Sunday, January 14, 2007

Drafts: Frog Haven, Chapter 5

read chapter 1 if you haven't already

read chapters 2 & 3 if you haven't already

read chapter 4 if you haven't already

Chapter 5: Getting Acquainted

Garryd had Francie Coover’s old room, which was still painted pink. Francie had left her old curtains, too, with the fluffy blue poodles. The room looked a lot different, though, without Francie’s white canopy bed and matching vanity, desk and dresser. It was full of boxes and the bed was in pieces on the floor. Also on the floor was a cage of mice, a fishbowl, and another cage on the mattress with a parakeet in it. He took the parakeet from the cage and held it cradled gently in his hand.

“Will it sit on my finger?” Sissy asked. She held out her finger and the bird stepped on. She held it up to her face. “Pretty bird, pretty bird, pretty bird,” Sissy crooned in a birdy voice.

“Tweety doesn’t talk,” Garryd said.

“Your parakeet is named Tweety? We have a parakeet named Petey that looks just like it,” Sissy said.

“That’s funny,” Michael said, laughing.

“Hill-arious,” said Marc in a dry sarcastic voice. Michael instantly stopped laughing.

A sudden crashing in the living room startled the bird and it flew from Sissy’s finger wildly around the room. Michael pushed the door shut and they all took chase.

“You should throw a pillowcase over it,” instructed Sissy in her teacher voice.

“Or a pillow . . .” Garryd said.

“Or an encyclopedia,” Marc said, picking up a heavy book.

“Marc, shut up. A pillow might squish it,” Sissy screeched, as she made a dive for the bird and missed. She made another grab for the bird and caught it, holding it carefully in the cage of her fingers. Garryd held the cage up with the door open. Sissy put the bird carefully inside. She couldn’t figure out how to close it. It was different from the door to Petey’s cage. Garryd showed her how to work it.

“I have a cat, too. It’s locked in the bathroom right now so she doesn’t sneak out while we’re unloading. Want to see her?”

“Yes, I love animals. Oh a calico, she’s so pretty. We have a Siamese.”

“You do, that’s great. I love animals!”

“Me, too,” Sissy cried, happily. Marc and Michael exchanged disgusted looks. Sissy paid them no mind. She sat down on the toilet lid and began petting the cat. Michael didn’t hate animals. He just wanted to please Marc. If Marc hadn’t been there, she thought he’d have been the first one trying to pet the cat. It had long brownish black fur with a little orange and white mixed in. It seemed very nervous and squirmed to get away. Michael edged closer and reached out his hand.

“She doesn’t like strangers,” Garryd said. Sissy felt bad, because animals usually liked her. But when Garryd picked her up, she scratched his arm trying to get away and hid behind the toilet.

“She’s probably scared about moving and being in a new house and everything. Taffy was really weird when she first moved in with us,” Sissy said.

“She’s still really weird,” Marc commented. Michael snickered. Marc gave him a withering look and he stopped.


“That’s our cat. My cat. Our art teacher, Mrs. Dietrich, gave her to us, to me. She lives up on Goode Street. The cat’s real name is Aphrodite, but we call her Taffy for short.”

“I can see why.”

“I named her that,” Sissy said, slightly miffed, “Because she was so beautifully loving. Aphrodite was the Greek god of love.”

“Miss Smarty-pants here thinks she knows everything. She always names her animals stupid things. She has a mouse named Henrich Hamster the third.”

“Well, in that case, well . . .” Garryd floundered, sounding embarrassed.

“Want to see her? You can come over and see all my animals. Or maybe you should be helping unpack.”

“Nah, we can do that later, it’s okay!”

“But you didn’t even ask.”

“I know it’s okay.”

“Ask anyway,” Sissy insisted, not wanting to cause trouble on Garryd’s first day in the neighborhood. So Garryd used signs to explain to his parents where he was going. His Mom felt his hands while his Dad looked on and smiled. Sissy hoped Garry was saying the right things, but had no way of knowing.

When they got outside, Marc said that he and Michael had to meet someone. He looked a little guilty, but slipped off without another word, with Michael at his heels. Sissy looked closely at Garryd to see if he minded being left with a girl, but he seemed cheerful and happy and didn’t seem to notice her concern. She breathed a sigh of relief.

“What’s wrong?” Garryd asked, picking up on her sigh.

“Nothing! Nothing at all. I am so glad you’re moving in next-door and that you like animals. Come on, let’s go see mine now.”

They ran into her back yard and up onto the terrace, to a doll carriage covered with cheesecloth.

“Dolls?” he asked, sounding slightly disappointed.

“No, snakes!” she answered. She lifted the cheesecloth and Garryd leaned over and looked. The carriage was full of garter snakes. Garry reached in and picked one up.

“I love snakes,” he said, as the snaked crawled over his hands, slithering from one to the other. Sissy could see the Garryd knew how to hold and handle garter snakes. He was supporting the snake’s body rather than just letting it dangle. He held his face down in front of the snake; she flicked her tongue over Garryd’s nose.

“She’s smelling you, you know.”

“I know.”

“I love snakes, too, as you can see. Come on, let’s go in.”

“Hello, Mrs. Mancini,” Garryd said politely, stretching out his hand, “nice to meet you. I’m Garryd Knudson, I’m moving in next door.”

“Wow, such nice manners Garryd, would you like a brownie? Sissy, do you want another? How old are you, Garryd?”

“I’m ten and a half, I’ll be eleven on September 26.” Sissy was surprised.

“Really? That’s Sissy’s father’s birthday. Are you in fourth or fifth grade?

“I’m in fourth,” Garry said, looking down at his tattered sneakers. “I should have been in fifth, but I got held back in kindergarten.”

“Oh, Garryd, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Here in Burnt Hills, the cut-off date is September first, so you would have been in the fourth grade anyway.”

“If you are almost eleven, how come you’re so small?”

“Sissy!” her mom said in a shocked voice. “Don’t be so rude!”

“That’s okay, Mrs. Mancini. I don’t mind. I was the smallest kid in the whole fourth grade, even though I was the oldest. I don’t know why I’m so little,” he continued, turning toward Sissy. “My mom is sort of short, maybe that’s why. Dad’s not that tall, either.”

She’s not that short, thought Sissy. Garryd’s smaller than Paul and Paul is a year younger and the smallest kid in 4th grade at BHBL.

Garryd was just about Sissy’s age. He was closer to her age than anyone in the neighborhood except Lannie McKeever, and she didn’t count. In all the time both lived on Van Vleck Drive, Sissy could only think of maybe once or twice that she had played with Lannie. They were friends in school, they were nice to each other, but they had nothing in common. Lannie liked dolls and hated snakes. She liked to stay inside and play house. Sissy hated dolls and liked snakes and hated being indoors. Maybe Sissy would finally have a friend her own age. She hoped Garryd would be okay, would be like her.

“Here’s Petey,” Sissy pointed. The bird was sitting on the top of the curtain rod chewing the curtains, which were tattered.

“Hello, hello! How are you? How are you, I’m fine. Happy birthday, Petey! Pretty bird,” the bird chattered. He flew over and landed on Sissy’s shoulder and started gently chewing her ear. Sissy laughed and Garryd laughed too.

“How did you get him to talk?”

“Just say ONE thing over and over until it drives you batty and you can’t stand it another second. Just when you never want to hear it again, the bird will start saying it over and over,” said Sissy’s mom, laughing. She sounded as if she were joking, but Sissy knew it was also sort of true.

“Hold out your finger,” Sissy instructed. The bird stepped right onto Garry’s finger.

“Wow, that’s neat!”

“Now move your finger slowly down.” Garryd looked down and saw a small but somewhat chubby dark Siamese cat.

“Down there?” Sissy nodded. Garryd looked at Sissy’s mom and she nodded too. Slowly, Garryd lowered his finger. The bird flew and landed on the cat’s back. The cat twitched her tail angrily and everyone laughed. Then the bird spiraled up and landed on the curtain again.

Sissy led Garryd to her room. “This is Henrich Hamster the third,” she said, plopping a great fat hamster into Garry’s hands. Garryd stroked the fat thing, who sniffed contentedly around in his hand.

“Where are Henrich Hamsters the first and second?” Garryd asked. Sissy pointed. There were two small golden skins tacked on her bulletin board.

“You skinned them!” Garryd cried in disbelief, cradling the hamster protectively, turning his body slightly away from her.

“They were already dead,” Sissy answered defensively, “and I wanted to learn how to do it. I didn’t kill them, honest. I loved them.”

“How could you do that if you loved them?” looking at her as if she were a monster.

Sissy looked him straight in the eye and said, “Garryd Knudson, I loved them. I loved them when they were alive and was kind to them. I still love them. I never hurt them. How is skinning them worse than burying them in the ground to rot?”

“Well, I guess . . .”

“Here is Henrich Hamster the fourth.”

“But that’s not even a hamster, it’s a white mouse, and a female. And it’s got babies. Like about a hundred. All different colors.”

“There’re thirteen babies. I know it’s not a hamster, but I wanted to name it after my first two hamsters because I really DID love them and I missed them.”

“Okay, okay! All right, already! Can I have one of the baby mice?” Garryd asked.

“Sure, if it’s okay with your parents.”

“It’s okay,” Garryd answered.

“You didn’t even ask,” Sissy protested.

“I know it’s okay.”

“Well, you have to ask first. I don’t want to get in trouble, even if you don’t care.”

“No one will get in trouble,” Garryd said. But Sissy was sure someone was going to get in trouble, probably her. Garryd looked around Sissy’s room, still holding the fat Henrich Hamster the third. He peered into the fish tanks at her guppies and mollies and studied her cactus collection.

“What’s that thumping noise I keep hearing?”

“Do you really like animals?”


“A whole, whole bunch?”


“Do you ever kill animals?”


“Never? Not any kind of animals. Not snakes or frogs or anything? Ever?”

“No. I never kill animals. Where I used to live, if I saw kids hurting snakes or frogs or turtles or anything, I’d make them stop.”

Sissy wondered how little Garryd, all by himself, could make the gang stop killing frogs and tadpoles. She was tempted to ask, but first, “can you keep a secret? Promise? Boy scout’s honor? Cross your heart and hope to die?”

“I’m not a boy scout and I don’t hope to die, but I always keep my promises.”

“Good!” Sissy breathed a big sigh of relief. “You’re supposed to hope to die IF you break your promise, which means you won’t break it so you won’t die. But I know what you mean, ‘cause I don’t want to die either, really die, that is. Anyway, I have a problem and could use your help.

“Okay,” Garryd cheerfully agreed.


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