A Novel By Richard Peck
An Invitation From Aunt Euterpe
It was the last day of our old lives, and we didn't even know it.
I didn't. It looked like any old day to me, a sultry summer morning hot enough to ruffle the roofline. But then, any little thing could come as a surprise to us. We were just plain country people. I suppose we were poor, but we didn't know it. Poor but proud. There wasn't a blister of paint on the house, but there were no hogs under the porch.
I was sitting out in the old rope swing at the back of our place because the house was too full of Mama and my sister, Lottie. I wasn't swinging. I thought I was pretty nearly too old to swing. In the fall I'd be fourteen, with only one more year of school to go.
I was barefoot, bare almost up to the knee. And I wasn't sitting there empty-handed. We were farmers. We were never empty-handed. I was snapping beans in the colander.
After I'd gathered the eggs and skimmed the milk, I'd been out in the timber with a pail for red raspberries, wild strawberries, anything going. I'd kept an eye out for mulberries the raccoons might have missed. They loved mulberries. I'd worked up a sweat in the cool of the morning. Now I was enjoying a little quiet here in the heat of the day.
It was all too peaceful to last.
My brother, Buster, was creeping up behind me. He meant to scare me out of my swing and send my beans flying. I snapped on like I was alone in the world. But I knew when he was lurking behind the privy. I knew when he made a dash for the smokehouse. Now I could hear him come stealing up behind me.
Twigs broke. Birds flew off. You'd have to be a corpse not to know. But a boy will pull the same fool stunt over and over like he's just thought of it. He'd be carrying a dead squirrel.
By and by I felt boy-breath on the back of my neck. My hair was in braids. On the nape of my neck I felt a tickle. It might have been a woolly caterpillar off the tree. But it wasn't. It was the tip end of a squirrel tail. It itched powerfully, but I didn't let on.