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Authors: Audrey Couloumbis

Getting Near to Baby

BOOK: Getting Near to Baby
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Table of Contents
Things don't feel right here.
I want to open my eyes in the morning to see my very own wallpaper with the tiny blue flowers and pink rosebuds. Aunt Patty does not believe in putting up wallpaper, not even in the bathroom. She says mold grows behind it.
I want Mom to read to us for an hour before bedtime, all of us in a clump like alligators in the sun so we can all look at the pictures together. Aunt Patty tucks us into bed before it is even full dark. We want our mom. We're worried about her having to sleep all alone. We worry that she doesn't eat right, now that she doesn't have us to feed. We miss her.
I hear Aunt Patty's bossy voice, rousing Uncle Hob out of his bed. She's telling him he has to come outside to order us down. Or to plead with us, whichever he thinks will work. That sad feeling I have hardens into a mad feeling and I don't think I'll ever get down off this roof. I'll stay here till kingdom comes.
■“Couloumbis' first novel wears its heart on one sleeve and its humor on the other. Together, they make a splendid fit.”
boxed review
◆“Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby's death, but also artfully illuminates each character's depths and foibles.... The author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy.”
Kirkus Reviews,
pointer review
Come Sing, Jimmy Jo
Katherine Paterson
Flip-Flop Girl
Katherine Paterson
The Secret Life of Amanda K. Woods
Ann Cameron
The Summer of the Swans
Betsy Byars
Wish on a Unicorn
Karen Hesse
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers,
345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario. Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England
First published in the United States of America by G. P. Putnam's Sons,
a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1999
Published by Puffin Books,
a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 2001
Copyright © Audrey Couloumbis, 1999
All rights reserved
Couloumbis, Audrey.
Getting near to baby / Audrey Couloumbis.
p. cm.
Summary: Although thirteen-year-old Willa Jo and her Aunt Patty seem to be
constantly at odds, staying with her and Uncle Hob help Willa Jo and her
younger sister come to terms with the death of their family's baby.
[I. Sisters—Fiction. 2. Grief—Fiction. 3. Death—Fiction. 4. Aunts—Fiction.]
I. Title.
eISBN : 978-1-101-07619-4
This edition 978-1-101-07619-4

There are some things a writer can be lucky enough to have, like friends who really want it to happen for her. And if she's more than lucky, if she's truly fortunate, she has a husband who never asks, “Why are you doing this?” He just pulls on his boots and trucks out into the snowy night for yet another ream of paper and a printer cartridge.
There are some things a writer can work toward, learning to write to the best of your ability, and regarding criticism as a blessing far more valuable than any compliment, and letting the world's finest children's book agent (Jennifer Flannery) know you are out there. But there are some things only the mysterious workings of the universe can take credit for.
Like the signs posted along the way. Like the teachers who arrive so unexpectedly. Like the way my editor (Kathy Dawson) turned out to be someone who could inhale a manuscript and, on the exhale, elicit not only the parts of the story I didn't know I knew, but the very parts that helped to make this the very finest work I have ever done, and that just coincidentally were the very details that make the story whole and as near perfect as it could become.
I am forever grateful to them all.
Before Jennifer and Kathy, there were knowledgeable readers: Abby Williams Gese. Miriam, Stacy, Suzanne, Uma. Carol, Susan, Phyllis, and Stephen. Alix, Lee, Tina, Barbara, Miss Maris, Arline, and my husband, Akila. And there were my children, Nikki and Zac, strong supporters who've lived their whole lives with the Aunt Patty and the Willa Jo in me, which is no doubt how I came to know these characters so well. Thank you all for your patience and kindness.
This book is dedicated to Mama Nicky's memory.
One of my most sustaining memories of her
is that of my small children running before me.
And the way she dropped whatever she was working on,
the way she sat forward to meet them, the nearly
straight line of her as her arms opened to welcome them.
Early Morning
unt Patty is fed up with me.
She told me so last night. When I got into bed, there was a sick feeling in my stomach that stayed with me through my sleep. I came out here to breathe deep of the fresh air but that sick feeling has not yet gone away.
And then Mrs. Garber ran by. Who would think somebody fifty years old would be up and running down the road before daybreak? She ran by and then she ran back and stared at me from the road, her knees all the time pumping up and down. I didn't say a word to her.
She came up to the house and rang the doorbell. I heard the doorbell and I heard her sneakers on the flag-stone patio,
pum, pum, pum.
My stomach started to hurt.
No answer.
After a couple of minutes she rings the doorbell again. A light comes on. I see a pale yellow square in the grass, like a shadow in reverse.
Pum, pum, pum.
The front door opens. Aunt Patty's voice breaks the silence of early morning.
“Mrs. Garber, is there something wrong?”
There are whispers. A squawk from Aunt Patty, and more whispers. I wrap my arms more tightly around my knees. Pretty soon Mrs. Garber is on her way down the road again. She does not look back once.
The front door closes.
My heart feels like there is a string tied around it, with something heavy hanging from the string. I don't like it. But the sky has broken pink and is stretching pale lavender fingers toward heaven. So I make up my mind to watch those sky fingers fade to nothing, to be burned away by the sunrise.
And here it comes.
A thin rim of orange-red, so deep and strong my heart almost breaks with the fierceness of that color. Moment by moment, there is more of it to see. So hot and bright, I cannot look but at the edges. Even when I look away, look clear away to the waning edge of darkness, I can see that color in my mind's eye, feel it beating in my very blood. I breathe color.
All at once the neighborhood is waking up. A phone rings not too far away. It may even be Aunt Patty's phone. Two pickup trucks come out from the piney woods, turn off in the direction that Mrs. Garber ran. A dog barks. Next door, Mrs. Biddle puts her cat out. Squeaky spring of her back door, slam. I hear an alarm clock go off. An old-timey miner's clock that goes
Below, the front door opens again. “Willa Jo Dean, what do you think you're doing up there?”
I think,
Watching the sun rise.
I came up on the roof to watch the sun rise and I just stayed, I could say.
“I know Little Sister is up there with you,” Aunt Patty says, as if I was keeping it a secret. Little Sister is here because she follows me everywhere. Everyone knows that.
“Willa Jo, don't you act like you can just ignore me, now.”
No one can ignore Aunt Patty, that's part of the trouble. She has that kind of voice. There isn't any hope of ignoring her.
I take off my leather sandals and place them so the heels are caught on a ridge and they won't slide down. Little Sister is already barefoot. I inch across the roof that feels like it has been sprinkled with coarse salt, liking the way the scratchy surface clutches at the fabric of my shorts, clings to my skin. I don't like getting this close to the edge, all the time knowing what I'll see. And then I do.
I look down on my aunt Patty, who is looking up, her hair in pin curls. She's short and wide, and wearing a brown terry bathrobe that is the sorriest thing. From two and a half stories up, she looks like a face on a stump.
At her first glimpse of me, Aunt Patty shifts from annoyance to outright panic, her arms lift and wave like stubby branches in the wind. “Stop right there,” she screams.
I do.
I only meant to get to where I could see her anyway. I wouldn't have to get this near the edge but for the fact that she won't step off the patio in her slippers. She's afraid of getting a slug stuck on her if she steps into the wet grass. She's right, that probably would happen, there are an awful lot of slugs in Aunt Patty's lawn. But so far as I know, nobody has yet died of getting a slug stuck on them.
BOOK: Getting Near to Baby
8.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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