PART 1: THE SWAP AND UNSWAP
A Flustered Nurse
Fern Drudger knew that her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Drudger, were dull.
Incredibly, tragically dull.
Mr. Drudger enjoyed discussing sod and lawn treatments. Mrs. Drudger collected advertising fliers that came in the mail, bargains on oil changes and mattress clearance sales. They gave Fern birthday gifts like a set of toothpicks or instruction manuals on how to build filing cabinets. They liked only dull things such as toasters (4), sponges (127), and refrigerator magnets (226)and not those cute bunny shapes and such, but informative freebies from the plumber, the electrician and many from the firm where they worked, Beige & Beige. The Drudgers were both accountants. They didnt like to take vacations from Beige & Beige, but didnt want to cause a stir by not taking them either. So they loaded up the station wagon each summer and went to a place called Lost Lake. There was no lake, only the murky impression of one from years past. In heavy rains, it became muddy enough to attract mosquitos. And here Fern would suffer, listening to her parents take turns reading their manuals while she sipped bland lemonade (not sweet or sour) and swatted her bitten ankles.
Fern was not dull. (Children usually arent. They can be a lot of unpleasant things, including nose-picky and stinky, but they are not usually dull. Although there are exceptionsMr. and Mrs. Drudger, Im sorry to say, were never interesting. They were the kind of exceptionally boring children who enjoyed putting their toys in rows and keeping their pencils sharp. When feeling wild, they might have hummed, but that was about it.) However, Fern was not only not dull, she was, in fact, quite unusual.
Here are some examples: as a toddlerher earliest memoryFern had once looked at a picture book about crickets, and every time she opened the book, crickets hopped out. She filled her room with crickets. She thought this would make her mother happy, but when she showed her, the tidy woman had a frozen look of horror. Nothing ever popped out of another one of Ferns picture books. And when Fern had just learned to read, she caught snow in her mittens and the snow turned into pieces of paper with a word on each piece. She took them to her bedroom and laid them out on her desk, arranging and rearranging them until they made a sentence: Things arent always what they seem, are they?
When Fern woke up in the morning, the pieces of paper were gone. In their place, there was only a row of beaded water drops.
Shed once seen a perfectly good climbing tree that, on second glance, was really a very tall nun with thick ankles carrying a big, black, half-dented umbrella. Fern, alone, hid behind a big mail box and watched the nun walk to the curb, glancing up and down the street as if lost. A taxi cab rounded the corner and the nun, who seemed befuddled and a little nervous, turned into a lamppost. It was an ordinary lamppost with a loose dented umbrella kicking around it. Fern said, "Hello? Hello?" like you do when you pick up the phone but nobodys there. "Hello?" Fern waited. Nothing happened. So, she picked up the umbrella, a little dazed, and shuffled quickly to her house.
More recently, during the spring before the summer that Im getting toif youre patient!Fern had arrived early for swimming lessons at the YWCAs indoor swimming pool and had watched her brand-new swim teacher, Mrs. Lilliopole, run after a small bat flitting madly over the bleachers. Mrs. Lilliopole jogged after it, chubby and awkward, wearing a skirted swimsuit, a plastic nose-pinch, and a flowered bathing cap. She waved a net used for cleaning the pool. The bat rose up to the glass skylight and then turned into a marble, dropping to the tiled floor before rolling quickly under the door to the mens locker room.
From The Anybodies by N.E. Bode. Copyright © 2004 by Julianna Baggott. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of HarperCollins Publishers
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