My work has appeared in various publications including The Alligator, The Gnu, and Best Modern Voices, v 2. I've won the Glass Woman Prize for fiction and the Mia Pia Forte Prize for creative non-fiction. Bulgaria has been my home for over eighteen years. I am currently working on a YA novel about AI sentiency.
FOLDED, SPINDLED, MUTILATED
“Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate.” This standard warning appeared on punch cards used for data processing throughout the twentieth century. Although computers have largely made the use of punch cards obsolete, the phrase has remained a part of American vernacular.
* * *
In her mind, Beth’s life is organized into folders of significant events.
Some memories are brief and not specific to a single time or place, little more than shadows of remembered feelings. The whiff of a crayon box, a snatch of a nearly forgotten melody, a salty sea breeze disturbing the hair on her bare arms: all conjure up nostalgic longings for times that have disappeared.
Other memories are stored as snapshot images or ultra-short films. The folder designated “Childhood Memories” is stuffed full of pleasant scenes. Mostly pleasant, anyway. One has her running and grabbing hold of the thick rope her brother has hung from an oak at the edge of their trailer park. She squeals, pretending she’s swinging through the forest with Tarzan. In another, she’s outside with one of her sisters in an open field, clapping shut the lid on a spaghetti sauce jar to trap a firefly. In a third, she’s scrambling backwards because a mouse has just peeked from behind the easy chair that’s parked alongside the family television.
There are two memories with her mother; details in the first are frighteningly honest. Beth has just turned four and she’s sitting on her oldest brother’s lap. (Even now, thirty-five years later, she can recall the walls of her family’s aging twelve- by sixty-foot mobile home, how they seemed to buckle inward, threatening to collapse and suffocate her parents, all four of her older siblings, and her.) Her fingers stroke the slipcover that has protected the couch for longer than she’s been alive; beneath her touch its threads are worn to a soft sheen. The grungy golden threads of the shag carpet have been matted by seven sets of feet. At the window, sagging drapes allow a sliver of sunlight to enter and spotlight dust performing aerial antics.
Her father’s eyes linger on Beth’s for a moment before he speaks. “We…” His voice cracks and he clears his throat. “I…” The word sticks in the air.
Beth’s mother reaches out and lays her hand on his. “I’m sick.” Her voice has sunk so low it sounds like a man’s. “It’s cancer. Bone cancer.”
Beth’s oldest sister, already a teenager, rushes to her mother’s side on the loveseat and hugs her. Beth looks around to pick up clues from her siblings on how to respond.
“Your mother has to go to the hospital,” her father says, this time without faltering.
“Why?” Beth’s twelve-year-old brother asks. He squeezes her tight as he says this and Beth releases a small “engh.”
“They have to amputate her leg,” her father adds. “We hope that will take care of it.”
Then they cry, the whole family. The memory disappears.
The next memory of her mother, from several months later, resurfaces rarely. Beth is standing near the hole in the ground into which her mother’s coffin will soon be lowered. Though people around her are dressed in somber colors and shades, Beth wears a pretty dress her mother sewed for her. Robins are winging wildly across the fabric’s indigo background and Beth is fidgeting in place, trying to scrape a bit of mud from her black patent leather shoes. Her father, standing behind her, holds her shoulders. She wants to squirm away, but he won’t let her go.
* * *
Punch cards fail to serve their intended purpose if users fold, spindle, or mutilate them. A mechanized reader cannot compensate for such damage. Cardholders should expect to pay a fine if their cards are destroyed in any of these ways.
* * *
Beth’s brain processed, sorted, and stored thousands of experiences over the subsequent years. During the last of the 1970s and early ’80s, while other families were amassing wider-screen televisions, VCRs, remote controls, video games, and desktop computers, Beth recalls simpler pleasures: Pop Rocks exploding on her tongue; scratch and sniff stickers; and straining her fingers and brain to solve a cheap version of the Rubik’s Cube.
Beth’s best little girl memory has a special folder for safekeeping. In it, she’s sitting beside her father on their overused couch, each settled into a deep indentation, beneath which springs have long ago succumbed to the barefooted frolicking of kids with excess energy. One of her father’s arms reaches behind and around her shoulders. The picture book Are You My Mother? is sprawled across their laps. A heavy black line punctuates the curve of her father’s nails, a perpetual sign of his occupation as an auto mechanic. He smells of oil and grime and sweat and love.
“When I’m a mommy,” she announces at the book’s end, “I’m never going to leave my baby.”
Her father squeezes her just the right amount.
“No,” she says, shaking the whole upper part of her body along with her head. Her hair swishes over her shoulders. “Not baby. Babies.”
“How many babies do you want?”
Her father laughs. “You’ll be a great mommy, sweetheart.”
When a little girl has a daddy like Beth’s, it’s easy to imagine that all people are worthy of her trust.
* * *
People unclear on the concept of “spindling” have, over the years, had trouble making sense of the word. Folding is obvious, as is mutilation. What exactly does it mean to “spindle” though?
* * *
When you’re seventeen, just graduating high school, and traveling by Greyhound bus to live with your aunt so that you can look for a job, you’re not necessarily thinking about how the trip might shape your life.
Beth’s brain preserves not only the images, but also the sounds, textures, smells, tastes, and emotions of the move.
“Excuse me,” Beth says to a boy about her age after she yanks her bag from the bus’s luggage compartment. He waves one last time to a friend on another bus then turns to Beth. She holds out her aunt’s address, scribbled on a pad. “Can you tell me where I can get a local bus to this address?”
He glances at the paper. “Oh. I know where that is.” His eyes meet hers. “I can show you where to pick up the bus if you want.” He’s all smiley and friendly. “Or I can just give you a ride. That’s about four blocks from my house.”
Beth doesn’t realize how pretty she is, how much men are and will be drawn to her. How they’ll want her. It’s her soft, round face. Her wavy, slightly mussed hair, untamed by nothing more than a scrunchie. Her slightly plump body. The innocence that oozes from her. A young Marilyn Monroe sans make-up, wearing faded jeans, an oversized T, and a shy smile.
Beth knows she needs to be careful around strangers. She’s seen enough TV shows and movies to know that there are a lot of creeps in the world who could wreck—or even end—a girl’s life. “Um…” Something about this boy tells her he’s safe, but she holds back.
“No problem if you want to take a bus,” he says, turning and looking beyond her. Trying to spot the bus stop, she guesses.
He’s nice, not pushy. “Well, I guess I could go with you.” She tries to ignore the disconcerting flutter in her stomach all the way to her aunt’s.
Nothing bad happens, of course. The boy, Jack Keller, is helpful and kind and asks if he can call her sometime. All her needless worry disappears. Beth jots down her aunt’s number then signs her name with large, loopy letters, adding a smiley face head with a stick arm and five tiny stick fingers. Jack grins.
* * *
Punch cards can exhibit wear before they’re considered folded, spindled, or mutilated. A card may bend to a small degree if slipped into a back pocket or may become soiled if laid on a less-than-pristine shelf. Smudges, slight bending, the softening of the edges: though not preferable, these do not impede the reading of a card’s stored information.
* * *
“Guess what, Daddy?” From her aunt’s home in Rochester, New York, Beth’s voice bounces through a phone line not quite large enough to contain her excitement. Instead, it bursts out the other end into her father’s ear in Tinytown, Pennsylvania, where he sits alone in his trailer.
He chuckles. “Let’s see. You’ve won the lottery so your old man can quit his job and live a life of ease?”
“No,” she says, dragging the syllable out in affected exasperation. “I have a job! Aunt Sue lined me up to clean house for a woman she knows. And if I do a good job, I can branch out. Word of mouth goes a long way here.”
“Hey, that’s great.”
“And I met a nice boy. He just graduated, too. He’s been showing me fun places to go and interesting things to do. You’d like him. His name’s Jack.”
Her father hesitates for a beat. “That’s great, Bethy. I hope you’ll meet other kids, too.”
Wait. What’s wrong with meeting a boy? Beth had boys as friends in school. (Not that any of the six in her graduating class of eighteen was nearly as fun or playful or cute as Jack.) Her father should be happy for her.
Maybe he’s having a hard time living alone. He and his mother married twenty-eight years ago; he’s lived with someone non-stop since then. Beth needs to cut her father a break. Besides, deep down she knows he’s only trying to take care of her. She squelches her irritation.
“So, what’s new with you?” She kicks herself as soon as the words are out. She knows that nothing—at all—is new with her father. Nothing will ever be new. He’s stuck there, alone, and will continue like that until he dies.
By the time they hang up, Beth feels gloomy.
Jack’s call a while later lifts her spirits.
* * *
If a punch card is set on the dashboard in the sun for a long period, the ink may fade so that printed information is no longer decipherable. This is not a cause for concern as it does not affect the pattern of punches.
* * *
She can’t remember the chapter and verse, but Beth clearly remembers learning about Jacob and Rachel in Sunday school when she was little. Jacob worked for seven years so he could marry Rachel. His love was so great that the time flew by like it was only a few days.
Beth is sure that she and Jack love each other that much. Not that she wants to wait seven years to marry him. They start talking about marriage soon after they meet. They decide to wait until Beth turns eighteen, just a month away. Jack vows that, before he officially asks for her hand, he’ll find a steady job. Working as a day laborer two when someone needs an extra pair of hands heavy doesn’t count.
While they wait for the birthday and job, Beth and Jack have fun getting to know each other better.
One day, they pack towels, sunscreen, drinks, and sandwiches to spend a hot and muggy summer day at Lake Ontario. They sunbathe on their backs, Jack on a beach towel his mom bought him as a kid that sports the image of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Beth on a towel borrowed from her cousin and decorated with Butterscotch, a My Little Pony character that Beth remembers begging for as a girl.
Jack props himself up on his elbows and to watch the water. Beth studies his hairy legs and chest, the Adam’s apple that jumps when he swallows, the face that looks so much more mature than those of boys in her high school and thinks, Jack is a man. A grown-up man. And he loves me. The realization is exhilarating and makes her feel grown-up, too.
“What do you want most in life?” She wants to know Jack’s hopes, dreams, and thoughts.
“I want to be good—no, great—at one thing. I don’t know what that thing is yet, but I’ll keep looking.”
He sits up and glances down at her, his body shielding her face from the sun. His face is darkly shadowed. “How about you?”
“I still have the same dream I had as a little girl. To have a dozen kids and be the best mother in the world. You know, the kind kids win contests writing about.”
In that one-word answer, Beth feels exposed, stupid, ridiculed. As though the thing she’s longed for her entire life is inadequate. “What? Do you think that’s stupid?” She hoped that, of all the people she’s ever known or knew or would know, Jack would understand. If she were alone, she’d cry.
“No,” Jack says emphatically. He lies down again and turns toward her. “I think it’s sweet.” The next moment, he rolls onto his back and adds, “I’d love to have a houseful of happy kids, too.”
Two months later, Jack lands a job.
“You’re working at a cemetery?” Beth asks, repeating what he’s just told her. She tries to keep the distaste from her voice, but it’s hard. Why can’t Jack work at a shop in the mall or maybe in a copy store or as a fireman or… well, as anything else? Working at a graveyard is creepy. The only worse job would be collecting garbage.
“At Mount Hope,” he says, as though that should mean something to her.
“Do you have to dig graves?”
“No! This is for the Department of Environmental Services. Mount Hope’s a registered historical site. Famous people are buried there, like Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony.”
“Oh. Then what will you be doing?”
“Lots of stuff. Maintenance, grounds keeping. It’s a big place, Beth. They’ve got 350,000 graves on 196 acres.”
The whole idea still gives her the willies, but a steady job means they can marry.
“Bethy, you’re only eighteen,” her father says when she calls, giddy about the engagement. “Why don’t you and Jack wait a little while? Take some time to get to know each other better.”
She moans. “I knew you’d say that, Daddy.” In her aunt’s kitchen, she away turns from the doorway where she’s been facing her aunt, uncle, and two teenage kids while they watch TV in the next room. She wraps herself with the phone cord, stretched at least twice its original length by her cousins. “Jack and I do know each other. We’ve been going out for months.”
“A few months is nothing. There’s no special reason you want to hurry is there?”
“What? You think I’m pregnant?” The word comes out louder than she intended and she looks over her shoulder to make sure the family hasn’t heard. Fortunately, their TV show is captivating.
“No, Daddy,” she says when he fails to reply.
“Good. That’s real good, Beth. I always knew you were sensible. Well then why rush into this? You’re young. Take some time. Have fun”
“Being with Jack is fun. He’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“Listen to me.” His voice takes a lecturing tone he rarely uses. “Even when you love someone, life is hard. You don’t need to grow up so quickly.”
“I am grown up. Why do you always have to wreck all my fun?”
“Wreck all your fun? When have I done that?”
She huffs. “When didn’t you do it? Growing up, we had to scrimp and save all the time. We never had an extra cent to spend on anything.”
“Sure, finances were tight. It costs a lot to raise five kids.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. How about when the others left home? It was no different then. I even had to sew my own dress for our senior night out. You wouldn’t give me money to go to a store and buy one.”
“I thought you wanted to sew your own dress. You’ve always enjoyed sewing.”
“That’s not true. I only did it because I had to. Because you were too stingy.”
“Too stingy? Is that what you think?” His voice sounds old. Tired. Incredulous.
“You know what, Daddy? Jack and I are old enough. We’re going to do this whether you like it or not. I’m not your little girl anymore. I’m on my own now, making money. You don’t get to tell me what to do.”
For a long, long time, all she hears on the other end of the line is breathing.
“Daddy?” she finally says in a small voice, not sure he’s still there.
“So, when do I get to meet this young man?”
“Oh, thank you, Daddy! I knew you’d come around. We were thinking about driving down so you can meet him next weekend.”
Four months later, with the unenthusiastic support of their parents, Beth and Jack wed and live together in the basement of Jack’s family home.
“We’ll move out of here soon, I promise,” Jack tells her often. “This job is only a stepping stone. I’m going to be rich someday and you’re going to live like a queen.”
Beth chooses to pin her dreams on that promise. The sooner that day comes, the better, because eleven months after the wedding, she has to quit her cleaning jobs and rest if she wants to the baby inside her to keep growing.
* * *
Accidents, neglect, natural disasters: any of these can render a punch card unreadable. Suppose, for instance, you’ve placed the card in your car. It’s possible that a flood will submerge your car, destroying its contents. Or an earthquake or landslide may swallow your car whole. If you’re involved in an accident, you might be unable to retrieve the card from the car if 1) you’re severely injured or 2) your car’s gas tank is struck and the vehicle explodes. No one would blame you for neglecting to care for a punch card in such dire circumstances. The consequences of a damaged ticket would seem minuscule in comparison.
The lesson in all this: people don’t have to worry overly much about a ticket being folded, spindled, or mutilated. Being circumspect and responsible in the now are the keys to right living and caring for one’s possessions.
* * *
When you trust someone, you feel safe when he kisses you good-bye each day and tell you he loves you. In answer to your father’s question about whether his “little girl” is happy, you first roll your eyes at the outgrown endearment and then assure him that life couldn’t be better.
When you trust someone, you don’t mind him spending a little extra time away from home so he can make more money to take care of you. You’re proud of what a hard worker and good provider he is. You even boast that, with no more than a high school diploma, your husband’s doing so well. You try not to be nettled when your father raises uncomfortable questions about how you and your husband can afford to rent such a large apartment or buy a new car. You explain that he’s taken on a new job with an import/export company and they pay him very well. You wish your father would believe in your husband as much as you do.
When you trust someone, you’re happy that he’s your husband and now the father of your new baby girl, who you think has his eyes. Unfortunately, work takes your husband away from home a lot and you need help. You’ve read about post-partum depression and want to believe that the problem is with you, not him. This too shall pass, you tell yourself those nights when you fall asleep without him at your side. You wish your father would stop asking his incessant questions; lately you’ve been snapping at him, telling him to mind his own business.
When you trust someone, you’re proud of him when he tells you that that he’s been promoted and given a big raise. Your husband’s now ready to make a down payment on a house that’s bigger, fancier, and better in every way than you’ve ever dreamt possible. The only drop of ink in the water glass of your contentment is your father telling you there’s something fishy going on with your husband. You’re so upset by your father’s accusations that you refuse to see him and won’t allow him to see his granddaughter until he apologizes.
When you trust someone, you’re devastated when policemen arrive at your door in the middle of the night and haul your husband away. When he’s sentenced to five years in prison on charges of grand theft, you feel as though life has taken you and folded you repeatedly until you can’t recognize yourself when you look in the mirror. You feel like the biggest idiot on earth. You’d like to move on with your life, as several people have advised, but you have no idea how. You won’t talk to your father when he calls; you’re way too humiliated. You’ve moved in with one of your sisters, who helps you care for your daughter; that’s good, because you’re so numb you can barely sense anything beyond your own skin.
When you trust someone, you’re willing, you’re desperate to believe him when he begs you to take him back when he’s released from jail three years later for good behavior. His eyes hold onto to yours and his voice cracks when he tells you how sorry he is, how he wants to be a part of yours and your daughter’s lives if only you’ll give him another chance. You push aside the doubts that have plagued you and stolen your sleep. You’re tired of living off welfare and the good will of your family, tired of trying to make ends meet with income from babysitting and housecleaning. You want to believe your husband so much your pores hurt. “Do you promise it’ll be different this time?” you ask.
“Yes. I promise.”
You dare to believe him.
* * *
Sometimes her brain blurs the details of past events so that Beth’s left with mere impressions of a period in her life. At other times, her brain combines hyper-realistic images together with smudges to create a mash-up. The results, just as the events they represent, can be jarring. Beth’s recollection of the year following Jack’s release from prison occupies a folder jammed with such mash-ups.
In it, he’s no longer the boy she fell in love with. His muscles have hardened from hours of daily exercise. His neck, shoulders, and chest have expanded. His face has lost its layer of baby fat and the transparency in his eyes has evaporated, replaced by wariness. He no longer kisses the way he used to; he lost a tooth in a prison fight and his mouth adjusted to make allowance for the loss. When he smiles, the new gap just behind the eye tooth on the right side makes him look different, un-Jack-like. When they make love, Beth feels as though she’s having sex with a stranger.
Jack says that she’s changed, too. She’s not the wide-eyed innocent he remembers. He had something to do with that, Beth says.
He’s sorry about that.
Despite their differences, they promise to make their life together work. They owe that much to three-year-old Claire.
They’re poor now and life is hard.
Sex leads to the inevitable.
They begin to fight: about food and clothes and bills; about providing for Claire; about how he has changed; about how she has changed. About how they’re going to take care of another baby.
He takes a job with a construction crew. The money is still not enough.
She loses the baby and blames him, though she knows it isn’t his fault.
He’s impatient with her; she’s impatient with him.
They fall asleep back to back and she wonders if they love or even like each other.
He finds a second job as a cook. She takes one as a sales clerk.
They continue to fight about food and clothes and bills. About providing for Claire.
He says he’s sorry and so does she. They forgive each other and resolve to work things out.
She starts spending time with new friends who give her ideas about standing up for herself, about not letting him walk all over her, about demanding more.
He starts spending time with new friends, too. He returns home late, smelling of alcohol and smoke. And sometimes of perfume and sex.
She talks about finances and freedom and the future.
He stops talking altogether.
Police come to their door, yelling for him to open or they’re coming in anyway. They have guns and handcuffs and are there to haul him away. She’s trying to calm their little girl, who is wailing and frantic and throws her little body from side to side so much that her mother fears she’ll lose her grip. It’s so noisy with shouting and wailing that she can hardly hear or see or hold on and all she wishes is that she could stop time like a character in a futuristic story and step out of it. She wants to go somewhere, somewhen, someplace other than this moment with these people doing and saying the things they are. The world flips over and begins to spin too fast, barreling out of control. Things that seemed glued in place loosen: their marriage, their family, their home, their future. Their lives.
He’s arrested for grand larceny and sentenced to twenty years.
She visits him once in prison to tell him that she can’t do this, now or ever again. She forgets what it feels like to be a wide-eyed innocent with nothing but love for him, believing that’s enough.
By the end, she’s emotionally impaled. All she wants to do for weeks is to roll up into a ball like a pill bug.
Divorce, she thinks, will protect her and her daughter.
Protection from pain, however, is not so easily guaranteed.
* * *
Beth’s next memory file is labeled “Derek” and it’s not one she enjoys reviewing, though sometimes the memories return anyway.
It’s too bad you can’t redo the past.
By the time Derek entered Beth’s life, the folding and spindling Jack did to her were nine years in the past. It took that long for her to consider entering another relationship with a man. By then, Claire was thirteen and Beth decided her daughter needed a father figure. If her own father hadn’t died in an accident several years earlier, Beth might not have allowed another man into her life. But he (her father) did and she (with Derek) did.
Why, Beth will never know, but Claire conjured up stupid, romantic notions about her father. While Beth didn’t want to poison Claire’s view of men by maligning Jack in front of her, neither did she want to encourage Claire’s imaginings. Beth figured that inviting a better, more responsible man into their lives was her best strategy.
Beth was also tired of being alone. Despite the many eyes that swept over her throughout the years at the restaurant where she worked as a hostess, the invitations she’d had to various events, encouragement from coworkers over the years to “go out and have a little fun,” Beth was afraid. How could she trust any man? When she met Jack as a teen, she thought she’d spend her life living with and loving him. For a while she brooded over the thought that men in general were scum and couldn’t be trusted. She always returned to memories of her father, though. He was the best, most thoughtful, and decent man she’d ever known. If she could find a man like him, her and Claire’s lives would be different.
Then Derek came along. Although not as handsome as many of the men who’d tried to woo Beth, she spotted in him other qualities she admired. He had worked his way out of poverty to become a successful businessman (which also meant that he was well enough off that he wouldn’t resort to theft, as Jack had). Though not the type to waste money, Derek wanted to take care of both her and her daughter. For Christmas, he bought Claire a laptop; for Beth, gorgeous sapphire earrings. He wanted to give them even more: a new car and a house. He promised to send Claire to college, too. All Beth needed to do is say “yes.”
“Whattaya say, kiddo?” Beth asked Claire. “Are you ready to move out of this dive and let someone else take care of us for a change?”
Claire’s quick shrug and “I guess” were not the endorsement Beth had been hoping for, but she read it as a positive sign. Though Beth had long ago abandoned her dream of having a dozen kids, she’d never lost the desire to be a great mother to Claire. With Derek, Beth felt confident that she could finally give her daughter stability and a better quality of life. More out of love for Claire than for Derek, Beth agreed to marry him.
* * *
The slideshow stored in Beth’s mind of her four-year marriage to Derek is disturbing, awful. There must have been some—many, even—positive, fun, happy moments with him. Derek was not evil, at least not at the beginning. The inky parts obliterate the others, though. When she thinks of Derek, Beth’s insides clench.
The images printed indelibly on her brain are these:
--Claire’s refusal to call Derek “Dad,” opting for the ironically loaded title of “Uncle Derek” instead.
--the way, soon after their wedding, Derek began picking on Claire. Beth’s defense of her daughter only seemed to goad him on.
--the time Beth caught Derek lingering outside the bathroom door when Claire was bathing. Why had she believed him when he said he heard a noise and was just checking to make sure Claire was okay?
--the lacy bra and underwear set he gave Claire for Christmas and his assertion that he was just going with a suggestion from the store clerk.
--his refusal to meet Claire’s date before they went to the prom or to hang a picture of them afterwards.
--his delight in going alone to one of Claire’s track meets when Beth couldn’t make it because of work. Why hadn’t she listened when another mother told Beth about the way Derek hugged Claire and kept on touching her afterwards?
--the way his eyes followed Claire when she passed by the living room on her way to her room at night.
--his audacity in commenting, “You look great in that T-shirt, Claire,” while Beth sat next to him. When she scolded him afterwards, he said, “What’s your problem, Beth? Aren’t fathers supposed to complement their daughters?”
--her own pathetic cowardice to beg off the out-of-town meeting for her department store job as design coordinator that left Claire and Derek alone together at home.
--her devastation when she arrived home that night to find that Claire had run away and left a note saying, “Mom, I’m leaving. Don’t look for me.”
--her shock at finding Derek, alive, but sprawled on the garage floor, belt unbuckled, pants unzipped.
--her relief that Derek would spend the rest of his miserable life in a long-term care facility; that his stroke would protect her from him for the rest of her life.
--her even greater relief when her second divorce went through.
* * *
If you (or anyone else; be careful who you allow to handle important items) have folded, spindled, or mutilated a punch card, you have no right to expect mercy. You will be required to pay the fine indicated on the card.
* * *
The truth about what Derek did to Claire mangled Beth. Even if he didn’t manage to rape Claire, his intention was clear. For several days after her disappearance, Beth turned off her phone, cried, wandered around the house breaking things that reminded her of Derek, and escaped reality by overdosing on sleeping pills that would take a long time to break addiction from.
* * *
Little-known fact: machines exist that can recondition (restore is too optimistic a term) mutilated punch cards.
* * *
Today a Facebook friend of Beth’s—the mother of one of Claire’s high school friends—messages her with: “Have you seen this?” and a link to a video news clip. One click takes her to a story about a man who saved his coworker when armed men entered a mini-market to rob it. A photo of the self-sacrificing young man is next to a picture of Claire. She looks different now: her hair, pulled back to one side, reveals an oddly pierced ear; three beads are stuck to her lips; and she no longer looks like a girl. But it’s Claire all right.
Within the hour, Beth is on the phone with the reporter who covered the story. Beth scribbles down the address of Claire’s rescuer.
For the first time in nearly four years, Beth feels hopeful. It’s a nervous hopefulness, but any hope at all is a wonder.