YA Works in Progress



The start of it – for me, not for Angel – goes back to a Tuesday last spring.
     When I get to school, my friend Lucie Larsen is waiting by our lockers. She looks like a cat that’s swallowed a goldfish. “Hey, Maya,” she says, “you know Angel?”
     On this particular day Lucie’s hair is coming out the top of her head in two spiky bunches. She has a tattoo of the Statue of Liberty on the side of her neck.“It washes off,” she says. “You know Angel?” she says again.
      Angel’s in the other grade seven. We take PE and science with them, and Angel was my lab partner last year. She’s been at our school since grade six.
     Jade shows up then. Jade’s not her real name – her real name’s Jane, Jane Taylor, but she changed it to Jade when she was ten. Her parents even call her Jade now. “You mean Angel who ran away?” she says.
     “She ran away twice,” I say.
     “But not for very long the first time,” Jade remembers.
     Lucie stamps her foot. “Would you guys listen to me!”
     “We’re listening,” I say.
      Lucie does a big pause and looks around. She whispers in a stage voice, “I think she’s living in the school.”
     We stare at her. Living in the school! Bad enough to have to spend six hours a day in it. “What do you mean, living in the school?” I say. “That’s too crazy.”
    Lucie checks her eyeliner in her locker mirror. “I was here at 7:30 for music rehearsal, and I went in the washroom and she was drying her hair under the hand dryer.”
    “So? It could have got wet on her way to school,” I point out. “It’s raining.”
    “It wasn’t raining at 7:30. And what was she doing at school so early? It’s not like she does music or anything.”
    Jade looks puzzled. “You mean she was washing her hair in the girls’ washroom? Just now, this morning? That’s weird.”
    “At 7:30,” Lucie repeats. “What was she doing at school at 7:30? And another thing: she wears almost the same thing every day. The navy blue hoodie and the grey hoodie. Two pairs of jeans, one flared, bottoms, one not.”
    “You noticed?” I ask. Of course Lucie notices.
    “And also” – she pauses to be sure she’s got our attention – “coming back from the auditorium, I went past the science lab, and I smelled toast. Burnt.”
    Our friend Jerome comes along then and says, “What’s up?” Lucie tells him, and he says,              “Washing her hair in the girls washroom? Maybe a bird pooped on her head.” Then he asks if we’re going to Jade’s after school to work on dolls.
     “It’s Tuesday,’ I say. “I got piano.” Wednesday’s our doll day, not Tuesday.
     “Aren’t you a little old for Barbie dolls?” people say to us sometimes, especially jerky boys like Trevor Slick and Ben Neva.
   “It’s not Barbies anymore,” we say. It used to be Barbies – that was the thing we had in common when we first got to be friends.  Mostly it’s fashion dolls now.
   “And we don’t play with them. We’re collectors.” Although it’s mostly Jade who does the collecting. We fix them up, do the hair and all that, and Jade sells them online. Jerome’s good at rerooting but he’s also into tattooing, like GI Joes and Kens. Some people pay a lot for inked-up Barbies too.
   Anyway, we forget about Angel for a while: wet hair and same clothes and toast don’t add up to all that much. Also, when we have PE that day with the other grade sevens, Angel seems the same as ever. It’s volleyball and she’s good at sports (like me) and she scores a couple of points. So I’m not expecting it when Lucie says at lunch, “I think we should follow her after to school to see if she goes home.”
   “You mean Angel? How are we gonna do that?” I ask. Lucie and Jade’s mothers pick them up after from school and I go home on the bus. Last year out the bus window I used to see Angel and her brother walking home together, but he’s at high school now so she walks on her own.
Tuesdays I have piano, so that lets me out, but Lucie and Jade text their mothers that they have to stay at school until four for extra choir. Except that when school gets out, they follow Angel. They figure if she’s really living in the school, she won’t leave. Or she’ll just go a few blocks and circle back.
   “But she kept on walking,” Jade says next day.
   “Maybe because she saw you stalking her?” Jade and Lucie are hard to miss. Jade is five foot six with jet-black long hair. Lucie is five foot one and blond at the moment. (I’m in the middle, five foot three, short wavy brown hair.) Anyway, they’re noisy, like a couple of crows.
   “I don’t think so,” says Jade. “She never turned around, so I don’t see how she could have known we were behind her. It was like eight blocks. She went straight to her house and went in. So that disproves Lucie’s theory.”
   Lucie makes a face.
   “Is her house a dump?” I ask. It seems like Angel must be poor.
   “Actually, no,” says Jade. “It’s small but sort of cute.”
   Which goes to show you shouldn’t assume things about people, or that’s what I thought. Except next morning Jade says, “You know the house Angel went to? That’s not where she lives.” She looked up Angel’s last name on 411 – it’s Tomesco, and the only Tomesco that showed anywhere near was three blocks from the house where Angel went in.
   “She might be in foster care,” says Lucie. “Remember she ran away before?”
   “Twice,” I say. “She ran away twice.”
   First time was last year in grade six. The vice-principal, Mr Admunson, came to our class and asked if anybody’d seen Angel Tomesco. When he asks that question, it usually means the person’s run away. Next day, though, she was back. Her eyes were all swollen, not bruised or anything or the school would have reported it, but you could see she’d been crying. Then she went back to normal and everybody forgot about her.
   So when Mr Admunson came to our class in April and asked if anybody’d seen her, we figured she’d be back in a day or two. She wasn’t, though. It was actually a long time before she showed up. This time she looked thin, dark circles under her eyes, and she smelled like smoke. Not cigarette smoke, and not burnt toast – more like a fireplace. Lucie and I went up to her at lunch and asked if she was okay and she said yes, but she seemed like she didn’t want to talk.
   Angel always seemed to be on her own. I never saw her with friends. It’s not like there was anything wrong with her, I mean, she didn’t have body odour or anything, and I would know because she was my lab partner. She was average weight, and nobody ever saw her throwing up in the bathroom – I mean, she wasn’t anorexic. She was okay looking, shoulder-length brown hair, no style. I mean, Lucie, everything she wears is a style statement. Lucie has this little red tartan dress with a tube top she wears with kitten heels and fingerless gloves and fishnet tights. My mother says it’s very bad taste for someone her age and people might get the wrong idea, but she looks amazing. Jade wears ordinary clothes, like leggings and a top, but she got fabulous hair and she’s tall. Me, I don’t care so much how I look. (Pistachio green is my favourite colour, though.)
   Whereas Angel dressed like she was invisible. Which was also a statement, I guess.
   It was only Lucie seeing Angel with wet hair in the washroom that day that got us interested in what was going on with her. Angel was not somebody you’d think much about. Her brother Dev was a lot more interesting (at least Jade thought so), more outgoing and good-looking. The only reason people noticed Angel at all was, when she first came to our school, some kids got in trouble for picking on her. They’d walk into her and say, “Oh, sorry. Didn’t see you.” It was because she was so quiet. They were trying to get her to react.
   She’d just mumble, “S’okay.” It got to be a thing, until the teachers gave us the bullying talk at assembly. They didn’t say Angel’s name but everybody knew. We felt kind of bad, and mostly people quit walking into her.
   Her brother Dev wasn’t quiet. He was only at our school for grade eight, but he had lots of friends. He was really good at soccer. When he was on the team, our school won the inter-school tournament for the first time ever. It probably never will again.
   But Angel was nothing like Dev. In science, which we had with the other grade sevens, the teachers were always trying to get her to be part of things. She never put up her hand, but they kept asking her questions anyway. She looked down at the desk and shook her head, even when they kept up the pressure. Although occasionally she would say something, and it could be really smart. And she was nice. When she was my lab partner, she did the stuff I didn’t understand and we got really good marks.
   Nobody knows about her family, other than we heard they came from Quebec. “Tomesco” sounds French, I guess, but she doesn’t have any accent.
   “Maybe it’s because of their religion she’s so quiet,” Jade said. “Maybe they’re Mormons or Muslims or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Like, it could be against their beliefs for girls to talk to boys.”    Except it couldn’t be against their religion for boys to talk to girls, because Dev talked to anybody he wanted, including girls.
   After a couple of days we decided whatever was going on with Angel, it was none of our business, and we dropped it, more or less. Lucie kept checking the washroom, but she never caught Angel with wet hair again. Nobody noticed if she looks lonely or hungry or anything.
But even her being on her own all the time, that should have been a sign. I mean, around here, if you see kids walking on the street by themselves, that’s unusual. We’d see Angel on the street, always by herself. Nobody else around here is a free ranger, it’s like parents are obsessed. Any time I’m going out, Mom or Dad say, “Take Claire with you.” They truly believe that if I’m on the street on my own for ten minutes, without my little sister, someone is going to come along and grab me and stuff me in a car and take me somewhere and cut me into pieces.
   I don’t mean to joke about it, because it happens. Not all the time, but you do hear about it – this girl disappears and they’re looking for her and looking for her and looking for her. I guess it happens to boys too, but more often it’s a girl. And the mom and dad go on TV and say they’re sure she’s alive, because they’d know if she was dead, they’d feel it if she was dead. And then, usually, she turns up dead.
   I can’t imagine how bad I would feel if that happened to Claire. If it happened to me. But, like, how many people do you know it’s happened to? Probably none, right? Probably nobody from your school or your city got kidnapped and chopped into pieces – at least I really, truly, sincerely, totally hope not, and I’m extremely sorry if it has.
   I know bad things happen to kids, only mostly you don’t hear about it. Parents beat kids up and lock them in attics. A guy next door abuses them for years and nobody notices. They get picked on by other kids until they jump off a bridge. It goes on. And when the news comes out, everybody is shocked.
   When the news finally came out about Angel and her family, everybody was shocked. People put teddy bears in front of her family’s house with notes pinned to them covered in hearts. It was kind of sickening. I’m not knocking teddy bears: I’ve got maybe six from when I was little, and Claire has more. If you’re a kid in the hospital, people bring you sweet fuzzy-faced adorable teddies you can hug and tell your secret worries to.  But leaving teddy bears and flowers and stuff outside Angel’s house, that was just useless. I guess it made people feel better about what happened, but everybody needed to pay more attention when it would do some good. I wish I paid more attention earlier. It’s a miracle we noticed at all.
That's how it starts. Want to give me feedback? Send me an email at garviem@queensu.ca . Thanks!



Would you read a novel about taxidermy? If you think you might, check out the excerpt below.


I’ve been vegetarian since I was eleven. Here’s my ten reasons (some I got off the Internet and some my own):

1.    Respect for animals. Animals are sentient beings. I have no desire to kill them or cause them harm.
2.    Factory farming. It’s pure torture.
3.    I believe in non-violence. Slaughter is violence.
4.    Conservation. It takes 78 calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of beef protein. By eating plant foods, I conserve non-renewable sources of energy.
5.    Saving forests. Every day tropical forests are destroyed to make more land for cattle farming.
6.    Vanity. You get acne a lot worse from eating meat. It’s the hormones, stupid.
7.    Health. Being a vegetarian means being healthier, so spending less on health care.
8.    World peace. How can there be peace among people while we are declaring war on animals (other animals besides us)?
9.    No need. There are vegetable-based substitutes for just about any kind of meat. Even a turkey.
10.     Intelligence. A study says that vegetarians are five IQ points smarter on average than meat-eaters.

I don’t expect everybody to see it the way I do. “I’d be a vegetarian, but no way I could give up eggs,” my cousin Jon said to me the other day (after polishing off half a pound of bacon).
      “You don’t have to give up eggs to be a vegetarian,” I told him. “Not unless you’re vegan.”
      “But when you eat eggs, you’re killing a baby chicken, man."
       I guess that’s true about Mrs. Hughes’s eggs in the village, but I try not to think about that. “The eggs you buy in supermarkets aren’t fertilized,” I explain. “They couldn’t ever become baby chickens.”
       “Well, that’s just sad,” Jon said – proving point # 10.
       My cousin Courtney and my mom are part vegetarian, and Dad isn't at all. People have probably been eating animals for millions of years, and that isn’t going to stop all at once. Even to me, bacon frying smells great.
      But people can change. Like, when I was a kid and I used to fish with Gramps, I put worms on my own hook. No way I’d do that now. I couldn’t.

Easter Hunting Bunny
      People used to believe animals don’t feel pain, which is stupid. It’s been proved animals can feel love and fear. My friend Angelina has two pet rats, Olive and Oily, who are very affectionate to both humans and each other. I’ve read that rats form societies where the strong ones help the weaker ones get food. Rats can laugh and cry.

      Every 10.5 seconds, an animal dies from research. Scientists infect chimpanzees with AIDS and then watch them die. In this YouTube video I saw, scientists sprayed pollution into rats’ windpipes and killed them afterwards by lethal injection. Then they took lung tissue samples and found out the rats’ lungs were damaged by the pollution. Well, what did they expect?!

      The point that I’m leading up to is that taxidermy isn’t the same as research but they have something in common. That is: for people to do either of them, animals have to die.

Want to give me feedback? Send me an email at garviem@queensu.ca. Thanks!