The second time she had gone to the Catholic Charities home, when she was eight, it had been in Colorado, where her mother had disappeared. She was there almost a year. During that time she had thought of her mother every day. She had lit candles. The sisters had always told them at the home that the burning candle was a symbol of heartfelt prayer. Sister Norma had called it a vigil light and a sign of watchful waiting, a true act of devotion, and she had said it was appropriate for Jerry to light such a candle; it was like a light in the window for her mother, for a loved one's return, for her spiritual return. Jerry's mother, the nuns told her, could see the flame of the candle she had lit from heaven. You cannot call out to heaven, but the candle silent yet shining shows our love. It was like opening a window through which a soul could come. It seemed like magic. Jerry imagined a window with the shimmer of a candle reflected and herself holding that candle, waiting in front of the window, waiting for her mother's soul to hoist itself over the sill and through the window just where the flame shimmered. But the thing was that as soon as her mother stepped out of that window, she would no longer be just a soul. She would be real and she would be safe.
Jerry was patient. She could wait. She could wait a long time if she had to. So she had prayed and lit lots and lots of candles. She had tried to picture her mother dead in a coffin with lilies lying on top of it. She pictured herself kneeling by the coffin. But the problem was, of course, her mother was not for sure dead; she was missing and presumed dead. They had been hunting for her forever in the red rock country. And what help had Jerry been? None whatsoever because, when her mother disappeared, that was when Jerry had stopped speaking completely.
The state troopers had come, search teams, national guards, all to look for the mother of the little girl who was found wandering on the edge of a campground. But she couldn't speak. Someone at the campsite remembered her mother had said something about going hiking. The mother had hung out with a lot of potheads and druggies and she didn't look well. No, not at all. So a search was started. But Jerry couldn't help them. She knew what her mother had been wearing that day. Her long skirt covered in violets. The ruffled pink blouse, a leather vest, and a big cowboy hat. But she couldn't tell them. She couldn't tell them about her mother's crinkly black hair with the seashells woven in, or the tattoos. She had one on her thigh and one on her belly that said "Hammerhead." She was going to get one that said "Jerry" and Jerry was going to get one that said "Millie" when they got to the good tattoo place in Arizona. But then her mother had just disappeared.
One day at the Catholic Charities home, Sister Norma had come in and said, "We must think, Jerry, that now for sure your mother is dead. It has been more than a year. I am going to have Monsignor Rafael say a mass for her. We shall buy you a new dress and I think, dear, this will help. And look, the Friends of Catholic Charities have all chipped in and we have made a donation to the Franciscan Mission Association here in Colorado." She handed Jerry a card. The outside of the card was linen, and on it inscribed in gold was a drawing of the Virgin sweeping open her cloak as if to enfold a Franciscan brother who held a cross. Inside it said, "To honor God and help spread his kingdom on Earth, a donation has been made to the Franciscan Mission Association on behalf of Mildred Moon, who will share for five years in the prayers and sacrifices of the conventual Franciscan Friars and will be remembered in their masses, including masses said over the tombs of St. Francis in Assisi and of St. Anthony in Padua."
"Isn't that lovely, dear? Don't you want to thank the sisters? Don't you want to say thank you?" She paused and fixed Jerry with a hard look. "Out loud?"
But Jerry had remained absolutely silent. Sister Norma made it sound very easy. You either were or you weren't dead. Nothing in between. This card made her mother for sure dead. The Franciscan brothers didn't pray for the "in betweens," only for the "for sures." What if it wasn't quite for sure? What if her mother wasn't really dead? What if Millie Moon came walking in and they had already bought the card? Would she have to give the card back? But Jerry liked the idea of praying to her mother in heaven. Her mother would be safe in heaven. And she, Jerry, got to carry a candle and hold a white lily.
She wasn't sure when it was that she realized the entire idea of cooking up a dead mother for her was part of Dr. Wright's notion of therapy. Dr. Wright visited the home once a week. He was sure that once Jerry had "closure," this would in some mysterious way help her to speak. Stupid! She would have no part of it. In fact, Jerry called Dr. Wright Dr. Wrong. In her mind, of course. She never spoke to Dr. Wrong. Not a word. It was very satisfying watching him trying to draw her out. He tried; they all tried. When the silence first came to her, she didn't realize she could do this with it, that she could make people almost hungry for her words.