I was seven years old. I spoke mostly to my parents. To my brother. To my teachers when I had to. I gave some whispered response to Father Quinn or to Mr. Lee at the candy store when my mother poked me in the ribs. I could not imagine having a conversation with Mrs. Chehab, who was red-haired and very tall. Still, I promised. I would say nothing.
Pegeen shook herself again, standing back and lifting her shoulders inside the pale blue coat. "But there's always someone nice," she said, her voice suddenly gone singsong. "Someone always helps me up." She struck another pose, coy and haughty, as before, her chin in the air. She touched the feather in her hat. "Today a very handsome man gave me his hand. He asked if I was all right. A real Prince Charming." She smiled again and looked around. Just a few doors down, the older boys were playing stickball in the street. There was a knot of younger ones on the curb, watching. Bill Corrigan was in his chair on the sidewalk just behind them.
Pegeen leaned forward once more. "Tomorrow," she said breathlessly, whispering now, "I'm going to look for him again. If I see him, I'm going to get real close." She leaned down, her hand on the banister above my head. "I'm going to pretend to fall, see? Right next to him. And he'll catch me and say, 'Is it you again?'"
All human eyes are beautiful, but Pegeen's were very black and heavily lashed and gorgeous now, with the sparkle of her joke, or her plan, or, perhaps, her vision of some impossible future.
She straightened up. "We'll see what happens then," she said, sly and confident, her thick eyebrows raised. She swung her purse slowly, turned to move on. "That will be something to see," she said.
At her own house, Pegeen didn't use the basement door, as usual. She climbed the stone steps, taking them one at a time, like a small child. At the top, she paused again to swat at the back of her coat, only touching the dirt with her wrist. It was early evening. Spring. I could see Pegeen's reflection in the oval glass of the outer dooror at least the blue heart of the reflection, which was both the reflection of her good spring coat and the evening light on her flushed face. Pegeen pulled open the door and the thin image in the glass shuddered like a flame.
I turned back to the vigil I was keeping on the stone steps. Vigil for my father, who had not yet come up from the subway.
From the far corner, the neighborhood's men and working women were coming home. Everyone wore hats. Everyone wore trim dark shoes, which was where my eyes fell when any of them said, "Hello, Marie," passing by.
At seven, I was a shy child, and comical-looking, with a round flat face and black slits for eyes, thick glasses, black bangs, a straight and serious moutha little girl cartoon.
With my heart pinned to my father's sleeve in those days.
The boys were playing stickball down the street. Always at this time of day. Some of them friends of Gabe, my brother, although he, young scholar, remained inside at his books. The younger boys were lined at the curb, watching the game, Walter Hartnett among them. He had his cap turned backward and the leg with the built-up shoe extended before him. Blind Bill Corrigan, who had been gassed in the war, was on the sidewalk just behind Walter, sitting in the painted kitchen chair that his mother set out for him every morning when the weather was fine.
Bill Corrigan wore a business suit and polished shoes, and although there was a glitch in the skin around his eyes, a scarred shine in the satiny folds of his eyelids, although he was brought to the kitchen chair every afternoon when the weather was fine by his mother, whose arm he held the way a bride holds the arm of a groom, it was to him that the boys in the street appealed whenever a dropped ball or an untimely tag sent both teams, howling and cawing, to his side of the street. They were there now: shouting into one another's face, throwing their caps on the ground, and begging Bill Corrigan to make the call. He raised one of his big, pale hands, and suddenly half the boys spun around, the other half cheered. Walter Hartnett rocked backward in despair, raising his good foot into the air.
Excerpted from Someone by Alice McDermott. Copyright © 2013 by Alice McDermott. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 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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