Cover and title page illustrations: by.bm Under the direction of Romain Lizé, President, Magnificat Editor, Magnificat: Isabelle Galmiche Editor, Ignatius: Vivian Dudro Proofreaders: Kathleen Hollenbeck and Samuel Wigutow Cover Designer: Magali Meunier Layout: Text’Oh Production: Thierry Dubus, Audrey Bord
Fiorella De Maria
I dedicate this book to my very own crazy family, who have taught me all there is to know about life, love, and figure skating.
Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life. —Albert Einstein
9 1 Hello. My name is Rosaria, but everyone calls me Rose. Before we begin the story, I had better tell you a bit about my family. If you’ve ever thought your family was crazy, don’t worry. They’re not. Not as crazy as mine anyway. First, there are way more of us than you’ll find in most families: ten of us if you include our pets. Eighteen if you include the chickens. Infinity if you include all the people who take up residence in our House of Madness from time to time. I’ll start with the children. As I said, I’m Rose, and I’m eleven. I’m in my first year of secondary school here in England. My big brother, Hugo, goes to the same school. He’s about eight feet tall or something and has his own studio at the bottom of the garden, where he makes stop-motion animations. His studio is a shed with cameras, really, but he practically lives there, making bits of plasticine come to life. Then there’s Xavier, who’s nine but looks younger. He’s short for his age and has a massive head of hair. All the old ladies pat him on the head and say, “Awww! He’s so adooooorable!”—which really gets on his nerves.
10 Next there’s Evangelina, who’s six. We all have names like something out of an opera in my family, so everyone calls her Evi. Is she normal? Noooo. Of course she’s not. She’s what her teachers call a Math Whiz, which means she likes math. And I mean really likes math. When the rest of us are eating ice cream cones and bouncing on the trampoline (or talking to bits of plasticine), she’s working out square roots and drawing factor trees. For fun! I have a six-year-old sister who does math for fun! Oh well; it keeps her out of my very long hair anyway. Younger than Evi are the twins, who are just about to start school. They’re called Amelia and Matilda, but everyone calls them Milly and Tilly. They don’t know yet, but they have a medical condition called dwarfism, which makes them very small for their age. Mum says they’ll encounter stigmas and unkind treatment when they get out in the world, so she’s training all of us to help others see the beauty in each person and not judge others on visible differences. Mum says we’re going to “change the world one person at a time” and help others look past the stereotypes. Milly and Tilly do all the same things as the rest of us, including skating. But more about that later. Did I mention the pets? We have a great drooling, lolloping dog called Bernie. Yes, he is a Saint Bernard. For a family with quite an imagination for human names, we kind of ran out of ideas when it came to the dog. So, the Saint Bernard is called Bernie, but I call him “His Holiness.” We found him abandoned on the riverbank when he was a puppy. He looked really small and fluffy then. Mum said he wouldn’t grow up to be all that big. Mum says a lot of things she
11 pretends later on that she never said. Ah well. We love His Holiness. Now, the best pet of all is Paddy. Just in case we weren’t bonkers enough, we have Paddy. We won him at an agricultural fair where we were selling eggs. You see, we also keep chickens: Korma, Biryani, Goujon, Kebab, Fritter, Roasty, Oxo, and a little fluffy one called Lemony. We name our chickens after menu items because, truth be told, when they stop laying eggs, Mom cooks them for dinner. They are not pets, she is always reminding us. Back to Paddy, though. We came home from that agricultural fair with empty egg boxes and Paddy. You see, there had been a raffle at one of the stalls, with lots of lovely prizes: free cinema tickets, a huge box of chocolates, a pass to a theme park... and a life-size toy alpaca. At least, we thought it was a toy alpaca. There was a picture of it on the stall: a fluffy alpaca wearing a red sombrero. I thought it might look funny in the corner of my bedroom. So, we bought a strip of raffle tickets and forgot all about it. Just as we were getting ready to leave the fair, some official-looking person with a clipboard came rushing up to us, saying, “Congratulations! You’ve won first prize in the raffle!” Now, we never win anything, so we were properly excited and ran over to the stall, where they had opened a horse trailer and were trying to coax out the world’s stubbornest alpaca. A real live alpaca, spitting and stomping! Apparently, he was not at all happy about being dragged out of his little house. It was almost worth it just for the look on Mum’s face. “But... but we can’t take an alpaca home!” Mum protested. “I thought it was a toy!”
12 “Think of all the lovely wool, madam,” said the dodgy- looking owner, who couldn’t look happy enough to be getting rid of the source of the lovely wool. “You’ve plenty of space, haven’t you?” “But… but!” For the first time in her entire life, Mum was speechless. I went up to the alpaca and patted his cream-colored, curly-furred nose. Straight away, the alpaca stopped spitting and stomping and nuzzled up to my arm. I like animals, so I don’t suppose it was much of a surprise that we got along, but this was love at first sight. He snuggled right up to me as though we were old friends... and suddenly we were. I looked at his big sad eyes and his crooked teeth looking like a hopeful smile. I reckoned we could find space in our crazy family and our even crazier house for one more. Hugo wanted to call the alpaca Paddington, after the beloved bear by that name, because Paddington came from Darkest Peru and the alpaca was from South America. I didn’t mind because I’d always loved the Paddington stories, so the alpaca became Paddington. Then we called him Paddy. I suppose I should tell you a bit about my ancestors, the parents of this crazy family of mine. Mum features quite a bit in this story. She’s a writer and spends much of her life pretending she’s somewhere else, getting attached to characters who don’t exist. Mum’s called Cordelia, after the girl in King Lear who is sweet, loyal, courageous, honorable… and gets hanged for her trouble. I asked her once why her parents had called her that, because they’re not even English, but she said that her father had learned all about England reading books and plays. Her ancestors came from a sunny island where everyone grew up believing that the British wear
13 bowler hats, drink Earl Grey tea out of little china teacups, and recite Wordsworth poems to each other. Mum must have figured out what the English were really like before her parents did, since she came to England when she was quite little, and her quirky upbringing doesn’t seem to have done her much harm. It’s given her plenty to write about in any case. Dad builds things. To be honest, we don’t really know what he does for a living. Mum says he is a chartered accountant, but we thought that was boring and made up a story that he was really a spy on top-secret missions. Somehow the idea stuck. Every time Dad has to go away on business, we try to imagine him being James Bond, jumping out of planes and outsmarting criminals. When Dad’s not traveling, he works from home most of the time in his office at one end of the garden. I say office, but it’s more like a man cave. He built it himself a few years ago to escape from the rest of us. It’s huge inside, with plenty of space for his desk and all that, and also for his inventions. When I said that he builds things, I really mean he invents and builds stuff. Mum says he’s a genius. In spite of living in an enormous house, we never have any money, and Dad tries to make up for this by building us exciting things we can’t afford to buy from the shops. He built the boys a bunk bed that looks like a space rocket because Hugo was obsessed with space at the time. It’s a bunk bed that has built-in reading lights that change color, a climbing wall up one side, and a small helter-skelter at the other end so they can slide out of bed in the morning.
14 He ended up having to make bunks for Evi and me, and then slightly smaller bunks for the twins. Evi and I like ours best of all the bunk beds in the house. You see, we have a weirdly shaped room because we live in the part of the house that’s built like a tower. So, to make the best of a very high ceiling and an octagonal space, Dad built our bunk bed up against a wall, where it looks like a huge treehouse. My bed is right at the top. Evi’s is near the floor with a little green curtain around it for privacy; and in the middle, there is a big branch sticking out of the wall with a swinging seat where we can sit and read. Health and Safety might not like it, but I think it’s wonderful. I’m not sure what you must be thinking about us all by now, but you are welcome anyway. Welcome to my crazy family and our crazy house.
15 2 I can remember the first time I knew I wanted to be an ice skater. Actually, it’s the first thing I ever remember thinking about. I was three-and-a-half years old, tucked up under my bright pink Tombliboos duvet with Mum showing me funny films on her phone. I’d spent the past two days throwing up, and Mum was trying to cheer me up. When she ran out of films of cats running away from cucumbers, she found a film about the famous ice-skating couple Torvil and Dean winning gold at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. I watched them gliding around the ice rink in their stunning purple costumes to the tune of Boléro, and then everyone cheering and throwing flowers and the judges giving them the best score ever: 6.0– 6.0–6.0–6.0… from all nine judges! I just thought, “I’m going to do that.” Mum had other ideas. She said she took me to the rink, opened the door, and felt a blast from the North Pole hitting her as we stepped inside. Mum came from a hot country where the only ice they ever see comes in little cubes in glasses of lemonade. She said she just thought, “No way am I spending the next ten years shivering at the side of an ice
16 rink.” So, she made me do ballet, pretending I needed to do ballet first to make my little legs nice and strong. Hmmph. Every Saturday for six long months, we walked to Miss Hannah’s ballet school in a big building overlooking the river. And every Saturday I asked when I was going to start skating. “Soon,” said Mum, which means never. Then we got to ballet school one Saturday and found the windows smashed in and the class cancelled. I have never been so thankful to a pair of naughty vandals. That was the end of Saturday ballet class. For ever and ever. Bye-bye shiny satin ballet shoes; hello Ice Champions rental skates. According to Mum, she prayed when I first got on the ice that I’d hate it, but God was on my side and listened to me instead. I was so excited I jumped right onto the rink, which scared Nick the coach half to death, because he thought I was going to fall flat on my face. “She’s brave!” he said, but I couldn’t stop. I skated round and round in great big circles. I wasn’t skating; I was flying. It was the most amazing feeling in the whole world, soaring like an eagle across the frozen wastelands… and straight into the side of the rink. The trouble was, I really couldn’t stop. I couldn’t find the brake. Five years and three competition seasons later, I still don’t like having to stop, but I haven’t crashed into a barrier since. You only make that mistake once. I think some of my friends who don’t skate must think I’ve got a screw loose, but my life would be empty without skating. I’m at the rink at five every morning to do my warm-up routine in the corridor. We are allowed onto the ice at 5:30, and they don’t kick us off again until 8:30, when the
17 Zamboni machine comes out to resurface. When I don’t have school, I swim for half an hour and then get back on the ice again until the second training session finishes at 10:15. That’s my life. Spins, jumps, edges, and step sequences. The excitement of starting a new routine. Choosing the music that’s going to be part of my life for the next year, choreographing it with the coach, and then performing it for the first time in competition. All the world is an ice rink! My world, anyway. Not long after I started skating, Hugo joined me, and then it was only natural that the others followed. Now, all my family skate, and I like to think they have me to thank for that. (Not that I think Mum thanks me for anything when her alarm goes off at 4:15 in the morning, six mornings a week, so that I can train before school.) Now that I think about it, I suppose it was skating—that and inheriting a house nobody else wanted—that changed everything for us. Mum says that the best adventures start by accident, like the way my skating adventure began because of a film I saw online. Inheriting a haunted house from my Dad's uncle Basil was an adventure too, but, at the time, Dad said it was just some sort of horrible practical joke on the old man’s part. We never met Great-Uncle Basil, as he managed to fall out with his entire family long before we were born and moved abroad. Grandma used to call him “The Incredible Sulk.” The family home he’d inherited when his parents died had been rented out because he didn’t want to live in it.
18 Even without knowing Great-Uncle Basil, I sort of felt as if I did because Dad talked about him all the time. Every family has someone like Great-Uncle Basil—or Great-GreatUncle Basil as he would have been to us. You know the type: did brave things during the Second World War, found life boring and routine afterward, couldn’t settle on anything, and used up a lot of his energy starting arguments with everyone. Oh, and he smoked a pipe. Since he never married and had children, and he was not on speaking terms with any member of the family except Dad, we found out after Great-Uncle Basil’s death that he had left us everything. There wasn’t a great fortune in his bank account by the time he died, but the house was ours. “If he fell out with absolutely everyone, Dad, why didn’t he fall out with you?” I asked at dinner the evening Dad told us we were moving. I was six at the time, and things tended to come out of my mouth before I thought about them. “It wasn’t me; it was your mother,” said Dad. “Every Christmas for twenty years, she sent him a Christmas cake. I think she thought he might be like Ebenezer Scrooge and discover the real meaning of Christmas that way.” Typical Mum, getting all her ideas from a book. So GreatUncle Basil was our very own Ebenezer Scrooge, who thought that Christmas was humbug and lived all alone, loathing everyone. And Mum was some kind of Ghost of Christmas Present, reaching out to him in his loneliness. Except that he never did have a change of heart and never did say, “God bless us every one!” But he did leave us a really big house! Not a bad exchange for twenty Christmas cakes. To be honest, the house looked a bit like something out of
19 a Charles Dickens novel when we first arrived. We’d only ever lived in a townhouse, and this house was three times its size. It was huge! When I walked through the front door the first time, I had the fright of my life. I stepped into a great big hallway with doors leading off to a living room and a dining room, and a kitchen at the back. Right there in the hall was a massive suit of armour leering at us with a big axe, guarding the stairs. Dad sold it online right away. I’ve already told you about the downstairs. The upstairs is also amazing. The big wide staircase at the side of the hall takes you up to the next floor. It’s got a big wooden banister we still like to slide down when we are in a hurry. At the top of the stairs, there is a landing, and if you go to the left, you reach the twins’ bedroom, the boys’ room, and the old library, where mum keeps all her books and we watch TV and do our homework and such. To the right of the landing, there are two more bedrooms and a bathroom, then more stairs to another floor that must have been added quite a long time after the house was built, because it looks as though someone bought a perfectly nice house and decided to superglue a tower on top. That’s where you’ll find our room and Mum and Dad’s room. When we first arrived, there was a massive cupboard between the two rooms, but Mum insisted on clearing it out and plonking a bathroom there, because she couldn’t bear the idea of living in a house with just one upstairs bathroom between all of us. There is one more door on the tower floor, and it leads out onto a little roof garden with walls around it like battlements and enough potted plants to rival Kew Gardens.
20 At the back of the library, there is a wooden door leading to a narrow flight of stairs that’s dark and creepy, but when you get to the top there are three massive attic rooms. Best of all, the house has a huge garden and adjoining meadow, enough space for Hugo’s log cabin, Dad’s study, an old stable that is now Paddy’s house, and a fox-proof chicken coop. We spent most of our first summer in the house clearing out all the junk Great-Uncle Basil’s tenants had left behind, painting walls, cleaning years’ worth of dirt from floors and windowpanes, and using up Great-Uncle Basil’s small savings buying carpets, curtains, and new furniture. (Mum said they also had to fumigate the place because it was crawling with bedbugs and rats, but she didn’t tell us about that at the time.) Legend has it that the house is haunted, though I’ve never seen or heard a ghost. I can’t see why any self-respecting phantom would have hung around that dump for so many years. But if there really were a ghost, he’d have to be friendly to us. After all, we tidied up his house for him. Xavier reckons the only ghost that would haunt the house would be of Great-Uncle Basil himself. It’s funny, but part of me would almost like it if GreatUncle Basil could come and haunt the house, even though I think it’s impossible. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be all alone, even if you’re not a very nice person. Since he never had the chance to have a family and company and a house full of noise when he was alive, I thought it would be wonderful if he could somehow enjoy those things now. Great-Uncle Basil, I’m glad you enjoyed Mum’s Christmas cake,
21 and I wish you could’ve enjoyed it here with us. Thank you for your house. May you rest in peace. “You know these attics would have been servants’ quarters once,” Mum explained when we were fixing them up. The smallest room at the end became Mum’s study, and we got to turn the other two into a gym and a rumpus room. I can’t imagine people living up here. The attic rooms were quite cozy by the time we had fixed them up, but Mum reckoned quite a few people would have lived in them once: a housekeeper, a cook, a butler, a footman, and a scullery maid. She was proven right, when we decided to turn one of the rooms into a gym and we discovered that some of the floorboards were rotten. Mum and Dad got a man in to rip them up and put in a new floor. When he pulled away the rotting bits of wood, we found a little lacy dress which looked as though it was over a hundred years old. It had a frilly collar and rosebuds all over it, and little covered buttons down the front and on the sleeves. On the back was the dark brown print of an iron. Mum was very excited when she saw that. “Now, there’s a story!” she exclaimed, holding the damaged dress up to us. “You know what must have happened, don’t you? Some poor housemaid must have been doing the ironing long, long ago and accidentally burned the dress. She must have been so frightened that she hid it under the floorboards of her room, hoping no one would notice it was missing. And now we’ve found it.” “I won’t tell,” promised Xavier, who seemed to think the housemaid was still living in the attic somewhere. When we were finally able to move into the house properly,
22 Mum asked a priest to come round and say some prayers, because she said she had a bad feeling about the place, as if something nasty had happened there in the past. Then we decided to give the house a name. At first, Mum wanted to call it Bag End, after The Hobbit, because she said she’d always fancied living in a Hobbit hole; but there was no way this house was anything like a Hobbit hole. In the end, we called it Rivendell, after the place in Lord of the Rings where the Elves live and make everyone welcome. It turned out to be a fitting name, as there would soon be plenty of skaters sheltering in Rivendell.
@ 2023 by Magnificat, NewYork • Ignatius Press, San Francisco All rights reserved ISBN Magnificat 978-1-63967-041-3 • ISBN Ignatius Press 978-1-62164-441-5 Ebook ISBN: 978-1-63967-999-7
Printed in May 2023 by Rotolito, Italy Job number MGN 23008 Printed in compliance with the Consumer Protection Safety Act, 2008
With both realism and humor, this heartwarming novel describes the joys and the challenges of a modern English family. It is unique in many ways—for one thing, all of the six children are competitive figure skaters, and for another, they have a pet alpaca. Yet they weather the storms of life with the same sometimes clumsy attempts at patience and understanding found in most families. Hello. My name is Rosaria, but everyone calls me Rose. Before we begin the story, I had better tell you a bit about my family. I f you’ve ever thought your family was crazy, don’t worry. They’re not. Not as crazy as mine, anyway. First, there are way more of us than you’ll find in most families: Ten o f us if you include our pets. Eighteen if you include the chickens. Infinity if you include all the people who take up residence in our House of Madness from time to time. Ages 9 and up