Brilliantly written by master short story-teller Claire Keegan, this is the story of a little girl, around 7 or 8 years old, who is one of many children in a poor Irish family living in County Wexford. In order to have one less mouth to feed, her parents lend her out for the summer to the Kinsellas, a gentle, compassionate childless couple who yearn for little ones. They embrace her fully, nicknaming her Petal. She has never had so much to eat, so much kindness, and so much attention. Like her nickname, Petal blossoms with all this love, care, and thoughtfulness. On her first night in the Kinsella home, she is told there are no secrets in this house. But that’s not quite true. There is one, and before the end of the summer the little girl figures it out.
The ending is heartbreaking, but it’s the right ending.
This is a pitch-perfect story that is profound and haunting. It is a story of love—of what could be and of what isn’t.
As I was reading this, I knew I had read it before, but it was published less than a year ago. And then it hit me! It was featured in “The Best American Short Stories 2011,” edited by Geraldine Brooks, which is where I first read it. Originally, it was published in The New Yorker in February 2010. Both were abridged versions from this standalone book.