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Mrs. Thompson came down to see Miss Ebo after Chicken Little. There must besome reason why Jackie was having nightmares-maybe something at school? AndMiss Ebo had to soothe her with all sorts of little Educational Psychologyplat.i.tudes because she couldn't tell her that Jackie just wouldn't come out ofthe Fox's den even after his bones were scrunched to powder. He was afraid ofa wide sky and always would be.
So the next day we all went into the darkness of caves and were littleblind fish. We were bats that used their ears for eyes. We were small s.h.i.+ningthings that seemed to have no life but grew into beauty and had the wisdom tostop when they reached the angles of perfection. So Jackie chose to be one ofthose and he didn't learn with us any more except on our shallow days. Heloved shallow days. The other times he grew to limited perfection in hisdarkness.
And there was one of us who longed to follow the Fox forever. Every day hiseyes would hesitate on Miss Ebo's face, but every day the quietness of hermouth told him that the Fox should not come back into our learning. And hiseyes would drop and his fingers would pluck anxiously at one another.
The year went on and we were princesses leaning from towers drawing love tous on s.h.i.+ning extensions of ourselves, feeling the weight and pain of lovealong with its s.h.i.+ningness as the prince climbed Rapunzel's golden hair. We,as Rapunzel, betrayed ourselves to evil. We were cast into the wilderness, webought our way back into happiness by our tears of mingled joy and sorrow.And-as the witch-we were evil, h.o.a.rding treasures to ourselves, trying to holdunchanged things that had to change. We were the one who destroyed lovelinesswhen it had to be shared, who blinded maliciously, only to find that allloveliness, all delight, went with the sight we destroyed.
And then we learned more. We were the greedy woman. We wanted a house, acastle, a palace-power beyond power, beyond power, until we wanted to meddlewith the workings of the universe. And then we had to huddle back on thedilapidated steps of the old shack with nothing again, nothing in our laxhands, because we reached for too much.
But then we were her husband, too, who gave in and gave in against hisbetter judgment, against his desires, but always backing away from a no untilhe sat there, too, with empty hands, staring at the nothing he must share. Andhe had never had anything at all because he had never asked for it. It was astrange, hard lesson and we studied it again and again until one of us wa.s.stranded in greed, another in apathy, and one of us almost knew the right answer.
But magic can't last. That was our final, and my hardest, bitterest,lesson. One day Miss Ebo wasn't there. She'd gone away, they said. Shewouldn't be back. I remember how my heart tightened and burned coldly insideme when I heard. And shallow day followed shallow day and I watched,terrified, the memory of Miss Ebo dying out of the other kids' eyes.
Then one afternoon I saw her again, thin and white, blown against theplayground fence Like a forgotten leaf of last autumn. Her russety dressfluttered in the cold wind and the flick of her pale fingers called me fromclear across the playground. I pressed my face close against the wire mesh,trying to cry against her waist, my fingers reaching hungrily through to her.
My voice was hardly louder than the whisper of dry leaves across a path.
"Miss Ebo! Miss Ebo! Come back!"
"You haven't forgotten." Her answer lost itself on the wind. "Remember.Always remember. Remember the whole of the truth. Truth has so many sides,evil and good, that if you cling to just one, it may make it a lie." The windfreshened and she fluttered with it, clinging to the wire. "Remember, turn thepage. Everyone will finally live happily ever after, because that's the wayit's written!"
My eyes blurred with tears and before I could knuckle them dry, she was gone.
"Crybaby!" The taunt stung me as we lined up to go back indoors.
"I saw her!" I cried. "I saw Miss Ebo!"
"Miss Ebo?" Blank eyes stared into mine. There was a sudden flicker wayback behind seeing, but it died. "Crybaby!"
Oh, I know that no one believes in fairy tales any more. They're forchildren. Well, who better to teach than children that good must ultimatelytriumph? Fairy tale ending-they lived happily ever after! But it is writtenthat way! The marriage of bravery and beauty-tasks accomplished, perilsurmounted, evil put down, captives freed, enchantments broken, humanityemerging from the forms of beasts, giants slain, wrongs righted, joy coming inthe morning after the night of weeping. The lessons are all there. They'retold over and over and over, but we let them slip and we sigh for ourchildhood days, not seeing that we shed the truth as we shed our deciduousteeth.
I never saw Miss Ebo again, but I saw my first grade again, those whosurvived to our twenty-fifth anniversary. At first I thought I wouldn't go,but most sorrow can be set aside for an evening, even the sorrow attendant onfinding how easily happiness is lost when it depends on a single factor. Ilooked around at those who had come, but I saw in them only the tatteredremnants of Miss Ebo's teachings.
Here was the girl who so delighted in the terror of being pursued that shestill fled along dark paths, though no danger followed. Here was our wingedone still beating his wings against the invisible gla.s.s. Here was our pursuer,the blood l.u.s.t in his eyes altered to a l.u.s.t for power that was just ascompulsive, just as inevitably fatal as the old pursuing evil.
Here was our terror-stricken Chicken Little, his drawn face, his restless,bitten nails, betraying his eternal running away from the terror he sowedbehind himself, looking for the Fox, any Fox, with glib, comforting promises.And there, serene, was the one who learned to balance between asking too muchand too little-who controlled his desires instead of letting them control him.There was the one, too, who had sorrowed and wept but who was now coming intoher kingdom of children.
But these last two were strangers-as I was-in this wistful gathering ofpeople who were trying to turn back twenty-five years. I sat through theevening, trying to trace in the masks around me the bright spirits that hadrun with me into Miss Ebo's enchantment. I looked for Jackie. I asked for Jackie. He was hidden away in some protected place, eternally being his darks.h.i.+ning things, afraid-too afraid-of even shallowness ever to walk in thelight again.
There were speeches. There was laughter. There was clowning. But always theunderlying strain, the rebellion, the silent crying out, the fear and mistrustThey asked me to talk.I stood, leaning against the teacher's desk, and looked down into the carefully empty faces.
"You have forgotten," I said. "You have all forgotten Miss Ebo."
"Miss Ebo?" The name was a pursing on all the lips, a furrow on the brows.Only one or two smiled even tentatively. "Remember Miss Ebo?"
"If you have forgotten," I said, "it's a long time ago. If you remember, itwas only yesterday. But even if you have forgotten her, I can see that youhaven't forgotten the lessons she taught you. Only you have remembered the wrong part. You only half learned the lessons. You've eaten the husks andthrown the grain away. She tried to tell you. She tried to teach you. Butyou've all forgotten. Not a one of you remembers that if you turn the pageeveryone will live happily ever after, because it was written that way. You'reall stranded in the introduction to the story. You work yourselves all up tothe climax of terror or fear or imminent disaster, but you never turn thepage. You go back and live it again and again and again.
"Turn the page! Believe again! You have forgotten how to believe inanything beyond your chosen treadmill. You have grown out of the fairy taleage, you say. But what have you grown into? Do you like it?" I leaned forwardand tried to catch evasive eyes. "With your hopeless, scalding tears at nightand your dry-eyed misery when you waken. Do you like it?
"What would you give to be able to walk once more into a morning that isa-tiptoe with expectancy, magical with possibilities, bright with a suredelight? Miss Ebo taught us how. She gave us the promise and hope. She taughtus all that everyone will finally live happily ever after because it iswritten that way. All we have to do is let loose long enough to turn the page.Why don't you?" They laughed politely when I finished. I was always the turnerof phrases. Wasn't that clever? Fairy tales! Well- The last car drove awayfrom the school. I stood by the fence in the dark schoolyard and let the nightwash over me.
Then I was a child again, crying against the cold mesh fence-hopeless,scalding tears in the night.
"Miss Ebo. Miss Ebo!" My words were only a twisted shaping of my mouth."They have forgotten. Let me forget too. Surely it must be easier to forgetthat there is a page to be turned than to know it's there and not be able toturn it! How long? How long must I remember?"
A sudden little wind scooted a paper sibilantly across the sidewalk . . .forever after . . . forever after . ..
Stevie and The Dark
The Dark lived in a hole in the bank of the sand wash where Stevie liked to play. The Dark wanted to come out, but Stevie had fixed it so it couldn't Heput a row of special little magic rocks in front of the hole. Stevie knew theywere magic because he found them himself and they felt like magic. When youare as old as Stevie-five-a whole hand of years old-you know lots of thingsand you know what magic feels like.
Stevie had the rocks in his pocket when he first found The Dark. He hadbeen digging a garage in the side of the wash when a piece of the bank cameloose and slid down onto him. One rock hit him on the forehead hard enough tomake him cry-if he had been only four. But Stevie was five, so he wiped theblood with the back of his hand and sc.r.a.ped away the dirt to find the bigspoon Mommy let him take to dig with. Then he saw that the hole was great bigand his spoon was just inside it. So he reached in for it and The Dark cameout a little ways and touched Stevie. It covered up his hand clear to thewrist and when Stevie jerked away, his hand was cold and all skinned acrossthe back. For a minute it was white and stiff, then the blood came out and ithurt and Stevie got mad. So he took out the magic rocks and put the little redone down in front of the hole. The Dark came out again with just a littlefinger-piece and touched the red rock, but it didn't like the magic so itstarted to push around it. Stevie put down the other little rocks-the roundsmooth white ones and the smooth yellow ones.
The Dark made a lot of little fingers that were trying to get past themagic. There was just one hole left, so Stevie put down the black-see-throughrock he found that morning. Then The Dark pulled back all the little fingersand began to pour over the black rock. So, quick like a rabbit, Stevie drew amagic in the sand and The Dark pulled back into the hole again. Then Steviemarked King's X all around the hole and ran to get some more magic rocks. He found a white one with a band of blue around the middle and another yellowone. He went back and put the rocks in front of the hole and rubbed out theKing's X. The Dark got mad and piled up behind the rocks until it was higherthan Stevie's head.
Stevie was scared, but he stood still and held tight to his pocket piece.He knew that was the magicest of all. Juanito had told him so and Juanitoknew. He was ten years old and the one who told Stevie about magic in thefirst place. He had helped Stevie make the magic. He was the one who did thewriting on the pocket piece. Of course, Stevie would know how to write afterhe went to school, but that was a long time away.
The Dark couldn't ever hurt him while he held the magic, but it was kind ofscary to see The Dark standing up like that in the bright hot suns.h.i.+ne. TheDark didn't have any head or arms or legs or body. It didn't have any eyeseither, but it was looking at Stevie. It didn't have any mouth, but it wasmumbling at Stevie. He could hear it inside his head and the mumbles werehate, so Stevie squatted down in the sand and drew a magic again-a bigmagic-and The Dark jerked back into the hole. Stevie turned and ran as fast ashe could until the mumbles in his ears turned into fast wind and the sound of rattling rocks on the road.
Next day Arnold came with his mother to visit at Stevie's house. Steviedidn't like Arnold. He was a tattle-tale and a crybaby even if he was a wholehand and two more fingers old. Stevie took him down to the sand wash to play.They didn't go down where The Dark was, but while they were digging tunnelsaround the roots of the cottonwood tree, Stevie could feel The Dark, like along deep thunder that only your bones could hear-not your ears. He knew thebig magic he wrote in the sand was gone and The Dark was trying to get pastthe magic rocks.
Pretty soon Arnold began to brag.
"I got a s.p.a.ce gun."
Stevie threw some more sand backwards. "So've I," he said.
"I got a two-wheel bike."
Stevie sat back on his heels. "Honest?"
"Sure!" Arnold talked real smarty. "You're too little to have a two-wheelbike. You couldn't ride it if you had one."
"Could too." Stevie went back to his digging, feeling bad inside. He hadfallen off Rusty's bike when he tried to ride it. Arnold didn't know itthough.
"Could not," Arnold caved in his tunnel. "I've got a BB gun and a real sawand a cat with three-and-a-half legs."
Stevie sat down in the sand. What could you get better than a cat withthree-and-a-half legs? He traced a magic in the sand.
"I've got something you haven't."
"Have not." Arnold caved in Stevie's tunnel.
"Have too. It's a Dark."
"A Dark. I've got it in a hole down there." He jerked his head down thewash.
"Aw, you're crazy. There ain't no dark. You're just talking baby stuff."
Stevie felt his face getting hot. "I am not. You just come and see."
He dragged Arnold by the hand down the wash with the sand crunching underfoot like spilled sugar and sifting in and out of their barefoot sandals. Theysquatted in front of the hole. The Dark had pulled way back in so theycouldn't see it.
"I don't see nothing." Arnold leaned forward to look into the hole. "Thereain't no dark. You're just silly."
"I am not! And The Dark is so in that hole."
"Sure it's dark in the hole, but that ain't nothing. You can't have a dark,silly."
"Can too." Stevie reached in his pocket and took tight hold of his pocketpiece. "You better cross your fingers. I'm going to let it out a little ways."
"Aw!" Arnold didn't believe him, but he crossed his fingers anyway.
Stevie took two of the magic rocks away from in front of the hole and movedback. The Dark came pouring out like a flood. It poured in a thin streamthrough the open place in the magic and shot up like a tower of smoke. Arnoldwas so surprised that he uncrossed his fingers and The Dark wrapped around hishead and he began to scream and scream. The Dark sent a long arm out toStevie, but Stevie pulled out his pocket piece and hit The Dark. Stevie couldhear The Dark scream inside his head so he hit it again and The Dark fell alltogether and got littler so Stevie pushed it back into the hole with hispocket piece. He put the magic rocks back and wrote two big magics in the sandso that The Dark cried again and hid way back in the hole.
Arnold was lying on the sand with his face all white and stiff, so Stevieshook him and called him. Arnold opened his eyes and his face turned red andbegan to bleed. He started to bawl, "Mama! Mama!" and ran for the house asfast as he could through the soft sand. Stevie followed him, yelling, "Youuncrossed your fingers! It's your fault! You uncrossed your fingers!"
Arnold and his mother went home. Arnold was still bawling and his motherwas real red around the nose when she yelled at Mommy. "You'd better learn tocontrol that brat of yours or he'll grow up a murderer! Look what he did to mypoor Arnold!" And she drove away so fast that she hit the chuckhole by thegate and nearly went off the road.
Mommy sat down on the front step and took Stevie between her knees. Stevielooked down and traced a little, soft magic with his finger on Mommy's slacks.
"What happened, Stevie?"
Stevie squirmed. "Nothing, Mommy. We were just playing in the wash."
"Why did you hurt Arnold?"
"I didn't. Honest. I didn't even touch him."
"But the whole side of his face was skinned." Mommy put on herno-fooling-now voice. "Tell me what happened, Stevie."
Stevie gulped. "Well, Arnold was bragging 'bout his two-wheel bike and-"Stevie got excited and looked up. "And Mommy, he has a cat withthree-and-a-half legs!"
Stevie leaned against her again.
"Well, I've got a Dark in a hole in the wash so I-"
"A Dark? What is that?"
"It's, it's just a Dark. It isn't very nice. I keep it in its hole withmagic. I let it out a little bit to show Arnold and it hurt him. But it was.h.i.+s fault. He uncrossed his fingers."
Mommy sighed. "What really happened, Stevie?"
"I told you, Mommy! Honest, that's what happened."
"For True, Stevie?" She looked right in his eyes.
Stevie looked right back. "Yes, Mommy, For True."
She sighed again. "Well, son, I guess this Dark business is the same asyour Mr. Bop and Toody Troot."
"Uh, uh!" Stevie shook his head. "No sir. Mr. Bop and Toody Troot are nice.The Dark is bad."
"Well, don't play with it any more then."
"I don't play with it," protested Stevie. "I just keep it shut up withmagic."
"All right, son." She stood up and brushed the dust off the back of herslacks. "Only for the love of Toody Troot, don't let Arnold get hurt again."She smiled at Stevie.
Stevie smiled back. "Okay, Mommy. But it was his fault. He uncrossed hisfingers. He's a baby."
The next time Stevie was in the wash playing cowboy on Burro Eddie, he heard The Dark calling him. It called so sweet and soft that anybody wouldthink it was something nice, but Stevie could feel the bad rumble way downunder the nice, so he made sure his pocket piece was handy, shooed Eddie away,and went down to the hole and squatted down in front of it.
The Dark stood up behind the magic rocks and it had made itself look likeArnold only its eyes didn't match and it had forgotten one ear and it wasfreckled all over like Arnold's face.
"h.e.l.lo," said The Dark with its Arnold-mouth. "Let's play."
"No," said Stevie. "You can't fool me. You're still The Dark."
"I won't hurt you." The Arnold-face stretched out sideways to make a smile,but it wasn't a very good one. "Let me out and I'll show you how to have lotsof fun."
"No," said Stevie. "If you weren't bad, the magic couldn't hold you. Idon't want to play with bad things."
"Why not?" asked The Dark. "Being bad is fun sometimes-lots of fun."
"I guess it is," said Stevie, "but only if it's a little bad. A big badmakes your stomach sick and you have to have a spanking or a sit-in-the-cornerand then a big loving from Mommy or Daddy before it gets well again."
"Aw, come on," said The Dark. "I'm lonesome. n.o.body ever comes to play withme. I like you. Let me out and I'll give you a two-wheel bike."
"Really?" Stevie felt all warm inside. "For True?"
"For True. And a cat with three-and-a-half legs."
"Oh!" Stevie felt like Christmas morning. "Honest?"
"Honest. All you have to do is take away the rocks and break up your pocketpiece and I'll fix everything for you."
"My pocket piece?" The warmness was going away. "No sir, I won't eitherbreak it up. It's the magicest thing I've got and it was hard to make."
"But I can give you some better magic."