This was how Moody made a decision he would question for the rest of his life. Until now he had said nothing about Pearl or her mother to his family, guarding their friendship like a dragon guards treasure: silently, greedily. Deep down he had the feeling that somehow it would change everything. If he had kept her to himself, perhaps the future might have been quite different. All he had to offer her, he felt, was what his family had to offer, his family itself, and it was this that led him to say, one afternoon in July, “Come over. You can meet my family.”
“Mom,” [Pearl] began, then found she could not repeat Lexie’s blunt words. Instead she asked the question that ran below all the other questions like a deep underground river. “Was I wanted?”
…Mia said nothing for such a long time that Pearl wasn’t sure if she’d heard. After a long pause, Mia turned around, and to Pearl’s amazement, her mother’s eyes were wet.
“Were you wanted?” Mia said. “Oh, yes. You were wanted. Very, very much.” She walked rapidly out of the room without looking at her daughter again.
“Listen to this dumbass question,” [Lexie] groaned, fishing the application from her bag. “Rewrite a famous story from a different perspective. For example, retell The Wizard of Oz from the point of view of the Wicked Witch.”
“How about a fairy tale,” Moody suggested. “‘Cinderella’ from the point of view of the stepsisters.”
“‘Little Red Riding Hood’ as told by the wolf,” Pearl suggested.
“Or ‘Rumplestiltskin,’” Lexie mused. “That miller’s daughter cheated him. He did all that spinning for her and she said she’d give him her baby and then she reneged. Maybe she’s the villain here. She shouldn’t have agreed to give up her baby in the first place, if she didn’t want to.”
“Well,” Mia put in suddenly. “Maybe she didn’t know what she was giving up. Maybe once she saw the baby she changed her mind. Don’t be too quick to judge.”
“You see now,” Moody said. “What they’re like.”
[Mrs. Richardson] turned her attention to the largest print, which had been stuck up alone over the mantelpiece. It was a photograph of a woman, back to the camera, in mid-dance. The film caught her in blurred motion—arms everywhere, stretched high, to her sides, curved to her waist—a tangle of limbs that, Mrs. Richardson realized with a shock, made her resemble an enormous spider, surrounded by a haze of web. It perturbed and perplexed her, but she could not turn away.
Mia could see there was no point in protesting, that protesting, in fact, would only make things worse and lead to ill will. She had learned that when people were bent on doing something they believed was a good deed, it was usually impossible to dissuade them. Then she imagined herself safely installed in the Richardsons’ kingdom, half obscured in the background, keeping watch over her daughter. Reasserting her presence in her daughter’s life.
“Well?” said Mia. “What are you going to do about it?”
It was not a question Izzy had been asked before. Until now her life had been one of mute, futile fury. What was she going to do about it? The very idea that she could do something stunned her.
She had learned, with Izzy’s birth, how your life could trundle along on its safe little track and then, with no warning, skid spectacularly off course.
Mia thought suddenly of those moments at the restaurant, after the dinner rush had ended and things were quiet, when Bebe sometimes rested her elbows on the counter and drifted away. Mia understood exactly where she drifted to. To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once. It was a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get in. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that place again.
“I believe in knowing where your roots lie. That kind of thing shapes your identity so much.”
It was so easy, she thought with some disdain, to find out about people. It was all out there, everything about them. You just had to look. You could figure out anything about a person if you just tried hard enough.
It had been a long time since her daughter had let her be so close. Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.
It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?
For [Mrs. Richardson] it was simple: Bebe Chow had been a poor mother; Linda McCullough had been a good one. One had followed the rules, and one had not. But the problem with rules, [Mr. Richardson] reflected, was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time there were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure which side of the line you stood on.
Since the visit to the clinic, Pearl had felt a strange sense of reversal: as if, while she and Lexie slept under the same roof, Lexie had somehow taken her place and she’d taken Lexie’s and they had not quite disentangled.
“Is she going to be okay?”
“She’s going to survive, if that’s what you mean.” Mia stroked Izzy’s hair. It was like Pearl’s, like her own had been as a little girl: the more you tried to smooth it, the more she insisted on springing free. “She’s going to get through this because she has to.”
“I don’t know, honestly. But she will. Sometimes, just when you think everything’s gone, you find a way. Like after a prairie fire. I saw one, years ago. It seems like the end of the world. The earth is scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.”
The police would find Izzy, she told herself. They would find her and she would be able to make amends. She wasn’t sure how, but she was certain she would. And if the police couldn’t find her? Then she would look for Izzy herself. For as long as it took, for forever if need be. Years might pass and they might change, both of them, but she was sure she would still know her own child, just as she would know herself, no matter how long it had been. She was certain of this.