“Look harder.” Mommy seemed excited. “As hard as you can ever look.”
Do You Like Kingdoms, Lottie?
The first time it happened was when I was seven, when mommy came into my bedroom with a smile.
“Lottie, do you like visiting great kingdoms?”
I thought of the kingdoms in stories, and their luxurious splendor and intimidating might. “I think so.”
“I found one.” Mommy’s eyes sparkled. “It’s only between you and me.”
I liked secrets, even ones that were pretend, because it was just me and mommy, no one else to tell. “Okay.”
Mommy’s hand was in mine as we went out the back door. I thought maybe we’d travel far away, to an ancient land, because mommy had found a kingdom. Kingdoms were always far away.
We went to mommy’s special place, a rock that hang over the lake. Mommy stood on it and pointed up, with her finger. “Do you see the kingdom, Lottie?” she asked.
I squinted my eyes really tight, and clenched my fists really hard, but nothing appeared. “No, mommy.”
“Look harder.” Mommy seemed excited. “As hard as you can ever look.”
I was frustrated. “Mommy, I don’t see a kingdom.”
“What do you see?” she said.
“I see a big, black sky, with a moon and stars,” I said.
“You found the kingdom, Lottie,” mommy said.
“Mommy, there’s no castle, or people, or anything,” I protested.
“Lottie, do you see the stars?”
“Yes, mommy.”
“Do you see the pictures?” Mommy pointed to a group of stars shaped like a dipper. “The pictures the stars paint? Lottie, the stars paint pictures one thousand times better than any other painter. They are nature’s artists. Wave to the stars, Lottie. They’ll answer.”
I looked up at the stars, and thought about them being tiny people, with tiny little lives. I waved to them, and they twinkled back. Then mommy took my hand, and we went back inside.
I could almost hear them saying good-bye.
“Lottie, the stars have something to say,” mommy told me five years later.
“The stars are my friends, mommy,” I said. “They tell me stories and I find their hidden pictures.”
“Good, then you’ll understand what they have to say,” mommy said.
We walked out to the rock again. I saw the little pinpricks of light reflected in the glassy lake. “Mommy, the stars gaze at their reflections all day. They must think they are beautiful.”
“Vain little things, stars are,” mommy chuckled. I laughed, too.
“Mommy, you said the stars had something to say,” I said.
“Yes. They’re saying good-bye for now,” mommy said.
“Why are they saying good-bye for now? And to whom?” I asked.
“They’re saying good-bye to me, Lottie,” mommy said.
Mommy left our little cottage by the lake soon after she said good-bye for now. The stars took her in with them, because her journey was not forward, it was up.
I didn’t talk to the stars much after that.
“What are you showing me, Lottie?” Allen asked.
“Do you like kingdoms, Allen?” I asked. He nodded. “What about hidden ones?”
“I like them best,” Allen said.
“Then you’ll like this one.” I went to mommy’s special rock. “You can also see my mommy there.”
“How could I see her? She left eight years ago,” he said.
“You’ll see.”
We stood on the rock, and I watched the stars gaze at themselves in the lake. I wondered if mommy was just as vain as they were. I didn’t think so. “Allen, look up,” I ordered. He looked up. “Do you see the kingdom?”
He smiled at me all nice and sweet. “Yes, Lottie.”
“You found it faster than me,” I giggled. “But can you see mommy?”
The corners of his mouth twitched. “Yes, there. The biggest star of them all.”
Just then, the biggest star glimmered even more. “Mommy heard us, Allen,” I said. “I think she likes you.”
“Maybe even more than I like you,” Allen said.
The only stars I could see were his eyes right then.
“Mommy, Allen is taking me away,” I said. “He’s taking me away from your rock.”
Mommy didn’t say anything. She just watched me. But then I thought of something she might have said if she could. “Mommy, you’ll always be there, won’t you? Stars stay where they are.”
I knew mommy said yes, even though she couldn’t talk.
Allen showed me his special rock. “I found one for you, Lottie. We will come out here every night.”
I liked that idea, and kissed him to show it.
One night, mommy did not get to see me, because I could not come out to the rock. But she knew why, because she sent a little present to me, and I was delivering it. Allen didn’t come out, either.
But the next night, I came out, and this time I had her present.
“Thank you, mommy,” I said.
The baby thanked her too.
One day, my present almost got stolen from me.
I couldn’t let that happen.
I ran out to the rock and cried. I didn’t even talk to mommy. She didn’t mind.
I almost was too sad to see the doctor. But he came to the rock, anyway. He told me my present wasn’t gone yet.
Allen hugged me, and then we hugged the present.
We hugged Annie.
One night, I went to get Annie.
“Annie, do you like visiting special kingdoms?” I asked.
Annie said she did, but she liked hidden kingdoms best.
“I have just the kingdom for you, Annie.”
I showed her the kingdom, I showed her their art. And I told her about mommy.
We held each other, and cried. But we laughed, too.
“Mommy, this is our secret,” she said.
“Not just ours,” I said. “It’s mommy’s secret, too.”
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