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Copyright © 2012 by Candice Ransom
All rights reserved. Published by Disney•Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney•Hyperion Books, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
Publisher’s Note: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written, under adult supervision. The Publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The Publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.
For my sister patricia, hot dog spaghetti chef and hairdresser extraordinaire
Doublewide, the Wonder Cat
Grandview Estates was anything but. Not grand. Not an estate. And the only view was of a giant sewer pipe rising from a scraggy vacant lot.
“Hey, you got a 7-Eleven in your trailer park,” I said as we passed a small strip shopping center. “Can we stop for a blueberry Slurpee?”
“Not now. And don’t say trailer park,” Lynette corrected. “We live in a mobile home community.”
“Pardon moi,” I said, slouching down to dangle my bare feet out the window.
“Sit right. Only trash ride down the road like that.”
I pulled my feet in and folded my arms across my chest. Lynette acted like a prissy old lady. Don’t say trailer park. Only trash stick their feet out the car window. She was old—twenty-six, fourteen years older than me. She married Charles Parsley and left home when I was just four. I really didn’t know her very well. What if I’d traded one mother for another? The thought hardly filled my heart with gladness.
I looked out at the mobile homes lining the streets endwise. Double-wides and single-wides all claimed tiny yards, some overgrown with weeds, others so neat they could have been clipped with manicure scissors. The better-kept lawns had white-washed tires blooming with petunias and baskets of geraniums hanging from awnings.
Some trailers boasted screen porches or carports and freshly painted trim. But a lot of them looked neglected. We drove by trailers with crooked Venetian blinds, busted barbecue grills, and bent TV antennas.
Noticing stuff was part of my training. Paleontologists have to be keen observers, because most people aren’t. A rock an ordinary person would kick aside could turn out to be the toe bone of a giant Ice Age beaver. You never knew.
I stared at a white trailer with ceramic cat figurines crawling up its shutters. Orange, red, and pink zinnias rocketed from the picket-fenced yard. A green cement frog squatted in a birdbath. The grass was as green as Oz.
“That’s Miz Matthews’s place,” Lynette remarked. “She watches the kids on our street sometimes.”
“Yesterday she gave me a quarter for the vending machines at the firehouse.” Rudy’s bony arm stretched over the back of the seat as he pointed to a brick building.
“They have soda machines and candy machines and ones with potato chips—”
Junk food within walking distance. That was promising.
“Miz Matthews kept an eye on Rudy so I could enroll in Dot’s Pink Palace Beauty Academy.” Lynette wheeled The Clunker into a short driveway, parked under a tottering metal carport, and switched off the engine. The car coughed like an old man clearing his throat, then sputtered into silence.
“We’ll come back for your things in a minute,” Lynette said to me.
Her yard was summer-fried, brown and crispy as a taco. Sun-starched towels, T-shirts, and denim cutoffs hung stiffly from an umbrella clothespole. I climbed out of the car barefoot and tromped on crabgrass sharp as knife blades.
“Yow!” I yelled, hopping into my flip-flops. Heat baked through the rubber bottoms. Apparently, Grandview Estates was built on a volcano.
Lynette frowned. “Keep your shoes on, dummy.”
“Hey!” Rudy cried. “There’s Doublewide!”
A large, dark-brown blob perched on a rusted patio table by the front door. It unwound a whiplike tail from around dainty front paws and arched its back. The cat was shaped like a chocolate-colored basketball with a smaller ball balanced on top. His face and ears were nearly black and his coat was sleek as a seal’s.
Crossed blue eyes watched us. When we were nearly at the door, the cat stood on its hind legs, reached up with one paw, and whacked the doorbell. Ding-dong. I heard the faint chime inside.
“We’re right here,” my sister told the cat, fumbling with her keys. “You don’t have to ring.”
“He does that all the time?” I asked. “That’s so cool!”
“The first few times we heard the doorbell, we thought it was kids messing around. Then I looked out and saw this stupid cat, big as life, hitting the button.”
“Doublewide is real smart. He could be on TV.” Rudy stroked the cat’s head. “He’s a Siamese!” He pronounced it “Si-meeze.”
Lynette unlocked the door and Doublewide streaked in ahead of her. “But not a purebreed. He’s got a kink in his tail and his eyes are crossed. Plus he weighs twenty-one pounds. You can hear his thighs rub together when he walks. Siamese are supposed to be slinky.”
“You could use him for a footstool,” I said, and Rudy giggled.
“I could use him for a garbage disposal,” Lynette said. “He eats like a Saint Bernard. I’d get rid of the big pest, but he’s part of the lease. The owner moved to an apartment that doesn’t allow pets.”
“How would he know if you got rid of Doublewide?” I asked.
“That cat would probably call social services on me.”
We walked into a little hall. The kitchen was on one side. I spied a bedroom on the other. Two steps down the hall and we were in the living room.
“The movers delivered our furniture yesterday,” Lynette said. “I left Chuck his tacky recliner and the patio chairs. No way is he getting the Spanish modern living room suite I worked my tail off at Ben Franklin to pay for.”
I didn’t know Spanish modern from a hole in the ground, but Lynette’s living room made a funeral parlor look like a carnival. Low-slung black vinyl chairs skulked around the walls. A red glass globe lamp swung from a thick brass chain. A painting of a bullfighter on black velvet in a fancy gold frame hung over the black sofa.
“I still have to put up the drapes,” Lynette said, “and then our place will be all nice and cozy.”
I’d seen cozier dungeons.
She showed me the rest of the trailer, which took about three minutes. Down another hall were a little blue-tiled bathroom and Lynette’s room with a water bed smack in the middle of the green shag carpet. I threw myself on the water bed. Waves sloshed me back and forth.
“I’d get seasick in that thing,” I said, struggling to clamber off. “How do you sleep in it?”
“You’re not supposed to jump in like a pearl diver.”
Rudy’s bedroom was at the far end of the trailer, opposite the kitchen. His room was so small, I had to mince sideways between the sway-backed twin beds.
“That one’s yours,” Rudy said, generously giving me the bed half-blocked by a dresser. Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night should be tons of fun. I wondered where I could buy shin guards.
“Why is it so hot in here?” I asked, pushing my bangs off my forehead.
“The A/C is on the fritz,” Lynette answered. “Let’s bring your bags in so you can get settled. Then I’ll fix supper.”
On the way out, the phone in the kitchen rang. Lynette grabbed the receiver.
“Hi, Mama. Yeah, we just got in.…What did you forget?…You’re kidding me. Okay, catch y’all later.”
“What did Mama want?” I asked.
“To make sure your feet were okay, for one. I didn’t tell her you were prancing around barefoot. She also told me to hold your hand when we cross the street.”
“What? I’m twelve, for Pete’s sake!”
“According to Mama, you never look where you’re going and you’re liable to get run over. Rudy must take after you. He trips over dust. His glasses are taped because he falls and breaks them all the time.”
“You are not holding my hand to cross the street,” I said, bristling. “I look down at the ground because I might miss an important fossil.”
“Uh-huh.” She sounded just like Mama—not really interested in what I’m interested in.
There was no place in Rudy’s room to put my things. Superhero comics were stacked on his nightstand. His dresser was packed with clothes and blankets. Rows of little NASCAR model cars lined the dresser top, surrounded by plastic cups advertising monster truck rallies.
“My daddy give me these,” Rudy said, rolling a red car to the edge of the dresser. “I’m gonna be a race car driver someday.”
“Has your daddy ever won a race in his monster truck?”
I plumped Tusky at the foot of my bed, then stacked my clothes on the closet shelf. Doublewide lounged against my pillow, taking a brisk bath.
“Not yet, but he will,” Rudy replied. “Mud Hog is the baddest truck of all!”
Mud Hog couldn’t have been too “bad” or it would have won a race by now. But I could tell Rudy thought a lot of his daddy. He must miss him a lot.
“Maybe your daddy will win next weekend.”
“He promised he’d give me the trophy! Then I’m gonna have my picture taken with him and Mud Hog. And then we’ll go to Tastee Freez.” Rudy zoomed the race car back to its spot in the row.
He didn’t seem to realize that he lived here now and wouldn’t see his daddy next weekend, even if Chuck did manage to win a race by some miracle. Virginia is a long way from Alabama.
“See my comic?” Rudy flipped open a tablet and showed me a smudgy pencil story with pictures. “I’m gonna be a comic drawer when I grow up.”
“I thought you were gonna be a race car driver.”
“I can do both,” he said, tossing the tablet on my side of our enormous room.
“Supper’s ready!” Lynette called.
Doublewide quit washing in mid-lick and bounded off the bed like a kangaroo. For his size, he sure could move quick. He skidded into the kitchen, then jumped up on the extra dinette chair, waiting for his meal just like a person.
“No animals at the table,” Lynette told Rudy as she set plates down.
“Doublewide is part of the family,” Rudy said. “Rebel’s here. She’s family.”
“Rebel is not a cat.” Lynette put my plate in front of me and shooed the cat. Doublewide didn’t twitch a whisker.
I stared at my plate. Shriveled pieces of meat were drowned in bright red sauce over mushy noodles. “What is this?”
“Hot dog spaghetti,” Lynette said, passing around a saucer of soft white bread smeared with margarine. “Rudy’s favorite. Don’t you like spaghetti?”
“Regular spaghetti, yeah.” I poked at a little green thing with my fork.
“Canned peas,” Lynette said. “Stop picking at your food.”
I finally took a bite. It tasted better than it looked, though it was kind of sweet.
Rudy speared a pea on his fork. “There’s a guy on the next street with a big ol’ bump on his neck like a football. I seen him. I bet he has to eat like this.” He wrenched his head sideways and opened his mouth wide as a bullfrog’s.
“Rudy, don’t tell stories,” Lynette said.
“It’s not a story! I seen him with my own two eyes. He had a scarf on, but you can still see the bump. The lady next door to him won the jackpot at bingo last Friday. Three hundred dollars and a real silver pickle dish.”
“You sure know a lot about people, considering you’ve only been here two days,” I said.
“Rudy, you haven’t been pestering the neighbors, have you?” my sister asked.
He shook his head. “Uh-uh. I heard about that man from—somebody. I went over to see him, is all.”
I wondered who this mysterious somebody was.
“And don’t go gossiping about the neighbors,” Lynette warned him. “People will have a bad impression of us.”
After supper, she gave Rudy two Oreos and sent him outside to play. Then we tackled the dishes.
“Rebel, I didn’t tell you everything about my little boy.” Lynette squirted Ivory soap into the running tap. A fine stream of bubbles floated upward. One popped on my arm, leaving a damp circle.
“Like what?” A lump of dread rose in my throat. Was Rudy a pint-sized ax murderer?
“He’s crazy about his daddy, but Chuck is hardly ever around. Chuck doesn’t mean to hurt Rudy’s feelings, but that’s just the way he is.” She rinsed a yellow monster truck cup and plopped it in the drainer. “So Rudy got more—delicate-like, I guess you could say. He sleepwalks.”
“He walks in his sleep?” I’d heard of people sleepwalking but never knew anyone who did. “What if he walks in his sleep tonight? What’ll I do?”
“He doesn’t do it every night. Only once in a while. And if he does, just lead him back to bed, easy. You don’t want to wake him up.”
“Will he look like he’s awake?”
Lynette nodded. “He’ll talk and everything. But he’s really asleep. That’s not all.” She took a deep breath. “He has lunch with God.”
I dropped the frying pan I was drying. It hit the floor with a clatter. “Do I set three places at the table?”
“Don’t act smart. Hand me that skillet so I can wash it again. When it’s nice out, Rudy eats his lunch on the porch steps. And, well…he talks to God.”
“About what?” I wiped a glass calmly but my stomach quivered.
“Sometimes stuff he’s worried about. Sometimes just about the weather.”
Praise for Rebel McKenzie:IRA/CBC Children's ChoiceKansas NEA Reading Circle Recommended Reading ListA Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee
- On Sale
- Jun 26, 2012
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers