MEETING ANNIE ROSSI, AGE 8
Once upon a time in New York City, there was a tall brick building on a wide winding street called Riverside Drive.
Forty-five families lived there in forty-five apartments on fifteen floors. They had a flower garden on the roof, and in the basement, a bright yellow room with six washing machines. The elevator was noisy and slow, but the lobby was grand - cool white marble and that big marble staircase in the middle. All in all, it was a fine apartment house, and if you were lucky enough to live there, you had your very own park right across the street.
In that building, at that time, was a family called Rossi.
Their house was on the tenth floor - apartment 10B - and sunlight filled the rooms. Sometimes at night the moon showed up, just like that, and they stood at the windows watching the moon. . . . The front door was red. The living room was also painted red, and everywhere you looked were family photos. And books, the place was bursting with books.
Mrs. Rossi knew a lot about books. Especially sixth-grade books. And fifth-grade books. Mrs. Rossi was a sixth-grade teacher, and some years a fifth-grade teacher, at the Louis Armstrong School. She had soft green eyes and dark wavy hair, and she was always dashing off to the New York Public Library, hauling books back and forth in her wagon.
Professor Rossi was a teacher, too, at Columbia University, a very big school that was just up the hill, a five-minute walk to Broadway. Professor Rossi had curly hair and extra-long feet, and he read all the time. All kinds of books, including a great many fat ones with tiny little print.
Annie Rossi liked books about girls, and now that she was eight, she especially liked books about girls who were eight. She also liked books about dogs. Annie had dark brown eyes, short brown hair, and a tiny scar on her chin. She loved her scar very much and looked at it often in the privacy of the bathroom. Also, she loved telling the story of her scar. It always began: "Once upon a time when I was little." It always ended: "And that is the story of my scar." In between, there was a very big drama about a new green bike, a too-big hill, a trip to the emergency room, and chocolate ice cream.
Each year when summer came, the Rossis took a place at the beach - 45 Pineapple Street - a three-room cottage steps from the sea.
The porch had a hammock and the screen door creaked and they dined at a picnic table. Summer-time! The Rossis ran on the beach and swam in the sea, and they were always taking pictures. They walked into town quite often. The town had one little street called Main Street with a big old library right in the middle. Annie played with the neighbor girl, Helen, nearly every day. (Helen was okay, but her dog, Al, was really fun!)
But sooner or later, all summers end. That year - like every year - the family bid goodbye to the beach and the neighbors and Al, and took the slow train home. It was time to get ready for school. There were lessons to plan and first-day-of-school clothes to plan, new notebooks and pencils and shoes. When the first day came, they all had a case of the jitters. But the next day was better, and the day after that. A week slipped by, and then one more. Shoes got scuffed, notebooks messy. The days were shorter now and cool. The Rossis went out into the world each morning, each to a different school, and came together again at night. They were always swapping stories.
One morning Mrs. Rossi did not go to school. (Mommy's not feeling well, Annie.) Her fever soared, then dipped, and soared again. (Dr. Warren is coming to see what's up with Mommy, Annie.) Everyone talked in strange whispers. (Pneumonia, they whispered, and hospital.) Annie tried to be brave. The girls in her library books always seemed to have a great deal of courage, and she wanted to be a girl with courage, too. So she told herself - quite sternly - "No crying in front of Mommy!" But no matter how hard she tried, it was impossible not to cry when your mother was in the hospital. "Mommy, come home now," Annie whispered, "and I'll be your nurse and we'll watch TV on the couch and then you'll be all better. . . ."
o o o
The leaves in the park were especially gold that fall. Everyone spoke of the leaves. And the skies were especially blue. Everyone spoke of the bright blue skies . . . and nobody, absolutely nobody, expected Mrs. Rossi to die.
It is a cold winter night, but eight-year-old Annie Rossi is out on the town with her father.
"I'm freeeezing, Daddy!" Annie skips into the wind. "Are you freezing, too?"
"Definitely. Should we hop on a bus to warm up?"
"Definitely not," Annie says.
Annie shakes her head.
"Daddy, did you forget?" She reaches for his hand. "It's a night walk."
The night walks. Not every night, of course. Just when the house is too big and too quiet and Annie is waiting forever for sleep. Sometimes she tells herself wonderful secrets while she waits. "Oh, Mommy's just inside. She's reading on the couch in her fuzzy blue robe as usual, eating coffee ice cream on the couch as usual, in her little green bowl. . . ." And some nights the door opens a crack and her father peeks in. Annie pretends to sleep. She likes watching him cross the room to the big chair near the window. She likes watching him watch the moon.
On the night of the first walk, Annie remembers, there was no moon. . . .
REMEMBERING MRS. ROSSI by Amy Hest. Text copyright © 2006 by Amy Hest. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.
Copyright © 2010 by Amy Hest. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.