Once upon a time a woman disappeared from a dead-end street. Her name was Karen Blackbird. She was a skinny, cheerful, nervous woman with muddy circles under her eyes and kinky, badly kept, light-brown hair. She was five-foot-one or five-two or five-three. She had a tattoo shaped like a cherub that only a few people knew about, and a bit of pencil point in the palm of her right hand that she’d gotten in fourth grade tripping up a flight of stairs. She liked to show it to children. “I could have got lead poisoning,” she’d say, fingers spread to flatten out her hand. “No, you couldn’t’ve,” the smarter children said, “pencils aren’t really made of lead, they’re made of graphite.” Still, they liked to look at the X-ray gray speck that broke her life line in half. The children knew nothing about palmistry, little about life lines, less about love, but they believed in life lines and love lines the way they believed in mercury thermometers: they meant something, but probably you needed a grown-up to read them. “It means I’ll write my own fate,” Karen Blackbird would have said, if asked. The children, including her own son, didn’t care that Karen Blackbird was forty-two: all of adulthood seemed one undifferentiated stretch of time. But the ages of objects excited them. When Karen Blackbird disappeared, the graphite in her palm was thirty-three years old.
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