Eleanor & Park(5)

By: Rainbow Rowell

‘Will you have a lot of catching up to do?’

‘I don’t think so.’

Her mom wiped her hands on the back of her jeans and tucked her hair behind her ears, and Eleanor was struck, for the ten-thousandth time, by how beautiful she was.

When Eleanor was a little girl, she’d thought her mom looked like a queen, like the star of some fairy tale.

Not a princess – princesses are just pretty. Eleanor’s mother was beautiful. She was tall and stately, with broad shoulders and an elegant waist. All of her bones seemed more purposeful than other people’s. Like they weren’t just there to hold her up, they were there to make a point.

She had a strong nose and a sharp chin, and her cheekbones were high and thick. You’d look at Eleanor’s mom and think she must be carved into the prow of a Viking ship somewhere or maybe painted on the side of a plane …

Eleanor looked a lot like her.

But not enough.

Eleanor looked like her mother through a fish tank. Rounder and softer. Slurred. Where her mother was statuesque, Eleanor was heavy. Where her mother was finely drawn, Eleanor was smudged.

After five kids, her mother had breasts and hips like a woman in a cigarette ad. At sixteen, Eleanor was already built like she ran a medieval pub.

She had too much of everything and too little height to hide it. Her breasts started just below her chin, her hips were … a parody. Even her mom’s hair, long and wavy and auburn, was a more legitimate version of Eleanor’s bright red curls.

Eleanor put her hand to her head self-consciously.

‘I have something to show you,’ her mom said, covering the soup, ‘but I didn’t want to do it in front of the little kids. Here, come on.’

Eleanor followed her into the kids’ bedroom. Her mom opened the closet and took out a stack of towels and a laundry basket full of socks.

‘I couldn’t bring all your things when we moved,’ she said. ‘Obviously we don’t have as much room here as we had in the old house …’ She reached into the closet and pulled out a black plastic garbage bag. ‘But I packed as much as I could.’

She handed Eleanor the bag and said, ‘I’m sorry about the rest.’

Eleanor had assumed that Richie threw all her stuff in the trash a year ago, ten seconds after he’d kicked her out. She took the bag in her arms. ‘It’s okay,’ she said. ‘Thanks.’

Her mom reached out and touched Eleanor’s shoulder, just for a second. ‘The little kids will be home in twenty minutes or so,’ she said, ‘and we’ll eat dinner around 4:30. I like to have everything settled before Richie comes home.’

Eleanor nodded. She opened the bag as soon as her mom left the room. She wanted to see what was still hers …

The first thing she recognized were the paper dolls. They were loose in the bag and wrinkled; a few were marked with crayons. It had been years since Eleanor had played with them, but she was still happy to see them there. She pressed them flat and laid them in a pile.

Under the dolls were books, a dozen or so that her mother must have grabbed at random; she wouldn’t have known which were Eleanor’s favorites. Eleanor was glad to see Garp and Watership Down. It sucked that Oliver’s Story had made the cut, but Love Story hadn’t. And Little Men was there, but not Little Women or Jo’s Boys.

There was a bunch more papers in the bag. She’d had a file cabinet in her old room, and it looked like her mom had grabbed most of the folders. Eleanor tried to get everything into a neat stack, all the report cards and school pictures and letters from pen pals.

She wondered where the rest of the stuff from the old house had ended up. Not just her stuff, but everybody’s. Like the furniture and the toys, and all of her mom’s plants and paintings. Her grandma’s Danish wedding plates … The little red ‘Uff da!’ horse that always used to hang above the sink.

Maybe it was packed away somewhere. Maybe her mom was hoping the cave-troll house was just temporary.

Eleanor was still hoping that Richie was just temporary.

At the bottom of the black trash bag was a box. Her heart jumped a little when she saw it. Her uncle in Minnesota used to send her family a Fruit of the Month Club membership every Christmas, and Eleanor and her brothers and sister would always fight over the boxes that the fruit came in. It was stupid, but they were good boxes – solid, with nice lids. This one was a grapefruit box, soft from wear at the edges.

Eleanor opened it carefully. Nothing inside had been touched. There was her stationery, her colored pencils and her Prismacolor markers (another Christmas present from her uncle). There was a stack of promotional cards from the mall that still smelled like expensive perfumes. And there was her Walkman. Untouched. Un-batteried, too, but nevertheless, there. And where there was a Walkman, there was the possibility of music.

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