Central Park (and Back Again)
September 24, 1999Melchiorn had been kind enough to escort the young girl back to her home, all the way from Central Park—the name of the park, Reyna discovered on their way out—to her shoddy apartment in Brooklyn where her parents lived. When they arrived, however, the apartment that Reyna called home was empty and cold. Not a single light shined in any of the rooms. The furniture that had once decorated the room was mostly gone. The worn coffee table that stood in the center of the living room, the rocking chair that Reyna would curl up into and fall asleep in, the prints of some artist’s sunflowers that were tacked to the walls—all of it was gone.
Melchiorn had let out a sound of disappointment and Reyna rushed off, letting go of his hand to search her room. Had her parents forgotten her again? What she found in her room answered her question. Everything that belonged to her remained as it was, everything was in its place. Her small bed smooshed up against the far wall, a few of her stuffed animals laid on the floor from where she played with them last, her nightlight was plugged into the wall’s outlet. Everything was just the way she left it. Everything had been left behind. She had been left behind.
“Come now, little one. There’s nothing left here for you.” Melchiorn told her softly, reaching his hand out for hers again. Reyna shook her head, not understanding what was happening. She walked over to her stuffed one-eared rabbit. Picking it up and holding it to her chest she turned to look at her new friend and shook her head again. Reyna’s mouth twisted and she felt the rush of tears behind her eyes.
“Where did they go?” She asked, “Why didn’t they take me with? Did they forget about me?” Her nose clogged up as she asked, and she began to sniffle to stop the stream of snot from oozing down her face.
Melchiorn’s brows scrunched together and he placed a comforting hand on top of her head. “I don’t know, Reyna. I’m sorry, I don’t know.” Using his other hand he began to wipe away her tears, but soon gave up when the tears began to pour faster and faster from her eyes. Sighing softly, the Melchiorn bent down to pick up the small child and made a hushing noise while swaying back and forth, “It’ll be all right, little one. I’ll take you someplace safe.”
Reyna let out a moan of consent and nodded her head in the crook of his neck. Melchiorn made his way out of the empty apartment and back into the dark streets, walking until he came upon a building that he’d been told was meant to help humans; the police department. The lights illuminating the building were florescent and blinding, and Reyna buried her head further into Melchiorn’s neck to shield her eyes.
The lights were too bright, the sounds too noisy, and the smells too sharp for the small child. Reyna whimpered as the lights above her flickered, sniffled when the noises turned into a lowly buzz that she could ignore, and sighed when a change of air flow moved all the smells downwind from her. She felt like she could have spent the rest of her life in the small cocoon of senselessness that wrapped around her, and only emerged from it when she was jostled out of her new friend’s arms and placed on the sticky linoleum floor. Melchiorn once again placed a comforting hand upon her head and smiled at her, “You’ll be safe here, little one. They’ll take care of you.” When he stood back up, Reyna began to panic.
“No, no! You can’t leave too! Please Melchiorn!” She cried as she grabbed on to his pant leg. Her tears, which had stopped flowing during their walk to the police station, glossed her eyes. “I want to go with you! Can’t I go with you?”
“No, Reyna, I’m afraid you can’t. You belong with humans, not Elves. I cannot bring you with me.” His words broke the seven year old’s heart and her breathing quickened. Melchiorn gave her a smile and tried to wipe away her tears again. “Don’t worry, little one,” he said, “You’ll see me again. I’m sure of it.”
“Do—do you promise?” Reyna stuttered, twisting the neck of the stuffed rabbit she’d brought along.
And with that he gave her head one last pat and left Reyna alone in the station. A police officer had taken her into the back of the station where they kept their lockers and spare beds. Reyna hadn’t wanted to go to sleep, she wanted to stay up and run after Melchiorn, but after spending hours in the park by herself, finding out her parents had abandoned her, followed by Melchiorn leaving, her mind and body didn’t care much about what she wanted and she promptly feel asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
When she woke up the next morning, a woman with light brown hair was sitting across from her in an uncomfortable looking chair. Reyna stared blankly at her until the woman realized she was awake. The woman with brown hair smiled at her, but to Reyna it felt rehearsed and fake. She began to talk, but Reyna drowned her out to look more closely at this woman. She looked old—or, at least, older than her mother had—and skinny, with frown lines surrounding her mouth. She wore a strange brown-but-not-quite-brown dress suit that almost blended in with her hair. Reyna tried to focus more on what she was saying, it was something about a home and safety. The woman gave Reyna another smile and said, “I’m going to take care of you, sweetie. I’ll make sure you’re placed in a loving home with people who will make sure you’re well taken care of.”
Reyna wasn’t sure if it was the woman’s strange smile, or maybe the way her eyes didn’t seem to reflect the light, but that feeling in her belly returned, and this time it was telling her that this woman was lying. No longer even hesitating to believe in her belly, Reyna threw off her blanket, tightened her grip on her bunny, and made a dash for the door. “Wait!” The woman screamed after her. Reyna worried that she would be caught by the strange woman or by one of the police officers she ran by, and wished with all her heart that no one could touch her.
No one did touch her, and the young girl was out in the street before most officers knew what had happened. The sun’s brightness blinded Reyna, but that didn’t stop her from barreling down the now crowded streets. She needed to put distance between herself and the police station. That was the only thought running through her mind. Finally, her eyes adapted to the light and Reyna stopped to take in her surroundings. Buildings and people surrounded her on all sides. She knew she had to get away from prying eyes or else she’d soon be tracked down and taken back to that horrible police station.
Taking a sharp right, Reyna dashed down an alley way and hid behind a large garbage can. Breathing deeply and heavily, the young girl brought her rabbit up to her face and whispered to it, “What am I going to do now Thumper?” The stuffed rabbit just stared back at her and Reyna sighed, wishing Melchiorn was still with her. He’d know what to do for sure. Maybe if she went back to the park, then maybe she’d be able to find him. Puckering her mouth and twisting it to the side of her face, Reyna tried to remember how to get to Central Park from wherever she was. Sadly, she didn’t have a clue. All she had was a feeling in her belly and a deep want to return to the park, where she last felt safe.
Thumper twitched in her hands. First the head tilted to the side, then its nose wiggled, and it began to squirm in Reyna’s tight grasp. Reyna let out a gasp and dropped the stuffed creature to the ground. It stared up at her for a few seconds and then dashed away down the alley way, back towards the streets. Reyna stared after it, still not over the shock that her beloved Thumper just came to life. The bunny stopped at the end of the alley, turned around, and looked back to Reyna. It titled its head again and something told her to follow. No longer one to argue against this feeling, she did so.
Thumper led her down a few more streets before leading her down some stairs and into a subway station. It was pretty busy and Reyna was small enough to pass through the pay stations without notice. The rabbit led her onto a train car that had a number on the first car. Picking up Thumper inside the train to make sure they weren’t separated, the rabbit began to twitch again after several stops and Reyna let it go and followed him off the subway and back up some stairs where she could once more see the sky. It wasn’t too much longer before Reyna saw the familiar trees of the park and let out a sigh of relief.
Once they stepped into the park, Thumper turned motionless, and no matter how many times Reyna poked him he wouldn’t get back up. She finally stopped attempted to awaken the rabbit when she felt her stomach clench in pain and heard a rumble. Biting her lip, Reyna tried to think of the last time she ate. It was a long time ago, she decided. Unsure of what to do next, she walked deeper into the park, remembering how she saw people selling food there yesterday.
After just a few minutes of walking, Reyna’s nose perked up and caught the scent of something. She wasn’t sure what it was, but it smelled warm and delicious. Following the scent’s direction, she came across a wagon selling all sorts of things; hot dogs, popcorn, big pretzels. It all made her mouth drown in saliva. Gulping loudly, Reyna took two quick steps towards the wagon before halting in her tracks when she saw some police-looking-officers walking her way. Not wanting to be caught and sent all the way back to Brooklyn, she retreated back behind a bench, and waited for them to pass.
Still hesitant to come out of her hiding place, Reyna stared at the food wagon and then down at her rabbit. Maybe she could trade Thumper for some food? But as soon as that thought crossed her mind, her small hands clutched the rabbit’s neck tighter and she pulled him to her chest. Glancing back at the wagon, she saw the vendor place some finished hotdogs and pretzels into a heated container to keep them warm. Licking her lips, Reyna closed her eyes and imagined herself eating one of those hotdogs. Scrunching her eyebrows, she imagined the hotdog with a salty pretzel and a nice, cool pop to go along with it. Her stomach rumbled again and she placed one hand to it, trying to push the pain away.
Suddenly, the smell of the food she’d been dreaming of seemed much stronger than it had a second ago. Thinking the wagon had moved, Reyna opened her eyes to see her dream hotdog, pretzel and bottle of pop hovering in front of her. Mouth popping open, the young girl twisted her head this way and that to see if anyone was watching her and the floating food. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Reyna grabbed at the food with her little fingers and began to devour the hotdog.
When she had finished both the hotdog and the pretzel and drank every last drop of the pop, Reyna licked her fingers and smiled to herself in content. Her stomach hurt again, but this time in fullness, not because it was empty. And Reyna thought she could live with that. Wiping her wet fingers on her shirt, the she thought about everything that had happened that day. While the things were occurring, she wasn’t going to question anything, but now that she felt relaxed and safer than she had in a long time, Reyna was able to wonder about the day’s events. There was only one conclusion that the little girl could come up with and it brought an ear splitting smile to her face. Picking up Thumper and looking into his black beaded eyes, she announced to herself proudly, “I can do magic!”