Once in a Lullaby…
by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
Grantville, Kansas, 1952…
The woman stared at the open closet. Something seemed odd, but she couldn’t say what. But even at that, there was a feeling that even if something was amiss, there was nothing wrong. She closed the door and walked down the hall into the kitchen.
“Good Morning,” she nodded to the boy sitting at the table before walking over to the stove. She grabbed the aluminum coffee pot off the burner and held it up in gesture to the boy.
“Sure….if it’s okay with Mom.”
“I don’t think she’ll mind at all. We talked about do’s and don’t’s before she left. She gave me a bit of leeway, so coffee is in.”
“Gee, Aunt Dot, you mean that?”
“I would never tease about something so important as coffee, honey.” Walking over to the table she poured the coffee into two mugs conveniently set out.
“You knew I’d say yes. Is there anything you don’t know?” The boy laughed. His second cousin had an uncanny knack for anticipating things. More likely due to a keen sense of observation and great listening skills, but every once and a while things seemed more than just her paying close attention.
“Well, I haven’t discovered a cure for the common cold, and really? I don’t think I’ve ever spent much time learning about physics even if I do have a great admiration for Mr. Einstein?” She laughed and sat down.
“Davey? We need to talk, okay?” Her words sounded a bit foreboding, but she continued to smile.
“Sure, Aunt Dot.” The boy smiled back, but his words sounded a bit nervous.
“Relax, honey. It’s just something about what your Mom and I discussed. I don’t want you to think we were talking behind your back, so here we are. Okay?”
“S…suure….” Davey looked away; the back door was open and the outer screen door left a nice view of the plains beyond the farm.
“It’s okay to be yourself here, Davey. I know things have been really hard….” She paused. Estelle, Davey’s mom, was married to Dorothy’s cousin Dave Sr., a recent M.I.A. of the police action going on a world away. She shook her head and placed her hand on the boy’s wrist. He flinched a bit but put it down on the table and gave way to the gesture even as tears began to fall.
“Your Mom says there’s still hope that your Dad will turn up. We have to have hope.” She smiled again; her own eyes filling with tears.
“I…I know.” The boy continued to look away. His face grew hot and red.
“Davey? Please look at me…Davey, honey, please?” She patted the boy’s wrist and he turned to her; his face a mask of grief mixed with something worse. What could be worse than believing his father had been killed?
“Estelle…sorry…your Mom was telling me that you…” The boy’s eyes widened in horrified recognition; that ‘please don’t say another word’ look that knows what comes next. At the boy’s expression, Dorothy looked over her shoulder down the hallway at her bedroom door, and she nodded in understanding.
“I know, Davey. Please. It’s alright. When I was your age, I …. It was hard after my mother died and I came here to live with my aunt and uncle. I gave up all hope that any of my dreams would come true.” She sighed and patted the boy’s wrist yet another time. Her efforts seem to do little to alleviate his anxiety and he pulled away. Standing up, he walked over to the doorway and stared out.
“You…you can’t understand….”
“Let me try? I want to understand, and I do so want to help you, Davey…. Please believe me? Your Mom only wants the best for you.” She patted her chest.
“We want what’s best for you. And….” She hesitated; not wanting to push the boy further away, but it had to be said. She swallowed hard and continued.
“Your Mom….we both know your Dad loves you. It won’t be easy, but I bet if you talked to him?”
“How, Aunt Dot? What the hell do I do? Fly over there and look for him and then….” He choked back a sob.
“All those brave guys over there and me telling my Dad? I don’t think so….” He turned once again to face her, on the verge of weeping. She held her arms open and he shook his head. She held her hands up higher in insistence and he gave way, rushing to her side. He fell at her feet; putting his head in her lap.
“Oh, Davey…I’m so sorry….oh honey,” she repeated as she stroked the boy’s hair; her own tears falling onto his head and down his cheeks to mix with his.
“I can’t tell him…I just can’t…he’ll….h…h…hate me…..I….I….can’t….” The boy continued to weep. Dorothy looked back down the hall and forced a smile. She didn’t know what to do, but at least she understood, and that would be enough.
The girl walked down the worn-to-the-soil grass path leading to the rail fence at the edge of the property. She looked down the country lane in both directions, seeing plains laid out for exploration. But she sighed; if there was any exploring to do, it would be in her imagination alone. The sky was clearly lit and bright to her left, and she wondered who lived down the road from the house. As a visitor she was completely unfamiliar with both scenery and routine and all things concerned with her Aunt’s home.
She heard a rustling of wind over her shoulder. Turning to her right, she was surprised to find the sky had grown very dark in mere minutes. A sight never beheld, it grabbed her curiosity in a way that went far beyond the new if stark vista that lay before her. Stepping beyond the fence, she started walking down the road; fear was too evenly mixed with wonder for her to stop, and she found herself running. She thought she heard her name called from behind, and she turned her head even as she continued to run. The voice seemed to diminish even as the sound of the wind grew, but she still paid little heed to her steps, and in a moment she tripped and fell to the ground. As she tried to rise up, she heard the wind rush even louder and she turned just in time to be hit by the broken limb of a tree, and she fell into darkness……
“Do you think she’s….one of them?” The taller of the two spoke. A mechanical rasp accompanied his voice, and he pulled small bottle from a bag draped over his left shoulder. He shook the bottle slightly against both sides of his smile and spoke.
“AAAhhhh… Ah… that’s better.”
“A witch? I don’t….” The shorter of the two hesitated; his face reddening the beige of his cheeks only slightly.
“Oh….I bet….” Another voice came from behind and over the girl. She opened her eyes just in time to see a very friendly if a bit stocky looking lion.
“That’s not a girl…huauauh huahahhaooowwrow….” He said with a laugh that blended splendidly with a roar. Her eyes widened just a bit before she fainted dead away.
St. Francis Hospital, Topeka, Kansas…
“I’m sorry I don’t have better news.” The doctor wiped his brow with the sleeve of his smock.
“It’s really just a wait and see, and it could go either way. We won’t know much for a few hours, but we can still hope and pray.” He smiled like the grandfather he was as he patted Dorothy’s arm with his hand.
“It’ll be okay, Miss Dorothy,” the man next to her spoke. He hadn’t gotten over the habit of calling her that even into her adulthood.
“Thanks, Nick….I’m so glad you’re here. I don’t even know what I’m going to tell his mother….and with his dad missing? Oh, God, no….” She had been strong to that moment, but the thought of the grief the family already bore from the loss of her cousin was too much and she fell into her friend’s arms.
“There, there, sweetheart. It’s going to be alright. You’ll see.” He patted her on the back. A moment later they were joined by another man; a bit shorter and fairly stocky. He smiled at Nick and Dorothy and walked over to the doctor to shake hands. A moment later he returned.
“Oh….thank you, dear friend….” Dorothy spoke haltingly. Ezekiel hobbled over to the two and drew them into a great big hug.
“Here….let’s sit down, okay?” He led Dorothy by his right hand, his left holding a cane. Nick slapped him on the back in greeting.
“I’ll go get us some coffee, okay? This promises to be a long night.” He smiled and walked toward the stairwell and away. Dorothy followed his path until he disappeared.
“I …. I only wish Jeff could be here,” she cried. She looked down at Ezekiel’s feet; the sock on his wooden leg had sagged slightly and she winced. The same day he lost his leg her other friend has lost his life along with thousands of other brave men. The sacrifice had proved to turn the tide of the horrific war, but did nothing to prevent the one that they feared had claimed the boy’s father.
“He was very wise, Dorothy, honey. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about him.” Ezekiel sighed.
“It’s going to be okay,” he said, echoing what their friend has said only a few minutes before. They hoped and prayed of course, and it would indeed be okay, but they had no way of knowing that. Dorothy buried her face in Ezekiel’s chest and sobbed.
“Here, youngster. Let me help.” The tall man reached down and pulled the girl to her feet. He eyed her up and down and put his hand to his face to stifle a laugh. His friend had little success at the same gesture and began to laugh heartily.
“Well, I never saw such a sight. I must say, though….you do look pretty.” The girl winced at his words and looked down at herself. A borrowed dress hastily donned and accompanied by an even hastier trip down a very bleak if inviting path brought her to this strange place. She heard a noise from behind; a mixture between a growl and a purr. She turned to face the same lion that had stood over her, and she drew back in fear. He grinned and his purr deepened even as his growl faded away.
“It’s okay, little one. Every one of us is not what we’d like to be, I’ll bet, so you’re in good company.”
“I….I don’t….I don’t understand. Where am I?”
“Why….you’re here, child,” the tall man said. He extended his hand, evoking a rusty creak. He pulled the same bottle from the bag over his shoulder and dripped the contents onto his elbow.
“There….I’m Nick…Nick Chopper. These are my friends, Hunk Jeffries and Zeke Prowler.”
“Heh….hello,” the girl waved at the other two even as she shook Nick’s hand. She looked back and forth between the three. A man who looked just like he should be standing in a cornfield; so disheveled and unkempt. A man who appeared to be wearing a suit of armor, but in fact was the suit of armor. And a man wearing a very hot-looking fur coat that enveloped every bit of him.
“You….you’re….” The girl’s eyes widened in anxious recognition.
“Yes….” Nick said without comment. Whatever the girl was thinking, he seemed to anticipate that she knew exactly who they were.
“And you are?” Hunk asked with a nod toward the girl. Her face reddened and she turned away.
“Now none of that, child. It’s okay,” Zeke said softly. He stepped closer and offered his hand…..his paw to the girl as he helped her turn around.
“M….my name is Davey…. Davey Gale…..” She put her hand to her face and began to cry.
“Davey? That’s a really odd name for a girl,” Hunk said. Nick turned to him and shook his head.
“Oh….” Hunk sighed, feeling quite embarrassed.
“It’s okay…. I think I understand.” Zeke said as he patted her on her back.
“You see….we all are much more than what we seem. Nick…he could never feel anything. And Hunk here? Dumb as a piece of wood. Me? I was scared of my own shadow. But we all learned we’re much more…. a whole lot different on the inside than even we knew. A very nice girl came here a while back and helped us figure that out.”
“I’m sorry for making such a stupid mistake,” Hunk apologized. It really wasn’t a stupid mistake so much as a misunderstanding. And Hunk, being teachable and humble, quickly set himself to trying to understand the girl before him.
“It’s….it’s okay,” the girl stammered, but it wasn’t okay at all.
“You’re scared….and I bet I know what…” Nick said, ever empathetic. He smiled and stepped closer. He bent down slightly and lifted the girl’s chin softly.
“I always wanted to care, but everything outside wouldn’t let me.” He patted his heart with a loud clunk.
“But I had to get over what I didn’t have to appreciate what I did. And I care…. It hurts to care, child. But I do because that’s who I am.
“And I….” Hunk spoke.
“I didn’t think I could learn anything because everything I did was stupid and ignorant. After a while I stopped trying, but I learned that as long as I was willing to learn, I could learn anything. I just had to get past it all. It hurts to know, child, because you never have to do anything with what you don’t know, but you always have to do something with what you do. So I learn, because that’s who I am.
“And me? I was always scared of my shadow. I could never get past how scared I was until I realized I’d never stop being scared until I did what I had to do even if I was scared to death. And I got past it all and now I’m still scared, but I do whatever needs to be done. It hurts to be scared and still act, because you never know what will happen. That’s what bravery is. So I act brave no matter what because that’s who I am.” Zeke bowed to the girl, indicating it was her turn.
“I….I want to be….I am a girl….I don’t know how to explain it, but I’ve known since I was old enough to talk. I never told anyone….not even my Mom…..and not my…..my….Dad.” The girl choked back a sob. But now I’ll never get to tell him….”
“It’s never too late, child,” Nick said.
“No matter what, you have to be you,” Zeke said with the growl/purr mix once again.
“You need to do what needs to be done, no matter how scary it may feel, right?” She nodded slowly.
“And think about it….” Hunk paused and shook his head.
“What was your name again?”
“Well, Davey? Wouldn’t you be the best person to know what’s the smartest thing for you to do?”
“And wouldn’t you know exactly how you feel, no matter what anyone else says?” Nick added. The girl nodded slowly; still not completely convinced.
“We all had to learn, right here, what we needed for ourselves.” Zeke smiled at the girl and used his paw in a broad gesture to indicate the three.
“And…me? Will I learn? Here?” She asked haltingly.
“Oh, no child…not here… there….” Hunk smiled and pointed to a growing light just over the girl’s left shoulder. She turned to look and felt herself being tugged gently toward the ever increasing glow.
“M….mom….” Davey blinked his eyes open and turned his head slightly, evoking a painful wince.
“Easy, honey…I’m here….” Davey looked up and found his mother sitting next to the bed. She had been crying, but her smile beamed brightly, giving the boy a safe feeling.
“M…..mom….I….I’m sorry….” He blinked back tears before turning away. She gently tugged his face back.
“Mmm….Mom…” Davey looked down at himself, confused. The dress he had gotten from Dorothy’s closet was draped on the chair behind his mother. Davey's face reddened with shame, but Estelle smiled at him.
“I know, honey….it’s going to be okay….” She choked back her own sob. The boy put his head against her arm and began to weep.
“I’m so …. So sorry.”
“No….honey…it’s going to be alright. I know…please…it’s going to be alright.” She put her head against his and they both cried tears of relief. A few minutes later Davey turned to look at himself.
“But….Dad….he…. I’m so sorry,’ the boy began again.
“No, honey. No….” Estelle placed both hands on her son’s face.
“Your Dad…. A telegram….he’s alive, honey….he’s alive.”
“No, Mom….what …..” Davey looked at himself and back at his mother. She shook her head.
“My baby….oh…. Your Dad….when you were born….” She could barely get the words out, but the smile on her face belied any fear for what she was about to say.
“He said that you were special. Something he couldn’t even find words for….you were special. And you are special.” She kissed his forehead in blessing and turned around. In the doorway stood three figures. Dorothy nodded at Estelle before the three stepped away from the door. She sighed even as a smile broke through, and she remembered….
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true
Over the Rainbow
Words and music by
E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen
As performed by
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