As for my third wish, I'm not even sure why I kept making it. But when you're in second grade, you don't yet know the meaning of impossible. And since I liked that wish best of all, I couldn't bring myself to change it, even as I grew old enough to know better.
I had no memories of my father, and not even a picture of him, since our house had no pictures. It didn't have many mirrors, either. Gran said, in one of her talkative spells, that mirrors made her uneasy. She didn't like looking into rooms she couldn't get to or at people she couldn't touch. So we had no photos, not of my father, and certainly not of my mother, who, Gran said, had run off when I was three and Rew just one.
I had one and a half memories of my mother. I say "a half " because whenever I tried to remember what my mother looked like, I saw a brown leather purse instead. That, and the sound of her keys clinking together - that's what I remembered. And then there was the other memory, or maybe it was one Gran gave me and I made my own. That was of the night she left, when she set us down, along with our suitcases, in Gran's house. I can't see her face there, either, but I think she might have had brown hair, like mine. And I don't remember much of her voice, but I do know the words she used. "They were always his idea, anyway," she said, and left.
So I didn't miss my mother much. But my fathersince I was, after all, his ideahim, I missed. And though I didn't know what he looked like, Gran said he was something like Rew, and that made a nice picture in my mind.
Rew looked like he had put his face up to the sky in a rainstorm of freckles. He was covered in them, mostly on his face, but practically every region of his body held a stray freckle or two. I envied him his freckles and his red hair, which made him stand out beside me. After they learned we were brother and sister, stupid strangers always asked me, "Where'd your red hair go?" As if I would love to discuss why I was boringly brown and the freckle god had been stingy with me.
So if Rew favored my father, as Gran liked to say, I could only imagine liking his face. And probably everything else about him. Genius and freckles must go together, because Rew got both. Rew had always fascinated me. I did most of the talking, but he did most of the thinking. Even though he was only nine, most ofthe time he beat me at chess, a game Gran had taught us. He had a way of seeing moves ahead, so he'd trap me and checkmate me before I realized I'd been had. I won only when I could taunt him hard enough to make him mad. Rew stopped thinking when he got mad.
So I imagined my father was Rew grown big. Smart, thoughtful, freckled, red. And he was my third wish. But that was the unlikeliest wish of all. Because even if I drank a magic elixir and sprouted a few feet, and even if angry revolutionaries suddenly stormed the streets of boring old Sunshine, making wishes one and two come true, wish three was impossible. I could never meet my father. My father was dead.
Rew could think better than I could, but I told the better story, probably because I was a good liar, something Gran had trained me in when I was little. We had moved to Sunshine when I was three and a half, and by the time I was five, when I could have started kindergarten with the other kids, Gran had decided to homeschool us. She didn't hold with institutions, she said, or being locked up in a big building all day. That was back when she talked more and brooded less, though she still brooded often enough even then.
I must have been about six when the truant lady, or so Gran called her behind her back, came to check on us. Actually, she was a social worker named Adele Parks, who had a gentle way of talking that I liked. But I didn't get to talk to her just then. The first time she came was on one of Gran's good days, and Gran had summoned up the best of her old self, explaining to the woman, at length, her educational philosophy, which I heard her say included "lots of classics, field trips, and extensive hands-on work."
Excerpted from Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz. Copyright © 2013 by Adina Rishe Gewirtz. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. 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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