Table of Contents
Where No Gods Came
Tokens of Grace: A Novel in Stories
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS•A division of Penguin Young Readers Group. Published by The Penguin Group.
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Copyright © 2011 by Sheila O’Connor. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data O’Connor, Sheila. Sparrow Road / Sheila O’Connor. p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-51510-5
I give you Sparrow Road
In the shadowed glow of headlights the old pink house looked huge, rambling like the mansions on Lake Michigan. A fairy-tale tower rose high above the roof. The pillared front porch sagged.
“However humble,” Viktor said. He steered his truck to a slow stop. “I give you Sparrow Road.”
own this place?” I gasped. Viktor’s rusted truck reeked of mud and grease; his sunken face was covered in white whiskers. He looked too poor to own a country mansion, even one as worn as this was.
“Raine!” Mama jabbed her elbow in my ribs. “Viktor owns the whole estate.”
“The main house,” Viktor said as if he hadn’t heard me, “is where the artists sleep. Your cottage is a short walk through the meadow.” It was the most I’d heard him say since he met us at our train.
“Well, it’s nothing like Milwaukee, that’s for sure.” Mama gave me a weak smile.
Just hearing Mama say
made me miss it more. Already our apartment seemed another world away, a place where Grandpa Mac waited, lonesome with us gone. I thought of Grandpa Mac standing sad-eyed at the station, the secret fifty-dollar bill he stashed in my back pocket.
In case of an emergency,
he warned, like he knew one was ahead.
“I would assume”—Viktor cleared his throat as if those few words wore him out—“the four artists are asleep at this late hour.” Only one small curtained window was lit up in the house. He opened up his truck door. “I shall get your bags.”
“I don’t want to stay,” I said the second Viktor left us in the truck. Sparrow Road looked haunted-mansion creepy, the same way Viktor Berglund looked when I saw him at the train. A man so thin he looked more skeleton than human; a man with ice blue eyes and a face as cold as stone.
Mama touched my cheek. “Sweetheart, we can’t leave.”
“Grandpa Mac said he’d come to get me. Day or night. All I have to do is call. We can go back to the station, wait there for a train.” I still had the good-bye apple muffins Grandpa baked us in my backpack. A bag of wilted grapes. Grandpa’s fifty-dollar bill.
“We can’t,” Mama said. “And Grandpa Mac is far away. For the first time in a long time, it’s only you and me.” She wove her sweaty fingers between mine.
Your mother’s done some crazy things, but this?
Suddenly Grandpa Mac’s worries were moving into mine.
“But you don’t even like to clean,” I said. Grandpa Mac always joked that Mama’s middle name was Mess. Now I’d lose what was left of my good summer so Mama could cook and keep house for some artists in the country.
“Raine,” Mama said. “We’ve been over this already. A hundred times at least.”
We had. Still, none of Mama’s reasons for this job made an ounce of sense to me. “But Sparrow Road?” I said. “You had a job back in Milwaukee.”
“Sweetheart,” Mama said. She opened up the truck door. “This is going to take some brave from both of us.”
It took more than brave for me to follow brooding Viktor across the dew-soaked meadow. It took Mama’s hand clenched around my elbow and a night so black I was too afraid to stay in Viktor’s truck all by myself.
“The bats,” Viktor warned. “Don’t be startled by the swoops.”
I pressed in close to Mama. A symphony of insects rattled in the grass. “Are there snakes?” I asked.
“Raine’s used to the city,” Mama said to Viktor.
Even the country air smelled strange. A mix of fresh-cut grass and lilacs, rotten apples, raspberries, and pine. Maybe fish, like a lake might be nearby.
“And to think,” Mama said like she hoped to get some happy conversation started. “Just three days ago, I was serving lunch to crabby customers at Christos.”
“Three days ago,” I added, “I was stacking shelves at Grandpa’s store.” All the Popsicles and candy I could eat. Our portable TV tucked behind the counter. Brewers’ games on Grandpa Mac’s transistor. Chess with Grandpa’s best friend, Mr. Sheehan, when the afternoons got long. The summer job I loved, and Mama made me leave it.
“Oh, Raine.” Mama faked a cheery laugh. “You spend every summer in that store. Besides, we’ll only be here a few weeks.”
“Eight,” I moaned. “If you make us stay until September.”
Mama gave my arm a sharp, be-quiet squeeze. “Raine’s tired,” Mama said, like I was six instead of twelve. “Ten hours on a train. That long ride from the station. She needs to get some sleep.”
Sleep. I wasn’t going to sleep a wink at Sparrow Road. Grandpa Mac always said he couldn’t get to sleep without the song of sirens, the noise of neighbors humming through our walls, the roar of city traffic on the street. It would be the same for me.
“Tomorrow,” Viktor said, “I shall take you on a tour. Tomorrow is a Sunday. On Sundays we may speak.”
“Speak?” I said.
“As I explained,” he said to Mama, “every day is silent until supper. Every day but Sunday.”
“What?” I said. “Silent until supper?”
“I assumed she knew the rules,” Viktor said like his mouth was dry with dust.
“She does,” Mama lied. She tried to nudge me forward, but I wouldn’t take another step. A thick swarm of mosquitoes feasted on my skin. Tomorrow I’d be covered in red welts.
“I don’t.” I slapped down at my leg. “Mama never mentioned any rules.”
“Just a few,” Mama said. No one hated rules more than Mama. “Like there won’t be any newspapers.”
“Is that it?” I asked. No newspapers was nothing like silence until supper.
“Or television,” Viktor said to Mama. “Or radio. Or music. Not at any time.”
“What?” I said. “No TV until September? No radio? And we can’t even talk?”
“Molly,” Viktor said. “If it’s a problem for the child?”
“It is,” I answered.
“Raine’s not a child,” Mama said. “She’ll make it through just fine.”
“The artists,” Viktor said, “they require quiet. They only have the summer for their work. As it is, it’s already July.”