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Mary F. Burns
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Somewhere West of Eden


The leaves fell off the trees overnight. Went to bed, lots of leaves on the branches, greens turning to yellows, crisping reds and umbers and chestnuts and golds. Woke up, all on the ground. Every last one of them.

“Some frost,” Mr. Boyd the neighbor said as we nodded good morning at the mailbox. The mailman had just driven by, 9:45 a.m. on the dot, and most of the neighbors showed up moments later, as if they’d been on the watch.

As I had been. Waiting for that letter.

We lived on a one-block street with five houses on an asphalt road that was forever crumbling at the edges, especially in the summertime when the tar would heat up and you could poke at the edges with a stick and break off big pieces. Between the road and people’s yards were shallow ditches and there were aluminum culverts that ran under the driveways, also made of asphalt and pebbles. When it rained hard, the ditches would turn into fast-running streams, and when we were kids we would put sticks and little pieces of cardboard in the water far up the street and race alongside watching as they slipped past rocks and clumps of leaves, then disappeared into the culverts—maybe they’d come out the other end, maybe they wouldn’t.

The flag had been up on our mailbox, as my mother had letters to send, and I put them there earlier, carefully raising the rusted, thinning, flat piece of metal, like a ruler with a rectangle soldered to the top of it and painted red, only the paint was almost gone. Hadn’t been painted since my dad left ten years ago, when I was nine. I carefully slid it back down, thinking I might get some paint and make it red again, later. Or not.

I put my hand into the dark cool recess of the mailbox, the ends of my fingers tingling slightly, my arm tensed to withdraw at the slightest touch of anything that wasn’t strictly paper. My older brother Sam used to tell me how rats and snakes liked to curl up inside of people’s mailboxes, and once he said some guy he knew heard about a woman who’d died from snakebite from a mailbox.

My fingers felt a satisfyingly high stack of letters, and I could see the curl of a thick magazine, one of my mom’s fashion mags, and I grabbed the whole bunch quickly and pulled it out of the box. The magazine uncurled slightly, revealing the smaller letters and cards that nestled inside its glossy color cover, like seeds in a pod. They were arranged by size, the smallest on top. I flipped through them until I found what my heart was waiting for: the medium-sized manila envelope with my name on it.

 

Maureen Flanagan
52 Cantigny Drive
Corvallis, Oregon

 

There was no mistake. The return address read:

 

Singer Detective Agency       
Failing Building – Suite 203
1483 SW Columbia Street
Portland, Oregon

 

I could see Mr. Boyd was being nosy, as usual, so I turned the envelope over and gave him one of my best naughty-little-girl smiles, which made him blush and look away. I went back into the house. All men are saps, my mom used to say. I assumed she learned that from my dad.

Mom was still in bed, although I could hear the radio on in her room, so she was up. Smoking, too, I could smell it in the air outside in the hall. Soon she’d be asking me for a clean glass, and if I didn’t answer, she’d use a dirty one.

I went into my own room, locked the door and opened the envelope. Two sheets of paper and not much on them. This is what I get for forty dollars?

 
            October 29, 1961

 

Dear Miss Flanagan,

 

The enclosed report is all I could find to date about the present whereabouts of your former father, Michael Flanagan, and information about his activities over the last ten years. I hope you will find this information useful.

 

Pursuant to finding Mr. Flanagan, I have incurred expenses of $5.62 (food and transportation) for which I would appreciate reimbursement at your earliest convenience.

                                                            Sincerely yours,
                                                             Harry Singer
                                                              Harry Singer
                         Principal
                         Singer Detective Agency

 

What a dope—my former father? Didn’t detectives have to take English in high school? And his expenses – probably three shots and a beer. I looked at the second sheet of paper.
 

                Report on Search for Michael Flanagan

 

August, 1951 – Subject rents a room at 462 NE Sandy Boulevard, Portland, OR. Stays there two years.

 

September, 1951 – Subject begins work at the Shiller Piano Factory, 1802 SW 10th Avenue, Portland, OR. Still employed there as of current date.

 

Current Place of Residence: 350 NE 62nd Street, Portland, OR. Small house owned by one Mrs. Adele Raymond, but is rental property. Subject appears to be living in the house with a woman and a small male child.

 

I stared at the piece of paper in my hand. That’s it? All the wondering and mystery all these years about what faraway exotic life he’s leading and he’s still in Portland? For Chrissake, I could have gone there and found that out myself. Forty bucks. Forty damn bucks. Hell of a lot of waitressing at the Blue Moon to get that much money. And for what?

That was the question—what was I going to do, now that I knew where he was?

I heard my mother’s cough, starting slow and deep, gravelly, then rising from her lungs up her throat until it forced itself out with a sound like a china plate breaking on the floor. I knew that sound well—it happened a lot just before my dad left, the jerk. Jesus.

I put the report and the letter back in the envelope, and hid it in my underwear drawer. Not that I really needed to, since Sam was gone and my mother didn’t leave her room much anymore.

Sam. He left the day after I graduated high school, and we hadn’t seen him but once since then. The occasional letter, well, postcard. Join the Navy and See the World. Lucky stiff.

I heard my mom calling me. I took a deep breath.

“I’m in my room, Mom,” I yelled. “Be right there!”

She was trying to sit up in bed when I went in, but one of the pillows was on the floor and she couldn’t reach it. I picked it up, held out my arm for her to hold on to while she leaned forward as I stuffed it and the other one behind her back. She felt like she didn’t weigh anything at all.

“Hey,” I said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “Sleep okay?”

“More or less,” she said. She was always pretty game. “Too many dreams.” She laughed, a kind of wheezy snort, and reached for the pack of cigarettes. I must have made a face because she looked irritated and guilty at the same time.

“No lectures,” she said. I rolled my eyes at her in the exaggerated way I did to make her laugh.

“Sister Mary Elizabeth does not approve!” I said in a stern voice, wagging my finger.

“Ha!” she said. “You know what I say to that.” Her voice was thin, raspy, like a nail file.

“Yeah, to hell with Sister Mary Elizabeth, and the horse she rode in on,” I said, turning to straighten the blankets and then pick some magazines off the floor.

“Mail come?” she said.

“Yeah, I’ll get it in a minute,” I said. I looked down at her; she didn’t look good. “What do you want for breakfast?”

She waved the cigarette at me, and pointed to the empty glass on the bedside table. “The usual.”

Apple juice—and brandy. And she always knew when I tried to change the proportions and put in less brandy. But what the hell? Alcohol wasn’t going to kill her, the cigarettes had already taken care of that.

“Okay,” I said. “But how about a piece of toast, too?” I waited for the headshake No, but something made her pause, and she looked at me for what seemed like a long time.

“Sure,” she said. “With strawberry jam.”

I bent down then and kissed her again, and she threw one birdlike arm around my neck, a bare, hard little hug.

“Okay,” I said, drawing back. Jesus. Not going to cry. Damn him.

* * *

 

Two days later, I was on the morning bus to Portland. I fixed it with the visiting nurse to stay into the evening to make my mom some supper—not that she’d eat anything—and told her to be sure the phone was right by the bed before she left at night, and then to come back first thing in the morning, like eight o’clock.

I got to go with Annie—my best friend—up to Portland, I told my mom. She’s got a job interview and doesn’t want to go alone. We have to stay overnight. You’ll be okay, right? She looked real hard at me, then nodded okay and told me to have a good time. I couldn’t tell for sure if she knew I was lying, but odds were she did. I always figured, nothing much gets by me, and I must have got it from her, as I didn’t remember my dad being too sharp.

Of course, I told Annie what I was doing, sort of, so at least she wouldn’t call me at home and blow the whole thing. I let her think I was meeting up with some guy I got to know at the Blue Moon—she made a bunch of oohing noises and made me promise to tell her all about it. She’s pretty goofy, but we’ve been best friends since third grade. She just got engaged to her high school boyfriend, so now she wants everyone to be engaged.

The bus ride was going to take a good five hours, wandering up Highway 99 through all the little towns—Orrs Corner, Finn’s Corner, Walker’s Corner—what did that mean, “corner”? Junction, now, that made some sense, but corner? Like they got there and took a right turn and boom, there was the town, right around the corner.

I had looked up the address of the YWCA in the phone book in the library—that’s where I was planning to stay. I couldn’t believe it, it was on 10th Avenue. Seven blocks from the piano factory where my dad worked. And very close to Mr. Singer’s detective agency, where I figured I had to stop by and pay him his “expenses,” the jerk. But I guess I could see if he had any more information, just what exactly I didn’t know, but there might be something.

I settled into my seat with a library book I’d started reading a few days ago, Ulysses by James Joyce. It was slow going; I was only on page seven. I could make out the Latin but not the Greek. The Irish references I got, pretty much, being Irish myself, I guess. Oh, it’s only Dedalus, whose mother is beastly dead. That sentence got to me—the whole thing about the dying mother. I closed the book and looked out the window at the fields and hills going by. Soon it would be winter.

At McMinnville, the bus stopped for at least half an hour, so I got out and walked around a bit, but there wasn’t much to see. When I got back on, a guy who had been sitting in the back came up and stood in the aisle next to the row I sat in. He was older than me, maybe in his mid-twenties. He wore a beat-up, brown leather jacket and he had a little patch of beard in the middle of his chin. No hat. I could hear my mom’s voice, not a gentleman.

“Can I sit here?” he said, looking at me as if he thought something was funny.

“It’s a free country,” I said.

He flung a battered suitcase with a rope tied around it into the rack overhead, then took off his jacket and rolled it up in a ball next to the suitcase. He was wearing a blue oxford-cloth shirt that hadn’t seen an iron in all its life, and under that, a black teeshirt. Jesus.

The bus started up; it sounded like a tractor stuck in the mud. It pulled out of the depot and back on the highway. Two more hours to go. I guess I must have sighed out loud, because the guy looked at me.

“Going to Portland?” he said.

“Oh my God,” I said, opening my eyes really wide. “I thought this bus was going to Chicago.”

“Wise guy, eh?” he said. He grinned at me.

“My name’s Jack,” he said, and held out his right hand to shake. I took it automatically, then wished I hadn’t. I was raised much too politely. He held onto my hand longer than was strictly necessary, and I pulled mine back with a little jerk.

“Maureen,” I said, and turned away to look out the window again. I could feel him looking at me, but then he pulled a paperback book out of his pocket and began to read.

After a while, I thought I might tackle Ulysses again, and took it out of the seat pocket.

 

And no more turn aside and brood
            upon love’s bitter mystery

 

“Reading Joyce?” Jack said, then before I could answer, he spoke again. “And don’t tell me No, I bought it as a doorstop.” He was grinning again.

“I wouldn’t say anything that dumb,” I said.

“I believe it,” he said. He lifted his eyebrows. “So, what do you think of it?”

“I’m only on page nine,” I said.

“And?”

God, he wasn’t going to leave me alone.

I decided to throw him a crumb. “Dedalus is a moody bastard, and his friend is an idiot.”

“Excellent!” Jack said, laughing. “You’ve got to be Irish, right? That’s so fucking dead-on.”

I tried not to show my shock at hearing him use the f-word, not that I’d never heard it before, but he just used it so casually, like other people would say “damn” or “hell.”

“No shit, Sherlock,” I said. “Let’s see, red hair and freckles, Irish name. Not too hard to guess that one. And you’re…what?” I drew back a little and pretended to look him up and down. “I’ll bet you’re from California, maybe even”—I glanced at the book in his hand—“San Francisco?”

“All right,” he said. He looked impressed. “My beard give me away?”

His eyes were really blue, dark turquoise, with dark lashes Annie would’ve killed for.

“Lucky guess,” I said. Then I laughed. “No, it’s the book.”

“Ferlinghetti. You know Ferlinghetti?” he said. Now he was really impressed.

“Yeah. He’s my uncle,” I said.

“Seriously?” He almost looked like he believed me.

“What’re you, nuts?” I said. Then I smiled at him; I didn’t want him to think I was mean.

“Hey,” I said, “we have books in Corvallis.”

“That where you’re from?” he said.

I laughed. “You really are a master of the obvious,” I said.

“Why are you going to Portland?” he said.

“None of your business,” I said. “Why are you?”

He looked serious then; he had a really transparent face. “My da’s sick,” he said. “My mom needs help with the dairy.”

I felt bad, and I let my face show it.

“My mom’s sick,” I said. “I’m going to look for my dad in Portland, he’s been gone ten years and I thought…maybe…” I had to stop, because I really didn’t know how to finish that sentence.

“Jesus,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

We talked off and on for the rest of the trip; he got off at a bus station on the outskirts of Portland, and as I waved at him from the bus, I saw a car pull up with a woman driving it who was smiling and waving to him to get in.

I looked at the scrap of paper he’d given me with his name and address in San Francisco, for when he’d be back there. I tucked it into Ulysses, and turned back to the window. It was beginning to rain lightly.

 

* * *

 I got to the YWCA just before two o’clock. The woman at the desk didn’t look very interested in being there.

“Just one night?” she said. She almost didn’t bother to look up.

“Yeah,” I said. “That okay with you?”

She smiled a little and crinkled her eyes up at me. “Don’t get all huffy,” she said, and laughed, which made me laugh too.

“Number three-o-five,” she said, handing me a key. “That’ll be three dollars. Bathroom is at the end of the hall.” She waved a hand to her right. “Take the elevator, it’s working today.” She gave me the once-over as I got the money out of my wallet.

“Looking for work?” she said.

“Not really,” I said.

She shrugged. “Just asking. My brother runs a diner, always looking for a good waitress.”

“Jesus,” I said, then remembered where I was. “Sorry. I didn’t think it showed.”

“I got an eye,” said the woman.

“You should be a detective,” I said, which made her laugh again.

The room was small and clean. The single window looked out onto a park, which was nicer than I’d expected. I put my overnight bag on the bed, and dragged the chair over to the window to sit down and look out.

Okay, now what? My stomach was tight, and started up growling right away. I should get some lunch; whatever I was going to do would be easier on a full stomach. I looked out the window at the park. It was still raining lightly, misting really, the persistent pale drizzle of Oregon in winter. Through the bare branches of the trees I saw a couple of mothers with babies in buggies, and an old man walking an old dog, by the way they both slowly picked their way through the leaves. A car horn squawked. A flock of pigeons flew up from the park and past my window; I could hear the whirr of their wings.

I thought about Jack, and Ferlinghetti’s poems, and James Joyce—it already seemed like that happened years ago. I’d given him my phone number, but I knew he’d never call.

I found a drugstore with a lunch counter, and ordered a grilled cheese with french fries and a Coke. I ate it mechanically, my mind racing about what I would do when I finally saw my dad. Then I remembered I was going to the detective agency first; it was on the way anyway. I could think about what I was going to say afterwards.

It was easy to find the Failing Building—what a name—it was the tallest building on the block. I took the elevator to the second floor and opened the door to Suite 203. The woman at the desk was youngish, brown hair, brown eyes, dark tailored dress—she looked me up and down. She was sharp.

“May I help you?” she said. Her voice was low and pleasant.

“I’m a—a client of Mr. Singer,” I said. “Is he in?”

“Mr. Singer is not in at the present time,” the woman said. She tried to hide it, but I caught a whiff of disdain in her voice. Mr. Singer was probably at the bar, I thought, racking up more “expenses.”

“Oh,” I said. I looked at her steadily now—I’ll bet she knew as much as he did about his investigations—like in the movies, The Maltese Falcon and all—the secretary was usually just as smart as the detective, and sometimes more so.

“I’m Maureen Flanagan,” I said. “I got this report from Mr. Singer a few days ago, and I had some questions.” I took the envelope out of my bag and started to hand it to her.

“I am familiar with that case,” she said. “I can probably answer your questions.” Better than he can hung in the air, unspoken.

“Please sit down, Miss Flanagan,” she said, motioning to a chair next to her desk.

I sat down, the envelope on my lap.

“My name is Amy Quince,” she said. “As I recall, you had asked us”—I didn’t miss that “us”—“to find your father, Michael Flanagan.”

I nodded.

“And we found him,” she said. “So what else do you want to know?”

I just stared at her. What else did I want to know—that is, that she could be expected to tell me? Why he left his family ten years ago? Why he never called or wrote? Or why he was living with another woman and a kid who was probably his kid? My parents had never gotten divorced, as far as I knew, but had he married someone else?

I felt pretty stupid, sitting there with my mouth half-open, saying nothing.

“Miss Flanagan,” the woman said, leaning forward a little.“Let me give you some advice. In this business, we see a lot of this sort of thing—people trying to find people who’ve gone out of their lives, trying to find answers to questions that nobody says out loud but everyone is always thinking—and you’ve got to ask yourself, do you really need to know the answers?” She looked at me quite straight for a long minute. “I know you want the answers, but what good will they do you?” She leaned back and waited.

“I—my mom is sick,” I said. “She’s dying.” I felt a wildness clutching at my chest, rising up in my throat, but I fought back. Not going to cry. “I want my dad to know.”

A flicker of emotion crossed Miss Quince’s face, and her lips tightened.

“You want to make him feel bad,” she said. It was a statement, not a question.

I thought about this. Is that what I wanted? Maybe.

“I want him to know,” I said again. “He can decide how he feels about it.”

Miss Quince looked like she appreciated that.

“Okay,” she said. She looked like she was thinking something over. “There really isn’t any more information about him than what I put in the report,” she said finally. “But here’s another free piece of advice—things aren’t always what they seem.”

I looked at her, waiting for more but she didn’t say anything else, so I stood up.

“Thanks,” I said. I turned to go out the door, and remembered the money I still owed Mr. Singer. I looked back.

“The letter said there were some expenses owed,” I said. “Five dollars and change.”

Miss Quince shook her head. “Forget it,” she said. “He’ll never know.”

“Thanks,” I said.

 

***

 It was now almost three-thirty. What if I got there and he was on a break? Or what if he didn’t come to work today, was sick or something? Nice planning, Maureen. Jesus.

I could see the sign painted on the side of the building from two blocks away: Shiller Piano Company. The rain had let up and it almost looked like you might see a few rays before the sun completely disappeared behind the hills. It was dark, though, on this street; most of the buildings were three stories or so, mostly warehouses and factories.

At the top of a very short set of wooden steps, a single door with a faded shade pulled down over the window seemed to be the only entrance to the piano factory. I tried the handle; it turned and I opened the door. It was hardly lighter inside than it had been on the sidewalk. A narrow hallway led to another door, this one with a much larger pane of glass, showing an office inside, much better lighted. I tapped lightly on the glass, and opened the door.

An old man sat at a large wooden roll-top desk on one side of the room. He was dressed in a suit and tie; his thinning hair was carefully combed over the top of his balding head. The office itself was neat and organized-looking; a row of wooden filing cabinets stood against the other wall, and a small but tidy stack of papers was the only thing on the old man’s desk other than some pens and pencils. Another, smaller desk, just as neat, stood in the far corner.

“Good afternoon, Miss,” he said, getting up from the desk and coming over to greet me. His German accent was fairly thick. “I am Mr. Rudolph Shiller. How do you do?”

I shook his hand. “Fine, thank you,” I said. “I am Maureen Flanagan.”

His dark eyes brightened. “Mr. Michael Flanagan’s daughter? Then you are very welcome here,” he said, and turned to show me a chair. “Please, sit down,” he said.

I didn’t know what to say. How could he know who I was? This was weird. I guess he noticed the look on my face.

“Please do not be alarmed, fraulein,” he said. “I could see the…how is it said, the resemblance right away, to your father, and then, he has pictures of you, you see, on his desk.”

He pointed to the smaller desk in the corner, and walking over, he picked up one of several framed photographs and brought it to me. It was a picture of me taken maybe three years ago judging by the dress I was wearing—my junior prom dress of course, and there was that loony Billy Martin who was my date.

“I—I don’t understand,” I started to say.

He looked at me and sighed. I handed back the photograph and he put it on my dad’s desk.

“I will go get your father,” he said, and started toward the door. Then he turned back. “He loves you very, very much, my dear, this you should know.” And he left the office.

Jesus.

I heard footsteps slowly approaching the office, and my stomach tightened even more. I could hardly breathe. I saw him through the glass before he came in—he was wearing a suit and tie, like Mr. Shiller, and it made him look, I don’t know, important or something. His hair, as red as mine, was cut pretty short but looked good. That was all I had time to notice before he walked into the room and looked at me.

I felt like I was nine years old again, and I just wanted to throw myself into his arms and have him hold me tight like he used to do, then he’d tickle me and tease me until we both laughed ourselves out. But I was frozen in the chair, and could only look at him.

“Maureen,” he said, stopping just inside the door.

“Dad,” I said.

“Jesus, but you’re all grown up now,” he said. I could see his cheek muscles working—God, if he was going to cry, that would be the end of it for me, too.

“Took me ten years and no thanks to you,” I said, trying to breathe.

“Kept your smart mouth, I see,” he said.

“Learned it from the master, don’t you know,” I said.

“Ah, girl,” he said, and he walked over to me and put his arms around me, kissed the top of my head. I resisted hugging him back.

And then I stepped away. I wasn’t going to let him off that easy. I sat down again, and looked at him until he got the message. He pulled the chair from behind his desk and sat down facing me. I opened my mouth to talk but he beat me to it.

“Is your mother worse then?” he said.

“You know about her?” I said.

He shrugged and nodded his head, looking down. “I keep in touch with Mr. Boyd.”

“Mr. Boyd!” I said. “Our neighbor?”

“Yeah, sure and you remember him, don’t you, lass? Old guy lives next door?” he said.

“Don’t be funny now,” I said.

He settled down, looked contrite.

“Did you think I wouldn’t be interested in you, all these years?” he said then. He gestured to his desk, and picked up another of the photographs to show me—me and Sam, about five years before. “Your mother may have thrown me out, but I’m still your da, and I love you both.”

I thought of the woman and boy he lived with, and it made his words sound false.

“What about your new wife, and your new son, up here in Portland?” I said.

He looked completely bewildered. Aha, I thought, now I’ve got you.

Then his face cleared. “You mean Mary, I suppose, and James?” He shook his head. “Someone’s been pulling your leg, lass. Mary is my sister—James is your little cousin, you daft thing.”

I stared at him with my mouth open. “You mean, your sister who lives in New Jersey?”

Lived in Jersey, yes, but her man died some years back and there was no going back to Ireland for her, so she came out here to be with her only brother, don’t you see?”

He stood up and began to pace. “Jesus, girl, what tales your mother must have filled your head with, to make you think your old man was some kind of…I don’t know what.”

“She never did,” I said. “She hardly ever mentioned you.”

He looked hurt, and turned his head away.

“Why did you leave us?” I said.

He looked at me sharp, as if considering. “Maureen, I’m guessing you’re old enough now to know how it is between men and women, and how it isn’t always a bed of roses, eh?”

I nodded, and he went on pacing and talking.

“Your ma and I were drawn to each other like iron to a magnet, but there were always troubles. Was as if we became allergic to each other, you know? Got to be we could hardly be in the same room without sparrin’ and fightin’, and take to throwin’ things around.” He glanced at me. “I know you remember those last days,” he said. He looked sad.

I nodded again. Somehow, that didn’t seem like enough.

He turned away, and said in a very low voice, “And I’m that ashamed to say, there was some cheating going on…”

I knew it. Jesus.

“So she told me to leave, and I did,” he said. “It near killed me to leave you and Sam, but I knew she’d be a good mother to you, and she wasn’t so proud that she rejected money from me, thank Jesus, so I was sure of you havin’ what you needed.”

He paused to take a deep breath.

“But why did you never write to me, or call me—us?” I said. “If you’re so interested in us, how come you kept away?” I could taste the bitter in my mouth as I said it.

He sighed, and sat down.

“Your ma was that angry,” he said. “She got a judge to say I had to stay away, and not contact her or you, or Sam, until you were eighteen.”

I scowled at him. “I turned eighteen last year,” I said.

“Don’t I know that?” he said. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to, ah, talk to you or—” He looked at me, forlorn. “Didn’t I think you might be doing better without me, then?”

“No!” I jumped up from my chair. “How could you think that? I missed you, damn it, Dad! I missed you! And especially now, when she’s so sick—” I stopped to take a deep breath. “She’s dying, you know.”

Tears started in his eyes.

“Whatever you need from me—whatever she needs from me, anytime—you just tell me, lass, and you’ll have it.” He paused, then added softly, “I would be at her side in a minute if she wanted me.”

I stood looking at him for what seemed forever, trying to make sense of what I’d heard—almost everything I’d thought was wrong—everything was turned upside-down—and everything hurt.

I started to cry.

“Ah, Maureen, love,” my dad said, and stood up to hold me tight.

 

* * *

At noon the next day I was on the bus to Corvallis. Everything we’d talked about was rolling through my mind endlessly. He’d asked me to come meet my aunt and cousin, but I couldn’t do it, not this time. Another day, I told him. There was too much to think about with just him, I couldn’t bear to meet anyone new, even family. He walked me back to the YWCA and we didn’t say much on the way, but I think we were getting used to each other.

Will you tell your ma about all this? he’d asked me. I didn’t know for sure. I had to think about it. Will you tell me if I can come home to see her? I told him I would.

I hardly noticed the passing landscape through the rain on the windows as the bus meandered back down Highway 99. At one point I found myself thinking about Jack—like something out of a book I maybe read once, not real. But I kept coming back to my dad, and what I was going to say to my mom when I got home. I almost laughed—it was like the opposite of yesterday, going up to Portland. Jesus.

My mom was good when I got home, actually sitting on the sofa downstairs, all wrapped up in her robe and blankets, but she’d felt better enough to get out of bed for a while. The visiting nurse was a hearty woman, stubborn but kind, Polish I think, and she bullied my mom in a good-natured way to get her to do things.

The nurse went away, and then it was just me and my mom, drinking tea and eating some cookies Mr. Boyd had brought over that morning. I thought about him in a whole new way, now, as I did so many things.

“You got a phone call this morning, Maureen,” my mom said, a funny look on her face.

Shit! I thought. Annie forgot and called me after all. I tried to look all innocent.

“Oh yeah?” I said. “Who was it?”

“Somebody named Jack,” she said. She raised an eyebrow at me, trying not to smile.

I can’t deny it—my heart actually bounced.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Nice guy I met on the bus.”

“He left his number,” she said. “I wrote it down on the pad. But he said he’d call again.”

“Okay,” I said.

We sipped our tea in silence for a few minutes. She looked at me through narrowed eyes.

“Maureen,” she said. “You don’t want to be growing up too fast.”

I looked at her and loved her. Too late for that, I thought.

“Mom,” I said. “We’ve got some things to talk about.”








Books by Mary F. BurnsJ-The Woman Who Wrote the BiblePortraits of an ArtistWest Portal MysteriesShort StoriesWorks in ProgressAbout the AuthorContact MeSomewhere West of Eden