The Sweater


I ONLY DECIDED TO GO AT THE LAST MINUTE. It had been a busy week and I didn’t much feel like capping it off with small talk, but Ava texted me at lunchtime to ask if I would please go with her, she really needed to get out of the house for an hour. We can be quick, she said. I’ll pick you up at two and we don’t have to stay long. Okay, I said. I’ll go. See you at two.

This is such a good idea, Ava said when I dipped into the passenger seat. Isn’t this such a great idea? I set the reusable grocery bag I’d just filled with clothes from the back of my closet on my lap.

It really is, I said. It’s such a good idea.

After Ava texted, I’d peered inside my closet for a full seven minutes before picking anything out. I did need to go through my clothes, but I couldn’t grab just anything. This wasn’t a Goodwill dump, I could only bring things people – women I knew – might actually want to wear. No one went to a clothing swap looking for torn sweatshirts and pilled leggings. I snatched a black pencil skirt off a hanger (laughable to still own) then retrieved a pair of shoes I’d accepted from my mother-in-law but never worn, a button-down shirt I often aspired to wear but inevitably changed out of, and a couple of tired cardigans, and folded them into the bag.

We should do this for our kids, Ava said, turning left. Don’t you think? They grow out of everything so fast.

It would be great, I said, though I was thinking that anything my kids had grown out of was worn into the ground and stained to oblivion. I didn’t even keep their things for hand-me-downs.

Thank you for coming, by the way, Ava said. Amir worked yesterday and the kids were bouncing off the walls with the storm. Can you believe the ice?

I know, I said. It was crazy. Thanks for picking me up.

THOUGH TWO SPACE HEATERS HUMMED in opposite corners of the room, the barn was freezing. I stepped past the mountain of coats piled on the table up front without so much as touching my zipper, wishing I’d brought a hat. Who leaves the house in February without a hat?

Someone pressed a paper cup into my cracked winter hands and the scent of cinnamon steamed my face. It’s tea, the woman said, reaching for my bag. I can take these, she said, we’ve tried to arrange things by category and size.

Thank you, I said, cupping the tea to my chest.

Feel free to take off your coat, the woman said. And there are name tags on the table to the right. I’m Tamara, by the way.

Thank you, I said again. I turned to say something snide to Ava about sticking a name tag on my chest – as a rule, events that benefit from visible personal identification are miserable affairs – but she was already peeling her scripted name off the wax paper and introducing herself to someone over by the coats. I spun back to the open barn and brought a hand to a pair of pants, hoping Ava wouldn’t call me over if I appeared to be considering something.

OTHER THAN IT BEING SO COLD, the setup was lovely. Handmade calligraphic signs stood propped on the ends of long tables lined with clothing, announcing Shirts, Shoes, Hats, Jewelry to the lesser observant among us; the floors were antique refinished pine that creaked beneath every step; twinkle lights glowed from the rafters; and Ray LaMontagne’s soft lyrics washed over everyone, just the right volume.

I took my tea and grazed to a rack near the window, brightly coloured dresses and coats hanging down like ornaments. I fingered a cabernet-coloured pantsuit, a gray velvet turtleneck, a black suit jacket. Who wore these things?

There are so many amazing things here, aren’t there? I turned to see Virginia, the mother with the identical twins in first grade and a newborn baby, ogling the pantsuit. The baby was strapped on Virginia’s chest in one of those carriers that come with a seventeen-page how-to manual and Virginia was bouncing and rocking simultaneously, that intrinsic mom sway our bodies never forget.

I peered to see the infant. Is she –?

Almost sixteen weeks, Virginia said, nodding at first then shaking her head in disbelief. Of course I still can’t fit into anything. I don’t even know what size my body wants to be anymore. Do you know I gained more with this little thing than with the twins? How did that happen?

I don’t know, I managed to say. You look wonderful, though, really.

Thank you, Virginia said, kissing the soft bald crest of her baby’s head. Are you still working at the school this year?

It’s just a volunteer position, I said, but yes. Someone has to answer the phone.

I caught Virginia’s eyes flicker behind me, and she placed a hand on my arm as she waved and held up her pointer finger, be there in one minute. It’s so great to see you, she said, smiling.

Four tables and seven fleeting conversations later, I was back toward the front of the barn. I pulled my phone from my pocket to check the time, then stood on my tiptoes and craned around, looking for Ava. I’d been ready to leave since we arrived. I waved when I caught her eye, and she smiled and nodded, paired a pleading expression with her open palm, fingers splayed, to signal me, five more minutes. She had a swath of garments draped over her left elbow and was laughing with a few women I’d met but didn’t know. Ava was so social, I was never entirely certain how we’d become such good friends.

I stood by the door scrolling the New York Times app on my phone, glanced sideways when the barn door swung open, the cold stealing in from outside. It was Genevieve Adams, Henry and Coco’s mom. Her curly hair peaked out from a loose knit hat and her open coat revealed a simple V-neck tee shirt tucked into faded high-waist jeans. She clopped her army boots on the doormat and scanned the room.

Hi! she exclaimed, and I blinked in confusion, not understanding she was talking to me. How are you? she asked. It’s Maya, right? This is so great! I’m sorry I’m late, you know how it is getting out the door. This really is just fantastic. What can I do with these? She shrugged her shoulders, each one weighed down by an enormously oversized canvas tote bag overflowing with clothing.

Oh, I said. I fumbled to put my phone away – I had no idea she knew who I was – and thought to tell her that I wasn’t sure, I had nothing to do with the event, I was just there because Ava needed to get out of the house and I didn’t even want any new old clothes. But instead I told her I could take her bags and set out the things she’d brought. There’s tea, I said, pointing to the carafe on the side table.

I took the bags and eyed Genevieve as she filled a cup, returned to the room. I was weirdly skilled at guessing people’s ages but could never tell whether Genevieve Adams was younger or older than me. She sometimes came across as sophisticated middle age, other times as young millennial who was wearing motherhood like a cool leather jacket. She was an artist, a painter with a gallery off Main Street, a few shops down from the library, and she was like a shapeshifter, reinventing her appearance the way some people decorate for holidays.

The first time I met Genevieve, her svelte frame was swimming inside baggy overalls flecked with paint, her bare feet fitted to Birkenstock clogs and long beach waves cascading down her back. That was at Back-to-School night. She’s a painter, someone told me, and I remember thinking: she looks the part. A few months later, at gymnastics, Genevieve’s hair was dyed bubble-gum pink and she was swathed in a tie-dye maxi dress, a Spice Girl. I barely recognized her. At the spring choir concert, her pink hair was chestnut brown and pin straight, and a boxy pair of glasses framed her face; in leggings and an oversized turtleneck sweater, she looked like a fresh take on every suburban mother. Over the summer, at Ava and Amir’s potluck, Genevieve arrived with her hair in a top knot and a leopard-print jumpsuit clinging to her narrow hips. (How had those hips carried children?) When I handed her a glass of Sauvignon Blanc – I was pretending to man the drink table as a means of social evasion – she caught me staring at the sand burrowed in her fingernails. I came right from surfing, she said, flicking at the crystals. I crossed my arms over the lumpy milk pads tucked beneath my bra.

All that was just the first year we were here. Since then, Genevieve has been as many different people as times I’ve seen her. And I’ve seen her more and more, she’s hard to miss. Her paintings and name are everywhere: there’s one in the reading room at the library, the bookstore, the coffee shop in town, the pediatrics’ office waiting room. She’s on flyers advertising upcoming talks about her recent showcase, a free teen painting class, a painting-in-nature seminar for older adults in the community. How did she have time to make art, teach art, talk about art, take care of her kids, reincarnate?

When Barbie came out last summer, I joked to my husband Isaac that Genevieve Adams was like Every Barbie: all the dolls, rolled into one.

Is she married? Isaac asked. I don’t think I’ve ever met her husband.

What? I asked, perplexed at the question. I don’t know, I said. Who cares?

IN THE BARN, WITH GENEVIEVE ADAMS’S BAGS stuffed full of clothes in my own hands, a strange thrill crept over me. My cheeks flushed hot and my skin tingled with the anticipation of my task. I was going to sort through Genevieve Adams’s unwanted wardrobe.

It occurred to me that I could just take everything. Switch out the bags and set them in Ava’s trunk. No one would notice what wasn’t there, and if anything didn’t fit I could always donate it to the same women’s shelter the rest of the leftovers would go to. For five long seconds I considered stealing out the door with all of it, claiming Genevieve Adams’s every unwanted article of clothing for myself. I could do it.

But then a wave of shame rattled through me, and I set the bags down to sift through their contents. We probably weren’t the same size anyway.

THAT WAS SO GREAT, Ava said on the way home. Wasn’t that so great?

It really was great.

Maxine and Jen were saying they might make it a seasonal thing, Ava said. I really hope they do.

That’d be great, I said.

So you only took that one thing? Ava nodded toward my lap, a single sweater folded over my legs.

I don’t need that much, I shrugged. You have to be in the mood to look, you know? What did you get?

A paper tote bag was tucked into a car seat in the back, and I eyed it as Ava, eyes fixed on the road, itemized its contents: two tee shirts, a pair of sandals, a windbreaker (isn’t that so nineties?!), joggers, a belt. So what’s with the sweater? Ava asked. Whose was it?

I’m not actually sure, I lied. I just liked it.

It looks nice, Ava said. Snuggly.

That’s what I thought, I said. I hope it fits.

I’m sure it will. Maxine said next time they’re going to string up some curtains for fitting rooms. Pants, you know.

Pants, I agreed.

Ava pulled into my driveway and shifted the car to park. It’s supposed to snow tonight, she sighed. If they call another snow day tomorrow I’m going to personally call the superintendent about babysitting my kids.

I’ll babysit them, I offered. My house was usually so chaotic it was easier to lean into it than try to straighten things out.

Ava cast me a look.

Or just come over with them, I said. We’ll throw everyone outside and tell them they can’t come in until they’re sopping wet.

Ava nodded. Thank you, she mouthed.

You’re welcome.

Let me know if the sweater fits, she said.

I will, I told her. But I already knew it did.

THAT’S ALL YOU GOT? Isaac said when I walked in. You’re always saying you have too many sweaters, he joked.

Now I have too many plus one.

Isaac laughed, squeezed my hand. I love you, he said.

I love you too, I said. The words were automatic, a reflex, but I did mean them.

THE DAY AFTER THE SNOW DAY, I waited until the kids were out of the house to put it on. I’d kept it folded on top of my dresser, beside the ring dish filled with hair ties and the soy candle I never lit, where I could see it. The rest of my sweaters were stuffed into drawers, but I wanted to hang this one. It seemed like it deserved a hanger.

I brewed coffee and laid the sweater out on the bed, its creamy olive hue popping against the white duvet. There wasn’t anything especially striking about it – a boxy wool pullover with a plaited scoop neckline and cuffs, billowing arms, the slightest knitwork at the hips – but there was something about it, something so perfect and lived in. It was glamorous yet rustic. Old-world meets chic. I fingered the pattern angling from the ribs to the waist, its worn imperfections like soft pearl beads against the flesh of my fingers, then gazed at the empty back collar, where a label would have been. I checked the inside lining for a tag, any sign of a brand or size or Made In Taiwan or washing instructions. Nothing. I’d have to hand wash it. Or get it dry cleaned. It was probably one of those new-age brands that eschewed labels. Or maybe it was custom made. I couldn’t believe anyone would get rid of it, even Genevieve Adams.

When I pulled the sweater over my head it was like descending into a warm cocoon; the pale scent of an earthy, rosy perfume clung to the fabric and I swore I caught the faintest trace of cigarette smoke. I pulled my braid out from the collar, rolled my shoulders back, and looked in the mirror. I tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ears, eyed my reflection from the side. I looked good, in the sweater. I felt good. I felt different.

I put on a jacket and a hat and sunglasses I hadn’t worn in ages for fear of losing them, and went to the post office, then the hardware store and the fish market. I usually dreaded these errands, but that day I didn’t mind them. Maybe it was the sun. The sky was blue and the snow looked like glitter, the world a twinkling winter panorama fit for Taylor Swift lyrics and new resolutions. I had some resolutions.

I drove ten minutes out of my way to the bookstore and spent half an hour perusing the shelves before checking out with a new notebook, a teal leather volume with lined pages and a built-in ribboned bookmark. They say writing things down is the first step in accountability; I was resolved.

After I brought everything home – the notebook, plus stamps and batteries, a car scraper that actually worked and a piece of wild-caught salmon for dinner – I went for a walk, and instead of listening to a podcast or calling my brother, I left my phone at home on the counter. I spent the first ten minutes thinking how wonderful it was to be alone with my thoughts in the world; the next ten minutes rehearsing what I would have said to Julian; and the final ten minutes cursing myself for not bringing my stupid phone. Digital detoxing was overrated.

At home, I opened my new journal to the first page: Affirmations, I wrote. That was what people were saying now, instead of resolutions. I affirm that I will:

  1. Keep a daily journal. Devote a minimum of five minutes per day.
  2. Listen to new music. Goal: break free from the shackles of the Spotify algorithm.
  3. Yoga.
  4. Books. Read some.
  5. Get a haircut. Don’t get the same haircut.
  6. Get dressed. No sweatpants. No flannels.
  7. Do kegels.

I stopped here and considered the list. What a load of shit. What kind of affirmations were these? This was what my life boiled down to? What the fuck was I doing? I could call it self-improvement, self-help, self-betterment, self-empowerment; maybe I just wanted to be someone else.

I tore the page out from the notebook and folded it up, instinctively moved to jam it into the pocket of one of the bulky flannel shirts I would (maybe) no longer be wearing, and then remembered. The problem with sweaters was they lacked pockets.

Except, I realized, this sweater did have pockets. Tucked behind the stitching on either side were discreet but functional pockets. Why did anyone get rid of this sweater?

I deposited my sorry list of resolutions affirmations into the right pocket and pulled out a thin scrap of paper from the opposite one. At first I thought it was a receipt and moved to throw it away, but instead I unfolded it to see three words scrawled in handwriting that looked like a Microsoft Office font named “girlfriend”: Baie-Saint-Paul.

One hour later I knew most of what Google could tell me about Baie-Saint-Paul, a little riverside town in Quebec. Snuggled between two mountains in a valley apparently carved by a meteorite collision more than 300 million years ago, and the alleged birthplace of Cirque du Soleil, Baie-Saint-Paul popped up on every Canadian touristry roundup, ranging from Condé Nast and Country Living to Reddit and TripAdvisor. (Note to self: Best Small Towns to Visit in Canada is a much more popular topic of interest than I’d ever have guessed.)

Online images of Baie-Saint-Paul looked like Storyland met a national park met a Wes Anderson movie set. With fall foliage that rivaled Vermont, a scenic winter landscape fit for Queen Elsa, and warm-weather water sports on the river, Baie-Saint-Paul’s self-proclaimed status of “vibrant city, all year long” looked to be absolutely true. Blog posts piled praise on burgeoning companies committed to things like “eco-responsible alcohol” and “fiber transformation.” It had the highest number of art galleries per capita in Canada. What a little wonderland.

I was reading about skiing at the Massif de Charlevoix, overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, when my phone rang. It was the school nurse.

Unfortunately I have Jill here in my office, she said. She threw up during art.

Oh no, I said, minimizing the browser window. Okay, I’ll be there right away.

ISAAC WAS HOME LATE THAT NIGHT – some academic committee meeting that had the air of importance but no one really knew what they were supposed to be doing – and we ate late, after the kids were in bed.

Is that the sweater from the swap the other day? he asked as we were sitting down.

Yes, I nodded.

It looks nice.

I like it, I said, looking down my torso. It’s super warm. I think it’s handmade, I feel like no one makes sweaters like this anymore. Plus it has pockets.

Isaac chuckled. You do love pockets.

I do love pockets.

Have you ever heard of Baie-Saint-Paul? I asked.

Isaac blew on a spoonful of soup. No. What is it? Sounds like a cathedral.

It’s a town. In Canada.

Something there?

It’s just a quaint little village. It’s right on the river, lots of outdoor activities. Apparently it’s the “cultural capital” of the Charlevoix region.


No, I shook my head. Quebec.

Isaac dipped a chunk of bread in his soup. Is there something I’m supposed to know about this place?

I was thinking we could look into a trip there, I said. It’s a seven- or eight-hour drive. There are tons of chalets on Airbnb.


It’s French! I smiled.

We’ve never even been to Canada, Isaac said.

So what?

Shouldn’t we start with something like Montreal? Toronto? Vancouver?

This place is on every “best of Canada” list, I think it’s more authentic.

More authentic?

Just, you know, less overtly touristy.

Since it’s on tourist roundups?

It’s just an idea, I said, shrinking although Isaac was only being playful.

Where’d you say you heard of this place? Bay… saint – ?

Paul, I finished. Someone mentioned it the other day, I said. At the clothing swap.

Huh, okay. Sure, if you want to look into it, Isaac said.

LATER THAT WEEK I DROVE FORTY-FIVE MINUTES to the mall I despised to go to Sephora. I parked in the Macy’s lot so I wouldn’t have to walk very far and carried the sweater inside in a brown paper grocery bag with a handle. I pulled my hat low over my eyebrows and prayed I saw no one I knew.

Can I help you find anything? The person who greeted me at the front of the store was a thickset man with more makeup on his eyes than I’d ever worn in my life. He wasn’t attractive in the least, but he looked amazing.

I’m looking for a perfume, I said.

Great, what’s the brand, he asked.

I don’t know, actually. I just know what it smells like.

He sent me to his “colleague” Oliver in the “scents department” for help, and I awkwardly explained what I was looking for: it smells rosy, but sort of earthy, like dirt? It’s floral but not too sweet. No, no vanilla. Bergamot? I’m not sure I know what that smells like . . .

Oliver – since when did so many men work here? – spritzed perfume on thin paper strips, flapped them against his pants until they were almost dry, extended a jar filled with coffee beans to sniff in between samples. This one is really nice, he said. We have so many clients come in asking for it.

No, I said, frowning. That’s not it.

This is new, Oliver said. It’s a little edgy but still has that classic floral aura.

No, that’s not it either.

Okay, great, no problem. This is a beautiful rosy one, apparently Princess Kate wore it for her wedding.

Sorry, that’s not it.

Oliver misted another batch, then another, and another. I thought to pull out the sweater, offer it up to him like some kind of clue in a treasure hunt – wasn’t this why I brought it? – but the absurdity of the situation – asking a stranger in a store to smell a sweater, my sweater – hit me like a cold gust of wind, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I thanked Oliver and said I might just want to browse on my own for a little while, but my nose was so confused I could scarcely tell one thing from another, and I could feel Oliver observing me the whole time, so I left empty-handed.

On the way home, I parked at a gas station and emerged from the convenience store with a pack of cigarettes in my coat pocket. I fumbled to unwrap the plastic packaging and remove one, then smoked it outside my car. When I first inhaled I coughed, but then my lungs relaxed and the warm buzz of it slunk through me like a precious secret. I smoked the whole thing before moving to throw away the rest of the pack, but I stopped before ever making it to the trash can, thumbing the soft boxy weight of it in my coat pocket. It cost $10.

I buried the cigarettes in the back of the glove compartment, and back at home I brushed my teeth and showered. I didn’t want to show up at the elementary school smelling like smoke.

BY WEDNESDAY EVENING I had the entire trip planned. We’d stay four nights at one of three Airbnb options – Isaac could choose – and spend one day either skiing (we’d need lessons) or taking a guided dogsled excursion in the woods just upriver, another day gallery hopping, and a third at either the Contemporary Art Museum or the nearby Maritime Museum, maybe both if there was time. I had a list of bistros from an agrotourism website for meals, and we’d need to decide between flying or driving.

I’d rather fly, Isaac said before I asked. We were talking over the kids, supposedly changing into their pajamas but actually staging an elaborate obstacle course in their room.

I know. But it’s not much faster, plus we’d need to rent a car.

Are we really going to do this? Isaac raised an eyebrow as one child careened between us, then another, then the third. We were part of the track.

Why not? I said.

It’s just . . . Isaac brought a hand to the back of his neck as the kids turned to perform the course in reverse. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. It’s so – Isaac hesitated. Cultural, I don’t know. Do you really think we’re going to be able to spend the day perusing art galleries and museums with the kids? Okay, you three, this is the final lap.

Well if we don’t do it they’ll never get in the habit.

Of going to art galleries? Okay, fine, one more, but this is the last one. All I’m saying is we never do things like this.

I guess that was the idea.

I mean, we never did things like this even before the kids.

Maybe we should.

Maybe. No, Ezra, we said that was the last one. Do we even have passports for all of us? We’d need passports.

We got them last year, remember?

That’s right, I forgot. Alright everyone, into the bathroom, please. The kids scooted past us and through the doorway, and Isaac turned to me. Where did this come from again? he asked.

I shrugged. I just heard about this place and thought it sounded pretty amazing. I thought we could try something different.

Isaac smiled. I think we could do it, he said. It’s just much more grown-up and adventurous than our usual rent-the-same-cabin-on-the-lake-and-let-the-kids-go-bonkers trip twice a year.

That’s what I thought, I said.

Isaac pulled me into his chest and wrapped his arms around me, his shirt button pressing into my face.

Do you smell like smoke? he asked, not accusatorily.

Oh, I said, my cheeks hot. I was running errands earlier and there were people smoking right outside the bakery.

Really? Wow, that’s surprising, I never see anyone smoking here.

I know, I said. It really was strange.

ON SATURDAY, AFTER PANCAKES (kids) and yoga (me), I got dressed for another birthday party at the arcade across town. It seemed there was one every weekend now. I was standing in front of the mirror over my dresser, trying to jam a tiny stud earring through a cartilage piercing I hadn’t used in ages when Jill came into my bedroom.

What are you doing, Mama? She moved right beside me, gazed up at me with her big brown eyes and I melted.

Just trying to put an earring in, I said.

Why won’t it work?

The hole is mostly closed up.

You made holes in your body? Jill frowned.

That’s how earrings work, honey. My ear was red as a tomato and searing, so I set the earring back on the stand, stooped down to hug Jill. Her tiny arms fit around my neck so perfectly and I could smell syrup in her hair. I picked her up on my hip and turned toward the mirror so she could see both of us, smiled.

You’ve been wearing this sweater a lot, Mama, Jill said.

It’s new, I said, I just like it.

But you never let me wear my red ladybug dress two days together.

That’s because it gets dirty.

That’s not fair.

I’m sorry, honey.

Well can I have a sweater like yours that I can wear every day?

I’ll think about it.


Okay. Are you ready for the birthday party?

Yes! Jill squealed. I set her down and she raced back downstairs, singing happy birthday to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

I turned back to the mirror and cocked my head to the side, took up the earring to try once more. I stopped when I spilled blood onto my fingers. I guess the hole really did close up.

ALL THE FOLLOWING WEEK I fine-tuned the plans for Baie-Saint-Paul and come Thursday I told Isaac we really needed to book it. What if the chalet we picked isn’t available? I said.

We could just get another, said Isaac. Weren’t there a few you liked?

But this was our favourite.

What are the dates again?

The last weekend this month, I said. In two weeks? I thought we talked about this.

We did, I just couldn’t remember exactly.

I really think we should book it. It’s coming up.

If you’re sure, Isaac said.

You don’t want to go.

I never said that.

But you don’t.

I never said that.

If you don’t want to go, just tell me.

Let’s go, Isaac said. He had on the same expression, the same tone of voice he used when he was trying to psych the kids up for something they didn’t want to do.

I can tell you don’t want to go, I said.

I do want to go. I still just don’t entirely get where this came from. If we want something different, why not New York City? Or Iceland? Or Hawaii?

Those are all really expensive.

We could afford it.

I just thought this place would be so authentic.

Isaac raised an eyebrow. More authentic than New York City?

You know what I mean. I stuffed my hands in my sweater pockets, fingered the folded slip of paper with the name scrawled onto it. I just think we’d like it, I said. It seems like the kind of place you could live.

Isaac chuckled. Now we’re moving there?

I knew he was joking, but my cheeks prickled with heat because I had thought about it. I shrugged, reaching for nonchalance. I have a bad feeling about the election, I said. Maybe we should.

Move to Canada?

Move anywhere. That man is insane. Plus how many more people need to die before this country does anything about gun control? I don’t know if I can handle another shooting. It’s terrifying. The kids are getting older, I think about it all the time. These things don’t happen in other countries. Canada’s close. It would probably be easiest.

I’m not sure it would be easy.

I never said that.

Come here, Isaac said, painting a grin on his face and pulling me into his arms. Let’s start with your trip, he said. Book whatever you want.

Later, before bed, I double checked the dates and hovered the cursor over the blue BOOK NOW button, then tapped my finger once, waited for the confirmation window to congratulate me on my upcoming stay, and closed the laptop.

I ASSUMED THE KIDS WOULD BE EXCITED about the trip, but mostly they were confused.

We’re going to Canada? Yes.

Is Disney World in Canada? No.

Is grandma in Canada? No.

Is there chocolate in Canada? Yes.

Do they have internet? Will Bluey be there? You can watch Bluey in Canada.

Is it on the other side of the globe? Will it be warm sunny summer? No, it’s winter there too. It will be cold.

Do we have to go?

AVA TEXTED ON THE TWENTIETH to ask me if I was going to next weekend’s iteration of the arcade birthday party and if I was could I maybe bring C.J. because Paul had a swim meet on the other side of the state. Don’t ever join swim team, she typed with a “sigh” emoji.

I’m sorry, I typed back, we’re heading out of town on Thursday. I watched the shadowy bubbles until something came back.

For fun, I hope? Where are you going?

A little town in Charlevoix, Canada, I texted back. Yes, for fun.

Canada? Where did that come from? And since when do you plan last-minute trips?!

We just thought it would be fun to do something different.

How’d you land there?

I threw a dart at a map.


It’s a touristy little spot. It’s in all the travel roundups.

Well have fun. I wish I was going anywhere but a swim meet at five am in Rockwood.

Thanks, I wrote. Hope it’s great.

I watched the bubbles, but they disappeared after a moment, and I set the phone down, went to change the laundry. I wanted to have clean clothes ready to pack that afternoon.

DO YOU EVEN NEED A SUITCASE? Isaac joked as he set a slim stack of shirts on the bed. All you ever wear anymore is that sweater.

That’s not true, I said. I didn’t mean to pout. It’s just so warm, I added.

It looks good on you, Isaac said.

I fingered the stitching at the sleeve. It’s really a nice sweater, I said. I can’t believe someone didn’t want it.

Didn’t you know everyone there? Isaac refolded a pair of pants and lay it beside the shirts. Isn’t that a little weird, taking your friends’ clothes? I mean, unless it was Ava’s. Was it Ava’s?

No, I said. Ava didn’t bring this sweater. And I didn’t know everyone there. I pictured Genevieve Adams inhabiting the sweater, pulling it on over denim overalls and going about her day: drinking coffee, dropping her kids off at school, unlocking her gallery and stomping off her boots when she stepped through the doorway. Had she ever worn it painting? Had she worn it to an event? Had she worn it on her bare skin? Had this sweater already been to Baie-Saint-Paul? I’d spent so much time daydreaming about what Baie-Saint-Paul was to Genevieve Adams I half expected her to be there when we arrived.

I still can’t believe we’re doing this, Isaac said, transferring his clothes into a duffel bag.

I’m excited, I said.

Me too. It’ll be great.

I looked around the room. Thank God Anna’s coming tomorrow, I said. This place is a mess and it will be so nice to come home to a clean house.

That’s good timing, Isaac said.

It is, I said. It really is.

THE NEXT MORNING I PACKED UP THE CAR so we’d be ready to leave right after Isaac’s 3:00 meeting ended. I wanted to make a 9am yoga class so I’d be out of the house when Anna arrived but it took so long getting the place tidied up I missed the class. Why do we have to clean before the cleaner comes? the kids were always asking.

Because she doesn’t have all day to pick your toys and clothes off the floor, I said. Sometimes I hated that we had a cleaner. I grew up scrubbing toilets once a week and my kids couldn’t even put their laundry in the hamper.

When Anna’s van pulled up the driveway I went into the kitchen and busied myself.

Hello! I called when I heard her come in.

Hello, Miss Maya.

I told her to call me “just Maya” every time she came, but she never did. Hello, I said again, heading toward the mud room. How’ve you been?

I’m good, how are you? Anna took off her boots and hung up her coat.

Glad to see you, I said.

Anna smiled. Is there anything special for today?

I don’t think so, I said. I tried to get things cleared up but the playroom is still a bit of a wreck.

Okay, Anna said. Let me know if you think of anything.

I will, I said, though I knew I wouldn’t. I’m going to head out to run some errands, I said. I don’t know if I’ll be back before you leave, so if I don’t see you I hope you have a nice weekend.

You too, Miss Maya. Anna stepped past me toward the closet, where all the cleaning supplies were, then spun to look back at me and a funny look came across her face.

What is it? I asked.

Oh, nothing, Anna said with a wave of her arm.

Are you sure? I asked, strangely uneasy. Is everything okay?

It’s fine, really it’s nothing. It’s just – it’s just –

What is it? I pressed.

Miss Maya, Anna said, chuckling, I swear that’s my old sweater. Did you –

It couldn’t be, I cut her off, looking down. This was from a clothing swap a month or two ago.

She laughed and nodded. Ms. Adams was telling me about it, I was working at her house the day before. I gave her a bag I was planning to bring to Goodwill to bring there instead. Looks like the event was a success.

Suddenly I felt so hot I thought my hair might catch fire. Goosebumps pimpled my skin and I was itchy all over. Was this thing wool?

Oh, I said, straining to sound collected. I don’t – I didn’t think – Well, it’s a lovely sweater, I stammered. Why was it so hard to breathe?

Oh, Anna said, I think it came from Old Navy or maybe H&M. I had it forever.

Old Navy? I asked in a faint voice. So this sweater was yours?

Mmm hmm, Anna said, pulling out the vacuum cleaner. Ms. Adams told me everything that wasn’t taken would be donated to a women’s shelter. I figured I’d rather send a few things with her than dump them at Goodwill.

Oh, I said. That makes sense. My head was swirling as I reached for the keys. Well, if I don’t see you, enjoy the weekend, I managed to say.

I hurried out to my car and shut myself in the driver’s seat, my chest heaving with each jagged breath. I tore the sweater off and threw it at the passenger seat before starting the engine and backing out. I drove down Main Street, past the library and the gift shop and Genevieve Adams’s gallery, wanting to scream. We should never have booked this trip.

At the red light, I glared at the sweater like it was a poison, and part of me thought that it was. I laughed manically as tears sprung from my eyes, switched my blinker from right to left. I pulled into the parking lot and manoeuvred around the back to the drive-through loop, then I hurled the sweater into the donation bin before pulling back out onto the main road.

At the next red light, I fumbled in the glove compartment for the pack of cigarettes, pulled out a single one and set it between my lips before flinging the rest of the pack out the window onto the street.

At least there was one thing I could light on fire.