Thumbelina

( 10 )

Overview

Angelica Skyler certainly wasn't a perfect mother to fourteen-year-old Thumbelina, but when she is found dead in the local duck pond, Thumbelina yearns to have her back. Six feet tall with thick glasses covering a face she doesn't even know is pretty, Thumbelina is now alone with a few Johnny Cash tapes, a guitar that belonged to the musician father she never knew, and a spirit almost as large as the odds against her.
Quickly placed with a foster family, Thumbelina bumps ...

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Overview

Angelica Skyler certainly wasn't a perfect mother to fourteen-year-old Thumbelina, but when she is found dead in the local duck pond, Thumbelina yearns to have her back. Six feet tall with thick glasses covering a face she doesn't even know is pretty, Thumbelina is now alone with a few Johnny Cash tapes, a guitar that belonged to the musician father she never knew, and a spirit almost as large as the odds against her.
Quickly placed with a foster family, Thumbelina bumps straight into Myrna, a feisty redhead half her size and with a baby in her stomach. Also fourteen years old and as savvy as they come, Myrna has no trouble discerning that her secretive new roommate is pregnant, too. With little money but lots of charm, the unlikely pair strike out on their own, only to run into more serious trouble and heartache than they could have ever imagined.
Laughs mingle with tears throughout this bittersweet, unforgettable story of a young girl embracing hope in the face of tragedy. Immensely talented first-time novelist Andrea Koenig has created a character whose distinctive and instantly lovable voice will hook readers from the very first page — and won't let go until the last.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Michael Upchurch The Seattle Times Suspenseful and utterly credible...powerfully affecting...Koenig has mastered her material and plumbed the deepest recesses of her young heroine.

Philip Graham author of Interior Design and How to Read an Unwritten Language A rare literary pleasure...delightfully off-center and strangely wise...a deeply moving debut, a first novel that deserves a wide and admiring audience.

David Shields author of Remote and Dead Languages Beautifully colloquial yet poetic...has unflagging verbal energy and extraordinary emotional power.

Mark Rozzo Los Angeles Times [An] affecting meditation on youth and doom.

Kirkus Reviews
Somewhat muted but eventually affecting debut narrated by its 14-year-old protagonist, a pregnant orphan too stubborn to abort her baby or to follow rules laid down by grownups. Thumbelina Skyler (indeed named for "the little girl in the fairy tale") is a six-foot misfit whose mother Angelica, dumped by her faithless lover Lester, drives her car into a duck pond one day and promptly drowns. This leaves her daughter in the care of single (foster) mother Mrs. Leffer, and under the wing of fellow orphan Myrna, a street-smart teenager who's also pregnant and with whom Thumbelina embarks on a series of disreputable adventures, including brief tenures as strippers and varied encounters with undependable older men (such as Myrna's 30ish "boyfriend" Stan), climaxing with our heroine's realization that she has probably acquired, along with a baby-to-be, "the queer disease" (Lester, it turns out, had preferred his old army buddy Marcus to Angelica ). The story begins pokily, and its impact is lessened by some overfamiliar dramatizations of teenage angst and paranoia (it takes a long time for the bespectacled, gawky Thumbelina to believe she's attractive). But there are strong points: memories of good and bad times with beautiful, impulsive Angelica are honest and touching, as is Thumbelina's obvious repression of facts surrounding her own pregnancy and her mother's death. And in the last hundred pages, the novel takes off: Thumbelina's scenes with a doctor who was her former softball coach are dazzling blends of comedy and pathos, and several interviews with childless couples seeking to adopt her baby are almost as good. The best thing here, though, is the narrator's brisk, sardonic,grimly funny voice ("I am not sure a guy with three kids and his stomach over the top of his jeans can really love a girl who hasn't even started ninth grade," etc.). A nice debut that takes its time getting going, but it does win you over.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684850078
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 3/9/2000
  • Edition description: 1 SCRIBNER
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 0.65 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrea Koenig received a Fulbright award to Northern Ireland in 1996 and her M.F.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University in 1998. Thumbelina is her first novel. She lives in Syracuse, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: August

My mom always said not to tell personal information to strangers. So I'll fix it so I'm not a stranger.

My name is Thumbelina. I am fourteen years old. I used to live across the street from Bean Park on the second floor of those dirty yellow apartment buildings in Tacoma, the state of Washington. We were the orange curtains right above the American flag.

I am pretty normal lookin. I got eyes the color of my mom's turquoise ring that Lester got her from the mall for their anniversary. Anniversary of what's a good question because them two never did get married. I got a big old head that's too far from my feet for a girl my age but there's nothin I can do about it. On my head I got yellow hair that looks like pee and hangs down into the back pockets of my jeans. Me and my mom had identical hair. People used to say to us, You two sisters? Sometimes my mom laughed because she loved flattery like she loved chocolate. Sometimes she poked me in the back which was at her eye level and said, How could this giraffe be my sister?

My mom left me smack in the middle of this month. Fifteen days ago. After three days we buried her because everybody in this world copies Jesus. We tried to find me somethin dignifyin to wear but I don't have nothin in the ballpark, except if you count my jeans which Delores V. didn't. So I ended up wearin one of Delores's dresses that was aggravatingly big around the middle and hung above my knees like a miniskirt, but she said, You can wear a belt, and she gave me one with a buckle you could knock a guy out with. Didn't improve nothin. She didn't notice. Her eyesight's not what it used to be, like a lot of things in life.

Besides Delores there was Betty Fontana and Chee Chee and Daphne from my mom's work and a couple other of my mom's friends. Lester sat alone in the last row with his ponytail tucked down into the suit that his friend let him borrow. His friend wasn't there. When he went up to say good-bye to her his cowboy boots on the linoleum floor got everybody's attention and Delores leaned over and said in my ear, The important thing is that he's here, Thumbelina.

I kept turnin around and lookin, and sure enough, Donny slouched in finally in his black leather coat and slick hair. Everybody said later, How nice of him, considerin the situation, it bein his car. I was plannin on hittin him up for a place to stay, but he left too quick.

I wasn't goin to go up and look at her but Delores said I should out of respect. It was all right. Seein your mom dead don't make you feel like cryin, you just feel pretty normal. The flowers were all wrong though. I told em orange flowers, please. They said we got to take what we can get, long as it's decent. Yellow's hardly what you call decent. As if we want flowers that's the color of our hair.

Her face was as white as those china plates down at the mall that it was her goal in life to buy, even though they tried to make it look alive with Long & Lashy on her eyelashes (which I've been known to borrow once in a while) and a lot of red stuff on her cheeks and lips. It made her look pretty, but you can't hide the fact of bein dead. They braided her hair around her head with a pink ribbon wove through and put her in her pink dress with the lacy white collar that me and Delores found in the back of her closet. I wanted to put her in her blue jeans and Rollin Stoners T-shirt so she'd be comfortable, but Delores said they needed somethin with long sleeves and a high neck to cover the marks of the steering wheel. She said jeans weren't dignifyin attire to arrive in heaven in. Specially tight ones, which are all my mom's got. Delores is a Bible thumper. It hadn't occurred to me that my mom was goin there.

I told em to put slippers on her feet because where she was goin in the meantime it's awful damp and chilly. And my mom's little feet always get cold.

It's been a bad summer for me and my mom, and now that I think about it, I might as well say it about the whole year. Some nights she and Lester would be yellin at each other so loud it was like Johnny Cash had backup singers in my headphones. It bugged her that I spent so much time under my bed eatin crackers and drinkin Sprite. Dreamin, basically. What's wrong with the world that the rest of us live in? she'd say. One night last month, a pretty cold night for July, I had to pee so bad. My mom was yellin and Lester was yellin. Somebody kept thumpin on the wall and I had the feelin it wasn't Lester. I knew if I went out there she'd drag me into it. How come you never touch Thumby? she'd say, you let her get away with murder. Finally I just unzipped and bent down over my old church shoes in the back of my closet. They didn't fit no more anyway. Then I poured it out the window, makin sure to miss Delores's flag. It splattered on her back patio. Good thing she didn't come out to check if it was rainin.

A couple nights later my mom knocked on my door. Thumbelina, she said. I crawled out from under my bed and shoved the dresser out of the way. We sat on the bed. We're gonna leave, she said. I blinked. It was my dream in life to get away from him, like some people dream of a pretty house or a horse.

What are you doin, honey?

Gettin dressed, Mom, if we're leavin.

Not now, honey, she said. Not this minute.

I shoved my jeans back in the drawer. When, then? I said.

Soon.

How soon?

As soon as we got a plan, honey.

She told me to keep my toothbrush ready but not to pack nothin. She said we didn't want to make him suspicious. She said lie low and wait for a sign....

Which I thought was comin loud and clear a week later. I was under my covers this time. I sat there blinkin and tryin to get my head cleared, but when I reached for my glasses she whacked my hand. Did you tell him? Tell him what, Mom? Did you tell him? You told him. Tryin to get me in trouble! She hauled out a fry pan from behind her back. I shoved her, but it wasn't my fault her head cracked the corner of my dresser, it was the lamp cord that jerked her down. I helped her right up, but she shoved me into the wall, bloody murder in her eyes.

The next day she brought home all this hair dye. I'm tired of you lookin like me. You're a big old giraffe, Thumbelina. She dragged me into the bathroom and made me get down on my knees over the tub and she blasted on the tap and pushed my head under and squirted plum all over my yellow hair. Her fingernails dug into my head.

Ow, Mom.

Thumbelina, I've been thinkin.

Miracles happen, I said.

She pulled my ear. I want you out a my hair for a while. You're always followin me around with your big old eyes. You're creatin problems between Lester and me.

Oh, blame it on me.

What in the hell does that mean?

I didn't say nothin. She got mad. Don't be goin all quiet on me tryin to make me feel guilty, either.

After she went in the kitchen I stuck my head under the tap and washed my head about a hundred times, but I couldn't get it no lighter than strawberry. I got no idea why I let my mom do that.

She turned thirty-three a couple weeks later, on August sixteenth. Just like Jesus, she didn't go no further.

Why didn't she leave him? Daphne Cooper said, who worked next to my mom at Betty's shop and those two didn't ever get along because my mom had everything Daphne wanted, includin the window chair, and Daphne had somethin my mom wanted: a husband. Chee Chee Rodriguez is nineteen and just got one of those, a guy at Fort Lewis, and she got along with Daphne and my mom fine. She chewed bubble gum while my mom did all the talkin, and wore her hair short like a little boy which further helped this friendship between em. She did trims, manicures, and facial massages that were supposed to wipe out a good ten years. Chee Chee talked like a girl who was just married. She said, Daphne, you are wrong, Angelica loved Lester. How can you leave someone you love? Then she put a slice of cantaloupe in her mouth from the fruit tray on Betty Fontana's kitchen table, where this conversation was occurrin.

Why in the sam hell did she have to pick a man that was so complicated? Betty said, who is the owner of Betty's Beauties and never swears except on special occasions, when her best friend drives into the duck pond, which is only eight feet deep.

Angelica was pretty complicated herself, Daphne Cooper said, plonkin her cigarette into the conch shell Betty got at the Oregon coast. (Gave my mom one just like it.) What I want to know is, what's goin to happen to him now?

I never knew people's eyes could weigh so heavy. Man. I sat cross-legged on the door mat with my back against the glass, and the question in all them eyes was clear: Is he goin to move in with that guy? Is he goin to be all right? But I had wax in my ears. I just didn't answer.

It sounds kind of serious, if you ask me, Daphne said.

Daphne, honey, nobody is, Chee Chee said, her smile makin it loud and clear: Let's talk about it some other time, huh, Daphne old girl?

She meant me. Sittin there alone. Like if they didn't talk about it, it wouldn't be true.

That night saw me layin on Delores's shag carpet because I couldn't fit on her short little couch and I'd like to see who could. I was supposed to be sleepin. I was eyein the headlamp in the sky through the gauzy livin room curtains. She had made me spaghetti and meatballs for a good-bye dinner but I said, No, thanks, Delores, I'm not hungry.

She touched her big cottonball on her head. You aren't goin to make things better by starvin yourself, honey.

I didn't want to hurt her feelings but I wasn't in the mood to eat. So when she went into the livin room to switch the TV, I unlaced my high-tops and shook the plate in and I folded my shoes in my arms. I went into the bathroom and watched my dinner slide into the toilet. I sponged the tomato sauce out with toilet paper. It was a stupid thing to do with my dinner.

I looked at myself in the mirror because it was there. At my skinny face and my thick old glasses and my yellow hair that needed washin bad. When I take off my glasses people say I'm pretty. I'm too blind to know if they are lyin. All of a sudden I started to cry. Mirrors are bad news.

Her fist thumped the door. You OK in there?

Yeah.

You sure?

Yeah.

You know this is the only option we got, Thumbelina.

Silence.

It's goin to be all right, Thumbelina.

Silence.

I listened till she creaked away on her flat old feet and then I turned on the tap full blast and sat down on the tub and let go into my hands till they tasted like my mom's cookin when she was havin a salt cravin. When I was done I put my glasses back on and I went and started makin this list:

SOME STUFF I SHOULD REMEMBER ABOUT MY MOM ANGELICA SKYLER

1. Men would brake for her even when it said don't walk, but the other half gassed it.

2. Had weird little knotted feet like she was half tree. She wouldn't ever wear sandals or go barefoot, not even if you paid her.

3. Loved to hang things from her ears.

4. Orange tulips were her favorite flower.

5. Lived to turn the pages of romance books.

6. Loved that one song ThenighttheydroveoldDixiedown by Whatsherface.

7. Top lip twice as thick as the bottom one. (It worked on her.)

8. Loved the sun. (Or the other way around.)

9. Eyes the color of her old jeans they wouldn't let me bury her in.

10. Loved chocolate. Had a weird way of enjoyin it. Like for instance when Lester was sorry for beatin her up he'd go to Pay 'N Save and buy her a big old box of the good kind and she'd say You're just tryin to make me fat, and she'd take them down and give them to Delores, but Delores never fell for that. She would put them in her freezer. Then Mom would sure enough wake up in the middle of the night with a chocolate cravin and come look for me to go down and get them for her. That's how me and Delores got to be such good friends.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

16.

17.

18.

The lady from foster care came by to get me, Mrs. Whatever, didn't catch her name. She was fat and all in red. That's a color I can't stand. I felt like a bad dog goin to the pound. I know what that feels like because me and my mom took three dogs there but not all at the same time. The lady had a big lump of black hair on top of her head and a stiff kind of face that didn't smile. I got the feelin that it could smile if it had to, but it's a lot of work to smile if you are not in the mood.

Delores brought her into the livin room where I was watchin General Hospital with my paper bag of stuff on my lap. I had my extra pair of jeans and my sweatshirts and my horse and my catcher's mask and underwear and socks and my Walkman and Johnny Cash tapes and my toothbrush and I had her pair of black high heels wrapped in newspaper. She wore a size five. I'm already in a ten and a half. Course I'm tall don't forget.

That all you got? the lady said.

I showed her my guitar case next to the TV. Inside I had my ballet slippers, which never did see the stage, and a roll of comic books flattened against the fretboard.

That it? she said.

Yep, I said. I wondered if I traveled lighter than other kids. I'm not experienced at leavin home. Only time I ever did was overnight for Cynthia Kazlowski's slumber party last April. We weren't friends. I was on her dad's softball team. I only took clean undies and a toothbrush and Cynthia's present, candy bars I got from 7-Eleven. I bombed at that party pretty bad. I'll get to it.

Delores got the lady from foster care some coffee and I kept my eyes on the soap opera. After Mrs. Whatever had took two sips she got up. Let's go. You could tell she was the kind of lady who had a schedule. So I picked up my paper bag of clothes and the lady took my guitar. I said bye to Delores. She said, Bye, Thumbelina. I followed Mrs. Whatever to the door. Damn red heels clickin on the wood. I said good-bye to Delores again because I've always had a tendency to repeat myself.

Her silver car was in our spot because Lester's van was across town in Marcus's driveway. We put my paper bag of stuff in the trunk but when she reached for my guitar I said, Sorry, Charlie. I got in front and balanced the guitar between my knees. I am a big sucker for lookin back at things so that I will always remember: Delores stood at her kitchen window, between the black curtains with yellow butterflies. Her old, little hand waved. Up in our kitchen window hung the other thing Lester gave my mom besides the ring. A papier-mâché clown painted every bright color God made. It smiled out at the ViewCrest parkin lot from under an umbrella. For all the stuff they threw at each other they never did touch that.

We started up Alphabet Hill and before we hit Y Street tears were boilin over like pots on the stove when I was cookin. I always cooked or we wouldn't have eaten and I was always burnin stuff because I was always readin comics and forgettin. I wasn't good at kitchen stuff. My mom wasn't either because she always said what does cookin get a woman in life but a fat husband? But she was better than me. When she put her mind to it she could make pretty good meat loaf off the Quaker Oats box and fish sticks and grilled cheeses in the waffle iron that made you sure to pick off every bit of cheese from your chin. But she hadn't cooked much lately. Mostly at dinnertime she was layin on her bed with her arm over her eyes tryin to block out the world.

But the world is pretty tough to block out. It comes and gets you from every angle. I'd burn dinner and old Lester would go in and whack her for it, because he hated burned food. Especially once he got to know Marcus and realized there was finer things in life. Whack Thumby, why don't you? my mom would holler at him. She burned it. He would just whack her harder. Sometimes in the middle of the night she'd come into my room and haul me in from outer space. Thumby, what's your secret? she'd whisper. How come he treats you so good and me so bad? What am I doin wrong, honey? I'd just tear my covers out of her hands and roll over and say, Whatever, Mom.

The reason I bombed at Cynthia Kazlowski's birthday party is because I was too good of a catcher. This was before I quit the team which I did because I was tired of usin my butt to warm up the bench. Course not even my big old butt could do much toward warmin up that freezin metal bench at HellyWack Field. All the parents would come and bring blankets and food and cheer us on. My mom couldn't come because she had work and her love life to tend to. I don't know what they would of thought of her in her miniskirts and embarrassin tops. First thing you know she'd be gettin up to cheer and there'd be her rear end hangin out there. All the wives would be hittin their husbands on the head for lookin. I already had a bad enough reputation from bein a little kid under her influence, when she'd do me all up in makeup for kindergarten and make me the laughinstock. There's advantages to bein big. I planted my feet one mornin and said knock it off to the eyeshadow headin my way. And she did.

Cynthia's dad was the coach, that'd be Dr. Kazlowski. He was a doctor. Everybody called him Dr. K. He had all this out-of-control silver and black hair and he wore hikin boots all the time, even in summer, and a red bandanna, and he climbed mountains sometimes. He was tall and had glasses with wire frames and they lived in a house with a pool in the basement. Reason I know is because of the slumber party, which I'm gettin to, when we went swimmin and barbecued hot dogs. Girls were supposed to bring their dads for the food part of it. I told everyone he was out of town on business. That's probably the oldest one in the book. Well, then, bring your mom, Dr. K. said. Oh man. Couldn't say she was out of town on business too. It was hard leadin a double life. She works nights, I said, grittin my teeth and hopin it would fly past him and the Mrs. who was standin there givin me the eye. I couldn't of brought her anyway without gettin her to redo her wardrobe and come sober and that wouldn't of happened. I always operate best on my own when I'm lyin, which is most of the time.

It was a pretty fun party. All the dads were laughin and jokin around with each other and hittin each other on the shoulder and holdin their girls' hands.

We ate our hot dogs and potato chips and I was probably eatin the most of anybody because it wasn't every day that I got food like that. Then we changed into our swimsuits and we split up into teams for relay races. I never had no swimmin experience but Dr. K. said, You be on my team, Thumbelina, and he took my arm and put me in line behind him. Cynthia smiled at me. She looked good in a pink bikini, her legs were all brown from the tannin machine. All the girls in eighth grade were goin. It was only April. So I got in line, feelin real special. Geena was in line behind her dad, Mr. Delaney, tryin to kill me with her eyes, but I wasn't lookin at her. I figured I could swim all right. All you got to do is jump in and move your body this way and that way, two arms and two legs, what could be so complicated?

So somebody blew a whistle and Mr. Delaney and Dr. K. jumped in. Water splashed our feet and the girls squealed. Not me, I was concentratin. Dr. K. was winnin. All the girls were jumpin up and down and screamin. Geena was yellin at her dad to move his butt faster. She got so excited she fell in and they just got her out in time before Dr. K. smacked the wall. He had ten feet on Mr. Delaney. Nothin on this planet was goin to make me lose his lead. I put my arms up and bent my legs and smashed into the water. I could of made it to China by nightfall. I kicked my legs and moved my arms in that windmill motion. I can fake a lot of things but swimmin is not as easy as it looks. It's one of those things you got to learn young, like small talk and flirtin. I didn't swallow water, I gulped it down like it was on sale. I floated down through seven feet of water, starin up at the blue light. It felt like two hands were inside my head tryin to push my ears to each side of the pool. Oh man. I wasn't thinkin too clearly but I probably knew they weren't goin to let me drown on the bottom of their pool. That'd be bad for morale. Then somebody was in the water beside me and my face was back in the air. I was in Dr. K.'s arms. Mr. Delaney reached down for me, and they both lifted me out of the water. (I guess I'm heavy.) I was sheddin water like a faucet. Dr. K. whacked me over the back and got me breathin again, although it was news to me that I'd stopped.

None of the girls looked at me. I sat on the edge of the pool and Dr. K. wrapped me in a towel, the dads' feet bunched up around me, and I could feel them girls not lookin at me. I couldn't lift my eyes to Cynthia's face. When I finally did stand up it was Geena's brown pair smirkin at me, from the edge of the group.

Dr. K. asked me if I was OK. I said that I was. He asked me if I wanted to phone my mom. I said, Nah. I said, Thanks, I'm OK.

Then the other girls asked me politely if I was OK and I said, Yeah yeah, I'm fine. Cynthia touched my arm. She said I could borrow her hair dryer. The whole thing seemed to drop then as we went off to take showers and get back in our clothes. I liked to think it did, anyway.

Mrs. K. brought out chocolate cake and ice cream and Cynthia opened her presents. The other girls took bites out of their cake and put it down but not me. I peeled the cake away from the icing and let it melt on my tongue. Then I pushed in the ice cream, which was softened just right. Last I scooped up all the icing and sat that on my tongue. It was the best cake I'd ever eaten. Didn't taste like nothin I remembered my mom tryin to make. I put down my plate and eyed the other girls' cake goin to waste. Everybody on a diet or somethin? I wondered. Must of showed in my face. Another piece of cake, Thumbelina? Mrs. K. said. She was probably thinkin bad thoughts because her face went pink all of a sudden. You only get embarrassed when you got a reason to be, my mom used to say, right up there with, Whatever you do, put shoes on your feet before you go to 7-Eleven, Thumbelina, you are one poor sucker if you arrive somewhere without shoes. No, thanks, I said to Mrs. K. I didn't want to come across like some pig.

Cynthia got a lot of cool presents. Sherry from first base gave her a box of chocolates with a red ribbon, which is like a warnin bell for fancy. Geena the shortstop gave her a pink lipstick and a matchin nail polish. Mary Anne from right field gave her a red teddy bear with a white stomach holdin a sign that said I NEED LOVE. Leslie from second gave her perfume that made em all go ooh and aah.

Cynthia passed the chocolates around and hugged the bear and sprayed on the perfume. I was dyin to ask her if I could try a little on my wrist, but nobody else asked so I figured they were already wearin their own perfume there. I didn't want to say or do nothin that would embarrass me further. I wanted to get home with a lot of good memories to sort through underneath my bed.

What with all that smellin and cake eatin I forgot she had to open one from me. Hey, where's Thumbelina's present? Geena hollered. You opened everyone's but hers, Cynth.

Thumbelina? Cynthia eyed me with her clear blue eyes that guys in our class were fallin in love with right and left.

Maybe she forgot it, sweetheart, Dr. K. said, givin his daughter the eye.

That's right, dear, Mrs. K. said quickly, her face goin a little red again.

Did you forget Cynthia's present? Geena said loudly.

It was lyin in a paper bag over there under my mom's brown corduroy coat with the black fake fur collar, which she let me borrow for this special occasion. I left the group to get it, and when I turned around none of em were lookin at me again. A bad sign.

Cynthia unrolled the bag and stuck her hand in carefully (least I remembered to take out the sales receipt). She pulled out a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, with nuts.

Oh, isn't that nice? Mrs. K. said in a voice as sticky as hair spray.

Somebody laughed. I'm not sure who, since I was eyein my hands, which were folded neatly in my lap.

Out came a Mars Bar. Then a couple Milky Ways. Cynthia laid em out in front of her and just stared at em. There's a Three Musketeers too, I said, reachin over and dumpin it out for her. I tried to get you a little of everything.

Say thank you, Mrs. K. said. Say thank you to Thumbelina for her lovely gift.

Thank you, Thumbelina, Cynthia said. She said it polite too. Amazin. I felt relieved. You are welcome, I said back.

Cynthia sort of avoided meetin my eyes for the rest of the night after the dads went home. There were enough girls piled into her bedroom that I got by without sayin much, just laughin along with what other people said. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. I left the door open to be polite, in case another girl wanted to come in with me. I guess Geena was waitin for that. She shut the door. She shook a bottle of makeup remover out onto a cottonball and got busy wipin colors off. Her brown eyes met turquoise eyes in the mirror. I am goin to tell you somethin for your own good, Thumbelina. Don't take this wrong, OK?

My eyebrows did her the honor of movin up about a half inch.

For your information, you are not Cynthia's friend. She only invited you because you're on the team and you're only on the team because her dad feels sorry for you. So don't be gettin no ideas that she likes you, because she doesn't particularly. You should hear what she says about your...clothes, she snickered, eyein my sweatpants and T-shirt which I had put on for bed.

Cynthia don't say nothin about my clothes, I fired at her.

Not to your face, Geena said. Cynthia's got manners, man.

She had rubbed all the colors off her face. Now we were man to man.

I blinked. Well, Geena, thanks for lookin out for me, I said in a voice that sounded stale.

She zinged me a look. I guess your mom was pretty drunk the day she named you.

They don't let you drink in the hospital, I pointed out very reasonably.

Then how'd you get such a stupid name as Thumbelina?

How'd you get such a stupid name as Geena? I fired back at her. And I shoved the toothbrush in my mouth. Pretty soon blood trickled over my bottom lip. I got a strong arm. I wanted to be home right then more than anything in the whole world, under my bed, readin my comics and listenin to my Johnny Cash tapes. But I couldn't do nothin but get in Lester's sleepin bag, which my mom had got out of the storage room downstairs, and zip it up to the top, but that didn't block out the sound of their gigglin and crinklin wrappers of fancy-dance chocolates.

What kind of girl would voluntarily dye her hair that yellow? Geena whispered loudly.

The others giggled a little, wonderin where to go with it.

She doesn't even have a bra, Geena said.

Oh, yeah, she does, somebody said. You got to have one in the eighth grade, it's a rule.

I'll prove it to you, Geena said, and I heard her right by my ear, pawin in my clothes. I tried to breathe evenly, in and out, I knew it would pass like every bad thing does.

Why are you so interested in Thumbelina's business, Geena? Cynthia said in her pretty soft voice.

Because the girl is weird, man.

Leave her stuff alone, Geena.

I'm tellin you, Geena whispered. She does not wear a bra. She likes to tease guys, like her mother. You should see her mother —

Are you still dating that tenth grader? Cynthia said loudly to Leslie, the giver of the perfume.

I got no idea why I didn't get up and knock Geena in the head. Cynthia was pullin for me.

So far it's turned out all right for me. My foster lady is called Mrs. Leffer. Won't be callin her Mother. She lives in a little house on Heddinger Circle, which is a part of this city that is very far away from ViewCrest Apartments and the duck pond in Bean Park. There are no apartments, just houses, on streets that end in circles. We're the second house from the beginning of the circle. And everybody's got a garbage can and a patch of grass out front to wipe their feet on.

The house has a big kitchen with a linoleum table and a floor that the kid slides on in his socks and a backyard that's mud because of the bad summer we've had and a woodpile under a blue tarp and a Cyclone fence. The front lawn is the color of my hair right now but it's supposed to be somethin pretty great in springtime. I am not plannin on bein here to see it.

Off the kitchen there's a bathroom with two doors that lock from the outside. The other door goes into her bedroom. Totally off-limits. She works in a bank. No sign of a Mister.

I got company. The kid, Roy, who's eight and quiet with black hair and eyes which must of been put in him by mistake because they're so deep and brown you could throw a penny in em and you'd be old before it hit bottom. And this girl, Myrna, who is about five seconds older than me and thinks she is hot stuff, I got no idea why with a stomach that size. She is a pain in my butt already. Always complainin and teasin me like a little orange mosquito buzzin around my head.

Mrs. Leffer put us both out in the backyard with cans of Coke and said, You girls get acquainted. Then she went back inside to the TV. Oh heck. I am not very good at gettin acquainted with girls. This one was a lot different from the softball crowd. She was more dangerous-lookin in black, except for her high heels, which were green. Hunks of silver dangled from her little ears.

I plunked my butt down at the round wood table with the umbrella shut and drippin water. Myrna stood in front of me, hands on her hips. I mean the place they used to be before she got that stomach.

So who are you? Snappin her gum in my face.

Thumbelina.

That's a dumb name.

I didn't say nothin. Wasn't the first time I heard it.

Got a boyfriend?

Naturally.

How come you're here then?

How come you're here? I said, which I've found is a good way to argue.

Because. She snapped her gum. Stan's gone home to the reservation and my dumbass sister don't have a sense of humor.

I got up and went to the door.

I'm talkin to you!

Doesn't look like it.

I slammed the door and went down the hall to my room, which I got to share with her, and started puttin my stuff away. That took about three seconds. I put my other pair of jeans and my cream leggings and my red and blue flannel shirt and my mom's jade blouse, which I plan on growin into, in the second-to-last drawer that was empty for me. I sat down on my bed, which was the bottom bunk, and put my head in my big hands and all this loneliness opened up in my chest.

Pretty soon she came in and sat down on the bed — my bed — and started pickin her hair, which is curly and short and the color of carrots.

You didn't bring any clothes. She unwrapped a new hunk of gum.

You sure did. The floor was covered with tiny tops and socks and skirts I was goin to be gettin the joy of watchin her wear in the days to come.

You poor?

My arm ached to slug her. But I controlled it because my mom always said you shouldn't hit girls, especially when they're half your size. (Always lookin out for herself.)

You deaf, four-eyes?

Shut your trap.

I'm so scared, she said, doin all this fake shiverin. Leffer said your mom is dead.

Myrna knew what she was doin and she was doin it pretty good. I would advise you to shut up, I said.

She drowned in the duck pond. I wish my sister would drown. She's a bitch for kickin me out.

Runs in the family, I said, and I stood up and decked her with the flat of my hand, which I don't need for catchin no more. Her head cracked the bed frame and I grabbed her soft, flimsy arm and jerked her up and plowed her into all that white wall and she rolled over to protect her big stomach and I brought the meat of my fist down on her back. I ripped out carrot hair. She screamed and I said shut up and when she screamed again I kicked the scream back into her.

Then my own hair got yanked. I jerked back into Mrs. Leffer's arms. She seemed to know what she was doin. I was already coolin down or I'd of slugged her too. I let her drag me down the hall by a couple of loops of my hair. I let her shove me in the bathroom. She locked the door from outside. Obviously done this before. I worked my body down between the toilet and the bathtub and dug my chin between my knees. When my mom used to ask Lester how come he never hit me Lester would tell her it was because I knew how to keep my mouth shut. It was a lie. I've never kept nothin shut. I opened my mouth and howled.

The TV went up a notch in the livin room. After a while I heard her high heels on the kitchen linoleum. Her little knuckles hit the door. Yoo hoo. You in there?

Silence.

You make plenty of noise till somebody comes to say hi. You're weird.

I've had kind of a long day, Myrna. I would appreciate havin some pleasant silence.

You OK?

Dandy.

You need anything?

Yeah, quite a few things. I doubt you got em.

She won't keep you in long, she's just got to lay down the law. You nearly killed me, you know.

Too bad about that nearly.

She said somethin else but I didn't pay no attention because I was cryin. After a while I heard her hummin I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. I dragged my sweatshirt sleeve across my cheeks. You like Merle Haggard?

No, but I seen the tape in your stuff.

Keep your dumb ass out of my stuff.

Fuck you.

That's original.

Silence for a second, then her high heels went back the way they'd come. Myrna? I hollered after her. Myrna?

Seems like I always want to be left alone until I actually am.

Mrs. Leffer opened the door about midnight and she held the long metal spatula which she also uses for slippin out chunks of cornbread when she's in a cookin mood. I just looked up at her and didn't move.

You done fightin or you want to stay in here all night?

I never was fightin, it was her fault.

Whack! went the spatula on my jeans. Her silver ringlets belly danced above her eyebrows. You got a big mouth, Thumbelina.

Yep. That's what my mom said.

Don't you bring your mother into this.

She's my mother, I can bring her wherever the hell I want.

Whack! went the spatula on my knee.

You must of been a good third baser once, Mrs. Leffer, I said, thunkin my head back against the wall. With an arm like you got.

She dropped the spatula into the sink and sat down on the edge of the bathtub, her big dress came down a second after her. She clamped her fat hand down on my bare knee. You all come to me with so many problems, Thumbelina. I don't know what to do. I didn't do so well with my own kids, either.

That's how we left it between us.

I thought Myrna would get back at me. Maybe grab my glasses like the boys in elementary school used to do. They used to pile on me and swipe em off my face and wave em over my head and say, How much to get em back? I got glasses thicker than a ham sandwich. I'd have paid anything. But I would hold off from sayin so. Finally one of the nicer ones, some Christian type savin up to get into heaven, would bring em back to me. A little scratched or smudged or somethin. I'd wipe em off and shove em on and try to look out more the next time. But I would never see it comin. I was tall but once you had me down I was a goner.

But Myrna didn't do nothin. She was savin it all up, I figured. I'm goin to get you, Thumbelina, just you wait, she passed down in the dark the next night.

I'm holdin my breath, you asshole, I passed back. (You got to give it like you get it in this world, when you are not safe under your bed.)

Her bunk creaked with the effort of her secret plans to get me back.

But after a couple more days it occurred to me that maybe Myrna liked me. And I wondered if I was startin to like her too. We just had to make each other work for it.

Every Friday it's somebody's turn to choose dinner. This time Roy was in charge. Spaghetti and chocolate ice cream. I sat there starin at the pile of food on my plate.

Thumbelina, are you sick, dear?

No, ma'am.

Myrna snickered into her plate. She's pregnant, ma'am.

I slammed my foot into her knee. She hollered to wake my mom and all the dead. She kicked me!

Damn right, you dumb ass.

Mrs. Leffer's skinny eyebrows shot into her hair. Is that true, Thumbelina?

No, I just hardly tapped her.

No. Are you pregnant?

I snorted. No, ma'am. Picked up my fork and started eatin.

Still, I could see the lightbulb click on in her big dumb head.

Got you last, ha ha, said Myrna's green eyes.

Boy, did she.

Over and out, August, you been the worst month of my life.

Copyright © 1999 by Andrea Koenig

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First Chapter

Chapter One: August My mom always said not to tell personal information to strangers. So I'll fix it so I'm not a stranger.

My name is Thumbelina. I am fourteen years old. I used to live across the street from Bean Park on the second floor of those dirty yellow apartment buildings in Tacoma, the state of Washington. We were the orange curtains right above the American flag.

I am pretty normal lookin. I got eyes the color of my mom's turquoise ring that Lester got her from the mall for their anniversary. Anniversary of what's a good question because them two never did get married. I got a big old head that's too far from my feet for a girl my age but there's nothin I can do about it. On my head I got yellow hair that looks like pee and hangs down into the back pockets of my jeans. Me and my mom had identical hair. People used to say to us, You two sisters? Sometimes my mom laughed because she loved flattery like she loved chocolate. Sometimes she poked me in the back which was at her eye level and said, How could this giraffe be my sister?


My mom left me smack in the middle of this month. Fifteen days ago. After three days we buried her because everybody in this world copies Jesus. We tried to find me somethin dignifyin to wear but I don't have nothin in the ballpark, except if you count my jeans which Delores V. didn't. So I ended up wearin one of Delores's dresses that was aggravatingly big around the middle and hung above my knees like a miniskirt, but she said, You can wear a belt, and she gave me one with a buckle you could knock a guy out with. Didn't improve nothin. She didn't notice. Her eyesight's not what it used to be, likea lot of things in life.

Besides Delores there was Betty Fontana and Chee Chee and Daphne from my mom's work and a couple other of my mom's friends. Lester sat alone in the last row with his ponytail tucked down into the suit that his friend let him borrow. His friend wasn't there. When he went up to say good-bye to her his cowboy boots on the linoleum floor got everybody's attention and Delores leaned over and said in my ear, The important thing is that he's here, Thumbelina.

I kept turnin around and lookin, and sure enough, Donny slouched in finally in his black leather coat and slick hair. Everybody said later, How nice of him, considerin the situation, it bein his car. I was plannin on hittin him up for a place to stay, but he left too quick.

I wasn't goin to go up and look at her but Delores said I should out of respect. It was all right. Seein your mom dead don't make you feel like cryin, you just feel pretty normal. The flowers were all wrong though. I told em orange flowers, please. They said we got to take what we can get, long as it's decent. Yellow's hardly what you call decent. As if we want flowers that's the color of our hair.

Her face was as white as those china plates down at the mall that it was her goal in life to buy, even though they tried to make it look alive with Long & Lashy on her eyelashes (which I've been known to borrow once in a while) and a lot of red stuff on her cheeks and lips. It made her look pretty, but you can't hide the fact of bein dead. They braided her hair around her head with a pink ribbon wove through and put her in her pink dress with the lacy white collar that me and Delores found in the back of her closet. I wanted to put her in her blue jeans and Rollin Stoners T-shirt so she'd be comfortable, but Delores said they needed somethin with long sleeves and a high neck to cover the marks of the steering wheel. She said jeans weren't dignifyin attire to arrive in heaven in. Specially tight ones, which are all my mom's got. Delores is a Bible thumper. It hadn't occurred to me that my mom was goin there.

I told em to put slippers on her feet because where she was goin in the meantime it's awful damp and chilly. And my mom's little feet always get cold.


It's been a bad summer for me and my mom, and now that I think about it, I might as well say it about the whole year. Some nights she and Lester would be yellin at each other so loud it was like Johnny Cash had backup singers in my headphones. It bugged her that I spent so much time under my bed eatin crackers and drinkin Sprite. Dreamin, basically. What's wrong with the world that the rest of us live in? she'd say. One night last month, a pretty cold night for July, I had to pee so bad. My mom was yellin and Lester was yellin. Somebody kept thumpin on the wall and I had the feelin it wasn't Lester. I knew if I went out there she'd drag me into it. How come you never touch Thumby? she'd say, you let her get away with murder. Finally I just unzipped and bent down over my old church shoes in the back of my closet. They didn't fit no more anyway. Then I poured it out the window, makin sure to miss Delores's flag. It splattered on her back patio. Good thing she didn't come out to check if it was rainin.

A couple nights later my mom knocked on my door. Thumbelina, she said. I crawled out from under my bed and shoved the dresser out of the way. We sat on the bed. We're gonna leave, she said. I blinked. It was my dream in life to get away from him, like some people dream of a pretty house or a horse.

What are you doin, honey?

Gettin dressed, Mom, if we're leavin.

Not now, honey, she said. Not this minute.

I shoved my jeans back in the drawer. When, then? I said.

Soon.

How soon?

As soon as we got a plan, honey.

She told me to keep my toothbrush ready but not to pack nothin. She said we didn't want to make him suspicious. She said lie low and wait for a sign....

Which I thought was comin loud and clear a week later. I was under my covers this time. I sat there blinkin and tryin to get my head cleared, but when I reached for my glasses she whacked my hand. Did you tell him? Tell him what, Mom? Did you tell him? You told him. Tryin to get me in trouble! She hauled out a fry pan from behind her back. I shoved her, but it wasn't my fault her head cracked the corner of my dresser, it was the lamp cord that jerked her down. I helped her right up, but she shoved me into the wall, bloody murder in her eyes.

The next day she brought home all this hair dye. I'm tired of you lookin like me. You're a big old giraffe, Thumbelina. She dragged me into the bathroom and made me get down on my knees over the tub and she blasted on the tap and pushed my head under and squirted plum all over my yellow hair. Her fingernails dug into my head.

Ow, Mom.

Thumbelina, I've been thinkin.

Miracles happen, I said.

She pulled my ear. I want you out a my hair for a while. You're always followin me around with your big old eyes. You're creatin problems between Lester and me.

Oh, blame it on me.

What in the hell does that mean?

I didn't say nothin. She got mad. Don't be goin all quiet on me tryin to make me feel guilty, either.

After she went in the kitchen I stuck my head under the tap and washed my head about a hundred times, but I couldn't get it no lighter than strawberry. I got no idea why I let my mom do that.


She turned thirty-three a couple weeks later, on August sixteenth. Just like Jesus, she didn't go no further.

Why didn't she leave him? Daphne Cooper said, who worked next to my mom at Betty's shop and those two didn't ever get along because my mom had everything Daphne wanted, includin the window chair, and Daphne had somethin my mom wanted: a husband. Chee Chee Rodriguez is nineteen and just got one of those, a guy at Fort Lewis, and she got along with Daphne and my mom fine. She chewed bubble gum while my mom did all the talkin, and wore her hair short like a little boy which further helped this friendship between em. She did trims, manicures, and facial massages that were supposed to wipe out a good ten years. Chee Chee talked like a girl who was just married. She said, Daphne, you are wrong, Angelica loved Lester. How can you leave someone you love? Then she put a slice of cantaloupe in her mouth from the fruit tray on Betty Fontana's kitchen table, where this conversation was occurrin.

Why in the sam hell did she have to pick a man that was so complicated? Betty said, who is the owner of Betty's Beauties and never swears except on special occasions, when her best friend drives into the duck pond, which is only eight feet deep.

Angelica was pretty complicated herself, Daphne Cooper said, plonkin her cigarette into the conch shell Betty got at the Oregon coast. (Gave my mom one just like it.) What I want to know is, what's goin to happen to him now?

I never knew people's eyes could weigh so heavy. Man. I sat cross-legged on the door mat with my back against the glass, and the question in all them eyes was clear: Is he goin to move in with that guy? Is he goin to be all right? But I had wax in my ears. I just didn't answer.

It sounds kind of serious, if you ask me, Daphne said.

Daphne, honey, nobody is, Chee Chee said, her smile makin it loud and clear: Let's talk about it some other time, huh, Daphne old girl?

She meant me. Sittin there alone. Like if they didn't talk about it, it wouldn't be true.


That night saw me layin on Delores's shag carpet because I couldn't fit on her short little couch and I'd like to see who could. I was supposed to be sleepin. I was eyein the headlamp in the sky through the gauzy livin room curtains. She had made me spaghetti and meatballs for a good-bye dinner but I said, No, thanks, Delores, I'm not hungry.

She touched her big cottonball on her head. You aren't goin to make things better by starvin yourself, honey.

I didn't want to hurt her feelings but I wasn't in the mood to eat. So when she went into the livin room to switch the TV, I unlaced my high-tops and shook the plate in and I folded my shoes in my arms. I went into the bathroom and watched my dinner slide into the toilet. I sponged the tomato sauce out with toilet paper. It was a stupid thing to do with my dinner.

I looked at myself in the mirror because it was there. At my skinny face and my thick old glasses and my yellow hair that needed washin bad. When I take off my glasses people say I'm pretty. I'm too blind to know if they are lyin. All of a sudden I started to cry. Mirrors are bad news.

Her fist thumped the door. You OK in there?

Yeah.

You sure?

Yeah.

You know this is the only option we got, Thumbelina.

Silence.

It's goin to be all right, Thumbelina.

Silence.

I listened till she creaked away on her flat old feet and then I turned on the tap full blast and sat down on the tub and let go into my hands till they tasted like my mom's cookin when she was havin a salt cravin. When I was done I put my glasses back on and I went and started makin this list:


SOME STUFF I SHOULD REMEMBER ABOUT MY MOM ANGELICA SKYLER


1. Men would brake for her even when it said don't walk, but the other half gassed it.

2. Had weird little knotted feet like she was half tree. She wouldn't ever wear sandals or go barefoot, not even if you paid her.

3. Loved to hang things from her ears.

4. Orange tulips were her favorite flower.

5. Lived to turn the pages of romance books.

6. Loved that one song ThenighttheydroveoldDixiedown by Whatsherface.

7. Top lip twice as thick as the bottom one. (It worked on her.)

8. Loved the sun. (Or the other way around.)

9. Eyes the color of her old jeans they wouldn't let me bury her in.

10. Loved chocolate. Had a weird way of enjoyin it. Like for instance when Lester was sorry for beatin her up he'd go to Pay 'N Save and buy her a big old box of the good kind and she'd say You're just tryin to make me fat, and she'd take them down and give them to Delores, but Delores never fell for that. She would put them in her freezer. Then Mom would sure enough wake up in the middle of the night with a chocolate cravin and come look for me to go down and get them for her. That's how me and Delores got to be such good friends.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

16.

17.

18.


The lady from foster care came by to get me, Mrs. Whatever, didn't catch her name. She was fat and all in red. That's a color I can't stand. I felt like a bad dog goin to the pound. I know what that feels like because me and my mom took three dogs there but not all at the same time. The lady had a big lump of black hair on top of her head and a stiff kind of face that didn't smile. I got the feelin that it could smile if it had to, but it's a lot of work to smile if you are not in the mood.

Delores brought her into the livin room where I was watchin General Hospital with my paper bag of stuff on my lap. I had my extra pair of jeans and my sweatshirts and my horse and my catcher's mask and underwear and socks and my Walkman and Johnny Cash tapes and my toothbrush and I had her pair of black high heels wrapped in newspaper. She wore a size five. I'm already in a ten and a half. Course I'm tall don't forget.

That all you got? the lady said.

I showed her my guitar case next to the TV. Inside I had my ballet slippers, which never did see the stage, and a roll of comic books flattened against the fretboard.

That it? she said.

Yep, I said. I wondered if I traveled lighter than other kids. I'm not experienced at leavin home. Only time I ever did was overnight for Cynthia Kazlowski's slumber party last April. We weren't friends. I was on her dad's softball team. I only took clean undies and a toothbrush and Cynthia's present, candy bars I got from 7-Eleven. I bombed at that party pretty bad. I'll get to it.

Delores got the lady from foster care some coffee and I kept my eyes on the soap opera. After Mrs. Whatever had took two sips she got up. Let's go. You could tell she was the kind of lady who had a schedule. So I picked up my paper bag of clothes and the lady took my guitar. I said bye to Delores. She said, Bye, Thumbelina. I followed Mrs. Whatever to the door. Damn red heels clickin on the wood. I said good-bye to Delores again because I've always had a tendency to repeat myself.

Her silver car was in our spot because Lester's van was across town in Marcus's driveway. We put my paper bag of stuff in the trunk but when she reached for my guitar I said, Sorry, Charlie. I got in front and balanced the guitar between my knees. I am a big sucker for lookin back at things so that I will always remember: Delores stood at her kitchen window, between the black curtains with yellow butterflies. Her old, little hand waved. Up in our kitchen window hung the other thing Lester gave my mom besides the ring. A papier-mâché clown painted every bright color God made. It smiled out at the ViewCrest parkin lot from under an umbrella. For all the stuff they threw at each other they never did touch that.

We started up Alphabet Hill and before we hit Y Street tears were boilin over like pots on the stove when I was cookin. I always cooked or we wouldn't have eaten and I was always burnin stuff because I was always readin comics and forgettin. I wasn't good at kitchen stuff. My mom wasn't either because she always said what does cookin get a woman in life but a fat husband? But she was better than me. When she put her mind to it she could make pretty good meat loaf off the Quaker Oats box and fish sticks and grilled cheeses in the waffle iron that made you sure to pick off every bit of cheese from your chin. But she hadn't cooked much lately. Mostly at dinnertime she was layin on her bed with her arm over her eyes tryin to block out the world.

But the world is pretty tough to block out. It comes and gets you from every angle. I'd burn dinner and old Lester would go in and whack her for it, because he hated burned food. Especially once he got to know Marcus and realized there was finer things in life. Whack Thumby, why don't you? my mom would holler at him. She burned it. He would just whack her harder. Sometimes in the middle of the night she'd come into my room and haul me in from outer space. Thumby, what's your secret? she'd whisper. How come he treats you so good and me so bad? What am I doin wrong, honey? I'd just tear my covers out of her hands and roll over and say, Whatever, Mom.


The reason I bombed at Cynthia Kazlowski's birthday party is because I was too good of a catcher. This was before I quit the team which I did because I was tired of usin my butt to warm up the bench. Course not even my big old butt could do much toward warmin up that freezin metal bench at HellyWack Field. All the parents would come and bring blankets and food and cheer us on. My mom couldn't come because she had work and her love life to tend to. I don't know what they would of thought of her in her miniskirts and embarrassin tops. First thing you know she'd be gettin up to cheer and there'd be her rear end hangin out there. All the wives would be hittin their husbands on the head for lookin. I already had a bad enough reputation from bein a little kid under her influence, when she'd do me all up in makeup for kindergarten and make me the laughinstock. There's advantages to bein big. I planted my feet one mornin and said knock it off to the eyeshadow headin my way. And she did.

Cynthia's dad was the coach, that'd be Dr. Kazlowski. He was a doctor. Everybody called him Dr. K. He had all this out-of-control silver and black hair and he wore hikin boots all the time, even in summer, and a red bandanna, and he climbed mountains sometimes. He was tall and had glasses with wire frames and they lived in a house with a pool in the basement. Reason I know is because of the slumber party, which I'm gettin to, when we went swimmin and barbecued hot dogs. Girls were supposed to bring their dads for the food part of it. I told everyone he was out of town on business. That's probably the oldest one in the book. Well, then, bring your mom, Dr. K. said. Oh man. Couldn't say she was out of town on business too. It was hard leadin a double life. She works nights, I said, grittin my teeth and hopin it would fly past him and the Mrs. who was standin there givin me the eye. I couldn't of brought her anyway without gettin her to redo her wardrobe and come sober and that wouldn't of happened. I always operate best on my own when I'm lyin, which is most of the time.

It was a pretty fun party. All the dads were laughin and jokin around with each other and hittin each other on the shoulder and holdin their girls' hands.

We ate our hot dogs and potato chips and I was probably eatin the most of anybody because it wasn't every day that I got food like that. Then we changed into our swimsuits and we split up into teams for relay races. I never had no swimmin experience but Dr. K. said, You be on my team, Thumbelina, and he took my arm and put me in line behind him. Cynthia smiled at me. She looked good in a pink bikini, her legs were all brown from the tannin machine. All the girls in eighth grade were goin. It was only April. So I got in line, feelin real special. Geena was in line behind her dad, Mr. Delaney, tryin to kill me with her eyes, but I wasn't lookin at her. I figured I could swim all right. All you got to do is jump in and move your body this way and that way, two arms and two legs, what could be so complicated?

So somebody blew a whistle and Mr. Delaney and Dr. K. jumped in. Water splashed our feet and the girls squealed. Not me, I was concentratin. Dr. K. was winnin. All the girls were jumpin up and down and screamin. Geena was yellin at her dad to move his butt faster. She got so excited she fell in and they just got her out in time before Dr. K. smacked the wall. He had ten feet on Mr. Delaney. Nothin on this planet was goin to make me lose his lead. I put my arms up and bent my legs and smashed into the water. I could of made it to China by nightfall. I kicked my legs and moved my arms in that windmill motion. I can fake a lot of things but swimmin is not as easy as it looks. It's one of those things you got to learn young, like small talk and flirtin. I didn't swallow water, I gulped it down like it was on sale. I floated down through seven feet of water, starin up at the blue light. It felt like two hands were inside my head tryin to push my ears to each side of the pool. Oh man. I wasn't thinkin too clearly but I probably knew they weren't goin to let me drown on the bottom of their pool. That'd be bad for morale. Then somebody was in the water beside me and my face was back in the air. I was in Dr. K.'s arms. Mr. Delaney reached down for me, and they both lifted me out of the water. (I guess I'm heavy.) I was sheddin water like a faucet. Dr. K. whacked me over the back and got me breathin again, although it was news to me that I'd stopped.

None of the girls looked at me. I sat on the edge of the pool and Dr. K. wrapped me in a towel, the dads' feet bunched up around me, and I could feel them girls not lookin at me. I couldn't lift my eyes to Cynthia's face. When I finally did stand up it was Geena's brown pair smirkin at me, from the edge of the group.

Dr. K. asked me if I was OK. I said that I was. He asked me if I wanted to phone my mom. I said, Nah. I said, Thanks, I'm OK.

Then the other girls asked me politely if I was OK and I said, Yeah yeah, I'm fine. Cynthia touched my arm. She said I could borrow her hair dryer. The whole thing seemed to drop then as we went off to take showers and get back in our clothes. I liked to think it did, anyway.

Mrs. K. brought out chocolate cake and ice cream and Cynthia opened her presents. The other girls took bites out of their cake and put it down but not me. I peeled the cake away from the icing and let it melt on my tongue. Then I pushed in the ice cream, which was softened just right. Last I scooped up all the icing and sat that on my tongue. It was the best cake I'd ever eaten. Didn't taste like nothin I remembered my mom tryin to make. I put down my plate and eyed the other girls' cake goin to waste. Everybody on a diet or somethin? I wondered. Must of showed in my face. Another piece of cake, Thumbelina? Mrs. K. said. She was probably thinkin bad thoughts because her face went pink all of a sudden. You only get embarrassed when you got a reason to be, my mom used to say, right up there with, Whatever you do, put shoes on your feet before you go to 7-Eleven, Thumbelina, you are one poor sucker if you arrive somewhere without shoes. No, thanks, I said to Mrs. K. I didn't want to come across like some pig.

Cynthia got a lot of cool presents. Sherry from first base gave her a box of chocolates with a red ribbon, which is like a warnin bell for fancy. Geena the shortstop gave her a pink lipstick and a matchin nail polish. Mary Anne from right field gave her a red teddy bear with a white stomach holdin a sign that said I NEED LOVE. Leslie from second gave her perfume that made em all go ooh and aah.

Cynthia passed the chocolates around and hugged the bear and sprayed on the perfume. I was dyin to ask her if I could try a little on my wrist, but nobody else asked so I figured they were already wearin their own perfume there. I didn't want to say or do nothin that would embarrass me further. I wanted to get home with a lot of good memories to sort through underneath my bed.

What with all that smellin and cake eatin I forgot she had to open one from me. Hey, where's Thumbelina's present? Geena hollered. You opened everyone's but hers, Cynth.

Thumbelina? Cynthia eyed me with her clear blue eyes that guys in our class were fallin in love with right and left.

Maybe she forgot it, sweetheart, Dr. K. said, givin his daughter the eye.

That's right, dear, Mrs. K. said quickly, her face goin a little red again.

Did you forget Cynthia's present? Geena said loudly.

It was lyin in a paper bag over there under my mom's brown corduroy coat with the black fake fur collar, which she let me borrow for this special occasion. I left the group to get it, and when I turned around none of em were lookin at me again. A bad sign.

Cynthia unrolled the bag and stuck her hand in carefully (least I remembered to take out the sales receipt). She pulled out a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, with nuts.

Oh, isn't that nice? Mrs. K. said in a voice as sticky as hair spray.

Somebody laughed. I'm not sure who, since I was eyein my hands, which were folded neatly in my lap.

Out came a Mars Bar. Then a couple Milky Ways. Cynthia laid em out in front of her and just stared at em. There's a Three Musketeers too, I said, reachin over and dumpin it out for her. I tried to get you a little of everything.

Say thank you, Mrs. K. said. Say thank you to Thumbelina for her lovely gift.

Thank you, Thumbelina, Cynthia said. She said it polite too. Amazin. I felt relieved. You are welcome, I said back.

Cynthia sort of avoided meetin my eyes for the rest of the night after the dads went home. There were enough girls piled into her bedroom that I got by without sayin much, just laughin along with what other people said. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. I left the door open to be polite, in case another girl wanted to come in with me. I guess Geena was waitin for that. She shut the door. She shook a bottle of makeup remover out onto a cottonball and got busy wipin colors off. Her brown eyes met turquoise eyes in the mirror. I am goin to tell you somethin for your own good, Thumbelina. Don't take this wrong, OK?

My eyebrows did her the honor of movin up about a half inch.

For your information, you are not Cynthia's friend. She only invited you because you're on the team and you're only on the team because her dad feels sorry for you. So don't be gettin no ideas that she likes you, because she doesn't particularly. You should hear what she says about your...clothes, she snickered, eyein my sweatpants and T-shirt which I had put on for bed.

Cynthia don't say nothin about my clothes, I fired at her.

Not to your face, Geena said. Cynthia's got manners, man.

She had rubbed all the colors off her face. Now we were man to man.

I blinked. Well, Geena, thanks for lookin out for me, I said in a voice that sounded stale.

She zinged me a look. I guess your mom was pretty drunk the day she named you.

They don't let you drink in the hospital, I pointed out very reasonably.

Then how'd you get such a stupid name as Thumbelina?

How'd you get such a stupid name as Geena? I fired back at her. And I shoved the toothbrush in my mouth. Pretty soon blood trickled over my bottom lip. I got a strong arm. I wanted to be home right then more than anything in the whole world, under my bed, readin my comics and listenin to my Johnny Cash tapes. But I couldn't do nothin but get in Lester's sleepin bag, which my mom had got out of the storage room downstairs, and zip it up to the top, but that didn't block out the sound of their gigglin and crinklin wrappers of fancy-dance chocolates.

What kind of girl would voluntarily dye her hair that yellow? Geena whispered loudly.

The others giggled a little, wonderin where to go with it.

She doesn't even have a bra, Geena said.

Oh, yeah, she does, somebody said. You got to have one in the eighth grade, it's a rule.

I'll prove it to you, Geena said, and I heard her right by my ear, pawin in my clothes. I tried to breathe evenly, in and out, I knew it would pass like every bad thing does.

Why are you so interested in Thumbelina's business, Geena? Cynthia said in her pretty soft voice.

Because the girl is weird, man.

Leave her stuff alone, Geena.

I'm tellin you, Geena whispered. She does not wear a bra. She likes to tease guys, like her mother. You should see her mother --

Are you still dating that tenth grader? Cynthia said loudly to Leslie, the giver of the perfume.

I got no idea why I didn't get up and knock Geena in the head. Cynthia was pullin for me.


So far it's turned out all right for me. My foster lady is called Mrs. Leffer. Won't be callin her Mother. She lives in a little house on Heddinger Circle, which is a part of this city that is very far away from ViewCrest Apartments and the duck pond in Bean Park. There are no apartments, just houses, on streets that end in circles. We're the second house from the beginning of the circle. And everybody's got a garbage can and a patch of grass out front to wipe their feet on.

The house has a big kitchen with a linoleum table and a floor that the kid slides on in his socks and a backyard that's mud because of the bad summer we've had and a woodpile under a blue tarp and a Cyclone fence. The front lawn is the color of my hair right now but it's supposed to be somethin pretty great in springtime. I am not plannin on bein here to see it.

Off the kitchen there's a bathroom with two doors that lock from the outside. The other door goes into her bedroom. Totally off-limits. She works in a bank. No sign of a Mister.

I got company. The kid, Roy, who's eight and quiet with black hair and eyes which must of been put in him by mistake because they're so deep and brown you could throw a penny in em and you'd be old before it hit bottom. And this girl, Myrna, who is about five seconds older than me and thinks she is hot stuff, I got no idea why with a stomach that size. She is a pain in my butt already. Always complainin and teasin me like a little orange mosquito buzzin around my head.

Mrs. Leffer put us both out in the backyard with cans of Coke and said, You girls get acquainted. Then she went back inside to the TV. Oh heck. I am not very good at gettin acquainted with girls. This one was a lot different from the softball crowd. She was more dangerous-lookin in black, except for her high heels, which were green. Hunks of silver dangled from her little ears.

I plunked my butt down at the round wood table with the umbrella shut and drippin water. Myrna stood in front of me, hands on her hips. I mean the place they used to be before she got that stomach.

So who are you? Snappin her gum in my face.

Thumbelina.

That's a dumb name.

I didn't say nothin. Wasn't the first time I heard it.

Got a boyfriend?

Naturally.

How come you're here then?

How come you're here? I said, which I've found is a good way to argue.

Because. She snapped her gum. Stan's gone home to the reservation and my dumbass sister don't have a sense of humor.

I got up and went to the door.

I'm talkin to you!

Doesn't look like it.

I slammed the door and went down the hall to my room, which I got to share with her, and started puttin my stuff away. That took about three seconds. I put my other pair of jeans and my cream leggings and my red and blue flannel shirt and my mom's jade blouse, which I plan on growin into, in the second-to-last drawer that was empty for me. I sat down on my bed, which was the bottom bunk, and put my head in my big hands and all this loneliness opened up in my chest.

Pretty soon she came in and sat down on the bed -- my bed -- and started pickin her hair, which is curly and short and the color of carrots.

You didn't bring any clothes. She unwrapped a new hunk of gum.

You sure did. The floor was covered with tiny tops and socks and skirts I was goin to be gettin the joy of watchin her wear in the days to come.

You poor?

My arm ached to slug her. But I controlled it because my mom always said you shouldn't hit girls, especially when they're half your size. (Always lookin out for herself.)

You deaf, four-eyes?

Shut your trap.

I'm so scared, she said, doin all this fake shiverin. Leffer said your mom is dead.

Myrna knew what she was doin and she was doin it pretty good. I would advise you to shut up, I said.

She drowned in the duck pond. I wish my sister would drown. She's a bitch for kickin me out.

Runs in the family, I said, and I stood up and decked her with the flat of my hand, which I don't need for catchin no more. Her head cracked the bed frame and I grabbed her soft, flimsy arm and jerked her up and plowed her into all that white wall and she rolled over to protect her big stomach and I brought the meat of my fist down on her back. I ripped out carrot hair. She screamed and I said shut up and when she screamed again I kicked the scream back into her.

Then my own hair got yanked. I jerked back into Mrs. Leffer's arms. She seemed to know what she was doin. I was already coolin down or I'd of slugged her too. I let her drag me down the hall by a couple of loops of my hair. I let her shove me in the bathroom. She locked the door from outside. Obviously done this before. I worked my body down between the toilet and the bathtub and dug my chin between my knees. When my mom used to ask Lester how come he never hit me Lester would tell her it was because I knew how to keep my mouth shut. It was a lie. I've never kept nothin shut. I opened my mouth and howled.

The TV went up a notch in the livin room. After a while I heard her high heels on the kitchen linoleum. Her little knuckles hit the door. Yoo hoo. You in there?

Silence.

You make plenty of noise till somebody comes to say hi. You're weird.

I've had kind of a long day, Myrna. I would appreciate havin some pleasant silence.

You OK?

Dandy.

You need anything?

Yeah, quite a few things. I doubt you got em.

She won't keep you in long, she's just got to lay down the law. You nearly killed me, you know.

Too bad about that nearly.

She said somethin else but I didn't pay no attention because I was cryin. After a while I heard her hummin I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. I dragged my sweatshirt sleeve across my cheeks. You like Merle Haggard?

No, but I seen the tape in your stuff.

Keep your dumb ass out of my stuff.

Fuck you.

That's original.

Silence for a second, then her high heels went back the way they'd come. Myrna? I hollered after her. Myrna?

Seems like I always want to be left alone until I actually am.


Mrs. Leffer opened the door about midnight and she held the long metal spatula which she also uses for slippin out chunks of cornbread when she's in a cookin mood. I just looked up at her and didn't move.

You done fightin or you want to stay in here all night?

I never was fightin, it was her fault.

Whack! went the spatula on my jeans. Her silver ringlets belly danced above her eyebrows. You got a big mouth, Thumbelina.

Yep. That's what my mom said.

Don't you bring your mother into this.

She's my mother, I can bring her wherever the hell I want.

Whack! went the spatula on my knee.

You must of been a good third baser once, Mrs. Leffer, I said, thunkin my head back against the wall. With an arm like you got.

She dropped the spatula into the sink and sat down on the edge of the bathtub, her big dress came down a second after her. She clamped her fat hand down on my bare knee. You all come to me with so many problems, Thumbelina. I don't know what to do. I didn't do so well with my own kids, either.


That's how we left it between us.


I thought Myrna would get back at me. Maybe grab my glasses like the boys in elementary school used to do. They used to pile on me and swipe em off my face and wave em over my head and say, How much to get em back? I got glasses thicker than a ham sandwich. I'd have paid anything. But I would hold off from sayin so. Finally one of the nicer ones, some Christian type savin up to get into heaven, would bring em back to me. A little scratched or smudged or somethin. I'd wipe em off and shove em on and try to look out more the next time. But I would never see it comin. I was tall but once you had me down I was a goner.

But Myrna didn't do nothin. She was savin it all up, I figured. I'm goin to get you, Thumbelina, just you wait, she passed down in the dark the next night.

I'm holdin my breath, you asshole, I passed back. (You got to give it like you get it in this world, when you are not safe under your bed.)

Her bunk creaked with the effort of her secret plans to get me back.

But after a couple more days it occurred to me that maybe Myrna liked me. And I wondered if I was startin to like her too. We just had to make each other work for it.


Every Friday it's somebody's turn to choose dinner. This time Roy was in charge. Spaghetti and chocolate ice cream. I sat there starin at the pile of food on my plate.

Thumbelina, are you sick, dear?

No, ma'am.

Myrna snickered into her plate. She's pregnant, ma'am.

I slammed my foot into her knee. She hollered to wake my mom and all the dead. She kicked me!

Damn right, you dumb ass.

Mrs. Leffer's skinny eyebrows shot into her hair. Is that true, Thumbelina?

No, I just hardly tapped her.

No. Are you pregnant?

I snorted. No, ma'am. Picked up my fork and started eatin.

Still, I could see the lightbulb click on in her big dumb head.

Got you last, ha ha, said Myrna's green eyes.

Boy, did she.


Over and out, August, you been the worst month of my life.

Copyright © 1999 by Andrea Koenig

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2006

    Makes you cry

    Koenig definitely knows how to tell a story that yanks tears and leaves you feeling helpless after reading it. This is certainly a book for the serious readers, readers that can handle a book that sucks a little life from you with the turning of each page. It was put together wonderfully.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2005

    WOW

    That is the only word I can say is WOW... omg... you want to laugh with her and at the same time cry with her.. One could think about it and put them selves in her shoes and want to shoot some of the people. It is the all time best book I've read in a long time and i have read plenty..

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2002

    An Excellent Novel

    This is really a gem of a book. It is so realistic that it is hard to believe it is not a true story - the author is definetly talented. I could not put the book down, and at the end was in tears. This is certainly a can't miss read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2002

    My Favorite

    I read alot of books for school and it is not too often that I get to read a book for pleasure but when I do, sometimes, I get bored quickly, but Thumblina kept me wanting to read. I loved her querky personality and attitude. This is by far my favorite book, packed with symbolism and sarcasm, it's (for lack of a better word),awesome!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2001

    Couldn't Put It Down

    I bought this book off the sale table at my local bookstore. I did not have high expectations but it was raining and I needed something to read. Wow! What a great surprise! I never put the book down after I started reading. Thumbelina a touching, realistic character who steals your heart.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2001

    One of my all time favorite books!!!

    This book was so wonderful. I picked it up in a bookstore in the airport, as a last-minute thing, before a 10-hour flight to Europe, and read it the WHOLE time!! The book even made me cry in front of all of the people in the airplane! The main character is just so loveable. As soon as you pick up the book you fall in love with her. She has such an amazing attitude, despite all of the horrible things she has had to deal with in life. I cannot wait until this author writes another book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2000

    Wonderful book!

    A compelling story about a complex, totally loveable, vulnerable character, who has never gotten a chance at anything positive in her young life. This is a book that can't be put down, and one hopes that many more novels are coming from this author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2000

    Still Crying

    It sounds cliched, but this book moved me so deeply. I picked it up on a whim, and after I started it this morning, I did not put it down until that last page. The heroine is incredible, just so upbeat in the face of all that happens to her, but still believable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2009

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