Appears in Other Voices #40
Molly builds a fort with her menu, and stays slunk down in her chair and hidden behind enormous pages of food. She taps on one side of the menu's delicate walls, trying to see how hard she can knock without toppling it over. Her family has been sitting here for twenty minutes, and so far they've only ordered drinks. Right now her parents' voices threaten to break through the carefully constructed blockade. It's the Sunday version of "The John and Evelyn Show," starring her father, John ("Yours Truly") and his lovely wife, Evelyn. Molly and her sisters have bit parts in their parents' show. Really, they're just walk-ons.
"Know what you want, Molls?" John's gravelly voice puts her on alert; he calls her Molls when he wants something and is trying to be pals. Rebecca, who's older than Molly, becomes Becks. He puts the two of them in the plural, as though each of them has a clone. And now Maizie makes three. With three daughters, John alternates between looking pleasantly distracted and terminally bored. Molly lowers her menu to watch John page through soups and sandwiches while he tries to steer Rebecca towards picking the best school. She's been interviewing with Deans of Admissions at upper-crusty colleges out east, letting them sell her and John and Evelyn on the best deal.
"You're light years ahead of where I was," John tells Rebecca. "Yours truly had to let his father choose. Just like his father chose a college for him." He says this proudly, his head tilted, congratulating himself for letting his oldest make a choice. Rebecca pulls at tiny, unseen balls on her sweater, then bends her long neck towards a red plastic straw to sip from a smoothie without ever touching the glass with her hands. Serious, Rebecca is, with straight, shining hair and creamy skin; she seems to have already willed herself away to college, only she’s still got to be here.
"I looked at gender ratios when I was your age," Evelyn says. "You know? How many women there were to how many men? I wasn't about to take any chances." She laughs, embarrassed, and looks at her husband.
Molly creeps back inside the menu. Where is the waitress? Even though it's Sunday Molly is wearing weekday blues, a stiff work shirt and jeans with her limbs hardly visible beneath, as if the clothes part of her is floating and she has left her body behind. She hates that word: body. When the music stops, John continues to tap his feet. Sundays make him nervous; there’s nothing interesting to do. So he takes them out for brunch after church and then, for the entire afternoon they have to be glued together and do family things, like the Art Institute or the Planetarium or the zoo. Right now, Molly is desperate to get on with the next act so this day can be over. The baby, Maizie, sits between their parents and looks oblivious; at eleven months, she's still inside a powdery bubble of fat and layers of stretchy cotton. Molly pulls the plastic menu in closer around her shoulders, crowding all of them out in a blur.
Finally, they order food; everybody wants to be done. Her mother feeds Maizie rice cereal she's brought from home in a jar. The white goop drizzles down Maizie's chin and oozes into the folds of her neck. Molly is mesmerized for a second, watching the milky smooth glop disappear inside the baby's round mouth. "Down the hatch," Evelyn says to Maizie, and holds the spoon in the air as she watches her swallow. "You are the biggest sweet potato. Yes you are!" Maizie slides down in the high chair, her fat chin stopping at the tray. She pounds against the metal chair legs with thick, baby shoes.
"Going somewhere, Maiz?" Her father pulls up the baby carefully so as to not get cereal on his hands. "Are you sliding away?" He takes off Maizie's shoes so she'll stop making a racket. Molly stares out the sun-drenched window; the gray Chicago street has been seized by the sun.
Her mother's voice breaks in. “Your hair, Moll.” She reaches out to examine a strand. “We really should do something with it.” With the light pouring around her, only her mother's red lipsticked mouth appears; the rest of her pale face and blond hair are sucked into the glare. She turns to spoon another white glob into Maizie's mouth, and Molly can smell the cereal and the baby's now unwashed face. Rebecca sits gravely next to her father and sips her drink. They watch Maizie eat as though it's a performance.
“We have got to get it cut, Molly,” her mother says, returning to her hair. “Something more sophisticated. Arnold could do something interesting with it, I’m sure.”
“I don’t want interesting," Molly says. Rebecca studies Molly’s hair with a withering stare.
Their food arrives. The waitress sets down everyone’s plates with great purpose, getting each of their dishes mixed up. Her father screws up his mouth when he gets tofu-fried-rice and kale. "You two have the same smile,” the waitress says, nodding at Molly and Rebecca. “A nice smile." Rebecca forces another half-smile. Molly feels invaded, and hands Rebecca her fruit plate: a pear body under a cottage-cheese face with carrot whiskers and ears and a maraschino cherry mouth. How can people eat fruit arranged in the shape of a rabbit when there is a war going on? Her parents no longer believe in killing. "Imagine," her mother says. "Shooting people, in this day and age."
Molly plays with her fries and watches her father eat a fried egg. He always cuts the white part with his fork first, eating slowly from the outer perimeter, as if he is circling a bull's-eye. He moves in closer and closer to the yellow target until finally, when all that is left is the yolk, he scoops it into his mouth with the yoke still whole, flipping it belly side down on his tongue just as he closes his mouth. “Ahhh,” he says, once he's swallowed, a satisfied smile on his face. A bit of yellow leaks out of one corner of his mouth. The second egg sits untouched on his plate, waiting to be attacked. Molly thinks she will die if he does it again. He does. She watches in agony and tortured satisfaction.
“I’m glad we’re all here.” Her father wipes his mouth, then clears his throat. “We have news.” Molly puts her fork down as if in slow motion. Her father speaks in syllables that fire into the air and tumble, sounds that might be words if he would only slow them down so she could breathe. He seems to be saying they are going away in the fall, all of them except Rebecca who will be going to college anyway, so this won't really affect her. “This will be the perfect time for all of us to disappear,” he says. “I need a break, and my clients can muddle along without me for a while. With Molly finishing junior high this year and Maizie still being portable and all, it’s high time we had an adventure. Becks, you’ll just have to hop on a plane and visit us wherever we land.”
Molly pushes her plate away. Rebecca sips her smoothie. Their mother dips into her purse and pulls out a lipstick while their father goes on about this project being some sort of Catholic family peace corps he's signed them up for. It's a two-year commitment and architects can bring their families along while they help build churches in some terribly disadvantaged country in Central America and they are so lucky to be chosen. “Our chance to make a difference," he says. "A privilege for us all.”
“Nobody asked us,” Molly says.
“You and Maizie?” her father says. “I don't think Maizie has an opinion. D'you have something better to do?”
"Excuse me? School?" Molly says.
"They have American tutors at all of their outposts. You'll be light years ahead of everybody when you come back. I promise." He studies her carefully across the table. "So, Molly. You're not going to whine about this, are you? Are you going to fall in with the troops or the complainers? Molls? What's it going to be?"
"Troops," Molly says, but she has to practically climb out of her skin to say it.
"Good. Good," her father says. "That's fine. We're in agreement."
Rebecca is quiet. Her parents can no longer sign her up to do good works and make a difference in the world. While her parents chatter, Rebecca, the only one who gets to go off alone and have a normal, selfish life, stares at her plate and plucks off the rabbit's carrot whiskers one at a time with her fork.
Molly tries to look surprised about the plan. She has overheard parts of the puzzle when John and Evelyn, whispering after they thought the girls were asleep, hinted at going away soon—off to a new culture, a new life. To another planet, Molly thinks. Rebecca excuses herself and heads towards the ladies room. As soon as she leaves the table her parents grow quiet, as though conscious of not wanting to talk about her while she's gone. If they talk about Rebecca's problem, they will make it real. Instead, they take turns making sure she eats with the family, they let her choose the restaurant since she is the oldest, they reward her for being part of a family that sits down together and eats. This is to restore their confidence—not in Rebecca, exactly, but in their moral order, their sense of control over the world.
Molly thinks of Rebecca becoming invisible, falling into a comforting dark hole of oblivion, where her parents fear she may drop as well. "Don't look so glum," her mother tells Molly. "You'll like it, once we're settled and you've adjusted." She sighs, and looks again at Molly's hair. “I don’t know why you won’t let Arnold do something. You could at least get your hair out of your eyes.”
Molly lets her long hair sway in front of her face like a curtain. When Rebecca reappears she seems lighter, happy almost, and pulls her chair closer to the table. She rests her head against her father's shoulder for a moment, and begins quietly joking with the rest of them. Her eyes are shiny and alive and moist, but they are swollen and older than the rest of her. She has always been the beauty in the family, but something in her face now looks sunken and desperate.
Not so with Molly. She still has to try to be good. Her mother pushes Molly's bangs away from her face. “What’s this?” she says. “What did you do to your face?”
Molly has a lump. She did not know she had a lump on her forehead but now her father stops chewing a piece of black bread and squints at her across the table. She has to hold up her bangs so they all can look. She doesn’t remember bumping into anything, although she could have bumped her headboard in her sleep. There is much discussion about Molly’s sleeping habits and what to do with this thing that has suddenly poked through her forehead. Her mother says there's no sense bothering with the family doctor; he'll just refer them to a specialist. Besides, she's almost sure he's still in Africa this month, handing out medicine to people with AIDS. It's probably nothing, but her mother wants to get her in right away to see Dr. Pinkner. He is some sort of specialist who is especially good with children.
“I am not a child,” Molly tells her mother. “I haven’t been a child for over a year.”
“All right. Adolescent. Then you won’t mind going by yourself.” Her mother is running the rummage sale for the Ladies’ Auxiliary and she’ll be insane all week, pricing dusty books and moldy-smelling fur coats and used kitchen gadgets that nobody in their right mind would want to buy. Molly can take the bus from school, and Rebecca can meet her by the doctor's office and they can take a cab home together.
Molly goes to the restroom and examines her forehead. The lump is the same no-color as the rest of her skin; her long bangs almost cover it unless she tilts her head and the lump pokes through. It feels hard and permanent, like misplaced bone. When she comes back to the table her father is up front paying the bill. The baby's mouth is open and expecting more spoonfuls of glop even after she's been stuffed into her coat.
"I was only trying to help," her mother says to Rebecca. "All I'm saying is, getting another fitting wouldn't hurt. Everybody changes their bra size at least once in their lifetime. Everybody." Rebecca, her face a dusky red, ducks to look for her scarf, then rises to button her coat. She stands two steps back from the table and stares behind a thin veneer of disgust.
When their father returns he helps Molly into her jacket. “It's probably nothing," he says, staring at her forehead. "But Pinkner should take a look just the same.”
Suddenly, while no one was watching, her real parents have been stolen away and replaced by a couple of do-gooders. It's this shrine of a house that did it, Molly thinks; this place is making all of them go through some weird biochemical change. Her father designed this house by gutting a building that used to be a church that was practically as old as the pilgrims. His specialty is converting things into something else: gas stations into cottages, warehouses and candy stores into lofts, even a horse trailer into an artist's studio. He tells people he has an interest in converting non-traditional forms, as though transforming things into something else makes them good.
Instead of a real house they have vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows that make colored light bounce at funny, odd angles. There is light everywhere except in the confessional that her father salvaged, which is dark and smelly like a basement. Her father fitted it with three phones in the hallway as a joke. Now that he's tired of converting buildings, he is trying to remake their lives.
When they leave their sacred house to go away to some foreign country, all their stuff—their garbage, her father now calls it—will be locked up for two years, maybe longer. Her mother would never rent their home to complete strangers and allow them to sit in her handmade, square-spindle chairs or lie in her four-poster bed or snoop in her closets. Molly will get to bring two suitcases of clothes, plus one empty carry-on for the things she wants to bring back from someplace they won’t even know about until they get their orders. They'll only have one month to get ready. Nicaragua? Guatemala? Honduras? This explains why her mother has been practicing Spanish cooking and filling the house with the smells of tortillas frying and steamed corn and beans.
At night, long after lights are supposed to be out, Molly lies on her bed in what was once the choir loft. She feels paralyzed. Worse, like an amputee, with no arms or legs. She studies the starburst light on the ceiling. When she squints, a fiery bronze face frowns back at her, like it's some jealous Aztec god. "I am not going." She practices the words first without sound, then dully, firmly, out loud to the light. What if the light falls from the ceiling and pins her in punishment, its vintage, needle-like spokes nailing her to the bed? She could die here, pierced by its rays. A martyr without a cause. Then, at least, she wouldn't have to leave.
Or maybe the lump will save her. Couldn't it be some sort of tumor? Her parents wouldn't drag her off to some third world country if she had some deadly, flesh-eating growth on her forehead, would they? Surely they wouldn't sacrifice her to the knife of some Central American surgeon? Still, her parents are dead-set on saving the world. Voices float up from the living room. Molly looks over the loft railing and sees the tops of her parents' heads where they sit slouched in the wing chairs. She grabs a camouflage jacket and tiptoes down the stairs, avoiding the one last stair that squeaks, and slips into the confessional.
"I'm in deep trouble now." Evelyn sighs deeply. Molly holds a hand to her heart. She sits quietly on the kneeler and mouths her mother's words.
"You seemed out of sorts when we left the restaurant,” John says. Molly hears the rustle of newspaper. John attacks pages like they are territories to be conquered.
"It was Rebecca who was out of sorts," Evelyn says. Molly mimes her, stretching her arm until her knuckles graze the wood of the confessional. She freezes and waits for Evelyn to continue. "The unforgivable thing was that I told Rebecca she needed to get fitted for a new bra. I mean, the girl has lost twenty pounds. Of course she'd need to change her bra size. My mother always had us professionally fitted, her mother took her and her sisters to be fitted, it's something the women in my family do. I can tell just by looking at somebody if they're wearing the wrong kind of bra. Rebecca assumed I was being critical of her, naturally. Here we were, trying to have a meal like a family so we could build meaningful relationships with our children, and Rebecca winds up not even speaking to me. Anyway. I keep trying. So Rebecca stares into space like a zombie while I try to talk to her about the size of her bosom. Where were you? Oh. You’d gone to pay the check. I need another drink." Evelyn draws a long breath. "A strong one."
Molly imagines John floating up from his chair in obedience, and she lifts her arms as though raised by an invisible current.
"I tried telling Rebecca that it's not such a bad thing, to go down a bra size," Evelyn says. "Some women even pay to get their breasts reduced. Anyway, I tried explaining." Evelyn's voice gets higher and tighter. Ice cubes clink in a glass. "Her clothes practically hang on her now. She likes that emaciated look, all the girls do, their clothes trailing half a mile behind them like they'd just as soon trip over them or something."
John grunts, feigning interest. He has to be buried deep in his paper, desperate for Evelyn to finish.
Evelyn lowers her voice. “John, I think you should talk to her.”
“About breasts? For God's sake, Evelyn.” John's voice breaks. The newspaper gets tossed to the floor. Molly almost collapses against the wall of the confessional.
“Talk to her about why she won’t listen. I’m just trying to have a relationship with the girl. Maybe she’ll listen to you.”
Silence. Molly breathes very shallow breaths. She feels the threatening tickle of a sneeze so she distracts herself, imagining being hunkered down behind a desert barricade. Shots ring out, and one tiny sneeze could give away her location.
“Thank God we won’t have to worry about these things with Molly,” John finally says. “We'll be off in a jungle somewhere before that girl has to even think about a bra. All she's got on her chest are two fried eggs.”
Evelyn laughs. Molly feels the hot flush of shame rise from somewhere below her waist and creep inside her throat. Even her eyes burn. Someone begins turning off lights. The air in the confessional is stale and cold but her face and head are hot. Her arms, under the jacket, are surprisingly cool. This lump will have to save her. Crouched on the kneeler, she leans into the corner and waits an eternity for John and Evelyn to finally go to bed.
Dr. Pinkner’s receptionist is a Japanese woman with one eye that moves and one eye that doesn't. Molly debates which eye to look at and chooses the one that moves and she hopes the motionless eye won't feel neglected. The receptionist clips some forms onto a board and tells Molly to be sure to fill out both sides. There are four pages full of questions about medications and when the eruption first appeared and has she had any pregnancies. Molly has to fill in an occupation, so she checks “Self-employed.” The receptionist, when she reviews the forms, asks her who will be responsible for the bill. “John and Evelyn,” Molly says. “But you can send it to me.”
There is only one other patient, an old woman who is snoring in a chair across the room. Still, the room is crowded with a tent full of toys and a doll-size tea set and a table stacked with Highlights for Children. "Fun with a Purpose," each says under the title. Why are adults always making things into something else? It's just after lunch, and the whole, dried-up building seems to be creaking and dozing. Molly studies the old woman and tries to see what things might be growing on her body that need to get cut off. Old people often have interesting warts and moles that seem to grow on top of each other and telescope out. From a distance, she can see nothing too unusual.
The doctor hangs up the phone in the next room while the receptionist continues to type. "Ellie is in a panic about her biopsy," he tells her. "I told her to give it a rest, let the results cook for a while, but she wants everything yesterday." He takes two more calls, and each caller seems to say something stupid that the doctor repeats, after he hangs up, to the receptionist. Then he tells her about a wedding he'd gone to over the weekend. "I'd never been to a Mormon service before," he says. "This minister gave this homily—I guess Mormons call them homilies—about couples' top-ten marriage problems. Can you imagine? Talking about problems before you even get to the vows."
Molly tries to read a Highlights about the painter, Monet, and how the colors of the water he painted changed with the time of day. Brilliant. Who can't see that water changes colors? She looks at her watch. She's cut afternoon classes to get here, and the doctor has talked for half an hour about stupid patients and Mormon weddings. What does it take to get people's attention? Molly hopes they call her first; if they call the old woman, she might wake with a jolt and have a heart attack and die right there, and the doctor would still go on about Mormons while he checked the dead woman’s pulse.
A mother enters the office with two young children. The boy carries the tent full of toys to the middle of the floor. "Lily, tell me when to drop," he says. "Drop," his baby sister says. While their mother signs in, the boy pushes the baby, and she topples over on her backside and whimpers. The mother collapses into a chair and picks up a magazine. The boy drags a toy piano near Molly's feet and plinks down three keys. "What does the piano say?" he asks, daring Molly to answer. He plays three watery notes. "The piano says, ‘Lily is stupid.’"
"William, you know what I think about that piano?" the mother says.
"You think it was me saying that," the boy says. "But the piano goes, ‘Plink, plink, plink.’ It says, ‘Your sister Lily stinks.’ The piano goes, ‘Plink, plink, plink. Your sister Lily smells.’"
"I think you better change your tune, mister," she says, "or I'll play something for you." She goes back to reading Vogue until the little girl says, "Pee-pee," and the mother jumps as if a gun was shot and picks up the baby and runs out of the room.
William locks the door to the hallway. Then he flicks off the lights.
"I am the king of this room," he bellows in the dark. "You better turn those lights right back on," Molly says, finding her voice.
"I am the king of the lights," William yells again in the dark.
"Turn those lights back on," Molly roars, "or I'll break your little face."
The old woman wakes and screams. "Sweet Jesus! Where am I?"
The receptionist runs in and turns on the lights. “You’re here,” she yells at the old woman. "With all of us!” She turns to the boy. "We have a special room in back for boys like you. An evil torture chamber. You want to meet me in that back room?"
While William considers this, the receptionist calls Molly's name, causing her to jump out of her chair so fast that she sends the toy piano scuttling across the room. Molly follows her into a small room where she has to climb on top of the examination table that is covered with white waxy paper. The paper sticks to her legs and rips whenever she moves. She tries to sit very still. The door closes and she is alone.
Air blows into the room making a dead, mechanical sound. On the back of the door are the doctor's spare white coats, none of them very clean. Each of the coats is embroidered with the doctor’s name in pink script over the pocket: Alan Pinkner, M.D., Alan Pinkner, M.D., Alan Pinkner, M.D. Why does he need so many coats? Does he keep spares in case blood spurts when he cuts into people?
She hopes this lump is just big enough to be slightly serious. A slightly scary tumor, not big enough to hurt or scar when the doctor cuts it, but big enough to keep her in bed and make her parents bring her ice cream. Big enough to worry her parents and keep all of them here. On the wall is a poster of a woman with flesh turned inside out like a trapped, skinned animal. Arrows point to different kinds of cells. Basal. Melanoma. Fat cells gobble up her skin, even under her eyeballs. How can eyeballs grow things? This lump on her forehead couldn't spread to her eyes, could it? Molly jumps off the examination table to take a closer look, ripping the waxed paper from the table.
Papers rattle, and Dr. Pinkner is talking to the receptionist outside the closed door. "Some kids," he says. "You just want to sedate them, along with their parents." Molly jumps back onto the table, tearing the paper further as the door swings open and the doctor strides in and introduces himself. He shakes Molly’s hand, like they are almost equals, and then he scrubs his hands with a brush in the sink. He is mostly bald, with thin white hair that doesn't quite cover his sunburned scalp. His head looks too clean, like he rubs and polishes it. There are pink pimples on his wrinkled, sandy neck.
"So what have we here?" Dr. Pinkner runs his thumb across the lump on her forehead. He is quiet for a long minute while he keeps rubbing his rough thumb back and forth. A hairy, prickly feeling creeps up Molly's spine. Without asking, he moves her head so he can get a better look, tilting it so far back that he throws her off balance. He shines a hot spotlight on her forehead. His breath is warm. It smells like coffee.
"Just as I thought. You're growing a third eye." His eyes are dull, watery blue while he tries to make her smile. She manages to show some teeth.
"I think you'll live,” he says. “It looks like a lipoma. A kind of a cyst. I don't think it's anything to be worried about." He can't tell anything from just looking, can he? He pushes the spotlight away and it floods the poster woman's raw, infested skin. What could Molly have done to cause this bony knob to sprout on her head? Was it all that diet pop? She squirms on the table, unable to avoid pulling at the paper with her legs.
“Can't you get rid of it?” she says.
"This? If I were you, I'd leave it alone. Why mess with that beautiful face of yours? Why create a scar?" The doctor tips her chin. “Your mother told me on the phone that your family is going to Central America. When you come back, we'll take another look and see if anything's changed. It’s not like you’re growing another head or something.” He jostles her shoulder as if to reassure her, as if to say nothing is changing. But everything is. Change is marching forward and swallowing up whatever's in its path, scooping her up with her now misshapen forehead and trudging on to Central America where this mysterious lump can blossom. Molly jumps down from the table and finds her way out through a maze of closed doors and a jumble of toys on the waiting room floor. In the polished chrome of the elevator her face is white and frozen and foreign.
Outside it is cold and raining. When Molly finds Rebecca across the street she is talking to her friend Cissy under an awning. Rebecca sticks out her hand for a cab. One pulls up, and while Rebecca and Cissy climb in the back, Molly opens another door and gets in front, moving newspapers out of the way. The driver looks in the other direction as though taking one last look at land. He glides the cab onto the deserted, wet street.
"Just where are you beautiful girls headed?" he asks. Molly shivers in the front seat and turns around in time to see Cissy rolling her eyes. Cissy gives him her address first. He drives fast through the slick streets, easing the car smoothly through the turns as though they are all inside a giant fish cutting easily through water.
The driver has dark hair and yellowish, pocked skin. Molly tries to figure out where he's from and stares carefully in secret. The Middle East? Central America? At the stop light, he studies her, too, in the distant, alien way she looked at him, trying to make the pieces figure into a whole.
Now Molly has something different for people to look at. She has a lump. A third eye. She tries to see its reflection in the window, but all she sees is rain sliding down the dark glass. The reflection of the rain is making a moving pattern down the front of her jacket, and suddenly Molly remembers a video she saw in health class. The film showed sperm swimming upstream, only here in the cab they are running down her coat and all over her, an army of sperm moving and spewing pearl-like drops all over her, drops that are stretching and washing all over her coat until it is covered with gunk. Her coat has turned into a seedy stream of sperm, and there is nothing she can do to stop it. She feels hot but she's got her pack on her lap and she's belted in and she can't get out of her coat.
The driver reaches in front of her to point out her window. "Look at that." His hand brushes her shoulder. "What do you think? They had to put up fences to get rid of this mess." The city has declared war on its homeless. Cyclone fences, taller than Molly's father, now wall off the sidewalks. The story has been on the news.
"Everybody needs to live somewhere," she says. "It's not their fault."
"The hell it's not." There's an alarming tone in his voice. Molly feels a sense of danger at his using that word. Adults are usually more careful around people her age.
"I suppose you think they're good people? Innocent? They don't exist."
Why is he telling her this? Why can't he talk to Cissy and Rebecca instead?
Finally, the cab pulls in front of Cissy's house. When Cissy gets out of the back Molly wants to climb in back with Rebecca, but Rebecca scoots out of the car with Cissy and hands the driver some bills. She tells the driver where to drop off Molly and tells him to keep the change. "See you at home, Moll," she says. Molly stays in the front seat because she doesn't want to make a big deal out of Rebecca's leaving and she can ride in a cab alone. She and the driver ride together in a stony silence until he turns into the circle in front of her house. Molly gathers her pack and gets ready to bolt but the door is locked or stuck, and when the driver reaches across to open her door he presses the back of his fleshy arm hard against her chest. Molly scrambles to get out and bangs her knee and falls out the door.
"You live here? In a church?" The driver laughs. When she slams the door the cab splashes out of the circle and into the street.
Molly double-bolts the door behind her. The house is dark as a fortress except for the crack of light behind the banisters on the second floor. Her father must be working in his study. There are no cooking smells coming from the kitchen. Her mother must still be at the sale. Molly shrugs her pack onto the floor. Her wet coat feels slimy and slippery, like it's been touched. She drapes it over the banister and makes her way quietly up the stairs. Her father is reading and listening to music. She sits on the chair opposite his desk, and winds her feet around the square chair legs that jut out as gracefully as a dancer's. Their sharp edges cut into her calves. He nods in her direction.
"Know whose music this is?" he says.
"Listen. Guess again."
"All right. Bach."
"Good. His 'Requiem.'" He leans into his book while his head bobs with the music. She slips off her wet shoes. The yellow glass lamp casts a milky pool of light across her father's arms and his book. Beneath the lamp is a circle of sharpened pencils standing on their ends like missiles, ready to be fired.
When is he going to ask about the lump? Her father's lips form words from his book. Molly clears her throat but he keeps reading so everything collapses in a rush. "In the cab, Rebecca got out at Cissy's, and I was in the front, with the driver, and I couldn't get out, and this man, he reached over"—she waits for him to look up at her—"and he touched me here, he pressed his arm, hard, against my chest."
Her father's head stops moving with the music. He sits very still. Didn't he hear? She couldn't have imagined this, could she? Did she do something to cause it? Was there some rule she missed about not getting in the front of a cab?
"Molls. Come on. You don't expect me to believe that, do you? He was probably just trying to help you open the door, now wasn't he? Molls?"
She tries to pull back the crushing weight. Doubt sinks over her like a net.
Her father laughs. "Sometimes girls—women—think a man is violating her, when really it's only a mistake. Don't worry, you'll learn." He frowns at her. "Everything go all right at the doctor's? What did I tell you? It was nothing, right?"
Molly shakes her head. "It's probably nothing."
"Good, good." Satisfied, her father returns to his book. His lips move, shutting out further distraction. Molly picks up her wet shoes and rises to leave, then stops, shaking off the sticky threads of the web.
"Only, Dr. Pinkner has to do a biopsy but he said to try not to worry," she says. "Not worry now, anyway. He said it could be anything, but there's no need to panic." Her father's expression shifts once, twice. "It might be a tumor, a growth or something. He doesn't want to take any chances with it being so close to my eyes."
Molly catches the shift of attention with a sorrowful thwack. You're on, she thinks. What's next? And after that? She'll get hit with a barrage of questions soon enough. But right now—it's practically in the past already—she has taken the room. She just can't imagine what her lines might be. Before she leaves she flicks the light on and off at the switch, on and off, capturing frozen glimpses of the world her father has created. She wants to break this moment into tiny pieces—her father's maps and books and pencils, his shocked face—before this place explodes and they're all shipped off somewhere and each of them has to become somebody else for good.