Authors: Lynne Jonell
“Time for your afternoon outing.” Nanny's voice floated up as Christina appeared at the top of the stairs, grinning a little. Nanny would never climb the stairs if she could help itâshe was too fat.
“Good gracious, child! Whatever have you been doing to get so dirty?” Nanny demanded.
Christina looked down through the open stairwell, past the second-floor landing, to Nanny's round face staring up from the first floor's polished hall.
“Ohâmeasuring closets and things,” Christina said vaguely, looking at her hands. They were certainly far from clean.
“Well, don't do it again. You'll have to take a bath this instant, and now you won't have time to go out before dinner.”
Christina looked down at Nanny's perspiring face. “Then could I go out earlier tomorrow? To make up for missing today?”
“I suppose,” Nanny grumbled, “though you get plenty of vitamin D from one hour in the sun. If it wasn't for that, you
wouldn't need to go outside at all, what with the stack of games and toys and computer programs you have. You could stay in your room for years and never lack for anything to do.”
Christina splashed in the tub, already thinking about tomorrow. She had gotten permission to go out early so she might see Taft againâand she had to clean up the attic somehow. She couldn't keep getting dusty; Nanny would get suspicious. Could she haul the vacuum up that ladder? Or would a broom be better?
“Dad?” Christina buttered her dinner roll and set down her knife. “How come the orphans have to work so hard?”
Her father, who was sipping his drink, coughed suddenly. Liquid spurted from his nose, and he had to leave the table, hacking into his napkin.
When he returned, Christina promptly asked him again. His face grew red.
“They work an appropriate amount for their condition,” he said shortly. “Speaking of work, how did you do on math today?”
Christina ignored the question. “But other kids go to school,” she said. “Aren't kids supposed to be learning?”
“There is a school at the orphanage,” said her father. “They learn quite as much as is good for them. Eat your peas.”
“Eat your peas, I said!” Her father banged his fork on the table. “And I don't want to hear another word about those orphans! Life is dangerous enough without unhealthy interests! You haven't been
to one of them, have you?”
Christina paled. “You told me not to,” she whispered, shocked at the sight of her father in a temper.
“That's right, my girl.” Dr. Adnoid attempted a smile. “I am doing everything in my power to keep you safe and well. Take no interest in the orphans, and you will come to no harm.” He pushed back his chair, ran his hand through his hair until it was standing on end, and walked out, his neck stiff.
Christina looked questioningly at Cook, who had paused with a bowl of potatoes.
“Don't mind him, child.” Cook shook her head. “He's just grieving the loss of your mother.”
Christina frowned. “But what does that have to do with the orphans?”
“Why, your mother, God rest her soul, took an interest in the orphans herself. Just before she died, that is.”
next morning Christina had a music lesson.
This was usually the highlight of her week. It was the one time she had a real live teacher; even Dr. Adnoid had to admit that the computer couldn't teach piano, and had hired the school's music teacher to give her private instruction. But today, anxious to go out and see Taft, Christina could hardly keep still.
“My dear, what
the matter?” Mrs. Lisowsky, a tiny old woman with a fuzz of light red hair, peered at Christina like an inquisitive bird. “You're absolutely murdering that poor piano sonata.”
Christina lifted her fingers guiltily from the keys. “Sorry,” she murmured.
“Is something distracting you, dear?”
Christina had been sneaking quick glances out the window, but she shifted her gaze to the framed portrait on one side. “Um, I was just wondering about”âshe looked at the
nameplateâ“Glenda Loompski. Funny, her name doesn't begin with an
“Well, she wasn't born a Loompski, you knowâshe only married one of the Loompski boys. Lars, was it? Or Larry?”
Christina didn't think there
been a Larry Loompski, but she couldn't imagine caring either way.
“Glenda was just as talented as the Loompski brothers,” went on Mrs. Lisowsky. “Well, as four of them, anyway. When I was just a girl, I heard her play Rachmaninoff's entire Concerto in D Minor on a series of test tubes filled with waterâa truly striking combination of art and science!”
Christina tried to maintain an expression of deep interest, but it was hard going. She smothered a yawn and sneaked another look through the window.
“Well, let's try something different. How about singing? You have a nice, clear voice. Let's work on scales. Stand up, dear, and give me a C.”
Mrs. Lisowsky slipped onto the piano bench and poised her finger above the keys. But Christina, in a hurry to get the lesson over with, sang the note before it was played.
The music teacher looked up quickly. “That sounds right,” she said to herself, and quietly played a note. She looked up again. “Go up a third from C, will you? And then a fifth?”
Christina sang the third note and then the fifth in the scale.
“Now can you sing an E-flat?”
“High or low?” asked Christina.
“Whichever you like, dear,” said Mrs. Lisowsky absently.
Christina sang it.
“And a B-flat, followed by an F, and then a G-sharp?”
Christina sang the notes in order, checking the window again. Was that a bit of orange-red vest she had seen through the bushes?
“My child,” announced Mrs. Lisowsky triumphantly, “you have perfect pitch. I shall let your father know; I'm sure he will be pleased.”
“Okay,” mumbled Christina, still concentrating on the window. No, it was just a cardinal, half hidden in the leaves. But the moment Mrs. Lisowsky trotted from the house, Christina slipped out before anyone noticed and waited by the fence for Taft.
She amused herself by making dandelion necklaces and hunting for four-leaf clovers and whistling with a blade of grass stretched tight between her thumbs. But the orphans didn't seem to be about, and no one came near, unless you counted two men who arrived in a battered pickup truck.
“Grab the extension cord, Gus!” bawled a stocky man in blue overalls, wrestling a ladder out of the truckbed and staggering with it to the side of Christina's house.
Gus, heavier than his partner, with a brown mustache that drooped at the corners of his mouth, clanked past with a belt full of tools.
“Why are we using a ladder, Jake?” Gus scratched his head, looking upward. “Isn't there a service door from the attic?”
“Won't do us any good.” Jake grinned. “I'm too fat, and you're even fatter. What we need is a skinny helper.”
“I'm just well built,” Gus mumbled, hitching up his pants.
“Folks must've been underfed back in the day when this house was built.” He gave Christina a shy smile. “You've got yourself a real nice day for daisy chains, little missy.”
“Christina!” Nanny's voice trumpeted from the front door. “Lunchtime!”
Christina edged closer to Gus. “What are you going to do, mister? Climb up to the roof?”
“Fix the gutters,” said Gus, pointing upward. “And anything else that needs patching.”
“Coming!” called Christina, casting a last glance toward the fence. Still no Taft. Maybe the orphans were on a different street today.
Well, there was always tomorrow. And in the meantime, she had the attic. But first she had to get it clean.
Christina dawdled over lunch, chewing each bite until there was nothing left to chew. She swirled her spoon in her pudding, watching as Nanny took a last swallow, set down her napkin, and climbed ponderously up the stairs.
As soon as the bedsprings squeaked in Nanny's room above, Christina slid quietly out of her chair and disappeared into the broom closet.
She would need the vacuum and an extension cord. Maybe a bucket and some rags, too. Oh, and the broom and a dustpan, just in caseÂ .Â .Â . and what about some bags to hold all the dust?
Heavily loaded, Christina staggered up the steps. She was beginning to think she should have made two trips, when the
bucket caught on the banister and everything slipped out of her grasp in a long, racketing clatter.
“Christina!” Nanny appeared in the doorway, frowning.
Christina picked up the broom, trying to look virtuous. “I'm just going to clean my room.”
Nanny's frown deepened. “
was planning to clean it,” she said defensively, “only my knees have been bothering meâand my sciatica is acting upâ”
,” said Christina swiftly, “that's why I want to do it myself. Besides, you don't want me to be spoiled, do you?”
Nanny looked suspicious.
“Most kids have to clean their own rooms, right?”
“Why should I be any different?”
“Well, when you put it that wayâ”
“And it's good exercise. I'm doing a unit in health on the computer and it's all about getting plenty of activityâ”
“All right, for goodness' sake, go ahead! Only don't make too much noise over my room. I'm going to take my afternoon nap.”
The problem, thought Christina as she lugged the vacuum up the ladder to the attic, was that now she actually
have to clean her room. But first, while Nanny was safely napping, she would get the attic floor clear. She couldn't keep coming down from there, dusty to her eyeballs. Sooner or later, someone would figure out what she was doingâand then, of course, they would tell her she couldn't do it anymore.
No, Christina thought as she vacuumed, poking the hose into corners and around boxes, she had to keep the attic a
secret. Besides, she liked being able to see the orphanage, and Taft, through her telescope.
The vacuum's dust bag was full. Christina switched off the machine and unhooked the bag, and heard men's voices.
“We'll have to get some roof tiles and come back. See those missing ones?”
Christina stepped onto the broken-backed chair and looked out the ventilation slats.
“See here? And here?”
Heavy feet crunched on the roof.
“I still say it'd be easier to bring everything through the attic. Where's that service door, any way, Jake?”
The attic wall rattled as someone banged on it from outside. “Here it is. It's locked, though, or stuck. You want to crawl through
Christina watched in fascination as a crack of light appearedâdisappearedâand appeared again, outlining a short rectangle, almost a square, in the attic wall.
“Not much of a service door,” grumbled Gus, as the men's footsteps receded. “Who did old Loompski think was going to work on his roof? Midgets?”
Christina held her breath as the men's heavy boots sounded on the ladder rungs. Then she tiptoed across the floor to the attic wall, holding her breath.
It was true! It was a real door!
She hadn't seen it at first; the cracks outlining the rough door looked like any other cracks in the attic paneling. There was no doorknob, but there was a little latch to turn, half hidden behind a wooden crossbeam.
Christina hugged herself in silent delight. In her boring, boring life, suddenly everything was happening at once!
She had met a real live orphan. She had been tall enough to finally get into the attic. And although she hadn't found the legendary Loompski tunnel, she
discovered a door that opened onto the rooftopâand the minute Gus and his boss were gone for the day, she intended to go through it. She had always wanted to see one of those gargoyles up close.
It was nearly sunset. Supper was safely over. Christina's father, working late at the laboratory, had not been home to ask any uncomfortable questions about her math assignments.
It was a good thing, too, Christina thought guiltily as she mounted the stairs to her room. She hadn't gotten around to math in the morning, and then after seeing the door to the roof, she had been too excited to concentrate.
Besides, Gus and Jake had been making a lot of noise. They had clumped around the roof all afternoon, hammering and clanking and grumbling. But just before dinner they had roared off in their battered brown pickup; Christina had watched with deep satisfaction as their taillights disappeared.
Now she put on dark jeans and a jacket, shoved her feet into rubber-soled shoes, and dug out a flashlight from beneath her bed. She arranged two pillows underneath her blankets in a realistic-looking lump, just in case anyone looked in. And then she pulled down the attic ladder and, with a light, excited feeling in her stomach, began to climb.