There was a tiny tinkle of a chime and a sharp blast of air-conditioning as Ginny opened the door. Standing behind the counter was a pixie of a woman manning three phones at once. This was Alice, the owner, and Aunt Peg's favorite neighbor. She smiled broadly when she saw Ginny and held up a finger, indicating that she should wait.
"Ginny," Alice said, hanging up two of the phones and setting down the third. "Package. Peg."
She disappeared through a bamboo curtain that covered a door into the back. Alice was Chinese, but she spoke perfect English (Aunt Peg had told her so). But because she always had to get right to the point (4th Noodle did a brisk business), she spoke in halting single words.
Nothing had changed since the last time Ginny had been here. She looked up at the illuminated pictures of Chinese food, the shiny plastic visions of sesame shrimp and chicken and broccoli. They glowed, not quite tantalizingly, more radioactively. The chicken pieces were a little too glossy and orange. The sesame seeds too white and too large. The broccoli was so green it seemed to vibrate. There was the blown-up and framed picture of Rudy Giuliani standing with a glowing Alice, taken when he had shown up one day.
It was the smell, though, that was most familiar. The heavy, fatty smell of sizzling beef and pork and peppers and the sweetish odor of vats of steaming rice. This was the scent that seeped through Aunt Peg's floor and perfumed her.
It rang such a chord in Ginny's memory that she almost swung her head around to see if Aunt Peg was standing there behind her.
But, of course, she couldn't be.
"Here," Alice said, emerging from the beaded curtain with a brown paper package in her hand. "For Ginny."
The packagean overstuffed padded brown envelopewas indeed addressed to her, Virginia Blackstone, care of Alice at 4th Noodle, New York City. It was postmarked from London and had the faintest aura of grease.
"Thanks," Ginny said, accepting the package as gracefully as she could, given that she couldn't lean over without falling face-first onto the counter.
"Say hi to Peg for me," Alice said, picking up the phone and launching straight into an order.
"Right . . ." Ginny nodded. "Um, sure."
Once she was out on the street, scanning Avenue A nervously for the cab she was going to have to hail for herself, Ginny wondered if she should have told Alice what had happened. But she was soon distracted by the sheer terror that her task caused her. Cabs were yellow beasts that sped through New York, whisking people who had to be places to the places they had to be and leaving terrified pedestrians scrambling for cover.
No, she thought, raising a timid hand as far as she could as a herd of her prey suddenly appeared. There was no reason to tell Alice what had happened. She barely believed it herself. And besides, she had to go.
The Adventures of Aunt Peg
When Aunt Peg was Ginny's age (seventeen), she ran away
from her home in New Jersey, just two weeks before she was supposed to go off to
Mount Holyoke on a full scholarship. She reappeared a week later and seemed
surprised by the fact that people were upset with her. She needed to think about
what she wanted to accomplish in school, she explained, so she'd gone off to
Maine and met some people who built hand-crafted fishing boats. Also, she wasn't
going to school now, she informed everyone. She was going to take a year off and
work. And she did. She gave up her scholarship and spent the next year
waitressing at a big seafood restaurant in downtown Philadelphia and living with
three other people in a small South Street apartment.
The foregoing is excerpted from 13 Little Bue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. 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. All Rights Reserved.
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No Man's Land
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