In His House At R’lyeh Dead Cthulhu Waits Dreaming

Mrs. Reese, the social worker of the hospital, a middle-aged
woman with dark, reddish-black straight hair pulled tight into a
chignon, shook hands peculiarly; she stuck her hand out with the
wrist bent like a gooseneck, and the two sisters hesitated, not quite
knowing how to grasp a hand offered so.

Yvette extended her own hand slowly, palm up, and unthinking,
almost lifted the woman’s hand to her lips to kiss it. Her sister
noticed the movement upwards, and realized precisely what Yvette had
almost done; they had lived together so closely for so long they
could nearly read each other’s thoughts. While very different in
their personalities, they seemed yet on the way to becoming one
creature. If the two sat together quietly in a room, in a minute or
two they would be breathing in unison.

Mrs. Reese squeezed the dry hand, hoping to communicate warmth.
It was her mission not only for her work but as a person. But it was
obvious both sisters had shrunk away in spirit from her already. She
could feel it. Oh, dear.

She smiled widely, and held her hand out to the other sister,
Yvonne. The hospital rarely sent her to speak to a family in this
section of the hospital since it was all private suites and
expensive. The staff called this section the Gold Coast. There were
usually many foreign patients, particularly Arabs, here. A security
man would visit when the patient had been admitted and was settled,
to advise him or her not to keep any valuables in the room; send
these home with your family, he’d say. If you can’t the hospital will
allow you to have them placed in the institution’s safe for a small
fee, just like in a large hotel. The patient had a bigger menu to
choose from each morning, as well as the privilege to have a family
member (or private duty nurse) stay 24 hours a day in the room and
sleep there if he wanted; there was a comfortable sofa as well as
recliner. The social worker decided these two women did not look like
money — to put it mildly! — the fatter one sitting there in stretch
cotton lycra pants that were beginning to pill, and the clothes of
the other no better, a shapeless corduroy skirt and t-shirt. They
appeared to be both in their mid to late forties. The sister in pants
also wore a jeweled clip in her long hair, and foolishly bright red
lipstick. The other had no jewelry at all, and no makeup on her long
plain face. Her hair, longer than her sister’s and threaded with
gray, had been braided then stuffed into a rubber band.

“So you’re your mother’s caretakers,” Mrs. Reese said. “You’ve
been, for — how long? oh, yes, that’s a long time,” she acknowledged
as one sister held up some fingers. “Yes, I see. You’ve done quite a
bit of work, both of you, naturally. But of course because she’s your
mother and you love her. I’m so sorry she’s sick. This, now, must be
very difficult.” She spoke delicately, and deliberately glanced over
at the much older lady in the high bed, who lay simply covered with
wires and tubes. Two machines hovered by her head, one vacuum-pumping
oxygen into her chest. A plastic mouthpiece was taped into her open
mouth. The machines made a lot of noise. Mrs. Reese went over and
closed the door, then returned to the women.

The sisters just looked at her.

“How have you been feeling about it? I hoped I could be some help
to you,” she prompted. They looked puzzled.

“I guess we feel okay,” Yvette said.

“What’s this all about?” said Yvonne. “You’re a social worker?”
She tilted her head so the hairclip glinted.

Mrs. Reese sat down in a chair and pulled it closer to them.
“Yes. You’ve taken care of your mom very, very well and I guess now
everything’s going to change, isn’t it? We don’t last forever; we
just aren’t made to. Your mother was certainly lucky to have two
daughters who would do so much for her when she needed it.”

Yvette said, drawing her gray braid around with both
hands, “What’s going to change?” and Yvonne, in a distracted way,
began bleating, “What? What?” with her eyes widening. Mrs. Reese
automatically reached out a hand and put it on Yvonne’s arm, to calm
her. She turned to Yvette.

“The doctor did say that he was going to move your mother
upstairs to intensive care, didn’t he?” Yvette nodded, with a frown.
“Well, he also explained to you that it was necessary because her
lungs can’t get enough oxygen, even with the ventilator. Her blood
pressure is dropping, and her heart is slowing down.”

“So what do they do next?” Yvette demanded.

She shook her head. “It could be a day or more, or just a few
hours, the doctor said.” Mrs. Reese stopped and waited.

“A few hours, and then what?”

They’re in denial, Mrs. Reese thought. Or maybe they are
absolutely in the dark. Is it possible? When you look at that woman’s
face, not to know?  Earlier, the nurse had shown her, Mrs. Reese,
there was mottling on the hands and feet already. She knew what that
meant. Aloud, but in a small voice, she said: “This is terminal,
dear. I’m so sorry.”

The lifting and dropping of Yvonne’s hands and arms that began
made Mrs. Reese think of birds getting ready to fly. Yvonne’s head
snapped to look at Yvette. They both stood suddenly from their chairs
in a convulsive movement, staring at each other.

Yvonne turned on Mrs. Reese. “Nobody told us her cancer was
terminal.” Her voice was a little shrieky with accusation. “When the
ambulance came, and we told the paramedics that she just kept
sleeping on and on, they asked us if it was supposed to be terminal.
We said no!”

“Not once did her doctor ever call it that,” Yvette declared.
“She gets better every time. And goes home,” she added.

“Oh, my dears…. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”

“You’re not a doctor. You don’t know!” Yvette said. Her face
pinked up, with rage.

But Mrs. Reese stopped her: “She knew.”

And everything stopped. The idea that their mother had known the
end was coming but did not mention this to them was too vivid a
betrayal. Mrs. Reese wished she hadn’t said it. Rage, perhaps the
only force holding them intact just then, she had snatched away, and
they began to come apart as she watched. The very skin of their faces
drew and crumpled. Yvette turned gray. “Sit,” Mrs. Reese commanded.
“Lean forward. Put your head down.”

“What is there now?” Yvonne was saying. Her thin arms, waving
randomly, seemed too loose to stay on.

Yvette, then Yvonne, began crying loudly, sobbing and catching
their breath again with an agonized intake. To Mrs. Reese it sounded
like the hee-hawing of donkeys. She put her arm around one, then the
other when she could manage to gather her in, and let them continue.

The crew of nurses and orderlies who arrived to move the mother
met up with an angry daughter army of two. Who actually did not
attempt to stop them, only hurled abuse as they positioned the gurney
alongside the hospital bed, and loosened the sheets underneath the
mother, rolling the edges to grasp so they had a sheet to lift with.
“On three,” instructed a tall nurse. They counted, and boosted the
patient onto the gurney.

“One, you’re an idiot!” screeched Yvonne.

“Two — you’re fucking stupid idiots! Probably she’ll die before
you get upstairs, or you’ll let her slide off the cot,” sneered
Yvette. “And three — “

“Three, our mother would kill you if she saw what dirty hands you
all touched her with.”

“If she isn’t okay when you get upstairs — which is pretty
likely, the way you’re letting that machine roll all over the place
— we will know every one of your names.”

“Absolutely,” Yvonne said.

“This place has the worst staff. You’re all disgusting to me.”

The sisters waited until the staff and the gurney had rolled out,
then after a minute or so they ran down the hall and punched the
elevator button. It opened hummingly, rolling its layered steel doors
back. It was empty. Good. The mother and her entourage had gone ahead
already, in another elevator. Yvonne chose the button for the
intensive care floor, and then they stood expectantly, biting their

It was at least half an hour before they were actually permitted
in their mother’s new room, and this was rather disheartening. Also,
the extra staff that did the move had departed, and only an I.C.U.
nurse was there. It rather took the wind out of their sails. They had
lost the psychological moment. They stood by the bed and regarded
their mother. “They took long enough,” Yvette said. “Anything
could’ve happened to her while they took so long fooling around, and
we wouldn’t have been there.”

Yvonne, feeling the beginnings of some promising grumbling,
opened her mouth to rejoin, but could think of nothing. Yvette said
nothing more, either, and they simply stood looking at the patient,
and then the machines she was connected to, for as long as they were
permitted to stay in the room while the intensive care unit breathed
its very efficient air conditioning around them.

They ate crackers and cheese in the cafeteria, sitting together
on the same side of the table. Yvette had coffee while Yvonne drank
Coke. “How can you drink anything cold?” Yvette asked. “It was so
freezing up there.”

“I was thirstier than coffee. Sometimes it leaves me thirstier
than when I started, you know?”

Yvette did know, so merely nodded. “It was dry up there, too.”

“When are we allowed to go in again?”

Yvette looked at her watch. “Eight o’clock. So we’ll stay here a
little longer.”

“Eight o’clock.”

“You should eat some more. Maybe some fruit, Yvonne,” Yvette
instructed. Her sister grimaced. “I nearly passed out myself — you
want to do that too?” Yvette demanded.

“Will you eat part of it?”


They returned in a while upstairs, and when the nurse — or guard
dog as they dubbed her — summoned them, they returned to their
station beside the mother. As long as they were just waiting,
everything seemed as usual. They did not get upset again. When they
entered the room, the nurses were tilting the bed with an electronic
positioner. The head of the bed was considerably below the foot, and
the nurses returned the bed to a normal position. Yvonne looked at it

The younger nurse, looking very weary, took the time to speak to
the sisters to give them an update on the mother’s condition. The
blood pressure, she said, had gotten very low. To keep an adequate
blood supply to the brain, they’d had to elevate the mother’s feet
and lower her head and keep it that way for some time. Yvette and
Yvonne didn’t really know what this indicated, what it might mean.
They nodded. After the nurses left, Yvette thought her mother’s eyes,
which occasionally opened, looked swollen; not the eyelids, but the
eyeballs, distended. She decided it was an illusion. The face was
certainly puffy; that was it.

No one tried to make them leave the ICU now. It had been about
twelve hours since their mother had entered intensive care. A nurse
would come in, adjust a few things, stand and observe the mother for
a minute, then step out of their way. A doctor came in a couple of
times. He was the attending doctor, not the oncologist their mother
had been treated by for years; that doctor was too far across town
and was on the staff of another hospital, not this one near their
home. This attending doctor spoke softly and reasonably to them. He
seemed very young, like the nurse. He said their mother was in no
pain. (The sisters didn’t think so either.) He said it was almost as
if she were already dead. The sisters nodded. The machines — which
they had noticed for some hours were showing gradually lowering
numbers — were not doing much of anything for the mother now and
they, the daughters, could say when it was time to stop them. He
would do it when they felt it was all right. They nodded, but did not
say, “Now.” The numbers, Yvette remarked to Yvonne, were still very
high. What right did they have to disturb their mother’s machines?
They just wanted to stay there numbly.

A critical number on the heart monitor was reached, and a bell
rang somewhere. Three doctors rushed in with some sort of cart and
began looking the mother over; they called to each other different
instructions. The sisters stepped back, relieved someone was feeling
urgently about the situation. But when one doctor called “Lidocaine!”
and reached out, another person stepped into the room, a petite woman
wearing a raincoat, and held out her hand.

“Don’t do any more,” she said. Her voice was sweet and sure. The
I.C.U. nurse behind her was nodding at the doctors. The doctor looked
at the woman, dropped his hand and withdrew the crash cart. The other
doctors examined the monitors, fiddled with them a little, then left
too. The woman walked up to the bed and leaned over the mother. Her
hair, short and fluffily curled, swung forward. She placed her hand
on the mother’s purpling upper arm. “Goodbye,” she whispered.

The machines, everybody saw, had slowed to single digits.

Yvonne and Yvette could hardly look at this woman. They could
smell her, however. She smelled good. Like gardenias. The woman
turned and approached them and softly grabbed each sister by an
elbow, then let go; rather theatrically, Yvonne thought. “How are you
holding up?” the perfumed woman whispered.

Yvette’s throat made a phlegmy noise. She yanked herself from the
woman’s touch. “I hate you!” she shrieked at Anna, who happened to be
her — and Yvonne’s — younger sister. Yvonne burst into loud tears
behind them. As Yvette fled from the room, braid flapping, Anna
turned to Yvonne, and held out her gardenia-flavored arms, making a
sort of sad coo. Yvonne’s glance crawled up from her cupped hands.

“Oh, Yvonne,” Anna coaxed.

In the days succeeding, Anna began arranging everything for the
funeral. Her husband Carl, a clean-cut man a few years her elder, had
come into town with her. They had come just in time, he said to
Yvette and Yvonne. He smiled continually, and mostly stood back and
watched his small neat wife do like a whirlwind. An attractive,
girlish whirlwind. She was considerably younger than her sisters, by
about 15 years. But this was not the key to their differences. In the
old family house where Yvette and Yvonne had lived and taken care of
their mother, Anna headed for the telephone and usurped it. She and
Carl were staying in a motel, not wanting to barge in on the two
sisters. But Yvette took a wet soapy cloth to the receiver before
calling her hairdresser. The plastic smelled faintly of the other

The funeral took place and went correctly and well. The mother
had not been an ostentatious person and would have wanted only the
proper religious ritual, not anything showy or dramatic. There was a
large buffet for friends and extended family at the house. Anna
offered plates to Yvette and Yvonne, who were both sick and could not
look at the food. Yvette, who was feeling weak, waved Anna away
nervously. Yvonne flumped down in a chair in the game room. Anna sat
beside her with a plate of ham which her husband had sliced nice and
thin. Yvonne moaned and turned her head away, like a child, each time
Anna brought a fork close to her mouth. But Anna persisted, bringing
another plate, this time of kippers, sardines and crackers. She laid
a fragment of the sardine on a saltine and held it up. Yvonne stuck
her tongue out. It accidentally touched the sardine, and Yvonne was
surprised, relishing the salt. It wakened her hunger. Anna fed her,
approving. “You never tried them before?” Yvonne, engrossed in the
crunch and heavenly taste, shook her head.

That evening, when nearly all the visitors had gone, Yvette found
she could manage some thin vegetable soup. She sat alone in the
dining room and ate with her head over the bowl. She had cried all
through the funeral mass and several times since, and wanted to go
straight to bed without thinking about anything.  But something still
disturbed her field of vision. No — not vision. Her field of
sensation. It was Anna. Anna did not belong here, and it made Yvette
feel worse than strange, what with her mother’s death. Why did she
have to endure both at once?

Anna stopped in Yvette’s room late that night to see her. Yvette
allowed herself to be hugged and kissed. She would be gone soon,
anyway, and leave her and Yvonne in peace. “Why don’t you come down
soon for a week or so?”

Yvette blinked. “Where?”

“To my house, silly. We could swim, and go shopping, and things.
You could get a haircut, something really sharp, and a makeover…”
She was touching Yvette’s hair. “Think of all the time you have now.”

Yvette had trouble being civil in her answer, but thought she had
stayed on the right side of the line. On the day of your mother’s
funeral, you shouldn’t be nasty.

The next morning Yvonne wandered around the house helplessly. It
had been her work formerly to make breakfast for their mother and
help her with a bed bath. She had nothing to do now. She went and
found Yvette. Yvette looked at her with understanding and jumped out
of bed. “We’ll start organizing things here,” she said. “We’ll …
send her wigs to the cancer organization, and start going through her
clothes. And thinking about her property and what to do about

“Well, Anna already called the lawyer, and he’ll be letting us
know about most of that,” Yvonne said.

Yvette paused. “Someone made her frigging queen, didn’t they?”

“But I don’t even want to deal with all of that. It’s too hard. I
feel like I can’t move.”

“She doesn’t know how it feels, does she,” Yvette said. “We’ve
cried so much it feels like you could fall out the other side of
yourself. I feel like I’m not all here.”

“Exactly,” cried Yvonne. “And she doesn’t know! She hasn’t been
here.” She looked at Yvette with awe and horror. Yvette nodded.
“Nothing is the same!” Yvonne exclaimed. “There’s nothing left here!”

By mutual agreement, they didn’t try to do much of anything the
next few days, just washed their dishes and clothes, and a few
ordinary things.

Anna was still in town a week later, although Carl had gone home.
She had met with the lawyer several times. The mother’s estate was
divided evenly between the three sisters. Not that Yvette or Yvonne
cared much. Anna appeared at the house one afternoon and found only
Yvonne home, and this was fortunate, since if both had been home she
wouldn’t have been able to budge either one. It had to be divide and
conquer.  Yvonne was coaxed out to lunch with her, and they went
afterwards to a nail salon, which Yvonne had never done. She was
pleased with her pretty pink nails. She mocked herself, silently, as
the manicurist finished her: “This, and sardines! What a new life!”

They returned to the house, and Yvette was already home. Yvonne
was tired, having spent a long day with her young sister, and was
actually tired of her company too. It was a relief to see good old
Yvette curled into the big easy chair in the front room watching tv
with her bare feet on the furniture. Her hair was undone and a little
greasy. She looked embarrassed when the two walked in looking nice.

Anna chattered about their afternoon while Yvette scooted around
to hide her big feet. Yvonne sank smilingly into a chair: The tv room
was dim and she deliberately did not turn on any lamp, since this
could make Anna uneasy and leave, with any luck. It had been a
pleasant afternoon. Now get out of here.

It worked soon enough, and Anna left. Yvette turned to her sister
and said, “Don’t ever do that to me again. She’s the same as a
stranger, and I don’t want my privacy intruded on by her.”

Yvonne was stunned. “What did I do? I couldn’t say goodbye to her
at the door, you know, especially since she gave me a manicure and
lunch! It doesn’t matter if she’s here for a second or two; she’s
gone now! What’s the big problem?”

But Yvette was nettled. Something female in her had been
challenged and judged, and found lacking. “Just… nothing. Forget
it. You don’t know what she’s like.”

They were silent for a while, then Yvette burst out again: “She’s
always trying to fix me! To make me just like her! She’s got a

And: “She hates the way I dress, the way I act, the way I sit and
stand and eat and drink, and smell,” Yvette commented later.

Yvonne was growing angry too. “You always say I don’t understand
anything.” She was envious of the enmity between the other two, but
at the same time, felt herself stupid for feeling so. So she vented
this on Yvette: “You’re really critical too.” She, unlike Yvette,
spoke quietly, very quietly. This was her tactic.

They were silent again. Then, with a loud guffaw, Yvette said,
“Did you see the undershorts Carl had on the day of the funeral?”

Yvonne gasped. “Yes!” she shrieked. “His pants kept slipping
because he doesn’t know what a belt is for! They looked like an old
woman’s girdle, all white cotton, and seamed and shaped!” The two
laughed heartily

“And his nose hair! Did you see!” screamed Yvette. Yvonne
responded with a whoop. They kept laughing.

“And did you see — “ Each one kept adding. They laughed until
their stomachs hurt. “Oooh, whoo,” Yvette moaned, holding her stomach
in pain. They rested, breathed, then at a glance one at the other,
broke out in fresh hilarity. Yvette’s laughs were manly, almost
gross. Yvonne sighed happily, giggling every now and then. She
stretched out her arms and catching sight of her new nails, wiggled
them. Pretty, she thought. She glanced at her sister, who was
scratching her dirty feet. Their laughter died down gradually.

Yvette grunted and clambered out of the easy chair. “And she
thinks she’s all that and a bag of — pork rinds,” she said loudly,
on her way to the kitchen. She returned with a glass of apple juice
and stood regarding her sister from the doorway.

“I am so glad you’re here,Yvonne,” she said. She drank some
juice. “Even though — she gulped slightly — “Mom’s not here, we’ve
got a, well, a family. Not everything’s changed after all.” She
humphed, embarrassed by her speech, and sat down again quickly in the
chair. “Don’t you think so?”

Yvonne kept waving her fingers. She seemed to be thinking. “Mmm,
hmm,” she said.

A Mouse, A Village, A Road

by M. Wilson

We are building a road. We are a very small Indian village, only a couple dozen people or so, but we need this road desperately to reestablish the trade we formerly had with surrounding areas. As it is, they have forgotten us. Trade has lapsed. The dirt paths that run out of the village to other places are disused and disappearing, because they are so hard to travel on by automobile. Near the village, the paths begin as a series of lines pointing outward in all directions like rays from a solar disk; the paths are marked by deep ruts where bicycles and car tires once sank into the mud (fully hardened now, in summer) but a few hundred yards out, the ruts lessen in depth — as if the wheels here were finding firmer ground — and farther on, they vanish. Hardly anyone comes here anymore, only some farmers and craftsmen who have journeyed these parts of the desert since time out of mind. They arrive, taciturn, in clouds of old-engine exhaust and drive off in them, and when the exhaust dissipates it is as if they had never been here… The frequency of their visits has dwindled. Our connection to the rest of the world has been erased.

And which way is it? the world?

A magnetic fault line runs through our village, sending compasses spinning as if one were standing at the North or South Pole; this effectively nullifies navigation here. If some stranger says, “Go to the west corner of the house,” we cannot; we do not know which corner that is.

I know; you wonder about the light. It seems easy enough to say, “Just follow the path of the sun, as it rises in the East and sets in the West. Mark that path.” But take a look at it. There is the sun. Now turn one-quarter turn to your left; there is the sun, again. Now turn one-quarter turn to the left again, and there is another sun. And turn again, there is a fourth sun… The atmosphere splits it into four dimensions… And at night, the stars are similarly mirrored across the sky. We are building our road in front of the village, since there is a natural front and back. It will, when finished, run to the right and to the left, for a total of 52 miles. We don’t know what the road will reach. We are shooting an arrow into the air.

The villagers all work for part of every day on the road, even the poorest people who are barely scraping out an existence. We all agree this road must be made or the village will not survive.

I paint pictures. It is a poor living, now. When I first came here I was relatively wealthy; my pictures found several good markets; they were considered curiosities and sold well to tourists. Now, I am nearly as destitute as the rest of the villagers. Running out of supplies, I draw in charcoal or make my own paints from crushed clay and animal fat. And of course no tourists 
come here to buy them, so I must get them to the agent who sells them for me. I have resorted to carrier pigeons. If I roll up a canvas and secure it with twine, four birds together can manage to get it the twenty-three miles to the agent, who lives in a fair-sized market town. But the pigeons do not like it; they growl and stamp their feet impatiently while I tie all the strings to their thin legs. However, they do it for me, and return to my porch the next morning where I have spread out a feast for them: hard dried horse corn, smashed with a rock into small pieces they can eat. There used to be other methods of getting my work to market, like commercial vandrivers passing through, or even tourists who could be bargained with, but these no longer come frequently enough. So I must make alliances previously unconsidered.

We are starving, I suppose, — or soon that will be the case. There is, moreover, a beast that threatens the village, an animal that has stolen meager caches of food, made off with hen s and a small goat, even broke open someone’s fence and attacked a child. It is a wolverine. It seems to be one of many pressing dangers that make us hurry to build a road, because there is no capturing it. It was seen exactly once, and indistinctly at that. It is almost legendary.

A small girl knocks at my door in the morning and wants to know if I will trade some of my cooking oil for some jewelry she’s made. She holds out her wrist and shakes the bracelets to show me. They are made entirely of old electronics pieces braided with their own wires — capacitors and resistors, and there is a brooch lacy with them that also has a minuscule on-off switch. I seize her arm and hurry her to the hut of a man who knows metals, because I suspect these have lead in them and she is poisoning herself. Inside the hut, this man sits in the center of the dried-mud floor repairing something; he is using a small flame burner he shuts off with a pop when we enter. I gabble my concern to him, and he nods.

“Yah. Don’t worry.” He reaches into a pile of junk beside him and extracts a rolled spool of thick soldering wire, which I know for sure is made of lead. Straightening out a short end, he holds it over the burner which he has turned on again. The flame licks at the muddy-gray wire for a minute, but it fails to melt, or even soften and bend. He grins at my confusion. “You didn’t remember, hah? No poison, no lead, not while it’s here.” He gestures, indicating by “here” he means, in this village. He tosses the spool aside. “It has no use here. If no use, then no harm.”

I walk slowly home, musing. The girl skips beside me and dances, laughing, to my house. From my pantry I give her a round jar of corn oil and refuse to take any jewelry in exchange, but on second thought accept a jangling bracelet for each arm. If I wore them somewhere else, I wonder, would I hold a charge, complete a circuit? I keep forgetting that things are different here. Many natural laws are held in abeyance.

A truck driver carrying bags of food to a distant market has an accident outside the village — slides sideways into a ditch because of the road ruts. Numerous bags have fallen off the back of his truck and split open on the ground. He unloads the rest onto a second truck — the two trucks were driving together, luckily — but the broken bags of rice and gleaming grain still lie there spilled. He tells us we can have them. He looks at us once more, says, “Ahh, shit,” and climbs up into the back and pushes two more crates of vegetables off with his foot. “Catch!” he tells a young Indian. “Terrible what happens when you hit a ditch,” he coments; he waves and gets back in his truck to laboriously back out of the ditch, winched by the second truck. Both drivers turn their vehicles around and drive into the distance until they vanish. It is good fortune for us. The elders, smiling, direct everybody with jars and bags to collect his share.

The most needy person in the village is a widow with nine children. Her black hair is ragged and she wears a long, red and brown striped cotton skirt which has become so loose it is almost falling off. Her nine stand close around her. They all have the sharp faces of small wolves. She and her children have not eaten for two years… The elders, after brief discussion, set her share at twelve times everyone else’s and also decide a village dinner, in celebration, will be cooked at her house. This is wisely done; the dinner will be made under her supervision and will give her a position of honor instead of pity. All the villagers begin dragging cooking pots to her place, which we set up on tripods or racks outside over wood fires. We all donate some of our food. One man, who takes care of the village’s yard of chickens, a collective hold, consults with the widow and returns with two of the precious number; these are sacrificed and put to boil. Seeing them forced down on the chopping block, helpless, is an intense moment for us. But soon they are nothing but food. You know how people are. To live is to regret.

I am pushed aside by the other women who take over the cooking, because I live alone and do not cook for a family. I am considered fairly useless, being an artist. I try to stay out of their way, and like the men squat around the pots and add wood to the fires every so often. The men do not object to my joining them. We look at each other across the fire eagerly. The cooking food is beginning to smell like heaven. We will all be fat tomorrow, and have incredible strength for working the road. The widow approaches me with some of her tortillas. Her sense of importance today makes her black eyes beetle-bright. “Will you eat them in the house?” she queries, gesturing towards her hogan. I shake my head and indicate that out here is fine. She hands me a plate and goes inside to feed the others.

I begin to wonder what is in the tortillas. I did witness some of the preparation, and saw her tuck fried egg, small heaps of rice, beans, chopped green peppers into them, deftly, with her brown fingers; there are also some pinkish-brown bits that I — wishing to spare myself — decide is pork. But who really knows. It could be meat from the local “livestock.” Even as I think this a small brown rodent of indeterminate species peeps cautiously from the bushes nearby, then breaks from them and zooms across the path. It has a long tail. A thin canine, as well, slinks around the wall of the hogan.

I bite into the tortilla, and it is fortunately mouseless, dogless. I taste chicken, is all. I finish almost the whole thing and lick my fingers, cupping a few shreds of egg and rice in my hand. And stand up to go find the mouse, or whatever it was.

It takes some time, but I locate it a few yards from where I first spied it in the brush, and lay out the bits of food on the ground in front of its hiding place, and sit down to wait. I have to sit perfectly still for forty minutes… Then it emerges. It darts forward to seize the food. “I love you,” I tell the mouse. I think I may only be practicing saying this, but it feels true. The hair on its face moves as it looks at me. At least it looks around, sniffing; it’s hard to tell what exactly its gaze settles on. This mouse… he is one of those animals who are more physically aware than others, I can tell this by the way he moves and reacts. He has too many nerve endings, is his trouble, nerve endings to luxurious excess, making him terribly sensitive to touch and sound. All these nerves are tuned to exquisite pitch, and this affects the relationship he has with the rest of the world. Ones like him choose outlying areas like this to live in, for protection; they also tend to keep low to the ground or high in the air. There is an entire civilization of them, sort of an undercurrent to our own world, a secret society like the Masons or Rosicrucians.

I moved here from a large city thirteen years ago, I was looking for love. The city was a gorgeous carnival, a heaving, ringing, yelling, laughing, pulsating sort of place, and the people talked so fast I couldn’t sort out what they were saying. It took a while before I discovered I couldn’t…And if you can’t tell what they are saying, you also can’t say anything back…I decided I needed a vacation: I ought to go either back in time or to the end of the world. I opted for the end of the world, boarding a bus one day and taking it to the end of the line; then I just got out and continued walking.

And here it is quiet. Here I reduce my life to what is manageable. I am beginning again, but I am not sure what exactly it is I am beginning again. It is something about love. A tree, a rock, a cloud. I am practicing.

When I stand on a high place, like the dirt plateau behind the village, I can feel the city in my head. It is a cold pain, a reverberation like the ringing of an iron bell. It feels also like a magnetic pulling, which is strange since I think this village is isolated from the earth’s lines of force. I have wondered sometimes how the pigeons find their way. It must be that the magnetic field is continuous at a higher altitude, although disrupted here on the ground.

For the road today we are crushing stone, as we have been doing, for many days. In the canyon a hundred yards away, the strongest men swing picks and break off large pieces of granite and load them into wheelbarrows. This is the hardest job. Others of us bring these pieces over to the trench which is becomiing the road and drop them in. Then we take sledgehammers and metal crowbars and smash, smash, smash them into smaller pieces to fill the space of the trench. It is six feet deep, this trench. Hot work, and it will take a long, long time. I pause to rest, and take a package of hard, ancient gum from my pocket. The crinkling of the wrapper alerts a small boy’s attention. He too has been working on the road, picking small stones and carrying them over in a sack. “What’s that?” he demands.

“Gum.” I show him.

“Give me a piece!” I extract one piece and give the rest of the pack. Also in my pocket I find a bottle of soap bubbles and plastic blowing ring, which I give him. I pull out the rest of what is in my pockets and he keeps accepting the things as I hand them to him — a fragment of white chalk, a broken Bowie knife, a dog collar, the core of an apple, a cat’s eye marble, a piece of string to swing a rat with, six yellow tickets with Bible verses printed on them. Have you ever known a child who didn’t want everything you had?

I sit in front of the house where the red pickup truck is parked and wait for the man who owns it to come out. I watch for him almost every day. He may not even exist — like the wolverine. I put a basket of flowers in front of the door. Night falls, then the morning comes. An old woman, knitting with flame-colored yard on the next porch, says, smiling, “I don’t think he’s ever coming out.”

Sometimes I walk at night and stand outside the house of the man with two wives. The villagers might turn him out of the village, if they knew. The younger woman is slight and dresses as a boy and the man refers to her in public as his son. But one night I saw them… I stand outside their window and watch them make love, sometimes all three together. I am conscious of a furious wish to join them.

I awake in the middle of the night, hearing a crackling noise. The bed is on fire, as well as the whole bedroom. Little flames lick around the bedding, trying to get at me… My nightgown ignites at the hem, and I grab it and slap it, unfortunately pulling the fire onto my own leg. A flash of pain on my thigh… The valance of the canopy is alight; it starts to creak and crumble, so I take a flying leap from the bed, where the mattress is now burning, to the floor, which I can’t see through the smoke billowing upwards from underneath the bed, praying that the floor is not afire too. I land without knowing if it burns under my feet or no, I can only see that the room is become a red hell. In fact, the whole house….Somehow I run outside and find my neighbors outside awakened and rushing to help. They take me to the widow’s, next door. There the women spread a poultice over the fearful burn on my leg and wrap it. They murmur soothing things as I shake and sob over a mug of tea. My house is gone. There is no way to stop the fire. My clothes, furniture, paintings, even my share of the windfall food, is burned up.

Now the villagers have the added burden of helping me. They cannot afford to have me stay here much longer because I suspect the expense of my existence will get greater and greater…But a plan forms. The charred and broken pile of wood, crockery and stuff that was my house can provide fill for the road. There are a few working vehicles left in the village, and to these we can attach metal plates like steel plows, and, using up the precious small store of gasoline remaining, push my house over, into the trench. Into nothingness.

The widow tries to make me spend the night at her place, but I cannot bear the sight of her children all huddled against the walls on straw pallets, like mice in a barn. Even though the recent feeding has rounded out their faces somewhat. My pity for myself is about all I can stand just now. I slip out the door and walk along the canyon, where the wind howls long and low. I come to a small cave hidden between two broken boulders, and I toss stones into it for a while until the answering silence convinces me nothing is inside and it is safe to enter. It is dusty and cold, but huddling myself into a curve of the walls makes me eventually warm enough to sleep.

Something terrible awakens me — something has entered the cave and knows I am here. I jump up. It breathes horidly, rasping. In the pitch black I can’t tell it’s near until a rank, musky odor fills the air, thick and suffocating, and a massive body falls on me, knocking me flat on my back on the cold ground.

It is the wolverine, only it is as large as a man. A huge arm — or limb — is laid across my mouth and neck; what starts as a blow begins now to be a caress, this huge hand feeling my face. The hand grasps my throat and I feel his other hand on my body. I am tilted backwards and my naked legs pushed apart. Through the denseness of my fear, I feel what he is about to do and am suddenly, fiercely, glad.

As I choke into his shoulder, he enters me and it is surprisingly easy. The thickness pushing into me is almost more than I can manage; with each withdraw, part of my flesh slides too, trying to cling to him. It is only a couple of minutes before my orgasm starts to overtake me like a rocket, my whole form giving planetary shudders. I feel him finish not long after that. I tell him to go slowly, slowly, as he pulls from me. After I’ve caught my breath again and push him away, I sit up and think: This is just like me. I’m exactly like this. What have I done? Everything is getting out of hand.

In the morning there is trouble in the village. The chickens are gone! The young man who tends the clay-walled chickenyard runs around in circles, holding his head and muttering. Every single one gone; how will we eat this winter? I think of the beast of the night before, and freeze in guilt. Maybe he ate them, I consider silently. But there is no evidence they are dead, probably only run away. The young man finally tells us the gate to the yard stood wide open at sunrise when he went to feed them, because the gate latch was broken and the wind opened it. So we scour the village looking. Every so often, someone cries out and points to a bush, a clump of grass, but the chicken has relocated before we reach it; they are amazingly swift. Stumbling around, I trip over two of the widow’s sons who are searching with her, and scrape up my hands on the rocks and dirt as I fall. The widow wipes my hands with her apron apologizing, then frowns at the bruises on my neck and legs, gotten during the night. She looks worried… Someone tries to lure the chickens with a tray of feed set out in the open; but no birds approach. We search the thicker brush and grass of the adjacent meadows, and twice I get close enough to a chicken to catch a glimpse of bright eye, a whirry of feathers as it eludes me. And strangely, these chickens are in the trees. Can they fly?

Hot and dusty, we gather at noon to discuss this. Many others have come to the same conclusion — the chickens are hiding in the trees, can fly and evidently were able to all along. One of the old men says this flock is descended from wild chickens, so it is natural. The big problem now is the chickens’ behavior. They intend to remain at large. They have experienced freedom and for the moment it is better than anything else. Moreover, they are toying with us. One man says, what we need is a better lure than chickenfeed.

Water? someone suggests, unimaginatively.

Everything suddenly becomes clear to me. We must show the chickens something they do not know yet they want, and they will desire it more than they have ever bothered desiring before. I feel in my hands, my head, the ability to create it in paint. I begin to dream, conjuring up paradise from a bird’s eye, and it appears in my head so swiftly and vividly I wonder from where it sprang. But I can bring these chickens back. All afternoon I paint, using up every bit of color I can mix or cadge from others; I get some paint from potters and dye from a weaver. If I get the chickens back, I will finally be of use.

I paint the picture of desire on the front clay wall of the chicken yard. I wish the onlooker to think the wall is a field, and one could walk to the wall surface, and keep walking into the picture. Of course it is clumsy trompe l’oeil, not realistic enough to fool a person, and that was always the fun of the style — that we see it is not real after coming close enough — but it is good enough for chickens. Yellow sunlight pours through the tops of the grass in the painting, soft branches reach over the grass and make shade so deep and cool you can see it is still a little damp under the trees. I work especially on the colors; I find some gold, and make the light heart-wrenching. The Indians stop sometimes and look doubtfully at it, and a little toddler child runs up from behind my back and smacks full into the wall, then falls back on his seat, wailing. The adults stare. I continue the painting on the back wall of the yard that faces the open gate. Reluctantly, the Indians start to gather things to help: long brushes and branches to sweep the chickens in toward the gate if they approach; insects, which they toss in bowls of water, to occupy the chickens’ attention once they are here. The chickenyard man repairs the gate latch. Nobody is out searching for the birds anymore because they are beginning to believe they will come to us.

Two elderly Indians, tough of cheek, small-eyed, long-legged sisters, stand before the picture and look at it with their heads to one side, blinking from time to time. Noncomprehension in their faces. These two women come almost undiluted from a family so ancient their minds are less differentiated than other people’s, they cannot see a painted image as having three dimensions. They look at it as a bird would, a lizard would. It might be a glittering pile of pebbles. Gleaming rain on a wall.

The branch of nerves on one side of my face jumps, like a tiny hand of pain. Oh, hell, what a miscalculation! How could this picture work for the village chickens either? All my labor wasted and useless. I say nothing to the others, however. The painting is done.

But the chickens come. They arrive with the sunlight the next day, and the noise in the yard, from cackling birds and the laughing people who have flown outdoors to see them, is joyous.

And one day, it is moving day. We are moving my burned house. I drink milk out of a chipped mug, and eat my rice off a cracked, blackened plate. Afterwards I throw the dishes into a trash barrel. Soon the cars and the one truck in the village will begin pushing the remains of the house towards and into the trench.

The cars’ makeshift plows are held on by heavy wire and a few nails. The men rev the motors, eager. Everybody in the village gathers at the burned house; we cheer each time the engines roar. Yelling a signal to each other to begin, the men stomp on the gas and zoom at the house. They hit the rear wall simultaneously with a deafening crash. One smaller, lighter car bounces backward, spins its tires, and leaps forward to hit the wall again. There is a huge chunk punched out on one side, a long fissure on the other, through which all three vehicles shove. The entire wall gives way and collapses inward, revealing the living room. It is black and unrecognizable to all but me. I begin to feel distressed, and go away to sit somewhere until the initial wrecking is done; only will I be needed to sweep and wheel rubbish into the trench. I sit and weep at the enormity of this undertaking, this road.

When we have hauled and shoveled enough for the day, we all sit on the ground near the trench and pass jars of cold well water around. The mothers begin calling their young ones together to go home and cook dinner. The men put the wheelbarrows beside the road, and stack the picks and other tools inside the barrows. The suns, all four of them together, are setting and they blare a light greater than the ultimate splendor into our eyes and we hurry indoors. I can feel a difference in the air as I run to the widow’s; something has changed since the house has been leveled: I now feel the city dragging at me more strongly than ever. Shading my eyes with both hands, I turn and look at the naked plot where the house stood. I feel exultant. I feel free to go.

Two hours before dawn, I stand beside a small pack of clothes and belongings. I kiss the widow goodbye; she knows I am leaving today and has risen earlier than the rest of her family, earlier certainly than the rest of the village. She says little, only squeezes my hands again and again. It is good to see her skirt is tighter, her bones covered by more flesh. The door closes after me and immediately I hear a child shriek, and she yells back. Her day has already begun. The path follow is roughly alongside the projected road, it seems the logical way to take. A brown rabbit twenty yards away seems to accompany me for a while as I start out. The dark is lessening in intensity, but the dawn is still far off. I enjoy the quiet as I walk. It will be loud enough soon, when I get closer to the city. I visualize its inhabitants: lone men, lone women, all together and unquiet, I hope I am ready for them, for you. I could love you, I could want you. I could dream you. I could eat you. Pick one.

In The Attic

by M. Wilson

Jesus, who hung on the wall above, happened to be gazing at Miriam when the rays of the very early, very bright sunshine reached through the attic window at an angle to strike her eyes and wake her. She blinked in pain and her fingers flew to her face and pressed at her eyes; they must have hurt quite a bit, since she slept always with her eyes open. She also slept sitting up, with one lovely arm extended and holding aloft a green plastic wine goblet that happened to fit her hand precisely. All her days were spent in an old ceramic bowl filled with small glass marbles, having rather the look of a bubble bath, or this was at least the intention. She had been in the bowl for nearly a year and a half, ever since the old man who owned the house had last climbed the stairs and been in this room, doing this and arranging that, smiling at his fancy, then descending again when he was finished. Never to return, since he left this world shortly after leaving the attic. She and the others here had entered into an era of neglect, but this was only one more period of empty time after so many others. Such was the life of a doll.

Dust motes wheeled slowly round in the beams of light that raked the room. Miriam rubbed her eyes as well as she could, the goblet which she could not loose hampering her somewhat, and gave a tiny sob, a plasticky squeak. She did not often allow herself to cry. She produced no tears, anyway — which she might have been tempted to use for dramatic effect on the other dolls. As it was, she considered the act of crying self-indulgent, so the noise she made now was only for herself. The silence surrounding them indicated that the others were not up yet. Only she and the celluloid Jesus were alert, since they were closest to the window and tended to be the first ones to wake. And being with Jesus was as good as being alone. As she cried He looked at her with slow, sure eyes and said nothing.

Miriam was hurting, and tired. There were some twenty-five dolls in the attic, mostly 11-and-a-half-inch fashion dolls, like herself; besides this harem of Barbies there were some male dolls, a few elephantine baby dolls, a couple of corn-husk dolls with blank, bland faces, two or three smaller fashion dolls, and a Spanish dancer made of muslin and cotton wadding and wire, whose speech nobody could understand. Miriam was the oldest. The old man had singled her out to pose her by herself, probably because she was so different from the Barbies’ cheerful, wholesome, smiling Americanhood. She had a quality of stillness. And solitude. Her eyes were tilted up at the outside corners but half-hooded by white lids, the thin eyebrows very arched, her cheeks a little too high, her expression one of a sort of middle-European withdrawal into her own thoughts. To accentuate her look, the old man had placed a couple of his late wife’s crystal-drop gemmed earrings into the crunchy, elaborately curled masses of her silvery-gold hair and tiny pieces of gold chain around her neck and wrists. He had thought she looked like Marie Antoinette, beautiful and knowing her doom. Even before he had arranged her this way, her limbs had hurt when moved. Now they were an agony. And she was always slipping forward because of sitting on the marbles, so her back frequently ached.

She heard feminine yawns, and looked up to see the Barbies beginning to stir. They seemed to be posed as a group, so alike were they in their happiness; over here, a ponytailed blonde Barbie sat on a tiny doll’s park bench beside a ponytailed brunette Barbie, both wearing pert pink and blue dresses, their arms around each other’s waists, like two teenage girls giggling over nothing; there, a streaky-haired blonde Barbie sat on the edge of an antique writing desk beside a male wizard doll (about the size of a Ken), swinging her bare feet and waving her left hand — which was posable — at nobody in particular; two dark-haired Barbies whose legs were articulated leaned against dusty lamps in difficult ballerina positions. One Barbie who had no clothes was seated in a cloth swing made from an old nylon nightie, and it was twisted around her for modesty. This swing dangled from an upright bar on a set of metal utility shelves. The waking girls blinked their eyes, moved their limbs, and began chatting — softly, out of deference to Miriam, since they knew quite well she detested morning. Later, they would be louder. Their easy transition from sleep to wakefulness, their instant “on,” annoyed Miriam. But they’re so much younger, she told herself, and bashed the ugly head where it was rearing.

She turned to look out the window and sighed. The arm she held the glass with creaked and dropped into her lap, giving her a sudden pain so exquisite she gulped. Then it infuriated her. “Oh — God!” she whispered, seizing her elbow with the other hand. “Jesus Christ!”

Jesus lifted His head suddenly, startled but attending, thinking she was actually calling on Him. Miriam met His glance, and shame flooded her. “Oh, no — I’m sorry!” she said, shaking her head. “So sorry,” she repeated. She lifted her chin high, in control once more. Jesus did not speak, but she could feel the pressure of His mind on her, prodding her to tell Him what her trouble was. She tightened her lips and looked away, out the window again. Jesus, she told herself, was here to watch over the silly Barbies, not her.

After a few minutes she stole a glance over at Him. His head drooped on His chest in centuries-old weariness. His eyes were nearly closed, glazed over in ancient agony that was remembered now only in the curves of the brittle celluloid that made His face shine. Jesus was only three inches long and not a complete crucifix, only the shaped mold of the body atop a partial Cross. The feet were missing. The Cross had cracked off across the bottom when He was removed from a fancy boxed set of books.To stop the thin tendril of pity she felt climbing into her heart, Miriam forced herself to drop her glance and look instead at the bookcase below Him, where a heap of tangled rosaries lay in between some prayerbooks. Their faint glitter drew her for a moment. These objects she did not fully understand; they seemed to be jewelry but it was more complicated than that. She had a vague memory of a teenaged boy, perhaps the old man at a younger time? coming into the attic, dumping the heap of rosaries up here, grinning and calling them “vampire repellant.” So evidently they were also useful. The human world had such mysteries, behind its appearances. Why couldn’t they simply be necklaces to wear?

“To count their prayers,” Jesus said very, very quietly. He did not even look up or lift His head. “That’s what they’re for. I don’t know what vampires are.”

“Maybe they’re some kind of bug,” Miriam replied frostily. She found it unsettling sometimes when He answered her like that, although she had known for ages that He could read her thoughts.

One of the Barbies called out to Miriam. “Ma’am? We were wondering something, Ma’am… We felt sure you would know. Why is it that almost no Barbies have red hair?” Eight pairs of huge beautiful eyes turned to her, waiting. She smiled kindly, not without inner amusement.

“Why, plenty of them have red hair. You’ve just seen very few, blonde being the predominant color. Actually, nearly all of you are made after the California beach girl concept, with some exceptions like this American Indian black-haired girl,” she pointed at one, “and the free-spirit, hippie-type girl” — she nodded at the streaky blonde — “and a number of well-groomed career girls.”

“I did work in an office, originally,” one Barbie admitted.

“I think I drove a bus!” another remembered. “Or a car.”

“The most popular career used to be … “ Miriam paused. They waited, fascinated. “Stewardess.”

They were silent for three seconds of respectful meditation. “Oh, wow. They didn’t even call them the right thing,” someone muttered. Another concurred: “And who would want to be that?” Another: “If I’m going in a plane, I’m flying it.” “Or going as a U.S. marshal.” They brightened at this thought too.

Miriam said, “For a number of years, red hair was reserved for Midge, Barbie’s best friend, who was plain-faced.” They were puzzled.

“You mean, she was made not pretty? On purpose?”

“I’ve never seen that,” the other park bench Barbie murmured.

“What’s a Midge?” one girl queried, trying to be funny.

A deep voice intoned, “A midge is a gnatlike fly of the family Chironomidae. They tend to hover in clouds over stagnant water.” Then Jesus dropped His head again. The girls stared at Him. Then they turned questioningly to Miriam. Miriam nodded wisely, knowing the fancy box Jesus had been pried off had been a set of encyclopedias published by a Roman Catholic firm. He had told her this once. He still retained a memory imprint of all the words and information He had lain against for so many years, and it bubbled up at odd times. He could not help it.

The girls, easily distracted from what they did not understand, turned their discussion to anticipated events that day. “Do you think someone’ll finally walk upstairs today?”

“Do you think a bird will run into the window today?”

“Do you think we’ll see some beetles crawl across the floor? A spider start a web?”

Miriam bent her head in momentary grief, at this talk of attic insects and dirty webs and the grimy day-to-day routine. Sometimes she detested these young dolls and their resilience, their ability to be curious about anything, to take an interest in any stupid thing that now happened in this their horrible life in the attic, and she hated this life, knowing there was only more of it to come. No events, no real people, no newness; she would never again, for instance, be a girl’s new birthday present and be awed at. Or be played with in association with other dolls, among whom she would be the most beautiful and sophisticated-looking. She was not young and soon she would not be able to talk and joke with the other dolls. These Barbies here were already beyond her level of energy; toys and objects tended to slow down and go silent with greater and greater age, and this was beginning to happen to her, but something in her nature was preserving that sense of herself in spite of everything, while other objects forgot who and what they were. She valued her memory, but it was also the source of pain.

She wished she felt like the Barbies. She moved her fingers slightly over the dust-coated marbles and thought: My heart is becoming as dry as this bath. But even as she thought this she felt how artificial and untrue it was. The problem was that her heart was very wet indeed, in fact she sensed watery tears right now pressing against the bottom rims of her eyelids, against every seam and joint of her, ready to burst from her like a bad water main in an unseemly display of despair. Utter self-loathing filled her. She stared down into her lap for many minutes until, little by little, the feeling disappeared into the void of her own tiredness. She was, she reflected, too old even to sustain strong feeling.

Hours passed. The Barbies began, some of them, to take cat-naps in the afternoon sun. It grew quiet in the attic again. From time to time, tiny exhalations sailed from the lips of the smaller dolls; two pretty ones whose only wardrobe was a ball of pink angora wool their bodies had been thrust into, sighed most frequently; their glass eyes they did not even bother to move, so infantlike were their minds, and when a thought actually passed through their heads, they sighed in reaction.

Miriam watched and felt herself parching in the dry light, lifting off in dusty layers with the motes that swirled in the window’s light. I’m going to die, she thought. And no one will see. She felt no particular sadness at the idea of dying, but was aware of a vague alarm. But even it was sluggish; she felt her own resources dwindling and slow to respond with any self-preservation. She let her gaze move around the room. The crystal beaded rosaries drew her vision again, and she lifted a hand to point at them. Her arm creaked like a mummy’s as she did so. “If I had one of those, I could count my prayers,” she said aloud. She spoke slowly. It took a while to marshall the words. “And look nice in a necklace.”

Jesus said, “You can already count.”

“Why, yes… I can count,” Miriam said, recalling a dim game of hopscotch she had participated in long years ago. A girl had jumped on one foot, with Miriam clutched in her hand … and a cadence of the numbers rang in her head again, echoing through that odd, deep well of time. And there had been games of jumprope, too, involving counting. “I can count to … twenty-three,” she said.

“Then you don’t need a necklace,” He told her.

She was silent. She was swallowing something difficult in her throat, something large and prideful and she knew how hatefully hard what she was going to do next would be, but she was aware of a harder, firmer thing inside her that her own stubbornness hit, and bounced off, and flew out of her. It was like an iron bell inside her, which rang for one long, low note, calling her to herself. And the taste in her mouth which had been acidic changed, and she could swallow again; she rested her palms in her glass-covered lap and looked across at the young Barbies, and thought: How nice they are, really.

He was waiting.

“One,” she croaked. The edges of her lips were drawn up in a tight, nasty, self-mocking smile she could not seem to avoid– it was the last vestige of her unwillingness to submit — but she felt her facial muscles begin to relax when it occurred to her that He would forgive her that ugly smile, He would not mind it at all, and all her fear was melting as she realized how grateful she was to be now learning at this moment a new thing, a new important thing that installed her heart in the present instant, now and forever, and the consciousness of it kept renewing her interest in the now and how stunning it really was in its liveliness, how alive she felt now, how good it was, each and every moment of experience, and now her mind poured sweetly like a river and she saw how easy what He was asking her to do was. What came next? … She opened her mouth to find out: “Two. …. Three,” she prayed.