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Lucky Breaksby Susan Patron
1. a broken brooch
Eleven, Lucky thought from her seat at the back of the school bus, eleven, eleven, eleven, and the idea of it, the sound of it, threw off sparks in her head. You start with one, two, three: those clunky one-syllable beginner-ages like wooden blocks that toddlers play with. Keep going and you get to eight, nine, ten: the plodding steps you have to climb until, at last, you arrive. Finally, finally, you reach the best age, the one that, when you say it out loud, sounds like a little tap dance or a drumroll.
And now Lucky was almost there, about to turn eleven, a dazzling change. Not the thud of ten, but flouncy e-lev-en, with its sophisticated three syllables. Write it as numerals and you have a pair of ones, side by side; a fearless two-part beginning, the door to becoming a teenager. She pictured 11 as a swinging double door, a saloon door in an old Western; you push the sides open, bam, with both hands and stride through before they flap shut again, your childhood behind you. And her secret 11: the two straps of Lucky's brand-new bra, her first.
As the whole miraculousness of eleven sparked in Lucky's brain, the big bus with its three passengers in the very back seat jolted along the highway toward Sierra City; it was the last day of the first week of school. Lincoln, smelling of pencil lead, frowned over a complicated, much-creased diagram; it looked like the pattern for an intricate weaving of some kind and was accompanied by numbers and letters of different colors. Lincoln didn't seem to have changed when he turned eleven half a year ago; he still tied knots, always practicing and learning new ones. Miles, by the window, clutched a bubble-wrapped object in his small, grimy hands.
"Lucky," Miles said, leaning forward to peer around Lincoln's diagram, "look at my show-and-tell. It's a wing!"
Lincoln raised his paper without taking his eyes off it, allowing Lucky to reach across for the object. But Miles jerked back. "Nobody can touch it," he said, "because it's from the Found Object Wind Chime Museum, and Short Sammy said I should borrow it because my only other show-and-tell was a piece of vacuum hose, but I had to promise no one would touch it, even Miss B."
"Well, I can't really see it, Miles. You've got it all covered up with bubble wrap."
"Yeah, so I'll do the 'tell' part now and the 'show' part when the bus stops, and you can look close but you still can't touch it."
Lucky knew that Miles took his responsibilities very seriously, for a five-going-on-six-year-old. "Okay," she agreed.
"Okay," Miles echoed happily, settling back into his seat, cradling his object.
After a minute, Lincoln folded his diagram and said, "So what is the 'tell' part? What did you mean, that it's a wing?"
"Oh, yeah," Miles said. "It's part of a brooch that got shot in half by a miner called Burro Bob about a hundred years ago. You probably don't know what a brooch is. It's a pin."
"A pin?" Lucky asked.
"Yeah, like jewelry. Ladies wear them on their" — Miles's cheeks suddenly turned deep red — "here." He pointed a dirty-looking finger at his chest. "So this woman, her name was Paloma, got killed by a bullet right in her heart. She got fought over by two miners, Burro Bob and his partner, Frank the Fuse. Anyway, her name means 'dove' in Spanish, and that's why Burro Bob made the pin in the shape of a dove. He made it out of garnets and quartz and some other thing, I think amnesia, all from mines around Hard Pan."
One corner of Lincoln's mouth twitched at the word "amnesia," a tiny smile Lucky knew was meant for her, but not Miles, to see.
"And Bob and his burro were digging this well for water, only they never found any. But Frank tried to take Paloma for himself, so Bob plugged him" — Miles formed his hand as if it were a gun, aimed at the front of the bus, pulled the trigger, made the sound of a gunshot, and fell back in his seat from the recoil — "but somehow the bullet got Paloma instead." Miles jumped up to enact the part of the wounded Paloma, making agonized death sounds while clutching his chest to stop the bleeding.
"Get back in your seat, Miles!" Sandi the bus driver shouted from the front.
Miles slid onto his seat, still dying. "I am in my seat!" he shouted back.
"So," said Lucky, "she died?"
"Yeah. The bullet went right through the brooch and got her in the heart. It broke the pin in two. Sammy says the piece they found" — Miles held up the wrapped object — "is the wing of the dove, and the rest of the brooch is at the bottom of the well, which was — what's it called when they give up and quit working, like at a mine, and close it?"
"Abandoned," Lincoln said. "Or condemned."
"Yeah, abandoned." Miles carefully slid the bubble-wrap-covered pin into an empty plastic Band-Aid box, snapping the lid shut. "Burro Bob and Frank the Fuse disappeared and never got caught, but Short Sammy says lots of people have tried to find the rest of the dove brooch, its head and stuff, by climbing down into the old well."
"Abandoned or condemned," Lucky repeated softly, thinking how sad those words sounded, how lonely. They could be words about wells, and they could also be words about people.
"They should seal up those old wells," Lincoln said, gazing out the window. "They're dangerous." His mother had named him Lincoln Clinton Carter Kennedy because she wanted him to grow up to be the president of the United States. Lucky noticed that he often looked and sounded like a future president, grave and serious and diplomatic. She remembered when they were only seven and she teased him to make him chase her, then tripped and fell smack on her chin. The bright red gush of her own blood on the ground scared her. Lincoln had yanked off his T-shirt and pressed it hard against her chin. "Stay put and keep pressing," he'd said before going for help, already talking in that presidential way. And Lucky ended up with a little three-stitch scar on the underside of her chin, a scar like a tiny upside-down L.
Miles looked at them. "Anyway," he said. "There's bloody murder and no kissing, so it's a good show-and-tell story."
When they got off the bus, they piled their backpacks on a bench and Miles opened his Band-Aid box, slid the bubble wrap out, and very carefully unrolled it. Lucky, more interested in the museum's bugs and birds, had never noticed the little piece of jewelry. She bent over the mosaic of gems, bordered by a band of silver in a wing shape, intricate and beautiful.
"Wow," Lucky said as Miles rewrapped the pin and put it back into the box. "I wish we could see the rest of the brooch. Imagine the glory if we found it ourselves."
Lincoln frowned. "Don't even think about it," he said.
"Yeah," Miles said, the worry about the dangerousness of abandoned wells on his face. "Forget about it, Lucky."
But Lucky was considering how, when you're eleven, you're interested in love and murder, blood and glory and kissing, things that are precious and fragile, things that are abandoned or condemned. Because eleven is much more intrepid than only ten.
Text copyright © 2009 by Susan Patron
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