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Curious, I strode toward it.

When I got to the gate, I realized it was a cemetery, a family burial plot. Some of its gravestones looked extremely old, round-shouldered and leaning forward as if they were tired, their names and dates no longer readable. There were new markers made of shiny rock, and I strolled over to look at them. Thomas Barnes, I read. My mother’s father. I touched his stone lightly. Avril Scarborough. I didn’t know that name. I looked at the dates, drew back, then did the math again. Sixteen, as old as me. Did she have any idea she’d die that young?

The grave gave me an eerie feeling. I didn’t want to touch her stone, and turned, suddenly compelled to get out of there. As I did, I gave a quick glance back at the house. The lowering sun flared off the paned glass, but I saw it, the movement of someone stepping back from the window, as if trying not to be seen. After a moment I realized the person had been watching from my bedroom. I walked toward the house, but the reflected light made it impossible to see in.

A vague uneasiness seeped into me. Aside from the invitation itself, Grandmother and Matt acted as if they had no interest in getting to know me. But obviously, someone was interested enough to keep a secret eye on me…


Last night I visited the house again. It looked as it did ten years ago, when I dreamed about it often. Tve never seen the house in real life, at least not that I can remember. It is tall, three stories of paned windows, all brick with a shingle roof. The part I remember most clearly is the covered porch.

No wider than the front steps, it has facing benches that I like to sit on. I guess I was never shy, not even at six; in the dream I always opened the door, walked inside, and played with the toys.

Last night the door was locked. That’s how I awoke, trying with all my strength to open it, desperate to get inside.

Something was wrong, but now I can’t say what. Was there something dangerous outside the house from which I was fleeing? Was there a person in the house who needed my help? It was as if the first part of my dream was missing. But one thing I knew for sure: Someone on the other side of the door was trying hard to keep me out.

“I’m not going,” I had told my father back in June. “She’s a mean old lady. She disowned Mom and won’t speak to you.

She has never had anything to do with Pete, Dave, or me.

Why should I have anything to do with her?”

“For your mother’s sake,” he’d said.

Several months later I was on a flight from Arizona to Maryland, still resisting my grandmother’s royal command to visit. I took out her invitation, the first message I’d received from her in my life, and reread it-two sentences, sounding as stiff as a textbook exercise.

Dear Megan, This summer I will see you at Scarborough House. I have enclosed a check to cover airfare.

Regards, Helen Scarborough Barnes Well, I hadn’t expected “love and kisses” from a woman who cut off her only daughter when she had decided to marry someone a different color. My mother, coming from a deep-rooted Eastern Shore family, has more English blood in her than Prince Charles. My father, also from an old Maryland family, is African-American. After trying to have children of their own, they adopted me, then my two brothers. It would be naive to expect warmth from a person who refused to consider adopted kids her grandchildren.

Now that I thought about it, the meaning of my dream the night before was pretty obvious, even the feeling that something was wrong. The door to my mother’s family had always been closed to me; when a door kept locked for sixteen years suddenly, without explanation, opens, you can’t help but wonder what you’re walking into.

“Megan? You made it!” the woman said, crumpling up the sign with my name on it, then giving me a big hug. “I’m Ginny Lloyd, your mother’s best old friend.” She laughed. “I guess you figured that out.”

When Ginny heard I was coming, she’d insisted on meeting me at the airport close to Baltimore. That October day we loaded my luggage into the back of her ancient green station wagon, pushing aside bags of old sweaters, skirts, shoes, and purses-items she had picked up to sell in her vintage clothes shop.

“I hope you don’t mind the smell of mothballs,” Ginny said.

“No problem,” I replied.

“How about the smell of a car burning oil?”

“That’s okay, too.”

“We can open the windows,” she told me. “Of course, the muffler’s near gone.”

I laughed. Blond and freckled, she had the same southernish accent as my mother. I felt comfortable with her right away.

When I was buckled in, Ginny handed me a map so I could follow our progress toward Wisteria, which is on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

“It’s about a two-hour drive,” she said. “I told Mrs. Barnes I’d have you at Scarborough House well before dark.”

“I’m getting curious,” I told her. “When Mom left Maryland, she didn’t bring any pictures with her. I’ve seen a few photos that my uncle Paul sent, showing him and Mom playing when they were little, but you can’t see the house in them. What’s it like?”

“What has your mother told you about it?” Ginny asked.

“Not much. There’s a main house with a back wing. It’s old.”

“That’s about it,” Ginny said.

It was a short answer from a person who had spent a lot of time there as a child and teenager-nearly as short as my mother’s answers about the place.

“Oh, and it’s haunted,” I added.

“People say that,” Ginny replied.

I looked at her, surprised. I had been joking.

“Of course, every old house on the Shore has its ghost stories,” she added quickly. “Just keep the lights on if it feels spooky.”

This trip might turn out to be more interesting than I thought.

Ginny turned on the radio, punching in a country station. I opened the map she had given me and studied it. The Sycamore River cut into the Eastern Shore at an angle. If you were traveling up the Chesapeake Bay, you’d enter the wide river mouth of the Sycamore and head in a northeasterly direction. On the right, close to the mouth, you’d see a laige creek named Wist. The next creek up is Oyster. The town of Wisteria sits between them, nearly surrounded by water, the Sycamore River on one side and the creeks on the other two. As for my grandmother’s property, it was the large point of land below the town, washed on one side by Wist Creek and on the other side by the Sycamore.

We crossed two sets of railroad tracks. I watched the scenery change from outlet stores to fields of corn and soy and low horizons of trees. The sky was half the world on the Eastern Shore. Ginny asked a lot of questions and seemed more interested in talking about life in Tucson than life in Wisteria.

“What’s my grandmother like?” I asked at last.

For a full minute the only response was the roar of the car engine.

“She’s, uh, different,” Ginny said. “We’re coming up on Oyster Creek. Wisteria’s just on the other side.”

“Different how?” I persisted.

“She has her own way of seeing things. She can be fierce at times.”

“Do people like her?”

Ginny hesitated. “Have you spent much time in a small town?” she asked.


“Small-town folks are like a big family living in one house.

They can be real friendly and helpful, but they can also say nasty things about each other and squabble a lot.”

She hadn’t answered my question about how others saw my grandmother, but I could figure it out. She wasn’t the town favorite.

We rumbled over the metal grating of the drawbridge. I hung my head out the window for a moment. In Tucson, creeks were often just trickles. This one was the width of a river.



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