Authors: Patricia MacLachlan
For Joanna Cotler and Justin Chanda—
Hello. I am writing here now. My brother Caleb says it is my turn to keep the journal. He is busy working the farm most of the time, and when haying time comes he’ll be busy all the time.
I am almost in third grade. I can spell, you know. And I know many words, some of them important words. Like
I will have to look up the meaning of ecstatic. But I can spell it.
I am a watcher. I am a listener, too. I am invisible. I can make myself so small and quiet and hidden that sometimes no one knows I am there to watch and listen.
Except for Grandfather. He finds me everywhere. He sees me when I’m hiding. Grandfather tells me he can see through walls.
But he won’t stop me.
I will find lots to write about.
—Cassandra Sarah Witting
ummer was cool and wet, and the barnyard was muddy. It was like spring left over. The cats jumped from the fence and ran into the barn so they could sleep in the dry hay.
“I see you there, you know,” Grandfather called to me. “Hiding behind Martha.”
Grandfather knew the names of all our cows. Martha was black, with a white spot on her rump.
I stood up.
“I’m not hiding,” I said. “I’m studying Martha’s spot.”
This made Grandfather smile. And Caleb.
“You were hiding,” said Grandfather. “It made Martha nervous. I could see her eyes roll.”
Martha turned and stared at me.
“Martha always rolls her eyes,” I told Grandfather.
He laughed out loud. He and Caleb were digging trenches in the mud so the rains would run off.
“You’re sneaky, Cassie,” said Caleb.
“Elusive,” I told him. “Mama says I’m elusive.”
“Sarah always finds a word to make you look better,” said Caleb. “I say you’re sneaky.”
Caleb has always called Mama Sarah. My mama is not Caleb’s real mama. But she is mine. He and Anna called her Sarah when she first came to meet Papa. Before they were married. I call her Mama. Maybe someday I’ll call her Sarah.
“I’m looking for things to write about,” I told Caleb. “It just looks like I’m sneaky.”
I took my notebook out of my coat pocket and began reading to them.
“‘Grandfather and Caleb dug deep rivers in the mud so the cows, Martha, Eleni, Princess, Mary Louise, Pudgie, and Boots, can float into the barn to feed.’”
“That’s not the truth!” said Caleb.
“Yes it is,” I said. “It is storytelling.”
“Made up,” said Caleb.
“Maybe,” I said, turning away and walking through the mud to the barn. I turned once to see Grandfather smiling at me, Caleb staring.
“Maybe,” I said louder just before I disappeared into the dark barn.
The cows float into the dark barn and then out the other side into summer. It is hot and dusty. Heat waves rise off the land and the cows happily eat their way through the fields of corn. They walk into the cow pond and look up, and the birds flying across the sky swoop down to cool their faces with their wings.
And that’s the truth.
saw many things. Mama had gained pounds this winter. Sometimes she wore Papa’s sweaters.
“They seem to fit me better,” she said. “And they smell like your papa.”
Today in the barn I saw Papa put his arm around Grandfather. They laughed at something. I tiptoed in closer to hear what it was, but Grandfather, as always, saw me.
“Cassie? That you behind the stall?”
“Not a good thing, lurking, Cassie,” said Papa with a frown.
“It would be a good thing if you didn’t
me,” I said crossly. “How am I ever going to find things to write about if I can’t listen?”
“Maybe you need to observe, Cassie,” said Papa. “Quietly. Without lurking.”
I did observe. I saw more things.
I saw Caleb talking to a girl by the pond. She rode a dappled horse.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“Someone,” said Caleb. “Not for your eyes.”
Of course it was for my eyes.
Caleb has found a princess. They meet in secret because they must.
They will marry soon and run away to live in wild Borneo, eating fruit and nuts from the bushes there. They will have two babies named Ondine and Tootie.
I read Caleb my words to tease him. It worked.
“Wild Borneo!” said Caleb very loudly. “Not true, Cassie. And she is
a princess! How can you write such things?”
“Papa told me to observe quietly. That is what I saw,” I said.
a good story, though, Cassie,” said Grandfather, smiling.
“And Tootie is a very unusual name,” said Papa.
“Imaginative,” added Mama.
“Don’t encourage her, Sarah,” said Caleb. “Nothing she writes is the truth.”
truth,” I said. “Mine.”
I saw more things. I saw that Mama took naps late morning and afternoon. I watched her from the side porch as she worked in her garden. She stopped working and put her hand to her throat as if she could be sick.
“In the morning she is the last to get up,” I whispered to Caleb and Grandfather in the kitchen. “She is always, always, always the first one up.”
Caleb smiled at me.
“And how would you know that?” he asked. “We have to tumble you out of bed every morning.”
Grandfather was slicing bread for lunch.
“Once I carried you all the way down the stairs wrapped in a blanket,” he said. “I sat you at the breakfast table, and you were
I frowned at Caleb and Grandfather, which made them smile all the more.
“You can tease if you want,” I said. “But Mama’s sick.”
Grandfather and Caleb turned as Mama came into the house then, her hair in wisps around her face. She stopped when she saw us all watching her.
“This looks like a meeting,” she said with a little smile.
Grandfather cleared his throat.
“No meeting. Lunch. What can I fix you, Sarah?”
Sarah shook her head and held up her hand.
“Nothing, thank you, John. No food.”
“Are you ill, Sarah?” asked Grandfather.
Mama turned and smiled the smallest smile at Grandfather.
“I don’t feel like eating. . . . I think I’ll rest.”
Papa came in the door.
“Sarah?” asked Papa.
“I’m going to lie down, Jacob.”
Papa looked quickly at us, then followed Mama to the bedroom. I could hear his voice, soft, then hers.
No one spoke. Grandfather poured me a cup of milk.
“See? She is sick,” I told him.
“Everyone gets sick, Cassie.”
I could feel sudden tears at the corners of my eyes.
Caleb put his arm around me. I was surprised. Caleb never put his arm around me.
“Sarah will be fine, Cassie. You’ll see.”
I could tell that Caleb was worried, too, even though he didn’t say so. Later I saw him watching Mama.
And that evening Mama didn’t come to dinner. She stayed in her bed. Papa made biscuits that were hard and dry, like stones. Grandfather made a stew that needed salt. Caleb set the table with forks for the stew. No spoons. Even the dogs were restless. Nick and Lottie stood at Mama’s bedroom door and looked at her. I watched her, too, until she turned her head and told us to go away.
“I’m fine, Cassie. Don’t watch me. Go away and take the dogs,” she said.
I didn’t go away. I stood behind the door and kept watching her. After a long while I took the dogs up to bed with me.
Most nights Mama came up to kiss me good night. But no one came except for Lottie and Nick. They lay on either side of me all through the night. They slept while I watched the moon move across the window and out over the barn. Across the meadow. Before I fell asleep the moon washed over the prairie, making it look soft and safe, covered by a silver quilt.
n the morning Lottie and Nick were gone, leaving dog dents in the quilt. I got out of bed quickly and dressed. I ran downstairs, stopping partway to listen. There were no sounds of talk in the kitchen. No sounds at all.
The table was set for breakfast. The coffeepot was on the stove. I touched it and pulled my hand away. Hot.
Very slowly I walked to the door of Mama and Papa’s bedroom. Mama was asleep, the bedcovers tucked tightly around her. Lottie and Nick stood next to the bed, staring at her. They looked up at me as I came into the room. Nick wagged his tail.
We stood there for a long time, watching Mama breathe. Finally I took the dogs and went out through the kitchen to the yard. Papa was fixing a bridle. He smiled.
“You slept late.”
“Your mama still sleeping?”
I nodded again.
“She needs rest, Cassie,” said Papa.
“Why?” I asked.
Papa shook his head. He didn’t answer my question why.
“She’s going to see Dr. Sam.”
I moved closer to Papa so he had to put his arm around me.
“May I go to town, too?”
“Not today, Cassie.”
“I need to buy a new journal.”
“Already? You’ve filled up that journal
? Didn’t know there was that much going on here.”
I smiled at Papa.
“There isn’t. I make up things.”
“Dreams. Wishes. What I want.”
“That is a good way to fill it up. Maybe some of those things will come to be. One of the dreams. One of the wishes.”
Papa kissed the top of my head. Out in the paddock Grandfather and Caleb cleaned and filled the cows’ water tubs. Redwings flew in a wave over Caleb and Grandfather and the cows like a veil. A cloud passed by the sun and it was dark, then light again.
“Sarah. How are you feeling?” called Papa.
Mama walked out of the house. Grandfather and Caleb came to the fence.
Mama smiled. Slowly she walked toward us.
“Better,” said Mama. “I missed dinner, didn’t I? And breakfast.”
Suddenly Mama stopped, putting up her hand to brush back her hair.
“Jacob?” Her voice sounded faraway.
“Sarah!” cried Papa.
He began to run toward her. Caleb jumped over the fence and ran, too, but
it was Papa who caught Mama as she fainted.
I stood so still. Papa carried Mama to the wagon.
“Caleb! Hitch up the horses. You’ll drive to Dr. Sam’s. Cassie, get a blanket!”
“I’ll help,” called Grandfather, touching me as he hurried by.
He turned and spoke harshly to me.
His voice was strange. Stranger than I’d ever heard. I ran to the house, and the dogs began barking. I grabbed a blanket off Mama’s bed and ran past Lottie and Nick.
“Hush!” I said to them.
I could feel tears coming down my face.
The horses were hitched up. Caleb climbed up to drive. Grandfather and Papa wrapped Mama in the blanket. Her face was as pale as summer clouds.
“Call Dr. Sam! Call Anna,” said Papa as Caleb began to drive away. “Call now.”
“Go. Go,” said Grandfather.
He grabbed my hand and pulled me into the house with him as the wagon turned out of the yard and down the road.
He picked up the phone with one hand. With the other he gathered me close to him. I buried my face in his shirt and never heard him tell the operator to call Dr. Sam.