Matt got up and wandered into the kitchen. It contained a small refrigerator and a microwave. The microwave had a sign reading PELIGRO!!! DANGER!!! and squares of yellow notepaper saying NO! NO! NO! NO! To be extra sure, Celia had wrapped a belt around the microwave door and secured it with a padlock. She lived in terror that Matt would find a way to open it while she was at work and "cook his little gizzards," as she put it.
Matt didn't know what gizzards were and he didn't want to find out. He edged around the dangerous machine to get to the fridge. That was definitely his territory. Celia filled it with treats every night. She cooked for the Big House, so there was always plenty of food. Matt helped himself to sushi, tamales, pakoras, blintzes -- whatever the people in the Big House were eating. And there was always a large carton of milk and bottles of fruit juice.
He filled a bowl with food and went to Celia's room.
On one side was her large, saggy bed covered with crocheted pillows and stuffed animals. At the head was a huge crucifix and a picture of Our Lord Jesus with His heart pierced by five swords. Matt found the picture frightening. The crucifix was even worse, because it glowed in the dark. Matt kept his back to it, but he still liked Celia's room.
He sprawled over the pillows and pretended to feed the stuffed dog, the teddy bear, the rabbit (conejo, Matt corrected). For a while this was fun, but then a hollow feeling began to grow inside Matt. These weren't real animals. He could talk to them all he liked. They couldn't understand. In some way he couldn't put into words, they weren't even there.
Matt turned them all to the wall, to punish them for not being real, and went to his own room. It was much smaller, being half filled by his bed. The walls were covered with pictures Celia had torn out of magazines: movie stars, animals, babies -- Matt wasn't thrilled by the babies, but Celia found them irresistible -- flowers, news stories. There was one of acrobats standing on one another in a huge pyramid. SIXTY-FOUR! the caption said. A NEW RECORD AT THE LUNAR COLONY.
Matt had seen these particular words so often, he knew them by heart. Another picture showed a man holding a bullfrog between two slices of bread. RIBBIT ON RYE! the caption said. Matt didn't know what a ribbit was, but Celia laughed every time she looked at it.
He turned on the television and watched soap operas. People were always yelling at one another on soap operas. It didn't make much sense, and when it did, it wasn't interesting. It's not real, Matt thought with sudden terror. It's like the animals. He could talk and talk and talk, but the people couldn't hear him.
Matt was swept with such an intense feeling of desolation, he thought he would die. He hugged himself to keep from screaming. He gasped with sobs. Tears rolled down his cheeks.
And then -- and then -- beyond the noise of the soap opera and his own sobs, Matt heard a voice calling. It was clear and strong -- a child's voice. And it was real.
Matt ran to the window. Celia always warned him to be careful when he looked out, but he was so excited that he didn't care. At first he only saw the same, bleached blindness of the poppies. Then a shadow crossed the opening. Matt recoiled so quickly, he fell over and landed on the floor.
"What's this dump?" someone said from outside.
"One of the worker's shacks," said another, higher voice.
"I didn't think anyone was allowed to live in the opium fields."
"Maybe it's a storeroom. Let's try the door."
The door handle rattled. Matt squatted on the floor, his heart pounding. Someone put his face against the window, cupping his hands to see through the gloom. Matt froze. He had wanted company, but this was happening too quickly. He felt like Pedro el Conejo in Señor MacGregor's garden.
Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Farmer
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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