I pushed my glasses back on my nose. Small city birds the color of ashes rose and fell along the rooftops. In the fading evening light, the stoop beneath my thighs, as warm as breath when I first sat down, now exhaled a shallow chill. Mr. Chehab walked by with a brown bag from the bakery in his hand. He had his white apron balled up beneath his arm, the ties trailing. There was the scent of new-baked bread as he passed. Big Lucy, a girl I feared, pushed a scooter along the opposite sidewalk. Two Sisters of Charity from the convent down the street passed by, smiling from inside their bonnets. I turned my head to watch their backs, wondering always why their long hems never caught at their heels. At the end of the block, the Sisters paused to greet a heavy woman with thick, pale legs and a dark apron under her coat. She said something to them that made them nod. Then the three turned the corner together. The game paused again, and the boys parted reluctantly as a black car drove by.
I shivered and waited, little Marie. Sole survivor, now, of that street scene. Waited for the first sighting of my father, coming up from the subway in his hat and coat, most beloved among all those ghosts.
* * *
Once, I stepped up to the glass case in the delicatessen in Rego Park, ready to call out my order. I was pregnant with my first child, hungry, a little light-headed. In a few months' time, I would be at death's door, last rites and allmy mother swinging her purse at the head of the priest who came to deliver thembut on this day there was only a sudden rupture behind my eyes. I fell without knowing I fell, like a sack of potatoes. And then I was faceup on the wooden floor. My legs were turned beneath me. There was an ache along the fleshy edge of my palm. Faces above me. More pain dawning, in my ankle, at the back of my skull. There was tuna salad on my hand and on my elbow and on the edge of my spring coat, where I had caught somebody's order going down. I saw only the aproned bosom of the owner's wife as I was lifted and led to a chair in the back room. There was sawdust on the floor and brown towers of damp cardboard boxes along one wall. A strong smell of salami. They sat me down in a metal folding chair that was the same color as the cardboard boxes, before a flimsy card table scored with tape. There was the slow reconstruction of what had happened. A policeman appeared, offered a trip to the emergency room, although the consensus among the other women crowded into the narrow doorway was that the slow sipping from a warm bottle of Coke would revive me. Which it did. And then the roast beef on rye I had been about to order, which the owner's German wife watched me eat in the crowded back roomthe meat piled thickly and as tender as butteruntil the women were satisfied enough to declare, No harm done. The owner's wife gave me a container of chicken soup and a quart of rice pudding to take home. She was a broad, solid woman with thick arms and legs. She swiped vigorously at the stain on my coat with a wad of dampened paper towel, and I remembered Pegeen then: There's always someone nice.
* * *
My father appeared at the corner. Paused for his evening paper. Topcoat and hat to mark him as a clerk, not a laborer. I only raised my head above my knees when I saw himalthough surely something, some sinewy energy, some delight, tensed and trembled itself through my thin back and shoulders as I gazed down the sloping street. The boys playing stickball parted once again for a passing car: it was the ebb and flow of their game. I turned away from them, raised a hand to the balustrade to get ready to spring. My father was a thin, slight man in a long coat. His step was quick and jaunty. He, too, wore shoes with a high shine.
I waited until he was halfway toward home. And then I flew, across the sidewalk and into the air as he lifted methe newspaper held tightly under his arm the only impediment, it seemed, to an ascent that I saw in my own imagination as equivalent, somehow, to the caps the boys had thrown into the air when Bill Corrigan made his call. I would not have been surprised to hear them cheer.
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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