The Wondrous World of Violet Barnaby
CHAPTER 1 SHABBY SWEATSHIRTS
I have a glittery purple journal where I keep word lists. Each list has a different title, like Words I Love, Funny Words, or Words That Annoy Me. On my list of Words I Love, I have “sparkling,” “bubbling,” and “spinning” because they remind me of parties and people smiling and no tears at all. It’s my favorite list. But it’s been a long time since I added anything to it.
I also have a list of Words I Don’t Like. Words like “bucolic,” which means “relating to rural life,” but reminds me of the flu, and makes me queasy every time I hear it. Then there are words I despise, words that can
wrap around your heart and squeeze you until you feel like you can’t breathe anymore.
For my dad and me, that word is “cancer.”
“Cancer”—It’s on the top of my Words I Hate list. But last month, I added a new word just below it:
For Halloween most kids got a bucketful of candy. I got a stepmother. And not just any stepmother, either. Nope. My dad couldn’t meet a nice lady over the Internet like a normal person. No, he had to go and marry Ms. Melanie Harmer—aka the Hammer—the meanest teacher at Dandelion Middle School.
Dad and Melanie got engaged at the end of October, but they didn’t want the hassle of a long engagement. So while other kids were putting away their Halloween costumes and trading candy with their friends, I was putting on my old Easter dress and trying not to puke the whole way over to the county courthouse, where it took the judge less than ten minutes to pronounce Dad and Melanie man and wife.
As I stood there, watching them kiss, I wondered what it would be like to live with the Hammer and her two kids—Olivia, who’s my age; and Joey, who’s eight—in the house Dad and Melanie bought.
Now, nearly a month later, it was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Moving Day. Dad and I were in Dad’s soon-to-be-vacated bedroom. The moving people had taken almost everything out of the house. We had just a few things to pack up before we left the only house I’d ever lived in forever. With all the furniture gone, it didn’t seem like a real home anymore. Of course, it hadn’t felt like a real home for the last year and a half, since Mom died.
I swept the floor while Dad went through a box of old clothes. Once I finished with the broom I checked “Sweep Dad’s Floor” off the cleaning list I’d made. The list was two pages long, but I was almost finished with it. Dad wanted the house to be spotless before he gave the keys to his real estate agent.
Dad held up a green T-shirt. “What do you think? Keep or toss?”
“Toss, definitely,” I said. “It has holes in the sleeves.”
Dad stared at it and frowned. “I guess. But I could find a use for it. Maybe when I paint?”
“Dad, we talked about this,” I reminded him. “Toss it.”
“Okay, okay.” Dad moved it into the trash pile, and then pulled out a raggedy sweatshirt. “What about this one?”
“Mom gave you that one, remember?” I said.
Dad flushed, and hurriedly put it into his “for keeps” pile, muttering that he was sorry, and I felt like a big jerk. The sweatshirt was really shabby and falling apart, and it’s not like I thought that by throwing it out he was forgetting Mom. But sometimes I feel like he’s packed up and moved into Melanie’s life and left me behind. Like I’m an old sweatshirt that suddenly seems too small and too shabby. Maybe one day Dad had woken up and decided he’d outgrown his old life. Our life. Then he met Melanie.
While Dad finished going through the box, I consulted my list. Next up was “Vacuum Your Room,” so I headed for my bedroom. I paused in the empty living room. Memories of my mom filled these rooms and they spun around me like dust motes dancing in the sunlight. I wondered if the new owners would know how happy our family had been here—before Mom got sick, that is. Would they know she used to sit by the fireplace and knit, or that there used to be a piano under the window where her music students would play during their afternoon lessons, or that next to that piano was a vintage record player where we played old records from her collection—always records, never a CD or an iPod, because she felt a true fan of music should have a decent record collection?
But now that piano was at my friend Izzy’s house so
her sister Carolyn could use it, and our record collection, along with the rest of our furniture, was packed up and on its way to the new house—or on its way to the Goodwill, because Melanie said we no longer needed it.
My room didn’t look like a real bedroom anymore, either. I stared at the purple walls as I ran the vacuum cleaner. Mom and I had painted them together; she’d even let me stay home from school one day to do it. A couple days later, after the paint had dried, she sat me down on my bed, and said, “I have something to tell you.”
It’s amazing how quickly six little words can change your entire life.
Next on my list was: “Wipe Down Dad’s Closet.”
I pulled a paint-splattered folding chair up to the top shelf and was about to get started when I saw a dusty red envelope pushed against the corner. I flipped it over. On the outside it read, “For Violet, For Christmas.” I recognized the handwriting immediately.
It was my mother’s.