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Authors: Glen Huser

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Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen

Also by Glen Huser

S
TITCHES
T
OUCH OF THE
C
LOWN

Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen

Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen

GLEN HUSER

Copyright © 2006 by Glen Huser
Fourth paperback printing 2008

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent of the publisher or a licence from The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright). For an Access Copyright licence, visit
www.accesscopyright.ca
or call toll free to 1-800-893-5777.

Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press
110 Spadina Avenue, Suite 801, Toronto, Ontario M5V 2K4
Distributed in the USA by Publishers Group West
1700 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710

We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP) and the Ontario Arts Council.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloging in Publication
Huser, Glen
Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen / by Glen Huser.
ISBN-13: 978-0-88899-732-6 (bound).–
ISBN-10: 0-88899-732-9 (bound).–
ISBN-13: 978-0-88899-733-3 (pbk.).–
ISBN-10: 0-88899-733-7 (pbk.)
I. Title.
PS8565.U823S55 2006      jC813'.54      C2006-901870-7

Printed and bound in Canada

My appreciation to family and friends who read the first drafts of Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen and offered many helpful comments.

Once again a special thanks to my editor, Shelley Tanaka, for her insightful suggestions throughout the revision process.

For Gail, and in memory of William, fellow travelers on the road to the Ring.

1

Choices. It's probably Mr. Mussbacher's favorite word. During the drive across the city to the south side where the Shadbolts lived, he'd used it at least ten times.

“You
do
have choices in life, Tamara,” he'd said, glancing at me as we waited at a traffic light. “Only you can choose to turn things around. Only you can choose to meet people half way...”

I nodded my head a lot but I didn't say much. There was a light snow falling, and he kept clicking the windshield wipers off and on.

Changing foster homes was starting to happen for me on a regular basis, sort of like changes in the weather. I didn't remind him about all of the things where I didn't have any choice at all.

Take parents. Not my choice. Who would choose Wilma for a mother? A new baby every two or three
years. Maybe she had some kind of a deal with Social Services to keep the foster homes of Alberta busy.

And my dad? Again — not my choice. Wilma said I got my cheekbones from him so I guess he wasn't a total disaster. If you're going to be a model, cheekbones are a real bonus. Be nice if he'd stuck around to see how they turned out.

Foster families? You're crazy if you think you have any choice about them. The Tierneys — I couldn't run away from them fast enough. Good thing their house and bottle-recycling business was right next to the transit line. You can get far away pretty fast on the light rail transit.

And the Rawdings with their lists of rules all over the place, taped to the fridge, on the inside of the bathroom door:
Don't use more than 6 squares of bathroom tissue during a visit. Don't open the refrigerator door unless you have permission.

Didn't have to run away from the Rawdings. One thing about foster parents is a single phone call can spin you on to the next family on the Social Services list.

“The Shadbolts.” Mr. Mussbacher double-checked a file between us on the car seat. “Shirley and Herbert. They're a new application. You'll be their first.”

“Whoopee ding.”

Mr. M. shot me an eyebrows-pushed-together squinty-eyed look.

“Give it a chance, Tammy. Tamara,” he corrected himself as we pulled up in front of a house with walls covered in that kind of stuck-on sand with tiny bits of broken glass in it.

After Mr. Mussbacher had done his little half-hour visit at the new place and left, Shirley Shadbolt had gushed, “I want you to feel like you're one of the family.” She speared a giant waffle out of a waffle iron and added it to a platter warming in the oven. “You can call me Shirl.”

I smiled. It was one of the other things Mr. Mussbacher had urged me to do on the drive over. Smile more.

“You have a chance to make things a lot easier for yourself,” he kept telling me. “I know things didn't work out with the Tierneys and the Rawdings, but things might have gone a lot better if you...”

“Smiled more.” I mouthed the words with him. Actually, I think I was smiling when I dropped Mrs. Rawding's bone china teacups on the parquet floor in the living room after she'd banned me from the
TV
room.

For someone who wants to be a model,
TV
is one of life's essentials. You don't allow anyone to mess with your viewing privileges. Of course, one of the things a model-in-training learns right from the start is how to
smile even when there's nothing to smile about. I've practiced a lot and I'm pretty good at it. I just haven't maxed my killer smile on Mr. Mussbacher or the loser families he's found for me so far.

I smiled for Shirl, though. Who says I'm not ready to work on a new beginning?

“You'll be able to tuck into that waffle in just a couple of minutes, honey. Herb and the kids and me — we had ours already, but, hey, I'll have another one to keep you company.” She placed one of her pudgy hands over mine.

“Not for me,” I told her, still smiling.

“No waffles!” Shirl looked like I'd walloped her one in the chops.

“I have an allergy to flour.”

What I mainly watch on television are programs showing the latest fashions or giving grooming tips. I know fashion shows don't fill all the time slots in a
TV
schedule, so sometimes I find myself watching the health news or the soaps or the sitcoms if I'm really desperate.

It was while I was watching
Health Hotline
one afternoon at the Rawdings (before I was banned from the
TV
room) that I saw this program about celiac disease. If you have celiac disease, eating anything with wheat flour is not good for you. So I filed that away for future
reference. Having an allergy is easier than just saying no to the tubs of starch people keep trying to push at you.

Being thin, of course, is right up there with smiling for models.

“Mr. Mussbacher didn't say anything about an allergy. No wonder you're as skinny as a drinking straw.” Little creases of worry crinkled up Shirl's forehead. “Why don't you check the fridge and find something to tide you over until lunch?”

“Sure, Shirl.”

You can picture the fridge. Mayonnaise and tubs of sour cream, bricks of butter, some pieces of leftover pizza, jars of jam. In the crisper, there was part of a cabbage turning black around the edges and a few carrots that had sprouted whiskers from old age. I pulled the carrots out — and a jar of olives.

“Oh, honey, is that all you're going to have?” Shirl looked distressed.

“What's for lunch?”

“I thought I'd bake some macaroni and cheese. It's a favorite...”

That's what I was up against.

Her two chubby gremlins, Lizzie and Lyle, had wandered down to the kitchen.

“Macaroni!” Lizzie twirled one way and then unwound by twirling back again. “I love macaroni!”

“I want ketchup on mine,” Lyle whined.

I smiled at the three of them and began scraping the whiskers off a carrot.

“You have a choice of schools,” Shirl told me as she helped me unpack my things. “We're right on the boundary line between Stanley Merkin Junior High and Blatchford. It's got elementary and junior high.”

“I'll take the one with no ankle biters,” I said.

Speaking of choices, something I've discovered I do have a choice about are the half-days of school worth missing. I even keep a weekly plan. I mark the teachers and courses I dislike the most on my school timetable and then match it up with the
TV
schedule. Herb's got satellite
TV
so, like I say, lots of choices.

Things have been working out pretty well at this foster home. You can get
Fashion Forecast
on Wednesdays and Fridays, and those are afternoons when I have hour-long blocks of L.A. and Social from Mrs. Whipple.

Actually, I don't really dislike Mrs. Whipple. It's just that she's so boring, by the time you've got through L.A. and you're heading into Social, you're practically in a dead coma.

Plus she has no fashion sense. She and Shirl must be related. Miss Whipple has this middle-aged tummy that makes her look like she's a few months pregnant, and
she wears skirts that are always tight there. And blouses that are a size too small, with bunched-up Kleenexes always falling out of the openings by the cuffs. Very sad. Out of kindness, I won't say anything about her shoes.

How is it possible to get away with missing so much school, you ask? Lots of practice. A few excuses by letter, a few by phone (it only took me a week to get Shirl's voice down pat) and, of course, you can't be too predictable. Once in a while you need to sacrifice a Wednesday or Friday and maybe stay home a morning instead of an afternoon, even if it is slim pickings on the
TV
. Monday is Herb's day off, so that's out, but the rest of the week is up for grabs. Shirl works every weekday at a daycare, and the gremlins go there after school so there's never anyone home on the other days until after five.

Fast forward to a Friday in May when, after missing two Friday afternoons in a row, I make the mistake of showing up at Stanley Merkin and find myself plunk in the middle of some brainless project Miss Whipple's dreamed up, partnering our class with the Sierra Sunset Seniors' Lodge, a three-block walk from the school.

“Oh, Tamara,” Miss Whipple spies me as I come in just a bit late. “How are you feeling, dear?”

The whole class is in a bustle, with odd-shaped packages on their desks. Some of the kids are still packing
theirs; others are writing notes and putting them in envelopes.

I try to remember what excuse I phoned in on Wednesday. Stomach cramps? Pinkeye?

“A lot better, thanks,” I smile.

“I'd forgotten you missed the first session of the Seniors Project,” she says breathlessly, “but never mind. I brought extra things — for just such a circumstance.”

I raise my eyebrows a touch. Enough so it looks like a question, but not true interest.

“Everyone is taking a little gift for his or her senior buddy,” Miss Whipple explains. “Now, I know you aren't buddied yet, but I think Mrs. Golinowski at the lodge has one more senior she wants to match up. A lady who wasn't feeling well last week. Now, let's see, you could take her a set of these slippers I knitted.”

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