By Anne Stone

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Mom, when she got upset, swore and smacked the car’s hood or whatever else was close to hand. From where I was sitting, across from Officer Groves, I had a clear view of Uncle Dave, who was trying to convince Mom that it was a bad idea to take out her frustration on the police station’s only coffee machine. Soon, Uncle Dave was cursing too, and Mom, she stopped, leaned up against the wall and coolly crossed her arms, as if considering — 52 — whether or not she’d have to resort to a brown paper bag to get Uncle Dave to come to his senses.

A stranger to me in all the ways that counted. But every Christmas and on my birthday, Nanna Stokes shipped me a hardcover wrapped in butcher’s paper. Her books were ancient and held more than words. These were books whose dry pages I softly touched and whose brittle insides I sniffed. These were books printed so long ago, I had to cut the tops of facing pages before I could open them to read. I craved old books the way most teenagers desired cigarettes and alcohol and drugs, though these, too, I wanted.

The officer shook his head. He must’ve considered it his bad luck in getting stuck talking to the kid. Groves glanced across the station once more, and this time, I followed his eyes. Mom and Uncle Dave were standing next to a coffee machine. Every few seconds, she punctuated her point by slamming her open hand against the machine. Uncle Dave looked as if he was trying to maintain a difficult balance or walk a thin yellow line. When things went to shit, Uncle Dave didn’t cry. His joints stiffened and his breathing became heavy, audible.

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