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Although tough-talking Harry Sue would like to start a life of crime in order to be "sent up" and find her incarcerated mother, she must first protect the children at her neglectful grandmother's home day care center and befriend a paralyzed boy.
From the Hardcover edition.
Before I could think what to say, she dipped down and picked up a pair of wool socks, man-sized, from the bench we used to remove our boots. Then she grabbed her can of Fruit Fresh Peachy Keen aerosol spray and proceeded to douse my new socks with the sickening-sweet scent of factory-made fruit smells.
I focused my stare. Little dewdrops of sweat formed in the tiny hairs above Ms. Lanier's mouth. Without breaking my gaze, I peeled off my soggy socks and dropped them into the grocery bag.
My temples were throbbing and the bone that ran between my neck and my shoulder, the one that never got straight since the fall, was pressing against a nerve. What was it about Ms. Lanier that always made things hurt worse? The pain made me think of a line from Mom's favorite fairy tale, "Jack and the Beanstalk," where the giant tears apart the kitchen looking for the kid who's been lifting his golden eggs.
I'll grind your bones to make my bread.
The entire class was twisting in their seats, straining to get a view of my entrance. I tried to look dignified with a pair of man's socks dragging at my ankles. A couple of busters in the back row covered their mouths and pointed.
"If anybody laughs, it's on," I hissed.
But then I told myself not to get distracted. What was most important was to find Violet. I needed to communicate with my eyes my look that said:
Somewhere, somehow, when you least expect it, I will exact my punishment.
Before we go any further, we have to go back. Way back. Seven years back, to the day of my accident. You can't fully appreciate the saga of Harry Sue unless you know the backstory. Every conette has a backstory. It's hard enough returning to the night that changed my life forever, but if it was up to my road dog, Homer, we'd go back even further.
You see, Homer would argue that my father, Garnett Clotkin, didn't just show up to our apartment that night swearing and spitting like a rabid dog for no reason at all. Not everybody expresses their anger with violence. Garnett had to be trained to it.
"Maybe your granny tied his shoes too tight," he'd offer, or, "Maybe it was her habit of dunking his head in toilet water when he sassed her."
I say, any way you slice it, it's still bread.
On the night that changed our lives forever, the man I called father was nursing a wounded pride by drinking up as much Motor City Ale as he could locate. He wanted my mother to take him back. She'd already been down to the police station to get a restraining order to keep him away from us.
To me, anyway, that meant, "I don't think so."
But to my father it was just a piece of paper. He was too much of a man, too lit on Motor City Ale, to use that restraining order for more than what kept his chewing gum from sticking to the bottom of Granny's wicker wastebasket.
To make a long story short, Mom threatened to call the cops when he barged in, so he dangled me out the window to get her to pay attention.
"I'm warning you, Mary Bell. Put the phone down."
People say I couldn't possibly have a clear memory of that moment. I was only five years old and barely conscious. He'd pulled me out of that little-kid sleep, the real satisfying kind that comes from not knowing the score.
But I do remember. I remember her crying, "Don't hurt my baby! And how the air felt, so wet it was like fingers pressing on my face. And how it smelled--both sweet and sour--like the garbage under our sink in summer.
I heard and felt all those things before I was yanked back inside.
After that, it's a blur, but I can tell it fairly from the way the neighbors whispered and from the trial. Mom connected to the Marshfield Police Station and started talking gibberish. My father, being a man of his word, picked me back up, pressed my knees to my shoulders, and shoved me out the window, using the chest pass that kept him in school until the ninth grade as first-string guard for the Trench Vista varsity basketball team.
That is the kind of detail Homer loves because it shows how everything, every action, affects what comes after. Homer likes to say if my dad had chosen baseball over basketball, he'd have to call some other dog his best friend, for I would be long gone from this world.
Because he was a basketball player, my father squished me into a ball and launched me out the window when his instincts took over. His anger was like rocket fuel, enough to catapult me into the branches of an elm tree. See, an elm tree is shaped like a vase, so instead of dropping seven stories to the brick patio, I began a long, slow-motion game of pinball, rolling toward the center of the tree. This is another detail Homer loves, because if it had been an oak tree, well, we've already touched on that possibility.
I do remember the sensation of wet branches grabbing me, of leaves slapping my face. I rolled all the way to the center of the tree before it let go just ten feet from the ground and dropped me onto a pile of wet leaves and soggy mulch.
In the time it took me to ride that leafy elevator to the ground floor, my father's head cleared enough to determine he'd just committed a capital offense. Who knows? Maybe he even felt bad about it, at least bad enough to lay me on the backseat of his truck and rush me to the emergency room, where I was diagnosed with a severe case of bruising, a dislocated shoulder, and two broken ribs.
Mom rushed out, too, but he'd copped the elevator and she couldn't match him for speed down seven floors. In all the confusion, she forgot to put away the toy chemistry lab she'd set up on the table to make crystal methamphetamine, or crank as it's called on the street, an illegal drug she mostly used herself to stay awake while working the swing shift at the auto glass factory.
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted August 15, 2005