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Orphan Train / (by Cristina Baker Kline, 2014) -

Orphan Train /   (by Cristina Baker Kline, 2014) -

Orphan Train / (by Cristina Baker Kline, 2014) -

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Orphan Train / (by Cristina Baker Kline, 2014) -
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2014
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Cristina Baker Kline
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Jessica Almasy, Suzanne Toren
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upper-intermediate
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08:20:47
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86 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Orphan Train / :

.doc (Word) kline_christina_baker_-_orphan_train.doc [689.5 Kb] (c: 6) .
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audiobook (MP3) .


: Orphan Train

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Prologue I believe in ghosts. Theyre the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left us behind. Many times in my life I have felt them around me, observing, witnessing, when no one in the living world knew or cared what happened. I am ninety-one years old, and almost everyone who was once in my life is now a ghost. Sometimes these spirits have been more real to me than people, more real than God. They fill silence with their weight, dense and warm, like bread dough rising under cloth. My gram, with her kind eyes and talcum-dusted skin. My da, sober, laughing. My mam, singing a tune. The bitterness and alcohol and depression are stripped away from these phantom incarnations, and they console and protect me in death as they never did in life. Ive come to think thats what heaven isa place in the memory of others where our best selves live on. Maybe I am luckythat at the age of nine I was given the ghosts of my parents best selves, and at twenty-three the ghost of my true loves best self. And my sister, Maisie, ever present, an angel on my shoulder. Eighteen months to my nine years, thirteen years to my twenty. Now she is eighty-four to my ninety-one, and with me still. No substitute for the living, perhaps, but I wasnt given a choice. I could take solace in their presence or I could fall down in a heap, lamenting what Id lost. The ghosts whispered to me, telling me to go on. Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 Through her bedroom wall Molly can hear her foster parents talking about her in the living room, just beyond her door. This is not what we signed up for, Dina is saying. If Id known she had this many problems, I never wouldve agreed to it. I know, I know. Ralphs voice is weary. Hes the one, Molly knows, who wanted to be a foster parent. Long ago, in his youth, when hed been a troubled teen, as he told her without elaboration, a social worker at his school had signed him up for the Big Brother program, and hed always felt that his big brotherhis mentor, he calls himkept him on track. But Dina was suspicious of Molly from the start. It didnt help that before Molly theyd had a boy who tried to set the elementary school on fire. I have enough stress at work, Dina says, her voice rising. I dont need to come home to this shit. Dina works as a dispatcher at the Spruce Harbor police station, and as far as Molly can see there isnt much to stress overa few drunk drivers, the occasional black eye, petty thefts, accidents. If youre going to be a dispatcher anywhere in the world, Spruce Harbor is probably the least stressful place imaginable. But Dina is high-strung by nature. The smallest things get to her. Its as if she assumes everything will go right, and when it doesntwhich, of course, is pretty oftenshe is surprised and affronted. Molly is the opposite. So many things have gone wrong for her in her seventeen years that shes come to expect it. When something does go right, she hardly knows what to think. Which was just what had happened with Jack. When Molly transferred to Mount Desert Island High School last year, in tenth grade, most of the kids seemed to go out of their way to avoid her. They had their friends, their cliques, and she didnt fit into any of them. It was true that she hadnt made it easy; she knows from experience that tough and weird is preferable to pathetic and vulnerable, and she wears her Goth persona like armor. Jack was the only one whod tried to break through. It was mid-October, in social studies class. When it came time to team up for a project, Molly was, as usual, the odd one out. Jack asked her to join him and his partner, Jody, who was clearly less than thrilled. For the entire fifty-minute class, Molly was a cat with its back up. Why was he being so nice? What did he want from her? Was he one of those guys who got a kick out of messing with the weird girl? Whatever his motive, she wasnt about to give an inch. She stood back with her arms crossed, shoulders hunched, dark stiff hair in her eyes. She shrugged and grunted when Jack asked her questions, though she followed along well enough and did her share of the work. That girl is freakin strange, Molly heard Jody mutter as they were leaving class after the bell rang. She creeps me out. When Molly turned and caught Jacks eye, he surprised her with a smile. I think shes kind of awesome, he said, holding Mollys gaze. For the first time since shed come to this school, she couldnt help herself; she smiled back. Over the next few months, Molly got bits and pieces of Jacks story. His father was a Dominican migrant worker who met his mother picking blueberries in Cherryfield, got her pregnant, moved back to the D.R. to shack up with a local girl, and never looked back. His mother, who never married, works for a rich old lady in a shorefront mansion. By all rights Jack should be on the social fringes too, but he isnt. He has some major things going for him: flashy moves on the soccer field, a dazzling smile, great big cow eyes, and ridiculous lashes. And even though he refuses to take himself seriously, Molly can tell hes way smarter than he admits, probably even smarter than he knows. Molly couldnt care less about Jacks prowess on the soccer field, but smart she respects. (The cow eyes are a bonus.) Her own curiosity is the one thing that has kept her from going off the rails. Being Goth wipes away any expectation of conventionality, so Molly finds shes free to be weird in lots of ways at once. She reads all the timein the halls, in the cafeteriamostly novels with angsty protagonists: The Virgin Suicides, Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar. She copies vocabulary words down in a notebook because she likes the way they sound: Harridan. Pusillanimous. Talisman. Dowager. Enervating. Sycophantic . . . As a newcomer Molly had liked the distance her persona created, the wariness and mistrust she saw in the eyes of her peers. But though shes loath to admit it, lately that persona has begun to feel restrictive. It takes ages to get the look right every morning, and rituals once freighted with meaningdyeing her hair jet-black accented with purple or white streaks, rimming her eyes with kohl, applying foundation several shades lighter than her skin tone, adjusting and fastening various pieces of uncomfortable clothingnow make her impatient. She feels like a circus clown who wakes up one morning and no longer wants to glue on the red rubber nose. Most people dont have to exert so much effort to stay in character. Why should she? She fantasizes that the next place she goesbecause theres always a next place, another foster home, a new schoolshell start over with a new, easier-to-maintain look. Grunge? Sex kitten? The probability that this will be sooner rather than later grows more likely with every passing minute. Dina has wanted to get rid of Molly for a while, and now shes got a valid excuse. Ralph staked his credibility on Mollys behavior; he worked hard to persuade Dina that a sweet kid was hiding under that fierce hair and makeup. Well, Ralphs credibility is out the window now. Molly gets down on her hands and knees and lifts the eyelet bed skirt. She pulls out two brightly colored duffel bags, the ones Ralph bought for her on clearance at the L.L.Bean outlet in Ellsworth (the red one monogrammed Braden and the orange Hawaiian-flowered one Ashleyrejected for color, style, or just the dorkiness of those names in white thread, Molly doesnt know). As shes opening the top drawer of her dresser, a percussive thumping under her comforter turns into a tinny version of Daddy Yankees Impacto. So youll know its me and answer the damn phone, Jack said when he bought her the ringtone. Hola, mi amigo, she says when she finally finds it. Hey, whats up, chica? Oh, you know. Dinas not so happy right now. Yeah? Yeah. Its pretty bad. How bad? Well, I think Im out of here. She feels her breath catch in her throat. It surprises her, given how many times shes been through a version of this. Nah, he says. I dont think so. Yeah, she says, pulling out a wad of socks and underwear and dumping them in the Braden bag. I can hear them out there talking about it. But you need to do those community service hours. Its not going to happen. She picks up her charm necklace, tangled in a heap on the top of the dresser, and rubs the gold chain between her fingers, trying to loosen the knot. Dina says nobody will take me. Im untrustworthy. The tangle loosens under her thumb and she pulls the strands apart. Its okay. I hear juvie isnt so bad. Its only a few months anyway. Butyou didnt steal that book. Cradling the flat phone to her ear, she puts on the necklace, fumbling with the clasp, and looks in the mirror above her dresser. Black makeup is smeared under her eyes like a football player. Right, Molly? The thing isshe did steal it. Or tried. Its her favorite novel, Jane Eyre, and she wanted to own it, to have it in her possession. Shermans Bookstore in Bar Harbor didnt have it in stock, and she was too shy to ask the clerk to order it. Dina wouldnt give her a credit card number to buy it online. She had never wanted anything so badly. (Well . . . not for a while.) So there she was, in the library on her knees in the narrow fiction stacks, with three copies of the novel, two paperbacks and one hardcover, on the shelf in front of her. Shed already taken the hardcover out of the library twice, gone up to the front desk and signed it out with her library card. She pulled all three books off the shelf, weighed them in her hand. She put the hardcover back, slid it in beside The Da Vinci Code. The newer paperback, too, she returned to the shelf. The copy she slipped under the waistband of her jeans was old and dog-eared, the pages yellowed, with passages underlined in pencil. The cheap binding, with its dry glue, was beginning to detach from the pages. If theyd put it in the annual library sale, it would have gone for ten cents at most. Nobody, Molly figured, would miss it. Two other, newer copies were available. But the library had recently installed magnetic antitheft strips, and several months earlier four volunteers, ladies of a certain age who devoted themselves passionately to all things Spruce Harbor Library, had spent several weeks installing them on the inside covers of all eleven thousand books. So when Molly left the building that day through what she hadnt even realized was a theft-detection gate, a loud, insistent beeping brought the head librarian, Susan LeBlanc, swooping over like a homing pigeon. Molly confessed immediatelyor rather tried to say that shed meant to sign it out. But Susan LeBlanc was having none of it. For goodness sake, dont insult me with a lie, she said. Ive been watching you. I thought you were up to something. And what a shame that her assumptions had proven correct! Shed have liked to be surprised in a good way, just this once. Aw, shit. Really? Jack sighs. Looking in the mirror, Molly runs her finger across the charms on the chain around her neck. She doesnt wear it much anymore, but every time something happens and she knows shell be on the move again, she puts it on. She bought the chain at a discount store, Mardens, in Ellsworth, and strung it with these three charmsa blue-and-green cloisonn? fish, a pewter raven, and a tiny brown bearthat her father gave her on her eighth birthday. He was killed in a one-car rollover several weeks later, speeding down I-95 on an icy night, after which her mother, all of twenty-three, started a downward spiral she never recovered from. By Mollys next birthday she was living with a new family, and her mother was in jail. The charms are all she has left of what used to be her life. Jack is a nice guy. But shes been waiting for this. Eventually, like everyone elsesocial workers, teachers, foster parentshell get fed up, feel betrayed, realize Mollys more trouble than shes worth. Much as she wants to care for him, and as good as she is at letting him believe that she does, she has never really let herself. It isnt that shes faking it, exactly, but part of her is always holding back. She has learned that she can control her emotions by thinking of her chest cavity as an enormous box with a chain lock. She opens the box and stuffs in any stray unmanageable feelings, any wayward sadness or regret, and clamps it shut. Ralph, too, has tried to see the goodness in her. He is predisposed to it; he sees it when it isnt even there. And though part of Molly is grateful for his faith in her, she doesnt fully trust it. Its almost better with Dina, who doesnt try to hide her suspicions. Its easier to assume that people have it out for you than to be disappointed when they dont come through. Jane Eyre? Jack says. What does it matter? I wouldve bought it for you. Yeah, well. Even after getting into trouble like this and probably getting sent away, she knows shed never have asked Jack to buy the book. If there is one thing she hates most about being in the foster care system, its this dependence on people you barely know, your vulnerability to their whims. She has learned not to expect anything from anybody. Her birthdays are often forgotten; she is an afterthought at holidays. She has to make do with what she gets, and what she gets is rarely what she asked for. Youre so fucking stubborn! Jack says, as if divining her thoughts. Look at the trouble you get yourself into. Theres a hard knock on Mollys door. She holds the phone to her chest and watches the doorknob turn. Thats another thingno lock, no privacy. Dina pokes her head into the room, her pink-lipsticked mouth a thin line. We need to have a conversation. All right. Let me get off the phone. Who are you talking to? Molly hesitates. Does she have to answer? Oh, what the hell. Jack. Dina scowls. Hurry up. We dont have all night. Ill be right there. Molly waits, staring blankly at Dina until her head disappears around the door frame, and puts the phone back to her ear. Time for the firing squad. No, no, listen, Jack says. I have an idea. Its a little . . . crazy. What, she says sullenly. I have to go. I talked to my mother Jack, are you serious? You told her? She already hates me. Whoa, hear me out. First of all, she doesnt hate you. And second, she spoke to the lady she works for, and it looks like maybe you can do your hours there. What? Yeah. Buthow? Well, you know my mom is the worlds worst housekeeper. Molly loves the way he says thismatter-of-factly, without judgment, as if he were reporting that his mother is left-handed. So the lady wants to clean out her atticold papers and boxes and all this shit, my moms worst nightmare. And I came up with the idea to have you do it. I bet you could kill the fifty hours there, easy. Wait a minuteyou want me to clean an old ladys attic? Yeah. Right up your alley, dont you think? Come on, I know how anal you are. Dont try to deny it. All your stuff lined up on the shelf. All your papers in files. And arent your books alphabetical? You noticed that? I know you better than you think. Molly does have to admit, as peculiar as it is, she likes putting things in order. Shes actually kind of a neat freak. Moving around as much as she has, she learned to take care of her few possessions. But shes not sure about this idea. Stuck alone in a musty attic day after day, going through some ladys trash? Stillgiven the alternative . . . She wants to meet you, Jack says. Who? Vivian Daly. The old lady. She wants you to come for An interview. I have to interview with her, youre saying. Its just part of the deal, he says. Are you up for that? Do I have a choice? Sure. You can go to jail. Molly! Dina barks, rapping on the door. Out here right now! All right! she calls, and then, to Jack, All right. All right what? Ill do it. Ill go and meet her. Interview with her. Great, he says. Oh, andyou might want to wear a skirt or something, justyknow. And maybe take out a few earrings. What about the nose ring? I love the nose ring, he says. But . . . I get it. Just for this first meeting. Its all right. Listenthanks. Dont thank me for being selfish, he says. I just want you around a little longer. When Molly opens the bedroom door to Dinas and Ralphs tense and apprehensive faces, she smiles. You dont have to worry. Ive got a way to do my hours. Dina shoots a look at Ralph, an expression Molly recognizes from reading years of host parents cues. But I understand if you want me to leave. Ill find something else. We dont want you to leave, Ralph says, at the same time that Dina says, We need to talk about it. They stare at each other. Whatever, Molly says. If it doesnt work out, its okay. And in that moment, with bravado borrowed from Jack, it is okay. If it doesnt work out, it doesnt work out. Molly learned long ago that a lot of the heartbreak and betrayal that other people fear their entire lives, she has already faced. Father dead. Mother off the deep end. Shuttled around and rejected time and time again. And still she breathes and sleeps and grows taller. She wakes up every morning and puts on clothes. So when she says its okay, what she means is that she knows she can survive just about anything. And now, for the first time since she can remember, she has someone looking out for her. (Whats his problem, anyway?) Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 Molly takes a deep breath. The house is bigger than she imagineda white Victorian monolith with curlicues and black shutters. Peering out the windshield, she can see that its in meticulous shapeno evidence of peeling or rot, which means it must have been recently painted. No doubt the old lady employs people who work on it constantly, a queens army of worker bees. Its a warm April morning. The ground is spongy with melted snow and rain, but today is one of those rare, almost balmy days that hint at the glorious summer ahead. The sky is luminously blue, with large woolly clouds. Clumps of crocuses seem to have sprouted everywhere. Okay, Jacks saying, heres the deal. Shes a nice lady, but kind of uptight. You knownot exactly a barrel of laughs. He puts his car in park and squeezes Mollys shoulder. Just nod and smile and youll be fine. How old is she again? Molly mumbles. Shes annoyed with herself for feeling nervous. Who cares? Its just some ancient pack rat who needs help getting rid of her shit. She hopes it isnt disgusting and smelly, like the houses of those hoarders on TV. I dont knowold. By the way, you look nice, Jack adds. Molly scowls. Shes wearing a pink Lands End blouse that Dina loaned her for the occasion. I barely recognize you, Dina said drily when Molly emerged from her bedroom in it. You look so . . . ladylike. At Jacks request Molly has taken out the nose ring and left only two studs in each ear. She spent more time than usual on her makeup, tooblending the foundation to a shade more pale than ghostly, going lighter on the kohl. She even bought a pink lipstick at the drugstoreMaybelline Wet Shine Lip Color in Mauvelous, a name that cracks her up. She stripped off her many thrift-store rings and is wearing the charm necklace from her dad instead of the usual chunky array of crucifixes and silver skulls. Her hairs still black, with the white stripe on either side of her face, and her fingernails are black, toobut its clear shes made an effort to look, as Dina remarked, closer to a normal human being. After Jacks Hail Mary passor Hail Molly, as he called itDina grudgingly agreed to give her another chance. Cleaning an old ladys attic? she snorted. Yeah, right. I give it a week. Molly hardly expected a big vote of confidence from Dina, but she has some doubts herself. Is she really going to devote fifty hours of her life to a crotchety dowager in a drafty attic, going through boxes filled with moths and dust mites and who knows what else? In juvie shed be spending the same time in group therapy (always interesting) and watching The View (interesting enough). Thered be other girls to hang with. As it is shell have Dina at home and this old lady here watching her every move. Molly looks at her watch. Theyre five minutes early, thanks to Jack, who hustled her out the door. Remember: eye contact, he says. And be sure to smile. You are such a mom. You know what your problem is? That my boyfriend is acting like a mom? No. Your problem is you dont seem to realize your ass is on the line here. What line? Where? She looks around, wiggling her butt in the seat. Listen. He rubs his chin. My ma didnt tell Vivian about juvie and all that. As far as she knows, youre doing a community service project for school. So she doesnt know about my criminal past? Sucker. Ay diablo, he says, opening the door and getting out. Are you coming in with me? He slams the door, then walks around the back of the car to the passenger side and opens the door. No, I am escorting you to the front step. My, what a gentleman. She slides out. Or is it that you dont trust me not to bolt? Truthfully, both, he says. STANDING BEFORE THE LARGE WALNUT DOOR, WITH ITS OVERSIZED brass knocker, Molly hesitates. She turns to look at Jack, who is already back in his car, headphones in his ears, flipping through what she knows is a dog-eared collection of Junot D?az stories he keeps in the glove compartment. She stands straight, shoulders back, tucks her hair behind her ears, fiddles with the collar of her blouse (Whens the last time she wore a collar? A dog collar, maybe), and raps the knocker. No answer. She raps again, a little louder. Then she notices a buzzer to the left of the door and pushes it. Chimes gong loudly in the house, and within seconds she can see Jacks mom, Terry, barreling toward her with a worried expression. Its always startling to see Jacks big brown eyes in his mothers wide, soft-featured face. Though Jack has assured Molly that his mother is on boardThat damn attic project has been hanging over her head for so long, you have no ideaMolly knows the reality is more complicated. Terry adores her only son, and would do just about anything to make him happy. However much Jack wants to believe that Terrys fine and dandy with this plan, Molly knows that he steamrollered her into it. When Terry opens the door, she gives Molly a once-over. Well, you clean up nice. Thanks. I guess, Molly mutters. She cant tell if Terrys outfit is a uniform or if its just so boring that it looks like one: black pants, clunky black shoes with rubber soles, a matronly peach-colored T-shirt. Molly follows her down a long hallway lined with oil paintings and etchings in gold frames, the Oriental runner beneath their feet muting their footsteps. At the end of the hall is a closed door. Terry leans with her ear against it for a moment and knocks softly. Vivian? She opens the door a crack. The girl is here. Molly Ayer. Yep, okay. She opens the door wide onto a large, sunny living room with views of the water, filled with floor-to-ceiling bookcases and antique furniture. An old lady, wearing a black cashmere crewneck sweater, is sitting beside the bay window in a faded red wingback chair, her veiny hands folded in her lap, a wool tartan blanket draped over her knees. When they are standing in front of her, Terry says, Molly, this is Mrs. Daly. Hello, Molly says, holding out her hand as her father taught her to do. Hello. The old womans hand, when Molly grasps it, is dry and cool. She is a sprightly, spidery woman, with a narrow nose and piercing hazel eyes as bright and sharp as a birds. Her skin is thin, almost translucent, and her wavy silver hair is gathered at the nape of her neck in a bun. Light frecklesor are they age spots?are sprinkled across her face. A topographical map of veins runs up her hands and over her wrists, and she has dozens of tiny creases around her eyes. She reminds Molly of the nuns at the Catholic school she attended briefly in Augusta (a quick stopover with an ill-suited foster family), who seemed ancient in some ways and preternaturally young in others. Like the nuns, this woman has a slightly imperious air, as if she is used to getting her way. And why wouldnt she? Molly thinks. She is used to getting her way. All right, then. Ill be in the kitchen if you need me, Terry says, and disappears through another door. The old woman leans toward Molly, a slight frown on her face. How on earth do you achieve that effect? The skunk stripe, she says, reaching up and brushing her own temple. Umm . . . Molly is surprised; no one has ever asked her this before. Its a combination of bleach and dye. How did you learn to do it? I saw a video on YouTube. YouTube? On the Internet. Ah. She lifts her chin. The computer. Im too old to take up such fads. I dont think you can call it a fad if its changed the way we live, Molly says, then smiles contritely, aware that shes already gotten herself into a disagreement with her potential boss. Not the way I live, the old woman says. It must be quite time-consuming. What? Doing that to your hair. Oh. Its not so bad. Ive been doing it for a while now. Whats your natural color, if you dont mind my asking? I dont mind, Molly says. Its dark brown. Well, my natural color is red. It takes Molly a moment to realize shes making a little joke about being gray. I like what youve done with it, she parries. It suits you. The old woman nods and settles back in her chair. She seems to approve. Molly feels some of the tension leave her shoulders. Excuse my rudeness, but at my age theres no point in beating around the bush. Your appearance is quite stylized. Are you one of thosewhat are they called, gothics? Molly cant help smiling. Sort of. You borrowed that blouse, I presume. Uh . . . You neednt have bothered. It doesnt suit you. She gestures for Molly to sit across from her. You may call me Vivian. I never liked being called Mrs. Daly. My husband is no longer alive, you know. Im sorry. No need to be sorry. He died eight years ago. Anyway, I am ninety-one years old. Not many people I once knew are still alive. Molly isnt sure how to respondisnt it polite to tell people they dont look as old as they are? She wouldnt have guessed that this woman is ninety-one, but she doesnt have much basis for comparison. Her fathers parents died when he was young; her mothers parents never married, and she never met her grandfather. The one grandparent Molly remembers, her mothers mother, died of cancer when she was three. Terry tells me youre in foster care, Vivian says. Are you an orphan? My mothers alive, butyes, I consider myself an orphan. Technically youre not, though. I think if you dont have parents who look after you, then you can call yourself whatever you want. Vivian gives her a long look, as if shes considering this idea. Fair enough, she says. Tell me about yourself, then. Molly has lived in Maine her entire life. Shes never even crossed the state line. She remembers bits and pieces of her childhood on Indian Island before she went into foster care: the gray-sided trailer she lived in with her parents, the community center with pickups parked all around, Sockalexis Bingo Palace, and St. Annes Church. She remembers an Indian corn-husk doll with black hair and a traditional native costume that she kept on a shelf in her roomthough she preferred the Barbies donated by charities and doled out at the community center at Christmas. They were never the popular ones, of coursenever Cinderella or Beauty Queen Barbie, but instead one-off oddities that bargain hunters could find on clearance: Hot Rod Barbie, Jungle Barbie. It didnt matter. However peculiar Barbies costume, her features were always reliably the same: the freakish stiletto-ready feet, the oversized rack and ribless midsection, the ski-slope nose and shiny plastic hair . . . But thats not what Vivian wants to hear. Where to start? What to reveal? This is the problem. Its not a happy story, and Molly has learned through experience that people either recoil or dont believe her or, worse, pity her. So shes learned to tell an abridged version. Well, she says, Im a Penobscot Indian on my fathers side. When I was young, we lived on a reservation near Old Town. Ah. Hence the black hair and tribal makeup. Molly is startled. Shes never thought to make that connectionis it true? Sometime in the eighth grade, during a particularly rough yearangry, screaming foster parents; jealous foster siblings; a pack of mean girls at schoolshe got a box of LOreal ten-minute hair color and Cover Girl ebony eyeliner and transformed herself in the family bathroom. A friend who worked at Claires at the mall did her piercings the following weekenda string of holes in each ear, up through the cartilage, a stud in her nose, and a ring in her eyebrow (though that one didnt last; it soon got infected and had to be taken out, the remaining scar a spiderweb tracing). The piercings were the straw that got her thrown out of that foster home. Mission accomplished. Molly continues her storyhow her father died and her mother couldnt take care of her, how she ended up with Ralph and Dina. So Terry tells me you were assigned some kind of community service project. And she came up with the brilliant idea for you to help me clean my attic, Vivian says. Seems like a bad bargain for you, but who am I to say? Im kind of a neat freak, believe it or not. I like organizing things. Then you are even stranger than you appear. Vivian sits back and clasps her hands together. Ill tell you something. By your definition I was orphaned, too, at almost exactly the same age. So we have that in common. Molly isnt sure how to respond. Does Vivian want her to ask about this, or is she just putting that out there? Its hard to tell. Your parents . . . she ventures, didnt look after you? They tried. There was a fire . . . Vivian shrugs. It was all so long ago, I barely remember. Nowwhen do you want to begin? New York City, 1929 Maisie sensed it first. She wouldnt stop crying. Since she was a month old, when our mother got sick, Maisie had slept with me on my narrow cot in the small windowless room we shared with our brothers. It was so dark that I wondered, as I had many times before, if this was what blindness felt likethis enveloping void. I could barely make out, or perhaps only sense, the forms of the boys, stirring fitfully but not yet awake: Dominick and James, six-year-old twins, huddled together for warmth on a pallet on the floor. Sitting on the cot with my back against the wall, I held Maisie the way Mam had shown me, cupped over my shoulder. I tried everything I could think of to comfort her, all the things that had worked before: stroking her back, running two fingers down the bridge of her nose, humming our fathers favorite song, My Singing Bird, softly in her ear: I have heard the blackbird pipe his note, the thrush and the linnet too / But theres none of them can sing so sweet, my singing bird, as you. But she only shrieked louder, her body convulsing in spasms. Maisie was eighteen months old, but her weight was like a bundle of rags. Only a few weeks after she was born, Mam came down with a fever and could no longer feed her, so we made do with warm sweetened water, slow-cooked crushed oats, milk when we could afford it. All of us were thin. Food was scarce; days went by when we had little more than rubbery potatoes in weak broth. Mam wasnt much of a cook even in the best of health, and some days she didnt bother to try. More than once, until I learned to cook, we ate potatoes raw from the bin. It had been two years since we left our home on the west coast of Ireland. Life was hard there, too; our da held and lost a string of jobs, none of which were enough to support us. We lived in a tiny unheated house made of stone in a small village in County Galway called Kinvara. People all around us were fleeing to America: we heard tales of oranges the size of baking potatoes; fields of grain waving under sunny skies; clean, dry timber houses with indoor plumbing and electricity. Jobs as plentiful as the fruit on the trees. As one final act of kindness toward usor perhaps to rid themselves of the nuisance of constant worryDas parents and sisters scraped together the money for ocean passage for our family of five, and on a warm spring day we boarded the Agnes Pauline, bound for Ellis Island. The only link we had to our future was a name scrawled on a piece of paper my father tucked in his shirt pocket as we boarded the ship: a man who had emigrated ten years earlier and now, according to his Kinvara relatives, owned a respectable dining establishment in New York City. Despite having lived all our lives in a seaside village, none of us had ever been on a boat, much less a ship in the middle of the ocean. Except for my brother Dom, fortified with the constitution of a bull, we were ill for much of the voyage. It was worse for Mam, who discovered on the boat she was again with child and could hardly keep any food down. But even with all of this, as I stood on the lower deck outside our dark, cramped rooms in steerage, watching the oily water churn beneath the Agnes Pauline, I felt my spirits lift. Surely, I thought, we would find a place for ourselves in America. The morning that we arrived in New York harbor was so foggy and overcast that though my brothers and I stood at the railing, squinting into the drizzle, we could barely make out the ghostly form of the Statue of Liberty a short distance from the docks. We were herded into long lines to be inspected, interrogated, stamped, and then set loose among hundreds of other immigrants, speaking languages that sounded to my ears like the braying of farm animals. There were no waving fields of grain that I could see, no oversized oranges. We took a ferry to the island of Manhattan and walked the streets, Mam and I staggering under the weight of our possessions, the twins clamoring to be held, Da with a suitcase under each arm, clutching a map in one hand and the tattered paper with Mark Flannery, The Irish Rose, Delancey Street, written in his mothers crabbed cursive, in the other. After losing our way several times, Da gave up on the map and began asking people on the street for directions. More often than not they turned away without answering; one man spit on the ground, his face twisted with loathing. But finally we found the placean Irish pub, as seedy as the roughest ones on the backstreets of Galway. Mam and the boys and I waited on the sidewalk while Da went inside. The rain had stopped; steam rose from the wet street into the humid air. We stood in our damp clothing, stiffened from sweat and ground-in dirt, scratching our scabbed heads (from lice on the ship, as pervasive as sea-sickness), our feet blistering in the new shoes Gram had bought before we left but Mam didnt let us wear until we walked on American soiland wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. Except for this sorry reproduction of an Irish pub before us, nothing in this new land bore the slightest resemblance to the world we knew. Mark Flannery had received a letter from his sister and was expecting us. He hired our da as a dishwasher and took us to a neighborhood like no place Id ever seentall brick buildings packed together on narrow streets teeming with people. He knew of an apartment for rent, ten dollars a month, on the third floor of a five-story tenement on Elizabeth Street. After he left us at the door, we followed the Polish landlord, Mr. Kaminski, down the tiled hallway and up the stairs, struggling in the heat and the dark with our bags while he lectured us on the virtues of cleanliness and civility and industriousness, all of which he clearly suspected we lacked. I have no trouble with the Irish, as long as you stay out of trouble, he told us in his booming voice. Glancing at Das face, I saw an expression Id never seen before, but instantly understood: the shock of realization that here, in this foreign place, hed be judged harshly as soon as he opened his mouth. The landlord called our new home a railroad apartment: each room leading to the next, like railway cars. My parents tiny bedroom, with a window facing the back of another building, was at one end; the room I shared with the boys and Maisie was next, then the kitchen, and then the front parlor, with two windows overlooking the busy street. Mr. Kaminski pulled a chain hanging from the pressed-metal kitchen ceiling, and light seeped from a bulb, casting a wan glow over a scarred wooden table, a small stained sink with a faucet that ran cold water, a gas stove. In the hall, outside the apartment door, was a lavatory we shared with our neighborsa childless German couple called the Schatzmans, the landlord told us. They keep quiet, and will expect you to do the same, he said, frowning as my brothers, restless and fidgety, made a game of shoving each other. Despite the landlords disapproval, the sweltering heat, the gloomy rooms, and the cacophony of strange noises, so unfamiliar to my country ears, I felt another swell of hope. As I looked around our four rooms, it did seem that we were off to a fresh start, having left behind the many hardships of life in Kinvara: the damp that sank into our bones, the miserable, cramped hut, our fathers drinkingdid I mention that?that threw every small gain into peril. Here, our da had the promise of a job. We could pull a chain for light; the twist of a knob brought running water. Just outside the door, in a dry hallway, a toilet and bathtub. However modest, this was a chance for a new beginning. I dont know how much of my memory of this time is affected by my age now and how much is a result of the age I was thenseven when we left Kinvara, nine on that night when Maisie wouldnt stop crying, that night that, even more than leaving Ireland, changed the course of my life forever. Eighty-two years later, the sound of her crying still haunts me. If only I had paid closer attention to why she was crying instead of simply trying to quiet her. If only I had paid closer attention. I was so afraid that our lives would fall apart again that I tried to ignore the things that frightened me most: our das continued love affair with drink, which a change in country did not change; Mams black moods and rages; the incessant fighting between them. I wanted everything to be all right. I held Maisie to my chest and whispered in her eartheres none of them can sing so sweet, my singing bird, as youtrying to silence her. When she finally stopped, I was only relieved, not understanding that Maisie was like a canary in a mine, warning us of danger, but it was too late. New York City, 1929 Three days after the fire, Mr. Schatzman wakes me from sleep to tell me that he and Mrs. Schatzman have figured out a perfect solution (yes, he says perfect, parr-fec, in his German accent; I learn, in this instant, the terrible power of superlatives). They will take me to the Childrens Aid Society, a place staffed by friendly social workers who keep the children in their care warm and dry and fed. I cant go, I say. My mother will need me when she gets out of the hospital. I know that my father and brothers are dead. I saw them in the hallway, covered with sheets. But Mam was taken away on a stretcher, and I saw Maisie moving, whimpering, as a man in a uniform carried her down the hall. He shakes his head. She wont be coming back. But Maisie, then Your sister, Margaret, didnt make it, he says, turning away. My mother and father, two brothers, and a sister as dear to me as my own selfthere is no language for my loss. And even if I find words to describe what I feel, there is no one to tell. Everyone I am attached to in the worldthis new worldis dead or gone. The night of the fire, the night they took me in, I could hear Mrs. Schatzman in her bedroom, fretting with her husband about what to do with me. I didnt ask for this, she hissed, the words as distinct to my ears as if shed been in the same room. Those Irish! Too many children in too small a space. The only surprise is that this kind of thing doesnt happen more. As I listened through the wall, a hollow space opened within me. I didnt ask for this. Only hours earlier, my da had come in from his job at the bar and changed his clothes, as he always did after work, shedding rank smells with each layer. Mam mended a pile of clothes shed taken in for money. Dominick peeled potatoes. James played in a corner. I drew on a piece of paper with Maisie, teaching her letters, the hot-water-bottle weight and warmth of her on my lap, her sticky fingers in my hair. I try to forget the horror of what happened. Orperhaps forget is the wrong word. How can I forget? And yet how can I move forward even a step without tamping down the despair I feel? When I close my eyes, I hear Maisies cries and Mams screams, smell the acrid smoke, feel the heat of the fire on my skin, and heave upright on my pallet in the Schatzmans parlor, soaked in a cold sweat. My mothers parents are dead, her brothers in Europe, one having followed the other to serve in the military, and I know nothing about how to find them. But it occurs to me, and I tell Mr. Schatzman, that someone might try to get in touch with my fathers mother and his sister back in Ireland, though we havent had contact with them since we came to this country. I never saw a letter from Gram, nor did I ever see my father writing one. Our life in New York was so bleak, and we clung to it with such an unsteady grip, that I doubt my da had much he would want to report. I dont know much more than the name of our village and my fathers family namethough perhaps this information would be enough. But Mr. Schatzman frowns and shakes his head, and its then that I realize just how alone I am. There is no adult on this side of the Atlantic who has reason to take any interest in me, no one to guide me onto a boat or pay for my passage. I am a burden to society, and nobodys responsibility. YOUTHE IRISH GIRL. OVER HERE. A THIN, SCOWLING MATRON in a white bonnet beckons with a bony finger. She must know Im Irish from the papers Mr. Schatzman filled out when he brought me in to the Childrens Aid several weeks agoor perhaps it is my accent, still as thick as peat. Humph, she says, pursing her lips, when I stand in front of her. Red hair. Unfortunate, the plump woman beside her says, then sighs. And those freckles. Its hard enough to get placed out at her age. The bony one licks her thumb and pushes the hair off my face. Dont want to scare them away, now, do you? You must keep it pulled back. If youre neat and well mannered, they might not be so quick to jump to conclusions. She buttons my sleeves, and when she leans down to retie each of my black shoes, a mildewy smell rises from her bonnet. It is imperative that you look presentable. The kind of girl a woman would want around the house. Clean and well-spoken. But not too She shoots the other one a look. Too what? I ask. Some women dont take kindly to a comely girl sleeping under the same roof, she says. Not that youre so. . . . But still. She points at my necklace. What is that? I reach up and touch the small pewter claddagh Celtic cross I have worn since I was six, tracking the grooved outline of the heart with my finger. An Irish cross. Youre not allowed to bring keepsakes with you on the train. My heart is pounding so hard I believe she can hear it. It was my grams. The two women peer at the cross, and I can see them hesitating, trying to decide what to do. She gave it to me in Ireland, before we came over. ItsIts the only thing I have left. This is true, but its also true that I say it because I think it will sway them. And it does. WE HEAR THE TRAIN BEFORE WE CAN SEE IT. A LOW HUM, A RUMBLE UNDERFOOT, a deep-throated whistle, faint at first and then louder as the train gets close. We crane our necks to look down the track (even as one of our sponsors, Mrs. Scatcherd, shouts in her reedy voice, Chil-dren! Places, chil-dren!), and suddenly here it is: a black engine looming over us, shadowing the platform, letting out a hiss of steam like a massive panting animal. I am with a group of twenty children, all ages. We are scrubbed and in our donated clothes, the girls in dresses with white pinafores and thick stockings, the boys in knickers that button below the knee, white dress shirts, neckties, thick wool suit coats. It is an unseasonably warm October day, Indian summer, Mrs. Scatcherd calls it, and we are sweltering on the platform. My hair is damp against my neck, the pinafore stiff and uncomfortable. In one hand I clutch a small brown suitcase that, excepting the cross, contains everything I have in the world, all newly acquired: a bible, two sets of clothes, a hat, a black coat several sizes too small, a pair of shoes. Inside the coat is my name, embroidered by a volunteer at the Childrens Aid Society: Niamh Power. Yes, Niamh. Pronounced Neev. A common enough name in County Galway, and not so unusual in the Irish tenements in New York, but certainly not acceptable anywhere the train might take me. The lady who sewed those letters several days ago tsked over the task. I hope you arent attached to that name, young miss, because I can promise if youre lucky enough to be chosen, your new parents will change it in a second. My Niamh, my da used to call me. But Im not so attached to the name. I know its hard to pronounce, foreign, unlovely to those who dont understanda peculiar jumble of unmatched consonants. No one feels sorry for me because Ive lost my family. Each of us has a sad tale; we wouldnt be here otherwise. The general feeling is that its best not to talk about the past, that the quickest relief will come in forgetting. The Childrens Aid treats us as if we were born the moment we were brought in, that like moths breaking out of their cocoons weve left our old lives behind and, God willing, will soon launch ourselves into new ones. Mrs. Scatcherd and Mr. Curran, a milquetoast with a brown mustache, line us up by height, tallest to shortest, which generally means oldest to youngest, with the babies in the arms of the children over eight. Mrs. Scatcherd pushes a baby into my arms before I can objectan olive-skinned, cross-eyed fourteen-month-old named Carmine (who, I can already guess, will soon answer to another name). He clings to me like a terrified kitten. Brown suitcase in one hand, the other holding Carmine secure, I navigate the high steps into the train unsteadily before Mr. Curran scurries over to take my bag. Use some common sense, girl, he scolds. If you fall, youll crack your skulls, and then well have to leave the both of you behind. THE WOODEN SEATS IN THE TRAIN CAR ALL FACE FORWARD EXCEPT for two groups of seats opposite each other in the front, separated by a narrow aisle. I find a three-seater for Carmine and me, and Mr. Curran heaves my suitcase onto the rack above my head. Carmine soon wants to crawl off the seat, and I am so busy trying to distract him from escaping that I barely notice as the other kids come on board and the car fills. Mrs. Scatcherd stands at the front of the car, holding on to two leather seat backs, the arms of her black cape draping like the wings of a crow. They call this an orphan train, children, and you are lucky to be on it. You are leaving behind an evil place, full of ignorance, poverty, and vice, for the nobility of country life. While you are on this train you will follow some simple rules. You will be cooperative and listen to instructions. You will be respectful of your chaperones. You will treat the train car respectfully and will not damage it in any way. You will encourage your seatmates to behave appropriately. In short, you will make Mr. Curran and me proud of your behavior. Her voice rises as we settle in our seats. When you are allowed to step off the train, you will stay within the area we designate. You will not wander off alone at any time. And if your behavior proves to be a problem, if you cannot adhere to these simple rules of common decency, you will be sent straight back to where you came from and discharged on the street, left to fend for yourselves. The younger children appear bewildered by this litany, but those of us older than six or seven had already heard a version of it several times at the orphanage before we left. The words wash over me. Of more immediate concern is the fact that Carmine is hungry, as am I. We had only a dry piece of bread and a tin cup of milk for breakfast, hours ago, before it was light. Carmine is fussing and chewing on his hand, a habit that must be comforting to him. (Maisie sucked her thumb.) But I know not to ask when food is coming. It will come when the sponsors are ready to give it, and no entreaties will change that. I tug Carmine onto my lap. At breakfast this morning, when I dropped sugar into my tea, I slipped two lumps into my pocket. Now I rub one between my fingers, crushing it to granules, then lick my index finger and stick it in the sugar before popping it in Carmines mouth. The look of wonder on his face, his delight as he realizes his good fortune, makes me smile. He clutches my hand with both of his chubby ones, holding on tight as he drifts off to sleep. Eventually I, too, am lulled to sleep by the steady rumble of the clicking wheels. When I wake, with Carmine stirring and rubbing his eyes, Mrs. Scatcherd is standing over me. She is close enough that I can see the small pink veins, like seams on the back of a delicate leaf, spreading across her cheeks, the downy fur on her jawbone, her bristly black eyebrows. She stares at me intently through her small round glasses. There were little ones at home, I gather. I nod. You appear to know what youre doing. As if on cue, Carmine bleats in my lap. I think hes hungry, I tell her. I feel his diaper rag, which is dry on the outside but spongy. And ready for a change. She turns toward the front of the car, gesturing back at me over her shoulder. Come on, then. Holding the baby against my chest, I rise unsteadily from my seat and sway behind her up the aisle. Children sitting in twos and threes look up with doleful eyes as I pass. None of us knows where we are headed, and I think that except for the very youngest, each of us is apprehensive and fearful. Our sponsors have told us little; we know only that we are going to a land where apples grow in abundance on low-hanging branches and cows and pigs and sheep roam freely in the fresh country air. A land where good peoplefamiliesare eager to take us in. I havent seen a cow, or any animal, for that matter, except a stray dog and the occasional hardy bird, since leaving County Galway, and I look forward to seeing them again. But I am skeptical. I know all too well how it is when the beautiful visions youve been fed dont match up with reality. Many of the children on this train have been at the Childrens Aid for so long that they have no memories of their mothers. They can start anew, welcomed into the arms of the only families theyll ever know. I remember too much: my grams ample bosom, her small dry hands, the dark cottage with a crumbling stone wall flanking its narrow garden. The heavy mist that settled over the bay early in the morning and late in the afternoon, the mutton and potatoes Gram would bring to the house when Mam was too tired to cook or we didnt have money for ingredients. Buying milk and bread at the corner shop on Phantom StreetSraid a Phuca, my da called it in Gaelicso called because the stone houses in that section of town were built on cemetery grounds. My mams chapped lips and fleeting smile, the melancholy that filled our home in Kinvara and traveled with us across the ocean to take up permanent residence in the dim corners of our tenement apartment in New York. And now here I am on this train, wiping Carmines bottom while Mrs. Scatcherd hovers above us, shielding me with a blanket to hide the procedure from Mr. Curran, issuing instructions I dont need. Once I have Carmine clean and dry, I sling him over my shoulder and make my way back to my seat while Mr. Curran distributes lunch pails filled with bread and cheese and fruit, and tin cups of milk. Feeding Carmine bread soaked in milk reminds me of the Irish dish called champ I often made for Maisie and the boysa mash of potatoes, milk, green onions (on the rare occasion when we had them), and salt. On the nights when we went to bed hungry, all of us dreamed of that champ. After distributing the food and one wool blanket to each of us, Mr. Curran announces that there is a bucket and a dipper for water, and if we raise our hands we can come forward for a drink. Theres an indoor toilet, he informs us (though, as we soon find out, this toilet is a terrifying open hole above the tracks). Carmine, drunk on sweet milk and bread, splays in my lap, his dark head in the crook of my arm. I wrap the scratchy blanket around us. In the rhythmic clacking of the train and the stirring, peopled silence of the car, I feel cocooned. Carmine smells as lovely as a custard, the solid weight of him so comforting it makes me teary. His spongy skin, pliable limbs, dark fringed lasheseven his sighs make me think (how could they not?) of Maisie. The idea of her dying alone in the hospital, suffering painful burns, is too much to bear. Why am I alive, and she dead? In our tenement there were families who spilled in and out of each others apartments, sharing child care and stews. The men worked together in grocery stores and blacksmith shops. The women ran cottage industries, making lace and darning socks. When I passed by their apartments and saw them sitting together in a circle, hunched over their work, speaking a language I didnt understand, I felt a sharp pang. My parents left Ireland in hopes of a brighter future, all of us believing we were on our way to a land of plenty. As it happened, they failed in this new land, failed in just about every way possible. It may have been that they were weak people, ill suited for the rigors of emigration, its humiliations and compromises, its competing demands of self-discipline and adventurousness. But I wonder how things might have been different if my father was part of a family business that gave him structure and a steady paycheck instead of working in a bar, the worst place for a man like himor if my mother had been surrounded by women, sisters and nieces, perhaps, who could have provided relief from destitution and loneliness, a refuge from strangers. In Kinvara, poor as we were, and unstable, we at least had family nearby, people who knew us. We shared traditions and a way of looking at the world. We didnt know until we left how much we took those things for granted. New York Central Train, 1929 As the hours pass I get used to the motion of the train, the heavy wheels clacking in their grooves, the industrial hum under my seat. Dusk softens the sharp points of trees outside my window; the sky slowly darkens, then blackens around an orb of moon. Hours later, a faint blue tinge yields to the soft pastels of dawn, and soon enough sun is streaming in, the stop-start rhythm of the train making it all feel like still photography, thousands of images that taken together create a scene in motion. We pass the time looking out at the evolving landscape, talking, playing games. Mrs. Scatcherd has a checkers set and a bible, and I thumb through it, looking for Psalm 121, Mams favorite: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth . . . Im one of few children on the train who can read. Mam taught me all my letters years ago, in Ireland, then taught me how to spell. When we got to New York, shed make me read to her, anything with words on itcrates and bottles I found in the street. Donner brand car-bonated bev Beverage. Beverage. LemonKist soda. Artifickle Artificial. The c sounds like s. Artificial color. Kitriccitric acid added. Good. When I became more proficient, Mam went into the shabby trunk beside her bed and brought out a hardback book of poems, blue with gold trim. Francis Fahy was a Kinvara poet born into a family of seventeen children. At fifteen he became an assistant teacher at the local boys school before heading off to England (like every other Irish poet, Mam said), where he mingled with the likes of Yeats and Shaw. She would turn the pages carefully, running her finger over the black lines on flimsy paper, mouthing the words to herself, until she found the one she wanted. Galway Bay, she would say. My favorite. Read it to me. And so I did: Had I youths blood and hopeful mood and heart of fire once more, For all the gold the world might hold Id never quit your shore, Id live content whateer God sent with neighbours old and gray, And lay my bones neath churchyard stones, beside you, Galway Bay. Once I looked up from a halting and botched rendition to see two lines of tears rivuleting Mams cheeks. Jesus Mary and Joseph, she said. We should never have left that place. Sometimes, on the train, we sing. Mr. Curran taught us a song before we left that he stands to lead us in at least once a day: From the citys gloom to the countrys bloom Where the fragrant breezes sigh From the citys blight to the greenwood bright Like the birds of summer fly O Children, dear Children Young, happy, pure . . . We stop at a depot for sandwich fixings and fresh fruit and milk, but only Mr. Curran gets off. I can see him outside my window in his white wingtips, talking to farmers on the platform. One holds a basket of apples, one a sack full of bread. A man in a black apron reaches into a box and unwraps a package of brown paper to reveal a thick yellow slab of cheese, and my stomach rumbles. They havent fed us much, some crusts of bread and milk and an apple each in the past twenty-four hours, and I dont know if its because theyre afraid of running out or if they think its for our moral good. Mrs. Scatcherd strides up and down the aisle, letting two groups of children at a time get up to stretch while the train is still. Shake each leg, she instructs. Good for the circulation. The younger children are restless, and the older boys stir up trouble in small ways, wherever they can find it. I want nothing to do with these boys, who seem as feral as a pack of dogs. Our landlord, Mr. Kaminski, called boys like these street Arabs, lawless vagrants who travel in gangs, pickpockets and worse. When the train pulls out of the station, one of these boys lights a match, invoking the wrath of Mr. Curran, who boxes him about the head and shouts, for the whole car to hear, that hes a worthless good-for-nothing clod of dirt on Gods green earth and will never amount to anything. This outburst does little but boost the boys status in the eyes of his friends, who take to devising ingenious ways to irritate Mr. Curran without giving themselves away. Paper airplanes, loud belches, high-pitched, ghostly moans followed by stifled gigglesit drives Mr. Curran mad that he cannot pick out one boy to punish for all this. But what can he do, short of kicking them all out at the next stop? Which he actually threatens, finally, looming in the aisle above the seats of two particularly rowdy boys, only to prompt the bigger ones retort that hell be happy to make his way on his own, has done it for years with no great harm, you can shine shoes in any city in America, hell wager, and its probably a hell of a lot better than being sent to live in a barn with animals, eating only pig slops, or getting carried off by Indians. Children murmur in their seats. Whatd he say? Mr. Curran looks around uneasily. Youre scaring a whole car full of kids. Happy now? he says. Its true, aint it? Of course it aintisnttrue. Kids, settle down. I hear well be sold at auction to the highest bidder, another boy stage-whispers. The car grows silent. Mrs. Scatcherd stands up, wearing her usual thin-lipped scowl and broad-brimmed bonnet. She is far more imposing, in her heavy black cloak and flashing steel-rimmed glasses, than Mr. Curran could ever be. I have heard enough, she says in a shrill voice. I am tempted to throw the whole lot of you off this train. But that would not beshe looks around at us slowly, dwelling on each somber faceChristian. Would it? Mr. Curran and I are here to escort you to a better life. Any suggestion to the contrary is ignorant and outrageous. It is our fervent hope that each of you will find a path out of the depravity of your early lives, and with firm guidance and hard work transform into respectable citizens who can pull your weight in society. Now. I am not so naive as to believe that this will be the case for all. She casts a withering look at a blond-haired older boy, one of the troublemakers. But I am hopeful that most of you will view this as an opportunity. Perhaps the only chance you will ever get to make something of yourselves. She adjusts the cape around her shoulders. Mr. Curran, maybe the young man who spoke to you so impudently should be moved to a seat where his dubious charms will not be so enthusiastically embraced. She lifts her chin, peering out from her bonnet like a turtle from its shell. Ahtheres a space beside Niamh, she says, pointing a crooked finger in my direction. With the added bonus of a squirming toddler. My skin prickles. Oh no. But I can see that Mrs. Scatcherd is in no mood to reconsider. So I slide as close as I can to the window and set Carmine and his blanket next to me, in the middle of the seat. Several rows ahead, on the other side of the aisle, the boy stands, sighs loudly, and pulls his bright-blue flannel cap down hard on his head. He makes a production of getting out of his seat, then drags his feet up the aisle like a condemned man approaching a noose. When he gets to my row, he squints at me, then at Carmine, and makes a face at his friends. This should be fun, he says loudly. You will not speak, young sir, Mrs. Scatcherd trills. You will sit down and behave like a gentleman. He flings himself into his seat, his legs in the aisle, then takes his cap off and slaps it against the seat in front of us, raising a small cloud of dust. The kids in that seat turn around and stare. Man, he mutters, not really to anybody, what an old goat. He holds his finger out to Carmine, who studies it and looks at his face. The boy wiggles his finger and Carmine buries his head in my lap. Dont get you nowhere being shy, the boy says. He looks over at me, his gaze loitering on my face and body in a way that makes me blush. He has straight sandy hair and pale blue eyes and is twelve or thirteen, from what I can tell, though his manner seems older. A redhead. Thats worse than a bootblack. Whos gonna want you? I feel the sting of truth in his words, but I lift my chin. At least Im not a criminal. He laughs. Thats what I am, am I? You tell me. Would you believe me? Probably not. No point then, is there. I do not respond and we three sit in silence, Carmine awed into stillness by the boys presence. I look out at the severe and lonely landscape drifting past the window. Its been raining off and on all day. Gray clouds hang low in a watery sky. They took my kit from me, the boy says after a while. I turn to look at him. What? My bootblack kit. All my paste and brushes. How do they expect me to make a living? They dont. Theyre going to find you a family. Ah, thats right, he says with a dry laugh. A ma to tuck me in at night and a pa to teach me a trade. I dont see it working out like that. Do you? I dont know. Havent thought about it, I say, though of course I have. Ive gleaned bits and pieces: that babies are the first to be chosen, then older boys, prized by farmers for their strong bones and muscles. Last to go are girls like me, too old to be turned into ladies, too young to be serious help around the house, not much use in the field. If were not chosen, we get sent back to the orphanage. Anyway, what can we do about it? Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out a penny. He rolls it across his fingers, holds it between thumb and forefinger and touches it to Carmines nose, then clasps it in his closed fist. When he opens his hand, the penny isnt there. He reaches behind Carmines ear, andPresto, he says, handing him the penny. Carmine gazes at it, astonished. You can put up with it, the boy says. Or you can run away. Or maybe youll get lucky and live happily ever after. Only the good Lord knows whats going to happen, and He aint telling. Union Station, Chicago, 1929 We become an odd little family, the boyreal name Hans, I learn, called Dutchy on the streetand Carmine and I in our three-seat abode. Dutchy tells me he was born in New York to German parents, that his mother died of pneumonia and his father sent him out on the streets to earn money as a bootblack, beating him with a belt if he didnt bring enough in. So one day he stopped going home. He fell in with a group of boys who slept on any convenient step or sidewalk during the summer, and in the winter months in barrels and doorways, in discarded boxes on iron gratings on the margin of Printing House Square, warm air and steam rising from the engines beneath. He taught himself piano by ear in the back room of a speakeasy, plunked out tunes at night for drunken patrons, saw things no twelve-year-old should see. The boys tried to look after one another, though if one got sick or maimedcatching pneumonia or falling off a streetcar or under the wheels of a truckthere wasnt much any of them could do. A few kids from Dutchys gang are on the train with ushe points out Slobbery Jack, who has a habit of spilling on himself, and Whitey, a boy with translucent skin. They were lured off the street with the promise of a hot meal, and heres where they ended up. What about the hot meal? Did you get it? Did we ever. Roast beef and potatoes. And a clean bed. But I dont trust it. I wager theyre paid by the head, the way Indians take scalps. Its charity, I say. Didnt you hear what Mrs. Scatcherd said? Its their Christian duty. All I know is nobody ever did nothing for me out of Christian duty. I call tell by the way theyre talking Im going to end up worked to the bone and not see a dime for it. Youre a girl. You might be all right, baking pies in the kitchen or taking care of a baby. He squints at me. Except for the red hair and freckles, you look okay. Youll be fine and dandy sitting at the table with a napkin on your lap. Not me. Im too old to be taught manners, or to follow somebody elses rules. The only thing Im good for is hard labor. Same with all of us newsies and peddlers and bill posters and bootblacks. He nods toward one boy after another in the car. ON THE THIRD DAY WE CROSS THE ILLINOIS STATE LINE. NEAR CHICAGO, Mrs. Scatcherd stands for another lecture. In a few minutes we will arrive at Union Station, whereupon we will switch trains for the next portion of our journey, she tells us. If it were up to me, Id send you in a straight line right across the platform to the other train, without a minutes worry that youll get yourselves into trouble. But we are not allowed to board for half an hour. Young men, you will wear your suit coats, and young ladies must put on your pinafores. Careful not to muss them now. Chicago is a proud and noble city, on the edge of a great lake. The lake makes it windy, hence its appellation: the Windy City. You will bring your suitcases, of course, and your wool blanket to wrap yourself in, as we will be on the platform for at least an hour. The good citizens of Chicago no doubt view you as ruffians, thieves, and beggars, hopeless sinners who have not a chance in the world of being redeemed. They are justifiably suspicious of your character. Your task is to prove them wrongto behave with impeccable manners, and comport yourselves like the model citizens the Childrens Aid Society believes you can become. THE WIND ON THE PLATFORM RUSHES THROUGH MY DRESS. I WRAP my blanket tight around my shoulders, keeping a close eye on Carmine as he staggers around, seemingly oblivious to the cold. He wants to know the names of everything: Train. Wheel. Mrs. Scatcherd, frowning at the conductor. Mr. Curran, poring over papers with a station agent. Lightswhich to Carmines amazement turn on while hes gazing at them, as if by magic. Contrary to Mrs. Scatcherds expectationsor perhaps in response to her rebukewe are a quiet lot, even the older boys. We huddle together, complacent as cattle, stamping our feet to stay warm. Except for Dutchy. Where did he go? Psst. Niamh. When I hear my name, I turn to glimpse his blond hair in a stairwell. Then hes gone. I look over at the adults, occupied with plans and forms. A large rat scurries along the far brick wall, and as the rest of the children point and shriek I scoop up Carmine, leaving our small pile of suitcases, and slip behind a pillar and a pile of wooden crates. In the stairwell, out of sight of the platform, Dutchy leans against a curved wall. When he sees me, he turns without expression and bounds up the stairs, vanishing around a corner. With a glance behind, and seeing no one, I hold Carmine close and follow him, keeping my eyes on the wide steps so I dont fall. Carmine tilts his head up and leans back in my arms, floppy as a sack of rice. Yite, he murmurs, pointing. My gaze follows his chubby finger to what I realize is the enormous, barrel-vaulted ceiling of the train station, laced with skylights. We step into the huge terminal, filled with people of all shapes and colorswealthy women in furs trailed by servants, men in top hats and morning coats, shop girls in bright dresses. Its too much to take in all at oncestatuary and columns, balconies and staircases, oversized wooden benches. Dutchy is standing in the middle, looking up at the sky through that glass ceiling, and then he takes off his cap and flings it into the air. Carmine struggles to free himself, and as soon as I set him down he races toward Dutchy and grabs his legs. Dutchy reaches down and hoists him on his shoulders, and as I get close I hear him say, Put your arms out, little man, and Ill spin you. He clasps Carmines legs and twirls, Carmine stretching out his arms and throwing his head back, gazing up at the skylights, shrieking with glee as they turn, and in that moment, for the first time since the fire, my worries are gone. I feel a joy so strong its almost painfula knifes edge of joy. And then a whistle pierces the air. Three policemen in dark uniforms rush toward Dutchy with their sticks drawn, and everything happens too fast: I see Mrs. Scatcherd at the top of the stairwell pointing her crow wing, Mr. Curran running in those ridiculous white shoes, Carmine clutching Dutchys neck in terror as a fat policeman shouts, Get down! My arm is wrenched behind my back and a man spits in my ear, Trying to get away, were yeh? his breath like licorice. Its hopeless to respond, so I keep my mouth shut as he forces me to my knees. A hush falls over the cavernous hall. Out of the corner of my eye I see Dutchy on the floor, under a policemans truncheon. Carmine is howling, his cries puncturing the stillness, and every time Dutchy moves, he gets jammed in the side. Then hes in handcuffs and the fat policeman yanks him to his feet, pushing him roughly so he stumbles forward, tripping over his feet. In this moment I know that hes been in scrapes like this before. His face is blank; he doesnt even protest. I can tell what the bystanders think: hes a common criminal; hes broken the law, likely more than one. The police are protecting the good citizens of Chicago, and thank God for them. The fat policeman drags Dutchy over to Mrs. Scatcherd, and Licorice Breath, following his lead, yanks me roughly by the arm. Mrs. Scatcherd looks as if shes bitten into a lime. Her lips are puckered in a quivering O, and she appears to be trembling. I placed this young man with you, she says to me in a terrible quiet voice, in the hopes that you might provide a civilizing influence. It appears that I was gravely mistaken. My mind is racing. If only I can convince her that he means no harm. No, maam, I Do not interrupt. I look down. So what do you have to say for yourself ? I know that nothing I can say will change her opinion of me. And in that realization I feel oddly free. The most I can hope for is to keep Dutchy from being sent back to the streets. Its my fault, I say. I asked DutchyI mean Hansto escort me and the baby up the stairs. I look over at Carmine, trying to squirm out of the arms of the policeman holding him. I thought . . . maybe we could get a glimpse of that lake. I thought the baby would like to see it. Mrs. Scatcherd glares at me. Dutchy looks at me with surprise. Carmine says, Yake? And thenCarmine saw the lights. I point up and look at Carmine, and he throws his head back and shouts, Yite! The policemen arent sure what to do. Licorice Breath lets go of my arm, apparently persuaded that Im not going to flee. Mr. Curran glances at Mrs. Scatcherd, whose expression has ever so slightly softened. You are a foolish and headstrong girl, she says, but her voice has lost its edge, and I can tell shes not as angry as she wants to appear. You flouted my instructions to stay on the platform. You put the entire group of children at risk, and you have disgraced yourself. Worse, you have disgraced me. And Mr. Curran, she adds, turning toward him. He winces, as if to say Leave me out of it. But this is not, I suppose, a matter for the police. A civil, not a legal, matter, she clarifies. The fat policeman makes a show of unlocking Dutchys handcuffs and clipping them to his belt. Sure you dont want us to take him in, maam? Thank you, sir, but Mr. Curran and I will devise a sufficient punishment. As you say. He touches the brim of his cap, backs away, and turns on his heels. Make no mistake, Mrs. Scatcherd says gravely, staring down her nose at us. You will be punished. MRS. SCATCHERD RAPS DUTCHYS KNUCKLES SEVERAL TIMES WITH a long wooden ruler, though it seems to me a halfhearted penalty. He barely winces, then shakes his hands twice in the air and winks at me. Truly, there isnt much more she can do. Stripped of family and identity, fed meager rations, consigned to hard wooden seats until we are to be, as Slobbery Jack suggested, sold into slaveryour mere existence is punishment enough. Though she threatens to separate the three of us, in the end she leaves us togethernot wanting to infect the others with Dutchys delinquency, she says, and apparently having decided that taking care of Carmine wouldve extended my punishment to her. She tells us not to speak to or even look at each other. If I hear as much as a murmur, so help me . . . she says, the threat losing air over our heads like a pricked balloon. By the time we leave Chicago, it is evening. Carmine sits on my lap with his hands on the window, face pressed against the glass, gazing out at the streets and buildings, all lit up. Yite, he says softly as the city recedes into the distance. I look out the window with him. Soon all is dark; its impossible to tell where land ends and the sky begins. Get a good nights rest, Mrs. Scatcherd calls from the front of the car. In the morning you will need to be at your very best. It is vital that you make a good impression. Your drowsiness might well be construed as laziness. What if nobody wants me? one boy asks, and the entire car seems to hold its breath. It is the question on everyones mind, the question none of us are sure we want the answer to. Mrs. Scatcherd looks down at Mr. Curran as if shes been waiting for this. If it happens that you are not chosen at the first stop, you will have several additional opportunities. I cannot think of an instance . . . She pauses and purses her lips. It is uncommon for a child to be with us on the return trip to New York. Pardon me, maam, a girl near the front says. What if I dont want to go with the people who choose me? What if they beat us? a boy cries out. Children! Mrs. Scatcherds small glasses flash as she turns her head from side to side. I will not have you interrupting! She seems poised to sit down without addressing these questions, but then changes her mind. I will say this: There is no accounting for taste and personalities. Some parents are looking for a healthy boy to work on the farmas we all know, hard work is good for children, and you would be lucky to be placed with a God-fearing farm family, all you boysand some people want babies. People sometimes think they want one thing, but later change their minds. Though we dearly hope all of you will find the right homes at the first stop, it doesnt always work that way. So in addition to being respectable and polite, you must also keep your faith in God to guide you forward if the way is not clear. Whether your journey is long or short, He will help you as long as you place your trust in Him. I look over at Dutchy, and he looks back at me. Mrs. Scatcherd knows as little as we do about whether well be chosen by people who will treat us with kindness. We are headed toward the unknown, and we have no choice but to sit quietly in our hard seats and let ourselves be taken there. Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 Walking back to the car, Molly sees Jack through the windshield, eyes closed, grooving out to a song she cant hear. Hey, she says loudly, opening the passenger door. He opens his eyes and yanks the buds out of his ears. Howd it go? She shakes her head and climbs in. Hard to believe she was only in there for twenty minutes. Vivians an odd one. Fifty hours! My God. But its going to work out? I guess so. We made a plan to start on Monday. Jack pats her leg. Awesome. Youll knock out those hours in no time. Lets not count our chickens. Shes always doing this, crabbily countering his enthusiasm, but its become something of a routine. Shell tell him, Im nothing like you, Jack. Im bitchy and spiteful, but is secretly relieved when he laughs it off. He has an optimistic certainty that shes a good person at her core. And if he has this faith in her, then she must be all right, right? Just keep telling yourselfbetter than juvie, he says. Are you sure about that? Itd probably be easier to serve my time and get it over with. Except for that small problem of having a record. She shrugs. Thatd be kind of badass, though, dont you think? Really, Moll? he says with a sigh, turning the ignition key. She smiles to let him know shes kidding. Sort of. Better than juvie. That would make a good tattoo. She points to her arm. Right here across my bicep, in twenty-point script. Dont even joke, he says. DINA PLUNKS THE SKILLET OF HAMBURGER HELPER ON THE TRIVET in the middle of the table and sits heavily in her chair. Oof. Im exhausted. Tough day at work, huh, babe? Ralph says, as he always does, though Dina never asks him about his day. Maybe plumbing isnt as exciting as being a police dispatcher in thrill-a-minute Spruce Harbor. Molly, hand me your plate. My back is killing me from that crappy chair they make me sit in, Dina says. I swear if I went to a chiropractor, Id have a lawsuit. Molly gives her plate to Ralph and he drops some casserole on it. Molly has learned to pick around the meateven in a dish like this, where you can hardly tell whats what and its all mixed togetherbecause Dina refuses to acknowledge that shes a vegetarian. Dina listens to conservative talk radio, belongs to a fundamentalist Christian church, and has a Guns dont kill peopleabortion clinics do bumper sticker on her car. She and Molly are about as opposite as it is possible to be, which would be fine if Dina didnt take Mollys choices as a personal affront. Dina is constantly rolling her eyes, muttering under her breath about Mollys various infractionsdidnt put away her laundry, left a bowl in the sink, cant be bothered to make her bedall of which are part and parcel of the liberal agenda thats ruining this country. Molly knows she should ignore these commentswater off a ducks back, Ralph saysbut they irk her. Shes overly sensitive to them, like a tuning fork pitched too high. Its all part of Dinas unwavering message: Be grateful. Dress like a normal person. Dont have opinions. Eat the food thats put in front of you. Molly cant quite figure out how Ralph fits into all of this. She knows he and Dina met in high school, followed a predictable football player/ cheerleader story arc, and have been together ever since, but she cant tell if Ralph actually buys Dinas party line or just toes it to make his life easier. Sometimes she sees a glimmer of independencea raised eyebrow, a carefully worded, possibly ironic observation, like, Well, we cant make a decision on that till the boss gets home. Stillall things considered, Molly knows she has it pretty good: her own room in a tidy house, employed and sober foster parents, a decent high school, a nice boyfriend. She isnt expected to take care of a passel of kids, as she was at one of the places she lived, or clean up after fifteen dirty cats, as she was at another. In the past nine years shes been in over a dozen foster homes, some for as little as a week. Shes been spanked with a spatula, slapped across the face, made to sleep on an unheated sun porch in the winter, taught to roll a joint by a foster father, fed lies for the social worker. She got her tatt illegally at sixteen from a twenty-three-year-old friend of the Bangor family, an ink expert-in-training, as he called himself, who was just starting out and did it for freeor, well . . . sort of. She wasnt so attached to her virginity anyway. With the tines of her fork, Molly mashes the hamburger into her plate, hoping to grind it into oblivion. She takes a bite and smiles at Dina. Good. Thanks. Dina purses her lips and cocks her head, clearly trying to gauge whether Mollys praise is sincere. Well, Dina, Molly thinks, it is and it isnt. Thank you for taking me in and feeding me. But if you think you can quash my ideals, force me to eat meat when I told you I dont, expect me to care about your aching back when you dont seem the slightest bit interested in my life, you can forget it. Ill play your fucking game. But I dont have to play by your rules. Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 Terry leads the way to the third floor, bustling up the stairs, with Vivian moving more slowly behind her and Molly taking up the rear. The house is large and draftymuch too large, Molly thinks, for an old woman who lives alone. It has fourteen rooms, most of which are shuttered during the winter months. During the Terry-narrated tour on the way to the attic, Molly gets the story: Vivian and her husband owned and ran a department store in Minnesota, and when they sold it twenty years ago, they took a sailing trip up the East Coast to celebrate their retirement. They spied this house, a former ship captains estate, from the harbor, and on an impulse decided to buy it. And that was it: they packed up and moved to Maine. Ever since Jim died, eight years ago, Vivian has lived here by herself. In a clearing at the top of the stairs, Terry, panting a bit, puts her hand on her hip and looks around. Yikes! Where to start, Vivi? Vivian reaches the top step, clutching the banister. She is wearing another cashmere sweater, gray this time, and a silver necklace with an odd little charm on it. Well, lets see. Glancing around, Molly can see that the third floor of the house consists of a finished sectiontwo bedrooms tucked under the slope of the roof and an old-fashioned bathroom with a claw-foot tuband a large, open attic part with a rough-planked floor half covered in patches of ancient linoleum. It has visible rafters with insulation packed between the beams. Though the rafters and floor are dark, the space is surprisingly light. Levered windows nestle in each dormer, providing a clear view of the bay and the marina beyond. The attic is filled with boxes and furniture packed so tightly its hard to move around. In one corner is a long clothes rack covered with a plastic zippered case. Several cedar chests, so large that Molly wonders how they got up here in the first place, are lined up against a wall next to a stack of steamer trunks. Overhead, several bare bulbs glow like tiny moons. Wandering among the cardboard boxes, Vivian trails her fingertips across the tops of them, peering at their cryptic labels: The store, 1960. The Nielsens. Valuables. I suppose this is why people have children, isnt it? she muses. So somebody will care about the stuff they leave behind. Molly looks over at Terry, who is shaking her head with grim resignation. It occurs to her that maybe Terrys reluctance to take on this project has as much to do with avoiding this kind of maudlin moment as avoiding the work itself. Glancing surreptitiously at her phone, Molly sees its 4:15only fifteen minutes since she arrived. Shes supposed to stay until six today, and then come for two hours four days a week, and four hours every weekend untilwell, until she finishes her time or Vivian drops dead, whichever comes first. According to her calculations, it should take about a month. To finish the hours, not to kill Vivian. Though if the next forty-nine hours and forty-five minutes are this tedious, she doesnt know if shell be able to stand it. In American History theyve been studying how the United States was founded on indentured servitude. The teacher, Mr. Reed, said that in the seventeenth century nearly two-thirds of English settlers came over that way, selling years of their freedom for the promise of an eventual better life. Most of them were under the age of twenty-one. Molly has decided to think of this job as indentured servitude: each hour she works is another hour closer to freedom. Itll be good to clear out this stuff, Vivi, Terry is saying. Well, Im going to get started on the laundry. Call if you need me! She nods to Molly as if to say All yours! and retreats down the stairs. Molly knows all about Terrys work routine. Youre like me at the gym, hey, Ma? Jack says, teasing her about it. One day biceps, next day quads. Terry rarely deviates from her self-imposed schedule; with a house this size, she says, you have to tackle a different section every day: bedrooms and laundry on Monday, bathrooms and plants on Tuesday, kitchen and shopping on Wednesday, other main rooms on Thursday, cooking for the weekend on Friday. Molly wades through stacks of boxes sealed with shiny beige tape to get to the window, which she opens a crack. Even up here, at the top of this big old house, she can smell the salty air. Theyre not in any particular order, are they? she asks Vivian, turning back around. How long have they been here? I havent touched them since we moved in. So that must be Twenty years. Vivian gives her a flinty smile. You were listening. Were you ever tempted to just toss it all in a Dumpster? Vivian purses her lips. I didnt meansorry. Molly winces, realizing shes pushed a little far. All right, its official, she needs an attitude adjustment. Why is she so hostile? Vivian hasnt done anything to her. She should be grateful. Without Vivian shed be sliding down a dark path toward nowhere good. But it kind of feels nice to nurture her resentment, to foster it. Its something she can savor and control, this feeling of having been wronged by the world. That she has fulfilled her role as a thieving member of the underclass, now indentured to this genteel midwestern white lady, is too perfect for words. Deep breath. Smile. As Lori, the court-ordered social worker she meets with biweekly always tells her to do, Molly decides to make a mental list of all the positive things about her situation. Lets see. One, if she can stick it out, this whole incident will be stricken from her record. Two, she has a placehowever tense and tenuous at the momentto live. Three, if you must spend fifty hours in an uninsulated attic in Maine, spring is probably the best time of year to do it. Four, Vivian is ancient, but she doesnt appear to be senile. Fivewho knows? Maybe there actually will be something interesting in these boxes. Bending down, Molly scans the labels around her. I think we should go through them in chronological order. Lets seethis one says WWII. Is there anything before that? Yes. Vivian squeezes between two stacks and makes her way toward the cedar chests. The earliest stuff I have is over here, I think. These crates are too heavy to move, though. So well have to start in this corner. Is that okay with you? Molly nods. Downstairs, Terry handed her a cheap serrated knife with a plastic handle, a slippery stack of white plastic garbage bags, and a wire-bound notebook with a pen clipped to it to keep track of inventory, as she called it. Now Molly takes the knife and pokes it through the tape of the box Vivian has chosen: 19291930. Vivian, sitting on a wooden chest, waits patiently. After opening the flaps, Molly lifts out a mustard-colored coat, and Vivian scowls. Mercy sake, she says. I cant believe I saved that coat. I always hated it. Molly holds the coat up, inspecting it. Its interesting, actually, sort of a military style with bold black buttons. The gray silk lining is disintegrating. Going through the pockets, she fishes out a folded piece of lined paper, almost worn away at the creases. She unfolds it to reveal a childs careful cursive in faint pencil, practicing the same sentence over and over again: Upright and do right make all right. Upright and do right make all right. Upright and do right . . . Vivian takes it from her and spreads the paper open on her knee. I remember this. Miss Larsen had the most beautiful penmanship. Your teacher? Vivian nods. Try as I might, I could never form my letters like hers. Molly looks at the perfect swoops hitting the broken line in exactly the same spot. Looks pretty good to me. You should see my scrawl. They barely teach it anymore, I hear. Yeah, everythings on computer. Molly is suddenly struck by the fact that Vivian wrote these words on this sheet of paper more than eighty years ago. Upright and do right make all right. Things have changed a lot since you were my age, huh? Vivian cocks her head. I suppose. Most of it doesnt affect me much. I still sleep in a bed. Sit in a chair. Wash dishes in a sink. Or Terry washes dishes in a sink, to be accurate, Molly thinks. I dont watch much television. You know I dont have a computer. In a lot of ways my life is just as it was twenty or even forty years ago. Thats kind of sad, Molly blurts, then immediately regrets it. But Vivian doesnt seem offended. Making a who cares? face, she says, I dont think Ive missed much. Wireless Internet, digital photographs, smartphones, Facebook, YouTube . . . Molly taps the fingers of one hand. The entire world has changed in the past decade. Not my world. But youre missing out on so much. Vivian laughs. I hardly think FaceTubewhatever that iswould improve my quality of life. Molly shakes her head. Its Facebook. And YouTube. Whatever! Vivian says breezily. I dont care. I like my quiet life. But theres a balance. Honestly, I dont know how you can just exist in thisbubble. Vivian smiles. You dont have trouble speaking your mind, do you? So shes been told. Why did you keep this coat, if you hated it? Molly asks, changing the subject. Vivian picks it up and holds it out in front of her. Thats a very good question. So should we put it in the Goodwill pile? Folding the coat in her lap, Vivian says, Ah . . . maybe. Lets see what else is in this box. Milwaukee Road Depot, Minneapolis, 1929 The train pulls into the station with a high-pitched squealing of brakes and a great gust of steam. Carmine is quiet, gaping at the buildings and wires and people outside the window, after hundreds of miles of fields and trees. We stand and begin to gather our belongings. Dutchy reaches up for our bags and sets them in the aisle. Out the window I can see Mrs. Scatcherd and Mr. Curran on the platform talking to two men in suits and ties and black fedoras, with several policemen behind them. Mr. Curran shakes their hands, then sweeps his hand toward us as we step off the train. I want to say something to Dutchy, but I cant think of what. My hands are clammy. Its a terrible kind of anticipation, not knowing what were walking into. The last time I felt this way I was in the waiting rooms at Ellis Island. We were tired, and Mam wasnt well, and we didnt know where we were going or what kind of life we would have. But now I can see all I took for granted: I had a family. I believed that whatever happened, wed be together. A policeman blows a whistle and holds his arm in the air, and we understand that were to line up. The solid weight of Carmine is in my arms, his hot breath, slightly sour and sticky from his morning milk, on my cheek. Dutchy carries our bags. Quickly, children, Mrs. Scatcherd says. In two straight lines. Thats good. Her tone is softer than usual, and I wonder if its because were around other adults or because she knows whats next. This way. We proceed behind her up a wide stone staircase, the clatter of our hard-soled shoes on the steps echoing like a drumroll. At the top of the stairs we make our way down a corridor lit by glowing gas lamps, and into the main waiting room of the stationnot as majestic as the one in Chicago, but impressive nonetheless. Its big and bright, with large, multipaned windows. Up ahead, Mrs. Scatcherds black robe billows behind her like a sail. People point and whisper, and I wonder if they know why were here. And then I spot a broadside affixed to a column. In black block letters on white papers, it reads: WANTED HOMES FOR ORPHAN CHILDREN A COMPANY OF HOMELESS CHILDREN FROM THE EAST WILL ARRIVE AT MILWAUKEE ROAD DEPOT, FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18. DISTRIBUTION WILL TAKE PLACE AT 10 A.M. THESE CHILDREN ARE OF VARIOUS AGES AND BOTH SEXES, HAVING BEEN THROWN FRIENDLESS UPON THE WORLD . . . What did I say? Dutchy says, following my glance. Pig slops. You can read? I ask with surprise, and he grins. As if someone has turned a crank in my back, I am propelled forward, one foot in front of the other. The cacophony of the station becomes a dull roar in my ears. I smell something sweetcandy apples?as we pass a vendors cart. The hair on my neck is limp, and I feel a trickle of sweat down my back. Carmine is impossibly heavy. How strange, I thinkthat I am in a place my parents have never been and will never see. How strange that I am here and they are gone. I touch the claddagh cross around my neck. The older boys no longer seem so rough. Their masks have slipped; I see fear on their faces. Some of the children are sniffling, but most are trying very hard to be quiet, to do whats expected of them. Ahead of us, Mrs. Scatcherd stands beside a large oak door, hands clasped in front of her. When we reach her, we gather around in a semicircle, the older girls holding babies and the younger children holding hands, the boys hands stuffed in their pockets. Mrs. Scatcherd bows her head. Mary, Mother of God, we beseech you to cast a benevolent eye over these children, to guide them and bless them as they make their way in the world. We are your humble servants in His name. Amen. Amen, the pious few say quickly, and the rest of us follow. Mrs. Scatcherd takes off her glasses. We have reached our destination. From here, the Lord willing, you will disperse to families who need you and want you. She clears her throat. Now remember, not everyone will find a match right away. This is to be expected, and nothing to worry about. If you do not match now you will simply board the train with Mr. Curran and me, and we will travel to another station about an hour from here. And if you do not find placement there, you will come with us to the next town. The children around me move like a skittish herd. My stomach is hollow and trembly. Mrs. Scatcherd nods. All right, Mr. Curran, are we ready? We are, Mrs. Scatcherd, he says, and leans against the large door with his shoulder, pushing it open. WERE AT THE BACK OF A LARGE, WOOD-PANELED ROOM WITH NO windows, filled with people milling about and rows of empty chairs. As Mrs. Scatcherd leads us down the center aisle toward a low stage at the front, a hush falls over the crowd, and then a swelling murmur. People in the aisle move aside to let us pass. Maybe, I think, someone here will want me. Maybe Ill have a life Ive never dared to imagine, in a bright, snug house where there is plenty to eatwarm cake and milky tea with as much sugar as I please. But I am quaking as I make my way up the stairs to the stage. We line up by height, smallest to tallest, some of us still holding babies. Though Dutchy is three years older than me, Im tall for my age, and were only separated by one boy in the line. Mr. Curran clears his throat and begins to make a speech. Looking over at him, I notice his flushed cheeks and rabbity eyes, his droopy brown mustache and bristly eyebrows, the stomach that protrudes from the bottom of his vest like a barely hidden balloon. A simple matter of paperwork, he tells the good people of Minnesota, is all that stands between you and one of the children on this stagestrong, healthy, good for farm work and helping around the house. You have the chance to save a child from destitution, poverty, and I believe Mrs. Scatcherd would agree that it is not too great an exaggeration to add sin and depravity. Mrs. Scatcherd nods. So you have the opportunity both to do a good deed and get something in return, he continues. You will be expected to feed, clothe, and educate the child until the age of eighteen, and provide a religious education as well, of course, and it is our deepest hope that you will grow to feel not only fondness for your child, but to embrace him as your own. The child you select is yours for free, he adds, on a ninety-day trial. At which point, if you so choose, you may send him back. The girl beside me makes a low noise like a dogs whine and slips her hand into mine. Its as cold and damp as the back of a toad. Dont worry, well be all right . . . I begin, but she gives me a look of such desperation that my words trail off. As we watch people line up and begin to mount the steps to the stage, I feel like one of the cows in the agricultural show my granddad took me to in Kinvara. In front of me now stands a young blond woman, slight and pale, and an earnest-looking man with a throbbing Adams apple and wearing a felt hat. The woman steps forward. May I? Excuse me? I say, not understanding. She holds out her arms. Oh. She wants Carmine. He looks at the woman before hiding his face in the crook of my neck. Hes shy, I tell her. Hello, little boy, she says. Whats your name? He refuses to lift his head. I jiggle him. The woman turns to the man and says softly, The eyes can be fixed, dont you think? and he says, I dont know. I would reckon so. Another man and woman are watching us. Shes heavyset, with a furrowed brow and a soiled apron, and hes got thin strips of hair across his bony head. What about that one? the man says, pointing at me. Dont like the look of her, the woman says with a grimace. She dont like the look of you, neither, Dutchy says, and all of us turn toward him in surprise. The boy between us shrinks back. Whatd you say? The man goes over and plants himself in front of Dutchy. Your wifes got no call to talk like that. Dutchys voice is low, but I can hear every word. You stay out of it, the man says, lifting Dutchys chin with his index finger. My wife can talk about you orphans any way she goddamn wants. Theres a rustling, a flash of black cape, and like a snake through the underbrush Mrs. Scatcherd is upon us. What is the problem here? Her voice is hushed and forceful. This boy talked back to my husband, the wife says. Mrs. Scatcherd looks at Dutchy and then at the couple. Hans isspirited, she says. He doesnt always think before he speaks. Im sorry, I didnt catch your name Barney McCallum. And this heres my wife, Eva. Mrs. Scatcherd nods. What do you have to say to Mr. McCallum, then, Hans? Dutchy looks down at his feet. I know what he wants to say. I think we all do. Apologize, he mumbles without looking up. While this is unfolding, the slim blond woman in front of me has been stroking Carmines arm with her finger, and now, still nestled against me, he is looking through his lashes at her. Sweet thing, arent you? She pokes him gently in his soft middle, and he gives her a tentative smile. The woman looks at her husband. I think hes the one. I can feel Mrs. Scatcherds eyes on us. Nice lady, I whisper in Carmines ear. She wants to be your mam. Mam, he says, his warm breath on my face. His eyes are round and shining. His name is Carmine. Reaching up, I pry his monkey arms from around my neck, clasping them in my hand. The woman smells of roseslike the lush white blooms along the lane at my grams house. She is as finely boned as a bird. She puts her hand on Carmines back and he clings to me tighter. Its all right, I start, but the words crumble in my mouth. No, no, no, Carmine says. I think I may faint. Do you need a girl to help with him? I blurt. I couldI think wildly, trying to remember what I am good atmend clothes. And cook. The woman gives me a pitying look. Oh, child, she says. I am sorry. We cant afford two. We justwe came here for a baby. Im sure youll find . . . Her voice trails off. We just want a baby to complete our family. I push back tears. Carmine feels the change in me and starts to whimper. You must go to your new mam, I tell him and peel him off me. The woman takes him awkwardly, jostling him in her arms. She isnt used to holding a baby. I reach out and tuck his leg under her arm. Thank you for taking care of him, she says. Mrs. Scatcherd herds the three of them off the stage toward a table covered with forms, Carmines dark head on the womans shoulder. ONE BY ONE, THE CHILDREN AROUND ME ARE CHOSEN. THE BOY beside me wanders away with a short, round woman who tells him its high time she has a man around the house. The dog-whine girl goes off with a stylish couple in hats. Dutchy and I are standing together talking quietly when a man approaches with skin as tanned and scuffed as old shoe leather, trailed by a sour-looking woman. The man stands in front of us for a minute, then reaches out and squeezes Dutchys arm. Whatre you doing? Dutchy says with surprise. Open your mouth. I can see that Dutchy wants to haul off and hit him, but Mr. Curran is watching us closely, and he doesnt dare. The man sticks a dirty-looking finger in his mouth. Dutchy jerks his head around. Ever work as a hay baler? the man asks. Dutchy stares straight ahead. You hear me? No. No, you didnt hear me? Dutchy looks at him. Never worked as a hay baler. Dont even know what that is. Whaddaya think? the man says to the woman. Hes a tough one, but we could use a kid this size. I reckon hell fall in line. Stepping up to Dutchy, she says, We break horses. Boys arent that different. Lets load im up, the man says. We got a drive ahead of us. Youre all set? Mr. Curran says, coming toward us with a nervous laugh. Yep. This is the one. Well, all right! If youll just follow me over here, we can sign those papers. Its just as Dutchy predicted. Coarse country people looking for a field hand. They dont even walk him down off the stage. Maybe it wont be that bad, I whisper. If he lays a hand on me . . . You can get placed somewhere else. Im labor, he says. Thats what I am. They have to send you to school. He laughs. And whatll happen if they dont? Youll make them send you. And then, in a few years Ill come and find you, he says. I have to fight to control my voice. Nobody wants me. I have to get back on the train. Hey, boy! Stop yer dallying, the man calls, clapping his hands so loudly that everyone turns to look. Dutchy walks across the stage and down the steps. Mr. Curran pumps the mans hand, pats him on the shoulder. Mrs. Scatcherd escorts the couple out the door, Dutchy trailing behind. In the doorway he turns and finds my face. And then hes gone. Its hard to believe, but its not yet noon. Two hours have passed since we pulled into the station. There are about ten adults milling around, and a half-dozen train riders leftme, a few sickly looking teenage boys, and some homely childrenundernourished, walleyed, beetle browed. Its obvious why we werent chosen. Mrs. Scatcherd mounts the stage. All right, children. The journey continues, she says. It is impossible to know what combination of factors makes a child suitable for a certain family, but to be perfectly frank, you would not want to be with a family that doesnt welcome you wholeheartedly. Sothough this may not seem like the desired outcome, I tell you that it is for the best. And if, after several more attempts, it becomes clear that . . . Her voice wavers. For now, lets just worry about our next destination. The good people of Albans, Minnesota, are waiting. Albans, Minnesota, 1929 Its early afternoon when we arrive in Albans, which, I can see as we pull up to the depot, is barely a town at all. The mayor is standing on the open-air platform, and as soon as we disembark we are herded in a ragtag line to a Grange Hall a block from the station. The brilliant blue of the morning sky has faded, as if left out too long in the sun. The air has cooled. I am no longer nervous or worried. I just want to get this over with. There are fewer people here, about fifty, but they fill the small brick building. Theres no stage, so we walk to the front and turn to face the crowd. Mr. Curran gives a less florid version of the speech he gave in Minneapolis and people begin to inch forward. They generally appear both poorer and kindlier; the women are wearing country dresses and the men seem uncomfortable in their Sunday clothes. Expecting nothing makes the whole experience easier to bear. I fully believe that I will end up on the train again, to be unloaded at the next town, paraded with the remaining children, and shuttled back on the train. Those of us who arent chosen will likely return to New York to grow up in an orphanage. And maybe that wouldnt be so bad. At least I know what to expecthard mattresses, rough sheets, strict matrons. But also friendship with other girls, three meals a day, school. I can go back to that life. I dont need to find a family here, and perhaps it will be for the best if I dont. As I am thinking this, I become aware of a woman looking at me closely. She is about my mothers age, with wavy brown hair cropped close to her head and plain, strong features. She wears a high-necked white blouse with vertical pleats, a dark paisley scarf, and a plain gray skirt. Heavy black shoes are on her feet. A large oval locket hangs on a gold chain around her neck. The man standing behind her is stout and florid, with shaggy auburn hair. The buttons of his waistcoat strain to confine his drumlike girth. The woman comes close to me. Whats your name? Niamh. Eve? No, Niamh. Its Irish, I say. How do you spell it? N-I-A-M-H. She looks back at the man, who breaks into a grin. Fresh off the boat, he says. Aint that right, missy? Well, not I begin, but the man interrupts me. Where you from? County Galway. Ah, right. He nods, and my heart jumps. He knows it! My peoplere from County Cork. Came over long ago, during the famine. These two are a peculiar pairshe circumspect and reserved, he bouncing on his toes, humming with energy. The name would have to change, she says to her husband. Whatever you want, mdear. She cocks her head at me. How old are you? Nine, maam. Can you sew? I nod. Do you know how to cross-stitch? Hem? Can you do backstitching by hand? Fairly well. I learned stitches sitting in our apartment on Elizabeth Street, helping Mam when she took in extra work darning and mending and the occasional full dress from a bolt of cloth. Much of her work came from the sisters Rosenblum downstairs, who did fine finish work and gladly passed along to Mam the more tedious tasks. I stood beside her as she traced patterns in chalk on chambray and calico, and I learned to make the wide simple chain stitches to guide the emerging shape of the garment. Who taught you? My mam. Where is she now? Passed away. And your father? Im an orphan. My words hang in the air. The woman nods at the man, who puts his hand on her back and guides her to the side of the room. I watch as they talk. He shakes his floppy head and rubs his belly. She touches the bodice of her blouse with a flat hand, gestures toward me. He stoops, hands on his belt, and bends close to whisper in her ear. She looks me up and down. Then they come back over. I am Mrs. Byrne, she says. My husband works as a womens clothier, and we employ several local women to make garments to order. We are looking for a girl who is good with a needle. This is so different from what I was expecting that I dont know what to say. I will be honest with you. We do not have any children and have no interest in being surrogate parents. But if you are respectful and hardworking, you will be treated fairly. I nod. The woman smiles, her features shifting. For the first time, she seems almost friendly. Good. She shakes my hand. Well sign the papers, then. The hovering Mr. Curran descends, and we are led to the table where the necessary forms are signed and dated. I think youll find that Niamh is mature for her years, Mrs. Scatcherd tells them. If she is brought up in a strict, God-fearing household, there is no reason to believe she cant become a woman of substance. Taking me aside, she whispers, You are lucky to have found a home. Do not disappoint me, or the Society. I dont know if youll get another chance. Mr. Byrne hoists my brown suitcase onto his shoulder. I follow him and his wife out of the Grange Hall, down the quiet street, and around the corner to where their black Model A is parked in front of a modest storefront with hand-lettered signs advertising sales: NORWEGIAN SARDINES IN OIL 15 CENTS, ROUND STEAK, 36 CENTS/LB. Wind rustles through the tall sparse trees that line the road. After laying my suitcase flat in the trunk, Mr. Byrne opens the rear door for me. The interior of the car is black, the leather seats cool and slippery. I feel very small in the backseat. The Byrnes take their places in the front and dont glance back. Mr. Byrne reaches over and touches his wifes shoulder, and she smiles at him. With a loud rumble the car springs to life and we set off. The Byrnes are having an animated conversation in the front seat, but I cant hear a word. SEVERAL MINUTES LATER, MR. BYRNE PULLS INTO THE DRIVEWAY of a modest beige stucco house with brown trim. As soon as he turns off the car, Mrs. Byrne looks back at me and says, Weve decided on Dorothy. You like that name? Mr. Byrne asks. For goodness sake, Raymond, it doesnt matter what she thinks, Mrs. Byrne snaps as she opens her car door. Dorothy is our choice, and Dorothy she will be. I turn the name over in my mind: Dorothy. All right. Im Dorothy now. The stucco is chipped and paint is peeling off the trim. But the windows are sparkling clean, and the lawn is short and neat. A domed planter of rust-colored mums sits on either side of the steps. One of your tasks will be to sweep the front porch, steps, and walkway every day until the snow comes. Rain or shine, Mrs. Byrne says as I follow her to the front door. You will find the dustpan and broom inside the hall closet on the left. She turns around to face me, and I nearly bump into her. Are you paying attention? I dont like to repeat myself. Yes, Mrs. Byrne. Call me maam. Maam will suffice. Yes, maam. The small foyer is gloomy and dark. Shadows from the white crocheted curtains on every window cast lacy shapes on the floor. To the left, through a slightly open door, I glimpse the red-flocked wallpaper and mahogany table and chairs of a dining room. Mrs. Byrne pushes a button on the wall and the overhead light springs on as Mr. Byrne comes through the front door, having retrieved my bag from the truck. Ready? she says. Mrs. Byrne opens the door to the right onto a room that, to my surprise, is full of people. Albans, Minnesota, 1929 Two women in white blouses sit in front of black sewing machines with the word Singer spelled out in gold along the body, pumping one foot on the iron lattice step that moves the needle up and down. They dont look up as we enter, just keep watching the needle, tucking the thread under the foot and pressing the fabric flat. A round young woman with frizzy brown hair kneels on the floor in front of a cloth mannequin, stitching tiny pearls onto a bodice. A gray-haired woman sits on a brown chair, perfectly erect, hemming a calico skirt. And a girl who appears only a few years older than me is cutting a pattern out of thin paper on a table. On the wall above her head is a framed needlepoint that says, in tiny black-and-yellow cross-stitching, KEEP ME BUSY AS A BEE. Fanny, can you stop a minute? Mrs. Byrne says, touching the gray-haired woman on the shoulder. Tell the others. Break, the old woman says. They all look up, but the only one who changes position is the girl, who puts down her shears. Mrs. Byrne looks around the room, leading with her chin. As you know, we have needed extra help for quite some time, and I am pleased to report that we have found it. This is Dorothy. She lifts her hand in my direction. Dorothy, say hello to Bernicethe woman with frizzy hairJoan and Sallythe women at the SingersFannythe only one who smiles at meand Mary. Mary, she says to the young girl, you will help Dorothy get acquainted with her surroundings. She can do some of your scut work and free you up for other things. And, Fanny, you will oversee. As always. Yes, maam, Fanny says. Marys mouth puckers, and she gives me a hard look. Well, then, Mrs. Byrne says. Lets get back to work. Dorothy, your suitcase is in the foyer. Well discuss sleeping arrangements at supper. She turns to leave, then adds, We keep strict hours for mealtimes. Breakfast at eight, lunch at twelve, supper at six. There is no snacking between meals. Self-discipline is one of the most important qualities a young lady can possess. When Mrs. Byrne leaves the room, Mary jerks her head at me and says, Come on, hurry up. You think I got all day? Obediently I go over and stand behind her. What do you know about stitching? I used to help my mam with the mending. Have you ever used a sewing machine? No. She frowns. Does Mrs. Byrne know that? She didnt ask. Mary sighs, clearly annoyed. I didnt expect to have to teach the basics. Im a fast learner. I hope so. Mary holds up a flimsy sheet of tissue paper. This is a pattern. Ever heard of it before? I nod and Mary continues, describing the various features of the work Ill be doing. The next few hours are spent doing tasks no one else wants to dosnipping stitches, basting, sweeping up, collecting pins and putting them in pincushions. I keep pricking myself and have to be careful not to get blood on the cloth. Throughout the afternoon the women pass the time with small talk and occasional humming. But mostly they are quiet. After a while I say, Excuse me, I need to use the lavatory. Can you tell me where it is? Fanny looks up. Reckon Ill take her. My fingers need a rest. Getting up with some difficulty, she motions toward the door. I follow her down the hall into a spare and spotless kitchen and out the back door. This is our privy. Dont ever let Mrs. Byrne catch you using the one in the house. She pronounces catch kitch. At the back of the yard, tufted with grass like sparse hair on a balding head, is a weathered gray shed with a slit cut out of the door. Fanny nods toward it. Ill wait. You dont have to. The longer youre in there, the longer my fingers get a break. The shed is drafty, and I can see a sliver of daylight through the slit. A black toilet seat, worn through to wood in some places, is set in the middle of a rough-hewn bench. Strips of newspaper hang on a roll on the wall. I remember the privy behind our cottage in Kinvara, so the smell doesnt shock me, though the seat is cold. What will it be like out here in a snowstorm? Like this, I suppose, only worse. When Im finished, I open the door, pulling down my dress. Youre pitiful thin, Fanny says. Ill bet youre hungry. Hongry. Shes right. My stomach feels like a cavern. A little, I admit. Fannys face is creased and puckered, but her eyes are bright. I cant tell if shes seventy or a hundred. Shes wearing a pretty purple flowered dress with a gathered bodice, and I wonder if she made it herself. Mrs. Byrne dont give us much for lunch, but its prolly moren you had. She reaches into the side pocket of her dress and pulls out a small shiny apple. I always save something for later, case I need it. She locks up the refrigerator between meals. No, I say. Oh yes she does. Says she dont want us rooting around in there without her permission. But I usually manage to save something. She hands me the apple. I cant Go ahead. You got to learn to take what people are willing to give. The apple smells so fresh and sweet it makes my mouth water. You best eat it here, before we go back in. Fanny looks at the door to the house, then glances up at the second-floor windows. Whynt you take it back in the privy. As unappetizing as this sounds, I am so hungry I dont care. I step back inside the little shed and devour the apple down to the core. Juice runs down my chin, and I wipe it with the back of my hand. My da used to eat the apple core and allwhere all the nutrients are. Its plain ignorant to throw it out, hed say. But to me the hard cartilage is like eating the bones of a fish. When I open the door, Fanny strokes her chin. I look at her, puzzled. Evidence, she says, and I wipe my sticky jaw. Mary scowls when I step back into the sewing room. She shoves a pile of cloth at me and says, Pin these. I spend the next hour pinning edge to edge as carefully as I can, but each time I put a completed one down she grabs it, inspects it hastily, and flings it back at me. Its a sloppy mess. Do it again. But Dont argue. You should be ashamed of this work. The other women look up and silently return to their sewing. I pull out the pins with shaking hands. Then I slowly repin the cloth, measuring an inch apart with a metal sewing gauge. On the mantelpiece an ornate gold clock with a domed glass front ticks loudly. I hold my breath as Mary inspects my work. This has some irregularity, she says finally, holding it up. Whats wrong with it? Its uneven. She wont look me in the eye. Maybe youre just . . . Her voice trails off. What? Maybe you arent cut out for this kind of work. My bottom lip trembles, and I press my lips together hard. I keep thinking someonemaybe Fanny?will step in, but no one does. I learned how to sew from my mother. Youre not mending a rip in your fathers trousers. People are paying good money I know how to sew, I blurt. Maybe better than you. Mary gapes at me. You . . . you are nothing, she sputters. Dont even have aa family! My ears are buzzing. The only thing I can think to say is, And you dont have any manners. I stand up and leave the room, pulling the door shut behind me. In the dark hall, I contemplate my options. I could run away, but where would I go? After a moment the door opens, and Fanny slips out. Goodness, child, she whispers. Why you have to be so mouthy? That girl is mean. Whatd I do to her? Fanny puts a hand on my arm. Her fingers are rough, calloused. It dont do you any good to squabble. But my pins were straight. She sighs. Marys only hurting herself by making you do the work over. Shes paid by the piece, so I dont know what she thinks shes doing. But youwell, let me ask you this. Are they paying you? Paying me? Fanny! a voice rings out above us. We look up to see Mrs. Byrne at the top of the stairs. Her face is flushed. What on earth is going on? I cant tell if she heard what we were saying. Nothing to concern you, maam, Fanny says quickly. A little spat between the girls is all. Over what? Honest, maam, I dont think you want to know. Oh, but I do. Fanny gazes at me and shakes her head. Well . . . You seen that boy who delivers the afternoon paper? They got to arguing over whether he has a sweetheart. You know how girls can be. I exhale slowly. The foolishness, Fanny, Mrs. Byrne says. I didnt want to tell you. You two get back in there. Dorothy, I dont want to hear another word of this nonsense, you understand? Yes, maam. There is work to be done. Yes, maam. Fanny opens the door and walks ahead of me into the sewing room. Mary and I dont speak for the rest of the afternoon. That night at supper Mrs. Byrne serves chopped beef, potato salad stained pink by beets, and rubbery cabbage. Mr. Byrne chews noisily. I can hear every click of his jaw. I know to put my napkin in my lapGram taught me that. I know how to use a knife and fork. Though the beef tastes as dry and flavorless as cardboard, Im so ravenous that its all I can do not to shove it into my mouth. Small, ladylike bites, Gram said. After a few minutes, Mrs. Byrne puts down her fork and says, Dorothy, its time to discuss the rules of the house. As you already know, you are to use the privy in the back. Once a week, on Sunday evenings, I will draw a bath for you in the tub in the washroom off the kitchen. Sunday is also washday, which youll be expected to help with. Bedtime is at nine P.M., with lights out. Theres a pallet for you in the hall closet. Youll bring it out in the evenings and roll it up neatly in the morning, before the girls arrive at eight thirty. Ill be sleepingin the hallway? I ask with surprise. Mercy, you dont expect to sleep on the second floor with us, do you? she says with a laugh. Heaven forbid. When dinner is over, Mr. Byrne announces that he is going for a stroll. And I have work to do, Mrs. Byrne says. Dorothy, you will clean up the dishes. Pay careful attention to where things belong. The best way for you to learn our ways is to observe closely, and teach yourself. Where do we keep the wooden spoons? The juice glasses? It should be a fun game for you. She turns to leave. You are not to disturb Mr. Byrne and me after dinner. You will put yourself to bed at the appropriate time and turn out your light. With a curt smile, she says, We expect to have a positive experience with you. Dont do anything to threaten our trust. I look around at the dishes piled in the sink, the strips of beet peel staining a wooden cutting board, a saucepan half full of translucent cabbage, a roasting pan charred and waxed with grease. Glancing at the door to be sure the Byrnes are gone, I spear a hunk of the flavorless cabbage on a fork and swallow it greedily, barely chewing. I eat the rest of the cabbage this way, listening for Mrs. Byrnes foot on the stairs. As I wash the dishes I look out the window over the sink at the yard behind the house, murky now in the fading evening light; there are a few spidery trees, their thin trunks flayed into branches. By the time Ive finished scrubbing the roasting pan, the sky is dark and the yard has faded from view. The clock above the stove says 7:30. I pour myself a glass of water from the kitchen faucet and sit at the table. It feels too early to go to bed, but I dont know what else to do. I dont have a book to read, and I havent seen any in the house. We didnt have many books in the apartment on Elizabeth Street, either, but the twins were always getting old papers from the newsies. In school it was poems I liked bestWordsworth and Keats and Shelley. Our teacher made us memorize the words to Ode on a Grecian Urn, and alone in the kitchen now I close my eyes and whisper Thou still unravishd bride of quietness, Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time . . . but thats all I can remember. I need to look on the bright side, as Gram always said. Its not so bad here. The house is austere, but not uncomfortable. The light above the kitchen table is warm and cheery. The Byrnes dont want to treat me like a child, but Im not so sure I want to be treated like one. Work that keeps my hands and mind busy is probably just what I need. And soon I will go to school. I think of my own home on Elizabeth Streetso different, but truthfully no better than this. Mam in bed in midafternoon, in the sweltering heat, lying in her room past dark, with the boys whining for food and Maisie sobbing and me thinking Ill go mad with the heat and the hunger and the noise. Da up and goneat work, he said, though the money he brought home was less each week, and hed stumble in after midnight reeking of hops. Wed hear him tramping up the stairs, belting out the Irish national anthemWere children of a fighting race, / That never yet has known disgrace, / And as we march, the foe to face, / Well chant a soldiers songthen bursting into the apartment, to Mams shushing and scolding. Hed stand silhouetted in the grainy light of the bedroom, and though all of us were supposed to be asleep, and pretended to be, we were rapt, awed by his cheer and bravado. In the hall closet I find my suitcase and a pile of bedding. I unroll a horsehair pallet and place a thin yellowed pillow at the top. Theres a white sheet, which I spread on the mattress and tuck around the edges, and a moth-eaten quilt. Before going to bed I open the back door and make my way to the privy. The light from the kitchen window casts a dull glow for about five feet, and then its dark. The grass is brittle underfoot. I know my way, but its different at night, the outline of the shed barely visible ahead. I look up into the starless sky. My heart pounds. This silent blackness scares me more than nighttime in the city, with its noise and light. I open the latch and go inside the shed. Afterward, shaking, I pull my knickers up and flee, the door knocking behind me as I run across the yard and up the three steps to the kitchen. I lock the door as instructed and lean against it, panting. And then I notice the padlock on the refrigerator. When did that happen? Mr. or Mrs. Byrne must have come downstairs while I was outside. Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 Sometime in the second week it becomes clear to Molly that cleaning out the attic means taking things out, fretting over them for a few minutes, and putting them back where they were, in a slightly neater stack. Out of the two dozen boxes she and Vivian have been through so far, only a short pile of musty books and some yellowed linen have been deemed too ruined to keep. I dont think Im helping you much, Molly says. Well, thats true, Vivian says. But Im helping you, arent I? So you came up with a fake project as a favor to me? Or, I suppose, Terry? Molly says, playing along. Doing my civic duty. Youre very noble. Sitting on the floor of the attic, Molly lifts the pieces out of a cedar chest one by one, Vivian perched on a wooden chair beside her. Brown wool gloves. A green velvet dress with a wide ribbon sash. An off-white cardigan. Anne of Green Gables. Hand me that book, Vivian says. She takes the hardbound green volume, with gold lettering and a line drawing of a girl with abundant red hair in a chignon on the front, and opens it. Ah, yes, I remember, she says. I was almost exactly the heroines age when I read this for the first time. A teacher gave it to memy favorite teacher. You know, Miss Larsen. She leafs through the book slowly, stopping at a page here and there. Anne talks so much, doesnt she? I was much shyer than that. She looks up. What about you? Sorry, I havent read it, Molly says. No, no. I mean, were you shy as a girl? What am I saying, youre still a girl. But I mean when you were young? Not exactly shy. I wasquiet. Circumspect, Vivian says. Watchful. Molly turns these words over in her mind. Circumspect? Watchful? Is she? There was a time after her father died and after she was taken away, or her mother was taken awayits hard to know which came first, or if they happened at the same timethat she stopped talking altogether. Everyone was talking at and about her, but nobody asked her opinion, or listened when she gave it. So she stopped trying. It was during this period that she would wake in the night and get out of bed to go to her parents room, only to realize, standing in the hall, that she had no parents. Well, youre not exactly effervescent now, are you? Vivian says. But I saw you outside earlier when Jack dropped you off, and your face wasVivian lifts her knobby hands, splaying her fingersall lit up. You were talking up a storm. Were you spying on me? Of course! How else am I going to find out anything about you? Molly has been pulling things out of the chest and putting them in pilesclothes, books, knickknacks wrapped in old newspaper. But now she sits back on her heels and looks at Vivian. You are funny, she says. Ive been called many things in my life, my dear, but Im not sure anyone has ever called me funny. Ill bet they have. Behind my back, perhaps. Vivian closes the book. You strike me as a reader. Am I right? Molly shrugs. The reading part of her feels private, between her and the characters in a book. So whats your favorite novel? I dunno. I dont have one. Oh, I think you probably do. Youre the type. Whats that supposed to mean? Vivian spreads a hand across her chest, her pink-tinged fingernails as delicate seeming as a babys. I can tell that you feel things. Deeply. Molly makes a face. Vivian presses the book into Mollys hand. No doubt youll find this old-fashioned and sentimental, but I want you to have it. Youre giving it to me? Why not? To her surprise Molly feels a lump in her throat. She swallows, pushing it down. How ridiculousan old lady gives her a moldy book she has no use for, and she chokes up. She must be getting her period. She fights to keep her expression neutral. Well, thanks, she says nonchalantly. But does this mean I have to read it? Absolutely. There will be a quiz, Vivian says. For a while they work in near silence, Molly holding up an itema sky-blue cardigan with stained and yellowed flowers, a brown dress with several missing buttons, a periwinkle scarf and one matching mittenand Vivian sighing, I suppose theres no reason to keep that, then inevitably adding, Lets put it in the maybe pile. At one point, apropos of nothing, Vivian says, So where is that mother of yours, anyway? Molly has gotten used to this kind of non sequitur. Vivian tends to pick up discussions they started a few days earlier right where they left off, as if its perfectly natural to do so. Oh, who knows. Shes just opened a box that, to her delight, looks easy to dispose ofdozens of dusty store ledgers from the 1940s and 50s. Surely Vivian has no reason to hang on to them. These can go, dont you think? she says, holding up a slim black book. Vivian takes it from her and flips through it. Well . . . Her voice trails off. She looks up. Have you looked for her? No. Why not? Molly gives Vivian a sharp look. Shes not used to people asking such blunt questionsasking any questions at all, really. The only other person who speaks this bluntly to her is Lori the social worker, and she already knows the details of her story. (And anyway, Lori doesnt ask why questions. Shes only interested in cause, effect, and a lecture.) But Molly cant snap at Vivian, who has, after all, given her a get-out-of-jail-free card. If free means fifty hours of pointed questions. She brushes the hair out of her eyes. I havent looked for her because I dont care. Really. Really. Youre not curious at all. Nope. Im not sure I believe that. Molly shrugs. Hmm. Because actually, you seem kind of . . . angry. Im not angry. I just dont care. Molly lifts a stack of ledgers out of the box and thumps it on the floor. Can we recycle these? Vivian pats her hand. I think maybe Ill hang on to this box, she says, as if she hasnt said that about everything theyve gone through so far. SHES ALL UP IN MY BUSINESS! MOLLY SAYS, BURYING HER FACE IN Jacks neck. Theyre in his Saturn, and shes straddling him in the pushed-back front seat. Laughing, his stubble rough against her cheek, he says, What do you mean? He slips his hands under her shirt and strokes her ribs with his fingers. That tickles, she says, squirming. I like it when you move like that. She kisses his neck, the dark patch on his chin, the corner of his lip, a thick eyebrow, and he pulls her closer, running his hands up her sides and under her small breasts, cupping them. I dont know a damn thing about her lifenot that I care! But she expects me to tell her everything about mine. Oh, come on, what can it hurt? If she knows a little more about you, maybe shes nicer to you. Maybe the hours go a little faster. Shes probably lonely. Just wants someone to talk to. Molly screws up her face. Try a little tenderness, Jack croons. She sighs. I dont need to entertain her with stories about my shitty life. We cant all be rich as hell and live in a mansion. He kisses her shoulder. So turn it around. Ask her questions. Do I care? She sighs, tracing her finger along his ear until he turns his head and bites it, takes it in his mouth. He reaches down and grabs the lever, and the seat falls back with a jolt. Molly lands sloppily on top of him and they both start to laugh. Sliding over to make room for her in the bucket seat, Jack says, Just do what it takes to get those hours over with, right? Turning sideways, he runs his fingers along the waistband of her black leggings. If you cant stick it out, I might have to figure out a way to go to juvie with you. And that would suck for both of us. Doesnt sound so bad to me. Pushing her waistband down over her hip, he says, Thats what Im looking for. He traces the inky black lines of the turtle on her hip. Its shell is a pointy oval, bisected at an angle, like a shield with a daisy on one side and a tribal flourish on the other, its flippers extending in pointy arcs. Whats this little guys name again? It doesnt have a name. Leaning down and kissing her hip, he says, Im going to call him Carlos. Why? He looks like a Carlos. Right? See his little head? Hes kind of wagging it, like Whats up? Hey, Carlos, he says in a Dominican-accented falsetto, tapping the turtle with his index finger. Whats happening, man? Its not a Carlos. Its an Indian symbol, she says, a little irritated, pushing his hand away. Oh, come on, admit ityou were drunk and got this random-ass turtle. It could just as easily have been a heart dripping blood or some fake Chinese words. Thats not true! Turtles mean something very specific in my culture. Oh yeah, warrior princess? he says. Like what? Turtles carry their homes on their backs. Running her finger over the tattoo, she tells him what her dad told her: Theyre exposed and hidden at the same time. Theyre a symbol of strength and perseverance. Thats very deep. You know why? Because Im very deep. Oh yeah? Yeah, she says, kissing him on the mouth. Actually, I did it because when we lived on Indian Island we had this turtle named Shelly. Hah, Shelly. I get it. Yup. Anyway, I dont know what happened to it. Jack curls his hand around her hip bone. Im sure its fine, he says. Dont turtles live, like, a hundred years? Not in a tank with no one to feed them they dont. He doesnt say anything, just puts his arm around her shoulder and kisses her hair. She settles in beside him on the bucket seat. The windshield is fogged and the night is dark, and in Jacks hard-domed little Saturn she feels cocooned, protected. Yeah, thats right. Like a turtle in a shell. Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 No one comes to the door when Molly rings the buzzer. The house is quiet. She looks at her phone: 9:45 A.M. Its a teacher enrichment day and theres no school, so she figured, why not knock out some hours? Molly rubs her arms and tries to decide what to do. Its an unseasonably cool and misty morning, and she forgot to bring a sweater. She took the Island Explorer, the free bus that makes a continuous loop of the island, and got off at the closest stop to Vivians, about a ten-minute walk. If no ones home, shell have to go back to the stop and wait for the next bus, which could take a while. But despite the goose bumps, Molly has always liked days like this. The stark gray sky and bare tree limbs feel more suited to her than the uncomplicated promise of sunny spring days. In the little notebook she carries around, Molly has carefully recorded her time: four hours one day, two the next. Twenty-three so far. She made an Excel spreadsheet on her laptop that lays it all out. Jack would laugh if he knew, but shes been in the system long enough to understand that it all comes down to documentation. Get your papers in order, with the right signatures and record keeping, and the charges will be dropped, money released, whatever. If youre disorganized, you risk losing everything. Molly figures she can kill at least five hours today. Thatll be twenty-eight, and shell be more than half finished. She rings the bell again, cups her hands against the glass to peer into the dim hallway. Trying the doorknob, she finds that it turns and the door opens. Hello? she says as she steps inside, and, when she gets no response, tries again, a bit louder, as she walks down the hall. Yesterday, before she left, Molly told Vivian that shed be coming early today, but she hadnt given a time. Now, standing in the living room with the shades drawn, she wonders if she should leave. The old house is full of noises. Its pine floors creak, windowpanes rattle, flies buzz near the ceiling, curtains flap. Without the distraction of human voices, Molly imagines she can hear sounds in other rooms: bedsprings groaning, faucets dripping, fluorescent lights humming, pull chains rattling. She takes a moment to look aroundat the ornate mantelpiece above the fireplace, the decorated oak moldings and brass chandelier. Out of the four large windows facing the water she can see the sine curve of the coastline, the serrated firs in the distance, the glittery amethyst sea. The room smells of old books and last nights fire and, faintly, something savory from the kitchenits Friday; Terry must be cooking for the weekend. Molly is gazing at the old hardcovers on the tall bookshelves when the door to the kitchen opens and Terry bustles in. Molly turns. Hi there. Ack! Terry shrieks, clutching the rag shes holding to her chest. You scared the hell out of me! What are you doing here? Umm, well, Molly stammers, beginning to wonder the same thing, I rang the buzzer a few times and then I just let myself in. Vivian knew you were coming? Did she? Im not sure that we settled on an exact Terry narrows her eyes and frowns. You cant just show up when you feel like it. Shes not available any old time. I know, Molly says, her face warming. Im sorry. Vivian would never have agreed to start this early. She has a routine. Gets up at eight or nine, comes downstairs at ten. I thought old people got up early, Molly mumbles. Not all old people. Terry puts her hands on her hips. But thats not the point. You broke in. Well, I didnt Sighing, Terry says, Jack may have told you I wasnt crazy about this idea. About you doing your hours this way. Molly nods. Here comes the lecture. He went out on a limb for you, dont ask me why. I know, and I appreciate it. Molly is aware that its when shes defensive that she gets in trouble. But she cant resist saying, And I hope Im proving worthy of that trust. Not by showing up unannounced like this, youre not. All right, she deserved that. What was it the teacher in her Legal Issues class said the other day? Never bring up a point you dont have an answer for. And another thing, Terry continues. I was in the attic this morning. I cant tell what youre doing up there. Molly bounces on the balls of her feet, pissed that shes being called out for this thing she cant control and even more pissed at herself for not convincing Vivian to get rid of things. Of course it looks to Terry like Molly is just twiddling her thumbs, letting the time slide like a government worker punching a clock. Vivian doesnt want to get rid of anything, she says. Im cleaning out the boxes and labeling them. Let me give you some advice, Terry says. Vivian is torn between her heartand here she again holds the wadded-up rag to her heartand her head. As if Molly might not make the connection, she moves the rag to her head. Letting go of her stuff is like saying good-bye to her life. And thats tough for anybody to do. So your job is to make her. Because I promise you this: I will not be happy if you spend fifty hours up there shuffling things around with nothing to show for it. I love Jack, but . . . She shakes her head. Honestly, enough is enough. At this point Terry seems to be talking to herself, or possibly to Jack, and theres little Molly can do but bite her lip and nod to show she gets it. After Terry grudgingly allows that it might actually be a good idea to get going earlier today, and that if Vivian doesnt show up in half an hour maybe shell go up and rouse her, she tells Molly to make herself at home; she has work to do. Youve got something to occupy yourself with, right? she says before heading back to the kitchen. The book Vivian gave Molly is in her backpack. She hasnt bothered to crack it yet, mainly because it seems like homework for a job thats already punishment, but also because shes rereading Jane Eyre for English class (ironically, the teacher, Mrs. Tate, handed out school-issued copies the week after Molly tried to pilfer it) and that book is huge. Its always a shock to the system to reenter it; just to read a chapter she finds she has to slow down her breathing and go into a trance, like a hibernating bear. All her classmates are complaining about itBront?s protracted digressions about human nature, the subplots about Janes friends at Lowood School, the long-winded, unrealistic dialogue. Why cant she just tell the freaking story? Tyler Baldwin grumbled in class. I fall asleep every time I start to read it. Whats that called, narcolopsy? This complaint evinced a chorus of agreement, but Molly was silent. And Mrs. Tateon alert, no doubt, for the slightest spark in the damp woodpile of her classnoticed. So what do you think, Molly? Molly shrugged, not wanting to appear overeager. I like the book. What do you like about it? I dont know. I just like it. Whats your favorite part? Feeling the eyes of the class on her, Molly shrank a little in her chair. I dont know. Its just a boring romance novel, Tyler said. No, it isnt, she blurted. Why not? Mrs. Tate pressed. Because . . . She thought for a moment. Janes kind of an outlaw. Shes passionate and determined and says exactly what she thinks. Where do you get that? Because Im definitely not feeling it, Tyler said. Okay, welllike this line, Molly said. Riffling through the book, she found the scene she was thinking of. I assured him I was naturally hardvery flinty, and that he would often find me so; and that, moreover, I was determined to show him divers rugged points in my character . . . he should know fully what sort of a bargain he had made, while there was yet time to rescind it. Mrs. Tate raised her eyebrows and smiled. Sounds like someone I know. Now, sitting alone in a red wingback chair, waiting for Vivian to come down, Molly takes out Anne of Green Gables. She opens to the first page: Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place . . . Its clearly a book intended for young girls, and at first Molly isnt sure she can relate. But as she reads she finds herself caught up in the story. The sun moves higher in the sky; she has to tilt the book out of the glare and then, after several minutes, switch to the other wingback so she doesnt have to squint. After an hour or so, she hears the door to the hall open, and she looks up. Vivian comes into the room, glances around, focuses on Molly, and smiles, seemingly unsurprised to see her. Bright and early! she says. I like your enthusiasm. Maybe Ill let you empty out a box today. Or two, if youre lucky. Albans, Minnesota, 1929 On Monday morning I get up early and wash my face in the kitchen sink before Mr. and Mrs. Byrne are up, then braid my hair carefully and attach two ribbons I found in the scrap pile in the sewing room. I put on my cleanest dress and the pinafore, which I hung on a branch by the side of the house to dry after we did the washing on Sunday. At breakfastlumpy oats with no sugarwhen I ask how to get to school and what time Im expected to be there, Mrs. Byrne looks at her husband and then back at me. She pulls her dark paisley scarf tight around her shoulders. Dorothy, Mr. Byrne and I feel that you are not ready for school. The oats taste like congealed animal fat in my mouth. I look at Mr. Byrne, who is bending to tie his shoelaces. His frizzy curls flop over his forehead, hiding his face. What do you mean? I ask. The Childrens Aid Mrs. Byrne clasps her hands together and gives me a tight-lipped smile. You are no longer a ward of the Childrens Aid Society, are you? We are the ones to determine whats best for you now. My heart skips. But Im supposed to go. Well see how you progress over the next few weeks, but for now we think it best for you to take some time to adjust to your new home. I amadjusted, I say, warmth rising to my cheeks. Ive done everything youve asked of me. If youre concerned I wont have time to do the sewing . . . Mrs. Byrne fixes me with a steady eye, and my voice falters. School has been in session for more than a month, she says. You are impossibly behind, with no chance of catching up this year. And Lord knows what your schooling was like in the slum. My skin prickles. Even Mr. Byrne is startled by this. Now, now, Lois, he says under his breath. I wasnt in aslum. I choke out the word. And then, because she hasnt asked, because neither of them has asked, I add, I was in the fourth grade. My teacher was Miss Uhrig. I was in the Chorus, and we performed an operetta, Polished Pebbles. They both look at me. I like school, I say. Mrs. Byrne gets up and starts to stack our dishes. She takes my plate even though I havent finished my toast. Her actions are jerky, and the silverware clanks against the china. She runs water in the sink and dumps the plates and utensils into it with a loud clatter. Then she turns around, wiping her hands on her apron. You insolent girl. I dont want to hear another word. We are the ones who decide whats best for you. Is that clear? And thats the end of it. The subject of school doesnt come up again. SEVERAL TIMES A DAY MRS. BYRNE MATERIALIZES IN THE SEWING room like a phantom, but she never picks up a needle. Her duties, as far as I can see, consist of keeping track of orders, handing out assignments to Fanny, who then doles them out to us, and collecting the finished garments. She asks Fanny for progress reports, all the while scanning the room to be sure the rest of us are hard at work. I am full of questions for the Byrnes that Im afraid to ask. What is Mr. Byrnes business, exactly? What does he do with the clothes the women make? (I could say we make, but the work I do, basting and hemming, is like peeling potatoes and calling yourself a cook.) Where does Mrs. Byrne go all day, and what does she do with her time? I can hear her upstairs now and then, but its impossible to know what shes up to. Mrs. Byrne has many rules. She scolds me in front of the other girls for minor infractions and mistakesnot folding my bed linen as tightly as I should have or leaving the door to the kitchen ajar. All doors in the house are supposed to be shut at all times, unless youre entering or leaving. The way the house is closed offthe door to the sewing room, the doors to the kitchen and dining room, even the door at the top of the stairsmakes it a forbidding and mysterious place. At night, on my pallet in that dark hall at the foot of the stairs, rubbing my feet together for warmth, I am frightened. Ive never been alone like this. Even at the Childrens Aid Society, in my iron bed on the ward, I was surrounded by other girls. Im not allowed to help in the kitchenI think Mrs. Byrne is afraid I might steal food. And, indeed, like Fanny, I have taken to slipping a slice of bread or an apple into my pocket. The food Mrs. Byrne makes is bland and unappealingsoft gray peas from a can, starchy boiled potatoes, watery stewsand theres never enough of it. I cant tell if Mr. Byrne really doesnt notice how dreadful the food is, or whether he doesnt careor if his mind is simply elsewhere. When Mrs. Byrne isnt around, Mr. Byrne is friendly. He likes to talk with me about Ireland. His own family, he tells me, is from Sallybrook, near the east coast. His uncle and cousins were Republicans in the War of Independence; they fought with Michael Collins and were there at the Four Courts building in Dublin in April of 1922, when the Brits stormed the building and killed the insurgents, and they were there when Collins was assassinated a few months later, near Cork. Collins was the greatest hero Ireland ever had, dont you know? Yes, I nod. I know. But Im skeptical his cousins were there. My da used to say every Irishman you meet in America swears to have a relative who fought alongside Michael Collins. My da loved Michael Collins. He sang all the revolutionary songs, usually loudly and out of tune, until Mam would tell him to be quiet, that the babies were sleeping. He told me lots of dramatic storiesabout the Kilmainham jail in Dublin, for instance, where one of the leaders of the 1916 uprising, Joseph Plunkett, married his sweetheart Grace Gifford in the tiny chapel just hours before being executed by firing squad. Fifteen were executed in all that day, even James Connolly, who was too ill to stand, so they strapped him to a chair and carried him out into the courtyard and riddled his body with bullets. Riddled his body with bulletsmy da talked like that. Mam was always shushing him, but he waved her off. Its important they know this, he said. Its their history! We might be over here now, but by God, our people are over there. Mam had her reasons for wanting to forget. It was the 1922 treaty, leading to the formation of the Free State, that pushed us out of Kinvara, she said. The Crown Forces, determined to crush the rebels, raided towns in County Galway and blew up railway lines. The economy was in ruins. Little work was to be had. My da couldnt find a job. Well, it was that, she said, and the drink. You could be my daughter, you know, Mr. Byrne tells me. Your nameDorothy . . . we always said wed give to our own child someday, but alas it didnt come to pass. And here you are, red hair and all. I keep forgetting to answer to Dorothy. But in a way Im glad to have a new identity. It makes it easier to let go of so much else. Im not the same Niamh who left her gram and aunties and uncles in Kinvara and came across the ocean on the Agnes Pauline, who lived with her family on Elizabeth Street. No, I am Dorothy now. DOROTHY, WE NEED TO TALK, MRS. BYRNE SAYS AT DINNER ONE evening. I glance at Mr. Byrne, who is studiously buttering a baked potato. Mary says that you are nothow should I put this?a particularly quick learner. She says that you seemresistant? Defiant? Shes not sure which. Its not true. Mrs. Byrnes eyes blaze. Listen closely. If it were up to me, I would contact the committee immediately and return you for a replacement. But Mr. Byrne convinced me to give you a second chance. Howeverif I hear one more complaint about your behavior or comportment, you will be returned. She pauses and takes a sip of water. I am tempted to attribute this behavior to your Irish blood. Yes, it is true that Mr. Byrne is Irishindeed, thats why we gave you a chance at allbut I would also point out that Mr. Byrne did not, as he might have, marry an Irish girl, for good reason. The next day Mrs. Byrne comes into the sewing room and says she needs me to go on an errand into the center of town, a miles walk. Its not complicated, she says testily when I ask for directions. Werent you paying attention when we drove you here? I can go with her this first time, maam, Fanny says. Mrs. Byrne does not look happy about this. Dont you have work to do, Fanny? I just finished this pile, Fanny says, placing a veined hand on a stack of ladies skirts. All hemmed and ironed. My fingers are sore. All right, then. This once, Mrs. Byrne says. We walk slowly, on account of Fannys hip, through the Byrnes neighborhood of small houses on cramped lots. At the corner of Elm Street we turn left onto Center and cross Maple, Birch, and Spruce before turning right onto Main. Most of the houses seem fairly new and are variations of the same few designs. Theyre painted different colors, landscaped neatly with shrubs and bushes. Some front walkways go straight to the door, and others meander in a curvy path. As we get closer to town we pass multi-family dwellings and some outlying businessesa gas station, a corner shop, a nursery stocked with flowers the colors of autumn leaves: rust and gold and crimson. I cant imagine why you didnt memorize this route on the drive home, Fanny says. My, girl, you are slow. I look at her sideways and she gives me a sly smile. The general store on Main Street is dimly lit and very warm. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust. When I look up, I see cured hams hanging from the ceiling and shelves and shelves of dry goods. Fanny and I pick up several packs of sewing needles, some pattern papers, and a bolt of cheesecloth, and after she pays, Fanny takes a penny from the change she gets and slides it toward me across the counter. Get yourself a stick of candy for the walk back. The jars of hard candy sticks lined up on a shelf hold dazzling combinations of colors and flavors. After deliberating for a long moment, I choose a swirl of pink watermelon and green apple. I unwrap my candy stick and offer to break off a piece, but Fanny refuses it. I dont have a sweet tooth anymore. I didnt know you could outgrow that. Its for you, she says. On the way back we walk slowly. Neither of us, I think, is eager to get there. The hard, grooved candy stick is both sweet and sour, a jolt of flavor so intense I almost swoon. I suck it so that it tapers to a point, savoring each taste. Youll have to get rid of that before we reach the house, Fanny says. She doesnt need to explain. Why does Mary hate me? I ask when were nearly there. Pish. She doesnt hate you, child. Shes scared. Of what? What do you think? I dont know. Why would Mary be scared of me? Shes sure youre going to take her job, Fanny says. Mrs. Byrne holds her money tight in her fist. Why would she pay Mary to do the work you can be trained to do for nothing? I try not to betray any emotion, but Fannys words sting. Thats why they picked me. She smiles kindly. You must know that already. Any girl who can hold a needle and thread wouldve sufficed. Free labor is free labor. As we climb the steps to the house, she says, You cant blame Mary for being afraid. From then on, instead of worrying about Mary, I concentrate on the work. I focus on making my stitches identically sized and spaced. I carefully iron each garment until its smooth and crisp. Each piece of clothing that moves from my basket to Marysor one of the other womensgives me a feeling of accomplishment. But my relationship with her doesnt improve. If anything, as my own work gets better, she becomes harsher and more exacting. I place a basted skirt in my basket and Mary snatches it, looks at it closely, rips the stitches out, and tosses it at me again. THE LEAVES TURN FROM ROSE-TINGED TO CANDY-APPLE RED TO A dull brown, and I walk to the outhouse on a spongy, sweet-smelling carpet. One day Mrs. Byrne looks me up and down and asks if I have any other clothes. Ive been alternating between the two dresses I came with, one blue-and-white checked and one gingham. No, I say. Well, then, she says, you will make yourself some. Later that afternoon she drives me to town, one foot hesitantly on the gas pedal and the other, at erratic intervals, on the brake. Proceeding forward in a jerky fashion we end up eventually in front of the general store. You may choose three different fabrics, she says. Lets seethree yards each? I nod. The cloth must be sturdy and inexpensivethats the only kind that makes sense for a . . . She pauses. A nine-year-old girl. Mrs. Byrne leads me over to a section filled with bolts of fabric, directing me to the shelf with the cheaper ones. I choose a blue-and-gray checked cotton, a delicate green print, and a pink paisley. Mrs. Byrne nods at the first two choices and grimaces at the third. Mercy, not with red hair. She pulls out a bolt of blue chambray. A modest bodice is what Im thinking, with a minimum of frill. Simple and plain. A gathered skirt. You can wear that pinafore on top when youre working. Do you have more than one pinafore? When I shake my head, she says, We have plenty of ticking fabric in the sewing room. You can make it from that. Do you have a coat? Or a sweater? The nuns gave me a coat, but its too small. After the fabric is measured, cut, wrapped in brown paper, and tied with twine, I follow Mrs. Byrne down the street to a womens clothes shop. She heads straight for the sale rack at the back and finds a mustard-colored wool coat, several sizes too big for me, with shiny black buttons. When I put it on, she frowns. Well, its a good deal, she says. And theres no sense in getting something youll outgrow in a month. I think its fine. I hate the coat. Its not even very warm. But Im afraid to object. Luckily, theres a large selection of sweaters on clearance, and I find a navy blue cable-knit and an off-white V-neck in my size. Mrs. Byrne adds a bulky, too-large corduroy skirt thats 70 percent off. That evening, at dinner, I wear my new white sweater and skirt. Whats that thing around your neck? Mrs. Byrne says, and I realize that she is talking about my necklace, which is usually hidden by my high-necked dresses. She leans closer to look. An Irish cross, I say. Its very odd-looking. What are those, hands? And why does the heart have a crown? She sits back in her chair. That looks sacrilegious to me. I tell her the story of how my gram was given this necklace for her First Communion and passed it down to me before I came to America. The hands clasped together symbolize friendship. The heart is love. And the crown stands for loyalty, I explain. She sniffs, refolds the napkin in her lap. I still think its odd. I have half a mind to make you take it off. Come now, Lois, Mr. Byrne says. Its a trinket from home. No harm to it. Perhaps its time to put away those old-country things. Its not bothering anyone, is it? I glance over at him, surprised that hes sticking up for me. He winks at me as if its a game. Its bothering me, she says. Theres no reason this girl needs to tell the world far and wide that shes a Catholic. Mr. Byrne laughs. Look at her hair. Theres no denying shes Irish, is there? So unbecoming in a girl, Mrs. Byrne says under her breath. Later Mr. Byrne tells me that his wife doesnt like Catholics in general, even though she married one. It helps that he never goes to church. Works out well for the both of us, he says. Albans, Minnesota, 19291930 When Mrs. Byrne appears in the sewing room one Tuesday afternoon at the end of October, it??s clear that something is wrong. She looks haggard and stricken. Her cropped dark bob, usually in tight waves against her head, is sticking out all over. Bernice jumps up, but Mrs. Byrne waves her away. Girls, she says, holding her hand to her throat, girls! I need to tell you something. The stock market crashed today. Its in free fall. And many lives are . . . She stops to catch her breath. Maam, do you want to sit down? Bernice says. Mrs. Byrne ignores her. People lost everything, she mutters, gripping the back of Marys chair. Her eyes roam the room as if she is looking for something to focus on. If we cant feed ourselves, we can hardly afford to employ you, now, can we? Her eyes fill with tears and she backs out of the room, shaking her head. We hear the front door open and Mrs. Byrne clatter down the steps. Bernice tells us all to get back to work, but Joan, one of the women at the Singers, stands up abruptly. I have to get home to my husband. I have to know whats going on. What use is it to keep working if we wont be paid? Leave if you must, Fanny says. Joan is the only one who leaves, but the rest of us are jittery throughout the afternoon. Its hard to sew when your hands are shaking. ITS HARD TO TELL EXACTLY WHATS GOING ON, BUT AS THE WEEKS pass we begin to catch glimmers. Mr. Byrne apparently invested quite a bit in the stock market, and the money is gone. The demand for new garments has slowed, and people have taken to mending their own clothesits one place they can easily cut corners. Mrs. Byrne is even more scattered and absent. Weve stopped eating dinner together. She takes her food upstairs, leaving a desiccated chicken leg or a bowl of cold brisket in a chunk of brown gelatinous fat on the counter, with strict instructions that I wash my dish when Im done. Thanksgiving is like any other day. I never celebrated it with my Irish family, so it doesnt bother me, but the girls mutter under their breath all day long: its not Christian, its not American to keep them from their families. Maybe because the alternative is so bleak, Ive grown to like the sewing room. I look forward to seeing the women every daykind Fanny, simple-minded Bernice, and quiet Sally and Joan. (All except Mary, who cant seem to forgive me for being alive.) And I like the work. My fingers are getting strong and quick; a piece that used to take an hour or more I can do in minutes. I used to be afraid of new stitches and techniques, but now welcome each new challengepencil-sharp pleats, sequins, delicate lace. The others can see that Im improving, and theyve started giving me more to do. Without ever saying it directly, Fanny has taken over Marys job of supervising my work. Be careful, dear, she says, running a light finger over my stitches. Take the time to make them small and even. Remember, somebody will wear this, probably over and over until its worn through. A lady wants to feel pretty, no matter how much money she has. Ever since I arrived in Minnesota people have been warning me about the extreme cold thats on the way. I am beginning to feel it. Kinvara is rain soaked much of the year, and Irish winters are cold and wet. New York is gray and slushy and miserable for months. But neither place compares to this. Already weve had two big snowstorms. As the weather gets colder, my fingers are so stiff when Im sewing that I have to stop and rub them so I can keep going. I notice that the other women are wearing fingerless gloves, and when I ask where they came from, they tell me they made them themselves. I dont know how to knit. My mam never taught me. But I know I need to get a pair of gloves for my stiff, cold hands. Several days before Christmas, Mrs. Byrne announces that Christmas Day, Wednesday, will be an unpaid holiday. She and Mr. Byrne will be gone for the day, visiting relatives out of town. She doesnt ask me to come along. At the end of our workday on Christmas Eve, Fanny slips me a small brown-wrapped parcel. Open this later, she whispers. Tell them you brought it from home. I put the packet in my pocket and wade through knee-deep snow to the privy, where I open it in the semidarkness, wind slicing through the cracks in the walls and the slit in the door. Its a pair of fingerless gloves knit from a dense navy blue yarn, and a thick pair of brown wool mittens. When I put on the mittens I find that Fanny lined them with heavy wool and reinforced the top of the thumb and other fingers with extra padding. As with Dutchy and Carmine on the train, this little cluster of women has become a kind of family to me. Like an abandoned foal that nestles against cows in the barnyard, maybe I just need to feel the warmth of belonging. And if Im not going to find that with the Byrnes, I will find it, however partial and illusory, with the women in the sewing room. BY JANUARY, I AM LOSING SO MUCH WEIGHT THAT MY NEW DRESSES, the ones I made myself, swim on my hips. Mr. Byrne comes and goes at odd hours, and I barely see him. We have less and less work. Fanny is teaching me how to knit, and sometimes the other girls bring in work of their own so they wont go crazy with idleness. The heat is turned off as soon as the workers leave at five. The lights go off at seven. I spend nights on my pallet wide-awake and shivering in the dark, listening to the howling of the seemingly endless storms that rage outside. I wonder about Dutchyif hes sleeping in a barn with animals, eating only pig slops. I hope hes warm. One day in early February, Mrs. Byrne enters the sewing room silently and unexpectedly. She seems to have stopped grooming. Shes worn the same dress all week, and her bodice is soiled. Her hair is lank and greasy, and she has a sore on her lip. She asks the Singer girl Sally to step out into the hall, and several minutes later Sally returns to the room with red-rimmed eyes. She picks up her belongings in silence. A few weeks later Mrs. Byrne comes for Bernice. They go out into the hall, and then Bernice returns and gathers her things. After that its just Fanny and Mary and me. Its a windy afternoon in late March when Mrs. Byrne slips into the room and asks for Mary. I feel sorry for Mary thendespite her meanness, despite everything. Slowly she picks up her belongings, puts on her hat and coat. She looks at Fanny and me and nods, and we nod back. God bless you, child, Fanny says. When Mary and Mrs. Byrne leave the room, Fanny and I watch the door, straining to hear the indistinct murmuring in the hall. Fanny says, Lordy, Im too old for this. A week later, the doorbell rings. Fanny and I look at each other. This is strange. The doorbell never rings. We hear Mrs. Byrne rustle down the stairs, undo the heavy locks, open the squeaky door. We hear her talking to a man in the hall. The door to the sewing room opens, and I jump a little. In comes a heavyset man in a black felt hat and a gray suit. He has a black mustache and jowls like a basset hound. This the girl? he asks, pointing a sausagey finger at me. Mrs. Byrne nods. The man takes off his hat and sets it on a small table by the door. Then he pulls a pair of eyeglasses out of the breast pocket of his overcoat and puts them on, perched partway down his bulbous nose. He takes a piece of folded paper out of another pocket and opens it with one hand. Lets see. Niamh Power. He pronounces it Nem. Peering over his glasses at Mrs. Byrne, he says, You changed her name to Dorothy? We thought the girl should have an American name. Mrs. Byrne makes a strangled sound that I interpret as a laugh. Not legally, of course, she adds. And you did not change her surname. Of course not. You werent considering adoption? Mercy, no. He looks at me over his glasses, then back at the paper. The clock ticks loudly above the mantelpiece. The man folds the paper and puts it back in his pocket. Dorothy, I am Mr. Sorenson. Im a local agent of the Childrens Aid Society, and as such I oversee the placement of homeless train riders. Oftentimes the placements work out as they should, and everyone is content. But now and then, unfortunatelyhe takes his glasses off and slips them back into his breast pocketthings dont work out. He looks at Mrs. Byrne. She has, I notice, a jagged run in her beige stockings, and her eye makeup is smeared. And we need to procure new accommodations. He clears his throat. Do you understand what Im saying? I nod, though Im not sure I do. Good. Theres a couple in Hemingfordwell, on a farm outside of that town, actuallywhove requested a girl about your age. A mother, father, and four children. Wilma and Gerald Grote. I turn to Mrs. Byrne. She is gazing off somewhere in the middle distance. Though shes never been particularly kind to me, her willingness to abandon me comes as a shock. You dont want me anymore? Mr. Sorenson looks back and forth between us. Its a complicated situation. As were talking, Mrs. Byrne drifts over to the window. She pulls aside the lace curtain and gazes out at the street, at the skim-milk sky. Im sure you have heard this is a difficult time, Mr. Sorenson continues. Not only for the Byrnes but for a lot of people. Andwell, their business has been affected. With a sudden movement, Mrs. Byrne drops the curtain and wheels around. She eats too much! she cries. I have to padlock the refrigerator. Its never enough! She puts her palms over her eyes and runs past us, out into the hallway and up the stairs, where she slams the door at the top. We are silent for a moment, then Fanny says, That woman ought to be ashamed. The girl is skin and bones. She adds, They never even sent her to school. Mr. Sorenson clears his throat. Well, he says, perhaps this will be for the best for all concerned. He fixes on me again. The Grotes are good country people, from what I hear. Four children? I say. Why do they want another? As I understand itand I could be wrong; I havent had the pleasure to meet them yet, this is all hearsay, you understandbut what I have gleaned is that Mrs. Grote is once again with child, and she is looking for a mothers helper. I ponder this. I think of Carmine, of Maisie. Of the twins, sitting at our rickety table on Elizabeth Street waiting patiently for their apple mash. I imagine a white farmhouse with black shutters, a red barn in the back, a post-and-rail fence, chickens in a coop. Anything has to be better than a padlocked refrigerator and a pallet in the hall. When do they want me? Im taking you there now. Mr. Sorenson says hell give me a few minutes to collect my things and goes out to his car. In the hall I pull my brown suitcase from the back of the closet. Fanny stands in the door of the sewing room and watches me pack. I fold up the three dresses I made, one of which, the blue chambray, I havent finished, plus my other dress from the Childrens Aid. I add the two new sweaters and the corduroy skirt and the mittens and gloves from Fanny. Id just as soon leave the ugly mustard coat behind, but Fanny says Ill regret it if I do, that its even colder out there on those farms than it is here in town. When Im done, we go back in the sewing room and Fanny finds a small pair of scissors, two spools of thread, black and white, a pincushion and pins, and a cellophane packet of needles. She adds a cardboard flat of opalescent buttons for my unfinished dress. Then she wraps it all in cheesecloth for me to tuck in the top of my suitcase. Wont you get in trouble for giving me these? I ask her. Pish, she says. I dont even care. I do not say good-bye to the Byrnes. Who knows where Mr. Byrne is, and Mrs. Byrne doesnt come downstairs. But Fanny gives me a long hug. She holds my face in her small cold hands. You are a good girl, Niamh, she says. Dont let anybody tell you different. Mr. Sorensons vehicle, parked in the driveway behind the Model A, is a dark-green Chrysler truck. He opens the passenger door for me, then goes around to the other side. The interior smells of tobacco and apples. He backs out of the driveway and points the car to the left, away from town and toward a direction Ive never been. We follow Elm Street until it ends, then turn right down another quiet street, where the houses are set back farther from the sidewalks, until we come to an intersection and turn onto a long, flat road with fields on both sides. I gaze out at the fields, a dull patchwork. Brown cows huddle together, lifting their necks to watch the noisy truck as it passes. Horses graze. Pieces of farm equipment in the distance look like abandoned toys. The horizon line, flat and low, is straight ahead, and the sky looks like dishwater. Black birds pierce the sky like inverse stars. I feel almost sorry for Mr. Sorenson on our drive. I can tell this weighs on him. Its probably not what he thought he was signing up for when he agreed to be an agent for the Childrens Aid Society. He keeps asking if Im comfortable, if the heat is too low or too high. When he learns I know almost nothing about Minnesota he tells me all about ithow it became a state just over seventy years ago and is now the twelfth largest in the United States. How its name comes from a Dakota Indian word for cloudy water. How it contains thousands of lakes, filled with fish of all kindswalleye, for one thing, catfish, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, perch, and pike. The Mississippi River starts in Minnesota, did I know that? And these fieldshe waves his fingers toward the windowthey feed the whole country. Lets see, theres grain, the biggest exporta thrasher goes from farm to farm, and neighbors get together to bundle the shocks. Theres sugar beets and sweet corn and green peas. And those low buildings way over there? Turkey farms. Minnesota is the biggest producer of turkeys in the country. Thered be no Thanksgiving without Minnesota, thats for darn sure. And dont get me started on hunting. Weve got pheasants, quail, grouse, whitetail deer, you name it. Its a hunters paradise. I listen to Mr. Sorenson and nod politely as he talks, but its hard to concentrate. I feel myself retreating to someplace deep inside. It is a pitiful kind of childhood, to know that no one loves you or is taking care of you, to always be on the outside looking in. I feel a decade older than my years. I know too much; I have seen people at their worst, at their most desperate and selfish, and this knowledge makes me wary. So I am learning to pretend, to smile and nod, to display empathy I do not feel. I am learning to pass, to look like everyone else, even though I feel broken inside. Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930 After about half an hour, Mr. Sorenson turns onto a narrow unpaved road. Dirt rises around us as we drive, coating the windshield and side windows. We pass more fields and then a copse of birch tree skeletons, cross through a dilapidated covered bridge over a murky stream still sheeted with ice, turn down a bumpy dirt road bordered by pine trees. Mr. Sorenson is holding a card with what looks like directions on it. He slows the truck, pulls to a stop, looks back toward the bridge. Then he peers out the grimy windshield at the trees ahead. No goldarn signs, he mutters. He puts his foot on the pedal and inches forward. Out of the side window I point to a faded red rag tied to a stick and what appears to be a driveway, overgrown with weeds. Must be it, he says. Hairy branches scrape the truck on either side as we make our way down the drive. After about fifty yards, we come to a small wooden housea shack, reallyunpainted, with a sagging front porch piled with junk. In the grassless section in front of the house, a baby is crawling on top of a dog with black matted fur, and a boy of about six is poking a stick in the dirt. His hair is so short, and hes so skinny, that he looks like a wizened old man. Despite the cold, he and the baby are barefoot. Mr. Sorenson parks the truck as far from the children as possible in the small clearing and gets out of the truck. I get out on my side. Hello, boy, he says. The child gapes at him, not answering. Your mama home? Who want to know? the boy says. Mr. Sorenson smiles. Did your mama tell you youre getting a new sister? No. Well, she should be expecting us. Go on and tell her were here. The boy stabs at the dirt with the stick. Shes sleeping. Im not to bother her. You go on and wake her up. Maybe she forgot we were coming. The boy traces a circle in the dirt. Tell her its Mr. Sorenson from the Childrens Aid Society. He shakes his head. Dont want a whupping. Shes not going to whip you, boy! Shell be glad to know Im here. When its clear the boy isnt going to move, Mr. Sorenson rubs his hands together and, motioning for me to follow, makes his way gingerly up the creaking steps to the porch. I can tell hes worried about what we might find inside. I am too. He knocks loudly on the door, and it swings open from the force of his hand. Theres a hole where the doorknob is supposed to be. He steps into the gloom, ushering me in with him. The front room is nearly bare. It smells like a cave. The floor is planked with rough boards, and in places I can see clear through to the ground below. Of the three grimy windows, one has a jagged hole in the upper-right corner and one is seamed with spidery cracks. A wooden crate stands between two upholstered chairs, soiled with dirt, stuffing coming out of split seams, and a threadbare gold sofa. On the far left is a dark hallway. Straight ahead, through an open doorway, is the kitchen. Mrs. Grote? Hello? Mr. Sorenson cocks his head, but theres no response. Im not going into a bedroom to find her, thats for sure, he mutters. Mrs. Grote? he calls, louder. We hear faint footsteps and a girl of about three, in a dirty pink dress, emerges from the hall. Well, hello, little girl! Mr. Sorenson says, crouching down on his heels. Is your mama back there? We sleeping. Thats what your brother said. Is she still asleep? A harsh voice comes from the hallway, startling us both: What do you want? Mr. Sorenson stands up slowly. A pale woman with long brown hair steps out of the darkness. Her eyes are puffy and her lips are chapped, and her nightgown is so thin I can see the dark circles of her nipples through the cloth. The girl sidles over like a cat and puts an arm around her legs. Im Chester Sorenson, from the Childrens Aid Society. You must be Mrs. Grote. Im sorry to bother you, maam, but I was told you knew we were coming. You did request a girl, did you not? The woman rubs her eyes. What day is it? Friday, April fourth, maam. She coughs. Then she doubles over and coughs again, harder this time, into her fist. Would you like to sit down? Mr. Sorenson goes over and guides her by the elbow to a chair. Now, is Mr. Grote home? The woman shakes her head. Are you expecting him soon? She lifts her shoulders in a shrug. What time does he get off work? Mr. Sorenson presses. He dont go to work no more. Lost his job at the feed store last week. She glances around as if shes lost something. Then she says, Cmere, Mabel. The little girl slinks over to her, watching us the whole time. Go check and see that Gerald Juniors okay in there. And wheres Harold? Is that the boy outside? Mr. Sorenson asks. He watching the baby? I told him to. Theyre both out there, he says, and though his voice is neutral, I can tell he doesnt approve. Mrs. Grote chews her lip. She still hasnt said a word to me. Shes barely looked in my direction. Im just so tired, she says to no one in particular. Well, Im sure you are, maam. Its clear Mr. Sorenson is itching to get out of here. Im guessing thats why you asked for this here orphan girl. Dorothy. Her papers say she has experience with children. So that should be a help to you. She nods distractedly. I got to sleep when they sleep, she mumbles. Its the only time I get any rest. Im sure it is. Mrs. Grote covers her face with both hands. Then she pushes her stringy hair back behind her ears. She juts her chin at me. This is the girl, huh? Yes, maam. Names Dorothy. Shes here to be part of your family and be taken care of by you and help you in return. She focuses on my face, but her eyes are flat. Whats her age? Nine years old. I have enough kids. What I need is somebody who can help me out. Its all part of the deal, Mr. Sorenson says. You feed and clothe Dorothy and make sure she gets to school, and she will earn her keep by doing chores around the house. He pulls his glasses and the sheet of paper out of his various pockets, then puts his glasses on and tilts his head back to read it. I see theres a school four miles down. And theres a ride she can catch at the post road, three-quarter mile from here. He takes his glasses off. Its required that Dorothy attend school, Mrs. Grote. Do you agree to abide by that? She crosses her arms, and for a moment it looks as if shes going to refuse. Maybe I wont have to stay here, after all! Then the front door creaks open. We turn to see a tall, thin, dark-haired man wearing a plaid shirt with rolled-up sleeves and grungy overalls. The girl will go to school, whether she wants to or not, he says. Ill make sure of it. Mr. Sorenson strides over and extends his hand. You must be Gerald Grote. Im Chester Sorenson. And this is Dorothy. Nice to meet you. Mr. Grote clasps his hand, nods over toward me. Shell do just fine. All right, then, Mr. Sorenson says, clearly relieved. Lets make it official. Theres paperwork, but not a lot. Its only a few minutes before Mr. Sorenson has retrieved my bag from the truck and is driving away. I watch him through the cracked front window with the baby, Nettie, whimpering on my hip. Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930 Where will I sleep? I ask Mr. Grote when it gets dark. He looks at me, hands on his hips, as if he hasnt considered this question. He gestures toward the hallway. Theres a bedroom yonder, he says. If you dont want to sleep with the others, I guess you can sleep out here on the couch. We dont stand on ceremony. I been known to doze off on it myself. In the bedroom, three old mattresses without sheets are laid across the floor, a carpet of bony springs. Mabel, Gerald Jr., and Harold sprawl across them, tugging a tattered wool blanket and three old quilts from each other. I dont want to sleep here, but its better than sharing the couch with Mr. Grote. In the middle of the night one kid or another ends up under the crook of my arm or spooned against my back. They smell earthy and sour, like wild animals. DESPAIR INHABITS THIS HOUSE. MRS. GROTE DOESNT WANT ALL these kids, and neither she nor Mr. Grote really takes care of them. She sleeps all the time, and the children come and go from her bed. Theres brown paper tacked over the open window in that room, so its as dark as a hole in the ground. The children burrow in next to her, craving warmth. Sometimes she lets them crawl in and sometimes she pushes them out. When theyre denied a spot, their wails penetrate my skin like tiny needles. Theres no running water, and no electricity or indoor plumbing here. The Grotes use gas lights and candles, and theres a pump and an outhouse in the backyard, wood stacked on the porch. The damp logs in the fireplace make the house smoky and give off a tepid heat. Mrs. Grote barely looks at me. She sends a child out to be fed or calls me to fix her a cup of coffee. She makes me nervous. I do what Im told and make an effort to avoid her. The children sniff around, trying to get used to me, all except for two-year-old Gerald Jr., who takes to me right away, follows me like a puppy. I ask Mr. Grote how they found me. He says he saw a flyer in townhomeless children for distribution. Wilma wouldnt get out of bed, and he didnt know what else to do. I feel abandoned and forgotten, dropped into misery worse than my own. MR. GROTE SAYS HELL NEVER GET ANOTHER JOB IF HE CAN MANAGE it. He plans to live off the land. He was born and raised in the woods; its the only life he knows or cares to know. He built this house with his own two hands, he says, and his goal is to be entirely self-sufficient. He has an old goat in the backyard and a mule and half a dozen chickens; he can feed his family on what he can hunt and find in the woods and on a handful of seeds, along with the goats milk and eggs from the chickens, and he can sell things in town if he has to. Mr. Grote is lean and fit from walking miles every day. Like an Indian, he says. He has a car, but its rusted and broken down behind the house. He cant afford to get it fixed, so he goes everywhere on foot or sometimes on the old mule that he says wandered off from a horsemeat truck that broke down on the road a few months back. His fingernails are rimmed with grime made up of axle grease and planting soil and animal blood and who knows what else, ground in so deep it cant be washed off. Ive only ever seen him in one pair of overalls. Mr. Grote doesnt believe in government telling him what to do. Tell the truth, he doesnt believe in government at all. He has never been to school a day in his life and doesnt see the point. But hell send me to school if thats what it takes to keep the authorities out of his hair. ON MONDAY, THREE DAYS AFTER I ARRIVE, MR. GROTE SHAKES MY shoulder in the darkness so I can get ready for school. The room is so cold I can see my breath. I put on one of my new dresses with both sweaters layered on top. I wear Fannys mittens, the thick stockings I wore from New York, my sturdy black shoes. I run out to the pump and fill a pitcher with cold water, then bring it inside to heat on the stove. After pouring warm water in a tin bowl, I take a rag and scrub my face, my neck, my fingernails. Theres an old mirror in the kitchen, spotted with rusty stains and freckled with black specks, so ruined its almost impossible to see myself in. I divide my unwashed hair into two pigtails, using my fingers as a comb, and then braid them tightly, tying the ends with thread from the packet Fanny made for me. Then I look closely at my reflection. I am as clean as I can manage without taking a bath. My face is pale and serious. I barely have any breakfast, just some wild rice pudding made with goats milk and maple syrup Mr. Grote tapped the day before. I am so relieved to be getting out of this dark, fetid cabin for the day that I swing Harold around, joke with Gerald Jr., share my rice pudding with Mabel, who has only just started looking me in the eye. Mr. Grote draws a map for me with a knife in the dirtyou go out the drive, turn left there where you came in, walk till you get to the T section, then go over that bridge back yonder and on till you get to the county road. Half an hour, give or take. He doesnt offer a lunch pail, and I dont ask for one. I slip the two eggs I boiled the night before when I was making supper into my coat pocket. I have that piece of paper from Mr. Sorenson that says a man named Mr. Post who drives the kids to school in his truck will be at the corner at 8:30 A.M. and bring me back at 4:30 P.M. Its 7:40, but Im ready to go. Better to wait at the corner than risk missing my ride. I skip down the driveway, hurry up the road, linger on the bridge for a moment, looking down at the reflection of the sky like mercury on the dark water, the foaming white suds near the rocks. Ice glistens on tree branches, frost webs over dried grasses in a sparkling net. The evergreens are dusted with the light snow that fell last night like a forest of Christmas trees. For the first time, I am struck by the beauty of this place. I hear the truck before I see it. About twenty yards from me, it slows to a stop with a great screeching of brakes, and I have to run back along the road to get on. An apple-faced man in a tan cap peers out at me. Come on, darlin. Dont have all day. The truck has a tarpaulin over its bed. I climb in the back, laid with two flat planks for passengers to sit on. Theres a heap of horse blankets in the corner, and the four kids sitting there are huddled in them, having wrapped the blankets over their shoulders and tucked them around their legs. The canvas cover gives everyone a yellowish tint. Two of the kids appear close to my age. As we bump along, I hang on to the wooden bench with my mittened fingers so I dont fall onto the floor when we hit a rough patch. The driver stops twice more to pick up passengers. The bed is only big enough to seat six comfortably, and eight of us are crammed in herewere tight on the bench, but our bodies give off much-needed warmth. Nobody speaks. When the truck is moving, wind slices through the gaps in the tarp. After several miles, the truck makes a turn, brakes squealing, and climbs up a steep driveway before grinding to a stop. We jump out of the truck bed and line up, then walk to the schoolhouse, a small clapboard building with a bell in front. A young woman in a cornflower-blue dress, a lavender scarf wrapped around her neck, is standing at the front door. Her face is pretty and lively: big brown eyes and a wide smile. Her shiny brown hair is pulled back with a white ribbon. Welcome, children. Proceed in an orderly fashion, as always. Her voice is high and clear. Good morning, Michael . . . Bertha . . . Darlene, she says, greeting each child by name. When I reach her, she says, NowI havent met you yet, but I heard you were coming. Im Miss Larsen. And you must be I say Niamh at the same time that she says Dorothy. Seeing the expression on my face, she says, Did I get that wrong? Or do you have a nickname? No, maam. Its just . . . I feel my cheeks redden. What is it? I used to be Niamh. Sometimes I forget what my name is. Nobody really calls me anything at my new home. Well, I can call you Niamh if you like. Its all right. Dorothy is fine. She smiles, studying my face. As you wish. Lucy Green? she says, turning to the girl behind me. Would you mind showing Dorothy to her desk? I follow Lucy into an area lined with hooks, where we hang up our coats. Then we enter a large, sunny room smelling of wood smoke and chalk that contains an oil stove, a desk for the teacher, rows of benches and work spaces, and slate blackboards along the east and south walls, with posters of the alphabet and multiplication tables above. The other walls are made up of large windows. Electric lights shine overhead, and low shelves are filled with books. When everyone is seated, Miss Larsen pulls a loop on a string and a colorful map of the world unfurls on the wall. At her request I go up to the map and identify Ireland. Looking at it closely, I can find County Galway and even the city center. The village of Kinvara isnt named, but I rub the place where it belongs, right under Galway on the jagged line of the west coast. There is New Yorkand heres Chicago. And heres Minneapolis. Hemingford County isnt on the map, either. Including me, there are twenty-three of us between the ages of six and sixteen. Most of the kids are from farms themselves and other rural homes and are learning to read and write at all ages. We smell unwashedand its worse with the older ones who have hit puberty. Theres a heap of rags, a few bars of soap, and a carton of baking soda in the indoor lavatory, Miss Larsen tells me, in case you want to freshen up. When Miss Larsen talks to me, she bends down and looks me in the eye. When she asks questions, she waits for my answer. She smells of lemons and vanilla. And she treats me like Im smart. After I take a test to determine my reading level, she hands me a book from the shelf by her desk, a hardcover filled with small black type called Anne of Green Gables, without pictures, and tells me she will ask what I think of it when Im done. Youd think with all these kids it would be chaotic, but Miss Larsen rarely raises her voice. The driver, Mr. Post, chops wood, tends the stove, sweeps the leaves from the front walkway, and does mechanical repairs on the truck. He also teaches mathematics up to geometry, which he says he never learned because that year was locusts and he was needed on the farm. At recess Lucy invites me to play games with a group of themAnnie Annie Over; Pump, Pump, Pull Away; Ring Around the Rosie. When I get out of the truck at four thirty and have to walk the long route back to the cabin, my footsteps are slow. THE FOOD THIS FAMILY SUBSISTS ON IS LIKE NOTHING IVE EVER eaten before. Mr. Grote leaves at dawn with his rifle and rod and brings home squirrels and wild turkeys, whiskery fish, now and then a white-tailed deer. He returns in the late afternoon covered in pine-tree gum. He brings home red squirrels most of all, but they arent as good as the larger fox and gray squirrels, which he calls bushy tails. The fox squirrels are so big that some of them look like orange cats. They chirp and whistle, and he tricks them into showing themselves by clicking two coins together, which sounds like their chatter. The gray squirrels have the most meat, he tells me, but are hardest to see in the woods. They make a harsh chich-chich noise when theyre angry or scared. Thats how he finds them. Mr. Grote skins and guts the animals in several fluid motions, then hands me tiny hearts and livers, slabs of deep red meat. All I know how to make is boiled cabbage and mutton, I tell him, but he says its not that different. He shows me how to make a gallimaufry, a stew of diced meat, onion, and vegetables, with mustard, ginger, and vinegar. You cook the meat in animal fat over high heat to sear it, then add potatoes and vegetables and the rest. Its just a hotchpotch, he says. Whatevers around. At first I am horrified by the ghoulish skinned squirrels, as red and muscular as skinless human bodies in Miss Larsens science book. But hunger cures my qualms. Soon enough, squirrel stew tastes normal. Out in back is a homely garden that, even now, in mid-April, has root vegetables waiting to be dugblighted potatoes and yams and tough-skinned carrots and turnips. Mr. Grote takes me out there with a pick and teaches me how to pry them from the earth, then wash them off under the pump. But the ground is still partially frozen, and the vegetables are hard to extract. The two of us spend about four hours in the cold digging for those tough old vegetables, planted last summer, until we have a gnarled and ugly pile. The children wander in and out of the house, sit and watch us from the kitchen window. I am grateful for my fingerless gloves. Mr. Grote shows me how he grows wild rice in the stream and collects the seeds. The rice is nutty and brown. He plants the seeds after harvest in late summer for the crop the following year. Its an annual plant, he explains, which means that it dies in the autumn. Seeds that fall in autumn take root in spring underwater, and then the shoot grows above the surface. The stalks look like tall grass swaying in the water. In the summer, he says, he grows herbs in a patch behind the housemint, rosemary, and thymeand hangs them to dry in the shed. Even now theres a pot of lavender in the kitchen. Its a strange sight in that squalid room, like a rose in a junkyard. At school one late-April day Miss Larsen sends me out to the porch to get some firewood, and when I come back in, the entire class, led by Lucy Green, is standing, singing happy birthday to me. Tears spring to my eyes. How did you know? The date was in your paperwork. Miss Larsen smiles, handing me a slice of currant bread. My landlady made this. I look at her, not sure I understand. For me? I mentioned that we had a new girl, and that your birthday was coming up. She likes to bake. The bread, dense and moist, tastes like Ireland. One bite and I am back in Grams cottage, in front of her warm Stanley range. Nine to ten is a big leap, Mr. Post says. One digit to two. Youll be two digits now for the next ninety years. Unwrapping the leftover currant bread at the Grotes that evening, I tell them about my party. Mr. Grote snorts. How ridiculous, celebrating a birth date. I dont even know the day I was born, and I sure cant remember any of theirs, he says, swinging his hand toward his kids. But lets have that cake. Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 Looking closely at Mollys file, Lori the social worker settles on a stool. So youll be aging out of foster care in . . . lets see . . . you turned seventeen in January, so nine months. Have you thought about what youre going to do then? Molly shrugs. Not really. Lori scribbles something on the file folder in front of her. With her bright button eyes and pointy snout nosing into Mollys business, Lori reminds her of a ferret. Theyre sitting at a lab table in an otherwise empty chemistry classroom at the high school during lunch period, as they do every other Wednesday. Any problems with the Thibodeaus? Molly shakes her head. Dina barely speaks to her; Ralph is pleasant enoughsame as always. Lori taps her nose with an index finger. Youre not wearing this anymore. Jack thought it might scare the old lady. She did take the nose ring out for Jack, but the truth is, she hasnt been in a hurry to put it back in. There are things about it she likesthe way it marks her as a rebel, for one thing. Multiple earrings dont have the same punk appeal; every forty-something divorc?e on the island has half a dozen hoops in her ears. But the ring takes a lot of maintenance; its always in danger of infection, and she has to be careful with it when she washes her face or puts on makeup. Its kind of a relief to have a metal-free face. Flipping slowly through the file, Lori says, Youve logged twenty-eight hours so far. Good for you. Whats it like? Not bad. Better than I thought it would be. How do you mean? Mollys been surprised to find that she looks forward to it. Ninety-one years is a long time to livetheres a lot of history in those boxes, and you never know what youll find. The other day, for example, they went through a box of Christmas ornaments from the 1930s that Vivian had forgotten she kept. Cardboard stars and snowflakes covered in gold and silver glitter; ornate glass balls, red and green and gold. Vivian told her stories about decorating the family store for the holidays, putting these ornaments on a real pine tree in the window. I like her. Shes kind of cool. You mean the old lady? Yeah. Well, good. Lori gives her a tight smile. A ferrety smile. Youve got what, twenty-two hours left, right? Try to make the most of this experience. And I hope I dont need to remind you that youre on probation. If youre caught drinking or doing drugs or otherwise breaking the law, were back to square one. You clear on that? Molly is tempted to say, Damn, you mean I have to shut down my meth lab? And I gotta delete those naked pictures I posted on Facebook? But instead she smiles steadily at Lori and says, Im clear. Pulling Mollys transcript out of the file, Lori says, Look at this. Your SATs are in the 600s. And you have a 3.8 average this semester. Thats really good. Its an easy school. No, it isnt. Its not that big a deal. It is a big deal, actually. These are applying-to-college stats. Have you thought about that? No. Why not? Last year, when she transferred from Bangor High, she was close to failing. In Bangor, shed had no incentive to do homeworkher foster parents were partiers, and shed come home from school to find a house full of drunks. In Spruce Harbor, there arent so many distractions. Dina and Ralph dont drink or smoke, and theyre strict. Jack has a beer now and then, but thats about it. And Molly discovered that she actually likes to study. No one has ever talked to her about college except the school guidance counselor who halfheartedly recommended nursing school when she got an A last semester in bio. Her grades have kind of shot up without anyone noticing. I dont really think Im college material, Molly says. Well, apparently you are, says Lori. And since youre officially on your own when you turn eighteen, you might want to start looking into it. There are some decent scholarships out there for aged-out foster youth. She shuts the folder. Or you can apply for a job behind the counter at the Somesville One-Stop. Its up to you. SO HOWS THAT COMMUNITY SERVICE WORKING OUT? RALPH asks at dinner, pouring himself a big glass of milk. Its all right, Molly says. The woman is really old. She has a lot of stuff. Fifty hours worth? Dina asks. I dont know. But I guess there are other things I can do if I finish cleaning out boxes. The house is huge. Yeah, Ive done some work over there. Old pipes, Ralph says. Have you met Terry? The housekeeper? Molly nods. Actually, shes Jacks mother. Dina perks up. Wait a minute. Terry Gallant? I went to high school with her! I didnt know Jack was her kid. Yep, Molly says. Waving a chunk of hot dog around on her fork, Dina says, Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Molly gives Ralph a what the fuck? look, but he just gazes placidly back. Its sad what happens to people, yknow? Dina says, shaking her head. Terry Gallant used to be Miss Popular. Homecoming Queen and all that. Then she got knocked up by some Mexican scruband now look at her, shes a maid. Actually, he was Dominican, Molly mumbles. Whatever. Those illegals are all the same, arent they? Deep breath, stay cool, get through dinner. If you say so. I do say so. Hey, now, ladies, thats enough. Ralph is smiling, but its a worried grimace; he knows Molly is pissed. Hes always making excusesShe didnt mean nothing by it, Shes yanking your chainwhen Dina does things like intone the Tribe has spoken when Molly expresses an opinion. You need to stop taking yourself so seriously, little girl, Dina said when Molly asked her to knock it off. If you cant laugh at yourself, youre going to have a very hard life. So Molly moves her mouth muscles into a smile, picks up her plate, thanks Dina for dinner. She says shes got a lot of homework, and Ralph says hell clean up the kitchen. Dina says its time for some trash TV. Housewives of Spruce Harbor, Ralph says. When are we going to see that? Maybe Terry Gallant could be in it. Show that yearbook photo of her in her tiara, cut to her washing floors. Dina cackles. Id watch that one for sure! Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 For the past few weeks in Mollys American History class theyve been studying the Wabanaki Indians, a confederacy of five Algonquian-speaking tribes, including the Penobscot, that live near the North Atlantic coast. Maine, Mr. Reed tells them, is the only state in the nation that requires schools to teach Native American culture and history. Theyve read Native narratives and contrasting contemporaneous viewpoints and taken a field trip to The Abbe, the Indian museum in Bar Harbor, and now they have to do a research report on the subject worth a third of their final grade. For this assignment theyre supposed to focus on a concept called portaging. In the old days the Wabanakis had to carry their canoes and everything else they possessed across land from one water body to the next, so they had to think carefully about what to keep and what to discard. They learned to travel light. Mr. Reed tells students they have to interview someonea mother or father or grandparentabout their own portages, the moments in their lives when theyve had to take a journey, literal or metaphorical. Theyll use tape recorders and conduct what he calls oral histories, asking the person questions, transcribing the answers, and putting it together in chronological order as a narrative. The questions on the assignment sheet are: What did you choose to bring with you to the next place? What did you leave behind? What insights did you gain about whats important? Mollys kind of into the idea of the project, but she doesnt want to interview Ralph orGod forbidDina. Jack? Too young. Terry? Shed never agree to it. The social worker, Lori? Ick, no. So that leaves Vivian. Molly has gleaned some things about herthat shes adopted, that she grew up in the Midwest and inherited the family business from her well-off parents, that she and her husband expanded it and eventually sold it for the kind of profit that allowed them to retire to a mansion in Maine. Most of all, that shes really, really old. Maybe itll be a stretch to find drama in Vivians portagea happy, stable life does not an interesting story make, right? But even the rich have their problems, or so Mollys heard. It will be her task to extract them. If, that is, she can convince Vivian to talk to her. MOLLYS OWN CHILDHOOD MEMORIES ARE SCANT AND PARTIAL. SHE remembers that the TV in the living room seemed to be on all the time and that the trailer smelled of cigarette smoke and the cats litterbox and mildew. She remembers her mother lying on the couch chain-smoking with the shades drawn before she left for her job at the Mini-Mart. She remembers foraging for foodcold hot dogs and toastwhen her mother wasnt home, and sometimes when she was. She remembers the giant puddle of melting snow just outside the door of the trailer, so large that she had to jump across it from the top step to get to dry ground. And there are other, better, memories: making fried eggs with her dad, turning them over with a large black plastic spatula. Not so fast, Molly Molasses, hed say. Easy. Otherwise the eggsll go splat. Going to St. Annes Church on Easter and choosing a blooming crocus in a green plastic pot covered with foil that was silver on one side, bright yellow on the other. Every Easter she and her mother planted those crocuses near the fence beside the driveway, and soon enough a whole cluster of them, white and purple and pink, sprang annually like magic from the bald April earth. She remembers third grade at the Indian Island School, where she learned that the name Penobscot is from Panawahpskek, meaning the place where the rocks spread out at the head of the tribal river, right where they were. That Wabanaki means Dawnland, because the tribes live in the region where the first light of dawn touches the American continent. That the Penobscot people have lived in the territory that became Maine for eleven thousand years, moving around season to season, following food. They trapped and hunted moose, caribou, otters, and beavers; they speared fish and clams and mussels. Indian Island, just above a waterfall, became their gathering place. She learned about Indian words that have been incorporated into American English, like moose and pecan and squash, and Penobscot words like kwai kwai, a friendly greeting, and woliwoni, thank you. She learned that they lived in wigwams, not teepees, and that they made canoes from the bark of a single white birch tree, removed in one piece so as not to kill it. She learned about the baskets the Penobscots still make out of birch bark, sweet grass, and brown ash, all of which grow in Maine wetlands, and, guided by her teacher, even made a small one herself. She knows that she was named for Molly Molasses, a famous Penobscot Indian born the year before America declared its independence from England. Molly Molasses lived into her nineties, coming and going from Indian Island, and was said to possess mteoulin, power given by the Great Spirit to a few for the good of the whole. Those who possess this power, her dad said, could interpret dreams, repel disease or death, inform hunters where to find game, and send a spirit helper to harm their enemies. But she didnt learn until this year, in Mr. Reeds class, that there were over thirty thousand Wabanakis living on the East Coast in 1600 and that 90 percent of them had died by 1620, almost entirely a result of contact with settlers, who brought foreign diseases and alcohol, drained resources, and fought with the tribes for control of the land. She didnt know that Indian women had more power and authority than white women, a fact detailed in captivity stories. That Indian farmers had greater skill and bounty, and more successful yields, than most Europeans who worked the same land. No, they werent primitivetheir social networks were highly advanced. And though they were called savages, even a prominent English general, Philip Sheridan, had to admit, We took away their country and their means of support. It was for this and against this that they made war. Could anyone expect less? Molly had always thought the Indians rebelled like guerrillas, scalping and pillaging. Learning that they attempted to negotiate with the settlers, wearing European-style suits and addressing Congress in the assumption of good faithand were repeatedly lied to and betrayedenrages her. In Mr. Reeds classroom theres a photo of Molly Molasses taken near the end of her life. In it she sits ramrod straight, wearing a beaded, peaked headdress and two large silver brooches around her neck. Her face is dark and wrinkled and her expression is fierce. Sitting in the empty classroom after school one day, Molly stares at that face for a long time, looking for answers to questions she doesnt know how to ask. ON THE NIGHT OF HER EIGHTH BIRTHDAY, AFTER ICE-CREAM SANDWICHES and a Sara Lee cake her mother brought home from the Mini-Mart, after making a fervent wish, eyes squeezed shut as she blew out the tiny pink-striped birthday candles (for a bicycle, she remembers, pink with white and pink streamers like the one the girl across the street got for her birthday several months earlier), Molly sat on the couch waiting for her dad to come home. Her mom paced back and forth, punching redial on the handset, muttering under her breath, how could you forget your only daughters birthday? But he didnt pick up. After a while they gave up and went to bed. An hour or so later she was woken by a shake on the shoulder. Her father was sitting in the chair beside her bed, swaying a little, holding a plastic grocery bag and whispering, Hey there, Molly Molasses, you awake? She opened her eyes. Blinked. You awake? he said again, reaching over and switching on the princess lamp hed bought for her at a yard sale. She nodded. Hold out your hand. Fumbling with the bag, he pulled out three flat jewelry cardseach gray plastic, covered in gray fuzz on one side, with a small charm wired in place. Fishy, he said, handing her the small pearly blue-and-green fish; raven, the pewter bird; bear, a tiny brown teddy bear. Its supposed to be a Maine black bear, but this was all they had, he says apologetically. So heres the dealio; I was trying to think of what I could get for your birthday that would mean something, not just the usual Barbie crap. And I was thinkingyou and me are Indian. Your moms not, but we are. And Ive always liked Indian symbols. Know what a symbol is? She shook her head. Shit that stands for shit. So lets see if I remember this right. Sitting on the bed, he plucked the bird card out of her hand, turning it around in his fingers. Okay, this guy is magic. Hell protect you from bad spells and other kinds of weirdness you might not even be aware of. Carefully he detached the small charm from its plastic card, unwinding the wire ties and placing the bird on her bedside table. Then he picked up the teddy bear. This fierce animal is a protector. She laughed. No, really. It may not look like it, but appearances can be deceiving. This dude is a fearless spirit. And with that fearless spirit, he signals bravery to those who require it. He freed the bear from the card and set it on the table next to the bird. All right. Now the fish. This one might be the best of all. It gives you the power to resist other peoples magic. How cool is that? She thought for a moment. But how is that different from bad spells? He took the wire off the card and set the fish beside the other charms, lining them up carefully with his finger. Very good question. Youre half asleep and still sharper than most people when theyre wide-awake. Okay, I can see how it sounds the same. But the difference is important, so pay attention. She sat up straighter. Somebody elses magic might not be bad spells. It might be stuff that looks real good and sounds real nice. It might beoh, I dont knowsomebody trying to convince you to do something you know you shouldnt do. Like smoke cigarettes. Yuck. Id never do that. Right. But maybe its something thats not so yucky, like taking a candy bar from the Mini-Mart without paying. But Mommy works there. Yeah, she does, but even if she didnt, you know its wrong to steal a candy bar, right? But maybe this person has a lot of magic and is very convincing. Oh, come on, Moll, you wont get caught, he says in a gruff whisper, dont you love candy, dont you want some, come on, just one time? Picking up the fish, he talks in a stern fishy voice: No, thank you! I know what youre up to. You are not putting your magic on me, no sir, I will swim right away from you, yhear? Okay, bye now. He turned the charm around and made a wave with his hand, up and down. Feeling around in the bag, he said, Aw, shit. I meant to get you a chain to clip these on. He patted her knee. Dont worry about it. Thatll be part two. Two weeks later, coming home late one night, he lost control of his car, and that was that. Within six months, Molly was living somewhere else. It was years before she bought herself that chain. Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 Portage. Vivian wrinkles her nose. It sounds likeoh, I dont knowa pie made of sausage. A pie made of sausage? Okay, maybe this isnt going to work. Carrying my boat between bodies of water? Im not so good with metaphors, dear, Vivian says. Whats it supposed to mean? Well, Molly says, I think the boat represents what you take with youthe essential thingsfrom place to place. And the waterwell, I think its the place youre always trying to get to. Does that make sense? Not really. Im afraid Im more confused than I was before. Molly pulls out a list of questions. Lets just get started and see what happens. They are sitting in the red wingback chairs in the living room in the waning light of late afternoon. Their work for the day is finished, and Terry has gone home. It was pouring earlier, great sheets of rain, and now the clouds outside the window are crystal tipped, like mountain peaks in the sky, rays emanating downward like an illustration in a childrens bible. Molly pushes the button on the tiny digital tape recorder she signed out from the school library and checks to see that its working. Then she takes a deep breath and runs a finger under the chain around her neck. My dad gave me these charms, and each one represents something different. The raven protects against black magic. The bear inspires courage. The fish signifies a refusal to recognize other peoples magic. I never knew those charms had meaning. Absently, Vivian reaches up and touches her own necklace. Looking closely at the pewter pendant for the first time, Molly asks, Is your necklacesignificant? Well, it is to me. But it doesnt have any magical qualities. She smiles. Maybe it does, Molly says. I think of these qualities as metaphorical, you know? So black magic is whatever leads people to the dark sidetheir own greed or insecurity that makes them do destructive things. And the warrior spirit of the bear protects us not only from others who might hurt us but our own internal demons. And I think other peoples magic is what were vulnerable tohow were led astray. So . . . my first question for you is kind of a weird one. I guess you could think of it as metaphorical, too. She glances at the tape recorder once more and takes a deep breath. Okay, here goes. Do you believe in spirits? Or ghosts? My, that is quite a question. Clasping her frail, veined hands in her lap, Vivian gazes out the window. For a moment Molly thinks she isnt going to answer. And then, so quietly that she has to lean forward in her chair to hear, Vivian says, Yes, I do. I believe in ghosts. Do you think theyre . . . present in our lives? Vivian fixes her hazel eyes on Molly and nods. Theyre the ones who haunt us, she says. The ones who have left us behind. Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930 Theres hardly any food in the house. Mr. Grote has returned from the woods empty-handed for the past three days, and were subsisting on eggs and potatoes. It gets so desperate he decides to kill one of the chickens and starts eyeing the goat. He is quiet these days when he comes in. Doesnt speak to the kids, who clamor for him, holding on to his legs. He bats them off like theyre flies on honey. On the evening of the third day, I can feel him looking at me. He has a funny expression on his face, like hes doing math in his head. Finally he says, So whats that thing you got around your neck? and its clear what hes up to. Theres no value in it, I say. Looks like silver, he says, peering at it. Tarnished. My heart thumps in my ears. Its tin. Lemme see. Mr. Grote comes closer, then touches the raised heart, the clasped hands, with his dirty finger. What is that, some kind of pagan symbol? I dont know what pagan is, but it sounds wicked. Probably. Who gave it to you? My gram. Its the first time Ive mentioned my family to him, and I dont like the feeling. I wish I could take it back. It was worthless to her. She was throwing it away. He frowns. Sure is strange looking. Doubt I could sell it if I tried. Mr. Grote talks to me all the timewhen Im pulling feathers off the chicken, frying potatoes on the woodstove, sitting by the fire in the living room with a child in my lap. He tells me about his familyhow there was some kind of dispute, and his brother killed his father when Mr. Grote was sixteen and he ran away from home and never went back. He met Mrs. Grote around that time, and Harold was born when they were eighteen. They never actually tied the knot until they had a houseful of kids. All he wants to do is hunt and fish, he says, but he has to feed and clothe all these babies. Gods honest truth, he didnt want a single one of em. Gods honest truth, hes afraid he could get mad enough to hurt them. As the weeks pass and the weather gets warmer, he takes to whittling on the front porch until late in the evening, a bottle of whiskey by his side, and hes always asking me to join him. In the darkness he tells me more than I want to know. He and Mrs. Grote barely say a word to each other anymore, he says. She hates to talk, but loves sex. But he cant stand to touch hershe doesnt bother to clean herself, and theres always a kid hanging off her. He says, I shouldve married someone like you, Dorothy. You wouldntve trapped me like this, would ya? He likes my red hair. You know what they say, he tells me. If you want trouble, find yourself a redhead. The first girl he kissed had red hair, but that was a long time ago, he says, back when he was young and good-looking. Surprised I was good-looking? I was a boy once, you know. Im only twenty-four now. He has never been in love with his wife, he says. Call me Gerald, he says. I know that Mr. Grote shouldnt be saying all this. I am only ten years old. THE CHILDREN WHIMPER LIKE WOUNDED DOGS AND CLUSTER TOGETHER for comfort. They dont play like normal kids, running and jumping. Their noses are always filled with green mucus, and their eyes are runny. I move through the house like an armored beetle, impervious to Mrs. Grotes sharp tongue, Harolds whining, the cries of Gerald Jr., who will never in his life satisfy his aching need to be held. I see Mabel turning into a sullen girl, all too aware of the ways she has been burdened, ill-treated, abandoned to this sorry lot. I know how it happened to the children, living this way, but its hard for me to love them. Their misery only makes me more aware of my own. It takes all my energy to keep myself clean, to get up and out the door in the morning to school. Lying on a mattress at night during a rainstorm, metal ribs poking at me from under the thin ticking, water dripping on my face, my stomach hollow and empty, I remember a time on the Agnes Pauline when it was raining and everyone was seasick and my da tried to distract us kids from our misery by getting us to close our eyes and visualize a perfect day. That was three years ago, when I was seven, but the day I imagined is still vivid in my mind. Its a Sunday afternoon and I am going to visit Gram in her snug home on the outskirts of town. Walking to her houseclimbing over stone walls and across fields of wild grass that move in the wind like waves on the seaI smell the sweet smoke from turf fires and listen to the thrushes and blackbirds practice their wild songs. In the distance I see the thatched-roof house with its whitewashed walls, pots of red geraniums blooming on the window-sill, Grams sturdy black bike propped inside the gate, near the hedge where blackberries and sloe fruit hang in dense blue clusters. Inside, a goose roasts in the oven and the black-and-white dog, Monty, waits under the table for scraps. Granddads out fishing for trout in the river with a homemade rod or hunting grouse or partridge across the fields. So its just Gram and me, alone for a few hours. Gram is rolling dough for a rhubarb tart, back and forth with the big rolling pin, dusting the yellow dough with handfuls of flour, stretching it to cover the brimming pie dish. Now and then she takes a puff of her Sweet Afton, wisps of smoke rising above her head. She offers me a bulls-eye sweet, which shes stashed in her apron pocket with a half-dozen half-smoked Afton buttsa mix of flavors Ill never forget. On the front of the yellow cigarette box is a poem by Robert Burns that Gram likes to sing to an old Irish tune: Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes. Flow gently, Ill sing thee a song in thy praise. I sit on a three-legged stool listening to the crackle and spit of goose skin in the oven while she trims a ribbon of dough from around the rim of the pie dish, making a cross with a remnant for the center and brushing it all with a beaten egg, finishing with a flourish of fork pricks and a sprinkle of sugar. When the tarts safely in the oven we move to the front room, the good room, she calls it, just the two of us, for afternoon tea, strong and black with plenty of sugar, and currant bread, sliced and warm. Gram chooses two teacups from her collection of rose-patterned china in the glass-front, along with matching saucers and small plates, and sets each piece carefully on a starched linen placemat. Irish lace, hanging in the windows, filters the afternoon light, softening the lines on her face. From my perch on the cushioned chair I see the wooden footrest with its floral needlepoint cover in front of her rocker, the small shelf of booksprayer books and poetry, mainlyby the stairs. I see Gram singing and humming as she pours the tea. Her strong hands and kind smile. Her love for me. Now, tossing and turning on this damp, sour-smelling mattress, I try to focus on my perfect day, but these memories lead to other, darker thoughts. Mrs. Grote, back there moaning in her bedroom, isnt so different from my own mam. Both of them overburdened and ill-equipped, weak by nature or circumstance, married to strong-willed, selfish men, addicted to the opiate of sleep. Mam expected me to cook and clean and take care of Maisie and the boys, relied on me to hear her troubles, called me naive when I insisted things would get better, that we would be all right. You dont know, shed say. You dont know the half of it. One time, not long before the fire, she was curled on her bed in the dark and I heard her crying and went in to comfort her. When I put my arms around her, she sprang up, flinging me away. You dont care about me, she snapped. Dont pretend you do. You only want your supper. I shrank back, my face flaming as if Id been struck. And in that moment something changed. I didnt trust her anymore. When she cried, I felt numb. After that, she called me heartless, unfeeling. And maybe I was. AT THE BEGINNING OF JUNE, WE ALL COME DOWN WITH LICE, EVERY last one of us, even Nettie, who has barely four hairs on her head. I remember lice from the boatMam was terrified of us kids getting it, and she checked our heads every day, quarantining us when we heard about outbreaks in other cabins. Worst thing in the world to get rid of, she said, and told us about the epidemic at the girls school in Kinvara when she was a boarder. They shaved every head. Mam was vain about her thick, dark hair and refused to cut it ever again. We got it on the boat, just the same. Gerald wont stop scratching, and when I inspect his scalp I find its teeming. I check the other two and find bugs on them as well. Every surface in the house probably has lice on it, the couch and chairs and Mrs. Grote. I know what an ordeal this will be: no more school, my hair gone, hours of labor, washing the bedsheets . . . I feel an overwhelming urge to flee. Mrs. Grote is lying in bed with the baby. Propped on two soiled pillows, the blanket pulled up to her chin, she just stares at me when I come in. Her eyes are sunk in their sockets. The children have lice. She purses her lips. Do you? Probably, since they do. She seems to think about this for a moment. Then she says, You brung the parasite into this house. My face colors. No, maam, I dont think so. They came from somewhere, she says. I think . . . I start, but its hard to get the words out. I think you might need to check the bed. And your hair. You brung it! she says, flinging back the covers. Come in here, acting all high and mighty, like youre better than us . . . Her nightgown is bunched up around her belly. I see a dark triangle of fur between her legs and turn away, embarrassed. Dont you dare leave! she shrieks. She snatches baby Nettie, wailing, off the bed and tucks her under one arm, pointing at the bed with the other. Sheets need to be boiled. Then you can start going through the kids hair with a comb. I told Gerald it was too much, bringing a vagrant in this house when Lord knows where shes been. The next five hours are even more miserable than I imaginedboiling pots of water and emptying it into a big tub without scalding any of the children, pulling every blanket and sheet and piece of clothing I can find into the water and scrubbing them with lye soap, then pushing the sheets through the hand wringer. Im barely strong enough to load and turn the crank, and my arms ache with the effort. When Mr. Grote comes home he talks to his wife, whos camped on the living room couch. Snatches of their conversation waft back to metrash, vermin, dirty Irish bog-trotterand in a few minutes he comes through the kitchen door to find me on my knees, trying to turn the wringer. Lord Jesus, he says, and gets to work helping me. Mr. Grote agrees that the mattresses are probably infested. He thinks if we drag them out to the porch and pour boiling water over them it will kill the bugs. I have half a mind to do the same to the kids, he says, and I know hes only barely kidding. He makes quick work of shaving the heads of all four of them with a straight razor. Despite my attempts to hold their heads still, they twitch and fidget, and as a result have little bloody nicks and gashes all over their heads. They remind me of photos of soldiers returning from the Great War, hollow-eyed and bald. Mr. Grote rubs lye over each head, and the children scream and yell. Mrs. Grote sits on the couch, watching. Wilma, its your turn, he says, turning to her with the razor in his hand. No. We have to check, at least. Check the girl. She brought them here. Mrs. Grote turns her face to the back of the couch. Mr. Grote motions me over. I take my hair out of its tight braids and kneel in front of him while he gently picks through. Its strange to feel this mans breath on my neck, his fingers on my scalp. He pinches something between his fingers and sits back on his heels. Yep. You got some eggs in there. I am the only one of my siblings with red hair. When I asked my da where I got it, he joked that there mustve been rust in the pipes. His own hair was darkcured, he said, through years of toilbut when he was young it was more like auburn. Nothing like yours, he said. Your hair is as vivid as a Kinvara sunset, autumn leaves, the Koi goldfish in the window of that hotel in Galway. Mr. Grote doesnt want to shave my head. He says it would be a crime. Instead he winds my hair around his fist and slices straight through it at the nape of my neck. A heap of coils slide to the floor, and he cuts the rest of the hair on my head about two inches long. I spend the next four days in that miserable house, burning logs and boiling water, the children cranky and underfoot as they always are, Mrs. Grote back on damp sheets on the mildewing mattress with her lice-infested hair, and theres nothing I can do about any of it, nothing at all. WEVE MISSED YOU, DOROTHY! MISS LARSEN SAYS WHEN I return to school. And mya brand-new hairstyle! I touch the top of my head where my hair is sticking up. Miss Larsen knows why my hair is shortits in the note I had to give her when I got out of the truckbut she doesnt give away a thing. Actually, she says, you look like a flapper. Do you know what that is? I shake my head. Flappers are big-city girls who cut their hair short and go dancing and do what they please. She gives me a friendly smile. Who knows, Dorothy? Maybe thats what youll become. Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930 By summers end, Mr. Grote seems to be having more luck. Whatever he can kill he brings home in a sack and skins right away, then hangs in the shed out back. He built a smoker behind the shed and now he keeps it going all the time, filling it with squirrels and fish and even raccoons. The meat gives off a curdled-sweet smell that turns my stomach, but its better than going hungry. Mrs. Grote is pregnant again. She says the babys due in March. Im worried Ill be expected to help her when the time comes. When Mam had Maisie there were plenty of neighbors on Elizabeth Street whod been through it before, and all I had to do was watch the younger kids. Mrs. Schatzman, down the hall, and the Krasnow sisters a floor below, with seven children between them, came into the apartment and took over, closing the bedroom door behind them. My da went out. Maybe he was sent out by them, I dont know. I was in the living room, playing patty-cake and reciting the alphabet and singing all the songs hed belt out when he came home from the pub late at night, waking the neighbors. By mid-September, round bales of golden straw dot the yellow fields on my walk to the county road, arranged in geometric formations and stacked in pyramids and scattered in haphazard clumps. In history we learn about the pilgrims in Plymouth Plantation in 1621 and the food they ate, wild turkeys and corn and five deer brought to the feast by the Indians. We talk about family traditions, but like the Byrnes, the Grotes dont take any notice of the holiday. When I mention it to Mr. Grote, he says, Whats the big deal about a turkey? I can bag one of those any old day. But he never does. Mr. Grote has become even more distant, up at the crack of dawn to go hunting, then skinning and smoking the meat at night. When hes home, he yells at the children or avoids them. Sometimes he shakes the baby until it whimpers and stops crying. I dont even know if he sleeps in the back bedroom anymore. Oftentimes I find him asleep on the couch in the living room, his form under a quilt like the exposed root of an old tree. I WAKE ONE NOVEMBER MORNING COATED IN A FINE COLD DUST. There must have been a storm in the night; snow piles in small drifts on the mattresses, having blown in through the cracks and crevices in the walls and roof. I sit up and look around. Three of the kids are in the room with me, huddled like sheep. I get up, shaking snow from my hair. I slept in my clothes from yesterday, but I dont want Miss Larsen and the girls at school, Lucy in particular, to see me in the same clothes two days in a row (though other kids, Ive noticed, have no shame about this at all). I pull a dress and my other sweater from my suitcase, which I keep open in a corner, and change quickly, pulling them over my head. None of my clothes are ever particularly clean, but I cling to these rituals nevertheless. Its the promise of the warm schoolhouse, Miss Larsens friendly smile, and the distraction of other lives, other worlds on the pages of the books we read in class, that get me out the door. The walk to the corner is getting harder; with each snowfall I have to forge a new path. Mr. Grote tells me that when the heavy storms hit in a few weeks I might as well forget it. At school Miss Larsen takes me aside. She holds my hand and looks into my eyes. Are things all right at home, Dorothy? I nod. If theres anything you want to tell me No, maam, I say. Everything is fine. You havent been handing in your homework. Theres no time or place to read or do homework at the Grotes, and after the sun goes down at five theres no light, either. There are only two candle stubs in the house, and Mrs. Grote keeps one with her in the back room. But I dont want Miss Larsen to feel sorry for me. I want to be treated like everyone else. Ill try harder, I say. You . . . Her fingers flutter at her neck, then drop. Is it difficult to keep clean? I shrug, feeling the heat of shame. My neck. Ill have to be more thorough. Do you have running water? No, maam. She bites her lip. Well. Come and see me if you ever want to talk, you hear? Im fine, Miss Larsen, I tell her. Everything is fine. I AM ASLEEP ON A PILE OF BLANKETS, HAVING BEEN NUDGED OFF THE mattresses by a fitful child, when I feel a hand on my face. I open my eyes. Mr. Grote, bending over me, puts a finger to his lips, then motions for to me to come. Groggily I get up, wrapping a quilt around myself, and follow him to the living room. In the weak moonlight, filtered through clouds and the dirty windows, I see him sit on the gold sofa and pat the cushion beside him. I pull the quilt tighter. He pats the cushion again. I go over to him, but I dont sit. Its cold tonight, he says in a low voice. I could use some company. You should go back there with her, I say. Dont want to do that. Im tired, I tell him. Im going to bed. He shakes his head. Youre gonna stay here with me. I feel a flutter in my stomach and turn to leave. He reaches out and grabs my arm. I want you to stay, I said. I look at him in the gloom. Mr. Grote has never frightened me before, but something in his voice is different, and I know I need to be careful. His mouth is curled up at the edges into a funny smile. He tugs the quilt. We can warm each other up. I yank it tighter around my shoulders and turn away again, and then I am falling. I hit my elbow on the hard floor and feel a sharp pain as I land heavily on it, my nose to the floor. Twisting in the quilt, I look up to see what happened. I feel a rough hand on my head. I want to move, but am trapped in a cocoon. You do what I say. I feel his stubbled face on my cheek, smell his gamy breath. I squirm again and he puts his foot on my back. Be quiet. His big rough hand is inside the quilt, and then its under my sweater, under my dress. I try to pull away but I cant. His hand roams up and down and I feel a jolt of shock as he probes the place between my legs, pushes at it with his fingers. His sandpaper face is still against mine, rubbing against my cheek, and his breathing is jagged. Yesss, he gulps into my ear. He is hunched above me like a dog, one hand rubbing hard at my skin and the other unbuttoning his trousers. Hearing the rough snap of each button, I bend and squirm but am trapped in the quilt like a fly in a web. I see his pants open and low on his hips, the engorged penis between his legs, his hard white belly. Ive seen enough animals in the yard to know what hes trying to do. Though my arms are trapped, I rock my body to try to seal the quilt around me. He yanks at it roughly and I feel it giving way, and as it does he whispers in my ear, Easy, now, you like this, dont you, and I start to whimper. When he sticks two fingers inside me, his jagged nails tear at my skin and I cry out. He slaps his other hand over my mouth and rams his fingers deeper, grinding against me, and I make noises like a horse, frantic guttural sounds from deep in my throat. And then he lifts his hips and takes his hand off my mouth. I scream and feel the blinding shock of a slap across my face. From the direction of the hallway comes a voiceGerald?and he freezes, just for a second, before slithering off me like a lizard, fumbling with his buttons, pulling himself off the floor. What in the name of Christ Mrs. Grote is leaning against the door frame, cupping her rounded stomach with one hand. I yank my underpants up and my dress and sweater down, sit up and stumble to my feet, clutching the quilt around me. Not her! she wails. Now, Wilma, it isnt what it looks like You animal! Her voice is deep and savage. She turns to me. And youyouI knew She points at the door. Get out. Get out! It takes me a moment to understand what she meansthat she wants me to leave, now, in the cold, in the middle of the night. Easy, Wilma, calm down, GeraldMr. Grotesays. I want that girlthat filthout of my house. Lets talk about this. I want her out! All right, all right. He looks at me with dull eyes, and I can see that as bad as this situation is, its about to get worse. I dont want to stay here, but how can I survive out there? Mrs. Grote disappears down the hall. I hear a child crying in the back. She returns a moment later with my suitcase and heaves it across the room. It crashes against the wall, spilling its contents across the floor. My boots and the mustard coat, with Fannys precious lined gloves in the pocket, are on a nail by the front door, and Im wearing my only pair of threadbare socks. I make my way to the suitcase and grab what I can, open the door to a sharp blast of cold air and toss a few scattered pieces of clothing onto the porch, my breath a puff of smoke in front of me. As I put on my boots, fumbling with the laces, I hear Mr. Grote say, What if something happens to her? and Mrs. Grotes reply: If that stupid girl gets it in her head to run away, theres nothing we can do, is there? And run I do, leaving almost everything I possess in the world behind memy brown suitcase, the three dresses I made at the Byrnes, the fingerless gloves and change of underwear and the navy sweater, my school-books and pencil, the composition book Miss Larsen gave me to write in. The sewing packet Fanny made for me, at least, is in the inner pocket of my coat. I leave four children I could not help and did not love. I leave a place of degradation and squalor, the likes of which I will never experience again. And I leave any last shred of my childhood on the rough planks of that living room floor. Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930 Trudging forward like a sleepwalker in the bitter cold, I make my way down the driveway, then turn left and plod up the rutted dirt road to the falling-down bridge. In places I have to crunch through the top layer of snow, thick as piecrust. The sharp edges lacerate my ankles. As I gaze up at the crystal stars glittering overhead, cold steals the breath from my mouth. Once Im out of the woods and on the main road, a full moon bathes the fields around me in a shimmering, pearly light. Gravel crunches loudly under my boots; I can feel its pebbly roughness through my thin soles. I stroke the soft wool inside my gloves, so warm that not even my fingertips are cold. Im not afraidit was more frightening in that shack than it is on the road, with moonlight all around. My coat is thin, but Im wearing what clothing I could salvage underneath, and as I hurry along I begin to warm up. I make a plan: I will walk to school. Its only four miles. The dark line of the horizon is far in the distance, the sky above it lighter, like layers of sediment in rock. The schoolhouse is fixed in my mind. I just have to get there. Walking at a steady pace, my boots scuffing the gravel, I count a hundred steps and start again. My da used to say its good to test your limits now and then, learn what the body is capable of, what you can endure. He said this when we were in the throes of sickness on the Agnes Pauline, and again in the bitter first winter in New York, when four of us, including Mam, came down with pneumonia. Test your limits. Learn what you can endure. I am doing that. As I walk along I feel as weightless and insubstantial as a slip of paper, lifted by the wind and gliding down the road. I think about the many ways I ignored what was in front of mehow blind I was, how foolish not to be on my guard. I think of Dutchy, who knew enough to fear the worst. Ahead on the horizon, the first pink light of dawn begins to show. And just before it, the white clapboard building becomes visible halfway up a small ridge. Now that the schoolhouse is within sight my energy drains, and all I want to do is sink down by the side of the road. My feet are leaden and aching. My face is numb; my nose feels frozen. I dont know how I make it to the school, but somehow I do. When I get to the front door, I find that the building is locked. I go around to the back, to the porch where they keep wood for the stove, and I open the door and fall onto the floor. An old horse blanket is folded by the woodpile, and I wrap myself in it and fall into a fitful sleep. I AM RUNNING IN A YELLOW FIELD, THROUGH A MAZE OF HAY BALES, unable to find my way . . . DOROTHY? I FEEL A HAND ON MY SHOULDER, AND SPRING AWAKE. Its Mr. Post. What in Gods name . . . ? For a moment Im not sure myself. I look up at Mr. Post, at his round red cheeks and puzzled expression. I look around at the pile of rough-cut wood, the wide whitewashed planks of the porch walls. The door to the schoolroom is ajar, and its clear that Mr. Post has come to get wood to start the fire, as he must do every morning before heading out to pick us up. Are you all right? I nod, willing myself to be. Does your family know youre here? No, sir. Howd you get to the school? I walked. He stares at me for a moment, then says, Lets get you out of the cold. Mr. Post guides me to a chair in the schoolroom and puts my feet on another chair, then takes the dirty blanket from my shoulders and replaces it with a clean plaid one he finds in a cupboard. He unlaces each of my boots and sets them beside the chair, tsking over the holes in my socks. Then I watch him make a fire. The room is already getting warm when Miss Larsen arrives a few minutes later. Whats this? she says. Dorothy? She unwraps her violet scarf and takes off her hat and gloves. In the window behind her I see a car pulling away. Miss Larsens long hair is coiled in a bun at the nape of her neck, and her brown eyes are clear and bright. The pink wool skirt shes wearing brings out the color in her cheeks. Kneeling by my chair, she says, Goodness, child. Have you been here long? Mr. Post, having completed his duties, is putting on his hat and coat to make the rounds in the truck. She was asleep out there on the porch when I arrived. He laughs. Scared the bejeezus out of me. Im sure it did, she says. Says she walked here. Four miles. He shakes his head. Lucky she didnt freeze to death. You seem to have warmed her up nicely. Shes thawing out. Well, Im off to get the others. He pats the front of his coat. See you in a jiff. As soon as he leaves, Miss Larsen says, Now then. Tell me what happened. And I do. I wasnt planning to, but she looks at me with such genuine concern that everything spills out. I tell her about Mrs. Grote lying in bed all day and Mr. Grote in the woods and the snow dust on my face in the morning and the stained mattresses. I tell her about the cold squirrel stew and the squalling children. And I tell her about Mr. Grote on the sofa, his hands on me, and pregnant Mrs. Grote in the hallway, yelling at me to get out. I tell her that I was afraid to stop walking, afraid that I would fall asleep. I tell her about the gloves Fanny knitted for me. Miss Larsen puts her hand over mine and leaves it there, squeezing it every now and then. Oh, Dorothy, she says. And then, Thank goodness for the gloves. Fanny sounds like a good friend. She was. She holds her chin, tapping it with two fingers. Who brought you to the Grotes? Mr. Sorenson from the Childrens Aid Society. All right. When Mr. Post gets back, Ill send him out to find this Mr. Sorenson. Opening her lunch pail, she pulls out a biscuit. You must be hungry. Normally I would refuseI know this is part of her lunch. But I am so ravenous that at the sight of the biscuit my mouth fills with water. I accept it shamefully and wolf it down. While Im eating the biscuit Miss Larsen heats water on the stove for tea and cuts an apple into slices, arranging them on a chipped china plate from the shelf. I watch as she spoons loose tea into a strainer and pours the boiling water over it into two cups. Ive never seen her offer tea to a child before, and certainly not to me. Miss Larsen, I start. Could you everwould you ever She seems to know what Im asking. Take you home to live with me? She smiles, but her expression is pained. I care about you, Dorothy. I think you know that. But I cantIm in no position to take care of a girl. I live in a boardinghouse. I nod, a knob in my throat. I will help you find a home, she says gently. A place that is safe and clean, where youll be treated like a ten-year-old girl. I promise you that. When the other kids file in from the truck, they look at me curiously. Whats she doing here? one boy, Robert, says. Dorothy came in a little early this morning. Miss Larsen smooths the front of her pretty pink skirt. Take your seats and pull out your workbooks, children. After Mr. Post has come in from the back with more wood and arranged the logs in the bin by the stove, Miss Larsen signals to him, and he follows her back to the entry vestibule. A few minutes later he heads outside again, still in his coat and cap. The engine roars to life and the brakes screech as he maneuvers his truck down the steep drive. About an hour later, I hear the trucks distinctive clatter and look out the window. I watch as it slowly makes its way up the steep drive, then comes to a stop. Mr. Post climbs out and comes in the porch door, and Miss Larsen excuses herself from the lesson and goes to the back. A few moments later she calls my name and I rise from my desk, all eyes on me, and make my way to the porch. Miss Larsen seems worried. She keeps touching her hair in the bun. Dorothy, Mr. Sorenson is not convinced . . . She stops and touches her neck, glances beseechingly at Mr. Post. I think what Miss Larsen is trying to say, he says slowly, is that you will need to explain what happened in detail to Mr. Sorenson. Ideally, as you know, they want to make the placements work. Mr. Sorenson wonders if this might simply be a matter ofmiscommunication. I feel light-headed as I realize what Mr. Post is saying. He doesnt believe me? A look passes between them. Its not a question of believing or not believing. He just needs to hear the story from you, Miss Larsen says. For the first time in my life, I feel the wildness of revolt. Tears spring to my eyes. Im not going back there. I cant. Miss Larsen puts an arm around my shoulder. Dorothy, dont worry. Youll tell Mr. Sorenson your story, and Ill tell him what I know. I wont let you go back there. The next few hours are a blur. I mimic Lucys movements, pulling out the spelling primer when she does, lining up behind her to write on the board, but I barely register whats going on around me. When she whispers, Are you all right? I shrug. She squeezes my hand but doesnt probe furtherand I dont know if its because she senses I dont want to talk about it or if shes afraid of what I might say. After lunch, when we are back in our seats, I see a vehicle way off in the distance. The sound of the motor fills my head; the dark truck coming toward the school is the only thing I see. And here it isputtering up the steep drive, screeching to a stop behind Mr. Posts truck. I see Mr. Sorenson in the drivers seat. He sits there for a moment. Takes off his black felt hat, strokes his black mustache. Then he opens the car door. MY, MY, MY, MR. SORENSON SAYS WHEN IVE FINISHED MY STORY. We are sitting on hard chairs on the back porch, warmer now than it was earlier in the day from the sun and the heat of the stove. He reaches out to pat my leg, then seems to think better of it and rests his hand on his hip. With his other hand he strokes his mustache. Such a long walk in the cold. You must have been very . . . His voice trails off. And yet. And yet. I wonder: the middle of the night. Might you perhaps have . . . ? I look at him steadily, my heart pounding in my chest. . . . misconstrued? He looks at Miss Larsen. A ten-year-old girl . . . dont you find, Miss Larsen, that there can be a certainexcitability? A tendency to overdramatize? It depends on the girl, Mr. Sorenson, she says stiffly, lifting her chin. I have never known Dorothy to lie. Chuckling, he shakes his head. Ah, Miss Larsen, thats not at all what Im saying, of course not! I merely meant that sometimes, particularly if one has been through distressing events in ones young life, one might be inclined to jump to conclusionsto inadvertently blow things out of proportion. I saw with my own eyes that living conditions in the Grote household were, well, less than optimal. But we cant all have storybook families, can we, Miss Larsen? The world is not a perfect place, and when we are dependent on the charity of others, we are not always in a position to complain. He smiles at me. My recommendation, Dorothy, is to give it another try. I can talk to the Grotes and impress upon them the need to improve conditions. Miss Larsens eyes are glittering strangely, and a red rash has crept up her neck. Did you hear the girl, Mr. Sorenson? she says in a strained voice. There was an attempted . . . violation. And Mrs. Grote, coming upon the appalling scene, cast her out. Surely you dont expect Dorothy to return to that situation, now, do you? Frankly, I wonder why you dont ask the police to go out there and take a look. It doesnt sound like a healthy place for the other children there, either. Mr. Sorenson is nodding slowly, as if to say Now, now, it was just a thought, dont get shrill, lets all calm down. But what he says is, Well, then, you see, were in a bit of a pickle. There are no families that I know of at the moment seeking orphans. I could inquire farther afield, of course. Contact the Childrens Aid in New York. If it comes down to it, Dorothy could go back there, I suppose, on the next train that comes through. Surely we wont need to resort to that, Miss Larsen says. He gives a little shrug. One would hope not. One doesnt know. She puts her hand on my shoulder and gives it a squeeze. Lets explore our options then, Mr. Sorenson, shall we? And in the meantimefor a day or twoDorothy can come home with me. I look up at her with surprise. But I thought It cant be permanent, she says quickly. I live in a boardinghouse, Mr. Sorenson, where no children are allowed. But my landlady has a kind heart, and she knows I am a schoolteacher and that not all of my children areshe appears to pick her words carefullyhoused advantageously. I think she will be sympatheticas I say, for a day or two. Mr. Sorenson strokes his mustache. Very well, Miss Larsen. I will look into other possibilities, and leave you in charge of Dorothy for a few days. Young lady, I trust that you will be appropriately polite and well behaved. Yes, sir, I say solemnly, but my heart is swelling with joy. Miss Larsen is taking me home with her! I cant believe my good fortune. Hemingford, Minnesota, 1930 The man who picks Miss Larsen and me up after school signals surprise at my presence with a lift of his eyebrow, but says nothing. Mr. Yates, this is Dorothy, she tells him, and he nods at me in the rearview mirror. Dorothy, Mr. Yates works for my landlady, Mrs. Murphy, and is kind enough to take me to the schoolhouse each day, since I dont drive myself. Its a pleasure, miss, he says, and I can see by his pink ears that he means it. Hemingford is much larger than Albans. Mr. Yates drives slowly down Main Street, and I gaze out at the signs: the Imperial Theatre (whose marquee trumpets NOW WITH THE TALKING, SINGING AND DANCING!); the Hemingford Ledger; Wallas Recreational Parlor, advertising BILLIARDS, FOUNTAIN, CANDY, TOBACCO in its plate-glass window; Farmers State Bank; Shindlers Hardware; and Nielsens General StoreEVERYTHING TO EAT AND WEAR. At the corner of Main and Park, several blocks from the town center, Mr. Yates pulls to a stop in front of a light-blue Victorian house with a wraparound porch. An oval placard by the front door announces, HEMINGFORD HOME FOR YOUNG LADIES. The bell tinkles when Miss Larsen opens the door. She ushers me in but holds a finger to her lips and whispers, Wait here a moment, before pulling off her gloves, unwrapping the scarf around her neck, and disappearing through a door at the end of the hall. The foyer is formal, with flocked burgundy wallpaper, a large gilt-framed mirror, and a dark, ornately carved chest of drawers. After looking around a bit, I perch on a slippery horsehair chair. In one corner an imposing grandfather clock ticks loudly, and when it chimes the hour, I nearly slide off in surprise. After a few minutes, Miss Larsen returns. My landlady, Mrs. Murphy, would like to meet you, she says. I told her about yourpredicament. I felt I needed to explain why I brought you here. I hope thats all right. Yes, of course. Just be yourself, Dorothy, she says. All right, then. This way. I follow her down the hall and through the door into a parlor, where a plump, bosomy woman with a nimbus of downy gray hair is sitting on a rose velvet sofa next to a glowing fire. She has long lines beside her nose like a marionette and a watchful, alert expression. Well, my girl, it sounds as if youve had quite a time of it, she says, motioning for me to sit across from her in one of two floral wingback chairs. I sit in one and Miss Larsen takes the other, smiling at me a little anxiously. Yes, maam, I say to Mrs. Murphy. Ohyoure Irish, are you? Yes, maam. She beams. I thought so! But I had a Polish girl here a few years ago with hair redder than yours. And of course there are the Scottish, though not as commonly in these parts. Well, and Im Irish too, if you couldnt tell, she adds. Came over like you as a wee lass. My people are from Enniscorthy. And yours? Kinvara. In County Galway. Indeed, I know the place! My cousin married a Kinvara girl. Are you familiar with the Sweeney clan? Ive never heard of the Sweeney clan, but I nod just the same. Well, then. She looks pleased. Whats your family name? Power. And you were christened . . . Dorothy? No, Niamh. My name was changed by the first family I came to. My face reddens as I realize Im confessing to having been thrown out of two homes. But she doesnt seem to notice, or care. I guessed as much! Dorothy is no Irish name. Leaning toward me, she inspects my necklace. A claddagh. I havent seen one of those in an elephants age. From home? I nod. My gram gave it to me. Yes, and see how she guards it, she comments to Miss Larsen. Im not aware until she says this that Im holding it between my fingers. I didnt mean Oh, lass, its all right, she says, patting my knee. Its the only thing youve got to remind you of your people, now, isnt it? When Mrs. Murphy turns her attention to the cabbage-rose tea service on the table in front of her, Miss Larsen gives me a wink. I think were both surprised that Mrs. Murphy seems to be warming to me so quickly. MISS LARSENS ROOM IS TIDY AND BRIGHT, AND ABOUT THE SIZE OF a storage closetbarely big enough for a single bed, a tall oak dresser, and a narrow pine desk with a brass lamp. The bedspread has neatly tucked-in hospital corners; the pillowcase is clean and white. Several watercolors of flowers hang from hooks on the walls, and a black-and-white photograph of a stern-looking couple sits on the dresser in a gilt frame. Are these your parents? I ask, looking closely at the picture. A bearded man in a dark suit stands stiffly behind a thin woman seated in a straight-backed chair. The woman, wearing a plain black dress, looks like a sterner version of Miss Larsen. Yes. She comes closer and gazes at the picture. Theyre both dead now, so I suppose that makes me an orphan, too, she says after a moment. Im not really an orphan, I tell her. Oh? At least I dont know. There was a firemy mother went to the hospital. I never saw her again. But you think she may be alive? I nod. Would you hope to find her? I think of what the Schatzmans said about my mother after the firethat shed gone crazy, lost her mind after losing all those children. It was a mental hospital. She wasntwell. Even before the fire. This is the first time Ive admitted this to anyone. Its a relief to speak the words. Oh, Dorothy. Miss Larsen sighs. Youve been through a lot in your young life, havent you? When we go down to the formal dining room at six oclock, I am stunned at the bounty: a ham in the middle of the table, roasted potatoes, brussels sprouts glistening with butter, a basket of rolls. The dishes are real china in a pattern of purple forget-me-nots with silver trim. Even in Ireland I never saw a table like this, except on a holidayand this is an ordinary Tuesday. Five boarders and Mrs. Murphy are standing behind chairs. I take the empty seat beside Miss Larsen. Ladies, Mrs. Murphy says, standing at the head of the table. This is Miss Niamh Power, from County Galway, by way of New York. She came to Minnesota as a train rideryou may have heard about them in the papers. She will be with us for a few days. Lets do our best to make her feel welcome. The other women are all in their twenties. One works as a counter girl at Nielsens General Store, one at a bakery, another at the Hemingford Ledger as a receptionist. Under the watchful eye of Mrs. Murphy, all of them are polite, even rail-thin and sour-faced Miss Grund, a clerk in a shoe store. (Shes not accustomed to children, Miss Larsen whispers to me after Miss Grund shoots an icy look down the dinner table.) These women are a little afraid of Mrs. Murphy, I can see. Over the course of dinner I notice that she can be snappish and short-tempered, and she likes to be the boss. When one of them expresses an opinion she disagrees with, she looks around at the group and gathers allies for her position. But she is nothing but kind to me. Last night I barely slept on the cold porch of the school, and before that I was on a soiled mattress in a fetid room with three other children. But tonight I have my own room, the bed neatly made up with crisp white sheets and two clean quilts. When Mrs. Murphy bids me good night, she hands me a gown and undergarments, a towel and hand cloth and a brush for my teeth. She shows me to the bathroom down the hall, with running water in its sink and a WC that flushes and a large porcelain tub, and tells me to draw a bath and stay in it as long as I wish; the others can use a different powder room. When she leaves, I inspect my reflection in the mirrorthe first time since arriving in Minnesota Ive looked in a whole piece of mirror unclouded by spots and damage. A girl I barely recognize stares back. She is thin and pale, dull eyed, with sharp cheekbones and matted dark red hair, wind-chapped cheeks, and a red-rimmed nose. Her lips are scabbed, and her sweater is pilled and soiled with dirt. I swallowshe swallows. My throat hurts. I must be getting sick. When I shut my eyes in the warm bath, I feel as if Im floating inside a cloud. Back in my room, warm and dry and dressed in my new gown, I shut the door and lock it. I stand with my back against it, savoring the feeling. Ive never had a room of my ownnot in Ireland, on Elizabeth Street, at the Childrens Aid Society, in the hallway at the Byrnes, at the Grotes. I pull back the covers, tucked tightly around the mattress, and slip between the sheets. Even the pillow, with its cotton casing smelling of washing soap, is a marvel. Lying on my back with the electric lamp on, I gaze at the small red and blue flowers in the off-white wallpaper, the white ceiling above, the oak dresser with its bacon pattern and smooth white knobs. I look down at the coiled rag rug and the shiny wood floor underneath. I turn off the light and lie in the dark. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I can make out the shapes of each object in the room. Electric lamp. Dresser. Bed frame. My boots. For the first time since I stepped off the train in Minnesota more than a year ago, I feel safe. FOR THE NEXT WEEK, I BARELY LEAVE MY BED. THE WHITE-HAIRED doctor who comes to examine me puts a cold metal stethoscope to my chest, listens thoughtfully for a few moments, and announces that I have pneumonia. For days I live in a fever, with the covers pulled up and the shades drawn, the door to my bedroom open so that Mrs. Murphy can hear me call. She puts a small silver bell on the dresser and instructs me to shake it if I need anything. Im just downstairs, she says. Ill come right up. And though she bustles around, muttering about all the things she needs to do and how one girl or anothershe calls them girls, though they are all working womendidnt make her bed or left her dishes in the sink or neglected to bring the tea set to the kitchen when she left the parlor, she drops everything when I ring the bell. The first few days I slip in and out of sleep, opening my eyes to the soft glow of sunlight through my window shade, and then the room is dark; Mrs. Murphy leans over me with a cup of water, her yeasty breath on my face, the warm hennish bulk of her against my shoulder. Miss Larsen, hours later, placing a cool folded cloth on my forehead with careful fingers. Mrs. Murphy nursing me with chicken soup filled with carrots and celery and potatoes. In my moments of fevered consciousness I think I am dreaming. Am I really in this warm bed in this clean room? Am I really being taken care of ? And then I open my eyes in the light of a new day, and feel different. Mrs. Murphy takes my temperature and it is under one hundred degrees. Raising the shade, she says, Look at what youve missed, and I sit up and look outside at snow like swirling cotton, blanketing everything and still falling, the sky white and more whitetrees, cars, the sidewalk, the house next door, transformed. My own awakening feels as momentous. I too am blanketed, my harsh edges obscured and transformed. When Mrs. Murphy learns that I have come with almost nothing, she sets about gathering clothes. In the hall is a large trunk filled with garments that boarders have left behind, chemises and stockings and dresses, sweater sets and skirts, and even a few pairs of shoes, and she lays them out on the double bed in her own large room for me to try on. Almost everything is too big, but a few pieces will worka sky-blue cardigan embroidered with white flowers, a brown dress with pearl buttons, several sets of stockings, a pair of shoes. Jenny Early, Mrs. Murphy sighs, fingering a particularly pretty yellow floral dress. A slip of a girl, she was, and lovely too. But when she found herself in the family way . . . She looks at Miss Larsen, who shakes her head. Water under the bridge. I heard that Jenny had a nice wedding and a healthy baby boy, so alls well that ends well. As my health improves I begin to worry: this wont last. I will be sent away. I made it through this year because I had to, because I had no options. But now that Ive experienced comfort and safety, how can I go back? These thoughts take me to the edge of despair, so I will myselfI force myselfnot to have them. Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 Vivian is waiting by the front door when Molly arrives. Ready? she says, turning to head up the stairs as soon as Molly crosses the threshold. Hang on. Molly shrugs off her army jacket and hangs it on the black iron coatrack in the corner. What about that cup of tea? No time, Vivian calls over her shoulder. Im old, you know. Could drop dead any minute. Weve got to get going! Really? No tea? Molly grumbles, following behind her. A curious thing is happening. The stories that Vivian began to tell only with prodding, in dutiful answer to specific questions, are spilling forth unprompted, one after another, so many that even Vivian seems surprised. Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? she said after one session. Macbeth, dear. Look it up. Vivian has never really talked about her experience on the train with anyone. It was shameful, she says. Too much to explain, too hard to believe. All those children sent on trains to the Midwestcollected off the streets of New York like refuse, garbage on a barge, to be sent as far away as possible, out of sight. And anyway, how do you talk about losing everything? But what about your husband? Molly asks. You must have told him. I told him some things, Vivian says. But so much of my experience was painful, and I didnt want to burden him. Sometimes its easier to try to forget. Aspects of Vivians memory are triggered with each box they open. The sewing kit wrapped in cheesecloth evokes the Byrnes grim home. The mustard-colored coat with military buttons, the felt-lined knit gloves, the brown dress with pearl buttons, a carefully packed set of cabbage-rose china. Soon enough Molly is able to keep the cast of characters straight in her head: Niamh, Gram, Maisie, Mrs. Scatcherd, Dorothy, Mr. Sorenson, Miss Larsen. . . . One story circles back to another. Upright and do right make all right. As if joining scraps of fabric to make a quilt, Molly puts them in the right sequence and stitches them together, creating a pattern that was impossible to see when each piece was separate. When Vivian describes how it felt to be at the mercy of strangers, Molly nods. She knows full well what its like to tamp down your natural inclinations, to force a smile when you feel numb. After a while you dont know what your own needs are anymore. Youre grateful for the slightest hint of kindness, and then, as you get older, suspicious. Why would anyone do anything for you without expecting something in return? And anywaymost of the time they dont. More often than not, you see the worst of people. You learn that most adults lie. That most people only look out for themselves. That you are only as interesting as you are useful to someone. And so your personality is shaped. You know too much, and this knowledge makes you wary. You grow fearful and mistrustful. The expression of emotion does not come naturally, so you learn to fake it. To pretend. To display an empathy you dont actually feel. And so it is that you learn how to pass, if youre lucky, to look like everyone else, even though youre broken inside. EH, I DONT KNOW, TYLER BALDWIN SAYS ONE DAY IN AMERICAN History after they watch a film about the Wabanakis. Whats that saying againto the victor go the spoils? I mean, it happens all the time, all over the world, right? One group wins, another loses. Well, its true that humans have been dominating and oppressing each other since time began, Mr. Reed says. Do you think the oppressed groups should just stop their complaining? Yeah. You lost. I kind of feel like saying Deal with it, Tyler says. The rage Molly feels is so overwhelming she sees spots before her eyes. For more than four hundred years Indians were deceived, corralled, forced onto small pieces of land and discriminated against, called dirty Indians, injuns, redskins, savages. They couldnt get jobs or buy homes. Would it compromise her probationary status to strangle this imbecile? She takes a deep breath and tries to calm down. Then she raises her hand. Mr. Reed looks at her with surprise. Molly rarely raises her hand. Yes? Im an Indian. Shes never told anyone this except Jack. To Tyler she knows shes just . . . Goth, if he thinks of her at all. Penobscot. I was born on Indian Island. And I just want to say that what happened to the Indians is exactly like what happened to the Irish under British rule. It wasnt a fair fight. Their land was stolen, their religion was forbidden, they were forced to bend to foreign domination. It wasnt okay for the Irish, and its not okay for the Indians. Jeez, soapbox much? Tyler mutters. Megan McDonald, one seat ahead of Molly, raises her hand, and Mr. Reed nods. She has a point, she says. My grandpas from Dublin. Hes always talking about what the Brits did. Well, my granddads parents lost everything in the Great Depression. You dont see me crying for handouts. Shit happens, excuse my French, Tyler says. Tylers French aside, Mr. Reed says, raising his eyebrows at the class as if to say he doesnt approve but will deal with it later, is that what theyre doing? Asking for handouts? They just want to be treated fairly, a kid in the back says. But what does that mean? And where does it end? another kid asks. As others join the conversation, Megan turns in her seat and squints at Molly, as if noticing her for the first time. An Indian, huh. Thats cool, she whispers. Like Molly Molasses, right? WEEKDAYS, NOW, MOLLY DOESNT WAIT FOR JACK TO TAKE HER TO Vivians house. Outside of school she picks up the Island Explorer. You have other things to do, she tells him. I know its a pain for you to wait on me. But in truth, taking the bus gives her the freedom to stay as long as Vivian will have her without Jacks questions. Molly hasnt told Jack about the portage project. She knows hed say its a bad ideathat shes getting overinvolved in Vivians life, asking too much of her. Even so, Jack has had an edge in his voice recently. So hey, youre getting to the end of your hours soon, huh? he says, and, Making any progress up there? These days Molly slips into Vivians house, ducks her head with a quick hello to Terry, sidles up the stairs. It seems both too hard to explain her growing relationship with Vivian and beside the point. What does it matter what anyone else thinks? Heres my theory, Jack says one day as theyre sitting outside on the lawn at school during lunch period. Its a beautiful morning, and the air is fresh and mild. Dandelions dance like sparklers in the grass. Vivian is like a mother figure to you. Grandmother, great-grandmotherwhatever. She listens to you, she tells you stories, lets you help her out. She makes you feel needed. No, Molly says with irritation. Its not like that. I have hours to do; she has work that needs to be done. Simple. Not really so simple, Moll, he says with exaggerated reasonableness. Ma tells me theres not a helluva lot going on up there. He pops open a big can of iced tea and takes a long swallow. Were making progress. Its just hard to see. Hard to see? He laughs, unwrapping a Subway Italian sandwich. I thought the whole point was to get rid of the boxes. That seems fairly straightforward. No? Molly snaps a carrot stick in half. Were organizing things. So theyll be easier to find. By who? Estate sale people? Because thats who its going to be, you know. Vivian will probably never set foot up there again. Is this really any of his business? Then were making it easier for the estate sale people. In truth, though she hasnt admitted it out loud until now, Molly has virtually given up on the idea of disposing of anything. After all, what does it matter? Why shouldnt Vivians attic be filled with things that are meaningful to her? The stark truth is that she will die sooner than later. And then professionals will descend on the house, neatly and efficiently separating the valuable from the sentimental, lingering only over items of indeterminate origin or worth. So yesMolly has begun to view her work at Vivians in a different light. Maybe it doesnt matter how much gets done. Maybe the value is in the processin touching each item, in naming and identifying, in acknowledging the significance of a cardigan, a pair of childrens boots. Its her stuff, Molly says. She doesnt want to get rid of it. I cant force her, can I? Taking a bite of his sandwich, its fillings spilling out onto the waxy paper below his chin, Jack shrugs. I dont know. I think its more thehe chews and swallows and Molly looks away, annoyed at his passive aggressionappearance of it, yknow? What do you mean? To Ma it might look a little like youre taking advantage of the situation. Molly looks down at her own sandwich. I just know youll like it if you give it a chance, Dina said breezily when Molly asked her to stop putting bologna sandwiches in her lunch bag, adding, or you can make your own damn lunch. So now Molly doesshe swallowed her pride, asked Ralph for money, and bought almond butter, organic honey, and nutty bread in the health food store in Bar Harbor. And its fine, though her little stash is about as welcome in the pantry as a fresh-killed mouse brought in by the cator perhaps, being vegetarian, less soand is quarantined on a shelf in the mudroom so no one gets confused, as Dina says. Molly feels anger rising in her chestat Dinas unwillingness to accept her for who she is, at Terrys judgments and Jacks need to placate her. At all of them. The thing isits not really your mothers business, is it? The moment she says this she regrets it. Jack gives her a sharp look. Are you kidding me? He balls up the Subway wrapper and stuffs it in the plastic bag it came in. Molly has never seen him like this, his jaw tight, his eyes hard and angry. My mother went out on a limb for you, he says. She brought you into that house. And do I need to remind you that she lied to Vivian? If anything happens, she could lose her job. Like that. He snaps his fingers hard. Jack, youre right. Im sorry, she says, but he is already on his feet and walking away.

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