A disgrace to both ends! Bill Casson had thought once on one of his brief visits from London, and he wondered why it never occurred to Eve that she might paint the windows and tidy the overgrown grass and grow flowers in the garden. The only things that grew in the garden were guinea pigs. Caddy owned at least half a dozen of them, scattered around in ramshackle runs and hutches. Occasionally they escaped and flocked and multiplied over the lawn like wildebeests on the African plains. Like the hamsters in the house, the guinea pigs on the lawn were Caddy's responsibility. Only she was really interested in them. Caddy, and a child in a wheelchair from one of the fine houses up the road.
Time passed, but the Banana House stayed the same. Generations of guinea pigs came and went. Years went by so quickly that Bill and Eve constantly lost track of the children's ages. Caddy and Saffron grew long legs and long gold hair. Indigo took to dressing entirely in black. Rose started school.
"At last," said the health visitor disapprovingly. "She ought to have gone a year ago!"
"She was so delicate," pleaded Eve.
"Not anymore," said the health visitor. "She is quite robust now! Very robust, in fact!"
Eve looked so shocked at this opinion that Rose asked Saffron privately, "What does robust mean?"
"Tough," said Saffron.
Rose looked pleased.
On her first day of school Rose drew a picture of the Banana House that made it look exactly like a banana with windows.
In Rose's picture the garden streamed from the roof of the house like a banner in the wind, bright green and covered with giant guinea pigs. At the end of the garden was a rainbow-colored box.
"Mummy's shed," Rose explained, and drew her mother on the roof.
"What is she doing?" asked the teacher.
"Waving," said Rose.
There were people waving out of the windows of the house, too. Rose colored them in as well as she could with horrible school wax crayons.
"Caddy, Saffron, Indigo, and me," she said. "Waving good-bye."
"Daddy," said Rose.
Waving good-bye to Daddy was as much a part of Casson life as the color chart on the kitchen wall, and the guinea pigs on the grass, and the girl in the wheelchair.
Once Rose had pointed to her.
"Don't point!" her father had snapped furiously. "Don't point and don't stare!"
None of the Cassons pointed or stared, but the wheelchair girl still kept going past the house now and then. She remained a stranger. Rose did not put her into the picture of the banana-shaped house.
Rose's work of art took her all day, including two playtimes, story time, and most of lunch.
At the end of school it was stolen from her by the wicked teacher who had pretended to be so interested.
"Beautiful -- what-is-it?" she asked as she pinned it high on the wall, where Rose could not reach.
"They take your pictures," said Indigo, who was waiting for Rose at the school gate, when he finally made out what all the roaring and stamping was about. "They do take them. You have to not care."
Indigo was now eleven, in the top class of the elementary school, the opposite end to Rose. He was still small and thin, but less anxious now. He had learned to write his problems down in lists, and this made him feel more in control. He still thought of his sisters as his pack.
"Why do you want that picture so much?" he asked Rose.
"It was my best ever," said Rose furiously. "I hate school. I hate everyone in it. I will kill them all when I'm big enough."
"You can't just go round killing people," Indigo told her, but he looked at her hunched-up shoulders and her drooping head and thought it was sad to see Rose, Permanent Rose, usually such a cheerful and obstinate member of his pack, completely changed after one day at school.
Copyright © 2001 by Hilary McKay
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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