“I made up the name that everyone calls me. I made it up because I didn’t like the name Mama gave me when I was born when no one could ask me what I wanted to be called.”
The year is 1958, and in a middle-class suburb of Chicago we find Scags about to begin her summer vacation. It would be a perfect time except that her best friend, Julia, is about to leave for summer camp. After Julia leaves, Scags thinks the most difficult challenge of her summer will be making a new friend. But slowly, she notices strange things beginning to happen to her Pops. Pops, her father and favorite adult, is not the same and her mother and grandparents are speaking in hushed tones. As her relationship to her Pops changes from trusting and caring to frightening and unexpected, what begins as an innocent summer vacation quickly transforms into a roller coaster ride of actions, emotions, and trying to understand the inexplicable behavior of adults.
Scags at 7
Copyright © 2006 by Deborah Emin
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is entirely coincidental.
Previously published by Kedzie Press, Chicago, IL
Published by Sullivan Street Press, Inc., New York
Cover and interior design by Patricia Rasch
Library of Congress Control Number: 2008912054
Printed in USA
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I made up the name that everyone calls me. I made it up because I didn’t like the name Mama gave me when I was born when no one could ask me what I wanted to be called. So I’m called, because I say so, Scags. Scags? Mama asked, her voice high and cracking. Scags? Pops said like it was a new penny in his palm. Yes, Scags, I said. That is what I called Pops’ cigar when I was two years old and by the time I was four I told them that’s what I want to be called. Pops shook my hand, picked me up and twirled me around until I felt like a rope waving straight out from him. I felt dizzy.
Mama said, Your name is Celia. You’re named after my mother, Cordelia. Your name is Celia Harper Morgenstern. I can’t call you Scags, she said. But Pops said to Mama, Of course you can, she looks like a Scags, red curly top like a lit cigar. She seems so happy when she says call me Scags, how can you refuse?
I was named for my grandmother Cordelia, but she won’t care if I change my name, she’s dead. I say that to Mama, She’s dead. Mama says, I know, gives me a look like it is a big secret, and then says again, I know, don’t remind me. I don’t know why Mama wanted to name me after her mother anyway. Mama told me how Cordelia yelled at her all the time and pulled her braids and laid up in bed asking for a glass of orange juice or a cup of tea, not in a nice voice, but in an if-you-please voice. She demanded it and made Mama clean the house and wash the clothes, and always yelling. Mama said Cordelia was only quiet when she was asleep.
Scags is a different sounding name. I listen to my Pops come home and call out Scags and I know who I am. I love the name Scags, SCAAAGS. Scags sounds like a car horn beeping once to say hello, like a leap into dry leaves all raked up in a pile, or like the sound a dog makes, his claws racing on the sidewalk when his owner lets him off the leash.
I think of myself as Scags and that Celia was my baby self, what I was called before I knew what my real name was. Celia’s not a special enough name. I don’t like the sound of it, like a match flame hitting water, like a bad slip in the sandbox, like a spooky sound coming from the trees at night. It ends. It doesn’t begin. When I watch Pops light up his big cigar, take long pulls on it and the tip glows red, redder, orange, it’s just like my hair, that’s like the tip of me too, all my red hair falling down my back, and I know I need to be called Scags.
I have a feeling about Mama’s and Pops’ names too. Pops, my Pops, with his wavy black hair, black glasses and cigar had me call him Pops right from the start. When I was little it came out of my mouth so fast that I had to say Pops-Pops. But now I just say one Pops and he smiles at me and he is so tall and handsome and fun that I want to be with him all the time. I said to him, All the kids in this neighborhood call their fathers Daddy. Why are you different? Pops says, he knows that and since he is the only one called Pops that if I’m ever in trouble all I have to do is call out Pops and he’ll come running as fast as he can.
Mama? I ask her, do you like being called Mama? That’s what she told me to call her when I was a baby. I like saying Mama, I like whispering Mama when Pops and Mama are talking and how she looks at me, touches my cheek and continues talking to Pops. When I ask her, Do you like being called Mama, she always says, Yes, yes I do, it’s what I called my mother.
We live in a brand-new neighborhood. We moved here when I was a baby. There are still empty lots and places to explore. Pops is Jewish and Mama’s not. Most of the kids here are Jewish and call their parents Mommy and Daddy. We live here with them and I like the name of the street, Kolmar, and the name of the school, Devonshire, and the name of the place, Skokie, and that there is an Indian village Mama took me to called Maskokie Village where she bought me a bow and arrow. Down the road from there is an amusement park called Ride ‘Em where with the tops of milk cartons you can get free rides. I use all my tickets on the roller coaster called Bronco and I sit in the front seat with my best friend Julia whose name I like sometimes and sometimes I get this feeling I’d like to call her what no one else calls her but I don’t know what that would be. We sit in the front seat and after the roller coaster climbs to the top of the track, it goes straight down this long, steep hill and I feel the wind against my chest and we yell all the way down because that’s what roller coasters are for.
Mama likes to yell too. She’ll yell at me and call me Celia when she’s angry at me, then she’ll yell, Ceeeliaaa, if I’ve left my bike in the driveway, she yells out of her car to move the bike so she can get into her side of the garage. Or sometimes she yells because I’ve messed up my room after Odessa cleaned it and made it neat. Mama does like to yell, but she yells mostly at Odessa. Odessa has to keep the house clean as if it were her house and every bit of dirt was her fault. Mama yells at Odessa a lot, that is, until Pops comes home from work. Then she wants to make it nice for Pops. She wants Pops to enjoy the dinner that Odessa cooks up for him, something much better than Mama could ever cook. Mama is a terrible cook.
Odessa has a funny name. I don’t know why she has it but it was her Mama’s and her great grandmother’s name. I like saying it. I like saying O—dess-a as if I was chewing Jujubees, O—chew—dess—chew-a, it tastes so good.
I made up the names for Pops’ parents too. I call Pops’ pop Boomer because he is so big and booms out when he talks and always says “boom” when I land in his lap. I like calling him Boomer, he’s like a baseball caught in a catcher’s mitt. And Pops’ Mama I call Goldie. She is little, with white, white hair and big ears and wears all this gold jewelry on her ears, around her neck and wrists and has a big gold ring Boomer gave her. It all flashes and shines and she is Goldie.
And if you think those are funny names, how come Boomer and Goldie named Pops’ sister Money? Isn’t that a funny name? Money honey don’t get funny with me. Who’s that funny Money’s honey?
So we all have our names. I sit on my Pops’ lap blowing bubbles with him, only mine always explode on my nose and he sucks his back and breathes out my name, Scags, and it is my name and he is Pops and no one in the neighborhood has names like us.