“Kathy Stinson does an excellent job in keeping the reader intrigued and in suspense ... Readers will easily relate to the feelings held by the characters in the story as they have probably had similar experiences.”
“Very readable. Stinson is a fine observer of the details of ordinary life, and her characters are complex and credible.”
“Stinson handles burgeoning sexuality with grace and caring ... one of the best coming of age books we've seen ... a realistic story, convincingly told.”
The Hamilton Spectator
“... refreshingly honest ... achingly beautiful ... teens today and in generations to come will identify completely.”
Canadian Children's Book News
“Stinson has created a realistic character whose thoughts and emotions are very believable.... Recommended.”
Canadian Book Review Annual
• Shortlisted for the Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book Award, 2004 (Becoming Ruby)
• Nominated for the Ontario Library Association White Pine Award, 2004 (Becoming Ruby)
• Winner of the Toronto Chapter IODE Award (Red is Best)
• Shortlisted for the Ontario Library Association Silver Birch Award (King of the Castle)
• Nominated for British Columbia's Red Cedar Award (One Year Commencing)
• Starred Choice of the CBC Our Choice Committee (Fish House Secrets)
between mars and venus
everybody loves a clown
waiting for brian
on flagpole hill
micheline and renée
101 ways to dance
all you need is a song
about kathy stinson
an interview with kathy
“Hey, I was at my cousin's this weekend,” Jared said. “He gave me this number.”
“Whose is it?” I asked him. “What's it for?”
“Some girl named Gloria. He said if you want a really hot time, call Gloria.”
“So call,” I said.
“I dunno. Maybe he was pulling my leg or something.”
“Come on. It's not like we've got anything better to do.”
So that night, a week ago now, Jared called.
“Hello, may I please speak to Gloria?”
“Who should I say is calling?”
“Jared? I like that name. This is Gloria.”
“How you doing, Gloria?”
“Good. But I'd be even better if you were here.”
Of course, I didn't hear the whole conversation, just what I caught leaning in close to the phone and what Jared told me, but he was practically jumping out of his pants when he hung up. Stuff she said she needed him for — whew! Then, “Do you think you're up to it?” According to Jared, she knew exactly what she was asking. The best thing — for me anyhow — was that she has this friend, Crystal. Can you imagine a better first real lay than a girl named Crystal? The only catch: the girls couldn't see us till this week.
“No problem,” Jared said. But I bet he jerked off every night since the phone call, waiting for today.
He'd figured he could borrow his mom's car, but this morning she says he can't have it. No reason. Just that she might be needing it. And he can hardly explain how he needs it way more than she ever will.
“So, Jared, what do we do now?”
He checks the bus schedule for Brooksville, where we have to go to meet Gloria and Crystal. Crystal! I've practised whispering her name all week. “Nothing's running till tonight.”
“But it's today Gloria said her mom would be away. We have to go today.”
“Guess it'll have to be the old thumb then,” Jared says.
“Thumb?” I'm trying to figure out what sex thing Jared's talking about.
“We'll have to hitchhike, doofus.”
Jeez, two firsts in one day. Can I handle it?
When Jared has picked us a good spot on the way out of town, he says, “You stick your thumb out and I'll hang back a bit. You'll get us a ride faster ‘cause you look more innocent.”
“I am more innocent.”
“Today's my last day to say it. I can say it however I want.”
After about ten minutes, a gray Honda Civic pulls to the shoulder of the road. “Well, girls,” Jared says, “we're on our way!” It's all we can do not to jump and hoot.
We're barely settled into the back seat, just long enough to take in that it's a woman wearing a brown trench coat who's picked us up, when she says, “Start talking. Please.”
Somehow I expected So, you boys are going to Brooksville? or something, on account of our cardboard sign says Brooksville and because that would be a way to suss out the passengers you'd just picked up, or to start making small talk.
“Start talking and keep talking.” There's a gray hair on the collar of her coat.
Talking. Thanks for the ride, lady. We're on our way to Brooksville to get laid. Hardly.
I also expected it would be a guy who would give us a ride, females being naturally more nervous about who might be hitching. Not that this lady has to worry about Jared and me. But maybe it's Jared and me who ought to be worrying. Our driver is staring straight down the road, and sure, where else should she be looking when she's driving? But besides her strange command that we get talking, something's weird. There's an intensity about her, like maybe she's on something. She's for sure stressed out big time. And she drives fast.
“Anything in particular you'd like us to talk about, ma'am?” Jared's asking.
“No, as long as you keep talking, I think I can get us all to Brooksville in one piece.”
The woman bangs her hand on the steering wheel. “A story'd be good. Tell me the story.”
“Well, ma'am” — I call her that ‘cause Jared did and I don't know what else to call her — “I never actually read the story. I just heard the teacher talk about it in class. But there's this girl and she knows the people are going to kill her unless she can stall them, and somehow she keeps them from getting around to it by telling all these stories.”
“But like I said, I don't know what stories, ‘cause I never actually read it. Did you read it, Jared?”
“No, but I don't think our kind driver really cares what stories the girl told. As long as we help her pass the time between here and Brooksville. Would that be right, ma'am?”
With her fists clenched around the steering wheel, her knuckles are white. She nods.
So like it's the most natural thing in the world, Jared starts in on a story. “Once upon a time — sorry, ma'am, I haven't heard any stories lately, but this was my favorite when I was little.”
Yeah, right, Jared. More like any other story you know is full of sex, drugs, swearing, or all of the above.
“Once upon a time there were three bears. One day they went for a walk and this blonde little kid came right into their house without knocking. She broke their chairs, ate their porridge, and messed up their beds. Uhm.”
“You're not at the end yet. You missed out the middle.” I sit up straight and in my deepest papa bear voice say, “‘Who's been eating my porridge?' said the papa bear.”
I raise it a notch and say, “‘Who's been eating my porridge?' said the mama bear.”
And in a squeaky little voice, I say, “‘Whoever's been eating my porridge? said the baby bear, ‘they ate it all up.’”
“I don't think she wants all the details and voices, doofus. She's not four years old, you know.”
“Shut up. It's how to tell a story, don't you know? Besides, you started it. Where was I?”
Making fun of my highest baby bear voice, Jared says, “They ate it all up.”
“See, you were listening. Voices are important.” I continue. “And then the papa bear said, ‘Who's been sleeping in my bed?'”
“Not Gloria,” Jared mutters. “Too bad for you.”
“Shut up.” I check the rearview mirror, hoping our driver hasn't heard. “And the baby bear said, ‘Whoever has been sleeping in my bed is still there!' His squeaky little voice woke up the little blonde kid — ”
“Goldilocks,” interrupts Jared. “Her name was Goldilocks.”
“I thought you didn't care about the details. Goldilocks woke up and saw the three bears. She ran out of the house.”
“That doesn't sound like the end,” Jared says.
“Well, nothing else happens,” I tell him. “That's the end.”
“Don't blame me. You're the one who started it. If you want a story with a better ending, maybe you better get one that has a better beginning.”
“Okay,” he says.
“And maybe not a dumb kid story this time. Right, ma'am?”
“You're doing fine, boys.”
Jared gives me a so there kind of look. I shrug, and he starts in on another story. “Once there was a poor little boy who lived with his mother on their poor little farm.”
I settle back against the seat, partly listening, mostly wondering what Crystal will be like. Will she be as hot as Gloria? Will her boobs be as big as your face or those cute little cupcake kind that fit one in each hand?
“The crops had failed,” Jared carries on, “the animals were hungry, too. ‘I don't want to sell the farm,' the poor little boy's mother cried.”
The farm country we're passing through is looking as poorly as the farm in Jared's story, but mostly that's ‘cause it's a raw November day, so there's nothing in the fields but stubble. All the animals are huddled in barns. What's this woman doing, I wonder, going up to Brooksville? Why does she want us to keep talking — about nothing, it seems — all the way there? What do people do in Brooksville when they're not going up for a hot time, as Jared's cousin so eloquently put it?
“At the market the boy sold the cow. ‘Did you get a good price?' his mother asked when he got home. ‘Yes,' he said. ‘I got this whole handful of magic beans.'”
Jared's doing pretty well with this story for a guy who couldn't get through The Three Bears. Guess he was assing around then, and now he's figured he better try to draw out whatever he tells ‘cause we're still a long way from Brooksville, and how many stories can we come up with?
“‘Beans!' the boy's mother wailed. ‘Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.'”
Jared's really getting into it, so he doesn't notice right off that our driver is crying now, too. In the rearview mirror I can see tears just pouring out of her.
I elbow Jared. “Cool it, man.”
“Oh, sorry, ma'am! I didn't mean to upset you!”
Fortunately, she's let up on the gas, ‘cause she's bunched a wad of Kleenex up to her face, and I don't know how she can see a thing. The yellow happy-face dangling from the mirror just makes this whole scene even freakier somehow.
Was it something about the beans that got her going? Is her husband a farmer and their farm's doing bad? She is married — she's wearing a wedding ring — but she's dressed more city than like a farmer's wife. Maybe she just found out her husband's cheating on her, or that he has a fatal disease. Or maybe she's the one who's sick.
She waves her hand, honks into her Kleenex, and picks up speed again.
I snap at Jared, “Don't you know any happy stories?” I don't know why I figure it's up to him to carry the ball here, but he's always been a better talker than me. “Or, how ‘bout something funny maybe?”
Jared cranes his neck to read the sign coming up. “Riverview,” he exclaims. “We don't have to go all the way to Brooksville, I just realized. Ma'am, if you want to drop us here, that'd be just fine.”
“We'll get another ride,” he whispers back.
But Riverview is little more than a gas pump and an empty vegetable stand. And there hasn't been much traffic on the road. It could be ages before another ride comes along. As the tires crunch on the gravel shoulder, flakes of snow are hitting the windshield.
“No, Brooksville's where we're going,” I insist, “if you don't mind taking us. I'm sorry we don't have better stories to tell.”
“It's not your stories. I'm just ...” She wipes her face again. “I should be okay now. I just — ”
“So, there's this farmer, his daughter, and a traveling salesman.”
“Jared! Not that one!”
“It's funny. You said tell a funny one.”
“It's not funny.”
“If it's not funny how come you almost pissed yourself when I told it to you before?”
I mumble, “Don't you know when to shut up? She was about to tell us why she's been pretty near bawling since she picked us up.”
“What do we care,” Jared whispers, “as long as she gets us where we're going?” He reaches into his pocket and slaps a small foil packet into the palm of my hand.
I glance in the rearview mirror again, but she's not paying any attention to us. I kiss the packet for good luck and slip it into my pocket. I can't believe I never even thought about bringing rubbers. Still, something tells me I should care about what's going on with this strange lady who picked us up. I've been looking for clues but all there is on the floor of the car is a bunch of paper cups, some used Kleenex, a page torn out of a math notebook, and a pink comb with long blonde hairs tangled in its broken teeth. Nothing very helpful.
Jared crosses his arms and stares out the window. “You're so good at this story stuff, doofus, you tell one. Come on, tell us a funny story.”
“I don't know any.”
The car's wipers are swiping at blobs of melting snow on the windshield, the windows are starting to fog up with our breathing, and finally our driver cranks up the heat to clear them. Real quiet, so I hardly hear her over the blowing of the heater, she says, “It doesn't have to be a story, but please ...” — and suddenly she's wiping her face again — “just... talk.”
Talk. Like, speak. Chatter. Patter. Make a speech. Gossip. Give a report. Comment. Surely I can do one of those?
The weather forecast for Timbuktu ...
Judges, ladies and gentlemen, fellow students, the subject of my speech today...
The wipers are going top speed, but the windshield is dry now. The fog has cleared from the windows but the heater is still blowing, turning the car into an oven. It smells kind of fishy, like there's maybe some old fast-food package stuck under a seat.
Jared whispers, “Funny, it almost smells like sex in here.”
The old Kleenex on the floor? Could the woman who picked us up be one of those babes I've heard of who get off on guys young enough to be their sons? What if this whole teary act is a front for the nympho she'll show herself to be after she purposely misses the turnoff for Brooksville and takes us deep down some bush road? God, three firsts in one day would be more than a guy like me could handle.
“Ma'am, would you mind turning down the heat a little?”
She turns it down.
“And I don't think you need the wipers now.” I decide to save my overactive imagination for thoughts of Crystal. But it's hard to think about a girl and the stuff you're going to do together when there's a woman in the car threatening to cry. Why couldn't we have got picked up by someone normal? Some guy? “Maybe you could turn on the radio instead.”
She flicks it on, and quickly turns down the rock music blaring from the speakers.
Before the babe's tears get going again, I start talking. “Jared and me ... we got together this band? With a couple other guys? He plays guitar, and we've got a drummer and a keyboarder. I kind of sing. We've been trying to come up with a good name. It's down to Crumbling Crackers, Semen Stains, or Jared's Boys. I guess we have to decide if we want to sound like a soup commercial, dirty laundry, or a bunch of fags.”
Jared's looking at me like, where do I think I'm going with this? And I wish I knew. But except for telling her about the chicks we're on our way up to see, which even an idiot like me can figure out would be in pretty bad taste, it's the only thing I can think of.
“Anyway, we get together in my basement a couple times a week or sometimes one of the other guys' basements, and we do these songs. Old ones mostly, but our keyboarder's working on some original stuff. Love songs mostly.”
Since I'm not about to break into song by myself with no instrumentals or anything, this subject dries up pretty quick. Just as well probably. “Let Me Cook My Sausage in the Gravy of Your Love” might not qualify as a love song in our driver's books, even if it would take her mind off her troubles. Oh well, as long as someone can keep filling the silence.
Unfortunately Jared is slouched against the window with his eyes shut, so I guess it's up to me. “Well, my little speech about our musical group seems to have put my friend to sleep here. I hope you're not feeling sleepy, ma'am?”
She stares ahead, not answering.
“I could offer to drive for a while, but I don't have my license yet. Costs too much for insurance. Which my folks won't pay. So I figure what's the point in having a license. Mostly I can get around pretty good by bus. This is my first time hitching. Today. Do you pick up hitchhikers often?”
Her lips tighten and she swallows. Damn. Questions aren't good. Just keep talking.
It's really hard, having a conversation by yourself.