Authors: Robert Cormier
After the First Death
Beyond the Chocolate War
The Bumblebee Flies Anyway
The Chocolate War
8 Plus 1
I Am the Cheese
In the Middle of the Night
The Rag and Bone Shop
Tunes for Bears to Dance To
We All Fall Down
Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers
a division of
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
Text copyright © 1995 by Robert Cormier
Cover illustration copyright © 1995 by Mel Grant
All rights reserved. No part of this book 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, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. For information address Delacorte Press, New York, New York 10036.
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TO THE GRANDCHILDREN
Travis, Darren and Mallory Cormier
Emily, Claire, Sam and Drew Hayes
Ellen and Amy Wheeler
e and my sister. My sister and me. Sustaining each other through the years, although we often argued about what she insists on doing. The telephone calls, for instance. I have allowed them, without approving of them. But now she wants to call the boy, instead of the father.
I am writing all this down. I have never kept a diary or a journal or anything like that. My thoughts and memories were enough, but now that she has begun to assert herself, I find that it’s necessary to keep a record. Why? For my own good, my own testimony, in case anything happens.
, she says.
You know what’s going to happen.
I ignore her. I don’t answer.
Don’t I what? Answering her but not wanting to be
drawn into her plans, and knowing that I won’t be able to resist.
Don’t you know what’s going to happen? Think of what happened to me. I’m the one who went through it all.
My sister’s name is Louise but everyone always calls her Lulu because she couldn’t pronounce Louise properly when she was a baby. It came out something like Lulu.
We’ve always spent a lot of time together. Even though she is less than a year older, she treats me as if I am a baby. She used to call me Baby-Boy and still calls me Baby.
Even as a kid she acted like she was my mother. She loved to touch me. Tickle me or caress me. She would grab and poke and massage me, and this would drive me crazy. I’d begin to giggle, then laugh, and then get sick to my stomach.
, I’d cry, and she would finally stop and take me in her arms and hold me, kissing my cheeks, wet kisses, sometimes tears in the kisses, and she’d tell me how much she loved me.
I will take care of you forever, Baby
, she’d say.
I will never leave you.
And I believed her.
We went to live with Aunt Mary after our parents died. Aunt Mary was my mother’s sister. She never married and taught second grade at St. Luke’s Parochial School. She stopped in at St. Luke’s Church next to the school every day
after classes. She said three rosaries every night before she went to bed, kneeling on the floor. She ran the household like she ran her classes, a time set aside to do everything. Our time was from seven to eight o’clock. She devoted that hour to Lulu and me, and we devoted it to her. We would read books out loud or put on small plays for her that Lulu made up. The plays were mostly her versions of movies or television shows. Like the final scene in an old movie called
where she was Cathy dying in bed and I was Heathcliff and had to pick her up after she died and carry her to the window. My legs always buckled when I picked her up and she’d get mad at me and I’d get mad at her because I didn’t want her to die, even in a play. Sometimes she’d switch to comedy because she liked to see Aunt Mary laugh. Aunt Mary did not laugh often and Lulu was delighted when Aunt Mary suddenly yelped with laughter. Mostly she laughed when Lulu presented her version of
I Love Lucy.
She played Lucy, of course, and I was Ricky Ricardo and she made me practice his accent.
Aunt Mary was our mother and father and all our aunts and uncles put together. There was no one else in our family but the three of us. Our mother and father died when we were very young. I can’t remember them at all, although Lulu claims she can. Times when I was feeling sad, she’d tell me stories about them. How they loved to dance. How they’d turn on the radio or put a record on the phonograph and dance in the kitchen and float through the rooms in each other’s arms, gliding over the linoleum in the kitchen, almost as if their feet weren’t touching the floor.
How can you remember that
, I asked,
if I can’t?
I guess because I’m brighter than you
, she said.
But you were two years old when they died.
A smart two-year-old
, she said.
Know what? I remember popping out. I remember the slap. Right on my bottom. Hurt like hell
… And she laughed.
I never knew whether she was making up stories or not, but I loved to hear her tell about our mother and father dancing through the rooms of the apartment.
Their favorite song was Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.” Everybody else played Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” but they put on “Blue Christmas” and danced around the room.
But “Blue Christmas” is a sad song
, I said.
Sad words, sad music.
White Christmas” isn’t a barrel of laughs, either
, she said.
Maybe they liked sad songs because they had an inkling about what was going to happen to them.
I envied Lulu because she remembered so much. And even if she was only pretending, I envied her ability to make it seem real.
We lived on the second floor below the Denehans and their six children. Eileen Denehan was Lulu’s best friend. I was not best friends with any of the Denehans. They were loud and lively, running all over the place, but none of them liked to read or ever went near the library. Eileen’s brothers—Billy, Kevin, Mickey, Raymond and Tom—played baseball, and Lulu joked that they should take up basketball and have a team of their own. They ignored me and I never looked at them. Anyway, I had Lulu. And Lulu
had me. But she also had Eileen. Eileen was the brightest of them all, and the liveliest.
Like Lulu. They could finish each other’s sentences and they loved ridiculous talking-animal jokes, making them up, jokes that were funny only to them. Why does a kangaroo say ouch? Answer: Pouch. I think their ridiculous jokes were some kind of code, but I never asked Lulu about that.
Eileen told us about the big Halloween show at the Globe Theater. Magic acts and singers and dancers and jugglers and one year a man who walked on a wire high above the heads of the kids in the audience.
But there are only so many seats
, she said.
And you have to be impoverished to be eligible for a ticket.
impoverished? Eileen’s brother Billy asked.
, Eileen said.
I know what
means and we’re not impoverished
, Lulu said.
Yes you are
, Eileen said in her know-it-all manner, which matched Lulu’s. Which is why they were such good friends.
My idea of fun isn’t going to a show with a thousand screaming kids
, Lulu said.
Then she saw my face. I liked the idea of seeing a magician perform tricks live onstage and not just in the movies.
, Lulu said,
if we have to be impoverished to see this show, then that’s what we will be.
Later, in our seven-to-eight time with Aunt Mary, Lulu said:
I know we’re not really impoverished, but there’s this Halloween
show we’d like to see that Eileen upstairs told us about.
Oh, I know about that show
, Aunt Mary said.
It’s a tradition here in Wickburg. Why didn’t I think of it before, having you both go to the show?
She began to cry.
See what you’re missing with an old maid bringing you up?
Tears on her cheeks now like small soap bubbles that had burst.
You don’t have to be impoverished to go, and you’re both eligible. Because you’re orphans, poor things.
Really crying now, her cheeks messy and her nose running. Lulu handed her a Kleenex.
We were orphans, all right, Lulu and me.
We were barely two when my mother and father went to the drive-in theater one night. They usually did not go to drive-in theaters because that’s where the horror movies were shown and young couples made out in cars, and wise guys threw popcorn around and drank beer while sitting on the hoods of their cars. But my father was a sentimental one, Aunt Mary said. My mother and father went to a drive-in on their first date and he talked my mother into going again, for old times’ sake. But the wise guys were wiser than ever that night, drunk or maybe high. They gathered around my parents’ car and began to shake it back and forth and bang on the hood and my father put down the windows and swore at them, and finally drove out of there. But the wise guys followed in their cars—two or three of them—and chased them down Route 2, bumping them from behind and cutting in front of them. My father lost control and his car smashed into a tree. Looked like a busted accordion, Lulu said.