Read an Excerpt
Isabelle the Itch
The Isabelle Series, Book One
By Constance C. Greene
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1973 Constance C. Greene
All rights reserved.
"Let's fight at my house today," Isabelle said to Herbie.
"O.K.," Herbie agreed, "but no fair using feet."
Isabelle and Herbie fought every day after school. Sometimes at her house, sometimes at his. They were pretty evenly matched.
Except for Isabelle's feet. She was skinny but she had big feet. She was proud of her feet. She was saving up for Adidas. They were the best track shoes in the world. With those Adidas on, she'd finally come in first in the fifty-yard dash at field day.
Isabelle knelt down on the sidewalk and opened her lunch box. "I knew it," she said glumly, inspecting her sandwich, "sardine and chopped egg again."
"Yuck," Herbie said. "Your mother sure went overboard today."
They inched their way toward school.
"I forgot." Isabelle clapped her hand to her forehead. "I can't fight today. My mother's taking me to the doctor's for a checkup. She wants to ask him what makes me so itchy. She says she might have a nervous breakdown if I don't stop being such an itch."
"Maybe he can give you a shot. They give shots for everything these days," Herbie said, adding another stick of gum to the already considerable wad in his mouth. When it reached the proper size and color, he planned to take it out and stick it on himself, pretending it was a giant boil. Sometimes he stuck it on his neck or the back of his hand or even his forehead.
The boil fooled people. Especially from a distance. Herbie had written to a lot of companies, offering them first chance at his phony boil idea.
So far, he'd had no answers. Once the idea caught on, though, Herbie figured he'd make a mint.
"My mother says she's glad you're not her child," Herbie said, with his cheeks bulging, like a squirrel bringing home nuts.
"And I'm glad she's not my mother," Isabelle said, frowning. "She worries too much. My mother doesn't worry as much as yours does." She stuck her fingers in her mouth and whistled the way her brother Philip had taught her.
A little old lady walking her toy poodle gave a tiny scream and put her hands over her ears to shut out the piercing sound. Her dog yipped and piddled on the sidewalk.
Isabelle and Herbie watched.
"That's the trouble with them little dogs, they're always going to the bathroom," Herbie observed. He knew perfectly well he should say "those" little dogs but he liked to use bad grammar. It made him feel tougher and also drove his mother up the wall.
"If the doctor don't give you a shot, what'll your mother do?" he asked.
Isabelle shrugged. "She'll have to sweat it out, I guess." She walked with one foot in the gutter, the other on the curb, a wounded veteran of foreign wars.
"Your mother and my mother and Mary Eliza Shook and Chauncey Lapidus and everyone you know." Herbie's voice was muffled by the gum.
"Hey, Mary Eliza Shook is a schnook," Isabelle said, as if she'd just made it up. "That's not bad. Mary Eliza Shook is a schnook."
Herbie started jumping up and down.
"I said that last week and you know it," he hollered. "You heard me say that last week. I said it first."
"Take it easy, Herb. You might choke. Don't get so excited," Isabelle said.
One of the best things about Herbie was that he did get so excited.
"O.K." Herbie took his gum out and stuffed it in his pocket. School was in sight and if there was one thing Mrs. Esposito couldn't stand, it was chewing gum in class.
"But I did say it last week," Herbie said firmly.
Chauncey Lapidus came running up behind them like a locomotive. A fat locomotive.
"Izzy, Izzy, open the doors, in your flowered underdrawers!" he yelled.
"You have green teeth!" Isabelle shouted.
Chauncey didn't stop.
"I hate him almost more than Mary Eliza Shook," Isabelle said.
But for different reasons.CHAPTER 2
Mary Eliza Shook sneaked up behind Isabelle at lunch period. "Hello, dear, how are you, dear?" she whispered. Quick as a wink, she got her arm through Isabelle's. The worst thing about Mary Eliza was the way she always wanted to link arms with people. She walked arm in arm down the hall, going to the lavatory, and even in gym. That was the worst—walking arm in arm in a stupid gym suit.
It made Isabelle sick to her stomach, the way Mary Eliza did that.
"Have you met the new girl yet? I understand her father's very rich. He's got three cars," Mary Eliza hissed from behind her hand.
"So? So?" Isabelle didn't know about any new girl.
"What're you going to give Sally for a birthday present?" Mary Eliza held on as Isabelle struggled silently.
"Sally who?" Isabelle stopped squirming. She'd wait until Mary Eliza's guard was down, then she'd take off. If only she had those Adidas on right now!
"Sally Smith, silly! She's having a party this Saturday."
As if Isabelle didn't know who Sally Smith was. Sally was class secretary, due to the fact that she could type on a real typewriter. She played the oboe in the school band. She was art editor of the class paper.
Sally was a leader.
Mary Eliza flashed her braces at Isabelle. Isabelle looked mostly at Mary Eliza's mouth. She hated her so much she couldn't stand to look in her eyes. When she hated a person, she only looked in their mouths.
That's how she knew Chauncey Lapidus had green teeth.
"I'm going hiking with my father Saturday so I can't go to any old party." Isabelle's voice always got loud when she talked to Mary Eliza. She didn't know why. Mary Eliza's ears were perfectly good.
"I don't think Sally was going to invite you anyway. Her mother said she would have nine girls and I know for a fact she asked Marsha and Kate and Patty ..."
Mary Eliza let go of Isabelle while she ticked names off on her fingers. Isabelle put her hands over her ears and read Mary Eliza's lips. When Mary Eliza's mouth stopped moving, Isabelle put her hands down.
But Mary Eliza wasn't finished yet. "It's a slumber party in Sally's rec room. Her father had the rec room soundproofed so we can make as much noise as we like and stay up all night if we want."
Isabelle had to know.
"What the heck's a rec room?"
Mary Eliza raised her eyebrows. "I thought everybody knew what a rec room was. It's to fool around in, to play records, to play games. If it's soundproof, that's the best," Mary Eliza said firmly. "Too bad she didn't ask you. What's the capital of West Virginia?" Mary Eliza hollered suddenly, grabbing Isabelle's arm again.
This time Isabelle was prepared. She gave her a few jabs with the point of her friendship ring. Hard jabs.
"Just because you got a mole on your stomach, you think you're the big banana!" Mary Eliza shouted, backing off. "What's the capital of West Virginia? I bet you don't know."
"Big cheese, not 'big banana,' moron," Isabelle said scornfully, in a good imitation of her brother Philip.
Mary Eliza pirouetted in place, graceful as a willow tree in a hurricane. She took ballet lessons and practiced a lot, especially where people could see her.
"What states border Montana?" she asked, coming to a halt, not even breathing hard.
"Go soak your head," Isabelle said.
"Izzy, Izzy is a bear, in her flowered underwear!" Chauncey Lapidus chanted as he raced by. When Isabelle had been in the first grade, she'd shown the mole on her stomach to the class at Show-and-Tell time. She'd had on flowered underpants. Chauncey had never forgotten, even though they were in fifth grade now.
In a flash, Mary Eliza had Isabelle by the arm again. "Don't let him bother you, dear," she said.
Herbie rounded the corner, a big ring of orange around his mouth. His mother had a thing about vitamin C and insisted he take a Thermos of orange juice to school every day.
Herbie sized up the situation. He was very good at sizing up situations.
"There's a big spider on your neck, Mary Eliza!" he yelled.
Mary Eliza shrieked and let go.
Head up, arms tucked in close to her side, Isabelle sprinted down the corridor, free as a bird. That Herbie was a real pal.CHAPTER 3
After lunch period, Mrs. Esposito said, "Class, we have a new member, all the way from Utah. Her name is Jane Malone."
All heads turned toward the desk near the window where the new girl sat staring at her desk top. Her sand-colored hair hung about her face in a welcome curtain, her long skinny legs wrapped around the legs of her chair. She looked as if she'd like to be someplace else.
Please don't make her stand up, Isabelle begged Mrs. Esposito silently. That'd be too much.
Mrs. Esposito didn't.
"You're sure you can't fight today?" Herbie asked when the bell rang. "Just a little fight?"
"My mother said to come home after school, pronto. You know my mother, Herb."
Isabelle liked going for a checkup. The doctor had all kinds of neat pill samples and you never could tell what might turn up in his wastebasket.
Mary Eliza and the new girl walked home ahead of Isabelle. Arm in arm they went, the new girl held firmly captive.
"Do I need to bring a specimen?" Isabelle asked her mother, who was pacing back and forth in the driveway when she got home.
"I thought you'd forgotten. Let me look at you," her mother said, holding her by the back of her long shiny brown hair.
"I look pretty good, huh? Do I need to bring a specimen, Mom?"
"The nurse didn't say, so I guess not. And, Isabelle, please behave yourself," she said as they got in the car.
On the way to the doctor's office, Isabelle tried out her police car siren noise. She could do it, after a lot of practice, like a ventriloquist, without moving her lips. Her mother kept looking anxiously in the rear-view mirror, driving slower and slower until she was practically crawling.
"I keep hearing a police car," she said, "but they couldn't be after me, I'm only doing thirty."
Isabelle smiled to herself. "You better step on it, Mom," she said. They parked the car around the corner from the doctor's office. "We got a new girl today," Isabelle said. "She's from Utah and her father has three cars."
"I hope you'll be nice to her," Isabelle's mother said. "It's tough being new in school."
"I don't know if I like her. She looks funny and she carries a pocketbook. Of all the dumb things!"
"Isabelle, why don't you, just for once, try being nice to someone because it might make that person feel better? All you think about is yourself. You drive me bananas. And slow down." Her mother tugged at Isabelle, breathing hard.
"You oughta give up smoking, Mom," Isabelle said, taking tiny, slow, mincing steps, dragging behind her mother.
"Try being kind. It would be a new sensation and you might even like it." Her mother pushed the doctor's buzzer. "Snap it up!" she commanded.
"You just told me to slow down," Isabelle said. "One minute you tell me to slow down and when I do, you tell me to snap it up. I can't keep up with you, Mom."
"Well, hello there," said Miss Puffer, the doctor's nurse. Miss Puffer was big and hearty. She hated children. She pretended she liked them but Isabelle knew better. Miss Puffer watched all the time. Isabelle had just started to collect cigarette butts from the ash trays in the waiting room when old Puffer snatched them away.
"Mustn't touch," she said coyly, showing her teeth in a playful smile. Isabelle stared hard at Miss Puffer's bottom, which was the biggest one she'd ever seen. Miss Puffer was solid as a rock. Only under her chin where her neck went down into her uniform was she quivery-fat like Santa Claus's stomach. Isabelle suspected old Puffer practiced saying "Ho Ho Ho" so kids who came for checkups would think she was jolly.
The doctor thumped and tapped and poked Isabelle. Finally, he told her mother, "She's in good shape." He inspected her feet and felt her bones.
"She's going to be very tall," he said. "Look at her feet."
There was a silence. Everybody looked at Isabelle's feet.
"She has her father's feet," her mother said.
"No, I don't," Isabelle contradicted. "He has his own. If I had my father's feet, what would he walk on?"
Her mother gave her a look calculated to turn Isabelle into jelly.
"Don't be a smart aleck, and don't be so literal," she said. "You know what I mean."
The doctor pressed his fingertips together and stared thoughtfully at them, just the way doctors do on television.
"Anything special bothering you?" he asked.
Isabelle's mother leaned forward in her chair. "One thing, doctor. She's such an awful itch, always into something, she drives me crazy. I wonder if it's normal. I mean, is there something wrong with her or do you think it's all right for her to be so itchy? It doesn't seem natural." Isabelle's mother smiled hopefully at the doctor.
Isabelle put the doctor's stethoscope around her neck.
"Let's have a listen," she directed, just the way he did.
The doctor unbuttoned his shirt. Isabelle listened.
"Very good, very good indeed," she said, humming under her breath. Blushing, the doctor buttoned up his shirt.
"Don't worry," he said, "she'll get over it. She'll get over it after a while."
Isabelle rummaged through the doctor's wastebasket and fished out a discarded Ace bandage, which she wrapped around her head.
"If I put some ketchup on this, Herbie'll think it's blood," she said, planning. Isabelle spent quite a lot of time planning things.
The doctor looked over the tops of his glasses. Isabelle suspected he wore them to make himself look older so his patients would have more faith in him.
"Perhaps when she reaches maturity," he said. "However, in Isabelle's case, it may take a little longer."
Her mother groaned. "I'll be in the booby hatch long before then," she said. "Put that bandage back this minute. It's full of germs," she told Isabelle.
"That's from my last patient. Fell off his bike and broke his collarbone," the doctor said. "Knit beautifully, if I do say so. Can't do her any harm."
"Doctor, I was reading a story in the paper about how they give horses pills to make them run faster," Isabelle said. "I'm saving up for a pair of track shoes, but in case I don't have enough money to buy them before field day, I was wondering if you had any pill samples that would make me run faster."
Isabelle's mother said, "You see, doctor? I'm really not making anything up. She has a natural flair for things like that. What should I do?"
"I would suggest a cruise around the world," the doctor said. "But if that's beyond you, just hang in there. If you ever channel your ideas and your energy, Isabelle, who knows what might develop?"
He stood up. "You have my sympathy," he said to Isabelle's mother.
"Take it easy," he said to Isabelle. "What're you going to do with the bandage?"
"I've got plans," she said.
"I bet you do," he answered. He opened the door to his office and said to a lady holding a baby, "You can bring Fred right in, Mrs. Banks."
Mrs. Banks swept by carrying Fred, who had a red and haughty face and little squinched-up eyes. He wore a hat that made him look like the Red Baron.
"That's some ugly baby," Isabelle said in a penetrating voice before the doctor had a chance to close his office door. "He looks like an old boxing glove."
Rolling her eyes upward and putting a finger to her lips, Isabelle's mother dragged her out to the lobby.
"Where on earth did you pick that up?" she demanded.
"Dad," Isabelle said. "He said that's what I looked like when I was a baby. And Philip too. He says all babies look like old boxing gloves."
Isabelle's mother hunched her shoulders down into her coat as if she were going out into a blinding snowstorm. Outside, the sun shone with a vengeance that was matched only by the light in Isabelle's brown eyes at the thought of Herbie's face when she rang his bell and he found her, Isabelle, lying on his front porch, bleeding to death from a head wound.
Excerpted from Isabelle the Itch by Constance C. Greene. Copyright © 1973 Constance C. Greene. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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