Sadie Rowe showed us how little we know about our neighbors. At least, that’s how Principal Saunders told us about the event. Mama didn’t call it an event. She didn’t call it anything. Instead, she wore her sick-day afghan for three days straight and didn’t brush her hair. She didn’t even detangle. When Daddy tiptoed into a hug she shrugged her way back out of it like the only warm thing she wanted on her shoulders was the Sorrow. Sorrow is what comes in the night for Grandpa when he looks at pictures of Grandma Candice. He told me himself. It’s in the steam that curlicues out of peppermint tea when it’s hot. That’s why Grandpa always gets water droplets on his cheeks. Sorrow-steam.
When Sadie didn’t come to school on Tuesday I borrowed her crayons. Purple, red, blue. Right from the shelf under her desk. Sadie shares with everybody; she even shares her glue, which everybody knows you shouldn’t do because there’s only enough stickiness for one person, and once it turns icicle-colored and dries up on the sides your project peels apart. I guess that’s what makes her a Hero. That’s what Miss Emily called her, but not to her face. She said it after.
“We’ll miss our Hero.” That’s what she said on the day everybody knew what had happened, and wished it hadn’t. We all nodded and looked down at our glue. Blue caps. Hands in laps. Sticky red wrappers. Unshared.
Miss Emily knew before we did. Teachers always find out first, especially in second grade. But I knew there was Something Wrong. Mama always says I’m a great Investigator. Detective Adele Weis. At your service. I have a badge, but I never bring it to school because Mama says it might get lost. Sometimes she forgets Investigators always find things that are lost. Like money, and jewelry, and sometimes people. That’s what happens in the movies. Even the ones Mama says no to because there’s Violence. The ones Dad lets me stay up past bedtime to watch with him when Mama goes on work trips. He says if we eat the popcorn with the most butter, they won’t give me nightmares.
My first clue that there was Something Wrong was Miss Emily, and it was something wrong with her.
“It’s just some dust, Adele. Just some dust in my eye,” she told me, but I knew better. Those were real live tears. Not the kind that come out of the corners when you have a staring contest against Billy. He can keep his eyes open for a whole week without blinking. Sadie said so, and she would know. She’s the smartest one in the class.
“Look at my picture, Miss Emily! See who it is? You’re really going to like this one.”
Miss Emily took my picture and looked at it real hard, like she was an Investigator, too. I drew a big tree, and me and Sadie and two purple jump-ropes and a salamander that was blue, because Sadie didn’t have an orange, and I left all my crayons at home. I wrote Adele, because I can spell, over the girl with yellow hair. My hair is fair, but not fair like the kind that Mama yells at Dad when he’s Punishing me. That’s Befair. A different kind.
I wrote Sadie over the one with black hair and a green dress. I made the letters green, too.
“That’s her favorite color, Miss Emily, she’s gonna like it. Didn’t I draw a cool salamander? It’s the one we saw yesterday on the Nature Walk. I think his name should be Fred. Is that a good name?”
And that’s all I did to make Miss Emily cry. She handed back my picture without even telling me she liked my salamander. Her hand was shaky like Grandpa’s, but without the wrinkles. I got brain freeze all over when she put her shaky hand on my shoulder. I wanted my hand to shake, too, like Grandpa’s. It would be better than the squiggly salamanders in my stomach. Mama says it’s called Uneasy, but I never liked that word. It sounds like macaroni that got left out on the counter for too long. Luke-warm. Half-forgotten. Slimy.
My second clue was that recess was twenty minutes too long.
I know because Sadie and I always sit right near the outside clock and race to be first in line when the big hand gets to the three, which really isn’t three but means fifteen. Sadie’s so fast. She even beat Billy. That’s her brother, but his name isn’t really Billy even though everyone calls him that. His real name is cooler. Nabil. Sadie’s dad has the coolest name of all. Azad Faraj. I used to think it was a little weird that Sadie was Sadie Rowe and her mom was Mia Rowe, but her dad was Azad Faraj and her brother was Nabil Faraj.
“Mom wanted to keep her name,” Sadie said. “She told me when I’m really big and I meet Someone Right, I can keep mine too if I want to. She always says, ‘We’re Rowes. We always pass it down, and your Daddy doesn’t mind’”
Sadie says her Daddy loves people no matter what their names are. So we changed our names to test him out. Sadie said her new name was Rosa, because Rosa Parks was a Good Person, and Miss Emily had just told us all about her. My new name was Annabelle. I liked the way it felt on my tongue. Smooth, rounded, like beach glass when you touch it. Like Sadie’s mom when she gives me hugs and dessert. Warm, soft. A little squishy.
“What about Billy’s name?” I wanted to know more. I like Billy, but not Like That. At least, that’s what I tell Sadie when she says I was staring at him again.
“Dad says he wants to pass down his, too. So we both get different names.”
“That’s cool,” I told her. I didn’t say I liked the way Nabil Faraj sounded. But I do. I can’t help it. Mama says you can’t help how you feel. She said it to Auntie Kay when she got divorced, but I know she meant it for other things, too.
The same day Miss Emily cried on my drawing I got my third clue. Mama and Dad got into an Argument. They don’t fight (adults don’t ever), but sometimes they get into Arguments and that always means that there’s Something Wrong. This time it was right at the dinner table, in front of Grandpa and me. That means there’s Something Really Wrong.
“You’ve got to be strong, Julia. There wasn’t anything you could do. People are silly sometimes,” Dad said. Then he said, “Pass the butter, please,” but Mama didn’t pass the butter, and I couldn’t reach, and Grandpa was looking down like he forgot where the floor was and was looking for it like an Investigator.
“Silly?” Mama said in her Argument voice, like a loud song turned down low. The kind that makes the floor rumble like somebody’s hungry.
“You know what I mean,” Dad said, and made his eyes go back and forth from me to Mama as fast as little yellow fish. When adults do that it means they have a secret that they’ll Tell You When You’re Bigger.
“They are ignorant bastards and murderers,” Mama says. I want to ask what bastards is. It sounds like a game you play on a rainy day, with dice.
“I know, Julia, I know. It’s terrible. It’s more than terrible. We live in a country where there are consequences for looking differently, eating differently, speaking differently, loving differently.”
That’s how I knew it was getting serious. Consequences are what happen to you when you spill your Snap-Crackle-Pop on Dad’s computer because you’re Not Being Careful.
“Consequences,” Mama said, and it came out through her teeth. Grinding. Hard. Like the time Billy ate dirt because we dared him, and Sadie’s Dad got really mad because it’s not good for you. “If these are the consequences for wearing a scarf over your hair and being kind and raising your children right, then who gets the awards, Alan? Who gets to see their children grow up? Murderers?”
“We do …” Dad said, but Mama had already pushed her plate away and slammed the door upstairs. She didn’t even ask if she could be excused, like I have to. Parents always break the rules. Dad smiled at me, a little teeny smile, and said, “Don’t think about it, Adele. Mama will be ok.”
But I was thinking about people who are different and get Consequences. Sadie always says she’s Different, but I don’t think she is. She said it’s ‘cus of her scarf. It’s so pretty and green, but not green like the crayon I borrowed from her desk. Green like the color my eyes get when I get Punished and cry. Sparkly, wet green.
I guess she is the only kid at school who wears a scarf when it isn’t cold out, but sometimes I think that wearing a scarf is a really good idea. Like when Mama makes me put sunscreen on the part in my hair so it doesn’t burn. Sunscreen isn’t a good idea. It’s cold and gooey and makes me sticky.
Sadie’s family isn’t different either. I know because I went over to dinner when they moved here last year and we became friends.
“Adele, what a pretty name!” Sadie’s mama said when Dad dropped me off.
“Thank you,” I told her in my best Be Polite voice.
“Come sit down. We’ll have dinner before you girls play,” Sadie’s dad said and he put his big hand on my head. His face was so hairy, even more hairy than Dad’s when Mama thinks he needs a shave, but he had a smile that made my face smile too. His voice was low and cozy like Grandpa’s when he tells me stories before I fall asleep at night. His words came out sounding soft. Dad says it’s called an accent. He talks like words are tilted over and stick together more.
Sadie’s house smelled like Things Cooking. Billy told me all about lentils, which are little and green and taste like the way Sadie’s clothes smelled when she came to my sleepover birthday, and the other girls said she was weird. I like lentils, though.
“Do you like the dinner, Adele?” Sadie’s Dad asked. “Some people are afraid to try it because it doesn’t look like it would taste good.”
I told him it tasted so good and when I was big I was going to make lentils all the time. He showed me the box where the lentils came from and laughed a lot. Even more than Grandpa.
Sadie and I played with her new game and Billy watched us from the kitchen. When Sadie won Billy said she cheated, which she didn’t. Sadie wouldn’t, but it made me smile. Just a little.
“Adele, honey, can you come upstairs?” Mama said when she cooled down after the Argument with Dad. Grandpa squeezed my hand and that’s how I knew Mama was going to tell me about
Something Wrong. My feet were sweating like they do in my shoes at soccer practice when Coach Connors says Run Run Go! I didn’t feel much like going fast, now.
“I already know that Something Happened. Sadie didn’t come to school and people are crying all the time,” I told Mama, and she pulled me onto her lap.
“I want to show you something,” she said. She picked up the newspaper that Dad always reads when he drinks his coffee (which is only for adults). On the front page there was a picture of Sadie’s house with lots of fire. Under the picture of Sadie’s house on fire it said Hate Strikes in Small New York Town. Love Too Late for A Little Girl.
Mama rubbed my hand like she does when I wake up from nightmares and tell her about the wolves that chased me, and asked “When Miss Emily was teaching you about Rosa Parks, did she tell you what a hate crime is?”
“I don’t remember.”
“A hate crime is when bad people hurt good people because they look different than them, or they talk differently, or come from far away places, or go to different kinds of churches.”
“Ok,” I said, but I didn’t look at Mama. I knew she was having real tears like Miss Emily, because her hand was hot and her voice sounded like it had the shivers.
“Some people, who are very bad, thought that Sadie’s dad was dangerous to America and they wanted to Punish him.”
I thought about Sadie’s dad and his box of lentils. I thought about Punishing someone for eating lentils, and it seemed a little weird. I was feeling shivery, too.
“Those people, they lit a fire at Sadie’s house.” I thought about cooked lentils and what they’d smell like if they got overcooked. I don’t think I’d like them then.
“Sadie didn’t come to school,” I said.
“Sadie won’t be at school anymore, sweetie.” Mama sounded funny, like the way Grandpa sounded on the phone when he called to tell Dad about Grandma Candice and Cancer. Like he ate too many marshmallows at one time and was in danger of choking.
“I love you, Adele,” Mama said, “and I know you’re going to be very brave for Sadie, and stand up for Things That Are Right.”
I nodded my head up and down. Up and down. Up and down. There was something different about this Something Wrong.
After Mama tucked me in I couldn’t sleep. I sat next to the window and looked outside, even though I don’t like looking outside at the woods when it’s dark, and I wished on a star for Sadie to be at school in the morning. That’s what Grandpa says to do when you want something really, really bad.
I think I picked the wrong star, because Sadie wasn’t at school when I got there even though I brought an extra snack pack in my lunchbox for her. Principal Saunders called an assembly and told us that Sadie Rowe showed us how little we know about our neighbors’ capacity for hatred. He talked about how Sadie Rowe shared, and deserved more. Mama said the firefighters did everything they could to get her out. Dad said we’ll get through it. Grandpa shared his peppermint tea, and his sorrow steam.
Sadie would never be late. She knows how to tell time like I do, and she beats Billy at races on the playground and we are both always first in line when recess ends. That’s why I put my Investigator badge in her desk on Thursday. Investigators find things that are lost,
like money and jewelry, and sometimes people. At least, they do in the movies that play past my bedtime. Now eating the popcorn with the most butter and sitting up real close next to Dad and even closing my eyes at the Violence parts doesn’t keep the nightmares away. When
I tell Mama I’m scared, she says lots of people are scared. She says the people who burnt up Sadie’s house were scared too. People Are Scared Of What They Don’t Understand. That’s what Mama says is the reason Sadie Rowe lost her life.
I sure hope she finds it soon.