Read The secret hum of a daisy Online

Authors: Tracy Holczer

The secret hum of a daisy (page 11)

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It wasn't my fault that I wanted to stay here with Grandma even though I was scared.

“I won't leave,” I said to Daisy. “I'll never leave you, no matter what.”

33

The Number 4

I never thoughtI could be so happy to see a horse shoot manure. We'd kept walking with Daisy until around three in the morning. When she cleared out, everyone gave a great whoop and danced around the fire pit. Mr. Brannigan declared Daisy out of the woods. He took a turn walking her around, which was the last thing I remembered before falling into a deep sleep in the hay of her stall.

It was still dark when I woke up with an image of the number 4 sitting in front of me, almost real enough to touch, and the memory of where that number 4 came from.

Just like that.

It was barely light enough to see as I tiptoed past Grandma snoozing on a cot next to the stall, and ran into the pasture and down the trail. Mama's treasure hunts always started with a bird and ended on the porch of whatever place we were living in. When Grandma had driven me to her house for the very first time, there'd been a number missing from her porch. The number 4.

It was irrational to believe that Mama might be there somehow, like she always had been, but I couldn't help it. Even though I knew Grandma set the clues, even though I knew Mama was gone, sometimes believing something didn't make any kind of rational sense. Heck, there weren't any blueprints of heaven, either, but people believed in it. Believed hard.

I rounded the last corner and came up the side of the house to the front.

The porch was empty. Of course it was empty.

I slumped onto the stairs and eventually let the shakes take over and the hitching sobs rack my whole self, a tsunami and an earthquake rolled into one. Mama was gone and she was never coming back. And now I had to take a chance on someone new.

At some point in all that, Grandma appeared beside me and sat quiet and still.

Eventually, the sobs tapered off. I took the number 4 out of my pocket again, and this time, she took it into her long, graceful hands, holding it the way you might hold something precious.

“Two days before you got here, it fell off the porch and brought to mind your grandfather's treasure hunts. Call me silly, but I took that falling porch number as a sign.”

“I believe in signs,” I whispered.

She took my hand.

“I'm sorry,” Grandma said, “for so many things.” And the words meant something in a way they wouldn't have just two weeks ago. Maybe everything in this life worked or didn't work according to where you were standing at any given moment. A building could fall on your head or you could accept an apology. Two steps to the left and it might never happen.

We sat alongside each other, the way Mama and she must have done hundreds of times here and there in all the corners of their life. There was love—even if Grandma wasn't good at showing it—and lots of ordinary. There probably wasn't much worrying over more than the day's events. Then Mama sat at the scene of a terrible accident, Daddy's head in her lap, maybe, or her own father's, and everything went skyrocketing off in a different direction after that.

“How do I know you won't turn your back on me one day?” I said.

Grandma took my chin in her hand and looked me straight in the eye. “Because I won't.”

Margery had talked about a cavernous space and how it can grow between people. It was so easy to stay on your side of that space instead of wading through all that emptiness and loneliness, making a thousand wrong turns. But Grandma had headed out into it anyway. By answering my letters, even the angry ones, and telling me the truth about things. Grandma walked out to meet me halfway and maybe that was enough.

But I had to do my part. And even though I was scared of a million different things, of losing everything again, I did it by reaching in my pocket and giving her the poem I'd written.

Three a.m.

the house empty of Mama's breathing.

She'd gone for a walk

because that's what she did when sleep wouldn't come

and poems didn't work

and her daughter was too full of anger

to help her.

So I walked outside where the cold stung my nose

and breath took its own shape

and through that shape

was a different one

in the water.

They say time slows when something awful happens

That is true.

It took an infinity to reach her

and see that she'd slipped

hit her head

and landed facedown

instead of faceup.

Such a small difference

in direction.

I took a flowered sheet off the bed,

pulled her onto the bank,

covered us both.

Mrs. Greene found us hours later

but I wouldn't leave Mama

until the police came and pulled me off.

I would have climbed into the casket too

but there wasn't room

for both of us.

Grandma took me into her arms then. They were hard with muscle, strong and warm. We sat there together, watching the sky turn blue, for a very long time.

34

Possibility

Dear Lacey,

I know you're mad at me. I know you want me to come back. But I finally feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be, and I hope you can forgive me sometime soon so we can keep talking about the evil Marsha Trett with her beef tongue adventures and whether or not Denny comes to his senses, and of course, how Jill and Carrie are working out. I'm only a little over an hour away and Grandma says she'll drive me once a month, so we can see each other. I think I might have even talked Grandma into buying a computer since I could use it for homework. We could e-mail every day.

Archer asked me to “attend” the premier of Jo's movie that I told you about. That was actually how he said it, “Grace, will you attend Jo's premiere with me?” I told him yes. But only if he agreed to bring the popcorn and stop using words like “attend.”

I'm in the movie, and so is Grandma. Jo filmed Daisy being born and asked if she could use it. At first I said no, but then the idea of being part of things finally grew on me. So I changed my mind.

Grandma finally let Jo interview her, even though she didn't talk a whole lot. What she said was important, though. She said she didn't think much about it at the time, what kind of place the park would be for everyone. She just put it together one piece at a time and watched as everyone else did too. She also said she didn't go much when Grandpa was alive and Mama was home. But once they were gone, she went there to remember. She planted and weeded and kept things beautiful as an apology, she said, and as a way to work out her sorrow. Mama can see it all, I believe. From her place in heaven.

Grandma said she gave the interview for me because she wants me to have the whole story about things from now on.

Daisy is getting bigger every day. She likes peanut butter and lemon Popsicles. I hope you and your mom will come to the premiere so you can meet everyone. It would mean a lot to me.

Send me some bad poems. I love you.

Grace

• • •

Max didn't need his bandages after the entombment party. He turned himself into a cowboy superhero and took to wearing a zebra-striped cloak Margery had fashioned out of a winter robe off the sale rack. Plus Mr. Brannigan's cowboy hat. Jo and I laughed at what “normal” looks like sometimes.

I ended up telling Jo everything. All about the clues and the treasure hunt and how I believed it had been Mama. It felt good to tell someone and I expected her to laugh or look uncomfortable, but instead, she had given me a hug and told me I was one of a kind, and since we never did figure out who left that silvery crane in the bushes on my first day of school, we both liked to think it might have been Mama, that maybe no one is ever really gone, they're just . . . somewhere else.

Mama didn't come back to me in my sleep, even though I missed her something awful. The rain stopped coming down. Margery's summer shipment arrived, and Jo and I helped her sort bras for a whole day while we listened to sad country music and ate cookies. Grandma and I reattached the missing number 4 to the porch.

Lou sewed a bunch of white sheets together and draped it over the side of Spoons, and Jo had her premiere ofIt's a Wonderful Small-Town Lifefor her final project in art. The whole town showed up with lounge chairs and picnic blankets and settled into the parking lot next door. Mrs. Greene and Lacey didn't come to the premiere, which broke my heart a little, but Lacey just needed more time. And I wasn't going to hold that against her. We all needed different bits of time.

Grandma bought a photo album and we filled it with what was left of Mama's childhood pictures from the attic, plus I added some from my own albums. Christmases and birthdays. A father who loved her. A mother who loved her too. It was like Grandma and me coming together was the only way to make Mama a whole person. And so we did that, little by little, in all the ways we could.

I asked Grandma if she thought Mama might have been coming home, but Grandma didn't know either. The only other clue I'd found was when I took out Mama's old AAA map of California, the one she used to pop with a pinhole for the next town along the way. As I held it up to the light one day, I saw that the pinholes glowed a pattern, moving up the state of California in a steady line, which made me wonder again if Mama was migrating home like the sandhill cranes, only one small step at a time. I supposed I'd never know, but my gut, which was getting stronger by the day, told me it was true.

I moved into Mama's room. The first thing I did was paint the walls “Faraway Sky,” this awesome purple color. Then I nailed a bulletin board to the wall and pegged up random pictures. Mama and Daddy. Margery. Mrs. Greene and Lacey. Beauty and Daisy. Jo and Max. Archer, Stubbie, Beth and Ginger. The Brannigans. Lou and Mel. Even Sheriff Bergum and Grandma.

I took Mama's crane, wingless still, and set it on the nightstand. I kept noodling with it, and as I noodled, one of the legs fell off. Somehow that helped me see that it didn't have to be a crane after all. I wanted it to be a horse. I took the other leg off and fashioned four new ones. Then attached a proper head to the long, dignified neck. I cut a faded aluminum can into strips for a tail and mane. It had known what it was even if I hadn't. Mrs. Snickels had wanted us to make something we were passionate about and even though it was still tricky for me to feel that way about anything else, I felt that way about Daisy.

Mama had always said that art was about letting yourself fly. But maybe that was just one way. Sometimes it took digging down deep and planting roots. I figured I might tell that to Mrs. Snickels when I handed the horse in as my final art project. Then she'd know her Observation of the Month prize had truly gone to the right person.

The last thing I hung on my bulletin board was Daddy's poem.

A solitary bird, hollow it flew

Through a haze of months marked by the moon

Come to a meadow, shiny with dew

Where hollow bones sang, and deep inside grew

The secret hum of a daisy in June.

The poem was dated after my grandparents had died in the fire, when my father had come to live with Margery. I'd been thinking about it, and maybe Auburn Valley was the meadow, shiny with dew. To me, the poem was about possibility. It was about the secret hum of a daisy.

The secret hum of home.

Acknowledgments

A first book is so very fragile when it comes into the world, like little Daisy on her newborn legs. There is lots of falling down before there is standing up. Here are the amazing people who have given their time, love, and commitment to both Grace and me:

Heartfelt thanks go to my indefatigable writers' group, who has read this story at least one million times, helping shape it every step of the way. It's been a wonderful twelve years and I'm looking forward to the next twelve: Georgia Bragg, Leslie Margolis, Anne Reinhard, Christine Bernardi, Victoria Beck, Cathleen Young, Elizabeth Passarelli, and Rebecca Mohan—we have to make sure our kids deposit us into the same retirement community so we can continue to read to each other, laugh, and eat tons of hummus.

For the friends who have read versions of the story, and for those who haven't but have provided tentpoles in other ways: Amanda Winn Lee, Julene Summers, Judith Whitaker, and Sara Larkins. I miss our weekly Goddess meetings, but you are here with me when I write. Every day. Diana Greenwood—you never doubted. Smooches.

To Nan Marino, who has talked me through the whole publication journey, answering all my pesky questions. Thanks for reminding me to harness the fear and use it as energy. I will keep that with me always. And may that swanky New York bar vanish from our minds.

A special thanks to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and Sue Alexander for the Sue Alexander Award. Before she died, Sue was so very encouraging, and the SCBWI has been an ongoing source of learning and inspiration. I can't say enough about the tremendous resources you provide for writers and illustrators. So many of us are where we are because of you.

To Kent Brown, Patti Gauch, and the Highlights Foundation, without whose generous support I would not have been able to attend Chautauqua and have Patti as my manuscript advisor. My journey as a writer began on a picnic bench under the lush green leaves where I learned that character was the heart of a story.

To Rosemary Stimola, who may or may not understand how important lightning-fast responses are to a neurotic writer. So thanks for lightning-fast e-mails, unwavering confidence, and professionalism. It was nearly impossible for me not to believe in myself with you by my side.

And Stacey Barney. Your considerate thoughts and questions nurtured this manuscript into a book. Thanks for pushing me to dig deeper into my characters and their relationships, for patiently asking all the right questions, and for answering mine as many times as it took until I understood. I can't imagine a world without the thoughtful care and love that editors pour into their books, and I certainly can't imagine my writing world without you in it.

Also to Cindy Howle, Sharon Beck, and Janet Robbins, who copyedited and proofread like friends. I wish they could follow me around in my life and edit as necessary. And Annie Ericsson, thank you for such a gorgeous cover. Those lovely birds are what I see when I think of my story.

Mom. Thank you for being my number one fan, and for telling me I was a great writer every step of the way. I don't know about the “great” part. But I can finally call myself a writer. Thanks for saving all my scraps and poems, which kept the fire burning even when my life took another path for a while. Everyone should have someone like you in their lives.

Kevin. Husband, Hero, and Master Brainstormer. Thank you for being a soft place to land when I needed it, and a butt-kicker when I didn't. You are my very best friend and the love of my life. I promise to torture you with writing questions for the rest of your life.

Kate, Sara, and Maddy. There would be no book without you. I'm certain of it. Because of each of you, I have the right words. Mothering you has given me purpose and inspiration. You are the lights of my life.

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