When my mother went to the schoolhouse, I followed her there. My stomach was growling, but I refused to think about my hunger. Twelve children were waiting for her, all dressed in clean clothes, their hands folded in front of them. They all had brought their lunches, and a few had books. At noon, I went back the way I had come. The side door of the big house was open, so I crept inside when I smelled food. I was so hungry I couldn’t stop myself when I saw a pie on the counter. I took it, the whole thing. I went out behind the house and sat in the tall grass and ate it all. Afterward I was sick, but I didn’t care. I fell asleep right there in the grass until the rain woke me. When I ran into the barn, I felt as though someone was watching me, but when I turned, no one was there.

That night I looked in my mother’s window. She was eating supper. The housemaid who worked for Mr. Partridge had brought some stew and a loaf of bread, then she stopped at the barn and left another loaf. That was when I understood that the man who owned the horses knew I was in his barn.

Late that night my mother went into her yard when the citizens of Blackwell were all in their beds. She wept for all she had lost and all she had done. Gooseflesh rose on my body as I was roused from sleep. The horses became panicky in their stalls when they heard her cries. The man came out of his house. He stopped when he saw my mother. I could see him fall in love with her right then and there in spite of the mark on her face that my father had left. I hadn’t understood that love could be visible, as real as the grass or the river. But I understood it now. I saw the man’s yearning just as clearly as I saw the horses’ desire for hay.

In the morning, after my mother left for the schoolhouse, I went to knock on the door of the big house. The tall man who lived there introduced himself as Isaac Partridge. He wasn’t surprised to see me. He invited me in and gave me tea and toast. He told me he was sorry he had no more apple pie to serve me. He said he himself had always preferred pie to cake and could eat one in its entirety at one sitting, just as I had done.

I told him there were three things he had to do to make her love him if that was what he wanted. He seemed interested and amused. He said, “Go on.” The first was that he had to give up all drink. He said that was easy enough. He wasn’t much of a drinker. The second was that he had to give her his house and take the cottage for his own. That was easy as well. His house was too big for a single man. The third was that he had to give her a daughter. He looked at me then. “I don’t know how easy that is,” he said. “Easy enough,” I assured him.

That night Isaac knocked on my mother’s door and said she needed to move into the big house. The cottage was infested with beetles and she had to leave until the infestation was over. He would live there instead since bugs were no bother to him. My mother looked at him carefully, then agreed. Every night for the next week they had dinner together because the cottage had no kitchen and Isaac had no way to make his meals there. Instead he would knock on the door of the house that he owned—where he was now a visitor—and my mother would welcome him inside. They would sit at the table and eat the meal the housemaid prepared. My mother wore her plain brown dress and her hair pulled up. The mark that separated her face into two halves was red in the candlelight, like a flower. Every morning Mr. Partridge would report to me on the progress of their conversation. I would then tell him more about what my mother liked and what she despised. She hated cruelty, people who made judgments, hash for supper, cigar smoke. She loved roses, fresh fish and mussels, trips by boat, books, children. Mr. Partridge listened carefully and wrote it all down in a notebook.

One evening he invited my mother to the meetinghouse for the council meeting exactly as I suggested. That night he proposed that no liquor be served in the village of Blackwell. Alcohol, he said, was the downfall of many good men and there was no reason for Blackwell to aid in mankind’s depravity. My mother gazed at him with surprise as he made this suggestion in his quiet, firm voice. I knew she would be impressed. Since Jack Straw ran the only tavern on his family’s land, and it was well outside the town limits, no one disagreed. The bylaw was passed unanimously. My mother walked home beside Mr. Partridge in the dark. She looked at him for a long time as he crossed the yard to the cottage.

We waited until a clear night for the third step. It was the middle of May by then. I knew my mother sat up at nights crying over me. I had seen her writing letters to the address in Lenox where I was supposed to have waited. On the eve of our plan, Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, a well-liked couple in town, went out for a walk along the river as they did every night after their supper. I knew their schedule and had been watching them. They would be our witnesses. Isaac Partridge made certain to be walking there too. When I heard him approach and greet the Kellys, I slipped into the river. I was careful to submerge myself in the exact spot Mr. Partridge had shown me, a pool where the current wouldn’t catch me up and carry me downstream. I hung onto a branch and screamed. I thought about Brooklyn and my birthday and the elephant, and soon enough the screams became real in my mouth.

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