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The Button Factory

button3Eighteen people. That’s all it took to carry away the place of Roy Gen’s most important memories. He watches the high school football team slide eight long slabs of wood underneath the sagging tin walls and then lift the little building straight off of its sinking concrete foundation. With not even a single grunt of effort, they bear the building, with its broken, wooden windowpanes and faded red trim, onto a waiting trailer.

            In less than fifteen minutes, the trailer, towed by a pale blue pick-up truck, rolls away, the old building perched precariously upon it. In a few hours, it will be sitting in a corner of the Randolph County Heritage Museum. Although Roy knows he has chosen this, a little touch of gloom wraps itself around his heart. Gloom isn’t a feeling he is unfamiliar with; often it comes etched with self-reproach. It is the feeling he gets when he sometimes lingers over the stretch of weed-choked concrete where the grand opera house once stood or on the bank of the Black River where two worn pillars of cement are all that remain of the old train bridge, and especially the empty lot at the corner of Barre and South Marr, the only part of Pocahontas he wants to forget. Roy doesn’t like to think he’s the sentimental type, but it’s hard for an older man born in the early 20’s to not get weighed down with at least a little nostalgia when he lives in Pocahontas, Arkansas.

Pocahontas, Arkansas. A town obsessed with its past. Everywhere you look, nostalgia comes knocking at the door. Perhaps if they had rebuilt something over the old opera house or built new bridges or even put another house on the empty lot, Roy wouldn’t feel these twinges of gloom, but they never did. The “downtown” area, with its tiny, perfectly square blocks and worn brick buildings, half of them boarded up, speak of an older time where businesses were almost entirely local and technology had not yet snatched away the jobs of simple craftsmen.

In its golden age, the time when Roy’s father had been growing up, Pocahontas had been a hub of innovation. One of Roy’s earliest memories was fishing with his father on the bank of the Black River next to the steel railroad bridge that had seemed impossibly huge. A ferry was making its way up the river with a gentle whump, whump from its giant paddle wheel and steam streaming from its slender smokestack. The peace of the moment —the lapping of the water, the whir of the paddle, the rustle of summer leaves in the breeze — was suddenly pierced by a hair-raising, metallic screech, and Roy watched in amazement as the giant bridge, as if by its own accord, started to move. Within a few moments, the bridge had turned itself completely parallel to the banks of the river and the ferry was passing through the space where the bridge had just stood.

“I’d come down here every day after they built that bridge,” his father told him. “Second of its kind in the entire world. We kids used to wave at the barges as they went past. Thought it was the most miraculous thing in the world.”

It was sitting on the dusty cement floor of his father’s button factory that Roy decided Pocahontas was the most exciting place in the world to live. Sometimes he would be in there all day as his father laid out the mussels they had collected from the Black River, hand-carved the shells into button blanks shaped like spheres, discs, snowflakes, and flowers, ground off the outside shell, and then, using his pedal-powered drilled, bore buttonholes into them. Roy would attend to the smaller chores such as sweeping shavings and polishing finished buttons with pumice stone while listening to his father’s stories. There were tales of rich people flowing into downtown Pocahontas, excited to stay in one of the seven lavish hotels and bathe in the hot springs that could supposedly cure any stomach ailment, the scandal of how Pocahontas had become the County Seat for Randolph County (which involved a barbeque and lots of alcohol), and the mystery of why the town was named after a famous Indian girl.

Despite the closing of his father’s button factory after the war—the time when pearl buttons had gone out of fashion, making way for cheap plastic buttons—Roy still sat on the increasingly dusty floor for certain occasions, and sometimes just to let the thin tin shield him from the ever changing outside world. He’d sat there the morning before he married Evelyn, the morning after his son, Dennis, had been born, the evening after they had buried Evelyn, the afternoon he’d lost Dennis.

As he and the button factory aged, his thoughts wandered even more to his father’s stories of 1896 and the golden years that followed—a time when mussels lined the bottom of the Black River, when fathers and sons harvested them by the boatful in the mornings and in the afternoons transformed the slime-covered shells into iridescent, mother-of-pearl buttons. A time when trains groaned and clanked over the newly laid tracks through town and a time long before electricity reached personal homes.  If only his life had taken place fifty years early—at first this had only been a fleeting thought, but now it is so familiar it has become his reality— he might still have his family.

 

 

Dennis was ten when the pedal-powered drill sitting in the dark far corner of the button factory fell on his right hand, fracturing three bones and leaving a deep, two-inch gash. It was Thanksgiving Day, 1970. His mother smelled of nutmeg when she knelt down to unfurl his body from around his misshapen hand, the cold pearl buttons of her sweater pressing against his cheek as he lay trembling across her lap. It wasn’t the first time Evelyn had comforted him and held him close, but it was the first time he’d accepted the comfort with all of his heart. Perhaps it was the adrenaline that made him so aware of all these little details, her hands only a little warmer than the buttons, her voice strengthened by the echo-y tin walls. He hadn’t looked up at her face; it was every sense but taste and sight that he clung to for comfort. These were the details that became his mother whenever he needed her again. These were the little things he kept, tucked away as memory and words.

Roy had driven them all to Five Rivers Medical Center, Grandma Gens sitting in the front, Dennis and Evelyn in the back, the half-prepared Thanksgiving dinner left in Grandma Gens’s kitchen. As Dennis’s hand was wrangled back into shape by a doctor’s brisk, gloved hands and ten stiches, his mother sat next to him but barely spoke. Grandma Gens was still in the waiting area, dozing with a magazine on her lap. It was Roy who filled the hours with words while pacing back and forth. All of the light stories and jokes about buttons and bones and Pocahontas felt odd to Dennis, even after the sedatives wore off. Silence had never been uncomfortable to the three of them and to hear his father so obviously try to keep talking for Dennis’s entertainment made him feel uncomfortable. He preferred the silence and the soothing space between him and his mother, knowing that if he leaned back to touch her, she would be there.

Finally, while they were waiting for the stuffy, white cast to dry, Roy returned to a topic that felt comfortable. The button factory. He talked about the drill, how he used to regularly smear its chains and gears with oil that clung to his hands long after he’d washed them and how each rotation of the pedals, after hours and hours of drilling buttonholes, would burn your thighs.

“What were you doing with it?” his father had asked, stopping his pacing and looking straight at Dennis. Some of the mellowness left his voice when he said, “You know, I wasn’t even allowed to touch it until I was thirteen.”

“Roy,” Evelyn said.

The sinking inflection she placed on his father’s name warmed Dennis and he thought he could smell the sweet tang of nutmeg again. Sitting there with his numbed arm in front of him, he felt like he was wrapped in his mother’s arms again, warm and content. He couldn’t answer his father’s question.

“Dennis?” his father persisted, still gazing at him.

“Roy,” Evelyn said again with the same intonation, “he couldn’t have made that thing budge even if he’d wanted to. It’s almost twice his size. Everything that’s wood in there is disintegrating. The platform most likely wasn’t stable anymore.”

Dennis was glad for the silence that followed. The vibrations of words on his ears or from his own throat didn’t need to disrupt the peaceful haze that was settling over him. He had put a hand on the drill, maybe even leaned on it a little, for balance, of course, while looking down into the crevice beside the platform for lucky pennies and shards of shell. But he hadn’t meant for it to come crashing down. His mother knew this Dennis was convinced. She wouldn’t let his father get angry or disappointed with him. She would keep things calm and comfortable while his contentment overwhelmed the faint pain in his hand and his father’s questions.

The evening skipped and skittered by in snapshots of conscious for Dennis. He had to walk himself back to the car, although his father had a hand on his elbow, in the purple gloom of sunset, he had to turn his face for a goodbye kiss from Grandma Gens, he had to lift his legs up the carpeted stairs to his room, his mind still so muted with sleep that he didn’t seize up with fear at the opaque darkness filling each doorway he passed.

“Bunny lamp,” Dennis mumbled as Evelyn kissed him goodnight. She pushed in the worn switch at the base of the painted porcelain lamp on Dennis’s dresser. Its fuzzy orange, gold light illuminated the room and she looked around to make sure there weren’t any scary, shadowy shapes, even though she knew Dennis was already fast asleep.

“I was thinking about what you said earlier,” Roy murmured once she stepped out into the hallway, “about the rotting wood.”

“Mm?”

“You were right,” he said. “I looked after I walked mom to the house.”

Evelyn simply nodded.

“I didn’t mean to be harsh when I asked Dennis…”

“We both knew you didn’t, dear,” she assured him, flicking on the light in their bedroom. She continued to move through the room, preparing her night outfit, but Roy remained in the doorway.

“Do you think Dennis would like rebuilding those platforms and tables?” he asked after several beats of silence.

“I never thought he was that into carpentry.”

“But he likes the button factory.”

“I think he looks for the wonder you see in it,” Evelyn said, looking directly at Roy.

“And if we restored part of it maybe he’d find it for himself.”

The edge of hope in Roy’s voice was unmistakable. Sometimes she was in awe of how deeply established that little tin building was in his life.

“I think you need to wait for his hand to be restored first,” she said with a hint of irony. “But then, by all means, ask him if you want.”

For the rest of the time before they went to bed, Evelyn and Roy were silent. It was their usual, comfortable silence. Evelyn often wondered if Roy was a hundred years away in his head during this time, and she wondered where the button factory stayed in his mind. When she was younger, Evelyn had craved a physical connection to the past—pictures, old diaries, little knick-knacks that maybe were once favorite toys.  It was that craving that had brought her to curating and eventually Pocahontas. But after living with Roy for eleven years, she had become wary of the tentacle-like nature of the past. She loved his passion and she loved his confidence with where he stood within his beloved town, but sometimes she felt like she might lose him among the mother-of-pearl buttons and old steam ships that filled up so much of his present.

 

 

There is a silver dollar-sized dent in the fourth tin sheet on the right side of the button factory facing Haws Street. It is there because Roy was afraid of being left alone in his old town, which is beginning to feel more like a ghost town.  Somehow, despite remaining in the town he believes to be a large portion of who he is, he feels like he is losing more and more of himself as the years go on. Still, he reasons, if he leaves Pocahontas, then he will simply lose all of himself.

Roy runs his fingers, starting to stiffen a little with age, over the dented tin, recalling the rippling cacophony that had resulted in the stone striking the old building, just below its wooden window frame. The maroon paint is badly peeling off the wood and the bottom edges of the tin walls are starting to flair out, the little building slowly beginning to shrink under its own weight. Roy understands.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Ellis Voss leave her front door, plastic green watering can in hand. She makes to water her azaleas, but Roy knows why she was really out there. He wonders if she knows how much just seeing her tortures him.

“Afternoon, Roy,” she calls across their lawns. He turns as to not be rude and faces her.

“Hello Ellis.”

“Dennis doing all right up in New York?”

Roy is glad he is far away from the shrub line that separates their properties. That way she can’t see any flickers of annoyance or pain on his face.

“Well, I don’t know if he’s quite settled in,” Roy says, knowing fully well that Dennis was making it as clear as possible that his life in New York was infinitely better than his life in Pocahontas.

“Big change from Black River Community College. Oh, but he’ll be fine. Never seen a young man work that hard to get where he wanted. Even after what happened, poor boy, never seemed to miss a step. That one’ll go far.”

Even after all of these years, she still has that nasty habit of truncating sentences. She uses the exclamation “oh” too much for a lady now in her middle years, and her speech is superfluous and rushed, like she is in a hurry to spit out everything she has to say because it is the juiciest piece of gossip you’ll ever hear. He can still remember the first time this kind of speech slapped him in the face, turning off of South Marre onto Barre with Dennis sitting in the passenger seat next to him and seeing the crowd, tasting the smoke. It was like cold water drawing him out of a deep sleep.

I was walking up the sidewalk when I saw the smoke. Oh, I ran into the Cheever’s house as fast as I could, called 911 right then and there. Then all we could do was just stand there, all helpless-like. Hoped everyone had made it out. It was horrible, Roy, wishing we could do something.

            Oh, he was sure it was horrible. Yes, so horrible to watch someone else’s life go up in smoke, literally, while you got to stand there untouched, able to go back to your life.

Staring across their lawns, Roy feels the old anger rising up in him. He manages a grimaced smile and says, “Yes, he’ll be fine. He’s a great son, thank you,” before turning around and walking through the narrow wooden door of the button factory. Why did it hurt so much to say the words “great son?”

Because it was a lie.

Roy tries to stop the oncoming thoughts, but they overwhelm, as they often do during his darkest times. Dennis hadn’t even said goodbye before he left for New York. Roy had gotten home from the museum to find his son’s room cleared out and his car packed full.

“I’ve got a job in New York,” was all he said before slamming the door and starting the engine.

What kind of son did that? Without even leaving an address or phone number? But especially, what kind of son did that after it was his fault that his father was a widower.

And what kind of father still blamed his son a decade later for an accident that had destroyed both of their lives?

Roy knows why Dennis left and Roy knows why he left the way he did. There is no forgiveness, though. It is Roy’s greatest failure, but despite that he can never shake the thought that Evelyn’s death was Dennis’s fault. It is a thought more obscene than any other tangle of nesting nightmares, but it is easy.

It is Roy’s own fault that he’s sobbing on his hands and knees, weak with grief, alone in the button factory.

 

It was a year after Dennis’s father had donated the button factory to the Randolph County Heritage Museum, saying he felt responsible to add his own tiny part to the collective knowledge of Pocahontas’s past, that Ellis Voss called Dennis.

“Saw him walking down the middle of the road,” she had said. “I was watering my plant baskets at the time. Asked him where he was going, said he didn’t know. Looked real dazed and also a little gaunt. Asked if he’d been eating all right, and he said, ‘Sure, sure,’ with this vague sort of air. Hadn’t seen him about too much before that, figured he was just getting on and it was harder for him to get out.”

Dennis thanked her for informing him and assured her he would fly out to Pocahontas as soon as he could. He hung up the phone and groaned. His wife, Syl walked into the room, just returning from putting their son Jeremy down for a nap. When she asked what was wrong, he told her that Ellis Voss—Syl frowned when she heard that name—had called and thought that his father had symptoms for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Her sister had it,” Dennis explained, listlessly wrapping the phone cord around his pointer finger and then unwrapping it, wrapping it and unwrapping it. “She says it doesn’t look like the early signs either. More advanced, like he’s starting to forget to eat.”

“Sounds like we need to start packing for a trip to Pocahontas,” Syl said matter-of-factly, “and maybe make plans for your dad to live in a nursing home near here.” She looked ready to leave the room, like she was actually about to go dig out their old, hotel-carpet-ugly luggage pieces, but Dennis threw his head back over the edge of the couch and spread his limbs out.

“I just got the promotion,” he protested, making himself believe that each word felt like it was unwillingly wrenched from his throat, but in reality, it was too easy for him to say.

Syl simply looked at him. She already knew his selfish ways and it never ceased to amaze him that she still stayed.

“I think you should call your work,” she said. “They’ll understand if you have to take a few days off for your father.”

Dennis remained splayed on the couch, wondering if he kept hanging his head off the back that gravity might slowly pull it all the way to the ground. Syl already knew that he was a coward as well, but still, he didn’t dare mention to her his fear of the shadows that awaited him in Pocahontas.

 

“It wasn’t really a factory, not the way we’d think of one,” Dennis told the nurse with copper highlights in her dark hair. Her name was April, he was pretty sure. Maureen was the short one with a nose that ended in a sharp, thin point, like someone had taken it and squished the very tip between their fingers. As for the on-call doctor, whose thinness was as striking as Maureen’s nose, Dennis couldn’t remember his name. It was only April who was really listening to Dennis explain about his father’s old button factory.

“Couldn’t have been more than—oh, fifteen feet by eight feet,” he continued as April sorted his father’s medicine into its own metal drawer within the larger combination locked medicine cabinet. “It was like a shed really. Took less than twenty high school football players to move it.”

April nodded as she closed the drawer and shut the cabinet. She gave the combination lock a decisive twirl and looked at Dennis.

“We have a few nights each week where the residents do arts and crafts,” she said with a smile. “Hopefully we can get him painting and creating again.”

Dennis moved the corners of his mouth up but kept his lips tight over his teeth. It was supposed to be an assured kind of smile, but he knew his doubts kept that from happening completely.

I’d lose something, Denny.

He heard the fear in his father’s voice as if it were yesterday, the words soft but still clear and smooth, so full of blind yearning that Dennis knew it was useless to say anymore.

If we left, I’d lose something— something that’s me.

 

            The foreboding way the sunlight reaches through the blinds—like it knows it isn’t supposed to be there. The thin, scratchy sheets crinkled in disarray, the knowledge that fixing them is the least important thing to see to that day.

Evelyn.

Roy stands up. What is he doing sitting around by himself? In truth, he can’t remember how he’s gotten there—it’s probably the stress and exhaustion. None of that matters, though. He has to go see Evelyn. The grey metal door to the room is ajar; he walks through with purpose. In the hallway, he looks left and then right, in each direction there are those doors, solid and grey, indistinct. It gives him the uneasy feeling of being trapped in a very small space that he can’t see the walls of. And for the life of him, he can’t remember which door Evelyn is behind.

The door to his right is also slightly ajar, surely a nurse will be in there who will understand his intrusion and point him in the right direction. Roy knocks softly and pushes on the cold metal, it gives way to darkness.

“Evelyn,” he whispers, more out of a sense of unease than anything else, “I’m looking for Evelyn.”

“Evelyn.”

The name is a statement, not a question, and it drifts out of the gloom like a ghost.

A ghost. Roy shivers, silently begging to no one that he isn’t too late. There are a few moments of silence.

“Do you want me to find her for you?” the voice finally replies. It is slow and wispy and eerie. “I can find her for you. Come here. I can find her for you. Find her. Evelyn. Come here.”

Slowly, the outline of a room becomes clearer, the blinds are thick and drawn completely; only the yellow glow of a nightlight placed in the back corner creeps through the room.

The nightlight. Well, the lamp, but they had called it a nightlight. It had a bunny rabbit on it, a white one sitting on its hind legs, surrounded by shaded green grass and bluebells. His mother had placed it on his dresser, back when he thought shadows could swallow you whole. Evelyn had placed it on Dennis’s dresser when he was small enough to think the same thing. It turned out the shadows it chased away weren’t what you had to worry about.

With all of his thoughts on Evelyn, the blue, black smudge around her face, the hoarse wheeze of fresh air being drawn into her lungs, Roy approaches the small, square table in the corner opposite of the nightlight.

 

 

“We leave the doors open for most residents so they can socialize as they wish,” April explained to Dennis as they left the empty room that had once contained his father. “They can’t go that far anyways. See?”

She pointed inside the room directly next to them. The door was wide open but the lights were off. Two hunched figures sat at the small card table in the corner. On the middle of the door, the number 11 was painted in black and just below it was a piece of pink construction paper with the name Dorothy written on it in curvy, purple print.

“Here,” a woman’s wispy voice was saying. “Just look here.”

“I know she’s here,” his father was saying over her, his words coming out uneven. “Just… where?”

April broke into the awkward conversation, if you could even call it such a thing. It was like they were both talking to a ghost that the other couldn’t perceive.

“Roy” —the nurse’s saccharine tone made Dennis wince — “I see you’ve met Dorothy.”

His father did not turn, but he did speak.

“Evelyn.”

A shard of something—grief, perhaps, though it seemed too long ago to still be grief—shot through Dennis’s heart.

“No, this is Dorothy,” April gently cajoled as she entered the room and put an arm around his father’s drooping shoulders. Dennis followed hesitantly. The drawn shades, the stuffy room, the metal door with its number, next to another metal door with a number, next to another metal door with a number, and so on, forever, unknown familiarity, everything the same but so different, all of it reminded him of her too.

Dennis forced himself to focus on the lady April was introducing as Dorothy. It made him feel guilty, like he was staring at someone else’s hidden mess. She was holding up a globe, a little one made out of foam that one might squeeze if he were having a stressful day. Before her, a deck of cards was spread out in a circle, a King of Spades, a Six of Hearts, the Joker, all randomly jumbled together it seemed to Dennis. She looked up at him, her dark eyes, reprimanding and proud, framed by smooth, pale skin.

“Here. See?” she said in her wispy but commanding voice.

She held the globe a little closer to him, the movement causing what looked like a chain to clink around her neck. A second look revealed to Dennis that it wasn’t a single, thick chain but a mass of necklaces with open lockets dangling from them.

His father spoke up again.

“She’s where?”

None of this seemed to faze April. She too was looking at the necklace chains and gave Dorothy an exasperated smile.

“Where did you get these?” she asked, reaching toward the lockets, but Dorothy swatted her hand away with surprising agility.

“Mine,” the old woman snapped.

“Mine,” she said again, but this time her voice was calm. It was chilling how quickly her tone had changed.

April sighed and stood up, a ridiculously sympathetic smile still lingering on her face. “Maureen is going to come in here and help you return all of those necklaces, alright, Dorothy? We’re going to get Roy settled in now. Mind your cards.”

She took his father’s hand and gently pulled him towards the door. He sat still, looking straight ahead.

“Come on, Roy,” April said, her voice still sugary sweet. “Let’s get you back to your room.”

He stood up, though he made no motion that indicated he had heard April. He trailed behind when she led him out of the room, eyes glazed over, face emotionless. But once they were in the hallway, he turned and looked straight at Dennis. In that moment, Dennis felt sure his father had suddenly remembered again who he was. Then the name left his mouth.

“Evelyn,” he said simply.

Dennis hated how steadily he held his father’s pleading blue eyes. He hated how calm his own voice sounded.

“It’s Dennis, Dad, your son. Mom… Evelyn… She was in another hospital, it was a long time ago.”

For a moment, his father didn’t move. He stared at Dennis, much like a fawn might stare at a car barreling towards it. And then his entire body seemed to deflate as the memory, or some vague etching of what was once memory, returned. Reality reestablishing itself—for now.  His blue eyes dropped to the floor.

“The button factory,” he said softy. “ The trimmings need painting now.”

Dennis felt a little relief that he no longer had the heart to tell his father that, that, too, was gone.

 

 

The silver dollar-sized dent in the fourth tin sheet on the right side of the button factory was still there. It was there because Dennis had been afraid of the dark. He remembered throwing the stone, cool and angled in the palm of his hand, the release of tension, frustration, loathing as he hurled it through the air. The rippling cacophony that was so loud it still startled him even though he was prepared for it. In that startled moment, he had recognized that the tension, frustration, and loathing were not for his father, who would not let him leave Pocahontas for college; they were for himself. He remembered reasoning, not for the first time, that if he had not been such a cowardly thirteen year old, if he had gotten over his fear of the dark like a normal teenage boy, and if he had not been such a lazy son and turned out his stupid little bunny lamp, then the old lamp wouldn’t have shorted the system, the fire wouldn’t have occurred and his mother would still be alive.  He would have been able to get out of Pocahontas, and his father wouldn’t have had to worry about being left alone. In the end, even with his father’s obsession with the town, everything that had happened, everything that had caused this, it was solely Dennis’s fault. And it was his fault that on the day of his father’s funeral, he stood in the back storage room of the Randolph County Heritage Museum in front of his father’s button factory feeling nothing. Indifferent seemed too harsh of a word for the situation, but he couldn’t deny the truth.

“Do you think Grandpa would like it?”

Jeremy, had suddenly appeared by his side, holding a drawing in his hand.

“I thought it looked better with you in it,” Jeremy said. “It really shows how little it is.”

Dennis looked carefully at his son’s drawing. Despite only being ten, he was showing signs of being a promising artist. Drawn in the professional Prismacolor pencils that he’d helped his father pick out before he had lost the ability to form coherent sentences, was the old button factory with Dennis standing before it, gazing at the little structure, perhaps trying to find in it whatever his father had loved so much.

“How long were you in here drawing?” Dennis asked.

Jeremy shrugged. “As long as you were there looking at it.”

“I think Grandpa would love it,” Dennis said quietly. “Maybe you can put it with him. I’m sure he would want something to remind him of this place.”

Jeremy glanced up at Dennis, looking surprise. Then he looked up to the button factory. Dennis could see the unease in Jeremy’s face. He remembered it too well—the first time he knew he would be seeing a dead body. He hadn’t been much older than Jeremy then, only thirteen. He wondered if Jeremy was thinking about how he should act during the ceremonies. Dennis knew that was all he worried about before his mother’s funeral—did people expect him to cry? Or was he expected to sit solemnly, like a man.

“We should repaint it,” Jeremy said suddenly.

“What?”

“We should repaint the button factory,” Jeremy repeated, and when he turned to look at Dennis there was excitement in his eyes. “Before we go back home we should do it. It won’t take too long, we just have to paint the trim.”

Dennis touched the mark that he had made, wondering if it was the second biggest mark he had made in his father’s life, this little dent on his cherished past. Next to Dennis, Jeremy was leaning his hands against the corroding tin walls and staring up at the little window frames with an open mouth. He was lucky—he didn’t yet know the tricks of the past, how it could hold on to you, vice-like, its invisible tentacles wrapping onto every part of your life, forcing itself into the future.

“Before we leave,” Dennis agreed, “we can repaint the button factory.”

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