This story is by Lisa Nowatzki and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Hurry, hurry, hurry! Got to find it! Where is it? Nine-year-old Maisey thought as she rushed through the house. Joey said he left it in their room. Maisey climbed up on the little red three-legged wooden stool to rummage through the top of the bureau she shared with Joey. Nothing in there but underwear. Not in with the socks, either. Where can it be? Maybe Joey has it in the car with him. Maisey jumped off the stool and searched through the bottom of the chest in Joey’s underthings. Nothing in there but underwear and hammers. Pushing that one closed, she pulled on the bottom drawer, socks, socks… “Aha! I found it!” she said to no one. Slamming it closed and grabbing her small suitcase at the same time, she ran out the bedroom, out the front door, and jumped in the backseat of the waiting car.
“Did you find it?” Joey asked.
“I did,” Maisey said handing Joey the bright red hat. He looked at it, turned the hat around so that the two golden dragons faced each other in the center of his forehead and pulled it down to his ears.
“How does it look?” Joey asked.
“Perfect, very grown-up. Nothing can hurt you with Gong Gong and Xiangliu watching over you,” Maisey said.
Lost in the past, ninety-one-year-old Maisey stared out the window of the shiny wing of the 747 not seeing it. A little boy and his mother plopped their bags down in the two seats next to Maisey. Yanked into the present, Maisey caressed the small blue pouch she was holding and tucked it back in her purse under the seat.
As the boy and mother were trying to get settled in their seats, Maisey introduced herself. “Good morning. I’m Maisey. Here let me help you.” Maisey said as she took the two tiny crutches offered to her from the young mother. The little boy hopped, slipped, and slid into the middle seat.
“Thank you so much; I’m Janine, and this little heart-breaker is Howie. Say hello Howie.”
Howie didn’t say a word and didn’t look at his mother or Maisey. Undeterred, and always a people watcher, Maisey quietly observed Howie as Janine finished stowing their bags in the overhead bin. Howie didn’t smile or speak to anyone, including his mother. Maisey watched Janine. She looked a little frazzled, mostly because her naturally curly chestnut hair had a mind of its own. Janine would use her fingers to put one curl back in place then another would pop out.
Bags settled and curls tamed, Janine sat down next to Howie. After a few more minutes of Howie’s silence, Maisey asked Howie, “How did you hurt your leg?” No reply. “I see you are determined young man. I admire that; my little brother, Joey was a determined and stubborn little boy, too. How about a trade? I have a Tootsie Pop I will trade you if you tell me how you hurt your leg,” Maisey said as she pulled out a handful of Tootsie Pops. “Take your pick.”
Howie took a grape pop, opened it and stuck it in his mouth. Janine smiled for the first time.
“I – fell – in – a – hole,” Howie said around the Tootsie Pop.
“Did you fall in your own hole or did you fall into someone else’s hole?” Maisey asked.
“I fell at home, in the backyard,” came the quiet whisper.
“Just like my little brother, Joey. He loves digging holes, too. When Joey was younger, he was a champion hole digger. He would dig a hole, cover it back up and dig another. Sometimes he would dig holes all day long,” Maisey said.
“My dog, Mike likes to dig holes in the backyard. I fell in one of his holes and broke my leg,” Howie said, still engrossed in his Tootsie Pop.
“One time, Joey dug a hole so deep, we didn’t have a rope or ladder long enough to get him out,” Maisey told Howie.
“Oh, what did ya do? Did he die? How did he get out?”
“Well, Joey was very smart. He said he did some of his best thinking while digging a hole, so we never worried when Joey didn’t turn up for dinner. We knew he was probably at the bottom of a hole thinking about solving some little boy problem, like the best place to dig for pirate treasure or the best place to start digging a gold mine,” Maisey replied.
“I would use a firetruck ladder to climb out of the hole. Did you use a firetruck ladder to rescue Joey?” Howie asked.
“By the time we found Joey, he had dug the hole too deep. He yelled up to us that he had an idea and he would see us in a few days.”
“What idea? What did he do?” Howie said bouncing up and down in the seat.
Janine looked over Howie’s head at Maisey and silently mouthed her thanks.
Maisey continued. “Well, we had no idea what Joey was planning to do. Mom, Dad, and I just patiently waited for Joey to walk through the back door like he always did, and he did three days later.”
“What did he do? What did he do?”
“Joey walked into the kitchen and said, “Hi Mom, Dad, Maisey. I sure am thirsty.”
“He was covered in dirt. It was hard to tell that Joey was a little boy, he was so dirty. My Dad picked Joey up while my Mom gave him a glass of her best lemonade to revive him.” Maisey said.
“Yeah? Was he okay? What happened to him?” Howie bounced.
“You know what he did?” Maisey asked Howie “He dug all the way to another country. Do you know where his hole came out? He dug a hole all the way to China.”
“Really? No! How did he get home?” Howie said.
“The way Joey told the story, he dug the hole for two more days. And just when he was too tired to go on, his little shove poked through the dirt. Joey saw a light through the hole; then the bottom fell out.”
“What happened? Was he hurt?” Howie bounced and asked.
“Joey fell into the Imperial Chinese Place – the home of the Chinese Emperor. He landed on top of a man with a long beard, blue and white silk robes and a red velvet hat embroidered with two golden dragons fighting each other on the front. The man was magician named Chinn who was trying to kill Nuwa, a Chinese goddess, and princess. Joey saved Nuwa’s life by falling on Chinn’s head. Before Chinn could wake, Nuwa waved her hands. Ropes and chains appeared and snaked their way around Chinn. With a snap of her wrist, Chinn disappeared. Nuwa was so thankful to Joey; she gave him Chinn’s hat with the two magical golden dragons, Gong Gong and Xiangliu embroidered on it. She told Joey that the two dragons would always protect him. After placing the red velvet hat on Joey’s head, Nuwa waved her hands again, and the two golden dragons flew off the hat and began to grow. The goddess told Joey to think of home, and the dragons would take him there,” Maisey said.
“No Way!” Howie yelled.
“Joey said the two dragons grew as big as two semi-trucks, and then Gong Gong told him to climb on one his back. Joey rode all night on Gong Gong with Xiangliu beside him. They stopped on a white island called Penglai. There, they drank water from a silver waterfall and ate rice from a bowl that never emptied. After a short rest, Xiangiu said, “Climb on, Joey.” “The dragons flew all day to get Joey back home that night,” Maisey said.
Howie stared mesmerized and could only nod and say “Un huh.”
Maisey paused, took a sip of water and continued Joey’s tale.
“That wasn’t the only time Gong Gong and Xiangliu saved Joey’s life.”
“Really? I knew it! What did they do?” Howie said.
“One month after Joey got back from China, we had to go to the hospital. Joey broke his leg, the same leg you broke,” Maisey said pointing to Howie’s cast-laden right leg. “That same day, a doctor discovered that Joey had cancer in the bone of the leg he broke. A little later, some tests showed that I was a match to Joey; I could give him some of my bone marrow to help cure his bone cancer. But I knew if anyone could make Joey well again, it was Gong Gong and Xiangliu,” Maisey said.
Howie’s big brown eyes never left Maisey’s face. Go on, his expression said.
“The morning we left for the hospital for the bone marrow transplant, Joey could not find his magical hat with Gong Gong and Xiangliu on it. I found it for Joey buried in his sock drawer. Joey put on his hat in the car and wished that he wouldn’t have bone cancer anymore,” Maisey looked at Howie. “You know what happened to him?” Maisey asked.
“No, what happened? Did he have cancer anymore?” Howie asked.
“He did not. Gong Gone and Xiangliu protected Joey, just like Nuwa said. Joey lived a long, healthy life; he never got sick again, thanks to Gong Gong and Xiangliu,” Maisey said.
“Wow, I wish I had a magical hat,” Howie said.
Maisey reached down into her purse, sitting under the seat and pulled out a small blue velvet pouch tied together with two golden threads. She opened the bag and pulled out a red velvet hat with two golden dragons embroidered on it. She gently slid it down on Howie’s head.
“There you go,” Maisey said wiping escaping tears away as she remembered all the times she did the same for Joey. Carefully, she centered Gong Gong and Xiangliu on the front of Howie’s forehead. “Gong Gong and Xiangliu will always protect you, little Howie,” Maisey said.
“Really? Thank You” Howie whispered as he gently reached up and touched the dragons on the hat.
Maisey thought of her last visit with Joey. He gave Gong Gong and Xiangliu to her to keep her safe because her husband, Leo had just passed away. Two years later, she was taking the dragons home to reunite them with her little brother Joey, who died yesterday as he had lived, with vigor and enthusiasm. At eighty-nine-years-old, Joey’s heart gave out while he was rollerblading home from the gym. But Gong Gong and Xiangliu’s work was not done. Howie needed them. Somehow, Maisey knew that Joey would approve of little Howie inheriting Gong Gong and Xiangliu.
Howie settled back in his seat, and Maisey turned to her window. The past engulfed her again. She slept and dreamed of dragons and Joey. A little while later, Joey walked over to Maisey, took her hand as they both jumped on the backs of Gong Gong and Xiangliu and rode away to a white island with silver waterfalls and rice bowls that are never empty.