Steuart couldn’t sleep. He was angry with his mother. “I don’t want to leave Atchison Bay,” he whispered. “I want to stay here.”
Lying miserably in his antique, hand-carved bed, he took a deep breath, pulled at his covers, and stared up at the ceiling before grabbing hold of his favorite pillow and giving it a tight squeeze. Tugging and wrestling with the thing, Steuart pretended it was a child-sized dinosaur discovered earlier in the day during his exploration along the south side of the house. This was just beyond the Oleander and beneath the hedgerow of blue Hydrangeas. Feeling not only paternal, but also lonely, Steuart chose to keep the unusual specimen and raise him as a pet. “I will name you Leighton Jefferson Allnight O’Dowd,” he said. “Your nickname will be Sparky.” Steuart situated himself, took a deep breath, and put the pillow down.
Gazing across his room, Steuart thought about waking too soon from a newer bed in a house he did not care to see. I don’t want a new room. I don’t need a new room. Burying his head in another pillow, he wondered about his new school. Will we ride a bus? Can we walk or ride our bikes? He wondered about his teachers. Will they be nice? What if they smell? Steuart coughed. He thought about making new friends and considered how Midwestern children might differ from children in the South. Do they play kickball? Do they enjoy reading? Are they clever? Sitting up, he squeezed his pillow again and whispered, “Will you come with me?”
Although he loved his mother, Steuart wished she had more time for him and his sister Sam. He also wished she were nicer, kinder, and more fun like his grandmother, Ida Light. While it wasn’t immediately apparent, acquaintances could quickly see that Olivia DuBoise had a way of being difficult with the world. You might say she had an abrasive affect, and you might also say that it wasn’t her fault. Olivia was born with a narrow personal perspective allowing little room for the ideas and consideration of others. Steuart shuddered as he turned on his side and thought about his mother’s preferred devotion. She read daily from an instructional publication titled Right, Good, and Appropriate.
“Good etiquette is everything,” she liked to say.
“I feel sick,” Steuart mumbled as he sat and reached for the cup of water on his nightstand. Ready to vomit, he rushed into his bathroom, turned on the faucet, and splashed cold water across his face. He grabbed a white washcloth and held it under the running water, gagging as he moved towards the toilet and lifted the seat. Heaving on his knees with his head above the bowl, Steuart pressed the cool, wet cloth against his forehead and waited for the nausea to pass. After a while, and finally feeling some better, he returned to bed, stopping first by the switch plate to increase the speed of his ceiling fan. He climbed onto the mattress, plumped his pillows, and situated himself once more. He reached for his cup and sipped. “That’s better.” Steuart couldn’t sleep.
Wrestling with his pillow, Steuart stood on his bed and pretended he and Sparky were in a match. He held his hands high above his head and rotated slowly, nodding to the spectators as the announcer introduced him to the crowd. Hearing the bell, Steuart turned and flopped, belly first, onto the mattress before jumping up, grabbing Sparky, and throwing him across the bed. Steuart moved from one corner to another tossing the pillow, catching the pillow, tossing, catching, and working up a sweat—increasing his speed and intensity with each throw. Standing in the center, he jumped three more times and lunged forward, this time pinning Sparky under his belly. Up again, he clutched the pillow, jumped, jumped again, and threw Sparky into the air. He watched as the pillow, flying high, was grabbed up and spit out by the whirling blades of the fan, hurled across the room, and dumped onto the floor where it laid silent, crumpled, and defeated behind an overstuffed club chair. “Oh no,” Steuart sighed as he jumped, and ran to rescue his opponent. “Are you okay pal?”
In bed again, Steuart held Sparky close and gave the pillow a squeeze. “I’m sorry about that. Can we continue?” Together they stood and readied themselves for the next round. “Wait,” Steuart looked at the referee. “Don’t start yet.” He dropped Sparky, leapt from bed and ran towards the door. “I need to turn down the fan.” He lowered the speed, turned around, raced back, and dove onto the mattress. He jumped, dropped, jumped again and then lunged a final time, pinning his opponent to the bed. Steuart called the count and pronounced himself the winner. Out of breath, he gasped, flipped onto his back, and lay quietly for several minutes before pulling Sparky close. “You’re a good man,” he whispered.
Steuart drifted into a dream. His grandmother became a helium balloon attached to a string that was 43,026 feet long. He wrapped the string around his waist four times, or maybe five, tying it to his wrist so he could keep Ida with him always, pull her in extra close if he needed help, or just wanted to say “Hello Grandmother.” Everywhere he walked Ida floated in the sky above him. On beautiful days she rode the wind with the rafters causing Steuart to walk at a faster pace. On windy days she moved swiftly, lifting him completely off the ground and carrying him high into the air.
Ida could touch the clouds. She added sugar, baking soda and organic vanilla to cumulus clouds and created fresh, fluffy cloud candy. Quite by accident, Steuart learned that he could stick out his tongue and taste little bits of the delicacy as it gently floated towards the ground. When conditions were perfect, Ida used the same ingredients to create Steuart’s favorite candy—divinity. If Steuart chose to skip or run extra fast, his grandmother moved with him, even if he moved as fast as the wind. If rain came, he loosened the string letting Ida rise high above the clouds for protection. And, on cold days, he pulled her in close and wrapped her inside his coat.
Once, while racing through a field, Steuart grew concerned and looked up to make sure his grandmother was there. What he saw was her hand gently leaving her mouth as she blew him a kiss. Like the greatest athlete, Steuart jumped quick, straight, and high making the catch. He put the kiss into his pocket for safekeeping and then created several of his own, sending all of them to Ida at once. He watched as she held the kisses and rubbed them together in her palms. “I love you,” she said, opening her hands and releasing thousands of white butterflies into the sky.
“I love you too, Grandmother.”
For a short while, before the flutter of butterfly wings gave him a need to rest, Steuart felt that his heart might burst open with love. Lying on the grass, beside a gurgling stream, he made a moment of silence. He thought of other children and their grandparents around the world as he sent a silent prayer of hope into the universe for their good health, long lives, and happiness.
Steuart dozed fitfully before waking clammy and wet with thoughts and worries of arriving too soon at a house he already couldn’t stand. After all, what could be good about a new house and a new place without his grandmother? I’ll never feel happy in another place. This is terrible. At the age of ten, he couldn’t remember feeling sadder. Steuart still couldn’t sleep. In times past, when this was a problem, Ida encouraged him to make up stories. Quite often it worked, so he began.
Steuart pretended a pirate ship looking for seamen and carrying a recently discovered hidden treasure, sailed into the bay and docked at the end of his pier. Aware of the Galapagos pirates, he was also sadly aware of the giant island turtles, Chelonoidis nigra and their danger of extinction. He was certain that the pirates, infamously reputed for gorging themselves on turtle soup, were responsible for the crime.
Surprisingly, they seduced Steuart’s mother into working a full-time rotation between the southernmost Galapagos pirate turtle farms, Takemoore and Arrrrrrr. The job called for a caretaker/cook responsible for daily soup production using a gourmet secret recipe brought from France two hundred years earlier by a 102-year-old, blue-blooded Huguenot chef-turned-pirate named Jacques Supree. Steuart was thrilled until he overheard the pirates pondering their lack of protein. No more turtles meant no more soup—and no need for Olivia.
Negotiations were delicate until Steuart proposed a plan that included not only his mother, but also a delicious new mock-turtle soup recipe created by his grandmother, an excellent cook. In exchange for both Olivia and the recipe, the pirates presented Steuart, Ida, and Sam with a five-year-old donkey named Quantro, a bottle of two year old rum, and twelve chocolate coins—four for each of them. Having never read that there were donkeys on the islands, Steuart reasoned that the pirates seized the unfortunate animal during a raid on another ship with the knowledge that he could be useful in a trade.
For a while, Steuart enjoyed his stories. He smiled, took a deep breath, closed his eyes and envisioned the taste of chocolate delights and rogue sounds in the night, as pirates sang songs and a contented donkey played happily beside a crackling beach bonfire. He grew sad again thinking about the move. “I’m wishing for a perfect moment of magic,” he whispered. Perhaps a friend would appear in the darkness and give him the power to keep time from moving forward. “I need a power that will allow me to live thankfully and happily in the now, a nowness so huge that I can stay suspended permanently in the happiness I love with Grandmother and Sam, here on Atchison Bay.” Suddenly, for some inexplicable reason, Steuart wondered about his father. Where’s Daddy? Does he think about me? Steuart couldn’t sleep.
He glanced across his big tall room at the giant, antique world map on the far wall. The map belonged to Ida’s father, Matt Prescott when he was a boy. Turning away, Steuart watched the moonlight streaming through the transom above his dark French doors. He was beginning to understand what it meant to take something for granted. This is unfair. He reached for the cup of water on his nightstand and put it to his lips. The cup was empty. “Great,” he groaned. Steuart took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
He thought about eating breakfast under the oaks. He thought about sitting in the swing at the end of the pier with his favorite books. He wondered how Ida would get along without him. We’re a team. He thought of how he enjoyed throwing a line of cord far out into the bay with a smelly, rotting chicken neck tied to the end. He did this early in the morning as he crabbed the old-fashioned way with his grandmother who refused to use crab baskets.
“It’s not sporting if you trap them,” she’d say. Steuart didn’t object because Ida’s way was the most fun. He loved standing shirtless with his back straight, feeling the warmth of the sun behind him, and the coolness of salt-water lapping softly against his ankles. He loved the morning breeze coming in across the bay as he waited for a little nibble, pulling the cord tight. That’s how he knew a hungry crab—maybe two, feasted on a hearty breakfast at the end of his line. This was the signal for Steuart to slowly reel-in the cord, while motioning for Ida who ran quickly and quietly with the long-handled net ready to scoop up the crabs that were too busy feasting to notice either of them. He thought of how his toes squished into the sand as she pulled and lifted the net filled with crabs and how just as quickly, with a huge grin and a laugh, she’d turn the net towards the water and release the crabs into the bay. “Steuart Dahlin’, I don’t think it’s their time yet. Do you?”
“Not yet Grandmother—looks like we’ll have to find them another day.”
“Maybe tomorrow, maybe next year. Those lucky crabs are safe for now.” Steuart and Ida watched as the crabs scurried back into the murky darkness of the water.
Steuart blinked. He took a deep breath, exhaled and rubbed his eyes. He thought about swimming in the bay with his sister and grandmother, each of them floating lazily on a raft or an inner tube, all three held together by a long line of cord. He thought about sitting on the screened porch in the late afternoon, sipping sweet iced tea, and nibbling on leftover homemade buttered biscuits from breakfast as he worked on his favorite pastime—anagrams. Steuart thought of the holiday boating parade and the lights on the boats in the darkness. He thought about watching the sailboats in the distance. “One day I’ll sail.”
He looked up again and listened to the sound of the old ceiling fan, a soft slow exhaling fwoh, fwoh, fwoh, rotating gently above his bed. Again, he looked at the tall doors. His mind continued to wander. After a while, Steuart reached for his glasses, grabbed Sparky, and crawled out of bed. He opened the doors and walked quietly onto the sleeping porch that connected his room to his sister’s. Steuart couldn’t sleep.
You can find the book at Amazon by clicking here: The Wayward Gifted