Editor's note: Aunt Ruby helps 'Manda focus on the good things around her instead of the bad. The book's illustrator, James Ransome, will appear at the Baltimore Book Festival today.
Some days the whole world feels hateful, colorless like rain clouds, murky as mud. I wish Bobby would fall down flat. "And break both his legs!" I tell Aunt Ruby.
"Why don't you go out and get back in the game?" she asks.
"Because Bobby grabbed the ball right out of my hands!" I shout. I've told Aunt Ruby the whole story already. We've been through it at least ten times. "I'm getting under the covers," I say. "And staying there!"
Aunt Ruby peers at me through squint eyes. She tells me that when I get "this way" it might make me feel better if I can think of some things I like. She gets out a pencil and paper. "Go ahead, 'Manda," she says, "tell me what it is you like in this world."
Patches nudges me with his cold, wet nose.
"Nothing," I say.
Aunt Ruby writes that down. "Go on."
I can tell that she's not going to leave me alone until I come up with a better answer, so I say, "Beds," because that's the thing my eye's resting on. I say, "Pillows." I say "Teddy bears, dresser drawers, big-old-wet dog snouts." I rattle off everything I see in the room. I figure that should do it.
Aunt Ruby thinks otherwise. "Wider," she says.
I think of Bobby and how he laughed at me when he grabbed the ball away. "So what's so great about liking anything?" I ask.
Aunt Ruby's lips twitch into a smile. She looks out the window. "The light fades late this time of year," she says, as if that's some kind of answer.
Then Aunt Ruby pulls another piece of paper from her pocket. This one's all folded up and worn thin at the creases. "I have a list of my own," she says.
"You do? How come?"
"Because." She winks. "Sometimes I feel like you do now."
Aunt Ruby invites me into the crook of her arm, and I nestle there while she reads her list out loud. Aunt Ruby has a voice deep as dusk and hushed as trees. I close my eyes so I can see everything she describes.
Aunt Ruby reads on. "On hot nights like these I like it when your mama takes down the big china bowl and mixes together blueberries and strawberries, chunks of peaches and any other sweet, bright fruit we bought that day at market."
"All the colors together are like painting a picture," I say.
"Aren't they? All the juices glistening..."
"Music," I pipe in. "Is music on the list?"
"It is indeed. I like it when old Mr. Franklin comes over to play his saxophone and Callie drifts in along with the heat and gets to singing along."
"She sings sweet."
"Sweet as sunshine."
"What else?" I change the subject. I snuggle deeper into Aunt Ruby's arm.
"Well, when there's something special to celebrate I like to put on a flouncy dress and pin doodads in my hair and paint up my face like a queen."
"Me, too!" I shout.
I look out the window at my friends playing. Aunt Ruby joins me. She shakes her head, just looking. "What a pretty mess of children out there. All the many-shaded skins we're born to. All the beautiful faces."
She starts to fold up her list. "And don't think I forgot the most important thing of all," she says. She plants a kiss on my forehead. "I like you."
Outside my window Bobby's caught the ball. He's holding it high above his head, like some kind of big shot, but I know better. I like to play ball, I think. And sometimes, when he's nice, I even like to play with Bobby. Aunt Ruby guesses at the thoughts buzzing in my brain.
"You know," she says, "you still have time to go out and play a while before it's time for bed."
I'll tell you what I really like. I like my Aunt Ruby.
Reprinted from DARK DAY, LIGHT NIGHT by Jan Carr, illustrated by James Ransome. Text c 1995 by Jan Carr; illustrations c 1995 by James Ransome. Published by Hyperion Books for Children.