One day when Molly arrives, Vivian greets her with unusual energy, announcing that there isn’t time for a cup of tea (which disappoints Molly) because she’s old and “could drop dead any minute.” As Molly’s “portaging” project has progressed, Vivian has gone from being timid to forthcoming about her past. Vivian explains that she’s never told anyone, not even her husband, so much about the painful experience of being sent off “like garbage” on the orphan train. As they go through more boxes in the attic, Molly is beginning to connect stories and objects into a “pattern that was impossible to see when each piece is separate.” She is up to the point in the story where Niamh stays with Miss Larsen. Molly relates to Vivian’s distrust in the intentions of others, her “forced” smiles, false “empathy,” and performance of normalcy when she is “broken inside.”
Contrary to Molly’s expectations, she now realizes that Vivian has indeed suffered and that they have much in common. Molly’s expectation of tea suggests that they’ve developed a ritual together. This highlights their growing bond, which is further evident in Vivian’s increasing openness about her past. The fact that Vivian has kept her stories secret for so long is likely because of the very guardedness and distrust that she and Molly share. Molly’s shared experiences and understanding, however, gives her the power to break through Vivian’s emotional defenses. This passage reveals that Molly is at the same point in Vivian’s story as the reader.
One day in Molly’s American History class, a student named Tyler Baldwin comments in response to a film about the Wabanaki people. In his view, the history of humans involves conquer and conquest, and the groups who “lose” should “deal with it.” Molly feels enraged. She raises her hand to speak, which she rarely does. She reveals that she is Indian, and explains that the Indians, like the Irish under British rule, lost without a fair fight. Another student, Megan McDonald, validates Molly by echoing the opinions of her Irish grandfather. Tyler mentions his grandparents’ financial losses during the Great Depression and says, “You don’t see me asking for handouts.” Then a debate sparks about the politics of modern Native Americans. Megan tells Molly it’s “cool” that she’s Indian “like Molly Molasses.”
As Molly’s history class continues to explore the subject of Native Americans, Molly is faced with the choice of whether or not to reveal her identity and personal heritage. Her comments about the Irish under British rule suggest that her conversations with Vivian, along with her growing anger, have inspired her to reveal her origins in a way that gives her power. Tyler’s views treat the experiences of Wabanaki people as politicized and distant (similar to Dina), but to Molly they are very personal and real. Despite Tyler’s offensive comments, it’s at least comforting that some other white classmates are willing to stand up for Molly and affirm her in a vulnerable moment.
Jack and Molly are eating lunch outside at school. Lately Molly has been spending much more time with Vivian and less time with Jack. She hasn’t told Jack about the portaging project because she’s afraid he’ll think she’s “asking too much” of Vivian. Over lunch, Jack declares that Molly sees Vivian as a “grandmother figure.” Molly objects, claiming that they just have a work relationship. He says it doesn’t look like they are making any progress in the attic, but Molly insists that they are. She considers it pointless to expect Vivian to get rid of things when “estate sale” people will just take everything after she dies anyway. To Vivian, the importance of their project is in “naming and identifying” each object and its significance in her life. Jack persists, describing how suspicious her lack of progress looks to Terry. Molly snaps, saying it’s none of Terry’s business. Jack is furious, and walks away.
As Molly has grown closer to Vivian, she has seemingly grown more distant from Jack. This is partly because she has grown protective of her relationship with Vivian and is afraid that Jack won’t understand it, but it’s also because now that she has Vivian’s friendship, Molly is less dependent on Jack to fulfill all of her emotional needs. Jack’s evaluation of the situation shows that he sees her growing closeness to Vivian but that he doesn’t fully approve, which seems to validate Molly’s fears of future abandonment. Molly’s reflections on the attic project show that she understands the true meaning it has to Vivian, and that she values Vivian’s emotional needs above Jack and Terry’s expectations.