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Magic Nation

by DL Shirey

part 1

My legs don’t work right. Mommy says my muscles are little-boy size and will catch up to me some day. I am eight and a half. Daddy thinks I should go out and play more, but it’s hard to keep up. I can run without my crutches on flat ground pretty good, but I still fall too much. Daddy takes me to the park a lot and says I don’t need to use crutches when I play on grass. He says Mommy’s right about sidewalks and streets, to always use my crutches or I can fall down and skin my knees.

I have a wheelchair, but Daddy hates it. He said that it will make my body lazy and I should use the crutches and keep strong. When he takes me out on Daddy Weekends, he leaves the wheelchair in Mommy’s garage. He tells Mommy I get around good enough without it, but Mommy thinks I need it sometimes. Grown-ups are funny.

I like the wheelchair when it’s in the garage. I sit in it and play race-car driver. One of the best parts about coming home after Daddy Weekends is to go in the garage and play. If I play hard enough and do it right before bed, I will dream about race cars. I like race cars.

Mommy thinks I’m weird because I brush my teeth and put on PJ’s way before bedtime. When she asks why, I tell her I don’t want to dream about toothbrushes all night, that race cars are better. She doesn’t get it.

Whatever I do just before bedtime, I dream about. So I have to be careful what I do right before. Like with Mommy’s TV shows; she always wants to snuggle with me on the couch before I go to bed. If I don’t think real hard about something else, TV-show guys will pop into my dreams. Unless I’m careful, stuff gets in when I sleep.

I’ve got Dream Makers, just in case.

My three Dream Makers are in a scrapbook Mommy gave me. Mommy likes crafts, has boxes of beads and ribbons and paints, and all kinds of books about making stuff. She has stacks of old magazines that she cuts up, then she glues all the different pictures together. Calls it a cladge. I asked her to show me how to make a cladge. That’s when Dream Makers started. But like I said, they’ve got to be used just before bedtime, and there are rules to make them work.

All three Dream Makers have special bookmarks. I can tell which one’s which, even in the dark. It’s important to open the book straight to the one I want because if I see any of the other pictures, it won’t work.

A Dream Maker is two pages wide so when I hold the scrapbook close to my face, all I see is the cladge. I fill myself with the pictures and think only about them. That way no bad things can get into my dreams. How could they? The cladge makes me feel good, keeps me safe.

But, if my eyes catch anything around the edges of the page, it won’t work. Daddy got me a miner’s lamp when we went camping once, a no-hands flashlight for my head. I use that, lying flat on my back on the bottom bunk. I pull the cladge up to my face, like a tent, until my eyes hurt from seeing it so close. Then I count back from thirty, real slow, trying not to blink. If I blink before zero, I have to start over again. At zero, I close my eyes and set the scrapbook down. I can take off my miner’s lamp because the cladge will stay lit on the dark of my eyes. And then dreams will come, all good dreams.

I don’t do Dream Makers all the time. Like when I play race-car driver. I can make-believe hard, like I’m really in a race, and hold it in my head when I count back from thirty. But these kinds of dreams can get goofed up sometimes. I’ll be in a race car, like I want, but the man at the finish line with the flag might be a guy from Mommy’s TV shows, or Daddy, or it might be Lilla.

Lilla is Daddy’s new wife. Mommy calls her Mrs. Granola, but I like her real name. Lilla’s nice.

When I wake up from dreams, it helps to think about them for a while. Dream Maker dreams are always good, and the only morning thing I do is say, “Thank you, God” ten times slow. Mommy says God gave us life and keeps us good, so I thank Him for my Dream Maker dreams.

For the other dreams I’ll think about the goofs and fix them. I can put the right face on finish-line man instead of the guy from TV or Daddy or Lilla. Then I say, “Thank you, God” once, because I’m not really thanking Him, but asking to take the goofs out when I dream next time.

* * *

When I wake up this morning, I don’t thank God for my dreams. The first thing I see is my new Chinese puzzle box on the dresser. It’s new to me, but the man said it was old. I don’t know how it works. I mean I do know how it works; I just haven’t figured how to open this one yet.

Yesterday, Daddy and Lilla and me went for a ride and stopped at a place with a bunch of old stores. When Daddy was with Mommy, we went to yard sales together. With Lilla, Daddy tries to find someone called auntie king. She can only be found in old stores, I guess, where people collect and sell old stuff. They never find auntie king, but Daddy and Lilla drive everywhere looking for her.

The man at this one store had lots of Chinese boxes. Chinese means it’s from China, an old country across the ocean with a big wall around it. And all these wooden boxes came from there. Some had metal locks, others had fancy carving on the wood. But plain old puzzle boxes were the man’s favorite, and he showed me how they worked. “One, two, three, four, five six.” He counted the sides of the box. Then he slid number three down like a hidden door Shaggy found on Scoobie Doo. There was more wood underneath, but the man pushed someplace and it was like a Jenga piece popped out on the other side. This let him push a secret panel on side six and, when it did, the box popped open. There was nothing in it, but that didn’t matter, the puzzle was figuring out how to get inside.

I looked at Daddy, then the box, and made a face like I really wanted it. I really did, but it’s easy to get stuff from Daddy now that he’s not with Mommy. Anyway, he said yes, but the man behind the counter wouldn’t give me the one we just opened. He pulled down another box from the shelf.

When he reached up, I noticed his fingernails. They were long like Lilla’s but on him they looked creepy. I got this weird feeling when he touched the box on the shelf. It made my tummy feel bad when he brought it down. The man said he wouldn’t show me how to open this box; that it was up to me to solve the puzzle. Then he said there was a surprise inside just for me.

I wanted to jiggle it, but the man said not too hard, the surprise was fragile. Daddy said fragile means it can break easy. So I tipped the Chinese puzzle box a little and heard the surprise thump inside. Hearing the thump made my tummy feel bad again; not throw-up bad, just a little icky.

Looking at the box now reminds me of my tummy. It doesn’t feel bad when I don’t hold the box. I really want to see what’s inside the box, but I don’t want to feel icky again. Mommy would say just don’t touch it. Daddy would tell me to be brave. Lilla would say to listen to the voice inside me and use my magic nation.

Lilla calls it magic nation, Miss Bechler calls it daydreams. It’s where I go when I need to think hard. It’s like being asleep when I’m wide awake. Miss Bechler, my teacher, says I daydream a lot, but it’s harder at school to use my magic nation.

Here in bed is a good place. It’s quiet, and there’s a spot to stare at. That’s the trick, not letting my eyes move from one spot. There’s a sticker from a banana I stuck to the bottom of the bunk bed above me. It’s got the word DOLE on it and the O looks like a yellow sun. That’s what I look at when I daydream in bed. If I stare at it long enough, hard enough, the yellow in the sun covers everything around me, like it was colored with crayons. All the stuff I see to the very edges of my sight, the whole room around me, turns yellow.

Daydreams are totally different than Dream Maker dreams. When yellow is boss, whatever it wants me to think about pops into my magic nation. I don’t know what the daydream will be about, but I can feel it coming. I know exactly when it will start. In the back of my mind I hear jack-in-the-box music, that Weasel Song. And when the music gets to the part where it’s going to pop, the thing I’m supposed to daydream about jumps into my head.

Like today, the more I lie in bed and stare at the spot, the yellower the room becomes. Then pop goes the Chinese puzzle box. It’s like the box floated over from my dresser and is hanging right in front of me. I know it’s not really real, just my magic nation. But I can reach out with my daydream hands and touch it, feel the sharp corners and how smooth the sides are. One, two, three, four, five six. My daydream hands make sides one and five move, but I don’t know which one first or where to find the Jenga piece. I push everywhere, trying to find the things that move.

That’s when the jack-in-the-box music starts up again; this time the Weasel Song is slow and out of tune, almost like the pop will never get there. Then I get the icky feeling again, like I don’t want to see the pop. I know the popping thing will scare me. So I try to pull my eyes from the banana sticker and stop the yellow, but my eyes don’t want to look away. Yellow is the boss, not me. I cannot move or close my eyes and the Weasel Song is getting ready to pop. I don’t want to see it, so the only thing left to do is scream.

The monster’s face is there for just a second, long enough to scare me but gone before I can tell what it really looks like. It comes out of the wood of the Chinese puzzle box, like the face is on the inside, pressing against the wood, trying to get out. My scream makes all the yellow go away, and the box is on my dresser, where it’s supposed to be.

Mommy opens the door and, when I tell her I saw something scary, Mommy says I was dreaming. She says dreams won’t hurt me and to get up and get ready for school.

Mommy doesn’t know anything about dreams.

* * *

Recess is fun when teachers let me play. The school playground is all fences and blacktop, but no grass. The school tries to make the playground fun by painting white lines for playing games, like four square, hopscotch and big circles around the tetherballs. No grass means I can’t play without my crutches, and teachers wouldn’t let me anyway because they don’t want me to hurt myself.

There’s sawdust around the swing set, so teachers leave me alone there. Daddy taught me how to swing at the park. That was after his new house with Lilla. Before that, Mommy would push me back and forth a little, not high like I like to go. Whenever Daddy tried to teach me, Mommy would make him stop.

One of the first Daddy Weekends, he taught me about lever edge. He said it wasn’t the legs that made you swing higher, it was the arms. And my arms are strong. Daddy said lever edge is when you give a big pull on the chains, just when you feel the swing go forward. It works. The more I pull, the higher I go, and my feet shoot up to the sky. Then I ride the swing back down and lever edge even more going back up.

I’m good at swings.

The best part about swinging is the blur. It kind of makes my head feel buzzy. It’s a good daydream place, too, because swinging makes the sky and blacktop and school and trees across the street smoosh together. Even sounds run together, so if there’s a Weasel Song, I can’t hear it. The blur keeps me from staring at only one spot. There’s no banana sticker, no yellow. Blur is boss, and it lets me use my magic nation the way I want.

I like to swing with Kimmy Shiller. She’s nice. Kimmy taught me how to start swinging without anyone to push me. She showed me how to kick hard off the ground, but my legs don’t work good that way. So Kimmy made me sit and walk backwards with my butt in the swing until I couldn’t go back no more. I had to stand on my tiptoes. Then all I had to do was lever edge and pull my feet up. It worked. Kimmy called it a standing start. She also showed me how she can spit between her teeth while she’s smiling.

Sometimes Kimmy and I race to see who can swing highest fastest from a standing start. You know you’re at the top when your butt comes out of the swing a little bit. Not enough to fall, but you feel your butt lift out just for a second, then it slaps back down in the seat again. It’s scary, but fun-scary and the first one to the top wins.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2020 by DL Shirey

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