Rain tap dancing on the tin roof nudges Nora awake. She listens for a few minutes then grins and leaps out of bed. It’s Sunday, it’s her 70th birthday, and it’s raining, the perfect recipe for a delicious day. While a pot of jasmine tea brews, Nora scans the bookshelf for something suitable to the occasion and pulls down the large family album she unearthed in her grandmother’s attic.
She carries a cup of tea and the book to her chair. Stuck in the front of the album is a frayed copy of The Velveteen Rabbit, her childhood favorite. She enjoys again reading the words and studying the illustrations that once so enchanted her stuffed puppy, Peaches.
Yoga music thrumming in the background, Nora closes her eyes and floats down into her body. A gentle shift changes the space around her and….
She’s four years old, sitting in the closet in her room at the top of the stairs reading The Velveteen Rabbit to Peaches. The closet door stands partly open because the puppy is afraid of the dark, but Nora wishes it could be closed against the yelling downstairs.
She feels the front door slam then hears her father’s truck start up and squeal out of the driveway. She hugs Peaches close. “Daddy’s gone again,” she says.
Her mother’s voice spirals up the stairs. “Nora Elane, get your princess butt down here this instant and help me take care of this baby.”
She opens the bedroom door. “Coming, Mama.”
The album slides off Nora’s lap onto the floor. Her head jerks up and she watches the rain carve rivulets in the windowpane for several minutes then takes a sip of her tea. It is still warm. She retrieves the book from the floor and resumes flipping through the pages of black and white photographs….
Nora glides toward a pool of light seeping out around a closed door. She opens it and finds herself in her childhood bedroom. Sensing movement, she turns and a little girl drifts out of the shadows. A flowered dress with missing pearl buttons barely covers her spindly legs, and untied saddle oxfords swamp her feet. Hazel eyes stare out of a smudged face; dirty blonde hair droops like wet Spanish moss to her shoulders.
Nora stoops down. “Hello, who are you?”
The child doesn’t move or speak.
“My name is Nora. What is your name?”
The girl looks down and shuffles her feet.
“Do you live here?”
She chews on a strand of her hair.
“Who takes care of you?”
She fidgets with the hem of her dress.
Nora inches toward the little girl and beckons. “Come a little closer, will you?”
The girl hesitates then takes one step forward. When Nora reaches out and gently pulls the child against her chest, she feels the little heart hammer, the back rigid, arms pressed tightly to her sides. She pulls the piece of hair from the girl’s mouth and gently tucks it behind an ear then fastens the sash on the dress.
As she leans forward to tie the shoelaces, the girl jerks back out of her reach. “You left me,” she says.
“What did you say?”
“You left me,” she shouts.
“But, honey, I don’t even know who you are. How could I have left you?”
The small hands ball into fists.
Something about the eyes and shape of the face tells Nora she has seen this child before, but where? Of course, the photograph in her grandmother’s album…
She looks closely at the little girl. “Your name is Nora, too, isn’t it?”
After a long pause, the child dips her head in a nod.
“Do you still have The Velveteen Rabbit book?”
The girl shrugs.
“Can I see it sometime?”
The girl glares at Nora then turns and strides away. “You left me,” she shouts over her shoulder.
“Wait, please let me try to explain, will you?”
The girl slows down but keeps her back turned.
“After Daddy left and Mama went a little crazy, I thought I had to get tough to take care of myself and our little sister. I was afraid I couldn’t do it if I stayed soft and gentle like you, so I left you behind. It was wrong, I know that now, and I’m sorry.”
The girl doesn’t move.
Nora leans toward her. “On my way down here I found a soft warm place that’s full of light and soft sounds. If we move you up to that place, we would be close to each other.”
The girl studies Nora for a moment then lowers her eyes.
“Please, darling. I need you to teach me to be gentle and loving like I used to be.” Nora lays her hand gently on the girl’s shoulder. “Let’s go take a look at that place, see if you like it, okay?”
The child hesitates for several moments then falls into step beside Nora.
“Tomorrow we’ll go to the seashore, walk in the surf, maybe feed the seagulls. Would you like that?”
The girl stops and bows her head. Nora feels the sparrow shoulders shake under her hand.
She leans down and wipes the tears from the child’s face. “I have a little dog, Nora. Her name is Peaches and she’s the sweetest dog in the world. We can take her to the beach with us tomorrow and all play in the surf together. What do you say?”
A smile flits across the still-damp face. “Okay,” she says and takes Nora’s hand. Together they step into their heart.