Before Hope it had been the six of us. Sarah was our oldest and she was nine. Then there were three boys, Evan, four, and the twins, James and Eli, two. We didn’t think about Ellen. Ellen would have been seven… just about Hope’s age, I guessed.

Hope watched me empty the crude trap with large keen eyes. There was something in her face that tugged at me though I couldn’t define it. Linny had bathed her and put her in a t-shirt with Minnie mouse and her bright polka dot bow screen-printed and cracked on the front,and jeans with patched knees that I knew I’d seen before. The patches had dots like the picture of the bow; white on what was once bright pink. Her hair wasn’t dark or gray, but yellow and thick and full of curls. Sarah tried to trap in an elastic. They tried, my girls. Even when they didn’t understand.

She pointed at one of the ugly rats I’d released. “Papa.”

I smiled. “I know. S’ok, little one, that one will live another day.”

She looked at the one I held by its violently twitching tail. Then she looked at me and pointed at her shirt.

I smiled again. “No, darlin’. Minnie was a mouse. This,” I held it up. “This is just supper.” I turned my back and made quick work of it. I thought of my Harvard business degree and scotch with the guys in the lobby of the Radford. I thought of candles and lace and fucking. I thought of Anna.

When I showed the rat to Hope again, it was neatly decapitated and unrecognizeable, a small slip of shining pink and white muscle. I skewered it on my blade and held it over the stuttering flame.
Hope almost smiled. Or maybe it was my imagination.

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