Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Title: WE ALL WROTE THE NOTES
I measure how happy a day is with sounds. Happy days sound like a TV on low volume or bird calls through a screen door. Sad days sound like dishes crashing around in the sink. Sad days sound like heavy footsteps on the stairs. Once a day is stained sad, it is hard to make it happy again.
One time in third grade my class was walking in a straight line to the music room. Mrs. Thyme was leading the way and the floor was clean and squeaky and everything was normal but all of a sudden my chest broke open. I felt leaky and bruised. Mrs. Thyme saw me and took me out of line and asked what was wrong. I told her that lately there were more sad days than happy days but she didn’t understand what I meant. I didn’t blame her because I didn’t understand either.
That was three years ago. I’ve learned a lot since then. I know long division and I know what periods are and I don’t cry in lines on the way to music class anymore. Sometimes Mrs. Thyme will pass by me in the hallway or see me in the cafeteria and ask how I am doing. I know not to say crazy things about sad days anymore. I don’t want to get sent back to Ms. Bishop. She made me talk and it made Daddy mad. She told them what I said about the fighting. After that, Daddy promised that he would never leave but that wasn’t really the problem. I wasn’t afraid he would leave. I was afraid of what happened when he stayed.
Today I am sitting at lunch with my best friends Olivia and Ryan. Olivia is smaller and cuter than I am. She has sun colored hair and pink glasses. I feel lucky that we’re friends. I am the only girl in our fifth-grade class who is already sprouting zits. Mom says I got them from her.
“Do you want some of my sloppy joe?” Ryan asks me with his mouth full of red saucy goop. Ryan has dark brown skin and sparkly brown eyes and always gets school lunch. I don’t think he pays for them. Sometimes my mom gives me money for lunch and I scoot my tray along behind Ryan. When we get to the large lunch lady at the end of the line she waves Ryan right by. To me, she sticks out her hand and says “2.50.” I asked Ryan about it one time but he just stuffed more food in his mouth.
“No, thanks,” I say to him.
“Chew with your mouth closed, Ryan,” Olivia says.
“Are you my mother?”
“That’s a book, not a question,” she says and sucks on her organic juice box.
I think about the baby bird in Are You My Mother, sent tumbling from its nest and into a desperate search for the one person who was supposed to take care of it. I wonder why just because the mama bird was the same species as the baby, made of the same feathers and spiky feet, that was where the baby bird belonged. Maybe the dog or the bulldozer would have loved it just as much.
“You’re spacey today, Hannah,” Ryan says.
The three of us jump when the doors of the cafeteria slam shut.
“Have a happy day, Brookview Elementary. Staff, this is a drill.”
The lunch monitors start running around the tables, herding us into groups. Olivia and Ryan and I leave behind our half-eaten lunches and go where we’re told. Olivia clutches my hand and hides her face behind my arm. She does not let go when we sink to the ground with our backs against the wall and watch the lunch monitors secure the doors and turn off the lights. The lunch ladies seal themselves up in the kitchen. I hear Ryan breathing shaky breaths next to me. I reach out and hold his hand too, even though he is a boy. It feels funny but safe.
“What’s happening?” he asks me.
“I don’t know.” I say.
“Are we going to die?” Olivia whispers.
“I don’t know.”
“Stop crying, babies,” the gruff voice of Manda Dobson barks out next to us. Manda smells like wet dirt. I am not sure she has ever used shampoo, but she is smart, and almost as good a wordsmith as me. Wordsmith means someone who is remarkable with vocabulary. I beat Manda in the school spelling bee every year, and she hates me for it. Even in the heart of an emergency.
I hear footsteps in the hallway outside. Someone rattles the cafeteria doors and Olivia squeaks. And then, like a miracle, the lights are turned back on.
“Stay seated, everyone,” Bubby, the head lunch monitor, shouts to the cafeteria.
Olivia peaks out from behind my arm. Ryan lets go of my hand like he remembered I have girl germs.
“This was a lock down drill. We were practicing how to respond if there is ever a threat in the school. If you ever hear those words ‘have a happy day, Brookview Elementary’ and find yourself alone, you find the closest place to hide out of sight. Now go ahead and finish your lunch,” Bubby tells us.
I add the lock down code words to my brain dictionary. I love new words. Scary ones, silly ones, long ones, small ones. I want my head to be full of them.
Olivia, Ryan, and I do not talk about the lock down again during lunch. We turn ourselves from puddles of fear back into sixth-graders, into the oldest students at Brookview Elementary, into grown-ups. Liquid to solid. I search my brain dictionary for the right word to describe it. Phase transition.
After school I get off the bus and walk down my street. It is October and the air smells like chimney smoke. Daddy’s car is in the driveway and a knot pulls tight in my stomach. He is not usually home until dark.
I open the front door and see Daddy in the recliner. He has his feet up and a Coke on the table next to him. The television is on low volume and I smell fried chicken in the kitchen. Daddy smiles at me and holds his arms out. His hands are covered in white paint. I feel my own cheeks burst with a smile and run into his lap, even though I am getting too big for that.
“Hi, Daddy,” I say.
“Hi, sweetheart. How was your day?”
“That’s good,” he says.
“Why are you home?” I ask.
Daddy starts to shift under me, and I see lines in his forehead. I have started brewing something bad with my question. I try to reverse time and take the words back. Sometimes I think I have dormant magic inside me. Dormant means sleeping. One day my powers will wake up and make everything better.
“Sometimes, Hannah, when you build houses for people, they change their minds. And you lose hundreds of dollars and weeks of your time.”
There are no words in there I don’t know. I know what all of them mean and what they do. They turn Daddy into a monster. I must fight back with words that will make him soft again, but which ones?