Tishko was out there howling and the summer air wassweet and Freda's bones were pushing their way outward. Stretchingher from socket to socket. There's nothing wrong with you, her mother would say. You're pretty as a Gibson Girl. You just had your growth spurt early, but Freda knew better. She knew it when she was only ten.





Her house had been her parents' house. They'd bought it new when Freda was nine. A split-level built in 1951 that cost seventhousand dollars. She was thirty-seven now and sleeping in their bedroom. It had low ceilings and low doorways and she knew all the places she needed to stoop. Every three weeks she cleaned the upstairs windows by standing on thelawn. She used a bucket with hot vinegar water, she didn't mind the smell. There was a bluejay nest in the eaves up there and the birds really fouled thepanes.




“Lady, what's your problem?” A little boy was standing on the sidewalk with his bike. He had a shoebox strapped to the rackbehind the seat. “I never saw a person big as you.”




“These bluejays are my problem,” she said. “Look at the mess they're making.”




“I bet they got a nest up there. My momma says they're pests.”




“Where's your house?”




“We're new,” he said. He pointed four doors up to where the Clevelands used to live. “We're in the yellow house, but my momma, she's gonna paint it because it's much too bright. She can't right now because of the fumes. In September I'm starting at the Bristol School. That's when I'm getting a brother.”




“How do you know it won't be a girl?”




“No way,” he said. “I asked my mom for a brother. And she can tell, anyhow. She gets sick in the mornings and not at night and she says only boys do that. Sometimes she's in there for hours.”




Freda set her bucket down and wiped her wet hands downthe front of her pants. It was May, but the air still had some bite and this boy was wearing only a pair of thin cotton shorts. She pointed to the back ofhis bike. “What do you have in that box?”




“I’m looking for crickets,” he said. “My lizard Freddy, he's got a condition.”




“I've got plenty of those,” she said. “They're eating up my flowers.” The waterlily tulips were done for the year, but herlady tulips were just getting started. They were red on the outside, but their insides were yellow and orange and it was like having two different gardenswhen they finally opened.




“You got some nice ones,” he said. “You got morethan Mrs.Dillman and she's out there every day.” He rubbed his thumb against his jaw like somebody much older. He was wearing aT-shirt from the Freedom Train. She could see it now that she was closer. She could see his collarbones and the hollow beneath his ribs and how his legs wereknobby as drumsticks and brown already from the sun.




“You want to see those birds? You want to see the babies sitting in the nest?” She held out her arms and he came to her. He should havebeen afraid, but he leaned his bike against her maple and walked across herlawn. She hoisted him upwards and toward the eaves, and he was all bones, thislittle boy. Her hands fit perfectly around his waist.




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