Saturday, January 13, 2007

Drafts: Frog Haven, Chapter 4

read chapter 1 if you haven't already

read chapters 2 & 3 if you haven't already

Chapter 4: Garryd Knudson

The next frog got away and refused to be caught, even when Sissy explained how important it was. “You’re not safe here. The boys might kill you.” But the frog floated at the top of the water, completely out of her reach. She gave up and went after another. She caught it, but missed the next one.

Then she heard someone coming and stepped back out of sight into the cattails, balancing on a wobbling cement block the boys had placed there as a stepping stone. She teetered back and forth, afraid she would lose her balance and tumble in. She looked to see who was coming. It was Bill. He was shuffling along with his head down looking dejected. Sissy jumped back off the block onto dry land. Bill jumped backwards, almost falling into the swamp behind him.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“That’s okay,” Bill answered, looking curiously at her pail. Sissy was about to ask him if he wanted to help rescue frogs. He probably would. Last summer, he helped her move pollywogs when the pond was drying up.

“Listen . . .” she started. Then she heard a long shrill whistle. It was her Mom, calling Marc, Michael and her home for lunch.

“Gotta go,” she said, taking off running. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the meaning of that whistle. Bill’s Mom had a different one she used.

Sissy’s pail was full of frogs, but they would have to wait a little while for their freedom. She’d have to hide them in a safe place, fast, before the boys came out of the swamp and saw her with them. Sissy ran for home, cutting into the front yards where the boys were less likely to spot her. The pail banged against her legs as she ran, but that was okay. At least the frogs couldn’t jump out with the pail crashing around like that.

Sissy could think of absolutely no place to hide the frogs. Every secret place she knew of, the boys knew, too. She didn’t want to take a chance that the boys might just happen to go there and discover the frogs before she had a chance to let them go. Sissy could think of only one fairly safe place in the whole world—her bedroom, and even that wasn’t absolutely safe. She had posted a sign on her bedroom door that said, “No fat ugly stinky boys allowed in this room.” Of course, that only meant she didn’t want them in there. They were supposed to only come in when invited. Marc had pointed out that it didn’t apply to him or any of the kids in the gang except maybe Kelvin, because none of them were fat.

He tested his theory by entering uninvited. Sissy’s shrieks of rage had brought the wrath of their mother and he was informed that he was not ever to enter the room without permission, fat or not. Of course, when Mom or Papa weren’t home, he didn’t always obey. And he delighted in sticking one foot or one hand into her room, just to make her mad. Still, it was the only place Sissy could think of where the frogs would probably be safe. The problem was getting them into her room and back out without the boys catching her.

As she ran across LeFevres’ front yard trying to think of an instant plan before it was too late, she spotted a moving van in front of Coovers’. Coovers’ old house, that is, since the Coovers had moved to California. It was not a real moving Van, but a large yellow “Ryder Rents Trucks” truck, and two boys were riding bicycles. One was older than Sissy and the other looked younger, maybe Kelvin’s age, halfway between Marc and Michael. He had sandy blond hair and a nice friendly-looking face. She wondered if he would join the gang and become a frog-killer or if he liked animals. She wondered if any boys liked animals enough not to kill them. Other than Bill. She wished she had time to talk to him, but she had to hide the frogs.

Out of desperation, not knowing what else to do, Sissy dove through the front door with her pail of frogs. That, of course, was strictly against the rules. She dashed down the hall and into her room, sliding the pail of frogs under the vanity and then sliding it back under the table at the end of her bed. There, they were completely out of sight. She grabbed her pillow and put it over the pail to keep the frogs from jumping out.

“Sissy,” yelled her Papa from his study, “You are not to use the front door.”

“I’m sorry, Pa, I forgot,” Sissy lied. Sissy was really good about not going in and out the front door most of the time. Usually, it was the boys who kept breaking that rule. But now, their thundering hooves stampeded in through the kitchen door from the garage and Mom was screeching something about muddy feet. It sounded as if the entire gang was in the kitchen. Sissy walked sweetly in and was surprised to see only Marc and Michael kicking off their sneakers on a pile of newspapers. She looked down at her own feet and was horrified to see the mud clinging to them.

She slipped her sneakers off and added them to the newspapers and slunk into the living room. She had left a few clops of mud on the rug, but they were relatively firm and left no mark when she gathered them up. She traced her steps down the hall and cleaned up every trace of her passing. Phew! That was close.

Then she dashed back to the kitchen. Her father was helping to assemble sandwiches. “New people are moving in, Ma, Pa, right now,” she said, wanting to be the first with the news in case the boys had spotted them.

“Really,” Michael said. “Let’s go look.” The boys hadn’t seen the truck. They must have come in through the garage.

“After lunch,” Pa said. “It’s all ready.”

“They have at least two boys, and one of them is about your age,” Sissy said to her brothers. She thought the boy was probably about Michael’s age. Michael was 8. Marc was almost ten, and the boy was too small to be ten. She was happy to be the one with the news. The boys were looking toward Coovers’, but there were no windows between the kitchen and that side of the house.

“Let’s eat quickly, and then we can all go over,” suggested Marc.

“They arrived about two hours ago and we knew you’d want to be nosy. Papa backed a batch of brownies and I made a loaf of bread for you to take over.”

“Oh, good. Thanks! Did you save any for us?”

“Of course. Tomato soup with cheese melted into it, toasted cheese sandwiches on fresh homemade bread, juice soda, and hot soft brownies for dessert. Slightly under-baked the way you like them.”

“You guys rock!” Michael said.

“Let’s chow down,” Marc said, as the three kids scrambled to the table.

“Go wash your filthy hands first!”

“Oh, Papa!”

After they sat down, Michael got sent back to wash his hands again. He had only washed his palms, and the backs of his hands and wrists were caked with mud. Sissy laughed, because it was just like when he washed dishes, especially pans. If the insides were clean, it was a stroke of good fortune. The outsides were always skuzzy, like the backs of his hands. They couldn’t be put in the cupboard without gumming up everything else.

They scarfed down their food quickly and leaped up to run next door. “Where are the brownies and bread?” Sissy asked.

“Just a little minute. Carry your dishes to the kitchen and wash your faces and hands.”

“Aw, Ma.”

“Good. Sissy, you carry the bread, Marc, you take the brownies, and Michael, you take this jar of homemade strawberry jam. Be careful now, don’t drop it.” She brushed the hair out of his eyes and gave him a kiss. She kissed each of the others and they impatiently kissed her back. Finally, they were off.

They went out through the garage and came face to face with a man who was struggling to pull a huge over-stuffed chair off the back of the truck. The children ran over, set their goodies on the tailgate of the truck, gathered around, and helped the man unload the chair and carry it in. They all struggled to keep their part of the heavy chair up. No one spoke until they had gotten the chair inside and set it down. Then the man turned and smiled a great big smile. He nodded and made a grunt of approval.

Sissy stepped forward and held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Sissy Mancini. This is Marc and this is Michael. We live next door. We brought you some brownies and bread and jelly. They are out on the back of the truck. Let me get them.” The whole time Sissy was talking, the man was shaking his head and waving his arms. His smile began to fade a little. He pointed at his ears and shook is head.

“He can’t hear you, you dummy,” Marc said, “he must be deaf.”

“Oh, and none of us know any sign language,” Sissy groaned. She looked at the man. He looked like a nice man. He had blond hair, a beard, nice clothes, and a wonderful sweet smile. Mom said that you shouldn’t trust anyone, strangers, that is, no matter what they looked like or how nice they seemed, but on the other hand, she had sent food to these new neighbors. She took him by the hand. His hand was warm and dry and felt nice. She led him back out to the truck and showed him the brownies, bread, and jelly. His face lit up. He looked up and down the street. The boy Sissy had seen earlier was riding toward them up the street from a distance. He was on a red ten-speed bike. The man waved to him to come, hurry. The boy stood up on his bike and pedaled faster. Sissy wondered if he was deaf, too.

“Hi,” the boy called cheerfully, with a charming smile, as he rode closer. “My name is Garryd, Garryd Knudson. Who are you guys?”

“I’m Sissy Mancini. These are my brothers, Marc and Michael. We live next door. We brought you brownies, bread, and jelly,” pointing toward the stuff they’d left on the tailgate.

“Oh, good, let’s have some,” Garryd cried, taking the Saran Wrap off the brownies, helping himself to a large one and offering them around.

“They’re supposed to be for you guys,” Sissy objected.

“Well, if they are ours, we can share them if we want to, right?”

“I guess so,” Sissy agreed doubtfully, “if you’re sure there are enough.”

Garryd counted, “Mom, Dad, Sven and I can each have two and you guys can each have one.”

Sissy took the smallest one, not wanting to seem piggy. Her brothers had no such qualms and helped themselves to the biggest ones visible. Garryd gave one to his Dad.

“This is my Dad,” Garryd said. “He’s deaf. He can’t talk, either, but he’s not dumb. He’s really smart. He used to work for NASA, the space agency, you know? He’s fantastic with computers. Let’s go in and give my mom a brownie. She’s deaf, too, and besides, she’s legally blind.”

“What do you mean, legally blind?” Sissy asked.

“Well, the government has classified her as blind, but she can see a little. A very little. She sees a little light and some shapes, but only in the very center. She can’t hear at all and she doesn’t talk, either. Not much, anyway.” Garryd signed to his father.

“What did you say?”

“I just told him we were going in to give this stuff to Mom.”

“But you just said that.”

“Mr. Knudson’s deaf. He can’t hear Garryd,” Marc said, snidely. Michael snickered.

Sissy wanted to sink into the ground. Of course he couldn’t hear. She already knew that. Only knowing it was different than really knowing it. It was hard to imagine not being able to hear anything. Sissy suddenly became painfully aware of birds singing in the maple trees, wind blowing through the pines between the houses, dogs barking a few houses up the street, trucks on the main road. A lone cricket singing. Sissy looked around with new appreciation. She heard their footsteps on the wooden stairs, the sound of the door shutting quietly behind them, the sound of footsteps in the hall.

Another boy, older than Garryd, appeared in the living room. Like Garryd, he was blond, but his eyes, instead of being dark grey, were bright blue. He looked at them in silence. Sissy wondered if he was deaf like his parents or could hear like Garryd.

“This is Sven, my brother. He’s thirteen. Sven, these are the kids next door, Sissy, Marc, and Michael.”

“Hello, nice to meet you,” Sven said politely. Then he turned and left. He was quieter, not as friendly and enthusiastic as Garryd, Sissy thought. Or maybe just shy. He’s sort of cute, though.

Garryd continued to the kitchen, followed closely by the Mancini kids. A woman was unloading dishes from a box on the counter. Her back was toward them. Garryd walked up to her and touched her lightly on the arm. She turned, looking puzzled. She was blond, like the others, and wore thick glasses. Her eyes looked huge and sort of glazed behind the glasses. Garryd began signing to her. She leaned forward, taking his signing hands into hers. Then she smiled a nice warm welcoming smile and looked toward her visitors.

“He-LOH” she said in a funny voice. It sounded sort of like a male computer voice. Sissy wondered what she should do. She smiled, feeling stupid. Not being able to either see or hear seemed unbearably lonely to Sissy. Her whole world seemed to be seen. Frogs floating in the pond, a heron coming down for a landing. Swallows glimmering over the water’s surface. Mud caked her bare feet. She poked at the mud and some fell off on the floor. She bent, gathered it up, and dropped it into a flower pot on the counter. She wondered why Mrs. Knudson had flowers if she couldn’t see them.

“Tell her about the brownies and stuff,” Marc instructed Garryd. Garryd’s hands began to move again, his mother gently feeling them. Then she looked at—or toward, Sissy wasn’t sure —her guests, and smiled again, nodding her head. Garryd handed his mother the stuff and turned to the kids, saying, “Want to see my room?”

“Sure,” they agreed.

Garryd touched his mother lightly on the arm and turned on his heel toward his room.

Read Chapter 5


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