Part road trip, part mystery, and completely unexpected, Saving Cicadas picks you up in one place and puts you down someplace else entirely.
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Saving Cicadasa novel
By Nicole Seitz
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2009 Nicole Seitz
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFlying Dreams
Come over here by the light and let me see what pretty pictures you drew. Oh, this one here is my favorite, Janie. Is this a car?
Can you tell me about it?
I trace my finger along the red and blue lines on construction paper, the green blurred trees, the yellow circles for faces-then I close my eyes. It's how I remember best.
It was about four years ago, the last trip we ever took together-my mother, sister, grandparents, and me. 'Course, we didn't know it at the time. You never know something like that, like it's the last one you'll ever get, till it's just a memory, hanging like mist. This is what happened that summer, true as I can tell it. Not a one of us was ever the same.
I sat in the front seat, all eight-and-a-half years of me, twirling my hair and trying to hum a happy tune. I did this, knowing Mama was nothing at all close to being happy after just finding out she was having another child. In fact, sitting so close to her, I thought my mama's fear and anger smelled a lot like dill pickle relish and red onions. Or maybe it was just Grandma Mona, old and mean and full of egg salad, breathing down ournecks from behind the seat.
Some things, like the smell of fear and anger-and guilt-are enough to drive anybody out on the road, even when gas prices are about to kill you.
A gallon of gas had soared to over four dollars that summer, and Mama said that alone might do her in. Not like she had a money tree or anything in the backyard. Hers was hollow, dead, and bearing no fruit-certainly no dollar bills. No, Priscilla Lynn Macy was a working woman, said she gave her life and youth to the pancake house. So you might think it strange we would set out on the highway. I did, anyway. But I would soon find out this was no regular summer vacation. We were destined to go.
Mama had stuck her long blonde hair in a ponytail, packed the whole caboodle into the car-the past, the present, the future-and we were barreling down I-26 at seventy-five miles an hour, and she had absolutely no idea where she was going, or maybe she did. Maybe she knew deep down she wasn't running away from her problems but hauling them right along with her.
Rainey Dae Macy, my seventeen-year-old sister, hugged a plastic baby doll in the backseat and watched the trees blur into a long green line. She didn't like change or surprise vacations, but she kept her mouth shut anyway. She was used to doing whatever pleased Mama, fearing her special needs made Mama's life just a little bit harder than most.
I was more or less a normal kid. Like most, I dreamed of saving the world someday. Not like superwoman, but I don't know-making sure kids had clothes and enough to eat, making sure people like Mama had good jobs that made money and made them feel good when they went home each day, like they did something with their brains-like they did something to help the world in some small way. Not like they were wasting every second of every day of every year of their lives-like Mama had said, oh, more than a time or two.
* * *
Two nights before we left Cypresswood, Mama was tucking Rainey into her princess sheets on the top bunk when she asked her how many days there were until Christmas.
"About six months," Mama said.
"How many days?" Rainey insisted. She liked to count things. she was good at it. And she counted days like seconds, like sand.
"Let's see ... a hundred and ninety, I think."
Rainey started to whine, "That long? I want it now."
My mother was sensitive to any talk about Christmas presents. she'd hear one and add it to her master list. That way, come holiday time, she wasn't scrambling to save money and frantic to buy. So she asked, full of hope, "Why, is there something you want for Christmas, honey?"
"Yeah, but ... I cain't tell you," said Rainey.
"I made a wish. On a dandelion. Won't come true if I say it."
"If you tell me, honey, I can help you write a letter and make sure Santa knows about it."
"Huh-uh," said Rainey. "God knows. He tell Santa."
I was lying in the bottom bunk, listening to the whole thing. I was wise for my age. Not meaning any harm, Mama often said things in my presence that aged me, partly because she was a single mother doing the job of two, and partly because she had a special-needs child and a crappy job and she was going gray early. Sometimes, she'd just about talk to the wind in order to get it all out.
So I, Janie Doe Macy, listening to the wish conversation and knowing my mother the way I did-how hard she worked, how hard she tried-felt sorry for her.
"Don't worry, Mama," I said. "I'll get her to tell me. I can help you make sure Santa gets the message."
Mama kissed Rainey on the cheek and on her flattened nose and on her upturned eyes. "Good night, sweetheart."
"'Night, Mama. Don't forget Janie light." Rainey knew I was deathly afraid of the dark.
"Good night, sweet Janie. Don't let the bedbugs bite."
"'Night," I said.
Mama reached down and turned on the night-light, then she stood there at the door, not leaving, and smiled at us in a strange sort of way. She started counting on her fingers. Then she spouted out, "Oh good gosh, I'm late. I'm never late." She reminded me of the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, and I wondered what she could be late for at this hour. The light from the window was turning sapphire blue.
When the door closed, I looked up to the top bunk and whispered, "Rainey, you can tell me your wish. Sisters don't count."
"Huh-uh. I wished on the dandelion. It won't be true."
"Rainey, just tell me. Please?"
It was quiet from the top. Then Rainey leaned over the edge and looked at me. Concern spread like butter across her face. "Oh, I prob-ly won't get it. I wish ... I wish I had wings and flied around."
"Oh. Really? Like an airplane? Like a bird?" I bit my lip and turned my head to the wall, heartsick, knowing the wings she wanted couldn't possibly come true. Not even Santa could pull that one off.
"Like a angel." I heard Rainey lay back on her pillow.
"Gee, rain. I don't know if that one can happen. I used to wish the same thing when I was little. But I've had dreams where I've been flying. Have you ever had one of those? You're high up over the trees and the buildings and it feels like you can do anything at all, like nothing is impossible?"
"No." Rainey sniffled. The room was growing darker.
"You should tell Mama about the wings," I said. "You know if she can help it come true, she will. Remember how she put you in the Olympics and you won that pretty medal for running? 'Member that?"
"Yeah, I 'member."
My sister and I stopped talking after that and settled in for sleep. Knowing Rainey, she was praying even harder for her wings, never minding she couldn't get them.
In the bottom bunk, I lay there trying to remember that feeling, what it felt like to fly. And I fell asleep hoping, just maybe, I'd have one of those carefree, light-as-air flying dreams again, like I used to when I was much younger than the wise old age of eight-and-a-half. For some reason, I suspected my wings were too short to ever catch air and lift me off the ground-that some children, no matter how hard they try, will never fly.
Chapter TwoThe Smartest Macy
"It'll be all right, Mama. Promise it will."
Grandma Mona and me were watching Mama's face twist and curl in our tiny bathroom. It had a daisy shower curtain and matching soap dish, making it strangely cheery for such a dark day. We were sort of like good cop, bad cop, Grandma Mona and me. I was the good one. Hard to be bad when you're only eight. I would say something nice and Grandma Mona would say something nasty. Mama could form no real words at all, but for sure, she wasn't happy. There was a blue vein bulging in her left temple, and she was frozen, holding that little white stick. Like a wand. Like a little magic wand that would change everybody's world with just one swoosh of the wrist.
Normally, my mama was the prettiest lady I'd ever seen, blue eyes, Creamy white skin. Other folks thought it, too, giving her looks in the restaurant, in the grocery store. In the small town of Cypresswood, South Carolina, most everybody was invisible, melting in with everybody else. Except for Mama. Nobody was prettier than her. Some ladies didn't like her so much because of it. Maybe they worried their men might take a liking to Mama more and want to trade them in for her. But Mama wasn't like that. She wasn't after anybody's man. 'Fact, she hadn't loved anybody except me and Rainey since the day my daddy left four years ago.
Mama might have been pretty, but it never went to her head. She thought her hair was too flat and wished it had some wave. Every now and again she got pink lipstick stuck on her front tooth or had it all cockeyed off one lip or the other. And she thought the ladies who drove those pink Cadillacs in Fervor, the ones who knew how to put on makeup right and such, were the ones to envy, not her. but those Fervor ladies never saw my mama sitting up late at night, rocking a scared Rainey who'd had a bad dream. They never saw her early in the mornings making smiley face pancakes and trying to cheer up her sad daughters and take our minds off Daddy, right after he left. No, no one ever saw that side of Mama. But I did. And sometimes when she was wearing a nice dress and had her face put on just right, I looked at Mama and got this feeling down deep in my chest-a feeling like I wished somebody would just walk on by and I could say, "That's my mama, and someday I'm gonna be just like her."
Right now Mama didn't look anything like that. Her blonde hair framed a tired face that was growing longer by the second. Her skin was all stretched back like it was tied behind her ears, and she was screaming. Not for joy neither. Scared me half to death. I wished I could save her, but it's not like there was blood or anything, something I could stick a band-Aid on. I plugged my ears with my fingers and leaned my head against the cold hard wall. Hoping it would pass. "There, there, Mama." She rarely hollered, if ever.
"Well, isn't this just fitting," said Grandma Mona when the screaming died down. "This calls for a celebration, dear. Why don't I go pour you a nice gin and tonic?"
"Let me see," I said, shooting Grandma Mona one of her own nasty looks. She got the hint and left us alone. Mama set the stick on the counter and I leaned over, studying it. I stared at the picture on the box. A minus sign meant not pregnant. A plus sign, pregnant. My mother was definitely pregnant. I covered my mouth. It couldn't be. Daddy'd been gone for four years now. I figured maybe there was a mistake. Then I thought about it some more and thought maybe Mama had taken one of those ladies' men, just like they'd worried about. Maybe she'd done it down at the pancake house or somewhere when Rainey and I weren't looking. I was shocked my own mama could be so naughty. But then I thought on it some more and knew my mama wasn't naughty, maybe just forgetful on how babies were made. So then I was just shocked thinking about a new baby being in our house.
My legs went jelly, so I sat down on the cold edge of the tub. I felt like I was floating, like my spirit might fly right off. Mama dropped the stick in the trash can and it made a clunk noise like a jail cell door. "How could this happen?" she said, trancelike.
"It happens." Grandma Mona popped her head back around the door. "How do you think it happens? Good gracious, child, you ought to know how it happens by now."
At eight-and-a-half-years-old, I didn't know everything, but being the smartest girl in the Macy family, I knew a few things, like, never climb onto a strange, mangy dog, even if he does look like he's smiling. My sister, Rainey, learned that the hard way, and she lost the tip of her right pinkie finger too. Had to get the shots and everything. I say I was the smartest Macy girl because my sister, she was older than me and she was smart, but she was special, you know, and sometimes could only grasp so much. Well then there was Mama. I guessed I was smarter than her now, too, because another thing I knew was, you can have babies just by kissing a boy. Why, every time on TV somebody was kissing, there wound up being a baby. Mama should have kept her lips to herself because she had two children already, but maybe she forgot how you make babies. She must have because she'd gone and done it again. Didn't look too happy about it, neither.
"That's good," I said, patting Mama on the back. She was straddling the commode and quiet now. "Just take a deep breath. I'm sure it's not so bad."
My mother stared at floating dust. Her shoulders dropped low as if a heavy little devil and angel were sitting on either side. Then the devil and angel began to jump, and Mama's shoulders bounced up and down with them, keeping rhythm.
"How did this happen?" She wailed again and put her head on the counter beside the sink. She banged it a couple times, then rolled it from side to side, her arms falling limp past the toilet paper roll down to the floor. "How could I let this happen again? What kind of mother aaaam IIII?"
I didn't want this.
"Mama, it's not your fault you're pregnant." Hearing that word pregnant come out of my mouth made me want to crawl in a hole. And then hearing how dumb I sounded, I added, "Well, you didn't do it by yourself, anyway. Somebody musta kissed you back. Or maybe they kissed you when you weren't expecting it-surprised you or some such. Could have been like sleeping beauty and the prince, you know. She had no warning from him whatsoever. Just snuck up on her and boom!"
"Oh, thank you," said Grandma Mona. "That's just what I wanted, Janie. A nice little picture in my mind of your mother being with a man. Lovely. And for an eight-year-old girl to know all this. I swanny. Just a disgrace." She walked away, sputtering and leaving a trail of venom behind her like snail slime.
"I'm eight-and-a-half!" I hollered.
"What's wrong, Mama?" My sister, Rainey, heard the commotion and filled the doorway, her hair still mussed up from sleeping. She had her hands covering her ears for the noise. She was eight years older than me but seemed more like my age, except for her body was a grown-up's. Go figure. I wasn't sure why they called it Down syndrome. They should have called it "Up" or something. Rainey was the most loving, positive, excited person I knew. She was like our Labrador puppy Bitsy was, always wagging her tail, just happy to be alive. Until she got run over, that is.
Anyway, Rainey saw joy in everything ... unless she was scared or bothered or mad. "What's wrong?" she asked again.
"Oh, nothing, honey-"
"She's pregnant," said Grandma Mona.
"What's pregnant?" Rainey asked. Strangers had a hard time making out her words sometimes, but I'd been with her for so long, I had no trouble at all. Sounded more like "whad-ped-nat?"
Mama looked shocked at hearing the word. "It means having a baby," said Mama, holding her middle and looking like somebody kicked her in the stomach.
"A baby?" Rainey's face lit up like sunshine. "Oooh, we get the baby! Goodie!"
"No, Rainey, it's not a good thing," Mama said, straightening up. "It is not a good thing for an unmarried woman with no money and a crappy job to get pregnant."
"Oh." Rainey's eyes flitted from Mama to me. Understanding crossed her flattened face, and she looked at her shoes. "Mama bad. You the bad girl."
"No, no. I'm not a bad girl, Rainey. I just ... I don't know how this happened ..." Tears began streaming down Mama's face, and she excused herself to the kitchen for some water.
Excerpted from Saving Cicadas by Nicole Seitz Copyright © 2009 by Nicole Seitz. Excerpted by permission.
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