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… See more details below
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
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 has just 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 cookiesas 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 cemeterythe 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 birthdayone 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 Paulinaall 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 isthe 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 mournersmostly 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.
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.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.
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.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >