Part One, Chapters 3–4
On their second day of travel, Dicey wakes up from a dream of Aunt Cilla's house, and James greets the morning with his usual words: "It's still true." Sammy attacks James when James expresses doubt that Momma will be waiting for them at Aunt Cilla's, and Dicey pulls her pugnacious younger brother away from James. The children walk doggedly through the hot day and spend the night in a copse of pines off the highway. On the third day, the sky is heavy with rain, and Dicey buys bread, peanut butter, and potatoes, worrying that they only have two dollars and forty-eight cents remaining. That night they sleep in an unfinished house, and the next morning they cross the Thames River. Dicey, worn down by Sammy's crankiness, purchases chicken wings at the grocery store, but when she returns to her siblings, rain begins to fall and Sammy refuses to go on. Dicey makes as if to march off with James and Maybeth in tow. Maybeth goes back to Sammy, holds out her hand, and leads her little brother forward. Soon they stumble upon a public beach, where they build a fire, cook their chicken, and relax into songs.
Around the fire, the siblings begin to voice questions about Momma. Maybeth states that Momma has gotten lost. Remembering their father, who also left them, James wonders if they somehow invite abandonment from the people around them. At the other children's request, Dicey summons together her few recollections of their father, but she keeps to herself the darkest memories, like when the police came looking for their father after he had disappeared. When James gloomily points out that they are illegitimate children, Sammy jumps up to fight him, but Dicey quickly fabricates a story in which Momma and their father get married. When the younger children are asleep, James confides that he does not blame their father for leaving Momma and reminisces painfully about the taunts he bore at school as a result of their parents' relationship. He goes on to tell Dicey that she avoided the teasing because she was such a skilled fighter, but that Sammy bore even more teasing than he did. With this in mind, Dicey drifts off to sleep.
The next morning, the foursome makes the short journey to Rockland State Park. Dicey buys fishhooks and a map from the store at the park's entrance, anticipating that they will find instead of buy their own food for a few days. The purchases leave Dicey with only twenty-six cents. The children make their way to the beach, and feast on fresh steamed mussels for lunch and clams for supper. That night, Dicey cannot sleep, and when she wanders down to the beach, she meets a runaway teenaged couple, Louis and Edie. The pair takes Dicey for a boy who has run away from home like them, and Dicey plays into their assumptions.
The next day, Dicey and Maybeth wash the children's clothes while James and Sammy fish. James is restless and bored, but Sammy remains immobile over the water for almost the entire morning. While climbing among the rocks on the shore, James falls and hits his head. When he tells Dicey he might have a concussion, Dicey has thoughts of ambulances, doctors, money, and being discovered. James lies down after the other children lunch on the fish Sammy has caught, and the other children go to the playground, where they again meet Louis and Edie. In keeping with her charade, Sammy and Maybeth call Dicey "Danny," and Dicey uses the boy's restroom with Sammy, having explained to her younger siblings that it is simply safer to be a boy before arriving at the playground. Dicey tells the older pair that they are heading to Provincetown, and in the ensuing dialogue between the runaways, Edie confesses that she stole money from her father. Louis rationalizes this theft by explaining that the man can afford it anyway and that he will ultimately save money because he will not have to pay for Edie's college education. Louis continues to tease Edie a bit cruelly while the Tillermans watch uneasily. The four children sup on clams and potatoes that night, and fall asleep on the beach.
Dicey sees her identity, and her gender in particular, as something more or less in flux, or at least something that she does not hesitate to obfuscate or fabricate if necessary. In the first chapter, she takes advantage of the security guard's assumption that she is a boy and lies easily to supply her new persona with a credible past and set of motivations. Similarly, in the fourth chapter, she plays into Lou's and Edie's assumption that she is a boy, and, while giving them as few details as she can, constructs a patently false story to explain herself and her family. These changes do not faze Dicey in the least. She does not particularly want to be a boy, but as she pragmatically tells her siblings, it is simply safer to be a boy, because a boy by himself or without an adult attracts less attention than a girl. Dicey's assumption of a different gender identity is neither politically nor ideologically charged; it is simply practical and realistic. Dicey accepts the opportunity to obfuscate her identity and appear to others more as what they expect and less as that of which they might be suspicious or curious. Dicey just as easily fabricates their motivation for travel and their destination to Lou and Edie, and composes a set of motives for her behavior for the security guard. Gender does not seem to be a convention that gives Dicey much trouble; to her it is merely another facet of her identity that she can manipulate or hide as necessary.
Dicey has a similarly pragmatic approach to her past, quickly concocting a story of their parents' wedding when a fight threatens to break out between Sammy and James over the children's legitimacy. Significantly, while the story appreciably soothes Sammy and James, stoic Dicey seems not to care one way or the other, and she also manages to keep the memory of the policemen's visit to their home to herself. She acts this way partly because of the role into which she has been thrust: she must care for her younger siblings, keep their faith and hope in Momma alive, and above all, keep them together, and if she senses false memories about their past will achieve these things, she does not hesitate to voice them.
Partly, though, her complete inscrutability merely reflects her personality: she stoically accepts the circumstances thrust upon her by the outside world and reacts to those circumstances almost without emotion, substituting a keen determination to survive for emotion. Accordingly, Dicey bore little teasing from other children, because she taught them early that she would skillfully fight anyone who disparaged her parents, almost as though she herself could not bear to think of the difficulties and irregularities characterizing her parents' relationship. Just as she wards off thoughts of what they will do when their money runs out, instead concentrating on making the money last as long as possible, Dicey wards off her fears. She continues to move forward, instead of dwell on James' idea that they are the type of children people abandon, or the fact that Momma was irresponsible and unreliable.
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