i will ask elizabeth and alyssa when i found out about the glow-in-the-dark mushrooms. they'll know that too.
i'd ask my friend david, but he knows about comic books more than anything else. i don't think he's ever mentioned mushrooms before.
elizabeth knows all the things that i need to know about the night. how to run in the night, find flowers in the night, and to listen in the night to everything that most people call quiet. it's real important to listen 'cause the night isn't quiet. it's the loudest real time in a twenty-four-hour day.
in the day there are no horns or people screaming or trucks' squealing brakes. all the real sounds get covered.
alyssa knows about people and the day. she likes people who laugh and shout and shine real bright. but she is nice about saying it's okay to live in the dark.
her voice is chirpy like a bird's when she talks. she puts her hands on her hips and nods her head fast.
so i believe her. it's good to believe people. i always do. i tell people all the time that i believe them. alyssa says it's because i'm not nine yet like her. when i'm nine, i'll know better than to believe folks. i think how sad it's going to be in two months that i won't believe anybody anymore.
but the two months will give me time. it will give me time to do what i've been planning for so long. elizabeth and alyssa will keep the secret 'cause too many people shouldn't know. it's better that way.
so i sit and wait for them against the fence gate. if it's like all the nights before this one, alyssa will come under the fence first, then elizabeth.
sometimes elizabeth will be in a tutu and sun hat and her yellow rain boots, smiling and quiet.
alyssa will be in a cape covering a long cotton slip that's too big for her and new white canvas tennis shoes, jumping and laughing.
she always wears the shoes and they're always white. and even though i have my dark sunglasses on in the night, her shoes always glow like the mushrooms. they almost look alive, like they could walk right off her feet and run around the backyard all by themselves.
* * *
i have to cover up. clothes, clothes, clothes.
the night is good to me. the sunlight hurts. it has since the day i was born. even some light that isn't the real sun can hurt me, like the light from a jukebox. just cover up all the time. mama feels better if i do.
it's 'cause of my chromosomes. they can't protect me from the sun. i could be burnt and even go blind if the sun gets to me. all our windows keep the sun out, though. my sister, monk, says we are shadow people and proud of it.
the rule is only wait a while. but a while doesn't have a real time limit like five minutes or eight minutes, so a while is as long as i feel like waiting, i guess.
once, a while was almost when the sun was coming up. elizabeth and alyssa shimmied under the fence, and when they got close, i saw their faces were covered with chocolate and cookie crumbs. alyssa's cape was torn and she started telling me a story about bank robbers who would give them a million dollars if they climbed a mountain for it.
elizabeth giggled and said it was true. she'd lost her sun hat when they met bigfoot near the top of the mountain.
a few minutes later, though, mama came out and said that the light was coming and it was time for me to go in.
mama stood looking at us with her hands on her hips for a long time. she kept on looking at elizabeth and alyssa way after i went through the kitchen door. she stared at them out the uv-blocking tinted windows of the kitchen.
then mama did something that made me jump. she went over, real close to alyssa, and looked at her. i thought alyssa would run away, but she stood there like she didn't even see mama. smiling.
elizabeth crossed her arms real tight and backed against the fence. i guess some mountain-climbing girls are careful.
the last i saw of them for a couple of nights was alyssa's white tennis shoes disappearing under the fence. but in the coming morning light, they'd lost their glow.
he has to be fast 'cause i am. i am the best grocery cart racer there ever was. at least i'm the best in the store right now. i rest when i get to the end of the aisles, but take the turns so fast i'm almost invisible.
dad is calling me. "lila?" i holler to him from two rows away. "what do you want? i'm racing." "lila?"
it's funny, us calling to each other from a long way away. dad's voice is real loud and echoes in the store.
"what?" i say again, and start putting three packages of cookies underneath the broccoli, bananas, and onions. sometimes dad doesn't know that he wants good things like cookies and candy. sometimes i just have to help him out.
now he's walking toward me with his own cart.
"baby, i need you not to scream in the store." "but you were screaming to me, dad."
he looks at me, smiles, and shakes his head at the cart. first i think he's noticed all the chocolate cookies i hid, but he hasn't. he looks down at my cart and kicks one of the wheels.
"pretty good tires, kid. she looks like a good racer. you run her much?"
my dad is tall and skinny and always wears striped shirts. his eyes are brown and he has a bald head. i watch him shave it sometimes. it makes me laugh. it used to make monk laugh too, but she doesn't watch him anymore.
i guess she thinks it's babyish to watch dad shave now.
but that's okay. i watch her too. i watch the way she puckers her lips when she starts to put on lipstick. i watch the way she sprays perfume on herself before she goes out for the night.
sometimes she's better than the movies.
and sometimes watching my mama is even better than watching dad or monk. mama takes longer. she says it's because she wants to look like she's not wearing any makeup at all.
i don't understand that. but i guess i don't understand a lot. a minute later dad and me are in a race. we roll down the frozen food aisle, around the vegetable bins, then knock over toilet paper and napkins when we wreck in the paper lane. dad isn't as good as me 'cause he's too tall. he can't bend down and move like he's part of the metal cart. he's not bad, though, and almost beats me to the soap aisle.
i like shopping at night. nobody but us and a lady in a nurse's uniform are in the aisles right now. it's two in the morning and dad doesn't go to work until four-thirty in the day. he says he's kind of like me. he sleeps in the morning and hardly sees the sun. i don't think he misses the daylight that much, though, 'cause besides me he's the best middle-of-the-night grocery cart racer there ever was.
when we get up to the counter, the nurse is in front of us. she smells like peppermint. i wonder if she works with my eye doctor. his office always smells like peppermint. dad rolls out our groceries into the parking lot and loads them into the trunk. then he picks me up and puts me in the cart. we race around and around the empty parking lot, with me looking up to the sky so i wont get dizzy.
we drive home and i must fall asleep, 'cause when i wake, dad is carrying me in his arms across the yard, toward our house under a cool moonlight.
the sweet smell curls up all in the corners of the house, then draws you down to the kitchen. but it lies, vanilla.
i asked monk if we could bake the cookies without it.
"no, we can't. the cookies would taste nasty."
that was monk's favorite word then. nasty.
rainy days were nasty. her best friend's brother's car was nasty, and anything that didn't make her happy the very minute she thought about it was nasty.
i smiled at monk. i thought then that i liked her better than anybody in the whole world. she always picked me over her friends, and i know that most older sisters wouldn't do that.
she's had some practice watching over me.
she was the one who used to come to my class from her high school around the corner every two hours when i was in first grade and put more sunblock on me. every two hours no matter what, they would let her out of class to do that for me. she says that's how she remembers tenth grade: her hands smelling of sunblock.
i wouldn't let my teacher do it at first. i didn't know her hands. monk's hands were soft and knowing. they never missed a spot.
she turned the cookie dough with the same knowing hands. "more oatmeal or more chocolate chips, lila?" she asked that time. "neither. raisins," i said. monk turned up her nose. "i hate raisins. pick something else." "it can only be raisins, monk. just raisins." "why only raisins? we could even put in apricots, nuts ..."
i put my hand into the bowl with monk's. the cookie dough was warm and my fingers went right through the oatmeal. too smooth.
"no. only raisins." then i pointed at the box. "see, monk, it says they've been kissed by the sun. i want all things that have been kissed by the sun."
monk poured raisins into the dough until i told her to stop. we plop-plopped them down onto the cookie sheet. the raisins stuck out everywhere.
monk let me slide the pan into the warm oven.
i couldn't wait for the smell. and the kissed-by-the-sun part too.
i remember wondering if the cookies would glow and make shadows when the raisins had melted and spread a little. i kind of knew they wouldn't, but i had to ask monk. "will they, monk?" monk was putting the butter away and singing. "will they what, lila?" "will the cookies glow like the sun? make shadows and warm things up 'cause they've been kissed by the sun?" "maybe."
"really?" i said, and got even more excited.
i couldn't sit still waiting for them to come out of the oven. the cookies glowing would make up for me not being allowed to be kissed by the sun.
monk swept the kitchen floor. flour was everywhere.
"go upstairs and put on more sunblock," she said. "don't miss a spot."
Excerpted from a cool moonlight by Angela Johnson Copyright © 2003 by Angela Johnson. Excerpted by permission.
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