LINDA WOOLFORD

An Entirely Different Girl

Some years ago the New York Times ran an article about migration west in the late 19th century. I was compelled by a photo of a mother and child in the vast Plains. The mother wielded a cart piled high with buffalo chips. A few yards away, her daughter clutched a small doll. The expressions on their faces were haunting and indecipherable. I framed the photo and eventually, what intrigued me about these two found its way into this story about those born of a place and those who move there, those who leave and those left behind, about connection and disruption and the consequences of choice.

How can you explain joy? The way it leaps without reason into the heart, bypassing the stricken mind. How it lies in the hand as your fingers curl around the new doll your mother had just sewn. The face pulled taut as bed sheets. The features painted bold and true: the appley cheeks and brown eyes, and the prairie-fire color of Indian Paintbrush blooming the lips—the expression caught between innocence and knowing. Not like the stiff, sad corncob dolls made by the other mothers in 1880, here on the pancake-flat Plains.  

An aunt from “Back East” sent Matilda’s mother material to make their own clothes and craft the dolls. Back East, where her mother was born and grew up, the Plains that here surrounded their sod dwelling for miles and days and years were called fields, cut through with blue streams. Her mother drew Matilda pictures of Massachusetts: across the fields, in the distance, mountains. She drew a circle at the bottom of one and said that’s where Matilda’s father grew up, in a mill town where waterfalls—waterfalls!—powered the saws. In front of the mountains, she drew trees, and wrote their names: oak, maple, birch, chestnut. On the Plains, there were few trees. Her mother drew leaves of the different trees, and Matilda imagined their texture between her fingers, felt their slight scratch across her cheeks. 

Today, Matilda stood in the vast space of the prairie and wished her face was unroughened, her lips as bright as the new doll’s. Twelve years old and still she hugged it to her chest. She and her mother had wheeled a cart not far from their home to where buffalo ran, so her mother could collect their dung, the large chips used to fuel their cook stove. On the cart, the chips were piled higher than Matilda’s head, the stack tilting dangerously. Her mother stood so close she could tip the stack over, and for a moment Matilda feared she would. She moved away from the cart, but her mother’s attention was not on her daughter; rather, it seemed to Matilda, it was on some faraway place—Massachusetts? A sharp gust swung her mother’s dark dress about her like a vulture’s wing. Buffalo chips fell from the cart. 

Startled, her mother gestured toward her. “Go on, girl, pick them up.” 

Matilda would not move, clutched the doll closer. Her mother’s lips pressed together. The wind blew into the pitch of a whine, the same pitch as the words that came from Matilda: “Won’t. You ain’t gonna make me,” causing her mother to leap and slap Matilda, sending the doll to the ground. Matilda refused to follow, though the blow sent her reeling, as much from force as surprise.

Her mother began to cry and reached for Matilda, but her daughter turned from her touch, strengthened by the sting of the wind against her reddened cheek. Legs now sturdy on the earth, she was proud she could stand up to her mother, to this place. Her mother sighed, and began picking up the chips, an apology of sorts, and despite herself, Matilda relented. Together they gathered them all and piled them into the cart, then began the slow roll home, wheels squeaking. The doll was left face down on the ground, shamed; Matilda, now, unable to want anything crafted by her mother. Her own slap in her mother’s face. 

 

Her mother always talked about going back to Boston, where she’d been raised and where her parents and sisters still lived. She told Matilda about buildings made of brick and stone, and the grand park in the middle of the city designed by Olmstead (which Matilda misheard as homestead): the Emerald Necklace—emerald, a color Matilda saw in spring when the prairie shades of dust and mud and buffalo pelt gave way to waves of green dotted with wildflowers and avaricious bees.

Sometimes her mother cried when she talked. Matilda grieved her mother’s loss of home, could feel its emptiness in her own belly, particularly on nights when she’d not had enough to eat, and believed in this magical place, Back East, but couldn’t imagine it. She could feel only her own landscape—the way it lies flat inside you, unfurls and stretches all through you. And how the wind sings and snaps, and the wild, wide way it makes you feel, bringing all variety of noise—crickets, buffalo, raptors, thunder—with nothing to stop it.  Wind that blew her father away months ago. “I’ll be back,” he said. He was often gone, buffalo hunting, scouting land, but he always came home. This time he’d been gone the longest, and her mother had a different story: “He won’t.” 

On some cold nights, with the buffalo chips burning low, Matilda knew her mother headed for the barn to lie down in the hay with the cow, and once she’d seen her weep into the side of old Bessie, arm reaching up her massive back as if to hug. 

 

That night, when they’d returned from the prairie, the buffalo chips burned a golden glow in the cookstove, made good warmth throughout the sod house. They sat together, her mother sewing a shirt for Matilda in the fire’s light, one eye on her stitching, the other on her daughter. Matilda wriggled her fingers, their idleness a luxury, another apology from her mother for the slap: there were honey frames that needed scraping, beans to sort, dishes to scrub, a floor to sweep. Still, her empty hands grieved the abandoned doll. 

“You know,” her mother started, “if I’d stayed in Boston, you would be an entirely different girl.” She settled her stitching on her lap, leaned slightly forward. “What’s the good of having a daughter if she’s different than you? We don’t even speak the same language.” The words were said softly, so didn’t wound as much. There was an opening in the softness. Matilda took it.

“Give me again the story of you and Papa.” She felt power in the words, knowing they would cause her mother sorrow or happiness. Her mother sighed and put fingers to her lips as if to deny Matilda her power. “You know it.”

“Tell me,” she said, and wondered, who would that girl be? What kind of daughter? What words would she speak so her mother would understand? The ones Matilda kept bundled tight inside? Her mother had described her own girlhood and Matilda imagined this daughter her mother wanted as one who wouldn’t need dolls because she had human friends. She’d talk of boys and twirl her fingers in golden curls that bounced on her shoulders. Her shoes would be black patent leather (she didn’t know what that was, but her mother spoke of it), the straps tight around her ankles, and in her imaginings, this makes her toes throb. The white socks fill her with anxiety that they’ll get dirty. But there’s no dirt in Boston, no shades of dust or mud or buffalo chips anywhere. The sidewalks—sidewalks!—are hard and clean, surrounded by plush grass. Across this field a blue stream wanders through the green. In the distance, behind the tallest buildings: mountains. The girls carry books, sit on the grass and read to each other. Soon, blown in from the Prairie, a jealous wind slams shut the covers, rakes the words right out of their mouths, hurls them into the clouds, and carries Matilda back, filling her with the feral joy of returning to her own place, her mother in the middle of the telling:

“…came back to Massachusetts to see his brother, who was dying. Took him many weeks to travel home. And the night after his brother expired, he came to a dance at Thoreau House on my campus, to run from his sorrows. He had a wild streak. Wanderlust. Not one to follow in the path of his father or brother, that one. Not a mill man. A wild seed carried out here to the middle of nowhere. And maybe, too, he came Back East to find a wife among us elite and carry one of us back with him to this hell.” 

Elite. Hell. Even in the slow glow of the fire, Matilda saw her mother’s bitterness. She knew the rest of the story. How he’d carried her away from her family, from all she’d known. Carried her here on horseback (Matilda didn’t believe this, could not believe her mother would survive such a dirty, dangerous journey, much less agree to it. Still, she gloried in its unlikeliness). But as her mother talked, her father formed in her mind, stepping into the small space between mother and daughter, softening each for the other, growing so tall he had to bend to keep his head from butting the sod ceiling. 

The magical string of words stopped. No matter. They did their trick. Her father returned in her mind, hat pulled low, smiling, lips forming words roughened by wind, breaking sentences into small bites of sound, rock scraping rock: “Hey Chicken. Me. You. Let’s prowl.” And they did. Her father let her run wild, told her she was special, and promised next time he’d take her roaming with him. One day maybe they’d ride off and not come back. He’d always kept his promises, but this time Matilda began to see him as one of those imaginary trees her mother had drawn and labeled—oak, maple, birch, chestnut—bending and tippling in the wind. Eventually blowing away.

“I thought there’d be schools.” Her mother laughed. “Not to mention libraries. Bless my sisters for sending some books on. Miracle some of them arrived.” She stabbed the needle into the fabric and pricked her finger, but didn’t say a word. A dark spot appeared on the pale fabric. “I’ve got to get out of here.”

Matilda yawned. She’d heard this too many times. “Go on then.” She wandered over to her pallet in the corner, the straw bedding drawn tight with a linen sheet covered with a quilt and other dolls her mother had made. Matilda saw again the doll left behind and thought her mother might visit the barn later.

 

When Matilda half woke in the middle of the night, the cookstove fire had burned to embers, throwing gauzy shadows throughout the room. Cold, she pulled the quilt tighter, thought the murmurs were dreams bleeding into her drowse. From her corner she looked toward the stove and saw two silhouettes, recognized the higher-pitched murmur as her mother’s. When Matilda was younger, some nights she dreamt of a silhouette man who came from the chimney and sat at the end of her pallet and spoke like this, kindly, and now the murmurs from those at the cookstove ran pretty—pebbles tumbling over each other. She closed her eyes, expecting to return to whatever dream she’d been having, when the lower murmur turned into words: “Heard he’s with her now. That whore. Next town over. You best find out.” 

She closed her eyes and thought of the horehounds her father used to bring her, licorice softened with molasses and salt, and when she opened her eyes again, sun was trying to stream through the beeswaxed paper in the two small windows cut into the sod walls. She lay quiet for a few minutes. Something was missing. Stillness occupied the room and Matilda realized she was alone. Had her mother gone to the barn and was yet there, the cow rolling over and pinning her? She got out of bed and threw a coat over her shoulders, crammed her feet into her boots and was on her way to the door when she saw the paper on the table, recognized her mother’s fluid, curlicued script in light blue ink. To spite her mother, Matilda had refused to write in cursive, her printed letters and words bunched up and slanted. But sometimes, when her mother was milking, Matilda would sneak her pen and imitate her writing, then bury the pages behind the barn—pages covered with words written as beautifully as her mother’s: Papa, bees, wander, wind

She picked up the note: Your father has returned. I’ve gone to bring him home. Mind the cow and chickens. And dig some potatoes. I should be back in a day. Be a good girl. Mother

Was she dreaming still? She blinked, and then wild joy, running her outside into blinding light. Papa! It was later than she’d thought, the sun high above. Dust, flies, bees filled the air. Leaning against the house, six honey frames and a bucket of berries their kind neighbor from miles over must’ve delivered early this morning. Had he taken her mother to fetch her father? Why hadn’t Papa come on his own? 

She went inside, dark now after the bright sun, and sat on her bed, hugging the dolls. Soon her father would be here. Wouldn’t he? She lay down and thought she might cry. Then she became angry and got out of bed again, slamming the door. 

The chickens were walking in circles, clucking and frantically pecking the ground. She heard the low moan of the cow and quickly entered the barn, cool and dank. She grabbed the milking stool and pail. The cow paid her no mind. Placing both hands on its flank, she lowered her forehead to meet the flesh. For a moment she was inside her mother, became those stormy emotions—loneliness and anger, bitterness and pride. What if her father didn’t come? Her mother? What if they abandoned her the way she’d abandoned the doll yesterday? Women here lived alone, deserted, their small ramshackle homes dotting the prairie. Husbands gone off and lost, children died or moved east or further west. She ran her fingers over the cow’s ribs and another feeling trickled through: Sun and dirt and wind. The endless flat vista made her sturdy and independent. She didn’t need father or mother.  

Still, as soon as she milked and threw feed to the chickens, she would go back and find the doll. 

 

She walked in smaller and smaller circles so as not to miss an inch of land. But she knew as soon as she got close to where she and her mother had been yesterday that the doll was gone. There was nothing blocking her sight. Yet she circled and circled, looking behind each scant tuft of brown grass and through the scrub brush. An animal must have made off with it. Why had she left it to this fate? To punish her mother? What good was that now. 

Thunder sounded. She looked into sun-drenched sky, turned and saw a man on horseback veiled in dust. She feared it was an Indian strayed from the reservation miles off. But nearing, the man yelled her name. For a moment she was fused to this place, unbending, but something began to shift and break up inside her as hooves beat the ground, the vibration challenging her stubbornness. The man galloped closer and, emerging from the dust, became her father. Reaching her, he slowed but did not stop, swooping down to lift and place her onto the saddle in front of him. 

“Bigger now, ain’t you? How’s that? I been gone only a week or so.”

She closed her eyes, leaned into his familiar smell: sweat and dirt, horse and wild strawberries. “Naw, some months, I believe,” and leaned harder into him. “Where’s Mam?”

He squeezed her shoulder. “I’m taking you back to her. ‘Member Sussy? Sussy Greene?”

She tilted her head to look in his face. “She lose her husband and son in that storm last winter?” 

“Yep.” He nested his chin in her shoulder, breathed goosebumps into her neck. “Your mother’s there. We got some talking to do.” 

She wanted to ask what about, but was silenced by his tone: ominous, a word he might use. Sometimes his vocabulary gave him away, words from long ago, escaping the prison of his lips: reverence, absurd, disconsolate, omnipotence. His origins, her mother would say. He had a college degree he never spoke of, which was unheard of for a mill worker. But then, her mother said, his family owned the mill. When a word like this slipped through, Matilda tried to sound it out then spell it in her mother’s fancy script; these words, too, buried in her plot along with her own and her prairie finds: an eagle’s talon; mouse skeleton; bison tooth; sometimes, a shiny mica schist; and rarely, a remnant from settlers passing through—a snapped barrette, broken shoe buckle, a ravaged bow.

“Missed you, girl,” he said, his words a gravelly cloak of warmth. He hugged her tight, and they rode on in silence, questions, apprehension, curiosity threading through her.

Miles of riding, and in the sky, the sun shifted from noon to two. Soon, through the emptiness, an apparition: a boulder in the distance. “Epic,” her father said. “Doesn’t it seem so to you? She’s been living here by herself all these many months. Courting sorrow.” 

Who was he talking about. Her mother? This Sussy woman? Or another left alone? So many of them out here, brought to their fate by men. But she, Matilda, was born of this place. She would never leave, would she? The unmooring she sometimes felt was only through the emotions of her mother. 

Closer, the boulder turned into a dwelling similar to their own, except for a little rambling fence, the wood petrified as stone. A woman, not her mother, emerged from the house. Her bonnet starched around her face, her lips red as if stained with berries, a big grin stretching the red into her cheeks. Was this what a whore looked like?

“You found her,” Sussy said. “C’mon, c’mon,” she urged as they dismounted. “Been waiting for you.” She ushered them towards the door. 

Inside, cool and dim after the bright sun. At first Matilda didn’t see her mother sitting in a corner, her grey dress camouflage. “Come here, Matilda,” she said, the pale flair of her hand cutting through the dark. 

Matilda felt caught between her father and Sussy, the woman’s energy snappy, claiming. Already her arm was across Matilda’s shoulder, and it felt excitable, electric as if the two of them might suddenly spring handstands. 

“She’s more a Tilly, like me, name shortened. I was a Susanna, but out here…” Sussy’s words trailed off. “Tilly suits her better, don’t you think?” She looked at Matilda’s father.

“Sussy’s made a cake,” he said. 

Was this the woman’s birthday? Sussy removed her bonnet and tangled black curls bounced around her face, her shoulders. She had not stopped smiling, and with her hair all about her, she looked like a child; like, Matilda thought, me. She’d never seen a grown woman let her hair go like that. Even at her age, Matilda tied hers back. But then that was what her mother demanded. On the prairie alone, or with her father, she’d pull out the ribbons and pins. 

In the corner, her mother darkened the joyful light Sussy was trying to create. A quick frown crossed Sussy’s face. But she cut the cake, then swiped across the surface, loading her finger with icing, and offered it to Matilda. Her father nudged her. The finger seemed wrong, dirty almost, but when was the last time she’d had cake? And the frosting looked luscious. She could smell the sugar. And Papa had given permission. She took a tentative lick, stepped back. 

“Don’t be shy.” Sussy touched her finger to Matilda’s lips and she licked it clean, joy and guilt brindling her spine. Sussy scooped up more icing and offered her finger to Matilda’s father. He took it in his mouth, holding it there, closing his eyes. 

Matilda’s mother sprang from the corner. “That is disgusting, abhorrent behavior in front of the child.” In the light, now, the planes of her face looked sharp and brittle, the skin beneath her eyes puckered, and Matilda wondered if her mother had left with the man who came in the middle of the night and hadn’t gotten any sleep. Or were her eyes puffed because she’d been crying? 

“No,” her father said. “Nothing to hide from the girl. This love’s simple. But you wouldn’t know about that.” He dropped Sussy’s hand and turned to Matilda’s mother.

“Liar,” her mother said. “Everything you are is made up. When were you ever around long enough for any love to be shown?” 

“I could’ve been near you forever and you’d never let me unbutton even one of them that’s tight around your neck.” 

“You’re talking like a fool. But her,” she nodded towards Sussy, “you don’t even have to do the unbuttoning. She’s already opened for you.”

“And that’s the glory.”

Her mother’s voice came out ragged, then pleading, “This is where you’ve gone all those times you left us? To her? You came for me. Claimed me and brought me here.” Her hand curled around his wrist. He unwrapped her fingers, let her arm fall.

“And now I’m letting you go. The money’s already paid for the stagecoach to take you back. Will’s coming for you this afternoon.” He turned to his daughter. “And you, Tilly, you got to make a choice.”

“Don’t you dare.” Her mother raised her hand as if to strike him. 

Sussy yanked Matilda towards the door. 

 

Outside the sun shone on Sussy’s hair, black like oil, like the liquid gold her father had described to her. He rode off once to find it, digging deep in the ground, but came home empty-handed. Had that trip been a lie, and he’d come here? Through the windows, the sound of shouting.

“Let them be and work their things out. Let’s go.” She took Matilda to the barn and saddled up two horses. Before they mounted, she undid the pins and combs in Matilda’s hair, her fingers running through it like trickling water. “Let’s have fun. It’s been a time since I’ve had some. But your papa’s made me better. Healed me.”

Matilda pictured Sussy’s husband and son, lost in that storm last winter. And then her father, trudging through snow, showing up at her door.

Sussy cropped Matilda’s horse and the beast sprang into gallop. Wind rushed Matilda’s face, rushed through her hair, raking away confusion and fear, and joy leapt unbidden into her heart, bypassing the scene inside her stricken mind: mother and father shouting, her father driving her mother off, or her mother driving him. Joy leapt into her hands, holding the reins so tight she felt the wild energy of the animal through them. She squeezed her heels into the horse’s ribs, hoping to overtake Sussy, then hoping just to catch up. Sussy’s black hair trailing behind like Rapunzel’s from the story her mother used to read her. If only she could grab it and ride into a new world. 

Sussy slowed and stopped by an outcrop of squat scrub bush. Matilda, finally caught up, dismounted. Sussy had already pulled out a pipe and was puffing when Matilda sat beside her, red-faced and sweating. 

“Jeb,” Sussy said. “He was about your age. A dear boy. Good. I also wanted a girl.” She tucked a lock behind Matilda’s ear, her fingers leaving a pleasant sensation. “But that wasn’t to be. ‘Til now.” 

Was Jeb’s hair long and did his mother tuck it behind his ears? The skin Sussy’s nails had touched began to prickle. Matilda scratched and her hair swung free.  

“Want a puff?” She held the pipe to Matilda’s lips. “I started when I was your age.”

Matilda tried to inhale, but the acrid smoke stung and would not go down her throat. She coughed it out.

Sussy laughed. “That’s how it is at first. But you get used to it. Then it brings calm. ‘Specially when the sun’s going down and you’re sitting on the porch. That time a day.”

The two of them, side by side, an orange and red sky, the darkening light keeping them from seeing miles and miles into their future. Tilly, she sounded the name in her mind, Tilly

“Hold this,” Sussy gave her the pipe. “I gotta shit.”

The pipe was still smoking, the bowl warm in Matilda’s hand, as Sussy ran some yards from the shrubs, hiked up her skirt and squatted. Even in the hot day, the glaring sun, the small pile steamed. 

Well, what are you supposed to do, Matilda thought, trying to tamp down her surprise and distaste at a grown woman doing that in broad daylight, there’s no rock, no tree to hide behind, and at least Sussy hadn’t done it behind the shrubs Matilda was sitting in front of. Still, she was afraid her expression might betray her, until the unthinkable image of her mother squatting before her flashed through her mind and almost made her laugh. Her mother would rather hold it until her eyes popped than do it in front of her daughter. 

Finished, Sussy returned to Matilda. “Don’t mind me,” she said and took the pipe, dumped the contents on the ground and covered the hot tobacco with dirt. She lifted Matilda by her armpits. 

“All right. Try’n catch me.” She bolted, laughing over her shoulder.

Matilda was faster and caught her, tackling her to the ground. They tussled and Sussy began to tickle her until Matilda’s laughter rang so loud through the prairie, she was sure it would reach her mother. She imagined her father smiling when he heard it, saw her mother’s frown.

They rode back, abreast. Matilda’s horse slowing, plodding as they approached the house, as if sensing Matilda’s dread. 

Her mother was on the porch, waiting. As they drew near, she sprang towards them, the hand that had been raised against her husband earlier, now aimed at her daughter. She grabbed Matilda’s arm and pulled her off the horse. 

“Where were you? Your hair all undone like that.” She shook her daughter until Matilda’s neck ached. “Are you trying to look like her?” She was about to smack her daughter when her husband appeared and pulled her hand away. 

Matilda stumbled, almost falling, her eyes stinging with angry tears.  

“You’re going home to Boston with me,” her mother said. “Someone’s coming to take us to the stagecoach.” 

“You don’t have to,” her father said.

“You’ve no right to her. She’s coming with me, to my family, where she belongs.” She addressed her daughter: “To a proper home and school. You’re going to become a lady.”

“She’s mine, too,” her father said. “And old enough to choose.”

Her mother hustled her onto the porch. “Listen to me,” her voice was low, almost a hiss. She bent and gripped Matilda’s shoulders, her face so close Matilda felt her breath on her cheeks. “You cannot stay here with them,” her mother said. “They are ruined people and they will ruin you. Trust me. We’ll be happy in Boston.” 

She looked into her mother’s eyes, welling with tears. Grey eyes. Had she never noticed the color before? Matilda couldn’t remember ever being this close to her. Her mother’s fingers dug into her shoulders as if impaling her with knowledge. “He left you all those times to go to her.” That whore, Matilda thought. “If he loved you, he’d never have left. I never left you. You’re my daughter, Matilda. I’m the one who raised you. I know you and know what’s best.” 

Matilda closed her eyes against her mother, and pictured again those tidy girls of her imaginings, and tried to see becoming one of them, speaking freely all those fancy words she wrote down, instead of burying them. Speaking them out loud in sentences. She tried to imagine a new mother and daughter with no grudge between them. But the shoes, those patent leather shoes with the straps so tight, as tight as her mother’s hands on her, constricting, and the clean, neat spaces Back East, made smaller and smaller by trees and mountains and buildings. Trust you? she thought. You raised me, but he loves me. She might never see him again. And here he was, now, boots striking hard across the wooden porch as he came to claim her. Her mother stood, her arm around Matilda’s shoulders.  

“Enough,” he said. “She belongs here, with me. With us,” he nodded towards Sussy. “She’d die in that place. Same as me before I came out here. Not gonna happen to her.” 

Her mother’s arm tightened, but Matilda wriggled free. She moved to her father’s side, trying to calm herself, twisting her confusion, her anger, and widening sense of loss into power, into words that would come out kindly, as if she were looking out for her mother’s best interests.

“Go on,” Matilda said. “Now you won’t have to go to the barn every night and cry on that cow.”

Her mother’s face froze, her eyes wide. “What are you talking about?” 

“Tilly?” Her father raised his eyebrows.

She turned to him, to Sussy, as if her mother were no longer there, as if she’d already gone. “Every night you been away, I see her go into the barn to be with that old cow. Every night. She doesn’t just hug and cry on her. I seen her kissing that smelly, old dirty thing, kissing it on the mouth like she was married to it or something.”

 

After her mother left, Sussy pulled her into the barn, awkwardly patting her back, trying to comfort her. She sat Matilda on a milking stool and told her to wait. Through the open barn door, Matilda saw her father saddle up, getting ready to ride to their neighbor’s for a sack of oats. “When’re you coming back,” she’d asked. He hadn’t answered. 

“I made some things for you, Tilly, don’t move.” Sussy clapped her hands and hurried through a thin carpet of hay strewn across the floor. She lifted a box from a corner. “Guess what’s in here.” Her voice, shy, lifted with excitement. Matilda said nothing as Sussy placed the box on her lap. 

 “I know they’re not much, I’m just learning, but your papa told me how much you loved them. I know they can be good company sometimes.” 

Matilda took out one of the corncob dolls. Matted hair of browning cornsilk, the same color and texture as the hair that snaked down Matilda’s back. The doll’s arms: sticks that struck straight from the body. Matilda felt the tension in her own shoulders, along her arms. The crude red mouth dripped lies into the neck, and the eyes of the doll, bulged and knowing as Matilda’s, were heavy and misshapen. 

She returned the doll to the box. “These are for children.” 

She saw the doll lost to the prairie, its subtlety and beauty, and sounded the word sophistication. She would never not see it. Was that love? Standing, she turned away from Sussy, not wanting to see the hurt on her face, then glad she caused it. 

Outside, she stared into the flat emptiness of her surroundings where everything was visible, exposed, except for what lay hidden inside a person. The emptiness now stifling. What words might her mother write in her fancy script and then bury—loneliness, home, truth, betrayal

Linda Woolford lives and writes in Massachusetts. Her fiction is published in Kenyon Review, Hobart, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Third Coast, among others. She’s the recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council fellowship, a winner of descant’s Frank O’Conner Award for Short Fiction, and a Katherine Anne Porter Fiction Prize Finalist. Her stories have been anthologized and nominated for Pushcarts.

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Why Are You Still Here, Jona Whipple
An Entirely Different Girl, Linda Woolford

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