They had deep dark secret day at school one time only. I don’t think they were prepared for the results that decimated the entire town, so many kids went into a makeshift foster care system that very night. It was impossible to move everyone so they had to draw a line between cruelty and abuse – and any kid who’s been in that vicinity knows no line can be drawn – it’s perforated at best.

I remember that night because of two things. It was when Joelle came to live with us and it was the night my posthumously-named fish, Beth, died.

Joelle had only just arrived when I saw Beth perfectly vertical – I nudged her and she went parallel to her indifferent sisters again – she was I wouldn’t say pale but dim.

I’d only just emptied half my dresser drawers, piggybacked my dresses and shoved them to one side leaving five or six empty hangers to chime. While I stacked my shoes beneath the dresses they bloomed over the imaginary line so I shoved them back again and again. I wondered who she would be, younger I hoped, so I could offer advice encouragement measured sympathy or perhaps older so she could offer me those same things.

Joelle was older after all, and she came with just a small bag, the grocery kind, brown paper, rolled tight at the top.

She was pretty like Mary-Ann from Gilligan’s Island, she didn’t eat meat but took the extra green beans my mother offered, the quick salad, no dressing – she ate with a delicacy I tried to match from across the table – her brown paper bag secure on her lap, my father talking with his mouth full my mother too loud too quick too everything.

I don’t think Joelle slept that night. She lay beside me in my mother’s nightie, her bag going up and down on her chest. I curled my back against her and did not sleep either, I watched Beth struggle and die, and when she did I cried no sound but Joelle knew, said what’s wrong, and I pointed in the dark and said my fish died and she said what was its name? and I said I hadn’t given it a name and she said let’s call her Beth from Little Women. I didn’t know the story and she told me all night she told me that story like she’d written it, a couple of times she stopped thinking I’d fallen asleep but I said is that it? and she said no and kept going.

At her last words I said it aloud I said but the fish, how could that fish be Beth when the other three were so very indifferent those sister fish were nothing like Meg Jo and Amy.

My mother didn’t wake us in the morning, it was Friday anyway, I woke first, Joelle sound asleep, her brown paper bag on the floor.

But she wasn’t asleep.

She waited until I looked inside – the bag was empty after all – her voice soft, what did you think would be in there? I’d been caught but it didn’t feel that way. A momento, something to remind you of home I said.

She laughed in the same way the hangers in the cupboard chimed, nothing bitter, no edge, not empty.