an excerpt from

Molly O by Mark Foss


The first time i saw Candy walk backwards was in her bedroom. She enlisted me — through a series of hand gestures — to help rearrange her furniture. This was about six months before Hoss fell off the stage, stoned, so she must have been almost ten years old. In the north corner, newly uncovered, we put her desk. These were the original floors — hardwood, full of knots, warping and protruding with age. We pushed and pulled at it to make it flat, and a board came loose. We sat quite still, staring at the hole in the floor we uncovered. I was taken with a heavy sense of guilt. To make things right, I put the wood back in place. It fell through the hole. Quickly, I reached into the dark space to pull it out again, and my fingers brushed against something. Candy stood up, shaking, and walked backwards — desperately trying to distance herself from the discovery, but unable to take her eyes off it. With her room in disarray, she bumped into her bed and fell backwards on the mattress. She was near tears — not from physical hurt, but out of fear.

A lock of brown hair, a thin, unframed daguerreotype, and a note. The strands of hair in Candy’s palm were funnel-shaped, like a cartoon tornado. She poked at them cautiously with her index finger. When they didn’t bite, she stroked them gently, with affection. I was the one who opened the folded paper, and tried to read the faint markings in pencil. They were too faded to decipher. The image in the picture, however, was clear: a young girl — curly dark hair, serious, possibly sad. In ink, etched on the metal, a single name: Phebe.

Candy overcame all her fears. She held the image — it is perhaps two inches square — between two fingers, and studied the girl closely. Her lips moved as if she could make out the words in the note, and I was torn between eyeing the paper and lip-reading to understand what she saw. I only knew she wrapped it all up again, stuck it in the hole, and had me reinstall the dislodged board. She pointed to me, then her, and then brought a finger to her lips. It warmed me inside, this half-secret that we shared.

It was Hoss who put the idea in my head that Isaac, Lewis, and Phebe were watching us. He said Lewis would smite me in my bed, cut off my toes to stunt my growth. I wore socks that night, and stayed awake to see if they had been sliced open. I believed Hoss until I saw him carving his height with a knife in the barn, so frustrated that at age ten I have grown taller. Never mind he will spurt past me again in four months, or that his blue eyes are 20/20. I was wearing glasses by sixth grade. I don’t know about Candy’s green eyes. Maybe she was blind and never told us.


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