Title: COUNTING CHANGE
Genre: YA Contemporary
My mother’s mission in life is to change me. She’ll deny it, but it’s
gotten so obvious since Daddy’s accident. For instance she’s been
buying me clothes, which she has to know I’ll never wear, and just
yesterday she made a hair appointment for me. At her hair salon.
“Jenna and I are going back to school shopping today,” I blurt the
words so loudly, that Mama stops playing with the paint can labeled
Tuna Gray. She takes the spoon she’s using to try and pry the lid off
the can, and taps it on our kitchen counter.
“You agreed to visit Daddy today, Stoney, remember? We’ve already
talked about this.” Tap, tap. “I’ve been patient with you, but no
more.” She throws the spoon in the sink and it clatters.
“Jenna can’t go shopping any other time.” Mama makes that face. The
one that says, You Are Impossible.
“I told Jenna I’d have dinner with her family.” Right before my eyes
she explodes. Her body blows into a million pieces and I watch her
change from a human being into tiny pieces of Mama falling all around
“Stoney, it’s been three months since the accident. This is
ridiculous.” She grabs the spoon out of the sink. “It’s time you
thought about someone besides yourself.”
“You can’t make me. I’m almost sixteen.” Even though it’s not
happening, it feels like she’s backing me into a corner of our kitchen.
“I don’t want to make you visit your father. Don’t you want to see
him? He misses you.” She looks at my little sister Katie whose been
staring at our toaster waiting for her toast to pop up. “Doesn’t Daddy
ask for Stoney?”
Katie shrugs her shoulders.
I grab orange juice out of the fridge, and push aside the paint can and
her plastic drop cloth from the counter. “I can’t start school
tomorrow without any new clothes.”
Mama grabs a red coffee mug and slams the cupboard, muttering under her
breath. “I just bought you new clothes.”
“Yes.” I take a big swallow. “Like I said, I can’t start school
without new clothes.”
When I was little I used to be scared that Mama’s eyes would pop right
out of her head because they’d get so big. There’re like that now.
Katie’s toast gets stuck and small plumes of smoke whirl above the
toaster and stink up the room. She goes to poke her fork into the
toaster and both Mama and I scream, pouncing on her.
“Never put anything in a toaster when it’s plugged in,” Mama says. Her
words grind out like a wood sander stuck on high.
Since my father’s accident I know that a person never knows what the
next moment may bring and what new change you have to learn to live
with. We’ve all gone through so many changes I decided to write them
down. For instance: Change number 16: It’s been sixty days since Mama
quit smoking. (Trust me, this affects everyone).
Change number 12: It’s been eighty-eight days since I’ve stepped
inside the shop, and sixty-one days since we found the first white
cross jammed onto the edge of our front lawn. We think it might be a
memorial to the kid that was driving, but we’re not sure.
Change number 1 is pretty good. I have boobs. They’re nothing too
exciting. Buy they’ve finally arrived.
Katie waves her hand over her plate of burnt toast, trying to make the
smell go away, but it spreads like the weeds in my father’s flowerbed,
reaching every corner of the kitchen.
Why do our lives have to change so much? Why can’t we stay the same?
It’s unbelievable the changes one person is required to go through in a
lifetime, let alone a simple summer.
Changes number 16: Besides the unspeakable accident, which changed
everyone’s lives forever, at the top of my list is Carl Journey,
ex-boyfriend and jerk.
“Look Stoney,” My little sister, Katie, waves the Viewmaster over her
head. “Princess Jasmine.”
And then there’s my little sister. I strongly suspect she was the
change that was supposed to save my parents marriage. That sure didn’t
“Who cares?” I say. She’s obsessed with princesses. She wears a
tiara and tries to go out of the house wearing the Cinderella dress
Daddy bought her last Christmas. I do my best to make sure that she
doesn’t make it. It’s a constant vigil.
Mama taps a paint sample, Pink Boa, and lays it beside our red kitchen
cupboard. She fancies herself an interior designer. She is not. She
pulls out a wood stick from a side pocket in her paint overalls and
waves it, and then uses it to scratch at her hair hidden by the red
kerchief. Tucked behind her right ear is the cigarette that she says
reminds her she quit smoking. Seems an awful temptation.
Katie looks through the Viewmaster, and flips the knob that will change
“Damn,” Mama trudges out of the kitchen, slamming the screen door
behind her so loud it sounds like an old garbage can.
I slide the red kitchen curtain back and catch sight of Mama ripping up
the ninth wood cross someone planted in our front yard.
The first cross we found in our front yard had dates and a name painted
on the front. David Ellison. Now, Mama tosses this new cross under
our porch along with all the others. Each time we see a cross waving
beside the scarred chestnut tree, we take it down, only to have a new
one appear like magic, weeks later. Someone is very persistent.
When she comes back inside she sits down at the table and shakes her
head. “It’s a damn nuisance,” she says.
“Mama!” Katie jiggles the cussing jar, that’s nearly full of Mama’s
screw-ups in the vocabulary department.
“That’s two dimes,” Katie says pushing the jar across the table.
“Starting to cool off,” Mama says, tucking a few stray strands of hair
back under her scarf. “Leaves are turning, chestnuts are starting to
fall.” Mama could be pretty. Used to be, but not so much lately. The
scowl wrinkle between her eyes is deeper and she’s packed on more than
a few pounds.
I tug on a strand of my own hair feeling it curl around my earlobe. It
has never been this short. I feel regret slide over me like a cool
shower on a sticky hot day.
“Have you decided on a color for your room?” The cigarette falls from
behind her ear. She wants to paint the world, like she could
obliterate the last year with a fresh coat of Bird Drop White or Tangy
Macaroni. Lately she’s painted the kitchen from Boring Blue to, my
personal favorite, Manic Red.
“I like the color I have. I told you that.”
“Of course you do. It’s that faded green. Yuck! You need something
sparkly bright to start your new school year.”
“You don’t know what I need. It’s not paint.”
“Stoney needs Ca-rl,” Katie says it with a half smile, in a singsong
“Shut up, you little turd!” I drop my half eaten toast onto my plate
and stand up. “I have to meet Jenna.”
“Can I come, Stoney? Please?” I hesitate. I remember the day they
brought Katie home in a pink blanket, and how happy I was to have a
But everything’s changed. The solid ground I used to walk on now rolls
and bumps, broken and jagged. Besides, Katie draws it out in that
annoying whine that usually gets her what she wants. With Mama. But
not with Daddy.