The quickest route to school was through the country, although not if my grandfather was driving. He kept it five miles under the speed limit and pulled over to the shoulder to let people riding the bumper of his Buick and laying on their horns pass. It seemed that often he pulled over in front of the house. The property was elevated several feet above the road and surrounded by a chain link fence. I could only see the second story. In spring, the upper windows were often open, and occasionally I saw a silhouette pass across a room. Once, I saw a window open and white curtains blowing out. I wondered why people in such a big, well-kept house didn’t use window screens. In winter, there was almost always smoke rising from the chimney. I went home and told my mother that I wished we had a fireplace. She asked me why. I told her about the smoke. She sighed, and sat down in the rocking chair in her bedroom. I sat on the little bench before her vanity.
“Don’t tell PawPaw that I told you this, and don’t tell Shay and Emme.”
I nodded and sat up straight. My mother and grandmother had changed the way that they talked to me after my father left. Suddenly it was as if they had taken me into their circle. Always implied was protect your sisters.
“That house is where PawPaw grew up,” my mother said.
I hadn’t been so shocked since she sat my sisters and me down and told us that Daddy had not just moved out, he had moved away, and we wouldn’t see him again. “Why didn’t he tell us?” I asked.
“Because after his uncle and aunt died, he had to sell the house. They owed a lot of debts. They borrowed money from the bank because their crops wouldn’t grow, and they owed the doctor money.”
“PawPaw wanted to keep the house.”
“Yes. But he couldn’t. He had a family. I was Emme’s age. He couldn’t pay the debts. Another family bought the house. So you can’t say anything to PawPaw because it would make him sad.”
“Why does he drive by it every day?”
“He likes to look at it and make sure the people who live there are taking care of it.”
“He hopes that they’ll decide to move and sell it so that he can buy it back.”
She looked at me in silence. The afternoon sun, filtered by the sheer curtains in the bay window, lit the room softly. She had made a little nook in the area of the window with the vanity, rocking chair, and a low table piled with her schoolbooks. “Maybe he does,” she said finally. “But he doesn’t want to talk about it, okay, Maura?”
I nodded. I wanted to go outside, sit in the grass, and think about what my mother had just told me. Luckily, Shay and Emmeline wanted to go out and play, and it was my job to watch them.