The city park was teeming with life Friday afternoon as Melonie went for her walk. Children raced around in the warm May air. Their parents chatted away, occasionally calling for one child or other to slow down or be more careful. Strutting pigeons gathered at the base of a bench where one old man scattered bits of bread. As the breeze swept a strand of hair across Melonie’s face, she sighed. It was a beautiful day. She only wished Olie were around to share it.
Two weeks had passed since her injury, since Olie disappeared from her life. At first, Melonie had been sure he would come back. She’d left bowls of cereal and unpeeled bananas sitting on the balcony for him. After a few days, she had racked her brain for some way to search for him, worried that perhaps Olie had lost his way. But he wasn’t a cat or dog, whose image could be posted around town and advertised for. She couldn’t ask her friends for help or inquire anywhere if he’d been seen. How could she possibly find an invisible creature in a big city?
So Melonie tried frequenting his favorite spots. She walked daily to the bakery and lingered there as long as possible, just in case Olie came by. At the studio, she would sit outside before and after her classes. An occasional whistle would pass through her lips, but no sign of the elephant ever came her way. Before returning home, Melonie would visit the park and sit on her favorite bench. Olie had loved the spot.
A lip in the sidewalk caught her crutch, and Melonie tipped forward. She caught herself just before she fell.
As she righted herself, her mind went back to the weeks before her injury.
During those weeks of prepping for the audition, Melonie had made a habit of going to the studio alone, leaving Olie in the apartment. Life had seemed so much easier with him at home. As much as she loved Olie, Melonie had slowly begun to realize that her klutzy nature was largely a result of her invisible companion. She couldn’t recall a single instance when she tripped during her solitary walks. Not once did she crash into a corner or drop her keys randomly. Even Rachel had noticed, commenting on how Melonie’s “stage grace” was beginning to overflow into her normal routine.
Melonie’s stomach turned, guilt flashing across her mind as she remembered enjoying Olie’s absences. Now, his absence weighed on her mind, and she felt as though she were constantly walking out the door without her phone, or her wallet, or her hair atop her head. Every time she left the apartment, she knew that some important part of her was missing.
Her bench was empty, and Melonie took a seat, glad to give her arms a rest. The crutches still made her a little sore. Before her was a large, circular field of grass with a sidewalk outlining its rim, and trees surrounding the concrete path. To her left was her tree, a gnarled old oak with wildflowers growing about its base and bushes scattered around it. She had read aloud to Olie there on several occasions.
“Hi!” A small voice rang out, and Melonie turned her attention away from the tree. Before her stood a little boy, maybe 5 or 6, whom she didn’t recognize.
She smiled. “Hi.”
The little boy stepped closer. “What’s your name?”
“Melonie. What’s yours?”
“Gabe. I’m five.” He held up his hand proudly, his thumb wavering so that the number he presented appeared more like four. Then he pointed at her leg. “What’s that?”
“It’s a cast.”
“What’s it for?”
“Well, I hurt my foot, and the cast is there to make it all better.”
“Oh.” Gabe looked at the ground a moment, and seeing a dandelion at his feet, all white and puffed, he brightened. Plucking it up, he came over to the bench. He presented the weed to her. “Here.”
“Thank you,” Melonie chuckled as she took the gift. “These are magic you know,” she told him.
“Mmhmm. If you close your eyes, and make a wish, then blow away all these white seeds here, your wishes get stuck in the fluff. The wind catches the seeds and carries them off to be granted.”
“Do your wishes come true?”
“Well, not always. Sometimes they get lost along the way and grow into new dandelions.”
“Then all these dandelions are lost wishes?”
“Oh.” Melonie’s eyes widened. “I hadn’t thought of that. I guess they are.”
Gabe scuffed his feet against the bench, his little brows furrowed in thought. “So…” He looked up and grinned. “That means all the lost seeds get to be new wishes in the end, right?”
Someone called for Gabe before Melonie could respond.
“I guess I need to go now.” He stepped away but turned back around. “Are you always here?”
“I’m here a lot.”
He nodded. “I’ll come visit you next time.” With a wave, he ran down the sidewalk, calling ahead, “Mommy, Mommy, I made a new friend.”
Melonie laughed as she saw him jump up and down when he reached his mother, pointing back at the bench and waving again. He plucked up a dandelion, showing it to his mom and then blowing seeds into the wind as he walked.
Melonie watched him leave.
After his head of brown hair disappeared around the bend, she chuckled again, looking at her hand. She twirled the white puff of a plant between her fingers and held it to her lips. After a moment, she let out a sharp breath, scattering the seeds into the air. She watched as all her wishes floated away, a few quickly falling to the ground. Her dreams had seemed a little lost as of late. Perhaps soon new wishes would take their place.
A low bark pierced her thoughts. Over to the left near her oak, a fluffy black dog was straining at his leash, yapping at thin air. He calmed down a moment later, shaking his head and sniffing the ground. His owner pulled him away when he began barking again.
Melonie squinted her eyes. There was no squirrel to be seen in the area, no other dogs or birds. Pulling herself up on her crutches she moved toward the tree. Could it be?
“Olie?” she whispered as she reached the spot, looking for signs of the elephant. For a moment, she thought she felt him at her hip. “Olie? Is that you?” The feeling was gone before she finished her question. A bush rustled to her right, startling her. There was no response, and though she realized the noise could have easily been caused by the wind, she felt sure Olie was there.
For the rest of the weekend, Melonie hung out by the old oak. She carried snacks with her, thinking that she could lure Olie out, but she didn’t see any sign of him. Late on Sunday afternoon, she carefully lowered herself to the ground, resting her crutches by her side as she leaned her back against the tree. The park was unusually empty, probably due to the incoming storm. Thunder rumbled in the distance, and though it wasn’t raining currently, the gray clouds looked heavy. Melonie pulled her copy of The Hobbit out of her bag. She opened to the bookmarked page and began reading aloud. Her voice drifted in the warm, wet air. The only other sound in the park was birdsong and the occasional gust of wind. And Melonie kept reading, telling the tale of Bilbo and the dwarves in the depths of Mirkwood.
She was so caught up in the story that it took her a moment to notice the weight that seemed to rest against her good leg. Her voice halted as she glanced down, seeing nothing by her foot. “Olie?”
The pressure that made her foot feel asleep immediately lifted, but Melonie was sure he hadn’t gone far. She pulled a banana from her bag. “Here, honey, would you like a treat?”
Her breath caught in her chest.
She sat there in silence, worried that he wouldn’t respond, that he wouldn’t accept her apology. “There’s no one around, Olie. You can come out,” she whispered. Still no response. Tears welled in her eyes. “Please, Olie? If you can hear me, please come out.”
She sniffled and opened the banana, holding it out again. “I’m so sorry, honey. I miss you. Please come home.”
The wind picked up, carrying droplets of water as it began to drizzle. Melonie’s arm began to hurt, and she heard a bush rustle to her right. She lowered the banana to the ground. Olie was gone again.
Her throat clenched as she covered her face with shaky hands. What now? she wondered. Lord, what else can I do?
A high-pitched yelp answered her silent question.
Melonie’s head shot up in time to see a small brown puppy poke its head out of the bushes. It tumbled forward, rushing as though it were chasing something. Melonie whistled, and the puppy shied away.
Then Olie appeared.
Melonie sat up straight. “Olie!”
The elephant flapped his ears, then turned to the small animal hiding behind his leg. With his trunk, Olie nudged the puppy toward Melonie.
She giggled as the dog came toward her, suspiciously sniffing her leg. He pulled his head back when she tried to pet him. He must have decided she smelled safe enough, because a second later the puppy was yipping excitedly, climbing on her chest and attempting to lick her face. Melonie laughed and petted him, holding him away from chin. Olie bounded to over, his tail wagging. He paused when he was a step away, his head tilting questioningly.
Melonie looked him over. He seemed to be asking if she wanted him.
Images of him underfoot, in the way, tripping her and knocking over bowls filled her mind.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Melonie held out her arms.
Olie plunged forward, and she wrapped him in a hug, stroking his head. “Don’t you ever leave again, you hear me?” The elephant threw his trunk in the air happily, then pulled away, circling around the puppy. Then he plopped to the ground, grabbing the banana as he did. The puppy rushed over, jumping at the elephant’s ear while Olie ate.
Melonie laughed again. “Well, I guess we have a new member of the family.”
The two looked at her, watching as she packed away her book, grabbed her crutches, and stood. With a whistle, she turned toward home. “Come on, boys.” Olie hopped up, turning invisible. The puppy followed closely, sticking to Melonie’s heels.
“I think we’ll call you Pip.” She looked down at the pup, who barked in response. He shook his head as drops of water began to fall.
The trees looked a brighter green in the wet, and the plants stretched happily. Behind the trio, dandelions in the grass seemed to glow under the dark skies, and their bright white and yellow heads danced in the rain.