In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I would introduce you to a mother with whom I’ve been spending a lot of happy hours over the last eleven months or so. This is chapter two of a novel in progress – and yes, it has witches in it. I’m as surprised as you are. Welcome to the world of Leilani Deacon, who puts the “hell” back in “helicopter parent” but has a sweet, vulnerable side sometimes too – though not so much in this chapter. I hope you enjoy it. Feedback is welcome – especially the kind that includes copious amounts of praise.
“Drop me off at the shop,” Leilani said, after almost an hour of silence.
“Wouldn’t you like a massage?” Dale asked. “I can set the table up at home.”
“You are a dear, dear man,” Leilani said, “and I mean that. As your wife, I would hate to see my temper, which I don’t think I have to tell you is on red alert at the moment, interfere with your chance to live a long, happy, pain-free life. Do you understand what I am saying to you?”
“I do,” Dale said, and they caught each other’s eyes for just a moment and smiled. Years ago when Dale was sealed to Leilani in the ancient ceremony, his mother had been almost grief-stricken that she hadn’t been able to wear a new dress and see her dear son get married in that modern ceremony with the flower petals and the white dress – as if Leilani had been a virgin! – and the part where they had to shove cake into each other’s faces while everyone took pictures. They had worked quickly, planned a real modern American wedding, with bacon-wrapped scallops, bridesmaids – her friends Betsy and Aurora had never let her hear the end of that – and pink ribbons marking off certain pews in the silly Congregationalist church for some reason Leilani failed to understand. Dale liked to send Leilani quiet reminders of that day – which she had enjoyed more than she let on – in the form of an ‘I do’ here and there, a fistful of rice tossed in her direction if she entered the kitchen while he was cooking, bacon-wrapped scallops and bland white cake for dinner each year on their anniversary. Once a month or so, when he was unplaiting and brushing out her hair in the mornings, he wordlessly deviated from the usual plan of wrapping her hair into a ballerina bun and began sweeping it into the updo her friend Betsy had engineered on their wedding day, now almost thirty years ago. Most times she caught on and reached back to smack his hand, but once a year or so her mind was a mile away, and she failed to notice what he was doing until he spun her chair around and passed her the hand mirror that would allow her to inspect the back of her head. On these mornings she shot him a nasty look but always grudgingly admitted that the updo was in fact beautiful, sniffing petulantly all day long when she saw her reflection in the mirror but also boasting to her clients, “Yes, my sweet Dale is the genius behind this coiffure. I quite love it, don’t you?”
“Do you want me to come in?” Dale asked when he pulled up to the curb in front of Ladies’ Day, the salon and day spa that Leilani had owned and operated ever since she took it over from Dale’s mother when she was still in her twenties.
“No, love,” Leilani said. “I want you to go home. Get a fire started, and brew some tea, will you?”
“Call me if you want me to pick you up, okay?”
It was only once she was alone in her shop that Leilani could admit to herself that she had no plan. She had money, she had beauty, she had power, she had magic – but she did not have a plan. Locking the front door of the shop behind her, she opened the supply closet, and then she moved aside two cardboard boxes of newly-printed brochures and opened the door to the shop’s office, which was painted to match the rest of the supply closet and was therefore almost completely camouflaged.
Dale’s desk was neat as a pin as usual: pens and pencils in a plain white coffee mug, desk calendar open to the month of June, laptop computer closed and set off to one side, stenographer’s notebook with two rubber bands around it resting on top of the laptop, index card file full of clients’ contact information set squarely beside the base of the desk lamp. Leilani worshipped order, but today not even the sight and smell of pencil shavings and rubber bands had the power to calm her.
On the side wall of the office was another door. This one led to a stairway heading down. Leilani unlocked the door by pressing the tips of all five fingers on her right hand on the door while turning the knob with her left. The door clicked itself shut behind her.
Dale knew that Leilani’s private office lay below his own, of course, but since she rarely invited him to descend the stairs with her, he had only entered her office once or twice, early in their marriage, when it was necessary to christen every room. The children had no idea their mother had a separate office. The door leading to the stairway was enchanted, invisible to anyone who hadn’t been invited to see it. Matilda’s powers were advanced enough that she ought to be able to bypass her mother’s charm if she tried, but like all children she was so, so literal. She could stare straight at a door protected with a basic access charm – the kind Matilda could have cast without assistance by the time she was ten – and see nothing but a blank wall.
One whole wall of Leilani’s office was covered with rows of shallow shelves. These shelves were tightly packed with tiny glass jars and vials: hair and nails of every client Leilani had served since she had opened her shop twenty-five years ago. A few dozen or so of these clients were now deceased: these individuals’ clippings were grouped together on the bottom shelf and were clearly marked with yellow stickers. Leilani was less likely to need the clippings of a deceased client than the clippings of a living one, but the magic she could perform with these materials was more dangerous and more subtle.
It was stuffy in the underground chamber. Leilani switched on the air conditioner and pulled off her gauzy blue tunic, standing before the rows of supplies in her light pink camisole. She released her hair from its bun and let it fall free over her shoulders. She kicked off her sandals and walked in small circles on the thick red rug. She turned the A/C up to its maximum setting, then threw her head back and let out a scream: a physical scream, a scream that felt it was acting upon her soul instead of emerging from her mouth.
At home, Dale brewed tea, sorted the mail, unloaded the dishwasher, and ran a dustcloth over the furniture on the first floor – he had skimped on his daily cleaning that morning in the rush to get to the graduation on time. He was exhausted: family strife scared him. He took off his shoes sank back on the sofa. Three hours later he woke with a start, squinting at the setting sun, which bombarded him from the living room window, and looked at his watch. Seven o’clock. He and Leilani had planned on Chinese takeout that evening, but under the circumstances it occurred to him that he ought to cook something. He opened the refrigerator and scanned the shelves: fresh ravioli, leftover chicken, eggplant he could slice, fry, and drown in tomato sauce and cheese. Or, he thought, he could head to the market for salmon, for wine, for chocolate ice cream and fresh cherries. His car keys were on their hook inside the door. The market was his best bet: Leilani would not be in the mood for leftovers or pasta. He saw the keys but could not bring himself to touch them. The act of extending his arm triggered the full-body sweats, the throbbing in his head that wasn’t painful now but soon would be if he persisted: the familiar tug of Leilani’s obedience charm. He knew Leilani would enjoy salmon, but the fact was that she hadn’t ordered it. They had planned on takeout, and any movement he made in the direction of anything besides takeout gave the invisible air of the inside of the house the solidity of a brick – no, not the solidity of a brick wall. The solidity of sheetrock, the solidity of a canvas tarp, the solidity of a plate glass window. Dale had always suspected that he could break through the charm’s restraints if he really wanted to. It was the accompanying panic – his body’s clammy recognition that without Leilani’s guidance he would be entirely alone – that held him back. He had always known that.
He settled back onto the couch, cordless phone and Chinese takeout menu in hand. He called and ordered spareribs, steamed dumplings, fried rice, and broccoli beef. If she came home soon, they would eat together. If not, he would save her a plate and reheat it in a warm oven. He turned on the TV, bypassing Roseanne and the news before settling on a baseball game: Yankees vs. A’s. Dale had no opinion of either team, but he liked the slowness of the game. He felt his blood pressure drop as he watched the coach confer with the pitcher, the players in the dugout sitting spread-leggedly, their elbows on their dirt-stained knees.
The food came; Dale ate only a few bites. He fell asleep on the couch again and woke up in total darkness. He switched off the TV, noting that the glowing white numerals on the DVD player indicated that it was almost eleven. He moved the leftovers to the fridge. His eye caught the cordless phone, still on the coffee table beside the takeout menu, and considered whether to call the shop and check on Leilani. Calling the shop wasn’t forbidden; he did it often. But his arm felt a deep repulsion toward the phone, and he almost retched when he picked it up just long enough to replace it in its cradle.
Dale stripped down to boxers, brushed his teeth, and pulled back the covers on the bed. In spite of his nap, he fell asleep quickly. He dreamed of a fire that spoke with Leilani’s voice.
Leilani connected telepathically with her aunt Malee. Malee had been her guide to witchcraft when Leilani was a girl, and she had hoped Malee could serve Matilda in the same way. But now Leilani suspected that she was in need of powerful magic beyond anything she had ever attempted before, and it was just as well that there was no connection yet between Malee and Matilda.
“Darling, you have got to calm down,” Malee’s voice vibrated somewhere inside Leilani’s inner ear. “It is the dead of the night here, as you would know if you ever – ”
“I’m sorry, Aunt Malee,” Leilani said, her fingers rotating a small round vial that contained her daughter’s hair. “I wouldn’t have woken you if I’d had any choice about – ”
“Well, what is it then? Get to the point. You pulled me out of deep sleep; if we’re lucky I’ll have access to the powers of the dreamscape, if only from a distance. Not that I want to encourage you to call me at this hour whenever you have the urge to blight some small-town busybody with a plague of boils.”
“I would never ask for your help with something like – ”
“Hurt your feelings, did I?”
“Yes, you did, Aunt Malee, and as soon as we’ve finished my business tonight I want to know what is going on with you to make you so sharp. You never used to be like this.”
“Oh, darling. You’re right. Nothing’s happened, love. I just – well, I’m just so tired.”
“Aren’t you sleeping?”
“I am sleeping. I’m sleeping ten hours a night, sometimes twelve.”
“Are you depressed? Where’s Georg in all this?”
“Georg – bless him – is keeping our entire life afloat. I’ll never be able to repay him for everything he’s done. And how would I know if I’m depressed? Can I even be depressed? I think that only happens in America.”
“Nonsense, Malee – people are the same every – ”
“I seem to remember that a certain witch had a question.”
“Yes, Malee, of course. But we will be coming back to your health. I don’t like what I’m hearing from you one bit.”
Malee made a disgruntled noise that sounded like a bee buzzing inside Leilani’s skull. “I’m waiting, darling.”
Leilani let out a long intentional sigh. She wanted this kind of stubbornness, she reminded herself. She wanted more than advice, more than just a guide: she wanted a dictator. If she had wanted a supportive ear, she could have turned on Oprah.
“Aunt Malee, here’s what happened,” she said. “Today was Matilda’s graduation. It was also the day that Max has known since he was practically an infant that he would be starting his apprenticeship in the shop. Oh, dear God – the two of them, Matilda and Max – they are just awful. They’ve been plotting all of this – plotting against me for years.”
“Start at the beginning, Leilani,” said Malee in a voice that had softened – a voice that now contained more love and less self.
Leilani started at the beginning. When the tears started falling she snapped her fingers and a tissue box appeared. Her bird Roscoe, who had been sleeping under the cloth that covered his cage, woke up and begin to hoot softly. She uncovered his cage and let him perch on her finger. When she was finished, she said, “I think I need to do the thing. You know, the thing you did – when Georg was – you know.”
“Leilani,” Malee said after a pause. “First of all, you will stop kissing that bird on the lips. Stop it right now. Just because he’s your familiar doesn’t mean he doesn’t carry psittacosis.”
Leilani backed reluctantly away from Roscoe. “You’re right – I’ll stop. I’ve stopped.” Leilani was chastened now – her story out, her tears shed. She trembled like a spent runner.
“Second of all, you are asking for my help with something very complicated. I can’t even say whether I would do it again, if I had the chance.”
“But you just said – ”
“I just said what?”
“You just said that Georg – that he’s recommitted himself to you, that you would never be able to repay him for everything he’s doing for you.”
“I did not say ‘recommitted.’ Don’t put words in my mouth, Leilani, or this conversation is over.”
“Well, what then? What has he done if not recommitted himself to you?”
Malee paused. “He has redeemed himself. He has earned my forgiveness. But what you are trying to do is entirely different.”
“Different? No!” Leilani said. “I’m asking for your help with the splitting spell. You’re the only witch I know who has made it work without – without side effects.”
“Leilani. I performed the splitting spell in order to supervise a man who committed himself to me of his own free will. No one forced him to join me in the ancient ceremony – no one forced him to accept my obedience charms. Every year on our anniversary, he was free, and every year he bowed before me and willingly renewed the charm. When his – when his aberration occurred, his infidelity if you must – he was in rebellion against me, yes, but also in rebellion against himself. He was breaking a vow that he himself had taken of his free will. He was distracted, he was weak – but he wanted to be bound to me.”
“Yes, yes – I get it. But this is the same thing I want. My children have broken away and I – ”
“Listen to yourself. Your children are not bound to you. You bore them, you gave them life as a gift – they don’t owe you – ”
“Max knew. He knew what my expectations were. He wanted his freedom when he graduated from high school. I let him go to college, I let him go to Europe, to Africa. I bought him books, a computer. He knew the price of all these privileges was his obedience to me – he promised me he would accept the charm once he and Matilda had graduated from college.”
“Sweetheart. Leilani. How is it that I have to tell you this? Your children are free. It’s how it works. If you wanted him to abide rigidly by our customs, you never should have left home, never should have gone to America. You gave birth to American citizens, my love. What did you think was going to happen?”
Leilani was silent for a moment. “Are you telling me it can’t be done?”
“No, I’m not telling you it can’t be done. I’m telling you I don’t think you should try it.”
“And if I decide to do it anyway? Will you help me?”
Now Malee paused for a long moment. “Of course,” she said, finally. “I’ll always help you. You know that.”
Leilani’s eyes, which only moments ago had dried, started to tear again. “Aunt Malee. Thank you. I’m sorry that I have to ask you this. I promise I won’t do anything terrible to my children. I do love them, even after all – all this. I just want to be there. I just want to oversee – to be there. They’re my whole life.”
“I know, sweet girl. You are a woman of passions – I know that. But I want you to remember that you made those children. They came from you. If you insist on fighting them, you need to know that you’re up against your equals. And they’re young – they’re young and stupid and impulsive and they can fight dirty as well as you can.”
“You forgot one thing,” Leilani said, sniffing back a rivulet of snot. “There are two of them. That’s why I need you.”
Malee’s wry chuckle tickled Leilani’s the stirrup bone. “You’re sure about this? Are you sure you don’t want to sleep on it?”
“I’m sure,” Leilani said, stifling another sniff.
“In that case, take out a handkerchief and capture some of that snot. As much of it as you can blow out. And you’ll need tears too. What have been using to wipe those tears?”
“My sleeve, mostly.”
“What’s the sleeve made of? Natural fibers or synthetic?”
“It’s cashmere,” Leilani said.
“Fine. I hope you’re not attached to it. Toss the sweater in the cauldron, and while you’re at it send a thank-you letter to your mother for passing along such impeccable tastes. These days almost everyone is walking around in synthetics.”
Leilani laughed at this. The laugh triggered another flood of tears and snot.
“You’re going to have to give me some time,” Malee said. “It appears I’m awake for the day, so I’m going to have to take a cup of tea and gather my thoughts. I want to review the notes in my grimoire, and I’ll need a ritual bath. You should take one too.”
“I’m at the shop,” Leilani said. “I have all the herbs here – can I just anoint instead of taking the full bath?”
“You really are playing with fire, aren’t you?” Malee asked. “When was the last time you took the ritual bath?”
“Two nights ago. I took it in preparation for a certain obedience charm I thought I’d be administering.”
“Two nights is probably all right,” Malee said, “especially since you never actually administered the charm. Are you feeling tired at all?”
“Do I sound tired? I couldn’t sleep if I tried. My powers are potent tonight, Malee, bath or no bath.”
“Fine then,” Malee said. “Anoint yourself – on all the chakras, please. Brew a tea of mugwort and meadowsweet, and drink it down hot. If you don’t finish it before the steam stops rising, it will be – ”
“Useless. Yes, I know.”
“And then I want you to sit down and meditate on what you’re about to do. Turn out the lights. Activate your third eye. Don’t think. Focus your powers and energy on what you’re about to do, and open your mind up to guidance. If you feel any doubts, don’t push them away. Keep them there. Figure out what they mean. I’ll check in from time to time to make sure you’re on task, and I’ll let you know when we’re ready to go. And one more thing – Leilani,” her voice suddenly sharp. “Are you menstruating?”
“No,” Leilani said.
“It would be better if you were menstruating. Can you wait?”
“No, Aunt Malee – I told you – ”
“Are you at least not ovulating? You should not perform this spell if you are ovulating, Leilani – I don’t care how badly you want to?”
“Ovulating?” Leilani said, coyly. “Have you forgotten that I am a fifty year-old woman, Malee? I’m not ovulating any more than I’m – ”
Malee cut Leilani off with an anvil-shattering snort in Leilani’s inner ear. “Do you think I’m forgetting the last spell I helped you perform? I may be old but I’m not senile yet, darling.”
“Thank you so much, Aunt Malee.”
“Don’t thank me. A decade from now, two decades from now, if you still feel like thanking me, I’ll accept gracefully. Tonight there’s too much that’s uncertain. Neither of us has any idea what the consequences of this spell will be. But you do have my love – my love and my energy, however small my current supply may be.”
“I love you too, Aunt Malee.” Leilani felt the tears beginning to fall again and reached for the cashmere sweater. When she was finished she set the sweater in the cauldron and headed to her herb closet for the ingredients for her tea: mugwort, meadowsweet, and a sliver of garlic, which Aunt Malee hadn’t ordered but which Leilani knew she would need for its power to stimulate boldness and courage. She prepared lavender oil for the anointing and set it to heat over the electric burner. Then she settled into her meditation corner, her legs crossed and her back pressed against the wall. Clearing her mind was not one of Leilani’s greatest strengths, but she had spent two years in her youth studying meditation – on her mother’s orders, with the intention of curbing Leilani’s ego – in an Indian ashram and had become quite good at feigning mindfulness. She settled into her lotus position and her Buddha face, defying even Malee’s telepathy to cry fraud.
Malee returned an hour later and guided Leilani through the energies she needed to channel in order to perform the spell well. The meditation and the ritual anointing and the tea had bolstered Leilani’s confidence and energy, and she managed to block Malee from the part of her mind that was adding extra ingredients to the cauldron: one baby tooth from each of her children, hair and nail clippings, a sliver from each dried umbilical cord. It wasn’t enough to split the house, the shop, herself, and Dale three ways and plant one duplicate in San Francisco and the other in Beaufort, South Carolina – though that alone was a daunting enough task for a single middle-aged witch, Leilani admitted to herself. On top of that, she had to perform the spell in such a way that each of the children was bound as tightly to each duplicate of the house as they were to the original. She had to keep them coming back at least once a month so she could renew the binding charms – how exactly that would work with Matilda in some godforsaken boot camp she wasn’t sure, but she would solve that problem when she got there.
Leilani began to feel Malee as a presence in her heart. She wasn’t sure how, but she was a baby again. She scanned the room with wide-eyed wonder, recognizing it vaguely but understanding nothing that she saw. The labels on her jars were made of meaningless curves and lines. She wanted to put the whole room in her mouth, but before she could reach for the jar of Max’s chicken pox scars she felt her intelligence changing – now she was a young girl and her defining emotion was envy, envy of everything around her, envy at the very fact that there were people in the world more powerful than she was, envy that everything she saw wasn’t automatically hers, envy that she felt herself in possession of so much power that she did not understand or control. It was a bursting feeling, and she paced in circles in front of her cauldron until she heard Malee’s soft voice in her head whispering, “Before you can cast a higher-order spell, you have to understand yourself – past, present, and future. Do you remember these feelings?”
“I do,” Leilani said.
“Where do they come from?”
Leilani felt herself sliding forward in time yet again. She felt her clitoris burst with pleasure, her nipples pucker under her camisole, her neck and limbs become longer, their sinews visible and faintly blue.
“They come from me,” Leilani whispered. After a quick pause, she whispered, “I still wish I could eat the world.”
Malee’s chuckle was affectionate, but her voice had a warning in it. “Every time you cast a higher-order spell, you inject a bit more of your essential self into the world. Your power will be out there, your energy. You won’t be able to call it back.”
“I know,” Leilani whispered – and she recognized that she had known this but had forgotten.
“What you are planning to do will change your family’s life forever, though there’s no way to foresee exactly how. Does your family need this? Do they need you to interfere with their lives?”
A tear trickled down the side of Leilani’s nose. She caught it with her tongue.
“Their lives – are mine,” Leilani said, knowing that she was speaking from the core of herself. The brief glimpses she’d had of her infant, child, and adolescent selves had shown her that this urge to hold and shape and structure her world was essential to who she was. When she was born, a wise woman had told her mother that she would grow up to work with her hands.
“Do they need this?” Malee repeated. “Will their lives be made better by your actions?”
“I need it,” Leilani said, fighting back the kind of sobs that if given the chance would render her unable to speak. “My life will be better. I need them.”
“That’s not the question I asked, Leilani,” Malee said, quietly stern.
“I know,” Leilani whispered. “But it’s the only answer I can give.”
Even in her inner ear, Leilani knew that Malee was nodding. “This is your last chance to choose a different path. You must enter into the splitting spell with full confidence. If you have doubts, we need to stop now.”
“I don’t have doubts,” Leilani whispered. “I never have doubts.”
“All right then,” Malee said. “Turn on the fire under your cauldron.”
Leilani obeyed. In her head she heard a voice – her own, not Aunt Malee’s – that said, “I am turning on the fire under my children.” She had never noticed that before, the similarity between the words.
“I’m stepping back now,” Malee said, her voice still calm and steady. “I’ll be with you as long as you need me, but the spell must be cast in your voice, the potion mixed with your hands. Do you have everything you need?”
“I do,” Leilani said.
“You have my love, Leilani,” Malee said quietly.
“I love you, Aunt Malee,” Leilani said.
There was no response. Leilani proceeded through the six steps of the spell. She had no need to read labels – it felt to her that the minute or so that she saw the room through her infant eyes had instilled in her a new ability to function without language. She smelled the ingredients in their jars, tasted them on the tip of her tongue, rubbed them between her fingers to measure their textures. Her movements were graceful. The edges of her vision clouded. The cauldron and the ingredients she was adding to it were the only items she could see.
The cauldron simmered, and Leilani capped the last jar and replaced it on its shelf. Malee had given her a spell to recite, but instinct told her to put the spell aside and speak from her heart instead. “Mother,” she said, letting her eyes rise to the ceiling, “I am still young. I have energy and power and dexterity. At the same time, my place is in the home. I love making people beautiful, with or without magic. I have a happy home – a home I’ve built around the obedience of my husband, the innocence of my children. Mother, I need this home split. I need to take care of my children. Split my home, split Ladies’ Day, split me and my husband. Give me power to give my children the care they need – here in Greenwich, Rhode Island, but also in San Francisco, California, also in Beaufort, South Carolina. My little girl – bless her, she needs me. She has no idea what she’s doing. My boy – my sweet, beautiful boy who thinks he wants freedom. They need me. They need Dale to model industry and obedience. Mother I am your servant – in your name I cast my spell – split my home, Mother – split my home and split my love!”
Leilani was sweating all over. She heard her own heartbeat, and the blood in her veins pulsed like a mighty river. She had barely stopped to breathe the whole time she was addressing the Earth Mother, and she certainly hadn’t stopped to acknowledge the twinge she felt on the left side of her abdomen, the twinge that meant she had in fact ovulated – two full days early – while she was casting the spell. She felt Malee watching her from a great distance and assumed she hadn’t detected the slight change in Leilani’s energy.
Power still moved through Leilani like an orgasm – an orgasm that vibrated in her clitoris and breasts but also in her brain, the emotional centers of her hippocampus bursting with love and pleasure and the joy of being powerful and right. Then it faded slowly, and she panted and fell to the ground. The last thing she felt the sensation of someone – Malee, she assumed – covering her gently with a blanket.
It wasn’t yet four in the morning when Dale woke to a full, alert attention. His senses were so sharp that he could almost see colors in the dark room. He smelled his wife’s underwear in the laundry bin, the chocolate stash in her bureau drawer, his own feet. He sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing his feet against the carpet. He rose without slippers and neglected to put on his robe. The cool morning air made the hair on his arm stand on end.
Dale was in the mood to read a book. This wasn’t something he felt like doing very often – his mind was usually occupied with a thousand tasks and details, and he had never understood the appeal of sitting still. Sometimes when he was sick in bed or when the family traveled by plane, he enjoyed the occasional novel by Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum or John Grisham.
He traveled through the house. None of the books on the shelves in the living room appealed to him: psychological thrillers, family sagas, old school yearbooks, the battered copy of Fear of Flying. He didn’t even stop to look over the titles in Leilani’s den. Instead, he headed toward Matilda’s room, where every novel she had ever studied in school and in college were alphabetized in a tall bookcase he himself had painted pink. As he studied the titles, another wave of alertness washed over him: he smelled the pink paint and the sachets in Matilda’s drawers. He was aware of his own spine, curved and steady inside him.
The Scarlet Letter – no thanks. The Good Earth. Romeo and Juliet. The Grapes of Wrath. Dale felt his own breathing. His breaths were longer than usual, his lung capacity greater than it had ever been.
After another minute of browsing, Dale found the book he hadn’t until just that minute known he was looking for. He pinched its thin spine and pulled it from the shelf. On the floor was the beanbag chair in which Matilda had always done her reading. He settled into it now, its faux leather surface creased and soft with age. He heard the electricity inside the walls, saw through Matilda’s east-facing window that the sky was fading from black to a faint orangish-blue. He stretched out in the chair, aware of the muscles in his feet. Then he opened Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and began to read.