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Authors: Hannah Roberts McKinnon

Franny Parker (16 page)

BOOK: Franny Parker
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“It's your chance,” Mama told Lindy again. But she was looking at me.

I thought of Mama's paintings, stored quietly in our attic.
About her own chance in Tulsa, so long ago. I sat back down with the others.

We worked in silence, taping the boxes closed, labeling each in black marker. When we were done we stood, staring at the empty shelves, the clay marks on the floor. Lindy started to cry. “It's the strangest thing,” she said. “Lucas and I, we've moved around a lot these last few years. But for the first time, I feel like we're leaving home.”

Mama took her hand. “You are,” she said.

And so, one late August afternoon, I stood with a pitcher of lemonade, just as I had a couple months before, watching this time as things were loaded onto the truck. First the duffel bags of clothes. Then the potting wheel, followed by the kiln, which Daddy helped to lift. Finally the boxes of books, eight in all, stacked neatly between the coolers of cookies and pies and bread the Busy Bees had insisted Lindy take. But still we couldn't say goodbye. So we dragged it out until dusk, after one last meal of Daddy's famous fried chicken, one last batch of corn on the cob together.

Soon fall would find us, and it would mark more than just a change of season. For us there were new school clothes to shop for and new teachers to meet. For Lucas and Lindy, a final night's sleep in the cabin and a long leafy highway to navigate. After dinner Lucas found me on the back porch tending to the opossums. Grandma Rae's shed was empty. Speed Bump had long since been released into the river behind our house. We hadn't seen her in a while, but Ben never stopped looking. Runty and the other mice had found the upper fields, the squirrels
the old maples in the meadow. Only the opossum babies remained.

“You can't hang on to them forever,” Lucas whispered from behind. Darkness was just beginning to settle around us, the sky a deep purple-gray.

I nodded, without turning around. “They're nocturnal, you know,” I said, looking up at him.

“A twilight release,” he mused. “I think I've got time.”

And that was it. We gathered them into a cardboard box and headed up the hill, into the woods, behind the black dust of our old barn.

“Here?” Lucas asked, setting the box in the field.

“No, it's got to be perfect,” I said.

He sighed patiently and we hiked on, stopping finally at a big birch, right on the fringe of the forest. Below us, the barnyard stretched out in the pale moonlight, the lights of our house glowing warmly, the blue truck packed in the driveway. We stood watching the figures of our families below, their voices trailing up the hill.

I looked at Lucas.

“Ready?” he asked.

I nodded.

We opened the box together, and the opossums stumbled out, sniffing the crisp air suspiciously. I reached out and touched each coarse coat one last time. It took them a few minutes, but they decided the spot was okay after all and ambled into the woods, a little opossum parade.

“Quick,” Lucas said. “Make a wish for them.”

“For what?”

“How about plentiful seasons?”

My eyes filled, and I wiped them silently, grateful for the darkness so Lucas wouldn't see. But he must've known, for he grabbed my hand and squeezed it hard, holding on tight all the way home.

At the truck the next morning, we all hugged goodbye, and it was a big mess of arms reaching and squeezing, Lindy's and Mama's, Ben's and Sidda's and Daddy's, and lastly mine and Lucas's.

When I held out the worn copy of
The Yearling
, Lucas smiled. “Keep it,” he said, pressing the book in my hand.

“You're just like him.”

“Who?” he said and laughed. “Jody or Flag?”

I thought about that. The orphan fawn, a thing so beautiful that never really belonged, or the grown boy, making his way into a world harder and brighter than before. “Both,” I decided. And then we hugged so tight and held on so hard I thought my chest would burst.

After they drove away, Mama wiped her eyes and Daddy raced Ben back into the house. Sidda gave me a little pat before following them. I was the last one in the driveway, waving the longest, wishing the hardest.

Out of the Dust

G
randma Rae still thanks the Lord no one was injured that hot summer night. At least not the kind of injury a person can see on the surface. As for that, Mama said we'd feel it inside us for a while. The summer that changed everything. I tried to remember what it was like, how the summer fever had crept up on us like a cat, brushing its tail coyly at our legs, rubbing against the backs of our knees, and then sinking its claws in good.

The first thing I learned that year was that good intentions can only get you so far.
Those in need
were not just around us, they were in our very own backyard. And wanting to help just wasn't enough. You could stand all day holding help out, trying to push it in the palm of someone's hand. But that hand had to want it. I like to think my intentions were good. Promising to keep a secret, trying to undo a mistake. Summer may not have turned out like we'd thought, but with the bad surprises there were the good. Like my swallows, who returned to our new barn in the spring. And like Grandma Rae and the Animal Taxi. No turtle has sat on the backseat of her town car since, but she'd do it again, I know.

Another thing I learned is that family comes in all shapes and sizes. And family's not just the people you share your blood with. Take the power of friendship. There are lifelong friends you can't seem to shake, and new friends who find
themselves in your backyard. Just like family, a good friend will stand by you, pull you into a living room of laughter, or out of the flames that lick the sky above you. And like with family, there are secrets. I've learned that some secrets a person shouldn't be asked to keep. But there are others that are easy to keep, that are downright delicious. Like the swirling circle of old friends in a wooded grove, the dance that calls the rain. Friendship is a powerful thing.

Finally there is the fever. It's not just the summer fever, I realize that now. It's the fever of love. Love of a small town, an orphaned animal, a boy across the yard. Love has led me to many places, both to and from my family. Like the river that runs through our backyard, the love of my family courses through my veins. It surrounds me. Like the portrait of a young woman in a red coat that hangs over our fireplace. A woman made of flesh and bone by my mother's hand, as fierce and lovely as Mama herself, a portrait of Grandma Rae. I look at my people, the Parkers, on the parlor wall of Grandma Rae's differently now. They are not distant faces separated from me by time. I know them like I know my right hand. And on bad days I remind myself to be hopeful.

As Mama said, some packages arrive on your porch banged up and unrecognizable. You just have to remember what they started out as. Like the postcard I got a week after Lucas left, the edges crushed but the printing crisp and straight. “Thank you, Francesca,” it said. “Love, the opossums.”

In the end, Lucas was right about plentiful seasons. Although that summer was one of the hardest, it was really
the beginning. In me it added to the rings of my tree, the hope and the sadness, the trying and the giving up, and trying all over again. It filled me up, spilling into my branches, unfurling my leaves. My limbs tingled with the energy of it. And I grew.

Acknowledgments

I would like to first thank my agent, Barbara Markowitz, for changing my life one spring day with a scrawled note in my mailbox that said simply, “I like this. A LOT!”

I could not have accomplished this without my editor, Janine O'Malley, at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, whose careful eye and deftly placed Post-it notes guided me across the deep channel of editing, delivering Franny safely to the other side. I am ever grateful for her patience, kindness, and trust.

To everyone at FSG, I thank you for your warm welcome and support. It was more than any new author could have hoped for.

To Ron Olson, English teacher extraordinaire, who first introduced me to Shakespeare and the Romantic poets, as well as the idea that I can and should do this.

From the very beginning, I have been thankful for my family. For my father, my earliest and most avid audience, the original writer in the family. And for my husband, Jason, my first reader, who is not afraid to tell me what I need to hear, and whose keen understanding of the human spirit brings out the best in my characters and helps shape who I most want them to become. I love you all.

BOOK: Franny Parker
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