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Lox.

The summer after my father's heart attack, my great Aunt Elsa decided to pack my sister Alex and me off to Forest Lake Camp in upstate New York for a month, so our father could convalesce in peace. She had been living with us during the four weeks he was in the hospital, and convinced him that our passions for harmonizing sitcom theme songs, blasting our Billy Joel records, and perpetually asking unanswerable questions, not to mention our hygienic habits - in case he'd forgotten - might not foster a speedy recovery. Forest Lake had been recommended to her by Lois Katz, the wife of a kosher butcher on the Upper East Side. The Katz's sold the best brisket in the city, Elsa said. She trusted their advice on everything.

The idea didn't thrill my sister and me, and we sat on our livingroom couch with our arms resolutely crossed when Mrs. Schloss, the camp director, arrived to show slides. After a barrage of green cabins and smiling children waking at 6 a.m. - out of their own free will - to listen to the birds chirp, our feelings didn't change. We'd been looking forward to a summer of kickball in front of the garages at the top of our alley, and selling Country Time instant lemonade on the corner of 48th Street. But our aunt was set on our going, and our father agreed with her. His shoulders sagged as she stitched nametapes into every sock and shirt we owned, but he said it would be good for us to get away. Meet other kids. Step on grass and ground for once, instead of the blacktop of Queens.

When the morning we were leaving finally came, even Elsa showed reservations about it. She prepared a lavish breakfast of fresh bagels ("I schlepped to Broadway to buy them"), cream cheese, smoked whitefish and lox. The good kind of lox, fat slices cut by Morris Katz himself while you watched him pick out the right parts, not the plastic packages we usually got at the A&P. Neither Elsa nor my father said anything when Alex and I lopped slabs of it across our thickly-spread bagels, instead of the little slivers we usually strategically dotted across the surface. Alex seemed not to mind that we were going; she had packed up her spare eyeglasses and entire set of Great Brain books without dawdling, and now she said "Good breakfast," in an adult emotionless tone. She was twelve. My stomach prickled at the thought of leaving, but I mimicked Alex's indifference and ate silently, not wanting to give Elsa or my father the satisfaction of knowing I would miss them. I was ten and a half.

The Greyhound buses chartered by Forest Lake left from the parking lot of a private school in Riverdale ("the Bronx, but they don't put that on their return labels," my father pointed out as we drove along the tree-lined streets). We approached swarms of girls hugging their mothers, and the mothers wiping lipstick marks off their daughters' cheeks. My mother had died three years before, and the chunk of grief lodged in my throat which began to dissolve at certain inconvenient times - on parent-teacher nights, when we had to make Mother's Day feather dusters in school - again threatened to break loose. My father was fifty-five but looked older, and with Elsa clutching his elbow, and their anxious, regretful expressions, they looked like two escapees from a retirement home. Alex and I hugged them awkwardly, and with a quick good-bye my sister proudly picked up her duffel bag and marched towards the older kids' bus. Soon after, a young counselor named Cindy located me. She nodded pleasantly while Elsa pinched my shoulders and ordered "Make sure she eats!" - but in some rush to pretend that I didn't even know my father and aunt, I let Cindy escort me away. Perched on the edge of my green plush Greyhound seat, I wanted to run back to them, to extract some proof of them to take with me - the familiar scratch of my father's wool jacket, the fruity smell of Elsa's Genovese perfume - some assurance that these things would still be there when I returned. But the brakes wheezed and we started to drive off. The last thing I saw was Elsa waving blindly at the dark glass window, and my father, hands in pockets, squinting past the bus, as if he was trying to judge how far away we were really going to be.

Cindy bounced back to my seat then, her long braid swinging, sensing the need to prevent the first homesickness outbreak. She cheerfully reviewed my forms on her clipboard. The girls around me, who all seemed to know each other, had begun to sing songs about forests and exchange beaded bracelets. Their baseball caps and sweatshirts were emblazoned with Dalton, Choate, Great Neck North. Where I had heard of those schools I didn't know, but the names were familiar, like Rumpelmeyer's and other places around the city I hadn't been. I'd thrown out my P.S. 11 Queens shirt after the letters melted off in the dryer.

As Cindy reviewed my father's number at the shoe repair store, a disturbing thought struck me; my eyes frantically coasted down her chart, trying to read upside down, thinking her next question might be about the hushed "campership fund" discussion my father had with Mrs. Schloss. They had sat stiffly at our dining room table, Mrs. Schloss shuffling papers and my father punching his old calculator with his pinky finger; later, when my sister and I asked what they were talking about, my father made some vague reference to Mrs. Schloss's generosity, furrowed his brows and warned, "You don't talk to your friends about this." I wondered if the counselors were given similar instructions to keep quiet. The fear that they hadn't hung over me as Cindy introduced my cabinmates-to-be.

Pam Schwartz. Lizzie Zuckerman. Olivia Cohen. Lizzie stared disapprovingly at my clunky grey Nikes and tube socks. Her bare, tanned ankles stretched into white canvas sneakers - Tretorns, I would soon learn. They all wore them. Lizzie's eyes returned to her Teen Beat.

It was Olivia who spoke to me first, offering me jellybeans in unimaginable flavors: root beer, caramel fudge, and chocolate mint, which the others contentedly chewed. Olivia's Tretorns were the most unsullied white of all of them, her Izod a powder blue. She was beautiful - her blonde hair neatly fastened into two gold clips, transparent blue eyes and lashes like black tines. She offered the jellybeans to me casually as if they were nothing special at all.

When we arrived at the camp and unpacked our clothes into square wooden cubbies, I couldn't help but stare at her neat stack of Izods and Polos in a pastel rainbow, and the brown L.L. Bean shoes - like the Tretorns, shoes everyone owned - that she removed from her trunk. Her parents had the trunk specially shipped. At night she snapped her toiletries to and from shiny pink cases. My Baggie-wrapped soap and shampoo, with my name scrawled across them in my aunt's huge script, sat clumsily on our parallel shelves in the bathroom.

The first night at camp, I lay in my bunk beside the window screen, blankets pulled up to my nose, and inhaled the smell of wool and pine trees. The wind blew up from the lake in loud forceful gusts. In the middle of the night it started to rain. I thought of my sister in the Senior section, six cabins away; part of me wanted to run to that cabin and get in her bed. We shared a room at home, and though we often fought all day about who finished the last Pop Tart or used up the toilet paper and didn't replace it, at night I liked knowing she was in the bed beside me. Sometimes, on holidays and birthdays, we crawled into our father's bed, on the side where our mother had slept. He never slept on her side, but still kept two pillows stacked there, like she had before she died.

I glanced around my dark cabin at the other girls sleeping soundly, curled up under mountains of blankets. The idea of jumping down onto the cold floor and going out in the rain seemed babyish and afraid. I stayed where I was.

In the dining hall the next morning, the girls raised their hands to sign up for windsurfing, sailing, horseback tiding, and arts and crafts, but Cindy told me I'd be going to required swim instruction. Neither my sister nor I knew how swim (no pools in our neighborhood, except for a two-foot-deep one at the playground), but when I ran into Alex outside the dining hall, she said since she was a Senior, she could do what she wanted.

Back in the cabin, I watched Olivia get ready to go sailing, pinning up her hair and rubbing in sunscreen. Lizzie wiggled into jodhpurs and said loudly to me: "Too bad you didn't bring your jodhpurs, you could see my horse Moses at the stables," but I tuned her out and watched Olivia zip up her blue windbreaker and disappear out the door, leaving behind the beach-like scent of sunscreen.

Lizzie left soon after Olivia did, so it was just Pain and me in the cabin. Pain said not to worry about not going sailing or riding, I wasn't missing anything - and since her doggy paddle was probably worse than mine, we'd be stranded together at the shallow end of Forest Lake. As the week progressed we became friends, and I realized that if Pain didn't have a mortal fear of the water, she'd be an Olympic swimmer: she was a genius at every other sport the camp offered. She was captain of the softball, volleyball, and soccer teams, devoured Sports Illustrated, and was in love with the Mets not for the cute players, but for their batting averages. She was no-nonsense. and I admired how she could take Olivia's beauty and sophistication with a grain of salt.

"They've got money coming out the butt," she said about Olivia's family, as we flailed around the lake in our orange life preservers. She had been to their house once for Olivia's birthday party - "two floors inside the building" - n Park Avenue and 85th. "Park" stunned me (even before the image of the tended street was that of the blue unattainable space on the Monopoly board); but later, when I asked Olivia, "You live on Park?" she shrugged these images off, saying, "The entrance is on 85th."

At night, when Olivia and I brushed our teeth side by side at the green sink, I stared at her small back, her blonde braid, her hairless legs peeking out below her flowered nightshirt. I didn't think she understood how beautiful she was, and I just wanted to tell her, to make sure she knew. Yet at the same time I liked that she didn't know, and somehow, that ignorance seemed to increase the likelihood that we would become friends.

But befriending her wasn't easy: Olivia's older sister Trini was also at the camp, and Olivia spent most of her time at her cabin. From the swim dock I would catch glimpses of Olivia on the sailboats with the older girls, chattering and laughing, their voices bouncing off the cliffs around the lake like faraway songs.

One afternoon, when I was walking toward the cabin after a swim, I ran into Lizzie coming from the stables. I was walking through the grass instead of on the path, and Lizzie told me not to do this, it was bad for the vegetation. She had taken to instructing me in all the unspoken camp rules; as a new camper I wasn't yet clued into these things, she said. I ignored her and kept walking as I usually did, but when we saw two people coming from the craft house, a look of disdain crossed Lizzie's face. As they walked closer, I saw who they were: my sister and Esther Denardo.

Esther Denardo was a nylon pants-wearing girl who was legendary for never changing her sheets and wearing a bra size D; to my intense but unsurprised horror she and my sister had become friends. Rumor had it Esther's mother was named Agnes and waitressed in town. Esther and my sister reigned over the crafts house, producing sand castles and hanging planters in record numbers - possibly okay for someone in my age group, but unheard of for theirs. Plaster-of-paris marionettes dangled from my sister and Esther's arms, and they were making them climb over rocks and fallen tree limbs like miniature mountaineers. "Your sister's wacked," Lizzie said.

I stared at her. "Shut up," I said, but it came out quietly, like I wasn't sure what I meant, and Lizzie took off down the path to the cabin.

Olivia was inside changing her shoes, and when I walked in Lizzie was quiet. Olivia had a power over all of us, like a ringleader who never knew she'd been appointed. But as my sister and Esther passed outside our window on their way to the Senior section, Lizzie suddenly turned to Olivia and spoke. "Look - isn't Mia's sister weird?"

Olivia glanced out the window and shrugged. "No." She paused and looked back at me. "But you two don't seem alike at all."

That day at lunch, I kept thinking about what Olivia had said. I was glad she'd said "no" - but the part that we didn't seem alike - was that a compliment? I took it for one in a guilty sort of way. The whole idea of my sister bonded to Esther made my stomach uneasy, but I decided to forget about it. That was the magic of this place: I could start anew here, be who I wanted, different from whoever I was at home.

And I was different: at night, when we lay awake long after Lights Out, we exchanged stories we'd never told anyone before. Even Lizzie was tolerable then: she told us how the boys at her boarding school kissed, their tongues like raw fish in your mouth. Pam meticulously described Mr. Kanecky, the broad-shouldered volleyball coach at her school; and I revealed my long-held secret crush on Bruno Ricciati, who'd made me slices at Guiseppi's Pizza with the pepperoni, I swore, in a heart shape. Even Olivia contributed: she told us of an older cousin at Yale who had given her his sweatshirt, which she said we could borrow. On cold mornings I inhaled its Downy smell and thought of him, imagining he looked like Parker Stevenson on the Hardy Boys.

The nighttime talks, the sharing of clothes, the happy click of jacks on the wood floor of our cabin, the satisfying squish of mud between the grooves of my sneakers on rainy days - all of it comprised a summer entirely different from what I'd expected. I was proud that when I ran into Alex I didn't even need her, that I'd made a life there for myself. I wrote my father and aunt cheerful letters on Pam's Garfield stationery. I felt old and independent, and as I licked the envelopes shut I began to dread returning to the hot city, the stench of the subways, the melting tar of the streets.

There was only a week of camp left when the counselors got up in the dining hall and after a little skit that no one understood awarded Olivia a rank in sailing. Trini and her friends ran screaming to Olivia's table, hugging and kissing and giggling. The counselors said as part of the award Olivia could take one of her cabinmates out in a Sunfish. She picked me - because, she said, I had never been in a sailboat before. But also - I thought to believe - there was more. She chose me, liked me. I couldn't walt.

We sailed all the next afternoon. There were heavy winds, and I had to wear a stiff orange life preserver, and the tiny Sunfish skimmed the water as if it would topple at any moment; my fingers ached from clutching the side. We spoke little, except for "Starboard" and "Port" which I couldn't get right. But as I looked across the bumpy water, after a while I stopped seeing the lake and instead saw Olivia and me back in New York. At home. How things would be when we returned. I could see us shopping together in the East 80s; going to places she talked about, places she went with her friends: the park, frozen hot chocolates at Serendipity's. Traveling around town on the bus.

Manhattan things. All these things waiting that I had yet to explore, that we would explore together.

I didn't realize that Lizzie had been so offended at not being picked to go sailing until that night in bed, when she suggested we exchange stories of how we found out about the camp. The camp prided itself on not advertising, on the family-like clientele they acquired from being heard of only through word-of-mouth.

Lizzie had a cousin that had gone there in 1972. Olivia said her mother, aunt and cousins had all gone there, that in fact her mother's name was still carved in the top fight bunk of her sister's cabin. Pam had heard of it through a friend of her mother's, who it turned out, had known Lizzie's cousin.

"How did you find out, Mia?" Lizzie asked me.

I couldn't say my great aunt had picked the phone number up with her brisket. My parents had probably never heard of summer camps when they were young. My father had spent his childhood summers repairing shoes at his father's shop, now his shop, in our neighborhood. And my mother, she was born in Germany; I didn't know exactly where, or how old she was when she came here, after the war. There were few facts about her that Alex and I knew at all; more than once we had gone into our father's shop and asked him questions, but he would just look out the window at the traffic, then down at the leather scraps on the floor. He would say that there are parts of a person's life, irreparable parts, that don't need to be opened for others to see.

I said I found out like Pam did.

"Through a friend of your mother's? Who?" Lizzie said. "What's her name? Maybe we've heard of her. Maybe her name's carved in the wall."

"I don't think so."

"Well what's her name?"

"I don't remember."

"How could you not remember?"

The wooden ceiling was decorated with names of the cabin's former residents from years back. I stared at the swirling above me.

"I think Mia's making it up," Lizzie said. "I think Mia found out from Esther Denardo."

"Lizzie," Pam said quietly.

Lizzie's voice grew even sharper. "Oh my God, no wonder you haven't mentioned your mother. I bet Agnes Denardo is your mother. You're really Mia Denardo. Esther's your second sister."

It was like something was knotted at my throat. I couldn't speak. I felt like my insides had spilled out onto the floor and there was no way I could clean them up.

Finally Olivia broke the silence. "Lizzie, for God's sake."

Lizzie was quiet, then. No one spoke another word, and I stared at Olivia on her bed, across the dark cabin, the covers gently rising and falling as she breathed.

Lizzie apologized the next day, with a glance towards Pam which suggested she put her up to it, but I shrugged and said I didn't care, anyway. Which was true; I couldn't stop thinking about my new connection to Olivia: I had something to thank her for.

There were two days of the summer left, and I needed a way to show my thanks, to cement our friendship, somehow. I decided to visit my sister at the craft house and make Olivia a pillow. Purple velvet. Embroidered with red and green.

Alex didn't ask who it was for; she cut the cloth and showed me how to use the sewing machine in the same instructional tone our father used when he was at work in his shop. I impatiently watched her finish the seams. I couldn't wait to give it to Olivia and that night I wrapped it in flowered stationery and made a card out of birchbark. I wrote on the card:

I just wanted you to know how much I liked having your friendship this summer and How I look forward to seeing you in New York. I think you are one of the nicest people I've met.

And I signed it Your friend, and underlined my name, twice.

I was nervous about giving it to her, but I had to; each line carried our future together: she would look at my pillow and see through it, too, to all the things we would do together, in the city. That the summer wasn't ending, not completely.

I gave it to her the last night, when we were alone in the bathroom. She unwrapped it slowly, gracefully, careful not to tear it open, her curiosity so buried it was barely apparent. She put the wrapping aside, handled the pillow, and said, "Oh, Mia, thank you." She read the card while my heart bounded. "Oh, you're so sweet," she said, and smiled.

I hadn't meant to sound sweet. I had meant to engulf her into my life, and myself into hers; when she didn't say anything else, no professions of her love and reciprocal admiration, I said, "Well, we'll have to get together at home, right?" and she agreed then, to my great relief, Yes, we would. Soon.

She meant it. "You're all invited to my birthday in September," she said to the three of us on the Greyhound home. The bus was hot and crowded. Lizzie said she'd be at boarding school, it was too bad. I was amazed at the nonchalance with which she treated the invitation, and the whole fact that we were going home. Lizzie was absorbed in her Teen Beat, Pam with her baseball cards, just like the ride up; I was the only one who seemed nervous about returning. I had gotten so used to this new camp life that my stomach sank and hollowed at the thought of any other routine. I looked for my pillow alongside Olivia's belongings in her knapsack, and felt tremendous relief to see its purple plush beneath her Seventeens. But Olivia, too, shared none of my reservations about going home; as she sat looking out the window at the highway signs, the numbers to New York City getting lower and lower, she smiled and bounced on the edge of her seat, grinning wider the closer we got.

I was depressed and sullen in our car, our same clanking Mercury Zephyr, when my father and aunt picked my sister and me up. Alex was glad to see them; she took out and commented on all her crafts house creations until the pile of tie-dyes, coil pots and tin can ashtrays sat between us like a third child. I had watched Olivia disappear with her parents into a taxi with the longing to climb in with them.

I clung to the thought of the birthday party. Home hadn't changed: the crumbling brick of our house, our neighborhood's cracked sidewalks, its few stunted trees cramped into plots, its smell of car exhaust and uncollected trash. My father said his health had improved, but it looked like he'd lost more hair, and the skin on his forehead seemed speckled and fragile, like a bird's egg. He sat slumped on the couch reading the Times cover to cover, while my aunt hovered in the kitchen making kugels. She too looked even older than I'd remembered. I had a dull and constant ache for the summer, for the mountains and wilderness stretching endlessly on.

When the formal invitation to Olivia's party came, both my father and Elsa raised their eyebrows at the ivory paper and return address. My father had heard of Olivia's family before. Her grandfather was a famous judge, he said, he had read about him in the Times.

Elsa took me to Queens Center for a present. I was too excited even to pause for our usual Orange Julius, and perhaps she sensed this, for when I begged for a pair of the brown shoes everyone had, in Stride Rite - not the L.L. Bean kind, but they looked almost exactly like it - she relented, and seemed pleased when I took them out on the G train and showed her how the laces got tied into knots, not like bows in other shoes.

On the day of the party my father and Elsa drove me to Olivia's house; my father said, appreciatively, "This is a very swanky neighborhood" in his Queens accent. They were on their way to the hospital for my father's routine blood test but surprisingly, he wasn't in his usual rush; he waited patiently behind the wheel as I buttoned my coat in the car, and said they'd be back in a few hours to pick me up.

It was like a house lodged inside an apartment building; polished white floors and a marble staircase, artwork on pedestals like a museum. Adults flitted about sipping wine; the children were congregated into a room filled with toys, board games, dolls, and music. That's where I saw Pam. We hugged and shared our latest baseball cards. Olivia was roaming around the main room with the grownups, and popped in the children's room just briefly, to say hello; I was disappointed that we saw little of her, and even more so when I realized she wasn't going to open her presents in front of us, that they would remain in a towering display on the shiny marble table until we were gone. I enjoyed playing Sorry and Trouble with Pam, but after a while I stood eagerly at the threshold to the other room. Young men with rich, chocolate-brown shocks of hair slouched in hallways; I wondered which one was the Yale cousin whose sweatshirt I had worn.

Finally we were shepherded into the adult room, to the huge oak table for food. Great lettuce-laced trays of roast beef; fresh, lumpy bread; chive-speckled pots of cheese; mountains of glistening cookies, gooey from the oven; white-frosted cakes like baby clouds. As we approached, a man entered from the kitchen with a board of glistening pink fish. He laid it on the end of the table to around of oohs and ahhs. It looked beautiful, as appealing as the cakes, even, and already I was thinking how I would describe it to my father, sister, and Elsa; how red it was, the size of this fish, the whole fish, not some three slabs wrapped in Katz's brown paper.

I was anxious, too, to run into Olivia, and saw her alongside the fish platter, at the end of the table, peering triumphantly down it. I nudged myself in between a tall couple and smelled the suede of the man's elbow patch as he heaped his plate with food.

I took a piece of lox and bread and squeezed in beside Olivia. I wasn't sure what to say, at first - I paused and then, with a glance at Pam beside me eating happily away, mustered all my maturity and manners and studies of elegance and said, in the most grown-up tone I could manage, "This lox is so good."

I hadn't intended to say "good" - it had come out too eager, like I had never tasted lox before...and too appreciative, the "so" sounding loud and New-Yorkish, like my father's voice, prosy and obvious.

Olivia's eyes passed over me carelessly, darting around Pain and over our heads, scanning the crowd. When they settled back on me she smiled slightly. "It's Atlantic salmon," she said. "My grandmother orders it smoked from Maine every year."

Pam chewed loudly. "What's the difference?" she asked.

Olivia's gaze settled on someone across the room. "I don't know, exactly. I think it's that lox is the cheaper version." She shrugged and graciously hoped we were enjoying ourselves; she excused herself and melted back into the crowd.

I bit into this salmon, draped across the wheaty bread, and looked back across the table, which was constantly being re-stocked: before I knew it I had finished chewing, and I had eaten the whole thing without even paying attention. I had been so preoccupied with the table and my thoughts and Olivia and the party, I could not even say what it tasted like.

Before they could usher us back to the Children's area, I wanted to take a look upstairs at Olivia's room, and see if she'd taped the Forest Lake patches and buttons above her bed, like I had. Up the carpeted hall, on the left, through a door open ajar, I saw the tiny still-white Tretorns poking out from beneath a lacy comforter. Her room smelled like my mother's Laura Ashley catalogs that still came in the mail. A four-postered bed with pink and white pillows overlooked Park and its manicured bushes, flowerbeds, the traffic sailing below. There were no signs of Forest Lake anywhere, and I looked among her huge pillows for the little one I'd given her, but didn't see it. I peeked in her closet but it wasn't there, either.

She had her own private bathroom. The porcelain sink gleamed; a basket of heartshaped soaps decorated the spotless sink. I opened her medicine cabinet and stared at the little pots of moisturizing cream, and snapped it shut. Below the sink was a cupboard, and I opened that, too.

There were the usual things: a sponge and toilet scrubber and package of Charmin. And then, beside it, a small wicker wastebasket. It looked like it hadn't been emptied for a long time. There were dried-up soaps that had lost their heart shape, Kleenex, cotton balls. Old Seventeens. Suddenly, I had the fear of what might be beneath it - I held my breath and looked for my pillow, but there were only cottonballs and crumpled paper.

I was relieved that it wasn't there; but when I glanced back at her fluffy white room, at the huge bed like a perfect vanilla cake, it suddenly seemed worse that I couldn't find it anywhere, that I couldn't even think of a place where it might be.

I didn't speak to Olivia during the rest of the party. When it was time for us to leave, she thanked Pam and me for our wonderful presents that she hadn't yet opened, and gave us gold-lined bags of jelly beans and chocolates to take home. I waited with Pam for our families to arrive, watching the girls guided down the sidewalk by mothers and fathers, into yellow taxis and cars. Pam's parents came and left, The sun fell behind the buildings and the streetlights along Park pinged on. It was setting colder. Olivia's doorman glanced at me sympathetically and all at once I had the sudden fear that I'd be left there, alone on the street: had they forgotten me? The doorman beckoned me inside but I refused; I couldn't go back in there now.

It started to snow briefly; the first, early sprinkling of fall. I began to wonder if something had happened, like the day the principal appeared in my classroom doorway and Elsa sat beside me white and tight-lipped in the taxi to the hospital, on the way to see my father. Or the time, years before, when my sister and I had come home from school to find our mother sitting calmly on the couch, saying the doctor had found tumors on her liver, but it wasn't anything serious, nothing serious at all.

Finally the blue car turned the comer. I waved my arms, my aunt opened the door and I climbed into the back seat; and before she could explain about the traffic or the wait at the hospital the lump that had lodged in my throat so many weeks ago finally traveled up and broke loose until I was sobbing in the back seat of our car.

"What happened? Something happened?" Elsa asked, brushing the snow off my head. She drew me to her, her warm hands on my face.

"Why did you wait on the curb catching pneumonia?" my father said, staring at me in the rear-view mirror.

I didn't answer. I didn't know how to explain that I hadn't wanted to go back into the building, that once I had left it I just wanted to go home. When my face dried and my breathing returned to normal all I got out was, "I thought you weren't coming," but I didn't mean that, exactly, either. I meant that I thought they and everyone else in the world were never coming, a hundred fears and losses rolled into this one, my mother again and always. My aunt laced her fingers through my hair, stroking the back of my neck; she absent-mindedly fingered my gold-lined party favors bag and said, "You must have liked the party at least? A nice cake? You had good things to eat?"

I buried my face in her coat sleeve and said we had better things at home.
COPYRIGHT 1997 University of Chicago
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:fiction
Author:Rabb, Margo
Publication:Chicago Review
Date:Jun 22, 1997
Words:5584
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