Authors: Lois Peterson
Meeting Miss 405
Text copyright Â© 2008 Lois Peterson
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.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Peterson, Lois, 1952-
Meeting Miss 405 / written by Lois Peterson.
(Orca young readers)
I. Title. II. Series.
PS8631.E832M43 2008Â Â Â jC813'.6Â Â Â C2008-903016-8
First published in the United States, 2008
Library of Congress Control Number
: Tansy's mother is at a clinic being treated for depression,
her father is busy at work and her new babysitter is
old, wrinkly and meditates while she does calligraphy.
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Cover artwork by Peter Ferguson
Author photo by Deanna Scott
PO BOX 5626, STN. B
, BC C
PO BOX 468
, WA USA
Printed and bound in Canada.
11Â 10Â 09Â 08Â â¢Â 4Â 3Â 2Â 1
This is for Doug and Holly.
Always with love.
My parents, Jo and Bill Peterson, taught me a love of words and stories. My brother Stephen and sister Judith shared many childhood books with me. My fellow writers (too many to name hereâ I hope they know who they are) listened to, read and advised me on my work over the years. My writing teachers and students challenged me to learn more. And my first “kid reader,” Sophie Vecchiato, and lovely librarian, Linda Neumann, both offered useful comments on Tansy's story early on. Every one has made a difference in my life and my writing. I thank them all.
When Dad makes me go down the hallway to get acquainted, I walk very slowly. “I don't need a sitter.”
“You have no say in the matter, I'm afraid.”
Dad says you can learn what is most important about a person in the first fifteen minutes after you meet them. We know that Mr. 104 has diabetes and likes to barbecue. Mrs. 203 has had seven operations and her pills never work. And Ms. 301 thinks a letter from her boyfriend may have been put in the wrong mailbox.
All I know about Miss 405 is what I see when I go out on our balcony and look two balconies over. Every morning she comes outside to brush her long gray hair. At night I see the spout of her watering can dribbling water onto the tubs of her balcony jungle.
Oh, I almost forgot. Some days on my way home from school I see her on her bicycle with a basket in front. One that is big enough for a small dog. Or a sack of potatoes.
I can guess what is most important to Miss 405 without meeting her. Her hair and her garden. And her bicycle. Bo-o-ring!
If I slump down in the middle of the hall and go all limp, Dad can't make me budge. But I better not do it today. He told me twice already that he has enough on his plate.
As he knocks on the door, I measure with my eyes how far it is from Miss 405's apartment to ours. But I'm not a good runner. And Dad would catch me before I got there. Dad knocks again.
I stare up at the little hole in the middle of the door.
I bet Miss 405 is looking out to see if we are burglars. Or a man with a pizza she didn't order. Or the landlady selling her stinky Avon stuff.
Dad knocks again and gives a little wave at the peep hole.
The door opens. It is too late to get away.
Miss 405 is very old. And she is wearing shiny green shorts! I stare at her tanned wrinkly skin, which goes all the way down her legs in little ripples. Right to her bare feet.
Dad pushes me in ahead of him. “Miss Stella. This is Tansy.”
“I thought it might be,” she says. “Come in, Mr. Hill.”
“Call me Lew. Please,” says Dad.
Before she can tell us to just call her Stella, I say, “In case you want to know, my name is Tansy with a T,” like I always do. This time I also say, “It was Grandpa's dumb idea to call me after a dumb wildflower.” Dad taps me on the shoulder.
Well, it's true!
I never knew knees could be bony and wrinkly at the same time. I don't want to look up. Maybe Miss Stella's face is all pleated like a turkey's neck.
She leads us down her hallway. It is just like ours, but with everything on the wrong side.
All I can see is a roll of crinkly gray hair tied in a knot with a yellow pencil stuck through the middle. And a baggy black shirt that hangs down over her shiny green bum.
“I'm sorry,” Dad says. “It looks like we caught you in the middle of supper.”
On her dining room table is half an avocado on a blue plate and a brown bowl of popcorn next to a whole pile of magazines and papers.
“I can eat that any time.” Miss Stella shoves everything to the other side of the table. “Sit for a while.”
Dad takes one chair, and I stand next to him. I rest my elbow on his shoulder. When he tries to shrug me off, I press down harder.
“Now, I did tell you I have little experience with children. But I understand that you are in a spot,” says Miss Stella.
“It is short notice, I know,” Dad says. “Her mother isâ¦”
I press harder into Dad's soft blue shirt. The pointy part of my elbow fits right in the dip by his neck. If he tells this wrinkly Miss Stella-whoever-she-is about my mother, I will never come back. And I will not say another word to him. Ever.
But he makes a phony little cough. “My wife had to go away for a while. With seven weeks left in the school year, you can see why we need a sitter. Just until the end of term. Tansy can't stay alone yet.”
“I could too!”
Dad reaches across and takes hold of my elbow, leading it off his shoulder and down to my side. “I often work long hours,” he tells Miss Stella, holding my hand so I can't move it. “Sometimes I don't get home until ten. You must tell me if this will be inconvenient.”
Miss Stella picks up the spoon stuck in her avocado. But instead of digging into it, she asks, “Can I offer you some iced tea?”
Her face is as brown and wrinkly as the rest of her. Like those rust-colored cliffs in the Fraser Canyon with ridges where the rain has run through. Her eyes
are light light blue. As if the color got washed out. Maybe she stood too long on her balcony in the rain.
“That would be nice,” says Dad.
“Tansy?” Miss Stella makes a little puffing noise as she gets up. Just like Grandpa.
“I'm not thirsty.”
While Miss Stella is in the kitchen, I ignore Dad's frowny look. I run my fingers through the stack of paper. I love popcorn, but I'm not hungry enough to grab a single kernel.
Miss Stella comes back holding three glasses. Like a waitress, with two in one hand. She puts one on the table in front of me. “Some for you. Just in case.”
In case of what?
“This is red,” I say. Iced tea should be brown. With a slice of lemon squatting on the rim of the glass.
Lemon I could give to Mom if she was here. Dad and I despise citrus.
“It's Roy Bus,” she says. “Not tea at all, really. But delicious.”
I want to ask. But I am not talking to either of them.
Dad takes a sip. Miss Stella takes a sip. I stick one finger in the glass and roll the ice cubes around. I ignore Dad, who I know is watching me.
“Delicious,” he says. When he takes another big mouthful, his Adam's apple bobs up and down.
“So, how will we get on, you and I?” asks Miss Stella.
, is what I want to say.
This wasn't MY idea
When I shrug again, Miss Stella rolls her eyes. Just like my friend Parveen does when one of her brothers does something stupid.
Miss Stella does it so quickly, maybe I imagined it.
At bedtime, Dad rolls me in my sheet like a mummy. I like it this way since we learned about Egyptians at the museum.
I shut my eyes and take my arms out of the bedroll and lay them down along my body. I try to imagine my spirit moving into the next world.
“All I ask is that you cooperate,” says Dad. I ignore him.
“When school ends we can make other arrangements,” he says.
I'm not saying anything.
“We will visit your mother in a couple of weeks and figure things out then.”
My eyes pop open without my wanting them to. “Will she be better in two weeks?”
Dad picks up one of my hands and flaps it between his two big ones like a piece of pizza dough. “I hope so, Tansy. Meanwhile, you know your grandpa will take care of her.”
“I could have stayed at Grandpa's too. I like it there.”
“I know you do. And you have been a little trouper. But you need to be here for school.”
“It will be over soon.”
“Soon enough,” he says in a voice that means the end of the conversation. He lets my hand drop back onto the bed. “We will make our summer plans in a week or so. Meanwhile, you have sports day to look forward to.” He gets up and picks my Harry Potter book from the shelf beside my bed. “And it will take you the rest of the school year to read this. Better put in some time now.”