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“It’s stupid to talk about these things,” I tell him.

He shakes his head. “No, it’s never stupid to dream. Dreams are plans; they get your heart moving, and once your heart gets moving, your brain will follow.”

I don’t know if I believe him, but I pretend I do, for my brain’s sake.

“What kind of movies do you like?” he asks me one day. We’d spent most of the day exchanging theories about Nevaeh, our conversation eventually ebbing into a thick silence.

I didn’t know. With Destiny, I’d watch movies like The Notebook, The Wedding Date and Ever After. When we got bored with the modern romantic comedies we’d dip into the eighties, watching things like When Harry Met Sally and Moonstruck, at first laughing at the high hair and neon-colored clothes and then becoming serious and drugged at the heady dosage of love that Hollywood delivered. My favorite movie from my time spent on Destiny’s red and black striped couch had always been Splash, though Destiny made fun of me for it.

“Of all the lovey movies out there, you like the one about a damn mermaid,” she’d said. “The most unrealistic of them all…”

What I didn’t tell Destiny was that I thought love was unrealistic in general. The pretentious chance meeting, the swift slide into love, and then the ability of the men to always say the right words to win back the heart of the heroine. Splash may be outlandish, but love is, too. It is nice to watch, and foolish to believe in. Perhaps I don’t like romantic comedies as much as I thought.

“I don’t know,” I say to Judah. “I’ve always watched the type of movies that make you believe in love even when you have no reason to. It’s silly and babyish. I guess I just want someone to convince me.”

“Do you have cable?” he asks.

“Cable? I don’t even have a television,” I tell him. For a moment I am a space alien to Judah Grant. I touch my face to make sure nothing’s changed or become deformed in the last few minutes as he gapes at me.

“What?!” I snap. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

His mouth is open, and his eyes are spacey.

“I’m just thinking about all the movies I want you to watch. I’m making a list … shh.”

I sit quietly while Judah scribbles things down on the back of a receipt. He doesn’t judge me or call me a freak. All he’s concerned about is showing me what I don’t know, not calling attention to that fact that I don’t know it. When he’s done, he looks at me expectantly.

“Let’s go,” he says.

“Where to?”

“Where do you think? he asks. “The movie store! And you should probably go home to get pajamas; this is going to be an all-night sleepover binge.”

Judah wheels himself out of the house and onto the sidewalk with gusto. I follow dumbly behind, wondering if he was serious about the sleepover. I’ve only been in his home a few times, and never past the kitchen—except for the night he called my name from the window.

We are making our way along the sidewalk when, from two houses down, Mother Mary calls my name.

Mother Mary, namer of your death, so wrinkled that she looks more mummified than real. I make my way over to her house, careful not to let the fear show on my face, careful not to step on the cracks in the sidewalk. I heard she docked a year off your life for every crack you stepped on.

I stand at the bottom of the three stairs that lead to her front door. Judah is behind me, waiting at the border of the swampy grass that is the start of Mother Mary’s property.

She stands on the top step, her tiny frame looming over me. Is it my imagination, or are her eyes blue? Blue eyes amidst the dark, coppery skin. I’ve never been close enough to see her eyes. She extends a hand and beckons me up the stairs. I follow the tiny, purple buds of her fingernails to a rocking chair, where she has me sit. An invitation by Mother Mary can only mean one thing. Judah is spinning his chair in circles on the sidewalk. He wants to go to the movie store.

I laugh out loud as I watch him. Mother Mary lowers herself into the rocker next to me and watches my face.

“You look over there with such love?” she says. Her voice is strong and smooth, not at all what I expected.

“No,” I say. “It’s not like that … he’s my friend.” I’m alarmed that my feelings for Judah are so obvious.

Mother Mary rocks back and forth while eyeing Judah.

I wonder how she knows my name.

“He,” she says. “Gives you hope?”

“Yes,” I say.

“Then keep him,” she says with so much finality, I glance up at her face to see if she’s kidding. After that, the silence stretches so long I begin to squirm in my seat.

I open my mouth to offer an excuse to leave, when Mother Mary cuts me off.

“Your mother,” she says.

“Yes…” I urge her.

Judah does a wheelie and spins around on his back tires.

“She’s between worlds, can’t decide where she wants to be. You are much the same—you and her.”

I want to tell her that my mother decided long ago where she wanted to be—safely locked up in the eating house, locked up even tighter in herself. And then it occurs to me what she’s saying about my cold, hard-eyed mother. Could she be entertaining thoughts of her own death? To escape what? The box she put herself in?

I look over at the elderly woman, too frail to be frightening. Why have I always feared Mother Mary?


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