The Dandelion King: Chapter 1 and 2

The Dandelion King: Chapter 1 and 2

A Chapter by Tonks

A mother's traumatic experiences send her deep into the woods.




1. The Gray Place Before Dawn

Childbirth is traumatic.  Through the course of the night, she had been torn in half, divulged not just a baby, but a major organ as well and of course, fallen in love with the little creature attached to it.  Love is enough of a tragedy in itself, and yet, without the love would any mother still be sane?  She loved her little man, but now lacked sensitivity to anything else.  She had delivered her baby, purged herself of the afterbirth, bled, and lost a piece of herself as well.  She thought about moments in her past, when the first man she loved just laughed and drove away, or the death from Alzheimer’s of her amnesic Gram and wondered if she ought to feel sadness or relief, or if the mechanical weighing and assigning (or not) of feelings was enough. 

When she was twelve, Abby had a concussion and her mom woke her up in the night to ask, “Who is the president?  What year is it?  How old are you? Where are you?” That was when she was a child, now they also watch for irritability, depression, or aggressive behavior, she had heard.  They might have also watched for overindulging superstitions, childhood fantasies and beliefs in woodland sprites, she thought. 

She thought about simple things: the curve of the handle on her mug, the modest blend of shades of rose in the hospital room, and wondered if she ought to feel differently for those than her lost Gram.  Did the change indicate something, like it did about her brain when in the middle of the night wake-ups she told her mom she was already thirteen?

In the absence of emotion, the prescient mind takes these convoluted facts, these spiny inputs, and processes them anyway.  Her output was a knot, a feeling of convulsion and disequilibrium centered in her bowels that would not let her sleep and prevented her from doing anything about it.

At first sleep was caused by pure exhaustion, but it was only her body sleeping.  Her mind moved in and out of every moment in her life, triggered by a single notion or phrase.  The birth had been cataclysmic, her mental anguish disproportionate to the physical ordeal she had survived.  A religious ceremony had taken place in the birthing center, as though the midwife had donned her raiment as the high priestess and performed a dark sacrifice with a sinuous blade and a bowl of blood, chanting some sacred midwifery chant that all earth-mothers know, “Ah-mun Rah!” to allow this child into the world. 

Couldn’t they see that she didn’t wear natural fibers?  She had been bullied out of pain medication and into enduring the trauma, and now she lay in the hospital bed, prodding her soul, poking it, to see if it was all there.  She had done the same to her once taut and bulging belly and felt sad for the absence in her uterus.  Now she felt around in her being and was certain something was missing there.  Something had been left behind in the gray place that exists before sunrise.

She held her lovely boy.  His warmth and tiny motions more than filled the physical space that had been eaten from her in the birth, but her love for him and his budding soul were much too large to account for the small piece of her that she was certain was missing. 

She was reluctant to let the nurses take him.  The warmth in her heart reassured her that she was not unfeeling.  They convinced her that she needed to sleep, and at first, sleep came. 

Her oldest son visited and brightened her moments.  He loved the baby, his brother, he said the word with both nonchalance and great significance in the same utterance.  “He’s my brother.” As though my was as important to say as brother.  He rejoiced in seeing her again.  He was a little too clingy, almost as though it was a performance, and she loved it completely, but it didn’t fill the void.  His show of love and ebullient presence only distracted her, as though she were a terminal patient momentarily forgetting her pain over a brilliant bouquet of bright and pungent flowers.

She couldn’t help but gush, “Oh, Ellis, you know exactly what I need.  You always do.  You’ll look after us, Oliver and me, I know it.  It makes me feel safe; you always take care of me.”  Even though she was happy when school started each fall. 

When she got home, sleep was still broken. 

Her husband, Bruce, said, “My parents have offered to take Ellis overnight. That way there won’t be any more wake-ups than necessary, you know, for feeding.  What do you think?”  But she couldn’t think, she could go with the flow, so she did.  She hadn’t told him that she wasn’t sleeping; even the odd little one-hour catnaps that nursing mothers usually get were lost to her. 

In sixth grade Abby gave up on sleep.  She didn’t watch TV or gossip prolifically on the phone, she turned down the lights in her room and sat in the dark, for hours.  It was most likely because of this lack of sleep that she began to have paranoid delusions.  She would get on the school bus and quite suddenly realize that she wasn’t wearing pants.  Of course she was wearing pants, but how did she know they were real? None of the kids were leering or laughing at her.  Maybe her pants were real and not just in her mind.  She remembered putting them on, but that could have been more of the illusion.  She would walk down the bus aisle, carefully holding her bag in front of her, in case her underwear was just an illusion too.  When she sat down quickly next to Tammy Granger and Tammy spoke to her, it confirmed that there were indeed pants.  Either that or Tammy was also fooled by the illusion.  Around this time, Abby also began to worry that, just as her breath crystallized in the air on chilly winter mornings, what if her farts did too so everyone could see them? No sleep was, in comparison, a moderate issue at best.


Spring in Vermont has three kinds of rain.  There is the playful storm, where the sun often shines and children and grandmas sing that the foxes are getting married. There is the mist that hangs in the air, each droplet waiting, suspended, for someone to walk through it so it can linger in the air no more.  And then there is the downpour, which comes so hard it sounds like the roof will dissolve or the rivers forming around the cars will lift them into the road and drive them away like logs ridden down the river ways from up country Maine then wash out the road so no one can pass, even if they can find their waterlogged cars. 

Rain of the third kind came that first night that she was alone with her baby and it kept her alone.  As if the weather lay in wait for the opportunity to isolate her.  She remembered that her first star moment on TV came when she was similarly isolated in fourth grade.  She and her neighbor, Tammy, decided to ride their bikes to school the morning after a downpour.  The first part of the ride was the fun part, since she lived on a steep and very high hill across the valley from the school, which sat on another steep and high hill.  She sat on her green banana seat, with red white and blue streamers caught in the wind as she prayed that a car wouldn’t come around the winding corner as the steep road shot into the woods.  At the bottom of the hill, and before the trudge up the other side, lay a one-lane bridge.  Well, it was there most mornings.  This morning it was gone.  In its place was swift flowing water, if you didn’t know that the bridge had had a railing, you might think that it was still there, just under the surface.  Apparently at least one truck had thought so, and it was hung up on some small trees about twenty yards downstream.  Amidst the mist rising from the bright morning waters, she and Tammy could see the Channel 3 News Team on the other side, poised to catch the next fateful victim.  The two girls hopped off their bikes and waved.  That evening, on the phone, she told everybody why she wasn’t in school and to watch the news.  Abby stood in the night, watching the water make and erase elliptical craters on her window, recounting that strange world, when folks simply endured weather induced isolation.

The night that it rained she had an odd dream.  At least she thought it was a dream at the time.  Her tiny baby, barely two weeks old, watched her from her doorway as she slept. Then he turned and walked out of the room and down the stairs.  It was the kind of dream that felt lucid, obviously true in the ferocity of vivid detail, yet impossible. 

Earlier, on the phone, she had reassured Bruce, her husband, that she would be okay.

“Sorry I can’t make it back, there’s no road here!” He sounded excited. 

“He’s eating well " it’s becoming routine, and I’m not so weak in my stomach muscles anymore.” Her voice remained flat.

“Do you have your pills?” He asked.

She paused, “Yes.”

“Have you been taking them?” He continued.

“Yes. [pause] Well, it's been two days.  I'll take one in the morning, it's too late now, I'd be up all night,” Is what she said, I’m struggling to feel something here.  They flatten me.  The meds take the colors out, they leave me beige.  I can’t stand the anxiety and the roller coaster, but I can’t live without any emotional sensation. Was left unsaid, inside.

“Have you been feeling [pause] okay? I mean are you out of the doldrums?” Did he mean, 'Are you depressed?' She was sure he meant to say, ‘I'm worried you might hurt yourself or the baby since postpartum depression hit you hard and you were already in a pretty weak state.’

“Yeah, I'm fine, I'll be fine.  I love it here in our new house.  The woods are lovely and the park is just down the road.  I'm getting out and taking walks, I'm fine.”

It was true that she was getting out and she was taking walks.  Their new house seemed like a much better place to raise a child than where they'd left.  They'd moved from one edge of a rural Vermont village setting to another edge of the village-rural Vermont setting, but the difference was palpable.  The neighbors didn't wave guns at their husbands when they were fighting, for one.  Actually, they had no sense of the neighbors at all, except for their graciously manicured lawns and freshly painted houses.  She assumed the neighbors fought the old fashioned Yankee way, with stoic repression and passive avoidance. 

Lush and explosive with birth and life, spring roars into Vermont, slinging mud and ice in equal measure.  The trees pulsate, sucking the golden waters from the ground to fire leaf bursts into the sky, and the sky rips open to replenish the ground.  Throughout the warm and cold heaving, the sun burns bright, making colors climb up the raindrops into the dark afternoon clouds.

She set her jaw in firm defiance as she continued her conversation with her husband in her head, thinking many things she would never say to him.  Her eyes and face twitched as she internally vocalized arguments and comebacks. Her dainty ski-jump nose made each expression come across as more adorable and comical than how she would want it to if he were there.  Between her doll-like face and small size, very few descriptions resonated with her appearance or countenance that weren't in some way diminutive. She had tried many hairstyles and found that any extreme only emphasized the prejudice against her.  Very short was pixie, very long like a little girl, so she kept it at her shoulders with no bangs and as a result, felt forever mired in her pre-professional early twenties. 

It didn’t help that every argument flustered her and that to find the right thing to say she needed a couple of tries.  She found that not saying anything was usually more effective than trying to find the right words. 




2. Double Yolk

The neighborhood provided respite, a placid fresh view on life.  It was as though her walks with the stroller observing spring unfold were a sculler's quiet wake expanding as the first drawn breath across dawn's still surface of a quiescent pond.  But things weren't right at home, and really, it was things, items. That is, if the cat counts as a thing, too. Oliver, oh, her darling Oliver, seemed different, especially around the cat.  And a chair was out of place.  It would make no difference in any other setting, but she had nothing to maintain her concentration, since she was on sparse stints of false sleep.

She didn't have the capacity for engaging in any meaningful tasks or the luxury of starting anything that would take more than five minutes, so she busied herself with cleaning.  This chair, which was by the mantle, was the one she would stand on to open the double drapes on the big window in the living room.  She did this every morning, even when nine months pregnant.  And this morning it was over there, only a few feet, but over there, by the fireplace.  If anyone else had been in the house in two days, she'd understand. Instead, she began to scan the rest of the house for inconsistencies.  Little things were missing, a tiny glass bird, her earrings, the smallest fridge magnets - not significant, but noticeable.  She decided to go back upstairs and look at her wedding ring.  Her fingers were still too fat to fit it on any finger but her pinky, and then it was too loose, so she kept it in the drawer by her bed.  It was a simple gold band.  Hand hammered and set with different colors of gold in concentric circles, like an ancient relic.  She opened the drawer and saw a book she had thought she might read back when she could concentrate, a section of some kind of computer cable, those blasted things were everywhere, and the bottom of the drawer.  No ring. 

Was there a break-in? She'd heard of people in this town whose houses had been broken into, and the robbers had made themselves sandwiches and watched TV and then left, only taking cash that had been left out in the open.  Except for her ring, about the equivalent of a sandwich was missing, a couple of pieces from a collection of sentimental baubles, silly knick-knacks, just junky bric-a-brac from the mantle. 

She flashed back to standing in the general store with Tammy Granger and watching her reach into one of the plastic fishbowls for some 5¢ candy.  Tammy had dirt and oil caked along the cuticles of her fingers.  Where Abby had pen stains and a writer’s callus, Tammy’s fingers were plump and fleshy, doughy like a plumber, if a plumber could be a nine-year-old girl.  Then she put the tiny cellophane present in her pocket.  She was absolutely thrilled and mortified.  The look Tammy gave her said, I’ve done this before.  It also said, I wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t here and actually, in the long run, I hope that my mother finds out, and I don’t really like Atomic Fire Balls that much.  She mouthed to Tammy, “put it back,” and, like consensual pre-teens chickening out on sex, she did.

 She convinced herself she had moved the ring because what was missing in her house, small shiny things, amounted to the equivalent of a handful of Atomic Fire Balls or one long Charleston Chew.  No person she could think of would be interested in those things.

Her hair stood on end. No person. In a spatial vertiginous swoon, the house felt both tight around her like a turtle’s carapace and altogether too spacious, as though the compartments and hiding places her house provided were too numerous to explore.  Caught off balance, dizzily vacillating between an agoraphobic and a claustrophobic wretch. The space behind her, wherever she wasn't looking, was both shrinking and expanding and in her mind’s eye, filled with eyes and then her imagination added hands, reaching for her.  Her stomach tied in knots.  She thought of the house’s century old hauntings. She did what she could do to defend against the house’s power over her.  She bundled her precious baby and went out for an early morning walk. 

The rain had stopped and the temperature had plummeted.  The stroller barely strolled; it did more of a three wheel diagonal slide, since the fourth wheel’s cheap plastic lock was permanently set.  She clenched her teeth and pushed through, the work out will be good for me, she thought.  She stared at her elongated shadow thrown well in front of her by the rising sun.  She was glad that the morning sun cast her shadow so far away from her; it appeared monstrous and misshapen - even after discounting the stroller’s strange bulk.  She pressed harder against the handle.  It didn't matter that it was hard to push; she didn't want her baby in the stroller for long anyway.  It smelled musty, and the frightening books the nurses had loaned her made her worry about asthma.  So as soon as she was at the park, she pulled him out of the carriage and sat down on a park bench.  The sun warmed her face and the bench chilled her spine.  The mix of sensations used to delight her when she held baby Ellis. 

She was about to start breast-feeding - more for her own comfort than his, especially since one b**b was getting to be bigger than the other.  But a white-haired woman with a black velvety dress, enveloped in a hand-knit creation sat down with her.  Abby eyed her covering, probably an attempt at a sweater, it showed more enthusiasm for knitting than talent.  Pregnancy allowed her to forego passing judgment, instead she swooned at the prospect of extra-familial human contact, and returned the woman’s soft smile with a bright beam.

“Boy or girl?” She asked.  And without waiting for an answer, she said, “May I look?” She leaned in over Abby’s lap at the newborn and gasped and cooed.  Her hair smelled of paper whites. “Why he's brand new!”

Abby glowed with pride over the attention when Ellis was born.  Somehow, the mother’s equivalent of, “Nice work, slugger,” didn’t satisfy her anymore.  She wanted so badly to connect with a person who’s DNA she didn’t share.  She had seen this woman in the library before, during her attempts to start reading again.

 The strange old woman furrowed her brow and looked at the baby through the corner of her eye.  If this weren't odd enough, she then switched sides and peered at him through the corner of her other eye. Finally, uncharacteristic of an old woman in the presence of a baby, she got up to leave with barely a goodbye.

She watched the old woman hurry away. Her eyes darted to the left and right, thinking, What's wrong with my baby that she wouldn’t want to dote on him?  Her head shook. She was losing her mind, why should she care what a crazy old woman, out and about at dawn in a semblance of a knit sweater thought or did? 

Have I gone too long without my pills?  Or had she not returned from the very dark place her mind mired in during childbirth? She shuddered.  That dusk world, hueless- yet crisp, haunted her twilight moments.  She had huddled there to escape the intermittent pain that had swelled at the midwife’s beckoning.  Why did they want to hurt her so much?  She remembers a view of herself, a shadow only, her engorged belly scooped out like from a melon-baller. In her mind she sat, nameless, on the sunless banks of a gray river, under a stone bridge, grasping at her missing belly.  Across the river, a crepuscular darkling scurried away with a bundle - her bundle, but bundle of what? She couldn't remember why she was there.  She couldn't remember why the nurses and her husband were causing her so much pain.  Natural childbirth was supposed to be a wonderful experience.  For her, it was a taste of insanity.  Her mind had gone to a very dark place while in that hospital and, while she feared telling her husband, she still feared even more that part of her never returned.  What she feared most of all, however, was that the gray place where part of her now dwelt was real - and not very far away.

With the hand under Oliver, she fingered the zipper on her woolen hoodie.  It was meant for her husband, she knew he had been polite when he said he liked it.  The zipper shuttle was on the right side instead of the left, and always made her fumble to zip it. 

She got up and slid/strolled the baby back to her house.  She dreaded going back in, but it was getting cold as the morning sun’s radiance succumbed to the budding treetops and a gathering of narrow clouds on the horizon.  The thin spring morning air felt crisp in her lungs, as though there was snow on the breeze.  She went inside, settled the baby, went to the kitchen, started the stove and cracked an egg. 

Two yolks fell out.

There is a point at which reasonable reactions stop and let superstition or urgent craze take over.  She might as well be in the presence of a black cat, a rock star or in her kitchen one week without her meds.  She stopped and compartmentalized everything in her psyche that was normal and everything that provided routine so that she could react in an entirely unnecessary way.  She placed the newly partitioned parcel of routine and normalcy and healthy rational behavior neatly on a safe shelf in her mind, like a box of love letters from an ex-boyfriend, and let go.  Her eyes widened, her actions hastened, she worked without questioning any of her movements, as though she had done each step a thousand times. 

When she was seven, the same age as Ellis, she had found a book on superstitions in among her mother's cookbooks.  She remembers vividly reading about different topics while her mother baked.  She remembered the wet feel of the wooden butcher's block counter top, the uneven creak of the old planks in the floor, and the one nail in the threshold that would catch her sock if she stepped wrong. 

She remembers lying on that floor and reading while her mother baked.  As her mother cracked an egg into the fruitcake batter, she looked up eggshells. Right after the pages expounding the various portents of finding a double yolk came the section on eggshells. There were two entries.  One said to be sure to always crumble your eggshells when you throw them away, lest a witch use them as a boat to escape to sea.  Unlike most of the other entries, this one did not say how that would be bad for the individual, so she figured the witch would somehow curse you for providing her transport. It was the kind of spite for generosity or a favor that an indignant poverty stricken hag might mete out. The facing page said, “To expose a changeling, boil water in an eggshell.  The elf will jump up and cry out, 'why that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen' and run off.” The illustration was a hasty line drawing of a grotesque swaddled baby with eyes popping from excitement.  This book struck her as obviously more true than any other book, if for no reason other than, like a secret, the information was to be found nowhere else.

In very little time, she had folded the baby into his warm fleece blanket so that he was snug and placed him in his car seat on the kitchen table.  She then, under the sole scrutiny of some daffodils on the table and her own shadow, committed herself beyond recovery to her paranoia.

She took the eggshell she had just cracked and filled each half of it with water.  Making the tiniest pots of her poultry, she set them to boil.  She looked at her baby, and a look crossed her face that she was keenly aware of, as though she were watching herself.  She looked at her baby as though she were not looking at her baby, as though she were looking at a pet or a farm animal that needed its shots.  Her motherly instincts were abetting her paranoia, while reason was the sole dissenter, puling quietly like a dejected animal from the very safe shelf she had cast it to when this began.  She rummaged through the kitchen and got a thin nylon rope and a sharp knife, just in case. 

Her childhood fascination with all fey things had left her no uncertainty on how to expose a woodland imposter. As the water started to bubble gently in the eggshells, she lifted the baby, still snug in his blanket, into her arms and wrapped the rope twice around his middle.  Bobbing him gently in her arms, she began to sing.


As I Croo-La Lay

The man in the moon shall say

I spy six kittens in the basket,

O won’t ye let ye in the stray


As I Croo-La Loo

The rooster in the hedge did croon

There's a girl a-curling shells

Up to the moon.


As I Croo-La Lee

There's a man down by the sea

Whose wares and wheys and whelks Oyay

Seem to be awfully fey to me


As I Croo-La Lay

The man in the moon shall say

The wind’s what’s in the windows

Let me lay, O let me lay


Me head down in the meadow

Now me sley, O let me sley


As she finished her Gram’s song, the bubbles that had gathered on the inside edges of the eggshells let go and rose to the water's surface to pop. The shells started rocking as the boiling grew more furious. The baby, who should not have been able to focus on such a thing, was fixated.  A grin spread across its face.  Knowing not to look away, she unwaveringly fixed her gaze on the child. As she watched, the grin did not stop spreading at the baby's natural cheeks.  It continued into a sickly wide smile with sharp edges as its eyes widened - physically widened, beyond opening wide, they enlarged to the size of quarters.  The creature's ears showed momentary tufts of fur and elongated to two points for ever so slight a second that if she blinked, she'd have missed it.  Suddenly, her baby, or this changeling, burst out one tremendous guffaw, as though the fomenting humor in that oddity on the stove couldn't be held back any longer.  

A tiny bit of bile foamed up into her mouth, she quelled the urge to vomit. She quelled the urge to dash the thing on the tiled floor.  The eggshells fell over and steam sizzled off the hot pad. She reached over and flicked off the stove.  When she looked back at the creature, it looked everything like her little son again.  It watched her, adoringly, lovingly.  She thought for a moment that perhaps this was her weak mind projecting these images and that she had not really seen it. She painted on her loving smile and sat as though preparing for interrogation, as an immigrant would upon entering a hostile country. 

She kept the imposter in sight or in her arms at all times.  For it was now her only tie to her baby. She crooned and ogled the thing in part out of habit, but mostly to assuage any suspicion the deceiver might be developing.  She was sure it was questioning whether she had noticed the momentary lapse in its disguise.  Or was it? She had seen a gnome at dusk once, ages ago.  That moment had seemed vivid and surreal at the time, and she had negotiated with her sanity to bargain for the memory to be accepted as she aged instead of rewritten with the logic of historical perspective that destroys so many truths.  She felt she had evidence of the fairy world, but very little information.  Were they smart? Was this thing smart enough to suspect? But most importantly, how could she trick it into leading her to her own baby? 

Or was it all a hallucination? She rocked it in the rocking chair.  The repetitive motion soothed her and possibly delayed the stress-induced migraine that was starting to beep brightly in the side of her skull. 

Forward, back, she rocked.

Would threats work? Threaten it with what? The cat?  

Forward, back.

What would I tell people? Can I say beyond a shadow of doubt that I did see a gnome when I was seventeen, or was that during a sleepless time too?

Forward, back.

What if threatening it backfired and endangered my baby?

Forward, back.

I see dark things flit in the corners of closets.  Once I drove for twenty hours non-stop and started to see Bruce’s shimmering head, looming gigantic in the highway, urging me to follow the red lights. This could be a hallucination.

Forward, back.

I could let it go and follow it.  If I let it go, I might not be able to keep up with it. 

Forward, back.

It must have come from these woods.  That must be where they took him.

She had no doubt who “they” were, and yet had no idea what “they” would look like or how many of them there would be, or even where to find them once she was in the woods.

  She stood.  The rocker indented her calves as it swung forward to stop against her.  She pulled her woolly sweater back out of the closet and headed outside, clutching the trickster tightly to her chest, led by little more than resolve.  









© 2010 Tonks

My Review

Would you like to review this Chapter?
Login | Register

Share This
Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Added on March 11, 2010
Last Updated on March 14, 2010
Tags: Randolph, Vermont, Childbirth, PTSD, Mother, fairies, forest, superstition



Granity, VT

reassured by the certainty of scratchy woolens more..

Under the Ice Under the Ice

A Book by Tonks


A Chapter by Tonks