Lake of the Meek

Raised a Jehovah’s Witness, Virginia Rothery has never had a birthday cake. Today, in memoriam of her daughter, her congregation arrives with Lord and Lady Baltimores, with red velvets, black forests, and hummingbirds.

Today the Rotherys’ ranch house is so crowded that Roger opens every window, despite Virginia’s head cold. There is some debate, anyway, about whether her nose is streaming from illness or from grief.

Leslie Jean Rothery, born two weeks early, had a habit of what Roger called roughhousing. She was anemically pale. Her blond hair was thin and tentative, an afterthought of her body. At school she was called L.J. At school she was mocked for her religious principles—she could not attend the Christmas play, she could not drop eggs in blue dye each spring—but she was admired for her athleticism, which brimmed frustratingly throughout math and science, which burst beautifully in sprints and double Dutch. Roger made her learn to sew when she was nine, the last year of her life, because she tore almost all the clothing she owned. Roughhousing.

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