Authors: Lois Lowry
There was not much time left, and he would not be able to linger here, to look up his boyhood pals, to reminisce with them about their pranks, or to brag a little about his status now. He usually did that when he came. He would not even have time to say good-bye to the stranger his brother had become.
Village would close in three weeks from the time of the proclamation. Matty had calculated very carefully. He had counted the days of his journey, adding in the extra days it took for his side trips to tack the messages in place. Now he had just enough time to rest, which he badly needed to do, collect food for the return journey, and persuade Kira to come with him. If they moved steadily and without interruption through Forest (though he knew it would be slower with the girl, who had to lean on her stick) they would arrive in time.
Matty blinked, took a deep breath, got to his feet, and hurried on to the small cottage around the next turning, the place where Kira lived.
The gardens were larger than he remembered; since his last visit almost two years before, she had expanded them, he saw. Thick clumps of yellow and deep pink flowers fringed the edge of the small dwelling with its hand-hewn beams and thatched roof. Matty had never paid attention to the names of flowersâboys generally disdained such thingsâbut now he wished he knew them, so that he could tell Jean.
Frolic went to the base of a wooden post that was entwined with a purple-blossomed vine, and lifted his leg to proclaim his presence and authority here.
The door to the cottage opened and Kira appeared there. She was wearing a blue dress and her long dark hair was tied back with a matching ribbon.
“Matty!” she cried in delight.
He grinned at her.
“And you've got yourself a new pup! I hoped you would. You were so sad, I remember, after Branchie died.”
“His name is Frolic, and I'm afraid he's watering your .Â .Â .”
“Clematis. It's all right,” she said, laughing. She reached for Matty and embraced him. Ordinarily uncomfortable with hugs, he would have stiffened his shoulders and drawn back; but now, from exhaustion and affection, he held Kira and to his own amazement felt his eyes fill with tears. He blinked them back.
“All right, stand back now and let me see you,” she said. “Are you taller yet than I am?”
He stood back grinning and saw that they were eye to eye.
“Soon you will be. And your voice is almost a man's.”
“I can read Shakespeare,” he told her, swaggering.
“Hah! So can I!” she said, and he knew then for certain how changed this village was, for in the earlier days, girls had not been allowed to learn.
“Oh, Matty, I remember when you were such a tiny thing, and so wild!”
“The Fiercest of the Fierce!” he reminded her, and she smiled fondly at him.
“You must be very tired. And hungry! You've just made such a long journey. Come inside. I have soup on the fire. And I want news of my father.”
He followed her into the familiar cottage and waited while she reached for her walking stick that leaned against a wall and arranged it under her right arm. Dragging the useless leg, she took a thick earthen bowl from a shelf and went to the fire where a large pot simmered and smelled of herbs and vegetables.
Matty looked around. No wonder she had not wanted to leave this place. From the sturdy ceiling beams dangled the countless dried herbs and plants from which she made her dyes. Shelves on the wall were bright with rolls of yarn and thread arranged by color, white and palest yellow at one end, gradually deepening into blues and purples and then browns and grays at the other. On a threaded loom in the corner between two windows, a half-finished weaving pictured an intricate landscape of mountains, and he could see that she was now working on the sky and had woven in some feathery clouds of pink-tinged white.
She set the bowl of steaming soup on the table in front of Matty and then went to the sink to pump water into a bowl for Frolic.
“Now. Tell me of Father,” she asked. “He's well?”
“He's fine. He sends you his love.”
He watched as Kira leaned her stick against the sink and knelt with difficulty to place the bowl on the floor. Then she called to Frolic, who was industriously chewing a broom in the corner.
When the puppy had come to her and turned his attention to the bowl of water, Kira rose again, sliced a thick piece from a loaf of bread, wedged her stick under her shoulder again, and brought the bread to the table. Matty watched the way she walked, the way she had always walked. Her right foot twisted inward, pulling the entire leg with it. The leg had not grown as the other had. It was shorter, turned, and useless.
He thanked her and dipped one end of the slice into his soup.
“He's a sweet puppy, Matty.” He half listened as she chattered cheerfully about the dog. His thoughts had turned to Frolic's birth and how close to death the pup and his mother had been.
He glanced down at her twisted leg. How much more easily she would be able to walkâhow much more steadily and quickly she would be able to travelâif the leg were straight, if the foot could be planted firmly on the ground.
He remembered the afternoon after the puppy and his mother had been saved. Today he was tired, very tired, from the long journey through Forest. But on that day, he had felt near death.
He tried to recall how long it had taken him to recover. He had slept, he knew. Yes. He remembered that he had slept for the afternoon, glad that the blind man had not been at home to ask why. But he had arisen before dinnerâweary, still, but able to hide it, to eat and talk as if nothing had happened.
So his recovery had taken only a few hours, really. Still, it had been a puppy. Well, a puppy and its mother.
He had fixedâcured? saved?âtwo dogs in late morning, and recovered from it by the end of the day.
“Matty? You're not listening! You're half asleep!” Kira's laughter was warm and sympathetic.
“I'm sorry.” He put the last bit of bread into his mouth and looked apologetically at her.
“You're both tired. Look at Frolic.”
He glanced over and saw the puppy sound asleep, curled into a mound of undyed yarn heaped near the door, as if the soft pile were a mother to doze against.
“I have work to do in the garden, Matty. The coreopsis needs staking and I've not had a chance to get to it. You lie down and get some rest, now, while I'm outside. Later we can talk. And you can go into the village and find your friends, for a visit.”
He nodded and went to the couch to lie down on top of the knitted blanket that she had thrown across it. In his mind, he was counting the days they had left. He would explain to her that there was no time to visit with old pals.
He watched, his eyes heavy with exhaustion, as she took his bowl to the sink, placed it there, and then, leaning on her stick, gathered some stakes from a shelf, and a ball of twine. With her garden tools she turned to go outdoors. The twisted foot dragged in its familiar way. He had known everything about Kira for so long: her smile, her voice, her merry optimism, the amazing strength and skill of her hands, and the burden of her useless leg.
I must tell you this,
Matty thought before he slept.
I can fix you.
To his amazement, Kira said no. Not no to leavingâhe hadn't suggested that to her, not yetâbut a definite, unarguable no to the idea of a straightened, whole leg.
“This is who I am, Matty,” she said. “It is who I have always been.”
She looked at him fondly. But her voice was firm. It was evening. The fire glowed in the fireplace and she had lit the oil lamps. Matty wished that the blind man were in the room with them, playing his instrument, because the soft, intricate chords always brought a peace to their evenings together and he wanted Kira to hear the music, to feel the comfort it brought.
He had not yet told her that she was to return with him. During their supper together, as Kira chattered about the changes in the old village, how much better things were now, he had only half listened. In his mind he had been weighing what to tell her and when and how. There was so little time; and he needed, Matty knew, to present it to her in a decisive and convincing way.
But suddenly he heard her make a casual comment about her handicap. She was describing a small tapestry she had embroidered as a wedding gift for her friend Thomas, the woodcarver, who had recently been married.
“It was all finished and rolled up, and I decorated it with flowers,” she said, “and on the morning of the wedding I set out, carrying it. But it had rained, and the path was wet, and I slipped and dropped the tapestry right into a mud puddle!” Kira laughed. “Luckily it was still early, so I came back here and was able to clean it. No one ever knew.
“My leg and stick are a nuisance when it's wet outdoors,” she said. “My stick has never learned to navigate mud.” She reached over to the pot and began to pour more tea into their mugs.
Surprising himself, he blurted it out. “I can fix your leg.”
The room fell completely silent except for the hiss and crackle of the fire. Kira stared at Matty.
” he said after a moment. “I have a gift. Your father says that you do, too, so you'll understand.”
“I do,” Kira agreed. “I always have. But my gift doesn't fix twisted things.”
“I know. Your father told me yours is different.”
Kira looked down at her hands, wrapped around her mug of tea. She opened her fingers, spread her hands upon the table, and turned them over. Matty could see the slender palms and the strong fingers, calloused at their tips from the garden work, the loom, and the needles that she used for her complicated, beautiful tapestries. “Mine is in my hands,” she said softly. “It happens when I make things. My hands .Â .Â .”
He knew he shouldn't interrupt. But time was so short. So he cut her off, and apologized for it. “Kira, I want you to tell me all about your gift. But later. Right now there are important things to do and decide.
“I'm going to show you something,” he told her. “Watch this. My gift is in my hands, too.”
He had not planned this. But it seemed necessary. On the table lay the sharp knife with which she had sliced bread for their supper. Matty picked it up. He leaned down, and pulled the left leg of his trousers up. Kira watched, her eyes confused. Quickly, without flinching, he punctured his own knee. Dark red blood trickled in a thin crooked line down his lower leg.
“Oh!” Kira gasped. She stared at him and held her hand to her mouth. “What .Â .Â . ?”
Matty swallowed, took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and placed both of his hands on his wounded knee. He felt it coming. He felt his veins begin to pulsate; then the vibration coursed through him, and he felt the power leave his hands and enter his wound. It lasted no more than a few seconds and ended.
He blinked, and took his hands away. They were smeared slightly with blood. The trickled line on his leg had already begun to dry there.
“Matty! Whatever are you .Â .Â . ?” When he gestured, Kira leaned forward and looked carefully at his knee. After a moment she reached for the woven napkin on the table, dipped it into her tea, and wiped his leg with the damp cloth. The line of blood disappeared. His knee was smooth, unblemished. There was no wound at all. She looked intently at it, then bit her lip, reached out, and pulled the hem of his trouser leg down over his knee.
“I see.” It was all she said.
Matty shook himself free of the wave of fatigue it had caused. “It was a very small wound,” he explained. “I just did it to show you I could. It didn't take much out of me. But I've done it with bigger things, Kira. With other creatures. With much larger wounds.”
“Not yet. But I can do it. I can feel it, Kira. With a gift, you
She nodded. “Yes. That's true.” She glanced at her own hands, resting there on the table, still holding the damp cloth.
“Kira, your leg will take a great deal out of me. I'll have to sleep, after, maybe for a whole day or even longer. And I don't have much time.”
She looked at him quizzically. “Time for what?”
“I'll explain. But for now, I think we should start. If I do it right away, I can sleep completely through the night and almost all of the morning. You can use that time to become accustomed to being whole .Â .Â .”
whole,” she said defiantly.
“I meant to having two strong legs. You'll be amazed at how it feels, at how much more easily you can move around. But it will take a little while to adjust to it.”
She stared at him. She looked down at her twisted leg.
“Why don't you lie down over there on the couch? I'll pull this chair over and sit beside you.” Matty began kneading his hands in preparation. He took several deep breaths and felt energized. He could tell that his full strength was back. The knee wound had been such a small thing, really.
He rose, lifted his wooden chair, and moved it over beside the couch where he had napped that afternoon. He arranged the cushions so that she would be comfortable. Behind him he heard Kira rise from her chair as well, lift her stick from where it leaned against the table, and walk across the room. To his surprise, when he turned, he saw that she had taken the mugs to the sink and was beginning to wash them, as if it were an ordinary evening.
She looked over at him. She frowned slightly. Then she said no.
There was no arguing with her, none at all. After a while Matty gave up the attempt.
Finally he moved his chair again so that he could sit in front of the fire. It was chilly in the evenings now, with summer ending. Forest had been downright cold at night, and he had woken in the mornings during his journey aching and chilled. It was comforting to sit here by the warm fire now.