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alr B o s le y o k
One of the best compliments a novelist can receive is a reader saying she only wished the book was longer, which is what a book club member told me the other night at the Barnes & Noble in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Readers of my novel, THE POSSIBILITY OF YOU, have asked for more material from the 1916 section of the book, and so I resurrected these three scenes— outtakes from earlier drafts of the book’s beginnings as a purely historical novel.
1: Two Mothers Bridget arrives in New York from Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, 1916, and reaches Maude’s house on East 64th Street not a moment too soon:
―Well, here you are, it’s about time,‖ said the redheaded girl, reaching out and grabbing Bridget’s arm. She was wearing a white cap and a long starched apron, stiff ruffles at the edges, her voice animated and thick with an accent from home. ―The little master’s terrorizing the madame up in the parlor. I’ll take your bag.‖ From somewhere upstairs, Bridget heard the shouts of a small child punctuated by what sounded like a woman, begging. Slowly, Bridget climbed the stairs that spiraled upwards like a seashell into the vastness of the house, the wooden railing smooth and cool beneath her hand, heading toward the voices. ―Bad Mama! No!‖ the child shrieked. ―Please, Floyd, won’t you please let Mama….‖ ―No! Back! Back!‖
There was the sound of a slap, then the crash of pottery against wood. Bridget moved more quickly, reaching the parlor just in time to see a tiny blond boy dressed in a dark blue velvet suit, silk ruffles at his neck, lift a painted vase from a polished table and draw his hand back to hurl it in the direction of his mother, herself small as a child, with a child’s long blonde curls spilling down her back, who was cowering against the far wall. As quick as she could, Bridget sprinted to the boy and grasped his small hand and the vase with it. ―There we go,‖ she said, scooping the startled child into her arms and crooning into his ear. ―You don’t want to do that to your poor Ma.‖ Instantly, the child began squirming, thrashing this way and that as his voice rose to an ear-splitting squeal. Bridget held tight, as she would to a baby pig that was threatening to escape from the pen. ―Oh, don’t hurt him!‖ Maude cried, getting to her feet and advancing toward them. ―I believe children should be free….‖ The boy sank his teeth into his mother’s arm. ―Ow!‖ Maude shrieked. She seized his shoulders and started shaking him. ―Stop that! Stop that, you horrible boy!‖ The child tore loose from his mother and tried to scramble under an oval table festooned with garlands of gilt. But Bridget caught him and just like that slid him out along the polished wood floor and up into her arms. ―I’m not going to let you act like this, do you hear me?‖ she said.
He growled at her – not as if he were pretending to be a dog, but as if he was a dog – and tried to wriggle away. But she kept a firm grip. Maybe the farm had been better preparation for this job than she’d guessed. He smelled like any tiny boy, his pale neck salty beneath his fair ringlets, the scent of diapers that needed changing rising from beneath the fine velvet of his shorts. Pressing her face close to him, Bridget was near-overcome by the memory of holding her youngest brother Patrick, the one who’d known only her as his mother. Still the child struggled, but he was losing his fight, and she could feel that he was growing tired, a nap doubtless overdue. ―There, there,‖ she said softly, swaying from side to side. ―That’s a grand boy. That’s it, now.‖ It didn’t take long before the tiger cub that had been raging a few moments before was snoring gently against her, as done in by his terror at being restrained by this stranger, no doubt, as by exhaustion from his tantrum. She tiptoed to the antique sofa, upholstered in gold brocade as bright as the sun at noontime, and set him gently on his side. As soon as the child was down and before she’d even turned to face her new mistress, the woman rushed across the room and embraced her. ―You’re brilliant, a genius!‖ Maude cried, standing on tiptoes so she could hug Bridget tightly and showering her cheek with kisses. ―How lucky we are that you’ve come to us. You’ve absolutely saved my life!‖
Bridget was in equal measure astonished and amused. She had never been petted like this, not even by her mother, and it was certainly not the kind of thing she’d expected from her employer. ―It was nothing, m’am,‖ Bridget said, wondering if she was supposed to curtsy, though she didn’t see how that would be possible with Miss Montgomery’s arms still twined around her neck. ―Oh, golly, don’t call me m’am! It makes me feel a million years old! You must call me Maude, do you hear me?‖ Now Maude took Bridget’s arm and led her over to a blue velvet settee, as far as possible from the sleeping child. ―We are going to be the best of friends, you and I. Oh, I can’t wait to show you everything, all around New York, and I’m going to introduce you to everyone. You must have some new clothes. And your hair….‖ Bridget put her hand to her hair, suddenly self-conscious about how she must look to Maude, who was as lovely as the angel painted on the ceiling of the big church in Carrick-on-Shannon, with her golden ringlets and her enormous blue eyes and her pink cheeks and her bright pink satin dress, the color of peonies, with its black velvet collar. She was so slight it was difficult to believe she could carry her son in her arms, much less give birth to a child. ―But you’re tired,‖ Maude was saying. ―After your journey, you must be. And famished. I’ll have cook – I’m very modern, you see, I have an Italian cook -- prepare you some broth, or an egg, or whatever you like. I don’t take any lunch, myself, when Mr. Apfelmann – that’s my husband – is not at home. And the ladies are coming, oh
heavens, any moment now. And I’m expected to converse about pacifism and feminism and labor unions and the German threat, when I haven’t had a second to think about anything never mind read anything since that horrible Nanny Riley left us all alone. But that’s all over now that you’re here.‖ The doorbell chimed and from the hallway downstairs came the sound of women’s voices. ―It’s them,‖ Maude breathed, her eyes widening. ―The Heterodoxy Club. Oh, you don’t know what that is, but it’s sculptors and playwrights and birth control advocates and suffragists and even medical doctors – all the most important and freethinking women in the city -- and they’ve decided to let me in. Me! Do I look all right? Oh my, I must be a fright, after that tussle with Floyd.‖ ―You look wonderful,‖ Bridget assured her. But Maude wasn’t listening. ―Floyd. I nearly forgot him. Could you take him? Do you mind terribly? It’s up two flights, the room with the crib, naturally, and your room is just adjacent. You can rest there while he finishes his nap.‖ ―Of course,‖ said Bridget. ―Oh, thank you,‖ said Maude, giving Bridget one last kiss. ―Now that you’ve saved my life, I have to be your slave forever, isn’t that how it works?‖ Bridget was about to laugh and answer that she’d never heard that, and in any case, it was hardly necessary, but Maude was already hurrying out of the room, was already flying down the stairs and calling out excitedly to greet her guests.
2: The Most Beautiful Baby
Parades were a regular occurrence in the New York of 1916, with everyone from feminists to socialists to mothers and infants taking to the streets. This scene is based on a real event that May, a month before the outing to Coney Island that now starts the 1916 section of the book. Readers will recognize Doctor Elliot as the doctor who chastises Bridget and goes to the theatre with Maude the night that Floyd falls ill.
The new holiday of Mother’s Day launched an entire Baby Week in New York, whose highlight was the Baby Parade. And the culmination of the Baby Parade was to be a Most Beautiful Baby contest. Maude insisted they march in the parade and enter Floyd in the contest, picking out Floyd’s clothes herself: linen shorts and a linen jacket of a light blue that coordinated perfectly with her own pale pink linen outfit, an ecru silk shirt with a navy satin bow at the neck, and patent leather pumps on his feet. She had brushed his hair with her own silver brush, twirling it into ringlets around her finger. Mr. Apfelmann, whom Maude had insisted take the day off from work to join them at the parade, stood with a group of other men on the sidewalk where the parade started at Union Square, proudly pointing out his son. The men looked skeptical, Bridget thought, as if he were a bison claiming to have sired a feathery golden chick. ―Wave to Daddy,‖ Maude said, lifting Floyd’s wrist to make him wave. Maude had said she would carry Floyd herself, wanting to show him off to his best advantage. He yanked his hand away and slapped his mother, kicking for good measure. ―Please be nice, Floyd,‖ Maude said, looking beseechingly at Bridget.
Floyd giggled. ―It might be best to let him walk, Maude,‖ Bridget said. ―But then no one will be able to see him! Plus he’ll get dirty. Oh look, there’s Mrs. Cushman, that old battleaxe.‖ Maude’s attention was now focused on the group of high-ranking suffragists milling near Mr. Apfelmann and the other fathers who were waiting for the parade to begin. She handed Floyd to Bridget. ―Those women show up for everything,‖ Maude said. ―Preparedness, antipreparedness – I wish I could remember which one meant we were for the war and which against it. I can’t keep straight what side I’m supposed to be on.‖ Waving gaily, Maude went to join the women, who seemed to be distributing pamphlets to the men. ―Walk!‖ Floyd cried. ―Yes, you want to walk,‖ Bridget said into his ear. ―But right now, Bea will walk. Which way shall we go?‖ Floyd giggled and pointed straight ahead and Bridget walked straight ahead. Laughing harder, he pointed right and she walked right. ―Horsie!‖ ―No horsie. Bea.‖ ―Horsie Bea!‖ ―Let’s walk faster.‖ Bridget began circling through the crowd to keep Floyd occupied. The motion and the swirl of the throng, the faces of the other children and the floats promoting the
virtues of fresh air and pasteurized milk, captured Floyd’s attention so thoroughly that he didn’t even notice his mother when they passed by her, now handing out leaflets with Mrs. Cushman and the other suffragists. ―We want to make sure fathers know as much about taking care of their babies as mothers do,‖ Bridget heard one of the women say to Mr. Apfelmann, pressing a pamphlet into his big hands. ―Are you aware how important it is to keep the nursery clean and germ-free?‖ Mr. Apfelmann cast a woeful glance toward Bridget, who couldn’t resist smiling at him. He rolled his eyes with such exaggeration that his great head followed them in a large circle. ―Are you protecting your child against flies, sir? Flies carry dirt and disease…‖ ―We have no flies.‖ ―Do you know the correct way to change a diaper?‖ the woman pressed on. ―You lie the child on a clean cloth…..‖ ―Excuse me,‖ Mr. Apfelmann said abruptly, bolting away from her and striding toward Bridget and Floyd. ―Save me,‖ he muttered. Bridget laughed. ―Gladly, sir, on the condition that you return the favor by holding your son for a moment.‖ She started to pass Floyd to Mr. Apfelmann, to give her own arms a moment’s relief, but Mr. Apfelmann looked nearly as frightened as he had by the instructive suffragist, and Floyd shied from his father back into Bridget’s embrace. All the more reason to encourage them toward each other, Bridget thought.
―There’s a big boy now,‖ Bridget said to Floyd. ―Daddy’s going to carry you high high high!‖ With that she thrust Floyd into his father’s arms. Mr. Apfelmann, looking as if a bomb were being hurled at him, initially fumbled the boy but finally caught him, though he was not quite able to bring himself to hold Floyd close to his body. ―Dad!‖ Floyd said. This was a first. He said Mama, of course, and Bea, and even Nora, and Bunny, and Horsie. He could say car and bed and sleep, ice cream and fire and up and no. But he’d never before said Dad. ―Yes,‖ Mr. Apfelmann said now, finally focusing with interest on Floyd. ―Dad.‖ ―Dad!‖ Floyd crowed, wiggling. ―Dad! Dad!‖ The music started up and the other marchers fell into formation. Floyd threw his arms around his father’s neck and pointed to the front of the parade, which had started to move. ―Go, Dad, go!‖ Mr. Apfelmann looked at Bridget. She smiled. ―You heard the child.‖ They began walking, Mr. Apfelmann growing visibly more relaxed as they moved, Bridget not quite sure whether she should walk next to her employer or behind him. She had settled on a few paces behind, then had to scurry to catch up when she realized he was talking to her.
―I don’t think I was ever carried by either of my parents,‖ he was saying. ―That was my oldest sister’s job, carrying the littlest one, and I was the fifth out of eight. I was working when I was barely older than Floyd.‖ Bridget was surprised, having never imagined Mr. Apfelmann as anything other than a rich gray-haired man living in luxury on 64th Street. ―Was that in this country, sir?‖ ―This country, yes, in this city, in fact.‖ He gave a short laugh. ―But a million miles away. The Lower East Side. My parents came here from Russia with nothing when I was just about Floyd’s age, and they died with nothing too.‖ They walked silently, the cheer of the parade and Floyd’s growing excitement at the novelty of being in his father’s arms a stark contrast to the somberness of their conversation. ―You’ve come far, sir,‖ said Bridget at last. ―Far, yes, far,‖ he said, seeming to return at that moment from a great distance. He looked at Floyd, almost as if seeing him for the first time. ―This boy is the one who’ll truly go far,‖ he said. ―This is the real American boy.‖ Mr. Apfelmann smiled and waggled his head at Floyd, who laughed and patted his father’s lips. The two of them were so entranced with each other that Bridget felt as if she’d ceased to exist. But she liked the feeling. She dropped back further now so she could walk behind them and just watch, remembering the rare times her father had stopped working and worrying long enough to take notice of little Patrick, how delighted they both had been to discover one another.
Floyd, thrilled by his perch high above everyone else, seemed to be babbling nonstop to his father, pointing at buildings and pigeons, at the people lining the streets and at his own stomach, taking no notice at all of Bridget or of his mother’s absence. Where was Maude? There were suffragists everywhere, though their message today was not votes for women but education for fathers, none of whom looked any more eager to be enlightened than had Mr. Apfelmann. Bridget smiled to herself imagining Maude attempting to delineate childcare duties to any of these men. ―Well, naturally, you love them and pet them,‖ Bridget imagined her saying. ―And for all the rest, you hire a nursemaid!‖ Ah, that wasn’t entirely fair. While Maude left the discipline and pedestrian duties to Bridget, she did get involved in directing Floyd’s life in larger ways, like entering him in this contest. Bridget was suddenly very glad she had. Even if he didn’t win, Bridget thought Floyd was decidedly the most beautiful baby in sight. She was proud of him, proud that he belonged to her – at least partly, anyway – and couldn’t imagine why pride was one of the deadly sins. She didn’t feel sinful, she felt wonderful! The reviewing stand was ahead, in Madison Square Park, and Bridget resisted the impulse to straighten Floyd’s clothes and lick her fingers to clean his face. He was beautiful just as he was. Maude appeared, darting through the crowd to march the final block at Mr. Apfelmann’s side. She reached up to take Floyd, but Mr. Apfelmann held the boy more tightly and Floyd turned resolutely away from his mother. Mr. Apfelmann smiled and said something to Maude, who finally smiled back at him and tucked her arm into his.
This was the first time, Bridget realized, that she’d ever seen the family together, all three of them, having a good time. The fact that they were surrounded by thousands of other people didn’t matter -- or did it? Maybe that was the reason they could be together. Maude leaned in close to Mr. Apfelmann, gazed adoringly at Floyd, then turned to smile and wave at the crowd. Even Mr. Apfelmann, who usually seemed most content when he was alone, or at least alone with his wife, seemed to be basking in the attention. And Floyd! He had obviously inherited his mother’s acting skills, sitting taller now that he had an audience, dimpling and chortling, leaning down to kiss his startled father and then actually blowing a kiss toward the judges. Oh, he was a charmer, all right. Bridget could see him as a young man, all the most beautiful girls in New York at his feet. In deference to the tender age of the participants, the parade ended at 23rd Street and the Beautiful Baby judging began. Maude finally managed to seize Floyd from her husband, tilting her head and shaking her golden curls as if she were the one whose beauty was being evaluated. Finally one of the judges stepped onto the highest rung of the reviewing stand, lifted the megaphone to his mouth, and made the awaited announcement. ―After careful deliberation,‖ he said, ―we have decided that the Most Beautiful Baby in the fair city of New York is…..Master Floyd Montgomery Apfelmann!‖ Maude rushed forward, Floyd bouncing in her arms, Mr. Apfelmann lumbering behind, while Bridget stood back, a mere spectator. The judge drew a blue satin sash over Floyd’s head, and the photographers who’d been waiting set off their cameras, all the bulbs flashing and popping at once. A startled Floyd let out a loud wail. Maude
worked at keeping her smile in place, but Mr. Apfelmann looked as shaken as he had by the diapering lesson. Floyd lunged forward from his mother’s arms, seeming to grab first for Mr. Apfelmann, then out into the crowd as he sobbed ever more plaintively. ―Bea!‖ he was saying. ―Bea!‖ Bridget pushed her way through the crowd until she reached them, bundling the near-hysterical Floyd into her arms. ―Can’t you make him be quiet?‖ Maude hissed. ―He’s hungry and he’s tired,‖ Bridget said. ―I’ll take him home.‖ ―But he can’t leave,‖ Maude whispered. ―He’s the Most Beautiful Baby.‖ Now Mr. Apfelmann lowered his head and rubbed his stomach. ―I’m not quite right either,‖ he said. He looked around. ―Where is the car? I should go home too.‖ ―But there’s a ceremony at City Hall!‖ Maude cried. ―He’s to receive a Golden Cup!‖ Mr. Apfelmann opened to mouth as if to reply, but instead of speaking he clutched his chest, and fell like a great oak struck by lightning to the ground.
―Gas,‖ the doctor pronounced. They were home, their own car having been closer and faster than an ambulance, and Mr. Apfelmann himself insistent that he did not want to go to the hospital. Instead, the doctor was summoned, a tall, straight-backed, impossibly-young man who looked like John Barrymore. Someone less handsome, or at least more mature, might have inspired more confidence, Bridget thought. But Mr. Apfelmann’s longtime doctor had recently retired, and Dr. Elliot had taken over his practice. And what gravity the doctor lacked in
his appearance, he tried to make up for in his manner, barking at Maude to clear the way, at Bridget to remove Floyd from the room, even at poor Mr. Apfelmann to unbutton his shirt and lie down. Bridget stood breathing with Floyd in the hallway, knowing she should go upstairs to the nursery but not wanting to leave without knowing whether Mr. Apfelmann would be all right. ―Oh, doctor, are you sure it’s not his heart?‖ Maude said. ―Absolutely certain. What we have here is a clear case of overindulgence.‖ Overindulgence. That was strange. They’d all eaten the scrambled eggs Sarita had prepared for breakfast, but they hadn’t even had any lunch. ―Now Mr. Apfelmann,‖ the doctor said loudly, as if his patient were suffering from deafness rather than stomach pain. ―I want you to take this medicine I’m giving to your wife, and you’re to stay away from rich and spicy foods, do you hear me?‖ There was a mumbled reply and Bridget started to move away, reassured that all was well. ―You’re a miracle worker, Dr. Elliot,‖ she heard Maude say, the actress once again now that the real-life drama had passed. ―You’ve saved our lives.‖
3: Raising Floyd Spiritualism, at its height at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, was still popular in 1916, with séances a regular high society occurrence. Zola Starling was an entertaining character to write and, although this scene didn’t survive the final cut of the book, I
always imagined it still took place offstage. And Maude making Bridget donate the necessary blood seemed perfectly in character.
Bridget found Maude crouched in the closet in Floyd’s room, claiming she was waiting for Floyd to come home. She heard her calling Floyd’s name in the middle of the night. Early one morning, she woke up to find Maude sitting cross-legged by the side of her bed, the box with Floyd’s things open, his velvet rabbit cradled in her arms. Bridget sat up. ―What are you doing, Maude?‖ ―I’m looking for Floyd.‖ ―Maude….‖ Maude scrambled to her feet, her golden hair glowing in the moonlight, and then stunned Bridget further by climbing right next to her into the bed. ―Bridget,‖ Maude whispered, sliding her arms around Bridget’s shoulders. ―Yes?‖ Bridget whispered back, afraid to hear what Maude was going to say. ―I know he’s not alive,‖ Maude said, still whispering. Bridget felt her heart quicken. ―You do?‖ ―It’s just that I feel him. I sense him. I wake up, or I get up to go to the bathroom, and it’s like he’s right there.‖ Bridget had had that feeling too, once or twice, though she’d had it too when her mother and her brother died, and it hadn’t meant anything real. ―And then tonight I dreamed about him,‖ Maude continued, ―and it was like he was right there….‖ She reached out and touched Bridget’s cheek, pain in her eyes. ―His
skin….how pink it was….and the way his hair would get damp at the temples….and his breath so sweet from his mouth……‖ Maude stared at Bridget, her fingertips still on Bridget’s cheeks, her face contorted in wonderment, as if she were waiting for Bridget’s face to transform itself into Floyd’s. Then she blinked, as if dispelling the illusion. ―I have to contact him,‖ Maude told Bridget, her voice suddenly all business. There are people who can do that.‖ ―Oh, Maude. I don’t know about that.‖ Since Floyd’s death, Bridget had felt her faith in God unraveling, and with it any belief in the afterlife, or in spirits. And if she didn’t believe in spirits, then she didn’t believe anyone could bring back Floyd. But Maude’s mouth was setting itself into that line Bridget remembered from before Floyd’s death. ―You probably think it’s Satan’s work, or something,‖ said Maude. ―But a lot of people do it, intelligent people, the best people. I’ve heard of séances where amazing things happen, truly amazing things. I’m going to ask Irving to arrange it for me.‖ What could Bridget do but agree?
The medium, whose name was Zola Starling, had hair the blackish-red of a garnet, twisted back into a tight chignon. She arrived at the house on a Tuesday evening, dressed in men’s clothing and carrying an enormous calfskin suitcase. But when she entered the living room, where a square table draped in a white cloth had been set up as directed and they all waited, she stopped stock still.
―I can’t do this with five people.‖ Maude had persuaded Mr. Apfelmann to come down, and Mr. Berlin was there too. Bridget and Maude and Miss Starling herself made five. They all looked at one another. ―Christ was murdered with five wounds,‖ Miss Starling explained. ―And five is the number of the pentacle, Satan’s symbol.‖ Bridget, enormously relieved, stepped forward. ―I’ll wait downstairs.‖ ―No!‖ cried Maude. ―Bridget, you have to be here. If Floyd comes and you’re not here, well, you have to be here. Miss Starling – Zola – couldn’t you possibly make an exception just this once? We promise we’ll all be awfully quiet and do exactly as you say.‖ ―Impossible,‖ said Miss Starling. ―Five people at a séance draws sinister forces. In fact, I can feel them already.‖ She began backing out of the room. Bridget, despite her skepticism and the heat of the evening, felt the hair prick up on her arms. ―Wait!‖ said Maude. ―Irving, darling, I’m awfully sorry to do this to you when you’ve been such a dear, but since the rest of us are Floyd’s family…..‖ ―No,‖ interrupted Mr. Apfelmann. ―I’ll go.‖ ―Oh no, Sam, you can’t go. You promised me.‖ Maude was tugging on Mr. Apfelmann’s sleeve, but he pulled away from her.
―This is nonsense, Maude, foolery and nonsense. I shouldn’t have let you talk me into it in the first place. Floyd is dead, dead and that’s the end of it, and nothing and no one is going to bring him back.‖ He swept out of the room and pounded up the stairs, and it wasn’t until they all heard his door slam and the key turn in his lock that anyone breathed again. ―Well,‖ said Miss Starling. ―I told you five was unlucky. If you have a nonbeliever at the table, the spirits won’t come. Shall we begin?‖ Should Bridget confess that she too was a nonbeliever? If she did, she knew, Maude would be furious. But if she didn’t, and participated in the séance, wouldn’t she by Miss Starling’s definition ruin any chance of its working? Paralyzed, Bridget stared at Miss Starling as she moved purposefully around the candlelit living room, her stiff white three-piece linen suit aglow, unpacking her suitcase. In the center of the table she placed a crystal bowl which she filled with olive oil from a bottle in her suitcase. On either side of the bowl she positioned two white candles. ―Which way is west?‖ she asked, looking around the room. Bridget pointed toward the wall that faced the Central Park, behind which the sun set. Miss Starling unpacked a bible with a gold cross engraved on its white leather cover and placed it on the table to the west of the bowl, opening it to a page she selected with care. Atop the open bible she set a piece of glittering quartz and a white lily, its powerful sweetness reminding Bridget of the cathedral on Easter Sunday. On the floor near the room’s entryway she set a silver bell, a box of salt, and a very sharp, very long golden dagger. ―There!‖ she said brightly. ―Now all we need is a few drops of blood.‖
―Bridget?‖ said Maude. ―Me, m’am?‖ Bridget said, coming out of her daze. ―Help Miss Starling,‖ Maude said, not meeting her eye and taking a seat at the table. ―Hurry, now. It’s almost midnight.‖ Miss Starling was already sterilizing a needle over the flame of a candle. If she was going to donate her blood, Bridget decided, she was going to sit at the table. And if that spoiled the séance, then all the better. Bridget held out her hand and watched fascinated as two drops the color of Miss Starling’s hair dropped into the oil and pooled there as round and self-contained as a pair of tiny yolks in a sea of egg white. ―Sit,‖ Miss Starling commanded. She instructed them to all put their hands on the table, fingers outspread and pinkies touching, and to close their eyes, breathing deeply and focusing on the hereafter. If the spirits chose to visit, she told them, they would speak through her. Time passed. Bridget couldn’t resist peeking, but saw that everyone else had their eyes still tightly shut. Miss Starling’s head was thrown back, her mouth slightly open. From above, there was a thump: Mr. Apfelmann. ―I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know any of you people,‖ Miss Starling said suddenly all in a rush, her voice high-pitched and girlish. ―Oh my oh my but there are so many people who want to talk with you. What? All right. There’s a lady here, a pretty lady, and her name is a B, no a D, no maybe DB I’m so confused. Does that mean anything to any of you?‖ There was a long silence, finally broken by Maude.
―Irving, she means Dorothy. It’s Dorothy speaking to you.‖ Dorothy was Mr. Berlin’s wife who died. ―Oh?‖ said Mr. Berlin. ―She says she’s fine, she’s no longer in pain, you’re not to worry about her,‖ Miss Starling continued in the voice of the young girl. ―She loves you but she wants you to find someone else because you’re going to live for a long time.‖ ―Oh,‖ said Mr. Berlin, laughing a little. ―Well, that’s fine, I guess.‖ ―No laughing,‖ snapped Miss Starling in her own voice. ―The dead don’t like laughter.‖ Mr. Berlin cleared his throat and they all went silent. But Mr. Berlin’s Dorothy was something anyone could have known, that everybody knew, Bridget thought. Her death had been all over the papers. And surely Miss Starling knew who it was that had hired her. ―There’s a boy,‖ Miss Starling said, in the girl’s voice again. ―A very small boy. What? Ow! He bit me. Stop that, you naughty thing.‖ ―Don’t speak to him like that,‖ said Maude sharply. ―Oh, he’s a naughty boy,‖ Miss Starling continued, as if Maude hadn’t spoken. ―I’m getting a name with a P.‖ ―It’s an F,‖ said Maude. ―For Floyd.‖ ―A P,‖ insisted Miss Starling. ―Patrick,‖ whispered Bridget. ―What?‖ said Maude. ―My brother Patrick. He died when he was small, like Floyd.‖
―We don’t want him. We want Floyd.‖ I want him, thought Bridget. I want both of them. ―He’s with Floyd,‖ said Miss Starling. ―He’s taking care of Floyd. He’s Floyd’s guide. Come here, Floyd. Don’t be shy. Ah, there he is.‖ ―What’s he saying?‖ said Maude. ―What’s that? He’s crying. He didn’t want to leave the mortal plane. He wasn’t ready. He loves you. What’s that? Oh. Oh,‖ Miss Starling said in a shocked voice. ―What?‖ Maude asked breathlessly. And then Miss Starling contorted her face. ―Mommy!‖ she screamed in a baby’s voice. ―Mommy! Mommy! Help me, please! There’s something I need to tell you!‖ A flash of lightning illuminated the room and then there was a clap of thunder, upon them suddenly. Maude screamed and Bridget leapt from her seat, moving quickly to put her arms around Maude. ―That’s it,‖ said Miss Starling in her own voice, sitting straight up and opening her eyes wide. ―They’re gone. It’s over.‖ ―Oh no. I want to talk to him.‖ ―He only speaks through my spirit.‖ ―But I want to see him.‖ ―That would be very unusual. You might smell him. Or feel him, a bit of cold.‖ ―Oh.‖ Maude buried her face in her hands and started to sob. Both Bridget and Mr. Berlin tried to comfort her, but Miss Starling stood as if nothing were happening and began packing her things, unceremoniously opening a window and tossing the oil and
Bridget’s blood down to the sidewalk. The lightning had already moved off to the east, the thunder now a distant rumble. ―I’ll leave the bell,‖ Miss Starling said. ―Tomorrow, you’re to ring it throughout the house to disspell any spirits that may be lingering.‖ ―But Floyd!‖ said Maude. ―He needed me! What did he want to tell me?‖ Miss Starling shrugged. ―I can’t say. He didn’t choose to stay long enough this time to tell us. We can only hope he isn’t in any danger on the other side.‖ ―Danger?‖ said Mr. Berlin. ―What kind of danger could there possibly be?‖ Miss Starling leveled him with an angry look. ―Evil, sir. The forces of Satan. Or are you a nonbeliever too?‖ He looked away and shook his head. ―Can you get him back?‖ pleaded Maude. ―I have to find out what he needs from me.‖ ―I can try,‖ said Miss Starling. ―But especially with these children, it can take a several sessions to even understand what they’re saying, much less help them. That can be very expensive.‖ ―Oh, that doesn’t matter,‖ Maude said. ―All I care about is helping my son.‖ ―All right, then,‖ said Miss Starling. ―We’ll continue tomorrow.‖
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