Read The secret hum of a daisy Online

Authors: Tracy Holczer

The secret hum of a daisy (page 3)

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“You don't have to do everything for me. It's not like I'm an imbecile,” Max said.

“You meaninvalid.”

“Whatever.”

“Fine.”

“Fine!”

Max grabbed the handle of the suitcase and turned toward me. “It was nice to meet you, Grace.” He flashed me a missing-toothed smile and stuck his tongue out at Jo. Then he stormed off, suitcase bumping behind, clutching his lunch sack. For a second, it felt like I'd always been there, stuck right between them like grilled cheese.

Jo reached into her backpack and pulled out a brush, brushing frantically at her short hair until it was shiny and electrified. She stopped as suddenly as she started.

“You must think we're crazy,” she said.

“I've known crazier.”

“Well, that's a comfort. Come on, your grandma went inside. She asked me to show you around today, so we'll start with the office.”

I followed her into the building and down a long hallway. The tiled floor reflected the lights from above.

“I'm Jo, by the way. I wanted to come by and introduce myself before, but your grandma said . . . ,” she trailed off.

That I'd moved myself into her shed like a crazy person? That she wished I'd never come to live with her? “It's okay,” I said.

We stopped in front of the glass office door and I saw Grandma filling out paperwork. She touched a pencil to the tip of her tongue.

It was a dead-end moment, the perfect time for Jo to scurry off. Instead, she looked me straight in the eye. “Your grandma isn't one for big emotions, in case you haven't figured that out. But she's glad you're here.”

I didn't know what to say to that.

The bell rang, and Grandma came out of the office. She put her hand on Jo's shoulder. “I see you've met Grace.”

Seeing her hand there filled me with all kinds of confusing feelings, anger, curiosity . . . jealousy? Those feelings made me want to run away. I touched the crane in my pocket.

The run-away feeling didn't go away as I followed Jo to my first-period class.

8

Refolding

a Map

When I walkedinto third-period art, the teacher, Mrs. Snickels, reached out and shook my hand. She was tall and angular, all squares and triangles, like the Picasso paintings from our yard-sale art book. Even her black hair was cut in a sharp wedge. The collection of her reminded me of Mama's birds, somehow. How there was always more to them than just rivets and glue and metal.

Everyone still had on their name tags from first-period English. Mr. Flinch, who was the principal as well as the English and social studies teacher, had insisted they wear them since it was my first day of school. All eighteen seventh-graders—probably glued together by PTA moms and Flat Stanley projects since kindergarten—were like one big family, or so it seemed. And Mrs. Julian had done her best to welcome me into it with a giant bear hug and a small basket of cookies in pre-algebra. Right before she slammed her giant book of sudoku on Stubbie's desk after he blew a spit wad at a girl named Beth Crinkle.

There was Ginger Peppers, who was so expressive, she could have been mistaken for a mime if she didn't talk so much. She had straight peanut-colored hair that looked almost long enough for her to sit on, and a habit of swinging it to one side or the other for emphasis. Beth Crinkle's name tag had been written with a label maker. She told me twice that her mother owned an inspirational T-shirt business and that she helped with the slogans, which she showed me. Her T-shirt readIT TAKES A VILLAGE. She liked lists. They were written all over her notebook and binder.Seven Things I Hate about MorningsandFifty-Three Things That Make Me Happy to Be Me.She drew hearts in every other square inch of space, of which there wasn't much.

There was spit-wad Stubbie, and Archer Lee Hamilton, whose name tag actually readARCHER LEE HAMILTONlike he was practicing to be president or something.

Jo sat alone at a tall table, fidgeting with the settings on a movie camera, and patted the seat next to her. Stubbie nudged Archer as I walked past, and Archer gave me a cheesy grin he might have meant to be something else. Maybe a flirty grin? A welcoming smile? Like how you sit down to draw a duck, only it ends up looking more like a caterpillar, and so you just go with it.

My brain was overloaded, the new names and classroom numbers floating around like bits of confetti. Even though there were only eighteen names and six classes, they tacked themselves to long lists of other names and classes from other schools so that I kept forgetting where I was. I sat next to Jo and out of habit, I reached for my notebook so I could write down words and relieve some first-day-of-school pressure. Then I remembered why I couldn't do that and bit my nails instead.

“Mrs. Snickels asked me to fill you in on the final project,” Jo said. “It's due at the end of the year, so you have about eight more weeks. There isn't much of a theme; she just wants you to choose something you love or feel passionate about. Her only rule is that the passion has to come through in the project somehow. You can use any medium—photography, art, collage. Last year, someone did a series of photos of a garden as it bloomed. I'm doing a documentary. Just make sure you check with Mrs. Snickels to see if your project is okay.”

That all sounded manageable, only I didn't plan on being there in June.

“Here.” She slid a small stack of stapled pages toward me. She whispered, “I've known most everyone since kindergarten, some before. I figured I'd write down some basic information to fill you in.”

The first page saidThings to Knowat the top. I couldn't decide if it was sweet or creepy. “Thanks.”

“Don't mention it.”

There were eighteen wooden box frames along one side of the wall with names underneath. Each frame held an object of some kind: an engraved stone that saidPEACE(Beth), a Playbill from the musicalWicked(Ginger), a Barbie-sized director's chair (Jo). In the bottom corner was an empty frame with my name beneath it.

“What goes in the box?” I asked Jo.

“Whatever you feel like sharing.”

“What if you don't feel like sharing anything?”

“It happens. Stubbie protested just before Thanksgiving. He said he was exerting his right to privacy under the Constitution. Mrs. Snickels said it was a perfect example of how nothing can mean something in art.”

Mrs. Snickels tinkled a bell to get our attention. “We're going to start something new today. Self-portraits.”

She dug through the piles of paper on her desk and came up with a drawing she clipped to the whiteboard. It was a pencil-sketched self-portrait of half her face. She had drawn her short black hair, funny dark-rimmed glasses, and a crooked smile. I liked it. She didn't make herself look like something she wasn't.

She picked up a bag from her desk and handed out mirrors.

“The self-portrait should take up only half the page—which half is up to you. The other half is a surprise that we will finish in a few weeks.

“Try and keep in mind that some of it will come from the mirror, but some of it should come in the form of expression so that the inside of you is on the page too. Chiaroscuro! The transition between light and dark. Show me what you've learned about contour.”

When she was done handing out the mirrors, she went back to her desk and banged a gong.

“It's a meditation thing,” Jo whispered.

I shrugged. I'd seen weirder things from teachers. Like Mr. Langston, who had to touch his nose, his pencil holder, and the top of his head before he could get up from his chair.

Mrs. Snickels brought me a book on portraiture. “We've already done some work with faces this year. Take your time looking through the exercises in the book and if you have any questions, let me know.”

I flipped through a few pages and studied some of the techniques. Then I looked at myself in the silver-backed mirror, deciding to start with my hair and the shape of my face. But as I touched the pencil to paper, all I wanted was to write down words in my notebook. I took a deep breath and thought them instead.

If only my words

could build a path

to where you are.

I felt a little better after that, and so the sketching came easier. I went through the motions, letting my hand and arm do the work and leaving my brain out of it, and eventually the bell rang.

As we rolled our portraits into tubes, Jo snuck a look. “You're good at faces,” she said.

I shrugged. My hand knew where to put the shading of a cheekbone, the curve of a brow. I could be one of those people who drew portraits in carnivals, maybe. It wasn't art like Mama's.

But I had to admit there was a certain satisfaction in drawing something true, even if it was the sad eye of a girl I didn't recognize.

• • •

Everyone was eating inside the cafetorium—half cafeteria, half auditorium—with its giant banner proclaimingTRAVEL THE WORLD, ONE BOOK AT A TIME!It had sprinkled earlier, so I took a wad of paper towels from the girls' room and wiped down a place to sit outside under the awning. I dumped out the lunch I'd packed, which consisted of a peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off and a Ding Dong, not that I was hungry.

Making sure no one was watching, I pulled my backpack onto the bench beside me and unzipped it. I set the T-shirt on my lap and unwrapped the bird I'd found in the toolbox, looking again into the sliver of an opening, reassured by that little edge of paper inside.

Part of me wished Mama could just leave me an honest-to-goodness sign, like a poster in front of the school that saidLet this sign hereby notify the powers that be that Gracie May Jessup should be living with Mrs. Greene in Hood, California, not her grandmother.

Jo walked toward me from the cafetorium, her short hair blowing in the wind, and I quickly wrapped the bird in the T-shirt. “Come and sit with us. It's cold out here.”

I looked past her to the table inside filled with girls all babbling at one another. Ginger was laughing and flapping her arms like a chicken. Archer and Stubbie sat at the other end of the same table, where apparently Stubbie wasn't done with his spit-wad tricks. A sour-looking woman in a hairnet and a frilly white apron walked up and took the straw right out of his mouth. Archer laugh-snorted his milk all over the table and immediately began mopping it up with whatever napkins were handy.

“Thanks, but I kind of wanted the fresh air. It smells like melted plastic in there,” I said.

Jo wiped a space across from me with the arm of her jacket and sat down. She swung the end of her long, pink scarf over one shoulder. There was a spit wad in her hair. “We've all tried guessing at that smell. Beth thinks Mr. Joe is boiling his mops before school every day to sanitize them. He's a germaphobe. And if anyone understands germaphobes, it's Beth.”

“You have a spit wad in your hair,” I said.

She shook her head and it went flying off. “Thanks.”

I tried to eat my sandwich. Cardboard.

“That's Mrs. Donatello,” she said, nodding toward Hairnet Lady. “She yells in Italian because she thinks we can't understand what she's saying. But Beth wrote down a few words one time and we looked up the translation.” She waggled her eyebrows. “Now we all know how to swear in Italian.”

Mrs. Donatello hurried away from Archer and Stubbie, all flailing arms, to deal with one of the smaller kids, who'd dropped his whole lunch tray and burst into tears. Stubbie immediately grabbed for another straw.

“I was wondering if you had a chance to look over my list.” She took a big bite of the hot dog she'd brought with her. Then she said around a mouthful, “Hom hahs ah sah guh.”

“You shouldn't eat those, you know. They put cow hooves in hot dogs,” I said.

She squeezed an extra packet of ketchup on the hot dog, then took another big bite. “There, now I don't taste the cow's hoof you just put in my mind.”

I took the list out of my backpack to make her happy, and handed it to her. She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.

“We should start with number seven, Archer Lee Hamilton, since he can't keep his eyes off you,” she said.

I about choked, even though I wasn't eating anything. The last thing I could imagine right now was dealing with boy feelings.

She took a swig of milk and cleared her throat. “When we were six, Archer decided to dig in the side yard for hamsters. He kept insisting if he dug a hole deep enough, he'd find one. By the end of the week, he had most of us helping him until Ms. Pimkin discovered us and put a stop to it.

“When we got to school the next Monday, we had a hamster for a class pet. Ms. Pimkin had been very impressed with our determination. Everyone cheered for Archer. And since he was pretty clumsy and his pants never matched his shirts, his hero status was short-lived. Until he turned eleven and grew six inches and some pretty decent muscles.”

I looked over her list and found Archer Lee Hamilton and the story she'd just told. I found Beth Crinkle, who took a label maker with her everywhere and was furious with her brown curly hair because it was impossible to organize, which I sympathized with. Then there was Ginger, who was known to break out into Shakespearean monologues, which Jo was starting to think she made up as she went along, because who would know the difference? Stubbie had just tried to do a stand-up routine for the talent show, frozen there like a side of beef, and had to be walked offstage. It went on and on.

“When did you write all this?”

She shrugged. “Over the weekend. Since we didn't get a chance to talk or anything. Feel free to ask questions. Choosing the right details gives me good practice since I'm doing a documentary for my final art project. In fact, I should interview you. You probably know more than I do, and I've lived here all my life.”

“Know more about what?”

“Your grandma, and Bear River Park.”

“Sorry, but I don't know anything about either.”

If she thought that was surprising, she didn't show it. She ate the last bite of hot dog. “I haven't done all my research, but your grandma designed Bear River Park fifteen years ago. Everyone has a story about it. Beth Crinkle was born there. Her parents were listening to a Barry Manilow cover band at the gazebo, and apparently her mom boogied down a little too hard to ‘Copacabana' and her water broke. Your grandma designed a lot of things in town. Gardens and stuff.”

It was strange how each new thing about Grandma stretched the picture of her I'd been carrying around in my mind. It took effort to squeeze her back down to the right size and shape. Like refolding a map.

“What's your documentary about?”

She put a finger to her chin. “Well, it's mostly about the park and how important it is to our town. I don't know. I haven't edited it yet. I'm still looking for my theme. There's a short film competition I'm entering too.”

She looked so excited I almost wanted to touch her arm to see if it might shock me like static electricity. Then maybe I could feel something.

“I want to go to film school. How about you?”

“Um . . .”

Beth and Ginger came outside giggling, and saved me from having to answer. Ginger was projecting, as though trying to be heard by teachers on the other side of the school. “Rather long this winded jester takes to fix his shrunken pride!” Stubbie blew a spit wad toward their backs, but it fell short of the open doorway. He looked around to see if he'd been caught, but Mrs. Donatello was at the other end of the room.

Jo gathered her trash. “On cold days like this, we go to the library for the rest of lunch. It doesn't smell like boiled mops in there. Mrs. Hall always has stuff for us to do.”

“Sometimes it's even fun,” Beth said. “Like the time we got to reorganize the picture books and label them!”

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