Read The secret hum of a daisy Online

Authors: Tracy Holczer

The secret hum of a daisy (page 4)

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The realityof these last few weeks, of Mama being gone, down deep in the earth at Fox Hill Cemetery, was still there, but there had to be more than the deep dark earth after you died. Not that I'd given it much thought. Mama and I weren't ones for church, although we had snuck into a few when they'd come across our path. Like when we drove all the way to Tiburon from Turlock on one of our Getaway Days—days where she just had to be somewhere else, so I'd skip school and off we'd go—and found this tiny white-steepled church sitting on a hillside of straw-colored grass. I swore I'd go back and get married in that church one day, and we must have sat there for a good hour, me lying on the pew with my head in Mama's lap, soaking up the stained glass light.

I didn't know how these things worked and it was making me nervous. What if God was looking the other way or something while she sent me signs? Mama was known to be sneaky from time to time, like when she'd crave fresh-baked cookies. If we didn't have the ingredients, or the money for a store run, she'd let herself into whatever diner she worked in, in the wee hours of the night, and bake. Twirling a spatula and listening to the cook's radio turned down low, she'd sing along with the music, humming when she didn't know the words, while I ate chocolate chips and pretended it was our kitchen in a big farmhouse out in the country. With horses.

I hated to think Mama was being sneaky, that if she got caught up there in heaven by the angel police, or whoever was in charge of such things, it might all end. Because it couldn't end. Not until I figured out what she was trying to tell me. I couldn't wait to talk to Lacey tomorrow morning so she could help me sort things out.

• • •

On the way to school, Grandma asked me what my favorite subjects were after my first week. She was wearing her gardening uniform again: dirty knee pads and overalls, the same blue bandana holding back her wavy hair.

“I guess they would be art and English.”

“Art was one of your mama's favorite subjects,” Grandma said, and I wondered if she'd ever stop telling me things as though I didn't know my own mama.

“You should do the laundry today. Looks like you've been wearing the same clothes all week,” I said, thinking about the soap-bubble mess that was waiting for her and trying not to crack up.

“I already did the laundry.”

“You did?” I said, confused, since I'd switched the soaps two days ago.

“I did.”

I couldn't read Grandma's face. Was she trying not to laugh?

“Well,” I said. “How did it go?”

“It went the way laundry always goes. Everything got clean.”

I didn't know what to make of that as I got out of the truck and ran up the front sidewalk to school, my backpack bumping against my side.

I'd managed to keep my distance from Jo and the other girls for most of this first week, although I saw them huddle from time to time and look in my direction, like they might be hatching a plan. My plan, however, was to walk wide circles around everyone like they had something catching, chicken pox, maybe, or a really bad case of bedbugs. This way I could stay focused on Mama's treasure-hunt clues.

Mrs. Snickels wanted our self-portrait sketches finished, so when I got into third period a little early, I took out my portrait right away and went to work. I was coming to love art, as much as I could love anything anymore. The smell of paint and the mess of Mrs. Snickels's desk were comforting, and I could feel Mama in the quiet way everyone worked. It was almost like being with her. Almost.

Just as the final bell rang, Jo slammed into the room, blowing away my peaceful thoughts, with Beth and Ginger following close behind. Ginger was all in black today, making me think even more about mimes. Jo dropped her backpack on the floor beside her stool, and Beth and Ginger sat at their own table, murmuring to each other. Beth's T-shirt read,A TIDY ROOM IS A HAPPY ROOM.

After much whispering, Beth came over and put a pink-fingernailed hand on Jo's shoulder. Beth's hair was neatly French braided, and I wondered if her mother had done it for her. “Listen, Jo, things will definitely be okay in the end, and if it isn't okay, it isn't the end.”

“Whatever, Beth.”

“Don't ‘whatever' me. I'm just trying to be helpful.”

“Don't you ever think that maybe I don't want your help? Maybe I just want to, I don't know, figure it out myself. In fact, why don't you make me a label that saysLEAVE ME ALONEand I'll stick it to my forehead.”

Beth's perfectly glossed lips formed a tiny round O, like the idea of being alone had never occurred to her in the entirety of her life. “You don't mean that.”

Jo looked straight at her and said in a low, serious voice, “You guys have no idea what this has been like.”

“This isn't just happening to you, Jo. Did you ever think of that?”

Beth stormed away, her long, billowy scarf trailing behind her.

“At least I'm not a walking self-help poster,” Jo said.

Beth and Ginger went back to whispering until Mrs. Snickels came and stood over their shoulders. Eventually, they quieted down and took out their work.

I figured it was none of my business, so I kept drawing.

Jo sniffed. “In case you were wondering what all the drama is about, Max just threw a fit because he couldn't find his red suitcase. He accused his best friend of hiding it and they got in a huge fight. He was inconsolable and Mom had to come pick him up. Then they found the suitcase in the stupid coat closet, but she took him home anyway.”

I wasn't sure if she wanted me to say anything. But after her third dramatic sigh, I gave up on my sketch for the time being. “He must have had a good reason. People don't usually blame their best friends for stuff unless there's a reason for it.”

“I guess you're going to find out how weird we are sooner or later.” Jo put her head in her hands and talked down at the table. “Max wraps himself in bandages, like a mummy. He insists he isn't going to stop until we give him an entombment party, and his friends are teasing him. There, I said it.”

I remembered his bandaged hands on the first day of school and seeing him and Jo talking to Grandma at the pasture fence before that. Talk about commitment.

“That's pretty brave,” I said.


Mama had always told me it was a good deed to help when I could, to share my worldly perspective, having met so many people along the way. “Don't let any part of yourself go to waste, Gracie May,” she'd say. I supposed it wouldn't hurt.

“I've seen boys do weirder things,” I offered.

“You could not possibly have seen anything weirder than an eight-year-old boy who wraps himself in gauze bandages—which he pays for out of his own allowance, I should add—and insists he will keep doing it until we throw him a death party.”

“I knew this kid named Timmy Parker who swore his mother killed his friend Wrinkle by dropping a bag of groceries on his head.”

Jo looked up from the table. “You are making that up.”

I shook my head. “Nope. Wrinkle was his imaginary friend, but Timmy wouldn't admit it. His mother didn't even know what she'd done. She was just setting a bag of groceries on the backseat of the car. Timmy carried on and on about how no one would bury Wrinkle. Told everyone the rotting corpse was giving him nightmares. Spent half the time in the nurse's office claiming he had post-traumatic stress disorder. His father was a psychiatrist.”

Jo had one elbow propped, her chin resting in her hand. She didn't look quite so down, like a balloon half-filled.

“So our teacher, Mrs. Lemon, went ahead and gave Wrinkle a proper burial with a eulogy and everything. We dug a hole in the second-grade vegetable garden and laid Wrinkle to rest between the tomatoes and the lettuce. Timmy turned into a regular kid after that.”

Jo pulled her portrait out of the storage tube. “Max will never be a regular kid.”

“Sometimes people have to do weird things before they're regular,” I said.

“How much weird do we have to put up with?”

“I suppose it's different for everyone.”

She thought for a minute. “That was a good story.”

Figuring my good deed was done, I went back to sketching just as Stubbie came rushing toward me with a piece of drawing paper in his hand, Archer chasing after. Stubbie threw the paper down in front of me, and I saw a sketch of myself looking out a big window, one hand up to the glass, and smiling at something on the other side. It was as though Archer had drawn me into one of Mr. Frost's poems. It made me want to climb inside so I might feel what she was feeling.

“It's not you,” Archer said. “It's my cousin Wanda.”

“You don't have a cousin Wanda,” Stubbie said.

Everyone in the class sat there, quiet, giving a moment of silence to the death of Archer's dignity, but all I wanted to do was ask him if he'd actually seen that girl—had I even smiled in the last five days?—or dreamed her up. I felt a flush come up my cheeks as I noticed Archer's eyes and how unusual they were, almond shaped and a light grayish green.

After the moment passed, Jo got busy ignoring us, and Stubbie went back to their table, snickering. Archer was suddenly composed, like he might launch into his own Shakespearean monologue instead of Ginger. Which, if he did, would be the most spectacular form of diversion I'd ever seen.

“May I please have my sketch back?” he asked instead.

I handed it to him, sad to see it go, and he went to his desk, where he punched Stubbie in the arm. Stubbie grabbed his arm and pretended to be seriously injured, making faces, sticking out his tongue, being a general spectacle.

Ginger declared, “The measure of a man is made in moments of discomfort and uncertainty.”

Beth nodded and typed something up on her label maker.

“Good heavens, we haven't had this much chaos around here since Mr. Flinch lost Henry VIII and we found the poor little guy in the supply closet,” Mrs. Snickels said.

“Henry VIII?” I said to Jo.

“A rat. Mr. Flinch feels that we should always name our class pets after ‘rapscallions and historical tyrants.'”

“Someone ought to name a rat after Stubbie Wilkins,” I said. Jo looked over at him and he raised his bushy red eyebrows, up and down, up and down.

“He'd probably take it as a compliment,” she said.

We shared a smile, and for one slippery moment, I felt like my Before self.

• • •

My prowling around at night and general sleeplessness finally must have caught up with me, because I fell asleep in Mr. Flinch's class. I woke up with the rest of the seats empty. Talk about anAlice in Wonderlandmoment.

The first thing I saw was an origami crane made from newspaper on the bookshelf beside me, which then made me feel even more disoriented. Like I'd dreamed a bird into being. It sat on a stack of newspapers, blending in.

I wiped the drool from my cheek, mortified, and looked up to see Mr. Flinch grading papers. The banana clock over his head read twelve thirty-five. I'd slept through his fourth-period social studies class, and into lunch.

“Has this always been here?” I said, pointing to the crane.

“Ah! Another country heard from! Did you sleep well?”

“Why didn't you wake me up?”

“We didn't have the heart. Stubbie Wilkins suggested we get out the indelible markers, but he is a heathen.”

Great. Every single seventh-grader saw me drooling all over my desk. “Did I snore?”

“Ha! No. You are a very quiet sleeper.”

He was tall and thin, his legs stilt-like as he crossed the room toward me. He wore sweaters with elbow patches, but in unexpected colors, like sage or plum. Jo had told me he'd taught Shakespeare at a really big college on the East Coast, but he gave it up because he “preferred shaping the clay of young minds” and “left his heart in Auburn Valley,” as he'd grown up here himself. He and Ginger sometimes launched into dueling Shakespearean monologues. His were probably real. But if I was being fair, Ginger had something going for her in that way good actresses did. There was something about her that made you pay attention. Plus she was goofy.

I picked up the crane and looked it over. It was smaller than the one from the bushes.

“It's probably an extra,” Mr. Flinch said, nodding toward the little bird.

“An extra?”

“May I?” he said.

I handed him the crane.

“Do you know anything about origami?”

I shook my head and used my sweatshirt to wipe the little puddle of drool I'd gotten on the desk. He handed me his handkerchief in a well-folded square and pointed to my chin, where I'd missed a spot.

He went back to his desk, where he took out a piece of canary-yellow paper. Then he sat down next to me and began to fold.

“Each year, we talk about Sadako and her thousand paper cranes. Sadako was a girl who lived in Japan during World War II. She was two when the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, leveling everything. She lived for ten years before getting sick with radiation poisoning.”

“Did she die?”

He nodded, still folding. “There's a Japanese legend that says if you fold one thousand paper cranes, you get a wish. Sadako started folding and got to six hundred and forty-four, but didn't finish, and so the children she went to school with finished for her.”

“That's really sad.”

“Today, from all around the world, people send batches of one thousand paper cranes to Japan as a gesture of peace.”

Mr. Flinch folded and folded and eventually an origami crane sat perched in his hand. Like magic. “There are some who say this town was founded on the luck of a crane.”

“I thought people came here for the gold.”

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