Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Drafts: Frog Haven, Chapter 20

Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8 , Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15. Chapter 16, Chapter 17, Chapter 18, Chapter 19

Chapter 20: The Otters

When they got home from school, Sissy finally remembered to look up the Frog Haven animal in her Audubon Field Guide to Mammals. She flipped through the black pages at the front first, seeing nothing it could possibly be. But then, she saw a silhouette of a river otter that looked like it might be the right shape and remembered her father saying that it sounded like an otter. She turned to the picture. It was definitely their animal, she was sure of it. Grabbing the book, she ran over to Garryd’s.

“Look, Garryd, look! We saw an otter. Papa said they were really rare around here. She showed him the pictures.

“That’s it all right, wow! That’s neat.”

“Let’s read what it says, ‘dark brown (looks black when wet) . . . males larger than females . . .’ I wonder if the one we saw was a male or a female, it seemed pretty big. Listen to this: ‘slides on riverbanks eight inches wide, much wider with heavy use.’ It says here that males are evicted when the young are small and return to help care for them when they are half grown. Do you think our otter could have a mate?”

“I don’t know,” said Garryd, who was reading over her shoulder, “Look, it says, ‘the river otter is active by day if not disturbed by human activity.’ The range map shows us right on the edge of their range.”

“Papa says they are rare here. Very rare. I’ll have to ask him about that again. Listen, I know we shouldn’t keep going back to the cabin, but lets just got look for the otter again. We can take a snack and got to the mound where we saw the slide. You can give me another sign language lesson, and we can sit quietly to see if another otter comes. Maybe we will see a heron or a beaver or something, too. We don’t have to go to the cabin at all; we can just stay at the pond.”

“Okay, let’s see what we have for snacks.”

Garryd’s mom was working in the kitchen. “Hello,” Sissy signed, “It’s nice to see you!” Then to Garryd, she said, “I remembered!”

Garryd’s mom smiled a warm wonderful happy smile. Then she moved her hands slowly, trying to say something back to Sissy.

“Help, Garryd! She said ‘hello,’ but I don’t know what else she said.

“She said, ‘Hello, Sissy, it’s nice to see you, too. How are you today?’”

“How do you say, ‘I am fine, how are you?’” Garryd showed her and she did the signs slowly and carefully.

“Now what’s she saying? It looks something like what I said, ‘I’m fine.’”

“Yes, she said, ‘I’m fine, too, thanks.’ And now she is asking if you are hungry.”

Sissy smiled, nodded, and rubbed her tummy. She didn’t know what the sign for ‘hungry’ was, but Elke understood. She smiled and signed back to Sissy.

“She wants to know what you would like to eat.”

Sissy remembered when they had a troupe of Mimes visiting the school. They did some funny stuff on stage in the auditorium, and then came around to the classes. They’d done workshops in miming in class and all the kids had had a turn. The mimes told Sissy she was good at miming. She started miming making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“Don’t forget to go slow—remember, she can barely see at all.”

Sissy started over, going slowly, expanding her mime. She created an imaginary refrigerator, took out a loaf of bread. She opened the bread and took out two slices and laid them on an imaginary plate. She took a jar of jelly and a jar of peanut butter out of an imaginary cupboard and set them on an imaginary table. She unscrewed the peanut butter and spread it on the bread, scraping the knife clean on the edge of the bread. Then she opened the jelly and spread lots on the other slice of imaginary bread. She set the knife down on the imaginary table and pressed the two slices of bread together. Some of the imaginary jelly was leaking out the side so she licked it off.

Elke was smiling and nodding. She got out a loaf of bread and some peanut butter and jelly and made Sissy a sandwich. It was white bread, and she liked rye or whole wheat better, but she thanked Elke in sign language anyway. Elke made another for Garryd.

Then she said something else to Sissy in sign language.

“She’s saying, ‘Thank you for helping us out.’”

“How do you say, ‘You’re welcome?’” Garryd showed her, and Elke nodded graciously to Sissy as she repeated his signs. They bagged their sandwiches and started to leave.

Elke signed again to Garryd. “She wants me back at 5:00 rather than 5:30, we have to go some place.” They went the roundabout way so no one would see them. Sissy felt a little guilty, but after all, they weren’t going to the cabin.

When they got to the sign language mound across from the otter slide, they sat and ate their sandwiches, looking around. The beaver swam lazily by and didn’t even splash his tail. A heron fished in the farthest away swampy part of the pond, but there was no sign of the otter.

They started the sign-language lesson, first reviewing the alphabet and then going over the conversation they had had with Elke. Garryd laughed about her miming and showed her how to do peanut butter and jelly. Suddenly, there was a lot of splashing in the pond, not beaver-tail splashing, but more like the sound of children playing in the water. There were soft grunts and growls and squeaks. Sissy looked up. There was a whole family of otters playing in the pond. Their otter was the biggest, probably the male. The next one was a little smaller and there were four little ones, all frolicking about in the water. Suddenly, all six of them took off in a mad chase up the hill, bounding in an up and down snaky sort of jumping run. Then zing, zing, zing, zing, zing, zing, they went down the slide in quick succession, tumbling into the water, somersaulting, diving. They seemed so wonderfully happy. Sissy wanted to jump in the water and swim over and play with them. Instead, she sat absolutely still and watched. Not wanting to spook the otters, she sat far more still than she had ever sat in church.

The otters played for a long time and the children watched and never spoke a word. The otters slid and tumbled and dove and swamp and ran along the bank of the pond. They wrestled playfully with each other both in and out of the pond. Then, quietly, they swamp away down the length of the pond toward the cabin.

The children stood and stretched. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” Sissy said, “I’m going to go in that outhouse, okay?”

“Okay, but hurry, I have to be home in 15 minutes.”

Sissy twisted the blood-siblings ring. It itched here a mosquito had bitten her finger when she was trying to be utterly still. The finger was swelling a little. When she got to the outhouse, she took off the ring and set it near the wall on the platform that held the toilet seats. She looked down the hole. There was no sign of any poops. The ground wasn’t very far below. It was covered with a few scraps of ancient toilet paper, and the new paper she had thrown down the other night, that was all. She peed and found the toilet paper sitting on the little shelf where she had left it.

I peed in the woods while you were inside,” Garryd said, “Come on, let’s hurry.”

When they were halfway across the pasture, Sissy was absently rubbing the itch on her finger as she walked. She realized suddenly that she hadn’t put her ring back on. “Garryd, I’ve got to go back to the outhouse and get my ring. You go ahead, I’ll be okay. I’ll be right along in a minute.”

“Are you sure? You don’t mind going alone? We could go back later.”

“No, it’s fine.” Sissy turned back toward the ponds. Sissy turned back at the edge to the woods and saw Garryd just parting the wires at the top of the dirt cliff. He waved, she waved, and ducked into the woods.

Chapter 21; P365-07W

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