Authors: Carol Windley
This edition Cormorant Books Inc.
This is a second edition.
Second printing November
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LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION
Home schooling / Carol Windley. â
PS8595.I5926H65Â Â 2006AÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â C813'.54Â Â Â Â Â Â Â C2006-905724-9
Editor: Marc CÃ´tÃ©
Cover design: Angel Guerra/Archetype
Cover image: Corbis
Author photo: Robert Windley
Interior design: Tannice Goddard
215 SPADINA AVENUE, STUDIO 230, TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA M5T 2C7
HAT SUMMER A BOY
went missing from a field known as the old potato farm, although no one could remember anything growing there but wild meadow barley, thistles in their multitudes, black lilies with a stink of rotten meat if you brought your face too close or tried to pick them. There were white fawn lilies like stars fallen to earth and bog-orchids, also called candle-scent, and stinging nettles, blameless to look at, leaves limp as flannel, yet caustic and burning to the touch. Even so, nettle leaves could be brewed into a tea that acted on the system like a tonic, or so Saffi's aunt told her. She recited a little rhyme that went:
Nettle tea in March, mugwort leaves in May, and all the fine maidens will not go to clay.
Imagine a field, untended, sequestered, grass undulating in a fitful wind. Then disruption, volunteer members of the search party arriving, milling around, uniformed police and tracking dogs, distraught relatives of the missing boy. No place for a child, Saffi's mother
said, yet here Saffi was, holding tight to her aunt's hand, taking everything in.
All the people were cutout dolls. The sun hovered above the trees like a hot-air balloon cut free. Saffi's shoes were wet from walking in the grass; she was wearing a sundress that tied at the back of her neck and she kept scratching at mosquito bites on her arms and legs until they bled and her Aunt Loretta said she'd give herself blood poisoning, but Saffi didn't stop, she liked how it felt, it gave her something to do. She could see her daddy, standing a little apart from the others, drinking coffee from a paper cup. He was a young man then, tall, well-built, his hair a sprightly reddish-brown, his head thrown back, eyes narrowed in concentration, as if he hoped to be first to catch sight of any unusual movement in the woods, down near the river. Saffi looked where he was looking and saw a flitting movement in the trees like a turtledove, its silvery wings spread like a fan and its voice going coo-coo, the sound a turtledove would make when it was home and could rest at last. But there was no turtledove. Never would there be a turtledove. Saffi was the only one who knew. But who would listen to her?
, in a town on Vancouver Island, in the days before the tourists and land developers arrived and it was quiet, still, and everyone more or less knew everyone else. There was a pulp and paper mill, a harbour where the fishing fleet tied up, churches, good schools, neighbourhoods where children played unsupervised. Children were safe in this town. They did not go missing. But now, unbelievably, not one but two children were gone, one for nearly six weeks and then three days ago this other boy, his red three-speed bike found ditched at the edge of the old potato farm, where it seemed he liked to play, hunting snakes and butterflies, but never hurting anything, just catching things and letting them go.
His name was Eugene Dexter. His jacket had been found snagged in a hawthorn tree beside the Millstone River, at the far end of the old potato farm. Or else it was a baseball cap that was found. Or a
catcher's mitt. You heard different stories. There was a ransom note. There was no such note. The police had a suspect, or, alternately, they had no suspects, although they'd questioned and released someone and were refusing to give out details. But, said Saffi's mother, wasn't that how they operated, secretly, out of the public eye, trying to conceal their own ineptness? She kicked at a pebble. A woman beside her spoke of premonition, showing the gooseflesh on her arms. Some men got into a scrum, like elderly, underfed rugby players, and began praying aloud.
One minute it was warm and then the wind made Saffi shiver. Behind the mountain dark clouds welled up, filled with a hidden, shoddy light. The boy's parents arrived in a police car, lights flashing. But maybe Saffi was remembering that wrong. Maybe they drove up in their own car, Mr. Dexter behind the wheel. In any case, there they were, Mr. and Mrs. Dexter, making their way over to tables borrowed from the high school cafeteria and set up in the field, with sandwiches and donuts and coffee and mimeographed instructions for the search party, so perhaps it wasn't surprising when Mr. Arthur Dawsley sidled up to Saffi's mother and said wasn't this turning into quite a three-ring circus? He was their neighbour. He lived on the other side of a tall hedge. Along the front of his yard was a picket fence painted green and on his front door was a sign that said: No Peddlers. When Saffi was small, less than two years old, she'd mispronounced his name, saying Arthur Daisy, and in her family it was the wrong name that had stuck. It didn't suit him; she wished she could take it back. Her parents teased her, calling Arthur Daisy her friend, but he wasn't. His hair the colour of a cooking pot sat in deep waves above his forehead. Under his windbreaker he was wearing a white shirt and a tie. He said he knew this gathering was no circus, that was merely a figure of speech, and not a good one, considering. He said he supposed he was too old to be of much help in the search, but surely he could lend a little moral support.
“Beautiful weather, all the same,” he said, and then walked in his peculiar upright, stolid fashion over to Saffi's daddy, who averted his face slightly and emptied the dregs of his coffee onto the ground, as if the last thing he craved was a word with Arthur Daisy. At the same time the boy's father was handing an item of clothing over to the police, a green striped soccer shirt, it looked like, tenderly folded, and the police let their dogs sniff it and they strained at their leashes as if they'd been given a new idea and the sound of their baying came like a cheerless chorus off the mountain.
Later the wind died down and the clouds built up, dark clouds edged with a beautiful translucent white, dazzling to the eye, and just as Saffi and her mother and aunt got in the car to go home there came a violent drenching downpour, and everyone said it was almost a relief; it was turning out to be such a hot, dry summer.
This could be said of her: as a child she noticed things, she took things in, and to this day she can't decide, is this a curse or a gift? A curse, she thinks, for the most part.
The child she was and the person she's become: in a way they're like two separate people trapped in the same head. Could that be? The child mystifies her. The child with her pallor, her baby-fine, dry hair; her solemn grey-blue eyes, her air of distraction and wariness. Her odd little name that her mother had got out of a book of names: Saffi, meaning “wisdom.”
Who are you? I am Saffi, no one else.
She feels sympathy for that child, of course she does, and affection, impatience, anger, shame. And sorrow. Shouldn't someone have been looking out for her? Shouldn't someone have been watching over her? “Daddy's girl,” her daddy called her, but daddy didn't have much time for her, not really.
When Saffi was in her yard she made a game out of watching for Arthur Daisy to leave in his car, which he did sometimes, not every day, and as soon as he was gone she crawled through a gap in the
hedge into his backyard. She knelt in the shade, looking out at the things he kept there: a wheelbarrow tipped up against a garden shed, a pile of buckets, a heap of steamy grass clippings buzzing with blue-bottles, a mound of composted dirt he made from dead leaves and egg shells and potato peelings, garbage from his kitchen.
At the foot of his porch steps there was a folding chair and an overturned washtub he used as a table, a coffee mug on it. Two of his shirts hung from the clothesline like guards he'd left on duty.
He had painted his cellar window black, but he'd missed a little place shaped like a star and she could get up close to it and see a shaded light hanging from the ceiling and beneath the light a table with a boy crouched on it. He was a real boy. She saw him and he saw her, his eyes alert and shining, and then he let his head droop on his chest. Don't be scared, she said; don't be. He was awake but sleeping, his arm twitching, his feet curled like a bird's claws on a perch. All she could see in the dim light was his hair, nearly white. He was wearing a pair of shorts.
She called him bird-boy. She whistled at him softly, as if he were a wild thing. She had to be careful. Since he'd got the bird-boy, Arthur Daisy never stayed away for long; he'd drive off and then almost at once he was back, slamming his car door and pounding up his front steps. Before he got that far, though, Saffi would have scrambled through the hedge, her hair catching in the branches so that she'd have to give it a cruel tug, but she never cried or uttered the least sound, and at last she was home free.
If Arthur Daisy didn't drive away in his car, if he happened instead to be working in his garden and saw her playing outside, he'd call to her. “Well, Saffi, what do you think I've got?” He kept calling to her. Your friend, Arthur Daisy, her daddy would tease her. She walked to his house on the side of the road, placing the heel of one foot in front of the toe of the other, her arms out for balance. “Hurry up, slowpoke,” he would say, pushing his gate open to let her in.