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- A SWEET SPOT FOR MOOSE

- A SWEET SPOT FOR MOOSE

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living room.

“Now you mustn’t talk that way. She’s gonna pull through,” Annie’s mom says.

“Janet, you stay in the bedroom like I told you. Play with your dollies, all right?” Bea tells Janet. “I

know a death rattle when I hear it. That woman is not long for this world.” Bea sighs. “I wish I could

say I didn’t see this coming. I mean, the doctor told her not to have any more.”

“Oh now, Bea, these things happen,” Mrs. Mattaman tells her.

“Well, you’re not going to tell me he didn’t want a boy more than life itself.” Bea again.

“No guarantees it’s gonna be a boy,” Mrs. Caconi offers.

“Try telling the warden that,” Bea says. “Got him signed up for military school and the sailing club

already.”

“That’s up to God, not the warden,” Annie’s mom insists.

“I’ll tell you what’s up to us,” Mrs. Mattaman declares. “Piper. I’ll be the first to tell you she’s not

my favorite child. But right now she’s all alone in that big house with her mama rushed off to the

hospital sick enough to . . .” She takes a deep breath. “It’s not right. Somebody has to go up there with

her.”

“I’ll go,” Mrs. Caconi offers. “I can cook in the warden’s kitchen same as my own.”

“Now let’s hold our horses here, girls, and use our noggins. Who’s the closest friend Piper’s got?”

Bea asks.

“Moose,” Mrs. Mattaman replies.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Bea answers. “Those two and their googly eyes. Where is he?”

“We sent them out to play. Get them out of our hair,” Annie’s mom replies.

“That boy, my goodness. If there’s a hand that needs a-holdin’ he’s the one for the job. I’ll be

darned if he didn’t get me a rose one day when I was feeling down. Still can’t figure that one out,”

Bea says.

“He’s a nice boy. That’s what. My Annie thinks the world of him,” Mrs. Bomini says.

“Got a sweet spot for Moose is what your Annie has,” Bea answers.

Annie’s mom sighs. “I’m afraid so. But enough of that now, girls. We’ve got our work cut out for

us.”

“Annie,” Theresa whispers, “you have a crush on Moose?”

But Annie has weaseled past Jimmy. She’s crawling like a spider down the passage to the door that

opens with a squeal and closes with a crump. We can hear her distant footsteps running up the cement

stairway that leads out of Chinatown.

My cheeks get hot with the thought that Annie has a crush on me. I don’t like her in that way. I

mean, Annie? She’s a box with feet. But it’s kind of nice to think she likes me—so long as it doesn’t

affect her pitching, that is.

But then I hear my name again and I can’t think about Annie because I want to listen to what the

ladies at Mrs. Caconi’s are saying about me.

“Well, I’m gonna go find Moose and send him up there. We can’t leave that child scared out of her

wits and all alone. Poor little thing,” Mrs. Mattaman says.

“You find Moose, we’ll get the baking going. Then we’ll figure out who goes to visit poor June,”

Bea commands.

“Get outta here, Moose, fast as you can,” Jimmy whispers. He moves out of the way and I crawl

back to the door and jump out with Theresa on my tail. I take the Chinatown stairs two at a time and



run into Mrs. Mattaman as she heads out to the parade grounds.

“There you are, Moose,” Mrs. Mattaman says as Theresa catches up. “And Theresa, you may as

well hear this too.”

Theresa grabs her mom’s hand and holds it tight.

“Mrs. Williams is sick. They took her to St. Luke’s Hospital in the city. She may not . . . She’s very

sick.”

“She may not what?” Theresa asks.

“Now, never you mind,” Mrs. Mattaman tells her.

“What about the baby?” I ask.

Mrs. Mattaman heaves a big breath. “Don’t know yet about the baby.” Her voice breaks.

“I knew it,” Theresa whispers.

“You knew what?” Mrs. Mattaman strokes Theresa’s tumble of black curls.

“She’s not even going to get in trouble now,” Theresa insists.

“Who isn’t?”

“Piper.”

“Theresa!” Mrs. Mattaman snaps. “That poor girl may lose her mommy. You’re old enough to

know what that means. Whether or not she should have been bawled out is beside the point.”

“No, it’s not,” Theresa whispers.

“Shame on you.” Mrs. Mattaman’s jaw sets, her dark eyes fire up. “You wipe that look off your

face, young lady, and march back home and wash your mouth out with soap.”

Theresa’s steps are heavy as she heads for home.

Mrs. Mattaman sighs. “She has a big heart for every other creature on God’s green earth, but she

sure can’t find it in herself to be kind to Piper.

“Now, Moose.” She focuses her attention back on me. “I know your mom’s got her hands full with

Natalie, so I’m going to step up to the plate. You get yourself up to the warden’s house, young man.

Piper needs a friend. Oh boy, does she ever. And if you can’t forgive her, well, shame on you too.

There isn’t a friend in the world won’t disappoint you one day. You going to hold a grudge, you’ll

have a mighty lonely life.”

“I could get Annie. Wouldn’t this be a better girl job?” I suggest.

Mrs. Mattaman looks at me intently. “C’mon now, Moose. I think we both know Piper would rather

see you.”

My eyes don’t meet Mrs. Mattaman’s. I hate to admit she’s right. “What do you say to someone

whose mother is that sick?” I ask.

Mrs. Mattaman seals her lips up tight and nods her head. “It’s not what you say, Moose. Not one

word any of us says is going to help that poor child right now. But you go up there and you stay with

her. That’s what she’ll remember. That we loved her enough to go through this with her. We’re a

family here on Alcatraz and that’s what families do. Now you go on.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I say.

“And, Moose? You want to bring her back down to our place, you go right ahead. She’s welcome.

You bet she is.”



30.

WHY ARE BOYS SPECIAL?

Same day—Tuesday, September 10, 1935



I have walked as slowly as possible up the switchback, but even at this pace I get there before I want

to. I drag myself up the steps to Piper’s front door and push the bell. Willy One Arm answers with

Molly on his shoulder. He makes the sign of the cross, his empty sleeve flapping in the breeze.

I follow Willy into the dark living room. The drapes are shut tight. No light shines anywhere. And

the smell of sickness is all around like bandages and rotting fruit. I wonder why Willy can’t get rid of

the smell. Men are no good at cleaning even with two arms, my mom says.

I don’t even begin to know what I’m going to say to Piper. And I’m a little annoyed with Mrs.

Mattaman for sending me on this impossible mission. Why is it I’m the one everyone always decides

can handle these things?

It’s the curse of niceness, I swear.

“What are you doing? Go away.” Piper’s voice comes from the shadowy stairwell where she sits,

huddled on a step.

My hand forms a fist around a nickel shoved deep in my pocket. “Why don’t you come down to the

canteen? I’ll buy you a pop,” I suggest.

“I heard it’s closed.”

“It is.”

“Then why’d you ask?”

“Bea Trixle will open the canteen.”

“Not if it’s closed.”

“For you she will—”

“Oh,” Piper says in a voice so small it sounds like somebody stepped on it.

I don’t know what to do with myself or what to say. Maybe I’ll just open my mouth and hope the

right words come out.

“Piper, what’s your, um . . . What are they going to name the baby?”

Piper’s eyes are closed and she’s leaning back on the steps. I think she isn’t going to answer and

then her eyelids flutter.

“It,” she whispers.

“Your parents are going to name the baby It?”

“I’m going to call him It.”



“It Williams. Were you thinking of a middle name?” I ask.

“Ee-It,” she says.

“It Ee-It Williams?”

“Yep, Idiot Williams.” Piper smiles, which feels to me like a small victory.

But now what do I say? “Mrs. Mattaman had Rocky and it all worked out okay.”

“Mrs. Mattaman didn’t get sick like this.”

“No,” I concede, “she didn’t.”

“I wanted It Ee-it to die. Not my mom.” Her voice catches.

I put my arm around Piper. It feels like there’s no place for my arm on her shoulder. Why is it when

you see this done in the movies, it looks so natural?

“The best, the very best I could hope for is . . .” Her voice breaks. “. . . a little sister like Theresa

Mattaman. That is pretty bad.”

“C’mon, Piper. Theresa’s okay.”

“Theresa’s a brat.”

“You could do a whole lot worse than Theresa Mattaman.”

“Yeah.” She glares at me. “I could end up with a Natalie.”

“A Natalie?” I take my arm back. My teeth grind so hard I’m pulverizing them to dust in my mouth.

“What gives you the right to say something like that? I’m trying to be nice here and you just turn on

me.”

Piper snorts. “You can’t even say you’re looking forward to her going back.”

“Because I’m not.”

“Yeah, you are. And so is your mom.”

“Shut up!” I shout.

“You’re not as nice as you pretend to be, you know.”

“I’m not pretending.” My voice squeezes out of my chest.

Piper is staring off in another direction, oblivious to how much she’s hurt me. “My dad wants a

son.” Her voice is thick. “Why are boys so special anyway?”

“We can do more things.”

“Annie plays ball as well as you do.”

“No, she doesn’t.”

“Yes, she does. It’s not fair,” Piper says.

I snort. “Lots of things aren’t fair. Are you just now finding this out?” I ask, still stinging from her

comment about Natalie.

“They should be. Everything should be fair,” she says, the tears spilling over. Her hands try to push

them back, wipe them off, make them go away.

“Come on,” I tell her. I want to get away from this dark and silent house, away from the smell of

sickness and away from Piper, but I know Mrs. Mattaman will have my head if I leave her here.

“Let’s go down to the Mattamans’,” I suggest.

“They don’t like me.”

“They shouldn’t like you,” I say. “After what you did, they should hate your guts. But they don’t.”

“I don’t want to go.”

“Too bad,” I tell her.

She squints at me. I don’t think she’s going to move, but she does. She gets up and follows me out



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