne’s picture and the sketch of the proposed grave marker. I taped both to the wall next to my dresser mirror.

I checked the bus routes.

“Can’t get there from here.”

I called Kelley.

“I was wondering whether I could get a copy of Ruth Anne’s forensics headshot.”

“Out of the question.”

“I must be psychic. I knew you’d say that. Anything come of what I said.”

A pause. “I think we’re close.”

“How big’s the list.”

“Close to a hundred.”

“Wow.” I thought they should compile a photograph file, sure I could pick him out, not making the suggestion.

“We’ve been knocking it down all week.”

“You guys working the governor’s thing?”

She snickered. “Yes. Wanna go? I bet I could get you an invite.”

“I just happen to be going, Miss Smarty Pants.”


“Nope. Got a date.”

“Do tell.”

“I guess that’s what John’s up to his eyeballs in, huh?”

“That, and running down these leads. Have you seen the calendar?”

“Been on my mind. He’s due.”


I didn’t want to bother asking for a ride. I punched half of Jack’s personal cell number, then called a cab.


Pushing the door open, I stuck my head in. Father Walker’s eyes sparkled from behind his aged mask, working at his desk. “Lindsey, child, so good to see you.”

“I didn’t know –”

He waved me forward, his wrinkled hand dancing in the air. “Not a problem. Come in, come in. Close the door.”

“I have more questions.” Grunting, the cushioned chair caught me.

“Concerning exorcisms?”

“God, faith.”

He glanced his watch. “Hope you need not be anywhere anytime soon.”

I giggled.

“Wonderful.” He sat back, his hands like a steeple over his mouth. “What is your religious background?”

“Not much. Dad used to be one of you guys.”



“Strayed from the Church?”

“Not long after I was born. Mom’s been going to a New Age deal, dragging me along.”

He nodded.

“If everything’s God’s will –”

“We don’t know that.”

I crossed my eyes.

“We can certainly hope so, but we don’t know it. Let’s say nothing happens without God’s approval, which is different from being His will. We have right and wrong. God allows you to choose.”

“Free will.”

“Yes. If I forced you to attend Church every Sunday, you’d resent it. If you choose freely, Church would be rewarding.”

“What if someone’s doing evil?”

“I don’t understand the question.”

“What if someone’s murdering people? Would I be just as evil if I were to murder him?”


“Whoa! I expected a debate, qualifiers and caveats!”

“We can’t drive out evil by doing evil.”

Now, the narrowed eyes. “So, if someone’s breaking God’s Law with the excuse he’s defending God’s Law, he’s become the evil he fights against?”

“We live in a deliberate society.”

“Man’s law?”

“Yes.” He nodded. “We have a good set of laws, values. Not perfect, to me, but good.”

“You’re saying we don’t have to enforce God’s Laws because our society has deliberative bodies that do it?”

“People can, and do, make excuses for what they want, do.”

“They rationalize how they’re not actually breaking the rules.”

“Yes.” He spread his arms. “Do you think the being, the Creator, who made all the heavens and the earth would buy such excuses and rationalizations?”

“Like a five-year-old telling stories just why a candy bar happened to appear in her pocket?”

He laughed.


I couldn’t shake my excitement over Madison’s suffering at Jack’s hand, my bidding. I couldn’t shake the feeling of impunity and prejudice permeating my being when I sank the blade into Tommy’s chest. Only by dumb luck and three centimeters, I didn’t kill him. I remember shrugging my shoulders, asking for a hot dog. I know that’s a figurative memory.

I went to see Father Walker because I wanted someone outside my Scooby Club to tell me I’m not evil.


Dad’s car sat in the driveway.


I thought maybe he was fired. “You’re home early. You been burning rotting rope?”

He sat up quickly, turning from the TV like I caught him making out with his girlfriend.

“I got all my work done! I’m entitled to an early day!”

Way to earn a promotion, Dad.

I rolled my eyes. “Big day tomorrow.”

“Got it handled! Got it handled! Order’s pulled and delivered. The stuff that’s gotta be there first thing in the morning’s on the truck already. They’ll be baking starting in the middle of the night. I load that up and drop it off! No pun: piece of cake!”

“I’m proud of you, Dad, getting this assignment.”

“Not like I didn’t earn it!”

You didn’t.

“I’d think you’d stay on top of it, not cut out early.”

He lounged back on the sofa, pulled long on his beer, then fished a cigar from his pocket. “Oh, you’re just like your mother.”

Not even close.

“You gotta think: If you do really, really well, you could get a promotion.”

He lit the cigar, small, pointed at the end, dark, almost black, blue smoke circling around his head. “Who wants that kinda responsibility?”

An adult?

“God, Dad! That reeks like you’re burning tofu! Go outside if you gotta smoke! Maybe I don’t want to suck your stink!”

“A man deserves his treat when his work is done.”

Quote that Johnson.

“Treat yourself outside!”

He worked up on unsteady legs. “I guess to people who don’t understand, they can see it that way.”

“You been drinking all day?”

Let’s make a list of the top ten very worst things my dad could say to me. Let’s start with this, near the top:

“If you ever hook a man into marrying your ugly ass, you can nag him. You got no right to nag me.”

I bit my lip, hard, faced off with Dad, Dad anticipating a retort. I wanted to have a frank discussion about gonorrhea, people making bad choices, understanding and forgiveness. If the information falls from the sky, I won’t have to worry about Jack watering my pansies.

I blinked at myself, my right hand white-knuckling the cane’s handle, the blade exposed two inches.

Deep breath.

“You took me to the movies when I was six years old. I was babbling about something. You told me big girls are considerate of others. This is your castle. You don’t live here alone.”

He pulled deep, watching my eyes, releasing the cloud of smoke in a final act of defiance. “You’re right.” At least, drunk, he could look at me.

He finished his cigar on the porch.




My soul cannot suffer another blow. I’m just not that resilient.


I sat on my bed staring at Ruth Anne’s pictures.

He moved on the streets of the city, ever vigilant. I could taste him, feel his hands on my face, my body stretching, finally ripping. Pain reached out beyond my imagination, red-hot rising to white, searing the flesh from my bones.

I would not die. I should have, a hundred times.

My bones know who I am. A wordless song rained down on my psyche, restoring flesh to the bleached white calcium.

Burn the flesh from my bones.

“Ardeat! Ardeat! Ardeat!”

I will be back. One time, one million times.

I will be back.


Wraths polluted my air again, I thought Mom home early. Tapping like a whisper. A whisper: “Lindsey? Lindsey?”

“It’s open.”

“I was worried about you.” John dropped on the bed.

“Yeah?” I watched up at him.

He wrapped my shoulder, kissing my forehead. “I’ve neglected you. Of course, we can do dinner, maybe a movie. I’d like to take a long walk, just you and me.”

I nodded. “I get all that. Just not Saturday night.”

He placed a bag on my lap.

“What’s this?”

“Look inside.”

A teddy bear, dressed as a cop, blue uniform, badge, hat. “Johnny Bear?”

“Yeah. Do you love him?”

“He should be with Lindsey Bear.” I craned my neck, offering my face, closing my eyes.

John’s free hand came to my cheek, his lips touched mine, kneading, his tongue teasing, then penetrating.

I wished he closed and locked the door. I was willing to be his special girl, our secret. I knew how the mouse outside would see the box. The mouse inside didn’t care what other mice might think. I didn’t need ask a hypothetical, speculative what if.

John withdrew.

I panted.

He stood, I hoped to secure the door.

“I have to get back.”

“I understand. Thanks for taking the time –”

“You know you’re special to me.”

He bent, his face coming toward mine.

“Do you love me?”

“Of course, Kiddo.”

Our lips touched again, his tongue staying in his mouth.


I knew many things, one: John melted my bones. I stood helpless before him. He a man, me a child, I’d still be helpless to stop the inevitable, if John chose to take me. Not laws of man, laws of God, personal morals, ethics or the white-hot blinding pain of penetration could stop me. Me a child, him a man, I knew such a liaison would be wrong.

As a cop, he’d have to arrest himself.

The spell faded with John’s footfalls Dopplering on the stairs. Chances were John was following Kelley’s instructions to say close to me. John didn’t whine, diatribing about my father being drunk. John didn’t confront Dad. John arrived a man on a mission, an assignment.

Damn my rational mind!


Saturday morning slipped away. I wanted to have the talk with Dad. Hung over, he wasn’t in a receptive mood, disheveled, breaking for the door long before the sun came up.

I was too angry with Mom to open a conversation. I didn’t want to confront her. I didn’t want her to lie to me.


At first blush, as tykes, people thought Janet and I sisters, little balls of energy with the same puffy cheeks, long soft oak hair, all arms and legs. By seventh grade, Janet filled out, sprouted breasts, carved bangs to her brows. Though she gained six inches on me, she was still mostly arms and legs.

She envied my green eyes, hers a soft brown like oxidized copper.

“Are you even eating?” Janet, on her knees, gathered the material.

“Yeah. My metabolism’s fucked up. I’ve actually gained six pounds since the hospital.”

“Bobby called. I can quick stitch it, fold it over on the seams. We’ll be able to let it out for the Christmas Ball.”

“He want to get back together?”

“Yeah. David looked at me, gave me that stupid grin, I dumped Bobby like spoiled meat.”

“We make mistakes, learn, become better people.”

“The condom came off.”


“Yeah, two days before the shooting.”

I rolled my eyes, checking the calendar in my mind. “Rotten timing.”

“Yeah, huh?”

“Is it still –”

“No!” She smacked my arm.

“I was kidding. Are you?”

“No. I would’ve bet the farm.”

“Is that why you asked me to marry you?”

She blushed. “One of the reasons. Everything I said was true.”

“I follow. Could have just asked.”


“I’m sure they did a pregnancy test.”

“Why’d they do that?”



Janet bit her lip. “I mean, you know. If I were, you’d be a perfect –”

“Partner. I’m honored.”

“I mean, when I said I didn’t like the heterosexual experience –”

“You made mistakes with David.”

“Yeah.” More lip biting. “I really didn’t mean to call you an elitist.”

“I am, more now than ever.” A shrug.

Janet stood back, eyes running from my feet to my head.

“Well, what do you think?”

“I think you’re beautiful.” She reached behind her head. “You can borrow this.” The gold chain came free.

“Your confirmation cross?”

“Not that I was ever confirmed.”

“Well, details. I’ve always liked it. Should have gotten one.”

“Seemed right at the time.”

“Wanting to fit in, sure.”

“So, who’s this new guy?”

“Met him at the hospital. Much younger than John.” Another shrug. “I think I should cancel.”

“Cancel? Why?”

“John. I do have a boyfriend.”

“You ain’t married yet.”

“I don’t want to give Snow –”

“Snow? Is he an albino?”

“No! He was born during a major snow storm.”


“You mean Native American.”


“Why do you ask?”

“Isn’t that how they name their kids? What they see when the kid’s born?”

“I doubt that’s true, but no. What I was saying was I don’t want to give Snow the wrong idea.”

“He needs a date – you’re doing him a favor.”

“His sister did say he has a major crush on me.”

“I do.”

“Do what?”

“Have a major crush on you.” She gathered the dress at the hem, lifting. “Don’t get any ideas. I gotta get the stitching in.”

I blushed, sitting back on the bed. “I want John to ask. I want to say yes. I want to be sure what I’m feeling is real.”

“I told you: I don’t mind being your second choice. I love you, for real.”

“Me, too.”





I watched Janet’s lips as she spoke, standing over me, working my hair in large curlers. Her touch, her smell and her presence were always a comfort, a balm for my damaged soul, a promise the universe manifests as it should. Not for the first time, I wondered, imagined her lips on mine, her tongue penetrating me, her small hands cupping my face, my hands on her waist.

“Bobby and I did it that one time, like you and Tom.”

“You said.”

“I’m not sure I can say did it. He was in, then done.”

“Young, too excited.”

Like you know something about it.”

“I can imagine anything.”

“On our first date, David got me stoned.”

“Never did care much for pot.”

“I gotta agree. Backseat of his car. He pulled at my belt, then told me to take my pants off.” She shrugged. “No big deal, right?”

“No big deal – right.”

“A senior. Got his own car, a job.”

“A dumb grin.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that grin. I didn’t really know what to do.”

“How to go about it.”

“Yeah. Once I got my pants off, I thought we’d make out, you know. Maybe I’d reach for it.”

Janet watched my eyes for a long moment. “He twisted me around like a pretzel, put a condom on and forced it in me. I wanted to pull and push, but was pinned.”

“More than just in and done, huh?”

“He hooped and hollered but yeah, pounded away for a good two minutes. When he was done, oh boy, was he done.”

“Masturbation with help.”

“Exactly!” She bit her lip. “I thought maybe I could retrain him. I made a mistake. He said he’s used to girls he goes out with having sex. Well, he said making love. He meant having sex. I thought that kinda relationship, you know, a relationship with sex, would be cool, OK.”

“An aspect of the relationship.”

“Sex and pot were the relationship. I did need time away from him. Early on, he made it clear I wasn’t to see anyone else. He made it clear he didn’t trust me.”

“The conjoined twins deal. Well, yeah, Jay, after all, if you’d fuck him on the first date, you’d fuck anyone, anytime.”

“He didn’t put it that way. That’s what he meant.”

“I’ve always liked Bobby.”

“Me, too.”


I couldn’t walk in my pumps without blinding pain. I wanted to be statuesque, towering, delicate, fragile like Ronnie. Janet polished my black flats, dressier than sneakers. With a light hand, Janet touched my eyes with dark shadows and mascara, an orange gloss on my lips. We disagreed over my hair, Janet thinking up like a Greek goddess. I wanted flowing lazy curls to my waist, dancing as I walked.

We paused at the front door.

“I really, really wish you have a great time.”

I held her arm at the elbow. “I wish you were going.”

“Bobby’s coming over. Says he’s got some movies.”


“Yeah, that, too. Mom and Dad said they’d go out. Mom wants to do some summer shopping.”

I glanced the gold watch, like the cross, borrowed from Janet. “I’ve got an hour.”

“You really, really look beautiful.”

“I feel beautiful – because of how you look at me.”

She rolled her lower lip on her teeth, watching my eyes.

I answered with a rolling lip, leaning closer, pulling her toward me.

Our eyes closed. Our lips met, frozen in time and space.

We giggled, blushing.

Janet turned, stepping away. “Have a great night!”

“No! You have a great night!”


“What did you tell Dad?”

Mom sat in the living room, our photo album on her lap. Kissing Janet didn’t melt my bones, igniting a fire in my belly. Kissing Janet was like a warm bath with bubbles and candles.



Reverend Madison didn’t really say what you said he said.”

“I don’t know why some people go gaga just because someone claims to speak for God.”

“What do you mean?”

“He tells you one story, me another. You believe him, calling me a liar.”

“You’ve been through a difficult ordeal. It’s understandable that –”

“Break out the frickin’ Kool-Aid.” I dropped my brows. “Mom, did you tell Dad you had a liaison with Madison?”

Reverend Madison.”

“OK. Rev-asshole-rend Madison.”

Mom sighed, turning the album. “You were too young to remember.” She pointed.

“What about it?”

“That’s when you were baptized.”


“Do you know what that’s all about?”

I rolled my eyes. “A tradition in some religions. Something about, even if the baby is innocent, born innocent, to get into heaven, you gotta be baptized.”

“Seems lifetimes ago. Baptism is about joining the Church.”

“Like an initiation.”

“God does watch over us.”

I don’t know the exact moment Mom’s mental mooring slipped. I watched her drift out to sea.

“Being the only adult in the house has gotten tiresome. I hand the conch back to you.” I bowed, slightly. “Dad’s going to discover you had a sexual liaison. I can only hope you told him already. If you’ve not, if I were you, I’d jump out in front, confessing with tears on bended knee, begging forgiveness.”

Ice, a blank stare. “He bedded that slut from work.”

“Be sure to bring that up as he beats the crap out of you.”

“He’d never –”

“He hit me the other night.”

“You were asking for –”

“You say I got what was coming to me and Rev-asshole-rend Madison says I’m evil?” I waved my arm. “You can look at those pictures all you want, trying to figure out where I got lost. It’s you that’s lost. Find yourself, you’ll find me.”

I pointed my cane. “Dad’s going to find out Monday. Deal with it.”

She sighed, turning pages. “You were such a beautiful child.”


I wanted my mom, the woman in the photo album. I wanted Mom in Janet’s place, sewing the dress, fixing my hair, sharing women’s stories, wisdom, secrets we could cry over, hold our bellies and laugh about.

Mom didn’t ask where I was going, her drifting out to sea, lost in the currents of life.

“I’ll talk to Ronnie. I’m in over my head.”





Mom’s always liked Madison. He’s not a particularly attractive man, though not unattractive. His presence is demanding. He listens, carefully. He offers understanding and sympathy without appearing patronizing.

My trick with John.

I pondered chickens and eggs, sitting on the front porch. I knew John was given instructions to get close to me. I didn’t know whether the instructions came before or after our friendship. I played John exactly like Madison played Mom. I offered understanding and sympathy without appearing patronizing. John had a wall erected, protecting himself from humanity. I slipped through the defenses, looking ten years old, crippled, unthreatening.

Squinting at a slow passing car, I tried to hold John isolated from events. David came along, a senior with a car and job, and Janet dumped Bobby like curdled milk.

John was an adult with a car and a job.

Trading up, Janet and I said.


I should have shut and locked my bedroom door.


The car returned, stopping at the curb. Snow, tuxedoed, bounced out, glancing the house. “Oh! There you are!” He rounded the car, strutting up the walk.

“You’re early.”

He took the steps three at a time, bent, offering an arm. “Never leave a lady waiting. I expected sitting around the living room for thirty minutes getting drilled by your parents.”

“Date a lot of high school kids, huh?” I pulled to my feet.

“Age doesn’t matter. Parents are always parents.”

Snow didn’t step back, standing close, smelling like lemon pie, watching my face, his eyes dancing, drinking me in.

I’d planned on leaving without looking back.


Mom’s eyes came up from the photo album, her face wet.

“I’m going now. I don’t know how late I’ll be.”

Mom nodded. “You were such a beautiful baby.”

“Yeah. I were. I’ll talk to Ronnie, make an appointment for Monday morning. You, me and Dad can go together, maybe Ronnie can come here. You can tell Dad what happened.”

“I don’t think –”

“The time for honesty has come. If you don’t let it out, it’d eat at you like rust devours my old bike behind the garage until there’s nothing left.”

“The three of us –”

“Yes. Monday.”

She nodded sharp and hard, looking back to the album. “You’d do that for me?”

“Parents are always parents.” I put a hand to my chest. “Fact is: I love you, the woman in those pictures, the man in those pictures.”

Her tearful face came up again. “How? After all this. How?”

“Love is hard, Mom. Love is fucking hard.”


I hadn’t thought of my old bike, rusting back to dirt behind the garage until I saw the picture in the album, me on the bike, my first two-wheeler, laughing, Dad pushing. My doll, with the eyes that open and close, sat somewhere staring in the attic, cleared away, making room for other toys.

Johnny Bear took his place with my two teddy bears on the bed.

I did want to get pizza in the chaos of happy children, play the games, laugh, run – oh, God, did I want to run. I wanted to run until some adult yelled: “Hey! No running in here!”

Some adult – other than me.

I wanted to sit on my bedroom floor with Janet, giggling, imagining we’re princesses awaiting handsome princes on large white horses. The princes would drop to a knee, in awe of our beauty.

With no thought of sex, masturbation with help or condoms.

Just perfect love in a perfect world.

A child’s world.


“I wasn’t sure you were really coming.” I took Snow’s arm, working down the steps.

“Because I didn’t call?”

“Yeah, there’s a big clue.”

“Hate the phone.”

“I’m growing a dislike for it myself.”

He opened the car door. “I want to compliment you on your appearance, but I don’t want to sound hyperbolic or insincere. I can say: That dress couldn’t be more perfect.”

I grunted, dropping on the seat.

Leaning across me, lemon pie, the seatbelt snapped.

“I get a lot of that, people telling me I look good, right after they throw up.”

Once behind the wheel, he set the car in motion. “Qualifiers.”

I giggled. “Yeah. Considering your face looks like hamburger, it’s not so bad!”

“You are beautiful. Not that you don’t look nice, I liked you in scrubs, too.”

“Like hanging a pretty picture in the bathroom –”

“It’s still a bathroom.”

I watched his profile. “You’ve got those eyes, you know.”

“I know I’ve got my eyes, but I’m not sure what you mean.”

“You’re a pain in the ass, aren’t you?”

“That’s what they tell me.”

“Your eyes watch, examine, looking for understanding, peeling back the layers.”

“I wish I had x-ray vision.”

“I thought your sister and boyfriend were coming with us?”


A spotlight spilled down from above splitting the perfect darkness, my mother glowing, hunched over on a wooden chair, photo album on her lap, crying into her hands.

That’s what I saw when I closed my eyes, looking back.


“Did you want to talk about it?”

“Everyone thinks he’s a shrink.”

Snow chuckled. “You asked me, remember?”

“Oh, I thought you meant – never mind.”

“I saw your file.”

A shrug. “I discovered the choices easier than I thought they’d be.”

Answered the unasked: “It’s fashionable to be late. When I was a kid, I’d try to be real early for anything, hide in a corner.”


“Don’t know. People unnerved me. Instead of a marine biologist or pro ball player, I wanted to be a recluse.”

“I could be a recluse.”

“I doubt it. We don’t have to say long, just put in an appearance, glad-hand a mess of people, then we’re on our own.”

“Pallas said good food, interesting people.”

“She told you her name was Pallas?”

“Yeah. It isn’t?”

“Well, it is, but we call her Pat.”

“Easier on the rabble, huh?”


Across the parking lot, through the lobby, an elevator ride and long hallway brought us to a door. Few people passed, all trying not to look at me, Snow offering greetings.

He tapped on the door, stepped away, a hand in the small of my back centering me on the opening. “We live here. I don’t want to walk in on anything, if you know what I mean.”

The door swung open.

I narrowed my eyes.

Pallas screamed.





I’ve stood in the fire, walked barefoot, naked, over blistering coals to Hell and back. I’ve watched my flesh blackened, falling from the bones. I’ve sat with, embraced death, my sibling, a thousand times.

I’ve shed my skin, like the serpent before me, resurrecting.

Madison could be more right than he is wrong.




Doors opened along the hallway, Snow over my shoulder, laughing inappropriately. Pallas screamed twice, empting her lungs, horror dripping from her pours, frozen in time and space, needing to slam the door, needing to run, withdraw, only able to stare and scream.


Her pale emerald irises like early spring lima beans floating on warm heavy cream, wide in the sockets, bugged out. Pure soft ocher, a flawless complexion, perfection – I should have combusted standing before such a goddess – face cut narrow by flows of earthen cinnamon waterfall to her hips.

Black silk hung on her slight frame, cut well above her knees, swooping between where her breasts should protrude, showing off a gold communion crucifix against her soft flesh.

Ageless, she could have been ten, she could have been twenty.


“She’ll be OK.” Bones shot Snow a judgmental glare. “That was not funny.”

“Matter-of-opinion –”

“Matter-oh-fact!” I stewed on the sofa.

Snow’s eyes invaded my face, making the rounds. “You don’t understand –”

“Explain it, then.”

“I will, with apology, Lindsey.” Pallas circled from behind, standing above me, lip biting, shaking her head. “It’s amazing.”

“I’ve always said the gene pool is smaller than we imagine.”

“Shut up, Snow.” Her eyes took inventory. “I’ve had this reoccurring dream. Been in therapy, well not in therapy, but talking to therapists since I was a small child over it. The dream comes in many forms, the motif simple. I get radically disfigured, crippled. Sometimes I’m mugged by a gang of thugs, sometimes I’m hit by a truck. Sometimes I fall off something like a cliff like a coyote chasing a roadrunner.”

Snow laughed again.

Words forced out from between my clenched teeth. “Oh, you’re going to get so-fucking-smacked.”

“It’s OK, really.” Pallas offered a hand. “Nice to meet you. I’ve been looking forward since we met on the phone.”

I took her hand.

She rolled her eyes. “Moments, you know. We human animal’s look ahead, we anticipate. We expect. Did Snow tell you how to dress?”


She released my hand.

“Seems we shop at the same store.”


“Hmm. I thought Snow forgot his key, again. I expected to see him standing there. I thought maybe you’d be with him, but you look nothing like I imagined.”

“What did you imagine?”

“Nothing, really. You know, I had something hanging there to go with the name, certainly not fleshed out.” She released a long sigh. “I did not expect to be looking into a funhouse mirror. Reality flipped around.”

“I understand. I still don’t think it funny.”

“Snow has a morbid sense of humor.”

“Maybe he just sees the world differently. It is kinda ironic.”


“I mean, he brings your greatest fear to the door. Here I am, you. It’s maybe not the disfigurement you fear. Maybe you fear life afterwards?”

“You can tell me what that life’s like.”

“Don’t look for your fears being allayed.”

“Subtle, bitter sarcasm. I like it. You and Snow will get along great. Can I ask what happened?”

“May I.”

She sat, crowding me, taking my hand, our hair mingling, our eyes inches apart.

Oh, to be the mouse outside the box.

“May I ask what happened? May I know?”

“Snow, Bones, go have a cigar and brandy.”

Snow consulted his watch.

I glanced. “We’ll be fashionably late.”


I’ve grown accustomed to pausing dramatically, explaining all things with: “I’m a Dumpster Girl.”

“What’s that?”

“You’re kidding, right?”


“Snow didn’t tell you –”

“He didn’t say much at all, which should have clued me in.”


“Looking back, I was set up. He got me to suggest he call you. Never saw it coming.”

“Why? I mean, he could have just said: ‘Hey, I met this girl that looks just like you,’ blah, blah, blah.”

“He likes elaborate plans.”

I shrugged.

“You even shrug like me.”

Another shrug. “There’s this serial killer. He kidnaps and tortures his vics, dumping them in a dumpster when they’re dead.”

Pallas stared, breathless, finally: “Torture’s gotta be a gross understatement.”

“It is. I’ve not learned the words I need to property express the experience.”


Bones towered, loomed, soft features and softer smile. Caramel eyes never left me, like a father’s watching a child float away for the first time on two wheels, rich with hope, concern and caring.


“Sorry, it’s just. You know.”

“I don’t.”

“God, what you’ve been through. And.” He watched over my head toward the parking lot. “And, you stand tall.”

“Not so tall.” I straightened my back the best I could.

“Known Snow long? I can’t believe he didn’t say anything.”

“Not long at all. Met down the hospital.”

“People don’t like them.”

“Who? Why?”

“Snow and Pat.” His finger, like a kitten’s whisker, traced my scar from my hairline to my brow. “Does it hurt?”

“Which people don’t like Snow and Pat?”

I held my face up to the kitten’s whisker, the touch dropping down my cheek, following the path to my chin.

“The general population.”

“No, not so much. Itchy when it rains.”

“It’s been raining a lot.”

General population is redundant.”


Population and general population mean the same thing.”

“Oh. If this were a high school essay, I could give a fuck. We’re having a casual conversation. General population is a fucking expression.”

“Fucking excuse me.”

He withdrew, turning, took a step. “That’s exactly why the general population doesn’t much care for Pat and Snow.”

I shrugged, wheeling toward the parking lot, Snow and Pallas, arm-in-arm, finally catching up.

“I won’t apologize for who I am.”

“I could really like you –”

That, I could give a fuck about.”





Paired off, Snow and I trailed. “What’s with that?”

I shrugged, hobbling. “Population and general population mean the same thing.”

“Yeah, they do. You’ve been around the block enough times to know men don’t like being corrected, men don’t like ideas of others, and men don’t stand well to challenges.”

“You mean half-adults, boys in the bodies of men.”

Snow snickered. “Yes, actually I do. We might wish our adults to be adults, but that’s not the reality.”

I stopped. “You can take me home if you like.”

He pressed close, his breath peppermint, lemon in the air. “Why would I like to do that?”

“I mean, it was all about the joke on Pallas –”

His fingers touched my jaw delicately like holding a soap bubble, lifting my face. “Oh, beautiful Lindsey, nothing is all about one thing.”

The world, the universe fell away, his eyes consuming my face, drinking me like a storm drain ingests a deluge. An airplane, a commercial airliner Dopplered to nothing, traffic on a hidden interstate hummed, not knowing the words. People, strangers, pushed past on the sidewalk, quiet words reaching my tympanic membrane as meaningless vibrations. Someone angry leaned on his horn, bitter words shouted.

A dog barked.

“Snow –”


He memorized every pore of my face, fold of my lips, hair of my brows, veins in my eyes, scars like rivers on a topographical map.

Indefinable time leaked from the universe, he released me, taking me up on my right side, substituting for my cane. “The young, inexperienced and occasional poet try to hang words on what can’t be spoken of. We meet, Lindsey, you and I, out beyond where the words can walk.”

“I think –”



We weren’t the only people fashionably late, a crowd at the bottleneck, Pallas and Bones pulled off to the side, Mort like Cerberus on careful watch, a nondescript woman checking passes.

“Gatecrashers?” I asked.

Pete turned, an I.D. in each hand. “Hi, Lind.”

“God, Pete, you dress up great. Are you married?”

He laughed.

“They’re with me.” I nodded.

Pete bowed to Pallas and Bones, offering the I.D.s forward. “My apologies.”


“Of course I know how to dance.” I presented John’s cane. “Did you forget I can barely walk?”

“You do OK. Leave the cane.”

My expression said you’re kidding.

“Funny response from someone who wishes to run on the beach someday.”

I bit my lip. Since you put it that way. I placed the cane on the table. I could walk without the cane, just not well.

Twenty feet, Snow stopped short, turning on me, his right arm gathering, his hand low on my ribs, his elbow bent high, lifting me, his left hand taking my right.

I almost road his hip like a baby.

Peppermint, lemon.



“Too bad.”

He led, I followed, dull ache rising to warm pain. I focused on his eyes and the music, a live band pushing on the air with slow jazz.

Tears came. I hung like southern moss, blind force of will placing each foot. I blubbered. “It fucking hurts!”

“I don’t care.”

White pain ravaged me, Snow’s indifference raining down, curiosity like someone examining a strange crack in a wall.

Infinity passed.


The music stopped. People didn’t clap like in the movies. Snow worked a handkerchief on my face.

“Wasn’t so bad.”

“Fuck you.”

Snow smirked. “Messed up your makeup.”

Pallas gathered me from my right, acting as a crutch, helping me to our table.

Bones sat disinterested, watching over the crowd.

“Told you.”

Pallas nodded, examining my face. “Yeah, Snow.”

I panted. “What? What I miss?”

“We needed – wanted to know the limit of your mobility.”

I winched, trying to find a position with less pain. “I’d have been glad to do range-of-motion exercises for you.”

“Snow wanted a measure of your will, when you’re pushed.”


“Encouraged?” I glared at Snow. “If I could get up, I’d kick your ass.”

Pallas giggled. “That’s the fight Snow claimed you had in your belly.”


Bones struck me as an A student, though not as bright as Snow, Pallas or myself. He had a neurotic propensity to prove himself the smartest in the room, droning on with inane tales of besting people, much like my father’s story of that Johnson from long before.

His right eye was larger than his left, often twitching.

Pallas placated Bones much like my mother placates my father.

“I’m pre-med!”

Of course.

And, of course, he was first in class, graduating high school three years early.

By contrast, I appreciated Snow’s modesty.


I looked for John from the dance floor, before my eyes crossed and my vision blurred.


Snow took Pallas’ hand, both rising.

“We must make the rounds. We won’t be long.”

Pallas winked. “Try not to do any damage.”

“Actually, I know how to behave myself.”


Bones launched into a diatribe about Brave New World, which I’d not read, superficially deconstructing the story, stopping in places waiting for me to nod. I watched over the crowd, the room reaching high and far. I’d wanted to make the rounds, meet people.

The hammer came down, the trap sprung.

“That’s the exact mistake my professor made!”

I blinked twice, holding his eyes. “I promised Pallas I’d not do any damage.”

“But you agree, right?”


Bones stopped breathing, staring.

I twisted around.

Bones, breathless: “That has got to be the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.”

One of the few women in white, adding stark contrast. Her gown, obviously satin, folded at her shoulders, dropping, exposing her heavy cream white cleavage, gathered at the waist, dancing inches down her thighs, like a baby doll. She storked on elegant white sandals like I wished I could wear, her hair the color of a sun-washed noon beach bounced with each step, a life of its own.

She was beautiful, likely the most beautiful person in the room.

I watched, not turning back to Bones. “Want me to introduce you?”

“Like you know her.”

I shrugged, waving my cane, catching her attention.

I thought Bones would pee on the floor like an excited puppy when Sally waved back, moving in our direction.





back to index *** chapters 61 to 70