Authors: Frances O'Roark Dowell
had been stepping into stories since the beginning of time. Important stories, everyday stories, stories that only mattered to one or two people. She sniffed stories out. When she smelled one that interested her, she closed her eyes and leaped into the air, moving through the invisible space between one story and the next. Sometimes she took chances and landed in unfortunate places. Like the story of the soldiers in the middle of desert, the sand seeded with explosives. A fox could get killed in a story like that.
Not that the fox ever got killed. She hadn't even managed to die of old age, although how old must she be?
Ancient of days,
her friend Crow liked to say when you asked him his age. The fox supposed that's how old she was too.
Now she stood at the edge of a field, in the invisible space between one story and another, and gazed across the green-goldness of it.
What had drawn her here?
This field, like all fields, had come from somewhere else. The birds had flown across its blank slate and dropped seeds into the waiting soil. The raccoons gathered burrs in their fur and deposited them as they tracked through the mud, and in the spring the earth took a deep breath, pulled forth roots, and sent out flowers and grasses.
There'd been something else here once, not too long ago. The fox could smell it. Something that had gone wrong. Her nose quivered. The scent was mixed: the something-gone-wrong smell, yes, but also mice and rabbits and the small berries that came at the beginning of fall, tiny, sour fruit she might eat just before the first
frost. These were smells she remembered from the oldest stories, the laughing stories, stories where her kits gathered around her and chattered and barked.
Suddenly the heavy, dark smell of exhaust from the road filled the fox's snout. A bus? A truck? Soldiers back from Al Anbar? Quick, quick, burrow into the center of a clump of weeds. Something was coming. Someone. What would she witness this time?
Maybe it was someone who could help, she told herself, trying to stay calm. Maybe they've sent someone to help.
The fox trembled, and she waited.
trying to feel brave, but feeling brave was not something she was good at. In fact, she was chicken. A coward. A natural-born conflict avoider. And she was doomed. Whatever happened next, it would not be good, and her day, which had been completely rotten so far, would only get worse.
There was no way around it, though. She knew Kristen would hear about what happened in language arts. Myla was in Abby's class; so was Casey. They were part of Kristen and Georgia's group, and they'd tell faster than
milk spilling from a knocked-over glass.
She wondered if Kristen would use it against her right away (“Hey, Tubbyâoh, I'm just teasing! Take a joke!”) or if she would bring it out later for maximum hurtage. Ever since Claudia had moved and Abby had taken refuge on the fringes of Kristen's group, she had learned how Kristen worked. Sometimes Abby was in with Kristen, sometimes she was out.
Mostly Abby was out, although she kept trying to find ways to be in. Sixth grade was no time to go off on your own, pretending like having friends didn't matter. So she offered Kristen her desserts, and some mornings she did Kristen's math homework on the bus. It didn't seem to make much of a difference, though.
Walking into the cafeteria, Abby wondered how much Myla and Casey would tell. Would they give Kristen the whole story or just the most embarrassing part? Oh, why hadn't Abby picked another word for her acrostic poem? Why not “rainbow” or “horse” or “volleyball”? Why, oh why, had she chosen “bathtub”?
“Bathtub? Hmm, sounds interesting,” Mr. Lee
had said that morning, and he wrote the word “bathtub” on the board. “I've always liked the way the word âtub' sounds, that âub' sound.”
Marco Perry had been the one who started the chant. He'd slapped his hands on his desktop and called out, “Tubby! Chubby! Abby! Tubby! Chubby! Abby!”
Almost all the boys had joined in, except for Weber Logan, genius, who couldn't be bothered, and Anoop Chatterjee, a very serious and quiet boy who never joined in anything the other boys did.
“Quiet! Everyone!” Mr. Lee had called out, but it was no good. He was too new and too young. He didn't have control.
Abby had tried very hard not to cry. She did all the tricks. She stared straight ahead, breathed in deep through her nose, thought about her starfish collection.
But she'd made the same mistake she always made: She thought about her mom, and how upset she would be if she knew what was happening. Abby imagined her mom sitting at the kitchen table with her cup of coffee, reading one
of the giant history books she loved so much. She was happy because her children were safely at school, and Abby's dad was in his office over the garage, and she had the house to herself and could read about Abigail Adams or George Washington or Thomas Jefferson and take notes for the class she taught on colonial America at the local college. At least thirty books were stacked around her reading chair in wobbly piles, and Abby's mom was always yelling, “Watch out for the books!” whenever anyone got too close.
If she knew boys in Abby's class were calling her names, her face would crumple up, and she would have to put away her books and her coffee, turn off the radio that played classical music all day in the kitchen.
Abby's mom couldn't stand very much unhappiness.
When Abby thought of her mother unhappy in her kitchen, the tears started to fall. Which only made things worse. Which only made the chanting boys chant more gleefully.
Abby resigned herself to crying. That was the
only way to make it stop.
The only way out is through,
her fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Reisman, had liked to say. Sometimes you just had to cry until you were done crying. Finally a moment would come when you felt your eyes dry, and then you let out a little sigh. If you were sitting with a friend, you might smile to let her know the worst was over.
Do not think about Claudia
, Abby told herself harshly.
But then she remembered that when she got home, she could e-mail Claudia or maybe even call her. She might say,
I bet you don't miss the boys in this school. They don't do anything but tease you and call you names.
And Claudia would say,
Don't forget, we'll have our own apartment someday, and we won't let any mean people come visit us.
The apartment. That was a good thought, and Abby tried to hang on to it. Once, in fourth grade, she and Claudia had taped together four shoeboxes and pretended they were the rooms of the apartment they planned to share one day. They cut doors in the side of the boxes, so you
could get from the kitchen to the living room, the living room to the bedroom. Their real apartment would have hallways, of course, but it was okay that the shoe-box apartment just had doors.
Mr. Lee asked a tall, gangly boy named Martin to read his acrostic poem, and the boys' chanting wound down. Abby sniffed quietly and wished she had a tissue. She wished the girl who sat catty-corner from her would turn around and smile. But Abby had stopped crying, and it had only taken her a few minutes. That was good.
She opened her notebook to a blank page and began drawing the plans for her bedroom in the apartment. She sketched in twin beds and a mini-fridge. She drew a smaller bed for her dog, and then she drew a tiny quilt folded neatly on top of the dog's bed. She drew floral-patterned wallpaper and a giant flat-screen TV. She drew without stopping.