Table of Contents
ALSO BY ELIZABETH BRUNDAGE
The Doctor's Wife
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. â¢ Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) â¢ Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England â¢ Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) â¢ Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) â¢ Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhiâ110 017, India â¢ Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) â¢ Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in 2008 by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright Â© Elizabeth Brundage, 2008
All rights reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Somebody else's daughter/Elizabeth Brundage.
eISBN : 978-0-670-01900-7
1. Adopted childrenâFiction. 2. Berkshire Hills (Mass.)âFiction. 3. Psychological fiction.
4. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
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For my parents
There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.
We left San Francisco that morning even though your mother was sick. It was a pretty day, the sun shimmering like a gypsy girl's tambourine. I thought it would be good for her to get out into the sunshine because it had been a long few weeks of rain and her skin had gone gray as oatmeal and she had this dull look flaming up in her eyes. You were sleeping in your little rocking seat and I had your things all packed. We didn't have much. It was time to go, but Cat wanted me to wash her hair first, said she couldn't go out looking like that. Holding her head in my hands I could feel her bright with fever. From behind, she looked like a healthy schoolgirl, just her sweet body and that long yellow hair. Then she'd turn around and you'd get pins in your heart. I wrapped her head in a towel and said, you take your meds today, Kitty Cat, and she nodded with her long face, the kind of woman you see in the museum up on the old canvases, a woman washing clothes or out in the fields, a strong body with large capable hands and this wisdom in her eyes because she knows more than you. She hated the idea that she was sick, and even with you so small she was still shooting drugs. Dope kept her comfortable. It had always been her favorite thing to do and that's the truth. You could see it just after she'd put the needle in, like an angel her face would go hazy and beautiful like so much fog. She dreamed of horses, she said. She told me she'd come into the world wanting to ride, wanting to be near the big dark creatures. Horses understood her, people made her nervous. This was your mother; this was the woman I loved.
We made you one night in a broken house, your mother riding my hips and howling with pleasure, and then six weeks later she's throwing up and wanting strange foods from the Iranian down on Willard Avenue. Months passed and her belly went round and tight. At the clinic they said she had a weak heart and HIV. Maybe her baby wouldn't get it. They didn't know. They gave her some pills and told her to come back every three weeks. She quit dope that afternoon, and took the pills and started going to church. She told me she had begged Jesus for a miracle. She believed in miracles, she said; she believed in Jesus. She liked to light the candles and sit in the darkness and think and then she'd get down on her knees and press her palms together. I'd watch her sometimes in the trembling blue light, among the other whispering strangers.
This one day we were walking through the park, leaning and kissing, that smell at the nape of her neck, the nape, like vanilla, like I don't know what, heaven, and then she's down on all fours in labor and this crowd comes around and she's white as fucking God and the next thing I know we're in a taxi with this Pakistani barking orders and I'm just wondering how we're going to pay for it. At the hospital they gave Cat a C-section on account of the HIV. They let me stand there and hold her hand and when I saw you for the first time I started to cry, I couldn't help it. You were bundled in a little blanket and you had on a little hat and you were the most amazing thing I had ever seen. I handed you to your mother and she was trembling and a little frightened and it made me want to crawl up next to her and hide my face in her heart. The nurse explained that there was a chance you'd be all right; they wouldn't know for a few months, we'd just have to be patient. I promised Cat that everything would be okay, I'd make sure of it, but she shook her head. “I'm sick,” she said.
They made her talk to a shrink. I waited out in the hall and I could hear her crying. I didn't know what to do. I went down to the waiting room and bought a candy bar and sat there. There were some old books on the table, old paperbacks. One had a girl on the cover who looked like your mother. The book was
and I vaguely remembered reading it in high school. Later, I gave it to her, and she snapped it out of my hands and told me to leave her alone. We had this thing between us; she didn't think she was smart enough for me, which of course wasn't true; she was the smartest person I ever knew, the kind of smart you don't get in school. I'd gone to a fancy prep school where my father was a teacher. I'd grown up in a crummy faculty house with people coming and going, writers mostly, nasty drunken poets who always ended up sleeping on the couch. It was one of those poets who turned me on to dope, among other things. “We're calling her Willa,” your mother declared when I walked in that night. She was sitting up in bed, her eyes shining, holding the book in her shaking hand. I could tell she'd liked it, and we named you after its author. We brought you home and the very next day they sent someone over from Child Services and it was that same woman who suggested we give you up. She brought two cases of formula and some diapers. She looked around our apartment, her eyes grim. Cat served the woman tea in one of her mother's old china teacups, it had little rosebuds on it, and your mother had saved it for a long time, keeping it carefully wrapped in newspaper so it wouldn't get broken, but the woman wouldn't even touch it. She kept on us, trying to persuade us to let you go, to give you a better life, but we put her off.
I tried to find work. I could get work here and there. For a little while things were good between us, and Cat was all right and I sometimes forgot that her blood was tainted. She would do things, buy peaches, and there they'd be, fat and round on the counter, or she'd make a meal and set the table, like we were a real family. I don't know; I couldn't deal with it. It was a time in my life when I didn't know any better; I didn't know who I was. Sometimes I wouldn't come home for a few days and it would be just her and you and she'd know when I walked in stinking of dope, the whole thing, the cigarettes, sometimes women, and she'd just hold me because there was nothing else to do. I know it sounds pathetic to you, who we were, but it's the truth and I can't change it. There's a vivid transition when you come in from being high, and the walls have this mustard tint like old tapestries, and your body feels drained, beat up from the inside, and everything feels like a dÃ©jÃ vu, like you've made this big circle and instead of moving on you're right back where you started. I don't know, it's hard to explain, and I'm not good with words even though they shoved Tolstoy down my throat at Choate and fucking WhitmanâI have a box of quotes someplaceâI'd even memorized some of itâfucking useless information. Anyway, later on, weeks, maybe months, she started feeling sick and it was like crashing into a wall of bricks, and for a long while you see the pieces of your life floating all around you, the burning embers of your totally fucked-up world, and it comes to you that you haven't made much of your time, and you haven't done all that much and it's almost over. It's like you can hear them cackling about you up in heaven, the big mistake you've turned into.
By then I had found a job working construction. I've been up on rooftops, looking down on the clay-colored buildings, the dark alleys where you see things you shouldn't, people pissing in the gutter or puking or sharing secrets. You can see the steep hills and the trolleys with their little bells. I've been up on buildings in the pouring rain. Sometimes it comes down so hard you get the feeling it is God Himself drumming upon your back. When you work on buildings, you see things. I have looked into the rooms of strangers. I have touched their things, unfolded their letters. I have run my hands across their glistening tabletops, their ivory piano keys. I have changed the hands on their clocks just enough to alter the passing hours of their days. I have lain down on unmade beds, breathing in the dank sweat of a stranger's dreams, and I have used their toilets, read their magazines, and sipped from their open bottles of wine. I have been on bridges; I have hung from cables like a paratrooper, like a secret agent in some espionage movie. I have danced in the sky like a marionette, swinging from cables over the dark water of the bay.