Chapter 4 of 21. If you haven’t read the earlier chapters, please read them first. You can find them here: The Willow, a serialized novel.
Sarah could feel someone walking towards her, so she looked up to see who it was. Her eyes grew big as she realized it was him. The cop. The one her dad had told her about.
Sarah’s father, Dave, was a troubled man. He never tried to hide that fact from his little girl. “Daddy has a monster inside,” he had always told her. “I don’t know how to make it go away. That doesn’t mean I love you less, I’m just occupied in fighting it off.
Dave had tried every trick he could think of to calm himself – meditation, mood stabilizers, running, loud music – but the constant chatter of the demon within would not be sidelined. Dave feared that it was because there was actually no difference between the demon and himself; that he indeed was the monster.
The high that Dave finally found in hard drugs, was not what got him hooked. It was that the drugs gave him a shelter to hide for a while.
Dave was a single father and an old one at that. Sarah’s mother had left as soon as she could physically run. Dave didn’t blame Sarah’s mother, he would run from himself if he could as well.
After having spent his life in the service of a cause he wasn’t sure he believed in anymore, Dave had decided, at the age of fifty-seven, to start over again. He was haunted by his past, and wanted nothing more than to live a normal life; he just didn’t know how to go about doing that. Having been a militantly devout and pious man, he was still a virgin at fifty-seven. Now he wanted to get married and have children, but who would have him, a wrinkled shell of his former glory, having lost the anchor of faith that made him beautiful. He had no problem interacting with women when he wasn’t available, but when he started looking for a companion, he became scared. He couldn’t imagine holding hands, looking deeply into someone’s eyes, or softly caressing them. It wasn’t who he was. Dave badly wanted to fit in, to lose himself in complacency, but there was nothing normal about him.
Unable to exorcise himself from his previous life completely, he still had to make provision runs on behalf of the cause, he was constantly pulled in two directions. His mind became so loud that he started to accept he was crazy. Seeing the struggle, as he sat on a park bench, a kid claiming to be his friend introduced him to heroin. Heroin made everything easier. He could fulfill his obligations to the brotherhood he wanted out of, and then just forget about them.
With a weakened moral compass, his demons held full sway. He started to visit a prostitute that he decided he’d fallen in love with. She was happy to be his only customer as he paid ten times her normal rate. Dave felt that if the girl was only seeing him, she wouldn’t really be a prostitute and he wouldn’t really be doing anything wrong. But when she became pregnant, and wanted to abort the baby, Dave became violent. He insisted that she would have the child and beat her regularly to insure she stayed true. Once she gave birth to the girl, the woman ran away and left the old man to find his way through parenthood.
He was sixty-three when Sarah was born. She gave his life new meaning and a renewed dedication to virtuous living. While she remained young enough to be all consuming, he was able to use all of his ‘crazy’ in chasing after her. But as she got older and more self-sufficient, the voices started to come back. He was able to stay off the drugs for the first seven years of her life, but when the demons came calling, he once again turned to heroin as the problem solver, and found himself locked in the same old cycles as before.
Whenever Dave found himself feeling ‘together’ he would try to talk and impart as much knowledge as possible to Sarah. He believed that, between the drugs and his age, he wouldn’t have much time with her, and wanted her to be prepared to go on without him. He had never talked to her about his religious duties or upbringing. He tried to keep that part of his life to himself. But he knew that Sarah knew he was keeping secrets from her.
One day, while he was in a fully present mood, they were walking the streets of downtown together. All of a sudden, Dave stopped moving and just stared. Sarah had walked a couple steps before she noticed. Turning back she saw her father’s body locked up like a statue, his eyes intently watching a black cop as he approached from the opposite direction. The cop passed by Dave giving nothing more than a smile and a nod as he did. It took a few moments for Dave to finally relax.
“What’s the matter, Daddy,” Sarah had asked.
Dave took a few deep breaths, and turned to watch the cop continuing on his way.
“See that man?” Dave said solemnly.
“Will you remember his face?”
Sarah looked questioningly at her father.
“You run up along the other side of the street and by an ice cream from that store on the corner. Then walk back to me on this side while eating your ice cream. Make sure you get a good look at the cop. And you remember his face.”
Sarah did as her father commanded, not sure if she was just humoring the monster, but afraid that it might be more than that.
Sarah bought her ice cream and walked back along the side of the street. The cop was talking to a couple of kids hanging out on a street bench. She stared at his face trying to remember every line as she did. Sarah didn’t even notice when he looked at her and asked how she was.
“How’s that ice cream?” she finally heard him say.
Sarah snapped out of her trance, “Huh? It’s good thank you.”
“Ah, butterscotch,” he said, nodding his head. “Good choice.”
Sarah walked back to her father, who seemed almost fully engaged with his demons. “Will you remember his face?” he asked intently.
“His name is Sam. One day, if something happens to me, you find him and take him to my locked box, under my table. I have a letter in there that I want you to give to him.”
“Under the computer table, I have a locked box. The key is in my dresser drawer. Top shelf.”
“Why don’t you give it to him now.”
“No,” said Dave, shaking his head violently. “I can’t. You have to do it. But, only if something happens to me. Only if something bad happens to me. Do you understand?”
“Okay, Daddy. I’ll find him, and give it to him.”
Sarah didn’t know how she would find Sam if something happened to her father, but she didn’t like when he got into these desperate states, and would say whatever she had to to calm him.
Dave had kept tabs on all of the kids from the incident. That was part of his job. He hated it. He had followed their lives, but he’d never seen them this close up since that first day. It was clear that Sam didn’t recognize him. He wondered whether, after forty years, Sam even remembered what happened at all.
Now, two years since their original introduction, Sarah was seeing Sam again, and he was walking directly towards her.
As James looked at Nicholas, he realized that he wasn’t just a great musician. At first James thought the kid was skilled, but now watching him standing awkwardly, trying to think of something to say, James realized that the kid had the flow. The truly great musicians never try to play; they just flow in the music. They may or may not have the best understanding of music theory, or note reading, but their hands, and their mouths, and their breath, on their own, know what to do. The music flows through them from another source.
But then James saw his hands. As James marveled at the boy, he became aware that it was more than just flow. Most drummers, after playing, hold their sticks with their palms down or to their sides. Nicholas was standing with his palms up. Not palms up like a classically trained snare drummer, ready to continue his beats, but relaxed with his sticks between his thumb and index finger – chin mudra. Whereas before, James thought the boy was standing awkwardly, now he realized that the boy appeared to be swaying in a meditative stupor. He wasn’t trying to think of what to say. He was feeding.
“What are you doing?” asked James.
“Huh? I’m just out for a walk,” said Nicholas.
“No, with your hands.”
Suddenly aware and insecure, Nicholas put his arms down. “Nothing,” he said.
“I saw you with your palms. It’s no big deal, I’m just interested in where you learned that.”
“It’s just a relaxation technique, I learned from my parents.”
“You know that it’s more than that. I could see it in your whole body. You were feeding. You were absorbing the flow. You have the gift.”
“You know about the gift?” asked Nicholas. He had never talked about this with anyone.
“How do you know about it?” asked James. Who gave it to you?”
“My parents. I mean, I was born with it, but they taught me how to use it.”
“Who are your parents, Nicholas?” James’ heart was pounding, believing he might already know the answer.
“Andrew and Caroline Ramsey.” Nicholas said, as he lowered his eyes and looked to the ground.
“Andrew and Caroline!” James couldn’t contain himself. “Nicholas, I know them. We went to grade school together. Oh my God, I was wondering what happened to them. They got married? Unbelievable. I totally didn’t see that coming. Can you call them? I’d love to meet up with them, again. Actually, I need to meet up with them again.”
“I’m sorry, James. They died a couple years ago. Car crash. The police thought he might have fallen asleep at the wheel, ‘cause they veered into oncoming traffic. So sorry.”
“You don’t have to be sorry,” James said, though hearing the news was crushing. “I’m just sad that we never got to meet again. Well then, what is your situation?
“I live with my grandparents – my mother’s parents. They’re kinda old, so I can do pretty much whatever I want. They give me a room and all. But… they try, but they don’t really notice me. They were so sad about mom, and maybe they weren’t ready to be parents again. I just try and stay out of their way.”
Martha looked at her work. The tent was beautiful. She had never put one together herself before. She felt immensely satisfied with the job she’d done.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” she asked, turning to Brett and Daisy who were taking turns punching each other at the picknic table.
“Mom,” started Brett, “I gotta move. Please, can I go for a hike or something?
“Yeah, let’s go hiking, I want to see what’s up that hill?” Daisy said motioning to the rising forest to her right.
“Gags please, I don’t need you to slow me down.”
“Don’t call me Gags, you idiot. I’m not even slow.”
“Oh, babes, mommy’s tired. I just put up the tent. Don’t you want to sit around and tell stories or something?
“Mom, I gotta move,” said Brett, determined.
“Well, then you’re gonna take your sister with you.”
“This way,” said Daisy, hopping up and heading out.
“Look after her, Brett,” said Martha as she settled herself into the bench seat and put her head down on the table.
Brett grudgingly got up and followed Daisy.
They hiked for a good mile with Daisy in the lead. It was all Brett could do to keep up. He wasn’t sure what had gotten into her, but he knew that he didn’t like it. After twenty minutes of walking, Daisy stopped and just looked ahead into the forest.
“What are you doing, Daisy,” asked Brett, slightly confused by the spaced out look on her face.
“Nothing,” said Daisy, almost to herself.
“There’s nothing over there. Anyways we have to stay on the path.”
“Just go on ahead.”
“All that’s over there is bushes and trees. I think there’s a clearing up ahead where we can look over to the mountain. Come on, let’s go.” Sure that Daisy would follow his lead, Brett continued along the path. After a good fifteen steps without hearing his sister running to catch up with him, Brett turned around. She was gone. “Daisy?”
Brett ran back to the spot he had left her. “Daisy! Daisy!” Brett ran into the forest looking for her but it was too thick. The grass was over grown, up to his knees. He knew that she wouldn’t have walked through it. He turned around and came back to the path. “Daisy!”
Daisy had left the campsite on a mission. She barely noticed her brother was following her. She knew that she had been here before and that there was something she needed to see up ahead. She desperately charged her way up the path until she saw it. The path veered to the left, but straight ahead of her there seemed to be an opening. Daisy saw a vertical strip of light and she knew what it was. It was a pocket in the atmosphere. All she had to do was walk into it. It seemed to be calling her in. She might not have even thought about it and just walked right into it if she wasn’t consumed by the feeling that she’d done it before. The light seemed to be pulling at her, but she felt that something bad had happened there. That she had seen something she didn’t want to see again.
Daisy could barely hear her brother talking to her and managed to say something to make him go away. When he left, she decided she needed to see what was in front of her, so she stepped into the light.
The path was gone. She was still in the forest, the strip of light now behind her, but it was a different forest somehow. She felt as if she were suddenly in some other dimension. Although she could barely conceptualize what was going on, she knew that she had traveled somewhere.
Determined to solve the mystery, Daisy continued walking straight. The woods were thick but she could see there was some kind of opening in the brush, up ahead.
As she carried on, Daisy could feel a rumbling. It was almost like an earthquake but it wasn’t coming from the ground; it seemed like the air was shaking. Charging ahead, she finally burst through the tree lining to an open area. Her happiness to be out of the forest lived for only a second as she saw before her a man standing on the porch of a cabin pointing a shot gun right at her.
Daisy’s breath became labored. She knew this man. Fear overcame her for a second, but then she was suddenly hit by a wave of emotion. It was as if waves of love, and bliss were rolling out of the cabin and over her. Daisy fell to her knees unable to handle it. She forced herself to look up and could see that the man could feel it also. She could see in his face that he wanted to shoot her, but he could barely hold on to his gun.
Daisy knew she had to run, but she couldn’t lift herself up. The waves just kept crashing over her. Then a woman’s voice came breaking through the atmosphere. “Sam.”
She heard it as if it was yelled out, but it wasn’t coming from outside of herself. She could see in the man’s face that he heard it also.
“Find Sam!” the voice demanded.
The man looked angry and somehow managed to fire a shot from his gun. Daisy heard the bang. She saw birds fly out of the treetops and understood that the bullet had gone there. The waves stopped and Daisy turned and ran.
Sam, she said to herself. I have to find Sam.
Daisy saw the slit of light ahead and ran through it. Back on the path she kept on running.
“Daisy!” Brett yelled, overcome with joy and relief. “Where did you go?” But Daisy didn’t stop running. Brett turned around to see where she was coming from. Seeing just the dense forest and filled with fear, he took off running after her. They ran all the way back to the campsite.
Martha could hear them coming before they reached and looked up to see them running for their lives. “What? What? What happened?”
“Sam!” Daisy yelled. “Sam, Sam, Sam! We have to find Sam!” Daisy was throwing her arms in the air every time she said Sam’s name.
“What happened?” Martha asked, looking at Brett.
“I don’t know? She disappeared, and –“
“She disappeared?” yelled Martha. “You lost your sister.”
“No mom, listen to me,” yelled Daisy. “We have to find Sam. Something bad happened here. There is a secret cabin up ahead. Only Sam can help. Do you know Sam?”
“I know a Sam, honey. But do you know him?”
“Call him. Tell him the girl needs his help.”
“Okay, I’ll call him.”
“And we can’t stay here. We’re not staying in this tent. We can stay at the motel at the entrance to the park.”
“I think that’s a good idea Daisy. I’ll pack up.”
“And then you’ll call Sam.”
“I’ll call him. I’ll call Sam.”
Bethany became Beth at the age of four. It was that girl’s fault – the one that nobody else could see.
Bethany saw her standing right in the middle of the lawn staring at her. Who is that? she had thought.
“Beth” the girl called out and motioned for Bethany to come close.
“My name’s not Beth it’s Bethany.”
“Huh?” Beth’s mother had asked, turning from her company to see her daughter staring into the wind. “Who are you talking to?”
“That little black girl.”
Her mother had gasped. Beth remembered that gasp vividly, but only much later understood why. Her parents were having a get-together with friends. Where they lived, on the outskirts of San Francisco County, there were almost no blacks. Bethany certainly had never seen any around the house, so it seemed like a valid descriptor to her. At her age, she was still mimicking phrases she’d heard people say. Bethany clearly remembered hearing a woman say in the mall last week, “Look at that little black girl’s hair, what a mess.”
“Bethany! We don’t talk like that,” her mother scolded.
Without missing a beat she answered, “but mom, look at her hair. What a mess!”
Bethany’s mother, overcome by embarrassment, started heaving her breaths.
“They don’t see me Beth,” the little girl piped in.
“I told you, my name is Bethany!”
“Bethany! You go to your room right now!” Her mother finally managed – now bright red.
“Don’t you talk back to me! Just go.”
Bethany lifted and tensed her shoulders while making little fists and then threw the tension away like she had seen her mother do many times before. She then stormed out of the party, indignant, but secretly happy to be leaving the fully adult affair. The little black girl followed Bethany to her room. They sat together in the middle of the floor, Bethany pouting, the other girl just staring at her.
“What are you looking at?” Bethany asked
“I’m looking at myself.”
“What? Are you crazy?”
“We are crazy – the two of us. At least by the world’s standards.”
Bethany just stared. The girl looked to be the same age as herself, but Bethany had no idea what she was talking about.
“You talk worse than big people,” Bethany finally answered.
“We are a team, you and I,” the girl continued. “One day we will be together for real. But for now, I will come to you like this. Not everyday, but when I need to talk to you. There will be moments when I will need your help.”
“You need my help?” Bethany asked. Bethany sometimes looked like a puppy, never being able to resist someone looking to be cheered up.
“I’m trapped, but you are free,” the girl said solemnly. “So when I come to you, you have to help me. You have to be my hands, and my voice. Beth? Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
Bethany stared at the girl, just trying to take it all in. Finally she asked, “Why do you insist on calling me Beth?”
“Because we’ve spent lifetimes together. You were always Beth to me. Just Beth. Nothing more, nothing less. Your parents could feel the name, but they got it a little wrong. So, I’m giving it back to you.”
Bethany looked into the girl’s eyes. Though she didn’t understand the totality of the girl’s words, she knew that they were true. She trusted her.
“Okay. I am Beth. I am ready to be Beth. Again.”
The girl smiled at her.
“What is your name?” Beth asked.
“I gave you a name, so you can give me mine.”
Beth sat up straight. This seemed like the most important job she’d ever been given. Beth reached out and touched the girl’s hair. It was thick and puffy and fell heavy on to her shoulders. “Your hair is like a willow tree. Beautiful. Can I call you Willow?”
“If you like, then that will be my name.”
As they were staring into each other’s eyes, Beth’s new friend disappeared. Beth continued to stare at the wall, while trying to remember how to breathe.
Beth took in a long deep breath, and slowly let it out. In her solitude she allowed herself to whisper:
I’ll see you next Friday for chapter 5.
Featured image via http://www.rei.com