This kid was nursed on a pickle," Madeleine liked to tell anyone who would listen.
Meaning me, of course, Homer Winthrop. "Nursed on a pickle and weaned on prune
juice." She said it now, catching a look at my face in her rearview mirror.
Well, so what? I enjoyed being a pickle. I enjoyed sulking and not talking. I planned to
not talk all the way into Maine. But it was going to be hard, I saw as we crossed the
bridge into the state. This place was already looking interesting. The river was named
the Piscataqua, probably after Indians.
"Pis-CAT-aqua," I said accidentally. "Or PiscaTA-qua. Or, no, PIS-cat-aqua."
"Gesundheit," Madeleine answered.
Don't talk, I reminded myself. I closed my eyes.
"Homer, are you all right?" This was my mother speaking. She'd been spinning around
in her seat to at me about once every twenty minutes since we'd left Boston.
I didn't answer, just opened my eyes very wide. I'd done this the whole trip, which was
making my eyeballs feel kind of funny, like I might be doing them damage. I wasn't, of
course. My mother would have said so if this were the case. She lived to say things like
that. Now Madeleine (latest in our long line of housekeepers, drivers, general all-round-
slaves-to-my-mother) was different. When she caught me popping my eyeballs, she just
popped hers right back. That was a sight worth seeing. Hers were so poppy you just sort
of waited, thinking they'd bounce over the seat and into your lap.
My mother sighed. I closed my eyes again. We started and stopped and started and
stopped and drove for a while and then stopped again.
"Lord have mercy," Madeleine said. "At least in Boston the traffic jams while it's still
"Oh, Madeleine, I believe that's a contradiction in terms."
And there you had it-the perfect example of what was wrong with my mother. Let
Madeleine say something perfectly clear and interesting, and along would come Dr.
Winthrop, the linguist, to pick it apart and take all the fun out of it. My mother heard
words instead of what a person was saying. Why bother to talk? I wanted to tell
Madeleine, but that'd be like telling a boat not to float.
I opened my eyes and stared at the back of my mother's head: a circle with a bun in the
middle, all perfect and neat. I stared at the boingy-haired triangle sticking out to the tips of her shoulders. A bird could be living in there. A twittery, fluttery bird. I believe those two heads told you all you needed to know. If I were drawing those heads, I'd —
"Oh my," my mother said suddenly. "Oh my, oh my." Her hand tapped away at her
chest like one of those fluttery birds.
"Oh my what?" Madeleine asked. "You all right over there?"
My mother nodded, but her hand went on tapping. Madeleine shot her a look. I shot her
a few myself. Not much fluttered my mother. In fact, nothing fluttered her except
headaches, and those were more like a knockout punch
"Here's where we turn, Madeleine," she said suddenly, her voice sort of shaky and
squeaky like I'd never heard it before. "We're on the peninsula. Herring Cove is right at
the end of it." I studied the back of her head. A lock of hair had popped out of the bun,
and now her neck looked different. Ridges had appeared at the base of it. Something
major was up. Something bigger than a vacation -something much bigger. Which I
should have known since my mother did not take vacations. Since my mother did not
usually spin in her seat.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Following Fake Man by Barbara Ware Holmes. Copyright © 2001 by Barbara Ware Holmes. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.