Authors: Lois Lowry
Tags: #Ages 9 & Up
Sam looked up from the floor where he was playing. "I can do a poem," he announced. "Listen: I'm Popeye the sailor man, I live in a garbage can—'"
"MOM! Make him
" Anastasia wailed.
"Sam," Mrs. Krupnik said firmly, "shhhh. Anastasia's upset. You just play with your cars and be quiet. Have a nice, quiet funeral. You can bury Aunt Rose over there, under that stack of canvases."
Sam nodded, eyed the stack of canvases against the far wall of his mother's studio, and loaded the blank-eyed GI Joe onto the back of his dump truck. "
" he said, and began driving away slowly.
Mrs. Krupnik turned back to Anastasia. "I wonder if he'll get tired of funerals by the time George goes back to California," she murmured. "Four more days."
more days till the rope-climbing demonstration," Anastasia said bitterly. "I suppose I should practice up on whistle-blowing."
"No, wait," her mother said. She put down the pen she'd been holding and looked at the drawing on the table in front of her. "This job isn't due at the publisher until the tenth of the month. That gives me a couple of weeks, still, so I can set it aside for a little while without feeling too guilty. What time is it?"
"Four o'clock," Anastasia said, looking at her watch.
"Sam's busy with his macabre game, aren't you, Sam? Are you keeping busy over there?"
Sam looked up from the canvases, where he had just disposed of Aunt Rose. "'I always go swimmin' with bare-naked women,'" he said. "That's the rest of my poem about Popeye."
"Sam is busy. George is reading in the study, Dad's not home yet from work, and dinner preparations can wait for a little while. So, Anastasia, out we go to the garage," her mother concluded. "It's you and me, kid; we're going to beat that rope if it kills us."
"Really?" Anastasia stood up and brushed her hair out of her eyes.
" her mother responded. "Ask me 'Who?'"
"Anastasia Krupnik—" said her mother.
"Mastered the difficult art of rope-climbing—"
"When?" Anastasia was grinning.
"This very afternoon—"
"In the Krupnik garage—"
"Because she wasn't about to be the only kid in the seventh grade who was assigned to whistle-blowing, not in front of Ms. Wilhelmina Willoughby, the most glamorous gym teacher in town, and a whole band of visiting foreigners. And because her mother was
that she would do it!"
"My arms ache," Anastasia told her mother that night.
"Of course they do," her mother replied. "You really gave them a workout."
They were sitting together in the study, after Sam had gone to bed. From the kitchen they could hear the sound of dishes rattling and the laughter of Dr. Krupnik and his brother. It was Anastasia's father's night to do the dishes, and Uncle George was helping, even though Uncle George said that in thirty years of marriage, Aunt Rose had never once asked him to wash a single dish.
Not even maybe an ashtray or something?" Anastasia had asked in disbelief.
"Nope, not one." Uncle George shook his head.
"Good grief. Dad has to do them two nights a week. It's part of our family rules. Of course," Anastasia added, "every family is different." But she had added that only to be polite. Secretly, she thought that any family in which the husband never washed a single dish in thirty years was
weird, even if he
look like Clark Gable.
Anastasia wondered if the real Clark Gable had ever washed the dishes—before he died, of course. Did he come home from the movie studio, take off his Rhett Butler costume and make-up, eat supper with his wife, and then wash the dishes? Probably not. Probably his wife didn't either. They would have had a maid, Anastasia decided. Or else they ate takeout food: Kentucky Fried Chicken, or pizza, or Chinese food, every night. Anastasia sometimes wished that her family were rich enough to eat takeout food every single night.
Maybe up in heaven, the real Clark Gable would run into Aunt Rose. She would notice how much he looked like Uncle George, of course, and she would introduce herself, and they could have dinner together or something.
No, they'd go to a movie, Anastasia decided. Not dinner. Aunt Rose probably wasn't into going out to dinner, not after her recent experience with Sal Monella.
"You look so much like my husband," Aunt Rose would say to Clark Gable.
No, that wasn't right. My
husband? But "late" meant that the person had died. And Uncle George hadn't died—Aunt Rose had.
"You look so much like my early husband," she might say. Maybe that was the way it worked.
It was her mother's voice. Anastasia shook herself awake and was surprised to find that she was still sitting on the couch in the study.
"Sweetie, you fell asleep. Maybe you ought to go on up to bed. You really wore yourself out this afternoon in the garage."
Anastasia stood up groggily. "Yeah, I think I'll go to bed.
"Mom?" she asked, as she turned to go upstairs. "I'm really doing a lot better, aren't I? On the rope, I mean. I got about hallway up that last time. Maybe even three-quarters of the way up. Didn't I?"
Her mother nodded. "I'm sure you got halfway, Anastasia. And tomorrow, when you practice again, you'll go even farther."
"'O world,'" recited Anastasia dramatically, "'I cannot hold thee close enough!'"
"Hold it," Mr. Rafferty said. "I wonder if a gesture would be appropriate there. If you sort of
your arms out..."
Anastasia cringed. "I don't think I'm the flinging sort, Mr. Rafferty," she said.
"Well," he replied with a disappointed sigh, "all right. Go on."
"'Thy winds! Thy wide gray skies!'" Anastasia went on.
"Maybe if you flung your arms out there, on 'skies'..."
Anastasia groaned inwardly. Mr. Rafferty really was into emoting. She didn't mind
the poem in front of the visiting educators—she didn't even have stage fright anymore, practicing in front of the class. But she sure wasn't going to emote, and fling her arms around.
It was, Anastasia thought, really a neat poem. Imagine actually writing that: "O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!" Anastasia had
like that a lot: happy, and in love with the whole world; but she never in a million years would have thought of the right words, the way the poet had.
On the other hand, Anastasia's father—himself a pretty famous poet—had not reacted very well to her recitation when she had practiced at home. He had made a terrible face.
sport," he said. "You're doing just fine. It's the poem. That poem is sentimental garbage. Why don't they assign you something great to memorize?"
"Like what? It has to be something uplifting."
He stared at her with a puzzled look. "Why uplifting?"
Anastasia shrugged. "I don't know. Because these people from other countries are visiting, and we're supposed to be real patriotic and happy and enthusiastic and uplifting."
"Like Nazi Youth?"
Cut it out!"
Dr. Krupnik began to fill his pipe. "Sorry," he said. "I don't know why I said an obnoxious thing like that. Isn't it amazing how sometimes obnoxious remarks just
out of your mouth without any warning? I'd better keep my mouth shut. But I
think it's one of the worst poems ever written. That's a matter of taste, of course."
Anastasia had giggled. "Yeah. Like Sam's favorite poem is 'Popeye the Sailor Man.'
Standing, now, in front of her English class, Anastasia wondered briefly what would happen if someone decided to recite "Popeye the Sailor Man" in front of the visiting educators. Well, it wouldn't be Anastasia Krupnik. She
"O World—" and she would do her best with it tomorrow, even though she would cool it on the gestures.
"All right, Anastasia," Mr. Rafferty said. "That's just fine. I wish you'd
about the arm-flinging, though. Maybe you'll change your mind. Or maybe, when you're actually reciting the poem for an audience, the emotions will overwhelm you, and the gestures will come naturally."
She nodded politely and went back to her desk. No way was arm-flinging ever going to come naturally, not to Anastasia Krupnik.
Gym class was a severe humiliation. The only good thing about gym class was that the students got to wear jeans for a change, since their gym suits were all at home being laundered for the next day's demonstration.
But Ms. Willoughby didn't even let Anastasia
the ropes. She handed Anastasia the whistle, and put her in charge while her classmates climbed the ropes.
"Ms. Willoughby," Anastasia began, "I practiced last night in my garage, and I think maybe I can—"
But Ms. Willoughby—beautiful, sensitive, kind, thoughtful Ms. Wilhelmina Willoughby—was already headed off for the other side of the gym to pick up some basketballs. She was determined that the gym look perfect for tomorrow.
Grouchily Anastasia turned toward the lines of waiting girls. She put the whistle's cord around her neck, lifted the whistle to her mouth, and blew. "
" Then she watched, dejected, while her classmates and friends all clambered up the ropes like chimpanzees.
begun to master the rope in the garage, Anastasia thought on her way home from school. Yesterday, with her mother cheering her on, she had gotten halfway up. If only Ms. Willoughby had stopped worrying about the appearance of the gym long enough to listen.
Anastasia shifted her schoolbooks from one arm to the other and began to daydream. There, in front of a whole group—maybe a hundred or more—of visiting international educators (all wearing uniforms, for some reason, in Anastasia's fantasy, and taking notes in small notebooks), Anastasia would step forward, still holding the hated whistle, after the rope-climbing exhibition was over.
"Now," she would say (and they would all look up, startled, from their notes), "one final demonstration!"
" She would blow the whistle briskly, twice. In the corner, she could see Ms. Wilhelmina Willoughby watching with amazement and awe.
"I owe this all to Ms. Wilhelmina Willoughby," Anastasia would announce. Then she would remove the whistle and its cord from around her neck. "Everything that I am, I owe to Ms. Willoughby." Perhaps there would be a smattering of applause then, and Ms. Willoughby would blush and acknowledge it gracefully with a nod.
Anastasia would step forward to the rope. With one quick leap she would grasp it with both hands, and her sneakered feet would instantly find their grip. Up she would go: so smoothly, so lithely, so quickly that the audience would hold its collective breath. From high above them, she would hear the "
" as she nimbly performed her most amazing feat, something never attempted before in the junior high gym. She would move from one rope to the next, and then the next: back and forth between the six ropes, like an acrobat, her toes pointed, twirling now and then, extending one arm gracefully, looking down with a poised smile.
A sequinned outfit with pink tights would be better, Anastasia realized, than a royal blue gym suit. But no matter. The costume wasn't the important thing. The important thing was the skill, the daring, the absolute fearlessness and agility with which she dazzled the crowd below.
"I dedicate this next stunt—" she would call. No, wait; "stunt" wasn't right. "I dedicate this next
to that most illustrious gym teacher, Ms. Wilhelmina Willoughby!"
Silence would fall upon the awed crowd. Anastasia would look down to see Ms. Willoughby's face, rapt with pleasure, pride, and delight, looking up at her.
Let's see. What would the feat be? Maybe she could leap, no hands, from one rope—somersaulting in the air—over to the top of the basketball backboard, soaring through the—