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CHAPTER SEVEN Monday morning, November 27, 1899

Caleb’s eyes won’t move from last clump of oatmeal stuck in bowl. Feels Stella watching.
Father rushes into kitchen and yells, “Emma’s gone mad. She’s in my office with a club and her kid has a knife.”
Squeezes spoon handle real hard.
Oma grabs Nana’s fry pan and yells at Man-in-Black.
“You finish eating. I’ll be right back.” Stella’s voice lets eyes move from bowl.
“I’m done.” Slides off chair, keeps spoon. “Nana? Papa?” Didn’t say Caleb couldn’t follow. Does slow walk to office door left open. Sees Buddy on Papa’s chair going round and round. Papa looks angry at him.
Emma shows Nana thing to hit people.
Oma tells the policeman, “In my house, you keep that billy club in your belt.”
“It’s only a handle from the kitchen pump.” Emma lowers hitting thing. “I just stuck my head in to ask if you were available, and Buddy runs to Father’s desk and grabs his letter opener.” She looks at Papa. “I’m sorry, Father. I doubt the kid even knew what it was, but it looked nice and shiny. I rushed in to take it away.”
Holds spoon behind back where Nana can’t see.
Emma looks back at Nana. “Then, Father left in a huff.”
Tiptoes inside office.
Papa should tell Buddy to get off chair.
Steps closer to Buddy. Pushes Buddy’s feet to make chair go around fast. Giggles.
“Look, S-stella.”
She pulls Buddy down. “Both of you behave.”
Sticks spoon in Buddy’s mouth.
Emma says, “Father, you started to tell me something before you ran off.”
Papa sits and pulls chair close to desk. “I wanted you to know Ben York has replaced Felix on the council. You never liked hearing your husband’s name read aloud at meetings, but today you seemed really upset.”
Buddy’s tongue makes spoon handle hit his nose. Stella takes it away. Buddy sticks out tongue.
Papa’s eyes still on Emma’s club.
“Oh, this.” Emma taps the floor like a cane.
Man-in-Black with shiny shoes tells Caleb, “Important church people use a walking cane.”
“I’m going to get it welded, and I wanted to know if Stella and Caleb would like to walk along. The blacksmith has some interesting new gadgets that might fascinate the boys.”
Oma says, “Don’t play on those darkie kids’ jumping thing next door.”
Papa looks at things on his desk.
Stella tells Emma, “I’ll need to be back to prepare Father’s lunch.”
“Father’s lunch and Caleb’s lunch, S-stella.”
Emma says. “My second reason for stopping, Bud shot a buck yesterday, and we’re having a venison fry at the café.” She switches cane to other hand. “After I drop this off and let Albert show the kids his new machines, I have to get back. Bud is frying but me and Buddy will be serving.” She faces Father. “We’d like you, Stella, and Caleb to eat with us.”
Father stammers, “The three of us in public. I hardly think…”
“The rest of council will be there, so it could be considered an informal meeting.” She grins. “Won’t be following rules of order.”
Father moves an ink bottle from one side to the other. “What time will you be serving?”
“From noon on, but most of the council members will be busy until after five.”
“I could use the occasion to introduce Ben York as the newest member of the church council. Will he be attending?”
“Not if Cunningham is there. They’re even careful to stagger coffee breaks. Not much time for each other.”
Stella puts spoon in apron pocket. “Walt said at our last meeting that they would bury the hatchet.”
Father says, “Ben accepted the position. No need for the committee to vote.”
Buddy whispers in Caleb’s ear, “Behind the altar—” His mother jerks him away, but his lips say, “Wine.”
…Virgil’s altar?
Emma squeezes Buddy’s arm, and he glares at her. “It’s nothing formal, just a get together. People might think it’s a village council meeting, because most are members of both groups. Except you and Frank Lorenz.”
…Cigar and pointy beard.
She chuckles. “Lorenzo.”
“As a priest, I shouldn’t get involved in local politics, and Frank is too busy at the bank to participate in both groups. His being Spanish has nothing to do with it.” Father points at Stella. “She’s half Irish and the congregation loves her.”
Oma says, “Who would ever suspect that of an Irish priest?”
“Can Stella and Caleb walk with me and Buddy to Wentzel’s shop?”
“Don’t let the boys get in Albert’s way.”

Caleb sees Dowdy’s mare. Pulls hand away from Stella and runs closer. Man sits on stool behind Nellie holding her hoof on his lap.
Stella yells, “Caleb, stay back.”
Man smiles with nail between lips. Mouth talks sideways. “Don’t worry Stella. A horse standing on three legs can’t kick.” Sticks nail into horse’s foot and pounds with hammer.
…Wants eyes to close but they don’t obey Caleb.
“Be with you as soon as I fit Dowdy’s mare with a new shoe.” He pounds until nail peeks back out. He bends tip and pounds it into side of hoof.
Eyes make tears. Lifts foot and touches Caleb’s and Nana’s secret place.
“This might sting.” Woman in white coat sticks needle into Caleb’s foot.
Stella says, “Don’t take off your shoe out here. It’s cold.”
Teardrop sticks to Caleb’s cheek. Doesn’t wipe it with mitten because man sees him.
“Better stand back young fellow. She might stomp a few times in the slushy snow.” He sets horses leg on ground and stands. “Just like when you get new shoes, they don’t feel quite right for a while.”
Swipes snot with coat sleeve. Looks at smear and then at Stella. She didn’t scold.
The man faces Emma. “Now tell me, which one of these boys is the orphan?”
Buddy backs away and points. “Caleb. He’s from New York.”
Emma ruffles Buddy’s hair. “This one who resembles Bud Kroft is my son, Buddy. Boys, meet Mr. Wentzel. He’s a blacksmith.”
Darkies have a fun jumping thing, but Oma says, “Don’t play with them.”
“See that apple tree, boys?” Mr. Wentzel points. “Run over and dig a couple of windfalls out of the snow. They might be a little black and squishy, but the horse won’t mind. She deserves a little treat for standing so still.”
…Eyes can’t move from hoof with new shoe. Nail still hurts.
Buddy comes back with two apples. Mr. Wentzel tells him, “Hold one on your open hand in front of her nose.” Buddy doesn’t move.
Milk Man tells Nana, “Bring an apple next time, and Caleb can feed it to her. I’ll show him how so he won’t get bitten.”
Grabs apple from Buddy. Before Stella can say stop, holds it to horse’s mouth. She eats off Caleb’s hand, forgets about nail in her foot.
Buddy gives Caleb other apple. “Do it again.” Shows Buddy how to hold the apple. Buddy says, “You do it.”
…Dowdy’s horse likes Caleb.
Mr. Wentzel says, “Now, what have you two ladies brought me to fix?”
“The pump handle from our kitchen cistern.” Emma gives it to him. “The hole is wallowed out.”
He leads them to his shop and opens door. Smells like Oma’s stick matches. Makes tears. Blinks them away. Inside, dark dungeon from Oma’s book of fairy tales.
Oma tells Nana, “Reading those stories will give him nightmares.”
… Likes scary stories.
“Did you bring the pin, Emma, so I can fit it?”
“I didn’t want to yank the entire pump off the kitchen stand.” She sticks out her pointer. “It’s about this size.”
He grabs Emma’s hand, finger aiming at his work bench. He slides a letter “C” from Caleb’s name over finger. “Here or your knuckle? There’s quite a difference.”
“Halfway between. Can you do it today? That pump gets a lot of use.”
“Right now if you want to wait.” He pulls pipe from shirt pocket and slaps bowl against his palm. He blows away ashes and wipes hand on pants.
Oma tells Man-in-Black with shiny shoes, “I don’t care if you smoke a pipe, but do that outside.”
Mr. Wentzel points stem of pipe at ceiling. “My son designed this system before he set up his own shop. Before he got caught in the Hinkley fire.” A tear washes a path down his cheek.
“Did he die in the fire?” Doesn’t want Mr. Wentzel to cry.
The blacksmith nods and smears wet spot with his thumb. Their eyes meet. “Guess we both know what that feels like.” He faces Stella. “Is it okay if I pick him up?”
Caleb reaches. Didn’t wait for Stella to say okay.
Scooped up, Caleb’s butt sits on blacksmith’s arm. Mr. Wentzel points. That’s the electric motor. All those belts drive different size pulleys, each does a certain job. I’ll show you.” He carries Caleb to gray box on black wall. He looks back at Buddy. “Get ready. Caleb is going to make a lot of noise.” His hand covers a lever. “It takes two of us to get everything whirling.” He yells, “Hit it.”
Caleb slaps the back of the man’s hand. A loud crack and then a roar.
Man in Blue-and-White uniform hits baseball. Crowd roars. Man-in-Black with shiny shoes yells, “Jack knocked the skin off that one.”
The ceiling comes alive with things moving. Eyes travel from one spinning wheel to another.
At the cinema after the ballgame, black and white pictures move across a wall.
Mr. Wentzel sets Caleb down. “Now watch how I make this hole smaller.” He jams iron pin inside hole. He sticks that end of the handle into black chunky things. “Who wants to start the fan?”
Buddy says, ‘Let Caleb do it.”
Stella says, “Thank you, Buddy. That is very nice of you.”
“I done it many times.”
Emma tells Buddy, “Albert can see your nose getting longer.”
…Emma thinks Buddy is Pinocchio.
Albert says, “Push this lever, Caleb.”
Whirring noise. Chunks make smoke, turn orange. Sparks burst up. Everything glows red. Hot blast hits Caleb’s face.
Fire follows Nana and Caleb to the open window. Air is cold.
Mr. Wentzel sets Caleb down, and takes the handle out of fire. The hole is gone. He sets red hot end on a table and steps on foot thing. A hammer without handle pounds, lifts, and pounds many times. Hot end dunked into bucket of water sizzles like Nana’s tea kettle just before it whistles.
“Now to drill a new hole.” Albert picks twisty thing from workbench and slides it through the letter “C”. He laughs. “This is about the size of Emma’s finger.” He pushes twisty thing up into another thing and holds Emma’s pump handle under it. He pulls lever down and curly things fall on floor.
Mr. Wentzel lifts gray lever on black wall. Whirring, screeching, silence. He peeks through hole. “This looks about right,” and gives it to Emma. “Might be a little stiff until it wears itself loose.”
Caleb stoops to pick up curly thing.
“Careful, they’re still hot.” Mr. Wentzel pulls tin box from shirt pocket and snaps it open. He empties brown tobacco into pipe bowl. He packs it with thumb and lights it with stick match. Pipe makes puff of smoke.
Man-in-Black with shiny shoes lights pipe in Nana’s kitchen. Oma likes tobacco smell. Not cigar smell.
Mr. Wentzel taps the tin box upside-down, Few specks of tobacco fall out. “Might smell a bit like tobacco, but you can use it take home some of the metal windings.” He holds cover open and points to pile of curly things. “They’re cool by now, but be careful of the sharp edges.”
Looks for Stella to say okay.
She nods. “I can wash the can with the dishes tonight.” She walks away.
Tiny clicks as three curly things drop into tobacco can.
…Feet won’t follow Stella to the door. Face of Man-in-Black with shiny shoes won’t come out of dark place in memory. He sat next to Caleb at ball game and cinema. He smoked pipe, not cigar.
The blast of outside cold air takes away picture in his mind. Runs to catch up.

CHAPTER ONE (New chapter added first Sunday of each month)

CHAPTER ONE Sunday, November 19, 1899

Oma wears white.
Hand holds red and black box.
“Never play with matches, Caleb.”
“I won’t, Oma.”
“Promise, my son.”
“I promith.”
Oma slides matchbox open.
Finds wooden soldier with red hat.
Red hat scratches. Fizzles. Flares.
Mouth tastes smoke.
Burning soldier lights birthday candles.
Caleb counts one, two, three, four, five.
Wooden soldier shrivels black and dies.
“Not four-years-old no more.”
Nana, dark dress and bonnet, smiles.
“Yes, my beautiful grandson is five today.”
Helped Nana bake birthday cake.
Oma home late from hospital.
“Blow out the candles, Caleb.”
“No, Oma.”
“Be a big boy and puff.”
Eyelids squeeze shut.
“No Nana.”
“Blow out the candles, Caleb.” Oma scolds?
Eyes open wide. Deep breath. Blows hard.
One candle still burns.
“Again, Caleb.” Nana smiles.
“Please, No.”
“Just one more,” Oma begs?
Sobs and blows.
Flame flares and grows. Swallows Oma. Fire melts her smile. Lips move. “My big boy.” Nana’s dark dress turns orange. Red flames burst around Nana’s head, eat bonnet. Opens window. “My wonderful grand—”

Screams and screams and screams. Sits up in bed. Sobs.
Sister-in-White says, “You were having a bad dream.”
Stands and buries face in white. “Oma. Nana.”
Sister-in-White kisses hair. “You miss your mother and grandmother.”
Nods, rubs nose on white gown. Eyes find wet spot.
“It can be washed.”
“My birthday.”
“Yes, God took them on your fifth birthday.”
“My cake. The candles.”
“Oh, my goodness. You think your birthday candles caused the fire?”
“Yeth.”
“The gas cook-stove exploded. You were rescued from the window ledge.”
…Eyes find ball of fire on string.
“You are safe at the Children’s Hospital.”
Ball sways. Dark shadow goes back and forth.
…Eyes won’t go away from fireball.
“Try to sleep. Tomorrow will be your big day.”
…Eyes pinched shut. Fireball inside eyelids.
“Were you staring at that light bulb?”
“Light bulb?”
“An electric light bulb on a cord from the ceiling.”
“What?”
Sister-in-White shakes head.” Your tenement building had gas but not electricity?”
…Light bulb wants eyes back.
“Don’t stare at it.”
…Eyes won’t obey.
Sister-in-White moves, hides ball of light. She reaches inside a box alongside his bed. “Let’s see Caleb’s happy face.”
…Oma’s locket.
“You mother wore this on a chain around her neck.” Snaps it open. “Baby’s face is damaged from the fire.”
…Little Sister.
“But, the mirror isn’t broken.”
“Sees Caleb’s happy face. Lays back on bed.
Sister-in-White pulls up blanket. “Sleep tight. Tomorrow you will be on the Orphan Train to Minnesota.”
“M-min—?”
“Minnesota. The sisters wear brown and cover their heads like your grandma did. They are called Franciscans.”
“Was Nana Frithcan?”
“No, she probably thought older women should wear bonnets. Your mother might have been a nurse like me but not a sister.”
“Little Sister’s in heaven.”
“You had a little sister?”
“Oma says pray for her.”
“Now you have a family up there looking out for you.”
Mouth chews corner of blanket.
“Along with a change of clothes and this locket, we’re including the few facts we know about your family. I’ll add that you had a sister. What was her name?”
“Little Sister.”
She kisses forehead. “Sister Mary Ann will ride with you and the other children on the Orphan Train. Her habit is white like mine.”
Oma wears white hospital gown.

CHAPTER TWO

Wednesday, November 22, 1899

The train slows. Jerks head forward and back. Sister Mary-in-White stands and reaches for Caleb’s hand. “This is where you get off. St. Cloud, Minnesota.”
“You, too?”
“I’m afraid not. I’ve got a few more deliveries to make.”
“Who will help me?”
“Some very nice people. I’ll find your contact priest and introduce you. Come along.”
Sister-in-White steps out of train car onto platform.
…Wants to stay on train.
“Careful. Fresh snow makes the boards slippery.”
Sister glows white, snow sparkles.
…Remembers Nana’s fairy godmother stories.
Pulls stocking cap down to eyes. Takes her hand.
“Legs can become a bit wobbly after four days riding three different trains.”
…Could count to five.
Looks around. Points. More kids come out of train. Some climb onto engine. Many big people stand and watch.
…Should make kids come down.
“Those boys and girls are hoping for mommies and daddies to take them to a new home. They’re not as lucky as you are.”
…Not lucky. Want Nana.
“Caleb is a special little boy.”
…Not special.
Hides under Sister’s white veil.
“Many Catholic parents will want you to join their families. Maybe even give a chance to pick a family you like.”
…Wants back on train with other kids.
Sister Mary pulls Caleb from behind veil. “Help me locate the priest who’s here to meet you. He’s described as tall with dark hair but no beard. Of course, he’ll be wearing black clothes.”
Oma doesn’t like Man-in-Black.
Covers face with Sister’s white cloth draped in front.
“Please don’t wipe your nose on it.”
…Tongue finds snot. Snowflakes tickle.
Sister Mary points. “There’s the priest.”
…Man-in-Black! Tongue tastes Oma’s burning soldier.
“Good afternoon, Sister.” Man-in-Black lifts his hat. “This must be Cal.”
…Not Cal.
“He likes to be called Caleb.”
“Interesting name, for now. Has he been baptized?”
“No mention of it or very little else in his family’s history. Lived with mother and grandmother, according to survivors of the tenement fire. Mother might have been a nurse. Grandmother, probably a widow. No apparent father. I added a few comments about his train ride from New York.”
“How old are you, son? I mean, Caleb.”
Mitten off, hand up, fingers spread.
“Five?”
Nods.
“Please find Caleb a good Catholic home, Father.”
Papa?
“Come along, Caleb. The horse and buggy are right around the corner.”
Rubs nose with mitten. Runs to catch up. Sees brown horse!
On Nana’s knee, waiting for Man-in-White with brown horse.
No white wagon—no milk bottles—no Man-in-White.
Nana lets him hold the empty milk bottle. It would break if it slipped out of his hands.
“Climb in back, Son.”
… Not Son.
Foot can’t reach step. Uses spokes in wheel.
“Make yourself comfortable under the quilt the Christian Mothers made for you.” Man-in-Black makes the horse go fast.
Yanks quilt over head. Horse’s clop-clop makes face smile.
Nana says, “Listen Caleb. I hear the milkman coming.”
Mother’s quilt tastes bad. Wants hospital blanket.
Nana’s voice. “Close your eyes. Let the sandman come.”
Feels Nana’s arms around him. Sandman gets close.
Wakes. Has to pee. Crawls out from under Mother’s quilt. Tugs on man’s gray scarf.
“Whoa.” Buggy stops. Horse lifts tail and pees.
“Me pee, too.”
The Man-in-Black laughs and reaches back.
“I get down by myself.” Slides over edge. Foot finds step. White snow sparkles under lantern light. “Where?”
“Wherever you want.”
…Moon not so bright in New York.
“I won’t look, I promise.” Papa laughs again.
…Pee won’t come out.
“When you’re done, you can ride up here with me for a while.” Papa smiles. “Would you like that?
“Yeth, Papa.”
“People call me Father because I am a priest. You will come to understand what that means. You don’t have a Papa.”
Crawls into back seat and hides under Mother’s quilt. Horse’s clop-clop hurts ears.

“Whoa.” Papa’s voice.
Opens eyes. Sits up.
“Good morning, Mr. Dowdy.”
“Morning, Father.” Mr. Dowdy pats the horse’s head. “You didn’t have to run her all night. I wouldn’t charge for a few extra hours over the two-day rate.”
“Needed to say daily Mass this morning. Already missed yesterday.” Papa steps down and reaches for Caleb.
Kicks off quilt. Climbs down. Arms pull coat tight.
Papa grabs the quilt and sniffs. He cuts piece of brown string from a ball with pocket knife. He ties Mother’s quilt into bundle.
Horse’s hoof stomps the dirty snow. “I know, Nellie. You’re tired.” Mr. Dowdy talks to horse.
Milk Man tells horse Caleb is a good boy.
“An easy thirty miles didn’t hurt the horse. Spent Monday night in the bishop’s stable. Grazed and rested while I waited most of Tuesday at the railroad station.”
“The bill, Father?”
“Send it to the bishop. The Orphan Train Program was his idea.” Walks away and turns. Come along, Caleb, the parish Rectory is next to the church.” He points. “You can see the steeple from here.”
…No tall buildings hide steeple.
Runs to keep up. Papa goes into house. Peeks around Papa. Clothes in piles and kettle steaming on stove.
…Nana’s kitchen on wash day.
“Good morning, Father.”
“It’s Wednesday, Stella. Not Monday.”
“With you gone for two days, I made myself available in your office. People are asking questions.”
“Probably shouldn’t have mentioned the orphan in Sunday’s sermon.” Papa glances back. “Come in and shut the door.” He pulls off Caleb’s stocking cap. “This is our token orphan.”
Stella says, “I’ve been waiting to meet you, Cal.”
“My name is Caleb.”
“Then, Caleb it shall be.” She kneels and unbuttons his coat. “You can call me Stella.”
“’Tella.”
She hugs him. “Father, this boy is wet and freezing to death.”
“I’m sure. You’ll need to wash the quilt.”
“Did the Foundling Hospital send a change of clothes?”
“In a box back at Dowdy’s. When you fetch it, take a couple dollars from Sunday’s collection and pay Mrs. Dowdy. Gavin smelled of alcohol again this morning.” He opens the door. “I’ll be at the church saying Mass.” He turns. “Wash the quilt separate.”
“Yes, Father.”
Stella pours water from steaming kettle into washtub. “Take off those wet clothes.” She adds water from pump at sink.
Lifts both arms.
“I have a brother your age back in Chicago.” She pulls his shirt over his head and tales off his shoes, pants, and underwear.
Hands between legs.
“Don’t be ashamed. I’ve bathed Virgil many times before I left home to join the Franciscans.”
“Frithcan?”
“Yes. Very good.” She points at tub. “Get in.”
“Okay, Nana.”
“Nana? You are Caleb. Who am I?”
“’Tella?”
“That’s better. We’ll work on the pronunciation. Who brought you here this morning?”
Papa?”
“Father, Caleb. It is important you call him Father.”
He dips one toe, steps over edge. Plops down.
“After you warm up, I’ll suds your hair.” Stella unties quilt and rubs soap on brown marks from string.
Plays Nana’s game, Tug boat on the Hudson, with the bar of soap.

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.” Caleb hears words, but voices not Nana and Oma. Rubs eyes and nose. Tastes blanket. Not Mother’s quilt Papa gave Caleb for buggy ride. Shakes head, Father not Papa. Sits up, legs over edge of…bed? Underwear, no pajamas? Room not white like hospital. Sees Kitchen but no washtub.
Sniffs. Smells meat?
Oma says, “We’ll have turkey for Thanksgiving. I promise.”
Father’s voice from kitchen. “Stella, I think our orphan is awake.”
…Caleb, not orphan.
Stella, not Nana, comes from kitchen. “Did you have a nice morning nap on the couch, Caleb?”
“Couch?”
“This is our living room. Should be a dining room but Father and I never have dinner guests.” She sits on couch. “Maybe, now that you’re with us, it might be used for entertaining.” She points. “Here is your change of clothes from the hospital. Do you want help getting dressed?”
“Caleb dresses himself, Nana.”
Stella smiles and walks away. “When you’re ready, come to the kitchen for lunch.”
Sitting at table, Father says, “Good morning, Caleb. You almost slept through lunch.”
…Not morning.
Stella cuts dark meat into small pieces. Adds corn and potatoes. She sets Caleb’s plate on table. “Please sit. This will be your place from now on.”
“Just until the adoption, Stella.” Father scolds Nana.
She set glass of milk in front of Caleb. “I hope you like liver.” She faces Father. “Matt Gerhard butchered last week, and his wife Mary dropped off some cuts of meat after church.”
Father doesn’t smile. “The woman knows her husband must repent before I can do anything for them.” He pushes his chair away from table. “The board will meet in my office this afternoon. Show the boy how to act in the presence of adults.” His face not happy. “His table manners, too.”
Chews long time. Can’t swallow. Tries to drink milk. Stuff bursts back on plate. Sobs. Nana brings a wet rag.
Father says. “I think it best that we put off our council meeting until tomorrow. I need time to get my office back in order.”
Buries face in Nana’s apron.
“When you get this mess cleaned, come to my office. I’ll have notices of the meeting change for you to deliver to the council members. Give one to Emma Kroft at the cafe, Walt at Cunningham Implement, Frank Lorenz at the bank, and Melvin Trask at The Bovine Journal, in that order.”
“Yes, Father.” She wipes Caleb’s face. “Would you like to go back to sleep on the couch or bundle up and walk with me to meet these people?”
“I walk with Nana.”
Nana smiles. Doesn’t make Caleb call her Stella.

CHAPTER THREE

Thursday, November 23, 1899

Wooden hammer hurts Caleb’s ears.
“Council meeting will come to order.”
Stands holding Stella’s chair.
“You can stay with the adults, but you must be quiet.”
Nana scolds?
Rests head on Nana’s arm.
Man shows big teeth. “Special motion, Mr. Chairman.”
Nana says, “Shouldn’t I read the minutes first, Mr. Chairman?”
Mr. Chairman holds cigar. Looks mad at it.
Oma doesn’t like Man-in-Black smoking cigar.
“What’s on your mind, Mr. Cunningham?” Cigar back in mouth. Makes no smoke.
Lady with red hair looks at Mr. Chairman and sniffs. She makes Oma’s eating-lemons face.
Oma says Caleb makes eating-lemons face when he is not happy.
Smiles at lady with red hair. She gave Caleb candy at café yesterday.
Mr. Cunningham with big teeth says, “I move we set aside Rules of Order—make this meeting informal.”
Lady from the café pulls pencil from red hair. Points at Mr. Cunningham’s big teeth. “Walt, you’re the only one who follows those rules, anyway.”
…Lady calls Mr. Cunningham Walt.
Walt says, “Is that a second to my motion, Emma?”
Emma from café raises hand. “If it gets the ball rolling.” She looks at Mr. Chairman’s cigar. “I second Walt’s motion.”
Lifts foot. Counts to five.
Mr. Chairman peers over square eye glasses. “All in fav—”
“Excuse me, Frank. I would like a chance to explain my motion.”
…Not Mr. Cunningham’s turn to talk.
…Lifts other foot. Counts fingers. Almost topples over. Giggles.
Nana says, “Hush.”
Mr. Chairman sets eye glasses on the table. “What’s to talk about, Walt?”
Walt talks. “A special motion allows for discussion.”
Walt with big teeth and Frank with cigar look mad at each other.
“Okay, Walt, but keep it short.”
“I will, Frank.” Walt stands. “Not since our decision to building a new church have we had an issue this important.”
Man in blue shirt pulls little black book from pocket.
Policeman in blue uniform sets black folder on Nana’s table. Oma screams.
Man’s eyes find page he likes. He points to it. “The decision to change our town’s name from Skunk Hollow to Bovine was important.”
“Melvin, you of all people should know, the Village Council made the name change.”
Chairman Frank scolds Melvin-in-Blue.
Melvin closes book. “I was making a point, Frank.”
Emma from café grins. “Same people in both groups, mostly.”
“Emma, please.” Chairman Frank puts eye glasses back on tip of nose.
…Hanging light bulb hides under bowl of many colors.
“All those in favor of overruling Rules of Order raise your hand.”
…Tongue tries to touch nose.
Emma whispers to Nana. “I didn’t hear a motion to end discussion.”
…Eyes look at nose. Dizzy.
“Motion passed.”
…Light with colorful bowl moves a little.
“Secretary please read minutes from our last meeting.”
Squeezes legs together. Pees tiny bit.
Nana stands and reads. “Parish Council met on November 10, 1899, in the office of the Rectory. Members present: Reverend Alexis Busch, Emma Kroft, Walt Cunningham, Melvin Trask, and Chairman Frank Lorenz. Members absent: Felix Gerhard.”
Emma shows Nana lemon-eating face. Whispers. “My husband’s been dead a long time. You still read his name to embarrass me.”
Nana looks down at Emma. “No one told me to remove it.”
…One eye shut, colored light stays still.
Frank says, “Please continue, Stella.”
…Other eye closed, colored light jumps.
Nana reads. “Discussed the bishop’s suggestion each parish accept a child from New York Foundling Hospital sent out on the Orphan Train. The council decided: St. Alphonse Parish will accept one male toddler if the bishop can ensure we don’t get a diseased or handicapped child.”
Nana sits. Her eyes don’t find Caleb.
Father wrinkles his forehead. “Now for the business of finding adoptive parents for this boy—”
“He is Caleb,” Nana tells Father.
Makes happy face at Nana. Still doesn’t look at Caleb.
“Thank you, Stella.” Father does Oma’s make-believe cough.
Nana tells Oma, “That cough isn’t real. You just want attention.”
“Caleb, of course. Until we figure out if he’s been baptized.” Father’s eyes find Caleb. Make-believe smile. “The bishop wants us to find a nice home for you.”
Oma yells at Man-in-Black. “Caleb stays with Nana.”
Shakes Emma’s arm. “Gotta pee.”
Emma whispers to Nana, “Can he go by himself?”
“Yes, he’s a big boy.”
Oma on fire says, “Caleb is a big boy.”
Mr. Chairman raises hammer.
Covers ears. Runs.
Toilet door left open. Nobody waiting?
“Always lock the bathroom door, Caleb.”
Reaches for hook.
“Evil men do bad things to little boys.”
No hook! Can’t lock door.
Sobs. Tinkles. Runs. Stumbles. Loses shoe. Carries it. Rubs eyes. People not in kitchen! “NANA? PAPA? OMA?” Can’t breathe.
…Tastes burning wooden soldier.
Papa’s voice from down hallway. “The orphan can’t stay here. What will people think?”
Man-in-Black tells Oma, “Church people will figure it out. They aren’t blind.”
Tiptoes into room. Stands between Oma and Nana.
Papa’s eyes find him. Big smile. “What I mean is Caleb needs a family who will give him a place to sleep.”
Oma tells Man-in-Black, “Caleb’s bed stays here with Nana.”
Mr. Cunningham shows teeth. “A place in the county would soften the boy’s harsh city life.”
Shows Nana and Oma shoe. They don’t look.
Papa says, “Farm folks are already burdened with large families. I can’t ask any of them to take another child.”
Shoe walks up and down back of Nana’s chair.
Oma stuffs pencil in her hair and stands. “If you’re looking for one of us to take him off your hands, count me out. With Buddy Junior about his same age…” looks down at Caleb. “How old are you, son?”
“His name is Caleb, and he recently had his fifth birthday, Emma.”
Nana scolds Oma.
“Just the thought of another child growing up in your café would exclude you.” She turns to face Caleb.
Shows hand wearing shoe. Giggles.
“And you settle down.” Nana sets him on Oma’s chair. Puts shoe back on foot. “You must sit still. The meeting won’t last much longer.”
Oma looks but doesn’t take Caleb off her chair. “With my long hours and Bud never helping in the kitchen.”
Slides off chair. Nana doesn’t tell him to get back on.
Melvin in the blue shirt points at Oma. “Other people in town have businesses, too, Emma. Unless they’re retired farmers like Hank Sturgis.”
Melvin’s eyes find Caleb. “You’d like Hank as a grandpa. He has a beard like Santa Claus.”
Oma shakes finger. “Melvin Trask, why don’t you put those pretty blue eyes to good use finding a wife instead of nosing into other’s folks’ business?”
…Counts five fingers. Counts other hand.
Melvin waves black book at Oma. He opens it and writes something.
Policeman points pencil. “Caleb can stay just one more night.”
“I keep things in my notebook, too, Melvin.” Oma taps forehead. “Up here.”
Chairman bites cigar with no smoke. “Emma, please.”
“You can bang that gavel, Frank, but it won’t shut me up.”
She calls Mr. Chairman’s hammer a gavel.
“We need to stay on track.” Throws short cigar into waste basket.
“Sorry, Mr. Chairman, I was only trying to be helpful. Melvin, I apologize.”
Oma smiles at Melvin in blue shirt. “Having an adopted son could get you a wife. Caleb could help you with typesetting.”
“No need for a wife, Emma. And, I can hire typesetters. Bring Caleb to the Journal and I’ll show him the printing press.” He looks at Caleb. “Do you know your ABC’s?”
Blue eyes won’t let go. “Nana!”
Remembers Stella doesn’t like to be Nana?
…Pinches eyes shut, the colored light goes away.
Melvin’s voice. “Maybe Felix Gerhardt’s children will take Caleb in memory of their father. He was a member of this board.”
…Opens eyes, colored light comes back.
Oma stands. “As Felix’s widow, I’m sort of a step-mother. Dory, my age, is a nun, and her younger sister died in the ’94 Hinkley fire.”
“Pray to your Little Sister in heaven, Caleb.”
Oma glances around table. “I lived with Matt and his sisters those few years before Felix died and a short time after. I doubt my step-son and his wife, Mary, will take another child.” Her eyes find Papa. “You know Mary won’t be having any more babies.”
Papa clears his throat, puffs, but doesn’t talk.
“Matt married an orphan.” Melvin flips pages. “Mary came from Germany, arrived alone by rail much like Caleb from Ireland.”
Papa says, “His family record only guesses his nationality because the tenement housed mostly Irish immigrants.”
Melvin shakes his head. “With those facial features…”
“Your son’s face, his eyes. Ripe for a scandal at St. Patrick’s.”
Chairman points hammer. “Emma, since you know them, would you be willing to ride out with the boy to ask?”
“I know Matt well enough not to go on a fool’s errand.”
Papa raises his voice and slams the table. “Matt Gerhard as Caleb’s father is out of the question.”
“Is Papa mad, Nana?”
Nana whispers loud in Caleb’s ear. “You must call a priest Father, not Papa. And I am Stella, even if you have trouble with the ‘s’ sound.”
“However, other country folks might be possible.” Father—not Papa— looks at Stella—not Nana. “Check church records.” His fingers touch each other. Maybe want to pray. “I believe most recent baptisms are of farm families.”
Kicks chair leg.
Stella takes Caleb on her lap. “Now sit still. We’re almost done.”
Emma—not Oma looks at Chairman Frank. “If Walt will let me make one of his special motions, I move to table this discussion until the people get to know Caleb a little better?”
Walt shows teeth. “I’d like to tag on to that idea, Emma. The rectory was built with future rooms in mind. I move—suggest we convert one of the three upstairs dormers into a bedroom for Caleb. I could send some of my crew to enclose the area.”
“Facing which window, Walt?” Emma’s grin gets big. “Not facing north?”
Chairman peers into waste basket looking for cigar. “Of course, not the north dormer. That’s—”
“Men’s secret place?” Emma teases.
…Caleb has own secret place. Tries to take off shoe. Stella pushes hand away.
Mr. Cunningham says, “I prefer we not discuss—”
Melvin laughs. “Stella knows, and Emma doesn’t give a damn about our friendly game of poker. Why not the east window with its view of the graveyard?”
Oma says, “I’ll check every graveyard in New York for Caleb’s little sister.”
Mr. Cunningham says, “Maybe the west window facing God’s spectacular sunsets.”
“Like hot afternoon sun in summer?” Emma doesn’t like Mr. Cunningham’s idea.
“Hot sun? Summer? Wait a minute.” Father isn’t happy.
Melvin in blue shirt shakes notebook at Emma.
Policeman picks the black folder from the table. “I’ll be back for him.”
“I agree with Father Busch. West would be a bad choice.”
Father tries to stand. “N-not just west but—”
Walt shows his teeth. “Even with its view of the cemetery, east dormer would be more sensible.”
Thumbs stuck in red suspenders, Mr. Chairman peers over glasses at Stella. “In a few weeks the bishop will arrive for Confirmation of our seventh and eighth grade students, but you’ve taken over the spare bedroom.”
“I plan to sleep on a cot in the office when he’s here.”
…Points to people. Lips count.
“Perhaps, we enclose two dormers. East and west.” Melvin grins. “With doors.”
“Only one, please.” Father sits back on chair. “And not just for the short time the boy will be staying.”
Looks up at Stella. “What comes after five?” She doesn’t answer.
Walt says “East dormer it will be. I can get the walls up by the weekend.” He faces Stella. “Write this down. Cunningham Implement Company will supply materials and labor to partition off the east dormer and create a spare bedroom for the orphan sent to—”
…Lips remember six. Caleb is number seven.”
“Not just for the boy, please.”
…Father forgets Caleb’s name again. Stella doesn’t tell him.
Slides off Stella’s lap.
Man-in-black says, “The boy should have his own bedroom.”
“Spare bedroom for…” Mr. Cunningham’s eyes and teeth get bigger. “What other visitors might we expect to spend a night at the Rectory?”
Emma waves her arm. “Just call it a guest bedroom and get on with your generous gesture written into the minutes.”
Mr. Cunningham’s eyes close and lips cover teeth. “I’m trying to think of the proper way to show our need to accommodate important guests.” He faces Stella. “Read what I have so far.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Walt.”
“Emma, please, no blasphemy.” Father isn’t happy. “Write what Walt just said but leave out the orphan part.”
…Not Caleb’s bedroom?
Walt says, “Please add that it will be done this weekend, Stella.”
Emma smiles. “Nice touch for the record, Walt.”
Walt wipes his forehead with white cloth. “The upstairs is already plumbed for steam heat, but plastering will have to wait for warm weather.” He glances around the group. “No need to write that into the minutes.”
Points and counts people to seven. Tugs Stella’s arm. “Number six and number seven come after five.”
Stella says, “Hush.”
“Don’t forget to put in a door, Walt.”
“Of course, Emma.” A big-tooth smile. “I’m sure Ben over at York Mercantile would give the parish a good deal on some basic bedroom furniture.” Teeth hide and eyes find hands. “Ben and I have had problems over the past decade, and it’s about time we bury the hatchet.” Mr. Cunningham faces Father and waits to find his eyes. “Father, I recommend we ask Ben York to join this committee as Felix Gerhard’s replacement.”
“The b-boy…” Father’s tongue gets tied.
Chairman Frank says, “Don’t worry, Father. I’ll look into my clients’ bank accounts for families with financial means to take Caleb. Stella can check baptisms.”
Oma says, “You can’t take Caleb away from me, too.”
Gavel bangs. “Adjourned.”
“What about me, ’Tella?”
“You stay with Father and Nana.”
…Stella smiles.

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FOUR Friday, November 24, 1899

Holding the dark brown color crayon, Caleb hesitates.
Nana says, “Oma’s picture of Jesus with a brown beard is wrong. It should be black.”
…Doesn’t like black.
Asks Stella, “What color should I make Jesus’ beard?”
Stella leans across kitchen table and points to light brown. “Most pictures I’ve seen, His beard is this color.”
Puts crayon back in box. Closes coloring book. Face wants to cry. Knocking on the kitchen door makes Caleb’s stomach jerk.
“Please see who’s there, Caleb.”
Voice shakes. “What if it’s Papa?”
“Father wouldn’t bother to knock. And, I told you not to call him Papa.” She points. “Open the door and surprise whoever it is.”
“But, Nana.”
“You can call me Nana, for now. At least until you learn to pronounce your ‘s’ words.”
Nana keeps her eyes on Caleb.
Whimpers and does slow walk. Opens door and Faces lady with red hair from café. She grabs arm of a boy little bigger than Caleb. Boy’s lip curls. His eyes glare at lady.
“Hello, Caleb.” She shoves boy into kitchen.
Backs into Nana. Looks up at her and points. “Oma.”
Boy slams door shut. Oma takes two candy suckers from purse. Boy grabs green one.
Shakes head when she shows Caleb yellow one. She puts it back in purse.
…Wanted the green one.
“Good morning, Stella. Who the hell is Oma?”
“Good morning, Emma. “Oma was Caleb’s mother. I’m Nana, his grandmother. We can deal with it later.”
“I’ll rather like the idea of role-playing his mom.” Oma grins and winks. “Nana, I would like you to meet my son. Buddy, this is Miss Reinhardt, Father Busch’s house keeper.” She points at Caleb. “And this, I suppose, is your new brother, Caleb. He’s about your age.”
“I’m five.” Words left lips without Caleb’s permission.
“Close enough.” Oma sets down purse and takes off boy’s cap. He sticks out green tongue.
“Father Busch isn’t here, Emma. He’s in Harrington making his rounds at the hospital.”
“I know. Every Friday morning after Mass. Father used to stop at the café for breakfast before you became his housekeeper.” She licks finger and pats down bunch of boy’s black hair. It pops back up.
“Then why…?”
She brushes red hair from her eyes. “I could say we just happened to be in the neighborhood but it would be a lie.”
Nana tells Oma not to lie to Caleb.
“Sorry to barge into Father’s private quarters. I rang at the office entrance.”
“Caleb and I were engaged in some serious art work, but I try to listen for Father’s visitors when he’s not here.” She frowns. “You rang the office bell, knowing Father was out?”
“My first lie for the day. Okay?”
“The whole world lies to me, Sean.”
“Am I forgiven? Nana?”
…Nana? Caleb’s confused.
“You’re forgiven. Take off your coats.” Nana points. “Caleb, Sit back down while I get you and your new friend cookies and milk.”
…Opens book. Picks crayon from the box. Gives Jesus a red beard. Careful to stay inside the lines.
Nana shakes her head and turns away.
Shoves red crayon back into box. Makes eating-lemons face.
“Cookie for you, too, Emma? With a cup of coffee, perhaps?”
“Aha, a peace offering. Yes, I drink it black.” She drapes coats over back of Father’s chair. Boy climbs on with legs facing wrong way.
“Buddy, please sit next to Caleb and let your mother have that chair? I’m sure he’ll share some of his crayons.”
…Slams coloring book shut. Wants Nana’s eyes to scold.
“Be nice to your new friend.” She pours Oma’s coffee. “Careful, it’s boiling hot.”
Opens book. Gives Buddy opposite page. Pushes box of colors between them.
Buddy dumps crayons onto table. He doesn’t color careful. His mother should tell him to color inside lines. She says, “Buddy, tell Caleb thank you.”
Buddy colors with crayon in each hand. He doesn’t say thank you.
Oma should scold. She talks to Nana. “I came to apologize for my rude comment yesterday.”
“I don’t know what you’re sorry about, Emma.”
“Having been with Father Busch barely a year, you aren’t aware of local gossip.” Oma’s eyes find the couch in living room with the Mother’s quilt. “Always hidden away in this house.”
“I want to live with Caleb and Nana, but you keep me hidden away.”
Nana sets two glasses of milk and plate of cookies in front of Caleb and Buddy. Caleb Sniffs. Buddy grabs two and dunks one deep in milk. He jams all of it into his mouth. Caleb takes small bite and makes sour face. Spits cookie into milk and pushes it down with tongue.
Nana doesn’t look at Caleb. “I just quietly do my job as Father’s housekeeper and avoid gossip, Emma.”
Oma looks at Buddy’s scribbly picture. Just smiles. She faces Nana. “That’s not how the real world works, Stella.”
“I’m just Stella now, not Nana. Done role playing with names?”
“I was only trying to amuse the kids. With adults, I’m still Emma and you’re Stella.” She looks at Caleb, “Kids will say anything to get attention.”
Nana tells Oma Caleb’s feelings are hurt easy.
“Sorry I interrupted. You were describing the real world.”
Emma—not Oma—says, “Well, you won’t find it at your nunnery in Harrington. And not at the Benedictine nun’s house here in Bovine.”
“Sisters here are teachers. I was preparing to be a Franciscan nurse.”
…Wear brown and cover head like Nana.
“My goal was to serve those who are sick and dying.”
Little Sister died and went to Heaven.
Stella—not Nana—looks sad at Emma. “Until Mother Superior made me drop out before taking my final vows. Told me to serve God as a lay person. She felt I wasn’t ready for the cloistered life.”
“Amen to that.”
“I still feel bound by chastity, poverty, and obedience.”
Emma waves her hand at nobody. “After a few years of marriage, all women look favorably at chastity, can’t avoid poverty, and we should be used to obedience by now.”
Policeman says Oma must obey the law.
Stella says, “I’m still wondering how you were rude to me yesterday.”
“I accused you of keeping my dead husband’s name on the record.” Emma takes a big breath. “I was your age when we married, Felix was in his sixties.” She pauses. “Thank you for not gasping.”
Stella stammers, “I, I….”
“Before you became secretary, Father Busch kept the minutes, summaries he called them, until Cunningham got all uppity about rules of order.” Emma sips and then blows into her coffee cup. “I imagine that’s how his wife, Clara, runs her household. I’ll have to admit, meetings have gone much smoother since.”
“Back in high school, those rules of order were barely mentioned. Teachers enforced rules, and in the convent, Mother Superior—”
Buddy’s mother slaps the table. “That’s the kind of top-down thinking that we have to put up with when dealing in church matters. Case-in-point, the Orphan Train business.” Lady with red hair pours hot coffee into saucer and slurps from it. “Dumping New York street kids on us.” Café Lady looks angry. “And the Matt Gerhard matter.”
“Father Busch just wants Matt to repent.”
Lady smiles funny. “It’s more serious than that. Even the pope got involved.”
“I’ll take it all the way to the pope.” Man-in-Black laughs.
She whispers a secret too loud. “Mary had problems when she carried her last baby. She almost died giving birth to their daughter, Rose.”
Nana says Little Sister came out of Oma’s belly.
Picks up black crayon. Wants to scribble all over Jesus.
Oma said Little Sister died. Nana and Caleb cried.
Puts black crayon into empty box. Closes cover.
“Mary already had her son, Earl, who, by the way, is about our boys.”
“Caleb, isn’t my… I mean I’m not his mother.”
“Of course not by blood. She sips from her cup. “You and Father are a family unit.”
“Just until Father finds Caleb a home.”
“Your boy can’t live with his grandmother.”
“And after hell freezes over.” Emma sets her cup on the saucer with spilled coffee. “Unless Matt and Mary adopt Caleb. They can’t have any more children.”
“Oma won’t give you another Little Sister.”
Stella lifts her cup but doesn’t drink. “Can’t have?”
“Matt had some surgeon fix his wife to never have any more babies.” Emma shakes her finger. “Father Busch handed down Mary’s penance.” Smiles mean. “Avoid having sex for the rest of her life.”
Stella Stands. She sits back down.
“Matt complained—a fist to the holy schnoz before their argument ended.” Another mean smile.
Watches Buddy tiptoe into living room.
“Ask Father about his crooked nose, some time.”
Stella goes to the ice box, but just holds the handle.
…Stella doesn’t like Emma’s talk.
She turns and asks Emma, “Will your step-grandson, Earl, start school next year with our…these boys?”
“Buddy will be in the second grade in town, and Earl will go to a country school where they hardly even count grades. Every cluster of farm families built their own one-room school house. Except for church on Sunday, those kids don’t get to town much.”
“At the Council meeting, you didn’t sound too hopeful about presenting the idea of adoption to…your step son, Matt.”
Plays peek-a-boo with Buddy behind Mother’s quilt.
“He’s a year or two older than me and didn’t approve my marrying his father. Before he died, Felix told him to take care of me. Matt bought me off with a few sacks of oats and some bushels of potatoes.
“You can’t buy me off with some crazy promises.”
I’m okay with the deal. I got Bud and the café to keep me going. And my son, Buddy.”
Emma smiles big. “I was hoping Caleb and Buddy might strike up a friendship. Do some playing together.” She looks surprised at Buddy’s empty chair and his colored-up picture. She doesn’t see Buddy wearing Mother’s quilt like a cape.
“Oh my gosh, Emma.” Stella’s eyes move from Buddy’s picture to Caleb’s. “What have we been saying in front of the boys?”
…Stella is sad that Jesus has a red beard.
Buddy runs and slaps his mouth. Makes woo-woo-woo sound. He drags Mother’s quilt. Emma chases him and takes it away. “That’s Caleb’s.” Gives it to Stella.
…Buddy’s game with Mother’s quilt is funny.
Stella folds it and puts it back on the couch. “I’ll be glad when Caleb gets his own room.”
Oma says, “Caleb sleeps in his own bed.”
Emma tells Stella, “I have an idea. Let’s drive out to Matt’s farm. Give our boys a chance to burn off some of their pent up energy.”
Laughs at Buddy. He doesn’t look.
“I’m still under the vow of obedience.”
“Would it make a difference if I told you to come with us?”
“I never get to see Mother Superior. I am bound to obey Father.”
…Father is Stella’s Papa?
“You get his permission and I’ll stop around noon tomorrow.” Emma grabs purse and coats. Buddy puts hood on his head and pulls sleeves under his chin. He runs around kitchen making scary face.
Giggles. Buddy is funny.
Emma says, “Put your coat on the proper way.”
He shoves his arms in the wrong sleeves. “Button it in back, Ma.”
She laughs and pushes him out the door. Waves back at Caleb. “Don’t worry, we’ll find you a nice home.”
Lifts arm. Hand won’t wave back.
“Good Lord, what kind of mess did I just get into?
…Nana is sad.

CHAPTER FIVE

Saturday, November 25, 1899

Caleb’s finger travels the black swirly lines on Stella’s white tablecloth.
“Hands off the table.” Stella holds two plates. “Make room for breakfast delivery.”
Fingers walk to the edge and onto Caleb’s lap. Giggles at funny stuff Buddy did yesterday.
She sets down Caleb’s and Father’s plates of bacon and scrambled eggs.
…Didn’t tell Father to move his folded hands.
Father says, “Let us pray.”
Stella takes Caleb’s hand and makes the Sign of the Cross for him. He could do it by himself since he was four. Says the prayer in his head and signs without help when Father and Stella finish praying aloud over their meal. Yells, “Amen.”
“A little softer with your amen, please.” Stella cuts bacon into little pieces. She pours Father’s coffee and prepares a third plate of bacon and eggs.
Knocking at the door makes Father groan. “Now, who is interrupting breakfast?”
Stella sets down her plate and goes to the door. “It’s Saturday, Father. The crew from Cunningham Implement is scheduled to build Caleb’s bedroom.”
Father says, “It’s the guest bedroom, Stella.”
She opens the door. Mr. Cunningham stands holding his hat.
“Come in, Cunningham. I’ve been expecting you.” Father points to the chair across from him. “Sit with us while we finish breakfast.”
Mr. Cunningham stands behind chair. His eyes find plates of food.
…He can have Caleb’s.
“Clara prepared Quaker Oats for me this morning, so excuse me if I start to whinny.” Head back, teeth show, laughs like Milk Man’s horse.
Stella says. “Room left for scrambled eggs and bacon, Walt?”
“I shouldn’t.” He sits.
Stella says, “Take this one while it’s still hot. I’ll prepare another.”
“Oh, I couldn’t take yours. I can wait.”
Father breaks piece of bacon in half. “Will someone please join me?”
Takes a sip of milk.
Oma says, “At least drink your milk if you’re not hungry.”
Another knocking at the door. Mr. Cunningham stands. He has piece of bacon stuck in teeth. “I’m sorry. Schmidt was supposed to wait outside until I called for him.”
Father pushes his plate back. “Bring him in Walt, and let’s get on with it.”
Walt opens the door. A man walks in wearing an apron with big flat pencil sticking out. Hammer dangles from loop in pant leg. “Which way upstairs?”
Father’s and Walt’s eyes find each other. Stella sets her eggs and bacon on the table. “This way, Mr. Schmidt.” She leads him to the stairway. “How is Mrs. Schmidt, this morning?”
…Mr. Schmidt doesn’t like to talk.
Mr. Cunningham looks at egg left on plate. “I better show Schmidt what the committee has in mind for Caleb’s room.”
Father shouts, “It’s the guest room, Walt.” He looks at food left and makes sour face at Stella.
…Doesn’t like bacon and eggs, too.
Stella picks up coffee pot. A horse whinnies four times.
…Thinks of Mr. Cunningham’s laugh.
Father says. “Only Dowdy’s mare makes that calling card.”
Stella glances into Father’s full cup, and sets pot back on stove. Her eyes look down. “Emma has changed her mind and wants to ask Matt and Mary Gerhard to take Caleb.”
…No, Nana! Tears make eyes see funny.
“She wants Caleb and me to ride out with her to their farm this morning.”
Father looks sad at table and shakes his head. “I must advise against such a plan.”
“Maybe seeing Caleb will soften Matt’s heart.”
“Let’s be practical.” Father pokes fork into little bit of egg. “The boy would be isolated. Even his teacher wouldn’t be able to stop by for a meal with the family, as I understand those country schoolmarms do.”
“Emma doesn’t really believe Matt will let Mary take another child.”
Father smiles funny. “A fool’s errand, Stella?”
…Father says Emma’s words from the meeting.
Nana opens door a little bit. “This isn’t a good time, Emma.”
Emma talks loud. “Are you and Caleb ready to ride along to Matt Gerhard’s farm?”
“Father thinks we shouldn’t—”
“Let me talk to him.” Emma comes in and steps around Nana. “Good morning, Father. Sorry to barge in like this, but Buddy’s outside holding Dowdy’s mare. She’s a bit frisky this morning.”
Man-in-White says, “You can rub my horse’s nose, Caleb.”
Father says, “Stella and I discussed the situation, Emma. It’s probably not a good idea to go there.”
Emma says, “It would be a business matter, not a social visit.”
Father glances up at ceiling. “That part would be covered.” His eyes move to fork. He sets it down. “Would the rest of the Council agree with your action?”
Emma shakes her head. “They didn’t reject the idea at the meeting.” She opens door. “I’ll be waiting outside with Buddy and the horse.”
Father nods. “It might soften Matt’s heart.”
Father likes Nana’s idea. He picks up piece of bacon and looks at it. “The kid would just be under Schmidt’s feet if he stuck around here.”
…Not kid. Makes sad face.
Nana scrapes food off plates and stacks them in sink. “Come on Caleb. We better hurry.”
Father puts bacon in his mouth. He makes the Sign of the Cross.

Wind hitting the buggy stings Caleb’s face. Hides under Mother’s quilt.
Nana says, “Come out, come out where ever you are. You’re missing a winter wonderland out here.’’
Peeks out. Buddy’s mother grips armrest with one hand and hat with other hand. Blinks away tears. Shields his eyes and blinks again. “Nana, look. Emma isn’t driving the horse. Buddy’s got the reins.”
“She knows when to take over, I hope.” Nana tugs on Emma’s coat and talks loud. “Do we have to be in such a hurry?”
“I promised to bring the horse and buggy back before sundown.”
“I’ll hire a horse and buggy to bring Caleb back.”
“But, so what if we keep the rig a bit longer?” Emma grabs Buddy’s hands. “The horse can find its way in the dark.”
Buddy yells, “Let go, Ma. I can do it.”
…Buddy can do it.
Emma hold hat on head. “Don’t worry. The mare will tire and slow down any minute now.”
Scoots forward on his seat. Tree branches drooping with snow whizz past. Looks for polar bears. Spots rabbit, maybe. Eyes closed, imagines sitting next to Buddy.
Emma grabs the reins and slows the buggy. She turns the horse onto a path, snow piled up on both sides. “After each storm, Matt has to shovel through deep snow-drifts across his driveway. And almost a month to go until winter.” She shakes her head. “I don’t imagine he ever shoveled his way out after last Valentine’s Day blizzard.”
Nana makes the Sign of the Cross. “Many people got lost during that storm and froze to death.”
…Buddy can make horse find way back to town.
They stop by house, tops of other buildings peek over white mounds. A dog barks and horse rears.
Emma jerks the reins. “Whoa. It’s only us, Rex. Crawl back into your dog house.”
A man in a red plaid shirt and gray suspenders comes from house. He holds horse’s head, steam bursting from its nose.
“Hello, Matt.” Emma drops the reins. “Rex must be pretty old by now.”
“You’re two dogs behind, Emma. Been almost fifteen years since you and Pa got hitched.”
Their eyes stay together until Buddy stands. Emma says, “This is my son.” She grabs Buddy’s coat and yanks him down to seat. “Say hello to Uncle Matt.”
Oma says Uncle is a bad man.
“Hello.” Buddy shakes Uncle’s hand. A glare aimed at his mother, he jumps down into snow. Uncle Matt’s eyes follow. Buddy makes a snowball, but white powder falls apart when he throws it. He kicks snow.
Buddy’s uncle looks hard at him. “Lucky for me, you’re the spittin‘ image of Bud Kroft and don’t resemble Pa.”
“Check the arithmetic, Matt.” Emma pulls off her gloves one finger at a time. She shows her open hands and hides one thumb. “It takes this many months to make a baby, and I lived with you and your sisters eight of them after Felix died. We’d had to have done it on his death bed.”
“As always, Emma, you’re such a polite woman.”
“I can no longer stand by as the polite woman.”
She points to back seat. “I don’t suppose you’ve met Stella Reinhardt, Father Busch’s housekeeper. I know Mary has spoken to her off and on.”
“Pleased to me you, Mr. Gerhard.”
Nana hides hand under the quilt.
Uncle Matt reaches and pulls arm back. “Miss Reinhardt. From our names, we must have a common ancestry.”
Emma blurts, “With her freckles and hair the color of a rusty milk bucket, a similar name is all you two share.”
Nana hides face in the quilt.
“Now, who else have we here?”
Grabs at Nana’s arm. Mittens slide off.
Man’s loud rumbling laugh. “The boy and Miss Reinhardt are a matched set. Could be brother and sister.”
Oma says Little Sister looked just like Caleb.
“That’s Caleb. He doesn’t have a last name, yet.”
“Still talking in riddles, Emma?”
“Can we go in the house and discuss a matter with you and Mary? She probably knows quite a bit about the topic already.”
“Come right in.” Shrugs his shoulders. “I won’t mention your visit to Alexis Busch next time we casually bump into each other. Be aware, you’re risking the fires of hell.”
Oma says, “I’d sooner burn in hell.”
Emma climbs down. “I ain’t the one condemned, too stubborn to meet with a priest. You know he only wants to save face.”
“Alexis Busch is always welcome here at the farm if he wants to talk.” Uncle Matt looks at Buddy climbing the gate but doesn’t scold. “Mary’s in the house and the kids are doing their chores.”
Emma shakes her head. “They’re not even in school yet. You’re still the slave driver, making me and your sisters back then work our tails off.”
“When Pa died, we were mostly teenagers. Didn’t have a clue how to run a farm or a household.”
“You embarrass me. I’ll have you know, I was twenty when I went to town to live on my own.”
And did quite well for yourself, Emma.”
The man reaches into the buggy. Nana pushes Caleb forward.
Nana doesn’t like Buddy’s uncle.
Matt lifts Caleb and drops him butt-first into soft snow. Wipes nose with back of mitten. Man’s big smile chases Caleb’s tears back.
Emma says, “It’s all a matter of personality, Matt. I like to be with people, you don’t.”
Matt pulls Caleb out of snow and holds him high in air. Giggles when man swirls him around and plunks him back in snow.
Matt talks to Emma. “Not much chance to socialize when neighbors are condemned to hell if they ever stop to visit.”
Oma tells Man-in-Black, “I’m already in hell.”
Nana climbs down from buggy. Matt grabs Caleb’s hand and they jump-step to the house.
Matt asks, “Does Father Busch know you guys are violating the terms of my punishment?”
Oma says, “The hospital is punishment enough.”
“This is a business matter, not a social call.” Emma opens the door and steps inside room with table but no chairs. She taps on another door and goes in without being told to. “Hello Mary.”
The room is warm and smells like bakery on Nana’s Street. Mary sets down knitting needles and stands. “Hello, Emma. Nice to see you. And Stella, hello. Please come in.”
Nana closes door and keeps standing.
“Make your policeman sit down. I’m not running away.”
Buddy’s uncle sits in arm chair on other side of stove from Mary’s rocking chair. “Maybe you boys should join Earl and Rose out in the barn.”
Buddy runs out the door.
…Doesn’t want new friends. “I stay with Nana.”
“Nana was his grandmother.” Nana’s hands feel hot on his shoulders. “Caleb finds it comforting to address me as her.”
…She tells people his secret.
“For a while, he confused Emma with his mother, calling her Oma. He seems somewhat over that for now.”
Emma hangs her hat and coat on a hook alongside the door. “Let the kid stay inside the house.
…Not the kid.
“The adults have talked openly in front of him so far, why stop now?”
…Big people talk dumb.
Mary tells Nana, “Give me your coats.”
Nana opens her buttons. “Thanks, but I’m okay this way.”
Mary kneels. “Well, this boy is getting warm.” She opens Caleb’s coat and pulls off stocking cap. Shakes loose mittens. They dangle from yarn Nana strung through sleeves. Mary hangs his coat over oven door. Clumps of snow drip and sizzle. “I’ve been waiting to meet you, Cal.”
He whispers, “My name is Caleb.”
“That’s a lovely name. I’ll tell the other Christian Mothers.”
Nana stoops and whispers, “Thank Mrs. Gerhard for the Mother’s quilt.” She glances up. “We cuddled under it on the way out here.”
“Thank you….”
“And now you’re looking for a family.”
“My family is in heaven.”
“I’m sure they want you to find another one to live with.”
“No.” Stamps foot.
Oma says she put her foot down.
“I stay with Father and Thella.”
Emma and Stella look surprised at each other. He repeats, “S-stella.”
“I agree with Caleb.” Matt stands and claps hands. “The business part of this meeting is over.” Big smile. “Now, if you’re willing to risk going to hell, Mary can serve some of that fresh bread Caleb’s been sniffing.” His eyes find Caleb. “Maybe a glass of eggnog. After all, the holiday season is just around the corner, Thanksgiving next Thursday.” He picks up Caleb and swings him around. “Have you ever been to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve?”
Shakes head.
“Well, you’re in for a real treat, if you can stay awake. I’ll be there.” His smile goes away. “Just outside the door. I arrive a little late and leave a little early to miss the crowd coming and going.”
Emma says, “You have the best seat in the house.”
“Not in the house, but out on a snow bank.”
“How about some bread and eggnog?” Emma sits at the table without being told.
“I think Father Busch needs to hear Mr. and Mrs. Gerhard’s answer right away.” Stella lowers her eyes. “So he can come up with another plan.”
“Stella, sweetheart, you are plan “B” even if you and the priest don’t realize it.” Emma cuts a slice from the loaf Mary set on the table. “Breaking of bread could be considered part of our business.” Eyes find Mary. “We haven’t heard from Mrs. Gerhard yet.”
“I would love to take the boy—”
“I’m Caleb.”
“I’m sorry. Already, I hurt his feelings. I’m afraid his staying with us would isolate him. We already fear for Earl and his little sister.”
…Little Sister?
“Why don’t Caleb and I go outside and join the kids?” Stella glances at his coat on the oven door. “You have a lot to talk about, and we’ve never experienced a real farm.”
Lets Mary put on his coat. She pulls yellow and brown scarf from box by stove. “This matches your hair and shows off those pretty green eyes.” She covers his mouth and nose and ties it in back.
Matt holds the door and calls after them. “The path to the barn is the one with the rope. Didn’t need it during this recent storm, but last February it was a life saver. Many farmers got lost on the way to their barn.”
As they walk outside, Stella says, “I remember that blizzard. Father even missed morning Mass. Much worse out here in the country.”
Stands on tiptoes. “Can’t see.”
She laughs. “Even these drifts are taller than you. There’s hardly any snow up ahead.” She points. “That double door must be for horses. Hoof prints are leading up to it.”
“I like horses.”
“We’ll probably see them inside.” She lifts lever on a smaller door. Only the top half opens. “Well, of all things.”
A child’s voice from inside. “Just reach over and pull up the hook. I have to lift Rose to open it.”
The bottom half of the door swings out and the warm, moist air slaps Caleb’s face. Yanks scarf down and pinches his nose. Eyes water. Forces back a gag. Through floating dust specks, sees two kids holding hands.
Stella says, “Wait a minute until our eyes adjust. The afternoon sun is still quite bright out there.”
“I’m Earl and this is my little sister, Rose.”
Stella unclenches Caleb’s fingers. “Earl and Rose, this is Caleb.”
“My Little Sister died.”
“Golly, that’s sad.” Earl drops Rose’s hand and presses fists to his hips. “I would never let that happen to Rose.”
Stella puts her hand on Caleb’s shoulder. “We can’t always control certain things.” She peers deeper into the barn. “Where’s Buddy?”
“He’s ridding a calf. I showed him how.” Faces Caleb. “Do you want to try? It ain’t really ridding. The calf just stands dumb-like. But you can pretend.”
Stella says, “I’m not sure Caleb is up for it. He just arrived from a big city.”
Rose puts hands on hips like Earl. “Momma says he’s from New York.”
“How old are you, Honey?”
“She’s four. I’m just about six.”
“Your Daddy said you two were doing chores. What sort of jobs do you have?”
Rose talks and Earl’s head bobs. “Feed the calves and put straw under the cows’ bellies. Sometimes they push it away and sleep in their own poop.”
Caleb shakes Stella’s hand off his shoulder and points at two large horses’ heads breathing down on them. “I want to ride a horse.”
“Only the calf without Pa going along.” Hand-in-hand, Earl and Rose lead past a row of cows’ heads locked in place. At the end of the aisle, Buddy stands by table with small cross of Jesus.
Rose steps in front of Buddy. “That’s Pa’s altar. He doesn’t pray at the one in church.” She looks up at Stella. “Tomorrow, when Ma takes Earl and me to High Mass, he’ll say his prayers out here in the barn.”
Oma tells Man-in-black, “You can’t keep Caleb away from Mass on Sundays.
“I sing with the sisters at that Mass. Caleb will be with me. Maybe we’ll see you there.”
“If you take him to church, people will begin to suspect.”
Earl tells Stella. “You might have to set him on the calf.”
Stella watches her feet as she lifts Caleb. She sets him on the calf, his fingernails dig into her wrist.
Earl grabs his sister’s hand. “You guys want to help me and Rose gather eggs in the hen house?”
Buddy yells, “Yippee,” and follows.
Scared to tears, Caleb falls into Stella’s arms. She says, “I think we’re ready to retire to the house.” She pulls the scarf over his face. “We’ll each certainly need a bath when we get back to the Rectory.”
In the room with no chairs, Stella taps on the kitchen door. She opens it and Peers in. “Caleb and I will out here in the porch.”
Mary says, “No such thing. You come inside where it’s warm. I’ve prepared apple-butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches.”
Pulls down scarf and looks at table.
“I’m sorry, but I must wait outside in the buggy.”
Mary opens her mouth and Matt holds up his hand. “Stella has to do what she thinks is right. Take off Caleb’s coat and sit him at the table.” He chuckles. “I think that boy made a few decisions today that could affect the rest of his life.”
…It’s okay that he didn’t say Caleb’s name.
Uncle Matt grabs two pans stuck facing each other from stove. “I understand your situation living with Father Busch. He’ll expect to hear your Confession tonight after Devotions.” He hands Stella funny pans. “This bed warmer will work nicely on the Christian Mothers’ quilt out in the buggy.” He opens the door. “I’ll fetch it when I bring Caleb out.”
After two peanut and jelly sandwiches, Caleb glances around, “Where did S-stella go?”
Matt says, “She’s outside waiting. I’ll take you to her when you finish eating.”
Mary lifts her apron, wets a corner with her mouth, and wipes sticky jelly tongue couldn’t reach. A gust of wind follows his three new friends into the house. Earl carries bucket heaped full of eggs and Buddy holds just one. He throws it.
“Catch, Caleb!”
The egg hits the floor and rolls under the table.
Mary says, “Matt, either stuff something into that crack in the henhouse wall or move the nest away from it.” She picks up the egg and taps it on the table. “Frozen solid.” She hands it to Caleb. “Would you like to take this for your breakfast? It’ll thaw by morning.”
He touches it and pulls his hand back. “Cold.”
“I have just the thing.” She smiles. “Two things.” She reaches into a bag of needles and yarn beside rocking chair. She takes out two brown and yellow stockings. “I knitted these to match the scarf I gave you.” She holds one in each hand. “Cary the frozen egg inside one of these. Or would you like to wear them now?”
“Okay.” Lifts legs for Mary to take off shoes and put on new stockings. “I show Nana.” He giggles. “S-stella.”

CHAPTER SIX

Sunday, November 26, 1899

Hands folded on edge of kitchen table, Caleb holds back giggle.
Father and Stella say, “Amen.”
Shouts Stella’s church words. “Piri to-to oh.”
“What in tarnation! Stella?”
Nana was wrong. Words didn’t make Father happy. Eyes follow hands to lap under table.
Nana looks for Caleb’s eyes. “That was almost the correct pronunciation, Caleb. With a little more practice, you’ll be able to recite the Latin response.” She looks at Father. “I want to impress the Benedictine Sisters when Caleb recites, ‘Et cum spiritu tuo,’ during Mass this morning.”
“Well, we don’t speak Latin at the breakfast table.” Father tears bread and smashes egg yolk. “Caleb needs to say it properly or remain quiet.” He stares at yellow goo dripping off bread. “Are you sure he’s able to sit still through a High Mass? Or church at all, for that matter?” He sets bread down and wipes mouth with napkin.
Big golden eye stares up from Caleb’s plate. Stabs it with fork. Yellow blood oozes. “I can bring Grandpa Sturgis blocks to play with.”
“Hush.” Nana’s hand says Caleb be quiet. “My mother and I took Virgil to church when he was only three.” She butters Caleb’s bread. “The sisters expect me to sing with them, and I don’t want him to stay in the house alone.”
Father stands. “I need to dress for the eight o’clock Mass.” He pushes chair’s seat under table. “We can discuss this further between services.” He opens kitchen door and turns. “I’m afraid I won’t have time. Do with him what you think is right.”
Nana calls after him, “Thank you, Father.” She smiles at Caleb. “I have a nice surprise after you finish eating.”
…Oma coming home for Caleb’s birthday was nice surprise. Some surprises aren’t nice. Shakes head to make bad one go away.
Face smiles without telling it to. Earl’s and Rose’s mother gave Caleb nice surprise. “Can I wear my new stockings?”
“Yes and other new things. Finish eating your egg.”
Stares at the yellow puddle from busted eye. Ruined gift from Earl’s chicken.
Runs to couch and hides under Mother’s quilt.
“Now, what’s the matter?”

On top of church steps, Stella stoops to tighten rope around Caleb’s neck. Tugged it loose when walking to church. “I know this necktie feels uncomfortable, but you’ll get used to it. I’ll only ask you to wear it to church and during dinner on special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
“Good morning,” Stella.
Stella looks up and squeezes Caleb’s shoulders with both hands.
…Wouldn’t run away.
“Good morning, Sister Ernestine.” Black dress with white around face and neck makes Caleb remember penguins from Nana’s Jungle Book.
“This is Caleb. He’s going to sit with us this morning.”
Sister Ernestine smiles. “Can you sing, Caleb?”
Takes big breath. “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.” Every word right, almost. Holds out hand and she shakes it.
“My goodness, you are a little gentleman.” Her hand hides with other one behind black curtain in front of dress.
“The suit was his surprise. I ordered it from Sears and Roebuck for my kid brother, Virgil. I’ll ask my mother to take Virgil to Macy’s for something he really likes for Christmas.”
“How old are you, son?”
Holds up open hand.
“Five years old. I’ll expect you in my first grade class next year.” She faces Stella. “Unless a farm family adopts him, and he goes to one of those little country schools.”
“Expect Caleb in your class next fall.”
Stella’s words make Caleb smile.
“Let’s follow Sister Ernestine to the altar of the Holy Virgin.”
…Stella’s brother, Virgil, has his own altar!
Sister’s arm comes out, waves, and hides again. Stella takes Caleb’s hand and they walk to Holy Virgil’s altar.
“Look, Stella. Pictures of angels on the ceiling.”
“I should have shown you the inside of the church ahead of time.”
“The windows are pictures like in my coloring book.”
“You can look around, but please don’t talk.”
Counts windows.
“What comes after five, Stella?”
“You know what comes after five.” She sits Caleb on bench next to Sister Ernestine. They kneel. Slides off seat and kneels, too. Points to statue of woman in blue dress. “She’s not holding a real baby.”
Stella whispers, “She’s Mother Mary.”
“Your mother?”
“Everyone’s mother.”
“Virgil’s, too?”
“Of course. Now hush. Mass is about to start at Jesus’ altar.” She points. “It’s the big one in the center with all the statues.”
Two boys wearing white dresses come from behind big altar holding real long matchsticks. They light six candles. Caleb will be that many years old in Sister Ernestine’s first grade. Buddy will be in second grade. Looks up at Sister Ernestine.
…Wonders. Are black and white sisters as nice as the all-white sisters in New York?
“Look, Stella. Father came out of that door on the side. He’s wearing a dress, too.”
“That’s the door to the sacristy where the chalices and vestments are kept. And the wine.”
Oma says, “Wine only on Thanksgiving with turkey.”
“Are there turkeys back there?”
“Stop being silly.” She shakes finger at Caleb. “Any more talking and I will take you back to the Rectory.”
Points and lips ask “What’s that?” without making words. Stella doesn’t even look. He will ask later about lantern that only makes smoke. Smells like Oma’s burning soldier.
Stands on the bench and faces back of church. “There’s Earl and his little sister.”
Stella says, “Sit.” She whispers, “We’ll talk to them later. When Father kneels and sings, get ready to say your prayer.”
Screams, “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.”
Father stands in front of big altar showing angry face. His mouth opens but he doesn’t sing his part like he should. Caleb backs into Sister Ernestine and hides behind her black curtain. Grabs string of beads like Oma wrapped around her hands and whispered words. Sister lets his hand hold the beads and hides his face until he stops crying.
…All sisters are nice.
Father sings funny words and waves smoking thing at people. Caleb decides not to ask Stella about it. Wishes Father would go back to sacristy and let people leave. Wants to say Latin words to Earl and his little sister.
After church, Caleb asks Earl, “Can I pet your horse?”
…Didn’t want to say Latin prayer.
Earl’s mother tells Earl, “Take Caleb and Rose to the buggy while Stella and I talk.”
Stella says, “Maybe we should go with them.”
“I’m sorry. I forget that not all children are used to horses. We can certainly visit over there.”
“Better yet, why don’t you give Caleb a ride to the front of the Rectory so the children can come in and play for a while?”
“But, Father will be wanting his dinner.”
“It’s in the oven. He makes himself available for parishioners who don’t get to town often, and he has to close the sacristy. Won’t be ready to eat for at least an hour.”
Mary looks at Caleb. “Would you like a ride to your house?”
Follows Earl to buggy and climbs onto front seat next to him. His Mother says, “Okay, Earl, you can take the reins, but go slow.” She points to the Rectory and climbs into the back seat with Rose.
At the Rectory, Caleb runs ahead and opens the kitchen door. “I got to sit up front with Earl and we drove the horse.”
Stella says, “That nice. Now let me talk to Mary.”
…Nana doesn’t care. Starts to feel bad.
“I really did help.” Looks at shoes. “A little bit.”
“Take your friends into the living room.”
“I stay with Nana.”
Nana looks at Mary. “I think church has him stressed.”
Shouts, “Et cum ’piri to-to oh.”
Mary and Nana laugh. His face feels hot.
Earl laughs, too. “You were funny, Caleb.” He takes Rose’s hand. “Caleb yelled that in church, Rose.”
Little Sister giggles. “Say it again.”
Et cum ’piri to-to oh.”
Stella says, “Show Earl and Rose your new bedroom.”
“Father calls it a kest room, S-stella.” He runs to the stairs and yells back. “Up here, Earl.” Sees Rose at bottom step. “Better hold your brother’s hand climbing the steps.”
…Eyes closed, one step at a time, helps Caleb’s Little Sister up the stairs.
At the top, Earl lets go of Rose’s hand. “Wow. This is big up here.”
Rose pinches her nose, “Smells like cigars.”
Opens door to room that is Caleb’s. Leads them inside.
“Smells nice in here.”
Earl says, “That’s the fresh-cut wood smell, Rose.” He looks at Caleb. “Mama says she splits the firewood before bringing it into the kitchen for the aroma.”
“I’m going to put my bed here by the window.”
Rose blows specks of sawdust from glass. “That’s the cemetery out there. Why do you want to look at the place they put dead people?”
…Face wants to cry.
Earl puts his hand on Caleb’s shoulder. “Rose didn’t mean to make you sad.”
Rose hugs Caleb and presses her face to his chest. “I’m sorry.”
Pushes back a sob. “By the window…,” Sniffles. “In case of fire.”