Sweetly funny and deeply perceptive, this novel follows eleven-year-old Maya Devine's search for her mother, her father, and above all, herself, offering a fresh take on what it means to grow up and discover who you really are. Maya has always seen color around people’s bodies, and can sometimes even hear what’s going on inside their heads. These insights make everyone a bit more interesting, but the one person she'll never figure out is her mother. Marigold has never been like the other moms, but still, Maya sometimes feels like she is all she has.
When Marigold is diagnosed with cancer and vows to spend her final days in the tepee she’s set up in the backyard, neighbors and strangers, believing the dying Marigold to be a prophet, camp out in front of the family’s house. As her father grows ever more distant, Maya finds solace in the music of Corey Hart, but when Marigold’s death leaves questions unanswered, she sets off to discover the truth about her family and identity.close this panel
My father’s shiny shoes squeak on the floor as I follow him down the stairs at the end of the hallway, through the front lobby and out the entrance doors. On the other side, the August sun attacks my eyes. I suck in humid air and cough when I release it.
A news reporter, cameraman, and a small crowd of women wait in the parking lot of the hospital. They have signs that say, “Prayer Can Save a Life,” “Tragedy of 1985,” and “Marigold, You Are Divine.” When we walk by, a woman thrusts a microphone close to my father’s lips.
“Mr. Devine, can you give us a quick update on your wife’s condition?”
“My wife’s condition …” he holds me behind him with his arm, “… has deteriorated to the point of expiration.”
Then he grabs my wrist and pushes us past the lady, bumping her with the side of his body. Someone behind us starts to cry and I turn to look at her: large hips, permed hair, bouncing shoulders. “Be strong, dear!” she shouts out to me. “You have two angels watching over you now!” I don’t turn back as we stagger across the concrete. I don’t want to tell her the truth, that I’m not sure if Mother ever did enough nice things to become an angel.
When we are seated in my father’s car, and the leather seats have attached themselves to my thin legs, he speaks. “I was glad they let you stay in there by yourself. Those damn nurses didn’t think you were old enough, but I told them you were a hell of a lot more mature than any eleven–year–old I knew.” He reaches out to touch the top of my hand, but then pulls away.
“It was fine,” I answer without looking at him. “I’m almost twelve.” He turns the key in the ignition and the engine sputters, then stops.
“Fucking piece of shit,” my father says and I shoot him a stare that fills the entire inside of the car. “Sorry,” he says. I glimpse the colour swirling around his head, brownish and muddy like a river after a storm. He has no idea what he is in the middle of.
He tries to start the car again and this time it goes, winding up to spew cool air into my face from a vent on the dash.
We say nothing, express nothing.
As we drive home, I concentrate on the world through the glass of the window. Trees, buildings, cars, all a blur to me — Saskatoon has never seemed so big. When we drive over the river, I look down into the water at a person in a silver boat. Is he waving at me? Or is he just sitting there, alone, waiting for something to happen?
Emerald Crescent looks the same as when my mother lived there, houses lined up behind green lawns, fathers starting mowers and whackers, cats laid out on the sunny sidewalk. A couple of kids run through a sprinkler in the grass, screeching each time the water sprays the naked parts of their bodies. Their mother sits on the front step, smiling at the rainbows growing in the mist above their heads.
When we reach our house, the windows from my bedroom look like eyes and the door, a closed mouth. We fill the empty driveway and get out; two car doors slam. No one greets us.
“We’re not taking it down,” I tell my father.
“The teepee. It’s staying there. Maybe forever.” I’m surprised to be feeling sentimental about the stained pieces of tarp holding in the stinky space where my mother gave up on her life.
“Fine, Maya. Whatever you want.”
I have not won the argument — teepee or not, my mother is not coming back. And this man I call my father, this man fumbling with the lock on the front door of my house, makes me feel like I have just been orphaned.
“You must be hungry,” he says in the kitchen, taking a box of Kraft Dinner out of the cupboard and shaking it in the air. Its rattle scrapes against my backbone, causing me to wince in irritation.
“I don’t want that!” I snap at him. “I’ll just eat grapes.” I look down at the bowl of shrivelled green grapes on the counter, the ones we tried to get my mother to eat days earlier. The ones she touched before she refused them. I pop the grapes into my mouth, ingesting my mother’s fingerprints one by one, squirting tartness between my teeth.
“I’m going to sleep for a while then,” my father says, throwing the box on the counter and whipping his tie out of his collar. “We’ll talk later.” His voice shakes a bit when he says it. He hobbles away from me and up the stairs, a defeated man, leaving me with nothing but the smell of his aftershave — cedar and citrus. I wrinkle my face until it fades. I wonder then if it was true what Mother said before she went, that she didn’t deserve him. And if he meant what he said back, that he wasn’t a very good husband.
Allison Baggio is a writer whose work has appeared in numerous magazines and publications, including Room, sub-Terrain Magazine, Today’s Parent, and the Toronto Star. She is a graduate of York University and the Humber School for Writers. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.close this panel
"Baggio's colorful writing and quirky imagery give life to the story as a whole, propping up even the direst of circumstances. And the absurdity of Maya's situation lends it a comical tinge. It's not outwardly funny, but quietly humorous, like the whole thing is an inside joke between the reader and the author." —The Weekender (December 2011)
"An immensely satisfying coming-of-age tale and a remarkable first novel." “Chatelaine (October 2011)
"This book was quick to read. I enjoyed it, though it's not a feel-good book—it's profoundly sad. It would be a great read for a book club because there are so many layers." —Canadian Family (December 2011)close this panel