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February 2001

Sylvia Levine (née Amado) had been brooding for months. She had begun to worry in November, looking through the checking account history, a task which had once afforded her relief and pleasure. Now she couldn't stop obsessing over what she had discovered. Her mother-in-law had passed away over a year ago, and her husband Jack had inherited everything. They had considered the inheritance a dream fund—safety net, parachute, college savings, retirement, security, all rolled into one. Beginning in November, the inheritance was nowhere to be found. Nowhere.

Sylvia had not wanted to risk poisoning their household further during the holidays. She hadn't been eager to confront Jack either. But she had made it her goal to discuss it in January, and now January had slipped away. They were headed towards the heart of February.
She stood at her granite top kitchen counter contemplating a cold cup of coffee. Jack was in the office, working from home this morning. Miriam was at school. Kindergarten had today off so Becky was asleep upstairs. All Sylvia had to do was to knock on Jack's office door, poke her head in, and casually ask.

But it was hard to casually ask something that she had been agonizing over for months.

The office door opened. Jack nodded at her and helped himself to another cup of coffee, then headed back to his office.

"Morning," Sylvia managed to sound cheerful and hearty. "What're you working on?"

Jack turned back to face her. Sylvia was always surprised at how young and innocent he still looked, even after ten years of marriage—his hair curly and light brown on top, no signs of gray on the side. He was dressed for casual Friday in light khaki trousers and a pink polo shirt. It brought out the color in his cheeks and deep blue eyes.

"The assholes in New York."

Sylvia nodded. His tone had been neutral, almost friendly. New York was his target of animosity, not her. When would the right time to ask be, if not now? Would she know a better time when it presented itself?

Now. It had to be now. She had to press ahead. "You know I've been wondering—"

That familiar amused smirk appeared on his face as he approached her and said, "Always dangerous, Syl."

"—about your mother's money. I find it hard to believe that we've gone through it all and I was—"

That was all she was able to say before Jack stopped her with the back of his hand to the side of her face, then with his open palm to the other side of her face. Sylvia's head rang with the force of the blow. She could feel her mouth moving and no sound coming out, tears of pain and rage springing from her eyes—it had been the wrong time to bring it up, there never was the right time, she shouldn't have brought it up, how could she have been so stupid—when she felt the air knocked out of her and she collided with the kitchen floor.

He was talking to her but she couldn't make out the words. She couldn't look at him, his face would be ugly and distorted. She tried to scramble away from him, but the sweat pants that covered her knees were slipping on the cold Spanish pavers of the kitchen floor. She felt a blow to her back and then another. She knew she was going to die. How could she have been so stupid to have let this happen?

Then she heard a shriek, a howling. Oh, dear God, Becky.

She scrambled to reach her daughter but Jack kicked her back to the floor and kept her there. She heard a thud and Becky cried out. Sylvia pushed and lunged at him until he was practically standing on her while he hit Becky. Then silence and Jack let Becky run weeping to her on the floor.

Sylvia held Becky as she shook, listening to her stuttering breaths, the choke of tears, the silence filled with her own humiliation. What kind of mother let this happen? You fucking loser. You let him hurt your daughter.

Never again. Never again.

The two of them didn't move. Jack walked up the stairs, entered their bedroom, slid open the mirrored closet door, then came back down the stairs and through the kitchen.

"Pull yourself together, would you?" he said, stepping through the side door into the garage. Becky whimpered.

Sylvia waited, motionless, listening for the noise of the electric garage door, Jack's car to pull out in reverse.

"Come on baby, let me take you upstairs."

Becky clutched Sylvia, brown arms around her neck, the tiny body trembling against her own.. Who was she that she let this happen?

As Sylvia crossed the kitchen, she saw a broken wooden spoon on the floor. Thank God. Thank God it was only wood.

What kind of a mother prayed like that? Sylvia asked herself. Never, never again.

Sylvia picked up the phone as she carried Becky to her room. She sat in the rocker. She would call her sister Celeste, far away in San Jose. She would find out what had happened to the money, Celeste knew everything about money.

But first she would call her friend, Tamara.

She rocked Becky as the phone rang, and Tamara picked up.

"I need you," Sylvia said. "Please bring a camera."

As she waited for her friend, Sylvia stared out of Becky's window. She could see a shimmering strip of yellow sea, forty miles away, glowing with the impossibility of hope.