“Billie,” new excerpt from the novel “Pushing the River”

Madeline rolled Marie’s words over in her mind,  “She’s not safe.”  She flashed back to two years ago, the last time she had seen Sierra.  That summer.

“Not safe.”  Madeline heard about the events of that night after it was all over.  She awakened to then-13-year-old Sierra curled up in a ball, deep in slumber on the couch in the very room where Marie told the story of the previous night as if it were a tale of very long ago, and quite far away.  Grotesque scenes involving the screaming of sirens, spewed vitriol, handcuffs, jail, emergency protective orders, and a young girl – with a freshly stitched and gauze-wrapped gash across her forearm – now in the legal custody of Marie, with the legal residence of Madeline’s home.  Marie blew across the top of her coffee as she spoke.  She unfurled a crumple of pages — various reports from police, the hospital emergency room, child services — and smoothed them with her hands.

“Not safe,” Marie now said, two years later, into the phone.

Madeline thought of a photo that Marie had pinned to the wall of the room that she and John lived in that summer of two years past.  An old photo of her mother Billie Rae when she was young — a grown woman, but still young.  She was seated at a kitchen table, leaning forward in her chair to nestle herself, her slight-framed body, fully against the table.  One shoulder tilted towards the camera in a way that looked both flirtatiously coy and thoroughly exhausted.  The photo was not a close up, and the distance made Billie seem even tinier, all long dishwater blonde hair and huge blue eyes.  There was something else, too – a softness.  The girl in the picture possessed a definite softness.  This is what Madeline would try to remember.  That there had been a time when Billie was soft.  Vulnerable.  Young.  There was strength in that face.  And fatigue.  And pleading.  Whatever came next, and next after that, Madeline would try to remember the girl/woman in that picture.

Paintings, top to bottom, by:

Tiziano Vecellio Titian, Henri Lebasque, Julio Romero de Torres

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