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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"A parade, right? That's neat, Sam: a lovely parade."

"Nope," Sam said in a loud, cheerful voice. "Another funeral."

"Shhhhh." Anastasia knelt beside her brother and whispered, "Don't say that so loud. Not while Uncle George is here."

"Why not? Uncle George knows all about funerals, because Aunt Rose just—"

"SHHHHHHH!"

Sam pointed to a small metal dump truck. GI Joe was lying stiffly in the back of it, his glazed eyes staring at the ceiling. "See? That's dead Aunt Rose," Sam said. "I'm hauling her off to the—"

Anastasia had an idea. "Sam," she whispered,
"funerals are supposed to be very private and quiet."

"They are?"

"Yeah. So you have to drive all your cars and trucks real quietly, and you have to whisper."

"Like a secret?" Sam's eyes were wide. He loved secrets.

Anastasia nodded solemnly.

"Oh. Okay," Sam whispered. He turned back to his line of cars and began to move them very quietly. "
Rrrrrr,
" he murmured under his breath.

Relieved, Anastasia headed for the kitchen, where she could hear her parents and Uncle George.

***

"Who, what, when, where, and why," Anastasia said as she stirred her corn flakes.

Her father turned another page of the
Boston Globe
and didn't say anything. Her mother took a sip of coffee, added another word to the crossword puzzle she was doing, and didn't say anything.

But Uncle George looked up quizzically from the magazine he was reading. R sure was nice to have company in the house, Anastasia thought; it meant that someone paid
attention
to you now and then.

"I'm practicing to be a journalist," Anastasia explained to Uncle George. "And those are the questions that a good journalist answers right at the beginning of an article."

"Oh, I see," said Uncle George politely, and looked back at his magazine.

"Or a
piece,
" Anastasia continued. "A real pro usually calls it a piece instead of an article. For example, right now I'm working on a piece about the seventh-grade girls' basketball team, for our school paper."

"I see," said Uncle George politely, and his eyes sneaked a look back at his magazine article.

"So you see, I have to answer those questions when I write the piece. I'll show you how it works. Ask me the questions, one by one."

"What? What questions?" Uncle George asked.

"Who, what, when, where, and why," Anastasia explained patiently. "Ask them one at a time."

Uncle George closed his magazine. Good; now he was really paying attention. "Who?" he asked.

"The seventh-grade girls' basketball team," Anastasia replied. "Go on. Ask the next one."

"What?" asked Uncle George.

"Won their fourth game in a row. Go on."

"When?"

"Last Friday afternoon."

"Where?"

"At Lexington Junior High. Okay, next?"

"Why?"

"In continued pursuit of the regional championship. Do you like that phrase, 'continued pursuit'? I thought it up all by myself."

Uncle George nodded. "It's quite, ah, sophisticated. Yes, I like it very much."

Anastasia spooned up the last of her corn flakes and took her empty bowl to the sink. "I'll let you do one more, Uncle George, now that you're getting the hang of it. Start asking the questions again. Start with 'who.'

Uncle George grinned and said, "Who?"

"Anastasia Krupnik—"

"What?"

"Unfortunately has found it necessary to cancel her plans to visit her friend's new apartment—"

"When?"

"This morning—"

"Where?"

"About half a mile from this house—"

"Why?"

"Because it's raining," Anastasia said angrily. "It's
pouring,
and it's not ever going to stop."

"If your dad will let me borrow his car," Uncle George suggested, "I could give you a ride to your friend's. I don't have any plans this morning."

"
Would
you? Hey, that'd be
great,
Uncle George! Dad, is that okay?"

Myron Krupnik looked up from the newspaper. "Mmmmmm," he muttered, and looked back down.

"I'll just go get my jacket," Anastasia said. "Do you want me to get your jacket out of the guest room, Uncle George? Or maybe a necktie or something?"

Uncle George looked down at the old plaid flannel shirt he was wearing. "Isn't this all right?" he asked. "Do I need a necktie to give you a lift to your friend's?"

"Well, no, I guess not. But I just thought that maybe, on the remote chance that we
might
meet Daphne's very attractive mother—"

Katherine Krupnik looked up from her crossword puzzle. "Anastasia," she said in a warning voice.

"You look just fine, Uncle George," Anastasia said hastily.

***

Anastasia glanced over at her uncle as he backed the car out of the garage. He really
did
look like Clark Gable, even from the side. He had that nice mustache and a very warm smile.

And widowers, she knew from magazine articles, were by far the best husbands. Much better than divorced men. It was because they remembered their wives fondly, instead of gritting their teeth and writing alimony checks each month. Probably Uncle George remembered Aunt Rose so fondly that already he was wishing he could find somebody just as nice as she had been. Someone like, maybe, Caroline Bellingham, Daphne's mother.

"We go that way, straight ahead, for three blocks; then turn left," Anastasia said as Uncle George pulled out into the street. "I suppose you remember Aunt Rose very fondly," she added.

He shifted gears and the car lurched and sputtered. It was an old, temperamental car. "Straight ahead," he repeated, "and then left after three blocks. Is that what you said?"

"Right. And also I said that I suppose you remember Aunt Rose very fondly."

"Well, ah, yes," Uncle George replied. "Yes, I do. I'm sorry you didn't know her, Anastasia."

"Mom and Dad told me what a nice lady she was. And that you were very happily married."

"Yes, that's true."

"Do you suppose—here, Uncle George; here's where you turn left—do you suppose it will take you a very long time to recover from the shock of her dea——ah, her passing away?"

Uncle George turned the corner. "It will take time," he said. "It was sudden. Do we go straight now?"

Anastasia nodded. "Straight for half a mile. I'll tell you when to turn onto Daphne's street. By the way, Daphne's mother is also recovering from the shock of the very sudden loss of her husband."

"Oh? I'm sorry to hear that." Uncle George looked sympathetic in a Clark Gable-ish way. Anastasia hoped he wouldn't ask her the
cause
of the loss of Mrs. Bellingham's husband. The sinister Sal Monella was one thing: grim and tragic. But a fourth-grade Sunday school teacher was something else again.

"Here. Turn right here. This is their street, and their apartment is halfway down the block. It must be that tall building there. Yeah, look, that's Daphne on the front steps, with the umbrella."

Uncle George parked at the curb in front of Daphne's apartment building. He reached over, across Anastasia, and opened the door on her side.
Daphne grinned, waved, and came over to the car. She was wearing her huge white shirt, the one that made her look vaguely like archangel Gabriel, over a pair of jeans, and she was holding an enormous black umbrella.

"This is my Uncle George," Anastasia said proudly. "Uncle George, this is my friend Daphne Bellingham."

"Hi," Daphne said, and she looked at Anastasia. The look meant: you're right. Clark Gable.

"What time would you like me to pick you up, Anastasia?" Uncle George hadn't even stopped the car motor.

"Aren't you coming in? I bet Daphne would love for you to meet her very lovely mother. Especially since you and her mother have so much in common," Anastasia said.

"Yeah, I would," Daphne agreed. "Come in and have a cup of coffee. That's why I brought the umbrella out, to help you get from the car to the front door."

Uncle George made several polite, Clark Gablelike attempts to leave. If this had been
Gone with the Wind,
he would have said, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." But Anastasia and Daphne continued to hold the car door open, until finally he took the keys out of the ignition. "Just for a minute," he said, and he followed the girls into the building and upstairs to the second floor, where Daphne lived.

7

"
Rats,
" said Anastasia gloomily, "it didn't work. I'm sorry to say this, but your mother really acted like a jerk, Daphne."

"I think she's mentally disturbed," Daphne said matter-of-factly. "She used to act fairly normal. But now she's rude to everybody, the way she was to your Uncle George. Boy, will she be mad when she gets her sanity back and realizes she was rude to someone who looks just like Clark Gable."

They were in Daphne's bedroom in the apartment. It was smaller than her old bedroom had been, with just a tiny closet and one window. And it had hideous wallpaper: pale green, with ladies in hoop skirts, holding parasols beside a lake. But on the whole it wasn't a bad bedroom. Daphne had moved all of her stuff, so that the atmosphere hadn't changed; her posters were there on the walls, and her big stuffed dragon still sat on her bed, the way he had in the old house.

But it was true that Daphne's mother had changed. A
lot.
Back in the old days, when she was the wife of the Congregational minister, she really
acted
like the wife of the Congregational minister. Daphne and Anastasia had both thought she was pretty boring. She sang in the church choir; she served tea to the Altar Guild; she played bridge; she even taught Sunday school for a while. That was weird, Anastasia thought; Mrs. Bellingham had probably attended Sunday school teacher meetings with the very woman who was going to become her husband's girlfriend.

She flopped down on Daphne's bed beside the stuffed dragon and said, "I just had a weird thought. Your mother taught Sunday school right along with the woman who was going to become your father's girlfriend. And she didn't even know it."

Daphne flopped down beside her, on the other side of the dragon. "Yeah, they were friends. So what? Why is that weird?"

"Well," Anastasia said slowly, "it has ramifications."

"Meaning what?"

"Meaning that you and I, at this very moment, could already know the people who are going to play a role in our future. We might know the people we're going to marry, for example."

Daphne made a face. "Speak for yourself.
I'm
not ever going to get married."

"You might change your mind. You used to have a crush on Eddie Fox."

"A crush, sure. Marriage, that's something else again. Look what happened to my parents. Of course, a lot of it was my fault." Daphne stood up and wandered over to the bureau. She picked up a bottle of nail polish. "You want to paint your toenails? I'm going to."

"Okay." Anastasia began unlacing her hiking boots. "What shade is that?"

Daphne read the label. "Fatal Apple."

"That's cool. I used that once before. It has matching lipstick. But I look gross with lipstick on."

They passed the little bottle back and forth and began to paint their toenails. "Don't shake the bed," Daphne said. "I always smear nail polish anyway, and it's worse if the bed jiggles."

Silently, meticulously, they did one toenail after another. Anastasia finally stretched out one leg so that she could view her left foot with all five toes done. She grinned. It looked glamorous. It looked like someone else's foot. It looked like the foot of a model in the bathing suit issue of
Sports Illustrated.
It looked like a foot that could climb a rope. It looked like—

"Hey," she said suddenly, turning to Daphne. "What did you mean, it was your fault? I just remembered that you said that. Your parents' divorce was your fault?"

Daphne blew on her toes to dry the polish. "Yeah, they say it wasn't, but I know otherwise."

"How could it be your fault?"

"Remember when you first met me, right after you moved to town? Remember how weird I was?"

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