Home > Gossamer(11)

Gossamer(11)
Author: Lois Lowry

She twisted her hair again, listening. Her shoulders, which had been tensely raised, sank, and her voice trembled slightly. "I lost it, okay? It was a bad time for me. I did some stupid things."

The voice on the telephone was calm, reassuring. The woman listened, rolling her eyes.

"Okay," she said in a defeated tone. "Okay. Yeah. I understand. I know, it takes time.

"Listen, I'll call you back as soon as I get a job. And you make sure he's treated okay! And tell him—well, tell him I'm working on it, and he'll be back home soon, and I love him, and—"

Huddled on the couch, clutching the phone, the young woman began to cry. "Tell him I dreamed about him last night," she said.

16

"Do they come back to the same person again?" Littlest asked Thin Elderly. They were back at the Heap now, and most of the dream-givers were sleeping soundly, exhausted by their hard work during the night. But Littlest One was still thinking about the Sinisteed she had seen. Her thumb slipped into her mouth.

Thin Elderly put his arm around her. "They tend to, often," he said. "They make return visits and inflict what they call 'recurrences.'

"They won't ever hurt you," he reassured Littlest. "You needn't worry about that. But you will probably see that one again. I think he'll be coming back to the boy. We just have to hope that the Horde won't come with him. The boy is very vulnerable.

"They sense that," he explained. "They can sense when someone is weak, or in need."

The thumb popped out. "But the boy needs me!" Littlest said.

"Sorry," she added. "I meant, he needs us."

Thin Elderly laughed affectionately. "Yes, he does," he told her.

"But I think he really needs me most," she confided, yawning, "because he's very little, for a human boy. And I know what it's like to be little."

"Well," said Thin Elderly, "it will serve him well, your understanding."

"We'll have to give him very good dreams."

"Yes, he needs every good dream we can bestow. We'll work very hard on strengthening the boy. I think we can even neglect the woman for a few nights. She's quite strong."

"But old," Littlest pointed out sleepily. "Very wrinkly and old." She glanced up at Thin Elderly and blushed. "Oops. Sorry."

"It's all right. I'm old, too, and wrinkly. I know that. And she is the same, that's true. And old people do need their dreams as much as anyone. But right now I feel we must concentrate on that little boy. He has so few fragments to hold on to, and some were destroyed during the infliction last night."

"The woman will help him, too. Remember when she told him a story and it helped him go to sleep? 'I'll tell you a story,' she said to him. I liked that."

"Yes. She's good with him."

"What's a story, exactly?" Littlest asked suddenly.

Thin Elderly looked at her with amusement. She had so very much to learn. "Let me think how to explain that," he said. "A story is—

"Well, everything is a story. Tell me something you've touched, in the woman's house."

"A button on her sweater."

"And what came from the button?"

"You mean the fragments?"

"Yes, the fragments. What were they?"

Thinking, Littlest scratched her nose. "There were lots. There was the time when Toby—that's the dog's name—"

"Yes," said Thin Elderly. "I know Toby."

"Well, he chewed the button once. He was just bored and there it was, something to do, so he chewed it. She scolded him, but she was laughing. That fragment's there."

"What else?"

"She spilled her tea, and it stained the button a little. And also—"

"Yes?"

"She was sad once, when she was wearing the sweater, and while she was feeling sad, she rubbed the button a little, back and forth. It comforted her. It's a good fragment, because of the comfort.

"And one other time? This is funny! She held her niece's baby on her lap, and the baby grabbed the button and wouldn't let go! Everybody was laughing!"

"And all of that is there for you to find when you touch the button," Thin Elderly pointed out.

"And lots more."

"That is the button's story. All the things that have been part of the life of that little button. They create a story. Everything has a story," Thin Elderly explained.

Littlest thought it over. "And when she said to the boy, 'I'll tell you a story,' and then she began, 'Once upon a time there was a little boy,' that was his story, wasn't it?"

"Yes. Part of his story. A very small part."

"Then he went to sleep again. That was nice. I was afraid he wouldn't." She fell silent for a moment. "You know what, Thin Elderly?"

"What?"

"I'm scared that it will come back and it will bring the whole—I forget the name."

"Horde."

"Yes. I'm afraid of the Horde."

"We'll strengthen him. We'll fight the Horde by strengthening him. That's our job."

"It's an important job," she said sleepily. "But scary."

"It is indeed." Thin Elderly stretched and settled himself into a comfortable position. "Curl up now and get a good day's sleep," he said. "Tonight we'll start the strengthening. We'll have some hard work to do." He glanced over at Littlest One and smiled. Her wide eyes had already closed.

He closed his as well, and now the whole Heap slept and was silent, refreshing their vigor and strength for the work of the next night.

17

"Don't get any stupid idea about keeping me," John said. "Just because I did that stuff for you, filling the dog's dish and sweeping the porch, don't think you can keep me and make me be your slave."

They stopped briefly on the path through the park, to let Toby sniff a bush and raise his leg.

"I appreciated that," the woman told him, "the sweeping. It's hard for me because my shoulders are stiff. It was lovely to have help."

"C'mon, dog." John tugged at the leash and Toby moved to his side obediently. "The police would come if you tried to kidnap me," he pointed out. "They'd have sharpshooters, with rifles. They'd be behind every tree, aiming at your house. A guy would say into a microphone, 'Let the boy go.'"

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