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Rosie and the Dance of the Dinosaurs
By Betty Ren Wright
Holiday HouseCopyright © 1989 Betty Ren Wright
All rights reserved.
Rosie heard the sound under her couch-bed almost as soon as she slid between the sheets. It was below her feet, a tiny skittering sound that could have been a mouse. She lay very still and tried not to hear. If she mentioned the sound, her mother, sitting in a rocking chair at the other end of the screened-in porch, would be frightened. Everything scared Mama these days. Mice. Sudden noises. Leaky faucets. Everything.
"Can't you sleep, Rosie? Does the lamp bother you? I'll go inside to read if the light keeps you awake."
"No problem," Rosie mumbled. It was what her father used to say. No problem to fix the drip in the bathtub. No problem to tighten the knobs on the drawers of her desk. No problem, no problem, right up to the day, a month ago, when he'd moved to Milwaukee.
Rosie's mother sighed.
The sound came again. Skitter. Skitter. Swiiish. Something with claws under the couch, trying to get out. Rosie snuggled into the sheets and clutched Bert Bear. Now she wished Mama would hear the noise. She wished, even more, that her father were sitting in the other rocking chair, reading Fishing Facts and drinking lemonade.
"What's that?" Mama looked up sharply. "Did you hear a noise, Rosie? I believe there's a mouse under the couch."
Rosie closed her eyes. Mama sounded terrified, but surely she'd have to do something about the noise, now that she'd heard it. The rocker creaked, and tip-toeing steps crossed to the kitchen. The screen door flip-flopped softly, and Rosie and Bert Bear were alone on the porch.
The door flip-flopped again. Rosie opened her eyes a crack, enough to see the broom her mother was carrying.
"Don't be afraid," Mama said in a trembling voice. "It's just a mouse, dear."
Rosie pulled the sheet over her head and hugged Bert tighter than ever. The broom brushed across the floor under the couch. It started at one end, under Rosie's head, and swooshed to her feet. Then Mama screamed — a terrible scream that curled Rosie's toes and frizzled her eyebrows.
"It's a bat!" Mama shrieked. "No, no, no!" There was a clatter of footsteps across the porch, and this time the door to the kitchen closed with a slap.
"Rosie," Mama cried from inside the house. "Sweetheart! Stay under the sheet. It's a bat. He's shooting around the porch like a crazy thing. I don't know what to do."
Rosie lay as straight and stiff as a mummy in a museum. She pressed her nose and toes against the sheet. Bert's arm was hard under her ribs, but she didn't dare move.
She tried to remember what she knew about bats. They didn't hurt people, unless they were sick with rabies. They didn't bump into things in the dark. They ate bugs. A bat was about the size of a mouse with wings, and it looked scary even if it wasn't.
"Sweetheart, are you all right?" Mama sounded as if she were crying. "Will you be okay while I go next door and get Mr. Larsen? He'll know what to — oh, nooooo!" The sentence ended in a wail.
Rosie felt a feather-light touch on her toes. She pulled the sheet tighter over her head and looked down. Through the tent the sheet made she could see a dark shadow. The bat had landed close to her feet and was creeping toward her head.
From where she was under the sheet, he didn't look like a mouse with wings. He looked as big as an eagle.
"No, noooo!" Mama wailed again from the kitchen, her voice rising and falling like the siren of a fire truck.
Rosie watched the shadow moving up the sheet. People could die of fright, couldn't they? If it reached her face, she thought she would die. She considered bouncing the sheet up and down to throw the bat off, but she was too frightened to try it. Bouncing might make him angry, and an angry bat might be meaner than one that was just taking a walk on a sheet.
The shadow reached her middle, denting the sheet ever so slightly as it moved. "Ma-ma!" Rosie bawled. "Help me!"
The screen door burst open and her mother flew out onto the porch as if a great hand had shoved her. Swoosh — the broom swept across the sheet, missing the bat shadow completely. Swoosh — it swept again. The bat disappeared.
"Go — go, go!" Mama wailed, the siren sound changing now. "Oh, I did it, Rosie, I did it! He's gone!"
Rosie sat up. She gulped in big swallows of sweet night air and looked at her mother in amazement. Mama was standing at the open back door, her face flushed, her long dark hair free of its combs. The broom rested on her shoulder like a hunter's rifle, and she stared out into the darkness of the backyard.
"Where'd it go?" Rosie asked.
"I just opened the door and swept it out." Mama closed the door and showed how she'd used the broom. "I didn't think about it — I just did it! I can hardly believe I had the nerve." She plunked into the rocking chair and propped the broom between her knees.
"What if he flew the other way?" Rosie wondered. It was okay to play what-if, after the danger was past. "What if he had flown right at you instead of going out the door? What would you have done then?"
Her mother leaned back and closed her eyes. The porch was quiet except for the slow creak of the rocker. "I don't know," Mama said, "I just don't know." Something — Rosie's question or a painful thought — had washed away the excitement in her voice and left a sad little whisper. "I can't forgive your father for being way off in Milwaukee at a moment like this," she said softly. "It makes me want to cry just thinking about it."
"He can't help it," Rosie said. She settled back on her pillow. After all, it wasn't Papa's fault that the insurance company he worked for made him transfer to their Milwaukee office. The iron mines around Dexter were closing, and people weren't buying insurance. Business would pick up again someday, Papa had assured her. But meanwhile, he'd added, I'm going to Milwaukee. We have to eat.
"If the bat had flown straight at you, you could have thrown a pillow at him," Rosie suggested to make Mama feel better. "Or you could have done a magic spell. You could have said, 'Bat, bat, here's your hat. Now you'd better scat, scat, scat.'"
Her mother started to smile. "If you're so smart," Mama said, "why did you call for help, Miss Know-ItAll? Why didn't you say the magic spell and get rid of him yourself?"
"I wanted to," Rosie said, "but Bert kept poking me and poking me, till I couldn't remember the words. Bears are awfully afraid of bats."
"Well, at least they admit it," Mama said. She reached up and turned off the lamp, letting soft dark settle around them. "Go to sleep now, Rosie, it's getting late."
"Bert can't sleep," Rosie said, after a minute, "he's still too scared." She knew she was too old for stuffed animals, but Bert had been her friend for as long as she could remember. She and Mama and Papa all treated him like one of the family.
Mama came over to the edge of the couch. She patted Bert's brown head, squeezed his ears gently, and hummed "Red River Valley" in her shaky, off-key voice.
It must have been the ear-squeezing that did it. Bert was asleep in two minutes, a bear grin on his nice old face. Rosie watched him for a while, and then she closed her eyes.
"Don't go away," she said, "in case the bat comes back." That sounded babyish, too, but she didn't care.
"He won't be back," Mama whispered. "He's out in the yard playing Super-Bat with his brothers and sisters. But I'll stay anyway."CHAPTER 2
Rosie was practicing her recital piece the next morning when an old truck pulled into the driveway. There was a box standing upright in the back of the truck. It was made of shiny wood and was as tall as a telephone booth. The doors had copper-colored knobs.
Rosie stopped playing "The Dance of the Dinosaurs" and ran out on the back porch. "What is it?" she asked Mama.
Two men lifted the box out of the truck and carried it up the back steps. Rosie's mother held the door open and then hurried ahead to hold the kitchen door, too. "Take it right upstairs, please," she said. "It goes in the first room on the right. The far corner."
"That's my room," Rosie protested. "What is it?"
"A surprise," her mother said happily. "I found it at a garage sale. All these years you haven't had a closet in your room, but now you have one. No more clothes hanging on pegs all over the walls."
They followed the men upstairs to Rosie's bedroom. The box stood in the corner, with Rosie's desk pushed aside to make space. It looked like an extra-wide coffin.
"Papa says I don't need a closet. He says my room looks fine the way it is." Rosie almost added that she liked it better the old way, but then she saw her mother's face cloud with disappointment. "What do you call that box?" she asked.
The disappointed look faded. "You call it a wardrobe," Mama said. "You're going to be glad you have it, dear. Wait and see." She went downstairs with the men, while Rosie sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the wardrobe.
It did look like a coffin. She shivered, remembering now that a wardrobe had been the subject of an argument between her mother and father, only then Rosie hadn't known what a wardrobe was. "She doesn't need one," her father had said, "not at her age. She needs the space more. Why fill up the room with furniture? And besides," he'd added, "why spend money when we may be moving before long?"
Heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs, and the younger of the two men came back into Rosie's room. He was tall, with a sand-colored mustache as wide as a clothes brush. His face was thin and freckled, and he had long ears and bushy eyebrows. He carried two wooden rods.
"Your ma had me fix this up so it's just right for you," he said. He smiled at Rosie as he opened the wardrobe doors. "I'll show you." He motioned Rosie to come closer. "Now, you hold one end of this rod right here, and I'll slide the other end into place."
Rosie saw that fresh holes had been drilled inside the wardrobe so that the two rods fitted snugly, one about three feet above the other. "This low one can hold the stuff you use every day," the man explained. "And you can put your mink jacket and other winter stuff up at the top."
"Who has a mink jacket?" Rosie said. She knew he was teasing her, but she didn't care. She held the rod tightly since the man had asked for help.
"Well, anyway, this'll be real nice for you," he said. "My pa used it for eighty-some years."
"Why doesn't he use it now?" Rosie asked.
"He died last month. We're cleaning out his room and selling a few things. I hate to see his stuff go, but money's a little tight right now. ..." He broke off suddenly. "Hey, kid, what's wrong with your hand?"
Rosie let go of the rod and curled her right hand into a fist. "Nothing," she snapped. "Nothing's wrong with it." She stopped feeling sorry for the man.
"Sure there is. You've got a finger missing, right? Nothing to be ashamed of — how'd you lose it?"
She decided his mustache looked silly, and she didn't care if he was lonesome for his father and was poor besides. "I didn't lose it," she said coldly, "I've always had nine fingers. Nine are all I need." It was what her father had told her to say to anyone rude enough to ask.
The man's freckled face turned red. "Oh, sure," he said. He snapped the second clothes rod in place and shut the wardrobe doors.
"There," he said, "it's all set for your fancy dresses. And there's a nice big drawer down below for your shoes or whatever."
"I don't have any fancy dresses," Rosie said. "I hate fancy dresses." She glared at his mustache. "I'm the best artist in my class," she told him. "Nine fingers are all I need. I make the best clay pots, too."
"Bet you do, at that," the man muttered. He hurried out of the bedroom and thumped down the stairs.
Rosie went out into the hall. "I play the piano," she called after him. "Nine fingers can do anything."
He didn't answer. When she heard the porch door slam and the truck start up at the side of the house, she went back to her bedroom.
What a dummy! she thought. But then her anger and hurt feelings began to slip away. The man shouldn't have asked about her hand, but now that he was gone she didn't hate him so much. He hadn't meant to make her feel bad. She hated other people more — the ones who stared and stared at her hand without saying anything at all. She could do everything she wanted to do with nine fingers, until someone stared. Then, not always but once in a while, her fingers stumbled over each other, forgetting what they were able to do.
She scowled at the wardrobe. Then she looked at her fuzzy blue bathrobe hanging from its peg on the wall, her favorite pink-and-white-striped dress, her blue denim skirt safety-pinned to its hanger, her khaki blouse. They were like old friends hanging there. They wouldn't like being hidden away inside the wardrobe. Inside the coffin!
She snatched up Bert Bear and squeezed him so hard that he squealed.
"What are you so angry about?" he seemed to say, when he got his breath back. "It's just a big box, kiddo."
She squeezed him again, gently this time — once because she was sorry she'd been rough, and once because Bert was such a good friend. He loved her all the time, even now, when she felt mean as a snake.CHAPTER 3
There was an ugly squawking sound, then Rosie woke up. Her throat ached, and she realized she had made the sound herself. She'd been trying to scream.
Mama rushed into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. "It was just a bad dream, hon," she said. "Calm down now."
"It wasn't just a dream," Rosie protested. "It was the worst nightmare in the whole world." She peeked over her mother's shoulder at the wardrobe in the corner.
"The old man was in there," she explained shakily, "in the wardrobe. He was trying to get out, and I was holding the door shut."
Mama looked at the wardrobe, too. "What old man?"
"The dead old man. The one the wardrobe used to belong to. He was angry because his son sold it to us."
Rosie's mother went over and threw open the doors of the wardrobe. The pink-and-white-striped dress hung there, and the khaki blouse, like small ghosts in the dark.
"So." Mama pretended to peer deep into the wardrobe. "Where is that old man? Where can he be? I don't see him anywhere." She closed the door and came back to the bed. "I know what this is all about," she said firmly. "You're upset because you miss your father. Children often have nightmares when they are worried or unhappy about something. Your father has a lot to answer for."
Rosie didn't see how the nightmare could be her father's fault. He didn't even know about the wardrobe. But she didn't want to argue, either. It was easier to lie quietly and wait for the scared feelings to fade.
"Well, it's my opinion that your father will move back here one of these days," Mama said. "He's going to hate living in a big city. You'll see. He'll decide that his job isn't worth leaving Dexter for, and he'll come back to us."
"We could go to Milwaukee and be with him," Rosie whispered.
Mama stood up and smoothed Rosie's hair. "Now don't you start," she said. "This is our home, right here in Dexter. In this nice old house where I grew up. Not in some nasty city."
Rosie sighed. She'd heard these words a hundred times, usually late at night when Mama and Papa thought she was sleeping. Mostly, she'd been on her mother's side. She didn't want to leave their house with its pointy roof and blue shutters. She didn't want to leave her best friend Angela Carillo or her school or Mrs. Kramer, her piano teacher.
But if there were no jobs in Dexter ...
"Let me know when you're ready to come," her father had said that last, terrible day. "I'll have a nice place waiting for you." And then he was gone, and she and Mama were alone. Rosie could still hardly believe he had left them. She knew her mother felt the same way.
"Tomorrow night I want to sleep on the back porch again," Rosie said. "I like it out there."
Mama switched off the lamp. "If the weather's warm enough," she promised. "The porch is one of the things I love about this house. One of many things." She went back to her bedroom, and Rosie and Bert Bear were alone with the wardrobe once more.
Excerpted from Rosie and the Dance of the Dinosaurs by Betty Ren Wright. Copyright © 1989 Betty Ren Wright. Excerpted by permission of Holiday House.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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