“‘Escape’ is a mesmerizing account of love, loss, and revenge, entwined with a mythic family history. It’s all spikes and rising oddity, a sharp-toothed thing that nods to Helen Oyeyemi and Kelly Link, but does its own thing.”
—Melissa Albert, New York Times bestselling author


The day my mother’s cancer relapsed she still had the pochette. She would have warned me about it, had she the time. Nobody else bothered. Not in a way that mattered. But I wasn’t surprised. Nobody actually warned me what was happening to my mother either.

My cousin Jolene was sent to babysit me when my mother returned to the hospital, but all she did was stick her nose to her phone, obsessing over her horoscope, and that of her new boyfriend’s. Everyone liked Sean. He wore leather jackets even when the weather was warm (he had a good excuse: he looked amazing) and rode a bike and girls had Snapchat streaks running into triple digits with him, which meant he was perfect to Jolene.

Then Jolene asked if I knew where Mama kept the pochette. The second she said the word pochette I glanced involuntarily in the direction of Mama’s room. I ran, but Jolene got there first and snatched the pochette off the bed. She said I was too young for it and it was fate, anyway, her finding something red the day her horoscope mentioned her lucky color of the day.

The pochette wasn’t just red, it was the color of glossy apples. Fancy like those Louis Vuitton purses. Big enough to hold a human heart. It had a real gold buckle that no one had been successful in opening so far. No matter, it was a family heirloom. Specifically, it was my heirloom. My mother had it, her mother had it, and her mother before.

But then Mama died, and Jolene took it permanently.

The pochette had a habit of biting if touched unexpectedly. I know what that sounds like, but just bear with me. I did notice wounds on the faces of some women in the family, either claw or finger marks, and that made no sense. Unless, somehow, every time they took the pochette, they got into violent fights.

The color of the wounds rotted visible even beneath layers of makeup.


* * *


On Christmas Eve, my sixteenth birthday, I decided I was old enough. My heirloom would be with me. The living room bubbled with my grandmother and her sister, my aunts and my uncles, my cousins and their cousins, some spouses, and others they dragged along, including of course, the ever-present charmer, Sean.

We were never content with just fourteen Woodrings in the family, so we were always looking to add more on every street we walked.

As I tried to make my way out, Woodrings clamored around the glittering room, hollering half-remembered carols, laughing and bellowing and jabbering, while the kids practiced running across the room for when they challenged Usain Bolt one day. Would-be Woodrings nervously sipped their eggnog.

We Woodrings talked about everything to everyone.

We talked about the poplar outside the house, the quality of eggs, the Eustons’ impending divorce, the marches across continents, spies from Russia, Mount Washington’s freezing winds, useless Instagram filters. My cousins talked excitedly about high school students organizing protests, Mama’s cousins talked about Facebook. Cats and persons and stories. God, how Woodrings liked to talk about stories. That’s why, one mention of Mama, they began talking about her and that boy back when, and I could leave the room. 

It was still a task to wriggle out of the group, squeezing past the imposing Christmas tree—which had Mama’s face pasted on the star at the top—protecting my hair from the sloshing eggnog and wild hands flying with whatever new detail was being added to the tale of Julia and That Boy. This year, my older cousins obsessed over gloves. Red gloves with polka dots, blue gloves with stripes, pink gloves with a touch of purple, silk gloves, wool gloves. Last year, it was tights. One of Mama’s cousins won that Christmas with her bumblebee tights. Her daughter was very embarrassed.

A hand gloved in bright pink pushed a gingerbread cookie in my face. “Julia’s daughter has no meat on her bones! Here, my girl!” Grandma Lorrie slurred.

“Good thing,” Aunt Goldie said. “That way she can get free like her mother did.” She handed Grandma Lorrie another wineglass, the Turkish silver one for which she paid seven hundred dollars plus fifty for shipping to Vermont. It was worth every dollar, she insisted, though I wondered where a man from Wyoming had gotten an authentic Ottoman relic.

Goldie was always spending money where she shouldn’t, Mama used to say. Her house was full of expensive shit you wouldn’t dream of: a weaver bird’s nest made of copper wires, gold-plated staples, a chess set made of ice kept inside a freezer, a magnetic floating bed with diamond lining that made her dog cry for three days. She blew most of her inheritance on stuff like that, and her ex-husband said that was why he didn’t want to pay alimony.

Goldie didn’t care, Goldie never cared.

When she was eight, three psychics at the county fair told her she would kill her true love, and so Goldie stopped falling in love—although most of us suspected Goldie’s true love was herself. She always was weird. She didn’t even want the pochette. It’s also why Goldie never had those marks on her face and never needed makeup to hide them. She did love makeup though. She wore shimmery clothes and glittery shadows on her eyes, always lined blue or pink or green. The strangest thing about her, though, was that she was the only Woodring who never got along with Sean.

Sean had this ability to fill the room he was in, his shadows crept on every wall like a silent feline that our bear-sized dog loved growling at, and his voice rumbled in every stone. When Sean spoke, he overtook everyone else. Goldie hated being outshone. Sean was taller than everyone else except Goldie’s brother, another reason for her hatred. He had eyes pale as the moon and wore clothes that made them even paler. Jackets over turtlenecks that covered him right up to his chin were his staple. Once little Violet caught a sneak of skin where his gloves met his sleeves and he’d gotten really upset. Every Christmas since, he made sure everything on his person was even more meticulously secured.

Jolene adored him. 

“Lyla!” Goldie shouted, pulling my attention back to her. “Where are you going?”


She laughed like what I said was very funny. Maybe the word bathroom would be funny to my littlest cousins.

“I hate that boy,” Goldie said to the top of my head. Goldie, tall already, never forwent her heels. I didn’t have to guess which boy she hated. There was only one boy she hated. She swept her hand around and picked up a Jack Daniels as if conjuring it out of air. She was always doing this—getting the exact things she wanted the moment she wanted them, not conjuring Jack Danielses out of air. Her brother said it was the effect of those poncho-wearing psychics, they’d infected her, and now spirits sat on her head, doing her bidding. Grandma Lorrie was offended and had asked other Woodrings to stop inviting Goldie for Christmases. She was always here anyway.

“Did you check the presents?”

Checking presents was my duty every Christmas, to make sure no one was sneaking cats into the house. When I asked why, Aunt Goldie only said, “You can never be too careful with those sneaky Dreadcats.” We took that to mean it was time to take the bottle of alcohol from her hand. As right now. 

“You stay away from that pochette, my sweet, yeah?” Goldie said casually, waving the bottle in my face with one hand and fluffing her hair with the other. “Let it stay with Jolene. I don’t know why anyone has to keep it around, but we all deal with the cards fate hands us.”

It wasn’t the first time Goldie knew something about me before I’d ever said it aloud. That’s what she did: she found things out. Although she rarely ever did anything about them, so I wasn’t worried she was going to blab to Jolene. I just said, “It’s mine.”

“It claws and makes you dizzy. There’s always fighting and then it won’t let you watch your favorite movies and then you have to cook it dinner while it hangs out with some bitch you hated in high school.”

“You’ve never even had it.”

“Oh, I did. Borrowed it when your mother first got sick.”

“The year you met and married—”

“But she wanted it back so I gave it back,” she said loudly, cutting me off, “and I got divorced. The red feather ends make it look like it’s dripping blood, have you noticed?”

I turned around and left her standing beside the armchair on which the dog sprawled looking like a dusty cream-colored rug.

Goldie grabbed the ends of her dress and stumbled after me. And crashed into my cousin Violet.

Violet was the sun. Her long blonde hair and her big bright eyes. She was so pretty. She might grow prettier than Jolene, though with her freckles and straight hair and seductive eyes, Jolene was still the moon. Perhaps that’s why she and Violet never got along either.

Violet began crying and yelling at Goldie, and Woodrings began recounting one accident after another, of which there was no dearth in a family of fourteen. And so I slunk away to Jolene’s room.


* * *


Jolene’s room was at the eastern end of the house, mine at the western, so I’d never been inside before. None of the others who permanently lived here—Grandma Lorrie, Goldie’s brother, my two small cousins and their parents, me—had made changes to the original white walls and neutral decor.

Jolene’s room, however, was a Hallmark card. She’d painted her walls pink, put fake snow everywhere, and hung fairy lights in flowery patterns. There was only one photo of her on the wall, unlike everyone else, who had the tapestry of our family tree hanging everywhere. I’d been hearing some of the family say lately that I looked like Jolene. If her jaw was squared like an iron block, maybe then I’d believe the resemblance.

I rummaged through her wardrobe, and found two newspapers from the 1920s, posters of Ione Skye (which explained Jolene’s obsession with collared white shirts and putting flowers in her hair), a book on astrology and poetry, and a spare phone that was out of battery.

In the bedside desk was a bundle of tampons intermixed with rolled-up bills. I extracted a tampon. The idea of putting something inside myself always made me shrivel up. How stupid was I? I was sixteen now. It was time to grow up. I put the tampon in my pocket to try it out later. At the back of the drawer, the reflection of fairy lights gleamed on a shiny surface seemingly floating on air. It was the buckle of the pochette, which was squished in the darkness like an afterthought.

It still looked the same as it did on the day of Mama’s wake, when Jolene took it from me. Shiny, with apple-red feathers attached delicately on the surface. If it opened and I could put my things in it, I’d take it to school. My heart beat very fast then. I tugged at the buckle, but it wouldn’t budge.

What should’ve happened was that I took the pochette and walked away triumphantly. But what did happen was Sean calling from the door, “I see Jolene’s obsession with the pochette runs in the family.”

The ranch house had oversized windows and doors. Even when it snowed so hard that clumps formed on the white-wood windows, you could see the pool at the back, and the wooden porch with two lanterns on either side, and the poplar that grew right in the middle of the driveway so you had to drive around to get in. But still, the wide layout managed to smother nearby footsteps so you wouldn’t notice until they were upon you.

As was the case with Sean sauntering into the room.

He wore a maroon turtleneck sweater and black jeans and brown bomber jacket. Against the solid colors, he was so pale he could be a marble statue. His watch—a Swiss brand Jolene was obsessed with—ticked loudly in the silence. Holding the pochette close to my chest, I stood and put my chin up.

I didn’t fall in love with Sean then. I had always been a little in love with him since I first saw him. He smelled nice and sharp, cocoa and whisky, and his smile lit up every corner of the ranch. He laughed at Grandma Lorrie’s drunk jokes and helped my cousin build a birdhouse to hang on the poplar, he brought tickets to most of Goldie’s twin brother’s big games, and he always made sure Mama’s star was on the top of the Christmas tree without fail.

“You want it so much?” Sean asked.

“It should be mine.”

“Okay.” He smiled. “I won’t tell Jolene.”

Jolene’s room grew decidedly smaller. Sean stopped smiling, but his eyes gleamed, like what he looked at was a morning sun. He drew out a mistletoe from behind him and held it above my head. “I won’t tell her this, either.”

Sean kissed me. It wasn’t my first kiss. But it was perhaps my best kiss. Of course it had to be, he was twenty-three and his lips were soft. He was so tall. I stood on tiptoe, a warmth shooting from the soles of my feet to the crown of my head. I wrapped my arms around his neck, tentatively.

To be honest, I didn’t have to do much.

He knew what he was doing.

I wasn’t sure what to do with my hands as his slipped under my shirt. Oh God. Kissing Sean was weird. Not bad weird, not good weird. Just weird. I’d thought about it, fantasized about it since I was twelve. But in most of my fantasies, we cozied in a warm room beside the fire and I felt good and didn’t need to think so much. His hands were supposed to be softer, not so rough like he wanted to pull me apart to fit himself in. His tongue didn’t writhe like a worm in my mouth either. Ugh, he didn’t seem to have time for anything but getting inside me. I said nothing. It was too late. Just let him do what he wanted.

What if I said the wrong thing, and he got totally turned off? God, it hurt. If I had an orgasm, I didn’t notice. But he asked if I liked what he did. I said yes.

Before leaving for the city, Sean found me in the bathroom and kissed me again and told me I was beautiful. “You’re so beautiful. Give me time and we’ll figure out how to stay together forever.”

Then he was gone.


* * *


Goldie asked me the next day what happened. I told her I didn’t find the pochette. I was crying as I did. She let it go.

* * *


On New Year’s Eve, Goldie told Violet and me about my father who left when he heard my mother was pregnant with an email that said: I’m going to college, can’t believe you’d choose to destroy your life like this. Goldie was yelling when she said it. She called up Jolene and told her the same thing.

She found me on the porch again, and asked what I was doing. “Nothing?” I said.

“Your father may have been a son of a bitch, but at least your mother’s relationship with him wasn’t anything like this,” she said.

Goldie was so embarrassing. I had no interest in hearing anything about my father, who had never acknowledged me, or his relationship with my mother.

“Did you hear about this sophomore who was kidnapped from the parking lot? They found her dead off the highway in that village up north. Say some guy who graduated from the local high school four years ago was obsessed with her.”

“It isn’t assault if that’s what you’re getting at,” I said, heating up. If she thought I was going to let her get away with making me feel this gullible, she was wrong. “The news says she left with him.”

“So that makes it okay?”

“But he didn’t do it,” I said fiercely. “They were in love.”

Goldie laughed. Watching her laugh made my jaw hurt.


* * *


Violet’s mom was Mama’s cousin. She had a gold tooth and collected cameras, even, and especially, those that did not work. Three days after my seventeenth birthday, she was diagnosed with cancer like Mama was. Violet was fifteen. After her mom died, Violet moved in with us. Moved into my room with me, in fact, which was how I knew that she kept the gold tooth on her bedside.

I thought that was creepy, but another cousin said it was a comfort for Violet to have a piece of her mom.

“My mom’s dead and I don’t do creepy things like that,” I said and returned to scrolling down Sean’s Instagram. He was at college with Jolene. I wished Jolene would realize how undeserving of Sean she was and leave him alone. Her stupid perfect skin and her stupid long hair and her stupid sweet grin and her stupid breasts that filled out sweetheart necklines perfectly.

I wonder if she’d already realized she didn’t have the pochette anymore. How long can one person pretend?


* * *


Jolene came home at the end of winter. The ranch was emptier, which made seeking Sean out during the day dangerous. But he often found me before dawn or during afternoons when everyone was asleep or had gone to town. I desperately wished I could linger in those moments forever. I asked him about life in college now that it was finally about to end for him, but he deflected because then he would be reminded of Jolene. Every time he started to leave, I’d want to hold him tighter, to see if he would stay. But he couldn’t.

After he’d leave, I’d cuddle with the pochette. The feathers were as silky as my mother’s touch. The gold buckle often left marks around my neck and face. I had to hide them under makeup. It’s okay to scoff, but see, I wasn’t doing my makeup like my mother’s generation. I had access to Instagram. My makeup was a different story. My makeup was a better story.


* * *


Goldie bought a diamond knife with rubies encrusted in the hilt. Grandma Lorrie was super mad. Goldie spat and said all Woodring women blow their money, if not on collectibles, then on makeup, so where was the problem?

She spent most of that spring beneath the poplar making rude hand gestures at the Woodrings who were coming and going. She said, “At least I don’t have that demon-carrying pochette like you lot.”

Goldie’s brother, passing by, mimicked in a faux-British accent, “You lot.”

“Demon-carrying?” I asked.

That day, I was helping my cousin nail new boards on the birdhouse. A pink-and-blue finch and a brown-and-white sparrow were renting the place out. Sean and Jolene had just left after their spring break visit. I might have had my first orgasm. It lasted for a lot longer than I’d thought it would. The sensation of my spine arching was miraculous. I tilted my head back, closing my eyes, to make sure I wouldn’t forget that moment.

Goldie said, “You know we don’t keep cats?”

“Yeah, ’cause of these birds,” my cousin shrieked from the tree.

“So the poor innocent cats don’t accidentally get mistaken for the actual demons! Go get someone else to help you,” Goldie shrieked. “Lyla, you listen to me.”

What Goldie said was that in the seventeenth century, in the westernmost corner of the Iberian Peninsula, our ancestors Juan Valverde and his sister Mirabelle inherited a farm near the edge of the forest. But soon, the demons came. The Dreadcats. They were large werecats that turned into beautiful people, with red lips and large eyes. They emerged from the forest and seduced the villagers; they caused widespread diseases and crop failure. Mirabelle, ingenious as she was, knitted sweaters and hats and gloves and stockings and left them on the branches of dry trees as offerings. The Dreadcats, appeased, would take the clothes and return to the forest.

Though Juan and Mirabelle kept them away for years, a Dreadcat wearing clothes up to his neck, hiding his identity, got the better of Mirabelle. She left and came back with three werecat children. When girls started disappearing on their way to the congregation every week, Juan had no choice. He put his sister’s children in a pochette made of—here Goldie’s voice went really low, like she worried who might hear and get upset—feathers of birds. Then, he locked it with a gold buckle that the priest of the village had blessed.

“What happened to Mirabelle?” I asked.

“It was the seventeenth century, my sweet, what do you think happened? They called her a witch and tried to burn her.”

“So she got burned at the stake?”

“Of course not. Women who are witches and women who give birth to werecats are completely different. No, no. Mirabelle turned into a bird.”

My cousin dropped his hammer from the tree.

Goldie said, “The feathers for the pochette came from somewhere, didn’t they? You take one bird, you give one back.”

“This is such sexist bullshit,” I said.

“Well, why don’t we all let that pochette be, then?” Goldie snarled. “If you have that pochette, be sure a Dreadcat will find you. They sense their three brethren inside the pochette.”

“Four-hundred-year-old werecats cramped in that locked pochette? Ugh, Aunt Goldie, that’s horrible.”

“You bet it is. But remember not to fall in love with a Dreadcat. Their love is not love. It’s not unconditional. Well, no love is, but a Dreadcat’s love is disguised poison and will leave you scarred and leached like acid.”

Goldie’s brother laughed for three days and said she was finally trying to come to terms with her divorce. I told her not to worry anyway. Jolene seemed to have lost the pochette in the city.


* * *


A week later, Violet asked me if she could see the famous pochette. I didn’t point out that sometimes I couldn’t find it, but I’d spot stray apple-red feathers next to her bed, and in turn, she promised not to tell Jolene I had the pochette. She must have liked having it a lot to be officially asking me. I made a show of taking it out from my bedside table. As she looked at it, the glint in her eyes returned. I told her she could borrow it anytime she liked.


* * *


Right after Memorial Day, I asked Violet why she was ignoring her school friends. They messaged me a mashup video with the words “Where is” and “Violet” overlapping with techno music. I didn’t appreciate being used as a mediator. Violet rolled her eyes.

“They say you avoid them.”

“They’re being dramatic, is all.”

“You never answer their texts even though you’re always online. Why are you always online?”

“You’re not my mom, Lyla. Stop this.”

I did. Because, yes, I was being a mom. It was the one thing I hated most about Goldie, her nose poking in my business. So, I dropped it.

Later, I sent my daily goodnight text to Sean. He must have already gone to sleep after work. Violet switched on her table lamp and asked if I was still up. She told me she was seeing someone; her friends wouldn’t understand.

“Does he love you?”

“Oh, so much, Lyla, I can’t even describe it. When I’m texting him, I can’t even think of anything else. And you know, it’s just texts, he likes me for me, you know? Distance doesn’t matter, it’s just a mathematical concept and it’s not even real. But talking to him is and it’s the most wonderful thing in the world. Have you ever felt that way?”

I thought of Sean. “Yes, yes I have.”


* * *


One day while I counted down to Christmas, only seventy-five days until I saw Sean again, Goldie asked me, “You know how sex ends?”

“What the hell?” I said over Grandma Lorrie’s audible gasp.

“You never see the person again or you do and then you start a relationship. And you know how relationships end? In break-ups and death.”

“Someone’s cheerful,” muttered Goldie’s brother.


* * *


Christmas that year, Goldie’s brother brought home his fiancé, and Woodrings had a new person to exhibit their oratory skills in front of. The house was too loud and too lit up.

Outside, it grew cold but didn’t snow. The finch and the sparrow had moved in permanently. Their fighting screeched like nails on a chalkboard inside the house. Jolene sat in Sean’s lap. When I passed the cake around, I made sure to give him a bigger piece. He squirmed under Jolene as he took the cake from me. I wanted to tell him it was going to be okay. I was leaving for college in a year now, so he wouldn’t have to suffer Jolene for much longer.

Violet wore a skimpy dress that showed off her long legs and the straps of a shocking red bra.

Grandma Lorrie got mad. After a lot of yelling and tears, Violet retired to bed early.

Grandma Lorrie shouted after her, blaming the lack of a mother for Violet’s lack of respect for Christmas. Our great-aunt, Grandma Lorrie’s sister, pointed at me from the other side of the room and said my lack of a mother hadn’t turned me into a prostitute.

Jolene started yelling at everyone about calling girls names. Goldie joined her. She smacked at her brother and then everyone was fighting everyone, splattering cake and eggnog and chocolate on the walls, and the dog, upset, whined loudly from a corner.

It began snowing, clumps sticking along the windowsills. I couldn’t leave because Grandma Lorrie and her sister had me cornered and kept pointing at me.

Sean, bless him, decided to go check up on Violet. It was good to have a boy who cared about your family, too.


* * *


Sean visited for a week after summer that year, without Jolene. He said he was in town for work. I had deferred leaving for college this year, but it turned out, I rarely saw him. But I wouldn’t want to distract him. He left early in the morning and came back late at night, exhausted. Since Violet had her ballet classes in the morning, Sean drove her every day. She didn’t want to ask her friends any favors. Sean was family, of course, and he told her stupid jokes and made sure she knew she could talk to him.

Violet talking to someone apart from that boy she was in love with was a good thing. Plus it was her sixteenth birthday that week, she shouldn’t be alone. It didn’t matter if Sean’s only free time was spent driving Violet around.

It didn’t.


* * *


Goldie was the only one upset about Sean taking care of Violet. She demanded to know how I ever let Violet alone with “that man.” Sean is family, I told her in a shaky voice. Jolene called then, crying, and said she and Sean were fighting. I was sitting next to Goldie, but I heard Jolene clearly, that’s how loudly she was crying on the phone. It made me feel slightly better.

Goldie only said, “If he’s making you cry like this, what does that tell you?”


* * *


On the next Christmas, while all Woodrings and would-be Woodrings collected around the tree, Jolene announced her engagement to Sean. A white-gold band with a tiny diamond sat on her slim finger. Goldie laughed so much that her brother and his fiancé escorted her out. She trailed her champagne all the way out to the poplar.

It wasn’t snowing yet.

I tightened my scarf until my vision grew red, matching my eyeshadow (blood moon) and blush (cheeky rose), which was important to hide the marks on my face from the pochette’s buckle. I’d tried to get the pochette to unlock, but all I ended up with were these cuts.

“Isn’t it terrible to be forced with someone you don’t love?” Violet was slurring faintly.

I agreed and put my arm around her waist to hold her up. Good for her that our great-aunt had died, so no one was there to back up Grandma Lorrie’s muttering about Violet’s drunken state.

“Sean doesn’t love her.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“Can you keep a secret, Lylie?” she said, her eyes sparkling like Goldie’s laughter in my head. “I keep your secret in a pochette, don’t I?”

The secret was that Sean didn’t love Jolene. That didn’t count because I knew it. The secret was that Sean had agreed to get engaged to Jolene so he could stay close to Violet. He said he couldn’t break up with Jolene because you know how Jolene is?

“He loves me and it’s wonderful. Have you ever felt that way?” Violet asked me.

“You’re so drunk, Violet,” I said, fighting to keep my voice from trembling.


* * *


I waited until she was singing carols under the tree and everyone else was arguing over the date of the wedding. Then I took the pochette from Violet’s side of the room, like we’d been back-and-forthing over the past year. 

“I’ve been looking for you,” Sean called from the door. “It feels like I haven’t seen you in forever.” He always dressed in absolutes that hid him, but tonight, he seemed so strange. Outside, lights blinked on and off. Sean came closer and put his arms around me and kissed me. “You look beautiful tonight.”

He kissed me again and said something about trying to fix things but they kept spiraling out of control, and you know how Jolene is? I said I understood. What I finally understood was that no one was coming to protect me or Violet.

Sean lifted my shirt over my head and pulled me close, grazing his teeth and tongue down my neck while I stood steady, reaching for the pochette behind me.

Violet and I had tried opening it many times. I’d seen some of my aunts and older cousins gather on Sunday mornings to discuss various kinds of purses and zippers and bolts and locks. They’d tried, too, I knew. All we were left with were wounds. The pochette never opened because everyone tried too hard: they held it level or upright, clutching it tight, trying to twist the buckle forcefully, but that pinched the opening taut, not allowing the occupants to travel upward and push the buckle from the other side too.

But now when I held the pochette above my head, angled so it was upside down, twisting the buckle came as easily as lying to my family. The small click resounded in the room. A faint growl, like a cat, came out of the pochette. Sean stopped. “What are you doing?”

What happened then was that I made sure I didn’t open the pochette all the way to let the Dreadcats escape. Though they tried, of course, but the mouth of the pochette was too small for all three of them, and they kept slipping back in.

Sean pushed me and in his haste to disentangle himself, his head came too close to the pochette. One of the Dreadcats caught at his collar and dragged him in. He screamed the entire way through. I buckled the pochette shut the second Sean’s foot was inside. The pochette thumped on the floor.

It must be terribly crowded in there now.

I sat beside the open windows until dawn, winter digging its fangs into my exposed skin, and wondered how I’d explain to anyone where Sean was. Then I wondered if anyone would even ask. Goldie might. She would drunkenly tell someone to make sure the carpet isn’t stained. Then turn everything into a story and narrate it to the next person she finds. I started to cry. Mama had promised they would look after me.

I put both my palms over my shoulders, and patted my own back. “Everything will be okay now. I’m going to take care of you,” I murmured to myself, rocking like I was a child.

I didn’t feel silly doing it.

When the sky became lighter, I picked up the pochette and the scarf I was wearing and slipped out the window. I wrapped the scarf around the stupid apple-colored pochette and buried it in the corner of the yard.

I looked up at the ranch. With the Woodrings all asleep, and the sun coming up behind in the mountains, it felt at peace. The wraparound porch was dotted with wreaths and unlit lanterns, and potted plants on the steps buried beneath snow. The finch from the birdhouse flew down to where I’d buried the pochette and then hopped to me.

“Mirabelle,” I said, “your children and their friends are a nuisance.”


* * *


It isn’t difficult to get on an Amtrak once you’ve chosen the irreversible. So that’s what I did. Over the next few days, the birds brought me news of everything that happened at the ranch after I left.

The Woodrings put up posters and called the police and Jolene contacted Sean’s family. Turned out, they weren’t his family and he’d hired people off shady subreddits to pose as his family when Jolene wanted to meet them. “A con artist,” Goldie said, staring at the poplar.

I tried not to think of what my family must assume. That I ran away with Sean. Because I was stupid and naive. That, by now, he must have killed me.

Violet cried for days and only Grandma Lorrie had the time to sit with her and pat her on the head.

I tried not to think of Violet. How I was abandoning her. But I took comfort in knowing that she wouldn’t need to do what I did.

Goldie bought a diamond-encrusted birdhouse, but your cousin told her he saw the finch and the sparrow fly into the sun.

They haven’t come back since.

I told the birds not to go back anymore. They had better places to fly to.

{ Edited by Nova Ren Suma. }
This new voice is sponsored by David Levithan.