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BleachMary Sharratt

The day that would haunt me forever was the morning in July, 1923, when my mother sent me to the store to buy bleach. We were hanging up laundry on the clothesline when Mr. Hamilton appeared, without warning, home from the Pop Factory at 11:00 in the morning. Without more than a hastily mumbled hello, he ducked past us and disappeared inside the house. A furious pounding filled my head like someone hammering away on scrap metal. My mother, my beautiful mother, turned to me, her chicory blue eyes narrowing against the sun's glare. "I suppose he forgot something."

Clothespins clamped between my lips, their bitter woody taste on my tongue, I grabbed a wet bedsheet from the laundry basket and was about to pin it up on the line when my mother yanked it out of my hands and threw it back into the basket. I just stared at her, too furious to speak.

"Penny, we need bleach," she told me, forcefully but quietly. "Go get some bleach." She pulled out two dimes out of the side pocket of her dress.

Spitting the clothespins out of my mouth, I fisted the coins she thrust at me.

"Go on," she said, squaring her strong broad shoulders and using the tone I knew better than to argue with. Against my will, my mouth began to tremble. I shot out of the yard and into the alley, where I hid behind the lilac bush and watched her heading toward the house. There was nothing hesitant or uncertain in her gait. The rumors about my mother spun painfully through my head. She'd had me at the age of fifteen and had never been married. She'd had to run away from her own father after he tried to drown me in the rain barrel when I was only a few days old.

As I stumbled off in the direction of Main Street, I didn't hear the dogs barking or the whistle of the train pulling into the depot four blocks away. I only heard my mother's voice, as hateful as a stranger's. Go buy bleach. I was fifteen, and she thought she could just send me off to the store like that. As if I were a child. As if I were stupid. It was awful what she was doing with Mr. H. Afterwards she would try to disguise the smell by dribbling lily-of-the-valley toilet water all over the bed sheets. That sickly sweet odor was enough to make me gag. With Mr. H. of all people. Mr. H. with his three snooty daughters. Mr. H. with his wife in the nursing home.

Did the Hamilton girls know about it, too, I wondered as I turned on to Lilac Street. Already I could feel the heat of what would be another merciless day, the humidity coating my skin like a greasy film. Mr. H. had sent his three daughters off to summer camp in Wyoming so he wouldn't have to worry about them finding out, but surely they suspected. Maybe Ina and Isobel were too young to figure it out, but Irene, spiteful little bitch that she was, had to know. Once Irene had followed me into the pantry and said, "Your mother named you Penny, because she's cheap and so are you," in that prim little voice that made me want to draw blood from her face with my fingernails. "Your mother's a hussy."

"Is that so?" I'd shot back. "Well, your father seems to think she's just fine."

I always stuck up for my mother, though sometimes I wondered why. In truth, I had once been very fond of Mrs. Hamilton, who, in the days before she had fallen ill, had been kind to me. Mrs. H. had baked shortbread, which she cut into delicate pointed triangles called petticoat tails. When they were fresh from the oven, she had invited me to join her daughters at the table for shortbread and sweet milky tea. Mrs. H. had made her daughters be nice to me, had even made them let me join their games. I used to go to bed praying that Hazel Hamilton was my real mother, but that was five years ago, before Mrs. Hamilton's stroke and before they discovered the tumor in her brain. I knew I was too old to indulge in such fantasies. No one could get away with being too soft in life, and Mrs. H. had been soft like a big hortensia bloom. Look where it had gotten her. The Hamilton daughters would do much better for themselves. They were prickly little porcupines trundling along knowing that no one would ever lay a hand on them.

Against my will, the picture flashed before me of my mother locked with Mr. H. in some horrible movie star embrace, my mother's strong hands smoothing back Mr. H's thinning auburn hair. How could my mother possibly find him handsome with his skinny elbows and the freckles on his high, balding forehead? But I understood without even wanting to what he saw in my mother. Even in her housedress and damp apron, she was beautiful. People said all kinds of things about her, but everyone agreed she was a stunner. But I was so plain that nobody even seemed to notice me. A few of the meaner kids had teased me in school on account of being a bastard, but most people seemed to regard me as too insubstantial to pay attention to. In truth, I felt invisible much of the time. People looked right through me as if I was some ghost.

When I turned on to Main Street, I knew that the men gathered in front of the feed store and the women outside Dahlstrom's Bakery would pay no notice as I went by. Even when I walked into Renfew's Grocery and Mercantile, loudly jangling the bells on the door handle, Mr. Renfew didn't glance up from his crossword puzzle. His two customers, Mrs. Deal and Mrs. La Plant, were too caught up in their conversation to look my way.

"Oh boy, it's gonna be a hot one today," Mrs. La Plant told her friend. "Supposed to climb up to 99 degrees. And with this humidity!"

Inside the store, it was almost bearable. An electric fan whirled from the high, pressed-tin ceiling. Positioning myself under the fan to get the most of the circulating air, I rubbed the sweat from my forehead with the heel of my hand. To get my errand done quickly, I would have to march up to the counter, get Mr. Renfew's attention, and ask him for the bleach. But my mother didn't want me to finish the errand quickly. The unspoken rule was that I was supposed to stay away for an hour at the very least. I certainly had no desire to come back while Mr. H. was still there.

During the hot summer months, Mr. Renfew set out a big tin canister of iced water and a tray of glasses beside it. Often farmers came in, dry and dusty from the fields. Some farm hands and hired girls walked all the way into town. Pouring myself a glass, I read the hand-written ads on the notice board. WEDDING DRESS, WORN ONCE, CHEAP, FIVE DOLLARS. Next to it was another one that made me smirk. BABY CARRIAGE, GOOD CONDITION, SIX DOLLARS. How was it, I wondered, that baby carriages cost more than wedding dresses?

Mrs. Deal and Mrs. La Plant, still not seeming to notice I was there, wilted in the heat, their carefully crimped hair going limp, sweat rolling down their faces and leaving snail tracks in their powder and rouge. As Mrs. Deal raised her hand to order another glass of Hamilton's Strawberry Pop from Mr. Renfew, I couldn't help noticing that the armpit of her brittle crepe dress was dark with sweat. The heat appeared to have stripped away her inhibitions, as well.

In a harsh whisper, she asked her friend, "And your Sidney, does he ever get rough with you? Does he ever want it . . . you know . . . in ways that aren't nice?"

I gulped at the water, then nearly choked.

Mrs. La Plant giggled nervously. "Oh, Edna, I can't believe what you just said!"

Before Mrs. Deal could say anything more, the screen door banged open and a farmer strode heavily into the shop, jarring their concentration. The two women looked over at once. Even Mr. Renfew lifted his eyes from his crossword puzzle. We all stared at the farmer's manure-crusted work boots, his patched overall legs, and the buttoned overcoat he wore in spite of the heat. He was not anyone I recognized. His smooth young face, shadowed by a dusty white Panama hat, was guarded and expressionless. But when the farmer approached the main counter with labored and deliberate steps, I saw in profile the burgeoning belly the overcoat was meant to hide, that belly curving out like a firm ripe melon. Even I knew it could not be the belly of a fat man. The sight of that pregnant belly under men's work clothes left me too startled to even blink.

It was the Maagdenbergh woman. Of course, I'd heard the rumors about her, but until this very minute, they had seemed like one tall story. There she was, though, digging her grocery list out of her overcoat pocket and reading it to Mr. Renfew, who pulled the items down from the shelves and packed them into an old orange crate for her. His movements were so awkward and strained, I could tell he was just as unnerved as I was.

"Insane," Mrs. Deal muttered to Mrs. La Plant. "That creature is insane."

I inhaled sharply, wondering if the Maagdenbergh woman had heard. She stiffened, but she went on reading her shopping list, her voice as stony as her face. "Two pounds of coffee . . . four bars of Luna White Soap . . . a bar of Castille soap . . . a half pound of brick cheese . . . two pan loaves . . . a pound of rice . . . a box of Ralston Crackers . . . two pounds of Cream of Wheat . . . a dozen cans of tomato soup."

"How's the farm?" Mr. Renfew managed to ask.

"The price of wheat has dropped so low, it's a sin," said the Maagdenbergh woman. For the first time, a spark of color crept into her voice. "I've heard some are switching to potatoes. At least the mills can't fix the price of potatoes, but what can I do? The wheat's already planted. Let's hope the weather will hold for the harvest." At that, she dug a wad of rolled dollar bills from her overcoat pocket, paid Mr. Renfew, and pocketed the change before hoisting the box of groceries and making her cumbersome way to the door. I had never seen a hugely pregnant woman carrying such a load.

"Ma'am!" he cried. The ma'am must have slipped out before he could stop himself. He leapt out from behind the counter and tried to wrest the box from her arms. "That's awfully heavy."

The Maagdenbergh woman trundled right past him. "I'm perfectly capable of carrying my own groceries, Mr. Renfew."

He held the screen door open for her as she hauled her load out to her pickup. As soon as she was gone, he turned shakily to Mrs. Deal and Mrs. La Plant, opening his mouth as if he were about to comment on what had just transpired, when the Maagdenbergh woman reappeared, marching back in and handing him a piece of ivory-colored letter paper.

"Mr. Renfew, would you mind putting up this up on your notice board? I'm looking for a hired woman. If you know of anyone, could you please pass on the word? I'd pay good wages."

"Yep. I'll pass the word." Mr. Renfew spoke with strained courtesy.

"Thank you, Mr. Renfew." For a moment, the color returned to her face. Her voice slipped out of its brusqueness, betraying a more exalted origin than could be discerned from her farm boots and overalls. That gracious thank you conjured up pictures of the elegant house in Evanston, Illinois where, rumor had it, she had once resided with her husband.

"Goodbye, Mr. Renfew," she said. "Goodbye, ladies," she added, turning to Mrs. Deal and Mrs. La Plant. The looks she gave them spoke loud and clear. It was as if she had shouted in their faces, Don't think I didn't hear what your were saying about me.

Then her eyes fell on me. Her staring green eyes sank right into me, fixing me in place so that I could not look away. No one had ever given me that kind of look before. It was as though the Maagdenbergh woman had singled me out of the four people in the store because she could see inside me, right into my soul. I felt so exposed, my most shameful secrets laid bare. It was as though this strange woman knew that my mother had sent me to buy bleach so that she could have a dirty tumble with our boss. I shrank, tears threatening to spill, my limp hands dropping the cheap tumbler, which hit the dusty linoleum with an ugly bang and yet did not break. At the sound of that glass striking the floor, everyone's eyes turned to me. Mr. Renfew, Mrs. Deal, and Mrs. La Plant all looked at me in startled confusion as if seeing me for the first time.

"Goodbye, miss," said the Maagdenbergh woman before finally stepping out the door. Only when she was gone could I breathe again.

"Indestructible, that glass," Mr. Renfew said, offering me a smile as I picked it off the floor and set it back on the tray. Mrs. Deal and Mrs. La Plant smiled at me a little too sweetly, but at least none of them seemed to notice my terrible shame. Only the Maagdenbergh woman had seen that. On trembling legs, I ducked my head, made for the door, and completely forgot about the bleach.


My head reeling, I wandered through town until I came to the Civic Park, where I sat in the shade of the water tower and watched the children splashing each other around the public fountain. Young mothers sat on green painted benches with their baby carriages parked in front of them. They traded gossip and didn't pay me any mind. Safely invisible once more, I lay flat on the grass and stared at the ragged clouds moving across the sullen sky.

I tried to make sense of the rumors concerning the Maagdenbergh woman, tried to piece the patches of gossip together, sorting out the likely truth from the exaggerations and lies. They said her real, legal name was Cora Sander and that her maiden name had been Viney. People called her the Maagdenbergh woman, because she was old Nestor Van den Maagdenbergh's long lost granddaughter. She had come to live with him the previous year -- November 1922 -- after running away from her husband. I still recalled the gossip that had spread through town, finally landing in the Hamilton's kitchen where it had reached my mother and me. "Old Man Maagdenbergh's granddaughter came to live on the farm," said Mr. Magnusson who delivered our coal. "Some character she is. Run away from her husband and dresses like a man."

The story went that Cora's husband was Dr. Sander of Evanston, Illinois. People had heard that he came from money and owned a big house only a few blocks away from Lake Michigan. A respected man, he had served as a military surgeon in the Great War. Cora came from money, too. According to the rumors, she had once been a society lady, a celebrated beauty. Irene Hamilton's piano teacher, Miss Pressman even had clippings from the Chicago papers to prove it. Miss Pressman seemed to consider herself an authority on Cora because she had been a girlhood friend of Cora's mother, Theodora Van den Maagdenbergh. "Cora has an education," Miss Pressman had told Mr. Hamilton. "She worked as a nurse at a charity clinic in Chicago."

But the best gossip came from Roy Hanson, who used to work as Nestor Van den Maagdenbergh's hired man. He told everyone that when Cora first arrived at her grandfather's house after leaving her husband, she had gone straight for the kitchen shears and started hacking off the thick and waving chestnut hair that had garnered her such praise in the society columns. Those shorn tresses she had burned in the stove along with the dress she had traveled in. From that day onward, she only wore men's clothes, straight from her grandfather's closet.

Then one night, her husband showed up, pounding on the door and acting pretty mean and ugly. Roy told everyone he had tried his best to persuade the man to leave. Cora had forbidden him to unlock the door, so he yelled from the other side of the closed window. "I talked and talked, asked him to maybe come back in the morning when he was feeling more civilized," Roy had told me and my mother. "We had the porch light on, so I got a good look at him through the window. About forty he was, much older than Cora, but strapping and strong. And boiling mad. He was about to break the window. There wasn't a thing I could do about it. If it came down to blows, I'd be a goner."

A lot of women would have given up hope. Roy wasn't able to protect her, and Nestor Van den Maagdenbergh was nearly ninety and of sickly constitution. Cora had to be her own avenging angel. Snatching the old man's Winchester rifle down from its perch over the mantelpiece, she unbolted the door, stepped out on the porch, and rammed the gun barrel in her husband's face.

"You think you're such a strong man, beating on a woman. Well, you'll never touch me again, you bastard. Get off our farm, and if you ever come back, I'll kill you. I swear to God."

"She wasn't bluffing," Roy told us. "She had her finger on the trigger, ready to blow him away. You should have seen the look on that man's face! He sure got out of there in a hurry. I wonder what gave him the bigger fright -- the gun she stuck under his nose, or the sight of her with her head shaved and wearing those overalls?"

In February 1922, Nestor Van den Maagdenbergh passed away. People came by his farm with covered dishes of food. Wanting to do his Christian duty, Mr. Hamilton asked my mother to prepare a suitable dish, so she cooked up a pot of her navy bean and bacon soup. Mr. H. thought it best that a female deliver it to the farmhouse door. He asked Irene, but she had no desire to make the long journey over those icy roads when it was twenty below zero just to deliver a crock of bean soup to some madwoman who dressed like a man. Then Mr. H. asked my mother to ride out with him in the Dodge.

"If she sees a woman along in the car, she'll be less likely to shoot," he joked.

It had been so bitterly cold with raw winds sweeping straight down from Hudson Bay that stole the breath from a person's lungs. Mr. H. barely got his Dodge to start up. I helped my mother packed the crock of steaming soup in an old crate with hot bricks. Then we wrapped the crate in horse blankets. For the journey, she filled up hot water bottles, brought some extra blankets, and filled a flask with hot sugary tea. Mr. H. brought along a shovel and an old coffee can full of sand in case they got stuck in the ice and snow. Since my mother's worn cloth coat was no match for that chill, Mr. H. lent her his wife's old fur coat. When I saw my mother heading toward the door swathed from ankle to chin in sleek dark mink and with Mrs. H.'s royal blue cashmere shawl wound like a veil over her hair, I nearly didn't recognize her. She had become someone else, a stranger. Before that day, my mother had never traveled in an automobile, and neither had I. "Let me come along," I begged in spite of the cold. But she told me quite firmly that I had to stay behind and have dinner ready when they got back.

Sometimes when I looked back to that bitterly cold February day, I had to ask myself if that was when Mr. H. started looking at my mother in that way that made his face grow moist and dark red. My mother and Mr. H. did not make the journey alone, however. At the last minute, Miss Pressman asked if she could come along, seeing that she had baked a pan of apple turnovers to bring out to Cora. Miss Pressman would have been the one to sit in the front seat with Mr. H. I could imagine that there was not a minute of quiet during that whole drive to the Van den Maagdenbergh farm. Miss Pressman would have been chattering about this and that, Mr. H. would have been offering polite replies and interjections, while my mother sat in the back seat, as silent as stone.

"I've never met anyone so contrary and unsociable," my mother said of Cora, after she had returned from the expedition to the Maagdenbergh farm. "We went all that way in the cold for that woman, and she barely cracked that door open to take the food we brought her. I've never met anyone so full of herself. We could have spared ourselves the trouble."

I think what riled my mother most was that Cora, though an outsider, had the temerity to hold herself aloof as if she were better than us, as if she were looking down on us all. We would have accepted her if she had been a little more humble, but she carried on as though she could just make up her own rules to live by, not even caring what anyone thought or what the consequences would be.

Following her grandfather's will, Cora buried him on his own land and only invited the handful of his surviving friends to the funeral. For a while, even with her contrary behavior, she had people's sympathy. People thought that once the shock of leaving her husband and losing her grandfather died down, she would grow her hair back and start dressing like a decent young woman again. But she only grew more extreme. She fired Roy on the grounds that he gossiped too much and didn't show her enough respect.

"Well, pardon me," Roy had told my mother. "I was just trying to set her straight on a few things. I don't know how some city gal thinks she can run a farm on her own. And her expecting a baby and going around dressed like that. It's just not right what she's doing."

Toward the middle of June, a band of young toughs came by Cora's place, thinking to give her a good scare. She greeted them by firing off a round from her grandfather's rifle. Hearing the shots, her nearest neighbor, Frank Delaloy went over to see what the commotion was. "She told me she didn't hit anybody," I remembered him telling someone after church the following Sunday. "Said she just scared 'em off. But then she fixes me with those eyes of hers and says, 'Rest assured, Mr. Delaloy, I could have hit them if I'd wanted to. My aim is very good.'"

As I stretched out on the grass in the Minerva Civic Park and reflected on all this, I decided that I had absolutely no idea how much of the Maagdenbergh woman's legend could be true. Still in a daze, I picked myself up off the grass. When I glanced at the big clock on the town hall, I saw that it was past one, time to be getting back. I couldn't bear the thought. By now it was baking hot, and the sweat gathered under my arms, making me feel soiled. "You stink like an old farmer," Irene Hamilton used to taunt me. I still had to buy the bleach.

Before returning to Renfew's, I walked to Railroad Avenue and climbed the iron steps of the footbridge over the tracks. Nice girls didn't go crossing to the other side. Mr. H. would give his girls a serious talking-to if they dared. I just stood on the bridge looking out over the cheap bunkhouses and the ramshackle frame houses where the hardscrabble families lived. Beyond those houses was the wooded hill where the hoboes had their jungle. Even in this heat, I could see the thin trails of smoke rising from their cooking fires. I couldn't see any of them, but I could hear their laughter along with the faint riff of a harmonica. Someone was singing "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum." Even I knew that was a Wobbly anthem from their Little Red Songbook. A lot of labor agitators and union people rode the rails, and many of them were well educated. My mother had told me I didn't have to fear them; they might be poor, but no hobo had ever harmed a soul in Minerva. It was the snakes and hypocrites you had to watch out for, she always said. Snakes and hypocrites, I thought, my bowels cramping as I thought of Mr. H. rolling around in my mother's bed.

In spite of the heat, I was terribly hungry, so I spent the money my mother had given me to buy bleach for my lunch at Renfew's: an egg salad sandwich, a dish of ice cream, and a bottle of Hamilton's Cherry Pop. But when I finally returned to the Hamiltons' house, my mother didn't even ask me for the bleach or inquire where I had been all afternoon. She was busy taking the laundry down from the line. Her face was set, fixed, with no trace of shame I could detect. When she glanced in my direction, she didn't even blush. I thought she looked pretty smug.

"I'm nearly finished here," she said. "Take those sheets in and get started on the ironing."

The sheets, to which my mother was referring, were the real linen sheets that went on Mr. Hamilton's bed. Something grew so tight in my throat, I thought it would burst. When was she going to wash her own stinking sheets? I thought of that look the Maagdenbergh woman had given me in the store.

"Penny! Did you hear what I just said?"

I tried to stand my ground, the way my mother always did, tried to hold myself tall and make my spine as straight as the Lombard poplars that grew in front of the Minerva Public Library. "I'm not ironing his sheets," I told her. It took all my courage to meet her gaze.

"Pardon me?" she asked me briskly. "I don't think I rightly understand what you just said."

"I said I'm not ironing his sheets." I raised my voice and prayed there was no tremor in it. "You can't tell me what to do anymore," I added, astounded by my own audacity. "I don't have to do everything you say."

My mother let out a long breath. I could tell she could just manage to rein in her temper. "Very well then, Miss Smarty Pants, if you're too high and mighty to do your work around here, then you can just pack your bags and go someplace else."

"Maybe I'll do just that." If I broke down now, if I allowed her to bully me into ironing those sheets, I would die inside. "Maybe I'll just go." I thought of the hoboes and then of hopping a freight train and waking up in Montana.

"Any place in mind?" The corners of her mouth twisted into a tight smirk. "The Commercial Hotel? You want to work as a chambermaid like I used to? Have all those traveling salesmen trying to paw you in the hallway? Or maybe you want to sweep under all those seats at the Bijou." The sarcasm in her voice was so thick that I felt an unbearable bitterness welling up. Reaching deep inside myself, I longed to dredge up the thing that would shock her most, that would shut her up and knock her out of her complacency.

"No." I was so mad, it was hard not to start shouting. "I've got something better than that. The Maagdenbergh woman." I swallowed, feeling a surge of cold satisfaction as I watched my mother frown and take an unsteady step backward. "She's looking for a hired girl. She's offering good wages."

My mother looked at me in a way she never had before, her face lost and uncertain. "If this is some kind of joke," she said quietly, "I don't think it's very funny."

"I'm not joking," I lied, speaking so rapidly that I hardly knew what I was saying. "She's desperate for a hired girl. Alone on that farm with harvest coming and a baby on the way. She'll pay me any wages I ask."

My mother shook her head. "Are you crazy or just trying to be smart with me? I don't think you're stupid enough to think you can just go off and work for a person like that. Come on, Penny. Get started on those sheets."

"I don't see why I shouldn't go work for her." I was irked that she didn't believe I had the gumption to go through with it. "Isn't her money as good as Mr. Hamilton's?"

My mother turned dark red. I willed her shame to rise to the surface, yearned for some gesture, or word of embarrassment or regret. An attempt at an explanation, perhaps. I'd managed to get her completely flustered. For the first time in my memory, I saw her searching for words.

"You think you're pretty smart," she said, this time hesitantly. "But there's an awful lot about this world you just don't know." She stepped toward me and laid a tentative hand on my shoulder. "That Maagdenbergh woman is not exactly what people call decent."

Closing my eyes, I allowed the hard thing inside me to soften. Such physical overtures between us were rare. I couldn't rightly remember the last time we had embraced. But before I could even accustom myself to the warmth of her hand on my shoulder, her grip toughened, her fingers digging into my flesh as though she wanted to bruise me. Then my only thought was that the same hand, only hours before, had touched Mr. H. in unspeakable places.

"I have heard enough of this foolishness," my mother snapped in the same tone she had used when ordering me to go buy bleach, a tone of such cold authority that I wanted to scream.

I had not meant to do it, had not meant to go this far, but before I could stop myself, the words shot out of my mouth. "You know, you're not exactly what people call decent, either."

What happened next went so fast, giving me no time for thought, no chance to recant or apologize. My mother's hand flew off my shoulder and smacked me hard across the face, making everything sting and blur.

"Mother!" I cried, my eyes brimming with salt.

"You little shit!" I had never heard her shriek like that before, like someone come unhinged. "If that's what you think of me, then get out. Get out!"

She grabbed my arm, hauling me into the house. In the kitchen, I stumbled and tried to yank my arm out of her grip, but she held on. Before that day, I had never realized she was so much stronger than I was. As she dragged me up the back stairway, I tried to convince myself that none of this could really be happening. But then we were in the back bedroom, which reeked of lily-of-the-valley toilet water and the other, ranker smell, which the toilet water could not completely mask.

"I can smell him!" I cried, rubbing my stung face. "I can smell him," I sobbed.

"Shut up."

My mother grabbed an old wicker suitcase from the closet shelf and started hurling my clothes into it. Then she shoved the suitcase at me, grabbed me by the hair, trying to force me down the hall. But before she could march me down the back stairs and out the back door, I managed to break free. The cheap ugly suitcase banging against my thigh, I ran the opposite way down the hall, past the Hamilton girls' bedrooms with the rose-patterned wallpaper, past the spacious front bedroom where Mr. H. slept in his linen sheets, down the grand front staircase with its fabulously carved oak balustrade. I flew out the front door and raced down the flagstone walk, under Mrs. Hamilton's trellis of blood-red roses, out the front gate and down Elm Street, too blinded by my tears and my rage to look back.

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