All Gran's cousins were gone now, she said, her being the youngest. There was no one left. Still, I liked to imagine her the way she must have been, a girl on the sidewalk, hair vivid red, shooting marbles and rolling pennies.
When Beth heard all this, she came the two miles from town to see Gran and our house, and she didn't mind the clutter or that Gran never threw anything out or that we mostly ate from dirty dishes or that, as time passed, I did a lot of the shopping myself, because it made Gran too tired to go into town. Beth thought our house was interesting, what with its old magazines and Gran's obsession with keeping things. And so we were friends.
That was enough for me. And Gran said I ought to be grateful and not wish the other kids would come by, or want to, even.
"I don't like people snooping around," she said. "We're enough for each other, aren't we?"
I always told her yes, of course we were. And on her good days, it was even true. But by the end of sixth grade, I'd counted more bad days than good, more days when Gran didn't wake until noon, and then only got up to sit in the kitchen, staring through the windows at the Zebra, grinding the tip of her slipper into the linoleum until it left little bits of gray rubber scattered like eraser dust on the floor. So I looked forward to summer less than I had. But still, there was good in it. There was Rew, and there was the Zebra, where the two of us would go each day, and tell stories, and climb trees, and listen to uncluttered quiet that had no warning in it.So as that summer began, while America counted hostage days and Beth learned to swim, I thought up good lies to tell and climbed trees and lay a lot in the shade. I didn't think any of my wishes would come true, not even the one about getting taller.
We called it the Zebra Forest because it looked like a zebra. Its trees were a mix of white birch and chocolate oak, and if you stood a little ways from it, like at our house looking across the back field that was our yard, you saw stripes, black and white, that went up into green.
Gran never went out there except near dusk, when the shadows gathered. She didn't like to be out in full sunlight usually, and told me once she didn't like the lines the trees made. Gran was always saying stuff like that. Perfectly beautiful thingslike a clean blue sky over the Zebramade tears come to her eyes, and if I tried to get her to come outside with me, she'd duck her head and hurry upstairs to bed. But then it would be storming, lightning sizzling the tops of the trees, and she'd run round the house, cheerful, making us hot Rew loved pirates so much, he started seeing them everyplace.
"Do you think Gran was a pirate once?" he asked me one day, when he had just turned seven.
"Course not!" I said, surprised. "Gran? Why would you think so?"
"She keeps her treasure hidden. Just like Captain Flint on Treasure Island."
I laughed. "She didn't get it from being a pirate," I told him. "Grandpa gave it to her, before he died."
On one of her most talkative days, Gran had told me that. In the city that had no name, my grandfather had died, just before we came to Sunshine.
"He was a good man," Gran had said that time. "But his heart couldn't take it."
"Take what?" I'd asked her.
Gran's answers were like that sometimes, and when they were, the story was over. But I knew my grandpa had taken care of Gran, leaving her money to live on if something happened to him, because she'd told me so, told me he was a careful man who always took care. And so she'd gathered up Rew and me, and the money he'd left her, and come to Sunshine, far away from the place where living was too much for Grandpa Snow.
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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