Ten Miles Past Normal

by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Hardcover, 211 pages, Simon & Schuster, List Price: $16.99 | purchase

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Title
Ten Miles Past Normal
Author
Frances O'Roark Dowell

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Book Summary

Because living with "modern-hippy" parents on a goat farm means Janie Gorman cannot have a normal high school life, she tries joining Jam Band, making friends, and spending time with elderly former civil rights workers.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Ten Miles Past Normal

Chapter One
More Tales of the Amazing Farm Girl

No one can figure out where the terrible smell is coming from, but everyone on the bus this morning can smell it and has an opinion.

“Dude, I bet we just ran over a skunk!” yells out Stoner Guy No. 1 from the back of the bus. “That happened to us when I was a kid. We had to get rid of our car, ’cause the smell was, like, permanent.”

“No way, dude,” comes the reply from his compadre, Stoner Guy No. 2. “That’s not skunk. That is definitely fecund matter we’re smelling.”

Fecal, dude, fecal,” Stoner Guy No. 1 corrects him.

“That’s what I’m saying, dude.”

As it turns out, what we’re smelling is my shoe. Or, more to the point, the fecund matter that has attached itself to my shoe.

Goat poop.

The general din that erupts around me when the source of the terrible smell is traced to my left foot mostly consists of hooting, jeering, and a collective plea for me to throw the offending ballet flat out the window.

“No throwing anything from the windows,” Steve, our bus driver, yells out from the front. “I don’t care how bad it stinks.”

All the kids sitting near me move to the back of the bus, cramming in three and even four to a seat, so I’m sitting alone in a sea of empty rows. Not just my face, but my whole body, has turned hot lava red.

Farm Girl strikes again.

I mentally retrace my smelly steps to the bus stop, back down the driveway to the house, in through the front door, out through the back door, and all the way to the goat pen. Milking the goats every morning is the first chore of my day, and on school days, when I’m running late, I sometimes risk wearing my civilian clothes, careful not to squirt or spill any goat milk on my jeans, and very, very careful to avoid the fragrant goat poop pellets.

This morning I was running later than usual and milked the girls at warp speed. I recall being proud not to have gotten any milk on myself or even on the ground. Clearly I should have focused less on the goats’ milk and more on their other bodily excretions.

As soon as the bus pulls up to school, I make my escape and sprint to the girls’ bathroom on the second floor by the art room, hoping it won’t be as populated as the more conveniently located first-floor bathroom. I find two girls huddled by the radiator grille, one crying, the other comforting her. They appear to be the only people in here. The comforter glares at me for invading their space, and I smile back lamely, holding up my shoe.

“Unfortunate incident,” I explain, sounding possibly even dumber than I feel. “Just ignore me.”

The sobbing girl sniffs the air and gasps, “What’s that smell?”

I grab a wad of paper towels from the dispenser. “My shoe. Sorry. I stepped in some goat poop this morning. It must have been really fresh, too, because usually goat manure doesn’t stink that much. The pellets are generally pretty dry.”

Sobbing Girl’s eyes widen in recognition. “Aren’t you in my PE class? Didn’t you, like, one time have this horrible rash on your legs? From hay or something?”

“It was actually this organic fertilizer my dad was trying,” I explain, trying to pretend we’re having a perfectly normal teenage girl conversation. “Turns out I’m allergic to worm castings. But I’m not actually allergic to worms. Go figure.”

The girls stare at each other a second and crack up. “Wow!” Sobbing Girl says. “That’s the most insane thing anyone has ever said to me! You are totally weird.”

Gosh, I’m glad I could cheer her up.

The girls leave, still giggling, and I scrub my shoe until there is only the faintest whiff of goat matter left. I slip the shoe on my foot, grab my backpack, and hurry out the bathroom toward my locker, eyes downward. With any luck, nobody from my bus will be around, and if they are, they won’t notice me.

“Nice shoes!” someone yells out from a group of jocks huddled around a locker. “You oughta bottle that smell. Eau de Crap!”

I breathe in deeply through my nose, an exercise I read about in my best friend Sarah’s yoga magazine. Breathe in, focus deeply on an image you find pleasing and relaxing, breathe out.

My rebel brain immediately envisions the farm on a summer morning, the air already hazy, butterflies floating across the wildflowers. I see the house with its wraparound porch, fresh white paint, cerulean blue shutters. I hear the slam of a screen door, the peaceful clucking of chickens.

Ah, yes, our farm. How relaxing to meditate on the place that has made me the laughingstock of the ninth grade and probably the biggest loser in the entire school.

And to think it was my idea to live there in the first place.

© 2011 Frances O’Roark Dowell