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Authors: Sandra Novack


BOOK: Precious
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Title Page


Part One

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Part Two

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Part Three

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Part Four

Chapter 18


Reader’s Guide

Excerpt from Everyone but You

About the Author


For Carole

Although a few events in
are based very loosely on incidents from my personal life, this story is, and always has been, a work of fiction. Events have been altered and radically changed to fit within the context of the story, and so, in their finality, bear no resemblance to truth.

Sissy is too old to be telling anyone she dreams of Gypsies. She is too old to speak of women who crawl through the window to snatch her from bed, too old to be frightened by their long faces, their pellucid eyes and wrinkled, drawn skin.
they call.
Little doll. Come with us, Baba,
they insist. The Gypsies sing:
Child, you are ours.
They linger at the brink of her waking, at the border of her dreams. Sissy is too old to confess that she wakes with a sharp start still, or that when she awakens, she calls instinctively for Eva, and then waits and waits yet a moment more before turning on the light atop her bedside table. Hunched down in the sheets, she imagines the mist that hangs outside her window, phantom shapes that emerge from darkness. Her mind races over the always-present dream.

In the moment Sissy awakens, there are no clutching fingers but the disconsolate hurtling of a black bird against the window, the sound of beak hitting glass and then a flutter of wings. Sissy knows this is wrong,
that birds and Gypsies have no place together. But, between her dreams and her waking, they are still there—bound. Then, suddenly, nothing: magically, both bird and Gypsies vanish.

Sissy is nine—an unlucky number—and she is too old for such nonsense. She knocks five times, a
rhythm, a language she and her sister, Eva, share through the walls at night.

Where are you?
the knocks urge.
Can you come here?

It happens in a small town in Pennsylvania, one known for the predictability of its days, in a neighborhood with faint yellow light and tree-lined streets curved like crescent moons. Here the houses are spotted with roses around the mailboxes and peopled with working families who tend to crabgrass on weekends and gather afterward on front lawns for idle talk and an occasional cookout of burgers and franks, Miller and Bud. This happens in a time when peeling burns, shiny knees and flip-flops are preferred to practical shoes and sunscreen, and children practice Travolta
moves in the driveway—a little hip, a little lip. In the evening hours, these same children roam the streets with flashlights in hand, playing lightning tag and hide-and-seek in the neighbors’ hedges. Years from now, the remnants of their days will still speak through the markings on tree trunks and pledges of love and forever. It happens on a Tuesday in late June, during a summer of abysmal heat, a summer when, after a thirteen-year silence, cicadas crawl out of the ground and set about their buzzing, shrill hums and calls from trees. You can hear them everywhere you go, drowning out the robins’ chatter. Here, in this town, aboveground pools litter backyards. Flowers scent the air.

The first girl who goes missing: Vicki Anderson, known to Sissy Kisch but hated after the horrible incident involving Precious. Vicki: ten years old with braces and a clever, round face, a girl with a habit of twisting a curl of cropped hair around her index finger. Last seen wearing mustard-colored slacks and a white shirt embroidered with bees.

She vanishes only four blocks from Ellis Avenue, where her house is the third on the left, a yellow house with a picket fence lining the yard. On the day of her disappearance, Vicki is just leaving the park down the street from her house. She has just freed her bicycle from the bike rack, kicked back the stand, and mounted the Desert Rose for home.

Vicki: thin-boned, boyishly tall, with a sloped nose like her mother, Ginny’s. It is Ginny who, suddenly concerned with the time and a cooling dinner, drives her paneled station wagon down the skinny road that leads to the park. In an hour or so the sun will turn red and set. Neighbors will draw the curtains. Porch lights will burn and fireflies luminesce, and crickets will sing. The cicadas will cease their calls, their tymbals silenced. Now the sky appears not lustrous but a dull blue, throwing off a shade of lavender, a trace of pink.

The park is much like any park you might find in a small town: cracked, dusty asphalt; a basketball court, its metal fence curling back like a question mark; the tennis nets grown haggard from use and sagging in the middle. Swings line the playground, the ground packed solid beneath them. To the right, a baseball field. When the boys and girls slide into home, clay and dust float through the air, and their screams and laughter carry to the bleachers. Behind the field, the dark shapes of trees rise up— cypresses, maples, birches, pine—tearing through the sky. Quick cur-rented, Monocacy Creek cuts through the woods and winds through town, the steep banks ridden with ferns and cattails and limestone.

Ginny looks around. “Vicki!” she calls. The smell of tar drifts up to her, the paved surface below still holding the day’s heat. As she walks, she feels the tackiness of her sandals against the ground. She finds Vicki’s Desert Rose lying on the asphalt, the wheels stopped, the wicker basket adorned with plastic flowers still holding the scraps of the day’s journey. Indecipherable to Ginny: a twig shaped like a slingshot; a rock with a depression in the center, as if a finger worried it there.

Alarm shoots through Ginny as she indulges, first, the worst of all possibilities. She calls out again and tries to calm herself with thoughts of her foolish child, her unpredictable, headstrong child. Vicki is the
type of child, Ginny tells herself, who instead of coming home might walk off with another girl to go to another house, or go in search of more treasures: a penny with a worn patina left lying on the pavement, an arrowhead nestled in the dirt, a sprig of laurel. This is the child who, after all, jumped from a tree branch ten feet high and sprained an ankle, the child who, on a dare, pushed her own fist through a window and then tried to hide the jagged lashes on her knuckles and wrist. “Daredevil stitches,” Ginny remembers explaining to the doctor, a young man with reddish hair and a careful walk. His stare pierced through her, as did his questions. He noted her responses, dressed the wounds. “Be careful,” he advised, looking more so at Ginny than her daughter. How angry Ginny was. She didn’t speak to Vicki for the rest of the day and sent her to bed early, without television. Now she glances toward the long line of swings and tells herself that Vicki
the type of child who might leave her bike without concern. She’s the type to get a good yelling at for worrying a mother so. Thirty years ago (when such a thing was acceptable) Vicki would have gotten a good thrashing for this, which is just what Ginny’s own mother would have done to her.

“Vicki!” she yells, irritated that her daughter might play a foolish game at her expense. A breeze moves the swings and sets the chains squeaking. She calls louder as she walks by the slides and monkey bars. She jogs toward the tennis courts. There she sees the Kearnses’ sons, from down the street. Tall and muscular, courteous and smart, these high school boys make honor roll. They make prepubescent girls blush. They hire themselves out for yard work and give bored wives a quiet pleasure, a secret thrill and recollection of their own lost youth.

The boys swing their rackets back and forth, their faces stern with effort. The ball lets out a sharp pucker. A solid stroke from Brian, the older boy. Agile, smooth movement from Josh, his normally feathered hair plastered against his face and sweatband. Vicki often fawns over Josh and lingers around the courts, though this is something Ginny has not learned from her daughter’s lips but from her diary, the countless
entries strewn with chain-linked hearts. Ginny can pick the lock with a bobby pin.

She calls to them, her voice shaky. Sunlight hits her chestnut hair, highlighted with streaks of blond. “Boys,” she says. “Boys, have you seen Vicki? Has she been here with you?”

When Josh glances over, he misses the ball and curses under his breath. He adjusts his sweatband, positions it higher on his forehead. Mrs. Anderson lives a few blocks away from his house; she once paid him twenty dollars to paint her fence, a task that took two days and left a sunburn on his legs and arms. Her daughter leaned against the porch rail, her hands propped against her chin. “You’re gorgeous,” she said. Then, embarrassed, she laughed and ran into the house. He didn’t see her the rest of the time he was there, nor has he seen her today.

BOOK: Precious
12.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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