The Wishing Glass: Chapter 1 – The Visitor

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Death. . .

Everyone has been talking to me about it lately as the cancer continued to grow inside my dad.  They always spoke softly, with half-hearted smiles, and a glint of something else in their eyes. . . pity.  There’s not much time left for him now, I know, as his health has steadily gotten worse while the months have passed us by.

I remember a time when we had hope for a cure.  My dad would drive me to school each morning with a big grin on his face, still wearing his mismatched pajamas, and his short black hair in a mess from tossing in bed the night before.  We would laugh and talk about all the fun things we’d do together when he got better.  This was a year ago.  He didn’t seem sick at all, and I had just started middle school. . . sixth grade, to be exact.  I had no doubt that our lives would be back to normal before we knew it.

My name is Ayune Takeda, but my parents like to call me Little Snow or, sometimes, just Snow.  My mom’s name is Misaki, and my dad’s name is Kai.  This year I will be twelve years old, and both of my parents will be turning forty.  They make forty seem like such a tragic number, talking about black balloons and how everything on their bodies will start to melt like hot candlewax after that dreaded milestone in their lives.  Grownups are such drama queens.

We live in a happy little house, not much different than the houses surrounding ours, in a forest of other houses as far as the eye can see.  My parents are one of those couples that like to do just about everything together.  Back when my dad was well, I would always hear the clanging of pots and pans coming from the kitchen as they prepared dinner each day.  My stomach would growl from the wonderful smells that filled my nose as I did my homework.  After dinner, my dad would play his guitar, my mom would lose herself in a novel while snuggled under a blanket on our couch, and I would fervently work on my latest creation in my favorite video game, Minecraft.  Life was simple, but life was good.

A few weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer, my dad surprised me with a puppy.  I am catastrophically allergic to dogs, and he knew this, so the toothy smile plastered on his face perplexed me to no end.  With puppy in outstretched arms towards my general direction, he said, “Never fear my Little Snow!  This pint-sized guy is what they call a Toy Poodle; and poodles, according to the wisdom of the workers at the local pet store, don’t know the meaning of allergies. Literally!  Besides, he’ll help us forget about how sick I am and keep those smiles on our faces.  What do you think?”

That little puppy was the best present ever, and the wisdom of the local pet store workers rang true:  I wasn’t allergic to poodles at all.  We named our furry buddy Kenshin, and he filled our small home with laughter.

The months that followed saw my dad’s health decline. . . slowly, but surely.  His body didn’t react well to the cancer treatments and the tumors continued to grow.  Pain became a part of his normal day, and he began to lose the ability to do the simple things he used to love.  Over time, he could no longer play his guitar, and more and more, I started to help my mom with the cooking and chores around the house so that he could rest.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I would peek outside my bedroom window and see my dad standing on the lawn with Kenshin, gazing at the stars, waiting for the puppy to do his business; and under the blue light of the moon, I could see the sadness in dad’s eyes.  He somehow looked much older than his age in those moments.  Then, with a sudden feeling of helplessness in my heart, I would lay back down to bed, letting my tears fall silently on my pillow until the comfort of sleep swept over me.

Now, after a year has come and gone, I lay snuggled beside him, the thin blanket of the hospital bed barely keeping me warm, I found myself wide awake though it was well past midnight.  The bed was at a slight incline to help my dad breathe more easily, but the sound of his breath was still labored with a slight wheezing noise each time he inhaled as he slept.  The mattress wasn’t very wide, but dad had grown so much thinner since the last time we were here, and mom always said that I was about as fat as a toothpick, so we both fit comfortably.  Although, admittedly, I was thankful for the hefty plastic rails on the sides of the bed to keep me from rolling off in my sleep.

My cheek was pressed gently against the side of his body under his left arm, careful not to put pressure on the right side of his belly where a scar ran from below the center of his chest, in an arc, and ended slightly above the side of his right hip; the scar left behind when the doctors removed half of his liver months ago; the scar that healed, but never stopped hurting.  I could hear his heartbeat: faint, but steady; and feel the soft embrace of his arm around my shoulders — an arm that had withered away so I could barely feel its weight, but comforting, nonetheless.  I’d overheard the night nurse tell my mom that they were going to move my dad to Hospice, in the morning, so that he could be more comfortable.  I knew, though, that Hospice was where people went to die.  I couldn’t sleep.

A few feet away from the bed was a window, and next to the window was a small sofa upholstered in cheap plastic faux leather.  The leather was a faded blue, but in the darkness of night with only the yellow glow coming from the streetlamps outside, it looked black. On the sofa was my mom, covered with a blanket no thicker than mine and a pillow so flat that I wasn’t sure why it was even there.  She, too, was asleep; her breathing, gentle; and the shimmering waves of her long raven hair fell softly over her breasts.  I’d always teased my mom that her lips were too big. . . but in truth, they were beautiful, and so was she.

Sometimes, people who first met my parents would look back and forth between the two of them with a slightly puzzled look on their faces.  Let’s just say that dad never won any blue ribbons in the “handsome” category, but he always had a way of making me and mom laugh until our sides hurt.  My dad would tell me, “Always remember, Little Snow, that the key to laughter is Love; and the key to Love is laughter.  Beauty of the skin will always fade with time, but laughter from the heart will last forever.  Every relationship that has ever failed, failed the day that laughter died.”

That just sounded like talking in circles to me, but my mom always seemed to give an approving nod when he said it, so there must be something to all that mumbo jumbo.  Maybe I’ll understand it better one day, when I’m older and some of my weaker brain cells have died off with the help of drinking alcohol.  That might sound like a strange thing to say, I know, but one time I’d heard our neighbor from across the street, Mrs. Tillerson, tell my mom, “Everything just seems so much clearer to me after a few bottles of wine.  They say that the alcohol kills off the weaker brain cells, and you’re left with only the good strong ones!”

My mom told me that Mrs. Tillerson was a sad, misguided woman.  I’ve always wondered why?  With as much wine as she drank, I would have imagined she was a genius.

After she discovered that my dad had cancer, Mrs. Tillerson gave my parents all sorts of advice on how to help cure it.  One time, she told my dad to face north when he was asleep and face south when he was awake; but never, Heaven forbid, east or west. . . something to do with the effects the Earth’s magnetic field on the human body.

Another day, she came by and advised my dad to eat raw frog livers — a remedy that a friend of a friend of a friend had sworn would work, because it had worked on her sister in law’s third cousin’s step-son’s second wife’s co-worker’s grandfather in Ethiopia.  I would always listen intently when Mrs. Tillerson shared her pearls of wisdom because surely all this profound knowledge must have come from decades of diligent alcohol consumption.  Her brain cells must have become superhuman over the years as she seemed to know everything there was to know about anything.  The woman was a Sage.

At each one of these visits, my parents would put on their warmest smiles and thank Mrs. Tillerson graciously for her advice, all the while chatting about how much rest my dad needed these days as my mom gently hustled our neighbor towards the front door.   After she was gone my dad would chuckle, shake his head, and say to my mom, “Hah! Heaven bless that poor woman.  She has a good heart.”

One day in the middle of spring, a big rainstorm blew through our neighborhood, and as I was approaching our house on my way home from school, I saw the biggest, fattest frog I’d ever seen in my life sitting right on our doorstep.

It was a sign.  My dad would be saved!

I threw my umbrella on the grass and ran as fast as my legs would carry me, water and mud splashing all over my clothes as my rain boots hit the brown puddles scattered along the sidewalk.  Not missing a beat, I plucked the unsuspecting frog from the porch with both hands before it could hop away.  My mom wouldn’t be too thrilled about my muddy clothes, but boy would she be happy when she saw what I’d caught for dad!  I quickly tucked the frog under one armpit just like the football players did on TV when they wanted to run without dropping the ball.  Then with my free hand, I opened the front door, and ran inside.

Between panting breaths, frog outstretched in both hands, and muddy boot prints vibrantly trailing me from the front door (strictly away from mom’s beloved oriental rug, of course; I was quite excited, but not suicidal), I yelled, “Dad! Dad!  You won’t believe what I found!  You just won’t believe it.  LOOK!!”

Settled in at the dining table with coffee mug on one side and newspaper unfurled covering the top half of his body as he was reading, I saw the Sports Section of the newspaper start to lower. . . slowly. . . until I could see my dad’s squinted eyes peering at me over the top of the page. . . and then. . .

PfffFFFTHHHHhh!!!

Coffee spewed like rain into the air.

Between bouts of coughing (or choking. . . I wasn’t quite sure which because he seemed just as excited as I was feeling) he gagged:

“My goodness. . .”

Cough!

“. . . Ayune.  What. . .”

Cough! Cough!

“. . . IS THAT?!”

At this point I could hear footsteps as my mom rounded the corner from the kitchen with Kenshin in tow.

“What’s all the commotion in here?” she asked.

Kenshin’s little poodle tail started wagging faster and faster until it was a blur of fur.  He leapt and barked trying to get to the frog in my still outstretched arms.

My mom’s eyes took one scan of the area, rested on me, and grew the size of saucers. . . which, for an Asian woman, was rather impressive.

I had done it.  They were so proud of me that they were speechless.

I put on my most winning smile and said, “THIS, mom and dad, is a frog. . . and not just any frog. . . the biggest frog I’ve ever seen!”

Seeing that they were still choked up, I held my smile and waited patiently for my parents to recover from their obvious pride of having such a wonderful daughter.  I wondered if my mom would start to cry.

After a moment, my mom said, slowly, “. . . and you want this frog as a. . . pet?”

“No, silly.  Haha!” I said, “This frog is for dad to eat! Raw.”

This time, it was my dad’s eyes that grew the size of saucers.  I knew it.  He was thrilled.

“Remember?” I reminded, “Mrs. Tillerson said that the way to cure dad’s cancer is to eat the liver of a frog!  I know eating it raw is pretty gross, but I’ve seen dad eat much grosser things. . . like sauerkraut!  Ewww!” I squished my face and stuck my tongue out to emphasize. “You can do it!  Right dad?”

“Oh gosh. . . Mrs. Tillerson. . .” my mom mumbled as she started to rub her forehead with the palm of her hand.

My dad, eyes still wide with excitement from the thought of finally getting cured, smiled brightly and said, “You know what Snow baby, I’ll do it!  Why don’t you give that little fella to me?  Your mom can help me get Mr. Froggy prepared while you go take an extra-long bubble bath and get into some dry clothes before you get sick.  You deserve it after all your hard work. . . and don’t worry about the mud, we’ll clean that up too.  Deal?”

“Deal!” I said, and handed over Mr. Froggy to my dad as I trotted off to pamper myself for a job well done.

When I returned to the dining room, everything looked back to normal.  My dad was back to reading the paper (the Editorial Section, this time) with a fresh cup of coffee at his side.

“So??  How was it dad?”

“It was delicious, baby, thank you.  I’m starting to feel much better already!” he replied.

“I love you so much dad,” I said as I gave him a quick hug.

“I love you too, Little Snow,” he said as he took one arm from his newspaper to wrap around me and gave me a squeeze.

I’d started to head to the kitchen to help my mom with dinner when I saw out of the corner of my eye, through the glass of the patio door, sitting on the grass of the backyard lawn. . . another frog. . . as big as the one before.

It was a sign.

“DAD!!!” I screamed.

Almost knocking over his newly poured coffee mug, my dad jumped and said, “Oh my gosh. . . baby, what is it??”

“There’s another frog!  There’s another frog!  Do you want me to go catch him for you??”

Eyes squinted, my dad peered into the yard.  I thought I heard him mutter under his breath, “. . .that crazy frog. . .”

“Oh, would you look at that,” he said with a grin that, for some reason, reminded me of his face when mom caught him stealing from the cookie jar.  “What are the chances?  Haha. I think I’m okay, though, darling.  Too many frog livers might not be good for me.  Today must be his lucky day!” and he slowly sat back down in his chair.

“Ok,” I said, and yelled to the frog through the patio door, “Today’s your lucky day Mr. Froggy number two!  We’ll send our prayers to thank your friend Mr. Froggy number one, for saving my dad!”

With that, I ran off to help my mom with dinner, and we never saw that frog again.

In hindsight, maybe I should have gone to catch Mr. Froggy number two after all, as obviously eating just one frog liver didn’t do the trick.

Those days seem so far away now that the end is near, and dreams of spring rain and giant frogs started to creep into my mind as the tingle of sleep began to wash over me.

Blink. . . blink. . . and suddenly I was wide awake again.

Footsteps sounded off on hard tile floor from down the hall.  The sound was heavier than the quiet pitter patter of the night nurse’s tennis shoes.  The steps came closer.  Maybe boots?  Silence.  Who would be coming to visit at this hour of night? The sudden quiet was deafening.

Three sharp knocks and the metal handle of the wooden entry door turned.  My eyes squinted involuntarily as the vertical beam of light from the hallway blinded me; the silhouette of a tall figure slowly taking shape.  It was a man, and he was carrying something like a large duffle bag over one shoulder.  I couldn’t tell who he was until a waft of air blew in from the open doorway and a familiar smell of fresh cut wood mixed with a distinct blend of exotic spices filled the air.

“Uncle Richard??” I whispered.

“My darling Little Snow,” a deep baritone voice replied. “It has been a long time, indeed.”

 

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