She thought: There’s Wi-Fi at the guesthouse.

She thought: He’ll have called Claude—Poppy—and she’ll know what’s going on.

But when she arrived at the guesthouse seven breathless minutes later, knees bloodied from falling when she jumped out of the tree, thighs screaming from pedaling twice as hard as her thighs were inclined to left to their own devices, the Wi-Fi was down and Poppy was sound asleep.

At first she was relieved. If it were bad, Poppy would have waited up to tell her. If it were bad, Poppy wouldn’t be able to sleep. Then she became unrelieved because if it were not bad, but really bad, Penn wouldn’t call Poppy. Penn would wait to talk to Rosie.

It was going to be a long night.

Rosie’s first thought, after she cleaned up her knees, checked the Wi-Fi a few hundred more times, and finally, resignedly, climbed into bed, was of Carmelo, who, after sixty-some years with her pack a day habit, probably had it coming to her, but her daughter was still not ready. Please, she pled to the Buddha, to the darkness, to the jungle, to any powers that be’d, I am not ready. I cannot lose my mother. She is all the family I have left.

Then she thought of all the family she had left. There was no reason to assume it wasn’t one of the boys. Youth did not protect from everything, not even in the United States of America. A menacing cough that came on so quickly and sounded so ominous it could only portend something ill starred. A pestilent lump uncovered somewhere hideous. A catastrophic allergy no one had foreseen, retribution for all those cavalier PB&Js she’d sent to school in Wisconsin. Or an accident—car, bike, skateboard, stair, fist—there were endless permutations, none of which strained the imagination. Or they were into something they shouldn’t have been. Her fault for being halfway around the world. Drugs, drink, guns, gambling. They were teenage boys and therefore morons. She knew this in her heart.

Or the other boy in her life. She could not live without Penn. It was as simple and awful as that.

She spent a sleepless night with her dead mother, her diseased/bleeding/foolhardy/allergic sons, the love of her life doomed to malignant monsters. She thought, she could not help but think, of Jane Doe, who was still a child when she died in her hands, bloodied, beaten, and broken, shot and shamed and snatched untimely. You could not avoid being who you were, could you? You could not avoid being who you were, and sometimes it destroyed you. She thought, she could not help but think, of Nick Calcutti and the fallible infallible fact that, no matter how fast and far and fleet you go, you cannot always outrun violence. Sometimes you got to turn away, but sometimes you did not. She tried to think of Nick as proof that often, usually, you trialed and triumphed, but he was a near miss, and in her up-all-night, petrified heart she knew it. She tried to think of Jane Doe as a relic of a time and place and fear long past, but Jane was there-but-for instead, and she knew that too. When the sun rose finally and she left sleeping Poppy, blissfully ignorant, and made K drive her to town and a working telephone, she could draw only thimblefuls of breath, shallow as dust, nothing as substantial as a whisper.


It was afternoon in Seattle. Penn, in the middle of his workday, trying to squeeze a few more paragraphs out before everyone got home from school, answered the phone quite a bit more languorous and distracted than Rosie felt the occasion required.

“Penn!” Torn, broken, desperate.

“Rosie!” Delighted to hear from her.

“What’s wrong?”


“Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine. Better than fine. I have news.”

“Jesus, Penn. You scared the shit out of me.”


“You called fifteen times. You sent seven texts. Seven texts and no information. I thought something happened to you. I thought something was wrong with Mom or the boys. I thought terrible, horrible things.”

“I only sent one text.”

“I got seven.”

“Sometimes when service is intermittent, it just resends until—”

“I can’t breathe.”

“Take deep breaths.”

“How can I take deep breaths if I can’t breathe?”

“Call a doctor.”

“I am a doctor.”

“Call another doctor.”

“I’m not at the clinic. I had to come into town. It’s six a.m. I’m at a pay phone outside a 7-Eleven. There might be someone inside with gum-selling expertise, but that’s as close as I’m likely to come.”

“Rosie. I have news.”

She paused to take the deep breaths instructed and to savor the moment before she knew whatever it was, because whatever it was it was going to be okay. Her mother was okay, and her boys were okay, and Penn was okay, and Claude—Poppy—sleeping back at the guesthouse, was okay, so nothing could be all that wrong. Poppy was going to require some repair, some mending and figuring. Life always required mending and figuring. But mending and figuring—unlike forbidding cancer, banning car accidents, convincing teenage boys they were not immortal, or going back in time to prevent stupid shit from happening—was something she could do. They had to see the invisible paths and forge their way through the jungles. They had to find, to demand, to create the other bathrooms, the other boxes, the middle ways to be. It was not going to be easy. But easy and peaceful turned out to be opposites. And the choice between them was a simple one.