Chapters 1-2 Summary
The Discovery of Egypt
In a distinctively diverse California neighborhood made up of inexpensive apartment houses and small, aging homes clustered around a large university, a "strange old man" runs a dingy second-hand curio store. The man is tall and bent, and his expressionless face is accentuated by a straggly beard and dark, inscrutable eyes nestled under heavy brows. Nothing much is known about him and the children in the neighborhood are afraid of him; for a reason no one seems to be able to explain, he is referred to simply as "the Professor."
The Professor lives somewhere in the rear of his store, which is backed by a small storage yard housing a battered lean-to and a miscellaneous assortment of items, including a broken birdbath and a chipped plaster reproduction of the bust of the ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti. The yard is surrounded by a high, wooden fence topped by strands of barbed wire; one of its planks has come loose, making it possible for very slender personages to slip in.
The Professor can peek out onto the storage yard from a small, dirt-caked window covered with a gunnysack at the back of his shop. It is from this vantage point that he witnesses the very beginning of the Egypt Game. He looks out one day in early September to see three children from the neighborhood squeezing through the opening in the fence. The two older ones are girls. One, whom he recalls had come into his store a few days earlier and introduced herself as April, is thin and blond, while the other is African American. The third child appears to be the younger sibling of the second girl; he is about four years old and is clutching a large stuffed octopus.
Once they are in the yard, the children survey their surroundings with undisguised delight. The Professor is called away by a customer then, but when he returns to the window about an hour later, he sees that the children have made the lean-to into an improvised temple, with the bust of Nefertiti perched upon the broken birdbath and positioned in the place of honor at the shack's back and center. While the little boy sits and plays with his toy octopus, the girls gather the tall, prickly weeds that fill the yard and present them with elaborate ritual before the queen's statue, dramatically dropping to their knees and tapping their foreheads three times on the floor. The Professor is called away again, and when he returns a third time, the children are gone.
Eleven-year-old April Hall lives in the neighborhood now because her mother, Dorothea, has sent her to stay with her grandmother, whom she barely knows. Angry and bewildered, the child clings to her mother's promise that the arrangement will "only be for a little while...until things [get] more settled down" and she is not "on tour" so much of the time. Dorothea is an aspiring actress, and April, who thinks her parent is very glamorous, tries to imitate her sophisticated ways to lessen the hurt she feels at being abandoned.
April's grandmother, whom April haughtily insists on addressing by her first name, Caroline, lives in a run-down, outlandishly decorated apartment house called the Casa Rosada. Caroline, who had formerly resided alone in a "tiny supermodern apartment," has moved there because it is "not awfully...
(The entire section is 861 words.)