The Children - Ann Leary Page 0,1

he was going to die as soon as he did. Perhaps he thought the rules of cell division, malignancies, and whatnot, like so many other boring rules, simply didn’t apply to him. Maybe he thought he could opt out of the whole cancer scheme that his doctor had laid out before him. In any case, he did die, less than a year after his diagnosis, leaving Lakeside in a sort of limbo.

Lakeside Cottage is still owned by the Whitman estate. It was left to my stepbrothers, Perry and Spin Whitman, but Whit requested that Joan be allowed to live here for the remainder of her life. It’s all part of a family trust. Sally and I aren’t part of the trust, being Maynards and not Whitmans.

Sally lives in Manhattan now, but I live at Lakeside with Joan. I’m twenty-nine. I know—I’m a little old to live in my mother’s house. I like it here, though, and not just because it’s free, as my stepbrother Perry is always hinting. I work at home. I have a blog, and I’m also thinking of writing a book about Laurel Atwood. Maybe a sort of memoir.

It’s hard to understand what attracted Spin to Laurel, and vice versa, without understanding the Whitmans. You need the whole picture. I stupidly told Joan about the book idea the other day, and now she keeps insisting that she doesn’t want me to write about her. “Go ahead, tell the story, just keep me out of it,” she’ll say, and then she’ll remind me of the time she ran the Boston Marathon, or the time she won the regional women’s amateur open tennis championship.

“Whit’s marriage was over when we got together. People forget that,” she’ll announce suddenly, as if I had asked. “In any event, if you’re going to write about me at all, I think it’ll give a more rounded perspective if you include the fact that I went to Princeton.”

“Okay, well, I’m really focusing on Whit now,” I told her the other day after she offered another writing prompt involving her triumphant goal in a field hockey match sometime in the 1970s.

“Whit? What on earth has Whit got to do with it? He was already dead when Spin met Laurel.”

* * *

I don’t leave our property in the day much anymore, but when I do, I stay close to home. I often walk in the woods. I like wooded paths. I like the dark. I can go anywhere in the dark, I just don’t go to strange outdoor places during the day very often. Fields, roads, parking lots, open places like that make me anxious. Vast indoor areas like shopping centers are tricky because of all the people, but at least there you can grab a wall or a railing or something. In open outdoor places, there’s nothing you can hold on to, nothing to anchor you to the earth’s surface. I was always a homebody, a “house mouse,” as Whit used to say. I think it’s just part of my nature, but over time it’s gone from a quirk to something more.

Three summers ago, not long after Whit died, I stood on the town beach of this lake one afternoon and was suddenly undone by its vast, yawning strangeness. I think that’s when I first got this sense of needing to grab hold of something. The ground would have been fine. If I could have crawled back to my bicycle from the lake’s edge, I would have. But there were people at the beach, watching me with all their eyes. I walked away slowly, looking down, each footstep placed deliberately, heel-toe, heel-toe, so as not to scuttle sidelong before the entire group like a crab with no shell. I walked back to the cool shade of the tree where my bike was resting. Once I caught my breath, I pedaled home.

Another thing—I don’t drive, but I’ve always been able to ride my bike on roads that I wouldn’t dream of walking along, especially during the day. Of course, at night, it’s different. I can ride anywhere at night, as long as the weather’s not too cold.

Joan says I need to learn to adapt. I think she’s wrong. I think my problem is that I’m too adaptable. Have you ever seen a large cat fold itself into a tiny shoe box? Or the way a bat wraps its vast wings around its torso until it’s no bigger than a prune? A grown rat can squeeze through a