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The night before this night it had rained. You could still see the glinting raindrops on the cobblestone road. A small girl of seven lifted her trembling hand and placed it on the creaking doorknob, gathered her strength, and pushed open the door. She looked outside at the quiet night and saw a black snake slither silently out of the bushes. It opened up its mouth, revealing shining white fangs that glowed against the black night. She saw a mouse, in its last moments of life, scuttle across the path of the snake. Almost instantly, the snake attacked, leaving no trace of the mouse.
“Death always comes easily to the weak, the small, and the sick,” Oli said.
She caressed the polished wooden rims of her wheelchair lovingly as she remembered the day Mo had unveiled it. He had crafted it himself from the wood of Olive’s favorite white birch tree that she had always loved to climb when she could walk.
“Now you will always be able to sit in your favorite tree,” Mo had said, smiling.
Being able to wheel around whenever she wanted was a much better thing than lying in bed for countless hours, counting the cracks in the ceiling. Oli smiled as she thought of her brother, then spied a tuft of his dark brown hair poking over the rooftop.
“Mo!” she whispered loudly.
“Oli? Is that you?” whispered Mo from the roof.
“’Course it’s me. Who else knows about your little reading getaways?” Olive smiled. “Think you could give me a lift?”
“Sure. Come around to the other side of the house. That’s where I put the ladder.”
“Alright. Do you have coats up there? It’s pretty chilly, ain’t it?”
“Yeah. I have coats—I brought an extra one for you.”
Olive smiled. Mo was always trying to think up extra things he could do for her. Mo helped Olive climb up onto the rooftop. As soon as she got there, she could see a warm blanket and two coats lying cozily on one of the roof’s platforms. There was also a small candle illuminating the pages of Mo’s book.
“Oli, there’s been something I’ve been meaning to show you,” said Mo, pulling out a scrap of paper wedged in his book. He held it in front of Oli. It read:
Luxurious Pullman car now leaving for the Healing Waters of Bath!
Mary Hopwood, 85-year-old cripple, steps into the healing waters of Bath and is able to walk again. Bring your loved ones for their chance to be reborn!!!
“Oh, Mo. This is amazing! But Mo, how would we ever be able to afford—”
Mo looked up into his little sister’s eyes.
“Oli, I’m going to go away for awhile. And when I get back, we’ll go to Bath together.”
“Mo, you can’t leave me. I’m quite satisfied as I am.”
“But you’re not. I can tell. You can barely breathe sometimes. Don’t worry, Oli—I’ll be back in no time.”
The next morning, Mo’s mother and siblings found Mo in his room packing his suitcases with a determined look on his face.
“I’m going to work at John Crewman’s farm in Ramsgate,” Mo said, looking at his mum with that look that invited no argument.
“Mo, are you sure this is what you want to do? When will you be back?” asked Mrs. Hutson, hurriedly putting together a basket of sandwiches.
“Don’t worry, mum—I have everything taken care of. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Goodbye everyone, I’ll miss you while I’m gone.” He hugged each of his family members, but hugged Oli extra tight, and when he looked into her eyes, somehow without speaking, she knew he was saying, I’ll heal you, you know I will.
December 23, 1925
Everything has been going fine, Olive has been pretty sick, but I’m
sure she will be well soon. We all miss you very much and are glad that
you are doing well. Please come home soon! Michael can’t wait to see
you. He says that living in a house with only women is trying!
Mo smiled. He knew in the back of his mind that he would have to earn a bit more money to send Oli away on the train, but he was glad that his family still missed and cared about him. He had already made 287£ from working three jobs day and night. He needed to get to 300£ fast. He could tell that his mother was quite worried about Olive. He thought about the many days he had worked in the field, the scorching sun almost whipping him with its fiery rays. He lay his head down on the sack of beans that served as his pillow and dreamt of Oli.
“WAKE UP, you filthy piece of scum, and get to work!” Farmer John’s hoarse voice broke his short slumber. “There’s much to be done in the fields today—you’ll be doin’ Dud’s work for him and at least half of yours because Dud is sick, and I won’t be havin’ him throwin’ up in the milk pail. Ruins the taste.”
“Alright, alright—I’m up. I just had a late night last night,” said Mo.
“No excuse, boy, get up!” the voice screamed again.
Mo managed to pull his tired legs out of the bed and into his trousers. As he stood up, he could feel several bones crack.
“Will I be paid double for doing two jobs?” asked Mo.
“Course ya’ will, but it’s not as easy as it sounds, boy. You better work as hard as you can if you want to be paid double. That means doing all of your work as well as Dud’s.”
If I can finish all of the work today, that means I should have enough money to buy tickets for Olive, thought Mo. Quickly, he pulled on his shirt and ran outside. He looked at the fields and animals and thought about all the work he had to do. If it’ll help Olive, I’ll do anything, he thought, and with no further ado, he went out into the fields and worked yet another day in the burning sun. Every second he spent was a second of pain, but also a second of knowing that perhaps he would be able to cure his sister, and with that knowledge, he knew that he would be anything he set his mind to, and that was all that really mattered as far as helping his sister.
At the end of the day, his muscles were cramped with fatigue.
“Well, boy, I have to admit, you worked hard. Here’s your money,” said Farmer John, handing Mo a thick yellow envelope. Mo grasped the envelope in his hand and knew that he would never let it go until he had purchased the tickets and reached home.
All in an instant, the mahogany door of the Hutson home flew open, and in with the wind came Mo, the same yellow envelope in his hand.
“Olive! Olive! I’ve got the train ticket! Olive; you must get ready to go! You might miss the train—you’ll be healed—oh come, my dearest Oli!” he shouted, but to no avail. He figured that Olive would wheel her chair as fast as she could into the room and fly into his arms. Mo looked around the room. His mother, brother, and sister all had a somber expression darkening their faces.
“What’s the matter with you all?” asked Mo. “Why won’t you greet me, or tell me where Oli is?”
“Mo, you must understand, Oli was quite sick—she was just so weak, so little—well. . . . Mo, your little sister died yesterday,” said Mrs. Hutson sorrowfully.
Mo stared in horror at his mother. He thought of all the things he had done to save his beloved Oli. He thought of everything they had ever done together, every memory he and Oli had ever cherished. And then he thought of all the days he had spent sweating under the sun.
“It was all for nothing…”he whispered hoarsely, looking at the useless ticket in his hand.
“It was not for nothing, Mo. No matter what, Oli is somewhere in the never-ending sky, blowing with the beautiful wind, and she knows, Mo, that you did everything you could to keep her alive, and that you love her. You see, Mo, life is like a candle’s flame, and candles don’t burn forever. Sometimes they flicker, but always, they blow out.”
That night, Mo walked outside where the moon hung low in the sky like a tired pearl. He walked to the side of the house where he had placed the wooden ladder not so long ago and climbed up onto the rooftop where he and Oli used to tell secrets and whisper stories to each other by candlelight. And as Mo lifted his hand to throw the train ticket into the night wind with a sad smile, he could have sworn he saw his little sister’s ghost dancing with the stars.