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TAD LINCOLN'S LADDER OF DREAMS/ Emily Pease IF SHE HELD SÉANCES, then you can understand it, there were so many deaths. How she watched her little boy die. How her eyes turned to the small shallow spot in the bed—his ghost—when they finally lifted him away from the sheets. Feverish boy, with wet brown hair, glassy-eyed. She had wiped his brow. Had held his small hand and caressed each small finger, lifting them at the knuckles. Laid her head on his chest, his tender ribs, to hear his dying heart. In the upstairs room a window had been opened. Rain puddled on the sUl. The boy's cat stepped its quiet paws over the floor, rubbed its back against the bed, crouched to jump—its back legs tight, ready to spring—while the boy lay in his dark fever. But she lunged at the cat, kicking her stiff black shoe at its head, so terrified had she become that her boy would be robbed of his last tiny breath. Someone had to take him, and it would not be she. Neighbors came, and the doctor. And when they finally carried him away, wrapped like a doll in winding sheets, she fell against the wall and wept. This was the beginning of her long sorrow. Little Eddy Lincoln, age three, rest in peace. His father wrote him a poem. In the light of a single candle, beneath rings of shadows, he bent over the paper and thought of the whole delicateness of the world, its vapors and mysteries. What it had been like when he was just a boy of nine in the wilderness in spring, when the grasses grow green again and the buds split a branch open at its tip. What it had been like to be left alone there, with owls screeching in the night. So he remembered his mother's death. How she groaned in the loft of the one-room house, inches away from where he slept. Where she had gone he could notbe sure, though at times he would see her in his dreams, the pale Nancy. But his tiny boy—now he was in heaven, certainly. For ofsuch is the kingdom of God. He had the stonemason carve it in white marble for the grave. These are the stories you do not know. How the young father rode his horse into the forest, thinking of spirits. How he thought he heard his mother's thin voice—believed he saw her there, near a sapling oak—and then, as if the world were controlled by ghosts, felt at once that she was gone, felt this utterly, the way he now felt his little boy's The Missouri Review · 59 death. How he looked out into the blurred space in front of him and heard the small sound of Eddy Lincoln's cry, and all the cries of the dead. God gave, he thought, extravagantly. Gave the tenderness of a baby's hands, a baby's slight breath on the cheek. Gave this land, and these trees, and these flickering shadows on the leaves of the trees. And then let it die. And if God had let his young mother die back in the wilderness, before he, her boy, had ever considered her to be separate from himself—and if he could then let his tiny boy die after fifty-two days of fever—then he could die also—soon—overnight, when he was not ready. And he would join them in the other world. And Mother. She walked into the baby's room, then walked out, then walked in—averting her eyes, trying not to see the bed where Eddy had died. The wood floors were silent. The bed was smooth. In a corner, as if they had been swept there, lay the empty shoes of her second baby. Which sent her into the darkest despair. She would make herself sick with grief, they said. AU things die, they said; you must accept this. But still, she wanted to know: If God gives life, then why take it back? She turned to her one living son, the older son, a...


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