Ellen Fosterby Kaye Gibbons
'When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure out this or that way and run it down and run it down through my head until it got easy.' So it begins the tale of Ellen Foster, the brave and engaging heroine of Kaye Gibbon's much acclaimed first Novel. The story of an eleven-year-old orphan, driven to desperation by some of the/i>… See more details below
'When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure out this or that way and run it down and run it down through my head until it got easy.' So it begins the tale of Ellen Foster, the brave and engaging heroine of Kaye Gibbon's much acclaimed first Novel. The story of an eleven-year-old orphan, driven to desperation by some of the wickedest relatives in literary history, this is the story of her battle for survival. Wise, funny and affectionate.
"A stunning new writer. . . . The life in this novel, the honesty of th0ought and eye and feeling and word! —Eudora Welty
"The story of a redoubtable girl who overcomes adversity with humor, spunk, and determination, Kaye Gibbons's first novel is a work of considerable subtlety and intellectual sophistication. A terrific book." —Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World
"Filled with lively humor, compasion and integrity . . . Ellen Foster may be the most trustworthy character in recent fiction." —Alice Hoffman, The New York Times Book Review
Read an Excerpt
When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure
out this or that way and run it down through my head until it got easy.
The way I liked best was letting go a poisonous spider in his bed. It
would bite him and he'd be dead and swollen up and I would shudder
to find him so. Of course I would call the rescue squad and tell them to
come quick something's the matter with my daddy. When they come in
the house I'm all in a state of shock and just don't know how to act
what with two colored boys heaving my dead daddy onto a roller cot. I
just stand in the door and look like I'm shaking all over.
But I did not kill my daddy. He drank his own self to death the year after the County moved me
out. I heard how they found him shut up in the house dead and everything. Next thing I know
he's in the ground and the house is rented out to a family of four.
All I did was wish him dead real hard every now and then. And I can say for a fact that I am
better off now than when he was alive.
I live in a clean brick house and mostly I am left to myself. When I start to carry an odor I take a
bath and folks tell me how sweet I look.
There is a plenty to eat here and if we run out of something we just go to the store and get some
more. I had me a egg sandwich for breakfast, mayonnaise on both sides. And I may fix me
another one for lunch.
Two years ago I did not have much of anything. Not that I live in the lap of luxury now but I am
proud for the schoolbus to pick me up here every morning. My stylish well-groomed self
standing in the front yard with the grass green and the hedge bushessquare.
I figure I made out pretty good considering the rest of my family is either dead or crazy.
Every Tuesday a man comes and gets me out of social studies and we go into a room and talk
about it all.
Last week he spread out pictures of flat bats for me to comment on. I mostly saw flat bats. Then
I saw big holes a body could fall right into. Big black deep holes through the table and the floor.
And then he took off his glasses and screwed his face up to mine and tells me I'm scared.
I used to be but I am not now is what I told him. I might get a little nervous but I am never
Oh but I do remember when I was scared. Everything was so wrong like somebody had
knocked something loose and my family was shaking itself to death. Some wild ride broke and
the one in charge strolled off and let us spin and shake and fly off the rail. And they both died
tired of the wild crazy spinning and wore out and sick. Now you tell me if that is not a fine style
to die in. She sick and he drunk with the moving. They finally gave in to the motion and let the
wind take them from here to there.
Even my mama's skin looked tired of holding her weak self. She would prop herself up by the
refrigerator and watch my daddy go round the table swearing at all who did him wrong. She
looked all sad in her face like it was all her fault.
She could not help getting sick but nobody made her marry him. You see when she was my size
she had romantic fever I think it is called and since then she has not had a good heart.
She comes home from the hospital sometimes. If I was her I would stay there. All laid up in the
air conditioning with folks patting your head and bringing you fruit baskets.
Oh no. She comes in and he lets into her right away. Carrying on. Set up in his E-Z lounger like
he is King for a Day. You bring me this or that he might say.
She comes in the door and he asks about supper right off. What does she have planned? he
wants to know. Wouldn't he like to know what I myself have planned? She would look at him
square in the face but not at his eyes or mouth but at his whole face and the ugliness getting out
through the front. On he goes about supper and how come weeds are growed up in the yard.
More like a big mean baby than a grown man.
I got her suitcase in my hand and I carry it to the bedroom. But while I walk I listen to him and to
her not saying a word back to him. She stand between his mean highness and the television set
looking at him make words at her.
Big wind-up toy of a man. He is just too sorry to talk back to even if he is my daddy. And she is
too limp and too sore to get up the breath to push the words out to stop it all. She just stands
there and lets him work out his evil on her.
Get in the kitchen and fix me something to eat. I had to cook the whole time you was gone, he
And that was some lie he made up. Cook for his own self. Ha. If I did not feed us both we had
to go into town and get take-out chicken. I myself was looking forward to something fit to eat
but I was not about to say anything.
If anybody had asked me what to do I would have told us both to feed on hoop cheese and
crackers. Somebody operated on needs to stay in the bed without some husband on their back
all the time. But she does not go on to the bedroom but turns right back around and goes to the
kitchen. What can I do but go and reach the tall things for her? I set that dinner table and like to
take a notion to spit on his fork.
Nobody yells after anybody to do this or that here.
My new mama lays out the food and we all take a turn to dish it out. Then we eat and have a
good time. Toast or biscuits with anything you please. Eggs any style. Corn cut off the cob the
same day we eat it. I keep my elbows off the table and wipe my mouth like a lady. Nobody
barks, farts, or feeds the dogs under the table here. When everybody is done eating my new
mama puts the dishes in a thing, shuts the door, cuts on it, and Wa-La they are clean.
My mama does not say a word about being tired or sore. She did ask who kept everything so
clean and he took the credit. I do not know who he thinks he fooled. I knew he lied and my
mama did too. She just asked to be saying something.
Mama puts the food out on the table and he wants to know what I am staring at. At you humped
over your plate like one of us is about to snatch it from you. You old hog. But I do not say it.
Why don't you eat? he wants to know.
I don't have an appetite, I say back.
Well, you better eat. Your mama looks like this might be her last supper.
He is so sure he's funny that he laughs at his own self.
All the time I look at him and at her and try to figure out why he hates her so bad. When he is not
looking I give him the evil eye. And mama looks like she could crawl under the table and cry.
We leave his nasty self at that table and go to bed. She is sore all up through her chest and
bruised up the neck. It makes me want to turn my head.
We peel her dress off over the head and slip on something loose to sleep in. I help her get herself
laid in the bed and then I slide in beside her. She just turns her head into the pillow.
I will stay here with you. Just for a nap I will stay here with you.
Now at my new mama's I lay up late in the day and watch the rain fall outside. Not one thing is
pressing on me to get done here.
I have a bag of candy to eat on. One piece at a time. Make it last. All I got left to do is eat
supper and wash myself.
Look around my room. It is so nice.
When I accumulate enough money I plan to get some colored glass things that you dangle from
the window glass. I lay here and feature how that would look. I already got pink checkerboard
curtains with dingleballs around the edges. My new mama sewed them for me. She also sewed
matching sacks that I cram my pillows into every morning.
Everything matches. It is all so neat and clean.
When I finish laying here with these malted milk balls I will smooth the covers down and
generally clean up after myself. Maybe then I will play with the other people. But I might just lay
here until the chicken frying smells ready to eat.
I do not know if she hears him go out the back door. She is still enough to be asleep. He goes off
in the truck like he has some business to tend to. And you know and I know he's gone to get
himself something to drink. Then he brings it into this house like he is Santa Claus. He sets his
package beside his chair and then eases his lazy self into place. Yelling at somebody, meaning
myself, to turn on the television set. I could chew nails and spit tacks.
The yelling makes my mama jump and if she was asleep she is awake now. Grits her teeth every
time he calls out damn this or that. The more he drinks the less sense he makes.
By the time the dog races come on he's stretched out on the bathroom floor and can't get up. I
know I need to go in there and poke him. Same thing every Saturday. This week in particular she
does not need to find some daddy hog rooted all up against the toilet stool.
I get up and go in there and tell him to get up that folks got to come in here and do their business.
He can go lay in the truck.
He just grunts and grabs at my ankle and misses.
Get on up I say again to him. You got to be firm when he is like this. He'd lay there and rot if I let
him so I nudge him with my foot. I will not touch my hands to him. Makes me want to heave my
own self seeing him pull himself up on the sink. He zig-zags out through the living room and I
guess he makes it out the door. I don't hear him fall down the steps.
And where did she come from? Standing in the door looking at it all.
Get back in bed, I say to mama.
Mama's easy to tend to. She goes back in the bedroom. Not a bit of trouble. Just stiff and hard
to move around. I get her back in the bed and tell her he's outside for the night. She starts to
whimper and I say it is no reason to cry. But she will wear herself out crying.
I ought to lock him out.
A grown man that should be bringing her food to nibble on and books to look at. No but he is
taking care of his own self tonight. Just like she is not sick or kin to him.
A storm is coming up. And I will lay here with my mama until I see her chest rise up and sink
down regular. Deep and regular and far away from the man in the truck.
I can smell the storm and see the air thick with the rain coming.
He will sleep through the thunder and rain. And oh how I have my rage and desire for the
lightning to come and strike a vengeance on him. But I do not control the clouds or the thunder.
And the way the Lord moves in his business.
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