A Dance for Three
- ISBN 13:
- ISBN 10:
- Format: Hardcover
- Copyright: 04/01/2000
- Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Note: Not guaranteed to come with supplemental materials (access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.)
Extend Your Rental at Any Time
Need to keep your rental past your due date? At any time before your due date you can extend or purchase your rental through your account.
List Price $15.95 Save
Author BiographyRead more
Milo wasn't the first boy to kiss me but he was the first one to bite me. I said "Ouch," and he said, "Let me lick it better." It was when his mouth was on my shoulder and his hands tugged my camisole down that I knew I would go all the way with him. I would lose my virginity with Milo in the back of his Toyota 4Runner parked above the cemetery with the lights of Salt Lake City below. Not that we were looking. I kissed him fiercely. Too fiercely. He said, "Slow down; it's better slow."
Did I do it because I loved him or because he was so persuasive? Did I do it because I knew Mama wouldn't approve? Did I want a baby? Or maybe it was the madness taking hold inside me.
Madness runs in families, and, like baldness, skips generations. Mama told me this, secure in the knowledge that she is the skipped generation. "You're more like your grandma Satterfield." She looks at my stomach when she talks to me.
* * *
When I steal the roses, I lean over the bush pretending to smell and admire the blooms. Daddy's shirt arches out from my body and hides the plucking motion. Rose and stem fall into the canvas Earth bag I carry. I steal roses from everyone up and down our block. My rule is not to leave the block. It's more exciting to risk being caught and humiliated by close neighbors.
I don't have to steal. Our yard has dozens of rosebushes and Mama doesn't care if I cut them. In fact, she thinks all those roses hanging upside down, drying out in my bedroom, are from our yard. "It's Hannah's hobby," she tells people who come to visit, and she shows them the bouquet of dried roses in the brass vase by the fireplace. "Aren't they lovely?"
Her friends admire that arrangement of stolen roses. I would love to say, "I stole all of them," and watch Mama's surprised face, watch her stammer excuses to the guests.
Am I awful?
Now I am cutting a yellow Eclipse, I think, although I sometimes confuse them with Oregolds. And I am humming a lullaby about baby seals, a song my daddy taught me. I hum, because I read that babies can hear their mothers' voices from inside the womb. It's the earliest bonding you can do, I guess. I have missed my period two months in a row, and I am singing lullabies just in case somebody's listening.
The yellow rose falls into the bag. It is the second rose I've cut from Mrs. Keddington's yard. She's a safe bet, because she sleeps late and it's early right now. There's no thrill in safety, though, and I move on to Rosa Benson's yard. She never sleeps. It's heartthrobbing exciting to steal from her. Her voice alone can beat you up. I lean over and smell a few roses on the south side of her house, where she can see me from either the living room or kitchen windows. I can feel her eyes and I don't cut anything. Instead I pick up a candy wrapper on the sidewalk and throw it in the bag. I have my virtues.
I walk along the front of Rosa Benson's house until I am on the north corner. It's the blind-spot side of her house. No windows anywhere. She can't see me from the front window; it's set back too far. She'd have to come out on her porch to see me snipping one of her Miss All-American Beauties.
"Hannah Ziebarth, are you stealing my roses?" She is on the porch, leaning out over the metal railing.
I look up the steep slope of the lawn at her and am zinged by the sun coming up behind her house.
"No, ma'am. I am not. I just picked up this candy wrapper off your lawn." I show her. "Mama sent me out to clean up the block."
She's unsure now. It sounds like the sort of wacky thing my mama might do. We both know this. I screw my face into perfect innocence. "You wanna see?" I hold the canvas bag toward her.
She heaves her flat chest. She's had both breasts cut off. No one on our block is whole. Mrs. Keddington had a kidney removed. Mrs. de Groot had her spleen cut out after a car accident. Mrs. Goodrow, our neighbor to the south, has lost her mind, and Mr. Knight, the only man on our block, had his leg blown off in the Vietnam War. It made him bitter, and that's why he is ruining our neighborhood by moving dirt around with his yellow backhoe and letting all the rental property he owns go straight to the dogs. I'm quoting Mama.
"I know exactly what's in that bag," Rosa Benson says. "A whole bunch of other people's roses and a few scraps of paper. Don't steal my roses, Hannah. I'm warning you."
"I won't," I say, and I wave real friendly like and she looks like her head's going to explode right off her neck, because she knows the truth and she knows that I know the truth, but I don't care and she does. Even though I'm only fifteen, I know that she who cares least has the most power, so I win.
I walk up toward Mr. Knight's.
When I have this baby--if there is a baby--I'm moving off McClelland Street forever. I'm moving to a place where the sidewalks are smooth and not cracked and crooked, where there are young kids like me and not a lot of old geezers with their body parts cut out. A place of new houses, with swimming pools, aquamarine rectangles in the sun. I'll move in with Milo. He'd want that.
I pick all the blooms off Mr. Knight's Peace Rose bush. I'm not even careful, because I can hear the backhoe sputtering behind the house across the street. Mr. Knight is moving dirt again.
Renters don't count on our block. So when I say no one is whole on our block, I'm referring to the homeowners. I don't know that much about the renters, except that Mama says they're just transients, which I always thought meant homeless, but I guess not. The houses in our neighborhood are easy to rent, because they're convenient to both downtown and the university.
Mama is a homeowner, of course. She owns our brick bungalow clear, because Daddy's insurance paid for it when he died two years ago. He died of a burp. I'm not kidding. He burped after a Saturday-night dinner and died seven minutes later. Death by asphyxiation: the valve in his epiglottis failed to close again after a slight regurgitation, and food got into his windpipe, then into his lungs, and suffocated him. He went fast. Nobody knew what happened. Not him. Not us. I dream all the time that he comes back, I want it so much. Come back, Daddy, and let Mama and me be the people we were before you went away. Before we forget what those people were like.
Every time I burp now, I wait to die.
I begin to cross the street, intending to work the other side. Every yard on our block has roses, although some of them don't dry well. Climbers don't, so I don't even bother with them. I feel a commotion. And sure enough when I turn, I see Mrs. Goodrow, still in her nightgown, standing on the sidewalk in front of her house gesturing about god only knows what. I turn back and head toward her. When she sees me, she stumbles in my direction and we meet in front of my house. "Oh, Hannah," she says, taking my hands, "all the drainpipes are filled with leaves, and I'm afraid I'm going to have water running into the basement again." Her head goes down. She gasps hard like she's just emerged from water. "Would you ask your dad to come over and fix them? I wouldn't ask, but I'm so afraid of flooding the basement again--" Her basement flooded once thirty years ago. "Do you think he would?" The anxiety in her voice is much greater than the perceived problem. It hasn't rained for weeks.
"I'm sure he'll do it," I say. "But you better change, you wouldn't want him to see you in your nightgown, would you?"
She notices the nightgown for the first time. "Oh, my, what could I be thinking, coming outside in my nightgown?" She covers her mouth with trembling fingers and laughs underneath them. "Your dad would think I've lost my mind if he saw me like this."
Yes, I think he would. I smile and bob my head up and down like a ventriloquist's dummy. It is summer vacation, the middle of June, and I should not have to deal with these ironies. I take Mrs. Goodrow's arm and lead her to her house, walk her up the steps of the slope and onto her front porch, where she pats my hand gratefully. "You're such a good girl, Hannah," she says, her yellow teeth bared. Her white hair has mostly lost its permanent and spikes out in disarray from her head. She has been old since I have known her, but she has only been out of her mind a couple of years. If the old Mrs. Goodrow could see herself now, she'd put in a call to Dr. Kevorkian.
Sometimes when I think of the difference between myself now and myself before Daddy died, I want to call Dr. Death myself. I didn't even have periods two years ago, and now I'm probably pregnant. When did I forget how to be a child?
When Mrs. Goodrow is safely in her house, I go home, next door, with my roses--about two dozen of them. "Hello, it's just me," I cry, opening the back door.
I can hear Mama's low voice on the phone in her bedroom but cannot distinguish words. She could be talking to the doctor. He said he would call first thing in the morning. Instinctively I look out the window to the east bench where Milo lives. What is he doing now? Words of the "Seal Lullaby" float into my head: "Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease--" I think of Daddy. He wrote music to those words just for me. A small panic rises in my throat and I swallow several times.
I'm hungry. I should make something to eat. I pull out the Bisquick, eggs, and milk. I plug in the electric frying pan. Mama is mostly silent now, except for a word now and then. Is she crying?
I would rather not be thinking of Milo and me entangled in the back of his 4Runner, but I can't stop.
I measure ingredients haphazardly. It doesn't matter. Bisquick is one of those ingenious products that turns into something edible no matter what you do to it.
I can no longer hear Mama's voice. Her hands are on my shoulders, and I am bent over the pancake mix. "Hannah." There are tears in her voice, which I hate.
I don't turn around. "What'd he say?" The pancake batter needs more milk.
"He says you're pregnant." She rests her head on my shoulder, weeping. "What are we going to do? I don't know what to do. I never expected my life to be like this, Hannah."
"I didn't either," I say. "We'd better eat breakfast."
She nods and sits at the table and waits like an invalid. I pour the batter into the hot pan, rush plates and utensils to the table, flip the pancakes, and pour milk into the glasses. When I place a stack of pancakes on her plate she says, "You forgot to put down place mats and napkins. I hate eating straight off the table like this. It makes me feel like an animal." She begins weeping again.
"Sorry, I was distracted." I pull two plaid yellow cotton place mats and matching napkins out of a drawer and quickly arrange them under the dinnerware. When I get back to take my pancakes out of the pan, they are too brown.
"You know it's in times of crisis that details matter most. If you allow yourself to become slovenly, your whole life falls apart." She winces at the bottle of Aunt Jemima syrup sitting on the table. I know she would like me to have put it in a pitcher and heated it in the microwave. Her attention to detail does not include her appearance. She wears baggy pants and a shirt with a frayed collar.
I take several bites of burned pancakes but my stomach revolts. The syrup is too sweet, too thick. I breathe slowly, waiting for the nausea to subside.
Mama puts her fork down. "I'm sorry, Hannah." Her voice trembles again. "You do so much. I wish I could do it, but I can't. I don't know why, but I just can't. I thought about cooking you a breakfast this morning, but I couldn't remember how. Honestly, I can't remember how to fix anything."
I hate it when she cries. She expects me to soothe her, like I'm her mother. It's not like I don't have my hands full already. "It's okay," I say. "Besides, you take good care of your plants. We have a whole miniature forest right here in the house." I'm good at making my voice sound jolly even when I'm irritated.
It brings her around. She nods happily. "Bonsai have saved my life. It's the one thing I can still do."
I tell her about Mrs. Goodrow. "She wanted Daddy to fix her drainpipes," I say.
"Did you tell her your daddy's dead?"
"Hannah! What'll she think when he doesn't show up?"
"I'm sure she's forgotten all about the drainpipes by now. She can't hold anything in her head longer than three minutes, if that long."
Mama is skeptical. "She's not that bad--"
"Besides," I say. "I've told her at least four times that he's dead and each time it's like the first time. She cries and asks about the funeral and the viewing and where we're going to bury him. I can't stand to go through that again."
"I suppose not." She pushes the last pancake out to the rim of the plate. "Well, I need to go back to my babies. Will you get me those two crab-apple plants out in back? I'm grafting them today." She pushes away from the table. "And the white mulberry and the orange jessamine need to go back outside for full sun." She kisses me and leaves me to run her outside errands.
Lots of people don't know that bonsai plants are meant to grow outside. Before Daddy died, Mama worked out on the back patio, where Daddy had constructed a long worktable. Against the house he built rows of shelves layered like bleachers for displaying the plants. She still worked out there for a short time after he died, but then one day--and I wasn't there, so I don't know exactly what happened--Mama had a huge panic attack out there. That's the doctor's term, not hers. She said someone was trying to strangle her and drag her to hell. That's just what it felt like, she said. She said she couldn't catch her breath, and her face became all paralyzed and tingly, and the sun turned black.
It was a sunny summer day she's talking about. I know, because Trilby and I were burying all her Barbie and Ken dolls out in her backyard, a block and a half up the hill from McClelland Street, and the sun did not darken. Trilby started her period that day and thought it was a mature act to bury the dolls. We stuck them in two old hatboxes and buried them near the iris bed where the dirt is loose, and we had no trouble shoveling a couple of holes.
Ever since that day when the devil tried to strangle Mama and drag her into hell, I have had to bring the bonsai from the stands on the back patio to the "solarium" in the front of the house, where Mama can work free of panic and return them to the backyard the next day. It's really not a solarium where she works on the bonsai. It's a small music room with one stretch of narrow windows near the ceiling and Daddy's old upright Steinway on the opposite wall. The piano is covered with pots of bonsai even over the covered keys. Because Daddy is the only one who played, it's become, in my mind, a grotesquely decorated coffin.
Today, when Mama learns I'm pregnant, she doesn't ask about Milo. What will Milo think? She doesn't ask what I'm going to do about the baby, if I'm scared. She doesn't say, What about high school? She doesn't say, You're not even old enough to drive yet. She doesn't ask, What can I do?
Actually she tells me what she wants me to know. She says she can't remember how to fix breakfast or anything else for that matter. The implication is clear: she can't take care of me either.
After breakfast I carry the mulberry and jessamine out to the backyard and set them down on a shelf, pick up a crab-apple plant, hold it high above my head, and bring it smashing down to the concrete patio. It sounds like a skull breaking open, painful and strangely satisfying. But seeing the bare roots separated from the dirt just makes me feel sad. While I gather the plant and dirt into another pot, I think surely I am insane.
You have to let the phone ring a million times at Milo's house. He has two sisters and two brothers, and they all think someone else should answer the phone. Or they're all in the swimming pool out in back, and they couldn't hear a phone no matter how long you let it ring. I don't know how long I've been hanging on to this phone practicing writing "Mrs. Milo Fabiano" on a pad next to the phone. "Hannah Fabiano." "Milo and Hannah Fabiano," and I'm about to hang up when I hear Mrs. Fabiano's voice.
"It's Hannah," I say, and I ask for Milo.
"Oh, Hannah, you sweet thing; how are you?"
Your son made me pregnant, thanks. But I really say, "I'm great. How was your trip to St. George?"
"Mostly it was hot. A hundred and five down there yesterday. I just stayed inside with the girls. The boys all went golfing. Milo, Roman, and their dad stayed over another day, but I expect them back early this afternoon." Suddenly her voice is muffled and I can hear her telling Rose not to tease the cat. "Sorry," she says when she returns. "The kids are going swimming. Why don't you come up and join them? You can have lunch with us. Milo should be back soon after that."
I've never been to Milo's house when he wasn't there, and this invitation seems strangely intimate. I don't know what to say.
Anyway, she says to remember to bring my suit and she'll be seeing me in a few minutes. I hang up the phone and look at it. Well, why shouldn't I go up there and be with the family, my new family? I'm having your grandchild, Mrs. Fabiano. What do you think of that?
I swallow several times, because I don't know what I think of it yet. I make a dried rose bouquet for Mrs. Fabiano, which I tie with three narrow pastel ribbons, and put my suit and hairbrush in a canvas bag.
Mama is in the bonsai room, bent over her babies. "I'm going over to Milo's," I say. I hold up the canvas bag. "We're going swimming."
"What about lunch?" She has finished tying the knot and rubs her hands on her apron.
"I made you a sandwich. It's in a Baggie in the fridge. And there's potato chips left and a pudding cup. I'll get more groceries on the way home." I put on my jolly face.
"I don't really need anything. I'm just here alone. Not that I complain, because I don't. There are a lot of people lonelier than I am in the world. Are you taking the bus?" Mama pulls conversational switcharoos all the time, moving from cosmic loneliness to public transportation.
"Yes," I say, and usually that would be true, but this time I'm lying, because I've decided to drive from now on, even though I don't have a driver's license and I'm too young to get one. If I can be pregnant, I can drive. That's justice.
"Bye," I call on my way out the front door. Besides, what's the point of having a three-year-old Prizm sitting out in the garage? A perfectly good car that hasn't been driven for two years. A car with less than twenty thousand miles on it. A car Mama doesn't want to sell, because it was Daddy's. If you ask me, there's no point n lt.
The garage is not attached to the house but is built into the slope of the front yard on the street level. Mama can't see it from the window. Still, I look up at the house just to make sure she's not on the front porch. It would be the first time in a long time if she were.
There are two separate garage doors made of wood and in bad need of varnish. I open the right one as slowly as I can. It creaks, and I wait a little and then open it all the way. I yank off the dust cover protecting the car, wad it in a heap and throw it into a corner. The Prizm still shines as if Daddy just came back from the Wash n' Wax. My throat thickens. I try to breathe normally, and I am able to when the key I copied works in the lock. I get in the driver's side, where it takes me several seconds to find the ignition. I say a little prayer in case there's anyone still listening, and voilà, the engine turns over. I've learned to be grateful for small gifts. I back the car out slowly. I haven't had a lot of practice, but I do just fine. It's too bad no one's around to tell me what a good job I'm doing, but then I've gotten used to that too. When I get out of the car to close the garage door, I see that Mrs. Benson is sitting in that old webbed aluminum chair of hers on her front porch. The look on her face tells me that she is trying to remember what year I was born. I pull the garage door down, walk back to the car efficiently, and wave up at one of the living room windows of our house. Then I drive up the street as if I know what I'm doing. As Milo said when he was teaching me, "Any moron can drive."
The Fabianos live a couple of miles northeast of my house, but it might as well be in another universe. Large two- and three-story brick houses with long windows line the streets along with eighty-year-old sycamore trees, whose heavy branches meet overhead to make a leafy shelter. The lawns and gardens are maintained by professional gardeners. Jaguars, Mercedes, and Saab convertibles are parked in driveways.
I park the Prizm a couple of blocks from Milo's house, because Mrs. Fabiano knows exactly how old I am. She knows I'll be sixteen on August 8. The thing is, she thinks teenagers shouldn't date until they're sixteen. Milo is almost seventeen, and because I'm fifteen, she won't let him date me. It's okay for us to be "good friends," so she's always inviting me up to the house, where there are tons of kids watching our every move. Milo says his mother is trying to control teen sexual activity with this rule. She's afraid of teen orgies catching on right here in the neighborhood. He tells me this when we are naked as new rabbits in his bed while his family is away.
"Her theory really works, don't you think?" He pulls me under the covers, and we break up laughing.
Of course she lets Milo come and get me and take me home. Sometimes it takes a long time to take me home. Like when we did it the first time, at the end of March, we took a detour via Eleventh Avenue above the cemetery there. Milo told her he was talking with my mama about bonsai. Bonsai, schmonzai.
Mrs. Fabiano greets me at the front door. "Hannah, I'm so glad to see you," she says. She has this gorgeous smile and moves forward to kiss each of my cheeks while at the same time--this seems so strange--she presses the palms of her hands against my shoulders as if pushing me away. As if I was the one who came forward to kiss her. Maybe that's the way sophisticated people do it. Kiss and push away. Very chichi.
"Thanks for inviting me," I say. I hand her the dried bouquet, which now, standing here under the portico, seems pretty cheap. Still I say, "I made them," in case she thinks I bought them at Pier 1 or something.
She holds them as if I've given her the crown jewels and tells me how wonderful I am and how she can't do anything with her hands, and even though I don't believe it, I'm grateful. Then she looks up and down the street. "How did you get here so fast?" She puts her arm through mine and draws me into the house.
"A neighbor drove me." I am sorry to have to lie, but why do adults have to sniff out every little deviation from the norm?
She lays the dried roses next to a vase on a side table with a marble top where they look really nice. I take an easier breath.
"I would have come to get you myself, except the house is filled with starving kids." She leads me to the kitchen, where Rose and Gina, the seven-year-old twins, are snarfing down bacon from a plate next to the electric frying pan.
Mrs. Fabiano moves the plate out of reach. "You little stinks," she says, "that was for sandwiches."
I think of the woman on our block, one of the renters, who calls her kids little shits. Little stinks is appealingly quaint.
"We only want bacon," Rose says.
"I'll make some more," I say.
"Can I help?" Gina tugs on my shorts.
"May I help," Mrs. Fabiano says.
"If you take your thumb out of your mouth," I say.
She releases her thumb with a popping noise and grins.
"Clever girl," I say.
"You're magic, Hannah," Mrs. Fabiano whispers. "You're the only one who can make her stop sucking her thumb."
Gina hears every word and says, "Make her live with us, Mom, so she can help me with my thumb." She holds up a withered, raw thumb.
"Good grief," I say, and fill the pan with bacon strips.
"She would be our big sister," Rose says. "Wouldn't you?"
"I guess. Don't get too close; you'll get a grease burn," I say, moving Gina's chair.
"Would you be Tony's older sister too?"
"Yes, but only by a few months."
Mrs. Fabiano looks up from cutting tomatoes, her lips suppressing a smile.
"And Milo too. Would you be Milo's older sister?"
"No." I couldn't help laughing. "I'd be his younger sister. Milo's older than I am."
"I think Hannah would rather be Milo's friend," Mrs. Fabiano says, "than his sister--and vice versa."
Wife. Lover. I'd rather be those.
"She could still live with us," Rose says. "Do you want to?"
"Where would I sleep?" I ask. We are now assembling the BLTs.
"In our trundle bed." Gina spreads a grossly thick layer of mayonnaise onto white bread.
"Yeah!" Rose cheers. "In our room."
"I'd like that," I say.
"You'd fit right in." Mrs. Fabiano smiles. "Come on, we'll eat poolside."
Milo's room is upstairs with its own queen-size bed and its own bathroom and a closet the size of Mama's "solarium." I imagine my clothes in there next to his, my shoes next to his: His and Her Dr. Martens. I'd learn to do things like Mrs. Fabiano--have my nails "done," set the table with all those extra forks and spoons in the right place, and buy soap at Nordstrom's instead of the grocery store. I could be droll and say "you little stinks" to Gina and Rose to show them that they could eat all the bacon they wanted, because there is always more where that came from. I'd help around the house, and go grocery shopping, and change lightbulbs, and use "lie" and "lay" correctly. I could fit in. And when the baby came, she would fit in too. These were her relatives, after all. Milo's mother, with her tanned, waxed legs and faint cleavage, would be Grandma Fabiano.
Mama's home grafting crab-apple seedlings, barely capable of getting her fixed lunch out of the refrigerator. The thought makes me choke.
"Are you all right? Hannah? Hannah dear?" Mrs. Fabiano's concerned face is near mine and she is slapping me on the back while I am gasping for air.
"Yes," I say, grabbing her arm. I don't want her hitting me on the back--it doesn't help. "Yes, I just got something stuck in my throat."
"But you haven't even taken a bite."
"I couldn't breathe," I say. I could tell her now how I get lumps in my throat suddenly and I start breathing hard. I could tell her. And she might say, "Oh that! I get that all the time. It's nothing." I'd be so relieved. But I can't tell her, because she's more likely to say, "I've never heard of such a thing," and look at me as if I'm insane. I couldn't stand that.
"Hey, Hannah, did you choke on some air?" Tony and his friends laugh from the pool.
"Yeah, the air is so rarefied where you are," I say.
They pretend to choke and float limply in the water as if they're dead. I smile at Mrs. Fabiano. "I'm fine," I say. "Really." To show her how fine I am, I take a huge bite out of my sandwich and gulp some lemonade.
This seems to work, because she turns her attentions to the twins, who are eating only potato chips. "You have to eat some tomato and lettuce too," she tells them. She turns back to me. "They're going to die of heart attacks at age eight; they eat only fat." She brushes hair off Rose's forehead. "Milo was the same way when he was their age, but now he at least eats rice." She smiles. "He loves rice!" I like it that she shares something about Milo with me, as if she recognizes that he and I are a potentially permanent couple, and that it is okay with her.
Excerpted from A Dance for Three by Louise Plummer
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.