Some of you may know that a publisher contacted me last year about turning a piece of short fiction I’d written from an adult perspective into a young adult novel. There are several reasons I wanted to do this – the first is that in many ways, the young adult fiction market is much more vital than the adult fiction market – a lot of adults read YA fiction, while the reverse is rarely true. There’s the potential to reach a large audience this way. The other, more important reason to me is simply that teenagers and young adults have to know about our future, and they need a vision of a viable world. For the last century, America has sold variations on a vision of the future that is simply incompatible with human life and liveability – we need to offer up another vision to younger people and fiction is one place that becomes possible. So I set about switching the viewpoint, and writing not from “Noah’s” perspective but from another one entirely. I’m going to post very rough drafts of the first two chapters over the next couple of weeks, but then you have to wait until I find someone to publish it (the original publisher is still a possibility) to find out how it comes out. Here’s the original short story, btw. – Sharon
I’m not moving to any farm.
Daddy Ham says we’re going home for good, and that things will be better there for all of us. They don’t have worry so much about money there. We’ll have good food. It will be cooler, and safer. When the power goes out, people up there live too far apart to smash things and fight. It will be home.
It will never be home.
Papa James says that he knows there have been lots of changes, but that I have to be brave for Grace. Gramma says she’ll miss me but we’ll visit and won’t it be wonderful to live in the country with all that wonderful fresh food and animals. Grammy Rose says she’s proud of how adaptable and brave I am. Uncle Reg says I should eat a ripe red tomato for him. Nanny says she can’t wait a minute until we get here, that the chickens need me to collect eggs and that I can have a lamb to take care of for my own. Grandpa Noah says “Right” when Nanny says all that, but I don’t think he is really listening. Moses is jealous of us, and signed that he wishes he could go to the farm. I told him I wish it too – he can go instead of me.
I’m still not moving to any stupid farm. I don’t want to touch eggs that came out of a chicken’s butt. Lambs poop everywhere – everything on a farm poops all the time. There are tomatoes in the supermarket, and Grammy Rose grows them on her balcony. And I don’t want to leave my home and my school and Gramma and Grammy Rose and go where there’s nothing but trees and white people.
I don’t see why we have to. Papa James still has a job, at least some of the time, although they don’t call him out to work so much anymore at the hospital. Daddy Ham hasn’t been working, but he could get a job any day now – this is Atlanta, there are lots of jobs here, right?
Besides, when they adopted us, they promised the judge that they would always act in the best interest of the children. I told Papa James that moving all the way to a farm in freezing cold New York was not in my best interest, and that maybe the judge would come and take me away. I didn’t mean it though, about going back, and I think he knew, because he laughed and told Daddy Ham what I’d said.
Daddy Ham feels worse about it than Papa James, I know, because even though he laughed too, just for one moment he looked really upset. Grace is excited about the farm, and she’s so little that she doesn’t really remember before we were all a family, or understand why Nanny and Grandpa Noah are different. But I know Daddy Ham knows that this isn’t fair to me.
“Angie, we’re going to lose the house. We can’t pay for it anymore.” He looks miserable, and I feel a little bad about it, but I still don’t want to go.
Daddy Ham is really thin and not too tall – I’m only twelve and I already come up to his nose. He has really dark blue eyes with pale skin and a ton of curly dark hair and glasses, and he’s the one who takes everything seriously and worries a lot. Papa James jokes and calls it “neurosis” and says it is a “Scottish-Jewish thing,” but I don’t really know what that means.
“We could live with Grammy Rose – that’s what Uncle Reg is doing – you can have Grammy Rose’s office for you and Papa James, and Grace and I can sleep on the floor in the room with Uncle Reg.
“No, honey, there’s not enough room for you girls. And if I could, I’d take Grammy Rose and Uncle Reg and everyone with us. That neighborhood isn’t really safe anymore and it gets hotter every year, so hot it makes Grammy Rose sick sometimes. And Uncle Reg doesn’t have a job either. We need a good, safe place for you girls to grow up and be safe and healthy, and the farm is the right place.
I get nervous because Daddy Ham looks like he’s going to cry again. I heard him once say to Papa James when he thought Grace and I were watching tv that he felt like a jerk because he couldn’t support his kids anymore. Then he cried – and I didn’t know what to do, so I just pretended I was watching my show. But I kept feeling like I was supposed to do something, and it made me want to throw up inside.
I almost asked him if maybe I could stay with Gramma for a while, but I didn’t. And I know that she’d say no anyway. She always says that if she could have taken us girls, she would have, but it is hard for her even to take care of Moses with her knees and her eyes, and the place she lives is really just for old people. Most of the folks there aren’t happy that even Moses is there. They get mad at him if he jumps or runs, and it is a lucky thing that he can’t make much noise anyway because he can’t hear, or they’d probably kick him out and Gramma too. It’s only because she’s so nice to the boss guy that runs everything that she can even keep Moses. Once, and she told me it was a grown up secret, she said that she only took Moses because he wouldn’t have made it in foster care, and she knew Grace and I would be ok.
I told my friend Mikky that I had to move away, and she said I could come live with her and her Mom, but I don’t think that’s real, and I didn’t even bother telling Daddy Ham. Nobody ever really means it when they say you can come live with them when you are just friends. People only do that when they really, really want a kid, like Papa James and Daddy Ham, or when they are your family, and lots of times not even then. Those people in the foster homes who said I could stay a long time never really meant it.
When we were playing video games I told Mikky everything I remembered about the farm and the mountain. How there are only six neighbors on the whole road up the mountain. How Nanny is nice, I guess, but Grandpa Noah doesn’t really seem to like kids, and he talks in another language a lot and prays all the time. Nanny says he talks more to God than he does to people sometimes. About the animals that are always pooping (which made Mikky giggle) and about the dirt that always needs digging, and all the work, and how Grandpa and Nanny were trying to get us excited about these boring little packages of seeds. About how Uncle Jeff lives in a trailer with a little house built on the side that looks like he put it together out of old junk.
Mikky was sad I was leaving, but she was a little jealous too – she said she’d never been to a farm and kept asking me about the baby goats and sheep and rabbits and whether they were cute. She asked if maybe she could come visit me, and I said sure, but I don’t think she could buy a train ticket, since she’s a free lunch kid just like me, and her Mom won’t let us play at my house anyway, cause Daddy and Papa are that thing that isn’t in the Bible. I don’t really think she’d let Mikky stay overnight with us.
I went home after that, and Grace was sick again and Daddy Ham was helping her with her inhaler, and the house was full of boxes, and Papa James gave me a couple and told me to start packing my stuff. I got mad and said I didn’t want to go and didn’t want to pack, and that he was just like everyone else, telling me to pack up my stuff and leave again. He told me to get to work packing and save the drama for later, that we had work to do.
Papa James is very tall and strong, and he’s really dark, almost as dark as me, and much darker than Grace whose father was white anyway, at least I think so. He spends all day at the hospital lifting sick people and taking care of them, and he’s got big muscles and a very quiet voice. He’s older than Daddy Ham, going gray a little bit, and where I sometimes mess around with Daddy Ham and don’t always listen to him and try and make him mad, I don’t usually try and make Papa James mad, because it seems like if he got mad, it might be for real. With Daddy Ham you always know that he’s going to forgive you and not stay mad, but I don’t know about Papa James.
This time I really wanted to make him mad, so I told him that the boxes were just like the garbage bags all the social workers used to make us pack our stuff up in, and he was treating me like trash too by making me move after he said we could stay. The I said that he and Daddy Ham were just like Miss Edie. I was really yelling by then. That was the meanest thing I could think of to say, since they both knew that we had to be taken out of Miss Edie’s house really fast after she smacked Grace in the face so hard she left a mark and twisted my arm hard when I tried to fight her to keep her from getting at Grace. Miss Edie’s was the next-to-last place we were before we came to their house and finally, we thought, got to stay.
Papa James looked really mad at that, and I thought for a minute he might hit me, even though he didn’t move. I was ready to run into my room though and lock the door, just in case, even though neither Papa nor Daddy has ever hit me, and they promised they wouldn’t ever. Lots of people said that, though, even though they always said they wouldn’t do it, or do it again, and I figure better safe than sorry, so I got ready to run.
But Papa James didn’t even yell, and when I turned like I was going to run away from him his face changed and he didn’t look mad anymore, just sad. I saw Daddy Hamish standing in the doorway, looking at me like he was worried about me or something, but he didn’t say anything. Papa James just put down the boxes and sat down and told me to sit too. He told me that this was not the same thing as when Grace and I were foster kids, that he was sorry if it made me feel bad to move, but this was everyone going together, that he and Daddy Ham would never go anywhere without me, and that sometimes you all have to do the best thing for your whole family even if it is really hard.
He talked to me about things that I sort of know about – about no rain and why everything gets hotter and dryer every year, and the diseases he sees people in the hospital with that never used to be here. He talked about jobs, and being afraid there won’t be enough food for us, and how hard it is to find work. He talked about things being dangerous, and oil, which I didn’t really understand. I thought the world was always dangerous.
I didn’t mean to cry, but I did, a little bit, and I yelled that my whole family was here, and I was leaving everyone – and that I couldn’t go away from Moses, because my whole family doesn’t live in one house, and I have to take care of my little brother even if we don’t live together, because Gramma can’t really. What will Moses do when the other kids are mean to him without me to tell them to go to hell?
“Oh, Angelina!” Now Daddy Hamish came over and got down on his knees and put his arms around me, even though I don’t usually like to be hugged, because I’m too old. I let him this time. “Oh, sweetie.”
He looked up at Papa James like he was about to ask him a question, but he didn’t. And then Papa James nodded anyway, as though he already had, and Daddy Hamish told me something amazing.
“Honey, we can’t take Moses with us right now, because your Grandmother wants him to finish out his year at the school for the deaf, but we’ve been talking to Etty and to Moses’s social worker, and we want to bring Moses with us too – to have him as part of our family. It isn’t definite, but you are right, it isn’t fair for your family to be in so many places, and we want Moses to be part of our family. We’re going to move now because we need a place that isn’t going to be foreclosed on anyway, to adopt him, or they wouldn’t let us but once we get back to the mountain, we’re all going to start getting ready for Moses to come.”
I admit, I’d been hoping since the very first day they told me that they wanted to keep Grace and me forever that eventually they’d take Moses too, but except for once, a long time ago at the beginning, when they’d said they couldn’t, I never asked. It isn’t smart to ask for too much. They might be just telling me what I want to hear, or maybe they’ll forget about Moses when we’re gone – I’m not sure I believe them all the way. And that still leaves Gramma here, and everyone else. My family still isn’t all one piece. I felt a little better, though. A little.