Authors: Kate DiCamillo
here were three of them, three girls.
They were standing side by side.
They were standing at attention.
And then the girl in the pink dress, the one who was standing right next to Raymie, let out a sob and said, “The more I think about it, the more terrified I am. I am too terrified to go on!”
The girl clutched her baton to her chest and dropped to her knees.
Raymie stared at her in wonder and admiration.
She herself often felt too terrified to go on, but she had never admitted it out loud.
The girl in the pink dress moaned and toppled over sideways.
Her eyes fluttered closed. She was silent. And then she opened her eyes very wide and shouted, “Archie, I’m sorry! I’m sorry I betrayed you!”
She closed her eyes again. Her mouth fell open.
Raymie had never seen or heard anything like it.
“I’m sorry,” Raymie whispered. “I betrayed you.”
For some reason, the words seemed worth repeating.
“Stop this nonsense immediately,” said Ida Nee.
Ida Nee was the baton-twirling instructor. Even though she was old — over fifty at least — her hair was an extremely bright yellow. She wore white boots that came all the way up to her knees.
“I’m not kidding,” said Ida Nee.
Raymie believed her.
Ida Nee didn’t seem like much of a kidder.
The sun was way, way up in the sky, and the whole thing was like high noon in a Western. But it was not a Western; it was baton-twirling lessons at Ida Nee’s house in Ida Nee’s backyard.
It was the summer of 1975.
It was the fifth day of June.
And two days before, on the third day of June, Raymie Clarke’s father had run away from home with a woman who was a dental hygienist.
Hey, diddle, diddle, the dish ran away with the spoon.
Those were the words that went through Raymie’s head every time she thought about her father and the dental hygienist.
But she did not say the words out loud anymore because Raymie’s mother was very upset, and talking about dishes and spoons running away together was not appropriate.
It was actually a great tragedy, what had happened.
That was what Raymie’s mother said.
“This is a great tragedy,” said Raymie’s mother. “Quit reciting nursery rhymes.”
It was a great tragedy because Raymie’s father had disgraced himself.
It was also a great tragedy because Raymie was now fatherless.
The thought of that — the fact of it — that she, Raymie Clarke, was without a father, made a small, sharp pain shoot through Raymie’s heart every time she considered it.
Sometimes the pain in her heart made her feel too terrified to go on. Sometimes it made her want to drop to her knees.
But then she would remember that she had a plan.
“Get up,” said Ida Nee to the girl in the pink dress.
“She fainted,” said the other baton-twirling student, a girl named Beverly Tapinski, whose father was a cop.
Raymie knew the girl’s name and what her father did because Beverly had made an announcement at the beginning of the lesson. She had stared straight ahead, not looking at anybody in particular, and said, “My name is Beverly Tapinski and my father is a cop, so I don’t think that you should mess with me.”
Raymie, for one, had no intention of messing with her.
“I’ve seen a lot of people faint,” said Beverly now. “That’s what happens when you’re the daughter of a cop. You see everything. You see it all.”
“Shut up, Tapinski,” said Ida Nee.
The sun was very high in the sky.
It hadn’t moved.
It seemed like someone had stuck it up there and then walked away and left it.
“I’m sorry,” whispered Raymie. “I betrayed you.”
Beverly Tapinski knelt down and put her hands on either side of the fainting girl’s face.
“What do you think you’re doing?” said Ida Nee.
The pine trees above them swayed back and forth. The lake, Lake Clara — where someone named Clara Wingtip had managed to drown herself a hundred years ago — gleamed and glittered.
The lake looked hungry.
Maybe it was hoping for another Clara Wingtip.
Raymie felt a wave of despair.
There wasn’t time for people fainting. She had to learn how to twirl a baton and she had to learn fast, because if she learned how to twirl a baton, then she stood a good chance of becoming Little Miss Central Florida Tire.
And if she became Little Miss Central Florida Tire, her father would see her picture in the paper and come home.
That was Raymie’s plan.
The way that Raymie imagined her plan unfolding was that her father would be sitting in some restaurant, in whatever town he had run away to. He would be with Lee Ann Dickerson, the dental hygienist. They would be sitting together in a booth, and her father would be smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee, and Lee Ann would be doing something stupid and inappropriate, like maybe filing her nails (which you should never do in public). At some point, Raymie’s father would put out his cigarette and open the paper and clear his throat and say, “Let’s see what we can see here,” and what he would see would be Raymie’s picture.
He would see his daughter with a crown on her head and a bouquet of flowers in her arms and a sash across her chest that said
LITTLE MISS CENTRAL FLORIDA TIRE 1975
And Raymie’s father, Jim Clarke of Clarke Family Insurance, would turn to Lee Ann and say, “I must return home immediately. Everything has changed. My daughter is now famous. She has been crowned Little Miss Central Florida Tire.”
Lee Ann would stop filing her nails. She would gasp out loud in surprise and dismay (and also, maybe, in envy and admiration).
That’s the way Raymie imagined it would happen.
Probably. Maybe. Hopefully.
But first she needed to learn how to twirl a baton.
Or so said Mrs. Sylvester.
Mrs. Sylvester was the secretary at Clarke Family Insurance.