As She Slept
“Mommy, I want to write a letter to Daddy. Can you help me to mail it?”
“Of course, sweetheart. As soon as you are ready to put it in an envelope I’ll be happy to help you to get it off to your daddy.”
“But, what should I write? It’s been ever so long since I’ve seen him last. Should I write about school and my new friend from across the street? Oh, I know. I should tell him about the pretty new dress and matching ribbon and anklets that you bought me for my birthday!”
As mommy was pulling her stamps.com coupon from her files, she responded to her child. “Those are all very good ideas, my darling. Your daddy loves to hear from you. He’s in a bad way and your letters always brighten him up.”
“When is Daddy coming back home? I want him to come back. I want to dance with him and sing funny songs. He used to be such a funny man. Why did he have to change?”
Mommy did not know how to answer that question to a six year old child. How could she tell her daughter that her daddy had lost his job and tried hard to find another one. She tried to think of a way to tell her precious daughter that daddy got so stressed that he began to change, that he was so desperate to take care of his family that he did something inexcusable. How could she tell her daughter that he lost his mind? “I don’t know, dear. I just don’t know.”
Mommy put the letter in an envelope and affixed her stamp to the outside. It went out with the daily post.
The doctors were not sure what was happening to the man. He was catatonic, barely able to even chew his food. They were worried that he would require an IV just to stay alive. Then the post arrived and he received a letter. The writing on the envelope was very juvenile, addressed just to “Daddy” but the back of the flap indicated this patient was the lucky recipient of a letter from home. The letter said
“Dear Daddy. I miss you so very much. I wish that we could dance again. I loved to rest my feet on your big old shoes and let you spin me around the floor. Mommy bought me a pretty pink dress with a matching ribbon and anklets. I have put a picture in here so you can see how pretty I am in the dress mommy got me. I did not hear from you on my birthday, and that made me sad, but Mommy says that you are very busy and maybe just did not have the time. I know that you will come home soon, daddy. I can’t wait to dance with you again and sing funny songs.
I love you,
When the orderly read the letter to the man, it was like his eyes lit up. He looked almost happy. Then at the end of the letter he looked at the orderly and a tear ran down his cheek. He was responding to the letter from his daughter with such emotion that the orderly called for the doctor.
When the doctor arrived at the man’s room he was astounded to see that he was sitting up and holding onto the letter from his daughter. When he heard the doctor gasp, he turned and looked right at him, instead of through him as was the typical response. The psychiatrist immediately rushed from the room and made a phone call.
“Yes, Doctor, I understand. I’ll find someone to watch Miranda and will be right there. This is such good news!” Mommy was in such an excited state that she practically forgot to pick up her purse when she ran for the door. “Mommy, why are you so happy?” “Daddy’s coming home soon, baby!” Both held hands and jumped for joy at the news. “Daddy’s coming home!” they sang in unison.
A cab pulled up in front of the house and a woman in a pillbox hat came out of the door. She leaned over to pay the cabbie, a bit too far, and her chubby thighs showed below the back of her tweed skirt. She was a frumpy little lady, but looked good natured. “The sitter is here, Miranda!” Mommy called out from the front door.
Miranda was a little confused. She did not know that she was going to be staying behind. Her mommy did not tell her that. She looked from behind her mommy’s hip and saw the pleasant woman walking up the drive. The woman got to the doorway and introduced herself as Mrs. Periwinkle. Mommy shook her hand and gave her a list of phone numbers. She did a quick introduction between Miranda and Mrs. Periwinkle and then waved for the cab to hold on for her. The cabbie waved back.
Once Miranda and Mrs. Periwinkle were introduced and felt comfortable, mommy left, kissing Miranda on the forehead, on her way out the door. “Daddy’s going to be with you, right?” she shouted as mommy opened the door to the cab. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
The man was now fully dressed, even down to socks and shoes. He tied his necktie and was waiting for the doctor to return. The life returned to his face. He felt as though he’d been in a very long sleep and was ready to wake up. He asked the orderly what day it was. “It’s the fifth of June, sir.” “Really? I have taken quite the nap. Nearly seven months!” he smiled as the orderly nodded politely and left the room.
Suddenly the door opened up. The man sitting on the chair looked up, expecting to see the doctor in his white coat and blue slacks. Instead he saw a vision standing, nearly glowing, in the doorway. His wife was here to visit him. He wondered if she had ever come before while he was sleeping. “I’ve been waiting for you to look back at me for months!” she cried as she ran into the room and they grasped each other with such intensity that if physics had allowed, they would have become one person.
“You smell as sweet as fresh grown grass” he told her as he wanted to take every inch of her in. He touched her hair and her cheek. He pulled away and then embraced her once more. He drank in every glance, and wanted to see her again and again. He barely believed his eyes. If he was not touching her he would surely have considered her to be a mirage.
“Are you coming home with me, or not?” she asked him with a look of feigned curiosity. She had already spoken to the doctor and he told her that all the papers were in order and she could come and take him home. “I am not sure. Do you want me to?” he said, coyly. He was back, for sure!
Miranda was a ball of nerves and excitement. Mrs. Periwinkle was having the time of her life listening to Miranda’s stories about her father, and watching her move quickly across the floor, dancing and singing all the while. “What a charming little thing you are.” she told the child. “I know that I can be a handful. My mommy tells me all the time that I should really try to sit down more. I’m just so excited.”
“Daddy is coming home soon. I want Daddy to come and sing funny songs, and dance with me. I am so excited!” “You already said that, my dear.” Miranda grinned.
Miranda finally ran out of steam and sat down beside of Mrs. Periwinkle. She smelled of lilacs and jasmine. Not usual scents for an older lady. Miranda was thankful that she did not smell of musk and mothballs. “You are not like my other babysitters. You seem to just let me have fun. That is a nice change.”
“You are such a mature and polite child. I cannot think of anything I’d want to do more than to watch you play and dance and sing. You bring youth to my life, and that is never a bad thing.” Mrs. Periwinkle looked at Miranda once more, but there was something different in her expression. It was more serious than the words would have indicated.
Miranda stood up abruptly, muttered something about the bathroom, and scooted away. Maybe she was imagining the change in the old woman’s mood. It was hard to tell, but she felt tired, like she had run for miles. When she came back into the living room she told Mrs. Periwinkle that she would like to take a nap. The woman obliged.
The cab pulled up once again in front of the house. Mrs. Periwinkle greeted the man and woman with a smile. Somehow she looked different, but Mommy could not tell why. She’d only just met her a few hours before, and did not pay that close attention to the woman’s appearance. She just looked—thinner. Mrs. Periwinkle told the couple that Miranda was napping, that she had run herself ragged. She then smiled, got into the cab and left. Mommy realized that she did not pay the woman. “If she is concerned, she will come back.” She said half outloud.
Mommy and Daddy walked into the house. He took the deepest breath that he could handle. Miranda had picked some flowers and put them all over the house. She put a note on the table that said “Welcome home, Daddy. I hope you are here.” The man smiled. His wife told him that she told Miranda that she was not certain if he would be home today.
They both took the quiet time opportunity to catch up. Mommy had been taking pictures of Miranda every two weeks and putting them in a special album labeled “Daddy” on the outside in bright red crayon. Before they even opened up the book, he kept tracing his finger across the letters on the front. “She never let a day go by without talking about you or writing to you.”
“She’s the reason I’m home. I got that letter from her the other day and I just woke up. My little angel was my blessing, indeed!” Mommy gave him another big hug and a kiss.
Then they opened up the album and every page was littered with many photographs of Miranda as she was changing. Six year olds can change a great deal in two weeks, let alone seven months. After they went through the carefully chronologically cataloged photos they decided to check on Miranda.
They crept quietly up the stairs to Miranda’s bedroom. On the outside of the door there was a picture of all three of them. It was taped up with blue and pink tape. Again, he paused to look at the picture of the three of them. They would be a big happy family again!
When they opened the door, something seemed odd. Miranda was lying there but she looked very different. The pretty pink dress seemed inches shorter, Miranda’s face looked more mature, not that of a 6 year old. When she heard the noise of the door opening she groggily opened her eyes and saw her daddy. She leapt from the bed and ran to hug him. Her head reached his rib cage. She grew practically a foot from when her mommy left her just that morning.
“How is it that I left a little girl and now have a teenager?” Mommy asked. Miranda had no idea what her mommy was talking about. She ran to the mirror and looked at herself. She screamed! “I have grown so much! How could I grow that much? I only slept for an hour!” Then mommy thought back to the babysitter. She did not know anything about her, where she came from, although she did call a sitter service. She just presumed that is where Mrs. Periwinkle came from.
“I wonder what happened? Mrs. Periwinkle seemed so sweet. She was kind to me before I left. Miranda, was she OK while I was gone?”
Miranda was still upset. She told her mother that the babysitter was great. She let her play and dance and sing until she got so tired that she had to fall asleep. “She did say one strange thing. She said that I brought youth to her life. What do you suppose she meant by that?”
“I don’t know, Miranda, but I mean to find out.”
Mrs. Periwinkle arrived at her home and took off her jacket and pillbox hat. She set her purse by the door on the tiny table and then rushed through the house to her bedroom. She had to see if it worked.
She got close to the mirror, merely inches away, and saw her wrinkles seemed to be smaller. Her eyes were not all squinted up like they were this morning. She pulled out the photograph that she took that morning and she clearly lost about ten years off her face. Then she stepped back. Her tweed skirt no longer hiked up as she turned around. It was very loose, hanging off her hips as though it were afraid to come off completely in the next moment. Her blouse fit her as though she had donned the shirt of a burly man. “It worked!” she said as she danced around the room. “That old witch had just the right idea.” “Now I can get the man that I dream of. Now I look like a beautiful young woman again!”
The old witch called her on the phone. "Did I promise you your youth?" "Yes, you did" replied Mrs. Periwinkle. "I got half of what I wanted. Now I have to get the man that I did all this for. Too bad about that little girl. She lost most of her childhood, but for a good cause."
"It's time to give me what you owe me, then." the witch replied, greedily. The babysitter said that she still had time, that the purpose of the youthful look was for the man, and if she did not get the man then the deal was off. This angered the witch but she agreed.
Mrs. Periwinkle went to where he worked. She showed up with a new hair style, some pretty colorful clothes, and a nice smile. "Periwinkle, is that you?" a familiar voice asked. "Yes, it's me, Jeanette. Don't you recognize me? I've had some 'er' work done."
"Well, you look great! Hey, I have someone I want you to meet!" he ushered a young woman over. "Is that your niece?" she asked. "No, she's my fiance'. We're to be married in September." "That's wonderful! You make a beautiful couple!" Mrs. Periwinkle remarked. The spark was now gone from her eyes. "Well, I best be off!" The man and woman waved as she walked away, a little less skip in her step.
She called the witch and said that the deal was off. The man had another woman and he was not interested in her. All the work she had done, all the inconvenience to the other family. She was distraught and was going to take it out on the witch.
The witch said "Then we are done" and hung up the phone.
Three days later Mrs. Periwinkle was found lying on the floor of her entryway. She somehow looked older.