“Yes,” Mom said, smiling back, drawing a perfectly but modestly home-manicured finger through a piece of hair that had fallen across her face. “It does wonders with grocery lists.” But when the guy was gone, Mom said to me, “I guess we’re not supposed to live in the twenty-first century,” and tucked the phone into her purse, out of sight.
There’s a lot of stuff like that we deal with. Those are just examples.
Now Dad pulls the car right in front of Main Street Hardware, and as he turns off the engine there’s a little rattle coming from under the hood. I look at him. He’s pretending not to hear it. After Mom’s accident, and every thing else, the last thing we need is car trouble.
The bells on the door of the hardware store jingle as we go in. A wave of air-conditioned air feels too cold at first, raising goose bumps on my arms, but then it’s like heaven.
“Charlie, hey.” Cal Stewart, who owns and single-handedly runs the hardware store, greets us. Or I should say he greets my dad and nods politely at me. “What can I do for you?” I like Cal, even though he never remembers my name. He’s got woolly dark hair that’s just starting to go a little gray, and wire-rim glasses that make him look smarter than most people in Pineview, and he’s a lot nicer than the old couple he bought the store from a few years ago.
Dad and Cal discuss the ceiling fan issue, and I take advantage of the chance to walk the aisles of the store, running my hand over the different-size chains that hang from spools, looking into bins of glittering loose nails in every size, examining a dozen kinds of spackles and glues. There’s something to make or fix or connect every thing.
When he’s done talking to my dad, Cal walks by the other end of the aisle and catches sight of me.
“Can I help you find something?”
“I’m thinking about doing something different in our backyard.” “Let’s go to the outdoor section. Near the front.” My dad is up front, too, talking on his cell, something about the music for tomorrow’s service.
Cal asks me, “So you want to do something different. Different how?”
“It’s so hot,” I say. “Everything’s kind of . . . dying.” He leads me to a spinning wire rack of thin gardening books, many of them dusty and with pages that are starting to yellow from the sun. “Here’s one on desert gardening. Technically, Pineview is high desert and not true desert, but it’s got a lot of info on plants that don’t need much water.”
“Right.” He hands me the book. “Is this for 4-H?” “No,” I say, surprised that he remembers. “Just for my house.” The last time I came here was to get wooden dowels. I dropped out of 4-H before I finished that project, which was supposed to be me and Vanessa teaching crafts at the Dillon’s Bluff Senior Center, but my mom wasn’t doing so well the day she’d promised to drive us to do the setup, and my dad was busy with church, and instead of telling the truth I told Vanessa that I’d given my mom the wrong date and Vanessa got mad and I dropped out rather than let her down again. Anyway.
“You’ll probably need some of this,” Cal says, leading me through the store to a pile of black plastic sheeting.
“To smother those water-greedy plants you’re trying to replace.” He hands me a bulky, folded armload of it.
“Ready, Sam?” my dad asks, eyeing what I’ve got and, I’m sure, calculating the price.
I nod. Cal rings us up and Dad pays with a credit card. We both exhale and try not to look too surprised when it goes through.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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