On very hot days there was no need to confer in advance. The lot of them would be playing ball in Commonwealth Park, or ambling toward the beach at City Point, or playing marbles or Kick the Wicket on the street. Without a word Michael would turn to Lydia, or she toward him, and with a whoop they would preempt the day's pursuit and set out for ice. At the sight of Dan Kilkenny's brood, the iceman would toss out an extra block, the surplus ice arcing toward the street in a dream of captured light before exploding into frozen bliss on the cobbles. Decorum was traded for the fleeting comfort of ice pressed into the perfect place. Frozen shatterings found their way into mouths, inside shirts and dresses, ears, shoes and underwear, under chins, and atop closed eyes. Ice was nestled into the hollows of throats and hammocked by the webbing between fingers and toes. Ice bent the iron rule of summer for a few precious moments before the heat clamped down again.
For ten years, this was enough. Then in fifth grade, Lydia saw a city map and realized her entire world was a mitten dangling from Boston's sleeve. The hazy destination of the morning drays acquired focus. Across the bridge lay Boston Common and the swan boats of the Public Garden. Across the bridge lay Washington Street--the longest street in all New England--which began like any other but then continued south, a single, determined thread of cobblestone that wove itself through every town from Boston to Providence. Once Lydia saw Washington Street she knew she could not allow it to exist without her.
She had imagined Washington wide like West Broadway but instead it was narrower, its buildings taller. On Washington, men in blazers and boaters strutted three and four abreast and bustled women drifted cloudlike between shopwindows. The air on Washington smelled neither of factories nor piers but of occasional cigar smoke and wafting perfume. The buildings--with their marble façades and grand entranceways and their seemingly endless layers of arched windows--resembled fancy wedding cakes. On Washington Street there was not a clothesline in sight, not a single vegetable or fish man. Striped awnings stretched proudly above showcase displays of objects Southie had never seen: a silk opera gown with black glass buttons, a set of tortoiseshell combs, a rocking horse with a mane of real hair. Lydia turned toward Michael--whose trolley fare she had provided from a cache of saved pennies, their passage across the Broadway bridge her eleventh birthday present to herself--and announced this was her future.
On graduating eighth grade, when her girlfriends found jobs behind sewing machines, Lydia rode to Washington Street alone and procured a position in the stockroom of Gilchrist's department store. Now every morning she had to wake before the drays in order to be waiting for the streetcar. During dreary hours of inventory and reshelving, her resolve to work on the far side of the bridge would falter, but her doubts vanished whenever she was called onto the gleaming sales floor. Walking among the wonders of the display rooms, she would calculate the weeks of salary required to purchase a beaded French chapeau or the impossible amount of roast ham that could be eaten in lieu of one opal earring. Rather than discouraging her, these extreme calculations bred optimism. Once she was promoted to sales, she hoped eventually to save enough so that she too could point to one of those fantastical objects and have it delivered into her outstretched hand.
Excerpted from Wickett's Remedy by Myla Goldberg Copyright © 2005 by Myla Goldberg. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, 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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