Kelly Pike awakes to the scent of his lemon drops. Lemon drops and pot. He insisted on bringing out the bong the night before, even though she told him it was unnecessary. She remarked that smoking was a dirty habit, and besides, she said, caressing his cheek scratchy with blond stubble, she wanted him clearheaded. She gently removes herself from the embrace of his arm and rolls out of bed. She gathers her panties, bra, and jeans, and dresses quietly, and then finally slips on her socks so as not to catch a splinter from the attic’s floorboards that Danny had worn down by his residence. She takes a chair to the window that looks out the front side of the house. The morning sun is just beginning to illuminate the roofs of the other houses down the hill, the bell tower of St. Brigit’s, and the large white arches of the railroad bridge that runs along the Schuylkill.
Spring seems to have arrived already, and the attic air is warm and stuffy, aromatic with the curious blend of incense and Eastern spices always permeating the Bryce household. But even at this hour someone might see her as she sits by the curtainless window, so she searches about the room for her blouse. Speakers, amp, turntable, a pile of burned-out woofers below the Cheap Trick and Pink Floyd posters. Danny likes his music loud. It isn’t lying on the dresser or on the cabinet. It certainly couldn’t be on any of the old furniture his parents stored up there behind his bamboo bead curtains. Where is it? She wasn’t stoned or drunk or wild, throwing it across the room in hasty lust; she removed it with meticulous calculation as she got him to take her.
She finally finds the blouse hidden beneath his white T-shirt on the floor. The blouse is white too, white with a pattern of small roses. She will have to say her rosary today, especially as she plans to skip Mass that morning. She will have to. Her parents will criticize her endlessly, and she will need the space and the time—the spacetime—to deal with the stigma in her own way.
Before leaving the attic, she brushes her hair, the bump on the back of her head still tender to the touch. She checks herself in the fold-out mirror on the dresser. The fold-out mirror is like a triptych of the Savior. As she peers into the jade green eyes of her other selves, she wonders which one she will be.
Who knew that this was what her first kiss would lead to, her first kiss all those years ago when she was, how old, eight maybe, out for recess on the playground and Jimmy asked her to climb the metal jungle gym, what did they call it, the rocket ship, yes, because it was shaped like one, tapered at the top, like a big steel penis rising from the concrete, and he got her to the top, wily little boy that Jim, and trapped her, and before she could say anything pecked her right on the mouth and smiled, and did she smile back, yes, she probably did because he made her feel special, picked out among a playground full of girls from which to choose, something in him early on that drew him to her and something from which he seemed to have fled years later.
Just as Danny will flee the summer after he’ll graduate when she’ll already have begun to show, and no amount of discussion her parents will have with the Bryces will do any good because they’ll toe the old hippie line and claim it’s all a matter of free love and who are they to coerce their son into a marriage he doesn’t want, and as her parents will sit fuming on the edge of the couch, glaring at her all alone in the corner chair, her honesty will have her say that it’s not really Danny’s fault, but then in self-defense it’s not her fault either, and her mother will exclaim, Well then whose fault is it?, and her exasperated father will bite his nails to their quicks, torn between his love for her and the shame she’ll be bringing under their roof, with absolutely no consideration of abortion at all from either of them because one sin will not correct another, and so her father will talk to the guidance counselor—good thing they had moved her the year before from the Catholic to the public school—about having her homebound until the baby will arrive in January of the next year so she will graduate on time, but after that she’ll move out of the house and be on her own, and she will have to accept it because she would have no other choice except to tell, and she will never do that.
She slowly shuts the attic door, careful to minimize the creaking of its hinges. She has nothing to say to Danny. The business is finished. The stairs to the second floor also creak, and she creeps as quietly as she can past his parents’ bedroom door. She stops in the bathroom to use the toilet and take several aspirin from their medicine cabinet. Continuing down the hallway, she notices that Danny’s sister’s bedroom door is open, and when she reaches the ground floor, she sees the light streaming in from the kitchen. She tries to make it to the front door but Ella, in slippers and kimono, is already in the living room.
“Whoa, not so fast. Where are you going?” she calls softly. She holds up her coffee cup. “Want some?”
Kelly waves her hand. “No, I have to…”
“Come here and talk to me. Dish the dirt. How was he?”
“I’m serious. We have no secrets, right?”
She doesn’t mean to be rude. She really just wants to leave.
“Everyone has to have secrets.”
She flees through the front door. She does have to talk to somebody about it, just not her, and definitely not her parents. She grips the spike of the wrought-iron fence at the bottom of the Bryce’s front steps. She reluctantly admits she has known all along where to go.
She looks to her right and squints when some object on Castella’s roof reflects into her eye. She knows the old man will be too frail to get out onto the roof and bring it down himself.
Some object on the roof was the focus of their attention as they all stood around the dumpster behind the school, she and Danny and Jimmy and David and the twins and Michael Michigan, the kid with the Polish name so weird they had changed it to something they could understand, and they couldn’t see the object of course but her older brother had sworn there was a bomb on the roof, bullying them into believing it as he puffed up his little self as David always did when he got in these moods and crowded you eye to eye until you gave in just to get rid of him, so they had all backed down except for Danny, who rubbed with the back of his index finger the dried snot beneath his nose and challenged, You’re full of shit, and it was clear that one of them would have to go up there and see, but Jimmy was too afraid, and the twins were even younger than she was, and besides she needed to prove to herself that she was just as brave as they were, so she scaled the school wall, digging her fingers and Keds’ edges into the notches made by the pattern of bricks in the school’s walls, and reaching the top grasped the ledge and pulled herself onto the roof and took a few seconds to poke at the tarry bubbles, strange to her because she had never been up there before and was surprised to find all the junk that had accumulated over the years, from playground balls to cast-off shoes to small bits of plywood, and Danny had been right behind her, the lemon drop scent wafting up, and yelled to the boys below, What’s it look like?, and David replied, Like a hotdog with fuses sticking out the end, and Danny retrieved something near his feet, strode to the edge, and held up what was merely a bike handlebar’s plastic grip with sparkly streamers and shouted, Bomb my ass!, and David giggled and clapped his hands because he had manipulated them so successfully, and as she looked down upon the short, tight curls on his head and then in all four directions across the town to which he seemed to be inextricably linked, this new perspective forced her to regard him as the contents of a sealed box she had just revealed to the light of observation, changing it unalterably in some way she had yet to define.
As she too will change unalterably when she’ll be on her back in the delivery room with her parents in the waiting room along with the Bryces who will be good enough to come even if their son won’t, and with nobody that she’ll know beside her, although one of the nurses will be kind enough to hold her hand as she’ll clamp her jaw and push, the blinding light slowly slicing her in two, and the contractions will pierce her like a sword from hip to hip, needles shooting from her uterus up to her neck and down to her knees, but she’ll stick by her decision to have refused the epidural because she’ll want to face head on the pain she’ll have deserved, and the nurse will be ready with the warm compress telling her, Great job, fight through it, and she’ll feel like vomiting but vomiting downwards, yearning to scream, but she’ll focus on the baby’s journey through her pelvis and into the birth canal, and the doctor calmly will announce as if a train were routinely arriving at the station, There it is, and she’ll reach down toward her vagina to try to touch the head, and the stretching will turn to excruciating searing as she’ll fight the urge to push and will mimic the nurse as she pants and blows in demonstration, and then suddenly all will be over save for the little body they’ll wrap in a blanket and little stocking cap after the umbilical cord will be cut, and this will be Melissa, whom she’ll name for the nurse, and she’ll bring Missy to her breast to see if she will feed, and the nurse will congratulate her on her baby’s health, and she’ll tell herself that she’ll know sooner or later if that’s the truth.
She crosses to the sidewalk across the street. She has recently acquired a taste for coffee and would appreciate a warm cup. She should have taken Ella up on her offer. Too late now—the closest Wawa is either up on the Ridge or down on the other side of the river. Those places are too far away for her to walk to this morning. She knows she needs to make it there with no detours and no vacillation. She glances upwards to the window of Danny’s attic. He would understand eventually.
She shuffles toward her destination. All is still quiet along the row houses. The Fitzgeralds. The Kilpatricks. The Alevas, where the mother makes tomato pies to sell to the neighborhood. The Silverwoods, who her father swears are related to the Pikes, from sometime back in the last century. Three-fingered Darcy, the old bachelor who tried unsuccessfully to catch a running window fan as it fell from the sill. The Houghtons, no, the Finnegans, who moved in after the Houghtons left for the suburbs. Her house, where her mother is asleep with the assurance that she is staying with Ella and will return in time to get ready for Mass, and where the twins Jack and Bobby, along with little Teddy, sleep in innocence, and David—who knows how or even if…?
The Whelans. The Brennans. The Michigans—she still has not learned their names. The O’Donnells. And finally, on the end, the Dwyers, whose daughter Susie is also in 11th grade with her and Ella, and in whose back yard they had played on the swing set and Kelly slide.
The Kelly slide in her own back yard ran with the tears of her frustration one afternoon when she was 12 and David had been in one of his moods, his voice beginning to growl in a much lower pitch, staking his claim to the title of Man of the Family, seeing as how their father was always at the beck and call of his job and never around, so he being the oldest was the next in line, and she teased, To the throne, you mean?, and he went for her, in vain because she was too quick, and she appealed to her mother, who said that he was becoming a little man now, but no, he should never swat at a girl and that she should tell her if he did it again, and he was not happy at all when her mother corrected him because she had dropped a dime on him, because you don’t ever rat on a family member, he snarled, pinning her to the wall, and she burst into tears and ran into the back yard and collapsed onto the Kelly slide, hugging its cold aluminum chute, but Jimmy who had heard her sobbing jumped the fence between their houses and picked her up and held her and made her laugh once again by a game of peek-a-boo over and under and around the slide, and she wished that Jimmy were her older brother instead of David, but that never would have worked out because suddenly one day without any announcement Jimmy was gone, and she was left with an ache of abandonment and longing.
Much like what she will feel when her parents insist that she move out on her own once they’ve judged she can leave Missy alone for the day, and so Missy will stay with them (no fault of the baby’s) as she will work the nine-to-five office assistant position she will find just twenty minutes away at Drexel, which she’ll feel doesn’t really satisfy her curiosity or her aptitude, but at least it will be a way for her to become independent, and she’ll report to the physics building, the best for her of all the departments, and she’ll assume that HR used recommendation letters from Rocksboro High as a basis for the match, a match that will put her in constant contact with Dr. Schemen, to whom she’ll begin to reveal her interest, first by identifying much to his surprise the P=(E/c, p)=ħ(ω/c, k)=ħK that will be scrawled on a classroom’s dry-erase board, and then by losing herself in books on Planck and Einstein she’ll borrow from the university library and will keep at her desk, and finally by holding her own in discussions on wave-particle duality and Bell inequalities with students who will mistake her for one of their own, all of which will make Dr. Schemen observe that he might be persuaded to redefine her duties to include more of the science and less of the paperwork if after some formal coursework she’ll feel up to the job requirements, but that kind of future will take money she just will not have, money that must go toward paying rent on the apartment and raising Missy, who will begin to blossom beneath an abundance of golden tresses and who much to her relief will begin to look more and more like Danny.
The Kelly slide is still there in the Dwyers’ back yard, sagging and rusting, the product of at least ten years of entropy. She looks to the right, the steep slope up Green Lane, and to the left, the steep slope down to the Schuylkill. Across the street beneath a canopy of tree branches, a row of garages emerge from the rock in ascending order like whole notes two feet apart on a musical scale. That is exactly where she stood with Danny just the month before when she asked him what he would do after he graduated, and he replied, looking in both directions, “Dunno. The future’s up there … or down there. Somewhere. I haven’t decided.” She clings to the Dwyers’ cyclone fence, hesitant to move forward to the place and time of the decision. She silently regards the patches of Belgian block cobblestones visible through gaps in the street’s asphalt surface, like little islands about to emerge from the ocean. She realizes it must have been a back-breaking task for those laborers, some of whom were probably her ancestors, to have broken through the granite and paved this road.
Uncle Con, up from Cresson Street for an afternoon of pinochle with her father and other uncles, told her that story of why sliding boards were called Kelly slides, as he pulled back the tab of yet another beer there on the porch as the boys played halfball in the middle of the street, and he waved his unsteady hand in the direction of Green Lane, which We Shanty Irish built with the sweat of our brows, and before the stones were set, they’d put planks down to keep the rain from washing the leveled dirt away, and all the way up at the top was a Jew deli that served liquor, where the man in charge of the road-building, a guy called John B. Kelly—yeah, those Kellys—well, he liked to drink after a hard day of telling his fellow countrymen what to do, but the problem was that he sometimes drank so much that he shat himself, and your mother don’t mind me using that word because it’s medical terminology, and so when he wandered home across the planks, he’d slip and land on his ass, and because his pants were so full of, well, let’s use the word poop, he’d go sliding all the way down Green Lane, and so when we saw that, we’d say, oh that’s just Kelly sliding home, and she laughed at the picture in her mind of this poor man tumbling down the hill night after night and landing in the river, where at least he could clean himself off before going home to his wife, and David came up to the porch to demand of Uncle Con to be let into the pinochle game, but Uncle Con told him it was only for adults, and David bellyached and shouted he was an adult and better than any of them, to which Uncle Con replied, piss off, go play some tireball so someone can knock some sense into that Brillo-pad noggin of yours, which made David get very quiet all of a sudden as he turned slowly back to the street, and snickering Uncle Con tousled her hair and went back inside, and before she knew it, David was yanking Bobby around, claiming that he was out because the telly pole was third base and the fireplug was first and Bobby went to the telly pole, which made Danny throw down the broomstick and call out, Come on, Pike, let him alone, and David met the challenge because he was now as big as Danny, maybe bigger, and after a quick escalation of insults and threats, the two curled their fists and bloodied each other, the smaller children wailing helplessly as she ran back into the house to get the pinochle players outside to separate the lost boys.
Which is what they’ll be called years later—the lost boys—when she’ll fortuitously run into Ella at their old elementary school’s annual Strawberry Festival, and she’ll introduce her to her granddaughter Callie, whom she’ll be babysitting while Melissa and her husband get in one last weekend of skiing at Stowe, and over bowls of ice cream in the corner of the school cafeteria, she and Ella will share the thirty or so years of their lives since they last talked, Ella having moved to the city to run a string of yoga studios and never having gotten married, and she nearing retirement as a glorified secretary still at Drexel and never having gotten married, which will amuse both of them, except with a tinge of sadness for her as she will recall a string of boyfriends, potential husbands all of whom suddenly developed cold feet after being introduced to her baby daughter, and Ella will lean across the table and whisper to her that she should have tried women, and eventually their discussion will expand its circle to include their older brothers, and both of them will look down at the melted vanilla and specks of strawberry seeds in their Styrofoam bowls, and Ella will drop her accustomed smirk and her eyes will begin to mist over as she’ll report that Dan dropped off her radar more than twenty years ago after crossing the country and crossing it again, one dead-end job after another, in search of something he apparently never found and maybe never even knew what it was, but Ella will know one thing for certain, which is that he should have married her when he got her pregnant because maybe that had something to do with what was chasing him all his life, and when it will be her turn to share, her spine will stiffen and she’ll report not in sorrow but in anger that David is still in prison, which is where he belongs, and that will be all that she will say about that, and Ella will stare at her for a moment before adding that they are indeed their lost boys.
The gray granite tower of St. Brigit’s houses the bell that will hail the faithful flock in less than two hours. She creeps through its shadow, climbs the stone stairs to the front doors, and enters the narthex. Standing sentinel on his pedestal, Christ receives her in his manifold and great mercies, and she holds close to the marble as she surveys the nave—vacant. Likewise the transepts, Columba’s statue in its niche on the left, Patrick’s on the right. Above the altar hang paintings of the Blessed Virgin, of Christ, of even more martyrs and saints. She walks as far as the communion rail, then turns around and collapses onto the first-row pew. Icons, icons everywhere and not a human soul.
Ten minutes later, entering from the sacristy with her arms about a vase of daffodils is Sister Lucy, the youngest of the nuns sent to assist St. Brigit’s throughout the year. She has always thought of her as a dark-eyed fawn that has just learned to stand on its own, kind enough but legs still wobbly beneath her dark blue habit. She silently waves hello and halfway smiles. Sister Lucy brings the daffodils and sits down next to her.
“You’re here early.”
She casually remarks, “Those are pretty flowers.”
“No more lilies. These will do for Low Sunday, or Low Attendance Sunday, as Father Thomas calls it.” She laughs as one who knows the joke is inappropriate as soon as it is told.
“Sister, I have a problem.”
“You came to the right place. God is good at solving problems.”
“Okay. Here it is. Something happened. It wasn’t my fault. Well, most of it. I should have just shut up and walked away. But it happened. And then I did something really foolish. I don’t know why. No, I do know why.”
She is scrupulous in guarding herself. The words come haltingly as she examines each one before she utters it. Sister Lucy says nothing, merely regarding her with compassion.
“I know I’m not making much sense here.”
“You’ve obviously got something weighing on your mind.”
“I mean, if I’m being vague, it’s because I have to be.”
Sister Lucy nods. “Should I get Father Thomas for you?”
“No, no, Sister, you’re doing fine.”
She wishes someone had left her a letter—the wisdom of her ancestors—telling her what to do. If she can just talk it out, talk at her while withholding most of the specifics, she will either figure out what to do or else realize it is no use fighting it, admit defeat, and spill everything. At least she is resolved not to tell a man about it, regardless of his being a priest, her lips to God’s ear and all that.
“I guess what I want to know is this: God sets a path for us to walk in, right?”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Sister Lucy smiles, encouraged by her words.
“That means one outcome, predetermined.”
“Well now, Kelly, He sets a path for us, but we must choose to follow it.”
“Okay.” She pauses. “Okay.” She pauses again. “So the path is there already? The one true path.”
“Yes, the one true path.”
“That’s sort of what Bohr claims in the Copenhagen interpretation.”
“Now you’ve lost me.”
“Okay, so particles demonstrate probability waves. When we found that out, it was one of those times that changed everything. They move like waves on a lake—they have interference patterns, you know, peaks and valleys, which tells us that there’s a good chance one is going to be there, there, or there”—her finger randomly pokes the air about her—“and not so good a chance there, there, and there. But when we take a measurement, all that probability collapses into the 100% fact that the particle is there and no other place. So what happened to Schrödinger’s equations that said it actually could’ve been somewhere else but that somewhere else is now 0%?”
Sister Lucy smiles and shrugs.
“Well, Bohr said to just ignore the math, that it no longer applies. What he’s telling me is that there’s one true path, that the cat’s either alive or dead long before you open the box.”
“But it’s not! We have to trust the math. It tells us that the quantum future is really a whole bunch of possible futures existing simultaneously, one on top of the other. It’s only by choosing to reveal something hidden that these possible futures split apart—decohere—and then there’s entanglement between ourselves and that one future. You see what that means?”
“I’m not sure I do.”
“It’s not that it can go one way or the other. It goes one way and another. Both exist and are therefore equally valid. So why should I decide one way when there’s another me who has decided the exact opposite?”
“Kelly, I’m sure that can’t be correct. Things just are.”
“But, Sister, that’s classical physics, and we can’t use classical physics to narrate our lives beyond the Heisenberg cut! That’s where we’re stuck—right here, right now! The infinitesimally thin veil before our eyes that obscures our past and blinds us to all our futures!” Her voice is becoming louder, her gestures more violent. “Look, you go back into the sacristy and pour some wine into a chalice, then cover it with a platen. You bring it out to me. Has Father Thomas blessed it or not? I don’t know! Is it the Blood of Christ or just a nice Chianti?”
“It’s all up here!” she cries, pressing her temples. The aspirin she swallowed still has not taken effect. “All there is is chaos! Subatomic chaos without any certainty! I can’t tell you anything more without saying too much! How do I make that choice?” She is losing control, but still she clamps down on what is inside. Sister Lucy grabs her hands and brings them into her lap.
“Hush, hush. Pray to our blessed saint,” she says as she leads her to the statue of St. Brigit that looks down upon the baptismal font. “I’ll leave you be and then come back when you’re ready. Our Lady will ease your pain if you open yourself up to her.”
She kneels before the statue, its crosier in one hand and the folds of its robe in the other. She shuts her eyes tightly, tears still standing in their corners. She wants to trust that St. Brigit will hear her, for she is the patron saint of the abused.
Her mother had taken Teddy and the twins to 4 p.m. vigil mass and then to Aunt Cathy’s on Leverington, and with her father having left town on a construction job Thursday, that meant getting their own dinner, which was easy enough for her to make macaroni and cheese out of a box for David and her, only he was outside on the back stoop with a little bottle of something he had gotten an older boy to buy for him, and as she drained the noodles she called for him to come in, but now he was running up and down the Kelly slide, banging huge dents in the aluminum chute with the weight of his boots, so she mixed in the packet of cheese, split it into separate bowls and ate her half quietly at the kitchen table, and she was rinsing out her bowl when he came in demanding his dinner like some buffoonish working-stiff caricature, so she said nothing at all but pointed to the table where his bowl sat waiting, from which he took one bite and cursed at her because it was cold, but that wasn’t her fault at all when she had already called him and he was busy outside damaging perfectly good things and drinking something he shouldn’t have, and he half-squinted half-leered and supposed she was going to tell on him, which would serve him right, she replied, and he stepped over to her slowly and deliberately, and asked if she remembered what he said about ratting out your flesh and blood, but because she already had had enough of his posturing, she told him to piss off, little man, and left him there at the kitchen sink so she could go watch some TV in peace, but as she rounded the dining room table she felt for one second before it happened a large body nearing hers with great speed, one second or maybe two, but enough time for her to whirl around and see David lunging at her, and she fell backwards with his tackle, her head hitting the hardwood floor and all disappearing in a flash. It must have happened then. Thank God she didn’t remember. She thanked God and St. Brigit she couldn’t remember when she came to and David was gone and her head ached and her bare legs felt sticky at the top and there was blood on the floor below her, so she frantically cleaned herself and the floor and made everything appear as if nothing had happened, even though something clearly had, there was no fooling herself, something had happened and she had to deal with it, for there would be no way to disguise it if she got pregnant and the shame, she couldn’t take the shame of having a baby by her brother, but then she realized that there was a way to deal with it, to disguise it, even though it would still be out of wedlock, it was better than waiting for a worse shame to be discovered, so she wrote a note to her mother and left it on the kitchen table, a note that said she was staying the night at Ella’s but would be back in time to go to Mass the next morning, and she showered again and put on make-up and left the house to have Danny cover up if not erase David’s sin.
And the irony was she will tell herself on her hospital bed, the revelers of the previous night fast asleep as she will prepare to sleep too for one last time, with Missy and other surviving relatives by her side, and saying goodbye to her great-grandson Stephen in his living room cradling his newborn as she’ll be able to converse with him and other descendants through the life-sized hologram projection of the device that Callie had brought with her, all those descendants having burgeoned forth from that one crucial action in her early years, and the irony was she will have realized long before her final hour that David’s sin had not adhered to her and that her own sin of entangling Danny in her future was entirely unnecessary, but at least her sin will have turned into the blessing of all these loved ones, and she would not have not had Missy for all the world, but she’ll rebuke herself that there might have possibly been a way to keep Danny by her side instead of his dissipating his life from town to lonely town if only she had disclosed when she had the opportunity that she was David’s victim and Danny hers, but she’ll explain to herself that children blame themselves and fear the threats of those they simultaneously despise and want to protect, and maybe most of all she’ll admit as she’ll close her eyes and toss her head from side to side upon the pillow, maybe most of all it had been a pride of independence in knowing herself strong enough to carry it out, but at such a cost, the other women her brother will have assaulted before he will be stopped and put in prison where he’ll die alone, by which time it will have been too late for her to shed her secret, and as the words spoken aloud will begin to falter, she will wish she had decided differently that morning at the feet of St. Brigit, and apparently Missy will hear only the last few words—the feet of St. Brigit—and will swear her mother is having a most sacred vision, and the last breath of her life will be spent correcting her, No, that’s not what I meant.
Footsteps behind her echo off the church walls. She turns to the balding figure in black standing a discreet distance behind her, his eyes perceptive beneath bushy gray brows of stern sympathy.
“Is there something I can help you with, child?”
The old woman has told her what to say.
“Yes, Father, there is.”