Read Before Wings Online

Authors: Beth Goobie

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Health & Daily Living, #Diseases; Illnesses & Injuries, #Social Issues, #General, #Death & Dying, #Paranormal, #JUV000000

Before Wings

before wings

a novel by

Beth Goobie

Copyright © 2000 Beth Goobie
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system
now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.

                                                                                                  

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data
Goobie, Beth, 1959-
Before wings
ISBN 1-55143-161-0 (bound) — ISBN 1-55143-163-7 (pbk.)
1. Title.
PS58563.O8326B43 2000   jC813’.54  C00-910773-8  PZ7.G597B43 2000
First published in the United States, 2001
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number:
00-105582

                                                                                                   

Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for our publishing
programs provided by the following agencies: The Government of Canada
through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP), The
Canada Council for the Arts, and the British Columbia Arts Council.
The author gratefully acknowledges the combined Saskatchewan Arts Board
and Canada Council writing grant as well as the Joseph S. Stauffer Award
that funded the writing of this book. She would also like to thank Dr. Iris
McKeown, Bill Martin, and especially Bob Tyrrell, for their contributions
to this manuscript.
Cover design by Christine Toller
Cover photos from
www.eyewire.com
Printed and bound in Canada

IN CANADA:
Orca Book Publishers
PO Box 5626, Station B
Victoria, BC Canada
V8R 6S4

IN THE UNITED STATES:
Orca Book Publishers
PO Box 468
Custer, WA USA
98240-0468

03  02  01  •  5  4  3

for Vince

part one

one

The spirits had brought a cold gray day. Adrien watched them hover above the lake, curling in and out of themselves with the wind. Female and young, they were sending their breath across the water in mournful blasts, kicking up whitecaps, dashing spray on the rocks, calling storms. These spirits still wanted to kick ass even though they were long dead. Adrien gave them a grim thumbs up and they wailed in return, their bodies twisting into the shrill notes of their voices. She could almost make out words, the same phrase called over and over, their smoky bodies shifting with each syllable.

“You’ll get soaked.” A maternal yank hauled Adrien back as a large wave came in with a crash. “Geezzzus,” hissed her mother, pulling her soaked sweatshirt out from
herself. “C’mon, let’s get you into dry clothes before you see us off.”

“Mom, I’m fifteen!”

“All daydreamers are two years old while they’re dreaming.” Her mother turned to follow the path that led up from the beach, stepping into the sudden lift of insect wings.

“Ugh,” yelped Adrien, flapping at the bugs. They were everywhere, flitting through the camp grounds and along the beach, piles of their pale bodies rotting on the sand. The zillions that were still alive rose in a swarm of translucent wings with every step she took, settling all over her. When she pulled them off, there was a slight suction that made her think of leeches, and she waved her arms wildly as she followed her mother up the steep ridge and away from the beach. Ahead stretched a wide grassy area that led to the dining hall, office and parking lot. A potential bug lurked on every blade of grass. As they crossed the lawn, the ground was a continual explosion of silent wings, the air filled with flight.

“What were you watching?” her mother asked casually.

Ever since Adrien could remember, her mother had been casually trying to get inside her head. Her mother loved her very very much. Adrien felt that love closing in and fought on dim short wings to fly free. “Just the weather.”

“Just the outer galaxies?”

“Something closer.”

Her father leaned against the car, talking to his sister. As Adrien approached, his voice called out with a forced cheeriness. “Fell into the lake already, I see. And took your mother for a swim.”

“Got an extra sweatshirt, Erin?” asked Adrien’s mother.

“Will I get it back?” Aunt Erin demanded.

“Would I want to keep it?” Adrien’s mother dressed urban; Aunt Erin dressed second-hand rural. Still quibbling, the two of them headed for the master cabin where Aunt Erin slept, plotting the next day’s camp schedule in her dreams.

Adrien’s father rumpled her hair. “Water’s wet today, huh?”

“Yeah, wet.”

“You’re carrying a few travelers.” He picked several bugs off her shoulders. Glancing down, Adrien saw she was covered.

“Yuck! What’re these things?” She swiped at them, but the bugs had to be pulled off, one by one. Released, they fluttered a short distance and sank into the grass.

“Mayflies,” said her father.


May
flies? But it’s late June.”

“Americans get them in May, so that’s what they’re called. Warm weather comes later to us frozen icebound Canadian Prairie types, and so do bugs. Mayflies last a couple of weeks and then they’re gone.”

“You mean I’m going to have to wear bugs for two weeks?”

“Then the mosquitoes hit full force,” said her father, a smile floating over his serious tone. “You sure you want to stay here all summer? Your aunt’s an iron woman. I wouldn’t want her for my boss. Older sister was bad enough.”

Adrien shrugged. “I can always come home.”

Her father winced at her lack of enthusiasm. She
sneezed and he took off his red lumber jacket, wrapping it around her. “Last thing we need is you getting sick on your first day.”

“So I come home in a coffin,” Adrien muttered softly, but her father caught it. A whiplash of pain crossed his face and she regretted saying it, knew he would replay the moment endlessly, trying to figure out what he could have said to inspire her, change her, turn her life around.

“I’ll be fine, Dad.” She leaned into him and he hugged her tightly. This one brief moment was something she could give him, solid in the warm circle of his arms, while the wind moaned through the overhead spruce and spirits wailed across the lake.

“I know you will,” he said into her hair.

They waited in silence until her mother returned, wearing a thin ratty Camp Lakeshore sweatshirt with multiple paint stains and a ripped elbow.

“I want that back,” Aunt Erin insisted, following her. “I’m comfortable in it.”

“I bet you’ve been wearing this since the Tories were wiped out.”

“Longer. Since we repatriated the Constitution.”

The adults laughed. There were hugs all around, penetrating teary looks from her mother.

“Keep the jacket,” said her father.

“It’s too big, Dad.”

“Keep it anyway,” he said, patting her shoulder. Then they were in the car, her father reversing, tooting the horn, while her mother waved furiously. Adrien listened to the sound of tires on gravel as the car disappeared around the
bend. Every ten seconds, her father tooted the horn as the car made its way along the road that wound through the large wooded area surrounding the camp. It was a long road; they were holding onto her as long as they could. Finally, he sent out a chipper series of toots to let her know they had reached the gate and were passing through. Letting go. Gone.

The wind blew a dark song through the lift and fall of trees. The huge air was sharp-edged with the scent of spruce. Adrien turned to look at the lake. From here the spirits were indistinguishable, part of the bruised gray of water and sky.

“I hate these,” she complained, pulling a mayfly off her arm.

“Don’t bite,” said her aunt. “Die off the first week of July.”

Adrien shot her a quick glance.

“You’ll catch your death in those wet clothes.” Aunt Erin’s pale blue eyes didn’t blink. She had said the word and wasn’t fumbling to take it back, cover it over, apologize. Maybe she had intended it. “Hot chocolate?”

“I’m
dying
for some.” Adrien twisted the word, drawing it out.

“Bull,” Aunt Erin said shortly, turning toward the kitchen.

Adrien took the thick white mug of hot chocolate and headed to the staff cabins to change into dry clothes. Though it had been Aunt Erin’s suggestion, she was relieved to escape
extended conversation. There was something about her aunt—thick, gnarled and pale—that reminded Adrien of a Group of Seven painting. The glacier. Or one of the tree stumps. It wasn’t her aunt’s face or the way she looked, it was the way she stood
within
trees, sky and wind. Aunt Erin sure fit into this place. Her first Camp Lakeshore job had been as a counselor when she was eighteen, and now she ran the camp. She had never married—Erin Wood made no place for small intimacies. Just looking at her, Adrien could tell her heart was a shoreline vast with water and sky, shifting shale and driftwood. Not a human in sight. Iron woman, like her father said.

The cabin smelled of wood and Lysol. Someone had opened the windows and cleaned the rooms in preparation for staff training. In two days, Camp Lakeshore would be invaded by teenagers and university students, hired as counselors, skills instructors and maintenance crew. Adrien would be working in the Tuck’n Tack shop at minimum wage, selling candy and T-shirts. The alternative was spending the summer in Saskatoon watching her father water the lawn while her mother propped up her tomato plants, all three of them waiting for The Big One to hit. Any time Adrien made a sudden movement, her parents would turn toward her, fear widening their eyes. Sometimes her mother moaned out loud.

Aunt Erin wouldn’t follow her around like a worried sheep. She had made Adrien hot chocolate, then booted her out, saying she had things to do. “Sunday afternoon, grounds are quiet. Go out and explore. Supper’s at five.”

The cabin echoed Adrien’s footsteps. Small shuffling
sounds crept along the walls. Birch and spruce crowded the windows, casting the room in a deep green light that shifted with the wind. She changed into dry sweats and a T-shirt, and draped her wet clothes over the other bed. The cabin had four bedrooms, each with two beds. She would have a roommate, someone else filling this quiet green space with loud talk and movement, conversation and judgment. Quickly, Adrien pulled on her father’s lumber jacket and left the cabin.

She headed through the wooded area enclosing the staff cabins, then out onto the wide expanse of lawn with its frantic mayflies, toward the lake. A path led down a steep ridge to the beach. To her left was the dock; in front and to the right extended the yellow rope and buoys that marked the swimming area. Adrien climbed the lifeguard’s chair and sat staring out. The spirits had gone down into the water and she could just make them out—shadows that rose and sank with the swelling waves. The sun emerged and painted the landscape with startling blues, browns and greens. Overhead, the shrill cries of gulls wheeled through brilliant clouds.

Her aneurysm had exploded out of a moment like this, a moment without expectations, a moment like any other. A similar sky had stretched without interruption into forever, the earth had run ahead of her feet, sure of itself, no widening cracks, no earthquakes, no tricks. Sure, there had been the headache, building for days, but who paid attention to headaches, even bad ones? They weren’t as real as the grins of her friends, snapping their gum and making wisecracks as she stepped up to bat, the gym teacher winding up for the pitch. She had gotten it, had fought the
massive pain in her head for that hit, could still remember the exact contained explosion as bat met ball, the sweet ache traveling her arms. The ball had soared into the blue like a heart, leaving her below within dizziness, pain and nausea. Still fighting, she had managed to take two steps, headed toward first base.

The second explosion had gone off inside her head, tiny sharp lights that swelled in a dizzying wave. There had been a sound to it, a thousand voices calling in one long note from some faraway place, and for a moment she had thought the light in her head was a bright hand reaching into her brain to scoop her up and take her home. Then the sensation of falling had taken over—falling into herself, arms and legs collapsing, bones and muscles meaning nothing as her face came down hard in the dirt.

She had been gone by the time she had eaten that dirt, had no memory of her friends’ screaming, the gym teacher fending off their curiosity, the girl who had run to the office. Or the ambulance that had rammed itself over the curb and torn across the field to where she lay unconscious, having vomited and shit her pants. No one had told her any of this; she had reconstructed it from overheard conversations and some reading she had done on brain aneurysms once she had been let out of bed. That hadn’t been for months, and then there had been rehab and home schooling. Much of it she had been too stupid, too dozed-out, to remember. Once she had gotten back enough of her brain, there wasn’t much she wanted to recall. She was a year behind in school. Her friends had moved on, probably confusing her with someone who had died in a TV special. It had taken her
months to regain basic motor skills. Sometimes her brain would backfire and her legs give out; she would be eating dirt again. It was difficult to trust a body that had betrayed her so completely. Even now, she sat waiting for the one essential neuron to misfire, and her brain to go up in that final apocalyptic explosion of light. Rising, she would hear a thousand voices calling her to the faraway.
Dying, this is dying, wings of light, lifting upward out of—

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