Read Anastasia Has the Answers Online

Authors: Lois Lowry

Tags: #Ages 9 & Up

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BOOK: Anastasia Has the Answers
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"
Gone with the Wind?
" Mr. Rafferty said, startled. "But, Anastasia, that book has some, well, some unsuitable—"

"Sex?" she asked. "It doesn't, really. Not explicit."

Mr. Rafferty began to shuffle the papers on his desk nervously, and Anastasia realized that she had made a terrible blunder, saying the word "sex" to someone so old. But now, having said it, she was stuck with completing her explanation.

She tried to describe it very tastefully. "When Rhett carries Scarlett up the stairs," she said, "and into the bedroom, the book doesn't tell a single thing after the door closes. They might have been playing Scrabble in the bedroom, Mr. Rafferty." (Secretly, Anastasia was absolutely certain that Rhett and Scarlett had never played Scrabble in their lives. Ashley and Melanie—
they
played Scrabble, the wimps.)

"Well," Mr. Rafferty said, "ah, I don't—well, what I mean is—"

Anastasia sighed. She knew that Mr. Rafferty would never, ever assign
Gone with the Wind
to the seventh grade.

"Can I take the
Johnny Tremain
test again?" she asked. "I know I can do better if I take it again."

Mr. Rafferty looked relieved, and he scheduled a make-up test for Anastasia and the other students who had done poorly.

"And your poem, Anastasia?" he asked. "You have your poem memorized? We'll start rehearsing on Monday. Don't forget that it's Wednesday when the visitors will be here."

"No problem," she assured him. Mr. Rafferty was such a worrywart.

Walking home, she scowled, realizing that now she would have to read
Johnny Tremain
again. She had wanted to practice rope-climbing tonight, if her father would help her get that rope up in the garage.

That was the other thing about the day: gym again. Rope-climbing again. Failure and humiliation again. Ms. Wilhelmina Willoughby, looking pitying and sympathetic again.

The worst thing in the world, Anastasia decided, was being humiliated while wearing a gym suit. Being humiliated, that was bad. Wearing a gym suit in front of other people, that was terrible. But being humiliated while wearing a royal blue gym suit with gross elasticized legs at the same time—and especially in front of Ms. Wilhelmina Willoughby, the one person Anastasia admired most in the world—well, that was the worst feeling in the world, no question.

***

Anastasia plodded up the back porch steps, wishing her mother were home from Los Angeles. Anastasia liked Gertrude Stein a lot. But she couldn't really confide in Gertrude about life's problems the way she could with her mom.

And Sam didn't understand about those kinds of things. Sam often told Anastasia
his
problems, but they were things like: "I didn't get to play with the fire truck at nursery school today because Timmy and Jason were hogging it."

Big deal.

Gertrude was busy at the stove when Anastasia entered the house, and the kitchen was filled with a wonderful smell.

"I've started an apple pie for dinner, to welcome your parents back," she announced. "You can help me with the pot roast and the salad."

"I rolled the pie dough," said Sam proudly, looking up from the floor where he had arranged a long line of Matchbox cars. "And I sprinkled the cinnamon. I wanted to do salt and pepper, too, but Gertrustein said No Way."

Anastasia stepped over his line of cars and went to the refrigerator for a snack. "What time do Mom and Dad get home?" she asked.

"Their plane gets in at five, so they should be here by six. They called late this morning, before they left California. And guess what—"

Sam interrupted. "This long line of cars is a funeral," he announced. "They're all driving to the sedentary.
Rrrrrrr.
" He crawled across the floor, moving the cars slowly one by one.

"They're
what?
" Anastasia asked. "How do you know about funerals?"

Sam looked up matter-of-factly. "Mom told me. They went to California to a funeral, and they were all going to be in cars and drive in a parade, going to the sedentary."

"Cemetery," Anastasia said.

"Right. That's what I said," Sam replied. "And when they get to the sedentary, the parade stops, like this." He stopped his line of cars in front of the washing machine. "Here. Here's the sedentary. And then they take Aunt Rose—" Sam reached for a small plastic GI Joe. "Here's Aunt Rose," he explained. "And they bury her, like a tulip bulb."

He laid the GI Joe on the kitchen floor, covered it with a paper napkin, and smoothed it with his hand. "Goodbye, dead Aunt Rose," Sam said.

"
Sam!
" Anastasia exclaimed. "That's
gross!
"

Sam looked up at her, wide-eyed. "No, it isn't," he said. "Mom said it wasn't. Mom said it was just like trees and flowers and little animals and bugs."

"Well," Anastasia said. Then she couldn't think of anything to add. "Well," she said again.

Sam wrapped GI Joe in the napkin and began to gather up all of his cars. "Now," he announced, "I'm going to have another funeral. This one will be in the hall. And the sedentary will be in the study. This time I'm going to bury Aunt Rose under Daddy's desk."

Anastasia and Gertrude watched him as he trotted off with his armload of cars to the hall.

"What were you going to say, before Sam interrupted?" Anastasia asked.

Mrs. Stein looked stricken. "I was going to tell you that your parents called to say that they're bringing your Uncle George back home with them for a visit." She stared for a moment down the hall where Sam, on all fours, was arranging his next funeral. "I sure hope," she added, "that Sam gets tired of burying Aunt Rose before they arrive."

***

Anastasia heard the taxi pull up in front of the house. Sam was upstairs, in the bathtub; she could hear splashing sounds and Mrs. Stein's voice as she talked to him.

Anastasia looked through the front window and saw the driver removing suitcases from the trunk of the cab. She saw her father taking his wallet out of his pocket, and she could see her mother lean over and whisper into her father's ear.

Anastasia knew what she was whispering: "Don't forget to give him a tip, Myron."

She could also see a tall man getting out of the other side of the taxi. Uncle George, obviously.

Quickly Anastasia dashed to the study and made sure that every bit of evidence of Sam's funeral and cemetery was gone. GI Joe, alias Aunt Rose, had been returned to the toy box, and all of the Matchbox cars were back on the windowsills in Sam's bedroom, where they usually stayed.

Whew.

"Anastasia? Hi, sweetie, we're home!" It was her mother's voice. Anastasia ran to the front door and greeted both of her parents.

"Dinner smells terrific," her father said as he took off his coat. "It's good to be back. Anastasia, do you remember my brother? This is your Uncle George."

Anastasia turned to shake hands with her uncle, and she said the words that she had carefully prepared in her head.

"I'm glad you came, Uncle George," she said politely, "and I'm really sorry about Aunt Ro-"

But then she stopped. She stared at him. She could hardly believe it.

"Holy—" Anastasia murmured. Then she caught herself. "I'm really sorry about Aunt Rose," she said again, since the words had trailed off the first time.

"Thank you," Uncle George replied, and smiled at her. He turned to hang up his coat, and Anastasia watched intently. Was it
really
Uncle George? She hadn't seen him since she was two, and she couldn't remember that. Had her parents maybe played a trick? They had had that conversation about Rhett Butler just the other night.

Had they brought Rhett Butler home to meet her?

Well, that was a stupid thought, Anastasia realized. Rhett Butler was a fictional character.

But had they—maybe—brought
Clark Gable
home from California?

That was even more stupid. Clark Gable had been dead for years.

It
was
Uncle George. It had to be. But he looked exactly like Clark Gable.

He's tall, thought Anastasia.

He's handsome.

He has a mustache.

He's—Anastasia remembered her parents saying this—
rich.

And he is—well, maybe it was gross even to think this, since it was so recent that Sal Monella had done away with Aunt Rose, but let's face it, Anastasia thought; let's be honest—Uncle George is a bachelor.

And Anastasia knew a couple of women who would be thrilled to meet him.

5

"Anastasia," Gertrude Stein whispered at the Krupniks' back door as she buttoned her sweater and prepared to walk across the yard to her own house, "I'm going to make a very noble gesture. I'm going to relinquish any claims I might have."

"Are you
sure?
" Anastasia asked. "Because I really wanted you to have first shot at him. And I could tell at dinner that you liked him."

Gertrude chuckled. "Where's my bag? Oh, there—on the table. Would you hand it to me, Anastasia?" She took the little overnight bag that she'd been using and turned to leave. "I
do
like him,"
she said. "He's a very charming man. And you're right—he looks exactly like Clark Gable.

"But I'm afraid he's too young for me, Anastasia," she said. "Now, let's see: toothbrush, nightgown, slippers — I think I've got everything. Goodnight, Anastasia. Tell your mother I'll talk to her tomorrow."

She gave Anastasia a kiss on the cheek and headed down the porch steps and across the lawn toward her own house next door. Anastasia watched her. Gertrude walked very carefully and slowly because of her arthritis and because her eyesight wasn't what it once had been. She was a little stooped, and her hair was gray and wispy. Still, she was one of Anastasia's very favorite people, and Anastasia wanted Gertrude's life to be happier and less lonely.

"Gertrude!" she called in a loud whisper across the yard.

Mrs. Stein stopped and looked back. "What?"

"
Cosmopolitan
magazine had an article about it and they said it was not only okay but sometimes very desirable!" Anastasia called, trying to keep her voice down so that her parents, in the living room with Uncle George, wouldn't hear.

"
What
was okay? I can't quite hear you!" Gertrude cupped one hand behind her ear.

Anastasia ran down the steps and across the lawn. "Older women and younger men," she explained breathlessly to Gertrude. "
Cosmopolitan
says that sometimes it's the best combination of all, and you shouldn't back off from it out of fear for what people might say. It's
not
always true that the man is just trying to find a substitute mother!"

Gertrude started to laugh. "All right," she said, "I'll remember that. And if I meet a younger man—maybe seventy-three—I certainly won't back off for fear of what people might say. But I don't think your Uncle George is the one, Anastasia. And it's a little too soon, anyway, for George. Give him a little time, Anastasia. Your Aunt Rose has only been gone four days."

"Yeah, you're right," Anastasia said.

"But thank you," Gertrude added, as she turned to go on into her own yard. "Thank you for thinking of me."

Anastasia thought it over as she went back to the kitchen door, and she knew that Gertrude
was
correct. It was too soon. This was Thursday night. She'd give Uncle George a few more days.

***

"There! Got it!" Myron Krupnik called. "Pull it tight now!"

Anastasia stood in the door of the garage, with her mother, watching. It was Friday afternoon. Uncle George was up at the top of an extension ladder, one arm wrapped around the ceiling beam, as he tied the thick rope. Below him, on the floor, Anastasia's father was steadying the bottom of the rope and calling directions.

"Are you sure this is going to be safe?" asked Mrs. Krupnik apprehensively. "Don't forget that Sam already fell out of a second-story window once. I don't think I can deal with
another
skull fracture. That rope is awfully high."

"It's not nearly as high as the one in the gym," Anastasia told her. "Anyway, I never get more than two feet off the ground. I don't think you can fracture your skull if you only fall two feet."

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