“In somnis veritas.”– In dreams, there is truth.
When They Were Young
Calvin Wynne whipped through the woods chasing freedom as fast as he could. After a few more strides, he’d made it. “Bulls-eye!” His exuberance carried him through the air and into a heap of brown and yellow leaves in front of a massive oak tree he’d dubbed Old Leo. “Oh, that hurt.” He rubbed his side for a moment then prepared to climb the tree’s fat trunk. He wasn’t about to let a little pain stop him from getting what he wanted.
Except maybe a shiny object. As he stuck his hand in the groove above his head and placed his foot in the gash he used as a first step, a glint of light, flickering beneath a leaf, diverted his attention. He jumped from the tree to investigate.
Flicking the leaf away, he found a small silver ring designed with two hands holding a crowned heart. Carefully, he fingered away the dirt mangled in its crevices. He wondered who it belonged to and how it had gotten there. Sighing, he tucked the ring into his pocket beside his most treasured possession and decided to ponder this further from atop Old Leo. He stood up to face the tree again and steadied himself for a swift climb.
“So, Leo,” he said with hardly a breath of effort as he made his way to the thickest branch of the oak. It was nearly wide enough to fit two of his bottoms. “You seen anything interesting today? I know I was supposed to be here sooner, but Miss Pinch-face decided to take a detour to the fish market. Why anyone would take a load of orphans fish shopping beats me.” He settled against the tree’s old trunk. The spot had been all his since the day after he’d been dumped into Miss Pinchley’s Home for Boys nine months ago. He could see the whole world nestled in its branches – Main Street, the orphanage, the docks, the train depot, and even the lighthouse – if one could call Brookhurst the whole world.
“Looks quiet today,” he said and half-wondered, as he always did, if talking to or even naming a tree meant that he was crazy like everyone said his mother was. After his father died, his mother had been taken away. He did not miss her. She hadn’t exactly been the warm and fuzzy type. She didn’t bake cookies or tuck him into bed. Hugs and kisses were nonexistent. His mother’s bible was always by her side but rarely were her children. She was devoted to being a pastor’s wife, taking it upon herself to save the souls of the unfortunate and destitute with the word of God. His father hadn’t been much better and was rarely home. He resented them and vowed he would never do that to his children. But it didn’t matter now. It was all over. He just wanted to forget any of it ever happened. It wasn’t easy.
He took a long cleansing breath and closed his eyes against the hazy memories that sometimes plagued his dreams. Her screams had been so wretched that night. Then they went storming out of the house, his mother hot on his father’s heels, telling him that if he stepped a toe after them, he would never see the light of day again. A car door slammed. His mother screamed at his father. “Amos, you’re not going around that woman if I have anything to do with it!” They argued and the car door slammed again. Then they drove away and never came back.
Squeezing his eyes tighter, Calvin dug into his pocket and pulled out the object that reminded him of another time, a time when he had been cared for by someone. It was a whittled carving of a goose only slightly larger than a silver dollar, a gift from his grandfather who’d died years before. He ran his thumb along the white painted body. The bird’s wings were spread in flight. He studied the beak and feet, wondering as always why they had been left unpainted. Turning it over, he read the inscription on the back – Carve Your Own Destiny – CW, 1927. He had no idea what it really meant. He just knew that its message came from love, and instantly, he felt better.
A moment later, he fished the ring he’d just found out of his pocket. Something about the band made his heartbeat thump and thud like pounding horse hooves on an episode of his favorite radio show The Lone Ranger. He twirled it around, passing it from fingertip to fingertip. Perhaps it belonged to one of the ladies in town. It looked old, but, if it had been there before, he surely would have seen it. Maybe it had been unearthed by the storm they’d had a few days ago. So enraptured by the mystery of the ring, he did not notice his goose carving had slipped from his fingers to the ground. “Hey! This is swell,” said a voice from below. “Thanks, Calvin.”
Calvin climbed out of the tree as quickly as he could and confronted the boy who was clutching his grandfather’s carving. “That’s mine,” said Calvin. “Give it back.”
The boy smirked, holding it behind his back. “Got a nickel?”
Calvin shoved the shorter boy’s shoulder. “I said give it back!”
“Finders keepers.” The boy stuck the keepsake into the pocket of his crisp navy blue trousers and turned to walk away. Calvin tackled him from behind. “Hey! My mother just bought me these clothes! You’re getting them all dirty.”
Calvin pulled a piece of the boy’s black hair taut. “Yeah, so you gonna give me my goose back?”
The boy reached into his pocket and held his hand behind him. “Here.”
“Thanks,” Calvin said, immediately getting to his feet. The round-faced boy followed suit. “So, you wanna go fishing tomorrow?”
The boy smiled, exposing the gap in his front row of teeth, nodding. “Can you get away again?”
“Ah, you know me, Ben. I’m slick.” Calvin grinned back.
“Yeah, so how did you get away this time?”
“I just told that kid Nestor to sit on the floor of the fish market and start crying. He’s great. Didn’t budge until I was out of the door.”
“That’s not so slick, using little kids to do your dirty work.” Ben didn’t know Nestor or the other orphans very well, but he’d played with Calvin occasionally after church on Sundays. This was naturally before The Incident. He’d had so many friends, so many more than Ben could ever dream of having, and now, not one of them spoke to him. Even Ben only did so in relative secret. Calvin had no parents. He no longer went to school with them. Instead, he was instructed at the boys’ home with the rest of the rejects of Brookhurst. His days consisted of lessons and chores, and Saturday charity drives for the welfare of the home. He was no more than a vagabond in the eyes of his old friends. But Calvin didn’t care. He was tired of caring.
“Hey, as long as it gets done, does it matter how the operation gets pulled off? No.” Calvin went and leaned back against Old Leo. “Gotta love this tree.” He folded his arms and closed his eyes.
“I don’t see what’s so great about it.”
Calvin looked up at the enormous oak tree, the thickest of the bunch, probably the oldest, and definitely the most beautiful. “It is great,” he said. “It’s just far enough away from the road that no one can see you when you sit in it but close enough so you can see everything in town. It’s perfect for hiding from pinch-face.”
Ben shrugged. “So, why do you call it Leo?”
“Don’t you think it looks like a Leo?”
Ben’s forehead wrinkled in thought. “Trees don’t have names,” was his answer.
“This one does.”
Ben shrugged again. “I guess I kind of like the name Leo. So, wanna walk toward town?”
Calvin stuffed his hand in his pocket and held the small goose so tightly his previously dry palm began to sweat. His knuckles pressed into the ring that sat below his hand. He would keep that too. It would be a piece of his treasure.
The two boys pushed out of the thick trees, made their way down path after path until they were racing up a pristine old street lined with stately Victorian style homes. Calvin stopped short when he realized they were on Ben’s street.
Ben turned around. “Come on, Calvin, you can help me fix my bicycle.”
Calvin shook his head. “I don’t know.” He looked across the street to the yard that neighbored Ben’s immaculate green lawn. His throat closed up as his eyes settled onto a young girl kneeling beside a black and white cocker spaniel and reading a letter.
“Teddi Donovan has been living with the judge since…” Ben looked like he’d just swallowed an old boot.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it up.”
“It’s fine,” Calvin grunted.
“Anyhow, she’s nice. It took her a while to come out of the house. My mother says her grandmother didn’t think she was up to being outside. For over a month? I was beginning to wonder if she’d been sent off to live with some nuns or something. But just before school started, I saw them take her to town. They came back with a lot of new packages. I waved at her, and she waved back. The next day, we played with her dog, Lula for a little while, and she met my baby brother. And get this, he smiled at her. Chip doesn’t smile at strangers. She’s quiet in school. But I walk home with her sometimes, and she’s different. She’s not like a regular dumb ol’ girl, that’s for sure.”
Calvin was not impressed by Ben’s disjointed story and wondered why he would want to hear about the daughter of the man who’d murdered his father. But the boy continued to babble.
“She’s in the class below us, remember?” Ben waved his hand in front of Calvin’s face. “Come on, let’s go talk to her.” He tugged on his sleeve.
“No!” Calvin ripped his arm away. “I can’t.”
“It wasn’t her fault, Calvin. Come on. I promise you she’s nice.” Ben strode toward Theodora Donovan. With heavy feet, Calvin followed reluctantly behind.