4. Amy has taken one Polaroid picture of each room at her grandparents’ house, including the garage, the backyard, and the front yard, and two of the staircase, since they don’t have one at home.

Tulsa, 1987

Tulsa, 1987

Amy has taken one Polaroid picture of each room at her grandparents’ house, including the garage, the backyard, and the front yard, and two of the staircase, since they don’t have one at home. One is a close-up of the white metal railing that has a big S with a mustache on its waist between every other bar. The bars look like candy canes that have had their stripes sucked off them and their heads chopped off. The other one shows Zoe sitting sulking on the middle step, overshadowed by the big bright light behind her where the bathroom door opens onto a window that lets in the sun.

Since Santa brought her the camera last Christmas, Amy has taken fourteen other pictures of her sister, seven of which feature the dog Santa gave Zoe. The dog is a scruffy Scotland Terrier with a plastic-looking black nose. Like Zoe, the dog is wild, and Amy suspects it is a bad influence, eating things off the floor it knows it’s not supposed to, like dead bugs and Silly Putty. Amy knows for a fact that Zoe still eats the dog’s treats even though she has told her not to more than a million times. But in her camera Amy discovers a way of civilizing both creatures, of teaching them to sit still. They even learn to play dead. Amy takes her pictures carefully because the film is not cheap, making the dog and her sister pose for ages till she gets it just right.

Afterwards the dog trots off to chase some imaginary thing and the girls wait while the picture slowly comes out. Amy lifts it by the tip of the hard white strip at the bottom and waves it gently in the air as the colors begin to bubble out of the shiny gray. Without realizing it the girls both hold their breath.

Every time Zoe asks if she can have the picture, but Amy never says yes. Sometimes Zoe cries, but Amy is never persuaded by tears, and her confidence in her own judgment regarding what is for her sister’s own good is total. This way they will have the pictures forever. If she gave them to Zoe now, Zoe would inevitably let the dog have them, and then they would get chewed up and destroyed.

So Amy keeps the pictures inside a secret Manila folder at the bottom of the drawer where she keeps the arrowheads and fossils she collects at camp.

This is the first secret that exists between Amy and Zoe.