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MAVI: ARGENTINA, MARCH 1978
The boat wove around dozens of fat, fake-looking icebergs parked in the aquamarine depths to reach this solitary dock. Three hours on the lake, and I never glimpsed another person but the captain, a ruddy-faced, early-emphysema case. After hour one, I was grateful when the massive ice shelf appeared. Its milky-blue shell looks like a cloud formation drawn by a five-year-old—at least from afar. Close up, cracks form black veins in the ice. Black slices that are five times the length of the boat, above the surface alone. Acid worms through my stomach: If I slipped down one of these crevasses, I think I would reappear on a different plane of existence. A Patagonian Alice, lost to Wonderland.
Glacial water gurgles behind me as the captain idles the boat. He crosses his arms, and tattooed mermaid’s breasts bulge on his wrist. Argentina, home of the 1978 FIFA World Cup, reads his pristine sky-blue shirt. A proud proclamation from a country plunged into a state of terror.
“We’re here?” I ask, uneasy, studying the worn planks of the dock, broken wooden teeth. I can’t see a single building, and overgrown bushes conceal any path up the stony hill.
The captain grunts—the most he’s managed besides a series of coughs and belches since we left Punta Bandera—and eases back into his pleather seat, crinkling open his empty bag of ham-flavored chips to funnel spare crumbs down his gullet. I know my cues. I step off the boat, wood creaking. He doesn’t even glance back as he pulls away. At least I can rest assured he hasn’t taken me out here to rob me and leave me for dead. Silver linings … I take a breath, one breath, of the crisp air, painfully fresh compared with the Buenos Aires smog I sucked up only yesterday. There’s already a chill damp enough to penetrate the warmest of coats—my ratty one won’t stand a chance as winter nears.
You shouldn’t be here, the wind whispers, curving around to caress the base of my skull. Because good Catholic girls aren’t meant to run away into the wild, much less alone. Or so I’ve heard. Faraway, savage mountains, crumbling rock faces, and lonesome ice peaks—that’s all there is to this inhuman landscape. I rebutton my coat, stiffen my shoulders. I tamp down my nerves—hoping to fool even myself—but I feel it stronger than ever now, that citrusy ache that fills you before beginning a brand-new chapter of life. New-school jitters, sort of. I’m five years old again, every cell alive to the thrilling or wretched twists I might face ahead.
I shoulder my half-empty bag. I was told the house would have everything I could possibly need—the kind of blanket assertion that concerns and delights. Would they have those miniaturized complimentary chocolates fancy hotels leave on down pillows? Or provide a stiff cot and a Bible to rest my head on? Who does Vaccaro School think I am, and who does it want me to be? Does it know me as the daughter of a wild-haired rebel, or as the daughter of a buttoned-up professor? I wonder, for the millionth time, if I’ll be as natural a teacher as my mother was, even though I am young enough to still be in school myself: I’m eighteen, despite feeling a decade older. I wonder if the others here will accept me, even though I’ve had no chance to soften the edges my godmother always clucked about, with no small dose of affection. I wonder if I’ll be able to hide what I must in order to fit in. All I’m carrying with me is the little clothing I thought to be Vaccaro School–appropriate (prim and boring but patched of most holes), my first-ever curriculum plan (embarrassing and incomplete, yet earnest—sure to be thrown away), and toiletries (a toothbrush with graying bristles, a leaking bottle of face cream). It’s hardly enough to make do in the wilderness, unless pumas enjoy Lancôme. So I hurry down the dock, locate a set of stone steps tucked into the hill like an afterthought, and climb toward what I hope is Vaccaro School.
The steps are never-ending: the kind you’d expect to find billy goats prancing up, jaunty little grins on their slit-pupiled faces. I wish I had legs that slim and toned; ten flights in, I’d even accept the tufty beard in exchange for them. I swear that the mottled gray slabs beneath me are identical, too, never changing no matter how far I climb—it’s as if some god, somewhere, personally curated every molecule on this rock face during an obsessive-compulsive fit. When I collapse on my bag to catch my breath, the geometric pattern of rock stretches above me into an uphill infinity, the trek a warped Sisyphean task. Lord help me.
And that’s when I turn: Behind me is a sheer drop, some three hundred meters down to ice. If I were to slip down the stones, I might slide all the way off the steppe and the earth. A familiar ache of loneliness cuts through me like a boning knife. I came here to escape, I remind myself. Posing as a twentysomething to teach here was the only way to protect myself from the men who took my mother. If I didn’t feel lonely, I couldn’t have fled far enough. But visual reminders like this of the bald fact we live and die alone are few and far between, and they hit me on a primal level. I only hope my mother doesn’t—didn’t—feel this way in the black oblivion of her cell.
Adrenaline powering me, I push on, and a single chimney materializes behind a copse of brushy-topped araucaria trees as if on command. I see the pitched roofs of hill structures, too, some meters up the steps—medieval-looking and all too incongruous. I pass stone cottages built into the mountain, shuttered. It’s difficult to see where one cottage ends and the next begins: They’re precariously stacked shoeboxes in the home of a hoarder, uneven layer teetering atop uneven layer, defying my layman’s impression of the rules of architecture. The rusted handles of the heavy doors rattle but don’t give.
Something in the atmosphere is wrong here, a something I can’t articulate—I only feel a discomfort in the hollow of my chest, the same one that tells you you are not alone when you want to be, or that you are entirely alone when you shouldn’t be. But the stones feel solid to me, rasping beneath my feet; the air tastes herbal in my mouth; the sweat smells tangy on my skin … The thought crosses my mind that I’m ascending a staircase to a misanthropic, colonial vampire who feeds on young Zapuche women’s blood.
The trek, all in all, takes nearly an hour—an hour of woozy stumbling through thickening cloud cover. The fog engulfs the buildings and the path ahead of me, making it impossible to plot a course; I trip a dozen times and curse everyone possible. Mist or sweat soaks through my shirt under my coat, the only crisp white number I own. I briefly consider resting again on my bag so that I don’t liquefy into a puddle before Carmela De Vaccaro, but I’m too spooked to sleep when I can’t see a meter in front of my own nose.
When I reach into my bag’s depths for a clean scarf to mop myself up, a mottled cloth flag ruffles out of the haze, its pole affixed to the most imposing stone structure I’ve ever seen. The building is a swollen version of the cottages, its facade crusty and burned. Diseased, leaking pus-like grout at the window seams. Malformed gargoyles hang off ledges irregularly shaped to resemble clouds, intricate swirling carvings adorning their edges. It’s grand, wholly European in style, and a touch dilapidated—visibly rich in a history that those who live inside likely want to forget. Bloodred baroque curtains block the second-floor windowpanes, and the unmoving, thickening mist obscures those closer to the sky.
The flag alone ripples with life: On it shimmers a fierce, sword-wielding woman dressed in a yolk-yellow cloak, emerging from a cloud. Lord, I could kiss her: It’s the De Vaccaro crest, recognizable from the cover of the brochure. I drop my bag and punch the air. Staggering up the building’s front steps, I feel my shoulders relax, and I’m able, for the first time, to fill my lungs to the brim with air.
But the door is an iron wall as impenetrable as a bank vault, and the door knocker is shaped like an unsmiling woman’s head—she’s understandably upset, I suppose, that visitors will slam her head for all eternity. I paste a jagged fake smile on my face and knock with her. Then knock again. Politely.
The flag flaps above me, the golden warrior, in her impractical getup, watching. I circle round and find no other entrance, no other stair. Not even a ground-floor window.
Panic creeps up on me, slowly, steadily, from its hiding place on the stones, and latches onto me with its greedy, sucking mouth.
My calls swell into shouts. I pound on the damned door until my palms bruise. Throat scratching, I look for a hidden snack in my bag, sustenance I did not have the wherewithal to pack. I eye the cream—read the ingredients list. Shea butter, I think hungrily. Madly.
I chuck pebbles at the various windows as the gargoyles chuckle at me; they know I’m a runner with nowhere to run to, pitiful prey.
It’s the truth: I’ve nowhere else to go, even if the boat captain returned to the dock by magic. My safe havens only exist in memory, and my memory’s poor, a winding montage of half-repressed sights and smells, pulled from a life I feel no ownership of. But I better kill that thought. If I think about my past too long, my mind unravels.
I sit and shut my eyes for a minute, only a minute while I mentally regroup, and a tingling warmth spreads through me, a bone-melting exhaustion. I sit, splayed across the steps like an old drunk, a look not all that different from my recent setup in Buenos Aires.
* * *
I never intended to strand myself in the Patagonian wilderness.
“Between you and me, Mavi, my dear,” said a mustachioed principal on my thirteenth failed interview, grasping at my knee with a limp fish of a hand that made me gag, “someone would have to die around here for a role to free up. Unions, you know.”
The realization made me consider murder, or at the very least, a nunnery and the associated Catholic-school jobs. But the truth was, there were jobs; there were simply no jobs for me. More than one staff member at every school guessed (correctly) that I might be lying about my age and that the English-language teaching degree a family friend had procured for me was fake. But most important, they knew about my mother.
They knew the rumors about her helping—or indoctrinating—the bright-eyed, radical strangers she called my cousins; they knew the government had taken her away for this; they knew I might be taken next and they would be punished for associating with her kin. As a country, we’ve learned one harsh fact over the past few years: When the military government takes people to prison, they rarely, if ever, appear again. That’s why we call them los desaparecidos—the disappeared. Those who vanished, with no explanation at all. And if you speak too loudly about the missing, if you venture to ask what has become of them, you risk becoming one of them yourself.
As for me, I was a living, breathing reminder of my disappeared mother—my confused grief and rootlessness palpable. My presence alone frightened my peers and even the otherwise fearless head nuns at school. So I dropped out and lived with my godmother, deciding I had a better chance at safety and anonymity while working in a new neighborhood. I waitressed for tips while trying to find a better opportunity. Nothing came. The pizza place cut shifts. The banks froze accounts. The cash I had was the cash I had on hand: hardly more than a handful of valueless currency. I had no passport and no hope of getting one. I was trapped in my country, the only country I’d ever known. Hoping for a better day that never came, then hoping to keep hoping.
I learned they were coming for me, too, when my godmother told me, wringing an old rag in her hands like a chicken that needed killing, that men in uniform had dropped by asking about me. She loved me, she said, but as with many people she loved, our time together must be over, sooner than she wished. They’d killed my mother in prison, she was sure of it, and if they found me, they would kill me and her both.
“The angels will protect you,” she said, kissing me and slipping me a wad of bills. Then it was time to go.
So of course I was elated to receive an offer to teach English at a school through an old and loyal colleague of my mother’s, the same guardian angel who furnished me with my fake degree, a man we called Tío Adolfo, our Angel of Peace. The offer was from Vaccaro School, in Patagonia, of all places. The end of the earth. He pressed the glossy brochure into my hands like a ticket to paradise. Vaccaro School had once been a finishing school of historical significance, long abandoned and recently reopened by the De Vaccaro widow, the sole owner of Argentina’s second-largest cement company, after the death of her husband. Its reopening would signal a return to more civilized, old-fashioned values—the school would be free of any and all modern technologies, and the privacy of her students (the wealthiest girls in Argentina) was paramount. She needs new teachers, and she won’t ask where you come from, much less question your age, Tío Adolfo had said. Besides, you’re precocious—you always have been. And she’s connected—old money, but at a remove from the military government. Follow her rules, and she will protect you, if it comes to that. We both knew what he meant.
The brochure photos were striking, showing proud stone structures built into a hill, as well as images of what I assumed were the interiors of those buildings: gleaming, modern, asylum-white classrooms, better than American hospitals in the movies. A dream come true. A way out. Carmela De Vaccaro, a striking platinum blonde who looked like a Norse god crossbred with a Lithuanian model, with rows and rows of teeth she flaunted painfully in every photo, was hoping to find a young and innovative teacher with an experimental edge to teach English to her class of twelve-to-thirteen-year-olds. I know English! I thought cheerfully. The offer was room and board plus a generous lump sum after the successful completion of the nine-month term. The only catch being that you were stuck in the middle of nowhere for nine months—which was no catch at all, at least for me. It was perfect.
Well, there’s another drawback, Tío Adolfo had clarified, clearing his throat, but you’ll think it silly. Vaccaro School was thought to be haunted.
It was built on land seized from the territorial Zapuche tribe by De Vaccaro ancestors in the nineteenth century. He explained at length, with the wariness befitting an academic speaking about the unsubstantiated and vaguely paranormal, that the Zapuche enacted bloody rituals every time their land fell under threat. It was said that a Zapuche shaman cursed European farmers who had cleared a Zapuche forest to create farmland in the 1800s. Some of the farmers went mad shortly thereafter, shrieking that ravenous ghosts were sucking their skulls dry, before gruesome deaths. The farmland was abandoned. Even though few Zapuche remained in the area, none of the teachers Tío Adolfo knew would set foot on Zapuche land, much less Vaccaro School, because it was rumored that the last crop of Vaccaro teachers floated away in rough-hewn coffins some sixty years ago, the victims of what was likely another savage Zapuche curse. Were any of this true, he’d added, the curses shouldn’t touch you because of your Indigenous blood.
I found this argument dubious, seeing as I had never learned specifics about my father’s tribal roots beyond how they shaded my skin. Regardless, the rumors of these supposed ghosts and their mystical mumbo jumbo didn’t matter to me. A haunted house sounded whimsical and sweet after witnessing the government’s loaded threats and the raw violence on both sides—the world wasn’t a child’s game. The stories were surely propaganda to subjugate the Zapuche, anyway, so they would not reclaim their land.
My isolation in the Patagonian outback couldn’t come soon enough. In the last few weeks before going to Vaccaro School, I left my godmother’s apartment, claiming I had a safe place to stay. I meant to stay with Tío Adolfo, but when I visited the university to find him, they informed me he was no longer employed there. I sat on the school steps, considering my vanishing options, until a nervous clerk pulled me into a quiet office to whisper into my ear that after giving another impassioned speech condemning terrorism on the right and the left, my dear Tío Adolfo—the Angel of Peace—simply hadn’t returned to work.
Wishing to protect my godmother, I slept in a Catholic homeless shelter run by angels (until I felt I was imposing, taking the bed of someone needier with older, weaker flesh and bone), and in an old gallery of shops, my head pressed up against glass separating me from luxury shoes and bags—glossy leather bits and bobs that cost as much as my godmother’s rent. In the mornings, I was woken up by a security guard who toed me with his orthopedic shoe before telling me to beat it.
I convinced myself during those nights that Vaccaro School would be more than a place to hide—on the surface, it might be your typical finishing school for rich girls, teaching classes on crossing their legs the right way and understanding the rules of polo and the like. Bizarre classes for the bizarre rich, unlike anything I’d ever known. But I told myself it would be the first place in my life where I would excel. And I would earn the right to root myself someplace good and wholesome by following the rules, working hard, and possessing the very, very, very best of attitudes.
* * *
Dripping. Dripping on my cheek, coupled with the stench of tobacco and sweat. It’s arguably the least pleasant way to be thrown from a reverie excluding actual pain, in a moment of extreme thirst and dishevelment. I groan and clap a hand over the slime, my mouth dry as cotton. The dripping smells less of sweat and more of … I look skyward, expecting a bird, and see the face of a man—not much more than a boy—with his lips pursed. Dumbfounded, I stumble to my leaden feet. He peeks from a window above me, smirking, wiping his mouth, before dipping back into the building.
I recognize the smell of the goop. The viscosity of it.
He spat on me.
He spat on me! A swell of anger rushes through my neck like a flurry of poisoned quills. I skid down the hill to peer into the upper windows. All but one remain shut.
“I know you’re there!”
Anger overpowers the nerves: its blessing. I wipe my cheek until there’s no trace of glop and rush the door, slamming my hands against the metal facade.
“Forgot the password?” someone calls from above. Male. Smug. The same face peeks out: unfortunately a handsome face, well-chiseled like the gargoyles, though with infinitely more intimidating proportions. Too bad the devilish face houses a brain with a silly child’s sense of humor. He fingers the lit cigarette like it’s a missile to be launched.
“Did you spit on me?” I ask. My blood sugar is far too low for this nonsense, shea butter be damned. “I’ve been left outside for hours and you spit on me?” The quake in my voice irritates me as much as the whininess, but I hold firm.
He smirks again. He’s not remotely perturbed. In fact, he flicks his cigarette into the air, ashing on me fragrantly. I clench my teeth: They say teachers should be patient, but I haven’t truly begun to teach. And he’s not a student.
“How’s this for a password, you bastard?” I say, and as my hands move into a once-obscene symbol that’s lost too much of its power lately, the doors before me groan open.
I freeze. I squint at the threshold to make any sense of what’s beyond the door because it’s impossibly dark inside. The scent of must overpowers, too. Must and clove with a hint of spoiled legumes. There’s a shadow within the shadows—a woman the size of a skeletal giant. She strides out in a floor-length caftan of sorts, and she towers over me. I wonder if she’s hiding a smaller human being beneath the tent—it would be a grotesque but stupendous magic trick.
Her face is bare and drawn but grand, despite the beadiest eyes I’ve ever seen; her hair is pulled back so tightly I fear a giant black plunger is sucking out the back of her scalp. She clears her throat, with a long look at my impolite gesture. My hands, with minds of their own, pull away to feel at my hairline, and her nostrils flare.
“Miss Quercia, I presume? You are late.”
I smile sheepishly, as one is wont to do. I can feel my armpits sweating again, as if they haven’t already done their fair share on the climb. She crooks a finger at me to scurry behind her. I’m not much of a scurrier, but I don’t think she’ll be satisfied by anything else.
“There must have been a misunderstanding with timing,” I say, pitching myself into the darkness and slicking back my hair. I’m obsequious all of a sudden, nervous and squirrelly. I’ve made a fool of myself on my first day. I’ve lost my temper. I risk losing everyone’s good impression of my good attitude. And my hands are filthy and sticky, which means the rest of me must look it, too. “I’ve my lesson plan all written up for tomorrow’s classes, and I look forward to discussing it with Madame De Vaccaro—”
“What possessed you to climb the property with your luggage?” she asks as we press on into the darkness, ignoring me and the fact that one understuffed bag doesn’t make for luggage. We’ve entered a cloud of fetid tobacco smoke. But for her huge form before me, I would be blind, unable to perceive the depths around me. I expected a grand entrance hall, and while the ceiling heights are magnificent, the narrow corridors bend and curve, it seems, or else I’m still woozy from my climb; I don’t see a single corner, and I’ve already lost sight of the entrance.
I splutter. “Necessity?”
“A member of the staff was waiting for you all afternoon by the gondola off the second dock. You look dreadful.” Less an insult than an observation. I bite my tongue until I taste metal and watch her bun bounce in the darkness.
“There is no time for you to change out of your street clothes, so you shall have to go without supper,” she says, as if it’s obvious. I look down at my damp coat and once-crisp white shirt with a hint of sadness. “I am Ms. Morency to you. De facto head of administrative staff.”
And in that elaborate title, I’ve learned half of what I need to know about her. “A pleasure.”
She doesn’t reply. But I hear a rustling, a sighing, and I strain to listen, to see. Words, spoken in a foreign language? To my ears, the voices come from cracks in the ceiling. I rub at my eyes, as if that will help. It must be a draft.
“It will also be too late to see the mistress tonight. You must remain in your room in the evenings. One is not safe alone in the house at night.”
“Sorry?” I ask, clutching my bag closer. The air is rank now, the smell of spoiled food intensifying into a presence as physical as Morency herself. “Why not?”
“But in the morning,” she continues, ignoring me, “in the morning, when you are permitted to move about the house freely, and you do see the mistress, you would be wise to hold your tongue around her.” I assume she means Carmela De Vaccaro. “And to keep your hands to yourself.”
Clearly she witnessed my display outside. “Oh well. There was a boy, he—”
“Oh, Miss Quercia,” she says, dripping disdain, “isn’t there always, with girls like you?”
I stumble in the darkness behind her, grateful not to have her eyes on me. I slip off my coat, but it feels as stuffy as before.
We pass another bend, and pockets of dim light spill from old-fashioned gilded sconces lining the halls. The burgundy Persian carpet is rich, deep, bog-like; my feet sink in with each step. I must be trailing dust and dirt and God knows what. The walls are covered in a fabric I would imagine is called damask even though I’ve no idea what that is; its texture and pattern remind me of a turbulent sky before a downpour. Dark, grandiose paintings of overcast landscapes hang in burnished golden frames along the walls. Expensive, hand-carved furniture dots the hall, the miniature sort that creaks with disdain and threatens to break the second someone gets comfortable. I glimpse inside an open doorway on the left after Morency hurries past: The figure of a man stands by an unlit fireplace in a sitting room. He leans over the fire as if warming his hands on the dead coals.
A flash of gray, a winged creature with bristly antennae, dances past my face. The moth brushes my cheek, giving me a sick chill. I rush after Morency, not so eager to be left behind in this lavish maze for neurotic moles.
“This is nothing like the brochure,” I hear whispered. As I’m stifling a chuckle, I realize I must have said the words aloud.
She makes the smallest of noises: perhaps a laugh. A cough. A groan. Perhaps her shoe squeaked. Doubtful. Whatever it is, it’s suppressed. We reach a cramped back staircase, and another man appears at the top of the flight. Try as I might, I can’t make out many of his features in the near darkness. He has a thick neck, broad as a tree trunk, and his skin is as dark as tobacco—smells of it, too. He nods and grunts at Morency, or so I think, and I expect her to introduce us. I nearly wave at him, but a shiver goes through me when I see no sheen to his eyes; they are, if anything, empty black holes reflecting the flattest of glimmers, like the bottom of a well. I look down, face hot, and as he passes, he contorts himself toward the wall to avoid skimming me, the rest of his face hidden in the shadows. His thickly veined hand trembles.
Once free of him, I breathe in, out. More musk, plus that underlying fetidness. My throat itches, and I ascend, expecting a hallway as claustrophobic as the stairs.
Yet the second floor is as richly adorned and magnificent in scale as the first, with many doorways marked by polished, antique golden numbers lining the hall. We arrive in front of room 7, its gilt numeral askew so that it resembles a drunken, upside-down V or a prostrate stick man. I can’t resist shifting it into the proper position. Ms. Morency’s right eyebrow darts upward, and I grin, though I shouldn’t. Of course, the 7 collapses when I release it, and so does my smile.
“Your room, Miss Quercia. Please treat it as you would your own.” She appraises me, her eyes lingering on the sweat stains blooming from vulgar spots. “Better than your own.” I have a feeling she is thinking to herself: I can’t imagine what sort of hovel you came from.
The floor of that sales gallery in Recoleta, I want to tell her, with a saucy wink. Like the other rats, and yet, I was hired by your mistress. We stand in front of the door with a good meter between us. She looks profoundly disappointed, while still carefully tending her haughty uninterest. A difficult expression to master, especially for another commoner—it must require prolonged exposure to the discontented rich, like the cad upstairs. She draws a key from a fold in her caftan with slender, bony fingers, knuckles double the size of mine.
“Where is everyone?” I ask, squeaking. She glares at me with pencil points for pupils. She’s intimidating when she’s not reduced to a bun bobbing above my head in the darkness.
“I already told you that we were at dinner.” She dangles the key. “We attend dinner together at the same time every night, and we return to our quarters together at the same time every night. There is a system here in the evenings, and you’ve interrupted us all. Do not expect to flourish here with that kind of behavior. You are a long way from the uncivilized streets of Buenos Aires. You are a long way from anyone who cares for you and tolerates your flaws. Do bear that in mind.”
And with that, she drops the key into my hand, turns on her heel, and glides back the way she came, an apparition in all black.
A long way from anyone who cares for me and tolerates my flaws. As if there’s a dossier of people meeting that description.
“You would be well-advised to lock the door behind you, if you wish to survive this place,” she sends back, her morbid warning echoing down the hall.
The hollow in my chest fills with a choking sort of glue. It’s not fear, exactly: It’s that I’ve never frustrated someone so much immediately—in fact, I’ve never been so despised by a stranger at all, outside of President Videla’s uniformed goons. I wonder if she dislikes everyone here or if my tardiness set her off. I can’t help but feel as if there’s a trait integral to me that disappointed her. As if she caught a whiff of my smell and determined I’m the most odious one here.
You shouldn’t be here, I hear whispered again, by a draft, a vengeful ghost, or—the truest source—my traitorous brain. But where is someone like me meant to be?
I drop my bag on the floor and rest my forehead against the door. Morency’s mention of dinner reminded me that I’m half-starved, and the lack of an invitation hangs heavy in the air, but I’m too tired to defy her and properly make an enemy. Perhaps if I go hungry, I’ll be forgiven. Morency. I find myself wishing I had raced up and undid her bun, because I’m certain she would unravel.
I fiddle with the lock and open the door into the damp dark, hoping for the very best.
“Let’s do this,” I whisper to myself, as if my mother or another guardian angel stands alongside me, watching with a gentle smile.
Copyright © 2019 by Sara Dorothy Rosenberg