Henrietta and Her Moths

Cards from the Butterflies and Moths of America series by Louis Prang & Co., 1862-1869 (Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikimedia Commons)
Cards from the Butterflies and Moths of America series by Louis Prang & Co., 1862-1869 (Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikimedia Commons)

For a club gathering late in the spring, Henrietta chose rosy maple moths, which Marion loved. A moth like a flower, a moth like a doll: the body furred in soft yellow, legs and feathered antennae bright pink, dark eyes shiny above pink-and-yellow wings. She had some pupae just ready to open and the afternoon’s program planned, before discovering she’d have with her not only Marion but also her two other nieces.

Elaine she could cradle, tightly wrapped, in the crook of her left arm, freeing her right hand to handle specimens and write. Marion could sit at the worktable with the four young lepidopterists currently in the club, but Caroline—how hard it was to keep track of her! She sat at the table, knocked a jar over, jumped up and rummaged through the bookshelves, sat again and watched Sadie wield a small brush, accidentally crushed a chrysalis, burst into tears—she was five, Henrietta reminded herself, still a little girl—and was consoled only when Henrietta pulled out a special low chair and set a screen partway around it, making Caroline a private corner.

“If you could help me,” Henrietta said, “I want to put you in charge of your sister. You,” she said firmly, depositing Elaine into the same calico-lined wooden box where Marion had once napped. “No one else. It’s a lot of responsibility but—”

“I can do it,” Caroline said, leaning protectively over the box. “Just me.”

When Henrietta was small, she’d loved the small square building behind the house: the workshop where her father dreamed up mechanical devices and built the patent models he sent off to Washington. A trickle of income from his most successful inventions still, years after his death, kept the family afloat. A few years after Henrietta started teaching at the high school, she decided that she’d work there just as he had—what could be more natural? Once she’d cleared the workshop out, polished the windows, and repainted the floor, it didn’t need much else. A coal stove, a sink, some shelves; she paid a handyman to install those. Then, delighted with the result, she moved in most of her specimens. Lovely, said her mother, who often complained of the clutter in the house. Perfect, she said, when Henrietta further transformed the building into an insect nursery.

Although really, Henrietta thought, her mother had to defend it. Otherwise, she might have seemed to be criticizing her daughter. The neighbors called it “the caterpillar room,” and while a few were charmed, others stopped crossing the back yard and Mrs. Weatherwax avoided the house entirely. Let them fuss, said Henrietta’s mother calmly. She showed curious visitors how the marvels inside were arranged. Caterpillars, chrysalides, cocoons, and eggs; breeding cages and glass jars filled with green branches; winged adults drinking from sugar water–sprinkled moss and everything neatly labeled: White-Lined Morning Sphinx. Hog Caterpillar of the Grape-Vine. Royal Walnut Moth.

At first, Henrietta kept those creatures in plain glass tumblers, as she’d learned from a book that her good friend Daphne gave her: Put your caterpillar upon a white paper, which you have first placed on an old book or other firm substance, and cover him with the glass. If you have several kinds at once, it is well to label the glasses. Write “Grape,” or “Apple,” or “Poplar” upon a slip of paper, and paste it upon the tumbler which covers that caterpillar you found upon the grape, apple, or other leaf. This will avoid confusion, as they one by one go into chrysalides. You can study each one separately, and you will know, as they come out of the chrysalides (which you have seen them make), just which is the moth of the grape, apple, or whatever your label indicates. You will thus know, also, at a moment’s glance, how to feed them. They know what they want, which is more than can be said of some people.

Henrietta, who in those days knew exactly what she wanted, quickly found this too simplistic, but she retained the obvious ideas, which she’d used in other areas, of labeling everything and keeping track of the caterpillars’ food plants. Soon she corralled her friend Mason Perrotte into helping her build breeding cages, a foot square and 18 inches tall, along two walls. Mason cut the glass and the wood, tacked the wire screening over the tops, sifted the dirt for the bases, and cleaned out jars to hold the leafy branches. He made a display stand to entice the first members of Henrietta’s Young Lepidopterists Club and later built smaller cases for her classroom. He left to Henrietta the preparation of the killing jars and the pinning of the specimens, but he kept good notes and his neat handwriting appeared on some of the labels. Until 1885, the year she shed Mason like an outgrown skin, he was an excellent helper.

The years immediately following Mason’s departure were surprisingly calm, despite the unpleasant way in which they’d parted. Surprisingly happy. Henrietta’s sister, Hester, startled her by marrying Ambrose Cummings, who owned the shoe and boot store in the village and was so quiet that Henrietta had hardly noticed him. At first, things didn’t change too much; they moved into a modest white house with red steps, a wide porch, a view of the Pleasant Valley through a frame of sturdy lilacs and trellised roses. Henrietta particularly liked that Hester’s new place was barely a mile from their family home and an easy walk from the high school. She was helping out with a new kitchen cupboard one day, a few months after the wedding, when Hester announced that she was pregnant.

Ambrose hammered four nails in the wrong place while talking giddily about their hopes for several sons. Surreptitiously, Henrietta inspected her sister’s waist—but Hester had always been nicely plump, with rounded forearms and calves and a smooth, short neck, and she looked no different. The changes came after she lost that baby and then, several years later, another. (Exactly what Henrietta had dreaded; their own mother had lost several between herself and Hester.) Her hair thinned and her feet swelled, but the doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and Henrietta feared she might be developing heart problems like those that now confined their mother to the house.

Perhaps, Henrietta suggested, Hester should avoid having children? But Hester said Henrietta understood nothing. Not about marriage, not about motherhood. “You’re 36,” Hester pointed out then. “Without even a prospect.”

And what was Henrietta supposed to say to that? Although she’d never told Hester about the painter Sebby Quint, her only regret about giving up Mason was the wreck of their long friendship and the gossip that had caused. Hester should have understood how limited her choices had otherwise been: only men crippled in one way or another, like Izzy Deverell, had returned from the war, and if Daphne had continued all this time with only the occasional gentleman friend, never settling into marriage, why shouldn’t she? These days, when acquaintances nudged her toward plausible mates, she talked about her work and, if they pressed further, pointed out her obligations to her students and her family. Not just all her mother needed, but her deep involvement in her sister’s life.

Which she could not, of course, say to her sister. Instead, as a way of counteracting Hester’s growing despair and aimlessness, Henrietta begged for her help in the caterpillar room.

“I need another pair of hands,” she said truthfully. “You’d be doing me a favor.”

To her delight, Hester, who hadn’t been interested in the caterpillars when she was a girl (she liked to sew, she liked to cook, she was a wizard gardener), agreed. Ambrose, who since Hester’s second miscarriage had been devoting his spare time to raising and rebuilding a steamship sunk at the village dock, encouraged her in this.

“You’re always finding caterpillars outside,” he said. “Even when no one else notices them.” Mostly he seemed relieved she might have something to do that didn’t involve him.

One late July afternoon, during Hester’s first year helping out, Henrietta led her into the vegetable patch behind the house where their mother had once taught them to pick hornworms off the tomato leaves and toss them into the chicken coop. Now they gathered a dozen smaller hornworms, about an inch long: through their third molt, Henrietta explained, but not yet their fourth, so the six young lepidopterists in her club would still have plenty to see. She’d been telling them how an adult might lay eggs, a larva be induced to pupate; how a chrysalis, treated kindly, might in some months open to reveal a moth that might lay eggs. They might work out a creature’s life history by starting anywhere.

Six little tin boxes for her six students; two caterpillars and a handful of fresh tomato leaves in each box: Hester helped with that. A few days later, the youngsters watched their caterpillars squirm and flex until the old skin burst behind the head and the face covering, pushed forward by the new, larger head, hung like a horse’s feed bag. As the new caterpillars crawled from their old skins, the youngsters noted the date and the time each broke free. Length 2 inches, Eleanor wrote. Pale-green head with white dots. Buff spiracles circled with black; long sharp horn in back; body bright green with yellow V-shaped markings. Very hungry!

Mandy, shielding her neck as if the caterpillar might leap up and bite her, said uneasily that they ate as if they’d never stop. The leaves in the boxes melted away, transformed into green flesh. Soon the caterpillars were as long and thick as Henrietta’s own substantial forefingers, and so strong that when Amy forgot to put the square of scrim Hester had given her over the tin box and under the lid, her caterpillars stood up on their hind prolegs and—were they squeaking?—pushed the lid off the box.

It was horrible to see her sister in pain, and yet to watch everything working as it should—a process she had seen before in cows and sheep and dogs—was also thrilling.

Thomasina quit the club after those heavy green heads poked out, but the others stalwartly added dirt to their boxes and watched the caterpillars burrow into it to emerge, two weeks later, as pulpy green pupae that hardened over a few hours into shapes they’d seen in their own gardens but not always recognized. Orestes marveled at the way the tube of the tongue case moved blindly through the air until the tip touched the wing covers and the whole structure solidified into a firm brown object, as shiny as a chestnut, with handsome curved segments and the tube containing the tongue arched back like the handle of a jug.

Later, after school started up, Henrietta showed those who continued in the club the five-spotted sphinx moths hatching out. The students sketched the black-encircled orange spots ornamenting each side of the torso and the soft gray back of the head. Lonny rendered the velvety eyes, but it was Hester, joining the youngsters, who captured the five-inch tongue unrolling and being shaken and then smoothed, like a lock of hair, before recurling into a little wheel. Later, after they released the moths, they found one making a sound like a tiny drill as it drank from a stand of evening primroses.

“That’s not a hummingbird?” Hester said, leaning in.

“Hummingbird moth,” Henrietta said. “Watch.” Four inches from the next flower, the creature hovered—not dipping a long beak in for the nectar, but instead unfurling that marvelous tongue. Hester was so pleased by this that she volunteered to help once more in the spring of 1892, although she was pregnant again.

Henrietta kept her worries to herself as Hester moved serenely through the months. Through June and July, Hester collected and labeled caterpillars; in August and September, she watched over the emerging moths and made sure they were mated before they laid their eggs. When Ambrose questioned her devotion, Hester swore that the atmosphere in the caterpillar room kept her healthy. At night, she told Henrietta, she sometimes wrapped her arms around her thickening torso and imagined her own body as a kind of sturdy pupa.

Was she joking? Henrietta, secretly appalled by that image, could not see even the trace of a smile on her sister’s face. With one hand, Hester cradled the swelling that was just beginning to show. No more lifting, bending, kneeling after that; Henrietta brought an armchair in for her sister, watched over her anxiously, and often went to her house in the evening to tend to the housework she didn’t want Hester to do. When the being inside moved visibly beneath the taut cloth of Hester’s dress, Henrietta tried not to imagine it bursting out.

Everything about the birth went easily, though. The snow sifted peaceably down to the frozen lake. The chickens roosted without complaint. While Henrietta helped the midwife, their mother sat near Hester’s head and held her hand and Ambrose paced between the leafless apple trees. A few hours later, Marion emerged, slick and wet and perfect. It was horrible to see her sister in pain, and yet to watch everything working as it should—a process she had seen before in cows and sheep and dogs, but never in a human—was also thrilling. Afterward, Henrietta brought her mother home and returned to find Hester and Marion already safely asleep.

By that spring, a young lepidopterist skirting the overgrown lilac bush might have seen through the windows of the caterpillar room a baby in a crate on the floor, looking among the other boxes filled with plants and dirt like a dahlia. A lovely child, everyone agreed. Marion fussed only when hungry or wet and seemed to enjoy the crate Henrietta had padded with towels and lined with calico. Hester, now convinced that nothing could be better for Marion than continued exposure to the habits of moths and butterflies, would, after nursing her, take up her perch on the stool and, leaning on the workbench, transcribe into a notebook the observations Henrietta dictated.

Surely, Henrietta thought, Marion gained some subtle benefit from watching her aunt and her mother work. By then, Henrietta was training the brothers and sisters of her first pupils, and the caterpillar room was so familiar to the village that people dropped by with questions and treasures. A neighbor with a fritillary he’d caught in his cap. Young Sally Sazerat with a fat Promethea cocoon. Little boys brought gold-dotted emerald chrysalides attached to milkweed leaves; farm wives brought fat hornworms they’d plucked indignantly from ravaged tomatoes; Taggart Blake, a favorite student, brought a snowberry clearwing, which he’d mistaken for a gigantic bumblebee. Didier Durand, trailing his younger brother Jasper, brought a tiger swallowtail he thought was a monarch. Even after Marion began to crawl, and then to walk, Henrietta and Hester kept her in the caterpillar room when she was napping. When she woke, they took her into the house, where their mother could watch her.

On an April Saturday in 1896, Henrietta got her first clue that Marion might not be an only child. A few weeks earlier, she’d brought her charges on an expedition she repeated every spring, searching for mourning cloak butterflies in the disappearing snow. Today she’d promised to show them the structure of the wings.

“We talked at our last meeting,” she said, “about the mourning cloak’s long life as an adult and its winter hibernation. Wiley and Sylvia were lucky enough to have their butterflies lay eggs, which are here on the willow twigs in our breeding cages. We’ll be able to follow these as they develop into caterpillars through the summer and then pupate. The specimens that Jennie, Leander, and Carl gathered expired before they laid eggs—but they lived a long time for butterflies, almost 10 months, and even dead, they have something to teach us.”

Behind her, Hester circled the worktable, offering each youngster two pieces of white notepaper before taking two for herself and settling down on the remaining stool. Henrietta followed with a tray of spread and pinned mourning cloaks. “They’re so dark,” she continued, laying one deep purplish-​brown specimen at each place, “that it’s even harder than usual to see the veins in the wings. We’re going to remove the scales so we can see the venation clearly.”

The air coming in through the partly opened windows was fresh and cool, smelling of earth and the granular snow still mounded in dark corners and against the walls. A cardinal was singing, some tufted titmice as well, as she showed Hester and the youngsters how to breathe on the top sheet of paper, lay it down over the butterfly wing on the bottom sheet, and then rub the top sheet gently with their fingernails. In that moment, Henrietta was so happy, she might have turned into a hummingbird moth herself.

“Lift the top papers gently,” she said. “Now let those scales fall into the little glass dish next to you, breathe on the paper again, and repeat.” Jennie smiled as the whole top wing became transparent, the veins standing out strongly. Henrietta pointed out the costal and subcostal veins, the multiple branches of the medial veins. Hester, who had done this exercise the previous spring, said from her end of the table, “I’m always amazed when this works.” The youngsters drew diagrams as Henrietta passed out hand lenses and talked about the strength of the skeletons they’d uncovered.

After she had them look at some of the scales, she and Hester cleared everything away, and then she brought out a little bottle of benzine, a paintbrush, and the last pinned specimen. “Here’s something else we can do,” she said. “When we have a rare specimen we don’t want to destroy, we can still get a quick look at the veins without scraping the scales off.”

She moistened a rag with the benzine and gently dabbed it over the wings. The color faded and then disappeared, leaving only the veins behind, their structure so clearly marked, there might have been no scales at all. “Look quickly,” she said, holding out her own hand lens. “It doesn’t last.”

She looked up as Hester made a noise and winced at the smell of the fumes. A few seconds later, Hester backed away from the table with both hands pressed to her mouth, stepped outside, and bent over the window box.

Caroline was born that November: as difficult, from the moment she entered the world upside down, as Marion had been easy. For a night and a day, Hester struggled to deliver her, so exhausted when Caroline’s head finally followed her feet that she fainted. Hester had trouble feeding her; Caroline had trouble eating; she cried and cried and didn’t gain weight, and Henrietta feared she wouldn’t survive. She seemed never to sleep. Hester developed mastitis and wept while she nursed. Caroline screamed and squirmed and tossed herself about so violently that Ambrose dropped her, twice, and after that refused to hold her. After six months, she still weighed less than she should have, but she was intensely alert, seeming to pay attention to everything. Often Henrietta could quiet her when no one else could, but even in Henrietta’s arms she never snuggled the way Marion had. Always she was busy, always looking around.

Hester, confined to her bed for two months, wasn’t herself even after she rose. The weight she’d gained carrying Caroline sat slackly, heavily, pooling around her hips and thighs without ever diminishing, and she now had trouble rising from a low chair or a stool. In the late afternoons, as soon as she could free herself from school, Henrietta began caring for Marion, either bringing her to the caterpillar room and entertaining her there, or taking her for walks in the woods, hoping that Hester might nap quietly with Caroline. Soon, though, Caroline stopped napping entirely.

What a temper she had! And what energy, pushing Marion away from Hester and, as she began to walk, darting off, breaking things, sometimes hurting her quieter sister. She grew quickly, like rhubarb, and at her grandmother’s funeral in 1899, a stranger seeing the two little girls thought they were the same age. Marion, holding one of Henrietta’s hands, walked quietly, but Caroline pulled so violently at Henrietta’s other hand that she couldn’t watch Hester, who during their mother’s last days had miscarried yet again.

But before she could begin work on those, Elaine was born: a month early, tiny but strong, with a cry so piercing, she seemed to sense this would be the only way to get what she needed.

Writing to Daphne, who by then had met Hester several times, Henrietta described how Hester had tottered through the funeral. How many times does she have to go through this? she wrote. Why don’t she and Ambrose just stop? Ambrose is useless and every year she gets less like herself, less like the girl I grew up with—although I guess this new person is also her “self.” I don’t feel like you and I have changed that violently, though. Is it just having children? Then she took another sheet of paper and, as if that gave her a clean new life, wrote to the naturalist Anna Comstock without saying a single word about her family.

I’d be delighted to write some “Nature Study” leaflets for your series, she wrote. After more than two decades of teaching high school and also running an extracurricular Young Lepidopterists Club in our village, I know how to interest children in the outside world and could devise standardized lessons any teacher might find useful as she begins her own program of Nature Study. I imagine one leaflet about the general study of moths and butterflies. Another, perhaps—drawing on the excellent work of Samuel Scudder, which I know has often inspired you—about the study of monarch migration. Others might follow, if these suited.

Or they’d follow, if she found the time—what had happened to her time? She taught her classes and prepared new classes; ran her labs and devised laboratory exercises; worked on projects with certain former students, especially Bernard. She directed this club, for which, since she’d started encouraging young pupils, she now had to design new projects. She tended her house and her garden and the caterpillar room while also, especially after Hester got pregnant again, helping care for Marion and Caroline. But this was important, and as soon as she heard back from Anna Comstock, she stole time to begin drafting a Nature Study leaflet she titled “Caterpillars and Their Moths.”

Not just an explanation of the life cycles of some common moths, but a way to shift the students’ focus from the glamorous winged forms, which often lived only a few days, to the resourceful crawling state in which they really spent most of their lives. The little worms hatching out of their eggs; the busily feeding middle instars with their fascinating molts; the fat creatures, decorated with hairs and tubercles and horns; and finally the astonishing transformations as they pupated—any schoolchild would be drawn to these. She wrote some introductory pages about necessary equipment and the rudiments of caterpillar anatomy and physiology, and in a separate notebook listed possible candidates for full life histories. Hornworms, which turn into hawkmoths. Hog caterpillars, which turn into fat-bodied Nessus sphinx moths. Perhaps the yellow-headed caterpillars with knobs first yellow and later red, emerging from leaf-wrapped cocoons as gigantic Promethea silk moths? All easily found, appealing to any young naturalist. But before she could begin work on those, Elaine was born: a month early, tiny but strong, with a cry so piercing, she seemed to sense this would be the only way to get what she needed.

Daphne came to visit that August, when Elaine was still nursing. After an uncomfortable supper at Hester’s house, Henrietta was reminded of how her sister’s life might look through other eyes: loud, messy, difficult, exhausting. Caroline chasing Marion up the stairs—was Caroline holding a fork? Marion hiding Caroline’s favorite toy, while Caroline shrieked. Elaine crying to be fed and then, after spitting up, crying again as her two older sisters quarreled in dangerously quiet tones. Caroline knocking over a coffee cup, stepping into the dark puddle, and then claiming it was an accident.

To Daphne, later, Henrietta apologized for the chaotic evening but then, thinking how Daphne’s presence had diverted her own attention, which might have caused some of the girls’ misbehavior, said, “I love being around my nieces, though. Even when they’re difficult.”

She couldn’t say to Daphne (she couldn’t admit it to herself) that what she felt for her nieces was largely the overflow of her fierce love for Hester. The girls were splinters of Hester, offshoots of Hester. It would take a few years before she’d learn to love them (some more than others) for themselves.

“It’s not my business,” Daphne said coolly: always solitary, never involved with her family more than superficially. Henrietta hadn’t met a single one of Daphne’s relatives and did not, she realized, even know most of their names.

Spring again—and still, as Daphne pointed out, the caterpillar booklet wasn’t done. Still, Hester wasn’t back to her old self, which meant that now Henrietta spent most late afternoons and early evenings at her sister’s house, helping make supper and feed her nieces, doing housework that Hester could no longer manage and that Ambrose, caught up now in some attempts by his friends to motorize a bicycle, ignored. Often, she brought Marion, who at nine was the same age as some of the younger pupils, to meetings of her young lepidopterists. She was not, Henrietta had to acknowledge, particularly interested in moths or other small creatures—bugs were crawly, frogs were slimy, snakes slithered, mice jumped. But as she liked being around her school friends and also liked flowering plants, Henrietta put her in charge of determining the names and growing habits of the plants the other children’s caterpillars ate.

Sometimes Hester was so exhausted that she begged Henrietta to take Caroline with her too, so that she could nap with Elaine. At five, Caroline was too young to sit still for long or to manage the tools the older children used—but she was genuinely fascinated by the caterpillars and moths. She made the room untidy, she ruptured Henrietta’s careful plans (where had the calm days with Hester gone?), but still, her interest was thrilling. Why? she asked, throughout the afternoons. Why did the caterpillars shed their skins? Why did some eat their shed skins, and why were the heads first too big and then too small, and why did some have horns? She tore open a chrysalis when Henrietta wasn’t looking, prying inside with a sharp stick: Why couldn’t she find the moth growing in there, and what was all that jelly? Henrietta had to guard against neglecting the others while devoting too much attention to Caroline’s questions and trying to explain to her what an experiment was, and how it was useful. Exhausting, that curiosity. Annoying—but also delightful. Less delightful was the pained look on Marion’s face when she saw her sister absorbing so much of Henrietta’s time.

Hence the rosy maple moths of that afternoon’s session: an offering. Pleasing in their color and texture if not their shape, a way of showing that Henrietta cared what Marion liked. She hadn’t counted on having Elaine with her that afternoon, though. Nor on Caroline being so curious about the wiggling pupae. As she tucked Elaine more securely into the crate on the floor, Henrietta looked into Caroline’s eyes and emphasized her responsibility again.

“Just you,” she repeated.

Caroline nodded, even as Henrietta resolved to watch the pair closely. The box was the same as when Marion had used it, but everything else was different. No Hester, working with her companionably. No beloved mother in the house across the garden, ready to take over if a baby cried. And all her youngsters this year were young.

Eager, though, and intelligent: Emily, Franklin, Clover, and James had helped Henrietta collect a heap of green-striped mapleworms last fall, decanting them carefully into shallow trays of earth that they dotted with maple leaves. They’d watched the redheaded worms burrow into the dirt and transform into slim dark pupae, but then, after Henrietta tucked the trays in the root cellar, they’d forgotten about them over the winter. Now they were thrilled to see them wake in the warm room. Clover touched the pointed fork on one and said, “Look! It moved!” And then Franklin said, “That one’s cracking open!”

Marion pushed her way nearer as the crack widened and the wet moth began to work its way out. The head, the bedraggled antennae, the front legs and then the bulge of the damply furred back—soon the entire moth emerged, tottered over to climb the twig Henrietta had stuck in the dirt, and, clinging head upward, began to unfold its wings. So pink, so yellow! Marion smiled as if presented with the little peony the moth resembled and watched without speaking as the fluid pumping through the veins began to expand the crumpled membranes.

Clover and Emily timed the stages and took notes; Franklin sketched several views of the process; James remembered to check the other pupae and was rewarded by spotting a second one beginning to eclose. Marion continued to watch the first moth, which grew lovelier by the minute, with an interest that pleased Henrietta, until Clover raised her head, looked past Henrietta’s shoulder, and said, in a startled voice, “Should she be doing that?”

The top blade, pointed toward Elaine’s feet, was visible above the cotton blanket enclosing her; the other was under—oh, let it only be under the blanket and the dress!

Henrietta turned to follow Clover’s gaze and then with two quick strides reached Elaine’s empty box. Bent stomach-down over Caroline’s knees, Elaine lay quite still, neither crying nor squirming: such a good baby, always. Caroline—where had she gotten scissors?—was using one hand to press down the back of Elaine’s head and the other to control the sharp blades. The top blade, pointed toward Elaine’s feet, was visible above the cotton blanket enclosing her; the other was under—oh, let it only be under the blanket and the dress!

Henrietta slid the scissors out, dropped them to the floor, and then seized Elaine and parted the cut fabric. A scratch ran from the base of the baby’s neck a few inches along her spine, not all the way through the skin except in one place, about an inch down, which oozed a bright drop of blood. When Henrietta pressed the tip of her finger there, Elaine finally wailed. Only then did Henrietta let herself look at Caroline.

“What—?” Henrietta said. She was breathing so quickly, she thought she might faint. “What—?”

Caroline stood up. “I was turning her,” she explained patiently. Bending down, she reached for the scissors—but there was Marion, knocking Caroline’s arm away. She seized the scissors herself, she closed the blades. She held the instrument by the points, looking as if she wished it were a stiletto.

“Why do you always—?” she said to her sister.

As calmly as she could, Henrietta told her to sit with the others. Then she said, to Caroline, “What do you mean, ‘turning her’?”

“Into a person,” Caroline explained. “Someone who can talk and play with me. Like the caterpillar turns into the brown thing. Like the brown thing turns into the moth. An experiment, like you said, so—the skin always opens there, right at the back of the neck. I thought if I opened Elaine’s wrapping, she might come out sooner.”

The noise Henrietta heard from the table was, she realized, Marion jabbing the points of the scissors into the wood. Hester, Henrietta thought. Where was Hester, where was Hester?

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Andrea Barrett is the author of Archangel (a finalist for the Story Prize), Servants of the Map (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), Ship Fever (winner of the National Book Award), and other books. This story will appear in her forthcoming collection, Natural History. She lives in the eastern Adirondacks near Lake Champlain.


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