I thought my mother disappearing was the worst thing that could ever happen. But then I found out that she left us on purpose. I can’t think of a single good reason to explain a mother leaving her children. But I also have a sneaking suspicion that she’s not really our mother, and also, not one hundred percent human.
But right now, I’ve got another puzzle to solve. Literally. It’s a jigsaw puzzle, and I’m hoping it’s going to be easier than the million other problems I currently have. I already know it holds some kind of magic.
I am sitting with my brother and sister in our motherless house, which is starting to seriously look that way thanks to Bosco, and his mess-blindness. I’m watching my sister Ximea lay the puzzle pieces out in front of us. I’m looking at them when an awful thought appears in my head. A thought so weird and solid and loud that I sit up straighter and look around the room to see if maybe someone else is here. This thought hovers high up in my brain waiting for me to acknowledge it. Are they really my brother and sister? But I’m not going there. Not today. Not ever. And just like that, the thought drifts off. I can almost see it, like a smudge of coal dust drifting out the window.
“Got it,” Ximea says, as she lays down the puzzle, which is more like tangram, in perfect formation. My sister is a bit of a genius. When it comes to math and logic and that kind of thing. We all sit staring at it.
Ximea breaks the silence, “Frankie, where did you get this?”
And now is the moment when a decision must be made. Tell the whole truth and freak them all out. Or just enough to keep them innocent a while longer.
“Tell the truth,” Bosco says. Reading my mind.
“It was in the letterbox,” I say, which is one hundred percent true.
“Did you see who put it there?” asks Xim.
“No,” I say. Which is one hundred percent not true because I did see who put it there. Or rather, what, put it there. I don’t know if they’re ready to believe what I saw. Because it was a dog. A large dog that looked like a Newfoundland with short hair and bright gold eyes. It walked on up to the letterbox and stood up on its hinds legs. The package was in its mouth the whole time. Then it used one paw to open the back of the box and popped the gift in as if it’d been delivering mail its whole life. The weirdness doesn’t stop there. Our dog, Goose, who hates all animals except for humans, was sitting on the front steps watching. Not only did she not bark her head off and act as if she’s 30 times her size. She trotted over and had a full-on love fest with this strange gift-carrying dog.
Which is why I think the dog is somehow connected to my mother.
You might be wondering why I’m not freaking out. Apart from the fact I think I used up my lifelong quota of freaks a long time ago, it’s because I knew a lot of this was going to happen. I saw it all in a dream.
The dream still has a daylight hold on my heart, even now. When I told my mother about it, she went silent. Her eyes closed for longer than they should have. The way she dropped everything and sat down with me was a clue. Because she never does that. She also made me recant the dream about three times, asking super specific questions each time. The more questions she asked the more I remembered. Then, she stood up and looked at me a good long time before she left the room and came back with a book.
“It always starts with a dream.” She said.
This book was old but not ancient. It was worn but not creepy. It didn’t seem magic at first. But then I opened it. And inside was every word that I’d just told her about my dream, and pictures, little inky sketches of the things I’d seen in it.
“Chapter one,” she said.
She was staring at me, waiting to see what I’d do. But I didn’t even flinch. It was like my whole body just shrugged and went “finally”. I could feel this warmth coming off her, like a never-ending hug. Then she got tears in her eyes and said, “Kia Kaha.” Which means stay strong.
When I got home from school the next day she was gone. And I didn’t flinch then either, until I saw my mother’s ring. One I have never seen her take off, not once. And believe me when I say we begged to try it on. This ring was part of her and I always assumed her flesh had somehow become one with the silver. The thought of her naked finger makes goose bumps rise even now. The ring was sitting on top of a note.
My brain slowed right down to the speed of my pulse, which was banging so loud it felt like my heart had been transplanted to my ears. I picked up the ring and tried every finger. It didn’t fit. Either just too big or just too small. The silver is plaited like a horse tail with a single ruby. The pattern has faded to nothing in a few places. Rolling it through my fingers, I see words engraved inside the band. I bring the ring closer, its numbers, not words. A date. All I know about this ring is that it was a gift, given long before I was born, sixteen years ago. I don’t know who gave it to her, or why it was so special. She never told me. Or maybe I never asked. But now it seems like the most important question there is.
Her voice repeated somewhere deep down inside me, “It’s not valuable, but it is priceless.”
The note fluttered making the words quiver and shake. I could tell she had written it slowly. Pausing over each word, making sure there was no confusion. She even used punctuation. Her usual chaotic scrawl replaced by a sense of calm.
I’m sorry it had to be this way. I wish it could be different but you will just have to trust me. The dream is the first sign. Then comes the Gift. One day you will understand why I had to leave. Being a Dreamer isn’t enough. It won’t be easy but I know you can do it. Ask for help when you need it, and remember, I am thinking of you always. Look for me in unlikely places. My spirit will walk close by even if I can not.
I read it again. And again. This new reality etched in blue ink seemed to make perfect sense, but none at all. I knew exactly what she was saying, but I understood nothing.
About five minutes later I saw the dog put the gift in the letterbox.