Mitch Sinclair was slowly taking over the house, staking his claim. He had just
finished carving his initials into the underside of the wooden porch railing,
which was his boldest move so far. The other things he had done had required
much less courage. He had swept the front stoop with his grandmother's broom. He
had cleaned the decaying leaves and the puddle of murky water out of the
birdbath in the side yard and filled it with fresh water. He had spat on the huge rotting tree stump at the corner of the lot each day for the past week, marking the territory as his. And he had taken to crawling under the screened back porch during the hot afternoons; he'd lean against the brick foundation in the cool shade, imagining a different life, if, as his mother had said, their old life was over. Forever.
Although he'd seen the house many times while visiting his grandparents, Mitch had never paid much attention to it before. The house was vacant. It was old and plainwhite clapboard with dark green trimand had been neglected for quite a while, so that all its lines, angles, and corners were softened like the edges on a well-used bar of soap. The windows were curtained, keeping the interior hidden. However, the curtains covering the small oval window on the back door were parted slightly, offering a glimpse of a sparsely furnished, shadowy corner of a room. That's all. With some hesitancy, Mitch had tried to open the door, turning the loose knob gently at first, then rattling it harder and harder. The door wouldn't budge. The front door was locked as well. Mitch's grandparents' house stood a short distance from the vacant one. The two yards were separated by a row of scraggly lilac bushes and clumps of seashells that reminded Mitch of crushed bones.
Both yards sloped down to Bird Lake. Mitch went swimming nearly every day; he lived in his bathing suit. There were more people around because it was summer, and yet it was quiet. A sleepy, sleepy place, Mitch's grandfather called it. When Mitch made a casual observation at dinner one nightbreaking the dreadful silenceabout the lack of potential friends, his grandmother said crisply that she liked having as few children around as possible. She quickly added that she didn't mean him, of course. But Mitch hadn't been so sure.
Mitch ran his finger over his initials. M.S. His father's initials were W.S. Wade Sinclair. Turn an M upside down and you get a W, thought Mitch. We're the same. It was an idle thought, but it caused a burning knot to form in his stomach. "We're not the same at all," Mitch whispered. And we never will be. At the moment, Mitch hated his father, hated him and yet longed to see him so badly tears pricked his eyes. He thought he could destroy this empty little house right now with his bare hands, he was that upset. But he wanted this house. He wanted it for himself and for his mother. To live in.
Mitch rubbed his finger over his initials again. "Ouch," he said. A splinter. A big one. But not big enough to pick out without a tweezers or a needle. He retreated to his spot under the porch and settled in. He hadn't asked his grandparents yet what they knew about the house, because he didn't want an answer that would disappoint him. Maybe he'd ask today. He dozed off in the still, hazy afternoon, blaming his father for everything wrong in the world, including his aching finger.
Sometimes he wished his father had simply vanished. That would have been easier to deal with. Then he could make up any story he wanted to explain his father's absence. Or he could honestly say that he didn't know where his father was or why he had disappeared. And if he had vanished, there would be the possibility that, at any moment, he'd return. There he'd be, suddenlyhunched at the sink, humming, scrubbing a frying pan, a dish towel slung over his shoulder. A familiar pose. Everything back in its proper place, the way it was meant to be.
The foregoing is excerpted from Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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