Send Me Down a Miracle

Send Me Down a Miracle

by Han Nolan

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Overview

Things used to be normal in Casper, Alabama. Charity Pittman was a regular fourteen-year-old, the perfect daughter, following in her preacher father's footsteps. But then Adrienne arrived, with her big-city ways and artsy ideas. Reverend Pittman thinks she's the devil incarnate. Charity thinks she's amazing.
But no one knows what to think of Adrienne when she claims she's seen Jesus.
In the heartening and humorous book that made the National Book Award shortlist, Han Nolan visits a small town that's praying for a miracle but heading for disaster.
Reader's guide and an interview with the author included.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780152046804
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 05/01/2003
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 274
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.75(d)
Lexile: 960L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 15 Years

About the Author

HAN NOLAN has won many awards for her teen fiction, including the National Book Award for Dancing on the Edge. She lives in New England.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

I was fourteen the summer Mama took off for the Birdcage Collectors' Convention and we had ourselves what is now known in this town as the Adrienne Dabney Incident.

'Course the only reason Adrienne was blamed for everything was because she was a stranger in town and a New York artist to boot!

Sharalee Marshall's mama said that Adrienne had no need taking the huff the way she did 'cause a body wasn't anybody around here 'less they'd had an incident named after them, and really, if this town had any senseatall, we would have named it after my daddy, especially him being the preacher and all, and we should forgive him for his disgrace.

I know it was on everyone's mind to call it another Mad Joe Dunn Incident, but no one was talking about that. That part of the story's been erased, forgotten, a skeleton in this town's closet no one dares to bring out, except for me, right now. See, I got to, 'cause I know I was the one who started it all. I was the one who loved her.

The moment I saw Adrienne Dabney flop down in Mama's old wingback chair and prop her bare feet up on Mama's inlaid mother-of-pearl coffee table, I knew I was in love.

She arrived in town in the middle of June, the same day Mama took off, and law, it was the hottest, driest June anyone could remember. Already the grass had turned to straw under the scorching sun, and when we rode down the dirt roads on our bikes the red dust would rise like smoke clouds and we'd choke on it and our throats would burn like we were riding with the sun in our mouths. Then in walked Adrienne, into our tidy home, looking like some wild jungle woman with fat, frizzed-out hair, rings on her toes, and this long, brightly colored skirt that was practically seethrough. She was saying words like "creativity" and "stupendous" and "artistic merit," and it was like I'd found myself in a cool summer shower dancing and laughing and throwing my head back to catch the raindrops in my mouth. And every word she said, every gesture she made was like more rain washing over me, waking me up to something — something exciting and dangerous, but I didn't know what, I just knew I wanted it. But Daddy sure didn't.

Adrienne pushed aside one of Mama's birdcages with her bare foot and I saw Daddy's eyes move from the sandals kicked off beneath the old wingback to Adrienne slunk down in the chair so her legs could stretch to the inlaid mother-of-pearl, and then up to her hair, all long and frizzed-out with strands of silver running through it, and I swanee, I could see a shudder travel down Daddy's back and settle in his hiney like the woman had slipped a frozen anchovy down his shirt.

She said she loved my name. She tried it out a few times: "Charity, Charity," like she was tasting fine wine, and then she said it was splendid, a splendid name, and I thought to myself that never did a word sound so fine as "splendid."

My eight-year-old sister, Grace, kept drifting in and out of the room like a fairy unable to light on her lily pad, and Adrienne just took it for normal. And maybe where she came from it was.

She said she and her lover (her lover!) had been in Paris because she had an art show there and did we know Montmartre and had we been to the Louvre, which she pronounced with lots of spit and throat-clearing sounds, just like a real French person. Of course we didn't know anything about Paris, but Daddy tried to say something about it anyway and then gave up halfway through, expecting Mama to come to his rescue the way she always did, forgetting that Mama was already two weeks gone.

"Ah," Adrienne said, "you must go. Everyone should go at least once in their lives. La Tour Eiffel, Chartres, l'Arc de Triomphe — oh, and if you're into people watching, the sidewalk cafés are marvelous. I sat there for hours every day, sketching, painting. The colors are brilliant. The people are fantastic; so interesting. You know the French hold their mouths differently. Like this." She drew her lips forward, puckering and pouting at the same time. "It's amazing! My God! I've got to go back there."

She did. She said, "My God," right in front of Daddy, and then on top of it, something else about her lover and "ooh-la-la," right there in our living room, and didn't stop to catch her breath or check to see if what she said was upsetting anybody or anything. She just slouched back in that wingback, dangled her hand over the armrest, and twirled the stem of her sunglasses round and round in her hands, and went right on talking and saying whatever she pleased. And I knew, soon as I got up to my room, I was going to pull out my sunglasses and practice twirling and slouching in front of my mirror till I looked just like her.

She told us about the types of cheeses they had in Paris, with names that sounded nothing like Swiss or cheddar or American, and then about Degas and Rodin, which I thought were more cheese names but turned out to be famous artists like her, only dead.

She told us about her art, how she paints landscapes and cityscapes and shapes and such in oils and watercolors. And we knew some about that 'cause she was born right here in Casper and even though she did move away when she was still a baby, she'd been written up in our paper. It was all about how famous she had become and what kind of painting she did and such. We kept the article tacked to our bulletin board in the back of the church till it got so dry and yellow it just crumbled into pieces, but we still had the tack up there, in memory of it, I guess.

After so much art talk and Adrienne slouching in Mama's chair half the day, Daddy was ready for her to leave. He stood up and then so did I, and Grace was already standing, on her way out the door again, but Adrienne didn't move. She said she'd come over for a purpose.

She said, "I'm very distressed by all the attention I've been getting down here." She set her sunglasses on top of her head and reached for a candy mint without even asking. She popped it in her mouth and leaned back in her chair. Daddy sat back down on the camelback sofa all stiff and bristly, patting down his hairpiece, and I just stood there watching like this was some exciting new TV show.

"Really, I can't have it," Adrienne said. "I'm working on an important project, an experiment, and I can't have your people coming over, dropping off food, and wanting to chat for hours on end."

Daddy tugged at his shirt collar, and I could see his face was blotching up red hot. I stepped forward and offered her another mint.

"Thank you, Charity," she said to me. Just so fine. "Thank you. Charity." I can still hear her voice and remember how it sounded, like a slip of ice melting down the throat. I sat back down and said it to myself, "Thank you, Charity," and then I caught sight of Daddy looking sour at me and decided to save it for nighttime when I was alone in my room.

"Miss Dabney," Daddy said, straining with politeness, "surely you must be able to understand that this is not New York City. We're a small town and your arrival is big news. Everyone knows everyone around here, and when a stranger comes to town it's only polite that our congregation welcome her."

Adrienne laughed. "Small town is right. I never realized. My mother used to tell me stories about growing up here, about the old Dabney homestead and how it would someday be mine. What I never realized was that the few people she used to talk about were probably the only people in town. No wonder I couldn't find it on the map — my God, this is a small town."

"It sure is," I said, hoping Adrienne would stop taking the Lord's name in vain before Daddy popped a blood vessel. "Why, it's so small you can hold it in the palm of your hand without fear of spilling."

She laughed and nodded and said to me, "Charity, I think I'm going to like you." And I felt the thrill of those words right down to my toes, which I had been imagining with a couple of silver rings on them like hers; but then Daddy cleared his throat and started talking again and those rings just popped right off my feet.

"I'm sorry we've been bothering you with our visits. It was certainly not our intention. You can rest assured that I'll have my congregation —"

"Look," Adrienne interrupted. "It's just that I came here to work, and when some ancient woman rolls her car down my driveway and honks her horn outside my window until I come out — well, I can't have it."

"That would be Miss Tuney Mae Jenkins," I said.

Adrienne nodded and her sunglasses slipped off her head onto her nose. She left them there.

"Yes, I went outside to see what all the honking was for and she threw open her door and yelled to me, 'Hey, sugar, come get me out of this contraption.' Hey, sugar! My God! And then she goes up my stairs and into my house as if it's hers, turning on the lights and putting some godawful dessert into the fridge. Well, you know, you saw it. Reverend Pittman, when you stopped by."

What Adrienne didn't know was that the whole town knew about Daddy's visit. What with him being the preacher of the only church in town, it was his business and his duty to welcome Miss Adrienne. So he trotted on over to her place with a peanut pie he had me make using Mama's recipe, and law if she didn't refuse to invite him in, just kept him out on the stoop and told him how she hated peanuts, thought they carried worms, so no use her keeping the pie. Then she dug Miss Tuney Mae's pecan deluxe out of her fridge and shoved it off on Daddy, saying how she feels the same way about pecans. Imagine coming to Casper, Alabama, where all we grow is peanuts and pecans and tobacco and such, and her not liking any of it.

When Miss Tuney Mae found out Adrienne palmed off her pecan deluxe on Daddy, she had plenty to say about it, and her. I heard her talking to Old Higgs after church, telling him how Adrienne still had all her furniture covered in sheets.

"Didn't pull a one of 'em off, not even to offer me a seat," she said. "And, mercy, it was dark in there. Now, I offered to send the Dooley brothers over to pry the boards off her winders, and know what she said? Said she wanted them left on. Said she didn't need help cleaning, neither, and just looking around at all the dust and her artsy stuff piled up high in the shadows told me she was needing lots of help, but she said she planned to leave it exactly the way it was for a while. Now, imagine that, would you. Leaving it like no one was living there. Like she wasn't a live soul breathing in there."

Folks were calling the way she was living spooky and bizarre and thinking she was maybe one of those modern-day witches or something. And hearing all this got me just dying to go over and meet her, but Daddy told me to stay away till he found out which way the wind blew with "that peculiar artist woman," as he called her.

I knew if Mama were still home she would have gone over to that house and found out all there was to know about Miss Adrienne Dabney. That's what Mama was good at, getting people to tell their stories, and she didn't go spreading them all over town like Miss Tuney Mae, either.

I tried to do as Daddy said and stay away, but I couldn't help passing by her house occasionally 'cause it was practically on the way to everywhere, it being on the main road and all. So me and my best friend, Sharalee, would just happen to ride by the Dabney place on our bikes every once in a while and there it was, same as always, boarded up and leaning to the right, with the paint peeling, looking like some forgotten old man, but we knew she was in there walking around in all that dark, full of all kinds of mystery and intrigue.

Then there she was sitting in our living room, in Mama's chair, and Mama two weeks gone and missing all the excitement.

Daddy's voice jumped into my thoughts. "Just what exactly is this experiment you were talking about?" he asked Adrienne.

"Ah, my sensory deprivation project." Adrienne shoved her glasses back on top of her head and sat forward in the chair. "You see, I plan to lock myself in my house for a month, living in the dark, not seeing or hearing or doing anything except meditating. For my art, you understand. To give my eyes and my mind a rest. And then when I come out, well, I hope to have some kind of rebirth experience. Seeing with new eyes. Creating new art, fresh." She nodded at me. "Like your daughter here. She's a breath of fresh air. I want everything to seem that way. I want my paintings to be that way."

I couldn't keep from grinning, half-silly, I was so pleased with what she said. Imagine me being a breath of fresh air! Wouldn't Sharalee have something to say when I told her that.

Daddy said, "You plan to lock yourself in your house?"

"That's right," Adrienne said.

"For a month?"

"Yes, for a month."

"No, I'm afraid you can't do that. No, it won't do. We can't have that here. No." Daddy stood up. "I'm afraid that's impossible. Anything could happen in that old place. Why, you don't even have a phone in there! No, I just couldn't be held responsible for any —"

"Oh, of course not. I wouldn't ask you to." Adrienne stood up, too, and then so did I. Grace was just wandering back in, so she was already standing.

"No, I was hoping you could just tell all your people to hold off on their welcome a month or so, that's all. The rest, of course, is up to me."

"No, I don't like it." Daddy shook his head.

"I'm not asking you to like it. I'm not asking you at all. I certainly don't need your permission to live as I choose in my own house."

Daddy scowled. "We don't take to strange doings around here, Miss Dabney. Now, I know you and your artist friends do all kinds of — of peculiar things in that New York City, but you're in Casper now and I can tell you we don't like this sort of thing. No indeed. We're a quiet. God-fearing town and —"

"Reverend Pittman, just what kinds of things do you imagine going on in a boarded-up house when I'm by myself?"

"Well now, I know anything can pass for normal in New York City, but down here, well, this kind of business is just insane. Yes, that's just what it is, insane. Now, meditating on the Lord, praying, and being reborn are all fine things, and we have a wonderful church —"

"I'm afraid you don't understand," Adrienne interrupted. "I won't be meditating on the Lord, Reverend Pittman, and I don't believe in prayer."

"Nonsense! Of course you believe in prayer!" Daddy's face was red, and sweat was running out from under his hairpiece. "What is this world coming to when a woman even considers sitting in the dark in a locked-up, boarded-up house, with no God to guide her? Only evil can be contemplated in such a circumstance." He turned to me and Grace. "The devil is in our very midst."

He sounded as if he were about to launch into one of his sermons, but Adrienne cut him off, asking me, "Charity, what do you think?"

I blinked at her, and I know my face was red 'cause there she was, looking at me with this knowing kind of look. Maybe she had seen the excitement in my face or eyes or something. I could tell she knew I thought it was thrilling. I thought she was thrilling. Listening to her and watching her was as new and exciting as finding snow in my pockets, and I wanted to say so; but see, Daddy knew about these things. He knew without a single doubt what was the devil's work and what wasn't; and thinking on it a second, it seemed way too exciting to be anything but a devil's temptation. I shook my head and started to speak, and Daddy jumped in.

"I'm not interested in a child's opinion of the situation. Nor should you be. I don't take to people using children that way, nor to people who use art as an excuse to act crazy and do any of the devil's work they please. This is a quiet town with good, decent people in it. I think you will find you've made a great mistake coming here. Now I think you should be on your way."

Daddy stormed out of the room, and we followed him to the front door. Adrienne kept talking, saying how this was all ridiculous and how she was not there to cause trouble but to live quietly, undisturbed, for a month or so. Daddy wasn't listening. I could tell 'cause he was jingling the change in his pocket the same way he did anytime someone tried to say something he didn't want to hear. He opened the front door, and we heard the sound of gunshots blasting. Daddy stepped outside and stood there jingling his change as fast as he could, waiting for Adrienne to leave.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Send Me Down a Miracle"
by .
Copyright © 1996 Han Nolan.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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