The chronicles of harris.., p.8
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       The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales, p.8
 

           Chris Van Allsburg
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  A sentimental story, she thought, one that an older person would find enjoyable. The thought came to her that Mr. Linden must indeed be lonely and that's why he spent his evenings reading. She placed the book carefully down where it had lain before and quickly picked another from the shelf to borrow. When she brought it downstairs, Mr. Linden took it in his hands carefully, almost lovingly, and read the title.

  "Dahomey and the Dahomians?" he asked, turning the book over in his hands. "A surprising choice, but that is the pleasure of reading, isn't it? Books have the ability to take the mind to strange places and in strange ways. Well, enjoy it, young lady."

  That evening, over dinner, Carol mentioned that she had expected Mr. Linden's library to be stranger.

  "You mean with little ivory carvings of mermaids?" her mom asked, smiling.

  "I don't know, just the way he goes on about books. He kind of glows when he talks about them. And did you see the way he handled the book I borrowed?"

  "Book lovers love books!" her mother announced. "There's a romance about the books—even having them seems to have a kind of excitement."

  ***

  The book on Dahomey, especially the story about the little African girl brought to England, had been quite interesting, and Carol was eager not only to find another interesting story but also to see what other kinds of books Mr. Linden liked.

  It took four calls to Mr. Linden before they found him in.

  "He seemed pleased that you liked the book," Carol's mother said. "He asked if we would prefer tea or coffee. I insisted that we didn't need either, of course."

  "Oh, I wouldn't mind discussing books over a cup of tea," Carol said. "It fits my image."

  "Today's image," her mother teased. "Tomorrow we'll go see Mr. Linden, you'll make a selection, and we'll be out of his hair. Agreed?"

  Carol agreed.

  During the night she wondered if Mr. Linden missed going to sea, and by the time she and her mother started off for his place she was convinced that he did miss the adventures of his youth.

  The rain had pushed the tide up the shore somewhat and had left a residue of tiny, crablike creatures and kelp along its edges, as well as the familiar scent of the sea, which Carol had always liked. As they approached the house her mother nudged her, telling her to look toward the library window. There was Mr. Linden, his dark frame nearly doubled, sitting in the window seat, completely absorbed in his reading.

  "The Dahomians seem a bit strange," Carol told him after he invited them in. "But colorful."

  "It was the author's opinion of them," Mr. Linden said. "I've met a lot of them in my travels, and they're not very strange these days."

  Mr. Linden gestured toward the stairs that led to his library and went to the fireplace, where he began to straighten the logs with a poker. Carol went up the stairs, past the ancient yellowed wallpaper and the corner table, where a pipe smoldered in an onyx ashtray.

  She opened several books to see if they contained pictures and found one, A Narrative of the Cruise of the Yacht Maria Among the Faroe Islands. The book looked interesting, although at first glance she could see that there were a number of words she would have to look up. She was about to start downstairs when she noted the same book from her previous visit on the seat in the window where Mr. Linden had left it.

  Carol picked up the book and opened it to the bookmark. It was still on [>]!, but the text now ended farther down the page than she had remembered.

  For a while Esteban's mind had wandered as the dolphin circled about him, sometimes lifting its sleek body from the water so that it was merely a dark silhouette against the distant sky. The rhythm of the sea, of the waves brushing across his body, had lulled him into a pattern that made time seem to slow to the easy pace of the tide. When Esteban stopped and lifted his head, he saw for the first time that there were trees growing on the island. But when he turned back toward the shore a sense of panic filled his chest and his heart began to beat quickly. Could he make it back? The dolphin swam around him, the late-afternoon sun sparkling on the water dripping from its body. Its mouth wide open, it appeared to be smiling. Esteban was worried, and his leg began to ache again as he turned for the shore.

  Startled, Carol turned over the book and studied it from as many angles as she could. It looked the same as the book she had handled before, but the ending of the story had changed.

  Taking a deep breath, she calmed down. There had to be a logical explanation. It was as if she had remembered a previous day but had mixed that day with another.

  "I'm glad to discover another reader," Mr. Linden said downstairs in the kitchen. He cradled a cup of tea in his hands. "We are a dying breed, I'm afraid."

  That night Carol's sleep was disturbed by troubled dreams. Carol dreamt of sitting in Mr. Linden's library, questioning him about his life and all the books in his library. Then she awoke and lay in the darkness of her room, thinking of the book on the window seat and how she must have allowed her imagination or some random thought change the way she remembered the page.

  All things made sense. There were no mysteries in the real world. She thought of mentioning the book to her mother but decided against it. It was her mystery, and she rather enjoyed the curiousness of it all.

  The next time they were supposed to visit Mr. Linden, Carol's mother wasn't feeling well. She had one of the headaches that plagued her when the weather grew heavier, just before the late fall and temperatures plummeted the town into its annual winter doldrums. Now that her mother knew more about Mr. Linden, she was fine to let Carol go by herself.

  As she made her first trip alone to Mr. Linden's house, turning aside from the wind that rippled the bay, Carol thought about asking him directly about the book. Perhaps she would start by talking about the last book she had borrowed. But not at first, of course. First she had to get her hands on his book and check it out.

  She hoped he would allow her to go into the library alone, and he did. She held her breath and walked more softly, almost sneaking up on the books that awaited her.

  She glanced at the window seat. The book was still there, angled so that the sun cast a shadow diagonally across the title. She turned away from it, allowing her glance to capture it now and again as she read the titles of the shelved books.

  She found a book with small drawings of ships and islands, The Traveler's Guide to Madeira and the West Indies, and leafed casually through it, all the time listening for sounds from below. When she heard the clinking of the metal teakettle against the stove, she moved quickly to Mr. Linden's book.

  Esteban told himself that he had been swimming long enough. He had already

  gone much farther than anyone he knew, even farther than men with strong legs. No one swam all the way to the island. Now he was nearer than he had ever been, but it no longer seemed important to him. It was as if he were swimming not for himself but for the dolphin that went before him most of the time but sometimes behind him, nudging him forward.

  He began breathing hard, showing the dolphin how tired he was, how afraid he was to keep going when he wasn't at all sure of himself. He was not that strong and had already done more than he had ever done in his life. He stopped and treaded water for a while, with the dolphin only a few feet away. Esteban felt that he and the dolphin were on a mission together, that they were proving something. But what were they proving, and where would it lead?

  Again Carol checked the number on the page, even looking at the numbers of the pages before and after the one she was reading. She was right; the story had changed. It was changing from day to day! The boy in the story was swimming out farther each time, and the dolphin swam with him, as if it knew something special about the boy's mission. But how could the story be different each time she read it?

  She grabbed the book she would borrow, holding it with both hands, and carried it down to Mr. Linden.

  "Ah, George Miller's travel adventure from the age of sail." Mr. Linden examined the book over the rimless glasses he wore. "E
xcellent choice."

  "What are you reading?" Carol asked. "Something about dolphins, I think."

  The old black man looked quickly away. For a long moment the room was engulfed in silence. In the distance, barely audible, the gentle lapping of the low tide on the graveled shore came rhythmically.

  "It's not a very good book." His voice was lower than it had been. "You wouldn't be interested."

  "I am," she said, resolutely. "I am interested."

  "Yes, I hear it in your voice, child. I hear it clearly. But let me tell you—warn you, even—that there are books like frigates, that carry the mind gloriously across oceans of ideas," he said. "And then there are books—a few books, I would say—that capture more of the mind than one would want to surrender, books that are better off never read, never opened."

  "That doesn't make sense!" Carol said.

  "Sense? No, I suppose it doesn't," Mr. Linden said. "But it doesn't make sense to reach my age and discover that everything doesn't make sense, either.

  "You can keep that book you're holding," he went on. "It's a fun book. He made drawings of the ships he encountered and the places he visited. Words and pictures. You can't ask for more than that, can you?"

  Carol felt as if she were being dismissed and was angry with herself for not being more careful with Mr. Linden. She thought of not taking the book she held, but finally managed a smile, put on her jacket, and started home.

  Josiah Linden died on a bitterly cold winter's day. His funeral was held at the Baptist Church on York Street, and more people came than anyone imagined could have possibly known him. Many were sailors and others were just townspeople who remembered him from the time when the town was busier.

  The house was sold, and the proceeds, according to the old man's will, went to a charity for aged seamen. A dealer from Westport made an offer for the books. Carol told the dealer that she had been a friend of Josiah Linden's.

  "I would love to buy one of his books as a keepsake," she said.

  "Well, you're welcome to take any one book you'd like," he replied. "I always like to encourage young people to read."

  She searched for the book, checking every title and even behind the rows of books that still stood, waiting as if they expected Mr. Linden to return and reach a dark hand to take one of them down from the shelves. When she didn't find the book, she was very disappointed and for a brief moment thought of taking another book just as a keepsake, as she had suggested.

  But then she thought about the book and her fascination with it. She had heard that he had died in bed, and she went into the small room in which he had slept. She looked around quickly and spotted a corner of the book sticking out from under the pillow.

  ***

  "It's about dolphins," she said to the man that now owned Mr. Linden's library.

  The man glanced at the book and nodded approvingly. "You should try National Geographic," he said. "I think I remember a series on dolphins."

  Carol smiled.

  At home she put the book under her own pillow and waited until that night before turning to the [>]!, the bookmark still in place.

  The late-evening sun, spreading across the bay and behind the island, lay before him. Esteban had already turned and saw that the shore he had left, his shoes and the sandwich he had brought to the water's edge, were too far away for him to reach. The dolphin sensed it as well, and the two of them swam, Esteban with some difficulty as his arms tired, the dolphin with ease, through the dark waters, toward whatever was on the island. Esteban had heard stories about treasures being buried there, about exotic birds, wildflowers, and even the graves of hermits who had lived there. He didn't know for sure, but he did know that he would reach the island after so many times trying. And even if no one believed him, he would know that the dolphin would have seen him and that maybe, just maybe, all the dolphins in the ocean would know as well.

  In the morning, if all went well, he would try to return to the shore from which he started.

  In the waning light he could still see the shadow of the dolphin as it swam ahead.

  Would it be there in the morning to help him back?

  Carol put the book down and closed her eyes. Then she opened them again and began to read slowly. The story went on about how the boy awoke in the morning, cold and alone and hungry, and how he had seen not one but two dolphins in the bay, but neither was very close to where he stood on the island's edge. Carol wanted Esteban to be safe, and to make it back to the shore. She wanted the dolphins to help him, but she wasn't at all sure they would.

  Mysteries were about finding out how they ended, not new and more difficult mysteries that kept going on and on. She looked at the book and then threw it down on her bed, telling herself that she would never pick it up again. Now she knew why Mr. Linden read the same book every day. He had warned her about the book. Now it was too late.

  She lay quietly in the darkness of her room. Now and again her hand would reach out from under the covers toward the light by the side of her bed.

  "Don't open the book again," she pleaded with herself. "Please."

  From the far side of the bay, the town had grown dark. Occasionally a truck made its way along the winding road or the reflection from the lighthouse through the fog could be seen. Other than that, all was dark, the occasional flicker of a small bedroom light hardly noticeable.

  The Seven Chairs

  The Fifth one ended up in France.

  THE SEVEN CHAIRS

  LOIS LOWRY

  It occurred for the first time in 1928, in a hospital in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. No one noticed except a sleepy maintenance man shoving a push broom down the hall, past the nursery, at three a.m. He was startled by it and drew a quick breath. But since he had fallen slightly behind in his work and still had the whole OB/GYN floor to do before he could take a cigarette break, he looked away. He nudged a gum wrapper loose from the leg of a chair by the hall window with his broom bristles, and continued methodically on without saying a word. Within the hour he had forgotten it entirely.

  Two days later, a nurse named Jean Vargas in Tampa noticed it.

  "Did you see that?" Her hands were full—she was preparing bottles for the newborns—and she gestured toward a bassinet with her head.

  "What? You mean Gonzales? I just changed her. She's asleep." Victoria Patterson, RN, glanced down at dark-haired Baby Girl Gonzales, who lay on her back with one chubby hand nestled beneath her chin. Her eyes were closed.

  "Is she okay? You sure?"

  Victoria nodded and picked up a newborn labeled Baby Boy O'Brien. She headed for the changing area. "She's fine. Why?"

  "I thought she..." Nurse Vargas hesitated. She didn't know how to describe what she had thought. Maybe she had imagined it. Surely she had imagined it. Maybe she had a migraine coming on; sometimes those caused visual distortions—a shimmering in her peripheral vision. She would take an aspirin, she decided, first chance she had.

  "No. Never mind. It was nothing." She turned back to what she was doing and chuckled slightly at her own imagination. For a moment she had thought she had seen, out of the corner of her eye, Baby Girl Gonzales float upward and hover in the air briefly before descending again into the bassinet.

  Actually, she had seen exactly that. It happened everywhere, that year, but was so fleeting, so momentary, that it went unnoticed by sleep-deprived parents. It was baby girls, always. Little Betsy or Caroline would, without warning, ascend briefly from the padded floor of a playpen, then blink in surprise, giggling, as she plopped back down beside her stuffed bunny. High chairs presented a problem, and sometimes Judy or Peggy, chin smeared with oatmeal, would whimper as she attempted liftoff but was thwarted by her own dimpled knees against the underside of the tray.

  Gradually, though, as toddlers, they forgot. Their attention turned to walking, talking, allergies, tantrums, and potty training. Perhaps in their dreams they remembered and re-experienced the wonder and exhilaration of hovering above their own sedentary, diapere
d lives. But they were earthbound now. There was so much else to do, to learn. The astonishing moments of brief soaring became fragile memories buried deeper and deeper until, like recollections of birth itself, they were too deeply hidden to call back.

  ***

  Except for Mary Katherine Maguire.

  Mary Katherine was a piece of work. That's what her exasperated mother, a housewife in Lowell, Massachusetts, always said about her third child. The first two Maguire children were fun-loving, freckled-faced sons named Michael and James. They were baseball card collectors, altar boys, and Cub Scouts. They had dirty fingernails and skinned knees most of the time. Their mother loved the boys but she had yearned for—had prayed for—a little girl with curls and a sweet disposition. What she got, instead, was Mary Katherine.

  MK, as she came to be known, did not take no for an answer. Before she could talk, she pouted and stamped her feet if things didn't go her way. Later, with an increasing vocabulary, she argued. Incessantly. She argued with her brothers, who ignored her; with her mother, who tried to reason with her; with her father, who punished her; and with her teachers, the Sisters of Notre Dame. The sisters hid their feelings (they actually admired Mary Katherine greatly—"She has a spirit to her, doesn't she?" one said at dinner one evening) behind stern faces and tried to direct the child's fervor and passion toward good works.

  None of them noticed that MK had an astounding talent. It was the same one that all infant girls had once had and had forgotten. Only MK remembered. She practiced. Alone in her bedroom, supposedly doing her homework (she complained that her brothers were a distraction; she needed to be by herself), she would will herself airborne. It was easy for her now, after so much rehearsal. She could lift off and within seconds be gazing down at her spelling book.

 
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