The third week of August was Zeb’s first day of kindergarten. The school was a neat, stolid public school, with the low-slung beige shabbiness of a community college. The dark hallways held the subdued patriotism and despair of any public institution, the corkboards with the cheerful propaganda of school: Dream and You Will Become! You Can’t Achieve Unless you Try! There was the astringent smell of fresh paint. The children, Tyler and Shakira and Juan and Mary Grace and the others were escorted by their parents, often startlingly young, to their seats. There was the peculiar spectacle of the populace, with nothing in common but occupying the same precise developmental stage, a situation one finds a few times in life: when starting school, in a hospital, watching toddlers in a playground, moving into a college dorm. The parents tended to say hello and then shy away from each other as though supremely aware of how their lives had deposited them different places in terms of economy, happiness, love; they did not know how they had ended up in these places, who they should thank, or more frequently—who they should blame. The senior teacher, a slight, redheaded woman who Serena thought looked about sixteen, stood in front of the classroom, smiling wanly, as though already predicting this blame; her assistant, Miss LaChawn, shook each parent’s hand firmly, as though welcoming them to a company. The children, not yet sorted or labeled, found seats sized for fairies.