Figures in the Distance
Despite being ten, Annie remains blissfully unaware of the fact that mortality applies to children as well as old people. And then one day a very young girl dies before her eyes. Not just that, but the girl dies in her own mother’s arms. While her father constructs the coffin for the dead girl, her namesake mother Annie John is charged with preparing the young corpse for burial. Shortly thereafter, Annie can no longer bear to touched by hands that have touched dead babies, but at the same time she becomes obsessed with attending the funerals of strangers following the death of two more kids. When yet another young girls dies—a humpbacked child—Annie forgets all about the fact that she was supposed to get some fish for dinner in her desire to attend the funeral. Her mother finds out that Annie was lying and receives the ultimate punishment: dinner by herself and no goodnight kiss.
Her mom rescinds the second part of the sentence.
The Circling Hand
Annie remembers halcyon days with her mother when she was young and they would bathe together and share each other’s world. Much of that world is packed inside her mother’s trunk. Annie loved hearing tales from her mother about each of the items packed inside that trunk and expresses this remembrance with the delight of a girl knowing she is totally loved. That delight changes as Annie begins to change. Maturity and growth have the effect of transforming the childish sense of perfection contained with those memories exemplified by the stories of the objects in the trunk. Annie is sent by her mother to learn etiquette and take piano lessons and she must stop wearing the dresses constructed from her mother’s fabric. Then the ultimate line separating childish imagery of parents from mature recognition of the truth occurs: Annie spies on her parents making love. Later—for the first ever—Annie engages in behavior toward her mother that can only be termed defiant.
Annie’s first day at her new school crackles with the nervous energy that comes with not knowing anyone else any better than you know yourself. A writing assignment that is an autobiographical essay reveals that she is tremendously gifted. The story recalls the day she and her mother were bathing together in the sea and she suddenly realized she could not spot her mum. Since she was also afraid of the water, she didn’t have the option of swimming around in search of her. Finally her mother returns and soothes with the comforting words that she would never leave her. Later, Annie would return to this event in her dream but things turn out differently: the mother doesn’t return. The small tragedy of the ending is written with enough power to move much of the class to tears. She does not tell them that her mother’s response to the nightmare was a warning against eating fruit before bed that had not been allowed to ripen. By the end of the day, Annie is no longer friendless; Gweneth and she become BFFs. On an entirely different matter, Annie is the first of her friends to start menstruating and brings evidence to show them. They provide comfort, but she is beginning to question whether she still loves her mother.
The Red Girl
Annie’s friendship with the Red Girl is yet another act of defiance toward her mother. So-called because of her bright red unkempt hair. The rebellion stems from the fact that the Red Girl plays marbles; a game strictly forbidden by Annie’s mother. Annie lies about playing marbles and her mother is so incensed that she takes desperate measure to get her daughter to own: she tells her a horrifying story about when she was herself a girl. Annie almost gives in, but ultimately realizes she is being played. The Red Girl eventually moves away, leaving Annie to dream about them living together on a deserted island.
Columbus in Chains
Annie is reading a book in history class and jumps ahead to discover a picture of Columbus in chains on a ship. The image of the great Columbus being revealed as a chained slave fills Annie with great joy as she personally connects the image to a story of her grandfather’s immobility as a result of getting sick. She makes the mistake of writing in the book under the picture and is punished by having to copy in their entirety Books I and II of Paradise Lost.
Annie’s dreams are haunting her. Though 15, she has a sincere belief that the dream world is intimately connected to the real world and this belief is bringing on great distress. Among the dreams she details include one of living like Charlotte Bronte in Belgium. Jane Eyre happens to be her favorite novel in all the world. Along with dreams of living somewhere in Belgium comes a real life reconnection with not exactly an old school chum: among the boys who taunt her outside a store window is one from school who forced her to sit naked on an ant’s nest. When she gets home, this story is met with a scolding from her mother who advises her that speaking with strange boys is something done by sluts. Later, her father makes the offer to build her new furniture for her room and her first request is for a trunk like her mother’s.
The Long Rain
Annie takes sick and it turns from nothing serious into a prolonged illness spanning nearly four months. Unable to leave her bed, Annie’s view of the line separating reality and fantasy becomes skewed and blurred. One of the effects of her illness is an attempt to clean away the flaws in those who pictured in old photograph. Annie’s mother is terrified that her daughter is suffering from the same type of curse that killed her Uncle Johnnie who spent two years immobilized like Columbus n the ship before finally succumbing. Annie’s grandmother arrives and assures that this is not the same situation. By the time she finally gets better, Annie has actually grown taller than her mother.
A Walk to the Jetty
Annie has turned 17 and wants to leave for England to study how to become a nurse. She bids goodbye to Gweneth who is going to be married, a domestic situation that Annie strongly insists she will avoid. As she walks up the dock toward the ship standing between her parents, she looks pensively out over the world she is so desperate to leave behind, but feels a mixture of happiness and regret. Aboard ship, Annie turns to wave goodbye and witnesses the sight of both parents weeping. As the ship sets off, Annie is in her cabin transforming the simple sound of waves knocking against the side of the vessel into a symbolic representation of something turned on its side with a liquid slowly oozing out.