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Authors: Carol Lynch Williams

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Signed, Skye Harper

BOOK: Signed, Skye Harper
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Signed, Skye Harper
Carol Lynch Williams
Simon and Schuster (2014)
Schlagwörter: 1 Young Adult
1 Young Adultttt

In trying to reunite with her mother, Winston discovers the many meanings of family and finds friendship in an unexpected place in this coming-of-age novel from the author of Waiting, which Kirkus Reviews, in a starred review, called "exceptional" and Glimpse, which Booklist called "gripping."

Life is just fine for fourteen-year-old Winston. She loves her dog, Thelma, and although she never knew her dad, and her mom left ten years ago in search of Hollywood fame, Winston has family with Nanny, who is in her forties, and that doesn't even make her old. But a "just fine" life gets a lot more exciting when a letter arrives from Skye Harper, aka Judith Fletcher, aka Winston’s mother. She needs help, and Nanny says the best way to give it is to take a cross-country road trip—in a "borrowed" motor home—to go find Mama once and for all. Winston’s not so sure about this plan, but with a cute stowaway named Steve along for company and an adventure on the horizon, this is sure to be a summer to remember.

{ 1 }

1

Surprise

Nanny sat at the kitchen table when I wandered in at dusk from swimming, not a light in the house on, just a cigarette glowing.

“Hey, Winston girl,” she said. “You got a minute?”

She didn’t sound too happy. In fact, I’d say she sounded right miserable. I strained to see more than the glow of her ciggie but was hypnotized by the red burn.

Blinking, I said, “What’s wrong?” I slid onto the rattan chair, my behind almost not making it. My chlorine-smelling swimsuit made my shorts and T-shirt wet. I let out a sigh. Since turning fifteen, I’ve found myself sighing an awful lot. That’s my family’s fault.

I helped myself to one of the biscuits from breakfast, the pan covered with a cloth so they wouldn’t dry out hard as rocks. It was like biting into a brick. The cloth hadn’t helped at all. I sighed again. Then let out an “I’m starving.”

“Stop that damn sighing,” Nanny said. “You’re breathing up way more than your fair share of oxygen.” She drew long on her cigarette. Her face lit up in such a way she looked like a demon, shadowed eyes and all. But who’s allowed to tell their grandmother that kind of thing? “Dinner’s on the stove,

{ 2 }

but wait it out a minute. I got to tell you something.”

“Tell then,” I said. “School starts in a couple of weeks and I got things to do before then.”

“Smart butt,” Nanny said, and ground out her cigarette.

I smiled. So she wasn’t too bad off. Nanny only uses the word “butt” if she’s talking about her Winstons-taste-good-like . . . You know what I’m saying. And yes, I was named after the cigarette, but I’ve told no one that fact, not even my very best friend, Patty Bailey, who is tall as an oak tree and gone to Louisiana for the summer. “Butt” is about her only swear. That’s an almost truth.

“Nanny,” I said, “what’s got your goat? Sure I can’t fill a plate while I listen to you jaw?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Nanny slapped at the table, and Denny, our rooster, ruffled his feathers and clucked in his throat. I hadn’t even known he was there. I settled in my chair and waited—keeping the sigh tucked in tight—and pulled at my T-shirt to loosen it some.

Nanny took in a breath.

“I got a letter from your momma.”

Hmmmm.

So that’s why she was sitting in the dark. Nanny, not Momma.

“Tell me more.” I said those words, though I didn’t mean them.

Cold-water feeling covered me from my ankles up. It
{ 3 }

was like the time I got baptized. That day, the water heater was broke, and no one knew till the preacher and me stepped into the font. Not a thing like the lakes around here, which can be warm as bath water. “Where is she this time?”

Momma’s been gone since I turned four. She travels all over the West Coast, sending us postcards. But she never mails a letter unless there’s an emergency. Sounded like something big had happened.

I swallowed.

“She need money?”

I heard Nanny working at her pack of cigarettes. Heard her strike the match (saw her face go beastly in the sputter of light), then she started smoking again.

“That’s a bad habit,” I said. “You want me to take that up? And at almost fifty cents a pack?”

“Stunts your growth,” Nanny said. “And I’ll beat you with a stick if you start smoking. You know I’m trying to quit.”

This is true. Nanny is down from two packs a day to 1.3.

“Let me hear what she says,” I said. Then I closed my eyes tight, ’cause this couldn’t be anything but bad.
{ 4 }

2

The Letter

Aug 25, 1972
Dear Family (that means you momma and little Winston)—
I done run aground here in Vegas.
The traveling is good but has started to sour. Seems there is no more money to be made out here in the wild, wild west. I’ve done dancing and singing and even a bit part or two. But what I need is my girls.
Yes, you 2.
The money jar, though, has run dry and there aint a red cent in it.
What do you 2 say about comming to git me?
We could be home by Winston’s birthday.
Hows the Blue Goose? Still running good? I had to sell The Lemon. I better go.
Signed,
Skye Harper (who used to be known as Judith Lee Fletcher)

PS Come git me.
{ 5 }

3

The Letter, Part Two

If Nanny knew I was reading the letter again, the fourteenth time, this time in bed with a flashlight, she would have shouted,
Do you know how much batteries cost?

I
don’t
know, though you’d think so the way my grandmother is always quoting me prices. “Don’t you waste that cereal milk. It’s running almost a dollar a gallon.” “Eat the crust of that jelly sandwich, girl. That loaf a bread cost me thirty-seven cents.” She even knows egg prices, and we got thirteen chickens (sixty-two cents for a dozen large, white eggs—“Though anyone in her right mind knows brown eggs’re better.”).

I read the letter once more, then folded and slid it under my pillow. I snapped off the flashlight, sighing. Again.

Bothered.

Ruffled like Denny.

Outside a late-night storm drew near. If I waited, I could go over Momma’s words when lightning struck close by. But I wouldn’t. Fourteen readings was enough. And anyway, I’d memorized the line that mattered most.
What do you 2 say about comming to git me?
And the other was stuck in my brain too.
But what I need is my girls.
{ 6 }

So what
did
we say about it?

I folded my arms underneath my head and stared at the ceiling.

Nanny hadn’t spoken a word when I’d said, “She wants to come back? Back here? To live? In this house? With us? Here? Momma? I mean Skye Harper?” No, she just sucked on the cigarette and looked off over my shoulder at the TV that wasn’t even on. Maybe she wanted to watch
Let’s Make a Deal
, though that wouldn’t show again until tomorrow.

Now the lightning snapped and thunder crashed. Damp air blew in my room, pushing the curtains out like the skirt of an old-timey dancer.

I rolled on my side.

What do you 2 say about comming to git me?
That was the last thing I wondered as I fell asleep.
{ 7 }

4

Thelma Dog

Momma wore a curtain for a skirt.

“Couldn’t get a job,” she said. Cigarette smoke filled the room. It was hot in here. Hot like an electric blanket and itchy like the blanket was wool, too.

I didn’t answer.

“I said I’d be back,” Momma said. She let out a long whine, like she was nervous or something.

When I opened my mouth, it was big enough for a train to pass through. Words tumbled out, written in half cursive, half print. “Go away,” they said.

Thunder over the house, maybe in the front room, rattled me awake.

Right next to me, there in my bed, though it wasn’t allowed, was Thelma, our pup who hasn’t been a pup in six years.

“Get off me, girl,” I said, pushing her body away. She refused to move as the sky lit up and thunder crashed in the front room again. Instead, she tried to get under the pillow. I could feel her shivering.

“You know Nanny doesn’t like you in the bed. And
{ 8 }

neither do I. You get your hair all over me when you get up here. Plus your breath stinks.”

Thelma let out a sigh of her own.

We Fletchers are a family of sighers.

“Fine,” I said, then scooted over some so Thelma could slip into the slight slump in the middle of the bed.
{ 9 }

5

Thelma Dog, Part Two

When I woke up the next morning, Thelma had near about pushed me all the way out of the bed. Plus there was a black dog hair in my mouth.

“Geez, girl,” I said. She opened an eye at my voice. One of her paws was on my shoulder, the other on my hip like she had meant to snuggle with me or something. Her nose dug in my throat. “You are a bed hog.”

Thelma gave me a doggie smile, and I couldn’t help but grin right back at her. I got me a soft place in my heart for my own dog. I picked Thelma up at a Sinclair gas station when a guy come driving up, saying he was gonna dump her off in the woods to fend for herself.

I’d left the house that day for cold RC for me and a pack of cigarettes for Nanny and come home with a dog the size of a hoagie.
{ 10 }

6

Thelma Dog, Part Three

This here girl is my best friend. Including Patty Bailey.

I never tell Patty that, but Thelma knows the truth.
{ 11 }

7

The News

Nanny was at the stove, boiling sugar water to make syrup to go on a new pan of biscuits, when I wandered into the kitchen, Thelma right beside me.

I looked at my grandmother’s back. Something wasn’t right. I could tell by the way she was hunched over the pot used only for syrup and to make herself that one cup of coffee to start her day. Yes, there was a cup right there, lipstick print on the side. Nanny gets up with the chickens. I mean it. Puts lipstick on then too. Not on the chickens. On herself.

“What’s the matter?” I said.

Thelma sat down with a thump and scratched at her collar. It’s crocheted. Pink. I made it. Same time I made thirteen doilies (not only pink, all colors), four washcloths, and the beginning of a baby blanket, though I didn’t know anyone with a baby. That’s why I quit crocheting.

“Let the dog out and we can have us some breakfast and talk.”

Thelma looked up at me the way she does when she has to go to the bathroom, her ears back a bit.

“You’re scaring me, Nanny.” I went through the Florida
{ 12 }

room, unlatched the screen door, and watched my best friend slink outside. She’d visit the chickens, I knew, check for critters, and stand at the door when she was ready to come inside.

“You know what the problem is,” Nanny said when I got back to the kitchen. She was still standing there, this time with the coffee cup in her hand.

“I don’t,” I said. It felt like a snake squeezed at my throat.

“The Blue Goose won’t make it nowhere. Hardly down to the Piggly Wiggly. We can’t go get your momma.”
{ 13 }

8

My Life

My life has no real disappointments. And nothing exciting about it either. I know what I can expect during the summers because summers are always the same, and here are the facts:

1. Popsicles, if I save up a few dimes from turning in Coke bottles then hoof it to the corner market a half mile away for a grape-juice bar and an
Archie
comic book.

2. Days at the beach, if I hoof it a mile and a half in the other direction. I can swim good past the first breaker. That’s one of the places I practice.

3.
General Hospital and One Life to Live
, Nanny propped up on the sofa right beside me, tissues within reach.

4. The library and true detective stories and romance novels, as many as I can check out.

5. Busing tables at Leon’s restaurant.

I could use a good boyfriend, but I would never tell anyone that.
{ 14 }

9

My Momma

Momma left when I was four and she was twenty-one.

Nanny says I was the cutest thing anyone ever did see and that made Momma wish all the more she was a movie star, and the next thing Nanny knew my momma had borrowed her daddy’s car (for good), the Lemon, and took off headed west, for California, and for fame.

BOOK: Signed, Skye Harper
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