A Mango-Shaped Space Read online

  “How could you do that?” A dark cloud of dread descends upon me.

  “I’m really sorry.”

  “Who else knows? Wait, if Kimberly knows, then everyone must know!”

  “I’m sure not everyone …,” Jenna says, trailing off and looking everywhere but at me. I can hear the third-grade laughter ringing in my ears all over again. The passage of time doesn’t make it sound any nicer.

  “I’d take it back if I could,” Jenna insists.

  Still stinging from the betrayal, I say coldly, “What’s done is done, right? I’m sure eighth-graders aren’t as cruel as third-graders.” Yeah, right.

  “No one’s going to make fun of you,” Jenna says. “They’re just curious, that’s all.”

  “We’ll see about that.”

  I hurry out of her house and walk quickly back down the road, suddenly eager to get home. I hate the idea of everybody at school talking about me behind my back. I’d tried so hard to avoid it, and then Jenna, of all people, sets it off.

  Zack is sitting at the kitchen table eating scrambled eggs when I walk in the back door. Seeing him there strikes me as strange. My life is changing by the minute, when for Zack everything is exactly the same as it was yesterday. As I pass by he tosses a handful of salt over his shoulder, spraying me with it.

  “Hey!” I say, brushing the tiny crystals off my jacket.

  “Sorry,” Zack says. “Didn’t see you there.”

  “You better clean that up before Mom sees it. And don’t leave it for Mango to lick up.”

  “Relax,” he says and grabs a sponge from the sink. “If you spill salt, you have to throw some over your left shoulder to appease the evil spirits. No big deal.”

  “The evil salt spirits?”

  “Go ahead, make fun,” Zack says. “But Beth knows it’s true.”

  “You’re brainwashing her,” I accuse him. “She never used to be this way.”

  “Hey, the Voodoo Vixen came to me, not the other way around,” he says, stuffing a whole piece of toast in his mouth.

  I head out of the kitchen, and Zack calls after me in a muffled voice. “By the way, if you can’t find Mango, he’s probably hiding in the walls.”

  Like the rest of us, Mango had found the house’s little nooks and crannies that never quite fit together. I go back in the kitchen. “Why is he hiding?”

  “I think Mom scared him. She was sweeping the hall, and she caught him peeing on the couch. So she chased him with the broom, and I haven’t seen him since.”

  “Mango peed on the couch?” I ask in disbelief.

  “Yup. Haven’t you noticed he’s been a little weird lately?”

  “Weird like how?”

  Zack shrugs. “Slinking around the house with his tail real low. Sleeping a lot.”

  “He always sleeps a lot,” I snap. “His medication makes him tired.” At that minute Mango saunters into the room and heads straight for his food bowl. Zack shrugs.

  I bend down and examine him. Poor Mango. Maybe he’s suffering from middle cat syndrome and peed to get attention. Being chased with a broom probably wasn’t the kind of attention he had been hoping for.

  “Five minutes till the bus,” Mom yells from upstairs.

  I cringe and sit down across from Zack. “Hey, can you show me how you get the thermometer to read like you’re sick? I really don’t want to go to school today.”

  “Ah, the ol’ thermometer and lightbulb trick,” he says fondly. “Never fails. But you only want to use it if you don’t mind being brought to the doctor.”

  I quickly push back the chair and stand. “Ugh, never mind.” In my haste I knock over the saltshaker. I turn it upright and pause. With a sigh of defeat, I pour a tiny bit in my hand and throw it over my left shoulder. Salt spirits or no salt spirits, I need all the luck I can get today.

  Zack smiles proudly. “Don’t worry, I’ll clean that up.”

  I give Mango an extra cat treat, grab my book bag, and head out to the bus stop. Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe it won’t be that bad after all.

  Then why do I keep hearing freeeeek, freeeeek, freeeeeeeeeek over and over in my head?

  Chapter Six

  Throwing the salt must have worked, because no one asks me anything about my colors until English class. That’s when the dam breaks. Before the teacher comes in, kids rush over to my desk and begin firing questions at me.

  “What color is my name?” Ross Stoler demands. He’s never even spoken to me before. “How can you read with all those colors floating around?” asks Michelle, the girl with the dirty book. Then the questions come all at once. “Is it true that you can tell the time without looking at a clock? Is it true you can read people’s minds? What does it feel like? Does it hurt?”

  I turn from one person to the next as the questions get more and more absurd. My face is burning, and I slide down in my chair. Luckily the teacher comes in, and everyone sits down. I catch them glancing back at me when they think I’m not looking. I don’t know what they expect to see.

  At lunch I suddenly have the most popular table in the cafeteria. I tell people their names are yellow like a ripe banana, sky-after-it-rains blue, burnt-caramel brown, fire-engine red. It’s exhausting. Jenna and Kimberly try to protect me by shooing the crowd away. Sara cowers in her seat and silently chews her peanut-butter sandwich. Molly keeps bouncing up and down, clearly loving the attention. I have to admit it isn’t all bad. Kids who totally ignored me before are clamoring to talk to me now. It would be more rewarding if it didn’t have the overtones of a circus sideshow.

  “I wouldn’t talk so much if I were you,” a girl with long blond hair announces as she passes our table. “They might stick you in a class for special kids.”

  I watch her walk away, and my spirits sink with each step. She doesn’t even know me.

  “Ignore her,” Jenna says. “She’s just jealous.”

  After that I don’t feel like talking anymore and get a hall pass to go to the bathroom. I hide in a stall until lunch is over.

  Just to make the day complete, we have a pop quiz in math. I try hard to focus, but I can’t. I wind up leaving the last three answers blank. Afterward we’re supposed to start on our homework while the teacher grades the quizzes, but my notebook fills up with doodles instead. The teacher hands the quizzes back, and I leave mine facedown on the desk. I fantasize that I got an A. A nice, happy sunflower-yellow A. Slowly I turn one corner over until a letter starts appearing. It’s a big, fat purple F and a note to meet with her as soon as possible.

  By the time I board the bus to go home, I’m totally wiped out and in a really bad mood. Someone whispers, “That’s her. The girl who sees all the colors.” So that’s who I am now. The “girl who sees colors.” At least they don’t know I’m also the girl whose grand-father’s soul lives in her cat. They can’t take that away from me.

  Jenna stayed after school to work on her newspaper editorial about sexism in gym class, so she’s not here for me to hide behind. Zack keeps asking me about these rumors he heard about me, but I just stare out the window. He really won’t shut up, so when we get home I stand on the front porch and tell him the whole story. He’s actually quiet for a change.

  “How come me and Beth don’t have this?” he asks. “Maybe you’re adopted. You don’t really look like any of us now that I think about it.”

  “I’m not adopted,” I say, too worn out to argue. “I don’t know why I have it. That’s why I’m going to all these doctors.”

  “I think it’s pretty neat,” he says, following me inside.

  “You do?”

  “Sure,” he says, grinning. “Now I know you’re the strangest one in the family after all. And you had some stiff competition!”

  I open my mouth to disagree but realize I can’t. This is a very sad realization. My father walks in behind us, picking sawdust off his eyebrows. He asks to speak to me alone, but I tell him I already told Zack what’s going on.

  He seems pleased by that. Dad