Lawrence was Mercy’s living doll, and she cherished him suchly. In their yard, at the park, at the playground he was her wind-up doll. She’d crank the oversized key in his back and send him on a tottering, high-stepping march towards thorny bushes, hard benches, the model boat pond, a wheeling, snarling frenzy of dogs, or the basketball court where the rough kids played, she chasing after to alter his course with a turn of his shoulders to avoid disaster. Slowly the game evolved: How close to the hazard before she would turn him? Close, very close, and he never slowed and never shed character, and she never failed to turn him at the last. Indoors he was her dress-up doll: a pirate, Cowboy Woody, Gandalf, Mulan. In her precocious fourth grade psychology phase, she dressed him in their mother’s white nightgown and studied his reaction with notepad in hand: “It’s so comfortable, Mercy. I feel like a queen!” The sweetness of his smile overwhelmed her clinical curiosity and the mischievous impulse which it disguised. She flung the notepad onto the floor and pulled the nightgown up over his head. “I’ll get you some king clothes, Laurie, complete with a crown.” She kissed the squeaky-clean hair atop his head. Never again did she mess with his mind.

Instead she was straight with him, straight with him always. “Is Santa Claus real?” he asked her at eight. She shook her head no, and he smiled like a scientist who’s just had a rebel theory confirmed. Because she was straight, his trust in her grew. “Where do babies come from, Merse?” he asked at age nine. She pulled the anatomy book from the reference shelf and showed him a womb in all its wondrous intricacy. He furrowed his brow and spent hours sketching a longitudinal section of the uterus and ovaries with such faithful detail that his impressed teacher posted his “smiling cobra” on the classroom wall. Two days later Lawrence asked, “How do the babies get in there, Mercy?” She showed him the page of male anatomy. “I’ve got those!” “Do you?” she deadpanned, forgetting his lack of irony until she saw him innocently reaching for his zipper. “Laurie, I’m joking! Of course you’ve got those.” “So you don’t want to see them?” he rejoined, confused by her uncharacteristic rejection of his offer to share. Ennobled by a sudden appreciation for the enormity of her role, Mercy intoned in her best grown-up voice, “No, Laurie, you don’t show `em to anyone. They’re your own private jewels.”

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