Saturday, March 28, 2009


“Come on,” Beth urged, as Jack hopped, brushing sharper bits of rock from the bottom of his other foot. She’d run across the same stretch of gravel that made up the drive separating their houses, yet she showed no signs of discomfort, not a hop or a skipped step whatsoever. It was as if she just... drifted across the top of the stones, rather than actually walking on them.

Sharp, dry stones became cold, wet grass as they moved across the still somewhat-overgrown yard. Then it was up the front porch steps — they creaked for Jack, but not Beth. She led him through the front door, down the foyer, to the stairs. Their footfalls up the stairs echoed in the quiet of the empty house. Jack’s heavy thud-thud contrasted sharply with the catlike patter of Beth’s shorter, lighter stride.

The second story of the house was much like that of Jack’s — landing led to a further set of stairs to the attic, and three doors faced the bannister. He knew that the door on the far end, by the front of the house, would be the master bedroom, and between it and the closest door was the bathroom.

The door closest to the landing was plain white, the paint a bit faded with age. A small nail had been driven into the wood at about Jack’s eye level, and upon it hung a ceramic name plate, the name “BETH” spelled out clumsily in macaroni. Some of the letters in front had been plucked out. It was hard to tell just how many letters had been there, with the rather erratic spacing of the others.

“Somebody vandalized your name,” Jack said.

“I dropped it when we were packing.”

Jack looked closer. There was a seam where the pieces had been glued back together.

Beth pushed the door open, and Jack followed her into the room.

Even though it was cluttered with stacks of boxes, the room still looked much bigger than that of his sisters, though they would have been about the same size. Three beds and bureaus lined the walls of Jack’s sisters’ room, with a desk and toybox crowding along the rest of the wall space. Beth’s room contained a dark wood four-posted bed, a wide bureau, a roll-top desk nearly as big as the one downstairs in her father’s office. And the boxes. Stacks of them, some three high, others, lower, the topmost box open and partially gone through. The floor was a litter of packing paper and foam peanuts.

“Jeez, I have three sisters and they don’t make this much mess between them,” Jack said. He squatted down and started wadding up the discarded newspaper. Chicago Tribune, July 6, page B14.

“Don’t worry about that,” Beth said, as she rummaged through a box. “Open one of those over there and help me find something.”

Jack tossed the newspaper ball at an empty box in the corner, made an off-the rim basket. He turned to the stack of two boxes, marked “A. BDRM” in a larger version of Beth’s strange, squared-off printing. She refused to write in cursive, at least with pens and pencils. “Real cursive is for nib and ink,” she told the english teacher on her first day at school. Jack had laughed at the look on the teacher’s face, and suddenly, the strangely dressed girl who’d arrived late with apologies from her father (which had drawn giggles, and a whispered “Daddy still walks you to school?”) wasn’t so bad. They got to know each other a little better sitting outside the principal’s office.

“What am I looking for, exactly?” Jack asked, staring down at newspaper wrapped around all manner of strangely-shaped objects.

“You’ll — oh, never mind, here it is,” the girl said, pulling out something paper-wrapped, flat, and vaguely round. She held it at an angle in the weak moonglow filtering through the window, turning it this way and that until she found a taped corner.

She sat on her bed and began working at the newspaper, pulling carefully at the tape, plucking the folds away as if she were prying apart the wrapping of some kind of miniature, flat mummy.

Jack shuffled to her side, making sure to keep out of the light.

Beth smoothed away the corners, and laying in the center of half of a sports page was a hoop of some kind of wood, about as wide as Jack’s fingers could spread out. Blue and red threads traced a complex, webbed pattern inside the loop, but it was a poorly crafted netting — the center was open, held that way by an intricate weaving of the threads. Leather cords were tied in three points around the hoop, and beads, feathers, and a jingle-bell were knotted into each in slightly differing patterns.

Beth slid her hands under the hoop, picking it up with fingers against the wood. She held it out to Jack.

“Here,” she said. “Maybe this will help.”

Jack looked down at it. “I don’t think that’ll fit on my head.”

She rolled her eyes. “You don’t wear it, silly. You hang it above your bed.”

“I’m a bit old for mobiles,” Jack said. “Maybe Ellie—”

“Its called a dreamcatcher,” Beth said. “The Indians believe that they keep bad dreams away. They slide through the middle of the netting, and the good dreams get stuck around the edge.”

“Thats the—”

“My dad did some work at an Indian reservation before he came back to work at the museum. This old Indian guy came up to my dad out of the blue — my dad thought he was mad at them for digging around — and he hands this to my dad and says that it will help me sleep better.”

Jack swallowed, shifted from foot to foot.

“My dad hadn’t said anything to anyone about my bad dreams.”

Jack took the hoop. His hands shook, though Beth’s were warm, steady.

“What were you dreaming about?”

“Monsters. They would take my mom, and then they would take my dad. I used to wake up crying.”

“Did it… help?” he asked, turning the hoop over. The bells jingled.

“You’ll just have to dream and find out,” she said.

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