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Mary Gordon

SENT HOME

Lucy could tell by the way her aunt had said, "She's coming home," that she wanted it to sound all right. But it could never be. Amelia was coming home from the convent. They had thrown her out.

Thrown her out. Lucy could see it. See Amelia stripped of her clothes, stripped of her habit, thrown out of a window by vengeful older nuns and forced to walk the streets naked, her head shaved, barefoot, like a prisoner of war.

How ashamed she must be, Lucy thought of her cousin, who would be coming in now, soon, any time, into the house of her childhood, the house she left thinking she would not return to it in her lifetime, the house left triumphantly, a bride-to-be, but Christ's, who was a jealous lover and would not allow her ever again to be what she had been: a member of a family.

_____

Even before they put a veil on her, they cut her hair. The first stage of it was called postulancy. Her family was told to wait with the others who sat nervously, not looking at each other, not knowing what to expect. Then their daughters appeared: the same ones. Now they were out of the world. They could no longer wear the clothing of the world.

They were wearing clothing modeled on nothing, imitating nothing. Clothing from no time or country signifying only this state of transition: they had left the world but they were not yet of the convent. Apprentices, their status tentative. And many of them would be asked to leave. The girls who minutes ago had come with hair that signified-long, braided, curly, pulled back, pinned up, tied-were now identically robbed. Their hair had been chopped: the ugliness was meant. The thick long skirts, loose jackets, white collars and cuffs, all of it was for one purpose, that they should not look good. Lucy saw that: no one could say "how pretty" looking at anybody dressed as they were dressed. Later, veiled, they would be beautiful. But they hadn't earned that yet. They were ugly, awkward, they were a reminder: they could be made to leave at any time.

But Amelia wasn't sent home during her postulancy. She was happy then; they liked her for her music. When the family came to visit her, she seemed to have friends. They urged her to play something she'd made up, a version of "Three Blind Mice" with a jazz beat. They were proud of her. They thought she was the cleverest of them all. Girlishly, they laughed behind their hands and clapped as if they'd never tire of hearing Amelia play. Honor accrued to Amelia's family .

In the common room, the only room where they could see her, the family didn't mix with the others. They were a larger group than the other families; Amelia had four brothers. Two of them believed they had vocations, so the family was already beginning to treat them deferentially, gingerly, as if they were already priests. The other two boys had no place to look in the room, the parlor it was called, but it was nothing like a parlor. No thought had gone into furnishing it. The floor was covered with linoleum that looked like cork; there were fake leather green couches and hard wooden chairs; there were no tables in the room. It was forbidden to bring food in there, and there were no ashtrays: no one was allowed to smoke. Amelia's brothers would look at Lucy, waiting for her to think of something to do, but she could never think of anything, there was nothing for them to do and even if she'd thought of something, she would never have suggested it. She was too aware of her position. The falseness of it. The other families assumed she was Amelia's sister. The error frightened Lucy; she was sure she'd be punished for it later on, for not correcting them. They'd think she was trying to make herself more important than she was by pretending she was Amelia's sister. At the same time they could punish her for correcting them. Adults hated children knowing more than them. It caused them to hate you. If you told them they were wrong in something. If they caught you knowing something they didn't know.

_____

Once Amelia's mother suggested the children go for a walk. The term had no meaning for them: they wanted to be given a definite destination. More bored than ever, they wandered down the halls, looking at the small, dark pictures of saints. Lucy felt herself begin to run. It wasn't something she wanted or chose. Her legs began moving without her consent. But then the boys ran too. The four of them, all running, Lucy and her cousin Charles, and Amelia's two brothers. They made a terrible noise on the wooden floors. They sounded like thunder, like animals. They ran faster and faster. Their cheeks flushed, as if they were running in the wind. The terrible sound of their feet on the wooden floor was as exhilarating as wind to them. They didn't know what could make them stop running; they thought they would never stop. But when they did stop, it was Lucy who stopped first. She made them stop. She could hear the noise their feet made in the seconds between her stopping running and their stopping. It was a terrible noise, a shameful noise. She was ashamed that she'd started it. And when they walked into the parlor, none of them saying anything, she wished that someone had accused them. It would have eased her shame. Her double shame: that they had made the noise, had run where no one else had ever run, where no one was meant ever to run, where running was forbidden. And the other shame: that they had not been caught. The nuns, the other parents, smiled at them as they walked into the parlor. As if they were good children. As if they deserved to be treated well.

_____

Lucy didn't know why she was asked along on these visits to see Amelia. She was the only girl. It wasn't that any of them liked her. Did Amelia like her? Sometimes at night she thought of Amelia kneeling in her blue habit and white veil praying for her. Was she praying that Lucy had a vocation and would join her one day? Lucy would never join her. When they went to Amelia's profession, watching her kneel with the others before the bishop to have the white veil put on her bare head and then covered with a wreath of roses, Lucy was completely happy. She didn't want to be in Amelia's place; she didn't want to leave the place she was in, the place where she could look, in humility, out of danger, and fixed, indistinguishable among the spectators. It was her work to look and to miss nothing. And Amelia made it possible for her to do her work. Lucy didn't want to be the head covered in white, in roses. She was the eye, looking. Everything was hers to choose. Whereas Amelia had no choice. She knelt; the bishop had to put his hands on her. She had to have the veil and then the crown put on her head. A flowered crown, but it was meant to stand for suffering, like Jesus's crown of thorns. But was it meant as well to stand for power, like a queen's crown?

Which was the more desirable? The queen was beautiful, and whole. Jesus had been broken. She heard the psalms each year and learned they had foreshadowed Jesus. Hundreds of years before He had been born, David the prophet had written:

I am a worm and no man, a reproach of man

All that see me laugh at me

They gaped at me with their mouths

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are

out of joint

My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst

of my bowels.

But He was God. There was nothing above Him. His brokenness was a trick. As the queen's wholeness was. She would grow old and die and no one would want to look at her again. Jesus had risen from the dead and then ascended into heaven. But He could appear on earth. At any time. In any guise He wished. A child. But usually a man. A young man, beautiful. The devil also could appear in any guise. Humans could not. They had no choice as to their guises. Amelia had no choice. She had to be where she was, the bishop's hand on her head, crowned with the wreath of flowers. She had to have the place of honor. It wasn't even up to her. She had to stay where she was. She couldn't move. They had to come to her.

And they all did, they felt honored to. Four times a year. Amelia's parents and her brothers, Lucy herself, her cousin Charles and their Aunt Lena. Charles stayed in the room with Amelia's parents and her brothers. He and the younger brothers were good friends. They enjoyed each other, in their boyish way. A way that seemed ridiculous to Lucy. She stayed in the room with Lena. One night she understood. She was invited, pressed to come, because her aunt (an adult) was afraid to be alone. When she realized this, she was shocked, then scornful. She knew how much her aunt disliked her. But Lena would do anything so that she wouldn't have to be alone.

Lucy tried to imagine what Lena could be afraid of. This woman. This adult. Ghosts? The devil? Or was it men, who would break in on a woman sleeping alone. If that was it, then Lucy would be no help to her. Or did she assume they would choose Lucy over her, they would leave her alone, they would do what they were going to do to Lucy and be satisfied with that. Lying in the dark, knowing all this, Lucy despised her aunt.

_____

Because of her aunt, she has always known that she is hated. This makes her not a child. She is twelve years old and she has known this about herself for as long as she can remember. Known that, if it weren't for the law, because of what could be done to her, her aunt would harm her. She would like to now. But she cannot, because of the law.

Lena respects the law. Oh, she is law abiding, good at it, you couldn't invent a rule she wouldn't be able to follow. Like a dance. And Lucy understands it, she's done it herself, she knows what it feels like. Watchful. Ready to respond. You're always ready. It's exhausting. The leader can be indicating a change in the rules by the lift of a shoulder, an eyebrow, by putting his finger to his chin, seeming to brush something away, but that would not be it, it would be a sign.

Is this why Lena hates her so much? Because she recognizes in Lucy the same facility, the same quick, avid expertise? There can only be one. One leader and one to follow.

Who is the leader? The priest who jokes with you, daring you to go too far. The brother, uncle, grandfather who likes it when you answer back so long as you are ready in a moment to drop anything to feed him, sew a garment of his that has ripped, lend him the money you'd been saving for a luxury you loved, that you were living for, change the channel for him to a sporting event that you hated-but that you very well knew how to talk about, listen while he made fun of your dress, your body, above all your vanity in imagining that any man would want to look at you.

You?

When Lena's father was alive, Lucy's mother tells her, she was good at getting money from him by tricks and jokes. Lucy's mother resents this. Once, she told Lucy, their father passed around a note Lena had left at his place at this breakfast table. "Give me five or I'll take the pipe."

"What did that mean, take the pipe?" Lucy asked her mother.

"Kill herself with the gas," Lucy's mother said.

Their father had showed it to everyone. He thought it was hilarious.

"Did he give her the money?" Lucy asked.

"What else," her mother said. Her face was ugly. She might have been drinking too much.

But now their father was dead, and Lucy's father was dead also. Now the four of them lived in the house, Lucy, her mother, her grandmother, and Lena.

Lucy hates living in Lena's house. It's Lena's house. The mother and the grandmother don't matter. They've made themselves not matter by living their lives, going on with their lives as if there were nothing happening, as if they didn't notice this thing between Lena and Lucy. This hate.

_____

There are smells around the house, around the bathroom, that Lucy associates with Lena's menstruation. Lucy has not begun to menstruate herself. She is waiting every day for the blood on her underpants. She thinks it will be good news that hasn't got around yet but will. She's jealous of Lena's menstruation. Lucy keeps a box of sanitary napkins, a belt, special underpants in a bag in her closet. Somehow Lena knows about it. One day when Lucy went to look, the box was open; two sanitary napkins had been taken from the top. Lena never asked Lucy. And it was she, it had to be. She was the only menstruating woman in the house. Lucy's mother had stopped when Lucy's father died. Lucy was proud of that. She preferred not having to think of her mother's monthly blood or the disposal of her filthy napkins.

Lucy sees Lena's dirty napkins wrapped up, lying in the bathroom garbage. Wrapped in thick layers of toilet paper so they look like little gifts. Or tombstones. Like small loaves of bread. Lucy thinks that she can smell them in the bathroom. The air is rank when Lena leaves the room after her bath. It is a dangerous and secret odor. Another kind of test. If Lucy ever mentioned anything about it, let on that she knew, they would, the three of them, insist that she had made it up.

(She later learned that what she smelled was not Lena's menstruation, but the bath salts that she'd bought on the cheap. The seal had been broken on the bottle. Fifty cents, Lena had said. Instead of seven dollars. That's what they pay that money for? A piece of paper on the top? But Lucy knew Lena had bought something that the goodness had gone out of. That was what people paid for, the goodness of a thing. And they all had to pretend that Lena had been clever, had come up with a good bargain, had not laid her money down for something ruined, vile. And if they told the truth they would be punished.)

All of them. Lena would punish even her mother. She could punish anyone. She would think of a way. So that all of them would slink around the house, ashamed of themselves as if they were filthy. They'd do anything to undo what they'd done, but it would be impossible. It could never be undone. Lena would exist among them like a statue, her eyes blank. Not moving. The victim of offense. Always appearing to have suffered more than any of them, done more for them, failed to do nothing and then this: to have been so offended.

It was true that she had suffered. No one had married her. She had not had children. But was it more than everybody else? Lucy didn't know how this would be measured. Depth of suffering. Extent of suffering. She knew these words-extent, depth-from the Stations of the Cross. No on had suffered more than Jesus.

Who was God.

Jesus had been filled up by suffering. But Lena had not been filled up. The empty place was the room for her punishments. It was an empty place, but it was also a hunger that could not be satisfied, a fire that could not be consumed. That fed on itself but never was extinguished. Like the burning bush that Moses could not look on and live.

You didn't look at Lena. She looked at you. Asleep in the bed across from her in the Hotel Casey in Scranton, Pennsylvania, her eyes accustomed to the darkness so she could pick out all the objects in the room (the dresser, the two chairs, the lamp, the desk, the bedside table), Lucy was afraid to look at Lena. But she made herself. She saw the dark nails on the thickish fingers, the large, dropped breasts that rose and fell. She saw the heavy upper arms and knew where the ugly vaccination scar was, the one Lena hated. She gets furious if Lucy's eyes fall on it. But Lucy can't make her eyes fail to fall on it. She is always trying. But she has no way to stop her eyes.

She lives in fear. Only recently, she realized that other people, most children her age, do not. She's afraid that Lena will wake up and see her watching. And she will be punished for that.

Perhaps by not being brought along again to see Amelia. Perhaps by being left behind on the most important day of all, the day of Amelia's profession, when Amelia exchanges the white novice's veil for the permanent black of the professed nun.

But the day never comes. Amelia is told that the mother superior has reservations; her profession is put back six months.

_____

Everything about the visits changes. There are no jokes about in and out and no more funny photographs. Like the one of Amelia standing in front of the One Way sign that had been placed on the road leading to the chapel. Followed in the album by the one of Lena standing before a sign on the other part of the convent grounds that says, "One Way, Do Not Enter." The rest of the family can joke about Lena's power over them. About the fact that she can make them do what she wants. They can joke about it because it's not a danger to them. They don't live in the house.

_____

When they visit Amelia after the time she should have been professed, Lucy can see that Amelia has been in danger. But she's past danger now: the terrible thing has already happened. Nothing more can be done to her. She's permanently changed. Her skin is different and her teeth, darker now, as if the convent took back some allotment, light or health, and might return it to Amelia if she can endure this time, or else might not. She is no longer playing the piano. She meets with her family in a small private room, not in the large parlor with the others. As if she were a secret that had to be kept.

But the most important sign that Amelia had been struck by something, marked by it, was the condition of her habit. She still wore the novice's white veil. But the convent signalled her position by issuing her defective bibs. On the first visit, she wore not the starched white bib that she'd worn since leaving postulancy, but a flat oval strip of gauze. On their second visit, she wore a bib of the same type that she'd worn as a favored novice, but with a difference that alarmed Lucy so severely that she couldn't look at the bib for the whole time they were there. Across the bottom of the bib, Amelia had placed a band aid. She explained that the bibs were starched so stiffly that they sometimes cracked, as this one had. She explained that the laundress had told her that day no others were available. And so Amelia had fixed this one in this way. With a band aid, so that the crack wouldn't spread. Lucy could tell from the way Amelia talked that she thought she'd had a good idea, that she was proud of it. And so she was ashamed for Amelia's lack of shame, and at the same time for the presence of her own, which she well knew could be called a form of vanity.

When she went home and thought about Amelia in the private room, no longer playing the piano, no longer making up joke songs or posing for joke photographs, she wondered if she had made it up about the bib. Or if she'd dreamed it. She was sure she hadn't, but if anybody asked her she would say she had.

_____

When Lena told Lucy and her mother and her grandmother that Amelia was being sent home, they felt it was their fault. That they had made some mistake. In not knowing about it or preventing it. They weren't sure what they had done, but Lena made them know they had done something.

"How're they taking it? Bill and Rose, I mean," Lucy's mother said.

Lena answered the way she answered most questions. Like you were stupid to have asked. You should have known the answer already. You weren't paying attention or you would have known. Or you should have known better than to ask. Some questions should not be asked. Or answered.

"What do you think?" she said. "What do you think it's like for Rose and Bill."

She passed her plate to her mother, who served her, looking only at the food.

_____

The week before Amelia came home, a new pastor arrived in the parish. The old pastor, now dead, had been unpopular. In 1952, he had replaced a pastor who had brought the parish from a collection of farm families in 1920 to a postwar suburb of hopeful, ambitious Brooklyn transplants. This Father Halloran had been beloved. In 1948, he'd been named a monsignor. His kindness and his holiness were legendary (people mentioned the Cure of Ars) but he was no good with finances. At his death, he was replaced by Father Corcoran who was said to have "a good head for money." On his first Sunday, Father Corcoran shocked the parish by telling them that Msgr. Halloran had left the parish a fiscal ruin. He announced a new order. He gave out weekly envelopes to each family, with an encoded number printed at the top. Records would be kept of all donations. A yearly statement of each family's contributions would be presented at year's end; this could be submitted to the I.R.S. He criticized the women's choir, breaking into their practice one day, telling them they sounded like hyenas and that they were going to be replaced by a record player in the choir loft. "He just shoved the records in our faces," Marie Harley said to Lucy's mother. "Ave Maria, Pange Lingua, you name it."

Behind her eyes, Lucy had seen Father Corcoran's fattish fingers pressing long playing black records onto the faces of the choir ladies. She could feel the tips of their noses poking through the record holes, their eyelids frightened behind the hard black plastic.

Father Corcoran announced plans for a new church. At Sunday Masses, people stood in the aisles; it was no way, he said, to worship God, standing around like animals in a barn. From the altar, he chastised mothers of crying babies; the new church, he vowed, would have a soundproof room where children could create Bedlam in peace. He launched a building fund. It was astonishingly successful. You could have fit three of the old church into the new.

His temper was notorious. The housekeeper who'd served Msgr. Halloran for twenty years quit a month after Father Corcoran arrived. She said it was because of Father Corcoran's dog, a Dalmatian called Chief. She said she wasn't paid to clean up after dogs. Father Corcoran walked the dog three times a day. It was the only sign of his humanity, but he wasn't liked for it. People thought he was showing off, having a dog, the way some priests showed off by driving expensive cars. Others thought it was worldly of him to have a dog. As if it was taking his mind off God.

No one spoke to Father Corcoran when they saw him out walking the dog. They'd bow and say good day, Father, but they'd never look him in the eye. No one in the parish ever petted the dog. Even the most devoted dog lovers avoided the temptation to show the animal some warmth, scratch him behind the ears, call him good dog or praise his faultless obedience. Chief seemed, to Lucy, trapped in a useless, underexposed life, but it wasn't until Father Corcoran was generally known to be dying that she acted on her sympathy.

Father Corcoran was diagnosed as having bladder cancer. The parish was embarrassed at having to think of a priest having a bladder, so they rarely mentioned his disease. But he was known to be in dreadful pain, and everyone admired his heroism. They admired, too, that one day from the pulpit he apologized for all his past harshness, his mistakes. He reinstated the women's choir. He grew tender to the children, made a point of sitting on the porch with the dog when the parish school was dismissed. One day, when Lucy was coming out of confession, he said hello to her as she passed the rectory. "What grade are you in," he asked. She knew he wanted to talk.

"Sixth, Father," she said. She patted the dog's head, feeling she stole grace. She dreamed of bringing the dog home after Father Corcoran's death. But she knew there were people ahead of her. Ordinary families. Families with fathers, brothers. Who deserved the honor of the pastor's dog.

By the time Father Corcoran died, he was beloved by the parish. No one looked forward to his replacement, but one was announced a week after his funeral. It was Father Maloney from Sacred Heart, only two miles away. Which was unusual: usually the diocese picked someone from far away to give a real feeling of new blood. And to make sure stories wouldn't travel quite so easily across town and parish lines.

Father Maloney was known to be good with money as Father Corcoran had been; it was essential that the building fund campaign be kept up. The parish had no desire to shake off its mourning to welcome the new pastor, but they knew it was their duty. A parish-wide welcoming ceremony was planned to follow his first Mass. A few children had been selected to learn a song that Sister Miriam, the music nun, had written specially for the occasion.

The parish auditorium looked unfestive despite what everyone had done. The crepe paper streamers hung from the heating pipes like dangling bandages; the silver cardboard bells attached to the ceiling were too small for people to make sense of their shape.

Father Maloney was a fat man; he looked old and in ill health. He mumbled his speech and only the people in the front could hear him. The air was sluggish with disappointment as people walked around with coffee cups and plates of cake. Then the miracle happened. The choir children went to the front of the room to sing. Sister Miriam raised her hands and they began:

Welcome to your new parish

We're mighty glad you have come

Our song of cheer is a welcome sincere

Join in the music and fun

Great are the joys that await you

As o'er His vineyard you roam.

So welcome, welcome, Father dear.

To this, your brand new home.

The applause rolled over them like a warm wave. The atmosphere became triumphant. Sister Miriam blushed as Father Maloney shook both her hands.

That night in her bed Lucy dwelt on the song's power. On the face of Sister Miriam, blushing, her white hands held by the pastors fat red ones, but the fatness didn't matter; they were sacred hands. She wondered if Amelia, who was musical also, would be capable of a triumph like Sister Miriam's. She thought of the band aid on Amelia's starched white bib and knew that she would not.

_____

"I guest we should just try and act natural," Lucy's mother said as they drove over to Bill and Rose's for Amelia's welcome home party. "Just like we're glad to see her."

Lucy was in the back seat with her mother. Her grandmother was in the front beside Lena, who drove. Lena's angry hands were tight on the wheel. In the half light, her painted nails looked black.

"How else would you try and act. Unnatural?"

She turned down Bill and Rose's street. "I think everybody should just get themselves out of the picture. We're not important. We're not in the picture."

In the seat behind Lena, Lucy couldn't see her eyes. But she knew what Lena's eyes were like as she was speaking. Blank. Empty. As if they could just as easily have been nothing, but no, that wasn't it, she had seen something, as she always did, some ugliness, some selfishness. She was right, of course, she always was. They were thinking about themselves, worrying about how they would act. In Lena's eyes you saw what she was always saying, "I have suffered more than any of you. I am able to forget myself."

In religious books they called it "self." "The poisoned heart that thinks only of self." "This modern man concerned only with self." And yet the word didn't sound bad or dangerous. It sounded like a small, clean creature. Contained. Self rhymed with elf. Yet you had to believe it was the root of everything bad. The root that had to be uprooted.

_____

When they got to the house, Bill and Amelia hadn't yet arrived. Rose was in the kitchen talking with Lucy's Aunt Marian. Marian seemed glad when they arrived, glad she didn't have to be alone with Rose any more. The boys were upstairs playing cards. Lucy could hear them laughing through the ceiling. So knew she couldn't go up there. Her place was downstairs.

"Terry's not home," Marian said. "She has the grippe or something."

Lucy nodded at her aunt. She didn't like her cousin Terry, but Terry would have been someone for her to be with. Terry was two years younger, and much prettier. She'd been left back in second grade. She could do tricks on the swings and monkey bars and on her bicycle. Her mother was always buying her new clothes. Beside her, Lucy felt heavy, old, and serious. She knew everyone liked Terry more than they liked her. She knew Terry was a little afraid of her. They bored each other. Still, if she were here, it would have given Lucy some place possible to stand.

Rose was setting out plates of food. Cold cuts. Macaroni salad. Pickled beets. Cole slaw. The kidney bean salad Lena made with mayonnaise and hard boiled egg that no one liked. But all the food was food that no one really liked, that was the point of it. Or the point was that no one liked it too much. The white bread, the whole wheat bread were stacked on the tan Melmac plates. The bread was ugly on the plates, you would take a piece and put it on your own plate, but you wouldn't feel good doing it. The bologna had darker spots in its pinkness, like sores on a tongue or blemishes on a hot face. The other cold cuts-liverwurst, thuringer, seemed to be oozing or about to ooze. You couldn't forget all the fat in them.

Lucy imagined there was a better way of presenting this food, but she didn't know what it was. And even if she knew, she wouldn't have been able to make it happen. It would be another thing that she would know that the adults wouldn't. She was happy that she didn't know.

"Is there anything that I can do to help?" she asked Rose.

"You could fold the napkins."

Rose was another one who didn't like her.

Lucy folded the napkins, watching herself from some place where her body was not, where she would go when she was dead. Perhaps I am dead, she would often think, doing a task like this, a task she hated, folding napkins, that did not quite take up her mind and let her watch herself. In the living room, Lena, her grandmother, her mother, her Aunt Marian talked in whispers, shamefully. In the kitchen, Lucy folded napkins and wondered what it meant to be alive. She wondered how you would explain the difference between life and death.

_____

They heard the car pull in the driveway. Rose went into the living room and the other women stood with her. Lucy was beside her mother. The two of them hung the furthest back, the furthest away from the hall. After a while, the boys came down the stairs.

Amelia was wearing a black coat that was too long for her and a white cotton kerchief with yellow and red flowers, black Cuban heels with gross-grain bows. She carried a red pocketbook. The handle was slung over her wrist as if she weren't used to it. But of course she wasn't used to it, Lucy thought: nuns didn't carry pocketbooks. They had no need of them. For three years, Amelia hadn't needed money, a lipstick, a comb. She kept a handkerchief in the huge pocket of her habit. If she used a pen, she could simply carry it from the room she was in to the room she was approaching: in three years she would never have left the convent grounds.

They all moved into the hall and stood looking at Amelia. They all stared at her, as if they'd never seen her before. She'd left them as one thing, Amelia who had gone to high school, and worn saddle shoes, shorts, skirts with pleats, white blouses with round collars. Who had gone to the prom with someone who'd been forced to take her, someone's son, but she'd gone nevertheless dressed in purple and like any other girl, triumphant. She'd left the house for the convent, had been visited: they'd traveled to see her, happy to travel just to see her in her habit, in her veil, kneeling, sitting in the parlor with the other girls dressed just like her, playing the piano. They'd loved looking at her then. Lucy thought of the expression: "feast your eyes," and they had done that, had been happy to travel just to do that, just to look at her, and perhaps that was what had happened. Perhaps they had eaten her up looking at her so much, traveling just to look at her. Perhaps that was why there was nothing left of her, why she looked like this, why they couldn't recognize her: there was nothing left to recognize, she was all gone.

Now they were afraid to look at her. They all just stood there. None of them said anything. They would begin to look and they would stop looking at Amelia and look down at the floor. Looking at her no longer gave them anything.

In her wrinkled kerchief with the ugly red flowers, in her black coat, with her pocketbook, it was as if she were making fun of everything that she had been for them, that they had liked to look at, that they'd traveled so far just to see. Now there was nothing for them to look at, there was no one there, or someone they didn't know how to look at. And they wouldn't know how to name what they saw, even if they could make themselves look. How could they name her? She'd lost her name twice. She was Amelia, then she lost that name. She became Sister William Rose, taking her parents' names. And then the nuns took it back. Would someone else use it now? Someone else whose parents' names were William and Rose? Lucy imagined it could happen. It could happen again, to another girl, who'd have her hair cut and become the name Amelia left, as if she were walking out of a house. No: as if she'd been banished from it. But to where?

Lucy could see that no one in the family house wanted Amelia. They were ashamed of her. They didn't know what to call her, how to welcome her, they couldn't welcome her. They didn't want her there.

Welcome. Lucy remembered the signs for Father Maloney, the cloth banners stretched across the auditorium. "Welcome, Father," they said. But really they hadn't welcomed him. They hadn't wanted him any more than the family wanted Amelia. There'd been the same feeling in the auditorium that day, nobody wanted to look at him, no one knew what to say. Everyone hated being there; they hated him for making them feel what they felt.

Lucy kept seeing the word WELCOME. She kept repeating the word in her head until it had no meaning. WELCOME. WELL COME. COME WELL. What could it possibly mean? That your coming was a good thing? That you'd done right?

No one had believed Father Maloney had done right in coming to them. It was the same thing with Amelia. Welcome. Lucy kept hearing the word. Then she remembered. Something had changed in the auditorium so that people were glad to be there when they hadn't been before. It was the song that Sister Miriam had written, that the children had sung. She thought of Sister Miriam's white face, blushing with triumph when the song way done, when the day had been saved. "She saved the day." Lucy kept hearing. Although no one had said it of Sister Miriam. Not in so many words.

And Lucy would do it now. She'd save the day. The day was being lost, and Amelia with it. They were all losing themselves and her. To shame. To their shame that she should be among them. And Lucy knew that none of them, especially the adults, knew what to do, that they could all stay that way forever, not looking, moving, speaking. As if they were all dead.

Lucy knew what to do. She walked to the center of the hall. To the empty space they'd left so they could all be far away from Amelia. From the place she stood, the air she breathed, the floor she put her weight on. They gathered in clusters, in a U-shape, leaving Amelia at the top of the unfinished loop. Lucy walked to the center. She knew what had to be done.

"I wrote a little song for you, Amelia," she said. Her voice wasn't afraid, although she was afraid. But she could make her voice sound unafraid, because of all of them she was the only one who knew what to do. She wouldn't look at any of them. She would just go on:

Welcome back to your home now

We're mighty glad you have come

Our song of cheer is a welcome sincere

Join in the music and fun

Great are the joys that await you

As with your family you roam

So welcome back, Amelia dear

To this your home sweet home.

Amelia looked at Lucy as if she'd never seen her. Then she shook herself a little, like a dog coming out of a lake. As if she were trying to remember something. She looked at Lucy like a nun, that look that meant that they were not like you, but they could still approach you. Only you could not touch them.

"That's very nice. Very thoughtful. You're a nice girl, Terry. Thank you very much."

Amelia smiled. And then she looked at the floor.

"Terry?" Lena's voice said. "That's not Terry. Terry only wishes she was that fat. It would take three Terrys to make one of her. She was built when beef was cheap."

They all laughed. Every one of them. Except Amelia. They all moved. They could move now into the living room.

Only Lucy couldn't move. She had to stay in the hall. Collect herself. She couldn't let them see her cry. She felt herself disgusting and ridiculous. She felt the elastic of her underpants cut into the soft flesh of her stomach. She remembered sitting in the back of the station wagon in the summer, seeing Terry's smooth brown thighs, silky, the flesh didn't fold over, flop down. It stayed still, like a column. Lucy wanted to have a doctor come right there and take her up the stairs, cut her stomach off, cut the fat off her thighs, draw blood, hurt her, to get rid of this flesh that hung and flapped and folded. She thought it wouldn't hurt at all, the relief that would come with that knife.

And Lena had seen that, as she always saw. The worst about you, any ugliness, any shamefulness. She saw it all with her blank eyes. And at any time she might say it in the world. She might name you and your ugliness. She would, you just didn't know when.

Amelia hadn't known Lucy's name. She had thought that she was special to Amelia, that Amelia had liked having a girl visit her, that Amelia had hoped Lucy would join her in the convent when she grew up. Now she saw that she was nothing to Amelia. She was no one in the world.

But then she saw that she wasn't no one. Because of her, they could move. Because of what she had done and what Lena had done to her. She had suffered pain for them. She thought of Jesus. Greater love than this no man hath, but that he lay down his life for his friend. She thought of the letters on the Church bulletin board during Lent. They spelled out "Love is measured by Sacrifice." She had been sacrificed. And it had enabled them to move. She had given herself up to save Amelia.

She thought of Jesus on the cross. She thought of Jesus, leaving his body behind, his heavy body, rising from the dead. She felt cool and light, unfleshed, wounded formerly but now triumphant. Leaving her body, she was glad to walk among them. She could join them now. She would walk among them. They would think that she was one of them. She'd speak to them, and they would speak to her. But they would never touch her. What they thought they touched would be nothing. Emptiness. Something they only thought they saw.

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