Read an Excerpt
Oh dear,” said a little voice from behind Jenny Weston, who knelt in the wet grass, in drizzling rain, early morning light making long shadows of the destruction around her.
Like jars of strawberry jam.’ That’s from Alice in Wonderland, you know. But everyone knows that,” the voice, belonging to a little girl, said.
Go away,” Jenny mumbled. She wished the kid would leave her alone to face the ruin of her mother’s Little Library by herself.
All the books her mom loved were scattered over the grass, each soaked and swollen, some covers empty, pages torn and tossed everywhere, now giving the weak rustle of dying weeds when the chilly wind blew in off Lake Michigan.
And the library box that held the booksspecial to so many in Bear Falls, Michigan, especially to her mother, Dorasmashed and splintered into jagged red, green, and white shards. The post it once stood on was split in two. Jenny squeezed down her feelingsall the hurt and anger and outrage.
She knew immediately when she drove in after her all-night ride that there wouldn’t be any happier or sunnier days back here in Michigan than there’d been in Chicago. This wasn’t a return to Eden, after all, only another war zone.
She reached out to retrieve a large, wooden splinter near one knee. Redpart
of a chimney. And another piecea green step to the screened porch. Her father had built the Little Library, an exact replica of the house they lived in. All of it gone.
What I mean to say is,” the squeaky voice came again, The day was wet, the rain fell souse, like jars of strawberry jam.’”
Go home. It’s too early for you to be out,” Jenny said without turning. You should be in bed. And anyway, I’m busy here.”
She sniffed to emphasize the busy and then wrapped her arms around herself, shivering in her wrinkled shorts and yellow shirt. Although it was June, it was a damp and gloomy morning, with rolling dark clouds overhead and a fine drizzle among the pines separating the houses along Elderberry Street.
Jenny moved from one knee to the other, reaching out to touch remnants of the little house. A last gift for mom before dad was killed out on US 31, his car struck and sent into a ditch, then into a tree. Dad was left to die by the faceless, nameless driver who hit him. The Little Library had been an anniversary gift for Dora, his wifea one-time librarian who followed her
husband to this disappointing place, a Northern Michigan town without a library.
Awful that the house is nothing but splinters,” the voice talked on. I liked it just the way it was. Looked like Dora’s, with the red chimney and the dormers and all. And such fun that the roof opened the way it did and books were tucked inside like little soldiers in their cots.”
Jenny squeezed her eyes tight enough to hurt. She wiped rain from her face. Maybe, she thought, if I keep my eyes closed and click my heels, this smart-aleck kid will disappear.
So many memories bubbled up. Good memories and bad memories. Her life mixing in sudden, independent scenes: running through the sprinkler under a hot July sun; barely escaping when she and her older sister, Lisa, stole kohlrabi from Adam Cane’s garden; Dad calling her mom out to see the surprise he’d built for their anniversary...
Come out, dear Dora, and see what your man has wrought.” Jim Weston, a large and powerful man, stood at the curb so proudly six months before he died. A flourish of the cloth he’d laid over the Little Library, and then his carefully rehearsed speech: Because Bear Falls has no library for my own beautiful librarian, never had a library, will never have a library, and you, dear Dora, are a reader to be reckoned with...”
Dad was the perfect traveling salesmanin death too: he was found by a passing motorist, dead behind the wheel.
Terrible what someone had done to the Little Library. And even worse, now Jenny had to go into the house and break the awful news to her mom, and on her first morning home.
If you ask me...” the voice went on.
Listen, kid, go away, okay? It’s barely daylight. You should be in bed.”
She turned to find not a child but a Little Person standing behind her, a very small woman in tiny, green-smudged sneakers; her faded jeans rolled so a bit of flesh showed above her ankles. The sturdy body was wrapped in a child’s plastic raincoat, the flowered hood tied tight around a small, pretty faceeye-level with a kneeling Jennytopped by tendrils of wildly curly blonde hair.
Well, I’m certainly not a kid.” The indignant woman shot her pale eyebrows high. Thirty-three years old. Don’t look it, do I? Not a day over twelve, I’ll bet you’d say.”
Maybe ten,” Jenny growled, not in the mood to play games.
Hmm. Don’t worry your head over hurting my feelings.” Her round, blue eyes narrowed with sarcasm.
Sorry.” Jenny wiped her wet hands along the sides of her shorts. You’re not what I expected.”
That’s okay. You’re not what I expected either. You don’t look like your mother at all. Much taller than I imagined.”
I’m on my knees. How can you tell how tall I am?”
One learns to gauge a person’s height. Your body’s long. Your legs are long. Put them together and you get a tall person. Maybe a gigantic person.” The woman rubbed her hands, gave them a shake, and nodded to emphasize the rightness of her equation.
Jenny wiped her eyes while checking out the odd creature standing behind her with legs apart and fists wedged at her waist.
You are Jenny, Dora’s Chicago daughter, aren’t you?”
Your mom told me you were coming. I was glad to hear it. Your sister, Lisa, has been here before, but never you.” She raised her eyebrows as if in judgment.
Jenny bristled but said nothing.
Well, anyway, I haven’t said a word to Dora, but I’ve had this terrible feeling.” She leaned in closer, finger at her nose. Something’s coming. Something’s certainly coming. It’s been in the air.”
Her hand circled the ruin in front of her. I never imagined
The woman shrugged after a strained minute and stuck a soft hand out for Jenny to shake. Welcome home. Sorry it’s to this mess. I’m Zoe Zola. Next-door neighbor.” She pointed toward the house to the south. Been here a year. Your mom and I are good friends.”
Did Mrs. Ford move?” Jenny wracked her brain. Five years since she’d been home. A lot could have happened in that time. Died. Poor Granny.” The little woman drooped with sadness.
Sorry about your grandmother, but I’ve never seen you before either.”
Would’ve remembered, eh? Smaller than a tadpole.’ No. Smaller than a minute.’ Heard that one a lot. How about Smaller than a bumblebee’? You ever hear of a pygmy shrew? One man told me I was smaller than that.” Zoe’s eyes weren’t laughing.
Jenny wondered how to escape from this odd person. Could be a mad killer. Maybe a religious nut. Jenny entertained herself with wild possibilities.
Zoe Zola talked on. Granny left me the house, though I barely knew her. My mother’s side of the family. They didn’t like me much. Surprised me when I got the news. But it was welcome. You can just imagine. A home of my own. In a little town. Quiet enough to think for long stretches of time. Quiet enough to take my mind off . . .” She glanced the short distance down to the ground. Well, enough to take my mind off other things, survival being one of them. I write books, you see, and writers always expect to exist in someone else’s garret. Not our own garret, you understand, because we’re never rich enough to own one.” She puzzled, with a finger at her chin. What’s the name of the bird that crawls into other people’s nests?”
She ruminated a while. Cuckoo!” she squawked, giving Jenny a satisfied smile.
Why are you out so early? It’s raining.”
Really?” She put her hand out. It’s my dog. She’s old and has to pee a lot.”
As if she’d been waiting for an introduction, a shiny black nose lost in dirty white fur nudged out from behind Zoe Zola’s legs. The nose belonged to a small, shaggy dog with drooping ears and a quiver running from her nose to the end of her tail. The only bit of color on the little thing, other than mud, was a red collar peeking out around her neck. The dog snuffled back and forth, nose to ground, then looked up at Jenny, who stared down into an opal of an eyea half-blind little dog. The other eye was happy to see her, deep brown and wet. The dog gave the smallest of necessary yips.
Her name is Fida. She doesn’t mean you any harm,” Zoe said. She’s just upset at this awful mess. And it wasn’t Fida who made the comment about the strawberry jam, which, if I may say so, was apropos at the moment.”
Jenny took a deep breath. Oz. No. One of the Lollipop Guild. And Toto, too.
The little dog gave another sharp yip. Zoe cautioned, Quiet.” Then her face lighted with playfulness. Fida is a feminist because we agreed to it being so. Her name would have been Fido if she’d been born of the other persuasion. Instead, she calls herself Fida.” The dog, happy now, wiggled forward until her head lay on Jenny’s knees, her one good eye turned up in adoration.
None of this is what it seems to be, you know.”
Jenny muttered, You can say that again.”
And not what you’re thinking at all.” Zoe grabbed Fida by the collar, pulling her away from nuzzling Jenny to death.
And it’s not about strawberry jam,” Jenny came back.
Oh, that.” Zoe flipped a hand to blow away the thought. I write books about fairy tales and magic people. The Wizard of Oz as Dream came out a couple of years ago and is still doing very well with certain factions of people. You know, those who think all day and truly worry if Dorothy dreamed all of that nonsense or if Oz really exists. I’m of the latter ilk. But then, I have first-hand information.
Currently I’m working on Lewis Carroll and the Two Alices: A Study in Madness and Murder. Off with her head.’ We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’ The Hatter, well, of course he’s mad. And the dormouse into the teapot. An amazing human being, Mr. Carroll. Or Charles Dodgson, as he thought he was called. In his personal notes alone, there must be at least a dozen or two ideas to fit each and every happenstance of life.”
Including broken libraries?” Jenny felt annoyance settling in.
Zoe was about to answer when her body froze. Her hand shot into the air.
I smell it coming!” Zoe said and then slowly lowered her hand.
I think I’d better go inside...” Jenny started to get up, gaugingif
she ran very fasthow long it would take to get up to the house.
Zoe shook her head. I don’t mean to spook you.”
It’s just...” She put a pudgy finger to her lips. I can smell things. An amazing nose, though sometimes awkward to deal with. I smell when storms are born. I smell the least bit of tumult in the air.”
Really? And what do you smell now?” Jenny stood and brushed wet grass from her hands and knees.
Zoe looked left and then right from the corners of her eyes. I don’t know,” she whispered.
There’s nothing . . .”
Zoe frowned and nodded hard.
Yes, there is, Jenny Weston. There’s something coming at us. If you ask me, I’d have to say maybe you should turn around and go right back to Chicago.”