A woman’s scream broke through the sound of a neighborhood of televisions murmuring through open windows.
James and I sat up in Jack’s and Connie’s recliners, shared a glance, and then jumped over to the sliding glass door. It was a Saturday night, and before going to bed Connie had reminded us to keep it quiet if we stayed up late. We’d been clicking around the five channels available back in 1964, and absolutely nothing was on. As the echoes of the scream we’d heard reverberated into silence, we looked up the grass embankment that divided the fenceless backyards of Goshawk and Harrier Streets. Atop the rise of crabgrass, sitting darkly at this late hour, sat the house that Connie derisively called the rental.
“Let’s go,” said James.
I never thought twice about following him, and always had for the two years of our friendship. We were both in our thirteenth year, but James seemed older, wiser, cooler. I attributed these traits to the influence of his father. Though Jack Penningram traveled a lot, and was away on business that very night, James was an only child. I was the oldest of four. Even with the frequent flyer miles, Jack simply had more time to spend one-on-one with his son than my father did with me.
Another scream–this one sounded throttled–disturbed the breezeless early August night.
We were in our last summer before high school, friends forever with more time and latitude than we knew what to do with. I followed James out the slider, both of us barefoot.
In shadowy, backyard darkness, we clambered up the crabgrass embankment, knelt and listened. The cathode murmur was back with a vengeance. Two bloodcurdling screams had bounced us off the best seats in the Penningram family room, screams the like of which I’d never heard outside a horror film. After a span of seconds, James motioned, and we crept along a hedge toward Harrier Street. Just as we reached the front yard, the front door of the rental flew open.
A woman in her young thirties had recently moved in, and there she was now, fleeing the house, tumbling over her nightgown. As we gawked, half hidden in an angle of streetlight, she ran to the house directly across the street and began pounding on the front door with both hands. An older couple, pajama-clad, appeared in the flicked-on porch light. Both women disappeared into the house, but the husband, lingered, peering out from the doorway toward where James and I crouched. We ducked into darkness before he saw us.
I had just started to wonder what being James’s unquestioning companion had gotten me into when from inside the rental came a creak of nail and wood loud enough to hear outside. I was on my best friend’s heels down the shadow of the hedge. At the edge of the embankment we very nearly collided with a dude I figured to be a few years older than James and me. Sandy-blond flat top, slacks and a yellow windbreaker, a hair’s breadth taller than us. He smirked right at us, almost a smile, as if we were two cocker spaniels loosed to check on trouble in the neighborhood.
“Who the fuck is that?” James’s whispered after the older kid passed without a word.
“I think he was in there,” I said.
“What?” James hushed back.
“I think that guy was in the rental.”
“How do you know?”
I wasn’t sure how I knew.
Neighbors had awakened, people in bathrobes, roused from sitcom stupors, coming out under Harrier’s streetlamps. Seconds later, a whirl of intermittent blood-blue light strobed the house fronts–a police prowler had pulled up. We watched a cop with a flashlight enter the rental, while another knocked on the door across the street.
“We gotta tell them,” I said.
“No,” said James, and I got the odd sense that he was somehow protecting the stranger who’d walked out of the screaming night and looked down his nose at us.
“But the rapist,” I said, “It might have something to do with the Arbor Glen Rapist.” There’d been two rapes in our comfortable bedroom community outside the San Francisco Bay Area. We knew all about them from poring over the pages of the Glen Herald, our local paper, in search of news about the British Invasion that was usurping the popularity of our idols, Elvis, the Beach Boys, and the Four Seasons. That afternoon we’d learned that the Beatles were in production for their second movie, the follow up to A Hard Day’s Night, and that neither of the rapist’s elderly victims could recall her rapist’s face.
“I highly doubt that punk kid is the Arbor Glen Rapist,” James scoffed. Returning to the Penningram house, we were in for another shock. Connie stood at the open sliding glass door holding her pearl-handled revolver.
“What in God’s name?” she hissed, finger on the trigger.
“Careful, Mom.”
“Running around all hours, the way things are in this town right now.”
The following Monday I was waiting on Goshawk with my skateboard for James to return from what he’d described as a “three-filling” dental appointment. Waiting for his arrival in the passenger seat of Connie’s new red Mustang, a rolling testament to the distance between James’s family and mine. Either boredom, or rebellion against my cocksure friend’s weakened condition, prompted me to set off alone up the embankment, to retrace our steps from the night of the assault.
There were only several different model homes in our neighborhood, all of them single story ranches. One window blind was cattywampus in what I knew was the rental’s master bedroom window. I climbed the uphill curve of Harrier Street a few houses, intending to kill time skateboarding down.
Grinding over softened asphalt in a skateboarder’s crouch, I saw that while my back had been turned, walking the curve, the renter had pulled into her driveway. She was bending over the open trunk of her sedan. Her hands fumbled, and something round fell from them and rolled down the driveway and out into the street. Goshawk drops pretty steeply there, so I sped up and grabbed the object before it reached the sewer grate. A cool weight in my hand, cobalt blue with robin’s egg splatters. I recognized the object from science class at Arbor Glen Middle School. A molten rock, expelled in somesuch geologic time. Polished to a high sheen by earthling hands. The science teacher had called it a thunder egg.
“Almost lost my egg,” the rental woman said brightly as I placed it in her hand. She was built like my mother, curvy, dark hair, five-foot-plus-not-much. I found myself searching her face for bruises, maybe a blackened eye under her sunglasses. For some reason I didn’t believe for a second that the thunder egg was hers. I could not imagine why an adult would lie, or why a young man would skulk around a screaming house, but understood that something about being near the godforsaken rental seemed to bring unbidden intuitions to the surface. Down on Goshawk, the Mustang rolled home. In his room, I told James about meeting the renter, and the thunder egg I’d rescued.
James was already three steps ahead. “She’s out, we’re in,” he said, his tone characteristically confident around a cheek shot with anesthetic.
I nodded, looking convincingly agreeable, as he divulged his plan to make the rental ours for as long as it remained on the market.
Sunday next, and Jack was due home. I’d been cleared for a sleepover. What James’s father did for Simulations Inc. was “classified,” James loved to say, and I suspected it had to do with the war. James and Connie adjusted to his absences by honoring little traditions, like crash-shopping for his favorite foods and beverages on the eve of his return. When included in Jack’s homecoming, I felt like a Penningram myself. Never once in the two years of our friendship did James spend the night at my house. It was understood, with all my siblings and the bedrooms full up, that the freewheeling style of our relationship would be unthinkably cramped there.
Connie darted the Mustang through stop-and-go traffic, a lock of platinum twitching on a warm draft from the wind-wing. The subject of the assault on the renter and the Arbor Glen Rapist had inevitably come up. Connie imparted some neighborhood gossip. “The couple across the street told Lauri Dysinger that it was her ex-husband who broke in,” she said, batting purple-shaded eyelids in the rearview mirror.
‘That’s bad, but it’s better than some crazed rapist.”
“I knew it wasn’t that kid,” said James.
“What kid?” asked Connie.
“Just some doofus we saw on the embankment.”
Connie slowed enough to provoke an irritated toot from a motorist who’d been tailgating her. “You saw what on the embankment?”
“No way was the kid we saw her husband,” said James.
“Then who was he?” I ventured.
“Some dude, no reason to bust his ass,” said James. Another freedom at the Penningram house: James got away with swearing now and then, as long as he kept it in the realm. I never dared. I let the subject drop, not wanting to press the luck of my invite to the coming home dinner.
“He cut off power to the house,” said Connie of the menace who’d caused her to unlock the nightstand and get her gun. “Poor thing never knew till he was right in the room with her.” Pulling up to the Penningram house, we looked up on Harrier and saw an orange-and-white moving van parked in the driveway of the rental. Connie had a good natured rant against renters, a common theme in our town, which we loved hearing. “It’s always pins and needles,” she’d say, “waiting to see who you’re going to get.”
“I guess we can start wondering who we’re going to get,” she said, as we helped carry in Jack’s booty: a rump roast, an NFL season guide, and two six-packs of his favorite beer.
I clammed up all through Sunday dinner, giving the Penningram rhythm its due. We joked about Connie’s TV dinners, but that night the roast was perfect, and she’d baked a batch of scrumptious cream puffs for desert. James and I were on our best behavior. The Kinks were making their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, opposite Jack’s favorite, Bonanza, and there was only one television in the house. Our chances improved with Jack’s second beer. Thirty minutes before show time, James formally made our request: Sullivan over Bonanza.
Connie was sitting on the arm of Jack’s recliner, and I was positioned perfectly to see the little nudge she delivered to her husband’s ribcage. Jack–who mostly went for the Muzak played on Simulation Inc.’s intercom system–wouldn’t play the heavy his first night back.
Shecky Greene was the headliner. I didn’t quite get the jokes, but Ed Sullivan was cracking up. After some juggling cyclists, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme sang “Fly Me to the Moon,” a high point for Jack and Connie.
Like minstrels out of favor with the Queen Mother, the Kinks delivered “You Really Got Me.” James and I sat transfixed on two floor pillows, our stomachs knotted. It seemed to me that Jack and Connie were quietly appalled. After Steve and Eydie’s second song, Connie began straightening up the family room, and reminded James and I to be especially quiet so that Jack could get a good night’s sleep. Before we got out of the room, a tease from the local news station broke in, evaporating all the fluid happiness of Jack’s return.
The Arbor Glen Rapist had struck again.
Jack had four full days before Simulations flew him out again, and the following morning he set us up for miniature golf at Glen Acres Country Club, while he played eighteen holes with some business associates. I actually bested James, getting my ball through the final windmill hazard first, a turnabout in James’s fortunes just enough to keep things interesting. He was good-natured about getting beat, in a good mood for having his father in town. On the ride home, we passed city hall. From the Glen Herald‘s front page we’d learned that the third rape victim was another elderly woman living alone. The assailant had put a pillowcase over her head. Another late-night entry, through an unlocked sliding glass door.
“Why would anyone want to rape an old woman?”James asked from the passenger seat.
Jack thought for a minute, and then said, “It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with who the person is for these sickos.” James’s wise father then addressed me directly, bringing me upright in my seat.
“I understand you saw a suspicious-looking character in our backyard?”
I floundered. James and I had not mentioned my gut feeling about Yellow Windbreaker’s guiltiness since the night of the assault. James being right, being the leader of our pack, was the deep weave of why our friendship worked. James needed an acolyte, and along with the shared values and interests I brought to the relationship, I brought that alpha-beta dynamic. The intuition I’d had about the kid on the embankment challenged the perfect balance of our bond, and foretold change that neither of us wanted.
“I don’t know, sir,” I managed. “He just seemed guilty somehow.”
“Well,” said Jack, closing the subject, “at least the poor woman has moved on, and hopefully will take her troubles with her.” As we pulled into the driveway, he added a postscript softly. “I do worry, with me being out of town so much.”
After the third rape, I read in the paper about an emergency meeting to be held the following evening at the Grange Hall. My parents attended, and after sending my younger brother and sisters to the family room to watch Lassie, my mother recounted Police Chief Danfeld’s report. She looked as tired as ever after a day with four children, and news from the meeting was not helping her mood. Dad had fallen asleep on the couch.
“They’re following up some promising leads,” Mom said, “and talking to everyone who might be suspicious. Mayor Eisenberg promised that everything that can be done is being done.”
Ivan from Ivan’s Hardware had taken the podium, offered advice on which locks were best and how to install them.
“I sure hope they catch him,” was all I could think to say. I hadn’t told my parents about what had happened at the rental for fear of being banned from future Penningram sleepovers. After hearing about the meeting, I was ready to divulge, but the timing wasn’t right. Mom was as exhausted as I’d ever seen her that night, so I just kissed her and went to bed.
The following morning news came that the rapist’s second victim, Hazel Smythe, a retired school teacher, died after ten days in the hospital. She was eighty-one, and talk of a possible murder charge circulated.
“Weird,” said James. “You can murder somebody after the fact like that.”
By that Friday, the day Connie drove thirty miles round trip to drop Jack at San Jose International Airport for his flight to Minneapolis, a siege mentality had set in. Wives with late-shift husbands were gathering so no one would be alone; they played cards while their children slept on couches. Detectives parked unmarked cars on Arbor Glen’s soft shoulders. The Glen Herald screamed WHO IS HE?, and feverishly covered the hottest local story since native son Col. Phil “Ripcord” Somersby was killed in a freak air collision in Vietnam.
Despite the fact that the rapist’s victims had all been elderly, every woman in town was on edge. Their husbands vowed vigilance, delivered with extreme prejudice if necessary.
James had broken us into the rental, a little jimmy-trick that worked if the metal frame of the slider had no interior bolt mechanism. There was the scent of dried soil and potpourri rising from the russet carpet. An aura of powder in the bedroom, and the cabinet under the kitchen sink exuded the moisture of recent use. It was strange looking out over the embankment, down at the Penningram roof, the woman’s-eye view. With all the hoopla surrounding the rapes, there had been nothing in the paper about the assault on Harrier Street.
“This is where it all happened,” said James.
Thereafter, whenever we were liberated from our own families, James and I made 1319 Harrier Street our own, comfortable in rooms with dead flies on the sills and sinks smelling like dank rubber shoes coming out of a drier. The power was off, but our transistors worked fine. After dark, we appropriated Jack’s spare roadside flashlight from the garage, which turned the master bedroom’s walk-in closet into a place of light, and no one on the outside was the wiser.
Twice we’d had to bail out the master bathroom window, when a realtor’s arrival with prospective tenants startled us. For the most part though it was one big family room, a radio rotation of the British Invasion, swills of soda pop, probing discussions of the girls we knew and what their glances at us meant, and enjoying the sneaky thrill of having our own house.
The second Saturday of our squatting, James called to let me know that Jack was flying in. The Crock-Pot–which we called the Crotch Pot–was stoking for beef stew at six. Connie had left for the airport.
“Mom said it’s OK if you want to sleep over.”
I skateboarded up about 4:30, noticing that the garage doors were down, which meant that Connie and Jack had probably arrived home. I knocked on the front door. Nobody answered, so I headed for the side yard toward the sliding glass door. I heard voices. An open window, the master bedroom, with the curtains drawn.
Connie’s voice was constricted in a way I’d never heard come from her lips.
“You were with her, I know all about it.”
Jack’s voice had lost all the authority that James channeled to make himself our unquestioned leader.
I made for the slider, less shocked by what I’d heard than by the fact that it was my bad luck to have heard it. Between the master bedroom window and the sliding glass door I worked hard to discombobulate any possible meanings before they were able to fully form in my psyche. I didn’t want the Penningram thing to end, and was willing to sublimate important information to preserve it. James appeared at the glass.
“The For Rent sign is down,” he said, throwing the new Dave Clark Five album on the turntable in his room. “And there’s a refrigerator parked in the garage.”
Jack’s announcement at dinner erased the only thing I had that James did not have, a father every night of the week. I sat gulping my rice like gravel, hostage to Connie’s tepid distance, Jack’s understated tone of ceremony. “They’re putting me behind a desk,” he said. “I’ll be home every night.”
We all sat down for the Patty Duke Show, Jack and Connie in the recliners and us on our floor pillows, but halfway through Connie disappeared down the hallway, not to appear again that night. Sometime in the predawn hours I got up to take a leak. I heard the sliding hum of the glass door rolling open and felt a breeze through the cracked-open bathroom door. I drew back the bathroom window’s pleated curtains. Someone was prowling the backyard; I wondered if it might be the Arbor Glen Rapist. No, it was Jack. With an overhand toss, like a short-yardage option pass, he launched some object into a high arc. It landed like an accurate mortar shell in the weedy strip of plantings under the rental’s master bedroom window.
Back in James’s room, my friend was fast asleep.
The next morning, Sunday, I floated some bull about a family commitment and left the Penningrams’ at the breakfast table with my thanks. I skateboarded uphill to Harrier Street, intending to seek out what Jack had thrown before somebody beat me to it. I couldn’t imagine life without the Penningrams. I loved my own mother and father, and my siblings too, despite the territorial struggles in our small house, the shared bedrooms, the spreading around of limited funds so that no child got anything more than the others. But James’s family was special. A father wise in the ways of a world reached by airports, a glamorous mother, done up in the best make-up every morning, her hair swept tight, her pantsuits form-fitting and fashionable. And James himself, the only child, with all the confidence and arrogance such singularity earned for him.
The rental had finally been snatched off the market, but seemed as deathly abandoned as ever that Sunday morning. I crossed over to a neglected flowerbed affronted by robust dandelions, looking for whatever Jack had tossed there.
Though I loved the people in my own crowded house, I needed to escape to his, and so had accepted James as the last word on just about everything. Something about the night of the assault in the rental had brought out instincts I could not ignore. I had begun to second guess the embankments we scaled, to harbor doubts about the secret places we shared, and to question facets of the wisdom that had been handed down by his father.
Down the embankment, the Penningram slider opened. Through the kitchen window, I saw Connie standing at the sink, her aluminized hairdo bobbing as if she was in the act of scolding or agreeing with her husband. Or telling James she’d seen me up at the rental. Around the garage wall in a flash, I grabbed the swoop of Harrier Street like the Silver Surfer on my board.
The fourth victim of the Arbor Glen Rapist was not elderly. A career secretary, divorced, she fought back and drew his blood on her sheets. The rapist had landed an angry fist on her right eye. The Herald reported that police now had a description but were withholding it.
“I still think that asshole was in the house that night,” I told James over the phone.
“The bitch herself told the neighbors it was her husband.”
Jack’s Tuesday flight out of San Jose was his last for Simulations Inc. When James called to invite me over, I remember thinking that mother and son would never again wait for husband and father’s return. There was bad news up the embankment. James informed me that a family had moved a shitload of stuff into the garage, and he’d seen them, no teens, no cute chicks, just a pod of rug rats. He suggested one last party in the illuminated master closet before the rental would become verboten.
The scent of frozen pizza rolls wafting from Connie’s toaster oven filled the Penningram house. Jack’s flight had departed on time, and she was determined to relax in front of The Dean Martin Show. James and I endured hopefully, vainly, for anything resembling rock, but that night it was Roger Miller, who seemed to be weathering the British Invasion just fine, singing a stupid song called, “Dang Me.” I watched Connie more closely than usual, looking for clues about her state of mind, the state of the household. She seemed her usual self-possessed self, a great relief. As she rose to prepare for bed, James asked if we could take a walk, plying her with the tried-and-true “summer’s almost over” routine.
“In by midnight,” she relented.
We found the refrigerator moved from the garage to the kitchen. Some cleaning supplies sat on the kitchen counters. It wouldn’t be long now that the rental would be occupied, and our secret hideout gone. Jack’s roadside lamp had served us well, but now its batteries were spent, and the light sputtered and snuffed, casting the closet into near total darkness. Only a slant of moonlight came under the closet door.
“I’ll be right back,” said James.
I didn’t much like being left in the dark house alone. For the first time, I felt what it must have been like when rental woman had awakened to find her husband, or whoever the hell it was, in the room with her. After a few minutes, James hustled back through the closet door, lit a match, and soon had a large white candle from Connie’s kitchen lighted on a white saucer. We plopped down cross-legged under high shelves and hanger poles animated by flickering light.
James produced two cigarettes. Connie would pilfer a few Kools from her brother when he visited, and James knew where she hid them. We tentatively puffed and coughed, menthol poisoning the air. I was feeling like we’d definitely overstayed our welcome when out of his denim jacket James produced the thunder egg.
Its glaze was molten in the candlelight, like a meditative eye.
“Where the fuck’d you get that?” I said.
“Outside, in the bushes.”
“I guess she forgot it,” I said, recalling the day I’d gotten my close up look at the rental’s former tenant.
James took a long drag, savoring his claim on the rental’s only remaining worthy object. He tossed it to me suddenly, and I started, but caught it. It had warmed against his body but lay cool-blooded beneath the surface.
“Just one more wrinkle in the mystery,” James said.
“I’m going to the police about that asshole on the embankment,” I said.
James gave me a look in the candlelight, and blew a smoke ring in my face. For all I knew, he knew terrible things, terrible new things about his family. He knew what I had tried so hard not to know. It occurred to me that he’d confused preserving his reign over our summers with protecting Yellow Windbreaker. And that he might suddenly need me now more than I needed him. Just like that it became my move, my instinct, my ineffaceable rebellion that mattered, I’m pretty sure for the very first time.
There was a sound in the house. A sound that is usually welcome in Arbor Glen. The sound of going outside, of children chattering on swing sets, of steaks sizzling, the sound of a radio playing the hits of 1964. A sound that followed James and I over both the summers of our friendship, a low rumble, heavy glass, the sound of a sliding glass door opening.
The candle fluttered, and the closet went black as all hell.
We heard the creak of the hall’s hardwood floor and then footsteps spongy across the carpet. Pungent candle smoke mixed noxiously with the tobacco haze. I stifled a sudden urge to cough, but it didn’t matter, the smoke from under the doorway dropped the dime on us.
“Who’s in there?” said a male voice from outside the door. I thought perhaps a realtor had nabbed us at this unlikely hour of the night. James’s reply was like a hawk of phlegm in the charcoal vortex of the closet.
“Neighbors, just having a smoke.”
“Come on out.”
He stood in the moonstruck bedroom, a few years older than us, and definitely older than the last time I’d seen him.
“You fuckers again,” he said, as we stood holding burnt-down cigarettes in an outrush of smoke. He noticed the thunder egg in my hand. “Where the fuck did you get that?”
“We found it in the bushes,” James told the kid who was a little older and a little taller than us, and whom I was now sure had been in that room, that night. And as sure as I was that the rental woman had lied about our keepsake, I was just as sure that the person staring us down in that godforsaken bedroom knew exactly who it belonged to. He showed the smirk, and seemed just about to speak when the colors of law enforcement blinkered again on Harrier Street. A rustle of polyester and he ducked out of sight below the window, an apparition lost down the hall. We heard the slider rumble open, but not close.
Pounding at the front door sent James and me out the master bathroom window and down into the dandelion bed. I hit a chuckhole, twisting my ankle, but held on to the thunder egg. A shot rang out from James’s house.
A man’s voice yelled, “Drop the gun.” Police were everywhere, and an officer’s flashlight beamed down the embankment, illuminating the Penningram slider. Connie came out on the arm of an Arbor Glen plainclothesmen who held her pearl-handled revolver in his left hand.
James went to his mother. I stayed under the bathroom window, my ankle throbbing, watching as two uniformed officers brought out the asshole who grossly intruded on the summer of ’64, sporting the hardened expression I figured he would now take into the afterlife.
Our house was a cacophony of wants, needs, and forced sharing. I often felt guilty, so imperative was my need to escape to Goshawk Street. The Penningrams had been my discovery, proof of my singular sensibilities, and I relished the difference between the families.
Soon after our freshman year at Arbor Glen High school began, my relationship with James began to wane. There were a few more sleepovers, but in the context of high school, they seemed awkward. He frequented a wooded median strip where marijuana was being smoked, but I knew my father would kill me if I went there, and I never had the guts. He was spending most of his time with an artistic beauty whose latest work was herself, gone full Pattie Boyd, with short black skirt, white hosiery, and dark eyeliner.
The fact that my instincts had proved correct about the most resonant single event in our friendship was something we never mentioned again. Yellow Windbreaker was the assailant in the rental that night, and the Arbor Glen Rapist too. He had scared his poor mother shitless, messed-up bastard that he was, but she had lied, blamed his absent father, to throw Arbor Glen’s finest off his tail.
It was a blessing for everyone that Connie hadn’t killed him.
The Glen Herald reported that when the perpetrator came through her unlocked slider, Connie had fired, but the bullet from her revolver went wide and knocked the rabbit ears off the television. It was Detective Rob Fortener’s leveled forty-five that brought the situation under control.
In the high school library, I found Michael Holgate’s yearbook photo, a senior class two years graduated. He was twenty years old and unarmed at the time he was taken into custody, one house down an embankment from his mother’s last-known residence.
James and I became old friends passing in the high school’s hallways, our exploits filed in minds charged with cosmic chemicals. It had been weeks since the last sleepover when my mother informed me that and Connie and James were dropping by say their final goodbyes. Jack put in for and was accepted to be headquartered in Chicago.
A moving van had just pulled out of their driveway; Jack had flown on ahead. James found his way back to my cramped little room, stuffed to the rafters with British Invasion paraphernalia.
It was the Byrds on my turntable, actually. America’s answer to the Animals-Hermits-Zombies invading our shores. “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” was the song, and at that moment I knew I would never see James again. And I would never see his like again. I had learned to trust my own judgment, no matter how blindingly wonderful any person I ever met again might be. We shook hands. I like to think of it in English terms, as John and Paul might say, two mates having it off. We all hugged in the family room, and the candy-apple Mustang drove off into the sunset.
Back in my room, I dropped the needle again on my new favorite Byrds song, and listened to them sing about “a time to refrain from embracing.” I pulled a box which held my treasures out from under the bed and opened it. Nestled between a crucifix I found once walking alone along a railroad track and a wolf’s-head letter opener my mother brought back from her trip to the Netherlands, was the thunder egg. It had survived a sewer, the truth about the perfect Penningrams, a broken family, and fallen into my hands for posterity.