Her parents were both engineers, but Isabelle was the baby of the family, and by the time she enrolled in elementary school they were semi-retired and had moved to the orchard. People bought the fruit, or that is to say, they came and picked it themselves and paid by the basket. Cherries and apricots in the spring, peaches and pears in the summer, apples in the fall. Blackberries bushes barred the west end of the property like the thorns around Sleeping Beauty’s castle, and the older children picked ice cream pails full at the end of August and sold them from a stand to pay for their new school clothes.
They could all earn money from their mother canning fruit for winter. She poured the syrup and used her rusted old tongs to lift the scalded jars in and out of the water, while the eldest children cut up the fruit and the younger ones did the peeling. This was hot, sticky, sickening work, especially the peaches. The peaches were blanched to loosen the skin, which could then be shucked off simply by rubbing. The loose, fuzzy, husk reminded Isabelle of the time she saw an old man trip in a motel hallway, the skin scraping off his arms just that easily, hanging in shreds. At first the peaches were warm, almost too warm to handle, but they quickly cooled and became slimy.
The orchard was large: besides the people who came to pick their own fruit and wagons the children filled, Isabelle’s parents hired some half-dozen laborers to harvest the excess to send to the Farmer’s Market in Monabee. Usually the pickers were women or teenagers, and sometimes they were from the Indian reservation on the other side of the blackberry scrub. At her old school Isabelle had Indian children in her class, or Native Americans as her teacher referred to them. There were a brother and sister called Bear and Sage, and also the less exotically-named Kelly, Isaac, and Melanie. Melanie wore dream-catcher earrings and Bear had a tattoo on his shoulder, which no one believed was real until he invited them to spit and rub it.
Here the Indians had their own school, as Isabelle saw when her mother drove her to soccer camp. Fierce black eagles, frogs, and bears were painted over the doors, and two totem poles rose like ship’s masts out of the piebald dirt yard. It looked much more interesting than her school, with its babyish blocks of blue and yellow, but also a little frightening. She imagined the kids learned to shoot bows and arrows and skinned deer instead of taking math quizzes; otherwise why would they have a separate school?
Isabelle’s siblings were older and did not attend Cherry Hill Elementary; they took the bus to the high school in the next town. Later she would calculate and realize what a surprise she must have been to her mother at the age of 46, but now she suffered only vague teasing from her sisters and a feeling that she had arrived late to the party, missing a lot of fun the other kids remembered, like a trip to Hawaii.
She loved the orchard, and the walk to school in the ditch along the half-paved road, but she did not like the school itself. Her teacher was a man, a skinny bald man, very different from Mrs. Poulson at her old school. He seemed promising when he passed out fourteen ukuleles to the students and began to teach them to play, but the song he picked was Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley. The song was sad enough, and became more rather than less so after her mother explained that Tom had killed his girlfriend. She supposed his retribution was deserved, but she could take no pleasure in it, and the song didn’t seem to want her to. It was simply two bad things, one after the other, with nothing to balance them.
She had also come to Cherry Hill in the middle of the school year, and most of the girls were already paired up with a best friend. After a few weeks of reading in the library during recess and eating lunch alone, her mother counseled her to look for someone else who seemed left out. That was easy to do: it was obvious that Sarah Rose had no friends, but it seemed there were plenty of reasons why. She looked too fat to play games, and she tended to pick at the patches of rough skin on her arms. The kids said her mom was so huge that she hadn’t left the house since Sarah Rose was a baby, except one time when her heart stopped and a team of eight EMTs had to man the stretcher. Eve LaBraun, whose mother was a nurse at the hospital, was the expert they all turned to for confirmation.
“Uh huh,” Eve said, peering loftily through her purple-rimmed glasses, “My mama said she had never smelled anything so bad. There was mold growing under every roll.” This was offered with the assurance of a direct quotation.
The story made Isabelle feel distinctly ill – the moist and smothering mountain of fat, the lurid green mold that surely cast its spores over the rest of the house, onto Sarah Roses’ clothing, into her hair – but by this point she was becoming desperate, so she invited Sarah Rose over after school anyway.
She had gotten her allowance that morning and they rode bicycles, Isabelle’s and her sister’s old Strawberry Shortcake bike with the banana seat, to the grocery store to buy candy frogs and cream-soda slurpees. Isabelle spent the money to the last nickel and split the spoils equally; they ate as they pushed the bicycles home. When the candy had all been consumed, Sarah Rose revealed a pack of leftover gummy Easter eggs she’d salvaged from the clearance bin with her own money.
“Ooo, I love the blue ones,” Isabelle said.
“So do I,” Sarah Rose said, popping a blue egg in her mouth.
Isabelle waited, assuming Sarah Rose would pass over the bag, or dole out a handful at the very least. She did neither, and continued stuffing the gummies in her mouth.
“May I have one?” Isabelle said, when she saw they were half gone already.
Sarah Rose fished around in the bag until she found a yellow.
“Here,” she said.
Isabelle looked at the sticky gummy in her palm. She hated lemon. She ate it anyway.
There were many crimes that went unpunished in Isabelle’s house, but two rules were sacrosanct: you didn’t rat, and when you had something, you shared it. Of course you shared it! This time you were lucky, but next time the treat would be in somebody else’s hands, and if you hadn’t shared when you were the favored one, you would be presented with a row of backs and greedy gulps of enjoyment.
When Sarah Rose finished the eggs she dropped the empty plastic bag in the ditch and wiped her hands on her pants. Isabelle lay her bike down and marched back to fish out the bag and stuff it in her pocket. She knew it was a prissy thing to do, but she couldn’t despise Sarah Rose for being a pig if she let it lie there.
When the bicycles were safely stowed in the garage again, Sarah Rose said,
“I guess I’ll go home.”
She knew Isabelle was done with her, but she didn’t understand the reason why. Still, she was accustomed enough to rejection to meekly retreat down the road, buttocks wobbling.
The next week Isabelle tried to attach herself to one of the twosomes. She picked Hannah and Erin, because Hannah had white eyelashes and held back her long white hair with a blue band, like Alice in Wonderland. Erin was small and sickly-colored and altogether a less desirable friend. She watched horror movies with her older brother and described the plots in lurid detail while Isabelle tried to eat her lunch. She ripped a page from the Playgirl magazine under her mother’s bed and brought it to school to show them: a picture of a farmer standing on a tractor with no shirt on and his hand holding his thing, which was sticking straight up. His thing looked strange to Isabelle; she had seen them before, she had plenty of male cousins her age, but this picture disgusted her in a way her cousins’ amiable skinny bodies never did.
Erin’s main claim as Hannah’s best friend was that every day she brought a gift of four Oreo cookies in a Ziploc baggie, and gave Hannah all four. Hannah ate two and gave one each to Erin and Isabelle. These were not ordinary Oreo cookies: they were filled with neon-colored creme, neon pink or neon green. It was not known where Erin got them from, since the stores in their area did not sell those particular cookies.
For a while Isabelle was satisfied to tag after the two girls. There was no pretense of equality: if Hannah or Erin were only allowed to have one girl for a sleep-over, or take one girl to the swimming pool or the hockey game, it was understood that Isabelle would not be asked. Other silent rules dictated that when they sat down, Hannah sat in the middle, and when they braided someone’s hair or pretended one of them had died or was getting married, Hannah was the chosen one.
Isabelle thought that as the other two got used to her, she and Erin would lavish their attention on Hannah and Hannah would begin to treat them equally, but this did not happen. Though she spent continually more time with them, she could feel the two girls turning against her. Hannah and Erin whispered together and refused to tell her what they were laughing about. They mocked her jumpers as babyish and made gagging noises when she ate her sandwiches with their thick, crumbling slices of homemade bread.
There was a short reprieve when Hannah caught chicken pox and had to stay home for ten days. During that time, Erin didn’t tell any horror stories and continued to bring neon Oreos, which she shared equally with Isabelle. But as soon as Hannah came back, she and Erin were worse than ever, running away from Isabelle when she tried to join them in puddle jumping at the far end of the field.
If they had always run away she would simply have gone back to reading at recess, or tried to find other friends, but as soon as they saw she wasn’t trailing after them or caught her talking to another girl, they tried to lure her away. Isabelle was suspicious, standoffish, but their smiling faces, their innocent grimy hands, seemed so sincere.
“Why were you talking to Amanda?” Hannah would say, “Don’t you want to come over to my house? We want to paint your nails. We can use my sister’s nail dryer.”
Of course when they got to Hannah’s house, there was no mention of painting Isabelle’s nails. They might decide to play Family with Isabelle as the baby, if they hadn’t run away from her before they even made it to the house. Isabelle was bored of these sorts of games, even when she didn’t have to be the baby, and they weren’t enlivened for her by the additions Hannah suggested such as kissing on the mouth.
If she could have seen ten years ahead it wouldn’t have been so bad. In high school Erin switched allegiances entirely – she and Isabelle became good friends, or at least very close and comfortable enemies, while Hannah grew plump and Christian and occupied the bossy and much-derided position of stage manager for all the school plays. Erin retained her role as procurer of exotic and illicit substances, obtaining cigarettes and fake IDs and boyfriends from distant towns. She dated Tommy Postham off and on, then moved on to someone older, a lifeguard at the Y. She disappeared mid- senior year without warning, as was so easy to do in the days before ubiquitous cellphones and social media websites.
When Isabelle was in her second year of university on the other side of the country, Erin got her phone number from her parents and called her up. She told Isabelle she was pregnant, but she was going to have an abortion. Isabelle didn’t ask who the father was. She thought how lonely Erin must be to track her down like this, to spill her guts to someone who hadn’t thought about her at all in the intervening time. She couldn’t picture Erin pregnant; she could hardly remember what she had looked like in high school. She pictured a short child with Cleopatra bangs and savagely bitten fingernails. She was on her way out the door to a Guster concert, her roommates dragging on her arm until the phone cord stretched halfway down the hallway, and Erin never called again.
Of course there was no intimation of any of that at the time, and Hannah and Erin effectively made Isabelle miserable. Also, O’Brian started to bother her. His real name was Phillip, but everyone called him by his last name, even the teacher. He had three older brothers and they had been called O’Brian in turn as they went through the school system. He was a heavy, sulky kid, with the signs of premature development that can be a boon in high school, but which only elicit derision and disgust in elementary. He had underarm hair, or so the boys said, and dandruff, which anyone could see. His hair was buzzed, but that only made the flakes more obvious without any hair to catch them. He had scabs on his legs, not just on the knees as was normal, but all down his legs.
He sat behind Isabelle, due to the similarity in their last names. He kicked her chair leg, just occasionally, as if he’d been swinging his legs and one happened to connect with the chair. When this garnered no reaction, he began kicking steadily, and harder. Isabelle pulled her seat forward until she scrunched against the desk. She was wearing her favorite blue jumper with the buttons shaped like daisies, and she was afraid he’d get mud on it from his boots. O’Brian slouched lower to extend his legs and continued kicking. Isabelle knew if she looked back he would never stop, so she did nothing.
“Snob,” he whispered, and then louder, “Snob.”
He hissed a swear word at her, then a whole phrase she didn’t understand.
At this time the joke in the class was to wait until someone leaned their chair back against the desk behind them, then pull the desk away so they toppled over, chair and all. Students were not allowed to lean back, and if they disregarded the rule, their transgression usually overshadowed that of whoever had pulled the desk away, so the prankster went unpunished.
O’Brian took a break from kicking Isabelle’s chair to lean back. Most kids would not have dared to pull their desk out from under him, but sitting behind O’Brian was Tommy Postham, who was nearly as tall as O’Brian and much more popular. Even the boys in the upper grades were glad to have him in their soccer games, and there wasn’t a girl in the class who didn’t have his name circled by a heart somewhere in her notebooks.
If Tommy had jerked his desk back a little, he would have upset O’Brian’s balance, scared him, and that would have been amusing enough. But he pulled his desk to the side and O’Brian fell all the way back, hitting his skull on the floor with a funny clunking noise like a dropped coconut. Isabelle didn’t see it, but she heard the sound and turned around laughing, as did the rest of the class, even the teacher. O’Brian saw her giggling as he jumped up, face red, rubbing the back of his head. She knew she was in trouble, but somehow that made her laugh harder.
After school Hannah and Erin walked home with her. They were coming over to pick blackberries. Isabelle had explained that the berries were nowhere near ripe, they were barely green buds yet, but Hannah didn’t like to abandon a plan or admit that she hadn’t known something, so she said they would pick them sour and see who could stand to eat the most. This was like something you would do with crabapples, but Isabelle felt it wouldn’t work with blackberries, they might get sick. She wouldn’t contradict, but she hoped Hannah would think of something else on the way over, or Isabelle would have to find something to distract her.
“There’s O’Brian,” Erin said, “He’s so disgusting.”
“How can you breathe sitting so close to him?” Hannah said.
Erin got a look on her face, and Isabelle knew what she was going to say next.
“She probably likes it,” she said, “She probably sits and thinks about him all day long.”
“That’s disgusting,” Hannah said gleefully.
“She loves him.”
“Mr. and Mrs. O’Brian.”
Isabelle found she did not have the energy to combat this. She could see Hannah and Erin preparing to run off, tossing insults and gales of laughter over their shoulders, and she wished they would hurry up and go. She was almost home, and if they tagged along and picked the green berries, she would catch trouble from her mother for wasting them.
“You’re going to have the ugliest baby,” Erin said.
“With a big fat head,” Hannah said.
Linking arms they ran back down the road.
Isabelle felt relieved, not just for the berries but for the quiet. Now she could hear a cicada, and the wind sifting through the maples. Regular trees were interspersed among the fruit-bearing ones, maples, beeches, chestnuts. Her father said it would be a crime to cut them down; they did not need the orchard to be more profitable. This had been a hobby farm for a long time: the man who sold it to them said that his grandfather had bred many of the apple trees. There might not be apples exactly like these anywhere else in the world.
Isabelle was glad to be alone, but she was also cross about the day as a whole, so she did not go into the house for a snack as she usually would. Instead she wandered back to the blackberry bushes. They were tall, over six feet she guessed, and dense. The thorned vines were brackish red like blood, and the delicate white blossoms only served to make them appear more sinister, a camouflage to deceive the unwary. Even the leaves were serrated like little teeth. Bees clambered heavily over the flowers and the pale, stunted berries, their combined weight causing the bushes to tremble and writhe.
She wandered along the boarder of the bushes. They stopped so abruptly at the edge of the field; how did they know where to stop? The grass grew taller in the moist shade beneath the vines, speckled with buttercups.
Before she knew anyone was there- she didn’t hear him, she didn’t sense a thing -O’Brian knocked her down, landing half on top of her so the air was crushed out of her lungs like a balloon released without a knot on the stem. It even made the same kind of silly sound, heeeeeek. He put his hand over his mouth so she couldn’t gasp like she wanted to, she had to slowly suck through her nostrils, her lungs struggling to lift his heavy body. Once her head cleared, she fought belatedly. She tried to bite his hand, but her teeth slid uselessly over the rough palm, leaving a bitter taste in her mouth: dirt and his sweat, and who knew what else. Hannah was right, he did stink, like a wet dog. He had pushed her partway into the vines and they scratched her face and arms, caught in her hair, helping O’Brian hold her down.
He lay still, vast and unyielding, until she stopped fighting. Then he said,
“Don’t yell,” and took his hand off her mouth, rearing up so he was half-kneeling.
Isabelle didn’t yell. She was far from the house and didn’t understand the enormity of the situation. This was simply an escalation of the chair kicking and the swearing. He meant to punish her for laughing at him, and he had already succeeded: her favorite dress was grass-stained and probably torn.
She tried to sit up.
“Don’t move,” O’Brian said.
She stayed where she was, propped up on her elbows.
O’Brian pushed up the skirt of her jumper. She couldn’t see over the runched material, but she assumed he was looking at her underwear, which had little ladybugs on it. They were Days of the Week underwear, but instead of Monday or Tuesday embroidered in fussy script, they were printed with a different insect for each day. She owned another set with sailboats and trains and rocket ships.
She lifted one hand to pull the skirt down and O’Brian said,
He stood looking at her for a long time, or at least she thought that’s what he must be doing. She was laying back, staring straight up at the clouds because she couldn’t look at O’Brian while he was looking at her underwear.
She heard a sound and it was O’Brian undoing his pants. She thought he was going to pee on her, and she thought,
If O’Brian pees on me, I will die of disgust. It was impossible that she could continue to exist with the memory of that, the stain of that on her.
Instead, O’Brian tried to crush her with his weight again, pulling at her clothes, stabbing at her. If Isabelle thought she had fought him before, now she really fought, she made a strange yelping sound like a puppy trod underfoot.
Somebody came out of the blackberry bushes yelling. Their materialization from the dense vines was so startling that she for a moment she wasn’t relieved, but was almost more frightened. Then she saw it was a boy. The next few seconds had a perfect clarity, or perhaps they didn’t, she only reconstructed it later from what must have happened. The boy had a rock in his hand and he smashed it into O’Brian’s head. He didn’t throw the rock: he kept hold of it the whole time; it was still in his hand when he helped Isabelle stand up. When he saw that he was still holding it he tossed it into the bushes.
When O’Brian was hit the blood jumped off his scalp in three or four fat drops. He grunted and stood up, the blood dribbling in a thin stream into his ear, following the whorls like an insect in a maze. He fell over, but he was not unconscious – he was still watching them from the grass, blinking slowly. Isabelle and the boy did not go near him; they stood watching. He sat for few minutes, then got up and walked away, slowly and unsteadily.
Isabelle looked at the boy. She had never seen him before: he didn’t go to her school. Because he had come from the reservation side through the blackberries, she thought at once he must be Indian, though he didn’t look particularly Indian; he might simply be tanned, and he had green eyes.
“How did you get through the blackberries?” she asked.
“I made a tunnel.”
He showed her the tunnel. He hadn’t cut many vines at the entrance and exit, so it remained hidden from either side though it was quite spacious inside. It was more like a cave, Isabelle thought, but she didn’t say so because she didn’t want him to think she was criticizing. She was deeply impressed, as much by this as by his attack on O’Brian. Neither of them spoke of that. Already it was mellowing in her mind, something that was awful, but which ceased to matter now it was over. Had Isabelle and the boy been a little older there would have been more understanding and more embarrassment, but as it was, Isabelle didn’t mention it to her parents or anyone else. To this day, only Jayman knew, if he remembered. That was the boy’s name, Jayman.
They crawled around the tunnel for a while getting good and scratched, coming out on the reservation side because Isabelle had never been there before. It appeared that Jayman had come into the orchard a number of times to eat fruit off their trees. He said he liked the cherries best, the yellow ones with the pink cheeks. Isabelle told him they were called Queen Anne’s.
The reservation was not quite what she hoped. It was pretty much like her side, except the houses were closer together and everyone had satellite TV. The men drove trucks and wore normal clothing: shirts and jeans. She knew they did that around town, but she hoped they slipped into buckskin and moccasins when they got home, the way her father put on his cardigan and slippers. Jayman said they did occasionally wear those things, but only for special ceremonies, and even then they probably didn’t look like what she expected. It wasn’t what he had expected. He hadn’t always lived on the reservation; his mother was white and he used to live with her on the island. She was a lawyer for an oil and gas company, and she traveled almost everywhere there was oil. Sometimes she brought him along, other times she sent him here to stay with his father. Right now she was somewhere, he forgot the name of the place, but it was over by the pyramids.
“Which do you like better,” she said, “Being with your mom or your dad?”
She was imagining the agonies of having to choose if her mother ever decided to go live in the pyramids. She played this same sort of game, supposing she had to choose one person in her family to die. She usually narrowed it down to one of her brothers.
“My dad lets me be,” he said, “But some of the kids say I shouldn’t be here because I’m not full-blood.”
“You’re half-blood?” she had read that term in a book.
“And you only stay here half the time. So it should be okay.”
“Well, the half is Métis.”
She didn’t know what that meant, so she nodded.
After that, Jayman often came through the blackberry bushes, especially once school let out for the summer. Isabelle did chores in the morning and Jayman had a job spraying down the floors at a poultry farm, so they met in the afternoons. She waited for him to come through to her side: he said she shouldn’t go to the reservation alone because there were half-wild dogs wandering around that weren’t familiar with her. She liked how she could only go through with Jayman; it was a door to another world and he was the gatekeeper, like a fairytale.
He was magic anyway. He had tricks: he could pass a quarter through a sheet of rubber, dropping it into a drinking glass underneath while she held the rubber tight and checked its un-perforated membrane before and after. He could pick her card out of the deck; a lot of people could do that, but he made it travel to the empty pack on the table between them. He did back flips on the trampoline in his yard and walked on his hands and showed her how to turn a daisy green, a color you never saw on a flower in nature, but putting food coloring in its water. It sucked the color right up the stem and into the petals.
Isabelle was the only one who had seen him, and she liked to pretend he was invisible to everyone else. When Hannah and Erin showed up in her yard one Saturday, he waited until they were gone to drop out of the tree he’d been sitting in.
“I don’t like them,” he said, “That one looks like a pink-eyed rabbit and the other is a little brown monkey.”
“What am I?” Isabelle said.
“You’re...you’re a pony,” he said, tugging on her long pigtail.
“And you’re a leopard,” she said, because she’d seen a picture of one and it had big round golden eyes.
Isabelle’s teenage sister Marla caught them building a dam across the creek, and told her mother Isabelle was playing with a boy. Her mother wanted to meet him and then Jayman wasn’t a secret anymore. It seemed silly that Isabelle had ever thought he was, once he was sitting comfortably at their kitchen table eating a grilled cheese sandwich her mother had made him. He often ate dinner with them after that; he would eat anything; he had tried all kinds of food traveling with his mother. But he was ignorant of some common things, like the expressions Isabelle’s father used. He had never heard “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”, or “I’m in seventh heaven”, or “Don’t be a doggy in the manger”. The sayings didn’t make any sense to him. Most astonishing, he didn’t know about dessert. His mother didn’t eat sweets, and his father put everything on the table at once; if there was cake it went on the plate with the salad and the steak.
Sometimes Isabelle visited Jayman’s house, but not for very long and not for dinner. It looked exactly like the houses around it: khaki colored and so tall that you had to climb wooden steps up to the front door. Jayman’s house had the neatest yard and was very clean inside. The linoleum and laminate were dingy gray, but you could tell the house was secretly clean because the vacuum cleaner lines showed on the carpet and the counters smelled of lemon.
A grey husky named Lute patrolled the yard. He followed them up the stairs, but never into the house.
“It doesn’t get too cold for this guy,” Jayman said, “He could dig a hole in the snow and sleep in it. He could have been a sled dog.”
Jayman’s father was very handsome. Isabelle had never thought that about an adult before; they looked pretty much the same, some grayer or paunchier than others. But he was hardly different than her oldest brother. Jayman showed her a picture of his mother and she was pretty too, long blond hair, cuddled up with his father under a blanket on a beach like teenagers. Maybe they had been teenagers when the picture was taken.
Jayman’s father was tall and had long hair, not long like a woman’s, just to his shoulders. He wore t-shirts that Jayman said bore the names of bands: The Killers, The Clash, The Addicts. He had a long scar down his cheek that Jayman’s mother told him happened in a bar fight and Jayman’s father said she had done herself with her fingernails. Sometimes he was cheerful and he let them ride in the bed of the truck with Lute to get ice cream cones. Other times he ignored them and drank scotch while he tinkered away at a motorcycle engine spread out on newspaper on the kitchen table, or he demanded of Isabelle how she liked his orchard. Jayman told her that the boarders of the reserve had been pushed back twice since his father had lived here, and Isabelle could see it was much more bare on this side of the blackberries. There were hardly any flowering trees.
It was different playing with Jayman than with her siblings. They didn’t fight and they didn’t always talk. He was silent as he concentrated on the project at hand, and Isabelle found she liked to be quiet in those times too. They caught crayfish down at the creek and tried to make them spar each other, and then packed mud to make a mud-man almost as tall as they were. When school started again, Isabelle learned that Jayman was two years older than her and a grade ahead in school; she hadn’t guessed because he was hardly any taller. Even as it got colder and after it snowed, they almost always stayed outside. They went skating or tobogganing, and once they tried out Jayman’s father’s snowshoes.
They didn’t involve Isabelle’s brothers and sisters or Jayman’s friends from school (he had friends, other boys; sometimes he stayed with them instead of coming through the bushes). On the days he didn’t come, she went to her cousin Cassie’s house to bake cookies, or sometimes Hannah and Erin came by. They were usually well behaved, particularly if she hadn’t seen them for a while. Somehow these interludes seemed phony, as if she were pretending to be a little girl playing with other little girls. What felt real was the quiet time in the orchard and at the creek, where she built things and found things and saw things she had never seen before, like a barn cat giving birth to six black kittens.
As for O’Brian, he ignored her at school, he didn’t so much as kick her chair. Perhaps his parents had warned him; they had certainly taken him to get stitches. In the two weeks following the incident, the dark blue thread showed clearly on his shaved scalp.
That was how it went over the year: vivid wild days when Jayman came through the blackberry tunnel overshadowing the mild, fuzzy days when he didn’t. When Isabelle looked back on it, it seemed like it must have been much longer than a year, because the far greater part of her childhood recollections were spawned in that period, but it could not have been longer, because in the spring Jayman’s mother came and took him away to Singapore.
There was not much notice, but Isabelle was there at his house watching his father load Jayman’s suitcase in the trunk of his mother’s car. It was a small silver car with the cloth top pulled down, though it really wasn’t warm enough for that yet.
Seeing his mother in the flesh was an illusory experience: from a distance she was unchanged from the smiling girl on the beach, but up close deep lines connected her nose to the corners of her mouth and the tendons showed in her neck and arms despite her tan. She looked expensive and glamorous, but Isabelle was afraid for her to take Jayman away in her car. He looked so much more natural standing beside his father, both in t-shirts and jeans worn thin and soft as moleskin.
Jayman didn’t touch Isabelle or say much to her, but he said, “I’ll see you,” in a confident way.
He climbed in the passenger seat- there were only two seats -and his parents stood off to the side for a moment talking. They stood close together, his mother’s face turned up to his father’s and their hands dangling in front of them with the fingers only an inch apart. Even after she got into the car, she held the door open as if she hoped he would squeeze in their with them so they could all drive to Singapore. That didn’t happen. She backed the car out of the dusty yard and sped off down the road, nobody waving.
Jayman’s father didn’t look at Isabelle or speak to her. He climbed the stairs to the house and shut the door after him. Lute watched the car receding through the dust like a speedy metal beetle, before spotting a gopher and trotting off around the corner of the house. Isabelle walked home, not through the blackberries, but the long way around by the road.