On Thursday, when May came downstairs, she could hear her mother on the phone in the kitchen. May hadn’t said a word for over twenty days, and her mother was making plans to send her away for an afternoon. Dr. Thompson had suggested it. It was on his list of goals. May stood still in the hallway and listened to her mother pace as she talked in her fast voice. Her mother worried about how it might look to send away a child who’d only recently returned after such a lengthy abduction. At the same time, she wanted to trust Dr. Thompson. She wanted to trust God. She felt they were operating on a wing and a prayer.

May had heard this last phrase before. It was what her father called not having a plan. Dr. Thompson’s word was “patience.”

When she pushed open the kitchen door, her mother smiled at her and hung up the phone as she poured May a bowl of Cheerios. May ate until there was only one layer of Cheerios left, and then her mother said her name. When she looked up, her mother said, “You’re going on a trip, May. On Saturday. With Nick. You like Nick.”

May nodded. Her mother sighed and wiped her hands on the flowery dish towel. May poked at a Cheerio that was floating on its side; it slipped beneath the surface, and she felt a quick rush of frustration, tight heat crossing her face. She put down her spoon.

“What is it, May?” said her mother. May shook her head.


The trip would be an errand. That is how her mother described it to her friend Penny on the phone later that afternoon. May sat upstairs listening in, holding the upstairs phone with her thumb on the mute button.

“It’s ideal, really,” said May’s mother. “She’ll get a chance to see something new, but Julia will provide familiarity. There’s nothing quite like family. And they’ll be doing something good. Anatole would never be able to afford one of those dogs. She gets a high price for those dogs, Pen. She really does. Anyway, Anatole is a good man.” She was talking about her sister, May’s aunt Julia, and the sexton at their church, Anatole, who raked the graveyard and clipped the azalea bushes. The church was buying him a rottweiler puppy for his birthday. It was going to be a surprise. Penny had been to college with May’s parents, and now they were all part of the same church family.

Penny said, “I know you’re following the doctor, but to me this seems unnatural.”

“Well,” said May’s mother after a pause, “there’s no playbook for these things. There’s no manual telling me what to do when I get up in the morning.” She sighed. “Anyway, I’ll talk to you later. There’s a shadow.”

This is what May’s mother said when she knew May was listening. May was sitting upstairs on her father’s side of her parents’ bed, and she put down the phone quickly. She was startled when her mother mentioned the shadow. She’d never understood why her mother never said anything to her about it. She was six, and she knew that listening in on people was wrong. But since she’d been home, she’d been doing it more and more.


May was allowed to watch TV all afternoon. Her father thought this was a waste of time, but only said, “You’re the mother,” and “Your house, your rules.” Since everything bad had happened, he was back living in the house again where they were all supposed to live together.

“Honestly, Simon,” May’s mother said. “We live in the twentieth century. You have a role.”

“I play my role,” said Simon, which as far as May could see was to talk about science, help with homework, and take May’s side in arguments with her mom. He was tall and wore button-down shirts, khakis during the week, and jeans on Saturdays. If May said the sun was going down, her dad said no, it was the planet turning slowly. When she asked where TV came from, he explained about satellites floating in space. When the idea of satellites floating above them in the dark scared her, he told her it was all part of the odd and ancient fabric of human life. After everything bad happened, he changed their phone number to get rid of reporters and made May memorize the new number, although she was not allowed to answer the phone under any circumstances. She proved she knew the new number by writing it down on his breakfast napkin.


Saturday morning, May came downstairs as her mother was getting off the phone. May’s red backpack was in her dad’s chair. Her dad’s truck was gone. She pulled the bag over and looked inside. Extra clothes. She pulled out her blue Vacation Bible School sweatshirt and put it on her dad’s chair. None of the other clothes were blue. Her mother was watching from the sink. May knew she wouldn’t ask, and she didn’t.

Once May was eating, her mother said, “No sweatshirt? Honey, it could get cold in Nick’s car. Some people like a lot of air-conditioning.”

May didn’t shake her head.

Her mother sighed, because she was tired of all this. “A different sweatshirt?” she said, and May nodded. “Okay. How about Nike?” May nodded again. Her black Nike sweatshirt was for wearing in her sleep while camping. For the longest time it smelled like a campfire, but now it smelled like Tide.

Once she could hear her mother on the stairs, May unzipped the front pocket of her backpack—where she knew she would find something nice. There was a Rice Krispie treat in a plastic sandwich bag. It was still warm, and her mother had written “I love you” on the plastic with a black marker. There was also her pencil case, with two pencils and her unicorn eraser, and the yellow locking diary she’d picked out at Target after Dr. Thompson said that writing and drawing was sometimes easier than talking. No one was allowed to read the diary without permission, but Dr. Thompson was looking forward to anything May might want to show him. The diary key was on a string around her neck.

She put the Rice Krispie treat back and zipped the front pocket so her mother wouldn’t know her surprise had been discovered. Her mother was coming down the stairs, calling to May through the hallway. “May, do you want Ivan?” Ivan was her stuffed walrus. May shook her head.

“I guess not,” her mother said. “You do like Nick, right?” May nodded in the empty kitchen. “Because I want you to feel comfortable.” Nick went to their church and had worked for May’s father for three summers. He’d also gone to Clemson, just like May’s parents, but not at the same time because he was much younger. May’s mother called him an active young leader in the church. He had dark hair and a dark bushy beard, and May thought he was funny. He could keep a secret, May’s father had said when they’d talked about the trip at dinner. Her mother had corrected him: it wasn’t about keeping a secret; if anything, their family was drowning in secrets.

“He has discretion,” May’s father said.

“That’s exactly the word,” said May’s mother. “I couldn’t think of the word, but there it is.”

Simon said Nick also had a crush on Julia, which was a good motivator for a young man. May’s mother said that was just silly. Her sister lived alone outside of town and raised dogs, and May’s mother wanted her to move back and rejoin the church and get married. May’s dad hadn’t gone to church since May had come back, but May’s mother said he was just taking a break. “Dating is fine,” she said about Julia, “but you can’t date forever.” May’s father said it was only natural for a young fellow like Nick to fall for a wild woman like Julia, and May’s mother frowned. Then May’s dad reminded her that Julia was a great beer while she was fine wine. May’s mother smiled. Anyway, she said, May liked Nick, and that was what mattered.


Her mother came back into the kitchen carrying the sweatshirt, which she rolled up neatly and tucked into May’s backpack. “Aunt Julia is so excited,” she said, and May nodded. Her aunt had two rottweilers, Dixie, who made puppies, and an older male named Banner who was a rescue. Julia had let May help train Banner the summer before, and then again at Thanksgiving. In August, they’d carried slices of hot dogs in their pockets, and May got to carry a little red disc called a clicker. Her aunt led them to the empty school yard next door, her blond hair in a ponytail, wearing jeans with grass-stained knees. She gave Banner commands, and when he obeyed, May got to push the button, which made a clicking noise, which meant he’d earned a treat. The click was to mark the moment in Banner’s mind. When May had visited again three months later, at Thanksgiving, Banner was learning to jump and run in zigzags through lines of cones. He also knew hand signs for all the commands. There was no scolding in training, only clicks and rewards. And this time, there would be puppies. May raised her arms in imitation of Audrey the day before, rocking the puppy, then quickly lowered them before her mother saw her.

She was the first one to hear Nick’s car because she was sitting in her chair staring at the door. She waited for the chirp of his car lock and then rushed to the door. When she opened it, Nick was reaching out for the doorbell, and he froze for a second. She watched his face. He seemed surprised, but not afraid. “Hello, May Taylor,” he said, because he used her last name as a joke. She smiled.

“Nick,” said her mother from behind her, “your beard!”

Nick put his fingers in his thick beard and smiled like a little boy. “I know,” he said. “I just can’t get myself to shave it.”

“Allison Sinclair will never let you keep that,” said May’s mother. “She will not put up with that.”

“I know,” said Nick. He held up his hands. His face was red. “This is the beard’s last hurrah.”

“Come inside,” said May’s mother. “May, let Nick in.”

Soon Nick was standing at the counter while May’s mother rinsed May’s cereal bowl. “Nick,” she said, “we all just love Allison. She’s a good girl.”

“I agree,” he said. “I feel it, too. But we’ve only been on a few dates.”

May’s mother said, “It seems clear. You’re both young, smart, and good-looking. You both have bright futures ahead of you.”

May leaned back against the washing machine, which sat in the tiny hallway between the kitchen and the screen door. She felt the cool metal through her shirt and against her palms. Then she lifted her hands and pressed them against her cheeks, and they cooled her skin. She didn’t know why some things were hotter than other things, when the whole room was the same temperature. People were hot because of body heat, but why was metal cold? Why did it feel so sharp and present against the skin? She felt the wall, and the wall felt like the air. She shook her head.

When she walked into the kitchen, her mother was washing her hands. She wiped them on the towel; she wiped them again on her shirt. Then she turned around. “Big day, May,” she said. “Are you ready?”


Since her return, May had taken to falling asleep without warning, in the oddest of places. On her first day back at school, which was actually the last week of first grade, she collapsed on the sidewalk when her mother drove away. She woke up in the white infirmary on a narrow cot. She lay on her side, the dull pink sheet in the corner of her left eye—a pink with no shine, just like the shirt and pants of the school nurse were dull green, and the doctors at the hospital where she’d been taken when the strange woman found her had been dull blue, a grayish color with no light.


When she woke up, her neck felt hot from the sun coming in the car window. She put her hands up to cover her face while the facts of her world reassembled. She was in Nick’s car, going to visit her aunt and pick up a puppy. Nick’s car was gray. There were front doors but no back doors. When she’d climbed in, after her mother hugged her in her new tight, fast way, her mother put her backpack on the floor by her feet. May moved her foot now until she felt the bag and pressed her toe into its soft side. She felt her body stretch. Nick was beside her. When she lowered her hands, he’d be driving the car.

She lowered her hands. Nick looked at her and smiled. “We’re fairly close,” he said. “Your aunt’s house isn’t too far away. Are you hungry? Do you want a Combo?”

They were driving fast, no cars in front of them. Nick lifted a crinkly metallic bag from the console between them. She shook her head and leaned over to see. It looked like pretzels.

“You don’t like Combos?” he said, and she shook her head, and then she shook her head again, because she hadn’t meant no, she’d meant wrong question.

He let go of the wheel, holding it with his knee the way her mother did when she put on her eyes in the morning, and held the bag in one hand as he reached to pull out a Combo, which he put into his mouth. “Delicious,” he said, and May held out her hand. He poured a barrel-shaped pretzel into her palm, and she smelled it. Its hollow center was filled with cheese. Nick’s dashboard had a long crack running from the radio all the way to the mirror on her side. She touched the puckered, white plastic.

“Someone tried to steal the radio,” he said, “but they failed. Amateurs.”

The rest of the dash was covered in light-colored dust. She traced her finger sideways in the dust and looked at the white tip of her finger.

Nick laughed. “The car’s a pigsty,” he said, “but it drives.” She disagreed. The car was covered in gentle dust, but otherwise things seemed orderly. There was a round sticker on the glove box with a cartoon picture of a vase with blue flowers in it. The space between their seats held a pen and small notebook along with Nick’s leather wallet. There had been a time when she’d loved to rifle through adults’ wallets.

She licked the edge of the Combo. It tasted smooth and soapy, and her tongue encountered a sharp grain of salt. She put the whole thing in her mouth, and as her back teeth sunk through, they fell into the soft center and a bright burst of cheddar cheese filled her mouth. It was delicious.

She looked at Nick, who nodded. “Good, right?”

She nodded, and he handed her the bag. “All yours,” he said. “I’m sick of them.”

May leaned back, holding the bag carefully. The seat was warm behind her back. She lifted her legs, but she was too short for her feet to touch the floor, so she had to let them dangle. Outside the window, tall billboards showed smiling people wearing yellow, white, and red. They passed over the train tracks and a tall brick building with a giant red square painted on the side. The square was faded and old and familiar. She could see two planes in the sky. Neither appeared to be moving.

She kicked her feet and felt the edge of her backpack and got another Combo, which she tucked into her cheek. Nick reached out and turned on the radio. It was A Prairie Home Companion, May’s favorite. “It’s cold in Minnesota,” the man was saying. “The people there have forgotten about spring. They’re forgetting all about spring, with the flowers, and prom, and Easter. These good people are trying to get used to the deep chill. They want to make friends with this deep chill, this cold, deep winter.”

The man on the radio repeated things, just like her mother.


There had been a series of events in the last year, and in her mind they were all connected. She started first grade, where one day, she called her teacher “Mom” by accident. Over Thanksgiving, she and her mother took a trip to see Aunt Julia. May helped Julia train Banner, which she loved because Banner learned so fast. Her mother spent the days in town and every afternoon she brought home bags of groceries or little things to brighten up Julia’s quiet, empty house. May knew Julia didn’t eat what they normally ate, because her mother had clucked at the contents of Julia’s cabinets, but she didn’t know what it was that Julia did eat, because her mother made dinner every day they were there.

The only problem with that time was that her dad had to stay home because he was busy with work. So she spoke to him on the phone. He always called her Bug, which was his name for her. For a long time he’d called her Bud, but one day her mother couldn’t take it anymore because May was a girl, and he needed to face reality, and May’s dad asked what exactly she was getting at, and she said Bud was a boy’s nickname, a name for a son, and they needed to live in the present. There was long silence, and then he started calling May “Bug,” which was nice because she liked bugs quite a lot.

They had a game where he’d call her Bug and she’d say, “My name’s not Bug.” Then he’d say, “What? Who are you? What did you do with my daughter?” But when she’d called him from Aunt Julia’s at Thanksgiving, he forgot his part of the joke, and when she said, “My name’s not Bug,” he just said, “I know that, honey.” His voice was tired, and she was afraid that he was sick. A boy in her Sunday school class’s father had passed away from cancer the summer before.

When she asked her mother if her dad was sick, her mother shook her head and gestured to Julia, who let May walk Banner all by herself on a leash, just around the yard.

When they finally came home after Thanksgiving, May ran inside and immediately felt her father’s absence. She ran upstairs to her parents’ bedroom. There was no deodorant on his dresser, and she knew that he had been sick with cancer and died. When she started to cry, her mother pulled her close and said that her dad had just moved, and now he lived on another street in a different house, and that this was not May’s fault. Soon after that, May left her mother’s house without permission and was stolen. Now she was back, and she’d missed all but the last week of school, which was now over, and her dad was living in the old house again, with May and her mother. Her mother spent more and more time on the phone and May spent a lot of time watching movies she’d already seen because she knew the stories, even the endings, and because she could get away with it.

Now there would be a puppy to deliver to Anatole. They were finally on the two-lane road, driving past the abandoned school with a swing set that had no swings and the chain-link fence around the field where they set up cones for Banner. May sat up straight and looked over at Nick, who was running his hand through his hair and looking at himself in the mirror. His green shirt was dark around the neck from sweat, and the wooden cross he wore on a small rope sat on top of it.

“Do I look presentable?” he said, and she nodded. After the white fence, they turned right and bumped down Julia’s unpaved driveway.

Julia was in the yard waving. Banner sat obediently beside her. Julia wore a faded yellow tee shirt and cutoff jean shorts, and she held her hands against her cheeks as Nick turned off the car. For a second, May’s body felt like it was still vibrating from the road. She opened her door, and Banner was there, nuzzling her leg, and then gently biting her ankle. Julia lurched into action. “Leave it, Banner,” she said, and the black and gold dog took a few steps back and whined. Julia reached out and pulled May into a tight hug. Even though she and May’s mom were sisters, both tall and skinny, they felt very different. May had no siblings until she was taken. Then she had a brother. Julia’s skin was warm and dry while May’s mother’s skin was moist and smelled of lotion. Julia smelled of sweat and soap and dogs.

“Oh, Maybug,” she said. She pushed May away and looked at her carefully. When May looked away, Julia shook her so that May would look back. May realized Julia might not know the rules, which her mother and Dr. Thompson had written and a nurse had typed up so copies could be given to May’s teacher, to Nick, and even to her own father. One of the rules was that nobody was allowed to talk about what happened. Julia looked carefully at May. Her eyes were green and bright. May watched her calm skin and high cheekbones.

“I saw you in the hospital,” she said, “but I bet you don’t remember.” This was definitely against the rules. “Still not talking,” she said, and May shook her head. “Well,” said Julia, “here you are. You’re right here, and that’s all that matters.” Then she stood, keeping one hand on May’s shoulder, and leaned over to shake hands with Nick. “Thanks so much for doing this,” she said.

“Of course,” Nick said, and then she was reaching out to pull him into a hug. May stepped out of the way, and Julia held Nick tightly, both arms around his neck.

“I think a hug is in order,” she said, “given the circumstances.” When she let go, Nick ran his hand through his hair and lifted the front of his shirt and let it fall, his face and ears turning red. Julia kept talking as she led them toward the house.

“Every litter,” she said, “I give two away. I mean, practically. I do ask for the basic costs. But there are a lot of wonderful, loving people who can’t afford this caliber of dog.”

“Anatole’s a good man,” said Nick. “He does so much for our church.” He touched the cross around his neck, which had fallen into his shirt. May felt the diary key around her own neck. Her diary was empty, but nobody knew that.

“Does Anatole go to the church?” said Julia. “Or does he just work there?”

In the kitchen, the sun streamed through the window over the sink. Banner walked over to his bed in the corner, and May followed him and sat beside him on her knees, wondering where the puppies were.

“Well, no,” said Nick. “You remember. I think he has his own church.”

May put her hand on the flat top of Banner’s square head.

“That’s what I don’t get about the church,” said Julia, “but don’t say that to my sister.”

Nick felt his ear. “A lot is changing,” he said. “There’s been a lot of change and growth.”

“Of course,” said Julia, and she handed Nick a glass of iced tea. She held a can of grape soda out to May, and May stayed where she was to see if Julia would bring it over. When Julia didn’t, May got up and collected the soda. She turned around, and Julia pressed her cold, long fingers into her shoulders and neck, holding her close.

“This one wants to see puppies,” she said. “Am I right?”

May nodded. She felt a happy flutter in her chest, a sensation she hadn’t felt in quite a while. She took a sip of cool grape soda and wished she could eat Combos and drink grape soda for the rest of her life.


The small living room was just as bare and quiet as it had been at Thanksgiving. A wooden table with a wooden chair sat under the window, stacks of mail and papers sitting on top. A tiny television sat on a small metal stand against the wall, a brown love seat in front of it. There was a framed photograph of flowers on the wall and a braided rug on the floor, both gifts from May’s mother. As they walked across the rug, May could see a layer of dog hair.

“These puppies are ferocious,” Julia was saying. “They tear each other apart to get to Mama’s milk. They’re ready to go.” Immediately, the puppies turned into wolves in May’s mind. They were walking down a shadowy hallway. One of the rules was that she was always allowed to have light.

When Julia opened the door to the whelping room, May saw Dixie on the floor, asleep in the dim light, and here and there were small puppies, square-chested and curled up like little commas. Two slept against each other on the floor near the door. One was burrowing around near Dixie, whose nipples were sagging. When the burrowing pup found a nipple, Dixie turned, pushing him away with her nose. She looked at the people in the doorway, her head square and wide, her dark brown eyes tired. May went to greet her.

“See that?” said Julia. “She’s greeting the mother first. This kid gets animals.”

When she got close, Dixie’s tail thumped, but the big dog didn’t get up. May touched the soft fur on top of her head and rubbed her nose with her thumb. She wished she had a bit of hot dog.

“They’re so adorable,” said Nick. “It’s unreal. Which ones are spoken for?”

“Why, you want a rottie?”

Nick laughed. “I’m just wondering.”

May knelt down beside Dixie and reached out for the hungry puppy. The room had smelled of dog and dust, and also leather because of the saddle and bridle on a stand in the corner. But now that May was down near the whelping blanket, the room smelled thick and musty, like dog, but also dirt, and bodies, and blood.


May woke up in Julia’s arms. Her head was resting on Julia’s shoulder, and Julia was standing in the front yard talking to Nick. May closed her eyes again, and her aunt shifted her weight. When May blinked, she saw Banner sniffing something in the grass. Her feet were dangling near Julia’s knees. Julia was saying, “Her body knows how to protect itself. Just like a puppy.”

Nick said, “I pretended it didn’t happen in the car.”

Julia was rubbing May’s back lightly, and suddenly May was afraid she’d ruined things by falling asleep. She lifted her head and said, “What about the puppies?”

In the silence, she felt her own rule fall through her chest like a hammer. It had happened so suddenly. She had made this rule for herself, or it had been made for her, to keep her from saying the wrong thing. And now she had broken it. The wind blew through the pines at the edge of the yard, and they seemed to be shuddering. It was hot. May closed her eyes, her heart thudding in her throat, and drew her arms into her chest, pressed against Julia. Julia and Nick were quiet, probably surprised. All of this was happening in one second or ten seconds, or maybe it kept happening. May closed her eyes.

“That’s an excellent question,” said Julia, finally. “I am going to get one and bring him out here. But first, I am going to give you to Nick, and you two can stay out here where it’s sunny.”

May stiffened so her aunt would let her slide down. She ran over to where Banner was turning something over with his mouth. It was an old piece of rope tied in a knot. He was digging a hole, probably to bury it. His body was lean and square, thick muscles standing out like something carved out of wood. She ran her hand over his back, and he looked at her. His eyes were brown. She picked up the rope knot and put it in the hole he had dug. Then she knelt down to help him bury it.


She hadn’t been silent at first. At first, she was cold and hungry and the doctors were telling her over and over that her mother was on the way. Her mother was coming very soon. A woman doctor sat May on a table with a mattress and sheet on it, and together they waited until her mother burst through the door, all of her fears painted on her face. Her mother held her, not in the fragile birdlike way she always had before and now did again, but tightly, so that May could feel her whole body shaking. May started to cry and told her mother that she wanted to go home. Her mother said, “Of course.” Then her father was there, tall, with broad shoulders.

When they got home, there were detectives. May could not stay awake. When she woke up, she was back at the hospital. Her mother was by her bed, on the phone with her father. A woman with questions followed her father into the room. The woman held a small voice recorder, and she showed May how to start and stop it. Then Dr. Thompson was involved. May played tic-tac-toe with him in his office while her father watched carefully from the couch. She drew a lot of drawings. Even though her mother and father promised that she was safe, she could not say any of the things they wanted her to say.

Dr. Thompson had made that terrible time end. He was sitting behind his desk while May sat on the couch across from him, between her parents. She was pinching her father’s leg, looking down. Her parents lived together again, and she thought perhaps this was all part of one thing and not many different things put together. Dr. Thompson asked her to listen. He said he wasn’t going to ask questions. She looked up at him.

“Let’s leave it alone,” he said. “I know how hard this is. May? This is all really hard and scary.” May could feel herself falling asleep. Her father put his hands under her arms and lifted her. He held her up, facing the doctor.

Dr. Thompson said, “I’m going to make a rule. For now. No one can talk about all the scary things.” May listened to her heart beating and pinched her father’s knee. “We’re not going to ask questions, and we’re not going to push.”

“This is ridiculous,” said her father. “What about justice?”

“You’re going to have to trust me,” said Dr. Thompson.

May leaned back and worked her elbow into her dad’s chest. She felt his hand come down around her elbow, and she jabbed twice, quick, before he could hold her off. “I want to make sure May is listening,” said Dr. Thompson. He was tall and fat, and his office was full of toys. “May,” said Dr. Thompson. “No one talks about it. Unless you want to, okay? That’s your rule. No one can break that rule but you.”

May nodded. She felt her father stiffen, his thigh muscles contract. Her mother reached out and took his hand. Then May was asleep again.


After they buried the knot, Banner lay on his side and let May drape her arm around his square chest. She could feel his happy heart beneath his ribs. He lay still, panting, and after a minute, he got up and walked to the edge of the yard, where brambles and bushes led into the dark trees. May wanted him to stop, but he wouldn’t, and when he walked into the woods, she ran back to where Nick was standing in front of the house, typing into his phone. When he saw May coming, Nick slipped his phone into his pocket and held out his arms, then he changed his mind and squatted, then he stood up again. Finally, he held out his hand for a high five. When May reached him from the side yard, he lowered his hand to her height and she slapped it. The door smacked behind them. Julia was coming down the steps with a puppy under her arm.

Up close and outside of the blood room, the puppy was the sweetest, most wonderful thing May had ever seen. He was all black, with narrow dark eyes. His tongue was tiny and bubblegum pink, popping out to lick the air and his nose. Then he yawned and she saw tiny white teeth. She held out her arms and Julia put the dog in them. He was hot with a fat belly that bulged out behind his ribs. The puppy’s feet were fat and wide, and when May tried to hold one, the dog slipped down. Nick reached out to catch it and held it up, the square little body sitting easily on his hand. Then he stepped back as liquid ran down his hand.

Julia laughed. “That’s your baptism,” she said. “You haven’t lived until you’ve been pissed on by a dog.”

Nick bent over and put the puppy down on the grass and wiped his hand on the grass and stood up smiling, holding out his hands.

“I’m sorry,” said Julia. “It’s not funny. Go inside and wash your hands.”

May was following the puppy, who walked in a weaving way toward Banner, who had come back from the woods to lie in the sun. When the puppy reached him, it pressed its face against his ribs.

Aunt Julia put one hand on May’s head. “That little puppy doesn’t know anything,” she said. “He’s looking for milk from an old man.”

Banner lifted his square head and nosed the puppy over onto its back in the grass. May ran to help it. She picked it up under its front legs, the way her dad lifted her onto things that were high, and Aunt Julia showed her the proper way to hold him, under her arm like a football. May had never carried a football, but as she walked around the yard with the dog under her arm, it seemed to her that never had an animal been so perfectly sized. She could feel the puppy’s heart ticking under her palm and something squeezed inside her own chest. She saw a ladybug in the grass and leaned down to get it. The puppy nosed the ladybug, and she lifted the puppy so he wouldn’t eat the bug, holding him the right way.

When Nick came back out, Julia returned the puppy to its mother, and they led Banner across the dirt driveway and along the white fence to the old school yard. Before, there had been two buckets with a broom stretched across them, but now there were actual wooden jumps, painted white. The line of cones was longer, the cones closer together. May knew they were going to put Banner through his paces because her aunt wanted everyone to know how gentle and well-behaved a well-trained rottie could be. The week that May had spent there at Thanksgiving, she had laid on her back on the cold ground, dead weeds tickling her ears, and Julia had Banner jump over her. Julia had an idea about putting on a show to raise awareness for a rottweiler rescue program. She told May she would pay her fifteen dollars to be her assistant. May wanted to buy The Lion King 2 with her money because her dad said it was a knockoff, and if May wanted to see it, she had to get it with her own money. She only had eleven dollars.

In the center of the field, Nick stood to one side holding his phone out to take pictures. May stood beside Julia, and Banner sat in front of them obediently, alert and excited. A vulture wheeled slowly over the woods, and May was glad the puppies were in the whelping room with their mother. It was sunny with a breeze. Otherwise the air was quiet.

“Banner, jump,” Julia said quietly, and Banner exploded into motion. He ran to a white circle Julia had painted in the grass, then sped toward the first jump. When he got there he simply lifted his feet and sailed over, landing on his front feet and taking three steps before rising over the second jump, his powerful back feet pushing the ground away as if it were nothing. When he landed neatly on the ground after the third, he sprinted back to the white circle, touched the ground with his nose, and trotted over to Julia.

Julia and Nick were clapping and praising the dog. May stuck her hand into Julia’s shorts pocket, looking for bits of hot dog to reward him. “There’s nothing in there, sweetie,” said Julia. May pulled the pocket open with one hand and reached in with the other, just to check. “We don’t need treats,” said Julia, “once he’s trained. We only use the clicker and treats to teach something new.” Julia bent over to pet Banner’s head and then stood May just in front of her. “Show Nick the other trick,” she said.

May pointed at Banner to get his attention. She didn’t have to talk because he knew hand motions. She pointed at the cones with her arm straight, the way her aunt had taught her, and Banner ran back to the circle, then ran weaving between the cones. He didn’t touch one cone, and at the end, he returned to heel by May.

May was reaching into Julia’s other pocket just in case the clicker and treats were there. Nick was watching all of this through his phone. Now he lifted his phone and pointed it at May, and then at Julia. “Beautiful,” he said, “what a beautiful dog.” May decided to give Banner ten pats to make up for not having a hot dog treat.

“Alright, troops,” said Julia. “Let’s head in.”

“That was amazing,” said Nick. “It really was.”

Julia had turned to walk back toward the house, Banner just behind her. Nick squatted, holding out his phone, and as May passed she could see Julia’s legs, close-up in the phone. She ran to Banner and put her hand on his back. She felt a jerky feeling in her legs and decided to run. Banner nipped once at her ankle, then fell into a jog beside her. May ran fast. She felt her legs straining, and she tried to push the earth away like Banner had, and she wanted to look as powerful as Banner did going over the jumps. She jumped once, and he was right beside her, so she had the feeling she was running very fast. She decided to run all the way back to the house.

At the edge of the field, she paused, and then went ahead and ran down the side of the road, along the white fence, keeping the gully between herself and the road. Once she was in the high weeds beside the road, she could hear her heartbeat in her ears, the way she had when she was afraid and alone. Her chest clutched and fear swept over her. But Banner was right beside her, and her aunt and Nick weren’t too far behind. She looked back at them, then faced forward to keep running. A white van crested the hill on the other side of her aunt’s house, and May dropped into the weeds, frozen with terror. She lay hiding on the ground next to an old, brown bottle, tasting blood where she had bitten her lip. She couldn’t see Banner, but she could see the water in the gully, and even the water was trembling. Then she saw into the water, and the gully was full of darting tadpoles. The van passed without slowing, and she could smell the stink of the standing water. She slid forward to see the tadpoles and felt her wet shorts, her thighs warm and wet with urine. She stood up, shocked that she’d wet herself, then ran again, as fast as she could, back to the house, where she grabbed her red backpack and ran past the bathroom and the whelping room with its slow, blood smell, all the way to her aunt’s bedroom at the end of the hall.

In the bedroom, she slammed the door and rushed over to the narrow space between the bed and the far wall. She pushed her shorts off, kicking off her underwear. Under the sweatshirt, her mother had packed underwear and green shorts, and May pulled these on quickly. She heard the front door. Her right shoe was wet, but she didn’t have extras. Then her aunt was knocking gently on the door and pushing it open at the same time. May kicked her wet shorts and underwear under the bed.

Julia stood in the doorway looking at May standing in the space between the bed and the wall.

“Everything okay?” she said, and May nodded. Her heart was chirping in her throat. Julia walked over to the foot of the bed and looked at May’s open backpack on the yellow bedspread.

“Did you decide to change?” she said. She held out her hand. “Come out of there.”

May walked out, looking down to make sure she looked normal. “I liked those red shorts,” said Julia, “but I like green too.” May took a breath. “I have a surprise for you,” said Julia.

The surprise was a chocolate peanut butter milkshake. Julia made it in the blender while Nick and May sat at the table drinking water.

“May?” said Julia while they watched. “Can I put in half a banana?”

May nodded.

“Good girl,” said Julia. “You need some vitamins after all that running.”

“It’s true,” said Nick.

“What about you, Nick?” said Julia.

“Tea would be fine,” he said. He got up. “I’ll get it myself.” He looked at May quickly. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone run that fast,” he said.

“Me neither,” said Julia.

May smiled at Banner, who had curled up on his bed in the corner.


The adults went into the living room while May sat at the table finishing her shake. She got up once to check and saw Nick on the floor, Julia on the loveseat with her legs crossed.

“Done?” Julia said, and May shook her head. “Well, drink up,” she said. “Then we’ll wake the puppies.”

Back in the kitchen, May drank from the shake slowly, feeling bits of banana and thick curds of peanut butter. It had been a good day of food. Nick’s phone sat on the table, and she pulled it toward herself. He and her mother had the same phone. She found the button for photos. She saw a photo of a house and several photos of teenagers with hammers. Nick helped teenagers build houses for those without money. She slid past several pictures of Nick and Allison Sinclair, until she got to Banner. First, just his face. He looked like he was smiling. Then the puppy. Just looking at the picture of the little black blob in the grass made May feel lighter. Then they were at the old schoolyard. She saw a picture of Banner running that was blurred. The pictures of Banner jumping were also blurred. Then Banner sitting still. That was a good photo. Banner looking up at Aunt Julia. Aunt Julia laughing. Then a picture of Aunt Julia, probably the one May had seen him taking because in the picture there were just Aunt Julia’s butt and the tops of her thighs. Julia’s legs were tan and her front pockets hung below the edge of her shorts. May studied this picture, then smiled because she felt like she’d found a secret. Then she slid to the next picture, which was of herself, taken from above.

She was shocked by her size. When she’d walked with Banner, she felt a little bit shorter than Aunt Julia, but in this picture, she was small, as if the phone were high above her. Her collarbones were sharp lines along the tops of pointy shoulders. She slid the picture back to Aunt Julia’s butt, which was round and strong, with muscular thighs. Julia’s shorts were tight against her legs. She slid back to herself. Her arms and legs were tiny sticks poking out of her shirt and shorts. The wind was pushing her shirt and there was a clear line along the base of her ribs, her stomach sunken in below this. Before everything bad happened, she’d had a little bulge there. She slid forward and the last picture was of herself running. The grass along the road was as high as her shoulders. Beside her in the photo, Banner parted the grass like a panther. But only the tops of May’s head and shoulders showed. She looked like the smallest thing in the world.

May got up and went to the middle of the kitchen. Banner watched her from his bed in the corner. She lifted her arm and gestured toward her chest, which meant come, and he got up and walked over, his tail wagging. She turned her hand up and he sat. She turned her hand over and lowered it and he lay down at her feet. She made a twirl motion with her hand and looked at him sternly, just in case he thought she was small enough to ignore, but he rolled over right away. He lay on the floor, smiling up at her, but instead of releasing him, she held up her hand to stay. He made a high, playful noise in his throat, and she went back to the table. He was watching her from the floor, waiting to be released, and she was glaring at him to obey.

When Julia pushed open the door, May sat down and took fast, small sips of her milkshake. Banner lay on the floor in the center of the kitchen, still unreleased. Julia put her hand on May’s shoulder and said, “What’s going on in here?”

May took another sip. Banner whined. If he got up, she was never going to talk to him again.

“Something mysterious, that’s for sure,” said Julia. She went to the fridge and opened it, pulling out a jar of pickles and reaching for something behind it. There was a line along the muscle of her thigh. Her calf muscle was tightly bound to her lower leg. Then May thought of a good joke to play. While Julia was bent over, rummaging through the fridge, May grabbed Nick’s phone and tapped the camera. She knew how to zoom in, and she focused on Aunt Julia’s butt, taking two pictures before Julia stood up. May put the phone down quickly and picked up her milkshake before Julia turned around, and as Julia passed by with two beers in her hands, Banner stayed where he was on the floor.

When Julia was back in the living room, May took a picture of Banner. Then she took a picture of her shoe and zoomed in, examining it to see if there was any sign of pee. Her stomach was full. She put the phone down and went to the door to listen.

For a second, no one said anything, and May stepped back, afraid the door was about to open. Then Julia spoke. “But you have to remember, we have no idea what was done or said to scare her. She’ll tell in her own way, when she can. Dogs are like kids—or kids are like dogs. We have to give her time. Her body will heal. Her mind is a part of her body. When her body heals, her mind will heal.”

“It’s hard,” said Nick. “I mean, think about her parents.”

“Don’t think about her parents,” said Julia, and she sounded angry. “Think about May.”

“That’s not what I meant,” said Nick. “I mean, you’re right, of course.” There was a short silence. “Would you ever have children?”

Julia gave a quick laugh. “That was a shift.” Her voice sounded pinched.

Now May could hear Julia’s connection to May’s mother, whose voice was always pinched like that. “Guess what?” she’d said to May that morning, after she buckled her into Nick’s car. “When you come back, my nails will be a different color. What color should they be?” May pointed at her backpack. “Okay, baby,” her mom said, her voice as pinched as ever, “you’ll see.”

Julia said, “I mean, I’m strong. Someone’s got to be strong, especially now. But if I ever let myself get close to imagining what that kid went through, it kills me. It does.”

May felt the tiredness come back into her legs. It was a sad feeling; she felt she’d run away from it with Banner. Now it felt like wet sand pouring into her calves. “Dogs don’t kill you,” said Julia. “Not like that, anyway.” The sand moved up May’s body. She stepped back and Banner gave a sharp yip. The sand vanished as May turned to see Banner looking at her, brown eyes pleading, still holding his stay on the floor.

She went to him quickly, ashamed to have left him for so long.

The kitchen door was already opening. “Was that Banner?” said Julia. “Banner, come.” Banner hopped up, his legs scrabbling a little on the linoleum, and he trotted over to Julia. She bent over and grabbed his ears. “You can’t wait till all these puppies are gone, can you? Can you?” Banner licked Julia’s face and she turned to the side so he couldn’t lick her mouth. His tail stub was wagging.

“Are you done? Come in the living room,” said Julia, “both of you.”

On the way, May saw the old red clicker from Thanksgiving sitting in a bowl on the counter with some keys and an inhaler. She grabbed the clicker and slid it into her pocket.

In the living room, May lay on the woven rug with Banner. His mouth was big. She pushed his teeth apart. He held his head flat on the rug, one ear down as if he were listening for a train, his body in a play bow. She ran her finger along the roof of his mouth, feeling hard ridges and soft places between. She felt the inside of her own mouth and it was much smoother.

Julia yelped, “May! You’re putting god knows how many germs into your mouth.” May was startled. She hadn’t known anyone was watching.

Julia sent May into the kitchen to wash her hands. May used the small red stool to reach the sink, and then she moved the stool over in front of the fridge. She stood on it and opened the freezer. Hot dogs. Julia bought them in bulk. May pried one off the bundle, her heart pounding, but Banner was in the living room. She reached into her pocket and squeezed the clicker. A sharp double click shot through the kitchen, and Banner came running into the kitchen.

Julia yelled, “I heard that. I have bat ears.”

May looked down at Banner from the stool. She wanted to take a picture, but instead, she held out the hot dog, which was making her fingertips numb. Banner took it delicately from her fingers, and then he tossed his head back like a horse and the hot dog slid in between his jaws. He tried to chew, looked up at May, then trotted out through the screen door, the hot dog in his teeth like a cigar.

May climbed down and went back to the living room. Before she opened the door, she heard Julia say, “She’s definitely up to something in there.”

Nick spoke in a low voice. “She’s kind of mischievous.”

“She is,” said Julia. “But so what? I don’t know why girls are supposed to be sweet while boys are allowed to cause trouble.”

“No,” said Nick. He cleared his throat. “I didn’t mean anything. I just mean she still has that. Like a gleam in her eye. It makes me happy.”

“It makes me happy too,” said Julia. “She’s a little schemer. I’m sure that’s what saved her.”

Now the tiredness was sneaking around May’s eyebrows like a mouse, but she shook her head and shoved the swinging door as hard as she could. It bounced open, hit the wall behind it, and crashed back into her hands, knocking her down. She felt a jolt in her tailbone and wanted to be at home with her mother. Then Julia was picking her up. May waited until the stinging faded from her palms, then she kicked and Julia let her down. They were standing in the kitchen doorway.

“You must be bored,” said Julia. “Wait, why is the freezer open?”

May turned and saw what her aunt was seeing: the red stool under the open freezer door, inside, the hot dogs her aunt bought in bulk. But Julia just shut the freezer door and nudged the stool over with her foot.

“You know,” she said to May, “you’re a dog person. I’m going to get the puppy, Anatole’s, and maybe some more, whoever’s awake. It’ll be good for them to be around you. It helps to be around people who care.”

May nodded. When Julia walked into the living room, May remembered something her aunt had said earlier, about always giving away two dogs to people who couldn’t afford them. She thought about how she didn’t even have fifteen dollars for The Lion King 2. And she knew, somehow, that Julia was going to give her a puppy. Because she was a dog person, and because of all she’d been through. May would keep the puppy in her bed at night. She’d name it Ben. She looked at her double-knotted shoes, astounded to have figured out something so complicated. Her shoes looked dry, no sign of urine.

Nick was leaning in the doorway, and he grinned at May. She was sure he could tell that she had figured out what was happening. She smiled back, then put the smile away. His eyes glistened, and he went back into the living room. She felt bad for playing a joke on him by putting her aunt’s butt on his cell phone, so she grabbed the phone off the table and tossed it into the trash can under the sink. It landed on a milk carton and May shut the cabinet quickly to get away from the stink. Then she pushed open the swinging door with one hand, the way a grown-up would.

There were three puppies in the living room. “Which one do you like?” Julia said. “These are the boys. No girls are awake.” May picked up the dog who knew her, but that was Anatole’s puppy. She put him down and picked up a brown puppy who was a little smaller and seemed shy. She looked at his face and he turned his head to the side. He wanted down. She put him down, then sat down and pulled him into her lap. Ben. Benjamin. He was soft and wiggly, and she lay down and let him lick her cheek. She closed her eyes and he nibbled her finger. He smelled sweet and dirty.

Julia’s hand was on her shoulder. “Wake up, little puppy,” she said. “Your mom’s on the phone.”

May sat up. She’d been dreaming about a small room. Her hands were tied, and a little monster was holding them in his own hands in case the ties broke. Now her eyes felt gritty. Ben was chewing on her shoelace. She took the phone and held it to her ear.

“Hello, sweet angel,” said her mom. “I had a little spa day, me and Penny. Well, half a spa day. You’re having a nice adventure, right?” Her mom didn’t pause because she knew May wouldn’t answer. “I’m not sure you remember this, sweetheart, but this is on the list.”

This was true. Dr. Thompson had given them a list of things to accomplish, and when they accomplished something, they each got a sticker. May had chosen unicorns, and her mother chose stickers with words like, “Way to go!” When they’d left his office with the chart and their stickers, Dr. Thompson told May’s mother that each of the stickers should say, in her mind, that she was doing a wonderful job, and everyone knew this was very hard. May’s mother had to let go of May’s hand to touch her eyes so her mascara would stay.

But now she sounded happy. “Do you remember where we are on the list?” she said. May was trying to remember all the things on the chart. “Number five,” said her mother. “I’m looking at the chart right now. Number five: spend five hours apart. Five stickers, sweetie. We’ve earned a surprise!”

May smiled because she already knew: her surprise was a puppy.

“Anyway, love, give a hug to Jules. You and Nick are coming home now. After you deliver the puppy. Jesus loves you, sweetie. So do I. When you get home I’ll have something neat to show you. You can hang up now. I’ve already spoken to Julia.”

May handed the phone to her aunt. Anatole’s puppy was asleep by the baseboard heater, even though it was summer and the heater was cold. When May picked him up, he curled his head back and tucked his nose into her shirt, sniffing her collarbones. She patted him on the back because he was a good puppy, though not as good as hers.

It was hard to say goodbye to Banner. He’d been digging holes, and his feet wore crumbles of black earth that fell off into May’s hands. He was a big, beautiful rottweiler and she felt ashamed for making him stay so long in the kitchen. She had his old clicker in her pocket, which she would need for her dog now. She leaned against Banner, putting all her weight on his back. He seemed like the puppies’ father even though Julia said he wasn’t. May pushed him a little, the way she did her own father, and he pushed back, leaning against her. Then he sat on her foot.

Julia laughed. “He’s claimed you,” she said.

“He’s good with kids,” said Nick.

“Kids and dogs belong together,” said Julia. “They’re natural companions.”

May put her arms around Banner’s neck. He smelled like dirt and grass, a very nice smell.


There was a way of not understanding, and she had taught this to herself. There was a way to have a conversation inside your mind, where no one else could hear it. She was doing this as she climbed into Nick’s car. Julia set Anatole’s puppy on top of a blanket in May’s lap. The puppy’s belly billowed out, round and soft, and she kept a hand on its back. In her mind she was talking to herself about her dog, which she would name Ben. Julia had returned the other puppies to the whelping room, but it wouldn’t be long before her pup arrived. Before they left, Julia squatted by May and looked at her for a long time. May looked at Banner standing behind Julia in the grass. “You are a brave, strong girl,” said Julia.

As Nick shifted the car into gear, May kept talking to herself inside her mind. Her puppy would come later. It was supposed to be a surprise. Still, she didn’t feel right leaving him behind. The pup in her lap shifted and yawned. He licked her fingernail, and his eyes began to close.


In her dream, May encountered the wolf who had taken her away. She hadn’t seen him in a long time, and he was back, just like that. He was a person who wore the slobbering head of a wolf over his own head. She had no sense of herself, of her body, and she wasn’t surprised when he began to talk. “I know everybody in your family,” he said. “Your mom—so beautiful. She was so beautiful. Your father is worthless. And your brother, Ben. You love him, right? Your big brother will be so sad if you die. How would you feel if he died? Don’t talk. Just nod.” May had a vague sense of herself nodding, even though she didn’t know anyone named Ben. She knew the wolf had come because she’d broken her own rule about talking, and then she didn’t know why she was having thoughts in the middle of a dream. She thought she might be awake, but all she could do was stare at the wolf’s white eyes. The dream shifted, and she was somewhere dark and deep, his voice floating down, calm and slow as a song. “Now your mother’s children are my children. When you get older, I’ll give you a gift. You’ll cry, but then you’ll love me. My gift doesn’t fit in a boy. It makes them cry. I have given it to boys, though, and they thank me. Ben will thank me. You’re too small now, I can tell with my fingers. I’m not going to ruin you. When you get bigger, you’ll always take me, and you’ll take me just right. You look just like your mother. I won’t ruin you now because you’re going to look like your mother, but you’ll always be mine.”

She woke up in the bright slanting light in Nick’s car. Somebody was crying. She was shaking and the puppy slid off her knees and landed on the floor with a thud. Nick reached over, then put his hand back on the wheel. He pulled over to the side of the road. “It’s okay,” he said. “It was a bad dream,” he said. “You’re okay. But he was wrong.”

Nick unclipped his seatbelt and leaned over to pick up Anatole’s puppy. A feeling of loss bloomed in May’s chest like a cloud. By coming home, she had done something very wrong. She took the pup and held him in her arms, and he licked her face and yawned in her face and licked her around the eyes.

“Are you okay?” said Nick, and she nodded because there was nothing else she could say. The top of the pup’s head smelled like an egg that had been in the refrigerator. “Do you know where you are?” said Nick, and she nodded. He said, “We’re on the way home.”

“Your brother’s here too, you know,” said the wolf in her ear. In her dream. “I have you, and I have him. You won’t see him. I’m going to keep you separate.” She looked away from him because his face was a wolf’s face. He grabbed her face and turned her toward him. “Your brother gave it up to me last night,” he said. “Do you know what that means? Did you hear him crying?”

When she woke up again, she felt sweat in her shirt between her back and the seat. She put her hand up between her and Nick, along the edge of her face. She pulled the puppy toward her. But that wasn’t enough. She pulled her legs up and sat cross-legged with her back to Nick, the roadside flashing by in front, trees and telephone lines. The wolf was waiting. “Your brother tried to run away last night. I caught him. First I let him think he would make it. Then I gave him my punishment. Did you hear him crying?” She felt the wolf’s finger slide up her stomach and chest, pushing up her shirt. “If Ben ever runs, or tells anyone where we are, I will gut you like a little fish. And if you ever run, I’ll do the same to him. First I’ll let you think you made it. Then I’ll gut Ben from behind. You only speak to me. You’ll be with me for a long time. Don’t cry. No one gets gutted as long as no one runs.”


May shook her head. Anatole’s puppy looked serious and sad. She petted him gently. He looked very afraid, and so she tried to smile as she wiped water out of her eyes.

When they pulled up to her house, she got out of the car by herself. She walked in front of Nick so he wouldn’t see her face. She had the sense that the wolfman had returned for good, and that he was hovering. The screen door was locked. She banged on it, and the thin metal frame rattled under her palm. She held the puppy under her other arm like a football. Her mother was a sound in the hall, then a shadow coming into the kitchen.

“Baby,” she said. “Wait. I’m coming right now.”

“My goodness, how adorable!” she said as she opened the door. She was bending over to see the puppy. May and the puppy pressed in against her, and May smelled her flowery, clean smell, feeling her narrow stomach. She could feel her mother’s hip bone in her palm. Her dad called her mother a bird. He said she was delicate as a swallow. “What is it, sweetie?” said her mother. “What’s wrong?”

Her mother could not help. May shook her head.

“What happened?” said her mother to Nick. “I thought you’d go right to the church.”

From behind May, Nick said, “I was worried. I think I should talk to you.”

May slipped around her mother and took the pup into the living room. She let him roll out of her arms onto the couch and climbed up next to him. She could see that her mother had been doing something with scissors. The gold frame that usually sat on the side table, a photo of her parents in college, was now facedown on the coffee table. She lifted it and saw a picture of herself and her dad standing by his green truck. It was “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” and May was wearing a green shirt that said GIRLS RULE. She tilted the picture toward her and the back fell out of the frame and a piece of cardboard and the picture clattered onto the table.

“May,” called her mother. “What are you doing?” She came and picked up the frame and picture and cardboard and moved it all to the side table. “May?” she said. “Are you afraid?” May shook her head. Her mother scooped up the little dog. “Honey, what’s going on?”

May looked down so she wouldn’t speak. Her throat felt tight.

After a few seconds, her mother sighed. “Sweetie,” she said, “this puppy isn’t potty-trained.”

May followed her mother back through the kitchen and out into the yard. When her mother put the puppy down, he lifted his fat leg and a tiny bit of pee squirted out. Then he trotted toward the road. May ran and got him.

“Goodness,” said her mother. “He is adorable. What an adventurer.”

May looked at her mother closely to see if she was about to give away the surprise about May’s puppy. Instead, her mother said, “Did you have a bad dream in the car?” May shook her head. She felt the wolfman watching her shake her head. Her mother looked at Nick and said, “May, I have something to show you.”

May put the little dog down. Nick was feeling his pockets and turning in a circle. Her mother put her hand on May’s chest and pulled May back against her. Then she held out her hand in front of them, palm forward, as if she was telling Nick to stop shifting around and rummaging in his pockets. “What do you think?” she said.

May smiled. Her mother’s nails were a soft red, and in small, white, tiny letters, her own name, MAY, was painted, one letter on each of the middle three fingers.

“Do you like it?” said her mom. May nodded. She pulled her mother’s hand toward her. Her mother said, “I love you very much.”

Nick said, “Excuse me, Mrs. Taylor, do you have your phone?”

“Not on my person,” said May’s mother.

Nick said, “I’m not sure where mine is.”

“Shall I dial you from mine? I can get it from the kitchen.”

“No,” said Nick. “It’s fine.”

“It’s no trouble,” said May’s mother, and Nick said, “It’s fine. I’m sure it’s in the car.”

May picked up Anatole’s puppy and pressed him a little too hard against her shirt. The puppy yelped. She turned away from the adults and looked into his eyes. Inside her head, she said, “I’m very sorry. I love you.”

“Well,” said May’s mom, “it’s Saturday. Anatole’s at the church. It think it’s time to deliver this puppy.”

May’s breath stopped and then started. The puppy was fat and snuggly with sharp teeth. She would have to say goodbye to him.

“May?” said her mother, and the wolfman spoke right into May’s ear. “January, February, March, April, May. May I hold you? Mother May I?” He was a wolf with a quiet, gentle laugh. A shiver flew up through May’s spine. She shrugged her shoulders to let it fly out like a bird. She thought she might be falling asleep, but he might follow her there. He’d followed her out of her dream. Could he follow her back into one?”

She turned to her mother.

“May?” said her mother. “Would you like to give a puppy to a man who couldn’t afford one on his own? Anatole, who works so hard to keep our church and churchyard beautiful and tidy?”

If she didn’t know about the other puppy, May would not have been able to nod her head.

“When you get back,” said her mom, “your dad will be here. We’ll have a nice dinner.”

Of course. The puppy would come from her father. May nodded.


The church parking lot was empty. It was strange to see the church doors, heavy and wooden, closed instead of propped open.

“It’s odd to see the church closed up,” said Nick, and May froze. She felt the wolfman was very near because he could hear her thoughts, just like Nick had.

“I hope he’s here,” said Nick, and for a second, May thought he meant the wolfman. But then he touched her shoulder. “Oh, good. Look,” he said. Between the white Sunday school building and the church, a brick path led through the graveyard, and Anatole’s red truck sat just beyond.

They walked down the path past the church, and May hoped they’d picked the right puppy. She hoped her dad or Julia picked the right puppy for her. The boy dog, Ben, who was nervous. She was sure Julia knew the right one.

Anatole came around from behind the bushes carrying a paper bag in one hand. He was tall with dark skin and eyes and gray hair. Nick smiled and stepped in front of May. He wiped his hands on his sides, then stuck out his hand.

Anatole wiped his free hand on his pants and then shook Nick’s hand. “Good afternoon,” he said.

Nick said, “Anatole, for your birthday, because of all you do for our church family, we wanted to give you something special. We know how you feel about this particular breed of dog. We wanted you to have one of your own.”

Anatole’s eyes were on the puppy now, and he was nodding. “Thank you,” he said. “They told me to get a dog bed and so I did. But a rottweiler. That is something else.”

May stepped forward to give him the dog.

“And you,” he said to her, and she stepped back. “Look at you,” said Anatole. “A miracle from God.” His eyes always looked wet because he was old, but now they were filling up with water. More and more, adults around her cried.

Nick said, “Are you planting?”

Anatole cleared his throat. “Oh, yes,” he said. He shook the paper bag. “Mrs. Williams wants wildflowers on her mama’s resting place. And then it’s time to cut the hedges. Nature doesn’t wait. “Let’s put this gorgeous dog down on the ground, here,” he said to May. “Let’s see him walk. Is he a boy or girl?”

Nick said, “Boy.”

Anatole said, “You know, I’ve already got a name for him.” May put the puppy down and he wobbled around sniffing things. “Look at you,” said Anatole. “You are fat and strong.” At first May thought he was talking about her, but he was looking at the puppy. “I already got my name for him,” he said. “Bismarck. He will be a powerful dog.”

May stood on tiptoes and reached into the paper bag of seeds in Anatole’s hand. She made a fist, and the cool seeds slid through her fingers.

“Go ahead,” said Anatole. Behind him, there was a new shiny gravestone, and the ground in front was dirt with no grass. May pulled out a few seeds and slid them into her pocket.

“Don’t you want to throw some?” said Anatole. “Go ahead. Sprinkle seeds for poor Mrs. Williams.”

May reached in again and pulled out a handful. She threw the seeds, and they fell in a cloud pattern at her feet.

“That’s good,” said Anatole. “They’ll be very pretty.”


Anatole let May carry Bismarck to his truck. He opened the passenger door, and she climbed onto the running board and rested the pup against the seat. Anatole spoke from behind her. “I guess I’m going to have to call it a day. Can’t leave a little baby like this all alone, can I?” The puppy squirmed against the seat. May leaned down to smell his eggy fur and kiss him. When she leaned close, his breath quickened, and when she leaned back his breath grew quiet.

She decided to turn and jump off the running board, just to surprise everybody by how far she could jump. But when she turned, Anatole’s hands were right there. She was jumping but he was lifting her instead. “You’re so brave,” he said, and he set her on the ground. “No one is ever going to know what all you went through. Just a little girl.”

May stared at the space on his neck where his skin was pink instead of gray, where her mother said he’d probably been burned at some time. His words slid sharply through her chest. In her mind, it was clear just by looking at her what had been done to her, what had been threatened and what had been carried through. But now Anatole was smiling. “Your parents sure do love you,” he said. “They fought to get you back.”

Anatole carried May to Nick’s car because she was falling asleep. He smelled sharp. She licked the edge of his shirt and tasted salt. He was talking to Nick about a house Nick had worked on, and Nick was saying how good it was for the kids to contribute. When Anatole shut his mouth, his jaw made a clicking sound. They passed the new grave with the black dirt in front of it and the flower beds and the church and the white Sunday school building, and when Anatole put her down at Nick’s car, she realized she hadn’t really said goodbye to Bismarck.

Anatole said, “You helped someone today.” He opened the passenger door, and she climbed into Nick’s car and he shut the door behind her. She looked at him through the open window. She was tired of being with grown-ups who weren’t her parents. Behind Anatole, the setting sun was bright and sideways, so he looked like a black cutout of a man. She blinked and squinted. “I know you’re not speaking,” he said quietly. “That’s alright.”

May felt a clamp squeeze her chest. She couldn’t look at the sun anymore. She closed her eyes and saw yellow and green blobs inside her eyelids. Each time she blinked, they floated to the top. “Go on to sleep,” said Anatole. “You’re just a little girl.”

Once they were driving, May looked at Nick with one eye open and one eye closed. “You okay?” he said, and she nodded. “You did a good job,” he said. She felt her pockets. Clicker, seeds. She was going to start a garden by her mother’s garden. She was going to train Ben, her puppy, until he was as polite as Banner.

Her father’s green truck was in the driveway. Two bar stools from the kitchen were sticking out of the bed of the truck. Her father took broken things from the house to work and fixed them. When they passed the truck, May patted the side the way her dad always did, like the truck was a horse. The metal was warm, and she put both palms and then her chest against the old green paint. When she stepped back, her shirt had a faint, white layer of dust making it look pink.

The door was unlocked, and her dad was already moving toward her. He had brown hair and glasses, and he wore his hiking boots even though he wasn’t hiking. They were going to hike more when May’s legs got longer. May felt everything inside her push toward her father, and she got as close as possible, standing on one of his feet with both of her own. He put his arm around her. His clothes smelled strange.

“Good day, Bug?” he said. He lifted his leg and took a swinging step back into the kitchen. She held tight, trying not to fall off, trying not to laugh out loud. Her mother was standing by the table, and May held her dad’s leg and leaned, jerking her body toward her mom. Her mother walked past them to the fridge and nudged May playfully. May felt the electric surge that she always felt when both her parents touched her at the same time.

After Nick left, May sat at the table with a bowl of macaroni and cheese. Her dad sat at his end drinking ice tea while her mother washed the dishes. Then her mother sat down and sighed. May pushed more and more mac and cheese into her mouth until her cheeks were bulging. When she looked up, both of her parents laughed.

After dinner, and the washing of May’s face with a warm washcloth, halfway through her one scoop of chocolate ice cream, her mother and father started talking. She thought they were going to tell her about her puppy, but their faces weren’t light and young, the way they had been when she’d stuffed her cheeks at dinner. She was suddenly afraid that her puppy was sick or dead. But she had just seen him.

“May,” said her mom, “I don’t know if you remember, but before everything happened this year, your dad was living in a different house.”

May felt the tiredness in her feet, but it wouldn’t come up past her calves even though she called on it.

“The house is very close,” said her dad, and her mom nodded and said, “Don’t you remember?”

May shook her head. She knew what her dad smelled like now. Paint.

“May, we love you so much,” said her dad. “Weekends, weekdays, whenever you want, you’re going to be there, too. You have your own room at my house, just like you do here.” May shook her head. Her dad tried to take a sip of tea, but his glass was empty. Her mother started to get up, but he shook his head and she stayed put. “Bug,” he said, “I’ve been staying here because we want you to feel safe. But it’s time for me to go back to my new house.”

“Which is your new house, too,” said her mother.

“That’s right,” said her dad. “Now you have two houses.”

May knew her mom needed her dad, and her dad needed her mom. She knew what it felt like to be alone. A tear fell in her bowl. It sat right on top of the ice cream, in a tiny dent it had created by falling. She carefully scooped it up and put it in her mouth. It tasted like chocolate.


The next day, her mother took her by the hand and put her in the car, and they drove to her dad’s new house, which was small and ugly and blue, the very worst color. They didn’t talk in the car. May held Ivan, her stuffed walrus, in her lap. She wanted her new puppy. The only place it could be was her dad’s house.

They walked in the door without knocking, her mother singing hello. There was wood covering the walls. The light was golden, bouncing off so many wooden surfaces. A giant map of the world was tacked to the wall by the door, and May looked at it while she took off her shoes. Instead of a kitchen table, there was a counter, with the two bar stools from home tucked neatly under the lip.

The living room had tan carpet and the tan couch from the back room at home. There was a huge TV, bigger than the one at home, and after her mother hugged her goodbye, she walked up to it and stared at the screen. She wasn’t as tall as the TV. When she saw her face, small and scared and pointy, she turned away and went to her room.

The walls in her room were the same peach color as her room at home. On her bed was an old quilt from her grandmother and two new stuffed animals, a dolphin with big white eyes and a starfish with a red smile stitched into his belly. She put Ivan beside them, and he looked worn and tired. A picture of May and her mother standing in front of the space museum sat framed on the bedside table. In the picture the wind was blowing everything sideways. Her mother had left her red backpack by the door. She hadn’t said goodbye to her mother, but because she never talked, her mother hadn’t noticed. There was no desk, but there was something she didn’t have at home: a big pad, tall as herself, set on an easel so she could stand in front of it and draw. On a tray in front there was a row of bright markers. She found a brown marker and began to draw her dog.

She worked for a while, adding a sky and green grass, and after she had what looked like a real dog, she left her room and found her dad standing still in the kitchen. She grabbed his hand and he followed her down the hall. Her mother was coming back in the morning. When her dad saw the picture, he said, “Wow, sweetie. That’s really good.” She stood beside the pad, trying to figure out if he was really dumb or if he was making a joke. She pointed at herself.

“You?” Her dad sat on the edge of the bed. “Bug,” he said, and he pointed at his own chest. “I don’t know what this means.”


“I’m going to take your picture,” said the wolfman, right into her ear. She looked behind her. She was standing in front of the big pad, but she could still hear him. “I’m going to take your little body, every bit of it, into my camera, and then I’ll put the camera in my pocket, and when I walk I’ll feel your little body rubbing against my gift.”


May’s dad was holding her by the shoulders. She looked at him, and she looked at the dog she had drawn. The wolfman in her mind began to laugh because just as he’d said, there was no one in the world but him who could understand her now, who would ever know what a girl like her wanted. There was no reason to speak to anyone else.


She woke up on her new bed in her clothes. She went down the hall in her socks and saw her dad at the kitchen sink, his back to her. He was on the phone. Back in her room, she pulled the clicker out of the front pocket of her backpack. The dog picture on the easel looked eerie now, as if someone else had drawn it. She pulled the paper off the easel and it fell, light and sliding, onto the floor. She could not figure out what to do about getting Ben from Julia’s house.

She sat on her bed with Ivan. She held up her hand, palm up, and tipped the old walrus forward. She clicked him for being good. She put the starfish on the edge of the bed, then pointed at the floor. He dove off the bed, back into the sea. She clicked him for being obedient. She looked at the dolphin with the white eyes and told him by swooping her hand to leap like a dolphin back into the sea. He didn’t move. Then Ivan hopped across the bed and gave the dolphin a push, and the dolphin flipped off the bed. She clicked Ivan for being obedient. He came over and licked her face. He snuggled under her arm, like a puppy. She clicked him for being good.


In her dream she was looking out a window at black metal stairs and a little metal platform. Stairs led up from the platform and more stairs led down. She pushed her forehead against the cold glass to see how far down it would go. The wolfman’s hot breath was in her ear. “Are you trying to escape?” he said. “Are you trying to get away from me?”

When she woke up, it was dark except for an owl night-light that she hadn’t seen before. She was in her pajamas, and she’d wet her bed. The part underneath her was warm, but extending beyond that, the pee was cold. She wasn’t at home, but Ivan was with her, and she remembered she was in her new bed at her father’s house. The easel looked tall and dark, a square monster standing guard. One owl night-light was not enough. She slid out of bed and went into the hall, where another owl light was plugged into the wall. In the bathroom across the hall, a squirrel night-light made the counter seem to extend and then vanish. Not enough light.

She turned on the overhead light in the hall. She turned on the light in her bedroom. She turned on the light in the bathroom. One of Dr. Thompson’s rules was that she could always have light. Her father’s bedroom door was shut, so she sat on the floor with her back against his door, holding Ivan and her clicker, her wet pajamas stinging the insides of her legs. Her mother would have woken up by now. She felt her chest rise into a sound inside her mind. The sound alarmed her, and she hit the door behind her with her head. When her dad opened the door, she fell backward. He was wearing striped pajamas.

“Bug,” he said, his voice scratchy, “hang on.”

She heard the familiar sound of his glasses sliding off a table and snapping open. She lay on her back on the floor, Ivan in one hand and the clicker in the other. In her mind, there was a train blowing through. The light was too much. The sound scared her. She tried to breathe, but because of the train, there was no room. Things were getting darker. Her father stood her up and said, “You have to breathe, Bug. I heard you scream.”

Her father had her step out of her old pajamas and into her Christmas pajamas, which her mother must have packed. May felt as far away as a satellite. Dull clicks were all she could hear. Her father kept saying, “Are you dreaming? Are you awake?” There were tears in her ears from when she’d lain on the floor and tears on her cheeks and something coming out of her eyes. Nothing seemed right. She threw the clicker on the floor and stomped on it, and this hurt her bare foot and she cried. Her father took her foot in his hand and she yanked it away.

“Are you scared?” he was saying. “Do you know where you are? Should we call Mom?” They were in her bedroom now, and she went over to her easel and wrote the name of her dog on the clean new page, to remind him. It was easy to spell. BEN. When she turned around, his face was still.

“What is that?” he said. “May? Who told you about Ben?”

She shook her head. It wasn’t her fault that she knew about the puppy.

His face was angry. “Was it Mom?” he said. “Who spoke to you about Benjamin?”

There was something grinding in her mind, and she shook her head to get rid of it. She picked up the dog she’d drawn before and put the huge paper on the bed and wrote the word BEN on top of the dog in purple marker. The pen popped through the paper and she watched purple ink spreading into her grandmother’s quilt. Her father pulled the marker out of her hand. He lifted her, but she did not want to be lifted. He carried her into the kitchen while she didn’t want to be carried. He set her down, too hard, on the counter, and she did not want to sit on the counter. She tried to get free, but he held the front of her shirt, dialing his phone with his other hand.

She was afraid he might mistakenly call the wolf, whose hands had been everywhere at once even though she had not wanted them to be on her, who promised to kill her brother, Ben, if she ran away or said a word to anyone. The front of her shirt was gathered in her father’s fist. She leaned against it and bit his shoulder, as hard as she could.

He yelled, but she didn’t release her jaw. She was biting, and he dropped the phone on the counter and grabbed her face roughly, just like the wolfman had when he wanted her to look into his wolfy eyes. Her father squeezed until her teeth came apart, and then he let go. He lifted his sleeve and they saw the purple mark where her teeth had been.

“May, this is not acceptable,” he said. “This is not okay. I’m very angry.” He rubbed his shoulder. May felt him withdraw his love, and it took her breath away. She looked into his angry eyes and felt her breath suck out into the vacuum, where everything had been before everything was taken away.

Sleep did not come softly. It didn’t creep up through her calves. It was a memory, the wolfman’s big hand swinging toward her face, the very first time he hit her, and the shock and pain and sound of being slapped, of being hit by an adult. Then a bright, stinging silence.


She was in a white bed, and she began to cry because it was the hospital again and she was lost all over. But no, her mother and Julia were right there, and they touched her chest and she saw that she was not lost, but back in the space right after she’d been found.

“Baby,” said her mom. May looked for her father. “Sweetheart,” said her mom, “You’re scared.”

“Jesus, look at her eyes,” said Julia. May began to cry.

Her mother leaned forward and said, “Sweetheart, you’ve had a little medicine.” Her mother looked odd, like someone else’s medicine.

May closed her eyes and saw the metal spoke she’d tripped over, running along the railroad track in the dark, the only light something she’d willed into her eyes after being in the dark such a long time. She was running so fast that she had no idea if the wolfman was behind her or if he knew she was gone or if he was about to grab her. It was still dark when the train came, ruining her eyes and ears, a loud, bright nightmare inside of another nightmare, and afterward, when she started running again, she could no longer see in the dark. She fell, her lip split, and her mouth filled with rain and pennies. She got up and kept running. Then a red sign where a road crossed the tracks, and a brown car which had pulled over, and a woman was getting out and running toward her.

“Hello?” said the woman. “Are you alright?”

May kept running because she’d been taken in just this manner, and it took several seconds before the woman caught her. She held May by the arm, then held her arm around May’s chest while May tried to fall out of her grasp. There was no escaping. She was pinned. The woman was speaking quickly into a phone. “A little girl,” she said. “She’s in terrible shape. Listen, she’s trying to get away, but there’s no one around for miles. I am holding her. A blue button-down shirt. Nothing else, no shoes even. She’s bleeding. She has injuries. Please hurry.”


When she woke up again, her dad and mom were on either side of her. She took her mom’s hand and her dad’s hand and pulled them together. She weighed a thousand pounds.

“Sweetheart,” said her dad. “You’re having a hard time. Something’s happening. But we’re right here. This is going to get better.”

Her mother said, “May, we need to know about Benjamin.”


She opened her eyes because her dad was lifting her out of the bed. “Like this?” he said, and a man said, “Just like that.”

“Bug,” said her dad. It was cold, and she turned and clung to his chest. They were in the hospital. “No, Bug,” he said. “No sleeping. Not right now.” She looked at her mom, and a doctor who was not Dr. Thompson.

The doctor said, “This is important. We need to be careful; it’s a critical time. Keep her awake. But no questions.”

She looked at her mom, the oldest woman in the world. She closed her eyes, and then her father was shaking her awake and before she opened her eyes she heard him say, “I feel like I’m hurting her.”

Her mother said, “I’m trying to imagine what Dr. Thompson would say. I’m trying to put myself in his shoes, Simon, and imagine what he would tell us to do.”

At some point May had a vague sense of her father giving up, and she pinched his hand to let him know she knew he was about to quit, and that she wanted him to stay and make her able to open her eyes.

He said, “She just pinched me! Eyes open,” he said. She saw the little bit of red in his eye from an accident playing hockey in college. “May,” he said, “I know you’re awake. Keep your eyes open. If you can say anything right now, just tell me if you’re okay, I will give you a big present.”

“Simon,” said her mother.

Her dad said, “Anything at all. I don’t care. Just say anything.”

Her mother said, “Simon.”

Her dad said, “I just want to make sure she’s okay. I’m not going to keep shaking this kid for no reason.” He took May’s face in his hand. “Nobody else can hear, Bug. We’re in a vacuum. You and me. I need you to be so strong that you use your voice to talk to me. Tell me anything. Anything you want, and I will get it for you.”

Her mother was a bird, flying away. May whispered to her dad that she wanted him to come home.

“Did she speak?” her mother said. Her dad nodded.

Her mother was a mother, rushing around the side of the bed.

“May,” she said. “We love you.” May looked around for the wolf.

“Yes,” said her dad. “We’re proud of you.”

Her mother leaned in, “We love you very much.”

Love you, proud of you. No one said anything about what she’d just asked for. Her father was lying. Her family was breaking apart. Her father and mother were breaking apart for no reason, and she had run away and left her brother behind.

This last thought filled her body with a shock of recognition and a wild, desperate truth. She had forgotten something terribly urgent. Something in her chest flapped with fear and she grabbed her dad’s arm.

“The wolf has Ben,” she said. “He’s going to gut him from behind.” Her mother started to cry. “You’re his true love,” May said to her. “When I grow, I’ll look like you, but I’ll belong to him.”

Her mother was now staring. “He still has Ben,” May said.

“No,” her father said. He shook his head. He looked closely at May and said, “That’s just not true.”


The next day there was a lot going on. May’s parents talked a lot, and May kept crying, and she had to take more medicine. A lot of things were said but none of them were said by May. She was allowed to go home where she was given more medicine mixed into chocolate ice cream. She slept on the living room couch. At some point, she woke up, desperately thirsty, and someone was knocking on the front door. She wanted to go to her mother for water, but she didn’t want to see a stranger. She snuck over to the kitchen door. She could hear someone sitting down at the table.

“We went back through,” a woman was saying. “The alums living around here, especially out west near those tracks.”

May’s mother said, “I honestly can’t think right now.”

“Based on this list, it seems really clear.” The stranger was talking. “He has a record. And there are only so many people who could know about Ben, but not know that he—”

“What about the shirt?” said May’s dad.

“The shirt will help,” said the woman. “But this doesn’t work like it does on CSI.”

“I know that,” said her father. “I’m not an idiot.”

“Simon,” said May’s mother.

Her dad said, “What’s his name?”

“I know this is enraging,” said the woman. “Believe me, if I were you, I would be going crazy. But it’s imperative that right now, I don’t tell you.”

Her dad said, “Jules? What’s his name.”

“I don’t know,” said Julia. “I gave them a whole list.” Her aunt was here.

The woman said, “Simon? We have him. He’s not going anywhere. You’ll hear his name. I promise.”

May walked through the door. Everyone turned around. She scanned the room for her puppy. The woman was a policewoman with a uniform. May walked over and stood between her mother’s knees. Her mother said, “Did you wake up?”

May was looking at the woman police officer.

“Are you May?” the woman said. May looked at the place mat. The woman said, “I haven’t met you yet, at least not while you’re awake. But I know you’re really brave.” The woman had brown hair cut short and brown eyes and tan skin, but not black skin, like Anatole’s. She wore glasses like May’s father, only her glasses were square. “My name is Ann,” she said. “I know you’re only talking a little bit right now.”

May’s mother was holding her shoulders, rubbing her back with her thumbs.

Ann said, “May? I’m going to ask you one question. I promise and cross my heart that no one will hear but your mom and dad and your aunt and me. Can you just tell me what the man who stole you looks like?”

May looked at her mother. Ann was not following the rules. Her mother was crying.

Julia said, “May, look at me.” May looked. “He is in jail,” she said. “He cannot get you.”

There was no evidence of a puppy in the kitchen. May knew all about jail. She spoke to Julia. “He has a wolf head,” she said quietly. She was listening to herself, to the words she was saying.

“That’s good,” said Ann. “A wolf head sounds really scary. What was his hair like?”

“Wolves don’t have hair,” said May. “They have fur.”

“Bug,” said her dad, “just tell us. It’s important.”

Ann said, “Mr. Taylor, Simon. This is what kids do in their minds. It’s normal. Please trust me.”

“Well, you’re in charge,” said May’s dad.

Ann was looking at May. “Actually,” she said, “May is in charge.”

May was thinking about the wolf’s teeth. The wolf’s eyes. She put her hands over her mouth.

Ann put down her pen. “Got it,” she said. “No more questions tonight.”

May didn’t want any more questions ever. She pinched her mother’s arm. Her mother said, “Ouch. Sweetie.”

“Come over here,” said her dad.

Her mother said, “It’s fine. Simon, we’re fine.”

Ann said, “I do have one thing I want to tell you, May. And then I’m going to go away.”

May pulled the place mat toward herself. She wasn’t sure if anyone had fed her dinner. She was still very thirsty. Her mother pushed the place mat back into place, and May went over to her dad. She stood between her dad and the table, but she felt like she was falling backward. She stepped on her father’s foot. She was surprised because instead of boots, he wore his soft running shoes. She stood on her heel, grinding the top of his foot, and he pulled on her beltloop to tug her off balance. She bent her knees and put her elbows on his thighs, then lifted her legs so all her weight was on her elbows. He took her elbows in his hands and lifted them until she put her feet back on the ground.

“Is there a lot of this?” said Ann. She waved at May and her father.

May’s dad said, “You wouldn’t believe.” May put her hands on her dad’s thighs and pretended her fingers were claws. He took her wrists and put both in one hand, turning her sideways.

Ann said, “Well, I’m sure you’ve been told that this is very normal.”

“Actually,” said Simon, “No one has told me anything.”

Ann, “Well, I’m sure you can imagine. Helplessness, safety. Anger is a real part of this. It won’t last.” Ann looked at May. “May,” she said, “here’s what I want to tell you.” May stepped back onto her father’s foot, but she didn’t grind her heel, and he let her stay. “I know that you can do one brave thing,” said Ann. “I know that when you look at pictures, you can show me which one is the wolf person.”


May’s mother kept giving her ice cream with medicine. The ice cream tasted good and May didn’t mind. Her sleep was heavy, like a movie about darkness, and there were no dreams. She watched cartoons when she was awake. At some point her parents tried to talk to her, but she slept until it was time to go. Then they took the car to a tall building. She went into a small room with her father. She sat at a table, and he stood behind her. All she had to do was say yes or no, shake her head or nod. Her clicker felt sweaty in her hand, and she leaned back and clicked it at her dad’s face.

“Okay,” he said. “What is that, anyway?”

She considered this, then clicked.

“Like a code?”

She clicked.

“That’s pretty cool. Does a click mean something?”

She clicked.

“I’m surprised that made it through the metal detector,” he said. “Where’d you get it?”

She stuffed the clicker back into her pocket.

When Ann came in, her father had to leave. May turned and watched him walk out and pull the door closed carefully behind him. When she turned back around, Ann was spreading pictures on the table. Each picture was the size of a whole piece of paper. May saw Nick, her kindergarten teacher, the wolfman, three men she didn’t know, a woman with red hair, and her father.

She pulled the picture of Nick toward her. He didn’t have a beard in the picture.

Ann said, “Is that someone you know?”

May nodded.

“Now, May,” said Ann. “I think one of these people, one of the people in the pictures on this table, is the person who took you away for a long time.”

May didn’t move. She felt like her skin wasn’t really skin. Every sound or movement touched her muscles.

“This person is locked up now, in jail, and he can never hurt you again.”

Even the skin on her arms wasn’t skin.

“I think this person also told you that he took your brother.”

May felt a real exhaustion coming up. She hadn’t had any ice cream, but it felt like she had.

Ann read from a yellow pad. “Now you know that Benjamin was born before you, but he passed away while he was still a baby.” May touched the metal table. She knew her mother had written these words because she’d said the same ones to May.

Ann kept reading. “Benjamin would have been your brother. He was your brother. But God had different plans. And now you know that nobody has your brother because your brother is in heaven.”

May sat back. She pulled the clicker out and turned it over in her hands. It was as warm as her skin. She touched the cool table and then felt her face, which was very hot. She put her head down on the table the way they had in kindergarten. She wished her feet could touch the floor. She didn’t know about Ben until the wolf told her, and now she knew Ben was a dead baby. She hadn’t saved Ben by being good and not talking, by holding still or being quiet. She hadn’t hurt Ben by running away because Ben was dead already.

Ann came around the table and rubbed May’s back. “Try to stay awake, honey,” she said. “I know that this is really sad.”

May wasn’t asleep, but she kept her eyes closed. Sad wasn’t the right word.

After a minute, Ann pulled May back gently until she was sitting up again. The pictures were still in front of her. Her chest was full of something thick, like fog. Being five had been about learning new things. Being six was about remembering, forgetting, remembering everything terrible all the time. She couldn’t even imagine turning seven.

“May,” said Ann. “Who else do you know in these pictures?”

May pointed to her kindergarten teacher.

“Good. Who else?”

May pulled over the picture of her father. She looked at his face. He wasn’t smiling. She couldn’t see the red spot in his eye where he’d been hit with a puck playing hockey in college.

“Who is that, May?” said Ann.

If May had been talking, she would have said, “This is the person who did not come find me.” Instead, she looked away.

Ann said, “May? I want you to show me who took you for a long time. You can tell me with words, or you can point. The next picture you touch will be the person who took you. Okay? Will you nod if that’s okay?”

May nodded. She reached over and pulled the wolfman’s picture closer. Ann was not smiling or frowning.

May made a motion with her hand to get the wolf to slide off the table. The wolf would not obey. She ripped his picture a little, as a punishment. Then she pushed him off the table. She sat back, very still. She did not click because he was not obedient.


The church doors were locked again. May’s mother guided May down the path to where her father and Anatole leaned against Anatole’s red truck. Both men were smoking.

“Honestly,” said her mother, and the men pinched out their cigarettes. May’s dad put the butts into his pocket. May stepped on Anatole’s running board to see if Bismarck was in Anatole’s truck. He wasn’t. She took a deep breath, which Dr. Thompson said would always help. She was still eating ice cream but not every morning. She hopped off the running board and walked slowly behind her parents.

The grave was small. There was grass all around it because it wasn’t new. She read the name, BENJAMIN, and her dad’s name, SIMON, and her own last name, TAYLOR. There was a gray brick a little ways in front of the gravestone, and she was afraid to ask what it was for. She stood next to her parents. She wanted to stand on the little gray brick, but she didn’t know if she was allowed. The birds were chirping, but the trees seemed angry. The grass around Ben’s grave did not even have one flower.

“Oh, Benjamin,” said her mother. For a second, no one spoke, and May was afraid the grave would answer. Her dad put his hand on her shoulder, and she jumped. He squatted down. “Bug,” he said, “this is where your brother was buried. A long time before you were born.”

Her mother nodded. “If you want,” she said, “you can say something to him. You can say something to your brother.”

But May had known Ben only at the worst time in her life. Even after her parents told her the truth, she kept thinking of Ben as the wolfman had described him. She thought he was older than her and that he also had to do whatever the wolfman told him. She thought he knew about the punishments and that when she escaped, she put him in great danger. This little dead baby was an eraser, the grave was pulling the edges off all the rules she had been following. This scared her. She thought Ben had been in the other room, and now she knew she’d been alone the whole time.

On each side of her, her parents were slipping away into other places. Her father took his hand off her shoulder. She felt the focus of their attention skitter away like a searchlight. She walked away.

Anatole was near the edge of the graveyard, and when she got to him, he put down his rake. He looked over to where her parents stood side by side at the grave. Then he looked at May. “These are hard times,” he said. After a second, he said, “Bismarck sure is growing. You’ll have to come see him.” When she nodded, Anatole said, “He sure is happy.”

May tried to nod again, but her parents were still at the grave, and the idea of Ben the dead baby was pressing her, making it hard to keep her mind right. Anatole held out his hand. She took his hand, which was hard and calloused. His pants were grass-stained at the knees. She wasn’t sure if she was alright. She closed her eyes and saw herself, shivering, on the black metal platform outside the wolf’s window. She had tape over her mouth. She was looking at the steps which led up the building and down the building. The ladder at the bottom did not lead all the way down to the street. It was cold and the wolf was pulling her back in though the window. “It’s a fire escape,” he said, his voice calm and playful. “You’ve never seen one because you live in a big house with your pretty mother. But you’re sneaky. I saw you looking down. I think you need a punishment.”

Later, he had covered the window with duct tape, leaving just a slit to watch her through. He showed her the slit, and when she looked through it, she wasn’t sure what she was seeing. She had not eaten in a while and her mind felt slow. When he put her out on the fire escape, sliding the window shut behind her, she saw that there was duct tape all along the banisters on three sides, layered over and over, making duct tape walls, like a metal box. She stood very still. She couldn’t tell if he was watching. She took a step and touched the tape with her fingers, just to see what it felt like, and then the window was sliding open and he was pulling her back in. “So naughty,” he said, his wolf eyes bright and happy. “How are we ever going to tame a wild thing like you? I guess we’ll need more punishment.”

He put her out during a rainstorm, and she was afraid of the lightning. She was afraid of the thunder. The rain was cold, and it drove into her shoulders. The cold pushed out her hunger. She was so cold her teeth chattered, and then the chattering turned into pain, her jaw snapping shut over and over. It wasn’t long before he pulled her back in. “I saw you looking up,” he said. She shook her head. “You’re still trying to get away,” he said. “I’m going to have to give you a punishment.”

When he pushed her out again, there was a cardboard ceiling covering the top of the metal duct tape box. She was naked, and it was dark. The biting cold came up through her bare feet, then drilled down through her spine. There had been a lot of punishment. She had no idea if he was watching. She had no idea what he wanted.

After a long time in the dark, she was so afraid that she wet herself, and her pee was the only warm thing in the world. After the pee dried, she began to feel very tired. Sometimes she fell asleep, or maybe she was just standing up with her eyes closed. The darkness would not end. Later, he was pulling her in gently. The apartment was filled with gray light. “Look at you,” he said, “so sweet and quiet.” She couldn’t keep her eyes open. He ran his hands up and down the back of her body. “You’re so chilly,” he said. “And naked. I’m going to give you a warm bath.” She was trying to stay awake. “Let’s warm up this little body,” he said. “I want you nice and pink.” He pushed her toward the hall, and as soon as she took a step, he said from behind her, “Where are you going?” She stopped, and then he laughed. “It’s okay. Keep going. I am going to give you a nice, warm bath. I’ll dry off every part of you with my big, soft towel. And then we’ll have punishment.”


Anatole kept her from falling by lifting her up. They were in the grass with the graves. Ben was a dead baby, and his body was in the ground. She’d been alone with the wolf, totally separate. No one was in the next room. Anatole held her in one arm and walked through the graveyard, jaw clicking, using his other arm to beckon her parents. They came right away. Her dad reached out, but she held on to Anatole. The dead baby was making her tired, and her time with the wolf when no one had come and no one had been in the other room was coming in great sweeps. She felt sick in her stomach.

She closed her eyes. She was a satellite. Her mother said, “May,” and all of May’s silence and a bit of her fear rose up. She leaned over and threw up on the grass. Anatole turned her around as more and more sickness came out. She shuddered and leaned back, but the sickness returned, its violence taking over her body. Cheerios and clear fluid fell into the grass.

She started crying and her mom said, “Don’t, baby, just breathe.”

Her dad said, “It’s okay. ” She leaned forward and threw up again, her body tight as a hurricane.

When she finished, she was crying loudly. She couldn’t stop crying because when she did, the sick feeling swept back into her stomach. She tried to throw up, but nothing came out. “I’m sorry,” she said, and her mother said, “It’s okay.” But she was talking to the wolfman, who seemed always convinced that she was naughty and who took every apology as a sign that she needed more punishment. She looked at her parents from very far away.

“May!” said her father. He was shaking her. “You can’t fall asleep while you’re sick, Bug. You’ll choke.”

“I’m all alone,” she said, and her mother started to cry.

Anatole went for a glass of water. May watched him walk away. She was leaning against her father, her throw-up in the grass like an embarrassing secret. She was crying, and her mother’s cool hand was on her neck. “Sweetheart,” she said.

The sickness came back into May’s stomach. She tried to throw up, but there was nothing left and the convulsion made her wet herself.

“I peed,” she said, and her mother said, “That’s okay.”

Anatole brought a glass jar full of water.

“Just swish and spit, Bug,” said her dad. She was terribly thirsty. She gulped some water. “Slow down,” said her dad. She took a few quick sips. She wanted to speak but was losing the things she was trying to say just as she was trying to say them. Then the water came back up onto the grass.

Her mother helped her lean over. “May,” she said, “you’ve got to breathe.”

She closed her eyes and took a breath, and the grown-ups all said, “Good,” at the same time. When she opened her eyes, she was still in the graveyard with her mom and dad and Anatole. There was fresh dirt over Mrs. William’s grave, and in the back, where the grass was grown, her brother, who had been born first but was now gone, was still dead.

She was crying so she wouldn’t feel sick, but she felt terribly embarrassed. Her eyes stung and swam, and when she stopped crying, the sickness came over her. “It won’t stop,” she said.

Her dad said, “Bug, I know this is awful. But it won’t last forever.” May looked at him, and he wiped his eyes and she looked at her mom in a panic, to see if her mom knew her dad was crying.

“I’m choking,” she said.

Her mother said, “You’re not. You’re okay.”

“I had to come back all by myself,” she said. Then she threw up nothing, just retching and gulping air.

Her dad took her hands, then her arms. “Stop,” he said. “You can stop. You’re okay.” She tried to fall down, but he wouldn’t let her. She tried to twist away, but he was holding too tightly. She looked at him. She did not want him to live alone in a blue house. She pushed, and he let her fall against his chest. She looked at Anatole, who stood still and calm, the jar of water trembling in his hands.

She said, “I thought I was getting a puppy.”

“You did?” said her dad, and his genuine surprise took the hope away from every corner of her heart. She started crying again, and her crying made no noise. “Baby,” said her mother, “keep using words.”

“No one’s cheering me up,” she said. Her voice sounded tight and pinched, like her mom’s. She didn’t know if she was yelling. “I wish I could have a prize,” she said. She grabbed her mom’s hand and looked at her name on her mother’s fingernails, which had cheered her up. A prize cheered you up. She pointed toward Ben’s grave. “This is not a good prize,” she said.

Her parents shared a look. No one said anything. She grabbed her dad’s shirt. “Julia said there were two puppies to give away. I just want one prize,” she said. “One big prize for being really brave.”

Her mother said, “Sweetie. Listen to me. A puppy isn’t going to make all this better. We can’t change what happened, or the way things are, no matter how much we want to.” May turned to her dad, who said, “Bug. I really agree with your mom on that one.”

May looked at the grass. Not at the sick part, but at the part behind Anatole’s boot. If she got a puppy, she would not name him Ben, because Ben was a real dead baby, and anyway, Ben hadn’t really been with her during the worst time in her life. She closed her eyes and the awfulness was still there, just like her mom said. The first part of her life was a story that she had fallen out of. Everyone had stopped reading, and the book had been lost.

She said, “Puppies are fat.” She lifted up her shirt and sucked, the rack of her ribs rising high above her caved-in stomach. “Right where I’m skinny,” she said when she breathed out, “puppies are fat.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” said her dad.

She felt herself starting to cry again. That was her whole argument. Her dad put his hand on her shoulder, and she pushed it off. “I was just telling you what puppies look like,” she said.

Her father nodded. She looked at him. She’d seen his face a thousand times. She coughed, and Anatole held out the jar of water. The water tasted like nothing, but when she swallowed, the sickness did not come back.

There was a black ant crawling on the grass behind her father. When she looked closer, she saw another, and then more. There was a whole line of ants, each on different places on different blades of grass. “Do you see that?” she said. The ants looked like they were nodding. “What are they doing?” she said. She looked at her father. She felt sure that at some point, he would take her side against her mother. She knew that soon he would say something about ants. A piece of grass bent over just as one of the ants reached the top, and the ant fell, vanishing into the space below the grass. She squatted down to find it.  end