It was the very last straw, the very last nerve. First, Angie had woke up the baby at 5:00 AM; her mother had spent a sleepless night getting up every few hours to feed the baby, change his diapers, and soothe him back to sleep. Next, she found a chunk of scrambled egg floating in her coffee. After that, Angie gave the baby orange juice; he gagged and coughed as the juice flooded his mouth and nose. Then, a cup of red Kool-Aid dumped on the kitchen floor—just mopped the day before.

After she’d put the baby down for a nap, she set Angie in front of the television to watch Sesame Street to buy herself some time to wash the dishes in peace. But then, it got quiet. Too quiet. Angie had stopped singing and counting along with the show. A quick peek into the living room revealed Angie was not there.

“Damn it,” she muttered. She threw the dishtowel onto the counter, her mommy-instincts leading her to the baby’s room, where she found Angie standing next to the crib.

“Angie!” she hissed, praying she wouldn’t wake the baby. “Get out of here. He’s sleeping.” She took two steps and grabbed Angie’s arm. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“He’s cold. I covered him up.”

The baby was swaddled from head to toe, wrapped like a corpse.

She screamed, shoving Angie aside, and unwrapped the baby, whispering “oh my God, oh my God,” over and over. Once freed from his shroud, the baby gasped, sucked in big gulps of air, and bawled. She scooped him up and held him close to her chest.

“Angie! You could’ve hurt him! Go to your room. Now.”

When Angie didn’t budge, she snatched her arm and yanked her out of the nursery, Angie kicking and screaming as her mother dragged her down the hall to her bedroom, shoving her inside.

“Stay in here until I say so,” she yelled. She pulled the door shut.

“I hate him!” Angie screeched. “I hate you too!”


Angie flung herself onto her bed. She punched and bit her pillow until her arms ached and her teeth hurt. Spent, she fell asleep.

She woke up to a quiet house. The ceiling fan rotated overhead, and she lay there watching it. On her nightstand was a card from her grandma, Nana. She picked it up and traced the glittered letters “You’re 6!” There was a bear holding a balloon and she brushed her fingertip over the brown felt. The bear had googly-eyes. Angie shook the card and giggled as the bear’s eyes wriggled like it was dizzy.

Then she remembered: Mommy had sent her to her room.

“I wish I lived with Nana.” Nana lived in the woods, somewhere, and sometimes when they visited, Angie saw deer and squirrels and rabbits run through Nana’s yard.

Angie sat up. She tossed the card onto her nightstand and went to her door. She listened. She couldn’t hear Mommy, or the baby, or even the T.V. The house was quiet and if she opened her bedroom door slow and easy, it didn’t squeak so much. Angie tippy-toed through the house.

Mommy was in her bedroom, asleep with the baby. She lay on her side, curled into a protective semi-circle around the baby, who still suckled at her breast, his lips pink and moist around her nipple. Though she didn’t understand why, tears stung Angie’s eyes, her bottom lip, pink and moist, quivered, and, deep within her chest, her heart clenched and ached. She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand and slipped out of the room.


Outside, Angie sat at the top of the slide and ate chocolate chip cookies from a bag. It had taken her some time to find them—Mommy had hidden the bag on the very top shelf of the highest kitchen cabinet. She ate cookies until her stomach felt sick and then she ate one more. From her perch, she surveyed the backyard.

Beyond the property was a forest, separated from the backyard by the turnpike which ran at the top of an embankment, the embankment marked off by a wire fence stretching as far as the eye could see, accented by clumps of tiger lilies in full bloom growing along the base, their slender stalks home to orb spiders, their yellow and black bellies sleek and fat from gorging on the bounty of summer insects, lured by the zigzag patterns centered like bull’s eyes in the middle of the webs.

Leaving the bag behind, Angie slid down the slide, but the slide was too hot, the metal preheated to scorching from the mid-day summer sun, roasting the back of her legs sunburn-pink and tender to the touch. Grasshopper nymphs—brick red, blue, yellow, and olive green—jumped in grass, springing from blade to blade to avoid her footsteps. Angie crouched low to the ground and caught several nymphs; the tiny barbs on their legs and feet prickled the palm of her hand as they struggled to get free. At the fence, in front of the tiger lilies, she threw the nymphs, one by one, into the spider webs and watched as the spiders pounced, bit, and then wrapped the little morsels in tight strands of white silk.

Traffic was slow on the turnpike. Angie grabbed onto the wire fence, swaying back and forth, the fence bending with her, straining against the posts. Whenever they went to visit Nana, they always went on the turnpike—Daddy would honk the horn when they passed their house; Angie would then fall asleep until they turned onto the dirt road, going over the big bump, which led to Nana’s house in the woods.

She studied the woods on the other side of the turnpike. Sometimes, Daddy would take her for walks in those woods and she always wondered why they didn’t walk to Nana’s house. Once, when she’d asked Daddy if they could, he laughed and said it was too far.

She wasn’t allowed to go over the fence by herself.

Angie climbed over the fence, her heart pounding like a small woodland creature’s as she scampered up the embankment and went over the first guardrail. There were no cars. She ran and climbed over the rest of the guardrails until she stood in front of the woods, thick and dense with pine trees and old oaks.

She disappeared into the forest.


Angie couldn’t see the sun sinking; the pines blocked out most of the sky, allowing only a few patches of light to shine through. Her knees and shins, scraped and scratched, bled and gnats swarmed to drink. When she tripped over another tree root, she lingered on the pine needle covered ground and cried. The woods, dark, dense, and suffocating, threatened to swallow her up—there was no path, no trail of breadcrumbs to lead her forward or back. An owl perched on a branch overhead and hooted. Angie pushed herself up from the ground, rubbed the tears from her eyes and cheeks, and continued on.

She wandered for hours until she stumbled upon a clearing with a cabin. It had to be Nana’s house, even though she didn’t recognize it. There was no gravel driveway, no porch swing. There was a shed, a pen where chickens pecked the ground, and two goats, tethered to a stake, grazed at the back of the cabin, but what other house could be in the woods?

When Angie pushed open the door, she realized it wasn’t Nana’s house. The front of the cabin was one large room with a kitchen area on one side and a living room at the other. Sunlight came through the rough-hewn windows, which only darkened the shadows. The air inside, hot and close, didn’t stir. The faint scent of smoked meat hung in the air, the aroma pulling her inside. She was hungry. A table made from old doors sat in the middle of the kitchen and when she climbed up onto one of the chairs, she saw a platter of cold meat, stringy and slick with grease. She gobbled as much as she could hold, wiping her hands on her shirt when she finished. Three cups made from tin cans sat on the table; one held a few swallows of goat’s milk and she gulped it down.

When she’d finished, Angie wandered into the living room. Two salvaged backseats, the leather cracked and torn, took the place of couches. Leveled off logs served as end tables, each with an oil lamp sitting on top. Tanned animal hides hung on the walls, along with a faded circus poster. Angie couldn’t read the scrawling script, but the figures on the poster were huge and looked like bears wearing clothes. No longer hungry, her curiosity stronger than her fear, she explored the room.

On one couch, someone had left their embroidery, the fabric stretched tight in a wooden hoop, the steel needle sticking up through the fabric mid-stitch. Some of the embroidered letters were familiar, while others seemed misshapen or backwards. Angie touched the tip of the needle with her index finger. Sharper than it looked, the needle pricked her, and a small bead of blood formed, bright and round, on the end of her finger. She wiped it off on her shorts.

Wood shavings, like a pile of blonde curls, littered the floor in front of the other couch. On the end table, someone had left a carved whistle, and, when she blew into it, it sounded like a bird. She slipped the whistle into her pocket.

A rug, stitched together from several deer hides, covered the floor with wooden toys strewn across it. She sat down. There were blocks and handcrafted logs with notches cut out at both ends. Tiny goats and chickens, carved with intricate fur and feathers, surrounded a half-built mini log cabin. Mixed in among the toys were smaller, odd-shaped objects, not made from wood, but white and smooth. Angie played with the toys, but after a while her eyes grew heavy, so very heavy, and she pushed the toys aside and stretched out on the rug. The hair on the deer hides scratched her cheek. The floor underneath was hard.

She fell asleep.



“Что это?”

“Это девочка.”

Above her towered two bears.

Angie choked on her screams as she scrambled off the floor and onto the couch.

“Папа, ты ее испугал.”

Angie panted, quick, frantic, rabbit-breaths. The cracked leather scraped the back of her thighs.

One bear wore a billowy calico dress and held a baby bear, which she handed off to the other, bigger bear who wore blue pants and a sleeveless t-shirt.

“Тсс. Тсс,” the she-bear cooed, inching closer to the couch. Without taking her eyes off Angie, she fished around in her dress pocket. “Это вкусно. Тебе понравится.” She stretched out her hand towards Angie, a small golden rectangle in the palm of her hand. When Angie reached out to take it, the she-bear smiled and nodded, making motions with her fingers for Angie to open and eat it.

Angie did. The candy warmed and melted in her mouth as she chewed it. It tasted of honey, flowers, and berries.

Behind the she-bear, the baby bounced in his papa’s arms, clapped his hairy hands together, calling “Mama! Mama!” and she pulled another candy from her pocket and handed it to him. He drooled as he ate it. Papa wiped the baby’s mouth with the tail of his t-shirt.

Mama coaxed Angie off the couch and gave her another candy when she sat on the rug among the toys.

Angie looked up. “Where’s my Nana?”

The mama patted Angie on the head, her hand covered the top of Angie’s skull, and then turned to take the baby from his papa. She plopped the baby down in front of Angie. “Играй с девочкой.” She lit the oil lamps on the end tables before she and the papa walked to the kitchen, lighting more lamps before they sat at the table.

The baby was big and fuzzy, fine dark down covered his body. Around his neck, he wore a rabbit’s foot on a thin leather lace. He stuck the rabbit’s foot in his mouth, gumming it with his three baby teeth.

Angie stacked the blocks into a tower; he clapped and squealed each time he knocked them over and she built the tower again. He scooched closer to her, his face loomed near hers, and he stared, grinning. One eye was fixed on Angie’s face while the other one rolled around in its socket, fixed on nothing. He reached out and grabbed a lock of Angie’s hair, pale and golden clutched around his dark downy paw. He stuck the lock in his mouth.


At the table, the adults sipped honey-sweetened sarsaparilla tea and talked.

“Что мы будем делать с девочкой?”

The papa craned his neck and watched his son and the girl play. “Она хорошо играет с медвежонком.” He pointed towards the children with an open hand. “Давай оставим ее. Она сможет помогать тебе.”

The mama looked over her shoulder, observing the children; the girl had stacked the blocks in front of Medvezhonkom, who then smacked the stack over with his chubby fuzzy hand, clapping and giggling, and then, inching closer to the girl, he grabbed one of her long blonde curls and stuck it in his mouth. The girl tried to back away from him.

The mama turned back and shrugged. “Она слишком взрослая, чтобы ее учить.  Нам надо найти ее Нану.  Что такое Нана?”

“Нет!” The papa slammed his palm down on the table.

In the den, the girl jumped at the noise. The baby and the mama didn’t move.

“Нет,” the papa repeated, quieter. He stroked his beard. “Мы не знаем, что такое Нана.  И помни, что случилось в прошлый раз.”

The mama nodded her head. “Я начну готовить ужин.”


Angie’s tummy roiled like a nest of snakes had hatched inside, a rolling and curling mass. She couldn’t understand what the bears said, and when the papa bear shouted, slamming his open hand down on the table, she’d jumped and peed herself, her underwear and shorts now damp and clinging to her skin. Deep in her brain, primal panic bloomed, her breathing quick and shallow, and she froze like a rabbit in the underbrush when a wolf is near.

The baby bear stacked the blocks and waited for her to knock them over. When she didn’t, he reached out and smacked her knee, but she still didn’t move, so he knocked the blocks over himself and built the tower again.

Both the mama and papa bear pushed their chairs away from the table; the papa bear heading outside while the mama bear went to the large wood-burning stove. With an iron poker, she jabbed and stirred the coals, at first, feeding small sticks and then, after several minutes, adding more wood before closing the door. She took a smaller hook, lifted a round metal plate from the top, flames licking upward through the hole, and, satisfied, she put the plate back in place and set a kettle of water on the stovetop.

The baby had turned away from the blocks, his focus on lining up his carved animals. No one was watching Angie. She crawled away, searching for a place to hide. She slipped behind one of the couches, pulling her knees to her chest, making herself as small as she could.


In the kitchen, the mama hummed, gathering potatoes, carrots, and onions and placing the vegetables into the sink as she waited for the water to boil. She cleared the tin cups and platter of meat from the table before setting a large metal washing pan down on the top. Out of a cupboard, she grabbed a clean white sheet and draped it over the back of a chair. The kettle whistled, steam billowing, and she poured this into the washing pan before refilling the kettle from the hand pump in the sink. This too went into the washing pan. She tested the water with her wrist. Just right.

She stepped into the living room. “Девочка, иди сюда.  Я тебе искупаю.”

But the girl was not there. The baby sat in the middle of the rug, making soft ‘bah’ and ‘cluck’ sounds as he played with his wooden animals. Tiny knucklebones, old, smooth, and white, served as troughs and the baby made smacking noises, pretending the goats and chickens were eating.

“Где девочка?” the mama asked.

The baby dropped his toys and looked up at his mama.

“Где девочка?” she asked again. “Иди найди девочку.”

He turned away from his mama, leaned over sideways until his head touched the floor. His left eye rolled upwards, blindly searching the ceiling. He scanned the floor with his right eye. A wet, snaggled-tooth grin spread across his face when he spied the girl’s feet. He flipped over onto his hands and knees and crawled to the back of the couch, sticking his head in the gap between the couch and the wall.

“Go away,” the girl whispered. She pulled her knees tighter to her chest.

The baby drooled in delight and crawled into the space. She inched away from him as far as she could, until she bumped into a pair of furry legs.

“Вот и ты.  Иди сюда и прими ванную,” the mama said, reaching down to pick her up.

“No!” The girl kicked and squirmed, but the mama was strong, easily picking up the girl and carrying her to the kitchen.

The baby stayed behind the couch, sitting with his back against the wall, and blew spit bubbles.


Angie stopped struggling when the mama gave her another piece of candy and stood still as the mama stripped off her clothes and took off her shoes. She picked out bits of leaves and twigs from Angie’s hair, and then brushed the tangles out. The mama gently pinched Angie’s thigh, encircled her hands around Angie’s belly, and then wrapped her fingers around the girl’s upper arm before lifting Angie into the washing pan, filled with warm soothing water, a small carved duck floating on its surface.

While Angie soaked in the bath, pushing the duck around, dunking it under the water to watch it bob back up to the surface, the mama bustled about the kitchen. She checked the fire in the stove, poking at the flames and adding larger logs. She opened a tall standing cabinet, the shelves lined with mismatched pots and pans, and selected a large roasting pan, a pan nearly as big as the washing basin Angie sat in, setting this on the counter next to the sink. More water was pumped into the sink and she scrubbed the dirt off several potatoes and a bunch of carrots before she peeling and chopping them and placing the chunks into the roasting pan. After dicing three onions and adding them with the other vegetables, the mama turned her attention to Angie.

“Давай я тебе помогу.” She took a square cloth and soap and scrubbed Angie’s body.

“Can I go to Nana’s now?”

The mama motioned for her to lean back. She washed Angie’s hair, using a ladle to rinse away the lather, careful not to get soap in the girl’s eyes. When she finished, the mama unfolded the white sheet and held it up by two corners.


Angie stepped out of the bath. The mama wrapped the girl in the sheet, swaddling her arms and legs tight until she couldn’t move, could barely breath.

“What are you doing?”

The mama didn’t answer, but picked up Angie with one arm, leaned over and scooped up her clothes and shoes off the floor. She carried Angie out the door.

“Are we going to Nana’s?”


At the back of the cabin, in front of a makeshift shed, a fire burned in a metal barrel, the flames stretching upwards, cinders like fireflies glowing in the dusk, while on a nearby tree stump, the papa sharpened a knife on a whetstone. Cicadas buzzed and owls screeched in the trees. He looked up from his task when he heard the mama approaching, the girl struggling and crying.

“I want my mommy! I want my mommy!”

The mama tossed the girl’s clothes and shoes into the fire. They sizzled and popped in the consuming flames.

“I want my mommy!”

The mama handed the bundle to the papa. The girl thrashed and squirmed against the constricting fabric like a moth desperate to break free from its cocoon.

“I want my momm—“