Authors: Richard Scrimger
Text copyright © 1998 by Richard Scrimger
Illustrations copyright © 1998 by Linda Hendry
Published in Canada by Tundra Books,
75 Sherbourne Street, Toronto, Ontario M5A 2P9
Published in the United States by Tundra Books of Northern New York,
P.O. Box 1030, Plattsburgh, New York 12901
First U.S. Edition 1999
Library of Congress Catalog Number: 98-60947
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.
National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data
Scrimger, Richard, 1957–
The way to Schenectady
I. Hendry, Linda. II. Title.
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program.
We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program for our publishing activities.
Thanks are cheap, so let me look like a big spender here …
As always, thanks to my family for support and inspiration. Thanks to my agent for resolution. More than thanks to Kathy Lowinger for direction, encouragement, and flexibility in hammering out the final draft. Thanks to Sue Tate for caring so much about clarity, and for noting – politely – the seven hundred and fifty-two glaring mistakes and oversights the manuscript still contained. Apologies (they’re cheap, too) to the entire McClelland & Stewart sales force for my choice of geographical reference point. Oh, and thanks to Gracie for not biting me.
Some of the characters in this book may seem to bear suspicious resemblance to people in my own life, but in fact, they’re all made up. The incident with the Jello-O is based on a story I heard from Tim Clarke, who ate some and lived.
Excitement hung in the air like smoke. Smoke hung in the air, too. It was seven thirty in the mornings and Dad was at the stove frying chicken legs. Whenever we have dinner for breakfast, something exciting always happens.
“Who wants another drumstick?” He turned around, brandishing the tongs like a rapier. “Who wants another delicious drumstick? You, Captain Bill?”
Bill’s my brother, sitting across from me with his mouth full.
“Wilco,” he said. He can eat all day. That’s why Dad asked him first. He’s not a real captain, of course, but he spends a lot of time pretending to be things. Right then he was being an astronaut, and “wilco” is what astronauts say when they mean “yes.”
“Good for you.” Dad gave him a piece of chicken. “Now, how about some melon? Or carrots? Anyone want a carrot? You, Bernie?”
Bernie’s the baby, sitting beside me with his hands full, and his diaper, too, from the smell of things. “No,”
he said. Bernie is almost three, and a good talker, even if he isn’t toilet trained. Not really a baby, I guess, but he has been a baby for so long, it’s hard not to think of him that way.
“How about you, Jane?”
That’s me. “No, thank you,” I said. I was too excited to eat much. What with starting our vacation, and missing Mom, and my new hair, and the beautiful summer morning outside, and Bernie’s diaper, I’d barely touched my first plateful of food.
Dad frowned. “Well, drink your juice. Everyone, drink your juice. There’s a lot to get rid of before we can go.”
That’s why we were having dinner for breakfast. Dad hates to throw out food. We always end up cleaning out the fridge before we leave on vacation. Last summer we had fried egg and spaghetti sandwiches before we left. I can still taste them sometimes.
“Drink your juice, Bernie. Come on.”
Bernie obediently put his cup to his mouth. And spilled.
“That’s it,” said Dad, dashing over to wipe up the spill. The frying pan on the stove sputtered industriously. “You, too, Bill.”
“Negative,” said Bill. He’s asserting himself a lot these days. It comes from being ten. I remember when I was ten, a couple of years ago. I never said “negative,” but I used to say “no” a lot.
“Come on,” said Dad. “We can’t take half a can of juice with us in the van.”
A hiss from the stove sounded like a whole herd of angry cats.
“I already have to go to the bathroom,” said Bill.
“Go to the bathroom, and then come back and drink some more juice.”
“Negative!” said Captain Bill.
“Just drink it,” I told him. “Don’t be so juvenile. It’s easier to give in on the little things.”
He scowled and slid down low in his chair.
“Ouch. Dad! Bill kicked me under the table!”
Bernie was pointing at the stove. “Dad! Fire!”
Dad whipped round, tried to lift the flaming pan off the element, burnt his hand, dropped the pan with a yell, and reached for the fire extinguisher.
Bill watched closely. “Remember to pull out the pin,” he said, recalling last month’s rocket-fuel episode. He’d found a recipe on the Internet – grass seed and oil, I think, though that doesn’t sound right – and the whole mess caught fire in the basement. Captain Billy had to spend a week confined to quarters.
Only when the stove was covered in white foam did Bill leave the table to go to the bathroom.
“Isn’t this exciting, Bernie?” I said.
He nodded. “I’m done my breakfast,” he said.
“Good for you. Let me help you down from the chair,” I said. He lifted up his arms and let me carry him away from the table. I put him down as soon as I could.
“I think I’ll go upstairs and finish organizing my travel case,” I said.
Dad didn’t answer. He was holding a piece of chicken under running water, trying to wash off the foam. I hoped he wasn’t going to make one of us eat it.
I ran to get the phone when it rang. Usually the phone is for me, and I guess you could say it was now, too, but not just for me. It was Mom.
“Hi, Mom, guess what?” I said breathlessly. “I dyed my hair.” The phone is in my parents’ bedroom. I checked my hair in the mirror.
Mom said the right thing – the thing that no one else had said so far, not even my best friend Bridget, who had been standing right beside me in the bathroom. “I’m sure it looks great,” said Mom. “Do you like it?”
“You bet,” I said. “But no one else is very enthusiastic. Bill laughed, and Dad sighed.” Mind you, he’d been looking at the bathroom when he sighed. Dyeing hair is a messy job. “I can hardly wait until you see it, Mom,” I said. “I’ve worked out our time of arrival at Auntie Vera’s. We should be there around noon tomorrow.”
“I thought you would be,” said Mom. Then she sprang a surprise on me. “You’ll be in time to come to the show with me tomorrow night,” she said.
I gasped. So did the me in the mirror. “D’you mean it?”
“Just the two of us. I’ve got the tickets and everything.
The Music Man
, starring Ron Swoboda – whoever he is. And the Berkshire Light Opera Tour. Their initials are BLOT.”
She laughed. I smiled into the phone at the sound of her voice. Even though I knew she couldn’t see it, I couldn’t help smiling. I felt closer to her.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said. “I’ll make sure Dad gets us there on time.”
“I’m sure you will, sweetie.”
“How is your work going? Did you find homes for lots of people?”
Mom’s work is called social planning. This past week she was doing it in Boston. Some kind of conference;
she goes to a lot of them. Now she was visiting Auntie Vera, who lives near Boston, in the Berkshire Hills. We were on our way to meet her there. Me and my brothers and my dad driving all the way to Massachusetts in the van. I was in charge of the maps.
“Is your dad around?” she asked.
“He’s downstairs,” I said. “I miss you, Mom. I’m wearing the earrings you gave me, with the little hearts on them. Do you miss me?”
“I sure do.”
“No, Mom, but do you
miss me?” She is so busy. And the work she does is important. I sure missed her. I hoped that she missed me, too.
“Of course, I miss you. Now can I speak to Dad?”
I called him, and hung on to the phone until he picked up the kitchen extension.
“Thank heavens the fire’s out,” he said.
“Fire?” said Mom. “What fire?”
I hung up.
Bernie was tottering down the stairs, with a dark-colored magic marker in his hand – a dangerous weapon for a baby. I followed him quietly, so as not to surprise him.
“Give me that,” I said, when he was in the front hall. He frowned. I tried to be more tactful. “I mean, isn’t that a nice marker? Can I see it?”
“Please?” I said, edging closer, smiling winningly.
“No.” He stood there, eyeing the wallpaper. Eyeing my shirt.