a Middle Grade novel excerpt © Susa Silvermarie
“My first trip out of the country!” I pushed my cereal bowl away and grabbed my notebook off the kitchen table to start my packing list. “Finally, one of your nurse assignments fits with my summer vacation!”
“Oh Kali, no,” Mom’s coffee cup stopped, suspended halfway to her mouth. “You’re staying here with Aunt Grace, like you always do when I go overseas.”
“But MOM,” I screeched, “I’m almost eleven. You can’t leave me here this time.”
“Look Kali, what I can’t do is watch out for your safety. I’m going to Guatemala to teach health.”
“You have to let me come with you,” I said, banging the kitchen table by mistake. “I promise not to get mad the whole summer, I’ll —”
A laugh escaped Mom’s mouth. She turned away so quickly her auburn braid swung out.
I narrowed my eyes. “And just what is so funny about that?” I said.
“Well,” Mom said, “imagining a promise could banish a temper, especially your temper, — it is kind of humorous.”
Yeah, about as humorous as sunburn.
“And Kali, only animals can be mad. People get angry.”
The more Mom said I couldn’t go along, the more I felt like a circling dog who can’t find the right place to lie down. Mom washed her dish in the sink. I breathed in and out like Mr. Todd showed us at the Stress Assembly. I stood up from the table and swooped my arms over my head on a loud sniffing inhale. I let my arms swing down with an AHH through my mouth.
Mom turned around and shook her head. “My dear daughter, you certainly are eccentric,” she said.
I headed to the bathroom where I keep my paperback dictionary. If eccentric means unconventional, then Mom should talk – her last Red Cross assignment was in Sri Lanka – how normal is that?
When I came out of the bathroom, she said, “Your school bus just rounded the corner. By the way, Kali, eccentric also means your life will never be boring.”
I thought of a comeback while I ran to the bus stop: It will be boring, if I never get to go anywhere like Guatemala. I sat alone on the hard school bus.
What would it be like to have a friend? I’d sit next to her on the bus every day, talk to her on the phone every night. We’d be inseparable, until a fateful night when lightning would test our — The bus driver honked me out of my daydream.
Wednesday, the morning Mr. Todd walks Sixth and Seventh Graders across the street to Rolling Hills to visit our fake grandparents. Mine doesn’t like to be called Grandma, just Brigid. I marched into Brigid’s room, plunked down next to her wheelchair, and fumed.
“So,” I flung my hands in the air with every other word, “Mom thinks I’m only good for staying safe. She gets the adventure in Guatemala, and me, she plans to abandon in this molehill town for the entire summer! On top of all that, I lost my Wednesday butterfly.” My head hurt. I ran out of steam and looked up at Brigid. “Oh, uh, I mean, hello. Sorry, Brigid, I forgot to ask how you are.”
Brigid hooted, and like it was contagious, I cracked up too. At Rolling Hills, laughing is out, moaning is in. The crabby nurse on duty stuck her head into room 235.
“What on earth is going on here?” she said.
Brigid covered her mouth and pointed out the window at a squirrel like it was pee-in-your-pants hilarious.
The nurse harrumphed and turned on her heel. She clicked down the hallway back toward the nurse’s station.
The first time, Rolling Hills had seemed as creepy as a Halloween movie. By now, I counted on Brigid to make it a comedy.
“Brigid,” I said, “What were you really laughing at?”
“About a hundred years ago, Kali, I threw a tantrum something like the one you just had.”
My skin prickled. Tantrums?
“I always got scolded for losing my temper,” Brigid said.
“You?” I said.
“My mother called me Crosspatch in those days. It didn’t take much to get me soreheaded,” she said. “Kali, we’re in cahoots.”
“Sharing some mischief,” Brigid said. “Only it’s temper we’re sharing.”
If she really knew how I boil, she wouldn’t even want me to visit. Anyway, Mom was the one I wanted to be in cahoots with.
“One time, I was storming around,” Brigid said, “because I lost a Sunday glove.”
“Different gloves every day, huh,” I said. “Like my butterflies.” Wednesday was my favorite, an endangered species called the Karner Blue, made out of thin metal that flutters when I move. I scowled.
“Heavens no, gloves were just for Sunday,” Brigid said. “But that Sunday when I lost my glove, my brother Billy pushed the other glove on a stick. He waved it around to make me madder. So I grabbed the stick and whacked him on the back.”
I jumped up like a cheerleader. “No kidding!”
“The glove flew into the pond and sank,” Brigid said. “Then Billy ran to tattle on me.” She paused, like she could see Billy run.
“So what happened after he ratted on you?” I said.
“At Sunday supper, Mother asked to see my gloves. I said they were lost.”
“Uh-oh,” I said. “What’d your mother do?”
“She stared at me like I was from Mars. I told her, ‘One is lost with my temper somewhere. The other one’s cooling off in the pond.’”
“Did she buy it?” I said.
“Not a bit,” Brigid said. “She tried to hide a grin, and she mumbled under her breath, something about young ladies not sassing their elders. But I made Mother smile, see, so I was off the hook.” Brigid’s voice got a wicked edge. “The minute Mother turned back to the stove, I made a face at my brother. Like this.” Brigid squinched up her eyes until they were slits. She made her nostrils go wide and pushed her lips out like a fish.
I copied her. We didn’t even hear the nurse coming.
“Visiting time is ov—“ she stopped talking, but her mouth stayed open. She gawked at Brigid.
I cover-up coughed into both hands.
“My, how these visits speed by,” Brigid said to the nurse. “This young lady and I have just been comparing the generations. Some things are lost, but important similarities can be found, I’m sure you agree.”
As soon as the nurse turned her back, Brigid widened her eyes at me and mouthed, “Cahoots.”
Outside the Rolling Hills entrance, I wondered how come the people I got along with were never my age. I bet if Brigid McKenna were almost eleven instead of seventy-seven, we’d be best friends.
“Earth to Kali Lombardi,” said Mr. Todd. “Hate to break into reveries, but your class awaits you.” He ushered me into line with a flourish. I grinned, not shy like I was with the kids.
While we walked across the street to school, I settled back into my imagination. I decided my Karner Blue flew away. To a pond. Someplace where lost tempers cool off. Now all I had to do was keep my temper cool and convince Mom to take me to Guatemala.