Whisper 1.43

The morning after Marigold’s graduation, Bobobo asks me to make another one of those orange solutions.

“Another dichromate cocktail?” I ask. “Who for?”

“For Mari and Riley, of course!” he replies.

I hand him the mixture after it’s done and follow him downstairs.

“Are you sure this is going to work?” Marigold asks him.

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“Positive,” he says. “And I didn’t put in as much of the you-know-what, so it shouldn’t even burn going down.”

We see the same explosion of purple fumes.

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And when they dissipate, standing there, facing Marigold, is a beautifully adorable young woman.

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“That’s Riley,” Bobobo says.

Marigold and Riley share a soulful look. I feel grateful that this is my daughter’s friend.

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Wanting to give them space to become acquainted in this new aspect of reality, I head back to the garden, followed by Zoey. We play tug of war.

And then, I begin to feel light.

This is different.

I experience my own transformation, as if I’d guzzled the dichromate cocktail.

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When I see the Reaper, I understand.

I feel lighter and clear. This is nothing to fear! This is the removal of fear! This is freedom.

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The aches in my knuckles are gone. That steel band wrapped tight around my chest since Frank’s passing has been unshackled. I feel no constriction, no restraint.

Now I understand the smiles on Chauncey’s and Frank’s faces!

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“Thank you!” I say to the Reaper. “You let me see my daughter’s graduation.”

The Reaper clears his throat. “Like I said, Timing is not up to me. But also like I said, sometimes I have a certain influence. Very Influential.”

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I shake his hand.

“Thank you,” I say again.

I am ready. My friends wait for me. This new form feels so much more “me” than that old stooping crickety body of knobby joints and stringy sinew.

I was given the gift of raising my daughter to adulthood, and I am ready to pass over, knowing that my son will be cared for, too.

“You could have come a lot earlier,” I say to the Reaper, “but you didn’t. And I thank you.”

He merely clears his throat again.

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I notice that the sun is shining. How sweet, I think, to leave on a crisp autumn day, with frost on the ground, and the sun shining on the orange leaves.

Some say that Death is cruel. Others, that He acts impersonally. But through his influence, He made my wish come true for some reason of His own. Maybe, simply, so that my orphaned daughter might not be orphaned again until childhood’s end.

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Before my senses fade to black, I hear Zoey howl. When I look at her, I see she’s calling for me. If I had a heart still within me, that keening yowl would wrap around it and twist it in two. But in this new form, the cries move through me, and I witness, as if from a distance until the blackness comes and all is silent.

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Wonder 52

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What a great start to the day, I thought during lunch as I savored a chocolate pastry. Sometimes, the microwave does a lousy job of heating the pastry, leaving a frozen core in the center, but this time, that center core was melted and delicious.

I’d met the greatest kid that morning, a boy named Tanner.

“Are you the doctor?” he asked.

“I’m a nurse!” I said. “What’s up? Let’s see if we can make you feel better.”

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He laughed as he hopped onto the examining table.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“I was really scared coming here,” he replied. “The other kids teased me about getting shots, and they say that you come out feeling worse, and they say that all the growned ups here are meanies. But you’re not mean.”

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“Of course not!” I said. “Most of us are pretty nice. Sometimes, one of the doctors here likes to yell, but he usually just yells at me, not at the patients. You know how that goes.”

“Back at the home, the big kids yell sometimes,” he said.

“What home is that?”

“The home for kids like me. The ones without homes.”

I glanced at Tanner’s file. He lived at Willow Creek Center for Children and Youth.

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He had a slight fever–just a cold. So, I administered a child’s dose of the remedy and sat with him while the herbs and mushroom compounds took effect.

We talked about video games.

“You like blick-block?” he asked. “I know a trick with it!”

He showed me a pattern that worked on level four, and if you completed it correctly, you earned unlimited extra lives.

“Well, that’s cool!” I said.

“Isn’t it awesome?”

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Soon enough, he was feeling well. “Mrs. Adams said that if I felt good to go to school, and then just ride the bus home, and if I didn’t feel good to ask the reception lady to call, but I feel good.”

“Have a great day at school, Tanner.”

“I will, Nurse Charlie,” he said. “See ya!”

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That was the morning. It was after lunch that everything shifted. I’ve noticed that sometimes: a day that starts out great can end up awful, or a day that starts awful can end up great.

This day took a turn downhill.

I heard a commotion as I was heading back to the examining rooms, only to find Bria collapsed on the floor in the lobby.

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We loaded her onto a gurney and wheeled her into the operating room.

We ran a few tests. It turns out it was hypoglycemia. She’s been coming into the clinic often, with a wide range of symptoms. I guess it must have been blood sugar issues all along.

We gave her intravenous fluids, and I stayed with her until she felt better.

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Normally, after a day like that, where I was able to help two people feel better, I’d be heading home with a gratified smile.

But this wasn’t a normal day. This was one of those days where everything that happens earlier gets cordoned off, not as if it happened in an earlier part of the day, but as if it happened in a different layer of the universe.

I got a phone call from Pai who never calls me at work.

“I am calling, Carlos, with news. Yes. This is news that is… this is news. I am here with sua mãe. It is no good, Carlinhos,” Pai said.

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Eventually, he was able to tell me what had happened. It was Tia Berry. She came in from working in the yard, complaining of feeling tired.

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She lay down for a nap, and when she didn’t come out for tea a few hours later, Mãe went in to discover that she had stopped breathing.

“She left while she slept,” Pai said. “There was no pain. At least that is a blessing.”

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I said I’d be right over. Pai told me to wait, come over the next day. He was going to spend the night, and Mãe had finally gone to sleep. He wanted her to rest up while she could.

“It’s been a shock,” Pai said. “She needs her rest. And I will stay for now.”

On the ferry ride back home, I kept replaying the last visit I had with minha tia, when she and Mãe had come over here, and they had told me about Jake. She hadn’t seemed right then. Her usual sparkle was dulled. I should have insisted then that she drop by the clinic. I figured that she was affected by Jake’s passing. But the signs were there, if only I’d been able to see.

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I remembered Mãe‘s words to me, when I ran into her down by the Rattlesnake.

“I want to get to have a chance to meet my grandkid before it’s too late,” she’d said.

It was already too late for Tia Berry.

I logged onto the adoption services website. I’d filled out my screening form and application already, and I’d had a few phone interviews with the social worker.

There was a message in my account.

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Dear Mr. Rocca-Cups,

We have an immediate placement which seems to be a good match for you and your situation. Please call as soon as possible.

I called right then. They had a child, a boy, who they felt would do well with me. And if I could make it there before nine, I could pick him up tonight.

Of course I was rushing things. Tia Berry has just left, and this grief hasn’t even settled in yet. But my heart was open, and if there were a child waiting for a home, and I had a home to give that boy, and if bringing him home now meant that minha mãe might get to know her grandson before it were too late for her, then it wasn’t too soon. It wasn’t rushing. It was responding with an open heart when the universe provided a miracle on a night when it felt like there was no such thing as the miraculous.

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