“Ascolta il gattina, Gio. Riesci a sentirlo camminare?” Listen to the kitty, Gio. Can you hear it walking?
A favorite game Grandpa plays with me. I close my eyes, pay attention to my ears. I clap my hands. “Yes, Buppa! I can hear it walking.”
“Dove sta camminando, Gio?” Where is it walking?
I listen, my eyes shut tight. I cock my head, right ear up, left ear up, right ear up. “On Mrs. Gianelli’s fence. The one on the Caputo’s side.”
Grandpa smiles and kisses my head.
“Now look, Gio. Where is Grandma?”
It is hard not to hear. I cover my ears with my hands, open my eyes wide. “She’s talking with Piantedosi the baker, Buppa. She says — ”
“No listening. What’s she doing?”
“She’s getting bread for dinner.”
Grandma looks in the dessert cases. She points to ricciarelli, struffoli, and cannoli.
Grandpa licks his lips and pats his belly. “Yumm.”
David sits across from me. It is his day, his weekend. He’s travelled far for his training. Not far enough but he doesn’t know that yet.
I look up and to the right, away from him, My eyes focus and I smile. “Oh, Shannon’s talking with one of our neighbors. Our dogs are playing in the park.”
David watches me. His eyes flick to where I’m looking. There’s nothing there. “What are you looking at?”
I point where I’m looking. “Shannon and Debbie, Cowan and Boxer. They’re in the park. Cowan and Boxer are playing. Shannon and Debbie are sitting at the picnic table under the roof shelter.”
“Use your hands to taste, Gio. Don’t touch with your hands first. Send your hands. Make sure it’s safe.”
Grandpa teaches me to detect poisons, food turned bad, mushrooms, when milk will sour.
“Smell from here. Don’t go there. Not yet.”
“Walk with me in the forest. Tell me what we can eat.”
We never leave my room. I hear the forest floor, leaves and pine needles, long grasses pushed over as we walk. The evergreens greet me with the heavy scent of pine. The oaks roll some acorns in our path. A maple sends a little helicopter seed spiralling beside me.
Grandpa puts his hand on my shoulder. On my bed I see him pointing. “Do you see that, Gio?”
On a birch tree, at face level and clinging. A huge creature, cousin to Spider, bigger than any spider I’ve ever seen, and not familiar to me. Eight legs, not a spider, and blind.
“Walk slowly, Gio. It is telling us something. This is its land.”
Each step brings us closer. The wind brings scents of fox and deer. Crows fly overhead. Raven lands on an elm branch and squawks at Grandpa, “Be careful. Gio doesn’t know.”
Grandpa nods. “Thank you. Yes. I’m teaching him now.”
Crows caw at us. Raven hops from branch to branch, always over us, always a little ahead.
The creature grows smaller as we approach. Smaller and smaller.
Raven squawks, “Careful, Gio.”
We stand beside the birch. The creature is so small. I reach for it and Grandpa pulls my hand back.
“Safe passage for me and mine, Friend Tick?”
I hear a voice of “S”s. “Yesss. Sssafe passsage.”
“This is Tick’s land, Gio. Always ask before you go. And if Tick says “No,” then stay away.”
“Remember the smells, the sounds, the feels. Remember what you see, if it’s safe, remember the tastes.”
He rubs my head. “Let’s get home before Grandma knows we’re gone.”
I open my eyes. I’m on my bed. Grandpa is sitting next to me, looking at me, smiling.
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