Melissa Scholes Young

“The actual enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of 10 years, in such manner as they shall by Law direct.”                                

-Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States

the census taker drinks her coffee black.  She doesn’t have time for cream, for the frothing or warming of dairy.  Sugar is a cover up. She sips her coffee standing at the glass door to her backyard—the one she’s never stepped foot on during the four months she’s been renting this condo—and counts birds. 34 this morning. 37 yesterday.  She wants to know the birds’ types. She wants to look up their species so that she might know who they are. Labels matter. 

After her coffee, she immediately washes, dries, and puts away her mug.  Then the Census Taker slices off the plastic from a pack of three new ball point pens, fine tip, 1.0 point, black ink.  The forms claim that dark blue ink is also acceptable, but The Census Taker knows better. Details matter.  She unpacks the rest of her briefcase on to the kitchen table to catalog its contents: the pens, of course, for the actual counting; the GPS loaded the previous evening with today’s route; two legal pads; peppermints; her fully charged Blackberry; the government forms, mostly C-17s and a few C-12s; and three manila folders, respectively labeled: To Be Counted, Counted, Uncounted. The labels are hers.  She made them up. Answers matter.

One year before she became The Census Taker, she was just Angela.  Angela Miller, a junior at Rockford College, a psychology major.  She liked thinking about people’s problems and how to solve them.  An answer might prevent error.  A patient could be cured.  An outcome could be changed.  Or at least tucked away into the backpack she carried before the briefcase.

The briefcase was a college graduation gift from her father.  “I don’t know what you’re going to do with a fancy paper in psychology, but maybe you can use one of these,” he’d said, standing on the steps of her dorm, refusing again to come inside. “Your mama’s proud of you, too, Angela. You know that, right?” He studied his feet, his gym shoe tracing a large crack in the sidewalk. “Said she’d try to make it.”

“Well, she didn’t try very hard, did she?” Angela watched her father, willing him to meet her eyes. She wanted him to see her anger, even if it wasn’t his fault.

The briefcase was black with matching gold locks and a numeric code: 1234.  She began imagining her own number combination before she even removed the Wal-Mart price tag: $37.99.  The briefcase was covered in smooth fake leather, and when it snapped open, her breath caught.  The sound was so sure, so definitive, a quick clap just for her. There were three pockets inside attached to the cover for the sorting, filing, and organizing of materials. There was also a tiny plastic sleeve for her future business card, for the person she might become. 
“What are you going to do now, kid?” her father asked.  “You can always come home, you know. You got plans?”

“Of course I have plans,” she said.  “I told you I have plans. I have a job lined up.  It’s temporary but it will probably turn into something permanent.  You know how these things go.” She smoothed her hand again over the top of the briefcase.  It was still warm from sitting in her father’s sun-filled car during the ceremony.

“Oh, yeah.  A job, huh?  Well, all right then.  Your old man can’t remember nothin’. What are you gonna do?”

“I’ll be working for the government.  Counting people.  A Census Taker.”

“A what?” Her father squinted up into the sunlight.

“You know.  A Census Taker.  I’ll be going to people’s homes and helping them fill out their census.  Get their answers. Check for accuracy. So they can be counted.”

“Seems to me if they wanted to be counted, they already would be.” He chuckled a little, then coughed to cover it up.

Angela stared again at her father, saw his thinning hair and wondered if he was stooping more or if it was just her imagination.  Being a Census Taker was the only job offer she’d gotten: 27 applications and resumes, 3 interviews, and this was it.  She’d said yes before she even heard the job description.  The idea had grown on her, morphed into an entirely useful occupation, a necessary patriotic duty—a calling, even.  The counting and categories were essential.  What kind of a person wouldn’t understand that?  Who wouldn’t want to be counted?

“You need anything?  For your plans?” he asked, finally meeting her gaze.

“No,” she answered, “I don’t need anything.”

“I’m sure she tried to make it, Angela.  You should at least call her back. She left me not you, kid.”

“I’m glad you came, Dad. Thanks. For the briefcase.”  She kissed him on the cheek quickly and released him from his duties.


Each morning after her coffee, after the careful survey of the briefcase, The Census Taker pulls on her slacks and button-down white shirt. She likes to think of it as a uniform; though the government didn’t stipulate a dress code when they hired her, she thinks they should have. She then drives her car first through Larry’s House of Cakes and orders two glazed donuts and then through Super Suds.  She holds both donuts on her right, middle finger, slipped through the hole, and nibbles the sugary puffed sweetness as she sits in the dark of the carwash, soap and brushes pounding the exterior of the van, rocking her back and forth. Routines matter.

The Census Taker only parks on the curb, careful not to obstruct the twelve feet required by The Postal Delivery Person on both sides of a mailbox.  Driveways are too intimate.  She’s never even backed up in one, choosing to drive around the block again if she mistakenly passes a house.  Once parked, she opens her manual and begins reading the materials quietly to herself:

By being counted, you are standing up for what your community’s needs are. That’s why census takers are so important. A census taker is a person from your community who is hired by the Census Bureau to make sure that your neighborhood gets represented as accurately as possible. The census taker’s primary responsibility is to collect census information from residences. Most of these residences have not sent back their 2010 Census form.

  • The Census Bureau provides the census taker with a binder containing all of the addresses that didn’t send back a filled out census form.
  • The census taker then visits all of those addresses and records the answers to the questions on the form.
  • If no one answers at a particular residence, a census taker will visit a home up to three times and attempt to reach the household by phone three times. The census worker will leave a double-sided (English and Spanish) NOTICE of VISIT in the doorway that includes a phone number for the resident to schedule an appointment.
  • The census taker will ONLY ask the questions that appear on the census form.

This morning brings The Census Taker to Mrs. Rachel Braverman, 107 Taylor Drive, Murphysboro.  The house is tidy: one-story gray brick with a maroon front door, three matching hanging plants—a fern species, she believes—in white baskets; seven dwarves guarding the manicured lawn—Dopey is missing an arm—a black lamppost on the corner of the lot, purely decorative.  It is not the house of the typically Uncounted.  The Census Taker knows that if they manicure their lawn, they return their census. They recognize the importance of accuracy.  They know this brief invasion of privacy is a necessary evil. They even answer the optional questions and return the census promptly.  Yet, Mrs. Rachel Braverman has not been counted.


When her father called to tell her that her mother had left, Angela got in her car twelve minutes later and drove the two and a half hours home without stopping.  It was a Tuesday in February of her junior year.  She didn’t know what else to do. Going home seemed right. Her mother had been gone for three days.  “She’s not missing, kid,” her father had explained. “She’s gone. Wanted a different life, I guess. She said she’d call you soon.”  He said it just like that.  He wasn’t a cold man, just ill equipped.

“But why?” she’d asked.  “Why now?”

“She’s been leaving for years, I think.  She wanted something else.” He’d looked out her bedroom window.  The tire swing he’d hung when she was in kindergarten shifted in the breeze.  The rope had frayed in several places. 

“Does that mean someone else?” Angela wasn’t sure she wanted the answer.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe.” He looked out the window. “Tire looks like it might fall.  Bet it wouldn’t hold no weight at all.” 

“It always held me just fine. Things change, though, don’t they, Dad?”

He didn’t answer. He just turned his back and went in the house to make spaghetti and meatballs, Angela’s favorite. She slept in the next day and they spent an afternoon watching reruns of M.A.S.H.

When Angela went back to school two days later, it felt like nothing had changed in her life. Stunned, she picked up her textbook, Transpersonal Psychology, and began taking notes on the lectures she’d missed.  


The Census Taker places the briefcase on the passenger seat facing her.  She snaps open the lid and takes out a legal pad for notes.  She clicks a ballpoint pen, scratches it on the top corner of the pad to draw ink, rips off the marked page, and begins her documentation on the fresh page:

8:30 a.m.

Census Taker: 12007965 Arrives at 107 Taylor Drive

8:37 a.m.

Mrs. Rachel Braverman is unresponsive to knocking, a dog barks yips

8:46 a.m.

The front drapes move, a woman stands in the window

8:52 a.m.

Mrs. Rachel Braverman is unresponsive to knocking and doorbell ringing, the dog yips again

8:57 a.m.

A radio can be heard from the front porch

9:06 a.m.

Mrs. Rachel Braverman is unresponsive to the telephone

9:12 a.m.

Mrs. Rachel Braverman is unresponsive to front door knocking, back door knocking, doorbell ringing, and telephone ringing, dog

9:30 a.m.

The garage door opens. The assumed Mrs. Rachel Braverman backs out her Cadillac (white) and drives away, quickly.
License plate:  G65 N12

9:32 a.m.

Notice of Visit left on front door

The final count for The Census Taker’s day is nine: three houses on Glenview, one on Emerald, four on Woodbridge, and one side of a duplex on Meridian.  She left a Notice of Visit on the other side of the duplex.  Her quota is ten households counted.  She glances back over her notes from the day, chiding herself for the tiny smear of tuna fish sandwich on the corner of the legal pad, and decides to return to Taylor Drive. Mrs. Rachel Braverman must be counted. It matters.  The Census Taker has been working this neighborhood for almost three weeks now.  Her counting here is almost done; 2,064 residents have returned their census; she’s counted another 157.  Mrs. Rachel Braverman is the one remaining C-17. 

At 4:12 p.m. The Census Taker again parks her van at 107 Taylor Drive and removes Mrs. Rachel Braverman’s blank census from the Uncounted folder.  She runs her finger along the side of the folder, enjoying the edges that now meet perfectly since the folder is empty. 


Angela’s father was surprised to see her packing on Easter Sunday morning.  She’d only come home the night before. “You going back so soon, kid?  How come? No one would blame you for taking some time off. It’s not everyday a kid’s parents divorce, you know.”  He stood in the door of her childhood bedroom and watched her mate socks.  Angela kept her hands on her task and didn’t meet his eyes.
“I have classes to make up.  Finals to study for.  Graduation in a month.”

He leaned on the doorframe and studied her. He was wearing the wool gloves that she’d knitted in high school as a Christmas present. Over the years, he wore the gloves thin, carrying wood in for the fire, shoveling snow in the winter, scraping the ice from her car window before school.  Each time she noticed a gaping hole or a small tear, she’d take the gloves out of his coat pockets at night and repair the damage. “I know you,” he said. He crossed his arms and rubbed his chin stubble.  “You think I don’t but I do. You’re your mother’s child, that’s for sure.  Always moving.  Busy moving. Wanting something else, but I’ll bet you don’t know what.”

She waited for him to say something else.  He didn’t.

Angela closed the lid of her suitcase and turned to face him.  “She didn’t even tell me herself.”

“She was private.  You know that. Said she wanted space.  To figure out who she was. She’s gone.  That’s that.  I can’t change it.”           

“It’s a long drive back.”  Angela picked up her suitcase and slung her backpack over her shoulder.  Her father reached for the handle, but she walked past him without accepting the help.


In The Census Taker’s experience, most people do want to be counted.  They intended to fill out the form; they misplaced the form; they thought their spouse had returned the form; they are embarrassed not to have done their duty.  It is rare that anyone refuses, but it has happened.  Government haters say no. Doors slam in her face spontaneously.  One time a drunken man ripped the form from her hands and passed out with the door open. 

If someone in the family has died or divorced since the last census, the counting means more than a number. That was the story at the duplex on Meridian this morning. “There’s three of us—no, one,” a woman answered, holding her cotton housecoat at the neck. “I keep forgetting.  Just one.” Then she shuffled back inside leaving Angela with an incomplete form. She gets three tries to count them, three notices and her time is up.  She has printed her own index cards to respond to the question posed by the ones who refuse to be counted:

Do I have to talk to the census taker?
Yes. Your participation in the 2010 Census is vital and required by law, (Section 221, of Title 13 of the U.S. Code). However, rather than rely on criminal charges, the Census Bureau is very successful in getting participation by explaining the importance of the questions we ask and how the information benefits our communities.

Your privacy and confidentiality is our priority:

The Census Taker who collects your information is sworn for life to protect your data under Federal Law Title 13. Those who violate the oath face criminal penalties: Under federal law, the penalty for unlawful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years, or both.

Census Taker 12007965

The card seems to put them at ease.  She hates to have to mention the fine: $100 if they refuse to answer, $500 for false answers, information with “intent to cause inaccurate enumeration of the population” can cost them $1000. They usually consent to her questions and allow her to check the boxes on their form.  They keep the door slightly ajar, but they do not invite her in. She’s clear about the optional questions, which they usually refuse as some sort of personal victory over the census itself.  She thanks them politely, extending her hand, and returns to her van to file their forms in the Counted folder.  She thinks a completed form is a beautiful thing.  She prefers to fill them out herself because her check mark is so measured in each little box. People in their rightful place.

The final C-17 makes The Census Taker’s belly churn. She’s so close to getting it right. She smoothes her shirt and straightens her shoulders. Then she knocks, three times in quick succession.  Through the door she sees an old lady and her dog watching M.A.S.H.  It’s the one where Hawkeye plays Santa for a group of Korean kids.  The C-17 and her dog are ignoring the door.  The Census Taker knows the rules.  Section 221 of Title 13 of the U.S. Code.  She rings the doorbell multiple times, raps her knuckles loudly on the door, and waits.

4:12 p.m.

Census Taker: 12007965 Arrives at 107 Taylor Drive

4:17 p.m.

Mrs. Rachel Braverman, who is clearly present, is unresponsive to knocking, a dog is observed, M.A.S.H

4:20 p.m.

Mrs. Rachel Braverman, who is clearly present and aware of the knocking and doorbell ringing, unresponsive also to the telephone ringing

4:25 p.m.

Voicemail message, requesting Mrs. Rachel Braverman call Census Taker 12007965 for an appointment

4:30 p.m.

2nd Notice of Visit is left on the front door

The Census Taker is on the sidewalk heading toward her car when the garage door opens.  The dog trots along at Mrs. Braverman’s feet. He growls deep in his throat when he sees The Census Taker. 

“Good afternoon, ma’am.  I’m a census taker from the United States government.  Are you Mrs. Rachel Braverman?”  She walks to meet the woman on the sidewalk with the clipboard held tight to her chest.  The dog barks and pulls his leash taut trying to lunge at her.

“That’s me.  Hello, there.  Speak up! What did you say your name was?”  Mrs. Braverman extends her hand, smiles warmly.  “Oh, Cocoa, calm down!  It’s just a new friend.”

“I didn’t.  I’m Angela Miller, Census Taker 120007965.  I’m an official with the United States Government sent out to count the people.” She raises her voice to be heard over the constant barking.  “Mrs. Braverman, you didn’t return your census form.  That’s why I’m here, to help you be counted.  I’ve been trying to reach you.  Do you have a few moments now?”

“Well, of course I returned my form.  Don’t be silly.  I always return my census.  I’m as good a citizen as any. We’re on our way to Dairy Queen.”

“Please. If you have just a moment, I could fill out the form for you.”

“Can’t now.  Ice cream calls. I’ll be seventy in a month, and I’ve learned not to wait for anything!”  Mrs. Braverman pulls Cocoa back from sniffing the mailbox.

“But Mrs. Braverman, you are required by law to return your census.  It will only take a few minutes.”

“Angela, I’m sure I returned my census.  And now I’m going for ice cream.  My friend is waiting.” She looks at Angela and cocks her head to the side as if she’s figuring something out.  “You do need something, though, don’t you?  Look at those sad eyes. I may be deaf but I ain’t blind. Why don’t you stop by in the morning so we can sort this out?  We’ll have coffee.  How’s that sound? Knock loud, okay?  I can’t hear a darn thing.” Mrs. Braverman doesn’t wait for an answer; she leads Cocoa, still growling and scratching at the sidewalk as if to charge The Census Taker, toward the street.  “How about 8:30?  That’s a nice time for coffee.  I’ll be in my backyard. Just come on in.  See you then, Angela!” 

The Census Taker stands alone on the sidewalk, processing her failure.  The forms on her clipboard are wrinkled from her tight grip.  “But—” she begins; Mrs. Braverman and Cocoa are already gone.  Counting people isn’t as easy as she thought it would be.  Sometimes they don’t want to be counted and sometimes the count isn’t so simple. The Census Taker returns to her car, places the forms back into the Uncounted folder, records her daily mileage, and dials her supervisor to report the day’s count.


Angela’s mother came to campus just once after the divorce.  She was sitting on the doorstep of Angela’s dorm on a Friday afternoon.  “I’ve been calling and calling,” she said, when Angela came up the pathway from her last class of the day.  “Don’t you check your voicemail?” Angela walked past her, put her hand on the glass door, and then stopped.  She hardly recognized her mother; her hair was a lighter color, the gray was gone, the circles under her eyes had faded, her makeup was freshly applied. Angela had been waiting and wanting this moment of confrontation, but now that it was here, she couldn’t find the voice for her questions. How could you leave?  What about Dad?  What about me? What do you want so bad that you have to go away to find it?  A part of her wanted to curl up in her mother’s lap and another part wanted to slap her. 
“You smoke now?”  Angela said, looking at the pack of cigarettes on top of her mother’s purse.

Her mother laughed.  “I’ve smoked for years.  You haven’t been around much.  I know, I know.  College.  It’s your time.  That’s what you keep telling me.”  She stood and reached for Angela’s hand.  “Let’s take a walk.” 

“I don’t want to walk with you,” Angela answered and regretted it instantly. She wanted to walk with her.   She wanted to loop arms like they used to and skip down the sidewalk outside their house singing We’re off to the see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz, but she couldn’t take it back. 

“Well, that’s just not true, is it?  I’m still your mother.  Even if I’m not with Dad.  It’s a hard pill to swallow, Angela.  I get that.” She took out her cigarettes, put one in her mouth, and cupped her hand close to her face to light it.

“It’s a non-smoking building,” she said.  Her voice cracked. “You can’t come in.”

“Oh, you and your rules.  You’ve always been such a stickler,” her mother said reaching out her hand.  “Remember your lemonade stands?  You demanded exact change or you refused the sale.  Seventeen cents per cup.”  She slid her hand in the pocket of her jeans.

Angela didn’t answer.  She just stared at the woman she used to think she knew.  She looked younger and calm, not the tired mom she remembered.  “Why, Mom? Just tell me why. Then leave.”

Her mother’s face softened. “You really want to know? You really want to do this now? We could get a cup of coffee, you know. Chit chat. You can tell me about your classes and I’ll tell you what I’m painting.”

“You can’t just pretend that everything’s okay. You can’t just stroll back into my life.”

“I left your father, not you, Angela. There’s a big difference.”

“I don’t see it.”

“I’m going to go now then,” her mother said, leaning over to pick up her purse. 

“Just like that?” Angela stammered.

“Like that? You don’t seem to want me here, honey.”

“You’ve ruined everything, you know.”

“That’s just not true. You can think that if you want. It’s your life.  Took me a long time to figure it out, too.”  She put on her sunglasses and stubbed out the cigarette on the sidewalk.  “You call me when you can.  Whenever you want. You can even come see me this summer. I’d like that.”

Angela steadied herself on the side of the brick building. She crossed her arms and finally said it. “It seems selfish.”

“Selfish? Because I didn’t play by the rules? I don’t think so, honey.” Her mother leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. Then she walked away. 

Angela kept her eyes on the cigarette butt and fought the urge to pick it up and put it in the nearest receptacle.


At 8:20 the following morning, Angela parks in Mrs. Rachel Braverman’s driveway. Last night, her supervisor informed her that her duties as an enumerator would no longer be needed.  “You’ve done good work, Angela,” her supervisor said, “but the job is done.  You’re welcome to log on to our website and apply for future employment opportunities.  Thanks so much.” And then she hung up.  Just like that. 
Angela sits in the driveway a moment longer, watching the minutes on the dashboard clock flash. She is wearing blue jeans and a faded t-shirt with Lincoln High Marching Band scrawled across her chest.  This is her final count. She’s off duty.  She wants to finish this job, to get it right, even if it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t know what’s next.  There is no plan for tomorrow morning. 

She carries her briefcase and a box of donuts—two glazed, two jelly-filled— because her mother always said to bring food when you visit someone’s home. She rings the front doorbell. No answer.  Cocoa barks and barks.  She walks around to the side of the house and peers over the gate into the backyard.  Mrs. Braverman sits alone at a small table, her eyes are closed, and she is smiling up into the morning sun.  She is already wearing full makeup—painted on eyebrows, caked foundation, hot pink lips—her hair is teased into a brown halo.

“Mrs. Braverman?”  Angela calls over the fence. 

Mrs. Braverman opens her eyes and lifts Cocoa into her lap.  “What’s all this fuss?”  She coos into Cocoa’s face.  He licks her cheeks and lets forth a quick succession of yips like a drill sergeant.  “Shh, Cocoa.  Calm down. Shh, boy!” 

“Mrs. Braverman?”  Angela calls again over the fence.  “I brought donuts.”

“Donuts?”  Mrs. Braverman turns toward Angela.  “Come on in.  Let me get you a cup of coffee.” A moment later she returns with steaming coffee in a mug that reads World’s Best Mom and sets it before Angela.  “It’s black.  I hope that’s okay.”

“Yes.  Thank you.”

“I’m so glad you came, dear.  I was beginning to worry about you.” Mrs. Braverman leans over and pats Angela’s hand. 

“I came to help you fill out your census.  It’s just ten questions, ma’am.  It will take a few minutes.”  Angela clicks her ballpoint pen. “The first question is—”     

“Do you live alone, Angela? A pretty girl like you probably has a lot of boyfriends. I’ve never lived alone.  Went straight from my mother’s arms to my husband’s. People need each other, you know.”

“So, there are two residents in the home, correct?” She takes a sip of her coffee, let’s the warm wash all the way down to her belly.

“No.  At least three. There’s Cocoa.  He counts. My husband, too.  He counts. Bless his soul.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, ma’am, but I think that’s just one.”

“Oh, is it?”

“The census needs an accurate count of current occupants only,” Angela explains. She reaches over to pet Cocoa but pulls her hand back at his low growl.

“Seems like a funny way to count to me. Who’s to say someone doesn’t belong just because they’re gone?” Mrs. Braverman clicks her tongue in disapproval. 

Angela wonders how her father filled out his census. Does she count in his number? Did he record Mom? The form blurs in front of her. She moves to the next question. “Do you own this house?” 

“I suppose I do.  My husband and I bought it together back in ’68.  I knew it was the one when I first stepped through the front door.  I was so pregnant that day.  I had to hold onto the doorframe just to steady myself!” She pauses and looks out into the yard. “Raised all my babies here.  Kept their rooms exactly the same.  Posters.  Little League trophies.  In case they ever came back. Would you like to see their rooms?  I just love walking through the bedrooms.  They’re all grown up, I know, but it’s like they’re still here. Do you own a home, Angela?”

“These questions are really about you, ma’am.  For the form.  Can you spell your full name and verify your phone number?”  Angela slides the form across the table and points to the blank space with her index finger.      

“Oh, I can’t see a thing without glasses.  And I never wear glasses.  They make me feel so old.  Can’t stand those hearing aid things either.  I hear what I want to hear. I know what I look like on the outside, but I still feel thirteen inside.”     

“Mrs. Braverman, we’re almost done.  Can you tell me how old you are and when you were born?”

“A lady never tells her age.  You should know that.  Didn’t your mama teach you that?”  Mrs. Braverman’s voice is gently teasing.

“No, actually, she didn’t.  She’s gone.”  Angela stares at the form, the empty boxes, willing them to be filled. “She left.”

“Gone?  I’m so sorry.”

“She left when I was away at college. I don’t know why. She just didn’t want us anymore, I guess.”  She can’t seem to make it stop, this spilling of details to this stranger.  A choke rises in her throat and comes out as a hiccup. “Divorced my dad. She barely even told me.”

“Oh, that’s just awful.  I know exactly what you mean. It’s terrible to be left behind. You poor thing.” Mrs. Braverman reaches over and brushes the hair off Angela’s forehead and tucks the strands behind her ear.

“I don’t know how to do this.” Angela keeps her eyes on the form, looking for an answer. “I don’t know what to do next.”

“To do what?  The questions?  Oh, I’ll fill out your silly form. All those boxes.”  Mrs. Braverman leans in and places her hands on top of Angela’s.  She holds them there until Angela’s hands soften, too. Angela stares at the knobby knuckles, the bluish veins beneath the surface of Mrs. Braverman’s paper thin skin. She inhales lavender. The closeness is a welcome shock. She can’t remember the last time she’s been touched. She’s been pushing away all the people who know her best, insisting they don’t. She thinks about all the voicemail messages from her father. I’m here if you need me, kid.  I know you think I don’t know what you’re going through, but I do.  It’s hard.  We could do this together, you know.  Call me. Come on home, kid. She remembers her mother’s note in yesterday’s mail: Come see me in Maine this summer, honey.  I have a place on the beach.  I’m painting.  We can dig for clams and swim.  We can have a nice talk. You don’t have to have all the answers, Angela. Didn’t I ever tell you that?

“I should go,” Angela says.  She stands too quickly and the C-17 form falls from her lap.  Mrs. Braverman watches the paper hit the floor, accidentally steps on it, then hands it back with the dust of her footprint.

“Well, you can come back anytime.  Cocoa and I would love to see you again, wouldn’t we, Cocoa?” 


Angela sits in the driver’s seat of her car, smoothes out the paper, and fills out the census for Mrs. Braverman.  She makes up what she doesn’t know, breaking all the rules, forging her way to completion.  Her count is 3, and Angela makes the number large and sloppy so it fills the whole box. She signs it Mrs. Rachel Braverman. Then she marks the envelope: Counted, puts it in Mrs. Braverman’s mailbox, and lifts the red flag.

Melissa Scholes Young was born and raised in Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain’s beloved boyhood home, and she teaches writing at American University in Washington, D.C. She earned an MFA in fiction at Southern Illinois University where she was an assistant editor for Crab Orchard Review. Her essays have appeared most recently in Brain, Child, Poets & Writers, and Huffington Post. Her fiction and poetry have been published in Tampa Review, Word Riot, Cold Mountain Review, New Madrid, Yalobusha Review, Mandala, and other literary journals. She is a contributing editor at Fiction Writer’s Review, and she’s been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. You can read more of her work on her website at