|Publisher:||Red Hen Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
There once was a woman named Meg Rhys. Haunted houses became a particular problem for Meg Rhys just after she turned forty, at the exact moment when—though it was true that she lived with only a fickle housecat and towers of books for company— it no longer seemed funny to go on calling herself a spinster librarian. Not that anyone said “spinster” in twenty-first century New York City except for Meg herself and she said it ironically, the same way she ironically cultivated the silver streak in her hair, which she felt lent her the air of an otherworldly eccentric until the aforementioned birthday at which point the loss of pigment promptly ceased to seem intentional. Above all, Meg wanted the map of her life to be intentionally plotted, a course charted by her and her alone.
But at forty it was too late to turn back—a hairstyle change would only attract the attention of nosy relatives certain that it signaled love or other retrograde “improvements”—and so she kept the piebald bun coiled around a Number 2 pencil that recalled to her the quiet pleasures of standardized tests. Equally symbolic was her bicycle with its Wicked-Witch-of-the-West basket, the bicycle itself a rickety second-hand number Meg had gotten good at riding while wearing the ankle-length skirts she wore not in an Orthodox or even Amish way but mostly for the swishy acoustics, weaving in and out of traffic entirely without imagining her body crushed by a box truck; she almost never thought about that at all anymore.
The librarian in her knew that no story was only one story.
Outside the other girls are giggling, twirling their hoops and sticks, their boots clacking against the flagstones. Their long stiff skirts swish as they move. Usually the yard is noisy with the clomping of horses and carriages battling Fifth Avenue, a rocky, rutted path that leads toward the new park up north; usually they hear medicine men and fruit sellers peddling their wares and herds of pigs snuffling along, the usual Manhattan cacophony. It’s a dusty part of town, far north of where most of the grown-up business is conducted, down in the sewage-and-cat-carcass-strewn streets of Tammany Hall’s domain. She can remember when she first came to the orphanage (in a spotty way—she remembers the orphanage seeming new and strange but can’t recall what life had been like before, or where, or with whom) that the land was even wilder back then, the stately plantation house seeming to rise from the dirt as if Miss Murray and the Miss Shotwells had grown it from a seed. Since those days, the sound of new construction has rarely ceased.
Today the street is eerily still, though no one seems to notice but her. She and Jane usually like leaning against the fence and peeking through the holes to catch a glimpse of the occasional pairs of fancy ladies promenading in hoop skirts and lacy parasols, making up stories about what they will do when they are fancy ladies themselves. But today something is different, as if her interior mope has transformed into weather. The sky presses down, gray as the woolen blankets on their cots. She notices after a moment that the air smells different than usual. She turns to an older girl. Tillie, does it smell like burning to you? Tillie shrugs, Another slum fire down in Five Points, I wager. She nods, though she is not satisfied with the answer.