The first-graders had crayoned huge-eyed owls for Halloween. They were taped in rows to the walls. The owls all looked alike, with large cylindrical bodies and immense glowing yellow eyes the size of platters. Nicole couldn't see them clearly; her own eyes were filled with tears. She spotted another woman about her age, one of the few black women she'd seen on line, also studying the owls. When the woman finally turned her head toward Nicole, tears glittered on her chocolate-colored skin and ran toward her jawline.
"Look at me," the strange woman said. "I'm acting like a damned fool. Darnell is my baby. He's my last one home."
Nicole dug a clean tissue out of her purse and offered it to the woman. "Daisy is our only," she said. "We've been trying to have another, but it hasn't happened yet." She didn't normally confide in strangers like this.
"I'm Ruby," the woman said, accepting the tissue and blowing her nose. "Aren't we a pair?"
Nicole gestured toward the other parents gliding out of the building, chatting and laughing. "I don't know how they do it."
"Hard-hearted," the woman named Ruby said. She half smiled through her tears.
"You'd be surprised how many women get pregnant once they got a child in kindergarten. I seen it happen time and again. Could happen for you."
"That would be nice," said Nicole.
"We should count ourselves lucky," Ruby said. "I know one woman, she registered her daughter for kindergarten last year. Same afternoon, she finds out she has a brain tumor. Incurable cancer. Dead before that child hit the third grade."
"Oh, God. That's awful." Nicole shivered, though she was sweating inside her wool coat. She suddenly felt sick. The story filled her with dreadas if some fortune-teller had wandered over, read her palm, and foreseen something terrible. Halloween was getting to her, all those fake ghouls and gravestones.
She wanted to cry to this woman, Take it back! Untell me that story! She wondered if the dead woman had lived there in Huntington, but didn't ask. Besides, what difference could it possibly make?
"Trust me, this is a nice school," Ruby said. "Your little girl gonna love it here."
"I'm sure your son will, too."
Ruby's face relaxed into a split grin. All trace of tears was gone, except the crumpled tissue still held in one large fist. She was a tall woman, athletic. "Darnell loves everything," she said. "He's a big kidder. Class clown typeI just hope he gets a teacher with some sense of humor."
All the way back home Nicole brooded about the woman who'd died. She couldn't stop thinking about it. That daughter left motherlessdead before that child hit the third grade, the grade she would soon be teaching again. She knew what little girls were like at that age; she remembered one motherless child in her class who had shown up at school still wearing her pajamas, egg smeared on her face. All that Halloween morning, the woman's words swooped in and settled crowlike in the back of her mind.
And there was that lump at the side of her necka swollen gland, her doctor said. But it would not go away, like the thought of this dying woman. When she'd mentioned it to Jay months earlier, he'd told her to go to a specialist, adding, "I'm sure it's nothing," his eyes bright blue. There was something about his confidence that irked her. Did he think people couldn't die? Did he think he could bat it all away, like an easy home run? She found her fingers returning to the swollen place on her neck again and again. Yet she refused to speak about it, as if ignoring it would help it disappear. And here it was Halloween, a holiday. Soon would come Thanksgiving, then the winter holidays. Time enough to deal with it in the new year.
Excerpted from The Laws of Gravity by Liz Rosenberg. Copyright © 2013 by Liz Rosenberg. Excerpted by permission of Amazon Publishing. 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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