Richmond Heights, Missouri, 1947 Rosemarie was skinny, ugly, and mean. She cheated at Monopoly and tattled. Once, at our house, she peed the bed on purpose, and once she stole trading cards. Even if she was two years older, she wasn’t as smart as I was, couldn’t skate as well or run as fast. When I told our neighbor Mrs. Knabe how much I hated Rosemarie and why, Mrs. Knabe said, You must be nice to her, because she has leukemia and is going to die. Winter, Wisconsin, 1953 We were summer-camp girls trying on clothes, slumming, laughing at ruffles and peplums, cheap, shiny fabrics. Then a woman with clogs and a kerchief stepped inside the dress shop. As I frowned at her plaid seersucker, eyed her sun-leathered face reflected to forever in the three-way mirror, she told the salesgirl how her husband had slunk to the henhouse the night before and shot himself in the head. All morning, she said, I was mopping up his brains and trying to calm the chickens. Detroit, Michigan, 1962 Anne was a teenager, only fifteen when her father fell to the ground, mouth foaming, incoherent noise rising from his throat, and she — a large, sedentary girl — vaulted a hedge to get to him, dropped to her knees, gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while her mother ran across the street crying for help. I’d never kissed a man on the lips, she confided, and there I was, tasting my father’s saliva, giving him his last kiss. Mexico, Missouri, 1970 Aunt Margaret was beautiful — tiny and dark. She wore silk, cashmere, diamond earrings, had a doctor ex-husband who was impotent and hated her, an adopted daughter who didn’t much like her either, and each month she borrowed money from her brother-in-law, my father. One day, Bee, her old nursemaid, found her hanging by the neck, wearing a kimono and one diamond stud. Suicide, the family agreed, and never mentioned her again. But Bee said, Rope too high, stepladder too low, and I knows it was Dr. Joe put her there and stole that jewel. San Francisco, California, 1973 Lying in the hospital bed, a man I loved. The only sound the slosh of dialysis as his blood was washed while we held hands. When a wave of dementia blurred his brain, he clawed at me, whined like a child for me to hold the urinal. Instead, I called his wife. Later, he and I, holding hands again, knowing this was the last night, an overdose of morphine to follow, said our goodbyes. When I leaned down, he kissed my lips, murmuring, Strawberries . . . You taste like strawberries. St. Louis, Missouri, 1978 My father, dying of cancer, throat ulcerated from chemo, reached out to me and said, if hospital windows weren’t fused shut, he’d jump, if he had his squirrel gun he’d shoot himself, had rat poison from the basement he’d swallow it in his protein shake. He wanted only me, he insisted, because Mother couldn’t admit he was dying, so he had to pretend. Only I understood exactly how he felt. But I felt he needed to pay attention to my mother, wife of almost fifty years, so I packed my suitcase and left him. Five days later, addressing his last words to my mother, he died. Your price is far above rubies, he told her, quoting from Proverbs. You are a woman of valor. Rome, Italy, 1986 A young artist lay down for a nap. She’d been depressed, slept a lot, so her roommates didn’t rouse her when they came home, didn’t wake her for dinner. But later, after the movies, they found her lifeless, poisoned by gas from a faulty heater. At a posthumous exhibit of her photo collages, I stared into her unsuspecting black-gray-white face. Two years later, her father, a dispassionate lawyer, told me, It’s all ashes, you know. Losing a child ruins your life. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1992 Walking through a graveyard where I have no attachment except to the long-dead, talking not of death but of dogwood blooming, and names from headstones my son might use for his new baby. Caleb? Jonah? Hebrew names, because those New Englanders were Bible scholars who lived when death was contagious, as many still believe it is. Disembodied breath shivers headstones as we move by, making me wonder what I will say, and where, and to whom, when incantations fail to protect, when shadows no longer couple, when rags of dreams shred in the light as I whisper, Yes. Or, No. Or nothing.