“The tree,” he said. I must have given him a blank look. “I’ll show you,” he said, taking my hand. I followed him out the door and we turned down a path into the woods. He seemed to know exactly where he was going. I was afraid we were going to get lost though. Everything looked the same. Finally he stopped short in front of an enormous tree. The way it had grown, there was an indentation near the trunk that you could walk into if you weren’t too tall. “It’s bigger!” Ethan said, “How did it get so big?” He sidled into the indentation and rubbed his hands along the bark. “This is my favorite spot,” he said. “It’s like a little house.”
It was time to get to the bottom of this strange behavior of Ethan’s. “Can I come in there with you?” I asked him.
“Sure,” he said. He sat on the ground with his knees tucked up under his chin and I scooted in next to him. I was sitting uncomfortably on a root but I ignored it.
“So,” I began, not sure how to even bring it all up, “How did you know about this tree? What did you mean when you talked about your before mom? And the room where I slept last night? You said that was your sister’s room?”
“You slept in the playroom,” he said. Was he dodging my questions? I probably shouldn’t have fired so many questions at him at once.
“The room I started in,” I said, “The one with the dolls?”
“That’s Sarah’s room,” he said.
“Sarah?” I asked, “Does Daddy have a...friend...named Sarah?”
He looked at me strangely. “She was my sister. Before.”
“What do you mean, before?” I asked, I struggled to keep my voice calm and even. Had he suffered a head injury I didn’t know about? Was this just his active imagination?
“Before, Mom,” he said impatiently, “Sometimes I forget about that but now I remember, especially since we’re here again.”
“Can I show you something?” he interrupted. He scrambled to his feet and started down the path. I hurried after him.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s a lookout,” he explained, “You can see the lake from there. Except we weren’t supposed to go down by the lake.”
“Henry and me,” he said.
“Henry?” Now I knew my voice didn’t sound calm at all.
“It’s OK, Mom,” Ethan said, “Henry’s nice. He was my neighbor. He lived in the other house.”
I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know what to say. I was wondering if I should get Ethan an appointment with some sort of therapist. Maybe the divorce had been more traumatic than I thought.
“Don’t tell Sarah I went to the lake,” Ethan said. He turned around suddenly and had an urgency in his voice.
“What are you talking about Ethan?”
“I went to the lake,” he said. He looked like he was going to cry. “I knew I wasn’t supposed to go but I couldn’t find Henry and I was looking for him and then I started throwing rocks...and…” Now he was crying.
“Shhhh,” I said, kneeling down and putting my arms around him. “It’s going to be OK.”
“No,” he said, through his tears, “I went on the dock. I leaned over too far. I’m going to get in trouble.”
“You’re not in trouble,” I said. I picked him up and he put his arms around my neck. “It’s going to be OK,” I repeated. But would it? What had happened to my little boy? Why these delusions or hallucinations or whatever they were? I was definitely going to make an appointment for him.
By the time we got back to the house, Ethan was feeling better. He had dried his tears and started chatting about a cartoon. When he saw his cousins playing on the tire swing, he slipped out of my arms and ran to play with them.
I slumped onto a chair on the porch next to Karen. She was reading a book. “This is fascinating,” she said. “I found this book inside. It’s a history about Lake Othello, self-published by one of the residents. A family, the Wilsons, owned this home and apparently they were quite wealthy. Railroad money.”
“Hmmm,” I said, I was too exhausted and my mind was too agitated to care much about the Wilsons. Karen always loved history. She was the type that read all the signs at historical markers and in museums.
“It says here they had a little boy that drowned in the lake,” she said, “That’s weird...his name was Ethan.”
Check back tomorrow to find out more!