Read Lost Online

Authors: Gary; Devon

Lost (9 page)

As worried and preoccupied as she was about Mamie, Leona had to grin. She had seen Frank checking the garden on his way into the house, but to egg Emma on, she said, “Looks to me like we have a peeping Tom.”

“Oh, come on, Leona. Be serious,” Emma said. “I swear to God, some of the things you come up with. Who'd want to watch us anyway?”

They looked at each other, trading glances and winks, and burst out laughing. How different they were. Emma, always the realist, prematurely gray now, stockier, the good German matron. And Leona, younger by seven years, impulsive, taller and darker, and considerably more attractive. Only in their eyes did they resemble each other; they both had been blessed with their mother's warm brown eyes. When Emma stood, she went wading off across the frostbitten garden, bundled up in work clothes as heavy as a bear, switching her hips and waving her arms in a hula-dance mockery. Then Leona followed, swaying from side to side, and they laughed and laughed, finally draping their arms around each other to keep from falling.

At noon on Monday, during her appointment with a lawyer in Scranton, Leona fared no better than she had in the encounter at the hospital. Tapping her foot, she sat in the waiting room for more than an hour before the bearded, middle-aged man would see her. “There's no doubt,” he told her, “that you could provide for the child. But—and there's no gentle way to say this—considering that you're alone, that you've never been married, I'm afraid adoption is out of the question. With living relatives willing to take her, no court would take your petition seriously.”

“I see,” she said.

Numb with the news, she rode the elevator down, turned the wrong way in the marble foyer, and went out a delivery door. The door locked automatically behind her and she found herself stranded in a grimy alley. A burst of freezing wind snatched her ivory-colored hat from her head and sent it spiraling up along the inner walls of the sooty brick airway. She spent the rest of the afternoon in a Scranton bank arranging for the withdrawal and transfer of all her money from the bank in Livingstone, Kentucky.

Returning to Graylie, it suddenly dawned on her that what had happened was like something both preordained and coincidental, a peculiar coalescence of events falling into place like loaded dice. Clearly, she had no other choice: she would do what she had to do.


At the foot of her bed, Leona stacked the last of the things they would take with them, new things she had bought for Mamie still in their wrappers and boxes: shoes, none of them bigger than her opened hand, a pair of white sandals with an eyelet design cut in the toes, small red moccasins, black patents for Sundays, lavender cowboy boots with yellow stitching, brown hightops just like some she had had as a girl, and a pair of fuzzy pink slippers; socks, mostly white, but one blue pair had a repeating design of pink giraffes; underwear and petticoats in every pastel color imaginable, dove gray and salmon and soft lime green; jeans and bib overalls, dirndls, a red sailor suit, striped and patterned T-shirts and blouses, with watermelons and kittens and happy smiling bears; jumpers and sweaters; and, finally, a special white Sunday dress, all ruffles and lace. This last dress she held up and out at arm's length. “Look at this. Isn't this something?” she said quietly in the still room, and she gathered it up to her for a moment before folding it and putting it down on the stack of dresses and skirts. Just one suitcase to go. She didn't have time for her flights of fancy; she had planned to be gone by now.

Then she heard it, a noise she should recognize but couldn't, a sound both muffled and metallic, like an iron skillet drawn across a grate far away. For several empty seconds, she remained in a posture of arrested motion, listening with her breath held, waiting for the noise to come again. Nothing. She crept to the door, looked down the hall to the landing, and listened. Nothing. Wouldn't it be a panic, she thought, if a burglar stumbled upon her packing to leave when she had taken all those precautions to keep Emma from finding out?

She had been waiting three days now for this evening, the minutes ticking through her like waterdrops in a Chinese torture chamber. Emma's Women's Auxiliary luncheon had been changed to a dinner meeting at the church so more members could attend in preparation for the Thanksgiving bake sale, and Emma's husband, Frank, exercised his only vice (according to Emma) of the week: he played pinochle with his cronies on Tuesday nights come hell or high water.

Leona had planned everything painstakingly, from this afternoon's excuses and declining Emma's offer to be a good sport and come along and be friendly, to their five-o'clock so-long-see-you-later at the front door, to looking down from the upstairs window in time to see Emma stop halfway across the street as if she had forgotten something, then tilt the umbrella away from her head and glance back toward the house as she closed the spokes of the silky black cloth, hooked the bamboo tongue over her arm, and went on around the corner. Now it was almost seven o'clock and she was nearly finished, her own suitcases already packed and stowed in the trunk of her car.

As Leona opened the last suitcase, the bottom of the bedroom door scrubbed over the carpet and she closed the suitcase empty, letting her fingertips linger on its top as if that light touch would help her keep her balance. Emma was standing by the half-opened bedroom door, clasping her purse in both hands in front of her, glancing first at the empty closet, then at the suitcase and stacks of clothes on the bed.

“Whew!” Leona said. “You scared the wits right out of me just now,” but she was caught red-handed and she knew it, her voice trailing off without breath to carry it. She couldn't find a comfortable place to put her hands. “You're home early.”

Emma let out a long breath, her face scarlet. As she came into the room, she was biting the inside of her cheek, and she let her purse swing in her left hand. Her voice quivered as she spoke. “I'm not even going to ask you what this is all about,” she said. With a defiant wave of her arm, she caught an edge of the white ruffled dress and sent the dress sailing in the air. “Surely you're not serious, Leona. You can't be doing this.”

With delayed reaction, Leona noticed that, over her apron, Emma was wearing her cardigan with the sleeves pushed up. So that was what the noise had been: Emma putting away her umbrella, hanging up her coat, the wire hangers scraping. Neither of them spoke, standing as they were, staring down at the stack of clothes and the suitcase. When she could stand it no longer, Leona turned and cleared a place on the bed to sit.

“I've been wanting to talk to you about this,” Emma said. “It was no good from the very beginning.”

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Leona closed her eyes.

As Emma sat on the bed, too, she said, “This has gone too far.” She paused as if she expected a reply. “Leona, don't do this. Please don't do this.”

Leona opened her eyes and studied her sister's kind, faintly quilted face, her sad brown eyes, and said nothing.

“You don't know what you're doing, running back and forth to the hospital every night. Look what it's done to you. You're exhausted and you're not thinking straight.” Emma was leaning forward, holding her arms straight down between her knees, her fingers fumbling at the pennies in her shoes. It struck Leona like a long-overlooked discovery, and for that moment she loved Emma more than she had ever loved anyone or anything in the world—a woman forty-one years old, her older sister, with the innocence and terrible taste not only to be still wearing penny loafers, but actually to put pennies in them. It was heartbreaking and it was wonderful and Leona wanted to hold her, to make her happy, to give in. The back of her throat was so dry it hurt.

“It's time to put this aside,” Emma said, staring at her shoes. “You can—”

Leona interrupted her. “No, Emma, I can't. I just can't.”

“It's more than you bargained for.”

For a moment, Leona couldn't sort her thoughts; then she said, “No, actually, it
what I bargained for. Though I didn't know it at the time. I want it all … for her. And I don't want her to suffer as I did once.”

“It's already too late, then. I'm wasting my time.”

“Emma, I know how you are, but I don't want you to worry about this. I know what I'm doing.”

“That's just it. I don't believe you do know. I can't help my worrying.” She rose and went to the door. With her hand on the glass doorknob, she turned and they looked at each other.

“I thought you had changed,” Emma said, “and I felt better about things. But you haven't, not in the slightest. You're just as headstrong as ever. I look at you and I see that whizbang, hot as a firecracker—remember, when you were about sixteen you used to say that? ‘Boy,' you'd say, ‘I'm hot as a firecracker,' and our daddy'd smile like he'd died and gone to Heaven, God rest his soul. Well, I look at you and I still see that hot-as-a-fire-cracker sixteen-year-old who would ruin our family—still hellbent for destruction.”

Leona felt cut and numb. She turned away.

“What are you going to do when they catch up with you?”

“I don't know,” Leona said without looking up. “I guess I don't intend to be caught.”

“Ha! Listen to yourself. They'll send you to the pen and I'll have to live with

Leona glanced up in time to see her sister's eyes, magnified with tears, before the door closed. “Damn,” she said, falling back crosswise on the bed. She heard a door slam downstairs, then the squeak and whap of the screen door. Only the back door had a screen.

By the time Leona caught up with Emma, she was near the clothesline that ran alongside the house. She was weaving as she walked, her sloped shoulders heaving. When she stopped, Leona stopped, too, a few steps behind. Emma freed one hand to wipe her face. It made Leona ache. “Emma, if you don't stop bawling, you're going to get me started, too.”

When Emma spoke, her voice sounded blubbery and hollow, as if she were holding her nose. “Oh, no, you won't. You're too tough.”

Leona waited, shivering, the air as crisp and sour as the taste of cold green apples. She stared at the gray wooden clothespins left on the line. She started to go to Emma, but Emma was coming back, the wet patches under her eyes glistening, her face swollen and streaked. Emma took up a corner of her apron and wiped her face, then twisted the printed cloth until it was wrung tight.

“I don't understand it,” she said, and choked. “I don't understand any of this. It's beyond me. Should I worry about you and what you're doing to yourself and the trouble you're going to cause? Or should I worry about that poor little girl being carried off into the wild blue yonder by the likes of you? And besides, what do you really know about her? Her older brother tried to kill himself some time back. Shot himself. That should tell you something. There had to be something wrong in that house.” When she could twist the apron corner no farther, she picked it apart, smoothed it flat on the palm of her hand, and started twisting it again. “Why a woman alone would want the responsibility of a child like that, who probably”—she raised her eyebrows and leaned forward—“probably is not quite right”—she poked at her own head—“if you know what I mean, I'll never know.
is beyond me. You could've done anything you wanted.…” She shook her head. “With all that Merchassen money.”

Emma lurched off again in another direction, wandering toward the two desolate concrete urns standing sentinel to her rose trellis, dragging Leona along in her wake.

If anyone's watching, Leona thought, we must look ridiculous. She tried to imagine how they might appear from a neighbor's window. A head taller than her sister and full-figured, Leona knew she had an angular kind of attractiveness. This afternoon, she'd taken particular pains with her appearance, choosing a tailored skirt and silk blouse that flattered her dark eyes. She had pinned up her auburn hair in a loose chignon, though the wind was now taking it apart in frazzles. Years ago, their father had said, “Leona, when God passed out His parcels, you got the looks and Emma got the leftovers and the common sense.” At the time, it had been true and it had stayed with Leona as a kind of admonition. Ever since, she had tended to overcompensate in her dealings with Emma, as if she were somehow responsible for her sister's plainness. Just as she was doing now.

“Stop it, Emma, come on. Please. I don't have time for this.” But her efforts to persuade her sister to stop went unheeded. The day had started with such promise, such a sense of expectancy, only to have it end like this. She wanted to grab her and shake her. “Emma, stop crying, or as far as I'm concerned, this conversation is over and I'll be out of here in five minutes.”

Emma's face contorted, baring her teeth as if she were going to bite. “I know you will! That's the kind of mind I have to contend with.”

“Emma, I
to do this.”

Emma's eyes welled up again, and she spit the words out: “I should've said something sooner, but I didn't want to meddle in your affairs. I thought if I kept my mouth shut you'd stay longer and behave yourself. All along something kept telling me, ‘This isn't right. This is wrong.' Every time you left to go to the hospital, a feeling of dread came over me. I didn't know what it was exactly. It just felt bad.”

A cold wind rattled the brown hydrangeas caught in the fence and whipped the clothesline, and Leona turned her back to it. “Emma, I'd rather not talk about this out here. Couldn't we go inside?”

Emma didn't move. Stubbornly holding the apron corner, she crossed her arms.

“Okay, then,” Leona said. “You only see the obvious. That little girl
somebody. She needs somebody to be there when she wakes up from a bad dream or when she wants a drink of water. She
somebody when she goes to sleep, so she'll know she's not alone. She needs to know somebody cares. And, Emma,
nobody cares
. They
. Until I took it upon myself to start going to see her, she wasn't getting any better. You should've seen her. Skin and bones. She wasn't getting well.” Either from the cold or her own desperation, Leona's voice was beginning to quaver.

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