1. In Which Our Heroine Learns a Terrible Truth

1. In Which Our Heroine Learns a Terrible Truth

It’s not that she forgot, but that she really wanted to forget and did her best to, so as eleven o’clock rolled around Erica went out of her way to find ways to get involved in her work, to find something that would sweep her up so completely that she would–whoops, would you believe it’s already twelve-thirty? I guess I missed my appointment! Oh well, I’ll reschedule for next year.

She tried cleaning out her inbox, but remembered too late that she’d already done that a few weeks ago when she was trying to forget about the dentist. So she called her mom, who was always exasperated about something Amelia was doing or had done or was talking about doing, but her mother was on her way to do “djoga” and couldn’t talk but would call her later to ask about her appointment, okay?

She went to the cafeteria but Marjorie wasn’t in on Tuesdays anymore and the lady who took her place didn’t speak any language Erica could fake so that was no use.

She reviewed Elizabeth’s vouchers but they were all in order, and Mr. Larson was going to be in meetings all morning. By about eleven-thirty she was getting desperate and decided to call Amelia directly. After all she had done for that little twerp over the years surely Amelia owed her at least this much, right?

“Ellie, what’s up?” her little sister said over the phone.

“Nothing, nothing,” Erica stammered. “Just…checking in. What are you up to?”

“I’m in the middle of class, dummy. Can I call you tonight?”

Shit. Now she probably would call tonight, and unload all of her craziness at a time of day that was entirely useless. And then her mother would call and insist that Erica repeat the entire conversation verbatim, and ask all sorts of speculative questions that nobody could answer except Amelia, and of course Amelia would never tell her mother those things. Where did we go wrong with that girl? she would finally ask.

So the evening was ruined, and it still wasn’t noon.

Continue reading “1. In Which Our Heroine Learns a Terrible Truth”

A Curiously Unremarkable Meeting on a Path During the War

A Curiously Unremarkable Meeting on a Path During the War

There was a path from her school to her neighborhood that led through a field between the town and the river. It was the most direct route but not much used. Everyone preferred to go through the town, even though meant walking past the checkpoints and the crumbled facades that had long ago stopped breaking hearts and were now just the way things were. The avenue went past the school and the park to the crossing which still bustled with shops and cafes in spite of it all. From there she could take a right turn and follow it straight to her neighborhood. If she continued, which she didn’t, she would reach the walled compound just beyond the edge of the city where official visitors stayed when they were allowed to visit.

Like everyone else, the girl followed the main roads through town, sometimes stopping to buy a sweet on her way to or from, but then one day she noticed a group of foreigners walking from the compound to the center by way of the path in the field, and she asked her mother about it. A path existed, or rather several paths, but even before the war they weren’t much used. Teenagers would go there to sit by the river and do the things that teenagers do when they aren’t being watched. The city would cut the grass down when it grew too tall, but only where the ground was level and there weren’t any nests or burrows. Closer to the river the ground would turn muddy but you couldn’t tell until you stepped in it. Of course, during the war there had been a fear that walking through the field would leave one exposed to opportunistic sniping. Now that the government controlled both sides of the river there was no more sniping to fear, and since the river was too deep to cross at that point nobody had ever bothered mining the field, so it was probably safe to use the path, except that nobody had cared for that field for year so now it was overgrown and unpleasant.

The girl saw the foreigners every morning trek through the field. There were three men and two women. One of the women was old, and one of the men was so enormously fat that the girl couldn’t believe her eyes. But the other woman was beautiful, with her shining hair tied back in a way that was both unfussy and elegant, and the other two men looked handsome in completely different ways: one lean and young with an appealing stubble of beard, and the other with salt-and-pepper hair and a square-jawed face that was dignified, warm, and finely aged. For whatever reason they didn’t take the armored cars that drove too fast down the main roads. Perhaps they appreciated the thirty minute walk from the compound to the municipal building where they would spend the whole day in meetings or whatever they did in there. She never saw them trek back but assumed that they walked back in the evening after she was already indoors.

The foreigners left after a week, and the next day when school let out instead of walking out onto the main street towards the crossing, the girl turned and headed towards the field, where she found the trailhead just beyond the garbage dump. There were no signs warning anyone to keep off, and although at least a dozen adults saw her go into the tall grasses nobody stopped her, and so she went in, and discovered that the path was clear to follow. It intersected another which took her back towards the neighborhood and deposited her right by her house. The whole trip took fifteen minutes, which was faster than going through town. It meant forgoing sweets, but that would save her a little money anyway.

Continue reading “A Curiously Unremarkable Meeting on a Path During the War”