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Authors: Caroline Adderson

Middle of Nowhere

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Middle of Nowhere

Caroline Adderson

GROUNDWOOD BOOKS
HOUSE OF ANANSI PRESS
TORONTO   BERKELEY

Copyright © 2012 by Caroline Adderson
Published in Canada and the USA in 2012 by Groundwood Books

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Distribution of this electronic edition via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal. Please do not participate in electronic piracy of copyrighted material; purchase only authorized electronic editions. We appreciate your support of the author's rights.

This edition published in 2012 by
Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press Inc.
110 Spadina Avenue, Suite 801
Toronto, ON, M5V 2K4
Tel. 416-363-4343
Fax 416-363-1017
or c/o Publishers Group West
1700 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710
www.groundwoodbooks.com

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Adderson, Caroline
Middle of nowhere / Caroline Adderson.
eISBN 978-1-55498-202-8
I. Title.
PS8551.D3267M53 2012      jC813'.54      C2011-906894-X

Cover illustration by Simon Ng
Design by Michael Solomon

We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF).

For Joan and Graham Sweeney

1

I HEARD A SIREN
in my sleep. I thought it was Artie, but the sound came closer and got louder. Then, just outside our apartment building, it stopped. But not before it woke Artie, who picked up exactly where the siren left off.

“Wa-wa-wa!”
Artie went.

A light swept through the room, then again, painting the walls red each time.

The police. Not exactly who I wanted to see. I stared at the lights, hoping they weren't for us, while Artie wailed on and on. He can be hard to stop.

Then I remembered the PNE and the giant beam that shines out of the fairground and circles the whole sky at night.

“Look at that light,” I told Artie. “Do you remember the Exhibition last summer?”

He stopped wailing, just like the siren, and sat up staring at the red swirls.

“Is there a ferris wheel outside?”

“Let's look,” I said.

We got out of bed and opened the curtains the rest of the way. It wasn't the police.

Artie climbed onto the back of the couch and perched there with his bare feet on the windowsill. He watched what was happening across the street like it was on TV.

“An ambulance! Look! They're coming out of that house!”

The old lady's house across the street. They were carrying her out on a stretcher, sliding her into the back of the ambulance, slamming the door.

Artie sang along as the ambulance drove away.

“Wa-wa-wa! Wa-wa-wa!”

THE NEXT MORNING
I looked out the window again. The drapes were closed in the house across the street, like it was asleep. It was a little house, one story and covered with stucco that had bits of broken glass mixed in. I felt sorry for it because there were apartments all around it now. It was the only house on the block that hadn't gone extinct. But I didn't really feel sorry for the old lady who lived there, who never said hi even though Artie and I walked past her house every single school day.

One Saturday, the old lady was out watering her garden. She was the only person in the neighborhood who grew flowers. We walked by with Mom and the lady made a sound like a grunt as we passed. I don't know what she was trying to say, but it didn't sound very nice.

Today was the last day I thought we could get away with the I-forgot-my-lunch excuse. On the way to school I told Artie to use it one more time.

“But I didn't forget my lunch,” he said. “You didn't make me one.”

“Tell her
I
forgot, then.”

“You didn't, though. You're talking about it now.”

Artie is five and a half and what you'd call “literal.” He didn't understand that we were running out of food. If you forgot your lunch, Mrs. Gill would ask everybody in the class to contribute something. But if it happened too often, or more than twice in a row, she'd get suspicious and phone to find out if anything was wrong at home. I knew this for a fact because Artie's teacher, Mrs. Gill, was my kindergarten teacher, too, six years ago.

“Artie,” I said as we walked past the house of the old lady they took away in the ambulance. “Let's pretend. Let's pretend I have amnesia.”

“What's that?”

“It's when you get knocked on the head and you can't remember anything.”

Suddenly he remembered the night before.

“Is that why the ambulance came?”

“Exactly! Except when the first-aid guys got to the door, I couldn't remember why I called them so I sent them away. Tell that to Mrs. Gill. Because of my amnesia I forgot to make your lunch again.” I thought that sounded like the crazy sort of thing kindergarten teachers hear every day.

“Okay,” Artie said.

“And don't mention Mom's away.”

We had already discussed this. He nodded to show he understood how important it was that we kept this information to ourselves.

“And if you get a lot of stuff, don't eat it all,” I said. “Bring some home.”

AT THE END
of the day I spread out on the table everything that Artie had brought from school. Cheese stick, fruit leather, four halves of different kinds of sandwiches — jam, ham and cheese, plain cheese, and something that looked like butter.

A butter sandwich? The kid probably ate the meat and just handed over the bread. A granola bar and an apple.

I took our last can of tomato soup from the cupboard and heated it with more water than the label said, so it would seem like more. Then the phone rang and I ran to answer it.

“Mom?” I said.

“I'm looking for Debbie,” a man said.

“She's out.”

“This is Greg, from Pay-N-Save.”

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump
. I put my hand to my chest, but it was Artie in Mom's room throwing a ball against the wall.

“Greg,” he said again. “Her boss? Maybe she forgot she had one. Can you give her a message?”

“Sure,” I said, trying to sound casual
.
This time the
thump, thump, thump
really
was
my heart.

“Tell her not to bother coming back. Ever. She's blown it.” Then he said, “I'm surprised. She was a good worker. Honest, dependable. Or so I thought — ”

I hung up on him and went back to the kitchen counter, still thumping. I kept back one of the sandwich halves and the cheese stick for Artie's lunch the next day, even though I was one hundred per cent positive that Mom would turn up by morning. She'd go back to Pay-N-Save Gas and Greg would change his mind. Then, when we woke up, she would be home again, pouring out cereal for us.

I divided the rest of the food Artie brought home and splashed the soup into bowls. My hands were shaking.

“Supper's ready!”

AFTER SUPPER I
made Artie take a bath. I had to wrestle him down to get his shirt off.

“I had a bath last night!” he said.

“You didn't.”

“I did! I did!” he shrieked. The thing is, he really thought he had. He has no concept of time. When I finally got the shirt off and tossed it on the pile in the corner, an idea came to me.

“It's not actually a bath. It's laundry.”

“I'm not laundry!”

All the light-colored things went in the tub with some bubble bath drizzled on top. As soon as the bubbles bubbled up and the clothes rose to the top, Artie whooped and stripped naked and jumped in.

“This is how they make wine,” I told him as he sloshed around.

“From dirty clothes?”

I tricked him into sitting down and bouncing around for a bit until he and the laundry were clean. He seemed happy. But later, after I read him a story and tucked him in the hideaway bed, he started crying again.

“When's Mom coming back?”

“Soon.”

“Where is she?”

“I don't know. But when she comes back, she'll be so happy our clothes are clean.”

He pitched another fit. Artie's fits are straight out of horror movies. The little kid explodes and — surprise! There's a monster inside him.

“Something really good is going to come out of this, Artie,” I promised.

He stopped bawling. “How do you know?”

“Because that's what happened last time she went away and came back,” I said.

“Did she bring us a present?”

“She brought me a present.”

“What was it?” he asked.

“You,” I said.

Artie thought about this while he ground his fist into his eye. Then he exploded again.

BOOK: Middle of Nowhere
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