CHAPTER 1 Mrs. Flax was happiest when she was leaving a place, but I wanted to stay put long enough to fall down crazy and hear the Word of God. I always called my mother Mrs. Flax. She had driven my little sister Kate and me in the blue Buick station wagon for three days this time, racing from Oklahoma to New England. Skinny Burt LeForest, who had a bulging Adam's apple and was in my high school, tore behind us in a truck full of our furniture, driving wildly to keep up. I had seen Mrs. Flax kiss Burt by the stove a week before, when he came by to change a light bulb we couldn't reach. We arrived in Grove on a round moon night, with lilacs blowing sweet against our new house in the breeze. We rented the place; we always rented. I lay in the back seat, holding Kate, with her curly red hair, on top of me as I stared up at the windshield, which was still covered with Oklahoma dust. Mrs. Flax turned off the motor. I shut my eyes and prayed this would be the town where I heard a voice. Joan of Arc heard voices at thirteen; I had just turned fourteen, but I hadn't given up hope. "But Charlotte," Mrs. Flax said when she found me at age six, kneeling in the middle of the kitchen on a hot Arizona afternoon, "Charlotte, you're Jewish." Mrs. Flax didn't believe in ritual or tradition. "Religion weighs me down," she said. I, however, decided I wanted to repent the first time I saw a girl with ashes on her forehead cross herself and chant Hail Marys before a spelling bee. That was when we lived in Wisconsin; the next day I stole an old piece of charcoal from a neighbor man's barbecue and walked around with a smudge between my eyebrows for a week and a half. I was eight years old when Mrs. Flax was pregnant with Kate. While she drove with her belly pressed up against the steering wheel, I knelt way in the back of the station wagon. I solemnly clipped two curls of my hair and placed them in the Cracker jacks box where I saved my baby teeth. I prayed these relics would be kissed by miles of crusaders, who would wait piously in line someday. I always had trouble trying to be holy, though. First of all, I liked to lie a lot; second of all, I kept falling in love. Mrs. Flax climbed the porch steps in her high heels and polka dot dress. "Girls," she called out into the night, "come give this nice young man a hand." People said Mrs. Flax and I looked alike green eyes, dark curly hair, medium height; not that we ever were the kind to stand giggling back to back. I listened to Burt drag boxes and furniture inside. New England was only a donkey head shape on the map to me. I hadn't come across a Massachusetts saint so far; I didn't know what the odds would be not that I knew anything about odds, but I prayed this would be the place where I'd find divine inspiration. "Wake up, Kate," I said finally. "Welcome to home sweet home number eighteen." Kate woke up yawning, with her hands over her ears. I adored Kate; everybody did. When she was born, I wanted to name her Gobnet, after the virgin beekeeper saint. "I worry, Charlotte, I really do," said Mrs. Flax. Kate hopped up the steps on one foot and I followed her onto the porch. Burt was trying to lift the couch up onto his shoulders and through the front door. I held my breath, trying not to breathe in Mrs. Flax's perfume, as I clutched a leg of the couch; I didn't believe in perfume or make up or anything artificial. I washed with icy water whenever I could stand it; I was going to lead a pure life, free of sin. After Burt yanked the couch up through the doorway, Mrs. Flax followed him inside. I held Kate's hand and stared sleepily out at the dark yard, breathing in the pine air. It seemed as if we'd been on the road forever. I had calculated that I'd wasted far too much of my life in a car. No saints, either male or female, had ever heard the Word at seventy miles an hour on the interstate. I needed to stand verDann, Patty is the author of 'Mermaids ', published 2004 under ISBN 9780312333942 and ISBN 0312333943.