Loudest beagle on the bl.., p.1
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       Loudest Beagle on the Block, p.1

           Tui T. Sutherland
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Loudest Beagle on the Block


  CONTENTS

  TITLE PAGE

  DEDICATION

  CHAPTER 1

  CHAPTER 2

  CHAPTER 3

  CHAPTER 4

  CHAPTER 5

  CHAPTER 6

  CHAPTER 7

  CHAPTER 8

  CHAPTER 9

  CHAPTER 10

  CHAPTER 11

  CHAPTER 12

  CHAPTER 13

  CHAPTER 14

  CHAPTER 15

  CHAPTER 16

  CHAPTER 17

  TEASER

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  ALSO AVAILABLE

  COPYRIGHT

  You might think that any story that starts with a dog at a funeral would either be sad or scary — like maybe it turns out it’s actually a zombie dog that wants to eat your brains. But this story isn’t about a zombie dog. Trumpet could be a pretty bad dog, but at least she just eats dog food. We got her in a cemetery, but she is definitely alive and not some spooky night creature.

  So it’s true this story begins with a funeral, but I promise it isn’t scary or sad.

  The story, I mean. I guess funerals are always sad. But Great-Aunt Golda was like 106 years old or something. I’m not even kidding. She was really old. Mom said, “It was her time,” and Dad said, “She lived a good long life,” which was true. Great-Aunt Golda used to be a famous opera singer. She traveled all over the world singing opera everywhere. I hope I get to be that famous one day — I want to be a Broadway star, and then sing in Sydney and Paris and Milan and anywhere they’ll let me onto the stage!

  I didn’t know Great-Aunt Golda very well. What I remember about her is that she wore a lot of silk scarves in different shades of red, and she smelled like coconuts and challah bread. She was also pretty big — as big as my mom and dad put together — and she talked in this big, dramatic voice like she was about to start singing at any moment. Like she was full of opera and it might just spill out all of a sudden.

  “Ella!” she would cry whenever Mom brought me over. “Ella, my darling! You need some meat on those bones! A truly great singer needs a lot of oomph behind her!” She would bring her fists forward to emphasize the “oomph.” Then she would take my shoulders and steer me over to the piano. Red silk scarves wrapped around my arms and face as she hugged me. I imagine that’s what it feels like to be mummified, at least if your tomb is also full of coconuts. “Now sing for me, darling! Sing!” she’d bellow, flinging one hand dramatically in the air.

  I would play all of her favorite classical music and she would sit in her big yellow paisley armchair, tapping along on the cushions and smiling. Sometimes she would shake her curly, dark-red hair and go, “A marvel! A gift from God, this one is!” She always dyed her hair, so that’s one reason I never knew how old she was. Plus she had a “big presence,” as Mom always said.

  I also didn’t know she had a dog. But I sure found that out.

  It was a few days before I started sixth grade. I was playing the piano, like I usually am, when Mom came in to tell me that Great-Aunt Golda had died in her sleep.

  “Oh, no,” I said. “Poor Aunt Golda.” I felt guilty. “I didn’t even see her this summer. I haven’t sung for her in ages.”

  “It’s all right, Ella — she knew how busy you were with your music,” Mom said. “She always said how important that was.”

  That was true. But sometimes she would also shake her curls at me and say: “I hope you are still living your life, my darling! I hope you live every day to its utmost! Engage the world! Experience everything you can! Live! Live!” Whatever that means.

  I’d say, “Yes, Aunt Golda, I will. I mean, I do.”

  “Such a serious one,” she’d say, pinching my cheek.

  “She wanted you to sing at her funeral,” Mom said. “Would you do that?”

  “Of course!” I said.

  I love to sing, and I especially love to sing in public — that’s, like, the only thing I like to do in public! Otherwise I’m pretty shy. I know music is the one thing I’m good at, so I like performing. I’d never sung at a funeral before. What if I wasn’t sad enough? What if her ghost didn’t like it? I was also scared that I’d have to learn some kind of funeral song in Hebrew, but Mom said I could do something I already knew.

  In the end we chose a song called “Time to Say Goodbye.” I have a version that Sarah Brightman sings which is a-mazing. I totally love her. I know that makes me weird, that my favorite music is classical and opera and Broadway show tunes. I know I should love Rihanna and Miley Cyrus instead. But I figure one day when I go off to music school I’ll finally meet other people who like the same things I do, so why should I change what I like?

  The funeral was on the Saturday before school started. It was already kind of a gray, misty day when I got up in the morning. Mom let me wear my black velvet dress, which I like because it makes me feel like I’m a grown-up performing at Carnegie Hall or something. It has short sleeves and the same kind of soft glow that a piano does. My mom combed and combed my dark brown hair, trying to get it straight, but my curls are hard to fight. Golda always let her curls go crazy, so I figured she wouldn’t mind if my hair wasn’t exactly perfect. Mom wanted to tie my braids with gold ribbons, to bring out the gold flecks in my brown eyes, but I picked red ones instead, in honor of Golda’s silk scarves.

  I sat at the piano and warmed up my voice while everyone else was getting ready.

  “La la la la la la la la la,” I sang, running the scales on the piano. It always calms me down when I sit on my piano bench and touch the smooth white keys. I love my piano the way some girls love jewelry or shoes. It makes me feel pretty and sophisticated.

  “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LAAAAAA!” my little brother, Isaac, shouted from the next room.

  “Mom!” I yelled, but not too loud so I wouldn’t strain my voice. “Isaac is interrupting my practice again!”

  Isaac stuck his head around the door. “Tattletale,” he said, sticking out his tongue. Isaac is only two years younger than me — he’s in fourth grade — but I swear he acts like he’s still five years old. Mom says I should be patient and set a mature example. I try to do that, but seriously, he is so annoying. I’m sure Sarah Brightman and Charlotte Church don’t have annoying little brothers hollering at them while they’re rehearsing.

  Mom came and marched Isaac off to try to wash his face, which always looks like it’s covered in chocolate, even first thing in the morning. Then we all had to hurry into the car and rush to the temple. Mom drove so Dad could look at his notes. He was as nervous as I was, because he was supposed to get up and give a “eulogy,” which is like a big speech about Great-Aunt Golda’s life and how long and special it was. And he had to go first, because the eulogy would be at the temple service, and I didn’t have to sing until we got to the cemetery.

  He didn’t have to worry, though. Dad works in sales at this technology company, so he’s a total whiz at presenting and giving speeches. He loves an audience. He used to be in his own rock band, actually. They weren’t very good, but don’t tell him that! They were called The Smashing Mozarts. That’s how he met Mom — she was doing a graduate thesis on Mozart and saw a poster with the band name on it, so she went to one of his shows.

  He thought she was “radical” and a “babe.” She thought their music was “atonal” and “absolutely horrifying.” She wouldn’t return any of his first thirty calls, but eventually he won her over. Like I said, he’s a good salesman.

  His speech was about how Great-Aunt Golda wasn’t afraid of anything. He told the story of how she got herself out of Poland in the 1940s. He talked about how she once met President John F. Kennedy, which is a story we’ve all heard lots of times, but ev
eryone applauded and laughed. He talked about how her music was her life, but she always made time for her friends and family and having adventures. And then at the end he played a record of her singing, which made me nervous, because how was I supposed to follow a big opera star like that?

  I had to hope that everyone would forget how good she sounded while they were driving from the temple to the cemetery. I poked Isaac, who was totally falling asleep in his chair. In another minute, he’d be keeling over into my lap and probably drooling on my nice dress.

  “Wake up!” I whispered. The music was loud enough to hide my voice, but Mom frowned at me anyway. At me! When Isaac was the one being bad. He blinked and rubbed his eyes and kind of kicked the air a few times. But at least he didn’t nod off again.

  Finally we all went outside and got in our cars so we could follow the long black hearse to the cemetery. I thought it would be rude to sing on the way there, especially with Nana and Pop-Pop in the car with us (that’s Mom’s parents — Pop-Pop is Great-Aunt Golda’s brother, if you want to know all that). So I just hummed under my breath, trying to warm up my voice.

  As we got out of the car at the cemetery, I smoothed down my velvet dress, going over the words in my mind. Mom motioned for me to go up in front of everyone — all my aunts and cousins and uncles and a lot of old people in bright colors who were probably Golda’s theater friends. I whispered, “I hope you like this song, Aunt Golda. I know you would have sung it better.”

  Then I turned and faced the crowd of people standing around the coffin. I tried to pretend that I was onstage, and that their faces were all bright stage lights instead of eyes staring at me. I looked over their heads and saw a new silver car pull up behind ours. A guy in a suit with a pink tie got out. He looked sweaty and kind of flustered.

  I closed my eyes to block him out and started singing. Once the music is in my head, everything else falls away. Singing makes me feel like I’m flying, especially when it’s something really slow and sweet and beautiful, like this song.

  The last few notes drifted away. I stood there for a moment, feeling like my feet were coming back down to earth. Then everyone started clapping. Mom had tears in her eyes. I hoped that meant Great-Aunt Golda would have liked it, too.

  There were a few more words and the burial, and then we all started to head back to our cars. Aunts and uncles kept stopping us to tell me they loved my voice. Kooky Aunt Miriam said that maybe I was Golda reincarnated, which didn’t make any sense, because I’d already been alive at the same time as her for eleven years. But Mom and I smiled politely and said thank you, because we knew she meant it nicely.

  I noticed that the suit guy was kind of hovering around our car like he was waiting for us. I know we have a lot of family, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t ever seen him before. Was he an old friend of Golda’s? I couldn’t figure out why he just stayed at the back the whole time, or why he only came to the cemetery part.

  At last we managed to say good-bye to everyone and get back to our car. Then the suit guy hurried forward. He pulled out a white silk handkerchief and wiped his face. It wasn’t hot or anything, but he was sweating anyway. Actually, it was starting to rain. Mom went past him and opened the trunk to get out the umbrellas for us. I knew Isaac and I would have to share an umbrella, which was annoying because he always hogs the whole thing and half of me ends up getting soaked.

  So at this critical life-changing moment, I was thinking about umbrellas and my nice dress getting wet and stupid Isaac. I wasn’t thinking about dogs at all.

  Then the suit guy looked at me and said, “Are you Ella Finegold?”

  Well, you could have knocked me over with a pancake, as Golda would have said. “Yeah,” I said.

  “I’m Ella’s father,” Dad said, putting one hand on my shoulder. “Who are you?”

  The guy looked relieved. “I’m Ms. Schonberg’s lawyer,” he said. It took me a minute to figure out he meant Golda. “She left something to Ella in her will.”

  That made all of us relax right away. I couldn’t believe it! Great-Aunt Golda was so cool. What had she left me? Maybe it was her collection of old records. Or her piano! It had to be something musical. She had some old songbooks that would be amazing to own. I hadn’t even thought about getting anything from her before.

  Dad smiled, taking and opening the umbrella Mom was handing to him. “Well, that’s great news,” he said. “How nice of Golda to think of you, Ella! We’ll certainly be at the will reading to find out all about it.”

  “No, no,” the man said quickly. “I mean, yes, you should be there, but I’m afraid you need to take this gift right now. I have it here.”

  Mom and I gave each other puzzled looks. Guess it’s not a piano, I thought.

  “Here? Now?” Mom said. “Isn’t this a bit irregular?”

  “I can’t keep it another day,” the man said, wiping his forehead again. He started hurrying back to his car and we all followed him. I tried to take the umbrella from Isaac so I could hold it, but he wrestled it away from me. Big fat raindrops splatted on my carefully braided hair and pretty dress.

  The lawyer leaned into the backseat of his car and pulled out a square black bag with a long strap and a little handle on top. One end of the bag was mesh and the top roof had a big U-shaped zipper.

  “What —?” I started to say, reaching for it.

  And then, all of a sudden … the bag moved.

  “IT’S ALIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!” Isaac yelled at the top of his lungs, like a swamp creature had popped out of the ground or something. And by the way, if you’re wondering, this is not the best thing to yell in a cemetery. I saw people at a funeral halfway up the next hill all turn around to stare at us.

  The bag wriggled like crazy in the lawyer’s hands. I jumped back. “It is alive!” I squeaked.

  “What on earth is in there?” Mom demanded. Dad leaned down and peeked inside.

  “ARO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​O!” went the bag. It was the loudest howl I’d ever heard. Seriously, the people at the other funeral must have thought the whole place was haunted. I practically wanted to run away myself.

  “Oh, wow,” Dad said. “Ella, look.”

  At a ghost in a bag? No thanks. But I couldn’t really say no to Dad, so I edged closer and peeked through the mesh.

  A pair of enormous brown eyes met mine. Two white paws were pressed up to the screen.

  “It’s a dog!” I gasped.

  “Awwrrrooo,” the bag said sadly. The dog poked its wet black nose at me and scratched the mesh screen with its claws.

  “I didn’t know Aunt Golda had a dog,” my mom said, looking confused. “Why would she leave it to Ella?”

  The lawyer pressed his handkerchief to his forehead again. “She didn’t have it very long,” he said. “It’s not much more than a puppy — about a year old, the vet guessed. I have all its paperwork here.” He dumped the bag in my hands and reached into his car.

  I don’t know what the dog was doing in there, but the bag flailed and jumped so much that I nearly dropped it on the ground. I had to wrap my arms around it to keep it still.

  “All its vaccinations,” the lawyer said, handing my dad a manila envelope. He was talking faster and faster, like a horse speeding up when it sees the finish line. “It’s up-to-date, spayed, housebroken, healthy, here’s some food, a leash, good luck, nice meeting you —”

  “Wait, wait,” Dad said, juggling the things that were being shoved into his hands. “We’ve never had a dog — we’re not exactly equipped — this is so —”

  “Well, she left it to you,” the lawyer said. “You can do with it what you like, but I suggest waiting to hear the details of the will before you make any decisions. I’ll see you Thursday at the reading.” He backed away in a hurry, nodding and kind of bowing to us. Before Dad could say anything else, the lawyer leaped back into his car and drove away.

  That’s when I noticed how drenched I was. Isaac had tota
lly forgotten about holding up the umbrella. He was jumping around, trying to look inside the dog carrier.

  “AW​WW​WW​RR​RR​RR​RR​RR​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​OO​O,” the dog went again.

  “Oh, dear,” my mom said. “Henry, now what do we do?”

  “I guess we take it home with us,” Dad said. “Come on, let’s get out of the rain. We’ll take a better look at it in the car.”

  We all ran back to our car. I was still holding the dog carrier in my arms. The mesh side was tilted up toward my face and I could see the dog inside scrabbling around and looking up at me.

  Maybe I should stop and explain something. I’m OK with dogs. I don’t love them and I don’t hate them. Aunt Miriam has a fat little Pekingese named Desperado, who comes with her whenever we host Thanksgiving or Rosh Hashanah. Desperado might be the mellowest animal on the planet. As soon as he gets to our house, he waddles over to the couch. He’s too short and fat to jump up himself, so he stands there and waits until Aunt Miriam picks him up and puts him on a pillow. And then he falls asleep for the rest of the night. Seriously, I’ve never heard him make a single noise. Once she forgot to put him up on the couch and an hour later he was still just standing there, waiting for her to remember.

  So I kind of figured that dogs were nothing to get excited about. Heidi Tyler, who’s in my class at school, talks about dogs practically nonstop. She loves them and she wants one so badly, but her mom and dad always say no because their house is too neat for a dog. It’s true. I went there once for a party a couple of years ago. (I don’t go to a lot of parties because I usually have piano lessons or choir practice or something — I always put my music first. I figure one day I’ll be famous and then I’ll have lots of time to make friends.) I think Heidi’s mom made her invite all the girls in fourth grade. Their house is scary neat. Most of the furniture is white and there are hundreds of small breakable things everywhere. It is too neat for a dog.

  Actually, it’s even too neat for Heidi. I’m not sure how she gets from the front door to her room without messing stuff up.

 
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