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The Last Riddle
“Whatcha gotta put in a wood box to make it lighter?”
Jeanie looked up and saw the shiny corners of his eyes. He knew and she didn’t.
She looked down at her shoes. They shone. There was a perfect oval spark on the side, just a little bit of white on the shiny dark blue shoes. She saw her mother’s face. She heard her mother’s voice.
“You better watch where you walk, Jeanie.” Mother’s face disappeared.
Jeanie’s face shot up…
“Uh, shoes.” Jeanie said.
“No. Holes!” Sammy said. He sat down beside her. The leaves complained as he sat on them. The leaves had lain and lain there all of autumn, all of winter, and they laid there, waiting for summer. Sammy didn’t notice.
Jeanie just thought about her new shoes.
“Its hot out, don’t you think?” Sammy’s voice interrupted the sounds of the bird that was long gone. His eyes lost the shiny corners; his whole face seemed to shine a little. His face glowed in a grin.
“Jeanie! Let’s go swimming.” That time Sammy said it first. He sat up, he jumped to his feet, and he started towards the trees. The trees had a path and the path lead to the swimming hole.
“Mama said…” Jeanie began. She saw her mother’s face. It was clean, and her forehead had wrinkles, wrinkles that had grown there over the years, years of worries and fears.
“I know. Mama says that all the children that go swimming this early spring just get cold and die.” Sammy’s eyes squinted at her. She knew that the water would feel good. It would feel cool on her warm skin. She remembered floating, blowing bubbles, and splashing water.
So they did. Jeanie beat Sammy to the water, and paused. He ran past her and dove. Water sprinkled all around her. She shivered, waiting. The water was cool and inviting. Jeanie dove too. Sammy pushed her head in the water, she beat him in a race, he splashed her and she ducked and threw mud. Sammy laughed first and swallowed so much water Jeanie thought he would drown. She shivered. He sputtered and coughed and she laughed when he caught his breath and he started to grin again. They swam until the sun shone high above and headed home.
* * *
Sitting on a chair, away from the kitchen window, Jeanie felt it first. She moved her chair back a little, away from the table that was showered in light. She lifted her head just a little and breathed. It went away.
* * *
Sammy ran up to the tire swing and pushed it. He followed it and grabbed it with both his fists, holding on. Jeanie watched as his feet slid over the sand and into the safety of the tire.
She felt it again. It was strange. Her head felt lighter. Her fingers and toes seemed far away. Her face, her ears, her hands, and her feet were there by the tire swing, but Jeanie’s mind was not. She looked down at her shoes, the toes dug into the sand, but she didn’t even notice.
“I got another one” says Sammy. “The more you take, the more you leave behind. What is it?”
Jeanie said nothing. She sat down on the soft grass, right next to the big old tree that held their tire swing for years. The semi circle path that the tire was following became smaller and smaller. Sammy’s right foot started to drag along the ground and the swinging stopped.
“Jeanie, you eat those funny things again?” He inquired. “Well, did you? You know those plants that we ate by the swimming hole that time?”
Jeanie said nothing. She looked at Sammy, but it was like she didn’t even see him. Her fingers shook a little and her mouth moved.
“You ain’t saying nothing.” Sammy said. He jumped off the tire, his knees hitting the sand, and his elbow scraped along the tree. He glanced at Jeanie, than peered into her eyes. Jeanie’s head went down, her eyes half closed; her hands lay lifeless in the sand. She shivered, and the sun shone on her face, but she hid it between her knees.
* * *
Jeanie’s eyes were like little half moons when she opened them in the shadows that the small lamp at her bed was making. They stood over her, all of them. Sammy looked on too. The doctor stood like a giant clock at the foot of her bed.
“The medicine…” His voice hurt in Jeanie’s ears, but she heard. “I’ll get it to her tomorrow morning.” He finished. His face full of lines, worry lines, as he looks down onto Jeanie. He strode to the door, paused, and opened it. Jeanie’s Mama and Father followed him, leaving an awakening Jeanie, and Sammy at her side.
“Whats the time?” Jeanie whispered into the dark room.
“Just after sunset!” Sammy whispers back. You’ll get better, I promise,” and Sammy was gone.
* * *
“Just hold on, tomorrow we’ll get the medicine.”
Jeanie listened to the rain. It seemed to fall harder. It was hail. She heard her mother’s whispers and her father’s deep snores in the next room. They faded again. Sometimes she heard rumbling, like Old Dean’s cart when he pushed it down the road, except louder. Slowly the sounds started to go. First the rain, the constant pattering seemed to fade together and blend with Jeanie’s slow breathing. The sounds of the branches on the window stopped reaching her ears, and the loud thundering went away too. Her mother buried her face in the blankets that lay over Jeanie. She did until she slept.
* * *
Someone found Sammy in the river, just past where the bridge ends. The storm and the rain must have blended the river and the bridge. The darkness of the night must have deceived his eyes. His clothes were cold and stiff, and in his pocket he held the medicine in the grasp of his lifeless fingers.
* * *
It was still raining when there was a stumbling by the door. Jeanie’s mother lifted her head just a little. She listened with one ear. She waited and then she went down again, she went back to being away; away from the room she was in filled with things of yesterday, when everything seemed better and the sun still shone.
“The door!” Jeanie’s voice fills the room. It was like her words ran from the room and went forgotten, far from the room with its shadows. “Go to the door!” Her voice was soft, hoarse, and almost a whisper, but demanding and urgent nonetheless. Her mother was up on her feet and at the door. She lit the hallway with a small lamp. The light spread into the next room, and Jeanie blinked at it and shivered. She heard voices, but they faded and Jeanie slept again.
When Mama returned she held the small glass container close to her heart. It was cold from the storm outside. The medicine was cold from the freezing water that had surrounded it when it had lain in the river. Jeanie got the medicine before the doctor’s footsteps even reached the door.
* * *
She sat on the new tire swing that hung on the same old tree. The old tire had been blown away by the storm, and the tire had been ripped by the branches of the tree. Sammy had said that the tire wouldn’t last. It hadn’t. She tucked her shiny dark blue shoes inside the tire. She felt safe and she was home. Her eyes followed the prints her blue shoes had made in the sand at the foot of the tree.
“Footsteps.” The answer came to her as the sunshine broke through the few clouds that had lingered. She looked up at the sun. It was warm enough to swim and warm enough to take her shoes off. But she kept them on.