Zoe gathered together the freshly printed pages of her twice-proofread assignment, and tucked them gently into a navy-blue pocket folder, all set for their journey to Sarah Jane Smith. Miss Janine, Zoe’s teacher, would be the ultimate recipient of what Zoe had entitled “The 124 Letters of Maria Celeste,” an unusual blend of historical research and imaginative fiction, that she had written in response to her teacher’s request that her students each research and write a story about an actual person in history who is little known, using any form they wished, from poetry to historical fiction, in 12 pages, double-spaced, 12-point font.
Sarah Jane had been fascinated by Zoe’s decision to write about Sister Maria Celeste, a 17th century Italian nun, the eldest daughter of the famed Galileo Galilei, known by some as the father of observational astronomy, of physics and even of science itself, but rarely as the father of “a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me,” as stated by the man himself, about his daughter, whose original name was Virginia Galilei.
Galileo’s support of the “heretical” but fundamentally accurate heliocentric theory of Nicholas Copernicus, which maintained that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around as was believed in the geocentric theory which was supported and defended by the Catholic Church as the design of God, had led to his 1633 trial for heresy by the Roman Catholic Inquisition. After being found guilty, Galileo escaped death and prison by agreeing to adhere to a number of specific imposed requirements, the two central of which were that he recant his heretical beliefs (he did) and that that he refrain from promoting them in his writings (he did not). Because of his violation of the second condition, he was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life (he died in 1642). In 1631, prior to his inevitable trial, Galileo had relocated from Florence to a villa called Il Goiello, located in Arcetri within sight of the Convent of San Mateo where Virginia had become a nun in the Order of Saint Clare (more widely known as The Poor Clares) in 1616. She had selected the name of Sister Maria Celeste, in honour of both the Virgin Mary and her father’s fascination with the stars. It is said that once he relocated to the town of Arcetri he could hear the convent’s bells ring every day, reinforcing a sense of their being close to each other, even though father and daughter could no longer see each other face to face.
What is known for certain is that Galileo remained in contact with his daughter, maintaining their longstanding correspondence which appears to have begun in 1623 and ended with her death in 1634: he would receive and respond faithfully to her frequent requests for financial support for much-needed repairs to the convent which the Poor Clares could not otherwise afford, and she would send him herbal medicines as his health faltered (she was the convent’s apothecary).
Maria Celeste also struggled with her health and died at age thirty-three, only one year after his nearby house arrest in Arcetri had begun.
Zoe imagined the pain they both must have felt in those last years, being so close and yet so far from each other, but she didn’t not have to imagine the pain of losing someone so loved, in this case a daughter he had admired so much and who had helped him throughout his life as both a confidante and his assistant in recording his important scientific discoveries and theories in his writings and during his lengthy struggle with the Church.
Galileo would die while still under house arrest not far from the Convent of San Matteo, 10 years after the death of his daughter. The degree of pain and loss and loneliness that he must have felt in those last years became apparent to Zoe and many others with the discovery that he and Sister Maria Celeste are buried side-by-side in the Basilica of San Croce in Florence. Zoe hoped to get there one day. She felt a strong connection.
Early in her research, Zoe had learned that Livia, Galileo’s younger daughter, who had lived in the same convent as her sister since their early teens, had also “taken the veil,” there, becoming Sister Arcangela, in 1617 at the age of 16. However, Zoe quickly discovered that there was much less known about this second daughter, making Arcangela a difficult focus for this particular assignment; records indicate she was ill most of her life and thus presumably was less able to play as an active a role in own history, let alone Galileo’s. But no one knows for sure.
There was also a son, Vincenzo, his youngest child, but his relationship with Galileo was turbulent, basically one of estrangement, with Sister Maria Celeste acting as mediator. The two men did reconcile, and Galileo named Vincenzo his official heir. This declaration was necessary as Vincenzo and his sisters were all born out of wedlock (to the same woman, Marina Andrea di Gamba) and had no legal claim to legitimacy, which was why Galileo had sent both daughters to live and study in San Matteo at very young ages (15 and 16), because their official illegitimacy would have deemed them unmarriageable in upper-class Italian society, and he wished to ensure their futures in this more socially acceptable manner.
Yes, as you may have guessed, Zoe had hurled her pen across the room in anger at this social injustice which, for her, was worse than the Roman Catholic Church’s treatment of Galileo, but it encouraged her to look even deeper into at least one of these so-called illegitimate lives.
Her research zeroed in on Sister Maria Celeste for several reasons intertwined: because of Zoe’s aforementioned righteous indignation; because of her belief that a great deal more was to be discovered about this particular hidden figure in history; because she felt a strong emotional link to this woman and her father; and, especially, because of 124 precious reasons -- the letters she had written to her father that were found after Galileo’s death.
Even more intriguing to Zoe, budding author, historian, not to mention one of Sarah Jane’s team of adventurers and mystery-solvers, was that Galileo’s letters to Maria Celeste are still considered lost, perhaps destroyed by the convent after Sister Maria Celeste’s death, but missing either way, along with who knows what other of her own letters still might exist somewhere! It was an exciting prospect; one she hoped this assignment would make apparent to Sarah Jane and her team of which Zoe was a proud member.
Zoe’s assignment and her fascination led her to and through each one Maria Celeste’s 124 surviving letters, which had been translated into English in 1999 by Dava Sobel and used as the basis for her book, Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love, and reproduced in their entirety online, as part of The Galileo Project, an amazing ongoing collaboration of a teacher and her students, that Zoe yearned to be a part of.
But since that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, if ever, she had been inspired to complete her assignment by expanding her historical story to include the speculative re-creation of several of Galileo’s letters of response. Now, today, was the day that she would show her trusted friend, mentor, journalist and former space-time traveler, Miss Sarah Jane Smith, the results of her research and imagination. Zoe was very excited.
It was 1 pm on a sunny Sunday afternoon in early December, a bit warmer than usual, but still cold enough to require her navy blue wool jacket and her favourite cozy-warm, bright red knit cap with the extremely large, golden-brown faux-fur pom-pom on top that Finn had teased her about mercilessly because to him, the hat looked more like a Tribble sitting on Santa’s knee.
Zoe had threatened to slug him for that one (nothing unusual), but she had recently seen the old Star Trek TV series episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles” and had to admit, the pom did look a LOT like a Tribble…but her head as Santa’s knee? INSULT!
Thoughts of her brother poured into her mind. Finn was at school and would only be returning during Christmas break, a few weeks away, so she would be here without him but definitely with her memories, on December 15th, the third anniversary of their mother’s death. And that of her unborn sister Ariel as well. Zoe shook her head to clear her mind of these thoughts.
Alfie was supposed to have been here ten minutes ago and she wasn’t waiting for him.
She swung open the front door, stepped out, closed and locked it all in one movement, and rushed out into the road, her assignment folder in hand and her mind on everything but what was going on around her—a dangerous thing even in the small village of Foxgrove, especially with Alfie Chandra loose on his skateboard.
And, there he was! At the top of the hill racing down towards her, waving frantically, and shouting unintelligibly. Such a Drama King!
“Shut UP, Alfie, and watch where you’re going!” she shouted as a car whizzed by her, unseen except by Alfie, who soared right into Zoe in an attempt to take her out of the car’s way.
The two of them slammed against a large, rough-hewn, stone fence, Alfie’s helmet protecting his head but not his arm, as he felt his arm snap, before he sank to the ground.
The side of Zoe’s woolly-covered head had slapped hard against a rounded outcropping of stone, and she too sank to the ground next to Alfie.
The driver was already out of his car and on his cell, phoning 999 for an ambulance as he watched the heap move slightly and asked, “Are you two all right?” He crouched down and checked for pulses. Yes! They were alive but unconscious.
The ambulance arrived and Alfie and Zoe were on their way to Foxgrove Hospital’s A&E within minutes.
The car’s driver was a neighbour of Sarah Jane’s and had recognized the children as frequent visitors to her home. He followed the ambulance to the hospital and informed the front desk personnel about their connection to Miss Smith. They called Sarah Jane who then called the Chandras and Zoe’s father, among several others, so in very short order the Emergency waiting room seemed full with family and friends: Alfie’s parents, Gita and Haresh; Zoe’s father Gavin Smith and his girlfriend Jade, with Zoe’s brother Finn (on Skype from London) and Sarah Jane, Beth, Dan and Felix. All of them had arrived quickly, all wondering, all in shock, all very worried.
Zoe walked out of the cubicle where she’d been examined, and a volunteer led her in what Zoe assumed was the direction of the waiting room and her friends and family. The woman was very kind, and Zoe appreciated that. Nevertheless, she was still angry at Alfie’s recklessness even if he had saved her from being hit by a car. At what cost?
But instead of going directly to the waiting room, they passed by a hallway window through which Zoe could see Alfie in bed, covered in monitoring devices, especially on his head and chest, with the Chandras on either side of his bed, heads bowed, as medical staff buzzed around them. At least he was not on life-support; his breathing was being aided only by a light tubing delivering oxygen to his nostrils.
She even saw Beth’s mother, Dr. Petite, a radiologist, with a doctor Zoe didn’t know, although she overheard her introduce herself as Miss Savannah Boone, neurosurgeon, perhaps informing the Chandras of the results of a CT scan or something radiological and neurological, and reassuring them that they could call her Doctor rather than Miss as the arcane protocol of the Royal Society of Surgeons still required. Silly rules. A doctor is a doctor, surgeon or not.
Zoe was horrified by what she saw. Alfie must have some sort of brain injury, a concussion or worse even with his helmet on! What was the point of them then?!
“Can I go in? I have to go in!” Zoe begged the volunteer.
“No dear, it’s best you stay with me for now…” but the woman stopped speaking because Zoe had walked away from her anyway, and was in the room in seconds, walking towards the bed. No one was stopping her, so she kept going and… froze. It wasn’t Alfie in the bed lying still and white with machinery all around. It was her. Zoe Smith.
“What...” she murmured. “What the hell?” She looked at the bed closely now, and realized it wasn’t Alfie’s parents sitting there, it was her dad and Jade and Sarah Jane‒and she could hear Finn’s voice on Sarah Jane’s mobile as he was Skyping from London to see how Zoe was doing.
“Shhh, sweetheart,” said the volunteer, once again by her side.
Zoe looked up at the woman’s face for the first time and was silent for a heartbeat, and then said something, very quietly.
Calypso looked down at her daughter and said, “Yes dear, it’s me.”
“But…but Mum…you died! Three years ago… I was at the funeral. We all were. What’s going on, Mum? Why is no one looking at me… I mean this me, right here? And why is no one responding to this me? I’m shouting, and I’m not supposed to be in here but no one…. I don’t get it!” And then, after a long pause, she whispered, “Am I dead too?”
“No, sweetheart, you’re not dead. And if I have any say in the matter, you won’t be. You will make it through this,” and she held Zoe in her arms and they both wept quietly, unheard and unseen by everyone in the room, as the doctor and surgeon explained to Zoe’s family and Sarah Jane, what they believed was happening.
“Mr. Smith…Gavin,” said Dr. Petite, “Zoe has had a potentially very serious head injury. She hit her temple on a large stone embedded in a very rigid fence—it wasn’t sharp and she was wearing a thick wool cap right over that area, so there was no piercing of her skull, no skull fracture either, but the CT scan I just completed, shows the presence of a very small accumulation of blood, what we call an ‘epidural hematoma’ which has formed between the brain and the skull -- not in the brain itself, but between the outer lining of the brain and the inside of the skull.”
Zoe watched and listened as her father slumped a little lower in his chair, and Jade and Sarah Jane, rose from theirs and closed in around him, with Sarah Jane holding her mobile in the direction of Dr. Boone, so Finn could see and hear her speak these bone-chilling words. No one was crying, except for “THIS Zoe”, unheard and unseen, behind them. Everyone was listening intently. Dr. Petite then stepped aside and Dr. Boone, the neurosurgeon, resumed the briefing.
“As Dr. Petite has said, it is very small at this time, and it appears that the bleeding has stopped. However, the fact that there is has been any bleeding at all, especially in the temporal region where there are arterial blood vessels carrying blood pumped with regular force from the heart, the bleeding could resume and the hematoma could grow in volume and size… to the point where it could put pressure on the brain that could be life-threatening. So, we will be monitoring her very carefully in the next few hours and if there is any change…”
“Excuse me Dr. Boone…” asked Jade, “What kind of change are you monitoring her for?”
It was the question Zoe, the real Zoe, “THIS Zoe,” standing invisibly nearby, wanted to ask the doctors herself, so she listened intently, while Calypso held her tightly yet gently in support as they watched and listened together as the drama unfolded before them, completely outside their control.
“If she does not regain consciousness this evening or, if she regains consciousness and then suddenly loses consciousness again after what we call a period of lucidity in which she will seem almost completely normal, or, if during this consciousness she suffers a severe headache….”
“I’m sorry Dr. Boone, but “if, if, if” any of these things happen, what can you do?” asked Zoe’s dad anxiously, impatiently.
“We will then, with your permission, operate immediately to drain the blood from between the brain and the skull, to prevent… permanent damage. It is not without risk, but it is usually very successful if we get in there in time. Since the bleed is so small and the clot (hematoma) is seemingly contained and there are no such symptoms of it growing from an active bleed, we have chosen to wait and pursue a less invasive course of treatment if the symptoms don’t worsen.”
“Is she in a coma, Doctor?” asked Gavin.
This time Dr. Petite, Beth’s Mum, Gavin’s friend, chose to respond. “She’s unconscious as sometimes happen with a concussion, but she’s not in a coma, no, and if the symptoms Dr. Boone described do appear and she intervenes as she has said, there will likely be no coma. It will be like she is asleep. And the likelihood of a full recovery is very high.”
“I’m not asleep! I’m here, dad!” screamed Zoe.
“Hush, they cannot hear you,” said her Mum. “And you are only upsetting yourself.”
“But I can hear them and see them. And I can see you and feel you. I’m not dead or in a coma?”
“Yes,” replied Calypso at the very time her husband asked the same question of the doctors.
“Can she hear us, then, right now?” Gavin asked Dr. Boone.
“I believe so, which is why we need you to remain calm and soothing and reassuring.”
“REASSURING?!” shouted the invisible Zoe, “His daughter is unconscious, and might die and you want my Dad to be calm and reassuring for my sake? WELL, I can tell you right now, I’M ZOE AND I AM NOT REASSURED!”
Sarah Jane turned her head briefly in the direction of a distant sound of a scream she shouldn’t be able to hear, and passed her mobile (and the Skyping Finn) to Jade, and looked down at her wristwatch. She politely stepped back from Gavin and Jade’s side, moved into one corner of the room, and whispered, “Sentinel?”
“Yes, Sarah Jane?” he whispered back, which was most unusual for him, but deeply appreciated right now.
“Could you do a little scanning of your own, as quietly as possible, and confirm what state of consciousness Zoe is in right now? I could have sworn I heard her shouting from far off, but not from the bed. I heard it softly but distinctly, from somewhere behind me.”
“Got it Sarah Jane, already running the scan now.”
“Thank you,” she said almost inaudibly. Seconds later, Sentinel had his results.
“Zoe is unconscious, not in a coma, and not in a dream state either. No REM happening. However, she is with her Mum, Calypso I believe was her name?”
Sarah was confused and not a little distressed. “She’s with her Mum?”
“Yes, Sarah Jane. And she believes that they are both here in this room, with her mother comforting her and Zoe shouting and arguing with her as they watch and listen to the doctors briefing you and her family on what is happening.”
“Yes!” she said way too loudly, then whispered again, “That’s what I HEARD! Her voice yelling but far off in the distance, not here. Does…does she think she’s dead and with her Mum?”
“No Sarah Jane, she doesn’t believe she’s dead. Her mother has reassured her she is alive, although it’s not clear what state Calypso is in. Zoe sees her and feels her as if she were alive and they are talking, interacting with each other….”
“Thank you, Sentinel. Good job."
“You are most welcome Sarah Jane. She…means a lot to me….”
“I understand, Sentinel. Your sentiments are clear, and it is most kind of you to share them with me. Please keep scanning from time to time and give me a little silent buzz to let me know when to step away from the rest and hear your results.”
“Yes, Sarah Jane. I will do just that. And…for what it’s worth…I’ll send up a prayer for her as well and perhaps her mother too until we figure out if she’s for real…”
“Sentinel, you are beginning to frighten me, with all these emotions,” she said with a smile. “And I didn’t know you were religious.”
“I like to hedge my bets, Sarah Jane, just in case.”
“Well done,” she nodded. She knew he was trying to lighten her heart and calm her mind. “Talk with you soon,” she added, and then pulled her jumper sleeve down over her watch and rejoined Zoe’s family.
The doctors had left and Zoe, the one lying in the bed before her, seemed to be resting calmly and quietly. Sarah Jane could hear Finn talking softly to Zoe from the mobile she’d passed to Jade and which Jade was now holding not far from Zoe’s face. Behaving as reassuringly normal and as he could, Finn resumed teasing Zoe about her Tribble hat and how such a monumentally silly red hat with a Tribble on top, could possibly have saved her life.
Zoe opened her eyes and laughed out loud. She even tried to raise her fist to deliver the punch she’d threatened him with not so long ago!
“Oh my God, Zoe, you’re back!” said her Dad softly, and then went silent when he remembered what Dr. Boone had said and realized this wasn’t necessarily good news, especially if she were to lapse into unconsciousness again or feel excruciating pain in her head.
But he hid his concern and smiled and carefully kissed Zoe on the cheek and said, “Welcome back Zoe. The gang’s all here!” And he pointed to Finn on Sarah Jane’s mobile, Jade holding the mobile, Sarah Jane resuming her seat by the bed and then with a sweep of his arm, gestured toward Beth, Dan, Felix, Alfie and his parents, with their noses almost pressed up against the glass window from the hallway.
“Hey, Dad. Could… Alfie come in? I know he’s not family, but I want to know he is OK. I thought he was dead!”
“No, he isn’t dead, just a bit broken. And yes, I’m sure they’ll allow him in, especially since he…” “…saved my life? Yes, I guess he did, didn’t he, although at first I thought he had gone mad again with his stupid skateboard and smashed into me for no reason at all!’
Zoe realized she hadn’t said Hi to Jade… and did so, before she spotted someone at her bedside that she hadn’t expected to see, since she, at least technically, like Alfie, wasn’t family. “Sarah Jane?”
“I told them I was your Aunt and everyone backed me up, including Dr. Petite…”
“Yes, everyone did, including me… on Skype” Finn added after he’d very loudly cleared his throat as a hint for Jade to pass Sarah Jane’s mobile directly to Zoe so they could talk face to face. Finn and Zoe were joking and laughing, as Dr. Petite led Alfie into the room, with his arm in a cast and sling.
“Yeah, I’m alive and so are you, even if you did forget all about looking both ways before crossing the street! I just broke my arm is all. I’m cool. Much cooler now, though, that I see you’re awake!”
“Thank you” she said quietly, clearly not referring to his chatty talk about a broken arm being “cool.”
Alfie knew what she meant. She was thanking him for what he did, when he’d expected her to scream at him for being such an idiot, risking his life to save hers. He was moved by her appreciation and started to cry a little.
“STOP right there, mister! No tears. I will be fine. Pull yourself together. Some Mr. Cool YOU are!” and there followed a strategically awkward hug between the two survivors, one with a broken wing and the other covered in monitoring wires and light-weight medical tubing delivering oxygen to her nose.
Then Zoe sank back into her pillow with a small groan that no one noticed, except Dr. Petite, who tensed a bit.
“Erm… Alfie? You didn’t happen to find my….” Zoe continued.
“You mean this?” said Alfie, pulling her assignment out of the helmet he’d placed on the floor near her Dad’s chair; he’d been hiding it behind his back with his one good arm, when he’d entered the room, but set it down during the hugging efforts.
“The driver of the car, the guy who called 999, saw it lying on the ground after the ambulance came and took us away. He took it with him when he followed them to the hospital and gave it to someone who passed it to Dr. Petite who passed it on to me. Did you want it?” he added as he held it out to her, but Zoe shook her head ever so slightly, and didn’t take it from him.
“No, that’s for Sarah Jane.” And although her energy seemed to be flagging a bit now after the ecstasy of realizing she was in fact alive, she looked towards Sarah Jane, who took the folder from Alfie.
“It’s the paper I told you about. My special essay on Sister Maria Celeste. You said you wanted to read it before I handed it in to Miss Janine. It’s all proofread and ready to go, so… could you read it and then pass it on the Miss Janine for me? It’s due tomorrow.” Zoe started rubbing her head a bit as if it were starting to ache. Everyone was staring at her, remembering what Dr. Boone had said, and Dr. Petite excused herself and left the room with great haste.
“That’s all right, Zoe, leave it to me.” Replied Sarah Jane. “I’ll get it to her tomorrow. Don’t worry. Just lay back and rest. You’ll be fine,” said Sarah Jane in a voice less confident than her words.
“Oh, I know I’ll be fine… Mum told me I would be… she’d make certain … of…that…”
Sarah Jane blinked for a minute, in response to what Zoe was saying and how she was struggling to say it.
Then Zoe cried out in pain.
“MUM!! My HEAD hurts SO BAD!!!” and she was unconscious once again.
Gavin, Jade and Sarah Jane backed away to make room for Dr. Petite and Dr. Boone who led the team that was whisking Zoe out of the room. Dr. Boone stayed behind for a moment to explain that all the symptoms that had unfolded so quickly in the last few moments were indeed clear indicators that the epidural hematoma was increasing in size and was pressing on the brain and required immediate surgery.
Her family (in the room) and friends (still in the hallway) watched Zoe’s exit and, with Dr. Petite’s assistance, they prepared to regroup in the surgical waiting room several floors away, while, unseen and unheard, the real Zoe was standing beside her mother, as they watched the spectacle unfold..
“Mum! Mum….I hurt…really bad…. I AM going to die! I don’t want to die. NO!” Zoe moved forward to follow herself to the operating room, but this time Calypso firmly held her back.
“But I want to see! I want to watch and make sure everything goes OK and… “
“Sweetheart, it’s nothing you should see. I told you I would do everything in my power to make sure you stay alive, and I will do that. But you need to trust me. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by watching a surgical procedure you don’t fully understand anyway. Come with me. Please. Come with me to our favourite place.”
And then they were there, on Suncrest Hill, sitting side by side on their favourite bench, Calypso with her daughter Zoe wrapped in a thick warm comforter and held in her arms, the arms of the mother she’d lost three years ago. Zoe felt warm and safe against the growing chill of the late afternoon even though it was December and fell asleep in her mother’s arms.
In the operating room, all was going well.
In the waiting room, her family and friends dug in for a long and frightening wait, doing the best to support each other.
Calypso and Zoe sat huddled together in warmth and silence on the bench on Suncrest Hill, within a few feet of the large oak tree where Finn and Zoe had carved their dove wings years ago as children. The unusually warm December sun began setting, as Calypso held her sleeping daughter lovingly, calmly, and waited for the operation to finish.
A blue-white-and-red striped ball rolled up to their feet, followed by a little girl, running and laughing playfully, as she came over to pick it up.
Calypso held Zoe tightly as her eyes flickered open at the sound and now the sight of someone she had never met: the baby sister who had died with her Mum three years ago; the baby sister who stood before her, now a toddler, very much alive. Zoe straightened in surprise.
At that moment, in the operating room at Foxgrove Hospital, Zoe Smith’s heart stopped.
Suncrest Hill, Village of Foxgrove
Calypso Smith watched as her 14-year-old daughter Zoe embraced her little sister Ariel for the first time. They were both overjoyed. They were laughing and crying and hugging each other so hard. But their mother was filled with dread.
Ariel had died with her in a car accident almost three years ago, before she had even been born. And Zoe’s heart had suddenly fluttered and just stopped while she was undergoing surgery in the hospital in the village below. The surgical team were struggling to restart her heart and keep Zoe alive.
This ecstatic first meeting of two sisters should not be happening, and yet here it was. But only Cal knew its real implications: Zoe would die if she didn’t start fighting to live instead of embracing this impossible reunion. Before surgery, Cal had promised a frightened Zoe that she would do everything in her power to make sure Zoe lived. But Cal believed it was not a coincidence that Zoe’s desire to live might have left her at this crucial moment once she could hold her sister in her arms for the first time.
Calypso watched as Zoe and Ariel hugged and cried and chatted excitedly, and then began a raucous game of baseball, of all things, with Ariel pitching Zoe her baseball-sized red-white-and-blue rubber ball and Zoe hitting almost every throw, using an old abandoned baseball bat she’d found not far from the oak tree nearby.
Ariel was happier than Cal had ever seen her in their past 3 years in this odd, altered existence, one that Calypso didn’t fully understand, but, having lived a life for many years with her husband Gavin and their children Zoe and Finn, she knew this life with Ariel wasn’t a real life. This was something else. And it had been lonely for Ariel with no children to play with. So, Calypso understood her excitement, but did Ariel know what this might cost Zoe?
Ariel was joyous and unaware of her mother’s concerns as she ran after the ball and launched it again and again, and Zoe hit it back to her each time with strong, graceful swings. Zoe seemed over the moon with happiness as well, too distracted to realize what was really happening, and what would happen if her heartbeat wasn’t restored soon and the surgery completed successfully.
Zoe herself was puzzled by what was happening; she felt so alive, so free, so filled with exhilaration and hope and yet in a small fraction of time she had been knocked unconscious in an accident, reunited with the mother she had missed so desperately, and found herself playing with the little sister she had longed to know and guide like any big sister would. She knew this was impossible, yet it was happening. Right now, right here. And she embraced it.
Zoe was in awe of this beautiful little girl with her mother’s blue eyes and startling red hair that never before had been a part of the Smith family genes. Ariel was gorgeous, and, and clearly, she was a kindred spirit: She knew how to pitch a ball with the skill of an eight-year-old and yet she was not quite three. And here she comes again, racing back with the ball, dropping it at Zoe’s feet and launching herself into Zoe’s arms. Zoe held onto this precious tangle of red hair, blue eyes and giggles, as she carried her little sister back to the bench where their mother sat watching them in silence.
Zoe was surprised that her Mum wasn’t as happy as they were, so she sat down next to her, with Ariel squirming out of her arms and running off again, this time to play around the oak tree with it’s mysterious carving of two doves that fascinated her. Zoe looked up into her mother’s eyes as Cal once again wrapped Zoe in the warm comforter she’d brought to keep her warm and safe and quiet during the surgery.
“Oh Mum, I…I haven’t been this happy in such, such a long time! I have wanted this for so long…”
“Zoe, I know sweetheart, I know, and Ariel has never been this happy as well, but…you know this is not really happening in real life, don’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
“A part of you knows that you’ve had an accident and that you are in surgery in the hospital, down there, and that I brought you here to be safe and calm while they worked to help you.”
“No Mum, NO! I’m here. I’m not in surgery anymore. The operation is over, and it worked and this is my reward! I … I… remember…” She stuttered in confusion. “You… and Ariel are taking me home to Dad and Finn…”
“No, I’m not Your dad is down there with Jade and your friends, and Finn on the phone from London, and it’s not over Zoe. Yes, ‘you’ are here; the part of you that really matters, is here with me, safe and warm and happy, but it’s a different reality. It’s not what’s really happening. And Ariel…Ariel was never born… deep inside you know that, just as you know I died three years ago before she was born.”
“STOP” snapped Zoe. “I don’t want to hear any of this. This IS real. For me. THIS is the life I want. I don’t care what happens in the operation. You and Ariel need me, and I need you and I won’t go back!”
Ariel overheard Zoe’s shouting and came running to the bench. “Mummy! Mummy, please let her stay with us! I love her. She’s my sister. I want her to stay and play with me…”
Calypso turned to Zoe, who clearly agreed with Ariel’s wish that she stay, and looked into her beautiful grown-up daughter’s eyes and said, “Zoe, if you stay with us, you will die and all of those who are still alive, your Dad, Sarah Jane, your friends and Jade, and your new sister-to-be…”
“She’s NOT my sister. Ariel is my sister. You are my Mum. Jade will never be! I… I hate the new baby! This is where I belong.”
“No, Zoe. Don’t you remember what we talked about when all this began? How you didn’t believe you were dead or might be dying, and I said I would do everything in my power to make sure you didn’t die? Well… that’s what I am doing now, fighting for your life. And now YOU need to fight too. Your heart has stopped, but it’s only been a few seconds so far, time is so different down there from here…you can still fight back and be where you are needed the most.”
“I…I…I’m confused. And I am … very tired… I don’t want to die. I love my Dad and my friends and Sarah Jane…. but I want THIS too! I want to be with you and Ariel… I am so confused….”
And Zoe drifted back to sleep in her mother’s arms, while Ariel stood by, crying and shouting “Mummy, let her stay!!!”
Operating Theatre, Foxgrove Hospital
‘She’s back!” It was hard to tell who of the surgical team had said it out loud because they were all thinking it at once, and with great relief. Dr. Boone and her team calmed down and focussed on finishing the surgical procedure to drain a growing clot of blood that had been pressing on her brain. They wanted to finish successfully before anything else like this heart stoppage might happen again. It was odd how it happened so suddenly without any warning at all. But Zoe Smith was with them once again; her heart was beating steadily, strongly, and all was well. It hadn’t stopped long enough, less than a minute, to do any permanent damage.
Surgical Waiting Room, Foxgrove Hospital
Sarah Jane’s wristwatch/scanner vibrated so suddenly and with such insistence, that she sat bolt upright in her chair as if electricity had shot through her body. Gavin, Jade, Beth, the Chandras, Alfie, Dan, Felix, and even Finn on Skype, all fell silent with confusion and concern.
“Erm, so sorry! Sudden muscle spasm. Caught me by surprise. I’m OK though. Just excuse me for a moment while I go and walk it off in the hallway!” As graciously as possible, she fled the waiting room, regretting in silence her recent upgrade of her wristwatch from scanner to scanner-plus-remote-audio-com link with Sentinel.
It was Sentinel’s sudden and very strong vibration alert that had caused her sudden lurch, and she was reasonably confident she had successfully covered for herself (and Sentinel) although Beth and Dan were looking at her with some suspicion.
She couldn’t really blame Sentinel, since she’d asked him to contact her as discreetly as possible, with reports on his on-going scan/monitoring of Zoe’s condition, but the vibration alert mode had not been used before and it’s timing was disturbing since Zoe’s operation was expected to last longer than this, so… what was going on?
Those were her exact words to Sentinel once she was out in the corridor, pacing up and down it, pretending to stretch her legs.
Hallway Outside Surgical Waiting Room
"Sarah Jane? Sorry. Urgent news. Zoe’s heart stopped suddenly, and the surgical team have just restored it… after about 30 seconds."
“WHAT?” she responded to Sentinel’s update, in a muffled whisper, so as not to attract anymore undue attention. “But Sentinel… She’s just a teenager, in good health, no heart problems, no family history of heart or circulatory problems that I know of, with a relatively minor head injury…. how is this possible?!”
"They seem just as puzzled as you are. But… there is something else you need to know, something the doctors don’t."
"Just before her heart fluttered and stopped, Zoe’s sister, Ariel, now apparently three years old, had joined Zoe’s mother in Zoe’s altered state of consciousness. Even Calypso—yes, she’s still there with Zoe, keeping her calm—seemed surprised by her appearance and acutely aware of its danger."
“What do you mean, Sentinel?”
"Well I think that somehow, she knew that Zoe’s heart had stopped even though they are supposedly up on Suncrest Hill, at least insofar as Zoe’s perception of all this."
‘That is strange, Sentinel. And potentially dangerous.”
"I know, Sarah Jane."
“Zoe’s frame of mind could mean the difference between life and death at this point.”
"Yes indeed, Sarah Jane."
“The anniversary of Calypso’s and Ariel’s deaths is only a few days away and with the new baby on the way, I’ve sensed Zoe has been struggling, that this sad anniversary is deepening her sense of loss surrounding the death of her mother and unborn sister even though it was almost 3 years ago… and it’s deepening her discomfort with Jade’s baby on the way and how she will handle it…”
"So, you mean that in her altered state of consciousness, Zoe is bringing alive what she has lost… what she longs for….and that she might be tempted to…stay with them, to… "
“To die, Sentinel, to stay in the warmth of her late mother’s arms and meet her lost sister… Rather than return to a life of loss and anxiety over her Dad’s new family with Jade.”
Sarah Jane, I didn’t mention this earlier, but I have been able to monitor her thoughts, her altered experience, aurally. Don’t ask how -- alien tech – I will explain later. And now, I am going to attempt a visual link as well. It seems to me that at one point, before Ariel appeared, and even before the operation began, I overheard Calypso calm Zoe’s fears of dying by assuring her that she would be with her through all of this to make sure that didn’t happen, that she won’t die… so clearly her mother wants her to live… but…
While Zoe’s heart stopped beating, for less than a minute, I heard Ariel and Zoe playing and laughing, and Ariel begging Zoe to stay with her…while Calypso was doing her best to warn Zoe that to stay with them would mean death. I heard Zoe tell her mother about her profound unease about the coming baby (the word “hate” was used) and that she’d rather have Ariel in her life.
“Sounds like we’re on the right track. Her state of mind very likely triggered these encounters with Claypso and Ariel... OK Sentinel, good work. Keep monitoring her experiences in any way you can. Meanwhile I think Calypso, real or imagined, needs all the help we can give her to keep Zoe alive….”
"The surgery is almost over now, Sarah Jane, without any further problems. The blood mass has been drained and they are getting ready to take her to Recovery."
“Thank you, Sentinel. I’m going back into the waiting room before they worry what’s happening with me, and to be with Gavin, Jade and the lot, when Dr. Boone comes to update the family.”
"Yes, Sarah Jane. Just let me know when and what the plan of action will be… if any…and I’ll continue to keep you posted."
“Will do, Sentinel, and… thanks again.” Sarah Jane then pulled her jumper sleeve down over her watch and went back to the waiting room.
Surgical Waiting Room
Dr. Boone entered the room with good news: surgery was over and the blood from the hematoma had been drained and the bleeding had stopped. Zoe was now in Recovery and would be taken to her room in the floor’s intensive care unit shortly. There was a collective sigh of relief.
“Gavin and Jade and… is it Finn on Skype? Zoe’s brother?” Dr. Boone asked as she approached Zoe’s immediate family members
“Yes, Dr. Boone” said Finn. “Thank you for everything.”
“You are most welcome, but… I would like to speak with the three of you out in the corridor, alone, please, for a moment. Nothing alarming. Beth’s Mum is on her way and she’ll update Beth, Sarah Jane and the rest of you, and answer some of your questions if she can. But I have a few things I need to discuss with you, privately.”
Sarah Jane sat quietly, hoping Sentinel would be able to monitor their conversation, and then she realized that she was being way too emotional and intrusive. Gavin would fill them in afterward. He knew they were all concerned.
Hallway Outside Surgical Waiting Room
There were a few seats along the wall on one side and Doctor Boone sat Zoe’s family down and pulled up a chair in front of them.
“There is something you need to know. If you wish to tell your friends these details, I’ll leave that up to you, but my duty, first and foremost, is to Zoe and to you her immediate family, so I need to tell you that not very far into the procedure, and with very little warning, Zoe’s heart suddenly began beating rapidly and irregularly and then stopped altogether for about 30 seconds.”
Gavin put left arm around Jade who’d begun to cry softly, while he held Sarah Jane’s phone in his right hand and pointed in Dr. Boone’s direction, so that Finn could see her face as she spoke.
“Because the time was brief, we believe there will be no significant damage to the brain, but we won’t know for certain until she wakes up. The clot has been drained and she went through the rest of the procedure like and champ and all her signs are good.”
Gavin, Jade and Finn were clearly relieved, but remained silent, listening intently.
“I have a question for you, two questions, really. First, in her charted medical history, there is no indication of heart disease in Zoe or her immediate family, is that correct? No irregular heartbeat, no heart murmur or history of Scarlet fever (that can cause it)?” Gavin answered, his voice shaking slightly. “Yes, that is correct. No history of heart disease or problems of that sort, either in her or our family.”
“OK. Good. Second, and this one might be difficult to answer, perhaps painful, but I need an honest response.”
Gavin, Jade and Finn looked slightly baffled, then Gavin said, “Yes. I Understand. Go ahead and ask.”
“As you may know, in any health crisis, especially one requiring surgery, the state of mind of the patient is important. This surgery involved the brain but wasn’t especially complicated, but in any surgery, it’s important that the patient be on her own side, that she wants to live.”
Gavin, Jade and Finn all looked shocked.
“What are you asking?”
“I am asking about Zoe’s overall frame of mind of late. Has she been depressed at all? Is there something we need to know that might impact her willingness to recover from this? Sorry, that’s more than one second question. With Zoe being so young and generally healthy and the surgery becoming so urgent, perhaps we missed something, and we are wondering if her frame of mind might have contributed to the heart suddenly stopping even when her body was not under profound physical stress.”
“I understand,” said Gavin. “In a few days, it will be the 3rd anniversary of the sudden accidental death of her mother and unborn baby sister, Ariel….”
“Ariel you say?” Dr. Boone asked.
“Yes, we were going to call her Ariel. Why do you look surprised?”
“Shortly after having been moved to Recovery, as she was just beginning to come out of the anesthetic, she was heard to say that name, softly, and then ‘Mum’. I didn’t hear it, but a nurse did, and got word to me just a few moments ago. I thought maybe her mother’s name was Ariel.”
“No, it’s Calypso, but Zoe always called her Mum. Will she regain consciousness now that the surgery is over and the pressure from the blood is gone?”
“It will be awhile. First, she has to recover from the anesthetic and then the brain needs to recover from the surgery and the accident. But it’s interesting that she’s said anything at all at this point.”
Jade continued the answer while Gavin slumped back against the chair. He’d passed Finn and the phone to Jade as well while he collected himself.
“She loved her mother dearly, and she’s been struggling with that loss for almost three years, and now with a new baby sister coming so close to the anniversary that is always been so sad for her, she hasn’t been as upbeat and strong like she normally is.”
“Yes,” added Finn. “I noticed that a bit myself. She’s talked to me about feeling alone as the anniversary approached and my not being there to help her through as I usually do. She’s got a great set of friends, but now I’m in school in London, and not there to share her grief and help calm her worries. I say this because, like Jade says, she is a VERY strong person, normally. A real fighter. Are you sure the heart stopping might not be due to something else? Maybe a medical problem we never knew about? She’s not a quitter, for sure.”
Dr. Boone was quiet for a moment for a moment. “It is possible that there is something revealing itself for the first time. We will remain vigilant. Thank you all so much for sharing this. Regardless of my questions and concerns, the prognosis is excellent. We are simply worried about the heart stopping and the sudden episode of irregular heartbeat, worried that they might happen again. But we will keep her under close observation both in recovery where she is now and will likely be for at least another hour, just to make sure, and then we will be keeping her in intensive care for as long as she remains unconscious and her heart remains calm.”
“Is there anything we can do?”
“Yes, there is. But before I get to that, do you have any further questions about what I‘ve just discussed with you?”
“No,” said Finn on behalf of himself, his Dad and Jade. “I think we are all trying to wrap OUR brains around all of this, so maybe we’ll have more questions later. But we would like to know what we can do.”
“Come with me. We’ll go back into the waiting room and answer your question so everyone else can hear. They can all help! Dr. Petite has only told them about the success of the operation, not all that we’ve discussed here, and I am sure they will want to know how they can help Zoe too.”
A few steps away, Calypso stood unseen, listening to this discussion, and then followed them through the door and into the waiting room.
Surgical Waiting Room
As Dr. Boone, Gavin, Jade and Skype-Finn re-entered the waiting room, Dr. Petite, who’d just finished briefing everyone on the success of the operation and Zoe’s prognosis, was talking quietly with her daughter Beth and Sarah Jane in one corner, and everyone’s attention turned to Gavin, Jade and Dr. Boone.
“Zoe’s Dad just asked me how he and his family could help with Zoe’s recovery and I thought you would all like to know as well.” Dr. Boone spoke clearly, calmly, reassuringly. Everyone nodded, even Finn.
“It’s important that when Zoe is back from the recovery room and in intensive care, which will be on this floor rather than where she was in A&E, that she gets a lot of rest, of course, so her brain can recover. And, to that end, that everything be as calm and quiet as possible, visitors will be limited to two people at a time, starting of course with her Dad and Jade (and Skyp-Finn). The next 24 hours will be crucial to her recovery, but she needs to know that we are here with her and for her, that we are waiting for her with open arms as she pulls her self out of her current unconscious state.”
Alfie raised his hand, as if he were in school.
“I read on Facebook that if you call out someone’s name when they are unconscious, it could cause brain damage. Is that true?” Dr. Boone smiled slightly; she’d heard this more than a few times recently, and she replied with patience, “Alfie I’ve read that too, but it’s wrong, it’s a myth. Of course, we don’t want any shouting going on, but saying her name softly, holding her hand, talking about everyday things, being as normal and calm in tone as possible, has been proven to do a great deal to encourage a patient to recover from an unconscious state. Zoe’s not in a deep, prolonged coma, and hopefully she will awaken soon, and hearing the encouragement of familiar voices will help, not harm her. It has been documented that those who have awakened even from prolonged comas have reported that they heard a lot of what was being said and felt heartened by the voices and the physical presence of loved ones, so the holding hands and words of support and hope, in fact, seem to have a sort of healing power.” Dr. Boone paused for a moment, looking around the room filled with those who knew and cared for Zoe and were ready to help, and she was encouraged.
“What I recommend, at this point,“ she continued, “since it’s going into the evening, and you’ve been here for hours already, is that each of you also keep your own health in mind. Zoe needs you strong and well and clear-headed. This waiting room isn’t the most comfortable place for prolonged waiting. We do have a place, a room not far from intensive care on this floor, where Gavin and Jade can get some rest—there is a bed and a large comfy chair—as I know they want to be with Zoe through the night, but some of you have school and work tomorrow and might want to go home for some rest.”
“If Zoe is still resting comfortably tomorrow,” Dr. Boone added, “even if she remains unconscious, the rest of you are welcome to visit quietly and supportively as I mentioned earlier, taking turns, and if you need someone to contact your school to let them know why you will be away, I can arrange for someone in my office to let them know what is happening.”
There was some intense whispering happening in one corner of the room: the Chandras were having a noisy “discussion” with their son Alfie who desperately wanted to stay and wait here through the night, but with his Dad being a head teacher, his Mum having her shop to run, and Alfie expected to go to school the next day, his parents wanted him the leave with them now, to get some sleep and then come back with them after school tomorrow.
Alfie knew Dr. Boone and his parents had a good point. He and his broken arm and slight head bump needed rest and recovery too, since he’d been in the accident as well, so he calmed down and asked Dr. Boone if she knew where Zoe’s clothes were because he wanted to make sure Zoe had her precious ACE bomber jacket with her and he wanted permission to place it on her bed for encouragement and motivation.
Sarah Jane made an odd strangled sound in and effort to keep her emotions in check after hearing Alfie’s request. But Dr. Boone’s response to Alfie’s question, gave Sarah Jane the opportunity to recover.
“Zoe’s clothes” said Dr. Boone, “are being brought up to this floor from A&E by a volunteer, as we speak, and Dr. Petite has just stepped out to collect them and deliver them to Gavin and Jade. If you and your parents wish to wait here a little longer, Alfie, until Zoe is moved from recovery to her room in intensive care, so that you can place the jacket on her bed yourself, that would be absolutely fine with me if it’s OK with Gavin and Jade and your parents. You wouldn’t be able to stay for long or for over night of course, but certainly I think it is an excellent idea to place something with her, something that is special to her so that she might touch her hand and know it is there. Very thoughtful and kind, Alfie. Thank you.”
Alfie’s face reddened a bit as he looked down at the floor in response to her words. As he did so, Gavin and Jade, the Chandras, and just about everyone else in the room who knew Zoe, seemed deeply impressed by Alfie’s desire to return her jacket to her, even if it meant a longer wait. Indeed, Sarah Jane, inspired by Alfie’s suggestion, volunteered to stay all night in the waiting room to help spell Gavin and Jade in their vigil with Zoe and that offer was approved by Dr. Boone and accepted by Gavin and Jade.
“You can share the big comfy chair in our overnight room, Sarah Jane, when one of us is in the room with Zoe,” said Jade with relief and warmth. “We’ll take turns, like the doctor suggested, and get some rest in between.”
Doctor Boone was moved by all she’d seen and heard in response to her words. “Thank you everyone, my thoughts and prayers are with you all, and especially with Zoe,” she said, bringing the briefing to an end just as an announcement asked her to report to surgical intensive care immediately. They all sensed that this was an indication that Zoe might now be out of Recovery and headed to her room more quickly than expected, a hopeful sign that all must be going well. Everyone stood in in readiness to move down the hall to intensive care.
With a gesture from Sarah Jane, Beth, Dan and Alfie took a moment to speak as privately as possible with her while filled them in on Sentinel’s disturbing news about what was happening in Zoe’s altered state of consciousness as Sentinel called it, but she refrained from alarming them with the news that Zoe’s heart had stopped during surgery.
What she did tell them -- about Zoe’s reunion with her late mother and sister and how Zoe was hesitating to return to leave them and return to…life -- had them thinking very specifically about what each of them could do to bring Zoe back to them, something as helpful as Alfie’s reconnecting her with her bomber jacket.
Alfie then joined his parents at the door and left the room, while Beth followed them out the door, and Felix returned to Dan’s side in the waiting room, touching his shoulder in gentle support as everyone else left.
The watchful but unseen Calypso had already left. She was urgently needed on Suncrest Hill, and resisted the temptation to sit by Zoe’s hospital bed for the rest of the night.
Hallway Outside Zoe’s Room in Surgical Intensive Care
A few minutes later, some of them sat in the hallway chairs and others stood nearby, waiting and watching as a very still Zoe was brought down the hall and into her new room; even Gavin and Jade stayed outside, looking through the hallway windows, as Zoe was settled into her new bed, with the only sound to be heard was the pulsing and beeping sound of the monitors displaying her vital signs. Dr. Petite walked towards them from the far end of the hall, carrying a large, clear plastic bag filled with Zoe’s clothes she’d been wearing when brought in by ambulance. The large black bomber jacket dotted with it’s many colorful badges, was clearly visible through the plastic. Dr. Petite handed the bag to Zoe’s Dad and Jade, and as Alfie watched, Jade pulled out the jacket with the name ACE emblazoned on the back of it, and smiled as she presented it to Alfie and signaled for him to follow her and Gavin into the room.
Zoe’s Room, Intensive Care
With his one good arm and hand, Alfie placed the jacket on Zoe’s bed, gently moving her hand so that it rested on top the collar, so that she could feel it. He whispered her name and some inaudible words, gently patted her hand, gave his best wishes to Gavin and Jade, and left the room.
No one had ever seen Alfie this calm before. No one said a word.
The battle for Zoe had begun.
Hallway Outside Zoe’s Room, Intensive Care
Sarah Jane walked the other end of the hall, pulled up her left jumper sleeve and was surprised when Sentinel started talking without her pressing the activation button.
"Yes Sarah Jane, I kept the audio contact live, so you don’t need to brief me."
She was relieved but chided him anyway by saying, “Well aren’t YOU the Nosey Parker! But thanks. It saves precious time that you’ve heard all that and I don’t have to repeat it.”
"Yes, Sarah Jane. But I also continued my Zoe scanning at the same time, and I noticed something I don’t think anyone else did… either those in the room or in the hallway…including you."
“What? Has Zoe’s condition worsened?”
"No Sarah Jane. It’s just that I noticed something just as Dr. Boone said to Zoe’s parents in the hall (yes, I could hear everything that was said there too) Zoe’s health history shows no indication of heart disease, but Gavin and Jade did concede that Zoe’s emotional state has been under some pressure lately, especially with the anniversary of her mother’s and sister’s deaths coming up soon and her mixed feelings about Jade and Gavin’s baby on the way…"
“Thank you for the summary, but we already had most of that figured out, so what were you saying before, about you noticing something no one else did?”
Calypso was standing there, in the hallway just behind Gavin and Jade and Dr. Boone, and she was in the waiting room before and after that talk, listening and watching in silence, unseen. And she heard everything.
“You mean like before, when she was present with Zoe in the A&E room before surgery? That IS odd, isn’t it? Because it means…”
"…It means that Calypso may not simply be a creation of Zoe’s altered state of mind…that something else is going on here, beyond…"
“… beyond our understanding. Yes, I agree. But whatever it is, Sentinel, Calypso, real or imagined, is now fully aware of her daughter’s situation and what we plan to do to help her to help her daughter come home to her family and friends, to us, in the real world. You said that a one point she had told Zoe that she would do everything she could to make sure she survives this and now her mum also knows we are going to be helping at this end. Is she gone now?”
"From here, yes. But she is still very present in Zoe’s reality. She’s back with Zoe, sitting with her on the bench on Sunset Hill. But... Ariel is still there too, and she is trying hard to get Zoe to stay with her, so Calypso needs all the help we can give her."
“Thank you, Sentinel, good work, as always. Please keep monitoring what’s happening on the Hill and beyond if necessary. Our modest efforts at this end might be apparent in some way at that end, so keep track of what’s happening. Alfie has already started the ball rolling by placing ACE’s jacket on Zoe’s bed, and her parents…sorry, I mean Gavin and Jade…are there now, speaking softly to her, and Finn is still there on Skype. I will spell them during the night and the Beth, Dan and Alfie plan to spell us, tomorrow either in the morning or after school and we will all gently reassure her with our presence. Good luck to us all and great strength to Zoe!”
“Yes Sarah Jane, indeed.”
“Signing off now,” she said with a hint of sarcasm, and pressed the button to end the connection.
As she walked along the hallway and neared the windows into Zoe’s room, she could hear music playing softly from her phone. Gavin had carefully placed it on Zoe’s pillow while Skype- Finn was playing one of Zoe’s and her mother’s favourite songs, Owl City’s “Fireflies.”
Zoe was lying peacefully enough, holding her ACE jacket now with a firm grip even while unconscious…attagirl Zoe! And her father and Jade were both holding her other hand and speaking softly from time to time. Sarah decided to take a break in the overnight room and respectfully leave the family on their own.
Cal felt her sleeping daughter stirring in her arms. Zoe’s eyes opened and peeked through the folds of the comforter as Zoe and her Mum sat together again on the bench under a full moon. It was so bright that the darkness was not at all oppressive, and Zoe felt warm, relaxed, safe.
But before they could resume their earlier conversation, Ariel bounced up to them, full of laughter and excitement, begging Zoe to come and teach her the Magination game, the new game Zoe had mentioned when they were playing baseball together earlier and had promised to teach her.
Ariel took hold of Zoe’s hands, and even though she was still a bit groggy, Zoe allowed Ariel to pull her to her feet while Ariel jumping up and down, eager to get started. Even Cal had to smile at Ariel’s delight in learning something new and playing with her big sister.
Zoe stood for a moment, gathering her thoughts, and watching Ariel in awe: SO much energy! But she took a moment to correct her sister, “It’s called the Imagination game, Ariel, Imagination, with an i.”
“No, it’s not, it’s MAGINATION. I gave it a new name!”
“Well there you go, you’ve already started the game without any help from me. You are a natural, Ariel’
“I’m a what?”
“No, I’m not. I’m a girl!”
“Ahh” Zoe smiled, “Yes indeed you are, but when I said you were ‘a natural’ I meant you play the game well, instinctively.”
“Am I a stinker? Is that what ‘stinctive means?” She went silent for a moment, her feelings hurt. “I’m not a stinker, Zoe…that’s mean. You’re a stinker!” And she wasn’t playing. Ariel’s temper was very short indeed.
“No, no, no, no, no, Ariel. I meant that without even thinking, almost as if it’s a natural thing for you, something you were born with, you’ve already started playing the game by changing its name, by using your….imagin….your Magination… to create something new or change it to make it more fun.”
“Oh! I see,” Ariel took a deep breath and calmed down. “OK, so, you meant, I could ‘magine I am a butterfly….”
“… And I would become one like this without being taught how?”
“Yes…just…. WOW!” Ariel had indeed turned herself into a giant red-orange-black-and-white monarch butterfly.
Calypso was both shocked and impressed. Zoe was awestruck. Ariel flapped her wings and flew above Zoe and Cal’s heads as they pretended to reach out and catch her, but they didn’t want to damage her wings and injure her, so they were careful and then POP, she was a blue-eyed red-headed little girl once again.
“How’s that?” she said, puffed up with pride.
“Ariel, you are a ROCK STAR!”
And Ariel was indeed just that, for a moment, guitar and all!
“Whoah there Ariel!” Zoe cried out. “SLOW DOWN! There’s more to the game than just changing who you are at will. How about trying something that changes where you are and what you are doing…but… wait!”
Zoe saw that Ariel was about to change something right away and Zoe said to her, “Remember, this is a game to share with someone…not just on your own. Don’t I get a turn?”
“All right, Ariel. Why don’t we work together this time. What would you like to change?”
“I’d like it to snow… but without it being cold around us. And the snow doesn’t melt on the ground. Is that OK with you?”
It began to snow the most beautiful, the fluffiest of snowflakes, and…
The flakes were cool to the touch and melted on their tongues, but they stayed solid on the ground where they lay like a blanket, several inches thick within moments and where Zoe and Ariel were flapping their arms in it.
“SNOW ANGELS!” said Ariel but her words misfired, and she became an angel of snow, now hovering above the ground where Zoe sat upright to see her sister, with large white feathery wings, floating above her.
“OH…I meant…” Ariel stammered in surprise.
Zoe’s imagination immediately changed Ariel back into a little girl making the perfect snow angel next to her sister Zoe in the snow. “Ariel, you have to be careful. If you go too fast and it isn’t clear if what you are saying is a thought or a wish, what is created by your imagination could turn out much different from what you meant it to be!”
“I understand. I didn’t want to BE an angel of snow, I wanted to make the best snow angels in the snow on the ground…Thank you Zoe,” and then Ariel rolled over and gave Zoe a kiss on the cheek. Zoe almost cried. What a sweet sister.
“So, who wins the game? What do I have to do to win the game?” Ariel asked as she stood up and brushed the snow from her clothes.
“It’s not that sort of game, Ariel, “Zoe replied. “It’s not a contest with a winner….except… every player wins if they have fun, and make an experience to remember and to share with each other, an experience that keeps them creative and keeps them from being lonely when no one else is around to play with…” Zoe went silent for a moment, remembering why she’d started playing the game as a little girl: her best friend had moved away and she was alone.
“Mummy always tells me it’s ‘portant to share. Is this like sharing a toy?”
Ariel looked sad for a moment. “I’m not used to sharing because I am alone a lot, but I just shared with you, right? And you with me, right?”
“Yes, we did! Very good sharing, Ariel,” she said, and Zoe hugged her sister. She looked at the snow angels on the ground. “Want to do it again?”
“What? Snow angels?”
“No, share an experience.”
“Yes! Mud PUDDLES!!”
POP (or maybe PLOP)
Zoe and Ariel were standing in a large and oozy puddle of mud, Ariel wearing blue wellies, with Zoe in red. Ariel jumped up and down and Zoe marched in place, both of them slamming down their feet as hard as they could, trying to make the biggest splashes and covering each other from head to toe more spectacularly than the other sister could. Their mother was unable to keep herself from laughing out loud and that pushed them to stomp even harder, until Zoe imagined a warm rainfall pouring from the sky and washing the mud away.
Through all of this, Zoe was learning that this version of her imagination game was very different from what she’d every experienced before: she had never played the game with anyone else and clearly, this game could become highly competitive, and was escalating with each round.
But even more disconcerting was the fact that everything imagined by either player, could be and was being experienced as a concrete reality by not just the players, but others outside the game –like their mother -- rather than being something that existed only as an abstraction existing and being experienced subjectively in the mind’s eye.
The mud, like the snow before it and the pouring rain after it, was REAL-- it could be seen, heard, touched, tasted -- in other words, everything imagined was being experienced as an objective reality not just as an invisible abstraction created by the mind, and it could be altered without a moment’s notice, on a whim. And Ariel was astonishingly good at it. Better than she was.
Maybe it IS a game, a competitive sport of brain and body Zoe thought to herself. Should I be worried? All of these thoughts flew through her mind, and hers alone, she hoped, while she still gloried in the game with her sister and Cal’s delighted spectatorship egged them on unintentionally. Did our Mum just WHOOP?!
Zoe yelled to Ariel, “Look! Up there! I see a treasure at the top of the oak tree!” and they both leapt up into the branches, climbing side by side with startling agility, Ariel reaching the top just a nose ahead of Zoe.
“Ohhhh! It’s a golden statue of an owl!” Zoe shouted.
“I LOVE owls, Zoe!” Ariel shouted back to Zoe.
Ariel had imagined the statue into a large living owl, and she climbed on its back, with Zoe jumping on right behind her, and they flew up, on this beautiful, impossible creature’s wings, flying higher and higher until they passed through a magnificent shower of stars, all of Ariel’s making.
Zoe was growing increasingly concerned and cold.
“Ariel, STOP!” shouted Zoe in alarm. “We’re going too high! We need to turn back. Don’t you hear Mummy calling us down?”
“We be FINE! We fly high forever! Mummy’s not calling US. She’s calling you!“
They were soaring so high now that Zoe feared they would run out of air. And she had to admit that Ariel was right: she could hear a voice calling only her name, not Ariel’s, over and over again.
“Don’t you hear that, Zoe? She doesn’t want ME, she wants YOU!”
“Yes…but Ariel… that’s… that’s not Mum’s voice. It’s…someone else’s voice calling me back! We need to go back and see if Mum is OK! Maybe someone is with her wishing her harm. We must go to her. Both of us. Now!”
“NOOO! It IS Mum’s voice. She’s calling you, so she can send you home! It’s a trap for YOU!” Ariel screamed. But Zoe slid silently from the back of the owl and began to plunge headlong towards the unseen hill below them until she realized that she could always fly so well in her dreams so no need to plunge uncontrollably towards whatever was going on down there.
Zoe took full control of her descent. Ariel stopped screaming and began flying on her own too, but she was flying loops and circles around Zoe, trying to keep her from landing.
“STAY WITH ME!” Ariel screamed again. But Zoe stayed focused on getting back to the hill to save their Mum.
Suddenly, the night sky was filled with music and masses of fireflies that were flying up in a column to guide her back to Calypso and Suncrest Hill below…
“You would not believe your eyes If ten million fireflies Lit up the world as I fell asleep….”
Zoe loved this song, “Fireflies” by Owl City. She listened to it whenever she could. It had been her mother’s favourite song.
And now Zoe could see her mother clearly, at the base of the tower of maybe NOT ten million fireflies, but fireflies for certain. She could see her mother she looking up towards the sky, watching Zoe fly towards her followed by Ariel, who was crying hysterically and shouting “NOOO, ZOE I’S A TRAP! STAY WITH ME!!”
The music was everywhere. Zoe felt it wrap around her, like the warmth of a friend…or mother… holding her safely in their arms.
She landed softly next to her mother on the bench on Suncrest Hill, and found herself being wrapped, not the comforter this time, but in her treasured bomber jacket, held tightly in her mother’s arms. I was her mother. It wasn’t a trap. Her mother was safe and so was she.
“I found this just now, under the bench. It’s yours, isn’t it? I saw it in the hospital…” whispered Calypso.
Ariel landed on the ground in front of them, shrieking in fear and anger over the impending loss of her sister. She picked up the nearby baseball bat they’d played with so happily when Zoe had first arrived, ran over to the oak tree and began smashing the bat repeatedly on the carved outlines of the Finn and Zoe’s doves.
But it was when Ariel began moving back towards the bench, swinging the bat above her head and around herself, attempting to knock as many fireflies down to the ground as she moved towards her Mum and Zoe, that a figure came out of the darkness, a figure in black robes from head to toe and took the bat from Ariel with one firm pull.
“That is quite enough, Signorina Ariel.”
Zoe’s eyes widened as she realized the figure before her wasn’t Death as she’d feared, but a nun dressed in the robes of a 17th Century member of the Franciscan Poor Clares order. And she wasn’t a creation of their imagination game, either.
“Suor Maria Celeste?” Zoe asked, barely audible even in the silence that followed the abrupt removal of the bat from a wild and weeping Ariel.
“No, my dear. I am Suor Arcangela, younger sister of Suor Maria Celeste’s and daughter, like her, of Signor Galileo Galilei. I have for almost 3 years, been Ariel’s tutor and friend, and your mother’s closest confidante. You are Zoe Smith, Ariel’s big sister, no? The writer?”
Zoe smiled in embarrassment. “Well, that is my goal…to be a writer…when I finish school. But yes, I am Ariel’s big sister, Zoe. It is a pleasure to meet you, Suor Arcangela” said Zoe with an awkward bow/curtsy.
“Oh no need for that,” she laughed.” I’m not a Cardinal or the Pope,” said Arcangela. “And it is most certainly my pleasure as well. Ariel has told me so much about her Big Sissa Zoe. She calls me Sissa too, without the Big or Zoe,” she smiled, “because Suor Arcangela is too difficult for her to say!” She spoke these last few words as she picked up the tearful little girl in one arm and took Zoe’s hand in her other and led them back to the bench where she sat Zoe down next to Calypso and set Ariel in Zoe’s lap.
“I want to help, and you can help me, too,” said Suor Arcangela, to Calypso and her two daughters.
“I don’t understand,” replied Zoe. “You want to help? What do you mean? Help Ariel? Help me? And how can we possibly help you?” Zoe was babbling.
“Please calm yourself, my dear. Let me explain and it will answer some of your questions.”
Zoe took a deep breath and listened as she held an exhausted Ariel firmly in her arms.
“First, let me say that I think you are a writer already, Zoe, even at such a young age. Your mother has told me of the remarkable essay you have written about us, about my sister and father, and the 124 existing letters from Maria Celeste to him that have survived. And know that Dava Sobel has translated into English and researched so much of our history. Do you know her? She has helped us a great deal by translating the letters and writing our history in her books.”
“No, I’ve never met her,” answered Zoe, “although I hope to someday. I read her English translation of your sister’s letters and her beautiful book, Galileo’s Daughter,” about her letters and your father’s life and her role in it. Her writing and research made mine possible.”
“Ah. I see. Zoe, to answer some of your questions: I do wish to help Ariel, yes, and you and your mother as well. But before I explain everything in more detail, I would like Ariel to come with me for a moment.”
She lifted the half-awake Ariel into her arms and carried her over to the base of the oak tree, carefully setting Ariel down on the ground beside her, and taking one of Ariel’s hands in hers, holding it gently to the area of the tree trunk that was just beneath Zoe and Finn’s dove engravings, which had survived the recent attack.
“Do you feel that Zoe? Do you feel that life flowing through the tree? It lives, just like the fireflies you tried to knock out of the air? They are all living beings that God sent us to take care of, to love, not destroy. They don’t deserve your anger and sorrow.”
“Yes Sissa…. yes, I do feel it,” she sniffled. “So sorry, Sissa, so sorry,” Ariel whispered, her head bowed. She kissed the tree trunk and the carvings and looked up at the fireflies above her and said, “I am so sorry” to them as well. “So sorry to scare you, Zoe and Mummy. I was afraid and sad.”
“I understand, Ariel. I accept your apology, and I’m sure your family understands and forgives you, and the tree and the fireflies too. Now, Signorina Ariel, lift up your head and look at our hands together on the tree trunk…that’s it…, look at what’s there beneath them,” she said, as she lifted their hands away from the trunk: shimmering in the darkness, was the newly carved outline of a dove, glowing brightly in the dark, just below the other two that had been carved years ago.
“Sissa! There are three doves now! And this one is mine? It’s so beautiful, all three of them together—Zoe’s, Finn’s and mine!” And she stood there, her hands by her side, admiring them.
Zoe walked to Ariel’s side, took her bomber jacket from around her own shoulders and wrapped it around her beautiful little sister, who was sniffling away in sadness and joy. She kissed her little sister on the forehead and she, Ariel and Arcangela returned to the bench and Calypso.
Cal could not speak because of all of her emotions, so she simply nodded her head in thanks to Suor Arcangela, and then made room for her daughters to beside her, Ariel again held tightly in Zoe’s arms, while Suor Arcangela stood before them, ready to continue her story.
A sturdy wooden chair appeared, something Ariel had ‘magined for Suor Sissa to sit on, and Arcangela sat down, in awe of this demonstration of both Ariel’s new skill and her equally new capacity for kindness and calm. And not even three years old. “Why, thank you Ariel,” she said. “Now, for the second part: how you can help me. Zoe, Cal and Ariel, I have a special request, a request on behalf of my sister, Suor Maria Celeste and my father Galileo Galilei. It involves finding the missing letters that you, Zoe, wrote about in your wonderful essay. If it’s all right with you Calypso, as their mother, I would like the assistance of Zoe and Ariel in helping to find those missing letters.”
Calypso was surprised by this request for the assistance of an unpredictable three-year-old and an anxious 14-year-old fighting for her own life, but she sensed Suor Arcangela had a plan and she trusted her, so she nodded her head in consent, and wasn’t surprised to hear Suor Angela say, “Let’s see what we can do without anger and fear. Let’s see what we achieve with kindness, and... imagination and without a bat.”
“You mean we can help you by playing the Magination game? Yes!” shouted Ariel.
“Yes, Ariel,” said Zoe “But this will be very different. It’s not a game this time. We will be using our imagination to do something that goes well beyond that. We’ll be doing something to help someone..”
“I understand, Zoe. We use ‘magination to help.”
“That is right,” said Suor Arcangela, “and here is what you need to know before we begin. We are going to a place called the Basilica di Santa Croce, in Florence, Italy, to find two hidden keys and the two boxes of letters they will open.” Ariel’s eyes widened and so did Zoe’s. Ariel had heard a great deal about Italy from Suor Arcangela but she’d never been there and neither had Zoe.
And Zoe knew that the missing letters were far more important than going to Italy!
“The Basilica di Santa Croce is where the mortal remains of my father and my sister Suor Maria Celeste are buried,” continued Suor Arcangela, “in a memorial tomb that includes the remains of Vincenzio Viviani, the great mathematician and was my father’s devoted student and assistant in the last 10 years of his life and beyond.”
“ After my father died in 1642, Signor Viviani, who was still a young man of 19, spent a good portion of his remaining 61 years struggling with the Catholic Church to obtain permission to have my father’s remains moved from the existing, all but hidden closet-like site in the novitiate’s chapel to a memorial tomb he had designed and was having built on consecrated inside the church’s main basilica.”
Calypso and Ariel were listening carefully, fascinated, with a story Suor Arcangela had never shared with them before. And of course, Zoe, who’d read about this in her research, especially in Dava Sobel’s wonderful book, was hanging onto every word she said because it was being told by the member of the Galilei family itself!
“Signor Viviani died 35 years before permission he had sought was finally given, but he had left instructions that his remains be placed next to my father’s in the original site, although he kept secret the fact that my sister’s remains were there as well, in an unmarked coffin, buried beneath my father’s unmarked coffin. One night in March of 1737, the year the Church finally consented to the relocation, a group of dedicated men met by torchlight and candles, late in the night, and exhumed the three coffins they found when they had only expected two, and then moved them all to Galileo’s memorial within the basilica.”
“One of those men, a priest and friend of Signor Viviani, had been keeping two keys on his behalf for 35 years, two keys I had given Signor Viviani before I died in 1659, and which the friend had been instructed by Signor Viviani to place in a secret compartment he had created within the new memorial. One of the keys will open a box containing my father’s letters in response to Maria Celeste’s letters to him, letters that everyone to this day had believed to be lost forever. I had hidden them in a secret compartment in the wall of my room in the Convent of San Matteo, where she had died, and I was still living.”
“The second key is to a similar box that contains years of letters between our father and Maria Celeste and myself, far more letters than the existing 124 found amongst my father’s possessions after his death.”
“My father, myself, my sister, my brother Vincenzio Andrea Galilei and Signor Viviani exist now only in spirit, and we need your assistance in finding the keys and bringing the letters to the world.”
Zoe spoke softly, “We will be honoured, Suor Arcangela, but how…how will we get there?”
“Follow me, I know the way.”
Ariel squirmed out of Zoe’s lap and out of the bomber jacket that was enormous on her, and handed it to her sister. “You will need this Zoe. It is too big for me.”
And before everyone’s eyes, an identical, much smaller version of Ace’s jacket, appeared on her, a perfect fit. “Magination!” Ariel said. “Let’s go!”
“Please wait a moment little Signorina! Before we leave, we must say a prayer for our safe journey together and our safe return to your mother,” said Suor Arcangela. Calypso, her two daughters and Suor Arcangela bowed their heads.
The prayer was brief but fortifying and after a slight bow from Suor Arcangela and a hug from each of her daughters, Calypso watched as the three began to leave. This time it was Zoe who said “Wait!”
“We need something to light our way,” she said.
And three upright glass torches topped with aerated globes of glass filled with glowing fireflies, appeared in the right hand of each of the travellers before they walked away and disappeared from view.
Zoe held her sister’s hand firmly, sensing that Ariel’s anxiety was as strong as hers as they walked into what seemed like a tunnel of darkness, even with the firefly torches lighting their way.
The darkness was all around them, even under their feet which did not seem to be touching any hard surface as they walked, and yet they didn’t fall.
It was if they were walking nowhere and nowhen, for several very long moments and then there it was, the Basilica di Santa Croce, at night, standing before them.
Galileo Galilei’s Memorial Tomb, Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence, Italy
The three entered with firefly torches held high. There was no sense of time, day, era, but definitely a strong sense of place, as they walked inside and searched for the memorial.
As they approached tomb, it’s white marble glowing before them in the darkness, Zoe was reminded of Suor Archangela’s account of the men gathering the dark to relocate the coffins. But this time there were only three of them, and they were all daughters, all women (or soon-to-be), holding torches of fireflies against the dark.
The memorial was impressive to stand before in person (Zoe had seen only a photograph of it on the internet): there were two female figures on either side of a white marble sculpture of Galileo himself, holding a telescope in his right hand and an orb of marble (representing Earth or perhaps Jupiter) in his left hand, his head directed towards the heavens that so fascinated him; below him was a modest-sized bier or coffin with a frame of sandy-golden marble streaked with green, surrounding green marble of the same shade. On either side, we two female figures standing guard, one that Zoe had read was to represent astronomy and the other, physics, two of Galileo’s fields of expertise. They too, like Galileo, looked heaven-ward.
“Can I climb up and look more closely? To find the keys, Sissa?”
“No, we must be respectful, Ariel. This is a place where the physical remains of three people are buried inside this great basilica, consecrated by God, and their spirits often visit here, so this is where you must use your imagination skills, with kindness, remember?”
“Yes Sissa” Ariel said obediently, calmed down immediately, and replied, “I will be ‘spectful and ‘maginative, Sissa.”
Suor Arcangela turned to Zoe. “Since we do not know exactly where Signor Viviani had the keys secreted, and it is a very large monument, do you have any thoughts about where the keys might be?”
“Well,“replied Zoe, “The orb and telescope look like possible hiding places but I believe that they are solid marble, not hollow…So…” She tilted her head to look up at the marble arch above Galileo’s head and took a good long look at the red clay-like plaque that bore an embossed black image of what resemble a short three- rung ladder.
The plaque was surrounded by white marble scrollwork that focussed one’s attention further on the plaque itself. Was it a clue for those looking for something? Was it covering a chamber holding the keys? Was the ladder icon and way of indicating the need for a ladder? Or was it simply symbolic of a way the souls of the three people would rise to heaven? I really need to do more research on symbols and iconography! Zoe finally shared her thoughts out loud (except the last one) with Suor Arcangela and Ariel, who reminded them, “No climbing, Zoe. We must be ‘spectful and MAGINATIVE!”
With those words hanging in the air, Ariel, whispered a few inaudible words to the fireflies in the glass orb of her torch and the fireflies soared up the front of the memorial.
“They said they would help me find the keys without climbing, Sissa and Zoe. “’Spectful ‘magination,” she replied by way of explanation when Zoe and Arcangela stared at the fireflies flitting around in a church!
Ariel, Zoe and Suor Arcangela watched in amazement, as the fireflies sped around the telescope and the orb and then swirled up to the embossed ladder-plaque and then hovered. The fireflies still encased in the orbs of Zoe and Arcangela’s glass torches grew brighter and more active, so they released them and watched as they flew up to join the rest, buzzing uncharacteristically. The light that glowed increasingly bright around them and around the plaque, grew even brighter until the the ladder plaque swung open like a door and revealed a small red leather pouch held shut by a leather drawstring. Without hesitation, the mass of fireflies swarmed around it and brought it down and dropped it in Ariel’s open hand.
“Is that it? We found the keys? “asked Ariel.
Suor Arcangela recognized the purse and nodded yes.
“May I open it, please? May I open it?” begged Ariel. “Oh, wait.” She stopped and very softly said, “Thank you for your help.” She was speaking to the fireflies who had already flown back to their places in the glass orbs of each torch which had had been hovering the air, awaiting their return. The three adventurers then focused all their attention on the little bag in Ariel’s hands.
“Here, Sissa, please open.”
Suor Arcangela could already feel the weight of the keys in the pouch as she took it from Ariel, but opened it to confirm that, yes, these were the two keys, one plain and one bearing a small red jewel, that she had placed in this purse centuries earlier and passed into the care of Signor Viviani. She heard a familiar voice, and then another and another and fourth voice, and turned around. There before her were her dear father, and sister Suor Maria Celeste, her father’s student and assistant, Vincenzio Viviani…and her own beloved brother Vincenzio Andrea Galilei whose spirit she had not seen for decades. Arcangela had never seen them appear all together since their passing and hers, so she bowed her head in profound deference and to hide her tears. Ariel was playing with the fireflies and ‘spectfully twirling the bag of keys, but Zoe was frozen still.
All of these people she had read about and heard about: one of whom she had admired since she first read of the brave and remarkable Galileo who helped change how we looked at our place in the universe; one whom she’d grown to admire in the real world (Suor Maria Celeste) during her research; another (Suor Arcangela), whom she’d come to love and admire in this world she was living in now; and two Vincenzios she would love to know more about. For all these reasons, Zoe too, bowed in respect and thankfulness.
Maria Celeste stepped forward and said to Zoe, “It is you we honour and thank. You are on a mission to fill the gaps and answer mysteries created by the 124 letters that survived. With our blessing, please take the keys and find the letters and take them back to your world and into history where they belong. May God bless you on your journey home.”
And with that, the figures faded from view, and Zoe and Ariel followed Suor Arcangela into another tunnel of darkness like the one that had brought them here.
Suor Arcangela’s Old Room, Convent of San Matteo, Arcetri, Italy
Zoe and Ariel came out of the tunnel pumped with energy and ready for the next search. Suor Arcangela stepped out of the darkness, just behind them, and informed them that they were standing in the small room that had been hers during the last few years of her life, the room in which she had hidden the letters her sister had received from Galileo; the letters that were thought to have been lost but in fact had never been lost at all.
The letters had “disappeared” after her sister’s death in the same convent they’d lived in together since they were in their teens and had taken the veil a year apart. (Ariel asked if they were looking for a veil now, too, so Zoe explained that “taking the veil” meant they had become nuns, that the sisters had also become Sisters (Suors in Italian) and Ariel nodded in understanding. It was Arcangela who had taken custody of the letters and placed them in a special hiding place to prevent their destruction or theft.
And this was the room in which she had hidden them.
It was still night, and the light from the fireflies in the glass torches flickered on the walls as Suor Arcangela pointed upward: the letters were in a small locked chest she’s placed behind a false-front stone brick in the wall, just below the room’s high ceiling.
“I used a ladder, just like that one on the floor at your feet…”
“Where did that come from. It wasn’t here a minute…ago…” started Zoe. But Ariel knew!
“She ‘magined it! Sissa is playing our game too!” crowed Ariel and she and Zoe picked up the ancient ladder and leaned it against the wall.
“My turn” said Zoe and she took the bag of keys Suor Arcangela had been holding since Ariel had retrieved them from the memorial in the Basilica di Santa Croce, and clambered up the ladder, which shook and quivered disturbingly.
“Be careful…and be quiet, Zoe. There are some people still living here and we don’t want to attract any attention”, added Arcangela, holding her index finger straight and firm against her mouth in the universal sign for “shush.”
Zoe returned the signal and Ariel stood looking up at Zoe, making the sign as well, along with a soft “shhhhhh.”
Zoe’s torch floated up with Ariel’s assistance, so that it hung in the air next to Zoe as she gently pressed a couple of stones in the wall, looking for the one with the false front. The third stone she touched, moved back a bit, into the almost empty space behind it, and Zoe reached in and pulled out a small lacquered wooden box. She balanced herself carefully with one hand on the wall and, and withj her feet planted firmly on the ladder rung, pulled the small plain iron key out of her pocket and opened the box.
“Ahhh, here they are! They are here, in a thick bundle tied in ribbon and… addressed to Maria Celeste from her father, your father! YES!”
“Shhhhhhhhhhhh” hushed Ariel and Arcangela.
Zoe put the bundle in her jacket pocket and decided to relock and re-hide the box behind the stone façade perhaps for someone else to find, because she couldn’t carry it down safely and Suor Arcangela encouraged her to leave it and not worry about it. There was a loud crunching sound, and the rung on which Zoe was standing, disintegrated beneath her as her feet slid through to the next and the next and the next, all the rungs giving way beneath her as she cascaded down the ladder to the ground. CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK. Silence.
Ariel and Arcangela watched helplessly…but then, they remembered that weren’t really helpless after all, as POP, the quick witted Ariel ‘magined a thick fluffy pillow that slid under Zoe as she landed.
“Shhhhh” Zoe shushed herself and made the shush sign at her startled partners as she landed on the with a PLOOF and a little grunt, while Ariel and Arcangela clamped their mouths with their hands to stop to their laughter.
“Zoe, my DEAR! are you OK? Ariel? THAT was most impressive” responded Arcangela with the loudest whisper she could dare. “My imagining certainly needs work. I created a ladder TOO true to the one I used hundreds of years ago!”
“That was so COOL!” chortled Zoe. And then shushed herself, finger and all. “No problem at all.” She reached into her jacket pocket to make sure Galileo’s letters were still safe. They were.
“On to the next!” Zoe shout-whispered and this time the tunnel of darkness came to them and engulfed them once again.
Villa ill Gioiello (The Jewel), Galileo’s Former Villa Next Door to the Convent of San Matteo, Arcetri, Italy Suor Arcangela, Zoe and Ariel emerged from the tunnel and Ariel asked whose turn it was in the ‘magination game.
“Ariel,” Zoe reminded her, “This isn’t a game…”
“I know, I know…I mean whose turn is it to ‘magine? Yours?”
“Suor Arcangela was the last to imagine, but she hasn’t actively participated in the searc part of the game, so I’d like to give my turn to you, Suor Arcangela.”
“Perhaps you are right. It certainly would give me a chance to improve my imagination skills after my…. failure with the ladder, so, yes, I would be honoured.”
“Where are we now, Sissa?” asked Ariel.
“We are next door to the convent we just visited. This is my father’s villa in Arcetri where he spent the last 10 years of his life under house arrest and this is where he died. In his will, he left me the little key with the jewel on it to remind me that there was a box of letters between my sister and Galileo he had hidden in his Villa il Gioiello (the Jewel). letters no-one else has ever seen or thought existed. He left the key with me before he died.’
“Where are they in the room, then, and do we have a plan?” asked Zoe.
“No plan. Just watch. They are under that piece of stone on the floor,” said Suor Arcangela.
“Which one?” asked Ariel.
There was a scraping sound and the large stone tile on which Ariel was standing, slowly rose in the air with her on it!
“Wow!” Zoe and Ariel gasped. “MAGINATION”! they said as one.
Zoe pulled the pouch of keys from her jacket pocket, but…
The bejeweled key flew out of the bag and towards the hole in the floor out of which a lacquered wooden box rose majestically. The key clicked into the lock on its own, and a thick packet of letters, tied with ribbon, like the others, sailed out of the box and into Zoe’s hands.
“Suor Arcangela you are amazing,” exclaimed Zoe, fully aware that all this was the work of a rookie ‘maginator who was already better at it than Ariel and herself, combined!
Zoe exclaimed checked the packet to confirm they were indeed the letters they were looking for, and then carefully placed them in her other jacket pocket.
“Who won, Zoe? Who won? I know, I know it isn’t a game,,,,but still… who won?” begged Ariel.
“We all did, the world did, history did,” said Zoe. “Mission accomplished!”
“Yes, Zoe. We have all won, and I wish to thank you on behalf of my family and history for your remarkable help!”
Then all three of them walked into the tunnel of darkness and returned to the hill and Calypso.
Suncrest Hill, Village of Foxgrove, England
The sun was beginning to rise when Zoe, Ariel and Arcangela walked out of the tunnel and stood before Calypso and the bench. Cal had been growing anxious because so much time seemed to have passed and they had not returned. And then she saw them stepping out of the dark and into the emerging light on the hill. She rose and kissed each of her daughters and nodded her head in profound thanks to Suor Arcangela for bringing them back to her.
“We got them Mummy! The Letters! We got them! Show them Zoe, show them! And I helped!”
“Yes, she did indeed,” said Suor Arcangela, although she kept to herself the fear that the ancient letters might not make the journey from this reality to Zoe’s home.
Without moving a muscle or changing her expression, silently and invisibly, she used her newly honed skill to create a zipper pocket inside Zoe’s jacket that would withstand the change in realities as Zoe traveled home. Then the precious pouch of keys were slipped inside and the pocket zipped shut. At the same time, she sent the 2 packets of letters from Zoe’s outside jacket pockets, to their original boxes and secret locations, so they could be retrieved in the future by the remarkable Signorina Zoe Smith.
All of this happened completely out of view and in seconds, as Suor Angelica stood there smiling at Ariel after she’d said the words, “Yes, she did indeed.”
And then she spoke aloud.” I must go now, but I will be back soon to play ‘magination with you Ariel and anyone who wants to” she added, looking at Calypso, who was looking worried. “That is, anyone except you, Zoe, because you have a new mission now. But I thank you again on behalf of my family for all that you have done here and will do in your future. May God bless you always.”
And then Suor Arcangela did the unexpected, at least for a 17th Century nun: she hugged Zoe, kissed her goodbye and disappeared into the dark once again, this time, alone.
Ariel waved goodbye and shouted, “Come back soon, Sissa!” Then she grew very quiet. She knew what was coming…
“Ariel, it’s time,” said Calypso.
“It’s time for goodbyes and thank yous to Zoe, you mean?”
“Yes, time to say goodbye to your sister, at least for a while…” said Calypso.
“Yes Mummy.” Ariel allowed herself to be picked up by Zoe for a long, long kiss goodbye and the tightest hug an almost-3-year-old could manage. “I love you Zoe and I’ll seen you in a while, like Mum said. OK?”
“I love you Ariel. For always.”
“Yes Zoe. I love you too, forever!”
“I’ll visit you both,” Zoe promised. “As often as I can…but… for now, just in my dreams, Ariel, until it’s time for me to join you both forever. Mum is right, for me, that time is not now, and I must go back to Dad and Finn and Sarah Jane and all my friends and bring more history into the world whether it be about the Galilei family or anyone or anything else. I must become the best writer I can be, and the best Zoe I can be. Thank you, Mum and Ariel for helping me here and now, and for loving me always.”
Calypso wrapped her arms around her daughter and whispered, “You see? I always keep my promises. Go and enjoy life, my sweet, strong Zoe.”
“I will do my very best.”
And with that, Zoe left Suncrest Hill, for… a while.
Zoe’s Room, Intensive Care, Foxgrove Hospital
It was early Monday morning, approximately 14 hours after Zoe’s injury. Jade found herself alone with Zoe for a few moments. Gavin had stepped out of the room to stretch his legs and check on Sarah Jane who had fallen asleep in the big chair in the overnight room across the hall where he and Jade had taken turns trying to sleep during the night while making sure there was always someone sitting with Zoe, sometimes talking to her, sometimes simply holding her hand.
Jade looked down at Zoe and held her hand firmly. She welcomed this moment alone with Zoe because she had something she wanted to share with her, something she’d never told her before.
“Zoe, I know you’re worried, perhaps even afraid, about the future, about me, and about the baby coming so soon when you barely know me. But there is something I need you to know. We don’t talk much, and perhaps I’m to blame for that because I am only just getting to know you and Finn. Zoe, the truth is, I’m afraid too. I’ve never had a baby before and I don’t know if I’ll be a good mother to her, to you and too Finn, as good a mother as your Dad is as a father. I love Gavin deeply Zoe, I think you know that. And I so admire your passion and strength….We’ll need that, Gavin and I, and your new sister. Please don’t be afraid or angry Zoe. Whoever she is, she will never replace Ariel and I’ll never replace your Mum, but… we can begin again…everything will be new for us and for you and that can be a good thing. So please… don’t be afraid or worried anymore. Just be Zoe, and… come back to us."
Hallway Outside Zoe’s Intensive Care Room
Sarah Jane came out of the overnight room, slightly embarrassed at having fallen asleep. She’d been up most of the night with Zoe, reading bits of the essay out loud and in silence. Just now, she’d seen Gavin re-entering Zoe’s room and she’d realized she’d missed a chance to give him another break. But she saw Jade in the intensive care room, lifting up her head to greet him, as she sat holding Zoe’s hand and crying.
Her watch buzzed her wrist and she walked to the end of the hall, pulling up her jumper sleeve as she want.
“Yes Sentinel? What’s wrong?”
"Nothing wrong, Sarah Jane, nothing wrong at all. Just wanted to let you know that Zoe’s coming back! She’s said goodbye to Calypso and Ariel and…she’s on her way. And, I have the most amazing visual report for you on what’s been happening since we last spoke a few…quite a few hours ago, my apologies."
“Thank you, Sentinel. I was concerned about your silence and this is wonderful news! But no, I do not want that report. What happened was of profound significance to Zoe and should remain private. In fact, please delete the entire record. Being a writer, she’ll tell us her story in her own way, and share it herself, in her own time.”
"Yes, indeed. Sarah Jane. "
"The record has been deleted."
Zoe’s Room, Intensive Care
Zoe slowly opened her eyes and tried hard to focus, the light was brighter than she had expected, and everything was blurry, but she soon realized she was looking into the eyes of Dad and Jade.
“I’m… back” was all she said and closed and opened her eyes again to make sure. Indeed, it was true: she was looking into the faces of her Dad and Jade and she smiled, “I’m home.”
Within a few minutes she could see that almost everyone she held dear, was either looking at her through the hallway window or was with her in the room, but… two were missing. Her mother and Ariel were not there, of course. And she didn’t really expect them to be.
She was on her own now and she had something she had to say to her father and Jade. But she looked directly at Jade when she said it:
“I’m ready, now.”
“Ready for what, Zoe? The surgery is over,” replied her Dad.
Still looking at Jade, she said, “I am ready to be a sister. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it because….”
“Because you lost Ariel…and your Mum and…” added Jade.
“Yes…I don’t want to hurt like that ever again, if I loved someone and something…happened.”
“Jade and I were afraid too, Zoe, afraid of losing someone we love…like what happened when we lost your Mum and Ariel three years ago. But today, Jade and I both thought we were losing you. I love you Zoe. And someday you will know that Jade loves you too. And we promise right now, that we’ll do our very best to keep you and your new sister safe and well and happy.” “I know. I know. I want to help too, I honestly do.”
The door opened and in walked Finn, in the flesh, no longer on Skype. There were no words, Just a lot of hugging and relief. Well, there WERE tears, but not in the room: the faces of Sarah Jane, Dr. Petite, Beth, Dan, Felix, the Chandras and Alfie were all visible, all pretending not to cry, all glistening with tears.
“Is it OK if I could see Sarah Jane for bit, alone? And then the rest later? I am tired, but I have something I need to tell Sarah Jane. “Sure, dear,” said someone and Finn, Jade and Gavin left the room, and Sarah Jane came and sat down quietly and took her hand and smiled her welcome back, in silence.
“I have something for you,” said Zoe. Check in the pockets of my jacket down there at the foot of the bed, please?”
Sarah Jane looked in both pockets but there was nothing there and Zoe’s face fell.
Her thoughts were racing. It was all just a dream. The letters are gone. I never had them. Suor Arcangela, Maria Celeste, Galileo…my mum and Ariel. All a dream. ALL A DREAM!
“Wait a minute” said Sarah Jane. “I feel something inside the jacket. Is there an inside pocket or something?”
Zoe held her breath.
Sarah Jane unzipped the inside pocket and pulled out a very old, worn, red leather pouch and opened it. “What are these?” she asked, pulling out the two small keys, one plain and one with a little red jewel on it.
Zoe sank back into her pillow. “Sarah Jane, you will never believe what happened…”
“Try me” said Sarah Jane, with a wide grin,” But first, get some rest. We’ll talk later. “
“Yes, Sarah Jane…” she stopped speaking because she heard a now familiar noise, a giggle, coming from near the doorway out to the hall, and for the briefest of moments, Zoe saw Ariel waving goodbye as she and Calypso left the room unseen, except by Zoe… and Sarah Jane.
“Fireflies” by Owl City. Adam Smith, songwriter; Adam Smith and Matthew Thiessen, producers, released July 14, 2009.
Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel (London: Bloomsbury, 1999).
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