Fiction from Web Del Sol


Excerpt from "Memories of Birth," a novel-in-progress

Diana Abu-Jaber

One day when she was in the eighth grade, Hindee noticed that there were no overhead lights in Mam's church; all the light came in beautiful mosaic through the stained glass, from flame-colored candles and from soft, discreetly placed spotlights. She began asking to be taken to church every Sunday. Alia, her mother, would frown at her and Mam as they pulled on white gloves, adjusted stiff hats with crinkling veils. She would pull Hindee aside, ask, "Why do you want to go? It's not our religion. You don't have to if you don't want."
      Or, in front of Mam, "You don't have to participate in any religion if you don't believe in it."
      Mam had been Alia's sponsor to the United States thirty five years ago. They weren't related: Mam was German-American, Alia Palestinian, but when Hindee was born, Mam simply became her grandmother.
      After mass, Mam and Hindee would bring back a big white box from Heinlin's Bakery, full of rolls and kuchen and doughnuts. But Alia was often away at the hospital when they returned. In the afternoon, Mam made roast beef at her house and Hindee helped peel carrots and potatoes and onions. Mam's sisters Lorna and Mary and their children would come over. Mam laid her china out on placemats of Niagera Falls. Sometimes Alia would be back by then, a glaze of fatigue over her skin, her voice muted. Mary would bring her a little sherry in a teacup and the younger children would sit by Alia, touch her arm or knee, and ask, "Did you meet any sad children today?"
      Alia would shake her head, take a sip of sherry, tell them, "No, no sad children, only happy ones."
      They would ask again and again, what did their toys look like? Their beds? Were their parents there? Did they sing songs?
      Hindee would stay in the kitchen--by then, oven-hot--and listen to the questions through the walls. She did not like to be reminded of these other children, sad children, that her mother, a pediatrician, spent all her time with. Yet Hindee was terrified that she too, inevitably, would become one of these sad children, and be sent away to the hospital. Then she would see her mother everyday, but only her eyes above a mask, her hands in white gloves.
      At dinner, then, they pass salad, mashed potatoes, the gravy boat, they say grace, knuckles tucked beneath their chins. And Hindee imagines that she is back in the church. Her glass is the chalice, her plate the silver server for the host. She imagines herself wafting like a spirit over the empty pews, smelling the wood, frankincense, palm leaves, wine. She eats and every bite is Christ's body. She is a priest, home at last, in the place she is meant to be.

In the spring of eighth grade, nearly all the kids in Hindee's class try out for teams while Hindee spends more time in church. She enters by the left, rear entrance, inhales deeply, and the air is buoyant, full of palms and grace. She sits and contemplates the Christ on his cross, all the saints in stained glass, the cool, blue-robed statue of the Virgin. During mass, she begins to kneel through entire segments, squeezing her eyes shut during the epiphany, and she feels tears rising hot and strange under her lids.
      One Sunday, as most of the congregation have returned up the aisles after receiving communion, Hindee suddenly stands and climbs around the people kneeling in her pew. She has not recieved any formal religious instruction or confirmation, no one has given her permission, yet she is irresistably drawn to the priest and altar boy with his tray.
      Then she is kneeling, eyes shut, hearing, "Body of Christ," replying, "Amen," opening her mouth, waiting to receive the world. The host is thin, dry, melting like butter, but in that fleeting moment, the priest's hand smells of fresh air and apples, bright surprise. She opens her eyes and looks at him just a beat too long, then turns and walks back.
      His name is Father Ferris and he serves mass Wednesday, Friday, and every other Sunday. Hindee begins skipping her Wednesday and Friday homeroom and Social Studies class to attend. She sits in the first pew and watches him progress through the mass, his face composed, even studious as he lifts the host and his black sleeves billow open, his singing voice bell-deep and round:
      "Let us proclaim the my-ster-y of faith."
      Hindee takes communion from him, each time discovering another part of his body: his red-scrubbed, apple-scented hands, his full lower lip, his soft brow, his eyes lifting to hers one day, clear through his tilted glasses, blue like the air of dreams, a blue space to fall through and swim.
      She has not been to confession since the one time, years ago, when Mam brought her in. But once Hindee has seen the pure colors in his eyes, she can not stop thinking of them, seeing them everywhere, and she feels she must speak to him, that he will understand her.
      She goes by herself and waits in a pew, but the other parishoners don't enter the small, black boothes she remembers, but a white door, simple and casual as the door to a bathroom. When it's Hindee's turn she is shaking; she has never actually spoken with Father Ferris before.
      The first thing she notices is the smell--new carpeting, flat and gravel-colored in a room of flat, dense light. There is a screened kneeler to one side, stark and solitary outside of its dark room, and next to this is a wide armchair that could have been take from someone's den. Father Ferris sits across from the chair; he looks blanched, washed out by the light. He gestures, "Take your pick."
      Hindee, feeling briefly as if she is choosing between heaven and hell--but which is which?--takes the armchair.
      "Now." He folds his hands in front of him and Hindee is reassured by the sight of his red knuckles. "What would you like to talk about?"
      "But. Is this where you confess?" she asks, then blushes so hotly she feels it in her knees and the backs of her hands.
      "It's been a while for you, hasn't it?" He laughs. "This is our modern interpretation of confession. It's more of a conversation, a dialogue with God. More natural than the old shameful sin cloaked in darkness version. And this way is more fun, too."
      Hindee looks up and sees that he is smiling at her--a wide, free grin that she had never seen during mass. She notices too in that moment that he has just a dime's width of space between his two front teeth, a sweet, dark sliver. Seeing this, she has a sudden, inexplicable sensation of falling, her breath racing, and she smiles back hard, gripped by a dreadful, unknowable love.
      Every confession after that--one, two, then three times a week--would go just the same. Hindee's mind dropping shut like a blind, her heart thrumming in her chest. Every time she would say, "I forget my sins."
      And Father Ferris would laugh and try to draw them out of her, even make suggestions. "Come on, you tormented some poor boy with those black eyelashes, didn't you?" Or, "You must sneak cigarettes outside school, right?" Or, "Tell me the wicked, wicked things you and your girlfriends talk about on the phone."
      After Hindee giggled and shook her head several times, he would relent and say, "All right. I know you teenagers never want to confess. You like to horde your sins. Well, I absolve you anyway. For penance you must eat two hundred Brussels sprouts."
      All summer, Hindee had trouble sleeping. She kept herself awake with the bell of Father Ferris' voice in her pillow. She smelled apple blossoms, dreamed the coarse texture of his hands, knew the shape, the deepening softness of what his mouth would be like against hers. She drew her hand over her thin body, so vibrant, alive to touch. She swam physically through her dark dreams, floating in the covers, her body an electric eel, all light and sensation. In dreams, she saw her fingers curling around the white collar and drawing it down like parting a curtain.
      All summer between eighth and ninth grade, Hindee followed the movement of Father Ferris' hands and face. She'd found out, once overhearing two cleaning ladies in the church rec room, that his first name was Luke, and she would whisper it to herself while he read from the scriptures.
      She began to imagine that he was looking at her: when the deacon read and Father Ferris sat back between Father Mulroney and Father Auerbach, she seemed to see his eyes slide to hers, the faintest ghost of a smile on his face. When she received communion, his eyes seemed to flicker; she held her breath then inhaled deeply. Once he touched her lips with his fingers and the host trembled as he set it on her tongue, melting before she closed her mouth.
      When he read from the Bible, he seemed to be reading to her alone. During his homilies, his voice expanded, he told the congregation not to focus on sin, punishment, or control, but on opening their hearts. "We must learn to love each other singularly and passionately," he said. And though the disks of his glasses tilted away from her, she felt every word as if he were whispering them in her ear, as if they rose from the surface of his skin like braille, pressed upon hers.
      One day, the parish was visited by a new priest, Father Collier, who insisted they call him Father Eddie. He roared into the church parking lot on a motorcycle, wearing sandals and a long, brown wool cassock tied with a rope. His hair moved along his shoulder blades and he had a beard. Hindee thought he looked like the fresh-faced portrait of Christ that Mam hung above her TV set.
      Father Eddie grinned at the congregation throughout the service. Father Auerbach, who said mass--to Hindee's mind--like a man in a three-piece suit, glared back over his shoulder at Father Eddie. Father Ferris did not look at him at all, but seemed to somehow move away from him while sitting in a fixed chair. During Auerbach's blessing of the sacrament, then, Hindee thought she saw Father Eddie turn to her and wink.
      It was a Sunday so her grandmother was with her. Mam leaned over and whispered, "That young man is winking at you!"
      And Hindee twisted her head away, thinking, the words trapped hot in her mouth, just leave me alone!
      During the sign of peace, Father Eddie tried to hug every person there. He went to the front center pew last--while Fathers Ferris and Auerbach were already waiting. When he came to Hindee he whispered in her ear, "Peace be with you, for behold my love, thou are fair, thine eyes are as doves behind the veil."
      Mam leaned over after he left, hissing, "What did that young man just say to you?"
      Hindee sighed furiously and would not answer, but her wrists and knees trembled with an excitement like fear. When she finally looked toward Father Ferris, his face was dark, his gaze cast away into the back of the church, as if some leather-winged demon gloated in the rafters.

Father Ferris sat turned away from the door as Hindee came in. The smell of apple blossom was in the air and touched Hindee's nostrils like a spice. She sat opposite him, hands in her lap, his presence filling her, a sweet potion. She closed her eyes and waited for him to begin: what would you like to say?
      Instead he said, "So, what do you think of him?"
      Hindee opened her eyes. There was a new density to that voice, the same hard current in her father's voice asking, where have you been? Who were you with? The devil swishing his tail, Mam used to say of her former son-in-law.
      "That Father Eddie, do you like him?"
      Suddenly Hindee understood that she was alone in a room with a man. Someone too much there. His arms and shoulders crowded the walls, he was breathing all the air, his skin taking in light, his mind bright as fire. He drew her soul through her skin in a vapor, she opened her mouth and she was frightened and shaken by something that gathered up her breath.
      "I don't think--I--"
      Father Ferris dropped his gaze. "I am a great sinner," he said. "Forgive me, Hindee. Today you shall forgive me. I shall pray for the gift of humility. And now you may go."
      He had never used her name before. She put her hands on the ends of the armrests, pushed herself up, and moving helplessly and weak-kneed, bent and kissed him on the forehead. His skin burned like a coal under her lips.

She began to have dreams of a place like the fourth-grade filmstrip of hell. She and Father Ferris were there, dancing in a garden of flame-petalled flowers, waltzing in each other's arms, their heads heavy with flame and long, orange horns. Snaking tongues moved in their mouths. Hindee would wake, sweating, unable to tell anyone.
      Mam began asking her questions, sometimes waiting in the morning at the foot of Hindee's bed as if to pull the images straight out of her sleep.
      "Did you have good dreams, dollin'? See any boys?"
      Hindee would close her eyes and lay back, saying, "I'm still asleep."
      Mam would be working at her nails with a metal file, saying, as if to no one in particular, "I don't know why you have to spend all your time in church these days. A growing, healthy girl like you! Ach, that Eddie boy isn't right in the head. He doesn't wear socks. You can see all his hairy toes in his sandals. Fine for August, but what about December?"
      "Oh, so that means he's not right in the head. Guess I better quit wearing my sandals, too."
      "There're so many nice boys in the CYO club. Why don't we sign you up for that? Or you could join bridge club, or we could go bowling like we used to. Remember bowling on Wednesdays and Fridays? I never see you anymore."
      "And anyway, he's a priest!" Hindee sat up to her elbows. "What, do you think I'm gonna go out with a priest?"
      "A priest, tch!" Mam started packing all her sharp utensils, files, cuticle clippers, orange sticks into her quilted bag and went to the door. She paused there a second and said over her shoulder, "The things you say to your own grandmother."

On Sunday, one week after Father Eddie's appearance, he was gone.
      "He regrets not having had the chance to say goodbye," Father Ferris told the congregation, reading from a letter, "but he says here, "'It's time for me to move on, doing my spirit-thing. I leave with sadness, I'll miss your warmth, camraderie, all the cute chicks'--oh!" Some of the girls in the congregation began tittering and there was the sound of mothers hushing. Father Ferris lowered his head and was briefly illuminated by strips of light from the stained glass and the altar. His mouth and eyes looked rubbed raw, wetly open, then the image was gone as he tilted back his head folded the letter and slipped it into his pocket. He walked back to his chair beside Father Auerbach who hadn't once opened his eyes or lifted the back of his head from the wall behind him.
      "Oh, what monkey business!" Mam whispered.
      Hindee stared at her hymnal. She had wanted Father Ferris to feel jealous. She wanted him to feel some particle of the ache that had spread through her dreams, her thoughts, dark and thick as maple syrup, so powerful she wanted to cry out right there in the pews, cry from love and desire, I want you! The thought, the mere hope, that he might have sent another man away, that he might have felt some fleck of the same hopelessness and craving, that he might have thought of her, made her realize she couldn't go on like that.

On Monday, she was trembling, pressing her arms against the pew in front of her, pressing her knees into the stuffed vinyl kneeler, feverish with prayer. "Dear Lord, please let him love me back, please let him love me, let him love me...."
      When it was her turn to confess, her knees seemed to give for a momemt as she stood. She put her hand to the arched back of the pew and then went in.
      From her first glimpse of the man's turned back--too short, brown hair, rounded shoulders--Hindee knew it wasn't him.
      The man turned. Father Auerbach. "Yes, my child? Do you wish to make a confession? Please, choose a seat." He spread one palm open like a man holding an apple, fingers pink and stuffed.
      "But." Hindee could not move. She stared at that hand as he lowered it. "Where is Father Ferris?"
      "Well, he decided all of a sudden to go on vacation. Out on the links even now, I imagine. Went to Myrtle Beach for a week. That son of a gun won't be back till he's lobster boiled and can hit a driver off the fairway."
      "A week?" Hindee backed up a few steps.
      "Miss--you all right?" Father Auerbach began rolling his big body up out of the chair. "Miss? Did you want to sit down? I'll get you some water."
      Hindee walked out.

She went straight to bed, crawled under the covers with her clothes on and fell asleep. Her dreams were grey, filled with ciphers: a still, bone-colored lake, a man's hand, toppling trees. When the telephone rang, Hindee saw birds talking in her dream, when Mam leaned over the bed and stroked Hindee's shoulder, she dreamed she was standing in water, in sugar attar.
      She slept till eight the next morning when she dreamed her mother was pushing her hair back from her forehead, her eyes looking intensely into hers, her voice saying, can you hear me? And Hindee's jaw was working, trying to free her tongue, her eyes struggling to break through white glaze. Until she managed to say, "Ma--" and woke herself with the sound of her own voice.
      Her mother put her expert ear to Hindee's chest and back, asked her to breathe, not-breathe, moved her knees and wrists, fingered her throat and jaw.
      "She was asleep when I came over yesterday around five." Mam's voice sounded muffled and condensed. "I think she's been knocked out all night."
      Alia mumbled something that sounded like, "Might be mono." She asked, "How do you feel?"
      "A little sleepy," Hindee said, shutting her eyes, there was a sensation in her head like shutters clattering, falling open, panel after panel, then she was asleep.

She slept for a week. She had moments of light and waking, of Mam spooning something into her mouth, or her mother looking intently into her eyes, as if seeing through the sleep. Mostly there was sleep, and long unresolved dreams, bare images of rain-stained doors and streets, painted shutters of wind, fat blueberries and blackberries tumbling down the stairs.
      Alia told Mam that Hindee might have to miss her first week of highschool. But the Saturday before school started, class, Mam said to Hindee as she fed her soup, "Just think, tomorrow, your favorite, Father Ferris, will be back from vacation."
      Hindee heard church bells at 8 o'clock Sunday morning through her bedroom window. She eased out of bed and her legs were shaking. Her hair had matted under her head and her face was shining with sweat. She peeked down the hall before she went into the bathroom. In the livingroom, Mam was watching Mass for Shut-ins. Alia was reading the Sunday paper in the kitchen. Hindee took a shower then brushed at some of her snarls and the quills got thick with hair. She changed into leotards and a printed dress, and pinched her cheeks pink the way Mam taught her.
      She thought of Father Ferris as she dressed, but had trouble remembering his face. It felt like she was going to visit someone she hadn't seen in years, a distant relative, someone from foreign country.
      Mam clapped her hands together as Hindee walked in. "Here's Sleeping Beauty! Hello dollin' I knew you'd get up today, I knew it. The power of suggestion," she said, tapping one finger to her forehead. Mam hugged her and Hindee smelled a flood of lilac talcum powder.
      Mam went into the kitchen, saying to Alia, "Look who's here! It's Sleeping Beauty. What would you like, dollin'? English muffins, eggs and bacon, cantaloup, rye toast...."
      Hindee followed her in and Alia was standing there, smiling but gray with fatigue. "That was you in the shower! Oh--" She gathered Hindee into her arms then leaned back and pushed the bangs off her face. "You shouldn't overdo it. How do you feel? You should take it easy today." Alia led her to a chair and sat her down.
      "Ach! She's been taking it easy all week!" Mam put down a plate of buttered toast and two vitamin pills before Hindee. "Just for starters. You want to go to church today dearheart, don'tcha? She's sweet on the priests there."
      Hindee felt her mother's gaze sharpen. "Is that true?" Alia asked. "Is that why you got up?"
      Hindee bit down on a piece of toast and her mouth flooded with saliva, a sharp ache, the sweetness of bread. She could barely chew. Her mother turned and walked out, and Mam was saying after her, "Now, Missy, you don't have to be like that."
      For Hindee, things seemed to be coated with sleep. People moved in slow motion, the air was gelatinous, the mass, as she and Mam sat in their pew, took place under water. The vestments of the priests and altar boys looked like fins, swaying gently, their gestures swimming.
      On the processional up to the altar, a man nodded to her. She looked and the words Father Ferris came dull and flat into her mind. If she had seen him on the street she would not have recognized him. She knew those were the features of his face--soft, pink, white--as one knows the digits of a telephone number.
      Mam nudged her and whispered, "He's back! There's your may-on!"
      Hindee was too tired to do anything but study the hymnal, reading over and over, "First letter of Paul to the Corinthians."
      By the time the mass has progressed to communion, Hindee no longer wants to participate, but Mam plucks at her sleeve as she slides out so Hindee follows. She kneels at the communion rail as Father Ferris bows to each parishioner, the host is a snow flake in his fingers, the altar boy's silver plate flashing beneath each chin. They move delicately as in dance, hypnotic and wavering. When it is Hindee's turn, she tilts back her head, opens her mouth and shuts her eyes as if returning to sleep; it is all a dream. Then a smell like apples, a hundred apples breaking open, a hundred apple boughs swaying, too strong and sweet, and when the host touches her tongue she slides it to her teeth and chews.

Monday morning she is nervous and excited and wide awake. She brushes her hair over and over so it crackles alive, all wild curls and electricity. She discovers, to her delight, that after her week in bed her jeans are loose on her. She pulls on a pair of daisy-patterned bell bottoms; they skim around her hips and cover her feet.
      She meets her best friend Doll at lunch and the two of them find the smoking lounge outside the cafeteria's dripping eaves. A tough-looking sophmore with packs rolled up in either shirt sleeve offers them each cigarettes and lights them saying, "Go for it, babes!"
      Doll and Hindee practice smoking in Doll's rec room, trading one of Doll's mother's Kools between them. So Hindee is prepared for the first heat, the roasted flavor on her tongue. On the second puff she draws harder, to make the tip glow red like the older kids were doing. Her breath parches her mouth and scalds her lungs, the cigarette feels like a flame between her fingers and she counts to 120, willing herself not to cough. If she coughs, she knows that she will not be able to stop.
      Holding the cigarette to her lips, not actually breathing it in, she thinks suddenly of the paper touch of the host, Father Ferris' red knuckles, his breath misting the server's plate. She realizes that she would be in confession right at that moment. But that Hindee, love-bound, crazy with it, seems like another person. Now she smiles, tries another puff, and feels relief that she is not that person.
      At times throughout her first week of school, in class, smoking, or later, eating, at the mall with Mam or Doll, she will think suddenly: now I would be in church, in confession, taking communion. The thought flies away like seedfloss.
      The next Sunday, she sleeps late and when Mam comes to wake her, she rolls into her pillow and mumbles, "I don't want to go to mass."
      Mam stands there, not moving, staring at Hindee's form tangled in covers. Then she says, "You know, Father Ferris is terribly worried about you."
      Hindee rolls over again and looks at Mam, sleep-dazed, yawning. "What?"
      Mam has her hands on her hips. "In his last letter. He says you aren't coming to church, confession, nothing. He's all bothered, see, worrying about you!"
      Sleep is gray in Hindee's mouth, it slides along a few strands of her hair. "What letter?"
      Mam raps her forehead with her knuckle and says, "Oh, ding it! I wasn't supposed to tell."
      Hindee's eyes are open. "What letter."
      "Me and my blabbermouth."
      "Father Ferris wrote you a letter?"
      "Once a week since the end of June."
      Hindee sits up. There is a sensation like a cascade of little sparks, quicksilver bursting over her arms and legs. She laughs a little, quicksilver shaking in her throat. "What?"
      "It was his idea, dollin'. See, he says to me after mass one day, he's wondering why this sudden interest of yours in church, how you're coming to all the masses and confessions, see. And I says to him, as your grandmother I like to stay on top of what's going on with you and I don't know about this!"
      Hindee feels the sparks going hot, sliding down her body like something melting. She wraps her arms around her body, draws her knees up.
      "So he says to me, see, he says, well why doesn't he just drop me a little note each week, just so we can keep an eye on the situation together. Not that he wasn't pleased as punch. And his letters are always saying such sweet things, 'Hindee seems to be growing in her faith each day.' Etcetera, etcetera. See, he thought you took a shine to him, had a little thing for him, see, and he didn't want it getting out of hand, you getting hurt or anything."
      "Out of hand?" Hindee is shivering; everything has melted off her skin.
      "Oh, me and my big blabbermouth. Please dollin', don't get upset, the whole cockamamie idea was--"
      "How many letters did he write you?" Hindee is sweeping off the blankets, picking up her robe. "Show them to me, I want to see them."
      "But, they're private." Mam opens her clear eyes wide, that cool, cool blue, fainter than air, cool on Hindee's skin, cool as amnesia. Almost enough to get Hindee to stop, laugh, say, forget it, but not quite enough.
      "They're private about me." Hindee says, then opens her eyes wide as well and says, "Unless you love him better than me."
      Mam kept all her letters in the cedar trunk she called her "hope chest," standing at the foot of her bed. The letters are written on an onion skin paper that crackles in Hindee's fingers. The handwriting is small, quivery, like a school marm's. Hindee picks out and unfolds a letter from the middle of the short stack as Mam stands beside her, complaining, "Ach, all this fuss over some silly letters, and here I am, just a little old lady. I don't know how much time I have left...." Hindee is running her gaze over the writing, it is only a few lines, the first snatch of words something like, "I believe that Hind is growing daily in her spiritual bond with God and no longer favoring her secular bond with His poor messenger."
      Then she is folding the letter quickly, creasing it, her fingers nervous and frightened, feeling that she is fingering the skin of some vital organ--it is too private, too much someone's interior life; she can not read it.

Hindee refused to attend church for years, only returning once in the summer of her high school graduation for a friend's wedding. Father Ferris wasn't there. The church seemed slightly darker, a little shrunken and empty of ghosts.
      At the end of that summer, days before she was to drive to college, Hindee was wandering around the Woodbridge Mall with Doll, looking in a store window when she saw a reflection stop behind her. She waited a moment before turning, to see if the reflection would speak, or if its features, slippery in the glass, would slide into place. But then she turned and saw a middle-aged man in a blue cardigan with his hand on an empty stroller. He looked dull and lost, as if Hindee was still looking at a reflection in glass. His lips were slightly parted, his eyes blue reflections in his glasses; all of him, it seemed, poised on a question. She stepped closer to give him directions and he said, "Hindee, it's Luke. You remember?"
      She noticed a flash of gold at his throat, the glint of a cross--and his hand reaching to slide back the now long blond hair at his neck, and in that odd, familiar gesture, the faintest whiff of leaves, autumn, and red apples.
      She opened her mouth and saw in him the smile then the tender, secretive gap between the teeth. Heat pounded once, furiously, in a single pulse through her, and then, her face hot, she managed to say, "Father Ferris."
      He held the stroller with both hands, his smile now slightly stunned. He said. "It's been a while since someone called me that." He jiggled the stroller's handle once, as if it held a baby and said, "I have a two year old, Mona. She's with Dierdre right now."
      Deirdre. Hindee stared at him. They were standing so close it was as if they were in confession again--more--as if her very body was feeling the memory, the spell of his eyes, the scent of his skin, minty aftershave. His hair was the color of late summer, the ripe fields around the mall, gold, cinnamon, nutmeg colored fields. She is about to ask him, did you miss me? Did you think about me?
      His gaze is gorgeous on her, lighter than air and fuller than wind. He opens his mouth and says, "I've thought about you a lot. I need to explain some things, I know. I need to talk with you, please."
      Did you love me? Fearlessly? Courageously? Would you have left everything for me?
      "Our friendship meant so very much to me."
      She is already stepping backward, into the mall's echo, its arching shadow, smiling, breaking the spell, saying, meanly, "Prove it."
      "I'm sorry--" He puts a hand to one ear, steps forward, "What--"
      Doll comes around the corner, out of a clutch of shoppers; she moves busily, tucking cigarettes into her breast pocket. Hindee skips back and toward her, shouting at Father Ferris, "Prove it, prove it, prove it!"
      And she and Doll run away together, laughing.
      She knows, on the ride home from the mall that she will never speak to him again. They drive past gold bars of fields, the crosshatching of telephone lines, the late, streaming Jersey trees, star colored berries, a green dream of lands and sleeping pines and endless gray roads.