“It’s Mom’s,” I say. “Just leave it.” I don’t want her coming home from rehab and feeling like we went through the house, erasing her. “Can we stop at the hardware store when we go out?” I ask. “I want to get some stuff for the yard.”
“Maybe I can find the part for your ceiling fan and get that working.” He stares at me in that meaningful, fatherly way I can’t bear anymore so I have no choice but to turn away and pretend to look in the fridge. “What else do you have going on today?” he asks. “Nothing.” I move an almost-empty carton of milk two inches to the right and close the door. “Unless you want to start our driv ing lessons?”
He shakes his head. “I can’t today. I think you should make a plan. I think you should call Vanessa, or Daniel. Get out of the house. Go see a movie in an air-conditioned theater.” “Maybe.”
“Sammy, it’s not a suggestion. Okay?” I nod. We’ve discussed this. Me being home alone too much, a habit I developed when I started to get afraid to leave Mom by herself. But she’s not here now, so.
“I’m going to hop in the shower,” he says. I nod again, and watch him walk away, through the airless living room and down the hall.
Main Street in Pineview has exactly six not-so-creatively-named businesses:
Petey’s Ice Cream
The Casa Nova Mexican Diner (only open three days a week)
Main Street Coffee
Main Street Gas & Garage
Main Street Bar & Grill (the “grill” part closed down years ago)
Main Street Hardware
We’re two hours south of Medford, six hours north of Sacramento, and a day west of Denver, which puts us exactly . . . nowhere.
We have parades on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Christmas. The Ten Commandments are still inscribed on a monument outside City Hall even after three lawsuits. Once a year people from all over the West come here for the Migratory Bird Festival. There’s one public school for all grades, one private school (where I go, or went, I guess), one post office that’s really a trailer off the pass, one library, and one grocery store where the whole town shops except for those who drive thirty-eight miles to the new Dillon’s Bluff Wal-Mart. And seven churches, including Pineview Community, where my dad is the pastor.
Everyone knows him. Everyone thinks they know us, me. Everyone is wrong.
Even as we drive through town now, people in other cars and kids playing near the road recognize us and wave. Probably a third of the town’s population helps pay the lease on our Taurus and the mortgage on our house, which gives them the right to say things to my dad like, “I see you got new tires there, Charlie. Are you sure the steel-belted are really worth it? They can’t be cheap . . .” or “The front lawn at the house is looking a little ragged — do you need to borrow a mower?” Whenever I get new clothes I can almost see some of the women at church calculating how much we spent.
Everyone knows exactly how much my dad makes, and they think it’s enough. Some think it’s too much. One time I was out with Mom when we ran into a congregant who owns his own tech company and gives a lot of money to the church. Mom was holding on to her cell phone, which she’d just upgraded to one of those that does every thing so that I could have her old one, and this guy, this congregant, made a comment about it. “I guess you can keep your grocery list on that thing, if nothing else,” he said. His big, jokey smile didn’t hide what he was really saying: Why does a housewife need a fancy phone, especially when the church basically pays the cell bill, and shouldn’t we use that money for new pew Bibles or an ad in the county yellow pages?
Excerpted from Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr. Copyright © 2009 by Sara Zarr. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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