Monday, June 19, 2006

late night travels {sunday scribblings}

Rebecca Louise Paulson set out for school each morning wearing bright red knee socks, black mary janes with a half-inch heel, various brightly colored jumpers (indigo on Mondays, Tuesdays were fern green, sunshine yellow on Wednesdays, Thursdays saw a geranium red that complimented her socks, and Fridays, Fridays brought her most favorite of all: purple with green polka dots), and a white button-down oxford (turtlenecks in winter). Every day she carried her pumpkin orange backpack filled with her lunch in a brown paper sack, two sharpened #2 pencils, three paperclips, one humongous rubber band and one tiny one, a little spiral notebook, her lucky pink hair ribbon, and various books, depending on the day. (Just between you and me, in the super secret pocket inside the zippered pouch in the bottom of her pack, folded up in one of her mother’s handkerchiefs, was a small white rock with black stripes that she had found near the creek on her grandparents’ farm the day her brother died. During the week, she looked at it four times a day: when she placed it in the pocket in the morning, at lunch time when she removed the brown paper bag, right before she began her walk home, and lastly when she reached in and pulled out the handkerchief in anticipation of tucking it under her pillow in the evening; on Tuesdays, she also checked on the rock after art class because she had to leave her backpack in the hallway outside the art room door.

Her pace was a quick one because it was Monday and she wanted to get to school before it began, right when the library opened. It was there that she would say hello to Mrs. Harrison the librarian as Rebecca stood on tiptoes to place her books on the front desk of the library, right above the sign that said “returns.” Mrs. Harrison said the same thing every Monday, “Good morning Rebecca. How did you sleep since last I saw you?” “Delightfully,” was the response Rebecca always gave her. “Where do you want to go this week?” would be Mrs. Harrison’s next question. And each Monday, Rebecca would tell her.

You see, the day Rebecca’s teacher took her class to the school library and Mrs. Harrison explained how they could each check out three books at a time and keep them for up to two weeks, then bring the books back and check out more, was the day that brought the night that Rebecca’s dreams began. Rebecca had first checked out a book about a cricket playing music in a subway station in New York. When it was time for Rebecca to go to bed, she had reached into her backpack and pulled out the handkerchief and the library book, stepped up the three steps of the stool she used to climb into her tall, black, wrought-iron bed, pulled back the pink quilt her great-grandmother had made her the year she was born, placed the handkerchief under her pillow, climbed under the covers, settled back against the pillows, and she had begun to read. After she turned out her light, she dreamt she and her brother were in that subway station having a conversation with that cricket and boarding the subway to go to Carnegie Hall where her brother would be playing the violin.

Next, Rebecca checked out a book about a spider who could spell words in her web and was best friends with a pig. That night she dreamt that she and her brother befriended this spider and taught her to spell the words on Rebecca’s spelling list. Then in history class, she had to write a report about a state she had never visited. She checked out books about Alaska and began to read one that night when she climbed into bed. After she turned out her light and drifted to sleep, Rebecca dreamt that she and her brother were in a canoe when a humpback whale lifted its tail up out of the ocean and splashed them with water. Later, when they rowed back to shore, her brother had stepped out of the canoe, reached down, and picked up a rock and handed it to her. “So you won’t forget,” he said as he curled her fingers around that rock.

The next morning, Rebecca woke up with her hand in a tight fist around the handkerchief beneath her pillow. And as she lay there staring out the window across from her bed, she realized she could take her brother to places he would never see, except on these journeys of the night. Her quest began. Each Monday she would explain to Mrs. Harrison that she wanted to visit someplace new in the world. She wanted to read all about far-off places like Egypt and Brazil and Antarctica and Kenya and Maine. Sometimes she wanted to read about the present day experience in these places. Other visits she would request books about the history of different corners of the world. And each night, Rebecca would climb into her bed and read until her eyes became weary. Then came the best part: her dreams. When she was cocooned in her bed, sleeping on her side with legs bent and feet crossed, and her breathing became steady and even, her brother would appear tall and strong. He would turn to her, take a deep breath, and say, “isn’t this place incredible?” Together they would climb mountains, stare down a panther, sit in a tree talking to an orangutan, eat honey and peanut butter sandwiches sitting on a log near the Mediterranean Sea, marvel at dancers in the middle of a street fair in Rome, and sing along with pirates adrift in the Indian Ocean.

Some mornings, Rebecca would wake up with her fingers curled around the handkerchief that held her rock. When she did, she would open up her notebook, and she would slowly and carefully write down the name of the place she and her brother had visited in her dream. When she was old enough, she was going to travel to the place she had dreamt about and find the exact spot where they had stood when her brother had pressed the rock into her hand at the end of that night’s adventure. When she was old enough, she was going to take her pumpkin orange backpack and a canteen of water and the money she would make from working in the ice cream shop across the street from the school and she would travel to all the places in her notebook. She was certain that each rock would be there. But that would be years from now, and until then, she had a plan. She was going to check out three more books today and hold on tight for the next adventure.

(if you have traveled this far with me today, thank you. and if you have time to settle in for some more, head over to sunday scribblings and read other adventures about "beds.")