The screen door slammed behind her. She slumped down onto the wooden bench. Her pigtails brushed against the back wall. The Cinderella on her sneakers smiled up at her. She didn’t smile back. Television voices wafted down the hall. Puzzled, she cocked her head. She perked up and listened.
Was that the news? He always watches the news.
Excitement tickled her stomach like bubbles in a soft drink. She tore off her shoes, dropping Cinderella in the middle of the floor.
She raced through the hall. Expectation, like on Christmas morning, beamed on her face. Bursting into the living room, she stumbled to a stop. Expectation plummeted. It knotted in her stomach. Her shoulders dragged down.
He wasn’t there.
She closed her eyes tight. Maybe if she wished hard enough, he would appear.
Please, please, please.
She opened them again. Nothing: no Daddy sitting on the yellow-gold rocking chair, feet propped up on the brown ottoman; no Daddy drinking Pepsi. No twinkle in his eyes.
“Hey, there, Miss Muffet. Come up here on your tuffet,” he’d say as he patted his lap.
She couldn’t crawl up into that lap and snuggle. There was no scent of the day’s work on him to sniff. The memory of his sandpaper chin on top of her head made it itch, even now. Hope sighed.
His empty chair occupied the room. She focused on the dent where they watched Saturday morning cartoons together. She sat on one side, her older brother on the other. The three of them over-filled the chair. Daddy squeezed her every time he sipped his coffee.
Heart pounding from exertion, she emerged from a dark wood and sat on a large rock to catch her breath. A line of sweat crowned her head, drips falling, sticking stray hairs to her cheeks and forehead. She pushed them back. A dry thirst coated her mouth and throat. In the open air a light breeze offered to cool her, and she closed her eyes, receiving the gift. A few minutes passed. Her heart slower, her breathing even, she looked up and surveyed what lie ahead.
The sunless, early morning granted enough light for her to see a meadow. Dotted with warm, yellow buttercups and white daisies, it bid her come and rest a while. From across the meadow she heard a song sparrow echo the invitation, and followed its welcome.
An old well appeared in front of her. Dirt and dust formed in the mortar around the stones where it cracked and crumbled. She swallowed and a spark of hope rose in her chest. Peering under the weather-worn, wood roof she looked for a bucket. Her shoulders slumped when all she found were spider webs and a dry, mud-packed, abandoned bird’s nest. She slunk to the ground. As she leaned against the well wall small pieces of mortar loosened and fell beside her.
I return from my latest “promise-making” and pause by the crystal river that flows by the tree of life. I listen to the chorus of Holy, holy, holy coming from the throne room, and watch as the light of my essence waltzes with the rippling water. The Ancient One and Michael approach me.
“It is time to fulfill a promise we made,” the Ancient One says. My heart startles at the weight in his tone. I look at him and furrow my brow in question.
He continues. “Years ago, you visited an infant in a small town, during a Vacation Bible School. You spoke over her our promise. Though she would be silenced for a time; it would come to an end. It is time to completely undo her silencing.”
My mind travels back. I remember a townhall on a summer morning and an infant in a crib tucked in the corner of the room. I remember a grandmother and her small grandson pulling weeds in a flower garden. I remember the deceiver, his face distorted with sinister glee as a young mother pronounced silence over the infant. Pain stabs my heart. I recall how I went to the infant, how she watched the light of my essence dance with the sunlight. I remember the affection I poured into her with my touch. And the promise. A slight smile curves my lips upwards and I nod.
Michael, the commander of heaven’s army, and the Ancient One have sent me on a mission. My task is to speak a promise over a helpless infant. I arrive at the townhall just as a small boy and his grandmother walk hand-in-hand up the steps to the bright red door. Warmth spreads across my chest as I witness these two, happy in each other’s company. I follow them in and wait.
The program is about to start. The young mother collects the infant from where her cousin plays with her. The deceiver slithers in and follows them to the crib off in the far, front corner of the room. As the young mother gathers a blue blanket to give to the infant, the deceiver leans in and whispers in the mother’s ear. She speaks. He then encourages the infant, lifting her hand. An evil smile spreads across his face as the infant plugs her mouth with her thumb.
The wind outside picks up and a gray cloud moves through the sky, darkening the sun. I shiver, not because I’m cold, but because I know the sinister power in this moment. The deceiver and I are the only two in the room who understand its impact.
He looks up and notices me. Until now, he was so intent on his malicious plan, he was unaware of my presence. My confident gaze challenges him and the malevolent glee on his face falls. He slinks away, his face pinched in annoyance.
Picture, if you will, an outdoor café on a quiet street in the early morning. Three friends sit around a small table enjoying coffee, croissants, and conversation. Mozart symphonies play and sparrows hop around, collecting fallen crumbs. It is in such an atmosphere where we, The Ancient One, Michael, and I, find ourselves. Of course, where we are, there are no cafes and the music of angels replaces Mozart’s.
Like movements in a sonata, our conversation moves to serious tones.
“You know she’s going to comply with her young mother’s words, believing that only submission will achieve longed-for connection.” Michael’s voice falls flat.
The Ancient One nods, “Yes, I know.” His voice drifts through the air like the deep notes of a cello. The loss weighs heavy.
Michael’s voice rises in frustration. “An infant in need of attachment, who speaks the language of touch. A young mother, unaware of consequences, desiring to raise her daughter well-disciplined, acts from fears that holding the infant will spoil her. So the infant is left wanting.” His words resonate with sadness. “And the infant will trade her voice for the approval of her mother. “
The Ancient One stands and begins pacing. “A master manipulator.” His voice crescendos, “The deceiver weaves a web of confusion, using people’s needs and desires against them.” He stops and looks at Michael. “And the words,” he pauses. “If humanity only understood the power unleashed in what seem like benign words.” He begins pacing again. “The deceiver will use the mother’s words, distort the message to the infant, and the tender-hearted child will believe that silence and compliance are the only way to love and belonging.” He sits with a thump.
Years earlier the town council purchased the old country church. With moderate renovations, they converted it into the town hall. Five wooden steps led up to the bright red door, a sharp contrast to the pale green building. The small boy spotted the familiar woman with salt-and-pepper hair. She bent down in one of the flower beds beside the steps.
“There’s Grammie,” the small boy exclaimed. “Can I go see her?”
Not waiting for a reply, the small boy pulled the door handle, pushed hard, and dashed out. “Grammie,” he exclaimed, running. The grandmother turned; arms open. The small boy slammed into her. Teetering, she caught herself.
“Whoa there, cowboy, you’re about to knock me over.” She swallowed the small boy in her big hug. The sun warmed the morning air.
“I’ve missed you so much,” the small boy lamented, tightening his arms around her neck.
“Missed me?” his grandmother smiled. She pulled back and looked him in the eye. “You just saw me yesterday.”
The small boy took his grandmother’s face in his small hands. “But yesterday was so long ago,” he expression serious, “I really missed you.” He kissed her cheek.
A cool breeze brought a song sparrow who landed on the edge of a birdbath. The tiny bird shared its cheery tune. The small boy and his grandmother held each other’s eyes for a moment. The grandmother grinned and winked at the small boy.
“Well, then,” she said, releasing her embrace, “stay here with me. You can help me capture the bad guys who are invading the gardens.” The small boy’s face broke into a smile.
“Oh, yes. I’m good at catching bad guys.” his eyes danced as he began his hunt.
Infant and diaper bag in hand, with the blue blanket draped over her shoulder, the young mother walked to where the small boy worked alongside his grandmother. “Let’s go inside,” she said to the small boy. The small boy stopped, a blade of grass in hand, and looked at his mother. He held his breath, not wanting to go indoors yet.
The sun shone through the crack between the drapes in the small bedroom and woke the young mother. Yawning, she noticed the dent in the pillow beside her and remembered the quiet “I’m off to work” spoken while the room was still dark. She glanced at the clock. “I better get up and get going,” she muttered to herself. I don’t have a lot of time before VBS starts.
Vroom sounds came from the small boy’s bedroom. She tip-toed down the hall to the bathroom. Back in her room, she eyed the clothes in her closet. What can I wear? She asked wanting to look good and comfortable. Choosing a pair of brown hot pants, she topped off the outfit with a pink-striped, short-sleeve knit shirt. Her long, brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, she applied a quick layer of mascara. A final look in the mirror, a nod of approval, and she went to attend to the children.
“Let’s go for a drive,” the small boy said. He stood beside the crib weaving a purple racecar in and out of the slats. “Here, you can use this one.” He handed the infant a red station wagon.
The infant, who sat next to a balled-up blue blanket, took it, and promptly put it in her mouth. “No, baby. Yuck,” he reached in and pulled her hand from her mouth. “Like this.” He helped her put the car on the mattress and moved her hand. “Vroom. See.” He looked up as the young mother entered the room.