Authors: Sharon Dennis Wyeth
BEFORE WE WERE FREE
FINDING OUR WAY
René Saldaña, Jr
SHABANU: DAUGHTER OF THE WIND
Suzanne Fisher Staples
ISHI, LAST OF HIS TRIBE
ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS
THE LAST SNAKE RUNNER
Kimberley Griffiths Little
Published by Laurel-Leaf
an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
a division of Random House, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2004 by Sharon Dennis Wyeth
All rights reserved.
Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Delacorte Press, New York, in 2004. This edition published by arrangement with Delacorte Press.
Laurel-Leaf and colophon are registered trademarks of
Random House, Inc.
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Sincere thanks to my editor, Michelle Poploff, for her keen insight and extraordinary patience. I also appreciate assistant editor Joe Cooper’s input. The optimism and friendship of my agent, Robin Rue, were of inestimable value as always. There are others who lent me support during this project, either through reading various versions of the manuscript or through discussion of its themes: Harriet Weitzner, psychologist Thelma Markowitz, Mimi Leahey, Eiko Otake, Bonnie Reed, Amber Reed, Dr. M. Jerry Weiss, Nancy Plain, Dr. Diane Klein, and P-Flag of North Jersey. My husband, Sims, is the steady flame in my life. My daughter, Georgia, continues to inspire me.
“It’s your movie.”
That’s what Lissa would say
Meaning, it’s my life and I should be the one to control it
But what if on a perfect snow day, you just don’t think about what will happen when you make love with your best friend while your asshole brother is downstairs in the kitchen with a glass to the ceiling, listening for every whisper, every squeak in the bed? There’s no control then—because love isn’t about control
Love is the one place where we have to lose it
Taboo to the touch
A fire in the cold
That was us
That’s what they told me.
So I won’t turn around, even though I’m itching to. I want to see what that skinny little pale dude up on the ladder is painting behind my back. But I can’t, because I have to look at you. You’re the audience, after all. And I’m the performer. Raynor Grimes, the guy up on the ladder, well, he’s part of the performance, too, but he doesn’t talk, he paints, which means he keeps his eyes on his gargantuan canvas, while I keep my eyes on you. Without you none of us would be here, not me or Ray or Mr. Icarus Digits, the owner of this
club, or Marilyn Chin, your waitress this evening who plays the electric bass and whose eyes look like they’re bleeding on account of her burgundy mascara.
Welcome to our show!—which we’ve kind of nicknamed
Not a Rodeo
, for reasons I’ll tell you later.
I’m Orphea Proud.
For those of you who’ve never been here, welcome to Club Nirvana!—a former meat warehouse. Some people say it stinks here. Once upon a time slabs of beef did hang from the ceiling. During the day, the place
dank, a nondescript square carved out of shitty concrete with the faint smell of pig’s entrails. But at night, the space transforms. When I step inside this club before the show, the walls hug me. The people here are my little family. I bump my butt up onto the stage and Icky Digits waves at me from the light booth. If it weren’t for Icky, I’d be sitting in a diner staring at an egg yolk, thinking it’s a sunflower. When I get here in the evening, I see Raynor Grimes, too. Ray always arrives before I do, even though we live together. He scurries on over to mix his paints in private. Sometimes if I sneak in early, I spy. This evening I spotted a thin layer of ethereal blue. And I thought, oh yeah what a backdrop! Maybe tonight Ray’s painting will be all
—study of a big-booty poet against a pale blue sky.
I said that the people at Club Nirvana are like my family. In fact Raynor and I are blood related. Something I didn’t know when I first met him on top of a mountain down in Virginia. You’re wondering how a
vanilla boy with straw-colored hair could be kin to a coffee girl like me? Sure you are. Not only that, he’s so skinny, his shoulder blades stick through his shirt like angel’s wings—whereas I have meat on my bones. Never know who might be in your family, ain’t it the truth?
Who else can I tell you about? Your waitress and my good friend Marilyn Chin! Besides playing bass and having a thing for burgundy mascara, Marilyn reads tea leaves. After the show, she’ll read yours if you ask her. I warn you, though, her readings can be puzzling. When Ray and I first came to Queens, New York, to do our show and stay with her and Icky, Marilyn read mine.
“You are in grave danger of being devoured.”
“Devoured by what?”
“Words. They will eat you like maggots.”
“So, is there any way I can avoid this horrendous fate?”
“Sure,” Marilyn said. “Make a raft of them.”
Hmm, a raft of words.… Maybe you can figure that one out.
Next up—Mr. Icarus Digits! He wasn’t always a club owner. He used to cook short-order in a diner in the town in Pennsylvania where I grew up. The diner had an open-mike night on Fridays. I started going when I was twelve and never missed a Friday after that. Being able to hear poets and musicians was like opening the iron bars of my prison. I was living with my brother, Rupert, and his wife in a house where I
found it hard to breathe. But on Friday nights at the diner, I could throw open the doors inside myself and let poetry and music whistle through me while I felt all kinds of stuff; delicious stuff and scary stuff and parts of myself that I had not yet come to love. Another reason I was drawn to the diner was that I was already into writing poetry myself. But when I first went to the open-mike night, I just listened. One day, Icky Digits spotted me from behind the counter where he was cooking and encouraged me to get up and perform. My friend Lissa was there to encourage me, too, or I should say she nagged me. My first performance at the mike was the beginning of something taking shape inside me; a sense that I’d be a poet for the rest of my life and maybe even a performer. Icky Digits was right there with me, helping to make it possible, just like he’s made it possible for me and Ray to put on our show at Club Nirvana these past few weeks. Want to hear something awesome about Icky Digits? He has no fingerprints. He won’t tell me why. Maybe he tossed too much hot stuff at the grill or got too close to some lights. He’s obsessed with theatrical lighting—he won’t mind me saying that. He likes me bathed in pink. But sometimes he’ll switch to red or blue. So expect me to keep changing colors. And look out—he’s been known to throw a spotlight on the audience. Icky has one other interest, t’ai chi, which he practices every morning, advancing like a slow wind through the loft. Ray and I just ignore him and go on eating our cereal. Marilyn usually misses out on Icky’s t’ai chi
routine, because she takes such a long time in the bathroom.
So, that’s the gang at Club Nirvana. Did I leave anyone out?
Yeah … You.
You’re a very sexy audience. I love the way you laugh. I bet you can dance on the ceiling and eat pretzels off the floor with one hand tied behind you. Admit it—you’re an adrenaline junkie, undulating hysteria about to explode, waiting to be discovered. You’re not cynical, are you? Please tell me you’re not. But if you are, I guess it’s okay. I’ve had my moments, too. But it’s hard to be cynical when you’re telling a love story. And that’s what I’m about to do.
Words rule, baby
Don’t let no one tell you otherwise
Lest it be a skinny painter
You don’t buy that tale about a tree
How it sprung through the cracks from a seed?
If you do, you’re a fool
’Cause the word came first, then that thing with bark and leaves
A cow was C-O-W ’fore it could say Moo
And L-O-V-E? A luscious kiss upon earth’s tongue
waiting for the
Moment to lick and say out loud what we feel in our hearts
The heat of mama’s hand upon your brow
The firm grip of a friend when you are falling
The javelin energy of lust let loose to make or break you
But first and last, it was all a word