Mister Posterior and the Genius Child

Mister Posterior and the Genius Child

3.4 5
by Emily Jenkins

A Barnes & Noble's Winter Discover New Writers pick!


Woodstock was over. The Beatles had just broken up. Sesame Street was new. And people in Cambridge, Massachusetts were getting in touch with their feelings. It was 1970, the year Vanessa Brick was picked as a Super Duper Speller for the Cambridge Harmony School. In this novel from a brilliant


A Barnes & Noble's Winter Discover New Writers pick!


Woodstock was over. The Beatles had just broken up. Sesame Street was new. And people in Cambridge, Massachusetts were getting in touch with their feelings. It was 1970, the year Vanessa Brick was picked as a Super Duper Speller for the Cambridge Harmony School. In this novel from a brilliant new voice in fiction, a now-grown Vanessa looks back on a time that was less innocent than it seemed…


I remember how it was to be eight. I remember the playground rhymes, the fierce cliques, and the girls we called “The Fu**ers.” That year was the year my mother adopted an unprecedented number of cats and dated an ardent nudist. I finally found out the truth about my father and his anti-vegetarianism; and my only close friend became a person I didn’t know. It was also the first time I was conscious of myself as a person with secrets; as a freethinking human being with something to say. Something not everyone wanted to hear.


The year I was eight I became the most notorious child in the history of the Cambridge Harmony PTA…


Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
This funny, touching first novel captures the domestic anarchy of the 1970s through the eyes of brainy eight-year-old Vanessa Brick, a student at an alternative Cambridge, Mass., elementary school. Vanessa's well-meaning but frazzled mother, Debbie, is divorced and raising Vanessa with the help of divorced neighbor Katty, who decides she's a lesbian, and boy-crazy teenage babysitter Landis. The free-loving, ashram-going grownups in this book insist on treating their children like adults, though no one seems to have a very clear idea what adulthood means anymore. Vanessa's best friend, Anu Bhaduri, is her true support, but Anu becomes traumatized and withdrawn after she's mooned by a flasher terrorizing the neighborhood, leaving Vanessa to muddle through playground politics on her own. Vanessa is chosen to write a play incorporating classroom spelling words (which include "syphilis" and "gestate"), but when she names all her characters with euphemisms for buttocks and uses the word "receptacle" to discuss the proper function of the anus ("You put things in a Receptacle... but things come out of your bottom.... It is not a good idea to put anything in"), she sparks a schoolwide controversy over just what kind of limits and examples adults should be setting for children. With dead-on dialogue, Jenkins deftly satirizes the narcissism of the 1970s while maintaining compassion for those caught in the maelstrom-especially the likably vulnerable Debbie and the winning Vanessa. A charming debut that will have readers of Vanessa's generation chuckling with recognition. (Dec.) Forecast: Jenkins achieved some notoriety with her nonfiction debut, Tongue First: Adventures in Physical Culture. Her first novel may have a harder time getting review attention, but it could become a word-of-mouth favorite, particularly among readers who went to school in the 1970s. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A touching, genuinely funny debut from Jenkins (Tongue First: Adventures in Physical Culture, not reviewed) on the strange coming-of-age of a precocious girl at a progressive school in the �70s. Cambridge, Massachusetts--like Greenwich Village or Berkeley--is so hopelessly broadminded it can drive you nuts. Sometimes literally. Especially if you have to grow up there. Little Vanessa Brick, born in the early 1960s, was living in Cambridge with her mother Debbie in 1970 when all hell broke loose over her play. Vanessa�s, that is: a work-in-progress about buttocks that she began bringing to spelling class. Entitled "Mister Posterior and the Genius Child," it was a didactic work in which a human bottom instructed children on the differences between various parts of the body. This is at the progressive Cambridge Harmony School, where children are encouraged to express themselves, but even there a play about buttocks is a bit much for the parents. Vanessa�s Mom is a strident vegetarian who threw her husband out when he refused to give up red meat, and she and Debbie have an upstairs neighbor who�s a nudist. Vanessa has even seen her mother�s boyfriend Syd walking around the house with parts of himself exposed, and there�s a girl in Vanessa�s class who likes to flash her bottom to people. So it�s not as though the body were anything weird to her. But soon grownups in the neighborhood become concerned about a flasher who has been appearing randomly throughout town showing himself to little girls, and the Cambridge Harmony PTA has to organize an effort among the parents to keep closer watch on the children. By the time the culprit is discovered, Vanessa has begun to wonder whether the world is amore dangerous place than she had been led to believe. A moving and sensitive story, artfully enclosed in an engaging and deceptively lighthearted narrative.

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 5.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: First Flasher

My most vivid memory of third grade is when a child named Marie pushed me up against the wall in our classroom and showed me her ass.

"You with your cucumber sandwiches!" she screamed, fat round face flaming and hard fingers gripping my shoulders. She shoved me once more, stepped back a few paces, pulled her corduroys down. And mooned.

It wasn't the first bottom I'd seen, but it was the first to be forced upon me.

Why did she care about the sandwiches? Was there something wrong with them? They were cucumber, but in my defense, they weren't those delicate little tea things with the crusts cut off and the dark green rinds scraped into the garbage pail. They were made with whole wheat bread that had large sesame seeds in it, and my thick slices of cucumber were burdened with circles of waxy peel.

Marie was new at Cambridge Harmony K through Twelve. She had only been there a week. The kids in my class had been instructed to open our hearts to her, and we had all sung a special welcome song on the first day of her arrival. Cambridge Harmony was full of ideals. The walls were painted sunny colors, the teachers wore long braids and flat sandals, we studied the American Indian and sang songs like "This World Is Ours to Share" at assemblies. Everyone believed that children were free spirits, really in touch with the essence of life--so we shouldn't be restricted by too many rules and schedules.

When Marie flashed me, I assumed it was my fault. I hadn't opened my heart enough--had done something to anger her. Something to do with the sandwiches, perhaps.

Had she asked me for one? I couldn't remember. I had definitely held her hand like I was supposed to when we had all crossed the street on the way to the library, even though I would have preferred to hold Luke Sherwin's. She couldn't be mad about that.

Maybe it was something to do with bottoms, and that was why she was showing me hers. Had I done something to her in the bathroom, when the girls trooped in there before recess? I wiped, I flushed, I washed my hands so long as a teacher was looking. But it could be I had broken some bathroom rule that no one had ever explained to me, and Marie was inflicting punishment. Or maybe there was something particularly horrible about my own bottom, and she was waving her legitimate one at me in triumph.

I did have an annoying delicacy about me that cried out for teasing and torture. It was pretty easy to make me cry by tying my shoelaces together or sticking a sign on my back. Snowball fights and games of Keep Away made me nervous. So did sports where you had to throw a ball, or those circle games where people have to stand in the center and be It. I was tiny, with frail bones and arms that seemed a trifle too long for my body. I was also an only child and used to a quiet house, so the jostling noise of roly-poly boys often sent me shrinking into the corner of the classroom, where I'd commune with the family of mice that lived there in a Habitrail.

I was a picky eater, too, and despaired of finishing my lunch most days--packed as it was with earnest vegetarian goodies like yogurt swirled with honey. I did have one good friend I'd made back in kindergarten, however: a fast-talking Indian girl named Anu Bhaduri. She gave me the sliced chicken from her lunch box and created a little haze of warmth around my nervous frame. With Anu I became gossipy and extremely verbal, dictating the ongoing adventures of a pair of soggy stuffed rabbits that lived in the "quiet area" of our orange-painted classroom and raising my hand during Circle of Sharing to answer the teachers' questions.

But Anu was absent the day Marie showed me her bottom. She had been absent four or five days in a row, and without her I was a vulnerable target. The shoulders were squeezed, the insult hissed, the ass displayed.

I burst into tears.

"Vanessa, what's wrong?" My braided teacher kneeled down to my level. Marie had vanished, and I was left sniffing and whimpering as a cluster of people gathered around me.

I couldn't answer. The whole thing was so unspeakable. Marie had enveloped me in a kind of intimacy I'd never asked for. Suddenly--although the whole thing had happened right in the middle of the classroom--there was something private between us. She had made it private by showing me her private little butt cheeks, and now that I had seen them, it was nobody's business but our own.

Plus, I knew too much about schoolyard dynamics to risk a public explanation. That's the thing about being a victim of persecution. Talking about it lets everyone know that someone out there finds you worthy of scorn. It gives them ideas.

I didn't tell my mother, either. She noticed my tear-streaked face when she picked me up at 2:15, but she didn't focus in on it very much. She was trying to drive.

"Did you fall down?" she asked me.

I nodded.

"Man. Do you have a boo-boo?"

I shook my head no.

"Well, that's good." She shot her hand out to signal a right turn. My mother always used her hand signals. It made her feel like an especially capable driver. Back then, little kids never wore seat belts, so she was always slamming her right arm across my chest whenever we stopped, then grabbing the steering wheel again real fast so she could wave her left arm out the window.

She was a very liberated woman, my mother--in a limited way. Her name was Debbie Brick, born Deborah May Delancey. She talked a lot about "the establishment" and listened to folk music; her hair was very long and parted in the middle. She earned money by answering telephones and typing in a real estate office, and she called her boss Martin instead of Mister Goldsmith. She had asked me to call her Debbie instead of Mom.

Debbie drove her own car and rented her own apartment, and when she went to work, she wore very short skirts and clean white stockings. My father didn't live with us. He lived in California, and the subject of my parents' divorce was all but unmentionable. Debbie was never the sort to muse over old photographs, and she rarely indulged in nostalgia about the past. She lived in the current moment--just getting though the day.

I didn't know too much about my father. If I asked her about him, a look would cross her face, and she wouldn't answer. She'd start talking about something else. Vegetarianism, usually.

Debbie became a vegetarian after reading a newspaper article about slaughterhouses and cruelty to animals. It was 1964, and she'd been married for two years. Unfortunately, she read the article on Thanksgiving, and there was a turkey cooking in her oven. She didn't care. She marched right out onto the street and donated our half-cooked bird--roasting pan and all--to a lady who was walking by. The in-laws, who were "totally oblivious people who never read the newspaper," had to eat cranberry sauce and baked potatoes for dinner. There was nothing else.

In response, my father declared shortly thereafter that red meat was the source of virility and the life force. He couldn't live with someone who didn't "desecrate and consume the bodies of animals on a regular basis," said my mother, so he put all his belongings in a van and drove across the country to eat hamburgers and fried chicken. It was only a matter of time before he exploded all over the state of California.

I wasn't even a year old when he left. I hadn't seen him since. I didn't want to, in case he exploded right in front of me.

Debbie had never expected to be divorced. She was the only child of two blisteringly spotless people, whose veneer of shiny white happiness was soiled only by the number of empty scotch glasses that lay in the sink by the end of an evening. Grin, my grandmother, was a tall, stately woman who really did eat sandwiches with her pinky finger sticking out to the side. She wore a lot of discreet diamond jewelry, and men still turned to stare at her, even though she was as old as heaven, or so she said. They listened when she spoke, too, because she had a dishy French accent that came from being raised in the South of France by her adoptive parents. "South of France," that's what we always called it in my family, as if there were no particular cities or regions within it.

Grin had come to the States to go to college, and she met Pompey, my grandfather, when she was only twenty. He loved to tell the story of how he proposed to her. It would change every time he told it, depending on how many glasses were melting their ice in the kitchen sink, and she would pinch his arm in satisfaction and call him Theodore in a scoldy kind of way. One time he proposed to her in a supermarket near the bread bin; another he took her on a rowboat ride and proposed under the August moon. Or he hurt his knee in a skiing accident and proposed when she visited him in the hospital. No matter how he said he asked, her answer was always the same: "Theodore, what took you so long?"

Pompey was a lawyer, which Debbie said meant he helped make the streets safe for children by putting mean people behind bars. It also meant they had extra bedrooms in their house in Chicago, and you could go up on the roof there and sit in deck chairs and look at the lake. Their house had a shelf full of mysterious items: a glass kaleidoscope, thick paperweights with pressed flowers inside, several amethysts and other big stones split in half to display their colored, rock candy insides. There was a small sculpture of a naked lady, and a bowl of ceramic fruit that Pompey would always offer me. But I was too big to be fooled.

So they had this perfect marriage, as Grin called it, and Debbie was expected to have one of her own. She grew up the center of Grin's world, a prom queen, an A student, a popular girl in pastel colors. "I was homecoming queen," she used to tell me, "and I wore a pink dress with a big skirt. They put a crown on my head, and I got to dance with the prince." There was a picture of her from that night, one of the few family photographs I was ever allowed to see. Her hair was puffed up on top of her head, and her dress had sparkles all around the neck and sleeves, and the heels of her shoes were so tiny! She was holding a fat bouquet of flowers. "My date was supposed to bring me a corsage," Debbie said when she showed me the picture. "So I could pin it on my dress. But he brought the bouquet instead. I had to leave it at home. All the girls thought he hadn't brought me anything."

"Who was he?"

"Not your daddy," she answered. "Don't go getting any ideas."

The story of how Debbie met my father was never told to me. She went to college but never finished, and we all lived in Boston until the turkey debacle. Then Jordy left for California, Debbie became a divorcee, and she and I moved into the lower floor of a house near Harvard Square.

Pompey said good riddance to that good-for-nothing husband, but Grin still called Debbie "Mrs. Jordan Brick" when she mailed envelopes from Chicago.

Debbie parked the car in front of Katty Sherwin's house, a tiny white duplex with an overgrown yard. She took out a tissue and helped me blow my nose, but she didn't ask how I fell down. "You're a big girl now, Vanessa," she said encouragingly. And contradictorily: "It's okay to cry."

Luke Sherwin and I had known each other since we were two, and over the years had developed an imaginary world. We would play dress-up a lot, pulling clothes out of my closet or from a big trunk of old stuff he had in the upstairs of his house. Our favorite thing was a record I had of Mary Martin playing Peter Pan in the Broadway show. We'd run all around the apartment squealing with excitement.

"They're in a frenzy!" Katty Sherwin would say as she ashed her menthol. "A complete and utter frenzy." Katty had red hair and four children. Luke was the youngest, and the other three lived with their dad in a big house that had a trampoline in the backyard.

I don't know how Luke felt, but I felt mildly ashamed and also proud when Katty said we were in a frenzy. It was as if she was admiring our incredible energy, our sheer animal power, but also like she was laughing at us. Like she knew something about our frenzy that we didn't, and was telling my mother she knew. "Peter Pan always puts them in a frenzy," she'd repeat, every time it happened.

There was something so thrilling about the scene in which Peter pretends to be a beautiful lady seducing Hook, who wears a big poofy wig and velvet clothes. And about the crocodile who patrols the seas of Neverland in search of another taste of the most delicious flesh he's ever eaten: Hook's missing hand.

We acted out the parts. Luke couldn't be Peter (that was for girls) and he couldn't be Wendy (that was definitely for girls), so sometimes he'd be Hook, and very often he was the crocodile, and every once in a while Tiger Lily or the Lost Boys. Our mothers would smoke in the kitchen and complain that there were no good men anymore in Cambridge, and Katty'd say she was thinking about going out in the woods to beat drums and get in touch with her femininity. My mother would debate shaving her legs again after all these years, and Luke and I would go to Neverland.

The next day at school, however, we'd have nothing to say to each other. Sometimes Luke would come up to me, like when I was swinging on the tire swing and he wanted to get on, but Anu would say loudly, "No Boys Allowed!" and put her arms around me.

"No Boys Allowed!" I would echo, and Luke would walk away as if he hadn't intended to play with me anyway.

That afternoon, though, we didn't listen to Peter Pan. The record was at my house. It was a warm October day, so we got out these fat colored chalks and took the best plastic animals out of Luke's room, and sat in the driveway drawing pictures on the hard, black asphalt. Debbie and Katty sat in lounge chairs under plaid blankets, watching us.

"Can you take Vanessa Saturday night?" My mother put her hands together in front of her chest like an angel. "Have her sleep over?"

"This Saturday?" asked Katty. "I don't see why not."

"I'm thinking about screwing Sydney Wheeler."

"Sydney, Sydney, Sydney," said Katty, as if she couldn't place the face.

"The guy with the mustache from the Labor Day picnic," my mother prodded.

"Oh, Syd!" Katty laughed. "Syd who used to go around with Penny Shumacher, right?"

"I think so," answered Debbie in a territorial way, and lit another menthol.

"He's a nice guy. I met him at the ashram."

They were silent for a while. Except for visiting Grin and Pompey in Chicago, I had never slept anywhere but in my own bed.

"So can you take her overnight?" my mother asked. Luke was trying to get a small toy soldier to straddle a rubber duck. I had a horse with plastic hair on the mane.

"Sure," answered Katty. And after a minute added, "But what about the boy-girl thing?"

"What about it?"

"When Malcolm sleeps over, they go head to toe in Luke's bed. Should I do that with Vanessa?"

"Well, they're hardly going to get it on!" My mother cracked up. "Let them take a bath together as far as I'm concerned. Man, I don't care."

Luke was still struggling with the soldier. Its legs wouldn't come apart wide enough to encircle anything but the duck's neck.

What did she mean, "get it on"? I would get on the bed, certainly, if I was sleeping there.

"I don't think so," said Katty, with finality in her voice. "Why doesn't Vanessa bring a sleeping bag? Would you like to bring a sleeping bag, Vanessa?" she called over.

I nodded. That was clearly the right answer.

We all went out for pizza. Debbie didn't eat meat, so we couldn't go for burgers like regular people. The Italian place was right near Harvard Square and had red-and-white checkered tablecloths. College students sat in big groups all around, drinking beer and getting huge pizzas to share. The grown-ups got peppers and onions. Luke and I got a small plain one together. He took all his cheese off so it looked like brains on his plate. He ate that part first, and then he licked the crust.

"Don't play with your food, Luke," Katty said absently. "Debbie, did I ever tell you about Chuck Reddon, that boy I dated in high school?"

"The one who serenaded you?"

"No, that was Michael. Chuck was the one who tried to cook me spaghetti one day when his parents were out of town."

"You never told me."

"It was such a trip. I came over, and he had this bottle of wine. We drank it, and drank it--and one thing led to another on the Hide-A-Bed. He had his hands down my pants, I know that for sure. And then we started smelling smoke."


"Yes! The tomato sauce was scorching, and the fire alarm went off, and the neighbors started banging on the door. Chuck's pants were tangled down around his ankles, and he was hopping around trying to get them up again. Didn't know whether to turn off the stove or answer the knock!"

"Freaky." My mother drank some beer.

"Why were his pants off?" Luke wanted to know.

"It's complicated, honey." Katty took a bite of pizza. "I don't think I can explain it." And then, to Debbie, "Will you look at the size of that one?" A football player type was lurching toward the door, surrounded by his buddies.

"I should have finished college." Debbie sighed, wiping her mouth. "I think I really missed out."

"They weren't so big in my day. These guys are enormous."

"They look like meat-eaters to me." Debbie laughed. "Check out the guy in the corner."

I ate the crust first because it was the worst part and saved the nice pointy tip for last, and my pizza was at that crucial moment when it's a little too large to hold easily and very floppy from having no crust--but I looked up to see who Debbie was pointing at. A thin guy in a blue T-shirt was eating a salad. He was talking to a lady in a flowered miniskirt.

"Not my type," said Katty. "You can have him."

"What do you mean, she can have him?" I asked.

Katty burst into laughter. "It's like when you look in the window at the toy store," she explained. "You know how you pick out which stuffed animals you like even though you're not going to really buy anything?"


"Like that. We're just window shopping. And your mommy can have that skinny boy, so long as I get"--she lifted herself up out of the booth to get a better view of the whole restaurant--"that one over there in the Yale T-shirt."

Luke took another piece of pizza and flopped it cheese side down onto the table. He reached for the oregano and sprinkled it all over the doughy underside and then put a little on his head for good measure.

"They're not boys, they're grown-ups," I said.

"They're boys to us," Debbie said, patting my hair.

"Anyway," Katty continued, "Chuck and I broke up about two weeks later. I couldn't take him seriously after that. I always saw him hopping around with his thing hanging out, and the smoke billowing from the kitchen. I never felt the same way about him again."

"He cooked for you, though," Debbie pointed out, as Luke rubbed the upside-down pizza in circles on the Formica.

"I didn't get to eat any of it." Katty shrugged. "So what was the use?"

"Am I going home this weekend?" Luke pulled on his mother's sweater.

For a minute, no one said anything.

"You live at home with me, Luke," Katty almost whispered. "You know that."

"I know. I mean, am I going to Daddy's?"

"No, honey. You're not." Katty took a paper napkin and started wiping up the spilled oregano and tomato sauce. "Vanessa's coming over."

The next day was Tuesday, and I spent the entire morning in a state of terror, lest Marie show any more of her body parts to me. I kept myself safe by sitting at a table right next to the desk of our man teacher, Ron. We had a man teacher and a woman teacher, and at Cambridge Harmony the kids milled around the classroom "making individual choices" and "developing at their own personal growth pace." I didn't actually know the woman teacher's name, even though it was practically Halloween, because I missed the first day of school. She was one of those people who asks children what their names are but doesn't respond by telling them her own. She just assumed we all knew it, like she was famous.

My personal growth pace that day was to sit as close to Ron as he would let me in case Marie attacked again. I was wearing shorts under my dress because I figured she might take it into her head to yank my skirt up, and I had thrown my cucumber sandwich into a garbage can in the hallway before hanging up my coat. I had a reading book to work through, one with a green-and-purple turtle on the cover. I thought it was great. You got to practice the hard words in each story before reading the whole thing. You could also write in it with a pencil if you wanted to, circling things you didn't understand, and there were worksheets in the back that were really easy, but fun anyway. Ron, with his fuzzy brown mustache curling down at the ends and a pencil tucked behind his ear, would check me off each time I finished a section.

"Vanessa." Half an hour before lunch, he looked at me. "I wonder if you might like to go over to the music area and explore?"

There was a music area with a tape recorder and cassettes of folk singers and classical piano. You could put on headphones and listen to "Koombaya" or Minuet in G without bothering anybody, and there were sheets of song lyrics and a bunch of musical theory cards that no one had ever explained to me. No, I didn't want to go there.

"I notice you've been reading a lot," Ron observed.

"I got all the way to the story about the tiger and the red sweater. Yesterday I was only on the one about blue jays."

"Would you like to do some math? Nobody's using the multiplication board."

I shook my head.

"You want to sit next to me, is that it?"

I nodded. "Anu has the chicken pox."

"I heard that. Do you know if she's feeling better yet?"

I didn't. My mother didn't like to call up Anu's parents. She said they were always so formal with her and she never knew what to say. They had Ph.D.'s.

"Well, I'm glad to have you sitting next to me, Vanessa," said Ron. "You can be my special friend today, my special helper if you want to."


"Do you want to?"


"That's my little crumpet." He petted my hair. "You can sit right there near me."

But soon, Ron shook a tambourine to announce the end of Work Period, and then he left the room for a break. We all sat down for lunch with the braided woman teacher.

There was no Anu to give me chicken slices or commandeer the best place in the corner by the mouse cage, so I sat at the end of a table of six. I had only yogurt and some carrots in my lunch box, because I had thrown out the sandwich. Luke was at my table, trading cookies with his friends Will and Malcolm, and he said, "Hi, Vanessa," and did I want a peanut butter cookie? I could have it, even though I had nothing to trade.

I didn't really like that kind of cookie. It was waffle-textured and had a slightly bitter taste of fake nut flavoring, but I saved it for last anyway, proud of being included. At recess, though, the boys from my table burst through the doors into the play yard without a glance backward. They had a game called Lava Monsters. Luke had explained it to me, once, but I was never invited to play. Lava monsters were chasing you, and they were all over the ground. If your feet touched the wood chips, the monsters would burn you to death, in which case you would have to yell, "Medic," and the other kids would carry you to the main climber and nurse you back to health with magic ice power.

I didn't want to play, anyway. I wasn't sure what lava was, even though I had looked it up in the dictionary. The whole idea of liquid rock just didn't make sense.

So I went over by the swing set and stood there waiting for a swing. They had this rule where you could only go on for five minutes at a time if someone else was waiting, and there was even a big clock up in the playground to keep track by, but some people ignored it. Angelique and Didi were on the swings, singing,

Shimmy, shimmy coco pop
Down, down baby,
Down by the roller coaster
Sweet, sweet baby,
I don't wanna let you go!
Shimmy, shimmy coco pop
Shimmy, shimmy POW!
Shimmy, shimmy coco pop
Shimmy, shimmy POW!
Actually, to this day I'm not sure if it was coco pop or coco puff. Puff was a cereal I saw advertised on television, and pop sounded like chocolate-flavored soda. Maybe the song was about something else. It gave me a deja vu feeling--like I'd heard it long ago when I was a baby, too little to remember who sang it to me. There was something desperate in it, like the singer was going downhill on a roller coaster of despair. His girl didn't love him no more.

"Waiting for a swing." Marie's voice sounded hot and wet in my ear, and she put her thick palm on my shoulder. "Waiting for a swing, waiting for a swing!" She said it like an insult.

"So?" I turned to face her. "I was here first. I've been here four minutes."

"I'm not waiting." She laughed and ran over to the merry-go- round.

Why was it dumb to be waiting? People waited for swings all the time. Or was she telling me I was under her watchful eye, that she knew what I was doing at every moment?

"Come get on!" Marie called. "I'll push you." The merry-go- round was one of those big metal disks with bars on top.

"I'm waiting here," I said. But at that moment, Didi jumped off her swing and grabbed the chain, holding it possessively. "I've been saving it for Summer!" she yelled, and Summer, dropping her jacks on the asphalt with a satisfied smile, ran over and hopped on.

"I was waiting!" I cried, looking back and forth between Summer and Marie. Marie said nothing to back me up.

"So was I," said Summer with total confidence. "I was waiting over there!" She pointed to the square of asphalt where people were playing jacks.

"That's not waiting!" I said.

"Yes, it is," she said, beginning to pump her legs.

"You can't wait and play jacks!"

"Yes, she can," said Didi, standing six inches taller than me and wearing pink.

Down by the roller coaster,
Down, down baby,
Down by the roller coaster,
Sweet, sweet baby,
I don't wanna let you go!
Angelique and Summer were swinging in sync, now.

But it wouldn't go down his throat!
He drank up all the water
He ate up all the soap!
He tried to eat the bathtub
But it wouldn't go down his throat!
"Vanessa, get on!" cried Marie.

And so I did.

I sat down near the edge of the merry-go-round, grabbing on to a bar. Marie bent her sturdy knees and pushed. Her red corduroys strained with the effort of her legs, and her tongue stuck out the side of her mouth. I giggled at first, but soon I was spinning much faster than I was used to.

"Slow down!" I called, but Marie's hands went from bar to bar, building up speed. Maybe it would be less dizzying in the middle of the big metal circle. I tried to pull myself up to standing.

"Not so fast!" I yelled. "It's making me sick!" Was Marie just oblivious and trying to give me a really good push? Maybe she was like a big, overeager dog that doesn't know when she's hurting someone. But why wouldn't she stop pushing, then, when I was asking her over and over?

"Stop, Marie! Stop!" I cried, staggering toward the center of the circle. And then my head hit one of the hard metal bars, and I was vomiting peanut butter waffle cookie and sour yogurt all over the front of my dress.

When the merry-go-round stopped turning, I looked up. Marie was gone. I sat, dizzy, there in the center of the big metal disk, wiping my mouth and feeling the bump above my right ear swell beneath my hand.

The nurse's name was Betty. Her office was cool and white, with posters of kittens on the wall. She had come to our class in September to talk about safety, so I knew who she was. She didn't wear a nurse's outfit like in books. Just regular clothes.

"Did you eat something unusual today, Vanessa?" she asked me, giving me a piece of ice wrapped in a washcloth to put on my head.


"What did you have for lunch?"

I didn't want my mom to find out about the peanut butter cookie, because I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to have things for lunch that weren't what she packed for me. "Um, yogurt and some carrots," I said.

"That's all?"


"No sandwich or anything?"

I couldn't tell her I threw it away, so I burst into tears.

Betty the nurse came out and talked to my mother near the car after school. She said she was concerned that Vanessa wasn't being given enough for lunch. Hunger and fatigue could make a kid puke, she said.

Debbie didn't comment. She just nodded at Betty and said she was sorry, she didn't realize. She would never intentionally send me to school without enough food.

"Somebody pushed me on the merry-go-round," I said, as my mother waved her arm in a right-turn signal.

"Really? That's great, sugar."

"No, she pushed me!"

"What do you mean?

"She pushed me and I threw up."

"Who pushed you?"


"Who is Marie?"

"A kid in my class. She wouldn't stop." I felt like I was going to cry.

"Did you ask her to stop?"


"Because sometimes you don't speak up about things, Vanessa. Other people aren't psychic, you know."

Copyright © 2002 by Emily Jenkins

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Mister Posterior And The Genius Child 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first book where not only was I tempted to take caffiene pills to finish it as my eyes were drooping closed BUT I actually fell asleep on top of the book while reading it! I could not put this book down!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The point of view of all the events taken place through the eyes of a child made it seemingly innocent yet undoubtedly quite the opposite, brilliant!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Children of the 70's will definitely relate to some of the content here. While Ms. Jenkins's writing moves fluidly throughout the novel, overall it lacked a certain oomph that I can't quite put my finger on. I have to give her and the publisher credit though, the title of this book will be ingrained in my mind for a long time to come.