Alizabet & Tomas: Sneak Peek
There are three windows in the room. They all look like boxes, see-through boxes. The pictures behind them change only a little. There’s a big tree outside the first window. I can’t see the top of the tree; it’s too tall, but every day, especially in the mornings before the other kids wake up, I watch it for signs of life. It’s very thick and the bark is different colors. The middle of the bark is a beige that fades to a darker, mottled brown on the edges of the trunk. Where the two colors meet is jagged, rough, broken. I can’t see them, but I know there are bugs on the tree. Look at the bugs, Lilibet! The bugs! Tomas was eighteen months older than me; he loved bugs. “I got one!” I’d pick the tiny bugs from the bark of the tree and give them to Tomas. He’d stare at them. Until the end. I don’t have a brother named Tomas anymore; my brothers now are Auner and Ekko, but sometimes I pretend I can see the bugs on the tree, and sometimes I pretend Tomas is with us.
When the squirrel, the grey and furry squirrel, runs up the tree, my arm flails, flying up in the air, as if it’s running with the squirrel, and then crashing back against my side. It flails again, my eyes lighting up. The squirrel races fast, he’s past the window now, past where I can see him, but I imagine him running along one branch, jumping to the next. A leaf, brown and cracked, floats into view. It looks crunchy. With the squirrel out of sight, I think of little bugs again. The squirrel’s claws help him hold onto the bark; did he rip a little bug into pieces when he scurried up the bark? “We be careful,” Tomas says. “Bugs are small. They need us.” He rested his palm against the ground and waited, very still, for the bugs to crawl off his fingers into the grass. Sometimes he gently scooted them off with a finger. He never squished them, flicked them or hurt them. Because bugs are little. We be careful.
”Drip, drip,” Ekko chants. I move my eyes from the window. Ekko’s arm is held straight above his body. Water pools together, forms the shape of a tear and plop, pulls away from the ceiling. Ekko laughs, Auner screeches when the plop of water drops onto Ekko’s forehead. “Drip, drip!” A small light brown spot is on the ceiling. Why is everything brown? Tree trunks, water spots on ceilings, leaves, the ground when it gets wet, Noodle’s baston, Tomas’s hair and eyes. Other kids are starting to chatter about the water coming from the ceiling; if the noise gets too loud, Noodle will come in. Or Chimp. Or somebody.
Alina hasn’t moved all day; she’s been very still since last night when she came back with Chimp. She wasn’t crying then. She’s not cried at all. She made the tssk noise with her tongue for a long time, almost until she fell asleep. And she rocked, back and forth, backand forth. We all rock sometimes—not just the four of us, but all of the kids here. But Alina also came back bleeding. It’s on the bed now that we share; there wasn’t much blood, but it trailed down her legs and made a red spot on the mattress. Blood is not brown—until it dries. When it dries, it is brown.
Ekko sits on his knees, bouncing on the bed, pointing high above him at the water plopping. “Drip, drip! Drip!” He makes the other kids point, bounce and shriek. Auner screeches again, slaps his forehead with his palm. The excitement makes bubbles of red pop in my brain; I scratch my arms, moving from my side to stand on the mattress. I pull the bars towards me and then push them away. Alina stays still.
When the lights turn on and footsteps that sound like thunder break into the room, I sit down. “Shut up!” Chimp yells. As soon as he speaks, Alina’s legs pull into her chest and she starts shaking, violently. Chimp is worse than Noodle. I don’t want him to speak to me or Alina, so I plop down on the mattress. When Chimp sees the water dripping from the ceiling, he mutters something to himself—too low for us to hear – and then he smacks Ekko backwards. The burst of excitement fades; I stare again out the window at the tree trunk. The glass of the window looks wet; there are a few spots of water on the outside of the glass. Rain might have come in the night when we slept. Tomas’s favorite part of Taramul Viselor were the rivers. “Tomas,” I say his name out loud. Nobody looks at me. The biggest river in Taramul Viselor is home to a special sea animal found nowhere else in the world: the gold-speckled frog. He’s called gold-speckled frog because he has gold specks around his eyes and on his back.The gold-speckled frog splashes along the banks, swims in the currents, hops across the bellies of otters… and rescues tiny little bugs from drowning when they wander too closely to the water’s edge. Toma’s hero: the gold-speckled frog. “Tomas, Tomas, Tomas.” The rivers are bright, cleanand cool… but my favorite part of Taramul Viselor are the mountains.
“Alizabet.” Alina’s hand pats my arm. “Alizabet.” It is the first time Alina’s spoken since coming back from Chimp. It is the first time she’s moved. Her eyes stare upward at the ceiling but her hand pats mine again and again until I stop chanting Tomas’s name. In the silence that follows, I hear the drip, drip of the water from the ceiling, I hear the flailing arms of kids in the beds and the babble of others. Then I hear Ekko.
“Who – who is T – T – T – Tomas?”