Friday, April 26, 2013

The Farmhouse – Part I

by Colleen Sutherland

He'd been running for hours it seemed, and maybe in circles. He'd escaped from the bus that was supposed to take him to prison, slid right out the emergency door at a stop somewhere out in the country. Easy, he'd thought. Damn fool guards can't guard worth a damn. They even forgot to cuff me. Then the cop cars came out of nowhere along with the damned dogs. Dogs scared him, always had. He slipped into a ditch full of water and waded, hoping he would throw off his scent, but they kept coming after him. That was bad enough but then there were more cops, more dogs, coming from the other direction. He slipped off the road into the darkness of a marsh.

Cold and wet, he kept moving on and on through the dark night in the only direction he could go, thorny bushes on all sides. He came out of the marsh once, but more dogs came at him from the north, too. At least he thought they were dogs. The yapping might have been coyotes, or maybe even wolves though he didn't think there were wolves in this state. He was a city boy, what would he know? He went back into the swamp and kept moving on through the nightmare horrors of nature. It began to rain. He cursed and struggled on. He knew he would fall if he didn't find a place to rest soon.

With a start, he woke up as he slammed into the side of a building and fell to his knees. He reached out to see what it was. He could feel the wood siding. That could mean it was a house. He felt his way until he came to a door. He tried it. Unlocked. He listened to the night sounds. An owl hooted. He had to find shelter. He had to find a place to sleep.

He slipped inside and listened, afraid there would be a dog. As good a place as any to hide out if there weren't any dogs. He hated dogs. There might be people, but he could handle that with his big hands and a knife. There were always knives in a kitchen. He'd used them before but knives were too bloody. A gun was neater and faster. Strangling was even better, no sound, no blood.

He reached beside the door to see if there was a light switch. There was but could he use it? Would the cops notice? They might think it was the owners up late. He didn't have much choice. He flicked the switch. By the light from a single bulb overhead he could see he was in a kitchen, an old fashioned one with painted wainscoting and cupboards that reached to the ceiling. He hurried to the cupboard drawers and pulled them out spilling contents on the floor until he found a butcher's knife. Now he was ready. He had a weapon.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Flambeau 50

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Steinke blew the straw's wrapper across the booth, hitting Knox in the forehead.

“Cut it out,” Knox said.

“But really, the thing you have to do is the Flambeau Fifty.” Steinke said, dropping his straw into the red plastic cup and stirring his Mountain Dew around until it fizzed.

“The fifty?” Knox said.

“Like NASCAR, but better.” Steinke said.

“I hate NASCAR.”

Steinke shook his head as he dumped his fries into a lake of ketchup on his tray.“You get your choice of either the red or the green Ford Fairmont, and start out from the Red Shed's lot in Park Falls down Highway 13.”

“Sounds dumb.”

“No doubt.” A handful of fries disappeared into Steinke's mouth. “But everyone's done it. It's one of those – ” his hand waved in the air as he chewed.

“Institutions?” Knox said.

Steinke nodded and took a drag from his straw. He picked up another fry and stabbed the ketchup-coated end at Knox.

“You're gonna look like a complete dumbass when someone asks you what your time was and you say you've never done it,” Steinke said.

“As opposed to what you're going to say to the cop when he pulls you over.” Knox put a mock earnestness in his voice. “Honestly, officer, it's cool. This is an institution.”

Friday, April 12, 2013

Get Thee Behind Me - Part II

By Bettyann Moore

Part II

Celia drove slowly through the town, letting Esme see where her mother had grown up.

“Grandma,” Esme soon asked, “what do people do here? For work I mean. Back home there’s huge banks and factories and lots and lots of malls ...”

“Hmmm, well, let’s see if you can figure it out,” Celia, said. “Okay, now when we drive by all the houses, take a look in the corners of the front windows, or on door windows.”

At first, Esme didn’t know what her grandmother meant, but as they slowly drove down the street she saw discreet hand-drawn signs in many of the windows.

“I see a hand,” she said. “There’s an eye in a circle. That looks like a giant queen of hearts. That one just has a bunch of weird shapes … Grandma, what do they mean?”

Celia sighed. She guessed she really shouldn’t expect the girl to know, given how overprotected she was.“The hand is for palm reading,” Celia told her. “The eye is for crystal balls. The card represents Tarot card reading. Then there’s rune casting … phrenology … I Ching … everyone’s specializing these days.”

Esme turned to her grandmother, her eyes wide. “You mean they’re all fortune tellers? But if they’re all doing it, who are their customers? Why are their signs so small?” she asked, remembering the huge, neon-colored signs outside buildings in Chicago that shouted PSYCHIC READINGS!

“Not ‘fortune tellers,’ truth tellers. And there are plenty of customers, trust me. Everyone has a following. They don’t need big, ugly signs because what they tell people is the truth, not some generic made-up crap … pardon my language.”

Esme smiled. Only her grandmother would apologize for using the word “crap.”

“Mom says people can’t handle the truth,” she said. “She says I have to be careful ...”

“And you do, you do!” Celia said, reaching across the seat to pat her granddaughter’s knee. “None of it should be taken lightly. It takes time and practice. With your genes … oh, my,” Celia got all misty-eyed, remembering. “Why your own mother is the best I’ve ever seen.”

“You mean ‘was,’ right?” Esme asked, never missing a thing. “You said she ‘is’ the best.”

“Was and is!”Celia said, pounding the steering wheel with her palm. “She’s modernized, of course, using the computer and all that,” she huffed, “but she can’t give it up and ignore her heritage!”

Esme grew quiet; her mind raced. Was that what her mother did for work? Tell fortunes … truth … on the computer? No way. Maybe … Esme thought back to all the times Rosemarie clicked away from a screen whenever she was near, how she avoided talking about her work, saying only that she was in the “fulfillment business.” Esme crossed her arms over her chest. “Hmph!” she said.

“Oh, I almost forgot!” Celia cried, reaching inside her purse. She pulled out a clear plastic bag and handed it to her granddaughter.

“Jelly beans?” Esme said.

“Not just jelly beans,” Celia declared, “homemade jelly beans! I made them myself, just for you. Cinnamon, of course, and licorice.”

Esme hated licorice.

“Now, I know you don’t like licorice,” Celia said, “but you might know someone who does ...”

“Wow, Grandma, that’s cool!” Esme said. “I didn’t know you could actually, like, make jelly beans.” She opened the bag and, avoiding the black candies, took out a handful of the red ones and popped them into her mouth before her grandmother could stop her.

“Oh dear,” Celia said, “that might not have been a good idea.” She slowed the car and pulled it over to the curb in front of a small, white bungalow.

Esme gasped. Her eyes began to water. “Hot!” she managed to say through the mess in her mouth.

Celia grabbed a handful of tissues from the glove compartment. “Here, spit them in here,” she said, holding it under Esme’s chin. “I’m so sorry, child, I should have realized. I used this amazing cinnamon from Madagascar … it’s probably way too spicy for you.”

Esme turned her head away from the proffered tissues and clamped her jaw tight. She held the candies in her mouth for a second and then began to chew again while Celia watched in amazement. When she was done, she swallowed and looked at her grandmother triumphantly.

Celia shook her head and grinned. “More like your mother than you could possibly know,” she said, putting the car in ‘drive’ again.

As they drove, they climbed, eventually coming to a series of hair-pin switchbacks that rose higher and higher. The glimpses of the land below mesmerized Esme. At one point they had to stop the car altogether to let some mountain goats cross the road. Esme had never seen a goat outside of a petting zoo.

Finally, they reached their destination, the small Lincolnville Ski Lodge. Just a few cars were parked outside the building and Esme could see one lone skier coming slowly down the mountain.

“I thought you might like to try some skiing while you’re here, dear,” Celia told her as they got out of the car. “Not today, of course, but we can find out if Tony – that’s the owner, Tony Winter, perfect name, don’t you think? – has some time this week to teach you.”

“Awesome, I’d like that!”

They went inside the dark, low-ceilinged lodge, their eyes adjusting to the dimness. A fire burned in a round fire pit in the center of the room, a soot-covered metal chimney funneling the smoke up through the ceiling and outside. Sagging cowhide chairs and a sofa were pulled up close to the little heat it gave off. A small bar with three stools sat in a corner, its broken neon sign reading C ORS. Someone had attempted a bit of cheerfulness by setting up a spindly lodgepole pine in another corner and stringing it with popcorn and cranberries. It had no lights.

“Celia!” a voice boomed from a doorway. “What brings you here?” The man, a big bear of a man with a huge beard and even larger stomach came out, wiping his hands on a none-too-clean rag.

“Tony,” Celia said, reaching to shake his hand. “This is my granddaughter, Esme, and I want you to teach her how to ski.”

Esme couldn’t imagine this man on skis any more than she could imagine a polar bear on them.

“Pleased to meet you, Esme,” he said, then turned to her grandmother. “Celia, you know I haven’t been on skis since I busted my leg two seasons ago!”

Celia looked momentarily flustered and embarrassed, but Esme thought she caught a gleam in the old woman’s eye.

“Surely there’s someone who can teach her!” Celia insisted. “She came all this way and she’ll be bored silly with us old fogies.”

Esme hung her head. “No, it’s okay, grandma, really,” she said. “I brought my iPad ...”

“Nonsense!” Celia shushed her. “Tony?” she asked, cocking her head and looking up at him.

“Well, you’re in luck,” the man said, never able to resist Celia’s charms. “My grandson is here this week and he’s a whiz on the boards, just like his granddad used to be. He’s coming down the slope right now, I’ll go ask him.”

Esme wanted to run and hide her head. Who would want to give up their vacation to teach some little kid to ski? She wished she’d stayed back at the house and taken a nap. Celia noticed her discomfort and pulled her close.

“Sometimes,” she said, “the biggest things come from small steps.”

Esme was going to ask what she meant by that when the door flew open and sunshine flooded the room. Tony came through, followed by a figure dressed in ski pants, sweater and goggles.
“Here’s my boy!” Tony bellowed. “He’ll be glad to take on a pupil!”

Esme cringed as the boy – and he was a boy, probably no older than she – pulled off his goggles to reveal piercing green eyes, eyes as bottle-green as hers. His, however, were rimmed red from the glasses. Esme wished the floor would swallow her up.

“Connor, this is Esme, come all the way from Chicago,” Tony said, slapping the boy on the back. Esme couldn’t remember Chicago coming up in the conversation before. She eyed her grandmother who was beaming up at the tall young man.

“I’m … we’re … so grateful you could accommodate us, Connor,” Celia said. “What time is good tomorrow?”

The boy looked down at his feet. “Any time’s good,” he said, raising his eyes to meet Esme’s.

“Excellent!” Celia enthused. “Tony, would you mind showing me your rental skis?” She took the older man by the elbow and led him to an inside door. “Be back in a minute, kids!” she added.

The two teenagers stood silent for a minute. The boy fiddled with his ski boots while Esme dug her hands into her pockets. She pulled out the bag of jelly beans.

“Want some jelly beans?” she asked. “My grandmother made them. I only have the two flavors, cinnamon and licorice. Cinnamon’s my favorite. What’s yours?” She bit her tongue, willing herself to just shut up.

“Licorice, actually,” Connor said, reaching for the bag. “I can’t get enough of it.” He threw a handful into his mouth, then nearly choked.

“Uh, they’re probably pretty strong,” Esme said, worried, but smiling at the same time.

Connor chewed rapidly, his face red, eyes bulging. “No, uh,” he said, swallowing, “they’re really good.”

“More?” Esme held out the bag. He took some more. Esme was impressed.

The adults came back just then and Esme shoved the bag back into her pocket.

“Guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then, huh?” she said.

“Yeah, sounds good. You ever been on skis before?”

“What? In Chicago? That’s a big N-O.”

Connor laughed. He had a nice laugh. “We’ll start slow, then,” he said. “We don’t really have a bunny hill, but we can figure something out.”

“All set then, sweetie?” Celia said at Esme’s elbow. “Everything working out … I mean, did you get everything worked out for tomorrow?” For the first time, Esme felt uncomfortable under her grandmother’s scrutiny.

“It’s all good, Grandma,” she muttered. Then, remembering her manners, added, “Thank you, and thank you, Mr. Winter … and, uh, Connor.”

The drive home back to her grandmother’s house went too quickly as far as Esme was concerned. She had a lot to think about, and a lot to talk to her mother about. Was she really doing “truth-telling” online? Why did she ever want to leave Lincolnville in the first place. Did she ever have a boyfriend here? Was she ever in love? Esme reached into her pocket and fingered the bag of jelly beans.

“Grandma, do you have any more jelly beans?” she asked.

Celia gave her a sidelong glance. “You bet I do,” she said. “I made scads of the darn things, black and red. They’re in the pie safe in the kitchen. Just help yourself.”

Esme didn’t know what a pie safe was, but she’d find out before tomorrow.

Celia hovered in the background while Esme told Rosemarie about their day, and Connor. Rosemarie kept her cool, but sent looks full of daggers her mother’s way every time she got a chance. It came back to her in spades why she needed to leave this town – and her mother – in the first place. And now she was meddling in her daughter’s life and she just wouldn’t have it. The day after Christmas and they were out of there. All the work she’d done to keep her daughter protected … gone, like magic.

That night, as Rosemarie tucked her daughter into bed, she steeled herself for the inevitable question about her online work, but Esme surprised her.

“Momma,” she said, using the name she used to use when she was little, “were you ever in love, I mean really in love?”

Not this, Rosemarie thought. She knew the girl wasn’t asking about her own father; she already knew that story and knew it was planned and involved little emotion.

“Of course, Esme, I’ve been ‘in love’ as you say.”

“With who?” Esme leaned up on her elbow and tried to read her mother’s unreadable, guarded face. “Was it someone here, in Lincolnville?”

“Yes,” Rosemarie, replied. “But it was a long, long time ago.”

“What was his name? Was he cute? Did he live here? How come you’re not still together?”

“It’s complicated, Esme,” she warned.

“Tell me anyway. Please?” Esme scootched over so her mother could sit on the side of the bed.

Rosemarie sighed. Pandora’s box was open.

“His name was Mark, and, yes. he was cute. At least I thought so. He wasn’t very tall, but he looked tall, if you know what I mean.” Esme nodded. “He had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, even bluer than a Colorado sky.” Esme looked dreamily up at the ceiling. “He didn’t live here, but that’s where it gets complicated,” Rosemarie said.

“How come?”

“When I met him,” Rosemarie went on, “I thought he was just some guy passing through town. It happens. There’s a creek not far from here where people do rafting in the summer. The rafters drive their cars to a point down the creek and a bus takes them, and all the rafts and paddles, up the creek where they put in. They float down the rapids and the bus driver drives back, alone, where he or she picks up the next group.”

“Okaaaaaaaay ...” Esme wasn’t sure where this was going.

“Mark was one of the drivers, and one day, on the last run down the mountain, his bus got a flat tire. It blew out about a block from this house.”


“Yeah, ‘oh.’ You didn’t know him, but my dad – your grandfather – could fix anything. Mark couldn’t get the lug nuts off the tire and didn’t have the proper jack. He tried a couple of other houses, but no one would come to the door. He ended up here and my dad helped him. It was … it seemed to be … fate.

“I was 16, restless and bored. Bored with the town, bored with the boys my mother kept pushing in front of me, bored with myself. There were no surprises, but that day I could feel something coming … something new and dangerous. So, when this young, strange man came to the door, I was ready.

“Funny thing was, I should have known something was wrong with the whole thing. In the first place, I couldn’t read him. It was like there was a veil over his eyes. And once the tire was fixed, Mother – someone who avoids outsiders like she avoids Republicans – invited him in for supper.

“He said he was heading to college in the fall and was working for the rafting company to help pay the way. He’d never set foot in Lincolnville before, which, in fact, turned out to be true. By the time supper was over, I was head-over-heels in love and, it appeared, so was he.

“Mother never interfered, which also should have alarmed me, but I just assumed that she wasn’t worried because Mark was heading off to college and he’d soon be out of sight and out of mind. It was an amazing summer; we spent every minute together that we could. Sometimes, I’d even ride the bus all day long with him, sitting right behind the driver’s seat.

“He did go off to college in California, but we didn’t grow apart. We wrote to each other most every day and talked on the phone at least once a week. When the next summer rolled around, we were closer than ever.”

“So what changed?” Esme broke in. “Where is he now?”

“Time to cut to the chase, huh?” Rosemarie said. “Long story short, it turned out that, though Mark had never set foot in town before that day the bus broke down, he had roots in Lincolnville.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So, I was set up. Mark had been chosen for me, by my mother and by the whole damn community. While I was thinking that he would take me away from this place, he was planning on settling in. The people here had set up the ‘chance’ meeting, had used their collective power to keep me from seeing inside his mind; they were even planning on building a house for us … the whole shebang. When I found out, I stopped talking to him, bided my time here and got the hell out the day I turned 18.”

“I still don’t get it,” Esme said. “I mean, so what? You loved him, right? He loved you, right? So what if he was ‘chosen’ for you?”

Rosemarie stood up and began pacing. “You don’t get it, Esme! My life wasn’t my own! How could I even trust that he loved me after that?”

“Did you ask him?”

Rosemarie stopped in her tracks. “It’s not that simple, Esme,” she finally said. “Besides, the fact remained that my mother was choosing a life for me. She was over-protective, manipulative and completely ignored my feelings. You wouldn’t understand.”

Esme snorted.“Well, I think it is that simple and trust me, I do understand. I’m tired, I want to sleep now.” She slid back down under the covers and shut her eyes.

“Out of the mouths of babes,” Rosemarie whispered, standing there for a long moment.

As Rosemarie lay in bed thinking about Mark, the first time she’d allowed herself to do so in many years, Celia appeared at the open door.

“It wasn’t a set-up,” she said.

“Which one, Mother?” Rosemarie spat. “Mark or this Connor?”


“Oh, come on!”

Celia moved cautiously into the room and sat at the foot of the bed.
“Oh, I admit I … we … might have helped it along, but what was to be was to be.”

Rosemarie snorted, sounding a lot like her daughter. Celia found herself growing angry.

“Maybe,” she said, “if just once you would stop thinking about yourself and your needs, your wants, you’d put some of that power of yours to good use for a change!”

“Mom ...” Rosemarie cautioned.

“Don’t ‘Mom’ me,” Celia said, just getting started. “You broke that boy’s heart! You were so determined to get out of this town, you used the little bit of meddling we did as an excuse and you know it!” It was the first time Rosemarie had ever sat still to listen and Celia took advantage of it.

“Did you ever even talk to him afterwards?” Celia asked, echoing Esme’s words. “Did you ever wade out of the muck of your own supposed hurt to even contemplate his, or ours?” Celia was almost shouting and, for the first time, Rosemarie looked sheepish. Celia took a deep breath to calm herself.

“I’m sorry,” she said, rising. “I shouldn’t have yelled. I love you, Rosemarie, and I love that young lady down the hall. I only want what’s best for both of you, what’s meant to be. Denying your heritage will only hurt you both in the long run.” When Rosemarie didn’t reply, didn’t even look up, Celia backed out of the room, closing the door softly behind her.

At breakfast the next morning, the three women tiptoed around each other, cloaking their thoughts with unfailing politeness.

Esme worried that her mother would forbid her from skiing and would pack up their stuff to head home. Celia was afraid she’d crossed a line and worried about the same thing. She was about to suggest – against her better judgment – that Esme skip the ski lessons and the three of them drive down to Denver to go shopping, when Rosemarie loudly cleared her throat.

“Apparently,” she began, “two of the most important people in my life think I’ve been a stubborn idiot.”

“No, Mom ...”

“Now, sweetie ...”

Rosemarie held up her hand to stop them.

“Well, after a lot of thought, I’m going to have to agree, but ...” she added, holding up her hand again, “I think that’s true of all of us.”

Esme and Celia looked at each other.

“Esme,” Rosemarie continued, “I want to apologize for keeping you from your rightful place in this family and community. From here on out, I’m going to teach you how to use your gifts, not ignore them or be afraid of them. Your grandmother can help. But mother, I need you to promise that you’ll quit meddling. If things are truly to be as how they are to be, quit helping them along!”
Celia looked down at the floor and murmured a promise. It was a promise she’d break in small ways time and time again, but not for lack of trying. She was only human, after all.

“Now,” Rosemarie said, “Don’t we have to get to the ski lodge? Maybe I’ll see if I can still remember how after all these years.”

Friday, April 5, 2013

Get Thee Behind Me

By Bettyann Moore

Part I

Even before her daughter was born, Rosemarie knew she would be gifted, and powerful. Her hopes for normal – average, even – dwindled with each passing day. The cinnamon was the first sign.

Rosemarie hated cinnamon, always had. When others walked past the cinnamon roll shop in the mall, their noses snuffling in great drafts of spicy air, Rosemarie was gagging into her sleeve, hurrying past.

So, in the first weeks of her pregnancy when she started craving the stuff, Rosemarie knew it was more than just a passing fancy. She tried to stop herself, really she did, but any time she tried to ignore the desire – no, the need – her guts would twist in pain. She simply gave in. Soon she was buying cinnamon sticks by the gross, using them to stir her tea, grating them over pancakes, chicken – even spaghetti. She kept stashes of Red Hots and, heaven help her, cinnamon Jelly Bellies, all over the house. It placated her growing fetus.

It came as no surprise to Rosemarie that she went into labor six weeks early. She wasn’t worried, but knew that she shouldn’t lose any time getting to the hospital. The child was in a hurry. There was no husband or boyfriend to wake up, no birth coach to alert, and her mother was 800 miles away, still in the home Rosemarie had grown up in – waiting, no doubt, for her errant daughter to return.

After leaving a message for Dr. Benton, her insanely good-looking gynecologist, Rosemarie threw a few things into a backpack, made sure the cat had enough food and water and waited outside for the taxi. By the time it pulled up to the curb, the taxi driver’s eyes wide with trepidation at her obvious condition, the contractions were just five minutes apart. Between the lack of traffic at 2 am and the driver’s desire to keep his taxicab clean, they pulled in front of the hospital in record time. Rosemarie gave him a $20 tip.

Before she knew it, Rosemarie was flat on her back in a delivery room, prepped, stirruped and surrounded by nurses nervously watching the swinging doors for the good doctor. Judging by the looks they gave each other every time they looked between her legs and how much she wanted to push, Rosemarie knew he was cutting it close.

Benton finally strolled in just in time to catch the baby as she slithered out of her mother’s body. A few seconds later and he began to wish he hadn’t gotten there in time at all. With a firm grip on the child’s crossed ankles and a nice hold on the head and neck, Dr. Benton, a 20-year OBGYN veteran, nearly dropped the baby when he turned her over and looked into her eyes.

They were the clearest, deepest green eyes he had ever seen on anyone, let alone a newborn. They were wide and focused and looked right down to his soul. He grew dizzy and for a few awful and graphic seconds, Dr. Wayne Benton saw how he was going to die.

A woman leaned against a brick building smoking a cigarette. Benton rushed toward her in eager anticipation. The Eiffel Tower rose up behind them in the distance. The woman raised her arms and Benton reeled in pain, a red stain growing on his bright white shirt. He slumped to the ground.

Everyone in the OR, except Rosemarie, gasped when it looked like the child would slip from his grasp. The head nurse came to the rescue, taking a firm hold on the little girl before placing her face down on the mother’s stomach.

Rosemarie had taken it all in, had seen the doctor’s white death mask pass over his face, his dazed eyes. She’d seen it before, in others. Her daughter – her name would be Esme she decided then and there – was powerful to be sure. But Rosemarie was, too. While the nurses twittered around the doctor, she steeled herself, reached back into her memory for the right string of protective words, then looked down into her daughter’s eyes, now the normal, milky eyes of a newborn. There was a jolt of recognition, but no revelations. There was, though, the curious and irresistible feeling of profound, ancient love.

Benton, whose cool, doctorly demeanor had returned, busied himself with delivering the placenta, though his mind was elsewhere. He vowed to himself then and there to never set foot in Paris, or the whole country of France for that matter. The nurses cast worried looks his way as he bent to his task. The head nurse retrieved the baby, assuring Rosemarie that she would return her once she was weighed, cleaned and wrapped snuggly. Rosemarie closed her eyes, wincing slightly as the placenta broke free.

Before long, Esme, now asleep, was back in her arms.

“You can go ahead and try nursing,” the nurse told her. “Don’t expect too much. It’ll take a few days for the milk to really come in, but for now the little one needs the colostrum to build her immune system. You might have to show her how, Mom.”

Rosemarie pulled open her hospital gown to free a breast and nuzzled the nipple against her daughter’s cheek. Esme’s eyes popped open and without hesitation, her eager mouth latched on. Rosemarie felt a painful, almost sexual tug from breast to groin as her daughter nursed.

“Goodness!” the nurse cried. “She took right to it!”

“Oh dear,” Rosemarie said, looking down. “I guess I did, too.”

Milk, it seemed like rivers of it, was seeping through the thin gown from her other breast. Esme was nearly gasping trying to keep up at the other.

“Oh! Why, I’ve never …” The nurse scurried off to find a breast pump, a container, something.

Rosemarie smiled down at her daughter. “You’re a little shit,” she thought, with affection. “I sure hope I’m up for this.” Esme kept on nursing. Rosemarie craved cinnamon. She laughed out loud, which everyone took for happiness. Everyone, that is, but the doctor, who patted his patient on the knee, avoided her eyes and scurried out the OR door.

Three days later, back in her second-floor walk-up, Rosemarie broke down and called her mother … but not before making herself some cinnamon toast and a cup of cinnamon tea. It had been three years since the women had last spoken. Celia Gianconni had been expecting the call.

“She’s beautiful, Momma,” Rosemarie told her. “She has your eyes. And such white, white skin and all this black hair! I swear I could almost braid it!”

“And?” the older woman asked.

“And she’s a little piggy, wants to nurse constantly! I think she might have Gramma G’s dimples...”

“You know that’s not what I mean, Rosie,” her mother interrupted.

Rosemarie took a swallow of tea.

“She … well, she …”

“It’s okay, love, I know, I know. She’ll need guidance, teachers ...”

“No!” Rosemarie spat. “I’m not bringing her back there! I’ll deal!”

Celia bit her tongue. “Okay, baby, okay. You’re her mother, you know what’s best. Just remember we’re all here for you and for Esme. Your aunties, your uncles and cousins … we’ve all been there.”

Rosemarie sighed. What her mother said was true and her heart ached for home at times, for that cloistered, loving place – that cloistered, smothering place that she had finally broken free from. No, she’d deal.

And deal she did. While she refused to set foot in her home town, Rosemarie did allow her various relatives to visit. She drew the line at the extensive extended family. On her first visit, Celia locked eyes with her 3-week-old granddaughter and stayed that way for half an hour. Exhausted afterwards, she slept for several hours, only to rise and do it again.

For weeks, the relatives trooped in, oohing and aahing, delivering pronouncements.

“She will have the world at her feet!” one great-uncle declared.

“Nothing will stop her!” a great-great-aunt, so stooped she could only see the floor, decreed.

“I don’t know,” a niece – the black sheep of the family – said, “she doesn’t look that special to me.”

After each visit, Rosemarie combed the place; she’d found small talismans and charms in Esme’s bassinet and crib. Special or not, the child could still choke.

It was fairly easy, those first few months, to keep Esme away from the public eye. Rosemarie worked from the apartment. She shopped online, even for groceries. Well-baby check-ups proved relatively easy once Rosemarie told curious parents and children that Esme had an extremely catchy disease. Until Esme learned to control her gift – and who knew when that would be – Rosemarie kept the child’s world small. Thus far it contained the relatives who still trickled in, the UPS guy who never looked up from his electronic signature tablet and old Mrs. Dunst, the legally blind woman who lived in 2A.

Rosemarie had no social life, not really. If she felt the need for a bit of male companionship, which was rare, she didn’t go out until late at night when Esme would likely be asleep and then she would take her over to Mrs. Dunst’s apartment. A night owl, Mrs. D played opera on an old turntable all night long and slept during the day. She collected prisms, stringing each one on fishing line. Every other week or so, when her son came to check up on her, she had him hang the light-catchers from the ceiling. She had thousands of them. Walking into her apartment was like walking into a disco hall on steroids. Esme seemed to love it.

The cinnamon cravings continued. Rosemarie figured they would do so until Esme was weaned … if she was ever weaned, that is. The girl wanted what the girl wanted and knew how to get it. Toward the end of Esme’s fourth month, Rosemarie found a stuffed dog in the crib that she knew had been on a shelf. If she was wet and uncomfortable because Rosemarie didn’t change her fast enough, the diapers worked themselves off. Rosemarie would find her daughter gleefully kicking and gurgling, her little butt drying in the air.

“Talk to her,” Celia told her over the phone.

“Ma, she’s just a baby!”

“She’s not just a baby, Rosie, and you know it.”

“But ...”

“No ‘but’ about it. I remember a certain girl child who liked to call animals into her room. Live animals. Dogs. Cats. Birds … even snakes.”

Rosemarie felt herself blushing.

“I just kept talking to you, even though you were smaller than a minute. You would cock your head to one side and listen. I explained how other people owned and loved those animals, and how you were depriving them of their company … you got it, eventually.”

Rosemarie sighed. “Is it always going to be this hard?” she asked.

“Oh, honey, of course it is. And it’s going to get harder.”

“Well, that’s comforting,” Rosemarie murmured.

“Why do you think Lincolnville came into existence in the first place?” Celia asked. “Our families needed the protection, help and understanding that came with living in a place all together. It’s why I kept you here as long as I could.”

Rosemarie bristled. “I do okay,” she said. “I manage.”

“Hmmm, yes, you ‘manage.’” The sarcasm in Celia’s voice came through loud and clear.

“I have to go, Mother,” Rosemarie said. “It’s time to feed Esme.” She looked down at her soundly sleeping daughter as she hung up the phone.

The young mother and daughter continued to manage. Rosemarie talked and talked and talked to Esme, whose understanding belied her age. She did get weaned and Rosemarie never ate cinnamon again, though her daughter continued to crave it. By the time she was of school age, Esme had learned to control her “meddlings” with other people’s minds. Mostly.

Rosemarie could have home-schooled the girl, but wanted to bring her up as normally as possible. She did, however, walk to and from school with her every single day. She arranged play dates for Esme, though none of them were ever reciprocated. When the thought crossed her mind that maybe her daughter was too different from the other children, that perhaps they were afraid of her, she wiped the idea right from her head.

“She needs to be around other kids,” she insisted to Celia.

“She needs to be around her own kind,” her mother countered.

“Ma, I’m not going through this with you again! She’s doing great!” Rosemarie didn’t mention the time Esme had been accused of stealing another girl’s red spiral notebook. She swore she never touched it and Rosemarie knew that was probably so, but it was found in Esme’s backpack nonetheless. “It was the color of cinnamon,” the girl defended herself later.

Such incidences continued to follow Esme throughout her school years. Some more bizarre events – like the time the physical education teacher found her purse dangling from the stage lights in the auditorium, or when the principal opened his desk drawers and out flew hundreds of mosquito hawks – were never attributed to any particular person. But Rosemarie knew.

And even though the girl swore that she had nothing to do with her math teacher running out of the school building, hopping in her car and driving it smack into the side of a grocery store, it was also the same day that Rosemarie read about Dr. Benton’s murder, so the two events were forever tied together in her mind.

The math teacher survived, but was remanded to a mental institution. Dr. Benton, though, died just as he had seen it in Esme’s newborn eyes, even though he never set foot in Paris. In fact, his third wife, whose fondest dream was to go to Paris with the man she loved, resented Benton’s refusal to take her there. The resentment festered and the relationship deteriorated. It didn’t help that the man was two-timing her with a young actress (and probably others, though the news story didn’t mention that).

Benton had arranged to meet the young lady on a Friday night, after her last performance. He watched the play, then stayed in his seat long after everyone had left. Finally, she came out on stage again, dressed in a tightly-belted overcoat and nothing else. Benton rose from his seat and made his way on stage; just as she reached for him, a shot rang out from the balcony, where his wife had been the whole time. He died instantly, though not before his brain finally registered that the stage backdrop featured a grainy likeness of the Eiffel Tower.

Rosemarie jammed the newspaper down into the garbage can beneath soggy coffee grounds where Esme wouldn’t be likely to see it. When the girl got home from school that evening, Rosemarie had made up her mind.

“Hey, lovely lady,” she blurted out when Esme walked in the door. “It’s Christmas break, what do you think about a vacation?”

“You mean, like, go somewhere?” Esme asked. At the age of 15, Esme had mastered the art of sarcasm.

“Yeah, like go somewhere, somewhere like … I don’t know … how about visiting your Grandma out in Colorado? You could learn to ski and meet some cousins ...”

“I thought you didn’t like Colorado.”

“I like Colorado just fine,” Rosemarie insisted, more to herself than Esme. “I just thought you might like to see where I grew up. And there’s a whole town who can’t wait to meet you.”

Esme smiled up at her mother. “People like us?” she asked, her eyebrows wiggling up and down.

“Well … yes, of course there’s that … but mostly it’ll just be fun to get away, don’t you think?”

“Sure, Mom, sounds good.”

“It’s settled then,” Rosemarie said, “Lincolnville, Colorado, here we come!”

After settling the cat at Mrs. Dunst’s the next day, the little family loaded the car and hit the road. Were she alone, Rosemarie would have driven the 800 miles in one day, but decided they would stop for a night at the fanciest hotel they could find along the way. Crossing the plains the next day, Esme’s excitement grew as they neared the mountains. Her excitement was contagious and Rosemarie found herself actually looking forward to going home; she had missed the mountains and, surprisingly, Lincolnville.

Lincolnville was a stodgy, old man of a village nestled between two mountain ridges. At 11,500 ft., it had its own ski hill with a rickety lift and a decrepit ski lodge, but its amenities stopped there. Unlike most mountain towns, it had no trinket shops, soda fountains, high-end clothiers or even a good place to get pizza or coffee. It did have one small Safeway, a gas station, a single tavern and a drugstore, none of which sold postcards or locally-made key chains. There was one K-12 school, a non-denominational church and a library.

All 3,313 community members were related in some way. They liked the town just the was it was.

Rosemarie hadn’t told anyone she was coming to town, even her mother. There was no need to. As they made their way down Arbutus, the town’s main street, it was apparent that everyone knew anyway. It was one of those wonderful Colorado mountain winter days: The sun blazed in an almost-too-blue sky while giant piles of snow banked the streets. It should have brought everyone and their mother out to enjoy the day, but the street was eerily quiet. Only the tell-tale twitch of curtains and blinds gave the townsfolk away.

“Where is everyone?” Esme looked a bit spooked.

“Oh, they’re there, trust me.” Rosemarie nodded toward a brightly painted Victorian on the corner of Arbutus and Snow Avenue. Just in time, Esme noticed a curtain draw closed in one window and a bent blind slat in another; she could just make out an eye in the opening.

“Mom? What are they doing?” Esme’s eyes grew wide.

“They’re being silly, is what they’re doing, my love. Go ahead, open the window and wave.”


“Yep, really.” Rosemarie smiled to herself.

Esme hesitated, then cranked down the window and began waving as they drove by each house. Soon, she was really into it and gave long, drawn-out parade waves that set Rosemarie to giggling.

“Hey, someone waved back!” Esme cried, causing her mother to hoot out loud.

“That was your Great Aunt Judith’s house,” she said. “I’ll be that we won’t be at your grandma’s house more than … oh … 10 minutes and she’ll show up. Wanna bet?”

Esme eyed her mother. This was a mother she’d never seen before. A fun one. But 10 minutes? No way.

“Okay, I bet,” she said, reaching across the seat to shake on it.

Celia, coffee cup in hand, was waiting on the front porch of the fanciest, oldest house Esme had ever seen. The girl had unbuckled herself and was out the door before Rosemarie could even put the car in park.

“Grandma!” she yelled, running up the stairs to embrace the old lady.

“My darling child,” Celia cried, hugging her, then held her at arm’s length. “Let me look at you!” Celia locked eyes with Esme and held them until Rosemarie joined them.

“Ahem! Your daughter is here, too, you know,” she said, smiling.

“Welcome home, my prodigal daughter,” Celia said, hugging her. Rosemarie rolled her eyes; her mother had always been a drama queen.

“Oh, and look who else is here,” Celia said, nodding toward the street. A short, rotund woman wearing the highest, pointiest shoes Esme had ever seen was mincing down the sidewalk toward them.

“Great Aunt Judith?” Esme asked, looking at her mother.

“The one and only,” Rosemarie replied, then whispered, “You owe me.”

“Oh, my stars and garters!” Aunt Judith cried as she hobbled up the porch stairs, “Is that you, Rosemarie? And who is this lovely being?”

“Judith, you know darn well it’s Rosemarie and her daughter Esme!” Celia impatience was obvious. “Now let’s get inside and let them get settled.”

Esme’s eyes widened when they entered the house. “You live here, Grandma? By yourself?” She slowly turned in a full circle, trying to take it all in. “It’s like a castle!”

“Pshaw,” her grandmother scolded. “It’s just a house. Your mother used to live here, too, once upon a time.”

“Mom, you never said you lived in a castle!”

Rosemarie looked chagrined. Esme was definitely becoming way too enamored with Lincolnville.

“It’s cold and drafty three seasons out of the year and only slightly less so in the summer,” she said, risking her mother’s wrath. Celia, whispering something to her sister-in-law, ignored her, as did Esme.

“Look at that tree!” the girl cried, running to the decorated Christmas tree. The tree, the tallest she’d ever seen outside a museum or bank building, nearly reached the living room ceiling and the ceiling was 25 feet high. It was surrounded with gaily wrapped presents. Esme could see her name on some of the tags.

“Mom, seriously?” Rosemarie said, pointing to all the loot.

“Just a few gifts for my favorite girls,” Celia said, dismissing her. “Who wants hot cocoa?”

After the cocoa, Aunt Judith made her way home. The drink had made Rosemarie drowsy, but Esme was still on high speed, checking out the various rooms (there were 14) and her grandmother’s odd collections … the drawers of desiccated snake skins especially captivated the girl.

“Darling,” Celia said, noticing her daughter’s drooping eyelids, “why don’t you go up to your old room and take a nap? I’m sure Esme and I can find things to entertain ourselves.”

Rosemarie wasn’t sure she trusted her mother alone with her daughter – who knows what she’d tell her – but she really couldn’t stay awake another minute. Reluctantly, she agreed. “Two hours, don’t let me sleep more than two hours, you hear?” she said to them both. They nodded, looking, Rosemarie thought, guilty already.

When she heard the bedroom door close, Celia walked briskly to the foyer and snatched up her purse. “How about taking a drive with your old grandmother?” She held out her hand and Esme took it eagerly.