MYRTLE SOO is eight years old when she begins to realize that she is different from her peers. She and her father, a widower, live alone at SOO TOWNHOME in BROOKLYN, NEW YORK. MYRTLE lives a highly solitary childhood; her father spends much of the day away from the homestead. He is a well-to-do gentleman who relocated to NEW YORK CITY from THE ORIENT in the late 1800s. A skilled English-speaker, he manages trade through MANHATTAN’s CHINATOWN. His crucial position in the import-export chain leaves him little time for his daughter. MYRTLE attends a local public school, her day-to-day focus occupied with learning the three R’s.
On a Monday in late October, MYRTLE is daydreaming in class.
She is remembering a strange incident over the past summer when she’d been building a sandcastle. An incident that has left her wondering if she’s being haunted.
A neighbor had taken some local children on a trip to CONEY ISLAND where many of her friends had participated in a sandcastle building contest. MYRTLE had been pushing the sand into place when something very curious had happened. When making motion to push the sand into place, she’d seen a gap between the sand and her hand. For a moment, she had been able to push the sand as if touching it, but without touching it. A sort of ghost’s hand.
This seeing had expanded in her mind and she’d repeated the vision over and over again, trying to glean any wisdom from its mystery. But at this point she was almost certain it was something she’d imagined rather than truth. A legend.
No. It couldn’t be truth, could it? To move the sand without touching it?
But wasn’t memory to be trusted, the only truth one could rely upon?
Were ghosts real?
She continues to dissect the memory, increasingly convinced that she’d simply imagined what she’d thought she’d seen.
And yet, her imagination –
The terse voice interrupts her daydream and she exclaims in half-reply:
The classroom breaks out into laughter.
NO, MISS SOO.
COME TO THE BOARD –
She speaks slowly, as if to an idiot. MYRTLE breaks into a deep flush.
AND SHOW US HOW TO FIGURE 17 BY 13.
YES, MISS –
When MYRTLE gets up, she trips over the side of the desk and sends flying a bottle of ink. It falls off the desk and smashes on the floor. Dark ink spills to the floor of the aisle.
A girl behind her, one she didn’t like very much, laughs derisively.
The class alights with scattered laughter.
MYRTLE looks down at the glass shining among the midnight ink. Several of the larger pieces rock back and forth.
FETCH THE MOP.
FRANCES WILL PERFORM YOUR ARITHMETIC.
FRANCES was a kind-faced girl with light brown hair in braids. MYRTLE had thick hair cut just under her chin. She was the only girl in her class without enough hair to set into a plait.
She retreives the dustpan and brings it back to the scene of the crime.
Some of the larger pieces of glass are… still oscillating.
Squatting, she picks up the glass, starting with the largest pieces, ink staining her fingers. She deposits them as silently as possible into the tray. Her revelation clouded by the heat of shame.
They are just getting too small to handle when a strange glint comes to her attention.
She has a pressure sensation that she should have a cut from this tiny shard between her thumb and forefinger. Her fingers tingle as if from cold, not from pain.
In shock at something unknown, she brings her hand into easier viewing. She slowly spreads her fingers apart, looking for the telltale red of blood. Instead, the shard glistens white and hovers a moment between her fingers as if held by string. It spins, gleaming, and then drops to the ground.
Instinctually, she looks up to the students’ desks around her. But no one seems to be any the wiser.
MYRTLE had begun her career at the school two years ago as a precocious young scholar, carrying all the endorsement of her teachers. But this year, her teachers were instead expressing concern about her distracted manner.
But MYRTLE did not want a new mama. She liked the quiet of the brownstone when she got back from school. Her father paid someone to launder their clothes, cook their lunches, wash their floors…
For what did she need a mother?
Each day after school was concluded, MYRTLE flitted away time at a local dirt field. It was fenced off and denoted as private property destined for development at some indeterminate day in the future. Police officers chided children caught trespassing. But it wasn’t enough to deter the local youth.
Twelve and thirteen-year-olds clustered in groups. Their younger siblings piled stones and dug for pebbles in what once, MYRTLE had surmised, held animals intended for slaughter.
She had here made friends with a young boy RICHARD. He had a fondness for digging dirt that the young MYRTLE generally found infectious. He was a sweet boy, as of yet unspoilt by the hustle of the city.
Today, the young boy had a bucket with him that he was filling and refilling, creating a small mound of soil next to a hole.
I’M DIGGING FOR DRAGON BONES.
But MYRTLE was in no mood for fun and games.
DON’T BE RIDICULOUS.
The young boy looks up at her.
DRAGONS ONLY COME FROM THE OLD WORLD.
WHERE IS ‘THE OLD WORLD’?
‘THE OLD WORLD’ IS EUROPE, AFRICA, ASIA.
WE LIVE IN ‘THE NEW WORLD’. AMERICA.
WHERE THERE ARE NO DRAGONS. NO CASTLES.
RICHARD looks down at his pile of dirt, pausing a moment, contemplative.
He ignores her and continues to dig.
Late that evening, MYRTLE is sitting in her room working embroidery when she hears the sound of her father entering the home.
MYRTLE keeps the frame in hand and leaves the bedroom to descend the stairs.
Her father seems even more peaked than was his usual.
MYRTLE’s father insisted on speaking only English to his daughter.