Bonnie was sitting there dabbing the light-skinned child’s brow with isopropyl alcohol. The evaporation on her skin was meant to cool the fever.

“Daddy,” Feather called weakly.

I was reminded of earlier times, when she’d shout my name and then run into me like a small Sherman tank. She was a daddy’s girl. She’d been rough and full of guffaws and squeals.

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But now she lay back with a blood infection that no one on the North American continent knew how to cure.

“The prognosis is not good,” Dr. Beihn had said. “Make her comfortable and make sure she drinks lots of liquid . . .”

I would have drained Hoover Dam to save her life.

Bonnie had that strange look in her eye too. She was tall and dark skinned, Caribbean and lovely. She moved like the ocean, surging up out of that chair and into my arms. Her skin felt hot, as if somehow she was trying to draw the fever out of the girl and into her own body.

“I’ll go get the aspirin,” Bonnie whispered.

I released her and took her place in the folding chair next to my Feather’s pink bed. With my right hand I held the sponge against her forehead. She took my left hand in both of hers and squeezed my point finger and baby finger as hard as she could.

“Why am I so sick, Daddy?” she whined.

“It’s just a little infection, honey,” I said. “You got to wait until it works its way outta your system.”

“But it’s been so long.”

It had been twenty-three days since the diagnosis, a week longer than the doctor thought she’d survive.

“Did anybody come and visit you today?” I asked.

That got her to smile.

“Billy Chipkin did,” she said.

The flaxen-haired, bucktoothed white boy was the fifth and final child of a family that had migrated from Iowa after the war.

Billy’s devotion to my foundling daughter sometimes made my heart swell to the point that it hurt. He was two inches shorter than Feather and came to sit at her side every day after school.

He brought her homework and gossip from the playground.

Sometimes, when they thought that no one was looking, 1 4

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they’d hold hands while discussing some teacher’s unfair punish-ments of their unruly friends.

“What did Billy have to say?”

“He got long division homework and I showed him how to do it,” she said proudly. “He don’t know it too good, but if you show him he remembers until tomorrow.”

I touched Feather’s brow with the backs of three fingers. She seemed to be cool at that moment.

“Can I have some of Mama Jo’s black tar?” Feather asked.

Even the witch-woman, Mama Jo, had not been able to cure her. But Jo had given us a dozen black gummy balls, each wrapped up in its own eucalyptus leaf.

“If her fevah gets up past one-oh-three give her one’a these here to chew,” the tall black witch had said. “But nevah more than one in a day an’ aftah these twelve you cain’t give her no mo’.”

There were only three balls left.

“No, honey,” I said. “The fever’s down now.”

“What you do today, Daddy?” Feather asked.

“I saw Raymond.”

“Uncle Mouse?”


“What did you do with him?”

“We just talked about old times.”

I told her about the time, twenty-seven years earlier, when Mouse and I had gone out looking for orange monarch butterflies that he intended to give his girlfriend instead of flowers.

We’d gone to a marsh that was full of those regal bugs, but we didn’t have a proper net and Raymond brought along some moonshine that Mama Jo made. We got so drunk that both of us had fallen into the muddy water more than once. By the end of the day Mouse had caught only one butterfly. And that night 1 5

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when we got to Mabel’s house, all dirty from our antics, she took one look at the orange-and-black monarch in the glass jar and set him free.

“He just too beautiful to be kept locked up in this bottle,” she told us.

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