Boy plays

with tin soldiers by the washbin.

Church bells stay his small hands.

War is over

for now.

Marguerite Maria Rivas, “1918”



Fitz always fought back. But he was tired. So he squinted at the Alma Mater from the steps of the Low Library and looked for the owl. Legend has it that those who find it hidden in the folds of the statue's robe will have great academic success. Some even say that if a Columbia boy spots it on his first try, he will go on to marry a Barnard girl. Fitz learned this during his lunch break, eating a turkey sandwich at the foot of the sculpture, when he overheard it from a brown-faced boy with a "Columbia" lanyard badge shepherding a small crowd of teens and parents.

For months now Fitz had stared at the statue, knowing nothing about its secret owl. He had trouble remembering things. But the bronze stillness of Alma Mater, the gallant symmetry of her pose, helped calm the tide of memories crashing stubbornly against his mind. He did not have amnesia. He knew his name and who he was. He remembered with perfect clarity being a teenager in Staten Island when Russian families began to invade from Brooklyn, pushing Italians and the Irish further toward New Jersey, away from the only bridge that connected him to the yet uncharted City. And just as the phosphorescent buildings across the New York Harbor became too dim to recognize, he remembered graduating from high school and his mother leaving his father shortly after that. Some of these memories were like subway stations, bright and numbered. Yet he couldn't place exactly when and where his father's boyish blue-collar immaculateness gave way to the face of a broken heart. That precise moment lay somewhere in the darkness, between the stops, along with the morning Fitz fought back, signing his formal name for the last time before shipping to Paris Island, South Carolina.

But that was five years ago. Now Fitz was back and the sun was everywhere. In a city where every inch of soil, every breathing pore of it, seemed to shoot dark lumps of cement into the sky, the square campus of Columbia University was so wide and flat it nearly suffocated in daylight. Its tour guide looked no older than nineteen, with dark skin and a body that was yet to fill his polo shirt and khakis. But when the group of kids and parents stopped in front of the statue, he spoke of it with the booming poise of a man. "The great Athena of wisdom and justice," like a stage actor, he walked the sculpture's basin in measured steps. "And here she sits, arms raised skyward, welcoming us into the lore of this great university since nineteen oh four." Something about the way the kid's massive brown eyes made the rest of his face look skeletal, how the wind disturbed his black hair and the manner in which he swept it back to the side made him seem familiar. Fitz tried searching his mind for traces of the boy, but someone else in the crowd distracted him; a blonde teenage girl standing with her mother. Fitz figured she must have been from somewhere else—the country—Colorado or Iowa,