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|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
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By Stacey Donovan
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2000 Stacey Donovan
All rights reserved.
I am alive. At fifteen, I find myself staring at the shelves of food in the refrigerator. What, I'd like to know, are celery hearts?
There are simple questions. Like, why did the chicken cross the road? Knock, knock. Who's there? Then there are the ones that make no sense. Who ran my dog over yesterday? What kind of person wouldn't even hit the brakes?
Some poet said April is the cruelest month. Now that's something. That stuff can be true without even making sense. And oh, my poor vexed mind. It's everywhere at once. In the fridge stinking with vegetables, under the tires of that awful green car that slammed my Lucky. My mind is like a bad neighborhood: I should not go into it alone.
No, life doesn't make sense.
But I am alive anyway. I live in the suburbs, land of car rides to the Dairy Barn. Around here, nobody ever walks. Everybody does walk to the end of the driveway to get the mail, and now that it's the end of April, everyone mows the lawn so early in the morning it's like a contest to see who can start first. Everyone does the same thing, yet everybody looks at everyone else in a suspicious way. A northeastern suburban existence. Sub means "under." Under life. So where are we?
I live in a big gray house. No matter how big, the sorry truth is that the house is inescapably small. There's always somebody around to bother me, or somebody's forgotten socks to remind me that they were around. There's not a house big enough in the world to hold us, I'd say, if anyone asked. People call the place lovely. But what is lovely? We have a lawn that looks like it just rolled out of a truck.
In my youth I wondered how the JOHNNY'S PERFECT LAWN trucks that roamed the neighborhood could roll great, sprawling lawns out of them. I decided the bigger trucks must arrive in the middle of the night, so we are dizzedly surprised when we wake up and look through our windows at our new, perfect lawn. Dizzedly. Our lives are complete. That's a good one.
When I mentioned this to Edward, my brother, he said I was an idiot. As if he's in any way smart. I admit it was dumb of me to let down my guard like that. When people are a few years older, they sometimes think they know everything. He's seventeen.
Look who's talking, I say. Edward, aka the Wad, received his eloquent moniker in recognition of his ability to jam entire hamburgers into his barbaric mouth. Now that's lovely. My dad started calling him Wad, and it stuck because it fits. I'm V. Victory comes to mind, since I have actually survived life with my brother. I like to remember that I was much younger when I had the lawn thoughts.
Certainly younger than my sister, Baby Teeth, who is eight. Hers is not a nickname, but a fact. Not one loose tooth in all these years. Not even a single Tooth Fairy sighting. Though her dental development may be lax, Baby Teeth is an otherwise progressive kid. Her favorite activity this year is to drop by other people's houses. People she doesn't know. Generally she will call home before dinner to say where she is, not that she's ever actually been invited anywhere. Then somebody has to collect her. Usually it's me.
I've met many people because of Baby Teeth. Though she has a lot to say after her visits, like whether or not there is any baloney in someone's fridge or if a certain stranger wears slippers, she will not disclose why she does it. My mother grinds her teeth when the phone rings. Otherwise, we've accepted it. Perhaps our house is too small for Baby Teeth as well.
At least the lawn is big enough. Old apple trees surround one side of the house. Trees that were here, no doubt, long before the house was built. Before any happy family moved in.
Now that it's spring, baby rabbits wobble beneath the trees every time I look outside. They somersault in midair and end up facing the direction they were hopping from, all shocked, like they don't know how they landed there. I guess they don't. How much can any living thing know that's been around only for a few short weeks? It makes me wonder how much I knew when I was a tiny, wobbling baby. I admit I feel pretty confused now. I have hazel eyes. They go green when I cry.
They're still green today. Can my eyes have their own memories? It was yesterday I wept, the reverberations of a car crashing a hundred miles an hour, crashing into my bones. Vast amounts of blood dry incredibly fast, I discovered. Then it's sticky, like glue. The discovery twisted like glue in my stomach as I peeled off my jeans, after the extremely kind stranger from Wyoming, Bertrand Utley, dropped Lucky and me back home.
Maybe my eyes know more than I do today. Maybe they're preparing for what's next. It seems yesterday was just a tipoff to the fact that life has some unspoken and probably incomprehensible plans of its own. Because today, after I arrived home from school, my parents drove off in our car with my dad's brown leather suitcase tossed in the backseat. But it's not a vacation. My dad's on the way to the hospital. And what's wrong with him? Nobody knows.
I wish I could just shut my eyes. But even when they're closed, I can still see it. Now there's something else that doesn't make sense but is true. In my guts I can see it: the beginning of the Dunn downhill slide.
So my eyes are open, and I stare into the yellow fridge, which always smells like egg salad though there's never any of that, looking for something delectable that will entice Lucky to eat. In the den, Baby Teeth is keeping him company as I search. Lucky hasn't eaten since yesterday's breakfast, not even a spoonful of vanilla ice cream or a busted-up potato chip, his favorites. Mine too.
Dr. Wheatie said a lack of appetite wouldn't be unusual. It takes time to recover from shock. Not to mention Lucky's inability to walk. The cast on his left leg starts above the ankle and ends at the hip. When we try to walk again tomorrow, we'll just pretend it's natural to hobble like we've only got three legs. His paw was miraculously unharmed, or else we wouldn't be pretending. Maybe there is something in a name.
But celery hearts? Really.
We've had Lucky since I was seven. He was the one at the shelter hiding at the back of the kennel. Lucky, according to his chart, was already a year old. So in dog years, he's almost retired now. Sixty-three.
"He's the one," I said, as the small black shadow in the corner watched with unblinking eyes.
"What about a shepherd? Do they have any labradors?" my mother asked. "Shepherds are such good watchdogs. The Millers' never shuts up."
"She wants a mutt." My father laughed. It was his idea to get a dog.
Edward was at baseball practice. We were going to surprise him.
"A crazy mutt," my mother said. She didn't laugh.
"I'd say he was a pretty lucky dog." That was my dad. "Lucky," I said, "let's go, boy."
Who in the world but a crazy mutt would follow me everywhere I go?CHAPTER 2
let the wind in
A bowl of luscious vanilla pudding might make any dog hungry. This is my impression as I carry one into the den, low-ash dog biscuits filling my other hand, enough to please a sudden canine appetite. I find Baby Teeth kneeling on the carpet next to the red couch, singing to Lucky. What a sweet kid. Some old tune about sunshine and life, and really she's crooning so well that Lucky, all stretched out on top of some throw pillows like a king, can't keep his eyes open.
I silently edge myself into one of the red easy chairs, so as not to interrupt. I look out the window at the birds. The lawn is so full of them, the birds seem to grow out of the ground. I feed them when I can, which means I have to steal some bread and nuts when my mother isn't around. Otherwise my mother's vocal cords resonate with loud, nasty words.
Birds, more than most other beasts, are high on her hit list. Because they miscalculate and dump turds on her car — isn't that tragic? Feeding them just invites trouble, she claims. How my parents got together I'll never know. My dad loves animals.
But at least I can feed the birds. So what if I feel like a criminal when I do? The sensation is not terrible — the suspense makes my heart pound. In the end it may be a positive cardiovascular exercise. Criminal activity also smells good — it fills the air. Danger, I think, smells like the glob of leftover hot chocolate at the bottom of the cup, black and slightly burnt.
At night there's a riot at the back of the house. It's the raccoons, rolling the garbage cans around like bowling balls. I'm seriously not allowed to feed them at all. My mother has mentioned, in her deadpan way, that "Food is not what they need. Maybe poison." My mother can be very funny, especially when she's not trying. I've wondered if that poison crack was really confined to the raccoons. Or am I just unfathomably paranoid?
"Spiders are stronger than steel," Baby Teeth says. I turn my gaze from the birds to my sister's clear brown eyes. Baby Teeth makes this kind of statement when she wants to avoid something. One small hand rests on Lucky's tail.
"Who told you that?" I say.
Mr. Connor is my best friend Eileen's dad. "Yup. Better parachutes, bulletproof vests, and clubs, clubs ... golf clubs." She sits back and rubs her bare knees through the holes in her jeans.
"You mean spiders are making golf clubs now? Sometimes you can't believe everything people tell you." She tugs at some loose threads on her pants. "Oh, Virginia, I'm talking about spider silk. It was on PBS."
"Right, thoughtless of me. Look how Lucky liked your singing." Lucky's tongue droops from his jaw as he sleeps.
"I know. That song always puts me to sleep," she says.
"I just do it usually without making noise." A smile widens her face. "Well, think about Mr. Connor picking his nose. I saw him; don't tell me I can't believe it." Baby Teeth is also very attentive to any disgusting personal habits people might have.
"Wouldn't dream of it." She hasn't been over there often enough — but I have. Mr. Connor cuts the foulest air known to man. "Baby Teeth," I say softly, "Dad's going to be okay — he just went in for some tests. There's no reason to worry."
"How do you know?" She stares at me.
I have to remember I'm talking to a person who sleeps with her eyes open. That's really true. I used to think it meant that she never actually slept — that she was only pretending. But it's a matter of eyelids, is all. Baby Teeth's won't stay shut. "Well, Edward's not around, is he? Don't you think if something big and terrible were happening, he would be here?" Now her eyes are on Lucky's cast. Baby Teeth thinks before she speaks, something I like about her. "Well, yeah," she finally says. "I guess so." I am such a good liar.
Where is my brother? We've got a damaged dog and a hospital-bound father, so where is he? Probably unconscious somewhere, a common occurrence, or doing some rock climbing inside his head.
Edwad has his own room on the first floor for no other reason than he's the boy. Aside from being slept in, his room is generally empty because Wadnod is never home. Homework is an absent word in my brother's vocabulary anyway. Neanderthals were not known to be big scholars, so I'm not surprised.
I assume he feels secure sleeping close to his car, which is parked outside his window. For Wadbrain's prized possession, it's a toss-up between the old Plymouth rust heap that my dad bought him when Wadstain got his driver's permit last year and his shoulder-length ponytailed hair. He's got four different conditioners in his bathroom. Is it the end, or the stifling beginning, of obsession? Va va va voom.
Baby Teeth and I share a room all the way at the end of the house on the second floor, which is how I've become aware of her sleeping patterns. Who knows how much I've said to that sleeping body because her eyes were staring at me? Our room has a door that's curved on top like a half moon. It's really unusual. I like unusual stuff. I like the door shut. Baby Teeth prefers it open. "Let the wind in," she says. What wind? I wonder if she means that some moments are so still, especially in this house, it seems like they vanish before they really even exist. But I don't want to ask — she's already told me that some questions of mine scare her.
My brother says that Baby Teeth's a real piece of work. It is, incredibly, a thought I can agree with. She's also hopelessly cute, with light brown hair that curls around her shoulders and highlights her unquestionable dimples. Nobody can resist her. I suppose that's why people let her follow them around in their houses, instead of calling the police or somebody like me right away to come and get her.
Wadhead ignores me and Eileen when he sees us around town, as if I'm not his sister, who eats dinner with him every night. When he shows up, that is. Like I'm this perfectly invisible stranger he couldn't see even if he wanted to. "Virginia," I will say when he stares through me with bloodshot eyes in that hunched, vulture like way of his, as he chews his potatoes. Oh, I am weak-kneed with fear. "My name is Virginia and I exist."
"You don't exist," he will say.
"Over a million species of insects exist; do you know that?" Baby Teeth will say.
"No crap," my brother's porkchop-chewing mouth might reply. Not even the Wadness can resist her.
"Insects rule," she'll announce. "You just watch." And as she explains, her silverware might land on the floor, since her hands are always busy when she talks. The word is not clumsy, but preoccupied, I think. She tends to knock stuff over.
Lucky barks with high-pitched fervor when that happens. Because all stray morsels, as unspoken dog law would have it, are his. He's smart enough to sit at Baby Teeth's heels at dinner. Until yesterday, anyhow. Sometimes I don't know who I feel closer to.CHAPTER 3
are you talking to me?
The sky is immense in April. Beneath it, anything seems possible. Baby Teeth is asleep next to Lucky. Might as well do some homework — all reading. Yes! Any day without math is a good one. It's ten pages of Shakespeare for English and a chapter of some supposedly well-spun noise called The Varieties of Religious Experience for my elective, Western philosophy. But first, some pudding. Save it for the dog, tubby.
To begin with, how can things so insecure as the successful experiences of this world afford a stable anchorage? A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain. In the healthiest and most prosperous existence, how many links of illness, danger, and disaster are always interposed?
Somebody help me, please. What I read was: Life is a chain. How many links of illness, danger, and disaster are interposed? The answer to that, in this house, is one of each. Except for the dangerous element, who is elsewhere, and possibly reapplying lipstick at this moment.
"Is Dad home?"
Oh, there's the vulture in the doorway. I didn't hear him come in. That means my brother's car must be running unnaturally well. Usually the Plymouth rumbles up the driveway. They'd like it to "purr," Wadstain and my dad, which is why they are often found hands under its hood on weekend mornings. Wadnod is wearing a faded army jacket and mud- stained jeans. Very cool. It looks like he's been slam-dancing with the ground. "No stronger than its weakest link."
"Are you talking to me?" I say.
"Nah, it's the chair I figure I'll hear from." His dark brown ponytail flops around. "I don't got time for this, you know. So is he or not?"
I notice his earlobes turning red, so I relent. "They're not home yet." My chin tilts toward the couch's dozing lumps. "Be quiet."
"Well, that's all you gotta say, you know." He keeps his voice down, which is phenomenal, then follows with his classic vulture face, cheeks all sucked in, lips curled. Oh, I am stunned with terror. The final say is always my brother's, whether it's with his sneer or impressive truck- driver vocabulary. I really wonder what the girls see in him. He's built like a scarecrow under all those baggy clothes, so it must be the car. Some females are truly desperate.
"Is that right?" I say. "And 'hello' is probably something you could manage." Screw him.
"Oh yeah? Well, I don't got time for small talk." I have nothing else to say. I look back at my book. The chapter is appropriately called "The Sick Soul." 'How many links ...?' Really.
Excerpted from Dive by Stacey Donovan. Copyright © 2000 Stacey Donovan. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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