Seventeen-year-old Cecil Rowe loves to write, to read, to think, and to amble about his tiny Tidewater town of Bricksburg, Virginia. Of course, if he had a driver's license, he'd rather drive. And if he could make up his mind which girl to choose, he'd want to take one along.
Cecil in Space is Sid Hite's most thoughtful, romantic, and insightful coming-of-age novel. It captures that wonderful time in a young writer's life when he begins to feel the power of his own words, and the precise moment in a young man's growth when clarity can only come in a kiss.
|Publisher:||Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)|
|File size:||237 KB|
|Age Range:||11 - 14 Years|
About the Author
Sid Hite grew up in Bowling Green, Virginia, and now lives in Sag Harbor, New York. Answer My Prayer is his third novel.
Read an Excerpt
Cecil in Space
By Sid Hite
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 1999 Sid Hite
All rights reserved.
Hello. My name is Cecil Scott Rowe. I'm three months past my seventeenth birthday, and I live in the small town of Bricksburg, Virginia. The place is a podunk, a boring little village set down in the middle of nowhere. The stores in town close at five. The gas station shuts at six. The streets are rolled up at seven and put in storage for the night.
There are few jobs in Bricksburg, and most people who have any ambition at all move away after high school. Many of them never return. Thus there's a dearth of young families with children in Bricksburg and the population is top-heavy with old folks. A large percentage of the old folks are crazy or so eccentric it's hard to tell the difference. Going crazy is the risk one runs when living in such a backwater. I'm not sure how I've managed to survive as long as I have.
The word crazy is a liberal term — it means different things to different people, depending on the context. According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, it means: unsound, crooked, erratic, askew, out of the ordinary. Hmm. Just about everyone I know is out of the ordinary.
Although nothing important has ever happened here and probably never will, the good citizens of our town recently voted to erect a sign that says: Welcome to Historic Bricksburg. The premise for this communal delusion dates to the Civil War, when a Union scouting party accidentally stumbled upon a handful of Confederate troops camped three miles west of Bricksburg. There was an inconsequential exchange of gunfire that ended with the Northern troops retreating. No one was captured. No one was killed. Nevertheless, in utter disregard for the truth (the incident didn't even occur within the town limits), the planning board appropriated funds for the sign and had it installed with great pomp on the courthouse lawn in the center of our little town.
It would be more fair to innocent travelers if the sign read: Warning, Psychological Disturbance Ahead. But then, as I've recently begun to surmise, the world is not always fair.
Okay, I admit it, I have an attitude. However, I suspect you'd have a chip on your shoulder as well if you were my age in Bricksburg and you did not have your driver's license. That's right. I'm a seventeen-year-old guy who doesn't drive. I've been shaving for well over a year, yet when I wish to go anywhere, I must walk, ride my bike, or glom onto someone with a car. It isn't the inconvenience that bothers me; it's the shame. At my age it is humiliating arriving at a party with my mom behind the wheel. It's of little consolation that my friends all say my mom is the coolest. She may be, compared to the standard mom in Bricksburg, but that doesn't put me in the driver's seat.
I passed the written part of my driver's exam with ease. It was the driving part that foiled me. Twice. The first time I forgot to hook my seat belt, and Gene, the tester guy, failed me before I drove out of the parking lot. The second time a woman named Faye administered my test. I was doing great until parallel parking, when I clipped a truck and ripped the side-view mirror off my mother's car. Not to make excuses — it was my fault and I accept full responsibility for the accident — but I think it's only fair to mention that Faye was wearing a miniskirt she must have borrowed from a little sister and a sleeveless blouse that hugged her like wet tissue paper. Yes, I know, I should not have allowed myself to be distracted. But I did. And now, having failed the test twice, I must wait until November before I can get another learner's permit and apply to take the test over.
I am writing this in the middle of July. November is a full four months away. I hope I don't go nuts before then.
Yes, going nuts is something I worry about often. Later I will tell you about my aunt, which will partially explain my interest in the subject. However, for now, let me get on with my story. (I realize I've used the word however twice so far in this text. I am liable to use it many times again before I am done. I have a thing about vocabulary and become easily attached to certain words that strike my fancy. That's part of who I am.)
My best friend, Isaac, called this morning, and I agreed to meet him and his sister at Billy Goat this afternoon. Billy Goat is an old, abandoned concrete bridge a couple of miles outside of town. It spans the Itchatoni River. The original road leading to Billy Goat was bypassed about twenty years ago, and a new road and a new bridge were built. Nowadays no one uses the bridge except idle teenagers looking for a place to hang out. It's a relatively private retreat, far enough from town to keep little kids away. Another advantage to Billy Goat is that when you get bored hanging around with your friends (if you have any), you can jump into the river and float downstream.
The rear tire on my bicycle is flat and I don't feel like digging around in the shed for the air pump, so I decide to walk to Billy Goat. I walk so much it has become my trademark in town. Old folks sitting on their front porches mumble to each other as I pass by. I can't actually hear what they say, yet I imagine something like this:
"Look, Doris, the Rowe boy is walking again."
"Tell me. I want to know."
"I said, the Rowe boy is walking again."
"I can see that. I'm not blind."
Sometimes I feel like shouting at the old folks, "Walking is good for you. Get off your wrinkled bottoms and move." But of course, I don't shout. There are already enough crazy people in town. No need for me to behave irrationally in public.
* * *
Mom is working at her desk in her office as I prepare to leave the yard. Before departing, I yell to her through an open window, "If Ariel Crisp calls, take a message, will ya?"
"Sure, Cecil, but didn't you say Ariel was an insufferable snob?"
"I may have said that last year, but Ariel has changed a lot since her dad moved in with Trudy Benson. I think the scandal brought her down a notch. Anyway, she's having a party next weekend and I heard she was inviting people today."
"I'll take a message. Don't forget, though, you and I are going to Staunton next Saturday."
"Oh, right. To see Aunt June. We'll be back by four, won't we?"
"We should be."
"No problem, then. I'll have time to get ready. See ya."
"Be home for supper."
"Yep." I walk as far as the gate, then turn and call to Mom, "By the way, if Ariel doesn't call, I was right before. She is a snob."
Snob or no snob, Ariel Crisp is the best-looking young woman in King County. I often dream of her at night wearing a bathing suit. (She's wearing the suit. Not me. I sleep in boxer shorts.) Ariel has silky, strawberry-colored hair, greenish eyes, a pretty face, a shapely body, and a voice capable of cutting through all my defenses. If I were to go crazy tomorrow, Ariel would be largely responsible.
It's a short walk from the neighborhood where I live into the surrounding countryside. Half a mile north of town I turn east on Paige Road and start for the lowlands along the Itchatoni River. I've ambled less than a hundred yards when Virgil Spintz zooms up in his brand-new, tomato red BMW convertible. Virgil is my age, more or less. He couldn't be more conspicuous if he hired a consultant to advise him. He slows to a stop, lowers the volume on his CD player, and removes his tinted sunglasses. "Going somewhere? Want a lift?"
"Nope, you're not going somewhere? Or nope, you don't want a lift?"
"Both," I answer precisely.
Virgil frowns, shakes his head, and exhales loudly. "Don't tell me you're still mad about that Isaac thing. I told you before, Cecil, I never said his name."
I do my best to appear offended as I resume walking.
Virgil watches me depart, then wheels his car around in the road and screeches off in the opposite direction.
Here's what happened: About a month ago someone altered three letters in the Welcome to Historic Bricksburg sign. They used white paint to change the i and o in Historic to y and e, then covered the bottom loop of the B in Bricksburg with green paint that matched the background. Maybe that someone was Isaac Yardley. Or maybe it wasn't. (I don't honestly know, yet if I did, I wouldn't publish the fact in a book.) Anyhow, whoever painted the sign, the cops were predictably annoyed and swore they would snare the vandal (or vandals) before the end of summer.
Here's where Virgil Spintz fits in. About two weeks after the incident, one of Bricksburg's finest — a deputy sheriff named Harold Fassel — clocked Virgil going a hundred and ten miles an hour on the flats south of town, yet Harold did not give Virgil a ticket for speeding. Fine. I'm all for giving people a break ... unless they turn that against you or one of your friends. Although Virgil denies that any of this happened, I'll let the facts speak for themselves. Less than an hour after not writing Virgil a ticket, Harold suddenly figures out who vandalized the welcome sign and drives directly to the Yardleys' house to arrest Isaac. Fortunately Forrest Yardley was home at the time or Harold would've hauled Isaac straight to the police station for questioning. So far no charges have been filed; however, the crime is being relentlessly investigated and everyone knows Isaac is the primary suspect.
FACT: Isaac isn't a criminal. He may get a little rebellious from time to time, but so did George Washington, Patrick Henry, and lots of other upstanding Virginians. Rebellion and miscreancy are not the same animal. Isaac has strong convictions and is bold enough to say and do what he believes, yet he isn't mean-spirited or destructive in nature. Indeed, Isaac is probably the sanest person I know. He never compromises his beliefs for the sake of social convenience.CHAPTER 2
The town of Bricksburg sits in the middle of King County, which in turn lies in the heart of a broad Tidewater region that extends south and east from the center of Virginia to the Atlantic coast and the shoals of the Chesapeake Bay. The land around here is mostly flat. It is wet with creeks, ponds, swamps, and lazy little rivers. This is snapping turtle country.
Snapping turtles have irritable dispositions. Even the babies are vicious. If you are foolish enough to taunt a snapper, it will do its ornery best to snag one of your fingers, or toes, or whatever appendage it can reach. A polite retreat is the wise course of action when encountering a snapper.
Some people claim there are cougars living deep in the swamps of King County. I've never seen one, but then, I'm not crazy; I don't frequent the backwaters. Around here all you have to do is stand in sight of a swamp and the mosquitoes come carry you away.
Twenty minutes after walking rudely away from Virgil, I veer off Paige Road onto a footpath cutting through a thicket of scrub trees. The path soon takes me to the old, forgotten lane that winds through the woods to Billy Goat Bridge. The aged pavement has long since cracked apart and deteriorated from lack of attention, and the route is overgrown with briers, bushes, and weeds. I follow the derelict trail for approximately a thousand yards and soon come to the final bend before Billy Goat.
I whistle to announce my imminent arrival. My signal is soon answered in kind, and then as I round the bend I see Isaac. He is sitting barefoot and shirtless on one of the ivy-covered walls of the bridge, drawing with colored pencils in a sketch pad that he holds on his lap. The leafy boughs of oak and elm trees leaning from the riverbank shade all but the center of the span where Isaac is situated. He greets me without looking up from his work. "Cecil. Glad you could make it."
"Yep. Thanks for calling." I halt near the foot of the bridge. "Don't let me interrupt you."
A moment passes. I slap an attacking mosquito. "So where's Isabel? I see her bag."
Isaac points with a pencil. "Ten o'clock on the horizon."
I lift my gaze to where Isabel is ensconced on a branch high over the river. She is sixteen, with jet black hair and big brown eyes. For most of my life I always thought of Isabel as Isaac's witty, flat-chested little sister. I can't do that anymore. She's still witty, but she has grown. When I catch her eye, she smiles and says, "Long time no see."
"Yesterday, wasn't it?" I reply with a smile of my own.
"Ah. That's sweet," Isabel coos facetiously. "You remember."
Isaac glances up at his sister and quips, "Cecil has a mind like a mudflat. Once something gets in there, it sticks."
"It's true," I agree. "I have a superb memory ... although for the life of me, Isaac, I can't remember why we are friends."
"I wasn't aware we were."
Isabel laughs. "You set yourself up for that one, Cecil."
I sidle over to peek at Isaac's pad. It takes me a moment to appreciate what he has done. Soon, however, I realize I'm looking at a rendering of upside-down images. It's a drawing of reflections on the water. There's the underside of the bridge ... I see trees reaching toward a patch of clear sky ... there are Isaac's legs and torso dangling off the bridge wall.
"It's just a study," Isaac offers modestly. Then he closes his pad, sets it carefully on the stone-capped wall beside him, rises to his feet, and without pause or preamble dives into the river below. That's Isaac for you: everything in one fell swoop. I watch as he swims toward a solitary rock about forty yards downstream. The rock is smooth and flat on top. We call it the Indian Seat.
Isabel comes down from her tree and joins me on the bridge. We sit in a pool of sunlight, our backs resting against a wall. She's wearing cutoff blue jeans, a T-shirt, and a pair of brown tennis shoes. She crosses her legs, uncrosses them, then crosses them the other way. I notice they've recently been shaved. She reaches for her bag and takes out a thermos. "Ice tea?"
"Yes," I say, and spotting the tattered spine of an old book in her bag, I ask, "What are you reading now?"
Isabel and I share a passion for literature. We both love to read. She wants to be an English professor or maybe an editor when she grows up. I have vague ambitions of becoming a writer. Isabel, who rarely goes anywhere without a book, retrieves the one in her bag and says, "I'm rereading Gulliver's Travels. It's great. You want to hear something hilarious?"
Isabel flips to a marker and explains, "This is from when Gulliver visits the Grand Academy in Lagado and meets a language professor." Then she takes a breath and begins to read: "The first project was to shorten discourse by cutting polysyllables into one, and leaving out verbs and participles, because, in reality, all things imaginable are but nouns. The other was a scheme for entirely abolishing all words whatsoever, and this was urged as a great advantage in point of health as well as brevity. For it is plain that every word we speak is in some degree a diminution of our lungs by corrosion, and consequently contributes to the shortening of our lives. An expedient was therefore offered, that since words are only names for things, it would be more convenient for all men to carry about them such things as were necessary to express the particular business they are to discourse on."
We both laugh as she closes the book, and I remark, "No one would ever discuss elephants if that plan was adopted."
"Did you know Jonathan Swift was kidnapped as a baby?" she asks.
"Well, he was. His nanny took him. The woman was expecting an inheritance from a cousin who was dying on an island in England and she wanted to secure her money, and so she took Jonathan with her by boat from Ireland without telling Jonathan's mother where she was going. When his mother learned where her son had gone, she sent word for the nanny not to risk another voyage until the boy was older. So the nanny kept him on the island until he was almost three years old. She must have done a good job of raising him, because when he returned to Ireland, Jonathan could count and read passages from the Bible."
"Why didn't his parents go get him?"
"Because Jonathan's father died before Jonathan was born, so he couldn't go anywhere, and I guess his mother was weird about boats. Or maybe she was just weird."
I let a few seconds pass before asking, "Did you know my dad died while Mom was pregnant with me?"
I wasn't fishing for sympathy when I asked the question, and I'm not in the mood for serious sentiment, so I make light of the matter. "Alas. Boring me. I was never kidnapped."
"No," says Isabel, "but your aunt did try to shoot you when you were a baby. That must have been character building."
I shrug. "I was three months old when that happened. I doubt it affected me at all. It's funny you should mention Aunt June, though. Mom and I are going to visit her next week."
Isabel doesn't say anything for a moment. Then she surprises me by asking, "Could I come with you?"
"Are you kidding?"
"No. I think it would be ... interesting."
Excerpted from Cecil in Space by Sid Hite. Copyright © 1999 Sid Hite. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
My Aunt June,
Species out of Control,
It's All Relative,
The Untold Universe,
Stop, River; Stop, Mind,
Let It Go,
No Singing in the Lobby,
We Come to His P ...,
Taking a Dive,
Scent of the High Seas,
I'm with Her,
Also by Sid Hite,