Eight-year-old Christopher faces his terrible illness and parents who cannot deal with the awful truth. His friends, the birds, carry him away. What a child may teach adults ready and willing to learn.
Christopher likes to wake up early. He presses the red button on the coffee maker so Mommy’s coffee will be ready when she gets out of bed. He goes to the cupboard and gets his favorite bowl. It has a smiley face in the bottom and ‘Christopher’ written in cursive on the side. It’s kinda crooked cause he made it himself last year in the second grade. His teacher, Mrs. Garcia, said it slipped when she fired it. Still, it’s a good bowl. He likes the way it makes him feel.
There’s a special box Mommy keeps with her sewing things just for Christopher. It has a spool of thread and a large sewing needle in it. On special early mornings, he gets it and sets it next to his bowl on the table. He climbs up on a chair and takes a box of Froot Loops from the high shelf. He puts the chair away and fills his bowl with his favorite cereal, smiling at the goofy bird on the box.
Finally, he sits down. He opens the tin sewing box and takes out the spool of thread. He rolls out a length of it, just right, then breaks it off. Christopher licks the end of the thread, twists it between his fingers, guides it carefully through the eye of the needle. He threads the needle through the holes of the Froot Loops in his bowl, then holds it up and releases them, watching them wiggle down the string. When there is only about six inches of string showing, he holds the ends together and makes a knot. He slips the circle of thread over his head and hums a little song his Daddy made for him. He repeats this procedure thirteen more times, except the new circles hold only five Froot Loops each.
Christopher carries the thirteen tiny necklaces in his cupped hands to the window of his bedroom. He sets them of the sill, then slides the window open. He arranges the necklaces in a nice neat row, then proceeds to wait for his winter friends. They always come, first one, then two, then all the rest. They hop and twist their tiny heads, wild eyes and Christopher flies.
He used to play outside. Daddy and Mommy held his hands and swung him, one two three, up in the air. Mommy pushed him in the swing and sometimes, when Daddy went, he would grip the back of Christopher’s swing and run all the way under him, flinging Christopher high into the air. Christopher begged for these ‘cannon balls’ until Mommy finally gave him and Daddy one of her ‘serious’ looks and said, “Just one!”
That’s how Christopher’s leg got broken. When Daddy went under him, Christopher felt a whoosh of air between his bottom and the swing. Then he hung there for a while, suspended in the air. Sometimes he can still feel himself there, floating, before falling to the ground. His leg was twisted and it hurt real bad so Mommy and Daddy bundled him up and rushed him to the hospital. Sure enough, his leg was broken. The doctor set it and put it in a cast but that wasn’t the worst of the problem. Christopher was a bleeder, a hemophiliac. So they kept him in the hospital for a couple of days, helping his blood and monitoring him.
No more ‘cannon balls’. A year later, when Christopher began to feel very sick, no park either. He had a big grown-up disease and people were afraid of and for him. That’s when he began to make necklaces and fly away with his new friends. Mommy and Daddy weren’t happy anymore. They wore sad smiles and talked and wept late into the night. Christopher heard them but pretended he didn’t. They took him to lots of doctors and hospitals and sometimes, when they returned home and Christopher felt a little better, it almost seemed as if they could all be happy again. Until the next time.
One morning Christopher’s legs hurt so bad he had to use the walker-thing to make it from the bedroom to the kitchen. He climbed painfully onto the chair and almost fell while getting his Froot Loops from the high shelf. He made it though. The pain tried to make him cry but he wouldn’t let it. The house was already full of tears. He started the coffee and made his necklaces. This time, only this time, he forced his stiff aching fingers to make two extra big ones. He put them in a circle around Mommy and Daddy’s coffee cups.
He put the thirteen tiny necklaces on his fingers, wearing them like happy delicious rings. He gripped the walker-thing, careful not to damage the gifts he had made for his friends. Christopher knelt on his bed, arms resting on the window sill, small hands palm up and reaching out the window. He was too tired to take the rings off but it didn’t matter. This time, only this time, his friends flew to him, their wings fluttering kisses against his face, their tiny mouths careful not to injure him as they walked his palms, then flew away with the gifts he had made. And this time, only this time, Christopher flew away with them.
Christopher’s Mommy is mad. She drives her car with tears in her eyes, her face a tortured reflection through a window of pain. There are seven directions to go, she knows, East and West, North and South, Up into the Heavens, Down into Mother Earth, finally into Self. She ignores all six of the former and swims her tears into the latter. Mommy, what’s the matter? She drives to the car park and walks in her trance to the place with the marble stone.
Out of her bag comes a crooked little bowl, a tiny tin box and a colorful carton of breakfast cereal with a cartoon caricature of a goofy bird on the front. She sets the bowl on the stone and sits herself down in the snow. Her dress is old and her legs are cold as she makes a necklace for Christopher, then one for herself. She drops hers over her head, then makes a circle around the bowl with the other. She proceeds then to make the small ones, how many, how many, she wonders. She is mad for the answer as if it might fly Christopher back into her starving arms.
Christopher’s Daddy is sad. He drives his truck with fear in his eyes. He drives North and South, East and West, but never ventures into the haunted worlds of the remaining three directions. He always finds her there, after all, at the far ends of the path of those four, physically anyway.
He tries to talk to her, to make her wear a blanket against the dark early morning chill. He loves her too much and forever and she pulls him down and down to sit next to her in the cold snow. She takes his face in her hands and asks him, “How many, how many?” He sits with her, joins the forlorn ache of her agony. They weep in their winter hearts like two mad and lost, unhappy children, beseeching the gods.
They lay down as the sun comes low and flat, out of the East, one on each side of the stone. These are the places they have made for themselves, hands reaching, fingers touching, over the mouth of the smiling bowl. The sun brings his tiny messengers, with their sweet songs of the crisp winter morning, wings smooth and fast against the silence of the dawn.
Their bodies are numb and that is good. The dumb pain of their mutual loving and hating, lost in the freezing sorrow of endless waiting. Dear god, forever is here.
Christopher likes to wake up early.
© 2018 artwork, music & words
conceived by & property of
Tom (WordWulf) Sterner 2018 ©
~Christopher Early was first published in Writers Room Magazine~
via Tom (WordWulf) Sterner – Tom WordWulf Sterner