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Authors: Lois Lowry

Tags: #Ages 9 & Up

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BOOK: Anastasia Has the Answers
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Anastasia thought back. She remembered. She remembered the time Daphne had mowed a Nazi swastika into her parents' lawn, and the way she had painted her bedroom walls black. She remembered all the times Daphne had been in detention at school.

"I wouldn't call it weird, Daph. You were being adolescent."

Daphne sighed. She bent her knees, rested her arms on them, and put her head down in her arms. "I know," she muttered. "But I wish I hadn't been. They couldn't deal with it. And now look."

"Look at what? Come on, Daphne. Your parents dealt with it very well. They never got upset or anything.
My
parents would have gone berserk-o if I had painted my walls black. Yours just waited till you got tired of such a sick-looking room and then they took the price of yellow paint out of your allowance. In my opinion that was an absolutely intelligent thing to do, much better than yelling, which is what my parents would have done."

"You think?" Daphne turned her head and looked up at Anastasia.

"I
know.
"

"I always thought your parents were terrific. I thought it was neat that they yelled at you and stuff. My parents never,
ever
yelled at me. And guess what—" Daphne put her head back down in her arms. She started to cry. "I wanted them to."

Anastasia sat silently and watched Daphne's shoulders move as she cried. She wondered what to do. People on TV always knew what to do, what to say. Joanne Woodward always knew just how to say soothing, intelligent things when she was playing psychiatrist roles. And Anastasia never did.

"You're shaking the bed," she said finally. "You told me not to shake the bed, and now
you're
shaking the bed."

Daphne took a deep breath and tried to stop crying.

"Here," said Anastasia, and she handed Daphne a tissue from the box of Kleenex on a nearby table. "Psychiatrists on TV are always giving people Kleenex when they cry. Maybe I should become a psychiatrist."

Daphne blew her nose. She took another deep breath. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm a jerk."

"No, you're not. I don't mind that you cried. You don't have to be embarrassed or anything," Anastasia told her. "I just feel bad that I can't think of anything to say or to do. Except to tell you that I'm positive it wasn't your fault that your parents got divorced.

"I'll do a journalistic evaluation," Anastasia suggested. "I'm going to ask you these questions: who, what, when, where, and why. First one is 'who,' and you say your parents' names. Ready? Who."

Daphne smiled a little. "Reverend and Mrs. John Bellingham," she said.

"What?" Anastasia asked next.

"Filed for divorce—"

"When?"

"Last month—"

"Where?"

Daphne wasn't sure. "Boston, I suppose. Some courtroom."

"Why? Be honest, now."

Daphne took one more deep breath. "Well, because as time went along and they got older, their personalities didn't seem to match very well anymore. Like my mom didn't want to teach Sunday school or sing in the choir anymore, or go to all those meetings. But my dad really thought she ought to. He said it was her duty. But she wanted to get a job, because she had all this education and everything—she had applied to law school way back, before they got married, but then she never went—and my dad said it wasn't appropriate for the rector's wife to work, and they didn't need the money—"
She stopped for a moment, took another breath, and went on. "—and he didn't understand that it wasn't the
money;
it was, well, my mom said it was the self-esteem. But he said it ought to be enough self-esteem to be the wife of the minister of the largest Congregational church in the whole county, and when he said that, my mom swore at him—I'm not going to say what she said—"

Anastasia giggled. "Why not? I've heard you swear lots of times."

"Yeah, but nobody ever heard my
mom
swear, and I'm not going to ruin her image. Anyway, then she said they ought to see a marriage counselor, and he said, 'By God, I
am
a marriage counselor! And you should respect that!' and that's when she called him a sanctimonious creep, and he said—"

"Hey, wait, Daph, how do you know all this? They didn't say it in front of
you,
did they?"

Daphne shook her head. "I eavesdropped," she said. "From my bedroom closet, if I pushed the winter stuff aside and got up close to the wall, I could hear everything they were saying in their bedroom. It was a rotten thing to do, I suppose."

"But necessary," Anastasia said. "I can understand that."

Daphne wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "Anyway, that's about all of the 'why,' I guess."

Anastasia looked at her in astonishment. "Well, that proves it! Don't you see, Daphne?"

"See what?"

"All those conversations you eavesdropped on—and they never knew you were listening, did they?"

"No. I always shoved the clothes back where they belonged, so my mother wouldn't notice."

"Well, they never mentioned you. Did they
once
say, 'And that rotten kid Daphne—which one of us gets stuck with
her?
'"

Daphne giggled. "No," she said. "They mentioned me, of course. But it was always just how concerned they were about me."

Anastasia stood up and looked down at her bare Fatal Apple toes. "Well," she said, "quit being a jerk. It wasn't your fault. How do your toes look?"

Daphne stood up and looked down at her own feet. "Sexy," she decided. "Maybe I will get married someday, after all."

***

Uncle George beeped the horn of the car after he pulled up to the curb. He didn't even come up and ring the doorbell of the apartment. And no wonder. When he came up before, Mrs. Bellingham said, "How do you do, you'll have to excuse me, I'm busy," very coolly; then she went to her bedroom, and Uncle George sat there on the living room couch, drinking a cup of coffee very awkwardly while Anastasia and Daphne tried to make conversation.

"Hi, Uncle George," Anastasia said after she dashed through the rain and got into the car. "Thanks for coming to pick me up."

"Forgive me for not ringing the bell," he said, "but I think that woman didn't like me."

Anastasia rolled her eyes. "She was just acting weird, Uncle George. She just lost her husband and everything, and she's acting a little weird. I think she'll get over it."

"Your friend Daphne is charming," Uncle George added. "And she has the most beautiful hair. It reminds me of Shirley Temple."

Oh, gross. Anastasia could never tell Daphne that. Elderly people like Uncle George—and even Anastasia's parents—all liked those old Shirley Temple movies, where she danced around, smiling, showing her dimples—and sometimes her underpants, talk about
gross
—with her curls bouncing.

Daphne, in fact—since she did happen to have the same sort of curls—had once, for a school talent assembly, mouthed the words of "On the Good Ship Lollipop" to a record, while she danced, wearing a short ruffled dress. But one of her front teeth was blacked out, and she was wearing a black lace garter belt, which showed every time she did a little Shirley Temple twirl.

The entire junior high had thought it was hysterical, and Daphne had gotten a standing ovation. But everybody over the age of thirty-five—which included a lot of the teachers—thought it was sacrilegious or something. Daphne almost ended up in detention again.

Ms. Wilhelmina Willoughby, Anastasia remembered with satisfaction, had loved it.

Thinking of Ms. Wilhelmina Willoughby reminded Anastasia that she planned to spend the remainder of the Saturday afternoon out in the garage once again. She had decided to try wearing her mother's gardening gloves this time, since her hands were beginning to be sore from all the rope-climbing attempts.

8

"
PHWEET!
" Ms. Willoughby's whistle blasted through the gym on Monday afternoon, and the basketball game stopped. Everywhere there was the rubbery sound of sneakers coming to a speedy halt against the floor. Meredith Halberg bounced the basketball once, tossed it ineffectually toward the basket, and it rolled over into the corner where the gymnastics mats were piled.

"The period's almost over," Ms. Willoughby called. "But gather round for a minute before you go to the locker room."

The seventh-grade girls, still panting from the basketball game, clustered around Ms. Willoughby. Anastasia stood a little to the side. Somehow, in gym,
she felt a little separate from her classmates. She watched them now, each in a bright blue gym suit, listening to the gym teacher.

"Very shortly," Ms. Willoughby was saying, "the day after tomorrow, to be exact, there will be a team of educators from several other countries visiting our school. You probably know that already."

Everybody burst out laughing. The entire school had been talking of nothing else for two weeks. There were posters everywhere, reminding the students about the coming visit from the team of educators. The principal had spoken about it in a special assembly. Every single teacher had devoted a long discussion to it.

All the teachers and administrators, Anastasia realized, were
terrified
that somehow or other they were going to be disgraced and humiliated in front of the foreign educators. Eddie Fox might yell out something obscene, the way he did occasionally. Daphne Bellingham—although it had been months since she had done her Shirley Temple imitation in assembly—might suddenly be moved to do it again, in the middle of a history class. Eighth graders would all light up cigarettes in the halls, instead of sneaking them in the bathroom the way they usually did.

All of it was highly unlikely. The junior high students were actually a nice bunch of kids, and they wanted to impress the foreign visitors favorably. But Anastasia could see that the entire faculty was very nervous. And now Ms. Willoughby (Anastasia had supposed that such a super-cool person was above that sort of nervousness, but apparently not) was going to give the "Let's be very impressive for our visitors" pep talk, too.

"We'll be doing a demonstration for them," Ms. Willoughby was saying. "We won't have a lot of time because they'll just be coming in small groups through the gym briefly. But physical education is very important in Europe—you remember how the Germans and Rumanians always perform at the Summer Olympics—so they'll be particularly interested in what goes on in gym.

"I want you all to take your gym suits home for laundering tonight. And
iron
them!"

Everyone groaned.

"White socks," Ms. Willoughby went on. "No argyle knee socks, Jennifer Billings!"

Everyone laughed at Jenny Billings's bright yellow, green, and red knee socks.

"No pantyhose, Daphne Bellingham," Ms. Willoughby announced, and Daphne said, "Okay, okay."

"
White socks.
No jewelry—that means you, too, Jill, even though you like to jangle—all three sets of earrings have to go. Be on time Wednesday, everyone. Let's see, what else?" Ms. Willoughby looked down at her clipboard.

Jenny Billings raised her hand. "You said we'll be doing a demonstration. What are we going to demonstrate?"

"Oh," Ms. Willoughby said, "you're what, second period?" She moved her finger down the paper on the clipboard. "First period, folk dancing; third period, precision marching. You guys are going to do rope-climbing. Now—we're running late. Class dismissed!
Phweet!
" Her whistle blew again.

"Anastasia," Ms. Willoughby called, as the girls all ran toward the locker room door, "could I see you for a minute?"

***

"The whistle!" Anastasia said, choking back sobs. "She said I could be in charge of blowing the whistle! Just as if I was a little kid, you know, like Sam, who could be conned into thinking that blowing the whistle was a real important job. And she was so nice about it, I couldn't argue or anything, and I know she—"

"Shhh," her mother said soothingly. "Don't cry." She stroked Anastasia's hair. "Let me think. I'm sure we can work something out."

"I could just be absent," Anastasia suggested, sniffling. "But I
want
to be there when those people from other countries come. I really want them to see what a neat school we have, and in English class I'm supposed to recite a poem when they're there, so I
can't
be absent, no one else knows that poem but me—"

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