Authors: Sharon Creech
With thanks to K. T. H.
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Chapter 2: Lizzie
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Chapter 4: The Body Speaks
orms dangled in Aunt Jessie's kitchen: red worms swarming over a lump of brown mud in a bowl. The bowl and the worms and the lump of mud were in a cross-stitched picture hanging above the stove.
When I learned to read, I made out these words in blue letters beneath the bowl:
Life is a bowl of spaghettiâ¦
Those worms weren't worms; they were spaghetti. I imagined myself rummaging among the twisted strands of pasta. That was my life?
There were more words: â¦
every now and then you get a meatball.
That mud was a meatball! I saw that meatball as a tremendous bonus you might unearth in all those convoluted spaghetti strands of your life. It was something to look forward to, a reward for all that slogging through your pasta.
In my thirteen years, I've had meatballs, and I've had lumps of mud, too.
My name is Zinny (for Zinnia) Taylor. I live with a slew of brothers and sisters and my parents on a farm in Bybanks, Kentucky. Our house fits snug up against Uncle Nate and Aunt Jessie's, the two houses yoked together like one. Sometimes it seems too crowded on our side, and you don't know who you are. You feel like everybody's spaghetti is all tangled in one pot.
Last spring I discovered a trail at the back of our propertyâan old trail, overgrown with grass and weeds. I knew instantly that it was
mine and mine alone.
What I didn't know was how long it was or how hard it would be to uncover the whole thing, or that it would turn into such an obsession, that I'd be as driven as a chicken-eating dog in a henhouse.
This trail was just like the spaghetti of me and my family, of Uncle Nate and Aunt Jessie, and of Jake Boone. It took a heap of doing to untangle it.
trolling from our kitchen through the passage into Aunt Jessie and Uncle Nate's kitchen was like drifting back in time. On our side was a zoo of noises: the clomps and clumps of Ben, Will, and Sam zinging up and down the stairs; the blasting of Bonnie's stereo; the bleeping of Gretchen's computer; and the phone clanging off the wall for May.
But when you stepped through the passage, suddenly you'd be in the Quiet Zone of Aunt Jessie and Uncle Nate's house: silent as a tomb most of the time. There you'd see old-fashioned needlepoint pillows and wall hangings embroidered with poems and proverbs; you'd smell cinnamon and nutmeg; and you could trail your fingers over smooth counters and soft quilts.
I spent a lot of time in the Quiet Zone. My brothers and sisters didn't like it there, but I'd come to regard Uncle Nate and Aunt Jessie, his
, as my second parents. They didn't have any children now, though once they'd had a daughter named Rose, who was born the same month and year that I was.
When Rose and I were four years old, I got whooping cough, and then Rose caught it from me. Rose had it bad, bad, bad. When she died, Aunt Jessie did a strange thing. She whipped out the bottom drawer of her huge dresser, plonked the drawer on a table, and lined it with Rose's pink baby quilt. She placed Rose inside, and lit a dozen candles on the mantelpiece.
Aunt Jessie believed that a newborn baby's first bed should be a dresser drawer (pulled out from the dresser, though), and a person's last bed, before her coffin, should be a dresser drawer. If you put a dead person in a dresser drawer, she would be reborn as an innocent babe. Aunt Jessie had some peculiar beliefs.
I kept sneaking in to look at Rose, waiting for her to blink her sleepy eyes and sit up. People said, “Don't touch her!” but I did, once. I tapped her hand, and it scared the beans out of me. It wasn't
hand. It was like a doll's hand, stiff, neither warm nor cold. I studied my own hand, wondering if it was going to turn into a doll's hand like Rose's.
For two days, people filed in and out of that room, weeping over Rose in the dresser drawer. In my four-year-old mind, I knew I was responsible for Rose being in that drawer, and I waited for someone to punish me. Instead, people kept asking me if I was feeling better, and telling me how lucky I was. I didn't feel very lucky. I felt like it was me in that drawer, or as if someone was going to lift Rose out and put me in instead.
You might think that because Rose had caught the whooping cough from me, and I was still living, that Aunt Jessie and Uncle Nate would hold it against me; but they didn't seem to. Instead, they took me on as their own special responsibility. I was a sickly, pathetic child, who caught every germ that floated through the house. Every time I got sick, Aunt Jessie would bundle me up and take me to her house and nurse me until I got better.
Sometimes she called me Rose instead of Zinny, which made me feel peculiar. I wondered if maybe I
Rose; maybe it was Zinny who had died, and I was Rose, and these were my real parents.
My mother was having babies right and left, and maybe she felt guilty that she had so many children while Aunt Jessie and Uncle Nate had none. Maybe she also felt, as I later came to feel, that we owed Aunt Jessie and Uncle Nate something. In any case, my parents let them fuss over me, and I liked being at their house, although I avoided that drawer. It was back in the dresser, but I'd imagine horrid things in it: dead bodies, especially.
When I wasn't sick, Aunt Jessie and Uncle Nate would take me on health walks around the farm. Uncle Nate might point out that because a red oak had open pores, its wood was used to make barrels that would hold dry things, but a white oak's pores oozed sticky gum that formed a tight seal, so with white oak you could make ships. He and Aunt Jessie were regular walking encyclopedias.