parents. Even though she got away in her teens and didnât look back for quite some time. She wouldnât have just left them out of the whole experience.
Thatâs the tree your mama called the sobbing tree out there, see it?
That was something said to her while she sat uncomfortably on somebodyâs lap. Of course that would have lodged in her memory, because it was awkward to be taken onto someoneâs lap when you were eleven years old. Somebody from town, some visitor come by to celebrate? A man. Men liked to get her close to them. She always listened more to men.
Perhaps it was her father. How was it she had no memory at all of her father?
It didnât matter who it was. The words were being said by the old woman, with a troubling pulsation as if the mute pedal was being pushed and released on a piano.
He said, Thatâs the tree your mama called the sobbing tree out there, see it?
My sister said, Thatâs the tree I used to climb up and look for you.
My little brother Harry said, Roamer looked for you. We went down by the grange every day because they seen a stranger there. Roamer snuffed all over.
It was mama went down there every day, and how do you know that, you were a baby, my sister said. But not meanly, she was good to him. Good to everybody. Not like me. How do you know he snuffed all over? my sister said to him.
I know it, my brother said.
He said it to me not her.
I know it.
Jerry, Abby thought. Nothing went right for that boy, did it. Nor for Martha either, nor any of them, never mind that they werenât the ones that had the experience.
She had left out a lot with Jake that she couldnât put in now. All that trouble. But it wasnât her fault. It isnât your fault if people want you. And it was not looks that did it, as people would say to her when she had her looks. It couldnât have been. No, it must have been . . . what? Fate? But how did one personâs fate get separated out from anotherâs? How could anything happen to any one person that didnât pull in everybody else and their fate, and the world, for that matter, and the universe, how could it all be sorted out, if any one of them had a fate? And if they didnât, what made you go through what you went through? If your life was just any old thing, what made you keep at it?
There was a long silence and then the old woman resumed answering the question in her flat, maddening way. âI guessâoh, of course she did, she missed meâI guess after all that time we couldnât, we just couldnât get used to each other. Oh, she always said we were poor and there were so many mouths to feed, and I knew we werenât poor, for one thing, compared to what poor wasin the other place. Oh, not that she didnât want me back. Both of them. They got the money together to hire a detective from Winchester. But you may know this, a good many detective agencies then were just men who had lost their farm or their store. It was just a fluke I was ever found. Somebody traveling, like they did in those days, selling galvanized buckets. Drove across the line, into West Virginia. Somebody from the town of McBride.â
W HEN the screen finally went blank Abby sat back out of breath, as if she had climbed the stairs to the Hilltop Room for a second time. She looked around in the hazy light that had flooded the theater like an unwished-for morning. The whole thing had been like crossing a floor in the dark not knowing which boards were going to sink in. She was not quite steady, and sat with her knees apart feeling the slant of the floor under her feet. Her upper arms ached.
The mayor stood up clapping forcefully, and then everybody stood and clapped while Jake was letting go of Abbyâs cramped hand so he could get up. He jumped up onto the platform, rubbing his eyes in the light. He got his tie loosened and with his hands on his hips he shifted from foot to foot, pleased with himself
Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Christine Feddersen-Manfredi