1 "It's starting to snow," Anastasia announced as she came through the back door. "It's really coming down. Maybe if it snows all night there won't be any school tomorrow—I hope, I hope." She dropped her schoolbooks on the kitchen table with a thump. "What's for dinner?" she asked her mother. "Why are you just standing there with that sort of frown on your face? And your lips are green. Why are your lips green?" Mrs. Krupnik sighed. She poked out her tongue, tasted her lips, and made a face. "It's ink," she said. "I was working on some book illustrations all afternoon, and I was using green ink. I can't seem to quit putting the tip of my brush in my mouth." "It looks gross," Anastasia said cheerfully. "It makes you look like some science-fiction creature." "Thanks a lot," said her mother crossly. "You really know how to make a person feel terrific, Anastasia." She rubbed her mouth with a damp dish towel; then she stared at the smeared cloth. "Great. Now I've ruined a perfectly good towel." "Yeah, but your lips look a little more normal. What's for dinner?" Anastasia asked again. "And why are you so grouchy?" "I'm not grouchy. I'm perplexed." Mrs. Krupnik sat down in a kitchen chair and sighed again. "I'm perplexed because it's time to cook dinner, and I don't know what we're having for dinner. I forgot to take any meat out of the freezer." Anastasia groaned. She took off her snowy parka and hung it on a hook in the back hall. "Again?" she asked. "You forgot to take meat out of the freezer yesterday and we had to have grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. And the day before that, you—" Her mother interrupted her. "I know. Chunky Soup. I just can't seem to get my act together when it comes to making dinner. I'm good at a lot of stuff: illustrating, growing begonias, playing trucks with your brother, even matching up the socks when they come out of the dryer. And I'm a good mother, I guess. Would you say I'm a good mother?" "Yeah. You're okay," Anastasia said, and opened the refrigerator door. She made a face. "Isn't there anything for a snack, even?" "Saltines." "Yuck." Anastasia went to the cupboard and took a saltine from the box. She looked at it apathetically and put it back. "Daphne's mother made chocolate chip cookies today. And Sonya's mother made brownies. I pigged out at both their houses on the way home from school. That's why I'm late. Why don't you ever make brownies?" "I'm a lousy homemaker. I'm a good cook; but how can I cook something when it's all frozen solid? Why do I always forget to take things out of the freezer? And sometimes I forget to do the laundry, too. I bet your friends' mothers all remember to wash the clothes." "Yeah, probably. Daphne likes her clothes dirty, though. She has a pair of jeans that haven't been washed in a year. They can stand up by themselves. She hides them in her closet, standing up, so her mother won't wash them." "Maybe that's what I should do. I should hide in a closet, standing up. Then no one would notice what a rotten housekeeper I am." Mrs. Krupnik stood up and went to the pantry. Anastasia watched her disappear into the small room. "You're not really doing it, are you?" she called. "Hiding in there? Because I'll tell Dad. You can't trust me to keep a secret like that, Mom." Her mother reappeared, holding a box. "No. If I ever disappear, if I ever go into hiding, it'll be in that big closet off the guest room, the one where the summer clothes are stored. I was just looking in the pantry for something we could have for dinner. What do you think about"—she read the label from the dusty box—"instant meatless enchiladas?" "You want honesty, or politeness?" "Honesty." "Barf. That's what I think." "Yeah, me too." Mrs. Krupnik put the box on the table, and sank into the chair again. "Is it snowing hard? Is the driving terrible? Maybe your dad could go get some pizza." Anastasia went to the window and rubbed a circle clear with the palm of her hand so that she could look out. "The street's still bare," she said. "Is Dad home yet? I'll go ask him." Her mother nodded. "He's home early today. He's reading to Sam." She looked gloomily at the window, where Anastasia's circle had filled in again with steam. "Now the window will be all smeared. And I never seem to get around to washing the windows. I am such a hopeless failure at housework, Anastasia. Hopeless. Maybe I should subscribe to Good Housekeeping. Maybe that would help." "Don't do anything drastic and irrevocable, Mom. Probably there are easier solutions. Dad and I will give it some thought. In the meantime: loaded, no anchovies?" "And extra cheese," her mother said. "You got it." Anastasia headed for the study, to find her father. *** All four Krupniks sat in the study, in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace, with a huge pizza on the big coffee table. Strings of cheese dangled from their chins. A Beethoven symphony played on the stereo. Outside, the wind howled and a tree branch tapped against the side of the house. "Isn't this great?" asked Anastasia's father. "Isn't this the best of all possible worlds? Don't you feel as if you have absolutely no problems on a cozy night like this?" "I have a problem," Mrs. Krupnik said. "I have a problem, too," Anastasia said. "I have a big problem," Sam announced, with his mouth full. "Not enough mushrooms on my pizza." Myron Krupnik sighed. "Well, I'm shot down again. Here, Sam. You can have some of my mushrooms." He scooped them off his pizza slice with his hand, and deposited them on Sam's slice. "Now: Sam, you got a problem?" "Nope," said Sam, chewing vigorously. "No problems." "Anastasia?" her father asked. "What's your problem? You want my pepperoni? Am I going to get stuck with a naked pizza?" "No, my pizza's fine. My problem has to do with school. English class in particular." Her father grinned and stretched his long legs out toward the fire. "Well, I'm not an English professor for nothing. Ask me anything. You want the major themes in Shakespeare? A brief but scintillating history of Restoration drama? How about—" "Dad. Don't go off on a whole big lecture. My problem is a personal one, and it has to do with Steve Harvey, and it just happened to take place in English class." Sam giggled. "Anastasia loves Steve," he said. "Steve is Anastasia's boyfriend." "Quit it," Anastasia said, and poked her brother. "Three-year-olds don't know anything about boyfriends and girlfriends." "Kiss me, Steve," said Sam dramatically, and he made loud kissing noises in the air. A mushroom flew out of his mouth. "QUIT IT!" Anastasia bellowed. "Sam," ordered Mrs. Krupnik, "stop teasing your sister." Sam plucked his lost mushroom from the couch, where it had landed, and popped it back into his mouth. He grinned. "May I continue?" Anastasia asked sarcastically. Everyone, including Sam, nodded. "Okay. Thank you. Now, as idiotic Sam pointed out, Steve Harvey is sort of my boyfriend." "Excuse me for interrupting, Anastasia," said her mother, "but what exactly does that mean? Are you and Steve going steady, or what?" "Mom," Anastasia explained, "you have to forget about all those obsolete terms from your youth. Nobody 'goes steady' anymore." "Anastasia and Steve," Sam began in a singsong voice, "are going to get marri—" "SAM!" roared his parents in unison. "Sorry," said Sam, and went back to his pizza. "It doesn't 'mean' anything," Anastasia tried to explain. "It's just that Steve and I are sort of a couple, that's all. Like Daphne and Eddie, and Sonya and Norman. When people think of me at school they think of Steve. They think: Anastasia and Steve. We're a pair." "Well, okay," said her father. "I guess we can understand that. But what happened in English class?" "The teacher was talking about poetry. And she was talking about this really boring stuff, about meter and rhyme, and—" "That's not boring!" said her father. "Anastasia, how can you say that's boring? Are you forgetting who your old man is?" Anastasia cringed. She had forgotten, for a moment, that her father was a well-known poet. She glanced guiltily at the several volumes of his poetry, there on the shelves of the study. One of those books was even dedicated to her. "Well, okay, I'm sorry, Dad. I know it's not boring to you. But to seventh graders, it's kind of boring. I'm really sorry, but that's true." Her father lit his pipe. "All right," he said. "Come to think of it, I guess I was bored by poetry in the seventh grade, too. Go on." "Well, she was talking about feet. I bet you didn't even know that, Dad, that poetry has feet?" Sam giggled. He wiggled his toes, in their little blue socks, ostentatiously. "Feet," he murmured. "Feet feet feet." "SAM!" "Sorry," Sam said, and gave one last wiggle. "Of course I know that, Anastasia. What do you think I teach at Harvard, nursery rhymes? I spend entire lectures on metrics. Did your teacher talk about the dactyl, and the spondee, and—" "Yeah," said Anastasia gloomily. "You're getting warm. Keep going." Her father chewed on his pipe, puzzled. "The trochaic foot, and the anapest—" "That's it!" Anastasia wailed. "You see what I mean?" Her parents were silent. Even Sam was silent. They all looked mystified. "The instant the teacher said that last one—ugh, I can hardly bear to say it—" "Anapest," her father repeated. "Da-da-DUM. That's an anapestic foot." "GROSS," said Anastasia. "Steve Harvey, that rat, that absolute rat, called out, right in class: Anapestic Krupnik!' I wanted to die." Her father chuckled. "Well, I can see that there's a certain similarity of sound. He was pretty clever to pick up on that." "And all the rest of the day," Anastasia went on, "everyone was calling me that. Anapest, that's what they were calling me." Sam opened his mouth. His mother glared at him. He closed his mouth again. "And last week—last week it was Science class, for pete's sake. We had this gross word in Science class; I bet you don't even know what it means." "What what means?" asked her mother. "I bet I know. I was pretty good in Science." "I don't even want to say it," Anastasia muttered. Its so gross. "Whisper it," her father suggested. Anastasia said something under her breath. "Whisper it louder, please." She whispered it a little louder. "ANASTAMOSIS!" Sam repeated loudly. Anastasia didn't even yell at her brother. She huddled miserably on the couch. "They called me that last week," she said. "Anastamosis Krupnik. And it was Steve who started it." "It sounds to me," Mrs. Krupnik suggested, "as if Steve is paying a lot of attention to you." "Yeah," Anastasia acknowledged. "But it's humiliating." "Anastasia?" Sam said. "Can I say something? I want to say something really helpful." "Okay." "You could call Steve something bad. Then he'd know how it feels." "Like what?" Sam put his thumb in his mouth and thought. Finally he took his thumb out. "Dog doo," he suggested. Anastasia broke up. Laughing, she reached for the last cold slice of pizza. "Thanks, Sam," she said. "But I think I need something more mature." Dr. Krupnik stood up and poked the logs in the fire. He turned a large one over so that its red, glowing underside was exposed. "Actually," he said, "I think your problem is solved, Anastasia. Has your teacher finished with the discussion of metrics?" "Yeah. I think so. We have a quiz tomorrow, and then after that we start reading Lorna Doone." "Well, I don't think you're going to encounter any more words that resemble your name. There couldn't possibly be any others. It was just a fluke, that those two—anapest and—what was the other one?" "Anastamosis," Anastasia mumbled reluctantly. "What does that mean, Katherine?" Dr. Krupnik asked his wife. She shook her head. "Beats me," she said. "Anastasia?" he asked. She groaned. "It's something disgusting," she said. "I forget exactly. But it's in the intestines." "At nursery school," Sam announced, "we have a Visible Man, and you can see his insides. And my favorite part of the Visible Man is the intestines. I call them the guts." "SAM" everyone bellowed. "Sorry," Sam said, for the third time. *** "Katherine," Dr. Krupnik said over coffee, "we all got sidetracked discussing Anastasia's problem, and we forgot to ask what yours was." Mrs. Krupnik took out her knitting. "Oh, it's just my usual problem. It's why we had pizza for dinner, and no dessert. I'm the world's worst housekeeper." "I wouldn't call you the world's worst, Mom," Anastasia said. "I read in the newspaper about a woman who died in New Orleans, and she was about ninety, and in her house they found forty cats, and a whole kitchen filled with dirty dishes, stacked practically to the ceiling, and first they tried to clean and fumigate her house, but eventually they just gave up and knocked the whole house down with a bulldozer, it was that bad." "You're very comforting, Anastasia," said her mother tersely. "I am truly pleased to hear that you don't think I'm quite as bad as the woman in New Orleans. Bear in mind, though, that I am not yet ninety." "Did they take the cats out first?" asked Sam, with his eyes wide. "Or did the cats get mashed by the bulldozer?" "The humane society took the cats and found homes for them," Anastasia reassured him. "Organization," said Dr. Krupnik. "Well, of course it's an organization, Dad," said Anastasia. "Everybody knows the humane society's an organization. I didn't think I had to explain that." "No, no; I meant that organization is your mother's problem. She's not very well organized." "I know that, Myron," sighed Mrs. Krupnik. "I'm organized in my work, though. I always get illustrating jobs done on time; nobody's ever complained." "That proves that you are capable of good organization. What you need to do is make a list." Mrs. Krupnik groaned and began to knit very fast. "I hate lists," she said. "I love lists," said Dr. Krupnik. He leaned back and puffed on his pipe, thinking happily about lists. "I love lists, too," said Anastasia. Her bedroom upstairs was absolutely filled with lists. They all looked at Sam to see if he hated or loved lists. But Sam had curled up with his head on a cushion of the couch. His eyes were closed, and his thumb was in his mouth. "See?" said Mrs. Krupnik suddenly, and she put her knitting down. "SEE? It's nine o'clock, for heaven's sake. And I completely forgot to put Sam to bed. You see what a disorganized person I am? I'm hopeless!" "Anastasia," said her father, "while Mom takes Sam upstairs, you and I are going to sit here in the study, in a very organized fashion, and we're going to make a housekeeping list. Is that okay with you, Katherine?" Mrs. Krupnik had picked up sleeping Sam. "Fine," she said. Anastasia went to the desk and got some paper and two pens. "I love making lists," she said again. "And I sure hope it keeps snowing and school is canceled tomorrow, because if not I'm going to flunk that quiz on poetry feet for sure."