Rochelle and her mother lived in a large town that was on its way to becoming a small city. On her way to school, Rochelle often stopped to watch the crews of construction workers erect a new house in the hole where, only a few days before, one of her neighbors’ houses had loomed in sour glory, a car parked on its front lawn, silk flowers sprouting along its foundation like hair plugs. Her own house was an unrepentantly shabby Queen Anne Victorian in an older part of town. In the side yards, secondhand play kitchen sets bleached to plastic bones. Some of the cars parked along the street were furred with lichen; some had acorns sprouting in the loam that accumulated atop their windshield-wiper wells. Nevertheless, the neighborhood’s overall transformation was orphic. The construction crews descended into the murk of a small-town slum and returned shadowed by the maiden flesh of the original mill owners’ designs: the grand porticos, the tinkling chandeliers, the gingerbread, the gables, the scallop shingles in alternate patterns of bronze and blue. In practical terms, it meant there were a lot of housepainters hanging around. It meant a lot of noise.
In the mornings, the construction crews clustered around the beds of dented pickup trucks and drank coffee. In the afternoons, they drank beer and smoked their cigarettes pinched between forefinger and thumb, squinting at the pitch of a roof or the beds of baby yew and spindly crepe myrtle straggling from the raw, red clay they scraped off of the sides of their boots. For all their measure-twice-cut-once swagger, it was clear the workers were, communally at least, much more arcane creatures—a species of minor sibyl, perhaps, able to blink the future into being through their cryptic rituals and consecrated tools; hammers and so forth, chalices brimming with Gatorade. In this, Rochelle intuited a kinship. Rochelle was undersized and odd, gnome-like in her habits and already cramped with worry. As she grew, she became a furtive sort of girl, as unconditional as a fox or a shrew. Her mother in particular observed in her daughter the same essential witchy nature as the construction crews, but she associated it with an artistic temperament and was greatly heartened.
“I can’t wait to see what happens to you when you get your period,” she said. They were in the kitchen. Rochelle was making a globe out of packing peanuts and uncooked macaroni noodles she had colored with a blueberry-scented marker. Her mother was smoking a cigarette and sketching Rochelle’s bent head directly onto the gingham oilcloth on the table. She was dressed to go out, but her date was late and she was already on her third beer. Her mother’s date-night perfume smelled like something warm and unexpected—like troweling idly in the garden and breaking into the cozy fust of some creature’s den. Her mother’s date-night hair was electric, rising from her head in a furious cloud.
The globe was for a Human Geography project and was supposed to represent the barrier the natural world had previously presented to human expansion before being overrun by modern travel technology. When she was done painting the packing peanuts green, Rochelle was going to stick pins into the approximate locations of the world’s international air hubs and string between them lengths of industrial-strength nylon twine. Currently, however, she was having trouble with the macaroni of the ocean. The noodles looked like stylized waves after the fashion of a Japanese print her mother kept in the downstairs bathroom, but they could be neither cut nor molded and so marched rigidly to the shoreline where they tended to overwhelm the definition of the packing-peanut fjords and isthmuses and sounds. It was a problem of vision and not, Rochelle thought, one she could solve and still meet her deadline.
“It’s primal,” her mother said, though more to the rungs in Rochelle’s chair than to her. “Every month a potential life just slides out of you. So much glup.” Her mother closed one eye and smudged a line on the tablecloth with her finger. She took a long sip of her beer. “It makes a woman crazy,” she said. “You can imagine. Bat-shit.”
That her mother was a beautiful woman was not a thought which had occurred to Rochelle, the same way it had not occurred to her that their house had a roof. She was a child, albeit an odd one, and it was not until her young adulthood when her mother’s beauty was lost to her—her face, deformed by her medications, bobbing like a poisonous sunflower over the stalk of her body as she reclined in a hospital bed in the living room—that Rochelle caught in her own visage a glimmer of her mother’s dark appeal.
“What are you doing, Rochelle?” her mother asked. She had grown tired of realism and extended the line of Rochelle’s neck until it formed the ruffled throat of a cock, his strutted breast and stubby, outstretched wings. Er-er-er-er-oooo! said Rochelle the Rooster. In between her delicately scaled claws, she seemed to be clutching another, miniature version of her own er-er-ooing face. The beer had pressed damp rings into the tablecloth and around these her mother drew the writhing loops of a sea serpent diving in and out of the rooster’s field of vision.
“I’m making a project for school,” Rochelle said, her X-Acto knife skipping again down the crumbling shoreline of the North American continent. “It’s worth twenty percent of our grade.”
Her mother snorted and waved her hand as if brushing away a gnat. With quick strokes of her pen, she brought the sea serpent’s head up out of a ring of foam and displayed its teeth. “No, I mean what are you doing? Right now, what use are you making of this time?”
Rochelle thought about it, and the more she thought about it the more aware she was of her body. There were her thighs spreading against the hard plain of the chair. There were her hands, fingers raw and red-tipped from pressing against the back of the blade. There was her heart, the little pulse in her core she believed, if she pulled up her turtleneck, she would see beating through the slope of her stomach. Long after her mother had left—the date arriving unapologetic, but her mother restraining herself to an angry clatter of boot heels as she swept out the door—Rochelle thought about what she was doing, right then, with the self that was hers to command.
Later that evening, Rochelle locked the front and side doors, as her mother always instructed her to do, pulled on her winter hat and dragged her sleeping bag out the back door before locking it behind her. She bedded herself down in the hollow between the crabapple tree and the stub of a hydrangea. It was a snow-bright night, the withheld lament of early spring drawing the new shoots of narcissus to attention, but inside the sleeping bag Rochelle was warm. Only the tip of her nose had grown cold, crystallizing against the night air like a beacon through which the whole live push of her body was glowing. Rochelle could remember somewhere in the gauzy time of her childhood when the lights of the town were still dim enough for her to see the stars. Now the sky was just a brown vault, pierced at intervals by the roaming spotlights of the car dealership on the other side of the valley. Still, she scrutinized it. What was she doing right now? she asked herself, but her body seemed to have gone to sleep without her and the answer, she surmised, was nothing, not even waiting, just nothing at all.
She woke the next morning to her mother standing above her, her purple date boots rising on either side of Rochelle’s head like the feet of a colossus straddling the harbor. Rochelle sat up and unzipped the sleeping bag. The warmth of her night sleep stayed down in the hollow while around her swirled the livid air of the morning. Her mother was smoking a cigarette and didn’t look down.
“Hi,” said Rochelle, craning her neck to catch the look on her mother’s face. From below all she could see was the swell of her mother’s breast, the prow of her chin, the peak of her sharp nose. Her mother exhaled smoke and it was like fog pluming over the edge of a cliff. She was still wearing her black tank top and Rochelle could see the skin of her forearms and biceps pucker with chill. “Did you have a good time on your date?”
Her mother sat down in the grass. She rubbed the hand without the cigarette up and down Rochelle’s back, in circles over her shoulder blades, a brisk line on her lower back where her pajama top had ridden up to expose the skin. “It was okay,” she finally said. “Nothing transcendent.” Rochelle wondered what she was supposed to be doing right then. She considered the possibilities and then settled for putting her hand on her mother’s boot, just below her crossed knee. The boot was cold the way an animal’s hide would be cold if the animal stood outside all night in the wind. There was warmth beneath the boot, her mother’s warm leg, but it was far away. Rochelle stroked the boot. She was mindful of the grain of the suede, careful to follow it the way she would if she ever had an opportunity to stroke an animal, half-frozen and wild.
“He’s what I would describe as a plutocratic lover,” her mother said, but she didn’t stop rubbing Rochelle’s back and she didn’t move her leg away. They sat there together for all of the early morning, staring out over the garden—the rugged ivy and tender early leaves, the blackened, crumbling brick fire pit, and the wire fence that separated their property from the neighbor’s yard. Eventually, the old woman who lived next door came out her back door dressed in a pair of hot-pink stretch pants and began to do her morning exercises. Rochelle did not know her neighbor’s name and could not imagine asking. For her part, if the woman saw them at all—a mother and daughter still and squat as frogs on the other side of the fence—she didn’t let on. They watched her in silence as she touched her toes and did her jumping jacks. In silence, they watched as she stood on one leg in her wild onion grass and moved her arms like a windmill, then like a crane, then like a pine tree tossing faster and faster as the unfelt breeze approached hurricane force which did not slacken before it ceased.
When Rochelle’s mother died, Rochelle was willed the house and everything that lay within it. This was not as clear an imperative as it might have seemed to Rochelle if she were the sort of daughter who had left to travel the world, then been forced to return to tidy her mother’s ends. Instead, Rochelle had stayed and stayed. Like a species of koi, she sometimes thought, growing to fill her container. But really the house was filled by her mother, even after her death, and Rochelle found herself picking through the familiar, cluttered rooms as if they were the antechambers of a partially excavated tomb. The flotsam of her mother’s life—the half-filled coffee cups, the carbon copies of checks, the coupon circulars and Thai take-out flyers—attained a contextual significance that Rochelle felt unequal to interpreting. Her mother had died in the living room on one of the first blazing days of summer, all the windows flung open, a green film of pollen on her hospital bed railings and her sheets, even her cheeks and pale, cracked lips, by which indication Rochelle knew her mother’s time had come and then, finally, passed. Two weeks later the windows were still open. Though the hospice had sent workmen to come and collect the bed, it was possible to see where it had stood by the rings it had tamped into her mother’s sheepskin throw rug, or by tracing the reverse trajectory of oil pastels which were scattered about the periphery of the room like debris tracing the gravitational pull of a star.
Her mother had worked to the last, filling sheets of paper with thick layers of pigment. Though Rochelle tried to gather the pages up as each was finished, her mother insisted she let them stay as they fell, a dune sloping beside her bed. “There isn’t any time for details, Rochelle,” her mother said. “Even I can see that.” She was working with a yellow pastel, grinding slick commas of color along a ridge of maroon as if highlighting the crests of waves. When the stick picked up too much smudging to show its true shade, she broke it in half and threw the dirty portion out into the middle of the room. Rochelle brought her a mug of warm water, the only food or fluid she could still tolerate, and sat next to her long enough for the water to cool. She nudged the pile of papers with her toe. They shifted so that she could see her mother’s progress from layers of blues and greens, a dizzying series of entirely yellow pages, then mud, more mud, mud rising up to cover the stubby black wheels of the bed, almost high enough to touch the secret mechanisms of its underbelly.
Her mother leaned back against the pillows and breathed heavily. Her eyes were shut, the lids so thin they were almost opaque. Rochelle could see her eyes sliding back and forth under the lids as if her mother were still tracking some progress and reversal across the ceiling. “Mom?” Rochelle said and then regretted it. That had never been her mother’s name, no more than Monica, the word on her birth certificate, had been. It seemed of vital importance right now to create a chronology, perform each action at its exact time, but Rochelle didn’t know how to begin or what word to say that meant all those other words at once. “Mother?” Rochelle tried again, but that too was wrong and she lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. A breeze from the open window riffled the edges of the pad in her mother’s lap. Down the block, a neighbor yanked a lawnmower to life and a car went by, the bass from the stereo buzzing the window glass in its frame. A bird was calling, moving from perch to perch in the side yard, calling and calling, each note an exact repetition of the one before. Rochelle leaned closer to her mother’s chest, waiting.
Her mother opened her eyes and sat up abruptly. “Stop trying to figure everything out,” she said, tossing the stub of an Opera Pink crayon at the side of Rochelle’s head. “Haven’t you learned anything, yet? Anything at all?”
After the hospice workers left, Rochelle went so far as to straighten the heap of her mother’s final work and pile it against a far wall, but even that small effort seemed futile to her. How could she clear out a house that had been forged in the image of its owner? Every closet filled, every corridor lined, even the space under the beds stacked with canvases, painted cardboard, strange balls of chicken wire, wax, and glue.
Rochelle persisted in this paralysis for some time, weeks adding up to a month, perhaps months. It was hard to tell in the lingering season. Bloom, bloom, bloom went the flowers, shaking with excitement, shivered and tossed about by bees and birds and children dragging one hand out of the stroller as they were wheeled by. Otherwise, what had changed? The house seemed to list in a meaningful way, but it did that in all seasons—boards warping in the white glare of December, plumping up again in the long, wet haze of April. There was less rummaging. That was a change, but Rochelle felt it was not an adequate one. Now that my mother is dead there is less rummaging in the house, she tried. The worst part was that it was true. Now that my mother is dead there is no one to rummage around in the heaps and drifts, no one to scratch about in the paper, no one to burrow. It made her mother sound like a vole, a pinched and furtive person, when in fact she had been blazing, hadn’t she? More like a solar flare, wasn’t it? A great flickering tongue of disruption arcing into space.
Rochelle perched on one end of the sofa, careful not to disturb a stack of gessoed cereal boxes that occupied the other end, and thought about these things. She was letting something go. Was it herself or the house? The instant or the memory? Her mother was dead but she was not gone. She was not forgotten. Then, one day, the doorbell rang.
When Rochelle opened the door, the woman who stood there reminded her of a cartoon she had watched as a child, a cut-rate version of Scooby-Doo in German. The main characters were teenagers who were paranormal investigators and also, some of them, clothing designers or amateur lepidopterists or habitants of some other arcane obsession. All of which suggested to Rochelle, sitting rapt on the sofa on Saturday morning, that at a certain point it would not be enough to simply inhabit the world, as she had been doing, but at some undefined crossroads bend the world, however slightly, around one’s own desires. The desire to smother butterflies under a bell jar and mount them in a life-like display, for example. The desire to banish ghosts forever into the wheeling void.
The teenagers were all long and lanky. They were kind to animals and treated the elderly with tender solicitude, unless the elderly happened to be ghosts, in which case the teenagers promptly banished them by means of a large upholstery bag patterned with pineapples that one of them had inherited from a spooky aunt. The bag was a portal to the Great Beyond. It also held one of the teenager’s lip-gloss tubes, part of a sight gag in which the teenager rummaged in the bag for the lip-gloss and instead fished out an offering from the Great Beyond. The bag was, apparently, filled to bursting with junk along the order of typewriters with sprung keys; a flowerpot bearing a single, wilted daisy; rumpled wigs; false teeth; eyeglasses whose lenses were cracked and crazed. It was a satisfying show, the same weekend slot, predictable in its rhythms. Rochelle and her mother had loved it.
But now her mother was dead, the house still, the drifts and the piles and the etc. …and here on her doorstep, complete with pineapple upholstery bag, was one of the teenagers, all grown up and gone sour around the mouth, holding out to her a business card.
“Mary George,” said Mary George, and pointed with a long thumbnail to the line on the card which also read Mary George. “I’m here for the exhibition. To pick up the material for the exhibition.” And then, pursing her lips against Rochelle’s increasing blankness, “Monica Sosnowski’s exhibition. I emailed you about it. Monica. I assume…your mother?”
For a moment Rochelle wondered what kind of life it would be if, at every turn, she were not confronted with her mother. If, say, she were to open the door not to a representative facet of her mother but to a bottle-brush cleaner or an upside-down bicycle with one gently spinning wheel, a U-boat captain, a horse chaw-chawing on some peanut butter to give the impression of speech. “Hello,” the horse might say. “Can I talk to you about Jesus Christ, my Lord and Personal Savior?” And Rochelle would say, “Of course. Come in,” and hold the door wide.
In this life, however, there was Mary George, whose shabby-couture sweater matched precisely in shade her architectural eyeglasses, and who had brought with her all the necessary paperwork. In the driveway sat a white-paneled van and a group of burly movers.
“Your mother set it up with me when she first got her diagnosis. I mean, of course we were interested. The whole town’s been practically salivating since she moved in.”
This was not something Rochelle knew about her mother. That she inspired mass salivation. That, for twenty-two years, the exact duration of her own life, an unspecified number of Mary Georges had been waiting for her to die.
Still talking, Mary George edged her way into the house and fished a clipboard out of her pineapple bag. “A retrospective,” Mary George said, nodding over Rochelle’s shoulder at the movers who had come into the house behind her and rapidly fanned out.
“Of my mother?” said Rochelle. She was trying to keep track of where the movers were in the house by the sounds they made passing through it. Going up the stairs, walking through the kitchen, over in the parlor, opening the bathroom door. Every room in the house resonated a different way under the tread of someone’s foot, but the movers themselves trod so differently from how Rochelle and her mother had always done; their weight shifted with such unfamiliar clarity. Mary George made titter-tat noises with her uneasy heels as Rochelle followed her through the house.
“That one,” Mary George said, pointing over Rochelle’s shoulder into a corner of the living room. A mover pulled on white gloves and squatted to inspect the base of a dressmaker’s dummy interwoven with peacock feathers. He reached up under the peacock skirt to fiddle with a bolt.
“A retrospective of Monica Sosnowski,” Mary George said, finally turning again to face Rochelle directly. Behind the alarming glasses her eyes might have been kind, or appraising, or merely curious. It was hard to tell. Rochelle reached up to run her hands over her own face as if she could tell by the feel of her cheeks what it was Mary George was trying to see there.
“We were sorry, of course,” Mary George said quickly. She touched the air just to the side of Rochelle’s arm, wiggled her fingers back and forth there as if she were teasing a house cat. Then, Mary George’s phone rang and she turned away to answer, one finger upraised in exclamation between them.
“Of course,” said Mary George into the phone. “Of course, of course, of course, of course.”
Some people might call the shade of Mary George’s sweater persimmon. Some might call it puke. It all depended on the perspective, Rochelle thought. It all depended on whether Mary George was just arriving or whirling around to leave. Around her, as she thought these things, the burly movers cradled the precious objects of her mother’s restlessness right out the door in a fashion not unlike that of the hospice workers who had wrestled her mother’s bed out the same door, or, just slightly before them, the county coroners in white jumpsuits who had wrestled her mother. In total, the movers took 128 pieces, each marked with a blue-dot sticker that, in hindsight, Rochelle had noticed but not remarked upon.
“Please feel free to come,” Mary George said, shoving a sandwich of papers into Rochelle’s hand. “If you let me know in advance I’ll have a table reserved.” Then, without much of a winding down, certainly no cathartic release, Mary George and the movers, the many strange and wondrous shapes they carried, the pineapple upholstery bag, Rochelle’s own tea mug gripped absentmindedly in Mary George’s hand, and perhaps many other objects and life forces Rochelle could neither see nor intuit swept out the door and left her alone in the slightly less cluttered house clutching the sheaf of papers to her chest.
The retrospective was titled Exile!: The Sosnowski Affair. Mary George had explained that Rochelle’s mother had chosen the title, chosen the pieces, left the rest up to Mary George to design. She had specified only that the show open after her death, and so it would, in February. “We’ve cleared the schedule,” Mary George had said, peering into a View-Master whose stereoscopic reel appeared to have been painted over and then re-etched in tiny pin-bright lines. “We were waiting for a less hysterical time of year.”
After Mary George’s departure, Rochelle flipped through the papers, which mostly consisted of a stack of brochures advertising the opening. Held up to her nose, the riffled papers made a scent of starch and lightbulbs flickering under layers of dust. Held near her ear, the papers made a noise like a very far away wind batting about a field of beleaguered flowers. Rochelle dropped into an armchair. The papers fanned around her. Here was a photocopy of a contract, signed and dated. Here was a catalogue from the gallery’s last show. The cover of her mother’s brochure featuring a picture of her mother’s face. Her mother in profile, to be precise, the light behind her, looking at the camera as if the camera were a net someone was holding very still above her, waiting to see which way she would break. Who would flinch first? Camera or mother? Mother or camera? The future, all of which had since ended, was, in that captured moment, still unclear.
Rochelle thought about her mother. She thought about her mother’s face held between her own hands. She thought about her mother’s lips swooping down upon her from a great height. Was it so very peculiar she did not know her mother was…whatever she was…so famous? So strange? So longed after in the inattentive way the world has of longing? “When she abandoned the New York art scene, a cry went up of yearning and remorse,” read a sentence located just below her mother’s chin. Who had written this thing? Mary George? Her mother herself? A mother is best in her parts. Bad tooth, crooked brow. The part in her hair as she bends over the child’s hand to kiss every knuckle. The push and pull of the pulse in her neck as the child buries its face in sleep. It was not so very strange that Rochelle did not know her mother the way the world did. Who, after all, was Monica Sosnowski to Rochelle?
February was seven months away. Rochelle stood up and slapped her hands briskly together. She stood there, in the quiet. She sat back down and crossed and uncrossed her legs. What would her mother have done in these seven months? Rochelle considered. All her mother’s friends had been hair stylists or florist’s assistants or tattoo-gun manufacturers or wild-ginseng hunters. After the funeral, these people had come back to the house and milled around in the yard and on the front porch. They smoked cigarettes, then, later, joints. They ate butter-dipped pretzel sticks, miniature donuts, cookies painted to resemble stained-glass windows, transcendent billowy marshmallows illuminated by the glow of pink powdered sugar. All of this had been prepared by one of her mother’s friends who had reneged on her training as a pastry chef because she felt a calling to craft felt puppets for her husband’s Punch and Judy show. “We’ve tried setting up downtown, at the airport, outside the children’s hair cuttery,” she told the ginseng hunter, who had pink powdered sugar ringing the tip of his nose. “We’ve tried the history museum, the library, the botanical gardens, the ape house.”
Where had her mother found these people? By what curatorial principle had she ordered them? Some of them had been coming in and out of Rochelle and her mother’s house for as long as Rochelle could remember—the ginseng hunter, for example, had even stayed for a while on their couch, draping his long and mournful socks from the mantel when he slept—and yet, still, Rochelle’s ambient feeling of her mother was of a woman alone, bent over something, an object in her hand (like a wrench or a knife or a bone or a gun) with which she was poking, prodding, hammering, pulling, pinching, twisting, bouncing, beating…
“Guess which one was their favorite,” continued her mother’s friend. “Between Punch and Judy, guess which one the apes just adored.”
The answer, Rochelle concluded, was that her mother would have done nothing. For seven months her mother would have strode around the house in her tight black jeans and clomping boots. She would have rocked back on her heels and sucked her teeth. Absentmindedly, she would have tied one of Rochelle’s shoelaces around her wrist and worn it that way like a bracelet, day in and day out, the long tails flopping down into her palm where, without looking, she would cup them and gently pull.
It couldn’t last. The prosperity, the boom. By the time Rochelle was in high school there had been an economic setback, then an economic flailing about. There had been a war, another war that might have been the same war, a brief and ultimately unsustainable economic recovery, a full-on economic collapse. It was hard to tell what was coming and what was going, was Rochelle’s primary understanding of the world. People were very busy, yet projects that had been cheerfully or voraciously begun were abandoned. Vast pyramids of planed lumber mossed in the corner of slowly wilding lots. Yellow earth movers and dozers, tumblers and squashers, lingered inanimate among the springing weeds.
In the trailing end of Rochelle’s high school days, she took a lot of career classes that involved hauling flags around or blowing blasts of canned air onto circuit boards. She took a lot of art classes where she tried and failed, over and over again, to draw a self-portrait using her hand as a head, her features painted on it—eyes across the forefinger, grumpy mouth along the thumb, with a tiny hat cocked over a knuckle. She held that head-hand up for perspective, squinted at it against the light, and tried to render it accurately in lines of charcoal, loops of crayon, swoops of loose ink smeared from a deliberately broken pen. No matter the medium, however, she could never quite get her head-hand’s expression to transfer from hand to page. There was always something off about the purse of the thumb-mouth, a suspicious expression in the forefinger eyes. “If I were anything other than myself,” Rochelle thought, “I certainly wouldn’t choose to be only a part of me.” And yet, she persisted. Under great duress and to no effect, she endured.
If Rochelle’s mother were concerned about her lack of direction, she didn’t let on. The first half of senior year came and went; the second half came and was going. “What are you going to do next year?” her appointed guidance counselor periodically asked her with progressive lack of interest. “Make breakfast,” Rochelle would answer. Or: “Go to the movies”…“Build a retaining wall”…“Learn how to shoot a gun.”
“Mom,” said Rochelle as an experiment, “next year I’m going to eat a lot of cheese.”
“It’ll stop you right up,” her mother said. She looked up from the hole she was digging in the front yard and paused to lean on the spade and brush her hair out of her eyes. When Rochelle’s mother looked at her, Rochelle always felt a bit like a girl who had been transformed into some quotidian rural animal—a pig, say, or a goat. “It’s meee,” she imagined bleating in her rough goat’s voice, “your beloved dauuuughter.” In response to which her mother would likely knuckle her forehead between the nubs of her horns and feed her a mouthful of hay.
“Balance it out with apricots,” her mother said, wiping her face. “Drink plenty of water.”
At around the time of Rochelle’s high school graduation, the economy leapt to its feet and began to shoot its index fingers into the air like little guns. This took everyone by surprise, but for the most part the town rallied admirably. The earth movers were roused. The lumber piles de-mossed. Progress again churned busily forward, although not always using the same building plan as before, so the result was often a spectacular crossbreed: the municipal architecture version of a liger or a beefalo or a geep. There was a boom in public art. Sometimes Rochelle would open the door to find on the porch not a hair stylist or sacred geometer but men and women in suits with pamphlets advertising the importance of creative economy. “Something to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the automotive technology center,” they would murmur, blinking their wide, lustrous eyes. “Something with a typographical element, perhaps? The word onward in steel below the suspension bridge?”
In retrospect, this is where Rochelle ought to have suspected there was more to her mother than her relentless fiddling, her seasonal employment at the farm stand or Christmas tree lot, the many, many glossy books of photographs from which she sometimes ripped pages to tack to the wall. But Rochelle was a child, then a teenager, then a young, precarious woman. In each of these modes, the room of her life was stripped to a single central object—a bed, a table, a white china cup on a white china saucer—and this object was so consuming Rochelle did not have the attention to spare anything more minute or nuanced. Her primary desire was that everything would just sort itself out without her. She wished everything would just shut up.
In these last days of her childhood, Rochelle and her mother would sit on the couch together reading books. Across the expanse of the long purple couch, their feet would touch. Sometimes they would find a marathon of the teenage ghost-detective show which they watched until the pineapple upholstery bag was bursting at the seams with banished ghosts. Bitter ghosts, lambent ghosts, the gently breathing ghosts of little babies. Old men ghosts teetering in their loafers, young men ghosts suffused with indignation. Mama ghosts who tried to straighten their children’s bangs. Grandmother ghosts who tried to write messages in the baking flour but had always been such terrible spellers and nearsighted besides so that “tender” was “tinder,” “love” was “luff,” and the bread was ruined and wouldn’t rise. Ghosts and ghosts and ghosts and ghosts—they did not belong here, was the message loud and clear; if we let them stay soon we would be overrun, our way of life inimically altered, our beliefs and values and rights and tender, tender solicitous love… Later on, the sun set. Later still, it rose. Rochelle and her mother were together. Ravenous for each other. Greedily clutching each other’s hands.
Or so it seemed to Rochelle at the time. Later—twenty-two, motherless—she could not be so sure their hunger was mutual. Was it, perhaps, only her hand clutching? Was it always her mother’s hand slipping away?
When February came, Rochelle went to her mother’s retrospective with the ginseng hunter. It had been a last-minute arrangement. As in, up until the last minute, Rochelle had done nothing but arrange herself—on the bed, on the couch, on the floor of the bedroom, where she got dressed so slowly it was as if dressing were a meditation. She chose a black dress to wear, then green boots, then a purple tunic top with red leggings. She put all of it on at once and turned to look in the mirror—and then a knock at the door, and she went to answer it in those red leggings, black dress, purple tunic, and green leather boots with the soft, folded-down tops thinking it all made her look a bit like that cartoon version of Robin Hood where he was played by a fox. At the door was the ginseng hunter. Something had happened to one of his eyes, which was swollen shut, yellow and then purple in a delicate seam around the lid. Iris colors, Rochelle thought. Out of place in this weather. He looked at Rochelle with the other eye. “Put a hat on your head and you’d look like Gypsy Rose Lee,” he said and rocked back on his heels.
Rochelle looked down at her shoes, at the strip of goose-pimpled white skin that showed between the top of the boot and the bottom of the legging. All her life she had believed in the transformative power of disguise, but when each of her fancies had passed she’d found herself right back in this body with nothing but a tingling on the crown of her head to indicate she had ever left. Or, she meant to say, she had found herself back in this house (of course). It was difficult to keep up with how many words a person had to know just to communicate even the simplest idea. Right then, for example—behind the ginseng hunter, who had kept his head quizzically cocked and had about him the aura of a man who might, at any moment, begin carefully lifting one leg in the air to prove something about his balance—all the objects of the street (cars, trees, houses, mailboxes, hydrants, retaining walls, ornamental bushes, wizened pots of purple cabbage) were coated with a thin film of ice that made them shine. In a few days, the weather would warm, the ice would melt, and they’d be coated with something else—dew or pollen or the lightly falling dusk. There was something to this observation—something about impermanence or the impartial nature of the world, about misgivings or codependencies—but Rochelle was having a hard enough time with just the nouns. Meanwhile, the bare skin of her ankles was growing numb, her nose beginning to drip.
“If you get your coat, it looks like we’ll be ready to go,” said the ginseng hunter whose feet, she was relieved to see, were both still firmly placed on the boards of the porch. “Otherwise…” He shrugged.
“Otherwise what?” Rochelle asked. There was some difficulty between them. Perhaps it was her fault. Had she called him to come and get her? His number was one of the many her mother had haphazardly written on the wall next to the telephone in the kitchen. Don, her mother had written and then ten digits that could summon him, Don, at any time, day or night, to her side. Rochelle didn’t think she had called him.
“Just otherwise,” Don said and shrugged again. “Shall we?” he asked, and extended his arm.
They took the trolley to the gallery—a bus, really, on a bus route, but with the windows cut out and replaced by sheets of polyurethane in consideration of the weather. A cow catcher had been welded to the front and the padded bus seats had been replaced with wooden benches on which teenagers had inked spiky glyphs that summoned their secret names. This was an older trolley, its engine puttering and gaseous beneath them at each stop. It carried them past the elderly Victorians; past the strategically weathered new Victorians; past the cottage-style condominiums; the auto-body shops and ABC stores; the oort cloud of health-food salons and yoga studios that circled downtown; the many bank buildings and their attendant parking garages; the sloe-eyed cultural center currently featuring “The Peking Acrobats, next up Cabaret!”; the steak houses, kabab houses, pizza and pita pits; the baseball stadium; the adjacent vacant lot in which a splendid fig tree was routinely beleaguered by fly balls; the churches, churches, churches, churches; the rows of identical mill houses painted first brown or pine or creamy yellow, then orange or pink or electric blue; the car wash; the children’s home; the psychedelic bike salon, and then into the arts district where they stopped, puttering, at the farthest reach of the trolley’s route. It occurred to Rochelle that this particular trolley was so old that some of the teenagers responsible for the cabbalistic notations they sat on were probably no longer teenagers. Her age, maybe even the inscrutable age of Don, whose stringy hair fell to his collar, where it curled back up again in what she assumed was an unintentional flip.
bijou, dan the man, fuck yr mom, said the long-ago teenagers. cindee, atom bomb, noodz needs boner pills.
The teenagers had been here, were here, wuz here, would be here again, and this did not even take into account all the hearts and loves and fucks and blows they also expressed, which was a substantial amount. Someone had written, sarco st. rulz; someone else, on a lower rung, “I dislike Frankenstein.” Rochelle checked the pockets of her coat for a pen, but came up empty. It was just as well. Once she started, when could she stop? Rochelle was here, she’d write at every footstep. And here. And here. And here.
The trolley driver turned off the engine, stretched, and stepped down off the bus. Up and down the street, someone had placed white paper bags, their bottoms heavy with sand. Up and down the street, a woman in a linen, pyramid-patterned skirt made troublesome by the wind, was screwing tea candles down into the sand and lighting them by means of a long-necked lighter gun. The fact that it was Mary George did not mean as much to Rochelle as she thought it should. Mary George straightened up and squinted into the wind. She pressed the underside of each eye very carefully where the wind was making it water and went back to thrusting the lighter into the paper bags like a hummingbird thrusting its tongue down the throat of a flower.
“Don,” Rochelle said, stalling for time. “What happened to your eye?”
“Poked with a stick,” Don said as he hoisted himself to his feet.
Together they teetered down the block toward the gallery like a much older couple than they actually were; or much more like a couple than they actually were. Rochelle’s brain felt scrambled, whipped into a froth. Outside the gallery entrance, two teenage girls were leaning against a telephone pole sharing a pair of earbuds. They were looking in different directions, hands in pockets, but at the same time they both nodded, once, then closed their eyes. A devastating moment in the song. An absolute one. Rochelle stopped—should she greet them? Should she indicate she too was experiencing the absolute?—but Don tugged her on through the door.
The retrospective was not what Rochelle had expected. For one thing, it was quite formal. Some of the older women, soft and stubborn as toads, had draped fur stoles from the crooks of their elbows. Many of the younger women were wearing anachronistic hats. There was also an auction going on, a benefit for the high school, whose general sense of uplift made for an awkward tension next to her mother’s work and its crabby, isolated fervor. Mary George swept in and clattered over to the high table where Rochelle and Don had stationed themselves, waiting for the waitress to come by with a platter of drinks. She slung a net bag filled with extra tea lights under the table cloth and stamped her feet. Up close, Rochelle could see her skirt was also patterned with ibis—pyramids and ibis against the rosy pink linen of an Egyptian dawn. She had brought the cold in with her, tucked into her hair which smelled like cold and the brisk coarse fumes of the lighter. Don reached behind him and lifted two glasses of wine from a passing waitress’s platter, hesitated, then lifted a third.
“Well, here you are,” said Mary George flicking her fingers as if blue sparks were scintillating from their tips. “What do you think?”
Rochelle scanned the gallery. There were maze-like, snaking walls carving up the space and many pedestal tables being leaned upon by people whose varying attitudes toward the world were expressed almost solely by their hair. Everything, including the pedestal tables, was white, gleaming and austere, and yet the general impression was of a noise barely suppressed behind tightly pressed lips.
That was because of her mother’s art, of course. It was everywhere—mounted inside plexiglass boxes, dangling from the ceiling, hung in big and little rectilinear chunks all up and down the gallery partitions. Some of Rochelle’s mother’s artwork turned corners, spreading up from the wall onto the ceiling like a creeping mold, or spilled underfoot so the women in their nervous whinnying heels had to shimmy to keep from trotting all over it. Some of her mother’s artwork was meant to be interacted with—a chair Rochelle had often crawled into as a child, unaware that it was art, which collapsed upon the sitter and pinned them in place with its arms; a table full of clay creatures, each one subtly maimed, which the patrons were encouraged to pick up and handle. These pieces, every last one of them, had surrounded Rochelle her entire life. They had swirled around her, descended upon her, nudged her with their spiky elbows. They had taken up space on the kitchen counter next to her cereal bowl, her peeled orange, her two-handled milk mug patterned with infant animals in trouble for losing articles of their clothing. Yet, nothing looked familiar to her.
Rochelle squinted at the nearest painting, painted on the underside of a bowl. It seemed to feature the tops of the heads of a group of people climbing a ladder. She looked around the gallery. A man in heavenly salmon pants was grinding his thumb into his palm as if he was putting his thumb out. An older gentleman appeared to be drowsing over a platter of miniature pot pies while his wife fished item after item out of her bulky shoulder bag. Tucked behind the auctioneer’s podium, a woman in a glittering black dress threw her head back to laugh, her damp tongue agleam under the lights. Rochelle thought her eyes looked as unpredictable as a pony’s. Was there any reason she had expected the event to be something other than what it was? Was there any evidence to support her assumption it would be more like a potluck or a school play or a surprise party where all the guests crouched rustling behind the artwork until she walked into the room?
Rochelle gripped the edge of the table, but did not sway or collapse or make a noise. Mary George, who had not stopped talking, was patting the top of her own head as if it had a lid she could put on and take off. She waved at someone across the room with her non-patting hand and, shortly afterward, clattered away. Don leaned over his drink as if he were going to blow his nose into it. Everything comes around in a circle, thought Rochelle in a horribly complacent voice that didn’t sound like any voice she had ever heard in her life. Perhaps she didn’t think it. Perhaps someone near her said it out loud. She lifted her drink and swallowed, lifted her drink and swallowed. No, she thought, shaking her head and sipping another glass of wine Don had tweezed from a passing tray. There was no reason this scene should have been familiar to Rochelle other than the assumption that something of her mother’s was also something of hers. But all that was over now. She was simply one of many things her mother had left behind.
Don and Rochelle took their drinks with them as they did the tour and refilled from the liberal trays of passing waiters when they went dry. Sometimes a little shoal of people would gather before a piece and murmur. Rochelle pressed her hand to her throat in imitation. She opened her mouth, but no sound issued forth, so she filled it instead with another swallow of wine. Meanwhile, Don, his hand now under her elbow, stopped them both before every piece and laughed, sometimes actually stomping his foot. At each piece, his laugh got louder, more sincere, honking through his nose. At one point he produced a little silver ribbon of snot that settled in the surprisingly delicate dip of his upper lip like a droplet of dew on the trembling pink petal of the blah blah blah. Rochelle dabbed the snot away for him with the corner of her cocktail napkin. When she pulled it away she noticed for the first time that it was emblazoned with her mother’s name. Don’s dewdrop dampened the Mon in Monica and its moisture spread in feathery lines up and down, around in a perfect circle. The glittering woman laughed again and Rochelle ducked her head to check for hooves under the swaying hem of her dress.
“Thanks,” Don wheezed, slapping his knee. There were tears in his eyes as he pointed to the object they had stopped in front of—a piece of fabric mounted inside a wooden frame, pen-and-ink, it appeared, drawn on what looked to be a tablecloth. All around the room, replications of her own face looked back at her. Her face in ink. Her face in paint. Her face etched into the seats of a group of high-backed metal chairs. Her face molded into clay, the eyes round thumbprints left by her mother’s hands. Rochelle Rochelle Rochelle Rochelle. Tiny or elongated, wizened or smooth as the curve of a tight, red apple. It was she, it was her. She was the ultimate muse for her mother, in exile, to contemplate.
So: Everything her mother had left behind was also her self.
There was nothing her mother had left behind that was not her self.
Rochelle was nothing her mother had left behind.
Rochelle was no self but a thing her mother had left. Behind her.
Woosh, away her mother went.
“Oh,” Rochelle said to Don. “Please.”
“I know,” Don said. “I know, I know.” But what he knew was unclear through his laughter, which shook him like a gale wind snapping a sail, shook him low, shook him high, sent his head bobbing back and forth on his neck and, many hours later, suddenly ceased.
“You should come with me up the mountain sometime,” Don said. They were at the trolley stop. It was late—they had stayed so long at the retrospective and then at the bar next door to the retrospective that it seemed unlikely the trolley would still run, and in the meantime the night had settled into a deep, contemplative, seemingly resentful exploration of coldness. The night was so cold it was absolutely silent. The night was so cold it was absolutely dark. Except for the people in the bars, of course. And the cars that still swooped by, their wheels spinning on the icy roads. And the stars, which hiccupped in and out of focus between the far, thin clouds.
Somehow, Rochelle had been on the ground, sitting on the curb, and then she had lifted her arms to Don like a very young child and he put the bottle of beer he still held carefully down and hoisted her to her feet with a hand under each armpit. They stood there waiting for the trolley that would not come while the lights of the city made suggestions against the eastern horizon like a phantom sun. The doors to the bars opened and closed.
Don unhooked his hands from Rochelle’s armpits one at a time as if he thought she might fall. “It’s not the season now, but come in the spring, when sang starts to sprout. The roots look like men. Head and arms and legs. Sometimes even a little root, you know, at attention, reporting for duty.” Don laughed through his nose and the unsteady stars flared suddenly with an overabundance of light and then, just as suddenly, emptied themselves out.
Woosh, Rochelle thought, but what she did was lay her head on Don’s chest and listen to the steady palpitation of his heart. A button pressed against her cheek. Don put his arms around her back.
“I never will,” Rochelle said and Don sighed.
“That’s what your mother said,” said Don, patting her gently now as if feeling for something she had hidden beneath her clothes. “But you see what happened in the end.”
“In the end,” said Don, “all the chambers fill with light. Even the least of them. Even the ones who would prefer just to witness.”
“Even them,” said Don, nodding to himself. “Even them.”
On the last day of her mother’s life, Rochelle sat in the living room, then the kitchen, then, briefly, the parlor. She considered building a fire in the fireplace. It would be something to tell her mother about, to involve her in. She could bring her the logs from the woodpile out back, which had malingered un-tarped all winter. She could hold each one over her mother’s lap—even the slightest weight now was excruciating to her, even the blanket almost more than she could bear—and turn it this way and that, digging a thumbnail into the pale, swollen flesh to illustrate the log’s relative dampness. Rochelle went so far as to sweep the drift of last year’s ashes out of the hearth and into the ash pan before she lost interest and wandered away, found herself back in the living room on her customary stool by her mother’s bed. Her mother’s skin had taken on a yellowish tinge, very delicate, and seemed to be wrapped now around her bones like a plastic film meant to keep her bones from spoiling. Her hair had thinned, particularly around her face, and Rochelle no longer brushed it in the morning, but instead swept it very gently back from her mother’s forehead where she could see the little blue veins like threads and the great blue veins like folded hems.
Just then, her mother was asleep. The window was open and the flowering quince that had overwhelmed their more sedate shrubbery was rattling its teacup blossoms on the sill. Very softly, her mother breathed. Under her eyelids, her eyes roamed. Perhaps she was not quite asleep, but traveling—a long way down a shining silver road that wound through a forest, gold and green forest light dappling down upon her head, the occasional leaf releasing itself from its duties and spiraling past. It was hard to tell, now, just where her mother was at any given time.
Rochelle’s stool was sitting on a spot where, long ago, in the early life of the house, water had seeped in around the windowsill and warped the floor. It made the stool jiggle slightly every time she shifted her weight. “Mama, do you remember the time—” Rochelle started, but didn’t know quite which, out of all their times, to call back now into the space between them. Once, when Rochelle was seventeen and irritable with all the excess energy she thought surely, in adulthood, it was her duty to expend, she had asked her mother not to touch her so much. “Everyone’s always touching me,” she said, hunched over the chopping block where she was match-sticking carrots for their salad. She had a kitchen match laid at the top of the block for comparison and was aware her mother found her amusing, or maybe futile, and had pressed her hand in the middle of her back as a way of saying something to her that could not be said. Rochelle was so tired of the things that could not be said. The carrots were perfect, machine-like in their intensity. Rochelle felt something within her rising up to meet the shape of her mother’s hand just as she had always risen to the shape of her mother’s hand. Like a goddamn dog, she thought, and squashed the something down.
“Is everyone?” her mother said. Sometimes, her mother could be mean.
“I’m tired,” Rochelle said, and she started to cry. Then her mother took her hand away and something else happened—dinner, she supposed. Carrots in the salad, lamb chop bleeding on the plate. Her mother was an excellent cook. Her mother once blew the glop out of the center of a dozen eggs and painted their tremulous shells with illustrations of her and Rochelle dancing in a ring with tulips and rabbits and bluebirds and toads upright on their funny old man legs. All of her life, her mother had let her linger. “I’m so tired of all the things that can’t be said,” said Rochelle, and her mother sighed a tiny sigh over her yellow lips and moved further through the curtain of swaying leaves, further down the path, stopping now and then because she was tired, stopping now and then to listen to a sound, far away but repeating, which meant something about mating or eating or danger or love in the place where it was being made, but here, to her mother all alone, was devoid of either sentiment or savagery.
After a while, when nothing else occurred to her, Rochelle got up off the tippy stool and wandered out onto the porch. She left the door open and through the screen behind her she could see her mother’s bed framed by the archway to the living room, her mother’s head on the pillow framed by its rumpled white pleat. The family that had built their house had been farmers. The neighborhood around their house had been the farm before its dips and vales, gullies and fitful little streams had been smothered beneath landscaping and asphalt and roads named after the farm family’s grandchildren. Adrienne Street. Amelia Lane. Dolores Court, Bob Edward Road. Bob Edward had inherited the house and grown old in it. When his own children were grown and gone he had hung himself in the downstairs bathroom, newly installed, breaking through the dropped-tile ceiling to find a sturdy pipe for the rope.
Rochelle’s mother had found all this in the microfiche reading nook of the History Room at the local library and, for several months, had filled every conceivable crevice of the bathroom with combinations of crystals engineered to provoke a ghost into a ghostly rage. One of her mother’s friends, who was knowledgeable about such matters, came over and washed out the tub, above which the tips of Bob Edward’s loafers had swung, with her own long, ox-blood red hair. But the ghost of Bob Edwards had responded to neither crystals nor mopping hair. He had resisted murmuring in the bathroom mirror and meditative trances in the tub. Never once had he whistled unpleasantly during the night, nor left a single dejected footprint on the toilet lid upon which he had climbed to tie his noose. As far as Rochelle was concerned, there was no difference in their house now that they knew it was prime territory for a haunting by suicide, but her mother had appeared invigorated for weeks, cheeks flushed, eyes sparkling, prone to breaking into song. A long time later, it occurred to Rochelle that her mother’s mood that summer had nothing to do with Bob Edwards, but came from some other secret she held within her. A lover, perhaps, whom she had for a time before that too passed and her mother came back to her, threw away the crystals, shut the bathroom door. What strangers we were to each other, Mother, Rochelle thought. Too late now, her mother might have said.
Watching her friend scrub the tub with her hair, Rochelle’s mother had made a face at Rochelle, her eyes and lips making the exact opposite exaggerated shape, which was the face she always made when she was eagerly anticipating a situation spiraling out of control. All those years later, out on the porch, Rochelle made the same face, practicing it at the frantic spring flowers that choked the little yard with their demands for joy. “It’s what comes of planting so many annuals,” her mother said over her shoulder. No, she did not. Rochelle turned and there was her mother, framed by the pillow, framed by the arch, so still it was as if she were a little doll carved out of some unsuitable substance—apple, say, or walnut hull. A pearl of golden sap.
Rochelle thought of her mother’s secret lover, whoever he had been. She thought of Bob Edward, seventy-three when he died, presumably so old he had outpaced the point of suicide. “Until one day,” her mother said, “there he found himself, perched upon the commode.” No, she did not. Rochelle did not even look this time. Instead, she pressed the clasp of her hip up against the low porch railing as she used to do when she was a child and tried to rock her body on this pivot. It was harder now—she was too tall and her toes dragged—but if she doubled her legs and tucked her feet below the seat of her jeans, it was almost the same. Almost the little thrill of the body independent from its minder. Across the street, a weird old house was getting a fresh coat of paint. Six doors down, the last of the neighborhood’s lichen-spotted cars had sprouted an impressive crust of moss.
“Oh,” her mother said, raising her voice. “Look at that.”
Startled, Rochelle thumped back down to the porch and peered out through the bare trellis. Standing in the middle of the street, much to the consternation of the housepainters, were three blue horses. They were small, almost pony size, and a uniform deep purplish blue that shaded to lavender at their manes and tails. It was hard to tell where they had come from, presumably from around the corner, as they certainly had not been there a minute ago, but it was clear they were in a relationship with one another—one turning now to rest its blue cheek on its fellow’s blue back, the third, a little farther ahead than the other two, wuffling in an encouraging way over its shoulder. “Crazy,” one of the housepainters shouted, and the other one whistled. The blue horses shuddered, twitching as if flies had skimmed across their skin. Across their soft muzzles, their veins traced lilac runnels. Over their knees, delicate hairs whorled in plum ripples like the fine, crazed grain of a knotted burl. The one in front shimmied slightly sideways and the echo of its hoof against the pavement lingered, somehow familiar, almost commonplace.
“Circus in town?” the housepainter yelled, and the horses twitched again, the one in the lead taking a few nervous steps forward. Rochelle realized she was holding her breath. Behind her, her mother was holding her breath and as long as she did not turn, as long as she did not look back, they could stand there together for what was surely the last time regarding something that did not belong to this Earth (and yet…nevertheless…). The lead horse took another few hesitant steps and then, as if hearing a call, began to trot. The other two followed, the sound of their hooves echoing off the houses around them, tinny and obsolete, the flawless clop-clop-clop of an animal intent on its own business. Too soon, they had reached the nearest intersection. Too soon, they turned—heading west on Amelia—and their sturdy, shining, berry-blue flanks were lost to sight.
“I never would have believed,” shouted the housepainter, descending his ladder and striding out into the street as if he meant to enter her yard, as if he were talking to her. Rochelle was suddenly distressed, almost panicked. Whatever she had been doing, it was not what she was supposed to do. Something was out of order. An empty pot reddening on the stove. A faucet gushing into the overflowing sink. Rochelle turned and raced back into the house, letting the screen door bang behind her. There was her mother, still in her bed, and at the noise she stirred against the pillow, opened her eyes. “Mama,” Rochelle said, back at her side as if transported, back on her jiggly stool as if she had never left. “I thought maybe something happened,” she said. “While I was gone.”
Her mother turned her eyes to Rochelle with effort and made a small shape with her mouth that Rochelle recognized after a moment as a smile. Her lips parted to speak, and even though Rochelle leaned forward, she could not hear the sound her mother made. “I’ll get you some water,” Rochelle said and rose again. Her mother lifted a finger and Rochelle sat back down. The afternoon wore on around them. Somewhere in the town, three blue horses paused to nibble at some roses; to urinate plentifully in the gutter; to shimmy their exquisite bodies in and out of the spring light. Somewhere, perhaps, someone made a speech both oblique and profound. They raised their voices above the constant racket of the leaf blowers and chain saws, the pneumatic hammers, buzz saws, cement mixers, and gas-hacking pumps to decry or lament, to worship or praise, to resurrect, to prophesize. But here, in the radiant center left behind by something impossible, Rochelle and her mother held still, a stillness that seeped inward, then deeper than inward, until, finally, they hung suspended in the unrippled space, so still it was as if they had never been.