A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty – Extract

A Corner of White

FROM THE KINGDOM OF CELLO: AN ILLUSTRATED TRAVEL GUIDE, BY T.I. CANDLE, 7TH EDITION, © 2012, REPRINTED WITH KIND PERMISSION, BRELLIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, T.I. CANDLE.

INTRODUCTION
The Kingdom of Cello (pronounced ‘Chello’) needs no intro­duction.

WHEN TO VISIT
Look, in all honesty, visit Cello when you have the time. It’s a popular tourist destination all year round, so there’s no ‘peak’ or ‘shoulder’ or ‘off ’ season. (No seasons at all, as a matter of fact, at least not in the traditional sense.)

I suppose there are various festivals you might like to see, but I can’t think why. These invariably take place in the villages and towns of the Farms, and if there’s one province in Cello that you’ll want to skip, it’s the Farms.

THE FARMS
Hold on a moment, what can I be thinking? The Farms! Why, you’ll love them! The golden wheat fields, the cherry orchards, the laconic grins and ambling gaits of the Farmers! As the provincial motto promises: ‘Sure as hokey-pokey, the Farms’ll charm the heart right out of your belly.’

Not too great with anatomy in the Farms, but those Farmers are the most endearing bunch of muffin-baking, pastry-making, fiddle-playing folk you’ll ever meet.

(Blahdy, blahdy, hooray for Farmers! Blah, blah, pumpkin pie! etc.)

(Seriously, though, if you’re short on time, give the Farms a miss.)

WHY VISIT CELLO?
The question is wrong. Correct question: why would you not visit Cello? Keeping in mind that you can always skip the Farms, why on earth would you not visit Cello?

CAMBRIDGE,

ENGLAND, THE WORLD

Madeleine Tully turned fourteen yesterday, but today she did not turn anything. Oh, wait. She turned a page.

She was sitting on the sloping roof of her attic flat and she was reading a book. Only, she was not concentrating on the book. She was listening to her mother who was just inside.

Madeleine’s mother was sewing and watching the quiz show. And she was answering every single question. Snap, snap, snap! She was shooting out the answers like a popcorn machine. She was answering before the host even finished asking.

‘What is the capital of Ecuador?’

‘Maputo!’

‘From the French, what six-letter word—’

Frisson!

Each time Madeleine’s mother answered, a contestant on the tele­vision also answered, but a moment later. The contestants’ voices sounded calm and quiet.

An ad break came on. The sewing machine stopped. Madeleine’s mother climbed out through the window and sat on the roof beside Madeleine. The spires of Cambridge University traced themselves against the sky behind them.

‘Tonight,’ said Madeleine’s mother, ‘we’ll have supper out here on the roof.’

Madeleine closed her book.

‘We’ll be cold,’ her mother continued. ‘I’ll bring blankets.’

Madeleine nodded.

‘We’ll eat your leftover birthday cake. It doesn’t always have to be beans for supper, you know.’

‘No,’ Madeleine agreed.

‘And we’ll stay out here and watch the stars until we fall asleep amongst the blankets.’

Madeleine and her mother sat side by side, and sighed.

They were thinking the same thing.

They would not eat supper on the roof tonight.

Madeleine’s mother would keep sewing until midnight and would only stop to flex her aching fingers.

They sighed again.

They were remembering the same thing.

Supper tonight would be beans. They had eaten the whole birthday cake yesterday.

If only they had saved some.

‘Right then,’ said Madeleine’s mother. She climbed back through the window. The sewing machine started up.

The sewing machine was a Harlsbury Deluxe Model 37B. Madeleine’s

mother had won it in London many years before.

She had won it on the quiz show.

One day, soon, she planned to compete on that show again.

Only this time she would not just win the sewing machine. This time she would also win the plasma TV, the luxury towel set, the holiday, the barbecue, and the car!!!! (That was how the quiz-show host—and Madeleine’s mother—referred to the car: italics and three exclamation marks.)

So, each morning, Madeleine’s mother phoned the TV station to ‘register her interest’ in competing on the show.

Once a fortnight, she mailed in an application to compete.

Every month or so, she took a bus to London, walked to the TV station’s offices and had a friendly chat with the receptionist. (You never knew who might be influential.)

And every night, she watched the show and answered every question.

Bang, bang, bang! She shouted out the answers like a fireworks display.

And every night she got every single question wrong.

(The capital of Ecuador is Quito. Frisson doesn’t even have six letters.)

Bonfire,

 THE FARMS, KINGDOM Of CELLO

 Ten feet of snow had fallen overnight. It was enough to bury the Dudleys’ cows. It was enough to crack the branches of the silver maple tree that had stood for more than a thousand years in the grounds of the Bonfire Grade School. It toppled the pyramid of pumpkins. And the Bonfire Pumpkin Committee had been building that for over a month.

Now in the bright mid-morning, the town square was overrun with pumpkins. Townsfolk were kicking pumpkins around like footballs. Or lining them up around the fountain’s edge, to take pot shots at them with air rifles.

(Or quietly gathering them into their coats to take home to their kitchens for soup.)

Elliot Baranski was sitting at a table outside the Bakery Café.

A pumpkin thudded up against his boot. Without looking down, he shifted his foot, and the pumpkin rolled slowly away. Elliot was holding up a library book. His mother, Petra, sat opposite him. She leaned in to read the book’s title:

Spell Fishing: Tips and Techniques for Netting the Spell you desire.

 ‘Can’t be done,’ said Petra, and sipped her coffee.

‘If I leave today I can be at the Lake of Spells by Thursday,’ Elliot said. ‘I’ll catch a Locator Spell.’

‘Can’t be done,’ Petra repeated. ‘You can’t choose what Spell you get at the Lake. Can’t even guarantee you’ll catch a Spell. You know that.’

‘This book says I can. It’s got science and statistics and—see . . .’ Elliot flicked through. He pointed. ‘Footnotes. It’s got footnotes.’

‘Uh huh,’ said his mother, but she gazed at him.

There was a fading bruise on Elliot’s left cheek. His right eye was swollen shut. A scar the shape of a closed umbrella ran down the side of his neck.

‘Elliot,’ she said. ‘Take a break.’

He shook his head, dismissively.

‘Every time you come home you’ve got more injuries,’ Petra said. ‘It’s like you’re out collecting scars. You just got back last night and already you’re heading off again? You need time to recover.’

‘This trip to the Lake of Spells will be a break. It’ll take a few days to get there for a start. There won’t be any danger up north, and by the time I catch the Locator Spell I’ll be ready to go where it takes me.’

His mother laughed. ‘Oh, yeah, no danger at all in the Magical North. Just that colony of werewolves. Just dragons out control, gangs of Wandering Hostiles, and a serious risk of frostbite. It’ll be a regular holiday. A right cup of tea.’

‘Ah.’ Elliot shrugged. ‘I’ll be fine.’

‘You’re fifteen years old. You’ve missed too much school already. Your buddies miss you. Your town misses you!’

Elliot looked around. He breathed in the square’s smells of snow, wet dirt, fresh bread, beer and crushed pumpkin. Across the way, Clover Mackie (town seamstress) caught his eye and grinned, waving from the porch of her spearmint-green house. Closer by, Isabella Tamborlaine (high-school physics teacher) climbed onto a small stack of pumpkins and performed an arabesque. Jimmy Hawthorn (deputy sheriff ) applauded the arabesque, then shouted to a waiter at Le Petit Restaurant to fetch him a knife so he could carve a jack-o-lantern.

‘Town seems fine,’ Elliot said. ‘Although—’ he paused. ‘What’s with the pumpkins?’

‘Ah, you’ve been away too long. You know at least that the Princess Sisters are touring the Kingdom at the moment?’

‘Heard something about that.’

‘Well, the Sheriff applied for our town to be included in the tour. He got a bunch of people to help him build a pyramid of pumpkins. It’s supposed to be like a drawcard. A reason for the Princesses to visit. The Selectors are coming through today though, so not much chance of getting chosen now.’

Elliot raised his eyebrows. ‘Can’t they rebuild it?’

‘Not by this afternoon.’ Petra rubbed her nose. ‘You’re getting me off the topic. All right, Elliot, if the town doesn’t need you, your ball team does. Even with all the games you’ve missed, you’re still their best player. You’re the reason they’ve made it this far. Why not stay a couple of weeks until the finals?’

Elliot put the library book into his backpack.

‘Gotta get going,’ he said. He tightened the straps and looked at his mother hard. ‘I’m not staying here for a ball game.’

‘Well, what about the farm? I was going to get you to fix the wiring in the greenhouse before you went. And there’s all sorts of other things.’

He laughed a little, and stood, backpack over his shoulder. ‘You could rewire this entire town faster than—’ He clicked his thumb and finger with a crack. ‘Don’t start telling me you can’t run the farm without me.’

Petra shrugged. Then she studied him.

‘Elliot,’ she said. ‘I’ve rented out Dad’s shop.’

The slam of a car door shot through the commotion in the square.

They both turned. Across the square, Hector Samuels (County Sheriff ) was standing by his car. He gazed at the chaos of pumpkins, and a sigh lifted his shoulders.

Elliot and Petra turned back and faced one another again.

‘Did you hear me?’ Petra said. ‘I’ve rented out the shop.’

Elliot gripped the straps of his backpack.

‘But when I find Dad,’ he said, ‘and bring him back—’

His mother nodded firmly. ‘When you find Dad,’ she said, ‘and bring him back, we’ll deal with the new tenants then. For now we need the cash. Shop’s been empty a year.’

Elliot let go of the straps. His palms were indented with parallel white lines. He watched these fade.

‘A family called the Twicklehams are taking it,’ Petra continued. ‘They’re from Olde Quainte. Not exactly the province for electronics repair, I guess, but they assure me they’re on top of it. They’ll be here in a month.’

Elliot looked up at the clock tower. ‘I’ll head home now and do my laundry,’ he said. ‘Get some provisions. Take the three-thirty north­bound train—’

He stopped. His mother was twisting her mouth in that way that always clicked her jaw.

Her jaw clicked. As usual, this surprised her.

Then she spoke again, only now her voice had changed. It had gentled and softened. He had to bend to hear her.

‘Elliot,’ she said. ‘The fact is, it’s tough starting my days without your blueberry muffins.’ She closed her eyes. ‘You make the best muffins in the province.’

‘Ah, nonsense,’ he said, but then she opened her eyes and she let him see, for just a moment, how things really were for her.

How they’d been since his dad went missing, since he himself had gone off searching for much of this last year. The broken pieces of her.

He turned away.

Frowns ran across his face. They settled, fled, returned. Little ‘v’s of frowns, like birds in children’s drawings.

His bruises seemed to darken.

He stood and watched the square.

Now a different expression, impatient, caught his forehead. Abruptly, he dropped his backpack onto the chair, and strode away.

His mother watched him.

Elliot stopped in the centre of the square, and scratched the back of his neck. He traced a line in the snow with his boot. The line turned a corner, then another, until it formed a square. A square in the square. Children rolled pumpkins past him.

He looked up. His gaze found a pick-up truck parked across the way. It was loaded with empty crates.

He walked to the truck, grabbed a few crates, returned and lined the crates along his snow tracing.

The playing children stopped and stared. He picked up a couple of pumpkins and put them in a crate.

Now adults watched too. He ignored them and kept working, heading back to the truck for more crates.

Then one or two people figured out what he was doing, and joined him.

Within moments, several more were helping. The pace picked up. Crates ran towards the centre of the square, and armfuls of pumpkins ran towards the crates. They were taken and positioned, two pumpkins to a crate. Crates lined up on top of crates, pumpkins neat inside them. Slowly, the base of a pyramid formed.

The Sheriff watched, bewildered. Eventually, he threw off his coat and ran to help too.

Assembly lines passed pumpkins hand to hand like a high-speed dance. Someone dragged a ladder from the back of the Pennybank store.

Elliot took a step back.

At least twenty people were working on the pyramid now.

He swivelled on his heel, left them to it, and returned to the Bakery café.

His mother squinted up at him, proud.

‘That was a sweet thing to do,’ she said.

‘Half the pumpkins must be gone or smashed,’ he shrugged. ‘So I used crates. It’ll make a smaller pyramid, I guess, but it should look okay.’

‘It’s going to be really elegant,’ his mother agreed.

Elliot grabbed his backpack again.

‘Okay,’ he said.

Petra tilted her head, questioning.

‘Okay,’ he repeated. ‘I’ll stay another couple of weeks.’

She reached out to touch his sleeve. It seemed like she might cry.

‘I’ll stay until the finals. But the day after the game,’ he warned, ‘I’m gone again. To the Lake of Spells. I’ll use the book. I’ll catch a Locator Spell. I’ll find Dad.’

She nodded.

‘I’ll go see about the wiring in the greenhouse now,’ he said.

He didn’t look back until he reached the clock tower, then he stopped and watched a moment while they finished off the pyramid. A girl nearly fell from a ladder, her hands slick with sweat. A crate began to teeter near the top, and somebody shouted and caught it. There was applause and hollering, cursing and cheering.

The Sheriff glanced back, saw Elliot, and gave a mighty salute of gratitude.

Elliot relented, raised a hand and a half-smile.

Then, with the faintest tremble of a shrug, he turned around and headed toward home.

 

Excerpted from A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty. Copyright © 2012 by Jaclyn Moriarty.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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