MELANIE

 

It was dark. It was cold. The moon shown dimly, a tallowy glow through clouds like frosted glass. Tree limbs shivered. Evergreens looked massive. The ground was brittle with frozen fallen leaves. Marcy sat at the edge of a clearing, motionlessly alone. Her eyes were closed, her back—supported by an aspen trunk—braced against the night.

The mismatched eyes blinked open.

"You!"

They disappeared in a wincing mass of wrinkles, hands clapped over ears.

Realizing her mistake, Marcy tried to make amends in mime. He looked at her mistrustfully.

You're going to behave?

She nodded.

No more booming timpani?

She shook her head.

Cautiously he lowered his hands.

Well. I was about to say how nice it was to see you—before the din.

She moved to apologize again, but he waved her off.

What brings you here this fine October eve; trick or treat?

Huh?

Never mind. Just need a friend, I'll wager. Julian not much help?

He's awful!

Marcy's predetermined plan, when next she met the Miniature Man, had been to ask specific questions. His unexpected appearance, however, chased that plan away. She found herself caught up in the immediate situation, conducting herself accordingly, as if this dream or vision or hallucination—whatever it was—had its own inviolable dynamic.

Make fun of that new crop of peach-fuzz you've sprouted, did he?

With a shy but happy smile she ran her palm across her scalp, relishing its stubbly feel.

No?

No. He was nice about my hair.

The old man's face was illumined in a yellow flash of match light as he lit his pipe and puffed an acrid cloud of smoke. Watching as it swirled and eddied, Marcy grew aware of her surroundings. She was once again within the chamber, walled by rows of antique books. The stove was crackling loudly in the corner. The sawdust coated everything, as usual, except his tools, which lay there waiting near a thumb-high pile of shavings.

What, then?

He was at me about my past again.

Persistent fellow. Tell him anything?

How could I, when I don't remember?

Nothing about your parents?

No.

Or about your older sisters?

No.

The embers in his pipe bowl glowed.

Wait. Do I have sisters?

Two.

But how do you know that?

I know everything that you know. Maybe a little more.

The specific questions she was going to ask returned. She shaped her lips to form the first.

Who are you?

I believe I've been dubbed the Miniature Man and the Gatekeeper, so far. I'll answer to either.

But who are you really?

Maybe you'd care to conjure up another name for me—one from a time when those budding curls hung well down 'twixt your shoulders?

She focused on the sculptor's hands, their jutting veins like avenues, passageways she traveled once as a child... tracing them with tiny fingers... following their crisscross paths in wonder…

"Benjamin!"

The night air reproduced his name in a breath of moonlit vapor. It lingered momentarily before her now wide-open eyes, then vanished—along with its connotations.

Marcy stood. Her knees were stiff from the cold. Where was she? She peered into the darkness all around as if in search of something, someone. Who? She tried to think. Him. A man. Whose name was… Benjamin. At least that much she had retained. But all else now was lost in her concern to find the way that she had come. She tried to get her bearings. The clearing. Had she crossed it to take up her position underneath the tree? No. She turned. The moon withdrew its cloud-diluted aid and blackness fell. Uncertain of each step, she picked her way. Fear of the dark. She mustn't let it gain the upper hand.

Then blessedly the night resounded. It was the chapel bell. It kept on ringing—twelve, thirteen, fourteen—as if it were conscious of being Marcy's guide. She followed it, and soon was safely home.

 

 

 

 

"You gave us quite a fright, young lady."

"Sorry, Sister."

"Where did you go?"

"For a walk. A long walk. I had to think."

"Troubles, Marcy?"

She nodded.

"Can I help?"

She paused in order to pull together her doubts, her apprehensions, giving them some comprehensive form.

"Why can't I remember, Sister Zoe?"

The nun had now to search herself for the most insightful way to answer. Was the girl prepared to brave a confrontation with her past? Was she strong enough? Secure enough? Had the weeks of tender caring built a trustworthy foundation, on which, faced with the brutal truth, her patient could depend?

"We believe your loss of memory stems from a particular event, something to which you were subjected, something so upsetting that your mind has blocked it out."

What? A part of her demanded to know. Yet she asked a different question.

"Why wouldn't I remember things before, though?"

"We can't be certain, but it is likely that the girl to whom this happened wanted so much for it not to be, she determined to erase it by forgetting who she was. If she could be an altogether different human being, she could tell herself that nothing bad had happened."

"So it was 'bad'—what happened to me?"

"It was bad. It was not your fault. But it was bad."

Marcy thought some more.

"Julian was right, then."

"Oh? What did he say?"

"That I could remember if I really wanted to. That's not exactly how he put it, but that's what it all meant."

"What all?"

"Me getting mad. I was mean, too. I do want to remember, though. Part of me does. The part that knows Benjamin."

"And who is Benjamin?"

"The Miniature Man. I know him—from the time before. When I was little… Sister, will you hypnotize me again?"

Was it this for which the nun had searched? Was this the key to an entrance that might avoid having to batter down the door?

"Let me go tell Sister Dana we will be a while. I think she's just outside."

In the hall, Sister Dana was deep in prayer. Marcy's disappearance, she believed, had been a judgment. The Lord was finally punishing the young nun's sins. That His means, however, would harm an innocent, had raised embittered doubts about her Faith. A crisis had ensued from which the nun, no less than Marcy, had been rescued. In all humility, she now gave fervent thanks.

"Excuse me, Sister."

The nun unclasped her hands.

"Marcy and I will be some time yet. Perhaps you had better say good night; see her in the morning."

She hesitated.

"Don't worry. She's all right. And I'll see to it she gets back to quarters safely."

"Yes, Sister."

The old nun helped the younger with her coat, opened the outer door, and with a reassuring pat on the back dismissed her.

 

 

"Now then, Marcy. Comfortable?"

"Is she okay?"

"Yes, I think so. Sister Dana sometimes overreacts to things."

"She was really worried, wasn't she?"

"She's very fond of you."

"I know."

"Well. Are you ready?"

"Uh huh."

"Relax then… That's good… And picture the little door set in your forehead… how it opens… to the warm, soft light inside."

The elevator took her quickly to the deepest level.

Back so soon?

She ran to him.

Leaning over, allowing the little arms to wrap themselves around his neck, he let her kiss him. He picked her up and set her in his lap. His marvelous hands arranged her flowing curls.

Have you been working hard, Benjamin?

I always work hard.

What have you been making?

Would you like to see?

Uh huh.

Can't.

Oh, please? Pretty please?

Pretty please indeed!

He scowled. He always scowled when Melanie used baby-talk.

It's not finished.

But can't I see so far?

Out of the question.

Well, okay then.

It was the game they played. He would say no. She would plead. He would get gruff. Then she would be set loose to wander until she found the niche in which his latest work was hiding. She disengaged his veiny arms and scrambled down to start her explorations.

As she went she let her index finger plow a squiggly trail through the sawdust's thick accumulation. Former tracks—their ages corresponding to their faintness—wiggled off in all directions. And one by one she passed the cloistered worlds. Each had been her favorite until the newest overtook her fancy. This time was no exception.

A circus! On tiptoe, for the niche was placed above her head, she gazed delightedly at what Benjamin had made: lions, and tigers, and panthers, and bears, and elephants holding elephants' tails. She imagined she could hear the tuxedoed ringmaster introducing acts, the drum roll sounding, the clowns evoking squeals of laughter from a motley crowd. It was all so wonderful, so real! But what was missing? There was always a part that Benjamin left out—one it was up to her to find so she could hurry back and report his error. She looked more critically. The string of elephants had no gaps. The lion-tamer had his whip and chair. The human cannonball's net lay ready. The aerialists! From a slender thread a somersaulting woman hung suspended. But only the trapeze she had left was there. No one waited at another, with outstretched arms, prepared to catch her.

Triumphantly she marched back to her friend.

Melanie. What's up?

Boy, oh boy, Benjamin. You really goofed this time.

You think so, eh?

I sure do. Come with me.

She took him by the hand and led him down a dusky corridor. The tableau filled a pocket at its end. Once there she pointed to the hapless acrobat.

Now what do you suppose is going to happen to that poor girl when she stops spinning?

She'll probably fall and break her neck.

Benjamin! You're not going to let that happen, are you?

He held out his other hand. Its bulging knuckles indicated something inside. She eyed him knowingly. With mock resistance he let her pry his fingers from the prize. She, in turn, feigned great relief on seeing the tiny figure with the trapeze.

I should hope so.

Benjamin rigged the necessary threads and, lifting Melanie, let her hang the catcher by the crooks behind his knees. Still in his arms, she gazed upon his work with satisfaction, letting her child's imagination reanimate the scene.

 

Saturday...

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