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Chapters 1-2 Summary

The story opens with the birth of Meridia, which took twenty-seven hours. When she was finally born, it took a while to get her to start breathing. Meridia grew up in a large house with her mother, Ravenna, and her father, Gabriel. The house was always cold, so as a child, Meridia was always bundled up in coats by her overly fussy nurse. The house had a beautiful garden and a perennial mist that hung around the front all year long. Even as young child, Meridia noticed that her parents led virtually separate lives, rarely being in the same room together. Ravenna seemed to have some kind of memory problem, as she often failed to recognize the people and places around her. Gabriel was a stern man who spent much time in his study. One day, Meridia ventured into his study to snoop around, only to be discovered by a disapproving Gabriel. Meridia’s germophobic nurse rarely let her leave the house, but one day, Ravenna decided to take her nine-year-old daughter to the market. Meridia was so excited that she lost track of her mother. When another woman found the distraught Meridia crying, the woman tried to convince her that her mother was playing hide-and-seek. When they finally located Ravenna (after Meridia smells her signature scent of verbena), the woman was horrified by Ravenna’s blasé attitude about losing her daughter. Meridia realized that Ravenna doesn’t remember that two hours have passed or that Meridia had gone missing.

By age twelve, Meridia was going to school, despite the nurse’s concerns about cleanliness. Meridia often saw an old wizened face in the mirrors and had a dream she believed was an early childhood memory: something falls, someone screams, Ravenna picks her up, and there is something warm running down her cheek. Gabriel continued his cruel disregard for Meridia, but one day, he called her into his study, where there were two men. In front of the men, he pointed out all her flaws, referring to her as ugly and stupid. Meridia held back her tears in defiance, but all of a sudden, her stomach lurched and there was blood on the floor. Shamed by her father, she ran from the study to her nurse, who told her she has become a woman. Enraged by her father’s viciousness, she demanded to know what was wrong with the house and her parents. Reluctantly, the nurse told Meridia of the once-happy couple welcoming their daughter into the world and bragging to everyone, hosting tons of festive parties. One night, a strong, strange wind had burst through the windows into their bedroom. After that, everything changed: Ravenna became lost and vague, Gabriel tired and irritable, the house cold and dark, and the couple discordant and hostile; the staircase’s length seemed to change from moment to moment (sometimes it might take a minute to climb or descend it, sometimes two hours). Within months, a permanent mist had appeared by the front door; servants came and went, often frightened by the unusual goings on. One night, Ravenna came down for dinner looking beautiful, and the couple seemed on the verge of healing. That night, another wind blew into their room; the nurse heard screaming and burst into their room. The couple had their last fight and stopped speaking to each other. Meridia was moved into her own room, and Gabriel stopped sleeping at home. When Meridia demanded to know the origins of her dream and the bright light, the nurse suddenly stopped her tale and left; Meridia smelled verbena (Ravenna’s scent) and knew her mother was nearby. Later that day, Meridia discovered the nurse’s room completely emptied out, and her mother gave her a vague explanation about a sick relative; it was clear that the nurse was gone for good.

Chapters 3-4 Summary

Following the hasty departure of the nurse, Meridia became a nonentity in her house. Her mother rarely noticed her and her father regarded her with such contempt that she kept her distance; she felt invisible in her own home. Maids continued to come and go, often frightened away by...

(The entire section is 10,151 words.)