“And what were you doing before you started running away?”
“I was on a swing, in the park beside the school,” said Folly.
“Where is the school?”
“Down past that traffic light,” she said.
I accelerated and we lurched forward on the little Yamaha TW we’d found leaning up against someone’s garage door. I wanted to get around quickly for this “game”, not lumber through town from inside a closed vehicle.
Every red light still triggered a stop impulse, but this time I didn’t even slow down. Folly was clinging to me tightly, her hands bunching the front of my down vest.
I saw the swings, and the small adventure playground, the soccer goalposts, and the tiny basketball court, all neatly laid out beside a sprawling one-story elementary school.
“I sat in that swing,” said Folly. “There was a puddle on the ground under it, and my feet got wet.”
“And before that?” I learned that Folly was more comfortable answering questions when we were not face to face. We slowed to a stop and but she did not release her grip on me. I could feel her cheek pressed against my back.
“Folly, think now.”
“Everyone died,” she said. “I ran home! And they were dead, too.”
“Where? Which way is home?” This was as far as we’d ever gotten, and I felt it was our last chance to find Folly’s house and get her memories back.
She had the bad memories. The inside of her head was a once a safe garden, but the garden was now overgrown with thorns and weeds and their alien blooms, choking out the lilac and brilliant pinks of the hydrangea and the lime leaves of the ninebark, twining around her thin legs freezing her in place.
I could feel her trembling, and resisted the urge to comfort her. “Which way, Folly?”
“The lane, go down the lane.”
The lane was surfaced in gravel, which resisted and spit and almost caused me to lose control, but I slowed down and we passed by the leafy green back yards of homes that had once housed Folly’s neighbours and friends. She’d told me her house was yellow, and there was only one yellow house, at the end of the lane, on the corner.
“Go in the back way,” said Folly. We got off the bike and opened the gate, stepping into a tidy green garden with a mature ornamental cherry tree, masses of sumac starting to change color, and a small pup tent set up on the flat lawn.
“This is the way you went to school, and to the park?” I asked her.
She nodded. She was wearing a fleece hoodie that was too big for her and fit more like a dress, and denim leggings with rubber boots. Her hair was uncombed and tangled from the bike ride. She was deathly pale.
The gate had a rusted metal bell on it, that clanged when it was shut, no doubt meant as an alert for Folly’s mother or father. The lawn, once carefully tended grass, was now a ground cover of what looked like thyme.
She didn’t look in the pup tent on her way to the back porch, but I did. Inside was a rumpled tartan blanket and a flashlight.
Large-leafed ivy climbed the exterior walls of the house, drooping down over the doorway, which was probably not there the last time she was here.
It was unlocked. I let Folly lead the way, silent. This was her moment, her most important moment, and she had to face it alone and on her own terms. What could I do? A big stupid teenager who knew nothing of her family, her past, what she’d lost. I knew my own loss and I had some idea of what was churning around in her gut, but comfort could only come later.
The house was smaller than the one I grew up in, with the traditional separate, somewhat small rooms: kitchen, dining room, small formal living room, and a very untidy family room. On the floor and tables were boxed games, like Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, open and the contents scattered about the room. There were towels, too, crumpled on the couch, and a bookcase with a full set of encyclopaedias, something I’d never seen before.
Folly picked up a towel and smelled it. She put it down again.
“I know my name now,” she said.