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Excerpt from Upside Down Magic
Nory Horace was trying to turn herself into a kitten.
The kitten had to be a black kitten. And it had to be completely kitten-shaped.
It was the middle of summer. Nory was hiding in her family’s garage. Kitten, kitten, kitten, she thought.
She was hiding in case something went wrong. She didn’t want anyone to see. Still, if something went really wrong, her brother and sister would be close enough to hear her yell for help.
Or meow for help.
Nory decided not to think about that. Hopefully, she wouldn’t need help.
Kitten, kitten, kitten.
She had to master kitten, because tomorrow was the Big Test. Tomorrow, after so many years of waiting, she would finally take the entrance exam for Sage Academy.
The school was very hard to get into. You wouldn’t be accepted with anything less than amazing talents. Nory’s friends weren’t even bothering to try. They were all taking tests for easier schools.
If Nory passed the Big Test, she would start fifth grade at Sage Academy in the fall.
If she failed the test . . .
No. She couldn’t fail. She wasn’t taking tests for any other schools.
It is nearly dusk when we finally make it back to our own pasture. I am sweaty, dehydrated, and can barely focus on keeping the truck on the wagon trail. I keep that last bit to myself. For the first time ever, I am happy to see the house.
“Oh-oh, here comes Dad,” Victoria says.
He runs through the corral, toward the truck. His legs move fast but his face moves slow. I wish it were Victoria and not me behind the wheel. His hand reaches for the driver’s side door before I even brake.
“Where in the hell have you been with my truck? I’ve been waiting all day for you two,” he says, wearing clean jeans and an ironed, crisp, blue checked shirt.
“We parked the truck and walked to Batoche,” I say. I want to tell him about Dumont but he is in no mood.
“No more driving privileges. The truck is officially off limits.” He reaches his hand through the window, opening my door from the inside. A whiff of freshly applied, spicy deodorant stings my nostrils.
“But we didn’t drive on any roads,” I say. He ignores me. “Why? Until when?”
“Until I say so, that’s when. Everyone out of the truck. I’ve got to make it to the university before everyone leaves. The university is screwing me around. I can’t feed you two on one course. Out, now! That means all of you.” His eyes are wide with adrenalin. His glasses look comical on top of them. Marx won’t budge. The red on Dad’s neck crawls up the sides of his face, resembling mutton-chop side burns. “Marx, get the hell out of the truck. Move—bad dog!” A whimper escapes Marx’s floppy lips. Dad sighs a heavy, about to vomit his soul, sigh. He jumps in the truck. “Open the gate Lydia!” he says, through the open window. Victoria and I lift the corral gate. He speeds past with Marx at his side.
“Why is he taking Marx with him to the university?” Victoria says. Her fists clutch the back of my sleeve, as though, somehow, I’ll protect her from the craziness that is our father.
“No clue. Maybe he’s finally snapped, lost his mind.” The truck brakes abruptly at the end of the driveway. Dad jumps out and starts to yell. I can’t make out the words. He gets back in the cab but leaves the passenger side door open. Marx’s butt emerges from the truck. He’s being forcibly pushed out, arse first. Marx tries to jump back in but the truck door slams shut and it drives off, spitting gravel and leaving Marx behind in a cloud of dust.
Mom sits at the kitchen at the table, a flypaper, plastered with dead flies, swings low over her head, threatening to attach itself to her hair. She’s been crying. Her eyes turn turquoise when she cries.
“What’s wrong?” I say. Mom closes her eyes and shakes her head. “Tell me Mom, please.”
“Nothing. Nothing is wrong. Just leave me alone, okay?”
Victoria opens the fridge, looks inside momentarily and then slams the door. “What can I drink? I’m dying here!”
“Close the fridge—have a glass of water,” Mom says.
“Are you crazy? The water tastes like shit,” Victoria says. She rolls her eyes dramatically as she passes Mom. Her braids are nearly completely unravelled on top, like two budding devil horns.
“Upstairs, now!” Mom says.
“Get a grip,” Victoria says, stomping up stairs.
“Victoria can be a real bitch sometimes,” I say, bending over Mom from behind and wrapping my arms around her shoulders. Her hair smells stale, a little greasy, and kinda like dandruff. It smelled good in Vancouver, like peppermint from the mousse she used. “Mom, when was the last time you washed your hair?” I say. She forcibly breaks free of my embrace. She bolts down the basement stairs and slams her bedroom door. I wait, standing behind her empty chair until I no longer hear her muffled sobs.
Shit is right. There is nothing in the fridge but milk and Dad’s light beer. I hate milk. I grab a beer and climb the oak staircase to my room, pausing to look out the landing window at the giant orange beach ball rising above the poplars. The dingy staircase wall is painted warm amber in its light. It’s too beautiful. A sharp pinch of sadness twists beneath my ribs. I know what it is, the harvest moon. Prairie summers don’t last forever.
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