• New short fiction, every week.
    The words you know and love . . .
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  • 3. The Danger of Everything

    By Robin Antalek

    Robin Antalek’s first novel,
    The Summer We Fell Apart, is already attracting attention for its warm yet bittersweet portrait of a family coping with the distress that follows a parent’s death. This rich, excellent story serves as a kind of thematic prequel
    to that book—and an inviting introduction to a writer talented at evoking both awkwardness
    and grace.

    My father is licking Scrabble tiles with a tongue thick with spittle, trying to make them stick to his face. So far the N (1), the Q (10), and the Z (10) have adhered to his forehead and left cheek. The R (1), T (1), and A (1) have fallen onto the table. This would be funny if my father weren’t crazy and I wasn’t visiting him in the day room of the Presbyterian Sisters’ Home for the Mentally Imbalanced in White Plains, New York. Who the Presbyterian Sisters were, or are, has never been explained, and none of us (my mother, myself, our lawyer, or my father’s court-appointed mental health advocate) has ever thought to ask. I suppose we were just grateful that they would take a man named Killian Stein, so obviously not Presbyterian but definitely mentally imbalanced.

    If I lean back away from the table where I sit across from my father—the Scrabble board between us covered with rows upon rows of nonsensical words, spelled with triple, even quadruple, consonants and sometimes nary a vowel—I can see my mother’s wood-paneled station wagon idling in the tow-away zone where she promised that she and Rose, her Yorkshire terrier, would be waiting. Luckily for Rose, she had been curled asleep against my mother’s thigh one year ago when my father lit our house on fire; she was the first thing my mother grabbed. Our lumbering old Lab, Henry, wasn’t so lucky.

    On the Scrabble board the only recognizable words are Malcolm and husband. When my father saw what I had spelled, he laughed. It was a deep laugh, shockingly out of place. But there was no mistaking that it was the same laugh he had for me as a little girl. Then he would swing me up onto his shoulders and carry me into the house, all the while pretending he had no clue as to where I had gone. Papa, up here, I would scream through my laughter, over and over again, but he would chuckle along with me and pretend he didn’t hear. Not until he crouched down and I slid off his back onto the ground and ran around to the front and held onto his knees through his pant legs, immobilizing him, would he look down and say with a delighted smile: Iris, there you are.

    Malcolm doesn’t know I have a father who is in a home for the mentally imbalanced. That’s just one of the things I have declined to share with him, simply because I don’t know where to start. Where does a conversation like that begin? If I tell him about the end, doesn’t that take away the kind of man my father once was? Do I tell him how badly I want my father to look at me again and say: Iris, there you are?

    It would never be adequate, never enough, to try and fill in with a few words. And I knew it would be difficult to explain that my father, despite his craziness, is the closest thing to a barometer of truth that exists in my life. I suppose, in a way, his response to the words I spelled out in tiny wooden tiles is an indication that I have made more out of my relationship with Malcolm than is really there, all because at twenty-nine I’m afraid I’ll never experience anything like what my mother has lost.

    I stand up because our visit is over. Then, undecided, I sit back down and scoop the tiles into tiny piles that I slide off the table and put back into the box. My father is paying me no mind. He is trying without luck to get an S (1) to stick to his right cheek. Each time it slides off and falls onto the table he picks it back up and begins again. The tile and his fingers are now so slick with spit that I feel queasy just watching him. There is a decidedly sour smell in the air, like unbrushed teeth. An aide I have never seen before has obviously been watching as well. She comes over with a paper napkin and takes his fingers and the tile and wipes them dry. My father doesn’t react in the least. He has no idea that someone has his hand, or even that he has a hand or what to do with it. When the aide is done she smiles shyly at me and says, “I think your grandpa likes to play games.”

    I shrug and smile back and don’t feel the need to correct her, to let her know that this old man across the table, in his tired olive-green cardigan and curling grey nose hairs, so long they meet beneath the slip of cartilage that forms the tip of his nose, is my father. Throughout my entire life people have assumed he was my grandfather, especially when we were all together. Thirty years my mother’s senior, an accidental Holocaust survivor (he was at a Swiss boarding school when his parents were taken to the camps), a celebrated lecturer at Columbia, my father, like so many exceedingly bright academics before him, had committed the most pedestrian of acts: slept with a student and got her pregnant.

    I should note that my mother truly and deeply loved my father their entire time together. She still does. And he adored her. We never wanted for a thing in our lives. Maybe I asked for a sibling once or twice when I was younger; that’s when they gave me a dog. But other than that I cannot say I lived a life of want. I was happy. We were happy. Until the day my father set the house on fire, killing our dog and nearly killing my mother, everything was fine.

    That morning it happened, I was just about to leave for work at the New York Public Library when my mother called to tell me what my father had done. (The sirens were still audible in the background from the neighboring fire companies that it took to extinguish the enormous blaze.) “But he doesn’t even smoke,” she repeated over and over.” Where would he get the matches?” As if I could give her the answer.

    In that moment I was ill-equipped to comfort her, but since then I’ve gotten better. Although I admit that making more out of Malcolm’s joking proposal of marriage was a major gaffe. I had gone to school for English, dreaming of a life spent writing or teaching—the fuzzy ambition of any offspring of an absentminded academic. Instead I took my English degree to the Periodical room at the main branch of the public library, a place where I felt very much at home, and then got a masters in library science after openings at the library passed me by due to my lack of credentials. I now had a job in reference (where I met Malcolm doing research for a book on James K. Polk, the eleventh president and a distant ancestor), which just barely paid for my fifth floor walk-up in the West Village above a pet shop whose window was filled with dogs that cost more than one month of my rent. On the side, I used the library’s vast reference sources to create my own niche, offering assistance for hire to a myriad of authors. This would probably not have been entirely copasetic with my employers—after all, the library offered its own fee-based service—but I rationalized that I was working on such a small scale what I made would hardly make a dent in any of their potential earnings. It was work I enjoyed and that dumbfounded my mother. She hadn’t a clue why I would want to spend hours tracking down obscure sources for a book whose readership would probably top out at under a hundred.

    My mother may also have fallen in love with an academic, of course, but she had fallen in love with the rock star of the economics department. I realize that might sound like the definition of oxymoron, and that you wouldn’t imagine that someone like my father, considering his painful and tragic past, would be enigmatic. But he was. Maybe it was that he wanted to live enough life for his whole family, who hadn’t made it out of the camps. I’m not sure. But whatever the reason, I never saw my father down a day in his life: that included the day he burned our house to the ground. Crazy or not, people still wanted to be near him.

    While my father taught economics, my mother used the economy to build a mini real estate empire. She dabbled in real estate like a Monopoly champion and was disappointed that her own offspring could be so naive in the real estate game to pay rent, which she considered akin to extortion money, when she could have provided me with a discounted place to live.

    Stubbornly, I wanted to do it on my own. The story of my life after college, like that of any one of my contemporaries who graduated from good colleges, involved finding out the world wasn’t exactly waiting for me to set it on fire and ending up with an MS in Library Science from Queens College, an alma mater I keep covered in a plain brown wrapper.

    Funny thing about that phrase, setting the world on fire: that was exactly what my father told my mother when she asked him what the hell he was doing with gasoline and matches. He said: “Pearl, I want to set the world on fire.”

    Those were the last intelligible words he spoke to anyone.

    My mother, ever the advocate, actually tried to argue this defense to the doctors who examined him and declared him insane. She brought up the fact that he doesn’t smoke again, even though I was fully aware that she’s the one who secretly smoked and hid a pack of cigarettes and a lighter on a high shelf on the back porch. Since the back porch was gone, she’d never know if that was the lighter that started it all. In the long ramble that preceded any excuse my father may have had, she claimed that everyone dreamed of making a difference, and if burning one’s house to the ground was the only way to do it, well, then, who were they to declare him incompetent? I had raised an eyebrow in warning at her then; I could see the doctors looking at each other, as if to say: Hey, we have ourselves another crazy one here.

    Of course my father also couldn’t tell the doctors gathered around his bedside his name, my name, my mother’s name, what year it was, who was president, or what he did for a living (he was a retired professor of global economic theory at Columbia). When he was asked to identify a handful of bills, my father tore them to shreds and tossed them into the air like confetti during a ticker-tape parade. That left the doctor, who had taken the bills out of his wallet, short sixteen dollars; I wondered if he added it to our bill.

    According to the doctors who examined him, my father’s psychotic break was so severe that even medicated they could not say whether my father would ever return to this reality. It could have been something that had been festering in his brain since his entire family was interred in the camps while he studied in Switzerland, or it could just be that he’d drawn the short straw in a genetic lottery. Whatever it was, for better or for worse, this man laboriously sticking Scrabble tiles to his face was the closest I was going to get to a father.

    *

    Before I left, I slid the word husband off the board and into my hand. I ran my fingers over and over the slippery wooden tiles in my pocket as I walked to the car. When I got in the passenger door, my mother blew a cloud of smoke in my direction, then offered me a hit, which I took deep into my lungs before tossing the rest out the open window. Then she pushed a pad and pen at me and said, “Write before you forget.” My mother had become obsessed with the “words” my father spelled out on the board, faithfully recording them after each visit in a notebook reserved for that purpose.

    Rose jumped into my lap. I ran my fingers through her silky coat, feeling the tremor of pleasure in hr little body as I massaged behind her ears. With one hand, I did as my mother asked. The ancient rumbling engine of the station wagon filled in the silence between us all the way home. Well, to the home where my mother was currently living—one of the rental properties she owned in Morningside Heights, in what used to be termed, affectionately I suppose, the student slums surrounding Columbia University. That is, if student slums had high ceilings and original woodwork but lousy wiring and leaking toilets. Of course nothing about Manhattan real estate purchased in the Seventies and still owned thirty years later could be termed a bad investment, a fact my mother surely knew.

    For example: my childhood home that my father had burned to the ground. The house, in the commuter suburb of Pelham, was built at the turn of the twentieth century and purchased by my mother for around $60,000. As the embers smoldered it was valued in excess of a million dollars. But that would be money my mother would never see. It would seem that insurance company claims adjusters have no patience for crazy people who torch their own houses. Insurance scams come to mind, and they seem to be pretty touchy on the subject. Mental illness is an oft-tried claim that they consider subjective and cannot, no matter how many doctors testify, be substantiated.

    We drove around for half an hour before she found a place to park where she wouldn’t have to move the car for twenty-four hours. While I stood on the sidewalk clutching Rose and waiting for my mother I watched a couple dressed in matching green scrubs lingering in an embrace as they passed each other on a brownstone stoop. I tried to recall whether Malcolm and I had touched this morning. I couldn’t remember either of us leaving.

    Rose trembled in my arms, sniffing the air, as my mother finally emerged from the car and stood up in the street, her driver’s-side door wide open. A parade of taxis honked and swerved around her, but my mother acted like she was in the parking lot of the Fairway, with all the time and space in the world. She was wearing an enormous raccoon coat from another era, and atop her head a tiny black beret. Everything we owned had been lost in the fire but my mother, a consummate packrat, had kept a storage locker with all her mother’s possessions in it. This coat and beret had obviously been hers. Across my mother’s mouth was a slash of Revlon Red Rose lipstick, the only shade she had ever worn for as long as I could remember. For a woman whose husband had recently almost killed her, albeit accidentally, she was wildly beautiful. She collected a huge black briefcase and purse from the back seat. Besides Rose, this had been all she’d thought to grab, along with the car keys, as she escaped our burning house.

    She walked ahead of me until we turned the corner onto Riverside Drive. The building, a narrow slip of a brownstone, was four stories high, with one apartment on each floor. It looked like it was being held up by the larger apartment buildings on either side. I knew my mother was proud of the fact that the building had operated at full occupancy since she bought it. Lucky for her, Mindy Nussbaum’s nephew had finally talked his aunt into moving to an assisted living facility near him in New Jersey, and so my mother was able to move into the ground floor apartment after the fire.

    The entryway had once-elegant parquet floors and a gilded pier mirror with a marble seat that had been too heavy for the antique dealer who lived on the third floor to get up the stairs eleven years ago. Dull brass mailboxes lined the right wall; the card on the box read MINDY NUSSBAUM and beneath, that in my mother’s bold capital lettering, KILLIAN AND PEARL STEIN. My mother hadn’t even bothered to cross off Mindy’s name.

    My mother took a ring of keys out of the deep pocket of her raccoon coat and undid a succession of locks Mindy’s nephew must have had installed; it was unlike my mother to think more than one would be necessary. We entered Mindy’s wide foyer. My mother dropped her beret and bags onto the crowded hall table but kept her coat on. I did the same and pulled Rose closer against my chest. I could see my breath in the air. While my mother went into the kitchen, mumbling something about hot water for tea, I peered at the thermostat. It read 59. Above the thermostat was a needlepoint sampler that read World’s Best Aunt. Rose wiggled in my arms, anxious to follow my mother. I set her down and she ran off down the hall. I pushed up the thermostat to 65, then reached over and turned on the old brass sconces above the sideboard. The light seemed negligible, but I left them on as I walked around.

    When Mindy’s nephew moved her to New Jersey, it was obvious that he’d taken only what was absolutely necessary. The walls were dotted with random squares or ovals where, I assumed, there once had hung framed photographs. On the mantel were a few dust-free circles that must have held ceramic tchotchkes. All of the living room and dining room furniture remained, including a wingback chair with a crocheted doily headrest next to a Queen Anne table that held three crossword books. In one of them there was a pen where Mindy had marked her place.

    In her bedroom, however, the dresser and bed were gone, as if Mindy’s nephew had wheeled her out the door and across the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey, bed and all. In its place my mother had installed one of those blow-up air mattresses. In a corner was an ancient leather steamer trunk, with hanging bars and drawers covered in a pretty patterned paper yellow with age, and crammed with clothes that must have been my grandmother’s. Every room I entered, including the pink-and-black-tiled bathroom with a faded mural of elephants above the tub, smelled of baby powder, cigarettes, and stale perfume.

    After I washed my face and hands I returned to the dining room and sat at the lace-covered table. I pulled the Scrabble tiles out of the pocket of my coat and laid them on the cloth, creating anagrams. Husband became an unimaginative string of smaller words—us, an, and, band, sand, hand, sun, bun—before my mother came in with the tea tray. She set it down quickly and dropped into a seat as if we were playing musical chairs.

    She shrugged her coat from her shoulders and frowned as she looked over at the Scrabble tiles, all the while pouring tea sloppily into a rose-patterned bone china cup. “There’s no sugar or milk,” she said, as if Mindy should have had the decency to leave her with a full refrigerator.

    “That’s fine, “ I said. I slid my cup closer, destroying my cluster of words.

    Rose jumped from the floor to my mother’s lap, sniffed at the tea, and then settled with a sigh. My mother took a sip of tea. “He’s still at the game, no?” she asked.

    I nodded. Scrabble seemed to be the only thing my father was interested in. The staff had to buy a separate game just for him after the other patients complained that he wouldn’t let them near the board. My mother sighed, then seemed to snap out of it.

    “You told him?”

    “Mom.” It was my turn to sigh. “I’m not marrying Malcolm.”

    She raised an eyebrow. The white china teacup, so translucent it appeared blue, was smeared with lipstick along the rim. “It was a solid offer,” she said, as if we were discussing one of her real estate transactions.

    “Mom, he said marry me as a joke, “ I explained again. “He was just grateful for my help with his research.” It was true: our relationship had started in the research stacks. Sparks never flew, but we slowly grew on each other. Our relationship was nice and quiet, and for the most part I liked it that way.

    Grateful is for dedication and acknowledgments. Marry me is for, well, you know.” She shrugged.

    “For sex? We already have sex.” That was when I remembered—we had touched that morning. Sex when neither of us was fully awake. I had fallen back to sleep, and Malcolm was gone before I got up. I hadn’t taken offense. He was compulsive about mornings at his place, which he spent with his particular press pot of coffee, web-surfing the news sources he consulted on an almost hourly basis.

    She looked annoyed. “For life, Iris. For life. Marry me is for life.”

    I slumped back in the chair, watching her think. About what? Her life, I supposed, and what was left of her marriage. She couldn’t really grieve; my father wasn’t dead. She couldn’t get mad or get even; he hadn’t left her for another woman. She had nothing to go up against, and so she waited. Waited for the doctors to change their second, third, and fourth opinions; waited for my father to discover the part of his mind where she lived. My mother was still a young woman. She had turned fifty-five a week before the fire. If she believed Marry me was for life, what did she have left? Recording his Scrabble words?

    “I know you still love him . . .”

    “Well of course I do,” she snapped. “What kind of comment is that?”

    I scrambled the tiles and made two stacks as she watched. “It’s just that I don’t need that.”

    “What are you talking about, Iris?” My mother sounded exasperated.

    That—you know, that kind of love. I don’t want it.” I swallowed hard. “The Love me for the rest of my life kind, that’s all.”

    My mother crossed her arms over her chest and regarded me with the bored curiosity with which one regards the stale old animal exhibits at the Natural History Museum. “You were a perfectly fine child, you know? Even as a teenager. But then after college?” She looked confused. “The library? And now this? What’s next, Iris?”

    She looked at me as though she were afraid I might find a metaphorical book of matches and gasoline at any moment and torch my life. “I’m fine, really,” I said.

    For the first time since everything happened, she actually looked like she would cry. Her bottom lip quivered. But then she took a deep breath and pulled herself up tall in the chair, like someone practicing her best manners. She reached for the tea and took a sip but made a face before she could even swallow. “Lipton,” she sniffed as she set down the cup. I stifled a laugh. Poor Mindy Nussbaum.

    I stood up to leave. It was my day off and I still was hoping to do laundry and maybe get a few groceries. I liked having a day off in the middle of the week, when everyone else had to be at work. Of course that also meant my weekend was spent in the basement of the library.

    My mother reached across the table for the Scrabble pieces. She took apart the stack one by one and laid them on the table. I didn’t suggest what they had once spelled. It would only lead to more conversation about a marriage I didn’t want. I don’t even know why I had said anything at all to her about Malcolm’s proposal. I was just so tired of not having anything for her to look forward to other than her daily trip to see my father.

    She brushed the letters aside. I reached to pick them up—the last thing I wanted to do was leave behind another reminder of my father—but she put her hand over mine to stop me. “What if he’s been trying to tell us something?”

    I wished I could tell my mother that I thought her husband was trying to send her messages from deep within his scrambled brain. But I doubted that a word with five ns and two cs represented anything intelligible. “Mom,” I said, not knowing where to go from there, what words should follow.

    “Never mind,” she said as she stood, shifting Rose to a spot in the bend of her arm and shooed me toward the door.

    *

    Several weeks later, half an hour before closing, as I had directed (what I hoped was) the last tourist to (as he put it) a decent Chinese restaurant (because some people were under the illusion that the reference desk at the NYPL also served as a de facto visitors bureau offering restaurant and hotel recommendations), I heard my mother’s voice echoing against the marble in the hall.

    When she appeared in front of me, raccoon coat wide open to reveal a navy Forties shirtwaist dress, a claret-colored pillbox hat complete with netting and slightly askew, Red Rose adhered to her front teeth where she had nibbled on her bottom lip, I was afraid. My mother never visited me at work.

    “There you are,” she said, smiling widely as if she had misplaced me.

    “Mom?” I said as my thoughts careened wildly. You would think, after I’d received a phone call that my father had burned down my childhood home and killed my dog, that nothing could set that cold fear in my gut again. Obviously, that wasn’t true. I ran through the possible reasons she would come to the library. Did she think Malcolm would be here? Had she come on some bizarre wedding-planning mission? Why had I ever opened my mouth about that? Had something happened to my father?

    She pulled her hand out of her pocket and brandished the notebook in front of me. “Look!” she said loudly as several of my coworkers walked by, heads bowed, although I could tell they were dying to see what was going on.

    It was the small red Duane Reade notebook she (and I) had used to record my father’s Scrabble words. She rifled the pages until she found the one she wanted and then thrust it under my nose. “Read,” she commanded.

    DDDER

    I shrugged.

    She took the notebook out of my hands and raised her eyebrows. “Can’t you read?” She asked me. “Dear! it says dear. He is trying to tell me something.”

    “Mom, “ I said sadly. “Please.”

    She licked the tip of her index finger and paged through until she found another example. She pointed to it, but didn’t offer to show me. “This one says cream.”

    Cream?

    She repeated this a half a dozen times, coming up with the words broom, train, vacuum, and sponge. Unless my father was suddenly transfixed by transportation or cleaning products, I doubted they had any meaning. “Mom,” I tried gently, “letter combinations are infinite. It stands to reason that eventually, Dad might spell something that would make a word. But I doubt it would be intentional.”

    She stuck out her lower lip and touched her hat to right it on her head, but only made it worse; now it listed to the left just above her ear. I felt a little thread of panic; I had never seen her so out of control. “How about we go get some coffee? A sandwich? I’m done now.”

    Behind my mother I saw Bertrand, the weekend security guard, give me a look, as if I might need his help. I shook my head to indicate I was okay. He nodded back, but I could see that he wasn’t about to leave me alone in the room.

    “Come on,” I urged my mother, putting my hand out for the notebook. “You can show me what you’ve found out. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe there’s something.”

    My mother eyed me in obvious distrust. But then the lights began to shut down and the nighttime sensor lights flickered on, and my mother sighed. “All right,” she said. “I am a little hungry.” Still, she clutched the notebook to her chest, unwilling to let it go.

    We went out the back entrance to the library and headed to a sandwich shop on Sixth Avenue. My mother ordered a corned beef on rye (although she told the waitress she doubted the corned beef would be as lean as Katz’s, which probably caused the waitress to spit in my coffee) and a glass of milk.

    “So, are you going to let me see the notebook now?” I asked.

    She stared at me a moment to see if I was serious. When I didn’t break eye contact or smile, she took the book from her bag and placed it on the table. “I marked the pages,” she said as the waitress brought her milk and my coffee.

    I slid the book in front of me, but took a sip of coffee before opening it. The pages were indeed marked. The words were, at best, spelled phonetically: buk, shwr, har. It went on and on like this for pages.

    “Well?” she asked, tearing open a packet of sugar and stirring it into her milk.

    “What are you doing?”

    “What?” she asked defensively.

    I pointed to the sugar. She took a swallow of the sweetened milk, then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, smearing lipstick on her fingers. I offered her my napkin. She hesitated, then accepted it and wiped off her hand, but left it crumpled on the table. This from the woman who had spent years prompting my manners at every meal.

    “What do you think?” she asked, leaning forward like a teenager about to indulge in some girl talk. “It’s something, don’t you think?”

    “I suppose . . .”

    She waved a hand in front of my face. “Don’t suppose, Iris. Your father is locked in there and he’s trying to tell us something.”

    All right, yes, my father was locked in there, as she put it. But it was for a reason: So he didn’t hurt himself or others. He also couldn’t speak, take care of his personal hygiene, even feed himself. The Presbyterian Sisters’ Home was hardly One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

    “Mom,” I said gently, “I want him to be Dad just as much as you do.”

    She was hunched over on her bench, as if she were ready to fight to the death for her food, and it hadn’t even arrived yet. She eyed me suspiciously, as if I wasn’t even her daughter.

    I was a little frightened. “Mom?” I said, just to see if she would answer.

    “What?” she answered impatiently. I reached for my coffee.

    When her corned beef sandwich arrived, she lifted the top piece of bread and proceeded to divest the sandwich of half its meat. When she was done she spread out a napkin, took the pile of sliced meat, and placed it dead center. Then she wrapped it all up like a package and slid it into her purse.

    “We can get a take-out box,” I offered, thinking of the mess inside her bag from the meat and the soggy napkin.

    “I’m fine,” she said primly, reassembling her sandwich and taking a bite from the corner.

    As I watched her chew I considered her behavior. She had to be exhausted. She wanted my father back, or at the very least wanted answers. I reached for the book again and flipped through the pages, aware that she was watching me. What if she was right?

    “Nu?” Her eyes were bright, her sandwich spilling out the corners of her mouth.

    “Maybe we should show this to his speech therapist?” I offered lamely.

    My mother’s face turned dark and she reached across the table and snatched the book out of my hands. “No!” she said, so loudly the people in the next booth turned to stare. “No!” she said again. “Don’t you understand they won’t believe us?”

    My mother’s paranoia was unlike her. Even in the worst of times—You say your entire family was interred at the camps? Why, it was a blessing, a gift. You must forge ahead and do great things in their name!—she had always been a glass-half-full kind of person.

    “Okay, okay,” I said in a conciliatory voice, even as I felt tears scratch at the back of my throat. I looked across the room and tried to focus on something other than what was happening in front of me. The waitress noticed and seemed to think I was signaling for the check. She nodded, zipped across the room, and slid the slip of paper by my elbow without asking if we wanted dessert. She looked like she was about to ask my mother if she was done, but she took one look at the shards of bread smeared with mustard and the curls of corned beef, retracted her outstretched hand, and left.

    “Are you done?” I asked my mother.

    She looked down at her food like she had never seen it before. “Katz’s is better,” she mumbled, picking a piece of beef off the plate and dangling it in front of her mouth before dropping it in.

    Suddenly I felt afraid to leave her alone. “Would you like to come spend the night at my place? Maybe get a movie?”

    She shook her head and patted her purse. “Rose is waiting for her dinner.”

    “You give her corned beef?” I asked, pulling a ten from my wallet.

    “She loves it,” my mother assured me. She adjusted her hat and pulled the raccoon coat tighter around her body before sliding out of the booth.

    When we hugged on the corner by the subway entrance my mother felt insubstantial inside the enormous coat. “Are we okay?” I asked.

    My mother placed a hand on my cheek. I expected her to say Yes, of course. I love you, Iris. Instead she said quietly, “I miss him so much.”

    After that, there was nothing left for me to say.

    *

    When I got home, the phone was ringing. It was Malcolm. He asked me the very same question I had just asked my mother: “Are we okay?”

    “What?” I asked shrugging out of my coat, letting it fall along with my bags and locking the door behind me. “What?” I asked again, irritated that Malcolm would drop such a question on me when I’d just walked in the door. He wasn’t usually the introspective type; that was one of his best features. What brought this on? His silence after asking a question like that was more annoying than the question.

    Malcolm?” I snapped, more harshly than I’d intended. “Are you there?”

    “Here,” he said, although his voice came back like he was talking through a soup can. Malcolm loved his cell phone.

    “I hate talking to you on this thing. Why don’t you just come over?”

    “Can’t.” His voice echoed three times; then more silence. “Remember the interview?”

    I nodded, even though Malcolm couldn’t see me. He had secured an interview with another of Polk’s descendants, he told me, a man who supposedly had a cache of letters he was willing to let Malcolm view for research purposes before he donated them to the University of Virginia’s library. Until now, Malcolm had had little tangible to work with, except a genealogy chart and a few family stories that had been passed down through so many hands they’d surely mutated beyond recognition.

    “Okay, right.” I gnawed on a nail that had snagged on my scarf as I unwound it from my neck. “Hey—why did you ask if we’re okay?”

    “That pile of research I left on your desk this morning? I’m sorry. Really. But I need it . . .”

    I looked over at my desk. There it was, a legal pad, its curled and ruffled pages stained with coffee and decorated with pink and blue Post-it notes. I hadn’t even noticed. “It’s fine. I’ll do it.”

    “Thanks,” Malcolm cleared his throat. “Yeah, well. Don’t scream, but I think I’m going to turn this into a fictionalized account of Polk’s western land purchases. I had a dream about a murder . . .”

    I stopped listening. Malcolm had a Princeton education, and a grandfather who had been lucky enough to patent the construction of the plastic milk carton. It was simple evolution, really: For generations his family had been dairy farmers, rutting around in the muck of it. In the fourth generation, when glass bottles had become cumbersome to the modern housewife and plastics were just entering the American lexicon, his grandfather had gotten the idea of a plastic milk jug. Malcolm’s father took it a step further, adding a protective covering to the plastic that decreased the chance of harmful chemicals leaching into the milk while also giving it a longer life from factory to store. Now it was time for Malcolm’s generation to revolutionize the plastic milk jug a step further: While his twin sister, Mira, was spending long hours in a lab in New Jersey working on a plastic that wasn’t harmful to the environment, Malcolm winnowed away his time writing the first hundred pages of one manuscript after another, only to lose interest and careen off on another tangent.

    Malcolm didn’t need to write this book, or any book, for that matter. I truly believed he would write the book he was meant to write when he found something that really intrigued him. Until then, he was just filling his days with facts. Polk was just one in a series of ideas he’d had since graduating nine years ago—a fact I guessed long before he confessed it to me.

    He was still talking about the murder plot when I interrupted him. “Aren’t you going to be late for your meeting?”

    “Umm—yeah. Right,” he stammered. And then he was gone. I used to think Malcolm’s abrupt way of signing off was rude, until I realized he just wasn’t coordinated enough to get his words out before flipping his phone closed.

    Ignoring the yellow legal pad, I went into the bathroom and turned on the spigots for a bath. As I waited for the tub to fill, I stripped out of my clothes and caught sight of my rear end in the mirror behind the bathroom door. It looked saggy and a little paunchy and, most horribly, slightly dimpled. It looked like an ass that spent all day being mistreated by a chair. I sighed. If I wasn’t careful I was going to end up with a librarian’s body before I was thirty. My entire life I’d been able to maintain a passably slim body with a minimum amount of exercise, but that era was sadly coming to an end.

    As I stepped over the lip of the tub I wondered, did Malcolm even look at my body when we had sex? I certainly didn’t look at much of his. I mean, I knew what he looked like: rangy torso, slightly longer than, and out of proportion to, his legs—the body of a long distance runner. He’d been running since high school; to this day he still met his running on the Upper East Side every Saturday and made the trek down through Manhattan and across the Brooklyn Bridge in brightly colored spandex. In the beginning he’d urged me to join him. Maybe, in hindsight, I should have.

    I sank into the tub and shivered at the feel of the hot-water cocoon. The state of my mother tonight had alarmed me. Maybe she wasn’t sleeping enough. Her energy was manic, her appearance disheveled. For years she’d existed on five hours or less of sleep a night. She always insisted that was her body chemistry, but now, maybe with the stress of what was happening with my father, she could have used a little help. She had refused the doctor’s offer of a mild sedative right after the fire; she’d made such a stink about it that I knew she’d be ashamed to go back and say she’d reconsidered, even if I could convince her.

    Later, after my bath, I worked on the research for Malcolm while eating a bowl of cold leftover spaghetti that was more than enough for two meals. The movie channel was having a Woody Allen night; I had on Crimes and Misdemeanors, with the sound turned low, but stopped what I was doing to watch the blind rabbi played by Sam Waterston dance with his daughter at her wedding. I felt tears—that would never be me and my father—but then got pissed off, because before my father went crazy that was never something I would have anyway wanted. Now that I was facing the prospect that that would never happen, I was a morbid mess.

    I closed my computer and crossed over to my bed. Though it was after eleven, I dialed my mother’s number.

    She answered the phone by asking me for a six-letter word for entwine.

    “Tangle?” I offered.

    “Ah . . . could work,” she mumbled.

    “What’s around it?”

    “What?” she asked, distracted.

    “Does it work with the other letters?”

    “Yes. Yes it does. Honestly. Mindy chose the most awful crossword books.”

    I smiled. She sounded fine for now. Still railing against the things Mindy left behind.

    “Why are you calling, Iris? Checking up on me?”

    “What?”

    “I know you think I need looking after. But I don’t. It’s your father who does. And I’m going to help him, with or without you.”

    “Mom . . . how can you accuse me of not wanting to help Dad?”

    She sighed, long and tragic.

    “What else can I do?” I asked.

    “Where’s Malcolm? Shouldn’t you be with him tonight?”

    The sudden change of subject shift caught me off-guard, giving her enough time to keep going. “What? You got rid of him because of the marriage thing?”

    “There isn’t any marriage thing.”

    She mumbled a response I didn’t understand, then said, “I have to go. Rose needs to be walked.”

    “Be careful, Mom. Please.”

    “What’s to be worried about, Iris? Hasn’t the worst thing possible already happened to me?”

    It was like she kept a file of exit lines that were guaranteed to stop me dead in my tracks. Like Malcolm, I hung up the phone without saying goodbye.

    *

    My mother and I went a week without mentioning the little red notebook, even though we spoke every single day, sometimes twice a day. So when I got a call at work that my coworker said was urgent, I assumed the worst: something had happened to my father.

    Instead it was Malcolm. It took me a moment to reconcile his voice with the voice I’d expected to hear. He had just seen my mother. She had gone to my apartment after visiting my father, too excited by a recent phonetic discovery to call ahead. Malcolm had come by to collect his legal pad of research, more than a week after he had asked me for it, and he answered the door. The story tumbled out of him so fast I could hardly understand it. I told him to wait for me at home, then hung up. When I told my supervisor I needed to leave right away she didn’t even try to stop me. I must have looked shocked.

    When I got to my place, Malcolm jumped up from the couch and waved the little red notebook in front of me. “Have you seen this?”

    I nodded and felt the floor tilt precariously beneath my feet. Something wasn’t right. “Where’s my mother?”

    “She went to get food.”

    “What?” I asked as I dropped my bag and coat onto the floor. At that moment Rose came tearing out from under my bed and flung herself at my calves, jumping up and down on her hind legs. I scooped her up into my arms; she sniffed my ears and licked my cheek as I watched Malcolm collapse onto the couch and open the notebook.

    “This is fascinating stuff, Iris,” he exclaimed, as if he’d made a great scientific discovery. “Unbelievable.”

    I stroked Rose behind the ears. “That?” I asked weakly, exhausted.

    Malcolm nodded. “Forget Polk’s murder mystery. This is the real mystery. What could be locked in your father’s brain?”

    I cleared my throat at the mention of my father. Malcolm had only just learned about him; I expected more questions, at the very least an accusatory tone. But I could detect nothing of the sort. “About my father?” I asked.

    Malcolm regarded me without rancor, which I found totally unsettling. Perhaps he was a better person than I’d given him credit for being.

    Rose’s heart was slamming wildly against her ribcage; I tightened my arms around her. I thought about apologizing to Malcolm, for not sharing my mother’s concerns with him, but then I stopped. Was I really sorry? Or just embarrassed that I’d been caught? “The thing with my father? It’s kind of hard to explain.”

    Malcolm nodded for me to continue.

    “I just didn’t know . . .” I stumbled.

    “It’s okay, Iris,” he said quietly. “I wish you had told me, but it’s okay.”

    I felt my armpits grow damp against my blouse. I stepped closer to the couch but didn’t make a move to sit down. “How is she?” I asked. “My mother?”

    “Here,” Malcolm thrust the open notebook in my direction. I peered down at the page. It had today’s date and the words: hep mi.

    I sighed. I didn’t know what to think. Nothing I’d seen before had had any significance whatsoever. Perhaps this time my father had gotten lucky with the right number of consonants and vowels. Or perhaps it meant nothing close to what we assumed it meant.

    When I didn’t comment right away, Malcolm said, “I’ve been going back through the notebook, jotting down anything that had a recognizable phonetic spelling.” He slid his yellow research pad across the coffee table at me. All of my research had been torn from the pad; the pages had fallen onto the floor between the couch and table. Goodbye James K. Polk.

    Rose snuffled and sighed into the crook of my arm as her eyes closed. I envied her ability to sleep anywhere. I peered at the pad.

    “There’s a pattern,” he said earnestly. “Look.”

    I knew the answer even before I asked the question. “You told my mother this?”

    Malcolm nodded.

    I carried Rose into the bedroom, set her down on top of my unmade bed, and watched her burrow into the sheets. Then I shrugged out of my coat and went into the bathroom. When I heard Malcolm’s footsteps on the wooden floor of the hallway I swung the door shut, even though I was just sitting on the closed toilet seat. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror over the sink, my face streaked and shiny from perspiration. For a moment I looked like someone entirely unlike me.

    I could feel Malcolm hesitating outside the door, unsure what to do. Then I heard him retreat. “Give me a second,” I called out weakly. But I stayed there until my mother burst back into the apartment.

    When she saw me she said, “Good, we’re all here.” As if this had been her plan all along and I was a willing participant.

    From two cellophane bags she unpacked onto the coffee table a tall plastic container of chicken noodle soup, three corned beef sandwiches, two cream sodas, and a bottle of water from the deli around the corner. She motioned quickly to me, as if time were of the essence. Malcolm, I noticed, had already torn into his sandwich with gusto.

    I sat down onto the floor and tucked my legs beneath me. Malcolm and my mother were side by side on the couch. My mother lifted the top slice of rye bread off the sandwich and was making a pile of corned beef. Rose dove off my bed and came skidding into the room, stopping at my mother’s side. My mother took a sliver of beef and put it into her tiny waiting mouth. Rose ran off with her bounty and returned multiple times for more. “That can’t possibly be good for her,” I said.

    “Eat your soup,” my mother said and looked over at Malcolm. “She doesn’t eat enough.”

    I dipped a plastic spoon into the broth and brought it to my lips.

    “So here’s the plan,” my mother said abruptly, rubbing her fingertips on her rayon shirtdress. “We’re all going up to see your father this afternoon.”

    “I thought you were just there this morning?” I asked.

    My mother looked over at Malcolm as if to say: You see what I deal with?

    Malcolm glanced at me sheepishly. “I don’t need to go, Iris,” he said.

    “What?” she sputtered. “But you see! You see! It will make a difference.”

    I picked a package of saltines off the table and tore it open, scattering flakes of cracker dust all over my lap. I nibbled an edge and ignored my mother’s outburst. Malcolm would have no way of knowing that this behavior wasn’t normal at all. He was so caught up in the cause he couldn’t see clearly if he wanted to. I got up, brushing the crumbs from my lap, and went into the kitchen carrying my container of soup. I stood at the sink, listening to my mother explaining to Malcolm the significance of breaking the code. Then I called the library and told them I wouldn’t be in for a few days—family emergency. When I walked back into the room, my mother and Malcolm were standing by the door with their coats on. My mother had applied a fresh smear of Revlon and Rose was tucked into her arms.

    Malcolm had the cellophane bag of sandwiches in his hand along with a bag of garbage and the yellow legal pad. He took a step toward me as my mother opened the front door. As she marched out into the hall she said, “At the curb in five. I’m parked around the corner. On Seventh Avenue. Please, Iris, I don’t want to be double-parked forever.”

    Malcolm picked my coat up off the floor where I had dropped it and offered it to me. I took it from him and buttoned myself up as if I were expecting a snowstorm. Now that my mother was gone, the sense of adventure had gone. In its place, Malcolm shuffled uneasily in front of me as he waited for me to get ready.

    “This is no joke, Malcolm. He’s sick.”

    The color rose slowly from his collar to his ears: a shrimplike shade of coral. He swallowed; I could see his Adam’s apple and a sliver of stubble below his chin that the razor had missed.

    “I’m sorry, Iris. I’m sorry. Really. I think—” He paused. “Your mother is an infectious woman. She showed me that notebook and I couldn’t disagree with her. I mean, there are words there. Crudely misspelled, but they are words.”

    I sighed and shoved my hands deep into the pockets of my coat. “Every single day she visits him, hoping for the best, as if wanting it badly enough will make him better. He can’t feed himself; he doesn’t speak. He wears diapers.” I felt the tears run down my cheeks, into my collar. “He’s my father, Malcolm. But he’s not, you know?”

    Malcolm put down the bags and opened his arms to me. I stepped into them because I knew he wanted me to, and then I stayed because it felt good to put my cheek against the nubby wool of his coat. In the distance I heard a horn honk; I was sure it was my mother and Rose, double-parked in front of the building. I stayed in Malcolm’s arms a moment longer before I stepped back. Malcolm picked up the bags and opened the door and I followed him out, locking up behind me.

    *

    When we turned down the long driveway to the Presbyterian Sisters’ Home, and the old brick mansion came into view, I heard Malcolm gasp. The massive rolling lawns were already green and clear of leaves, the formal flowerbeds freshly tilled and ready for planting. The first time we came here, I might as well have been entering a crack den; the grandeur of the building and the grounds were lost to me in the devastating days after the vortex that took my father’s mind to some nameless place. I was trying to keep it together for my mother, and she for me, and the multitude of rooms filled with carved chestnut moldings and parquet floors were merely a backdrop for the absolute relief we both felt that my father had a safe place to stay.

    The day room, where we visited my father, was actually the old ballroom of the mansion. All along the walls there were alcoves where artwork must have once been displayed; now they held signs advertising game or movie nights. as well as fire extinguishers and bright red emergency phones, with direct lines to the police and fire departments.

    My father was alone at his usual table by the diamond-patterned window, hunched over the Scrabble board. We followed my mother single file; Malcolm walked slightly ahead of me in a loping schoolboy-on-a-field-trip gait, his head swinging from side to side as he took in his surroundings.

    For the most part, the patients in the dayroom at the Presbyterian Sisters’ Home were pleasant and well-dressed; they just didn’t have a clue as to where they were or why they were here. They sat at square marble-topped tables attempting to play bridge, or pretending to read books from the massive collection of leather-bound editions that lined the library’s mahogany shelves, or dabbing away at watercolor still lifes at easels available along the perimeter of the room. Bach was piped in over the speakers, just loud enough to block out the hum of unintelligible conversation or the occasional low moan.

    My mother bent down and kissed the top of my father’s head, then introduced him to Malcolm. I flinched, worried that she might refer to him as my fiancé, but she didn’t. I pulled out a chair to sit next to my father, but my mother took my hand and led me away to the window while Malcolm took the chair opposite my father. The red notebook, and a pencil, lay on the table to his left. My father nodded in his direction. I saw Malcolm select a few letter tiles. His lips moved as he counted them out and put them in front of him as if he were getting ready to play an actual game.

    My mother whispered in my ear. “I wanted Malcolm to see your father alone, to see if he would try and communicate with someone new.”

    I glanced over at my father. He had swept the board of all the tiles and was hoarding them in a pile under his right hand. Malcolm was leaning forward as if he could see what tiles my father was hiding. After a slight hesitation my father chose some tiles and placed them on the board. My mother was breathing shallow little puffs out of her mouth as she waited. I watched as Malcolm dutifully opened the notebook and recorded the tiles for posterity. It must have taken great restraint for him not to react to the T (1) tile stuck to my father’s left cheek.

    *

    In the car on the way back to Manhattan, Malcolm sat in the front; Rose and I reclined in the backseat. I dozed, listening to them pick apart the consonants as they pondered the complicated nature of linguistics. My father had spelled only one telling word, and even than was negligible: Irs. They both concluded that my father was connecting Malcolm to me—that he had spelled my name in order to confirm Malcolm’s place in our little group. They were sure now, on subsequent visits, that he would divulge more.

    We went back to my mother’s apartment. She and Malcolm walked the dog while I went inside to use the bathroom. Mindy’s apartment was a disaster, as if the person living there lacked the ability to complete the simplest of tasks. There wasn’t a clean glass or dish in sight; the sink was piled high with the remains of milky teacups and used cereal bowls. The refrigerator was worse: open takeout containers, food growing mold, cans of dog food with an ominous green slick of oil around the inside lid.

    I had filled and disposed of two trash bags and had my hands plunged deep into the sink of hot soapy water when Malcolm and my mother returned with Rose from her walk. As my mother chattered to Rose in the hallway, dispensing treats for a job well done, I got Malcolm alone in the kitchen and asked him to take my mother to pick up a few groceries and a bag of dry dog food. I tried to tell him as fast as I could about the state of the apartment, but he seemed to get it from the tone of my voice and the sour odor that lingered in the room from the recently departed garbage.

    While they were gone, I finished the kitchen as best I could and tackled the bathroom. The only thing I could find to clean with was an old can of Borax, the powder cemented solid as a brick in the bottom half of the can. I tapped it hard against the cast-iron tub and managed to clean the tub, sink, and toilet with the crumbly remains.

    In the bedroom I balled the dirty sheets from the air mattress into a mesh laundry bag along with a bundle of stray clothing on the floor. I found a yellowed, but clean, set of sheets folded neatly on the top shelf of Mindy’s closet. As I shook them out, the tangy scent of mothballs, normally off-putting, actually improved the scent in the room.

    As I worked, Rose followed at my heels. When I was done she crawled into the center of the freshly made bed, sighed deeply, curled into a tight ball of fur, and fell asleep. She didn’t even stir when Malcolm and my mother returned. I wondered if she searched for the scent of home, if she missed our old dog Henry, if she even knew my father was gone.

    I set the dining room table, and we ate dinner in a subdued yet companionable manner. When we were done, Malcolm rolled up his shirtsleeves and helped me clear and clean the dishes and wrap the leftovers. I wasn’t prepared for the rush of tenderness I felt as he shook off a spray of excess water before handing me a dish to dry. That tenderness was still there as I set out dry dog food and water in clean bowls for Rose and kissed my mother goodbye. And it didn’t disappear as we waited in the hallway until I heard my mother turn the multiple locks on the other side of Mindy Nussbaum’s door. I knew now that my parents had shielded me as a child: everything was dangerous, and it didn’t matter what side of the locked door you were on.

    *

    I returned to work at the end of the week, but Malcolm and my mother continued their daily forays to the Presbyterian Sisters’ Home. I was still surprised at how easily Malcolm had stepped over the threshold into crazy. I hadn’t realized, until my mother and Malcolm forged this alliance, how exhausted I’d been watching my mother for signs of her own breakdown. Keeping my mother sane while she tried to make sense of what happened to my father was like trying to hold onto air. I was grateful to Malcolm that I wasn’t going it alone.

    But progress with my father was measured in increments so finite they didn’t exist. and my mother was growing frustrated. Malcolm just kept trying to make sense of things that refused to be what the two of them wanted them to be. They had moved on from the red notebook to a series of charts and a spreadsheet Malcolm had created on his laptop. They spent hours pouring over repeated letters and phrases. They read books on stroke and coma victims. They memorized research on linguistic recovery and brain therapy after a traumatic event.

    These intense sessions happened around me. I listened but did not get actively involved. As much as I thrived on following a trail of minutiae in research, I couldn’t bear their deconstruction of evidence; I was sure it would lead only to more grief for my mother.

    One evening, out of total exasperation, I suggested flippantly that we kidnap my father and bring him back to the scene of the crime to see if it would jar his cognitive abilities back to before the fire. I didn’t mean it, but when I saw the look on my mother’s face I knew it was too late to take it back.

    Of course, my mother rationalized, it wasn’t exactly kidnapping. My father was allowed to leave the grounds. We’d just never taken advantage of that option. Except, as I pointed out to my mother, my father wasn’t mobile. There was the matter of a wheelchair, and other things I didn’t want to mention out loud—his incontinence and his medication and his unpredictability.

    My mother waved my concerns away as petty and nonsensical. It was settled.

    *

    The morning we drove out of the city to kidnap my father, I sat in the back seat on top of a thick cushion of quilted packing blankets. Beneath the blankets was a plastic dropcloth, the kind you used for painting; on the floor at my feet was a brand new Scrabble board with the cellophane removed. I met Malcolm’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He was driving since my mother was too nervous to focus on the road. I knew he was responsible for the preparations. There were no words to explain what it meant to me that he would go along with all this, as if it were an everyday occurrence.

    As my mother predicted, it was easier than I thought to wheel my father away from the table and out of the day room. I was afraid he would put up a fuss at being removed from the game, so I dumped the Scrabble tiles into his lap. While Malcolm waited in the car with the engine running, we rolled him down the grand hallway and into the elevator.

    On the first floor we passed the reception desk. A security guard nodded pleasantly in our direction, despite my mother’s stunned expression and the fact that I wasn’t breathing. On the other side of the double doors I think we were both surprised to see that the sun was brilliant, high in the sky, casting shadows on the lawn of a deeper violent green.

    Malcolm got out of the car as soon as he saw us. He met us on the path and took the wheelchair, leading my father down the rutted gravel path to the car, stopping at the open back door. My father acknowledged no one; he didn’t look from side to side or even straight ahead, just fixated on his handful of tiles. In a high cheerful voice, my mother kept up a running dialogue about how good the fresh air and the sunshine felt and how much she knew he would enjoy the ride.

    Malcolm lifted my father from the chair. My father’s body was limp in Malcolm’s arms, and there was a moment when his thigh, draped in the material from his wide pant leg, caught on the chair’s brake lever. Malcolm stumbled forward slightly. My mother gasped and put her hand out as if she could save them both, and then Malcolm recovered and set my father down onto the edge of the car seat with his legs dangling over the sides and his toes pointed down dragging in the dirt. For the first time, I noticed that my father was wearing large white sneakers with a Velcro closure. I couldn’t remember my father ever wearing a pair of sneakers in his life.

    Malcolm swung my father’s legs into the car, swiveling his body so he faced forward. My mother ran around and got in the back seat next to my father. Just as he was about to shut the door, I saw Malcolm retrieve the Scrabble box from the floor and place it between my mother and father on the backseat. My mother reached across and took my father’s hand, the one not clutching the tiles, and put it securely inside hers on top of the box.

    On the winding back roads to the house that was no longer there, I glanced back at my parents. My mother was watching my father intently for any sign that he had come back to her. Still holding his hand, she whispered quietly, gently, as a mother does to a child she wishes to distract, pointing out the landmarks along the way. When Malcolm turned down our street I heard her voice catch—in reaction, I supposed, to the fact that we were so close to the place where her world had come to an end.

    When I glanced back to see if she was okay, I was surprised to see my father staring in my direction. I held my breath as our eyes met. He blinked three times before he broke eye contact and looked back down at the tiles in his hand.

    As I turned away, I heard my mother whisper urgently to my father that it wouldn’t be long. Soon, we would be home.

    *

    © by Robin Antalek. Used by permission of the author.

    Read more about The Summer We Fell Apart here . . .

    Read a bit from it here . . .

    Watch the trailer . . .

    . . . and visit Robin here!



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