Little Lion Man
By Michele Habel-Coffey
I saw little Lion Man digging in the sand again, near the edge where the waves roll in. He had found several treasures already and they were lined neatly beside him, in various shapes and sizes, all with the same grey, circular pattern on their surface.
“Petoskeys?” I asked. He looked up and repeated the word back to me. “Petoskeys.”
He went right back to his digging and I took my place beside him in the sand, about three feet away. I knew by now that was the closest proximity he would tolerate. I began digging. That was about the time his mother came running up, breathy and sweating.
“Oh… oh my God… oh…” she choked out. “Thank you Grace, for saving me again.” She said this without ever taking her eyes off him. Her body leaned into him, as if longing for contact and resisting all at once – a force fighting itself within. “Oh my little Lion man, you gave Mommy such a scare.”
“No scare, no Mommy.” He said, pausing to look to her for the response. “No scare, no Mommy.” she returned. This placated him and he returned again to digging furiously and sifting, again and again, for the precious stones.
“My pleasure. I’m always at the windows in the morning. And besides, I enjoy our little visits.” I said.
“You know, he’s got about a hundred of them already. He’d know if you took just one.” She said.
“I believe it. I believe he’d know just which one it was too.” I answered.
“He would. He really would.” She responded as she fell into quiet thought.
After a few moments, she came out of her reverie and said, “Thank God for the alarms. I just don’t know what I do if…” she trailed off, her voice shaking.
“It’s okay Meredith.” I didn’t know what else could be said. I could only imagine her fears. I lived the quiet, privileged existence of one who only experienced the challenges of the occasional car trouble or common cold. “I can stay for a while if you’d like to walk a bit.”
“EEEEH!” Daniel, her little Lion man, protested as he covered his ears to block our unwelcome intrusion into his world. It was the only reminder I needed to know it was time for silence and understanding.
“I think I will. You really don’t mind?” She always asked, knowing I did not. We were whispering now.
“Just go, go. I’ll be right here.”
As she walked down the deserted beach, she hugged herself tightly, like one might do if they were cold. But it was not cold; it was a balmy August morning with a light breeze. Still, she clung to herself, rubbing her hands up and down her arms as if the friction could remove the chill of the emotions she was fighting. She walked with her head down, despite the beauty of the sun rising in the morning sky devoid of clouds. The waves lapped at her bare feet, dampening the edges of her fleece pajama pants. Her feet moved slowly and with no particular timing, her motions mechanical and lacking purpose, as if on autopilot. I imagined they must be; her mind was filled with too much else to be bothered.
This happened at least twice a week now and I had grown accustom to speaking Daniel’s native language, careful to avoid using too many words, minding my tone and volume. Today, however, Daniel seemed particularly agitated and I noticed he wasn’t wearing his usual attire. If nothing else, he was creature of habit and rigidly so, so this was very much out of character. He was rocking back and forth, back and forth, over his line of rocks, attending to them every few seconds to adjust their position until he was satisfied again enough to return to digging for more. Suddenly, he found another and let out a jubilant giggle, looking up at me and saying triumphantly, “Petoskey!”
“Petoskey!” I responded with matched excitement.
He placed the coveted stone in line with the others, obsessing for many moments over its position in the line. He moved it up and down, slightly sideways and back, over and over until it was just right. He then returned to digging, as did I. I knew better than to find and claim a stone myself and so when I finally came across one I slid it as undetectably as possible toward his pile, so that he would find the stone for himself without sensing any involvement on my part. We continued this ritual for about 30 minutes, when I noticed that Meredith was returning to us in the same mechanical rhythm she had left with.
“Any luck?” she asked.
“Yep, many successes.” I said as I gestured toward the much longer line of stones now before Daniel.
“Oh! He will be thrilled to add them to the vase. That should get us through a few hours anyway.” She said.
“How come he’s dressed differently today, Hon?” I asked, knowing this must be a source of confusion and strain to Daniel and to his weary mother.
“The suit finally gave way and I cannot repair the zipper. I was trying to find another online, in a bigger size, when I heard the alarms go off. He barely slept last night he was so upset.” I knew this meant she had barely slept either – a regular occurrence though for varying reasons. Her eyes were always mottled by deep, purple half-moon circles beneath them in place of the makeup she no longer had the time or inclination to apply. She looked 10 years older than she truly was; the hardships marked her like an old, worn map. I could tell she was once a great beauty; she had delicate features and a beautiful smile, with deep, penetrating dimples. I saw them as rarely as I saw Daniel out of his favorite suit.
Daniel suddenly began gathering his stones into his small, blue plastic bucket – a sign it was time to go once again. He raised himself up just as suddenly and began to run toward their home, which was just down the beach. We were next-door neighbors; we just didn’t live exactly right next door. Meredith began to run after him yelling to me as she went, “Thank you Grace! I’ll see you soon I am sure!” With that, they were gone again, for now.
I pondered their situation and decided it was time to make a trip into town. I watched until they were out of sight, turning to go back home and ready myself to leave. The stairs up from the beach were hard to climb; my knees had stiffened quite a bit from kneeling all that time in the sand with Daniel. I headed for the cabinets with the ibuprofen, knowing I would need it. I chased the tablets with the last of my now-cold coffee while formulating a plan in my mind.
Filled with purpose and hope, I set about making a list of the things I knew I would need so I wouldn’t forget anything. Town was 10 miles away, after all, and I felt the need to be expedient and efficient, for Meredith’s sake. Having to make two trips was not an option or at least one I felt I could afford. Meredith looked particularly worn today and the absence of Daniel’s favorite attire was not going to grant her the luxury of recovery, not until it reappeared would he relax or let her relax. With that in mind, I set off to town, a list in my purse and a mission forming in my thoughts.
I drove taking in the beauty of the hayfields around me, now tall and ripe for the harvesting. It would not be long now before the fields would be filled with the large, round yellow bales that marked the coming of fall. I prayed silently for their family as I considered my freedoms and blessings.
The Wal-Mart parking lot was basically empty; it was Monday and noon had not yet come. Most folks here were at work and those who were not were likely attending to the duties of their farms or enjoying a leisurely morning of their vacation time at the lake. I grabbed a cart from the parking lot, put my purse in the spot that doubled at a child’s seat, considering the many times I brought my own children here when we vacationed, before eventually deciding to make a permanent move. I was again reminded of Meredith and Daniel, who could not make such trips. The noise, the lights and the people were too much for Daniel’s fragile psyche to endure. I make my way directly to the hobby section, where I found a clerk eagerly awaiting a chance to assist me in my quest.
“How can I help you dear?” the grey-haired, grandmotherly looking woman said with a polite smile. I explained what I needed and after imploring me to follow her, she led me to the catalog of patterns, digging through them expertly. She came upon what I was looking for almost instantly and inquired about the size I was seeking. I gave a description of Daniel; he was now 10 years old though thinner than the average boy given his insistence on eating only green and yellow foods. She handed me the appropriate package and led me on to the fabrics I would need to complete the suit. When we finished, my cart was full with material, fabrics, a zipper and the appropriate embellishments. I thanked her and headed directly to the checkouts, which lightened my wallet by about fifty dollars at final tally. It was a small price for the hope of seeing them both smile.
When I returned home, the beach was still empty – a good sign for now. I uncovered my sewing machine, which probably needed some mechanical version of ibuprofen, but was willing to work just the same, seeming to understand this was no time for rebellion. It was not long before the silence of my home was interrupted with the whirring sounds of materials passing through its mechanisms. After a few hours of marking, cutting, sewing and repeating, I was staring astonished at my finished product. It was a perfect replica of the previous suit – only bigger and with the more sturdy reinforcements I had added in careful stitches to ensure a longer lifespan on a boy who would wear nothing else. I held it up in front of me and admired the work for a moment. My mother – also my sewing instructor – would have been proud. I then packed the suit into the small, yellow and green gift bag I had purchased, complete with matching bow. Daniel was big on presents and I was sure this would add to his acceptance of my offering. I slid my beach sandals on and headed toward Meredith and Daniel’s home, bag in hand and anxiousness in my heart. I hoped he would like it; he just had to.
I stood at their door for a moment, looking for any signs of life. If they were sleeping, I didn’t want to interrupt their much needed nap. It was only a moment before Meredith appeared in the kitchen. I knocked gently at the door, still uncertain of Daniel’s whereabouts, not wanting to disturb what might be her moment of peace. She smiled at the sight of me and gestured a universal “just a minute” sign as she turned off the door alarm. She immediately noticed my bag upon opening the door.
“Just what are you up to now, Grace?” she asked grinning.
“Have a look.” I said as I removed the tissue paper and showed her the contents.
“Oh! Oh my God Grace! Did you do this? It’s perfect!” and with that, she buried her face in her hands and began to cry.
“Oh now, oh Honey.” I said as I took her into a motherly hug. “I didn’t want to upset you. I thought it would help. Are you okay?” I asked, feeling guilty for making her cry.
“You are a miracle, Grace. You know that? They just don’t make ‘em like you.” She said, turning and calling out to Daniel. “Lion man! Come to kitchen please!” she said in Daniel-speak.
Daniel entered the kitchen, immediately noticing the decorative bag. “Present?” he asked. “Yes, present.” I answered.
He grabbed the package and threw the tissues to the floor, then turned the bag over, dumping its contents onto the large, cherry wood dining table. “Lion!!” he exclaimed. “Lion, lion, lion!”
“Yes, lion for Daniel.” I answered. But he already knew this and was disrobing in front of us, ready to wear his special uniform.
“No shame.” Meredith said and we both laughed as Daniel was zipping up the suit.
“Daniel Lion-Man!” he said proudly.
“Yes, Daniel Lion-Man.” Meredith answered, her eyes smiling, her dimples deeper in her cheeks than I’d ever had the pleasure of seeing. Tears filled the deep pockets of those dimples – happy tears. Perhaps, tonight, in the mighty jungle, this little Lion Man would sleep.