turned the heat up instead of down, making the situation worse, and everything’s high-pitched howling wails and chatter and shouting, so I just stay out of the way at my perch on the stairs, and everyone retreats quickly, and I’m left alone, thank goodness. I walk into the quiet kitchen. And after all that no one even turned the stove off. I extinguish the flame and ladle myself a mug of cider, then leave the rest to cool so I can put it in the fridge for later.
Amanda comes back in and stomps around a bit, but doesn’t talk to me. She probably blames me for the accident with the kids. So the same thing that got me praise half an hour ago is now evidence of my incompetence. I decide if I can’t do anything right, I might as well not do anything I don’t want to do.
Instead, I go into my parents’ library. The desk, the leather chair, the floor-to-ceiling books. I’d rather be reading anyway. I run my fingers over the spines, title after title after title. Three-quarters of the way around the room I find the title How to Be Good. Curious, I open it up. I’m disappointed to find it’s fiction.
I scan the shelf for something to read. Romances. Science books. Dictionaries. A few histories. In the end it comes down to the two books with the most interesting titles: The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All , and An Anthropologist on Mars.
I think about widows and I think about Mars, and I decide Mars sounds more pleasant. I listen for Amanda. She’s down the hall in the room that used to be hers, going through the boxes I set aside. Everyonce in a while I hear a soft, pleased squeal. She sounds happy to be rediscovering things she thought lost.
Reading in Ma’s window seat, comfortable on those yellow cushions, would make me happiest, but I don’t want Amanda to find me in there. I push the library door mostly shut and drop my body into Dad’s big leather chair.
An Anthropologist on Mars turns out to be nonfiction, and about science. A series of essays. The people in the book are all damaged in some way, and it’s a good thing for me to read, because it reinforces the message of the Normal Book: there is no normal. People are people, and that means a broad spectrum. Loose wires, crossed signals. The brain can take hairpin turns, at birth or after. I’m not the most unusual, by far.
One essay in the book is about a woman who has built herself a hugging machine. It makes me somewhat jealous. A thing you can crawl into and feel loved. People frighten me but physical reassurance is something I crave. My family hugs me, but my family’s getting smaller. I wiggle around in the chair, with its wide, heavy arms, and try to get it to hug me, but it doesn’t feel right. A machine would be perfect.
After a while I can see that the line of sunlight under the door has shifted. It’s getting later.
I hear Amanda’s voice calling, “Ginny, where are you?”
“Library!” I shout as loudly as I can, to make sure she hears me. I stand up from the chair and close the book, then look around to see what I could be doing that would make it look like I haven’t just been sitting here reading for the last two hours.
The chair is in front of those black boxes of Dad’s, the only things on the shelves that aren’t books. I haven’t looked in them yet. I pull one off the shelf and take the lid off to start looking through.
Amanda doesn’t come in, though, and if she calls out again I don’t hear it. I quickly lose myself in the contents of the box.
Photographs. That’s unexpected. Dad always took a lot of pictures but I assumed they were neatly arranged in photo albums. Dad loved order and so did Ma. But all the photos in this box are shuffled together from all times and places, with no logic or order to them at all.
Pictures of him and Ma, long ago. She looks at the camera. He doesn’t. Pictures of his mom, Nonna, looking much younger in a place I don’t recognize. A blurry shot I think is Grandma Damson. I
Samantha Chase, Noelle Adams