"What?" Anna instinctively scanned the girl's body for bruises.
"He didn't want children, and he beat me to make them disappear. In the tummy."
"Oh," Anna said, still a little stunned by the notion of being a grandmother, awed by the presence of this lovely child. Anna put her hand up to her head. Her headache was starting to shake free, but the knots in her head had somehow coiled in her chest. Anna hadn't given much thought to the girl really; mostly she tried to imagine what she would say to Poppy after all these years.
Flynn was gorgeous, Anna noted, seeing a little bit of Hugh in the curve of her lips and jaw line, but mostly Flynn looked like the women on Anna's father's side: there was a spectacular resemblance to Anna's second cousin Ella. Ella was the seventh and favorite daughter of the baker in a little village outside Warsaw. Sixteen in 1939, she had picked up her father's new oven peel and was on her way to the shop that September morning when the blitzkrieg started. Ella rushed into burning homes and helped people to safety. Legend had it that she hit a German soldier over the head with the oven peel as he was getting ready to shoot a kneeling line of villagers who then escaped. Ella later died in the camps.
"My mother is mentally ill," Flynn said, clutching the cat tighter as he struggled to get down.
"No," Anna said, angry with Marvin for his apparent careless language.
"She's not." But then before she could stop herself she asked, "Has she left you before?"
"Certainly," Flynn said. "But this time she's not coming back."
"Only God knows such things," Anna said in a voice that was so much her grandmother's it made her head ache all over again.
"We've barely met," Flynn said, though Anna didn't know if it was a reference to herself, Poppy, or, given the peculiarity of this child, to God.
"What's the kitty's name?" Anna said.
"My parents are divorcing. They think I don't know this, but of course I do."
"Does the kitty have a name?"
"His name is Hoover McPaws. He just happens to be Irish."
"Oh, yes? I can see a certain Irish cast to his features."
Flynn looked back at her grandmother, smiled nervously. Something frightened her here. Her grandmother's look pierced through her like the prickly spines of a cactus. "I think you and I were gladiators together under the rule of Caesar Augustus."
"How old are you now, Flynn?"
"Ten. And you?"
"My mother is thirty. Have you met her?"
"Yes. She's my daughter, the way you're her daughter."
"Oh, right." She shifted the cat, which was yowling now, pinned belly up against her knees. "Did she seem mentally ill to you?" Flynn let the cat had go with a gasp, sucked her finger where the cat had scratched her. "Because she was always a good mother until she left. She took very good care of me."
Anna heard her husband's tone in the girl's words, the bewilderment without a trace of anger at Poppy's behavior. "She said she would come," were his last words. "I hope nothing has happened." She couldn't have this girl here. Her very existence was a kind of reproach, the flaws in Poppy that led her to abandon her child were, really, Anna's failing as a parent. She'd buried the guilt long ago, and the last thing she needed was to have all the pain of attachment resurface.
Marvin came back in, straining under the weight of a huge trunk. "I hope you don't mind, Anna," he said. "I, uh, brought a little work with me."
"And just what sort of work do you do? Large-game taxidermy?" Already her house looked like a yard sale. Which she didn't care about, except there was something underhanded going on here, something neither he nor Poppy had respected her enough to tell her.
Excerpted from Above The Thunder by Renée Manfredi. Copyright 2004 by Renée Manfredi . Excerpted by permission of McAdam Cage. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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