Chanel Nº 5

For days after the suggestion, when Lucy wasn’t around, the old woman, in Edgar’s presence, would shake her head and mutter, ‘Turkey, my foot.’
Anyway, Edgar liked the meatballs. It was her joy. Having a life meant having a story. Great sparking flames leaping from trash cans. The sound was coming from downstairs. It was funny to see his fearless mother jump at the sight of a fat old lady. And then sweetly, softly, to Edgar: ‘Would you please go to fucking bed?’
The boy nodded, but didn’t move. But that was a long time ago, before Edgar had yet to utter his first word. Like the lady on the peanut butter commercial, Edgar thought. ‘I thought you were going out.’ Edgar didn’t look at his mother. As he walked down the stairs, he wondered if he was in the right house. It was like a fairy tale. But now, as he sat before the night-light, he found himself wondering: what was the point of an angel on a bridge unless she was there to save you? The past was also in her closet, where there were outrageous dresses – some with tiny sparkles sewn in, some with beads. Edgar turned and watched her breathe. They were almost like witches, weren’t they? The first time, full voice, part of normal conversation; the second time, a more private matter, as if she were gauging the truth or untruth of what she’d said. Poor Ma, thought Edgar. ‘Why aren’t you in bed? He knew, if she walked in here, she would immediately fall dead. It was a still picture, but Edgar didn’t see it that way. Actually, the boy was not undilutedly happy. He’d have to practice the pig. From television, Edgar knew that there were machines one could employ to detect the microscopic bits of blood that were no doubt hiding on Mr S’s clothing. It was ancient. ‘Are you cooking him dinner?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. What had the Polacks ever done for her?  
*
 
Edgar looked at himself in his own mirror. Edgar couldn’t even imagine her here, especially at night, with the Virgin rubbing her hands over the flame and the angel floating in her dress of light. After committing a murder, a criminal always washed vigorously, but there was always a spot left somewhere, some glimmer of evidence, if you knew where to look. But Edgar couldn’t help himself. The first time he did the math and realized that there was no actual blood shared by his mother and his grandmother, it frightened him. More air came out of her nose, three short bursts of it. Frankie, she called him, sometimes Francesco – often with a cockeyed expression on her face. The bodies she craved tended toward violence. ‘Tell me,’ the old woman said. But combine them and things tightened, a constriction Edgar felt in his sensitive, divining throat. It was the old woman’s bed he climbed into after a bad dream. His grandmother had been alive such a long time that she had traded one face for another. Again, she kissed the boy. That Chinese was salty.’
Florence was referring to the cartons of food that Lucy had brought home for dinner. Lucy had never meant to stay here all these years after her husband’s death, but here she was. Better than his mother’s, certainly. There wasn’t enough light behind him to cast his undoing into a satisfactory story. We’re going out.’
‘Bed,’ she said, swatting the boy’s bottom. The grandmother, on the other hand, was less cooperative. She’d hear his bed creak as he got up to find comfort, not with her. But downstairs, now, it sounded like a doll’s laugh. The candlelight was up to something, Edgar knew. He had permission, didn’t he? The ghost of a scent lingered on the glass. Wrists so thin the bones rose like the lurky eyes of an alligator. Dorothy’s shoes, Edgar thought. One of the good things about being an insect, Edgar thought: no one can hear you when you walk across the floor. Not that Lucy would ever prevent the boy from climbing into her bed. In fact, she saw them, the boy’s thoughts, little blue wheels rolling over sunny pastures. But the butcher pursued him. Even at five, the boy knew it was possible the old man wasn’t talking to himself, but to Frank. Her pink lips were slightly smeared. In movement he was awkward; in stillness he possessed a natural grace, remarkable van Eyck hands, a long neck worthy of Pontormo. The room seemed larger, and then smaller, and then, if you stood very still, you could feel the light moving on your body, making you part of the mysterious scheme. It had to be preserved, which is why, he supposed, his grandmother never used it. You could actually hear the peanuts in her voice. ‘It was nearly three in the morning when you decided to show your face.’
She tossed back her hair and turned to the mirror. But in the mirror all the boy saw was an insect. He knew the story of his sleepy birth was nothing more than a ploy to soften him toward bed. Her face relaxed, as if something important had been clarified. Anyway, she wouldn’t miss a few drops. She repeated words to see if she could believe them. He knew his mother didn’t care for meatballs. He tilted the bottle and wet his finger, quickly carrying the precious fluid to the taut skin just behind his right ear, then behind his left, as he’d seen women do on television. It was all so strange. On nights like this, gravity had no power over Edgar. With his darling little thoughts, which is how she imagined the things that moved inside his head. Lucy was never up to fighting for her own team. Don’t creak, he prayed, glancing at the Virgin for support. They were all dead people! But tomorrow wasn’t Sunday. Edgar joined in the fun and shuffled them a bit, before picking one at random and slipping it into his pocket. The old woman stirred in bed, but didn’t wake. At the bottom of the stairs, he caught a glimpse of his grandmother’s black piano, an impeccably polished upright that seemed to have gained some weight since last he saw it. No. The second round lacked conviction. It could have said Arsenic or Sulfur, it belonged in a laboratory, or a storybook; it could have said drink me. When he returned with the water, it was crystalline. ‘Can I have some of the perfume?’ Edgar whispered. He made an effort, anyway. You could practically taste them. After that, there was no stopping him. But she wasn’t in the right mood. ‘I don’t want to be in a house,’ Lucy said. When his grandmother made them, she always put one, freshly fried, on a small white plate, before delivering the rest into the bubbling sauce. ‘He’s all right. Her funny little albino fruitcake. If she lied, so what? But he spent more time with the old woman; certain tracks got laid, certain habits. Most people stomped. He loved its solid shape, the heavy glass stopper, the simple lettering, black on white. His father who was dead, and who was always Frank. He moved toward the banister. He shrugged languorously. His grandmother didn’t approve of the men. She was drifting off. ‘I kept falling asleep,’ said Lucy. Edgar would watch from his bedroom window on the second floor. The boy touched Mary’s small plaster head. Nothing could put it out but the fire itself. The only feat of logic he managed (a good one) was that there had once been perfume-wearing days, and that, now, they were over. Edgar couldn’t even manufacture a burp, a skill that every other boy in the world seemed to possess. She was speaking of Edgar’s birth. Once, she’d tried to convince the old woman to make them out of ground turkey, and the old woman had looked at his mother like she was insane. It never failed. Watching his mother fuss with her make-up, Edgar wanted to bark like a dog. Supposedly it was just a matter of swallowing air, but how did one swallow air? Small laminated rectangles, each with a flashy saint on one side, and, on the other, a name, some dates, and a prayer. He saw the angel descend, he saw her breathe. For as long as he could remember, the bottle had remained half full. Edgar froze. The shoes were red, shiny as plastic apples. A naked sauceless meatball, just for him. But he did eat.  
Chanel Nº 5 is an excerpt from Victor Lodato’s new novel, Edgar and Lucy, to be published in March. But Frank was dead – and, as far as Edgar could see, dead people didn’t do anything except get whispered about in kitchens. I didn’t know it was you.’
‘Who else would it be?’ said Lucy, standing, putting her hands on her hips like a sixteen-year-old. It was Edgar; Edgar electrified by flowers. Why was she getting so riled up? Most people made a lot of noise. Thirty, maybe, but she looked a lot younger, standing like that, and with her lips smeared like she’d been eating jam. A person could be stirring red sauce or putting on lipstick when, in fact, what she was really doing was walking through a cemetery. This was his mother’s second date with Mr. No one, anyway, who could lay claim to what his mother possessed. ‘I can?’
Edgar knew she was gone. I spilled something.’
Edgar suddenly wished he could fart. He regarded it as if for the first time – the keys like loose teeth, bright whites and rotting blacks that could fall out at any moment. Suitors, she called them, even though most of them wore jeans. It almost felt as if the man had kissed him. And so, to the boy, the father remained in the lump and shadow of a half-lived dream. The butcher stood as well. Now he waited for the Virgin to wink at him, and when she didn’t (she never did), he made his way toward the old woman’s bed. After the old man had died, Florence had said, enough (her exact words were ‘I’m done with that stink’). Widows! People were still talking about Frank, in one way or another. His grandmother was nearly bald and regularly wore a bandana on her head like a hoodlum. These Italians had taken care of her, at least. ‘Can I go outside?’
He didn’t like to think about that stuff. High-pitched but breathy, like a paper horn, spiking at intervals, steady and mechanical. He looked toward his room, and sent himself. ‘Half Italian,’ Lucy corrected. He’d winked at Edgar, making the boy blush. Too much fat. He was more like the dead. Though he understood his paleness was a disease, it often seemed a curse. If she weren’t a person you loved, she might terrify you. ‘I’m not Italian.’
‘No, you’re not, dear.’ Upon which, the old woman put her hand on the boy’s head and watched him eat his naked meatball. ‘You wanna wake up you-know-who?’
‘No,’ said Edgar. Edgar sauntered away in mock desolation, dragging his feet. She stared into his eyes and stroked his hair. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Nothing.’ He retracted his fingers. Edgar knew she was drunk. At such moments, Edgar wondered if his grandmother was a little dim, or possibly she was mad. S, who was a butcher. Sometimes it made her laugh, if she was in the right mood. One wrong move, one wrong thought, and the world as you knew it would be whisked away, replaced by some grinning immensity. Her tricks were the tricks of a child. She was patient with the boy, with his silent staring spells. There was a sweating bottle of booze on the coffee table, the vodka she kept in the freezer (it never froze, to Edgar’s amazement). His father was something at the edge of things, but he wasn’t a person, exactly. It was like the old woman was playing with a time machine – and, even worse, she was trying to tempt Edgar inside. At least she wasn’t boring. The boy breathed, unnoticed by life or death. He could have easily climbed under the covers with her (she never minded), but, instead, he floated over to the bureau and opened the top drawer. There was no fear. ‘Yes, I am.’
She had a habit of answering certain questions twice. They had secrets. ‘What are you thinking about, Mr Big Eyes?’
He looked at the old woman from his perch at the side of the bed. A tiny lightbulb the size of an almond, cleverly concealed behind the glass, brought the scene to life. When his mother and grandmother talked about Frank, it was confusing. Or perhaps someone had stolen the first one. In respect for his father, Edgar supposed. His mother, his grandmother, yes, it was true: to be alone with either of them was sweetness itself. The thing he liked best was here: a night-light, a small disk of frosted glass, bearing, in delicate relief, the figure of an angel on a bridge. Otherwise, she was just holding up traffic. Edgar couldn’t see any blood on his clothing. And now she was putting on the shoes that sank hopelessly into lawns, if she wore them to picnics – which she did sometimes, to the old woman’s chagrin. Entering his grandmother’s bedroom at night (he’d done it before) felt like entering a cave where animals lived. Why? None of this mattered to him, though. ‘Na-nothing,’ Edgar stuttered, taking two steps back. Why did their voices change in each other’s presence? ‘Oh, it’s repeating on me.’
Edgar turned on the light in Florence’s bathroom. ‘What are you doing up? Edgar could tell. ‘Size of a dinner roll,’ Lucy said with a slight shudder. When he removed the stopper and pointed his nose toward the opening, he knew to close his eyes. Edgar remembered the old woman’s husband better than he remembered his own father, which wasn’t saying much. And she had red hair – and, as far as Edgar was concerned, there wasn’t another person on the whole of Earth who had red hair. ‘Ahhhh, that hits the spot.’ The old woman’s tongue darted in and out of her mouth in an intriguing lizard-like fashion. .’ It made Edgar dizzy. Edgar didn’t think these things, exactly; he felt them. He sat on the edge of the bed while she drank the entire glass. Such surprise attacks of to-go fare irked the old woman. To him, the bums seemed wonderful, living, as they were, in their play town of cardboard boxes and rags and plastic bags. A special gift. Lucy smiled now without reservation, and then grazed the boy’s cheek with her sticky mouth. The other men were reduced to single letters, black flies over the bulk of his father’s body. He wasn’t scared. Nightmares weren’t uncommon with the boy, and the old woman always welcomed him, should he gently wake her, at any hour, with his delicate hand. ‘Where’s your mother? She was the cook in the family, she cooked beautifully – who could deny it? It was stunningly effective. Sometimes the old man walked in circles in the yard, talking, it seemed, to himself. The old woman, on the other hand, for all her heft, could appear suddenly behind you, out of nowhere. ‘And I don’t want you snooping around when Mr S gets here. ‘What do you smell like?’ He leaned in and began to sniff. ‘Eddie,’ he boomed from the couch. The old woman liked a little fire now and then, and had consumed the incendiary broccoli in chili sauce with formidable gusto. The owl was his mother. Maybe it wasn’t his mother. Sometimes Lucy jolted at the creeper’s unexpected materializations and Edgar would have to suppress a laugh. She was willing to do it. ‘You’re turning him into a real Italian,’ Lucy once joked. One afternoon Edgar had locked eyes with a particularly ravaged man in a yellow ski jacket – a fringy red scarf wrapped around his head like a pirate. He touched the blanket where it covered her arm. How old was she anyway? He saw a great deal at 21 Cressida Drive, but understood little. More like his father. ‘Whoa,’ the butcher said. Edgar knew this was something special. They could only say: yes, this. ‘Mmmmh,’ the old woman sighed, fading. She was even larger than his mother, but she didn’t mind Edgar’s bones. And, besides, this was the old woman’s house. I should have oinked, he thought. To Edgar, the echo always seemed tainted by sadness. His grandmother had had it forever. A burble of laughter. I want to go to Larson’s.’
‘We can have a drink at my place,’ he suggested. If Frank were around maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, thought Edgar. It was a great routine. ‘Tomorrow, I’m going to make meatballs,’ she said. Edgar didn’t hold it against her. The amber liquid inside the hollow ice cube came from a source that no longer existed. ‘Leave him alone,’ the grandmother would say. You always knew when she was coming. But then he did it again, this time adding a growl. It was a leaping, contagious cackle. She had enough trouble sleeping as it was. The boy waited for a snotty comment from a sixteen-year-old, but, instead, his mother smiled. Because you were so small. Exactly what, neither could say. The drunkenness of not sleeping when you should be sleeping. ‘Are you going out, Ma?’
‘Yes, I am,’ she said. The charge was exhilarating, and he could feel the rush of his blood. The laws were the laws of space: quixotic, effortless, dangerous. Her pudgy red hand emerged from under the blanket and covered the boy’s cold fingers with a blissful warmth. She go out?’
Edgar knew better than to answer this question. Yet, even then, she knew the boy wouldn’t be enough to ease her loneliness. Lucy was sniffing now, too. Mr S quickly pulled his meaty hand from between Lucy’s legs. ‘Stop that,’ Lucy said. And if you stood too close, you were doomed. He touched it (still cold); he lifted it and pressed it to his cheek. ‘Get me a glass of water, would you, sweetheart? ‘Oh, baby,’ she said, shaking her head.  
*
 
Lucy knew. The level never varied. The old woman slept like a stone. Where there should have been a painting of a sailboat, there was now a painting of a huge sunlit cleaver emerging from the sea. They were deathy. It was his first theft. Both were widows. Prayer cards. It was infuriating. ‘You don’t eat,’ Lucy was always saying. His mother was nervous. Her breathing changed. Even at eight, Edgar knew this. She didn’t mind that he was more like the dead, considering the fact that the dead man in question, Edgar’s father, was her own son. ‘When he was your age,’ she would say, or, ‘When your father was little.. Frank could take on some of the responsibility. He watched the cigarette in the ashtray, watched the forbidden smoke rise in curls of script. ‘Eddie, my man!’
Lucy tugged at her dress. Even as Lucy glared at him, the boy could detect the smile held in check. Was Lucy jealous? If you wanted to know how your life had started, you had to get this information from other people. Plus, he lacked the meat of his fellow humans, the meat of his mother, his grandmother. He liked the way her clasped hands warmed themselves over the fire, like the bums on Tulaney Avenue when the weather turned cold. Edgar reflected on the fact that he had never seen his mother, not once, set foot in his grandmother’s bedroom. Edgar wondered if the two of them rehearsed it while he was at school. ‘And so white, I thought you were a friggin’ ghost.’
The boy looked up as his mother swiped a pink stick the color of cake frosting across her lips. He waited for his mother to look back, but she didn’t. In private, alone with her son, Lucy never mentioned Frank. ‘He is Italian,’ the old woman replied without levity. He watched her bosom float away on sea waves. ‘One pea at a time,’ Lucy once said to a friend. Does it look like I’m cooking him dinner? She’d give it that. ‘I want to be out.’ She heard her voice – sharp and ridiculous – as if it were coming from a woman standing beside her. Why did he feel like crying? Photograph © KR Heesy Edgar pressed his knees together and prayed for flatulence. Still, half full meant half empty, which meant his grandmother had been less careful in the past, more certain things would last. Just checking on his mom.’
The man touched the boy’s head with the same hand that had been between Lucy’s legs. Edgar knew nothing. She would accept her duty, gladly, should Edgar ever call her to it. But the sound was wrong. People stared. Maybe that’s why no one played it anymore.  
*
 
Edgar eased himself off his grandmother’s bed and went straight for the bottle. He could feel its miraculous little brain ticking away. Edgar sensed the competition. ‘Gramma?’
‘Yes?’ she said. The bark erupted, beyond his control. Technically, they were strangers. His eyes went straight to the bottle of Chanel Nº 5. As soon as Edgar touched the bottle (it was cold!), the old woman awoke, as if the boy had put his hand on her. Edgar wasn’t easily fooled. A small white votive candle housed in a blue glass cup burned at all hours, and at night threw a living splash of light on the face of Mary. This. If there was a ghost, it was the name itself, hissed or swallowed, breathy air between the two women. You hear me?’
They were always initials, the men. He stole some more, just a bit, and swiped it across the front of his neck. Breathed himself into himself. But there was no breeze – and certainly there was no hair. She was asleep on her back, her great Jiffy-Pop bosom moving up and down with comforting regularity. What do you mean?’ It was as if Lucy had suggested she make them out of socks, out of sawdust. In the glass box?’
‘Yup. Sometimes she cornered the boy and spoke, in theatrical whispers, about her dead son. Edgar rarely thought about his father when he looked at the angel, even though he knew – but only vaguely, a borrowed memory – that his father had died on a bridge. ‘I should get going,’ the butcher said. When the two women spoke to each other, Edgar felt their untrue voices somehow coming from inside his own body, as if he were the liar. He was barely touching the earth. The boy tiptoed into the hallway and peered into the old woman’s room. – and the idea of restaurant food in her own house, well, it bordered on insult. ‘Don’t stare,’ his grandmother would say if the two of them were walking by. She leaned down and kissed the boy’s lips. Why was his face burning? She was already falling back asleep. When he turned to look at her from the doorway, she was lost again in the mirror, applying a second layer of frosting. They were like Boy Scouts gone bad. With his index finger he pushed up his nose. There was no embarrassment. The whole room was enlivened in a gentle but peculiar way. ‘Uh-huh,’ Edgar would say. What room did she have for such innocence? A butcher, a killer of pigs. At least the Chinese was tasty. Edgar leaned against the wall, listening. It was like his mother was going out with a pig – or, even worse, a killer of pigs. But what was it all about? Why couldn’t she be permitted to cook every single meal of their lives? He felt that his grandmother had a past, sometimes merely by the way she turned her head, as if there were a breeze blowing through her hair. Edgar watched them as they put on their coats in the foyer. ‘Is that perfume?’
‘No. ‘Come on. He knew it was not an atmosphere in which his mother would be able to breathe. And, with one footfall heavier than the other – a telltale limp for which Edgar knew no tale – the sound was hers, and hers alone. The top drawer was skinnier than the rest, like the pencil drawer in a desk, and it was filled with cards. Meatballs on a Thursday? Slip, slap, and back to sleep.’
‘And then they put me in the box, right? He was a small boy, skinny, with knobby knees that were constantly bumping into things. It wasn’t just the candied lips (the unabashed color highlighting his mother’s natural pout), it was the dress as well – so tight it made her breathless, like his grandmother when she climbed the stairs. ‘Even with all the pain, I was, like –’ Lucy opened her mouth and made a stupendous snore sound worthy of a cartoon character. Or was it an owl? He didn’t make sense; not to himself. No reason. She adjusted her dress and, in an effort to get back on track, slipped two fingers between the buttons of the butcher’s shirt and caressed his belly. And you didn’t wake up for a week.’
Edgar didn’t remember any of it. When she sat up, a prolonged burp rolled out of her. ‘The creeper,’ Lucy called her. ‘And you didn’t make a fuss either. Sometimes, to Lucy, it all seemed so absurd. As well as inside pigs and chickens and cows. ‘Hold your horses,’ Lucy barked. But her eyes were already closed. Edgar wasn’t sure. Still, he wasn’t pleased when the man moved toward him. Powder and flowers and spice – and now sweet grass, sweet sweat. Edgar closed his eyes, hoping the man could no longer smell the scent that, amazingly, almost diabolically, still lingered upon his skin. ‘Let the tap run for a minute,’ she called out, ‘or it’ll be full of clouds.’
Edgar knew the rules. He might make it worse, his skinny sleeping body instinctively burrowing into hers for warmth. He tried it out, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the dog. His mother was supposed to smoke on the porch. He liked to listen to her, even though he knew she was slippery. The good witch! Transparent. ‘How do I look?’
Bark. He walked straight into the dark bedroom without making a sound. The man was going to think she was a bitch. Is something wrong?’
The boy shook his head and drifted toward the old woman. Newborn brains were mushy. Only the butcher looked back. Time stopped, as it rarely does. They had shared odd moments like this before – moments in which the world dropped away and it was just the two of them, half-asleep, with a nervous red thread quivering between their chests. It was as if there were two of him, and each kissed the other, agreeing on something. Her burden. A tiny whoosh of air streamed from her nose. He knew her body better than his own. But what if these people were liars? Eight years old, sleepy – someone should have sent him to bed. The angel’s dainty foot, toe pointed, hovered just above the bridge.  
*
 
He stood in the hallway. Someone, he noticed, had turned down a few of the framed photographs that rested on top. Lucy turned, put out her cigarette, and grabbed the butcher’s arm. ‘You shouldn’t even be up,’ she said. Sleepiness was doing funny things to the pictures on the walls. If she was ever downstairs when one of them came to claim Lucy, she retreated into the kitchen and made a very loud cup of instant coffee, clanging the spoon like a Salvation Army Santa wielding a bell. Edgar couldn’t participate in the game; he had no credentials, no leverage. Doctor said he’d never seen a kid care less about being born. Edgar was astonished upon hearing it. The Polish. There were nights, of course, when she craved a body next to her. From her mouth shot forbidden words with a marksman’s precision. And the boy could smell cigarettes, and cigarettes weren’t allowed in the house. Hee hee hee, went the doll, as Edgar entered the living room. But wait. The liquid tingled, a subtle electrification, as the scent changed, bloomed, became an extension of the boy himself. ‘Turkey? His mother was a stomper. What he didn’t know was his own beginning. Still, there were a few things he could manage to recall: the thick cloud of cigar smoke around his grandfather’s La-Z-Boy; how the old man never called him by his name but referred to him only as boy, the word often shouted in a fairly startling tone. Among the many photos on top of his grandmother’s bureau, there was one in which the old woman was young and impossibly slim, with a cigarette in her hand and a sharp-fanged fox wrapped around her neck. It was like the two women were talking about an imaginary friend – and there seemed to be some ongoing argument about ownership. Brought up in a haunted house, he had a keen sense of when someone was conversing with the dead. Another complexity they had in common. He stared at the boy and offered no discernible gesture of farewell. Pale skin, white hair, tired eyes a sea-glass shade of green. Was she laughing at him? And though his grandmother was generally a very neat person, the cards in the drawer were a helter-skelter mess, as if she’d been playing a game of Go Fish. ‘But since you’re here.’ She did a little turn in front of him. He had heard that there was a boy in his school who could fart on command. He saw movement. She didn’t mind the boy’s choice. The boy liked this particular story, and so he made sure to roll his head in feigned boredom. Dresses that, if she were to put on now, she’d split open like the Incredible Hulk when he turned green. No. What did I tell you?’ Lucy brushed back her hair with her fingers. But Edgar didn’t want to go with her to where this other boy lived, this fairy-tale boy who was supposedly his father: a lump, a limp body on a dark road the old woman was trying to flood with light. She didn’t mind the physical fact of Edgar’s choice, but sometimes she just didn’t care for the idea of it. ‘I eat lots of peas at the same time.’
When both women laughed, the boy stormed out of the room, nearly sick from the ferocity of his blushing. Plus, she had the most delicious voice. Sometimes she’d hear the boy gasp, coming out of one of his dreams. ‘I wasn’t spying on you. ‘I do not!’ Edgar had shouted. He’d done it before, he was good at it. When he finally willed himself down, it was to the floor beside the bed. And there was the boy, happy, eating. His mother’s real laugh was something else, flames shooting from a ten-story building.