“No. I mean we’ve already met.”

The clerk was Allegra Mott, a local girl. Her brother Johnny had gone to kindergarten with Louise and had hit her on the head one bright afternoon and made her cry, which was the reason Louise’s parents decided to send her off to private school in Lenox. She’d had a bump on her forehead for weeks.

“Did you know you were wearing a mosquito net?” Allegra asked gently. She had heard rumors about the Brady genes. Everyone had. Some of the Bradys were said to be completely mad. In the old days, one of them ran around town swearing she’d slept with Johnny Appleseed of all things, as if he were Mick Jagger. Others had disappeared, drowned, married the wrong men, generally scandalized the town.

Allegra gave a little smile and touched her head, signifying that Louise had forgotten to remove the mosquito netting cape she’d fashioned to fend off the flies.

“Oh, crap.” Louise quickly grabbed off the netting and scrunched it into a ball. “I haven’t experienced blackfly season in some time. It’s a killer. I’m trying to undermine the flies without losing my marbles in the process.”

“Right-o,” Allegra said, ringing up the paint.

She couldn’t wait to tell her brother that the love of his life was back.

LOUISE FOUND THERE were fewer flies in the mornings, so she went out to work while the sky was still dark. Blackwell was known for its songbirds, and this was the hour when they were waking in the trees. Sparrow, mockingbird, lark. All of them sounded glad to be alive. Because the garden was elevated, Louise could see the crest of Hightop Mountain as she toiled away. For some reason the view caused her to experience a catch in her throat. She hadn’t thought she cared much about her hometown; she wasn’t a rah-rah sort of girl. Yet when she saw the mountain, she felt moved in some deep way, the way she had when her mother had squeezed her hand in her last moments. Louise had known it was her mother’s way of thanking her for all the time she’d spent with her in the hospital, for coming home from school and insisting everything would turn out fine when clearly it wouldn’t.

Once the garden was ready, the red soil turned, Louise planted a grapevine, cucumbers, green Zebra tomatoes. She added a yellow rosebush. She put in some bleeding hearts, irises, and several rows of lettuce; and she set up a trellis that would support peppers and runner beans. It was more work than she would ever have imagined. In the evenings she was so tired she didn’t bother to fix herself dinner. She ate cold baked beans from the can spread onto toast or threw together one-step macaroni from one of the scores of boxes she found in the pantry, prepackaged stuff that her mother, who had always been so intent on proper meals while Louise was growing up, must have been living on once Louise was away at school.

By then rumors about Louise Partridge returning home and running around town dressed in mosquito netting had swept through the village. Some people were waiting for her to have a full-fledged crack-up, or maybe drugs were at the root of her odd behavior, or an addiction to alcohol—she had gone off and lived in Cambridge after all. There were bets not about whether she’d wind up at Austin Riggs for rehab, but when.

But if Louise had a drink, it was only a glass of white wine, one that she sipped in the bathtub while soaking off the garden’s grime. The only drug she allowed herself was a mild sedative to help her sleep. She’d found Valium in her mother’s medicine cabinet. Dozens of vials were stacked on the shelves. Evidently, her mother had been living on nothing but sedatives and instant macaroni and cheese during the entire time Louise had been away at Radcliffe. This sad realization made Louise even more convinced she shouldn’t have gone to Provincetown to spend summers with people she didn’t even like and instead she should have stayed home to work in the garden with her mother. Maybe she would have known her then.


THERE WAS A week of driving rain. Spring rain, spitting against the windows, flooding the lanes. During that time the blackflies, which anyone might have imagined would have been washed away by the deluge, multiplied. Louise was irritated beyond measure. She went back to the hardware store and found a sort of zapping machine that was said to make an area undesirable to insects. The zapper cost almost two hundred dollars, but she didn’t care. Despite her mosquito netting outfit, there were dozens of raised red bites on her skin.

“My brother said he never was in love with you,” Allegra, who’d recently been promoted to store manager, revealed to Louise as she deposited the zapper in a shopping bag. “He said I was very much mistaken.”

“That’s good, since I have no idea who he is.” Whenever Louise got flustered or felt insecure, her demeanor became haughty. Anyone might suppose she thought she was better than they were just because she lived in that big, falling-down house. But her redhead’s complexion gave her away. She was blotchy with anxiety. All of a sudden she recalled that sunny afternoon when she was still in the Blackwell Elementary School. She remembered someone hitting her on the head. Johnny Mott. “Tell him to drop dead,” she said tightly, gathering up the bug zapper.

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