Strange Disappearance

It’s not as much fun being invisible as I believed it would be.  In my wildest imaginings, I “saw” myself drifting through life, popping in and out of conversations, knowing everything well before everyone else, and loving every minute.  That’s not how it worked out at all.

Let me backtrack for a bit, to explain how this invisibility thing came about.

I was leafing through Weight Watcher’s Magazine, reading low calorie recipes and making plans for the upcoming week, when I spotted an ad for a new product that would make cellulite disappear.  As a walking example of the ugliness of cellulite, my eyes lit up with hope.  Imagine taking a pill three times a day, and within a relatively short period of time, those horrendous lumps would be gone, and I would look like Farah Fawcett!

I whipped out my checkbook, completed the order form, and drove to the nearest post office box.  As I dropped the envelope into the slot, I crossed my fingers and swore that I would faithfully take the pills.

Weeks passed.  Just as I began to think that I had unwittingly sent my hard-earned money to a scam operation, my package arrived.  It was wrapped in generic gray plastic, with no identifying marks on the outside.  Inside, I felt two bottles, about the size and shape of my cholesterol medications.

I dropped the package on my computer desk and went about my normal routine. I changed out of my work clothes and gathered snacks to hold me over until dinner.

Later that evening I remembered the mystery package. I tore through the dense plastic.  Inside I found not the expected medications from my medical provider, but brightly labeled bottles.  Farah herself, with trim legs and skinny tummy, was pictured as an example!

The directions were simple.  Take one pill, three times a day for the first week.  Drink plenty of water and exercise at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week.  The second week, I was supposed to increase the dosage by a pill and increase exercise by another 30 minutes.  The third week, it was three pills a day, three times a day, combined with 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.  I could do this with my eyes closed.

The first week, I felt somewhat lighter.  The scales at the gym showed that I had lost three pounds.  Awesome!

By the end of the second week, I had lost an additional six pounds!  My clothes fit better and there was a nice glow to my cheeks.

At the conclusion of the third week, another six pounds had disappeared!  That made for a total of 15 pounds. All I was doing was taking pills and exercising a bit more than usual.  At this rate, I would be thin and gorgeous in just a few months!

If three pills worked so well, why not take four?  There was nothing in the literature that indicated any dangers in moving beyond the recommended three-pill regimen, so why not give it a try?  If I began feeling weird or noticed any adverse effects, I could always drop back to three.

Oh, the joys of weight loss!  When you’ve been fat your entire life and have tried every diet known to woman and failed at them all, finding success is a truly magnificent feeling.  So it was that I walked about, imagining myself looking svelte in my rapidly shrinking body.

            I dropped another ten pounds.  My clothes no longer fit and so I got to go shopping, my true love.  Any excuse to run off to a store is a good one, but even more so when it meant buying a wardrobe for this brand-new me.  Boy, did I have fun!

If you can get inside my head, I bet you can figure out what I did next.  If four pills worked with no adverse side effects, why not five?  Yep.  I increased it to five pills, three times a day.  I added additional exercise time, bringing it up to 40 minutes, five times a week, just to be sure.

I had more energy than I’ve had in my entire life and I looked hot.  Sexy, even.  My husband oohed and aahed when he saw me in my new clothes.  Heads turned when I sashayed into the office or made my many trips to the water cooler.  Friends made comments about how wonderful I looked.  My heart flew skyward and my eyes glowed with pride.

Not wanting to push my luck, I kept the dosage at the five pills.  I sent away for a refill, intending to keep it up until I reached the recommended weight for someone as height-challenged as myself.

When I was well into the second supply, something strange happened.  I had gone to the mall and picked out some new clothes.  I got in line with all the other shoppers.  I spoke to the woman in front of me, commenting on the beautiful blouse in her hand.  She didn’t even turn a shoulder.  I shrugged it off, thinking maybe she didn’t speak to total strangers, even nice ones like myself.

When I moved to the front of the line, I sensed an eerie presence, as if someone else had stepped into my body.  It’s hard to describe that feeling.  It was as if I could touch this person, yet not, at the same time.  My skin tingled, as if a slight breeze blew the hairs on my arm, but there was no breeze.

After a customer left the register, I stepped forward.  The “presence” came with me.  The clerk did not look at me, but at something slightly to my right.  She addressed the “presence,” and accepted her goods.  She also took mine, which gave me a really spooky feeling.  The “presence” protested that my clothes were not hers, and with no further ado, they were hidden under the counter.

The clerk rang up the other’s purchase, and then called for the next customer to step forward.

I could not comprehend what had just happened!    I felt violated, as if I wasn’t worth her time or attention.  Swearing that I would never shop at this store again, I stomped out.

Similar experiences occurred at other stores.  Clerks ignored me, time and time again.

It was not until I passed a reflective glass window that I discovered that something was wrong.  Why did I not appear in the glass, while the man next to me was clearly visible?  I stood there for quite a while witnessing over and over again, that I was missing from the picture of shoppers.

I was invisible.  To test my theory, I went into a clothing store, took a blouse off the rack and went into the dressing room, unchallenged by the woman at the check-in counter.  Once I had closed the door of my cubicle, I looked in the mirror.  There was my blouse, floating strangely in the air, but no me.  Not one finger or leg or hair.

Well, this presented a whole new situation.  Think of the things that I could do!  The perverse situations that I could observe and private conversations that I could overhear.  Charged with a new sense of purpose, I flew out of the dressing room, ready to put my theory to a test.  

I saw two women over in the lingerie section, deep in conversation.  Emboldened, I walked right up to them and stood, nearly touching one woman’s back.  Neither of them noticed me, nor did their conversation alter in any way.  I listened to juicy gossip about someone named Tadzi who had gotten his so-called girlfriend pregnant and then dumped her, and about Precia, who drooled every time the boss leaned over her desk and batted his eyes at her. 

Not only did they not see me, they didn’t hear me when I added commentary to the discussion.  That was a bit disturbing.  How could I make my wishes be known if I couldn’t be heard?  Oh, dear.

A bit saddened, I left the mall, found my car, and drove home.  I drove faster than allowed, daring the police to pull me over.  I yearned to see the officer’s face when he looked inside the car and so no one.  Unfortunately, the local police must have been hanging out at the coffee shop, sipping lattes and eating macaroons.

At home, I hurried to my bedroom and stood in front of my mirror.  Nothing, just like at the store.  By now, the novelty had worn off.  It was one thing to imagine invisibility, but another to be so.  What’s the point of shedding pounds and pounds of cellulite, if no one could appreciate the loss?

I was so depressed that I pigged out on chocolate candies, tortilla chips and butter pecan ice cream.  Bring back the pounds!  Put those ugly lumps back in my thighs!  Let me be seen!

My husband came home shortly after I finished the ice cream.  He called my name, like he always did.  When he got no response, I watched in dismay as he walked right past me, without even a glance, and down the hall to change clothes.  He reappeared shortly, dressed in shorts and t-shirt, and went into the kitchen to fix a drink.  He turned on the television, and got comfy in his recliner.

When I did not “arrive” home, he fixed a dinner of leftovers, and ate alone.  He seemed so sad and so much older.  I had never before noticed the bald spot on the top of his head or the bulge of his stomach hanging over the waistband of his shorts.   I had never taken the time to see how much he loved having me home and how terribly lonely he was when I was gone.

All those conferences, all those late night meetings, all those day-long shopping trips suddenly seemed so trivial compared to the relationship with my husband.  When had my priorities changed?  When had “I” come first, and “we” had dropped off the planet?

Embarrassed and humiliated, I threw the remaining pills away. 

If I could become invisible in a few short weeks, how long would it take to become visible?

My nights and days were lonely.  I cried as I watched my husband climb into bed alone and cradle my pillow to his face.  Night after night, he sobbed.  Not silent cries, but huge, bed-shaking sobs.  I wanted so badly to touch him, to hold him tight, but my fingers lacked substance.  All I could do was get as close to him as possible, and drape my misty arm over his shaking body.

There was no point in going to work.  I did try that first day after I discovered my changed state, but no one saw me.  People walked by my “empty” desk, and commented on my unexplained absence.  When my phone rang, the secretary answered before I could pick up the receiver and told my clients that I had not come in.

I left at brunch and did not go back.  I stayed safely inside my house as if I were agoraphobic.  With no job to go to, I cleaned out closets and played computer games.   I put photos in albums and sorted through papers that I had kept for one reason or another. 

I was careful about what I did, however, for fear of frightening my husband.  I left no evidence of my activities where he could find them.  Each day when it neared time for him to come home, I packed everything away as if I had not been there.  Which, in his view, I had not.

He made a lot of phone calls.  He went through our personal phone book and contacted everyone in it.  He reported my absence to the police, who politely told him that they would not look for me until forty-eight hours had passed.  When they did finally come to investigate, they found no evidence of foul play. 

Days went by, with little or no change in my condition.  By now, I was horribly depressed, and spent more and more time simply sitting and chastising myself for never being happy being me.  And eating.  I ate as if I was a starving child placed in front of a never-ending buffet.

After four weeks of this tortuous existence, I awoke one morning with a strange tingling in my left leg.  When I looked down, there was a lump under the covers the shape of a leg and foot.  Yes!  I jumped out of bed, ran to the mirror, and gaped.  There was a leg.  Attached to nothing, but it was there, in the flesh, so to speak.

That day was a day of miracles.  Every hour, I ran down the hall and stood in front of the mirror.  Body parts slowly became visible.  The other leg appeared next, followed by my left hand and arm.  Then the right one, my neck, head, and hair.  It took several hours for my stomach to show up, and another several hours for my chest.

I was no longer Farah Fawcett thin, for the ceaseless, depressed munching had added gobs of pounds.   The cellulite was back in all its glory.  The “love” handles jiggled pleasantly when I moved and the double chins reminded me of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, my favorite.

My imperfect self was gloriously beautiful.  Feeling full of life, full of air, full of joy, I skipped throughout the house.  I went out in the backyard and danced, with arms upraised and tear-filled eyes taking in the blue sky and feather-like clouds.  I sang and sang some more, enjoying the halleluiah tunes that bounced off the trees.  I was back, I was back, praise the Lord, I was back!

Suddenly my joy turned my stomach a flu-like sour.  How would I explain my absence to my husband?  If I concocted a story about a kidnapping and escape, he would expect me to report it to the police and identify the men who had taken me away.  I’m a lousy liar.  Always have been.  When I lie, my cheeks turn red and I fidget and fuss and make stupid sounds that resemble a pig grunting while giving birth to a litter of hundreds of squirming piglets.

Not knowing what else to do, I went to my computer and researched reappearances of missing persons.  The only story that seemed plausible had to do with a blow to the head that caused a concussion and resulting amnesia.  I could do that, for I had experienced two different concussions. I knew the symptoms well:  dizziness, disorientation, numbness, difficulty speaking, and uncontrolled shaking. All I had to do was act a bit ditzier than normal.  Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Where to wait?  Should I sit at the computer?  He wouldn’t find that abnormal at all.  Should I fix dinner?  No.  He’d see through that right away, for I never cooked a thing.  Fix him a drink?  Wouldn’t do, for he knows how I feel about alcohol.  The computer, then.  I’d play solitaire until he came home.

I planted myself in front of the computer and whenever I heard a vehicle pull into our courtyard, I began a new game.  Right as the cuckoo clock struck five, my husband pulled into the driveway.  I heard his door open and shut, watched out the window as he walked toward the front door.  I smiled as he stopped and smelled one of my favorite roses, inhaling deep as if trying to remember his long-gone wife.

The key entered the lock and the front door opened.  The door closed and like always, he latched it closed.  He’d lectured me more than once about my cavalier attitude about doors.  He feared an invasion and the damage that a burglar might do to his home, his material goods, and especially to his wife.

He dropped his keys on the file cabinet near the door and then stepped around the computer desk.  That’s when he saw me.

Shock clearly registered on his face.  I watched in fascinated horror as my husband slipped through a range of emotional states.  Surprise, disbelief, terror, and even embarrassment, as if I had caught him doing something unthinkable, all passed, one after another.  He settled on elation.

Like a little boy who had lost his mother and then been found, he scuttled over to me and pulled me from my chair.  His long arms wrapped around my chest, encasing me in the tightest embrace that I had felt since our romantic days of young love.  His head fell on my shoulder, and he cried. 

“I thought I had lost you.  I thought you didn’t love me anymore.  You’re back!”

“I will always love you,” I said.

Those words triggered an unexpected reaction.  As if a nest of wasps had stung him, my husband pushed me away and took several steps backward.  “Where have you been?” he shouted.    “You never wrote or called.  I looked everywhere.  I called your friends and not a one knew where you were.”

“I don’t know where I was,” I answered in the best “confused” sounding tone that I could muster.  “I remember driving home.  I recall cleaning out the closet in the guest room.  I don’t know why, though.  I remember bringing in the step stool so as to reach things on the top shelf.  There were some old computer games up there that I never played anymore. 

After that, I have no memory, until today, when I found myself in the backyard where the sun was shining and the sky was blue.  It was if I had been born again.  Like I had been lost and then found, like in the song.  So I came inside and walked around, touching everything.  And then sat here to wait for you.”

I waited anxiously for his reaction.  Would he accept such a cockamamie explanation as fact?  Would he welcome me back without further ado?  Most importantly, could our relationship heal?

The answer is yes, yes, and yes.  He had found the step stool in the bedroom and had put it away.  The computer games were in a box on one of the beds.  He put them there, thinking that I was going to play them.  So, he believed every word of my lie.

That night we reveled in each other’s presence, like newlyweds.  Even though all we did was watch television, eat popcorn and go to bed after the weather report finished, it was the best night of our marriage.  We had each other, with all our imperfections, and that’s all we needed.

So, did I ever go on another diet?  Sure.  What woman doesn’t dream of a better-looking body?  My diets, however, were with sanctioned, medically approved plans.  No more strange pills for me.  I was done with that phase of my life.  If I never lost another pound, I didn’t really care, as long as I had my husband.

And my job?  Well, I did lose it.  When I supposedly failed to return to work, the agency hired a replacement.   That’s what my friend Sally told me.

I did find a new job fairly quickly.  The local school district needed an aide to work with special needs children.  My salary was one third of what I made in my high-powered previous position, but my satisfaction level was off the roof.

These kids were normally the invisible ones on campus.  They looked a little different, acted kind of weird, and couldn’t carry on a real conversation.  High school students don’t like to be seen with odd-looking characters, for at that age, you are whom you are with.

With time, I helped my students make friends.  With time, they lost their invisibility. With time, they became some of the most popular kids.

Being invisible is traumatic.  It hurts the heart more surely than a bullet or a knife, for from those injuries one can heal.  Invisibility only goes away when another person discovers the true person buried under the cloak.

I had been lost, and now I was found, and found I would stay.

A Valentine’s Dilemma

Part Two:

Just as he remembered, there was an old leather trunk in the corner, covered with a layer of dust.  He lovingly rubbed his hand across the top.  He opened the lid, revealing Nightingale’s treasures.

On top was a red velvet shirt with a beaded yoke, a string of yellow flowers attached to a white vine, all hand sown by Nightingale herself.  Next was a tiny pair of beaded moccasins, so small that he couldn’t fit his whole hand inside.  He found a bandolier of china tubes interspersed with blue glass beads and a pair of white buckskin leggings with a fringed tunic.

“This was her weddin’ outfit,” he thought as he held them up to the light. “She sure looked pretty in these.”  He held the tunic to his nose and inhaled, then cradled it to his chest.  For many minutes Grandpa sat on his haunches, rocking with eyes closed, remembering the beautiful girl who stole his heart so many years ago.  “This won’t do,” he chastised himself as he placed the outfit back in the trunk.  He rummaged around some more until he found the item that he had had in mind.  After taking it out, he closed the trunk, locked the door, and went back down the ladder.

About the same time Stan came in, leading Sally by the halter.  “Guess what I saw up on the ridge?”

“A beaver?”

“No.  Guess again,” Stan said as he led Sally into her stall. 

“Little Bear?” Grandpa chuckled at the thought of the creature from lore being spotted at the top of the hill.

“You know better than that,” Stan said. “Give me a real guess.  Something that lives up there, but you seldom see any more.”  Stan pulled off the saddle and the blanket and hung them over a rail.  He picked up a soft cloth and wiped Sally’s damp sides until she glowed.

“You saw a porcupine.”

“That’s it!  How did you guess that?  I haven’t seen one up there since I was a little boy.” Stan brushed Sally, removing the matted hair from her mane and tail.

“Well,” Grandpa drawled, “I was thinking of a porcupine that crossed my path when I was about your age.”

“Another story, Grandpa?”

“Yep.  You keep workin’ and I’ll talk,” he said as he settled onto a three-legged stool just outside the stall.  “Years ago, shortly after I met Nightingale, I wanted to give her something that showed how special she was.  I had little money to spend, so I figured I’d make something.  Now your grandmother always dressed in her traditional clothes.  Somehow it felt right to her.  None of that modern stuff.

“So I rode up on that ridge, just like you did, thinking maybe I’d see a nice piece of wood for carving.  Instead I ran across a dead porcupine.  Looked fresh.  Maybe died of old age, as I didn’t see any wounds anywhere.  Anyway, I got the idea to pull off the quills and make something out of them.  The quills are hollow, you know, so it is easy to lace them together to make a necklace or breastplate.  Plus they can be died different colors by using berries, roots, or mosses. 

“Red was Nightingale’s favorite color, so after getting as many quills as I could, I searched around until I found some nice berries.  I took it all back home, boiled the berries in some hot water, making a nice thick juice.  Then I dropped in about half of the quills.  While they were cooking, I found some rawhide scraps and cut them into very thin strips. 

“Once everything was ready, I prayed to the gods to guide my work.  The Blackfoot believe that the quills have religious powers, so I was extra careful not to offend anyone.  I had some blue glass beads left over from a necklace I made her as a wedding gift, so I used them too.

“Every evening I came out here to the barn and worked while Nightingale took care of the mother.  My fingers were too big and clumsy to make anything real fine, so I concentrated on the larger pieces of quill and the beads with the biggest holes.  It took me nearly two weeks, but when I presented her with a sash for her waist, she smiled so big I thought her cheeks would split.

“So, here it is,” he said as he held it up for Stan to see. “I found it in her chest.”

“Grandpa, that’s beautiful!”

“The colors have faded a bit, but Rose might like it anyway.”

“She’ll love it.  But won’t her father think we’re engaged?”

“Maybe yes to both.  But if you notice, I made a design like antelopes.  Blackfoot warriors place a lot of significance in the antelope.    Because they run fast, the antelope escape capture more times than not.  Curly Bear will remember that and know that this gift isn’t meant to tie Rose to you.”

Stan reverently held the sash up to the light, then ran his fingers along the lines of quills and beads.  “This is perfect.  Rose doesn’t have a sash nearly this nice.”

“Well, let’s go inside.  It’s nigh on to dark.  Soon it will be bedtime.”

Stan closed Sally’s stall door, turned off the light, closed the big barn door, then walked with his grandfather back to the house.  “One question, Grandpa.”

“Sure.”

“If this was Grandmother’s, don’t you want to keep it?”

Grandpa stopped at the top step and turned to face the now dark front lawn. He turned his eyes up to the sky, sighed, and then said, “The materials that went to make that came from the earth.  Yes, it was a special gift.  A way for me to tell my wife that I loved her.  But it holds no power over my memories.  Keeping it in that trunk is of no use to anyone.  If’n you give it to Rose, every time she wears it, Nightingale will smile.  Nope. It’s yours to give.”

Stan laid his right hand on his grandfather’s shoulder. “I don’t know what to say, except thanks.  This will make the best Valentine’s Day gift.  All I need now is a box and red wrapping paper.”

Grandpa nodded. “I just might have some of that upstairs.” With that, he opened the door and led the way inside. “Why don’t you get some studying done while I gather what you need.”

Stan pulled his Government textbook out of his backpack and settled at the wooden desk his grandfather had recently made. The surface was smooth even though it was a bit uneven.

He loved the care that had gone into its construction. In fact, he even knew which tree his grandfather had used. Not too long ago, during a rare windstorm, a walnut tree had blown down. He had helped cut the tree into usable pieces that he had stacked under an overhang on the backside of the barn.

He opened to the chapter on socialism and was just starting to read when his grandfather reappeared, his arms full.

“I found ever’thin’ you need.”

            Stan smiled when he saw the red Christmas paper. Rose would laugh when she saw dancing Santas and skipping reindeer. “That’s perfect. Thanks.”

            “So,” Grandpa said as he got out his pipe. “Happy?”

            Stan nodded. “Once again you solved my dilemma.”

            Grandpa opened the front door and just before he stepped through, he said, “Valentine’s is about love. I’d do anything for you because I love you. You know that, right?”

            “That I do.” Stan moved the paper and ribbon off to the side of the desk. “So what can I get you for Valentine’s?”

            “Every day you gift me with your love.” Grandpa closed the screen door behind him. “That’s all I need.”

A Valentine’s Day Dilemma

Part One:

            Stan Ellis sat before his computer, furiously searching the Internet for a gift for his girlfriend, Rose.  He wanted to get her something for Valentine’s Day that said he cared about her, but nothing more.  After all, they were both seniors in high school headed for college in the fall.

            “That won’t do,” he thought as he looked at diamond necklaces.  “I don’t have that kind of money, and something like that spells L-O-V-E.”  He checked out watches, rings, hats, and various types clothing, but nothing seemed to fit what Stan thought were in Rose Tailfeather’s taste.

            Grandfather Ellis, looking on from the kitchen as he fixed dinner, smiled.  He remembered going through the same thing when he wanted to give his wife Nightingale a special gift on their anniversary.  He understood how hard it was to find just the right gift.

After putting the casserole in the oven to bake, he stepped into the living room. “Whatcha doing?”

            “Oh!  Grandpa, don’t sneak up on me like that, please.”

            “It’s good to know I can still sneak.  I thought these ol’ bones made enough racket to wake your long-dead uncles.”  Grandpa pulled his pipe from his shirt pocket, stuffed it with tobacco from a hand-tooled pouch hanging from a nearby shelf, tampered it down with his finger, lit it, then inhaled.  As he exhaled, he made perfect clouds of smoke rise toward the ceiling.  “I asked what you were doin’.”

            “Valentine’s Day is coming up and I want to get something special for Rose,” Stan said.

            “Go to Draper’s in town and pick up somethin’ there.  The old man carries a good variety of things to please a woman.” Grandpa settled into his old, worn recliner, put up the foot rest and got himself comfortable.

            After turning off the computer, Stan said, “You don’t understand.  Rose comes from a traditional Blackfoot family.  If I give her something too valuable, then her father will think I’m proposing.  If it’s not something Rose wants, then she will think I don’t care.  I’m stuck.”

            “Is Rose a nice girl?”

            “Of course.  You met her before the Winter Dance.  I brought her over, right?”

            “Is she the one that wore the old-fashioned buckskin dress with blue and white pony beads down the sleeves?”

            “That’s the one.  Rose is proud of her heritage and wears native regalia almost every day.  She’s in my Chemistry and English classes and her grades are always the highest,” Stan said as he fidgeted with his hands.

            “Doesn’t her family live outside of town on Little Creek Ranch?”

            “Yes.”

            “I remember her ol’ man, Curly Bear Tailfeather.  He believes the people’ll rise and take back the land.  He goes to Ghost Dances and parades about like he’s a medicine man. He’s kind of nuts, if’n you ast me,” Grandpa said, inhaling and puffing once more.  “You sure chose the wrong girl, Stan.”

            A look of shock swept over the young man’s face.  “Why do you say that?”

            “Because no matter what you do, you’re in trouble.  Curly Bear believes in all that ritual stuff.  Anything you give Rose is an engagement promise.”

            “That’s my problem, Grandpa.  Rose may come from a traditional family, but she has modern ideas.  She expects a boyfriend to remember her on Valentine’s Day. And not just with a cheap card, either.  She wants something in a box covered with bright red paper.”

            Just then the oven timer rang.  “Go check dinner, Stan, and I’ll think on it for a spell.”

            When Stan checked on the casserole, it wasn’t quite done. While it continued cooking, he put together a tossed green salad, set the table, and poured two tall glasses of ice water.  His grandfather had some diced potatoes in the frying skillet, so Stan turned on the heat, put in a little oil, onion, salt and pepper, and cooked them until the potatoes had a nice brown color and the onion slices were translucent.  After putting the potatoes in a serving bowl and placing them on the table, he pulled out the noodle casserole and centered it on the hot pads his grandfather had spread in the center of the table.

            “Dinner’s ready, Grandpa.  Come on in.”

            “Thanks, Stan.  I was so busy figurin’ I forgot about food.  I think I solved your problem,” he said as he walked into the kitchen and sat at the head of the table.  “Say the blessin’ for us.”

            They bowed their heads as the nuns at St. Matthew’s Episcopal had taught both.  “God, our Creator and Heavenly Father,” Stan intoned.  “Bless our meal and all the people who helped create it.  Watch over us as we go through our days.  We thank you for all the gifts you have given.  Amen.”

            “Amen,” echoed his grandfather.  “Pass the potatoes.  Got to eat ‘em afore they get cold.”

            As Stan ate he remembered Grandma Nightingale’s rules about chewing slowly and eating quietly in reverence to the animals and plants that gave their lives in order to sustain the people.  When he was finished, Stan said, “So, what idea did you get?”

            “Well, if you give Rose jewelry from a store, she might like it, but her father won’t.  He hates anything store bought and thinks old man Draper cheats the people.”

            “That’s what I was thinking.  Plus Rose might read engagement into it, and I don’t want that to happen.  We’re still too young.”

            “You can’t give her flowers, as Curly Bear’s anger would rise at destroying plants for no purpose.  That leaves clothing or food,” Grandpa said, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his full belly.

Stan got up, picked up the dirty dishes and carried them over to the counter.  He rinsed them off and then placed them in the dishwasher.  The leftover casserole went into a refrigerator container.  He dampened a paper towel and washed off the table, careful not to disturb his grandfather.

“I’ve got to take Sally out for a ride before it gets too dark,” Stan said.  “Want to walk out to the stable with me?”

“Sure,” Grandpa said.  “What I was thinkin’ was that what you could give Rose is out there anyway.”

Together they walked across the lush front lawn to the barn.  Stan pushed open the large door while his grandfather turned on the lights. 

Stan looked around and saw only hay, harnesses, bridles and horseshoes. “What’s out here that I could give Rose?”

“Nightingale’s trunk is up in the rafters.  If I recall correctly, there’s something in there that would make Rose smile and keep her father happy as well.  You go out for a ride while I climb up and get it.”

“Sure, Grandpa.  I’ll be back in an hour.” Stan saddled Sally and headed out toward the distant hills.

After his grandson left, Grandpa climbed up the ladder to the rafters.  He walked to the far side where there was a locked door.  Pulling out a ring of keys, he found a small, old-fashioned one that fit the hasp lock.  Once the door creaked open, he allowed his eyes a moment to adjust before stepping into the dark storage area. 

Just as he remembered, there was an old leather trunk in the corner, covered with a layer of dust.  He lovingly rubbed his hand across the top.  He opened the lid, revealing Nightingale’s treasures.

Night Terrors

            The large dun horse runs full tilt down a rock-strewn hill, its hooves sliding, slipping, searching for purchase which it finds, then loses then finds again as it runs harder, faster, its eyes huge, lather forming on its withers, its sides and foam dripping from its mouth, its tongue dangling to one side as its sides heave and heave. The headlong descent to the swiftly moving river below doesn’t slow its run, doesn’t ease its fears but rather amplifies them for the roar is deafening as the current bangs against tree limbs hanging so low their branches dip into the melee.

            She tries to stop, but her forward momentum is so strong, so impulsive, so rushed that her hooves slide through the muddy banks and into the river she jumps with a mighty splash. The water is too deep and she flails, legs trying valiantly to swim, to coordinate, to come up with a rhythm that will keep her afloat, but its all in vain as she is swept downriver along with branches and other debris.

            Her head is barely above water and her breathing is ragged but still she fights, her hooves hoping to touch bottom despite knowing that they will not, they cannot for the river is deep and the current keeps sucking her under. Downriver she goes, crashing against huge boulders that suck her breath away, that hurt her legs, her ribs, her neck.

            Kicking and kicking she never gives us, never succumbs to despair that would pull her under even when her mighty head dips below the surface and all she sees is a muddy swirl. Sides heaving she fights the fight of her life, not giving in for a minute, a second.

            In front of her, all around her a roar begins. Quiet at first if a roar could be called quiet but as she fights, it intensifies as she nears a bend in the river, a turn she hopes will allow her weary legs to strike mud, sand, gravel anything.

            No more boulders ahead. She has hope. Her spirits life, until she notices that the roar is so loud that she hears no bird, no insect, no bubble or quiet gurgle. Roar and more roar. Growing louder as the current pulls her forward toward an end. A drop-off. A precipice inot which she knows she will fall.

            And so she gives up. Her exhausted legs stop churning. Her head slumps. Her heart stills. She is prepared to die and million deaths for she knows what comes next. She’s seen if before. Heard it before. Lost companions before. But with one last burst of energy she screams signaling her acceptance of death as she plunges over the edge.

            Down and down she falls carried by the torrent, deep into the mist, the swirl, tossed over and under until she does not know which way is up or down or sideways. So deep that there is no sun, no light, no joy until there is peace. She quits fighting knowing that her life is no more.

            A sudden overwhelming peace fills her. A lightness of spirit. She has come to her afterlife. She will run with her ancestors. Romp across stubbly fields in joyous rapture.

            Until she opens her massive eyes and realizes the she is being carried along with a mild current, heading toward a sandy shore. She fights just enough to get her head out of the water, just enough to be able to breathe, to see a blue sky. To feel the sun on her shoulders, to hear birds singing softly overhead. In and out she breathes. In and out.

            With effort she struggles to her feet and stands for fear of collapse. She raises her weary head and sees grasses just a few steps ahead. She knows she must eat. Must restore energy lost and so she makes her way to the first patch and nibbles gingerly as if it might not be real. Nibbles more and more as she moves away from the river.

            Natural instincts take over and she grazes calmly, naturally as she’s done all her life. As her ancestors have done. Ripping out one nourishing morsel after another as the roar of the terrifying falls slowly recedes into the distance.

            Satisfied, she shakes her head removing the last of the water and she neighs calling for her kind. Nothing at first so she heads toward a sand dune, a tiny hill and makes her way to the top being careful, ever so careful where each hoof goes.

            At the crest a beam of light falls across her back and it warms her inside and out. With a sigh she plods forward, one step after another. She nibbles the choicest bits now that her hunger is satisfied. She neighs again and waits for something. She knows what it is, but will an answering call come?

            Far to the west she hears a faint call. With the sun going with her she heads toward what she hopes will be a welcome. Serenity fills her for she has survived. The tragedy will soon move to the recesses of her mind, but will never be forgotten. Not entirely. Not for many years.