We were all smiling to each other around the kitchen table at the smart way wed taken care of those beans when Momma dropped the phone with a rattling clatter and a single sobperfectly devastated. She sank to the floor, looking for all the world as if she were staring right through the checkered brown and blue linoleum to behold the burning hot-lava core at the very center of the Earth.
Its Poppa, Momma said in a choked voice, as her perfect features stretched and pinched.
A gust of wind burst from fishs side of the table, blowing everyones hair and sending our paper napkins flying pell-mell onto the floor. The air in the room grew warm and humid as though the house itself had broken out into a ripe, nervous sweat, and the many dusty, tightly lidded, empty-looking jars that lined the tops of all the cupboards rattled and clinked like a hundred toasting glasses. Outside it was already raining fish raindrops hastened from a sprinkle to a downpour in seconds as fish stared, wide-eyed and gaping like his namesake, holding back his fear but unable to scumble his savvy.
Momma? Rocket ventured. The air around him crackled with static, and his T-shirt clung to him like socks to towels straight from the dryer. The lights in the house pulsed, and blue sparks popped and snapped at the tips of his nervous, twitching fingers.
Momma looked at Poppas empty chair and waiting plate, then she turned to us, chin trembling, and told us about the accident on the highway. She told us how Poppas car had gotten crushed up bad, like a pop can under a cowboy boot, and how hed gone and forgotten to get out before it happened, landing himself in a room and a bed at Salina Hope Hospital, where now he lay broken and asleep, not able to wake up.
Dont fret, child, Grandpa consoled Momma as though they were back in time and Momma was still a young girl sitting on his knee crying over a broken doll. Those doctors know whats what. Theyll fix your fellow up in no time. Theyll get his buttons sewn back on. Grandpa Bombas tone was soft and reassuring. But as the strobe-like flashes from Rockets nervous sparks lit Grandpas face, I could see the worry etched deep into all his wrinkles.
For half of a half of a half of a second I hated Poppa. I hated him for working so far away from home and for having to take the highway every day. I hated him for getting in that accident and for ruining our pot roast. Mostly, I realized that my perfect cake with its pink and yellow frosting was probably not going to get made, and I hated Poppa for wrecking my most important birthday before it had even arrived. Then I felt the burning shame of even having those thoughts about my good, sweet poppa and sank low in my chair. To make amends for my selfish feelings, I sat quietly and ate every last unwelcome green bean from beneath my mashed potatoes, as fishs rain lashed against the windows and Rocket caused every lightbulb in the house to explode with a live-wire zing and a popping shatter, sending shards of glass tinkling to the floor and pitching the house into darkness.
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
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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