Sample Stories

These stories appear in the Spirits of Suburbia Anthology. 

Seedlings

 Zinnia walked out of the salon on Sunday feeling like a million bucks. It took a half hour on Monday and a single sentence out of Jordan’s mouth to send her back to being a bent penny forgotten on the railroad tracks.

Zinnia replayed it over and over in her mind, all during math. He swung by her like a train on the way to somewhere, looked her up and down and said, “Hey Zinnia, what’s with your arms? Maybe you should get that checked out.”

Apparently, she could make her hair as bright as a road flare (ombre dye job with sunset orange on top and fire-engine red working out to the ends) and still all people would notice was the eczema. Or the psoriasis. Or whatever the doctor-of-the-week claimed the little pink flakes flying off her skin for the last three months were a symptom of. As she wallowed in misery, she picked at some of the flakes without even thinking of it.

She realized too late that several large flakes had dislodged from her arm and floated ever so slowly toward the floor. Mandy Cho looked down at the flakes, then up at Zinnia, disgust and shock playing across her features. Why, oh why did they have to sit at these big group desks?

Mandy shifted her chair over loudly enough to make a couple of neighbours look too.

Eww, she mouthed silently, shaking her head as if Zinnia should have known better. Hadn’t any of these people ever had chicken pox and had to wear those stupid mitts? Most of the time, she could control where her hands went, but when she got concentrating on something, it was like a reflex. They just started scratching of their own accord. And math… well, she wasn’t the worst in it, but she did need to keep her mind on the equations and not the itch.

During break, she rushed to the bathroom and pulled out a medicine vial full of Useless Cream #6 (TM). She slathered it on her arms and neck in front of the mirror, gritting her teeth as she did. No matter how much she washed, the flakes kept coming, washing around in the cream, making it feel gross and gritty on her skin and drying up in long pink tidal marks when the cream absorbed in. She knew she looked a mess, but it was June, for Christ’s sake. She couldn’t just wear a sweater at this time of year.

After ten minutes, her skin felt just as dry and itchy as the last time. With one sad look back at herself in the mirror, she left the bathroom a stripy pathetic mess. She liked herself, generally… she had pretty, green, almond-shaped eyes and a delicate, pointy-chinned face with high cheekbones, that made her Mom speculate often that her birth mother must have been Russian or Ukrainian. Whatever she was, she had given Zinnia a dancer’s figure. But as she walked down the hall, drowning in her Dad’s t-shirt and jeans (she’d ruined all her own) people just stared at her arms and neck and hands, some avoiding eye contact, many giggling behind their hands or whispering.

Just one more week to summer, and then she could quietly flake away in peace.

Zinnia closed her eyes, and the shadows of the leaves above her felt like they were caressing her face and eyelids with an interplay of light and dark. Just light, and wind, and the Home Tree for three whole months.

At three, when the Monctons had first adopted her, the thing she remembered most clearly was the giant, gnarled maple outlined against the sky. Back then, the land behind their house was a stretch of fallow fields, and the tree grew there as if just for her, glorious, dark arms stretched out in welcome and flipping leaves waving hello. Over time, she had felt like she, too had put down roots in the black, moist soil, and any talk of moving away from this symbol of home, the Home Tree, would have broken her heart.

Today she lay, eyes closed, with her back slumped against the base of the trunk. She felt the bark, caressing the cracks and crevices, and her hand came away damp and covered in the fine, sooty dust that maples cover everything within fifty feet of them with between June and October.

“You’re flaky too, but nobody seems to mind,” she said absently, “Symbol of our country is a flake like me.”

Mom called out the back door.

“Zinny, we’re going now.”

Zinnia rolled her eyes. They had said they were going at breakfast. They were just still hoping she’d opt for humiliation at the beach over a quiet solo picnic at home. She could just see it now… Everybody off of the beach! Pollution levels are way too high… Oh wait, that’s just Zinnia leaving a trail of skin behind her. Somebody get the pool skimmer!

“Have fun, you guys,” she called, “I’ll leave my cell on.”

The screen door slammed and then, just the cicadas, and far away, the sound of a truck backing up at the new warehouse beyond their property line. The air developed that sleepy, cuddling closeness that characterizes all the best summer days, and soon, Zinnia felt like a nap might be in order before lunch.

In the darkness before she opened her eyelids, Zinnia felt nothing but the crawling itch on her skin and the grass at her back… until she realized that her skin was moving, no insects were moving, all over her, everywhere.

She spat and shook and slapped at herself as she sat up, sending a multitude of ants flying into the grass in all directions. Big ones, little ones, red ones, black ones, the kind with wings… six anthills must have emptied just to walk on her. She stood up, still slapping at herself and crying out in disgust.

“What the hell? This is what I get for using Mom’s cheap sunscreen!”

When they were all off, and she had looked through every fold of her clothing for stowaways, she leaned against the Home Tree.

“How do you do it?” she said to it, heaving a great sigh. Then, with her arm up to her face, she noticed: no flakes. The itch was gone too! Her mind felt blissfully clear, free of the nagging drone of constant discomfort.

A wind blew up, and through a drift of falling maple keys, she saw the ants carrying her skin, in flakes large and small, all in a line heading next door, over the wooden fence. What in the world…

She ran to the fence, jumping over the ants as she went, and then peered over the top. The line stretched out over the Divinskis’ lawn, then through the chain links to the Gardeners’ until they stretched out of sight over another wooden fence like her own. There were so many of them that they looked like a moving lichen spot…

She got down from the fence and ran to the short chain link divider that ran along the back of the warehouse lot. She hopped the fence,barely even pausing when the fence caught on Dad’s huge shirt and scratched her side. She ran down the rows of houses, following the ants further down the street than she had ever gone on her bike, toward the stand of forest that belonged to the provincial park.

At the end of the line of ants stood a girl, thin like Zinnia, with the same grace of features, and about the same age, but with skin as dark as unsweetened coffee. Her hair, close-cropped, wrapped her head in an inch of jet black curls. The ants twined around her arms and legs, swirling like the center of a storm.

She smiled, and Zinnia, despite being more than a little frightened, had to smile too. She looked so beautiful, so remarkable standing there, in the sunlight, in a plain orange tank top and jean shorts, and Zinnia knew that it had nothing to do with the ants.

“I was hoping you’d come,” the girl said, “I wanted to meet you.”

Zinnia stood there for a moment, not knowing what to do. Her heart pounded, and this all had a profound feeling of wrongness, like when you wake up from a dream that’s just one twist of reality away from your life. And yet, that feeling in her gut, the one that told her when to stay and when to go, when to sleep, and eat, and what her favourite things were… that part felt right, in a way that it seldom ever had. In fact, the last time she had felt this… right… was in the fleeting, blurry memories that she had of her birth mother, looking up at her face into blue sky and tree branches, not caring that her hair was gone, or her cheeks were hollow, but rather that she was there, and the day was there, and the tree was there, shading them both.

The girl gestured to a gate in the back fence. Zinnia had been leaning on it without noticing.

“It’s unlocked. Come in,” she said.

Zinnia slowly unlatched the gate, then crept toward the girl. She got about three feet away, then stopped, not daring to disturb the ring of ants twisting around the other girl’s feet.

The other girl held out her arm, palm facing up. An ant carried a large skin flake onto her hand, then dropped it onto the center of her palm. The flake melted and sizzled like butter into the girl’s skin, becoming a bump like a burn scar, which sunk into her skin and disappeared.

Zinnia’s eyes went wide. She took a step back, then another.

“What…?”

A cloud drifted over the sunshine of the girl’s smile.

“You’re pollinating. I thought you knew.”

“That’s…”

“Pollen, yes. Not skin.” she said, with a hint of sadness in her voice. She looked long and pityingly on Zinnia with her long-lashed brown eyes. “You’re Zinnia, aren’t you? They cut down your mother’s home tree, so there was no one to teach you…”

“Wait wait wait… there are other Home Trees? That’s not just something in my head?” Everything had just turned upside down, and it made Zinnia more than a little dizzy.

“I’m Poppy,” said the girl, “That’s my birch in the corner of the yard. My mothers have neighbouring oak trees down in the glen. Your mother… she was a dryad, and so are you.”

“My mother died of cancer,” Zinnia said, but as she did, her mind flashed back to the photo album under her bed, to the yellowed article that Mama Moncton had given her when she’d been old enough to keep it safe. The picture, faded with age but still very clear, showed the last know photo of her mother, chained to a giant cottonwood tree on the site of the old mall. She had been an activist, they said, who had fought tooth and nail to save that tree. The revelation cascaded down around her like a drift of fall leaves: she had been actually been fighting for her own life.

“Cancer is often what they call it,” said Poppy, “But it’s more akin to limb rot than anything. Dryads don’t last more than a year past the death of their Home Tree. They just… decay.”

“And my father? Was he a dryad too? I never knew him.”

Poppy giggled a little, but Zinnia could tell that she was trying not to for the sake of the situation.

“We’re all the same gender. Our ancestors chose to appear female, because that is easiest. The only difference between us is that, in the right season of life, one of us becomes the pollinator, the other the pollinated. All dryads are capable of both things, in the right season.”

Zinnia felt a thrill of fear run through her that she suspected only teenage boys usually knew. A knot formed in the pit of her stomach, and pulled on her ribcage.

“You’re pregnant?”

What would they do? People heaped enough shame on teen moms as it was, but they would never believe that Poppy had been impregnated by a girl on top of it all, even if the explanation made any sense at all to humans… wait a minute, she was a human. Why was she thinking like this? And yet, Poppy’s words tugged at her.

“I will be pregnant,” Poppy replied, “But that is part of a different season. It will not happen the way you expect, but for now, you need to know that we are family.”

The ants dispersed, gone back to the obscurity of the grass. Poppy came close to Zinnia, and with a thrill of energy arcing between them, she kissed her on the cheek.

“Come inside and meet my mothers,” she said, “We have been waiting for you.”

Poppy took Zinnia’s hand, and, to her great surprise, she followed toward the house, where the smell of lunch drifted out of the open door and she could hear the sounds of music and laughter.

The Home Tree

 The following excerpt was found on Maureen Tullio’s hard drive in the weeks following her death. It appears to be a redacted piece of her 2032 autobiography, An Emotional Mosaic. We included it in this anthology to provide a more accurate picture of the inner life of the author and her private struggles with what appear to be intermittent hallucinations.

 -The Editors

 And certainly, in order for me to view my subjects with the depth and dignity that all human beings (and many animals) possess, I had to learn many lessons, each that brought me closer to our shared humanity. Ironically enough, the first and foremost powerful lesson in compassion that I learned was not, strictly speaking, taught to me by someone whom I believe to be totally human.

It was the early twenty-tens, and I had just clawed my way up through internship hell (for more on that see Chapter 3) into a more-or-less steady job writing for the Drakeford Gazette.

For those of you who don’t know Drakeford, it’s a mid-sized town which is conveniently sandwiched in the corridor between Hamilton and Toronto, close enough to attract Torontonians looking for a more laid-back lifestyle, and just far enough away to be off the beaten trail. Like many such towns, it never really grows or shrinks much, but perpetually harbors ambitions of becoming a Mississauga or a Burlington, someplace with three shopping malls and a movie theatre with in-show meals delivered to your seat.

When I arrived in Drakeford, the election had just passed, and the new mayor was a determined sort with an eye to provincial level politics, and so, naturally, next came the resurrection of the big Drakeford Supermall project. The original project had been scrapped some five years earlier due to the developers’ realization that Southern Ontario needed another giant mall like Disneyland needed more Mickey, and some rather fervent environmental protests on behalf of an ancient, endangered cottonwood tree growing in the middle of the site. Times being what they were, nobody really considered the protesters a factor in the mall’s demise. The corporation, far from being scared off by their sit-ins and pamphlets, just kind of got bored and wandered away, to the benefit of all concerned.

This was the backdrop under which my friend and colleague, Robert Ling, wandered into my cubicle one slow summer news day as I was finishing an article about a local pet store’s disappearing goldfish problem. (Footnote: In retrospect, the store in question kept an awful lot of free-range rescue cats.)

“Maureen!” he said to me, arms outstretched, “I’ve just assigned you your first big story. How would you like to write a feature on the big Supermall controversy?”

My heart thrilled. I smiled my biggest smile, with all the innocence a green twenty-two year old can muster.

“ I get to talk to the mayor? I get to outline the whole debate? Bob, this is fantastic! I could change the course of the whole town!”

Bob looked uncomfortable. Nothing good ever came of him scratching his right arm like that.

“Not exactly, he said, “Jeremy’s going to handle the big debate piece on the Monday. It’s going to be a series, where we break it down issue by issue. You’ve got Laurel Bolton.”

“Laurel Bolton?” I said at the time, “They played her out on the last attempt at the Supermall. Weeks and weeks of coverage of her sitting there, chained to a tree.”

They had, too. The coverage had been hackneyed when they started, and by the end everyone in town agreed the horse was dead, and the bones had been whipped to dust. The woman gave one good interview, and then all she did was repeat herself. And now I was going to be repeating myself, all over a feature everyone would groan at. I had been begging for a feature, a real human interest story (or hell, even one of those sensationalist ones about how fat people fail at life or feminism is outdated would have had the desired effect at the time). But this…

“This is impossible for me to do well, Bob. It’s played out. Laurel Bolton is irrelevant.”

Bob sighed, and gave me a look, mouth turned down, forehead wrinkled, that I would in later years come to associate with him being forced to abandon foreign correspondents in the field.

“Well, Maureen, if you can’t make this one work, you won’t get another. I suggest you use your imagination. I know you have one. I’ve peeked in your notebooks at lunch. Very racy stuff, by the way. Do this well, and next could be up with Jeremy. Think of that when you want to complain.”

Jeremy was a bit of a prig, and I hold that no one would actually want to share office space with him if given the choice. But I did want his job, and so that night, after the missing goldfish had been thoroughly memorialized, I stayed at work, scanning through the archives from the last Supermall series. I found thirty articles, all on Laurel Bolton and her group, covering everything from their home lives to their personal philosophies… even an article sharing their favourite vegan recipes. Every angle I could think of had been taken.

At least, every decent, honourable angle had been taken. The only lack I could find after endless searching was a lack of dirt. You would think environmentalists would have plenty of that.

So, with the construction date, and my deadline, looming, I determined to stick to the protesters like glue, and exploit any small hypocrisy or weakness. Nobody really cares what they say or do anyway, I thought. Barring a major explosion or a spontaneous oil spill at the developers’ headquarters, the mall would go up, and no amount of coverage either way would make a difference. It all came down to he said, she said, they said, etc and the general public was so bored of the facts by now that they’d do anything to avoid more discussion of the matter. The only person this series might benefit is me, I thought, so why not play whatever angle I can?

Still, as I entered the chilly spring night, heading home, I shivered harder than usual, racked with guilt and nervous anticipation. But then, I remembered all the freezing nights I’d spent during internships, low on food, low on blankets, low on everything but dreams. And I’d been one of the lucky ten percent of my class that had even scored an internship. My heart hardened. No, I wasn’t ever letting myself go back there, to that place of crying on grocery days and explaining to relatives that I wasn’t unemployed but I also didn’t make money and getting that look that said ‘I could have done better in your shoes.’ They’d called me off the bench in a game with skewed rules, but I was going to play, and if I had to play dirty, so be it.

Early the next day, so tired that I tripped over my own feet on the way from the bus, I reached the as-yet-empty lot where the protesters gathered around the old cottonwood tree. I had donned my most approachable, granola-coated professional gear: a multi-layered dark green maxi skirt, a folksy pinstriped dress top, and a wood-inlay bead necklace. I wore my old college backpack, rather than the shiny high-end purse I used on work days.

As I traipsed across the field, careful to avoid the copious brambles, I grew a large, hopefully disarming grin. The cottonwood stood there, waiting for me, a dark guardian with twisted limbs, a tall, proud trunk, and layers of cracked and broken bark that twisted up and around its sides. Even in the harsh light of morning turning into afternoon, its whole being emitted shade, cool, and still of night. A small ring of men and women that one might find on college campuses everywhere holding up signs about the evils of shampoo knelt on cushions around one remarkable woman.

Although she looked thinner than the chains binding her to the tree, and her skin was so moon-pale that I longed to drag her out from the shade into the sun, Laurel Bolton drew her strength from the earth. Nestled in between the cottonwood’s roots, she, too took on the aspect of something rooted to the land she grew up on. When she looked at me, her striking blue eyes betrayed no uncertainty. She caught me unawares even at that early moment, and standing there, the two of us assessing one another, I learned simultaneously the sheer power and utter hopelessness of using a dead photo to capture the essence of another living being. What had looked drab and homely on paper, now looked rooted and radiant.

I fumbled for my notes. This woman could well prove fascinating, if only I could ask the right questions, but all I could think of, and all that I had on my notepad, were variations on the questions that others had asked before me. And honestly… how did one interview for the sublime?

So, I sat down with her, and asked her my questions, praying for some stroke of fate to bring me the answer that would reveal her to my readers.

“Why have you decided to come and protest the mall again, with rumours circulating that your health is in decline?”

“This is my home. I have to defend it the best I know how.”

“What made you decide to fight for this particular cause?”

“The Trees are my family. We all share the earth, and I am part of the balance of life here.”

“Why don’t you take more dramatic steps to get out into the world and make yourself known?”

“I have a daughter. I would never do anything to put her in danger.”

Scanned articles scrolled through my head. A thousand interviews, at a thousand different times, and I could have plugged those answers into any one of them. I excused myself for lunch, secretly seething.

Back on the heat of the tarmac, someone emerged from a black car that I hadn’t registered on the way in. He was skinny, around my age, and sporting a scraggly mustache and sort-of beard. He also wore the uniform of a local security company. The mall had hired him to keep an eye on the protesters, he said, and to make sure everything stayed calm. I asked him if he’d seen anything strange in the past week or so, since things started up again.

For a moment, he scowled at me, and I wondered if his intentions were entirely honourable.

“There’s been something happening at night, and my boss said to save it for the news. You look like the news,” he said to me, motioning me toward the E-Z Mart across the street.

For a moment I hesitated when he wanted to take me into the back room of the little bodega, whose floors had a patina of scuff marks thirty years old and whose air smelled like rotten lettuce and old cold cuts. When I saw the security television in the corner, I eased up a bit.

“We paid the owner to use one of his security cameras. We’ve had it locked on Bolton 24/7,” he said. He thrust a DVD into the system, and selected the footage from a couple of nights previous.

“Get a load of this,” he said, with a smirk that told me that showing girls grainy security footage was the closest he ever got to getting laid. He pointed at the time code. On screen, Laurel Bolton lay under the tree, arms folded, sleeping.

“Five minute delay,” he said, “Now you see her…”

The footage refreshed, and the chains were there, but, no Laurel.

“Poof,” he said, “Make of it what you will. My bosses just wanted you to know all the facts.”

I thanked him for his time and left the bodega, a sandwich in one hand and my voice recorder in the other. I had a sleeping bag stored in the garage at my parents’ place, and I was going to need it.

As the sun set over the fields, and the crickets began their choral work, I reflected to myself that my day had been punctuated by trudging through itchy grass and weeds. I had changed out of my hippie gear earlier in the day, in favour of black skinny jeans and a comfy pullover, but still the grass somehow managed to itch and poke at me through the denim. Early on, I tripped over a stick lodged in a dried-up mud pit. I looked back, hoping that Bob had already left, but of course, he was still there, watching. He gave me a thumbs-up. I think my face lit up hot enough to burn off my eyebrows. At least I hadn’t dropped the camera.

When I reached my destination, a section of ruined barn wall jutting up out of the ground that would both provide cover and a good angle for viewing Bolton in secret, I heard Bob get back into his car, shut the door and drive away. Minutes after spreading my sleeping bag and settling in, I was mightily glad I had brought insect repellent. The area around the ancient wooden pillars felt damp and sticky, and mosquitoes whined in my ears, causing me to slap myself upside the head several times before learning to ignore it. I had gone to this much trouble to avoid notice; there was no sense blowing my cover with a ton of movement, bugs or no bugs.

With Bob’s help, I had chosen a spot that allowed me to see Laurel clearly, from the side, but that also allowed me to sneak in from the back of the field without being seen. As the last pink of the sunset drained from the sky, I hunkered down, camera at the ready, peeking through a gap in the old boards and breathing in their cold, musty aroma. Laurel, her brothers and sisters in arms gone for the night, dozed beneath a homely old patchwork blanket, still and serene. The moon, and the distant streetlamps illuminated her with a mild, yellow-white rim light.

As I waited there, growing stiff with the passing minutes and hours, growing itchy with the caresses of stiff grass and bug bites, still the light of the moon, and the sound of the crickets, and the whole quiet power of the place, and the dark, and the stars, slowly filled me with a sense of anticipation and wonder, like a cup slowly filling under a trickling spring. The cottonwood tree stretched to enormous proportions, brushing the sky, finally fully in its element. I found myself looking up, in spite of myself, wondering at the dome of the heavens. I had slept under the sky dome once, on a school trip, and I remember looking up and feeling dwarfed by how vast the roof of the stadium really was, with its tiny seats stretching down toward us. How much more vast was this construction of the sky, forged by an architect that none of us could fathom, but to whom we all owed the very core of our being?

After one such foray into the sky, I came back to Laurel, and found her changed. She had twisted around to caress the tree, her pale, pointed little face facing up into the branches with a look of love and devotion consuming her features. She lay her head on the tree’s trunk, paper skin to rough, cracked bark, and at that moment, I felt the affinity between them, the delicate little woman of the day and the tall, strong tree of the night. Seeing them then, I could not deny that they were two aspects of the same creature.

As she touched the trunk, Laurel’s hand melted into the bark, becoming a strange, twisted set of branches, like a shrub that has grown into a section of frost fence. I closed my eyes hard and re-opened them, even going so far as to prick myself on the end of a nearby stick, but no matter what I did, when I looked back at Laurel, she still melted slowly into the bark of the tree, like a chunk of ice melting into a puddle. Half of her body entered the tree, and then, her face, which had up until this point been pressed against the trunk, melted and changed as well, her skull flattening into bark, her eyes disappearing into knot hollows… but before they melted away entirely, I could see, no, feel that the last thing her eyes focused on was me.

Soon she was gone, and all that remained was the tree, dark and silent, silhouetted against the night. I felt a peace ripple over the field, permeating the very ground. For a moment, I felt rooted to the spot, invisible tubers flowing out of my fingertips and toes where they met the ground.

The tree swayed in an unfelt breeze, no, turned to me, and despite its lack of eyes, I could feel the gaze of something ancient, something that smelled like ages of decaying leaves and sweet running sap, opening itself to me, allowing me to see into its core. My heart filled with the cool of a thousand summer days under the canopy, the songs of generations of birds, and I understood beauty, then, better than I could ever hope to convey in words or ever again to myself in my quiet moments alone. I went to the tree, wending my way through the field as a vole or a garter snake might, and sat under its shelter, and there, I slept.

When I woke up, the crickets still sang, but a dim morning mist had crawled across us, chilling my hands and feet numb. I had brought my camera, thank goodness, but the rest of my things remained over at the segment of barn wall, probably soaked through with dew.

“You wanted to see what lay beneath my skin,” said a willowy voice at my right hand. Laurel Bolton’s cool, silk-smooth hand folded over mine. She lay in the same position she had been in before her transformation, head back against the trunk as though she were too tired to hold it up fully.

“Why did you trust me?” I asked.

“Because I think you have the potential to tell the truth. It is too late for the truth to heal me, but you can help others. And you will.”

I wanted to say that I didn’t have the luxury of telling the truth. I wanted to explain the game, and the skewed rules everyone played by, and my own feeling that my truth wasn’t worth anything. After all, where had truth gotten this woman, this dryad, whatever she was? She was going to die, despite her still, small voice of truth, because she simply could not tell enough.

After sitting in silence a moment, she spoke again.

“Perhaps you would like to ask me your questions again. Things always fit together better after a good sleep.”

I turned on my camera, knelt beside her, and began again.

“Why have you decided to come and protest the mall again, with rumours circulating that your health is in decline?”

“This is my home. I have to defend it the best I know how.”

“What made you decide to fight for this particular cause?”

“The Trees are my family. We all share the earth, and I am part of the balance of life here.”

“Why don’t you take more dramatic steps to get out into the world and make yourself known?”

“I have a daughter. I would never do anything to put her in danger.”

This time, when I finished, I had to wipe away the streams of tears coursing down my face.

 I know my editors may reject this part of my life story, and I do know why. However, as I grow older, I’ve found myself growing sad in my quiet moments, that the greatest truth of my life is one which I can never truly share with anybody. But nevertheless, Laurel Bolton, and her beautiful tree, taught me that real stories do not run in a straight line, beginning, middle, end. They are a spiral, like the rings inside of an old tree, layer upon layer of meaning seeping across borders, alternate paths lurking just beyond the edges of the story that is told. Writers, truth tellers of all sorts, walk the maze, follow the spiral, and the best ones manage to get close to the center, after years of crawling through on their knees.

For one, shining moment, I saw the center of Laurel Bolton’s being, and I will remember that glimpse until the end of my days.

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