“Gert Fram,” Ensign, July 1977, 13
Susan Parker decided to make a list. She sat down at her writing desk, the one her father had given her two years ago on her eleventh birthday and which she was already outgrowing.
On the left side of a piece of paper she wrote, “People who hate me.”
On the right side of the piece of paper she wrote, “People who like me.”
The first name she put on the left side was Todd Slover. He was definitely a hater. She had accidentally jabbed him in the arm with a pencil and now he would probably die of lead poisoning.
Mrs. Gray was on the “People who hate me” side, too. She had brought a fishbowl to school for the lesson on lizards. The class was supposed to catch a lizard and put it in the fishbowl. Susan broke the fishbowl.
It hadn’t been a good day at school.
The list of haters kept growing. In big letters she wrote, “MOTHER.”
Mother had sent her to the store for eggs. Susan had been absolutely positive Mother had sent her for eggs. She got home with the eggs. Mother thanked her for the eggs and then asked about the butter, which is what she sent her to the store for.
“Eggs are nice, I can always use them,” Mother said. “But what I need to finish the cookies for the party tonight is butter.”
“Oh, yeah, butter,” Susan had answered. Mother had gotten that tight little look she always got when she was trying not to get mad. Susan had decided that was a good time to head for the bedroom.
Susan held up the list and looked at it. So far, it said:
People who hate me
People who like me
It was a depressing list. She had already made three people very angry today. And the night was still young.
And so Susan decided that it was about time for Gert Fram to write another novel. Gert Fram was a world-famous thirteen-year-old novelist who preferred to avoid publicity and therefore never published more than one copy of her work. So far, she had written five novels. They were arranged in a neat stack on the desk: Samy Davis Worm, by Gert Fram. Little Purple Pears, by Gert Fram. A Decent Book about Nothing, by Gert Fram. Water Warts, by Gert Fram. And her favorite: Chapy Nukls. Also by Gert Fram.
Susan picked up her pen and reached for an empty book. She had made a batch of about five books the last time. They consisted of pieces of paper about two inches by four inches, stapled together along one edge. Making the empty book first was a good idea. That way she always knew when to end her novel, because she would run out of paper.
She thought for a moment, and then wrote, “RASIN MOON, by Gert Fram.” Then she smiled, and began to write:
“There was a little man & everyday he would eat and he would eat rasins always. now there was a rasin moon in the sky. And every day it would get fatter because the rasins would keep growing + nobody would eat them except gravity + it doesn’t have a mouth. well, this little man was getting hungry for rasins one supper night but the world would run out because the rasins would evaporate, + if it wasn’t for evaporation the rasin moon would be a nothing moon. the man decided to go to the rasin moon but he didn’t know that there was such thing as one but he decided to check anyway. He didn’t really know how to get up there but all of a sudden”
All of a sudden what? Susan Parker pursed her lips. Susan always pursed her lips when Gert Fram was stuck for an idea. Finally Gert Fram got the idea and Susan unpursed her lips and wrote some more:
“it started raining. It was raining up instead of down. no, it was evaporating rasins. so the little man jumped on a raisin + flew up on it. when he got up in space he saw the rasin moon and it looked like one big Prune. He was overjoyed. In fact he was so overjoyed that he forgot his name and that is why his name isn’t said in this book.”
Susan Parker laughed. Gert Fram really had a funny way with words.
“He had a bunch of rasins for his supper + he was thirsty and he didn’t know what to do. All of a sudden he got an idea. He jumped on a molecule + floated down to the supermarket. He went in and got all the juice. and threw it all in the sky + it started floating up and it made a juice moon. For days he lived up there + after a while he got sick of it so he went down to earth again, + threw all the food and it all floated up in the sky. There was a banana moon + a cornflake moon etc. There even was a pencil moon because he accidently threw some pencils. soon it was a food sky + soon all the gravity got soaked up so there was none left. So the little man observed + every thing floated down to earth again.”
Uh-oh. Last page. Two-inch by four-inch pages filled up fast. Gert Fram decided to wrap things up fast.
“All except rasin moon because he was there in the first place + it wouldn’t be fair. After a while the rasins stopped evaporating but the rasin moon stayed in the sky. It was happy + so was the little man.”
On the back of the book Gert Fram drew a picture of a wrinkled up lumpy moon with little wrinkled lumps rising up to it and a man at the bottom. She labeled it, “The little man riding up to the rasin moon.”
Actually, both Susan and Gert Fram knew how to spell raisin. But leaving out the first I gave the word a little more class.
Susan reread the novel. Gert Fram was OK.
“It’s dinner time, Susan and Annabelle and Vanessa and Jonathan!” her mother called from downstairs. Susan leaned back in her chair and wondered whether her agent would like Rasin Moon. Probably not. Her agent wasn’t really very happy because nobody had ever bought any of Gert Fram’s novels yet and a ten percent commission of nothing doesn’t add up to much.
“Susan, everybody’s here except you!”
Susan proudly added Rasin Moon to her library.
Downstairs Father was mumbling something to Mother. Then Father called out, “Gert Fram! It’s suppertime!”
Susan got up carefully from her chair and walked with dignity to the door of her study/library/den/bedroom. Then she ran down the stairs and scurried into the dining room and dove into her chair and said, “Gert Fram just finished a novel and it’s the greatest yet.”
No one paid much attention to what she said, however, because in diving for her chair she had jostled the table and two glasses of lemonade had spilled.
“Can’t you be careful for even a minute!” her mother said, crossly wiping up the mess.
“Gert Fram writes a novel and Susan has to drown us to celebrate,” Jonathan said in his funny voice that he reserved for making jokes about Susan.
Susan got up from the table and ran back upstairs. She heard them talking downstairs. “You didn’t need to talk like that, Jonathan.”
“Dad, she’s so dumb, she’s always knocking things around—”
“She’s not dumb, and now she’s upset and gone upstairs—”
“Careful, Annabelle, the lemonade’s about to drip off the table on you.”
Susan shut the bedroom door. She walked to the desk and added a name to the list: “Creepy Jonathan,” she wrote, because he hated to be called that. Then she heard her father calling. “Gert Fram or Susan Parker, whichever of you is hungrier, come downstairs and eat dinner.”
Susan didn’t want to go back down. Everybody would watch her walk in and sit down. Jonathan would be thinking she was dumb. So would everybody else. On the other hand she was hungry.
Well, if Susan didn’t have any nerve, Gert Fram did. Gert Fram walked with dignity out the door of the bedroom and down the stairs. She paused at the bottom of the steps (all great and famous writers pause at the bottoms of stairways), and then turned and walked with dignity to the table.
She heard Jonathan laugh and only looked down her nose at him. Susan would have been humiliated. But Gert Fram could put such riff-raff in their place.
But during dinner she forgot to be Gert Fram and almost cried once when she knocked over the salt and Annabelle sighed and set it back up. Annabelle could afford to sigh. She was sixteen and smart and wore makeup and never spilled anything. After dinner everything went okay for about two minutes. Then she heard her father say, “All right, who did it?” He sounded angry.
“Who did what, dear?” Mother asked in her don’t-be-angry-dear voice. Susan looked up at her mother and said, “If it’s something bad, I did it.” Father came into the dining room holding the Herald.
“I did it, all right,” Susan said.
“Somebody cut something out of the other side of the newspaper and now all I’ve got is half a crossword puzzle,” Father said. Father always did the crossword puzzle.
“Well, dear,” said Mother in her please-don’t-get-upset-at-anyone voice, “you never do more than half of it anyway.”
Father didn’t think it was funny. “I thought I told everybody in the family not to cut anything out of a newspaper until it was a day old!”
Susan jumped up from the table, where she had been sitting pulling petals off the flowers in the vase. “Well I thought it was the old newspaper and it was a picture of a bride who’s getting married in the temple and I cut it out because I wanted a picture of her and I’m sorry I didn’t know it was today’s paper.”
Father and Mother looked at Susan. They really weren’t sure what to say to this outburst.
“I’ll go get the picture and I’ll glue it back in!” Susan shouted. “I’ll glue it back in with my own blood if you want, I’m sorry I cut out the crossword puzzle!”
Then Father noticed the little pile of petals on the table.
“Susan, you have pulled every single petal off the flowers.”
Susan looked at the petals. She looked at her father. She decided not to cry in front of them. She ran out of the room.
As she left, she heard Mother saying to Father, “I really don’t think that was the best time to say that, dear.”
When Susan got to the front door, which she had to pass in order to go up the stairs, Vanessa was standing there with her boyfriend Raymond. They looked very surprised to see her. They looked like it was not a pleasant surprise. Because Susan didn’t know what else to do, she stopped and looked at them and said, “Hi.” Raymond let go of Vanessa’s hand.
Raymond made a face and looked away and Vanessa said, “Honestly, there isn’t a place in the entire house where a person can find any privacy.”
Susan tried to defend herself. “There isn’t another stairway. When I’m going to my room I have to pass through here.”
Vanessa looked up at the ceiling in disgust. “When you are coming, you could at least have the courtesy to announce your presence.”
“All right, all right,” Susan said. She walked up the stairs, shouting at the top of her voice, “I’m coming, I’m coming! Unclean, unclean! Beware, beware! Susan’s presence is coming!”
From downstairs somewhere three voices shouted at once, “Susan will you stop that shouting! For heaven’s sake!” Jonathan’s voice added, “What a jerk.” Mother’s voice said, “Jonathan, that doesn’t help a thing.”
Susan slammed her door and didn’t hear anything else from downstairs.
I will not cry I will not cry I will not cry.
She didn’t cry. Instead, she sat down at the desk and wrote on the list. When she was finished, it looked like this:
People who hate me
People who like me
The whole world
The whole universe!!!!!!!
Then, to be fair, she thought for a while about whether anybody liked her. Under “People who like me” she finally wrote, “The dog because he’s too dumb to know how dumb I am and because whenever I spill something which is a lot he gets to lick it up.”
Then she thought for a while more and under “People who like me” she wrote in big letters, “GERT FRAM.”
Then Gert Fram started writing another novel. It was called Susan the Jerk. It went like this:
“Once upon a time there was a jerk named Susan. She was the only jerk in the entire world except for the soda jerk and people liked him because they liked soda but they didn’t like Susan because she was also a creep. she was a creep because every time she did something it was wrong. once she tried to pet a dog but the dog bit her because he didn’t like to be peted. once she tried to vacuum the rug but the vacuum sucked up the whole rug and then the floor and then the whole basement which made everybody mad because they were all in the basement and got sucked up and couldn’t get out until Susan cleaned the dust bag on the vacuum cleaner which she didn’t do right so that everybody yelled at her and made her do all the dishes for a week which wasn’t a good idea because she broke them all.”
Susan stopped and reread what Gert Fram had just written. Boy, wasn’t it the truth!
“They never let Susan go anywhere except with a gag on her mouth because if they didn’t keep her mouth shut she would talk all the time and also they have to tie her up and put her in the corner because she is all the time wiggling and poking people. This is all because Susan is a jerk.”
Gert Fram was beginning to warm up to this.
“Boy is Susan a jerk. She is not only a jerk, she is a jerk with bad manners, she burps and doesn’t say excuse me and kicks people when they are walking by because how was she suppose to know they were going to walk by right then? What a jerk, jerk jerk jerk jerk jerk.”
Gert Fram was running out of paper. It was time to wrap up the novel with a bang. Gert Fram always liked to end her novels with a bang.
“So one day Susan the jerk decided that one jerk on the earth was enough, and it better be the soda jerk because everybody likes him, and so she left the earth and flew off on a rocket. But because Susan was a jerk the rocket crashed and blew up the sun and everybody had to use flashlights all the time from then on because without the sun it was always night and every time their flashlights ran out of batteries they would shake their fists and yell, boy that Susan is sure a jerk.”
Gert Fram had some space left, so she drew a picture of Susan’s rocket ship crashing into the sun.
Then she got up (with dignity) from the desk and walked to her dresser, where there were a lot of things stacked. There was the china elephant with the broken trunk because she had dropped it. There was the library book that Mother had had to buy because Susan had dropped it in the gutter and the pages had gotten all thick and wrinkly even after they dried. There was the watch with the broken glass because Susan had accidentally scraped it against a cement wall during class break at junior high. There was a ripped picture of Jesus from Sunday School that the teacher had given her because after she ripped it Susan had felt so bad she had cried. This was when she was seven and sometimes let herself cry.
Susan remembered that the Sunday School teacher had hugged her and said, “Hey, Susan, don’t cry like that. You’re sorry you ripped the picture, aren’t you?”
Susan had nodded and said in her squeaky trying-not-to-cry voice, “I didn’t even mean to.”
“I know you didn’t mean to,” said the Sunday School teacher. “And when you say you’re sorry about something, Jesus said that people are supposed to forgive you.”
“I’m sorry,” Susan had said, and cried again, even louder.
The Sunday School teacher gave her an even bigger hug. “That’s all right. I forgive you.”
But Susan had cried even louder.
“Why are you still crying?” asked the Sunday School teacher.
“Because I ripped Jesus’s picture and he’ll be mad at me.”
Susan remembered that the teacher had gotten tears in her eyes. “Jesus is never mad at you,” Susan remembered hearing the teacher tell her. “And to show you, I want you to keep this picture, and every time you see it, you remember that even when you make mistakes Jesus still loves you and forgives you.”
Susan set down the picture on her dresser. If I say I’m sorry maybe they’ll forgive me, she thought.
So she opened the door and started down the stairs. Then she remembered Vanessa and Raymond by the front door and she coughed. She kept coughing all the way down the stairs.
“What is it, you got pneumonia?” said Jonathan, who was sitting in the living room. Vanessa and Raymond were gone. Susan chose to ignore Jonathan’s comment.
Mother was in the kitchen. Father was in the den. Susan decided to go in and say she was sorry to Mother. Then if it went OK she’d go in and say it to Father.
Mother was finishing up the refreshments for the party. She didn’t look up when Susan came into the kitchen, but that never stopped Mother, she always knew when somebody came into the kitchen. “Are you feeling better now, Susan, dear?” Mother asked.
Mother sounded so kind that Susan ran right over and leaned on the counter and said, “Mother, I’m sorry I’ve been acting like such a creep and doing everything wrong and I’m sorry I pulled the stupid petals off the stupid flowers and spilled the lemonade and bought eggs and cut out the crossword puzzle and didn’t announce I was coming and everything.”
Mother looked at her with horror in her eyes. “Susan, for heaven’s sake, look where you’re leaning!”
Susan looked where she was leaning. Her elbows were crushing the jello and whipped cream and pineapple dessert that Mother had all ready for the party. Her elbows were covered with jello. The dessert was completely smashed. Susan looked up at her mother.
“What in the world am I going to do now!” her mother said, wringing her hands. “They’ll all be here in half an hour and there’s not a hope in the world of making anything else! Susan, sometimes I think we ought to build a bomb shelter for all of us to hide in whenever you’re around!” Mother had meant that last sentence to be a kind of joke, but Susan didn’t notice that. She just stood there, deciding not to cry, and then deciding that she couldn’t help it, and then with tears running down her cheeks and her face all crinkled up she ran out of the kitchen and up the stairs and slammed the door.
In the living room Jonathan said, “Well, that’s two slammed doors tonight, tying the world’s record. If we make three slammed doors it’ll be a new champion!”
Mother said, “Jonathan, I’m getting very cross with you.” Then she went upstairs and tapped on Susan’s door.
“Susan,” Mother said.
“Go away and leave me alone,” Susan’s voice said. Susan’s voice sounded like there was a lump in her throat and tears in her eyes and a pillow in front of her face. Mother thought about going in anyway, and then she decided that it was not a good idea. Instead she went to the den and asked Father to go to the store and buy something for dessert for the party tonight.
The party was fun and noisy and all the adults played games and talked and ate the store-bought dessert and said thank you for the wonderful evening and went home.
Then Mother and Father talked quietly for a few minutes and they decided that Father would go up and talk to Susan.
Father knocked on the door. “May I come in?” he asked.
“Certainly,” answered a voice.
Father came in.
“Susan, I want to talk to you for a couple of minutes.”
Susan turned around on her chair and looked at him in dignified surprise. “I’m terribly sorry, sir, but you must have the wrong address. There is no Susan here.”
Father looked at her for a moment and said, “I’m afraid I must have been given the wrong address. Who does live here?”
“No one lives here. This is the office and studio and den of Gert Fram, the world-famous author.”
Father smiled. “I’ve never been in the office and studio and den of a world-famous author before.”
“Well, you needn’t ask for an autograph,” Gert Fram replied. “I gave up signing autographs years ago. It was such a bother.”
“I don’t want an autograph.” Father said. “I think I want an exclusive interview.”
Gert Fram tilted her head. “For that, I’m afraid you’ll need to consult my agent. I never grant interviews on the spur of the moment.”
Father looked at the floor. “You’re not making this very easy for me,” he said.
A funny look passed across Susan’s face, but it was Gert Fram who answered him. “That’s because it shouldn’t be any easier for you than it is for me,” she said disdainfully. “Fair is fair and right is right. Besides, I know what you’re really here for.”
“Of course. You’re like all the others. You want a sneak preview of my latest novel.”
“I don’t really think that’s why I came up here, Susan,” Father said.
“Oh, you’ll definitely want to read it when you hear the title. It’s called Susan the Jerk.”
This time it was Father’s face that got the funny look. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “I really do want to read it.”
Susan handed him the book with a shaking hand. Gert Fram’s voice was steady, however, when she said, “I knew it would work. My titles are irresistible.”
Father sat on the bed and read Susan the Jerk from the beginning to the end. He looked at the picture of the rocket ship crashing into the sun for a long time.
When he looked up at Susan, he saw Gert Fram watching him carefully, one eyebrow raised. Father sighed.
“Gert Fram, you’re a fine author and I’m very impressed with your book. But there’s been a terrible mistake made here. I really came to this address to see somebody else. You see, I respect you and admire you but you’re just not in my class, Miss Fram. I was looking for a woman named Susan Parker. I wanted to tell her that I’m sorry that I’ve been cross with her. I wanted to tell Susan Parker that her father and her mother love her so much that when they know she’s unhappy and it’s their fault, they feel terrible until they can make it right. Can you pass that message along for us?”
“I hardly run a messenger service here,” Gert Fram answered. But then her voice cracked and she said, “But I’ll try to let her know. I don’t think she’ll believe that message, though.”
Father bowed his head. “I hope she believes it. Because Susan just might be thinking right now that she’s a jerk. And it just isn’t true. She’s a wonderful person. It’s just that her parents and her brother and sisters are so used to having her around that they forget how wonderful she is. They forget to treat her like a wonderful person. But oh, Miss Fram, if they ever lost Susan they’d miss her so much—”
And suddenly Susan realized that the reason that Father had stopped talking was because he was crying. She had never seen her father cry before. And he was crying because he loved Susan Parker so much and right then Gert Fram disappeared and Susan Parker was back and she was crying and hugging her father but mostly letting him hug her. He was saying, “My little girl, my little girl.”
Finally Susan said, very softly, “I’m not a little girl, Father.”
Father took her by the shoulders and held her away from him a little and looked into her eyes. He looked a long time into her eyes and then he smiled, even though he still had tears, and he said, “You’re absolutely right. And to think I didn’t realize it until this moment.”
Then they both said a lot of things and didn’t say other things and went downstairs for family prayer. Then Mother and Father kissed Susan good night and she went back upstairs. She undressed for bed and said her prayers and got under the covers and turned off the light.
A few minutes later she turned the light back on and got up and went to the desk. She picked up the book Susan the Jerk and turned it over and on the last page, in little letters where there was still some space left, right after where it said, “boy that Susan is sure a jerk,” she wrote:
“But whenever they said that, Susan’s father said, you better watch it, that’s my dauter you’re talking about, and they didn’t say it anymore.”
That was a better ending to the novel. Susan turned off the light and went to sleep. In the morning she would realize that she had never washed the jello dessert off her elbows and it was now all over her bedroom, but tonight it didn’t matter. It didn’t even matter in the morning.