It was June when Spencer P. Kase moved into the Starling House on Maple Street. He came in the night when we were sound asleep, and suddenly there were candles burning in the dark rooms. We gazed intently through the musty windows when we passed by on the sidewalk. We stared from our lawns, fixated and eager to know the person within. We talked and speculated, sat fanning ourselves on our own front porches until we could no longer stand the heat, all the while hoping to catch just one glimpse of our mysterious new neighbor. Our parents gathered and discussed, whispered to each other over store counters, raised their hands at the town council meetings. The town buzzed with anticipation. We counted the days by on our fingers and waited for the candles in the Starling House to burn out.
The first sighting was reported in the second week of June. Thomas Cunningham’s eldest sister, Patricia Wayford, was due to have a child late that Tuesday night, and Thomas was sent to fetch the doctor. He passed by the long-abandoned Starling House in his race down Maple Street and claimed to have seen a shadowed figure seated in a rocking chair on the front porch. In his hurry, he did not stop to shout a welcoming hello or even to tip his hat, and on his return, the figure on the porch had again returned to the confines of the house. News of Thomas’s find spread through the town like lightning. By the time we cared to mention Patricia Wayford’s healthy eight-and-a-half pound daughter, the shadowy front porch figure had grown to a staggering height of eight-and-a-half feet and had rocked back and forth with glaring red eyes and sharp teeth. Thomas Cunningham was doubtlessly lucky to be alive.
Two days later, Spencer P. Kase strode boldly out of his front door and down maple Street to the General Store to purchase a loaf of bread. He smiled at everyone he passed, tipped his hat to Jane Caruthers, the baker’s wife, stopped to admire the flowers planted along the walkway in Town Square, and paid for his bread with exact change. He then promptly returned to the Starling House without saying anything more than simple “G’day” to Martha Conley, the General Store clerk.
Those of us who were lucky enough to witness the events of Maple Street that day fluttered to verbally paint the scene for everyone else. We described his lively gait with accurate detail, discussed his riding boots and the sharp sound they made against the sidewalk, imitated his wide smile and the endearing way in which he tipped his hat. By the time Spencer P. Kase made his second outing the following day, our mothers were smitten. He returned to the General Store every day that week, coming and going in the same manner, wearing the same boots. We catalogued his odd assortment of purchases to bring up in conversation over apple pie or sweet cider. There was a pound of flour, a garden rake, two packages of wild flower seed, and a pair of ladies’ bloomers. We were all perplexed.
At church that Sunday, we scoured the pews, hungry to discover him somewhere amongst us. We sighed in disappointment when we found him missing. Old Tucker Benson arrived late, drunken and disheveled, and his entrance startled us. We spun around in our seats, anxious to see who would come shuffling through the door. Even the minister paused to watch and wait. Old Tucker hiccupped and stared back at us, amazed to receive so much attention, and we turned back to look toward the minister, whose face showed the he was just as disappointed as we were.
Three days passed without any sign of the newcomer. The Starling House sat dark. On the fourth day, Spencer P. Kase reappeared, his smile as wide as ever. We watched him through our own windows, standing there on the sidewalk, stretching in the sunlight, undaunted by the heat. Nelson Matthews had gone to the post office to retrieve the mail for his mother. Jacob Matthews, Nelson’s father, had gone to Omaha on business in April and had promised to write to his family every day for as long as he could afford to pay for postage. As his mother was always busy managing the younger children and the household, Nelson took it upon himself to regularly visit the post office. That day he had spent a long stretch listening to Jim Fields, the postman, relate tales from his former employment in the large cities of the East. Nelson then strolled up Maple Street, empty-handed and slightly downtrodden, as he had not heard from his father in quite some time. He kicked his feet as he walked and watched the dust rise into the air. Spencer P. Kase, walking in the opposite direction on the same sidewalk on his way to the General Store, appeared in the dust like sunshine breaking through the clouds. Nelson Matthews stopped short so as not to run into the fellow and stared with a loose chin and gaping jaw at the stranger only inches away.
Spencer P. Kase smiled.
“G’day, friend,” he said.
We peeped out at the two of them from behind draperies or bushes and held our breaths while we waited for Nelson’s reply.
“Good day,” he said finally.
The stranger side-stepped, intending to bypass our friend, but Nelson’s chest filled with an unanticipated bravado that willed him to intervene.
“I’m Nelson Matthews,” he said, his hand darting out to be greeted.
The stranger stopped, eyed the hand for a good while before shaking it.
“Good to meet ya, Nelly. The name’s Spencer P. Kase. That’s Kase with a K.”
Nelson’s willful intent faded, and he was left at a loss for words. He stood, speechless and awkward.
“Well, I’m off to the General Store. Good seeing you, Nelly.” Kase winked at our dumb-founded envoy and continued on his way to Town Square, whistling all the while. We learned from Martha Conley that he purchased four candles that day.
From that point on, Nelson Matthews was our hero. We were undeniably jealous of his encounter with the strange resident of the Starling House, especially Thomas Cunningham, whose story was quickly forgotten in light of a better one, but we still crowded around him to hear his tale. From Nelson we learned that Spencer P. Kase was, in fact, a boy, of no more than fourteen or fifteen. This fact stunned us most of all and sent our imaginations on wildly elaborate adventures to discover how a boy of our own age had come to reside at the Starling House, presumably alone. We entertained all sorts of ideas, imagining Kase as a self-made millionaire by thirteen or the restless son of a railway king. We saw him as a traveling circus performer, dazzling audiences from sea to shining sea, or a runaway rodeo hand, abandoning a life of travel and fortune for one of stability and security. We labeled him a child ruffian, an orphan raised on the streets, taught to cheat and steal before he could walk. Daniel Wilton’s mother brought us lemonade and became our audience as we acted out the most probable scenes of Spencer P. Kase’s existence in her yard.
On Saturday, Susanna King, mother to David and Lucy King, baked a pie. We could smell the pie from where it sat in the kitchen window as we passed by. We played games on the street in front of the King house just to enjoy the sweet aroma. We knocked on the front door, asking if David could come outside, secretly hoping that Mrs. King would invite us in for a slice. We blew kisses at Lucy when Mister King wasn’t looking and watched her cheeks turn pink.
All the while, as we pined and played Susanna King had another idea in mind. When the pie had cooled to her liking, it was placed inside a gift basket and tied with a neat, blue ribbon. Mrs. King promptly marched down Maple Street, pie basket in hand. We watched in awe as she did the one thing we each dared not do. She strolled right up to the front door of the Starling House and, lo and behold, knocked. We waited in agony for Spencer P. Kase to open the door.
Then – something amazing – he did.
He answered the door with a smile.
“Why, hello, ma’am,” he said.
“Hell, dear. I’m Mrs. King. I live just there,” she turned and pointed. We ducked down, pretended not to watch. “I’ve baked you a pie to welcome you to Maple Street.”
Susanna King offered him her pie basket, which he took with a most gracious smile.
“My sincerest thanks, ma’am.”
“I hope we may all see you in church tomorrow,” she said. Then she paused and gave a most mothering look of stern reprehension and added, “You do go to church, don’t you?”
Spencer P. Kase, child ruffian, millionaire, born thief, fell beneath the willful gaze of Mrs. Susanna King.
“Oh, yes, ma’am,” he answered.
She smiled. They both said good day. Mrs. King returned to her home on Maple Street, where she revealed a second pie, baked just for us.
We did our best to sleep through the night but instead sat awake, imagining what lay ahead of us, choosing the pew just behind Spencer P. Kase, practicing our introductions, sharing a conversation or a sandwich, asking where he’d found his boots, where he’d lost his parents, waltzing across every shadow of our sleepless minds. In the end, the clock did not tick any faster.
Sunday broke with a common sound of relief. While the morning clouds stretched and yawned, we polished our shoes and assembled our best bowties. Our hair was combed, our shirt collars buttoned to the point of near asphyxiation, and our smiling faces cleared of grime. Our fathers looked elegant. Our mothers looked beautiful. Our slimy younger siblings looked presentable. Maple Street churned.
We held our breaths as we passed the Starling House on our walk to church, said an extra little prayer that our would-be friend would not back out.
We filed in through the back of the church, as was our custom. Little Lester MacFarland was the first to trot down the aisle, passing pew after empty pew. When his eyes caught sight of Spencer P. Kase already seated near the front of the room, his signature hat nestled politely in his lap, he stopped short, halting the entirety of the slow progression and nearly toppling the rest of the MacFarland clan.
“Look,” he whispered to his older brother, George, whose eyes too widened at the unlikely appearance of the Starling House guest. George then passed on the information to Louis Havertown, who in turn passed it along to Frances Rumple until the whispered news had floated to every ear in the congregation. The minister came in, ready to begin service, and found us still standing, stagnant, in the corrugated church artery, our hours of practiced entrances and dignified hellos gone to waste. The minister shot us a look of sheer desperation and motioned for us to be seated as quickly as possible. We filed in, sat in the seats we were accustomed to, sneaked glances at Kase while we bowed our heads to pray. The minister preached more adamantly, showing off for our guest. Spencer P. Kase let out a few too many amens, sang hymns louder than anyone else, but we forgave him. He didn’t know our ways. After the service was over, we were loath to leave our seats, unwilling to compromise our positions within earshot of Kase’s very breaths. But our brief reverie, our pleasant solitude found in inflated company, was curtailed when Spencer P. Kase stood and filed out through the back of the church, his broad grin surveying us in groups as he passed. We hesitated as we watched the heavy church door close behind him and then hurried out after him, our single-file line stretching and weaving like a snake winding toward a nest of bird eggs. We stepped into the world, blinking, blinded by the daylight. We allowed our eyes to adjust to the sun, but when we had opened them and inspected the landscaped, we found no Spencer P. Kase in sight. He had already retreated to the confines of the Starling House, safe behind his curtained windows and candlelight walls.
It was July when we befriended Spencer P. Kase. He reappeared on the Saturday of our Fourth of July picnic when the town had gathered in the Square for holiday festivities. We displayed our most patriotic selves, with banners and lace, scarves and flags, colored pinwheels and spirited foxtrots. The minister led us in prayer before we feasted on homemade goods, fresh from our mothers’ kitchens, all our favorite dishes. The heat exploded across our beading foreheads and slid across our upper lips and down the small of our backs. The sun burned high and orange in the cloudless sky, peaking and shimmering in a wave of burning air.
We were already in high spirits when Spencer P. Kase approached, with his swarthy brow and tanned forearms. His brawling gait flashed of images from some greater west, one with which we were unfamiliar, where boys were men and did what they pleased. Our heads turned in unison to observe him, our mouths half filled with the fruit of our own crops and barnyards and of those of the neighboring fields. His eyes roamed over our anxious faces, sizing us up, approximating our worth. He spotted Nelson Matthews gathered around a picnic table with George MacFarland, Lucky Terrence, David King, Daniel Wilton, and William Crawford. We watched as he tucked his thumbs into his pockets and strolled across the square to their picnic table and sat down.
“Hiya, Nelly,” Kase said, his teeth shining.
Nelson fought to swallow a lump of something caught in his throat.
“Hello,” he choked.
We blushed, sharing in Nelson’s embarrassment.
Spencer P. Kase did not seem to mind. He looked around at the rest of the boys, rested an elbow on the table.
“Some bunch you’ve got here, Nelly. The name’s Spencer P. Kase. Pleasure to meet ya.”
The boys exchanged glances amongst themselves. William Crawford was the bravest of the group, and the rest knew it. They waited for him to speak.
“William Crawford,” he said, extending a hand toward Kase. “Good to know someone is alive in that house of yours.”
Kase smiled, happy to make jokes. The four remaining boys introduced themselves, and Kase then gave them each a nickname and filed them away in his repertoire of faces. He went around the table once more, pointing, just to make sure he had it straight.
“Mac, Danny Boy, Willy.” He did a little bow toward David. “Your highness.” He stopped when he came to Lucky, made a face with his lips all gathered up on one side. “Now, tell me, how did you come to be so lucky, my friend?”
Lucky Terrence paled. He was by far the smallest in our class, was never good at the games we played. His mother had him take dancing lessons twice a week, which always interrupted our playtime, but Lucky did not seem to mind anymore. Girls would line up for miles just to dance with him, which gave us all cause for envy.
“Just born that way, I guess.”
Spencer P. Kase laughed a hearty laugh and helped himself to a heaping plate of our finest offerings. We carried on with our own conversations, our own meals, pleased with ourselves and the day. We shared an evening with our new neighbor, watching the sun inching toward the horizon and the fireflies dance a Charleston in the blue night just like we had seen Lucky Terrence and Bonnie Mayble do the summer before.
In the aftermath of our Independence Day festivities, while the debris was swept away and the decorations were dismantled, we tore off our Sunday clothes and chased one another up and down the length of Maple Street, our bare feet scuffed and burned. After we had proportioned ourselves to the minister, Sundays were ours. We were free to play as we would until the sun disappeared into night. On that Sunday, William Crawford, the bravest among us by far, stopped mid-chase, allowing Thomas Cunningham to get away. Thomas circled back, all wonder. No one had ever outrun William Crawford. William stood, his hands perched on his hips, an executive smirk on his face.
“We’ll ask the new boy to play,” he announced.
We followed his stalwart gaze up the street to the Starling House, snickered a little under our breaths. But there was no persuading William. He did what he did.
We trailed along as he marched up the street, with Nelson Matthews reluctantly at his side, right up to the front door of the Starling House, like we’d been there a hundred times before. William knocked on the door, held Nelson by the elbow so that he would not slink to the back of the group in fear. To William, there was no fear. The Starling House occupant was just a boy, nothing more, just like us. The door opened, revealing Spencer P. Kase, a stretched smile and tapping of a boot.
“Hallo, boys,” said Kase.
We peered inside, hoping to catch a glance of some hidden wonder, a gang of bandits, a lion tamer and his beast, but it was too dark within to make out any shapes, even that of Kase’s hat, which did not sit on his head.
“Hello, Kasey,” said William, his voice deeper and more resonant than we remembered. We stared with wide eyes to see how Kase would react to his nickname. Kase merely eyed William with a pleased sort of a look. “We’ve come to ask if you’d like to join us this afternoon.”
Surely Spencer P. Kase did not want to join in on our childish games. We were certain. He had tamed wild bulls, killed men in duels, real men, twice his age and three times his height.
Kase shifted his gaze to Nelson Matthews, who smiled as best as he could, then back to William Crawford.
“Alright,” said Kase.
He followed us back into the street. Our minds raced. What games could we possibly play that would entertain Spencer P. Kase? In the end we settled on Corn and the Cobbler, a game our fathers had played in our very yards when they were just boys.
When we were exhausted from play, we collapsed in the cool grass in the Caruthers’ lawn, panting and sweating and laughing still. We were anxious to hear tales from Kase’s lively past. A million questions seared our tongues. Kase sprawled out on his back, his elbows forming triangular wings that framed his flushed cheeks. We thought of a million different ways to bring up the subjects we wanted to know most about. Had he murdered his own parents for their share in a mining company? Had he lived for a year with the Blackfoot people, learning their ways? But only one of our questions was answered that day. Little Lucky Terrence, with his boyish voice and thin lips, voiced it.
“What does the P. stand for, Kasey?”
Kase rolled over on his side, laughing his hearty laugh, a laugh that could have knocked Lucky clear over.
“Pelonius, my friend. The P. stands for Pelonius.”
Thomas Cunningham later pouted, “Pelonius, my foot. I bet it’s no better than Phillip or Peter.” But we believed every word out of Kase’s mouth.
The sun set, and our mothers called to us from open windows or front porches. We stood, shaking the grass from our pant legs and matted hair.
“Shall we see you again tomorrow, Kasey?” William Crawford asked, patting our new friend on the back.
Spencer P. Kase glanced up the street at the Starling House, dark and alone.
He smiled at us all.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” he said.
We walked home in the moonshine, drank our warm milk, slid into the beds we shared with our younger siblings, and slept a sound sleep.
We played this way for days, running and jumping, laughing and falling, victorious over the street and the houses and one another.
“Will you go to school with us when the season comes ‘round, Kasey?” George MacFarland asked one afternoon while we shared a loaf of bread prepared for us by Mrs. Wilton.
Spencer P. Kase looked sad for the first time that we could tell of, but it only lasted half an instant, then was filled with laughter.
“Mac, here’s the honest truth. I never been to school a day in my life, and I don’t intend to start now,” he answered. We laughed too and hid our secret disappointment.
August erupted in an angry fit, spilling a molten fever across every doorstep and flowerbed. Our mothers kept us inside, protecting us against the blinding heat as best as they could. We sat in darkness, afraid that burning candles could ignite the dry air. We felt the pang of our barren street shaking in our impatient feet. All we could do was wait. Doctor Engelton, our only visitor and communication with the outside world, paid us frequent visits, inquiring about our health, worried that we may be inhaling too much dust. We watched his solemn walks up and down Maple Street, stopping door to door, his black medicine bag hanging limp at his side. Curiously, Doctor Engelton stopped most often at the Starling House. We watched with interest, waiting for our temperature plague to burn away so that we could once again explore our visions of Maple Street.
The wave did pass, rolling under us, scorching us from the feet up, leaving us exactly where we had been. Life began again. We went to church, shopped in town, sat together in the evenings. Nelson Matthews walked to the post office daily, and Lucky Terrence had dance lessons twice a week. We knocked on the Starling House door, but Spencer P. Kase almost never answered. When he did, he always looked tired, worn. He’d apologize with a sad smile, tell us to try back another day. We sat on the King’s back porch, dangling our legs, tired of our old games, with no new ideas up our sleeves. It was too hot for sleeves anyway.
Doctor Engelton continued to make his rounds. He held his cool stethoscope to our chests, listened to us breathing. “Are you sure you’re feeling alright?” he asked. “Your mother tells me you don’t want to play.” He feared pandemic surely, that which came to drain us of all will for fun and games. We asked about Spencer P. Kase, but Doctor Engelton just smiled and patted us on our heads. “Don’t you worry, now. Your friend Spencer is just fine,” he said. But he continued to visit the Starling House almost every day.
We sat in a line on the street across from the Starling House, just sitting, hoping that Kase would notice us.
“What do you think is wrong with him?” Nelson Matthews said, his mouth half-buried in his fist. We shifted, resting our chins in our other palms, our elbows on our other legs.
“I ask Engelton about him every day, but I always get the same answer,” William said.
“Me too,” the rest of us chimed in.
“It’s gotta be something bad, don’t ya think? He always looks so tired,” said Daniel, joining us late because his mother made him practice piano for an hour after lunch. He sat at the end of the line, mirrored our somber positions.
“I haven’t seen a candle in any of those windows in weeks,” said David.
We contemplated this for a while.
Doctor Engelton emerged from the Starling House looking very grave. He forced a smile when he saw us, gathered together there on the street.
“Hello boys. It’s good to see you all out of the house.”
“How’s Kasey, Doctor Engelton?” Lucky asked, with his sad eyes.
“Is he dead?” Thomas added with a half smirk.
William shot him a glance of disapproval.
Doctor Engelton had a mustache that moved when he spoke.
“Oh no. Spencer is just fine. He’s not the one I’m worried about.”
The doctor did not stay with us for long. He wanted to get home to his young wife, her peach cobbler and barley hair. We did not question him further.
“Who else do you figure is in there?” George asked, staring at the musty windows.
We stared with him, imagining all the possibilities.
It wasn’t long before we noticed Spencer P. Kase’s midnight excursions. He left the Starling House in the darkness and would not return until early in the morning. We stayed up late, watching from our bedroom windows for as long as we could, until our mothers instructed us to blow out our candles and get into bed.
In the same week that Kase began carousing in the night, Lucky Terrence sprained his ankle during his dance lesson. Doctor Engelton was summoned immediately. He prescribed a period of rest and no strain on the ankle, which Mrs. Terrence interpreted as a means to keep Lucky homebound forever. We begged her to let Lucky come outside, to let us see him for just a few minutes, to let us peep our heads inside and say hello, but the answer was always the same. No. Under any circumstance. She propped him up in a lounge on the front porch with a glass of lemonade and a book. We’d wave as we passed but were always too afraid to mount the porch steps, even for a minute’s conversation.
It was early one morning when Lucky realized that his sprained ankle could be of some advantage. He had his mother prepare his lounge on the porch, very early, before she busied herself in the kitchen making breakfast for the family. Then he waited.
The sun baked red and gold, sliding in between the branches of the easternmost trees, sipping the dew on the leaves. Spencer P. Kase came walking slowly up Maple Street, his boots scuffing on the ground. Lucky saw him coming and let out a single, long whistle, careful not to draw his mother’s attention. Kase lifted his heavy head, saw Lucky hovering on the porch, and crossed the street toward the Terrence house. He wiped his hand across his face, made a faint smile magically appear.
“Hiya, Luck,” he said.
Lucky put a finger to his lips, motioned for Kase to whisper.
“What’s gotten into you, Kasey? Where have you been running off to in the middle of the night?” Lucky whispered, his voice straining from little conversation.
“Church,” he answered.
“Church?” Lucky cried out, too loud. He caught himself, cupped a hand over his mouth and ducked down in his lounge.
Kase cocked his head to one side.
“What’s all this about, Luck?” he asked, confused.
“My mother,” Lucky said, rolling his eyes.
His words or the roll of his eyes must have summoned her, for at the very moment Mrs. Terrence walked out onto the porch, balancing Lucky’s breakfast on a tray.
“Are you ready for breakfast, dear?” she asked. Her eyes lifted and caught Kase, leaning against a column. His eyes filled with the sight of her, drinking her in. She set down the tray and unfolded a napkin for her son, waved it in the air at Kase. “I’ve told you boys time and time again. Edward is to have no visitors. He is recovering from a serious injury. You can see him again once he has healed. Good day.”
Lucky blushed, hating to be called Edward, hating to hear his mother chastise Spencer P. Kase. But Kase did not seem to mind. He watched Mrs. Terrence with an intensity that made her uncomfortable. His chin stretched out into the air, and he looked away suddenly.
“You really are lucky, you know it, pal?” he said, then turned and walked up Maple Street and disappeared inside the Starling House.
Later that same day, we wandered the length of Maple Street, looking to get ourselves into some sort of mischief. Lucky spotted us from his spot on the porch and let out a whistle. We heard his call but were too experienced with Mrs. Terrence’s wrath to brave a journey to his feet. We shrugged at him, not knowing what he wanted us to do.
Lucky’s mother had left a Bible on the porch for him to study while he sat. He ripped out a page and scribbled a note on it, certain he would go to Hell for such an act. He folded the page into an airplane and sent it soaring across the yard to where we had assembled on the street. William picked up the note and unfolded it.
“Ask the minister about Kasey. He should know,” he read.
We looked over at Lucky, who glared back at us in as much stern defiance as his thin face could muster. We’d never been to church on a weekday, but we were willing to try anything if it meant uncovering the secret of Spencer P. Kase.
We saw Doctor Engelton in Town Square, doubtlessly on his way to the Starling House, but we did not stop to speak to him. We headed straight to the church, where we hoped we’d find the minister waiting with the answers to all our questions.
The church was dark. It took a while for our eyes to adjust to the hazy shadow. The room where we congregated for service every Sunday was empty, but Thomas Cunningham assured us that the minister had an office in the back of the building where he could work during the week. We found a door behind the pew and knocked as politely as we could.
“Come in,” a voice called to us.
William led the way, and we followed close at his heels.
The minister was seated at a desk, like a banker. A cross was mounted on the wall behind him. He smiled a welcoming smile.
“Hello, boys,” he said. “I did not expect to see you until Sunday.”
We hadn’t expected to see him until Sunday either, but we didn’t tell him that.
“What can I help you with today?”
William spoke for us.
“We’ve come to ask about our friend, Spencer Pelonius Kase.”
Thomas rolled his eyes when he heard Pelonius.
“Ah, I see,” said the minister.
“We know he’s been to see you. In the middle of the night. And we – well, we were wondering if you could tell us – ”
“Now William, you know what Spencer and I discuss here is private. It’s just like if any of you had anything troubling you that you wanted to tell me. You wouldn’t want me to tell anyone else about it, now would you?” The minister’s hand moved in a sweeping motion when he spoke, just like when he delivered his sermons.
“But we’re real worried about him, sir,” Nelson called out, his lip pouting.
The minister sighed, stood up, shuffled us out the door and into the main room. He stood in the office doorway and looked over our sad faces.
“Your friend is a very responsible boy. You must know how ill his mother has been. It hasn’t been easy for him, taking care of her all alone like that. But he’ll pull through it. Now you should all run along and play and stop worrying so much. It’s in God’s hands now,” said the minister. He retreated into his office and closed the door, leaving us alone in the quiet church room with its long, empty pews.
“His mother?” we whispered in unison.
Why hadn’t Kase told us to begin with? Even thieves and ruffians had mothers, we reminded ourselves, but they certainly didn’t take care of them when they were ill.
We were angry. At Kase for deceiving us. At ourselves for being deceived. At mothers who got sick and made their children care for them. At mothers who made us take dance lessons and play the piano. At fathers who didn’t write to us when they said they would.
Lucky made a full recovery and was allowed outside once more, but we did not want to play. Spencer P. Kase made several quick trips to the General Store, but we did not rush outside to meet him in the street. We went to church, we did our chores, we watched over our younger siblings. Our parents were impressed. They let us sit up later, let us join in on their grownup conversations after meals.
August came to close, sticky like batter stuck between our fingers. Kase continued his nightly visits to church, though we never saw him there on Sundays. Each morning he dragged himself up Maple Street, his skin paler, his eyes darker. Lucky came to us, near tears.
“He’s just awful, you should see him. He looks like he hasn’t slept in years. We’ve got to do something!”
But there was nothing we could do. We sat on the street and watched the days pass.
And then it was over.
Doctor Engelton handed us the sad report in the second week in September that Mrs. Kase had passed away in the night. We ran to the Starling House, pounded on the front door, desperate to find Kase, to tell him how sorry we were, but he was already gone.
He had gone in the night, while we were fast asleep.
Our parents whispered, sharing their stories at town meetings, gossiping when they met in the Square. It seemed they had known the truth all along. That they had been praying for Mrs. Kase’s health since the beginning. But it hadn’t done any good. The stories circulated. Kase being sent to boarding school. Kase being locked in an orphanage. Kase going to live with a relative somewhere in the East. Kase running away in the night to avoid all of these things. No one could distinguish fact from rumor.
We sat on the street across from the Starling House, gazing across at its empty windows, its aging front porch. The gossip quieted, the world settled, and Spencer P. Kase was forgotten. We sat on the street and fought to remember the boy, the ruffian, the thief who stole our summer, the magician whose final act was to make himself disappear.