If you find this, p.1

If You Find This, page 1

 

If You Find This
 


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If You Find This


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  Robert Rowe, I’ll plant you here

  Also the one who went unnamed

  Peter was alone on the lagoon. The rock was very small now; soon it would be submerged… Peter was not quite like other boys; but he was afraid at last. A tremour ran through him, like a shudder passing over the sea; but on the sea one shudder follows another till there are hundreds of them, and Peter felt just the one. Next moment he was standing erect on the rock again, with that smile on his face and a drum beating within him. It was saying, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”

  —JAMES MATTHEW BARRIE, Peter Pan

  IF YOU FIND THIS

  If I die, or get kidnapped by the Isaacs, someone needs to know the truth about what happened to my grandfather. About where my grandfather is. That’s why I’m writing all of this down. I’m going to keep these notes under the clothes in my dresser, so if I’m dead, if you’re reading this, that must mean you were cleaning the dresser out to throw my clothes away. Which means you found the hatchet too—I didn’t steal it, Zeke stole it, to break through the cellar door—and you found the earring, so I did steal that, but I was only keeping it to remember what the homeschooler said to Jordan. I’m going to write down exactly how everything happened. I’m not going to lie to make myself seem braver or smarter than I actually was, because I wasn’t brave, I wasn’t smart, I was afraid, and even if I got all A’s and had square roots memorized like the square root of 537,289, there were problems I couldn’t solve alone. If I’m dead, I’m sorry, I had to risk everything. We were trying to find the heirlooms. That’s what this is about. Buried heirlooms. A map made of letters and numbers. A revolver, a clock, a hammer, a box. This is about my grandfather, my father, my brother. This is about trying to save someone you love.

  This is what I’m saying. I need you to understand how everything happened. I need you to understand that none of it was my fault. When you’re eleven, you don’t always get to choose between good and bad. Sometimes you have to choose between bad and bad. Sometimes you have to choose between worse and worst.

  IN THE YEARS OF TREES

  My brother is a tree. He wasn’t always a tree. When I was seven, my mom was pregnant and my brother was inside her. I had been asking for a brother for years and years and years, and now I was finally going to have one. But the night before my eighth birthday, my brother came out too soon. He was half-grown, unfinished. There was nothing the doctors could do. He was already dead. We hadn’t even named him yet.

  I should have known my brother would be born too soon, because a brother being born is a Big Event. The doctors had predicted my brother wouldn’t be born until months after my eighth birthday, but that never could have happened. Big Events only happen on years that you’re a prime. A prime is a number that’s divisible only by one and itself—the primes I’ve been are two, three, five, seven, and eleven. When I was two, our dog got hit by a truck. When I was three, our kitchen caught on fire. When I was five, I broke my leg, I skipped a grade, and our dog got pregnant and we had to give away the puppies. When I was seven, my mom got pregnant and my brother was born and died. When I turned eleven, my dad got fired from the factory where he built cars and moved to the Upper Peninsula to work at my uncle’s repair shop and was never home and we had to give away our dog because we couldn’t afford to feed her. Nothing like that happens years that I’m not a prime. That year that my brother died I was seven and my mom was forty-one and my dad was forty-three. All of us were primes. My brother never had a chance.

  After my brother died, my parents said we would plant a tree so we would remember him always, and they drove away (like they had before, to the hospital, when everything had gone wrong) and drove back again with a tree roped to the car—a pine, a sapling, just barely younger than me in the years of trees. After we had buried my brother in the dirt at the edge of our backyard, beyond the swing set he could not climb on and the sandbox he could not play in, we sat on the deck drinking lemonade. I was so happy to have a brother again. My parents never talked about him after that, but I understood that he wasn’t dead anymore—that instead he had become this other thing.

  During the years that followed, a dog snapped at me in the woods and I got a white scar on my hand, and my dad tripped into me in the garage and I got a white scar on my knee, and birds pecked at my brother with their beaks and scarred my brother’s branches, and my dad bumped into my brother with a wheelbarrow and scarred my brother’s trunk, and my brother kept my knife in the crook of his branches and my socks sometimes hanging from his twigs and my shoes at his roots, and I kept his pinecones on my windowsill and fistfuls of his needles on my dresser and his sap in a jar in my room in the house where he could not go, and in this way we grew together. I told him everything.

  THE PRISONER LIVES

  Everything started when I got home from school and my mom shouted, “Nicholas, come into the kitchen, there’s something you need to know.” Actually, everything started when the Isaacs found me at school and said, “Meet us tonight, the graveyard at sunset, and don’t even think about not coming.” Or, actually, everything started with locker partners.

  Seventh grade means riding a different bus, means having a new building, means sharing lockers with locker partners. Everyone else in my grade was thirteen or twelve, but because I skipped kindergarten, I was still only eleven. Seventh graders are in their own building across from the high school. Everyone had to choose a locker partner. No one wanted Zeke Song, so we were assigned to each other, because no one wanted me either. Zeke is a thief. He steals high-tops from the locker room, backpacks from the choir room, and instruments from the band room. Then he sells everything for money. He keeps the money in a gold backpack on the floor of our locker.

  It’s not because he’s a thief that everyone avoids him. Everyone avoids him because he draws mermaids on his arms in silver marker and because sometimes he barks at teachers like he’s a dog. Actually, he probably still would have friends, even with the mermaid drawings and the dog barking, except for that once in fifth grade he kissed Little Isaac on the lips. That’s why everyone avoids him. You can’t cross Little Isaac like that and still have any friends.

  I never saw Zeke at our locker normally—during school he was always sneaking around, stealing. So a few days ago I was unlocking our locker to get my sack lunch (my parents couldn’t afford to buy me cafeteria lunch anymore) when I decided to unzip the gold backpack. Just to count the money. Everyone was already in the cafeteria. The hallway was empty. As per usual, the gold backpack was on the floor of our locker, and Zeke’s dictionary—a thick one, with a stained cover—sat on the shelf above.

  I unzipped the gold backpack halfway. Then I spotted Little Isaac and Big Isaac walking down the hallway. The Isaacs aren’t brothers—they’re just both named Isaac. Little Isaac is the one who dribbles the ball down the court. Big Isaac is the one who stands under the basket.

  “There you are,” Little Isaac (forte)said.

  In band class everyone had learned new terms. Forte means “play loudly.” Piano means
play softly.” Da capo means “return to the beginning,” means “play the song again.” In band class I play the violin. I already knew about forte and piano and da capo from taking violin lessons, but some kids learned just that morning.

  I rezipped the backpack, shut the locker, spun the combination.

  Big Isaac poked the locker with a thumb.

  “Unlock it,” Big Isaac (forte)said.

  “But I’m going to lunch,” I (forte)said.

  “He told you to unlock it,” Little Isaac (piano)said.

  Sometimes when people talk piano, that means they’re afraid of you. Sometimes piano means that only you’re supposed to hear what they’re saying. Sometimes piano just means that they’re tired. But when Little Isaac talks piano, that means he’s giving you a warning.

  The choir teacher came around the corner carrying a stack of songbooks, glancing at us.

  The Isaacs raised their eyebrows, and shifted their eyes.

  “Never mind the locker, Isaac,” Big Isaac (forte)said.

  “Isaac, you’re right, never mind the locker,” Little Isaac (forte)said.

  Little Isaac smiled a fake smile. Big Isaac smiled a fake smile. I tried slipping past them. They grabbed me. I’m abnormally skinny, which makes me easy to grab.

  “But you,” Little Isaac (piano)said, frowning now. “Meet us tonight, the graveyard at sunset, and don’t even think about not coming.”

  Why did they want me to meet them? After school, on the bus, I tried calculating an answer to that question. I live in a village on the shore of Lake Michigan, in the Lower Peninsula, obviously. The lake is the size of a sea, takes a whole day to cross in a sailboat. When our bus passes the wharf, you can see the lake through the trees, just more and more and more water that never ends. Michigan has 64,969 bodies of water (prime). You’re never more than seven miles away from a body of water (prime). Anything that isn’t water, it’s trees. I realized suddenly that maybe the Isaacs were going to ask me to check their math homework. Sometimes kids ask that, because they know my brain is like a calculator. I decided to hope that’s what the Isaacs wanted. I was staring through the window with my nose pressed against the glass.

  Just then, a fight erupted in the seat across from mine. I didn’t know then this fight was noteworthy, but it’s noteworthy, 100%. The fight started between a pair of kids in my grade, Jordan Odom and Mark “Flatface” Huff. In sixth grade, Jordan had been friends with Mark Huff. In sixth grade, Jordan had been friends with everyone. But on the bus that afternoon Mark Huff suddenly vaulted over his seat into Jordan’s. They wrapped around each other like they were hugging, except they were punching each other’s ribs. The Geluso twins vaulted over their seat, and then they were punching Jordan too. One Geluso head-butted Jordan’s chin. One Geluso bit Jordan’s ear. By now, everyone was (forte)cheering, all rooting for Jordan to lose.

  Mr. Carl, our driver, yanked the bus over to the side of the road.

  “Knock that off!” Mr. Carl (forte)shouted.

  The bus had stopped on the empty stretch of road across from the ghosthouse. From the road, all you can see of the ghosthouse is its roof poking above the trees, half of the shingles missing, half of the shingles bleached white by the sun. Kids used to explore the ghosthouse on dares, but no one’s dared to go there since a ghost tripped Mark Huff out the attic window.

  “Hey, I said, knock that off!” Mr. Carl (forte)shouted, getting angry now.

  Everyone quit cheering. The Geluso twins scrambled to their seat. Mark Huff limped to his. Jordan has messy red hair and a gap in his teeth. Now he had a bloody ear, a split lip, and a cut under his chin too.

  “You’re dead,” Mark Huff (piano)muttered.

  Jordan didn’t say anything—just stared at his shoes on the floor.

  At home, I gathered the mail from the mailbox, ran up the driveway, then gathered the newspaper from the stoop. My mom’s car was parked in the driveway instead of the garage, which meant she must have gone somewhere earlier and was leaving again soon. There were acorns, dark green and pale brown, that had fallen from the trees above the car and gotten caught in its hood.

  I knew this was going to be a year of Big Events. I was eleven years old (prime). Plus I was in seventh grade (prime). Plus I was taking an eleventh-grade math class (prime). Plus the year was 1999 (prime). After my dad lost his job and had to move to the Upper Peninsula, the next Big Event of the year was when my mom planted a FOR SALE sign in our yard. My parents said we weren’t making the money we needed to keep our house anymore. I had been afraid of this. Lots of people in our village had been losing their jobs, had been losing their houses to the banks. The houses sat empty, waiting for someone with the money to buy them. No one had the money to buy them. I liked our house, but I could have been happy living anywhere. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that my brother the tree was buried in the backyard, and we couldn’t take him with us.

  I was avoiding looking at the FOR SALE sign, because seeing it there in our yard always made me feel helpless, and doomed, and kind of dizzy. But I could hear it anyway, swaying in the breeze, (piano)creaking, like it wasn’t going to let me forget that my days here were numbered. I slipped into the house, as the door (forte)thunked shut behind me.

  Inside, I slid onto the piano bench, I was dying to play a song, but before I could even get my fingers onto the keys I heard my mom (forte)shouting, “Nicholas, come into the kitchen, there’s something you need to know.”

  Our kitchen smelled like cinnamon, as per usual, plus cigarettes, which was new. Mom smokes now? I thought, but I didn’t say anything. Parents have all sorts of secrets. When you live with them you’re always finding out new things about them. I piled stamped envelopes on the counter, alongside the newspaper.

  “Dad call today?” I (forte)said.

  “He’ll call his next day off,” my mom (forte)said. “The usual schedule.” She was (forte)chopping green tomatoes on the cutting board. She doesn’t normally make me a sandwich after school, but it looked like she was making me a sandwich. She was wearing her uniform, plus her name tag, which says BEA. She works at the rest home, changing sheets and sweeping floors. We both have tangled hair and upturned noses. “Nicholas, your grandfather is here.”

  I shoved a lock of hair out of my eyes.

  “Grandfather? What grandfather? I thought he was dead?” I (forte)said.

  “Grandpa Funes is dead. This is Grandpa Rose,” my mom (forte)said.

  “Your father?” I (forte)said.

  “Yes,” my mom (forte)said.

  “You said he was dead,” I (forte)said.

  “I never said he was dead,” my mom (forte)said.

  “You definitely said he was dead,” I (forte)said.

  “He wasn’t,” my mom (forte)said.

  “Where has he been?” I (forte)said.

  “Prison,” my mom (piano)said.

  My dad’s nickname for Grandpa Rose was The Prisoner. I had never understood the nickname until now.

  “Prison? Since when? This whole time?” I (forte)said.

  “Twice. Once before I was born. And once since I was fifteen,” my mom (forte)said. She nicked a finger with the knife. She (piano)gasped, like THAT HURT. She cranked the faucet and held the finger under the water. “And if I told you he was dead, that’s because everybody said that this time he would die before his sentence ended, and I thought it would be better for me and for you and for everybody to pretend that he was dead already, than to talk about him being in prison.” She wiped her hands with a faded towel. “But he didn’t die. He had cancer but survived it. He had a stroke but survived it. He had another stroke but survived it. He somehow survived everything, and his sentence ended, and today he called me from the train station to tell me that he was home.”

  My mom hardly ever talked about Grandpa Rose. And she never had said anything about him being a criminal. Or about him being in prison. Or about him being alive.

  “Now he lives here?” I (forte)said.

/>   “He’s eighty-nine, Nicholas. Sometimes he gets confused. He can have problems remembering where he is, or what he’s doing, or who he’s talking to,” my mom (forte)said. “When I drove to the train station, Grandpa Rose wasn’t there anymore. I searched the phone booths. I searched the ticket counters. I searched the train platforms. I begged a worker to search the bathrooms. He wasn’t anywhere. I drove home again, worried sick something had happened. Then I saw him. Walking along the road, covered with dust, dragging a suitcase. Headed the completely wrong direction. It took me an hour to get him into the car. He didn’t remember calling me. He didn’t even remember who I was.” She laid the tomatoes on the sandwich. “He can’t live here. We can’t take care of him. Especially with your dad gone.” She handed me the plate. “I’m late already. I can’t miss work. I need you to watch him. Tonight I’ll ask about getting a room at the rest home. The sandwich is for him. There are leftovers if you’re hungry.”

  I wanted to say, “I can’t watch Grandpa Rose because I have to meet the Isaacs at the graveyard and if I don’t then they’ll hurt me,” but I couldn’t tell her that.

  “If he offers you a cigarette, say no. If he offers to teach you how to steal a car, say no. He might get confused, but if he tries to leave, just sit him down again and turn on the television,” my mom (forte)said. “He can sleep on the couch, okay? Call me if you have questions. Do your homework, brush your teeth.” She kissed my head, which I don’t allow unless we’re alone. Then she threw open the door and sent me scooting onto the deck.

  Grandpa Rose was sitting on a chair there with a cigarette pinched between a pair of fingers. He had a thick gnarled beard, white with streaks of gray, twisted into snarls across his cheeks, curled over his lips, in knots under his jaw. He was wearing gray pants, a leather belt, and a bluish shirt with the shirtsleeves rolled to the elbows. Beyond him the wind was tearing gold leaves from the oak trees, floating the leaves off into the woods. My mom shut the door without saying goodbye.

 
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