A Touch of Special
"A Harry Houdini Story"
Wedina Myers was only ten, but already she saw the world through darker glasses than most as she stood in the freezing snowfall, her tiny pale hands turning blue from the cold, as she strove to sell at least one of her specials. She called them specials, because to her they were the most precious thing she could offer to the adults who sometimes, out of pity, or charity, purchased one.
Tiny dolls made of paper that she wound in special ways so that they turned into living pieces of art. But in the falling snow they were in danger of being buried by the snow, and then as it melts, made limp and useless.
She turned her pale blue eyes skywards, noticing that the sun was close to the rooftops on Ashbury Street, where she stood this day. She never occupied the same corner twice, because sooner or later a Constable would find her and encourage her to hurry home to a mother she didn't have any more.
Wedina was only ten, and she had been abandoned by her mother when he, a sailor, had been offered a better position on a new merchant vessel and threatened to leave her mother, unless she sailed with him.
Wedina shivered and wrapped the newspaper tighter about her shoulders to avoid the briskness of the northerly breeze that was driving the falling snow.
Her mother loved her. She could tell that early on, because she never had enough to eat, clothing to wear, even when her mother was drinking and eating more than enough for four. Her mother had outgrown her job on the piers...which she had told Wedina had something to do with selling her wares, though she could never figure out what those wares were, until she heard her mother come home late one night with a stranger and tell him a price for the wares she sold.
Wedina had wept in shame at that moment. Her mother had never bothered to tell her exactly what she had done, sending Wedina off to a church school that was free, and the Nuns had no questions besides which religion she was. She had told them she didn't know what religion was, and so she had become a personal project for them.
And now, as a result of their mercy, she had found a warm place to live a short scant hours after being abandoned, but in a sense was tragically caught in a religious vice that saw her as no more than property to evangelize, then send out to raise money for the church.
So she had learned early on that not all adults had the best in mind for a child, and few if any of them cared whatsoever about what happened to a child that was not their own.
In the midst of her dark funk she arose from her thoughts to find a slender, dark complexioned man standing before her, lifting one of her creations in the air and admiring it with eyes lit up like blazing coals. She had never seen eyes like that before.
"My specials are only ten pence, and the money goes to the church." She told him, trying not to mash her words between her frozen lips.
He set the special down. It looked like a tiny man on an elephant.
"How do you come up with these ideas, if I may be so bold as to ask?"
At first she was frightened, thinking he might be assuming she had stolen them, just like the Constables that always chased her off, then she saw he was looking directly into her eyes and there wasn't the shadow of anger, or accusation in his eyes, only a soft gentle kind of laughter and light.
She was about to tell him, when her legs began to tremble and shake. She gave him a horrified look, then strove to stop them from shaking, thinking her plight might drive away his sail. But to her utter horror, he swept her up into his arms and even as she was about to protest, she lost consciousness.
"Poor dear, sweet thing." Mrs. Hudson whispered quietly, her hand on Wedina's forehead, with Watson beside her.
He put away his stethoscope and set it in his bag, the sat in a chair opposite the bed she lay upon. Watson had given it up for her.
"Harry, she's waking." He hollered to the other room.
Wedina pretended to still be asleep, even though she could sense them close to her and watching. She didn't want the warm hand on her forehead to go away, or the kindness of the man who had examined her to stop. She could tell they cared in some kind of primal way or her welfare.
"I should hope so. She's been asleep for forty-eight hours."
Watson stood up so Harry could take his place and examine Wedina's face. "She's listening to every word we're saying, you know."
Wedina's eyes popped open and she tried to jump up and dash off.
Harry gently caught her and pressed her back, while Mrs. Hudson placed another blanket over her lap. "Dear girl, we're not here to hurt you."
Wedina looked at them all in terror, and then she noticed where she was. It was beautiful and warm and cozy. There were warm drapes across the window of the room and she lay on a real cotton mattress with soft covers and sheets and a bedcover made of down. She could smell the fragrance of the geese it had been taken from.
Harry laid down a special in her lap as Mrs. Hudson helped her to sit up against the bed's head board. "Better?" She asked.
Wedina looked at her, and her eyes widened. The woman was smiling. Smiling at her, like the morning sun rising through the misty fog of Ashbury Street sometimes.
"That's right, dear, we're friends." Mrs. Hudson reassured her.
Wedina gave her a tentative smile, and then looked at Harry, who had plucked her from the street corner as she lost consciousness. "You!"
She giggled, not knowing why.
That caused Harry and everyone in the room to burst into laughter, though they probably knew why.
Then her stomach made a loud growling sound.
Mrs. Hudson's eyes widened in alarm. "Oh my, she has a tiger eating her up from inside. I best hurry to the kitchen to feed it something before it harms our dear child."
Watson laughed, and went with her, leaving a bemused Wedina looking at Harry, whose face was unreadable for a moment, until he smiled, then once more she felt as if the morning sun were chasing all the fog of the day away.
"Where's your mother?"
Harry didn't ask twice. He read her well enough to know what she meant. He had experienced the same thing once with another friend's daughter. She had been abandoned when the man lost his job and his wife. He had urged his friend to stay, but he was selfish. Something Harry hadn't seen at that time, but knows in retrospect was crystal clear.
"You stay at Saint Ignatius, don't you?" He asked, without a hint of doubt in his voice.
Her eyes widened.
He smiled and gently touched her right hand and patted it. "I have friends there. I inquired the moment after I brought you here."
"Please don't send me back there." She pleaded. "This is so..."
"Home." He stated once again with certainty.
She nodded vigorously.
He leaned forward and looked closer at her. "I know a place that is much bigger than here, where children are loved and never abandoned. A place where all the adults care and love all the children, and not just their own."
"In London? I don't think I've ever heard of such, sir?"
He laughed. "No, I suppose you wouldn't." He answered, and then raised her special onto his palm. "May I have this?"
"Ten pence." She blurted out, before she realized how ridiculous that sounded.
"How about if we do an exchange?"
Her eyes narrowed. Here it came. He wanted something. Adults always wanted something and it wasn't always nice or safe.
"You give me this and I give you..."
He waved his free hand and a circle of light began to spin. As it spun it broadened, deepened into a tunnel of pure golden light. At the other end of it she could see a beautiful meadow and many children playing, with adults watching and playing with them. It looked so happy.
"I give you this."
She clapped her hands together. "I'd love that very much. When can I go?"
"Don't you want to wait for the food Mrs. Hudson is bringing for you?"
"No, I'd rather go now, even though you've all been so kind."
She got up out of the bed, then dropped to the floor as light as a feather and stood before the tunnel of golden light. "It feels like summer. But with a cool breeze to drive the heat away. And I can smell roses and carnations. I hear water of a tiny stream and..."
She spun around and looked at him. "I hear grandma. How did she get there too?"
Harry smiled warmly and stood beside her, looking into the swirling tunnel of light. "Oh, she is the one who asked me to make this offer. She has missed you very, very much."
Wedina burst into tears, then clasped Harry about his waist and hugged him tight. After a long time she sighed, then wiped the tears away and looked at the light again. "You won't be offended if I go now? You've been so kind."
"Not at all."
She looked up into his eyes. "You're a good man, Harry Houdini." She almost yelped with shock after she stated those words, then she relaxed and giggled when he didn't react. "Now how did I know that?"
"You have a touch of special." He told her gently. "Never doubt it. Not now. Not ever."
He stepped back and she stepped hesitantly into the light, then she looked back. Mrs. Hudson and Watson stood there as well, wiping tears from their eyes.
"I love you all for your kindness."
Harry made a scooting motion with his hands. "Hurry now, I can't keep this tunnel open much longer."
She ran back and gave him one more hug, then burst into laughter and ran down the tunnel of light, still laughing until she reached the other side. The moment she did an older woman swept her into her arms, and then waved at Harry. Harry waved back and she led Wedina into the meadow with the other children.
The golden tunnel of light brightened for a moment, and then collapsed into a view of the bedroom once more.
Harry turned around and Mrs. Hudson sat next to the bed, holding the dead child Wedina's right hand as before. Watson had a grim look on his face.
Harry gently shut the eyelids of Wedina's face and kissed her forehead. On her face was the most beautiful smile any child could ever make.