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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Matryoshkas

Jacob's father sighed in exasperation.

Jacob stood there, all two and a half feet of him, hands on tiny hips, forehead furrowed, lip quaking in an angry pout, before he stomped away exuding that self-righteous indignation so innate to the species known as toddler.

"Yes, Jacob, you little monkey, you're quite right," his father whispered facetiously to the boy's retreating back. "It's just perfectly unreasonable of me to stop you from scaling an eight foot tall bookshelf." He chuckled to himself with a shake his head. "Clearly, it is your misfortune to have been born to a father who is such a tyrant."

Leaning an arm against the library shelves, he pensively rubbed the backs of his knuckles against his lips. His thoughts instantly propelled him back to his own childhood, to memories of standing in front of his own father, being scolded, lectured, and reprimanded for some mischief or another: there had been that time he'd tried to juggle the teacups... a fortuitously aborted attempt at pole vaulting... and oh, dear, yes, that perfectly regrettable incident involving an umbrella, a clothesline and laundry day....

He mentally confessed that he had deserved far worse than mere scoldings; it was a testament to his father's genuinely gentle nature that his backside wasn't still to this day smarting from whippings. However had he gotten into, let alone out of, all the high jinks of his youth?  The ones Father knew of, let alone the ones about which he'd never found out...

Looking to the heavens for strength, he wondered for the umpteenth time since his son was born exactly how his parent had ever managed it: this fatherhood business.

Umpteenth? No, let's be honest, he thought, it is a number well into four digits already, and the boy is barely two years old!    

He watched the toddler, who was now sitting pleasantly on the floor, all disgruntlement forgotten. The lad was distracted, at least for the moment, by his new book, that popular new title, what was the name of that bear again?  Minnie something? No, Winnie. Already his boy adored books!
 
He gets that from me! he thought proudly, his heart swelling with boundless love for his precious and precocious child.

Suddenly he was engulfed by a memory, as vivid and real as if he were a small boy again. As clear as a photograph, he saw his own father towering far above him, a seeming giant of a man. His father's expression was a mixture of incredulity and patience, adoration and - was it really? - exhaustion? - as he said to him, "Son, perhaps someday when you are grown, you'll have a little boy of your own: I hope that he is just like you. And then you'll understand..."

"Right you were, Father," he whispered to himself. "How right you were."
 
* * * *
* * *
* *
*

With a weary exhalation, Jacob Wells took off his glasses and pinched his nose. His glasses dangled from one hand as he glanced up at Mary.

"When I misbehaved, my father used to threaten to sell me to the gypsies!" He gestured over his shoulder to the corridor through which 9-year-old Devin and 6-year-old Vincent had recently exited. 

 "How much do you think we'd have to pay the gypsies to take those two away?"

"Father! You don't mean that!" Mary exclaimed in shock.

"No. No, of course I don't. No." He waved the idea away with the hand that was still holding onto his reading glasses.

Mollified, Mary left Father's chamber before she could hear him softly chuckle, "But could we not, perhaps, just.... rent them out?" He smiled. "Only for a few hours?" He rubbed his forehead and sighed.

Father contemplated the pair of bicycles propped in front of the table in the center of his study. Where and how Devin and Vincent had scavenged them, Father thought he'd probably prefer not to know. 

 But find them they had, and they'd brought them Below. This despite the fact that they were prohibited, not to mention being far too large a size for the boys. He bent to examine the ingenious contraptions cobbled together from blocks of wood or lengths of pipe which allowed their little feet to reach the pedals.

Father grinned with a secret pride, easily recognizing Devin's handiwork in these clever pedal extenders. He really had to admire his son's inventiveness and resourcefulness.  Once he set his mind to it, Devin always did seem to be able to accomplish almost anything he wanted. This was a quality that would serve him well as a man, if only they could direct it toward more productive ends. Father fancied that was a characteristic that Devin had inherited from himself. Mentally, he congratulated Devin's accomplishment.

Of course, it wouldn't do to say any of that aloud, not to the boy. Not yet.
 
With Devin's stubborn streak - where that trait comes from, I'm sure I have no clue - he'd only get a swelled head if he knew how clever I thought this was.

There would be plenty of time for compliments later, when his son was a little older.


- - -

After eating the evening meal with Mary in the dining hall, Father was returning to his study, when he decided to pop his head into the boys' chamber. Leaning heavily on his cane, he made his way down the corridor the short distance to the chamber that Devin and Vincent had been sharing for years. Peeking in, he found them both in bed, sent there without their supper, just as his own father used to do to him as a child.

Vincent lay on the outside of the bed, closer to the chamber entrance, just at the edge of the candlelight. Devin was next to the wall, illuminated by the glow from the stained glass window. The glass wasn't the only thing that was stained, Father realized: Devin's cheeks were smudged with dried tear tracks. The boy must have cried himself to sleep, he realized with a pang.

Father leaned wearily against the doorway, regretting the necessity of punishing them, but knew he'd had to do it.

Good heavens, Father thought, as if the pilfered bikes weren't bad enough, something Devin and Vincent know full well is against the rules, it's really the construction of the breastplates and jousting lances that has earned the boys tonight's punishment. Did those two really think that they could....?!

Broken arms, legs and worse danced in Father's imagination.

"Fodder?" Vincent's little voice whispered from just beyond the candle glow. Father thought how much he would miss the darling way that Vincent mispronounced his name once those teeth finished growing back in.

"Vincent, my boy, you're supposed to be asleep."

"I know, Fodder." He looked down at his stocking-covered feet as he shuffled closer, then sheepishly peeked up at him through a mop of pale gold bangs. "When you were little, I bet you never didn't listen to your fodder, huh?"

Father lowered himself into an armchair by the bed and held out his arms to Vincent, who scrambled eagerly and happily into his loving embrace. Looking down into those trusting cornflower blue eyes, 

Father momentarily toyed with the idea of saying, 'Yes, my dear little Vincent, you are quite correct: I never, ever disobeyed my father; in fact, I always listened to all my elders, and did just what I was told all the time.'

Instead, he chose to tell the truth.

"Vincent, I think every little child has not listened to his parents at some time or another. I was no different than you, my boy. Some times, maybe even many times," he chuckled, "my father sent me to bed without supper, just as I've had to do to you boys tonight. In my case, I remember that I sometimes got in trouble for becoming a bit too enthusiastic while playing Tarzan..."

"Really?!" Vincent gaped, trying to picture Father as a little boy of any type, let alone one who was capable of playing Tarzan.  

"Yes, well, now...  it doesn't matter what I did! We're talking about you two." He cocked an eyebrow at Vincent but confided in a conspiratorial whisper, "But yes, just like a couple of other little boys that I know, I got in trouble when I was little!"

Father waggled a finger at Vincent's nose, "But don't you tell anyone so!"

Vincent shook his head.

"That's going to be our little secret, yes, Vincent?"

Vincent nodded and crossed his heart solemnly. With a grin, he curled up in his father's arms into one of those impossibly snug balls that only small children can manage. Father hugged him tighter and began to rock back and forth, the instinctive lulling rock that parents find themselves doing unconsciously as they hold a child of any age. He soon felt Vincent's muscles relax until they slackened completely into sleep; his tiny body seemed boneless and twice its normal weight as he slumbered limply against Father's chest.

Father marveled at how a boy so angelic as this child on his lap could come up with ideas as harebrained as this bicycle scheme. But Vincent had stood in front of him, confessing that it was he who had gotten the idea from reading Don Quixote.

If Vincent is the inspiration which holds together this whole world, Father reflected, it really should not be so surprising to me that he is also the inspiration for my sons' shenanigans.

Resting his cheek on Vincent's golden head, he looked at Devin's sleeping form. Devin, once given the notion by Vincent, had set the wheels into motion - literally!    Father thought the boy was truly a natural born leader, able to get his band of followers organized, focused, straightening out conflicts amongst themselves.  How many times had Father rallied the boys at his prep school into some prank or scheme? Yes, well, that was neither here nor there... he put the thought out of his mind.

Jacob sat thinking of his sons: Vincent, the thinker. Devin, the doer. And it seems that I must be both for this world of mine. Of ours. Someday, of theirs.

After several long moments staring at his boys, he picked Vincent up and lay him in his bed, tucking him in against the chill of Below.

"Shall I tell you another secret, Vincent?" Father whispered into the silent darkness, knowing that the boys would not hear him. "My father also used to say to me, 'I hope that someday you grow up and have a son just like you!' And do you know what?" He looked at both the boys' slumbering forms. "I did."

He rested a hand on each of them in turn, feeling their slow steady breathing as they slept.

"Two wonderful, smart, amazing sons. Two maddening, rambunctious, headstrong sons." He walked to the entrance and looked back, "Two sons who fill my heart with more love than I ever could have dreamt was possible... and who just might be the death of me!"  Father sighed.
   
* * * *
* * *
* *
*

"Daddy! Look!" Little Jacob exclaimed, straddling the top of the banister of the spiral stairs in Father's study. "Watch!" He released both his hands from behind his back, squealing as gravity took over and he slid down and around, down and around.

Only Vincent's amazing reflexes and speed could have averted the disaster of 3-year-old Jacob propelling himself face first right into the rock floor at the foot of the stairs. With one fleet, fluid movement Vincent crossed the intervening yards, extended an arm, and deftly captured the boy mid-air.

"This is not a playground, young man!" Vincent scolded Jacob, wholly unaware that his tone had begun to resemble someone else's 'stern voice.' He waggled a clawed fingertip towards his momentarily repentant son. "Someday, Jacob... Someday, I hope...."

"Someday hope what, Daddy?" Jacob cocked his head to the side as he'd seem his father do uncounted times before.

"I swear, Father, sometimes I can actually feel my hair turning gray!"

Father had been unobtrusively watching this scene and saying nothing, but an enigmatic smile had spread across his entire face. As Vincent turned and made this comment, Father did his level best to appear sympathetic. Failing utterly to do so, he hid his mouth behind one fist, looked away and nodded.

Vincent sat down with Jacob on his lap. "You must not slide down the banister like that, Jacob; it is not safe, even though I know that it may seem like fun. It isn't fun if you get hurt or get into trouble, is it?"

Jacob shook his head no.

"We make rules for a reason, son. They are to keep you safe and help you to grow up to be good. When I was a little boy, your grandfather made me listen and behave, and you must listen and behave as well. Do you understand?"

Jacob pursed his lips together in an expression that declared that he did understand, but did not like it.

Father concurred. "You know, Jacob, your father is right.  Even I had to learn to listen when I was a little boy and loved climbing so much that my father used to call me Monkey!"

Jacob, unable to fathom this concept, stared open-mouthed at Father's cane.

"Well, I didn't need a cane when I was your age, you know!"

Jacob shut his lips and nodded solemnly, as if he'd known that, of course.

"It is clearly past someone's bedtime," Vincent declared in a voice that was not negotiable. "Now go to your mother and have her get you ready for bed."

Jacob threw his arms around Vincent's head and kissed him. "Good night, Daddy!"

He crawled down onto the floor and quickly scrambled into Father's lap. He repeated the gesture and planted a wet kiss on Father's cheek. "Good night, Grandfather!"

The lad tottered off to the exit, paused, turned back, and blew them both additional goodnight kisses before vanishing down the tunnel.   

Vincent leaned against Father's desk, looking over his shoulder at his parent.

"Father, I do not know sometimes what I am going to do with that boy! Do you know that Mary told me that four times today she had to stop Jacob from climbing onto the top of her wardrobe! He seems absolutely determined to get up there to play with her set of antique Russian nesting dolls. You know how much she treasures those matryoshka dolls! Mary is going to have to find a new hiding place for them. It would be tragic if he ruined them!"

"Yes, you're right, Vincent it would." Father sat pensively a few moments and continued in a deadpan tone, "Perhaps while you are finding a more secure location for the matryoshkas, you ought to also hide any copies of Don Quixote that you come across?"

Vincent's expression seemed hardly to change at all; only a slight glint in his eyes betrayed him. "Karma is happening, isn't it, Father? And I dare say that you are loving every minute of it."

"Well, Vincent, I cannot help but observe that, like every parent who has gone before me, I do see a sort of, hmm, shall we say, divine retribution in the current situation. As I pointed out to Jacob just now, not only did I not need a cane when I was younger, I also had brown hair until you and Devin came along!" Father chuckled. "Parenthood does seem to be an eternal cycle of unconditional love... and unrelenting paybacks!"

Vincent could only nod and shrug, imagining what wrinkles and gray hairs the coming decades would bring him.

"Don't worry, son - the joys are eternally paid back as well!"  Father smiled.
- - -

Vincent arrived at their chamber some while later to find that Catherine and Jacob were already sleeping. He picked up the work folder held limply in Catherine's fingers and set it by her briefcase.  He bent over Jacob's trundle bed in its nook and tucked the covers around his son's feet - the boy was forever kicking them off! Stepping back, he watched his beloved family sleeping beneath the warm glow of the amber window.

Sitting at his table, Vincent took out his fountain pen and began writing in his journal:


My dearest Jacob,

It has been said that to have a child is to forever have your heart go walking about outside your body. Each day that I watch you, Jacob, I see my own heart walking about inside of your chest.

You do not know this yet. You cannot understand it, and it is not only because you are too young.  Years from now, you may in theory comprehend these words - but you can not, and will not, truly understand until the day you look into your own child's eyes, and discover that your own heart will forever reside within the tiny body you hold in your hands. Then perhaps you, too, will watch your heart go scaling up wardrobes and sliding down banisters...

This has been so for uncounted generations, and will be so for countless more. I look at Father, and I look at you, and I see this.

I see us like the Russian nesting dolls that fascinate you so - each different and yet the same, each holding within its heart the next and the next. Each held in turn by those who came before, ad infinitum. To me, at this moment, you may seem to be the smallest of the matryoshkas, yet I know that within you are already the shadows of generations yet to--
 
Vincent broke off writing and looked about at a rustling sound, just in time to observe Jacob swinging himself proudly onto the top of the bookshelves. The boy beamed with joy at this accomplishment. 

Jacob's father sighed in exasperation.   



Friday, May 21, 2010

Stages

Grateful thanks to Joan W. for allowing me to write
this companion piece to her wonderful story, Grief.
When I read her story, my first thought was: 
This is so genius that I just wish I’d thought of it first!
My next thought was: What would these stages
have looked like for the one who caused that grief?


Denial

It was the itching that woke Devin that morning. The claw marks on his left cheek, although nearly healed, were firmly entrenched in that phase of the healing process when the desire to scratch the wound becomes nearly unbearable. 

He rolled over and flipped his pillow to the cold side; maybe that would soothe the itch. It didn’t. All it did was put him face to face with a sleeping, angelic Vincent illuminated by the light of the amber window above their bed.

“Little Saint Vincent,” he thought sullenly. “You always get off so easy! You were allowed to watch Sebastian’s magic show last night. You aren’t grounded for another month of kitchen and laundry duty. The Old Man always has liked you best!”

Part of him knew these thoughts were unfair, but a larger part simply didn’t care, at least not at that particular moment. Perhaps it was the itching that was the final straw, but just then, Devin couldn’t tolerate looking at Vincent one more second. He felt exactly the same way about everyone and everything in the tunnels. 

He rose from bed, pulled on some clothes and climbed the ladder to the second story of their chamber. There, from its hiding place between a pipe and the rock wall, he extracted his clasp knife, recently liberated from Father’s study. He bolted down the auxiliary tunnel towards Midtown, determined to spend the day Above. Somewhere. Anywhere. Consequences be damned, he wouldn’t be trapped in these tunnels today! He just had to get out.

Devin stalked to the Penn Station threshold which bypassed the concourse area and led directly to a platform. As he stood in the darkened recess, he watched people milling about outside the train, obviously on a smoking break. New passengers boarded from the concourse far down the platform. The smokers began extinguishing their cigarette butts on the concrete and re-boarding the train as he watched. There were no conductors here since all the passengers had already been ticketed as they boarded.

His eyes darted up to the sign on the side of the train: The Pennsylvanian. The name didn’t exactly conjure images of Neuschwanstein Castle or Machu Pichu. Nonetheless, at that moment, it did sound deliciously exotic to young Devin. He thought about where that train might be going, the places it could take him. His head filled with images of the Liberty Bell, Wrigley Field, the Rocky Mountains! Oh, the things he could run away to…

Visions of Father yelling, finger waving, brow furrowing with blatant disappointment, also ran through Devin’s mind. Not just memories of this most recent incident with the knife and the carousel, but from countless other similar conflicts as well. Oh, the things he could run away from…

There are crimes of opportunity; Devin’s was an escape of opportunity.

The train was there. The door was open. The allure was overwhelming.

Later, he would remember that moment when time seemed suspended, a million factors both propelling and compelling him. Only later would he remember something which, in that elongated moment, he had forgotten: Vincent.

Devin was thinking about himself when he jumped through the open train door. He was thinking about Father when he bumped a passenger, causing his briefcase to spill open in the aisle. He was thinking about Shangri La when he snatched a ticket from the overhead shelf and disappeared into the next car. What he wasn’t thinking about was the grief he’d be causing to Vincent, not only today, but for years to come. 

The excitement of this adventure lasted a good forty-five minutes during which time he fantasized about how far he could get before he was caught. By the time the train pulled into the station in Trenton, the adrenaline had begun to wear off, and he asked himself, “How am I going to get back?”

The answer formed fully-grown in his mind, like Athena emerging from the head of Zeus. “I’m not. I’m not going back.”

The repercussions of that thought echoed through his heart for many long minutes and he saw his reflection in the window shaking his head. “No. No! It’s not like I’m never going back! I’m just not going to go back right now. Yeah! I got this far, and I’ll get farther, if I just keep going. And man, am I going to have some great stories to tell when I do go back!”

While he hid from the conductor in the restroom, he washed the sweat from his face and thought, “I can’t give up now! What fun would that be? I can’t very well go back now and let everyone know I chickened out. I’ll go back… someday!”

The face in the mirror seemed unconvinced.

“I will go back someday! I will!”

Weeks later, he was still telling himself, “Vincent will know that I’ll come back someday. It’s not like I’m never going back.”


Anger

Two months later, Devin was finding it almost natural to answer to Carl, and was Carl honing his knife-throwing skills at an amazing pace. During a break between shows as the knife-thrower’s assistant, Devin lounged in the shade between two game booths, eating some fries that had sat too long to be sold to paying customers. He’d learned right away which of the food vendors he could con into saving a few grease-logged fries for him.

It was a busy Saturday, perfect weather, and the midways were full. He watched family after family strolling by. He watched little kids dragging dads over to toss baseballs at milk bottles, moms tying balloon strings onto their kids’ wrists so they couldn’t blow away, big brothers helping little sisters onto merry-go-round horses.

He chucked the empty paper cone into a trash bin and sauntered to the sideshow midway behind a family with two boys. The parents gave the kids some cash and sat on a bench while the boys ran ahead. He lost sight of the brothers for a while, but rounding a corner, saw them again laughing and elbowing each other for space in line to ride the Scrambler. The more he watched them, the more he realized that only the older boy, the one who was about his age, was laughing. The younger brother was desperately trying to be first in line.

He remembered a similar scuffle with Vincent last winter. They were jockeying for position outside the chandlery to get an early start delivering their Winterfest candles. Vincent had spent the last month reminding Devin how he’d beaten him the previous year, and Devin was determined to get a jump on his younger brother this time.

The carnie operating the ride opened the chain to let the brothers in and they both rushed to the nearest open car. There they continued jostling each other to see who could get the outside position. To Devin it was obvious that the bigger boy wanted to be on the inside so that he would be able to squish his smaller brother with the centrifugal force of the ride.

Devin didn’t catch what the older boy said next, but he clearly heard the smaller one yell back, “Nuh-uh! I did not! It wasn’t me!”

He hurtled himself over the small fence surrounding the ride and rushed the older brother. “Stop it! Quit it! Let him have the seat!”

Devin pulled the bigger boy out of the Scrambler and pushed him to the ground, screaming down at the befuddled kid, “Don’t you know how lucky you are?! He looks up to you! He’s only trying to sit there because you want to sit there! He wants to be just like you, you selfish jerk! He can do a hell of a lot better than ending up like you!”

The older brother stared up at this lunatic boy from nowhere as his little brother remained in the seat, tears welling in his eyes. The ride operator manhandled Devin and carted him away as Devin continued yelling. “You selfish jerk! You’re supposed to be looking out for him!”


Bargaining

Four months after he left, Devin formulated a plan. “If I go back when I’m 18, I’ll be a grown-up then. Father won’t be able to drag me back down there again, no matter what. He won’t make me stay in those tunnels if I don’t want to. Then Vincent will know that I’m OK, and I’ll have four years of adventures to tell him about. He’ll love hearing about my living up here with the carnies and about all the things I’ve seen and done…”

Four years after he left, Devin amended that plan. “If I go back when Vincent is 18, I’ll find some way to bring him back here with me. Then Father won’t be able to make him stay Below if he doesn’t want to. If I can get a car or something by then, I can take Vincent to the Mississippi and we’ll go camping under the stars and rafting…”


Depression

Years and incarnations came and went.

It was a warm spring day and the air was so full of the scent of orange blossoms that Devin could have sworn he was breathing honey. He had spent the day exploring the palaces and the gardens of La Alhambra in southern Spain.

He had climbed the ancient Moorish fortress that was conquered by Ferdinand and Isabella almost 500 years ago. He was serenaded by the same dancing fountains where Katherine of Aragon played as a child before she left for England and married King Henry VIII. He even stood in the shade of the very same cypress tree that Washington Irving described in Tales of La Alhambra.

“How many hours did Vincent and I spend reading those stories to each other? His favorite was always the one about Prince Ahmed who was trapped in one of the towers of this palace, until magic birds helped him to escape.”

Finally he stood on the balcony of the sultan’s hunting lodge, a vantage point from which he could take in the entirety of this masterwork of Man and Nature. He watched the sun setting over Granada, painting the heavens pink and gold above the fortress turrets and the snowy peaks of Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was so stunning, so heart-stoppingly beautiful, it should have given his soul wings to see it.

But all he could think of while watching that palace shining golden in the sunset was how Vincent was still trapped Below, and no magic in the world could help him to escape.

Living out one’s dreams, with no one there to share them, can be a nightmare.

“Maybe I’ll try Africa next…”


Acceptance

Devin wondered why it wasn’t hot. He thought it should be hot - oppressively hot and muggy. But the air was damp, and it was a cold dampness. Somehow he knew that it was always cold and damp here. As he attempted to reconcile this conundrum of climate, he scanned his location. Bookshelves, bedrock, candelabras… a raspy voice with the faintest hint of a lisp calling, “Dev, Dev, Dev,” with the cadence of pipe-code.

He followed the sound of the voice up the ladder to the rock ledge above their chamber. Vincent’s feet were dangling off the edge of the upper level as he recited from a dark russet volume:

“I years had been from home,
And now, before the door,
I dared not open,
lest a face I never saw before
Stare vacant into mine
And ask my business there.
My business? Just a life I left.
Was such still dwelling there?” 1

Vincent’s eyes stared blankly down at Devin.

Devin’s eyes flew open and he sat bolt upright in his cot. He wiped at his face as if that might clear away the dream that enveloped him as thick and hot as the night air. Knowing the futility of trying to get back to sleep after one of those dreams, he went outside to the fire.

Kawassi, the Kenyan guide he’d been working with these last several months, was there standing sentry. His lilting English, heavily influenced by his native Swahili, wafted across the fire. “You have that dream again, Derek. The one that bothers you.”

“Yeah, I did, mate. How did ya know?” So far, Devin’s attempt to imitate an Australian accent was still fooling the clients. So far.

From the darkness on the opposite side of the fire, Kawassi’s brilliant smile illuminated the night like the Cheshire Cat’s. “You always look even whiter after one of those dreams, my friend.” Despite the months spent in Samburu Game Reserve, Devin was perpetually pale, and Kawassi loved to tease him about it.

“Derek, here in Africa we have a proverb for everything. The wise mothers say that, ‘the dreamers remember their dreams when they are in trouble.’ Are you in trouble?”

“Nah… I’m not in any trouble, mate. I guess I’m dreaming about… some old trouble. Trouble I started…. and it’s too late to fix any of it now.” Devin poked at the fire with a stick. “‘What's gone and what's past help, should be past grief.’ 2 One of my wise ones used to say that.”

“Did your mother say that to you?”

“Nah, mate. Was a bloke named Shakespeare said that. But I was weaned on him, ya might say.”

The two men sat in companionable silence for some while, each absorbed in his own thoughts. Kawassi rose and walked the perimeter of their camp, listening to the tourists snore inside their tents. Beyond the firelight, he surreptitiously observed Devin, who had by then forgotten he was not alone.

Kawassi was an exceptional tracker, and now he caught the trail of a most elusive prey: his friend’s true face. It was something he had glimpsed only one or twice before; this man allowed himself precious few unguarded moments. He watched a sadness appear in Devin’s eyes, as if the weight of a world were on his shoulders.

Kawassi walked silently back to the ring of firelight and stood at its furthest edge where he made a small noise to remind Devin of his presence. Devin looked up, and in the darkness could barely make out his guide. But he did hear his voice.

“Derek, the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

Kawassi turned and left that proverb to keep his friend company. Devin scratched at his face, which was suddenly itchy. He could just discern the three deep scars beneath his beard.


 ******


One Fall evening -

Real horses at a full gallop could not have pounded harder than Devin’s heart as he crossed the park from the carousel. He managed to keep his hands from trembling as he cut the lock and pulled the chain from between the door’s iron bars. That control faltered as he pulled out his old clasp knife and knelt to jimmy the lock near the bottom of the secret door.

Before he could even begin to manipulate the mechanism, the door sprang back, leaving him standing there. Startled by the unknown figure silhouetted against the backdrop of the tunnel, he backed away until the movement of an arm illuminated the golden mane and sapphire eyes of Vincent.

Vincent! His brother!

“Devin?” His name!

“Nobody’s called me that in twenty years. Oh, god… Vincent!” His home!

He was home again at last.




1 Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Poem 79
2 The Winter's Tale (III, ii, 223-224)

Photo Montage Courtesy of Cyndi