"Mom's hair isn't long enough," Amy says, making her voice deliberately calm. "Mom's hair is shorter than Dad's. How are they going to strangle her with that?"
"You just listen to her," Mary?Margaret says. "Jimmy, you just listen to your daughter."
James glances at Amy but he doesn't say anything. Amy does not expect him to.
"Out walking in the dark where anything might grab her. She don't think, she don't use her head. And that girl, she didn't have a stitch of clothes on either. Schrecklich. It was weeks before they found her."
"Is Mom okay?" Herbert says. He sucks his thumb;. saliva leaks down the side of his hand.
"Don't listen to her," Amy tells him. "She wants to scare you, that's all."
"Jimmy, just listen to your daughter."
"She wants to scare you."
"Enough," Fritz says. "You kids don't want to watch the TV, you go in the other room."
"Walking down there in the dark. There's dogs down there too, dogs gone wild. They say them dogs will attack anything, half of them sick with the rabies, and then Ellen goes down there without a brain in her head."
Herbert starts crying; Amy shoves him hard.
"She's teasing you," she says, though she isn't always absolutely sure. She knows that bad things can happen to anyone at any time, but wouldn't they happen easier in the dark when you can't see them coming? "Dad, tell him," Amy says.
James does not say anything.
"So thoughtless of her to go out in the dark. Anything might happen, but she can't think of her children, no, not her husband either. She goes down to the lake front without a brain in her head and they don't find what's left of her for weeks."
"Jesus Christ," Fritz says. "You kids get in the other room!
"She's teasing you, Herbert, she's being mean."
"Jimmy!" Mary?Margaret says.
James looks at Mary?Margaret uncomfortably. "Mother, he believes everything you say."
"Well, so do I," Mary?Margaret says. "All that damp night air. She'll come down with pneumonia, you wait and see. For all we know she's lying there dead right now."
Herbert screams again, and Fritz gets up. "Enough!" he says, and he grabs Herbert roughly. But suddenly Mary?Margaret is there; she pulls Herbert away from Fritz and leads him back to her chair. Her voice is smooth, coaxing.
"He'll be quiet now, won't you, Bertie? You'll sit on Grandma's lap and be Grandma's little boy. Grandma will take care of you."
"Jesus H. Christ," Fritz says, but he slumps back into his chair. "Herbert, you're so stupid," Amy says. Sometimes she hates her brother.
"Jimmy, listen to your daughter!
"Quiet!" Fritz bellows, and they all are silent, staring at the TV.
The downtown is crisp with light from the window decorations and the street lamps hung with wreaths. Ellen walks past the grocery store, the bank, the Fashion Depot, and several tiny gift shops selling Holly's Field souvenirs. Each summer, people swarm up from Chicago to stay at the Fisherman's Inn, to eat at the Fish Wish or the Seafood International, to hike the stone walkway out to the lighthouse and take pictures of the view. Ellen stops at the town's only stoplight and waits for the WALK signal to flash. The fine for jaywalking is two hundred dollars. Only tourists learn the hard way.
High on the hill, the steeple of Saint Michael's is outlined in lights: an arm reaching toward God. Every Wednesday morning, Ellen walks her students from the school to the church for Mass. The inside is just as beautiful to Ellen now as it was when she was a child, with its carved wooden pews and reaching windows shining with stained glass. She marvels at how easy it is to believe in God when you sit in a church like St. Michael's, breathing the smell of incense and wood, and the light warped a lovely color. Her sisters attend whenever they can; Ellen nods to them across the pews, and she smiles at her nieces and nephews, who are sitting with their own grades. Sometimes, she sees Amy and Herbert too, and then she feels that everything is as it should be. These are my children, I am their mother. But the feeling doesn't last.
Copyright 1998 by A. Manette Ansay. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Avon Books.
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