'Being social by nature, when isolated from all other living creatures, men will invariably, over a period of time, create for themselves companions, be they gods or lovers.' (Francis Kirkpatrick 1893-1935)




Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Breath Deep

Elleanor settled back into her chair to wait. Her body hummed with excitement.  Molly had left the door to her office open behind her, as if she knew that Elleanor didn’t want her to leave entirely—to give her hope, and then to take it away, if only she was taking that hope to another room.
Through the opened door, Elleanor could hear the burble and chirp of the copier, or fax, or whatever machine was ‘processing’ her hope, the end of her eight-month request for Nicholas—for a son. Elleanor closed her eyes. She took a deep breathe and held it. She counted: One… Two… then exhaled slowly.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

End of the Line

Molly was as competent as her diploma suggested. She slid paper after paper across her sunny, blonde desk, explaining each briefly and in plain English. If Elleanor understood (and Molly always asked her if she did), Molly would point to the X where Elleanor’s signature was required.
They moved steadily through the stack, finishing a little before lunch. Elleanor had signed a total of thirty-two documents.
          “My bad,” Molly apologized. “I thought it was twenty-something.”
          Any other time, coming from any other mouth and that expression would have made Elleanor cringe. But this sweet, silly little girl, with pink and purple stars shooting out of her name, was the agency’s legal team—and a damn good one at that—she was the end of the line. Molly could have used ‘like’, every other word and it would have been music to Elleanor’s ears. Elleanor laughed. She felt her eyes welling with tears again.  
           “I’ll get these processed just as quickly as I can,” Molly told her, collecting the papers. “We’ll see if you can’t meet Nicholas at school this afternoon.”


Feed it Hope

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Molly said, plopping the stack of papers she had been cradling down on the desk. The stack was easily four inches thick. “I think we only need about twenty signatures.”
          “Only?” Eleanor asked, playfully.
          “I know,” Molly agreed. “It’s ridiculous the paperwork The State requires. They could do away with half of it and have kids in homes in less than a month, rather than… How long has it been for you?”
          “Eight months,” Elleanor replied.
          “Consider yourself lucky,” Molly said, opening the top manila folder. “Most of the time, the process drags on for at least a year.”
          Molly slid the first document Elleanor was to sign, across the table. “That’ll change, if I have anything to do with it,” she said.
          As if on queue, Elleanor noticed the one framed item in the room, hanging behind Molly in a patch of low sky-blue sky. She recognized immediately the red a white coat-of-arms on the document—the three sheaves of wheat. Harvard Law?
          “Scary, huh?” Elleanor heard Molly saying.
          Elleanor turned to look at the girl, whom she guessed wasn’t even legal drinking age.
          “I’ve got skeells, as they say,” Molly said, grinning silly.
          “I’d say so,” Elleanor replied.
          “Don’t worry,” Molly said. “I hope to use my super powers for good—not evil.”
          “That’s reassuring,” Elleanor said.
          “I’ve been through the process,” Molly divulged. “I didn’t have to sign a million papers, like you and my mom,” she said. “But I know all about waiting. And trust me; it can be just as hard on the adoptee as it is on the adopter.”
           It was for that reason—and the slim possibility that her request would be denied—that from the beginning, Molly’s mother had instructed Elleanor to acquaint herself with Nicholas from a distance. “Sometimes it’s better to never have hope,” Heather Plageman had told her, “than to have hope and have it taken away.”
          Elleanor stared at the diploma behind Molly’s auburn head. It’s all the same, she suddenly realized: birth and adoption. The Honeywell Home for Boys was just another womb; another dark place from which a child needs delivering. Bring the child into the world. Feed it hope and it will thrive.     
          “Do you need a pen?” Molly asked.
          Elleanor started. “No… no,” she replied, and fished her ink pen from her purse.
          “Good then. Let’s get started.”    


Saturday, March 9, 2013

How Could You Not be Happy

Molly, as it turned out, was Molly Plageman—Heather’s daughter—and looked even younger than she sounded on the telephone.
“Elleanor?” she asked, from behind the reception desk, where Margaret something-or-other had always been stationed on all of Elleanor’s previous visits to the agency.
Elleanor nodded.
“I’ll be with you in just a second.”
Elleanor had never been to the agency this early. The waiting area was empty and seemed to be without heat. She shuddered and hugged herself. In her hurry, she had left without a coat. 
Molly closed her work on the computer, stood and gathered a stack of papers. She disappeared, then popped out of a side door, right of the reception desk.
“I know,” Molly said, when she saw Elleanor clenched against the chill. “This room is always freezing cold in the morning. I’m Molly Plageman, Heather’s daughter.”
“Good to meet you, Molly,” Elleanor replied, grateful that Molly had kept her hands tucked beneath her arms. Elleanor couldn’t see any immediate resemblance between daughter and mother.  
“We’ve had the heat looked at,” Molly went on, shaking her head, “but nobody seems to know what the problem is.”
Elleanor was fairly certain that by ‘nobody’, Molly meant those repairmen, who had more than once looked at her like she was imagining things when she had tried to explain similarly mysteries problems.
“Been there,” Elleanor surprised herself by saying. She had never cared for the phrase. It’s too cold, she thought, for proper conversation.       
“I keep this here,” Molly said, displaying the thick, over-sized, seaman’s sweater she wore, “for when I have to double as receptionist.”
“Looks comfy,” Elleanor replied.
Molly smiled. “Don’t worry,” she assured Elleanor, “it’s much warmer in my office.”   
Molly led Elleanor to the left—away from her mother’s work space—down a brief hallway to a door where her name shot through the air on a white plaque, trailing sparkling stars of pink and purple.
“It’s not like my mother’s office,” Molly warned over her shoulder. She opened the door and held it for Elleanor.
Though the lights were out inside the room, morning sun bled in around the edges of the shades, drawn over a row of small windows high up on the wall opposite the door, leaving the room in a sort of silvery dusk.  Elleanor felt the promised warmth and stepped in to Molly’s dim office.
Molly clicked on the lights behind her.

Molly hadn't lied. The room was nothing like her mother's book and portrait-laden office. All around there rolled a landscape of green and brown hills, like dull, tree-studded waves. Above the hills, cotton-ball clouds floated in a sky-blue sky. Behind a desk of chrome and blonde wood, rose an enormous, and very happy, orange and yellow sun. The sun smiled across the room at a large but simple, red barn, where buoyant animals grazed freely on the thick grass of green paint.
The room reminded Elleanor of a children’s program she had seen not long ago.
God, what was that show?
Planet something. Planet Planet…
There was a man, Elleanor remembered—Mr. Numerical. He was young, but dressed like a hillbilly farmer, in overalls, floppy shoes and a straw hat. He wore a big, fake beard, too, played guitar, danced funny, and sang songs to cartoon animals. One of the songs had been stuck in her head for a week: “One pig. Two pig. Whatcha gonna do pig?”
Planet… Planet…
Planet Numbers!  
“It was the play-room,” Elleanor heard Molly explaining. “Back when Mom ran the day-care.”
“She wanted to paint over everything,” Molly confessed, as she wheeled a chair over for Elleanor to sit in. “But I like it.”
Elleanor sat down. The old day-care room made her feel peculiar; small, though not in a bad way.
“I mean…” Molly said, looking around the room, “How can you not be happy in here?”

Thursday, March 7, 2013


That same October morning—about the time that Nicholas and his classmates were marching behind Miss Ferguson through the breezeway, out to the play yard—Elleanor Hardaway-Neiman-Fisk received a call from The Heather Plageman Adoption Agency, the organization overseeing her request to foster and possibly adopt Nicholas.
 “We’ve received the last of your paperwork from The State, Miss Hardaway-Neiman-Fisk,” a young and hopeful-sounding woman, who had introduced herself as Molly, from the agency, told Elleanor over the telephone.
Eight months ago, Elleanor would have dropped everything for a call from the agency. But call after cry-wolf call, asking only to verify something she knew she had verified a half-dozen times, and never with any sense of fruition, had worn down her attentiveness. Any more, she’d go about her business, half-listening to the voice—usually Heather’s, or that severe, older woman’s, Margaret something or other—on the other end of the line.     
“Elleanor,” Elleanor replied, cradling the phone as she poured water into the coffeemaker. “Please, call me Elleanor.”
“Okay, Elleanor,” Molly said, politely. “Like I said, we’ve received the last of your paperwork from The State. Now, all that we’re going to need from you is a few more signatures.”
Of course you will Molly, Elleanor thought, counting out scoops of coffee. You will always need a few more signatures. Elleanor wanted badly to ask this Molly girl why she wasn’t speaking with Heather.
“Just as soon as we get those, Elleanor,” Molly went on, “everything should be finalized.”
The word ‘finalized’ filled Elleanor’s head like cement. She stared at the coffee scoop, hovering over the filter. She’d lost count.
“Can you make it in this morning?” Molly asked.
Elleanor couldn’t seem to make her mouth work. She felt the warmth of a tear, moving down her cheek.
“Of course, of course,” Elleanor blurted suddenly. “I’ll leave in just a few minutes.”
“Good then,” Molly said, cheerfully. “We’ll see you in a bit. Congratulations.”    


Friday, February 22, 2013

Three: Exactly

In the classroom, Miss Ferguson handed out boxes of new crayons and sheets of white paper.
“Now,” she said. “I want you all to draw a picture of whatever it was that you saw in the clouds: the giraffe, the pirate’s ship—your mustache Phillip.”
The children giggled. Phillip had tried at the last minute to outdo Peter’s giraffe with a mustache.
“Draw everything you saw,” Miss Ferguson said, “exactly as you remember it.”
Nicholas had never been asked to draw anything before. He had never even sat and colored. There were never sheets of clean paper at Honeywell. What few crayons he had found at the home for boys, were nothing but broken nubs and all the figures in the dilapidated coloring books had been scribbled over with black, purple or blue.
Nicholas opened the box of crayons Miss Ferguson had given to him. He counted the colors. Eight in all. He put the perfect points to his nose and breathed in softly—yellow, green, blue, red… Behind his closed eyes, Nicholas could see once again the school’s mottled play yard and the impossibly blue October sky that spread forever above it. He saw the clouds, white as new chalk, refusing still to take on any shape for him. He saw his classmates, his teacher’s pale smile, red hair and pointing finger.
Nicholas opened his eyes. As if he had done it a thousand times before, he carefully drew out the yellow from the box of crayons and began to color. He colored everything that he had seen on the play yard, exactly as he had remembered it. So exact, in fact, that when Miss Ferguson collected the pictures and saw his, she immediately called the principle.   

Two: Honeywell and a Fair Trade

There were a lot of things Nicholas did not have. Parents, for instance.
Nicholas had been given up for adoption at birth, sent from Grace Medical Center in a blue beanie and blanket to the Honeywell Home for Boys. There was a woman, Eleanor Hardaway-Fisk, who was looking to foster and possibly adopt him, but a mountain of paperwork was holding up Nicholas’s transfer into her care.
Paperwork had also held up Nicholas’s enrollment into Covington Elementary as a kindergartner by a little over two weeks. “Everyone,” Miss Ferguson had said, standing beside him in front of the class, “This is Nicholas Alexander Leach.”
Had it been a day or two, the other children may have still been in transitional shock and acceptant of a latecomer. But at a little more than two weeks, they had settled in—spaces had been called, teams chosen, rules established—and though Miss Ferguson had asked the children to make Nicholas feel at home, he was shunned only slightly less than Danny Ramey, the boy who peed his pants.   
          “Nicholas?” Miss Ferguson asked, when she saw that he had not joined them. “Did you get to see the giraffe?”
          Nicholas shrugged.
          “Well, maybe next time,” Miss Ferguson said, kindly. “We’ll play the cloud game again, I’m sure.”
          Nicholas nodded and smiled, best he could.
“All right,” Miss Ferguson called out, “Lets line up and head back to the classroom.”
The children fell into place.
Nicholas was last in line. Miss Ferguson had folded his name onto a tiny piece of paper, like a Chinese fortune, and chosen it from a fishbowl. He was door monitor for the week, she had told him. It was his duty to close the door whenever the kindergartners entered or left the classroom. Door monitor was always last in line.
Nicholas liked being door monitor. He took his responsibilities very, very seriously. He liked being last in line too. All of the children did. But Nicholas would have traded both his duties and his place in line right then and there, if only he could have seen something in the clouds other than clouds.