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Zoe - A Perfect Life in an Imperfect World - A Children's Narrative for Adults and the Children Inside Them.

 

Zoë

 

A Perfect Life in an Imperfect World

 

A children's narrative for adults and the children inside them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Mottle

 

Hello.  So you're off on a journey, are you?  With nothing packed?  No baggage?  No luggage of any kind?  No, I suppose not.  Lucky for you, you don't need any for the tagalong you're about to embark upon.  For this particular excursion, all you need is the book you're holding, and perhaps your favorite bookmarker.  We wouldn't want you to have trouble finding your place again, now would we?

     Now, I suppose any proper introduction starts with an exchange.  And to be more precise, an exchange of names.  Mine is Mottle.  And yours?  A pleasure, I assure you.  But do understand, there are many more of you and therefore, many names to remember, so please don't be too put off if I refer to you as Little One.  It just helps keep things simple, wouldn't you agree? 

     Oh dear.  It appears that some of you have now furled your brow and pursed your lips together and would probably be crossing your arms right about now if you had both hands free.  I know what you're thinking.  'Pfft.  Little One ?  Why, I'm all grown up!  Big and tall! Aren't I a bit old for such a nickname?'  The fact of the matter is, YES, you are a bit old.  Fortunately for you, however, this is a situation that can be remedied.  You see, for this adventure, you need only be young at heart, or young in mind, or both, whichever you prefer.  So, before we go any further, why don't you try taking a deep breath, eh?  And as your chest expands try to actually feel the beating organ within it.  No, not with your hands, that looks ridiculous.  I do hope you're not in public. 

     Rather, try to become aware of its presence within you.  Don't give me that look.  It's possible.    You can do it!  You merely need to remember all the way back to a time in which you felt its voracious beat to be most aflutter.  Then, capture that feeling, or rather, recapture it.  It could be the moment you first saw the love of your life, or perhaps when your firstborn child took its first step.  Only you can decide which memory is best suited for the task.   

     Have you got it now?  Located its aura within that ribcage of yours?  Excellent.   Now, all you need to do, is open it.  Pierce through the calloused exterior hardened by many years worth of tragedy or heartache and find the child resting within that you enshrouded some time ago.  Quite a difficult task, isn't it?  You may have to dig quite deep.  Past the layers of disbelief.  Past the facade of maturity.  And much further past the roots of your insecurities.  Despite all these obstacles, I have the utmost confidence in your ability to bypass your propensity for adulthood and discover the everlasting source of youth known as your inner child.

     Ah!  There we are.  Well, look at you!  Aren't you a cute little bugger!  Innocent and young.  Fresh and naïve.  Filled with awe and wonderment at even the simplest of pleasures.  Just the right person for this excursion.  Now, DON'T cover the little sprog back over again!  Now that you've found your inner Little One, let's hold onto them for the remainder of the story, shall we?  You remember the Buddy System, right?  Well grab hold of the hand of this little person inside you and get all snuggly.  You're going to need their help to get the most of this tale. 

     What is more, I feel it necessary to add a little hiccup to your partnership.  You see, there are a whole slew of speedbumbs that we shall encounter on our way, and though it would normally be appropriate for the adult to escort the child through such adversities, don't.  Switch that.  Reverse it.  Swivel it around all arsy-tarsy.  The adult version of you should be the one playing Follow the Leader, not the other way around.  So every time you feel the tinge of doubt, or unbelievability creeping into your cranium, look down at Little One.  Look at their face.  Wide-eyed.  Smiling.  Eager to experience life and be tickled pink at the emergence of even the smallest representation of its many gifts.  And then, throw caution to the wind, and follow their example.  You won't regret it.  I promise.         

     Now that all those ducks are in a row, I suppose it would now be appropriate for me to tell you a little about myself.  In effect, I believe it would be best to describe me as your narrator.  Tour guide, even.  You see, as the story unfolds for the both of us, I'll be drawing your attention to the right place at precisely the right time so that you don't miss any of the juicy details or tidbits of perfectly placed prose.  Do please trust my judgment in these matters.  I am only here to help and after years of experience, I am quite skilled at navigating a storyline.  Rest assured, you will not miss a thing.  Besides, I highly doubt our main characters would appreciate its audience flying around from scene to scene all willy nilly, now would they?  Certainly not.

     Well I've told you who I am, now how about you?  Tell me a little bit about yourself.  What is it that makes you, you?  What qualities of yours do you cherish?  Which parts separate you from others and make you unique?  Put the book down and think about it if it helps.  Remember, this is all a journey through your own imagination, therefore if you fib, you're really only hurting yourself.  Understood?  So take your time, there’s no rush!  Ponder over it, and then come back with an answer coated with sincerity.  You might find that your inner reflection surprises even yourself.

 

 

 

Surprise

 

All set?  Aren't you proud of yourself?  You're really starting this trip off perfectly, now aren't you?  Are you ready for your first big surprise?  Smashing. 

     The truth is, this story is about you. 

     Oh yes, I see the smirks and scowls of all those who are currently thinking to themselves, 'This busker's gone mad!  He doesn't even know me and yet he's claiming to have a whole novel written about me?'  

     Ahem, what did we say about following your inner child?  If you cared to look at Little One, you would have noticed the poor sprout was positively thrilled when I said this story was about them.  Now, emulate that excitement, and you will find that all mysteries will be explained in time.

     Now, allow me to elaborate.  You see, I can confidently assert that this story is about you regardless of exactly who you are because it delves in commonalities.  No matter what gender, race, or unique physical features you possess that separate you from the person next to you, there are still very simple, yet complex, things that bind us all together.  Commonalities.  These things vary from the physical, (blood and guts and all the other icky things that keep us vertical) the emotional, (desires for joy, appreciation, and love) and yes, even the spiritual.  All these things combine into a vast array of something so infinitely complex, we could never understand it fully in a hundred lifetimes.  And yet, the word chosen to represent this convolution is so small and so simple to say.  Why don't we say it together once, just for funsies?  Life.

     Yes, this collection of words is really all about life.  And as is the case with all of life's lessons, there is a moral to be learned.  But let's not spoil the fun.  All in due time, dear reader.  All in due time.

     As for your somewhat…larger representation, please don't be too put off if we don't speak much for the remainder of the story.  It's nothing personal.  It's just that, well, as per the rules, you're not really supposed to be that involved anyway. 

     Not to say that you aren't important.  Little One will need you at certain times.  This is an adult book after all and as such, at times, it will have adult situations.  Not pornographic situations, mind you.  Do please attempt  to keep your mind out of the gutter, hmm?  But yes, unfortunately...there will be difficulties, nonetheless.  They cannot be prevented, sadly.  And, just between you and me, Little One has to see them too.  Your natural inclination will be to protect them and their eyes from the mental pictures given, as well you should, but they must see them. 

     Please don't misjudge me.  I assure you, I'm not some sadistic psychopath intent on exposing fragile minds to atrocities.  The truth is, simply put, you may not have the ability all on your own to react to some of the more difficult tragedies appropriately.  You see, adults have a way of becoming....desensitized to matters that really should be shocking and abhorrent.  It's not your fault really.  It's a natural reaction of the mind to numb itself from the pain of badness after it has been so frequently bombarded with evil.  But that erosion of conscience has no place here.  Alas, the only way to ensure that you view matters as you should, is if you are in the presence of a child.  Most persons, even those who have scraped through their entire life amidst the fecal droppings of corrupt humankind, would seek to protect the innocence of a youth if it was within their power to do so.  And since we absolutely cannot and must not expose such things to an actual child, your inner child will have to suffice.  Guard it as you would any other. 

     So, off we go then.  I'll take Little One's left hand, you take the right.  We must hurry now, or we'll be late.  After all, it's not very often we have the opportunity to witness the birth of a world....

 

 

 

 Birth

 

Here we are.  Paradise Valley Hospital.  The maternity ward.  Oh, and it appears we have arrived just in time.  There is a lovely young woman sprawled in a most unladylike fashion upon the delivery table.  And judging by the amount of sweat dripping from her temples and the ferocity in which she is gritting her teeth, I'd say the new world is almost here. 

     What's that Little One?  Why are we here in a hospital and not floating somewhere off in space, you ask?  As I mentioned, we are here to witness the birth of a world!  You see, though you may believe that this is merely a precursor to the existence of another little person, such as yourself, it really is so much more.  At any given time, there are billions upon billions of worlds contained within this one giant ball we call Earth.  Those worlds are called Perceptions.  Each perception is quite unique and it is quite impossible for any other single creature to duplicate its viewpoint. 

     That's right Little One!  In a manner of speaking, you are your own world!  As long as you hold breath, you have something quite special that no one can take away from you.  It's perfectly alright to smile.  In fact, you should giggle with delight, for you have been given a gift.  A wondrous gift that you should never take for granted. 

     Now, although you are very special in your own distinct way and we will be elated to elaborate on that viewpoint at a later juncture, we must not allow ourselves to be distracted.  What is about to occur is an event that is not to be missed.  Come along with me, Little One.  Let's position you off to the side of the laboring mother so as not to be in the way of the doctor attending to her blossoming cervix. 

     Just look at her!  She appears to be in quite a large amount of pain, doesn't she?  Her eyelids are clamped together so tightly, you would almost believe she was attempting to squeeze juice from her eyeballs.  In a way, I suppose she is!  The tiny drops of her tears escape and boast their freedom in the form of getaway tracks that slip-slide their way down her cheeks. 

    Aw, don't look so glum.  The momentary pain is for a good cause!  Maybe she just needs a bit of cheering, what do you say?  Shall we cheer her on?  Push!  Come on!  You can do it!  Puuuuush! Come on Little One, keep goading her on!  Yes!  That's it!  I think I hear something popping out.  Stay here, and keep encouraging her with all the gusto you can muster.  I just want to sneak a quick peek and make sure that all is going well. 

     Why, yes!  You did a wonderful job, Little One!  The baby is here in all its pink and slimy glory!  And do you hear that?  It's making a sound.  Oh, but isn't this unusual?  It simply couldn't be!  Never in the history of the world has this happened.  Do you hear it, Little One?  Why yes, I believe this little newborn is laughing!  She's sputtering forth the gushiest of giggles.  How astounding! 

     You may not know this Little One, but it is truly a marvel for a baby as fresh as this one to laugh out loud in this manner.  Usually it takes up to four months, and if the child has a particular talent for titters, possibly after a few weeks.  But never, no never, has a child laughed immediately upon exiting the womb.  No, Little One, not even you.  You cried like....well, like a baby when you were born.  You see, usually the experience is a bit traumatic for a human's first experience into the world, and altogether unpleasant.  But by and large, if this little creature hasn't found a way past the discomfort of a cramped expulsion and immediately found a motivation for happiness.  Kudos to the newborn!

     If I may, allow me to take another look and see if we can find the little bud, or the absence thereof, that will give us more insight into exactly what sort of homo-sapien this is.  Now, if I can just peer over the doctor's shoulder as he holds the cachinnating creature aloft.....why yes, well....it would appear our new little friend is a female.  No need to fuss, you'll get to see her soon enough.  As soon as her umbilical cord is severed and the nurse awards her a measure of dignity in the form of a warm blanket, we should have a perfect view of the new face as she is transferred into the loving embrace of her mother. 

     Ah yes, here we are.  Allow me to give you a boost Little One so you can see atop the bed here as this bundle of joy is handed over to proud parent.  What a joy!  Just look at that face, will you?  A perfectly round frame, the brightest emeralds for eyes I’ve ever seen, and just look at the strawberry color of those cheeks!  She is truly a prize, isn't she?  And she's still smiling.  What a happy child this is!  Apparently, it’s quite infectious.  Take a look around the room.  You can see nothing but teeth glistening forth from the widespread mouths of all the medical onlookers.  

     And who is this?  It appears we have a latecomer.   A handsome young man in humble attire is pushing his way past the orderlies with such urgency, you would believe he were in a hurry to give birth himself!   Ah, well as we can see by the large smile that has erupted on his face, we are forced to conclude this would be the proud papa.  We mustn’t interrupt now as we observe this touching moment shared by two lovebirds whose egg has just hatched…

 

“You made it,” Mother manages to whisper through quivering lips. 

     “I missed it.  I came as soon as I heard but I missed it all,”  Father replies, shadowed by remorse.

     “Hush, you did your best.  Now say hello to your new baby girl.”

     Father leans in and cocks his head as far sideways as possible in order to gain the best possible view of the source of the petite gurgles and coos.  As his smile broadens and he whispers his greeting, the emerald irises of the newborn shift upwards and burst with light as she recognizes the familiar voice she has heard spoken to her many times before through the muffled walls of her mother's flesh and placenta.

     “She's the most beautiful and happy baby I've ever seen..,” Father exclaims as his own eyes begin to moisten.

     “I know,” Mother acknowledges.  “You're not going to believe this, but I'm almost positive that she…giggled right after she was born.”

     “Is that even possible?”

     “I've never heard of such a thing,” Mother admits.

     “Well I suppose that's a good omen if I've ever heard one.”

     “I agree.”

     “So...it’s a girl.  That means-”

     “Yes, you pick the name,”  Mother concedes with a smile.

     “You know what my first choice is.  You're still okay with that?”

     “I like it.  I think it's very fitting.”

     “Well, that settles it then,” Father concludes.  Carefully, he rests his weathered palm on the tiny infant’s head as he turns his attention back to his newborn daughter.  Then, he softly kisses her forehead and breaths five words that stem from deep within the man’s chest.

     “Welcome to the family, Zoë.”  

 

Well, well.  That was truly a privilege to behold.  How special it must be for parents who are united with the person (or persons) they have waited nine months to meet.  Especially a child as beautiful and as talented as Zoë!  And this fortunate new soul was obviously born into a loving family with parents who truly desire to care for her well-being.  She is quite lucky, really.

     Sadly, not all parents appreciate the special gift they have been given when they bring a child into the world.  Some take the miracle for granted and either neglect, or even abuse, the fragile life that has been entrusted in their care.   In doing so, they deprive the life of the one thing it needs most of all to thrive and grow.  Love.

     That’s right, Little One, little tykes such as yourself need  love to grow appropriately.   Even the healthiest of newborns may die for no other reason than that they are wrested of love.   Why, it has even been discovered that a child that has been raised in the warmth of loving parents will even have a higher level of intelligence than those that do not.  Yes, it’s true!  So when you grow up to have a Little One of your own, might I make one suggestion?  Bathe that child in love.   I promise you with all my heart, no present you could ever offer would be greater. 

     So, our little Zoë is truly fortunate indeed to have been born into a family with parents who already understand that fact.   Pity, though.  She was given a rare and delightful opportunity to be born with such a mother and father and yet, the poor girl will never be given a fair chance to really get to know them.

 

 

The Sting    

 

Oh dear, it would seem that I have gone and upset you.  Don't look so distressed, Little One.  Zoë will be with them for a while.  Perhaps…not as long as most.  I probably shouldn't have said anything, it’s just that I didn't want you to be entirely devastated when we reach that scar in our storyline. 

     You must realize, sometimes bad things do happen.  Though many have the best of intentions, often times people make tiny mistakes or compromises that alter the outcome of their fragile lives into something tragic or unexpected.  But, all in all, things work out for the best if we really want them to, so chin up, okay?  Let's enjoy the moments we do have with our beloved ones while we have them.  We'll worry about the tragedies later, when and if they happen.   

     For now, though, we must go forward.   Not too far, really.  Just a few years down the road.  While on our way there, I'll bring you up to speed on the progress of our little Zoë.  She really is a delightful girl.  I'm sure you will love her.

    You see, Zoë is not simply an exuberantly happy child.  She is far more than that.  She is also, an advanced child.  A prodigy really.  At the age of three months, she began crawling when most infants take at least six.  Before her six month milestone, she could walk upright with no assistance and with the greatest of ease.  And by the time the girl had been breathing air for an entire year, she possessed a grasp of vocabulary that would have rivaled many children entering into their first year of Kindergarten.  This marvel of a toddler is extremely gifted.  A detail that escaped no one's notice, especially that of her parents.

     It is now, though, at the tender age of three that a very simple and common tragedy to children and adults alike awaken Zoë's guardians fully to just how truly special she may be.   The setting for such an awakening is here, in a field sprinkled with wildflowers.

     Apparently, our dear parents are reclining on their elbows with stuffed bellies after enjoying an afternoon picnic.  As the smell of recently ingested apple pie lingers amongst the aroma of floral effluence, Mother and Father are side by side and filled with smiles as the picturesque setting labels the entire excursion as nothing but perfect.    

     With the exception of the few stolen lover’s glances in each other’s direction, Mother and Father are now quite content to watch as their skipping youngster dances her way through the multicolored splotches of grass.  And skip she does!  Just look at the way Zoë chuckles and giggles as she reaches out and plucks paintbrushes, daisies, and forget-me-nots; joining their stems together until they are united into her own haphazard bouquet.  No doubt, upon completion, she will present her collection to her mother for either approval or perhaps as a tender gift of affection. 

     Oh, but look ahead will you?  It would appear that a few bees are buzzing about their business around some of the same kinds of blossoms our Zoë finds to be attractive.  And she is headed straight for them!  Oh no, this would be a dreadful way to end such a perfect day.  Look out, Zoë!  Of course, she can't hear us, our warnings are of no use at all.

     The poor girl.  She is so young and so oblivious to the dangers of the world.  I know what you're thinking.  It's just a bee.  They aren't malicious or sinister in any way.  She'd probably have to physically grasp the little bugger by the bottom to be in any real danger.  And even then, it would only be a little sting.  Nothing overly traumatic about this at all, you say?  Hmm?

     Well, Little One, allow me to broaden your horizons and expand your cranial lobe.  You see, what you may believe to be a mere prick, to another, could grow into a life-altering event.  This exponential growth of a seemingly minute perturbation is commonly referred to by the name of another seemingly innocent insect.  The butterfly.  Or, rather, the butterfly effect.  A common nickname for chaos theory.  Simply put, this theory insinuates that even the smallest of fluctuations, even the flutter of a butterfly's wing, could spawn a chain that inevitably leads to the altering of the path of something as devastatingly large as a tornado; or perhaps even lead to the creation of the vortex altogether.

     In literary terms, this is simply foreshadowing.  Which is remarkably similar to chaos theory in many ways.  But this particular chaos is harnessed and controlled so that readers such as yourself can follow the flutter of the butterfly's wing straight through to its grand finale as a swishing and swirling climax.

     So now as we return to see our little Zoë reaching her tiny hand and outstretched chubby digits for the particularly vibrant allure of a paintbrush blossom, a flower that has also caught one of the hundreds of eyes of a single honey bee, do try to be a little bit more concerned, hmm?  For what is about to transpire is merely a beginning.  And this instigation of a revelation is really our true genesis.

     Now, it would appear that our loving mother's natural instinct to protect her child from harm has honed in on the stingers aflutter within Zoë's proximity and has decided it best to come to her aide.  She has called out her warning to the little girl as she is reaching out to pluck a blush of red for her collection.  But because this particular burst of color is, in Zoë's mind, the last remaining hue to complete her floral palette, the precaution has been discarded for the impulses of youth. 

     And as her delicate hand envelopes the blossom and its winged inhabitant, her tiny fingers collapse around its crimson vibrance and our pollinating friend develops an instant sense of claustrophobia.   His survival instincts kick in and he panics, shimmying backwards until his pointed hinder sticks into Zoë's palm.  And as the tiny dagger pierces her skin, a toxin called melittin is released amongst a high concentration of nerve endings.  This sparks an instantaneous flash within her nociceptors which causes our young damsel in distress to retract her hand with the greatest of haste.  We may be in for an earful now, wouldn't you say Little One?    

     Our frightened flying companion takes his leave, and as expected, a cry is heard.  But, oddly enough, not from Zoë.  She has merely whimpered and reached back undaunted to pluck the final additive for her gifted arrangement.  No, rather, the cry came from Mother immediately after she witnessed the entire fiasco. 

     After her squeal of shock,  Mother rushes to her daughter's side and drops to her knees.  Zoë, apparently oblivious to any cause for concern, has elatedly presented her kneeling mother with the fruits of her labor.  Bypassing the braided stems, Mother reaches and overturns her little girl's wrist to inspect the integrity of her tender flesh.

     Oh, and how Mother's heart aches.  It cracks ever so slightly as she identifies the irritated bullseye of an irritation in the center of Zoë's palm.   Agonizing over the first obvious inauguration of pain for her spawn, our loving Mother strokes the wound with fingertips of empathy.  But, to her surprise and ours, the sore is dissipating!  It is simply melting away! 

     Mother's eyes widen as the redness of the bee's residual stamp deteriorates until Zoë's pad is entirely uniform and skin toned.  With a touch of disbelief, our loving mum rubs the nonexistent bump, wondering where it could have gone.  She then looks at her fingertips for a moment in awe.   Briefly, she considers the possibility that somehow her motherly powers include healing, or perhaps that she has managed to secrete some sort of accelerated salve onto the injury of her offspring.  

     Though delayed, logic now slides into her understanding.  It would appear Mother has just come around to grasp that which we have known all along.   Her face has turned to examine the true source of the inexplicableness.  Our little Zoë.  Right about now, Mother is recalling her daughter's reaction from the initial strike and realizing, as we have already come to embrace, that Zoë shook off the piercing as if it were a minor annoyance rather than a burst of severe discomfort.

     But look at Mother's face.  Look at her eyes, Little One.  What do you see?  Such a cocktail of emotions swishing around behind those orbs, yes?  If my vision serves me correctly, I'd say we have a little awe combined with curiosity, relief combined with perplexity, and just a splash of fear.  Now why do you suppose Mother would be afraid, Little One?  Do you think she believes there is something malicious within this tiny miracle?  No, you're right.  Probably not.  I doubt she believes there is even a subatomic particle of evil in something that she has incubated within her own tummy.  No, that's not it at all.

     Are you curious yet, Little One?  Would you like to find out what is troubling her?  You would?  Then off we go.  Don't be alarmed.  We needn't go far.  Simply later in the evening.  You see, Little One, women have a way of simmering worries in their bellies.  They allow the pressures of their speculation to bubble and pop until its flavor has been peaked.  But they don't keep it there.  No.  They serve it up!  They place it on a shiny platter and present it to their most trusted ally.  In this case, the lucky recipient is Father.

     But when father's ingest the same meal, it doesn't sink into their black hole of a stomach.  Oh no.  Quite the gravity-defier, worry is, inside a man.  Instead of being pulled downwards as everything should, it travels upwards.  Up through the nasal cavity and behind the eyes until it burrows its way into the blob of noodles we like to call a brain.  And there it sits.  Only to be batted around occasionally like a neglected ping pong ball.  Until eventually, the worry is splattered within the cranial walls and its true colors are revealed.  And then, and only then, does a man feel that he knows exactly what must be done.  

 

 

 

Conversation in Bed

 

Now we find ourselves in the tiny home where our family resides.   Zoë’s tuckered little body has been placed ever so gently into her bed and wrapped like an infantile mummy within blankets created by Mother’s own hand.  Sweet dreams were then wished upon her by soft kisses on the forehead from both Mother and Father.  And only after the little girl has arrived safely within her own private Neverland, does the amorous couple feel content to retire to their own designated place of slumber.  

     It is here, within this sacred chamber where our young Zoë was conceived, that we arrive to witness a beautiful exchange.  No, not that kind of exchange.  You see, one of the most important things loving couples do is share their viewpoints with one another.  For two people to really bond, all aspects of themselves and their thought processes must be accessible by the other.  That way, all neurological connections can be interlaced and tied together until the two become, almost literally, one mind.

     Secrets, on the other hand, are like...clumps in the paste, if you will.  No, secrets are no good at all!  Yet so often, those sneaky little demons creep into relationships and impede the whole process.  And that’s when the weaknesses form.  Like air pockets, they compromise the integrity of the fetters until, eventually, a hard enough blow knocks them right off their rockers!  And then they are left to rebuild, and sometimes, they don't bother to reconstruct at all.  Tragic, really.  When all loss could have been avoided with just a little honesty, fear or pride leaves the warmth of love outside in the cold.  Learn from other's mistakes...

     Now, it would appear that Mother and Father have been lying awake in bed for some time.  Father, as is his usual routine, has been reading through the newspaper classifieds, searching for that rare treasure someone has been duped into parting with for mere pennies.  Mother, on the other hand, has been staring into open space; transforming the walls of their bedroom into the wildflower field and replaying the incident with Zoë over and over again with her imagination.  But if I am not mistaken, I do believe she is growing weary of watching her own silent film in solitude and is about ready to add Father's perspective to the mix.  Pay attention, Little One.  As we watch these two converse, observe how freely their viewpoints flow one through the other.  Notice how no thought or concern, no matter how seemingly absurd is withheld.  There is a valuable lesson to be learned from their candor.

 

“Do you think Zoë's alright?”  Mother blurts out, her concern severing the silence.

     “Hmm?”  Father responds, only sacrificing a partial amount of his attention from the paper in his grasp.

     “Do you think Zoë is...normal?”

     “That's a bit of an odd question.  I believe Zoë is the picture perfect portrait of a little girl.  Why would you have any doubt?”

     “It's not that I think Zoë is anything less than a perfect little angel.  Our perfect little angel.  It's just that...I'm having trouble understanding what happened earlier.  It was the oddest thing I've ever seen.”

     “The bee thing?”

     “Yes and no.  It's not just the bee thing.  It was the way Zoë reacted to it.  And yes, the way her hand just absorbed the sting.  It was like the sting had never happened at all.”

     “Are you sure she was stung?”

     “I'm positive.  I felt the whelp with my own fingers; saw it with my own eyes.  And it just...melted away.  Dissolved, like it was nothing more than a stain.”

     “Maybe the bee didn't stick her that bad.”

     “I don't think that has anything to do with it.”

     Father folds his paper and places it on the adjacent nightstand.  He routinely removes his reading spectacles and uses them as a paperweight for his treasured classifieds.  Then he turns and rests a weathered hand on Mother's thigh before he succumbs to insight acquired from years of experience with the woman at his side.

     “What is it exactly that's bothering you?”

     “It's...well...can you ever remember Zoë crying?  I mean, has she ever cried with you at some point when I wasn’t around?”

     “Not that I can recall at the moment...”

     “I've been thinking about it nonstop since this afternoon.  I'm positive she hasn't.  To my knowledge, she has never shown an iota of unhappiness.”

     “What's wrong with that?”

     “I don't know.  It's not that I want Zoë to cry.  It's just that, it's not normal.  Isn't it strange?  It’s like she is…incapable of that emotion.  And then I keep thinking about what happened when she was born.”

     “The giggle thing?”

     “Yes.  I've never in my life heard of a baby laughing immediately upon exiting the womb.  In fact, I've never even heard of a baby laughing within the first week of their life.  It's just so...odd.”

     “It is peculiar, I'll give you that.  But I'm baffled as to why you seem so distraught over this.  Doesn't it all mean that we were blessed with a beautiful and blissfully happy child?”

     “I suppose...”

     “You don't sound thrilled.”

     “Well...I'm afraid for her.  I never want her to feel an ounce of pain or sadness in her entire life.  It's just that, discomfort and pain are necessary to protect us and warn us of danger.  You know what I mean?”

     “You think that Zoë is unable to feel pain?”

     “I’m wondering if it’s possible.  Do you remember how she reacted to her vaccine shots?”

     “Of course.  It still makes me laugh when I think about it.  She made the cutest little expression.  Looking at her, you would have thought the doctor was trying to tickle her arm, not sticking a needle in it.”

     “Exactly.  Isn't that weird?  Most babies would have been screaming their heads off.  She acted like it was just an annoyance.”

     “I see your point.”  Father fell silent and rubbed his chin as he attempted to assemble the scattered pieces of information together into a picture or solution that could be identified.  After a minute or so, he realized there was a piece he lacked.

     “How did Zoë react when she was stung by the bee?  Try to be as specific as possible.”

     “Well...I think she flinched.  She yanked her hand back right after she grabbed the flower and I believe she made a little whimpering sound.  But then that was it.  The bee flew away and she reached right back for the paintbrush like it had never posed even the slightest bit of danger.”

     “Hmm.  So she obviously felt something when she was stung.  She reacted.  You know how sometimes people can tolerate different levels of pain?  Maybe Zoë has a greater pain threshold than usual.  Unusually high, especially for a girl of her age.  But still.  Pain may not affect her the same way it does others.”

     “Perhaps.  But what about the way she healed?”

     “That one is beyond my ability to explain.  But, now that you mention it, the two may be related.”

     “In what way?”

     “Well, if Zoë is somehow able to heal faster than most-“

     “Incredibly fast..,” Mother interjected.

     “-then, I am wondering if maybe it’s not that she doesn’t feel pain, but rather, that she doesn’t feel it long enough for it to make her cry.  You know how, when you or I get stung, there is an initial shock, our reflexes kick in and we react, then it takes a moment before our mind registers that we are hurt, and then the pain lingers for a while until it gradually fades away?”

     “Mmhmm,” Mother hums in response.

     “Maybe by the time Zoë’s mind acknowledges that she has been hurt, she has already healed past the point where it would need to hurt anymore.”

     “That would be…incredible,” Mother responds.  Her eyes widen as the sensible logic embraces her understanding of the earlier occurrence.  She then feels a sense of awe imbuing every heartbeat as she becomes even more enthralled with the knowledge of the exceptional ability her daughter may possess.   Her fascination only lasts for a minute or so, however, before it is curtailed by a mother’s natural inclination to worry.

     “Do you think we should have her examined?” Mother asks.

     “You mean, as in, by a doctor?”

     “It couldn't hurt, could it?”

     Father ponders over the inquiry before offering his response.  “I'll have to think about that one for a while.  I'm not sure exactly why, but that idea makes me feel…uneasy.”

     “Ok, whatever you think is best.  I feel much better now though since we talked it out.  Thank you, Honey.”

     “Any time, Sweetheart.  Any time.” 

     Mother then affectionately squeezes Father’s hand and kisses her goodnights away before she is content to lay her worries on her pillow.  Father, on the other hand, was deep in thought.  He wasn't sure why, but the possibility that his daughter was far more exceptional than he could have believed left him feeling unsettled.  It soured his stomach as he was left with the realization that what he had already considered to be invaluable might hold even more worth than he could have ever dreamed.  This knowledge fortified his already strict allegiance to the fact that his Zoë must be guarded at all cost.

 

Well what do you make of that, Little One?  It would seem they are finally catching on to just how gifted Zoë really is.  But are you catching on?  Do you know exactly who, or even, what Zoë really is?  Well don't be cross, it will come to you in time.  In fact, you've probably already figured it out, you’re just awaiting affirmation.  

     Quite the predicament Father is in though, wouldn't you say?  It's not that this poor man has any regrets.  Do not think anything of the sort!  He considers it a great honor to be Zoë's protector; her guardian.  It's just that Father has now realized that he has been given a very unique gift.  And in the world he lives in, truly precious objects, living or not, are almost never left for the enjoyment of just a few.  They are stolen and examined and put on display for the benefit of the masses.  It is for that reason that Father is overwrought. 

     He will, naturally, do his absolute best to watch over Zoë.  The love that man has for his little angel is far more powerful than any he has ever known.  It is, in itself, an unstoppable force.  Unfortunately though, that force is currently housed in a fragile (and stoppable) form composed of flesh and bone.  Granted, Father will have a measure of success in shielding Zoë from many unscrupulous pitfalls.  However, eventually, his greatest enemy will get the better of him.  That enemy finds him in four years.

 

 

 

Carnival

 

Now we descend upon our trio during a journey of their own.  Mother and Father are in the front seat of their automobile while Zoë rides in the back.   And just look at Zoë now!  My, how big she's gotten!  She is only seven years of age, but she looks like a completely different person.  Truly beautiful in every way.  Long, curled ringlets of gold bounce like springs around her blushed cheeks.  Her eyes are filled with an emerald fire as her pupils dance to and fro over a perfectly smashed nose.   Wait…smashed nose?  Oh, nevermind, silly me.   Her nose isn’t smashed at all.   It is merely pressed firmly into the invisible wall of her backseat viewing window.   Why, if she presses any harder, she may burst right through the glass!  Now why do you suppose she is behaving in such a manner?

     Ah, of course.  It would appear our family is driving to the local fair.  No child can resist a place filled to the brim with a collaboration of sights, sounds, and smells that delight the senses and fill youthful hearts with wonderment and an insatiable desire to elaborate upon their base of fun experiences.  Our Zoë is no exception.  Just look at her squirm!  Her tiny nose and palms couldn't be pressed any harder on the glass.   It’s as if she were silently wishing she could instantly teleport herself to the center of the hubbub. 

     And that she does!  No, I'm just kidding, Little One.  Zoë doesn't have that ability.  We have merely skipped along our storyline; past many minutes of greater anticipation as our family parked their automobile and purchased tickets and we are now straight to the point at which our family is immersed in the center of all the action.  And it appears Zoë is suffering.

     No, she isn't suffering in the conventional way.  She has merely been afflicted with sensory overload.  Her poor mind just cannot seem to settle on which adventure she wants to tackle first.  Her eyes have glimpsed rides that swish and swoop, dip and dive, whirl and twirl.  Her ears have heard the chimes from cup-and-saucer rides and the congratulatory dings of nearby carnival games.  And at the same time, her nose has alerted her to the presence of funnel cakes, cotton candy, and popcorn.  It is quite simply, too much for such a small creature to handle all at once.  And so she allows Father to decide for her.  She looks up at his face with expectation, pleading with her eyes for a verdict that is, for her, unattainable.

     And Father grants her mercy.  You can tell in his own fond expression that he remembers what it is like to be so overwhelmed by simple pleasures and he asks her a question that in itself, provides the answer she needed. 

 

“What do you say we start off with some popcorn?” Father suggests with a smile.

 

And oh, how that delights Zoë!  Just look how quickly she smiles and nods her tiny noggin.  She can't wait!  She taps her feet and wiggles her fingers as her Father exchanges paper for a bag filled with warm butter fluffs.  He offers the bag and a smile to Zoë as she digs her greedy little fingers into the sack and extracts a few kernels.  Are you salivating, Little One?  It looks good, doesn't it?  Apparently Zoë thinks so.  Her eyes are beaming as her tastebuds explode with flavor.  She anxiously chews the crispy puff and swallows before going back for more.

     And being the good Father that he is, he willingly shares all with Zoë and Mother at the same time.    Of course, he knows all too well that the bag he carries has a bottom.  Therefore, he leads the family off to the next event so that the chain of thrills has a continuous link.  And it would appear the ferris wheel is his weapon of choice. 

     Ferris wheels are such fun, aren't they Little One?  It's much like an enlarged pinwheel, is it not?  Swinging cars that shimmy and shake as they slowly swivel around the circumference of their circular pivot.  There is something so alluring and romantic about it.  You know, I'm not sure how you feel about it, but despite its innocent appearance, many people have a secret apprehension towards ferris wheels.  It's completely irrational I'm sure, but some imagine that, at any moment, the wheel might dislodge itself somehow and begin rolling around, crushing all in its path.   Or perhaps they feel that the illuminated sunflower may simultaneously drop its petals at once, spilling its contents to the ground below.

     I'm sorry, Little One, am I scaring you?  I apologize.  I don't mean to.  Don't worry.  I'm sure Zoë and company will be just fine.  There isn't the slightest bit of fear in any of their faces as they scrunch themselves into a singular gondola.  They hold on tight and squeal with delight as their ride shudders and creaks its way forward into the open air.  And though the view they are ascending to is something to behold, both parents are focused on the contents of the cart.  All of their joy is found in the expression on the face of their little girl.  As they reach greater and greater heights, Zoë excitedly points out several points of interest as she siphons recognizable landmarks from their elevated position.  Father and Mother humor her by following each point of interest when, really, they are far more entertained by Zoë's reaction to each sight. 

     Lucky for them, their carriage has stopped right at the very tippy top, providing a splendid view.  But do you hear the creaking?  The groaning and squeaking of metal upon metal?  That doesn't sound right, does it?  And what about the rattling of the cages?  Oh I fear the worst for our dear family!  Look at them.  They don't seem phased at all by all the commotion.  How can that be?  Oh we can hear the releasing of the brakes and the wheel is moving! 

     But...it seems it's moving properly.  Ah, I guess there was nothing to worry about after all.  You must forgive me, Little One.  It would appear there was nothing to be afraid of after all.  Our family has descended and exited their cart in complete safety.  Whew.  What a relief that is!  That would have been a tragic end to a lovely day!  And think of how all the people watching would react!  They would be mortified! 

     Thank goodness for everyone the ride was a complete success! Safe and sound that.  And now our family has the liberty of carrying on through the park and enjoying its assortment of wonders.  Well, well.  Tragedy averted.  All involved are better off. 

     So off our little Zoë carries on, each guardian in tow as they sample a little of everything the park has to offer.  Caramel apples, Twirl a Whirl, and Whack a Mole all add to the complete experience as Zoë smiles and laughs and giggles her way to each attraction.  Our loving Father even managed to knock a few milk bottles off of a pedestal with a baseball in order to provide Zoë with an overstuffed teddy bear memento for the entire occasion. 

     And now it would appear that our dear parents are ready to call it an evening.  They have been around to each ride and kiosk and Mother is dead on her feet.  As they are walking along, however, Zoë tugs on the sleeve of her Father and points to one ride they missed.  I'm not sure how it escaped their notice, it's the largest structure here.  In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, the big dipper was the first construct to arrive.   No, not a constellation, silly goose.   I am referring to what you may usually call a rollercoaster.  Yes. the sight of its large arches is what initially brought in the crowds, then all of the other attractions, like bottom-feeders, trickled in and benefited from its irresistible allure.

     But Mother looks very apprehensive.  It would seem by her expression that she believes Zoë to be a bit young yet for such a joyride.  Normally, Father would be apt to agree, but his inner desire to expose Zoë to each thrill the park has to offer begs to differ.  Mother still refuses, shooing them off to reap the consequences of their fool-hearty recklessness.  Oh, but Father insists she come along!  This is a family outing, after all.  As such, each new experience for Zoë must be shared with each parent at her side.  And so, our dear Mother relents against her better judgment and off they all go, hand-in-hand.  All four of them.  Mother, preceded by Father, who is then preceded by Zoë, who is preceded by our new leader, our fluffy teddy bear friend.

     Fortunately for them, there isn't a very large queue.  Our little Zoë squeezes herself and her newly acquired pal into the very first bench, while Mother and Father, for lack of space, are forced to buddy up in the bench directly behind her.  Zoë looks back at them with nervous anticipation but her dear Father reaches forward and gives her shoulder a light squeeze;  reassuring his little girl that they will be right behind her the entire time.  And as lap bars are lowered and the clickety-clacking noises of forward progress start their uphill climb, our dear Mother is awash with a very bad feeling.

     I'm not sure about you, Little One, but I have always found wooden rollercoasters to be an exquisite delight.  Though the jarring of the cars and the poorly cushioned (if cushioned at all) seats are sure to bend the spine and twist the neck in ways that you are sure to remember the next morning, the pure adrenaline rush of plummeting down the steep declines with arms raised and fingers fluttering in the wind is an altogether thrilling experience.

     How lucky our family was to acquire the first car!  Zoë will be absolutely giddy when they reach the first crescendo and she has that brief second in which she hangs inverted, staring down at her inevitable downfall while the centipede's bottom catches up with the rest of its body and the entire wheeled arthropod succumbs to gravity's temptations. 

     But wait, what is this?  This can't be.  Oh dear, Little One.  I have sensed a great danger in store for our dear family.  It would appear that the durability of this behemoth of wood and steel was not inspected as thoroughly as perhaps it should have been.   For on its last go-round, a piece of the track at the bottom of the first large dip has become dislodged and separated itself from its successor.   You see, normally, the supports and tracks of a wooden rollercoaster are designed to sway and bend under the force of the passing car.  This intentional instability acts as a shock absorber which helps to ensure that the structure is forgiving and willing to bend and retract under pressure.  If it is too rigid, as this one appears to have been, it can break or snap when overly strained. 

     Now that the integrity of the rail has been compromised, I fear that our runaway train will be unable to transition smoothly from track to track.  Oh, this is terrible!  But, we mustn’t jump to conclusions.  Perhaps everything will be fine.  It could be that there will just be a very unpleasant bump in the ride that may dampen their fun a little.

     Here they come, Little One.  Over the first hill, the body has been arched and now it’s beginning its descent.  Its speed increases exponentially as it begins what should be a complete series of downs and ups to push its way forward through all obstacles in an effort to circle around to its starting point and begin the process all over again.  But alas, as its spine dips and it attempts to climb to its next pinnacle, the first left wheel encounters an unexpected obstacle and bounces from its proper place nestled within its rail. 

     And now we have an unfortunate lesson in physics.  The speed is far too great for such an exertion.  The jarring of the entire left row of wheels along with its great momentum twists and contorts the coaster’s body so that it detaches from its proper course and twists away from the embodiment of wooden planks.   How horrible!

     Fortunately, the lap bars have done their jobs and kept all riders within their cars as they are launched helplessly into the air.  But what is this?  Woe of woes, the train is landing upside down!  It rolls and spirals and then scrapes and sparks its way across several meters of very unforgiving concrete.  Oh, this is terrible!  I fear there will be no survivors of this calamity.

     Finally, the chain of devastation comes to a grinding halt and the mouths and eyes of all nearby spectators widen as they gasp and stare at the atrocity that has unfolded in their view.  Our dear caterpillar lay crumpled and wounded and quite immobile.  Its poor head lay upside down as if it has already acquiesced to its own mortality. 

     The crowds gather.  Like flies to carrion, the onlookers smell the tragedy and seek their place within the inner circle.  They mean well.   It isn’t that they are greedy for a glimpse of gore.  Rather, they are simply hoping that their eyes are deceiving them and that this hasn't really happened.  Some have already accepted the inexplicableness of the moment and are pleading with moist stares that someone, anyone, emerge from the wreckage.

     And for those precious few, their hopes are, in this one instance, gratified.  Just look, Little One!   A tiny hand has slid out from underneath the front car and is wiggling its way out from underneath the weight of its entrapment.  Several gasps are emitted from the surrounding faces as this poor girl drags herself and a very tattered and partially beheaded teddy bear from underneath the destruction.  The borders encircling the disembodied corpse of a coaster collapse as all eyes stare in shock at the bloody little girl who manages to stand upright in their midst. 

     This mauled little girl merely whimpers as a cascade of blood pours down her scalp.  But the flow that began as a virtual torrent, lessens to a trickle, and then ceases altogether.  No one can say a word.  They stare in utter disbelief as the shaved remnant of scalp encloses itself over her skull and seals all evidence of damage away underneath a perfect cloak of epidermis.  Then our dear girl manages to curl her lips upwards in a triumphant grin as her knees wobble and she collapses to the ground.

     What a sight that was, Little One!  Oh I know it was difficult for you to watch.  I am sorry you weren't given a better warning.  But I do believe our Zoë will be just fine.  So, chin up! 

     Ah, of course.  No, you haven't forgotten about Mother and Father, have you?   I don't believe I can, in good conscience, give you even the slightest glimpse of their demise.  I'm sure you can guess that they ended up very much like Zoë's teddy bear. 

     Please don't cry, Little One.  I know you had hoped for better things for them.  I assure you, they hoped better things for themselves!  All I can say is that you must try to feel as they would if they were in your shoes.  Though they would be saddened about the loss as well, it would be a trifle compared to the joy that they would feel over the knowledge that their little girl is alive and well.  They would wish us to have the same attitude.  Let's not disappoint their memory. 

     If you must, you may take a moment to mourn their passing.   When capable, I assure you our little Zoë will do the same.  For although she may have found a way to be momentarily pleased with her personal victory, she had no way of knowing that her parents did not follow suit.  Therefore, for her, as well as for the rest of us, the seeming permanence of death will not be easy to accept.   And although I shall not grant you with a glimpse of that exact moment when she is forced to hear of her great loss, you should know and be aware of the fact that, when she is told, it is the first time in her life that Zoë cries.