“Madeleine O’Neil!” Mom cried, during intermission. Then, ignoring the stares and hellos from people in the audience, even John and his parents, Mom marched Maddie, with Joseph trailing behind, through the throngs of people out of the theater. “Can’t you sit still for one minute? You knew how important this was to me! I felt a real fool! It was my big chance, and seeing you in the aisle threw my concentration. I know I sounded horrible and flat. The Ikes probably think I’m a tuneless idiot!”
“You were great, Mom!” Joseph piped up.
“No, I wasn’t!” Mom said, and her fingers began to shake.
“Yes you were!” Maddie said stubbornly. “Everyone clapped for you.”
“I told her to sit down,” Joseph said. “But she wouldn’t listen.”
“Why should I listen to you!” Maddie cried, and gripped the Sade card so tight in her fist that she bent it in two.
“I’m taking you home right now!” Mom stomped ahead of them to her car which she’d been allowed to park in the roped-off area reserved for the performers. Maddie hung her head, remembering how excited Mom had been when they’d gotten here earlier. “Why don’t you stay, Mom,” she said. “I’ll wait out here. Joseph and you can go back in and listen to the rest of the concert.” Maddie hated herself right now.
“It’s too late!” Mom replied mulishly. “You’ve ruined things! Let’s go!”
Half an hour later they were pulling into the driveway to their wooden ranch- house. It was still light and Maddie could see John’s empty house a little further down the ridge. Mom sent her directly to her bedroom without the usual graham crackers and milk.
The Sade card was badly bent. It had made a mark right below her thumb. For a moment, she thought Sade had bitten her. She looked closely at her hand for signs of teeth marks. But there was only a red streak. Poison, she thought, and almost threw the card into the trash. But it was precious to John so she laid it on her dresser. She desperately wanted to go and get Finnie to cuddle, but he was already in enough trouble. More trouble even than Maddie. She was fairly certain that she wouldn’t be taken to the pound and given to strangers. The worst that could happen to her was that she’d be sent directly to Paintsville, or maybe to Mamaw, who was her great grandmother and loved her a whole lot. Actually, that would be okay but it was unlikely because Mamaw was ninety-three-years old and lived in an Assisted Living Facility.
Around ten o’clock Maddie heard a car go down the lane. Car doors slammed outside John’s house. She stared guiltily at the fold in John’s magic card. It would be almost impossible to get him another Sade. She hoped he wouldn’t be a grrrck about it. She carefully flattened the card in a book and put several more books on top trying to flatten it out.
About half an hour later, the phone rang. Maddie listened to Mom answer in her sing-songy aren’t-I-sweet voice. “Yes, this is Melissa.” She sounded so excited that Maddie knew it wasn’t dad on the other end of the line. When he called, Mom’s voice got impatient. “Yes, I’d love to come,” she said. “Oh don’t worry about my kids. They’ll be fine. They’re old enough to be by themselves, and my son, Joseph, is very responsible. He’s been a real man of the house since their daddy left.” There was a brief silence. Then, “Okay, I’ll be right over.” She hung the phone up and yelled, “Yey yey yey!” and came trotting towards Maddie’s room.
Maddie dived into bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. Mom cracked open the door and peeked at her.
“Robert Ike called! He’s invited me to a party tonight. Honey, I’m sorry I got so irritated with you.”
“Me too.” Maddie sighed. “I hope you have a good time.” But she didn’t want Mom going off and enjoying herself with this Ike guy. She felt mean to not want Mom to be happy.
“Maybe they liked my song after all,” Mom said with a dazzling smile. “You’ll be okay here for a little while. I won’t be very long, but I have to go! I’ll be back soon. I love you. Call me on my cell phone if you need me.” She rushed over to the bed, leaned down and hugged Maddie. Then she dashed out of the room and went into Joseph.
Maddie heard her telling Joseph he was responsible, and then Mom skipped out of the house. The front door slammed, the car started, and the headlights briefly illuminated the ceiling of Maddie’s room as Mom swung the car around in the driveway. Maddie covered her ears so she wouldn’t have to listen to the drone of the engine fading away.
Books by Christina St Clair–click on title