Authors: Mildred Ames
Tags: #Young Adult
Copyright © 1981 by Mildred Ames. All rights reserved.
A native of New England, Mildred Ames began writing while still in high school. She wrote poems, was on the staff of the school newspaper, and belonged to a group called the Merry Scriveners.
During the Depression and World War II, she held various jobs but soon after decided to write full time. Since then she’s written literary tales, mysteries, confessions, children’s and young adult books, and two gothic novels for adults.
She and her husband live in Palos Verdes Estates, California with all her “story book children.”
To a favorite aunt, Annie Estelle Hinkley Wilson
At first Rowan thought the tune was coming from inside his head. There was nothing unusual about that. When he was sick of climate control and wanted the windows of his room open, he often worked at the small electronic piano, power off, using it like a silent keyboard to compose music. It was a gift he had, the ability to envision sound, to hear with organs other than his ears.
Now it took him a few moments to realize the notes were not originating from within him but from someplace outdoors. Strange. The Apollo Complex had very strict rules about noise pollution. Because of the proximity of the conservatory there were a number of musicians living close by, but one never heard them. They practiced in soundproof closed rooms, just as Rowan did. Although he put in hours every day on his violin, he was always considerate of the neighbors. What was this person thinking of?
Rowan was surprised that Protection Patrol hadn’t descended upon the offender already.
He got up and went to the window to stare across the small park to the double row of dwellings opposite. Yes, there was a window open in a unit that was always sublet, this time, Rowan had heard, to the new music history teacher at the conservatory, a woman. Was it she who was picking out that trivial and annoying one-handed tune on the piano?
Now she was adding harmony. With this new sound he had to admit he was wrong. There was nothing trivial about the melody after all. In fact, it was--well, haunting. Now she was varying the theme. He listened, captivated, as the variations grew more and more complex, more surprising. He felt exhilarated, the way he always did when someone performed with depth. How different from his sister Anna’s playing. But then, what else could one expect from Anna? She was so shallow.
From her room, Anna, too, stared across the park, listening to the strains of that disturbing music, feeling strangely agitated. For some reason, the melody stirred unfamiliar emotions within her. She felt fascinated and repelled at the same time. Close the window, she told herself. Shut out the sound. Another part of her said, no. Why should I be the one who has to turn on climate control? What right does anyone have to make all that noise? That’s all it is. Noise. No, I will not close my window. I will not. I’ll think of something else, really concentrate until all that piano banging stops. Numbers? Yes, I’ll think of numbers, sure, stable, concrete, satisfying numbers.
Anna went to her desk and grabbed a schoolbook. She opened it at random. Instantly she took in every number on the page, seventy-seven in all. She closed her eyes. Add them. Simple. Nine thousand seven hundred and forty-eight. The music stole in and shook through her like laughter. Don’t listen. Add the numbers in groups of eleven. Got it? Yes. Now, raise each sum to the sixteenth power. One after another Anna shouted the answers. The music still penetrated her consciousness, giving her the same feeling that welled up in her at unexpected moments, a feeling she could never quite identify. She knew only that it gave her a disturbing sense of incompleteness.
Now she flung the book from her, stormed over to the window, and shouted across the park to the offending piano, “I’ll call Protection Patrol. I will, I will!”
Almost as if the pianist had heard her, which was unlikely, the music died. To Anna’s surprise a woman appeared at the open window of the sublet unit. Although the distance between them made it impossible to judge for sure, Anna could have sworn the woman was staring directly at her, even smiling, giving the impression of a black and white drawing, white face, black hair pulled severely back, black dress, all frozen in the frame of a window. There was something sinister about the sight. Anna, who was never afraid, trembled.
Anna’s last period of the day was calisthenics. She liked it that way. She could take her time showering and dressing without worrying about being tardy for another class. Calisthenics teachers at the academy were notorious for keeping students late. Everyone said that was the only way they had of wielding power in a school where even the twelve-year-old students, of which Anna was one, were their intellectual superiors.
Today Anna was earlier than usual. A few girls from the previous class were still in the locker room. She waited impatiently for the place to clear, then went to her locker. As she placed her books and valuables inside, a plump redhead, also from the last period, came huffing and puffing into the room, still buttoning and zipping pieces of clothing as she made her way to the locker next to Anna’s.
“I just know I’m going to be late for my next class,” the girl gasped to the world in general.
Anna was not given to concerning herself with other people’s problems. This girl always lagged behind her class anyhow. Anna merely considered her a nuisance, a leftover from the last period who was always in the way.
The redhead began dialing the combination to her lock, then let out a yelp. “Oh, Lord, look at that! I forgot to lock it.” She just about ripped the door off its hinges in her anxiety over her unguarded possessions, then poked about in the dark recesses of the locker searching for something. “Oh, thank God! For a minute I thought I might have left it someplace else. My mother would kill me if I’d lost this. It’s practically a family heirloom.”
Anna’s eyes fastened on the wristwatch the girl was talking about, a gold affair that coiled around the wrist like a snake. The head contained an old-fashioned round dial with hands that swept around to point to numbers that indicated the time. How quaint, Anna thought. They haven’t made watches like that for years and years. Her sharp eyes took in the glitter of what looked like diamonds around the watch face. The piece was obviously of some value and, more important, interesting. Interesting enough to take Anna’s fancy.
“You should be more careful,” Anna said.
“That’s what my mother always says.” The girl clamped the watch around her wrist, then snatched up her books, and, still huffing and puffing, hurried off.
Anna’s eyes followed her. To think the locker had been open all that time. Anyone could have easily grabbed anything out of it, particularly that watch. The girl was obviously the absentminded type who wouldn’t even be sure she’d left the piece where she thought she had.
Anna smiled to herself. Anyone that careless would forget to lock up again sooner or later.
Rowan sniffed at the steaming bowl before him and made a face. “Oh, Mom, not rooftop soup again.” He had given it that name because everything in it came from their hydroponic roof garden.
Anna, sitting across from him, gave a resounding, “Yuk!”
“Now, listen, you two,” Sarah Hart, their mother, said. “You just eat every bit of it, because it’s nourishing. Besides, if you don’t eat it, you won’t get a bite of that chicken your father’s been slaving over.”
“That’s blackmail,” Rowan said.
“That’s mothering,” his mother said, and joined them at the table. “Go on, now--eat.”
They both started on the soup, Anna making loud slurping noises by way of protest.
Her mother ignored her and said, “Rowan, will you take Anna into Los Angeles tomorrow? There’s an exhibit her teacher wants her to see at the Museum of Industry and Science.”
Rowan glanced up in dismay, then glowered down into his bowl. He had planned to use the following day, a Saturday, for intensive violin practice. The play-off recitals were coming along all too soon. Although he hadn’t told anyone yet, he intended trying for a Bellamy Scholarship to The International School of Music in Japan. Until he felt he had some chance, he preferred to keep the plan to himself. “What are they exhibiting at the museum?” he asked.
Anna said, “It’s a super computer, the kind they call an intelligence-amplifier. It does fantastic things.”
She went on excitedly talking about all the marvelous applications of the machine, but Rowan tuned her out. She was twelve, two years younger than he, and he was thoroughly sick of playing big brother and baby-sitter to her. Yet somebody had to keep an eye on her. She was often morally untrustworthy. It seemed to him his mother and father forgave her everything simply because she was a science brain. She was delicate, his mother said. If her allergy wasn’t bothering her, her headaches were. They couldn’t even light the candles that decorated the table for fear of throwing Anna into one of her migraines.
He stared at her as she talked, wondering why he couldn’t like his own sister. His father always kidded about Anna’s being a changeling because she didn’t look like the rest of them. Rowan, his mother, and father were all tall, dark-haired, and brown-eyed. Anna was a tiny thing with curly blond hair and very blue eyes. A throwback, his father said. A real pain, Rowan said.
“I’d take Anna myself tomorrow,” Sarah Hart went on, “but I have some extra work at the lab. And, of course, your father has orchestra practice.”
“So do I.”
“But you could skip it just once. Besides, you’ll enjoy the exhibit. I understand it’s very interesting.”
“To you, maybe. You’re a physicist,” he said. He liked and admired his mother, but she irritated him too because she was always the scientist first, the human being second.
“Oh, now,” she chided, “you don’t have to be a physicist to appreciate advances in technology.” She glanced toward the kitchen and called, “Graham, come and eat your soup. It’s getting cold.”
In another moment Graham Hart, carrying a large platter with a well-browned chicken, appeared in the doorway to the dining room. A solidly built man, his eyes sparkled merrily as he said, “Coming right up.” He took the roast to the table and placed it in the center. “Now if that isn’t a meal fit for an emperor, then I am not the world’s greatest chef. Feast your eyes on it--it has to rest for a while.” Rowan knew his father prided himself on his culinary talents, although with the scarcity of so many foods these days and the high prices there was less chance for him to keep in practice. Often Rowan had heard his parents reminisce about the well-stocked supermarkets of the 1970s, when they were growing up. Now, only twenty years later, there was little in the stores that wasn’t factory-made or dehydrated. Still, his mother always seemed to know the right people and his family did better than most.
“You will take your sister?” his mother persisted.
Rowan sighed. “If I have to.”
“That settles it. You have to,” his father said, with a good-natured grin.
“And don’t forget to check with INAPT first,” his mother added.
“Don’t I always?” Rowan said impatiently. As long as he could remember, they’d checked with the Information and Facsimile Transmittal computer before leaving the complex. A safety precaution, his mother called it, to make sure the route was clear of everything from demonstrations to accidents. Often he thought she was overdoing caution, but he went along with the practice to please her.
“I’ll get the casserole from the oven,” she said, and took her empty soup bowl out to the kitchen.
While Rowan and Anna dawdled over theirs, Graham Hart made short work of finishing his soup. “I still have to make gravy,” he said, and got up to follow his wife to the kitchen.
When he had disappeared, Anna said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you--we dissected a pig in science today.”
Rowan lifted an eyebrow. “Where did you ever get something like a pig?”
“From one of the government farms. They have to make them available to classes. Well, actually, it wasn’t a pig exactly. It was a fetal pig, almost full-term.”
Rowan’s stomach took a queasy turn.
Anna pulled the platter of roast chicken toward her. “This is what reminded me of it. The pig was belly-side up, too, spread-eagled in the dissecting pan.” She took the carving knife from the plate and pointed to a spot on the bird. “Now, right about here was where the umbilical cord was. And right here,” she pointed again, “you make the first incision using a sharp scalpel.” Anna cut superficially through the browned skin and the juices flowed from it. “Then you insert the dissecting scissors and cut just deep enough to go through the body wall.” She demonstrated. “You have to break away the connective tissue. Then you can use your finger to probe and feel where the diaphragm is attached to the ribs.” Anna moved a finger toward the bird.