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Gossamer(15)
Author: Lois Lowry

And then, of course, there had been John. Her little boy, with his chipped tooth and curly hair.

Now they were both gone. Duane? Good riddance.

But she'd get John back. Soon.

She looked up at the clock again and decided to forget going to her car for a cigarette. Instead, she'd use her break to call the social worker.

21

"I think it helped. At least a little," Littlest whispered to Thin Elderly. "Look how he's smiling."

Together they watched the little boy's face. It did seem calmer, more rested than it had been. He lay on his side, snuggled against the pillow, with one arm curled around a shabby stuffed creature.

"Good work, Littlest One. And to think, you accomplished that with fragments from the dog!" Thin Elderly looked at her with admiration.

Littlest shook her head. "Not just the dog," she admitted. "I combined so many things that I almost ran out of breath! It was fragments from the seashell. And the chrysalis. And it was that other thing, too. See what he's holding?"

Thin Elderly leaned forward to examine the faded animal in the boy's arms. "I can't tell exactly what that is," he murmured.

"It's a very silly thing," Littlest explained. "A kind of donkey thing, and very old—that's why its color is gone. One ear is mended, and it's patched on its behind. It belonged to the woman once. She called it—" Littlest giggled. "She called it Hee-Haw.

"She was just a little girl," she added, "but she saved it all these years. And she brought it down from the attic for the boy the other night, because he was having such trouble sleeping."

"How do you know all this?" Thin Elderly asked. "She would have done that during the day. You couldn't have been here then. We dream-givers come only when they're asleep.

"Come out to the hallway," he added. "We can converse more freely there."

They both looked again, fondly, at the sleeping boy, and then Littlest followed Thin Elderly to the corner of the hallway, the place where they had frequently huddled together during the invasions of the Sinisteed. Tonight the atmosphere was quiet, with nothing to fear. They would still be on guard, of course, but the visits of the hot-breathed intruder had become less frequent.

So the pair did not huddle apprehensively but rather settled comfortably in the shadowy hall corner beside the attic stairs.

"Now," Thin Elderly said, "tell me how you know so much. I'm in charge of you, Littlest One, and if you are doing anything dangerous, like stealing away from the Heap in daytime—"

"Oh, no! I wouldn't do that!" she reassured him.

"Daytime is a very, very hazardous time for us, you know. We are night creatures." His voice was solemn.

"What exactly are we, Thin Elderly?" Littlest One asked him. "I asked Fastidious again and again, but she never explained. At first I thought I might be a kind of dog, because I felt a kind of ... well, I don't know how to describe it, but a kind of brotherhood with the dog—"

She giggled. "Or a sisterhood. But then I didn't have the right ears, and of course no tail!"

She wiggled her tiny bottom mischievously, and Thin Elderly smiled.

Then he became serious. "Littlest, stop changing the subject. I believe you that you have not ventured out in daylight. You're a very obedient little dream-giver, as a rule. But you must tell me how you are getting information. How did you know, for example, that the woman went to the attic in order to bring back that—"

Wrinkling his nose, he gestured toward the bedroom they had just left. "That donkey thing," he said.

"Hee-Haw," she reminded him with a grin.

"Yes. Hee-Haw." He said the name with a sound of amused disdain.

"Well," she said, "when I touch things—"

"Like the dog?"

"Like the dog, yes. But other things, too. The photographs, the seashell, the dishes, all of it, everything, even Hee-Haw—"

"Yes, even Hee-Haw." Thin Elderly smiled at the solemn look on the face of the tiny creature sitting by his side.

"It all seems to go together somehow," she explained. "The parts. The fragments. All the things that I collect—" She moved her fingers ever so lightly across his arm, to demonstrate.

"With your gossamer touch," he said.

"Yes. With my very gossamer touch I find them all together, waiting for a dream, and sometimes things are added in, things I didn't even know about, or touch. Like—well, like Hee-Haw."

She looked up at him. "He was part of the woman's childhood," she said. "Part of her story. 'Once there was a little girl, and she had a toy donkey—' would be the way her story begins. I already knew her story, from the things I'd collected. It's a long story, and it has sad parts. I get a lot of sad fragments from the photograph of the soldier—feelings of never-coming-back, feelings of now-I'm-all- alone. But the kiss is there, too, in that photograph, so I always collect there, just to keep that kiss fragment for her.

"And you know what, Thin Elderly? Sad parts are important. If I ever get to train a new young dream-giver, that's one of the things I'll teach: that you must include the sad parts, because they are part of the story, and they have to be part of the dreams."

"You'll be a good teacher one day," he told her.

"Thank you," she said demurely.

"But you must stop sucking your thumb."

She sighed. "I know. Soon I will."

***

"Anyway," she said, changing the subject, "I felt as if I knew Hee-Haw a little, somehow, before she brought him from the attic. Then there he was! In the boy's room! And you know what, Thin Elderly?"

"What?" He smiled at her earnestness.

"I think maybe we gave her some fragments in a dream, some bits of her childhood, happy things, and there was Hee-Haw! She'd forgotten him until the dream! But then she remembered, and she went up to an old trunk, and found him again, and brought him to the boy.

"And somehow, when I saw him there, I understood about the trunk, and how the donkey had waited all those years to be given to a boy."

"And now the boy sleeps."

"We all helped him. You and I, and the woman, and the dog, and the donkey," Littlest pointed out, with a happy sigh. "We strengthened him." She giggled. "Strengthen is a hard word to say," she confided sleepily.

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