Scott Garson

An afternoon during the war, and her father is gone, and the wind in the cotton-wool sky is wide and fleet and ethereal, but here is its tug, sticking ungathered hair in her mouth, raking popcorn and gum foil over the dirt past the toes of her Mary Janes. And Jack laughs. Willie laughs. And she blinks, then closes her eyes, for here is the wind in full, molding her ruffled dress to her bones, shooting a fizz of particles down the curved stretch of the buckled board fence. And she puts out her hand, but when she opens her eyes again, Willie, her brother, is gone. Willie, she says. Who gets letters from her father, letters from the sea, and not her, because she cannot read, although she likes the simple cartoons he draws of the character Henry Hound. Willie, she says. Cartoons in the Disney style, the Hound’s grin like an open travel trunk, the Hound’s pupils glinty dots in huge white eyes that will swallow you whole. What’s Henry Hound say? Always listen to your teacher. When you are done playing straighten your room. Be a swell brother to Evelyn. And Willie is swell, but the light of his kindness, she knows, cuts out, the kindness itself at those times as far away from where she stands as her father in the Eastern sea. Which is why she worries, which is why her face gets pinched in the way her brother has demonstrated for Jack with a face of his own. Willie, she says. But they’re gone. Willie and Jack. And she pushes down inside herself a runny smear of panic, and feels herself buoyant, forced up by what is forced down, floating, as if someone else is moving her feet in her Mary Janes, rolling the leather soles of them over sharp pebbles and rock-hard dirt. If she can stay calm she will be rewarded, she knows, by Willie’s calm return. If she can endure. But all movement is movement away. She has to stop, and she does, and she’s struck with a knee in gray slacks and her lung is jounced. Pardon. She’s brushed with a hand. The sun has come out from a cloud, and she hears in the tinny screams of kids on the Scrambler its sudden glare. She looks towards the Scrambler, which is silver, a wheel of hard light, the hole-poked faces thrown at her, then jerked out of orbit, erased. Willie, she says. And the sky closes up once more in a fragrance of cotton candy. A bell rings. Hooray. And she moves, because she has been seen: the fortune teller is looking at her, and not stopping, though every moment brings a stranger to block her view. Evelyn moves faster. Spill the milk! Three balls for a nickel! She jogs but she’s weak and can hold nothing firm in her body as she does. She sinks to her knees, by the line for the merry-go-round. Watches the sleepless horses bob to an oil-smelling song that rolls and rolls without being played. And she hears a twined sound, a call for someone who’s lost, and she turns, but the person staring at her through the crowd is not her brother.

The fortune teller’s secret name is that word nobody will say, the word her mother tries to oppose with small lights in the sockets of rooms. The hand of the fortune teller over Evelyn’s hand as she follows along presses an assignation of something into the tissue, into the bones.

A cup of jewelly water to lift and touch to her lips and tongue. Lift and touch. Lift and touch. Evelyn, she says. Evelyn Rasmussen. For she has been asked. Is the water a mirror? There is nothing at all in its frame. It’s empty. She holds it in both of her hands, and rises, and looks at the faces of the boys, the soft faces, and watches their smiles give way. They’re waiting. For what? She looks at them. She looks into the hole of their fear.

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