About the Author

Richard Scrimger

RICHARD SCRIMGER is the award-winning author of many acclaimed novels and picture books for young readers and adults. His works have been translated into several languages and have been critically acclaimed around the world. His first children’s novel, The Nose from Jupiter, won the tenth annual Mr. Christie’s Book Award. His young adult novels Into the Ravine and From Charlie’s Point of View were named Canadian Library Association Young Adult Honour Books, and his latest adult novel, Mystical Rose, was a Globe and Mail book of the year. He lives in Cobourg, Ontario. Visit Richard online at www.scrimger.ca or follow him on Twitter @richardscrimger.

Books by this Author
A Nose for Adventure
Excerpt

Chapter 1: My Stomach, Lost and Lonely

The plane lurches sharply, leaving my stomach behind. I hate that feeling. I look out the window on my right, half expecting to see my stomach hurrying after me to catch up. I see clouds up close, wisps of gray, and then sky – nothing but sky for miles in all directions, including down. I think about crashing. I think about my stomach, lost and lonely without me, floating in midair, full of orange juice and breakfast cereal. These thoughts don’t make me feel better. I groan.

“Stop that,” says the girl beside me.

It’s my first airplane trip all by myself. All alone. My mom is hiking in the woods with a group of troubled kids from work. My dad is waiting at the airport for my plane to land. I hope we land. I hope he’s waiting. I check my pants pocket for the American quarter my mom put there. “This is your emergency quarter,” she told me, frowning fiercely, buttoning up my pocket herself. I’m thirteen; I hate it when she does stuff like that. “If your father isn’t there when the plane lands, call him, and yell at him for me. Okay?”

My fingers touch the quarter, and the slip of paper with the phone number of my dad’s office. I’m starting to feel better. I take a deep breath, and try to relax. And then the plane swoops down. I’m in row 17 – I figure my stomach is back around row 24. I groan again.

“Shut up, will you, kid,” says the girl beside me. Her name is Frieda Miller. She’s fourteen, a year older than me. She’s seen it all. I told her my name – Alan – but she just laughed and called me kid.

“You sound like you’re going to be sick,” she says. “Are you?” Her hand is on the armrest between our seats. She has scarred knuckles and thick strong fingers.

I don’t say anything.

“Are you going to be sick, kid?” she asks. “Your face is a weird yellowy green color. You’d better hang on to your airsick bag. Keep your head down. Don’t turn it this way. I don’t want you to be sick on my new pantsuit. It’s a designer original.”

If I turn that way, I’ll be looking at her. Of course I don’t do it.

She laughs. “Yellowy green, like the stripes on your stupid shirt. And you’re sweating. You sure look funny.”

She’s chewing minty gum. I can smell it. How can Frieda be so calm? The plane is diving around like a swallow after mosquitoes. My stomach makes its way slowly back towards my row, then the plane banks into a tight turn, and we drift apart again. The ground – actually, the skyscrapers of New York – appear in the window.

“Where did you get that shirt, anyway?” Frieda asks. “It’s too big. Is it your dad’s? And why does it have a picture of a donut on it?”

I don’t answer.

Poor Dad, he’ll probably be upset if we crash. I’m his only child, after all, even though he and Mom are divorced and we only see each other in the summer. Our local radio station back home will make a big deal of it too: Among those believed killed in the New York City plane disaster is Cobourg’s own Alan Dingwall.

My ears are tight enough to explode. Then they do. Ouch.

Veronica wanders by. She’s a special flight attendant who’s been assigned to Frieda and me, seeing as we’re kids flying on our own. Veronica has a great big smile on her face all the time, even when she’s not talking about happy things. Like now. “We’re going down,” she says, smiling happily. “Going down now.”

Down! That’s why my ears are popping. I try to stay calm, but I don’t succeed. “AAAAGH!” I shout. “No! NO! No! Why? Why me?!”

The passengers across the aisle are looking over.

Frieda pats me on the arm. Her grin is wide and mean. Her teeth are white. “She means we’re landing, stupid,” she says.

“What?” Did I hear right? My ears pop some more. My heart is pounding. “We’re not crashing?” I say to Veronica. “We’re going to live?”

Veronica smiles and nods. “You’re going to be fine,” she says. “Would you like some gum?” Her smile seems separate from her face. Like a mask. I wonder if she takes it off at night before going to bed.

“Sure,” I say.

“I have my own,” says Frieda.

Veronica gives me some gum and walks away.

“Want to arm wrestle again?” asks Frieda.

“Nope.” My arm aches from the last time.

“Come on,” she says. “I’ll use my wrong arm. I’ll use only two fingers. You still won’t win, but the match will last longer. Come on!”

I shake my head.

Frieda’s wheelchair falls over.

*****

Frieda is not sitting in the wheelchair when it falls. She’s in a regular airplane seat like me. But she’s usually in a wheelchair. Her legs don’t work very well. They never have, not since she was born. She explained it to me when we sat down together at the start of the flight. Actually, she went on and on about it. I was too scared to pay much attention, but I was happy to hear her voice in the background, talking about muscles and bones that don’t do what they should. Her legs are a mess, is about it. She’s had a dozen operations to fix them, and they’re still a mess. One of her doctors works at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Frieda flies between New York and Toronto a lot. Her Aunt Mary Lee – I think that’s what she said – lives in Toronto, and Frieda stays with her when she’s getting checked out. She’s flying home to New York City now.

Frieda hasn’t explained why she’s on the flight alone. Her dad is a New York state representative, whatever that is. Sounds important. Maybe that’s why he’s not on the flight with her. She hasn’t mentioned her mom at all. Mostly, she’s been making fun of me, talking about my clothes, my hair, where I live, the way I say words like “house” and “about” and “roof.” Oh yes, and she’s been beating me at arm wrestling. Frieda’s strong – her forearms must be twice as thick around as mine.

It’s been a lot of fun, sitting beside her.

We’re up at the front of the plane, with a wall in front of us. When we were getting seated, Veronica folded the wheelchair up very carefully and stowed it against the wall. With all the swooping and sailing around we were doing right now, the straps that tied the chair in place must have loosened. Anyway, the wheelchair falls onto the rug in front of me.

I get out of my window seat and try to lift the chair back into position. It’s heavy and awkward. Veronica comes up behind me and grabs my arm. Her fingers are white. She’s squeezing hard. Ouch.

“Don’t you see the sign?” she asks. “Keep your seat belt on at all times during the descent.”

“Sorry,” I say.

“He couldn’t lift the chair anyway,” says Frieda, with a sneer.

“The passengers, and their belongings, are my responsibility,” Veronica says.

“Sure,” I say, after a pause. Her smile looks real, but she’s upset. “Whatever you say.”

I climb back into my seat.

“Good,” says Veronica.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.

The plane is pointing down. Out the window I see water. My ears pop. The plane corkscrews around again. My stomach is flattened against my spine. My eyeballs almost fall out.

We will be landing at La Guardia Airport in a couple of minutes. It’s eight thirty, and a warm and cloudy summer morning in New York City. Thanks for flying Air Canada. We hope to see you again soon.

The water gets closer and closer. The engine noise, which is loud, gets even louder. I shut my eyes and think of Mom. And Dad at the airport. I think of Miranda, my… well, sort of girlfriend, who promised to write to me every day. And Victor, my best friend, who didn’t. And then there’s a bump and we start to roll. We’re on the ground, and Frieda is yawning. My pulse slows. My eyeballs and stomach settle back where they belong.

The plane trip is over. I don’t ever want to fly again. Unfortunately, I’ve got a return ticket.

*****

We get off last. Frieda is in the wheelchair now, pushing herself forward. Her forearm muscles ripple. The wheelchair is gray leather and chrome tubing, with trekker deluxe on the side, and black plastic grip handles at the back. Veronica stays close beside it. I hold open the doors to the terminal building.

We pass crowds of people waiting to fly out of New York. We pass lines of people waiting to get their hand luggage X-rayed. I did all this back in Toronto, with Mom.

Frieda obviously knows the way. After we pass a line of people waiting to walk through a metal detector, she spins around in her chair and backs into a door marked private. The door opens on a dingy hall with an elevator, which takes us down to the baggage pickup area. This is a big basement of a room, with conveyor belts of suitcases going around and around in tight circles.

Frieda pushes herself to the front of the crowd of waiting passengers. “Out of the way,” she says, in a bored tone of voice, like she’s done this millions of times. “Coming through.”

I follow behind. My clothes are in an equipment bag, which is easy to spot because the team name is printed on the side in big white letters. I lean over, but mistime my reach. My bag slides away. Frieda snickers. When it comes around again, she reaches out one arm and hoists it up.

“It’s the same colors as your shirt,” she says with a laugh. “Who are the Commodores?”

“My soccer team,” I say.

“Soccer,” she says, disdainfully. “What a stupid game. Who’d want a soccer bag?”

I’m worried. I haven’t seen my dad in months, and I’m going to be spending the next week with him. And I’m mad at Frieda. “Soccer players,” I say, quietly. “And, well, the chess team doesn’t get equipment bags.”

Now I feel bad. Of course she doesn’t play soccer. “Sorry,” I say, blushing. With my red hair, a blush makes my whole head look like it’s on fire. She turns away.

Frieda’s luggage is taking awhile. Veronica’s permanent smile is starting to show signs of wear. “Only fifteen minutes until nine o’clock,” she says. She doesn’t say what will happen at nine o’clock.

Across the room is a corridor with a sign that says way out.

“There it is.” Frieda points to a brown and black leather suitcase with gold stitching. It looks like it cost a lot more than my soccer bag.

Veronica leans over the conveyor belt and grabs the suitcase. I pick up my bag. The way out corridor is in shadow. Way out to what? My dad will be at the end of the corridor, waiting for me.

*****

“Oh, look at the sweetie!” I think that’s the first nice thing I’ve heard out of Frieda’s mouth. She points to a police dog on a leash. The dog doesn’t look like a sweetie to me. It looks tough and alert. It sits in one place, swiveling its head around, searching for bad guys. The policeman holding the dog’s leash looks tough too – but not alert. His head is still. He’s staring at nothing in particular. His uniform is different from the ones at home. He looks like a cop on TV.

“I’m not allowed to have a dog,” says Frieda. “But I wish I could. Hi, sweetie!” she calls. The dog looks over, briefly, then goes back to work.

For a second she – Frieda, not the dog – gets this look of real longing on her face. I know the look. I get it too, sometimes. She wants a pet. She wants something to stroke and cuddle, something to talk to and play with. Something to love.

*****

There’s a desk beside the way out corridor. A tall thin guy stands behind it, frowning at us.

“Took your time,” he says. “My shift ends at nine, you know.”

“Sorry,” says Veronica.

The tall thin guy wears a white shirt, with a crest on the pocket. He’s holding a clipboard. “Baggage tags,” he says, in a raspy voice.

Oh, yeah. Mom went over and over this with me. You can’t take your baggage without a tag. I feel for mine in my pocket. Frieda already has her tag out. We hand them over. The skinny guy doesn’t seem to care about my tag. He puts it in his pocket. But he stares at Frieda’s, then at her suitcase.

“This doesn’t match,” he says. He has a long face and a long thin nose. His voice rasps like a file.

“Of course it does,” she says.

He shows her the tag in his hand. It isn’t even the right color.

“That’s not the one I gave you,” she says. “That’s someone else’s tag. You got it out of your pocket.”

“I’m going to have to ask you some questions,” he says.

“That’s someone else’s tag, I said.”

“Are you an American citizen?”

He looks official. Clipboard and everything. If he were talking to me, I’d answer. Frieda doesn’t. She raises her eyebrow. “It’s a mistake!” she says. “Besides, we went through customs before we left Canada.”

He makes a note on his clipboard. His fingers and fingernails are as long and thin as the rest of him. “Are you bringing anything in from Canada?” he says.

“But they asked already.…”

“Better answer,” says Veronica. “Follow the routine. This kind of mistake has happened to me too.”

Frieda sighs. “All right, all right. These Ancient Egyptian earrings,” she says. “My aunt got them for me at the museum shop in Toronto.”

“Ancient Egyptian?” He stares. I stare too. The earrings look like birds.

“Well, they’re not real, course. They’re copies. The hawk is the symbol of Horus.”

We studied Ancient Egypt in school. “Horus the god?” I say, to let her know I know.

“No, Horus the dentist,” she snaps. “Of course, Horus the god. You know a lot of other Horuses?”

“Horus!” His skinny nose twitches towards Veronica. “Isn’t that –” He breaks off, shaking his head.

A tall tanned lady stalks towards us, dragging a suitcase on little wheels. She’s wearing leopard sandals; her dark red toenails look like claws. She tosses her baggage tag onto the desk and stalks away. “Bureaucrats,” she says, making it sound like a dirty word. I watch her all the way down the way out corridor.

My dad will be waiting at the other end of the corridor. He’ll ask what the plane trip was like, and I’ll say it was fine. I won’t be able to tell him how scared I felt. He flies all the time; he wouldn’t understand. Will he think my shirt and soccer bag are stupid? Probably not. He probably won’t notice what I’m wearing.

The skinny guy puts down his clipboard. “And now I’m afraid we’re going to have to search your chair – I mean, baggage,” he says to Frieda. “Could you go into the blue room, please?” He points behind him. Halfway down the corridor is a small blue door with the sign: employees only.

Frieda looks snooty. “You can’t search my baggage,” she says.

“I am a government employee.” His raspy voice deepens. “I have all sorts of powers.”

Sounds like he’s Aquaman. He doesn’t look the part at all.

“My father is a state representative,” she says. “I’ve never been searched before.”

“Don’t worry,” says Veronica. “It won’t take long. I’ll just take Alan to meet his father, and then I’ll come and be with you.”

“I don’t need anyone to be with me,” says Frieda. “I’ll be fine. And I don’t need to have my baggage searched by any government employee,” she adds, glaring.

The conveyor belt goes around and around. The policeman leans against the wall, picking his teeth with the corner of a book of matches. I don’t see the dog.

I grab my bag and make for the way out. Veronica doesn’t have much to say to me, and I don’t have anything to say to her. The noise gets louder. I feel like an athlete, going down the tunnel that leads from the dressing room to the stadium. I get past the blue door, reach the end of the corridor, and stop.

*****

Not a stadium. It’s too dingy, too narrow, too low. But is it ever busy! I see more people, probably, in five seconds, than there are in my whole home town. Thousands and thousands of them – walking quickly, talking quickly, hugging and handshaking, dodging each other like pinballs in a fast-moving arcade game. Even the hugs and handshakes happen fast. I get bumped into from behind by a passenger hurrying by me. He disappears into the moving crowd like a snowflake into a river.

I stand at the end of the corridor and stare around me with a strange feeling in the middle of my chest. Not my stomach this time. I can feel my heart sinking. I stare harder.

I see babies and toddlers and kids and teens and tough guys. I see movie stars and nuns and cowboys. I see people on holiday and on business – old people, sad people, poor people, rich people. I see a familiar face: the skinny guy. He hurries past me into the crowd. I guess his shift is over, and he’s finished searching Frieda’s luggage. I notice that he’s left the blue door open behind him.

My heart sinks further, keeps sinking, and finally goes down for the third time. No matter how hard I look, I can’t see my dad.

He’s not waiting for me. That’s what Mom’s afraid of, and has been ever since Dad mentioned the trip to me. I fight down anxiety like a mouthful of cooked carrots. I hate cooked carrots.

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Downside Up
Excerpt

It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been looking down. I think about that sometimes, what it means. Down. I was looking down, all right.
I walked out of school bouncing Casey’s old tennis ball, like usual. Until Lance Levy kicked it out of my hand and I ran after it.
“Yesss!” Lance called. “See that? See the way I kicked Berdit’s stupid tennis ball right out of his hand? Yesssssss!”
His voice chased me across the playground, then passed me, fading into the distance as Lance raced away down the street. He was the fastest kid in sixth grade. Yesss he was.
I was holding onto the ball when I came up to Velma Dudding, who was on the sidewalk in front of the school. I thought about saying hi to her. Or bye. Or see you tomorrow. But I didn’t. Her mom drove up and Velma slipped into the front seat of the SUV. I walked on.
Izzy was waiting for me at the top of Sorauren Park. 
“Hey, Fred,” she said.
“Hey.”
Now that I was closer to home I was bouncing the ball and catching it again.
“I changed my screen saver. Wanna see it?” said Izzy.
“Nah.”
My eyes were on the ground. Cracked pavement. Weeds. Ants. Dirt. The tennis ball made a flat, hollow sound when it bounced.
“Come on, take a look. Harry has a new hat.”
“Nah.”
She’s my big sister. Isabel. We both go to Sir John A. Macdonald Public School. She’s in eighth grade, two years ahead of me. We cut across the bottom of Sorauren Park, crossed Wabash Avenue and headed down toward Wright Avenue. I bounced my ball off the paved path and caught it. Off the grass. Caught it again.
Izzy walked ahead of me. Her runners were broken at the back. The red heels flapped up and down. They looked like little mouths, opening and closing.
“Race you home, Fred!” she said.
“Huh?”
“Race you! Come on. From here to the back door. Ready . . . set . . . go.”
I gave up after a few steps. She stopped, turned back for me.

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Ink Me

Ink Me

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Ink Me Unabridged Audiobook

Ink Me Unabridged Audiobook

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Lucky Jonah

Lucky Jonah

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback
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Mystical Rose
Excerpt

Finding

Your eyes are very dark. And sad. They’re so sad. Why is that? What have You done that’s so terrible? You’re okay – what am I saying, of course You’re okay. You don’t have anything to be sad about. Cheer up. Dry those tears. Turn that frown upside down. You can do it. You can do anything.

So why are You crying? There, now You’ve got me doing it too.

Water. Tears are water. All around me is water, rising, slopping against everything. Rising inside of my lungs, choking me. Just like it was the last time. Oh, Mama. All that commotion, and I can’t breathe. Cold, so cold.

A long time ago now.

How much has happened, how many births and deaths and givings in marriage, heartaches and headaches, love and laughter, wars and breakfasts. How much life.

Harriet’s always telling everyone how much I love life. My daughter, don’t blame me for the name; it was Robbie’s choice. He laughed when I suggested Gert, my best friend in grade school. No, I’m serious, I said, and he laughed some more. Mother loves life, says Harriet. A wonderful woman, my daughter. I hope I had as much energy when I was her age.

Here she is now, standing beside You. Does she see You? Her mouth is open but she’s not talking to You. She reaches towards me, huge white hands – she got them from Robbie too, along with the name. My hands are fine and delicate, pretty hands, my mother used to say. How could anyone mistake you for a boy, with such pretty hands, my baby? Pretty hands grabbing her veil, her big hat, her cambric handkerchief. Oh dear, I’m drowning again.
Harriet wipes my face. It feels nice. She says, There there, but I don’t know where she means. This is a hospital, there’s only here here.

Her hands are as cold as grade school. I used to get there before the teacher, who came in a cart all the way from Cobourg, six miles each way, almost two hours in the winter. I had to walk a mile down the Harwood Road to Precious Corners, and by the time I got to the schoolhouse I’d be frozen. A beautiful time of day, the sun rising over snow-covered fields. But cold. First one to school had to light the stove. The kindling used to smell of mice and dust. The fire was friendly and warm. Sometimes the boys used to throw each other’s homework in.

Four years old and no daddy. He’s off at The War, my mama told me. So was my friend Gert’s daddy. He was a farmer too, like my daddy. Mama cried. So did Gert’s mama. She had red hair and a face like a harvest moon. What’s The War? I asked, but Mama wouldn’t answer. What’s The War? I asked the teacher. A terrible thing.

I stayed away from the school in the spring, to help Mama and Victor with the farm. Lettuces and cabbages and corn to plant and pigs to feed, until the pigs all got sick. Six years old and no school. The teacher would come by in the evenings, to tell me what I’d missed. She brought the newspaper with her. There’s been a terrible battle at a place called Loos, she’d say. Or Gallipoli. All the places were strange sounding. Mama cried. The newspaper smelled like the inside of the teacher’s coat pocket. Then the letter arrived from Ottawa, saying Daddy was coming home. He got sick just like the pigs, but they died and he didn’t. Mama and I met him at the station in town, with all the neighbours. He hugged us and then limped over to talk to Gert’s mama. She fainted.

The leg wound got better, but Daddy was different inside. He didn’t care about anything any more, as if The War had taken out the part of him that minded. The seed corn came up too late, and the cabbages got holes in them, and he didn’t mind. Something broke into the barnyard in the middle of the night, maybe a coyote, and took our chickens, and he didn’t mind. My teacher died of the flu, and they closed the school until they could find someone else, and he didn’t mind. For days and days he wouldn’t get out of bed. Mama did her best with the harvest, and neighbours gave us help and meat, but the snow lasted a long time that year, and some days we had nothing to eat but cabbages and stale bread. We needed new furniture, Mama said so, and I needed new clothes, but Daddy said he didn’t mind the table and chairs we had. And Rose looks fine, he said. He sat by himself at the dinner table, close to the bottle of poison. That’s what Mama called it. His hair was grey.

I would have been ten when Victor broke his leg and couldn’t get up. I saw him first and ran to the house for help. Daddy came with me to the barn, stood outside the stall while Victor flopped around in his stall. I was crying. Daddy watched for a long time, then went to the house for his gun. I stayed in my room, and Daddy fired four shots at Victor’s head. I heard them. Horses have hard heads, you have to hit them just right. Victor would have told me that, later. Or do I mean Uncle Brian?

Is Dr. Berman in Your way? He’s new. He has an odd first name – Sunday, would it be – and he introduces himself by it. You could ask him to move, You know. Or You could blast him with the power of the worm that dieth not. I wonder what he’s saying to my daughter. His teeth are very expressive.

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Noses Are Red
Excerpt

Chapter 1: Ahead of Myself

“Quick!” shouts Victor. “Quick, Alan, run for it!”

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“They’re everywhere! Hurry!”

He runs, pulling me after him by the neck. The dust cloud rises all around us, and the sound is in my ears – once heard, never forgotten – the buzz-saw whine of a million angry enemies. I can’t get at them with the aluminum construction on my head. I run as fast as I can, considering that I can hardly see where I’m going.

“Help! Christopher!” I cry. “Help, anyone!”

Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.

*****

Sorry. You’re probably wondering what on earth is going on. Who’s Victor? you ask. Who’s Christopher? What aluminum construction? Who are these angry enemies, and why can’t you get at them?

Fair enough. Let me go back a bit further, and start again. Ahem.

It all began on a beautiful spring morning about thirteen years ago. Cobourg, a pretty small town beside Lake Ontario – no, no, make that a small, pretty town beside Lake Ontario – was bathed in sunshine. The sky was a cloudless blue. The birds were singing their little heads off in the bushes outside the window of the hospital room. Inside that room was a tired new mom named Helen Dingwall. Mrs. Dingwall to you. She was learning how to put a cloth diaper on a baby. “Under and over,” she muttered. “Around and up and pin it like… this. Oops!” She stabbed the baby with the pin. The baby opened his mouth wide and screamed.

“Oh, you poor thing!” my mom said to me. I screamed some more.

No, wait again. Come to think of it, that’s probably too far back.

*****

I’ll try one more time. Fast-forward through my early years – teething, disposable diapers (finally no more pins!), singing “Clementine” to my nana while standing up in my crib, kindergarten, measles – and get to last June. I went to New York City to visit my dad. (My parents are divorced. No big deal. Maybe yours are too.) While I was having adventures with a snotty rich kid and her dog Sally (long story, no time to get into it now), my mom met Christopher.

He’s important to this chapter of the Alan Dingwall chronicles, so I’ll describe him right off. Christopher Leech: tall and thick, with thick dark hair and a thick dark mustache. Thick arms too – he’s really strong. He can lift our big armchair over his head with one hand, holding on to the chair leg. He spends a lot of time lifting weights at the local YMCA – that’s where he met my mom. He’s kind of handsome, I guess. He has a lot of big sweaters. He’s my mom’s age, more or less. Old.

Shortly after I got back from New York, he moved in with us. He has a place of his own, but he stays with us for days on end. Sounds cosy, but it isn’t really. There’s something about him I don’t like. Quite a few things, actually. His name suits him: Leech by name, and leech by nature. I don’t like the way he dresses. I don’t like the way he checks himself in the mirror. I don’t like the way he peers around when he kisses Mom. He’ll be giving her a peck on the cheek, and all the time his eyes are moving around the room, as if he’s on the lookout for the cops. I wonder if he’s on the run? It wouldn’t surprise me.

To be honest, I don’t like him kissing Mom at all.

We don’t get on very well. He started off calling me my boy, and I told him I wasn’t his boy. “I already have a dad,” I said. “I’m his boy, not yours.” Mom sighed, and Christopher apologized. Yesterday he tried calling me Young Dingwall. That didn’t last long. “What are you up to tonight, Young Dingwall?” he asked.

“Playing cards, Old Leech,” I replied.

He choked, spilling beer all over. “Why, you little…,” he began, and then caught himself.

*****

In the evening Mom called me downstairs from the TV room. “Alan, I think we should have a talk,” she said. I hate that phrase. I shuffled from foot to foot in our living room. We were all alone in the house; Christopher had gone back to his place to get some more sweaters.

“What about?”

“Sit down, first.”

She patted the couch beside her. I took the yellow chair. I sat with my feet on the floor, then spun around so that I was sitting upside down with my feet dangling over my head.

“Alan, sit straight!” A harsh voice. You’d think she’d be nice, seeing as she works with troubled kids all the time, but that’s the way it goes. I swung around so that my head was right way up.

“What should we talk about?” I asked.

“You and Christopher.”

“Old Leech?” I smiled. I couldn’t help it.

“Alan!”

“Sorry.”

She folded her arms and spoke sternly. “I’m very worried about the way you and he don’t get along. I’m disappointed in you, Alan. Christopher has tried to get along with you. He has done his part. He has extended the hand of friendship, and what have you done?”

Where does Mom get these phrases? Hand of friendship, indeed.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“You have slapped it aside. Christopher has gone out of his way to… Alan, look at me!”

I was staring out the window. I don’t know about you, but when someone is yelling at me, I find it hard to stare deeply into their eyes and say yes, yes, go on. I turned back to Mom.

“Christopher has extended the olive branch to you,” she said. “And you have…”

I didn’t know what you did to an olive branch. “Eaten it?” I said.

“Alan!”

“What?”

“You have refused it. This situation must not go on. Don’t you see, I care about you. So does Christopher. Both of us do. And that is why –”

“Here’s Victor,” I said. I was looking out the front window again. “He’s early. The game doesn’t start until 7:00.”

“Game?”

“Sure. We’re going to Nick’s tonight.”

“Cards again?”

“Uh-huh.” I don’t know why, but cards have really caught on this summer. We play all the time. Poker, mostly. Victor’s dad found us an old carousel full of chips, and we carry it from basement to basement. I usually end up with most of the chips.

Victor Grunewald is my best friend. He’s part of the story too. We’ve been in the same class since kindergarten. We looked like twins back then, but we don’t now. He’s grown up and out, and all I’ve grown is more red hair, and more freckles. I come up to his chin now, which isn’t a great idea since he’s beginning to get these pimples.

He’s a nice guy, Victor. Very polite. He rang the doorbell and waited for me to come to get him, instead of just walking in, which is what I do at his house. He said hello to my mother.

She frowned at him. “I’m afraid that Alan won’t be able to play cards with you tonight, Victor. We have some things to discuss.”

He shot a look at me. I shrugged.

“Oh, sure, Mrs. Dingwall. I understand. Maybe tomorrow, or the next day.”

She hesitated. “Actually, Victor, Alan is going to be busy for a few days.”

“He is?”

“I am?”

Mom turned to me. “Yes, Alan, you are. Christopher is taking you on a canoe trip.”

“Wow!” said Victor.

What?” I said. I wasn’t talking to Victor.

“You’ll leave tomorrow morning, and be gone all weekend.”

“Double wow!”

What?” Still not talking to Victor. “But, Mom, I’ve never been on a canoe trip. I’ve never been in a canoe.”

“Christopher loves canoeing. He knows all about it. That’s why I suggested the trip. I think it would be a good way for you and Christopher to get to know each other better.”

“But I don’t want to –”

“Alan!” A warning note in her voice.

“You are one lucky guy, Alan.”

You can be quiet!” Now I was talking to Victor.

*****

Just then Christopher pulled into the driveway, in his fresh-waxed cherry-red jeep with roll bar, extra chrome bumper, mudflaps, and fog lamps. Another thing I don’t like about him. He swung himself out of the driver’s seat and strolled up the driveway in hiking pants and boots, a camouflage shirt, and an Australian bush hat. Yikes. Joe Camping.

We all went outside together. Mom was pushing me from behind. “Hi, Mr. Leech,” called Victor from the doorway.

“Yo, Vic!”

Yo.

“Hey, there,” he said to me. Undecided about what to call me. “Ready to get wet and dirty, hey? Paddle hard, run hard?”

“Um,” I said.

“Got a buddy flies a seaplane out of Rice Lake,” he said. “Thought I’d ask him to take us to a conservation area north of Peterborough.”

“Wow!” said Victor. “A seaplane. What kind?”

Christopher smiled at him. “Cessna single engine four seat.”

Victor turned to me. “You’ll have a great time!” he said.

“Uh-huh,” I said.

All right, I was acting dumb and graceless. But I truly did not want to go camping with Old Leech. And, from the look on his face, I wondered if he really wanted to go camping with me. I know how strong Mom’s suggestions can be.

“Gee, I sure wish I could go with you guys. I go to camp every summer. I love canoeing.” Victor looked like he meant it. Actually, he always does mean what he says. It’s what I like best about him.

“Sorry, Victor,” Mom began, but Christopher and I interrupted together.

“Why don’t you come with us, Vic!” The two of us stared at each other. Something we agreed on.

“Do you mean it?” Victor’s eyes bulged. They looked like plums.

“You bet,” I said.

“But, Christopher, honey, do you remember what we –”

“Hey, there, darlin’,” he told her. I hate him calling
her pet names. “It’ll be okay.” He put his arm around her shoulders and smiled widely. Big white teeth like piano keys. “What do you think?” You, meaning me.

“Great,” I said.

“You see? He doesn’t mind.”

Mom didn’t know what to say. Her idea was for me and Christopher to go out in the woods by ourselves and become best friends. Neither of us wanted to tell her that we didn’t want to do this. And she didn’t want to insist. An odd situation. None of us saying what we were thinking. None of us meaning what we said.

“Gosh, that’s great!” Victor did mean it. “Let me ask my folks!”

“I’ll come with you,” I told him. “Bye, Mom. I’ll be back in a while.”

“Sure, Alan. Come along. My mom likes you,” he said.

And he meant that too.

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Of Mice and Nutcrackers

Of Mice and Nutcrackers

A Peeler Christmas
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The Nose from Jupiter
Excerpt

Chapter 1: How'd I Get Here?

Don’t you hate it when everyone in the room is wearing clothes and you’re not? The doctor’s wearing a dress with a white coat on top, and the nurse has on one of those green uniforms. Mom’s wearing her new tweed suit – a bit wrinkled after a day at work and half the night sitting beside my bed – but still, a suit. And me? I have underpants. Period. I had a hospital gown that didn’t do up the right way, but they made me take it off. So now I’m wearing dark green Y-fronts and a smile, and that’s about it. No, I forgot. I have a bandage on. It isn’t doing me much good, modesty-wise, because it’s on my head.

The doctor introduces herself. She’s new. I forget her name immediately. I’ve seen the nurse before; her name is Angela. She’s okay. The doctor smiles down at me, pokes and prods for a bit, and lets me put on my gown again. That’s a little better.

“So you’re the boy who talks to himself,” she says, taking the laser out of her pocket. All right, it’s not really a laser but it looks like one, and it feels like one. The other doctors all had them too. “Angela here has been telling me about you.”

I don’t say anything. She tilts my head and shines the light in my eye. Ouch. Like a laser.

“What’s your name?” she asks.

Doctors have to go to school for a long time. Everyone knows how smart they are. They sure know it. But they must think the rest of the world is as thick as a brick because they ask really obvious questions. I’ve seen lots of doctors since I woke up, and every one of them has asked my name. Some of them asked more than once. And it’s not like it’s a tough name to remember.

“Alan,” I say. “Alan Dingwall.” Don’t say it. It’s my name; I’ve had to live with it all my life. “I’m still thirteen,” I say.

“Still?”

“Everybody keeps asking how old I am. I’m the same age I was a couple of hours ago. I’m still in Grade Seven. I still live in Cobourg. My birthday is still October 16th.” The doctor chuckles. “And my head still hurts.”

“Oh, you poor thing.” I can’t see her, but that’s my mom. Who was the English queen with Calais written on her heart? My mom has Oh, you poor thing on hers.

“We want to know how much you remember, Alan,” says the doctor. “That’s why we ask the same questions over and over again. You were unconscious for almost five hours. That’s a long time. We’ve done lots of tests, but some of them were . . . inconclusive.”

“You think I have trouble remembering my own name? Or where I live?”

The doctor tilts my head, stares up my nose. The last doctor did this too. What do they think is up there? Then she goes back to my eyes. “How much do you remember, Alan? Do you remember the accident?”

“I’ve tried,” I say. “I remember the rain and the mud. And the creek running high. Norbert was running too – I had a cold.” I try to take a breath. “I’m still really stuffy. Even stuffier than I was.”

“Norbert is a friend of yours?”

“Uh – kind of,” I say.

“And then?”

“I don’t know.”

“What about your other friend?” the doctor asks. “The little dark-haired girl?”

“Miranda? What about her?”

“She’s in the report from the Cobourg Hospital. She pulled you out of the river and called the ambulance. Don’t you remember?”

I shake my head. Ouch. Funny that I don’t remember about Miranda. Not funny ha-ha, funny weird. She doesn’t usually walk home from school with me. She takes a bus. Normally I’d remember being with her. And this afternoon she couldn’t have been with me. I know that, though I don’t remember why.

Drat. It’s like there’s a hole in my memory, and everything about the accident has fallen in – Miranda, the river, the collie dog, everything. I hope I can find them all again.

Wait a minute. Miranda has brown hair, doesn’t she?

“I wish I could remember more,” I say.

“That’s okay. You’re lucky to live in Cobourg, Alan. I’ve been there once or twice. It’s such a pretty place, right by the lake. Look to the left. And to the right. Don’t move your head. Just your eyes.”

I’m happy to keep my head still. It hurts when I move it. “I wonder if I’ll ever remember what happened,” I say.

“Probably. Don’t worry about it. You always wear green shorts?” the doctor asks suddenly.

“Huh?” I say.

“Your underpants. You like green ones?”

“I… not really,” I say.

“Good. I don’t either. And by the way, just for the record, are those green underpants clean, or did you wear them yesterday too?”

“Hey!”

“Just trying to think of fresh questions. I don’t like boring my patients.” Now she’s shining the light in my other eye. I can’t tell if she’s smiling but she sounds like it.

“I’m not bored,” I say.

“Good. Don’t look at the light. Look left again. Now how about this – what’s the cube root of four hundred and eighty-nine?”

I blink. “I don’t know.”

The doctor turns off the light. I can see she is smiling. “Good,” she says. “I don’t know either. I’d worry if you did know.”

At that point the door opens and my dad comes in. “Is this the right room?” he asks. He’s moving fast, looking worried and important, until he sees me. Then he stops as if he’s been punched hard in the stomach. He takes a slow, careful step toward my bed. And another one. “You’re awake!” he says.

I smile feebly.

“I thought you were unconscious,” he says. “Sorry I took so long to get here. My flight didn’t get in to Toronto until midnight, and the cab broke down on the way to the hospital.” He notices my mom. “You said he was in a coma,” he says.

My mom is beside the window, looking out. I don’t know what she expects to see at this time of night. My dad is standing in the doorway. Whenever they’re together, which isn’t very often, my parents seem to drift to opposite sides of the room. You’d think they were two like poles of a magnet. Like poles repel, don’t they? After the divorce my dad’s company moved him away from Cobourg – first to Chicago, and then Minneapolis. Now he lives in Vancouver. Drifted right across the continent. Give him another couple of years and I’ll have to fly to Thailand every summer to see him.

The doctor goes over and introduces herself to my dad. I miss her name again. “Congratulations, Mr. Dingwall,” she says. “Your son is going to be okay. He was in what we call a light coma, but he came out of it earlier this evening.”

“Great,” says my dad.

Angela the nurse is holding my hand. Like I said, she’s nice.

“Can I go to sleep yet?” I ask. I’ve been trying to get to sleep since I woke up – that doesn’t sound right, does it, but I woke up a little after dinnertime and I’ve been yawning and yawning ever since. And they haven’t let me go to sleep for more than an hour at a time.

“Do you want something to drink first?” asks the nurse. “Some ginger ale or juice?”

“Oh yes,” I say. “Please.” I’m thirsty. And sleepy. And I have a headache.

Better than being in a coma.

My dad insists on staying with me. I wonder if he really wants to, or if he’s just trying to get my mom upset. She wants to stay with me too. “You look awful, Helen,” my dad tells her. “Why don’t you go home and get some rest? I’ll sit up with Alan.” And the nurse and doctor smile, like we’re a TV family where everyone cares. What we need is a dog, or maybe a pesky little sister. And a crazy neighbor who drops in during every episode.

“You look pretty lousy too,” she says.

“Not as lousy as you. Your hair’s a mess.”

“So is yours. And you spilled something gross on your shirt. Gravy, or something.”

“Yeah, well, I was in a hurry.”

“And you still turned up too late.”

“Too late for what? To see my son in a coma? And anyway, I can’t change the airline schedule. I came as fast as I could.”

A family fight; not the first one I’ve ever heard. Looks like we’ll have to cancel “The Dingwalls” in mid-season. Parents – who needs them? The doctor and nurse are edging toward the door. I wish I could go too.

“Look, I’ve traveled three thousand miles to see my son; I’d like to spend some time with him. Is that too much to ask?” My dad is sounding reasonable. A business voice. His job is in human relations. Mom’s a social worker, counsels kids in trouble. Ironic, or what? Like that old proverb where the shoemaker’s kids go barefoot, and the baker’s kids are hungry, and the candlestick maker’s kids are in the dark. Nowadays, instead of candlestick makers, we have managers and co-ordinators and directors, and their kids are unmanageable and unco-ordinated and lacking direction. Sometimes I think Lizzie Borden had the right idea.

“Why don’t we ask Alan?” says my mom.

“Yes, let’s ask Alan. Let’s ask him if he wants to spend a few minutes with his old man, who has flown across the continent to be with him. Let’s see if a twelve-year-old boy has more sense than his thirty-nine-year-old mom.”

“He’s thirteen. Don’t you even know how old your son is?”

“So I guess you’re forty, then. Unless you skipped another birthday. You were twenty-nine for three years in a row, I think.”

“I was waiting for you to buy me a birthday present. It took you three years to remember.”

But by then I’ve nestled down into the pillows, and closed my eyes. Maybe they’ll leave me alone if I pretend to be asleep.

My dad wakes me up. There’s no one else in the room. It’s later, I can tell. He’s trying to be gentle, bending over me; his face all screwed up. “Alan,” he says, shaking my shoulder. “Alan.” He looks like he’s in as much pain as I am.

“What time is it?” I ask.

“A little after four o’clock.” He sounds apologetic. “I didn’t want to wake you, but they insisted. They’re still a little worried about you.”

I don’t say anything.

“No, don’t go back to sleep. You’re not supposed to go right back to sleep. Sit up and talk for a few minutes.” He helps me sit up against the pillows. My head hurts.

“Where’s Mom?” I ask.

“She went home. She’ll be back in the morning.” Cobourg isn’t that far from Toronto. About an hour by car or train . . . only fifteen minutes by helicopter, which is how I came yesterday. Cobourg Hospital to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. I bet it was a really great trip. Too bad I was unconscious at the time.

Dad goes to the window, stares out at the night. Just like Mom did. Must be a great view from my room. When I can stand up, I ought to go over and take a look. “Alan, I want to say . . . I’m sorry for that scene when I came in the room. Your mother and I . . . we just . . .”

“Yeah,” I say.

“I don’t know why it is,” he says, “but whenever the two of us get together we act like . . .”

“Act like spoiled brats,” I say sleepily.

He turns around, laughs. “Yeah, that’s about right.”

Dad’s like me in coloring, very pale and with bright red hair. Now he’s blushing. Our blushes are sudden and spectacular, like tropical sunsets.

“I’m going to get myself a cup of coffee,” he says. “Can I get you some juice or pop or something while I’m up?”

“Sure,” I say. I settle back against the pillows.

“Don’t fall asleep. You’re supposed to stay awake for five minutes every hour.”

He goes.

There’s a bed across the room, but it’s empty. I’m all alone. I listen for the nurses, for the doctors, for the maintenance staff who push those trolleys around – trolleys which must by some sort of hospital law always have one squeaky wheel. Nothing. Silence. I yawn some more.

I think about my dad in his office in Vancouver. And then the phone call – harsh, dramatic. His son is in the hospital. In a coma. He leaves in a hurry. He’s worried because he cares about his son. Because he loves his son. Doesn’t he? Well, doesn’t he?

I sigh. And hear a familiar, squeaky voice.

So, Alan. I guess this is it, says Norbert.

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