East of Everywhere

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It’s been a decade since the end of the war, when the telegram first arrived at their house on Mulberry Lane.


Five years since the apartment on Harker Street, where food was scarce and nights were long and their mother slept away her grief.


Six months since Janie was forced to leave her little brother, Brayden, and best friend, Leo, behind at Anthers Hall.


Two weeks since she stole a bicycle and ran away from the new children’s home on the other side of the state.


One day since she arrived in Montours City.


No one knows her secrets in this small town. If Janie is going to make it back to her brother and the only place she’s ever called home, she needs to keep it that way. But when a lonely widow, a boy in a boxcar, and a dog named Panda weave their way into her life, Janie begins to wonder if what she’s holding onto isn't better off laid to rest.

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Chapter Eight

Dear Leo,

There’s an antique grandfather clock that sits in the entryway of St. Anthony’s, a locked glass cabinet showcasing a tangle of pulleys and gears and brass weights. The glass on the clock face is etched with constellations, and sometimes I’ll pause and stare at it because it reminds me of all those nights when we stayed awake in your room, reading together, or studying the stars.

There were answers back then—answers to every question I ever asked, answers to a thousand more I didn’t. They were there in your books, in your words, in the silent way you tilted your head when you looked at me, like I was the answer to your only question.

I was so sure of everything then. For the first time in my life, I felt this weight lift free of me, like the shadow my father left behind disappeared to wherever my mother went, too. I could smile. I could even laugh. I could watch Brayden play in the yard and not have to worry about how fast he was growing or if there was enough food or bath soap or clothing—enough of everything. I could listen to records with Evie and Louise or search the stars with you without feeling guilty that I wasn’t with him because I knew he was cared for, I knew he was safe. I knew he was happy.

But those were merely hours spent apart from each other. Not these days that have turned into weeks, not these weeks that have turned into months. How is he without me? Who am I without either of you? I feel so lost and alone, and whatever I believed in then has long abandoned me now.

The grandfather clock chimes seven each morning. Sister Prentis makes her rounds a half hour after that—always punctual, Time is something to be obeyed. We’re to be dressed, our beds made, ready to attend mass by eight.

I tried, Leo. I really did. But I kept thinking about that red velvet dress I wore to Christmas Eve mass and the small corner of fabric tucked beneath my father’s leg as I sat between my parents, the way he smiled and put his arm around me after my mother scolded me about turning around to see the choir loft. The image of him is so vivid, so clear, it makes me catch my breath. I still remember the way the stained-glass windows created sunlit mosaics on the walls, the way the pipe organ thundered above me, through me, the way the flames flickered when my father leaned down to light a prayer candle and the way my mother stood vigil beside him, tears I didn’t understand reflecting in her eyes.

That memory is why I couldn’t step foot in another church. It’s why I couldn’t sit silently in a corner pew with the other girls and mouth the words to hymns that hold no meaning. It’s why I can’t stay here much longer.

I could hear Sister Prentis’s heavy footsteps racing down the hallway, barking orders at the other girls to hurry up and meet her downstairs, that they’d be put on room restriction if they were late. I knew what was coming maybe even before she did, and I sat on the edge of my bed and tried to calm the nerves that stirred my empty stomach. Her eyes grew wide when she saw me there, and she clucked her tongue and stared at me for a moment before stepping closer. Her voice was sweet as she tried to coax me up, but her eyes remained narrowed and cold, and I knew then I wouldn’t follow her anywhere, no matter how many rules I was breaking, no matter how damned I might be. In her fury, she flew towards me, and I gripped the bars on the headboard, my knuckles turning white even as her fingers left a ring of red marks around my wrist.

I know what you’d say if you were here. I can see you kneeling in front of me, those blue eyes growing dark at my pain. You’d lift my hand and run your fingers gently along the bruises on my wrist, then reach up, like you’d want to wipe the tears from my eyes, but I wouldn’t cry, I wouldn’t cry. There are never any tears.

“Try, Jane,” I can hear you say, your voice soft, almost a whisper. “Please try for me.”

But I don’t have that to give you. I told you, I have nothing left.

For years, I watched my mother grow smaller and smaller in her grief, and I wondered why she couldn’t just be there, why she couldn’t be the mother I knew, the mother I needed. Those shadows of who she was clung to her, and a shadow was what she became. I understand it now, Leo. I understand her.


Because that’s what you become when you have nothing left to give—you’re nothing but a shadow absent of the sun.

“So you’ll not attend church?” Sister Prentis scowled. “You feel you’re too good to repent? Too good to pray to Our Lord and Savior?”

“Leave her be.” Sister Brimmel’s voice was soft behind her. “Take the girls down to mass.”

Sister Prentis glared at me and turned on her heel. From the doorway, Sister Brimmel watched me, and I hooked my arm around the bedpost and planted my feet firmly on the floor. I saw the slight raise of her eyebrows, the quick twitch of her upper lip. Then she crossed the room and sat on the bed opposite me, folding her hands in her lap as she gazed out the window. We lingered in that silence for a while—me, watching her, and her, staring past the treetops like she was waiting for something, searching for something. Slowly, I unhooked my arm from the bedpost, my gaze never leaving her face.

I think it was then, as I was studying her, that I realized maybe she felt just as trapped as I did—only she was trapped by her faith, and I was trapped by a lack of one.

“Prayers don’t work for me,” I said quietly.

She exhaled softly and turned to me. She looked tired, and for the first time, I noticed wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, the soft wisps of gray at her hairline.

“They don’t work for me, either,” she said. “But that’s not why I pray.”

We walked downstairs together, past the vestibule that led into the church, and out into the garden where we sat on a stone bench surrounded by blooming flowers, listening to the voices in the choir loft echo centuries of prayer that for us remained unanswered.


© 2021 by
Susan Pogorzelski.


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