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Our father might get married again soon. Patsy says she won't go. She says even if he drags her, kicking and screaming, she won't go. She says if she does go, if he makes her go to the church, she'll make a scene. Patsy used to be famous for her scenes. She'd go limp and collapse in a heap on the nearest tarmac. Then she'd lie there squalling like a scalded cat if she still didn't get her way.
When she did that, I'd turn my face away, pretending she wasn't my sister. I guess she did it to get attention, but I have always hated to have people stare at me.
When Patsy was really little, she pulled one of her scenes at the children's museum and Daddy turned her over his knee and smacked her bottom. I kind of liked that. I clapped, I remember.
Patsy and I are what my grandmother calls Irish twins; not quite a year apart. Patsy just turned twelve and I'll be thirteen next month. I'd die before I'd carry on in public the way Patsy does. Or did. She's improved. Our father says she must get her penchant for making scenes from Baba, our mother's mother. Baba was, and still is, an actress. She starred in a local little theater production of Auntie Mame last year and got rave reviews. Baba also starred in a movie once, years ago when she was young and foolish, she told us. Patsy says she bets anything Baba starred in a skin flick.
She really is outrageous, Patsy is.
Our mother died almost three years ago. She had cancer. She died at home, the way she wanted. She knew she was going to die. Her hair fell out and she got so thin her cheeks were hollow and her eyes huge.
She was beautiful, even then.
First she had one breast removed, then the other. As if that wasn't bad enough, losing both breasts didn't do any good. She died anyway.
"Don't cry, little Nora," my mother had said to me. "I will always be with you in spirit and love you. You are my life and my joy, you and Patsy and Daddy. Please don't cry."
If she could be with me in spirit, I'd like to know.
Your chances of getting breast cancer increase if your mother or aunt had it. I thrust the thought from my head every time it pops in.
Patsy has breasts. Hers are bigger than mine. We don't discuss the reason our mother died. We talk about her all the time, though. We pretend she's still here. We keep her alive that way.
"I'm telling Mom, Nora!" Patsy yells when I do something she doesn't like. "You're gonna get it. She'll kill you!"
"Go wash your face," I say in a fierce imitation of Mother's voice. "Children don't wear earrings and eye shadow to school. Not in this house they don't."
Even as a kid Patsy was always trying to skin out of the house all done up like a gypsy queen. Mother would nab her and make her wash her face and take off all the jewelry.
The voice is the hardest to bring back. I can remember how Mother laughed, how she smelled. Lots of things she said. But the voice is the hardest.
The night Daddy told us he might be getting married, you should've heard Patsy.
"Mrs. Ames is going to Hong Kong next month on business," he said. "If I can get away, I'm going to join her."
Patsy pushed back her chair noisily. "May I please be excused?" she said. "I have to go to the bathroom."
"Sit down, Patsy," Daddy said. "This won't take long."
Patsy sat, but only just. She balanced her behind on the edge of her chair and jiggled to prove she really did have to go.
"I am going to ask her to marry me," Daddy said.
Patsy put her head on the table, as if she was fainting. I held my breath.
"Have some water, Patsy," Daddy said. "I'm not quite through."
Patsy raised her head. "What if she won't marry you?" she asked, eyes glittering. "Suppose she says no? Suppose she's been married so many times she's bored with getting married? What then?"
I stole a look at Daddy's face. He looked old. His mouth was a thin line, and I knew he was holding onto his temper with an effort.
"She has been married and divorced once," he said. "You know nothing about her. If you knew her, you might like her. Nora," he turned to me, "what have you to say? How do you feel about this?"
"I don't know," I mumbled. It was the truth.
"I would like your opinion. Patsy has given hers, in a manner of speaking. You must have some feelings, some ideas on the subject."
I could feel Patsy's hot eyes burning holes in me. "Oh, she has plenty of ideas, Daddy," she said. "You oughta hear her."
"Silence!" Daddy thundered. He doesn't thunder very often, but when he does, he does a first-class job. "Let Nora talk."
"Well," I said, "if you want to marry her, you want to marry her, I guess. I don't know her very well so I really can't say."
Patsy burped. It was only a little burp, but I heard her.
"I want you both to know that Mrs. Ames never would take your mother's place," Daddy said stiffly. "No one could. She knows that and wouldn't even try."
"Oh, sure," Patsy said under her breath.
"I've not been very happy since your mother died," Daddy said.
I put out my hand to touch his. "How about when we hiked up the mountain last fall? And how about when we went fishing on the lake in Vermont? And when we went to the county fair? I thought you were pretty happy then," I said. "You acted happy."
"Well, yes, of course," Daddy said. "And we'll have lots more happy times, all of us. But I've found someone to love who loves me. And you won't always be here, don't forget."
"We really want you to get married again, Daddy," I said.
"We just don't want you to marry 'The ...'" Patsy stopped just in time. "Marry her," she said. We call her "The Tooth." If you saw her, you'd know why.
"If I waited until I found someone who you two would put your stamp of approval on," Daddy said, "I might be a very old man."
First time Daddy brought The Tooth to the house, she stood in front of our mother's portrait and said in the phoniest voice, "Oh, Sam, she's lovely, so ethereal."
Patsy and I exchanged looks.
Later she topped it by exclaiming at length about our napkins, which we brought out along with the chicken casserole from Glorious Grub, the local caterer. "Oh, what beautiful double damask napkins!" The Tooth went on and on. As if the napkins were made of solid gold or something.
"They were our mother's," I said in a cold voice. "She had excellent taste."
And all the time she was there, her eyes were slipping and sliding around the house, checking everything out.
We decided she was a fool who never said what she really meant.
"She's an old witch," Patsy said in a rush. "That's why I don't like her!"
"You may go, Patsy," Daddy said. "Leave the table, please."
Patsy left. She sat on the stairs behind Daddy and made faces at me. She always does that. She used to make me giggle so much I almost threw up. I have never been sent from the table.
I chewed every mouthful thoughtfully and stared at the wallpaper in the dining room as if I'd never seen it before. It was blue and white, to match Mother's favorite china. Flower prints hung on the walls. I remember when Daddy gave them to her. It was the last Christmas before she died. It was a pretty room, I thought. My favorite in the whole house.
"Things seldom go as planned," Daddy said. "Better not to plan, I think."
He didn't expect an answer, so I didn't give one. Even if I'd had one, I would've stayed silent. I cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher.
"I'm going to do my homework now," I told him. "Are you all right?" He patted me absentmindedly and said, "Go along, Nora. You're a good child."
I went upstairs. "You really blew it," I said to Patsy, who was now sitting on her bed painting her toenails black. They'd had a big sale on black nail polish down at Magoon's Variety Store. Patsy bought two bottles.
"Why'd you have to go and call her a witch?"
"Listen—he's just lucky I didn't call her the real word," Patsy said fiercely. "If I'd said 'bitch,' do you think he'd have grounded me?"
"Probably," I said.
"If Mother heard what you said to Daddy last night," I said to Patsy the next day when we got home from school, "she'd wash your mouth out with soap. She'd be furious." I'd been thinking all day about it and knew she'd hurt Daddy's feelings. She shouldn't be allowed to get away with that talk, I thought.
"Yeah, well, she'd be plenty furious if she knew Daddy was thinking of marrying The Tooth," Patsy said. That's the name Patsy gave her. Her real name is Wynne. She has this fantastic overbite. Even when her mouth is closed, her teeth peek out. We can't figure out how Daddy kisses her without getting bitten.
"She doesn't fool me with that sweetsy, cutesy routine about how adorable we are—all that crap she puts out," Patsy glowered. "She doesn't mean a word of it. She knows we hate her, too. Just wait until she hooks Daddy. Just wait. When that happens, she'll start to think of ways to get rid of us.
"Well," Patsy drew herself up to her full five feet five and one half inches and thrust out her bust. (That's what we call it when she thrusts it out, Patsy's "bust.") "Two can play at that game. We eliminate her before she eliminates us," Patsy told me. "She's very jealous because she knows Daddy loves us best. She knows he'll never love her the way he loved Mother, the way he loves us, and that drives her bonkers. If he loves her at all, which I doubt."
"Oh, Patsy!" I wailed, suddenly overcome. "We can't let her marry him. She'd be his wife for the rest of our lives! We've got to stop him!"
Patsy put her chin in her hands and thought hard.
"We could hire an assassin," she said glumly. "To blow her away."
"No, too expensive," Patsy said, as if she knew. "How about we go the poisonous mushroom route? It's cheaper and there wouldn't be any witnesses. In all the stories I've read, the assassin always squeals. But with the mushrooms, they don't talk. We whip up a little poisonous mushroom omelet for lunch, invite her over, feed it to her with a glass of white wine and a salad. Perfecto." Patsy kissed her fingers. "She'd never know what hit her."
Then, without warning, Patsy burst into tears. She grabbed a pair of scissors from the table and waved them around her head.
"I do not want this person to be our stepmother!" Patsy said. "You dig? Do I make myself clear? I do not want her, and I will not permit her to marry our father."
I put one arm around her. Patsy might be bigger than me, but she's still my little sister and I have tried to be a mother to her since our mother died. It isn't easy.
"Maybe it'll be all right, Pats," I told her. "We can always go live with Baba and visit Daddy on weekends."
"No!" Patsy roared, leaping from my grasp. "I'm not giving up! This is our house and we're staying right here. She's not forcing us out, and that final." She pulled her shirttail out and scrubbed the tears from her face.
Patsy poked her scissors at me. "Want me to cut your hair? I feel like cutting hair."
Sometimes it calms Patsy to cut my hair. "Okay," I said. I actually needed a haircut anyway and Patsy's a very good haircutter. She leaned close to me, smelling strongly of toothpaste. (Patsy brushes her teeth four times a day and also flosses, as she says she does not want to get gingivitis and receding gums. Having a retainer is bad enough, she says.)
"I tell you this, Norrie, and you can quote me," she said. "If she thinks I'm calling her 'Mother,' she can just go suck eggs."CHAPTER 2
"Just don't go haywire, okay?" I said. We went into the bathroom, and I put down the lid of the toilet seat and sat on it. Patsy began snipping away furiously, pushing my head down so my chin rested on my chest, what there was of it. I could feel the cold blades of the scissors against my scalp. Sometimes Patsy gets carried away, and I could—and once did—wind up looking like a zonked-out punk rocker or a street urchin in an Italian movie.
Patsy cuts her own hair sometimes. Last year she gave herself one of those super-sophisticated asymmetrical haircuts where one side is short and the other side sort of swoops down and around and drags your head with it so you wind up looking half-witted in a kind of sexy way.
I could never get away with that kind of haircut, but on Patsy it looked sensational. Baba said it made her look wanton.
"I thought 'wanton' was some kind of Chinese soup," Patsy had said.
"Look it up," said Baba.
Patsy's a dirty blond and I'm a mud brunet. She has gorgeous thick hair that swings. I'm getting a henna rinse one of these days to bring out the highlights that might be lurking in my hair.
"Who says she wants you to call her 'Mother' anyway?" I said in a muffled voice.
"Sit still!" Patsy hissed.
"I only want to see the tips of my ears," I said meekly. "Don't skin me bald, please."
"The tips of your ears! Gawd, what do you want to see them for? Did I ever tell you your ears remind me of fungus growing on the sides of your head?" Patsy asked me, knowing the answer perfectly well.
"Yeah, lots of times," I said.
"Old fungus ears, that's you," Patsy said. "Sit still and I'll turn you into a regular cheerleader type." Patsy smiled. "And we all know what they look like, don't we!"
Cutting my hair gives Patsy a feeling of power, I've decided. The more she cuts, the weaker I become, the further under her spell I fall, like something out of the Bible, sort of.
Finally, she stood back, admiring her work.
"Super!" she cried. "You look absolutely super!" I get nervous when she gets that enthusiastic. It's a bad sign.
"Let me see," I said. I snuck my hand around to see how much she'd taken off the back and she hollered "Whoa!" and yanked my hand away.
"If you were a real haircutter and I was a real customer," I said, "you wouldn't dare do that. I'd sue."
"If I was a real haircutter, you couldn't afford me," Patsy said. "I am ze great Sebastian, cutter to ze stars. When I cut ze hair, she stays cut."
She plonked a soap dish in my lap and said, "For ze tip. For ze folding money. I do not like ze sound of small change, you dig?"
Actually, my hair didn't look half bad.
"Put it on my account, Sebastian," I said. "I'm so rich I never carry money with me. I just charge it." I fluffed up the back of my hair and flicked my eyelashes at her. I looked like a mysterious stranger, I thought, not displeased. A sexy, mysterious stranger with an interesting past.
Patsy and I don't look anything alike. She looks like Daddy and I resemble Mother's family. A thought I hug to my heart. We're very different in temperament, too. I think things through. Patsy jumps right in. I get better marks than she does, but boys call her up and ask her places. They think she's the older one. Daddy says she's too young to start dating.
Last week Chuck Whipple, new boy in town and already a local sex symbol, called Patsy and asked her to go to a rock concert over in Stamford. His brother was driving, Chuck said.
Daddy said she could go if she was home by dinnertime. He thought the concert was in the afternoon.
Well. Talk about scenes!
Patsy stayed home and sulked.
"It is ze work of art," Patsy said, stalking me from behind. "Ze ..."
The doorbell interrupted. Patsy crept to the window and peered out.
"Oh, my gawd!" she whispered. "It's him. I'm outta here, Nor. Keep him talking. Tie him up if you have to. I'll be back in a flash."
Patsy bolted.CHAPTER 3
"Hey." Chuck Whipple ducked his head and smiled shyly down at his feet. Oozing sex appeal the while. I guess he can't help it, oozing sex appeal like that. I wonder if it gets sort of boring, though.
"Nope. Well, maybe," I said.
I admired his dark curly hair and his long eyelashes. He had a cute nose and big ears. What the heck, you can't have everything.
"You want to come in?"
He was already in. Upstairs, it sounded as if someone was moving the furniture around. It was Patsy, changing her outfit.
"How'd you know where we live?" I said. Chuck came from some romantic place out west. Utah or Idaho, one of those.
He blushed and his big ears turned red, I was glad to see. He was pretty cool but not as cool as he thought he was. "I was just cruising around," he said, as if that answered my question.
"How old are you?" I said.
"Fourteen," he said, blushing some more. "Are you Patsy's sister?"
"Nope. I'm the sitter," I said. Sometimes I surprise myself.
"Well," I said slowly. "Patsy gets a little, you know"—and I put a finger to my head and twirled it to show how Patsy got—"a little loco."
Excerpted from Nora by Constance C. Greene. Copyright © 1993 Constance C. Greene. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted April 2, 2003
Now, I am not a prude. And, I do not condone censorship. I do, however, condone COMMON SENSE. My 4th-grade son brought home this book from his elementary school library. He & his 2nd-grade sister informed me that they found a 'dirty book' at school. Not wanting to take anything out of context, I actually sat down and read the entire book. It's only 201 pages and made for rather easy reading, so I completed the book in about 90-minutes. The premise of the book is that a young girl is visited by her dead mother's ghost while coming to terms with her father's pending remarriage. Ah, how sweet, wonderful basis for a touching children's story, right? Well... This book contains several references to sex, including many uses of the word 'sex' itself as well as phrases that include the word 'sex'. It also contains a few 'gray area' cuss words...mind you, if these same words are used by my children at their school, it will earn them what they call a 'sign', a number-coded offense recorded on their daily behavior log. (They are not even allowed to use the word 'butt'. My son should know, he's earned a couple of signs for that one...) There are other questionable references in 'Nora : Maybe a Ghost Story', such as a passage describing skimpy lingerie & its intended purposes. Pretty mature subject matter for a 4th-grader, if you ask me! I am not suggesting, by any means, that the book be BANNED altogether, but rather that its age 9 to 12 rating and its placement in an elementary school library be reconsidered. I also feel that parents & educators should be better informed as to the book's actual content, rather than simply rely on the seemingly-innocent publisher's summary & book reviews, in order to make a more educated decision on this book's appropriate age range.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.