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The Tiny One (Eliza Minot)


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  STILL WINTER

Mum's dead forever. It happened the day before yesterday. Yesterday I don't really remember. Today it's trying to snow. Mum's dead forever and the world's all different, roomy and huge. Even my own room in here seems like the walls are moving away and the ceiling's moving up. I look up at the ceiling and watch it and it seems to be slowly moving away. Things look farther.

The world's so big. It feels so big now. I'd get glimpses of it before sometimes but not really. I do stuff and feel different new things. Like I feel like I'm flying sometimes when I see something really pretty. I get lonely and, like, sing the sad songs from Oliver! up in my tree house alone and pretend I'm being filmed. I try to run so fast I think I'll pee in my pants. I feel bad and cry and stuff like that. I wear capes and masks and jump into snowbanks or piles of leaves. I get all happy and glad at things or like I love my mum so much I want to pop open my chest like a flower. I feel sorry for some people usually at the right times. I do things like dance and jump my arms around without being able to help it. But this is so different than other things. I want to explain but I can't really. It's like I'm in a rowboat and the oars are under the seat and I'm not big enough to get them out. So I drift. It's not so bad. The world's a whole different place that no one ever told me about. Or maybe even if they did I didn't listen right to hear them.

A few things are still the same I guess like it's still winter. It's still cold. It gets wicked cold here in Masconomo, Mass. Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I feel like a blister. The ocean's still down at the bottom of the hill. It gets so wicked cold sometimes that the ocean steams and the twirls of steam rising up look really excellent but spooky also like ghosts coming up from the dead.

It's still February. Sometimes for like a whole week there will be no color in the sky. It'll just be white, or gray, but then when the blue does come out from behind the clouds it's a nice light blue way up in the distance and it looks kind of more like a painting. It's still winter. We always hear the wind here since we're on a hill above the water. It flutes through the cracks around our windowpanes. It goes up and down in notes like a song. There are blue days too, bright ones, when the sea looks thick like a navy-blue Slush Puppie and the sky's like a shiny blue Easter egg, when icicles drip and you can hear them all over the place like leaks in a roof or panting animals, when the sun's so bright and the glare of the snow makes you squint like you're an Eskimo.

On those cold gray days sometimes I'd brush up against something large and important all on my own. I'd feel how big life could be, sort of, and how maybe it could change with all of the changes in it. It would be like a winter afternoon and the house would seem like it had fallen asleep. The house would be full of everyone but it would seem like it was empty, everyone asleep or something except for me--Mum and Dad taking a nap in their room, my sister Marly maybe sacked out on a couch in the living room, my oldest brother Pete probably not even woken up yet from the day before, and my other brother Cy who's the youngest except for me and comes after Marly--the order goes Pete, Marly, Cy, then me--Cy's like asleep on one of the sofas in the TV room or up in his own room maybe. The house would be so quiet that I'd pretend everyone was gone. I'd pretend that everyone had disappeared. I'd pretend that the house was all mine, just me, only me to eat the potato chips, to feed the cats, to turn the lights on and off and stuff like that.

All alone and in my house it's like I'm important and have a secret. I pretend I'm an orphan. I walk from room to room like our dog Sparky does. I sit at the piano and kind of play it. I look in drawers that I've looked in a lot before. I walk from window to window and look out. Winter. I watch Godzilla movies on Creature Double Feature. I watch Happy Days. I watch The Wide World of Sports with the wipeout guy at "the agony of defeat." I leave the TV on when I leave the room and I can hear the audience's laughter come tinkling down the hall. I wander around in the back of the house. It's full of things like skis and cardboard boxes and rotting rugs. The banister back there has paint that's excellent to peel. It's soft and gray and rubbery so it comes off in nice loose strips like moist skin. It's so soft I can push my finger against it and see my fingerprint or roll all the strips into a ball like it's Silly Putty. Underneath the gray paint there's a lime green that's so bright that I didn't think they'd invented that color in the olden days. It's nice because it's sort of against the rules to peel paint, but in the back of the house, nobody cares. But nobody's here anyway.

I walk upstairs to the widow's walk which is too narrow to even walk around. The windows are too high for me to see out of. I come back down to the front hall. The snow on the ground outside gets brighter white, almost purple, when it gets darker. Way over at the horizon through the crisscrossing black tree trunks the sunset gets redder and looks like a treasure chest being creaked open. It's like a peek into a fiery treasure that's about to seal shut.

I look out the window at all of this. I look back around inside. The clock in the kitchen twangs so softly every second that I can barely hear it. It's the same hollow twitching sound that the oven makes when Mum first turns it on. The house is so quiet. I wait a little too long to turn on the lights so that the white walls look like blue clay. It's like everybody is gone. Even the cats. Even Sparky. It feels creepy but I like it too. I feel quiet. I'm little. I feel like an Indian being tested to grow older. I feel older like I know things. Like I'm set on an adventure. Like I'm Huck Finn or an orphan and I'm sad to be alone but I like it too since it makes me feel like I'm a tough boy kid even though I'm a girl and still there's a humming inside of me that can make me feel warm. I listen and stay still. I watch the sun go down.

Then when I get bored I go upstairs to Mum and Dad's room and sit on top of Mum. Their room is getting dark. I straddle Mum's mummied body under her covers.

Her face is mashed into the pillow.

"I'm hungry," I tell her.

Mum creaks an eye open at me without moving her head. "Pumpkin," she says. Her mouth's half crushed by the way her head is. She slurps some sleepy drool in. "Where's your sister?" she says.

"Marly's sleeping," I tell her, "I think."

We hear Dad groan from his side of the bed. He's facing the other way so I can't see his face. He's not under the covers. He still has his boots on.

I'm straddling Mum. She's lying on her side so I'm straddling her hip. It's a good saddle. I bounce a little so she'll get squished to move things along. "I'm hungry," I tell her. It's Sunday. Maybe we'll have dinner in the TV room and watch a Bruins game or Donny and Marie. "Mum." I whisper it loudly. "I'm hungry, Mum."

Mum's eyes are closed again. "I feel we're constantly, constantly eating dinner," she murmurs, like talking in sleep.

"What?" I ask. While I bounce on her I can't really understand what she's saying because her voice gets disrupted in jerks. "What?" I ask. I move my face down so it's right close to her face. She smells good like sleep and cotton. My head's so close to hers that her hair is up around my face and I can pretend that her hair's mine. When she opens her eyes we're so close-up that it startles me. Then it doesn't. I like it. I smile. Me and Mum are like animals all nosed in.

"Okay," Mum says. She breathes. "Clear away so I can get up."

I don't want to because I like this. "I don't want to," I tell her.

"Good," she says. She closes her eyes. "Five more minutes."

"No!" I yell.

"Via!" says Dad from his side of the bed. I was too loud.

"Shhhh!" says Mum, pushing me away.

"Sorry," I whisper. I'm sitting back up, straddling her. "But come on," I whisper. I tug at her sleeve. "Come on," I whisper again. I sit and wait for a second. I try braiding the fringe of the bedspread that's by Mum's shoulder. I can't do it because the tassels are too short. I stop. I bounce on Mum with just little bounces. "Come on," I say. I've got lots of energy now. I want to, like, run down a hill. I want to get up and run around. "I want to get up and run around," I say, but I meant to say "Come on" again but it came out wrong, so I laugh. I'm laughing at myself and then laughing at that I'm laughing at myself.

"Uh-oh," groans Mum. She detects a laughing fit.

I laugh a little more and then I stop. I get down off of Mum and get down off of the bed. I do a back bend on the floor and stay in the arch upside down. "Look," I say. I'm upside down. "Look, Mum. Mum, look."

"I see," she says. Her head's still smushed in the pillow. "A very gifted small fry."

Then I stop and get up and stand still. It's quiet and it's getting dark and I'm all energetic. I shiver my shoulders. "Angie!" I sing. I move my hips. "I still--"

"Quiet quiet," says Mum, whispering, but it's a powerful whisper.

I stand still and wait for a second. I watch Mum. I go stand beside the bed where Mum's head is and I look down at her face and the covers. I look at her eyelashes on her closed eyes and I want to pat them like a kitten. I watch her face to see what it's going to do.

She opens her eyes. We look at each other. My mum. "Come close," she says. I'm busy looking so I forget to listen. "Come," she says again. I lie down next to her and she arms me in. She tries to put part of the covers over me but Dad's weighing them down on the other side of the bed so she can't pull them very far they're stunted like when you pull the cord for a lightbulb to turn it on and it's stuck it won't pull. She stops trying. She pulls me in farther.

I feel small and all in her arms. "Mmmm," Mum hums. I can feel her mouth saying it against the top of my head. Her arm around me under my chin smells good like grass and oranges. "Mmmm," she hums, and then I hum it too. "Mmmm," we say. We're like the cats purring. I'm all in, perfect and warm. I feel her chest up against my back. Our hearts click into each other and beat. Mum rocks a little bit and then squeezes me too. "Mmmmm," she says, getting me tighter, "this is the life, my little love. This right here."

 
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Excerpted from The Tiny One by Eliza Minot. Copyright © 1999 by Eliza Minot. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.