On a “tour” of Vivian’s mansion, Terry explains that Vivian and her husband owned a department store in Minnesota. They retired twenty years ago and took a sailing trip, during which they found and bought the mansion on a whim. Vivian’s husband died eight years ago, leaving her alone in a house with fourteen bedrooms. Terry leads Molly and Vivian up to the attic. Seeing all of her boxes, Vivian jokes that other people probably have children so that “someone will care about the stuff they leave behind.” Molly tries to control her expressions of hostility toward Vivian, knowing that Vivian is only helping her. Still, she “nurtures her resentment” toward the injustices life has done her, which she feels are exemplified by her “indentured servitude” to a wealthy white lady. Following the advice of her social worker, Lori, Molly makes a mental list of “positive things about her situation.”
This section leaves the reader with many unanswered questions – how did Vivian/ Niamh end up owning a department store? Did she end up with a rich family, or marry rich? Why does she have such a large house but no children? These carefully crafted gaps in Vivian/Niamh’s life story drive the plot of the parallel storyline of Niamh’s journey on the orphan train. Vivian’s large empty house, coupled with her remark about children, suggest that she is yet again just as alone as she was in her childhood. At this point, Molly’s attitude and her conception of Vivian draw attention to her ignorance about the true story of Vivian’s past.
In the first box, Vivian is moved to find a child’s mustard-yellow coat. She tells Molly that she “always hated it.” Inside the pocket is a folded piece of paper with the words: “Upright and do right make all right.” Vivian explains that she wrote it in elementary school, copying the letters from her favorite teacher, Ms. Larsen. Molly contemplates how old the note is, and remarks that the world has changed since Vivian was a child. Vivian contends that not much has changed for her, explaining that she doesn’t even own a computer. Molly argues that Vivian is missing out, and that she is too isolated in her “bubble.” She immediately regrets being so blunt, but Vivian smiles and remarks that Molly doesn’t have “trouble speaking [her] mind.” Molly asks Vivian why she kept the yellow coat that she hated so much, and Vivian replies that she doesn’t know.
It becomes clear that in the modern-day plotline, Vivian will be reviewing relics of her past. These then become details of her story that have yet to be fully explained, and therefore foreshadow the future of Niamh’s storyline. Just as Vivian was perceptive about Molly’s background, Molly is perceptive about Vivian’s isolated state – her “bubble.” Vivian’s approving reaction to Molly’s criticism reveals her openness to Molly’s opinions. This quality makes Vivian a foil to Dina, who is offended by Molly’s self-expressions. Molly’s question about the coat reflects the question the novel is asking – why has Vivian held onto these things?