Authors: Beth Kephart
We bring stories to life
First published by Egmont USA/Laura Geringer Books, 2010
443 Park Avenue South, Suite 806
New York, NY 10016
Copyright © Beth Kephart, 2010 All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Dangerous neighbors / Beth Kephart.
Summary: Set against the backdrop of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Katherine cannot forgive herself when her beloved twin sister dies, and she feels that her only course of action is to follow suit.
[1. Twins—Fiction. 2. Sisters—Fiction. 3. Death—Fiction. 4. Grief—Fiction.
5. Guilt—Fiction. 6. Centennial Exhibition (1876 : Philadelphia, Pa.)—
Fiction. 7. Philadelphia (Pa.)—History—19th century—Fiction.] I. Title.
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Random House Production • 1745 Broadway • New York, NY 10019
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THE HEIGHT OF THE
in Philadelphia. Katherine has lost her twin sister, Anna, and though it was an accident, Katherine remains convinced that Anna’s death was her fault. One wickedly hot September day, Katherine sets out for the exhibition grounds to cut short the life she is no longer willing to live.
This is the story of what happens
ROM UP HIGH, EVERYTHING SEEMS TO SPILL FROM ITSELF
. Everything is shadowed. The cool at the base of trees. The swollen lip of river. The dark beneath the cliff stones at Rockland, where Katherine had gone last week—taken the steamer, hiked to the summit, and stayed until almost too late. “Oh, Katherine,” her mother had sighed the next day, her hand on the door, the velvet streamers falling crooked from her hat, her eyes fixed on the mud on Katherine’s skirt. “I wish you wouldn’t.”
“I know what you wish.”
“I’m off to Mrs. Gillespie’s.”
“I know that, too.”
Never enough sky. Never near enough to the scooped-out wings of the hawk. Katherine walks the ridge above the river or goes all the way to George’s Hill and stands two hundred and ten feet above high tide—keeping her distance from the boys and their kites, the foreigners with their funny talk and funny way of climbing. Keeping her distance to find the courage for what will be, she has decided—her last escape. Because Anna, her twin, has died, and she had
no business dying. Because Anna’s body, once a mirror of Katherine’s own, is in a cherrywood box dug deep into the side of Laurel Hill.
Don’t let me get old
, Katherine can almost hear Anna saying. And look:
Congratulations, Katherine! You have granted your sister her one ill-begotten wish
Katherine climbs and tells no one where she is. She’s climbed through February and March, through April and May, June and July. Sometimes Katherine has left the house in a light wool dress with a scarf looped loose around her neck and then, of a sudden, the weather has changed. In has blown an infiltrating wind and there Katherine has stood on Belmont Plateau, all the way up, inside the cage of the Sawyer Observatory, securing the scarf around her chin. She has stood and stared out onto the coves and hollows of the Centennial park; the great copper dome of Saints Peter and Paul; the houses, theaters, banks set tight upon the city’s checkerboard squares. She has studied the unfinished pile of City Hall—like a half-baked cake, she has thought, with too much buttercream. It has never mattered how fiercely the weather has blown: Katherine has remained up high, seeking reconciliation or redemption, and finding neither.
“Anna,” Katherine says aloud, “how could you?”
At home, meanwhile, Katherine’s mother and father have gone on living—climbing down the stairs in the morning
and taking their places in the dining room, where the sun falls flat across the table and where Jeannie Bea, the cook, serves eggs and scrapple. She brings Katherine’s father
The Public Ledger
and her mother the latest issue of
The New Century for Women
. Afterward Katherine’s mother plucks an old straw hat from the hook on the back wall. She fixes the contraption on her head and trails back toward the kitchen to check her reflection in the bottom of Jeannie Bea’s biggest copper pot. Then she steps through the hall and toward the front door, the whisper of her black overskirt fading to silence.
All the while Katherine’s father folds and unfolds the pages of his
, scanning the advertisements for news of missing mules and piano lessons, proposals for coal, the offer for sale of hoisting machines and dumbwaiters, all of which, he firmly believes, are economic measures, portents. Katherine’s father has a mind for calculations. He has a knack for looking ahead and seeing the future, which is his job at the Philadelphia National Bank, but he had not looked ahead on behalf of Anna, and maybe Katherine will never forgive him for that. Maybe she will never forgive her mother either. Nor will her mother, preoccupied with tea and crackers, with women’s rights and unrealized freedoms, speak of it. There was to be no investigation—that’s what her mother had said. Katherine has slumped on the stoop of their house at night, waiting for her mother to come home
from one of those inexorable ladies’ meetings. She has stood outside her mother’s bedroom door, afraid to knock.
Let me tell you what happened
, she has tried to say.
Blame me so that you might forgive me, so that I might forgive myself
But her mother has said, “What is gone now is gone.” She is brisk, efficient above all. The future lies in the future, she says, and never in the past. Katherine knows now what will happen when she, too, dies young. Life, more or less, will go on.
Katherine roams. Sometimes heading for the dark cave of bones at the Academy of Natural Sciences, sometimes for the chess room at the Mercantile Library, where she watches the games without comment. But mostly Katherine goes to the highest places she can find; and today, her very final day, she chooses the Colosseum. She has a plan; she will fly and soon feel nothing.
The summer has been stifling, but today there is air, at least. Katherine is wearing navy blue—an improvement, her mother had said, and that was all her mother had said earlier that day, staring at her over Jeannie Bea’s eggs at breakfast: “You’re looking more your age now, Katherine. Blue isn’t black; it’s more becoming.” Were Anna alive, she’d have rolled her eyes behind her hand and laughed at their mother talking about fashion. She’d have said, while they lay in bed that night, “And what color is Mother’s dress, is Mother’s
dress? Oh yes, I nearly forgot: she favors black.”
They buried Anna in February when the ground was frozen. It took two men one week to ready the hole—to dig it out and shimmy it smooth. It was Katherine’s father who held Katherine back when the cherrywood box went in—his arm around her waist, one hand on her shoulder. She’d have jumped in, fallen. She’d have taken her place beside her sister—her dress muddy at the hem. “Let her go now, my darling. Let her go.” Her father’s words in her disbelieving ear.
Into a hole in a hill? Inside a box?
In the weeks following the funeral, in the interminable months, Katherine would go to Laurel Hill—take the steamboat to the foot of the cliff and rise up under the inverted
of the stone bridge and wander through the city of the dead beneath the slight shade of the junipers and the obelisks, past the neighborhoods of mausoleums. It was marble against sky. It was the gleam of granite. It was the beginning or ending of rhododendron blooms, and always Katherine came bearing gifts. A single white tulip. A red silk string. The architecture of a robin’s nest. As if it would be possible to return Anna to herself. Katherine would sit, talking to Anna, imploring Anna, making promises she could not keep, giving Anna the news of the house, the latest on Mother, and when the shadows shifted, Katherine would lie down, her head on the pillow of her hands. That’s when Bennett would come. When she would open her eyes and
see him cresting the hill or standing there by the scruff of roses. He would call out to her, saying, “Can’t we talk?” and she would run—down past the stones, urns, vases, yews, past the cast iron and the sandstone, over the tangle of exposed roads, under the arch.