“Do you believe in…past lives?”
She’s waited a week to get the gumption to ask
him, but now she’s second-guessing. Priscilla keeps her knees
together and smoothes the flowers in her skirt. She pulls her hair
to the right side of her head and stares at the big black book on
his desk. “I mean, I know you don’t, but—”
“Why?” he says. “Do you believe?”
A flash of sunlight fills the room—a temporary break in the
clouded sky. And then it’s gone, and all is gray again.
“I’m not sure. I’m starting to wonder.”
He swivels his chair and leans back, cracking his knuckles,
one after the other after the other. “I can tell you, you’re
not the first to ask. We’ve got some Cherokees here, and the
traditional belief of rebirth comes up every now and again. Usually
when somebody loses a loved one.”
Priscilla stares down at her knees.
“I certainly don’t claim to know all the
mysteries of God,” says Fritz, “but I do know we all have
former selves, pasts we’ve got to deal with and learn from.
Otherwise we carry these former lives on our shoulders, unable to
let go.” Priscilla glances up at him finally, searching his
face. “Some people remain stuck living past lives.
But you can exchange that burden for something wonderful—”
“No. That’s not really what I’m talking
about, Fritz. I do understand what you’re saying, it’s
“What is it, Priscilla?”
She tucks a strand of long blonde hair behind her ear
and shakes her head, studying the lines of his simple pine desk. “She’s…she
remembers things. Things she can’t possibly remember. She talks
about family members, ones who’ve been gone for years now. I
don’t know, maybe it’s the photographs, or maybe I’ve
talked about them to her or around her. Maybe she’s just extra
sensitive, attentive. I can usually explain it away, except…”
She looks him in the eye and says, “The window.”
Fritz pauses and glances at the window behind Priscilla’s
shoulder. It’s simple and unadorned, unlike the ones in the
other room with their magnificent colors and stories. On the other
side of the clear-paned glass, a mockingbird swoops to the ground
and calls out warning beneath a blanketed sky. “Tell me about
this window,” Fritz says.
“She can describe it to me in detail…but
I don’t know how. I’ve never talked about it. To anyone.”
“It comes to me in my dreams. The window.”
“You’re thinking she can read your mind
“I don’t know, I—”
“Maybe you talk in your sleep.”
“No. It’s not like that,” Priscilla
says. “She’s special. You know her. There’s something…different
about her. There always has been.”
“If you ask me, I’d say she’s a bright,
loving child. Tell me. Does she seem troubled by these memories?”
“No. She acts as if nothing is strange at all,
as if it was just the other day or something. She goes on and on about
that summer too…when we left Cypresswood. It just unnerves me.”
Priscilla uses her left hand to pull her right arm close to her side.
“If you’d like me to talk with her, you
know I will. But, maybe not just yet.” Fritz leans forward and
places his elbows on his knees. He clasps his hands together and looks
just over her shoulder, then finally meets her eyes. “We each
have something, Priscilla, some memory that haunts us, that shows
up in our dreams. In your case, it’s a window. Maybe what bothers
you is not that your daughter remembers this window she can’t
possibly know, but that she reminds you of the thing it represents—something
you thought you’d let go of long ago.”
She looks up at him and her lip trembles as if she may
cry or speak. She does neither.
“She’s a good girl, Priscilla. A blessing
in your life. Sometimes God has a way of using children to speak to
us. To lead us closer to him. If you want my advice, let her lead
you. She may say something truly worth hearing one of these days.”
Fritz takes Priscilla’s free hand and squeezes
it, and the two sit engulfed in the moment, oblivious to the fact
that they’re not alone. Hidden in the shadowy corner of the
preacher’s office, a lone head bows and whispers, Amen.
PART ONE: THE MACYS HIT THE ROAD
Come over here by the light and let me see what
pretty pictures you drew. Oh, this one here is my favorite, Janie.
Is this a car?
Can you tell me about it?
I trace my finger along the red and blue lines on construction
paper, the green blurred trees, the yellow circles for faces—then
I close my eyes. It’s how I remember best.
It was about four years ago, the last trip we ever took
together—my mother, sister, grandparents and me. Course, we
didn’t know it at the time. You never know something like that,
like it’s the last one you’ll ever get, till it’s
just a memory, hanging like mist. This is what happened that summer,
true as I can tell it. Not a one of us was ever the same.
I sat in the front seat, all eight and a half years
of me, twirling my hair and trying to hum a happy tune. I did this,
knowing Mama was nothing at all close to being happy after just finding
out she was having another child. In fact, sitting so close to her
I thought my mama’s fear and anger smelled a lot like dill pickle
relish and red onions. Or maybe it was just Grandma Mona, old and
mean and full of egg salad, breathing down our necks from behind the
Some things, like the smell of fear and anger—and
guilt—are enough to drive anybody out on the road, even when
gas prices are about to kill you.
A gallon of gas had soared to over four dollars that
summer, and Mama said that alone might do her in. Not like she had
a money tree or anything in the back yard. Hers was hollow, dead,
and bearing no fruit—certainly no dollar bills. No, Priscilla
Lynn Macy was a working woman, said she gave her life and youth to
the pancake house. So you might think it strange we would set out
on the highway. I did, anyway. But I would soon find out this was
no regular summer vacation. We were destined to go.
Mama had stuck her long blonde hair in a ponytail, packed
the whole caboodle into the car—the past, the present, the future—and
we were barreling down I-26 at seventy-five miles an hour, and she
had absolutely no idea where she was going, or maybe she did. Maybe
she knew deep down she wasn’t running away from her problems
but hauling them right along with her.
Rainey Dae Macy, my seventeen-year-old sister, hugged
a plastic baby doll in the back seat and watched the trees blur into
a long green line. She didn’t like change or surprise vacations,
but she kept her mouth shut anyway. She was used to doing whatever
pleased Mama, fearing her special needs made Mama’s life just
a little bit harder than most.
I was more or less a normal kid. Like most, I dreamed
of saving the world someday. Not like superwoman, but I don’t
know—making sure kids had clothes and enough to eat, making
sure people like Mama had good jobs that made money and made them
feel good when they went home each day, like they did something with
their brains—like they did something to help the world in some
small way. Not like they were wasting every second of every day of
every year of their lives—like Mama had said, oh, more than
a time or two.
Two nights before we left Cypresswood, Mama was
tucking Rainey into her princess sheets on the top bunk when she asked
her how many days there were until Christmas.
“About six months,” Mama said.
“How many days?” Rainey insisted.
She liked to count things. She was good at it. And she counted days
like seconds, like sand.
“Let’s see…a hundred and ninety,
Rainey started to whine, “That long? I want
My mother was sensitive to any talk about Christmas
presents. She’d hear one and add it to her master list. That
way, come holiday time, she wasn’t scrambling to save money
and frantic to buy. So she asked, full of hope, “Why, is there
something you want for Christmas, honey?”
“Yeah, but…I cain’t tell you,”
“I made a wish. On a dandelion. Won’t
come true if I say it.”
“If you tell me, honey, I can help you write
a letter and make sure Santa knows about it.”
“Huh-uh,” said Rainey. “God
knows. He tell Santa.”
I was lying in the bottom bunk, listening to the
whole thing. I was wise for my age. Not meaning any harm, Mama often
said things in my presence that aged me, partly because she was a
single mother doing the job of two, and partly because she had a special
needs child and a crappy job and she was going gray early. Sometimes,
she’d just about talk to the wind in order to get it all out.
So I, Janie Doe Macy, listening to the wish conversation
and knowing my mother the way I did—how hard she worked, how
hard she tried—felt sorry for her.
“Don’t worry, Mama,” I said.
“I’ll get her to tell me. I can help you make sure Santa
gets the message.”
Mama kissed Rainey on the cheek and on her flattened
nose and on her upturned eyes.
“Night, Mama. Don’t forget Janie light.”
Rainey knew I was deathly afraid of the dark.
“Goodnight, sweet Janie. Don’t let
the bedbugs bite.”
“’Night,” I said.
Mama reached down and turned on the night-light,
then she stood there at the door, not leaving, and smiled at us in
a strange sort of way. She started counting on her fingers. Then she
spouted out, “Oh good gosh, I’m late. I’m never
late.” She reminded me of the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland,
and I wondered what she could be late for at this hour. The light
from the window was turning sapphire blue.
When the door closed, I looked up to the top bunk
and whispered, “Rainey, you can tell me your wish. Sisters don’t
“Huh-uh. I wished on the dandelion. It won’t
“Rainey, just tell me. Please?”
It was quiet from the top. Then Rainey leaned
over the edge and looked at me. Concern spread like butter across
her face. “Oh, I prob-ly won’t get it. I wish… I
wish I had wings and flied around.”
“Oh. Really? Like an airplane? Like a bird?”
I bit my lip and turned my head to the wall, heartsick, knowing the
wings she wanted couldn’t possibly come true. Not even Santa
could pull that one off.
“Like a angel.” I heard Rainey lay
back on her pillow.
“Gee, Rain. I don’t know if that one
can happen. I used to wish the same thing when I was little. But I’ve
had dreams where I’ve been flying. Have you ever had one of
those? You’re high up over the trees and the buildings and it
feels like you can do anything at all, like nothing is impossible?”
“No.” Rainey sniffled. The room was
“You should tell Mama about the wings,”
I said. “You know if she can help it come true, she will. Remember
how she put you in the Olympics and you won that pretty medal for
running? Member that?”
“Yeah, I member.”
My sister and I stopped talking after that and
settled in for sleep. Knowing Rainey, she was praying even harder
for her wings, never minding she couldn’t get them.
In the bottom bunk, I lay there trying to remember
that feeling, what it felt like to fly. And I fell asleep hoping,
just maybe, I’d have one of those carefree, light-as-air flying
dreams again like I used to when I was much younger than the wise
old age of eight-and-a-half. For some reason, I suspected my wings
were too short to ever catch air and lift me off the ground—that
some children, no matter how hard they try, will never fly.
Copyright ©2009 Nicole
Seitz. Reprinted with permission from Thomas Nelson.