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Gossamer(6)
Author: Lois Lowry

"Say 'bestow.' 'Sneeze' is rather crude."

Littlest nodded. "Bestow," she whispered. "Here I go!"

Silently, following the sequence exactly, Littlest One bestowed a dream for the first time.

And there in the darkened bedroom, during a dream that by morning would be forgotten, the lonely woman became a girl and was kissed by a young soldier. At dawn she woke with a vague feeling of happiness.

8

"Toby," she said, as she sipped her tea and turned the letter over and over in her hands, "how will we deal with an angry boy?"

The dog, his head on his paws, simply blinked. His tail tapped the floor briefly.

"I could say no. I had told her I'd take a little girl. I could explain that I'm not up to having a boy."

Toby eyed a fly that had settled on the rung of a nearby chair. If it were closer, he would have made a try for it, just for the sport. But he didn't feel inclined to bother with this one.

"I thought a little girl would brighten the house a bit. I could knit sweaters and mittens for her. Read stories."

She glanced through the kitchen window into the small yard. "I thought a girl might love the flower garden. I could help her plant something easy. I'm not sure what would grow this late in the summer. Nasturtiums, perhaps. They grow quickly, and the flowers are so bright-colored. A little girl would enjoy that.

"I could teach a girl to bake cookies, the way my mother taught me."

She raised and lowered her shoulders, easing the ache that sometimes troubled her there. She stirred her tea, which was cooling now.

"I know it wouldn't be easy. She'd come from a troubled background. They explained that. She might have some bad habits, and it would take a lot of patience."

She chuckled slightly. "Well, I needed a patient mother myself. I was a handful, Toby; would you believe it? Of course, that was a long time ago. Sixty-five years ago that I—what is the age again?" She looked at the letter another time. "He's eight. I was eight almost sixty-five years ago.

"But I remember it. I could handle an eight-year-old girl, even one who had bad habits. We'd make rules. Not harsh ones. Just some simple rules, about bedtime, and homework, and helping around the house.

"My mother did that. Of course, in those days there were punishments that we wouldn't use now. Sometimes a switching. More often, up to my room, no supper, no reading—

"I suppose these days it would be no TV. I wonder if a little girl would mind too much that we don't have a television, Toby. I suppose I could get a small one but we'd have some strict rules about watching.

"Of course, it would be only for a few weeks. A child can do without television for a few weeks. We'd read a lot, I expect."

The woman glanced down at the dog and smiled. He was sound asleep. "I'm talking to myself. Again."

She took her teacup to the sink and began to wash the few dishes that were there. "Bird feeder needs filling," she said, looking through the window to the place where it hung from a low branch of the gnarled apple tree.

"I could ask the boy to do something like that. It could be one of his chores."

Carefully she dried the cup and saucer and replaced them in the cupboard. She washed the spoon.

"I wonder why they describe him as angry. What does an eight-year-old have to be angry about?"

She folded the linen towel in half and hung it neatly over the handle of the oven door. "Time for our walk, Toby!" The dog lifted his head and then rose eagerly at the sound of the familiar word. He went and stood beside her, waiting for the leash, which she had taken from the hook where it hung.

"His name is John," she told the dog as she leaned down to fasten the leash to his collar. "He's an angry little boy named John, and we must be very patient with him. He'll be here Friday."

9

In the Heap, Littlest One, half asleep, heard one of the older dream-givers make his way to the place where Thin Elderly was dozing. She could hear them talking softly and perceived that the conversation was about her. "She'll be fine," Thin Elderly replied to a murmured question. "She's clever. It's just her curiosity that interferes. But curiosity's a good thing, actually."

It had been a fairly easy night. Most nights were easy, she found, now that she had gotten the hang of it. They went about, collecting fragments by touching; she was good at that and enjoyed it. And Thin Elderly, now that he was in charge instead of Fastidious, had found untouched places: the dishes, for example. Fastidious had never once touched dishes.

The woman's dishes, which had come to her from her own mother, were filled with important and meaningful fragments. Touching, Littlest could perceive all sorts of things: a child (the woman, probably, though it was hard to tell for certain) sulking, seated alone at a table after everyone else had gone. Refusing to eat something. Carrots, Littlest thought. It was a sweet memory, despite the sulking, because the child's mother, she perceived, had eventually taken the hated carrots away with a smile. With her gentlest touch, Littlest collected the child's petulant sulk, the woman's forgiving smile, a bib with an embroidered rabbit, and even the hand-painted flowers on a small blue plate. It would make a lovely dream, Littlest thought; she could combine it with the kitten she had collected from an old photograph, and perhaps some remembered music that she had found in the piano.

***

In a somewhat distant place, in another Heap, a drowsy young dream-giver named Strapping was also thinking about dishes he had touched during his evening's mission. Strapping's territory, assigned as a kind of punishment, actually, because he had not been quite attentive enough to his duties, was an apartment on the first floor of a dilapidated house that stood unattractively in a yard thick with weeds and cluttered with discarded, forgotten things. It was not a good assignment, not a location that lent itself to happy dreaming, and he had groaned when he received it. But they told him that he would be promoted out of it after a while if he learned to work diligently and without complaint.

To his surprise, though, he had become oddly fond of the unkempt apartment and its unhappy occupant, a thin, sad woman who lived there alone and lit one cigarette from the end of the previous one. During his night visits he searched for pleasant fragments to touch and had found them, to his own surprise, in a folded sweater, a book left open, a broken seashell on a shelf, a badly framed snapshot of a small boy with a chipped front tooth. He brought those things to her, the memories they held, and gave them to her in dreams. Now and then she smiled in her sleep and he felt that he had done a tiny, invisible good deed.

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