Alice read John Mark’s letter, her eyes narrowed, as I paced our tiny apartment. The envelope contained in-structions for retrieving two sets of human remains from the University of Florida. I sometimes worked for John Mark, the director of the Milwaukee Public Museum, in exchange for modest paychecks and access to the museum’s research collection. I often did the jobs the museum interns refused to do, like retrieving artifacts originally accessioned by the MPM from other institutions and bringing them back to Milwaukee. I hadn’t taken one of these jobs since before Tess was born, afraid to leave her or Alice, but we were so poor we had begun to eat only the casseroles Alice’s mother sent over in weekly batches.
Alice tossed the letter on the coffee table. She wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead. I thought about how sweaty she used to get after her long runs up and down the Beerline. How good her skin tasted. I couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone running.
“So you want to go?”
“I don’t,” she said.
“I’ll drop you at your mother’s, then.”
Alice’s mother refused to speak to me because we’d had Tess out of wedlock. Once, she’d called the apartment, and when I picked up the phone, she whispered, You’re my penance, William. She loved Tess, it was obvious, but she acted as if Alice were a single mother. Their relationship had become fraught.
“Like hell you will,” Alice said.
I threw my hands up. “What then? We need this money.”
“Shush,” Alice whispered. “You’ll wake her.” She was right; Tess began then to make low, wet noises from the other room.
I went to get her but Alice said, “She’s fine.” She wanted Tess to learn to calm herself down. Were babies even capable of that kind of thing?