Sunday, November 19, 1899
Oma in her white gown,
Holds red and black box in fingers.
“Never play with matches, Caleb.”
Shakes head “No, no, no.”
Oma slides red and black box open.
“Promise, my son.”
Nods “Okay, Oma.”
Oma’s fingers find stick-soldier with red hat.
Soldier’s red hat scratches side of box.
Fizzles. Flares. Mouth tastes smoke.
Stick-soldier touches fire to pretty green candles.
Flames dances on candles one, two, three, four, five.
Stick-soldier shrivels black and head falls off.
“Not four-years-old no more.”
Nana, brown dress and bonnet, smiles.
“Yes, my beautiful grandson is five-years-old today.”
Helped Nana bake Caleb’s birthday cake.
Oma back from hospital.
“Blow out the candles.”
“Be a big boy and puff hard.”
“No Nana.” Eyelids squeeze shut.
Oma scolds, “Blow out the candles, Caleb.”
Eyes open wide. Deep breath. Blows hard.
One candle still on fire.
“Again, Caleb.” Nana smiles.
“Caleb doesn’t want to.”
“Just one more,” Oma begs?
Flames explode. Swallow Oma. Fire melts her smile. Nana’s lips move. “Caleb, Nana’s big boy.” Black dress turns orange. Red flames burst around Nana’s head, eats brown bonnet. Opens window. “My wonderful grand—”
Ears hear mouth scream. Eyes want to cry.
Sister-in-White wipes away tears. “You were just having a bad dream.”
Sister-in-White claps hands. “You talked! Saints be praised.” She leans over bed. “The two women who perished were your mother and grandmother?”
Nods, rubs nose on white cloth. Eyes find wet spot.
“Don’t worry. My habit can be washed.” She whispers, “What boy misses Oma and Nana?”
Name stuck on tongue.
“Who are you?”
Caleb, Nana’s big boy.
Sister-in-White kisses hair and stands back up. “Oma and Nana want their big boy to tell Sister Mary Francis his name.”
Helped Nana bake Caleb’s birthday cake.
“Who had a birthday? Oma? Nana?”
“Not Nana. Not Oma.”
“Yes, yes. It must have been Oma’s son. Nana’s grandson.”
“Cake. Green candles.” Nana likes green.
“Yes, green candles. On whose birthday cake? Pretty green candles.”
“How many candles are lit?”
“Five years old?”
Opens other hand. “Big fire.”
“Oh, my goodness. You think your birthday candles caused the tenement fire?”
“The gas cook-stove exploded. Men rescued you from the window ledge.”
Eyes find ball of fire on string.
“You are safe here at Children’s Hospital.” Bends down and whispers, “Sister Mary Francis wants to hear you say your name.”
Eyes won’t go away from fireball.
“Tomorrow you will be traveling with many children. Would be nice to tell everyone who you are.”
Pinches eyes shut. Fireball inside eyes.
“Were you staring at that light bulb?”
“You don’t know what an electric light bulb is?”
Sister-in-White talks loud. “Turn of the century and tenement buildings have gas but not electricity.”
Fireball wants eyes back.
“Don’t stare at it.”
Eyes won’t obey.
Sister-in-White moves, hides light bulb. She reaches into bag on floor. “Show Sister Mary Francis your happy face.”
“Your mother probably wore this on a chain around her neck.” Snaps open. “Fire damaged baby’s face on one side—”
“But, the mirror on the other side isn’t broken. Whose face do you see?”
“You know who the boy is. Now say his name.”
“Say it again.” Sister-in-White scolds. “This time, make sure I hear it.”
“Don’t let anybody forget that you are Caleb.”
Sees happy face in Oma’s locket.
Cover closes. Caleb goes away.
“Say your name again.”
“What is your last name?”
“It will come back to you, just remember to use your words. If Caleb goes silent again, words might go away forever.” She pulls up blanket. “Sleep tight. Tomorrow Caleb will be on the Orphan Train to Minnesota.” She tucks blanket under…Caleb. “The sisters there wear brown and cover their heads with bonnets like the one they found on Caleb’s nana. They are called Franciscans.”
“No. She probably thought older women should wear bonnets. We think Caleb’s mother might have been a nurse but not a sister.”
Oma wears white hospital gown at Caleb’s birthday.
“Little Sister died.”
“Caleb had a little sister?”
“Oma and Nana pray for her.”
“A family of three in heaven to watch over Caleb.”
Mouth chews corner of blanket.
“Remember, don’t go silent again. Everyone needs to know who Caleb is.” She pulls blanket under chin. “Your mother gave you such a nice name.”
“Don’t forget Caleb, or Oma.”
“I will add your name to the report in your handbag and that Caleb can talk, so don’t make people believe you can’t. I’ll also tell about Caleb’s mother and grandmother and sister. What was your sister’s name?”
She kisses forehead. “A nun wearing a black habit will ride with you and the other children on the Orphan Train.”
Doesn’t like black. Likes boats, not trains.