All my life I've been hoping I'd find a friend so I wouldn't have to play Monopoly by myself. (When I get the box out and set up all the little bitty houses and the fake money, everybody in my family suddenly gets too busy and just disappears.) If I had a friend, I'd have somebody to walk to the grocery store with when Mama forgets the one thing that she went for. We could sing songs and do the latest dance steps -- the pony, the Watusi, and the twist -- and, you know, just hang out.
She would be my best friend, and I would ask her questions about the three-letter word -- "b-r-a." I am in training, though I don't know for what. My bra leaves ridges on my rib cage and they itch. I usually rush right home from school and take it off.
Better get downstairs and start my homework. It's always best to look busy. When you're not doing your homework, people ask you things like: "Can you take these smelly vegetable peelings out to the compost?"
I sit at the dining-room table and put my name and the date on a sheet of loose-leaf paper. Pearl Jordan. Wednesday, March 6, 1963. I don't know why, but I add: Mrs. Scott. Fifth Grade. Then I start diagramming sentences and wonder what kind of job anyone would need this for.
Sometimes I feel so big -- full of ideas about things, like stuff right here in my backyard in Fairfax, Virginia. I think I am going to be a scientist because there are so many questions that we need to figure out. I mean, somebody has to worry about what's important.
For instance, in winter, when my head just about snaps off from shivering while I wait at the school bus stop, I wonder: How do the squirrels in our tree keep from freezing in their nests? In summer I look at hummingbirds and wonder: Do they get tired of beating their wings fifty times a second? And I wonder why -- when it's hot as blazes outside -- worms pick that particular time to crawl out of some safe, cozy hole in the grass and get fried on the sidewalk.
Other things too. What holds airplanes up? The only time I have flown was last year, when my fourth-grade class went to New York City for the day to see the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. We all piled into this great big airplane, the propellers got to whirling around, and after racing down the runway, it just rose off the ground. How do they do that? Something so enormous and heavy. And how do those pilots know where to go? Do they have a map of the clouds?
If I had a friend, we could talk this over and maybe figure it out. Maybe even win an award -- like at the school science fair.
Or I could tell her something that I have figured out: People don't notice what you want them to notice, but they sure have X-ray eyes when you don't want them to see what you are doing!
"Mama, I grew a foot last week," I announced yesterday.
"That's nice, sweetie," she said, not even looking up from the bookkeeping work she does at the kitchen table for her part-time job.
You see what I mean?
"But I need some new jeans," I said. "The bottoms of these are up to my knees."
Then this morning there is no juice because I'm the last one in the bathroom (shared by Mama, Daddy, my older sister Diana, my big brother Curtis, and my baby sister Angela) and the last one to get breakfast, so I am dying of thirst, and out of desperation, I pop open an orange soda, and Mama's head zips around like a robot in a TV show.
"Just what do you think you're doing?"
"But I was -- "
"Young lady, sodas are not for breakfast!"
"But I was just -- "
"Don't 'but' me. Do you want rotten teeth? Or worse, stomach cancer?"
"I was thirsty."
"That's what they make water for. And as I have just paid the water bill, there's plenty of it. Do you hear me?"
My mother has the prettiest feet. They are small and dainty. With cute little toes. While I am diagramming sentences, I sneak a peek at them under the kitchen table, her shoes kicked off. On Saturday afternoons, after we have finished cleaning house all morning, Mama takes a bath and gives herself a pedicure. She cuts, files, and paints her toenails. She puts on her open-toed shoes and sits on the front porch with her crossword puzzle magazines and her lemonade and waves at people passing by. When Daddy finishes chores and errands, they go walking after dinner -- to the park, to the shopping center -- to show the world feet that would make Cinderella jealous.
A friend would help you with a pedicure. She wouldn't laugh at your feet, even if your toenail was blue and falling off.
Angela has sweaty feet. They are hot and fat, and she's always putting them on me when we sleep together at Auntie Gert's. Then we end up in a fight, but does Auntie Gert make Angela keep her porky little hooves on her side of the bed? No. She makes me sleep on the divan. Maybe this is really what I want anyway. It's cozy on that divan; the pillows are so fluffy, I just sink right into them. And it's right beside the end table where there is a picture of me and Auntie Gert, and we are wearing matching sunglasses and having so much fun -- just the two of us.
No one has ever seen Diana's feet. At home Diana is covered from head to toe in towels, sweatpants, bathrobes, socks, and slippers. Prissy missy. But the minute she hits that door, boy, it's show time. Blouse unbuttoned to here, the sheerest stockings she can find. Mama does not know this, but as soon as Diana rounds the street corner and meets her friends, she rolls the top of her skirt over to hitch it up and show her knees.
Curtis's feet just plain stink. If he leaves his tennis shoes in the kitchen, they'll smell up the whole room. And are they huge! They look like hams. And his feet are still growing.
"Cut the toes out," Daddy told him from behind the newspaper the other day. "That's what I do for my bunions."
"What?" Curtis asked, resting a basketball on his hip.
"Make a slit on the side of the shoe to give your feet some room," Daddy said. When Curtis scrunched up his face, Daddy put down the newspaper and asked, "Didn't I just buy you some new tennis shoes?"
"Yes, sir, but that was back in September....I need new ones."
"Son, I am not made of money. When I was growing up, we made our own shoes and -- "
"Was that when you had to walk five miles in the snow to go to school?"
Of course, then Curtis just asks Mama, and she "sugar babys" him and buys him Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars -- top-of-the-line sneakers.
Me, there is nothing special about my feet. About the only thing you used to be able to say was that they were skinny, like the rest of me. But one day Curtis changed all that when we were playing "Throw the Boulder as Far as You Can," and he heaved one that was bigger than Mama's purse and it went sideways and landed right on my left foot. Ye-owwww! It hurt worse than the time I fell off of my bike in Lenore's gravel driveway. The doctor said that I was lucky it wasn't broken. Lucky? My big toe swelled up, turned red, then purple, then black. Then the toenail fell off.
Sometimes I feel small. Like I am that tiny little bump that's left after the leaf falls from the tree. That's because even in a crowded house, I'm still mostly by myself. Just little me. But I am not small. If I jump, I can reach the basketball net. If Mama paid more attention to me, she'd see that I am not a baby like Angela. I don't need a sitter after school when Mama has to deliver her paperwork for her bookkeeping job. And she doesn't have to read to me at night when she reads to "Little Miss Angel." I have been reading novels since I was in the second grade, thank you. It's like Mama hasn't noticed. I'll be married and she'll come over to my house and still want to read to me. It will be so embarrassing.
I know my street by heart. Every pothole, every dog barking behind a chain-link fence, every cherry tree waiting to be climbed. Every car that sits all week until Sunday morning. Past Nadine Dawson's house. Her grandfather's brand-new 1963 Cadillac gleaming in the sun. Past pesky Dink's. Past Miss Lela's, roses still rising up the side of her house and blooming sometimes in December. She's got the prettiest roses around.
Nadine. She'd be fun, I guess. Except she's not the best speller. Caused our group at school to lose the spelling contest. Anyhow, farther down the street, there is the corner and the stoplight and the playground. Another light. The gas station, the grocery store, and the shopping center.
That's if I go straight there. If I go left down the second side street, I will come to Lenore's. Every-body wants to be her friend. Her house is pretty much like mine, except she doesn't have any brothers or sisters, and she has a room all to herself with things I can only dream of.
There are three of us girls in "my" room. Princess Diana has her very own desk and her very own bed with a bedspread that Grandma made her just before she died. Diana never has to share anything. I sleep in a double bed with Angela. Yep, a saggy old bed that if you sit on it wrong, the mattress will collapse onto the floor because the slats sometimes slip out of place.
Though it's out of the way, I always go down Lenore's street, as if it's as natural as pie to make a little circle when I'm going to the grocery. Lenore's sort of my friend. Well, she would be if Mama would let me wear nylon stockings instead of kneesocks.
Then there is Mrs. Mumby. She lives near the playground in a creepy old house with a front porch so stacked with boxes and stuff that it looks like she's always having a rummage sale. I don't think she ever had a friend. She's too old and shriveled like a witch and yells at kids from her front porch. She has a hump in her back and doesn't stand up straight. And she has a wart on her nose. Well, I just made that up 'cause she's a snitch. I mean, was she the same but only smaller when she was a girl? I don't know.
Finding a friend isn't easy. There aren't too many kids here around my age, which is eleven. Besides, you can find girls to be your friends and then find out that they are not. And sometimes your friends do dumb stuff -- that doesn't mean that you have to do it too. But if I did, before I hit the door, some nosy body (do I need to tell you who?) would have already told my mama, and she would be waiting to catch me like a rabbit in a trap.
Trees. That's what I call them. That's about how interesting they taste, too. After school a week later, I am searching the bin of vegetables at Swan's Market. We're having meatloaf for dinner, and Mama has run out of vegetables to go with it.
There are things in this store that I would not touch. Brussels sprouts for one. And turnips. Who likes turnips, really?
I pull up the collar on my jacket. It's always cold in the grocery store, with all these big coolers blowing cold air.
"What're you looking for?" the manager asks. That's Mr. Norton. He is a beady-eyed man with pale, stringy hair that he has plastered to his scalp with Vitalis. He is unloading cartons of vegetables.
"My mother wants broccoli."
"Got some over there. On sale."
I know Mama hates it when I spend too much for something, so I go on over. Hmm, twenty cents. Limp as a dishrag, though. Stalks turning gray, the little buds are turning yellow. A blond-haired woman comes up looking for the same thing. Mr. Norton shows her a fresh carton that he is just opening. She oohs and aahs. As I watch him put some broccoli in a paper bag for her, I rub the three quarters that I have in my pocket and weave them through my fingers. I still have to get mayonnaise for tomorrow's lunch sandwiches. There will be enough change for me to get a Brown Cow sucker if I get a bunch of broccoli from the sale table. I'm not going to eat it anyway.
I put a few stalks of the sale broccoli in a paper sack and run over to the baking aisle and grab a large jar of Duke's mayonnaise. Then I head to the checkout counter and pore over the five-cent candy. Jujubees, Good & Plenty, Squirrel Nuts, Baby Ruths, Fifth Avenues. Ahh, a Brown Cow! Last one. I grab it.
I'm not sure that I can afford it, though. "Can you ring this first and give me a subtotal?" I ask the pimply-faced kid at the checkout.
"You only have three things," he says, glaring.
He rolls his eyes and weighs the broccoli, then rings it up with the mayonnaise. "So far that's
seventy cents," he says, folding his arms across his chest.
Great! I think. I hand him the sucker and the three quarters. Then I snatch the sucker back. Oh, shoot. Tax! "Is there tax?"
"Yep. The new sales tax. That'll be seventy-two cents."
I keep staring at him while I search all my pockets -- my two front pockets, my two back pockets, my two coat pockets, the tiny coin pocket on my jeans. While I am doing this, I notice that two of them have holes.
A line builds behind me.
"Come on!" the checker snarls. I look sideways. A woman behind me clears her throat. A man taps his foot.
"Look, I don't have all day!" the boy says.
Then I have an idea. "Could you just put back a small piece of the broccoli?"
"Oh, geez, come on!" the foot-tapping man says, looking at his watch.
The clerk grabs the bag, takes out a piece of the limp, yellowed broccoli, and shoves the bag at me. "Get out of here!" he says.
"But I need a receipt."
He rips off the receipt, whips it out toward me, and tosses me one green S&H coupon stamp. I snatch them and run out of the store.
A block away I sit down on the bus bench and peel the paper off my Brown Cow and start licking away. When the candy is half gone and my tongue is all bumpy from licking the dark chocolate, my stomach starts to feel queasy. If I eat any more, I'll get sick. I rewrap it and save the rest for later. Better get back.
I walk down the street, passing buses of people coming home from work, row after row of houses, yards, fences, then I come to the park. A bunch of kids are playing a "mean" game of basketball. I really should go straight on home. Oh, there's a bright blue jacket with a large yellow hornet on it. It's Curtis. He's playing with the others. Though Mama is waiting, I run on over.
Copyright © 2004 by Marie Bradby
Especially when there aren't many kids age eleven in your neighborhood. Being a friend is even harder. In Pearl's neighborhood Lenore is everyone's friend of choice. She has her hair straightened and curled at a real beauty shop, her own pink phone, and a canopy bed. The most Pearl hopes for is to be included as one of Lenore's followers.
Then outcast Artemesia comes into Pearl's life. Artemesia is everything Pearl dreams of being -- a dancer and an artist. But then Lenore makes it clear she can't stand Artemesia, Pearl does the worst thing possible.
And she still hasn't got a friend.
Or has she?
- Atheneum Books for Young Readers |
- 240 pages |
- ISBN 9781416934523 |
- January 2007 |
- Grades 4 - 7