Table of Contents
IF I WAS BRAVE, I COULD BELONG SOMEWHERE.
My name’s Toswiah,
Toswiah Green. Have you ever heard of me?
But my name is Evie now. And I’ve never been brave.
I can never tell anybody the real truth. But I can write it and say this story you’re about to read is
. I can give it a beginning, middle, and end. A plot. A character named Evie. A sister named Anna.
Call it fiction because fiction is what it is. Evie and Anna aren’t real people. So you can’t go somewhere and look this up and say
Now I know who this story’s about.
Because if you did, it would kill my father.
OTHER BOOKS BY JACQUELINE WOODSON
The Dear One
The House You Pass on the Way
I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This
If You Come Softly
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland
(a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124,
Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park,
New Delhi - 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), Cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland, 1310
New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Registered Offices: Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the United States of America by G. P. Putnam’s Sons,
a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 2002
Published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2003
Reissued by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2006
Copyright © Jacqueline Woodson, 2002
All rights reserved
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE PUTNAM EDITION AS FOLLOWS:
Hush / Jacqueline Woodson.
Summary: Thirteen-year-old Toswiah finds her life changed
when her family enters the witness protection program.
eISBN : 978-1-101-15726-8
AND FOR THE
Beginning With Children
The mother’s dark brown fingers move quickly through a rise of white dough. On the stove, chicken pieces, seasoned and dipped in flour, sizzle. Afternoon sun falls softly over the kitchen. Two girls—one twelve and the other thirteen—are hunched over homework assignments. Dust streams in lines of sun, and the youngest remembers a long time ago when her sister said
It’s made of bits of skin mostly. I swear.
Skin that’s dust, the youngest thinks. Dust that’s sun. Sun that’s heat that burns the skin. She shakes her head to stop the avalanche of thoughts from coming.
After a while, she turns in her chair to watch her mother. Watches her knead the dough twice, then pat it down—gently, though, the way she seems to touch everything.
“Are you making biscuits or just plain old bread?” the youngest asks. The mother’s hands freeze above the dough. She smiles. She has a pretty smile—her face opens up around it and her dark eyes dance. She is a teacher and her students do all they can to make her smile because it warms them, makes them feel safe even if they’re doing division, which many of them haven’t yet and may never master. She is brown—all-over brown—hair, eyes, skin. So brown the youngest daughter used to say, “I can eat you like a chocolate bar, Ma,” which made the mother laugh. Her mother’s brown reminds her of everything she loves: Chocolate. Dark wool. The smell of earth. Trees. The girl and her sister’s own skin is coppery—somewhere between their mother’s deep brown and their father’s lighter skin.
“Biscuits,” the mother says. The girls exchange looks and grin. Soon there will be fresh-baked biscuits, fried chicken, a salad of dark leafy greens sprinkled with grated cheese. Coconut cake, left over from the younger one’s birthday—her favorite, and the kind she requests year after year. Soon the father will come home, sit at the head of the table, still dressed in his policeman’s uniform, and say, “So, what’d my copper pennies do today?” And the older one will say “Dad!” annoyed that, at thirteen, he is still using this name for both of them. The younger one she can understand—after all, the youngest is still a flat-chested whiny child. But
—she’s nearly as tall as he is!
The oldest opens her hand, then closes it again around her pen. Some nights she is afraid her father will never come home. That he will never again walk through that door, take off his hat and his badge, unfasten his holster and place it beside everything else on the table in the mud room. She reads the papers. She knows that cops get killed all the time. Even at her own school she’s heard kids say they hate cops. People who don’t know her dad’s one and people who do, too. The light coming in the kitchen window is yellow-gold, dusty. Years and years of her own family’s skin and hair and who knows what. Sometimes she gets so afraid that this will be all that’s left of her father. But soon she hears the click of her father’s shoes on the porch stairs.
Then he is there, standing tall in the doorway, grinning. “So, what’d my copper pennies do today?” he asks. For the hundredth time. For the thousandth time. For the hundredth thousandth time. And the oldest, Cameron, shakes her head and smiles. The youngest runs to him, jumps up into his arms. Her long legs dangling past his knees.
Later, with the coconut cake still resting in her stomach, the youngest rises from her bed and stares out into the night—the moon is bright yellow, the sky blue-black, the shadows that are the Rocky Mountains. She sniffs, inhaling the scent of pine and cedar and air that is warm still—but with winter at its edges. The beauty of it all stops her breath. When it comes again, her breath is shallow and loud. She has never lived anyplace else and can’t imagine it. Doesn’t have to because, tonight, this beauty seems to be hers forever.
Her name is Toswiah.
Some mornings, when the sun is bright and the birds are going wild, she wants to hug something, hard—the whole world of it she wants to put her arms around. When she tells her older sister, Cameron looks at her with one eyebrow raised.
I have one word for you,
So she remembers not to tell her sister this—that the world outside her window tonight is perfect. So perfect that sometimes it all seems too much. Too much beauty in one place.
she whispers, wrapping her arms around herself and laughing.
This world is all mine.
Gone. It is all gone now.
THERE IS A SONG THAT GOES
ALL THAT YOU have is your soul.
The singer has this tragic, low voice—like the way someone sounds right after they’ve been crying for a long time—and she sings the line over and over again until way deep in your heart you believe it’s true.
When it comes down to it, every single other thing can be taken clean away from you. Or you can be taken clean away from it. Like home. More and more and more, Denver feels like a dream I used to have. A place I once belonged to.
When the memory of Denver gets too blurred, I pinch myself and say,
Your name is Toswiah. There was a time when the Rocky Mountains were just outside your window.
But my name isn’t Toswiah anymore. And now, this tiny apartment in this crowded city is supposed to be my home. At night, the building echoes with emptiness—the apartments below and above us are empty. When I ask my father how come no one else lives here, he tells me they will come. That eventually someone else will move in, that the Feds thought it’d be best to move us into a building that was empty. I don’t believe my father, though. My father is losing his mind. Maybe all of us are.
Yesterday, I saw a girl who looked like a girl I used to know in Denver, and I got so scared and happy all at the same time that my head felt like it was going to lift straight up off my shoulders. As she got closer, I wanted to scream her name. I wanted to say
It’s me, Toswiah Green!
Then the girl got closer and I realized it wasn’t who I thought it was. She smiled and I smiled back. That was all. Two strangers being nice. She probably didn’t even remember it an hour later. But I did. And hours and hours after that, too, even though I was relieved I didn’t know her. Relieved, but sad. Is
the word I’m looking for? No. It’s not big enough. What happened inside of me is much stronger than sad. Sad is stupid. It doesn’t hurt like this. It doesn’t tell even a little bit of the truth—that this
is like someone peeling my skin back each time—peeling it back and exposing everything underneath to air. Hollow? Empty? Frustrated? Lost? Lonely? There’re so many words, and none of them work.
Some mornings, waking up in this new place, I don’t know where I am. The apartment is tiny. The kitchen is not even a whole room away from the living room, just a few steps and a wide doorway with no door separating it. Not even one fireplace. Daddy sits by the window staring out, hardly ever saying anything. Maybe he thinks if he looks long and hard enough, Denver will reappear, that the cluttered corner store filled with canned stuff, racks and racks of junk food, beer and cigarettes will morph into the hundred-year-old cedar tree at the end of our old street. Maybe he thinks the tall gray buildings all smashed against each other will separate and squat down, that the Rocky Mountains will rise up behind them. I want to say
Daddy, it’s never gonna happen.
But I’m afraid he’ll break into a million pieces if I do. Become the skin-dust floating around the room. I want to say
Daddy, you did the right thing.