“Jack, we lost power again last night. Breakfast is ready!”
Hannah knocked on Jack’s door. “Jack! Come on. Breakfast!” When she didn’t hear any response, she turned the knob, stepping in from the small landing.
Jack’s room had been the farmhouse’s attic, but was remodeled when it became clear that the Jacobs’ were going to need a third bedroom. The crawlspace behind the door had been widened and expanded to served as Jack’s closet. His bed and desk sat beneath the angles of the roofline, leaving a section as wide as the window that actually allowed Hannah to stand without hunching her shoulders. Small as it was, and as many toys as Jack had laying around, the room wasn’t cramped. There was plenty of room to move around, it was just a matter of making sure your head was in the right spot for it.
The only thing Jack had to worry about hitting his head on was the frame of his bed.
Hannah squatted down, smoothing her skirt under her legs. “Jack? What are you doing down there?”
Hannah sighed, then grabbed Jack’s ankles and slid him as far across the floor as she could without bumping into his desk. A small army of toy robots and action figures skittered out around the boy.
“You’re lucky Mom didn’t send Charlotte up here to get you. She would have paddled you, the way your tush was sticking up.”
Jack blew a dust bunny from his hair, then sneezed, sending more dust bunnies hopping away from his head and shoulders.
Hannah coughed and waved them away. “What were you doing under there?”
“I dropped it, and kicked it under by accident. I thought I lost it!”
Jack stood up, brushing himself off. Hannah scurried back, trying to avoid the dust cloud.
“Come on, I need to show Mom!”
Hannah shook her head, coughing, and followed Jack down the main stairs to the dining room table.
* * * * *
“John Henry Jacobs you have just set the record for shortest amount of time between baths. Upstairs, now mister!”
“But Mom, I—“
“No ‘buts.’ Back upstairs. Clean clothes.”
Jack swallowed his argument. The shorter Mom’s sentences got, the more trouble you were in. Jack did not want her to start using single words.
“Hannah, what was he—“
“I had to pull him out from under his bed, Mom. I don’t know what he was doing there. I don’t think I want to know…”
Jack didn’t hear the rest of the conversation. He walked slowly up the stairs, got out what he was supposed to wear tomorrow. By then his mother had the bath water running. He didn’t know if it was because she was mad, or if he was being punished, but she made sure he scrubbed everywhere, and then made him scrub again.
She shook out his clothes while he rub-a-dub-dubbed, and something pinged against the tiles, rolling down the length of the tub and ricocheting behind the toilet.
“Jack, what have you dug up now?” his mother asked as she fished behind the toilet with the scrubber. Something metal scraped its way along the wall. She picked it up, and dunked it in the tub. “Besides behind the toilet, who knows where this has been,” she muttered. She lifted her hand out, blew bubbles away from a thin band of gold. A ring. A wedding band. A man’s wedding band.
“Jack… what have I told you about my jewelry box? It is not a treasure chest. Great Grampa’s ring is not a toy.”
“Its not Grampa Roy’s ring,” Jack muttered. “And I didn’t find it. She gave it to me.”
“This is no time for jokes, mister.”
“I’m not joking, Mom! You said not to go looking for her, and I didn’t but I saw her last night and then there was thunder and lightning and I couldn’t hear her name when she whispered it in my ear, and then… I woke up and that was in my hand. I scratched my head with it when I woke up! Look!” Jack fussed at his hair, getting more bubbles in it.
“Dunk, then let me have a look.”
Jack took a deep breath, then bobbed his head under the water. When he came up, his mother was working her fingers through his hair.
“That’s a nasty scrape. You’re sure you didn’t do that while you were under your bed?”
“I told you I did that when I tried to scratch my head and there was the ring. It’s hers, Mom. She gave it to me!”
“You’re sure you didn’t find this in a dusty corner under your bed?”
“I didn’t even have it until last night. You’re not listening to me!”
“Jack. If you took this from somebody, I won’t be mad, but we have to return it.”
“I didn’t take it! She gave it to me!”
“John Henry Jacobs don’t you raise your voice to me. And I don’t want you to lie to me, either. Answer me truthfully. Whose ring is this?”
“It’s hers, Mom. She gave it to me, I think when she was going away, but I was trying to hear what she said and make her stay a little longer and then there was lightning and then I woke up and there it was in my hand. I didn’t take it! You said to tell you if I saw her again, and I was going to but then you made me come up here and take a bath.” Jack’s face had gone red, and tears made tracks in the film of bubbles still on his cheeks.
Jack’s mother stood up, turning the ring over in her fingers. She shook her head. “Jack, this doesn’t make any sense. You can’t get something in a dream and wake up with it…..” Her voice trailed off as the ring caught the dawn’s light streaming through the bathroom window. She turned the ring again, rotating the band until the sun’s rays glinted off the edges of the engraving.
She sat down hard on the toilet’s seat cover. She wiped the last of the moisture from within the ring, certain a droplet had obscured the lettering, that she had read it wrong.
“Jack, it’s not her ring.”
“It’s not hers,” she said. It didn’t make any sense.
It may have once belonged to the girl, but clearly, it was Jack’s ring. She read the engraving again.
To my J.H.J. with all my love, A.A.L.
* * * * *
“Did you oversleep, too?” Patty asked, sitting down beside Jack on the edge of the concrete walkway. “I saw your mom drop you off. Your mom only does that when the power goes out.”
“I was already up,” Jack muttered. He had his legs up, his chin resting on his knees, and he bit of each word.
“Somebody’s a Grouchy Gus this morning,” Patty sniffed.
“Did the thunder wake you up, too?” Catty asked, leaning forward to peer at Jack from the other side of her sister.
“Catty is such a baby about storms,” Patty said. “I would have slept right through it if she hadn’t squeezed me half to death.”
Jack sighed, watched the late morning sun dance across the ripples of a puddle.
“Do you believe in magic?” Jack asked.
“It’s tricks,” Patty sniffed. “They mark the cards, you know. Hide the birds under the table, that sort of thing.”
“Mr. Miraculous wasn’t very miraculous,” Catty said with a sigh.
Jack shook his head. “I don’t mean that kind of magic. I mean… real magic.”
Patty leaned away from Jack. “There’s no such thing as ‘real magic.’”
“Then what do you call it when you dream about someone giving you something and you wake up and there it is in your hand?”
“That’s not magic,” Catty said. “That’s a miracle.”
“That’s impossible,” Patty finally said. “Anybody who thinks those sorts of things really happen is illusional.”
“‘Delusional,’” Catty corrected.
“They’re crazy, that’s what they are,” Patty said. “‘Not right in the head,’ that’s how Daddy puts it. Hey says— Where are you going?”
Jack stood up, jamming his fists into his pockets as he walked away.
* * * * *
He needed to walk, until his hands finally opened up on their own and stopped quivering. He walked until his vision cleared. It had gotten all bubbly and wiggly, but he wasn’t about to let the twins see him cry. Bad enough they thought he was crazy, he wasn’t going to have them calling him a big baby too.
When he finally stopped walking, he found himself standing in front of the double doors of the school library. The clock above the doors said there was still twenty minutes until lunch ended, so he pulled one of the doors open and went in.
“Jack! How are you today, dear? Oh…” Mrs. Simms’ smile wavered, but didn’t disappear. “No art students today, then?”
Jack shook his head. “I need books about dreams.”
The librarian pursed her lips, tapping her chin with a long finger. “All of the books I have like that are a wee bit over your reading level, I’m afraid. It’s very technical stuff, dreaming.”
“Brain waves, eye motions, random synapses firing and all that.”
“Random? You mean like… all scrambled up?”
“Yes, that’s exactly right.”
“What’s a sin— sinasp?”
“Synapse,” Mrs. Simms said, slowly. “It’s a teensy tiny little part of the brain that passes electrical and chemical messages back and forth.”
“That’s what happens when you think?”
“Yes, very good, Jack.” Mrs. Simms’ smile broadened.
“So… dreaming is like thinking, but not when you’re awake?”
“That’s more or less the current theory, yes.”
“But it’s all scrambled up? Random?”
“So… if your sin- synapses were doing that when you were awake, is that what makes people crazy?”
Mrs. Simms regarded Jack for a long moment, then tapped something at the computer terminal.
“Stay right there, Jack. I think I have just the book for you.”
* * * * *
“‘Post-Impressionists’?” Charlotte read, from the other side of the table.
Jack turned the page, ignoring her.
“He uses colors like you tend to, Jack,” his mother said, peeking at the page over his shoulder.
“I think our brains work the same. Or… don’t work the same,” Jack said.
Charlotte stood up, looking over the top of the picture book. “Well, he’s still got both his ears. Maybe you shouldn’t let him use any knives for a while, Mom.”
“He’s young. And post-impressionable.”
Hannah snorted, from her seat on the couch.
“Jack. What has brought all this on? Your brain works just fine.”
“When it works at all,” Charlotte muttered.
“Careful,” Hannah said. “You know what happens when she uses your whole name.”
“Don’t you two have homework to do?” Jack’s mother held a hand out to him. “Come on, you. I think we need to have a talk.”
“But Mom, Charlotte’s the one in trouble!”
“This isn’t an ‘in trouble’ talk. Now come on, into the kitchen.”
Jack got up, taking the book with him, and climbed onto the stool by the phone. His mother followed, sliding the door shut behind her. She leaned against the counter, bending so she could meet Jack’s eyes.
“All right, what’s this about?”
“It’s my sin— synaspes.”
Jack’s mother leaned back, crossing her arms. “Oh? And what about them?”
“They must not be working right.”
“I think they’re working just fine.”
“Can’t we go to the doctor? And have him do a scan thing?”
“And what then, Jack?”
Jack thought. “Then… they can do something to make it all better.”
Jack thought some more. “I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. But they can do whatever to make my synaspes work right.”
Jack’s mother sighed. “You’re right, Jack.”
“So we can go?”
“Maybe I should have left the door open so your sisters could hear this. Your father will think I’m the crazy one when I tell him you want to go to the doctor.”
“You can’t be crazy. You’re the mom. Now come on, let’s get our coats.” He started to slide off the stool.
“Back up there, mister.”
“But you said—“
“I said you were right. You’re not a doctor. There is nothing wrong with your synapses, or the rest of your brain, except it being full of imagination, and that isn’t a bad thing.”
“Patty didn’t believe me when I told her about the ring. She said it was a trick or I was crazy.”
Jack’s mother reached into the pocket of her sweater, and held up the ring. It swung back and forth on a silvery chain.
“Hold out your hand, Jack.”
She lowered the ring into Jack’s palm, until the chain drooped.
“This ring doesn’t belong to anybody in the family, not on my side, not on your father’s side. I spent the better part of the day on the phone with your grandmothers and grandaunts and uncles. All of the family rings are accounted for. This one,” she tapped the ring Jack still held between them, “is yours now.” She lifted the ring up, and it spun, slowly, just above Jack’s hand.
“You can wear this here at home, or when we go out. But not at school. This is real gold. It is very expensive. You remember the lessons about money?”
Jack nodded. “You don’t show it off or people who want it might try to take it.”
His mother slipped the chain over his head, settling it around his neck.
“Jack, you know what rings symbolize, don’t you?”
“Something that can mean something else. Taking a big idea and turning it into something… bite sized.”
“You and dad wear rings. You gave them to each other when you got married.”
“But it’s more than just some pretty jewelry. You know that, right?”
“You and dad said vowels over them.”
“Vows. You know what those are, right?”
“It’s like… a promise.”
“A big promise. A powerful one. They also symbolize how your dad and I feel about each other.”
Jack turned the ring over and over in his fingers. “I guess I better not lose this, then, huh?”