Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Red Hen Press
Title Page, Copyright, Acknowledgments, Dedication
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I tried to get out of the assignment. Prenatal visits to a prisoner? Okay, house arrest, same difference. I couldn’t believe that I was supposed to take care of a woman whose child died in a cult ritual. What kind of mother could get so involved in an oddball religion that she’d let her baby freeze to death? ...
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Pippa hurried into the living room to pick up on the second ring, hoping it was Tian. Hoping the sympathetic guard was on duty down at the jail, the bald guy who Tian said looked like a pro wrestler. The guard had told Tian the first night that most folks thought his church was pretty weird too, but that didn’t bother him none. ...
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I had to swing by the office after leaving Pippa. Anticipating our first meeting had flustered me so badly that I forgot to restock my supply bag. Marge despised poor planning but luckily her office was dark. I opened my backpack on the table in the empty supply closet, glad that no one could see the jumbled mess I made in Pippa’s living room. ...
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“Max is failing. Even sedated, he’s such a professor. Today he lectured me on the political significance of his Bar Mitzvah Torah passage. He claims he remembers every Hebrew word, seventy years later.” Gina peeled her orange, trying to keep the skin intact in one long strip. ...
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Francie didn’t react to the jolt or the whisper. She had refused to explain what was happening at the Tea Room, but it must be pretty bad to get her out of her bathrobe after working all night. Pippa leaned her cheek against the window and watched the green and red holiday decorations on the elementary school flapping in the wind. ...
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Sam only half-heard the first beep of the Special Ed bus. He had spent all afternoon trying to breech the cyber-defenses of a university admissions office for a client who suspected racial bias in his law school rejection. Sam was supposed to prove discrimination, but the firewall was tougher than he expected. ...
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I could hear their sing-song voices counting hamstring stretches. Afternoons were my special time with Zoe, just the two of us, until Anna got home from school. Then all the business of making dinner and eating and getting Zoe ready for bed took over. Normally, I liked to do Zoe’s afternoon stretches myself, ...
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Pippa had never been to an obstetrician. Too bad she couldn’t keep it that way. Friday morning, she sat between the cats on the living room sofa waiting for Emily Klein. From the kitchen drifted the small clinking sounds of Marshall washing the breakfast dishes. ...
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Lighten up, I tried telling myself, borrowing the voice and inflection from Anna, who often criticized me for being too uptight. This is no big deal, just stopping by the park on the way home from a medical appointment, right? And the probation officer expected Pippa to be late, so at most, I was just bending the rules a little, right? ...
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Tian believed that every adult should have a space in the house. A room of their own, even if the room had no door. That meant the generous bedrooms of the Pioneer Street house had to be partitioned into smaller ones. As the last person to join, Pippa was given the tiny back room on the third floor. ...
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My pockets were empty except for old cough drops, tissue-flecked mittens, four pennies, and two ripped ticket stubs from the matinee of Shrek 2 at the Bing. I dumped the handful of jumble into the blue plastic bowl and watched it disappear into the tunnel, my old pocketbook beside it looking disheveled and discouraged. ...
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Gina reached into the fur-trimmed sleeve of her coat for her tissue, blew her nose again, and lowered her head into the cradle of her arms on the steering wheel. She looked up at the coughing sound of Emily’s engine cutting off. ...
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“So it was Derek’s turn to take a computer-baby home for the weekend.” Anna carried the plate of veggie burgers to the table. “I programmed the computer for a cranky Saturday night. To keep the doll from crying, Derek had to carry it back and forth across the lobby of the movie theater while his buddies watched a karate film.” ...
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The attic stairs groaned, announcing a visitor. It couldn’t be Francie because she knew which two stairs complained if you tread in the middle. She was the one who had taught Pippa how to step silently right against the walls, lumbering side to side like a trained bear. ...
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Anna wouldn’t approve. Sam pulled the guest room door mostly closed, letting in just a sliver of light from the hallway. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he rubbed Zoe’s back in a figure of eight pattern, the way she liked it. This was Zoe’s bedroom, her special place in his apartment, but he had learned not to name it out loud because Anna hated that. ...
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“No way I’m driving through Worcester,” I said, scowling at the green exit sign. A pre-dawn gloom hovered over the Mass Pike. I knew I was being crabby and contradictory. I wasn’t eager to get there, but was in no mood to dawdle either. ...
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Well, here goes nothing, Gina thought, peering through the windshield at Pippa’s three-story stucco house. It was set way back on its lot compared to the triple-family buildings on either side, aloof from the life of the street. In the yard next door, a white-haired man leaned on the business end of a rake, ...
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A hoot, that’s what Ma would have called Gina, with her shiny red lipstick and fur collar and big chobble. Ma wouldn’t have meant any disrespect, just that she was different, in a quirky way. Of course, back home Ma would have never had the opportunity to know Gina as a person, hoot or no. ...
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“Sam and Zoe like to joke that way,” I whispered back. “You know, when you switch the first letter of words? It’s their secret language.” I grabbed the two backpacks from the floor of the closet, nudged the half-flat basketball back in and held it with my foot while I closed the door. ...
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By the dim light from the corridor, Sam recorded the urine volume on the Intake/ Output clipboard next to the sink. The nurse had offered to do Zoe’s midnight cath, but he and Anna always liked to do Zoe’s care themselves when she was hospitalized. He scooted the chair close to her bed, tucking the blanket around her small shoulders. ...
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I woke up to the squeak of shoes on the tile floor. The day shift nurse was trying to check Zoe’s bandages without disturbing Sam and Anna, both still half-sprawled across the hospital bed. The nurse extricated Zoe’s right hand from Anna’s clasp to check the IV site, then replaced it. ...
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The duck pond at Forest Park was crowded with families recycling stale chunks of Thanksgiving bread, but Gina snagged their favorite bench. The patch of thin sunshine offered little warmth, and she tightened the fur hood of her parka. Enough of this. ...
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Sunday mornings during the winter were cozy times at Anna’s. She and Zoe would work on an art project, while I built a roaring blaze in the fireplace and wandered through the local paper and the Globe. The Sunday after Thanksgiving I slept late, and an anemic fire was already burning when I carried my coffee into the living room. ,,,
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“The usual crap.” Marshall ran his finger under the grimy turquoise bandana knotted around his neck. “About how those poor frozen babies will finally have their day in court. They neglect to mention that this is just a hearing, some sort of technical legal mumbo jumbo before the trial. ...
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I wedged the telephone receiver between my left ear and neck, scrunching up my shoulder to hold it tight. The yelling from Marge’s office was loud enough to interfere with my conversation, but her closed door obscured the details of the reprimand. ...
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Washing the breakfast dishes the next morning, Pippa sensed she wasn’t alone and turned. Francie stood in the doorway, the palms of her hands pressed against both sides of the doorframe. Like she was holding up the whole house. ...
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I grew up with protests and demonstrations. Every time our president bombed a small country that we had to search for in our family atlas, we marched. Every time the state legislature tried to pass a law cutting welfare benefits or limiting gay rights, we picketed. ...
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Their case had just been called, only ninety minutes late. Not bad, according to the lawyer. Turning slightly in her seat, Pippa looked back over her shoulder at the full courtroom. Mostly reporters, it looked like, which wasn’t surprising after the spread in the Sunday paper. ...
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“Good.” Nan fingered through the stack of manila folders balanced in the crook of her arm. “These cult people may not be murderers, but that doesn’t mean they’re wholesome. They’ll manipulate your emotions, convince you it’s your mission to rescue them from the interference of the big bad outside world. ...
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The greenhouse was ready. Potting tables pushed against the walls to make room for the circle of pillows on the floor. The large cardboard box filled with earth. Two dozen candles, each hand-stamped with the image of Bast’s paw print, burned in a spiral pattern on the cinderblock and plank shelf. ...
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He had to admit she hadn’t reneged on her responsibilities to Zoe, even if she had let pretty much everything else slide during the two weeks since Pippa’s court hearing. The Sunday before, she served herself a two-inch square of Anna’s lasagna and carried it to her room. ...
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I hadn’t actually seen Pippa’s hives, but I could picture them. After her shower, they blossomed like mutant scarlet cauliflower on her ankle, itching fiercely. Once she slipped a sock next to her skin, they slowly faded. When Anna explained to Zoe about balloons and latex allergy and anaphylaxis, ...
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Isis flickered in the candlelight. On the sofa across the room, Pippa resettled her tired feet on the pillows stacked on the coffee table, careful not to bump the teapot or disturb Newark’s raspy purring on her lap. The Tea Room had been insanely busy when they opened after Bast’s service. ...
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Sam knew Forest Park. High school summers he worked on the park crew, clearing brush and cutting trees marked by the parks management guys from Boston. He had a vague memory of planting rhododendron bushes. The superintendent insisted they wouldn’t survive on that cold, windy hillside, ...
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Francie said it always snowed on December 21, but the softening of the backyard contours was still a surprise. Pippa stood at the kitchen door watching the snowflakes ease the bleak winter shapes, then returned to the dining room table, to the strings of cranberries and small clay beads stamped with Isis symbols. ...
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Four days until Christmas, and she was stuck with late duty. If she had the time and energy, Gina thought, she would file a grievance about Marge’s racism skewing the staffing schedule. But tonight all she wanted to do was finish her charting, check voicemail one last time for anything that couldn’t wait for morning, ...
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All solstice evening, Sam kept an ear attuned for the sound of Emily’s car. When he heard the engine start, cough and miss, then finally catch, he scooted to the window and watched her pull away from the curb. He had been expecting this. Over the past few days, he had tried out several scenarios in his head. ...
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Lunar effect. We learned about that in nursing school. There’s no evidence that more people get into accidents, have babies, or commit crimes when there’s a full moon, but people believe it anyway. Even doctors and nurses in the E.R. ...
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She had lost her bearings almost immediately, although she thought they were heading in the right direction. Visibility wasn’t great, but the snow was lighter and the wind had died down. She thought she saw a star. “I think the trail is up here on the left.” ...
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I passed the time painting mental pictures of all the things that could still go wrong, listing them, and prioritizing them in order of awfulness. Nan could have gotten the message and sent a squad car to the hospital. When he got home, Andy could have called back to the E.R. to check on Pippa, ...
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Pippa watched the back of Emily’s brown jacket weave between rows of chairs towards the phone booth. Watched her long legs step over outstretched boots, mounds of heaped winter coats, crumpled bags of take-out fries. When Emily was inside the booth, Pippa leaned down to check her ankle where the red raised marks were fading. ...
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I gave up on Orion and stepped back into the E.R. I doubted that Nan believed a word of my explanation. I walked slowly back towards the chairs until I noticed the crush of people in blue scrubs in the second row. Then I ran. ...
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The phone rang. Sam had just tucked Zoe’s checkered blanket around Timothy’s shoulders and returned to help Jeremy recolor digital images on the computer. ...
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After I watched them rush Pippa through the double doors, after I spoke on the phone with Sam, after I stood outside gulping cold air and letting my tears freeze on my cheeks, I stretched out on Pippa’s three chairs, using her coat as a mattress and mine as a blanket. I tried to reassure myself. ...
About the Author
A literary late bloomer, Ellen Meeropol began writing fiction in her fifties when she was working as a nurse practitioner in a pediatric hospital. Since leaving her nursing practice in 2005, Ellen has worked as the publicist and book group coordinator for an independent bookstore and taught fiction workshops. ...
Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2011