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Jumping the Scratch
By Sarah Weeks
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Sarah Weeks
All right reserved.
I have a pretty good memory, but it's got a mind of its own. It has never been very interested in holding on to anything having to do with numbers or spelling or ways of knowing when it's appropriate to use a semicolon. It's impossible to predict what it will decide is important. Sometimes whole years of my life have whizzed by and very little of what's happened has stuck. But there is one year I remember in such vivid detail, I sometimes feel as though I'm still in the middle of it even though it all happened a long time ago.
I was eleven years old and in the fifth grade at Pine Tree Elementary when Arthur came to visit. I didn't see what the big fuss was about. Just because some guy named Arthur was coming to our class, we were supposed to wear our best clothes and be on our best behavior and not shout out and a lot of other things I didn't bother to listen to when Miss Miller told us about his coming. I didn't listen to much of anything she said that year. I wasn't interested, and I didn't care. Looking back on it now, I guess that might have had something to do with why she was always yelling at me.
"Are you listening, James? Best behavior," Miss Miller said, giving me the big fisheye.
My name is not James; it's Jamie. It says soright on my birth certificate, but I never bothered to tell Miss Miller that. Somehow it seemed right for her to call me by the wrong name. She didn't have any idea who I was.
That day, while she talked on and on about Arthur's visit, I did what I always did: reached back with my thumbs and plugged my earholes closed. But Miss Miller's voice found its way inside my head somehow anyway, like smoke curling under a locked door. Arthur this. Arthur that. I pressed my thumbs down harder, then let go. Open, closed, open, closed, faster and faster until it chopped up the words like cabbage for slaw and made it sound like she was speaking Chinese. I just kept doing that until she was done talking and it was finally time for us to go home.
I hated everything about that year in Miss Miller's class. We'd moved to Traverse City in November, two months after the school year had begun, and by the time spring rolled around, I still hadn't made a single friend. It was my own fault. It's hard for people to like you when you can't stand yourself.
"Best clothes," Miss Miller had said. That was a joke. I had two kinds of clothes at home: clean and dirty. I didn't plan on telling my mother what Miss Miller had said. I knew she would just say, "Make do, Jamie." She said that all the time after we moved in with my aunt Sapphy, at the Wondrous Acres trailer park on the south side of town.
Wondrous Acres was anything but wondrous. Ours was the fifth trailer in a line of fifteen single-wides that sat on a flat strip of asphalt baking in the sun or rattling in the wind depending on the season. Some of the trailers had names over their doors instead of numbers, Tin Heaven and Dolly's Spot. Ours was just plain old number five, but if it had been mine to name, I would have called it Make Do.
We had a real house back when we lived in Battle Creek. I had a room of my own and, best of all, a cat named Mister. Mister was just a stray, somebody else's cat that had run away, but after I fed him tuna fish and milk, he didn't run away from me, so my mom said she guessed he was mine. Mister was the first friend I had who liked me best. He didn't like anybody else to pick him up or even touch him. He slept on my pillow at night. I'd lie in the dark, rubbing him behind his soft black ears, telling him everything, while he lay there purring until I was all talked out. I can close my eyes and, to this day, still recall the way Mister smelled behind his ears.
One night Mister didn't come home. I called and called for him, but he didn't come.
"Probably out looking for some female companionship," my dad told me. "Can't blame a fella for wanting a little of that now, can you?" Then he winked at me and laughed until his breath ran out and he had to cough. My mother shot him one of her looks, but she didn't say anything.
With some people you can tell when they're mad, because they yell at you and say things they try to take back later on, but my mother is the opposite. The madder she gets, the less she says. I don't remember her saying much of anything that whole last year in Battle Creek.
The next morning when Mister still hadn't come back, I went out to try to find him. It didn't take long. He was lying on his side out in the ditch beside the road in front of my house. At first I thought he was sleeping, but when I picked him up, I knew right away that he was dead. I sat there by the road for a while, holding him and telling him how sorry I was that I hadn't been there to protect him. Then I took him inside, wrapped him up in a blue and white checkered dish towel, and put him in a shoe box along with a couple of cans of tuna. I got a shovel out of the garage, dug a hole, and buried him out in the backyard. Then I cried so hard, my eyes swelled shut and it looked like somebody had punched me in the face.
Excerpted from Jumping the Scratch by Sarah Weeks Copyright © 2006 by Sarah Weeks. Excerpted by permission.
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