My savvy hadnt come along yet. But I was only two days away from my very own thirteen dripping candlesthough my mommas cakes never lopped to the side or to the middle. Mommas cakes were perfect, just like Momma, because that was her savvy. Momma was perfect. Anything she made was perfect. Everything she did was perfect. Even when she messed up, Momma messed up perfectly.
I often reckoned what it would be like for me. I pictured myself blowing out the candles on my cake and fires dying in chimneys across four counties. Or I imagined making my secret birthday wishgetting my cheeks full and round with airthen floating up toward the ceiling like my very own happy birthday balloon.
My savvy is going to be a good one, I told my brother Rocket. I just know it.
Girls dont get the powerful jujubes, said Rocket, running one hand through his dark shock of unkempt hair with a crackle of static. Girls only get quiet, polite savviessugar and spice and everything humdrum savvies. Its boys who get the earthshaking kinds of savvy.
I had scowled at my brother and stuck out my tongue. Rocket and I both knew that there were plenty of girls climbing round our family tree that had strong and sturdy savvies, like Great-aunt Jules, who could step back twenty minutes in time every time she sneezed; or our second cousin Olive, who could melt ice with a single red-hot stare.
Rocket was seventeen and full of junk that I wasnt allowed to say until I got much, much older. But he was electric through and through, and that had always gone to his head. for fun, Rocket would make my hair stand on end like hed rubbed it with a balloon, or hit fish with a wicked zap from the other side of the room. But Rocket could keep the lights on when the power went out, and our family sure liked that, especially the littler Beaumonts.
Rocket was the oldest, with fish and me following after. Born only a year apart, fish and I were nearly the same height and looked a lot alike, both with hair like sand and strawhair like Mommas. But while I had Poppas hazel eyes, fish had Mommas ocean blue ones. It was as if wed each taken a little bit of Momma, or a little bit of Poppa, and made the rest our own.
I wasnt the youngest or the smallest in the family; broody Samson was a dark and shadowy seven, and doll-faced Gypsy was three. It was Gypsy who started calling me Mibs, when my full name, Mississippi, became far too much for her toothsome toddler tongue to manage. But that had been a relief. That name had always followed me around like one of fishs heavy storm clouds.
The itch and scritch of birthday buzz was about all I was feeling on the Thursday before the friday before the Saturday I turned thirteen. Sitting at the dinner table, next to Poppas empty chair and ready plate, I barely ate a bite. Across from me, Gypsy prattled endlessly, counting the make-believe creatures she imagined seeing in the room, and begging me to help her name them.
I pushed the food around my plate, ignoring my sister and daydreaming about what it would be like when I got my very own savvy, when the telephone rang right in the middle of pot roast, mashed potatoes, and mighty unpopular green beans. As Momma rose to answer, us kids, and Grandpa Bomba too, seized the chance to plop our mashers on top of our beans while Mommas back was turned. Samson tucked some of those beans into his pockets to give to his dead pet turtle, even though Momma always said he shouldnt be giving it any of our good food, seeing how it was dead and all, and the food would just go to rot. But Samson was sure as sadly sure that his turtle was only hibernating, and Momma hadnt the heart to toss it from the house.
Excerpted from Savvy by Ingrid Law. Copyright © 2006 by Ingrid Law. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Group USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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