Have I done you a favor? thought Eduardo as he watched the baby turn its head toward the bustling nurses in their starched, white uniforms. Will you thank me for it later?
Chapter 2: The Little House in the Poppy Fields
Matt stood in front of the door and spread his arms to keep Celia from leaving. The small, crowded living room was still blue with early morning light. The sun had not yet lifted above the hills marking the distant horizon.
"What's this?" the woman said. "You're a big boy now, almost six. You know I have to work." She picked him up to move him out of the way.
"Take me with you," begged Matt, grabbing her shirt and wadding it up in his hands.
"Stop that." Celia gently pried his fingers from the cloth. "You can't come, mi vida. You must stay hidden in the nest like a good little mouse. There're hawks out there that eat little mice."
"I'm not a mouse!" Matt yelled. He shrieked at the top of his voice in a way he knew was irritating. Even keeping Celia home long enough to deliver a tongue-lashing was worth it. He couldn't bear being left alone for another day.
Celia thrust him away. "¡Callate! Shut up! Do you want to make me deaf? You're just a little kid with cornmeal for brains!" Matt flopped sullenly into the big easy chair.
Celia immediately knelt down and put her arms around him. "Don't cry, mi vida. I love you more than anything in the world. I'll explain things to you when you're older." But she wouldn't. She had made the same promise before. Suddenly the fight went out of Matt. He was too small and weak to fight whatever drove Celia to abandon him each day.
"Will you bring me a present?" he said, wriggling away from her kiss.
"Of course! Always!" the woman cried.
So Matt allowed her to go, but he was angry at the same time. It was a funny kind of anger, for he felt like crying, too. The house was so lonely without Celia singing, banging pots, or talking about people he had never seen and never would see. Even when Celia was asleep -- and she fell asleep easily after long hours cooking at the Big House -- the rooms felt full of her warm presence.
When Matt was younger, it hadn't seemed to matter. He'd played with his toys and watched the television. He'd looked out the window where fields of white poppies stretched all the way to the shadowy hills. The whiteness hurt his eyes, and so he turned from them with relief to the cool darkness inside.
But lately Matt had begun to look at things more carefully. The poppy fields weren't completely deserted. Now and then he saw horses -- he knew them from picture books -- walking between the rows of white flowers. It was hard to tell who rode them in all that brightness, but it seemed the riders weren't adults, but children like him.
And with that discovery grew a desire to see them more closely.
Matt had watched children on television. He saw that they were seldom alone. They did things together, like building forts or kicking balls or fighting. Even fighting was interesting when it meant you had other people around. Matt never saw anyone except Celia and, once a month, the doctor. The doctor was a sour man and didn't like Matt at all.
Matt sighed. To do anything, he would have to go outdoors, which Celia said again and again was very dangerous. Besides, the doors and windows were locked.
Matt settled himself at a small wooden table to look at one of his books. Pedro el Conejo, said the cover. Matt could read -- slightly -- both English and Spanish. In fact, he and Celia mixed the two languages together, but it didn't matter. They understood each other.
Pedro el Conejo was a bad little rabbit who crawled into Señor MacGregor's garden to eat up his lettuces. Señor Mac-Gregor wanted to put Pedro into a pie, but Pedro, after many adventures, got away. It was a satisfying story.
Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Farmer
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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