Home > Gossamer(13)

Author: Lois Lowry

"And he has so little for me to touch and give back to him in dreams, Thin Elderly. He has a chrysalis now, that he found out in the garden, and the woman let him keep it in a jar in his room. He's very gentle with it because she explained how a butterfly was being made inside. So it's a nice thing for me to touch—I can give him that fragment of gentleness and taking-care-of. But it's a very small thing. And there aren't many others.

"There's the pink seashell that he keeps on the table. And it's the most valuable thing, I think, because it has so many memories—I can feel them there—and it's part of his own story. Remember he wanted shells when she told him that story that began 'Once upon a time there was a little boy'?"

He nodded.

"But it's also very small," she sighed.

Thin Elderly smiled at her as she spoke so earnestly. She was barely larger than the seashell herself.

"There's a photograph, too, that he keeps in an inside pocket of his suitcase," she went on. "It's of a woman. There are a lot of fragments coming from that picture, but they're mixed. The feelings of them are all mixed up. I try to sift through and collect the good parts.

"And that's really all. His clothes don't give me much of anything. The social work lady bought his clothes. So really all I have—all that's worth touching—are the chrysalis and the seashell and the picture.

"But, Thin Elderly?" She looked up at him. "Guess what?"

He looked at her quizzically. "What?"

"He's starting to love the dog! I can feel it!"

"And so..." Thin Elderly, hesitating, considered what she had said.

"I need to touch the dog. Lightly, of course. In a very gossamer way. And I can give the boy that: the love feelings. Along with the gentle chrysalis feelings, and the warm happiness seashell feelings, and the good part of the photograph feelings.

"It will make it work better, adding in the dog! I'm sure of it. Make him much, much stronger against the nightmares."

She looked up at Thin Elderly. "Could I try, at least?" she pleaded.

Thin Elderly eased himself up from the huddling place. Three nights in a row they had had to hide this way, hunched over. He was achy.

"Come with me," he whispered. "The woman is worn out from getting up at night. I'm going to bestow a wonderful, restorative dream on her. I've collected it from the parlor; I found it there in the old crocheted afghan she keeps over the back of the sofa. Her mother wrapped her in that afghan one Christmas morning when she was a very little girl. There was snow outside, and a new doll under the tree, and it was one of the happiest mornings of her life. I was quite delighted to find it there unused, ready to be collected.

"While I'm doing that, Littlest One, you may touch the dog."

"Oh, thank you, thank you," she whispered.

"No need for thanks," he replied. "No time. We must work quickly. We must try to help the boy."


"You say you allowed her to touch a dog?"

"I did, Most Ancient. The dog was sleeping deeply. And her touch is exquisite: very, very delicate. She calls it gossamer." Thin Elderly smiled.

Most Ancient, though he tried to look stern, smiled as well. "She's a dear little thing, isn't she? I cannot understand why Fastidious found her so difficult."

"Well," Thin Elderly replied, "she's Fastidious."

Most Ancient chuckled. "Still," he said, "we must keep in mind that the rules do prohibit touching living creatures. It's for our own safety, really."

"I understand. This did seem a special case, though."

They were seated together some distance from the Heap. Most Ancient no longer went out on the night work. He stayed here, pondering difficulties, adjudicating disputes, thinking deeply about the dream-givers and their responsibilities and problems. Thin Elderly had come to him at the end of the night, and while the others, including Littlest One, were arranging themselves for sleep, he had confided to Most Ancient the problem of the small boy, John, and confessed what he had done.

"The boy was weakening, you say." Most Ancient furrowed his brow, thinking about it.

"Yes. It was quite clear. He had suffered recurrent inflictions night after night. And Littlest had so few fragments to give him for strength. It was she who realized that he was beginning to love the dog."

"I've always been partial to dogs myself. Don't know why we don't have any. You'd think a dream-giving dog would be a great asset, wouldn't you? Could bestow on other dogs. I always found those ears difficult when I was bestowing. I remember once..."

Thin Elderly sighed. Most Ancient's mind wandered a bit these days. He tended to digress, to tell stories from the past, and sometimes the same stories again and again. Thin Elderly had heard this one several times. But he waited patiently until Most Ancient concluded.

Then he said, "I believe, sir, if you don't mind our going back to the problem of Littlest One, that she actually did the boy a great good. After she did the touching of the dog—and the dog didn't stir at all; he slept right through it—she immediately went across the hall, gathered herself and the new fragments, and fluttered up and bestowed them on the boy."

"Was there a reaction?"

"Immediately, sir. He had been restless, tossing, whimpering, and occasionally we heard him cry out in his sleep. The woman had hurried in to comfort him. She's had to do that night after night, and it's taking a toll on her, too. She's quite tired."

"So, let me see if I'm following this correctly. The boy had a nightmare—" Most Ancient sighed. "How I hate that word! But he had a nightmare, and cried out, and the woman comforted him. Where were you and Littlest then?"

"Huddled. Lately we've had to huddle a great deal. We have a special place in the hall, deep in the shadows by the attic stairs. Sometimes we dissolve."

"So the boy went back to his restless sleep. Do I have that right?"

"Yes. Tossing and turning."

"And the woman went back to her bed and to sleep. The dog?"

"Never woke. He sleeps right through every night."

"You waited, the two of you?"

"Yes. To give the woman time to get back to sleep. I was eager, actually, because I had a particularly wonderful dream to give her. I discovered some fragments in an afghan—"

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