No big deal.


Barty wanted to hug her. He did hug her. He hugged Angel, too. He hugged Tom Vanadium.


“I need a drink,” Father Tom said.


Mary Lampion, little light, was home-schooled as her father and mother had been. But she didn't study just reading, writing, and arithmetic. Gradually she developed a range of fascinating talents not taught in any school, and she went exploring in a great number of the many ways things are, journeying to worlds right here but unseen.


In his blindness, Barty listened to her reports and, through her, saw more than he could have seen if never he had lost his eyes.


On Christmas Eve, 1996, the family gathered in the middle of the three houses for dinner. The living-room furniture had been moved aside to the walls, and three tables had been set end to end, the length of the room, to accommodate everyone.


When the long table was laden and the wine poured, when everyone but Mary settled into chairs, Angel said, “My daughter tells me she wants to make a short presentation before I say grace. I don't know what it is, but she assures me it doesn't involve singing, dancing, or reading any of her poetry.” I Barty, at the head of the table, sensed Mary's approach only as she was about to touch him. She put a hand on his arm and said, “Daddy, will you turn your chair away from the table and let me sit on your lap?"


“If there's a presentation, I assume then I'm the presentee,” he said, taming his chair sideways to the table and taking her into his lap. “Just remember, I never wear neckties."


“I love you, Daddy,” she said, and put the palms of her hands flat against his temples.


Into Barty's darkness came light that he had not sought. He saw his smiling Mary on his lap as she lowered her hands from his temples, saw the faces of his family, the table set with Christmas decorations and many candles flickering.


“This will stay with you,” Mary said. “It's shared sight from all the other yous in all the other places, but you won't have to make any effort to hold on to it. No headaches. No problems ever. Merry Christmas, Daddy."


And so at the age of thirty-one, after more than twenty-eight years of blindness with a few short reprieves, Barty Lampion received the gift of sight from his ten-year-old daughter. 1996 through 2000: Day after day, the work was done in memory of Agnes Lampion, Joey Lampion, Harrison White, Seraphim White, Jacob Isaacson, Simon Magusson, Tom Vanadium, Grace White, and most recently Wally Lipscomb, in memory of all those who had given so much and, though perhaps still alive in other places, were gone from here.


At Thanksgiving dinner, again at the three tables set end to end, in the year of the triple zero, Mary Lampion, now fourteen years old, made an interesting announcement over the pumpkin pie. In her travels where none but she could go, after seven fascinating years of exploring a fraction of all the infinite worlds, she said she sensed beyond doubt that, as Barty's mother had told him on her deathbed, there is one special place beyond all the ways things are, one shining place.


“And give me long enough, I'm going to find how to get there and see it. “


Alarmed, her mother said, “Without dying first."


“Well, sure,” said Mary, “without dying first. That would be the easy way to get there. I'm a Lampion, aren't I? Do we take the easy way, if we can avoid it? Did Daddy take the easiest way up the oak tree?"


Barty set one other rule: “Without dying first ... and you have to be sure you can get back."


“If I ever get there, I'll be back,” she promised the gathered family. “Imagine how much we'll have to talk about. Maybe I'll even get some new pie recipes from Over There."


2000, the Year of the Dragon, gives way without a roar to the Year of the Snake, and after the Snake comes the Horse. Day by day the work is done, in memory of those who have gone before us, and embarked upon work of her own, young Mary is out there among you. For now, only her family knows how very special she is. On one momentous day, that will change.


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