Excerpt from An Egg on Three Sticks by Jackie Moyer Fischer. Copyright © 2004 by Jackie Moyer Fischer. Published by St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved.
So I'm walking home from school by myself because it's Thursday which is my late day because of Girls' Glee Club after school which most other days I walk home with my best friend Poppy Cordesi who lives across the street and which her mom's divorced and no one knows where her dad is. I get to the top of our street which is a little hill and I look down on the ten houses, eleven if you count the Pierces' but they have their own private driveway which goes right out onto the highway. I look down at all the houses and they look normal as day but when I look at our house there's something different.
Not a big different, just a little different, almost like how toast smells a little different right before it burns.
I look at our dark brown house.
We have the only dark brown house on the street. Every other house is white or beige or pale green but ours is dark brown with red trim, whoever heard of that, plus the red is faded to icky pink and which I have one word for that: grossamundo.
Which is this sort of language Poppy and I made up but I'll get to that later.
I look at the dark brown and the icky pink, and something is not right. It's not just that our car is gone, which it is, and which it shouldn't be on a Thursday at four-fifteen. Everything looks weird, the sun and the sky and the clouds and it's too warm for April which by the way is my favorite month because I just had my thirteenth birthday last week so I am now officially a teenager which it's about time.
I walk down the hill and I tell myself I'm just making this up.
There's nothing wrong.ar
Except there's this thing in my stomach, this thing I get sometimes that I call the big clench only right now it's a little clench and I tell it to shut up, go away, there's nothing wrong.
I walk past the Sullivans' house, then past the five peach trees that belong to the Sullivans but we can pick peaches whenever we want because there's just Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan and they can't eat all those peaches by themselves and there are four of us, Mom and Dad and me and Lisa who's seven, but really it's more like three and a half people because Lisa is such a puny little thing and really more like three because Mom hasn't been eating much lately.
I get to our driveway and I stop and look at our front yard because even it looks weird.
The clench in my stomach gets clenchier but I tell it to shut up.
I tell myself it's just our plain old green lawn with the apricot tree and some flowers and six junipers along the fence, which Dad is threatening to take out the whole lawn and put in all junipers because he doesn't want to be a slave to that lawn anymore but then Mom always has to go lie down when he says that, but then she has to lie down a lot these days.
I get to our front walk and there's someone in our front window who is not Mom.
Which is weirdamundo.
Now I definitely have the big clench.
It's Mrs. Sierra in the window, Mrs. Sierra from next door who lives in a beige house with nothing but gravel for a driveway and who used to be a nurse with Mom in the olden days before Mom married Dad. Mrs. Sierra is this enormous woman with yellow skin who wears these tent dresses but is awfully, awfully nice, I mean you just have to like her because she's just so nice, plus you have to feel sorry for her because her son Jimmy is at this very moment over in Vietnam getting shot. I mean shot at.
Mrs. Sierra sees me and opens our icky pink front door and her little black eyes look at me all serious and concerned, and her forehead goes into a deep V and she says, Oh Abby, and her voice is so low and sad that the big clench in my stomach is turning into a very big clench.
Because even though I'm pretending to myself that I don't know what's going on, I really do.
No doubt about it.
I walk in and I say, Where's Mom?
Like I don't know.
Mrs. Sierra puts her big yellow arm around me and squeezes real tight and now I know for sure that something is wrong because it's one of those kinds of arm-hugs, the kind where there's something really, really wrong.
So now I know for sure, that thing I knew at the top of the hill.