When we finally left Mr. Bruno’s office, school had been over for more than half an hour and it was beginning to get dark. Sleet was falling, making the pavement flicker in the passing headlights. The cold air felt good against my cheeks and ears that were still burning from the lecture they’d had to endure. Our punishment: recess in the library until after Christmas plus a one-page essay on respecting the property of others. When I thought about it, that wasn’t so bad. It was getting too cold to be standing around outside anyway.
Mom stopped half-way down the school’s front steps to fish something out of her bag. A second later, out came the old red and black ladybug umbrella. Mom popped it open, then swung it over her head. Its stiff black antennae bobbed in the breeze from a passing car. “There’s room for two,” she said.
I pulled my toque down over my ears. “That’s all right. I’m good.” Once upon a time, I used to beg to use that umbrella. Now I wished she would forget it on a bus somewhere—and soon.
Mom just looked at me, her lips so pressed together they almost disappeared. A bus passed, its wheels hissing through the puddles. “Suit yourself.”
I stuffed my hands into my pockets and followed behind, dragging my feet through the slushy glaze of sleet. A block and a half later we came to our duplex.
Opera and the smell of fried garlic drifted down the spiral staircase that connected our front porch to Mrs. Loretti’s upstairs. She was our landlady—old like Grandma Louise, only nicer. Mom opened up her handbag and rummaged through it for her keys. Across the street, the lights inside St. Mary’s Church went on. It was like God was opening His eyes.
“It wasn’t totally my fault, you know. If Joey hadn’t—”
“Stop.” Mom stood up. She’d found her keys and was pointing the house one at me.
“I said stop.” Her words were perfectly formed like bricks. “You are eleven years old. Your behaviour is your responsibility.” Mom turned away and shoved the key into the lock.
Too mad to say anything else, I went straight to my room and closed the door behind me a lot harder than I’d meant to. I listened for a second, expecting Mom to say something or for Mrs. Loretti to bang on the ceiling with her cane. Instead I heard a raging soprano and the rush of water as Mom filled the kettle for tea.
Good. I let my backpack fall to the floor with a thud and unlocked the top drawer of my desk. From inside, I took out my diary and pen then flopped onto my bed, kicking the tangle of sheets and blankets on to the floor.
It’s sooo not fair. Mom never wants to hear the whole story. I’m either right or wrong. Nothing in between. And now Katie might be in high school before she’s allowed to talk on the phone again. I HATE JOEY SINGH! This is all HIS FAULT!!!
I could have filled my diary with reasons for hating Joey, beginning with how he used to mix the paints in kindergarten, but there was homework to do. I put my diary back in my drawer and hauled out my math book. The Mr. Bruno’s essay could wait.
An hour later, the front door closed with a bang. “I’m home,” called Dad. His voice was smiling.
Not for long.
A minute later there was a knock on my door. Dad poked his head in. “Anybody home?”
I looked up from my work and forced a smile. “Hey.”
“Doing homework already?” Dad walked over and put a hand on my forehead. It smelled like sawdust. “You feeling alright, Mimi?”
“Da-aad,” I said, ducking away. I hated that nickname. “Mrs. Bee gave us a ton of math for tomorrow. It’s fractions. I hate them.” I didn’t mention that Katie and I had way more to do than everyone else because of you-know-who.
Dad leaned over my shoulder to look at my work. “I’ll give you a hand after supper if you want.”
“Isn’t there a game?” There was a good chance I could be spared one of Dad’s boring tutorials by Hockey Night in
Dad thought for a second as he unbuttoned his plaid work shirt. “Nope. There’s plenty of time. The Flames don’t play until ten.”
Rats! “Alright. Thanks.”
Dad gave me a kiss on the top of the head and left, closing the door after him. His footsteps faded toward the kitchen. Listening hard, I bit down on the end of my pencil. All I heard was mumbling until Mom began to lose it.
“Dan, it’s not harmless. It’s escalating. The principal’s right. There needs to be consequences. He said next time he’ll suspend them. Then what?”
“What are you suggesting?” said Dad, his voice rising, too, “that we lock her in her room? Between our jobs and now you with school—”
“You said you’d be more available.” Mom’s voice was getting high and tight.
“And I am.”
“This is the third time they haven’t been able to reach you.”
“Can I help it if my battery dies?”
A chair scraped across floor like it was being pushed away from the table. In the quiet that followed I realized that I’d bit the eraser off the tip of my pencil. I spat the little pink nub into my hand and dropped it in the garbage beside my desk.
My parents’ voices dropped to a murmur again. Not wanting to miss any talk about ‘consequences,’ I stood up and put my ear to the door.
“What if she goes to the church office after school?” Mom was saying, “Mrs. Thomas won’t mind and then no one has to leave work early.”
The church office! Forgetting that I wasn’t supposed to eavesdrop, I opened my door and burst into the kitchen.
“But I can’t go there after school. Katie and I are supposed to research ancient
“We have internet here.” Mom pointed to her ancient laptop sitting at one end of the kitchen table.
“But she has high-speed.”
Mom pushed a long wisp of bang out of her eyes. “It won’t kill you to use dial-up, Michelle.”
“Enough.” Dad was using his deep, this-discussion-is-over voice. “You’ll come to the church after school. You can do your homework there.”
“For how long?”
“Two weeks.” The two of them said this together like they’d rehearsed.
“Two weeks! What about piano?” There had to be at least one upside to this grounding. No piano for two weeks meant no Christmas pageant piece to learn.
Mom rolled her eyes. “Don’t be silly, Michelle. Of course, you’ll go to piano.”
Of course. What was I thinking? My piano teacher, Jacinta Singh, was Mom’s best friend—oh, and Joey’s mother.
Mom turned around and yanked open the pantry door. The handle came off in her hand. She let out a sound like a bicycle pump as she tossed it to Dad. “Think you can fix this, Mr. Carpenter?”
Dad caught it just as Mom walked out of the kitchen. A second later their bedroom door closed with a bang. Dad gave me a weak half smile.
At least I wasn’t the only one in trouble. Dad said he would fix that three weeks ago.