The novel Animals was published in Canada in 2009 by Vehicule Press, and in 2010 in the USA by Soft Skull Press. Part 1 of the novel appears below. Comments, reviews, and other information appear elsewhere on this site. A blog focussing on issues relating to the book is posted at http://donlepan.blogspot.com/.
[The cover image for the Canadian edition, which appears above, was designed for Vehicule by David Drummond.]
By Don LePan
Animals, copyright © 2009, Don LePan
I am not cute, I am not a pet, I am not a mongrel. I am a child, that’s all. And I want the walls to become the world all around, like they are for Max. And then he wanted to be where someone loved him best of all and I want that too, that’s all I want, really.
Sam had just turned nine when those thoughts ran together in his mind; he was young enough not to feel it shameful for the words from a picture book to be going round in his head, and young enough to have his own word for the times that he would be alone and his mind would be running on to itself like this, thinks was what he called them. Young enough for that, old enough to be hardly able to remember a time when he had lived as a human.
But there had been such a time. For the first five years and more of his life Sam had lived with his mother Tammy, his brothers Broderick and Daniel, and his sister Letitia. He was the youngest and also the weakest, and when the time came that everyone knew he should be talking, he wasn’t, he couldn’t. Years later the memory remained fixed in his mind, as strong and as helpless as a headstone, the memory of watching their mouths move, watching their fingers do things in response to the others’ moving mouths, and knowing nothing, nothing, understanding nothing. He started a habit then of ceaseless babble to compete, to get attention, to make them do things in response to his moving mouth. Perhaps that is always what it is like to be deaf, before you know what deaf is.
It took time for the others to realize he was different. But ever so slowly Broderick and Daniel and Letitia—and after a time even Tammy, their mother—started treating Sam a bit differently. Not that they were less loving, or not exactly that, though in some sense that may have been what it amounted to. They kept saying how cute he was, as one does with a small child, but also as one does with a certain sort of pet, and soon it became clear that the other children loved him in a different way. For the first year or two they had spoken to him as one does to a small person who is constantly changing, constantly able to hear and understand more—and to say more. But as it slowly but steadily became plain that he was not developing in that way, that nothing he said made sense, that he seemed able to understand little or nothing, their way of dealing with him changed too. Slowly but steadily they reverted to baby talk. “Oose a good little Sammy?” they would coo“Oose a funny wunny little Sammy?” He would look blankly at their moving mouths, or sometimes start making frantic motions with his own mouth.
“There’s something wrong with him. You can see it,” they would say, “he’s not right in the head. If he was, he’d be talking by now—whole sentences, not just words.” They were right. He couldn’t understand anything of what they were saying. Nor could he hear the traffic, or the rushing of the water in the river, or the thunder in a summer storm. He couldn’t hear the phone or the seescreen, he couldn’t hear anything.
“Maybe he’s a mongrel. They’re not just made, you know. A person can give birth to one. And they sometimes look the same as humans, I guess never exactly the same but almost, not so different that you’d know if you weren’t trained. Look at his forehead now; a lot of them have that sort of flat little forehead, don’t they? And the eyes, so far apart.”
* * *
(Broderick, many years later)
I know the story is just getting started, but I want to interject here just briefly to sketch some of the historical background that the author of the manuscript I’ve presented you with has not bothered to fill in. This all happened many decades ago, and I’m very aware that many of you are young, and that for many young people today the past is largely unfamiliar territory. In those days, if you were a family that discovered it had a mongrel within its midst—that the mother had given birth to a mongrel—you had several choices. First of all, you had the choice of whether or not you would declare it to the authorities; if you did, it would trigger an elaborate bureaucratic process to decide where the creature would be “placed.” The decision itself was for the authorities to make, but you would be asked to make a recommendation, and more often than not they would follow that recommendation. You might recommend that the creature remain with the family, but with changed status—as a pet mongrel, in short, not a human child. Alternatively, you could recommend that it be treated as a chattel—which, understandably enough, few families were inclined to do. A surprising number, however, would check “no recommendation,” unwilling either to have the status of a former family member changed (so as to reflect the fact that they were keeping a lower order of being) or to put it on a path that would certainly lead to it being lost to them forever. What such families typically did not or would not acknowledge was that in practice “no recommendation” generally put the creature on that same path; nine times out of ten a mongrel that started through the bureaucracy with a “no recommendation” from its originating family would end up in the chattel pens.
You might think that some effort would have gone into diagnosis to ensure that those being re-labelled mongrel or chattel rather than human were being accurately classified. The fact was, though, that diagnosis was an area where thoroughness was noticeably lacking. (To a great extent that remains the case even today.) The doctors were rarely called in to make a judgement as to the precise nature of the defect; the family’s word was generally taken at face value, so long as it did not seem to go against the plain facts of the case. Any inspector, even one with minimal medical training, could in almost every case discern those facts pretty quickly. Sometimes it would have that half-vacant look in the eyes that’s such a common characteristic of mongrels; in that case it was certainly easy to tell. Various physical abnormalities could also be reliable indicators. Oftentimes too you’d get a distinctive short stature—typically with a somewhat compressed torso and legs disproportionately long; a long face, with elongated forehead and jaw—though that was not the only characteristic physical type for mongrels. Sometimes the most salient feature was rounded eyes, unusually far apart and set far forward, making for a disconcertingly inquisitive appearance. Of course lack of verbal ability was very frequently a tip-off. It didn’t take a lot of expertise; that was the fact of the matter. Any human could tell a sub-human when he saw one; it was not rocket science.
Not all families in the situation that Tammy Rose and her children found themselves in chose to report their predicament to the authorities. Often enough—perhaps in one of every three cases—the choice would be to keep things quiet. You couldn’t pretend to the world that a three-year-old which couldn’t talk properly and which didn’t look right was human, that much was obvious. But you could simply change your behavior towards it, gradually coming to treat it as a mongrel rather than a fully human being. That way you didn’t run the risk of the authorities deciding for whatever reason that no, in this case the family’s recommendation wouldn’t be followed, this one wouldn’t be allowed to stay in the same family living as a mongrel, this one would be sent to the Repository, or straight to the pens.
Most neighbors in this sort of situation might start to say “Isn’t he cute?” with a bit of a different tone, but they would not ask the awkward questions: “What’s the matter with your little Jimmy?”, “Why do you call your little one ‘Bubbles’ now?” Or Percy or Freckles or Bear? But never the same name as it had had before, you couldn’t have a mongrel with the same name you’d given it when you thought it was human. Or the same food. Any pet had to eat pet food, that was obvious. To be sure, there were families that would feed it scraps from the table. But a line had to be drawn somewhere.
There’s a good deal else that could be said but I don’t want to be too much of a distraction, and I think what I’ve given you may be enough for now to make the picture a little clearer for you. Let me allow you to get back to the manuscript.
* * *
As long as he lived, Sam would always remember the day they took away his knife and fork. Letitia cared about table manners. She fussed about them even more than their mother; Letty would always be looking at the way he ate. Of course all he had been able to do was watch the others, and he thought things were all right, he thought he was doing pretty well copying them. He didn’t notice the way Letitia would glance at him sometimes at mealtimes, despairing, then disparaging, eventually contemptuous—particularly if any of her young friends were over. “He’s pathetic, isn’t he?” she would ask rhetorically. “Look at the little bits in his teeth, and how he snorts and belches!”
Broderick would always cringe when he heard this kind of thing. Like the eldest in so many families, he was both careful and caring. In something of a ponderous way he had developed a real sense of the importance of things. Sometimes it could tilt almost comically into self-importance, but he felt too the importance of things for others. He had heard this sort of nasty silliness about Sam before. Finally it became too much. “It’s not the same for him!” he exclaimed angrily one evening as he watched Letty mocking Sam in front of her friends.
Much later in her life Letitia came to realize how she had used that mocking. It wasn’t just little Sammy but the whole family, her whole world with its worn floors, its shabby furniture, its hand-me-down clothes, its total lack of the sorts of toys and gadgets that would give a child status in the eyes of her friends. Their mother did her best always, but after their father had abandoned them there was never enough money, not really, not so as to keep up any social standing. Back then she never blamed her father; he was never there to blame. Instead it had been her mother, and especially little Sam, that she had blamed, that she had sneered at. If she was the one to do it first, if she sneered more loudly and more cruelly at Sam than her friends would have ever dreamed of doing, it would keep their sneers at bay, it would show her to be one of them, a group out of place in this squalor, a group that stood above all this. “It’s pathetic!”—that was her favorite phrase. For the tacky lampshades and pictures on the walls, for the rusty car, for the way the spaces under the children’s beds had to be used to store tools or sports gear or other odds and ends that were out of season; the tiny house had no attic, no storage room of any kind.
This particular day, the day that Broderick finally snapped at her, she had been pointing at Sam, her mouth wide with glee as the uncomprehending little thing struggled with a plate of spaghetti. That’s when he said it—Broderick was just coming into the room and he must have seen the way Letty had looked at Sam. “It’s not the same for him!”, those are the very words he said. And even before he finished speaking it seemed he had reached the table—he had such quick strides for a young boy, Broderick did, and he grabbed the knife and fork from Sam’s tiny hands. Savagely he sliced into the little pile of spaghetti, cutting it into smaller and smaller pieces. “There!”, he said, thrusting into Sam’s hand the spoon that had been meant for pudding. “See if they feel like laughing at you now!” Letitia still had a twisted little residue of scorn on her face, but fear had pushed it to the margins; Broderick was a husky fourteen and looked a good deal larger than normal when he was fired up like this.
Perhaps you could say that that particular change happened out of good-heartedness. But however you colored them, facts were facts; from that meal onwards, Sam never ate with the others or in the same way as the others. Knife and fork were never provided, spoon and bowl became normal routine for him, and it came to be expected that he would eat not at the dining table but in the kitchen, at a little low table in the corner. And mealtime for him would always be a little before or a little after the others had eaten.
One by one the other human things went too. With a lot of gesticulating and wide smiles it was made clear to Sam that the place where he was to sleep would now be a little cot down in the basement. He would have a flannel sheet and heavy blankets, but not the good sheets. They started dressing him in the bright coarse wool coveralls that you’d see mongrels wearing everywhere. There would be no need for underwear, not any more, and it would often be a week or ten days before they’d think to put the old coverall in the wash and give him a fresh one. When they did launder his things—his one thing, to be accurate about it—they wouldn’t wash what he wore with the others’ clothes; it would be a “special load” and their mother would wrinkle up her nose and smile good-humoredly as she held the coverall at arms length between finger and thumb before dropping it into the machine.
“Whew! He doesn’t half stink, does he?” Daniel or Letitia might ask, and sometimes one of them would get the giggles. Sam’s body they would wash perhaps once a week. Of course he would break out in little spots and sores now and again, and that too made him less and less human, the change imperceptible on any given day, inescapable week by week, month by month.
The children did not think much of it either way—even Broderick, who Sam would always believe had loved him. Certainly not Daniel, who had loved Sam since his little brother had been born, in the only way that very young children are able to love a baby sibling—which is to say, in a way virtually indistinguishable from the way in which they love a pet. It can be a strong love, but it can also be a fickle one.
And certainly not Letitia. Much later in life Letty would reach a stage where she loved all the world, but for her such love could never be a place of peace; she was propelled to it out of the tension between the urges that had ruled her as a child and the tenacious conscience that had suddenly taken root in her as she entered adolescence. The tension pumped through Letty’s veins a powerful awareness not only of the selfishness and cruelty of the world but also, most painfully, of the selfishness and cruelty that had been a pervasive presence in her own character, aged twelve.
But Tammy cared deeply about Sam. In those years her face could pass for thirty-eight for all the vibrancy and love that could fill it, or for fifty-eight, for all the care and sadness and resenting that filled it too often, too full. Many times she said to Sam with her eyes how sorry she was, how horribly twisted she felt about what was happening to him, what was being done to him. She sometimes thought too, bleakly and specifically, of what she had done to him. But she was not one to blame herself more than she deserved. For what Sam was going through you could credit equally the quirk of nature that had made the child what he was, the life that Tammy had allowed to go on around him in their own little world, and the life that went on outside, in the wider world—a larger life that pushed the likes of Sam steadily further away from the realm of the human. She could have done more herself, she often thought in later years. Perhaps if Rick had not abandoned them, perhaps if there had been more money. Perhaps if the rest of the world had looked at things differently. But none of that had been the case.
There came a time when things started to go more quickly downhill for Sam. Things were changing day by day for the whole family—especially after the local hospital decided to farm out services to the company putting in the lowest bid, and Tammy lost her job as a cleaner. Tammy had always had the sort of jobs most people wouldn’t want to stay at for long, for years stocking shelves in Macy’s before they closed down, for years too on the checkout counters at a Your Price store before their scanners were upgraded, then at the hospital. But she had always wanted to stick to it, she was that sort of person. And with each position she had held it had seemed possible that she would be able to do just that. Now it suddenly all looked different. Financial status, social standing—these are words that Tammy didn’t much think about. But she knew how much money was coming in, and how much was going out, and she knew she was no longer able to keep up.
Not too long after Tammy had lost the cleaning job she found a new position—lower pay, but a good job, a job with people that valued what she was doing, a job working for the before-and-after school program in the basement of Sunnyside Primary School. It was a good school, one of the historic old schools in the city core that always seemed to be thriving. But only a few months later that job ended too. The school didn’t close, nothing so drastic as that. But enrolment in the before-and-after school program kept drifting downwards, and then the city decided to cut off the base funding they’d been providing for the program.
That time Tammy found it hard to figure out just what had gone wrong, just why they’d had to close the program. The program hadn’t been proper daycare really, it was just before-and-after-school; maybe it was the wrong sort of program for the neighborhood. One time she and Bonnie—it was Bonnie really who ran the program—had the idea that they would change the routine at the end of the day. They had always said to the parents, “You have to be here to pick up your child by 5:30 at the latest,” and just left it at that. The problem had been that a lot of the parents had never paid attention, had arrived at 5:35 or 5:45 or 5:50. Bonnie’s idea was that, instead of that, they would now say that for every minute late the parents would have to pay extra, $100 for every minute late, no limit. “We’ll stay here thirty minutes extra, we won’t abandon your little ones. But we’re going to be firm about the extra charges.” The delinquent parents would feel it—feel it in their wallets, $3,000 for a half-hour, that was more than a day’s wages for a lot of people.
Tammy and Bonnie couldn’t believe what happened. As soon as they had put in the new policy, the number of people arriving late every day started to go up. And it stayed up, settling at a level maybe twenty per cent higher than before. That was the attitude people had, people with money, they had a lot of it and they would waste a lot of it sooner than they would trouble about being on time to pick up their children. And perhaps it’s not a lot different now.
Perhaps at root what happened to Tammy and her family—to Sam most of all—was a matter of supply and demand. Of being at the right place at the right time, too, or not being there—a lot of it was always luck too. You’d think there shouldn’t have been any shortage of demand for the services Tammy and Bonnie offered at the before-and-after school program. Even in an area such as Sunnyside, close to the downtown with a lot of urban professionals, a lot of families were having three kids or four, where a few generations earlier they might have had only one or two, or none at all. And much as mongrel births had soared, there were still more than enough human births in a neighborhood like that to keep things growing, that’s what you’d think. But more and more of the better-off families were hiring nannies—that was an area where tax breaks were at their most generous. At the other end of the scale, people such as Tammy herself were slipping further and further behind, so that fewer and fewer of them could afford the “luxury” of before-and-after school care. They had to rely on grandmothers or friends or having the older kids take turns looking after the younger ones while the parents worked.
Anyway, there it was, Tammy laid off again. That was in June, at the end of the school year. As demand for childcare workers had shrivelled, so too had benefits for those who remained; if you did get laid off, there wasn’t a lot you were left with. A bit of severance pay, and that was that. No ongoing healthcare benefits, no pension. For Tammy it was one month’s pay for every year worked—little more than six week’s pay, in other words, even if she eked it out carefully. At first the portions of fish and of tofu would get smaller, then there would be no fish or tofu at all most days but only some potatoes or rice and some greens. And then the portions started to get smaller and smaller with each passing day. In those days surely no one was more careful with money than Tammy was—or better at giving to her children a sense that all was well, even as desperation pressed closer and closer.
It was her illness—a case you can still hear people talk of today—that finally brought home to her the urgency of her situation. Brought it home to the children too, all of them. Tammy had never gotten sick, that was one thing she prided herself on. Never. It all turned into something of a cause célèbre. It was a lead item on a lot of newscasts, and splashed across the front page of just about every newspaper in the continent. Nobody remembers her name now, of course, but more than a few still remember the story of the woman who ate pet food. Those who do remember the incident at all remember that thousands and thousands of mongrels had become sick, evidently from eating tainted mongrel food. Something in the bone meal that had been added for protein turned out to be diseased. It was no laughing matter; several hundred pets died. And there was one human hospitalized, a woman at first unidentified who had had to spend several days in hospital, it was reported, after taking a few bites of pet food herself. As the story went, the woman had taken two or three bites of the stuff as she was trying to entice her pet to try it. “Here, little Sammy, try it—you’ll see. It’s not so bad! Mmm, it really is good, you’ll see!”
The story sounded more or less plausible, but that wasn’t the way it happened at all. To begin with, Sammy was never fed pet food; he might not have been eating at the same table as the others, but Tammy was feeding him the same food, always. Daniel and Letitia and even Broderick might have started treating him by now as only sort-of a member of the family, as something no longer entirely loved. And much as she might have hated to face the fact, Tammy was allowing that to happen. But none of them was feeding him pet food. Indeed, there can be little doubt that until Tammy had to be taken to the hospital neither Letitia nor Daniel nor Broderick was for one moment aware that pet food was anywhere to be found in the house. Her whole story, in other words, had been concocted to disguise the fact of her having eaten pet food herself—not as a matter of enticing any animal to eat it, but as a matter of what she thought of as staving off severe nutritional deficiency. Like almost everyone back then, and like most people now, Tammy had been given the idea that you need a lot more protein to be healthy than in fact you do. As she saw it, there wasn’t near enough to go round. So what she had been doing was giving to her children every last little bit of whatever protein she could afford, which is to say, whatever little bit of goat’s milk or tofu she could manage (she could never afford even the poorest grade of ground chattel, of course). And then furtively, after they were all in bed—or, in Sammy’s case, curled up on his cot downstairs—she would open a tin of cut-rate pet food, the sort of thing that was mostly filler of some unmentionable sort, ground intestines and strange goo mixed in with vegetable matter and the ground-chattel bone meal.
If the true story had come out, of course, the whole world would have found out just how hard up Tammy had been, the whole world including all her relatives. And that might have changed things, though it might just as well have made no difference, since the relatives who would certainly have wanted to help were almost as poor themselves as was Tammy, whereas the ones with the means to do so (her Uncle Simon, most especially) would just as certainly have found more reason to fault her for her behavior than to come to her assistance. Couldn’t she have done better at keeping a job? Why hadn’t she had the sense to put something aside for a rainy day?
At any rate, the full story never did come out. Some kind souls felt moved when they heard or read the news reports to send money to help with the hospital bills, so at least her illness had not added any to the family’s debts. But there were some debts, and the rent, Tammy had to admit to herself, was now a good deal more than she could afford. They would have to move, she could see that, there could be no doubt about it. Indeed, with her being already three months behind in the rent, the move would have to be soon. And it would have to be done on the quiet, so they’d be well out of town before the landlord had any idea they were gone.
The one place where demand for childcare workers was holding up well, even increasing, was in the border towns. The border seemed to mean less and less with each passing month but there still was a border; the patrols and the border guards with their trained wolverines, the barbed wire, and the alarms were all still in place. Every day dozens died trying to get across and dozens more were captured—but hundreds and hundreds succeeded. It was these people even more than the established citizens who were having children, not three or four but five or six, even eight or ten children. And as the border towns swelled and the illegals found work (there was always work for illegals) they all needed child care. Inexpensive child care. Most of it was informal, of course; the pay was absurdly low, and there were no benefits at all, but it was work, and work that Tammy knew how to do.
Would that be enough? Every night in the middle of the night for weeks as she awaited the end of the month—they would wait until the night before rent was again due before they made their move—Tammy would lie awake wondering whether it would be enough. Going over and over again the sums for food, for rent, for the few little things that one had to have above and beyond food and rent, even if one was poor. Not the dance lessons that Letty had had that one year, that one good year three years back, not those certainly; not the new mitt Broderick so wanted for his baseball, just pickup baseball, no fancy team with their fancy uniforms and their travel and their fees, just the sandlot that was all but no, he couldn’t have that glove either, and not for Daniel—no, any of that was out of the question.
And for Sammy? That was when Tammy’s head began to pound, for she knew there was one thing she could do, something that would make it so much easier for the other three children. And would it make it worse for Sammy? Her heart stabbed with the knowledge of how little she could give him, how much he needed, how everything was changing, not just for the five of them but with the world. She ached with her desire—no, with her need—to make it all better for him. But with every day, and especially at night, at two in the morning, at three in the morning, she was weighed down more and more with the certainty of how little she could do for him. He would be better somewhere else, with someone else, with people who could … Well, it would just be better, if she could find the right household. Then, even as a mongrel, he would be taken care of better than she could afford for any of her children.
The next day—it was a bright morning in late June—their landlord, Mr. Conrad, came round to see them. He had been coming most every week the past while, and every time it was the same. He shifted his weight from foot to foot and looked down at a grimy crack between the floorboards as he scratched on about how the rent hadn’t been there, it hadn’t been there on the first of the month again, and that was weeks ago now, it hadn’t been there any of the other times she had promised it since. It had to be there on the first of the month, everyone knew there had to be rules, he just couldn’t keep allowing some people to be late. This wasn’t the first time, he thought they should know that perfectly well.
He would never shout or even get sharp when he would go on like this. But he always made sure he came round when Broderick and Daniel and Letitia and Sam were all there, that increased the shame of it, there were books that said how much more likely a tenant was to pay up if she were shamed in front of her family, her children especially, the statistics were remarkable, really. Usually Tammy would glare and huff and press forward until the confrontation was happening out in the hall where it could only half be heard. But this time she just stayed silent, the muscles stretched taut in her face, and she waited until he was done. She told him as she always did that he would have his money soon, very soon. But then when he was gone she pressed her face into her hands and rocked back and forth slowly, staring at the handle of the door that Mr. Conrad had just closed. Sam could see her mouth and it was open as if to cry out, but he did not think she was making any sound. It might have been for two or three minutes she stood like that and then she turned almost savagely away from the door, and in few minutes was directing the children—all of them, Sammy too—very calmly, as if from a great distance. They packed everything into a few old boxes. She had “pulled herself together,” as the saying goes, and they were moving.
It was still dark when she came to Sammy, curled asleep on his little cot, in his blankets. She had scissors with her, and a needle and thread, and quietly she took up his coverall and found a place where the fabric was doubled, and made a slit and slipped into it a folded paper, wrapped in plastic so it would be protected. Sitting quietly as the half light began to seep through the high basement window, she sewed the letter—for that was what it was, a letter—into the coveralls.
I am leaving this with you, hoping that some day you will somehow be able to understand it, and understand what I am doing now. We will be off in the morning for Brownsburg, me and Letty and Broderick and Daniel. I have thought and thought and now I know I can not be bringing you with us. I will be leaving you with the Stinsons, they are good people I think, with all my heart I shall pray you come to no harm. I think what I am doing is for the best, the best for you as well as the rest of us, but I am not knowing this. Sometimes I am thinking there is nothing we can know, really. My heart is breaking with love for you and for the terrible hole I have dug for us all. But I cannot provide for you four, all of you, not now I cannot take care of you, not properly. I will think of you always and always ache for you, and always be hoping that you are well, that what I am doing now will have made it better for you, for I know there is a chance it could be worse, even much worse. I know that sometimes in lives there is no end, and all we can do is try to hold something good in our hearts and remember that we were once loved, that someone somewhere loves us still. I hope someday you can read this or have it read to you. But not soon, not so soon—I would love so much for you to have the words and be hearing, be reading, but not reading this when the hurt is still strong and soon.
Then she had written “love,” of course, and signed it “your Mother, always.” There was another line too, a line that she had scratched out or tried to scratch out, it was crossed over again and again but if you held it up to a window you could still read where it said “when you were born you were the light of my life.”
Sam was stirring as she finished sewing the little package into the seam of the coverall. He looked up at her; there was red around her eyes and she had red blotches on her cheek and neck, and tears streaming down. She bundled him in all his blankets and took him in her arms, knowing it would be the last time. He was much too old and too heavy to be carried like this. Her tears fell on his forearms, and on his small face. She staggered a little going down the porch steps, and again just over halfway down the block, but she made it to the Stinsons’ front yard, up the little rise around the corner on 10th Street.
That was where the neighborhood started to change. The Stinsons had made a lot of money on that very change, as a matter of fact, buying up properties when prices were still low, and then turning a tidy profit unloading them as gentrification had spread to 12th,, 11th,, and now to 10th Street too. They had fixed up 102 themselves—at any rate that was a phrase Carrie Stinson would often use, “we did it up ourselves,” she would tell people seeing the inside of the house for the first time, looking at the skylights, the Italian tile, the new kitchen, the loft attic, but of course they hadn’t done all that with their own hands, they had had people in for the actual building, it was the arranging of it, the choosing that had been entirely handled by the Stinsons themselves.
They had just one child and no pets—in fact there were no mongrels at all along the entire block. They had always smiled at Tammy, at all the children, Sam included, and once when Tammy was struggling with bags and packages and a stroller when Letitia and Sam were still very small, the Stinsons had helped her pick up a number of items that had fallen out of her bag and gone skittering into the gutter. Mr. Stinson—he had an odd first name, “Zayne” it was—had looked awkward as he had tried to find places to put the things he had retrieved from the sidewalk, and had ended up piling them a bit askew on top of the awning of the stroller. Awkward, and a bit comical. But very friendly, and both of them had seemed to speak kindly; Tammy had remembered that.
There was starting to be more light in the sky but there was still a chill in the air as she set Sam down ever so gently on the Stinsons’ porch, still wrapped in his blankets, and held him for a moment even closer than she had when she had been carrying him. With a half-strangled sound and an awkward gesture she somehow made it plain to him that he was to stay there, that he was not to follow her, but that she loved him, he could see that she loved him, please see that I love you came silently from her lips, and the tears did not stop as she turned and fumbled with the gate by the sidewalk, and walked quickly but not steadily back towards the house that she was about to leave with her other children, back to the boxes that had to be piled in the car before full light, she would have to try to have them out of there with everything they were able to pack into the rusty old Honda by full light, it wouldn’t do to have the neighbors see her leaving like that as they came out in the morning, certainly not that nasty Thelma two doors down who knew Mr. Conrad, who could so easily call him and have him come round again, and then the police would come—no, they must be out of there, out of there right away.
[end of part one]
To read the full novel, please order through your local bookshop or direct from the publishers, www.vehiculepress.com. Thanks for your interest!