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The Assistant

It was the part of his job that Cearbhall disliked the most. But he would not become head of Spiorada University unless he could deal with the more undisciplined students. They knew everything, dismissed their teachers, especially Siobhan whose lovely face disguised her determined mischievousness. After weeks of dealing with her on his own, Mr. Arach had enough! Siobhan went too far this time and Cearbhall would have to discipline her.

All of Spiorada was familiar with Siobhan. She was smart and talented, but refused to heed the basic rules. She believed that she knew best how to work her extraordinary magic.

“The thing is,” Cearbhall said to his friend and mentor, Dorus, “I rather agree with some of her ideas. Why can’t tulips be multi-color? Why must mortals only dream in black and white? And if a horse wants to believe that he is a unicorn-and, I might add, agreed to have a fake horn attached to him-why can’t we just let it be?”

Dorus smiled sympathetically. “Gentle Cearbhall, you are not the first to question The Way Things Are. But if we were to let the young choose we would have all sorts of nonsense and anarchy. Roses would be violet not yellow. The platypus would have fur, not feathers. Things are The Way Things Are because this is how best they work. It is not for us to change only for the sake of change.”

Crosta, in his usual spot, the corner, piped in, “The Old Ones know nothing!”

“Pipe down, imp,” Dorus replied.

“I’m a sprite, not an imp,” Crosta shot back.

“Enough you two,” Cearbhall pleaded, stroking his chin in weary. He knew Dorus was right and he knew what he must do. But he couldn’t help feel compassion for Siobhan and her friend, Capall, who now believed that he was a unicorn.

Proof

The picture and his sad story often bought a meal and lodging. Occasionally, it bought a night of pleasure. He kept “Glenn” with his other treasures: discharge papers from the war, a certificate of marriage. They were the proof of his family; Glenn, born while he fought in the Ardennes, and sweet Jennie who died of influenza shortly after he arrived home. Nevermind that his treasures were found in the homes he visited where the real Glenn and Jennie and the man whose discharge papers he carried dwelt. They were his life now and worth a meal, a bed and companionship.

Letting Go

He was out of my sight for only a second.

At the hospital, Steven looked at the child. “It’s not Johnny,” I told them. “He can fly. That child can’t fly.” The police and nurses considered me with pity. Steven held me so tight that I thought my heart would burst.

Even as the tiny casket was placed in the ground, I expected Johnny to fly back to me.

That night I dreamt that he hovered over me, held in the arms of an angel.

“Why didn’t you fly him away?” I asked the angel.

“I did. He didn’t feel the pain.”

“I miss you,” I said to Johnny.

“I miss you, too. But I’m right here.”

The pressure on my heart eased. When I woke, Steven held the photo of Johnny leaping from the jungle gym into his arms. I curled up into him and we wept.

Beyond the Bridge

When the shooting came closer, it was night. Annelise’s mother threw cheese, bread, and a skin of water into a cloth bag. She dressed the girl in her father’s tattered, oversize sweater. He did not need it. He’d been taken away by the Germans shortly after the soldiers arrived and found his shortwave radio. He was sent to a camp somewhere east. Annelise’s mother did not wash the sweater after he left. Her daughter seemed comforted by his still lingering scent.
The flash of gunfire was terrifying, but staying in the home was worse. Her mother hoped it was safer in the woods, away from the shooting. They had only made it to the house next door when Annelise heard her mother cry “Oh!” and stumble. She clutched her side, but said nothing more and guided her daughter on.
“Hurry, cheri, hurry.”
In her head, Annelise heard the words her mother would say if she wasn’t so desperately silent.
When her mother collapsed, Annelise held her hand. She did not cry, but spoke softly to her mother describing the white parachutes that drifted down, down, down, disappearing into the fields in the distance. She heard clicks and shots and rustles and remained quiet, holding on to what remained of her mother.
Annelise held her mother’s hand as it grew stiff and cold. At dawn, she saw her mother’s face, tortured, not at all peaceful, a trickle of blood drying on her mouth. In the rising sunlight, she saw the woods ahead, tantalizingly close. Maybe the soldiers in the parachutes had gone there. Behind her lay the village and the bad soldiers her mother had feared.
Annelise kissed her mother’s cheek and put the cloth bag over her shoulder. She only needed to cross the bridge and she would be safe.

Don’t Question

The teachers were frustrated.
“It’s as though they can’t think for themselves anymore. When school started, I had them rewrite and perform Romeo and Juliet in modern language. They loved it. Now they just sit and write what I tell them, no thought, no debate. They challenge nothing.”
“I agree. I actually suggested to my 8th grade geology class that the fossil record could have been placed on the earth by aliens to throw us off their scent. They wrote it down without question. I had to tell them to ignore that; it won’t be on the SOL.”
“They just sit there with water bottles, writing down everything, questioning nothing. It’s almost…Orwellian.”
The change had happened after Christmas, they noted, when the water fountains stopped working. The school supplied the students with water from a new source, an American company for sure, even though it had a foreign name: Intefraga.