no place like oz Page 4

But when the neighbors had done their work and gone home, my aunt and uncle had examined all the unfamiliar extravagances and had concluded that the old house had suited them just fine.

“An indoor commode!” Aunt Em exclaimed. “It just doesn’t seem decent!”

How silly they were being. Grumbling about the gift that had been so kindly given to us.

On the other hand, I had to admit that even I felt that the new house left a few things to be desired. Nothing could compare to what I had seen while I had been gone. How do you go back to a two-bedroom farmhouse in Kansas when you’ve been in a palace made of emeralds?

Once you’ve seen castles and Munchkins and roads of yellow brick, once you’ve faced down monsters and witches and come face-to-face with true magic, well then, no matter how much you might have missed it while you were gone, the prairie can seem somewhat dull and—truly—downright dreary.

All I wanted to do upon my return was tell my aunt and uncle everything about what I’d seen. The whole time I’d been in Oz, I’d imagined Aunt Em’s amazed face when I told her about the fields of giant poppies that put you right to sleep, and I’d thought about how Uncle Henry would sputter and spit his coffee back into his cup when he heard about the town where all the people were made of china.

They hadn’t given me quite the reaction I’d been hoping for. In fact, they’d hardly reacted at all. Instead, they’d just exchanged a worried glance and told me that it must have been some fanciful dream I’d had when I hit my head during the cyclone. They warned me not to repeat the story, and to get some rest. They said nobody liked a tale-teller.

Never mind that a bump on the head didn’t explain where the house was now, or why no one had ever found it. And it didn’t explain how I’d gotten home. When I told them about the magical Silver Shoes that had carried me back across the Deadly Desert, they seemed even less convinced than ever. After all, the shoes had slipped from my feet somewhere along the way.

I can see why some people might have thought I was crazy, or a liar, or had made the whole thing up. Around here, they don’t believe in anything they can’t see with their own two eyes.

Aunt Em and I brought the cake into the living room and set it on the table by the modest spread of food she’d already laid out. As I looked at the room, all spruced up and decorated with a careful, loving hand, I reminded myself of how much they were doing.

The birthday party had been my aunt and uncle’s idea—I’d overheard them talking just a few weeks ago about how blue they thought I’d seemed lately, and how a big birthday party might be just the thing to cheer me up.

I’d asked them not to do it, of course. I knew we didn’t really have the money to spare.

Even so, I must admit that I was secretly pleased when they insisted on doing it anyway. As my “wild ride”—as so many people called it—had begun to recede further into memory, I was growing eager for something to break the monotony of the farm and school and then the farm again.

“Dorothy, what is your scrapbook doing out?” Aunt Em asked, noticing the book with all my newspaper clippings sitting on the table next to the buffet. “Your guests will be here any moment.”

I quickly picked the book up and moved it aside so that it didn’t fall victim to any smudges of icing or stray crumbs. “Oh,” I said. “I thought someone might like to look through it at the party. A lot of people who are coming were quoted in the articles about me, after all. It might be fun for them to see their names in print.”

Aunt Em didn’t appear to think that was a very good idea, but she didn’t try to dissuade me. She just shook her head and started humming one of her old songs again as she scurried around, busying herself with last-minute tasks.

I sat down and began to flip through the pages of my scrapbook myself. Toto hopped up into my lap and read along with me. At least I had him. He knew it was all real. He’d been there, too. I wondered if he missed it the same way I did.

THE GIRL WHO RODE THE CYCLONE.

That headline, from the Star, was my favorite. I liked the way it made me seem powerful, as if I’d been in control rather than just some little kid swept up by forces of nature.

In Oz, I hadn’t been just some little kid either. I’d been a hero. I had killed two witches and freed their subjects from tyranny; I’d exposed the humbug Wizard and restored order to the kingdom by helping my friend the Scarecrow, the smartest creature I’ve ever met, claim the throne.

If only those things were in my scrapbook!

Here, I knew that I would never, ever make as much of myself as I did in my short time in Oz. It just wasn’t possible. Here, it wasn’t even considered proper to think about such things.

And yet I had wanted to come back here. All those brave things I’d done: I wasn’t trying to be a hero. I was just trying to get home.

It would have been too cruel to leave Uncle Henry and Aunt Em all alone here, thinking that I was dead. It wasn’t all to spare their grief either. I would have missed them terribly if I had stayed. All the magic in the world—all the palaces and beautiful gowns and fields full of magical flowers—all the friends I’d found—could never have replaced the people who had taken me and raised me as their own after my parents had died. I would never have been able to be happy with them here and me there.

But sometimes I still wondered. Could there have been another way? Was this really home at all?

“Oh, Toto,” I said, closing the cover of the scrapbook harder than I intended to and tossing it aside onto the couch, where it landed just next to Aunt Em’s embroidered throw pillow. Maybe the words on that pillow were more right than I knew. Maybe you couldn’t go home again.