Kat's Promiseby Bonnie Shimko
Kat is just twelve years old when her mother dies. Suddenly an orphan, she has no choice but to move in with her bitter, wealthy auntthe same aunt who Kat believes caused her mother's death. And that is just the beginning of Kat's awful eighth-grade year. The thing that keeps her going, even in her darkest moments, is the promise she made the day
Kat is just twelve years old when her mother dies. Suddenly an orphan, she has no choice but to move in with her bitter, wealthy auntthe same aunt who Kat believes caused her mother's death. And that is just the beginning of Kat's awful eighth-grade year. The thing that keeps her going, even in her darkest moments, is the promise she made the day her mother died.
With an exceptional voice and haunting insight, Bonnie Shimko has written a story about uncovering dark family secrets, finding friends in the most unlikely places, and learning to let go. Kat is both wise beyond her years and frighteningly vulnerablebut above all, she is wholly unforgettable.
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
- Age Range:
- 12 - 17 Years
Read an Excerpt
By Shimko, Bonnie
Harcourt Children's BooksCopyright © 2006 Shimko, Bonnie
All right reserved.
BEFORE I GO to sleep at night in my aunt Paulina's house, I wish that God would strike her dead. Even though a wish is nothing more than asking the air for a favor, it's the best I can do. I can't say a genuine prayer because I'm not speaking to God. Besides, I don't think he'd be very happy if I came right out and asked him to kill somebody.I make movies in my head of tragedies that might happen to her. Lightning hits the house while I'm at school, leaving only burned matchsticks and a body that's unrecognizable. The furnace explodes while Aunt Paulina's standing next to it, counting the stacks of hundred-dollar bills I imagine she has socked away in the big black safe she keeps next to the wood bin. Every so often I'm the cause of her death. I sneak into her room and put rat poison in the bottle of whiskey she keeps in the nightstand by her bed. Then when she goes upstairs for a nap, I take a long stroll in the park. Oh! I am so shocked and grief-stricken when I return and find her lifeless body, and the police I have called are all flustered, trying to calm me down.
There, there, they say, patting me on the shoulder with stiff, awkward hands. Everything will be all right. They give each other looks of desperation because none of them knows what to do with a poor orphan girl who hasjust lost her only living relative. Then the one that's movie-star handsome takes me by the hand and leads me into the kitchen. He sits me down at the red and white Formica-topped table, gives me a glass of milk, and offers me some cookies-- as many as I want.
I'm thrilled to be rid of her. But before long, I remember it's only a movie in my head, and the heaviness returns to my heart. Then my mind drags me back a month ago to the cemetery-- the day my mother was dropped into the dungeon of the earth and my soul was so dead, I wished I could be buried along with her. It is mid-November, the week before my thirteenth birthday-- one of those gray Vermont days where the wind sends dead leaves scurrying across the grass like scared brown mice and the damp cold makes its way through my too-small winter coat and into the depths of me.
The piles of freshly dug earth beside the casket are covered with artificial grass, and while the preacher says the committal prayer, I hold my breath as long as I can to see what being dead feels like. It makes my head hurt, so I stop and look over at my aunt Paulina-- all done up in fur, with a look of sadness on her face that is so convincing, you would actually believe she's sorry that her little sister is dead.
After the prayer, four men who work for the funeral parlor use long gray straps to lower Mama's body into the ground. Their faces strain with the weight of the solid mahogany coffin Aunt Paulina bought to prove to everybody how generous she is-- the one that cost more than the operation that would have saved my mother's life.
I glance up at the clouds that look like bundles of dirty laundry hanging low against the deep violet sky and think of the preacher's words about how Mama is in the arms of the Lord now. Then I picture my mother inside that box, dressed in the worn pink suit she kept for Sunday best, and I wonder how she'll stand to be so cold when the threatening snow covers the ground. Tears that won't come grab hold of my throat and squeeze until the pain is so fierce that I can't swallow.
I think God has a mean streak like the bullies at school who steal your lunch money. It wouldn't have cost him anything to let Mama live. It's hard not to hate somebody like that.
"Come along, Katherine dear," Aunt Paulina says, as she puts her kid-gloved hand on my shoulder. "Nettie's waiting in the car. We have a long drive ahead of us."
As we're leaving, she nods and smiles at the mourners-- mostly people from our church and a few of the cafeteria ladies from my school, the ones Mama worked with until the cancer ate away so much of her that she had to take to her bed. She stops to thank our across-the-hall neighbor, Mrs. McGillveray, for taking care of me after Mama died. Then she nudges me toward the shiny black Mercedes that's waiting by the cemetery gate.
"Don't!" she says when we're out of earshot. "It's bad luck to look back at a grave. I'm sure your mother taught you that."
My mother taught me lots of things, I think while we're on our way to that car. She taught me how to knit and crochet and clean a house like a professional. How to budget money so there'll still be a little left at the end of the month. And she taught me how her father disowned her because she had disgraced the family name. He changed his will so that Aunt Paulina got the house and all the money after he and my grandmother died in a car crash. She taught me how Aunt Paulina was in love with my father even after he married Mama, and how she'd martyred herself as a lonely spinster because of it.
And Mama tried to teach me to turn the other cheek when Aunt Paulina refused to part with a penny to pay the doctor and the hospital when Mama first discovered the lump in her breast. Maybe she could forgive her sister's revenge, but I'm an eye-for-an-eye kind of person and I have made a promise to myself. Someday I'm going to make her pay for what she did.
"NETTIE, WAKE UP!" Aunt Paulina says, as she opens the car door. She's talking to a pale, shopworn woman with salt-and-pepper hair. She's leaning back against the seat, and her mouth, the color of a prune plum, is wide open, making loud snoring sounds. Aunt Paulina pokes her finger into the tweed wool sleeve that's covering the woman's arm, as if she's checking the plumpness of a turkey. "I hope you didn't leave the car running the whole time."
The woman snaps to attention. "Oh my!" she says, rearranging the pitiful black felt hat with the torn veil that's made its way halfway down her forehead. "I'm sorry, Miss Hanson . . . It's just that it's so cold." Then her voice begins to fade, as if the batteries are running low. "I kept turning it off, but then I'd start freezing again. I didn't . . ." Aunt Paulina cuts the poor soul off with a look and gestures for me to get in the backseat. "I don't have time to listen to you complain, Nettie," she says. "Just get us out of here."
I can tell by the way her head drops a notch closer to her chest and the fact that she looks as if she's about to cry that Nettie is locked into my aunt's clutches as securely as I am. I wonder what hold Aunt Paulina has on this drab sparrow of a woman who should be able to fly away but seems to be trapped beneath the cat's paw. "Katherine, Nettie's my housekeeper," Aunt Paulina says, settling herself in the passenger seat. "She'll be taking care of your needs." That's it. She doesn't do the other half of the introduction. Mama always made sure to make both people feel important.
"Hi," I say to the back of the woman's head. And then I add, "It's nice to meet you," because I know that's the proper way.
She turns in my direction and says, "I'm glad to meet you, too."
These strangers in the front seat are in charge of me now. Sometimes life has sharp edges like broken glass, and no matter how careful you try to be, you still get sliced to the bone.
"Well, let's get going," Aunt Paulina says. "It's been a long day. I'm exhausted."
I look over at Aunt Paulina with her glamour-girl face and expensive clothes and salon hairdo and wonder how God decides who gets his blessings and who goes without. The rage I feel toward him for taking my mother and then handing me over to her murderer spreads through to the core of me, and I think how if I were in charge, I would set things straight in a flash.
As Nettie cranks the key in the ignition, I see her staring at me in the rearview mirror with the kindest, bluest eyes I've ever seen-- bright, clear blue like the stained-glass windows in our church when the morning sun shines through.
"Turn left at the gate, Nettie," Aunt Paulina says, as she unscrews the top of the silver flask she has taken from her purse. Then her voice climbs an octave. "Watch out for that rock! What are you trying to do . . . ruin my tire?"
The rock is so far to the right of the driveway that the car would have to leap over the curb and onto the grass to come anywhere near it. I watch as Aunt Paulina shifts in her seat, then sniffs and fingers the tight cords in her neck.
"Sorry, Miss Hanson," Nettie says in her hangdog way. "I didn't mean to be so careless." Her words sound sincere, so it surprises me when the thought of a canary teasing a hawk floats into my mind.
Aunt Paulina tips the flask to her lips and takes a long, thirsty drink. "For pity's sake, Nettie, stop apologizing and just take us home."
Nettie sits there like a tied-up dog. Then her body stiffens, and the muscles in her jaw try to punch their way straight through her skin. If my heart weren't so heavy, I'd come to her defense. I think how Mama was always surprised when I stood up for what I knew was right, while she would go out of her way to keep things on a steady course. "You not only have your daddy's good looks, Kat. You have his backbone, too," she'd say with a look of pure pride on her face. "And it's a lucky thing, because in this world, you're going to need it."
Copyright 2006 by Bonnie Shimko
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpted from Kat's Promise by Shimko, Bonnie Copyright © 2006 by Shimko, Bonnie. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
BONNIE SHIMKO is the author of the critically acclaimed Letters in the Attic, which won a Lambda Literary Award. She lives in Plattsburgh, New York.
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