Home  
 

Mr. Pumpernickle:
Travels of a child of light

 


“Shhh.  Shhh.”  The secrets of the rain wash down the window pane.  Young Light has had a disturbing dream, and he is squeezing my stuffing.  I believe that daylight has come, but I’m not certain because my face is in a puddle of pillow.

“Sean!”

It is the voice of Mother Light, who calls Young Light “Sean.”

“Sean Patrick, get up this minute.”
“But, it’s Saturday.”
“You have a dentist appointment.”
“Shoot!” 

     It’s the blurry experience again.  I hit the wall and slide down.  I land nose first in a prickly bush of cat hair. 

“But Mom!  David might call.”
“Who’s David?”
“That kid at the beach.”
“You’ve already wasted one Saturday waiting for him to call.  You’ll find another friend.  Now, get dressed.”

     Young Light frowns when called “Sean Patrick,” his two names together.  He does not know that I call him Young Light.  It is my own name for him.  I call him this because the  Light, the source of all inner light, has taught me to see everyone from the inside out.
     My nose has itched for a long time.  Young Light is looking for me.  He’s kicking empty soda cans and throwing dirty socks.  Finally, I see his sneakers close by.  I am jerked up by the arm.  The room is on its side. 
     I love the stairs.  It’s been many years since Young Light slid me down the hand rail, the ramp to nowhere.  Usually, I would just fall off the side, but sometimes, I would glide all the way down and fly off the end before landing in a heap on the carpet.  That gave Young Light particular satisfaction.  Today, however, he continues to dangle me by the arm. As we descend the stairs, glimpses of the living room flicker by between the ramp supports.  Brother Light, whose family calls him “Dylan,” is watching television.

     “Hold it, Sean.”
“What’s your problem, Dylan?”
“Lose the teddy bear.”
“Mr. Pumpernickel likes the dentist.”
“You’re always complaining that you don’t have any friends.
“So?”
“ Dragging that teddy bear around doesn’t help, you know.  Especially at your age.
Why don’t you leave him home?”

     Young Light reverses direction.  Another blurry experience leaves me on his bed.  This time, I land on my back.  The sheets are still warm where Young Light slept.  I feel the presence of the Light surrounding me.  It is going to be a good day.

 

&&&&&

 

     “The Light shines within us.  It is the Light that gathers us, and the Light that teaches us.  It shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.  It is now and forever more, as it was before the world began.”   All this I have known since early stuffinghood. I am trying to calm my innards by thinking about my lessons, but Young Light is using me as a sort of Frisbee, and the spinning motion is very unsettling.
      I tumble downward toward Young Light’s frowning face.  He snatches me by the leg and flips me up toward the ceiling again.  The bed and Young Light grow smaller.  “Seek the Light that shines in every heart.”  Again, I try to concentrate on my lessons, but the dizziness only worsens.

 

     “What’s eating you, Sean?”
“Go away, Dylan.”

“Seeking the light in others helps us to find the Light in ourselves.,” I remind myself quickly at the top of my ascent.  But, then my stuffing lurches downward, and I am falling again.

     “How many cavities you got?”
“None.”
“So, why the attitude?”
“He didn’t call.”
“Who?”
“David.”
“That kid from the beach?  That was two weeks ago, Sean.  Get over it.”
“That’s easy for you to say, Dylan.  You’ve got friends.  You’re not a loser.”
“You’re not a loser either.  This guy’s the loser.”

     Brother Light waits for me to make the loop at the top of my ascent, and then intercepts my free-fall.  His hands are big and dry and his face smells of pine.

“Give him back, Dylan!  Give me Mr. Pumpernickel now!”
“He wants to swim in the toilet.”
“Mom!  Mom!”
“Relax.  Here’s your stupid bear.”

     A small blurry experience occurs and then Young Light catches me by the leg.  Brother Light’s footsteps thunder down the stairs.  Young Light squeezes me against his chest.  His breath sounds as if it is tripping over something painful. “Have faith, Young Light,” I tell him.  But, he does not hear me.  He never does.

 

 

 

&&&&&

 

 

     “Dylan!”
“I’m in the kitchen, Mom.”
“The bucket is missing.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“No one has seen it since you washed the car.”
“Oh…Sean, go look out by the end of the driveway.  I might have left it there.”
“Why me?”
“Because I’m getting ready for work and you’re sitting there with that stupid bear.”
“Mom!”
“Go on, Sean.  Dylan is running late.”

   Going outdoors is a special treat.  The smell of wet earth greets my nose.  Voices of the morning breeze hum softly through the hair in my ears.  The cat crouches under the holly tree.  A solitary crow chants a fretful complaint.  Then, I hear another voice.  It is Small Light. 

     “Hi!”

Young Light and I have never heard the voice of Small Light before.  Small Light has a human name, but Young Light and I do not even know it yet.  I am wondering about this new person.  Where did Small Light come from?  Why is he here?  It is all very curious, but Young Light does not seem at all interested.

“Hi!”
“Are you talking to me?”

     Young Light is looking around for the bucket, and he asks this question without even glancing in the direction of Small Light.  “Look for the Light in everyone,” I whisper, but Young Light ignores me too.

 

     “Is that your basketball hoop by the curb?”

    Small Light raises his voice.  Perhaps he senses that Young Light is not paying much attention to him.

 

     “It’s my brother, Dylan’s.”
“What’s your name?”
“Sean.”
“Mine’s Eric.  I’m staying at my uncle’s house.”
“Mr. White is your uncle?”
“Yep.  I’m staying for the rest of the summer.”

     Small Light is shorter than Young Light and his voice is higher.  His wide eyes hardly blink at all.  He studies Young Light and then looks at me. 

     “What’s your teddy’s name?”
“Mr. Pumpernickel.”
“Can I see him?”

     Young Light and I cross the street   Small Light holds out his arms to me.  His hands are little and pudgy.  He turns me over several times and then rubs his round cheek against my face.  He presses me against his chest.  It is a hug that he has been saving for a long time.

     “Wow, he’s soft.  I’ve never seen a teddy bear such a dark color.”
“My dad brought him from Germany.”
“Where’s that?”
“Far away.  Across the ocean in Europe.”
“Have you ever been there, Sean?”
“I’ve never left New Jersey.  My dad travels a lot because of his business.”
“Where’s your dad now?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t? “
“No.  I haven’t seen him since last year..”
“Why not?”
“He and my mom split up.”
“Sean!”

     Mother Light is calling from the kitchen window.

 

     “Yeah, Mom?”
“Did you find the bucket?”
“Um…nope.  I don’t see it….Well, gotta’ go, Eric.  I’ll see ya.’”
“Maybe we can play basketball sometime, Sean.”
“Yeah, maybe.”

     Small Light watches as Young Light and I go back to the house.  The sun splashes the lawn with patterns of branches.  They look like arms reaching out but never touching.  Small Light is far away and miniature when the screen door slams shut.  Brother Light has been watching us through the screen.

     “Who’s the kid, Sean?”
“His name’s Eric.  He’s Mr. White’s nephew.  Here for the summer.”
“Your lucky day, huh?”
“What?”
“A new friend, maybe.”
“Give me a break, Dylan.  He’s a little kid.”
“Mom, will you talk to this jerk? I’m outa’ here.  See you later.”
“Drive carefully, please, Dylan.  Sean how old is Eric?”
“Look for yourself.  He’s a baby.”

     Mother Light wipes her hands and steps to the window.  Her smile is like a spot of sunlight between swift clouds.

“Oh, Sean.  He’s adorable.”
“Right, Mom.  I’m not interested in adorable.  I want cool.”
“Give him a chance, Dear.  Maybe he’s just small for his age.”
“Mom, please.  He’s never heard of Germany.”
“Have I raised you to be so judgmental?”

     “Honor your father and your mother.”   This is the Light’s law.  Young Light is carrying me by the leg, and all my thoughts collect in the top of my head.  I begin to sense that there is work for me to do, but I’m not sure just what it is yet.  Waiting can be so hard.  But, waiting, silent waiting, is the only way to hear what The Light is telling me.

 

 

&&&&&

 

 

     I am face down on the back seat of the car.  It smells of the French fry that Young Light sat on recently.  Church must be out now.  I hear bits of conversation and the clicking sound of best shoes running on pavement.  I hear words that are musical but strange, and I do not understand them. 

     “Sean.”

     It is the voice of Helper Light.

     “Hello, Reverend Potter.”
“Have you met Sonia?  She is from Guatemala.”
“Hi, Sonia.”
“Buenos dias.”

     The car door opens.  Young Light slides in against me.  I am now standing on my head.  Just above Young Light’s knee, I see two huge brown eyes staring at me. A very small finger points, and there is a question that Young Light and I can only guess at.  Helper Light bends down and looks at me. 

     “Oh, I think Sonia wants to know your bear’s name, Sean.”
“It’s Mr. Pumpernickel.”

     I feel a bit undignified standing on my head, but the huge eyes do not seem to notice.

“Hm, that’s a tough one to translate.  The best I can do is ‘Pan Negro.’”
“Pan Negro.”

     A soft voice repeats Helper Light’s translation.  They are the most beautiful words I have ever heard.”

 

&&&&&

 

     “Sean, please pass the iced tea.”

 

     It is dinnertime.  Even from the living room where I lie face down on the couch, I hear the rattle of dishes and smell the aroma of macaroni and cheese.  Young Light does not answer his mother.  In fact, he has said very little since the meal started.

“Would you care for more iced tea, Eric?”
“Yes, please, M’am.”
“Here, Little Buddy, let me help.”
“Thanks, Dylan..  M’am, I still don’t understand why Uncle Whitey is in the hospital.”
“Oh, he’s not IN the hospital, Eric.  He’s only AT the hospital for a test.  Your uncle had an angina attack yesterday.”
“He was attacked ?”
“He has a medical condition called ‘angina,’ and the condition flared up last night.  He took his medicine and felt better, but when he called the doctor, the doctor wanted him to have a test.  So your uncle asked if you could stay here rather than spend most of the day at the hospital.”
“Will Uncle Whitey be okay?”
“I’m sure he’s fine, Dear.”
“Sean, where’s Mr. Pumpernickel?”
“No idea.”
“M’am could I just look in the living room?  I think I saw him on the couch.”
“Certainly, Eric.  Go ahead.”

 

     Moments later, Small Light lifts me from the couch cushion.  He hugs me to his chest and rubs his face against my ear.  He stands holding me for several seconds before he walks slowly back to the kitchen table. 

“Don’t bring him to the table.  You’ll get food on him.”

     Small Light comes to an abrupt halt when Young Light speaks.  But, Mother Light comes to our rescue.

 

     “Now, Sean, it will be fine. Dylan, pull out the extra chair so Eric can put Mr. Pumpernickel on it.”

     Small Light places me carefully on the kitchen chair.  My eyes are level with the hem of the table cloth.  I can see everyone’s knees.  Small Light disappears through the living room door and returns with a large throw pillow.  When he boosts me up with the throw pillow, I can just barely see over the edge of the table.  Mother Light and Brother Light exchange glances.  They are trying not to smile.  Young Light is frowning and red faced.

“Well, M’am, I sure do feel silly.”
“Why is that, Eric?”
“I should know all about angina, me planning to be a doctor and all.”
“You want to be a doctor when you grow up?”
“That’s right, Dylan.  Except lately I’ve been thinking I might like to work at the Foodtown deli.”

 

     Mother Light looks down into her lap to hide her smile.  Brother Light’s laughter bursts out like a puppy that’s escaped from its pen. 

     “Gee, that’s quite a switch, Little Guy.  Why the change of heart?”
“It’s all about the cheese, Dylan.”
“Excuse me?”
“Foodtown deli has the best cheese in the world.  M’am, do you get yellow or white?”
“Yellow or white what, Dear?”
“American.  Do you get yellow or white American cheese?”
“Oh.  Yellow.”
“That’s what I figured.  Uncle Whitey says nine out of ten people get yellow.  Him and me like white.  It’s white or nothing for us.”
“That’s very interesting, Dear.”
“Your uncle’s home.”

 

     Young Light practically shouts his announcement.  Everyone peers out the window that’s over the kitchen table.  A familiar car has pulled up in front of the house across the street.


“Oh, M’am, I gotta go.  Thanks for dinner.”
“Are you finished, Eric?”
“Yes, M’am.  And it was real good.”
“Thank you.  Ask your uncle if he’d like some dinner.  He can give me a call and Dylan will take it over to him.”
“Thanks.”

     Small Light is nearly to the door when he stops and comes back.  He gets close to Mother Light and speaks in a low voice.

“I hope I didn’t insult your cheese.”
“Oh, that’s quite all right, Eric.  Come back soon.”

     When the screen door swings shut, Mother Light and Brother Light smile at each other.  I feel warmed by the sparkle in their eyes.  Young Light is scowling.

     “I can’t believe you think that kid is funny.”
“Come, on Bro,’ he’s hilarious.”
“Dear, Eric is such a cute little boy.  And so friendly.”
“Well, you two can think what you want.  I think he’s a jerk.”

 

 

&&&&&

 

 

     Young Light has left me on the trunk of the car.  The broiling sun makes me smell like an old bureau drawer.  Young Light leans against the fender, watching.  Brother Light and Small Light play basketball.  When Small Light throws the ball, there is no sound from the backboard.  Sometimes, the ball clangs against the pole.

“Come, on, Sean.  Play with us.”
“You can’t even reach the basket, Eric.”
“I can lower the basket so you and Eric can play, Sean.”

     Brother Light leaps and the ball leaves his hands mid air.  There is only the whisper of netting as the ball passes through.

“You can’t lower it, Dylan.  It wouldn’t be regulation, then.”
“Oh, did I tell you, Eric?  Sean’s a professional.  We can’t lower the basket for him!  Come on, Big Guy.  Show us your stuff.  We’ll play you one on one.”
“Wouldn’t there be two of you, Mr. Genius?”
“Come on, Bro.’ Don’t get technical.”

     I hear the sound of the ball slapping against Young Light’s hands.  He holds it for an instant and then walks toward the street.  The ball crunches asphalt once, twice, three times and then it hits the backboard.

“Oh, close one, Sean.  But me and Eric got the rebound.”

     Brother Light snatches the ball and hands it to Small Light.  Then, Brother Light sweeps Small Light up and lifts him high.  The ball vibrates inside the rim.  Small Light’s laughter dances on the air.  Brother Light shouts,

“Two!”
“You guys are pathetic!”

     After Young Light yells, there is silence.  He jerks me up from the trunk of the car and marches toward the house.  I swing in an angry arc against the warm breeze.  The sound of the screen door slamming echoes through the house.  I am grateful that the Light is near.  Again, I sense that I must help.  There is important work to be done.  “Be silent and listen,” I tell myself. My muddled questions are interrupted by the appearance of Mother Light’s face in the bedroom doorway. 

“Sean, tomorrow is Tuesday.”
“So what?”
“Tuesday is trash day.  Please take the trash cans to the curb.”
“It’s Dylan’s turn.”
“I know, Dear, but he is playing with Eric.”
“What kind of excuse is that?”
“He’s being nice to a neighbor, and you don’t seem to be doing anything.”

    Before he lifts the trash can, Young Light stuffs me under his arm.  As we cross the yard, I realize what I must do.  I have been straining my ears for the Light’s answer, and now, without even hearing a voice, all at once I know.  “ I’m not sure I can,” I argue.  However, if it is the Light’s will, then I know I can.  “But, I’m not sure I’m ready,” I protest.  The world is upside down and swaying, and I spot the holly tree.  There is no time to be prepared. Suddenly, I freeze, terrified with doubt. Desperately, I try to recall my lessons.  At last, I remember, “The Light that enlightens everyone came into the world and dwelled with us and grew to know us more perfectly than we could ever know ourselves.”  The Light understands me and knows my condition.  Despite my uncertainty,  I must be as ready as I can be.
     I let my stuffing sink toward my head which becomes heavy and bumps against Young Light’s side as he walks.  He is having difficulty pinning me against him with his elbow.  All the stuffing has drained from the foot that is held by Young Light’s arm and there is very little of me left for him to secure.  Just as we reach the holly tree, Young Light stumbles against a prickly branch.  The pointy leaves jab into my fur and I am ripped from Young Light’s side.  I wait for the perfume of green grass, but instead my head bangs against something metal and I slide downward into a puddle of soapy water.  My ears begin to soak up water until hardly any is left.  So, this is where the bucket is.  Under the holly tree.  I see nothing but oddly-shaped pieces of sky peeking between the sweeping branches. The bucket and I are now hiding together.  It is the Light’s plan.

     “Think fast!”

    Brother Light’s voice echoes inside the bucket.  There is the sudden crash of a trash can hitting the street.

“Dylan, you jerk.  Look what you did.  You made me spill the trash!”
“Oh, gosh. Bro.’ I’m sorry.  I threw the ball before I saw the trash can. I’ll help you pick up the mess.”
“Me, too, Sean.”
“Forget it, Eric.  I don’t need some pathetic baby and my big jerk brother helping me.”

Young Light’s feet pound past the holly tree.  The screen door slams closed. He has completely forgotten about me.  The plan continues to unfold.

 

 

&&&&&

 

 

     “Get in the car, Sean.”
“I’m not going.”
“Sean, we have spent the morning looking for Mr. Pumpernickel.  Dylan and I want to swim while it’s still hot out.  Now, please get in the car.”
“I won’t associate with a bear murderer.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Sean.   I did not touch your stupid bear.”

     It never occurred to me that Young Light would blame his brother for my disappearance.  But, the Light understands everything, so it must be okay.  I try to take my mind off these troubling thoughts by pretending that I am at the beach.  I listen for the droning of the surf and the cry of the seagulls, but then another voice interrupts my day dream.

 

     “Is something wrong?”
“Hi, Eric.  Sean lost his teddy bear.”
“Mr. Pumpernickel?”

Brother Light is standing close to the holly tree.  I can see the red of his bathing trunks between the dense leaves.

 

     “That’s right Little Buddy, and Sean’s convinced that I’m responsible.”
“But why?”

I see a glimpse of Small Light’s curls now.  He is standing close to Brother Light and looking up at him.  I imagine that his face is as puzzled as the tone of this question.

 

     “Because Dylan hates Mr. Pumpernickel.”

     Small Light’s question is answered by Young Light before his brother can say anything.

     “I don’t hate your bear, Sean.  I just think you’re a little old to be dragging him everywhere.  Say, Eric, you wanna’ go to the beach with us?”
“There’s not enough room.”

     Young Light blurts out these words without thinking. His resistance to the Light is quite remarkable. For several moments, everyone is too embarrassed to speak, and then Mother Light’s voice breaks the silence.

     “Sean Patrick, shame on you.   Of course there’s enough room.  The boys and I will wait while you change into your suit, Eric.”
“No thanks, M’am.  I…um…I have to go someplace with my uncle.  I sure hope you find Mr. Pumpernickel, Sean.”

     Three car doors slam shut.  The car is driving away now.  There is stillness and then a crunching sound of pebbles grinding against each other. Small Light is kicking stones in the driveway.

 

 

&&&&&

 

 

     Night has fallen, and I am wondering if I will always be in this bucket.  I watch the pointy dark patterns of holly leaves shifting with the night air.  I attempt to replicate the siren sound of a passing mosquito.   The house has grown quiet.
     A car comes slowly up the street.  It stops, and a door shuts.  There are quick footsteps, and then the doorbell rings.

“Good evening, M’am.  I am Officer Richards.  Are you missing a bucket?”
“Yes, we are.”
“Could this be it?”
“Yes, it looks like ours, but what’s that smell?”
“Gasoline.  The Department found this bucket near the abandoned building that burned Tuesday morning.  A witness spotted two teenagers with buckets, but this was the only one recovered at the scene.  Are your sons home, M’am?”
“What’s the matter, Mom?”
“Officer, this is my younger son, Sean.  Sean, Officer Richards found this bucket near a building that burned, and the bucket smells of gasoline.”
“So, that’s what happened to Mr. Pumpernickel.”
“Sean, for heaven’s sake.”
“Who’s Mr. Pumpernickel, Sean?”
“My teddy bear.  He’s missing and my brother hates him and probably burned him up and the building too.”
“Sean, really!  Officer, Sean is terribly upset and not thinking clearly.”
“Is your older son home, M’am?”
“Yes, come in.”

     The front door shuts, and everything is quiet again. Perhaps what I thought was the  Light’s plan is really just my plan, and it has gone terribly wrong.  I try to calm myself and to wait for the Light’s assurance, but I am too troubled to listen.

 

 

&&&&&

 

 

     “What do you want, Eric?”
“Hi, Sean,  Is Dylan home?”
“He should be on his way home from work.  Why do you want to see him?.”
“I saw a police car in front of your house last night,  Is something wrong?”
“Yeah.  Dylan burned up Mr. Pumpernickel and set a building on fire in the process.”
“What?”
“The police found a bucket like ours with gasoline in it near the vacant building that burned down.  Dylan says that it can’t be our bucket unless the arsonists stole it from our yard.  He also says that Mr. Pumpernickel’s disappearance has nothing to do with it.”
“Mr. Pumpernickel’s still missing?”
“Yeah, he’s gone.  Vanished.”
“Oh, that’s awful, Sean.  I know just how you feel..”
“How could you possibly know how I feel?”
“I kind of lost my parents.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know.  My mother left my dad and then got remarried.”
“So what?  At least you still live with your mother.”
“I know.  I guess I should feel lucky.  But I don’t think it even matters to her that I am there.  I mean if it mattered, would she have sent me here for the summer?”
“Why did she do that?”
“I don’t know.  I guess it’s because my stepfather is not used to kids.”
“What about your real father?”
“He lives in California.  We all used to live there until my mom met my stepfather.  She had to get special permission to move to New Jersey with me.  My dad didn’t want me to move so far away, but he finally gave in to my mom.”
“Will you ever see him again?”
“Maybe at Christmas.  But, you know, Sean, one good thing has happened.”
“What?”
“I got to come here this summer.  Uncle Whitey is great, and Dylan has been really nice to me.   Look.  Isn’t that Dylan’s car coming now?
“Yeah,  That’s the bear murderer..”
“Bear Murderer?”
“Our bucket is missing.  Mr. Pumpernickel is gone, and a building burned down.  I think all these things are connected, and Dylan is the connection.”
“What will happen to him, Sean?”
“They’re going to lock him up and throw away the key.”
“Hey Eric.”
“Hi Dylan.  Is it true that you’re going to get locked up?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure that would make Sean happy.”

     I pray hard that Young Light might see the goodness in his brother and realize that Brother Light could never do such a hurtful deed. But Young Light allows this opportunity to pass, and it is Small Light who speaks.


“Sean, how can you believe that Dylan would hurt a teddy bear?”
“Because he hates Mr. Pumpernickel,”
“No I don’t, Sean.”

     The two brothers’ voices are louder and resonate inside the bucket.  The three boys must be standing on the porch.  Small Light becomes very quiet.  I imagine his large, unblinking eyes sliding back and forth as if he is watching a play from the front row.

 

     “Look, Sean,  I know Mr. Pumpernickel is special to you because Dad gave him to you.  In fact, no one understands how you feel about him as much as I do.  Not even Mom.”
“Why?”
“Because I miss Dad too.”
”Yeah, but it’s different for you, Dylan, because you’ve got friends.”
“Do you know why you don’t have any friends, Sean?  Do you?
“Okay, Mr. Know-it-all .  Tell me why I don’t have friends.”
“I mean think about it.  Are you ugly?  No.  Are you dumb?  Hardly.  Are you a bad athlete.  Never.  Why, then?”
“Because I’m a loser.”
“No, because you’re angry.”
“Angry?  Who am I angry at?”
“Everybody!  Well, Dad mostly, I guess.  And that’s understandable.  But, you’re also angry at Mom, angry at me.  You’re even angry at Eric for being younger than you.  How crazy is that, Sean?”
“I suppose you think it’s my fault that Dad left.”
“Of course I don’t ..  Wait a minute, Sean!  Why would you even think that?’    
“Because Dad was always yelling at me, and then he left.”
“He was always yelling at everybody.  I guess he was unhappy.  Sean, Dad leaving had nothing to do with you.  You have to believe me on this.  Stop crying.  It’s okay.  Look, Mr. Pumpernickel will turn up.”
“No he won’t!  Dad’s gone, and now Mr. Pumpernickel’s gone.  That’s why I hate everybody.  Why don’t you two just go away too!”
“Eric, you don’t have to leave.  Sean is just upset.”
“It’s okay Dylan.  I’ll leave you brothers alone.  See you later.”
“You know, Sean.  He’s a nice kid.  And he wants to be your friend.”
“I’ve had enough of your lectures, Dylan.  Just leave me alone.”

     There is silence, and I believe that Brother Light has gone into the house.  But, then I hear his voice again.

 

     “Oh no!”
“What’s the matter?”
“There’s a police car coming up the street.  Officer Richards may have more questions.”

 

     I feel so helpless in my metal prison.   Brother Light is in trouble with the law.  Young Light is angry at the world and taking it out on Small Light.  This cannot be the Light’s plan.
     There are footsteps that I did not expect.  They are soft and close together. Small Light is going home by way of the side yard.  The footsteps sound closer and closer, and then, suddenly, there is a  tremendous bang that will ring in my ears for days to come.  The bucket and I move together and then I am launched out of it, head first, soggy ears
and all.  I land on my head near the driveway. 

“Sean!  Dylan!  Look!”
“What was that noise, Eric?”
“I found Mr. Pumpernickel!”

    Small Light lifts me up just in time for me to see Protector Light emerge from his patrol car.  The bucket has rolled nearly to his back fender.

“Now, what have we here, boys?  It seems to be a bucket exactly like the one at the station.  Only, this one smells like soap.”
“Mr. Pumpernickel was inside it!”
“Are you sure, Little Guy?”
“Yes, officer.  I ran into the bucket by accident, and Mr. Pumpernickel flew out.”
“Where was the bucket, Son?”
“Under the holly tree. 
“You can fit under there?”
“Oh sure.   I’m the smallest kid in my class at school.  I was on my way home.  I guess the bucket was under the end of the branch where it swoops low to the ground..  I couldn’t even see it when I was under the tree.”
“Now, which one of you boys is the owner of the bear?”
“I am.”

     Young Light is holding me.  His hands are trembling.  He hugs me and I can hear his heart pounding.

“What’s your name again, Son?”
“Sean.”
“Now, this is important, Sean.  When did you lose your teddy bear?”
“Um….”
“You lost him the day before trash day, Sean.  Remember?  I made you spill the trash.  You  ran inside, and by the time Eric and I cleaned up the mess you and Mom were looking for Mr. Pumpernickel.”
“Yeah, you’re right Dylan.”
“And what day is trash picked up?”
“Tuesday.”
“Well, Dylan, the police department owes you an apology.  The fire started early Tuesday morning.  Obviously, you and your bucket were not involved.  This little guy, here, is short enough to fit where your bucket was hiding.  Lucky you were around, pal.”

     Small Light’s eyes are wide and unblinking again.  He and Protector Light shake hands.

    “Dylan, tell your mom to give me a call if she has any questions.”
“Officer.”
“Yes, Sean.”
“I shouldn’t have accused my brother of starting that fire.  He would never do anything like that.”
“I believe you, Sean.  That’s a handsome bear you have there.  You must have been pretty upset when you lost him.”
“Yeah.  And I said a lot of things I didn’t mean.  I must have dropped him when I was carrying the trash can to the curb.”
“Well, I hope you realize how lucky you are to have this little guy around.”
“Yes, Sir.  His name is Eric, and he’s our new friend.”
“You know, if you boys have any toys you’ve outgrown, the department is holding a toy drive for the refugee families from Guatemala . Keep us in mind.  Glad to meet you, Eric.  You boys behave, now.”

I dangle by an arm at Young Light’s side.  The patrol car pulls away from the curb.

“Eric.”
“Yeah, Sean?”
“Thanks.”
“Me too, Little Buddy.”
“No problem.  I’m glad everything turned out okay.”
“And, Dylan.”
“What is it, Little Brother?”
“About that toy drive.  Maybe I’ll give them Mr. Pumpernickel.”
“Get out!  You can’t be serious!”

     Brother Light stares in disbelief at his younger brother.  Small Light’s eyes are wider than I have ever seen them.  Young Light looks down the street.  I know that it is becoming difficult for him to control his voice, so he waits a moment before he continues.

 

     “Well, I survived without him for almost a week.  The Guatemalan people were at church on Sunday.  There’s one girl named Sonia.  She’s only about three or four.  She saw Mr. Pumpernickel when I was getting in the car and she seemed to really like him.”

     Brother Light’s expression is a mixture of admiration and concern.  It is the only time I have ever seen moisture in his eyes.

 

     “Wow, Sean.  I don’t know what to say.  Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
“Yeah.  I think so.”

      Young  Light cannot look at me, and I understand.  My stuffing swells with pride for him. My stitches spread to their limit.  Young Light has grown up so much in such a short time.  The Light knew all along. And it was I who lacked faith after all.

 

 

&&&&&

 

 

     I am squeezed between Young Light and Small Light on the couch.  The noise from  the television does not enter my ears.   I am far away in Guatemala.  Tiny fingers stroke my ears and huge brown eyes look down at me. 
     “Buenos dias.” “ Pan Negro” is practicing his Spanish.  It is all so beautiful, and yet I sense vaguely that this day dream is not the Light’s vision but merely the wishes of a dusty old teddy bear.  So, I wait.    The Light will let me see.  It is like a moonbeam that spreads its pathway across an ocean of darkness.

  1.      Suddenly, my thoughts are interrupted by the voice of Mother Light.  This is not her soothing voice but the voice of shadows and approaching rain.

“Eric, Dear.”
“Yes, M’am.”
“I just got off the phone with your uncle.”
“Is something wrong, Mom?”
“I’m afraid so, Sean.”

Brother Light enters the room behind Mother Light.  His expression reflects the tone of Mother Light’s voice.  I feel Small Light’s body grow tense beside me.  He senses bad news too well.

“Eric, your uncle says that your step dad is on his way to pick you up.  He’s taking you home.”
“But, Mom said I was staying here the whole summer!”
“I know.  There’s been a change in plans.”
“My stepfather doesn’t even like kids.  And Uncle Whitey is so nice to me.  And I don’t want to leave Dylan and Sean and….”
“Come here, Little Buddy.”

     Small Light runs to Brother Light whose arms try desperately to shelter him from this new sadness.  Young Light is perched on the edge of the couch, and I share his sense of helplessness.
      Then, Young Light slowly stands and walks awkwardly toward the other boys. But, when he speaks, his voice seems to grow lower and stronger.

“Eric, don’t cry.  Look, Dylan has his license, and the first Saturday that he doesn’t have to work we could come visit you.  Right, Dylan?”
“Absolutely.  You’re not the only one who’s sad that you’re leaving, Eric. I won’t be able to double-team Sean anymore.”
“Boys, a car has just pulled up in front of the Whites’ house.  I think Eric’s stepfather has arrived.”
“Okay, M’am.  Goodbye, Dylan.  ‘Bye, Sean.  I’ll miss you guys a lot.”
“Not so fast, Eric.”

     I am swept up from the coach by a hand that I think is Brother Light’s.  But it is Young Light’s arm that extends me toward Small Light’s face.  And it is Young Light who speaks.

“Look, I had it all wrong.  Sonia is a cute little girl but she is much too young for this guy.  I have to give Mr. Pumpernickel to someone who can really appreciate him and take care of him.”
“You mean me?”

     I am squished in the middle of a hug between Young Light and his new friend.  My feelings are all jumbled, and I am a little queasy.  Sometimes it feels that way when the Light’s plan is finally revealed. It takes me several seconds to find my voice, and then, one more time, I try to speak to Young Light:
     “I love you, and I am so proud of you.  You found the Light in your own heart, and it has led you to see the same Light in those around you.”  Young Light stops breathing when I speak.  He is listening. Though I could never explain it, I know that he has heard me.
     I am leaving now with Small Light.  He caresses me against his shoulder.  It is the way Young Light used to carry me, long ago. 
     Young Light stands with his feet apart and his arms crossed.  Brother Light rests his hand on his younger brother’s shoulder, and their mother smiles through tears like the sun before a rainbow.  I pray that I may keep this picture in my mind forever.  A rush of air tickles the fur on my ears, and then the door closes between my old life and my new one.

 

Home