Coming on the heels of a quaint and snowy January, February resembled the exhale of an angry beast. Storm clouds simmered above our town, winds wailed and thick raindrops pounded roofs and heads at regular intervals. I was almost halfway home when the clouds emptied their contents, drenching me to the last thread. I ran as fast as I could, gasping for air and holding the photograph under my shirt where I moved it so as to not let a single drop reach its surface. Upon seeing me climbing the stairs to our house, Mom scolded me saying that I should’ve called her and she would’ve had her brother come get me. Her impatient hands were soon all over me, helping me out of the wet clothes clinging to my skin.
“Mom, please, I can do it myself,” I pleaded, unwilling to move my hand that was pressing the picture.
“Fine. Hurry, though. I don’t want you getting sick again. I’ll get a hot bath ready.”
I removed my hand with care. The photograph’s edges were already curling from moisture. Slipping the picture between the pages of my own Bible, I left my room, got the rest of my clothes off, and eased myself into the tub, my body thawing with delight. A feeling of liberation came over me, a sense of achievement for directing my own destiny, though my enthusiasm was tinged with angst.
I knew I was walking on thin ice when summoning Sariel, but what I felt when I thought of him had already gone beyond mere thrill of novelty. Sariel had inspired me to be brave and bold, which I knew could help me find Daniel.
“Call for you.” Mom knocked on my door. “Should I ask him to call later?”
“No, I’ll get it! Just have him wait a moment,” I said, already suspecting who it was. With a towel wrapped around me, ends of my hair dripping water, I walked to the phone.
“Hi. It’s me.” I heard Punk’s voice. “Did you—?”
“I found it. Now what?” I said in a hushed voice.
“Given the weather, we need to either get creative or wait it out.”
“Let’s get creative. I feel like we’ve already waited too long,” I said. “Any other ideas?”
Punk was silent for a moment. “How about we meet in your garage and talk it over?”
“My garage?” I whispered, stepping further away from the kitchen where Mom was busy preparing something. “Are you out of your mind?”
“Why not? All we need is some place dry.”
“Sure if you want to risk a month-long holdup when my Mom sees you. It would only delay things.”
“Who’s at your home now?”
“She and me.”
“We will be quiet. Don’t worry. She won’t know.”
“My sister’s room is in the basement and she’s with her cousin. It’s Saturday so they’ll probably go out to a disco.”
“Perfect. Her room then?”
“You better activate your sixth sense. If anyone finds us, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“I’m on my way. Be by the garage door in ten minutes. I will knock three times.”
I peeked into the kitchen where Mom was peeling onions. She was sitting with her legs apart, a tall bucket on the floor by her skirts, thick tears dripping to the floor, the radio droning a sad song she seemed to know well—her lips were mouthing the words. Seeing her like that made me want to cry, too, but for a different reason. I loved Mom so much and desperately wanted to help free her from the chains of sadness that seemed to hold her captive. In fact, everyone around me seemed to be haunted or imprisoned by something.
I went to my room, finished drying myself off, put on sweat pants and a T-shirt, and retrieved the photograph from between the pages of the holy text. The picture was yellowed and aged. It showed my mother as a young girl, not much older than I was now, standing next to Grandpa who was in his glory years, tall and with a thicket of dark hair crowning his head, his hand on Mom’s shoulder. Her beauty was striking, and innocence predominant, but her eyes and mouth betrayed her. I saw lines of worry and distant longing. One of her arms was hanging loose by her side, the other slightly bent at the elbow, fingertips brushing her growing belly. I turned the photograph and read the date written on the back: August 1976. Daniel was born in January of 1977. In this photograph, Mom must have been four months pregnant.
I jerked, remembering the impending visit. On my toes, I descended the stairs and put my ear to the garage door. Just as I did I heard three knocks, and twisted the knob to let Punk in, careful not to let the door creak. We glided across the short corridor on our tiptoes like a pair of professionals.
Rena’s room was in complete disarray. I rarely came down here, and when I did it was usually to carry a message from upstairs, such as to inform her that dinner was ready. Clearly I wasn’t the only one who bypassed this place. For all their faults, my parents left us alone, affording us much personal space, each for a different reason. Mom was respectful, father not present. But what I saw that gloomy afternoon made me wonder if it might be a good idea to bring Mom down here to see things for herself. We all knew Rena liked to have a good time, but the evidence on full display relayed a deeper story. Empty liquor bottles crowded the floor next to her open closet, which was almost entirely devoid of contents, her wardrobe mixed in with her bed sheets in a colorful cocktail of mess. The room reeked of alcohol fumes and putrid cigarette ashes.
“And I thought I was the one who misbehaved.” I looked at Punk, who picked up one of the bottles and smelled it. His eyes were penciled with black liner, making them look twice as large.
“Whiskey,” he muttered, and set it down. “Your sister has a sophisticated taste.”
I moved several layers of clothes off her desk chair, bras and shirts falling to the floor, and made room for Punk to sit down, while I plopped on the desk.
“I don’t know when Mom might start looking for me, so we’d better hurry,” I said, and handed him the picture.
“Nice work,” he said and closed his eyes.
I saw his countenance shift, all expression wiped from his face. All that remained was the sound of raindrops tapping against the windowpane. He remained motionless for about two minutes, at which point he brought the picture to his forehead and remained still for another minute. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes.
“What did you see?” I asked.
“I know him.”
I smiled. “Yes, you were once friends. He told me about you the night at the hospital. By urging him to search for his parents, you helped him find us. And then you encouraged me to go the hospital so that I, too, may find him. So in a way, you helped unite our family.”
Punk leaned back into the chair. “There is still more to do.”
“It is thanks to you that I met Daniel.”
“When I met him, his name was not Daniel,” Punk said, shaking his head.
“No? What was it?”
“His name was Peter.”
Peter. . . . Peter! The name of the boy I met in the hospital as a child. The name of the boy Mom had wanted to adopt. Mom had said that Peter was his name. And I thought I had gone crazy. Punk’s revelation would imply that Peter and Daniel were the same person. If so, it would explain a lot, making yet another puzzle piece fall into place. I shared my thoughts with Punk.
“Maybe he needed a change. Maybe it was his way of marking a new beginning?” Punk said. “Maybe it better matches his identity? Daniel interprets dreams, after all.”
Again, Punk's ideas made sense.
“Where is he? Did you get a location?”
“I saw a dark place, like a dungeon. I heard beeps in the background.”
“Is he conscious?”
“No. He’s sleeping.”
“What do we do?”
“We board a train,” he said.
“Tomorrow morning. You can come, right?”
“Of course. You can count on me,” I said, and looked out the window. It had stopped raining, the clouds parted, and a beam of sunlight bounced off Punk’s blue iris. “Do we know where we’re going?”
“Not completely. But that will unfold once we get on the road,” he said, and stood up, looking around. He smelled the air. “I’d better get going now.”
I followed him to the door. He hesitated before turning the knob, but when he finally opened the door, Punk’s chest almost knocked the wind out of Rena’s lungs.