By Pearl Kirkby
Copyright © 2003 PL Pearl Kirkby. All rights reserved
Nothing. For eons, just a soft darkness – grey silence. Tangible, yet not there. Just…nothing.
But nothing is not always quite empty. Sometimes nothing feels as all-encompassing as everything. Is that even “a thing”?
Time is strange here,wherever ‘here’ is. I’ve been sitting in this darkness forever. Or not.
The darkness is almost palpable, almost as if it has its own pulse. Strange, but with each brief beat, a dimple of brightness pierces the blanket that covers the world, or whatever this place is.
Or perhaps this is not a place at all, but a time.
Try thinking these thoughts for eternity. It can drive one mad. If one is alone.
But I am not alone. Someone is beside me, within me. Is me. We.
Whatever. I am aware that you are here with me. Can you hear me?
Yours is the pin-prick of brightness that escapes this darkness. Please stay.
* * *
~ Chapter 1 ~
“…I will not forget…”
These were the first thoughts that entered the little one’s mind when she opened her eyes that last morning. Everything would begin to change that day; she knew this at the very center of her being. Just how they would change, she was as yet uncertain, during those short seconds between fully asleep and completely awake. All she had were those four words, “I will not forget,” circling, over and over again through her little brain, as she awoke.
Eyes still closed, she heard the tinkly sounds of the crib mobile, turning on its spindle. She could even see, in her mind’s eye, the colourful letters of the alphabet, the wild and domestic animals and the ribbons, knobs and rings which were suspended from it. She thought it strange that the large people around her seemed to think her quite without intelligence, else why would they have placed such an insignificant, albeit pleasant sounding, trinket in her bed.
She had to admit after a moment, however, that she was more and more tempted to flip at it with her hand lately, just to activate that familiar sound…that somehow familiar, crystalline tinkling noise…that emanated from the thing. It was just so comforting, as though it was a part of her that had gotten lost.
Of course, that was a silly notion. Sounds aren’t “part” of a person…or are they? It was just so familiar.
The eyes closed again and the baby drifted off into a deep sleep. She dreamed of people and colours and sounds that she wouldn’t be able to recall again for many, many years. She dreamed of the day she had come home from the hospital with her mother and father and met her sister for the very first time.
For a time, she slept. And forgot what she was trying to remember.
* * *
Two dear faces had looked down upon their tiny progeny, while another small face peeked at the baby from behind her parents. Life went on, the mother and father said to one another. They thought about the boy child they had lost only two years before and were grateful that God, or fate, had granted them one more child.
If either of the two were disappointed that there would be no other children after this…and therefore, no chance for a son to carry on after the father…neither said so out loud.
The elder child had no such qualms. She put her teddy bear under her arm and moved close to the crib, grasping a railing.
“I don’t want a sister, I want my brother. Take her back.” She stuck her tongue out at the sleeping baby. At that moment, the two week old infant had opened her eyes, reached out and took hold of her sister’s finger with her own tiny ones…and smiled at her.
Trying to maintain her scowl, the older girl started to pull away from the baby’s grasp in distaste…until she thought she heard a tiny whispered, “I love you,” in her innermost ear.
The anger faded, the scowl softened and, quite like the Grinch in the old Dr. Seuss story, she felt as though her heart “…grew ten sizes…” Her countenance eased and the hint of a smile began to grow in her eyes.
“Well, maybe we can keep her for awhile. But she’d better not start playing with my toys,” she stated firmly, as she retrieved her teddy from under her arm and pushed it through to her little sister.
* * *
It didn’t take long for the infant to become “my baby” to her sister. Heroic champion, teacher, mentor and, yes, tyrant (as many older siblings become when they feel their positions have been usurped). It made no difference to the baby, for her big sister was her protector, even if she was a bit bossy.
As for the older girl, she really did cherish her baby sister…honestly; but sometimes she would catch her just gazing at her. It was most unnerving, as though she was the youngest and the infant was an adult. Sometimes, she would actually become scared and would pinch the baby to make her stop.
Life continued quietly in the household, with both mother and father coming to grips with the fact that their little family would never be more than four. And besides the occasional tiff between sisters, their’s was a relatively peaceful home.
* * *
Nothing lasts forever.
“I don’t know, Evelyn. Sometimes it’s as though she’s…I just don’t know…you look in her eyes and you’d swear that she knows exactly what you’re saying! I swear, if this was someone else’s child, I’d be downright spooked!”
Mother’s gaze wandered into the next room, where the baby had, only moments before, been sleeping.
“Look at her…God knows I love that baby, only I just wish she was more…I don’t know…more like other babies who do nothing more than giggle, coo, eat, sleep and poop!”
“Listen here, Morie.” Evelyn took Mother’s hand across the table. “When you lost your little one two years ago, you had your grief, you tried to deal with it and you were sure you’d gotten over it. And when you found out that you were expecting this one, you were so hopeful that you’d be having another little boy.”
Moira started to interrupt, tears building in her eyes, but Evelyn held up her hand in a ‘shush’ing motion.
“Let me finish, now,” she said gently. “When you finally gave birth to this one this past summer, you were disappointed…” she cocked her head and raised her eyebrow as Moira made to protest; “Yes, you were, and Morie, it’s not a sin! You aren’t the first, nor will you be the last to wish the daughter had been a son or the son had been a daughter!”
She patted Moira’s hand, “I’ve taken care of a lot of young
families in my lifetime, and a lot of little babies that were born to them. Believe you me, mamas aren’t the only ones, either. Sometimes the daddies are disappointed, too.”
She patted her friend’s hand again and said, “You just consider yourself blessed that your Tom is practical.”
She stood up and stretched; “Want another cup of tea, honey?” Receiving a tearful nod, she put the kettle on to boil and collected their cups and the tea tray from the table. She busied herself with the few breakfast things in the sink, knowing that her dearest friend needed a few moments to pull herself together.
The kettle whistled and Evelyn peeked over at Moira; she seemed composed. It was painful, she thought, this saying goodbye thing. But then, it always was thus, every time she had to watch “her families” move on.
She sensed something different about this time, though. It was this tiny little bit of a child…there was, indeed, “something” about her that was so unique. This child had a gift, but how to explain this to her mother?
She shrugged to herself. I wouldn’t even know how to begin, but I must try, or that poor child is going to have a hard row to hoe. She sighed, put the finishing touches to the tea tray and turned to carry it back to the table, pausing for a moment as she witnessed, more in her spirit than by her eyes, the interaction before her.
Moira was gazing into the baby’s room. The baby was silently looking back. She had one hand out, as if in supplication and she was cooing. Not like most babies do, with the smile and the shoulders keeping time, but with an expression on her face that would sit more realistically on an old, old woman.
As the baby looked through the railings of her crib, across the nursery and into the kitchen, Evelyn felt a strange current, like a faint breeze, traveling between mother and child, “as it thought has heft, or density,” she thought.
Suddenly, the two women’s eyes widened and there was a double intake of sharp breath. They jerked their heads toward each other, hands over their mouths as a soft, sweet voice touched their ears:
“I will never forget this sight of Evelyn and Mother…they will remain, just so, imprinted forever in my mind. I will not forget.”
Evelyn allowed the implication of what she had heard drift over her and a slow smile rose to her lips.
“Ahhh…just as I thought.”
She held out her hand toward the child, the same way that the child was extending hers to her mother. The woman hesitated, as she noticed the shining tears in the baby’s eyes and her trembling lips.
She turned to her friend, startled to see the wide-eyed look of fear on her face, and hurried to her side. Moira snatched her hands away when Evelyn attempted to touch her, reassure her.
“No! NO! What in heaven’s name was that?!” She jumped up out of her chair, dancing around in confusion: “What the heck was that…what was that!”
Evelyn went to her and grasped her by the shoulders; “Stop it! Look at me, Morie…look at me!”
Moira took a deep shuddering breath and looked at her friend. Evelyn willed calm into her until, finally, a glazed look fell over her eyes.
“Find a quiet spot in your mind, Moira. File this away there until you’re ready to understand.”
Moira closed her eyes, allowing Evelyn to help her back to her chair at the kitchen table. Her ragged breath slowed and became even and deep. She felt like she was floating on a soft, grey cloud. Nothingness seeped into her brain and the memory of the past few minutes simply dissolved.
Taking another deep, steadying breath, she opened her eyes. She felt a bit woozy and looked across the table at her friend, who was still absentmindedly patting her hand.
Evelyn smiled kindly at her and passed her a perfectly brewed cup of tea.
They resumed their quiet conversation. This time, however, the subject was The Big Move.
“I’m going to miss you, Morie.
“I’ll miss you, too, Evelyn.” She smiled sadly, but tried to force a cheerful tone into her voice. “Unless we move to England instead of down south, I doubt I will ever have as perfect a cup of tea as what you make!
The baby watched intently from behind the railings of the crib, as the two women, silhouetted against the brilliant morning sun, grasped one another’s hands. She plopped down from where she had been standing, holding to the rails.
The eyes now held only innocence and her face wore only a toothless, baby-slobber smile.
Between the acrid smell of disinfectant, glutaraldehyde and alcohol, the glare of the stainless steel autoclave, pans and instruments awaiting sterilization and the bright, primary colours so common in a pediatrician’s office, it was enough to trigger the grandest of all migraines – something to which the young mother was already prone, even under the most benign of circumstances.
She fought back the tell-tale salivation of pending nausea and, holding her perfumed handkerchief over her nose and mouth, she approached the nurse’s desk, daughters in tow.
“Good morning, my name is Moira Wahl; my children have an appointment this morning…” at this point, she leaned in and whispered, “…to get their (‘s-h-o-t-s’).”
Smiling kindly, the nurse retrieved colouring books and crayons out of her desk drawer, handed them to the girls and said, “You young ladies will have plenty of time to do these some justice while you wait.”
Moira filled in the sign-in form (”Thanks. I hate when the girls have to get their vaccinations. It hurts me worse than it hurts them.”) and took a seat near her children.
She wished for the umpteenth time that her old friend, Evelyn, was still with them. She knew how to calm the girls down in every situation, even the dreaded visits to the doctor for vaccinations and booster shots.
She sighed deeply, resignedly, then closed her eyes, trying to will herself into a calmer frame of mind. She could remember a time when too many little ones had succumbed to such childhood diseases as polio and tuberculosis. Amongst those numbered, were her own tiny twin sisters who had not ever been very healthy to begin with and who had dwindled for a year before finally going to sleep one last time. She had been “big sister” for only four years.
A tear trickled from the corner of her eye as, head nodding, she dozed off into a world of strange dreams…
* * *
In mid-June, the late autumn skies over the Tasman Sea are overcast, causing the sun to give but a watery light. Other than an approaching squall line, it seems a day like any other in this part of the world.
A small plane, at least by today’s standards, has taken off from Lord Howe Island, just east of Brisbane, Australia and is heading toward New Zealand. Although the pilot made sure the plane cleared all of the security and safety checks before beginning his journey, the de Havilland Gipsy Moth aircraft seems to be having engine trouble, sputtering and backfiring.
Hints of lightning from the distant storm seemed to be sending a warning to the navigator of the plane, as the brilliance lit up the fuselage from several places at once.
In the waters below, passengers looked on from the deck of the lone pleasure yacht, bobbing at anchor. From their perspective, it looked as though a large cloud from a separate squall had simply appeared, just ahead and to the left of the little plane.
Concern grew as they heard the plane sputter, come back to life and then sputter again, repeatedly. Then came a collective gasp as the captain pointed excitedly at the “cloud”. Several pairs of binoculars lay around the deck and passengers made a mad scramble for them, shouting in alarm at what the lenses had brought into view.
It was no cloud, but an airship! Not a plane, nor a dirigible, nor any other kind of vehicle any of them had ever seen, but rather like an oblong pearl, so white and luminescent it was.
Even more shocking was the fact that it seemed to literally appear and disappear at will, not as if it was retreating into one of the storm’s clouds, which were getting closer by the minute, but rather as if it was fading into transparency, then solidifying again.
The next moment, it ‘flew’ away into the northwest at unbelievable speed…and the show was over. A brief pall of confusion fell over the small crowd of people.
Moira, standing a ways off, hears the captain mumble, “What was I saying?”
* * *
While mid-June in Australia may be chilly, damp and overcast, that same time of year in the American mid-west is feeling the blistering heat that heralds a scorching summer. A young woman, clearly pregnant, is trotting up the road, five children running behind her, struggling to keep up. The sun is blazing down on the group and the youngest children are tiring, pleading with their mother to slow down. They are unprepared when she comes to a glottal stop and they collide with her from behind.
The whole family freezes as, one by one, they see the reason: a dense shadow is steadily approaching, as though a storm cloud has passed before the sun. Only this is no cloud.
Slowly, the children follow their mother’s skyward gaze. Six faces drain of colour, six heartbeats race and six pairs of hands fly to their owners mouths, stifling the screams rising up inside of each constricted throat.
The shadow descends, coalesces…hides.
All of a sudden, Moira can see nothing at all, except a pinkish light. She feels as if she is floating in water and her ears can make out muffled noises and a slow, steady, thrumming beat, as from a bass drum. A painful pressure surrounds her and for an instant, there is a sharp pinch to her head.
And now it’s over. The brilliant midwestern sky is clear and the sun is again blinding the little family’s collective eyes. A shake of the head and the young woman beckons to her brood.
“Come on, chir’ren. We need to get home and get ready before that storm hits tonight!”
“Mama,” calls the oldest girl, “Are you sure there’s a storm coming?”
“Says so right here,” and she tossed the day’s paper to her daughter.
Moira glances over the girl’s shoulder to look at the newspaper. The name of the publication isn’t visible. The date is.
“June 10, 1931”
* * *
A flash of light pierces behind her eyelids and then, with a jerk, Moira awakens. The nurse is gently shaking her, concern written all over her face.
“Mrs. Wahl? Are you alright? You were trembling so hard that I thought you might be having a seizure…”
Moira glanced around. No sea. No hot, dusty, dirt road. Only her children (thankfully, no other patients had come in yet), the nurse and herself, here in the pediatrician’s office. Her head still hurt and images from her dream were still dancing, most vividly, behind her eyes. She felt as if she’d been asleep for hours, though the clock behind the reception desk told her it had been but five minutes.
“I’m fine,” she replied, her voice shaking slightly. “I’ve just been having trouble sleeping lately and I seem to get overwhelmed by the least little thing.” She smiled weakly at the nurse. “I’ll be alright in a minute. Would you mind if I step outside for a breath of air to clear my head? Will the girls be alright?”
The nurse patted her shoulder and helped steady her as she stood up. “There now, take a nice deep breath…” (she led her in an ‘inhale – exhale’ exercise, three times), “…stretch your shoulders; there. Now you go ahead and take your time. The children are fine.”
Moira smiled again, blew her daughters a kiss, mouthed ‘I’ll be right back…’ and stepped outside. She hadn’t noticed her youngest daughter studying her face as though she knew where her mother’s dreams had taken her.
Another deep breath and she once again found herself wishing for Evelyn’s calming presence. Sometimes she felt guilty for constantly unburdening herself in the frequent letters they exchanged, but she never felt any condemnation in her friend’s replies and today was a prime example for how desperately she needed one of those cherished letters to find its way into her mailbox.
She furrowed her brow in thought, reliving the dream…this dream she had now had, verbatim, every night for the past three weeks.
It puzzled her. Further, it frightened her, as she had never before been bombarded with the same dream, night in and night out. Now it was not only happening, and at night, it was also invading even the shortest of naps to which she might succumb during the day. The strangeness of it all was taking its toll on her physical – and mental – health.
(How odd, she thought to herself; that those people in the dream grow more familiar to me each time I have it. If only I could place them.)
It was curious that the date on that newspaper was sometimes written “June 10, 1931” and sometimes “10 June 1931” (although just why it seemed so she couldn’t say). Then there was the date itself which was always the same – .
…the exact date of her own birthday, less two months.
Her reverie was interrupted by the door to the doctor’s office squeaking open.
“The doctor will see the girls now, Mrs. Wahl. Feeling any better?”
“Thank you, yes, much better.”
She smiled and followed her back inside; her daughters, not in the least deceived as to the reason they were there, were nervously waiting for her to walk with them into the examination room. As they followed the nurse toward the inner office, Moira felt a small tug on her skirt. Looking down, she saw her youngest child beckoning her to join her down at her own level.
She knelt down in front of the little girl, a reassuring smile on her face.
“Nervous?” she asked, as she smoothed the child’s blonde curls.
“Just a lil’ bit.” She leaned toward her mother’s ear and whispered, “I really hate (s-h-o-t-s)!”
The two exchanged grins and hurried to the door the nurse was holding open.
“Dr. Schaeffer will be right in. By the way, girls, you know how he loves his Cracker Jacks? Well, he’s been saving all the prizes for his patients and I think there are a couple of really nice rings in the mix!”
The sisters looked at one another knowingly and the elder said, “See? I was right. ‘S-h-o-t-s’ spells shots.” She sat down on a stool in front of her little sister and placed both hands on her shoulders. “We can do this. You and I. Sisters. Right?”
Younger eyes looked worshipfully into older ones. “Sisters.”
“I’ll take care of her, Mama. You know you hate our shots as bad as we do. You don’t have to stay in here with us. We’ll be okay.”
Moira looked proudly at her oldest daughter, gave a little tweak to her chin and nodded. She kissed her own forefinger, then transferred the kiss to the tip of the other’s nose and said, “Thanks, sweet tart.”
She turned away and reached for the door; once again she felt a little tug on her skirt, and once more knelt in front of her small daughter.
“I dreamed Evelyn got your letter and her sister wrote you back and the mailman is bringing it today and I wanted to tell you that before you maybe take a nap again out there again.” She gave her mother a kiss on the cheek.
“That would be real nice; I really hope so!” She tousled the tot’s hair and left the room, only slightly registering the older girl asking her sister, “You didn’t tell her about the other thing, did you?”
* * *
~ Chapter 4 ~
Cassidy was angry. She didn’t know whether to try and comfort her mother, or give in to the temptation to scream at her sister just for being too young to understand anything.
Yes, Ginevra was only three. Yes, she was too young to understand that what she kept doing was not only not normal, it was just plain weird. But she was also far more intelligent than any three year old had the right to be, so she had tried to explain, each time the little girl told her something or another that she “saw” or dreamed, which came true, that it was better to keep them to herself.
She especially tried to keep her from telling their mother “things”; “It really does upset her, Ginn, even when what you see is a good thing.”
She could see it coming today, after her little sister had blabbed about what she’d dreamed. Mother had been so excited at the prospect of getting a letter from Evelyn that she chattered on and on about it the entire drive home.
They had arrived just as the postman was leaving their house and Mother eagerly ran to open the mailbox; sure enough, just as Ginevra had foretold, Evelyn’s sister had sent her a letter.
And there it was. The swift change of demeanor, from happy smile to heartbreaking sadness, bore testament to Cassidy’s fears.
‘I’m so sorry, Morie,” she read, “but Evie had a heart attack last week. She seemed to be recovering, but then she had a second episode a couple of days later and, well, she just went.”
Moira felt dizzy and sick. She sat down on the doorstep and finished scanning the letter.
“After her first attack, we had a long talk and one of the things we talked about was you. I don’t understand it but she told me I was to make sure I passed along this message to you:”
Here she closed her eyes, tears streaming down her face. She didn’t need to see the words. She could hear her friend, clear as day, whispering in her ear:
“File it away, Morie. File it away until you’re ready to understand.”
* * *
Cassidy stayed close by her mother for three days, running interference whenever Genevra seemed about to broach the tender subject.
Enough was enough.
* * *
Sunday mornings always started out rough; not because it was a weekend and one had to get up fairly early to get to church on time; not because it was a chore to go to church, at least not for Moira. And it wasn’t even because she couldn’t get her husband, Thomas, to go with them, except on the occasional Easter or Christmas.
It was that doggone little girl of hers. Ginevra Tamsin. How could a child with a so feminine a name be such a little tomboy?! It was hard enough just to get her into a tub, but good heavens…getting her into a dress was worse than the Battle of Gettysburg!
It took Cassidy stepping in to whisper fiercely into her sister’s ear before Moira was able to fasten the last button to Ginn’s dress and get the patent leather shoes on the little feet.
“Thank you, sweet tart. Don’t know what I’d do without you,” she said. “I don’t know what you said, but boy, it worked!”
Cassidy would have liked to bask in her mother’s praise, but instead she felt somewhat guilty, for the words she uttered to her little sister’s ear were, “If you don’t stop acting like a spoiled brat, I might just dream something that hurts you like you hurt Mother.”
* * *
There was never a more beautiful day than this! The sun rode high in the sky, warming all who dwelt below. From the west, a mild breeze was blowing, keeping the whole Sunday School class of primary children playing a game of “Mother May I?” in the empty field behind the church from overheating in their starched “Sunday Best” clothes.
“Stephanie, take two steps backward!” called out the girl who was “It”.
“Mother may I?” Stephanie shouted back.
“Yes, you may!” “It” responded, and Stephanie, green eyes sparkling and red curls dancing, dance-stepped backward, the required number of steps.
“Bobby Blakely! Shake your head and whinny like a horse!”
Bobby started gyrating like a circus tumbler and making a noise like a horse.
“You forgot to say, ‘Mother may I’!” Stephanie yelled, shaking her finger at the culprit. “YOU’RE OUT!!”
“Aw, darn it!” and Bobby trudged over to a nearby bench. On and on the game went. Fifteen minutes, then a half hour went by while squeals of laughter and a few good natured denials of, “No! I only started to move!” rang out and smiling adults watched their little darlings at play.
No one seemed to notice the small child, standing as still as the proverbial church mouse, who had yet to be called upon.
The game finally ended and all the children ran to their parents, to be herded into cars or join their families for the walk home, but the little girl stayed, standing in the middle of the field.
Tears filled her eyes and she hung her head, quietly sobbing, until her hero, her protector, found her.
“Ginn, what’s wrong? Why the tears?”
Cassidy gathered her baby sister into her arms and, in a move so like their mother’s, smoothed the golden curls and wiped the tears off of her cheeks.
Ginevra threw her arms around her sister’s neck and gave way to her grief.
“They don’t like me because I told them…you know Mrs. Denner’s little boy, Rory, who just passed away last month?…I told them that he told me he was happy and heaven is way better than Pastor Joseph knows!”
* * *
“…then she asked Miss Parks, ‘But if it’s our soul that goes to heaven, why do we need streets of gold?’ Well, Sister Wahl, we just don’t have the answers to those kinds of questions.”
“She was just curious, Pastor, like all children are. Surely even your own kids have asked you questions like that…”; she paused at the steady, stern look Pastor Joe leveled at her.
“Not at an age where no child can even begin to understand the theology behind religious beliefs.” He shook his head; “But that’s not the worst, Moira. Mr. and Mrs. Denner, you know? The ones who lost their son, Rory, just last month from leukemia? Your daughter is going around telling the children that he visited her…actually visited her…not that she dreamed he did! And according to Miss Parks, he talked to her and told her I didn’t know anything about heaven!”
Moira felt the heavy pulse at the crown of her head begin to throb as Pastor Joe ranted on. She was nearly as devoted to her church family as she was to her own flesh and blood family…including her strange offspring. As the pastor continued his tirade, she wished Thomas had attended church with them this morning. He was good with smoothing things over when Ginevra ran across others’ sensibilities.
(“Don’t run from this one, Morie. Stand up for that child. She needs you.”) Evelyn’s voice was always there when she felt weakest. She didn’t know if it was wishful thinking, her own subconscious or just her imagination; and even though she hated when her daughter said the strange things she did, she loved her with all her heart.
“…I mean, honestly! I’M the pastor of this church! Completely disrespectful! You and your husband need to straighten that child out! To insinuate that I’m ignorant about the word of God is…”
Moira drew herself up to her full, 5’ 2” height and fixed her eyes on this “shepherd of the flock”…and the man before her closed his mouth with a slight, ‘p o p’…
…and found himself trembling.
Moira Wahl’s children and husband always spoke in hushed, awestruck tones when describing her “enraged!” countenance. Like the cartoon characters whose eyes and eyebrows turn jet black and became a thick, giant “M”, dipping between them…that was what was facing down Pastor Joe, right this minute.
A mighty, Moira Sophia Wahl Thundercloud.
“You said what to me?”