Authors: Ann Haywood Leal
Also Known As Harper
HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
Henry Holt and Company, LLC
Publishers since 1866
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10010
Henry Holt is a registered trademark of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Text copyright Â© 2009 by Ann Haywood Leal
All rights reserved.
Distributed in Canada by H. B. Fenn and Company Ltd.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Leal, Ann Haywood.
Also known as Harper / Ann Haywood Leal.â1st ed.
p.Â Â Â Â Â cm.
Summary: Writing poetry helps fifth-grader Harper Lee Morgan cope with her father's absence, being evicted, and having to skip school to care for her brother while their mother works, and things look even brighter after she befriends a mute girl and a kindly disabled woman.
[1. Single-parent familiesâFiction.Â Â 2. Family problemsâFiction.Â Â 3. Brothers and sistersâFiction.Â Â 4. PoetsâFiction.Â Â 5. Selective mutismâFiction.Â Â 6. People with disabilitiesâFiction.]Â Â I. Title.
Book designed by April Ward
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper. â
1Â Â Â 3Â Â Â 5Â Â Â 7Â Â Â 9Â Â Â 10Â Â Â 8Â Â Â 6Â Â Â 4Â Â Â 2
For my dad, Lionel Haywood,
and in loving memory of
my mom, Peggy Haywoodâ
my first readers
Also Known As Harper
WINNIE RAE EARLY
followed ten steps behind me the entire way home from school. It was hard not to fall into rhythm with the noisy sniff she took every third step. I knew without turning around that she was doing what she'd done all day long at school, lifting her arm up and wiping at the chapped underside of her nose with the inside of her wrist.
When my toes had just about reached my driveway, she ran ahead of me and across to her yard next door and threw her backpack to the side of her daddy's brown metal toolshed. That old shed sat a good foot over the line on our property, and I swear I'd seen her watching me before from the square cutout window in the side.
The little doors in the front were made to look
like barn doors, and I saw her pull on the long handle in the middle of the
and let herself in.
I was tempted to wait at the bottom of my porch and spy on her for once, until I noticed another one of those nasty signs slapped in the middle of my front door.
“It won't do you no good to take it off of there, Harper.” Winnie Rae stepped around and hollered at me from beside the shed. “My mama will just come on back and put up another one.”
I scrunched up a corner of the sign and threw it in her direction. “You get your tired old sneakers off my property, Winnie Rae, and worry about your own sorry self.”
She pointed one chewed-up fingernail in my direction. “It ain't your property anymore, Harper Lee Morgan, according to that sign there.”
Winnie Rae was right and I knew it. That sign meant the landlord, who happened to be her mama, was getting ready to kick us out and rent to someone new. Someone who could pay.
I'd heard my mama on the phone last week, trying to borrow some of the rent money. “I just need to get Harper through the fifth grade. I don't want to uproot her in the middle of the school year like this.”
But I'd come home from school and seen another sign, plastered up over the scraps of the old one. The time before, they'd put up two, one on the door and one on the front window. This time there was only the one.
As I reached up to pull it the rest of the way off, I could see it was a little different from the others. I made a small, careful rip at the top and tore it slowly down the middle, right between the “N” and the “A” in “FINAL.”
The front door swung open, and my little brother hopped on one foot sideways, across the porch. “I broke my leg today, Harper Lee.” He bent down and tightened an old yellow hand towel around his knee.
“I can see that, Hemingway.” I held the door open for him to hop back inside.
“I tripped over Mama's washrag and fell down a whole half a step.” He untied the towel to show me. “There's no blood yet, but it's trying to come out. I can tell.”
I let him lean on my arm partway into the kitchen. Then he let go and started hopping on the other leg.
“How long has she been asleep?” I lifted Mama's
sweatshirt from the back of her chair at the kitchen table and set it over her shoulders.
Hemingway sat down at the table and scooted his handwriting workbook toward me. “Since all the way through the capitals and most of the way through the lowercase letters.”
I took out my purple marker and made circles around his best letters. “You're getting really good at these,” I said. “It's about time you went to putting some of these letters into words. I could maybe teach you to write a story. Six is plenty old enough to write a poem or two.”
He smiled and brought one of the purple circles right up to his eyeball. “Mama read me chapter three today.” He pointed at her special book sitting all careful like in the middle of a folded-up dish towel. I knew it to be her thirty-seventh reading of
To Kill a Mockingbird.
I had put up the thirty-sixth tally mark on the wall by the refrigerator just two weeks ago. She had timed it perfectly so she'd finish up the last word of the last chapter on my eleventh birthday.
Mama could probably spout out that book from the middle of her heart. She loved it so much, she said it was only natural to give me the name of the author.
I picked up the envelope in the middle of the table.
It was one of the bills that kept coming in the mail. This one was from the electric company. I turned it over and saw Mama's writing, all slanty and perfect across the back of the envelope. When Mama got an idea for one of her stories, she wrote it down on whatever was handy. Her words always traveled right across the paper and made a bright picture in my mind. I picked up her pen and fixed up some of the words. She was forever mixing up “was” and “saw.”
Lately, I hadn't been seeing many of her words around. Just a sentence or two, sometimes. Not thick stacks of paper like she used to write.
Mama let out a squeaky breath and lifted her head. She sat back in her chair and rubbed at the bumpy placemat marks on her cheek. “Hey there, Harper Lee. How was school?” She was trying to make her smile all cheerful, but I knew about the worry behind it.
“They put up another sign, Mama.” I pulled the scraps out of my pocket and set them down on the table in front of her.
“I'm sorry, Harper.” She seemed to be getting ready to cry. “I've gone to work at four-thirty in the morning for the last two weeks, but I haven't been able to get enough together.” She let out another
squeaky sigh. “I told Mrs. Early I got a whole month's rent, plus a good two-thirds of another, but she said it's all four months or nothing. She said she's got to take care of her own. She can't be letting us stay on for free.”
She shook her head. “I tried. I swear, I tried.”
Her eyes got all shiny and I knew what was coming, so I got myself out of that kitchen as fast as I could. Mama had been trying to move us into a cheaper place for a couple of months now, but she said it cost more to get a new place than it did for us to stay put where we were. It sure didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Even so, she was getting a head start on the packing. She said when the time came we might have to move kind of quick like.
I could barely push my door open in my room, it was so jam-packed full of liquor-store boxes. I saw Mama had packed all the long pants from my bottom drawer in a tall whiskey box, and I got to work fixing them.
Sure enough, they were packed in every which way. She used up all her cleaning energy at her housekeeping jobs. Our house was picked up and clean, but it took you an hour to find a pencil in a drawer or a game or a sweater in a closet. Anything
she did around our house was always fast, with whatever little bit she had left over.
The red paint on the wooden apple crate looked dry, but I tested it with my pinky finger before I picked it up from the newspapers in the corner of my room.
I opened my middle drawer slowly and carefully lifted out my stacks of paper. My poems and my stories. I wasn't taking any chances of getting them bent up or shoved into a stinky old whiskey box.
I took the stacks out, one at a time, and placed them in the middle of the crate, trying to quiet Daddy's low voice coming up, sideways, in my brain.
I knew you wouldn't live up to your name from the moment your mother insisted on giving it to you.
He had tossed my papers down so part of the first page was soaked with the whiskey in his coffee mug.
You don't know squat about weaving together a story, Harper Lee. So you may as well give it up.
And he'd laughed like he'd just told the funniest joke he knew, and he'd poured himself a fresh coffee cup full.
Hemingway stood at my doorway and pushed at a whiskey box with his toe.
“Hey, Hem.” I moved a couple of boxes aside so he could come in. “You don't believe in letting a
person settle themselves in before you get to bothering them, now, do you?”
But I patted the corner of the bed. Hemingway's company wasn't so bad. He had a way about him that made all the tired go out of a person.
“Mama says we got to move pretty quick here,” he said, eyeing all my boxes.
“Not just yet.” I straightened up a stack of poems on my bed. “She just wants us to get a head start, is all.”
“Thing isÂ .Â .Â .” He bit at a hangnail on his thumb and I knew what was coming. Hem always got fidgety when he was thinking about Daddy. “How's he going to find us?”
I pulled his thumb away from his mouth. “He'll find us if the time comes.”
I knew how badly Hem wanted Daddy to come walking back up our front steps, and I wanted that for him, I really did. But I wasn't so sure I wanted that for me.
He got up and took a good look out my bedroom window. “It's almost time to go out, Harper Lee.”
“You know I'm not going to go out to the porch,” I reminded him.
He leaned forward as if he was going to tell me a
good secret. “But I'm thinking I might wait on the driveway path today, right out front, you know? Just so as he can see me better.”
But deep down I think Hemingway knew as well as I did, when Daddy had made his way down that driveway path a whole year ago, he had never figured on coming back.
I STOOD AT THE EDGE
of the lawn at the bottom of my porch steps and tried to decide how I was going to move the little peach tree that Hemingway and I had planted a couple years back. There was no way I was going to leave that for Winnie Rae Early to gaze on with her ugly old self.
She leaned up against the shed across the side yard. “My mama said you could set a clock by that pitiful brother of yours, Harper Lee.” Winnie Rae's voice got downright whiny when she hollered.
What's your fat old mama know, anyway?
“My mama said he's just wasting his time on that porch every night. If y'all would've wanted to find your daddy, y'all should've followed the whiskey trail while it was still fresh.” Then Winnie Rae took to
laughing so hard, I was thinking she might bust open that skinny purple vein that snaked up the side of her forehead. She had the kind of laugh that went silent for a while as she gasped for extra air.