From Chapter 1:
I went on more quietly. "Why won't you answer any of my questions?"
"I did answer one—about your mother," GM replied, averting her eyes.
I wasn't going to let her get away so easily. "No, you told me something I already knew—my mother died of a fever. You didn't tell me why anyone would believe she'd been murdered. That is what Galina was saying wasn't it? That a man from your old village had killed her? And why wouldn't you allow Galina to say his name?"
GM looked at me, and I could see a distant flicker of pain in her eyes.
She held out her hand. "If you will go upstairs with me, I will tell you a story. It will help to explain."
I hesitated. Too often, GM had distracted me when I had asked questions like these—she had diverted my attention from the past and sidestepped my questions without ever refusing to answer them outright. I feared she would talk around me again.
My questions would evaporate the way they always did.
"Please, Katie, come with me," GM said, her voice low and pleading. "You know the past is difficult for me."
I resigned myself and took GM's hand.
We went up to my room.
GM switched on the light. The lamp by my bed had a faded shade with yellow sunbursts on it. I'd kept it for years, refusing a new one when GM had wanted to redecorate. My mother and I had painted the shade together one summer long ago.
GM smoothed back the quilt on my bed. "Let me tuck you in." She sounded sad and tired.
After I had settled under the covers, GM sat down beside me.
"I will tell you something I have never told you before, Katie. The night your mother died—"
GM's voice quavered, and she stopped.
She composed herself, and then went on.
"The night your mother died was the worst of all—for the fever, I mean. It had raged through her body, and she had reached a point at which she could no longer find comfort of any kind. She couldn't eat or drink; she couldn't sleep. She couldn't even close her eyes for more than a few moments to rest—she said closing them made the burning behind them worse. On that last night, she kept calling for your father, and of course, your poor father was already gone—dead in that terrible accident. She was crying out for him to protect you. Even in her delirium, she knew she wouldn't last long."
GM paused again. Her chin had begun to tremble.
She composed herself once more and went on in a low voice. "When I could make her understand who I was—when I could make her understand that I was her mother—she begged me to protect you. She said, 'Swear to me that you will always protect Katie.' She need hardly have asked for that—the desire to protect you had been in my heart since the day you were born. But I swore it to her then, and I swear it to you now. On my life, I will always protect you."
GM stared at me steadily as she said the words, and I felt tears stinging my eyes. Soon they began to fall.
"After I made my promise," GM said, "Nadya seemed to grow calmer. She asked to see you. I brought you in, and she kissed you on the forehead. You were sleeping and didn't wake. Then she sang her favorite piece of music—no words, just a hum. Do you remember it?"
I nodded. When I was a child, my mother had often sung the same melody to me. It was from a piece of music by Mussorgsky.
GM went on. "Not long after she finished singing, Nadya was gone. I swore to her that I would protect you, and I have. And I will. That's why I moved you out of the old village. That's why I moved you out of Russia right after your mother died. I had to get you as far away as I could from people like Galina. She is a good woman, but her thinking is trapped in the Dark Ages. She would warp your mind as she warped your mother's. She has nothing for you but superstition and shadows."
GM rose. "I love you, Katie. Believe me when I say there is nothing out there. There is nothing in the dark."
She pressed a kiss to my forehead, as she'd said my mother had once done, and then left the room, closing the door behind her. And I was left feeling less comforted, rather than more so.
I was grateful to hear a story about my mother, even though it was painful—I could feel her love reaching out to me across the years. But as I had feared, GM hadn't actually answered any of my questions—instead she'd left me with more.
Why had she said there was nothing in the dark?
What was she was afraid of?