So you know Mr. Bartholomew?
Linus lets me play here.
I suddenly remember the single mother who moved into one of the rentals down the street. Most nights I see the woman shuffling along the sidewalk with a child, both heading toward Tedeschis corner store on the next block. Sometimes Ill catch the woman blessing herself as she passes the cemetery across the street from here, motioning her child away from the edge of the sidewalk, away from the only busy street in town. They walk in all weather, a cigarette dangling from the womans lips, head bent, while her little girl skips ahead. The girl doesnt appear to know shes dancing alongside the dead. This must be her, the daughter.
I start to approach the child, then stop. My name is Clara. Clara Marsh. She raises a hand near her mouth to nibble at her cuticles. Whats your name? I ask.
Trecie, she says. With her other hand, she fingers a day lily (coquetry).
Patrice, but everyone calls me Trecie.
A name, its only a name. It means nothing.
Does your mother know youre here, Trecie? I check my watch. I have only a few hours of daylight left to warm me.
No, she says, her eyes meeting mine for the first time. Theres something peculiar about them. The color, so dark as if her pupils are melting, swirling, then shifting again, and the way her gaze remains steady. They seem to reach within me, prodding. Shes probably with Victor anyway. They fight a lot.
I doubt shed be very happy if she knew you played in a funeral home.
Even as I say the words, I know they arent true. Trecie has the aura of the neglected: silently desperate, unnaturally composed. And theres something else I recognize, though I cant be sure what it is: the turn of her nose, the natural arch of her eyebrows, or that sense of aloneness even when in the company of others. Now its clear she would never cry if her mother pulled a comb through a snarl.
I look to see if Linuss door is still closed, if hes meeting with a distraught family and cant be interrupted for something as innocuous as a forgotten child. I heard voices in there earlier.
Are you sure Mr. Bartholomew lets you play here? Wouldnt you rather go to the playground with the other children? Its just down the block from Tedeschis.
She shakes her bowed head, tucking back stray bits of hair that have come loose from behind either ear. Nobody ever yells here. She jerks her head, suddenly beaming as she casts about the room. I like the candles and the flowers and the chairs. She stops, then smiles again, revealing those teeth. I think you like it too.
Its time to shoo her on, make her go home, but my beeper vibrates against my hip and my focus turns to the next tragedy. Its the medical examiner. Instead of the cup of tea I long for, theres a body waiting for me.
I glance at the girl before walking down the hall to Linuss office, wondering if its safe to leave a wayward child there alone, what might be missing when I return. Pressing my ear against the door, listening for voices, theres only the scratch of writing. A brush of my knuckles against the oak panel and he calls out.
Linus is sitting at his desk, fountain pen poised over a sheaf of papers, and for a moment his mind remains with his work. His skin is a vivid shade of black, smooth and unlined, as if his has been a life untouched by tragedy. At an age when others begin to wither and fold, everything about Linus is lush and full: his cheeks, lips, and especially his belly, always plump from Almas cooking. Hes saved from appearing obese by his impressive height and excellent carriage. Still, hes a big man. His hair - gone gray now, though his mustache retains some of its color - is clipped close, his limbs are long and beginning to bend, gnarled at the fingers, and one must imagine the toes, from arthritis: osteo. I assume even in his youth his gestures were languid, intentional, backed by a remarkable physical strength. Ive seen him lift bodies the size of tree trunks with little effort. Its easy to stand in his shadow. When he raises his bowed head, his face softens into a smile, catching me in his circle of warmth. I take a step back.
Excerpted from Tethered by Amy MacKinnon. Copyright © 2008 by Amy MacKinnon. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. 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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