Chapter 2. Telling Henry


The first thing I thought of when I woke up was telling my friends: especially The Gang and Henry. The Gang is Peg and Pat (twins), Kenny, Emmy, and I. We've known each other almost all our lives, and we always walk to school together.

That day was like fall and summer at the same time. The light was pale, there were dead leaves on the sidewalk, but my new school clothes felt itchy and hot.

As usual, Peg and Pat weren't ready: when we got there, Mrs. Tampone was still brushing Pat's hair. Pat's hair is long and shiny and black. It never looks messy - no matter what we do, it stays shining and in place. Even her part always stays straight! Pat's face always looks clean, too, even when we've been playing outside all day - not like ours (I once heard my mother say, sighing, to another mother, “My children all have that pinky-white skin that looks dirty so quickly”).

Pat wriggled and made faces - her mother shook her head and smiled at me, probably because I was the only one watching.

“Do you do that when your mother brushes your hair?” she said.
My mother never brushes my hair. I do it myself: she's busy with Willy and Bubby and breakfast in the morning. But I didn't answer; it was none of Mrs.Tampone's business, anyway.

Finally the twins were ready and we ran out and Mrs.Tampone closed the door and I could say:

“Guess what?” Of course, no one could guess. “We're moving to England for six months! Our whole family! And we're going over on an ocean liner called the Liberté - on one of the last voyages that ship will ever make.”

“And we'll go to an English school where we might have to wear a uniform because all the English kids will wear one,”Emmy said.

“Do you think they'll like you?”Pat said.

“Why wouldn't they?”I said.

“Maybe they'll say“ (here, she kind of stuck her nose in the air and made a face) “ 'Uh, American girls!' ”

“They'll probably like us,“ I said. “And if they don't: who cares? Come on - let's run!”

I wanted to tell Henry.

At the playground, we split up as usual ( at school, we play with kids in our own classes). I looked around the playground for Henry: the paved part was full of little kids and girls. Two in my class were turning a long jump rope and shouting:

“All in toGETHER girls!
How do you like the WEATHer girls!
JANuary! FEBruary…”

while other girls jumped into the game.

Most of the boys were farther away, by the back fence. And that's where Henry was - he gave me a huge wave. I waved back as hard as I could (I really, really like Henry) and ran over.


He was in the middle of a fast dodgeball game. When no one caught it, the ball hit the fence really hard, so hard that the old metal fence shook and squeaked. I watched until the ball came close enough, then jumped up and got it. I threw it to Henry and said,

“Can I play?”

“Sure,“ Henry said (to me). And then to the others: “She can be on my team.”

“Girls don't play dodge ball!” a boy I'd never seen before said.

“She does, she's good,” Henry said.

I ran in next to him and when that boy threw the ball straight at me, hard (it hurt my stomach), I caught it and held it and he was out. I threw low and hard, but I didn't get anyone else out until just before the bell rang and we had to go in - Henry and I walked together.

“I saw that last catch you made,” he said, smiling.

“My family is moving to England,” I said. “We're going on an ocean liner -- for six months.”

His smile went away fast and he didn't say anything at first. Then:

“Six months,” he said, frowning. “That means you'll be gone until almost the end of the year.”

When he said that, it felt like we would be GONE. That sounds silly (it IS silly: of course, if we were going, we would be gone!). But it was still surprising: before I hadn't thought much about being gone, just about going - the adventure of it.

“That is a pretty long time,” I said.

I thought about what it would be like to be away from him and everyone else (like The Gang!) while we walked into the school, and up the stairs, and to our desks - in opposite corners of the classroom.

They were in opposite corners because the teacher separated us at the very beginning of the year: she put him at the front left desk and me at the back right one. But we can still tell each other things: we even did right after the teacher moved us when she said everyone would have partners for a class trip. Henry turned around in his seat and eagerly stretched out his hand to me with a big smile. I knew that meant “Will you be my partner?” and of course, I nodded.

The final bell rang: Miss Jessup stood up and looked at all of us.

“Good morning, class,” she said when everyone was looking at her. She has a puffy face like the kind of dog that has drooping flaps for cheeks and sad eyes. “I will now call the roll.”

Just as she finished, I thought of something - and since she was already facing the flag, and we were pushing our chairs back to stand up, I could signal it to Henry right away -- if he looked back at me. He did, but before I could act it out, we had to look serious for the Pledge of Allegiance.

It IS kind of serious, to me. I looked at the flag, put my right hand over my heart, and said:
“I pledge allegiance
to the flag
of the United States of America.
And to the republic
for which it stands
one nation
under God
with liberty and justice for all.”

Liberty! I like saying that. I wish Libby were short for Liberty instead of Elizabeth. And it was a great name for a ship, too.

The morning went by even more slowly than usual: She passed out workbooks, snapping each one down as though it was a card she was dealing in an exciting hand, and while we worked, she watched us. She said,
“Libby, I don't see you marking your paper.“
Someone else wasn't doing his work, either - Miss Jessup said,
“David, you won't find any answers staring out that window.”

I looked out - the windows went all the way up to the ceiling, but there was nothing to see: just blank blue sky, and the blinds. The blinds were rolled up, flapping (they sounded like sails) in the same little wind that rustled the papers on Miss Jessup's desk and lifted some of the girls' hair.

At school time goes by so slowly! I looked up at the clock: it's very old-fashioned. The numbers are roman numerals, and the hands have pointed tips like Valentine arrows. The minute hand doesn't move invisibly, as it does on most clocks - it stays still and then every few minutes jumps ahead (to the new time) with a low whirring sound.
It was only 10:10. I was waiting for the hand to jump to 10:12 or 10:13 (sometimes it jumps two minutes, sometimes three) when she told me again to get to work, so, I did.

Finally it was lunchtime. We had to walk down the stairs, without talking (that's a rule); as soon as we got outside, we could run. I did - I was BURSTING with energy. I jumped down the steps and ran to the corner: Henry did, too. Then we had to wait for the policeman to cross us.

“I had an idea,“ I said. “We can write letters!”

I could tell he liked the idea (by the way his eyes changed) even before he said:“And we can use code for things that are really private!”

“You mean -- make one up?”I said, walking backwards.

“Or write the Morse code dots and dashes?”



Morse code translates the alphabet into
these dots and dashes, which you can send as
long and short sounds or flashes of light. Henry and I used to
tap it on our desks to each other before the teacher moved us.
Click if you want to learn how to send Morse code.

Another thing we liked to do -- at home, not at school --
was make attack saucers that really zipped
along the floor. Click if you'd like to see how to

do that.

“I was thinking -- make one up.”

“That would be more private,“ I said. From across the street, a boy in our class yelled that I had told Miss Jessup on him (of course, I hadn't). Before I could answer, Henry shouted, really angrily:

“She did not! I've known her since she was in kindergarten and she doesn't snitch!”

Henry always sticks up for me. We walked along, first scuffing, then kicking, the leaves up from the sidewalk.

“When are you leaving?”he said.

“In two weeks.”

“Then you can come over on Saturday!”

“I'll ask,” I said. “Oh, I hope I can! We couldplay Johnny Tremaine!”

“And finish our fort!” Henry said.

Above me, the leaves blazed yellow, as though the sun was coming right through them. Then one leaf fell down kind of slowly, twirling in the sun.

I ran to catch it - and I did catch it. Henry saw me and we both started laughing (it wasn't funny, we were just happy). Then another leaf twirled down, slowly - it was yellow, too. We both ran for it and I wished everything could stay just as it was at that moment forever and ever….That it could always be this sunny fall day and Henry and I could always be in it together.


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Blow Out the Moon (former title There and Back Again) copyright © 1999, 2000 Libby Koponen. All rights reserved. The pictures of ocean liners are from the collection of Kevin R. Tam. Used with permission.