Mama opened the screen door. “Go out now. Out with you,” she said.
“No, I want to stay in. I won’t drive you nuts. Really.” I pressed my face into her soft belly, into her silky gray dress covered with tiny green eyes.
“It’s too late. I’m already nuts,” Mama said.
I tried to reach my arms all the way around her, but my fingers wouldn’t touch.
“Stop hanging on me,” Mama said, pushing me away. “Now scat! Scat while you can.”
“What if I don’t talk any more?” I asked. “What if I just whisper?” But Mama’s eyes were mean, so I backed out the door, whispering, “Shh, shh.”
The door banged shut. “Boom,” I said.
I kept walking backwards. My shadow on the wall of the house was monstrously tall. I waved at it with both arms. The shadow’s arms were longer and wilder than mine. It slid down the bricks and across the screen door, then swooped over the grass: a dark-spirit part of me. If it caught me, I could die. So I lay down quickly and stretched out flat on my back, trapping my shadow beneath me. I looked for the face of God in the sky and saw some tiny squiggles of light, but no eyes. Then I rolled down the hill into the deep shadows beside the pond, where no other shadows could come. My sister, Linda, was playing there.
Linda picked up a black-and-orange caterpillar from the grass. The caterpillar rolled itself into a tight little spiral in her fingers. Linda threw it into the water so a frog could eat it up. Then she told me, “You’d better go away from here. If you stay, Jean-Jon will come after you. He murdered Gramma’s cocker spaniel last week. I couldn’t stop him. And he just doesn’t like you.”
Mama said Jean-Jon wasn’t real, but Gramma’s dog was dead. And Linda had told me one of Jean-Jon’s rules was that if you didn’t believe in him, he’d kill you for sure, tear you up. He’d eat some of your body parts and leave the rest for wild animals.
I sucked on my tongue and worked up a mouthful of spit and tried to spit at Linda. But the spit dribbled down my own chin. I wiped my mouth and yelled, “You fat bitch!” Then I ran like mad around the house to the front garden, where Eddie was working. Jean-Jon wouldn’t dare come near Eddie. I sat down on the green circle of lawn between pecan trees and flower beds and watched Eddie work.
He could move faster than anyone I’d ever seen except in cartoons. His skin was chocolate, and his lips and nose were wide and flat, but you shouldn’t say so. Eddie tugged the garden cart forward a couple of feet, then crouched down. He juggled objects from the cart to the earth and back: a silver trowel, handfuls of dirt, green plastic boxes with snapdragons, then, pop, empty boxes. A bare curve of ground between the holly bushes and the lawn was filled with flowers. The snapdragons were covered with red and pink buds that pushed out in curved pairs, like lips. The lips that snapdragons used to catch dragonflies.
Once my father had hugged Eddie and said that he was a fine young man to work his way through college. Keep it up. Don’t leaf college, my father had said.
I figured Eddie went to leaf college right here in the garden. He read the lights and shadows of the millions of leaves the way other people read books. Trees, flowers, owls, and bugs taught him at night, when the moon was out and everything could talk.
Eddie stood and whisked dirt off his pants. From the garden cart, he picked up a radio the size of his hand and twisted the dials. The radio hissed out broken words, then suddenly drums, music, and a woman’s voice. “Oh lordy, lord, she’s gonna fly away,” the voice sang.
I jumped to my feet. I held my arms straight out and spun around. “Hey, I’m a great dancer,” I shouted above the music. “Watch this.”
I swooped my arms up into the air, ran and leapt, higher and higher. “Sh-boom!” I yelled. I kicked one leg so much higher than my body that I fell and landed on my back. The fall knocked the breath out of me but didn’t hurt much.
I just lay there awhile. Some of the leaves in the tall trees above me were dark green, while some were ovals of yellow light, flickering dark to bright as though God was switching them on and off. I held up my hand against the blue sky. All around the edge of my hand, a thin white line glowed. The crescent moons of skin between my fingers were translucent. It seemed like my hand could turn into a white bird and fly away.
My sister had lost teeth. My father could pull my nose off and show me the tip of it between his fingers. Lepers lost body parts. Afterward, Jesus healed them and they saw the face of God in the sky. Anything could happen.
Eddie turned off the music and came and stood over me. The shadow of his body fell across my legs.
I rolled away from his shadow and got up onto my feet, twirling around so he’d forget I’d fallen. “Did you see that jump?” I said. “Did you see how high I went? I’m the highest dancer, aren’t I?”
“Little Chihuahua,” Eddie said. “Yip, yip, yip.”
“No! I’m not that!” I shut my eyes and spun around again. When I opened my eyes the garden teetered. If I managed to stay on my feet, it would mean I could become someone else. I’d be whatever they wanted. I kept my balance and pointed to the spot where I’d fallen earlier and said, “I’m not that yipper anymore. That yipper’s going away.” I squinted and saw a little glowing dog that shook itself and shivered and trotted away. I watched it disappear.
“Now I’m different,” I whispered.
“I see,” Eddie said. “Why are you whispering?”
“I’m not a yipper anymore.”
“I see. So you lost your voice.” Eddie turned back to the garden cart.
“It’s sort of shiny,” I whispered.
“You’ve certainly been quiet,” Mama said to me that night. She shook a big spoonful of beef stew over my plate. Little spots of juice splashed onto the green vine on the rim of the plate. “I hope you can remember how you managed to be so well behaved.” She squeezed into her chair between the stove and the kitchen table.
“Bow your heads, girls,” Dad said. “Bless this food, and its use to our bodies. Amen.”
Dad always took the first bite. He made smacking sounds like a dog.
Mama said, “Gramma sent something over for you girls.”
“Pass me a roll,” Linda said.
“Please,” Mama said.
Mama handed Linda a roll. “Close your mouth while you chew. Don’t you want to know what Gramma sent?”
“I saw it already. It’s one of those Jesus books,” Linda said.
“Don’t be so smart, Miss. If you were as smart as you think you are, you could have read the title. Bad Wolves, Good Witches, and Other Bedtime Magic — that’s what this book’s called.”
“Oh. Can we keep it in my room?” Linda asked. “We really should, ’cause I’m older.”
“Hey, that’s no fair. She’s always older,” I said. Then I put my hands over my mouth because I’d spoken so loudly.
“Really, Sarah,” Mama said. “You’re allowed to speak aloud once in a while.”
“OK,” I whispered.
Dad spit into his paper napkin something squishy and pale like a worm. “Look at this,” Dad said. “A piece of fat as big as my thumb. When are you going to learn to cook?”
“When are you?” Mama asked.
“No wonder you’re so fat,” Dad said.
Above the sound of their voices I heard a distant howling from the attic or the roof. I put down my fork. The ceiling trembled. A moth fluttered around the kitchen light, making quick, soft shadows. The staircase squeaked. Then I thought I saw something beyond the doorway. I squinted. A shiny little dog dashed across the living room. Yipper. Then a huge shadow.
“Not Jean-Jon!” I whispered.
“What’s this about Jean-Jon?” Mother said. “Linda, I’ve told you not to torment Sarah with that monster.”
“I didn’t say anything about Jean-Jon. Sarah did.” Linda made her eyes small and sharp.
“Jean who-what?” Dad asked.
I went to sleep with only starlight and dark shadows on my quilt. But sometime later a weight on my stomach half woke me — warm little punches like paws walking on me, like Gramma’s cocker spaniel, but he was dead. I opened my eyes and saw Yipper glowing softly. She wagged her shimmery yellow tail. Suddenly there was a growling sound from the corner, and I saw another shadow and reddish eyes: Jean-Jon. I sat up and screamed. I shut my eyes, but when I opened them he was still there. I could see him more clearly now, gray with big ears. Light gleamed on his pointy teeth. I screamed louder. Yipper lifted her head and howled.
Outside my room, toenails tapped on the hallway floor, and a magnificent wolf appeared in my doorway. A wolf with my mother’s green eyes. Jean-Jon dashed across the room and jumped right out the open window. The wolf trotted after him and put her paws on the windowsill. She turned her head, and I could see one green eye glowing at me serenely, the way light glows through a leaf. Then she leapt out. Yipper’s tail was wagging like mad, making a cone of light. She jumped off the bed, trotted over to the window, and put her front paws on the windowsill too. In an instant she was up. For a moment she teetered on the sill, then she was gone.
I kicked off the quilt and ran to the window. In the tall trees, an owl dipped and hooted among the glimmering leaves. Eddie, I thought, in leaf college. Everywhere the air glowed with the comings and goings of radiant creatures. The night was alive with silver howls, and the face of God was in the starlight. God’s eyes scared me, and I looked down at the flowers.
Soon, the glowing creatures weren’t so clear. I rubbed my eyes. Behind me there was nothing but darkness, in front of me only stars, black trees, shadowy leaves. One part of me wanted to just jump right out the window, too. But what if I couldn’t fly?
I knelt and folded my hands together. I shut my eyes, pressed my fingertips into my eyeballs, and rubbed until I saw squiggles of light. “Dear God, please say I can fly,” I whispered. “Please make me really, really magic.”